Once upon a time in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, in a crowded block of units, in a dirty narrow street, in a huge and unfriendly city there lived an artist. Nobody who saw him knew that he was an artist. Anyone living on the same floor of units as he, if asked what he did for a living, they would have had trouble remembering him let alone his occupation. This was amusing because he certainly didn't make a living out of his painting anyway. The painting was what kept his soul alive and a person could hardly walk around without a soul. Could they?
He sat studying his canvas one-day. The sky above the city seemed darker than usual, the dirty grey of the smog assisted by a gathering swell of rain cloud and the light was wrong. The artificial lights he had set up only made a mockery of a clear day. What he had done on the canvas showed in a vague suggestion of outline that divided the clinical white into fragmented sections. It was always hard to try and get started. It was a bit like a relationship. They started out tentatively, unsure of things until a familiarity and an understanding occur and before you know it you're scratching each other's backs and squeezing each other's black heads! This particular canvas did have an idea happening, which was an encouraging change. There is nothing worse than starting a painting and having nowhere to go. This too reminded him of some of his old relationships.
He wasn't sure where he was going to begin. He inattentively started mixing colours, working the paint until it resembled the texture of soft butter and then put his brush to the canvas. There was certain electricity in the air that made his skin itch and he decided that the cloud outside must be a build up to a storm. The air had an ozone aroma that tickled his nostrils and stung the back of his throat. He put a daub of colour here and another there and slowly the picture began to take shape. He stopped, puzzled for a moment, as light condensed and wavered across the canvas. It must have caught the reflection from lightning. He counted the seconds waiting for the thunder but nothing happened. He then decided to look out the window and check for the storm. It would be an awful nuisance to lose electricity. The clouds had lightened a little and his relief was a nebulous awareness that followed him as he turned back to view the canvas.
He saw something on it that perplexed him. He hadn't painted anything up under that grove of trees he'd depicted in the picture. It looked like a little old man seated on a fallen log just on the outer edge of the forest. He knew he got lost sometimes when he painted but he also knew that he had definitely not painted this in his picture. He stepped closer to get a better look at the figure and almost fell as a strong sensation of vertigo assailed him. He closed his eyes and put his hands to his head. It was a vain attempt to assist it in controlling the dizziness. He opened his eyes as the sensation passed and then blinked in stunned surprise. It took him a while to focus because the sunlight was so bright. He stood questioning this because he knew that before the vertigo of a moment ago he had been looking out the window at a cloudy, pollution filled day.
Then he realised that his apartment had disappeared and he was now standing in the middle of a very green and what seemed to be a very real clearing. Vast trees hovered around the outside of it, almost like they wanted to march into the meadow and accost him. He felt like an intruder and for a few seconds he looked around wildly hoping to find a place that might work as an escape route. His frenzied searching brought his gaze to rest instead on the little old man that he had seen in his painting. He now realised he was inside his painting! He decided to approach the old man. The artist was sure that it was he who had started everything so maybe he could explain to him what was going on. The artist mentally adjusted his belt, smoothed his hair and strolled briskly over to the figure sitting on the log.
The old man sat and waited, not taking his eyes from the brash young man that moved towards him. He sat totally unmoving except for the occasional stirring of his long white beard. It wafted slightly in the breeze where it flowed down the front of his robe. His robe was of a nondescript earth brown and covered him down to where sandalled feet showed planted firmly and solidly on the ground. He held a staff that his gnarled hands wrapped around. He held it standing to one side of him where he sat on the log. His eyes narrowed slightly as the young man got closer to hide the intensity and diaphanous blue of their inspection. As the artist drew to a halt in front of him he stood. The agility and fluidity of this movement belied his apparent need of the staff that was not at all in keeping with the image of his seniority. He turned away from the youth and started to walk between the trees. A path appeared as he walked forward as though in knowledge and respect of the direction his feet wanted to go.
The artist discovered himself following behind without a question and felt surprise for not feeling the need for any. It all had the specifications for a dream or a hallucination, except that he was very sure that if he pinched himself it would definitely hurt.
The path started to follow along beside a creek that meandered and gurgled its way through the forest. In some parts the water ran into deep dark pools that caught the splashes of sunlight that had managed to make its way down through the trees. The sunlight swirled around on the surface of the water echoing the leaves above that moved in the small currents of air. It was hypnotic to watch. If he looked at anything long enough in this place it created a distinct soporific effect. The artist realised that he had better watch the figure in front. He had no desire to be any more lost than he already was.
The old man in front moved at a leisurely yet steady pace that must have had them cover quite a few kilometres. All this time the scenery never altered much. The artist felt admiration for the stamina exhibited by the old man and tried to guess his age. He new looks could be deceptive but he got the impression that this old man had seen many years, maybe even a century. The occasional bird spoke from high up in the branches of trees. Every so often a shadow would flit in amongst the giant tree trunks, giving suggestions of flight and of being watched. Once a large shadow moved suddenly behind a thicket of shrubbery. It was a ponderous motion that spoke of obscure danger. It was like a threat that sat on the peripheral edge of vision. The artist felt the shadow move in the edges of his mind and decided that it didn't pay to have an over active imagination in a place like this. He also began to wonder where they were going and when it would be that they got there.
He was just giving serious consideration to saying something out loud that would have put his thoughts into words when the path abruptly brought them out into another clearing. This new glade rose into a mound at the centre where atop sat a derelict hut made from rough stones. Some of the stones had fallen away in parts and in others the years and weather had worn them away. It was a testament to the age and ancient wisdom that pervaded the forest. The artist thought that it would have made a good movie set and wondered what sort of movie could use this sort of setting. His first thought was horror but after a moment he changed his mind and decided that it would be better used for something that surrounded the legend of the Holy Grail. The atmosphere was perfect for the mystery and fascination that surrounded that story.
The old man stopped and for a moment stood in front of the opening to the structure. His attitude was one of reverence and he seemed to be asking permission to enter. He then leant his staff outside against the wall next to where the entryway was and walked through. In no way did he acknowledge the artist that had watched all this with puzzlement and apprehension. He began to wonder who this old man was. He reminded him of an old sage or maybe a wizard. It was very hard to get an impression of him when he handout said a word since the artist had got here. The young man shrugged his shoulders and stepped through the door behind the old man. Straight away the dark hit him and it took awhile for his eyes to adjust to the dimness. His eyes greeted a black, vast emptiness. It opened up before him as an expansive explosion of space. It was above him and below him. It was all around him. He couldn't see the floor and it was hard to tell at first what was up and what was down. The effect was one of total disorientation. He didn't feel like he was floating because he could still feel solidness under his feet even though nothing appeared to be there. The old man still strode forward purposefully. It looked like he had been here before. He headed toward the only source of light there was. It emanated from across the other side of this huge, dark space. The incandescent glow seemed centuries away, even eons away. It was like a magnet that drew one through all this nothingness to a promise of warmth and sunshine. It had promises of an illumination of insights that could feed the soul. It reminded of that warm, fuzzy feeling that is experienced when a person is excepted and needed for who and what they are.
For the artist this part of his experience did take on a definite dreamlike quality. He could have pinched himself now and not felt a thing. He decided that he could have chopped his leg off right now and not felt a thing. Surprisingly the light came closer, quicker than reality should have allowed. The artist could sense a vibration, almost physically feel a tangible flux that throbbed through his head, now that they drew ever closer to their goal. His head filled with the sound of a rhythm that began to match the rhythm of his heart. He couldn't hear it audibly but it became a thunder in his mind. Then it changed and his heart followed this new riff. It became an irregular cadence that set his teeth on edge and scraped along his spine with all the intolerance of fingernails on a chalkboard.
They finally stepped through into a light that was aching in its intensity. It hurt the eyes. It filled all the senses. It even hurt to breathe. It burnt its way down into his lungs and then settled in his stomach with claws that seemed to shred his insides. He fell to his knees in agony. He was totally unaware of his surroundings. He became completely wrapped around, inside and out, with this excruciating torment that pervaded his soul.
It seemed an eternity passed before he regained conscious awareness of his body. He became aware of the cramps leaving his limbs and the tremors that still shook through him. He became aware of tears that streaked his face and leaked between the fingers he held over his eyes. His heart slowed and found its own rhythm again and as his breathing returned to normal, he removed his hands from his face to visually explore the environment he now found himself in.
As he looked around his first thought was for the little old man he had followed into this place. There was no sign of him anywhere. His gaze travelled instead over constructions of wonder that seemed made of light. Tall spires soared high overhead with elegant arches spanning the spaces between. Spectrums coruscated around and above lofty peaks and rainbows washed the air creating abstract images that saturated the senses with an intensity that was almost unbearable. It was only almost unbearable though. The beauty was so intense that it hurt the eyes but it was gloriously uplifting too. The spirit soared with the towers and floated in amongst the colours, absorbing their essence and converting them into an energy that fed the soul.
For the first time a sound filtered through all this visual, sensory input. It was a soft, barely audible murmur and he had to strain his hearing to try to and grasp a direction that he could follow to its source. He moved around trying to find some inkling of where it might be coming from. A stronger sound drifted across his ears and he turned towards its origins. As he began to move forward a path depressed itself out in front of him and he followed in its wake. Walking in this environment was like swimming through prisms of colour and it was hard to keep in his mind the reason for his forward motion. The sound he had first heard as a faint murmur grew steadily to a muffled roar. When he thought he could no longer keep his attention to the task he had set himself he rounded a corner. This presented him with the incredible and awesome view of something that resembled a waterfall.
No water poured over the edge of this structure. It was a living, moving river of light that fell vertically into nothingness. There was no nadir. It had no base. There was nothing but an infinite fall into eternity. He stood at the edge and watched the endless flow of light as it plunged into the depths and he found himself drawn to it. It found an attraction to things inside him that he hadn't known were there, to things inside himself that he had not known existed. He felt a need to see where this upright river ran to, where it deposited its light, the destination of so much beauty. No sooner had he thought this, he felt himself teeter on the edge of nowhere and then he felt his body almost float out into the stream. There was no fear and to his surprise he noticed other vague shapes inhabiting the flow around him. His last thoughts before being pulled along into the maelstrom were ones of completeness, rightness of being and of immense thankfulness.