February 4, 2015
It’s a crisp February evening. I sit on a bench outside the Berkeley philosophy building, having at least the next fifteen minutes to myself before going for dinner with a friend. A breeze blows softly around me, the air smells clean, here and there a bird calls. It is almost six o’clock. An hour before, I learned that today is the 100th anniversary of the Campanile, a historic clock tower on UC Berkeley’s campus. At six PM, bells will be going off in the tower, rigged by three ingenious professors to chime in rhythm with the Bay Area’s famous earthquake fault line. The seismic waves in the earth will determine the pattern of the music, which will be accompanied by flashing lights.
I have come from a lively seminar on free will, and though I’ve enjoyed It immensely, I’m now needing to ground and center out of head space to become present once again with the living, breathing world before connecting with the world beyond. Soon, Caoilte will be joining me. We have a challenge to discuss and some solid time to ourselves before my friend arrives. I smile to myself thinking on how delighted Caoilte is going to be to have an awesome display of modern technology occurring as a soundtrack to our discussion.
I first heard about the challenge two days before while quietly spending time with a large standing stone during an imbolc celebration. Ailbhe sat down next to me. I was in the middle of thinking about how some people have apparently learned to bend spoons, which is not really what I was intending to meditate on. Silently, I greeted Ailbhe who looked thoughtfully at me and then said abruptly, “How would you feel about bending, as if you were a spoon that could be reshaped to reflect the most light? We will hold you safe until the end of it.” She sent me a picture of several people carrying me in their hands while I went through some kind of transformation.
I could feel the time I had to meditate was almost up, and soon the space around me would no longer be quiet. Baffled and not at all persuaded of the merits of her suggestion I simply said, “It sounds wholly disagreeable to me. But I don’t understand what you mean.”
I am once again turning over what Ailbhe said, not becoming any wiser for it, when Caoilte appears and sits down next to me. He waits patiently while I finish moving into a softer, more reflective focus and take down the shield I use to help shut out the chaos of this world during my long day. Now I can see him clearly, and for a while we sit together, looking at each other, understanding each other without speaking. He is asking how I am and I answer in the otherworld way, letting go of any defensiveness, allowing myself to be seen. I make the gesture for acceptance.
Now, Caoilte gets up and is standing in front of me. He surrounds us in a white light, so I won’t take in any energy that isn’t mine while we’re talking. “Ailbhe says you’re not yet sure whether you want to do this challenge with us,” Caoilte begins, “Why? What are you afraid of?”
He can see how I am feeling and asks the question sincerely, without judgment. Still, this is when staying out of the way gets difficult. It occurs to me that ethicists like to talk a lot about honesty, but tend to skip over the fact that being completely honest quickly dislodges you from your comfort zone. That is beside the point now, however. I meet Caoilte’s eyes: “What Ailbhe said reminded me too much of some sort of intense alchemical transformation or shamanic initiation, and I’d rather run and scream than do either of those things. Unfortunately.” I have the urge to apologize for this, but Caoilte shakes his head, so I continue, “I thought I was already enough, so why become something different? Besides I don’t want to become a shape shifter or be unable to physically recognize myself once I’ve changed form.”
There is compassion and thoughtfulness in Caoilte’s eyes now. I can already tell that whatever I took Ailbhe to mean, I was at least mistaken in part. I’m very glad about this. After a moment Caoilte says, “I can understand how you might take Ailbhe literally, as you were just in a physical challenge with her. No, this is not another physical challenge. Ailbhe and I will be doing this with you together, and the changes are energetic ones. Let me try to explain it a different way.”
Now between us there’s a picture of a dark looking space, and out of this space Caoilte pulls tiny shimmering threads of light, which glint against the night sky. Each light strand has a different color which I can’t see, but implicitly understand is there. Now, Caoilte is unraveling the strands of colored light and reweaving them, then placing them back in the darker space. As I look on the dark space becomes illuminated with the colors previously opaque within it. Instead of lying hidden in the space, the light is suddenly drawn out and brightly shining through, every color radiating out in a myriad of directions. It is stunningly beautiful and I catch my breath, in awe of what I’m seeing.
“This is what we mean,” Caoilte says, “This is about energy, changing, reweaving the patterns that keep your light absorbed in shadow, so your light doesn’t remain hidden, so that gradually you can reflect more and more the radiance already within you, to shine for yourself and then out into the world.”
“Oh!” I say, grateful for the clarity, viscerally relieved. “I’ll agree to that! I’m up for energetically changing shape, it sounds fascinating.” And more than that, which I show in intention, I understand now how I can both go through with the change and still be enough, because I am not becoming other than myself, but aligning more and more with who I have always been.
A look of pure enthusiastic joy silently transforms Caoilte’s face. I can tell he is wishing he could shout “Okay, let’s do this thing!” This is the first time it has occurred to me that shouting isn’t possible in the otherworld. How frustrating!
And, although I now find that I’m having to suddenly console my small self who’s not particularly fond of transitions and change of any kind, Caoilte’s excitement is infectious and it feels like my eyes light up. I am full of curiosity, wondering what on earth will happen now (or perhaps, more fittingly, how out of this world it’s going to get.) Again, I am holding my hands out palm up accepting my place here on the next step of this wild, wondrous journey. And then the Campanile performance begins.