What is this medicine?
The protector. The underworld. The unconscious.
I lay on my belly on the beautiful Barn floor three days after being stung by a scorpion. (Walked across a floor in the dark barefoot. Sigh…) The music played. Everyone moved on his/her own. I felt the skin of my inner arm sliding along the floor and my torso cleaving downward. Then the sense of what had happened—a small creepy creature, a tiny nightmare, injecting me with its message—gushed through my nervous system. My body filled with the scorpion. My arms became those pincers. An enormous tail grew from the base of my spine, and for the first time in my life I felt a surge of power, of an ability to defend myself. I could feel the tail, that might arc up from the floor armed not only with a bayonet but with poison, moving confidently behind me.
For a year I had been flying into Albuquerque, then stopping over at my friends Mark and Celeste’s who kindly keep my truck when I am away. I rest after my flight and provision before heading to the Mesa. Mark collects art Mexican, Native American, Indonesian, Tibetan. The house is in part a gallery. At the foot of the guest bed hangs a Huichol painting of desert creatures fashioned with fine brilliant-colored yarns. A humming bird poised over a flower; a frog connected by long streamers to a basket of corn; a raptor with a snake in its beak; and a scorpion, floating in the sky. I didn’t know why it haunted me, but I’d always try not to see this painting because of the scorpion. When I felt the needle under my toe I knew the time had come to meet this fear.
How did I immediately know in the dark, having never met a scorpion and being in an area where people never see or contact scorpions, how did I know in my viscera that that needle under my toe was a scorpion? The venom from the sting was unknown. Heat, then numbness, spreading through my foot, then up my leg into my arm. I breathed shallowly and slowly. My heart pounded hard. My chest clamped. Even though I stayed so so calm, these sensations rolled through me, like a dream of escaping because the scorpion is kind to its victims. It numbs them, and the numbing felt quite pleasant. My heart struggled. A heart always struggles to keep pumping. The evening was waves of feeling the venom insist then let go.
During the Monastery, scorpions continued to frequent the Barn after dark, so we all wisely avoided it once the sun set. The war was on. Ric and I sprayed the perimeter inside and out. After everyone left, Ric and I moved up into the Croft (the insulated room adjacent to the Barn) and went hunting every night. We’d take a scorpion flashlight (a blacklight flashlight) and walk methodically around the Barn right after dark, then again later around midnight. Most nights we found one, which we smashed with a shoe, but now they looked dehydrated and moved slowly. One night, I woke around 2am, shined the light on the floor by my bed in the Croft and there was one lying between my flip flops, lurid bright white. The next day, I had three men (Si, Will, and Ric) crawling around the floor with caulk guns sealing every crevice. We never saw another in the Croft. They tapered off in the Barn as well. Were nights getting too cold, or if the poison killing them, or had they found our murderous vigilance discouraging? Probably all three but especially the latter.
Now as I skid past my 60th birthday and feel the entrance to my third act, the scorpion seeps from my shadow into awareness. Is this a totem animal for me? Oh no! I am not drawn to this creature. Who would be, though its persistance—unchanged since it emergence from the primordial swamps 400 million years ago—is impressive. It has endurance. It’s long history in mythology always suggests power and darkness and yet a rich, deep medicine.
When I gave the mesa permission to face me into my fears, I didn’t expect this. Cactus, fangs, claws, pincers accompany massive clouds, apocalyptic winds, hoards of stars, and deep stillness. This desert is a mystery. It is rugged, harsh. Perhaps I should rescind my invitation. I really need peace. I really need safety and relief. Or, at any rate, that is what I want. I find, inside myself, no rest, but I find healing. Healing is not a return to what was, but entering into what is. Healing is awakening. I needn’t be anxiously vigilant, but relaxed, breathing, aware. After all, the bite came when I was rushing, when I was hurrying to get a task completed, running past the moment. No. Slow down. The tiny creature says in me, “Your protection requires your awakening. Every moment. Every step.”
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we are fundraising to complete the Barn interior at Ravenrock.