I awoke knowing the link had been severed. Tears stung my cheeks as I yanked the blankets off my body and stumbled out of bed, feeling sick and disoriented.
By the time I made it to the bathroom sink in anticipation of throwing up my late night trip to Taco Bell, the feeling had thankfully subsided and I was able to stand upright long enough to look at my reflection in the mirror. The drained soul looking back at me was unfamiliar, a sad reminder of a time before the Green, when life was raw and unfocused. I tore my gaze away and relieved myself in the bathroom, each drop of fluid another precious part of my remaining strength and energy and I soon found myself again stumbling around like an unseasoned alcoholic.
I sat on the edge of the bathtub and tried in vain to re-establish the link. Perhaps I’d just grown soft and lazy in recent years. I was sure it was simply a matter of concentrating, of driving the idea that I would never again experience the Green out of my head and going on with business as usual. I was wrong, of course.
The link had been severed. The Green was gone.
I cried, sobs echoing in the tiny bathroom until they were nearly deafening. What was I to do now? Who would guide me? What of the other members of the collective?
I needed answers.
I needed to return to the Green.
I’d first encountered the Green nine years earlier. My lone attempts to harness the Maker Within had reached their limit the previous year and I found myself a wandering fool, unable to create even the simplest manifestation. This surely would have remained the case had I not run across the sign reading:
AWAKEN THE CREATIONS WITHIN:
HARNESS THE POWER OF THE GREEN.
At first I’d laughed, convinced I knew too much to be a student anymore. But, intrigued, I’d followed the arrow at the bottom of the words until I came to a clearing in the nearby forest, surprised to find six other people standing in a semi-circle, chattering lively about mundane matters in a jovial fashion.
I frowned. Had I really believed the sign meant solely for me?
The group looked over and smiled. One of them, a pleasant young woman with an infectious laugh, asked me my name and told me to come join them. I walked over hesitantly, soon enveloped in the warmth of this group of accepting Makers. An immediate sensation of having found a place I could dwell freely overtook me and, against my better judgment, I was one of them in the passage of an instant.
Still, a part of me wondered, was this the “Green” I was experiencing? Was this camaraderie that would open the door for my Inner Maker to emerge and forge wonders I was scarcely aware of consciously?
Then she arrived.
She wasn’t so much a personage as a strong feminine presence that seemed to cast a warm shadow across the procession, harnessing the energy in the clearing in the most compassionate and loving embrace I’d experienced since before the death of my mother some years earlier.
The others smiled, not in the blank-eyed fanatical way reserved for other bringers of knowledge I’d encountered, but in a content way that made me smile.
“Someone new today?” her voice said into the cool air.
“Yes,” I said. “I hope you don’t mind…” I felt her smile, although she had yet to materialize.
“Of course not. Welcome, Eric” She took the form of a butterfly that day, a form she would favor over the ensuing years. I was so captivated, it wouldn’t occur to me until much later to wonder how she knew my name. At that moment, I was being allowed into something wonderful.
And the Way of Green opened a pathway at my feet.
I’ve never understood the significance of the color. I suppose I never became that advanced, and asking those who are farther along generally results in nothing more than knowing smiles. Placing Green in a context or format that can be read and disseminated would undoubtedly do to it the same injustice that’s been done to Zen Buddhism by well-meaning researchers who believe everything can be understood on paper.
However, if I were forced to do so, I would venture to guess that Green is the very creative power of the Earth itself, harnessed and expressed through us. Of course, it could also be a metaphor for something greater than our realm of experience on this mud-ball.
Whatever it was, my gratitude knew so bounds as my creativity took on a life of its own, often during times that were inconvenient and uncomfortable. I frequently found myself drifting into my mind’s eye, conjuring images and concepts previously untapped even during my most inspired moments. Ideas became a religion, strictly observed by me on all levels of consciousness.
At one point I nearly lost myself.
She came to us in the form of a beautiful, orange-striped cat the day I nearly slipped into oblivion. I sat slightly away from the semi-circled group, my gaze unfocused and distracted by the various concepts and images bombarding my brain. I wondered if this was what it felt like to trip on LSD, a barrage of All Things whirling and cascading into a miasma of philosophical detritus from which no rationality could escape.
A simultaneous feeling of profundity and being full of shit.
The other members of the collective greeted Butterfly with customary joviality and gratitude. She greeted them the same way in return, her humility never ceasing to amaze me. Never once had she made us feel servile or inferior to her in any way. We were, for want of a better term, “in this together.”
The Session went the same as it always did, for the most part. Everyone shared their creations with everyone else. Those who hadn’t created that week weren’t ridiculed but encouraged to observe what the rest wanted to share. In spite of this, I always felt an enormous pressure to perform, to create something by the time another Session rolled around.
Perhaps that was what nearly drove me to the brink of madness, the self-imposed “pressure” to manifest those things that weren’t ready to come out.
Slowly, Butterfly invited each member to share what they’d brought, gently encouraging and objectively critiquing. I was amazed at her ability to know what each of us intended, even when we’d strayed so far from it nobody else had an inkling. She laughed with delight at the more humorous ones, her infectious love for life a force of its own.
My attention wandered during the others’ presentations, my mind so completely focused on the myriad of images coalescing into the vast web of Making that threatened to burst forth from every available opening on my body. Through it all, some seemingly misguided sense of paranoia told me that in spite of her concentration being centered on the others, a part of her was fully aware of my inner torment.
She called upon me last, all eyes turned with pleasant expectation in my direction. I stood and began the Art of Making, hands working furiously as I spun odd shapes and images, words tumbling from my mouth as sounds exploded and hummed in the distance, all cast by me in long moments of sheer over-extension. My breathing grew ragged, body shaking, as a bizarre form of merging took place. The extent of myself that was still present became indistinguishable from the Creations as they spun wildly, madly out of control. The others covered their ears and ducked, faces drawn into various expressions of discomfort, and still I continued.
Beams of light-energy lanced from my fingertips in all directions at once. I felt my feet slowly leave the ground as I hovered mere inches above it, the release of electricity from my own internal “battery” forcing the very laws of physics to bow down to me. To call it a “rush” would be an understatement. I was everything I ever wanted to express, the combination of years of repressed creativity spilling over into the Waking World as if my mental floodgates had burst open. I heard someone bellow with laughter and realized it was me.
The others yelled for me to stop, to let go. I didn’t bother telling them I had every intention of letting go, but not the way they meant. My intention was to surrender to this moment, to become it, until it and I merged and metamorphosed into some new and terrible Creation. As the last vestiges of the me I was leaving behind faded, a butterfly flittered in front of my eyes and a calm, rational female voice said, “Enough.”
The equivalent of a metaphysical off-switch killed the power I emanated in an instant and I landed hard on my feet, once again a prisoner of gravity.
I collapsed to the ground, panting like an exhausted puppy, coated in ice cold sweat. The others gathered around me at a distance, seemingly afraid to come too near.
“The Green has found its new Expression,” Butterfly said.
Some of them nodded their heads knowingly, others frowned as I undoubtedly did. The next words spoken by Butterfly were whispered softly into my ear, “Together, we will harness all that sums you up.”
I sighed, feeling a strange mixture of dread and relief.
The ensuing years were difficult. That moment of utter Creativity frightened me beyond all comprehension. I often drifted away from the group for long stretches of time, desperately trying to reclaim some semblance of normalcy.
But the call always brought me back. And each time I returned, I was treated as if I’d never left.
Butterfly constantly assured me that I didn’t need to feel pressured to please or impress the group. “They are here for you,” she said.
There were always new people. The unifying force we’d come to know as “Green” reached ever-outward, drawing in only those who could, on some level, understand its call. At times I felt I understood more than I wanted, while at others fervently wished for a better understanding.
The words confusion and Green seemed to go hand-in-hand. I doubted it would ever make total sense to me.
Death hung in the air as I made my way through the forest, ignoring the fact that so many of the trees I’d grown to enjoy looking at were wilted. The grass beneath my feet was brown and dry, swiftly becoming hay. I saw very few animals this time, a few squirrels and a rabbit or two. Even the birds were conspicuously absent from the sky overhead, their homes having fallen to the dying ground below.
My own breath could be heard as I ran harder, faster, heading toward…where?
The path to the clearing had always been clear to me before. I stopped running and gazed around, panting hoarsely as my muscles deci
ded to protest my treatment of them and started locking up in places I didn’t know existed.I bent my knees and leaned my palms on them as I tried to catch my breath.
I was lost in the wilderness. The sign advertising Creativity was nowhere to be found, that none of my usual landmarks were evident. Having caught my breath, I stood to my full height and emitted a primal roar of frustration.
Night descended upon the forest faster than expected, the moon arriving to shed its pale glow across the death and rot that surrounded me. Having long before given up my search for the sign, I found myself fruitlessly attempting to locate a way out of the forest and home. Unfortunately, this gave me far too much time to myself, which inevitably led to intensive bouts of thinking and speculation.
I couldn’t help wondering if Butterfly had died. How else could the link be severed? Where were the other members of the Collective? Surely some if not most of them had experienced a breaking of the link as well. Had some horrible cataclysm befallen all of them, too? Did we have enemies who wanted to stifle us for their own reasons? That last thought caused me to shudder a bit; the possibility of enemies had never occurred to me. Surely any assembled group of like-minded people inexorably caused another group to oppose them; it was one of the fundamental universal laws Butterfly taught me years ago:
Opposition is the Motivating Force of Growth.
My entire body tensed as this concept took root within me and began to grow. Perhaps I was all alone. Again. I felt my eyes fill with tears and blinked them back. To have finally found where I belonged, to have traveled so far on so many levels, only to wind up where I’d started…
However, I reminded myself, some things had changed. I did have the Green, even if I didn’t really know what the hell it was. I had my ability to Create. I was more confident. Surely those things could carry me through whatever negativity I was enduring.
Something moved along the line of skeletal bushes to my left. By the time I’d turned my head to look, it was gone. I felt a presence behind me and whirled around to face it, seeing only the darkness that stretched seemingly into infinity. The ground rustled beneath me as if some gigantic worm slid underneath the surface. I steadied myself for whatever came next, fully aware that I couldn’t possibly be prepared for it.
The air grew still for a long moment and I pictured a spinning top being held in place right before it’s released. I tried one more time to re-establish the link and was met with the extra-sensory equivalent of static. A dry chuckle sneaked its way between my partially open lips; I truly was alone after all.
When it came, it took no form and said nothing. What it did do, however, was throw everything into chaos. One moment I was standing in a dying forest, the next a scene out of a madman’s experiences in the depths of Hell.
All discernible reality vanished in a wink. The ground and sky and everything that had been around me started spinning simultaneously; I repeated one of Butterfly’s mantras under my breath: Chaos is the Bringer of Order as Order is of Chaos.
It didn’t help.
Instead, I found myself being assaulted on all fronts, senses working overtime to process and comprehend the rapidly spinning, flashing realities in my field of vision. I tried conjuring a distraction and watched it slowly fade into the ever-spinning tempest that had once been a forest.
With supreme effort, I slowly forced myself to hover a few inches above the spinning ground. I looked up into the multicolored sky and grimaced; if I could maintain this position for just a few moments, I might create a balance. And with balance established, the Maker Within could emerge.
I took a deep breath and exhaled sharply, fabricating my own mantra as I said, “I am neither Earth nor Sky, yet in control of Both.”
The far away sound grew closer, sounding like a thousand many-fanged, hungry mouths chomping away at something vital. It rose to near deafening levels as I repeated my mantra a half dozen more times. Something emitted a high-pitched howl born of pain and shock.
I remembered Butterfly saying that madness and creativity are indistinguishable but had no idea how it applied to this.
All I knew was I was stuck in a maelstrom of lunacy with no way out. The forest ceased to exist for a long stretch of time, replaced by a myriad of tunnels stretching on into all directions. My mind reached out into the center of all of them, fruitlessly seeking a way through. The howling grew fainter, more desperate as it clawed its way into my soul and began ripping and shredding its way to the core of my being.
I cried out in metaphysical agony, still focused on the tunnels and their promise of escape.
I homed in on one tunnel in particular that resembled a winged insect and smiled. The ripping and shredding halted for a moment, the howling silenced. I aimed my Self toward the tunnel and laughed as it fluttered its “wings” in response.
I zoomed toward it at the speed of thought, an instant that lasted an eternity as I navigated between the other tunnels, each tempting me in its own way. The thing attacking me clawed and tore with more desperation that ever, its former howls now little more than pathetic moans. I felt it receding further into the background of my consciousness as the welcoming opening up ahead beckoned me ever-onward. Entering the tunnel took every remaining vestige of sanity in my possession. Reality turned in on itself, became fluid, in constant flux, as my senses were assaulted by the spinning, whirling mass of inconstancy. I merged with it, grateful as my attacker’s moans withered away into the background noise of this new experience and soon faded from me all-together.
I emerged on what can only be called the “Other Side” of the tunnel, drenched in cold sweat and panting like an exhausted dog that’s been forced to run a marathon next to its owner.
My surroundings were, to say the least, uninspiring. I stood on dry, cracked stone as a gray sky loomed overhead, a pale blue glow from some alien sun casting itself onto the shadowy mountains and petrified trees around me. The distant rumble of thunder caused the ground to shudder, a gently yet insistent breeze causing my cold sweat to become even colder and dry.
I briefly toyed with the ridiculous idea of exploring my new environs, then realized that what I perceived was not what truly was. And with that realization came a warm, comforting feeling that could only be associated with one thing.
“I knew you would make it.”
I felt my lips curl into a smile. “Butterfly?”
“Yes, it’s me. Or, rather, what remains of me…”
I frowned, gazing around the lifeless expanse, so lacking in the lush Green of the park. “Where are you?”
The sadness in her voice wasn’t the kind associated with mourning, but instead a sadness that contained an element of supreme awareness. “You can’t reach me here.”
My upper body went slack, as if someone had yanked out an inner tube. The truth of Butterfly’s words stung but I was not yet prepared to accept their inevitability. As if in defiance, I conjured a tiny, golden butterfly composed of pure light and sent it flying away from me and into the gray sky, a fruitless attempt to influence the “world” around me.
Butterfly’s presence exuded a gleefulness that, because of its purity, almost brought tears to my eyes. “Time is a flame from which few escape, Eric. I am not immune.”
I remained silent, head hung low as I fought the urge to tell her I’d always thought she’d live forever, certainly longer than me.
“In this place, where Time is king,” Butterfly continued, “My allotment is up. It now falls to you.”
“To do what?” I screamed through tears, surprising myself. “I’m nothing without your help. I’m a fraud!” My humorless laughter quickly devolved into a dry choking sound.
I felt something soft and warm touch my shoulder. “No, Eric. Your self-doubt has led you away from the Green, has made you fear it, when you should have embraced it.”
I shook my head. “I don’t even know what that means…”
Butterfly laughed kindly into my ear. “Of course not. When you do, you will have this same conversation with someone like you.”
I turned around to face the voice and wasn’t surprised to see no one standing there. “You want me to replace you?”
“This is not the physical world, Eric. No one can truly be replaced. You are simply continuing the Work you began when I brought you to me those years ago.”
I smiled in spite of myself. “Why me? Surely somebody else from the Collective would be better…”
“There is no Collective.”
My reply hung suspended at the edge of my mouth, my body went rigid, immovable for several seconds. The rapid beating of my heart was the only thing I could hear as Butterfly let me soak in what she’d said. Truthfully, I’d begun suspecting as much when the link was severed and no one else arrived at the park to see what was wrong. But I cursed myself for a fool for not having considered it before.
“The Inner Maker designs its own enlightenment,” Butterfly whispered.
I nodded dumbly, unable to respond. The resulting silence was discomforting, equivalent to that experienced by childhood schoolmates meeting again after decades and realizing they have nothing to say to each other. It was difficult to accept that when I’d walked into the park that day, I’d found what I needed instead of what I’d needed finding me.
When I spoke, my voice sounded as if it belonged to someone else.
“None of them were…real?”
“Of course they were real. But only for you.”
It made a perverse sense. After all, nobody ever seemed to be any further ahead following my long absences than when I’d last seen them. Had I been so conceited that I’d believed their lack of progress was indicative of my own greatness?
The thought disgusted and amused me. Even worse, I felt ashamed of myself.
As if sensing this, Butterfly laughed. “Being a Maker isn’t all happiness and humility, you know.”
“Apparently,” I said under my breath.
The wind grew restless, harsher than before. The ground beneath my feet blurred a bit, no longer containing distinctive grooves and ridges. I felt that same feeling that always accompanied standing too close to the edge of a cliff, palms shaking, legs locked in place.
“This place is ending, Eric.” Butterfly’s tone dripped with sadness as her voice grew slightly fainter. “This time is swiftly leaving us.”
“I’m afraid,” I said. I felt her smile. “So am I.”
I blinked back my tears, confused. “How can you be?”
Butterfly sighed, a tiny gust of wind in my ear. “I don’t know what the Green has in store for me next. It is as much a mystery to me as what it happening to you.”
Something about that revelation made me feel simultaneously better and filled me with dread. Butterfly and I existed in a spiral of confusion and obscurity, where defining was a perilous undertaking, ultimately resulting in contradictory explanation. The concept of “enjoying the ride no matter where it takes you” seemed appropriate here, whether I liked it or not.
“I can’t lose you,” I said into the now deafening wind. “Not now.”
“You haven’t lost me,” she replied, barely perceptible above the howl. “You’ve gained yourself…”
I cried out in anguish, tears stinging my face as I tried, one final time, to re-establish the link. Then the place that was not a place vanished.
I returned to the park in an instant and fell to my knees, exhausted on every level. The park was unrecognizable to anyone who’d been here before to see its natural splendor. Everywhere was death, pervasive and unrelenting. The foliage was a collection of dry, brittle remnants, the ground a non-fertile wasteland. Worse, I reflected, than before I was swept up into the “storm.” E
ven the smell in the air was stale and moldy, impossibly ancient. This is what could easily be.
I blinked, placed my fingers on my temple in a vain attempt to locate the origin of that thought. The truth of it was a blade plunged into my heart and it forced me to my feet. My fingertips surged with electrical jolts of energy, my feet left the ground ever-so-slightly. A renewed strength filled my ever fiber as I allowed my Inner Maker to come forward for the first time with orgasmic release. I looked down and saw a small patch of green where the ground had been brown and cracked, and smiled. The smile became a laugh that erupted from me uncontrollably. Butterfly’s words came back to me as more patches of green began showing up on the ground: Madness and Creativity are indistinguishable.
To my right, a bush seemed to grow buds and widen out.
“I won’t forget you,” I said into the fresh air.
The park is lush, green, beautiful. People arrive daily this time of year to enjoy its surface pleasures, frolicking like happy children no matter how old they are. They have no idea what else it offers. The world they exist in is right before their eyes, attainable, easily understood. The games they play simulate their concepts of “reality,” and “imagination,” containing easily defined and followed rules of behavior and thought. I move among them, unnoticed, my tasks and thoughts strictly mine to bear.
All is as it should be.
As I walk past a group of soccer-playing children, something flutters directly in my line of sight and I take a few steps back so I can see it. A butterfly. But closer inspection reveals that it isn’t just any butterfly. It is the one I conjured in that nameless place with the gray sky, composed of golden light- energy. I hold out my palm and allow it to land there for a moment, smiling as I realize it has taken on a life of its own, independent of me. Then, slowly, it flutters its wings and takes off, leaving trails of green and gold behind itself as it vanishes into the blue sky. I stare after it a moment longer, then head deeper into the forest. It’s early still and I have much more Creating to do.