Monday, November 14, 2011

Before The Journey

There once was a magician who lived alone in a cave.  From time to time, other travelers and seekers would find the cave as it was next to a fresh water source and close to the dirt path that led all the way over mountains and forests and deserts to the land of spices and smoke.  Sometimes students came and brought him sacks of tea and paper and ink.  Sometimes the children of the nearest mountain village would leave sweets at the mouth of the cave and rice in burlap bundles.  Mostly, he was alone, left with the slow steady rhythm of his own breath and the restless occasional cracking of the rocks surrounding him, the sounds all houses make when they think they’re alone.
He had been there before his hair ever turned white, when his muscles had been firm, and though he had been there for decades, he was aware of how little time there really was, how birth seemed to have come just a few days before. Because of his acute awareness of time, he practiced his art with urgency and strict attention. He kept detailed notes about experiments, their results and the methods employed.  There were charts that outlined his emotions, his health, the weather and time of year.
In his dreams, he saw another world where there were tall buildings made of glass and steel.  He had dreamt of this place for many months. Upon waking, he felt the lingering desire to voyage deeper into the dream, to go so far in that there would be no memory of a cave.  The place in his dream was not better, it was only different, with smells and textures that did not exist where he sat.  He wanted to look into the eyes of the people and see what they had to share.
For months he tried various things.  He played in his dreams and covered himself in the smoke of local plants.  He chanted and organized and re-organized the order in which he set up the space around him and the methods in which he relaxed and let himself drift into dreams.  Sometimes, when the spell was working, it seemed like he could reach out and touch the glass of the tall buildings, but just as he stretched out his arm and moved his fingertips towards the glass, he would awake suddenly, aware that something had brought him back. He had not made full contact.
One night, he waited for the full moon to crest above him.  He could feel the light changing, growing stronger. Though he had no direct sight from the deep interior of the cave, the waters inside him vibrated in louder ripples as the moon rose over the mountain range. Sensations rippled over his skin, it felt lighter, smoother, stronger somehow. He waited, patiently breathing, allowing his body to move as slowly and calmly as the moon that gently rose. When the energy peaked, his body began to rock.  His eyes no longer perceived the clear lines of his world, they shifted like a color show and melted into each other.
He journeyed that night into the world of glass and steel, walking through streets that showed no signs of the earth, where the trees seemed planted as ornaments rather than mighty elements in the natural landscape. 
He wandered for hours, looking intently at the people that crossed his path.  They were women and men in bodies like his own, but their attention seemed taken, turned inward on earthly matters, squandered on abstractions and worries. He could sense their tension more acutely than ever, as though none could remember their true purpose. They walked past him like ghosts, never taking their eyes off the ground or off the objects in their palms. He noted their presence and posture.
He continued his walk, collecting his notes of the other world.  Soon he came upon a piece of paper that seemed misplaced on the sidewalk.  He stooped to pick it up and was startled to see his own writing on the paper.  He looked at it more and realized they were the instructions he had written to himself prior to the journey.  He looked at it with different eyes now.  Not the man that had thought of dreaming, the man that thought of going to other worlds, but this new man now, the man he was after touching glass and steel, the man that walked among ghosts.
He was struck by the second and third lines of his instructions.  Before every journey it was his habit to write out a list of directives, things we would need to remember while travelling, the incantations he would need in order to come back to the cave chamber.  He kept them in his right hand pocket always, a place he could easily remember to check when he felt the time was right. It was strange now to find it on the ground, easily lost or blown off by the wind. 
He looked at the writing, at his familiar script. But he felt a slight alarm as he noticed the extra embellishments on the curls of several script characters. It was a minor detail of handwriting, but he knew himself well enough to know what it meant. 
Over the years and countless hours of inner exploration, he had come to glimpse the many parts of himself, the light, the dark, the terrors another man would have hid away in fear.  The benevolent teacher and the raw animal.  There were a thousand faces in between the extremes of his machine and he had met with each one, he had come to know their habits and he knew the extra curls in his script indicated that several of his egos were active, manifesting themselves in his writing. 
Without realizing it at the time, back in the cave, he had begun his journey with them inside, active, unbeknownst to him, they had piggy-backed through his dreams, stepping with him through the door.  Had he known, had he paid enough attention, as he surely should have, he would have caught a glimpse of their presence.  It was a mistake, a dangerous one, bringing them along into this altered land, in this altered state, was a hazard. They could lead him to a very nasty place, a place dripping with identifications and worldly demons and monsters hard to defeat. 
He had not been careful enough. But he could begin again now. 
He stood on the sidewalk and placed himself in the center of a circle, imagining its firm golden walls.  He closed his eyes and began to breath rapidly, letting the palpitations in his stomach push those creatures to the surface of his flesh.  He felt them emerging and he saw their contorted faces in the awful visions before his eyes. Each breath pushed them further to the surface. 
He stood in place for many minutes, breathing rapidly with intense concentration, visualizing a clear, cleansed circle around him until finally he could feel that that his inner landscape had shifted.  He slowed his breathing and began to walk once again.  The sidewalk ahead was illuminated in the glare from a dozen mirrored buildings in the high sun. He walked through them, letting his intuition pull him forward.