Today

Today there is no volcano in my view.

No people. No path. No city. No humming.

Today, it’s just the fog that dissolves millions of worlds as it becomes more clear and solid, existing within me and without me.

The word that tells me that there is an external reality is no longer dead. The gate keeper is dead.

Who, then, punishes the archangels? Or do they exist inside me, in caravans?

Do they exist in a room, collecting dust and gathering the consciousness of little children?

Does the manticore fly? Does the unicorn travel on solar currents?

Is the man in the cross still there looking at me with those eyes, asking me if I know that I am there nailed to the same cross, to the same creation, unable to move and therefore only able to upscale or downscale?

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Trimming myself into the world

From the point of view of neurology, as soon as the baby begins to acquire motor skills and focus their eyes, their brain begins to trim. There are neural connections that cut themselves off. In that cutting off, we begin to bring our attention into this world; to be able to perceive things as separate and distinguish shapes, heights, duration, space, color. Without that trimming, everything that the organism can perceive would be perceived and nothing will be distinguished. So, there is a trimming that happens there, and part of that trimming of our neural system is what culture does with language.

Then, over that language, many things are programmed: llike belief systems, like agreements of what is good and what is bad, what is acceptable and what is not. And then over that series of values we build identities: democrat, republican, Argentinian, Mexican. From those we define our personal identity: “This is me,” “That’s not my family,” “I am not like that,” “I am like this.” But we don’t realize the layers of soil that we use to build that sense of self.

The city awakens

I talked to doves coming down to nest from the dormant volcano of my youth. Sometimes, I walked up the volcano and sit at the summit to watch the city before sunrise. Silence reigns at this time, yet the noises of the creatures of the jungle were there accentuating the silence: some crickets, a few barking dogs, and sometimes noises that I cannot describe. With the Sun came the calls of the proud roosters, the humming of the factories, and the cars going to work. Someone screams in the distance, and someone laughs farther away. A few isolated movements appeared. Then, the sounds began to copulate and mount one another. Suddenly, the cacophony of sound and movement begin to become two, three pitches, two sounds, until only one sound remained. The sound resultant was the humming of the beginning of creation, and with eyes closed then I became one with the humming of a city that was awakening.

He wore a black hat

He was dressed in dark cloak, wearing a black hat. He had the eyes of a madman. And I knew that was the body I was going to take. So that one day, maybe, I would know what he knew.

He took away all my gods, all my beliefs and convictions. In order to inhabit this body, he began to drill his consciousness and her presence through every nerve in my body, holding on to every gland, and making every second an eternity.

The Horror of the Situation

I saw the mechanical and predictable when I, on my seventh birthday, became suspicious that everyone around me had been replaced, and that I was now surrounded by robots or extra-terrestrials; that they were observing me.

I didn’t know why they were observing me. I just knew that they were mechanical, and that they were pretending to be the people I knew.

I knew also that I needed to pretend that everything was the same.

 

In the vast desert of the mind, we searched for strange maps.

We were a small band of psychonauts, explorers of unintended spaces, out to the Mina Es—a mine of clay soil we had named after the last letter of each of our last names. Ivan, Omar, Milton, Macoy, Ricardo, Pío and Toño. Our last names ending with the sound of es. Not enough money or food at home to make sandwiches or any kind of meal. Only salt, we would take with us. On the way, we could cut lemons to suck with the salt, our provisions for the journey. Sometimes, if someone had a cent, we could buy the refuse of the mango twist from Doña Evelia. She had a machine where a green mango was stripped into long delicious spaghetti-like strips and mixed in a clear plastic bag with lemon, salt, algüaishte and chile. Quite the mouth-watering 25 cents delicacy! So far from our budget, but not the peel of the mango. They discarded the green peel of the mango, and that we could buy in bigger bags for only 1 cent!

And so, armed with provisions and hand made sling shots, we went in our way to the Mina Es. On our way there, we went through ravines and hills, tunnels and shanti towns built on cardboard houses. We visited the abandoned medicine classrooms of the University long ago taken apart and abandoned by the armed forces. We would see the big pig inside a corral, maintained by some unknown caretaker in the deserted department of agriculture. The pigs’ huge testicles protruding behind his legs, each one the size of a soccer ball from some magic or science of the frustrated dreams of some students turned guerrilla fighters.

We went through so many worlds and adventures, running from guard dogs and ignoring the strays, guided by birds and playing with familiar spirits. We went following the maps in our heads, until we found ourselves in a field of golden brown clay, from where we supplied our bags, making room by eating the lemons and salt—or the refuse of the mango twist, if we had scored earlier. We took our loot back, to make cups and plates and strange gods out of the clay: also leaves and toys, little people and trees. And on our way back we would always take a different route. We came to the Mina Es by way of the forgotten passages of Zacamil and Mejicanos, but we returned home through other stranger passages not of this world. We voyaged through uncharted passages of forgotten worlds, using words and stories of long ago, forgotten as the race of people who once inhabited these lands was itself forgotten. We allowed the perceptions of these long ago impressions and sensations, not delegated to hints and adumbrations behind flickering shadows of the unconscious, to come out and guide us on our way back.

Thus we searched for strange maps; maps which described not physical properties of the known world but the shadow world. Waded not through accepted history, but through recurring mythology. We sought the stories of the old ones. We recorded the lies told in prisons and mental institutions. We were guided at times by the sexual fantasies of the dangerously deviant.

Walking from dream to dream, recording every distortion: shadows that move within a blink, the dissolution of the world as we fall asleep, the dissolution of time as we begin to wake up.

Those became our stepping-stones.

And madness!

Yes, madness. Those were the definitions of our maps for a long, long time: lies, distortions, inaccuracies, old-wives tales, intentional lies, honest beliefs, and entertaining mythologies.

Songs and dreams! They created a vast wasteland, a desert made of thoughts. We started to chart the territories where this sand of mind-stuff had congealed into miles and miles of glass, forming cities—illusory cities made not of glass itself but of the reflection of the moon upon the glass.

 

Photography by Sharla Sanchez

The vulnerable unity of a soap bubble.

When we come into this world, we find ourselves open to the environment, with no shields other than those provided by family and inheritance. We are there, exposed to predators and to influences. We are open to receive the programming of our nervous system. At that time there is no division between self and environment; no distinction between the center of the circle—the source of our attention—and the circumference which is the perceived universe around us.

Everything belongs to the same flux. There is hunger and the satisfying feeling of being nurtured. There is no inside, and no outside; just a constant back and forth of consciousness, impressions, and expressions. No difference is made between any two things.

We begin life from a state that is unified, yet quite vulnerable.

Very close to death, we begin life.
The division between life and death at the beginning
is a thin, invisible membrane,
like the rainbow walls of a bubble made of soap,
floating in midair,
going up into the morning sun
and popping out
right at the same moment
that it disappears.
Such is the consciousness
with which we come to this world.

The Embers Whisper Oaths of Fiery Storms

Fifty years ago, a man leans over a small fire. Around him, the night hosts shadows and crickets, and the spirits of the old house are joined by the spirits of the volcanoes and the mange. More spirits arrive, of jungle, bays, and rivers––all to see the sorrow of a simple man burning a small book.

I arrive too, somehow I’m here amidst the spirits and things we don’t know anything about. I was born two years before. I see the burning of a diary. It would be some years after I’d learn about this moment; that this man was my father and that he was burning with this diary an icon for hope for a revolution that burned injustice and the raping of a continent, a revolution that obliterates all borders and artificial differences of race, gender, and creed. He was burning a small document, so that it would be consumed and owned by the fire, secretly and silently sentencing it to be reborn in volcanic fires, to spread fiery seeds into the hearts of the people.

When I was two my father burnt the diary of Ernesto Che Guevara. This day, fifty years ago, he was executed in Bolivia at the orders of a CIA operative. A picture was taken of his corpse, as peasants formed a line to pay their respect. The CIA would later consider this picture to be a big mistake, because the site became a shrine of a martyr in the hearts of the people, and the picture became the wind that blew on the embers of hearts long ago quelled with despair––embers that now whisper oaths of fiery storms.

 

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Mr. Canales’ Secret to Karma Yoga

It was around this time of the year in 1977 when I was finishing the sixth grade with my teacher, Mr. Canales, a gentle and quiet man who supplemented his income by picking up a few students near his house, in the poor neighborhood of Zacamil. I was one of the students he picked up in the fourth grade. He picked me up on the curve, at the end of the passage that led to my small house. He drove four other students: his son, one year younger than me, among them.

I enjoyed talking to profesor Canales about the solar system, freedom, and the history of pre-conquest El Salvador. Now, as one of his sixth grade students, I was failing. My grades were poor. I didn’t do my work, and didn’t socialize with other kids. I was suffering from insomnia, depression, suicidal thoughts and a few hallucinatory episodes. I had already been held back one grade in the fourth grade, and there was a concern that I wouldn’t make it this time either. I was sent to the school psychologist for therapy, and even had sessions with Superman (our nick name for the Jesuit who served as the school principal).

I thought, then, that the solution to my problems was to change schools. I didn’t want to be with privileged kids with their talk about shoe brands, cars, and penis jokes. I didn’t want to hear one more time how they wish socialists were dead, how stupid indians were, or why the poor deserved their fate. In retrospect, I see that this was not the prevalent talk of all the kids, but a vocal clique that acquired colossal proportions in my mind. I wanted to go away to what I thought would be a more simple and pleasant environment among my peers. I found myself slipping into the habit of talking to everyone about my angst, my situation, my unhappiness, my depression, and how I wanted to be somewhere else with someone else. Unconsciously, I found out that this strategy put grown ups in a state of disquiet silence. I learned to invoke my suffering to justify my performance.

It was around this time of the year, with only a little over a month left to the school year––which, in El Salvador, goes along with the calendar year. Canales was reviewing my grades with me. He looked at me in silence for a while. He looked at the papers in front of him. My mind was reeling in its usual mode of self pity and covered with the familiar veil of suffering. He looked back at me, and said: “You are about to fail this grade.” Then he fell silent again. He seemed to be looking inside himself. In that moment, he made a sweeping motion with his hands, and with that he swept away the expertise of the psychologists, and all the reasons, all the whys, and all objections. With the clarity of a simple mind he said then, “Stop all talk about not being understood. Leave aside all those thoughts and talks about how you feel and what you want. Stop all thoughts and work. You have no more time.”

With that, something in me broke through the cobwebs of the mind, recognizing a truth I could not yet voice. Without knowing why, my mind was silent, and I worked resolutely and purposefully. I passed the grade successfully and, for reasons that belong to another story, I stayed in that Jesuit school.

Canales was assassinated a few months into the next year by a Death Squad, the first of almost a dozen teachers that would fall throughout the duration of my school years. He died for his ideas and work toward social justice. He died, like many others, because they thought that teaching was a noble profession that went beyond putting hours in the class room. During his funeral, I told myself to remember the last words I remembered from him. They didn’t change me immediately––the tendency to indulge in my own suffering is too strong for my Cancerian mind––but his words gave me a moment in which the chaotic world of my mind and its objections would stop and I still now hear his words and see his arms dispelling cobwebs saying: “Stop all thoughts, and work. You have no more time.”

I Woke Up Lightning on the Other Side of the Mirror

I remember my mother walking all around the house, in a hurry. She was carrying a bundle of blankets and towels. Outside, the rain was hitting the rooftop and streets hard. The noise of the rain is harder in the tropics. The cloud forests of El Salvador makes condensation of water stronger, producing thicker drops and more abundant rain falls. Against the symphonic canon of tropical rain, the dissonant thunder would strike to the core, evoking a primal fear that left at its wake religious women crossing their chests and clutching rosary beads.

For some of us, the flash of lightning that traveled like rivers of light through the night sky did more than evoke fear. It announced the shattering sunder of the ordinary. This night, like so many tropical nights outpouring water, light and stentor, I sat in the living room watching my mother going to all the mirrors in the house, covering them with cloth, to keep us safe. She was convinced that mirrors had the power to attract lightning. It was a simple and obvious matter of sympathetic magic: the reflection of lightning has the same properties as the emanation from a lightning bolt, and so the destructive power of one could be felt in the mirror. Transitive properties clearly applied.

I just sat there and watched the family dance. My mother covering mirrors, and the rest either securing all windows, doors, and leaks against the invasion of water, or unplugging electrical cables to protect us against the invasion of electrical surges. And so, protected against water, light, and magic, the night went on. The supernatural fear and awe, however, seemed unaffected by any barrier. As used as we were to tropical storms, we had not yet become rational enough to disregard the raw power of the gods of nature. The power of light and thunder still managed to reach us, even through all the protective barriers of glass windows, towels and rosary beads. Each thunder still made our core tremble, and something that had listened to the storm since before civilization, and reason, seemed to awaken little by little with each tremor.

Each lightning and thunder, a soul-quake.

That night, I overheard my sister tell my brother that she had heard from mama Juana that if you look at yourself in a mirror for too long, you will go insane. Was this the maddening power my mom was keeping at bay? Would a primordial spirit from the abyss awaken if the lightning struck? Would it also awake after being watched for too long?

I must have already had been mad. Why else would I do what I did? With the heart girthed tight by a panic fear, like a serpent around its pray, I slipped unnoticed to a remote room, one of the ones my mother had already protected with towels in the mirror. I told myself, I really did, out loud, that this was crazy and to go back to the safety of the blankets and the stories of the family. But I didn’t.

I went into the room, and opened the veil between me and my image. Removing the white blanket covering it, I saw myself. I stared into my image. I stayed there beyond the fluttering of heart and the crawling of skin. I stayed there, watching attentively, after I recognized the one looking back. After I saw the changes of the face, the demons and angels peeking back at me, I stared longer. I even stayed there after I clearly felt that I was the one behind the mirror staring out into a world of light and thunder, tearing apart all forms and worlds.

I felt as if I had just woken up from a long, long dream in which I had been many, many beings: man, woman, criminal, judge; where I had been a saint and a sinner.
A fish.
I had seen myself as daughter and mother.
Lover.
I was the betraying one and the one who cried in desperation, betrayed.
I had had many dreams and I had seen myself lost in all those dreams.
I got lost in all those worlds. Using myself in the dream. Identifying with the drama.

I remember myself collecting pieces of me, calling them my companions. Members of a group that searched for an idea, an illusion called reality. Futile enterprise. For nothing in that dream could be called reality.

There is only this room.
Only this mirror.
Only me and no other.

I am where I have always been and there is nothing else.
I have always remained in the here and now, even throughout all those changes of form and vision. Immersing myself into the hellish vistas of pain and unending suffering with the hope of forgetting the real world. Searching for heavenly spheres of life and peace and happiness; eternal happiness. Only…

Only to briefly be able to forget the stark reality of the here and now.
That here I was again, all alone.
Nowhere to go in this room called Reality.