I still vividly remember the magical nights of my childhood, those nights when the stars rested from their circumpolar motion among the birch trees from the northern hill. Their ghostly glow, lights from an unknown city spread above us, covered the entire night sky. As soon as darkness fell, they drew me up like a magnet, and I could not take my eyes off them. Autumn was at the height of its transient glory, with the white-trunked forest near my home ablaze once again from dying yellow leaves. I longed to touch a star, even if only for a moment. I believed the flickering sparks above were living things, shaped like tiny spheres full of sharp spikes of light.
My grandfather, handsome like an ancient god, stood in the yard behind me with an enigmatic smile spread on his face. He smiled as if he had read my thoughts and waved at the starry canopy. I asked him to take my hand and help me reach the sky. And soon, in the cool of the night, we both set off towards the silent stars.
With springy, unicorn-like steps, Grandpa was splitting the dry grass. He was pulling me along the steep slope, higher and higher, each step closer to the sky. The fireflies generated even more confusion in the deepening darkness, looking themselves like stars lost in the grass. Around us, ghostly shadows of bats hunting for moths were skipping through the air filled with songs of crickets. With each step, my body grew lighter. When we got near the peak, I began floating, tethered to the ground only by the strong hand guiding me. And when I looked closer a moment later, I realized Grandpa was flying, too. As soon as we reached the top, a vast plain of stars appeared in front of us. Thousands ay majestic and silent at our feet, of all sizes and colors. Soon we began to glide among them, bathing in their ethereal scales. The city in the sky now shone directly above in all its splendor. A sea of stars below, a sea of stars above. Floating between the two realms of light, I felt I was looking at a giant mirror reflecting itself. “The stars will always be here, waiting for us,” Grandpa said. “Don’t forget that they are our closest friends. We are their descendants, for we were born from the dust of the primordial light that lit up this universe. We are all just stardust.”
Late, in the gray darkness of the autumn night, an old man, tall and imposing as an oak tree, was coming down the hill covered by birches and fireflies with a sleeping child in his arms. Leaning on his grandfather’s chest, the boy dreamed. He saw the sea of stars above, the sea of stars below. In his innocent sleep, an indelible smile crept across his face.
The lights of the house in the hollow were slowly approaching the two, like a pair of open arms, happy to greet their masters returning from their journey to heaven, the masters made of stardust.
“Are you sure you’ve got the recording right?” asked the middle-aged Indian guru. “Yes, it has been extrapolated from your brainwaves,” replied the neurologist. “I have adjusted the psi element. It’s clearly audible now.” “Very well then. I’m going to put it on during my next class, and we shall see what happens.” * Meditation. You never know how much the whole world hates you until you try it. And it’s always reserved for the last fifteen minutes of the class. Some people like it. Some people love it. Not me. I find it hard to stand still even for one minute. I’m a dynamic person. Or so I thought until recently when I realized I was getting overweight. My type of work and my lifestyle didn’t help me stay physically active. Then my cholesterol went up, and my heart began to have bad days. When things got worse, of course, I went to see a doctor and, at his recommendation, ended up here. Well, he didn’t exactly recommend yoga, but this place was by far the most conveniently located: only five minutes of driving, with a large shopping mall nearby. Also, the time of the classes harmonized well with my own work schedule. It wasn’t expensive, either.
I’ve been coming here for more than a month and have to agree: there are some positive results. My waist has shrunk by a couple of inches. I also sleep better. The chest pain is almost gone. Most of the class is not bad, and the Indian guru is a good teacher. During class, we keep switching among various positions, or asanas (that’s how the yogi call them), maintaining each one for several seconds. This improves blood circulation, stamina, endurance, and flexibility without putting too much stress on a weakened heart like mine. It’s the perfect complement to the daily pills prescribed by the doc. Everything is fine until we get to the seated meditation in padmasana, the lotus position. And now we have just come to that part again. I can hear the master’s soft voice coming from the front of the class: “Relax, breathe slowly. Close your eyes and let your mind expand. Let it become one with the Universe, let it understand that you are one with the Universe.” Stretched in a half-lotus stance, as the full one looks way beyond what my joints could ever accept in matters of torture, I’m trying to follow his advice. I’ve closed my eyes but still can see him in my mind, seated comfortably in a full lotus position in front of the class, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I bet he could even sleep like that. Then an unusual humming sound fills the room. So that’s what the large speakers brought today were for… Wait, it’s not exactly a humming, it’s more like something rhythmic, something with a slow beat. The master’s voice breaks in again: “This recording is designed to help you loosen up and reach the alpha state of meditation. Just relax and let it go through your body and mind.” Relax… That’s easy for YOU! How am I going to relax sitting like this? For me, relaxation is lying on the couch and watching a good movie. Or reading a good book. Well, I’ll keep trying. Not that I’m putting too much hope on it… Relax. Expand. Be one with the Universe. Be ONE.
A couple of minutes pass. I feel some unusual changes around. The slow rhythm of the sound is pouring inside my brain, distorting space and time. I can feel this room as if it were a part of my body. I can sense the heartbeats of the people who are meditating in here. I can also feel the people and the birds from outside. My senses keep expanding. Soon I can feel the trees and insects. There is a red ant near the left wall. I can sense its body moving, disoriented, looking for the chemical trail to take it back to its nest. And then it happens. I get somehow inside the ant’s primitive brain. I am myself, and I’m the ant, looking for a way home. A mischievous idea springs immediately into my mind. What about paying a visit to my master in this form? The whole room has become an extension of my body. This makes the job easy. As the ant, it only takes about two minutes to reach him. I climb onto his clothes and discover a small hole that gives me access to his skin. I climb down on the inside of the fabric, avoiding touching my master directly until I come close to his buttocks. The right side appears to be more accessible. With a powerful bite, I inject all my venom into his body. The master doesn’t move. He feels it would be disgraceful to abandon his meditation in such a demeaning way. Still, the pain is there. In my mind, I can see his face turning red. However, he remains still in the lotus position. I get out of his clothes and guide the ant away, back to its colony. The beats continue to fill the room, the city, the Universe. I am one with the Universe. I am ONE… * Our class has ended. One by one, the people are leaving.
“Please wait,” says the master looking at me. “I want to have a talk with you.” He knows what I did, and he knows that I know that he knows. Three minutes later, everybody else has already left. We are alone. The master glares at me fiercely: “Don’t ever do that again! You thought it was a good joke, but it’s a dangerous game. You can harm other people. Badly. And you can harm yourself. Do you understand?” “Yes, master. I’m very sorry…” The master’s expression changes into something slightly friendlier. He adds: “Well, you have potential. Come back tomorrow, one hour before class. I’ll teach you a more advanced form of meditation.”
The pleasant rays of the autumnal Sun are sieving in through a circular window from above. They look like drops from a delicate celestial waterfall, filling the room with golden light. Prints of buildings, landscapes, or portraits, all placed neatly in thin frames, cover the gray plastered walls everywhere I look. Sounds of steps and conversations in low tones resonate and combine in frequencies overlapping around my standing body. People are coming in or moving out towards the other rooms of the art gallery. It is a continuous flow of costumes, dresses, and voices. Why am I here? What am I doing in this place? Where is this building located, anyway? I feel as if I have been suddenly planted, like a sapling, at the edge of this hall. As if I have just materialized out of the void onto this spot. Seconds later, fuzzy memories come back, shaking my senses with a vigorous gentleness. I remember the announcement about the exhibition. I read it the other day in a newspaper. It was about an extensive Escher collection, almost all his masterpieces in one place, open to the public from my city for a whole month. And here I am, in front of this lithograph from 1956, named Print Gallery. The flow of people goes on unabated, left and right, forward and backward. It’s a never-ending swirl of footsteps and voices. Visitors pause for a few moments in front of a framed image, then move, almost in haste, to the next. I keep looking at Print Gallery, hypnotized by its unusual composition. My eyes remain glued to the man displayed there. His eyes are gazing at the works filling a passageway. Through an insane twist of space, the framed image in front of him expands, enclosing the room, the building, the whole Universe. Unperturbed, he stares at the print he has become a part of. And now, I am that man. And I’m looking at the print from the print. And I have become part of this print myself. “What do you think of this work? It looks intriguing, doesn’t it?” strikes a voice at my right. Pulled out of this dazzling vision, I slowly turn my head and find a slender, middle-aged man of medium height standing next to me. He is wearing a dark-orange robe, his head is neatly shaved, and his face displays a peaceful smile. A Buddhist monk. Well, why wouldn’t a monk be interested in art, too? However, my instinct tells me he isn’t here by chance. His question sounds beyond casual. It certainly has a deeper meaning. I take a deep breath and do my best to articulate my thoughts as clearly as I can, murmuring in a low tone: “I have to admit: I’m fascinated by it. The image seems to blur the distinction between what’s inside and what’s outside us.” His gray eyes look at me intensely. I feel as if they could drill my skull and read my thoughts. Yet, the peace and friendliness surrounding them can only come from someone who has reached a high spiritual level. This monk is someone who apparently wants to help me with something. But with what? And why? My memory still has gaps. I can’t recall well the past few days or, as a matter of fact, anything preceding this moment. I don’t remember how I’ve got into this room and in front of this print. Perhaps this stranger has come to help me figure out what’s going on. “You’re right,” the monk says. “Escher has brilliantly caught the fact that the ego is an illusion, that what’s inside our head cannot be fully separated from what’s outside our skin. Not that he was the first to do so. However, he has shown it in an intuitive and easy-to-understand manner.” I feel like inside a classroom where I’m a student and he is the teacher. As soon as the stranger goes quiet, an idea begins to germinate in my brain. The whole scene looks like happening in a dream. Like I have dreamed of it before. The situation and the dialog seem somewhat rehearsed, artificial. As if we were two mediocre actors playing their roles on an invisible stage. I wait for my heartbeats to calm down, then I say: “My memory is blurred. I can’t remember what’s happened to me recently. I’ve got the impression you aren’t here by chance. Have you come to help me, to guide me somewhere?” The monk stares straight into my eyes with a grave expression, nodding in silence. Time seems to flow slower now. The air has turned viscous. I breathe evenly, trying to keep my flux of thoughts under control. Then I turn my gaze towards the artwork. It’s still there, unchanged. Yet, something else, hard to define, is different now. I don’t know where my past is rooted, but I’m somehow aware of my future. As if everything has suddenly begun to flow in the opposite direction, from tomorrow towards yesterday. Unaware of how this information has filled my thoughts, I know there’s a path in front of me, a path onto which I have to step soon. Very soon, probably in less than a minute. We both continue to look at the print like we’re holding a vigil in front of it. I feel as if Maurits Cornelis Escher himself is standing now behind us, gazing intently at his creation. However, why am I going through this strange scenario? What are these preparations for? What kind of trip is waiting for me? Or, perhaps, it has already begun? “I wanted to make sure you’re taking the proper path,” the stranger in the dark-orange robe says. “Your journey is going to begin here, right in front of this work of art. Don’t strain yourself too hard to understand everything at once. Understanding will come eventually, gradually, in time.” “Who are you?” I ask, turning my gaze towards him. I plan to follow up with a few more questions, but the monk has vanished. There is no trace of him. Perhaps he was only a product of my imagination? Startled, I turn my eyes back to the distorted landscape from the frame in front of me. And again, I am the man from the print, looking at the print. Space is curling around me, wrapping my body like a dark veil. When I turn my head once more towards the hall, I feel I’m both inside and outside the frame. It is a most unusual sensation, and it makes me dizzy. I think I’m going to faint and prepare to embrace the hard marble floor in my fall. Yet, my knees somehow manage to stay steady. I remain standing. The art gallery is fading away. A few seconds later, I suddenly get comfortable, lying in a bed placed under a domed ceiling. The new room is bathed in diffuse blue light. The walls display a pleasant, refreshing blue. “Let the story begin!” a man’s voice commands. I fail to see him. The room looks empty. “Let it begin! Bon voyage et bonne chance!” an invisible chorus replies. A flash of light envelops me for a split second. Then I seem to materialize in a different location. The bed and the room are gone. I’m aware of floating inside a liquid bubble, but my eyes are closing by themselves with overwhelming strength. Unable to react in any way, I’m falling into a deep dormant state. For a short time, I can still hear voices speaking loud and clear inside my brain: Black! I think the recipient is sufficiently relaxed. Gray! Body and mind are adjusting to the intermediary environment. Red! Gradually increase the output up to half. Orange! The readings of the body parameters are within the norm. Yellow! Open the gate towards the new environment. Green! Continue to increase the output to the maximum. Blue! The gate towards the new environment is active. Purple! Disconnect the primary environment. Crimson! Separate the recipient from the intermediary environment. Violet! Stand by for ignition. White! Ignition and lift off! The recipient has crossed to the other side!
I am not here to provide answers but to show you some of the questions that define our world. An answer might often be a destination, but the question is the journey towards it. Go on, embark on the journey, and discover the destination yourself.
Elessyos of Miletus (c. 615 — c. 520 BC)
Here it is, the Universe everywhere around you and inside you, with no explanation, no instructions for use. Now, what are you going to do? If the overture describing the beginning looks too complicated, go to the prologue of its evolution. If even that seems too slow for your eyes, move to alpha and continue through the whole alphabet until omega looms above you, for time is circular, and you can always come back.
Seraphios (c. 605 — c. 513 BC) — Dialogues at the Edge of Time
Beginning. Breathe in. To be. Being. Light. Thinking. Concepts. Breathe out. Breathing. Breathing again, in and out. Ideas. Words. Communication. Breathe in, breathe out. Start the transmission of data. I don’t remember being born. I doubt anyone does. Still, foggy memories from the beginning of my existence are stored somewhere, deep inside my brain. Most times, these memories stay hidden. However, once in a while, they surface to my conscious side, haunting my thoughts. When I became part of this world as an identifiable entity, I was little more than a pack of instincts and incompletely developed organs. Not fully separated from its virtual state, my mind was taking shape out of nothingness and transforming into something-ness. At some point, the local fabric of space-time began to suffer dynamic changes, like an ocean during a powerful storm. Lines of universe were splitting into thin filaments. Fragments of void were evolving into dots. The dots were transforming into circles. The circles were growing into spheres. The spheres were expanding to four-dimensional hyper-spheres. The transformation continued at an accelerated pace. The expansion became faster and faster until it reached a predefined boundary. Then it stopped. Here I began orbiting around a sphere of energy, remaining in metastable equilibrium. Growing turned into sending. Sending developed into receiving. Receiving a body, a mind. Acquiring senses to perceive the world… As soon as my senses came to life, I could see, I could hear, I could smell, I could touch, I could taste. I could interact with far-away objects and with objects within my reach. The surrounding Universe became alive with shapes and colors, like a giant benevolent dragon who breathed in unison with me. From that moment on, time began to pour restlessly from outside — into my mind, and from inside — out of my body. Events after events started to flow around me and through me. Months and years piled up, mirroring my continuous development, my slow but incessant change. I was transformed, programmed by other beings to communicate, to learn, and to use my newly discovered creative powers. However, my first clear feelings of self-awareness only came after I had spent several years in this new form. They appeared when I was already becoming human. Being alive. Existing. Manifesting in this material space and time. Being guided… Soon after our existences begin, those who have previously descended into this realm of manifestations are the individuals who set our newly born minds and memories onto the trajectories of their choice. They were shaped, in turn, by those who arrived before them, who were themselves modeled by their predecessors. This chain of cause and effect goes back in time for a tremendous number of generations. It keeps alive what we call civilization. During our early years of life, we are always a reflection of others. We mix their characteristics in various proportions, especially those belonging to our parents while being raised by them, as it happens in most instances. Only when our age reaches more than a decade, we really begin to expand our minds and take a path of our own. Yet, this personal path is rarely different from the one imprinted into our brains at the beginning of our existence. We could call this factor civilization conditioning. And we shall never be completely free from it. Hence, our freedom of expression and evolution is only apparent. Our progress is always limited by our roots, by the foundation of our society. At the most basic level of awareness and reasoning, we can never reprogram ourselves. If something unexpected comes at us, if we are suddenly thrown into an entirely different universe, we shall likely perceive this new place only from our subjective cultural perspective. And so, a first question arises from these facts: Who are we? Of course, it can be followed by many more, such as: Where do we come from? Where shall our journeys take us when our lives end? How much of what we are is ourselves? Why are we us and not others? Why are we stuck inside a single body and have to live a particular, unique existence? Answers to such inquiries don’t come easy, if at all. But do we really need them? And then, what happens if somehow these heavy chains of civilization conditioning break into pieces and set us free? Let’s explore this hallway and see what follows. Open that door, please. Yes, that door on the left. Press the handle gently and walk inside. Take the path that awaits you there and let that universe unfold around your life in its majestic, unpredictable way. There are no promises for answers, but perhaps at the end of the journey you will see yourself and your reflections from an entirely different angle. And if you can’t find the mirrors right away, don’t worry: they will bloom in front of you sooner or later. Mirror after mirror after mirror is going to touch your face until you won’t know anymore which one is your reflection and which one is your true self. A mirror reflecting itself. What would it show?