Saturday, 24 February 2018

Snakes and Fear, a True Story





You are the guardian of a treasure,
Oh, just like a sleeping serpent
And you shall see, I shall make you
Spin around like that sleepy snake.
Listen to me.

 Jalaluddin  Rumi 

India's Snake Woman,  the Nagini Druvinka Puri
Why do snakes inspire in us, two-legged creatures, a sense of wonder and fear?

Surely this has been so since earliest times? Their link with the primordial wisdom state and their connection to a mysterious realm not well understood by we, warm-blooded beings, does nothing to diminish our sense of their strangeness.

In New Zealand where I spent the earliest years of my life, there is nothing more poisonous afoot that a slimy little bug called, by the Maori, a Weta. Snakes in the land of the 'long white cloud,' are creatures that one only hears about. They are somewhere else; from far and distant lands. They could have been from Mars, for all I knew or could really envision in those formative years of my life.

Then, when I was sixteen years old, I moved to Australia and in a period of a few short months found myself in the wild northern territories. The lands of numerous peculiar, primordial, creeping and crawling creatures. Crocodiles, lizards and spiders of all shapes and varieties and of course numerous breeds and brands of snakes.

However, it was not until I moved to a patch of tropical forest near the small town of Kuranda in Northern Queensland, that I had my first close encounters with many varieties of these creatures.

I had moved to the forest in order to 'meditate,' but the good Lord had other plans for me. On the very first day in that new world, I had two very close encounters with a tree snake. Certainly, this breed is not usually poisonous, so as far as a gentle introduction goes, I suppose this was it. I quickly discovered that there were numerous and far more dangerous snakes also living in close proximity.

The tree snake and I, however, shared my forest hut for some six months or more. We respected each other's boundaries after the first two startling encounters and soon settled into cautious co-habitation. The snake lived in the loft of my forest abode where it had found access via some gap or other near the roof. I felt that this resident was infinitely preferable to a Boer constrictor, the likes of which very much favour such places.

I learnt many, many things in this new environment that I could never have gleaned from any book or college. In fact, in these few short months, a whole paradigm change took place within my mind, one that was, very effectively, to shape and prepare me for future adventures which were not very long in coming.

I went into this environment at the age of eighteen. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, had never lived alone in my life and was as naive and innocent as a newborn babe.

One among many adventures that took place during those months recently made an appearance in my little store of memories. It virtually bowled me over when the memory of it suddenly resurfaced while speaking with a friend on some related matter.

Until that moment I had quite forgotten about it altogether.

I would like to share it with you as it was one of those formative experiences, the likes of which we all encounter under different guises at one time or another in our lives. Very often we are shocked to the core of our being, but then somehow magically, we forget all about it within quite a short period of time. This was what happened to me.

I am sure that my body and psyche have retained and to this day continue to retain some imprint of the psychic impact of this experience, hence this post. Let me endeavour to unravel it with you, it may stir in you some long forgotten memory of your own.

While living in the forest in Kuranda I used to come and go from my hut to the village on a small road bike. At that time I was staying some distance from the town and the only access to it was via a gravel road which forded a small river and was soon after followed by a very steep dirt track.

I would make the journey into the town probably about once a week or more frequently if the need arose. One time I remember coming back from one of these excursions and noticing a small creek trickling down amid the dense foliage on the side of the road. It had been my experience in the recent past when with friends that at the source of these little creeks one could often find beautiful waterfalls and cool blue ponds.

We had made several such explorations in this area and they had all been well worth the effort. For some reason, that day, I was very much pulled to explore this particular creek even though I was alone.

My curiosity was piqued and I was feeling particularly buoyant and adventurous that morning. I parked my motorbike on the side of the road and took off up the side of the rivulet. It was a gorgeous morning and sunlight shone through the forest leaves in dappled strands. The coolness and the luxurious greenness of this landscape lured me like a promise and taking no heed of anything else I dove into it bounding from one rock to another as I made my way up the stream.

In this mood of great exuberance, I continued to climb on and on always hopeful that the expected waterfall and icy pool would soon appear. Probably about an hour into my climb I found myself among a sea of boulders and the stream had disappeared beneath.

All along the route, I had begun to discard various pieces of my clothing. It was getting hotter and hotter and I did not for one moment even consider that I would ever meet anyone in such a place. I continued for a while longer until it became clear that the stream was not issuing from any nearby waterfall but rather perhaps some hidden spring which was well beneath the boulders over which I was climbing.

Taking a moment to catch my breath I suddenly noticed a movement in the corner of my eye. I looked towards it and saw a very large brown snake glide soundlessly beneath the large rock on which I was standing. I froze with fear.
An instant terror just rose in my belly and I suddenly felt paralysed.

By that time I had, of course, encountered many snakes in and around where I was living. However, what I discovered that morning in this completely isolated place was that I had climbed into an area that was literally crawling with these creatures. I became aware that I was being watched and not by human eyes. There were snakes basking on the rocks to my left and to my right, above where I was standing and beneath the rocks I was standing on. Finding myself in their midst suddenly left me feeling incredibly alone and vulnerable. I became painfully aware of my nakedness as though someone had just thrown icy water all over me.

Somehow the myriad eyes which were watching me were unspeakably strange, alien and frightening.

I had climbed into this place unmindful of the dangers and completely engrossed in my mood of joyful curiosity. Becoming aware of my foolishness and the danger that I was in was unspeakably discomforting. I stood rooted to the spot, utterly petrified. The mood had shifted from joy to terror, without anything in between.

This shift was so sudden and shocking that it froze every cell in my body and I simply could not move. There was no one to call, nothing to do, no apparent way to escape.

I could not imagine how I would retrace my steps all the way back to the road without one of these creatures lunging out at me and yet I had to try to get back to the road and my bike.

On every side I felt the cold and piercing gaze of countless silent eyes watching, waiting. This was their place, I was an intruder and my instinctive fear created a barrier between them and me and rendered me supremely vulnerable and in their power.

With the utmost care and as slowly as I could I began to move back down the boulder-strewn creek. In agonising horror, I could only pray and move one shaky limb after the other hoping that these 'lords of the realm' these 'serpents of wisdom' would let me pass by unmolested.

The descent felt as though it took an eternity. The stress and tension in my body turned every fibre in my being into a mass of straining nerves. The blood was pumping through my body so intensively that all I could hear was its pounding in my ears.

I picked up the pieces of clothing I had discarded along the way and
by the time I finally reached the road was fully attired and utterly exhausted.

The gratitude and relief that I felt at seeing my little Yamaha bike sitting exactly where I had left it some hours before was something I could never have anticipated when I had parked it there earlier that morning.

I made my way back to my forest hut, thoughtfully and much chastened by the morning's unexpected adventure.

In those days I was encountering my 'mind' in ways that I could never have even dreamed of. It felt as though the forest around me was conspiring to teach me the ways of 'awareness.' The very environment in which I lived and moved became my 'guru,' pushing me towards discoveries that were to prove pivotal and life-changing.

I escaped unharmed from that place which was crawling with snakes but that left me with no sense of victory, rather I was quite taken aback by the shameless fear that had risen up in me so unbidden and so uncontrollable.

Fear is a useful mechanism for keeping us alive in certain situations but many of us seldom, if ever, examine it for itself. If I had not been consumed by fear during the encounter with the nagas in the forest in Queensland, I can't help but wonder as to what frontiers of 'awareness' these creatures might have led me.

Certainly, in India, snakes are feared but they also respected, even revered and the Nagini Druvinka Puri provides us with a striking example of how one kingdom can cross a threshold in order to encounter another. What are the boundaries which separate us in the first place?

Surely these boundaries exist only in our minds?

I could not rise to fully meet the occasion of that unique challenge, but even so, my curiosity is still piqued. No longer am I concerned about the imagined cool blue pond giving rise to a stream but rather the lives that dwell near the stream and whose consciousness existence appears to be so alien and strange.

As with all who dwell in this world, in whatever form, the naga snakes have their own peculiar lives and are an integral part of the mystery of our existence.