By Ty H Phillips
I sat on the green iron bench watching the cotton wood puffs float and flitter around the playground as children skip and laugh and climb over the three story playground where I take Brynn.
Her red hair catching the sun and dancing in the wind, she looked up look up every so often with her blue eyes to make sure I am still there, watching, smiling, approving.
Six years ago around this time I was ordained in a lineage of Buddhism attached to Chogyam Trungpa, a controversial and yet unparallelled teacher of dharma. That year before I drove the five hours to partake in the ceremony, I found myself lost in the woods, looking at the flowers, listening to the rustle of animals and the song of the stream, when I came across a great black snake.
It was just lying across my path as if to say, “Hey, what’s up?”
I knelt down and for a moment it seemed like our eyes met. It made no attempt to move away from me or toward me. We just sat there looking into each other’s eyes. I have always felt a connection to snakes but this seemed special—different—something almost other worldly, like a shamanic experience.
I was in a place of great transition both physically and “spiritually” so to speak.
That whole spring and summer, every time I went out to walk, I encountered these snakes. It was like they were talking to me. No one else seemed to notice them and yet I couldn’t take a hike without almost stepping right on them. The nage, keepers of wisdom and earth.
For the next four years I didn’t see them again. I came across garter snakes and a random baby corn snake, but never again the large black serpent with such an imposing and majestic presence. I felt my connection lost, my shamanic experience flittering away.
This spring, I again find myself fully in a time of profound change, emotionally and physically once again. As I see myself still reeling and in conflict with myself and my world, I went out as I do, to lose myself in the woods and find silence, clarity and equipoise—when there it was, majestic, black, and right in my path. There was that black snake that captured my attention and had made me feel connected to earth and my practice.
I looked down at the snake and down in my hand focusing on my black onyx mala, as I chanted the naga mantra.
It may be something, it may be nothing, it may be simply my wish to see a connection in something that gives me a sense of peace and hope in a world in turmoil. I knelt down and touched it. It neither shied away nor made aggressive lunges. It looked back, curious, unfazed and I slowly made connection with it. Eventually I picked it up and let it crawl around my arm.
It was a cool day so it was most likely enjoying the warmth of my arm, soaking it up and making itself feel as invigorated as I was.
As the days move forward, I know that I have two choices—embrace the change that lies before me or fight for control in a world where control is little more than illusory, fleeting and impermanent. I know the path well and I know that I can find comfort in uncertainty or torture myself by clinging to things that are no longer healthy for me. The serpent suggests wisdom and change, a reconnection to earth and solidity. It suggests a pointing finger where I should be going or where I should be re-focusing attention and direction.
It suggests that I reground myself into the path, into the obvious, into the solidity of falling instead of fighting.
Editor: Dana Gornall