You can listen to the audio version of “Of Monsters And Memory” read by Ryan Heller or check out the entry below!
A thread of fire crawls like an army. Up brittle edges, up the dry surface of what was once a product of life. Once green and soft is now brown and crisp. The all-consuming fire, the mighty army marches swiftly in unison along a shriveled leaf, our sad pyre of this and that. Of the was, still is, the can’t shake. Burning before our eyes, in our hearts.
The chemical change, molecular transformation.
These sad leaves carry sad messages scrawled in black ink. Messages of monsters and memory. Feelings best kept hidden are released. She says writing them on a leaf will isolate and identify the negative; she says burning the leaves will carry it away. Carry them far from us. From me. Released to the universe, to the invisible something-or-other I find myself talking to more and more.
So I write.
On brown leaves I write a single word, on some maybe a sentence or two. Once I write the obvious, the not so glaring has a chance to reveal itself. Those subtle defects of character that anchor me to insanity. Just when I think I’ve written them all, as my pile of leaves stack taller, I realize there are monsters hidden in places I never knew to look. Shadowed corners I’m still too blind to see.
Not yet lifted.
For now, for now these leaves will do.
Some days I climb the spiritual ladder while most days I tread the pool of life. Get by on what I know with blinders shielding my eyes, a brick wall between me and you, autopilot on. Those days I’m a passenger, not a participant. And some days those days are more frequent. But those other days, the days when I climb the ladder or at least have a foot on the rung, those days I can feel the slow roll of new beginnings. Those days I get a taste of peace, even if those days are only a few minutes – it’s enough to get me by. To lift me up.
On those days there are moments when I see myself clearly, like wiping fingerprints off glasses. And when it happens, when the smudge clears, I have an opportunity to look at myself, the human being in his present state. No judgment, no insecurity or self-doubt – just clarity. Awareness. Those days, in those moments, I can see my truth. For better or for worse, there he stands.
I stand before me.
And on such occasions, during those awakened moments, I may see thorns in need of pruning. Edges to my character sharp and ragged. During those awakened moments I may realize I’ve been pointing fingers, making accusations and judgments, assumptions about another person. Silently falling into victim mode or the role of the righteous.
Becoming wrapped in other people’s lives. How they should live, what help they need, what advice they should take. So consumed with everyone else that I no longer look at myself. At my actions. My attitude. How I live my life. Because if I’m focused on what I don’t like in someone else, it is more than likely behavior I don’t like in myself. It’s much easier to point fingers than look inward. If everyone else is fractured than I’m flawless, and if I’m flawless then I can lead the way. Shine the light.
But once those moments of clarity come it’s hard to turn back and almost impossible to forget. Once the ball of twine begins to unravel, you can never quite get it to that perfect sphere again. There are knots and tangles, long stretches of material that make it near impossible to reconstruct. You need to deconstruct life to see the truth. To see it’s really all one long thread woven together to appear like something of great mass and importance. A single thread composed of many individual fibers and elements. And you break it down and you break it down, you break it down till you don’t see it anymore. And everything transforms. It disappears. Becomes understood. Or remembered. Or forgotten.
I don’t really know.
I’m still staring at a ball of tangled knots.
So throw it to the fire.
Find the cracks in need of repair and write them down. Identify them. Those moments of clarity offer a window to greater frequency, an opportunity to climb a higher rung. Find the cracks and throw them to the fire, release them. Surrender control of the broken, the shaded self, recognize the necessity of imperfection to embrace the beauty of transformation.
She says to write it on a leaf. In a dream. In a dream she says to write the monsters on a leaf, she says we’ll then throw them in a fire. And we do. I watch as a bright orange line of fire eats through my leaves with great conviction. As black smoke and the smell of change fills the night sky then disappears beyond the clouds. As a dull gust of wind takes the remaining ash to its new home. Somewhere beyond, somewhere far from me.
Take my judgment.
Take my worry.
Replace it with acceptance.
Replace it with security.
The active pursuit of spiritual growth is in part the active shedding of self. The cleansing of what no longer serves you. But the identification and acceptance of these monsters is the only way to begin. I’ve got to wipe the smudge from my glasses to see the cracks in the pavement; otherwise I walk with blinders on thinking all is well and my street is clean. I’d like to think I’m the pillar of immaculate streets, the model of crackless pavement. That whole humility thing quickly takes a backseat.
What I keep learning then forgetting and have to relearn over and over is there will always be cracks in the pavement. I’ll never be perfect which, trust me, I’m just as shocked as you. There will always be cracks and once I stop looking, once I stop burning those leaves, once I think I’ve got it all figured out, the ladder will inevitably break and I’ll be face down on broken pavement.
But it’s hard. It’s hard to see my faults and even harder to let go. Hard to make change and even harder to see with new eyes. But when you do, when perspective shifts and you begin to look at everything upside down, you realize there are so many other ways to see. To make a change is to turn the corner down a new path. To make a change is to explore yet another facet of your being, of being human, the endless fractal of self composed of limitless potential.
We hold so dearly to things because they once served a purpose or remind us of a time long gone. Material, emotional, mental baggage alike – it’s all the same. I hold my faults with the same firm grip as I do my home. Both offer comfort in their familiarity, security in what I’ve grown accustom to for years. It’s what I know and is not easy to release, even if for my highest self.
This weekend I cleared closets to make room for the insane amount of incoming baby items. With twins on the way we need as much space as we can get. The closets were stuffed with old knick-knacks, dated stereo equipment, craft supplies, two shelves of picture frames we’ll never use again, the list goes on. Crap. So much crap. Stuff we easily justify keeping then shove in a closet to forget about, collect dust and waste space. Amongst the mountain of shit are boxes upon boxes of old photographs, letters saved from friends and family, artifacts of my past collected over the years. Boxed memories I’ve never let go because to discard them would mean to lose –
I don’t know.
Part of me? The memory? A piece of my history? Proof I lived it?
I need to clear the weight of my past to make space for change. It’s the only way to evolve. Those character traits that continue to hold me back, the negative thoughts or intention.
Once you recognize a fault, once you burn that leaf or clear an item from the closet, another inevitably presents itself. We are a work in progress. An endless well of possibility, which makes the human experience a great mystery. Because we never have it figured out, we never have the answers but there is always an opportunity to learn. Expand. The only thing we can control is our ability to take action, to hold or release. To move on or stand still.
And there are times when all I want is to stand still. When the last thing I want is to realize my way is not the only way, an asset may really be a fault, my parents are human, my perspective is skewed and limited to me, there are infinite sides to what I only took at face value. It is easier to see what I saw than allow the pattern to shift, the colors to change, shapes to morph.
But life in oblivion is no life for me, and the reward of seeking is far greater than the comfort of standing still.