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  • Doug

The Shaman

“Do you guys want to go on an adventure?” the Shaman asked.

The Shaman told us the most important thing to remember was that if we should ever get lost, feel unsafe, or lose track of time and space, all we needed to do was stare at the moon. He promised us that staring at the moon would definitely help us to find our way back.

“How could we get lost?” I asked, “It seems like the festival grounds are fairly small and we are surrounded by fences and gates.”

“You will lose your way at some point,” the Shaman insisted as he shoveled the acrid MDMA powder into our mouths, telling us to let it dissolve under the tongue. “You will lose your way, for sure. But just remember to look for the moon.”

I burst into laughter. It started out with big breathy HA HA HA’s but soon devolved into giggling and gasping for air. At my side, Mike joined in the laughter, and so did the Shaman. We had already scarfed down the bitter, dry mushrooms, and suddenly the idea of “looking for the moon” seemed too surreal for me to comprehend. I tried to tell the group about playing hide and seek with the moon, but all I could muster was a falsetto scream of “how could you…how could you…” and would melt back into the laugh streaming from my eyes. I had never heard a better joke than “look at the moon.”

As the laughter subsided, Mike must have thought of the joke again because he fell into another fit of uncontrolled chuckling, and because we all knew the joke, we joined in.

“Do you guys want to go on an adventure?” the Shaman asked.

“Yes” we called in unison, although I was terrified of what could happen outside the safety of the dim pink lights inside the cozy motorhome. I looked toward the face of the Shaman’s wife. It was a safe face. I knew I could find the right answer in that soft, serene face. I knew she would tell me whether or not it was ok to go on an adventure.

She saw me staring and gave me a smile. Nodding, she told us to go with the Shaman but to take these and put them in our mouths. We held our hands out as she pretended to take something out of a tiny container and then pretended to drop something into our open palms. We looked at her, waiting for her to say more.

She looked down at our hands. “What happened to your mints?” she asked.

Mike looked down at his hand. I looked at Mike’s hand and then mine. They were both empty.

“Did you drop your mints?” she asked, and laughed. We started laughing. We did drop our mints. She hadn’t pretended to hand us anything at all, we just dropped them. We roared with laughter as she told us to open our mouths and she deposited the new mints straight in. With a pop of fresh peppermint, we were ready to join the Shaman for an adventure.

I stood quickly to my full height, forgetting about the low ceiling in the motorhome and cracking my head. I sat back down to consider what I had just done. Mike helped me back up and out of the motorhome.

I was shocked to realize I could see the lines of the constellations...the lines that connected the stars and painted pictures for ancient man. An overwhelming joy and gratitude washed over me and I began to cry at the stars.

Safely in the moonlight, we followed the Shaman along the path to increasingly louder music. A guard told me to show him my wrist, which I did. No, he wanted to see my other wrist. I laughed. How does a person get so excited about seeing a wrist? A bare-shoulder, maybe, the moon of course, but why was this guy so interested in my wrist? And so specific!

I looked down at the bright green band on my wrist and remembered everything. This was the key. He was looking for my pass. Which, I decided, if it took me that long to figure that out, I must really be tripping. I shook my head and smiled at the guard, giving him my professional face. I looked at him the way I’d look at a guy who was just like me, we were associates, friends even, and he was doing me a favor! I showed him my wrist and patted his shoulder, thanking him for doing such a great job on the wrist patrol thing. He responded but I’m certain he said “glub blub blub.” I knew I didn’t have the capacity at that moment to laugh at his frogman joke, so I gasped and smiled and followed Mike and the Shaman into the festival.

I got lost inside the festival. The music was heavy, with a business to it that made me feel there must be too many instruments. The rhythmic thumping of the base made me nervous and a guy in a Superman costume was suspiciously friendly to me. I walked to the side of the stage where I found a small fence I could hold onto. I held the fence and tried to ignore the music and the Superman guy until I could figure out what to do next.

With my hand wrapped securely around the fence, I glanced into the sky. The stars, shimmering and dancing at first, began to take a more solid shape and I was shocked to realize I could see the lines of the constellations. I had only seen the lines in books and stuff, and yet here they were, the lines that connected the stars and painted pictures for ancient man. An overwhelming joy and gratitude washed over me and I began to cry at the stars. I held the fence post and cried.

Mike was somewhere near me. I could hear his voice. I could hear him answering questions with short, one word answers. I didn’t know where he was, but he was close. I wanted to look for him, but I was learning too many things from the constellations to risk looking down from the sky.

I heard my name. Then I heard it again. Finally, Mike said “Doug, please!” I reluctantly looked down from the sky to find that Mike was standing right next to me, also holding the fence post. He had wild eyes and looked like someone who’d been watching internet shows. He said something but he must have been underwater for a moment because I couldn’t understand him.

“What?” I asked.

“This guy is freaking me out,” Mike said, and used his head to point backwards at the guy who was freaking him out.

It was fair to be freaked out. The tall, lanky guy had hair like a cartoon pony and wore no shirt. He wore shorts, but they weren’t like any shorts I had ever seen. He was standing unreasonably close to Mike and telling him a story. I looked back to Mike’s pleading eyes and then back to the cartoon pony man. “We are going pee!” I exclaimed, proud of my brilliant plan to get away from this scary but magical thing.

“Come on, Mike.” I was worried I had used his name and blown our cover, but I couldn’t concentrate on that at the time. We hurried to the portable bathrooms.

Inside the pitch-black outhouse, I used my phone’s flashlight to find the small urinal on the side. Struggling with the decision to keep my phone out and risk dropping it into the blue-tinted mud below, or pocket the phone and face complete darkness, I opted to pop the phone into my mouth to light the way for my pee stream. After a few moments, or maybe infinity, I was able to locate the sliding door mechanism and escape the claustrophobic blue room.

Mike stood not far off, gazing into the sky. I approached him carefully, not wanting to distract him from his reverie. “Hey!” he said when he noticed me standing on his right. “Look at the moon!”

I looked up and gasped. The moon had never been so bright. It glowed in the sky, dangerously burning into my retinas, forcing me to feel it’s soft light wrap around me like a familiar blanket in the crispy air. We stood and watched the moon.

“What are you guys doing?” I heard the voice behind me. I was uncomfortable breaking eye contact with the moon, but I didn’t want to be impolite so I looked back. Three women suppressing giggles were waiting patiently for an answer. Without poetry in my words I stated, “We are looking at the moon.”

“Awesome!” sang the leader of this gang, “We love moon gazing!” and they all three joined us in looking at the moon.

“Is there a rainbow around the moon?” Mike asked out loud.

“Yes,” I replied, “But I’m not sure we should tell anyone about that.”

“It’s beautiful!” said the first girl.

“It is teaching me so much!” said the second girl.

The third girl didn’t say anything.

“What are you guys looking at?” came yet another voice from my right.

“We’re moon gazing” all of us but the third girl called out in unison.

“Mind if we join you?” asked the voice.

“Please do.” I didn’t feel good about speaking for the whole group, but I didn’t want these new folks to feel forbidden from moon gazing.

As the nine of us stood rooted to the Earth and basking in the moon’s glow, I became aware of a fluid white bouncing just below my periphery. The bouncing grew larger and larger until it was nearly the size of a grown man. I realized it was the Shaman when I heard him exclaim a long, exuberant “YEEEEEEES!”

“Are you moon-gazing?” he asked us.

“Yes, I love moon-gazing” answered the first girl.

“Doug, he found us,” Mike began, “he told us if we get lost we should look at the moon. Here we are, lost and looking at the moon and he found us!”

The music sprang forth from some sort of enchanted forest. This was music unlike I had ever heard before. I felt penetrated and seen and finally home.

This truth was too heavy for me so I put my hands on my head and rocked forward a bit in case anyone was trying to see my face. “He found us.” I whispered to myself, and a tear streaked from my moon soaked eye.

“Do you want to try dancing?” The Shaman smiled the question at us. Dancing sounded hard, but I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s good time so I looked at Mike who responded, “Absolutely.”

I kept my eyes peeled for Cartoon Pony and Superman, but they never saw me. In our small group, the Shaman and his wife began dancing a fluid, hypnotic sway. I couldn’t find the right rhythm, so I walked in place with my arms in front of me, a sweaty Frankenstein monster just trying to feel the night.

“This music is too negative,” the Shaman’s wife abruptly declared. “We should head back to the motorhome.” I knew she would keep me safe. No one ever had a better idea, I tried to hide my glee but couldn’t help a small “Yip!” from escaping my lungs.

Mike had to stop for a break on the way back, because the Earth was rising up to make everything uphill. We loitered beneath an abandoned canopy, our group swaying to the now distant, awful music.

“The tent has a force field that protects us all from negativity,” explained the Shaman. I silently volunteered to hold the pole in place and make sure the force field didn’t crash down around us. I loved these people and couldn’t bear the thought of seeing them harmed by the violent music.

Back on the path to camp, the Earth had calmed down and no longer rose in front of us. A group of college girls asked the Shaman for directions, which he happily gave them. One of them asked the Shaman if he was lying to them. How dare she suggest such a wicked thing of the Shaman, but they were young and stupid and on drugs so I decided to let it go.

We sat around the fire, old friends greeting one another, introducing their new friend to the group. I smiled and said hello, but didn’t trust myself to say anything beyond that. Someone picked up a guitar and handed it to the Shaman.

The music sprang forth from some sort of enchanted forest. This was music unlike I had ever heard before. I felt penetrated and seen and finally home. The Shaman began to sing, his wife harmonizing alongside him. A warm blanket was wrapped around my shoulders to keep out the night’s chill. I pulled the blanket tighter around my body only to realize there was no blanket, only the sweet and magical music.

Wait a minute I think I might be in touch with myself. I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt at home in my own body. Is this spirituality? Is this God? Am I God?

As the song ended, I wanted to pour my heart out in gratitude. I practiced the words in my head. It would be simple, I thought, to say “thank you!”

To say, “Wow, I thought I was an atheist but tonight I feel God all around me, even inside of me.”

To say, “You are all so beautiful. Everyone is so beautiful! I am filled with love and I want to live the rest of my life feeling this overwhelming love for everyone in the world!”

Feeling prepared, I took a deep breath, ready to expose all my vulnerabilities and say all the things that were in my heart.

“Wow…” I began, “Hut! Hut!” That didn’t sound right, my words weren’t working, so I whispered, “Thank you.”

The Shaman and his wife continued playing music, and chatting, and telling us how much they loved us. As each song ended, I muttered out yet another “thank you” and stayed silently contemplative. Was an atheist like me really allowed to change his mind about God over one night of simply being God?

I loved everyone. And for the first time in a long time, maybe in forever, I loved me.

“Thank you,” I whispered into the night, or at least to the person sitting to my left.

Could I reclaim spirituality? A bad word for so many years, one that meant shame and guilt and looking over my shoulder as the bearded creator watches me masturbate, I had buried the “S-word” deep. But now here it was, right in my face, heart, and gut: Spirituality.

“Thank you,” I softly said to the fire.

Wait a minute I think I might be in touch with myself. I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt at home in my own body. Is this spirituality? Is this God? Am I God?

Wait, I God? Are we God? Is getting in touch with my true self, connecting with others, and feeling a deep sense of love and that “feeling the Spirit?” I never felt this way before.

“Thank you,” I gently spoke to the Earth beneath me.

Still sitting around the fire, I glance up to the sky. The stars have faded, the feeling has faded. The sky is glowing neon blue as the sun begins its ascent from deep on the other side of the mountain. Dawn. Wow, dawn! I’ve been sitting here, with god, being god, all night.

“Thank you,” I say loudly, now, to no one in particular, but specifically to everyone who ever lived.

That old familiar lump in my throat. I take a shot at swallowing the lump, but it only rises stronger. The tears pour from my face. Breathy sobs of the reborn burst from my chest. Mike hugs me and I hug him back, wrapping him up, feeling the connective tissue of all beings and the energy of the Earth flowing between us. It’s the greatest hug of all time, because it’s the truest embrace of my life.

I loved Mike fully in that hug. Same for the Shaman and his wife when I got them into my arms. True, pure, joyful love. I loved everyone. And for the first time in a long time, maybe in forever, I loved me.

The tears flowed. I could finally relax. I was there, and I loved me. Turns out there is magic, there is love, and there is god. And we are they. My final whisper before sunrise...

“Thank you, mushrooms.”

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