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MUSED Literary Magazine.
Non Fiction

Dimensionless, and Something like Prayer, Something like Flight

Stephen Mead

"Energy, rise! Walls, fall away!" The preceding command/mantra, or some variation, is one I have found myself silently speaking for more than two decades. The words are incantatory, summoning a space to open up within my mind and spirit where I can breathe more deeply, latch onto celestial coat-tail images, and take flight. For the most part the circumstances which have brought me to the usage of such phrases, I can trace back to an ennui bordering beyond dread to the dramatic turf of stark-raving mad. That zone is desperate, a soldering up of claustrophobic depression after panic has hunted down the hounds where my very soundness, a centered safety within, has become its own quarry.

In later, therapeutically pursued and better diagnosed years, Prozac, Clonazepam and mood elevators have proven to be a boon too.

Imagine these words being written now taking on a Dickensian quality, the narrator a wise old spinsterish grand dowager keeping secret passionate intriguing twists under her corset and bustle. "He was always a dreamy child," this woman would say. "I remember him sitting for hours in a corner with his teddy and the cat, quietly watching the play of dust motes in cones of sun. Occasionally he would make marks with a crayon which all the experts we brought in agreed were probably ingenious but, sadly, too vague. This gave his Mother the vapors, it did. A course of calisthenics with a mint poultice in fresh air was recommended to remove the glistening dewy cobweb strands which held him spellbound, and return him to a state of socially appropriate mediocrity."

Yes, as a child I was often away in some game-of-pretend but I donīt think it was because I found the world boring. To a childīs mind isnīt playing dress up and imagining worlds, missions, perils and rescues, fairly innate? Certain aspects of school regimentation and then employment, gainful or not, must have thrown the wrench into that fun. Itīs amazing more people donīt turn to Fuzzy Navels and Magic Mushrooms to compensate.

Before I got into utilizing the energy rise, walls fall away concussed Swami exercise, I have a few distinct recollections of where I flew beyond the commonplace or was able to find it as naturally magical as opposed to menial. One of these times was hanging out with a high school friend and entering the realm of Séances, Ouija boards and even hypnotism. (What can I say? many a post-adolescent horror flick still capitalizes on these sort of plot devices. We want to believe in something other, beyond the ordinary, a deeper story, a key to meaning.) In any case, after a bout of feigned mesmerism brought on by an antique gold pocket watch and chain, I tried to get my friend to do something else.

No, not heavy petting, keep it clean.

We were in a room of her house that had some nice blank unoccupied space. "Letīs stare at the wall for a while," I said. "Letīs try to empty our minds, pay attention to our breathing, the steady rhythm of our heartbeats. Next letīs try to see ourselves sitting just where we are, sitting just how we are: our socks, our knees, our arms slightly curving at our sides, and then our heads. Letīs try to picture our faces just as they are now. Imagine that wall becoming a mirror, and we are passing beyond it like itīs a veil, a portal. We are in that other dimension now, sitting, looking back at ourselves, but I donīt know what we should do from here, do you?"

And that was the problem. Alice gets through the looking glass and finds that right is left and left is right but other than that thereīs little difference. At first the experience is a little uncanny, has a thrill of wondrous frisson, but then it kind of peters into a hmmpf, do you want to make some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

Another instance I recall of interior space opening up for me occurred at one of my first jobs. I had gone from the frenzy of the fast food counter with its beeping machines and buzzers, a panic attack made manifest, a video game where the fries, burgers, co-workers, and customers were all cannibalistic, and getting closer and closer...to the relative solitary pace of a maintenance job. This was actually a promotion and I did enjoy the fact that it was less nerve wracking. Naturally, however, there were times when it fell short of the artistic aspirations of self-reliance (and scarcely having to leave the house) I had for myself while growing up. Though a co-worker might point out how I was doing an honest dayīs work, thus take pride, the disillusioned, grandeur-lacking part of myself felt the L for L-O-S-E-R stitching itself on my uniform of burnt sienna overalls. (These overalls were made of some odor-catching fabric that took on all the sour milk shakes and tossed out animal fats of the establishment.)

Good God, it was during one of these desultory intervals where I found myself being worn into the dust of the parking space I was told daily to sweep, that the early prototype for the walls-fall-away voice entered my being. After doing the sweeping I was supposed to scrub the oil stains with this hose-connected contraption whose base became a kind of rake or water broom. As water shot from the brass prongs sunny rainbows often formed against the asphalt, and then the oil stains too, mixed with the reflective bubbly foam, spectrum-shimmered and ran like shiny acrylic liquefied mercury. At home Iīd been experimenting with my momīs 110 camera with shadows and light and so brought it to work, instinctively obsessed with realizing small bits of bliss from an overlooked boundary. Itīs interesting and fortunate that no one called those widely-notorious people with the strait jackets and white suits on me.

I tried being a bit under cover with my work photography but standing on a ladder to shoot the multi-colored swirls of different shakes thickly oozing toward the perfect metallic circle of the drain, was not exactly inconspicuous. Luckily my sister worked at the same place, was well-respected and well-liked for her conscientious work ethic, so more of the derisory talk of me being gay was turned into the indulgent small town rhetoric of eccentric and arty. Somewhere along the lines a survival method I picked up was that if you can seem very sweet, listen to the opinions and gripes of others, whether interested or even agreeing or not, and get them to chuckle, there was less chance of being bashed and dumped in a ditch for the rats frantic play.

Over the years and through a score of other jobs, sometimes actually within the workplace but mainly not, surreptitiously doing some form of art either from the material at hand or to counteract its toxicity, became my best defense for a tenuous grasp on sanity. The taking a moment to let the walls-fall-away conjuring has become second nature, a quiet chameleon skin to slip in and through. There are times too, however, when I imagine the walls as energy shields in their own right. This alternate escape hatch began when I worked as a Patient Care Aide. In between helping with the needs of the often elderly, there might be quite a bit of downtime as they napped. These were occasions when I would look up from my reading, sneaking in a poem or sketch, counting the minutes on the clock until quitting time, and the surrounding walls did not hem me in maze-like so much as hum.

I supposed that was a sign I liked the job better than others, that though neurotically shy, I enjoyed helping people, being of use, that it gave a sense of validation for taking up breathing room in the world with my so-called-life. From the stillness of the quietude came a welling, both an aural and glass-stained reflected aura of calm, of peace, of grace. I might find for a while that I was OK in my skin and in the world, that there was something serene but uplifting in just walking among the halls, touching the walls of rooms, feeling their textures, a soft pastel felt here, a rugged bark-rough brick there or, further, the cool stone puzzle surface which became a sheltering sphere. There are very few people I feel safe around and not in large numbers. The boundary lines of being a solitary during those occasions somehow opened beyond the need for self-protection, letting in a lightness beyond chatter and noise.

Currently, and in the past, there are stairways in the office buildings I have found myself working in, wondering how did I get there/here, my life coming to that/this, which provide brief respites, catalysts for momentary catharsis amid the nine-to-five routine. Finding the experience of driving, sometimes even being a passenger, extremely unpleasantly akin to what I imagine being hung drawn and quartered must have been like in the cheery simpler good old days, I love to walk. I walk out of necessity as I imagine people all over the planet with baskets on their heads do. I also walk more so, because it can expel the dust and snarling rats nest of Wrong-think that can reside in my soul. Taking stairs has the same function. (Elevators and escalators are fine but donīt provide the same Zen function and others move away nervously if you try walking-in-place or doing jumping jacks while utilizing them.)

Stairs remind me of the wiccan/pagan function of drawing up Earth energy. At the base focus on what is under the floor, way down to febrile roots and trickling streams feeding nutrients of richness. Feel that sustenance greet soles of feet, climb like phloem through calves on up. The guiding hand rails can become like rope-tows or more organically electric. Whether ascending or descending, floor by floor, passing doors, making the turns, something like unseen wings may unfold from shoulders, appear on ankles and wrists. The walls whoosh with them too and something else, some larger force that is a benevolent silence. The walls are becoming transparent. Systems of neurons appear, turn intergalactic. Stars appear like sparklers which invite goose bumps, little thrills. Drink the bliss of this with something solar there too, a warming energy with intimations of bird rustling, that happy busy soundtrack of intricate things being built, holding, lasting, simply complex.

This is the music of the spheres. Our hands, legs are like needles in compasses but function as prayers, carrying messages, a kaleidoscopic slideshow of faces, voices of loved ones, each pictured, heard for a moment, water color from water color memory-placed as a photograph, and us, still and again, back on the stairs, enjoying a search, a very large search, for answers out of our very small mortal flesh and blood lives. Please let us be somehow a whole organism all over the planet doing this, yes, yes, astounded to become one past ourselves and in synchronicity with the universe.