from the Introduction to Worldshift Happens! Facing Down the Fear, Waking Up the Mind
by Carolyn North
One year a hummingbird built her tiny nest on a branch of the cedar tree right outside our bedroom window. The nest was the size of a thimble, dipping on the narrow twig with every breeze and bending under her miniscule weight as she flew off to feed and then come back to her post. I felt honored by her trust in placing her nest so close to our window, and noted that it was just out of reach of the neighborhood cats. For weeks we spent every spare moment gazing out that window, peering into the nest at her two fingernail-sized eggs lying snug on a bed of soft moss that included strands of my own hair!
And then one day the first egg hatched! A blind dab of living fluff lifted its beak for her to poke nectar into its gullet, and then again. Then the second egg hatched. Day after day she flew back and forth from the honeysuckle and jasmine vines to the nest, feeding her hungry offspring and flying off again. Before our eyes they changed from downy hatchlings to minute but recognizable hummingbirds, although we never saw the changes actually happen. By the end of a week, though, their development was clear.
Then one day we saw the first fledgling, no bigger than a joint of my finger, perched on the edge of the nest and hanging on for dear life as she worked up the courage to fly. From a nearby branch its mother watched and waited – just as we did from the window. For several hours the chick hung on and then backed down into the nest and opened its beak for food. It was not quite ready. Next day, the same story. The chick clung for hours to the edge of the nest, rocking in the breeze, but again it was not quite time. But the next morning when we leapt out of bed, it was gone. And a few days later its nest-mate had fledged as well and the nest was abandoned.
The courage that it took those tiny hummingbirds to take to the air - not to mention every single creature born into this wild, chaotic world of ours - takes my breath away. It is about their, and our, ability and willingness to change our minds and move on when the moment was right; it was about making transitions as we evolve and mature. It was about being relevant to whatever new conditions we have to face, and about coming to terms with the inevitable life-changes all of us share, aging and dying. Because we, also, have to take that fateful leap from the safety of the nest and trust that our wings know how to hold us aloft even if we are terrified. Actually, like the hummingbirds, we have no choice. When the nest is too small for us and Mom has other things to do, we have to fly. Or die.
Modern physics tells us that the universe is in constant motion down to its invisible waves and particles. This confirms the ancient wisdom traditions from cultures all over the world. In Ecclesiastes we read:
…the sun rises and the sun sets, and hastens to the place where it rose; the wind blows towards the south and returns to the north. Turning, turning the wind blows and returns upon its circuit…
The Chinese sage Chuang Tzu asks,
…Is the sky revolving around? Is the earth remaining still? Are the sun and moon pursuing each other…?
According to Confucian cosmology the universe goes through a constant process of transformation, as the ‘ten thousand things’ are forever interspersed and intermingled. Interestingly, the Chinese word for change means ‘easy,’ ‘natural,’ ‘in the normal course of things.’ Shift Happens is a more contemporary way of saying the same thing. Or Worldshift Happens!
I learned about shift happening years ago when I first started practicing Tai Chi, and have been realizing the truth of it doing those slow, gentle moves most mornings ever since. I was taught to sink and rise continuously, to adjust my balance at every moment, to follow the rhythm of my breath and to move from my hips. I learned to be aware of my whole body in motion as the slow dance went seamlessly from one posture to the next. It is very beautiful, I think, and the more I do it the more I realize how profound a teacher it is. Doing Tai Chi I am the universe in microcosm, and can understand how the world works by feeling my body, mind and spirit move with dynamic balance, my whole being relaxed and breathing as I create shapes and dissolve them, just like the world.
Living in China shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution, I met a Tai Chi master who had been imprisoned for several years during the hard times, but who had emerged, as so many others had not, intact and strong. I asked to study with him, hoping to improve my practice and learn what he knew. During our first session he watched me go through my paces, and then he touched my shoulder with a soft finger. I fell down.
“You must be strong as a pine tree!” he admonished. “Soft on the outside; strong on the inside.”
I’m still working on it. I think this is what we all need to learn as we go through the earth-shaking shifts and changes that are happening in the world today: to be soft and flexible on the outside, strong and flexible on the inside and as adventurous as we can be if we are to make it through intact.
Huge changes are happening, but upsets are not new to the planet; the earth has been in a dynamic process of cataclysmic change from the beginning. The explosive death of stars is what created the atoms out of which all life is made, in the first place. Life has learned to adapt to change at every stage of its evolution, from using the sun’s energy, to exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide between plant and animal communities. A-sexual and sexual reproduction were responses to earth changes, leading to so many new opportunities – and how brilliant are the ways! The human organism itself evolved as a response to change and new opportunity, and here we are with all our curiosities and longings, our language and art, our capacity for beauty and love, and our brilliance.
We need to open our minds to reflect a world that encompasses the whole natural world, both visible and invisible, being deliberate about shifting the way we perceive reality, recognizing that our habitual ways of thinking are outworn and no longer serve us.
We must face down our fears about aging and dying, recognizing that like everything else alive on the earth, we are part of a universal cycle.
Without death there would be no life, and it is completely safe. There is nothing to fear.
It is a fascinating exercise to imagine what the world might look like if we were to expand our minds and face down fear. Such a society would be fashioned quite differently from our current one, and daily life would be based upon the reality of our dynamic connection to the Earth and each other. This could be what we might call “utopia.”
We on Earth are in the midst of our next big adventure, and although it may be terrifying, we can handle it if we do it together, and probably have a good time in the process. There is much work to be done and much ingenuity required of us, as the old ark’s a-moverin’ fast now. We’d do well to sharpen our vision, work on our inner strength, know how to balance and rebalance our weight when the high rollers rock the ark in the storms, and keep our sense of humor handy.
Shift happens and nothing’s going to stop it. But that’s alright because we’re in it together, we’re all breathing in and out, we’re holding hands and trembling with suspense at whatever’s coming up!
May it be so.