Submitting to Mastery

Most hawks will stand on a falconer’s glove within the first few minutes of being trapped from the wild. The hawk will likely puff himself up to look menacing and spread his wings to appear larger, but he will stand there and not bate (jump) from the glove despite his distrust and fear. It’s a remarkable thing, really.

One of the first challenges a falconer must overcome when manning a wild hawk is to get the bird to eat from his glove. While the bird may not relax his dramatic pose for the first hours and possibly day or two, the moment he does is the moment he begins to consider eating from the glove. Some will eat right away (according to their disposition and hunger) while others will give the famous stare at the falconer’s head for hours on end without ever looking down to the glove.

The final moments before the hawk finally eats from the glove are some of the most interesting in the manning process. Emotions typically run high (especially for the apprentice falconer), as the milestone is as significant to the bird’s development as it is to the falconer’s confidence.

The hawk, running on the instinctive flightiness that in part kept him alive during the first few months of life typically comes almost to the point of reaching down and eating several times but interrupts his certain meal by looking around nervously, pulling his legs against the anklets and jesses he is now fitted with or bating. He nearly yields and then makes an intense effort to escape the pressure of the moment.

I’ve seen many people take the same approach to yielding to their higher self. They are drawn to it and they give part of themselves but then pull sheepishly or violently away, instead of yielding and moving past their reluctance and fears in a swift and final manner. To my mind it matters not whether they distrust themselves, others or the process itself, the point is that they don’t relax sufficiently in themselves to let their higher nature permeate the lower.

Any falconer will tell you that the moment the hawk finally does lower his defenses sufficiently to bow down and grab the food is one of the most exhilirating in the manning process. Any angel will tell you that the moment the body, mind and heart of a man finally accedes to his higher self is one of the most vitalizing in the making of a true man.

The principles are the same, thought the application is different. You can take comfort in the fact that your falconer – the angel you are – is absolutely trustworthy. You needn’t spend any more time wrestling with your angel as Jacob was reported to have so long ago. You will lose nothing by submitting to him (or her). In fact, the upside is limitless.

Delay no more, come down from your widening gyre and let the falconer know he is heard!

The Value of Decision

Lexi, my Red-tailed Hawk hunting partner, has taught me a great many things over the last two-and-a-half years. I have a deep respect for her hunting style, which centers around an uncluttered capacity for decision.

Human beings have it relatively easy. We don’t, generally speaking, have to risk life and limb every time we eat. We don’t, in our homes or at a restaurant, have to perform death-defying feats that push us to the edge of our physical and mental envelope to keep our food from escaping before it is served. Hawks do, each and every meal.

There’s nothing like facing a life-or-death situation to test your capacity for decision and your resolve once you’ve committed. Lexi approaches the split-second decisions she must make when chasing her quarry with with an intense focus and an inimitable grace. She is not, of course, endowed with the complex (and often overly and unnecessarily complicated) consciousness that her falconer and his fellow humans possess; nevertheless, her majestic example serves as an inspiration and a challenge, a call to continuous refinement of the capacity for decision.

The greatest single impediment to decisiveness is found in a troubled heart. The mental faculties are not typically the root of indecision, in fact, it is the overly and unnecessarily complicated emotional environment in which we tend to flail around as we move pillar to post instead of steadily forward on our journey through time. A troubled heart disrupts the normal thinking processes, creating a state akin to hypoxia.

As a pilot who has had specific training in hypoxia-awareness, I can aver to the fact that hypoxia’s debilitating effect on the mental processes is secondary to the peril of the false and misleading sensation of well-being that accompanies it. The problem with hypoxia is that you tend to feel great, if not euphoric, at the very moment that you should be most concerned.

So it is with a troubled heart. When your heart is troubled – either overjoyed or dejected – your perception of what is really occurring, that is, the truth of the matter, is skewed. As such, when you are faced with a difficult decision you are wise to first come to the point where your heart is as untroubled as possible. When your heart is at rest your mind has a much better chance at working as it was designed to work, i.e. a tool for rational thought rather than a tool for rationalization.

When your heart is troubled your mind will tend to waste its energies trying to make sense of the distorted and unreliable information it is receiving from your heart. Like walking through a hall of mirrors or making your way through a busy room while wearing a pair of your friends glasses, you have to think extra hard to find your way through the situation and the course you take is rarely optimal.

How you let your heart come to rest is for you to decide. Sometimes a couple of deep breaths and counting slowly to ten will do it. Other times indulging in a brief distraction to “take your mind off of it” for a moment can help. Some, I’ve heard, even benefit from “sleeping on it” as the opportunity permits. There are many techniques that can help you in this regard, but ultimately you’ll find that deliberately cultivating an unflappable appreciation for the privilege of decision and adopting a radiant stance in all that you undertake is the key to maintaining an untroubled heart every waking moment of your life.

If you have a better day today because of what you’ve learned, don’t thank me. Thank Lexi. Thank the natural world around you. Give thanks and give freely of yourself and better days will no longer be the exception, but the rule.

On Parenting and Falconry

While I am inclined to favor the cultivation of personal responsibility over the imposition of regulation, I cannot help but note the irony of the fact that to practice the sport of falconry you must first obtain a license that comes only on the completion of a challenging and comprehensive written examination and a two year apprenticeship, while no test of fitness is ever imposed on prospective parents in the interest of the child.

Although those with ornithophobia might take exception to the following claim, raising children is more dangerous, demanding and complicated than caring for a raptor. And while I risk offending the sensibilities of my fellow falconers, I am fairly confident that a well-raised, well-rounded child is more important to the future of our planet than a well-manned bird.

That said, I would love for there to be an abundance of both well-mannered children and well-manned birds on this planet and I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive. As one of roughly 4,000 falconers in a country of 307,000,000 people, it is my great pleasure to share a few of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned while practicing this remarkable sport, lessons that have influenced and hopefully enhanced my approach to parenting:

  1. Raptors are highly sensitive creatures. In my observation, raptors meet calmness with stoicism and agitation with frenzy. Only a falconer who has mastered himself is capable of subduing the intensity of a wild bird of prey. Lesson learned: when you are concerned to extend control, never act out of reaction. Exerting a radiant influence compels lasting agreement while forcing the matter secures only temporary acquiescence.
  2. Raptors recognize patterns that you might otherwise miss. Raptors live and die by pattern recognition and falconers must take great care in the patterns they establish with their birds. Lesson learned: children are always watching, listening to and learning from their parents, whether they acknowledge them or not. There is no “off-camera” or “off-the-record” when it comes to raising children. You are always live and you must, therefore, take great care with your thoughts, words and actions.
  3. Raptors are never fully tame and are therefore always potentially dangerous. The relationship between falconer and bird is largely based on food, though some falconers, myself included, suspect a deeper bond. Lesson learned: while children can learn the art of civility, parents are wise to always leave room for the occasional irrational outburst. Take care not to allow flat spots to develop in the child’s character and when weaknesses are detected, don’t always go straight at them. Character flaws are not permanent and they can be back-filled with careful and thoughtful intervention.
  4. No two raptors are the same – physically, mentally or in personality. Every bird must be approached a little differently. Similarly, each species has its stereotypical traits, thought there appear to be more exceptions to the rule than followers. Lesson learned: The same strategies and tactics used with one child, say a first child, may not work on the next. Parents must be light on their feet, capable of tailoring their approach to the necessities of the child and of the moment. The failure to do so results in a parent seeming arbitrary, ineffective and out of touch.
  5. Raptors respond to respect. A falconer must be firm, but gentle with his bird in every interaction. Remember, these are highly perceptive creatures. Lesson learned: Respect is more than a mental concept; it is an non-threatening acknowledgement that carries a gentle, complementary energy. Respect should be the cornerstone of any and every relationship and consistent respect bequeaths the spirit of reverence in a way that no other combination of words or actions can.
  6. Raptors smell fear. Well, maybe not, but they do seem to pick up on timidity and fearfulness. When they do, they tend to exploit the openings provided thereby. Lesson learned: never end a command or exclamation directed at a child with the word “okay” (typically punctuated with a question mark). For example, “Go to bed, okay?” not only exposes your expectation and fear of an argument, it is the grammatical equivalent of a “kick me” sign with an arrow pointed to your derriere. You know what is best for the child. Deliver it with assurance so that you are not already behind the eight ball when you make an inevitable, yet less obvious mistake later on.

I hope that we can continue to refine our approach to educating future parents so as to obviate the need for regulations designed to protect or promote “family values.” Regulations are the coarsest form of managing human affairs, for regulation is the formal acknowledgement that we have temporarily given up on the idea that collective internal governance is possible within that sphere of activity.

Parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

The Value of Apprenticeship

Lexi (winning the staring competition)

It is my great pleasure to announce that my brother-in-law and I completed our two year falconry apprenticeship yesterday! We couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of our sponsor, Buster Brown, the patience and stoicism of our trusty Red-tailed Hawks, Lexi and Heath, and the words of advice from many others in the Georgia Falconry Association and the falconry community at-large.

Falconry is an ancient sport. It has remained largely unchanged over the centuries apart from the fact that many more people practice it now than in previous eras due to the expansion of leisure time and the relaxation of the class structure that once prevented commoners from participating in the sport. It is in my view the most delightful and fascinating forms of hunting available to us today.

My focus today is not on the sport itself, rather, I would like to enumerate a few of the many benefits of apprenticeship. The idea of apprenticeship is not a new idea, in fact it has been around for millennia. The Code of Hammurabi, a complete extant of Babylonian laws dating from the 18th century BCE, required artisans to teach their crafts to the next generation. The same practice continued much later in the European craft guilds, which governed the transition from apprentice to craftsman, journeyman, master and eventually grandmaster.

Falconry licensure marks three stages: apprentice, general and master. As you move through the levels your experience affords you new privileges and expanded rights. In the case of falconry, you gain access to more birds, more types of birds and to the privilege of sponsoring other apprentices. In an era where formality and structure appear to be on the wane, such a construct is refreshing as it is exigent.

I had the good fortune of completing two internships (a lesser form of apprenticeship) during my college career and I must say that those experiences went a long way to ground the theory that I learned in the classroom. When theory is grounded in practice, it becomes meaningful. Further, the opportunity to practice in a safe and contained environment – with the oversight of an expert – is invaluable.

I would love to hear your experience with either internships or apprenticeships as I imagine that there are both pluses and negatives to such an arrangement.

Invincible Determination

An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men.” ~ Thomas Fuller

How determined are you to leave a legacy of blessing, encouragement and inspiration? Does the adjective “invincible” best describe your determination or would it be better described as “better than average” or “needs improvement?” These questions must be answered and any deficiencies must be remedied if you are to have the wherewithal to live an uncommon life.

Success does not favor those who lack determination. While out on a hunt yesterday afternoon a young Jagdterrier/Beagle helped our hawks chase down squirrels. One of the squirrels eluded my friend’s hawk and ensconced himself inside of a large hollowed out tree. The puppy, Maggie, dug furiously under the tree, chewing away parts of the tree roots that blocked the way and any attempt to distract her from her self-prescribed mission were utterly futile.

We followed the hawk to another tree down the hill when she gave up on the hidden squirrel, and Maggie rejoined the hunt several minutes later. The hawk finally caught a squirrel and Maggie ran up to the scene, sniffed the squirrel, likely realized that the hawk wasn’t going to share and then ran back to the tree some 100 yards away. She recommenced her dig and I have to say it was one of the finest examples of determination next to a hawk’s chase of its prey I have ever witnessed. A very good sign in such a young hunting dog.

On a related note, you may have heard the story of the chicken and the pig. It outlines the difference between those who are just involved versus those who commit themselves fully in any and every situation. The story has many variants, one of which goes as follows:

A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” “I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.

Most people are commitment-phobic at some level or another. They dread giving themselves fully to a process, for fear of loss, fear of failure and more often than you would imagine, for fear of success. If you are interested in living an uncommon life, you are wise to remember that determination is the fuel of commitment, but taken too far, determination morphs into obsession. Determination is helpful, but obsession is almost always destructive to those who give up balance and reasonableness in pursuit of a goal.

If determination is in fact the quality that lies between smallness and greatness, then greatness is within reach of each and every person on earth.