First Ring, chapter 1 of SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HERE AND PERFECT

The “articles” in this section are all chapters from my book SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HERE AND PERFECT, further findings of a fallible free spirit, published in 2016 and available from Amazon.com in trade or e-book format.  (Also to be found on Amazon.com is my novel, NO VICTOR IN DISGUISE, published in 2005.)

Chapter 1
First Ring

In the movie The Last Wave, Richard Chamberlain, as a white-culture Australian, finds himself having disturbingly strange dreams… or are they visitations, or prophecies? In one of the dreams, he is approached by a youthful, intense-looking aboriginal man, who hands him a stone, a triangular stone with rounded corners which fits into his palm and is engraved with three concentric circles. A few scenes later, he encounters the same young man in reality, near his home, and is handed the same stone he had been given in the dream, a flat, triangular stone engraved with three circles nested within one another. Meanwhile, an aboriginal elder stalks Chamberlain in the shape-shifter form of an owl, while visions of transformation by water foretell the coming of an immense tsunami that washes over the Australian coast.
It was 1987, and I was being introduced for the first time, by this dramatic film, to prophetic messages of change. The disquieting and intriguing imagery of the film, especially the symbols of stone and owl, triggered an awareness of some resonance, some untapped mystery, inside me. Wondering what was being shifted in my sense of reality, I took a walk the next day to ponder some still unformed but vaguely insistent questions. From my sister’s house outside of Boulder, Colorado, I ambled along a country road to the rim of a hill dotted with scraggly shrubs and tufts of dry grass. I descended the slope, my leather shoes crunching footprints into the parched, crusted soil, and headed through the heat to the only patch of shade beneath a lone stunted pine. I sat down on a few scattered pine needles and began to contemplate the impact of my first exposure to these mystifying suggestions of Dreamtime, an unfamiliar realm that seemed to permeate my suddenly loose-around-the-edges understanding of reality from somewhere just beyond my normal senses.
How can I learn more about Dreamtime? Can I find someone to guide me into it? Is there some way I can enter it on my own?
My questions were not framed in words. They were a vague but urgent musing, a longing. I didn’t really know what I was asking. Nor did I consciously notice that shortly after I sat down, my attention was being paged – alerted as if by some unspoken whisper — until I found myself turning to look over my left shoulder toward the base of the pine’s knobby trunk.
Half sunk into the gritty dirt lay a stone about the size of my hand. I picked it up and examined it, frowning curiously at its oddly familiar shape, a roughly rounded triangle. When I turned it over and brushed it off, my eyebrows shot up. Around the center was outlined, in a different color, a circle. A single circle.
The first ring of Dreamtime! I heard myself thinking. A prickling sensation zoomed up into the roots of my hair as I clutched the stone to my chest and wondered what was happening. I wanted to meditate immediately on this propitious find, this stone that was so similar to the one I had just seen in the movie, but a large fly started buzzing annoyingly around my ears. Shooing the fly away, I got up, brushed myself off, and, holding on to the stone, trudged back up the slope and retraced my steps along the country road. At the edge of my sister’s back yard, I ducked into a secluded spot within a small grove of sumacs.
With the stone in my lap, I closed my eyes, and I disappeared, or so it seemed, for even though I was vaguely aware of time having passed, I didn’t know where I’d been, or for how long. I knew only that I was suddenly very aware of looking for my body. Where’s my body?! Disoriented by the lapse in time, I darted frantically to where I’d found the stone, under the little pine tree. My body’s not here! In a flash that was not measurable in standard time, I raced up the slope and flew along the road toward the sumacs in the back yard. As I did so, I was both a single point of perception, like the eye of a camera speeding over the blurring ground, and a spherical awareness observing the entire scene from some height above it.
In a moment that was longer than it takes to tell it and also the merest fraction of a second, I jolted back into my body with a gasp. My eyes flew open. I took a deep breath and settled into myself in the mottled shade of the sumacs.
Whew. That was weird!
Still shaken by the unfamiliar sensation of having lost track of my body, I studied the strange stone in my lap, but I was distracted by a tiny movement in front of me, about a foot from my crossed legs. I peered at it. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. A miniature owl? Two black-ringed, bright yellow eyes seemed to be staring at me from atop a soft brown body, but it was only three inches tall. The movement stirred again within the shadows of the sumacs. Finally I made sense of it. It was the slow partial opening of a pair of wings. Butterfly wings. It was a butterfly, unlike any I had ever seen before, sitting before me, catching my eye with a slight movement and then holding perfectly still so I could see the owl-like features outlined on its folded wings.
Resting my hands on the circle-marked stone, I gazed, breathlessly silent, at what I was quite sure was not a shape-shifter, at what I sensed with tingling certainty was an ineffable, invisible something communicating with me by using the most vividly meaningful images immediately available — a Presence responding to my longing and inviting me to notice that I had indeed just entered the first ring of Dreamtime.
Although I didn’t remember anything of where I’d been during what turned out to be about half an hour, I knew I’d been somewhere. If that fly hadn’t chased me from where I’d found the stone, I probably wouldn’t have found myself traveling that extra distance intensely aware of looking for my body. I would have simply opened my eyes thinking I’d blanked out for a moment. I wouldn’t have thought to check the time, wondering how long I’d been gone. I wouldn’t have seen the owl-butterfly in addition to the stone, a double confirmation of a Dreamtime conversation in symbols.
Even the fly had been part of the answer to my longing.
Which puts a whole new perspective on a lot of annoying interruptions and distractions!
Having been answered on the first ring, I continued to call. Who was doing the calling and who was being called? Yes. That, too, wanted a whole new perspective.
It wasn’t until after many more such experiences, during which I was determined to stay with the part of myself that left, that I began to regard my return to my body as being similar to squeezing myself into a diving suit with a one-eyed mask.
While I’m in this wetsuit, I have to crane my neck to see what’s all around me. I barely have peripheral vision, let alone my natural spherical perception that views from all angles, all distances, and all time frequencies at once. I can’t directly feel the flow of the oceanic reality of pure energy through which I’m swimming, let alone taste the subtle currents with my natural body, hear the ethereal shapes of other beings around me, or see the field of light from which everything is formed. In order to participate in this denser reality, I need to maintain this suit and figure out how to readjust the gauges whose original settings reflect a lot of limitations that I’m outgrowing.
It was a relief to be reminded that I don’t have to confine my awareness to what I can perceive from inside this suit. I’m looking forward to the day that I can just breathe underwater. Forget the bulky backpack and the zipless rubber! If that last wave is going to rip me right out of my wetsuit of limited and limiting experience, rip me, tsunami, I’m ready!
Nah. Easy to be flippant, but put me back in my body, stretched out on a summer lawn, watching the Milky Way float by below me to the tune of Strauss’s Blue Danube, and I’m grateful that the Earth can hold me to her surface as she does. Whether it’s called gravity or the curvature of space, when I’m letting go of sky-equals-up because I can remember when I saw the planet from afar and I know that sky-equals-down is just as true, I call it attachment. The Earth must be attached to me, after all, and maybe even need me, the way she keeps my body from falling outward into space. I can appreciate her attachment. I wouldn’t care to have too many of my cells flying off in all directions as if they weren’t part of why I exist in this reality. So, whether or not she needs to shrug until tsunamis roar, I’m enjoying what time we do have together.
We’ve meanwhile exchanged more than one ring.
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Room for More (chapter 4)

by Lesta Bertoia

I am inside my heart. The softly glowing, warm red walls of a curving corridor are pulsing gently on either side of me. I am standing barefooted on a resilient floor, beside a feature in the inner wall, a slit through which shines a hint of light. My hand, raised to feel it, slips through, so I ease myself into what appears to be a chamber. In a dreamy space that seems much bigger than my heart, I see my children, my siblings, my parents, my mates, my friends, all the people I have ever taken into my heart. They are all still here. There are more of them than I remembered.

Over there is a little boy of about three I met only once. He and I played bang-you’re-dead-oh-you-got-me in a boutique in Santa Barbara, while his nanny, who called his name occasionally to make sure he was behaving, did her shopping. I was just browsing, waiting for my friend Fran to choose something for herself.

“I don’t think you want to buy these shoes.” Jonathan had crept out from under a rack of clothes and picked up a pair of pink plastic sandals.

“Oh? Why not?”

“Because they’re green.” He wrinkled his nose.

“You’re right.” I wrinkled my nose, too. “I don’t want to buy them.”

Alternating with having to present himself to his nanny, he continued to emerge from between dresses on racks to offer me astute suggestions that made me giggle. I didn’t see him anywhere when Fran and I left the store, so I called out, “‘Bye, Jonathan! Have a good life!”

Fran and I were halfway up the block when I heard, “Wait!” I turned around, and Jonathan was running toward me. I swept him into my arms and swung him around, and he hugged me tightly. As his nanny hurried toward us, I whispered, “Thank you!” He waved to me over her shoulder, but even though they disappeared into the store again, he must have left himself, fifteen minutes of himself at the age of three, inside my heart.

There sits a man whose name I don’t know, an elderly man who sat beside me in a counseling group I attended after my first divorce. I was a single mom, lonely, scared, and withdrawn, but I didn’t think it showed. I didn’t want it to show. I never saw him look at me, but he reached over, silently wrapped his hand around mine, so that our forearms were touching, and gently patted it as we listened to the speaker, as if it were precious, as if I were precious, as if he knew me better than I knew myself. I had never known, and I was thirty-one, that a simple human touch could feel so deeply comforting and reassuring. I don’t even remember what he looks like, but here he is, inside this chamber in my heart.

There sits a young man, a musician who put an ad in the paper looking for a babysitting job. Two evenings a week, as soon as Clint arrived, little Eric would tell me, “You can go now, Mom, ‘bye, have a fun time.” When I came home from my counseling group, Eric would tell me all the things they’d done together, and then as my little boy fell asleep on the couch between us, Clint would stay, way past the hours for which he would let me pay him, and let me talk, single-mom-me, until I, too, was sleepy. He had so much room in his heart. I wish I could tell him, as he sits there playing his guitar, what a wonderful man Eric has become.

There’s Mrs. Raymond, my seventh-grade English teacher, telling me that I could be a writer someday. She was the only person who ever said that to me when I was young. And there’s Mrs. Asquith, my eighth-grade history teacher, who during activities period braided my hair and whispered conspiratorially to my only girl friend, another self-consciously shy thirteen-year-old, that she, too, liked people like me better than she did people like so-and-so, naming a popular girl in school. I loved her for that.

There’s my senior-year English teacher. Wait a minute, what’s he doing in here? I thought I despised him! He decided that we college-bound students needed several weeks’ review of fifth-grade grammar. He explained subjects and predicates, to our unbelieving ears, as if we were foreigners, dividing noun from verb with exaggerated sweeps of his arms, the butterfly stroke of sentence structure. It was his secret desire, we were convinced, to flunk us all — he gave us A-F quizzes on the literature we were reading (one wrong was an F), and on each quiz was one question that we hadn’t covered in class, like, what was Shakespeare’s true love’s mother’s maiden name?

One day we wore paper balls-and-chains around our ankles, shuffling into class for yet another hour of rolling our eyes behind his back.

He assigned each of us a day on which we would teach the class the material we were covering. Those who had done so before me had groaned at lunchtime that it had taken them all night to prepare, since we didn’t know until a day before what our assignment would be. He stopped me in the hall one morning to tell me that since so-and-so was absent, I would be the one teaching that afternoon. I watched him walk away, with angry tears burning my eyes at how unfair he was.

So when did he slip into this chamber in my heart? Several of us seniors complained to the head of the English department. He did not come back the following year. Word got around that he’d had a nervous breakdown. And for a moment, my heart must have opened, just the tiniest bit, just enough to let him in, for there he is, pulling compassion from my observing eyes, possibly a distraught and lonely gay man in a sixties’ high school.

And there’s Mr. Neiman, my senior math teacher, who, seeing me crying in the hallway, told me I could use his math class to prepare for teaching English that afternoon. With one small act of kindness, he restored my faith in human beings.

I see so many people in here, more than I can count. I’m so happy that I’ve found them all in here, and, knowing that they’ll be here, any time I want to look again, I slip back out into the corridor.

Running my hand along the smooth warmth of the gently pulsing wall, walking barefoot on the fleshy floor, bathed in a soft red glow, I notice another hint of light, another slit. I slip through the opening. Inside this chamber, I find myself looking at a beautiful spherical world of blue and white, floating in space. Oh, well, of course, I should have known I’d find her in my heart, her and her entire family of living beings, not only those nestled close, the animals and plants, the creatures of the sea, the rocks and clouds, but those other members of her family, the sun and planets, and her distant relatives, the stars. I can’t remember how many times my heart has opened to take them all in, looking at a photograph of Jupiter, feeling the sun on my shoulders, being greeted by a gentle giraffe in a drive-through park, waving to a family on a canal in Thailand, watching meercats on PBS, standing in awe beneath a natural arch of red-gold stone, getting drenched in a thunderstorm, catching sight of a glowing meteor plunging to earth. This chamber seems to have no walls. I could lose myself in here. I can come here any time, to do exactly that.

I follow the curving corridor around the inner chambers, curious about what else I’ll find in this heart of mine. Haven’t I already found it all? But here’s another glowing entrance. I slip inside. It’s so bright in here, my eyes need to adjust. What am I looking at? Shimmering, floating essences. Are they fairies? Angels? Guardian spirits? There in the background is a crystalline city. I remember coming here, in my dreams. I remember being led into a room full of books, the records of my lives. Some of them were thin, others rather hefty. I pulled one from the shelf and saw a bookmark in it, so I knew how much of this life I had already written.

Aha, this must be where my imagination and the invisible reality interface. (If hearing and sight are created by the interference patterns of the frequencies that we and our holographic environment are made of, then isn’t imagination also a sense, one that relays to us what the others do not?) This chamber is where I can learn to understand and love even more than I can with my physical senses. Yes, there, I see, more of my visions, my inspirations and aspirations. This is where I first saw my largest painting. I couldn’t wait to put it on canvas. This is where I’ve met my future self. This is where I can come to refine the use of my third eye. The host of healing spirits that her teacher saw hovering around my daughter Fawni, I could learn to see them here. They’re in my heart. I love them for being Fawni’s helpers. The angels whose presence we have felt when any of my friends has prayed for guidance or help, the ethereal essences of souls not in bodies, the forms taken by messengers in my dreams, even others’ visions, Black Elk’s, Vivaldi’s, Rudolph Steiner’s, Graham Hancock’s, are in this chamber. Oh, my, I don’t want to leave. I feel so much love and inspiration and abundance in here. I’m so glad I can come back whenever I want to.

I turn around, slip myself through the pliable opening in the pulsing wall, and listen to the gentle thud-thud, thud-thud as I walk along, bathed in a vermilion glow.

Within the next chamber I see me, every moment of this lifetime so far. I don’t have to wait until I die for a life review. I can look at everything I’ve ever done, right here in my heart, and because of how it feels to be in here, I can love it all, even though I was so often foolish, hurtful, even cruel. As I stand in here, looking at that little girl, that young woman, that midlife-crisis maniac, this post-menopausal crone, I can see that as I embrace all of my aspects, all of my moments, I can live the rest of my life with all of them inside me, nestled in my heart.

Well, let me see, that was four chambers, but what’s this, another entrance? What’s in here? Oh, hi, great Cosmic Birther! Mind at large, Consciousness, quantum foam, Allah, Tao, Self, Dreamer, Universe, God, Great Mystery. Look at all those names and faces giving creative form to Light and Love!

Okay, so, have I come full circle yet? I better check into this next one to see. Oh, my. This is where I harbor all the suffering of the world. All the anguish, all the sadness, all the grief. Right here in my heart. Now I know why it hurts so much sometimes. It must be connected to all these other hearts throbbing with what else this life is still about. This is where I make my vow to ease the pain by balancing its weight with joy.

Is this it, then? Yes, this next chamber looks like the first… no, wait. There are people in here, but I don’t recognize them. I can’t even see their faces, really. Who are these people? People I haven’t met yet! They’re already in my heart? Oh, it’s good to know this room is here. Always room for more.

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The Word

by Lesta Bertoia

There was a powerful urgency, at certain times in history, as well as a powerful resistance, to the spreading of the Word. Because the Word had lost something in the translation, not only for the converts but, unbeknownst to them, for the missionaries as well, a conflict of interests arose. Apparently the conflict is being resolved. It seems it has become impossibly easy to spread the Word. In fact, it has become impossible not to spread the Word.

When my friend Dick read the original Lord’s Prayer (translated directly from the Aramaic into English rather than through Greek and Latin) to our discussion group, I asked him where he’d gotten it and with whom I could check for permission to pass it on. He’d received it over the Internet and didn’t know where it had originated, but he assumed, from its contents, that were I to continue to pass it along, the translator would not be unhappy about more people getting the message. I emailed it to several friends. A month later it came back to me from the other side of the country from someone whose connection I couldn’t trace. But then, it had already been making the rounds before I got it. I expect it’s been around the globe a number of times by now. If I am out of line repeating it here, I hope someone will let me know what I can do to correct the situation, besides thanking them for having corrected the situation. Making the Word so easy to hear by bringing it closer to home is doing us all a favor. As our friend Brooke put it, with tears in her eyes, when Dick had finished reading the prayer, “Oh, my, can you imagine what your life would be like, what the world would be like, if this had been the prayer you said in school every day?”

Can you imagine, if this had been what was shared between the itinerant white culture and the indigenous peoples, how differently they would have regarded one another?

Better yet, can you imagine what is happening to humanity now that we are exchanging this prayer and so many other open-hearted words all around the world?

O cosmic Birther of all radiance and vibration! Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where Your Presence can abide. Fill us with Your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of Your mission. Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire. Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish. Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes. Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose, but illuminate the opportunities of the present moment. For You are the ground and the fruitful vision, the birth-power and the fulfillment, as all is gathered and made whole once again.

It’s comforting to hear the original intent of that prayer.

I especially like the phrasing of that last line, for it seems that in many areas, all is indeed being gathered and made whole once again.

One of the schisms that is currently being bridged into a continuum is the one between science and religion, or, more specifically, between physics and metaphysics, and, apparently, between biology and what I’m tempted to call metabiology. Recently advanced theories about a connection between DNA and quantum evolution have catapulted scientists into a multiverse of infinite potential, but before I offer you what I’ve gleaned from those theories, let me take you on a little trip into the Void.

If you don’t care to join me – if you’re not as fond of leaping into the unknown as I am – please feel free to skip this part! See you in the next chapter.

If you do care to wander into weird time and deep space with me, I’ll start with the concept that triggered my plunge.

Deepak Chopra, who is adept at interweaving physics and metaphysics in his discussions of quantum healing, proposes that the capacity of our minds to interpret and create our realities is not a product of our physical bodies or brains. He suggests that it is the other way around. Our bodies are the products, the manifestations, of our minds, and our brains are simply the relay between a greater Mind at large and our own individual minds. We are not mind within body, but body within Mind. Non-local, decentralized, universal Mind supplies us with an infinite amount of information. (We are constantly being in-formed. These bodies that we assume to be solid and substantial are in fact flowing and ephemeral. We have entirely different bodies, containing entirely different atoms, within a relatively short period of time.) Since we are imbued with Mind, are part of this Intelligence, we are capable of editing the information. We are constantly recreating ourselves from a field of information. Our thoughts choose what information to supply to our bodies and our bodies comply as manifestations of our interpretations.

Upon hearing this, I felt challenged to understand the connection between universal information and our thoughts. What is this universal information, physically speaking? What is it we are translating into thoughts, words, instruments of creative action? Where is it located? In the atoms? How do atoms whizzing into and out of our bodies supply us with intelligence?

Atoms, comparable to miniature solar systems, consist of little spheres of energy. But what is energy? It’s motion. The protons, the electrons, all those subatomic whirligigs, are, in my mind’s eye, little time-loaded bubbles of motion in a sea of tranquility — they spin, vibrate, zoom along, undulate, or otherwise perform acts of movement, within a vast something/nothing that appears to move at a different rate, or no rate at all. They are packets of pure change, or pockets of time, tiny events happening at a frequency different from that of whatever is around them.

And what is it they are moving in, moving through?

When we give it a name, like space or ether or consciousness or unified field or quantum foam or cosmic birther or God, we are simply trying to understand that an eternal, infinite something/nothing is subdividing itself into different finite, measurable frequencies, and that this motion, this energy, in contrast to stillness, is the something/nothing defining itself as something happening here and nothing happening there. Here it’s in motion, there it isn’t. Here it’s on, there it’s off.

On, off. On, off. This is the basic modus operandi of a binary language. The binary basis of information-relay used by computers is doing its thing way out there in the cosmos and way deep down in here, inside of us. On, off, dit, dah, dit, dit, dah, the message is coming through, an immeasurable amount of information flowing through everything that exists of subatomic particles, which is everything that exists, as far as we can tell, in this particular set of dimensions, anyway, whether or not we consider it to be alive. We are constantly being bombarded, we are part of, we are made up of, zillions of tiny time-traveling bits of information in a vast arena of Now.

So how do we know what the information is? How do we interpret it and make use of it?

Although there may be a few gaps across which must be made synapses of faith, I think the answer is beginning to bridge itself between the physical and the metaphysical realms with the latest theory in the field of quantum mechanics, that of quantum evolution.

Quantum mechanics is the name given to the discovery that everything that can happen, on a subatomic level, does happen. A subatomic particle can exist in two places at once. It can exist in a trillion places at once. It can do whatever the observer wants it to do. Or not. It can travel backwards and sideways in time. It can affect another particle that has no evident connection to it. It can behave like a wave.

The reason fundamental particles can be in many places, many states, and many times all at once, some quantum physicists are theorizing, is that they actually exist not just in the universe we are capable of perceiving, but in all the possible and probable, parallel and alternate realities of the entire multiverse, in an infinite ocean of potential.

This theory was arrived at in answer to a question posed by biologist Johnjoe McFadden in his book Quantum Evolution. Mutations have been assumed, until recently, to be random trial-and-error promotions of the survival of a species when the species can no longer use what it has to get what it needs. But, McFadden asks, what if mutations are not random? What if evolution is occurring at the quantum level – by design?

It isn’t just subatomic particles that appear to be behaving multi-dimensionally. Molecules have been witnessed to do so as well. Which leads these scientists into expecting that even more complex systems are also multi-dimensional. They aren’t yet considering the complex systems known as human beings, but they are contemplating the likelihood of DNA molecules doing what the subatomic particles of DNA already appear to be doing — dashing in and out of the parallel realities of the multiverse. Which startles them into this whole new take on biological evolution. What if the DNA of a species can check out all the alternatives in the quantum multiverse, and then, having selected a particular one, introduce into its life form the best possible change for the best possible results?

Although there are many interpretations of what has been observed in the quantum realm, it is generally agreed upon by physicists that something enters the quantum state when it is isolated from its three-dimensional environment – something enters the multi-dimensional state when it is isolated — and returns when there is once again a sufficient energy exchange with its physical environment. A cell that experiences survival-threatening isolation from its environment can slip into the multiverse, scan the infinite available possibilities, equip itself with what it needs to reconnect, and slip back into this universe to keep on growing and multiplying. This process has been demonstrated in the lab with bacteria cells.

What we’re talking about here, on a subatomic level, a cellular one, and, for that matter, a human one, is the infinite freedom of creative choice.

Something enters the multi-dimensional state when it is isolated. The isolation from an energy-exchanging environment that serves as the propellant into the multiverse of all realities can, as I see it, be experienced in any number of ways by us humans. It can result from a near-fatal accident, a terminal disease, a hallucinogenic drug, an isolation tank, solitary confinement, meditation, an out-of body experience, the presence of an angel dissolving the veil, the sudden rush of euphoria within a state of grace.

These states are plunges into the Void, into that sea of tranquility within which those time-bubbles are doing their dance, into that information-rich vastness which Chopra calls universal Mind, and which McFadden calls the multiverse.

We can choose the method of separating from three-dimensional reality, and we can choose from the multiverse what we want to bring back with us, be it miracle or madness, strength or surrender, gradual development or instantaneous enlightenment.

How can we learn to do this? How can we learn to choose what information to substantiate into our bodies and our experiences?

We don’t have to learn how to! We are already, unconsciously, translating the information — into part of another letter O or Omega in yet another reference book on the amazing feats and hands of the almighty multiverse. We’ve been doing so for eons.

One of the most awesome discoveries reported about our chromosomes by Matt Ridley in his book Genome is that they are the biological Akashic records of our entire evolution, from the first single living cell, all the way through the changes of the eons, to these billions of multi-trillion-cell human bodies. The unbroken chain of information we’ve inherited from that first cell still includes every chapter, every page, every word of every subsequent expansion on the theme, of our entire journey as organic entities.

This information is replicated, passed on, maintained, and added to in a quadrinary language. (I don’t know if quadrinary is a word. I’m guessing that since a binary language consists of two components, quadrinary would describe a language of four alphabetical bits of information.) The language isn’t spoken, as far as we know, although I imagine it might emit sounds, since it is made of moving parts, vibrating elements. Neither is it written, not in symbols that we would call letters, although scientists have tagged letters to the four elements that copy and translate information into our cells from previous cells, so that they (the scientists) can read the series of three-letter-amino-acid-words strung around the double helix of a DNA molecule.

Our genes are literally like groups of words, paragraphs similar to recipes. The chemicals that make up our genes are like words, and the elements that make up those chemicals are like letters of the alphabet. If you build a word from a few hydrocarbon molecules, and add a few adjectives, you can “read” the result as organic life. Attach a few more modifiers and you are reading organic plant life, or a few more and you read organic animal life. Add to that a few hundred thousand chemical and genetic modifiers, and you’re reading a human being.

We humans are “read-outs” of these zillions of bits of information.

Each of us is a living character in an incomprehensibly complex plot.

Does a character in a story have choices? Is it a story, this evolution of our human race from a single cell into these present billions of separate individuals? If we agree that it is a story, does it have an Author? Or are we authoring it ourselves?

A character in a story is sometimes a familiar aspect of the author, and sometimes a surprising stranger, a creation that creates itself as it is being created. Each character, as a facet of the author, is imbued not only with the entire plot up to this point, but with all the drafts that went into the wastebasket. Each character, as a separate spontaneously self-creative function, is adding his or her own twist to the outcome.

We have taken on lives of our own, reflecting back to the Author more of who and what this agent of change is, this stupendous phenomenon, this self-aware cosmic intelligence. We’ve been faxed from the original office, added our own memos, and are faxing ourselves back by the nano-second.

We are the Word made flesh, the Logos incarnate, the living story of the forever-changing-and-unchanging All.

We don’t have to learn how to translate the information or how to choose what we do with it. We need only recognize that we are already doing so, and then do so consciously, by watching our translations: our thoughts. There is no central intelligence agency dictating precise outcomes. The outcomes, like the zillions of bits of information themselves, are always in flux. This is the way in which apparently impossible miracles can happen. This is the beauty of the mystery.

Both Ridley and Chopra, coming at this concept of decentralized authority or authorship from different directions, and witnessing it on different levels, offer a similar opinion on its character. Ridley is led to conclude that the human genome, operating in different ways from different cells, maintains a mystique, a bit of the trickster in its fashioning of behavior. It’s somewhat unpredictable. It seems to have an attitude. Chopra describes the Indian term Maya, the mask of the mysterious force behind it all, as not just illusion, but camouflage, paradox, magic, deception, a trickster. Maya is the script, the costumes, the roles, the stage scenery, and it can be all-powerful, totally absorbing and convincing, or it can be utterly impotent, depending on one’s perspective. When you strip away the levels of Maya, when you probe this apparently solid body, descend through the unfolding story being written by the genome, and pass through the quantum particles that are darting in and out of the multiverse, you arrive at nothing, and it is this nothing from which we generate ourselves. Our original nature is nothing if it is not playful. The Word is Play?!

Let us flourish, let us create, let us illuminate the opportunities of the present moment, as all is made whole once again.

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Even Zebras Get the Blues

by Lesta Bertoia

My friend Fran, an open-hearted, quick-witted, self-proclaimed but lovable neurotic, is an artist, like myself. She met her husband Guy in high school some forty-plus years ago and now has three grown daughters. Last fall, Guy, who was also her best friend, was killed while riding his motorcycle in a head-on collision with an SUV driven by a young woman. He died instantly.

Knowing that Fran, in her state of incredulous shock and unfathomable loss, would be inundated with grieving and concerned family and friends, I decided to wait a few days before contacting her. Doing so was on my mind every day, but I was not consciously thinking of her when I woke up at 2:30 am, four days later, driven to start a painting.

The images that emerged on the canvas during the next three hours were of a man and woman, separated by half an arm’s-length but connected heart to heart, flying together over a tiny blue orb. Beneath them (they appeared to be viewed from above) was the entrance to a light-filled tunnel. Ahead of them the tunnel opened into a widening empty space. Flowing back from the head of the man was a swirl of energy that struck me as resembling the head of a zebra, and I found myself turning the canvas over and writing on the back, “Even zebras get the blues.”

I left the canvas on the easel and went back to sleep for a few hours, and when I returned later in the morning, I saw the painting from across the room and gasped. Formed within the outlines of the two people was Fran’s distinctively heart-shaped face, her eyes downcast, her mouth contracted in sorrow.

“Oh my gosh,” I whispered, feeling something prickle through me. “Guy, if you’re here,” I said out loud, for the first time finding myself consciously and specifically requesting that I be used for a channel through my art, “come through. If you have messages for Fran…” Instantly I squeezed some white acrylic paint onto the palette, dabbed a narrow brush into it, and didn’t know if my eyes were open or closed as the brush pulled my hand to the empty space above the flying couple and squiggled around for a few seconds. After I dropped the brush into the jar of water, I looked at the canvas, staring through sudden tears at Guy’s face in miniature, the familiar tiny smile beneath his mustache, the upturned eyebrows, and an all-too-typical wave of his hand from beside his cheek. “Okay,” I breathed, barely grasping the full impact of what was happening, “if there’s anything you want to communicate in words, Guy, please make use of me, right now. I’m open.”

I grabbed the marker and wrote down what I heard him say on the back of the canvas. “Tell her I love her. Tell them all. God, you know?” “I’m not that far away.” “Fly with me.”

It wasn’t until days later that Fran was ready to have me and a mutual friend visit. She fell into my arms and cried softly. Then she pulled back and asked, “What’s this?” about the painting I’d brought into her house. “Fran, Guy is still around,” I said.

“I think so, too,” she said. “I saw him in the doorway that night. He was crying. But maybe it was just a dream. Or maybe I’m going crazy. I feel crazy. But he was crying because he didn’t want to leave.”

“He hasn’t left,” I told her. I explained what had happened as I showed her her own face on the canvas, and his.

“It’s Guy!” She held the canvas with both hands and kissed his face. I told her about the messages on the back, and as she read them, she suddenly held her heart and staggered to a chair, tears flowing. ” ‘Fly with me?!’ On our wedding day we gave one another a plaque – it was a silly joke of a gift, some airline motto – that said ‘Come fly with me.’ On our wedding day!”

It wasn’t only Fran who let herself begin to believe that Guy was still around. Her three daughters no longer wondered if it was okay for their mother to find comfort in talking with their father. Other messages came through from other friends. They came through in songs that almost seemed to have been written by him for Fran. Punctuating the undulations of grief, anger, and agony that naturally arose from what still felt like an amputation, a growing acceptance of continuity began to prevail. But neither Fran nor her daughters could make any sense, Fran told me later, of that one phrase on the back of the painting, “Even zebras get the blues.” Her daughters had even Googled it in hopes of finding some clue to its relevance, and I, meanwhile, somewhat overcome by the privilege of having been made use of as so clear a channel, had neglected to make a distinction between that first phrase and the messages I’d specifically requested from Guy.

“Lesta, did you hear what happened?” a mutual friend asked me over the phone seven months later. “Fran wants to tell you herself, I know, but I just have to share this much with you. Her daughter was at an art show, and she saw this painting of a zebra, and she read the name of the artist, and, are you ready for this? It was done by the young woman who was driving the vehicle that killed Guy.”

I was flooded with an inexpressible wave of comprehension and gratitude. It wasn’t just the phrase that made sense. It was the whole Universe. I shared awe-inspired tears with Fran over the phone as she confided, “We’ve all been on this weird high. This is so mind-boggling.” She related the details of her daughter’s staggering discovery and their subsequent decision. Katie is a student counselor at the same high school where the seventeen-year-old driver of the SUV (she had been driving for only two weeks) is a senior. Katie had been purposely avoiding the girl, still acutely feeling her own grief and anger, but was in the hall speaking with another counselor when the senior stopped to speak briefly with the other woman. “I’m sorry about that,” the other counselor said afterwards, fully aware of the reason for Katie’s conflicted emotions, but adding, “She’s having a really rough time of it. She’s been cutting herself.” Katie couldn’t manage getting involved, she had enough to deal with. She turned and found herself walking past a student art exhibition. Apparently the assignment had been to depict animals. Noticing a zebra on a blue background, she glanced at the name of the artist, which at that moment only fueled her need to distance herself. It wasn’t until she was halfway down the hall that she mentally slapped her own forehead. “Oh my God! It’s a ZEBRA!”

Fran and Katie have decided to do something that they couldn’t even imagine considering before. They want to meet with seventeen-year-old Brooke. They want to tell her they don’t blame her. They want the healing process to extend itself to someone whom they feel should not be blaming herself. And, if she’s open to it, they want to tell her why.

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The Artist on Loan

by Lesta Bertoia

My favorite way to paint is to start by preparing a canvas with a variety of colors thrown into the gesso in order to form random combinations of hues and shapes. As I smooth the pigments into the gesso with a fan brush, or dab and dart a rag at the canvas, the tone or character of the background develops. It might be pale, with subtle pastels vaguely blending into one another, or dark, with smears of sienna and umber twisting around a hint of ochre here or violet there. It might be sprinklings and splatters and rag-crinkle patterns of blues and aquas and greens. By the time I have a background with some pleasing integrity, I usually have paint-covered hands as well, so I’ll set the canvas up on my easel, if I’ve been working it on the floor, and go wash up. When I come back, the acrylics have dried, and I can now sit and look at the canvas, from about eight or ten feet away.

I will probably be sitting here for ten or fifteen minutes. This is the time during which the random background begins to suggest certain forms or scenes or relationships. If nothing demonstrates itself to me, I’ll turn the canvas onto another edge. Sometimes two or three of the turnings will show me something, so I have to choose which one I like. Ah, this way has an uplifting feeling to it. Okay, so what is this painting about? The painting already knows what it’s about. All I have to do is be receptive. Gradually I begin to see it. There’s a cliff there. A bird flying sideways. The hint of a human profile with an animal inside it. What is the animal? I squint. Oh, it’s a bear with hunched shoulders. Is there anything I need to highlight yet? Yes, I don’t want to lose where that profile is. So I take a brush and outline the rust in pale blue. But the brush wants to do more, it wants to thicken the outline here, pull the paint sideways there, then splash down into a waterfall. The brush pulls my hand along one of the random shapes of the background, bringing into relief figures that I won’t recognize until I step back again. It jumps into a couple of colors on the palette and spreads the paint in twirls around a corner. I don’t even know what it’s doing until it has finished, but when I put the brush down and retreat a few feet… Ah! It has created a shield containing overlapping bison. And now I see where a mesa will rise up if I put a bit of red-gold sky above it. This time the brush, with three colors on it, pulls itself into a rapid succession of strokes, darting and jumping. I simply watch, getting out of the way, having no desire of my own to intend anything, to impose anything of my conscious will into the work. It’s almost as if something or someone else is taking over. Sometimes these strokes will be finished in a few seconds. Sometimes they dash on and around for five minutes, filling in a large area, with what, I do not know, until once again, when the brush stops, I put it into the water and step back, way back, and sit down, and look. Whole new images have been elicited from the background by the new strokes, ones that surprise and delight me when I discover them.

The painting has taken on a very definite quality by now. It’s Aboriginal or Native American or perhaps African, or it has light beings and fairies and children in it, or it’s a cascade of rocks and water with ancient creatures meandering through the cracks and shadows. It has begun to pull itself together, but there are empty places and loose ends. So I look again. This time my eyes see needed colors, a hint of dioxazine purple over the burnt sienna there, a dash of cerulean blue here. My mind doesn’t make a decision; my eyes see what is missing. Okay, I’ll try that. Yes, and that wants to happen over here, too. When I let the painting create itself, I make no mistakes. If I try to add something for effect, it usually doesn’t work. The more the painting creates itself, the more delighted and excited I get. I see what it’s doing! It’s as if I’m looking over the shoulder of a masterful artist, being educated in techniques and enchanted by the hues.

And then, I begin to fall in love. The painting has started to nourish me. It has started to exchange something with me, messages, emotions. It’s showing me another time or place by lifting away a veil, or it’s revealing a hidden aspect of myself or my life, or it’s summoning the symbols and entities that will be most meaningful to the person who will be drawn to this work. I have fallen into a time warp, I am living in another world, the painting and I are creation, showing itself off, caressing the senses, becoming music, moving the secrets of the universe into visibility. Touches of the brush to the canvas are shocks of delight. Gentling the tones into softer, smoother blends is an act of affection. The character of the painting imbues me with its focus and strength, if it is a stalker, or with its wispy layers of visions, if it is a magician. It turns me into what it wants to become, so that if I am to bring out a look of wonder on the face of a child, I cannot determine what line to accent or what shadow to deepen, I can only let the sense of wonder that has overtaken me move my hand with the brush toward the right color, and then soften that color into the cheek or brow.

At least a third of the time that I am painting is spent across the room, looking for and seeing what is needed next. There comes a moment, then, after an hour, a day, or a couple of weeks, when the painting feels finished.

But two more things will still happen before it’s decidedly completed.

The first is that I will sit, not to study, not to be summoned, but to receive, to allow the vision to give me back some of the energy I’ve put into it. This is such a replenishment that even if I have been at the canvas for the past sixteen hours and it’s three o’clock in the morning, I will happily absorb for another hour what I’m being given, insights, beauty, love, empowerment, satisfaction, joy. I will continue to take in from the painting until I have received enough to be able to let it go — to sell it or give it to someone else — or until I’ve discovered that, well, this painting belongs to me.

The second thing that happens is that a day or two later, a few more additional touches will be required. Then when there is absolutely no spot left that doesn’t feel exactly right, I put my little symbol in the corner, and paint the edges, or frame it, satisfied that the pleasure and love I have exchanged with it will quietly radiate itself into someone’s home, over time. It’s as if the number of hours condensed into the painting will gradually seep into the consciousness of the observers, they will sense the messages and emotions, subtly, if they only glance at it occasionally, more noticeably if they look awhile and let it speak itself to them as it spoke itself to me.

Although this is my favorite way to paint, there are other ways. Sometimes a scene, from my travels or from a magazine or a photo, will inspire the mood and background. A commissioned portrait, of course, will require more intention. The knowledge of who the recipient will be most definitely affects the images and tones.

This morning I finished a painting for a couple of friends who were recently married. Even though I’d chosen the scene of this gift from a photograph, a sense of what would speak to these two people created the spiritual hopefulness and contentment on the face of the Tibetan-looking man, who gazes upward beside a great plume of smoke rising from an entwined shaft of leaves. Within the smoke several winged beings and a couple appeared, without my intention. I was pleased with the final result.

As I was getting ready to leave, to deliver the painting, I asked my daughter what she thought of it. Fawni’s feedback is usually a ravingly positive response, occasionally tempered with an added suggestion about highlighting something here or there. This time she said, in a somewhat solemn, actually almost frowning, voice, “Mmh…I like it better when you have more going on, like in this whole area.” She indicated three-fourths of the canvas.

“Mm,” I nodded. “Actually, there is quite a bit going on there, it just takes a while to see it. I could probably define more if I had the time, but I’m taking this over to them now.” I wasn’t displeased with her comment. I was a little surprised that she didn’t like it, but we have an understanding. We’re just honest with each other. So I was more than a little perplexed when she came out of her bedroom a few minutes later, with tears glistening in her eyes, and said, “Mom, I had this deep… uhn… feeling… when I criticized your painting…”

“Oh, Fawni!” I went to hug her, thinking she was reacting extremely sensitively with totally unnecessary regret. “I didn’t think you were being too cri…”

“No, Mom, wait, let me finish! I had this strong… feeling…” she groped for the right words. “Harry was, like, inside me.” She was talking about my father, who was an internationally acclaimed sculptor and designer. He died in 1978, a year and a half before Fawni was born. “He was… I understood him… He didn’t mean to be so critical! He was telling me… he’s telling me… he always criticized you three children because he knew how good you were. He was never critical with anyone else because it didn’t matter to him if they weren’t doing their best. He knew how good you kids were. He wanted you to do your best. But he didn’t know how much he was hurting you. I want you to understand… he wants you to understand that he never meant to hurt you. He is so proud of how good you are!” Tears were streaming from her eyes.

I nodded. “I know I’m good,” I smiled through my own prickling tears.

She couldn’t stop crying. “He would have been… he is… so proud of his grandchildren, too.”

“Oh, yes! Yes, he would have been so proud of all of you!” I was still thinking in terms of the past. Harry died when my son Eric was five, before the births of both of his granddaughters, Fawni and my brother Val’s daughter Kyndi. He never knew the girls. It hadn’t fully hit me yet that Fawni was speaking in the present tense.

“Mom, I feel him, like he’s here, helping me to understand, to look at life through his eyes. He’s giving me some of his wisdom and his power.”

“Oh…!” It was finally sinking in. “Oh, Fawni!” I didn’t know what to say. “I’m so glad!”

We hugged. I finally understood.

My father still loves us all.

It’s never too late for love.

For some reason, my friend Sue cried, too, when she saw the painting. And here I thought it wasn’t all that bad. But then, she’s been so happy lately, she cries about almost everything. It’s really beautiful to see that.

It wasn’t the first time someone cried over one of my paintings. A few years ago I arranged to meet with a woman in her thirties who had opened a New Age shop. Oh, yes, she’d be delighted to have some of my paintings on her walls, she said, looking at a few photos, and if they sold, so much the better for both of us. A few days later I unloaded three or four paintings from my van, brought them into the store, leaned them against the counter, and went back out for the rest of them.

When I came back in, she was on her knees in front of one of them. She glanced up at me, wiping tears from her cheeks. “It’s him,” she said softly. The painting was of a Native American looking directly at us through squinting eyes. His hand was raised, and his fingertips glowed with light where they pierced the veil between him and the viewer. “He came to me again in a meditation last week, and this time I could see him really clearly,” she said. “He told me that very soon I would see him, like, for real, not just in my mind, but out here. This is him! This is his face!” We both got goosebumps. “It’s my spirit guide!”

I had painted that painting several years before, sensing the spirit of a Native American blending with me as I did. I’d thought the spirit was another aspect of myself, or the memory of a past life. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that he had his own identity and was touching more than one life from the other side. I began to suspect that I wasn’t necessarily the only one doing the painting when I painted.

My friend Marilyn dropped in with a friend of hers to show him my artwork. I wasn’t home, but Fawni invited them in. Marilyn relayed to me later that her friend loved my work and would like to commission a portrait of his wife and daughter. He would send photos.

Long before the photos arrived, I felt driven to start the painting. Her friend had mentioned to Marilyn that he would like a forest, a waterfall, and some ferns in the background. Even though I was imposing these images onto the canvas, I began to see other forms emerging from the foliage. There was a mossy man, lying on the ground, with his head down, reaching blindly through the waterfall, and a leafy woman, sitting up, looking at him across the water, reaching toward him as if to comfort him. I wondered if my client had been despondent when he met his wife.

What I had intended as some bushes overhanging a low cliff and catching the sunlight took on the form of a yellow-headed parrot. I didn’t get it. A parrot?

The next day, I received a phone call from my client. “Marilyn told me you’ve started the painting. How exciting! I got the photos together, and I was wondering, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could you put my parrot into the painting as well? She’s green with a yellow head.”

“I think your parrot is already in the painting,” I told him with a sense of eerie wonder.

I had almost finished the background, leaving a blank area in the stream in front of the waterfall, by the time the photos arrived. Excited by the way the painting had been evolving, I began working on the figures of mother and child. I placed the lovely young woman, draped in an off-white dress, by the edge of the stream. She was stooping, the folds of her dress draped across her bent knees, and holding her hand out to steady the little girl standing in the water.

I stepped back from the painting.

There was another child sitting in the mother’s lap. The image was somehow formed by the subtle shadows of pastel blues and pinks in the draping of the dress.

That’s weird, I thought. I’d better get that out of there. I painted over it and stepped back. It was still there. I smoothed my brush into the white paint on my palette and dabbed at the dress again. That should do it. I stepped back.

There was still a child sitting in the mother’s lap.

Marilyn and I had both been invited to a friend’s house the next evening, and while the other ladies were talking, I sat down next to her on the couch and said in a low voice, “Marilyn, about your friend…” I whispered his name. “Is there another child in the picture?”

“Hoh!” she gasped. “What do you mean?” She looked apprehensive, as if I were spooking her by knowing some secret I wasn’t supposed to know.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry. I was just wondering, because there’s another child in the painting, and I can’t paint it out.” I described what had happened, and I could tell by the way she was rubbing the goosebumps on her arms that something odd was going on.

“She recently had a miscarriage.”

“Oh, my, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.” It seemed that child’s spirit was still around. I told Marilyn about the other images. She confirmed that her friend had indeed been despondent when he and his wife found each other.

I didn’t know why I was getting these visual messages, but when I pointed them out to my client, he became more receptive to other visual messages, to the on-going conversation Life is having with us about its infinite variety of intertwining meanings. He also became one of my most ardent patrons, seeing me through several of my financially meager times with yet another commission.

Marilyn’s daughter, when she commissioned a portrait of Marilyn, asked if I could add a likeness of Marilyn’s mother Dorothy to the surprise birthday gift. Dorothy died when Marilyn was in her twenties, and the only reference available was an old once-crumpled, black-and-white photo, two inches square. I had to get out my magnifying glass to discern the features on Dorothy’s quarter-inch-sized face.

As I painted, I asked Dorothy, whom I knew to be around, because she’d been dropping pennies into our lives (pennies from heaven, confirmation of her awareness of our prayers) to help me achieve a likeness. It seemed to be happening, the features seemed to be painting themselves, but I ran into a problem. I had positioned Dorothy above Marilyn, and I had intended that she be looking down on her daughter, but the eyes seemed to paint themselves looking up, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t change that. I gave up. Dorothy wanted to be looking up at the Light above her, even though her hand was reaching down, dropping pennies around her daughter.

When Marilyn saw the painting, she was astounded. “How did you do this? This is my mother! But she isn’t the age she was as I remember her. She’s older. She looks like she would have if she had lived longer. How can this be?”

Some time later, Marilyn, caught up in a difficult situation, was feeling stressed and in need of inspiration. She had been hoping to find the pennies that had so often reassured her of her mother’s comforting presence, on the carpet she’d just finished vacuuming, or on a chair beside a book she’d just put there a few minutes ago, but none had appeared. One afternoon her son came to the house looking for her. Not knowing if Marilyn was home, he peeked into her room, and stopped in his tracks, stunned. Dorothy was standing at the foot of the bed, looking at the painting. He knew it was his grandmother, because it was the same woman who was in the painting. He fled from the house, and didn’t summon the courage to tell Marilyn about it until a day later. Marilyn was heart-warmed and grateful to know that her mother was still with her.

Help comes through from the other side in so many ways – and knows how to make good use of us on this side.

My favorite way of painting – allowing random shapes and colors to tell their story in gradually comprehended imagery, allowing myself to be an artist on loan – seems like a good metaphor for how to receive what life is trying to tell me, if I will only listen! There are so many ways in which we are being contacted, by souls who have left their bodies, by spiritual guides, by the great binary language of creation behind and within all of what is going on around us. We can be intenders if we want to be, or pretenders or offenders or defenders, for that matter, but we can also be attenders, simply present when the presents are all opened.

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