“Stop the charging bull,” A Zen master commands. It’s a koan, and you can’t reason with it. You’re on your own, with only your original face to guide you. You can no more stop a charging bull than you can mentally cause the bullet train to come to a screeching halt. The koan isn’t asking you to test your inner wisdom by going eye to eye with a bull in a pasture. This is what you can do: wake up to the wild and to the potential blazing in the eyes.
On the day I encountered the charging moose, I was driving the 10-mile gravel road back to the seclusion of the medicine dome (a few miles by flying crow from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota). I was feeling particularly worn out. The drive was wild – without wires, houses, or visible human intrusions. I often found that invigorating. But that day it seemed a bit desolate. I was finally giving up.
A little background might be helpful. I was in chronic pain, which began with a broken back when I was 27 years old. I had surgery when I was 31 years old. It helped. I went from about 10% of normal functioning to about 50% of normal functioning in about a year. By the time I was 34 years old, it felt like I was testing the limits of my physical endurance once again. The surgery that had been performed on my back had prevented me from becoming an invalid, but I was still in pain most of the time.
Driving from Minneapolis to the Lutsen interior, to stay at our cabin, was physically stressful. I began to reflect on my pilgrimage. The medicine dome cabin was without luxuries of any kind. We even had to haul in water. I liked the simplicity, but disliked the results of the physical effort on my body. The dome was good for my spirit but terrible for my body.
At the edge of my endurance, I had a moment of penetrating doubt. I knew I was on the verge of giving up, though I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.
“This road doesn’t change,” I said to myself. “I don’t think it’s worth driving anymore.”
At that precise moment a huge moose, its head lowered for assault, came charging into my thoughts. At that very instant in time, I could feel the moose enter my mind – scattering my nihilistic thoughts. Simultaneously, I could also see the sudden movement out of nowhere that had become a universe outside my car. A huge bull moose had charged my vehicle, had emerged from the woods and nearly struck me broadside before veering at the last possible nanosecond. Having avoided a collision, the moose then ran, as close as possible, next to my car for about 50 yards before I slowed to a stop. Then the moose ran a few yards off the road and stood there staring at me. We were looking each other directly in the eyes. I was in awe. I’d seen a lot of moose before, but this was easily the largest I’d ever seen. His head and antlers were held high in majesty. The will to life blazed brightly in his intense eyes. His outline filled the entire road with Mystery again. The charging bull had halted, but I had a renewed capacity to continue. I thanked the moose for having become a messenger of Life on my behalf.
This had been a highly energetic event, like a power animal made flesh, charging the batteries of my life. That moose was a synchronistic agent that kept me on the road, so to speak. I feel that without a dedicated practice of shamanism and a practice of dreaming to the various animals in Nature, this event would not have occurred. I was actively participating in a view of the world in which I could access the world of spirits, and spirits could come alive in order to further my instruction. Perhaps in my dreams it would have been a tiger. In northern Minnesota it could only have been an aggressive moose.
You never know for sure what’s in store for your life, and you owe it to your spirit helpers and to your Soul to remain open to the opportunities that will illumine the path. Shortly after I returned from this venture, I was guided to visit a massage therapist for the first time. At that point in my life, I was a little worried I would associate massage with sex, so I was resistant. But the guidance was clear, and Luck led me to a therapist who understood fibromyalgia and trigger points (at a time when the public was largely unaware of either). She was a good therapist, and her father made me a crook with which I could self-massage the trigger points. But I was a tough case. Unselfishly she suggested that I was, for the moment, beyond her skills. She referred me to a myotherapist for a series of penetrating trigger point massages (or perhaps a modern version of a medieval torture). He halted the decline, another step on a mysterious journey. I hold gratitude to all the excellent massage therapists who have worked on my behalf.
With perseverance of will and seeking spiritual/mindful experience, anyone can have a breakthrough experience. That experience may involve an insight, integration, full or partial healing, or rebirth. The circumstance of our lives and potential given us by Soul will determine the nature of the breakthrough. There is surrender in understanding that our ego does not determine the path. But it is reasonable for the ego to wish to negotiate the path with as much grace as possible.
Living with Chronic Conditions
This essay is the first in a series of five essays exploring chronic conditions from a spiritual perspective. Some might conclude that, by definition, the human condition will involve suffering. Each life presents unique challenges — be they physical, emotional/psychological, circumstantial, or disconnections of spirit.
Photo from Public Domain