Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
I’d like to share some of the best spiritual writing I’ve read. I actually got to attend a workshop in person of this Creative Writing professor, and bought his book because of the good vibe I caught from his person.
In real life, he was bitten by a rattlesnake, having a near-death experience from the nasty bite (though often unfatal, its incredible how long it takes to heal). Through his phsyical healing process, the burned-out professor ends up healing his soul in ways he didn’t forsee. The following excerpt sums up his experience with the snake and personal awakening:
When we see snakes braided around the caduceus, the symbol of professional medicine, we associate them with healing. Culture has given snakes this symbolic power, even in our tehcnological, science-driven mindset. Ironically, we fear snakes, in spite of our healing energy with which we endow them. Helaing unites fear and hope, surrender and courage. The serpent, or the symbolic vestige of literal fear of snakes and reverence for their mystery, persists.
I think we forget the healing power snakes represent. In much of Christianity the snake has been vilified. The story has it that because of the snake we tasted knowledge and were evicted from paradise. But other strands of the Christian tradition, such as gnosticism, see the snake as the beginning of knowledge, of awareness, and of consciousness. Without the snake there can be no conscious appreciation of paradise, of knowing that there is something else.
The snake, then, can represent both healing and awareness, energy and wisdom. The snake around the caduceus is braided to the vertical axis of the cross and intersects with the horizontal day-to-day awareness to pull us out of unconsious horizontal material reality. It snaps the rigid, lockstep patterns of conditioned talk and holds us spellbound and suspended above the sleeping lifewalk. In the presence of the serpent we behold the mystery of life and death. The vertical axis, connecting heaven and the underworld, gives depth and spiritual context to the seemingly endless life miles we travel.
My snake hit me in the middle of life, the middle of my journey along the horizontal bar. I was between childhood and old age, between conception and dissolution. The strike came at the heart of my life-road, locked me into the interstice between past and future, between, as Thoreau puts it, the two great eternities, past and present, between youth and age, and pinned me between terror at dying and ecstasy at still being alive. The two great eternities, however, are nothing ocmpared to what binds them, what creates them: the present. Those eterniteis are like the bark and the heartwood of a tree, both dead, held together by the thin layer of living cells, the cambium, xylem, and phloem, the only place where life really happens in the most enormous of trees.
To live at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal is to be suffused with awe and gratitude at the gift that life is. But that is what habit fears most. It calls it crucifixion.
If crucifixion is the chraged moment when daily life becomes infused with a spiritual depth, then my cross is one spiraled by a winding serpent. At the intersection lies a spiritual fire that burns all that is transient, a momentary awakening to the ephemeral embers glowing within.
In the same way that the vertical is anathmea to the day to day, the snake is other to human life. It is the “otherness” of the snake that speaks to the mystery of death, of the unknown lying outside the boundaries of living. Our knowing the domain of the snake is as likely as our knowing that of death. The snake reminds us, scares us, fascinates us, unites us with those things that cannot be known or even imagined.