My Spirit Quest
The rustle of leaves through a frigid wind can be a calming sound as well as ominous. I remember well the slight nip the air had, demanding that I wear the fleece clothing I had laboriously dragged through the forest in my overstuffed (and often overweight) backpack. My attention turned to the sky, chest deflating slightly as I uttered a low grunt at the irony. It was positively beautiful, a stark contrast to the three days of hellacious rain that plagued me and my crew before this break. However, I would not curse it, especially since I needed a break from the cold daggers that pierced the thin plastic that passed for my rain jacket.
This was day 16 of my 22 day Outward Bound journey into the North Carolina area. With the rising of each new sun I was greeted to a new adventure. My short list includes climbing a 450 ft. rock face, steering a canoe through class-4 white water rapids, backpacking through valleys, ridges and mountains. I would be remiss to not mention the two consecutive nights of late night bushwhacking with only our compasses to save ourselves. All in all, it had already been a physically straining trip and had begun to wear on my mind as well. I was pleased to have 48 hours of Solo time to rest and prepare myself for the final trip. I had weathered the storm of activity well considering how negligent I was in training for this journey. It would have helped me immensely to be in better physical shape since I come from one of the flatter regions of earth. On the same note, no amount of mental training could have prepared me for the adventure that I was about to have.
The Solo time was designed primarily for the self-reliance portion of the Outward Bound course. We were given a tarp (with no strings coincidentally) and a very small portion of food to subsist on. As a career Boy Scout and Eagle Scout, this piece of survival was not difficult for me. However, I was slightly disgruntled because the site they had chosen for me had very little open area, let alone sun. I sighed somewhat sadly as the morning star teased me with occasional rays through the dense foliage. It was going to be exceedingly difficult to dry my clothes, but it didn't matter. I was finally going to get some rest.
"Geez, I'm incredibly sluggish today." I recall myself thinking quite clearly. "I can't wait to get this thing up and get to sleep." After hanging my precious food up so as to avoid the interest of the smaller denizens of the underbrush, I proceeded to construct my tarp as best I could. Fortunately, two limber hemlocks made a perfect frame for a dome style shelter. The addition of a tarp formed a blue arc of protection that I was almost proud of. Well, it would at least protect me from the rain.
"Not a bad job." I commented to my mind as I set out my clothes in the thin strips of sunlight that trickled through the tall trees. It was about that time that I heard the gentle trickle of a nearby creek. Remembering the words of warning against crossing the creek, I made a mental note to check it out as soon as I finished the rest of my makeshift camp. Maybe there would be some light down there...
It was short work to find a suitable spot for my backpack and other things after getting the tarp up. That was the big thing. I soon had my attention turned behind me to a particularly noticeable slope that lead downwards about ten meters from my location. Stepping to take a closer look, I saw that the grade was mildly steep, but not a hard climb once I removed the little bushes that threatened my already soiled pant legs.
The area was semi-clearish. Gravel greeted my hike weary feet and several large rocks protruded from the ground like icebergs from an arctic body of water. Several plants were in view, causing me to duck and dodge them slightly before finding a suitable path to the side of the water. It was not a large stream, and ran with a babble not unlike the falling of light rain. However, I could clearly see in several places where the water bent itself to accommodate and adjust to the unforgiving rocks that threatened to impede its progress. I remembered vaguely that this was Armstrong Creek, and it ran directly into a fish hatchery somewhere down the path from there. Being certain not to contaminate the water with my rather disgusting foot coverings.
I stood silently for a moment to take in the peaceful scene without worry of rush or rain. The shadows leaned hard to the left, indicating that morning was still quite present. A cold rush of wind suddenly made me wish that I had kept on the fleece jacket that so efficiently protected my cold sensitive body. Without knowing it, I had taken a flat rock and placed it against the base of a fairly large stone that jutted upwards, forming a hard but solid sitting area. Deciding this would be a good place to spend a few moments in quite thought, I proceeded to sit down in the place I had designated.
A bolt of icy coldness raced through my pants like tulle, shocking me into an upraised position with a quiet yelp. The cold rains and lack of sun cooled that stone considerably, and it retained its icy temperature well. It was about then that I noticed what my hand was on. Rocks, of course, but not any ordinary rocks by any means. Scraping a thin layer of sand from them, my eyes widened in great surprise at what was directly under my hand.
It was a series of five rocks, but not just any five rocks. There were four smaller ones, making a short arc around a misshapen oval. That may have come as no surprise, but the shape and positionings of the rocks were a direct representation of a lion's paw.
"What the..?" I said quietly, very much confused. A lion's paw? Out here? In the middle of nowhere? And I just happen to be the one to see it?? It struck me as very odd that I would be at the precise place to witness such a thing, especially with the random nature of rock formations. Sitting back down on the cold rock, I silently observed the paw print for a few moments longer, my mind turning inward with varied thoughts of amazement. I came on the trip with the intention of using a period of time for spiritual healing. Could this be a sign that it was time?
A cold breeze slapped me from the left side, drawing me into a slight huddle. Suddenly, I felt an incredible urge to do something odd. Taking the red bandanna I was wearing from around my head, I folded it over several times until it became flat. Holding it in both hands, I lifted it to my face and around my eyes, blotting the world into darkness. Immediately, my other senses perked up as the sound of the river became more pronounced. Another wind blew through me from the right with ominous confidence, penetrating to my heart with its impersonal touch. I shivered, and waited. It was time for my quest to begin, and deep within the corners of my heart, I knew it was time.
"Come to me..." I murmured softly, addressing whatever it was that was hinting at my actions.
A few seconds later, I was suddenly aware of something approaching me from the left side. Straining my ears, I could hear the sound of the small rocks being crushed under the weight of something. The rhythmic nature told me almost immediately that they were steps, and by their intensity, it hinted that something was headed in my direction. I steeled myself for a moment, unsure if someone was watching me or not. After a few moments of silence, I relaxed back into my quiet state, passing the sounds off.
The voice that rumbled at me was not loud, nor was it very soft either. It sounded to me like an emphatic whisper, deep, but not bassy. And with an oddly comforting tone. Normally, a sound such as that in a silent situation would cause me to jump, but I felt no fear and answered in an even tone.
"Yes..? Who's there?" I asked, curious as to the voice that had addressed me. A warm breath of air passed over me, surprising me with it's proximity. Whatever it was was right next to me, and breathing almost on my entire left side. The voice spoke in response, giving an answer that I will never forget.
"I am called Mano. You called and now I am here." There were a few moments of silence where I honestly do not think that a breath passed between me and my environment. Mano was there! He stood directly to my left and close enough for me to feel the warm breath that contrasted so sharply with the cool breezes. How could I possibly answer?! My mind was like jelly, unable to conjure any response to what had just happened. Mano spoke again in that quiet but deep whisper.
"What is it you want, Simba?" This question was considerably simpler, especially because I had been concentrating on it for the majority of the other 16 days of torment. My answer came back timid and rather weak.
"I want to be a full person again, Mano." There was no answer. I spent the next moments wondering what had happened. Did I say the wrong thing? Or was my mind playing tricks on me? Even the breathing seemed to stop momentarily. While I began to ponder the stupidity of such a request, I felt the warm breath kiss my left side again and the voice speak to me.
"Are you ready to suffer?" rumbled the response, almost with terrifying calmness.
"Yes, I am ready." I said, maybe too quickly and definitely with a strong indication that I was uncomfortable with the situation. I had committed myself to some suffering for reasons unbeknown to me, as well as put myself in a rather vulnerable situation. How was I to suffer? What was going to happen to me? Mano was obviously taking his time, because I recall an eternity of uncertainty before being plunged into the most intense experience that my life has known yet.
Through the darkness of the blindfold, an amazing thing happened. I began to fade in on strange scenes, but not unfamiliar scenes. They were scenes of torment and agony, visions of things long forgotten but quickly remembered. I could see pain, I could see inner struggles that were as great as a mountain is wide. Through it all, the subject remained the same: me. I was reliving the worst memories of life as I knew it. Each scene, so intricately detailed and rendered as to remind me of every emotion, down to the smallest hint or inclination.
How could I have expected Mano to make me suffer as I did then? For the majority of life I had been pushing events down into the deepest pit of my soul, refusing to accept or deal with them until they became events of the past. But now, all those things I had so 'cleverly' hidden were popping up before my eyes. All the emotions of the past, no matter how unusually weak or potently strong were racing through my mind and body. It was more than I (or anyone I believe) could bear at one time.
My bandanna darkened with the tears of years past for an undetermined period of time. Everything that deserved sadness in the past that I feigned or forced happiness upon was being repaid in full. I had never been so depressed, sad, and hurt as I did then. The tears refused to stop, as if I had an endless stream to give. But the memories did not stop appearing, and as they appeared it induced a new flow from my already emptied eyes. Heaving chest, burning heart and stomach, and agonized voice I hoarsely begged Mano to make it stop. Not even hoarsely; shamelessly.
My tears were still flowing as the scenes faded to black for the last time. I am not one to cry, but the feeling of utter and complete hysterics is hard to match for a catharsis. Still under the mind-blowing effects of Mano's ministrations, it was not until the cold wind slapped my left that I noticed that he was gone.
I was still crying when I noticed the warmth caress my right side. The now sopping wet bandanna was dripping wind chilled drops down the front of my face. Almost from nowhere, a rough warmth touched my face, clearing the salty memories from my countenance. A female voice spoke from the right, whispering with a windy tone as its male predecessor had done.
"My child, my cub, why are you crying?"
"Because..." I managed to sniffle out, "I am so sad. Why must my life be so hard?" The warm winds continued to blow from the right, before I realized that they came and went more like breaths.
"I am called Minshasa, Simba. And I tell you truly, your life has not been as bad as you think." She paused for a moment, allowing me to gather myself once more in readiness and attentiveness.
"Are you ready?" There was that question again! Just like last time, without knowing what took control of me, I answered.
"Yes, I am ready."
The black-red color began to fade from scene to scene again, scaring me that I would be suffering more. But it seemed that my suffering was over as the first few scenes appeared. These were happy times, the successful times, and the times of great joy. Through Minshasa I saw myself at the peak of my abilities. I watched my youthful talents put to work in everything that I could do. And perhaps most importantly, I could see the maturing and growth of a good person.
Such happiness! Such joy! I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to get up and fly from where I sat onto a new era and new world. It was me! It was all my doings. Things that I had forgotten, things that passed by the wayside, the silent victories that no one saw, the giant victories that were too loud to be heard by those around me. They all were there, in their full splendor and grandeur. No drug on earth could produce the high I was feeling.
By the end, I could only sit with a wide smile on my face. The tears that had stopped before returned in the extreme of happiness. It was as humbling as it was amazing. I was so into it, I had to check myself to make sure my head was not expanding! Minshasha's work was done when the scenes stopped and I was sitting tall, chest stuck proudly out at the things that I had accomplished.
I could feel the warm nuzzle of Minshasha from my right. It was a wonderful feeling that filled me with emotions too strong to place in words, or even attempt for that matter. While I soaked up the intoxicating mixture of love and admiration, I could feel the warmth surround me when another breath touched my left side. I could feel the warmth of Mano there, nuzzling as well with the warm breath of confidence. Could I but see it! Even in my blindfolded state, it was wonderful. It was as if everything I held was being transferred, given up to reside somewhere else. This went on for an undetermined period of time before I was treated with the deep male voice again.
"We are not done yet." Mano said, his tone striking me as oddly prophetic. There was more? He continued. "What are your fears for the future, Simba?"
"My fears?" After what he had made me see, it struck me as an odd question. "Well, I fear failure and prejudice more than anything." I said a silent thank you to all the probing that Outward Bound had done into my fears so I could have such a quick and relatively concise answer. Mano uttered his deep tone once more before pausing and allowing the silence to pervade the area again.
"Your future is directly in front of you, Simba. All you must do is reach out and touch it."
"Touch it?" I thought to myself. I sat still for a few moments before a nudge under my right arm made me lift it and feel the air in front of me. I had no idea that Mano meant literally when he said it was right in front of me! Thinking I was to discover something great, I probed ahead. Feeling nothing, I lowered my disappointed sensors to where they were before and frowned.
"There's nothing there, Mano." I said, very much confused. I swear truly that he must have chuckled at me.
"That's right. You can't touch your future because it isn't written yet. You spend so much time worrying about the future that you often forget the present. Do not let the present go by, Simba. It is a precious moment than only a few share at any given time. Why worry about something that is not there?" His words struck me as oddly logical, and once I saw the lesson in it I nodded my head in humility at being taught such a valuable thing. It was about that time that the most stunning pain shot from my foot and sent my brain screaming for relief. I yelped.
"I think my foot's asleep!" I said, wincing at the pain.
"Try to wake it up." Minshasa's voice cooed calmly. Wake it up, simple, right? I could not have been more wrong. I fought and struggled with the painful foot until it nearly wrenched me from my spot. No matter what I did, the pain refused to leave me, and I felt every agonizing moment. After what seemed like an hour's struggle, the sensations finally turned to normal and I was able to return to my position, panting.
"You know, you sat on that foot for a long time before it began hurting." Minshasha mused softly. "Feelings are like that too you know. If you sit on them for a long time, then eventually they will hurt you and it will be very hard to get rid of the hurting." I was flabbergasted at this lesson taught to me in such a roundabout fashion. It was very effective though, and I once again was humbled to have learned such a thing. The warm breaths were about me for a few moments before the deep tone spoke again.
"Simba, consider what happens if you fail." Mano said with a tone that sounded as if it already knew what was to come next. "Why do you fear it?" My answer was quick.
"Failure is not an option." I said shortly, without hesitation. This used to be a catch phrase that I used often when confronted with a situation in which I might have difficulty. Mano's reaction was so unpredictable that I was stunned by its force.
"Failure IS an option." Mano said, doubling the intensity and confidence with which I had said it to him and virtually pushing it directly back into my throat. While I felt the lump that it created almost stop my breathing, he continued. "To believe yourself incapable of surviving failure is to believe yourself superhuman! Even the best in the world fail, and you know yourself to be far from the best in any given area. If you continue to leave the option of failure out, then you will make yourself miserable beyond belief." Once again, I was humbled at this attack on what had previously been a deeply held truth. But with such reasonings and source I could hardly begin to deny the truth that rang evident in the words. A few more moments of warm breaths passed before I broke the silence.
"I understand, Mano. I understand, Minshasa." I said meekly. For these simple words, I received the caresses from both, and then a soft whisper.
"Remove the blindfold, Simba." Fearing this to be nothing but a figment of my imagination, I hesitated only a second. But upon the second revolution of the words through my mind, my hands were already reaching towards the single knot I tied and pulling it loose. The first thing that greeted my view were my feet and the rock that was located directly under them. It took forever, but I finally did what I had wished I could do during the entire ordeal. I turned and looked at the two animals that were changing my life, and to my great surprise, there were two white lions to the left and right of me!!
Mano looked down on me from the left, his warm breath covering my left side as it had the previous times. His eyes were 36 karat gold, and glinted with the warmth and understanding that felt almost paternal. The majestic white of his facial fur ran into a large and flowing mane that was draped over his neck and shoulders. Strands of blondish colored fur added a regal glare to the mane that shone even through the scarce sunlight. I wished to look at him forever, the muzzle, the loving smile, the great form that radiated with such purity and beauty as could never be replicated.
My attentions were grasped by a slight sound that I could only describe as a chuff from the right. Immediately, I turned my attentions in that direction and nearly choked on the beautiful Minshasa. The whitish lionesses sat next to me with a smile lingering on her muzzle that could melt the heart of a career poacher. The blue hues of the skies had crystallized into the two orbs that she used as eyes, and her pinkish nose sat at the end of a muzzle that struck me as quite attractive. Her pert and attentive ears flicked several times in my direction, and as if to chide me for even considering this a hallucination, she nodded a greeting.
Oh kings! How I wish I could have thrown my arms around her and hugged into her neck forever! What I would give to touch the luxurious mane that dared me to run my fingers through it. I will forever dream of the looks, the love, and the overwhelming presence that those two had. And amidst it all, me! ME! Sitting between a white lion and a white lioness in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest! The few moments that it lasted were absolutely incredible.
It was about then that a brightness began to burn before me, originating from the other side of the smallish creek. My gaze was almost immediately broken from the two, and I was so engrossed in the blinding light that I hardly noticed Mano and Minshasa quietly disappearing. Even as they went the warmth surrounding me stayed, or rather...intensified.
"What is this? Something new to deal with? If so, why do I not feel scared? I feel almost...excited?" I thought to myself, unsure of what to do next. When I saw the form of a lion on the other side of the river, I was unable to contain the fearful arousal of my heart. I needed no introduction, I knew precisely what it was, or rather who it was.
The shape was gigantic, abnormally large. It was a lion all right, but the size of his face and muzzle was easily more than double that of Mano's. I guessed as much because even from the distance between us (probably about 10-15 ft.) he seemed as big as Mano did directly next to me. The face was framed by an incredible mane, that had tremendous volume and stature. I could hardly imagine the rest of the body, or even begin to estimate sizes, but the world contracted to the face of this mysterious lion. The eyes were burning, literally. The color and motion of fire in two circles big enough for me to see from my distance. They both looked directly into me (notice I say into me because that is how I felt) and probed my soul. In that instant, my eyes watered from being wide so long, and I cringed inwardly as I stood before Aiheu.
"Simba." He said, more like a statement than a question. I could not answer besides a meek nod of my head. "Do not fear, I am Aiheu and you are one of mine. Mano and Minshasha are yours and you are theirs. Forever more you will be guided by them, simply look and they will be waiting." What could I say? I was talking to Aiheu??? I was beyond asking if this was a dream, or if I was even alive. My mind, perhaps for the first time in my life, was completely and utterly blank. The lion continued however.
"Mano and Minshasha have prepared you, and I have a final piece of advice for you to hold always:
Remember who you are, but do not let it control you.
Remember where you are, but do not let it stifle you.
Remember when you are, and live for the shining moment.
Remember what you are, but do not let it consume you.
Remember why you are, and live each moment as your last."
I remember in the instant that he finished, being filled with unutterable joy. It was even more potent in happiness than Minshasha's doing. I must have been crying, because I lifted my trembling hands to my mouth and raggedly gasped a sound of gratitude at such a powerful piece of advice. I reached my hands forward as if to touch him, knowing that it would be impossible. He stopped me before I could even complete my extension.
"Not yet." he said, softly but with strength. "You have a long and bright future ahead, if you can follow what you have learned on this day. Replace your blindfold, and complete your spirit quest." Stealing a last glance at him, I placed the wettish blindfold over my eyes again and blocked Aiheu from my vision.
I was inundated in heat, very hot and almost broke into a sweat before I felt it subside. The warm breaths throbbed about me several times before breaking off in different directions. Silence pervaded. All was still. A cold breeze attacked me directly from the front, penetrating the jacket I was wearing for protection. It was so cold in fact, that I was forced to snatch off the blindfold to keep from having my face frozen.
Nothing. There was nothing around me but the area I had been sitting in for...how long had it been? I looked upwards and to my right and left. The shadows had shifted and now were leaning hard to the right, indicating that it was afternoon, and beginning to get late. Had I really sat there all day? The thought boggled my mind.
"Mano? Minshasa?" I whispered timidly. "Aiheu?" Once again nothing. As I perked my ears to listen for a response, I suddenly became aware of the creek before me speaking its incessant babble. I had not heard it during the entire experience. I sat there for a few moments, awe filled and in denial over what had just happened. "Maybe it was all a dream..." I began to think to myself, getting ready to stand.
As soon as I placed my hand on the ground, I was startled once more by the rocks shaped perfectly as a paw. There they sat, hardly embedded into the ground as I looked down on them. Suddenly, I felt that small internal nudging and realized what it was saying. It was a gift, a memento, as well as evidence.
Carefully plucking them from their location, I washed each free of the earthen debris that clung for dear life onto them. Cradling the group as if holding a precious artifact, I made my way rapidly up the slope and placed them on a flat rock that I found. What had just happened to me was undoubtedly incredible. I had to write it down so I would know what I was feeling at the time. Scrambling for my notebook, I opened it and quickly wrote down all the reactions I had. It suddenly dawned on me that no one was going to believe this, so I got another idea.
Tearing through my already open backpack, I produced a camera and took a picture of the rocks as they lay placed on the stone. As if by sheer spontaneity, I had the notion to make a record of the whole thing. I photographed the entire area, the creek, the area where I sat, the path down to the creek, the path up to the creek, and even took some shots of myself using the camera timer. When I finished, I stood up by my tarp in silence. The memory was already fading fast, and I had no evidence of the event. Somewhat sad, I went back to my journal, hoping that I might be able to sketch down some resemblance of what happened.
When I opened it, my eyes almost bugged out in surprise. Before me lay detailed notes under a heading marked "outline for future reference". It was all in my familiar handwriting, with the exception that I could read it. I hadn't put it in there, I couldn't have. Yet before me were the very notes that would eventually become the reference for a story.
"Aiheu abamami..." I whispered.
Glancing to the sky, I took a deep breath. A smile crossed over my face and refused to bend back in any fashion. I felt something I had never felt before, the type of feeling that comes seldom in life but is always remembered. For that brief moment in time, I felt myself whole again. I was a full person, ready to face the world again and its wiles as they came. The night was cold that night, and later people would tell me of how they almost froze. But I will remember it as the warmest night of my life, as Mano and Minshasa lay next to me and warmed me in my sleep.