How To Catch a Cobra - Part 1 (The Head)

On left - the Indian or Spectacled Cobra (Naja Naja). On right - Human (Homo Sapien) subtribe Hominina

On left - the Indian or Spectacled Cobra (Naja Naja). On right - Human (Homo Sapien) subtribe Hominina

Once upon a time I fancied myself a snake man. Have you ever met a snake man? A dude slightly obsessed with the scaly, legless, sometimes venomous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes? Snakes on the brain, like male Medusas. They’re out there. And I know a few good ones, this being the tale in part of why I no longer consider myself an honored member of their ranks. But first let’s go back to the beginning, the place where the snake, right from the get go, caught a notorious rep. In my own life, as far back as I can remember, the gold-red ribbon of a Garter Snake or the flash of a Blue Racer’s sapphire sheen always warmed my blood. The first decent story I ever wrote was all about time spent on the hardpan of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, licensed by the state to remove rattlesnakes from people’s yards. Like a self-dubbed Snake Sheriff, I kept the peace between the local snake population and local female people population. The sub-title of that story Snakecharmer was originally How My Love for Rattlesnakes Cured Me of My Fear of Women - a black and white tail of somewhat creative non-fiction, as I really did live with a Diamondback Rattlesnake that hibernated in my fireplace one Southwest Winter.

That old story hints at one of the reasons snakes first made my tail rattle: because they gave me the power to make girls shriek. Later I loved them because they’re nature’s pirates, outcasts from the start. Today I identify with snakes as symbols of transformation, recognizing the animal’s extraordinary ability to shed its skin, as the moon sheds its shadow, points the way to the power of life and the now. Emerging an entirely new creature, throwing off the past and living on,  the snake regenerates itself on average two to four times a year, varying with age and species, with young snakes actively growing shedding their skin every two weeks. The human being, however, through spiritual purification practice, can renew its own identity in every moment. Knowing the deepest teachings are unspoken, let’s sum it by saying that having a complete experience watching a high-altitude Black-tailed Rattlesnake in the mountains of northern Arizona once helped me better understood my meditation teacher Shinzen Young’s claim for the miracle of mindfulness when he said:: “In the beginning every retreat changes you. Then every sit changes you. Until eventually when every moment changes you.”

Regardless of why I personally love and identify with them, the snake, with its many distinctive and in some ways contrary attributes, has been worshipped, feared, puzzled over, hated, loved, exploited, exterminated, studied and even petted. Snakes have been used in magic, witchcraft, religion, medicine, war, torture, sport, science, commerce and entertainment. On the one hand, snakes are a symbol of procreation, health, longevity, immortality, and wisdom; on the other, they represent death, disease, sin, lechery, duplicity, and temptation. Snakes are living, breathing paradoxes. Say what you will about them, Mankind has seldom ignored the great snake. In her poem on snakes, to quote Margaret Atwood: “Those who can explain them can explain anything.” 

As a Snake man then (or former one) you can understand my disappointment in traveling for the first time to India - King Cobra Country - and returning without having seen a single Shape (Snake in Hindi). That first tour of the Hindu world was a TRIP in the truest sense, an odyssey organized by Vedic Astrologer James Kelleher - incredibly learned in the ancient art of mapping a soul’s journey by the light of the stars - and lead by Rajiv Tomar of Mystical Journeys, taking me from The Taj Mahal to the Holy, Crazy city of Varanassi and down to temples all over the country’s southern tip. Mystical Journeys, with their emphasis on spiritual, cultural and adventure travel in the country, in their own words, “Leads the traveler to a new horizon where astrology, culture and adventure meet.” Their mind-blowing network of educationalists, spiritualists, Saints & holy people, guides and other teachers comes down to Rajiv’s connectedness. the man, along with his son Caran and second-in-command Sarjan Kumar and some other crusaders. On that first trip, I watched Rajiv confront a police officer on the streets of Chennai - some altercation that was effecting our group’s safe passage - that had me later nicknaming him The Bengal Tiger. As to impressions of the man, I’ll borrow George Bernard Shaw’s take on Gandhi - you might as well ask for someone’s impression of the Himalayas.

It was in conversation with Rajiv on the bus after a particularly intensely joyful experience at Rameswaram’s Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple that a Cobra Tour was first concocted. “That was !ncredible !ndeed,” I gushed. “And I can’t wait to see the cobra.” His face fell - he explained we had passed the places to see the traditional basket-cobras dance to the flute. I could hardly express disappointment, the trip was so extraordinary, and so responded “I just love seeing wildlife and especially shapes,” joking. And of course Rajiv’s smile and twinkle were back minutes later, as he offered, “Then you’ll just have to come back to India!” And although it was a comical, creative idea between two new friends then, a year later, this February, I was back, this time to attend Kumbh Mela, the mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which saints and sadhus all gather in millions to bathe in the Holy Ganges River. And this time around, the southern tour had a Cobra Hunt on the itinerary. Slither back soon for How To Catch A Cobra (Part 2) - The Tale - to come.

ຢູ່ສປປລາວແລະເຂົ້າໄປໃນຂະນະນີ້

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Laos KAPOW addressed my original overjoyed response to the exotic Luang Prabang experience. En route home, a New York Times article brought to mind the unfunny underside of Onomatopoeia: Hidden Calamity in Yemen’s Civil War: A Million Land Mines read the headline, with an accompanying photo of a ten-year-old Balda, Yemen boy who blew off his lower left leg while playing. The caption read “Mines have killed 920 civilians and injured thousands,” detailing how millions of inhumane weapons carpet the landscape. Rights groups and other monitors say the minefields will leave Yemen riddled with buried explosives that could kill or maim unsuspecting civilians for decades before the devices can all be removed, as they have in Afghanistan, Columbia and Laos. 

Luang Prabang’s UXO Information Center and Laos Unexploded Ordinance Program turns the dark side of Laos’ Secret War to the light. From roughly 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on the country. During 580,000 bombing missions, a planeload of bombs fell every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The bombings were part of the U.S. effort to support the Royal Laos Government against the Pathet Lao – closely tied to the communists of North Vietnam - and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Many villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced. 

Of the over two million tons of cluster sub-munitions or “Bombies” dropped, over 30% failed to detonate, leaving 80 million unexploded bombs across the landscape of all 17 of Laos provinces. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO accidents in the post-war period, 1974-2008. UXO Lao works in the country’s nine lost heavily contaminated provinces. Learning of and remembering the Laos people’s plight, a wave of gratitude washed over me when home, well appreciating the security enjoyed as a resident of the states, especially after experiencing lands less free.

On Sweetgrass and The Spring Arrival of The Wakinyan (Thunderbeings)

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Aho Matakuye O’yasin. Been a minute on the blog. Good thing the Lakota people unlike the good Vietnamese have no words for I’m sorry. When you see what we have upcoming, with regular sits, regular Ceremonies and an extended retreat weekend in June, you will be Happy. And I hope you consider coming out to visit. There are three or four or more stories to tell of recent travels, and so by April the 2019 Spring class and retreat season will commence. That said, Spring has indeed sprung, with the vernal equinox occurring Wednesday at 5:58 pm and confirmed by the arrival of the Wakinyan. The Thunder Beings Booming over the house recently and shaking the land to life.

There’s a scientific reason that lightning wakes up the natural world: the Earth’s atmosphere is nearly 80 percent nitrogen and the intense heat (about 50,000 degrees F.) generated by an abrupt, discontinuous natural electric discharge in the atmosphere aka lightning breaks the strong bonds of nitrogen molecules. This allows the freed nitrogen to combine with oxygen and rainwater to form nitric acid. When this falls to earth and combines with soil minerals, plant-fertilizing nitrates are produced. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado estimate that globally, thunderstorms can produce 30 to 175 billion pounds of nitrogen annually. Plants require nitrogen for healthy plant tissue and leaf growth, so grasses do turn noticeably greener after early spring thunderstorms.

There’s also the spiritual side to the whole happening. Imagine if you lived in nature, depending upon the natural world for your own survival. The most fearsome nature spirit or power you could face would that of lightning or the Thunderbirds. These powerful sky spirits of Lakota mythology take the form of a giant bird, with wings that make the sound of thunder and eyes that shoot lightning. No man has ever seen their lair. That first loud, explosive clap and subsequent deep, long, rolling rumble always send me into song. And if you come to Ceremony this Spring or Summer, you’re going to hear it. It’s a Good One. I was moved as I always am and that same day found this bit below on the lighting of sweetgrass and the healing of the people. Pilamaye (with thanks) to Šúŋkawakȟáŋ Tȟó (Blue Horse).

The elders tell us that it takes longer for us to heal today and the reason is because the old trails our ancestors used to use to find us have been destroyed. by colonialism, assimilation, manifest destiny, and ethnic cleansing, towns and cities where the old trails used to be...so now our ancestors are having a hard time finding us to help us Heal. So we must burn sweetgrass~ a kindness medicine...with a sweet gentle aroma when we light it. 21 strands to make a braid..the first 7 strands represent those 7 generations behind us~ Our parents, Our grandparents 7 generations behind us~who we are and what we are is because of them~they've brushed and made the trails we have been walking up til now...the trails have been destroyed. The time has come to heal and connect with our ancestors. They paid a tremendous price for us to be able to speak out against injustices, therefore we do not have the right to remain quiet.

The next 7 represent the 7 sacred teachings... Love, Respect, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Truth and Humility. The elders tell us how simple, powerful and beautiful the teaching are. Love: unconditional affection with no limits or conditions that starts with loving yourself. Respect: due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of other, with consideration, thoughtfulness, attentiveness, politeness, courtesy, civility, deference. Humility freedom from pride or arrogance, being humble, when we truly understand the teaching of humility, that we are not any better then anyone else and you are not any better then me. that at the end of the day we are simply human beings, this is what makes this teaching powerful and beautiful. Courage:bravery, permitting one to face extreme dangers with boldness withstanding danger, fear or difficulty  Wisdom:the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment the quality of being wise. Truth: the face of the matter, veracity, sincere, candor and genuineness  a determined in principle entirely by how it relates to things Honestly:have a character of integrity, and honor be free from fraud or deception, legitimate, truthful.

The last 7 strands are those of the 7 generations in front of us~ Our children Our grandchildren as well as those children yet to be born. It is important because everything we do to Mother earth will one day effect them... We have lost our way, everything we do to Mother Earth gives us everything we need to heal ourselves and the earth. We must go back to our roots and bloom.  "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children These teachings need to first start from within ourselves, respecting ourselves, they tell us that the teachings need to first start from the inside. So in the morning you /we burn Sweetgrass, we can get a white or yellow cloth (1 meter) with Tobacco: hang it on a tree facing the east direction.  This should be done in the morning and not at night. Lest us never forget we are the whispered prayer our ancestors prayed. They Are Waiting For Us.