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Finding the Hummingbird

                          not on the branch
             in the air
                          Not in the air
             in the moment

              —Octavio Paz


I believe that there is a life force that surrounds and permeates all living things. I mean I don’t believe this theoretically but rather in a seeing is believing kind of way. I remember as a child seeing energy as light flickering in the grass, so real that I worried about walking on grass because it was alive in the same way that I was. The idea of connecting to this life force as a healing modality always called to me, and so when a chance came years ago, I registered me and my oldest daughter for a Reiki class.

The first meditation I experienced while taking Reiki level one transported me into the center of a giant sequoia in search of an animal guide as instructed by the trio of teachers. I was hoping for something fierce and strong, perhaps a wolf or a bear. Instead I waited at a long wooden table until an emerald hummingbird dove into view and hovered before me. I was supposed to listen for a message, but my first thought was, “Wait. What? A dinky hummingbird?” (People who know me are laughing right now because they know why I’m like a hummingbird, but please realize it took me a minute to get it.)

Even hovering, the hummingbird’s wings moved fast, yet I could see figure eights lingering in the air like jet trails. Eight like infinity or the center symbol of one of my first tattoos. Endless eights looping into each other and dissipating into the air. I watched the iridescence of her, the play of emerald and cobalt, flashing colors like a soap bubble on water. I want to say something life-changing happened or that I learned something important about myself, but what happened next is simply that I noticed a large pair of emerald wings hanging on a wooden coat rack. I slid the wings on and danced, flapping my arms to move circles of color throughout the air. Not exactly life altering, but dancing, how long had it been?

When gently called back to the small yoga studio room, back to the actual life of myself, the middle-aged woman grieving her mom’s death and embarking on a divorce and moving “far enough” away with my daughters, is it a surprise that I hesitated? In the journal they gave me, I wrote a few notes, such as, “Do hummingbirds make a figure 8 with their wings?” “What does a hummingbird mean anyway?” And “I have nothing against birds. A hawk or eagle would’ve been great.”

Hearing everyone talk about their experiences was amazing (and frustrating) because each animal seemed to immediately offer strength and obvious gifts. My eldest daughter met a white fox and excitedly spoke about a sense of knowing and friendship. She had received a beautiful message, though it’s not mine to share with you. Someone met the wolf, and most had recalled a message from their encounter. I reluctantly shared my experience with the hummingbird but kept thinking how small, almost fragile she seemed. My daughter said, “Cool! You danced with a hummingbird!”

As we were leaving that afternoon, the teachers said to look up the animal we saw and bring the information to class the next day. That night at the dinner table, my daughters and I did our new evening ritual of listing what we wanted in our dream home. Wish-crafting, yes, but it gave us a way to dream together, to comfort each other, not unlike sitting in the dark with flashlights telling stories when a hurricane has taken the electricity. We had even named the place Freckles Farm because in the words of my youngest, Hello, we’re redheads.

My usual insomnia wakeup call was 3 am during this time, and I’d learned by then to make use of my anxiety by packing, or cleaning, or my lifesaving activity, writing. That night, I googled hummingbird symbolism and real-life characteristics of hummingbirds. I discovered that they do make figure eights with their wings when hovering. I also started to feel a kinship with the tiny bird: her resiliency, flying hundreds of miles over water, and her fierceness. Her symbolism of being present, bringing more joy into one’s life, more playfulness, and lifting negativity were what I was striving for by leaving my marriage. I wrote all this down and went back to bed using a simple (but by no means easy) breath meditation to crawl back into sleep.

We returned to the class the next day and again I wanted to write something profound or describe an “a-ha” moment, but I’m not a quick study in my own life. Perhaps there are others like me who need the billboard-sized messages from the universe and time to reflect before the obvious becomes clear. Certainly, my daughters and friends thought the hummingbird was hilarious and jokes about endless movement and frenetic activity were plentiful, but the truth is hummingbirds do perch and rest. That’s a lesson I’m still learning.

After the workshop, I began giving Reiki to horses because horses are honest by nature and either would or would not show signs of relaxation and stress release. Working with people is more difficult and may involve the placebo effect or they may not want to hurt my feelings. I suppose ultimately what I was looking for was proof that Reiki works on an observable level. As a therapeutic riding instructor, I had easy access to many horses and knew how to read their body language to verify the effects or lack thereof of Reiki.

Permission is something we talk a lot about when learning Reiki and I too wanted permission from my clients, meaning they approached me and were free to go if they wished to walk away. I found that most horses would not only approach but would also rest the hind leg closest to me as I worked on them, and nearly all began licking, chewing, and/or yawning, which are all indications of relaxing/releasing. Though many practitioners, including both my daughters now, have hands that get as hot as heating pads, mine remain the same temperature or perhaps even feel colder. I sometimes joke that I just can’t turn them on, but each horse taught me to trust the process, which in turn led me to trust myself more.

Elle’s Belles

One morning I decided to work on a dark bay thoroughbred named Elle’s Belles. I’d known this mare for years and knew from her defensive behavior she had likely been abused before her current owners at the time had given her a loving and wonderful home. Her fear of people was so great that the first time I went to groom her, I moved too quickly, and she broke the cross ties trying to escape. She was also the horse who got me fully back into riding, and I knew I owed her for that gift. Walking out into the pasture, I could see her grazing far in the back. As so often happens when I’m walking toward a horse, she sensed me, lifted her head, and stood there, likely deciding whether to meet me half way or make me walk the entire way. That day she decided I needed the exercise.

I tentatively lifted my hands and placed them gently on her right shoulder. Her eyes were quiet though she clearly wasn’t relaxing yet because her mouth was tightly closed. I knew she’d have a harder time than most trusting touch, and I had learned by then not to demand that a horse perform for me or be relaxed immediately because I said so. I knew to let the moment unfold as it does without expectation. She turned to look at me as other horses had done while I did Reiki, and I lowered my hands, so she could see them because other horses had shown curiosity about my hands during Reiki sessions. She breathed into my cupped hands as if she were meeting me for the first time. I could feel her cool inhales and warm exhales on my palms.

I returned my hands to rest again on her withers, and she lowered her head and sighed. Over time, I noticed our chests rising at the same time and realized our breathing had synchronized. Despite the chill of the morning breeze, I became aware of the sun’s warmth in her coat, illuminating the reddish color just beneath the dark brown and felt the warmth from both the sun and her body heating my hands. I remembered hearing once that meditation is simply paying attention on purpose, and I felt what it meant to be fully grounded in the moment. I could see Elle’s breathing deepen and slow. She didn’t yawn or give away any huge demonstration of release, but her jaw relaxed, and she closed her brown eyes with a long blink. We stood together in the pasture as the autumn sun slowly warmed the day.

For that hour with Elle, I didn’t worry about the future (Hell, I hadn’t even decided where we were moving.) or feel the grief of my mom’s death or the loss of my marriage. As soon as I got back to my truck though, I cried, really ugly-faced cried, like I’d needed to do for months but had only allowed myself to do briefly while in the shower. There’s nothing salt water won’t heal, whether it’s the ocean, sweat, or tears. I’d been stuck on what was my next right step and after my deep cry, I decided to call the therapeutic riding program in Greenville and see if they needed a riding instructor. This next detail can be filed under truth is stranger than fiction, and truthfully the rest of what I wrote here would likely be filed under “unbelievable” if I were writing fiction. The riding program did need an instructor because one of their teachers was moving in a few months to the area where I currently lived (We literally swapped jobs!). Since our youngest had been born in Greenville, I still had friends there and it was far enough away from the ex to be a fresh start for me and my daughters.

Two weeks later, the real estate agent my friend recommended drove me and my daughters to a small town outside of Greenville and to the last house on the list for the weekend. Everything about the place said home. It was easy to imagine fenced pastures lining both sides of the long driveway up to the metal roofed farmhouse. The woods in the back were perfect for trail rides on horseback. With nearly 14 acres my daughters and I could have chickens, ducks, rabbits, our horses, and a garden with fruit trees, grapes, and blueberries.

Freckles Farm

When I walked into the master bathroom and saw light reflected onto a wall, I followed the light to an octagonal window and etched into the glass was a hummingbird. A hummingbird. I knew we were home even though the asking price was more than I could afford. I offered what I could, and we got the house. The wish-craft list my daughters and I imagined around the dinner table is what we wake up to every morning though I’ve added a few details like butterfly bush, red salvia, morning glory, and bee balm. For the hummingbirds, of course. One thing that wasn’t on our list and for which I would’ve never dreamed to ask: Elle’s Belles was given to me by her owners to retire here at Freckles Farm.