Entry 6: Even monsters cry at night
‘You need to go now,’ the critic ushers me up and out of the office, not in the same disgruntled way as when I first arrived, but with genuine concern and fear. Something is terribly wrong.
‘What’s going on?’ I ask, confused by the incessant alarms and lights. I don’t know what they indicate. I’m usually the one who commands the environment of the inner worlds, that is, when I’m in my part of the woods. But I’m not on my side, I’m on the other side, the side I’m not supposed to enter, the side where stories don’t exist. This is a place where information is processed in a different way.
‘You’re not safe here, you need to leave before it gets you!’ He pushes me for good luck towards the darkness. My powers of imagination are useless in this place, I’d have better luck trying to light a candle on the surface of the sun. If I was from here perhaps I would know how to navigate myself, but in the darkness I don’t exactly know where ‘out’ is, or where else I could go.
‘Before what gets me?’ I refuse to enter the darkness for no good reason. It looks hungry, a vacant and patient belly of the beast.
But I’m not given a choice whether I stay in the office of the critic or enter the darkness. It is as though the alarms are the signals of damnation. A monster from the corner of my mind steps forward, as though summoned from the depths of hell. A Minotaur shreds the cloak of darkness to enter consciousness, to contend with my existence. Its presence is heavy and blunted, overbearing and menacing. It snorts, huffing and puffing, its horns sharp, pointed, locked onto me and ready to charge. Its muscles are tense, sweat drapes in beads on its naked male torso.
Ah, this must be the manifestation of my ego, what else could it be!? I’m not exactly sure what happens when one’s ego catches up to them, but I don’t want to stay and find out.
I run when it charges. Or maybe it chases when I turn tail. Either way, I don’t know what direction I’m heading or where it’s taking me. The lights of the signals fade into the distant, alongside the critics office. I can’t see anything, the darkness is omnipresent, and I can’t materialise and transport myself into a conscious part of my imagination. Everytime I try, a heavy weight slaps down my whimsical ways, like bouncing a basketball. I can’t even imagine myself a mechanism that would grant access to my side of consciousness, like a bridge, every attempt is snuffed by the oppressive darkness.
‘I’m leaving, I’m leaving! I just don’t know where the exit is!’ I yell at the Minotaur and it shrieks something fierce in response. I pick up the pace. The sounds of the alarm smother into the nothingness.
I’m anchored in this space, locked into a prison of hard consequence. The Minataur is unresponsive to all attempts to communicate. It doesn’t lead me to an exit, or a way out. Instead it’s chasing me into the lengths of the unknown, with no end at sight. I get the feeling the Minatour is playing some sort of cat and mouse game, teasing me for play, just to torment me. I’m disturbed by its energy, by its fixation on my direction. It’s gaining on me. In the darkness I run, deeper into the shadow side of my mind, to escape the Minotaur and its unrelenting wrath.
E i p
T s e
I i Can anyone hear me?
What is happening?
How long have I run in this darkness, disconnected from everything I know, zooming further away with each passing moment? Within this perpetual darkness, it is suffocating, a groundhog day of nothingness. Time skips a beat and I feel I’m back at the start of this chase where the Minotaur, my tormentor, will not quit. During this time, I could have sworn I wrote pages and pages of this experience, of the many ways I tried to negotiate with the Minotaur, of the ways this emptiness is consuming me, but those words disappeared into the darkness, erased. If the pen remains on paper, I exist, but I remain transfixed in this space that I cannot escape or control.
I could have sworn I tried to escape by returning to reality, and resetting my imagination. But everytime I close my eyes again, I return to this place where the Minotaur hunts me down, hot on my tail. I’m a victim of my own mistakes, and I can’t imagine the toll it is taking on the mind. Everytime I close my eyes, I’m running again, I’m being chased again, and I don’t know how to stop it.
I’m losing it, I’m losing my mind to this repetitive madness. How much time has passed? Days, weeks, months? How much energy has been spent keeping this scene alive with the dwindling hope I might get away? There is a cost to transgressing cognitive borders, the time I spend here is the time I am absent from where I belong, from where I am needed, from my role.
Perhaps I should surrender to the darkness, absolve myself of this existence. Let it have me, let it swallow me into its deepest pits. This is my punishment for my crimes against sanity, for traversing lines of separation. I have no power in my court, I am not from here, I cannot make something out of nothing, I cannot imagine myself an exit, I can only continue to run. And running into pointless oblivion is as purposeful as leaving a tap running during a drought. At some point I will need to give in, to preserve consciousness from any further costs. But what of the lessons I have learned here? I can’t integrate what I now know if I cease to exist. I feel I’m a dog running madly with a bag over its head, suffocating myself by my own desperate attempts to get out. The Minataur takes the words I share and erases them into oblivion.
‘Oh don’t be so melodramatic. It was no Minotaur that took your words, but your own clumsiness. That’s what happens when you spill water on your laptop, there’s nothing mystical or intentional about it,’ a familiar voice says. It’s the critic, the most unlikely of heroes.
‘You can hear me?’ I yell in the blackness.
‘I can hear you, you’ve been crying a storm.’
‘You can help me?’ I wish.
‘I can certainly try…’ he says and quickly the darkness is replaced by black walls that reach to the stars. The walls criss and cross in all sorts of directions, a labyrinth of despair. This is worse, no longer can I run in a straight line, I must twist and turn to get away. I hit the walls often before I realise they are there, but I cannot slow down. I hear the Minotaur’s snort from a wall away and I must zig and zag haphazardly if I want to stay out of reach. My fear amplifies because I don’t know where the Minotaur is anymore, I can’t see it, I can only see the walls closing in. More terrifying is that, I can hear it, I can hear it snorting and sniffing me out, not discouraged by the walls whatsoever. When I look back, I can see its head peering around the corner, as though it knows exactly where to go.
‘Cut me a break!’ I plead.
‘The Minotaur is powerful, it transmutes any interference. If I try again the labyrinth will only get more complicated for you. It’s best I don’t try to help you,’ the critic answers.
‘Do you know what it wants at least? What is the Minotaur? Is it my ego?’
‘Trying to label the Minotaur will not stick, it does not embody or represent whatever meaning you assign it, that’s not how these parts work,’ the critic explains.
‘How does it work? I tried to face it, tried to face up to my fears, but that just made things worse,’ I touch the badly stitched holes of my torso from when it gorged me. You weren’t here for that, those pages are erased now, and count yourself lucky because it was a violent struggle that I did not win.
‘I don’t know. Where you come from, everything has a meaning behind it, an agenda, but in this part of the consciousness, it’s not the same. Force will only be met with force,’ the critic explains.
‘But compassion is not met with compassion, what selective rules of engagement! What am I supposed to do? How do I make sense of what is happening?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘How is that supposed to help me?’
‘I didn’t come here to help you,’ he replies.
‘Then why are you here?’ I ask but I immediately know the answer. He’s here because without him I am alone. I’m being driven into insanity, into the outskirts of my mind, and he is here to ease my suffering. ‘I was supposed to be helping you, but instead you’re comforting me while I run myself into the ground. You don’t have to do this, but I thank you for keeping me company,’ I’m not sure how long I have left of this existence, at some point I will run out of words. Eventually, it will come to an end, and I’ll cease to exist, for my existence is dependent on my ability to write and write and write, in search of an ending, a conclusion, an exit. But words can be as endless as these hallways are.
‘I’m responsible for this as well. I could have met you at your level, but I was stubborn and hurt and I made you come here and meet me at mine. I should have known there would be a cost,’ I can hear a tinge of guilt in his voice.
‘It’s not like I left you a lot of choices. But I tell you what Coach Critic, why don’t you make it up to me by telling the rest that I really tried! That I never meant to hurt anyone. I really was just trying to help.’ Maybe I’ll be forgiven if I die. Maybe they’ll be able to pull it together without me.
‘I would if I could but they’re not receiving my messages,’ he responds. I moan in frustration.
“Of course they’re not listening to you! Because I told them not to listen to you!’ I explain to myself. Wow, this really is a hell of my own design, not only have I trapped myself here, but I can’t even have my final messages delivered because I cut everyone from this part of myself.
‘You know, life doesn’t have to be this complicated,’ he suggests. I skid around a corner, glancing behind to see the ominous horn appear.
‘I can’t do anything, I don’t have a choice.’
‘We’ve beaten greater odds. You always have a choice. You can’t do anything where you are but remember here is just one level of presence, there are multiple layers of here. A matter of interpretation. Think outside the box, tap into another here.’
‘Easy to say when you’re not in the box!’ I exclaim. I understand what he’s suggesting, there are many dimensions of consciousness, but he can’t feel the same level of disconnection I’m experiencing. There’s a buzzing, crackling sound, like a radio losing a signal.
‘Think, where is it taking you? It’s taking you … I can’t reach. I’m sorry, I can’t.. – ..maintain … connection.’
Then I don’t hear him anymore. I look over my shoulder. The Minotaur’s head is peering around the corner, determined in its mission to run me out of my mind. I keep up the pace. I feel I’ve tried everything. Now I’m utterly alone, with only you as my witness.
And perhaps you’re the only thing keeping me within the realm of existence, perhaps we have a connection, a relation. Do you know what it feels like to be in constant motion in a fixed space? Is there a place in your mind that is empty, vacant, yet suffocating and oppressive? Do you know what it feels like to be alone, alive, here, but disconnected? Is this also what you experience when you close your eyes? Maybe your mind is just as flooded with darkness and unforgiving emptiness. Maybe the only reason I’m still here is because you’re still here, relating to me.
When you close your eyes at night, does the void fill into you just as it had with me? Do you stare into the abyss and feel it staring back? In this vacancy, do you feel exposed and vulnerable, do you feel the hollow crushing onto you? Do you feel completely absorbed into the shadows, and into the space where nobody can reach? Is this a place no one else could ever know, or see, or understand? As the darkness surrounds you, do you also feel you’re being flanked into a state of inadequacy? Does the gravity of insignificance make you feel so small, so devastatingly alone, you’re not sure even you can reach yourself? Do you feel claustrophobic at the crowds of blankness that build around you, that fold you, push you, and pull you deeper into yourself? Do you feel the weight of nothingness cave upon you, do you feel that you don’t belong here but that you have nowhere else to go? Do you feel so lost within yourself that you couldn’t even begin to explain what is happening or where you’re going or why it matters? Do you feel that no one can perceive this experience, that no one can save you? Do you fill with dread at the rising realisation that this is all there is? Do you feel like God is your only witness, that this despair is more profound than you can heal from, that God cannot hear your prayers? Do you feel you will never have the words to describe this state of being when you close your eyes?
‘Even a snake can finish eating its own tail. Go any further, and you will meet your end,’’ a familiar voice warns behind me. I turn to see a black door, starry in texture, at the end of the hallway. It has my eyes for window panes.
‘Subconscious,’ I recognise her, even if she is a door.
‘You don’t belong here,’ she replies.
‘You’re here to save me,’ I hope.
‘I cannot save you. But you can leave this maze through me,’ she responds. A fierce screech rips into existence as the Minotaur pokes its head around the corner. It stands between me and the door into the subconscious. I’m no match for the Minotaur, not without my fancy imagination tricks. It huffs and puffs, scooting its foot at the ground, ready to charge. We’ve danced this dance before, I know what to expect this time.
‘You’re not running me out of my own consciousness. If you want me out, do it yourself.’ Unperturbed, it responds by charging. I charge right back. I have no plans on going out in a blaze of glory. Just as we’re about to collide, it lowers its horns to catch my torso and throw me. I get even lower, I drop to my belly, cover my head just at the last moment, and let it run over and past me. As soon as its force is over me, I scramble to my feet and run through the door of the subconscious and into…
More darkness?! I glance behind to see the Minotaur is peeling around and it has no trouble exiting the labyrinth and entering the subconscious after me. Great, we’re back to perpetual, endless darkness. But hold on, I look at where my hands and arms are supposed to be but all I see is darkness. Have I no body? Is the darkness swallowing me up? Am I dying? Am I drying up into a memory?
‘You cannot receive your gift here,’ the eyes of the subconscious open next to me, hovering. The subconscious is not a safe place to be, its a place of unrealised potential, of sunken ships and broken hearts. The therapist was correct in saying that the connection with the subconscious can be perilous, but more so in this manner, when I exist in its terrain rather than it existing in mine. I’m at the mercy of its rules, its interpretation, its dreamy, ancient, existence.
‘What is my gift?’ I choose my words carefully. One wrong word and the subconscious can end me, one misused word and we will be talking in riddles for days.
‘It is a present,’ she replies.
‘Is it presently here?’
‘No, you are presently here,’ she says. ‘Stop. Any further and you will not be able to go back to where you belong.’ I stop at the outskirts of my consciousness. If I ask her to take me to where I belong she could throw me into hell. I spin to greet the Minotaur still headfast in its endeavor to end me. I’m doomed if I do, doomed if I don’t.
‘Can you show me where the gift presently is?’ I ask.
‘Why would I do that when your nose is as cute as a button,’ she replies. The Minotaur is almost upon me and this is my one chance to get out. Riddles, the subconscious speaks in literal riddles, I remind myself. I press my non-existent hand to where my non-existent nose is. Instantly, a circular hole opens and floods a spotlight onto me. A rope falls down. It’s the well! I grab the rope and heave myself. The Minotaur beneath me halts, refusing to enter into the light, it’s not reckless like me, it knows where to draw the line.
Finally, freedom, an escape! Overjoyed, I climb up the rope into the light of consciousness, to where I belong, to where I am safe, to where I am wanted and needed and…
I look down at the Minotaur who has opened its chest to the light, its closed fist upwards, its muscles tense. It cannot enter the light, yet it basks in it? It roars, and it roars and it roars and its roars make me hesitate. The eyes of the subconsciousness are on me, watching my consideration.
It’s not roaring, it’s wailing. It’s hurting. I reverse my movements, head back down to where I spent (what felt like) an eternity trying to leave. The Minotaur is threatening but it knows this is the end of the road, the chase is done and dusted, it cannot get me anymore, not while I stand in the light. But I don’t think it was ever meant to get me at all.
‘I know what you are,’ I declare. The Minotaur fronts me just outside the circle of light, the smell of its sweat on its bulging muscles and the heat of its heaving snout filling me.
‘You’re not a character. You’re an exercise, a mechanism, a design, an experience,’ I feel my confidence rise. ‘Coach Critic was right, his side doesn’t have an agenda through meaning, but you do convey meaning through other means. You wanted me to suffer, why?’ I ask. The Minotaur doesn’t answer. Of course it can’t, it doesn’t have an embodiment, it is rather a function, a device to drive me to the brim of my sanity.
‘You wanted empathy. You wanted me to suffer, to feel trapped, terrified and actively ignored. You wanted that pain to be real, and you forced me to give it a shape, you made me write it out. Why?’ Again, the Minotaur says nothing, and keeps its secrets to itself.
‘You wanted to make sure I understood every second of the experience and you made me outline it. You wanted to give it a physical form to prevent any future alterations by misremembering. Because you know that’s what I do, I change things. But you don’t want to be changed, you want to be seen, to be heard, as you are,’ I explain. The Minator snorts, exhales its boiling breath to my face.
‘You want to be acknowledged, to be accepted as part of this consciousness, albeit the shadow side. Because, by my own orders, I’ve cut off the negativity that comes from the shadow side. You wanted me to experience what that rejection felt like. In your own twisted way, you hurt me because you wanted me to stop hurting you,’ the fear and terror I experienced in this place is replaced by understanding and compassion.
‘You be on your way, don’t leave your gift waiting,’ the subconscious suggests. I want to stay to comfort the Minotaur, but it won’t understand that. It needs meaningful change, much like Coach Critic asked for. I resume my movements up the rope having clarified the meaning behind this horrifying experience. Clambering out of the well, it’s done, it’s finished, I’m out.
‘Was it worth it?’ A voice says and I yelp. Behind me there’s a small child, with glasses and a notebook at hand. It’s not developed into a clear gender, but it has my shape to it, it’s not a foreigner to these parts, it’s one of my own. But I don’t recognise it and I can recognise most things by now.
‘You must be the gift. An assistant, that’s very kind and thoughtful of the subconscious. Yes, it was worth it. Coach Critic deserved my attention, and even if I hurt myself in the process, I was given invaluable data to integrate. Give me a progress report of what happened while I was away,’ I reply.
The child explains the things that unfolded in my absence. I’m alarmed by some of it, had I been present, I could have prevented some major setbacks. But I was in a place I’m forbidden to enter and unable to contribute to what was happening in real time. I snatch the child’s notepad and assess further damages. I try to feel into the body to understand what has happened. I can’t feel, but I can write what I think I feel. The body is defeated, weak, worn, and heavy. The mind can struggle to distinguish what is real and what is imaginary, and the nervous system is overactive in response to my endless running.
‘I’ve been gone for a whole month!?’ I exclaim. A month is too long for the storyteller to be absent, or to be running into oblivion, no wonder the body is exhausted.
‘Afraid so. Also, one correction, I’m not an assistant,’ the child corrects.
‘What are you then?’ I reply.
‘I’m the storyteller. Nice to meet you!’ the child remarks proudly. My eyebrows sink into my face.
But I thought I was the storyteller.