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Finding Presence in the Stars

Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels

Summer of 2003. Orcas Island. Summer camp: after hours. I was fourteen years old and very hormonal. There were many hot thirteen to 15 year-old boys in my summer camp unit, Mt. Olympus (Mt. O for short). And then there were the dreamy 17 to 19 year-old counselors: Ally L. Alex G. Walter, who my BFF and I called "Feebi" from his notorious heather grey FBI t-shirt. They all played ultimate frisbee and most were in a college Seattle rock band. But on this after hours activity, I wasn't fantasizing about my hopeful nuptials to Ally L./Alex G. or that Mt. O boy who crushed it at dodge ball. I was lying down in a grassy field near the horse stables with my BFF from Portland and two other girls from New Orleans. Our hormones had quieted from the vast blanket of stars, which were uninhibited by Seattle's light pollution a hundred miles south. It must have been a new moon: I remember feeling wrapped by The Milky Way. Warmed by the intermittent shooting stars. It was that moment, all four of us knew, our camp crushes were insignificant. We were insignificant.

One of the Louisiana girls finally broke the heavy silence --

"How big do you think --"

"I can't think about how big the universe is," my BFF interrupted. "It's too much for me."

My BFF started crying. And then, like a virus, we all had tears streaming down our night-chilled cheeks. It was too much.

It was in that moment, I never looked at the stars the same way. Every time I looked up, I saw infinity. And then I knew I was only seeing a fraction of infinity. Four percent to be exact. And then I knew some of those stars weren't even stars at all; it was their light still traveling towards Earth after their death. Deeper questions emerged: "Why are we here? What is the meaning of all of this? How do I fit into this mind-bending cosmic puzzle?"

Those questions continued to haunt me throughout my late adolescence, twenties and currently now, at 31 years-old in today's pandemic. These questions have led me to create art, to journey and heal with spirituality, psychedelics, plant medicine, shamanism, and energy healing modalities, and to create more art. After years of exploration, I'm still left with more questions. Yet, one thing I know for certain is that the universe is too complex to be summed up in a sentence, let alone at all.

So, with that lifted from my shoulders, back to my main questions: how do I fit into the mind-bending cosmic puzzle? What is my purpose? My therapist argues that my questions stem from my family upbringing, which to a certain degree I agree to (pursuing acting and finding a life partner i.e. being seen and validated as a human.) My idea of purpose has shifted away from the later. I find it's now chillingly leaning towards the sci-fi themes from my own storytelling. Something I've been unconsciously doing probably since stargazing that night at summer camp.

In my sci-fi narratives, the central character is caught in the wake of an apocalypse, the end of the world, a global change. The one question she is faced with: "how will I show up?" And now in the wake of our current global pandemic, I'm asking that question everyday: "how will I show up?" In the real world, unlike the heroes in my stories, I can't open a portal with four mystical women to save a future Earth or connect to my 1972 past life self to coordinate a reset of a toxic Earth. I can't save the Earth. What I can do is this: be present.

When I'm present, I connect to my breath. I connect to my intuition. My feelings. My voice. When I'm present, I'm at peace with doing nothing. Playing with my dog. Cooking for my partner. Lounging with my partner. Watching the worst reality TV or the most poignant drama. When I'm present, I act when my gut tells me to. I call my sister. I call my dad. My friend in Highland Park. My other friend in Park Slope. I call my Australian drama school alumni for a Zoom reunion. I finally call that person to tell them I love them. I say yes to what lights me up. I say no when it dims me. I finally bring home a pothos plant and name her Sloan Peterson. I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Alchemist, my friend's play. I write that cold e-mail I've been sitting on for weeks. I write these sci-fi stories that magically download into my fingers and out through the keyboard. I write this. And then I imagine my words will expand to you and then your words expand, too and then we expand to our communities, nature, the world, the universe. Presence expanding presence. Knowing that it's okay to feel it all. It's okay to be overwhelmed or swept away by the stars. To be insignificantly significant. To be. And then I imagine, this is how we save the world.

Belonging to Wilderness by Vanja Vukelić

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