There is a group in the mountains. They say our perception of a place existing in time is inaccurate, false. For beyond and within this illusionary reality is the void. A region where a concept such as time ceases to have meaning. There is another group of men. Those who follow the eightfold path, who say that, in the sphere of the spirit, such divisions of time, of the future, present and past do not exist, and that all of these have contracted into a single flicker in the present where life quivers in its ultimate sense.
Sep 16, 2014
I've recently posted about my experience in astral projection. I have posted it because it was fun to write/relive and because relaying images often feels a more straight-forward practice than relaying emotional content, or any kind of process of mental alchemy which does not involve images. For a long while I did not wish to write about the experience in this post, for I felt I could not do it justice by using mere words. That is until the thought of how I should go about it suddenly came to me.
Let me start with how that day began, now almost 4 years ago, and why it was amazing.
From the moment I woke up and in all moments during the day, I had a strong sense that "today something remarkable will happen". I of course cannot relay how this emotion felt, but I can portray it (perhaps in vain) by using thought-symbols: It was a sense of intense expectancy. Like being on top of a roller-coaster before the inevitable downward rush.
I recall little of what I did until the point until I ventured outside. I suppose I ate and read.
I remember the southern slant of the sun and the golden rays cutting between the trees, for I had resolved to meditate on top of my favorite hill for no particular reason, save that I felt like it. Which always seemed reason enough.
Since childhood the hill had, for some reason utterly baffling to me, endowed me with mystic significance, despite the fact that there appears nothing remarkable about it.
As I got to the top, I sat upon the cold soil covered by soft grass.
The cityscape and its sounds rushed by below me, but that soon became a presence that was not bothersome or comforting. It simply was.
I sat there for more than four hours, until I suddenly felt as though a piercing but invisible light had shoot out through the center of my cranium. A light going both outwards and inwards.
There was a kind of, "Aha! Yes. YES! YES, OF COURSE!" moment and then intense laughter directed at my pathetic imbecility. I laughed at my own expense as though laughing at a child, not necessarily because he is stupid, but because he is so hopeless in his ignorance that you find endless humor in his innocent predicament.
With this came a stupendous feeling of bursting. The child, that child-like Self, expanded into all directions simultaneously, going as far as things can go.
It felt as though it went into all places at once and into every thing and everyone and right into my bloody bones and outward again until it became a continuous motion that never began and will never end. It kept happening and I knew in that moment it will continue to happen, because that is how things are.
There was a deep understanding of the truth of Itness. Things were, and "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Everything was just as it should be and must be and that all I have labeled as myself is actually inseparable from everything else.
This had so far been a concept for me. Something I felt was true yet didn't actually feel on the level of Being Everything And All Things All At Once.
Up until that point the concept remained a kind of hidden symphony just below the threshold of my combined perceptions.
In that instant it became impossible for me to separate what was Me and what was Not Me, or even that there was any space between Me and Not Me. The truth of this felt so profoundly real and incredible that everything was made nonrigid. Everything had a vibrancy to it, a fluidity so full of life and pulsing with such inner being that the thought of, "This is how everyone should see things all the time," became a constancy. There was nothing necessarily different about how I saw things, it was my subjective understanding of the things I saw that perceptibly shifted.
The realization of the Self is, in essence, the realization -- or the knowing -- of everything and its implicit nature. It is like accessing the main valve of existence and realizing it was always open, and that you had always been the manifested and the manifesting tool.
This does not involve a kind of high attitude towards knowing this, but a profoundly humble one. You are not suddenly thinking, "I know everything about everything." This does not involve that kind of understanding. This is not an understanding of the functionality of things, but of their Nature, their Is-ness.
Understanding the Self means the understanding of Everything, because the self is everything, or understanding that you do not need to understand everything, and still understand it, and yet not understand it at all. You are not there to understand. You are there to Be. This may seem so convoluted and paradoxical that it must feel rather confusing to read. Yet there is no real involvement or deep thinking or an understanding on the level of Mind. Rather, Self-Realization is the realization that all things are the Self and that the Self is all things. The barrier of duality melts away, that is to say one realizes it existed for a reason that is immediately clear and profoundly logical, but also amazingly simple in its inherent Justness, or Is-ness. Understanding its simplicity has no meaning because there is nothing to understand. It is. And that is all that the Self will ever need or has ever needed to understand. A Self that both Is and is an Illusion.
At that point, this fact that the barrier existed solely so it can be taken away becomes the right understanding. But also that it simply was, and by Now knowing that it is there, somehow changes it from being there into not being. Your mere awareness of it changes its Is-ness.
The realization that one is all and that the Self is everything and that everything is a fragment of the Self, comes with a sense of intense Presence.
You are not in the moment. You are the moment, manifesting in physical form through a myriad of infinite mirrors turned upon one another with each beholding each and enjoying the looking and seeing, laughing.
And the more you look, the deeper and more subtle those Understandings become. The more you understand, the more you realize you don't need to understand and that you understand nothing. The more you comprehend, the more you realize that comprehension, true comprehension, is the realization that all things are a fragment of the Self. And that each of those fragments, just like within your own Self, is an infinite mirror reflecting infinitely into Itself.
In those mirrors you may find aspects of your own Self, and indeed this is what most humans look for in others, that aspect which is most like the Self that they are, or want to be. That which is the most undesirable in one's Self is almost always that which is the most undesirable upon looking at another Self. In other words, you do not like in others what you do not like most in yourself.
A Zen master, Gensha, described this understanding quite well:
"If you understand, things are such as they are; If you do not understand, things are such as they are-"
There is another sensation which comes after, although using the word "after" does not feel apt, perhaps "at the same time" would be more accurate. After the inevitable realization of the endless Self, You become a Non-Self, a thing in the void that is the void, has been the void and will return to the void because it has never truly left it, but has been given a Self so it can function within the void and give it form; a form so that the void may know itself.
Now that functioning is no longer needed as you become That Which Looks.
Suddenly there is a perception of the wholeness and interconnectedness of everything in it, because all is in fact it, the whole. Again, there is no duality in this, you are still just what you are in your conscious self: a Human with a sense of separateness from other things and other vibrational forms. There are no more thoughts of "I am this or I am another That," but both, many, all.
[The terminology used, like Self, Non-Self, is simply an expression to try an relay some points in thought-symbols, as it cannot be done any other way by using language.]
Somehow there is a sense that a great eye has opened, an eye of the world which sees with a deeper understanding and has no Self because it is all things simultaneously; with each thing being as much It as the next.
A perception wobbles through your head at that point. One that has always been there, and to which merely the degree the Ego-Self wished to give it attention varied. It is the realization of your own Death.
All things eventually fade and die. This is the Isness of things.
Because of this state of Non-Self, you immediately perceive, without any thought behind it that would involve any active thinking, that you will die, but you will not be dead.
This may sound strange, but it is the right understanding. Because nothing that exists cannot not exist.
There is a quote by Aldous Huxley which describes this quite well. "Man proposes, God disposes."
It is, unfortunately, the nature of the Ego-Self to find this quite threatening. Because to the mind which only comprehends (which remains the only thing the Egoic mind really does), but doesn't understand, expressions such as "Destruction is a form of creation." mean not so much. You may nod at the saying, but may not truly understand it.
In this state of Non-Self, there is nothing to destroy, and all things which are and will inevitably be destroyed, will simply undergo a form of transmutation. A forming into something else which will be infinitely more than the sum of its parts and again infinitely more than the sum of the parts out of which it was transmuted.
In essence, the Non-Self has already experienced the transmutation from she Self into Not-Self, and has, because of this, died. It regards this process as the nature of such-ness. Such is the nature of things. Or such is the nature of Being. It is just so. Simply elegant and elegantly simple.
In an instant of understanding, the Non-Self realizes how the Ego-Self has been the driving force which thrived to comprehend and complicate that which has always been inherently simplistic.
Like before, as duality melts away, it does so in a sense of realization that all the selves are intertwined. The Ego-Self, True-Self, Pain-Self, Non-Self, they all exist in one space. They are all an undivided whole and this realization of their infinitely complex connection becomes the reality of everything you are and in turn everything that reality is.
In the state of Non-Self, these other Selves are prominent in your Being. You know which is which and they cease to be a process below the concussions happening of your mind.
They become a laughing matter and it all suddenly becomes a play. A play to which you have REM-slept through and so heard the actors and had them influence your dreams, while they performed on stage. Now you have awakened to their acting behind the curtain of your dreams and can actually see the actors, and they become just that, actors with no influence unless you play along.
After a while of this intense presence, and if you are in fact not as ready as you thought, something not so great may happen.
The Ego-Body comes to life and triggers the Pain-Body. It sort of says, "Hey, dude, something is going on that is not that great for me, help me out."
Because of years of conditioning and pattern-creation in the mind, these two can be very powerful. Indeed they can overpower even such presence, as the Ego slowly but surely begins to sense that it is losing control over the Body and Mind. Controlling these two aspects of the Self has so far (save for glimpses in between) been what the Ego has done all its life. It is a controlling mechanism. It is the accumulation of all the subconscious thoughts and reaction impulses it perceived as necessary for the organism to survive. When this function ceases to have a meaning to exist, its very being becomes threatened, and kicks the mind into action. The mind is the tool of the Ego, while the Not-Self's tool is No-Mind. As a result, the mind begins to throb and vibrate as the Ego wishes to claim control. It shows its real face and shouts and screams like a little, angry child that it is.
Doing this, the Ego-Self creates its main weapon. Fear.
Aldous Huxley described the "aftermath" of this process masterfully in his book, The Doors of Perception, wherein he details his Mescaline experience which I have to say follows a lot of the same triggers in a slightly different manner.
"This, I suddenly felt, was going too far. Too far, even though the going was into intenser beauty, deeper significance. The fear, as I analyze it in retrospect, was of being overwhelmed, of disintegrating under a pressure of reality greater than a mind, accustomed to living most of the time in a cosy world of symbols, could possibly bear. —Anything rather than the burning brightness of unmitigated Reality—anything!"
This eventually settled down into a state of Presence again, a blissful satisfaction in knowing things are just as they are and that they exist Now and will forever be Now.
I since believe that this whole thing was nothing special, because to most of us, a mystical experience or a spiritual experience always seems to suggest something lofty and unattainable by the everyday mind. This is not true. These insights happen to us all the time, but to the untrained mind they are much shorter and for the most part, not as intense, and usually interpreted in different ways. Perhaps simply as "being happy and alert - energized". We all have moments when we are suddenly deeply aware of our own self, mostly just our bodies or how it feels. The want to change for the better usually comes, but is usually also suppressed by the Egoic mind which would rather have things as they are, familiar, while cultivating mindfulness requires changes even to the minute things in life.
Recognizing these events becomes the key and a great practice of Mindfulness, just don't get carried away in trying to analyze what they mean ;).
When they occur, be that. When they happen, be it. And when they do happen, do not let your mind fool you into taking it as a kind of accomplishment. Do not think of them as "okay, I've done it, time to move on". Because if you will notice, this is actually a trick of the mind to pull you out of the now and into some projected future. Stay there, Now, because there is nothing else.
Sep 5, 2014
Sep 3, 2014
Sep 1, 2014
When I was eight I lost the ability to dream. I often compensated with wakeful dreams and fancies of imagination I scarcely put on paper or canvas, even though my mind whispered to me that I should. When I did resolve to portray my wakeful dreams, I would enter an absurdly lucid state. Barraged by images I could only assume came from my youth, I struggled to maintain my visions until they assailed me to such an end that I had to cease. They filled me with a singular terror. As a result, I not only stopped writing and drawing, but also forced myself to not do it again. I knew the images were the culprit of my disorder, yet I knew facing them might mean a shattering of an already fragile mental state. I buried them instead. Deep enough for them to eventually manifest in a schizoid disorder, one I was acutely aware of, yet could do nothing to assuage it. I became intensely fearful of all public events.
It was because of this chronic avoidance of man that I was most surprised with myself the day I endeavoured to visit an event I would have otherwise shunned.
I was invited via an acquaintance of mine over a social networking site. He was one of those friends we all have on our list: a person who you never talk to and call a 'friend' only in the nebulous cloud of the internet. But then again most of my acquaintances were of such nature. I decided to go, and it was here that my true madness began.
I arrived fashionably late, as did everyone else. Unfortunately, everyone else was vastly more fashionable than myself. The result being me and the proprietor engaging in conversation and watching as people trickled in, all of whom eventually insisted on talking to me. Questions such as, “Where have you been?”, “Long time no see, eh bud?” became a constancy. Horrid.
Nevertheless the evening turned out delightfully droll, despite the fact that social anxieties got the better of me on numerous occasions, forcing me to withdraw (more than once) into the relative safety of the bathroom. At one point after midnight, matters in my head became unbearable. So much so, I decided it would be best for me to take my leave. But first, for reasons unknown to me, I resolved to wait and sat on a chair facing the bar’s entry.
I remained there longer than I had expected – some impulse keeping me in place despite my anxious sweat. I struggled to maintain a mask of bored vacancy, until she walked in and the walls seemed to breathe. She had an air of neglect about her which made her seem messy, but in a way as though it is her soul that is in disarray and all attempts to mask it goes unnoticed by those with less sensitive faculties. Her hair was auburn and fell over her shoulders in waves, her face and posture both immensely likable. Our eyes met as though following each other’s orbits for unknown ages and only now coming close enough to spot each other, like two comets that pass every few thousand years. My world became her eyes and I was blasted with a fear of such depth and intensity I nearly fainted. I could not explain the source of this fright and resolved to find out what might be the basis of such irrationality. I looked – for how could I not – and saw that she appeared just as lost in my gaze as I was in hers.
No one appeared to notice as she walked towards me. The movement of bodies around her became a blur, each unconsciously stepping aside and forming a corridor for her to meet me.
“I know you,” she said with an, aha! there you are.
“Do you? I don’t think I know you,” I lied. I did know her, though I could not say from where.
She seemed puzzled by my answer. We eyed each other until she offered a hand, the gesture awkward after our silence. I expected a soft handshake but instead she used it to yank herself closer to me. I could smell the piny fragrance of her hair as she whispered, “Let me show you where the ocean and they sky become one.”
For a moment I was dreaming again. Images both forgotten and half-remembered superimposed on the scene before me. I smelled the ocean and the breeze it carried; a reek of decay from some nameless place I visited once but never came back the same. A cold seeped into my bones. She stepped back, her eyes pressed into mine as if she knew me from another plane or dimension, knew me more deeply than anyone ever has or ever will or even could. I took a breath, realizing I had been holding it for a while. Then remembered her and wet myself and the chair I was sitting on.
“I accidently spilled beer on him,” she would giggle to those who asked why we are leaving.
There had been silence outside the bar as I came in; and a greater silence as we got to her car, for the silence was in my head. It felt like there should have been thoughts there, thoughts about who this woman is and how it was that I knew her. Thoughts about where we are going and what we shall find there. But there was nothing. The moon hung bright above the road and that too made me forget. We drove the silvery plane of the illuminated highway and it felt like driving into oblivion.
“How much do you remember?” she finally asked.
“I remember the cave,” I said, and that the two of you are strangely connected. “But not really as the cave, more like a black abyss where everything gets sucked into. My dreams, my thoughts, belching out my fears and my... I don’t know.”
“I’ve been looking for you, you know,” she said. “For a while now. I’m too afraid to do it myself and I remember you used to be different before it happened. It’s funny I find you randomly in the end.”
How does she know I was different? Even I could no longer remember being any other way.
“Nothing is random. And I haven’t gone far, I just hid.”
She nodded and I could tell she wondered why I do not ask any questions. I did not want to ask. I knew things would be easier for me if I asked, but it felt like asking would open a doorway I closed for a reason. Or that the reason closed the doorway.
I stayed quiet and allowed her to take me where my dreams could not.
We arrived in the misty half-light before the dawn and stopped the car on a cliff carpeted by waving grass. The high crag overlooked the ocean where waves seemed like ripples in silk. I opened the car door and stepped outside.
A soft splashing in the distance below.
The smell was not what I had expected. I whiffed a grim foulness of dead whales. Autumn was ending and everything was preparing to sleep, even the wide expanse of the ocean seemed lazy and uninterested in any endeavour to move. A lone freighter sailed through the misty distance. For a while I tried, but could not get over the smell.
“What is that?”
“Memories,” she said, the smaller strands of her hair held aloft by the first morning breeze. “They’ve growl foul over the years.”
Her answer felt irritatingly obtuse. Her face seemed odd and I could not place the reason why, until the sun rose into sky, red as blood, and illuminated her aspect in colour. A face cross-hatched by scars. It felt inappropriate to ask, but I knew her, it was just all the specifics of her that eluded me. “What happened?” I motioned a finger around my own face.
“Some things you need to discover for yourself for the truth to have an impact,” she smiled.
She led me to the cliff’s edge and sat down. The grass was soft and the soil cold, yet I soon forgot about the chill as I listened to her explain things I have wondered about for two decades. The more she talked, the more I could feel her words chipping away at my already fragile edifice of sanity. The more she spoke, the more her words became a source of dread. It seemed to me she must have crawled out of the sea, her voice slowly becoming as expansive as the sea. I could not speak in any way save to ask questions. Hours passed.
“We’ll have to get down there,” she said, and pointed to a lone, stone house on the edge of where the land met the sea. “It used to be a lighthouse, but a lighthouse stands there no more.”
Obviously. “Why?” I asked. “What’s in there? How should we get down?” There seemed no way of doing it save going all the way around.
“Because we need to wait,” she said, looking skyward. “The stars are not where they need to be. Follow me,” she smiled and was on her feet, skipping down a path I had not noticed.
We walked the narrow trail between the knee-tall grass painted gold by the meridian sun. As I watched her, smelled her as she walked ahead of me, she seemed to me the type of person that would never die. A ridiculous notion, I knew, but such was this feeling – the timelessness of her voice – that it gave me hope. Perhaps she would never die and teach me the secret so that I may never die with her. She suddenly stopped and looked up, then back to me and said, “Come to the Moon with me.” She laughed and hurried ahead. In an instant my mind pieced together all of her words and caused a sudden shift in perception. I am following a mad woman. A lunatic, certainly? It would make sense for me to not notice such a thing, being somewhat odd myself.
“What’s the holdup?” she waved at me from up ahead. The scars on her face looked less hideous from a distance and I hurried to meet her with masked reluctance. The ground levelled and I followed her prints upon the wet sand. Tall walls of foam splashed against the rock to my right. A cold breeze came with them and something else, a feeling as if the sea was not just the sea, but a great leveller pulsing with age and history, yet timeless and ageless because it knows such things do not matter.
“I never asked for your name,” I said to her.
“No, you didn’t.”
“What is your name?”
She gave me the broadest smile a person can give without appearing sinister, and said, “I am Forever.”
It was when we reached the lighthouse that I figured Forever must be mad indeed. What maddened me the most, however, was that all of the things she had told me appeared to have slipped out of my head. The feeling of memory-loss pervaded my thoughts to an almost intolerable degree. It was pushed aside when she pulled out a massive, silver key, unlocked the lighthouse gate with a clack and ushered me inside to stand beneath a badly-thatched roof.
She said, “Welcome to my humble abode.”
It felt like I had stumbled into a zone of instability where every aspect of the without portrayed the within of her mind. Canvases and books, most half-torn or wet, lay scattered about everywhere. The deck was carpeted by papers, handwritten notes and partially-washed off or smudged by rain. The bed was covered by a stack of them, each with crude, charcoal drawings. In the gloom I could make out noting for certain, yet all carried a heinous quality of madness and delirium. Above all hung the prevailing smell of fish and the sense that such a place could not be inhabited by anyone sane. There were tons of things scattered about of which I had no idea what purpose they might serve.
“You seem to have some problems with the roof, dear,” I said. Light pierced through the many chinks and apertures above in spears of light, illuminating each dust particle through which Forever began to dance and twirl with arms spread wide.
“Home sweet home. Isn’t it wonderful?” she smiled. “Lovely. The spots of sunlight remind me of myself: spotted with moments of sanity.” Her words only served to confuse me further as she seemed fully lucid of her condition.
She stopped dancing and undressed before me, and dear God I would be lying if I said her frail body didn’t arouse me. She carefully placed the clothes into a closet and picked from the floor a set of torn short jeans and a shirt equally as torn and stretched out. The shirt left one of her smooth shoulders bare. She looked at me with a shy expression and said, “You know, a gentleman never looks at a lady while she undresses, who knows how he might offend her delicate sensibilities.”
“Sorry,” was all I managed. I wished to say something else, when I noticed a picture behind her. I walked past her, drawn to the painting as if it were a magnet for my consciousness. What I saw upon it made me collapse into myself with horror. The outlines of the painting – if it could be called such – were of a house standing on an island, most of the island underwater. The material used as canvas was wood, and the technique seemed to be a kind of scratching, the scratches filled with strange-coloured paint or some mucus. Beneath the house, in the ocean which felt so real, was a large whale with its mouth gaping open in unnatural proportions. Everything about the artwork innerved me as it seemed to so adequately display my host’s insanity. I stared at the painting for a while, until I could have sworn the whale moved its roaring head. There came a trembling and a black abyss, surrounding me. A sound, a bass rumble of ‘uuuooooooo...’, as the devouring maw approached from some nameless distance. Petrified and so frozen in place, I watched as the mouth drew nigh with its million fangs and a flapping tongue. It encompassed me and with a loud crack snapped shut on top of me...
I woke up hours later with Forever scribbling and talking madly over something on the floor. She was on her elbows, her behind exposed in what my mind interpreted to be undeniably sexual way, with her short, cut-out jeans revealing aspects of her I could not look away from. Her words came out in a series of meaningless vowels.
I coughed so that she might notice me. She didn’t. I coughed again, this time louder and with fervour. Instead of looking up she rushed outside.
I considered myself without options – I certainly did not wish to stay here – so I ran after her, stealing a glace towards what she had been drawing and wishing I hadn’t. What she portrayed was something so appalling I do not wish to describe. The image would not leave my mind even as I chased her, yelling for her to stop.
She did not heed me until she came below the cliff-face above which we had left the car.
“Yes. Yes! Finally, the stars are in their proper place again. Look!” She pointed at the Moon and I thought I must surely be dreaming.
In my years as I recluse I often picked up hobbies that involved the least amount of human contact. Astronomy proved an easy route for a mind such as mine. And when now I looked at the Moon and could see Venus, Jupiter and Saturn forming a near perfect triangle around it, I became convinced I am still sprawled in the lighthouse, dreaming all of this.
“It’ll soon be over, Jon, just come with me, you’ll see,” she said. I was at once horrified and profoundly relieved. She reached out and grabbed my hand, leading me ahead the narrow path. Waves crashed against the rock below us, foaming and splashing, frothing and recombining with the ocean.
“I don’t trust this,” I said. “I don’t want this anymore.” I had no idea what waited at the end, and even though I knew most of my fear didn’t come from something that was real but from something imagined, I could not shake it.
“Then go back,” she said. Somehow that proved even worse.
She saw my resignation about the prospect. “Then trust me,” she smiled over her smooth shoulder. I decided I had come too far to chicken out. Too far to run as I have from most of my dealings with people. I would see this through to the end and so followed her swaying hips until the path below us became rough with odd chiselling – narrow to a point where we had to step sideways. Soon my back was pressed against the cliff with the fall and the ocean below.
“Careful,” she urged, “it’s slippery here, don’t fall.”
“You’ve been inside yet?”
“No,” she said. “I had to prepare the way. Don’t mind the voice.”
I didn’t know what she meant until I took a careful look at the hieroglyphs below our feet. They were scratched into the rock like the scratches in the wooden painting had been. They consisted of no signs or letters I could identify, nor would they form any suggestion in my head as to what their relation might be. Around them appeared a faint aura of suggestive meaning. I was certain I could remember them if I tried hard enough, looked long enough. When we neared the pathway’s end, a voice called out to me. I tried listening to its whispers but soon realized it must be a fabrication of my own imaginings, as I realized I had become immersed in a frightened and highly suggestible state. And yet, no matter how hard I tried, I could not shake the absolute fact that there arose from the whispers a drumming in my marrow which spoke to me of things I have long forgotten.
“Don’t be frightened,” she said, which served to do the opposite – a panic rose in my throat. How had she gotten those scars? They looked more like her skin had been torn, or peeled off. Had she fallen down this slope and injured her face?
“Don’t tell me these things. Tell me something else,” I said.
“What should I say, then?”
“That I’m dreaming?”
“Well... you are not,” she said as we reached the passage and entered the cave below the black arch.
The walls had a bioluminescent quality, outlining Forever’s shape in stark cyan. She seemed a ghost to me. My breathing felt heavy. My heart relentless and loud in my ears.
We passed various obstructions in the cave system, my hand always in hers as she led me through the increasingly cold cavern. Soon the draft became ice on my skin and after a while it occurred to me that I should take a closer look at the walls, even when the reason why was not immediately apparent.
“What the hell are these?” I asked. She did not respond – her hand had gotten cold. “Aren’t you cold?” No answer. An anxiety of singular force made my hand sweat. I noticed the strange incrustations upon the walls were getting smoother, as though whoever had left the place in ruin had time to sand out a section of the within. We had passed numerous forks in the system, suggesting the cave was of great elaborateness and scale. All of these and other, inner impulses slowly proved to me that she must have lead me here – where the walls began to smooth out – for some sinister purpose.
I heard mumbling ahead; a burr of ghastly character on the very edge of hearing. It took me a few strides to realize it was the voice of Forever. Her tonality and the strange chanting with which she repeated whatever she was saying made me start planning my escape immediately. Surely I had come into the grasp of a mad-which, and was now trailing the path of her insanity. Suddenly the belief that she had lead me through this inextricable maze so none would find me became absolute. We entered a vast cavern peopled by hunched and robed figures, staring into what seemed like silver mirrors that reflected nothing. I attempted to break free of her grasp and managed to dislodge my hand. I turned back to try my luck in the caverns, only to bump into a solid wall where moments before a tunnel had been. In a second, or it might have been more, I felt everything all at once and vomited over the roughly hewn floor, then suddenly felt nothing. I looked up to see the scar-faced Forever gone, replaced by a figure whose hands were in his sleeves, staring down at me from a hooded robe and empty eye sockets. His eyes had been gouged, replaced by a black bump in between the two sockets. My fear became a physical menace. I shook as my ears picked up an odd chanting of synchronous rhythm resonating at a pitch my mind had not encountered before.
I had seen many sights in my wakeful dreams, but none so hateful as I saw in the expression of the ancient and robed man now standing before me. All my senses were drawn to his one, black eye. The world seemed to stop until I noticed but one movement: an otherworldly-hued substance splurting out in aetheric waves from the black and never-blinking eye in the centre of his forehead. In a roar of unexplainable mindcasting, I realized my whole existence had been an initiation. I became complacent, but within yelled for my own self to stop as I was ushered forth in a mindless stupor to where my true purpose lay. I had come to a radiant well where all reality emanates from, and from where a set of robed figures pulled out a ball made of what looked like mercury out of which I would forge my own mirror to gaze into eternity. All of this made strange sense to me and I proceeded towards my task with unstoppable zest.
I have no idea how long I polished that piece of mercury that wasn’t mercury and shaped it into a smooth, oval window – a plane where everything explained itself to me. It showed futures and pasts interwoven into an infinite cosmic cycle where humans and their existence formed transient thoughts in reality. I felt more than I saw, for in the darkness only my mirror and our chanting became real. My eyes atrophied until their insistence on seeing became an unbearable distraction. I gauged them out myself.
Aug 20, 2014
In the deep forests of my hometown in southern Slovenia, in a clearing where no road leads to and animals avoid, there sits a tranquil lake. The area around it is boggy even in the warmest of summer days, yet no frogs have I ever found there and not a sound can be heard in that part of muddy earth. You can’t see the lake from above or any of the nearby hills. The trees leading to the place are many and a fog always hangs there, obscuring view and drifting aimlessly governed by no wind from any point of the compass.
To find this body of water you have to follow the slow thinning of trees and stumble between the rotting bark and leaves and winding roots, until you reach a point where, step by step, the murky water rises up to your knees. The dead moss and lichen become sand as you wade through the cold and motionless transparency, to a place where nothing grows and hasn’t done so for who knows how long.
Mud froths outs between your toes with every step, spreading in all directions as the water becomes clear enough for the small lake to be both beautiful and profoundly frightening. For when you reach its bank, you see just how steeply it drops into the black depths no eye can peer into. A prevailing sense of the place being old beyond man and memory awaits there, even though there is nothing to confirm this to be the case.
The lake is full of contradictions like this. It sounds calm and welcoming, yet beckons you gone once you reach that edge and hear a subterranean rumble of grinding stone and see the minute shaking of the otherwise deceptively calm surface. You see the sky above it contrasted by the dark below as you stand on the precipice. The only smell is that of the woodland.
The lake is all I can think about of late. Its influence is evident in all my works. It remains all I can paint and all I can dream about. I wish to go back there and, at the same time, dread to see it again. The memory of it fills me with horror I cannot describe save on canvass. That I cannot recall why I fear it makes the sense of terror all the more singular.
I think about it even now as I paint in my studio. Or rather, I think about the dream I had of it last night, when a voice refocuses my attention.
I hold the brush lazily in my hand, ready for the final stroke on my painting. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it will do.
The lighting in my studio is sepulchral, the sickly bulb above me so faint I can barely distinguish one shade of colour from the other upon the canvass before me.
“Is it done?” she asks from the dark where I can just make out the lines of her shape.
“Nearly, my dear,” I smile back.
She is an impatient sort and knows what “nearly” means. She rises from her chair and hits the switch, then walks over to examine the painting. The wooden tiles creak beneath her feet. Her perfume is wonderfully subtle.
Light reveals a spacious room. It is a disorganized mess of half-finished works and empty canvases propped against walls with cans on the floor. Over all there hangs a smell as though someone had been painting the walls.
I crack a smile while her face twists into a sneer as she sees what I had made of what was supposed to be her portrait.
I had painted it on a dare.
“Do you still love me?” she had asked me earlier in the day.
“Of course I do,” I said. “I dream of you. I could paint your face in the dark,” I boasted.
Watching her stare at it, I cannot tell if she likes the painting or not.
“It’s there again,” she remarks. “But at least you’ve painted something else than the lake.”
“You don’t like it?” I ask.
“I didn’t say that,” she says. “But it’s there again.”
“You’re an inspiration to me, you know,” I tell her. But she doesn’t believe me. How could she, when all I paint is the damn body of water in the woods?
I can easily say my work is not the finest. However the paintings seemed to have struck enough of a cord of peculiarity for people to buy them. The buyers are mostly strange men who fill me with a sense that my works mean more to them than they do to me. Which is just as well, now if only my dear wife could see it that way. She hates the paintings. She of course won’t tell me as much, but I can hardly blame her. I never use pleasant colours or depict images of gladness. Instead there’s always a suggestive composition of some distant and unnameable horror which cannot be painted, yet is always related to the viewer through some inner alchemy upon beholding the canvass.
There is a peculiarity in all my works. It has managed to show itself again, even while I drew a portrait of my wife's exquisite face. It is an entity of unknown purpose. I can never remember painting the figure into my images, making it feel almost as though it happens between the strokes of my brush. It’s not really a figure, but an outline of one, a shadowy silhouette of a hunched or bowed... someone. And it scares the living shit out of me.
“I bet if I could see your face while you paint,” she says, “I could tell when you’re painting that thing.”
“We can try again, if you want,” I tell her. “This time in the light.”
She agrees and we take an empty canvass to replace the one already on the rack. I leave the main light on, and soon feel my mind struggling to relate all of its contents over the white empty space before me. I find my wanderings in the light estranged to me and notice myself becoming focused more on the sights and less on the feel of the scene. Each stroke seems more clinical and real, depicting with increased detail what I see. I notice an abandon of my usual style of a somewhat undimensioned reality, and my ethereal abstractions get replaced by a meticulous attention to detail.
I paint every strand of Maya’s hair, depict every dimple and all the subtleties of her loveliness, while her eyes are painted with a more tangible nature to them. I look into those blue orbs for a while and suddenly notice they have shifted and are now standing before me. She is shaking me by the shoulders. I’m still holding the brush – it leaves behind dark red strokes over the unfinished piece, it runs down like blood.
I blink. I swallow. She’s saying something but I can’t hear her. The first thing I notice is the look of worry on her face. Then I smell the paint. Her voice breaks through and she says, “Martin! Stop! Snap out of it!” I look closer to see her expression of utter fright. “You should have seen your face! What happened?”
“What do you mean? I was painting,” I tell her.
It is difficult for me to describe the sheer horror in her voice, and I suppose it is only because I must have seen the sight of the thing on the painting before, that I am spared the shock of what waits for her on the canvass.
And it’s not until she turns to see what my brush strokes have created, that she falls down in a screaming faint and doesn’t get up.
I burn the unfinished canvas over a pyre behind the house and watch the black smoke curl into the fiery goldness of late summer. The western slant of the sun illuminates the forest’s edge with bright greens and brows. There’s a crackle of burning wood as I listen to the chirping of birds.
I think of what has happened to me all those years ago, as I have done countless times before. Perhaps I had indeed fainted – just like she had today – and fallen into the lake? But how did I get out?
The wind shifts and blows some of the ash into my face, making what happened next all the more questionable. I cannot say if what I saw was real, for it could just as easily have been something caused by the sudden scraping of residue in my eyes. It stood there for a moment, behind the trees – a figure draped in black – before it moved away without sound.
I have seen the figure before. My every nerve urges me to follow it. Goose bumps creep down my neck. The pull is a calling, like a need to escape into the sun after a week indoors hiding from the rain. But I don’t follow. I go back to check on my wife instead.
I leave the smell of burning wood behind and find Maya still unconscious and in the bed where I had carried her to. I dip the tip of my fingers in the glass of water and splash tiny droplets onto her face. She wakes with a start and yells out something incoherent.
“Are you okay?” I ask her. She is clearly not, panting and sweating, her eyes darting about as though searching for some hidden foe. I don’t know what else to ask.
“Tell me you’ve burned it!” she demands. “Tell me it’s gone!”
“Did you watch it burn? Did you see it burn out?”
“No, I came back here to–“
She gets up and hurries out in a rush I can barely follow. Down the steps and into the brightly illuminated kitchen she runs, then out the back door and onto the backyard bordered by the oak and beech forest. She looks down the cindering flame circled by burned grass and collapses on her knees before it. I have never seen her like this.
“What is it?” I ask.
She doesn’t respond as I look over the fire. The canvass is missing and there’s evidence that water had been poured over the flames. The blackened wood is water-slick.
She gets up and looks me in the eye, “Promise me you’ll never paint the lake again,” she says. “Please promise me, Martin!”
“I suppose I…” I stammer my first words then nod, “I promise.” I feel like like a child. Of course I will paint it again, it's not as if I can help it.
We spend the rest of the day in silence, watching movies and trying to take our minds off what has happened. We fall asleep sometime in the evening curled up on the couch.
I wake up to the sound of hushed speech. Looking around I cannot see Maya anywhere, until on the edge of my hearing, I pick up the sound of her whispering voice. I freeze at first. The menacing quality and the tonality if it sends beads of sweat down my armpit.
“Maya!” I yell out and the whispering stops. I hear the song of crickets and somewhere in the distance, there’s an owl hooting.
I would have been content to stand up and search about in silence for her, but what happens next set my mind on edge more than the silence could. The whispering resumes. It is not something I’ve ever heard my wife do in such a manner. Why doesn’t she answer my summons?
I rise from the couch and fumble in the dark.
It amazes me how I can still forget where precisely the light-switch is.
Illumination should bring some order and sense into the world, I think, and turn on the lights. The room is empty with the backdoor swung open, a cool breeze wafts over my sweat-covered forehead. I shiver in the evening’s cold and follow the sound. I walk for a bit, the soft grass swishing between my toes.
Illumination should bring some order and sense into the world, I think, and turn on the lights. The room is empty with the backdoor swung open, a cool breeze wafts over my sweat-covered forehead. I shiver in the evening’s cold and follow the sound. I walk for a bit, the soft grass swishing between my toes.
I meet the loss of my resolve at the wood’s edge. I am shaking now, for the tonality of the voice has changed, or perhaps I have simply picked up on the subtle wrongness of it. The whispering isn’t hushed at all. There’s something out there. I can see it moving in the moonlight like a dark curtain. I take a step forth when the inexplicable madness drawing me to follow it becomes physical. A need. My feet follow the shape to some pull my mind is all too eager to accommodate. I will myself to stop, but am powerless to resist my stronger desire to follow. The voice is as the lake: at once known to me, yet freighting with its undertones of total strangeness and peculiarity.
After an indeterminable passage of time, I sense I am no longer following the voice, but He who walks behind the trees. I go between the thinning Oaks, past the shoulder-high pines and closer to the luminous fog. I don’t recall it being like this, but then I again, I don’t think I had ever seen it at night. The veil of moisture moves in the Moon’s rays and I work up the courage to call out again.
“Maya?” I still hope she might answer, but there is nothing and the black shape disappears into the fog. I take another step when something grabs me from behind and rounds me about.
“Martin! What the hell!” she shouts at me. “What are you doing, I’ve been calling out and you didn’t stop!” She explains all this between pants, bereft of breath. “I didn’t know you could run so fast!”
“I was running?” I think this to be most strange of all, for I don’t feel the least bit tired.
“What are you doing?” she asks again.
“There it is,” I tell her and turn.
“There is what?” Worry hangs over her face.
“It’s the...” my words are caught in my throat. The fog is gone and the trees stand thick around me. There’s a distant sound of an electric coil spinning and a smell of moist woodland. At first I simply look at her, wondering what to say. Should I even explain anything? I dare not mention the sound to her or she’ll think I’ve gone completely nuts.
She doesn’t speak, and I spend the next month trying to convince her I’m not crazy.
She told me later she had gone to town to get some food and had just come back when she saw me blundering into the woods.
I had no idea what to say to that, and after I told her what had happened, disconcert found its way into her face and stayed there for the remaining month. She later became content I was back to my old self, whatever that was, and said we should go and look for this lake I keep going on about.
“At least this way I can see it too,” she said.
Instead of the lake, however, we find a house. We first see it some distance ahead in what looks like a small clearing. The trees rise up above it, making its roof almost impossible to distinguish in the shade.
“Have you seen this before?” she asks me.
“If I have I don’t remember it,” I tell her.
She doesn’t like my answer, she never seems to when I imply I don’t remember something that by all rights is strange enough one should remember. We creep nearer.
“I know this place!” she says in a hushed tone. “You’ve painted this once too, remember? You sold it to... what was his name?”
“The guy from Sweden, you mean?” I ask.
“Yeah. What was his name?”
“Something Swedish, I presume.”
She snorts as we pass the last tree, coming before the edifice. Its walls are of piled stone and I can almost feel the age of it pulsing from every piece of masonry. It is a simple house, so simple I’m surprised it's still standing. Each grey stone of its construction is in varying stages of ruin and I’m certain a strong breeze might collapse the whole thing at some point. We dare not touch anything. The sides of it are overgrown by moss and vines. A tree protrudes from its centre through the grey stone roof.
“You see this, don’t you?” I ask her and her look reminds of the ones she used to give me years ago, when the two of met at university. We both studied anthropology then, until I later decided to focus on my painting instead. We had been inseparable since, yet as of late I find myself weary of her. Something had been off since the day she saw the face in the painting. “You do see the house, yes?” I ask again.
She arches an eyebrow.
“Of course I see it,” she says circling around the stonework. “What are you saying?”
We locate the entrance and step inside. It takes me a while to get used to the dark as only small bits of light pierce through the chinks and apertures of the stone. The oddness of it strikes me immediately, but to put my mind on what is so spatially off about it proves difficult until a moment after. The house stretches from a small, somewhat lit area, into a dark hallway that cannot possibly exist. I cannot see the end of it.
To say I am surprised by what we find within would be understatement. I watch Maya as she becomes stuck in place, struggling to process what is standing before her. I know what goes on in her mind, because I feel it also. The scene is nothing special in its composition, it is rather what it implies which frightens us enough to turn back and run from the house as fast as we can.
I had painted so many pieces of the lake over the period of seven years that I scarcely remember all of them. But I do recall that I could not locate some of them. I painted over quite a few, so at the time I figured most of those I couldn’t find lay somewhere between the stacks of canvases, or had been worked over by my own hand. But in that house, against all of the walls and with small candles burning in a half-circle around each in a way that seemed almost ritualistic, were all my missing paintings. And worse, they were all worked over. The figure I had painted upon them was added to, with every small detail improved upon to the point where it looked frighteningly realistic. Whoever had done it was a master, a painter of increased calibre – certainly a better one than myself.
The shapes looked like they might come out of the frames, and it is that notion that kept me running without looking back.
When we reach our home, it takes a while for us to catch our breath. I try to convince Maya it is not I who had done it, since she becomes adamant in her belief that I’m playing some sick joke on her. She says she won’t speak to me until I admit and apologize.
But what she doesn’t, or perhaps cannot understand, is that I am just as confused as she is.
She packs her bags the next morning and leaves. She doesn’t make it far, however. I watch her go beyond the edge of town from atop the hill where our house stands. She comes back in tears. We talk for a long while and, sometime in the morning hours, decide to revisit the house together and confront whoever had made those paintings.
“I suggest we bring a gun with us just to be safe,” I tell her. We don’t have one, so we pack a knife instead, one for each of us.
We trod the woods and to our dismay and further confusion, never find the house again.
It’s another month after that before something extraordinary happens. After a discussion about selling our home to move someplace else, we contact a real-estate agent to come and assess the property.
The lady is pleasant enough and offers a shabby, although fair price for the 50 parcels of land, most of which lies overgrown by forest or low-standing shrubs.
The lady is pleasant enough and offers a shabby, although fair price for the 50 parcels of land, most of which lies overgrown by forest or low-standing shrubs.
It’s late evening when Sabrine, our real-estate agent, leaves with Maya and me watching her car speeding down the dirt road pluming smoke, when on the edge of my hearing, I notice the sound of an electric coil. I am instantly aware of a subtle shift in my mental state. A fear creeps in me.
It’s when I look about to behold the slow beauty of a turning season that I notice the thing. In the dark-blue sky of the coming night, I see a white brilliance - an elliptical shape. It hangs above the trees. Motionless.
They say that the third eye, when opened, doesn’t differentiate illusion from reality, but recognizes the two as one inseparable motion. I am at this point willing to accept that to be my condition, and that my third eye has drawn its gaze. I have to believe it, because the alternative is that I have gone insane.
But belief itself implies a lie. Those three letters are in the very word. Lie. And you believe that lie until it is proven as true and you no longer have to believe, but know.
At this moment, no matter how hard I try to think of something else, something reasonable, I know there is something above those threes. I can bloody see it! Something not from here but from some other place altogether. It’s not long until Maya sees me staring and looks in the same direction as well.
“Do you hear it?” I ask.
“I’ve heard it before. What the heck is it?”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Why didn’t you?” she responds.
I am suddenly shaken by a revelation, looking at the thing. I grasp the truth – I had always painted it too. Painted it above the lake; a black elliptical shape barely noticeable from the pigments around it.
The sound it emits transmutes into a throbbing and then an even louder and more disturbing set of sense-impacts. A tracer appears behind the shape as it moves deeper into the forest.
The two of us hesitate for a moment. Then share a look. I rush into the house to get some coats and follow Maya into the forest. The light remains up ahead, imbuing the tops of the canopies with light.
“It’s all coming true, isn’t it?” she asks me.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” I tell her, watching my step and crushing small branches underfoot.
“You’ve always told me that, what we think, we become. You’ve thought of this for nearly ten years now and it’s finally becoming true.”
“I don’t think I can manifest something like this,” I tell her.
“But what if you did?”
I say nothing. There is something in the air. Something new yet familiar, as though I am treading upon the first layers of untouched and freshly fallen snow.
The nights have gotten cold and our breath mists before us.
“You’ll stay by me, wont’ you?” I finally ask her, scared out of my mind yet walking and following the travelling light.
Her voice makes me wish I could see her face in the dark. “I want to wake up next to you,” she says, “that will never change, and I wish to smell and feel you in the morning. I won’t let you drift away, Martin. Ever.”
All at once I am struck with an intense need to confess all my love for her, and to wave her goodbye at the same instant. As though I know this to be our last trail to find the illusive witch that is my sanity. A part of me tells me not to panic, while the other says she will die today. My knees are shaking.
“You remain all I think about even when all I paint is something else,” I begin, allowing my words to escape me. “When the moon sets, you’re all I wish to have and I will love you now and until the day that I die. And when we shall die no more, I will find you behind the clouds.”
I no longer care how ridiculous I sound because the truth of my words feels as real as anything else.
I no longer care how ridiculous I sound because the truth of my words feels as real as anything else.
She finds my hand in the moonlit dark. Her grip is firm, bordering on painful, and she leads me onward.
“Ever since you painted him in my portrait,” she says, “he has walked in my dreams, and I don’t know why.”
We say nothing more, stumbling between the grey trees until our minds are struck by something moving ahead.
I think to truly describe the horror of its appearance I would be forced to discover new words quite outside of the human vocabulary. The impossibility of it makes me realize the full extent of what we are doing. The fog grows thicker ahead, seemingly luminescent only as much as the moon allows it, yet strangely more so. I feel a cold wetness between my toes seeping through the fabric of my shoes and our every step is a wet squelch.
“Sodding hell!” I hiss.
“Ssshh!” Maya silences me, as the sound above begins to slow down to a steady, oscillating hum and I realize I have no concept of how long the two of us have been walking hand in hand.
A thing forms on the precipice of my vision, a bending of shadow that doesn’t know what shape to take. It is heavy like my memories, my thoughts and my love for her. Sensations rush by me.
Days where I feel everything at once and moments when I feel nothing at all converge into a single instant where I am paralyzed by fear.
She pulls me deeper into the muck. Water slowly rises to our knees and the light above us trails every movement. I see how my mind has been unfolding inside itself but has now reached out beyond. I hesitate to move as the sheer impossibility of it bids me to stay in place.
“Don’t. I’m afraid,” I admit to her.
“Me too,” she says and we stop. “Let’s go back, I can’t take the sound anymore.”
It’s me who walks ahead this time, beyond the still water turning into black before me and over to the edge of an infinite drop. On that edge, where a sound of something remarkable below dances with something above, I see the oscillating ellipse descend down into the water, blinding me and turning it into steam, choking the area with mist and leaving behind a hole darker than space. There is silence. Then an outpouring of everything all at once in a great crested wave that crashes against the trees and the rocks and washes away the dirt and the muck and the haze of confusion. The sound of doom envelops me, tosses me about – her hand in mine remaining the one singular centre – as I lose myself in a place where all dimensions dissolve in the absolute.
I wake to the sound of her breathing and the chirping of birds. There’s a headache scraping its way along my cranium, but I regret nothing. A red dawn unfolds wetly from the east. We are soaked.
This day I know something has happened both illuminating and inconceivable in its reality. I know one day my mind will comprehend it, or it may not. One day her mind will understand too. But it is not this day. One day we shall speak of this again, when the stars are right. But it too is not this day. One day she will see me and I will see her. But it is not this day. This day I only wish all of these things. This day I only hope. Yet one day that hope will blossom, and that might as well begin today. For it is a beautiful day.
We never found that lake again, nor did we ever search again.
[image by Jarek Kubicki]