In some regions in Mexico, the hummingbird is known as ‘Porquesí,’ meaning “just because” — a wonderful and poetic name for what seems but a caprice of nature… a jeweled whim!
In Oaxaca, they call it ‘Biulú’, or ‘what remains in the eyes,’ for once seen, no one can forget this ecstatic little bird plumed with divinely superfluous beauty.
God, the great Ecstatic, speaks and struggles to speak in every way he can, with seas and fires, with colors, with wings, with horns, with claws, with constellations and butterflies, that he may establish his ecstasy. — Nikos Kazantzakis
Asked by theologians what one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of his creation, British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane answered: “An inordinate fondness for beetles.”
350,000 known species!
The Western, scientific mind, however, appears incapable of apprehending this superfluous beauty without demanding a functional answer for its purpose.
At what cost, I wonder?
Does knowing that the hummingbird flaps its wings 12–90 times per second, or that it’s the only bird that can fly backwards, or that it makes a single migratory journey of 2000 miles in Winter make it more beautiful or memorable? Or does it have the opposite effect? Isn’t the magic spoiled once we discover the magician’s secrets? While we might still be impressed by the magician’s sleight-of-hand, would we not be thereon barred from becoming enraptured? a word that, at origin, means “carried off bodily.”
Piglet: “How do you spell love?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”
If we, for instance, knew every biological change occurring in the male and female bodies during sex, would we ever again move “out of our minds” to be lost in sensation? Might knowing everything about the function actually provoke disfunction? Might knowing, say, that 87% of adults in Greece report having sex at least once a week not cause anxiety among U.S. adults where only 53% do?
Tell me… how often do you have sex? Are you performing like a Greek? Should you? Can you?
What’s the purpose of sex among humans anyway? Reproduction?
Not only, says Mexican poet Octavio Paz. It is so much more… “it’s an erotic ceremony in which sex is transformed into metaphor. In this sense, it is similar to language. The agent that moves both poetry and eroticism is our imagination. Poetry erotizes language as imagination transforms sex into a passionate erotic ritual.” Passion, says David L. Norton, is but an arabesque upon animal sexuality. Focus on the mechanics and you’ll kill Eros, or ardent desire.
Wanting to know is part of our cultural DNA. Our curiosity has helped advance the human adventure. But I can’t stop wondering if our insistence on dissecting, measuring, inspecting, prodding, analyzing, labelling, and trying to discover the purpose of everything precludes an embodied participation with the rest of creation.
Do not “all charms fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy?” asked Edgar Allan Poe.
What Do You Do?
After losing all my wealth, I dreaded accompanying my wife to parties. We lived at the time in one of the most expensive places in the U.S. and I had had little success finding a job. I dreaded parties because of the unease I felt when asked the trite question: “What do you do?” — a question actually used to measure us against an arbitrary standard of value and success.
Infuriated by this insistence on wanting to pigeonhole my humanity, I soon came up with this answer: “As little as possible to enjoy life as much as possible.” As you can imagine, I wasn’t invited much thereafter.
Had they instead asked me, “What’s your story?” I would’ve kept them spellbound for hours.
But having a story doesn’t neatly answer society’s demand for a purpose-driven narrative so perhaps it’s time we change the term ‘human being,’ to ‘human doing.’
In Paulo Coelho’s ‘Manuscript Found in Accra’ he says that if we were to ask a river if it feels useless because all it does is flow in the same direction, it will answer, ‘I’m not trying to be useful; I’m trying to be river.’ Ask a wildflower if she feels useless for just making copies of herself and she’ll answer: ‘I’m beautiful. Beauty is the sole purpose of my existence.’
Ask a poor person in my native country about his purpose in life and he’ll likely answer, “to survive,” before punching you in the nose.
An [American] reporter from a local newspaper came to our house to interview my wife about the Japanese tea ceremony. This reporter continually asked, “What is the meaning? What for? Why do you do that? What is the purpose for that?” This kind of question was directed at everything in the making of tea — at every gesture, every implement. Without thinking or deliberating, my wife finally replied, “No meaning… meaningless meaning. It is purposeless purpose.” — Buddhist Gyomay Kubose Sensei
In Taoism, a Chinese philosophical tradition dating back 3000 years, there is a principle called Wu-Wei, or purposeless action. The Western mind, as I said, has a hard time with this. I say this because I still do.
Without a concrete purpose, what would motivate action? Without the need for nectar, what would propel the hummingbird toward the flower? Without goals, what would get us out of bed? Where would I, say, find the motivation to write my book if not for my express purpose of wanting to help boys become good men.
Like in sex, I think the crux lies in spontaneity. By not trying too hard. By focusing on the process (erotic ritual) not the target (orgasm).
“The right art,” cried the Master, “is purposeless, aimless! The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed in the one and the further the other will recede. What stands in your way is that you have a much too willful will. You think that what you do not do yourself does not happen.” — Eugen Herrigel, ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’
In ‘The Way of Chuang Tzu,’ Thomas Merton says, “the true character of wu-wei is not mere inactivity but perfect action. In other words, action not carried in conflict with the dynamism of the whole — or Tao (The Way) — but in perfect harmony with the whole. It is not mere passivity, but action that seems effortless and spontaneous because performed rightly — in perfect accordance with our nature and with our place in the scheme of things. It is not conditioned or limited by our own individual needs and desires. It is complete free because there is in it no force and no violence.”
Forgive me for bringing sex back into the picture, but I cannot avoid imagining how rapturous the sexual experience would be under wu-wei.
Chuang Tzu vividly conveys the wisdom and efficacy of spontaneous action — or going with the flow — in this story:
At the Gorge of Lu, the great waterfall plunges for thousands of feet, its spray visible for miles. In the churning waters below, no living creature can be seen.
One day, K’ung Fu-tse [Confucius] was standing at a distance from the pool’s edge when he saw an old man being tossed about in the turbulent water. He called to his disciples and together they ran to rescue the victim. But by the time they reached the water, the old man had climbed out onto the bank and was walking along, singing to himself.
K’ung Fu-tse hurried up to him. “You would have to be a ghost to survive that,” he said, “but you seem to be a man, instead. What secret power do you have?”
“Nothing special,” the old man replied. “I began to learn while very young and grew up practicing it. Now I am certain of success. I go down with the water and come up with the water. I follow it and forget myself. I survive because I don’t struggle against the water’s superior power. That is all.”
To allow oneself to surrender and go with the flow can be frightening because it challenges some of our most basic assumptions about life, about who we are as humans, and about our role in the world. From a Taoist point of view, our most cherished beliefs are precisely those which lead us to a state of disharmony and imbalance — that we exist as separate beings, that we can exercise willful control over all situations and that our role is to conquer our environment and progress.
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. — Edward Abbey
“Humans cling to progress,” says John Gray in ‘Straw Dogs,’ “not so much from genuine belief, as from fear of what may come if they give it up.” Gray calls humanism, not science, but religion — a doctrine of salvation.
If progress is an illusion, how are we to live?
Gray says the question assumes that humans can live well only if they believe they have the power to remake the world. The aim of life, he said, is not to change the world, it is to see it rightly.
The hummingbird does not struggle to change or remake the flower. Nature shapes its bill according to the flowers in its proximate environment. Therefore, its actions, as Merton said about wu-wei, seem effortless and spontaneous because performed in perfect accordance with its nature and its place in the scheme of things.
What happens when humans live in discord and dissonance?
I’ll let author Sam Keen respond:
“Stress is not simply a dis-ease; it is a symptom that you are living somebody else’s life.
Depression is more than low self-esteem; it is a distant early warning that you are on the wrong path and that something in you is being pressed down, beat on, imprisoned, dishonored.
Burnout is nature’s way of telling you you’ve been going through the motions but your soul has departed.”
One way I have found to place myself in harmonious accord is to ask myself “why” I do what I do, instead of “what for”.
“What for?” implies a specific target: The publication of my book, the notoriety, the acclaim, and the potential material rewards.
Asking “why” shifts my attention to subjective, but ultimately more lasting rewards. I am writing my book to help boys grow into good men. To restore balance and harmony to the world. Because while writing it, I enter a state of flow and never feel like I’m working. Because by nature, I have a talent for writing and have found a need in the world that can be served by it.
While still purposeful, this focus engages and activates my heart, body, mind and soul — Psyche and Eros.
One day, I hope to transcend even further, and answer the question of “why am I here?” like the hummingbird: “Just Because,” thus becoming unforgettable for having discovered that a spiritual life is not a search for meaning or purpose, but a release from both.