(image via Pixabay)
We’ve established, by now, that I had a weird childhood. Most people do. I think if we took an honest and empathetic look at the traumas and strangeness surrounding any given childhood, at any time in history, we would wonder that any adults are able to function as adults. Or perhaps we would just understand why so many adults don’t. In any case, my brand of weirdness started with run-of-the-mill scrupulous Catholicism; then we migrated to the Planet Charismatic of which I’ve spoken so often. But it wasn’t a Charismatic Catholic who told teenage me that I must not imagine a snake uncoiling at the base of my spine. It was my Traditionalist Catholic uncle.
He had just finished explaining to my aunt and me that yoga stretches weren’t necessarily demonic, but some meditations were. “There’s a meditation where you imagine a snake uncoiling at the base of your spine,” he said casually. “You shouldn’t do that one.”
Oblige me, for a moment. Try NOT to imagine a snake uncoiling at the base of your spine, once such a thing has been mentioned. Try as hard as you can not to imagine a dry-but-shiny legless squamate coiled at the base of your spine, and then try not to picture it uncoiling. The particular snake I’m trying not to picture is yellow with green darts all over it, wound tightly like a cinnamon bun sideways on the base of my spine, and when I try not to think of him uncoiling he slithers up. But the snake you’re desperately trying not to imagine could be any color. He needn’t be flat on the back of your spine like a tattoo, either; he could be curled around your spine like the snake on the staff which is the symbol of chiropractic medicine and the god Mercury. Don’t picture that.You see my difficulty.
My uncle made this pronouncement at our annual week-long family reunion deep in the woods of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, easily the most beautiful place in all the world. Very few human beings live there; it’s mostly small mountains all carpeted in temperate forests so full of life that they might be jungles. We took our vacations in a state park that’s flush up against a National Wilderness and a hunting preserve. They say that the whole place was clear-cut by loggers and ruined before Roosevelt established the CCC and created the state park, but it’s so marvelously alive now that you could believe it had never been touched by human beings. In this park, there are animals of all kinds, both of the aesthetic deer-and-bears variety and the creepy-crawly as well. There are alarming blue horseflies, jewel-colored dragonflies and enormous, lazy bees. There are katydids that terrify you when they zip into your cabin and wail at night. There are bats that feast on all the insects. And there are an alarming number of snakes.