“Wake Up, Human” has its roots in a little girl’s desire to know, and the journey that took her from explorer, to reformer, to wanting nothing more than to simply Be.
(Note: I’ve written this article as the descriptive backstory to a new project I’m working on entitled “Wake Up, Human.” That project, still in its creative beginnings, can be found here.)
As a child, the little girl was fascinated with the seemingly magical ways of the world. She was enchanted by the shapes of clouds, the roar of the waves on the endless ocean, and the iridescent colors of the rainbow. She marveled at the elegant patterns she found in nature, geometry, and music. All the world was alive to her, an endless garden path with gateways open to every possibility.
At night the little girl loved to lie in bed, gazing out her bedroom window into the vast expanse of the night sky. She made pictures in her mind from the patterns of constellations, scanned sprinkles of galaxies for faraway suns, and dreamed of catching falling stars.
As the little girl grew, a seed was planted within her. It was the seed of an insatiable desire to know. She wanted to know the answer to every question. How far out does the night sky go? How deep is the ocean? Where do all the colors of the rainbow come from? Are we humans smart enough to find the answers?
Every week on TV she watched Carl Sagan, the charismatic astronomer, as he explored the depths of outer space and shared his passion with the world. He taught the little girl what he already knew: our seemingly enormous planet Earth is, in the grand scheme of things, nothing more than a pale blue dot, a tiny speck of life in an immense and boundless universe.
The little girl saw then that there was much more she could know—about outer space, and about everything within it.
She decided she would become an explorer, a navigator of knowledge. She would dig for treasure like Indiana Jones, plunge into oceans deep like Jacques Cousteau, or travel the stars like her beloved Mr. Sagan. Small matters like dolls and toys were not interesting to her. She wanted to know. She pored through her dad’s Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic magazines, richly filled with mysterious portals into all the hidden corners of the world’s knowledge. She hung maps on her walls and dreamed of faraway people and places she might one day see.
One day the little girl was flipping through channels on TV, when she came upon a documentary about a swami from India who was said to have magical powers. Curious, she stopped there. A swami from India? What kind of magical powers?
Naked except for a small piece of cloth wrapped over his hips, the swami sat cross-legged on a cushion with a peaceful smile and half-closed eyes. The walls behind him were hung with colorful swirling designs like nothing the girl had seen before.
From the folds of his loincloth the man produced a massive needle, frightening in its size. It had to be at least six inches long. The little girl watched aghast as the man pierced the tip of the needle into the skin of his left bicep, and gently pushed it through the center of his arm and all the way out the other side. She winced. But the man didn’t flinch; the soft smile never left his face.
He paused for a moment, then pulled the needle back out through his flesh the same way it had gone in. The TV camera zoomed in on the man’s skin where the needle had been. There was not a single drop of blood. The little girl was spellbound.
For days, she could not get the image of the bloodless wound out of her mind. She told her dad about it. “Hmm, sounds like a trickster,” he told her. “People can’t really do those things, sweetheart. Don’t be fooled by people who try to sell you magic tricks.”
But the little girl was not convinced. It might have been a trick, she thought. But what if it wasn’t? What if that man did have powers? What other kinds of other powers might people have? And if other people had powers, might she have them too?
Even if there were only the slightest possibility that the needle man’s trick was real, the little girl was willing to suspend judgment. After all, we can’t see everything in the farthest reaches of outer space. But we know it’s real. Maybe inner space has invisible realities too.
And so it was that the seed of knowing inside the little girl sprouted, and unfurled its delicate tendrils toward the light within her heart. Yes, she wanted to be an explorer of the outer world. But she wanted to explore the inner worlds too.
She took on the name of Open Mind, and she set out to search through every open garden gate.
Open Mind decided to learn as much as she could about the current state of the world. She started watching the nightly news with her dad. It was a little boring, but it taught her what other people were doing and saying about that moment in time on the pale blue dot.
But the more she learned about the way things “worked” in the world, the more her heart began to hurt. It was hurt by the devastation she witnessed in the news—the terrible ways humans treated each other, and the just-as-terrible ways they treated other living beings, like animals and trees, and birds and bees.
She learned about factory farming, and oil spills, and nuclear fallout. She learned that her country sent military troops to bases in “foreign” countries, killing people from other cultures and calling them enemies. She saw the president of her country get on TV and lie about trading weapons and hostage deals.
As she wondered what to believe, messages overwhelmed her, urging her to buy things, try things, and want things. She learned about advertising, the use of words and images to make people believe things that aren’t true, and sometimes make bad things look good. Messages taught her that fat and sugar were bad, but diet soda and margarine were good. Were they?
Her dad had warned her against magic tricks. But what about those messages selling us opinions and disguising them as facts? Wasn’t that a trickster slight of hand?
In her skepticism, Open Mind set aside her explorer’s dreams. She decided she needed to become a journalist, to tell stories about what was really true, or maybe an activist, to chain herself to an ancient redwood tree, to keep it from being cut down. How could she be content to simply explore the world, when the world was in so much trouble?
She would become a new kind of explorer, she thought, an explorer of truth. If she did that, she might be in less danger of becoming a part of the lie.
Around that time, the girl had grown into a teenager. She studied history, politics, and science, and filled her mind with the best ammunition a truth explorer could have: facts. She joined the environmental and animal rights movements. She wrote to her political representatives and stood on street corners asking for petition signatures. She argued the fine points of her passions to people with cynical eyes. She came upon logical counter-arguments by rational people from all sides, assuring her that there were good reasons for performing lab testing on animals, clear cutting forests, snaring dolphins in tuna nets, and exploding bombs in the name of peace.
Those “good reasons” usually boiled down to something about money, or jobs, or security. They sounded strangely similar to “facts.” But none of them sounded reasonable to her.
After she graduated high school, Open Mind signed up to study veterinary medicine. By arming herself with a medical degree, she thought, not only would she ease the suffering of animals, but her credentials would make her legitimate in the eyes of rational people who had forgotten how to hear the logic of their hearts.
More than that, she would study and work with other people like her, who felt the pain of the world and longed to heal it. She would find a community of like minded souls, those who understood and empathized, and together their chorus for compassion would rise strong.
But it was not to be.
The young woman was horrified to find that within her new community, not only was there little sympathy for her views, she was considered an outlier, an extremist for her beliefs. Her fellow students ridiculed her calls for compassion. They joked about her refusal to participate in medical research, which caused injury and death to some animals in the name of healing others. She met medical “professionals” who treated animals like t-shirts on thrift store racks: objects to be used for a moment’s benefit and thrown away when their use was done.
With dismay she saw that her chosen profession, like so much else in her world, was sick with rationalization. And worse, it often justified, sanctioned, and turned a blind eye to the very suffering it was supposed to heal.
In heartbreak and after many nightmares, the young woman stepped off the path she had begun. But she would not stop exploring. She took on the name of Lonely Heart, and with her head hung low in sadness, she kept walking.
A time of mourning passed, yet Lonely Heart felt her desire to know still burning deep inside her. At long last, she decided to become a student once again, intent to answer a new question:
How is it that we human beings can do terrible things, but use our reason to convince ourselves that what we do is good? What is it in our minds that allows us to forget our hearts?
She declared a major in psychology, and she pushed on.
In her new world, Lonely Heart studied the masters of psychological thought, philosophers and scientists of the mind. In her excitement at taking in new knowledge, for a moment she did not feel so lonely anymore. After all, she was in the company of many centuries’ worth of great thinkers, studying the perennial questions of life, immersed in a new science of consciousness. Hope sparkled in her eyes.
Maybe, she thought, this path holds the key to bridging the disconnect between heart and mind. And if so, maybe it has the power to heal the world and its sorrows. Who knows…even loneliness might have a cure.
But her excitement was short-lived. Jumping headlong into the rabbit hole of modern psychology, Lonely Heart found her new home stuffed quietly full with facts and figures to quantify, theses to prove and preconceived notions to defend. Rather than peering through a wide open gate into mystery, she found herself answering right-wrong questions and selecting “best possible answers” on multiple choice tests.
She pored through stacks of academic articles, and learned to design research using statistics to “prove” just about anything she liked. Adjust a number here, and you have your published article. Research flips logic and logic flips research. Another bait and switch. She may as well have been in business school.
Disillusioned, Lonely Heart added classes in other subjects—history, political science, women’s studies, anthropology—hoping she might discover in them some illuminating wisdom to guide her on her journey. And discover she did.
This was not the textbook curriculum of her youth, but a deeper dive into original sources and critical voices, the structures behind the destruction. Slowly, ironically, in her search for truth she came to understand something shocking: many of the “facts” she had learned in her past about people, progress, and the workings of the world had never been facts at all. They had been nothing more than stories written by victors.
When even “facts” turn out to be lies, wherever can one ever hope to find truth?
Lonely Heart was annoyed, but she held her head high, because she knew that although she had not found the answers she was looking for, she had found another place the answers could not be found. She knew that something was still missing. But she also knew where not to look for it.
No longer lonely, and a little smarter now, she tucked her paper degree in a file folder in the basement. She took on the name of Wisdom Seeker, and with determination, she kept walking.
Many years went by, and Wisdom Seeker became a full-blown wanderer. She found herself turning for solace to all things that sidestepped the “factual” and “rational.” She traveled to foreign countries, climbed mountains, and sat beside those roaring waves on the endless ocean. She learned to speak another language and lived among people who saw the world differently than she did.
She studied the subjects that called to her heart, rather than those prescribed by a syllabus: the natural, the mystical, the ancient. She studied poets and wise men, sages and spiritual teachers, looking inward for that which physical eyes (and scientific instruments) cannot see. She studied the lives of people who stood bravely against the cruelty of the world and fought for love, equality, and compassion. She discovered heroes and heroines who proved to her what she had always suspected: in contrast to the cruelty of life, there is another way.
The seed that had been planted inside her long ago was now firmly rooted in her heart, and there a mighty oak tree had begun to grow. Her many branches spread in all directions and gave her strength. She discovered that deep inside her lived original wisdom, the part of her that didn’t need to explore farther out, or learn anything new. No longer could she be uprooted by the fickle winds of the modern world. No longer was she willing to follow any call but that of her own soul.
She stood at the edge of the dizzying wheel of information she had bet her questions on for all those years. She saw now that the wheel had become too fast and cluttered with distraction to ever pick a winner. Through its sheer velocity, the wheel itself obscured any path to truth.
She knew that if she were ever to ever find her way, she would need to step off the wheel entirely. And that’s exactly what she did.
Wisdom Seeker landed in the imaginal realm, the realm of unseen reality that would not be an escape, but an entrance. Her step off the wheel would not be a shirking of responsibility, but an embrace of it. She hadn’t turned her back on medicine, or animal rights, or journalism, or psychology. But she knew those paths were paved upon structures so flawed that they themselves could not be the way.
Healing the world into wholeness, she understood, would not happen simply by educating people about the harm we do. It would not come through academic credentials, or impassioned pleas. It would definitely not come through “reason.”
Rather, healing lies waiting for us in the shadows under the rocks. It rests in the web of connection that embraces all life, and reveals itself to any wanderer who will only stop to look. From that place, arguments and persuasions and scientific proofs become superfluous. There is no need to defend or explain. Answers reveal themselves to those who open their eyes.
Wisdom seeker remembered how good it had felt as a child to observe the colors and shapes of nature, to feel herself a tiny puzzle piece in the infinite pattern of life, needing nothing more than to simply Be. Her next path was clear: she would reconnect with being, the timeless wisdom of the soul, and live it into the world. She would reach into the wholeness of the shadows and bring back what she found. How to pull off such a magic trick would be the last and final thing she needed to know.
She stepped outside and followed a cloud with her sparkling green eyes, and made a picture from it in her mind. She chased the cloud up a rocky ridge as thunder crashed above her. She listened as mother rain sang stories to her heart. She admired the iridescent colors of the rainbow that rose above the storm, never once asking from whence the colors came.
She lifted her arms to the wind, and felt the weight upon her of all the names she had carried in her life. She could bear them no more. She let them fall from her shoulders, like falling stars, to be carried away by the storm. She no longer needed a name.
Somewhere that night, on a distant, pale blue dot, through a bedroom window a little girl was watching. She saw a swirl of falling stars cascading down through the night sky. And she reached out, and caught one.
And so it was, eyes to the heavens and roots in the darkness, that the little girl met her Soul.
“In all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves… it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”Carl Sagan
Dedication: To all the suffering younger versions of myself, to my birth mother who never found her way, to everyone struggling to find wholeness in a broken world, I dedicate this story. I say, it was never you who didn’t fit this world. On the contrary, it was the world itself that made it near impossible for you and your open heart to live.
May we all build a new world together.
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Nice to see this story…reminds me of my own. Thanks for sharing.
I wish we could talk together. I sought the loneliness, love it, but sometimes I can’t forget it. Anyway, like “Sarah W.” the story in its broader patterns if not the details reminds me of my own. How somewhat comforting to share stories.Thank you.