SPIRITUAL CENTERS ARE NOT always where you would expect to find them. Their hulls are as varied as the seekers within them. Synagogue, temple, church, mosque, longhouse, sweat lodge or ashram — all afford protection during our effort to connect with the Great Spirit of the Universe. My spiritual epiphany occurred in a less conventional place — the front yard of my home in the craggy and rugged Topanga Canyon, California.
I cannot think of a less-probable place as a catalyst for growth than this wind-blown, sequestered gorge off the Pacific Coast Highway. Yet, here it was: a veritable Garden of Eden…my own personal Shambhala…a haven of wild and deciduous life. It was 1987, year of the Harmonic Convergence. Our Galactic Planetary Alignment served as a kind of spiritual amplifier, multiplying personal gains exponentially.
An apartment dweller for years, I had finally located a plywood shanty, anomalously situated within a pricey sector of real estate. The young, precipitate “builder” had given up on his little project at the base of the mountains, to our great benefit. The house and its triangle of cave-lined land sold at a premium.
Inside, the structure lacked drywall, and everywhere, black twisted coils of electrical wire serpentined from vaulted ceilings. Previously owned cabinets were wedged haphazardly into nooks and crannies in a kind of hodgepodge, patchwork quilt of reclaimed carpentry. Still, there was the location. The canyon boasted a profusion of aromatic pine, cedar and manzanita. The freeze-dried, sage-colored habitat was home to Anna’s Hummingbirds, iridescent green gypsy moths, and stately Great Horned Owls.
Every morning, before the traditional first cup of coffee, I would stand outside at the center of the yard. Above me would be the early lemon yellow sun. To my left were the winding canyon walls, with their beige, blue, white and ivory agate intaglios. I would pray to the Great Spirit to safeguard the life within this brilliant place.
Peregrine falcons soared above, and the smell of fennel and anise wafted down on a slight breeze. I had never felt so present, so connected. Later, at a pow wow, I would learn through an elder that the Spirits of her people — the Coastal Chumash — lived in these caves. Suddenly, everything made sense. I was not alone. Spirit guides and helpers were already there, waiting.
One evening, I returned home with Lynn and Harv, my graduate school buddies. We parked and turned off the headlights. It was early dusk, with just enough light to see beyond the dirt path to the front door. Something moved at the threshold. It lifted its head, and Lynn suddenly blurted, “Oh my God — a rattlesnake!” One heartbeat later, we heard the dreaded sound reminiscent of old westerns, a sound like a small maraca being shaken stoutly.
“Don’t move,” I cried, shooting my arm out reflexively, like a braking mom protecting her seat-belted passenger. I froze in my tracks. “Don’t make a sound,” I whispered.
I prayed and talked to the snake with my mind, telepathically. I told him not to be afraid. I assured him we would not harm him, but let him know firmly he was blocking our way. I asked him to please just continue on his way. I blessed him, told him he was sacred, and thanked him.
You know what? That crazy snake looked back at us for a minute, his head resting in the air slightly above his curved body. He remained a moment, lowered his rattle, and slithered away toward the darkening road above us.
I am, by no means, a snake whisperer. I’m simply empathic and tend to pick up quickly on contextual cues. I sensed intense fear from my friends; and since this was my home, moreover, it was incumbent upon me to handle the situation, with or without previous training.
It was thus that I had found my true spiritual center. Inside my human heart was enough love and compassion to view all of life — even a venomous snake — as connected. Hummingbird and serpent coexisted in this paradisiacal setting. All sentient beings are sacred, part and parcel of the Great Mystery. How could it be otherwise?