The Greatest Mystery

Easter Island – October 2016

Remember who you are.

Who you were before the world got ahold of you.

This is why you are here.

It is said that ancient minds expressed their immense knowledge of the cosmos through myth. Their brains worked with symbol and metaphor. A fusion of conscious and subconscious. A slow, relentless divergence occurred over the ages. Hard logic became more valued and imagination became irrelevant.

My mind does not grasp formulas, equations, hard facts, dates. But I understand. A deep knowing that fills my atoms. My reality is fluid, kaleidoscopic, limitless. I am awake in a dream without end. Beliefs are not held, but carried for a while and then set free as new evidence comes to light. But never do I forget that we humans know nothing. And no one is in control.

Wild horses roam the desolate landscape of Rapa Nui. They are almost as captivating to me as the moai. They converge in the road ahead. I trail behind their majestic parade. Your mind is more of a wild horse than most people’s, a psychic once told me. A mixture of admiration and pity in her eyes. Even as a child, especially as a child, my mind was rebellious. I dreamed of being an archaeologist and having rainbow-colored hair. My favorite color was clear. Not a color of the spectrum but the prism itself.

The exasperation and hostility it provoked: that color doesn’t exist!

But I can see it. It’s all around us.

Nothing can be done with you. You are hopeless!

I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I couldn’t restrain myself from imagining possibilities. I’ve never expected, or even wanted, others to see the world as I do. I peer out the dusty windshield. The beasts advance down the road. A wayward kind of grace. They toss their manes, haughty and jubilant. A devilish smile spreads across my face. An evil giggle escapes. I never stood a chance.

In the field, two males are locked a violent pirouette. Teeth tear flesh. Long, thick ropes of blood and saliva fly through the air. An image from this morning flashes through my mind. A dead horse by the side of the road. The bloated, contorted carcass. Its eyes were frozen in a fierce gaze heavenward. Even in death untamed.

Moai are strewn across the outer slopes of Rano Raraku like discarded game pieces from a divine hand. The soil in the crater is the color of dried blood. Here, the moai were extracted from the flesh of the Earth.

One must bleed until there’s no poison left. The wounds scab over, and it seems we are done with the bleeding. But then they burst open again. And again.

Deep within the abyss of the past, I believed everything I was told. This innocence was not lost, but purposely rejected. Exiled to this mysterious, magical land. I have come here to reclaim it.

When we experience pain, pieces of the personality shatter, disperse, and become lodged in hidden corners of the psyche.This is done as a means of survival, so the pain doesn’t reoccur. Those who search for answers find that, eventually, the sanctuaries become prisons. The bandages no longer shelter the wounds. The search must go deeper. Clues are unearthed and examined. Shards and tiny splinters. It is painstaking work. Some discoveries raise more questions than answers. Sometimes the revelations are catastrophic. They invalidate all previous work. If only we could bury it all again. But there is no going back.

Was it carelessness or rat infestation that caused the fatal deforestation? Who constructed the moai? Why do all sites face inland, but one? Certain moai are lined up with the astronomical year. Why? Is Easter Island part of the legacy of a lost civilization that existed millennia before recorded history? The survivors of a cataclysm were ancient mariners who journeyed to the far reaches of the planet, transporting their knowledge of the universe.

So many questions. So much energy is invested in trying to decipher the enigma of our collective past.

The greatest mystery one can solve is that of the self.

Hanga Roa. The only town on this remotest of islands. I drift into a tiny shop. Ocean blue walls close in on me. On display: a dismal selection of tinned food, crackers, cookies, and chips. The Pacific islands are a fussy eater’s worst nightmare. Tourists mill about. Languages intertwine. I get in line behind three young women. Words emerge from their obscure speech. Numbers. It’s Hungarian. Words from each of the languages I’ve taught myself over the years tumble through my mind. I’ve taught myself almost everything I know: how to write, how to navigate the planet, how to unlearn everything I was told I ought to be. How to interpret the secret, personal language that each of us carry into existence. The hieroglyphics scrawled on the walls of my soul.

A tingle to my left. Heat. I glance in that direction. A man stands in front of the cooler. Wiry, small-boned, Polynesian. Stately and youthful. He could be twenty-five or forty-five. His hair falls past his shoulders in inky blue-black waves. His gaze captures mine. Blazing black nuggets. I see you, missy.

I catch my breath and turn away. I pay for my water and stumble into the midday sunlight, head spinning. I get into the Jeep and place my hands on the steering wheel. Breathe, breathe. I stare into the rearview mirror. No one has ever looked at me like that before. Except me. I see you. Missy.

Long ago, I tried to been seen below my surface. The late 1980s. My last year as a teenager. Palm Springs, LA. The don’t-you-know-who-I-am crowd. So many offers of conditional generosity. Do you know who you are? was my reply. The best pickup line annihilator ever. Then, one eternal night club evening, eyes peered into mine. Orbs obscured by the grimy glaze of age. The gaze of a long-dead soul. No man will ever be interested in what goes on in that pretty little head, doll. A sneer. Your deep thoughts. If you’re really smart, you’ll keep your mouth shut and use the real gifts you were given. You’ll be set for life.

My beautiful defiance: take your BMW and shove it up your flabby, wrinkled ass, old man! Just because you’ve been alive since the beginning of time doesn’t mean you know everything!

But even the most determined scientist abandons a theory after finding no evidence to support it.

No one will ever understand me. A realization that can cause such devastation. Or empowerment.

Te Pito Kura. Navel of Light. The place of the magic spheres. Mana, spirit power, was harnessed here. Easter Island is also known as Rapa Nui, but its original name was Te Pito O Te Henua. Navel of the World. We are, each of us, the center. The quantum observers of our lives.

We did not come into existence to be educated into submission. To be herded into a corral of listless uniformity. We are here to observe, to experience, to formulate our own realities. To enter the labyrinth of our spirit, get gloriously lost, find our way to the center of light and back again.

And so the time of the moai came to an end and the Birdman became the mythical ideal. Like the Earth, our personal histories consist of eras. Each one more intricate than the last.

The cold wind tangles my hair into knots. I stand on the precipice and peer into the fog. The percussive hiss of ocean waves crashing into the cliffs rises from far below. A decision looms: sink into the safe and familiar forever or take that step into the unknown. I need my innocence – trust, hope, and belief – more than ever now. The fog dissipates, and, in the distance, the prize becomes visible.

The Rano Kau crater towers over the very edge of the island. A gray minivan pulls up next to me in the parking lot. Tourists spill out, identical blonde males and females. Their language is vague, strangled. Some form of Scandinavian. I follow them up the trail to the lookout. They veer to the left. A figure sits at the very edge, cross-legged and immobile. A monolith of flesh and blood. My heart stops.

Him, again. The wind stirs his hair. Raven wings taking flight and coming to rest again. The tourists cluster around him, oblivious to his presence. Squawks and exclamations engulf him. He does not move.

I walk up the path to the right and sit on a boulder. The crater gapes before me. A most ancient wound. An unsettling, post-cataclysmic stillness rises from within. A void that can never be filled. Some things you never get back. But with the passing of time, scars take on an exquisite beauty. If you let them.

The tingle again. I take a deep breath and reach out. We merge into a soft embrace of resonances. Warm and platonic and steady. I bow my head and smile. I see you, too.

Sadness and wonder coalesce. I close my eyes. Could it be that I’m not alone after all? I sweep my eyes in his direction, but he has vanished. A lone cackle breaks free from the cluster of tourists. It wafts across the crater, hovering for an instant before it’s swept away in the wind. Swallowed up by the emptiness of forever.

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the “normal people” as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like “Have a nice day” and “Weather’s awful today, eh?”, you yearn inside to say forbidden things like “Tell me something that makes you cry” or “What do you think deja vu is for?”. Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.” – Timothy Leary

Dear Readers: Thank you for being my Others.❤️

Becoming Wild

Meadow12

May 28, 1986

We drive through the night to the Cleveland Clinic. My uncle, my mother, and me. Something about Grandpa, but I know he will be okay. God wouldn’t take him from us. Not after everything else that has happened. I will have to make up final exams, but I don’t care. Next week, I will be out of that hellhole for good. My chest tightens. Mom still hasn’t recovered from her breakdown. Who will watch over the kids when I leave? But I will die if I stay in that town.

We arrive too early for visiting hours. I curl up on the couch in the waiting room. Behind my closed eyes, a dream materializes. I’m in the meadow, sitting under a tree that doesn’t exist in reality. My boyfriend is next to me. Rich green summertime shade. Grandpa runs towards us. He’s wearing a red flannel shirt and blue jeans that are rolled up to his calves. He is barefoot. He smiles down at me. The heaviness of life is gone from his eyes. “Grandpa! What are you doing here? You’re dead.” His eyes twinkle. The sweet smile I know so well. The one he uses when he’s teasing. “I’m not dead. I’m only sleeping.”

My mother’s long fingers grip my shoulders and shake. A voice contorted with sobs. Wake up. It’s time. Down a long gray corridor and into a white room. The click of machines shutting down. Say goodbye to Grandpa. Tell him you love him. A chest under a sheet rises, falls, and is still.

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I run my hands over the thick, rough bark. It’s called a willow oak, I think. Thirty-two years have passed and here you are. In the same exact place as in the dream. The only tree that has grown in the meadow after all this time. I lean my back against the trunk, its chest. The pulse of a heartbeat. The warmth of life flowing through veins. Awareness. Strong hands on my shoulders. I’ve got you. I sigh and smile. Wow. This feels good. I’ve got you. Three words I’ve never heard. I’ve never had a protector. Dad was submerged in psychosis, and Mom was blinded by despair. Even Grandpa was vague with his support. Be strong was the mantra I inherited. You’re the oldest. Your family needs you.

It was always me: taking care of the family, then myself, then the people in my life. I no longer feel any self-pity or the need to blame. I adapted, as everything thing does to its environment. What began as necessity became the perfect hiding place. It was so easy to take advantage of the fact that most others are too superficial or too focused on their own pain to make the effort to see behind exteriors.

There’s a difference between vulnerability and neediness. Let it all go. I’ve got you.

meadow02

We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols. A place that holds our souls. The harmony that would reign, if only everyone knew theirs. Mine is a humble meadow tucked into a forest. It claimed me during early childhood explorations. I found it while wandering down the railroad tracks near the cottage that Grandpa built. Tracks that have long since been torn up and replaced by a bike path. I used to lie here, amid the wildflowers, and let myself fall through the sky. I carried this sacred space with me everywhere I roamed. My mother says she’s always felt my presence so strongly here, even when I was on the other side of the planet. One day, my ashes will sink into this dirt with the rain.

meadow03

May. The borderland between spring and summer. That beautiful time of fresh, green warmth before the mosquitoes have awakened. The divine bleed of the aurora borealis through the night sky. Shooting stars streak through the undulating curtain of green and violet. Celestial fireflies. Heart in my throat. The glow ascends, vanishing into the darkness. Delivering my wish to Heaven.

Meadow14

Let go of who you believed you were. I circumambulate the meadow, scattering the ashes of my former life. The labels. Those devastating weapons of mass division. I pass by patches of daisies and the depressions in the tall grass where the deer bed down for the night. These are my signposts. Now that I’m just a human named Julie. Liminal space is the most unsettling of territories. But it is here, in this emptiness, where I thrive.

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A solstice sunrise. I lift my face to the gentle rays. Shine your light through me. Show me what you want me to do now. I’m yours.

The time has come to reveal yourself. No more hiding.

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And now, your eclipse. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. No more hiding, anything.

meadow04

When I’m in the realm of schedules and conformity, I fulfill duties with a smile. I’m a good-natured imposter. After work, I slip away, evading invitations. Home, down the trail, and into my sanctuary. In this loving shade, I let my imagination out to play. A tiny white spider crawls up my arm. I smile down at her and lean back against my tree. Notebook on my knees. Namibia, the lions. This is what happened: a safari, a childhood backyard expedition. Bring them together. Words buzz around my head. I catch them in my web. Messy, incoherent scrawls in the notebook. I look down at it and shake my head. Somehow I will decipher and arrange it all. Just like I always do. The sun slips behind the forest. I raise my arm, but Spider has moseyed along. Prismatic strands encircle my arm, casting tiny rainbows in the fading light.

The other world of disharmony and hopelessness fades. The world in which we are systematically led to believe that we are losing. Agitated chatter fizzles into static which dissipates into silence. Then the symphony begins.

Nature speaks in symbol and metaphor. An atavistic communication that transcends words and seeps directly into the subconscious. The sigh of a warm summer breeze through the treetops. The ripple of heat in the distance. The slow drift of clouds across the blue expanse. In this world, we are winning.

That other world can only be healed by rediscovering this one. And it is calling out to us.

It’s the same little haven, but every day is different. The sun’s trajectory, the dance of insects, the wildflowers in various stages of growth and decline. Petals unfurl, bask, and slowly shrivel up. A butterfly pirouettes in the space before me. A purple shimmer in his brown wings. So many iridescent wings this year: butterflies and dragonflies. Symbols of total transformation. I put down my pen and hold out my hand. He comes to rest and lingers while I take a video. Could it be he’s showing off?

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I trail behind the morning mist as it billows into the forest. The sun peers over the treetops. Hundreds of tiny spiderwebs glitter in the dawn light. They are only visible when illuminated from this sharp angle. Spellbound, I lower myself into the grass. Dew soaks into my jeans. Yet another dreamscape I’ve traversed. This one came during my years in Bratislava, I think. A beige fog rolled away, revealing innumerable spiderwebs in various stages of completion. The Presence by my side. These are all of your stories: written, in the process of being written, and those yet to be conceived.

meadow08

An annoyed snort jolts me back to the present. A herd of deer have lined up on the periphery. I am in the way. They scamper back and forth for several minutes. The snorts intensify. Then they bound into the forest.

Two mornings later. Same place. A rustle to my left. A fawn. So close that I can see her eyelashes. Our eyes are mirrors of innocent curiosity.

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I am becoming wild, again. Feathers, flowers, stones, bones. Life, death. Resurrection. I tuck the feathers I find along my path into a pocket of bark. Thank you for being here. For existing. Hang my crown of thistles on a branch. When I wander back to the cottage, humming to myself, forget-me-nots woven into my hair, my mother doesn’t greet me with a frown or raised eyebrows or a look of alarm. Instead, a soft smile lights up her gentle face. “You look so pretty.”

Meadow10a

Awe is love on the precipice of fear. With the bones and stones, I construct a wheel in the soil. A dreamcatcher, a spiderweb. The Native Americans call it a medicine wheel. With each piece buried, I reassemble my existence. I begin to understand how the facets of life work together. The very one that seems unimportant and irrelevant often must be fulfilled before others can be aligned. What we don’t think we want is exactly what we need.

From the other world, a bony finger beckons. Grim Reaper of the soul. A job in an East Coast city. An admirable career. Return to the safety of anonymity and isolation. There will be no energy left for spinning words, but I will be too distracted and exhausted to miss it.

The familiar squeeze on my shoulder. How you support yourself is no longer important. It is time to live your passion. I wrap my arms around the trunk. Yes. Only that which sets me aflame can lure me away from this wonderland. Or maybe I’ll just disappear here. No one will notice. A slight pulling away. For my own good. You can’t hide away from that other world forever. It needs you. And I will always be here for you.

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What seems like magic is the most natural thing of all. We have forgotten that we are part of Nature. I’ve simply allowed myself to remember. How to listen and observe, how to ask for answers, how to integrate what I learn. Through this communion, I shed layers of conditioning, unravel patterns, grasp subtle differences in meaning. Sensations seep into my dreams. A raven becomes a wizened old Chippewa guide. The aurora becomes angels heralding a beautiful apocalypse. Celebrating my victory. You’ve had the guts to jump into the void. You deserve nothing less than the miraculous.

The dragonflies disappear, then the butterflies. Even the bumblebees eventually die. Spiderwebs are abandoned. At the very end of summer, after all hope has vanished: rain. Sky blanketed in gray. I lie in the center of the wheel. Deep breath. I think I’m just about ready. Drizzle tickles my face. Excited motion just above. A second batch of dragonflies has hatched. Dozens hover overhead, never touching the Earth.

Meadow15

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again” -Joseph Campbell

Once Upon a Time in Bohemia

Long ago, before there was a Time to once upon, a little star fell to Earth. There were no territories then. No kingdoms or boundaries. Only the sky, the sun, strange animals, and vast forests. And the river.

Vltavín. Named after the Vltava, which traverses the land where the shards of this star now sleep, saturating the landscape with divine resonance. Legend says that it’s the emerald that fell from Lucifer’s crown before he was cast out of Heaven. From this celestial jewel, the Holy Grail was forged, as well as the fabled Emerald Tablet of the alchemists. Modern metaphysicians say it brings profound, sometimes violent, transformation. It is a light piercing the darkness, shining the way to one’s Destiny.

In the year 1998, two friends stood at a crossroads. The man placed a tiny green gem in the woman’s palm. This stone is special, created from the fusion of Heaven and Earth. It comes from a land called Bohemia. May it protect and guide you on your journey, La Vagabonde.

She closed her fingers around it and held it to her heart. They hugged and went their separate ways. He went to the northwest, a place of perpetual rain. She went to the southwest, the desert. But true to her nature, she didn’t stay there long.

She met a kind man who took her far away to a small island across the greatest of oceans, where the world is upside down and winter is summer and autumn and spring do not exist. There she lived for many years in a house of glass overlooking mountains and sea. She learned the language, but still no one understood her. She lost her voice and became invisible. She taught herself to speak through her pen, releasing the shadows that had caught up with her after so many years of flight. She’d hold the stone up to the South Sea sunlight, mesmerized by the deep green glow. Within its depths a golden city glittered. Prague. And there she was, striding down cobblestone streets, staring out a small window over rooftops, standing at the river’s edge. A soft, secret smile of certainty spread across her face, and then she’d laugh to herself and shake the silly daydream from her head. Was it possible for any place to be farther away from this lost little island?

Bohemia. If ever a realm could embody the spirit of Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. Castles perched on lofty hilltops. Rolling hills of golden rapeseed. Deep, dark forests. The iridescent mist that rises from the river, veiling the landscape in its spellbinding shimmer. An enchantment that’s impossible to dispel once it takes hold.

And what of the chapters in between? The struggles and the victories. The dangers and the illusions. The monsters. For every fairy tale has a shadow side. It is here, too. A chapel decorated with bones, a castle with a gateway to Hell, the church of ghosts, the wooden sentinels that guard the forest trails. In the villages, effigies of witches are still burned every April 30th.

It was the pagan princess Libuše who cast the very first spell. She stood on the hill called Vyšehrad and pointed across the river. From the depths of her trance, she proclaimed, “I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.”

Praha. Threshold. The beacon in the center of infinity. Does the magic emanate from or coalesce here? Only the river knows.

The Prophetess Libuše – Karel Vitězslav Mašek
Image source: Wikipedia

La Vagabonde meandered the streets she saw so many years earlier. Could she be any farther away from that lost little island? The calm inside. So unfamiliar. Never before had a place felt so right. Such a long and convoluted path to arrive. It’s too perfect, she’d tell herself. I don’t deserve it. Yet there she was. The things we talk ourselves out of are so often the easiest to achieve, she whispered to the ancient stone walls. It’s a question of being ready.

A woman’s voice, felt rather than heard. Divine and devilish. A sweet, hypnotic hum in her atoms. As if you had a choice. The castle rose over the city, its towers piercing the sky.

We each have, within us, every story that’s ever been written. Imprinted upon our souls. Gifts from the ancestors. In arrangements as innumerable as the stars. How much of our personal story was written in these very stars, long before we were even born? How much are we really able to compose? We are in an artistic collaboration with the Universe. Each of us have something to add to the never-ending fable of humanity.

The Vltava encircles the medieval village of Český Krumlov. A protective embrace. A back street doorway beckoned. Magic green stones laid out on a counter. La Vagabonde picked them up one by one. There, tucked in a corner, was a walnut-sized teardrop. A jolt of electricity, of recognition. A knowing gleam in the merchant woman’s eyes. The right one chooses you. She took it home and laid it on her bedside table. In her dreams that night, it hovered over her. Observing. The time has come to speak your truth. Or give your life away forever.

The story we present to others. The story we tell ourselves. The embellishments and convenient omissions. The lies. The interpretations of others’ tales through the filter of our personal perception. So much distortion. What is true? Is life nothing but one everlasting costume ball? Meticulously crafted disguises and choreographed steps. We are masked participants in a perpetual dance of delusion. And no one deceives us more than we deceive ourselves.

Something was in the path ahead. La Vagabonde stepped around it, leaning her head to the side with a wistful smile. What is this here? It seemed she had come from the dangerous way. She shook her head. All the warnings that came too late. Hers was a story of poison apples, wolves in sheep’s clothing, evil queens, and dragons. She knew how it was to lose something precious and dive to the depths of a bottomless well to find it again. She looked down at the ominous design and laughed. Were those hard lessons worth the discoveries? She lifted her head and stared down the path ahead, eyes fierce with victory. Yes.

Down the path, then, and across the bridge. The river below was named after the funny creatures that played in its waters. Moss-covered rocks in the flow. Green velvet on steel. The river’s voice was like rain falling on crystal. The truth had been spoken. She was free. She sat on a massive boulder, leaned her head on her knees, and stared at her wavering reflection. There’s no such thing as forever.

Mirror, mirror, please tell me the truth. No matter how brutal. Within your reflection is the only soul that can truly free me from towers and dungeons. Reawaken me from the long sleep. Discern the worth in the woman covered in ash, disheveled, clothed in rags, banished to the perimeter.

La Vagabonde took a deep breath and stepped inside the labyrinth. No looking back. Breadcrumbs are for those who are afraid of getting lost. Ascend. Higher. Take me in. Deep. She grasped the stone around her neck. Where do I go from here? Turn on your searchlight, baby. Show me the answer.

A demon slithered out of a crevice. She pressed her back to the rocks. But I’ve already killed you. Many times over.

It loomed over her and hissed. You really think you can go it alone now, after all these years? You have nothing. You are nothing. You’re old. You’re just going to keep going around and around.

She pulled herself upright and stared into its eyes. The blackest void. I did the right thing. Be gone.

From far within the canyon, the now-familiar voice emerged. Calm and assured and amused. Ripples across a still, deep pond. An echo in the soul. Stay.

She shook her head. I can’t. I must leave here to bring this chapter to a close. There is no other way. She stumbled out of the labyrinth, battered and empty. She collapsed under a tree and fell into a leaden sleep. In the abyss of her dreams, the echo. Stay.

A little cottage in a northern wilderness. This is where La Vagabonde now finds herself. Inhabiting the empty page between chapters. The most magical place of all. A realm of pure possibility. Watery autumn sunshine streams through the golden treetops, a light that obscures just as much as it reveals. Could it be The End? She has everything she needs now. More than enough. But what is it that you want? You’ve always been your own Fairy Godmother. Write your wishes into existence and watch the tale unfold.

The maddening intoxication of mystery becomes the beauty of being haunted. An Art Nouveau doorway on a quiet back street. The glitter of moonlight on dark water. A rural castle illuminated by a soft pink sunrise. Memory and premonition are fused together into this eternal Now. Is it possible for a place to be any closer? A wind chime laugh in the cold breeze. You know damn well you’re not finished yet. A tremor moves through her and she catches her breath. Around her neck, over her heart, the stone glows.

Every story has a message, dear readers. Be honest. Keep your promises. Look beyond appearances. There’s no place to hide from Destiny. But one message encompasses them all: memento mori. Remember that you will die.

*The English word for Vltavín is Moldavite.