Protected: A Guided Solstice Journey and Writing Prompt

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Locate Yourself in the Room

Now, take a look at the space around you and imagine that this is a map, across time and space, of your life. It contains all the phases, all the transitions, all the cycles you’ve been through. Find a place in the room that feels like it marks where you are here and now. Where are you?

Trust your body to go where it wants to go. And maybe when you get there, you can close your eyes or move into a gesture or pose that represents where your life energy is right now. Maybe it’s still and full, or large and dispersed. Notice your energy, and notice the space around you. Allow yourself to settle into this moment: your here and now, your starting point.

The Spell:

Remember, wherever you are right here and now, whether you like it or not, is a potent starting point. Honor this. You’re meant to be here, to be intimate with it all, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed. Understand that in the next several days, you will experience magic and miracles in your life. You will see the signs that move you in the direction you’re meant to go. Trust them. No matter where you are in your life or what you are doing or how you are feeling, just know that the doors are opening.

By this time next week, you will have gone through the transformation you want to experience. You will have received the support you need, perhaps in unexpected ways. The intentions you have put out into the world are on their way to being fulfilled—in the best ways possible, for all who are involved.

The elements are with you. The sun, moon, and stars. Your ancestors. Your cosmic origin. Time and space are conspiring to assist you. Just hold that in your heart, and in your bones. Know it to be true. Your belief is the initiator.


I used to love running when I was a freshman in high school. The PE teacher would say “1, 2, 3, go!” and I’d be an instant blur, dashing toward the hundred-yard line as my classmates lagged behind me. My hair haloed my head, my cheeks glowed red, I was a morning person. And even if I wasn’t genetically built to be faster than my more athletic classmates, who’d already breezed through puberty, I was always the first one across the finish line. Because running was exhilarating. It made me feel my aliveness. It made me feel like I was actually good at moving, something I’d never experienced before, given my two left feet and hands that never knew where to come to rest.

I knew I was awkward, but running made me feel lithe and free…a gazelle who could finally relax and stretch out to her full length in the absence of predators. Still, despite my prowess and the obvious pride I felt in my speed and agility, the PE teacher’s eyes seemed to glaze over when I entered his field of vision. He’d give me a cursory unimpressed stare and quickly move on to the next order of business: weight lifting (the girls got the shitty rusted weights while the boys got to use the newer equipment—a glaring disparity I recognized but didn’t have the passion to address) or running laps in the gym.

Toward the end of the semester, I overheard him encouraging one of the girls to join track and field as a runner. She was pretty and popular, naturally lean with a whip of dark hair she wore in a high ponytail…but she’d never once beat me at short-distance running. I wanted to feel surprised that the PE teacher hadn’t thought to approach me, but I was used to being underestimated, unseen. I was used to having people size me up and put me in a box that fit my ostensible dimensions. They seldom saw that I had extra arms and legs and ambitions I didn’t wear on my sleeve that would easily unfurl and splinter that fucking box to pieces. They certainly did not know that the things I most longed for required trusting where I excelled and taking risks where I did not.

I trusted my body’s refusal to be pigeonholed by people who did not understand me. I was willing to risk looking like a haptic jumble of graceless limbs as I careened across the blacktop and took my place at the other end, patiently surveying the girls who ambled indifferently toward me. It wasn’t a race, so none of this mattered to them. My triumph was what it was, only to me. It meant something only to me…which is why few people would be able to tell you that, once upon a time, I was good at running. That’s why it's my responsibility to remember.

The Bus to Nowhere

If I return to the dream, I understand that it began in chaos. It always begins in chaos.

I take a bus to a hospital in Brooklyn. I remember what I'm wearing: a somewhat formal slinky blue dress, but my shoes are tattered, white, scuffed up like the patent leather slip-ons I used to wear as a child, which became old and worn as soon as I put them on my feet. I feel embarrassed about the discrepancy between my formal dress and my informal shoes.

I think I've just come from a barbecue or a party, and I'm here for a checkup or perhaps I work in this sad institution with its bald white walls and flickering bulbs that create a harsh hallway of vacant light, but I don't stay for long. I get into an elevator, along with a bunch of other people. In fact, it seems like we've hit the afternoon rush hour and perhaps everyone is heading out of this cavernous building and they’re going home. That’s what it feels like as I step into the tide of exhausted people, heaving in and out of them like a suspended breath.

One of the people I see, much to my chagrin, but also a bit of delight, is Sam. His hair is a bit longer and he looks older and he is talking to somebody but I could swear that he has spotted me and he’s doing whatever he can to pretend he hasn't, so that we don't have to be in communication or acknowledge that the other still exists. I’m staring at him with something of an ironic half-smile on my face because, well, what else am I to do? Always, we seem to find ourselves in the same place. And sometimes, a number of years pass between these encounters, but it's as if the universe is putting him before me and saying, “Look, this is your past and it is also your present.”

I don't feel angry at him the same way I used to. A part of me wants to do a forgiveness meditation, right in the midst of this crowded elevator, but I don't. I just wait for him to look at me. But he never does. And for the first time in a long time, at least in the realm of my dreams, I actually feel neutral. I don’t care if he sees me. I puff up with pride at my maturity. I take up more space than I normally would.

When we get outside, I realize we're on the other side of the building. I'm not familiar with this area. I don't know how to get the bus I'm supposed to take. I believe it's the number 28. I don't know where it's supposed to take me, but I have the sense that I need to get on it, and that a lot of things have happened before this moment. I've been with family. I've been with friends. And I'm just trying to find my way home, even though I only have a vague idea of where home might be.

At the bus stop, there are a lot of dangerous-looking vagrants, mostly men, and I feel scared but I will myself not to look scared. I wait at the bus stop, and I go through my purse, which is in arrears, like a tornado ripped through it. And there's so much garbage, lint, balled-up Kleenexes, wads of cash. Nothing in its place. Bus fare is just a couple dollars but I only have large bills.

I get on the bus, and the woman in front of me asks if I have change because she's in the same rut. I don't, but she keeps insisting that I do as she looks at the splayed-out contents of my purse. The internal atmosphere of the bus is almost like a living room; people are lounging in cushions on the floor. It’s cozy in here, but I feel some trepidation; I might end up living here, going around on the same circuitous routes down the same dilapidated neighborhoods, if I’m not careful. I don't know where this bus will take me, just that I have to get out of here. I don't know if Sam is on the bus. I don't think he is. But I seem to have forgotten about him, lost in my mortification because I'm holding up the line in my attempt to find two $1 bills. The bus driver impatiently gestures at a glass box of cash at her feet; she says, “You can probably find what you need in here.”

At that point, I realize this bus isn't going to take me to the place I want to go. I feel scared. I have the sense, especially judging by the hostile stony faces that peer at me, that if I decide to take this bus, I'm just going to be more lost at the end of the road.

It feels very familiar to me. This happens a lot. I get off a bus and I find myself in a strange neighborhood that is miles and miles away from my ultimate destination. I have a moment of semi-lucidity. I recognize that all I need to do is trust the universe, and I'm in a dream that is challenging me to do this.

I drop my bag and I back up. I get off the bus. I don’t care about the screaming bus driver or the jeering people who rush to pick up the small luxuries I’ve dropped. I find myself removing articles of clothing. Stripping myself of the things that are supposed to protect and conceal me.

I'm walking in the middle of the road with my palms outstretched, and a rebellious burst of freedom throws back my shoulders and opens my chest. I feel myself cave a bit, my sudden hope punctured by anxiety that maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this isn't a dream or a test, and I'm just a crazy person walking in the middle of the road, trying to defeat consensus reality and the reality revealed within my once-pristine purse. But I have to believe. I have to believe in something. Maybe God will come for me. Maybe a message will emerge from the middle of this absurd tableau.

The world around me slows and darkens to a cobalt blue. Cars disappear on the horizon. Everything is quiet and I’m assailed by a gale-force tension that clamps down on my bones and makes my teeth chatter. I start reciting the Gayatri mantra, which I often do when I reach this state of dream lucidity. Upon the first “Om” I utter, which resounds like a bell in the vessel of my throat, a bright smoldering sun pops up in the sky. It makes sense to me; after all, the mantra is about the emergence of clarity. Upon the second “Om,” I hear a distant peal of thunder that makes the scene around me crumble and erode. Upon the third “Om,” my voice is watery in my head, and everything around me plummets into darkness.

I continue to recite the mantra, but I can no longer feel my body and I can only vaguely hear my voice, a detached fish that floats in the oceanic clouds. I think a word, and I hear it gurgling at a remove from me.

This happens a lot. I get stuck in the bardos. God doesn't come to save me.

A part of me wants to stay here to finish reciting the mantra, to let myself dissolve if that is what's necessary. If that's the message, the lesson, I’m meant to learn. I feel myself hovering somewhere between dreaming and waking. It's one of the most treacherous liminal spaces I have forded. Somehow, I find myself slicing through the many layers of darkness and torpor, and I wake up in my bed. The remnants of sun, thunder, and darkness lie in fragments around me.

Offer Your Gifts

Where you are is your garden. Plant the seeds that please you here. Draw your sense of purpose from the soil and trees, the rocks and clouds, the murmuring frogs and hopping squirrels.

Do not leave yourself. If there is any genius that lives within the brittle net of your flesh, it is the porous material of your mind, which flits between wave and particle. You are composed of stuff that is very much bound to the elements and to this earth that holds you, upon which your bare feet feel strange and temporary.

I know you have traveled many miles to get here, and still you are not content. For you, life is a hole in the darkened sky that bleeds forth its news of a better world. You believe your autonomy is at risk when you train your attention upon this unruly body and its impending death. You are invincible when you dream and unwell when you linger in the cube-shaped rooms that mold your day to their exacting measurements.

But your gift is not in some distant afterlife that glimmers behind the rumbling clouds. It is on this rich and damaged Earth, where history creates a mountain of skulls whose memories bore through their dark and empty sockets.

Your gift to share is your song of resilience, which lives at the undisturbed core of you and is stirred to life when your senses are agitated by your needs and your vital response to them.

There is a simple joy you will experience in your own bones, which hold the detritus of your ancestors’ flickering songs and visions, when you allow yourself to stumble. When you let yourself wallow in the fascinating mess and mystery of your existence. When you taste the base and acrid reality of your hunger. When, without judgment or the wish for elsewhere, you watch the leaves shrivel off their branches, only to burgeon once more in the spring. When you lose all hope because rebirth is an abstraction your desperate hands cannot comprehend. When you welcome the astonishment that extends like an open palm from your protected heart as you witness green spiraling from the frost. As you contemplate the presence of things in their infancy brushing up against the dry, cracked lips of the dead living and the living dead. As you join the throbbing pulse of your joy and sorrow to the Sun of the changing land and watch it glow brighter as it balloons above the horizon and fills your shoulders with renewed determination.

The Witness

In my journey yesterday, I asked what I need to do in order to be more courageous. I saw three black birds fly in an isosceles triangle overhead. I noticed the word CUNEO mounted in fading capital letters atop an old brick building. I saw a small biracial girl dance along the street in her pink shoes as her mother affixed a stony stare upon her phone. When I closed my eyes, the persistent afterimages of these living symbols popped like fireworks against my eyelids.

I saw a path between two lines of boulders, almost as if I were in a trench. In this parched place, the ocean unmistakably became my guide. The ocean came and sanded off the perpetually jagged edges of the war-ravaged terrain. The ocean came and came and came in orgiastic bliss, as I knew she always would. She said, “Wed your small rage to my large rage, and we will be tremendous. You will always feel brave when you are with me.”

I could feel my scream uncurling from me as the glassy tidal edge of her crested up to form a cobra’s head far above the land. There would always be ocean, the blood of this planet in which I was merely swimming.

And if I learned to locate myself in ocean, not through conquest and sheer will but via reciprocity and the permission to be almost fully subsumed by her, I would always be safe—or as close to safe as humanly possible.


In the dreamwork class, I hear the soft refrain of a song I used to love, especially in the summer of 2000, when all of me felt wide awake and like I was gliding through the most beautiful myth. It's strange to think that was 21 years ago: enough time to make an adult of legal drinking age, enough time for a new life to commence and old wounds to scarify.

The ocean is alive here too, in this place of shifting squares on a black screen, full of pixilated faces. In the journey, the ocean licked my wounds with her salt. In the journey, the ocean assured me that I could sync my heart to the heartbeat of the Earth, be cradled in her endless molten center and recall that I am in and of her. And if I ever were to find myself flailing and drowning in the midst of a storm-tossed sea, the ocean would force my eyes open and teach my feeble legs to kick. She would return me to my massive Earth heart—my desire to live, which is an anagram of my desire to die.  

The ocean would remind me that the ancestors are still with me, and she’d teach me to walk through the ruins of the past, through history’s snatches of song and spectacle, but never to make the mistake of fashioning for myself a home inside them. The Earth is a tomb from which beautiful flowers grow. Maybe I am one of those flowers. Maybe I am one of the consequences of death, melded synergistically to continuous becoming.

(This is why it is so important to acknowledge the Indigenous stewards of the land, how they are not just historical aberrations to pay lip service to. They are still here. They never left. Even though this place honors decidedly dead things and the many forces that contribute to the deadening.)

As I dreamed awake in that spare lot on a city street, clumps of overgrown grass brushing up against my sandaled feet, I thought of everything that had ever stood on this land: plants, trees, stones, humans, buildings. I thought about the rain-soaked soil beneath my feet and the many times I would say to myself, “Anywhere but here,” and visualize a fine filament of energy reaching from me into the depths—magnetizing the light and spirit of many other subterranean places, and many other filaments of light connecting back to disaffected teenagers in other parts of the world who were perhaps having similar musings.  

Can we be somewhere else simply by summoning the threads that connect us to the Chain of All Being? If consciousness is a superhighway of the soul, maybe it's possible not to go from here to there, but to bring there here—to dose this terrifying mundane violent moment with the cool waters of the Pacific and the sun-kissed stone of virtually untrodden lands.


I am writing to the person who never knew me as well as I wanted to be known. To the one who saw me as a symbol of something they hated or something they loved. To the one who saw me as a reminder that was meant for them only. To the one who looked into my eyes and asked, “What does it mean?” rather than, “What is she thinking?” To the one who welcomed me as a dark omen from the universe rather than an untenable encounter with an independent other. I am writing to my adversaries, who touched the live wires within me, not from the tender desire to get close, but from the intention of reckless hurt.  

Sometimes I think of these people; sometimes I think, How dare they. How dare they continue to throb inside my heart and invade my most intimate moments with their injuries. It occurs at the most random times. When it does, what sometimes startles me out of my self-righteous reverie is the consideration that someone else out there might be feeling exactly the same way about me. “How dare she!”

Whose nemesis, am I, unbeknownst to myself? Whose scars have I unsutured without recognizing my own trespass?  

I must keep remembering the music that enables me to sway on the balls and heels of my feet while remaining rooted to the earth. I must honor the dead things that grow me alive and are not immortalized by the gods of capitalism. I must remember that the root of the words humility and human refers to the earth. I must enlarge my own possibilities.

I am not separate from the sprawling Earth—from its many livings and dyings…its beautiful accidents and regrettable mistakes. I will have to keep dying to myself, assent to being made and unmade, in order to be reborn. I still taste the grass in my body. I still taste the tang of the Earth as its pops its green against my teeth and tongue.

Tiny Dancer

There was a fantasy that would enact itself, constantly and clandestinely, in the back of my head at the age of 11 or so. Instead of setting foot in the girls’ locker room, to the accompaniment of brash pubescent voices and taunts—or the vast green field, which lay between crowds of stone-eyed middle schoolers and homeroom, that I would bound across as quickly as possible, eyes downcast and books clutched to my chest to avoid sudden assaults—what might happen if my mother left my father? What might happen if the line was drawn in the sand and we got to live as we wished, eating whatever crap we wanted, watching the shows that gave us pleasure, staying up late and waking up to the scent of pancakes and bacon and the loud thud of music pumped into the walls like a transfusion of endless summer?

What might happen if we moved somewhere else, maybe into an apartment of our own or with my grandparents (temporarily, of course)? What would be possible if I could start over in a place where nobody knew my checkered past? Without Dad, what could happen?

I had memorized the entire hypothetical scenario. At my old school, upon breaking the news that this day would be my last: my best friends would cast misty-eyed glances upon me, the teachers would be somber, and even the bullies would scuffle their feet in reproachful silence. They would have lost something appreciated only too late. No matter. They’d be sorry, but I wouldn’t give their sympathies a second thought; I’d be bounding giddily into my new life.

For some reason, the details of my imagined home eluded me. I never quite worked them out in my head, even as I sat in the hot stuffy room upstairs and watched reruns of Punky Brewster while, downstairs, plates clattered and a volley of caustic insults was thrown back and forth between my parents. Maybe I received the occasional uninspired flash of a bedroom with painted walls and four-poster beds (or a wheelbarrow, like Punky’s), with a door I could actually close. A door I could lock. In a house rather than an apartment building with thin stucco walls, so that we were in such uncomfortably close proximity with neighbors whom we’d pass each day, ignoring as if we didn’t know they slept and dreamt and fucked just inches from our heads.

Home felt circumstantial. Home could be anywhere and I would be content, as long as there were long stretches of quiet punctuated by floral bursts of laughter. As long as people felt safe, and happy, and their bodies could fully relax into their beds at night, I would be OK.

No, the details of home hardly seemed significant compared to the details of my new persona—always attached to a specific uniform: a flowing long duster sweater, tight black jeans with frayed ankles, a cropped white blouse with bell sleeves over a pushup bra, and large gold hoop earrings. I imagined myself, shorn of glasses and reservations, wearing clothes you’d only see on the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. I didn’t consider that my parents shopped at Kmart and Goodwill because we couldn’t afford the latest fashions or designer labels. For me, money was immaterial. I connected the privilege of “standing out” with one’s attire to the privilege of individuality, which I would never be accorded as one of a small handful of brown immigrant children in my neighborhood. Nameless, faceless, invisible, melting into the inhospitable brick walls of middle school.

If I had the right clothes, I thought—no, I knew—I would finally be accepted. Not just that, but the superficial layer of my shy, awkward, bumbling schoolgirl self would simply peel away, like a snakeskin, to reveal glistening flesh and confidence. Raised as I was on a steady diet of MTV and Bollywood, I fantasized about leading a choreographed sequence of hip-hop dance moves among a sea of pretty girls and boys on the quad—occasionally adjusting out-of-sync arms and legs and receiving a warm apologetic smile in return. I would be the one correcting and molding and influencing, not the one constantly made to feel at fault for my rhythmless body and mouth bereft of witty comebacks.

I would do the thing I’d always wanted to do: dance. Even though I was born with two left feet and a tendency toward conjectural movements, not the bold and definite sort that are required of people who wish to use their bodies as vehicles for love, beauty, big ideas.

I was born, also, with a penchant for the language of the mind. I trafficked in Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, armfuls of books from the school library, earnest poetry on construction paper festooning the walls on Parent/Teacher night—and as much as I loved and took refuge in words, they didn’t feel sufficient. Others didn’t seem to want them, so I only admitted to my devotion to reading and writing under rare circumstances—often, accompanied by silent apologies. What I really wanted was the language of the body: gleaming muscles and manic, twitching arms and legs.

The distant edges of my being wanted something more than what I’d received. I’d only ever known this awkward body, this infuriating family, this spirit that was so proficient at turning itself inside out that it could disappear altogether. I wanted to move. I wanted to dance. I wanted to choose where I lived, how I expressed myself, how I presented myself, how I might be received. I wanted agency over the days of my life.

My wish never came true. My mother never left my father. School became more bearable, and as my mother began working more frequently outside of the home, I eventually graduated from shopping at Kmart and Goodwill to Express and sometimes the highly coveted Contempo Casuals. The kids became less obtrusive as I got older, or they just got more consumed by adolescent insecurities, which erode the attention and demand self-centeredness.

It would be many years before I could relinquish the fantasies of who I might be if my circumstances were different, and simply accept my lopsided fortune—to be this broken, excruciatingly sensitive thing, flesh exposed to the elements, spirit open to the soothing whispers of watchful deities.

Any movement is adaptable, but the same is true for people. We all have access to dance.

The Haunted Closet and the Bathroom

Transcribing a dream days after the fact is never an easy task. I remember only that this dream seemed important enough for me to recollect, except now it stretches and permutates, as if it’s trying to fit the changing landscape of my thoughts, which will never fail to prioritize new distractions.

This dream is a wraith that used to be a human, or at least some kind of biped. Now it’s made of shapeshifting molecules that refuse to settle into anything discernible. It is an inorganic stamp of matter that persists beneath the surface of my biological limitations—memory being the most significant.

In the dream, there is a closet that reminds me of the private enclosure that meandered to the lands of Narnia through walls of coats and cloaks and moth balls. Aside from silk dresses that drip off their hangers and folded trousers that threaten to topple from the high shelves, it’s filled with bubble-wrapped boxes of unopened shoes (mostly winter boots) and dirty laundry strewn on the beige carpeted floors, almost as if the offender had tried and failed to shoot for the hamper. Clothes are askew, multiple items heaped onto weighted-down hangers that bulge at the center, threatening to break.

This is the closet of an obsessive compulsive shopper, a sentimentalist, a hoarder, someone who can’t pass up cheap Forever 21 frocks or pretentious Eurotrash designer wear. It is the closet of someone who cannot quite identify her fashion raison d’être, or her class proclivities, or who she wants the world to see. She changes friend groups like a pair of worn-down Lululemon leggings, purportedly built to last but falling apart after too many hot yoga classes. Every few months, seasonally appropriate items—scarves, thick socks, flimsy see-through summer dresses—rotate to the front of the line, reminding her of the things she’s yet to wear or experience. Reminding her to pay attention and put the rich contents of her inner life to use.

On days when the weather is just right—frigidly cold, blazing hot, or dark and fertile with monsoon clouds—she invites people over. Not to the house but to her closet. People slouch against the uneven rows of garments, nursing red plastic cups of unidentifiable liquor mixed with melted ice, nodding their heads in rhythm to the bass, their low voices hypnotically evaporating into the sound, their eyes glowing in the dark.

Secret parties are the best kind. They haven’t been sworn to secrecy, or to quiet, but they like it best this way. The world beyond the closet is strange and unpredictable. Unmoored ghosts and histories sail through the hallways of the closet owner’s house, buffeting the walls like reverse curtains, whipping into the pipes and foundation to seed their formidable knowings. The house is full of them, and as people make their way, teetering in spiky heels and inebriation toward the closet, a deadening hush sweeps over them. Only to break into relieved giggles when they collapse into one another and their feet scuff up against piles of dirty underwear that sends its sweet noxious scent upward. This sacred enclosure is the place they want to be.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” someone says at some point. The music seems to slow down to a whimper and everyone goes momentarily silent, because they know what this means. He’ll have to open one of the doors (in this closet, there are many) and stumble out into one of the cavernous rooms that holds nothing except a solitary toilet hunkered in a far corner. The closet owner shoves a roll of toilet paper into his hands and grabs his drink. “I’ll refill it for you,” she says with a wan smile. It’s the witching hour, and who knows what apparition or odor will curl out of the wall or toilet bowl and fill up the space with some ancient bane or poisoned curse?

It’s funny, in retrospect, that in many of my dreams, I am not the mistress of my own domain. I might have an enormous house but there is usually one single holed-out grotto or safe haven surrounded by a maze of nefarious rooms, full of staticky orbs and pairs of unwelcoming floating eyes, as well as invisible feet that won’t hesitate to trip you and do a victory shuffle as you go flying.

I don’t know what happens to the boy who waddles out into the giant empty bathroom, next to a single faucet that won’t stop running. Any attempt to hold on to the dream was lost, just as the giant mansion on the hill was conquered by itinerant ghosts. This dream, this act of writing, is a ghost. I haunt myself in a persistent attempt to understand what I have lived and experienced, although the memories and yearnings continue to pile up like so many articles of clothing with tags still on. I wonder now if the dream girl with the excessive closet was living in a house full of varied versions of herself. Transparent wraiths yawning into the darkness, having quite forgotten themselves. Colliding with each other and those who dare to remain human, hurling their silent invectives like projectile vomit against the peeling wallpaper, bumping against the limits of their own knowing.

My Akashic Record

To live in the New Age is to live in a devotion that hinges on self-deception. If you believe in the concept of a separate self, that is.


So many things get lost when they fall through the sieve of memory. So many occurrences that were once notable, that required recollection but are now salvaged on some dusty old shelf in the unconscious, or relegated to a very tight enclosure in an increasingly numbed-out part of the body.

It’s tempting to consider that there are places inside the body that expand onto a reverential black sky wimpled by stars. It’s tempting to consider that there is a larger body into which this small and feeble one effortlessly spills—full of mysterious corridors where anonymous memories gather and coalesce and branch out into multiple networks of milky filaments that web the galaxy like so many lines on the palm, portending not just a fate but a personal history.

I have learned through my many lives that we are each uniquely courted by the Sun and Moon and stars. I’ve had my palm lines and Tarot cards read. I’ve had my coins thrown for I Ching hexagrams. Coffee grounds tumbled onto white cloth napkins have unearthed personal blind spots and ancestral gifts. Because every human being is as irreducible as a Platonic form, every mode of divination (which is not merely a looking-forward but also a mirroring-back) is only a starting point.

Even a dream. There are many authoritative treatises on the interpretation of dreams, but symbols shift depending on where they show up. An ostensibly easy-to-decipher symbol, like a rose in full bloom or a sharp crescent moon, will mean something different, depending on the phase of life you’re in, or even your cultural inheritance.

At the same time, some people believe that while symbols may change, their essential meaning can be traced back to specific archetypes that get handed down through the generations like carvings knifed into the family tree, shaving through many layers of bark and weather. Some spiritual systems posit that we dream the way we dream because we inherited that method from at least seven generations of dreaming ancestors—all of them similarly prone to the same irrational dreads and ecstasies. Someone who has dreams in which they are constantly fleeing a sinister pursuer are likely to have had grandparents or great-grandparents with the same dream pattern. The symbols may shift but the meaning remains the same. My ancestor is chased by a monsoon cloud bulging with fury, while I’m chased by murderous cars speeding through a busy intersection. But the fear, for which there is a shared language, is the same. It’s simply the legacy of everything that hasn’t been processed in the bloodline.

As much as we seek answers in astrology, crystal pendulums, and energy healing—as much as we seek the pathways of our own earmarked destiny—many of our complexes and obstacles and learning edges are the result of decisions that were made by other people who failed to keep us in mind.

We are not exempt from this category.

Sometimes, the same “soul” reincarnates in the same bloodline in order to play out the same drama, in hopes of a different resolution. As for this life? Maybe you will actually take a different path this time. Maybe you will learn to be suspicious of your most instinctive desires and the colors that capture your attention after being glimpsed in your peripheral vision. Maybe you’ll start to look somewhere else for the answers, which have remained so elusive for all these years.


I’m at the Omega Institute, a retreat center with grassy knolls and pleasant-looking people who wear Birkenstocks and refrain from using products that irritate chemical sensitivities. Even the gift shop, overflowing with Batik dresses and shimmery windchimes, only contains natural bath and beauty products that err on the side of basic. It takes me a while but I enjoy this place. I don’t like the cavernous mess hall with its round tables that contain too many chairs, making me all too aware of the moments when I sit alone while others are engaged in conversations that ricochet off the walls and sound a lonely echo in my ears. But I do like the meditation hall where I can go at 6 in the morning to sit quietly with others or merely myself. I like the labyrinth in the middle of the campus, where I can spiral in and out, toward and away from a very still center. I like the offerings in the diminutive spa, where I can opt for everything from belly massage to an Ayurvedic assessment.

The Akashic Records reading catches my eye one Saturday afternoon, when I’m sitting and journaling about the Radical Dharma retreat I’ve been on for the past three days. I already know the Akashic Records are the cosmic library where the truth of all that was, is, and will be is stored. In this data bank, which rivals any of the treasures on the most clandestine of servers, you can discover everything that has ever transpired for a person, or soul. Even the faintest flickers or impressions, or the most subjective and transient moments, are recorded here, in this infinite field of information. In accessing the Akashic Records, we may experience pure insight or receive the kind of multidimensional knowledge that enables us to make a change to our record, a new entry in the ledger of time and space. Here, we can add up the numbers in a new, more balanced equation that enables us to rewrite our future and recalculate our very understanding of our path.

At first, I didn’t necessarily feel drawn to the idea of getting to my record via another person’s intuitive vision, especially as I’d already attended the requisite weekend workshop during which I’d learned to open my record and the records of other individuals firsthand. The workshop was taught by a nervous middle-aged blonde woman who wore a navy blue pantsuit and a strained expression of professional know-how. She gave each participant a spiral-bound notebook full of rudimentary illustrations (complete with stick figures and thought bubbles) and vaguely Judeo-Christian prayers meant to open up the Akashic Records upon request. As she taught us one of the prayers on Saturday afternoon, we had to sit through the unfortunate ordeal of hearing one of the participants, a heavyset, curt older man, empty the contents of his insides into the one toilet that lived behind a door in the corner of the already-cramped schoolroom. The teacher’s expression became even more pinched as she pretended to be oblivious to what was happening, which made me more uncomfortable than the gurgling acoustics that issued from the bathroom. For some reason, it made me respect her less—it’s difficult to be in the presence of an authority figure who is obviously cognizant of the embarrassing thing that’s happening on the other side of the room but doesn’t have a sense of humor about it or the self-awareness to acknowledge it. I didn’t sign up for her Level 2 course, which she shilled at the end of the weekend as a continued exploration of the mystical realms. I did, however, spend subsequent long afternoons in my studio apartment, breathlessly penning hasty epistles channeled from whom I could only imagine to be the enlightened scribes sitting in long and silent rows in a bright chamber of some arcane dimension—awaiting the desperate requests of mortals like me.

I changed my mind about the Akashic reading when I was at Omega, not because I thought someone would actually tell me something that actually counted as legitimate spiritual information, but because I was curious about the process. How would the reader open the portals to the Akashic Records? What kind of information, be it past or future, would emerge as we voyaged through the upper atmosphere of my former selves? Would it bear an uncanny resemblance to ugly or propitious patterns and events in this current life?

I signed up for a 50-minute reading. I showed up for my appointment, which took place not in the peaceful, eucalyptus-scented spa but in a tiny bungalow near the mess hall. I was ushered into a stuffy spare room by a white-haired man in a damp-looking tie-dye T-shirt and worn-down Birkenstocks. When he asked me if there was anything I’d like further insight into, I offered a generic response, like, “I just want a sense of whatever it is I need to know that will help me to navigate my life with greater ease and confidence.” I suppose in retrospect that I could have shared some of the realizations I was making, especially in light of my growing awareness of the blockages and hang-ups I still had about my sexuality, and the ways in which the fight for racial justice was leading to personal revelations about how I’d felt marginalized in my family of origin and the many “transformational” communities I had (unsuccessfully) been a part of. The man’s eyes darted around the room, evincing either his attempt to concentrate fully on what I was saying or his utter indifference. Whatever the case, I felt that there was only so much I should disclose.

“So, whatever I say…some of it might be familiar to you, almost like you’ve seen it in a dream or something, and some of it might feel totally unrelated to anything you’ve ever experienced,” the reader explained. “Whatever it is I’m sharing, just know I’m being intuitively guided to share it by the Akashic masters because it’s what you need to know right now.”

He gave me a look askance as if to register my comprehension, so I nodded.

“Can you say your name three times for me, please?”

I was accustomed to the magical mantra of a person’s name stated out loud three times, which seemed to be a favored shibboleth in the realm of psychic readings. I assented: “Nirmala Nataraj. Nirmala Nataraj. Nirmala Nataraj.”

He closed his eyes and took three deep breaths before offering a prayer to the Akashic masters. “I acknowledge the Forces of Light as I ask for the guidance and direction to know the truth as it is revealed for Nirmala’s highest good and the highest good of all connected to her. Oh Holy Spirit of God, help us to know Nirmala in the light of the Akashic Records…to see Nirmala through the eyes of the Lords of the Records, so that we may share the wisdom and compassion that you have for her.”

At this stage, he gave a dramatic pause and the lines in his forehead fluttered. A scene was coming into view. “I see mountains…snow-capped mountains. A monastery. Tibetan prayer flags. You are…a young boy. A child, really. You’ve been studying to be a monk ever since you were very small. I see scrolls…prayer mats…bowls of food with modest portions. It’s very quiet. You are here for enlightenment…to escape the wheel of samsara once and for all. You’ve been taught that it’s an honor to be here. Not just for you but for your entire family.” He opened his eyes to look at me. “Do you have anything specific you want to know about this life?”

The first question that came to me was, “Am I happy?”

He sat back in his chair and regarded the ceiling with his gaze. His eyes and mouth were slightly brighter, more alert. He was clearly surprised, almost as if he hadn’t contemplated the question before. He closed his eyes once more and shook his head vehemently, with total certainty, after a couple long moments. “No. No, you’re not happy. This place feels oppressive, stifling. It’s a mausoleum full of dead things that have nothing to do with you. You just want to be with your goats in the mountains. You’ve always wanted to be a goatherd, but when your parents brought you here many years ago, that dream ended.”

I nodded, even though his eyes were closed and he couldn’t see me. I don’t recall my other questions or the details that dripped out of his slow and leisured sojourn through my Akashic Record. Nor do I remember the rest of that miserable life, only that it was very brief and that I died in a fire in the monastery. The reader informed me matter-of-factly, “You’re alone. You’re terrified. They’ve closed the massive gates to the monastery and you have no way out. Your death is slow and very painful.”

“Great,” I muttered under my breath, more for my own amusement than anything else.

I could hear the birds chirping outside and the silvery lilt of laughter from people enjoying their time away from their lives. I considered what a privilege it was to be here, in this beautiful bubble that encompassed acres of pristine forest, that came replete with gourmet meals and a built-in schedule of films, dance classes, and other social activities to supplement the personal-development workshops that people had come here to throw themselves into. I wondered how many others had managed to fit an Akashic Records reading into their busy schedule.

I didn’t feel a close affinity to the life that the man had extracted from my Akashic Record, but it didn’t seem entirely off the mark, either. Perhaps he’d read volumes in my eyes and had come up with a few obvious themes: obligation, oppressive family mores, the desire for a different life. One didn’t need to enter a trance state to recognize these floating specters.

Somewhere inside me, I could see the boy I might have been: dreaming of his goats in a distant mountain meadow; eating rice on a prayer mat, consigned to a tomb-like silence; deciphering methods for reaching enlightenment in dusty mile-long scrolls; screaming for someone, anyone, to save him as his skin starts to char and blacken, and thick gray smoke fills his vision. I felt a twinge of mourning for this person who was or wasn’t. It made sense to me—don’t we all contain some aspect of this person within us? Some part of us that perishes before it has come of age? Some brackish well filled with the dregs of our searching and unfulfillment?

Still, I would hardly say that I felt transformed by the experience or that I’d peeked into some previously concealed window to watch a pivotal part of the cosmic drama quietly unfolding. I felt nothing as I shuffled out of the room with the reader’s card in hand. I noted that he hadn’t offered up much in the way of helping me to understand where to focus my energy next with this information I’d been newly armed with. Still, I wondered: What had I been hoping for? At the end of the day, it wasn’t really specificity. Perhaps, more likely, I’d wanted some shared communion, or that a silent epiphany I hadn’t disclosed to anyone would be corroborated by this distinct and separate other—as if to endorse the existence of my ultimately unprovable hunches and show me that we are all virtually connected, strangers or ancestors, whether we know it or not.

I am aware that the web of connection is not a deception wielded by a world that wants to make sense of everything. It’s real. Whether or not that boy was me, I tucked him away into a distant vestibule inside my heart. Whether he was fabricated or not, it didn’t matter. The world of stories is the only one that has ever been meaningful to me; even though I’ve always grasped at distant glimmering stars to descry truth, the only thing that has managed to glow brightly in my imagination is composed of many threads unspooling into a massive pool of undifferentiated colors, from which I can create all kinds of pictures that will appear to me as fateful or fortuitous.

Because it isn’t self-deception when you know you’re making it all up…and that it still has the capacity to transform you.


Do I have to talk about fear?

  I mean, really…that’s such a rude question. Naked in its directness. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to get up and search for my missing earring. I mean, I definitely had to charge up my computer, but the truth is, in the past hour or so, I’ve been obsessing over where I could have possibly misplaced this earring and, yes, as petty as it sounds, fearing that I will never find it again.

  My jewelry box is full of orphaned pairs of earrings, fondly set aside in the event that their counterpart will magically show up, beneath a folded sheet or in the crevices of a bathroom drawer.

  My fear, I think, is composed of such missing objects, which leave the ghosts of their former presence behind. Palpable, like lipstick stains on shirts whose final traces you can never manage to completely wash away. They echo that particular hue of orchid you were wearing that particular night you can’t seem to put behind you, even though it happened years ago and you should really fucking be over it by now.

  Is that fear…or just  the sentimental tug of nostalgia? Sometimes, remembering makes me miserable but it also renders my life meaningful somehow. Once, early on, my ex-husband wrote me a drunken email in which he said something like, “I am afraid that I will forget everything, and that the mountains of memories we carefully built together will disintegrate and be replaced by new memories. And I don’t want that to happen.”

  I didn’t tell him, but I had felt the terror of that prospect as well, especially when I was thinking of leaving him and a single question came to mind: What about the songs?

What about the songs that had made up the soundtrack of our little life together? Old jazz, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, acid rock, fuzzy shoegaze, outdated Brit pop, and bands I’d first discovered rifling through stacks of vinyl in vintage record stores in my most impressionable years? What about the playlists he had made me? Who had ownership over those now? What about that very first mixtape (well, mix CD) that he gave me five days after we’d met, the one that made me tell a friend of mine, “These weren’t just songs. He was showing me his soul.”

  What about the songs? Would I have to give them up if were no longer together? Would the sweetness of Nigerian high-life music from our trip to Barbados, or the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” which we’d decided would be the penultimate song on our wedding playlist, all have to go? And if so, where would they go? Who did they belong to now? To the ghost of our relationship, or to this strange and sullen woman I seemed to be growing quite uncomfortably into?

  I could understand his fear of forgetting, because I shared it. Even months after leaving. It is a strange thing to leave someone you once loved, because you realize that the “once” is a lie. And you never stopped loving them. That love just somehow found its own fork in the road and diverged onto another path, leaving you in its wake, bereft and bemused and left to find new anthems. New earrings.

  All of this will be relegated to the dustbin of time. It will be buried beneath the avalanche of our regrets, our resentments. The impossible dreams of youth supplanted by the bitter reality of adulthood.

After I received his email, I somehow managed to record its essence. But like everything else at the time, it was too painful to keep, so I deleted it. I’m sure that dozens of pairs of earrings were orphaned, as well. But I was too busy speeding into what was to be my future to understand that the ghosts never stop haunting you.