I wandered through the wood seeking something of significance that would return meaning to my life. A dry and seasoned limb lay across my path, determined to turn me aside or stop me from advancing. Some kind of sign?


I reached out to move aside the barrier, grasped the wood, and knew that I had found a talisman of rare power. A piece about six inches long came away easily in my hand. I stuck the fragment in my pocket and stepped off the trail, desiring to explore the way ahead. Then I saw the curled and deadly snake on the path, just where I would have stepped if not for the wooden fence.


I decided that I had confronted an important lesson and returned to my workshop at my home in the village. I took the piece of wood from my pocket. It was of common nature, somewhat longer than a hand span in length and slightly thicker than the diameter of two of my fingers. Along one side, the soft bark had peeled away leaving a smooth, attractive area. Without thinking, I extracted a pen from the inkwell where I kept it for marking dimensions on raw lumber I intended for repairs around the shop. As if guided by an unseen hand, I drew five symbols along the direction of the grain. They were peculiar symbols, much like some of the aboriginal signs that I had seen on one of my trips to Australia. What did these strange symbols mean?


I placed the wooden rod with the mysterious symbols at the back of my work bench. Perhaps if I left it alone, some thought would come to me concerning its significance. I forgot its existence for a time because I was beset by a wide variety of life’s usual troubles—an illness that wouldn’t improve, a loss of work from one of my neighbors who had commonly hired me to for extra chores during the winter, a dispute with one of the storekeepers over the charges that I had accumulated. In every case, I admit that I was at least partly at fault. Yet I could not seem to shed my troubled thoughts.


I was very near to giving way to despair when I happened to see the little wooden stick that I had decorated several weeks earlier. My spirits lifted. I imagined all of my troubles flowing into the piece of what I now called spirit wood. The whole experience was like magic, though I definitely do not think of myself as a superstitious person. When at last I felt all of my troubles had flowed from myself into the talisman, I knew what I must do. I built a small, ceremonial fire in the clay stove I use to heat my small shop. I used fresh cedar along with the driest and best scraps of oak I possessed. At what seemed to be the proper moment, I placed my little stick on the fire and I felt my troubles burned away. I felt the false pride that kept me from acknowledging my debts fall aside, I knew that I should help my neighbor who was ill and in need of my aid rather than complain of his neglect of my fortunes, and most of all I recognized that the malaise that beset me was caused mainly by the stress of all of the little things that I had not finished or attended to.


Since then, when I feel my troubles piling up, I wander the woods seeking out that special piece of wood upon which I inscribe five symbols. Always they are different, but always they work the same way to drain the poisons from my soul. I have come to recognize that the symbols are like the tabla rasa, the unwritten message that will derive meaning when the need arises. I even tried an experiment and gave one of my talismans to a dear friend when she was alone with her troubles with an unfaithful husband. I gave her detailed instructions on how to use the tablet and what she should do. I didn’t know whether she believed me or not.


Later she came to me, trailed by her husband with whom she had found reconciliation and a new sense of mutual respect. She confided to me that it was just as I had said. The symbols had drained all of the poisons from her and she was able to deal clearly with her problems.

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