Transcendence

Most of my life is over. There are far fewer years ahead than I’ve already left behind. It’s understandable that ambition’s grip has slackened (like everything else about my body) and that I’ve become preoccupied with meaning.

I’ve believed many things in my life—most of them foolish—but I can no longer believe in the inordinate rewards and punishments of Christianity, the reassuring revolutions of the wheel of karma, nor even the houris and hashish of Islam. What’s left to me is the cold comfort of Sartre, the intellectual exercise of existentialism that lacks heart.

Recently Barbara commented on something I had written, Beaks of Eagles. I’m quoting her comment in full because it was, well, remarkable.

“Do you know if the following is true? When an eagle reaches the age of 50 (approximately), his beak begins to freeze shut, and he can no longer eat. Some give up and die, but some find a cave or cleft in the rock where water is present. The old eagle goes into the cave and beats his beak on a rock until it is broken off. The eagle drinks water for 40 days until it grows a new beak. The eagle then pulls its old feathers out and an oil sack grows and is filled with oil (over the heart). The eagle then breaks the oil sack with the new beak and spreads the oil over his body. Beautiful new golden feathers grow in, and the eagle is renewed. The eagle’s body is also strengthened through this process. The regenerated eagle is then able to fly higher than it ever could before and see better than it could before.”

Frankly, it matters less to me whether it’s true. I could research the life history of eagles but the result would be irrelevant. What’s truly remarkable to me is its mythic quality. It is an elegant, powerful myth of renewal.

An eagle’s beak is it’s most obvious attribute. It defines the bird for most of us. Without a beak in good repair, an eagle can’t survive. In fact, many raptors in the Pacific Northwest have recently been seen with malformed beaks. No one yet knows the cause but, unable to hunt and feed effectively, they are starving to death.

Baldeagle_profile_1The myth warns that the strengths we have relied upon in youth will not serve us in old age. We have to surrender that strength, transcend ourselves or die. That act of transcendence is painful and solitary. The old eagle beating his beak against a rock is a powerful image. It speaks of sacrifice and vulnerability.

The 40 days of solitude drinking only water sounds like a vision quest or Christ’s wandering in the desert. With its renewed beak, the eagle then plucks every feather from its body. The process must be infinitely painful, like the Sun Dance of the Lakota Sioux. The eagle stands naked and bloodied, raw and exposed, waiting for rebirth.

In a final act of self-sacrifice, the eagle impales its heart on it’s own beak. Little wonder that many give up and die rather than suffer rebirth. It is an act not only of sacrifice but of integration. The eagle is renewed.

This is a myth worth believing.

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4 thoughts on “Transcendence”

  1. Dear Technorati,
    Just have read your blog note. You see, I really do understand that “rewards and punishments” are not really attractive to believe in. But the point in “christianity” is that it is not a religion of many and way out much more than “rewards and punishments”! It is simply a person, God and the way you can meet him is not trying to believe in a religion but call Jesus Christ into your very life (he hears it), …and once you get acquainted with him you no longer search for sg to believe in but you can understand the Bible and get all your answers, and you`ll see that there is an answer to all your answers to life.
    Wish you this, Frank

  2. I’ve never read any interesting reading about eagles than here. Well, others are actually such a bore.. hehe. Anyway, hope you can also check out my site and my money clips and let me know what you think of it.

  3. Most of my life is yet to come and there are far more years ahead than I’ve already left behind, hopefully.
    Perhaps, the myth about eagles is indeed far invigorating than the rest of topic despite the fact that I myself look at it suspiciously. And for sure the distinctive and plucky way the eagle deals with age entirely differs from the way numerous people deal with it. Not only because the eagle endures the excruciating pain for the sake of renewal but also because it proves to be more sagacious. It, amazingly, does believe, unlike many a man, that if life brings the “punishment” of age and time, it also offers the rewards of wise and hard work. The eagle, whether or not this myth is true, has faith in it.
    Interestingly enough, the eagle in this myth doesn’t seemingly appear to be a truly practising existentialist when it settles on the hard choice to undergo the toughest of its time to renew its powers rather than wishes to be “something” else and be it! It, surely, doesn’t. And had it not been for the strong grip of ambition and aspiration the eagle possesses, it would have not chosen to do so. The eagle has faith, of some kind.
    Sometimes, we humans deny truths just because they don’t look appealing to us, and cling to those we like and can “stomach”. Perplexing, isn’t it? Can we really reason everything, probably not, certainly not.
    What you described as houris and hashish of Islam are the beliefs of countless people, never to be really affected by such an unrealistic and tedious judgment that is based on mere proclivity towards disbelief with no sensible reason. And yes, I assure you that Islam doesn’t believe in naked meaninglessness of the world or the idea of being “something” or “someone” else. Rather, it believes in One creator of the whole universe and believes in the world as it is and its meaningfulness to us as human beings.
    Ultimately, I would like to whisper something in your ears; heart, or even a little bit of it, is what determines the difference between living and “unliving”.

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