Eagle’s Message: Beyond Letting Go
A few weeks ago I visited the Portland Zoo with Genevive, my niece (by marriage) and her two children. They’d arrived in town early that morning, ready for adventure. Which for Lutian, the 5-year-old, meant the elephants at the Zoo.
I’m not a fan of animals in captivity so I usually avoid zoos, but I did feel a child’s sense of wonder at the exotic animals wandering about in little slices of nature meant to replicate their natural habitat. Especially the giraffes and zebras. Lions, cheetahs, leopards. Made me want to visit Africa.
Soon after we arrived we came upon the eagles. I winced since they were enclosed in an area so small for these mighty birds. They’d spread their great wings and fly from corner to corner, and I couldn’t help but mention my discomfort with their enclosure.
Genevive said she thought this zoo contained only animals who’d been injured and wouldn’t survive in the wild. I hoped this was the case while watching these regal avian beings, lords of the air yet here confined to a few hundred yards of air space.
And then Genevive told me something else I’d never known about eagles. She’d learned that when an eagle reaches a certain age its beak becomes so bent and deformed from devouring its prey that it can no longer get enough food.
At that point it does one of two things. It dies – or it bangs and bangs its beak on rocks and trees until it falls off completely. Then the eagle grows a new beak and is able to live for another fifteen years or so.
If the bird is to live, it must violently and painfully get rid of that old part of itself that has now become a hazard to its survival. It’s a step beyond just releasing and letting go. It’s ripping away the old, the no longer useful and serving. And then waiting as a fresh appendage grows.
I was stunned to hear this, and frankly kind of shuddered at the mental image it evoked.
And then I thought, I wonder if that’s what I’m doing now? Is this why it hurts so much sometimes? Is this why it’s so scary?
It also struck me how this is a metaphor for the fire we are called to walk through at midlife. If we turn from it, cling to those old patterns, we may not perish physically like the eagle, but something inside surely withers and dies.
Midlife – menopause – is a time when the veils fall away. A new clarity arises, often a painful and scary one..
For me the question remains: Are there still remnants of the old beak I must bang away? Or am I finally at the phase where regeneration is happening? I want to grow my new beak, my new piece of myself, the part that will allow me to nourish, feed and love myself.
Yet it might take the courage and grace of an eagle to be with the pain until the old bits have all been knocked off.
The day after my sojourn at the zoo I picked up The Pocket Pema Chodron and opened randomly to “Everything Has to Go.”
“All of us are like eagles who have forgotten how to fly,” Chodron writes.
She goes on to explain that somehow we got trapped in our nest despite our longing to soar through the vast skies. We’re like eagles, but we’re weighted down. She uses the metaphor of our clothing and sunglasses, iPod etc. We need to take off a few things.
Then, as we begin flapping through the air, we realize we have to take it ALL off if we’re truly to fly. We have to let go of it all. Because you can’t fly when you’re wearing all that stuff. Everything has to go.
I don’t know about you, but that scares me.
What more must I relinquish, I wondered? What more must I beat away, let go of, so that I can finally fly?
How about you? Are you growing your new beak yet?