The Hawk's Moment

Yesterday I watched a hawk hunt from mere steps away. Lessons for life and work? You bet! Please read on.

We can achieve amazing things when we get out of our own way. Our self-regard and overthinking obfuscate the obvious and weigh down action. The moment of performance demands trust in instinct and practice. Elite athletes and soldiers are coached to set the mind aside in the moment and trust in their training and talent. Many of us are taught something different that is neither natural nor effective: “think on our feet.” Animals live the lesson that it is not thought that leads in the moment. It is the heart, channeling confidence and focus. It is the body, trusting the senses and living the practice.

Yesterday I was out for a walk when I spied a hawk perched on a nearby fence. It paid me only brief regard. The cars driving by, my human presence, the fading afternoon, none of this deterred this hawk. It scanned the grass for prey. When the moment came, the hawk dropped from its perch. It pounced without hesitation, without using its wings. It simply jumped, embodying its knowledge of gravity and distance to pounce without giveaway flutter of air or foreboding shadow. The hawk then held up its prize, a small snake in its beak, before gobbling it down like a strand of pasta. 

Theory and practice are what we do beforehand to prepare. In the moment of action and pressure to perform, however, set the intellect aside. The hawk did not reflect on how long it should wait for prey to emerge. It simply waited until when. The hawk did not dwell upon “the five H’s of hunting,” whether or not it was a good hunter, or what I, the human audience, would think of its performance. It watched and listened. It relaxed deeply, motionless and poised. When the snake emerged, the hawk struck without thought, swift as the wind in its stillness of mind.

Yes, this was a wonder to observe. What animals know humans must learn. In moments of action, commit to the decision. Live it in your intentions, your movement, your engagement of others. Big moments are simply more practice. Take each one on its own, as the hawk does each hunt in the fading light of a winter afternoon.

Stryk Thomas