The Goddess, Osama, and the Cosmic Christ
Episode 4 of Must Not Sleep, a novel which takes place in shamanic space, a realm of shapeshifting and trance. Check out episodes 1, 2 and 3. A free download of Michael Brownstein reading from the novel is available on Podiobooks.com.
Then I heard footsteps in the hall outside.
The door to the apartment opened and Georgia's voice called out, "Isaac? Is that you?"
"What a kick in the head," I murmured as she came into the living room and reached out to embrace me.
"I can't see anything," she said, turning on the floor lamp beside me. She was wearing an old sweater and beat-up jeans. I noticed her parched lips and the dark rings under her eyes.
"Where were you?"
"When I woke up it was like late afternoon and you were gone. When you didn't come back I went out to look for you. Where were you?"
I pointed at the table.
"Oh, they're gorgeous! But they're crushed or something. Did you drop them?"
She became aware of the silence in the room. "Are you all right?"
"I don't know."
I couldn't bring myself to mention what I'd read in the Times. Instead I stood up and took her in my arms. As we started to kiss I suddenly realized who she'd been with earlier. My head bursting, I fell back onto the sofa and said, "I saw you leave the building earlier in the company of that man."
"What man? I went out looking for you, Isaac, I already told you. I was alone."
She stepped back and picked up one of the roses, raising it to her face.
"It smells wonderful."
"Osama. You were with Osama." In spite of myself, my voice became leaden and anxious. "His beard was gone and he had closely cropped hair, he was wearing a business suit, but I know it was him. Those eyes."
"Those eyes, Georgia. You remember Osama's eyes, don't you? Sensitive and insane at the same time?"
Dropping the rose, she said, "You can't be serious."
When I said nothing more, she exploded, "But you are serious!"
She threw back her head and laughed.
"What's going on, Isaac?"
"What's going on is that I went down to buy us roses and on impulse I bought the Times too. I should never have gone near a newspaper, especially after our time together last night, they're always full of darkness. But I did buy it and there was something so outrageous in it that I had to show it to you. I had to find out what was happening to me. Because, you see, not only was it the heaviest possible news, but--how can I explain this?--the article changed the second time I read it. It turned into a different one when I looked at the same page again. So I hurried back here. And I saw you coming out of your building dressed in a red skirt and heels, completely in thrall to this creepy madman who--well, like who knows how much he had to do with 9/11 after all? Maybe our budding homegrown police state owes its existence to the most monstrous, calculated--"
I choked on my words. Then I spat out, "Goddamn it, you think I like this? I was ready to spend the rest of my life playing on the beach with you!"
Standing up, I gingerly opened the wet newspaper to the front page and pointed at the upper right-hand corner.
"You want to know what's going on? Here's what's going on. Read it for yourself."
Upset by now, she had edged away from me while I was talking, but reflexively she looked down at the headline.
"Isaac," she whispered. "Guess what? I can't make out what this article is saying."
She caught my eye and gave me a little smile. A chill went up my spine. For a moment I felt so high again, like on the previous evening when I'd been in the presence of the Goddess.
"This terribly important article of yours, Isaac, do you understand? I can't make it out. Whatever it says. The words are all smeared together. You must have dropped it in a puddle."
She took a deep breath. I could see her deliberating. Then she touched my forearm, guiding it until I lowered the paper to the table.
"But didn't we learn something together yesterday," she said soothingly, "something revolutionary? Didn't we learn that it can't possibly matter what's in that newspaper? Because whatever you're reading, whatever you're seeing, whatever you're experiencing, all of it only gets seen or read or experienced by whoever's receptive to it. Your mind completes a circuit, the news doesn't exist on its own. Osama and Butch and all those lost, unfortunate souls don't exist in isolation, they're feeding off one another, reinforcing one another's vision, bouncing back and forth in hell. What we see is what we get, Isaac, you said so yourself. Belief creates experience, remember? Our own joy or fear reflected back at us creates our world. We need to be gentle with ourselves. We need to have compassion for ourselves."
She was looking at me with such tenderness I wanted to cry but instead I found myself saying, "I know we were in heaven last night. But I also know," and my jaw jutted forward stubbornly, "that I saw what I saw. I read what I read. What's taking place in the world is real. This newspaper is real. Open it."
"Isaac, this is Jekyll and Hyde. Who you are now as opposed to who you were yesterday. Why can't you let go of your anger?"
"Read it!" I yelled, pulling apart the soggy pages and pointing at the lead article. Instead of losing her temper, she smiled.
"OK, if that's what you want. If that's what you need."
She glanced at the Times and a deliberate, singsong voice filled the room as if she were reading a fairy tale. As if she were reading me to sleep.
"Once upon a time there was a very bad man named Butch. He huffed and he puffed, trying his hardest to be cynical and corrupt, all somehow in the service of Jesus. But actually he was unaware of how much he hurt other people, and nothing that anybody did could wake him from his cruel, destructive dream..."
"Oh, come on, Georgia." I felt my face get hot. "Please don't condescend to me. Something really terrible is happening."
Again, that impressive opening into patience, tender-hearted and serene. The vast patience of the Goddess. She looked at me with a fresh curiosity, as if noticing something for the first time.
"All right, Isaac."
Picking up the paper, she said matter-of-factly, "Here's your headline, then: MUST NOT SLEEP, MUST WARN OTHERS."
The terror I felt at that moment was indescribable. I'd never told her about my evenings the previous autumn spray-painting those words around the city. I'd never told anyone.
I stared into her eyes. Luminous and empty, they pulled me into a light-filled expanse as intense as a starburst.
Early the next morning I awoke and sat up in bed, anxiety eating away at my gut. Try as I might, all I could remember from the day before were the headlines about 9/11 in the Times. And rushing back to the apartment to show them to Georgia. Somehow she had calmed me down, cleared me out. But what else? I knew there was more but when I tried to focus on it I got nowhere.
Had I been overtaken by demons? A demonic irruption fueled by my own rage?
You'll never figure it out in a thousand years, a voice inside me said. By definition the mystery is bigger than you. Surrender to it.
I looked at the woman sleeping peacefully beside me, a gentle smile on her face.
She has no idea who she is when the Goddess comes calling. It's like a visitation from the beyond. And me too. I don't know who I am under the surface. We're both half-formed, provisional, distracted. How can we learn to claim our power?
I got out of bed and went into the living room. On the table was the Times and beside it the shrunken pile of creamy roses. Hesitating for a moment, I picked up the paper and glanced at the front page:
PRESIDENT HEARS "VOICE OF GOD"
ORDERING HIM TO INVADE IRAQ
Rolling the newspaper into a ball, I opened one of the windows and threw it as far as I could. It fell into the street. Soon a car ran over it, then another.
I walked into the bathroom and stared into the mirror over the sink.
Who am I?
On impulse I called out, "Spirits of the universe, please help me. I've been waylayed, tripped up by demons. Power and clarity have been sucked out of me. I've lost touch with my dream."
I stood there barefoot on the cold white tiles watching my anxiety bounce back at me until suddenly everything shifted. My face in the mirror flipped into a bald eagle's face, winter-white, with blazing yellow eyes and a yellow beak. From somewhere came the sound of drumming, brisk, steady, vital.
The eagle stared at me, utterly present and impersonal. Soundlessly, mind to mind, he said, "You're about to embark on the most important journey of your life. Don't force it into some indigenous pattern. You're not an American Indian. Your soul comes from your own deep tribal past...Semite, maybe...For you to figure out...But remember that the way to the power animals and spirits exists for everyone. Shamanic ability has been hard-wired into humans for hundreds of thousands of years. And your connection to me is also ancient. I'm not some national symbol thought up by murderous white men to paper over their guilt."
As I looked on, the space inside the mirror opened into something much larger. The eagle spread his huge dark wings and lifted off into the sky.
At that moment I was no longer simply observing. The mirror turned inside out and dropped away. Now I was riding the bald eagle's back between those powerful wings, which slowly and steadily took us deep into the sky. Flying high above landscapes and cities I saw animals and people and entities far below. I saw the thoughts inside their heads, their hopes and fears.
We flew higher and higher, leaving the Earth behind, entering a vast space which felt internal and non-referential. I began to panic. How would I ever find my way home in this trackless immensity? As eagle continued I fought off my fear, trusting in his resolute forward motion.
Eventually a kind of plateau appeared, a flat expanse on which we landed. I alighted from his shoulders and immediately encountered a magical being of some sort. A slender figure with an enormous sun face which radiated blazing golden light in all directions, illuminating the plateau on which we stood, illuminating the entire universe. Wild and lawless, he told me that he didn't favor anyone or anything but spread his love impartially, without hesitation.
"I AM the Cosmic Christ," he declared, smiling brazenly. "I lead by example."
"Never leave me," I said, but he only laughed, his glance nailing me with its perfect, shining equanimity.
We embraced and I felt his light burning into my heart. It surged through my body, pulsating and resonating, dividing into two beams which poured out of my eyes, their liquid crystal brilliance so intense I almost lost consciousness. This light was my essence, the immortal part of me. I swore I'd never let it get away from me again.
"I AM the Cosmic Christ," I announced as I climbed onto the eagle's dark brown shoulders, my newfound soul blazing inside me. Fearless and invincible, we returned to this world.
What a kick in the head. Because even as a kid growing up I had a soft spot for Jesus. Which of course was a big no-no. Epic fights with Abe and Sarah whenever I let slip my fascination, whenever I said, "But Jesus was a Jew too, wasn't he?" And now look at me.
Once more I was standing in Georgia's bathroom. I looked into the mirror. The eagle was gone.
When I returned to the bedroom Georgia was
immediately made love. Finally, exhausted, our bodies shining and pliant, we hazarded a peek into each other's eyes.
"It's like one whole day's been lost," she murmured. "I feel totally drained. Look at me, I'm shaking like a puppy in the rain. Where's the vision we had together? Why is the light so far away?"
Shivering, she began to cry.
"What's a puppy?"
She didn't reply.
"Victim. Because she believes some story about herself, a story planted inside her head long ago. You'll keep losing touch with your power until you clear away your fear."
"Isaac," she said impatiently, "I'm like really, really hungry, you know? I don't have time now for analysis. I didn't eat anything yesterday. And before that, up all night getting fried by that drug. No wonder I'm coming apart."
"Now that you mention it, I'm hungry too. In fact, I'm starving."
I ran into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Nothing besides a container of vanilla yogurt and some vegetable soup in a metal pot. Then I saw the chocolate bar. Devouring it while the soup heated on the stove, I rummaged through the cabinets above the sink and came away with a jar of almond butter and a few rice cakes.
Before carrying our makeshift meal into the bedroom I scooped up the wilted roses and stuffed them into the garbage under the sink.
Goodbye to all that.
We ate in silence, the hot soup comforting us as we listened to an icy wind fight its way through the bedroom window. January in New York.
From the apartment below came the sounds of daytime television, muffled but relentless.
Some woeful urban depressive, no doubt. Glued to the screen as a substitute for living.
"I've always hated that sound," I said. "Can you imagine being cooped up down there watching the tube, day after day? What a nightmare. How about a vacation, Georgia? Let's go lie on a beach somewhere."
"I'd love that."
I looked away, the anxiety resurfacing in my gut as I said, "Me too. But first about last night."
"Last night? What about last night? I don't remember a thing except--"
"Except that when I opened the door to the apartment and saw you sitting there alone I knew you were feeling down and I wanted so much to help you. But beyond that, nothing. Until we woke up this morning."
She began shivering again and drew the blanket around her. I lay down and we embraced.
"I can't seem to lose this chill, even with you holding me."
Sharpen your intention like a knife, a voice said. Don't think. Use your intention while it's sharp.
I jumped to my feet, brought my hands together and bowed in what I took to be the four directions. Opening my arms, I called out, "Spirits of the universe, I call on you. Remove this cold from our bodies. Let your warmth penetrate us. Bring the sun into our hearts..."
Georgia pressed her lips together in an effort to keep from laughing. Then she lost it, giggling helplessly. The next moment we were wrestling on the bed, tickling each other and roaring with laughter.
"Oh, great shaman," she implored soulfully, sticking her tongue in my ear, "let me be your apprentice. Let me follow in your footsteps as we walk the ancient path."
"Wow, I guess I have to find another way to phrase that. It sounded kind of hokey, right?"
"Oh no, honey, not at all. You'll get the hang of it. You just need to practice."
Irritated, I said, "Making fun of the spirit realm, that sure doesn't sound like the Goddess talking."
"What Goddess? I'm just your average American girl. The one next door, around the corner, down the block."
"Right. The one with the riveting stare. The one who trembles uncontrollably when she reaches for the stars. The one who doesn't care if she lives or dies."
"OK, I admit it, I miss her. Where is she, Isaac?"
"I told you, sweetheart. She retreated behind your fear."
As Georgia threw off the blanket and got dressed I noticed perspiration on her forehead. Her cheeks were red.
"Do you still feel cold?"
"No, in fact I'm burning up."
We eyed each other.
She couldn't suppress the skepticism in her voice. "You mean the spirits were listening to your plea and made me warm?"
"Why look a gift horse in the mouth? But think about it. I cover you with a blanket, I feed you hot soup and hug you and nothing's working. We're feeling stuck, drowning in the noise of that godawful television downstairs. Then the next minute we're rolling on the bed laughing till there's tears in our eyes and your face is red. Maybe the spirits want us to lighten up. So what if you can't remember what happened last night? I can't remember either. That's probably a good thing. You said you wanted to get rid of all your shit, didn't you?"
She sighed and drew me into her arms. We lay silently for a while until she whispered, "Listen, Isaac...The television's gone."
Image by Textile Fetish, used courtesy of a Creative Commons license.