I asked to see my subterranean self--the ancient one, the essential part that carries the smell of toadstools, the feel of old leather and scratchy wool, and somehow reminds me of things like the antique, green-bound, scarily-illustrated copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales that I read with terrified fascination when I was a child.
One thought, the decision, and there I was, craning my neck to look into the black eyes of the guardians of my underworld. There were two of them--tall, slender, immensely strong. They were colored like the earth, stretched like the stone pillar behind them. I was standing at a branch in an artery, looking down two veins filled with darkness.
I was instantly afraid. The tall beings smirked. "What do you want?"
I knew they knew why I had come here, but there was some kind of protocol to follow. "I want to see this," I said. "I came here to look at this world."
They laughed outright. "Go away. You are a mere novice! You aren't ready for this." They looked knowingly at each other, and threateningly at me. I mustered all the defiance I could. There was some anger mixed in with the papery fear.
"I'm not leaving." I would have crossed my arms, if I found them.
These sentries obviously considered me to be a scathing upstart of the worst kind; still, they seemed to admire my stubbornness, on some level. The one on the left--the elder, by my reckoning--finally gestured toward the right-hand tunnel (with...a spear? Sheesh!). "You think you're ready for this? Fine. Go ahead. We warned you!"
I felt myself moving down into the darkness, followed by mocking laughter. No one told me that this would be so difficult!
I expected monsters, scaly creatures, weird things with sharp teeth. Instead, I found a kind of carnival scene, and a stage illuminated with colored lights. Masked and costumed performers came out to sing, mime, juggle and ride unicycles, by turns and together in a confusing kind of play. All at once, a woman appeared in trashy Burlesque, singing a bawdy tune and doing a drunken kind of dance. I stared in fascination at the roaring approval of the audience. The woman, to my embarrassment, turned her attention to me, included me in her song, tried to beckon me to the stage. I looked into her made-up eyes under their obviously false lashes, and saw desperation, weariness and a certain kind of strength which, for some reason, I was meant to see and acknowledge.
I was horrified by the memory that I had come here to see myself--and was, indeed, in full exaggeration, feathery boa and all.
I continued on my way, stopping at scene after scene featuring the same woman in different guises--some more believable (and forgivable) than others. The plays, the age of the female star and the tragic or comic situations all varied widely. They could be viewed in a glance as morality tales; the point, however, was not to glance, but to really look. What I saw, again and again, was the tackiness of the sets, the highly amateur quality of the painted scenery and the garishness of the lighting...all thrown out in public like a brilliantly cheap distraction...always cloaking a subtle beauty, a knowingness behind the body, a deftness in the movement and story. I always found it. Each time, it was like finding a snowball in hell--an astonishment and sheer gratitude for the saving grace, the real miracle.
It seemed like a long journey; eventually, I found myself standing, once again, before the Earthen Beings. I was tired, not a little depressed, somehow, by what I had witnessed, and edging toward discouragement. One look at my face, and the obnoxious guardians burst into laughter. I was heartily sick of their attitudes.
"Come on, guys, show me some love," I implored (whined!). "This is the hardest thing I've ever done!"
They exchanged a look of disgust, and I was aghast at what I had just said, and the tone I had just used. Quickly, I tried to find a way to save the situation. "Ok," I amended, "then show me how to be a more loving person." There. I waited. Silence, while they stared at me, at my soul.
In the silence, I felt their disapproval, and an odd thing--encouragement.
I wondered why such an intention, put forth in a much more sincere way, was not earning their respect. All at once, there was the rank redundancy of the play, the terribly obvious strings of ego at work--and as it is meant to do upon recognition, the whole thing collapsed in a heap. I stood in complete humility before these guardians of the gates to my own heart. I had nothing to hide, anymore, nothing left at all to present but this. This. Even an apology would have been a colored light.
The elder one nodded, and the other smiled kindly with his whole body. "In order to be more loving," they said, as if explaining how one and one makes two in certain realities, "you must be willing to accept love."
Pure love, they intoned as their now-spearless hands brought me back to a surface. This love. You, Love.