On Monday evenings I’ve been going to a meditation workshop facilitated by my friend Reiki Woman. Since Reiki Woman lives in a tiny apartment, we meet instead at the home of KidsDoctor, who has a big living room, a formal dining room, and then another big room that she calls a family room. The family room has big comfy furniture, dim lights, and a fireplace in the corner, and that is where we gather, a circle of twelve women plus KidsDoctor's teenage son.
We were talking about animals last night, and the role that animals play in native cultures. (Reiki Woman's partner is a native healer.) During the meditation, Reiki Woman asked us to picture a non-human animal. I was hoping that some kind of cool animal would leap into my head – a wolf, maybe, or an eagle, or perhaps a bear – but instead the first thing I pictured was a snake. Not a garter snake or a common water snake, but some kind of snake with a cool mottled pattern.
I have had dreams about snakes, nightmares often, my whole life. And of course, I see real life snakes on a fairly regular basis as well. The edges of the bookshelves in my office are littered with snakeskins I've picked up while canoeing in the marsh or hiking in the woods. I've never been particularly afraid of snakes in real life – there are no poisonous snakes where I live – but when I was a child, the snakes in my dreams used to terrify me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better about accepting the snakes that appear in my life. I come to admire the way that snakes shed their skin, wriggling right out of it; I value that ability to grow and change and transform.
When it was my turn to talk about my meditation experience, I talked about my snake dreams and the snake in my meditation. Everyone in the room listened intently, their faces turned toward mine in the candlelight. I looked around the beautiful room and the cluster of women who had pulled their chairs closer to hear my stories. "Snakes in dreams and meditation always seem so real to me," I said, "that when I wake up or open my eyes, I look around for snakes. I mean, right now, I would not be surprised to find a snake in this room."
Three of the women exchanged a surprised glance. Then KidsDoctor spoke up. "Actually, there is a snake in this room."
Her teenage son nodded, "Yeah, I am supposed to be taking care of it."
Back in the corner, hidden behind a big leather chair, in an aquarium tucked below a heat lamp, a constrictor was curled up below a curving piece of bark. As I knelt down on the floor to gaze through the glass, the snake uncurled in a graceful move, moved her head toward me, and flicked out her tongue.