Nicosia - Karpaz, October 2015
A soup of feelings overcomes me as I write this. I would like to first impress upon you the significance of my time in Cyprus. It was to me a destruction of the hard shell of identity that sustained me my whole life. I couldn’t see it happening, of course, but the storm was gathering inside, sometimes delicious and sometimes…agony. In this moment, I am sensing all that went on inside my body during that time as I sit here. It’s potent and magnetic, like a force field that I passed through. Part of the reason that I’m writing this right now, is because I would like to step forward and own this experience with all that it brought to me. I don’t know how aware Katerina was of everything that was happening inside me. I barely was.
We spent our days at a languid pace, letting the Universe provide us with its own cheeky plan. The camping trip in Karpaz fell in place one day. We gathered our sundry beach things and drove to the border of Northern Cyprus, which is currently under Turkish rule.
Remember Simon? (See Miracle Number Two in this journal). He came to meet us with his trailer and two dogs skipping at his side. Louie an eager beagle who never had a dark spot in his little heart and Naomi, a meaty dog with a shaggy coat whom Simon describes as a Mongrel. Simon himself, the dashing cad, had on shorts, a t-shirt and lean sunburned calve muscles.
He welcomed us into the trailer with his good-natured grin. As soon as we stepped into it, we got sucked into the 70’s. It might have been a time machine and we didn’t even know it. Simon was Shaggy. I was Velma. We had two dogs. And Katerina….well I don’t think there’s a place for Katerina in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Jinkies!
There was an uneasiness gathering inside me that day. I couldn’t talk to Katerina about it because she had disappeared into an uneasiness of her own. At least, that was what I sensed. As we drove to Karpaz, I got lost in a patchwork quilt of conversation with Simon as he drove. We stopped on the way to buy some fish to grill in evening.
The beach of Karpaz arrived when we had all fallen into a lull and the afternoon had turned to gold. We stopped the trailer a little away from the beach and everyone hopped out. My uneasiness began to whisper its black magic. All at once, a sick feeling washed over me. Everything around me felt raw, chaotic, and vulnerable. It was like my reality had become so taut it could snap at any second and the fear that that caused made me mute.
I got into my bathing suit because I was expected to. I exited the trailer and went to the beach because I was expected to. I chatted with Simon and his Scottish friend Craig because I was expected to. I stepped into the water because I was expected to. No one was expecting anything of me, really, but I was going through the motions, all the while carrying this hot potato inside me, not able to put it down.
I swam out to the deeper water and pulled myself downwards. I screamed my lungs out underwater in the hopes that this tension would deflate and leave me. It didn’t. I screamed again and again until my face felt hot and angry and tears burst through my eyes into the saltwater. I didn’t know what I was angry about. Or scared of. Or apprehensive of. I just was. So I screamed some more.
I came out of the water feeling a small gap of relief in the tension. I went back to sit with the others like a helpless child who could not voice her fears.
The sun fizzled out. Oh God no, the fears whispered. Not the dark. Dark it became. There was no one on the beach but us. All the other swimmers had gone home. Simon lit a fire and it became like the primordial guiding light, the only bit of creation before existence expanded through the dark to become the world we live in now. He began to grill the fish while Katerina and I prepared the salad and the side vegetables with the meager kitchen utensils in the trailer. A rhythm beckoned, the rhythm of quiet work. Cutting. Peeling. Smelling. I got lost for a while in the aroma of the onions, the lemons, and the figs. My muscles softened. The delicacy of the food put me in a state of presence so precious in the midst of anxiety. We played the Gayatri Mantra, a sanskrit mantra that Katerina and I had been chanting in the morning as we made breakfast in the past few days. It calmed my anxiety considerably. Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha…It’s safe. You’re safe. (Here’s a link to the mantra if you’d like to listen to it while you read.). The air turned into a cool wet piece of cotton.
At some point, Craig gave me a hit from his joint. I took it gladly. Maybe my anxiety will calm the fuck down, once and for all, I thought. Maybe I’ll be free just until morning, at least. But the beast rose immediately afterwards to reprimand me: what the hell are you doing taking drugs from a man you don’t know very well? What if it’s not what you think? And what are you doing in the middle of nowhere with two men you don’t know very well? What if something happened to you? Why would you put yourself at risk? What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing? How do I get out of here?
It sounded like the voice of a parent.
I took deep breaths and repeated I am safe. I lit a candle. I wanted to take it to the darkness at the beach and just be with the waves. And just be.
I sat there and spoke to God. It’s funny how the darkness can scare you and make you feel so alone, so abandoned, but it can also contain you, cradle you and cover you with deep knowing. I asked my questions: why is this happening to me? What is this darkness? I’m open. I want to learn.
Katerina and Simon joined me. We lay down on the sand and talked about God (or no God to Simon), existence, the universe, the stars and everything that was eons away. The dogs listened and pitched in their own wisdom but, being human, we could not decipher what their rolling tongues were saying.
Calm came to me again. There was nothing but sky and stars. What was threatening about this? We were a band of three (five with the dogs) who were brought together to be on a beach. What exactly was threatening about this? I reflected about the innocence of human beings. Why can’t we just be with each other without feeling that our safety, pride, or identity will be threatened? I heard a searcher in Simon’s voice. I was a searcher too. Wether we know it or not, we are all searchers. Even Craig, who went to bed early, must have been searching in his own way.
I slept on a bed that was pulled out of the ceiling above the steering wheel so that, as I turned to my side, I was looking through the dashboard into the inky beach where eternity merged with non-existence.
I got up to pee in the middle of the night. I was a little scared to go off in a secluded area in the dark but I told myself to stop being such a scaredy-cat and go pee, for God’s sake, because my bladder was about to break. I slipped quietly out of the trailer and picked my way through the grasses in the sand. What if someone saw me naked in this open space? What if they approached?
Someone was approaching. I looked behind me keenly but I could not see anyone. I could swear I heard movement. It was not until this someone brushed against my legs that I realized it was Louie. He had followed me from the camp. He stood by me as I peed and followed me back. I was inexplicably grateful to have such a small but loyal guardian. At dawn, I awoke, being the light sleeper that I was, and I saw a thread of pink and purple creeping up over the water. I felt enshrined in divinity, staring through the dashboard of a 1970’s trailer at a beach that would be the home of my rebirth.
I was feeling normal at breakfast…the experience was almost over. We can go home soon. The danger has passed. The darkness has not devoured me. I was safe.
So I decided on a celebratory swim before we went home. I took my towel and decided to commence a ritual away from my friends so I walked far on the beach until I was alone. I could still see people but they were tiny black specks.
I spread my towel on the sand and stood staring at the water. I wanted to do it. That crazy thing. This was the time. No one was around. No one would see. Even if they did, I didn’t care anymore. My heart beat to some tribal sound. I shushed the parents talking in my head and ran into the water in bare skin.
Joy started to burst like thousands of anemones all over me, sighing and crying in ecstasy. It escaped my lungs, my throat, my lips, the sound of pleasure. The sun made my body glow whitely in the middle of water that was very close to turquoise. I felt like Aphrodite in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The ancient Aphrodite was born in Paphos, not too far from here, but a modern day Aphrodite was being born here.
I felt my body for the first time, truly for the first time. I had no body until now. I had no skin, no hair, no goosebumps, no toes, until now, I had been roaming the Earth with just a head. For about half an hour I was overcome with wave after wave of joy and pleasure and every wave surprised me because I didn’t think ecstasy could last this long. I danced with the waves because that was what they were calling me to do. I began to chant the Gayatri Mantra. I sang it to God.
Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha, Tat Savitur Varenyam. Bhargo devasaya dheemahi dhiyo yo naha prachodayat…
Aum Bhoor Bhuwah Swaha, Tat Savitur Varenyam. Bhargo devasaya dheemahi dhiyo yo naha prachodayat…
(Here's a nice version from itunes. You can get it below)
I repeated the mantra until the words joined with each other. Then, the words joined with my movement. Then my movement joined with the water. Then, the water joined with the sky and the sun and in one glimmering moment, I became nothing. I became pure bliss. I became pure oneness. I became everything that is. I could no longer feel my body. I no longer had a mind or thoughts. Time stopped. I was. I am.
Then, an incoming train came speedily through a dark track. It started screaming: YOU’RE LOSING YOUR MIND. THIS IS WRONG. THIS IS A MENTAL ILLNESS. It came like a strict diagnosis.
Nirvana vanished. I stayed in the water a while longer, still chanting, still swaying, but I knew that my time was up. I resisted. I wanted to stay in this beautiful body that I had just found but the darkness pulled me to shore.
I got dressed and lay down flat on the towel. The incoming train arrived and crushed me underneath it. It was a sharp drop from ecstasy to a state of utter panic. I could see the darkness swooping in and devouring my limbs, my heart, my mind. I couldn’t breathe. Fear fluttered in my chest trying to find a way out. What’s happening? What do you want? I asked the darkness.
What if all of this is a lie? What if God doesn’t exist?
I gasped. LEAVE ME ALONE PLEASE.
You are alone. There’s no one there.
LEAVE ME ALONE.
I started sobbing. The tension I felt when I first arrived at this beach was now an emergency. The world was going to collapse on top of me. I was going to be annihilated. Any second now. I was going to cease to exist.
The panic rose to my throat. A cosmic black whole was born in my stomach. If this continues in the future, I thought, if this darkness stays with me, I might just end it myself.
That was when real panic made me jump off the towel and rush to Simon and Katerina. I could not be with that thought alone.
Later, I went back into the water, with Katerina close by, and I faced the horizon, this time sobbing and begging. I imagined a rope coming down to me and I held on to it under the water. I held on for dear life. Please don’t leave me. Please. Please. Please…
The sobs subsided when they were done. The saltwater washed everything away. The tension was mostly gone. I went back to shore and lazily accepted the tasks of the afternoon with a distant mind. I was thinking about my therapist in Boston. I needed her. Was there something wrong with me?
We had lunch. We packed. Katerina and Simon were thinking of spending another night here but I wanted to leave. I needed to leave. I could not explain to them the torment I was going through. I just needed to leave. I was terrified of what another night might bring. What do monks do alone in the mountains, I asked myself? Maybe I’m not equipped yet to be a monk…
In the trailer…on the road again…
After turmoil, the plane becomes crystal clean. It was all right. Everything was all right. I lay down on the side bed as Simon drove, staring at the ceiling. I was not afraid anymore. I was just here, in an antiquated vehicle, on my way to Nicosia. The music that Simon played was horrible. It sounded like a dog tripping on hash, trapped inside a kaleidoscope. But I didn’t mind. It was comforting somehow. I thought about how I was going to miss Simon and Louie. Soon, I fell asleep, like a rag that was wrung too hard.