Negative Learning From A Rattlesnake
Growing up in Michigan, I had both a fear and fascination for venomous snakes, though I’d never seen an eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Michigan’s only venomous snake.
In California over the years I’ve had quite a few close encounters with two of the three species of rattlesnakes here. None were dangerous, though a lack of alertness when hiking in their habitat could have resulted in a different outcome. In short, I developed a healthy respect when hiking in rattlesnake country.
When I moved to this town in mid-1990, the area beyond my apartment that ran along the creek was undeveloped. There were long-eared rabbits, pheasants, a variety of hawks, and rattlesnakes.
It was a good place to meditate beside the stream at the periphery of town. One day, in late spring when the grass was high, I was sitting cross-legged in the tall grass when I heard something rustling a few meters away, concealed by dead leaves and debris. Curious, I remained motionless as it came closer.
Suddenly a big rattlesnake was five or six feet away. My legs and arms became springs and I shot straight up off the ground into the air.
Then I surprised myself by doing something rather extraordinary– I sat back down. The rattler, rather than retreat, came closer. I watched it like a hawk, hyper-alert for any sign of the snake’s threat or being threatened. But the rattlesnake, which was a long, fat specimen, didn’t coil or rattle. Indeed, it stretched out beside me, less than an arm’s length away, and remained as motionless as me.
Watching the primal fear within me as I watched the snake, fear dissolved, replaced by intense awareness and feeling of mystery and harmony. I had no urge to touch the snake, but remained stock-still, and inwardly and outwardly very watchful.
Having backpacked alone in the woods of Michigan and mountains of California, I felt, rising after 45 minutes, that I had been in the wilderness for a week, though the edge of town was only a quarter-mile away.
Later, I talked with an indigenous man with much knowledge of the local tribe that has made this area their home for centuries, the Machoopda. He said that native peoples attached great significance to such encounters, and I had merged with the rattlesnake. It was a shamanic event, a sign of transmutation, individually and collectively.
A week later, close to the same spot, I encountered a father walking with his young son, his outstretched arm proudly carrying a rattlesnake that looked exactly like the one that had befriended me.
“Did you have to kill it?”
His disingenuous reply: “I was protecting my son.”
A mindfulness therapist and life coach wrote recently and said, “I do believe the world is moving towards increased consciousness, despite the chaos we see.”
I would like to believe that too, but given how dark the world has become, the evidence attests to the contrary.
The violence of American football and the juvenile inanity of Taylor Swift mania have merged into a moronic bacchanal in the United States and beyond. Super Bowl Sunday both backgrounds and foregrounds why there’s an increasing likelihood Trump will be elected again, despite Swift’s expected endorsement of Biden.
It’s very hard for progressives and conservatives alike to face the fact that humankind is not progressing but regressing. Conservatives believe they can return to the halcyon days of yore, and “Make America Great Again,” while progressives insist the world is moving toward increased consciousness, despite growing darkness and chaos.
At best it’s a race between darkness and light in humanity; and light, though it moves a lot faster than darkness, is losing. But perhaps the worse things get the greater the urgency and possibility of a revolution in consciousness that changes the disastrous course of man. Even if so, that possibility only exists to the degree that the individual is awakening.
The problem is that when you scratch the surface of the mindfulness movement, there’s little or no substance, or to use an old-fashioned word, character, behind it. Given that character grows stronger in direct proportion to meeting and learning from the darkness within and around us, few people appear to be actually learning.
Learning, in the sense I’m using the word, is non-accumulative. Indeed, it occurs in reverse – inward learning is a matter of negation: the more one lets go of hurt and conditioning in attentiveness, the more space for the light of insight within one.
The encounter with the rattlesnake confirmed two things – that remaining with one’s fear dissolves it; and that there is something ineffably mysterious and immeasurably profound at the core of life.
However thought and self don’t have anything to do with it. The mind, as thought, with its contents of memory revolving around a fictitious center called ‘me,’ is an impediment to awareness and experiencing the numinous.
Genesis got it totally backwards – snakes are messengers of transmutation, and humans have projected evil onto them.
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