In my greater Work I am tasked to go into many darknesses. Whether delving into the dark places in people’s hearts, traveling the astral and spirit worlds, or even walking in the forever-twilight between the worlds of the living and the dead, someone in my position is expected to travel with skill, confidence and honor.
But there is an obstacle to my pursuit of this Work: fear. Not the healthy and legitimate fear of what can befall careless travelers who blunder through the otherworlds, rather, a constant and steady fear of the world around me, especially physical darkness.
Bound up in my fear is a critical disconnect, the effect of which can likely be felt throughout my life: I have lost the distinction between being vulnerable and being in jeopardy. In Work and in life, there are times when allowing ones self to be vulnerable is healthy and vital, but I have armored myself against vulnerability in the quest to feel safe.
However, I am a shaman and an ordeal master. One who serves a Lady of productive destruction at that. It is my job to push at brittle places, drive people past comfort, and take them to places they never imagined going in their greatest dreams or most awful nightmares. I cannot escape the nature of my Work even when the one in need of pushing is myself.
Late this evening I arrived at Ramblewood in Northern MD where I am attending and presenting at Dark Odyssey: Fusion. Not long after getting my belongings unloaded, a heavy sense of depression and loneliness overtook me. This is not unusual, I feel this way at the beginning of just about every event I attend, particularly at Ramblewood. Being surrounded by so many people in the intimate setting of a sexuality event, sharing living space in group cabins, and being around so many partnered people while attending without a partner myself, can combine to leave me feeling like an island in a turbulent sea of people. The feeling typically fades within a day or so.
Having arrived the day before the majority of event attendees, I decided to go for a walk up to the camp labyrinth, set off in the woods a short walk from my cabin. It was not a random decision. I have only been erotically intimate here a small handful of times (three to be precise), although I have had many enjoyable scenes in the dungeon. Of those three times, two happened near the labyrinth, and I hoped to connect with the positive emotions and memories of that place to remind myself that the loneliness I was feeling rarely lasts.
Having driven nine hours in my boots, I decided I would walk barefoot. In itself this is unusual for me, as I have long been uncomfortable being seen without shoes on. Getting acclimated to being barefoot has been an ongoing emotional (and physical) challenge I set myself over the last two summers.
Here is a list of what accompanied me on my walk: My stout denim bluejeans, cotton underwear, one of my fabulously garish plaid shirts, my wallet, 3G smart phone, JF Rey glasses, and tactical flashlight. And of course, my DO:Fusion name-badge. On an 80 degree evening, I was prepared to be carded, make a phone call, look up Julia Robert’s acting career on IMDB, and illuminate an object up to 1000ft away. All while dressed to go panning for gold. At an event where people routinely wear nothing more than what the gods gifted them with at birth and what the Dark Odyssey registration staff gave them on arrival.
When I arrived at the labyrinth the night was still, illuminated by the luminescent flashes of dozens of lightning-bugs, a distant moon, and a canopy of stars. I could not really enjoy the sight however, because at every sound, I would reflexively click my flashlight on, the harsh light a safety blanket against the looming darkness of the surrounding woods.
I clicked my light down its energy-saving and less eye-searing low setting and proceeded to walk around the perimeter of the labyrinth. Skirting the boundary of small stones, I followed a path leading away towards the edge of the wood. A short distance down, the path forked and led back towards the labyrinth. Continuing along by flashlight I became conscious of the distinct feeling of the path beneath my feet. My route soon had me back at the labyrinth and I became aware of the need to explore my feelings of vulnerability.
Making my way to the bench placed near the labyrinth to accommodate drummers and people with mobility impairments, I anxiously stripped my clothes off and placed them careful down. I was aware of rising nervousness born out of leaving my phone, with its implied access to help in the event of an emergency. My nakedness was another source of anxiety. While Dark Odyssey events very clothing optional, aside from in the pool, where being clothing would be more conspicuous than nudity, I am rarely naked here. The fact is that I remain deeply uncomfortable with other people seeing my genitals, as when I lost weight, I also lost skin coverage, and no longer can pass for intact (not-circumcised), more restoration is required to get back to my previous, passing state. Having my obviously circumcised penis out where people can see it is a major trigger for my body dysphoria issues. The only time my genitals are seen at these events is when I am self-demoing a technique for one of my classes, in which case I am in a position of control as the presenter, and I make it a point to mention that I am restoring.
Despite there being no one else with me in the woods, I was a bit surprised by how uncomfortable I was being naked in a “public” place.
Picking up my flashlight, I proceeded to walk the same circuit again. This time I made the choice not to use the light. Gripping it in white-knuckled fingers, I strained my senses to feel the different densities and textures of the ground beneath my feet to find the path, just as Marten and Silver had taught me years ago. Freed from the brilliant LED light, my eyes began to adjust and I strove to integrate the visual and tactile information into one cohesive sense of the world. Through it all though, my inner monolog chattered on. I was vulnerable up to a point in the woods, but I still had my security blanket snug in my hand, with my thumb resting on the button that would wash the world in 200 lumens of blinding light the moment I asked it to. As long as I had a touchstone, my mind refused to focus and experience the woods and the night for what they were. I had an out in the form of my flashlight, and as long as I had that, I remained a traveler on but not in my surroundings. My armor against the intimacy that comes with vulnerability was very much whole, despite my nakedness.
My feet brought me back to the drummer’s bench, and almost against my will I set down the flashlight, being careful to frame it on my bright shirt so that its dark form would be difficult to miss on my return.
I set out again, my bare feet providing a wealth of information about the ground I was treading on. Even so, as I came to the place where the path forked, I strained my vision to make sense of the patterns of light and dark before me. A passing breeze or perhaps an animal rustled in a distant tree and the craving for the small metal tube with its trapped miniature sun and sharply scalloped end was very nearly a physical ache.
Making my return again to the bench, I remained discontent with the agitated state of my mind. There was no doubt that I had wadded into the dark waters of my own heart, but I knew that I had not achieved what I had at some point in the evening determined to do. I had not gone into a state of vulnerability and openness where I could fully feel at one with my surroundings.
To succeed in the ordeal path, one must be determined above all to see things through. Somewhere in the proceeding explorations this had become an ordeal, with myself as both seeker and guide. With that realization bubbling in my mind, I took off my glasses and set them carefully beside the small tactical flashlight.
My eyes rendered useless without my powerful prescription lenses, I set out again to circumambulate my short course.
This time any residual fear was gone from my mind, washed away by the growing familiarity with these woods and the intense focus needed to stay on the curving path by the sensations of my feet alone. Joined with the earth in the task of getting me around the path and back safely to the labyrinth I finally felt the unity with the land I was missing, and I was intimately conscious of my open and vulnerable state existing without the fear I had believed indistinguishable from it. As I walked, blind and naked, through the still woods I found myself feeling freer and safer than I could remember being in a long time.
After a period of rest and contemplation, I felt that it was time for me to return to my cabin. I toyed with the idea of returning in my naked state, but discarded the idea as potentially awkward. Pulling on my jeans, I was struck by how heavy they felt. Rather than armor, in that moment and place, they felt more like a weight dragging me down into the sea.
I do not yet know where this discovery and exploration will take me. But in the spiritual and emotional afterglow that accompanies ordeal work, I feel more assured of my ability to go into darkness and journey back again on the power of my own two feet than I have in a very long time.