November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change


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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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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