Have you ever seen an eagle hunt? Floating in slow, lazy, overlapping circles that gradually and consistently shift over, so that it is systematically scanning a huge area from ‘way up. Coasting, round and round, seemingly without effort, appearing as if it isn’t even moving, or even doing anything to stay up there, let alone move in such a controlled pattern.
The other day I watched an eagle that was already hundreds of feet up do this, but at one point, instead of continuing to move sideways over the ground, it began rising higher and higher, in the same circling motion. At first, I could see it clearly: its white head, and the kind of elongated “M” form of its wings. But as it rose higher and higher it was less and less defined, until it was so high, all I could see was a speck, a little black bar, say the size of an ant.
I was blown away. The eagle had risen to these dizzying heights without seeming to make any effort, without seeming to do anything, and without fear. At that point there didn’t seem to be any hunting going on any more. Just a slow, circular rising, hundreds, even thousands, of feet up into the sky. What its purpose? What was its experience?
Watching him, I had this strong feeling of wishing I could experience that freedom, that total trust in myself, that incredible attunement with my environment and my own self, my own body, that would allow me to – well, to soar so fearlessly and gracefully to whatever heights I am truly capable of. I could almost feel what that freedom would feel like. The freedom to simply and fully be, and to simply and fully do what is already inscribed in my being to be and do – just as soaring is inscribed in the being of the eagle.
The eagle brings many messages. Writer Richard Wagamese (an absolutely amazing writer – check him out!!) refers to one of the teachings of the eagle in a couple of his books. He talks about how to soar like this, the eagle goes through a lot of learning, a lot of training. It has to be able to feel, to sense, air flow patterns, cloud movements, temperature shifts, as well as the geography beneath it; it needs to have such an intimate experience of these and how they all relate to each other that it can make the slightest little shifts in its wing and tail feathers to adjust to these conditions and move exactly in the way that it wants. It needs to have developed such a level of mastery over itself, over even these slight movements and shifts to adjust and adapt to what it sees, feels and senses. This is done through practice, repetition, trial and error; learning both from its parents (teachers) initially, and from its own ongoing experience.
If you’re anything like me, you will also sometimes feel that you wish you could achieve a comparable state where you can move, act or just be so effortlessly, in such attunement with yourself and your world, that you are both fearless and relaxed, free to soar and experience what you are truly capable of, what life truly offers. We also often feel that this is either impossible, or such a long way from what we actually experience, that it would take some kind of magic, some kind of transformational experience, to get even close to that.
But the truth is that, like the eagle, the way that we can get there is through focused effort. Through observing and learning from others. Through trial and error. Through endless practice and testing and re-adjusting. Through repeated failure, until we get it. And “getting it” is not one package deal, a sudden “aha” moment where we break through. “Aha” moment are great moments of realization, of shifts in your awareness, your thoughts, your understanding of things.
Then comes the application. Translating the “aha” into lived experience. “Aha” moments are useless to an eagle, unless they are in the form of physical experience. Of getting the feel, the felt sense of the right response to the “real world” challenge. The same applies to us. “Getting it” has to be a felt experience of doing one particular thing. It will be just one small piece. Just like the eagle will have to practice working with one particular kind of air flow shift to learn how to adjust gracefully to it until she or he “gets it” – and there may be hundreds of small pieces like this to learn.
The difference is that the eagle has no choice but to practice and learn these things. It is a matter of survival. It has a very focused intention and purpose. We have a choice. It actually is a matter of survival for us, but not in the same sense. We can survive physically without learning these things. But we can’t survive spiritually, in the sense that you can’t tap into your true Self and your true potential, and find the freedom to really be yourself – your Authentic Self – without adopting this kind of intention, focus and practice. You need to intentionally choose to learn and practice them, and you even need to learn and practice how to keep your intention focused.
The eagle learns these things when it is young, much as we learn through playing when we are young. The eagle does not judge its own performance, or wish it was better at it. It does not approach this as a task, it just lives the experience. That is also a lesson on how to approach what we too often refer to as “working on yourself”. Approach it as play, with the attitude of exploration and experimentation of a child at play.
The eagle also does not separate the learning into specific activities or tasks, or problems. It is simply learning to fly. Flying is an integrated activity. The eagle’s awareness and body, its movements and its environment, are all integrated as one activity. It feels what is happening with the air and adjusts accordingly, in alignment with its purpose.
In the same way, learning to live from your centre - your “Authentic Self”, finding the freedom to truly be yourself, to unlock your potential, to soar, is an integrated activity. It is a way of living – within and without - where all aspects, all parts of you and of your life are connected, parts of a whole. You practice being and becoming the person you want to be, the person you actually know you are deep inside, in all aspects of your life. You maintain a consistent intention of how to want to live, how you want to be. You practice staying aligned with that intention in your thoughts, your choices and your actions; you do the practices that help you to stay centred and aligned; you continue to learn, play and explore further so that you continue expanding that sense of freedom and possibility and growth, and testing that out in real life, in real time. Being humbled by the experience and re-investing in yourself and in the process. That is how you get the results. That is how you learn to soar in a way that might look effortless to others.
All of this can sound like serious work. Like effort. It is serious; it is effort. It's actually what all people who are dedicated to being really good at something do. But the paradox is that if you approach it too much as “work”, if you take yourself too seriously and work too hard at it, you never “get there”. If you engage in self-judgement, you never get there. Because there is no “there” to get to. The eagle is just being an eagle as it perfects its flying abilities. Although you have to consciously choose to do this, and “work” at it, this is also about just being yourself. You just need to unlearn patterns that stop you from being you. Within you is a natural life force, an energy always pulling towards growth and well-being. A life energy that seeks for you to grow into your full potential. That is true of all living beings, why would it be different for you?