The Lotus and the Snake in our Web of Life
The Lotus and the Snake in our Web of Life
This past year here at Stonehaven we have had eleven afternoon mini-retreats around the theme of the lotus. I had no idea exactly where we might be led during the year, but in May, it was with sadness and curiosity that I announced that my lotus plant had probably died. There were no signs of growth, and as a gardener, I knew that the combination of a winter deep freeze, a lack of sunlight, and less optimum pond conditions were the culprits. Needless to say, this was not a lesson I had planned on learning. As humans we rarely plan to study failure, decay, and dying in an up-close and personal way. It is more commonly forced upon us without our assent. Through this and many life lessons of the past decades, I have come to understand that the human soul must embrace the paradox of death because it is essential to abundant living.
As thinking, dreaming, passionate, creatures of nature, we know we are part of a vast web of life and death. As individual humans we are becoming aware that we are each gifted with specific qualities, depending on our culture, upbringing, and DNA; very different from the animal, plant or mineral kingdoms but also remarkably similar. My personal experience which I have creatively written about in my novel, The Retreat, tells of some of my journey to understand my place in this natural Universe through the mirror of the sacred lotus. As you read now, I offer you this question to ponder.
What specific encounters with nature have taught you who you are, to know more deeply your place on this planet?
Curiously, a new season of my life is emerging; I call it my journey into wildness. This land is luring me deeper into the darker aspects of abundance. Over the past months I have had countless moments of wonder with innate and unknown wildness: the curling vines, the shadows behind rocks, and the unseen spirits of two centuries of Quaker family life on this property. These all draw me to wonder, but three things have captured my soul’s attention this week:
1. The spider – one of thousands who weave their presence in the liminal hours. This one has spoken to me this week in the determination to set and re-set her home across the front gate. Her sticky webs on my face remind me to stop and be thoughtful about my place, to more carefully consider each step in this wild, unseen web of earthy life. Have you considered recently, especially in this summer of wild weather and unusual change, what else might be there, waiting to be known, just around the darker fringe of thought-provoking wonder? As humans, it is an honor and a responsibility to be blessed with this gift, more so than any other creature.
2. The snake – we have been blessed with an underworld visitation. An enormous black rat snake spent a whole week on our back patio, curled on the hot stones of the path, while digesting some large meal – probably a chipmunk. On one fear-filled occasion, I came face-to-face with this harmless yet fierce presence sitting on the high stone wall while I was on the ground below. Though my pounding heart and racing panic emerged from the most instinctual part of my brain, I knew I was being called to sit with this dark friend, this messenger of what feels like ultimate wildness, a harbinger of African childhood terrors.
A few days ago, I found this creature’s beautiful skin waiting for me in one of my planters – a morning offering to be sure. Native American tradition teaches us that the snake is close to earth energies and represents life force, unconscious drives and primal instincts. It is also a symbol of healing power – Moses in the wilderness used a snake on a rod, and the Greeks symbol for this god still festoons the halls of modern medicine.
Curiously, this has been a week of seeking guidance, of fasting and seeking direction as I step again into the unknown at a season of transition. I discovered, but intuitively already knew, that the presence of a snake can be taken as a sign of spiritual guidance, pointing to new ways to promote growth. When I am able to move through and beyond my fears, then like the snake I can remain close to the Earth and my essential body/soul/spirit connection.
The lotus – ah yes – my precious lotus is alive! The huge leaves began to appear in early June, and then one a day when I desperately needed a sign of promise, I noticed the bud emerging up out of the muck. It has been knocked around by sheets of rain and windstorms, but it remains a symbol of profound promise to us intrepid spiritual adventurers, especially when we have been knocked around by years of emotional uncertainty about being able to financially sustain this property that we love so much and have been honored to be care-takers of.
Despite a life-time of living on the risky edge of a counter-cultural lifestyle, we have never been so deeply in need. Thus it is curiously paradoxical that never in over two decades of life on this property has so much “been in bloom” for each person in our human community of Stonehaven. There are six of us living here now, each called in unique and unusual ways to make this our home, but each of us determined – like the spider – to keep building and rebuilding our section in the web of life.
As I took this picture this morning, I was delighted to see a glistening web woven attached to the swelling lotus bud, and on closer inspection noticed the little messenger clinging in the shadows. Can you see it? What an inner and outer gift of simple harmony and synchronicity!
Through all of this, I am reminded yet again, that we are all sustained by the Spirit, Soul and Body of this magnificent Earth. Little wonder that I have entitled this year’s retreat series: Sustaining Earth, Sustaining Self.
Do come and join us in the unfolding mystery of abundant life. Who knows what wildness you might uncover?