"If you met an ant on some quest to discover the 'truth' you'd laugh. People are no different" Terrence McKenna
The dust speck of light has vanished. Darkness endures. A bitter contrast to the fullness and colour of the Universe I'd inhabited previously.
I’m outside everything that is familiar; the white is now black and they are gone.
There’s just this absolute void. Even that is hard to describe, for in a sense I’m not anywhere. I’m unsure if I’m still a body, or a soul, or a spirit.
With such lack of self-definition perhaps it’s unsurprising, how can there be anything to relate it to? Or perhaps, visa versa is true. Perhaps we need an outside or other reality, in order to reinforce our own sense of self within it. Contrast.
Through whatever consciousness remains, it’s me here, drifting through the void. Alone. And this time my aloneness is bitter, raw, and shocking.
Here, now, in this black frameless chasm, there is nothing. No prisms to splinter light. No world in which to delight. Just the hollowed echo of silence. No glow to bask in. No warmth, over-spilling. Here, can love even penetrate?
I sense something about the nature of human existence. An underlying reason for the innate paradox of life. I’m unable to grasp what exactly, or think of it now. But even clawing at nothing, I knew, it was there. Something… (Perhaps it was just to help me know I was there; the one doing the grasping, who knows).
Either my awareness has increased, or my form (and that of my surroundings) has, but I’m now aware I’m drifting through the void in some sort of capsule. It wasn’t there before, I’m sure of it. Nothing was.
I’m lying horizontally within it and from what I can make out it’s smooth, opaque and shaped like an egg. An elongated body-length egg. Some kind of spacecraft? Or am I dead, and ironically this ‘egg’ really my coffin?!
After some time drifting through nothingness (and here, any time feels like eternity, i.e. too long), I notice something flicker in the darkness. Tiny threads of light begin to appear, bright and vivid green. They quickly grow in length and multiply in number, branding the perpetual darkness in neat parallel vibrating lines.
More lines start to appear, but this time perpendicular to those already present—a glowing crosshatch of laser-like lines forming around me. Some kind of grid… or Matrix? (there are the same colour as in the film of the same name). An underlying form of some kind revealing itself… or being created. I can literally feel the space around me thicken as it gradually becomes more defined.
And once again, to my great relief, I am somewhere.
I come to rest in some place. A room, perhaps. All signs of the green matrix have vanished. It’s very dark.
Still lying encased within the capsule, I can’t see anything too clearly, but I scan my new surroundings for clues as best I can. Thin slithers of pale light fall here and there, enough for me to make out the contours and boundaries that confirm I am indeed in some kind of room.
Not only is it dark, but the room’s surfaces themselves are smooth and black like tourmaline crystal. On one side of the room, an array of tiny pulsing lights hinted at some hidden circuitry and functionality. A series of switches and dials perhaps… a control panel of some kind? Just above it, I notice a monitor.
The screen is black at first, but as I instinctively focus my attention there it flickers to life. Appearing on it are the same vibrant green lines that appeared in the void previously. They move erratically in random waves at first, but then begin to cluster and organise somehow, a pattern emerging. I watch intently. Though never ceasing to shift and oscillate, the green lines draw together to form the flickering frame of a head and shoulders, and at once the impression of another.
This place is the nerve centre of something—a control room of some kind. I know it. (I seem to know a lot of things on this journey, don’t I). And the strange presence now represented on the screen is the one in control, connected not only to the circuitry in the room, but to some greater ‘mainframe’ outside of it; a web of information into which it’s busily plugging away; inputting, calculating, monitoring like some master programmer. Though just an ill-defined outline upon a screen, I sense it represent an enormous power and intelligence. A version of intelligence so far from what I know, the word almost seemed inadequate. And knowing how minuscule my understanding is in comparison, to be at it’s mercy, to respect it utterly, is the only choice I have. Not that ‘I’ could do much, anyway, lying here cocooned as I am. Who am ‘I’ now? Right now I have no idea if or how I exist.
I’m still acutely aware of what I cannot sense or feel. Love or warmth or friendship, for example. I’m merely aware of this immense, but unfeeling intelligence. That, and a gradual, almost imperceptible, becoming of things. A coalescing of matter. Something forming from nothing.
A peculiar and unnerving sensation arises within me. A feeling of… falseness. I myself feel ‘alien’. Like I’m artificial in some way. Mechanised, even. But not in the crude way the technology we know permits. Rather, like I am of am of some alien, or ultra-advanced technology. Yes, I feel more humanoid than human. Or worse still, fully ‘human’ and coming to realise just what that actually means.
It’s obvious now that the flashing dials and displays are very much to do with my presence in the room. Every flicker and on-screen fluctuation somehow linked to the subtle transformation I am now experiencing. It’s unnerving to be in such a cold, artificial, almost clinical setting, at the mercy of such an apparently detached and ill-defined authority. It isn’t good or bad, I suppose (such dualistic thinking was still absent). It performs its task, whatever that is, like a surgeon carrying out another routine operation.
But it’s me here in this room. Oh mercy! Me lying in a capsule that now feels more like an operating table. And I care! Am I the only being in the universe to care (to feel) right now? Am I the only being left in the universe, full stop?! Where did all my friends go, alien or otherwise? I don’t have long to ponder such thoughts, however.
In one electrifying instant my capsule is removed. Like a pressure cooker on boil with it’s lid pried off in one swift steamed-filled instant, the sense of release is phenomenal. I feel a rush of pure ecstasy, and utter relief. Relief to be feeling something again. Something good, at least.
Within the sense of liberation, is a realisation of just how limited and imprisoned I’d been previously. All the while the control panel faintly flickered and flashed.
The activity on the monitor screen intensified. It’s as if the intelligence there—still represented by the oscillating green lines taking on a roughy upper-torso shape—is somehow concentrating more. The pattern has become more frenzied, less defined. The surgeon, at some critical point in the operation? There’s no ‘stress’ or ‘concern’ on it’s part, of course—there’s no emotion, at all—just an increased processing of information.
Next, effortlessly and quite without warning, something more is removed. My mind grapples to comprehend it, but it’s like a drunk shuffling on all fours to get to the car in which expects to pass his scheduled driving test. Some inner invisible shell remaining from my capsule?, my mind manages to ask, dizzy. A space suit? My… body?! Whatever it was (and I suspect it was the later), a by-no-means-insignificant part of me exploded apart in slow motion—neat segments detaching and separating, now drifting away and… disappearing. My mind abruptly falls silent again, neurones drawling, synapses shuddering, defeated by the futility of it’s attempt to understand.
I’m still here. In the same spot I arrived in this room. Whatever left me just now, I still seem to be here. Whether a spirit without a body, coding without a motherboard, a hard-drive without a computer, or program without it’s robot, I’m there. And it’s an incredible, but most peculiar, feeling to suddenly be so very… naked. Brain-fart aside, it actually felt great. Like removing heavy plates of armour after fighting in a long hard won battle. A 100-year battle! Armour that had served me well, but was no longer needed. Not here, at least. Where ever here is. Oh, the relief! It’s like I’ve journeying through a thousand lifetimes, in as many different bodies, and finally come to rest beyond the veil, and only now, am realising just how tired I really am; only now remembering just how far I’ve journeyed. It feels good, to say the least.
I watch the monitor, transfixed by the pulsing presence upon it, hoping for some clue or explanation, perhaps. Or some acknowledgement. A ‘hello’ would do. But no attempt is made to communicate or ‘connect’. Nor is there anything to intuit—my maker remains entirely indifferent. Why do I call him my maker? Well, I sense he’s there for me, or I'm his current focus, at least. And something is happening to me. The void seems less and less, and I seem... more again.
Does it matter 'my maker' isn’t displaying warmth or affection for me? Doesn’t speak to me? Seems not to care one iota? Oh, let me get to the real rub: does it matter my maker seems to be an artificial intelligence?! Whatever it is doing, how can I not be grateful for my new becoming? And the more I peer at that monitor, the more it’s like watching a great artist or master perform with unconscious brilliance. Working with creative power, and absolute precision. How can I not feel reverence, and awe? He, or she, or it—utterly immersed in the task (reprogramming little me), yet paradoxically, detached and indifferent— has returned me from the void.
I’m being recreated in some way. I know that now. Redesigned. Reengineered. From nothing, or something insubstantial, again becoming… someone. I can feel it. And yes, I know it. The room and space around me is also taking on greater and greater form.
I remain unable to communicate. Helpless to do anything but observe. Both witness to my transformation, and increasingly, the experiencer of it.
Then, it happened. A moment that eclipsed all others. Some threshold reached. Programme complete, installed and ready to reboot. Click.
Had I known death? I suddenly wonder. But then all that matters is the feeling of aliveness. Cherishing the gift and miracle and mystery of it.
The relief, of it! It was like I'd been trapped under a frozen lake and finally broken free, lungs filling with sweet summer air, ears with the sound of bird song, sunlight on my skin, ice melting in an instant. As new life courses through my veins and that familiar but never tired of ecstasy returns, I don’t just feel gratitude, I am gratitude. I am the Universe. I am life. I am... love?
I delight in sensing real ‘space’ around me once again. Tangible reality. Even ‘outer space’ now seems so full compared to the void I’d known. And the distance from the Earth and the sun, just a hop and a skip. If its true that the longest journey we ever make is from the head to the heart, had I been shown a short cut?
I’m aware it’s not over yet. I’m not ready. It seems more programming or some such is required. The dials and displays pulse even more intensely. Then, in a flash the dayglow-green latticework reappears, criss-crossing space like when I’d first experienced it drifting in the void-scape. It remains like this for a few moments, then, with sudden and sense-shocking awe, the grid, and everything within it (yes, myself included), takes on a new dimension of form. As if someone had flicked from 2D to 3D on some ultra-modern TV or virtual reality machine. The new definition and realness is so visually spectacular, for a few moments I feel my brain literally strain at the limits of its processing power. A dull throb in my head, quickly passing.
Ever more form, ever more real... I think.
Somehow, I know my trip is over now; I’m ready to return.
Re-entry to Tun’s living room is a roller-coaster of emotion, as thoughts charge my mind and feelings swing between hope and despair. I'm unsure where my feet will finally land.
“I know now…”, I whisper. (But what, I can no longer tell you. More delusions of 'knowledge', perhaps.)
After the initial rush of rebirth, a painful realisation occurs adding a bitter chord to the mainly sweet symphony of sensations. Remembering the sight of electric sensors and displays, the coldness of the room and the numb intelligence that had ‘re-made’ me, I can’t help focusing on how artificial the whole process had been. Such thoughts readily dissolve my ecstasy, and invalidate my new sense of aliveness.
But should I let it?
Life—it's real, isn't it?
What is 'real', anyhow?
What do I know?
Doubts and questions assault my mind. Including the ultimate cliché conundrum: who am I?
Are my questions pointless, or do they matter?
Crushing doubt, confusion and despair take hold.
What thought-form have I unwittingly taken as the ‘truth’ to plunge me down so? I struggle to think.
It’s something to do with awakening to what life really is, or so I imagine. Like in the film The Matrix when Neo sees the true state of mankind—harvested for their energy by robots—for the first time. Though, not like that, of course.
In this moment I feel desperately alone in my... 'realization'. Deserted by everything I thought I knew.
Shaken to the core, I feel like the last child in a classroom of a billion souls to get some joke. Everyone is laughing at me.
An aching sense of loss arises. Then sorrow. Peppered with a sense of betrayal.
Perhaps, it’s just the temblors of a death, I tell myself. The death of some part of my former identity. Or some false idea I’d had about life. And it’s a healthy thing. A death not one to be mourned. But I'm grasping now at any thought that might bring me hope. Or an alternative understanding of things. An antidote to whatever I'd thought to make me feel as I do now.
I need a way point. An anchor. Is this why people turn to their gods?
My god, 'my maker', is now an artificial thing. A false thing. Or so I see it.
But what about the rest of my trip, I then think. Why am I forgetting that? What about the kingdom in the sky?! Or the aliens. Or... the symbol.
Yes, the symbol! My mind focuses in on it like a sail boat captain finally spotting a way-point buoy through thick fog. The symbol after glow is there in my vision again. I have to remember this symbol, I tell myself. I have to decide what it means.
I had to. I'd seemingly already decided what my rebirth in the control room meant.
I blink open my eyes. And I manage a smile. The unfeeling artifical 'intelligence' had made all feeling possible. Feeling that feels very real to me. Perhaps there is some paradox to embrace here. And just because it came at the end of my trip, does it invalidate all that came before it? I flight through space; the alien encouters, the kingdom in the sky and the god-like presence there? Of course not. But I'd let that be the case.
And something to drop: truth and meaning. Life—whatever the source it, whatever the mechanism, whatever it’s purpose—is precious. I focus on this thought. Even if the Universe is just some virtual reality, life somehow mechanical, ourselves just holograms, and love just some chemical, it feels infinitely real.
Perhaps happiness has been made simpler than ever, I think, my smile widdening.
Oh, how I held these fragile final thoughts so very tightly. And redrew the memory of the symbol over and over in my mind. I had too. It felt like it was all I had to stop life and reality coming crashing in around me. ‘After the ecstasy, there is always the laundry’, as the book of the same title says.
As I return to normal waking consciousness (and it is always so hard to return), I hear Jez and Tun mutter something between themselves. It still sounds far off. I gradually open my eyes. Concentrating on my breathing, my heart beating in my chest, the clammy feel of my skin, and the feeling the sofa holding me from beneath, help me to ground after such an out of body experience. The aftershocks of sweet and sour frisson still reverberate through me.
I don’t look at the others, not yet. Instead I look straight ahead, at the curtain and the wall. A wide and genuine smile settles upon my lips. I lift a hand and move it in the space before me. To my delight, a rainforest scene appears, right there, superimposed onto the far wall of the living room. Another sweep of my arm, and I paint the scene alive. Each stroke of my hand and wiggle of my fingers hails new birth—a stream gushing forth through the forest, then four purple birds emerging from the canopy and into the sky, then countless flowers, and other birds. Like a magician waving a wand of creation, I chuckle in delight.
Did you spike the spliff? I didn't ask this. Not till much later. They assure me they didn't. Besides, they'd smoked the one; we'd shared it and they certainly hadn't shot off on any inter galatic, inter-dimensional journies. Instead, I hastily informed Jez and Tun of what had occurred. All but the last opened-eyed painting part that is. That was just for me.
They’d been waiting for an explanation, of course. Their eyes grow steadily wider in amazement and amusement as I recount my outer-body flight through inner-space in as much detail as I can.
“Fuck man, you woz gone less than five minutes,” is Tun's first response after I finish my story ten or twenty minutes later. "Draw it," he says, as he searches on the table besite him for something.
"The symbol, draw it." He hands me a notepad, then a pen.
I take a minute to draw the recurring symbol I’d seen: that potent emblem the alien had drawn with his luminous finger and subsequently the entire Universe had formed. It's not easy though. Nothing I sketch seems to look right. Finally I pass him the notepad back.
Tun looks at it a moment, poker-faced. He then looks at Jez, and at me again, and says, “It looks like a fucking tomato!”
And boy did we laugh at that. His comment seemed just perfect to me. To return me to earth. To help ground me. To remind me not to take any of it seriously. And a tomato - why not?! It’s a sacred and remarkable as any other thing in our remarkable Universe.
It wasn't a tomato, however. I'm sure of that ;)