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It maybe looks a little different for each of us, that scene you most wish to manifest upon opening your eyes, as you pulse your breath into the realization that you had been dreaming, for better or worse. Some of us, take our waking slow and look for a series of small comforts: a lover’s touch, the smell of fresh coffee, an extra moment or two of luxuriating between bed sheets. Some of us are more demanding of life, waking with sore bodies, our eyes darting to windows from the sun to skyline to ground, envisioning it happen little by little: the coming of the kingdom of god, feeling each burning and rebirth in each of our cells, tears welling up for the fact that we haven’t yet convinced that new light to hit our retinas.
For me, it’s a scene from Paris 1968, theatre doors burst open, costuming distributed to the newly dubbed starlets of the streets, each corner a concert, a dramatic recitation of a holy text, a circle of friends and lovers gazing into one another’s eyes, sharing in infinity, remembering what heaven looks like, chests heaving, Yes, yes, it’s in there. There you are. I remember now. Situationist slogans and lines from surrealists and saints are painted over billboards, new chants, new hymns, new spells, new prayers being composed on brick walls and broken plasterboard. We hold onto one another’s shoulders, leap, and sing them to the sky, both old and new: “Redemption Song,” “Amazing Grace,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “All We Need is Love,” “Let It Be,” anything by any of us, by all of us. We’ll know all the right words, because we remember now that we wrote all of this. Every single line, every single point.
The sky cracks open. Thunder. Lightning. We’re dancing in the rain. We’re watching the old world wash away. We kneel in front of one another and sob with joy. We beg forgiveness from ourselves for each moment we did not see this beauty. We thank one another for the gift of feeling, for the gift of pain, for the mad and unreal forming rivers out of our bodies. This heat. This creation. Unmanned torches set old buildings to flame. The embers rise up to the skies and we do not sleep, but make sure each item as it burns leaves space also in our spines, our throats, our skulls. Some of us place our hands in the fire to be sure. Some of us laugh maniacally. Some of us dance until we collapse from exhaustion. Some of us sit silently and stare. Some of us vomit. Some of us fuck. Some of us fly. All of us do all of this, the new body, the organs, the cells, the stars.
I spent three months asking complete strangers to describe heaven for me. I pulled their visions of paradise from their heads and watched them leak water, salt, and sulfur as they did so. I didn’t feel guilty until now. Until I thought about revolutions. About the chaos in our bellies that must become the dancing stars of Nietzsche. About the destruction that primes the canvas for the creation of Bakunin. I’ve been ready to launch the first stone, pulling back the band on the sling shot. Yet more and more must hold it the further back we step. More and more must hone that vision, as we look off to distant Eden, setting our sites. I tricked these kind strangers into helping me. Squinting their eyes, arms shaking, they told me of bonfires, of mandolins, of great walls, of singing, of silence, of gardens, and great trees, and log cabins, of children, of games, of ripe fruit, an end of work, of joyous creation, of peace, of lover’s embrace. And each wept and each also said, “I can’t be sure,” spoke of the unknown, the infinity, the fate that terrifies them.
It’s somehow easier to be fed the certainty of well-structured screens, of a colorful spectacle which appears to do the work of gaining paradise for us. They use empathy, our greatest human gift, to stunt us, to convince us to procrastinate the embodiment of our creative nature. But we must share the work in building the vision, recognize that it needs honed not only in ourselves, but in one another. Because our true desires, the real ones that we were born with, not the ones programmed into us out of fear, not the ones that are ten steps separated from that which they pretend to represent–but the full ones, the ones that you taste, hear, feel, see, smell–the ones that are self-illuminated are all the same, are in fact the same moment, the same place–the absolute center.
We don’t need a big house, we need to be at peace in the world again. We don’t need a pool, we need rivers and lakes with pure water. We don’t need a fast car, we need right where we’re standing to be solid ground, to be home. We don’t need hot youngsters to swoon over us, we need to feel confident in our own skins, worthy of our own affection and admiration, and therefore the care of our community and peers.
We’re been aching for truth, justice, connection, beauty and it’s been there for us to take, but we’re terrified of it. We’ve been taught to be ashamed of it, critical of it, scornful of it. It seeps into our nightmares: standing nude in a roomful of peers being mocked; being swept away by rushing waters, holding onto rooftops; trapped alone in a dark cave where anything could appear. We wake up in a sweat, happy to be in a room, in a bed, with a blanket that if we’re lucky belongs to us, at least for now. Maybe we take refuge in our bed. Maybe we take refuge in our lover. Maybe we take refuge in consuming something beautiful. But we’re taking our waking too slow.
We don’t want to accept that we are who we are. That we’re our own entire worlds, that nothing belongs to us. That we belong to one another. That we are responsible for one another. That each person who suffers is a piece of ourselves suffering. That everyone oppressing us is a part of ourselves of whom we’ve begged oppression. We have a choice, but we don’t want to make it. We’re too comfortable in our suffering to be released from it.
Walk away. Take your power. Give your tired neighbor a place to rest. Give your loveless neighbor a shoulder to cry on. Makes beautiful moments. Make strange moments. Make bold moments. Take risks. Stand on the table and scream a poem. If you want to cry do it. Let people see your tears. Don’t hide them away. This is what makes you human. Laugh hysterically. Show your joy. Share in someone else’s joy. These are your brothers and sisters. Recognize them as such. Refuse to let these screens between us keep us from looking at one another.
I have eyes. You have eyes. Let’s bring them together more often. This will be revolutionary. Break out of the script. I bet you can think of something more honest, more beautiful to say than “have a good one” to your clerk. Write your life like the most beautiful story you’ve ever read. Make it yours. Make it new. Make it revolutionary. Make it look like heaven. The closer you get, the closer I’ll get. Remind me. Is that me in there?
Even by entertaining these thoughts, you’re pulling that sling shot back a little further. It can hurt, when you step out of the script. You lose the ground your feet have been nailed down to, for years and years. Those holes through your bone will have to grow anew. You’ll need new places for them to set down on, and you’ll have to build that ground yourself. But just think how beautiful. How real it could be, even if precious few others agree it exists. It’s your job to convince. To bring them with you so far that you don’t have to ask them to help you hold that sling launching the first stone of our new world.
For months I vowed to live amongst strangers trusting they would all treat me as family, that they would see heaven in my eyes and help me built it. Every person whose door I knocked on and asked to sleep on their lawn would recognize me. I forced that to be my reality, and it hurt. I was alone and terrified up until the moment of proof. Slowly it revealed itself. And I’ve never known anything so beautiful as when I saw my faith take material form before my eyes. And it always did. Always.
Here I reaffirm that vow and ask you all to take it. I ask you all to be brothers, sisters, mothers, lovers, caretakers, caregivers, mirrors, feet, hands, but most importantly voice washing over all of us when it hurts, when it seems confusing, to speak I know, I know meaning you know, you know. You know this is real. This is absolute. We can make this everything. The unreal mad world will flare up, and we’ll always be there to rub balm over it, look us in the eyes and show us what power we have together…the power to explode stars, tiny ones within our retinas, the palms of our hands, tree trunks, helicopter engines, arches of black ink, steel beams, our tightened thighs, whole worlds gone white and gold. Believe that every single person you meet will save you and they will. Believe that every door you step through can take you to heaven, and it can. It worked for me because I needed it to. Please know that we need this now. Please. We need this. We need to remember where home is, what is looks like. Please let me help pull it out of you. All you have to do is look at me! All you have to do is walk up to me, anywhere, see me as human and say, hello, I am another you. And the revolution’s been won.
The graffiti on the plasterboard has turned to dust, and there are great willows where perhaps they once stood. The street corners where we sang and discovered infinity are overgrown with morning glories, and sun flowers have exploded the concrete sidewalks. There is a bonfire raging in the center of the street. Everyone knows how to play the mandolin beautifully, and we’re all adept at flight. It’s getting closer. It’s coming faster. Can you feel it buzzing in your fingertips. It’s right there. Now open your eyes.
I remember sitting on Mona’s porch at the Orange House Sea Turtle Reserve one morning eating her homemade jams, lebneh, olive oil, and zaatar. The sun was glistening off of her lush grapefruit trees and the moist herbs–lemongrass, mint, bee balm, zataar, throughout her garden. Her goats knocked horns of their fence posts, and we caught glimpses of them through the trees. Her bird was perched on the railing next to her head at the foot of the table, “The Mediterranean isn’t a sea, it’s a dump. They pump their sewage into it. They dump their garbage into it. They don’t care. They poison the fish to catch them, then take them home and feed them to their children and wonder why they get sick. Nothing but a dump.”
Her words resonate off of the surface of the water as I float along the Southern Lebanese Coastline that she fought so hard to protect. I look towards Tyre to the North and remember wading on the coast amidst plastic bags and the admonitions of locals not to swim too near to where there are buildings. I feel each bump, each twist of water, each new undulation like a message from her. She tells me her feelings are hurt. She doesn’t want to be a dump. Why would we call her one? Don’t I love her? Don’t I see how much fun we can have together? I submerge myself and then think that all I know is that I feel perfect inside of her. The gentle waves are my childhood dream of what the sea would be. It’s not the grand knocking of the Atlantic or the batting tide off of the stony Corniche in Beirut. It’s utterly gentle, playful.
I start sobbing uncontrollably. I do love her. She’s perfect exactly how she is. I had been thinking earlier about how I should see more fish under the water, perhaps. About how the water could be clearer, perhaps. About how the water should smell sweeter, perhaps. I was entirely wrong. This is the most beautiful, the most perfect place that I had ever been. She’s perfect. She is the universe. My best friend. There could not possibly be anything wrong with her. I am blessed to know her. I will be blest forever and ever to know her, to have known her.
She tickles me. I laugh and we begin to play again. I close my eyes and let her take me wherever she wants. I pop up, look south, and see cliffs in the distance. Yes, this is heaven. I am in the universe. She accepts me inside of her, a miracle. The world is suddenly all miracles. And I accept. I suddenly realize that it all it takes. Just to accept.
Too often we let the world convince us that we need to focus our attention on what we’re losing, on how things disintegrating around us. This never has to be the case. In each moment, we can open our eyes and choose to see heaven. This was the most beautiful gift that the sea provided me with. My partner was sunning himself and collecting sea shells, occasionally awaking to do an asana or two in an alcove where waves had cleaned the sand from rocks. I swam into him and tried to explain what the sea said. I realized that I would never be able to give it words. To explain how we conversed as the tide tumbled with me, out and in, up and down, swaying, bobbing, tickling one another as I floated belly up, back-flipped, breast stroke–each movement a message from one to the other and back again. The sea had been so lonely. The sea had missed speaking to anyone who knew her language, who was willing to listen. And if anyone had, they would never call her a dump or dream of dumping. They would do nothing but praise.
As we left the beach darkened and sun stoned to prepare lunch, we took one another’s hands and ran down the dirt trail, through the banana trees, through the orange trees, past the little shack that Mona lived in during the bombings, past the family that Mona hired to farm her land, and to our paradise. We were greeted by bleating baby goats to whom we fed green bananas and the loyal dog Poopie, who served as our nighttime swim watchman. We again decided, together this time, to be in heaven. We took a long time to sit on her second story balcony and stare off into the landscape, the cliffs, the vast expanse of sea, even the military outpost and consider the blessing of this mysterious oasis’ existence in this war-torn region. We had just suffered through our own personal war. We very nearly separated when he first arrived. I had decided that in order to survive Lebanon, I had to cease to love him–being thousands and thousands of miles away. I had decided on the easy way out of suffering: moving on to the next thing. Exactly what so many of us opt to do. I could have chosen to focus not on the lack of him in my life, but on what he continued to bring me through our past experiences, through our love for one another, even at a distance. I could have made and accepted my heaven, much more easily than it seemed. And in this moment I accepted and embraced a forgiveness of myself for this failure. I must be deserving of this beauty to be existing inside of it.
There are great stretches of beauty in every part of the world, in every town, off the side of every highway, but we rarely take the time to appreciate them. We allow some obstruction to get in the way: construction work, drainage pipe, litter, traffic noise. Not seeing the holiness, not seeing that what exists is just as good, can offer just as much, speak just as beautifully if only you would choose to allow it. This is a lesson that I learned more completely on my walk. I used to think that I needed to seek solace in the wilderness by going deep in the woods, far far from any highway. But I’ve now spent some of my most healing moments with nature right off of the roadside, washing my face in a creek or river running right alongside of it, blessing it, ever grateful for what it offered. I’ve found perfect little nooks for lunching that I wondered if anyone ever bothered to stop and notice, how a single body fits so perfectly here, how it begs, longs to be used to be appreciated, to be glorified as holy holy holy. But no one wants it when its tainted. We turn our back on it and move on to the next perfect, pristine thing, until you find its dent or bruise that you deem unworthy of sitting with for long.
The Orange House’s beach receives so much love, but it is sometimes a love of grief. A love which stared in the depths of what was lost and what the beach and sea once was. Once there were more sea turtles here. Once my goats could run on this beach unafraid. Once I could swim and fish here without worry of chemicals. Once I did not have to pick garbage from the beach. Once they did not dump sewage here. Once there was not a military outpost on that corner. Once I was happy. Once this was beautiful. Once there was peace. The desperation sets the tone for what the universe brings.
Now Orange House and that sacred stretch of coast, home to the last sea turtles in Lebanon, is threatened with another hit. Developers want to use it as a women’s beach, line it with restaurants and hookah bars. The flowers, the bees, the succulents lining the dunes would disappear. As would the fruit bearing trees and the dirt road it lined. The sea turtles would no longer crawl ashore to lay their eggs. But I know the water would still speak that tongue. I know the miracle would still be present, just harder to find. You’d have to sit for longer to see it. But even now, as developers plan their concrete walls, we can think, how beautiful this place is, how much like heaven, and perhaps the battling would become easier then. Perhaps the fight to keep our paradises alive would be less like fighting and more like pointing, look look, don’t you see, this is perfect, this is exactly how it should be.
As integration ever-so slowly and painfully and achingly beautifully sets in along with autumn, I grant you all a bit of reflection on the operation of trail magic. This is how I road a terrifying wave of synchronicity halfway across the country and through the entirety of my childhood. This is why I’m more human now.
Trail magic operates as one of the most universally recognized forms of magic. Everyone who has done a long distance hike has performed it and its prevalent in their vocabularies. Hikers are constantly pouring out energy into the universe, becoming one with the act of giving and smiling as they do so. People receiving this in their wake recognize it, even in a nebulous fashion and desire to just simply connect with it. That connection comes most often in the form of generosity. Magic. Synchronicity. A unification. This is neither good nor bad. It just is. It can hurt sometimes, too.
But the giving just feels right. It’s the only possible path at the time and always completely spontaneous. This recognition of connection produces pure energy and tears down borders that have made us think we’re separate from its flow: I’m a woman, I won’t be safe. I’m weak, I can’t run that far. I’m ugly, they won’t love me. I’m afraid, I can’t go there. By recognizing yourself in each person that you see overcoming these pejoratives, these borders, there is a part of your spirit that has overcome them already and sees it happening in real time. This is the purest essence of magic. You’re one step closer to becoming exactly who you want to be, exactly who you already are.
Magic stems from the recognition that giving and receiving are in fact the same action. Once you recognize that “I” and “other” are false concepts. Once you act against suffering, with no need for bringing the golden rule to mind, others will treat you in the same way. The reality you manifest about you is reciprocal, beyond binaries. If you give someone a meal, receiving a meal becomes more likely. The neural pathways in your mind are honed for it, you universe is open to it.
Chogyum Trungpa writes that generosity is one of six transcendent actions, or paramitas, in Buddhism. It translates as “Par” meaning “the other shore” and “Mita” being the one who got there–to the other shore.
Out of his simplicity and awareness, the bodhisattva develops warmth. He does not act on religious or charitable grounds at all. He just acts according to the true, present moment, through which he develops a kind of warmth. And there is a great warmth is this awareness and also great creativity. His actions are not limited by anything, and all sorts of creative impulses just arise in him and are somehow exactly right for that particular moment. Things just happen and he simply sails through them, so there is a continual, tremendous creativity in him. That is the real act of karuna–a Sanskrit word which means “noble heart” or “compassionate heart.”
Rinpoche Trungpa then continues on to explain how the absence of a radiation vessel in the midst of radiation is how that energy is able to develop and expand into a network of connections. The energy instead of being “used” simply flows on and on.
We don’t often associate “magic” with traditional spiritual paths such as Christianity and Buddhism, but weren’t they founded after our greatest known magicians. The concept of magic has been tainted for us by Disney and Hollywood. They make us think it’s for kids, just a glimmer, a fantasy. Their plastic doesn’t resonate with our inner world, leading us away from the truth that magic could in fact be the most important thing a person can believe in. That it can guide our entire lives. In fact, most of us erase our most magical moments out of our lives almost instantly–chalking them up instead to random coincidence. Or worse yet, we end up forgetting them entirely, making them non-existent without a conscientious witness around to remind us.
When I got to Cincinnati, I went with two stranger/brothers to a peyote ceremony with the Native American Church. The most important thing that I took from the vision I received there was not forget–To cherish the unexpected things in life that we are given. To be ever grateful. Otherwise, it never happened. It will remain tucked away the deepest recesses of you mind to be dealt with in some other fashion, to become some tweaks of a muscle during sleep, an unusual symbol in a dream. It will never work its way into your reality. Never emerge from possibility, from its cocoon. It will never spread its wings about your body with iridescent rainbow wings, will never become magic.
This is why it’s so vital that we tell the story. It’s all we get from our pasts–the story. It must be told and retold from as many perspectives as possible. It must mutate with the ages. The story must come from far and wide and diverge and intersect until they create every shape and color and continent possible for them to create. That is how we are building bridges, slapping mortar on the concrete blocks for our new cities, where we will be unified with one another fully. This will be what peace looks like. This is how we manifest heaven, re-enter Eden. We’ve messed up the stories of our greatest magicians–forgotten the gratitude of Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Moses, because we stopped really believing in them. Meaning, we’ve stopped knowing that we are them.
There’s a cardinal rule of trail magic: it never happens when you’re looking for it. This rule is tied into the observer effect which happens on the quantum level. When the wave function of a particle is observed is when it collapses into its mass function. Which means that all of the possibilities of the places where the particle could exist collapse into one space. On a very real scientific level, before the particle could have existed and did exist, everywhere in the universe (to a non-zero degree “wave function). It bonded eternally with each other particle with which it has ever interacted (known as “spooky interaction at a distance”). You’re wondering what this has to do with magic. This has everything to do with magic.
Did you ever wonder why it often happens that when you cease to want something it appears: the boy you’ve been lusting after begins to take an interest in you after you stop caring whether he returns your text messages or not; You finally get that job interview after you’ve settled into another career. We call it cruel irony, but its a law of attraction. When you’re desperate for something, you push it away. The force of your need for the thing, of watching the space where it is not, of bearing witness so intently to its absence makes it less likely to appear in that space. Its absence is too busy being confirmed by you. In the Buddhist tradition, this is seen to be caused by a lesson that the universe teaches us about attachments, that we must break them before we’re able to truly enjoy a thing for its essence, for its eternal nature.
We’re constantly giving things up, letting loose our attachments, but often not paying attention. It takes focus to see our smaller deaths. It takes ritual. When you’re walking for the majority of your day everything becomes a ritual. Waking in the morning. Brushing your teeth. Splashing your face with water from a freezing cold stream. Taking a piss in the woods. Setting up your tent alongside the road. It becomes instantly more meaningful. You pay attention more. Your mind follows your eyes, follows your hands, follows your body, follows your spirit. You actively interpret the codes of it. You develop intention. You see how there is no space around it. The air is filled with tiny living organisms, colliding entangled spinning particles, and they’re all apart of your world, and they all will sustain you, if you recognize it as a possibility. They’ll invite you in for a cup of coffee when you think you can’t stand the cold anymore. They’ll give you a place to sleep when you’re legs are aching. They’ll make you a sandwich when you’re not sure how you’re going to get groceries for the next fifteen miles. They’ll hand you twenty dollars that you’ll discover you really needed two days later. They’ll give you a ride up the hill that you didn’t realize went on for the next half a mile. They’ll show you appreciation when you felt all alone in the world. They’ll hold you when you couldn’t love yourself enough. They’ll forgive you when you say that you put those wounds there yourself. They’ll stand with you as you open and heal them. They’ll guide you when can’t see for tears when you are walking through the pain. They’ll say, “I believe in you” when you begin losing faith. They’ll tell you “I always believed in you” and you will realize, that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have possible if they didn’t.
Trail magic exists to remove fear. Ticks were perhaps the most real manifestation of the fear I am attempting to abolish on this solo journey. When I left Cincinnati, I thought I had abolished of my fear. I had been bouncing along the road, maybe overly confident, maybe foolishly thinking that any of the magic I was experiencing stemmed from myself. The universe reminded me otherwise. I went to sleep early one evening in the gorgeous old growth pine studded ravine of Versailles State Park, thinking that I would wake at sunrise and start writing. However, there were people camping near me, blaring bad pop music and drunkenly shouting over one another. I tried to remind myself that the noise was produced in my mind, but couldn’t calm down. Just as I began falling asleep three hours later, I reached my hand to my neck and pulled out a tick, then two more. I feared that each mole on my body (which are many) was a tick. Clearly, I could not sleep for this. I found two more ticks on my coat. It began pouring down rain. It was cold. I was stuck in my tent for hours surrounded by ticks. I tried to read. I couldn’t. I tried to write. I couldn’t. I called friends who didn’t answer. My phone died. Hadn’t I already purged enough on this trip? I’d been stranded in the middle of the night without a place to camp. Eight nights of below freezing weather. Knees that ached for three days straight. Four days of intermittent vomiting. Accidentally camping in a hydraulic fracturing gas drilling pad.
But there is always another lesson to lean. Your good intentions alone are yours. What comes into being, what appears before you is only going to be what you need to stay on the path. Sometimes that is loss, death, danger, suffering, ticks. Magic is not performed for your benefit. It is what you need to do the work that universe needs done. Only when you align your intentions with that will the world be magical. The sky open on an overcast day just above your head, so that the layers of smooth cotton glisten like prisms, revealing the red, green, indigo of each particle of light as it streams to earth. Only then will each item laying alongside the road speak to you as a relic or lesson from your past or future self: a church sign that reminds you of the heaven you left Tend your heart well, it is God’s garden; a video cassette of the Jane Austen novel that got you through middle school; a syringe next to a pen that reads like a note from the friend who you lost to opiates six years ago; a bag of blue gills, which are the only fish you ever caught as a little girl; a stuffed lamb, which is the dear friend you left behind Lebanon. Only then will you see your own name everywhere, will everyone be a prophet, will everything be a lesson.
Last night I dreamt of trilobites and ticks. They were falling from a screen and onto my lap. The ticks did not connect to my flesh, they fell off in patterns and became the trilobite fossils that an old man I met on my walk collects. He reminds me “these are not merely dead things. They still vibrate. They speak to me.” It is never our last chance. We will continually be learning, giving off vibrations that connect. Yet also each lesson is complete when we see it for its beauty. I kept a tick in the pages of my book on meditation by Rinpoche Trungpa. It really is beautiful. Its front legs curled in a spiral. It’s shell a deep brownish red with a half crescent of gray just below its head. I will keep it.
An update from the Poetry Pilgrim Project
New post from The Poetry Pilgrim Project