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Remember the Eagle with Each Breath You Take

Posted Sep 04 2009 12:38pm

The Huichol tribe of central Mexico has a rich cosmology embodied in stories, ceremonies and art. They believe in animal spirits, and when they are sick rely on their shamans to heal them and cast out negative spirits.  In college, one of my classes was visited from a man who grew up in New York and later went to visit the Huichols to learn from them. One thing I always remember is this saying, Remember the eagle with each breath you take.

I no longer remember what significance this had for the Huichols, though I know that Eagle is an important figure for them. For me, it has become a sort of mantra that conjurs a connection with the natural world, spirituality, and a place of deep relaxation. It reminds me to take deep breaths, think of something outside myself, and consider the primal needs of the animals and the world around me.

I’ve never been religious, but my spirituality rests in nature and the balances in ecological systems. The universe, whether or not there is a consciousness behind it all, finds a way to create a balance through the efforts of so many diverse creatures that have different motives, drives, and needs. So many systems are at play, working against and for each other.  This is a miracle whether or not there is a conscious god behind it all. Eagle is an important spiritual figure for many native peoples, and according to wikipedia, eagles are also used in symbolism for many nations.  As a predatory bird, eagles fill an important niche and help control the populations of smaller animals that might otherwise be pests.

I am blessed to live in a time and place that’s open to many beliefs, religions, spiritualities, and even the lack of religion. What is most important for humanity, it seems, is that we believe in something beyond ourselves. Something that helps us transcend the daily mundane, the toil, and the suffering that we know here. In many healing programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, followers learn to believe in something outside of themselves –mostly God– to restore balance and happiness in their lives. Once I read a woman’s story who began a 12-step program, struggled with it because she was an atheist, and began to think of the ocean itself as her higher power.

I think faith, and an awareness of something transcendent, are just as important in healing from a debilitating physical injury as from an emotional one. Much has been written on the power of prayer. I don’t know if I believe in that–I’ve certainly never heard an answer when I’ve tried to pray. Then again, I’m a skeptic.

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