Darkness envelops me. An empty, weightless sensation reminiscent of forever is all that I feel. I am falling. Lost. 93,000,000 miles from the sun. I awaken, my dreams chased away by a rippling, crimson glow: it is the morning sun, warm against my closed eyelids. I open them, blinking against the radiation bathing the room in soft tones. Next to me, a huddled form shifts beneath a thick, formless mass of linen. She is my partner. My wife. My daughter slumbers also, in the room beyond. The day, my life floods my thoughts and the fantasies of night fall away, into oblivion. Some time later I am tossed against the beaches of an oceanic humanity. The city is my hive, drone, my station. The state of alienation lies within an alien nation that perceives reality through media-encrusted eyes. Hyper-consumption and love of self define the time. Just do it. Here today, gone tomorrow. No fear. Quick glimpses of life's diversity crease my brow. A portly gentleman reeking of whiskey brushes past, mumbling, "Buy low, sell high. Buy low, sell high. Buy low…" A woman, her voice trembling, speaks to another. "He doesn't deserve me. And that's why I'm cheating on him." The rush of sensory data is overwhelming and I am disoriented. I stumble, prevented from falling only by those around me, bearing me along in a swelling flood of discontent. Amoeba-like streamers of traffic branch off into office buildings and subway tunnels as other tendrils of the great beast regulate the flow while maintaining the unforgiving pace. My body is on autopilot and I allow my legs to disengage from the main artery, bearing me to my own impersonal prison. I shuffle through security in a daze, drop my keys in the bowl and raise my arms for the man with the metal detector. I pass through the foyer and find myself standing before a bank of elevators - five on either side of the receiving area - each busily humming up and down the building, depositing drones by the dozen upon their respective floors. The hall is wide and stately. The floor beneath consists of irregular marble tiles that gleam with the reflection of the ambient light. Cologne, perfume and other odors permeate the air, a viscous soup of pheromones, sending unconscious signals of distress and delight. I intercept further snatches of conversation. There is laughter, disagreement and confrontation. "He's going to make the offer. If he doesn't, we're dead." "If he does, he is." "Did you see the game last night?" "That bastard owes me, by god." "I got so drunk at the party that I don't even remember buying the first drink." "Of course these are designer shoes. What did you think?" "He must be crazy. Or lost. Staring into space and eavesdropping." The last stated directly before me. A wizened black man stands there - between the elevator and I - dressed all in gray. He wears gray shoes, socks, pants, shirt, a coat and bowler. He reminds me of old, black and white photographs of ancestors long passed from this plane of reality. He stares up at me with eyes like smoldering coal and I stare back at him, aware that he is aware of me. His voice is thin but captivating. "Well? Is that all you're going to do? Stare all day? You don't have time for that. You must find yourself. Life doesn't rewind!" At a loss for words, I stumble over the few that come to mind. "Excuse me? What did you say?" "Life doesn't rewind! There is only one you and you are he!" "What? What did you say? Who are you? What do you want from me?" He ignores three of my four questions. "I've come to help you." "Help me to do what?" "To find yourself." "I'm sorry, but I'm not lost." "Are you certain?" I pause, lured by his question. My life is what it is, what the lives of most people that I know are. Each day, hour, minute, orchestrated. Each night passed tossing and turning, comatose or drifting in a drug-induced stupor. I shake my head as firmly as I can. "Yes, I am certain. I know where I am and who I am. I am not lost." He smiles knowingly. "I see. Would you mind telling me where you are, then?" "I'm in this city, on this block, in this building. Talking to you, when I should be going to work." I can tell that he is not impressed with my wit. "Not exactly. You are wrong and I am right. You are lost and I will help you to find yourself." He promises, dusting off his jacket and chuckling in satisfaction. I look around to find that the hall has emptied and the elevator banks stand idle. Their occupancy lights stutter seductively. I shudder as I envision myself boarding one of them and find that I cannot. At this realization, a sudden lifting of a weight barely acknowledged is effected and I feel lighter, more buoyant. For a moment, I teeter upon the edge of something but stumble and fall back into nothing. I glance down to find the little man grinning widely. "You see? Already you are remembering." "Remembering what?" "That you are lost! What else? Come!" With that, he turns, his heels clicking and walks away, daring me to follow. I pause momentarily, burdened by the realization of unlimited possibility. An intense deja vú magnifies the moment and I envision paths of probability branching into the unknown as my myriad choices become one. I follow him. As we walk, his voice echoes in my ears and the sun-washed hall grows brighter in syncopation. "This planet, adrift in space, dances in the stately process of creation alongside a cohort of 12 sisters and brothers wooing Sol, the source of life, star of your destiny. One star among many; one solar system among innumerable solar systems, one galaxy within the macro-constellation of over 125 billion galaxies, one universe within the greater Omniverse." The little man stops for a moment and removes his gray bowler, scratching his shining, black head. He peers up at me suspiciously as if I were a stranger, which, I remind myself, I am. Then he continues. "Physically speaking, you are stardust, born of Sol with the breath of life infused within flesh. Your body is imprinted at conception with electromagnetic patterns that determine individual and group behavior; Sol is the beginning of the end and back again. Your flesh is one with all flesh, one with earth, water, fire and air. There is no 'they' or 'it' at the level of quarks and mesons. All is one. Dark matter is the fabric of creation, its aspects differentiated by vibration alone.” He rubs the black skin on the back of his hand with a stubby finger. “At the same time, your body seeks to experience the moment with every breath. It seeks to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh and to subdue your soul, obscuring the memory of who you really are. As a result, you are torn, your intentions misled." At some point during his lecture, the building disappears. The shiny marble remains beneath our feet but the walls and halls vanish, to be replaced by a portentous, glowing mist. I am unconcerned by this transformation and continue to pace the strange, little man. Nothing else is important. He walks silently, his hands clasped. His aura is peaceful but my agitation is too immediate to contain. "Who are you? Why are you helping me?" "It is enough for you to know what I have already told you. I am here to help you find yourself; to help you remember who and what you are. Clear your mind of small matters. You must concentrate upon the journey to come." "But do you have a name? Surely you possess a name." He sighs theatrically. "Can you explain your meaningless preoccupation with definitions? With defining the indefinable, naming the unnamable? How does one of limited understanding know the wind? Or how to capture the essence and purity of a star with a syllable or two? What about the beauty of a moment or the joyful exuberance of a summer's storm? Or how to encompass a reality as awesome as eternity's cyclic procession? It cannot be done. Without meaning, naming alone is inadequate. " He glowers for a moment more then relents. "If you must call me something, call me Aum. And listen to these words that I speak. Words of power." I nod dutifully and bend my ear to him. "It must be emphasized that all things are connected. The web of life spans all existence, finds purchase in the most inhospitable of terrains. Life upon this planet, within this solar system, galaxy and universe is tied to life elsewhere. The Omniverse prefers holism to segregation on a grand scale. In order to truly find yourself, to finally remember who you are and what your purpose is, you must intuit the reality of these words; you must investigate for yourself. You must be decisive. There is no space allocated for meandering thoughts. Clear intentions are required." Accordingly, there is no hesitation on my part. "Let’s begin." Black, star-tossed space extends above. There are mountains all around us. We straddle weighty stone powdered by the dust of ages that puffs in gentle whirls around our feet and I shift and ogle in wonder. The horizon rises impossibly high and distant, affirming my realization that we are no longer upon the Earth. This planet is larger by far, ancient and sad. Somehow, I know that she is dead. The fire that burns within, extinguished. Cresting the craggy peaks, gargantuan machines work, chugging, humming and belching furiously. The massive, interlinked construct obscures the entire northern horizon. It is impossible to determine its function from this distance but I try anyway. There are processors, factories and what look to be dormitories, malls and city complexes, bustling with activity. Dense, noxious smog huddled jealously about the structures corrode their exteriors. High overhead, small shapes flit between the gleaming towers and I realize that they are ships. The foundations of the megalopolis are stained a sooty black and the carcasses of rusting, metal machinery languish in the shadows. Dazzled, I turn my eyes from the spectacle to find Aum forming miniature cyclones out of dust. With subtle twirls of his fingers and silent spells, three, five, then nine rise from the ashes as others continue to form, undulating gently. I ask him again: "Where are we? Why are we here?" Impatiently, he waves my question off. "Have you found yourself yet?" I think for a moment then shake my head. His attention remains focused upon the twisters as they skip across the rock but he rises briskly as he answers. "Then we have not yet reached our destination. Come. Let us walk further." It is then that I notice that the marble path is still beneath our feet and we stroll leisurely, trailing a cohort of thirteen miniature cyclones as they forge the way ahead. "We must speak of intentions. And purposes. Do not let me forget to speak of purposes. " I assure him that I won't let him forget. "Intentions can be your worst enemy if formed upon false premises. Often they begin as subtle insinuations; placed in the path of your spirit by your ego like so many little mines, set to go off when their detonators are triggered. This is how you are sabotaged from within. The flesh is programmed for servitude but, for most blessed with physical bodies, ends up becoming the master. How is this done, you ask? " I did not ask, but I try to appear more attentive. "By the misdirection of intention. The ego masked as self aggregates the functions of the body. This leads inevitably to physical, emotional and spiritual sickness, then death. Lacking the power to direct or change behavior, the ego manufactures intentions that lure the body, intellect and spirit along the path of its choosing. Eventually, all must arrive at the crossroads. Do you understand?" "I think so,” I allow, "but what of the world we just visited? Surely it is an example of the triumph of the rational mind! Intelligent beings envisioned it and created it through the harnessing of technology and the forces of nature." "That is true. But that world is dead, its inhabitants devoid of compassion and slave to that very same technology they once controlled. As a consequence of their ignorance, nature itself turned against them. Their greed resulted in the total consumption of their planet's biosphere. Do you see the lesson in this tragedy?" I nod but do not respond. The marble path has twisted into the sky at some point along our journey and in the space of timelessness I recollect vague impressions of starbursts, super novas and black holes lurking, evoking sublime delight as the implications of our fateful sojourn gestate within my mind. I have no idea how much time has passed, but the distance we have traveled appears to be vast. "Where are we now?" I ask. "Have you found yourself yet?" He counters. I dodge a twisting vine ambling past, intent upon its destination. The sky is suddenly adrift with vegetation: purple, green and a deep, midnight blue flora predominating. There is no soil, or ground. Only dense cloudbanks and rustling forests of kelp-like trees that whisper in the moist, hyper-oxygenated atmosphere. "No. Where are we?" I repeat. "We are in a nebula, " Aum explains, "an oxygen bubble billions of miles in diameter within which entropy has blossomed. Life finds purchase in the most inhospitable of terrains." The marble path sweeps through the radiant sky, twisting and looping between billowing, gaseous formations, diving into the greenery and emerging on the other side to rise again into the cloudy distance. The thirteen cyclones continue to dance into the future, drawing us forward in their wake. Crystalline reptiles bloated by gaseous air-pouches float upon the currents, blown by anal eruptions of flatulent energy, trailed by crackling wisps of fire. I laugh despite myself and am surprised to be joined by Aum. "What are these creatures? Are they intelligent? They certainly are funny." "No funnier than you and your misguided intentions. Humor derives from judgments that require introspection as well as empathy. Right now, you are sorely lacking in both. I was laughing at you, not them." He eyes me smugly. "These beings know exactly who and what they are. They are not lost at all. Can you say the same? Do you understand that they possess the knowledge of self? Can you feel the profound peace in their lives?" I can. They interact harmoniously, their voices rising and falling in what is clearly measured speech. I sense their connection, one to the other, as something deep and pervasive, allowing no space for individuality or deception. There are no artifacts to be seen, nor do these beings seem to indulge in self-centered pastimes. But I am not satisfied. Rather, I am disturbed and lash out. "Why did you bring me here? What lesson am I supposed to take from this encounter? Surely you do not believe that the lifestyle of these aliens is transferable? These beings live idyllic lives, with all of their needs met by their environment. There appears to be no over-crowding, no wars or discontent of any kind. In no way does this situation approximate that of the Earth." Aum does not respond and I stalk the marble path in a swirl of emotions, barely acknowledging the splendor of the extra-terrestrial garden. I feel remorse, but do not act to clear my conscience. Instead, I dwell upon my outburst and realize that my attempt to emotionally manipulate the little man has resulted in the opposite of my intentions. I have moved only myself. The stars remain silent, as does Aum. We traverse an area of sublime perfection: a vast sea of dark matter - interstellar dust and quantum-level particulates conjoined in a sea of impermeability - interspersed with looping nebulae and black holes evidenced only by light-hoarding event horizons. I gasp in wonder and tears blur my vision. A correlation bubbles to the surface of my thoughts. As with quasars, we are all emissaries of destiny, outward bound, the Omniverse our destination. It recedes, leaving only prescient awareness in its wake. Spiral and elliptical galaxies rotate in stately harmony as proud coteries of asteroids and comets spend themselves in vain attempts to escape the orbits of their destinies. I observe it all in solemn amazement, awed by the majestic beauty of creation. Aum breaks the silence abruptly. "There is one final destination." Only one, I ask. "Yes. Only one." "And where is this place?" "It is here." We have come to a featureless, golden plain. I look around, finding nothing of consequence. There is no vegetation. No mountains, valleys or minor perturbations disturb the flatness. The marble path cuts a straight line to the horizon, the only differentiation between form and formlessness. The cyclones have left that path and wander in a seemingly aimless fashion across the desert. "I do not understand." I complain. "Your understanding is not understandable," he mocks, "you have only to be still and remember." I cannot prevent a sense of panic from setting in as I realize that our sojourn is almost complete. That, if I have not found myself by its end, some unspeakable destiny will befall me; a failure of character and intentions, fit only for one tied to the flesh for yet another turn of the wheel. I look around wildly, searching for some indication of who I am. Still there is nothing. Aum's voice is gentle and soothes my distress. "You have forgotten to remind me to speak of purposes." I apologize profusely, stumbling over my words once again, as I had when we first met. I ask him for patience, for him to work with me. I ask him for more time. His denial is expansive. "In the end, your soul shall encompass all of the time in the Omniverse, time being relative to existence upon the gross material plane. There is no place for the linear progression of consciousness in the higher levels of vibration, where your eternal soul resides. Only the mind and certain aspects of the spirit are bound within time's confines. The now contains a seed of memory - of eternity - a chance for you to transcend the cycle. But you must decide now. This opportunity may not manifest so clearly again." He pauses, his midnight eyes boring into mine. "My purpose is to help you to find yourself. To show you who and what you truly are, because you have forgotten. Most of the people on your world have forgotten and as a result, the Earth is dying. The premature transmigration of a planet’s soul is an occasion for great sadness. Our shared purpose is the prevention of this tragedy." "What do you mean?" "As above, so below. The salvation of one soul becomes a template for the salvation of all souls. Through you, they may be saved." I struggle to understand. How is it possible to save all by saving one? Aum’s discourse replays in my mind. I am stardust. Everything is connected. My ego is not my self. I am the sum of my misguided intentions. Through me, we may be saved. As I contemplate eternity peace suffuses my soul and warmth born of compassion gathers upon the shore of my thoughts. The little, black man peers at me with extraordinary intensity. "Tell me. Do you know who I am?" I nod hesitantly. "Of course. You are Aum. You told me your name earlier, remember?" "Yes, I do. I am Aum, but do you know what my name means?" "No. Names have meaning?" "Yes. Names contain the essence of things. No-thing is the absence of things. Formlessness. Names provide structure. Form. They facilitate the differentiation into some-thing. My name, Aum, is divine. My name contains the true will to power. My name is a primeval force, vibrating to the beat of the cosmos. Through my name, creation is become. Through my name you may find God within. Through my name you can find yourself." A flash of understanding increases the intensity of the vibratory energy flowing through me. I mouth his name, breathing deeply. Aum. Then again, and once more. Aum. Something changes. The vibrations grow stronger and I reexamine the plain while simultaneously superimposing the vistas of our previous destinations atop the current one. My vision is flawless, my hearing potent. The smallest sounds rush to my ear. The cyclones now move purposefully; converging, growing larger as each contributes its energy to the whole. They become a hurricane, twisting and screaming in reckless abandon, churning the golden sand into a stormy conflagration. The space around us remains calm and Aum watches me, his eyes shining. I look deeper and discover hidden within the simplicity of this place the complexity of the others and, in the space of an instant, the connection becomes clear. Synapses flare as the synthetic ability of my brain bypasses the feral protestations of my ego and I observe from a space beyond as words, pictures and feelings manifest. Scenes of my life predominate. There are my wife and daughter at home. There are children playing beneath a cloudless, azure sky. There are men dying, fighting in wars across the Earth. There are elders, wasting away in hostels and filthy apartments. There are women, men and children praying at the alters of their choice. There are flowers, mountains, deserts and forests, fighting against encroaching pestilence. There are streams, lakes, rivers and seas poisoned by waste and misuse. There is the air, bearing death upon the intake of every breath. Lust, hatred, envy, greed; the entirety of the world's torturous ecstasy lies before me as a tapestry of life, woven of the fabric called death. Isolation, one from the other, marks the lives of the soul-lost upon the third planet from Sol, called Earth. Suddenly, I know. I remember who I am. The realization frees me from the chains of the flesh and I burst forth, a flaming ball of life-essence, dancing upon the astral-wind. My memory has returned and eternity beckons. My cellular database awakens and I hear the ancestors singing joyfully, their voices harmonizing with the heavens. I no longer see Aum but feel him, for he is a part of me and I still hear his voice ring out from within. Have you found yourself yet? Yes, I answer. I have. Remember. Life doesn't rewind. An elevator chimes and I start, returned from trance. The hall remains empty of traffic and I note that time has resumed its irregular march. I turn from the confines of my past, an extraordinary sensation of peace suffusing my thoughts, and exit the building without a backward glance. No longer do I fear the day and the night holds the promise of further explorations of the inner, and outer, reality. Aum is my mantra and I exit the flesh at will to find myself encapsulated within a cocoon of love and compassion, connected to the formative void by the purity of my intentions. Sol beckons, his corona caressing my spirit and I revel in the gift, and promise, of life. Darkness envelops me. I am rising and a formless but all-encompassing sensation reminiscent of forever is all that I feel. I was lost but now I'm found, 93,000,000 miles from the sun.