Remember that everything is always a reflection. What needs are you rejecting yourself? Consistency in self-care and self-love inevitably leads to a world-view mirror of unconditional love and reciprocation… and you’ll be able to recognize -or find- your mirror in others of radiant beauty. Be able and willing to bend without breaking, yet always remember your roots.
My sense of time had been seriously distorted that week due to sleeping in a dark room and being an opener at a coffee shop at 4am, while also subconsciously aware mold must have been seeping through the walls of that apartment and into my sinuses. I was barely breathing, in a state of minimum consciousness when my alarm screeched unpleasantly, piercing my eardrums. I didn’t open my eyes. I was nauseous and dizzy, better prepared for death than I was a road trip to Utah.
The voice telling me this would be an instant life-changing trip was the only thing propelling me to roll out of bed two minutes after I was supposed to arrive at Emery’s house to depart to Utah. A painful rush of cold blood flooded my head as I did so, but I miraculously found myself capable of throwing my five luggage items into my car, throwing clothes on my body, and driving a mile and a half all within ten minutes.
I was headed there with my class of Fort Collins herbalists to visit House of Aromatics, a essential oil distiller lab. The concept of distilling essential oils from scratch intrigued me, but Utah was the last place I planned on travelling to within my lifespan. My imagination could never quite grasp what it would feel like to be there—to drive through flat-topped sandstone hills with red dirt mountains sprouting bushy bundles of Artemisia.
The descent winding down the western Colorado-Utah border was overcome with traffic but surrounded by beautiful scenery, including majestic mountains and equally mystical ghost towns blanketed with fog. Despite the beauty, two hours of riding in the backseat made me so cold and nauseated I could have passed out. Fortunately, I was in a car full of intuitive herbalists—one of which happened to possess a homemade ginger tincture. After consuming a few drops of that, stopping for coffee, and walking briskly through the cool, mountain morning air of Georgetown, Colorado; I witnessed the healing powers of nature already reviving my health and my spirit. We were walking along a full river in search of a coffee shop, which I spotted just in time.
I savored the taste of comfort; a sweet, warm soy latte while walking back along the river lined with vivid green grass and medicinal plants that our Mother Herbalist pointed out to us. That crisp, cold and rainy air flowed through my veins, allowing me to breathe a little more clearly. Our next stop was also by a river that I walked downhill towards… and my soul shouted for joy at the view of yet another element I clearly didn’t visualize enough: water. Water, earth, fire, wood, air. It occurred to me indirectly along this journey that I hadn’t been surrounding myself with the essential life elements, so it was no wonder I was experiencing so many ailments such as respiratory issues, fatigue, and infections.
Now nearing our destination as we wound up the mountain, I was feeling the most enlivened of the entire group. I was transfixed by the pink reflection of the setting sun illuminating the valley with cirrostratus clouds overhead, casting contrasts of pink and indigo upon the plateaus. I had never seen a more expansive sky than this one. The expansiveness allowed me to breathe in the atmosphere, appreciating the journey. I almost choked on my water when I suddenly spotted a formation of white sandstones perfectly shaped like a guitar, right there on the hill! It was a large formation, obviously natural. I shouted at the other passengers my revelation, but we’d already passed the hill and they’d been oblivious.
Though this caused me to double-take on dreams versus reality, I knew I was not mistaken. Guitars were engraved in these hills, playing music to the sky and the valley. I felt instantly at home. The trees were smiling at me.
We were there for the Wood and the Earth, but I was astounded to recognize that the wood and the earth were there for us, before anything. The entire time, we wore the scent of the trees upon our skin in the form of hydrosols derived from piñon pine’s essential oil. This way, we absorbed that aroma both internally and externally while emitting Piñon’s scent from our own pores so that we could better connect with all of nature. Especially the trees. After collecting pines from the forest, walking barefoot, and sniffing flowers, we stuffed the pines into a large barrel that would sit, generating heat, for days.
I believe it was the trees, out of all elements, which transmitted a wonderful idea to my soul whilst I was amongst them. They made me believe that all of my aspirations are beautiful and magical, surely possible to achieve. Don’t give up, they said. Everything is always okay. Nothing is a mistake; only part of the plan. They shed light upon the fact that not only had I been so out of touch with the elements- I was out of touch with the entire Universal cycle and it was making me crazy and forgetful and depressed. But spending time with a multitude of trees twenty-five times older than myself rooted some ancient wisdom within me. One being: we are part of them. We are part of a living, breathing organism and our personal health influences the entire body of the ecosystem.
Another forgotten “element” I rapidly remembered along this trip was space. Is it an element, or all the elements? Our existence is something else compared to space—something quite small and seemingly irrelevant to the entirety of the Universe and beyond… yet somehow, each one of Us is actually composed of all the elements that our Universe is composed of. Though we’re merely “atoms in the hind leg of a dog on some foreign galaxy”, according to Eryl, we are also God to one of our living cells.
So it’s no wonder the six of us found ourselves laughing nonstop in the oil distiller’s kitchen for four hours that night while everyone else sat outside drumming around the fire and searching for the spiritual truth. The spiritual truth sometimes means nothing more than laughter—the kind of laughter that is so relentless it hurts. The kind of laughter that ignites smiles to every one of the cells forming your body—all the atoms spinning around at the speed of light, holding you together in one piece. The kind of laughter that causes you to gasp for oxygen because your muscles are uncontrollable in the moment. The kind which causes you such shortness of breath you don’t take heed the very real possibility of death, because the overwhelming load of serotonin rushing to your brain makes you forget everything. It makes sense that laughter creates a higher vibration when your entire organ system vibrates with the untamable action.
Sometimes, stillness and silence may also lead to the most serendipitous moments. While I was lost in silent wonder, staring up at the sand hills basking in the golden evening sun, I met Jackie from Florida and Nora from Switzerland outside of a barn party in the small town of Boulder, Utah (population 150). How either of them ended up at this particular barn party was a mystery to me, until I wandered inside the barn and was confronted with the most passionate, lively energy I’d experienced… ever. A marble dancing stage sat at the south entrance, and hanging lights of all colors lighted the north stage. The sound coming from the stage was one that would instantly bring to life even the most lethargic of souls, such as myself at the time. I came to life, fully, as I became one with all the other colorful dancing spirits from all over the world in this middle-of-nowhere-Ute barn.
I danced with the crazy locals to a cover of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy”. My body flowed with the rhythm, inspired by the reckless, carefree dance moves of everybody in the front crowd including my Mother Herbalist and the owner of the field on which we were camping. Absorbed in the band’s sound, I was astonished when the reckless, dancing local woman with whom I was barely acquainted suddenly turned around to face me and placed her palms on mine, hands still in midair.
“You know what’s crazy?” she looked gravely into my eyes, staring straight into my soul. If I hadn’t learned anything about magic and synchronicity within that past year, I would have merely thought she was drunk. She was, but I knew she had turned towards me, specifically, to make an significant point worthy of permanent remembrance. “The world we live in, where we’re so afraid of being what we really are.” I agreed that it is a crazy world. “But now is the time to break through society and just be our crazy selves. Right? Just let go of everything. Be free. That’s what we really need in our world.” The guitarist kept rocking a riff while repeating “Crazy… crazy… crazy…” and the crowd roared under a hundred multi-colored lights. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to just be you.” The woman with brown eyes squeezed my hands before letting go, then turned back around to dance facing the performers.
I lost myself in the music as the song transitioned into “Moonage Daydream” and two free-spirited young girls reenacted a 1980s David Bowie rage. I allowed my entire body to move freely, synchronized with the rest of the audience who felt as much. I let go of everything and just felt. (I did not get up on stage with the girls and rage.)
The sky was densely lit with mysteries clearly visible in the open field throughout those nights: beaming stars, galaxies, and the Milky Way. The sky was also looking at us during those Central Utah nights while we made music by the fire, danced carelessly in a barn, made friends from across the world, drank wine, and gossiped about the stars. The galaxies would undoubtedly remember us, the Herbalists, simply trying to shed light upon other living beings united in our system as a whole. And I believe it was a success, especially there in a land where we, the plants and the plant-lovers, could view what was happening up there on a tangible level.
On the last day, we gathered in a circle around the barrel of pines and lifted the cover off the top. A multitude of three whole trees– or more– had created a mere five ounces of essential oil. Steam emanated from the barrel and into my sinuses; it was lovely and sweet, but also powerful and healing. It was as though a blast of clarity hit me directly in the face. I could breathe. My heart was open. No one said a word; we were all suddenly still. Tears were shed around the circle. We had co-created this substance with the Earth, asking her permission, and now she was thanking us. This steam carried more with it than its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, and anti-viral properties… it carried the Spirit of Piñon Pine.
We gave the remains of Piñon Pine back to the Earth. I was feeling light, like weight had been lifted from my heart and mind. The golden sun paved the road home, shining past our sunglasses, igniting some kind of hidden light within our souls that evaporated any doubtful parts of us, replacing those parts with hope and wonder. I took with tools of healing and wholeness derived from a variety of sources, silently thanking each source.I experienced a newfound appreciation of the layered sandstone canyon walls surrounding us, and mountains freckled with sparse bright green trees contrasting with vividly red dirt.We drove under tunnels holding our breaths, and I was reminded of the ancient concept of emerging from underground caves with a new perspective of life. We emerged from the tunnels every time in bursts of laughter.
Watch how the trees extend their arms up to the sky and spread their fingers, embracing every ounce of liberty and sunshine. Not only do they embrace the sunshine as it descends against a backdrop of bright colors; they embrace the sky through its storms, forever forgiving of its ability to tear off their clothes, leaving them naked for the winter and all through spring.
Even when the sky’s cold breath forces the birds to flutter out of the trees’ arms and off into the great horizon, their arms remain open and welcoming. Sometimes they grasp the hands of other trees, consoling one another as they watch each resident depart. Yet they loyally hold the lifeless nests tightly to their chests, yearning for the birds to return someday to the homes they had made.
They mourn for months until the sun is finally stable enough to clothe them with only the finest greens nature has to offer, still with outstretched arms throughout their states of loneliness. They hope the birds will return to witness their newfound beauty—and they do. The birds always return, singing songs of celebration as they flock to the trees, embracing them with gratefulness for keeping their homes just as they’d left them.
No matter the time of day, the sky always darkens whenever I near this place, with my foot jammed against the gas pedal of my poor car that’s always hesitant to go over those jaundiced hills, fearing what will be on the other side.
My car knows by now, and so do I. It can feel the magnetic force too; we’d both rather stop running against the wind and allow that force to pull us back to where we belong (or at least somewhere closer to that place). But there’s no turning back for either of us as we descend down the treacherously steep and winding road into a frozen abyss, where we become instantly fossilized within the most recent layer of ice.
Ever since I first saw this place over a decade ago, it was clear to me that I would never belong here. So I’m not quite sure why I’m here now, and I’m not quite sure how to escape. Sure, I can wait for the tiniest glint of sunlight to shine on the area of ice inside which I lie, frozen… but I’d like to believe that some great and powerful being might come along and chisel away until I am set free.
Maybe I could tell the snow-capped mountains to channel the Sleeping Giant that sleeps along the border of Kauai, and if they succeeded, the Giant would awaken from his warm and peaceful slumber to stand atop his feet for the first time in centuries. He would bend down and reach his arms across the Pacific, break the ice with one blow of his fist, and scoop me up in my shivering state, gently placing me amongst the vibrant palm trees at his feet.
I would thank the Giant kindly and let him resume his comfortable sleeping position. I would sprint to the ocean to swim, at last, in free-flowing water with fish that have also been resurrected from their fossilized states. There, we would continuously jump in and out of the glistening waves, celebrating what it feels like to be unfrozen and unrestricted by any gravitational forces. We would cherish the glory of the sunshine upon our skin and scales, eternally glistening as we leapt for joy.
The ghosts that haunted that place had perhaps moved on, no longer caring for it.
We would have never suspected that such a magnificent, magical place could have such a short life. It is now like an endangered language; technically still in existence, but only kept alive artificially, mostly by those who don’t understand it. No one will ever understand that place like we did.
And it will never be the same. We lament over this fact, because where will we go when it’s snowing and we need someone to talk to, someone to make us free warm beverages, someplace to find comfort in four-hour-long conversations that will forever change our lives?
We understand that everything has to evolve. We understand that the world has evolved over millions years, from vast landscapes and undisturbed scenery to a mass of skyscrapers and chaos because of the people who took it over. Everything has a life, and everything must die.
But why did such a small place in the world have to evolve so quickly, banishing everyone who made it what it once was?
Then again, we were the ones who abandoned it. But we had intentions of coming back. And it had already been quickly evolving before we left, becoming more endangered with every passing hour– we couldn’t have possibly saved it. It was losing magic that could not be easily restored, and certainly not with inhibiting forces gravitating against us.
Where did our ghosts go?
I have thirty three different versions of my life, either concealed within my mind or written down plainly on paper in notebooks scattered in places I wouldn’t dream of searching for. These thoughts or words contain my fate— they hold the abstract mysteries of my future.
like falling in love with a man whose voice happens to harmonize perfectly with mine. Playing gigs with him in mountain towns that snow in June. Owning an art gallery/ music store/ coffee shop in a tourist town, and sitting on the counter with my guitar on slow days. Kayaking across the lake, absorbing sun on the weekends.
like living in New York, strolling the streets of Manhattan on a foggy morning amongst people of such great diversity. Dressed in street-style clothes, confident, coffee in hand, smiling at everyone. Being a dedicated member of a symphony, finding consolation under those warm lights on stage surrounded by warm, harmonizing sounds, becoming one with the orchestra and my violin.
…liiving in a yellow cottage surrounded by wildflowers next to a stream, alone. No sounds but the singing of the birds who harmonize beautifully, naturally… I would fit in so well with them. I would sing along with them, and when my voice became hoarse, I would be silent and listen to their stories of living above the ground for days. I would devour book after book until my ten-year-old pile of used books was finally gone and I would have to take my bike out to town to buy more.
like returning to my hometown after two years of ethnographic study in Africa, my skin dark and warm from the intense sun; absolute bliss. Wearing garments I received as gifts there— a long, print dress, beaded necklaces, braided hair. Having a thin and muscular frame, resulting from complete enculturation. Then experiencing the beauty of being welcomed back into my native culture again, feeling united with the world.
I admire those people who walk into a coffee shop late in the cold night just because their souls are attracted to the sound coming from within… Then they just stand there in the back wrapped up in their trench coats and I can’t help but unconsciously stare at them the entire time I’m singing on stage because they’re so mysterious and beautiful. They stare back at me, not knowing I am paying attention to them. Foreigners, almost— though now I am a foreigner to my own city. I fear leaving it, but on the other hand I want to travel. The city of magical mysteries and skepticism is difficult to resist for some, difficult for others to stay in.
We’re all connected here; that’s what draws them from the street and into the dimly lit café to warm their hands and heart and soul… Because of another person’s creativity. Including mine.
Some people doubt that I have the capability to do anything morally wrong, ever.
Those people are mistaken.
I am a thief.
Ever since the day I realized I could possess something belonging to another, I have been stealing on a daily basis. The things I steal are more valuable than any jewel, any car, or any amount of money—because they belong to someone. Not economically, not materially, but physically. I covet specific features of a person; things that one would assume can only be a biological aspect. This theory is a myth, and I have proven it wrong through many years of hypothesizing and experimenting.
It’s an uncontrollable urge.
Whenever I pass people, I like to make eye contact. This is an innocent action. But then, suddenly, their lips will curve upward and sometimes—even more suddenly—their teeth will be exposed and my own lips are forced into an equivalent shape.
For most, this common gesture is referred to as “exchanging smiles”. But for me, this is not the case. Even after “exchanging” the briefest smile with a stranger, that smile latches on to me and it happens so quickly that I am not able to return it. Later in the day, I will often find myself wearing that same smile in place of my own.
One might say that smiles are contagious. I think so too, but I don’t think others quite understand how this phrase could be translated in other languages (or perhaps in some very abstract minds).
The way someone smiles—quickly, timidly, vividly, etc.—can be contagious. If I see someone smile in a certain way, maybe in an unusual or out-of-the-ordinary way, I catch that person’s smile. I capture it and keep it captive as my own, because there is a chance that I may never be able to catch that smile again, and any mastered thief knows that no time can be wasted in the process.
The methodology of stealing smiles has evolved over time. Today, some thieves prefer cameras to steal smiles. Because of this contemporary method, nearly everyone who has traveled to densely populated areas has had their smile stolen. I, however, prefer the traditional method, because the naked eye and a memory can capture smiles (1) more quickly than a camera and (2) without the subject ever knowing.
I consider myself among the highest rankings of thieves, because the treasured items that common thieves accumulate will eventually lose their value. Smiles, on the other hand, never will.
(Written on December 10, 2012)
The lone dimmed chandelier shone in the coffee shop with wooden floors and wooden walls. Two centuries old, maybe more, maybe less. Music radiated from a male figure with a guitar in his lap from the stage, and a drunkard sat on the stage with one leg crossed over the other, recalling to us from the pit of his heart stories about the ocean and Gina’s backyard and his dark days. Everyone in the cafe wore coats and hats. Hand shakes were exchanged, some smelling of alcohol and others of espresso. We spoke of stealing sweatshirts and “waiting for the storm to pass” as we closed the shop; the smiles and laughter had created a warm atmosphere within a small shop in a cold-hearted downtown.
(Written in February 2013)
How else do you say it without laughing?
She wore clothes typical of an average American woman her age. Nothing elaborate, usually dull– although her wardrobe was overflowing with colorful garments from overseas. Her closet was filled with the aromas of India, Kenya, Turkey, Italy, Australia, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Spain. Mainly Spain. That’s where her heart was, truly. Despite the tears shed there, love lost, and days of feeling helpless, Spain was the only place she felt at home.
It was where she met people who exist now only in her memory, but those people made her feel things she couldn’t feel here. Not in this sad city.
She’d married an Indianan man– not Indian– and bore children of her own who were very typical of the American culture and were very into the whole “I’m better than anyone else, and if I’m not I’m going to make myself better by buying things” philosophy.
She wasn’t, but she played the part well. Deep within her soul, she yearned for the salty scent of the sea, the sun caressing her weary face, and the bright smiles of strangers that used to make her day. In her mind she was content. Not physically, no. But if she could outweigh thoughts of clear blue seas and skies and warm smiles over the gray sky, dead grass, and tired faces surrounding her, she would be happy the rest of her life.