At first there are only confused images. I try to return to familiar places: the Temple, the Forest of Branching Paths, the Sun Prairie… But they slip away without coming into focus. I blink, look at the flame again, allow my frustration to pass. I try to focus on visualizing a single tree, a pool of water with light rippling, a mossy stone… Nothing. I can’t hold on to anything. Again, I breathe, look at the flame, and allow the frustration to pass. Sometimes it seems like 90% of all meditative practice is learning to forgive yourself for not meditating… I try again.
Oh yes! There it is.
I haven’t meditated regularly for about six months. Instead, I’ve been getting divorced, moving into a new house, falling in love, losing my job, moving to a new state, and basically reworking my reality from the top down and the bottom up simultaneously. I haven’t felt bad about not meditating, because I haven’t left my spiritual life behind: on the contrary, I’ve been consciously developing the sense that the Real World is just as spiritual, just as symbolic, just as meaningful as a shamanic dream, and should be experienced in much the same way. I look for spiritual meaning in traffic lights, unexpected bills, the cries of the homeless in the street, rain and sun and leaves and each passing swirl of emotion. Nevertheless I miss meditation. And why not? Now that the sun is swinging back to the south, I turn to the inner light again.
I am walking beside a road — a highway, in fact: four lanes of completely empty interstate. The highway is chipped into the side of a mountain chain, creeping along the slopes like a concrete ribbon painted through the forest. (It’s my meditation, I’ll mix my metaphors if I want to.) The mountains march ahead of me until they disappear into a blue, dusty haze; and all along their length, the highway follows their curves. It’s hot and dusty and I’m tired out. I’m headed toward something in the far distance, and it will take a long time to get there. I could fly there, I suppose — I can fly in meditation. But I like walking. I don’t care how long it takes; I like to feel every step, see every tree, along all the long miles. But the distance is daunting today. I’m tired.
The great wide highway is still completely empty, as if I were the only person left in the world.
I AM tired. The road is long and wears you out sometimes, even if you’re having a great time. This is how I feel with my life now. I’ve come a long way, I’m satisfied with where I’ve been and where I am and where I’m headed. I’m just tired.
I stop walking and drop my pack. There’s no rest area here, no water fountains or bathrooms or vending machines. But I have things in my pack. I open it up and draw out three things: an eagle feather, a round alabaster stone, and a brilliant point of white light. I hold them gently, reverently, gratefully.
I didn’t know what I would find in the pack, but when I drew these things out I knew what they were: the gods that have guided me for the past few years. The light was Apollo; the stone, Odin; and the feather, Cernunnos. Apollo has replenished my spirit; Odin, my heart; and Cernunnos, my will. Truth, love, power. Now I was tired and weak: I needed Cernunnos.
I hold up the feather firmly, letting it flutter in the wind rising out of the valley below. It grows, splits and multiplies, unfolding like a fan, until it is an eagle, perched on my fingers. I nod to it and greet it, stroking the soft feathers on its neck. It nuzzles its hard yellow beak into the crook of my arm. “I am hungry and tired,” I say, not speaking aloud. “Can you find me something to eat?” Its wings spread enormously and it flaps away into space, becoming in just a moment a speck circling on an updraft. I wait while the wind plays with my hair and I enjoy the sensation of sitting, the smell of the dusty highway, and the endless rain of sunlight on the mountains. It is not long before the eagle returns, alighting beside me with its prey.
It is a mole, grey and soft and vulnerable in the eagle’s talons. It is a little hurt, but still alive, struggling uselessly. The eagle offers it to me.
What am I supposed to do with a mole? But the meaning is clear enough to me. In the past, Cernunnos has helped me cultivate my willpower and my ability to work, and advance my career. In the form of the eagle in particular, he has represented my workplace — I even used to work with the US defense department, which uses the symbol of the eagle everywhere. Right now I’m unemployed. By asking Cernunnos to bring me food, I am asking him to help me as he’s helped me in the past.
And in the past perhaps I would have accepted the mole — or at least, what I think it symbolizes: a job in the conventional sense, a job which requires me to trade my work for pay, but gives little satisfaction or spiritual fulfillment. A job in which I participate fully in the capitalist system, which preys on the helpless like carnivores at the slaughter. No, I take that back: carnivores take what they need, and no more… The capitalist system, which preys on the helpless like humans at the slaughter.
Now I see the mole for what it is. I cannot accept it any more.
“Thank you,” I say. “But I need something different. Can you bring me an apple?” The eagle seems somewhat confused. It lets the mole go and cocks its head at me, perplexed. I do not know if the eagle can understand what I want — it is a carnivore, after all… “An apple,” I say, sending an image along with my wordless request. “Can you find one for me?”
It agrees to try, and flaps away again, and is gone a long time… I watch the play of Apollo’s light on Odin’s stone in my palm.
When the eagle returns it is holding an apple, a great green apple as perfect as the sunrise. I thank it with my whole heart, and take a bite; and as I do so I realize it is not just an apple, but The Apple, the single perfect Apple of which all earthly apples are distorted reflections, and the taste is rich and sweet like the kiss of a lover.