I’d like to share a fairy tale I wrote recently as part of a class on Wonder. This tale involves an initiation quest undertaken by a young woman who creates a new world by stepping outside the walls of convention. It sounds like the way many of us live! It has a bit of a modern twist including space travel driven by wonder and magic and meditation. (Her name is Greek for the intellect. Her hamster is named awareness.) Enjoy!
Once in a kingdom quite nearby or unimaginably far away, lived a young woman trapped in a tiny room. Her parents and their parents and her neighbors and many people who did not even know her had locked her in, perhaps to keep her small, perhaps to keep her safe, or perhaps small meant safe in their minds. They had all gone away, and she never had a chance to ask. The room had a small window and a sealed door with a curious triangle marked on it. The three corners of the triangle were hollowed out as though something was missing.
The young woman’s name was once Dianoia, but it proved a bit too much to handle, and she became simply Dia. Every night a mysterious woman would appear suddenly in the corner of the room, leave food, and then vanish without a single drop of conversation. Over the course of many years the woman left three special gifts; a saffron-colored cloak, a telescope and a hamster. Dia wore her cloak night and day, worrying the threads to near ruin. Half of her waking hours she used the telescope to peer through the window at an advancing wall of stone that was slowly engulfing what little she could see of the land around her. The other half of the day she watched her hamster. She named him Epignosi, but the name proved a bit too much to handle, and he became simply Epi.
Epi lived in a small cage in the smallest corner of Dia’s room. He wore out many hamster wheels running an orbital marathon to nowhere. He may or may not have been aware of Dia, so deep was his focus on the task of trying to circle his self-made sun. Every day down through the years, in an unchanging pattern, Dia watched Epi run, gazed at the encroaching stone wall, ate dinner and slept.
One day something radical happened as Dia watched Epi. She noticed that everything in her world was always the same, the room, the flow of the day, the thoughts in her head. She realized she had indeed become quite small and safe in the mental hamster wheel of her existence. And she wondered if that was truly what she wanted out of life. She wondered if there might be something beyond her known world. It was a simple, small thought, but Dia learned that day that tiny pebbles start avalanches, for as soon as this thought nugget knocked itself loose, the mysterious woman appeared suddenly in the middle of the room. “Well,” she said. “It took you long enough, child. Now hold that telescope tightly and point it up to the stars!” And, in a flash, she disappeared.
Dia did not waste time. She grabbed the telescope firmly, turned it up to the sky and peered into the unknown. A lot happened at once. The room began to shake, Epi sprang to awareness, leapt off of his wheel and launched himself into a pocket of the cloak. In what felt like a short or long blink of her mind’s eye, they whooshed out the window, up through the night sky and into the stars. Sailing along galactic curves of space and through tunnels of time, they arrived quite suddenly in a new world.
To say Dia was astonished and Epi a bit sea sick (despite his expertise creating orbits) would be an understatement. Dia could see more than her eyes could inhale. She was standing in a dense forest, beside a house surrounded by snow. A tall, strong, young man who introduced himself as Ivan was holding the door open for her. “Welcome to the Planet of Stories, My Lady,” he said. “Come hear about my many adventures.” He took her inside the house where a group of young women and children listened intently to an old crone whose keen eyes flashed as she shared spectacular stories of adventures and loves and fortunes lost and found, of bulls and beasts and magic eagles and countless kingdoms of czars and princesses. Dia’s new friend, Ivan, was indeed the hero of every story. She thought he looked amazingly young and vital for one who had experienced such a long, adventure-filled life. He was clearly happy hearing endless stories about himself, so Dia stole away.
She walked out of the woods into a vast open meadow surrounded by green, groomed gardens and large, white buildings that looked like small palaces. She began to hear voices and laughter and came upon a group of young women and men sitting by a fountain. They were taking turns telling marvelous stories of loves and tricksters and odd adventures. Epi poked his head out of the cloak hoping that he might hear about hamsters, but alas, his kinsfolks were not in any of the tales.
At last Epi asked if they might move on, and as Dia stood up to leave, one of the young women thanked her for visiting and welcomed her to return to their circle whenever she wished. “We offer this as a place of refuge whenever there is a plague,” she offered kindly.
Dia said, “I think we might be having some kind of stone wall plague in my land.”
“Then take this jewel, my lady, and you will be able to return whenever you wish.” With a smile, she handed Dia a beautiful gold-colored gemstone.
Dia then grabbed her telescope, pointed it to the sky and she and Epi whooshed up into the stars. Sailing along galactic curves of space and through tunnels of time, they arrived quite suddenly on an island floating in space. Around them a circle of huge telescopes pointed up to the stars. A nearby sign pointed up and said, “View of the Large”. Another pointed down and said “View of the Tiny.” A woman came forward saying, “Welcome star travelers! We watched you approaching through the Hamster’s Eye Nebula. We are honored to host you here at outpost Physika.”
“Here on top of the outpost we look to the stars and study space and time and how big things are created and how they are destroyed. We have many gorgeous equations to account for gravity and orbiting planets, colliding galaxies, and the expanding universe. Of course, in all honesty, we aren’t quite sure what most of it is or how it works, but we search and re-search and learn fascinating things every day.”
Then Dia and Epi followed the sign down into the land of the Tiny and found a giant circular tunnel deep within the island. “Welcome voyagers,” said a man looking up from his computer screen. In great excitement he showed them a string of numbers and symbols. “We are breaking apart the smallest known bits of matter and discovering they are pure energy. We have many gorgeous equations to account for all things small, to help explain how atoms form and forces hold things together and pull them apart. Of course, in all honesty, we aren’t quite sure what most of it is or how it works, but we search and re-search and learn fascinating things every day.”
As Dia and Epi prepared to leave, a rather hassled-looking man approached them wearing a hat that said ‘Unification Team.’ “Come back from time to time,” he said. “We are only beginning to put our ideas together. At the moment, if we use the equations of the Big, it will blow up the world of the Tiny. And if we use the equations of the Tiny it will collapse the world of the Big. Clearly there are missing pieces of the great puzzle, but we search and re-search and learn fascinating things every day.” And he handed Dia a beautiful green gemstone so that she could return and help explore the universe of Physika.
Dia grabbed her telescope, pointed it to the sky and she and Epi whooshed up into the stars. Sailing along galactic curves of space and through tunnels of time, they arrived quite suddenly in an entirely new world.
They stood at the edge of a group of women and men in saffron colored robes, all seated on the ground with their eyes closed. There was the gentle sound of “mmmmm” like a breeze created by everyone humming softly together. A nearby monk saw the color of her cloak and invited her to join in. Dia sat and Epi popped up out of his pocket. Somehow this was the most interesting thing he had seen yet on their journeys. He crawled into Dia’s hand and she cradled him near her chest as she closed her eyes and began to hum softly.
They stayed in this land for many days, absorbing the peace and listening to great Wisdom Masters speak about still mind and open heart as the gateway to all inner and outer worlds. Epi found he was able to guide Dia into a deep, expansive stillness. Somehow in this place, an understanding of the true universe arose within them both. At long last, with great reluctance, they prepared to leave.
As Dia stood up, one of the Masters handed her a beautiful blue gemstone. “Use this to return anytime you wish,” he said with a look of great kindness.
Dia grabbed her telescope, pointed it to the sky and she and Epi whooshed up into the stars. Sailing along galactic curves of space and through tunnels of time, they arrived quite suddenly back in their old room.
They stood in wonder. Much had changed inside them. Not much had changed around them. The room was still a closed cell, designed to keep Dia small and safe, and the people who created it were nowhere to be seen. The dense stone wall was still shrinking access to the world around her. Yet, inside their minds, all was new. Epi no longer yearned for his hamster wheel. Dia had no interest in her dull, well-rehearsed routine. She pulled Epi out of his pocket, and her fingertips brushed the three gems from their journeys. As she held up the gemstones, they began to beam light toward the triangle on her sealed door. The stones flew, as though alive, out of her hand to fit neatly into the hollow spots at the corners of the triangle. In an outrageous boom of light, a star exploded to release the ancient seal, and the door sprang open.
Dia and Epi realized with amazement that they were completely free to wander outside. As they stepped out into the world, they were astonished to find that everything they had seen in the universe was also just outside their door. There was a beautiful garden and forest and observatory and laboratory and a group of meditating, humming monks and nuns in the yard. The encroaching stone wall had vanished into mist to reveal a fascinating world full of new wonders stretching to the horizon. Dia and Epi grinned and began to explore. At last, released from all constrictions, Dia and Epi were free to experience the boundless space all around them.