photo by ellen reitman.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Snakes and Ladders.

One of the oldest and most often used analogies for the human condition has to do with the much maligned snake.  The ancient sages pointed out how a person might come across a rope on the path, but think it’s a snake.  A Realized being, they continued, would see it for what it is; a harmless rope.  In other words, we tend to see this world as real and dangerous while, they insist, it is a magical, illusory show and quite benign.    

Well, I have heard and read that analogy so often over the years that when I saw what certainly looked like a snake in the grass, one recent morning, I was not to be fooled.  I assumed it was simply a harmless length of rope, I grabbed the thing up, it actually was a snake, it bit me and now I am dying.  I suppose I should've known it was in fact a snake since it was moving at the time.  Ok, maybe I’m not actually dying.  Perhaps I wasn’t even bitten, but I might’ve been, I could’ve been. 
Meanwhile that evening, following some basketball, I dropped down onto my bed and immediately went into a catatonic state that lasted a long, long time.  I tried to take a bath, after a while, but by the time I finally made it to the top of my stairs, a distance of approximately three feet, I realized my backside was still on the bed.  It didn’t seem worth taking a bath without my backside, it being such an integral part of the bathing process.  And, while good hygiene is clearly not a priority for many, it is important to me.  So I returned to my bed and waited for the whole carcass to agree upon a time for the event.  As it turned out, that was not until next morning.  So I had plenty of time to reflect on how I had mistaken a nefarious snake for a harmless rope. 
Now, unlike many weak-minded and complex-ridden individuals whom I know, I’m not scared of snakes.  Upon encountering one, I initially just feel uneasy, perhaps a little queasy.  Of course, if it looks at me sideways my skin crawls, I begin to scream silently as I thrash my way through the bushes up the hill.  But, that’s normal.  What bothered me was the fact that the age-old analogy of human-kind; seeing a rope and mistaking it for a snake, had proved incorrect.  I might have died a horrible death. Snakes are not actually poisonous around here, but that’s totally beside my point.  And I wish it would move.  I’m trying to say that the age-old analogy was incorrect, misleading and potentially dangerous.   
What occurred to me was that, if a rope might actually be a snake, perhaps this world might actually be real after all.  Perhaps all the Realized beings strutting around, cajoling all of us into thinking that this is one big dream, are deluded.  And two thoughts followed upon the heels of that one, almost tripping it.  I became haunted by the thought, firstly, that I may have wasted my whole adult life.  Rather than having lived a yogic lifestyle, I could’ve been out there enjoying what this world has to offer; drinking, smoking, doping, throwing up in tavern bathrooms, waking up beside strange women wearing feathers, eating dead animals, huge debts, line-dancing.  Secondly, I thought that I had better give the matter further consideration.  
I’ll let you know now what saved me from spiraling down into a serious depression, as I lay on the bed waiting for my backside to get off itself.  I’ll tell you what helped me rise up.  No, it was not drugs, although that’s a future consideration.  I have three words for you; direct experience.  There’s nothing quite like it.  And I’ve got it.  Had I just read or heard that we mistake ropes for snakes, and then been bitten by one or the other, I would’ve been in serious trouble.  Luckily, those same sages didn’t stop there.  They gave us Meditation.  They encouraged us to find it all out for ourselves, directly, so that the knowledge would remain unshakable, forever.      
What follows here is a short excerpt from an article I wrote a few years back for Wakefield’s famous newspaper; The Low Down To Hull And Back News.  It has been reproduced, with many others, in my book; The Bridge Between, which can be purchased on-line through the publishers; www.bluemoosebooks.com, on-line at; www.amazon.com/uk or through Susan Randall in Wakefield, Quebec, phone; 819 459 1160 or email; madhurta@magma.ca.  I am not aware of anyone actually ever buying a copy, but it is available. 
Snakes.  (pg; 60, The Bridge Between by Nathan Vanek.) 
There’s a charming, ancient saying in India that goes; ‘Oh how I hate snakes! Kill it! Kill it! Kill the slimy creature! There’s a boulder. Smash it!’  Generally speaking, Indians are not overly fond of the reptiles.  They worship them.  They’re fascinated by them.  But, they fear them…
Indian sages liken death to a harmless rope that’s mistaken for a dangerous, venomous snake in the dark of night.  When travelers realize their error, they’re quite relieved.  In the same way, those sages say, when spiritual travelers realize their essential, eternal nature, through maturing their practice of meditation, they’re obviously relieved, forever…
When he lifted the lid, the cobra raised its awful head; the porter let out a blood-curdling scream and threw the basket straight up.  As he ran through the lobby, he yelled; ‘Snake! Snake!  The other porter ran behind him as though they were in a qualifying match for the Asian games.  The hapless Danish couple, trapped in the corner of the elevator, shrieked, wept and bounced from wall to wall while I lay on the ground laughing so hard I must’ve appeared as though I had been bitten.  I wanted to tell them it wasn’t real, but I couldn’t.  People were leaping over counters, jumping onto chairs and out the front doors…
It also reminded me that it behooves all of us to keep in mind what’s real and what’s important, because the rest will eventually slither away.

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