Falling into inner space
It was already getting dark at the Highland Park farmers market, and my back was hurting me from all the running I’d done two days earlier. My birthday was two days earlier and I followed my two-decades long custom of doing a birthday run where I ran a lap for each year of my life, as I mentally reviewed that year. It had been an awesome run which took me two hours. Anyway, I told my assistant that I was going to get a massage at the shiatsu booth at the market. My back was killing me. Plus I was thinking about my wife Dolores – it had been over a month since she passed away, but I was still missing her very much.
Chiyoki had me lie down on her massage table, and I instantly felt some relief just by lying down. Then she went to work, first on my scalp and then working her way down my back. There’s something about pushing, squeezing, working the flesh and muscle – it was simultaneously painful and enlightening. Something about the pain I was experiencing, both mentally and physically, allowed me to enter into some other twilight-zonish space where time didn’t exist. Maybe the massaging released certain chemicals into my bloodstream and brain – I don’t know. But as Chiyoki continued to twist my arms and knead my back as if it were dough, my mind went into early childhood memories as vivid as yesterday’s breakfast.
I was sitting in the kitchen late at night with my mother, talking about all the things we used to talk about when everyone else was asleep. I would be trying to identify plants that I’d collected that day with my many books, while my mother would drink tea and read her newspapers and magazines. "How can God have had no beginning?" I would ask her. "How can the Pope be infallible?" I would ask her. We discussed these matters at length, and she would often say that I should ask the priest. But later, when word got back to her that I was debating the parish priest, she would yell at me and say "Who do you think you are, talking back to the priest?" It was a pleasant memory, whether we agreed or not, since we could sit there and talk, and she died about 10 years ago.
Time was non-existant as Chiyoki worked my back, and the incense from the next booth wafted over me, reminding me of being an altar boy at the Catholic church, and getting up early before school to practice and to help the priest say Mass. Why was I thinking of that? Was it merely the smell of incense triggering a memory? I thought long and hard about spiritual matters of that sort, and was once serious about going into the priesthood, but something along the way disillusioned me. The past was no less alive then as it was now, as the thoughts and ideas coursed through my consciousness, as the music of the Vera Cruz singers down the block rang out and reminded me of travels to Mexico.
Chiyoki began pulling each arm into the middle of my back and I was about to scream, but I just let her do it. I felt my body needed it. And as I relaxed into the pain, I was climbing the Pyramid of the Sun again, standing at the top as I did in 1974, wondering about the people who planned and built such majesty, and wondering what happened to it all. Past, present, future -- all aspects of the same reality. We think, we build, we live, we die. Our parents and families form our character, and then we make choices, and then we do whatever it is that we were genetically destined to do. What was I destined to do, I thought at the top of the pyramid? Does all life, and all culture, end? If so, what is the point of it all?
I was experiencing some sort of mental free-fall, an internal Fellini movie, highlights of memorable conversations, meetings, endings, as the incense flowed, and the singing rang through the street, while my muscles were being given a good beating.
"OK, all done," she finally told me. I got up, put on my hat, and walked back into the market, realizing once again the illusion of time, and the reality that nothing matters in and of itself, but only how we approach what we do, and whether or not we learn from life.