The Scarlet Letter
When you are sitting comfortably, please close your eyes, and we’ll begin.
You become aware of a star far above your head, a single crystalline point of brilliant white light. At first it seems a great distance away, but as you breathe in (…) and out (…) your sense of size changes. As you breathe in, you see the star grow closer; as you breathe out, you become larger, and grow upward toward the star. As you continue to breathe, the star comes to rest only a few centimeters above the crown of your head. It has grown to the size of one eye. It casts a clear, stark radiance, tracing out the hollow space around you. One more time, breathe in (…) and out (…), bathing in the revealing light.
1. The Body
Slowly, the star descends toward the Y-shaped crossroad at the top and rear of your skull, the lambda, and then sinks into this gate between the worlds. It illuminates the bony cavern wall of your skull, the convoluted gray and white landscape of your brain, and the red and blue tapestry of arteries and veins. At the back of your brain a gray cable snakes down into the spine, flickering with millions of signals a second. There, where the spine joins to the brain, the star comes to rest, and shines upward and within.
Against this interior brilliance, the light before your lids grows dimmer. You withdraw your attention from the incessant signals of the optic nerves. The sense of sight withdraws.
Now your attention turns to the inner ears. A bony hammer rattles against a tiny anvil, carrying signals to the snails of the cochlea. Your brain withdraws from the sense of hearing. You hear my words like distant echoes of thunder from within a hollow log.
The floor of the skull is a plate of porous bone, pierced by raw nerves hanging down into the cavity, sorting molecules into ten thousand ancient smells. Your breath grows calm, slow and easy, lapping at the plate like the waves of a beach, lulling you into deep repose.
Against the palate your tongue curls a little back, sealing your mouth, withdrawing from sour and sweet, bitter and salty, and savory tastes.
You withdraw from all the senses of your head. Their signals cease to demand your attention. You are sealed within the vault of your skull. At its base, your spinal cord transmits information about the your limbs, your belly, your skin. These are only signals. They do not concern you. They are a network connection that you now hang up.
Let go of the signals flowing down through your spine to your muscles. Twitch once and let go your fingers, your toes, your groin. They do not belong to you any longer. You withdraw from the will to move.
You have become the inner eye, from whom the senses flee. Rest here for a moment, your body breathing by itself, centered in the consciousness of your brain. (…)
Remaining at rest, you feel a gentle motion from without, the turning of the earth. Released from the brain, your starry eye drifts free about a greater hub.
2. The Earth
Gaze upon the earth, billions of times larger than your body. You drift fifteen kilometers in the sky, above the clouds, just at the base of the stratosphere. You see the beehive of the city far below, where someone’s body still rests, and the fertile soil beyond.
Your star begins to settle downwards. In the space of a breath you reach the open soil, and the earth grants you passage into her interior.
The loose and rocky ground teems with insects and plants. Thirty meters deep, you sink into a chaotic jumble of fractured rocks, millions of years old. A thousand meters down, only a few bacteria still live.
Below the surface of life, the cool earth grows warmer. A sheer fault opens beneath the brittle plates of the continents, forty kilometers down, and you dive into the mantle. Red-hot molecules are packed into shapes that would explode in the open air. The rubbery mineral shell ponders distant quakes.
Deeper still, the mantle grows yellow-hot, then white. The solid mantle yields to the molten outer core, three and a half thousand kilometers across. You plunge into a rippling sea of liquid iron, radioactive with the dust of shattered stars.
A thousand kilometers deep beneath the metal sea lays a crystal sphere of solid iron. The inner core is the central bonfire, the support of all above, the heart of the earth. It welcomes you inside, and you slowly float down to its center. There is no gravity here, but you rest easily beneath six billion trillion tons, in your planet’s deepest hearth. (…)
Remaining at rest, you once again feel a gentle motion from without. The earth orbits the sun in the bark called billions of years. Released from the earth, your starry eye drifts free about this greater hub.
3. The Sun
The titanic void of interstellar space opens around you, and the sun blazes far below. Off the edges of the earth, the billowing solar wind fills the aurora with colors out of space. The wind blows beyond the earth, shearing off against the chilly space between the stars. You have always been within the sun.
You begin to dive against the wind, toward the shining disk, feeling the growing heat. The solar system is large and the planets are very small. You do not pass Venus or Mercury as you descend.
You pause at the corona of the disk, a million degrees hotter than the surface far below. The luminous arches of prominences roar along magnetic lines from the surface.
Descending past a prominence stretching across an eighth of the disk, you sink through a fiery mist. Flares erupt and dissipate about you. The infernal landscape of the photosphere, one hundred and ten earths across, roils in the turmoil of five and a half thousand degrees. You feel the prickle of an electric charge, as if lightning were always about to strike. Excited plasma glows with the unearthly light of a fluorescent tube.
Beneath the surface, dense granules and loops conduct the heat of the core to the surface. It is impossible to see here. Everywhere a photon turns, an electron grabs it. The sunlight has been pushing its way out for a million years.
Falling farther, you feel the central conflagration, where the weight of three hundred and thirty thousand earths heats the core to millions of degrees. Hydrogen born with the cosmos fuses into newborn helium. This hydrogen bomb has gone off for four and a half billion years.
Floating down to the very center of the sun, you come again to a quiet repose. There is no gravity here, but you rest easily beneath twenty trillion trillion tons of plasma. You have always fed upon this light. (…)
Remaining at rest, you once again feel a gentle motion from without. The sun moves around the galaxy, the Milky Way. Released from the sun, your starry eye drifts loose about this greater hub.
4. The Galactic Nucleus
The company of stars numbers more than a hundred billion. You gaze down through the constellation Sagittarius, where immense spiral arms unfold. The sun lives two-thirds out toward the rim of a pinwheel studded with diamonds, swelling outward at its center. A cosmic brooch hangs upon the black bosom of boundless space.
You begin to plummet toward the psychedelic cloud of a large nebula that veils the core beneath you. Falling twenty-six thousand years toward the center, you pierce the nebula and approach the oval bulge of speeding stars. In the maelstrom, two stars collide, shattering into a spreading nebula. Another two pass in a tight hyperbola and shoot off, one inward, one out.
The inward-shooting star spirals toward the center of the galaxy. You follow it down at near the speed of light, its trip of thousands of years compressed to moments of subjective time. Closer now, you see at the center a smaller spiral glowing with stars and nebulae, like the galaxy reflected in miniature, flocked by a spinning disk of fluorescent plasma. And there, at the center, a tiny spot of black, just as wide as the earth is far from the Sun. It is the black hole at the galaxy’s heart. It is death, the destroyer of worlds.
You follow the star down in a long spiral. A circle of darkness fills your view, and a ring of stars springs up around the edge of the ebony disk. The ring turns blue and then shifts into the ultraviolet. The star ahead vanishes into the pit and goes black. You’re next.
There is no bang or whimper as you pass the point of no return. You regain sight of the doomed star as it meets the tide of millions of suns. Violated atoms scream in the X-ray spectrum. Photons tear away from the dismembered stellar corpse at 300,000 km per second, but none escape the charnel pit below. From here all roads lead down.
In one minute you plunge into the singularity, the impossibly unified center of the hole, beyond all description. You are utterly annihilated. No wave ripples, no clock ticks, no measuring rod can stretch. Rest now in perfect silence. (…)
Remaining at rest, you feel a gentle motion from without. The universe is flying from the pyre of its birth. Released from the pit, your starry eye embarks upon its final descent, down the well of time.
The Lady of the Stars has lived for fifteen billion years. You live before the slow and freezing death, in Her transparent era. Light flew freely then through boundless emptiness and life still grew thick on the abundant light.
Falling back in time, space itself grows smaller and the harsh glare of quasars fills the sky. Nothing so intricate as life could survive here. Galactic arms grow close in an intricate network of luminous filaments. The contracting web squeezes out the darkness, and then the cloud of golden gas grows dark. The plasma fog is too thick to see through. Darkness churns for three hundred thousand years, shrinking toward the first three minutes.
At a billion degrees, a quarter of the universe burns to helium ash, and the atoms that will form the stars are forged.
In the first second, matter and antimatter annihilate and recombine, salting the liquid light with a thin surplus of matter. Phantom neutrinos fly unhindered through the dense primordial soup in their own hermetic gas.
Past one hundred trillion degrees, quarks enjoy ten nanoseconds of freedom, never again to roam beyond their nuclear traps.
Sinking toward genesis, all forces and all particles become indistinguishable in the symmetric chaos of infinite heat. The energy of billions of galaxies shrinks to the size of the earth, to a grapefruit, to an atom. Divided by zero, the universe collapses to a single point of ylem, the radical unification of all that will exist, beyond physics, beyond words, beyond math, beyond thought.
There is no rest at the heart of the cosmos, only the infinite potential for activity. Contemplate for a moment the single point from which all diversity will spring. Recognize within you the infinite potential of the ylem. (…)
Now there is no deeper place to go. The world-egg hatches once again. Return
to the stellar era, to the earth, and as you will, open your eyes, stretch
your limbs, and greet again our little world, nestled in the depths of time