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LEARNING SCALES

Dreamed 1985/6/26 by Chris Wayan

1: CONVALESCENT HEAVEN Watercolor sketch of a deep lake with small wooded islands; snowcapped peaks behind

Well... here I am in the spirit world again. I'm sitting on an islet this time, of pale gray rocks and small resinous flowers, in an alpine lake, pure and sea-deep by the azure of it. For a long while, I just sit on the rocks, staring at the white thunderheady peaks cradling the lake. When I'm hungry, I drink the water. That and the vast light are enough. The strain of having lived in a physical body untangles, slowly, slowly. This plane's not meant for slicing Gordian knots.

As usual, I'm unsure what I AM up here for.

Finally I swim to shore. Fifty feet back from the point is a path cutting through the tall grass. Halfway round the lake, I come to a junction with National Park trailsigns. The valley is called Feargone, the lake is Icycool; the peaks to the east, the Mountains of Heaven. Shall I explore? I'm ready.

I climb east. It's not hard; my spirit body is much sounder than the other one. Picking my way up the cols, inside a white tent of cloud, my hair curls; like ferns, my lungs and skin soak in strength from the vapor. The air and light and water sustain me. At the trail junction by the Alph, I follow the easy path down, skipping the Caverns Measureless to Man. My time alone nourished me, and I'm ready to meet other souls now. Down to the crowded astral plane.

Crowded indeed! Turns out to be a land where they've re-created ancient China. A mock Han Dynasty, Empress and all! Sentimental, I guess. Or scarred souls, who want security enough to mimic the stablest earthly civilization, feudal or not. Better to serve in Heaven...

I walk right through villages, rivers and fields, carts, chickens, and fishponds, fascinated by the game, but declining to play. Even in the astral lowlands I can get by on light.

I walk in the palace door. To my astonishment, I am announced at once: "The Mad Sage from the West!" Didn't realize I'd made such a stir. They seem pleased to have a Mystic Westerner to play with.

Han Ah-li, the Empress, grants me diplomatic status, lets me observe the Court. Perhaps a whim, but I think she likes my outsider's leaven; she, too, treats her court a bit anthropologically, like a bad opera. Only natural, I learn: she was a peasant once.

Her Imperial Consort tells me her tale one evening, as we drink plum wine (no hangovers in Heaven).

"In her youth, Ah-li won the throne by taming one of the Dragons of Wisdom, which had left its job of climate regulation (rain work, mostly) and moved to the seacoast, being seen to frolic in the autumn mists, offering phoenixes a light, ambushing lone travelers with such shocking personal questions that some poor souls reincarnated. It was upsetting the Great Balance (and the local officials) with its irresponsible and rather vulgar whimsicality, and something had to be done. The old Emperor had wanted to leave this plane soon anyway, and offered the throne in a contest.

"Generals and hotheads flocked to the county, gradually enriching the few innkeepers and depleting the local reserves of alcohol, garlic, and impressionable peasant girls, whose appreciation of Imperial trinkets as love-tokens soon staled to the point where young Ah-li could wheedle the loan of a dragon-hunter's Magic Chain for just a promise and a smooch.

"Climbing into the hills unarmed and unarmored, she stood out from the big city hunters. On a crag-summit, she challenged the dragon's moral right to trouble humbler souls with premature seeking after truth. Her serious consideration of a legitimate ethical question lured the dragon in...

"And so she snared it--with the Chain it wears to this day.

"Her feat was against all the entry rules. 'A peasant, and a girl at that!' the Han knights grumbled on the presentation field, the Dragon looming over them, steaming like a zigzag lightning bolt cast in bronze, tamely following Ah-Li.

"'Well,' she said, 'I'll be happy to let it go, and give you guys another chance right here and now.' The dragon licked its lips. Within ten minutes, Ah-li had the Mandate of Heaven.

"And she's ruled well, these last few seasons (which change not by any fixed count of days, but from all souls' need for times of stillness, activity, communion, drawing in or going out. Even rocks must rest). And so, my friend, must the Imperial Consort, when he begins to wax mystical."

2: THE ORACLE ROSE

The court fascinates me: social feelings without the restraint of physical limits. They flirt and squabble, meditate, indulge so purely. I'm sure I'll learn a lot. I scribble notes constantly. The in-crowd is greatly amused, think it's a form of prayer, since Westerners (Tibetans!) are known to pray by writing on wheels and flags. Soon I'm dubbed "Paper".

One courtier stands out: her Jester, who's invented the first film animation in the Celestial Kingdom. Hilarious parables of court intrigue. I'm in some! I get to know him a little--a blend of imagination and technical genius I've never seen together. The Empress and many nobles like his comic frankness; yet one day the Imperial Consort warns me privately "He is heartless--dangerous! Can't you see it in his humor? Always mocks and oversimplifies!" But that's what cartoons ARE! Does he resent being the butt of the Jester's surreal jokes? I thought the Consort was more mature; personally, I'm honored to be teased by genius. .

Gradually, though, my study of court life trails away. Even the Jester's weekly animation fest in the Plum Room is forgotten. I've become obsessed. By the Empress's throne, chained, living, symbol of her mandate, coils the Dragon of Wisdom. Immense, bronze, breathing, it fills my thoughts, the scent like cardamom and iron filings. It lives on air and water and light. Now and then it spits out pearls.

It aims to hit certain people too, I'm sure of it. They are. They don't like it: they may keep the pearls they catch, by the Empress's decree, but they're wet with dragon spit--which is scalding hot.

At a banquet, as the servants bring in the birdnest soup, the Duke of Kongzi grumbles to his Opposition friends. "It's disgusting, making us touch that animal's spit!" He's close to calling a pearl boycott. The Jester echoes my own thought as he cracks "You'll swallow your disgust soon enough." The old Duke looks sidelong, suspiciously, and guzzles his birdnest, as I try not to spit up my own soup in laughter. Is there anyone so sheltered he doesn't know birdnest soup is made of swallow-saliva? Sketch of a throneroom at night. The Empress of China sits in the dark conversing with the Imperial Dragon.

One hot night, I wake and walk; come to the throne room door. A lone guard steps from shadow, wordlessly bars the arch. Why? Ah! Through it I see the Empress alone on the throne in the dark. I'm not the sole insomniac.

She speaks! I start and the guard bristles. She whispers, but not to him, not to me. No one's in the room. She pauses, listens to the faint summer thunder... and answers, laughs. My skin prickles. The Queen of Heaven is mad.

Thunder murmurs again--and I understand. Words. Blunt boulder words. A huge eye meets mine, a moment, then turns back to her. The dragon's an oracle, the only one she trusts. Her secret Prime Minister!

My obsession was right.

Do others suspect who the real power is? I doubt it: her enemies say "She babbles to herself in the dark"! I thought it a metaphor, maybe tinged with sexism. Is the dragon's voice too deep for them? My hearing range may be different.

They may not know their Empress, or her night secret, but it turns out they do know their Jester. Guess he felt his creativity needed a wider field than 16mm. He's quietly knit the factions that just want power with those who fear the Empress is going mad. She's across town dedicating a park one day, and I am writing in my room, when he storms the Inner Palace.

He takes the Throne of Heaven.

She flees the city. His first edict formally banishes her from the Celestial Kingdom. Alone she walks the western hills. A terraced, treeless, dirt-poor land. The peasants feed her (for she's one of them), but harbor her in fear, hoping she'll move on. She hasn't the heart to endanger them. She reaches the Wall! Guards let her pass... into the jumbled gold sterility of the Mongolian wilderness. White nomad-tents float above the dusty horizon: the Mountains of Heaven.

But in the throneroom battle, a sword just nicked the dragon's chain. Enough to break the spell! The oracle rose in petals of fire, and flew away.

Dragonless, the Animator has just his own character to rule with. His wit helps, and his sense of absurdity--but he solves things so lightly, so quickly; he carries out his Solomonic judgments! Disputes, families, children sliced like bloody Gordian knots. He treats people like... cartoons! Erases them as if he can just re-draw them. Soon he's nicknamed Monkey after the great hellraiser in the Xiyou Ji. He doesn't seem to mind the implied critique--Monkey is our irresponsible Mind that must learn to help and obey, not tease and betray, our bumbling Soul.

But the Jester is king now absolute. He captures the Imperial Consort and demands he swear fealty. The Consort is silent. King Monkey chains him to a rock among the arching ruins of an aqueduct in the park. People watch. He feeds him nothing--to provoke an escape attempt, so he can justify killing him. The Imperial Consort does nothing. Days pass. He will die, return to the material world, if not rescued. The Great Animator scolds his passivity.

"Fight for your freedom! You have to fight for what you want--look at ME!"

The Imperial Consort does nothing. Mute, still, wasting away, he prolongs his life and his resistance, hoping for rescue--and baring the Jester's heart. People begin to talk. The Animator spoke of progress; this is the ancient imperial cruelty of Qin Shi Huangdi, or the Gang of Four.

On the third day, it rains. The Imperial Consort raises his mouth to the sky, and drinks. Deepsunk eyes, chicken neck, ribs, yellow sick skin--I KNOW this body! The starved sick body of my day life looks, lives, dies, just so.

At last the new Emperor summons me.

He paces, jokes about the Consort affair. I'm surprised; he's subtle, sounding out the people's uneasy mixture of real sympathy, love of scandal, idealism, and bloodthrills. King Monkey really is likable when he's not horrid.

But what's he want with me? At last, he pauses and asks me nakedly. "What am I doing wrong?" I try to be tactful...

He says "No, speak as an outsider. I need brutal honesty--like I used to give them. Now they all fear me, so they give me... tact."

He is no fool. I take a chance and tell him. "Your cleverness is not enough. You need empathy... wisdom. You're so bright, you don't care for fools."

"Do you? You see how they hold back the Celestial Kingdom."

"Most souls are foolish. When they become wise, they rise to a new plane where they are foolish, so they speed their learning. And the souls here in your care are especially timid; that's why they've chosen such a structured plane. You don't care for them--and what's not cared for, dies. Their needs are driving you crazy."

"I know," he says, staring out the window. "I've lost control." His ambiguity, even in confession! Of the realm, or of himself?

"To keep my mandate," he says, "I must restore Wisdom to the court." He kicks at the throne legs a while. Is he talking only of his image? I don't feel sincerity or lie in him--he is truly different. "You're a pilgrim; you know the wild lands to the West and over the Great Sea. I'm sending you on a Quest. Bring back the Imperial Dragon!"

He wants a symbol that speaks to the masses, I muse, amused; he doesn't know it'll speak to HIM.

He steps off the Throne, hands draped with the ancient bronze chain that once held the dragon. One green link, the size of a wedding-ring, has a fresh gold weld slashing across the patina. "Take this with you; one loop round the dragon's neck will tame it."

Something nags me. This dragon's a rebel, and a master at hiding its full nature. The commonest thing in Heaven's a mortal soul. "Will it work even if the dragon's in human form?"

"Of course! It's the Great Chain of Being. 'A place for each, and each in its place.'" The great and terrible Jester of Han fixes me with a fierce eye. "Now, go."

I wonder if I can do it. I heard the dragon's shout as it broke free, flew through the hall, laughing at the arrows ricocheting from its belly, ringing scales like gongs and cymbals, its wingwash blasting tapestries up and around the struggling factions, making the soldiers look like children in a pillow fight. Its joy to be free was, well... if I meet the dragon in its own form, could I kill that joy, remembering? And in human form... Can I put this slave-chain on someone, looking into a face I can READ?

Yet without its wisdom, the Imperial Consort will die chained instead... and, I think, the Celestial Kingdom. And the million souls who wanted this stability, simple lives between their hard bouts on Earth... where will they go?

"I accept your Quest," I sigh.

I don't know where to look, except that it will be far. Still, any wilderness beats this gloomy demoralized Capital.

So I go to the Imperial Archives' Geography Bureau. It's little used, a comforting dumpy wooden bureau with sticky drawers, filled with roadmaps and old tourist brochures. I needn't toss the Yi Jing for this journey: I am tied and tuned to that dragon like a kitestring since we first met. "Paper, my namesake," I say, "I'll go where you take me." I reach blindly in.

And in my fist is Ireland.

3: DIARY OF THE WESTERN REGIONS

The wind is fair, and I have "a ship with billowed sails" as the old song says. But even so the voyage is long, and I damn near memorize that brochure, as the sea turns grayer, silverer, and the air cool and pale. Ire-land, land of Eire... Ire! A clue there. Anger? I would be, chained like that! The days go by. It's a lavish flyer. Each county boasts of "great diversity", as boosters do, in all worlds and times. County Cork says "We have everything from green" (photo of a horse race on a turf course) "to green" (a bank, and the word slowly alters to... greed ). I think "That's all they think they have--the Sweepstakes?" Poor Donegal has only one color, gray-green, and poeticizes its barrens. Nothing else to sell. I recall the Scots in 'Local Hero' grumbling "You can't eat scenery." Wrong! If you're shameless enough, you can polish your poverty and sell it as quaint...

Green... Jealousy? And Greed. Shamelessness. And Ire. This is where Wisdom hides?

We pass Brendan's Isle, and sight the Irish coast. The captain drops me off at night, on a tiny shingle below the cliff of a long thumby headland between two fjords. A Chinese ship in port'd be a nine day wonder--and likely warn the dragon.

I climb halfway up the head, and sleep.

Dawn comes strangely, with horns. What do they mean? They echo off the facing heads. And then I see the tide. Wet rock, lank kelp, and lower still, bottom sand now, as if the long sound were a cattle trough being drunk to the dregs by vast imperceptible Irish mastodons. I remember the sirens in Hanalei when I was ten, how the sea sagged, then reared like a cobra and struck, and I run up the hill, stiff, gasping, the rumble growing and DON'T LOOK BACK! as a cold monster grabs me from behind and I'm under with a crash and then I feel rock and heath slashing my palms as the brine slams me forward and I tumble blind... and snag in a bush as the flood recedes! I shake the sting out of my eyes and see the wave, split, still rising, heaving up the sounds. I'm alive because I'm out so far, in deep water, on sharp lonely rocks that gave the wave no time to rise, cut it like a keel. Half blind, I hear the roar as the tsunami breaks, far up the sounds. "Alive because I was on the edge." I think. "What was that wave?"

I hike inland along the untouched ridgeline of the cape. Stones and tussocks. Slow going; my sore ankles are burned in the noon sun when near the mainland I meet a strange refugee in a battered robe hooding her face. She has a cynical old voice, yet her vigor is young. I wonder if she's the dragon, but second sight hints she's another secret: one I should know. Is she a Wise Woman? They say Ireland's crawling with them.

On impulse, I tell her of my quest. She chuckles at my moral worries about bagging a Servant of Heaven. "Oracles have responsibilities, same as any bureaucrat. Is that one free, leaving her realm to a Monkey?"

"Her? How do you know it's a she?"

"You ask a Wise Woman how? I'd know. But as it happens, I met her, anyway."

I ask when she was in China, but she laughs, says "Now that, YOU'D know, if you let yourself." Though she shows me only her character, not her past, I trust her. By the time we reach the first habitation, she knows things about me old friends don't.

It's a hall just above the floodline, with a terrace startlingly like the ones I left in China. The sliding doors are open. I find an art exhibit and a cafeteria. It's part of a college on the hill. By the look of things, they all ran down to the bay to rescue people. We decide to raid the deserted kitchen. In the mountains, alone, I lived on light, but I've been with human beings too long; I'm full of hungers now.

As we reach the kitchen door, out of an office stalks a middle-aged woman, prim, grim, in severe wool, red hair in a tight bun. She heads for the terrace, ignoring us utterly. My companion's eyes gleam--she senses it too! Scurrying after the stranger, I ask what my seeing eye screams is true.

"Excuse me--ma'am, are you a dragon?"

She stops, turns, and skewers me with a knitting-needle gaze. I cringe, embarrassed.

"What kind of question is THAT?" she growls; I become a schoolchild before a mean teacher. Her name tag says BRODIE. I rock nervously, hands behind my back, unable to say a word.

She adds: "Of course I am!"

I gulp... and heft the chain in my longcoat pocket. It feels heavy as guilt.

I guess I could give it to an archeological museum.

She grunts "I'm not the one YOU want, though."

"Not... Then... Where is she? Do you know?" I'm startled to notice I still want to meet the Imperial Dragon, chain or not--for her own sake.

"Oh, up that canyon. Now leave me. You both stink--like peasants."

Embarrassment wrestles anger til I snap "I don't stink--I smell of the sea. And nutritional yeast. I was sick for years, I know what STINKING is!"

My friend pulls back her hood and lights in too. "Peasants smell GOOD--earthy! I was born one! I lost my good smell when I won the throne. The rich, gah! Fake flowers over fear."

Meanwhile I'm blurting to Miss Jean Brodie "You're a... a smell-bigot! I didn't expect such talk from a dragon!"

The dragon wrinkles her human snoot at us, grunts unapolagetically, and steps out on the terrace. She puffs up and her skin turns ruddy. Her skin explodes! Reddish tatters whirl like autumn leaves in a huge dust-devil spiral...and solidify into tartan-gridded scales. The dragon glares at us, crest rising. Without a preliminary crouch, she leaps straight over us, a full dragonlength above the terrace, hovers a second as her wings snap open like an umbrella, and vanishes in thunder.

"Cranky." I mutter as the leaves and dirty napkins settle. Turning to the Empress I say "I'm amazed I didn't know you."

"I'm not." she says. "We hardly talked. Besides, I've changed. That was... another life."

She gets an uncertain look in her black eyes.

"You go meet my old dragon alone." says the Empress. "She'll fly if she sees me. She'll think I want to drag her back... though I don't."

"You don't?" I blink. "So... your lecture on bureaucratic responsibility was--?"

"Oh, guilt. I hated court life too! But they THREW me out: I'm safe! While she grabs her freedom and gets hunted down... again. No... you go talk to her."

I'm stammer "But... what am I going to say?"

"I'M not the oracle!" laughs the Ex-queen of Heaven. And sits on the hillside and lies back, and whistles in the sun.

4: THE HOLE IN THE HEART'S FOR RESONANCE

Nervously I climb the ravine. There's a wood bridge over the stream, becoming a boardwalk along the eroded bank. Steps up, dwindling to a path up the canyon wall... Fennelstalks lurch over me like drunken triffids. Now the river's just a noise below. The slope steepens into cliff... the path hovers on its edge, wiggling, teasing. Wild fuchsias trail. A dream: Dragon and White Hare and I, on the Terrace above Chaos.

I hear slow music... deep tones climb, cross, fall, return, like a spider building a circular web. Ahead juts a viewpoint, of those ubiquitous gray flagstones hand-hewn by the Conservation Corps back in the Spiritual Depression. On the sheltered floor, sunning, coils the dragon. Stunned by the span of her glittering loops, like oxbows of a great river, my mind babbles "Blue belly to match sky and cloud--green and brass back to match the earth. Camouflage through natural selection! No wonder we don't see dragons." On the parapet, sheer above the depths below, a huge Hare sits. It's listening to the notes... closely, critically. They talk quietly as I approach. I step shyly onto the warm flags and say,

"I like your music."

The dragon glances at me with slit gold eyes and says "Actually I was just tuning my guitar." To me it looks more like a synthesizer: buttons and diodes glow plum and blue like inlayed gems, a keyboard scaled to her huge fore-claws. But she holds it like a guitar, and it has a hole in the heart, for resonance.

Inanely, I tell the Hare, "You're so big!" Too shy to tell the Dragon that yet.

"I'm a Crusader Rabbit. My name's Beryl Garp."

"Beryl! I knew you dreamflew, but I didn't know your form up here."

"Do I know you, below? My recall..."

"Yeah, for years." I don't add we nearly were lovers because she wanted to and I felt obliged to. To love anyone who wanted me. "My name is, let me think, Crispy-Shell there, 'Paper' Wai-an here. So you're a Crusader?

"Well, I rarely make it this far up. In fact, I was just asking the dragon here what these times on the spirit plane are FOR. I see why we incarnate, but what do we do up here, between?"

"Good question. I've wondered. I just explore. And write travelogs, later."

I sit on the stone rail; the dragon says gently, "Would you like to try my guitar?"

I stretch my hands awkwardly; it's too much instrument for me. Cradle the synthitar shyly, and slowly pluck tones and intervals... A great joy wells in my heart, resonating with even the simplest sounds. Music! Alone of my family I never sang, never played an instrument; hid that I wanted to, even from me. Tears well in my eyes. The others stop talking a while... I feel their kindness, their warmth. I clutch the guitar like a rag doll, brushing gentle notes now and then...

A dream: a dragon hands me her guitar-synth, on the terrace above Chaos.
...and listen. The dragon is saying:

"...explain your life-purpose? Well, being an oracle, I can guess... but I'm not even sure of my own! That's a family trait--those of us who ensoul as dragons have power and vision, but we forget life below more thoroughly than most--like you forget dreams."

Puzzled, I think "Forget DREAMS?"

"Your power won't tell you about yourself?" says the Hare.

"I can barely remember my hatching in THIS life, even. The years as a Rain Inspector, a Prime Minister... washed away. Irrelevant to my life. All I am is my present: a seer of power. MY quest is what to do as a free spirit." The dragon scratches her eye-ridge. "A dragon unbound can do so much! 'Excess is confusion' as Lao-zi says. Some of my kin get ungracious, at the least." She plays with a fennel stalk, twiddles it like a spindle. Long thin veils of spiritglowstuff soon trail from it.

"So what about me?"

The dragon waves her juju stick for emphasis as she answers the Crusader Rabbit. Spins it on the broad gray parapet, like a child's jack.

"You're just the opposite. Like most souls working mostly in the physical world, you found you have needs, limits, gaps, things you need to make you whole. You work to grow the abilities to reach your goals. Just as I search for GOALS worth dragon abilities."

Her toy prayer-wheel whirs like a top when she tells the Hare awkward truths... like the one about her limits. She adds "I think you're just up here to find your stupidities, push your limits--same as below."

The guitar goes pianissimo, soft as the fennel-feathers around the lookout, so I can hear. My fingers must care about this topic more than I knew. The Hare says, "I just feel there's something up here all souls can share, more universal than just our individual issues..." She hops round the parapet, burning off nervous energy. She too is hooked.

"Universal, hmm... well, we do all have to clean up our own trash! But what you have to face is what YOU throw away. Sounds like you want the perfume of generality. Particulars always stink. Clumsiness is charming in others, but your own blunders torment you! So you focus on the one way we are all equal, all perfect--being spirits all."

The stick spins so fast, centrifugal force shapes the veil of glow into a tutu. I expect to hear some Tchaikovsky ballet, but the guitar seems more interested in the argument.

The Hare persists "But that aspect is real--we're all rays of the Big Light. Where should we live that unity but here?"

"But the Great Spirit won't shovel your shit for you. Much. That'd be lying to you--telling you to litter. Believe me: I'm up on the Next Level enough. Each plane's just a new set of individual challenges! You want a cosmic... distraction!" The dragon slows, her hiss-boom voice serious and tentative, piecing her words together like a jigsaw face-down. "Union with Tao is not a... PROBLEM state. So... we don't spend time there. Time's for having problems."

"I don't scent your trail at all!" the Hare says irritably. "Maybe it's your dragon viewpoint, if you're so backwards from the rest of us."

I agree with the Hare. Just koans to me. Yet the big aura has that embarrassed defiant feel of someone who translated a good poem and KNOWS it came out silly. 'Time's for having problems'...

"I'm sorry," the dragon says, and turns to me. "You try explaining, it's your specialty. "

"Me? What do you mean, specialty?" I jump a bit. Intimidating to have a dragon turn toward you. Their attention's so damn big and sharp.

"Well, you do have the advantage of being confused both ways..." (she softens it with a grin whose mountain range of white spikes alarms me) "...since you're incarnate like her AND a dragon like me."

"A wha?" I gape and start to shake. "I'm not a... I'm NOT!"

Why am I so upset?

The dragon blinks and rears. I face a waterfall of bluesilver scales. The hot steel scent is stronger. Anger.

"Are you serious?" The fist-sized vertical eyes drill into me. "You ARE!" She snorts open flame this time. "You're incarnate, but you're up here bumming around Heaven ALL the time... You recall this plane better than the material one... Your psychic gifts set you apart--how do they put it there, 'severely gifted'?--and your need is to find Right Use for them. You're power looking for needs and goals, far more than the other way round. You're a closet dragon. Don't argue the obvious."

"You didn't KNOW?" says the Hare.

Guess it's like garlic breath.

The dragon even has a theory on why I've denied myself. Unfortunately, it sounds pretty plausible. Her prayer wheel spins happily as she explains--and I squirm.

"See, the Crusader Rabbit here wants to avoid ordinary problems through mystic union, but YOU want to avoid a Dragon's oracular dilemma through ordinary problems!" Her mind is flying so fast I have trouble keeping up with her meaning. "You're trying to lose yourself in the crowd." A jay chasing a dragon in full flight! She's nearing the sky, calling down from the next heaven; I'm dizzy from the air. I try only to keep her in sight, to hear her actual words. Oracular dilemma, ordinary problems. Wish I could take notes. "And since your issues are all backwards, the ordinary people can't help you much--their lives don't APPLY." I suddenly see she's showing me how different their lives are by overloading me this way: how strange it must be to spend your life working to grasp others' meanings, instead of working to limit yourself to what they can grasp, working to forget how to fly... "So then you vent your ire about your dragonity, about the fact the material people can't help you, by using Power in order to shock them, pretending you don't mean to, as if it were INADVERTENT!"

Oh no. It's true--I resent normal mortals and like to tease them, but know it's bad.

I open my mouth to argue, and discover my intuition's already looking through the dragon's character for weak spots, a spiritual snoop. I too have the arrogance of the tartan Dragon Lady!

"Inspite!" the Imperial Dragon names it. I halt in shame. She sighs, those lungs bigger than me taking fifteen measures of my slow musical doodling for a single breath... "The occupational hazard of oracles."

I catch the dragon doing the same thing, though. "You and your pushy depth!" I say, pleased. "That point is even at least!" as if it's a GAME. It's not. I want to feel we're equal; and we're not. The dragon's shown me my illusions in a way that will change me, forever. With "a beam in my eye, I can't see the splinter" in hers--only sense it. (What is it? She's passive-aggressive: she stayed chained! She's struggling to learn how to be an Oracle, open to what comes, responding to others' problems, yet be her Self, too, with a right to act first on HER desires.) I sense it, as she does, but I can't tell her how to resolve it! As she can and does, for me.

"Face who you are. Mortal: bodied, filled with needs. AND a dragon: power upwelling, needing goals." The dragon giggles a small white cloud. "You really must stop pretending you're at all simple."

She twists onto her side with a slow hydraulic motion and purrs, stretching one translucent wing, ribbed copper and blue like a gaudy small-boat sail.

She adds "I speak from self-interest; if you solve the riddle how to be this amphibious dragon you've chosen, you'll show ME how to be me and an oracle too." She puffs a small brightness.

I decide it was a laugh.

5: WHAT CHAOS WILLS

The Hare says "Look, the canyon's changing!" We peer down... the gorge billows white. A Cloud of Formless Being: pure Dao! (You Eurolimited readers may picture Greek 'Chaos'.) A line forms across it, right where we are... did we cause it? I learned I'm a dragon... must have been a lot of life locked in my denial. A dream: my friend Beryl is a six-foot rabbit in Heaven.

The Hare says, "That's some white water, huh?" and it does look that way. She adds, unsurely, "And that line must be... the edge of a WATERFALL we're looking right down on..." and as she says it, it is. She muses, "So the cloud below it must be SPRAY!" And so it is. Does she know she's shaping this? You get what you look for up here! Even on earth.

"Something... mysteriously... formed..." recites the dragon.

"For lack of a better name, I call it Dao." I add.

"It PULLS at me..." The Hare wants to ride the white water down the canyon. She stares, quivers on the edge, wanting to jump yet fearing the long drop to the black wet rocks she built herself. Looks at me, whiskers wiggling. I feel odd: as if, because it's been presented to me, I HAVE to join her. I remember river-running on this plane usually means involvement... from incarnation to a love affair! But I want to talk with the dragon. About being one. (My dad says, "Always consult a professional.")

Yet... no one should have to jump in alone, not the first time. And jumping in's important. 'Life is for problems.' I feel I ought to help her.

The dragon touches my shoulder and says, "Dragons only have to do things once."

I guffaw, relieved, as this puts things in perspective. I did jump into some rocky white water, back with crazy Kay! I was right to decline it with Beryl. I say to the Hare, "I already have. Go for it! It's worth doing."

"Alone?" gulps the Crusader Rabbit.

My mood hops again. I return the dragon's guitar... breathe deep... and jump high, trying to match the Hare's vigorous leap. Down the gray roaring cliff face we tumble, shrieking. Now the white wet fall's pacing us, booms around us. We race drops of Chaos. I become the wildness, savor the Hare's adventure for a moment. Then I change my attitude and the thunder softens to a hiss, the fall to a mist, and I float, surrounded by Unformed Being, as the Rabbit flops into the river below, bobs down and away on her maiden voyage.

I have my own voyage: figuring out what to do with my wings! Dragon's work. But I have such hare-brained ideas about it.

I let Chaos do what it will--return me to the dragon, or to being one.

6: THE PRESENT

Slowly lights form in the fog; a room shapes around me. I am at work, in the Stanford library. Chaos has changed the game. THIS is where the Imperial Consort is imprisoned, now... AND THE DRAGON TOO! The message hurts. My part-time job, the perfect Lao-zi job, is a prison now.

"If I quit, how will I live?" I say to the shelves... rhetorically, like a human, an earthbound mouse that can't see beyond its next step! An echo of dragon says "You're an oracle; a question has been put to you. Answer it!"

How WOULD I be living if I just flew... gave up this soothing mass of detail work? Blank. Blank, endless blank space and... the burning lung wind and light. Of flight.

I am lugging a big lumpy-square parcel: a present for the dragon! Something I hope will free her--or help her bear the sentence. A computer? A bust of Beethoven? I can't recall which I chose: I wavered, in the store. Writing or music?

As I near the secret door down to the Stanford Imperial Dungeon, a lean old Man in a tall terrible black Cylindrical Hat unstoops from his desk and blocks me.

"No gifts for the dragon. Sorry." He sits again at the terminal added specially for him. I see the pale light flickering on his face as I stand, stunned. I saved four or five months for this present!

The old man looks up, sees my shock, and adds kindly, "I tried to give her something myself, and it wasn't allowed." Who is this sad man? And why's he work as a Jailor? He can't be the Imperial Consort. Just the same long sad Lincoln face... No! (Have they broken him?)

For the first time I notice how cramped my moral choices have been on this Quest. Either the Dragon heads for the Wilderness, withdrawn but free (as Zhuang-zi advised centuries ago), while the Kingdom of the Spirit is misruled by what even I can see is a man with a Monkey on his back, the deadly irresponsible monkey of cleverness... or... the Dragon, Wisdom, returns to the service of the realm... and to chains held by a Clown. And I accepted these as the only options!

Could the Consort, my body, rule without the dragon? He seemed wiser than King Monkey. Or has he truly been broken? Would the Empress return if she knew of her mate's plight (and why'd I forget to tell her)? Could they rule together? Or... would the dragon rule? I've just assumed that "Dragon among men" means "Dragon in chains"! Or is it MY task to depose the Jester? Or would I become trapped on the throne myself? Or is that where I should be? Of course, if I AM a dragon, I could fly away too...

The scene is flooded as the myriad, paralyzing options of a dragon explode around me. I slide out into my body and hear the grape vines rustle on the window... the tap of the carpenters next door... I open eyes to see "Song of the Pearl" on the floor. I thought those Chinese astral scenes might inspire me, but... whew! Chalk one up for the Goddess.

Today I hit the music stores. That's one thing I'm sure of now. A computer too, maybe, and start writing these journeys legibly and publishing them, but first, a synth. I've never played an instrument, and it's two months' rent, but just to bear the prison, while I learn to live out the visions' power, I need a synth. I'm not sure what sound will do it, but I have a chain to break.

After that, I don't know.

Not at all simple.



LISTS AND LINKS: Xanadu, Shangri-La, Paradise - Central Asia (Ferghana Basin, Issyk Kul) - dragons - China, ancient - royalty - Monkey (Diary of the Western Regions, or Journey to the West, or Xi You Ji) - genius - this same tinkerer reappears in Titania - pearls and jewels - oracles - no more infrasonic dreams, but how about ultrasonics? - dreams of taste and smell - revolutions - authoritarians and the cop mentality - a worse torturer - anorexia - Ireland - Swim for it! - Hanalei, Hawaii - Puff, the Magic Dragon - Taoism - skills and mastery - teachers and mentors - dreams of Beryl - riddles - musicians - shamanism - workaholism - duty and responsibility - ethics - Lincoln - career advice -

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