The Eagle is an incredible animal, both in its presence, as well as its behaviors. Their body size, (depending on the species and sex), can range from 30 inches to 40 inches in length, with a weight of 8 to 15 pounds. Wing span can range from 6 feet to an incredible 8 feet! Eagles are capable of flying as high as 10,000 feet and can dive at between 100 to 150mph, when aiming for their prey. The average lifespan of an eagle in the wild is 15 to 20 years, although 30 years is not that uncommon. An interesting behavioral fact about the eagle is that it is the only bird that will fly DIRECTLY into a storm, rather than avoiding it and finding a safer place. By flying into the storm cloud the eagle is able to use updrafts, which allow it to soar higher and faster – at speeds of 80 to 100mph.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Eagle is the dynamic between the mother and the baby eaglet. Of all the birds – it is the baby eaglet that is the hardest to teach to fly. This is believed to be in large part, because the nests are located high in the mountains with very steep drops to the rocky terrain below. The babies see this and have no desire to leave the nest. When it is time for that baby to begin learning to fly, the mother will stir the nest. You see, up until this point the nest is a very warm, safe and comfortable place for the eaglet. All of its needs are met there – food, safety and the comfort of its mother’s wings. But the mother then begins to walk around the inside of the nest, breaking twigs and turning over the leafy content, causing holes to be produced in the nest structure, thereby allowing the wind access to the inside. It also causes the twigs to poke upward creating discomfort to the eaglet. The mother does this quite literally to make the eaglet desire to leave the nest.
Often this process works and the babies will begin the act of learning to fly. Sometimes however, they are not convinced that “leaving” is a good idea, and still wish to remain in the nest. The mother will then begin “hovering over her baby”. The mother will flap her large wings just above the eaglet ~ who will freak out and run around looking for a place to hide…but there is no place. The mother will rest and then repeat the process again and again. The reasoning behind this? “To get that eaglet motivated!” The baby eaglet however, will actually learn the mother’s pattern to rest and will take this opportunity to jump on the back of the mother’s neck ~ so that mom can’t get him with her wings anymore! While the eaglet may think himself to be smart…in reality, this was the plan of the mother all along.
At this point the mother will then take off with her baby attached to her back and soar him very high in the air. Just as the baby begins to relax and take it all in, she will shoot out from under him, allowing him to flap his wings trying to fly as he falls to the earth. He, of course, isn’t strong enough yet. But no worries…she will fly below him before he can hit the ground and take him back up again. She will repeat this process and each time, his wings will become stronger as he fights and tries to fly. Ultimately she will take him back to the safety of the nest to warm and comfort him with her wings. This is done until the baby learns to fly. Once this is completed the mother still will not leave the eaglet – but instead she will begin to teach him how build a nest and to hunt.
Sadly, the reality is that sometimes there are eaglets that simply “refuse to learn to fly”. When the mother eagle drops the eaglet so that he can strengthen his wings, he will simply fold his wings and let himself drop, so that his mother will do the work. When this happens the mother, realizing the eaglet is refusing to learn, will take him for a final flight and going out from under him, will allow him to fall to his death. Though it appears harsh, it is believed that she does this to protect the eaglet from a more horrible and slow death from starvation, beast or freezing.
A friend and mentor of mine in Birmingham, AL several years ago used the metaphor of the eagle’s nest with me, in an effort to show me what was happening in my life at that time. I had spent the first 18 years of my sobriety with the same friends, support group, living in the same city, keeping the same job and lived within a rocks throw of my parents. I was married, had bought my first home and enjoyed the sound of little feet and laughter from my step daughters every other weekend. Due to the loss of a job, my husband ended up applying for a job in south Florida. It took about 6 weeks to find out if he had it. During that period, I spent most of it in denial and completely uninterested in even entertaining the thought of this happening. (I was in a very comfortable place) When they flew him down for his final interview, reality began setting in. I was in a total state of panic – I had NEVER even thought about living anywhere else or DOING anything else. I met with my friend and he told me about the eagle’s nest and said, “For whatever reason Rebecca…God is taking your nest apart. You are ready now and it is time for you to fly.”
When my husband got word that he had the job, he had to leave 6 days later. Just like that everything had changed. I had two choices at that point: (1) Cling to the nest and “lose out” on what God had planned for me or (2) Take the next right step and “find out” what God had for me. After moving here and going through the process of growth that occurred as a result of these changes, I became interested in learning more about the eagle. Through the aforementioned, it became clear to me what a close correlation there is between this aspect of nature and our own lives on a spiritual level. Not only through the process of just growing up ~ but more so ~ in going through the process of recovery.
We enter into treatment and/or the rooms of recovery and it is a safe place to be. We have lots of warm faces, words of encouragement and reassurance surrounding us. We are allowed a time to “just be” and to rest. But soon we begin hearing about what we need to do to prepare for the real world, so that we can “live life on life’s terms”. The person working with us, (whether that initially is with the therapist or the sponsor), will inevitably begin to stir up the nest. Disheveling our comfortable place and poking holes in our ideas of how things should work. They will bring forth “truths” that poke at us and make it uncomfortable for us to sit idly by in our safe place. Why do they insist on doing this to us?? It is to get us motivated!! Ultimately the sponsor will take us from “idling in our safe place” and lift us to places we have never been – where we can see what needs to be done. They will allow us to make decisions and let us go, so that we can begin trying to apply what we are learning. Sure, in the beginning it’s like a train wreck most of the time…but that isn’t the point. We are developing spiritual muscle. Sadly, this isn’t the choice of everyone. There are those who “refuse to learn and refuse to grow”. Waiting for someone else to save them ~ they allow their wings to fold and they fall. One day, there is no one there to catch them.
But when we DO decide to begin working the steps, (to fly directly into the storm), this process raises us to a dependency and relationship with the God of our understanding. Often we will not want to leave the safety of our little nests…but God to, will allow us discomforts that cause us to be placed in a position for change. He will lift us far above our circumstances, with moments of great peace and tranquility, – where our view is much larger and clearer. Then, like the mother eagle, He will swoop out from under us, allowing us to practice the spiritual tools we have been given ~ but growing, we are never far from the safety of His hand. As time goes on, we become stronger and our lives improve. God won’t just get us flying (sober), but like that mother eagle, He will also ensure us everything that we will need to survive and thrive. I for one am forever grateful for my Eagle’s Nest experience.
© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 Rebecca Balko