The ruin of the battle was strewn as far as anyone could see. Lifeless and dying bodies lay tangled and piled, smoking, bleeding and stinking. There were carrion birds and other vermin feasting. Yendor awoke and the smell alone made him retch. As his consciousness came into focus on his surroundings, he fought back another gagging reflex. It was late in the morning, but other than that, Yendor had no idea how much time had passed since he had lost consciousness, but the last thing he remembered was facing three hulking soldiers. They marked the points of the compass in front of him, he realized, so he must have won that contest, but he could not bring his memory to show it to him. Presumably, he had passed out after that. He burned with the sting of a hundred cuts, but none seemed serious. He must have succumbed to exhaustion. He still had the Crescent Moon and all his other belongings on him. Somehow he had been spared by the robbers who swarm the dead for treasure as soon as they feel safe from the bloodlust of the soldiers. He had heard tales of warriors seeing their fallen comrades robbed of their belongings, fall upon the the human vermin with as much gusto as any enemy. There was no other warrior awake in sight. The armies had moved on. He remembered vaguely being told to reconnect with the rebels to the south afterwards, if he was separated. Yendor took a deep breath. He would not be rejoining the army.
He sat among the carnage and contemplated his place in the world. He had been raised a musician. It had been impressed upon him that artists were proudly peaceful members of society. They were honorable. They added value to people’s lives with entertainment and the history and news they disseminated. He had abandoned all that without a second thought when he met Danse. Their short time together was like a distant dream. He had searched for her, he had become a wizard for her. He had become a warrior for her. And he had failed at every turn. What an absolute failure he had turned out to be. The chosen one? Him? He was going to vanquish Incarnate? What a joke. What hubris. He was worthless. He had become a killer, no better than those he called enemy. What was left for him?
He found his way back to the camp. His tent still stood, though the rest of the army had fled. They had left in such a hurry, they hadn’t bothered to try to save or steal any of his things. Was this some kind of pattern? Was their defeat so crushing that no one dared linger? There was the usual abandoned garbage left of the camp, but it was more. They had left in a panic. His was not the only tent left. If what remained was any indication, their army had been decimated. He rolled everything into his pack, and turned decidedly north. Away from the rebels. Away from civilization. Away from his past. Away from everything. He set off towards the wastes. “Here there be Dragons” he muttered under his breath and disappeared into the growing mists.
My spiritual journey is coming full circle. Or it’s taking me in circles; one or the other. When I first consciously embarked on my quest to find the truth about spirituality, I came across many saccharin platitudes that sounded nice but didn’t seem very useful or informative. They seemed to be designed to draw you in by making you feel good. They were always coupled with a kind of bridge to nowhere sales pitch, like: “i’ll tell how to become totally enlightened in one easy step, but first let me set the scene…” then 20 pages later they still hadn’t given me the secret they promised and soon I’m in the reader’s equivalent of being lost in a bad neighborhood and wishing I had never listened to that talking fox in a top hat. The platitudes were always, “love is the answer.” “Love is the key.” And those four punks who said, “All you need is Love.” How is that going to help me levitate? I mean I really need to change these traffic lights with my mind so I’m not late for class. What a crock.
Well it turns out, those motherfuckers were right. I’ve learned over the years (and who hasn’t, really?) That my childhood dream of becoming a Jedi is not complete fantasy, as the Force is based on Eastern concepts commonly referred to as Chi, a life energy that flows through us and that we can harness for health and even self defense. In Sanskrit, the word for life energy is Prana. Most of my education centers on spiritual concepts of the Indian subcontinent, though the Taoist concept of chi, and Sufi teachings of Rumi are among the global exceptions that fill out my education. In any case, this energy is key to spiritual advancement. Whether you’re concerned with enlightenment or healing and longevity. What I had trouble comprehending was that, just as all the new age gurus had said from the outset, love is the key.
What finally helped make it click for me was when I was trying to learn the gist of reiki. I had been trying to infuse my art with energy like Zen master do with calligraphy. Actually, what they do is use the Ki (Japanese for Chi) to create the calligraphy. Writing Zen calligraphy is a meditative process. I wanted to use that process to create paintings (which Zen masters and Taoist masters also do) I wanted to infuse the art with the energy so that the viewer could benefit from the effects. So it occurred to me that reiki transfers energy from the master to the patient. So I wanted to do that with art.
I began to learn about reiki and I heard someone say that to get in the right frame of mind, they become grateful. They use that state of mind to open themselves up to receive the energy. The body and mind need to be in this relaxed, grateful, loving state to open the channels that the energy flows through. This also ensures that only positive healing energy is used. As I began to practice this, it became more and more part of my daily life. I had long been thinking of my meditation as a way of merging with this energy. I referred to it as “dissolving into the Light.” Then, one day recently, I was just kind of relaxing. I wasn’t in a meditation position. I wasn’t trying to merge with the Light. I was just relaxing and I felt grateful. I didn’t think about becoming grateful, I really was. For the ability to relax at that moment. And I felt myself more fully become absorbed in the Light then ever before. And it was then that I had the realization that the energy IS Love. Those motherfuckers had been right all along!
There’s a long way for me to go. I’m not enlightened yet, but this was a practical step that I can use to more fully practice what in Sanskrit is known as “merging with the Divine.” The Sanskrit word for this is “Yoga.” from the same Indo-European root as the word “yoke.” to be tied or tethered to. I hope this is useful to you. I hope you don’t have to plow through 30 years of experience to return to the basic concept. But we can’t understand anything until we’re ready. I guess I’m ready to begin.
I have been meditating for decades. I was initiated into a little known method by someone I met and became close to not long after I prayed to meet them. I have studied and practiced numerous spiritual paths, ever searching for the Source; the Beloved Divine; always whittling my way through the chaff as I saw it, paring down and gluing together bits and pieces of the puzzle, always missing something. Missing a piece of the puzzle actually seemed to be part of the puzzle. You can’t have all the pieces, it’s too much to comprehend.
Similarly, it’s always said, in riddles and right out in the open that you already have all you need. It’s all right there for the taking. So which is it? Is it all right there in the open? Is there always a missing piece? My favorite is the idea that it will take lifetimes. Multiple lifetimes. Hey, maybe I’ve already been working on it for multiple lifetimes? How would you know? Maybe it wouldn’t take so many lifetimes if we could remember one to the next. The whole karma from a previous life is great too. How can I learn the lesson now if I don’t know what I failed before? “Just be in the moment. There is no past or future, only now.” Then WTF is karma for? “Life is just an illusion, it’s not real.” Then WTF are morals? Look, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but some of this doesn’t make sense. And of course the field is ride with charlatans. It’s too much! Too much I say!
I recently had a crisis of faith. I’ve always sort of sided with atheists on most things. Everything except the idea that there’s no God. It’s kind of a joke. Atheists claim to side with science, and often people of faith feel compelled to choose their faith over science. I’ve always felt that if your faith can’t accommodate reality, then it’s not very strong. But, all the strife, the bad people getting away with everything, the pain, and disease and suffering of the world got to me and I started to think, that there was nothing, and the idea that there’s something is unsupportable.
I don’t know how much of the atheist thing I want to get into but I agree that there’s no talking snake and all the animals in the world won’t fit in a boat. That doesn’t mean there’s no God. I agree that you can’t prove there’s a God. You also can’t prove there isn’t. Absence of proof is not proof of absence. Science is not equipped to answer questions about God. It’s like looking for a rainbow with a microphone. (It’s a metaphor, don’t come to me with radio spectrometer talk or whatever.)
So I moved on with my life. But at some point I realized that I was just that much more miserable without this component of spirituality in my life that had been there for so long. I played some of my new age music and it really helped.
Then, one day, I had a thought. A little inspiration. Like when you look at something you’ve seen a million times and notice something new. It’s like the Beatles say: All you need is love. And that was the missing piece. I mean I always knew that was important. The Catholic Church (in which I was raised) says that God is literally Love. Not just that God loves but that (he) is literally Love. The experience of love, for a pet, a child, aother or father… Is literally experiencing the Divine.
I’d always taken it as a kind of metaphor. I knew it was true, but couldn’t see how to translate it into everyday life. Until I could. The sensation of meditation is experiencing the Divine, which I also knew, but experiencing that sensation as receiving love was just a little click. Just a slight adjustment that changed everything for me. It’s the missing piece that was there in plain sight all along.
Whether you’re practicing Tai Chi, or yoga, or TCM, or praying, or singing Christmas carols, you’re experiencing Divine Love. It’s not some ethereal non attainable mystery that only a select few can have. It’s there all the time for everyone. It’s not something you have to be worthy of. It’s energy; you just plug into it, anyway you can.
Yendor walked in the rain, keeping to the road unless there were signs of soldiers. There hadn’t been any sign of them for days. The rain came relentless. Pouring, drizzling,sometimes pelting, and now sleet. It dripped down from the leaves of the poplars, found the crevices and folds of his cloak and sluiced it’s way into his jerkin. It nestled into his shirt and spread across his body until his bones shivered. This far out it could snow anytime of year.
Yendor kept to the road despite wanting to be out of sight. When he was a child, traveling with Waters and the troupe, he had taken a shortcut on the way back from town to their camp in the countryside. He had accidentally wandered onto a farmer’s land, and the farmer, tending to his fields, had taken Yendor for a poachers. He had chased Yendor with a club, and Yendor ran with escape as his only thought. The farmer chased him for hours into the woods, and only gave up when it got dark.
The farmer was as lost as Yendor and had to set up a camp in the woods. Yendor stayed close to the farmer because as much as he feared the man, he feared the woods even more. The boy stayed out of sight as the farmer built a fire. The young boy must have fallen asleep, because hen was awoken by the sounds of bandits crashing into the camp. It had beenfoolish of the man to build a fire in an unknown territory, and it had attracted these bandits like moths. The poor farmer had been out in the field when he had given chase to Yendor and had nothing for the three burly men. They weren’t too happy about that and were about to asail the man with their knives when Yendor came running into the camp. “Father!”, he said, “I’ve found the sheriff and he’s right behind me!”
The bandits wasted no time high tailing it out of there. The farmer, Yendor came to know him as Mr. Trekle, was grateful to see the boy, who explained he was no poacher, but merely a lost traveler who meant no harm. Next day, when they found their way out of the woods, and back to Trekle farm, the farmer made sure Yendor had a full meal and some to take home to Waters, who assumed Yendor had gotten himself into mischief, but reckoned that’s what boys do.
Yendor kept to the road. By and by the rain abated. He was heading into the Wastelands looking for the rebel army. Danse’s brother had joined a few years back, she said. She didn’t know if he was even still alive, because the rebels had no communication with the outside world. Incarnate’s army was merciless with any disloyalty, real or perceived. There were always rumors of rebels but no one knew if they were true or not. How Danse’s brother had found them was a mystery.
As Yendor fed himself mostly by going town to town as a traveling musician, playing in inns for his supper and maybe a bed, he spent some time in the kitchens, being ignored by the regular help, who sometimes whispered about provisions being sent out in quantity off North, towards the Wastelands. Incarnate probably had spies looking for them. Probably these spies knew finding out how the rebels fed and clothed themselves would lead to the rebels, but so far, Incarnate didn’t have enough spies in the right places to find out where the rebels were.
Yendor didn’t know what to expect if he did find them. Would he join them? Was Danse’s brother with them? Was he alive? Yendor didn’t even know his name. The Wastelands was an interesting position, tactically. Depending on how deep into the Wastelands they were, there were no towns nearby. There was no way to grow your own food, and hunting was terrible. Yendor had only been to one town on the outskirts of the vast, frozen landscape, which stretched for miles on the eastern and northern most islands of the archipelago, but the island of Dukai Skal Seemed the most likely to Yendor. There were a few harbor towns where fisherman lived and traded with the rest of Fawn, but it was large and desolate. The name Dukai Skal meant “Dragon Bones” in the old tongue.
Yendor pitched his threadbare tent as dusk came on. He got his lantern lit before full dark had set in, but his flint was about done. He would have to keep an eye out for flint in the wild, but he had been looking and he wasnt’ sure if this island had any. Probably the trading post at the port would have some imported for a price. You had to have fire, and Yendor hadn’t solved how to do that with magic, though the ghosts know he’d tried. He’d seen the weather coming on early and gathered up some dry wood that he wrapped up before it started to rain, but he knew he’d be lucky if it was enough to boil a kettle, let alone cook anything. Not that there was much. He had some dried oats, pair that with some jerky and that would have to due for tonight. Maybe he’d try his luck fishing in the morning. Yendor didn’t expect there to be much wildlife this far north. They didn’t call these isles the Wastelands for nothing.
He got out his oud while he waited for the water to boil. Much farther north and he’d be able to boil the snow right off the ground. He had some time tuning the instrument in the cold, but he was a pro and soon enough he was making himself homesick with some of his favorites from before his life had changed. He didn’t allow himself a lot of retrospection because he figured that way lie madness, but it kind of snuck up on him tonight. Yendor had been on his way to a lively career beside his lifelong mentor doing something he really enjoyed that was truly a gift for him to be able to do. Now when he played for his supper, he felt he was really in disguise, a spy pretending to be a bard or minstrel. With the troupe there’d been company, a family, the only family he had ever known.
He’d thrown that all away for the first pretty girl that had paid him any attention.
The two of them had spent months practicing, training, getting to know each other. Now she was in a prisoner camp somewhere and he… well he had destroyed the only wizard’s coven still extant, and carried himself into the most barren place in all Fawn on a wild goose chase.
Yendor felt he was being watched. He reached out with his senses and there was no one there. Just his paranoia. Yendor ate his oatmeal and got out the scraps from the library just to get his mind out of the dark corners it had led him to.
Recently, I saw that a fellow alum from my alma mater has retired. In fact, upon reflection, He had pretty much retired when I myself was attending our college: Art Center College of Design. Drew Struzan is one of the more successful alums of Art Center; he’s famous for doing all the George Lucas posters; Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and many others. His style is very recognizable; a kind of candy palette with Leyendecker rim lighting. Regardless of when he retired, It made me realize that I graduated decades ago and my career has never really become what I had dream of in those halcyon days at college.
Not everyone can make it big, and that’s ok. Throughout my adult life, in addition to creating art, I have also pursued the mystic life. And a difficult concept for me in this endeavor has been the kind of humble anonymity that is required to dedicate yourself to a higher power. So I’m finally accepting that I may never be a household name, that talk show hosts won’t invite me on their shows so I can expound on my opinion of the latest news cycle.
Instead, I can accept that I’m not going to be a cultural Icon and actually enjoy the life I have. I won’t stop making art, or writing or sharing my journey with you, but I can let go of negative resentment and jealousy regarding my lot in life. I have a family, whom I love with all my heart, we have a roof over our heads, generally we have enough to eat, and I get to spend my life taking care of them and doing the things I love.
I still have a lot of ego to surrender in order to become closer to the Beloved, but this is the right track. I remember when I first realized I was never going to be Michelangelo or Rembrandt, it was a huge relief to realize that I was enough, that my skill, while not along the lines of a great master, was enough. This is obviously a similar lesson. Being humble isn’t denying who you are, it’s realizing that who you are is enough.
I also had a recent thought regarding my son’s upcoming birthday, and the recent birth of my friend’s 1st child. When I found out that my wife was pregnant, I was terrified. How would we be able to have a baby? How could we afford it? What if I wasn’t a good parent? Would I have to give up my personal life to be a parent? I’d had similar worries about getting married and moving away with my new wife. These are really life altering and frightening prospects (to help answer one of these questions, my daughter crawled up on my lap in the middle of the last sentence to demand my full attention) In each and every instance, these frightening, possibly disastrous decisions, turned out to be the best things that ever happened to me. They are the true blessings of my life. I had the same fear of getting sober. It was so terrifying to me that I couldn’t even think of it. Of course it led the way to all the other great things in my life and putting it off for so long goes a long way to explain why my life didn’t become the material success I had dream of.
So surrendering completely to the Beloved is frightening. It sounds like a certain kind of death. How do I know it isn’t? What will happen if the result isn’t what I think it will be? (It won’t be) But what have I got to lose? After all, I am nobody.