The Dance of Raven and Eagle by Hanneli Francis
To go in the dark with a light To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. --Wendell Berry
America was founded on the vision of the Eagle. Flying high in the sky, with excellent eyesight and powerful wings, this bird has been seen as a symbol of strength, courage, independence, sovereignty, freedom and immortality for centuries. "The Eagle's fierce beauty and proud independence symbolizes the strength and freedom of America," said J. F. Kennedy. It is easy to see how the dominant culture of corporate power and political tyranny has thrived in a country that holds the symbol of this bird in its core values. Even those of us who consider ourselves more progressive and alternative are easy prey for this symbolism. We focus on the spirit, on evolution, getting over our "wounds" and becoming more efficient. I find myself sitting in weekly board meetings, where I squirm in my seat as a fellow board member shares a long-winded discourse, wanting him to "hurry up and get to the point." With the eye of the eagle, majority rules, and lets get on with the game.
The values of the quick, the efficient, the visionary and evolutionary, are deeply enmeshed in our ways of thinking. In a recent Time magazine article entitled "Visions 21: Our Work, Our World" authors made grand predictions for the future of jobs in America. They pointed to a world that would be largely automated, with many of the personal jobs disappearing altogether. This view is the continuation of Eagle dominance into the future. Pushing the past aside, we dive headlong into our future. We remain obsessed with the direction we are going, continually distracting ourselves with doing, acting, creating, manifesting. If TIME magazine is right, this future might look a bit bleak, like a tall tree with huge branches and no roots. We can all agree that the role of the eagle is fundamentally essential. At the same time, if we pause long enough to take a look (or a listen) we recognize that it is merely one half of the picture.
Even as we are moving at mock speed into the cyberspace world, are we not simultaneously emitting a silent cry for intimacy? I know for myself that when I call my long distance phone company and get a real live person on the other end without having to travel through a maze of voice-message connections, I breathe an audible sigh of relief. And at the end of that sometimes painfully long board meeting, when we sit, holding hands in silence, the love that transmits between those hands is very palpable. When I drive home after that, I invariably recognize that it's the love that keeps me coming back, and my urge towards efficiency is quickly forgotten.
This place in us is the home of the Raven, the home of the soul.
The Raven is also a bird surrounded by great mythology and symbolism. Its jet-black color naturally associates it with night, the Void, with mystery and the Earth. It is a bird that has been granted great power in Native American myths: creating the manifest world, teaching through trickery, and being a messenger of the Void. In ancient Germanic cultures, the Raven was considered a symbol of sacrifice, and was associated with thought and memory. In the famous poem by E. A. Poe, the Raven, he calls this bird a prophet, and speaks to it with a mixture of awe and dread.
To honor the darkness of this bird's wing, we turn to our own hidden interior, the parts of our own past marked with shadows of unhealed wounds and unexpressed emotions. The Raven is the symbol of our own Soul. This is the side of ourselves that, according to Thomas Moore, is nostalgic, melancholy, lost in memories and dreams, rooted in the past, resisting change and seeking stability. The side of us that doesn't want to go to the meeting in the first place and would rather stay home and rest. The Raven symbolizes the home of our ancestors, our personal stories and body memories. It is distinctly earthy, and feminine. If I sit there and watch my fellow board members with the eye of the Raven, I realize the importance of letting each express their views, until we come to a place of completion, and consensus.
Now Im not proposing that we should sit at board meetings and discuss how we feel about what we each just ate for lunch. Or, for that matter, what is really at the root of the board member's long-winded monologue. But, perhaps, if we look further into the nature of our own human souls, we might find something more to balance the picture.
While we have been valuing the Eagle so strongly, what is it that has been suppressed? What is the voice that is so insistent in coming up, again and again, attempting to reveal itself to the light? What is the message the Raven brings to us from our own inner Void? In a dominant culture that values the Eagle, many of us have been raised in ways that have pushed us to get over our attachments, our fears and our feelings, and move on. Now we each go about our business, consciously or unconsciously attempting to express those suppressed voices. There he is, our friend and board member, repeating himself over and over again. Is it not so simple to see that the voice is seeking simple validation? An acknowledgement of the feelings so long suppressed? Again, not to turn the meeting into a therapy session, but I can recall several occasions when I was caught in a heated expressive moment, and completely "disarmed" by someone's simple words "I hear you." And I believe that turning that same listening ear inward, turning the vision of the eagle to the heart of the raven, can bring about our own relief. Our dark, feeling, attached and earthy side can find immeasurable relief by simply giving it attention. As much as our visionary side is passionately creating, our soulful side is yearning for stillness. Even this thought, can bring a wave of fear. Our fear is, again, that therapeutic torture chamber. Where our entire past lies revealed, naked on the floor, and we feel no better for it. No, the realm of the raven is the void, devoid of words, of images, of faces. The realm of the soul is the realm of the body. And, as the venerable Vipassana meditation teacher S. N. Goenka says, you don't have to know where the stains came from in order to wash the laundry. The quiet attention is the container; whatever arises, is simply observed. As we pause for stillness in our busy days, the rest happens on its own. The raven begins to fly.
And then, the eagle and raven come together. It is through the balancing of these two metaphors that the glory of the human heart is revealed. When we conduct our lives with the acute vision of the Eagle on one wing, and the deep understanding and self-knowing of the Raven on the other, we find ourselves flying in the body of a much bigger bird. Balanced between the Spirit and the Soul, the masculine and feminine, is the journey of the human heart. Here, we carry our vision, express our views, and then pause to listen, to others, to our relations, to the earth, to our own inner wisdom. Then again, we express, we pause, and we create. When we hold the vision of the eagle and the feeling of the raven with equal tenderness in our hands, a new being springs forth—the child of the future. One that can walk the information highways of cyberspace, yet remain rooted firmly with each foot planted on the ground, looking each passerby warmly in the eye. The majestic tree with deep, earth bound, succulent roots. Joyful, spiritual, rich, alive.
Interestingly enough, both eagle and raven were considered scavengers of the battlefield in Germanic lore, and were associated in pagan times with the God of Battle and the Lord of the Slain. They are considered twins in the Haidu legends, working together to bring balance between humans, the natural and supernatural worlds. It is in the realm of the dynamic dance between these two birds that we humans play. And as we move into the future, each of us is given this great gift, to honor the past, to envision the future, and to be fully present in the present moment.
Hanneli Francis is a yoga teacher and rites of passage guide living in southern oregon. She teaches workshops internationally including several this summer at Breitenbush Hot Springs. She has just recently completed production of her first yoga video: Stand Strong: Easy Yoga for the Lower Back, Hips and sacrum. for more info check out her website at http://www.rvi.net/~asha or email her at ...