THIS IS NOT A STORY of an orange songwriter going to Italy to find inspiration. At least, it’s also a story of a purple young boy trying to understand why he never feels alone even when he’s on his own. It’s also a story of an anima waking up from her sleep and helping a troubled artist to realize that digging into memories doesn’t only bring good things. And, finally, it’s a story about a paranoid man trying to figure out why he’s suddenly so afraid to die.
He had been looking forward to his trip for months, and as much as he loved spending time with Luisa and his family and friends and colleagues, he was happy to have this trip for himself to write.
It came out of nowhere, the anxiety. Clear as the blue sky and dark as Luisa’s hair, it stood there right in front of him, as if there was no reason not to. Death anxiety.
He was actually a very happy, positive young man in his mid-twenties, an artist full of love and appreciation, and he didn’t understand where this sudden anxiety had come from, or what it wanted from him. At first he wasn’t concerned about losing it; his artistic and infantile curiosity and urge for understanding things were too strong. He wanted to get to the bottom of this unfamiliar feeling; he felt as if a stranger had entered his mind. And even though there would come a time where he’d curse the darkness, curse the fear, even curse the whole trip, it would all lead him to an understanding and a new friend that most people will never find. For it was all in his head, and it wasn’t until later, he understood that the feeling of not being alone, was her all along.
Despite not trusting a lot in horoscopes, he couldn’t help keeping it in mind when he heard that the Gemini should be careful about traveling. High risk of accidents. How on earth should other planets’ positions influent events in his life? How could anyone believe that? Except from the fact that the moon had a rather big impact on physics on Earth. He was actually very open to unexplainable things bigger than himself, but he also valued scientific explanations. But then again, there had been a bit of laughing when someone suggested that Earth wasn’t flat. And just ten years ago, there was smartphones and youtube, but no one knew stem cells could be programmed.
Among many great things, Rome is famous for crazy driving, and even though he wasn’t going to stay in the city, but in a village an hour north, he had decided to get the big car insurance.
In Fiumicino, he was met by the Italian lack of organization skills and English abilities, which made it difficult to find the car rental area, where the car rental office of course wasn’t located. Back and forth, calling, waiting, hanging up, no wifi, closed, can’t help you, talk to that guy, no English, try the information, go downstairs, no phone calls allowed, etc. Finally there, and there it was, the surprise. We don’t accept debit cards. Two things. First: he had rented many other cars with that card. Second: he already paid for the car and the insurance. Two things back. First: deposit 1,200€. Second: no credit card, no car, she said smiling without taking off her shades. Fighting, shouting, but but but, no no no, listen to me, back and forth. No card, no car. Bitch. I’m not done with you. Now we’re closed.
Back at the airport after being rejected by the rest of the car rental companies, he realized there were two options. Taxi one and a half hours and 150 euros, train three hours and 11€. Since he was already late for picking up keys in Sutri, he decided to take a taxi. Sweet old man with long nails and dressed like a mafia boss taught him left and right in Italian and charged him ten euros more than promised. But he did take him north, safe and dry through the wet and windy Italian spring.
As he usually did when things went wrong, he tried to convince himself it was better that way. The whole anxiety and fear of death situation. Not driving himself might had saved him from that horoscope car accident. On one hand, he chose to think that way because he and Chopra and his family and many of his friends, really believed it. So many energies and unexplainable things going on. On the other hand, he needed a sensible explanation to not look like a fool in front of his scientific friends, so another part of him explained it by saying that it was just his system two looking for meaning in life, and that he might as well let it; instead of being in a shitty mood all day about something he couldn’t change anyway.
First luck that Sunday was meeting the neighbor, Luigella, in the street walking away from the building. Danese? Si, scuzi estoy tarde! No worries, she thought he was arriving Tuesday. Italians again, it was all in the mail. She apologized for the weather, saying that last week was warm and sunny. Of course it was.
Great place, a lot better than the pictures, except from the smell. Was it rats, dirt or shit, he couldn’t figure, but it was harsh. He looked for a similar expression on Luigella’s face to see if it were unusual. Seemed not.
Being alone, the anxiety returned. As if he wasn’t alone. As a kid, he used to be afraid of the dark, both in the cellar and in the ocean, and he had had a few strong experiences with spirits. At seven, for example, he had felt something aggressive and very present in the old house his parents were about to buy. It appeared that the previous owner had shot himself on the second floor, and that the house had been empty for years. Except from a lot of energies that it took a sensitive child to sense. Purple and open and not interested in sensitive explanations.
And now he felt it again, as if he wasn’t alone. It took him hours to fall asleep the first few days even though he left the lights on. The anxiety followed him throughout the days. Even though people were smiling and greeting, he felt a constant darkness in his mind. Something inside him told him that people’s smiles were only hiding the fact that they wanted to hurt him. Stop it. What if they’ve been waiting for me? Stop it. Paranoia.
On the third day, he was so uneasy he started asking himself questions like if you die tonight, have you had a happy life? Before falling asleep, he took out his notebook and wrote: why am I suddenly so afraid to die? Came out of nowhere. The feeling that it’s soon over. God, I hope I’m wrong.
Now, this was new to him. As mentioned, he was usually a very happy and positive guy with no present fears or phobias. But he was starting to get nervous about why it was staying in his mind – so present and constant. Why had he still not figured it out?
Reading Jung helped him understand symbols and dreams, and he decided to realize something. The anxiety wasn’t some energy from above, or from the air around him. It came from his own sub consciousness. What am I trying to tell me? Usually his sub consciousness spoke to him through dreams when his ego was asleep, but this message was apparently so important that it could break through his consciousness and take over his attention: wake up, you’re gonna die. Was he going nuts?
Thursday afternoon was going to be the day where he went to go see the amphitheater. An ancient rock-hewn monument, the pride of Sutri and full of Tripadviser love. It was a short walk out of old town, neighboring the breathtaking tuff rock cliffs that held the mausoleum, the necropolis, and the bosco sacro – the sacred forest – forty feet above the ground. Like a rocky island in the middle of the Lazio woods, made by Mother Nature’s finest volcano ash, and carved out by man two thousand years ago.
It was windy as hell and the shadows were growing longer, but he was drawn by the landscape and the surreal furniture of the cliffs. It was beautiful. Apart from the rainforest-like vegetation and vines, also dark wooden doors had been put in the vertical beige stone walls. The entire cliff had empty chambers carved out all along the sides, like a colossal cheese half eaten by mammoth sized mice. The chambers were old tombs from the ancient Rome, empty remains of death-keeping and captive souls.
That Thursday they were just dark caves in a massive wall, but they got to represent his anxiety. It was getting darker, and he started to wish he hadn’t gone. He checked the map on his phone and saw that he was more or less halfway around the cliff; so turning around wouldn’t be any faster than continuing. He decided to be quick about it and hurry back home. But right as he crossed the small bridge at the southwestern corner of the cliff, a branch the size of a dead horse fell down from above, and landed in the middle of the bridge. The storm had broken it off its mother, and now it was blocking his way, as if trying to tell him something. He crawled through the branch and felt the anxiety grow to fear, as the child inside, afraid of the dark and believing in ghosts, was gaining control. Suddenly, in the middle of his mental battle between a grown man and a fearful child conducted by the dark symphony of the elements, he felt a hand on his shoulder. His fighting stopped as his system one demanded control, and he turned swiftly. No one. Just black caves and the laughing storm. Fuck, I’m really getting crazy.
That night he had a pizza and a Nastro Azzurro, and tried to celebrate how great a life it was to be an artist. He wrote the best song of that week and called it Captive Souls. It still took him hours to fall asleep. But something else happened that night. Like the rest of his adventures that week, this wasn’t something physical, but only in his mind. It wasn’t very dramatic or intense, but it was very important. He woke up his anima.
According to Jung, people’s masculine and feminine traits are often symbolized by persons in their dreams; animus and anima. This way, the sub consciousness can communicate things that are usually rejected by the ego as silly, as the ego might be too busy doing more important things like watching tv or checking facebook. While animus represents the masculine, anima is not only representing feminine symbols like breasts and lipstick, but also the more soft and elusive traits of the human nature such as feelings and creativity. And waking her up in a dream can be a strong image.
It‘s worth mentioning that our adventurer had spent years getting in deeper touch with his emotional sides in order to understand himself better and write more profound songs. Perhaps he would have done something else, though, if someone had told him that digging in your emotional seabed doesn’t only whirl up seahorses and starfish. There are dark forces down there, too. And no sunshine without shade.
Unlike many of his dreams in the past weeks, this one wasn’t about escaping or fleeing or being hunted or haunted or killed. This time he had a train to catch. His friends were there, and everybody wanted to catch this train to somewhere nice. But he was missing something, and he had to go get it. So he went off through the city, into this apartment block that he’d never seen before, climbing the stairs to one of the apartments and prepared himself to break in. He didn’t like that part, and he hadn’t done it before, but he had to. He had to get that pillow. In silence, he entered, and snooped around the apartment, through the dark unfamiliar rooms, searching. His mind was troubled, and he thought of his friends having fun at the station while waiting for the train. He had to catch the train, but first he had to find the pillow, so he kept searching through the entire apartment until he found the bed. Strange, it was right next to the front door where he came from, but he hadn’t seen it when he entered.
And there she was, asleep in the bed, with her head on the pillow. No beauty, no witch either. Not sexy, nor ugly; not a Madonna, nor a whore. Just a regular, normal girl at his age. He was afraid of removing the pillow, terrified of the consequences if she woke up. He slowly and carefully reached for the pillow, almost closing his eyes and making that awkward face we all do when something frightening is about to happen; as if trying to make your eyebrows and cheeks meet while slowly sucking in air through your teeth. And she woke up.
But instead of freaking out, screaming, or calling the police, she just looked at him kindly and asked what he had come for. If she could help him. They spoke for a while, and he started to like her more and more, as he got to know her. Finally, he got up and left with the pillow, and she came with him to catch the train.
When he woke up, it was almost noon. He didn’t pay much attention to the dream, but he knew that he wanted to return to the amphitheater to make peace with the place. He left right after his yoghurt with fruits and nuts and blueberries, and felt brave. It felt good to gain control over his mind.
Through this day and until he went inside the cathedral that afternoon, he had a feeling of non-presence. As if he were watching his own life through a movie. Like he weren’t controlling his own movements, or even being there himself. As if he were dreaming, and that he could just let go, and everything would keep on going on its own; and even if he wanted influence he wouldn’t have much.
This time, he went the other way around the cliff. Starting from the exit sign, he took the contrary route hoping to get a different perspective of the place. It was still windy along the western wall of the cliff, and the two hundred meters walk before the southwestern corner gave him time to think that it seemed like nothing had changed since yesterday. When he reached the small bridge at the corner, he saw that the branch was gone, and that he could now cross – turning left and east. As he crossed the bridge, the wind disappeared, and the weather left him alone with the rays of the sun burning a massive hole in the azure sky. He noticed the horses on the other side of the river and he started laughing, as he realized how absurd it had been to let himself be scared of this place. In daylight, he could now see the back of the cliff caves, and they too had transformed into something less frightening; from giant black, empty eye sockets to hay covered animal shelters with nothing creepy about them.
He followed the path along the walls and turned left towards the amphitheater. It didn’t seem less impressive in daylight, but certainly more inviting, as the ten arena doorways now had more than just blackness in them. Crossing the arena, philosophical thoughts started appearing in his mind. He thought of the symbolism in life as the stage, and how difficult it can be to understand life while living it. Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. How can you see the whole picture from ground level? In the middle of the arena remained a single flat stone from the ancient times; the rest of the arena was covered with soil and grass. He balanced with both of his feet on the rock, looking first down at his worn-out grey converse, then up. It looked as if someone had covered the whole sky in blue, except from one big hole where the light broke through. He noticed the remains of the old royal box where the majesties had glanced down at the games, predicting success and fiasco, with godly control over life and death. He would die for a taste of that view, so he started walking towards the dark staircase to the left, and noticed how the wind disappeared as he left the center of the arena. The airstream only blew in a straight line at ground level from the northern entrance to the southern.
Climbing the three dark flights of stairs, he approached the royal box. It was only twenty-three steps but dark enough to make the sunlight bright white when he stepped out in the open. With the sun in his back and the overview of the arena, he had what he later considered a revelation. He saw in the empty arena how people spent their lives chasing each other trying to survive and impress. He saw how little meaning there was in all the things they thought of as important, and how most apparent patterns were just mind-made illusions to create some meaning in the mind of too conscious animals. But most importantly, he understood that his anxiety was all about change. His sub consciousness had detected all the major changes in his past two years, but his mind had been too busy enjoying life and writing songs to worry about the risks. He had moved to a new country, ended a relationship and started a new one, learned new languages, finished his education, new work, new people, lots of goodbyes and hellos, and he had changed a lot. Grown up a bit. His reptilian instinct brain, and the beige meme, had reacted on the changes as signs of danger, and since his ego never really had related to it, his sub consciousness had looked forward to the whole Italy trip as a chance to reflect on this new life. The strongest weapon was the death alarm, and it had been switched full on to make sure he was aware of the potential dangers in change of surroundings. Ultimately saying you go on that trip, and you won’t leave as the same person, ‘cause we’ve got some things we need to talk about.
He saw all that from the royal box, and he realized that he needed to do some thinking and reflecting, and that he had at least one goodbye and one hello to make.
Spiritual but not religious, he usually said. So when he entered the cathedral, it wasn’t for God as much as for energies, inspiration and an open door to the divine. He felt more and more as if he was starring a movie, and the perspective changed from POV to bird’s view as he entered the beautiful Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Never had rubber soles made that much noise, and the reverberation seemed to go on forever as they ricocheted between the eleven hundred years old stonewalls. He stepped on the outer edges of his shoes until he reached the aisle whose cosmati tiles were so old and worn out they didn’t make 21st century sneakers wail anymore. There was no one else in the cathedral. The high vaulted ceiling was full of godly paintings, and the room was decorated in every corner with shiny marble pillars and countless golden and wooden details. Though he was curious to know if a priest was awaiting him in the confessional, he didn’t feel like he had anything to confess. At least not to others. He sat down on row Santa Maria something in Italian, and studied the row name to find something symbolic about that exact bench that his sub consciousness had chosen for him. Disappointed that that was not the case, he closed his eyes and tried to gain control over his thoughts.
Looking down at himself meditating with folded hands, a straight back and his head slightly bent upwards, he noticed the wind losing and gaining strength outside. Inside, there was a deafening silence, and still no sign of other people. Still with his eyes closed, he imagined the cathedral in his mind, and thought of it as warm, bright, and full of colors. He accepted that his thought activity was too busy to allow meditation – even though that was the point – so he opened his eyes, and was disappointed by the room. It had lost most of its colors from his mental picture, and seemed now like a dark and almost black and white version of it. The marble wasn’t even real. Most of the walls were painted to look old and heavenly. He got up and approached the two staircases in front of the altar, slowly and slightly sideways like a cautious hero in a movie. He stopped and looked down, and could see that the stairs went below the altar: the crypt. He had seen those in countless other holy buildings, the most famous of which could be found only forty kilometers south of Sutri. Usually located under the heart of the church, the crypts or catacombs guarded the divine, the dead. He felt like a burglar, even though he hadn’t come to steal, but he thought of his dream as he went down the stairs. The silence was complete now and made up a massive noise in his head. There was no door into the dark, narrow corridor, only a small metal box on the left wall next to the crypt entrance. One euro for a minute of light. As he leaned into the black crypt under the church, the fear returned. It was pitch black down there, and silent like the grave. He imagined how it would look from a dead man’s eyes to come flying towards him through the deep darkness. No way. He turned around in one quick movement and hurried back up, still looking back. He felt like a coward. Wasn’t this what he had come to do? Face his fears and reflect to understand them? He slowed down as he upped the stairs and reached the aisle, as to try and save his dignity. Though no one was there, he knew someone was watching; at least the many parts of his own persona and shadow and so on. Sometimes he thought of himself as a kid following him around, and that made him feel a pressure to be grown and strong. There was always expectations, even in the church. Fuck this shit.
On his way out he stopped in front of a sculpture with candles in front of it. He decided to light a candle for his grandmother, like he and his mom had done so many times. Oferta, forty centimos. He took out his beige leather wallet and found four ten cent coins and inserted them in the tin box one by one in a slow, dramatic way. Clonk, reverb reverb. Clonk, reverb reverb. He then picked up the matchbox and took out one of the few unused matches. He thought of his grandmother and stroke it. Nothing happened, so he stroke it again and tried to hit the last strip of phosphor left on the side of the box. It fired the third time. Unintentionally, he changed his mind as he picked up a candle from the bottom shelf. He wasn’t going to light it for her. He would light it for himself. He lit it and put it back on the top shelf in the middle, and said goodbye. He promised himself not to be afraid anymore, not to let the anxiety and darkness take over his mind if it wasn’t constructive.
Resurrection: 0,40€. He looked up at the sculpture and noticed the man’s walking stick. The shepherd was dressed in brown and holding out his right hand as a guiding gesture. That way. Beside him was a small pig. Why couldn’t it just have been a sheep like everywhere else? And why only one?
He pushed both of the doors open like a cowboy exiting a saloon, and the perspective changed back to POV. As he left the building, a pigeon took wing from right in front of the entrance. In Danish, pigeon and dove is the same word, and he felt sure his mom would love that picture. He thought that if he ever wrote a book about this experience, the wind would have been gone when he exited the cathedral.
He remembered his father’s words about the other side of being an artist. If he wanted to be in true touch with his creativity and all of his feelings and memories and thoughts – including the sub conscious ones – he would have to accept the dark sides too. Being profoundly sensitive and spiritual also meant being open to what couldn’t be explained, including sixth sense events that couldn’t just be swept away as the wind or his imagination; because it was exactly in those moments – full of feelings – that he could reach out and find something that could also touch others.
It made him feel courageous to think that it was okay to be a grown man suddenly scared of the dark, as long as he used it to help other people. That’s what heroes did. Facing their fears to gain strength and use that to contribute to society. All those poor souls that had forgotten how to feel.
He decided to believe that the horoscope had used traveling accidents to warn him against change. Traveling is a symbol of change or of the transition to something new, and change is potentially dangerous.
But at the same time, he loved change. He was blessed with a child’s curiosity and urge for understanding things, and he had a strong passion for almost everything. To his consciousness, change wasn’t dangerous at all, just exciting.
If only you could release your ego, your instinct, and your reflections in a amphitheater arena and see if it were a fair match. Or beige instinct against red don’t-give-a-fuckness against blue punishment against orange creativity against green– … No, green wouldn’t stand a chance. He wouldn’t have any idea who to put his money on. But then again, he was Gemini, and famous among his friends for not being able to make up his mind about anything, so maybe he wasn’t the right person to ask. Maybe I don’t wanna know. Perhaps some things don’t have to be turned and examined, like he, after ten years, had discovered was the case with jealousy.
Only seven sleepless nights and forty cents for that kind of insight. People didn’t know what they missed out on. Rushing through the same streets of the same city every day only to look forward to having the same drinks with the same friends in the same fucking clubs every single weekend. Don’t they know they’re destroying the planet and that people are dying of hunger? Children and women! He usually kept those thoughts for a few minutes, and moved on to something positive as soon as he remembered about his own smartphone and laptop and fifty annual flights. As if 25€ to Greenpeace and Amnesty made up for that. And being a vegetarian and giving money to the homeless, but still.
Finishing spiral dynamics on the flight back, he looked out the window over sunny Rome as the plane took off, and he thought of the symbolism in elevation and getting lifted to get a higher perspective to understand his own colors. Overview. Google Earth zoom-out. Taking wings. From blades of grass to small cars to coastline. And he noticed that on both flights, he had been placed at the emergency exit door, out 16D, return A, and he wondered what that might mean.