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May 20, 2024

The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change

By Sand Pilarski

Dear Aser,

I have made my way through a jungle of troubles in the last ten months. There have been many changes, and uncertainty. Now things have settled down and I have some direction. The problem is I'm having nightmares almost every night. I am violent in my dreams or I'm using drugs in them. The worst are dreams of losing my children. I'm restless and tired. What should I do?


-40 Winks

One day I was walking through the northern forests, enjoying the cover of the huge trees and the undergrowth of laurel bushes, when I came upon a clearing. I stopped to feel the heat of the sun on my face, and a tentative voice called out from the brush, "Are you a shaman?" At my nod, a short warrior with a long saber-like sword in a scabbard stepped into sight. Her surcoat over mail bore the device of a lily, stained a rusty dark red, as was much of the rest of the dark green and gold garment. "I need your help, Shaman. I can't sleep." Well, that was pretty obvious from the dark circles under her eyes.

I sat down on the mossy path to show that I was willing to listen, and the warrior continued her story. "I was a sword for hire, and I signed on with a band of berserkers defending the lands of Kaladang the Axe. For six years I fought with them, and learned the Berserker Way."

The Berserker Way, perhaps one might recall, is to let dire rage and fierce instinct obliterate moment-to-moment judgment, concern, fear, etcetera, causing the fighter to pour adrenaline into his system and do battle with as little regard for his own life as for the atoms in the air he breathes.

"One day I came to myself after a battle and looked around at all the dead, and the guts and blood all over me, and I wasn't sure I hadn't killed some of my own fine comrades. I couldn't remember anything! I was afraid of what I might do!" She shook her head and sat heavily down on a sawn tree stump, looking at the ground. "I puked for two days, and then ran away. I've tried to avoid people because ... "

I said, "Because you're worried that the berserk will come on you again. You enjoyed it, didn't you?"

The warrior howled a great cry of anguish. "When the rage was on me, I didn't have to think of anything! Nothing hurt! I didn't care about food, or where I'd sleep the next night, or anybody, or anything, not even death!" she shouted. Then more quietly, "I don't want to live that way."

"Is it that you can't sleep or that your dreams are painful?" I asked.

"God of all the earth, every time I doze off, I'm fighting again, but now it's unarmed families instead of soldiers. In my dreams I fall into the berserk rage and kill innocent people, people I knew from my childhood! I dream that I'm attacked and the only way I can save myself is by going berserk, and I don't want to, and I wake up shaking and sweating and screaming!" She rubbed her smudged face with sword-toughened hands. "I feel like I'm dying but it's not happening quickly enough!"

"You've found the Way of the Berserker, now you need to seek the Well of Peace that exists to balance and eventually overcome the evil in the world," I told her.

"Well of Peace?" she asked, squinting at me.

"Where the Way of the Berserker allows fury and mindless action to rule the body, the Well of Peace allows the mind to perceive more fully the Life that fills the universe, regardless of the body's condition. Berserking shuts off the brain; the other permits it to observe and savor the goodness of existence, which brings peace to the anxious heart."

"I'm sorry," she said, "that sounds like a bunch of crap."

"You could be polite and more poetic, and say, 'That sounds like the substance of morning mist in summer,'" I replied, looking at my fingernails.

"I could cut off your hair and leave you bald as a baboon's ass," she said.

"Please don't. I have no wish for you to fall in love with me."

The warrior snickered. "What do I need to do, Shaman?"

"I wish I could tell you that there was some herb or formula that would banish the dreams, but there isn't. You're going to dream badly for a long, long time. You've had six years of misery and your mind is still trying to figure out why you did it to yourself. You're ashamed of how you enjoyed the berserk rage. But the potential for rage is still there.

"Just understand that the people in your dreams that you try to hurt are symbols of yourself. You keep wanting to remind yourself of the wrong you may have done, and punish yourself. When you wake up, apologize to the world. Apologize to yourself." Being kind to ourselves is so hard. "Think of what you need to do to make it through the rest of today without shame. What would that be?"

"Not kill anybody?" the warrior suggested.

"That's good," I told her, "anything else?"

"Be a better person?"

"Not so good. By the end of the day you will say, 'Was I really a better person?' and the Cruel Judge in your mind will answer, 'No, not better enough.' Instead stick to a small task you can do. What about this? Walk a mile, just one mile closer to a town where you can put that sword in hock and get some civilian clothes?"

"I could do that," she said, thoughtfully.

"Then when you lie down to sleep tonight, remember that you were able to make it through the day without dragging Death with you, and that you're closer to a different way of life by one mile. If you wake up with nightmares again, tell the nightmare those two things you were able to do, and sleep again. In the morning, remember those two tasks are all you really have to accomplish that day: Kill no one, and walk a mile towards change."

"And that will stop the nightmares?"

"I don't know. Maybe, in time. Your nightmares will ease as you begin to really believe that you've changed your way of life." I stood up and dusted myself off.

"What about all the people I killed? What am I supposed to do to make up for that?" the warrior pleaded.

"Don't add to their number. When someone pisses you off, instead of taking insult, bow to them and back away, considering it a payment of honor to the unvictorious dead. You can't turn back time and make it all nice again, no matter how much you want to. None of us can, not the mightiest wizard nor the craziest village beggar. Remember your two tasks for the day, and start walking. West, I'd recommend. Good luck." I set off along the loamy path again, looking at pine cones and birds. I looked back once to wave goodbye, but she had already disappeared into the woods again, headed west.

Dear 40 Winks,

With life settling down for you, your mind has the leisure to try to sort it all out. A lot of times that means nightmares. You punish the people in your dreams to punish the parts of you that you don't like. Do you worry about being too crazy? Too unsuccessful, too innocent, too knowing? Your mind replays your troubles over and over again as though it can't believe you were human enough to make mistakes. And the dreams of fear are from wondering if you really are able to turn your life around. Like the Lily-warrior I remember, you have to set yourself just a couple tasks a day for a while. One is: don't do drugs today. Two is: tell your kids that you love them and you want them to be with you until they are grown up. Three is: when you wake up from one of those nightmares, say aloud, "That was a stupid and pathetic excuse for a dream." And when you wake up in the morning, remember that you were able to do those tasks the day before. And keep on trying to do them every day. The important things in your life are being drug-free, the touch of your child's hand, and knowing that you fought for the Good, and you're winning.


Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-05-28
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