The following blog contains the first half dozen pages of the first chapter of my upcoming book, tentatively titled “Awakening the Sensuous“. If you are digging the story, please head over to the campaign launch page to preorder your copy and help bring the grassroots book to life through its first print run (anticipated June 2017).
CHAPTER ONE – NIGHT
I look to the west as the setting sun makes its crawling decent below the horizon to mark the end of another day’s cycle and to begin its nightly regeneration as it transits the earthly underworld. The fiery celestial orb burns a deep hue of red as its radiant light spills through the upper atmosphere and paints vibrant oranges, flower pedal pinks, and deep purples across the scattered clouds. Despite the stillness of the hanging clouds, their interplay with the colourful light and contrasting shadows creates a glorious shapeshifting spectacle as each moment passes into another. My shadow elongates and spreads out behind me, now merging with the shadows of the many bodies around me – rock, tree, and hillside alike – eventually blending completely with the greater cosmic shadow of the earth body that we call Night. A darkened hush falls across the landscape as the wind slows to a rest and welcomes the approaching coolness of evening. Monotonous tones of deepening blue and washed-out greys cast themselves across the distant hills and gentle earth curves in defiance of any visual definition or sense of contrast; giving rise to the silky silhouettes, and eventually, the blackened shadows of our deepest nightmares. The birds have fallen quiet in response to the encroaching hush of dusk as my thoughts mirror the silent sigh of a day’s full release. Soon, the nocturnal creatures will emerge, and those daytime creatures seeking the solace of sleep will need to remain cloaked in the blanket of trust that their homes provide; ultimately keeping them hidden from potential predators. The approaching Night has brought an entirely different mood to the air and land around me. The light of day has left, and with it, my confident sense of security and visual knowing. Sitting outside on the mini-tripod stool I carry along in my camper van, I watch with a patient apprehension as darkness wraps the scene around me, stripping it of contrast while my eyes struggle to adjust to the fleeing light.
What is it about Night and darkness that brings forth our greatest fears? I notice an instinctual pull within my animal bones to create greater security and safety for my body – a desire to spark a protective fire or to retreat into the shelter of my camper. The stark feeling of isolation and total vulnerability bubble up to my awareness as I feel into the pervasive sense of tension and undercurrent of apprehension shared by all human creatures across time and space during Night. Compared to the rest of our brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom – stripped of all our fancy tools, gadgets, walls, and fences – we are adequately ill-equipped to defend ourselves from attacks of tooth and claw. What use are supple flesh, opposable thumbs, and breakable bones in the face of rows of razor sharp teeth? My scattered thoughts drift like the barely visible clouds above toward the monsters and predators of Night, with their enhanced eyesight, acute sense of smell, and finely tuned hearing. Perhaps our ancient ancestors were more attuned to the frequencies of shadow and did not worry as much as us moderns. But one thing is clear to me in this moment: save for our safety in numbers and strength in community, our greatest pull was then, and remains today, toward the comfort and clarity of light. Without the defining contrast and colours of light waves entering our eyes we are left with nothing but our other senses to navigate the earthly Night realm. Bereft of practiced attention to smell, focused inclination to sound, or breath connection to the body of feeling, our awareness is consumed by the mental madness and interior world of thought. Is it any wonder so many of us are afraid of the dark? We moderns are so unfamiliar with the shadows of Night, sheltered in our perpetually lit cities and homes, disconnected from the instinctual knowing of our bodily senses, and distracted by our abstract inner world of thoughts that our minds take the reins and are free to project our greatest fears and insecurities onto the backdrop of blackness, through which any monster can emerge.
Whatever movement of wind that danced across the land during the day has now fled the field completely. My mind tries to pull me inside the safety of the shelter provided by my camper but something in my body craves the uncertain blanket of Night. I make haste to use the remaining squint of light to craft a fire – our oldest protective trick in the book. Besides the warmth it provides, the fire offers me a reassuring shield of light with which to ward off the consuming darkness. A chill of fear ripples through my body as I notice the deepening black around me and I am suddenly made aware of how quiet it really is. My mind reels with thought wheels of fear as every potential and improbable danger emerges from my interior world into the darkness around me. What if there is a predator stalking me right now? What do I have to defend myself if I am attacked? Suddenly, as if in response to my internal mental turmoil, a singing chorus of crickets begins to emerge in harmonic defiance of the cavernous silence surrounding me. Off in the distance, or perhaps much closer than I perceive, friendly frogs join in the reassuring nighttime choir. There is something soothing to me in the rubbing vocalizations of the crickets and the bellowing ribbits of the bull frogs. Wherever I travel, these evening angels of the grass and glossy cousins of the water are present to offer their peaceful lullaby to those with ears to hear their song. The rhythm of their overlapping high pitched and guttural languages communicate an ease into my muscles as I tune into their comforting melody and return to my fire building.
Thankfully, I had enough foresight to prepare the necessities for flame before all of the light left the world. Sitting just outside the ring of rocks, I crumple the three pieces of paper I had in my pocket into bulky balls and place them at the core of the fire-to-be. I grab the tiny twigs of kindling and construct a teepee around the papers, making sure to leave enough room for oxygen to enter the lungs of the flame. Medium sized pieces of wood are then placed around the circular base in the shape of a miniature log cabin. The two shelter profiles – teepee and cabin – combine to give life to a third: the shelter of light for my body immersed in the Night. I pull out my portable fire contained within a butane lighter – a modern miracle to most of history – to start the larger campfire. With a flick of my thumb the spark ignites the invisible gas as I transfer the flame to the three balls of crumpled paper within the core. The burning paper is quickly consumed, but not before handing the blaze over to the dry kindling. I share my breath with the struggling infant flame and connect to the ancient reciprocity of this common bond between fire and lung, spirit and flesh. Within a few short minutes the red-hot intensity has consumed the wooden shelters and I am forced to withdraw slightly from the emanating heat and crackling sparks of light shooting into the surrounding air like fireworks. The nighttime darkness retreats in the wake of my defensive cocoon of flame and heat. I feel safe again.
Flickering flames cast dancing shadows around the perimeter of the protective container of light I am immersed within. What a fitting juxtaposition to feel safety in close proximity to a relentless and unpredictable element such as fire. I turn away from the blazing fervour to observe the movement of shadow brought to life by the ancient celestial spirit of destruction and rebirth. Despite the stillness of my body and the earthly bodies around me, our shadows are anything but static. The light and life of the fire penetrates through our cores to transform our bodies into distorted, dancing marionettes; erratically flailing on the proscenium stage provided by the earth. I wave my hands above my head in active participation of the shadow dance and watch the motion of my limbs exaggerated by the waving flicker behind me. I feel like Peter Pan in the search for his shadow as he attempts to reattach the clever escape artist to his feet before returning to the safety of Neverland.
We tend to think of our shadow as a two-dimensional projection of our denser material bodies onto the flat plane opposite the light cast onto our being; a slightly visible, phantom follower; a slanted and distorted outline of ourselves without any real effect on the world around us. But oh, how this misguided assumption, this incomplete picture, leads us astray from the illuminating knowing of self found within the realm of shadow. Our companion shadow is hardly a flat, inconsequential projection at all! Watch the different qualities of your hand as it passes between your body and the ground holding your shadow. The reality is that your dark follower is a bounded, three-dimensional space – albeit an easily permeable one – that extends from your dense core to whatever backdrop is behind the source of light. It’s an easy slip to make though – the most visible boundary of our shadow that stretches from our feet across the earth satiates most inquiry into the nature of our muted, shapeshifting friend who mimics every move through our life. What insights do we miss by seeing our permanent partner as a flat companion, dissolving it into the background static of life, rather than a being with more depth and dimension and even charisma than we care to see within it?
Watch the silent moth soar, flap, and dive in the space of light offered by the fire; its furry form clearly illuminated for your visual enjoyment by the bright blaze before your eyes. The moth’s flight path takes it into the air between your body and the earth extending from your feet, away from the flames, and you notice the animated moth suddenly overtaken by darkness. It has entered the bounded, effervescent realm of your three-dimensional shadow. A moment passes and movement unfolds; the daring moth seems to emerge from the depths of a cave as it leaves your shadow and rejoins the scattered light of the fire. A couple quick loops and the mysterious moth disappears into the dark deep, integrating into the greater shadow of Night like a clever sage modeling their perfectly timed wisdom into your life’s ponderings. Light and matter does not exist without shadow. Can we learn to dance through life with our shadow, face our darkness with courage, and integrate its three-dimensional, phantom body into our material form?
Perhaps the time of day in which we are most integrated with our individual shadow is during the middle, when the sun is highest in the sky. As it hangs directly above our head, the light of the sun chases our morning shadow deep into the cells of our material body, as its form seems to have disappeared completely beneath our feet. This midday body and shadow merger feels heavy to us, as if a mysterious weight overtakes our mood. In lands where the sun soars directly above, spilling its intensity upon your crown, a compelling pull of your body into siesta emerges in response to the extra burden of shadow within one’s being. As the sun continues its daily march across the sky, our shadow gains courage and seeps out of our bodies, slowly at first, but then with accelerated haste as it stretches itself farther from our material form. As evening approaches, the slender spectre reaches across the ground and climbs up the sides of nearby neighbours before starting its final disappearing act of blending and dissolving into the many other dusk-induced apparitions. With the final slice of light disappearing into the west, the greatest shadow of them all consumes every earthly individual into one. The body of the earth has now come between you and the light streaming from the sun. Night has arrived, boundaries once clearly defined are now gone, and sleep beckons your body to reunite and give yourself over to the dream of the earth.
My jaw drops as a soul-clearing yawn escapes through my gaping mouth – my body’s signal to turn to the rest of sleep soon. Once again facing the fire, I find myself mesmerized by the colourful show of luminescence before me. The flames have died down substantially, leaving a small pile of smouldering coals in the center of the ring. The darkness encroaches upon the area around me, pressing the light inward, hardly allowing it to reach beyond where I sit. The radiant display had pulled me deep into the interior world of reflective thought as I am suddenly struck by the chilling sensation that I am being watched. My cricket friends and croaking cousins have gone silent, as if to warn me of a nearby presence. An unnerving bolt of lightning fires up my spine and my muscles tense in response to this unknown visitation. Overcome with fear and uncertainty, I somehow manage to stand and manoeuver myself between the fire and my camper in the hopes of allowing the remaining light of the fire to illuminate the unseen presence and to provide me with the option of a quick escape. I move slowly so as to not spark a potential attack, nor give away my awareness of the visitor.
The light continues to fade from my visual sphere as my eyes squint and pupils widen, scanning the terrain around me for any sign of clarity within the darkness. Nothing but shadow surrounds me on this starry, moonless Night. The stars above spill their scattered, sparkly illumination upon the sky; enough to make visible the boundary of the horizon, but not adequate to give me any detail or contrast of my immediate terrain. I turn to my breath and consider dashing into the protection of my camper. Perhaps it is simply my nerves and overactive imagination getting the best of me – could I really know if I was being watched? I take another deep breath of fresh air and use its spirit of assurance to shift my fear into acceptance of the uncertainty of this moment as I remember an ancestral humility sourced in the fragility of my human organism within the wild of nature. What good are my delicate hands in fending off a sharp clawed predator of the Night anyways? There isn’t a whole lot I can do to defend myself, so what good are my ungrounded fears and worries? My mind kicks into gear as it reminds me of the one human advantage I have at my disposal – the flashlight in my pocket. I decide it would be best to shine light on this situation; to face the unknown and identify the source of my distress so I can actually fall asleep tonight.
After fumbling around in my pocket for a moment, I manage to pull out the tiny LED flashlight and turn it on. Wrong way – the triple bulb jumps on and intrudes into my wide open pupils as I quickly close them to the blinding light. I blink a few times to jiggle off the temporary retinal burn. As my vision returns, I hastily turn my artificial light to scan the scene around me with the unstable hopes that I will simply uncover something small and harmless as the source of my fright. My bones quiver with fear as I do my best to breath calmly and remain alert for the potential fight or flight response. The light moves left to right, up and down… and… nothing. All is quiet, save for the popcorn crackling of the fire’s heat as it eagerly consumes the remaining coals. Since I can see no creatures large enough to cause me any harm, no looming or dangerous figures, I reassure myself that the source of my greatest fear was simply a creation of my imagination on this Night. To think I could somehow sense that I was being watched seems ridiculous anyways. The world now sleeps and the rocks are hiding no dangers to me. I release the stress-full tension in my body with a fully exhaling whoosh from my lungs as my muscles relax and find peace in the sigh leaving my bones. With the distress released, I decide it is time for me to sleep. I return to the fire and scatter the remaining coals to make sure they pose no risk of spreading without my supervision. I turn away from the glowing orange and black smoulder to enter the sanctuary of my mobile home. My thoughts have me distracted as they ponder the residual fears. My head is dropped down to the light at my feet as I take a few paces away from the fire ring.
Without warning, I nearly jump out of my skin as the sphere of my downward light reveals two mysterious feet standing on the path between me and the protective haven of my camper. The jolting surprise sends me stumbling backward a few steps and I nearly trip into the hot coals of the fire. I hastily find my footing and right my body in preparation to defend myself from the unknown assailant. Pointing the cutting beam of my flashlight onto the spot that previously exposed the anonymous feet, I am overtaken with a sinking feeling when I realize the stranger is no longer there. The light only reveals my camper off in the distance as confusion overtakes and unhinges my sense of the empty scene before me.
“Relax, Dreamer,” I hear a soft voice behind me speak. Startled by the appearance of a voice, I spin on the spot and catch a shadowy figure crouched over the fire. “Please, turn off your artificial light. You are not in danger here.” My ears pick up something melodic and soothing in the woman’s voice; an undertone of innocence that calms my fears and puts my body at ease. I decide to trust her words and my heart and turn off my flashlight to allow my eyes to adjust to the Night again.
“Who are you and what do you want?” I ask in a demanding tone that betrays the residual echoes of uncertainty in my mind. The remaining glow of the fire’s light provides me with a silhouetted outline of the shadowy visitor at my doorstep. Her back is toward me and I am able to see that she is wearing a dark coloured, hooded cloak covering her head and body. She slowly stands to her feet and I manage to catch her whispering words into the fire, as if she is speaking directly to it. The meaning of her words escape my sense of logic as my mind fails to recognize the rhythmic vocalizations leaving her lips. I move around to the side of her as I keep a safe distance and watch in unwavering curiosity while she extends her hands out from the flowing arms of the cloak and places them in the space overtop of the barely smouldering coals. I am now in position, opposite her from the rock ring, and am finally able to catch a glimpse of her features. Although the Night’s influencing shadow keeps her face hidden, her gaze finds mine for a brief moment of pure reflection. The moment passes; she concludes her incantations and a sudden eruption of flame sparks anew into a brilliant blaze, completely concealing her figure behind its flash of bright light.
The heat and brilliance of this momentary manifestation knocks me backward as quickly as it diminishes to a tiny, but steady flame between us. “I am a seeker, like you,” she responds without the slightest reaction to the wonder just created. “Your questions are the same of any seeker of truth; and seekers must remember that it is only from within that we can find the truth we need in each moment. What you witnessed in the fire between us is merely a mirror and reminder of the passionate fires within each of our cores. And a word of warning: do not take it personally. It’s as natural as the stones forming the ring.”
Still wide eyed with amazement from the spectacle before me, I somehow manage to shake off the curious spell that has enraptured my being and ask her with a shaky hesitation, “Are you a witch?”
The robed woman moves slightly to the side and forward, allowing the light of the tiny blaze to reveal the soft contours of her face, the subtle sparkle in her eyes, and a compassionate smile shaped by her lips. Her slender arm reaches an open palm toward the darkness to her side as she responds with kindness, “There are some who would use that word to describe me, although such a word is riddled with a long history of hatred and prejudice – as your uneasy question so clearly conveyed. It is true; I work within the depths of the shadow realms, but that is so we all can play more in the light. The role I perform is an important one, for without it, the darkness will grow to consume more than it is meant to. My playful embodiment and shadow arts channel such energy, expressing and mirroring them back to you as healing. This healing is done by creating the space, or opportunity, to invite you into forgiveness of me, and ultimately yourself – so we may dance in the light again, together. Although they might appear dark in nature, my spells are meant to heal the senses. You may call me a Sorceress; I awaken the Watchers to their deeper calling in life.”
If you are digging the story, please head over to the campaign launch page to preorder your copy and help bring the grassroots book to life through its first print run (anticipated June 2017).