The red eft appeared from under some leaves and walked slowly down the hill towards the woods, seemingly oblivious to my presence. I shifted my gaze from the sapling that had been my meditation focal point to watch the eft. The bright red salamander stood out against the leaf litter, but the squirrels and chipmunks paid him no mind. By the time my meditation practice was complete, there was no longer any sign of him. He had disappeared under the leaves again.
The red eft is the juvenile stage of the eastern newt (Notophtalmus viridencens), an amphibian abundant in most of eastern North America. The eastern newt begins life as an aquatic, brownish green larva. After about three months, the larva sheds his gills and transforms into a bright orange sub-adult with darker red spots. The red eft is a terrestrial traveler.
The day before I watched the red eft had been the closing of my first year of the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary program. During that day, we had each been asked to speak about our experience during the year. Still struggling to define my spirituality in a coherent way despite a year of study, I described myself as a spiritual nomad.
As spiritual practices go, wandering is not all that uncommon. Jesus wandered in the desert. Before enlightenment, Buddha wandered from place to place. There are countless examples of pilgrims and transients among followers of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. In Shamanic Reiki, we are encouraged to aimlessly wander out on the land with an open heart and without an agenda, to connect with nature.
And yet I was embarrassed to admit I was still wandering through my spiritual life while I was supposed to be learning to minister to others. I wondered what my classmates and the deans and teachers thought of my wishy-washy approach to spiritual matters. Would I be judged “not good enough” next year?
That question was on my mind as the red eft came into sight and it did not take long to realize the significance of his appearance. This small being was not afraid to be bright and bold, and he embraced the nomad life. The eft may wander for two or three years until he figures out where he belongs and walks back into the water, where he will transform again into an aquatic adult eastern newt. He has to be sure he is in the right place, because he will call it home for the next decade. It is no wonder he sees all that he can before deciding.
As for me, I guess I will remain an eft as well, and figure out how to shine as a spiritual nomad.