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.