Like an Eagle

There are a number of things we can learn from the eagle.

The eagle is a large and fearsome bird. As though it were
aware of its powers, it is careful to approach its nest slowly to avoid scaring
its children. The nestlings need time to recognize the features of the large
bird that is descending upon them, to see the familiar signs that assure them
that the awesome creature is a friend and not an enemy. It takes time to adapt
to a difficult situation. When we are taken by surprise by something that is
hard to deal with, it takes us off guard and may well elicit negative reactions—fear,
anxiety, anger—that are hard to control. We have to have patience with
ourselves while realizing that these reactions—these first reactions—can be
overcome in the course of time by adapting ourselves to the situation.

The eagle is never afraid of what is above him. There are no
predators that look down upon him from above. His only fear is what comes from
the ground below, for man is the only creature that hunts the eagle. A person
should not be afraid to put himself above his problems. The only thing he should
fear is impulses of fear and anger that come from below.

Even though the eagle flies very high, he can see the
smallest mouse moving along the ground. He has keen eyesight that assures that
no matter how high he flies, he never loses touch with the earth, for though he
lives in the heights, he is nourished from the ground. Sometimes people try to
rise above their problems by denying them. They develop patterns of thinking and
fixed ideas that are soothing but deceitful, that protect them, but at a price,
for they break their contact with reality and their willingness to see the
truth. We rise above our problems by getting a new perspective on them, not by
denying them. That new perspective which lifts us above our problems is the
awareness of some consoling or compensating goodness that enables us to accept
our problems.

The eagle is a large and heavy bird, but even so it flies
high and strong. Sometimes people respond to problems with a feeling of
heaviness that weakens them so that they can’t lift themselves above their
problems. It closes them down in a way that prevents them from seeing anything
good that could come from their problems, and makes it hard for them to
experience the wholesome joys of life that could nourish and strengthen their
battered feelings. They’re stuck in the mud. They can’t move. The eagle is
capable of lifting the weight of its large body. It has the power to overcome
the inertia that would otherwise keep him grounded. In order for a person to
adapt to a negative situation, he has to be able to overcome the inertia—the
heaviness—that closes the heart to the positive things that could lift him
above his problem.

As we have mentioned in previous articles, the midrash
presents us with an allegorical description of the life cycle of the eagle. It
reports that every ten years, after flying high toward the sun, the eagle falls
into the sea and loses its feathers. Its body is not injured. It grows new
feathers and rises, once again, into the sky. The only thing the eagle loses is
its feathers. It remains intact. Neither the heat of the sun or the depths of
the sea do anything but damage its most external part. They don’t hurt him any
more deeply than that.

Problems never effect the essence of a person. The person is
always beyond the problem. Problems are difficulties we face in dealing with the
world or with relatively external aspects of ourselves—aspects of ourselves
which are outside our most essential, deepest and authentic sense of identity.
Even the most severe health problems pertain only to the body, and although we
cannot live in this world without a body, the body is not what we have in mind
when we think of essence of a human being. When we realize that our problems do
not threaten us in any essential way, it is much easier to rise above them.