Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the true story of a man who wanted to rid himself of all his negative emotions, but especially his terrible fear. Nothing worked because whatever his meditation teacher told him, he managed to turn it around into an intellectual exercise.
Finally, his teacher sent the man off to a small hut in the foothills to spend time in silence and solitude. The very first evening he was there, the man lit three candles, then sat down on the bare wooden floor to meditate. Suddenly he heard a rustling sound in the corner of the small room. When he turned to see what it was, he saw, in the dim light, what looked like a huge king cobra.
All night long the man sat in complete stillness, afraid to move, keeping eye contact with the snake, alert, completely focused on watching its every move. Finally, the last candle guttered out and the room was plunged into total darkness. When that happened, the man began to cry, “not in despair, but from tenderness” Chödrön writes. “He felt the longing of all the animals and people in the world; he knew their alienation and their struggle.” He saw all his faults clearly, but he also saw that he was infinitely precious and loved. It did not matter that he did not understand himself. His being was a well of riches beyond compare.
Letting go of everything—fear, control of the situation, his ideas about who he was supposed to be—the student surrendered completely. He stood up, walked to the corner, bowed to the snake in deep gratitude, then lay down on the floor in front of it and fell into a deep sleep.
When he awoke in the morning, he was alone in the room. He didn’t know whether he had just imagined the snake or whether it had been real. But he knew that something fundamental had changed for him.
Two nights ago, I found myself unable to sleep because I was transfixed in front of my cobra, the fear that I might get sick again and die. I was consumed with longing for someone to appear and tell me what is going to happen to me and what I need to do. Either I wanted the heavens to open up and the Great Goddess herself to descend with reassurances and the answer to all my questions about my life’s purpose carved on stone tablets. Or I wanted a great shaman to look into my future and tell me that I was going to live to be a hundred and thirty.
But instead I had an epiphany. In a painful, wonderful, strange, joyous way I finally figured out that the Universe has paid me the greatest compliment it ever could, by allowing me to realize that no one can give me “the answers.” All I can do is to walk the path of the passions of my heart, and to realize that the fear I feel at times is my passport to truth because it nails me to the moment. It allows me to live in the shining present.
In gratitude for this great truth, I wrote the first poem I’ve written in thirty-five years. It’s about those silent places within us where striving and explanations stop and all we want to do is to open our hearts to life and to the precious, imperfect, mysterious, and wonderful beings around us. And here we find the still center where we finally acknowledge and accept that we ourselves are precious, imperfect, mysterious, and wonderful.
The only message worth reading
is the message written in your soul.
The only tracks worth following
are the tracks left by the hawk in the sky.
The only place worth stopping
is the place in the air where the hummingbird hovered.
The only task worth doing
can be seen in the glistening white eggs of the monarch butterfly
driven to give to life, 200 times, 1,000 times, until her death.
Can I do less?