My own story nearly ended there, on that beach, under those palms. Too many mushrooms, not enough water, too much dancing, from midnight until the sun was high. Some still danced, in the pools of their shadows. At breakfast a man I did not know filled a chillum and asked if I had enjoyed my flight. I went to Leela Beach, the sacred grove of the goddess, and lay on the sand and swam in the sea. Then it hit me and I crashed and burned in the noonday sun, a mad dogged Englishman who didn’t know when to stop.
Heavy sticky eyes opened to a vision of an angel beside me, rolling a spliff. Had we danced? My mind shot back to another life, the Haymarket Theatre, Andre de Shields dancing and singing, ‘I dreamed about a reefer that was five miles long,’ and drew in a deep breath of hot harsh smoke into a black red dark suddenly crowded with friends, lovers, business associates, family, everyone I had ever known. I saw my son in the future, ranging across the world, my daughter recovered from addiction, rosy-cheeked and chubby in blue gingham, playing with two chubby children.
The images gave way to a tunnel of light. This, I found myself thinking at some level far removed from whatever reality I was in now, is not a good time. Or was it? I had no ties any more, no responsibilities to anyone, really.
‘Are you ready?’
Why not? It has to happen sometime and here was ideal. I was experiencing a new feeling, quite extraordinary. There was no fear, no regret, no sadness, no anger, no pain, no sorrow, no apprehension. Everything felt perfectly right, at true peace. It was, I felt, unconditional happiness and to it there was no end. I was coming into a community of love and peace. I have no need to search, no need to wander, I was at home, eternal rest and peace in the love of the universe, my family and humankind. I thought of the happiness I had been given on earth, and the happiness I had given. Everything was beautiful.
‘I am ready.’
My body was closing down. The back of my throat, my tongue, the roof of my mouth and inner cheeks had dried out. My heart had slowed and dried. I could not feel or hear any beat. My lungs were collapsed and still. The light faded. I had accepted death. My soul readied itself to shuffle off. Below, the body lay empty.
‘Do you want to go?’
I was ready but not willing because, on earth, I was in this paradise. ‘I want to make love again. I want to fall in love. I want to be in love.’
My eyes flickered. I saw the sun and the palm tree, breathed in sunlight between my eyebrows and knew she would always be there, shining and smiling, giving light and life. With my mind’s eye I looked inward and upward to a point at the top of my head, between my skull and my scalp. My crown opened to the sky, the stars and planets, the galaxies and constellations of the visible universe. I saw myself, standing in space, feet on the earth, head in the stars, sun in my navel, moon in my kidneys. The North Star opened to the universe beyond the visible, white mountain reflected in a crystal lake, an ancient healing forest, the sun in the ocean, fire blazing under water.
I looked downwards and inwards to my internal universe, my inner space, and there saw chaos as planets clashed. My spirit was like a man caught halfway out of his pajamas. I left it to come back in its own way. I lay inside my skull, behind my nose. It was like being in an infrared bath. I looked at the inside of the bone, inside the cavity of my skull. I saw my teeth from behind and felt my tongue. I opened my eyes to feel the atmosphere of earth. The sun shone between clouds and warmed my face. From my place inside my head I could see out. The girl lay beside me, looking away. I went down to my fingers. They could move but were uncoordinated. I went to my legs. No longer empty: I could move them.
I visited my organs, thinking to practice the meditation of the Inner Smile to help me return. It was like a battlefield in there. Heart was charred, lungs a forest of blackened twigs. Liver and gallbladder were screaming with anger. Stomach, spleen and pancreas were wiped out, kidneys exhausted. Intestines lay inert in heaps like sausage skins and bladder, flaccid. Sex was neutral, nothing, empty.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
They spoke to me. ‘Will you look after us now?’
‘Will you do this again?’
I wanted to reassure them but they waited for the truth.
‘I don’t know.’
I asked them if they would stop functioning and kill me if I did it again. They said, ‘We don’t know. What happens, happens.’
In the long dark silence a tremor touched my heart and a whisper woke my lungs. From a deep well of healing power moisture seeped back into the leathery tongue and numb lips.
I gave up the mushrooms. I had put the money aside to buy them, calculating how far my budget would extend to cover two-parties-a-week’s worth. I was going through all the processes one of my rehab-clinic patients described, of thinking about going to the dealer, the high of anticipation, entering the dealer’s house and sitting among the waiting customers, all the conversation around the drugs, of being invited into the private room, the VIP treatment of a habitual user, a regular customer, of going home thinking about what was in her handbag, taking the hit, looking forward to the effect, imagining it, waiting and, then, surrender. All over so soon but not so soon over as the blind goddess resumed her domination of every waking moment.
All I had to do in Haad Rin was walk into the cafe and order a glass of ‘special’ tea or a ‘special’ pancake, affordable, available and if not quite legal nobody cared on an island of traditional sanctuary …
The Spirit of Love struck in the spring …
from Finding Spirit in Zen Shiatsu
Next time: Working Zen