Something jolted me awake. There was darkness and the
smell of wet dirt. I did not know this place I was standing in or how I
got here. It was altogether strange. There was something completely odd
about it like I might
imagine the land of the dead would be. It had an unfamiliar...oldness.
It frightened me. I didn’t want to be here.
In my grogginess I had trouble keeping on my feet. I staggered a few
steps toward a small torch burning to my left. There was stone behind
it. This seemed to be a large cave of some kind and there were sticks
and straw all over the ground.
It took a tremendous struggle to stay awake. Pieces of dream memories
were enticing me of a trail on a cliff and flying excitedly through the
clouds. But this cavern seemed alarmingly empty. I was all alone and the
only sound was from the flame on the torch. The crackle echoed faintly
down into the darkness.
How did I get to this place? What on Earth had I been doing asleep
standing up? Or had I been unconscious? Perhaps someone brought me here.
But to what purpose? I decided I’d better take the torch now and try to
find my way out.
As I reached for the light a figure moved from the shadows. It appeared
to be a woman but she didn’t feel like a woman. She grabbed the torch
before I could. She was odd like this cave: not quite alive but more
than alive. Her face was old and her clothes were dark and flowing. I
was more terrified than I ever thought possible. My breath left me and
my mind began to sink as though I were falling asleep.
“Wake up!” She screamed at me and waved the torch in my face. Her voice
was shrill and grated. “Wake up! Wake up! Look at this flame. Here!
I reached out for the torch and then everything around me changed. I saw
a sunset sky and green mountains. My old friend and teacher, Chea
Hetaka, was to my left and her husband, Domano, was to my right. I tried
to get them in focus but they warped the way things sometimes do in a
dream. “What’s happening to me?” As soon as I tried to talk I felt a
crackling that ran from my head to my toes and I was suddenly back in
the cave with the odd woman.
“No! No! No!” I was frantic. “Stop this! Oh, please stop!” I could
barely make the sounds. I had no breath. My legs fell under me and I lay
crumbled and scratched on the sticks. The fear was uncontainable. I
would have done anything to get out of there.
“Control your mind.” Her voice scraped into the cavern walls. “Where is
your attention? Breathe.” She stomped the shaft of the torch hard onto
the ground. The sound shook through the chamber. “Observe. Here!” She
stomped it yet again. “Now!”
I opened my eyes. The shaft was only inches away. I was sure she was
going to hit me with it. I tried to force my body to roll away. My
vision was blurring out of control and my limbs felt boneless. A memory
ached inside me of walking on a forest path with Chea and Domano. We
were traveling some place special but I couldn’t remember if that
happened moments ago or months ago.
The woman gave a horrific scream and slammed the torch violently onto
the ground by my face. It was as though I was being swept away by a
current of fear. I began to yell involuntarily and found myself snapped
into yet another scene. Chea and Domano were sitting on the ground with
me in front of a rocky outcropping in a mountainous part of a jungle.
They stared at me stone faced as I hollered at the top of my lungs. I
suddenly realized that I no longer felt the fear and I had nothing left
to scream about. The sound finished and left my mouth of its own accord.
I reached out and took their hands. Their peacefulness calmed me. I
began to hear the sounds of birds and smell the nectar in the air. Then
out of everything surrounding me came another devastating shriek and
crash and with no warning I was back in the cave. Terror had me by the
throat. Inside me I felt I could get up and run out of the cave. But my
body was crippled, broken with fear. I didn’t know what to do. This must
be some kind of traditional training or testing from the Hetakas and it
looked like I was failing badly.
I stared up at the woman. It was dark and the flame flickered wildly,
but it seemed that she wasn’t entirely solid, as though I could see the
rock wall through her at moments. I struggled to get control of my
breath, to breathe the way the Hetakas had taught me: filling myself as
though I were an empty vessel.
I couldn’t hold onto any image or feeling. I slipped and snapped from
one place and dream to the next. I became groggy again and the
sensations and ecstasy of the flying came back to me. I remembered the
freedom of moving through the air with no obstacles, the troubles of my
world removed, on my way to a mysterious and ancient ceremony of the
eastern Andes Indians. But I couldn’t place if it had been real or not.
The odd woman took a few steps toward me, and leaning over just
slightly, glared into my eyes. She grumbled and gestured to herself
before she stepped back and, without any compunction at all, touched her
flame to the brush around my feet. If I thought I was afraid before it
could not compare to the nightmare I felt now. I was stuck. I couldn’t
get up and run away or even roll off the straw and branches. I hoped
this was a dream and the scene would change again or I would wake up.
Only this was crystal clear and holding fast.
I screamed and screamed but the woman paid no attention to me. She
diligently walked around the pile of brush to light the fire from the
other side. I could feel the heat from the flames as they flashed toward
me. I was going to die.
“Oh! My god!” I cried at her. “What about my life? What’ll happen to my
Every feeling, unpleasant and pleasant, that I’d ever had was rising
with the flames and consuming me. I was burning with the fire, the
guilts and regrets, the loves and passions. The images of my world went
up with the steam and smoke as the flames took each part of my body.
Then I remembered. A feeling of great failure came over me. I was indeed
on my way to a legendary ceremony just moments ago, one said to have
been revered most highly by these mountain Indians for countless
centuries. Domano and Chea had guided me on this spirit journey to the
Andes. But something went wrong. I must have fallen into sleeping on my
way into the cave. This couldn’t possibly be the ceremony. This wasn’t
right at all.
My god, where had I ended up? Was I being crushed at the hands of what
the Hetakas called an adversary? Was this odd woman my adversary?
My sadness was excruciating. I was devastated by my own loss and the
overwhelming feelings of self pity for an inadequate life. As I sobbed I
thought I saw two figures through the smoke. I managed to move my head
only slightly. There in the distance were my old horrifying
acquaintances, Death and Destiny and I actually felt a strange comfort
in their presence. At least there was something here that was familiar.
I could hear Destiny singing. It was as haunting and eerie as ever. It
seemed quite beautiful in the midst of my wallow. I loved that Song. I
wanted that Song.