January 23, 2021

 I hope you realize that I’m holding my experiences in the Bardo with as much skepticism as you are, dear reader. I know the obvious thing is that these are hallucinations, the product of my overactive imagination. It’s entirely possible that this is the case. Still, they keep happening every morning when I meditate.

This morning was no different. I was meditating when I ‘saw’ the bare thigh and lower edge of a tunic of a statue in repose. The image gradually solidified in my mind until I realized it was a cement angel on the lid of a sarcophagus. The angel was a very beautiful young man, his wings spread beneath him. I was in a crypt in a cemetery in the middle of city, It’s hard to say exactly when this was supposed to be, just that it’s in the too far distant past. I could tell it was late fall or early winter and it was nighttime and cloudy.


I knew that I supposed to remove the lid of the sarcophagus because the soul I’d been summoned to help lay within. I gently slid it backward, careful not to break it because someone had spent a lot of money and time creating it. The soul within was clearly loved...and just as clearly from a family of means.


Inside, I was surprised to see that the blackened remains of the soul were barely more than ground up meal in the bottom of the casket. I could tell that the soul’s body had died in an accident of some sort that had mostly destroyed its remains. Maybe in a fire or conflagration? I could smell a faint whiff of burning, although the remains were so charred that it smelled more like charcoal than a burned body.


I sat on the edge of the casket and looked down at the remains, lowering my hand downward. As I did so, the ashes began to shimmer and then a hand lifted up to clasp mine. As our fingers touched, I teared up because I heard a whisper in my mind, “Yours is the first hand I’ve touched since I died. I’d thought I would never touch anyone again.”


I pulled on the hand, lifting the soul out of the ashes. As I do, the arm, head and torso of a beautiful youth was revealed. He was just as beautiful as the angel on the lid of his sarcophagus and I knew his family had commissioned the statue to look like their deceased son. He was a stunning beauty, a young man on the cusp of manhood, full of youth and vigor...and yet still innocent. He had never truly gotten to experience life.


We sat shoulder-to-shoulder for a while on the lid of the casket. He was trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he’d only thought he was dead, a delusion that had been more powerful due to the means of his death. Finally, he stirred and noticed that he now bore the wings of an angel and I said, “Well, there you go. You don’t need a guide; you’re ready to fly.”


He smiled, a radiant smile and thanked me before bidding farewell and pushing the door to the crypt open and taking off. 


I followed him out of the crypt and stood only a moment on the threshold before being approached by a hunched figure I mistook at first for a gargoyle. I realized quickly, however, it was a man. A small, hunched and sad man. He was perhaps in his sixties and kind of pudgy. He asked me to follow him and I did.


We made our way through the cemetery to a modest grave. “My wife,” he explained as we gazed down at her headstone. “The love of my life.”


“You want me to dig her out, don’t you?” I asked and he nodded.


I got down to it, grabbing a nearby shovel and digging quickly down into the earth and uncovering the coffin below. Like the gravesite, it was modest but well-made. The couple may not have had much money saved but the man had clearly lavished it upon his wife’s funeral. I opened the lid of the coffin and looked down on the body of a large, older woman. She had a pained expression on her face when I spoke to her. Like the spirit of the young boy I had just freed, she was also under the delusion that she was dead.


“How did you die?” I inquired as the man looked down anxiously at us. When she didn’t speak, I sat down on the edge of the coffin. Her eyes lit up when I did so and I could feel her devouring my body with her gaze. Suddenly, I had the uncomfortable realization that she might be the love of her husband’s life, but he wasn’t necessarily hers.


I knew then that she had died of depression. Not a suicide but it may as well have been. She had grown depressed the older she got, watching her body change and grow heavy and, in her estimation at least, unattractive. (To her husband, however, she was as beautiful as ever.) She was extremely focused on appearance and had longed to meet a handsome man to sweep her off her feet. Such a man had never appeared and she had been left with “only” her husband.


(I have to stop here and say how disappointed I am sometimes in the souls of the dead because they hold fast to tired old stereotypes and worn-out tropes. Sexism, homophobia, etc. are alive and well in the Bardo. Souls may no longer have an ego per se but they tend to be very attached to their bodies and their instinctual desires. I guess this makes sense because I’m only summoned to help souls who are stuck; the majority, I suspect, don’t need a nudge to get going.)


The tension between the couple was palpable. I could tell that the woman wasn’t exactly thrilled to see her husband waiting for her. (She probably had hoped to be rid of him when she died.) And he was hurt by her reaction; he knew that she wasn’t happy to see him.


This is where I came in. “Ok, you two,” I began, “You’re both free to continue your journey now. You can go together or separately, it’s up to you.” I looked at the woman. “I know you were hoping for more in life and are feeling disappointed in your husband but he loves you very much and would do anything for you.” I looked up at the man. “And, yes, it’s true that you didn’t match her dream but I suspect you already knew that and loved her anyway.”


I paused before continuing, “You don’t have to stay together forever but I encourage you to travel together at least for a while. There is a bond between you and it is real. Your love for each other may not be equal and evenly reciprocated but you are friends and friendship is important. Go. Look after each other and help each other. Friends are worth more than gold.”


This seemed to suffice and the woman climbed up out of her grave and joined her husband. I was surprised to see that they walked off, hand in hand.


A few moments later, I was approached by another hunched figure and this time it really was a gargoyle. This “ugly” creature only appeared ugly on the outside, though. I could see it was only wearing this form temporarily. I bowed to it and it bowed to me, urging me to let it take me somewhere. I agreed and it took first by the hand and then eventually picked me up in its prehensile feet and flew off with me, much like the flying monkeys carried off Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz.


We flew over a vast, grey forest. The night was still cloudy, the moon’s glow muted. It was still late autumn or early winter and the forest was naked of leaves and completely still. Soon, we approached another cemetery, this time in the middle of the wood. It was an old one, too, its gravestone crumbling with age and the cast iron gate at the entrance in a sad state of deterioration. 


I took leave of the gargoyle, approaching the cemetery gate. This time, no effort on my part was required because the lost spirit wasn’t really all that lost; she was right there in front of me. It was the soul of older woman, still clad in the gray rags she’d been buried in. She was thin and boney but vigorous with stringy gray hair. There was an air of frantic desperation about her. She seemed surprised that I saw her.


“I thought I was a ghost!” she exclaimed. “I thought I was lost forever!”


I looked around, realizing she had been here for a long time. I don’t know why she didn’t know that she was free to leave at any time. Maybe she’d died alone and no one had met her afterward? Maybe it had been a sudden and unexpected death even though she was admittedly old enough that death shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Who knows? I don’t always get a good read on the spirits I encounter in the Bardo.


I pulled open the gate and motioned with arm, inviting her out. “You’re not lost anymore,” I said, looking significantly over at the gargoyle. “In fact, you have a guide waiting for you. And, believe me, there is a lot more to him than meets the eye. You must be a very special person.”


As she approved the gargoyle, he grew in size, although he remained very much a gargoyle. He was still hunched but his muscles were bulging and his body was well-formed. I never thought gargoyle could be hunky!


They had barely left before a creature swooped down on me from above, alighting with a whoosh on the scraggly grass before me. It was a griffin (which should have been my first clue but I only just now got it as I write this), a handsome creature with a gorgeous eagle head and a lithe and muscular lion’s body. It shimmered with rainbow hues as it knelt down before me and invited me to climb on.


I did and soon we were flying off over the forest, heading to the west. The clouds parted and thinned as we approached the sea and soon we were zooming over the moonlit waters. Flying directly toward the setting moon, I spotted a city of gleaming white stone on the horizon. The griffin flew over this magical city, filled with glowing white souls entering and leaving, and dropped me off in its central plaza.


I climbed down and looked around in amazement. The place was a hive of activity with souls everywhere. They were all moving along with speed and purpose, clearly ready to get to their destination. I noticed that they were ‘purer’ than other souls I’ve met in the Bardos and also most abstract. It was like they had lost the hard edges and harshness as they transformed and  progressed, getting ready for the next stage of their journey. Overall, the mood was happy and I could tell these souls were filled with contentment. It was good to see this side of the Bardo, that there is indeed a kind of optimization that occurs there.


There was a familiar soul waiting for me by the fountain in the plaza. She ran up to me and hugged me, welcoming me to the city. It was the woman from a few mornings ago, the one who had been bludgeoned to death. She was greatly changed and I could scarcely gaze upon her, she was so radiant.


“I am so happy for you!” I said. “I’m glad we met again.”


“Me, too!” she replied. “I’m not here long, just passing through, but I thought of you and summoned you here.”


“Why?”


She motioned backward toward the fountain, a twinkle in her eye. “There,” she said, pointing at the mysteriously deep blue ‘waters’ of the fountain. “It’s a mystery here I can’t figure out but I think you will.” Before I could say anything to this, she waved goodbye, saying she couldn’t linger but would look forward to meeting up with me again.


When she was gone, I walked over to the fountain, staring down at it in wonder. Its water was both liquid and cobalt at the same time, like the water itself was made of liquid gems. It was so gorgeous I couldn’t resist placing my hand in it and running my fingers through the water. A truly luscious experience!


I dove into the water, swimming through that thick blue, gemlike water that was weightless as air. I descended, eventually resurfacing in the pool of a cave. The cave was also cobalt-colored, composed of layers of cobalt and quartz. I wandered through the cavern, following the sunlight streaming through the entrance. I emerged into a winterscape with sunlight glittering off a field of snow. The sun was overhead in a perfectly blue sky and the trees all around were lightly touched with crystalline snowflakes. 


A woman awaited me, a snow queen dressed all in white. She was astride a big stag, also snowy white, and she was smiling. “Come,” she said, turning on the stag and heading toward a tall evergreen tree in the middle of the field. “I have a surprise for you.”


How could I not follow her?


We approached the tree, a giant, old pine with branches laden in snow. It was like a Christmas tree, only of the pagan variety that predated the Christian era. The tree was surrounded by forest animals but my eyes were drawn to a big, russet-colored bear. (Another clue.) For some reason, I knew I was supposed to climb the tree and did so, scaling its branches with ease, snow showering down around me as I did so. Near the top, I encountered a fairy. She patted the branch next to her and I sat down beside her.


“We need to prepare you for him,” she said.


“For whom?”


She didn’t answer, just smiled, and I felt my body contracting, shrinking down to the size of a slight, adolescent boy on the verge of puberty. I was pretty adorably cute, I have to say.


“There,” the fairy said. “He will recognize you now.”


“Who?” I asked again but she didn’t reply, merely turned and looked expectantly out at the winter field.


I settled down, getting the hang of my new, smaller body that was so incredibly nubile and sweet. After I had acclimated to it, I closed my eyes and meditated, opening them again only when the fairy nudged me.


A man was walking across the field. He was huge, tall and broad and instantly recognizable. It was Griffin.


I climbed down out of the tree and ran to him, noticing as I did so how tired and bedraggled he looked. He was walking like a zombie. The bags under his eyes were deeper and he looked even rougher than he had the last time I saw him. He gazed down at me with dull eyes; it was almost like he didn’t see me.


I urged him to sit down and rest and he did so. He’d been wearing a big, thick bearskin coat and he spread it out beneath us, sitting down. I joined him and we sat side by side. He still barely seemed aware of my presence. Clearly, this was a man who was overwhelmed to the point of being nearly catatonic and I felt bad for him. Unlike the souls of the dead I encounter in the Bardo, he was resistant to any help I might offer. I almost felt like a stranger to him.


Finally, I realized there was nothing to do but sit together. Anything I did was only making him feel more overwhelmed. I was getting the sense that (possibly) the human soul can possess levels of awareness, being divorced from knowledge and experiences it may be having deeper down. The Griffin I had met originally was a part of him that the Griffin sitting next to me was unaware of. This ‘upper’ level of Griffin-ness was blind to who he was a deeper core and didn’t have access to his core’s knowledge or memories. Therefore, he didn’t know who I was and had only recently become aware of me, perhaps as a result of my entering the Bardo.


He probably had no idea that we were linked, much less the nature of our linkage. While his presence was a nice surprise for me, I got the sense it was an unwelcome one for him and I worried for him. The experiences and knowledge I’ve recovered in the Bardo has been hard enough for me to integrate and I have had years of practice. I can’t imagine what it's like for him because I don’t think he has any concept of where he is or what is happening to him. I hope that he acclimates soon or I don’t know what will happen to him.


There was nothing to do but sit together and that’s what we did. I sat there in my cute, nubile body, cuddled up against him and meditated. He sat there like a stone, unmoving and unresponsive the whole time.


***


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