A few months ago, my son phoned me from Vancouver. He wanted to talk about a dream he had had. In his dream, he and I were in a forest and engaged in battling evil things. We were accompanied by a medium sized reddish-brown mammal, similar to a wolverine. This creature was very formidable in its fighting ability and my son had great respect for it and some fear of it. He consoled himself with the fact that it was on our side. When he woke, he went outside to have a smoke and was confronted by the four-legged ally of his dream, in the form of a large and very real solitary raccoon.
Two nights later, I had a most lucid dream myself. In this dream, I was standing on my back deck having a smoke. The deck faces North and it was just twilight. The area was perfect in every detail and all of the usual fuzziness of imagery usually encountered in dreams was absent. From a trailer pad which is situated to my North-West, a reddish-brown wolverine appeared. It walked a few steps and stopped. I recalled the dream of my son and wondered if this was the same creature from his dream.
As I watched intently, two wolves appeared from the same pad and flanked the wolverine. They were a of a pale smoky colour and very large. I studied them and as I did so, three female entities floated like fog from the same area the others had come from and took positions to the right, left and front of the group. These beings had long flowing silky robes which came down to the ground covering their feet. They were ethereal pearly white, including their faces, hands, hair and garments. Their eyes were the kind of black that absorbs light like bear's fur and their faces were clear to see. I thought of ghosts, angels and Kwan Yin. They remained still as I watched.
After a few moments, the wolves stood on two legs and I strained to see in the waning light if they were men clothed in furs. I couldn't tell that they were and this prompted me to investigate. I dismounted the stairs and began to walk very slowly down the road to have a closer look. When I had covered about half the distance, the wolves began to slowly walk forward to meet me. The three female entities silently and effortlessly glided ahead of the wolves and began singing something beautiful. They came up in front and on both sides of me as if to see if I were real.
I was captivated by their voices and their forms and did not feel threatened by them although a great power emanated from them. All the same, I was wary of the encounter. I slowed my pace and stopped. The creatures tilted their heads this way and that as if trying to make sense of a strange object. When the wolves and the wolverine got within a few yards, I began to slowly walk backwards without removing my gaze from the group in front of me. They stopped advancing and began to also retreat. I regained my deck and promptly woke up with total recall of every detail of the dream. I have never looked at that patch of asphalt the same ever since.
I phoned my son and told him my dream and said to be patient until the meanings became clear to us. About a month later, I saw a big gray timber wolf chasing some deer. He stopped and watched me until I was out of sight. I had a good feeling about that wolf. I'll tell you why.
When I was a little boy in Texas, I learned that a thirty-something carpenter from the Middle East named Jesus had forgiven me for every despicable thing I had ever done or ever would do, including being born and worse, being born a human. I learned that the people of this man's tribe, except for a very few, were against him and had stood by cheering while he was tortured and killed in a most gruesome fashion. He really showed them, I learned as the story went on, by coming back from the dead. I remember getting excited at this juncture, figuring that he likely would have all the people's attention this time and that they would all learn an important lesson. Well, it seemed he just disappeared again and told some other fellows to spread the story around the world. But he did promise to come back again.
There was an oil painting of him hanging in my bedroom since the time I could remember. That Jesus picture was done by one of my Aunties and dedicated to my father. It showed a bearded young man pulling a wine-coloured robe open with a wounded hand, while pointing to his heart with the other bleeding hand. His heart was visible by some magic, I didn't understand and was surrounded by a corona of yellowish light. It was wrapped with what looked like big sharp acacia thorns and was also pierced and bleeding. His forehead carried the same orbit of spiky strands.
The man's face was gentle and his expression was far more sad than it was angry, shocked or hurt. His eyes were nice. The background colour was a beautiful dark Portuguese green which the wine and blood complemented perfectly.
In retrospect, being forgiven as a Preschooler was more detrimental than one might think under certain circumstances. As the recipient of paternal abuse and a witness to the abuse of other family members, I can see now that it set up an unintended dissonance. I understood that Jesus forgave me but couldn't figure out why he hadn't sent a memo to my father. I subsequently found myself in a Texas preacher's revival tent in Lynn Valley letting Jesus into my heart at twelve years old and once again at a church in Vancouver at nineteen years old. That time I gave Jesus my Marlboros and he saw fit to give them back not a month later which I was very grateful for at the time.
I carried that oil painting of Jesus everywhere I went. It hung on every rented wall of every place I laid my head to sleep. It was the last thing I saw before sleep and the first thing I saw upon waking. One early AM in North Vancouver I was trying to sleep on a piece of foam on a basement floor. I had been tossing about and felt very hot and vexed. In a move that was to bring me fully awake, I found I had lunged, accurate as a crocodile, from my mat to reach several feet off the floor, firmly grasp the oil painting and pull it from the wall. I was standing in the middle of the thinly carpeted concrete floor holding it a few inches from my face. Sweating and trembling, I went to wash my face and saw that there were long red, almost bleeding scratches down my back. I put the painting away in the closet after that and never displayed it again.
Over much time, I came to learn that all the artwork in my possession which had been painted by my Auntie acted as reminders of very unpleasant things. Some I gave away and some I destroyed. It was a much needed step in the right direction for me and I knew in advance that Jesus forgave me for what I did to his likeness that cathartic afternoon. I recalled the Biblical admonition against idol worship as I went to work with my hammer. A silent neighbour watched from his deck as I broke the frame pieces over my knee and rent the canvases with my bare hands.
I calmly glanced up at him like Moses and he spoke sheepishly, “I guess it's a good day for busting up some old oil paintings?”
“A mighty fine day.”
I spent nearly twenty years of my life at two main pursuits. One of struggling to forgive my dead father for his sins and one of punishing myself for his suicide. The latter was because I harboured the guilt of wishing him dead. Through a process of dream work, I managed by the grace of the Creator, to accomplish the first task. When it was done, I had clear unequivocal confirmation that we had climbed that mountain together on another plane and he was free to move on from that entanglement, as was I.
I was also fortunate to be able to cross an emotional gulf between my mother and myself some years later and we have been allowed this privilege while we are both on this side of life. Both of these healings were forgiveness themed. They reminded me of the spiritual teachings contained in the Jesus story I had only partly understood as a small child in Texas.
I figured that after getting patched up with both parents, the living and the dead, that I would enjoy the remainder of my life in relative peace. Of course, I may go long but either way, I have already covered more ground than that which remains to feel my footfalls. After all, over the years I have forgiven my parents, my family, my ancestors and their enemies, my teachers, my employers, two ex-wives, my children, my rivals, my pets, my neighbours and every miserable cuss that ever did me dirt from Athens to Tangiers.
Well, I can tell you that at fifty-nine years old I still am not feeling the peace that passeth all understanding except after a particularly great omelet. I think I know why. A working man is busy pulling on or off his socks at precisely the time that two spiritual wolves start their shifts inside human souls. These times are namely, the semi-awake minutes when rising from his bed and the last wisps of consciousness just before he falls asleep. A pensioner has time to study both those wolves, while the working man usually just walks out the door unaware of which one has followed him.
Being busy until you draw your last breath saves you messing with the wolves but doesn't make them go away. Being in a situation of simple material satisfaction and thus having more leisure, allows one to come to terms with forces, spiritual and temporal in both their good and bad aspects. The busy man is like a hummingbird. His body is moving a mile a minute but his mind is hovering over a flower nearly motionless. He might be thinking about his lover or wondering what's for supper. His food is the nectar of the earth. The physically idle man is also like a hummingbird. His mind is whirring rapidly while his body floats from blossom to blossom in slow motion. His food is the nectar of inspiration, where ever it may be found. They both need to drink deep and often.
I believe it is meant for us to understand, tame and utilize what I have depicted as these two spiritual wolves. They have many names and forms in many cultures and simply put, they symbolize the totality of ourselves by being polar opposites constantly seeking to attain and to maintain perfect balance. One will assist an elder across a busy street and the other will fight to the death to protect you. The practice of treating them as two entities is only for the sake of making it easier to grasp the learning that they are really a natural singularity. Realizing this on a mental, physical and spiritual level is an attainable human end, a desirable human state and every human born comes to a greater or lesser understanding and mastery of this learning. As it should be, myriad stumbling blocks and mirages obscure the few teachers one encounters on the good road.
After studying the habits of my own wolves during the past two years of relative leisure I thought I had finally found the formula for their proper balancing, maintenance and control. Today I realized that just like the flowers and weeds in the garden which my wife relentlessly pampers and persecutes with great prejudice, I could see that pampering one wolf (usually Snowy, the White one) and persecuting the other one only served to make the suppressed party more inventive. The summation of this teaching is that the physical answer lies in discernment, patience and control.
It is as simple and as complicated as all that. You cannot eradicate something natural. We place the labels desirable or undesirable according to our own biases, the context of a situation and our own codes; upon our personal wolves. This morning my dark wolf, Old Thunder was howling incessantly about trespasses against me that I had long ago forgiven. It was tempting for me to let my wheels fall into that rut again but I steered out of it. Next thing I noticed was that the bugger didn't quieten down either.
Pacing back and forth he began to whine out a long list of slights, miss-steps, ill-considered words, oversights, shortcomings, weaknesses, and cruelties all of which had my brand on them. I started to feel awful inside. I reminded myself that the God I believe in has forgiven me. I expected that acknowledgment would do the trick and was very dismayed to find out that it didn't. Old Thunder kept on whining and pacing in my heart. Snowy looked on placidly as if she just wanted to get up and watch me cut the grass.
I figured that would be the best course of action and was literally struck when Old Thunder stood on two legs and gave me a little bite that spoke clearly to my heart. His message was simple and so obvious as to have remained hidden in plain sight my entire life. What was his message? He told me that while I had been busy forgiving everyone around me, I had completely neglected to forgive myself. Not for even the slightest of misdemeanors going all the way back to the beginning. It had never occurred to me and I was astonished. I now knew my life would be better served if I acknowledged that both wolves were gifts to me and maintained their own balance in my heart. I now understood that as soon as this lesson became crystallized that he and Snowy would merge into one big gray. I tugged on my jeans and went to make my oatmeal. As I poured my coffee I remembered the magnificent gray timber wolf I had seen about a month back just South of town, heading West and I smiled.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.