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Monday, May 23, 2011

"Light" Chapter 11: The Deepening

For a full list of chapters of Light, click here.

I was running, running through the black night. There were others there too, all running, escaping. I brushed through trees and dense foliage, desperate to get away. Then the trees opened up and I was running exposed across open ground. I knew that they were coming. The lights. I turned, terror possessing me, seeing the giant alien spacecraft closing in. There were blinding flashes of light as deadly laser beams blazed through the night, annihilating all those unlucky enough to feel their fatal power. I slipped, stumbled, fell. There was no time. The lights closed in, and I knew it was the end.

I sat up, startled into waking consciousness. It took me a moment to realise I was still alive, and that the darkness I was staring into was the night of own small room. I sighed, breathing deeply, consciously settling my heart down and taking comfort at the little boxlike enclosure where I had spent the previous two and half years of my life.

My dreams were getting so bizarre that I just knew that I had to start writing them down. I had to try to make sense of all the weird things that were going on. Or maybe it was merely to convince myself that I wasn’t going crazy.

That day I went out and bought a large, hardcover diary, took it back to Edwards Hall, and planted it right at the long desk which extended behind my bed. There I also shifted my desk lamp and a humble pen, so that I could flick it on without getting out of bed. Just the act of moving around was enough to make me lose track of dreams, so I didn’t want to have to jump out of bed and flick on the light right after the dream. Besides, a certain inclination to laziness meant that if I had to actually get up I would probably be tempted to not bother at all and just go back to sleep.

The world was starting to change.  I found myself at times walking along, wherever I happened to be,  just looking at little things. Cars, houses, patterns in footpaths - and finding them fascinating. They drew me in like a child drawn to things an adult wouldn’t take the slightest notice of.

As I walked slowly towards uni that day, I was filled with a sense of lightness that I could barely describe. I considered that the situation with Amanda had somehow changed everything. Maybe I was in love? But considering that this had all started a few weeks before I met her, that didn't explain everything. 

I knew it was not the world that was different. It was me.

I suddenly - and without any good reason - veered to the right of the dirt path, and tramped down into the lightly wooded region behind Edwards Hall. My shoes stomped upon dry leaves, grass and dirt. A small, dry creek bed meandered along there, with eucalypt trees lining either side. I strolled along the creek bed, which basically paralleled the path to uni. Feeling the urge, I sat down behind a large gum tree. The tree stood between me and the dirt path, so no one could see me there. A thin layer of grey-green grass covered the bed, barely nourished by the occasional waters that washed by there on the rare rainy days in that part of the world.

I sat and crossed my legs. Perhaps that was because crossing your legs is what you are supposed to do when you feel something subtle and mysterious building within you, and that was precisely what was happening. Then it started. 

At first it was like a slight excitement, a tiny tingling in the stomach, as if electricity was filling me. Whether that came from within or from without I am not certain, only that it kept building. I closed my eyes, and the feeling immediately surged, expanded until it almost overcame me. The trees and the grasses and the sweet chattering of small birds filled me with an exquisite ecstasy. It was when I started to tremble ever so slightly that the fear of it all overtook me. I opened my eyes, and noticed my heart was racing, my breathing short. I stood up, quiet, upright, not unlike the trees that surrounded me. 

I still felt it, the connection.

There was only one rational response I could think of. I opened my eyes and said “Thank you,” to the trees, the creek bed, the grass and the birds. With those words what I can only describe as a warm light came upon me, and with it there was something that I had never before experienced. Simple joy, without reason. My eyes were open, but I was seeing something that I wasn’t sure was even there. It was as if someone had screwed open a lid on top of my skull and shined a warm light through into my brain. I could see the light all around and above my head as I looked straight ahead at the tree, as if I was standing outside on the clearest night of a brilliant full moon. But then when I actually looked up, there was nothing there. All I could do was keep repeating “Thank you. Thank you.” Don’t ask me why I was saying it. But it was all I knew how to say. It was all I knew.

After a while I found myself looking at my watch and it dawned upon me that it was less than an hour before my Philosophy lecture. I slowly moved back up the bank of the creek bed and onto the path. By the time I got to the uni library, I had only about 45 minutes before my class. Where had the rest of the time gone? I had planned a two hour study session.

I sat down at an empty table, and looked around the huge, silent room. I was still buzzing from the experience at the creek. The shelves of books, which so often seemed to me to be like castles of dry, piled weeds now seemed somehow different. I do not quite know how to describe it, but it was as if they were inviting me to join them. 

I pulled my notes out of my backpack, and placed them silently on the table. Then my hands began to open the nondescript stapled document given to me by the Philosophy Department. It was just a few pages long, detailing questions and references for tutorial topics throughout the semester. I write, “my hands began to open”, because there was an eerie detachment as I fingered through the document, as if the hands I were observing did not belong to me.

My mind came to rest upon the three essay topics. I was required to choose one. As soon as my eyes fell upon the first question, I knew that was the one I would be doing. I did in fact look at the other two, but they felt empty. Soulless. I was simply not meant to do them. I read the first question.

The limits of Western rationalism have never been fully acknowledged, and this explains the crisis in the modern western world.

There was a sense of slight exhilaration. I scanned down the dozen or so references provided. My eyes came to rest upon two of them. I asterisked them, got up and headed for the computer catalog.

Two minutes later I had the books’ call numbers and was walking silently along the towering rows of bookshelves. When I got to the 900s, I stopped. I had no reason to stop, as both the books I was looking for were in another section altogether. But stop I did.

My hand reached out, and I found myself pulling a small volume - a slightly tattered paperback - off the shelf. The cover read: Mysticism and the New Physics. The author was Michael Talbot. I had never heard of either the name or author, but I tucked it under my arm, then proceeded several aisles further along till I got the other two books. I then returned to my table.

I never did make it to my lecture. There was something far more compelling to attend to. I simply had to read Talbot’s book. So it was that I was soon eyeball deep in New Age physics. I don’t think I stopped to breathe, let alone have a toilet break. At some point there was a vibration on my mobile which turned out to be Paul asking me why I wasn’t at the lecture. I just returned “unwell”, then forgot about it.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Michael Talbot wrote of so much that made sense to me. He wrote of a mystical universe where mind and matter were deeply connected, where the mysterious and esoteric were perfectly normal. He linked these to science and to physics in particular. And to a critique of Western science and society. This was perfect.

Suddenly a lot of the things that I was experiencing didn’t seem so weird. Here was someone who was speaking my language. And as I read Talbot’s book, the arguments and references for my own essay started to form in my mind, almost of their own volition. The excitement I’d felt with the Gandhi essay was back, and I just knew that I could do something quite brilliant with the topic. I began to take copious notes on my laptop, and I could barely stop.

After an indeterminate time there was a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around. It was Paul.

“Looks like you made a quick recovery, dude.” He spoke in a bare whisper because we were in the library. He leaned over, close, his green eyes getting just a little too intimate for comfort.

For a moment I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, and had to bring myself back to earth. Then I remembered the sms.

“OK, you got me. It was BS. I just got absorbed in doing this.”

Before I knew it Paul grabbed had Talbot’s book, and was flipping through it.

“Yeah, I know this guy. My mum has this book. I've read bits of it.”

I suddenly felt defensive, as if a very personal part of me had been exposed.

“If you know about it, what do you make of it?”

“Well, having studied a bit of physics here and there, I’d say he makes a great mystic.”

“What does that mean?” I felt a tiny rivulet of anger beginning to form, and it was trickling toward my friend.

“Well, it’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? Arguing that reality is a projection of the mind, that consciousness is somehow an intrinsic part of the stuff of cosmos?”

You had to give it to Paul. He was no idiot.

“Well, it’s all for the end of term essay.”

“They let you cite this?”

“Why not?”

“I dunno.” Paul put the book back on his desk. “Anyway, fat lot of good his mystical worldview did him. Michael Talbot died in his 30s.”

I was shocked, as if the death was a close family member. “How?”

“Leukemia.” A slightly wicked smile crossed his lips. “Seems he didn’t see that one coming.”

I found myself wishing he’d go away, so told him I had to keep working. With that Paul said goodbye and wandered off.

I returned to my notes. But the excitement was gone. The uni library seemed dry and empty, my fingers heavy upon the keyboard. Twenty minutes later I got up and left. I walked back along the track to the Hall, feeling empty.


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