The memories that mean the most to me aren’t the ones of earthly victories, of book contracts, favorable reviews, admiration, love and such; all too often over time those have turned out to be fools’ gold, bright and flashy and worth nothing at all.
There are only a few of the other kind, authentic and immune to time and space, that sustain happiness and sanity.
I have maybe half a dozen of those magical memories in my stash; not much, perhaps, for a long lifetime, but just one of them unlocks every door and dissolves the prison walls that keep us enslaved, blind and deluded: literally priceless.
Put it this way: if you were up hiking, and saw a regular run of the mill average aspen suddenly transmogrify into the eternal Tree of Life, each jingling jade leaf inscribed with runes that melded into horned owls, coyotes, badgers, pumas, porcupines, pygmy desert rattlesnakes, red-eyed raging bears and redtail hawks, with the sun and the moon whirling like dervishes in the topmost branches, and when you got home you found an owl’s barred wingfeather and a porcupine quill in your jacket pocket, would anything be the same again from that moment on?
Or would the memory of it make the world of social popularity, profit and loss, flags, ideologies and gridlock, glory and its twin brother disgrace, the fickle false everyday world, look like the counterfeit way of life that it is?
I remember once, long, long ago, when a relationship that meant everything to me (I thought), suddenly collapsed without warning. I should have seen it coming, and 90 percent of it was my fault, but I was young and blind and at the same time idiotically able to fall in love, lust, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, at the drop of a set of black silk briefs on the floor of the apartment of a girl whose name I still wasn’t sure of….
But that didn’t diminish the existential despair I felt, the kind of depression that physically hurts, a knife in your throat, an icicle corkscrew in your gut, the whole poison enchilada.
I was sitting on the bed of my cabin outside Boulder, praying abjectly for someone, something, to save me, when suddenly a figure appeared in the air in front of me: a potbellied dark glowing figure with a razor-sharp sword in one hand. Without a word, this apparition suddenly sliced with his sword, cutting a thin cord that I suddenly saw was all that connected my deluded, self-pitying head from the rest of my body; my head floated away like a balloon and vanished, poof! and with it all my agony was gone as if it had never existed…and the sword-bearing god had disappeared, too.
A few months later, doing research for my anthropology doctorate, I opened an obscure old book on the Tantric statues in a Buddhist temple in Beijing, small black and white photos of literally hundreds of deities, and there among the regiments of wrathful ones, the squat dark Sumo-esque figures with huge glaring eyes and gnashing teeth, the ones that stomp on ignorance and delusion and beat the snot out of the enemies of the Truth.
It was definitely him, down to the smallest odd detail: For instance, his sword had a double handguard unlike any sword I had ever heard of or seen before.
And a week after that, poking through more eclectic literature, I read an article on Apache petroglyphs. There was a photograph of a figure inscribed on the wall of a cave in a remote part of one of the Apache reservation. It was the exact same being that appeared in the vision and cut off my head, saving my sanity and peace of mind, and the same one portrayed in the statue in Beijing, right down to the strange sword.
The caption stated that according to the local Indians, the image on the cave wall was their most important, most ancient god, the one that accompanied them on their journey to the present-day world. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t imaginary or unreal; in fact, it was quite the opposite, an eternal “person” with the power to be everywhere at the same time, and to rescue troubled souls, vanquish illusions and illuminate the way for age-old tribes on their hazardous journeys through the shadowlands of existence.