Souls are places; I’ve always thought about this. A soul can be explored like a place and felt like a place. A soul can be retreated to like a place and intruded upon like a place. A soul can be fragile or strong depending what it is weathering and what it is built upon, just as a place.
I’ve always found my soul to be a castle, the interior of which is an endless library. The castle is high on a rock overlooking a vast sea. Outside it is always night. Too much light would ruin the volumes and volumes packing every available space inside. Books which contain my memories, my knowledge, my ideas. They stretch out into every room of the labyrinthine castle, up into towers and deep into basements. The castle is sturdy. It has to be. The sea brings many storms.
Here in this forever night, it is quiet and still. Here I can be reflective and private, contemplative and questing without noise and distracting light^.
My light is that of bright, but flickering candles and shimmering silver stars.
The library inside the castle is curated by tiny creatures who store away my knowledge and thoughts in volumes of clothbound* books. Everything is lit with a glowing candlelight, warm and comforting.
The highest tower has a glass ceiling where the galaxy of stars can be seen in all their majesty. I keep the door locked. Only I am privy to this place. This is where I seek inner peace and solitude. This is where I recharge. There is a hearth here, and comfortable seats of all kinds. Upon the hearth are the moving images** of those few beings who have touched my soul. The fire is not a fire. Instead, there is a resonating glow, a pure unearthly and unbound light, warming and healing. This is where my soul touches something bigger, something I do not fully understand, but have always felt connected to. The light in the hearth is where my soul touches the Universe***.
The books in this space pertain to my morals, fears, hopes, and truths. They are always expanding. There is also a chest where my deepest secrets are kept. The key is around my neck. It cannot be removed even by me. I have opened the chest for only a few. I have emptied it for none. There will always be a secret in the chest.
There’s a children’s wing filled with toys I loved, imaginary friends who once danced through my life. There is a tree with gold leaves. The books kept here are those that ignited my imagination as a child. Characters come and play here reciting old poems and favourite passages from long lost memories. A shabby treehouse sits between the branches. I know there was a light in there at one point, but it sits dark now. I’m too big to get up the ladder. The child that plays here doesn’t ever go there. Someone sits up there though; sometimes dripping can be heard.
Recently a new wing opened to me. It’s been opened a couple of times before and closed again. I like it here now. Everything is different than what I ever remember it being here before. This place is warm and smells faintly of the sea. There is passion here for many things, for life and love and work and happiness. A man sits here, smiling. He is surrounded by books about sports and sailing, about battles won and lost, and odd snippets of information pertaining to many subjects. This room radiates love. Honest love. Devoted love. Intelligent and respectful love. Though the outer world is always night, here there window which lets sunlight in. Here I can say anything. Even the ugliest shameful parts of me are accepted. Here who I am is always enough.
There are many monsters which roam the library of my soul. They vary in shape and size. One is a pushing, violent thing, with teeth which bite and claws that cut. One is sweet and small and gentle to encourage trust, but it always lies. One is always moving and carries a clock with a dial which spins too fast. It likes to jump out onto the shoulder and whisper maddening prophecies in the ear. The worst is nothing but a blackness which feeds on me when I am not looking. It likes to lurk in places it shouldn’t and is often trying to break into the highest tower.
There are many weapons available to combat the monsters. The weapons are easy to find but hard to wield. Courage is a shining silver sword. There is a humble long-bow which can be armed with arrows made of truth. Acceptance is a shield. Trust is a dagger that must be given away.
Other artefacts reside in the library of my soul. I have a spyglass which allows me to see benefits which may still be far away but are worth waiting or fighting for. This spyglass is patience. It doesn’t have a fixed place and can be hard to locate. There’s a compass for the lost which always points to the heart. There’s a little candle which pops up whenever needed. It’s flame changes; it can be tall and unyielding, or dim and in need of cultivating, but the candle is always lit even if just as an ember. The candle flame is actually a little living thing, made from the hearth fire. It is hope.
A dragon stalks the halls sometimes, which of course breathes fire from time to time. I’ve tamed him somewhat. Right now he is raging beyond my want to control him. I spend energy putting out the blazes, but by the time I get there he has already taken off to some hiding spot to regain his strength. I’ll get around to catching him again soon. At the moment I need the fire a little bit. It’s helping to keep the dark monster at bay.
I’m not sure where the castle ends, there are new places being revealed all the time. There are towers that are shut away and stairways up and down. I may never discover every element of it. I haven’t divulged everything here now even, just that which I needed to remember. Just that which needed to be rediscovered to aid me through recent events.
Perhaps your soul is a carnival or a garden or a humble cottage at the edge of the world. This is only what my soul has always been, a castle library on an unpredictable sea beneath a vast universe.
~The featured image can be found here (I don’t own it, yadda-yadda-yadda) and is the Ravenclaw Common Room (which is ma house. Big up my fellow kind of wit and learning). Honestly, one does not affect the other. It’s just coincidental that this is the nearest comparison to what I’m describing. But that in itself is pretty amazing, I won’t lie.
*Not leatherbound. No animals were harmed in the formation of my soul.
**Much like the paintings in the Wizarding World, although in my renditions, the figures are unable to move between portraits. I’m not sure what this means.
***It occurs to me, I say this a lot but have never really explained it. There could be a post about this in its own right, but for now, I will say the following. The Universe is not a god. I don’t believe in a divine being who wrote a book of rules or came down to greet us in human form. I believe in what I see, a great vast expanse permeating everything, connecting everything. And yes, I hear when it speaks to me, and yes I speak to it. It’s hard to explain, but I do not have to explain. I’m not asking you to understand or to believe. The burden of proof is on me, but I have no proof for what I experience subjectively….. It’s just what I feel. You’ll have to roll with it.
I’ve always favoured the idea that adventure begins at the edge of our comfort zones, but until now I didn’t know I could experience such a matter quite so literally.
Yesterday I was tired. Unusually so. I was in that mood which hits everyone at some point, eventually, where it feels like both your mind and your body are against you, and thus all you want to do is curl up in bed and sleep until you’re on talking terms again. Everything becomes an effort, and functioning on a basic human level is beyond means. Yet, somehow, due to having the status of ‘rational adult’ you have to continue to earn your way in life, and thus work your usual late night on Monday, anyway.
Needless to say, I didn’t relish the idea of fighting through until 20:00 before I could relax, and then spending the night in a strange bed so I wouldn’t have to walk the dark streets of Plymouth at stupid o’clock at night. In fact, I was all out dreading the idea of having to do so, because I knew, even digging deep into my patience and determination resources, I wasn’t going to last long. Sleep deprivation does not look good on me. Shameful as it is, I was actively searching for an exit clause. I’m not one for faking illness or lying my way out, but I was on the cusp of doing both. Morals were seemingly unimportant to my wake addled brain. After a lengthy argument with myself, I decided against it, and resided myself to my fate, trying to encourage myself all the while. Still, I did little to console myself. I didn’t want to do it and I had to, and all I could manage was to take my pills like a petulant child.
And then the Universe responded.
My usual late night work had been reduced to standard hours, and therefore I wouldn’t be required to stay the evening to avoid the goblins and murders* of late night walking. Hazaa!
You cannot imagine my relief. I let out a breath so long I was surprised I had any air left in me. Honestly, I don’t ,mind hard work, and it takes a lot to get me to that desperate level of reluctance, but I was that tired. Mostly I think it was the road-bear dream** which did it to me. Something in me had been on the cusp of snapping, and I really didn’t want to imagine what might happen when it did. And I knew it would if I had to work late.
I suspect the Universe knew it too – I’ve never been forced up against something I couldn’t handle, even when I believed otherwise. Given the sudden rescue, I knew I was right. Despite being grateful, I thought the Universe sort of owed me one, anyway, which is a terrible thing to express given the magnitude of knowledge it has, but hey, this was not one of my brightest moments, and the Universe must have known this too.
In any case, reprieved of my duty, I rejoiced in the feeling of only having to push through a few hours. I had a plan: get through, get home, eat, read, bath, read, sleep.
Foreshadowing: the universe doesn’t seem particularly interested in my plans.
I repeated it like a mantra or a really irritating pop song, all through the first phase. I gave it a tune, for goodness sake. With fewer clothes and better choreography, it could have hit a relatively high number in the charts. It fueled the remainder of my working day, and kept me rational. When able to leave, I just let all the exhaustion in, and dazedly followed the plan.
I cooked, ate, and relaxed. I took a long bath, shut down all electronics, and read until bull-clips could not keep my eyes open. All that was left was the final stage, the moment when I could just let go and rest.
The dark sanctuary of my bedroom loomed protectively around me. Warm and quiet, the chatter of my head ebbed away. No sheep were needed, no abstract ideas of possible dreaming. The haze of sleep was already upon me, night whispering it’s humble lullaby into my soul. No more was required of me, no less accepted. I was carried to the boarder of sleep and ready to pass into night’d realm…
And my phone rang.
I was blasted from my sanctity with all the force of a nuclear explosion. The sudden noise set my heart to racing, and I was on autopilot as I searched in the blackness for my phone, slammed around for a few minutes as light impeded my ability to slide the button and answer the call. My brain barely had time to begin processing before my boss was in my ear, desperate and guilty, trying to explain the sudden intrusion on my rest. I was like a deer in headlights, the deer was primordial ooze, and the headlights were a hysterical women needing to get to A&E. Fortunately, the words ’emergency’ and ‘hospital’ are often enough to kick my functioning mind into gear.
The problem was simple enough, someone needed relatively urgent medical care, and minors could not be left unattended. Therefore, someone had to drag themselves out of bed, dress, walk the ten minute gap to work, and stay with the children. As painful as it was, I didn’t really take issue with the ‘drag-self-from-bed’ part. The last part didn’t bother me so much either. Earlier it might have done. Now, I was just as tired, but necessity trumped exhaustion. There was no time to bemoan the circumstances. When life throws you lemons, put jeans over your pyjamas, quickly pack an overnight bag and head out into the cold, dark streets, I suppose.
It was no ones fault, it didn’t require anger, or even frustration, however, the Universe was not in my good books. Truth be told, I felt a little tricked. Lead me into the belief I would be granted clemency, then haul me from my comfort, and throw me at the horrifying prospect of walking alone at almost midnight. Reasons be damned. I get having courage at unexpected times and meeting your fears like an enemy at the gates, but come on. Talk about trail by fire, this was trail by blazing lava pit. Yet there was no circumnavigating the obstacle; no other solution or wiggle room for delay. It had to be done, and it had to be done then and there.
My comfort zone was rooted firmly at the front door to my building***, no I lie. My comfort zone was rooted firmly, at that point in time, in bed under a duvet safely bouncing around the land of dreams. Staring through that glass at the empty streets was enough to cause serious heart palpitations. I have a vast imagination, and it started to turn shadows into things hiding beyond the street-lights****. In the space of seconds I had already envisioned numerous ways I could be stabbed, mugged, attacked and killed in the witching hours. Trying to breath and rationlise it away, I came up with another plan. You know, because it worked so well the last time.
The plan was to walk fast. Beyond that my mind just went into overdrive. It wanted too many things from me. It asked too many questions which were liable to freeze me in a small spot somewhere until daylight. So, the plan was walk fast, focus on walking fast, and run like a mad women if you so much as glint something suspicious. Which I did twice, because of cats lurking in bushes. I’m not proud, people, but we all have our terror inducing situations. Mine is walking through the streets at night. I don’t mind being alone, and I am fond of the night, but don’t make me walk through a combination of these things.
I made my way through the quiet avenues on shaking legs, passing curtained windows, void of light. I placed one foot in front of the other, and whispered to myself. Every dark patch was either avoided or painstakingly investigated before entry. I clutched my phone in my pocket like a talisman of protection. One foot then another, mumbling mantras and yet completely ignoring the founding Buddhist teaching of being present. I was so far from my comfort zone, the boundary line was a dot to me (the Universe can be Chandler in this instance). Every moment felt like an eternity with the cold night pressing in on me.
About half-way through my journey, the gnawing terror in my gut started to subside simply through sheer exhaustion. I really think by that point I had panicked enough to drain my energy like water from a sink. I was using the rest walking so quickly my calves hurt. I wondered what the Universe wanted from me, in a teary, return of petulant child Alice kind of way, convinced I wouldn’t make it anyway, that something dreadful would happen to me. In that moment of defeated terror I don’t think Buddha himself could have talked me down to a rational viewpoint
Well, I’m not writing this from beyond the grave so clearly I was mistaken. Actually, something completely different and rather unexpected happened instead.
I was still on the watch for movement around me as I passed the school, when I caught sight of how the newly naked branches sat against the night sky. Stars glinted behind the prongs, as though caught in a cosmic spider web. At that point, I started imagining what cosmic spiders would look like. Do they spin webs between planets? Do they have eight thousand eyes, and do they eat cosmic flies? For that matter, what do cosmic flies look like? Or do they catch and eat the stars? I then recalled knowledge I had obtained about an insect’s size being directly related to the amount of oxygen in the air. So cosmic spiders would be really small, given the lack of oxygen in the air. Unless cosmic spiders grow in proportion to the amount of dark matter around them, then they would be gigantic.
This is what my head space does, people. It eats and feeds of random ideas. And thank the heavens it does.
By the time the cosmic spider train had pulled out of the station, I was on the final stretch and had the house in view. My stomach was still turning, but I could no longer hear the blood rushing through my ears. The outside light had been turned on. It was like finding the highlighted house in a video game, as the surrounding neighborhood was deep in sleep. With my target in view, I came back to the present a lot more. I relished the cool air on my warm cheeks, and the tranquility of being the only one awake, all the quiet and space, etc etc *****. I didn’t slow down for a moment, but given I was a shaking wreck two streets ago, I was actually doing much better.
Thus my adventure ended at midnight when I crawled into (not my, but none the less, a) bed and promptly crawled back to my comfort zone, which I had been longing for all day, and had never wanted to leave in the first place. Thus, as advertised, my adventure, however nerve-wracking, had begun at both my figurative and literal comfort zones.
In all honesty, if the Universe was trying to tell me something, I have absolutely no idea what it was. I have several theories, but I cannot peg it down, what I do know is that the excitement of having done it, beats the fear in having to do it. I actually looked forward to writing this post and telling you this story (hence the length) and recording it for posterity. Because, I think that’s how we figure out meanings really, by looking back and adding together. It’s like life is a really complicated mathematical problem. It takes time and effort to get pieces of necessary information to come to an accurate solution. I do know some of the equations can only be discovered if you go beyond what you know and are used to.
And if nothing else, going beyond often gets you a great story to tell. Emotions of a difficult or scary encounter with life fade over time, gifting you the ability to recite your tale, your adventure, to others who may benefit from it.
So, if the universe kicks you out of bed at stupid o’clock at night, just go with it. True, bad things might happen, but they might not.
*I exaggerate. I have no knowledge of murderers stalking in the shadows of suburban Plymouth. Jury is still out on the goblins.
** I was going to give this its own post, but the content is too brief. I had a dream I witnessed a teddy bear outside the window, possessed by evil. It started walking across the road with glowing eyes and dastardly intent. I closed the curtains but I knew he was coming. I woke with a start. I didn’t sleep again that night.
*** I live in a flat now. I moved during the summer of blog emptiness.
*****There’s a blog post about the night somewhere in my backlog.
When the weather gets cold the sky gets pretty. I noticed today as I looked at night falling outside my kitchen window, just how beautiful the colours become with on onset of freezing air. As the orange and yellow hues, pastel against a turquoise sky subsided to night, I was reminded of ink spilling across a child’s drawing. It’s a shame the city lights block out the stars; I’ve been in rural countryside on wonderful winter nights, when it seems like someone has pocked holes into a sheet of black, and a heavily glow is shining through. Despite this, those single points strong enough to permeate the pollution hold a power all their own, and the moon is dazzling in the cold. I’ve been listening to the silence of the house as it’s members retire to sleep, and I chose to stop writing the ‘super-awesome-secret-project’ to glance out the back door, to see my breath heed to the outer air after a moment of foggy resistance. Where does breath go when we can’t see it anymore? I wonder which plants feed upon the essence of my life even in the un-nurturing climate. In the night, the world beyond the gate is steady, unflinching.
Stars are suns thousands and millions and light-years away, just spots on our vision allowed to burn to our knowledge because our sky becomes dark. Yet, even though they’re so distant, we can still see them; isn’t that remarkable? Stars are so large, so immeasurably potent in their life that galaxies of separation doesn’t diminish their presence, but in fact makes them more beautiful, more important to us. People have mapped their worlds, chosen destiny via the positions and movements of dots in the sky. The largest star known to us is called VY Canis Majoris, a red hypergiant in the Canis Major constellation. It’s located about 5,000 light-years from Earth, and its upper size was recently calculated to be more than 2,100 times the size of the Sun. Light takes more than 8 hours to cross its circumference. By comparison, Earth is like a single grain of rice in the centre of Oxford University. When I contemplate how tiny we are, how we really are just a piece of sand in a mighty desert, I feel small, so little, and yet as significant to the workings of the Universe as if were a sun myself; I do not say that as a boastful comment, because really we all are; whether here by accident or by design, we’re here.
Stars are mortal. Stars can die. Just like we tiny humans, they have a lifespan, and when their energy is used, they are summoned by death. One day our sun will die, and it’s mighty, and all life on Earth depends on its thriving, and yet one day it will die. And sometimes I wonder, when we die do we become stars?