I am finally here, at the birthplace of my past and future self. I have come to this land thanks to the mastery of another. And I have been gifted with the opportunity to become something more than just myself. They have brought me here to transform, and I will. Since I was but a tiny human, I have had many thoughts and dreams of this land. Japan and its unrivalled beauty has always been the lantern, in the darkness of my life. It has always been there to rouse me from my slumber. To strengthen me when I was at my weakest. To test me when I was ready, and to guide me when I strayed from the path of my enlightenment. This land, forged from the dripping waters of the Coral Blade, has altered my very being. It has become my home.
There are men here. Men of stone, men of water, men of fire, men of wind, men of metal and men of wood. There are so many of them, it is impossible to know them all. They speak voiceless whispers to the sky and to the earth. And within these silent cries lie many tales of mystery and wonder. In all my travels, I have not heard sweeter words than those spoken to me in this moment. To me, to us and to the mindless, they are mere men in sight and sphere. To those that understand this place, they are gods. I have encountered only one of these men in a recent woodland walk. A brief meeting in the dead of night when I first arrived in this sacred land. This place, this holdfast I find myself in, at the feet of the Great Fujiyama….it unravels all that I am. I fall into thoughts and unlived memories. Where am I?
It is dark. There is no sound here. Only the light we find in our memories. I have come to my quiet retreat in the depths of the forest. I am alone. Since my arrival here three days ago, I have felt nothing but unease, except for when I am here, at this very place. I do not know whether I am dreaming or dead, but this feeling is bliss. Every now and then, I see a shadow. What this shadow belongs to, I know not, but what I do know is that its form is most unnatural. If a god or an emotion were to have a shadow, I imagine this is what it would look like. I am not afraid. And the shadow, is also unafraid. It plays with me. With the absence of light in this wood, it dances around me like the spirits of my ancestors. It is still dark. There is still no sound here. The light that is absent in this place has crept in, within a playful shadow. I linger here in my thoughts, at my sanctuary in the depths of this forest. I am alone no longer.
Is this a vision of what’s to come? A moment passes from mind to body, and then from body to soul. In this moment, I find myself. I am caught in a sphere of confusion as I gaze into a mirror. In this mirror, I do not see myself; instead there is a form with windows for eyes. Within these windows, I see another form, and within the windows of its eyes I see a light. This light forms the shape of a square. And this square becomes the light, it is made of a light most pure. It lines the frame of another window. Through this window….I see myself. And my world falls in upon itself once more.
I have journeyed far across this land. A great many miles have come between me and the infinite wanderings of my mind. My first destination was that of a sunken temple. Not sunken in the physical sense, but buried deep within the waters of ignorance and the allure of a cultural attraction. Once again I find myself at a temple, and once again I find the flaws in our species. This place however, is quite different. And I have found a measure of peace that I cannot explain to anyone. It is here that I ask myself another question. Why, am I?
I sit here still, in this untouched wilderness. I am still surrounded by the energy of the playful shadow. It has changed its form significantly over the past few days. From a form most primal and unnatural, to that of a humanoid creature. There were moments when this creature would reach out to me, with the hopes of me joining in its dance of dreams. These little interactions have been most frustrating though as I am always met with a terrible pain in the hand grasping at the shadow. It is saddened, for my part, although I am quite satisfied to just watch as it darts back and forth with bewildering speed and grace.
Another hour goes by and I feel that I should return to my home for a little while. I shall make the trip back here sometime soon, to cleanse myself once more and to visit my new friend. As I rise up from my perch, the shadow stills most suddenly. Whatever beauty and emotion once flowed between the two of us, has vanished into nothingness. The shadow breaks its primordial barriers and begins to form a new shape. The image of a woman appears before me. This is no ordinary woman as her celestial features break my senses. As I watch her form become more beautiful by the second, I feel my body breaking down, and I am forced to my knees. What is this beauty in front of me, and why do I have no words for the feeling I am experiencing.
Her transformation is complete and visions begin appearing in my mind. Her way of communicating is most strange. No words. No sound. Only the sublime rush of images flowing through my mind. She tells me she is a goddess. That she is The Goddess, and Mother of Earthly Life. At this moment my head was tilted up against my will, and I was forced to look upon the face akin to that of every beautiful cherry blossom in existence. A vision of fire, earth and sky entered my mind, and I was told her name. Kono-hana, the Blossom Princess, had come to me. She informed me of my role in the world, and that I would undertake the most difficult of tasks. I was told of my reward and that no matter how magnificent it was, it would pale in comparison to what I would become throughout my life’s journey.
At this moment, I was given back control of my body and my will. Though I had come across a true Goddess, she appeared most vulnerable in her plea for my help. I vowed to her that I would not fail in my quest, and that even if it consumed my life, I would be reborn infinitely until I had completed my task. She smiled gracefully, and the sky broke into colours unknown to all man and beast. I approached her and kissed her forehead gently. She touched my arm, and I awoke in the heart of another forest. I was younger, far younger. The year of my body was half my true age, but my mind was untouched.
A sudden flurry of wind wakes me from my daydream. The trees here rarely speak to me, but it seems they have something to tell. The elements have been roused from their slumber and are flowing again. Through every vein in the earth, every stream and every gust of wind, there is a message being carried, and every feeling of warmth upon our skin has meaning. It seems I have a purpose here beyond that of my ken, and it appears that I have stirred something in the depths of the mountains. I sit and meditate daily on the path that I have taken through this life, and through this land. Never have I felt more aware of my mortality than in this journey. Purpose. We all struggle to find ours, and yet for most of us, it is right there. Beneath your feet, beneath the sand. Leading you on a trail made of earthen energy. When, am I!
I have been transported back to a different time, and a different place. This forest is familiar to me, and yet my memory of it seems to be more foreign to me than fire to rain. I have noticed my features are stranger, than the usual. My body is younger, yes, but it has been altered in ways that I do not understand. The hair on my body has multiplied significantly, and where my hands and feet once were, I now find appendages more akin to that of a wolf, or some other feral beast of this world. These new found features do not matter to me, not when compared to the sounds and sights of this new world I have found myself in. I am tasked to find a young child. A child of more potential than the world has ever known. This is why I have been sent back. This is why I am renewed and reborn as a different version of myself. This world is my world, but I am not the true version of myself belonging here. I feel fear in this new state of mind. And I feel as a poor, wayfaring stranger, tasked to travel a world unknown to me, for as long as is possible in this woodland realm.
There are voices in the distance. Strange and unburdened by sound as mine once was. These voices travel through this forest as if spurred on by the wind. I am meant to hear them. I am however, not meant to see them. It seems I am to be tested here, once more before finding this child. Still, I see nothing. There is nothing. The trees laugh at me in their darkened appearances and the wind chills me to the bone. I hear whispers of ‘outsider’ and ‘spirit wolf’. These words unnerve me as I find them to be true. Kono-hana is lost to me, in some far off forest within a far lost world, dimensions away from my present moment. The trees creep in and I feel myself change. My mouth churns with blood as it fills up with gnashing teeth. My arms burst from their fleshly restraints and I am left in a convulsion of pain. My body reacts to the darkness around me. I fall to the ground as I did once before. My clothes tear from my struggling. I am no longer cold, in this forest dark and brooding. There is a tiny pond near my wretched form. I crawl to it and spy this new beast that I have become. They call me ‘outsider’, and ‘spirit wolf’. I am not these words. I am a monster. The water disappears along with my reflection and I am faced with a longing for that shadow, the dancing shadow. In that forest fair, before all of this began.
What possesses a man to change his ways, or to be strong enough to even think about changing his stalwart mind. Monks of old speak of things so beautiful I dare not question their existence. Truth is something I fear when it robs me of my happiness. But this is the case for all living things. To be ignorant and in love with the concept of a happy existence. A wise man once told me that when the mind samples the treasures of a different life, there is no true way to return it to its previous form. With these words instilled in the scars of my mind, I find solace. I have found purpose, here in this sacred land. Here amongst the peoples of a past life, I find myself staring into the mirror of a hopeful future. How am I?
This forest has accepted me now. In my new beastly form, I have been welcomed by the many denizens of the woodland undergrowth. My new friends, if they can be called that, have spoken to me words of another ‘outsider’. The child perhaps. The green eyes, which I have come to name certain creatures of this night, speak to me of how welcome he is in this forest, and that he is not as troublesome as I am. What have I done then to upset the balance of this place, aside from arriving here against my will. The amber eyes, another type of darkling creature, tell me I am not cursed to remain in this form for always. They say I may change at will, when the time comes for my understanding of this natural gift. A gift? Hardly.
I have walked quite a distance and have found myself, at a rather strange tree. It is hollow, and tall as the sky. There are smaller trees surrounding it, and a number of creatures stand to one side. The tree has a door, and it has opened. I walk inside and find the flickering lights of ten thousand candles to be most comforting. There are beasts and birds of all natures. All elements and their elementals are present here. An amber eyed critter speaks to me in hushed tones. She whispers to me of the deeds I shall accomplish, after I find the one named Ushi. The child appears to have a reputation greater than anyone.
I walk through the halls of the tree as they extend to the underground, and I am soon lost in the revelry and magic around me. Suddenly I am beset by beasts brandishing weapons larger than themselves. They wish to kill the ‘wolf spirit’ for he threatens to disrupt the Great Tree. I prepare for a battle with my newfound power and I feel myself thrilled by the impending violence. And then I am changed. The child appears before me. The creatures fade to all corners of the room, and I have reverted back to human form. As we move to a quieter room, he asks me why I have taken so long. I have no words for him as my body settles from the rage felt moments before. He chants a prayer….and I am asleep.
I am awake now. My visions have slowed to a crawl over the last two days. No more do I find myself lost in thought as I once was. There is music and a sense of calm deep in the corner rooms of my mind. I find peace there as I think forward to the things I might accomplish in this life. This journey has given me strength. Strength taken from my own mind, body and soul. There are moments when I doubt all of these new thoughts and structures forming in my core. In my life I have had many moments of weakness, and over the past while, these moments have become a distant memory. With the visions of another time and place flooding my subconscious during every waking hour of the day, I have been renewed. These men around me, both alive and in death, have filtered their energies and have placed them in my palm.
Pacing around the earthly tendrils of Fujiyama, I saw a man there, He was vacant and invisible to those that would misunderstand. A specter of the man I would become. A phantom of all my past and future selves, all twisted and melded into one Supreme Being. A vision of perfection. He was a man I knew would never exist. And yet, with these shadows haunting me, following me since I was a lonely youth, and surrounding my physical form since I discovered my eyes. I know what this man has been tasked with. He aims to show me a place that I cannot go to. A place that is unreachable through mediocre means. This realm transcends enlightenment. A plane of existence so chaotic, and yet so pure. If I reach out to this place, to that altered version of myself, my mind will seethe with unburdened power and knowledge. If I ignore it, I will forever search for something I may never understand. So I walk a traveler’s line around these men of fire and water. I fade between the men of wind and metal. I pass through the men of wood and stone, as they have passed through me, breathing earthly life into my core. I succumb to the ancient ways of introspection. What am I?
Time has no face here, in this forest of quiet life. Ushi and I have taken to an old path on a more secluded side of the tree. He said there would be fewer eyes here, and that our movement would go relatively unnoticed. He is brilliant, but naive. We have walked for nearly a month now, and we have been followed every step. The road we take through the forest elevates itself. My breathing changes and I find the hillside to be laughing at my struggle. This realm of tree and tusk is strange in that it notices me as much as I notice it. As I move, as I take every step, the forest follows me, and I follow the forest. Yet my path is ever changing.
Ushi, a boy of no more than seven cycles, leads me on our journey. He knows what we must do. Though I am the guardian on this sojourn through green and grey, he knows more than I ever could. He is the protector. My purpose remains a secret, to both of us. We have walked for many years now. Ever upwards into the brightening sky. A song floats into my mind. Kono-hana has come to me again, in the form of a siren song so pure, that tears have begun to flee from my unrelenting eyes. Ushi smiles and greets her with a bow. He hears the song and recognizes it as a sign of safety. We are nearing the end of our journey.
These are the final words of my journey. A sojourn so deep into my mind that I may never again know the taste of reality. There is no dream that could ever compare to the ripples I have felt within this ring of purity. An ethereal oasis lingering in a pocket between all realms. Neither physical, nor spiritual. And yet I see it clearly. Though the things I have experienced in this Land of The Rising Sun are immaterial in nature, I struggle every day to bring them closer to the plane I live upon. As my journey nears its untimely end, another begins in the painted provinces of my renewed mind. Travel with me now to the end of a story, the end of my story, and the beginning of yours.
I am a memory.
We have come to the peak of a mountain most familiar. A few days ago the trees began to part from my sight. I was relieved to see their creeping stares disappear, but I know that I may miss them in the moments to come. Ushi has been brought to his knees by the sight before us. A vast landscape of every season. Sounds, sights and smells of autumn, winter and spring. The heat of summer falling on our faces. I fear that even though this was our intended destination, we have begun to travel again.
There are no clouds in the sky and yet we hear the whispers of a storm. There is thunder and lightning. Red bolts flash across the midday sky and we are lost in confusion. Ushi cries out to Kono-hana for a words of encouragement. He finds a response in the form of transformation. My eyes marvel at him as he progresses slowly through the ages of a boy. His transformation halts at seventeen. I change as well. Though the process is less severe this time. The strain on my mind, body and spirit has not subsided. Ushi turns to me, now with the face of a young man. He laughs at me and says I should have accepted the gift by now. And that it is a gift from The God Maker, after all. I ask him who that is. His response is difficult to fathom. The answer is me.
He tells me of my life. Things that I have forgotten. When I was beset with the troubles of my life, I sought out a place to find peace within the forest. As I cleared my mind of its darkness, the shadow appeared, and I had begun to understand the happiness in solitude. As my mind found a measure of clarity, the shadow was changed, and so was I. When I wished to leave, my mind could not understand how it was to be parted with a piece of itself left in the forest. And so I had given birth to Kono-hana, a Goddess of all the beauty I had encountered in my life. And when she sent me on my quest, it was so that I may begin to understand my powers of manifestation. In my confusion, in the second forest, which was merely a shadow of the first, I had tainted myself once again. My failure to accept my gifts and the journey I had essentially laid out for myself, resulted in my beastly transformation. The Wolf God, which Ushi claimed I had become, was a necessary part of my process, and that it would restore my connection to Nature, and the elements I once held dear.
The journey up the endless mountain, was my acceptance of my place in the world. It was what I needed to strengthen my grasp on my own body, mind and spirit. My will had returned once the trees left my vision. And the landscape before us was the Garden of my Mind that had been cleared of impurity and stagnation. Ushi, who then claimed to be another manifestation of my powers, held my arm. He told me all that I encountered in my journey, was brought into existence by my own hand and power. I was The God Maker, for I had given birth to a Goddess, and she would be watcher of all for as long as eternity held true. Ushi looked up into the now cloud-filled sky. He spoke to the heavens, now shifting to a kaleidoscopic dream, and it began to rain upon our eyes. He turned to me and said there could be no order without chaos, no light without the darkness in our minds. All things must have a place, and when they are beside themselves, severing the lines of balance, all things must be remade.
I found myself in the forest again. The one I had sought out to find peace. My reward for my quest remained a secret, but as was promised by The Blossom Princess, it didn’t matter when compared to what I had become. There, at the birthplace of Kono-hana, and the place where I had started my transitional journey, I had found my peace.
Gabriel Michael ‘Rain’ Francis