One day, after we got a new batch of Jello from Pappa, a man whom I was not privy to meet, I made my way to what Paulette referred to as my “command and control center,” the bathroom painted a perfect chartreuse color that glowed in the blacklight of LSD. I would sit in a chair in front of the mirror and break every LSD rule known to man.
They tell you never to look in a mirror while you’re on LSD. But I was positively possessed. I read book after book about the third eye, even a Buddhist book called The Third Eye, where the monks opened a man’s third eye by inserting a stick in his forehead for a week and sequestering him in a dark hut until it opened.
I knew that I needed the power that would stream through once it was opened, even having no idea what that meant. I would take up residence in front of the mirror. First, seeing the life that was happening behind the mirror. The spirits that inhabited the world behind all the reflections that we see. A world that occurs in a “negative” form the way that images look on a negative strip of film.
I would sit and watch and they would continue with their activity but keep an eye on me. We each knew the other was there. There was a mutual warmth, an intimacy, an appreciation. They were clear that I could see them and that I was not interested in interfering and I was clear that their happiness and safety determined my level of happiness and peace of mind. We protected each other in our ways and they were capable of bringing about realities that, were I to adequately appease them, would forever alter my reality.
It was here that I learned to operate with what was otherwise invisible and where I learned that where it matters, submission rather than force is the only way. That happiness is genuinely bestowed from kindness to the unseen. I would sit for hours, every now and again one of these images coming in closer as if it was looking through a lens at me with interest and delight. The purity and innocence of that gaze would alter my biology the way a kitten looking at you can. Only ten-fold. In the presence of that gaze, I would become it. I would become the essence of innocence and purity, a self that existed prior to birth.
It occurred as a remembering. I would sit very still with absolute reverence, a silence that would not want to be disturbed. A natural upwelling of gratitude would course through my blood as if my bloodstream had become a fountain of carbonated water. I would begin to hear the instructions. On this night, the instruction was to pull my gaze back from peering in, to look to the left. Here was where what we consider a reflection but is actually a projection from the other side of the person I thought to be “me,” played out on the screen.
“Look at her,” it said.
At first, what I saw was disturbing. It was not the woman I remembered myself to be. This woman had the composure of a junkie, the kind you see all skinny and shaking trying to light her cigarette. Skeletal almost.
“That,” it said, “is her trying to hold herself away from light or love (there wasn’t an actual word just a feeling). That trembling is where she will not allow herself to be filled. Continue to watch her, continue to hold your gaze steady.”
It was easier said than done. I was too identified. Too in a state of shock that this image, this junkie, this personification of desperation was me. Then, suddenly, as if whatever was attached to that voice slapped me, now said with a stern authority and admonition, “DO NOT LOOK AWAY. DO NOT EVER LOOK AWAY. YOU WILL CAUSE HARM IF YOU LOOK AWAY. YOU ARE HER LAST HOPE.”
This made absolutely no fucking sense to me. None. She? This was me? I am her last hope? What the fuck? And then it smacked that voice out of my head, as if it were the voice of an unruly child and corporal punishment were reinstated, and the sweet, yet now terrifying voice said, “Do not ever question me. Lives will depend on it.”
I fell back into a submissive state and discovered the relief of this kind of submission, like a child who had been playing out too far and, although defiant, was actually scared. Called back in by the parent and falling into warm, encompassing arms, the body going limp. A caution and instruction installed so that the moving through life now had known boundaries. I would remain in those “arms” with this voice repeating, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” with the greatest relief. I am still not sure if I was saying it to this other or if this other was saying it to me. Or both.
I came back to watching, this time with a slower gaze, the trembling, skinny image in front of me. I watched her in the same way that the images on the other side of the mirror had watched me. I observed with a warm innocence. I did not judge or recoil. I just watched. What happened next is the inexplicable magic that I have come to know this life to be. The figure in the mirror began to fill in with light, she began to steady. It was as if my very eyes could beam something into her that made her cells plump. No longer dry and shriveled, now full and gently vibrating or humming with light. Like a shimmer of light on a lake. Imbued with an unspeakable beauty.
“This is what someone who is filled with love looks like. You did not judge her; you gained her trust and for that reason she allowed your love to stream in.”
“But wait,” I said to the voice, “that is crazy that she is me.”
“They all are,” it said, “and this is what you will do with all you see.”
The image smiled back to me and I had this sense of being honored. She was suddenly regal and beautiful. I continued to watch her and noticed what looked almost like a butterfly unfolding its wings on her forehead. I realized this fluttering was her third eye and it was opening. After a slight strain that I felt on my own forehead, I felt a gentle pop. It was fully open. It gazed back at me, steadier than a diamond or a monument. Unmoving and unmovable. It watched.
“This is yours now, you have earned it. You have proven that you will use it with care because with its use you will see the secrets of each thing. You will know without it always knowing that you know. Take great care of all you see, it is yours. But see at this level in all things and never look away.”
I allowed the space to clear and go still as if a rock had been dropped into a pond. I allowed the experience to move out to the edges while I remained in the center. Until, from the depths again, rose the voice that I had identified as “mine.”
“But who am I?” it said, “I need to know who I am.”
And the other voice said, “Continue watching.”
Again, at first, it was difficult. I was so accustomed to looking at myself in the mirror, not into myself. I was accustomed to stopping and visually “fixing.” When I would try this, my vision would bounce off of my image like a ping pong ball. I could no longer penetrate. I was coming to learn that my judgment prevented penetration and this prevented me from seeing “inside.” The judgment was too narrow to make it through the tiny hole into the interior and held me out.
I steadied myself. Again, it required an internal slowing. I gazed at the image. At first, I saw the woman that I knew appear now plumper and more beautiful. Her body remained like a frame for what played out inside of the oval that was the face and the body. Tens of thousands of images played across. First, white women, not that different from myself. Then men, some ugly and brutish. Some Italian and handsome. A single judgment, a single looking away or leaning in would pop me back to the mundane experience of a woman looking in a mirror on acid in a chartreuse bathroom.
I would steady and slow, steady and slow.
Until the images all turned into black people. Jazz musicians with grey, scruffy beards; fat southern women laughing. Women holding too many grocery bags. A black grandmother gaunt and regal in her grief. A thick, black powerful lesbian and a small, black orphaned boy. There were maybe a hundred junkie types in a row. A well of nausea rose up in my stomach as I watched them pass, realizing that I was likely sensing their dope-sickness in my own body.
Then there were women with their heads wrapped in scarves, with a determination and strength in their eyes and, watching them, I had tears stream down my own face. I was crying not for them, I was crying as them, the tears that they could not cry. And then it made no sense, but there were alternating images of what looked to me like slaves; men shirtless, muscular, and defeated and women with eyes that scattered over me afraid to land. It took me drawing something from deep down to continue to keep my gaze steady enough to calm them. To let them lock eyes with me.
Then again there would be a white man. The exact kind of white man that the woman I knew myself to be recoiled from. I felt the ancientness of the recoil. I saw him, poisoned with disgust and hatred, look out to me as if he would spit from the screen. Different versions of this same man. This poison-hatred filling my cells as I looked at him. My gaze steady until I could steady his. My gaze steady until that hatred dissolved into loneliness and sadness into grief. Until the face looking back was sobbing. Sobbing at my gaze. Sobbing in ancient apology. Until everything about his image was a plea for forgiveness. My own gaze merely receiving and sending, allowing it all to play out.
He, I realized, was the slave master.
Into that place came a Japanese woman with bowed head. She remained longer than most. She was a transition, I heard, to strengthen the power of my gaze. I could feel that it was burning through something between us, that she could barely sense me through that fog.
“That fog is shame,” the voice said. “That is internalized shame and it requires greater stability and power from you for her to be able to sense you.”
I exhaled and allowed that steady, warm light to rise up through me and shine through my forehead and eyes until, with the utmost beauty, she lifted her eyes. God, she was the embodiment of grace. The delicateness of her gaze so incredibly disarming, the undue gratitude in her eyes. It was as if everything in her was thanking me, that while the others could sense my presence, she could see me. Directly. A smile came over her face. She had been waiting for me for a very long time.
And from her, tens of thousands of images began to wash over. Old women with buckets. Farmers. Men whose bodies had grown misshapen and hunched over from work. Sumo wrestlers. Japanese to Asian of unknown origin all the way finally to an Indian woman. Again, the pause. This time with an energetic caution. A warning prior to entry. A shock of power of electricity in my body. A feeling of rumbling and origin. A thundering. With the others it was as if my gaze steadied them. With her, it was the reverse. Not that she steadied me, per se, but that her gaze held me In such a way that I could not turn my head.
“This is power,” I heard, and thus came an onslaught of Indian images, some quite funny and colorful. Men and women alike. One after another. There was a sense of foreboding in my body. This rumbling. This filling. Until suddenly, terrifying faces came. I desperately wanted to look away. Wrathful with long tongues and bulging eyes. These were not human form. I would have called them evil looking at another point in my life. It was a storm of them. It felt as if their eyes were pummeling me. It took everything to keep my gaze steady. Until one of them, I don’t know that I would call it, “laughed,” but it was like laughter and I continued to watch until it dissolved into everything that is majesty and beauty and nobility. Until around it formed a golden crown and various faces, each more beautiful than the next, began to play inside of it. The richness poured forth, the awe, until my body could barely take it, as if it was filling me with liquid gold.
Until, for a brief second, I saw my “self.” I saw the blond hair, long on either side of my face, and the wide-open eyes. And from that emerged the face of an elephant. I understood that this is why I had always worn my hair in this way, it was my ears. My wide-set eyes. The ancientness of me that prevented me from being a “cute” woman.
The faces settled and, as if the film had run out, the projections stopped. I understood that I had made it to my origin. Paulette was not just knocking but banging on the door at this point because my control center also doubled as the only bathroom in the house.
“What the fucking fuck?” she said when I opened the door.
I smiled at her, this time with a steadiness that could both send and received.
As if she knew exactly what I had been through, that it was a regular rite of passage, she began to laugh. Like I was one of them. She laughed and laughed and said, “Well look at you.”
I smiled back and could only get out the words that, at the time, were more profound than anything I could imagine saying. “I know who I am now. I am an elephant,” as if to explain all things.
“Makes perfect sense,” she said. “Elephants have no predator, no prey…now outta my way, I gotta go pee.”
And with that, I joined the land of the living.