Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Psychic travels in my otherwhere

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Psychic travels in my otherwhere

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Psychic travels in my otherwhere

I have always enjoyed hiking, usually alone, in the woods. Twice now, when I had the chance, I have moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina. My wife and I purchased our present home because it was isolated and out of view of other houses. We cherish our “hole in the woods.” I could walk out the back door and follow paths, or just my nose, for miles. These woods are my comfort and respite from the anxiety, noise, and stress of living in cities.

Years ago, while searching for peace, I read a recommendation to create a detailed, imaginary, inner place of quiet refuge. Sitting down with a sketch pad, I developed a plan. It was filled with resources that I could only imagine. It has been my private safe place now for many years. It is always ready and available, but has to be approached methodically. I have never taken anyone there with me.

I am walking, slightly uphill, along a path. It may be in the rolling hills of Kentucky along the Appalachian Trail. It is late spring but the morning air is still tart. The trail is well-trodden and about 4 feet wide. There is enough room for two people to pass without crowding or having to pause to acknowledge the other. The path is densely lined so that no horizon is visible past this tunnel through the trees. Last season’s leaves still mulch the way, sliding gracefully ahead to an infinite destination. 

Every footstep is muted, the birds are hushed, no breeze disturbs the cathedral trees. Every step is comfortable and smooth. My small daypack seems weightless. The resolute scent of wild mint lifts the feet, the heart, and the spirit. A small squirrel watches from four paces off the way and is
not alarmed. No sounds are uttered; none need be.

As I approach a rise, a low stone wall appears on the left. The mortared stones fit snugly together. The skilled construction is aged and mosses have found solid and abundant purchase against the cool, shady side bordering our path. I move off the path to the left, outside the wall, briefly allowing the reflex of suspended breath in anticipation. There is a lightness of head as the dappled light filtering from above seems to swirl slightly.

Steps ahead lead downward into a notch cut into the earth. The stonework of the wall descends on the right side now, while a matching wall lies parallel on my left. It is wide enough to be accommodating, but narrow enough to feel embraced. The steps are clean and dry; there is a slight warmth and light seeping from below to equal the gentle light above. Counting as I go, there are twenty-one steps. As if I had been counting sheep, time seems to slow a little. I am attracted to the approaching wall directly ahead at the bottom of the steps. It is plastered smooth and lighted from the right.

I pause at the bottom, bowing my head slightly, perhaps reverently and take a moment to examine the texture of the smooth wall like an atheist inspecting the tablecloth during grandfather’s fervent dinner prayer.  Turning right, I enter a short tunnel with a high curved ceiling that passes back under the forest path. My destination is an impossible chamber; glowing with brilliant white-on-white. The diffuse radiance of the place embraces me. My pack has unburdened itself somewhere. It is of no concern.

The walls of this place curve inward to the left and right. They curve slightly toward the ceiling as well. This would be a dome, except there is no visible far wall and no visible ceiling. If this chamber were of the world above, the ceiling would have pierced the surface and ascended the sky, yet there was nothing to see but a forest, like every other forest, before descending that flight of stairs. Everything is light; the walls  and the ceiling that are not there, and even the air is light.

There is no speech here; only knowing. Just inside the room, immediately to the left, is a horizontal alcove, hip-high above the floor. This is the first place I visit whenever I come here. Modeling my routine, I step to its center, turn around, and use the heels of my hands to lift myself slightly, and then slide back while turning to lay prone in its center. This is a place of rest and transition from the outside. As usual, I allow myself to levitate to the true center, close my eyes, and begin to rotate slowly. I am translating from intention to permission. The laws of this place are of another kind. I will be ready to move on soon. Soon does not matter here, time is suspended here. Outside, I was beginning to feel hungry; here I am comfortably sated, fully relaxed, yet mentally alert.

I have floated out of the alcove and rotated head-up. Straining slightly with anticipation I rise and soar upward, disappearing into the distance. I used to have dreams about flying. Flying is the escape of oppression, defeat, and despair. Flying starts with lifting up on your toes as you walk down the sidewalk. There is a minor suspension as the ground withdraws to release you for a moment before reclaiming the weight of your shoes. As the release comes again, more and more often, you can drag your fingerprints across the rough texture of a branch’s under-bark. Now and again, there is a destination and direction. There is nothing to speed you up or slow you down as everything else, burdening the planet, makes haste below. Only the knowing that the accommodation will come prevents the disaster of meeting a wall or overshooting your butterfly landing. Beyond my dreams, I now think a thing and it is just so.

There is a small building in the distance on the left. It is as small as a room but built on the model of the Parthenon of Pericles. The ornately-carved top is entirely supported by columns. This is my library.  I am floating upright in the center.  Here, I feel fully connected to everything that has ever been written. There is no match; not the Library of Alexandria, not the Vatican archives, not the U.S. Library of Congress, and not even the entirety of the World Wide Web. I am, in fact, connected to everything that has been said and everything that has been thought.

Most people believe that their consciousness is wholly contained within the jots and tittles of the meat between their ears. Then again, most people also believe that their consciousness remains with some discreet but non-corporeal part of themselves after their death.

Perhaps we exist like temporary drops of water, thinking so proudly and vainly of our selves until we complete our journey and merge back into the flowing rivers and the surging seas – all the water that is and always will be. This “library” is my connection to the universal pool of all consciousness. I really should not need it but, for now, it helps.

I am the mammoth, shuddering against incessant gales, probing urgently with tusk, hoof, and prehensile nose for unlikely sprouts beneath the snow. I am Isawah, third daughter of a destitute tribesman, prying stones from the reluctant ground to repair weak places in the rice terraces of my ancestors. I am sleek-of-fin, gorging on schools of small flitters and racing wind-cap waves above with my clan. I am the galaxy Andromeda, bound to waltz with your Milky Way long after your kind have twinkled, blinked, and disappeared.

There is a raised stone platform to the right in the near distance and I am quietly prone on its flat top. This is where I do business with the outside world. There are crops that need rain, students that need teaching, evil that needs to be breathed in, and good that needs to be breathed out. I am not divine, only a simple bodhisattva who has vowed to work toward enlightenment for all sentient beings. There are so many who live desperate lives of suffering, not realizing that their houses are on fire and not having the understanding to simply wake up and walk out.

In the beginning, the Creator joyously unrolled into all-that-was and ever-since-has-been allowing all-that-is to roll back. Change is never without trauma somewhere, but creation cannot happen without change. The sculptor stands his block on a colony of ants; the survivors move into his kitchen. He pounds and chips at his stone until the beauty within is revealed.

This is our moral imperative: that we invest our power, thought, and love into creation. This is sin: that a vandal destroys the creative work of others without investing his power, thought, and love, and without creative intent. This is the destiny of all things: to grow in knowledge, love, wisdom, and beauty — to roll back to the creator, ever more organized, complex, and complete.

When it is the time for it, I go. If I do not consciously and deliberately leave this place, I will be groggy and have trouble focusing for most of the day after I wake up. I return the way I came: out of the room, through the tunnel, up the stairs, and back onto the path. I pause to take a breath and orient myself.

My back door is just a short distance ahead. Birds are announcing their place and a mid-day breeze is combing the trees. Inhaling deeply, I complete the journey, revived and succored with cautious hope and expectation. I can face what comes for another day.

[It turns out that Dianna and I were unable to stay in the mountains of Western North Carolina and have relocated to rural Iowa.]