(The four previous stories now have their own page, ‘Prelude’ just up there on the header)
I found myself in an old, old forest.
Moss-covered tree-trunks towered above my head while shafts of pollen-laden sunlight angled through the sparse undergrowth and shone on fallen giants repurposed as nurseries.
I sensed, rather than heard, birdsong and the lilt of falling water underneath the sound of soft rustling leaves and creaking branches.
I was so happy to be Journeying again I spoke without thinking. “This is much better than drowning.” My words disappeared the minute they passed my lips. I paused, warily. The universe didn’t immediately end so I counted my blessings and moved on.
The gnarled tree trunks gave way to saplings and then to a clearing. In the center an old woman kneeled next to a small energetic campfire. Its light threw her flickering shadow up against a tiny house made of things the forest had bequeathed her. She sensed my presence and slowly got to her feet. I could see massive scarring surrounding her right knee.
She, was me, perhaps in the future, or from a different timeline. Our eyes met and a flash of recognition passed between us, but then her campfire exploded into a giant fireball and consumed her. Higher and higher it rose. In-between one heartbeat and the next it seared the trees and undergrowth, and reduced the entire forest to cinders.
The fire burned so hot I could feel it scorching my clothes, burning my face and bare skin. It towered over me, challenging me.
“What do you want?” I shouted over the raging noise.
The flames blazed even higher and hotter.
My skin began to blister as though I’d been out in the heat of a long Aussie summer day for hours. Some separate part of my mind said that I couldn’t be burning. After all, I was really just sitting with my eyes closed in a room in the suburbs. You’d think that by now I would’ve learned that what’s real in one Realm is also real in another.
However, prudence required I take a step back, just in case, then, in a flash of clarity I rephrased question.
“What is my lesson?”
The fire lurched towards me, surrounding me. I’d experienced being surrounded by fire once before and I didn’t like it very much then either.
The heat was so intense my flesh started to disintegrate right off my bones. I had to find a way to escape, or die.
I wondered if the fire was an illusion designed to test me, something I could walk straight through if I chose to. I stepped forward and got cooked some more. I tried again, then gave myself up to the inevitable. This Fire was going to consume me.
My thoughts turned philosophical. (probably in order to stave off the screaming heebie-jeebies. I mean, who in their right mind stands willingly in front of a raging bonfire and calmly contemplates their demise?) I would experience Death and Transformation, without having to actually reach the end of my physical life. Who knew what epiphanies I might epiph.
A tongue of flame shot out from fire and licked across my body reminding me that philosophy had its place, but that place was neither here nor now.
So be it.
Trial by Fire.
Fine. If I couldn’t go through the flames I would go under them.
First I had to protect myself. I flexed my will, (I was getting the hang of this bit) and caused a hard shell to form around me with a pointy end, a bit like a bullet shape and began burrowing into the Earth. The cool earth relieved the burning sensation on my skin. When I sensed I had gone far enough to outdistance the fire I headed back up to the surface, and emerged in a completely different place.
I was vaguely aware of my physical body trembling with tension. The struggle had exhausted me, but my success at getting past the fire pushed such minor considerations away.
I stood on the surface of a small planet or moon, so small I could see the curve of the horizon quite close to me. I was safe. I could breathe, and more importantly I had passed another Trial.
I spent a bit of time looking around, not that there was much to see, until it occurred to me that I’d escaped Fire by entering Earth, so, logically, that was where I was supposed to go next. I decided I would skip the week-long wait, resume my bullet-ish shape, and dig my Self back down into the earth beneath my feet and continue my adventure.
A searing heat rippled around my body. A subtle reminder that I knew this Journey was complete, and to push this particular boundary, at this particular time, would incur the wrath of Beings best left un-wrathed.
That night my skin still felt kind of warm so I looked in a mirror and was shocked to see my face covered in a heavy sunburn. Being fair-skinned, and the Summer season at its height, I hadn’t been out in the sun without a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen for weeks!
My knees went weak and my heart rose up in my throat and pounded so hard I thought it was going to break out of my body, again! I sat down abruptly and asked myself what was I doing gallivanting around the cosmos and coming back with a sunburn?
My skin blistered and peeled and took several days more for the redness to fade.
Elsewhere in my life a different sort of crisis was looming.
I was doing fairly well at university despite my abysmal lack of math expertise. Although I had a logical mind, I’d left school before I could delve into the intricacies of geometry, and it’s elder sibling, algebra, was something I’d heard of only in passing.
But, I was being pulled between two polarities. At one end was university, where everything was measured, calculated, precise and concrete, literally as well as figuratively. Where we were told we were being taught to think for ourselves but that anything that deviated from an acceptable ‘norm’ (set by the faculty) was publicly exposed in a classroom situation and used as an example of how not to do that particular task.
I can’t say this was true of every student around me or in every faculty, or in every institution of learning, but it was enough for me to wonder if this was where I wanted to be for the next six years.
Then, there was this other new world I was discovering with equal intensity. A world of Myth become manifest, where there was no right or wrong way to be, only my way. (which, of course, is different for each and every one of us who choose to walk a Path of Awareness)
I was dis-covering, uncovering, a knowledge that had remained dormant all my life, and perhaps even before this life. Knowledge stored in my very cells, the only safe place for it until I was ready to recall it to consciousness. Knowledge that made my heart and Spirit soar with its Beauty and Power. Knowledge that had such a profound sense of rightness and balance to it that sometimes I was moved to simply sit and just be with it.
My dilemma then: How could I continue to venture forth into a rigidly structured academic world that was fast becoming the antithesis of the knowledge I was thirstily absorbing in the Spirit Realm?
One day, at the end of a scorchingly hot summer back in my Aussie dyke-on-a-(motor) bike days, I decided to go for a ride along one of the endless roads that linked the one-kangaroo towns scattered infrequently across the length and breadth of the country. Some of them so small they didn’t appear on any maps.
I was on my way home, tired but content. For a while I had outrun my ghosts.
Maybe it was an idiot throwing his still burning cigarette out of his car, or sunlight through a broken bottle, a lightning strike, or even deliberately lit, but a bushfire (we call them ‘wildfires’ here in Canada) had sprung up and spread rapidly through the scruffy tinder-dry bush.
Over a small hill ahead of me a towering plume rose into the sky faster than I ever thought possible. Suddenly the harsh sunlight turned a sickly beer-bottle amber. Smoldering and charred remnants of gum leaves and twigs gusted all around me like grimy soot-stained snowflakes.
As I rode along the sun disappeared behind the choking smoke. Finally I pulled over and looked behind me, hoping to go back to where I could skirt around the fire and take another route, the long way, home. The smoke was thicker that way though, obscuring the flames just out of sight, roaring like some kind of nightmarish monster and heating the stifling air around me.
If you’re caught in a bushfire they tell you the best thing to do is stay inside your vehicle, right? Good advice if you have a vehicle to get inside of. My options weren’t good. Mentally tossing a coin I decided to keep going forward. I lined myself up with the white painted centre-line of the road and gingerly inched my way through the smoke and heat and ash. I rode without ever seeing a single flame until I was well beyond the fire and high up on a ridge.
At a lookout I stopped and took off my helmet. Tiny smoldering holes pocked my jacket and thick pants. I breathed in the clean air and watched the road I’d just ridden along get swallowed by the fire. If I’d’ve turned back, I would’ve been caught in that maelstrom and would not have survived.
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