March 9, 2023 / Hafsa Haider
Dissolving a bitter tab on my tongue was far more palatable than taking a premature trip to the afterlife.
I was 17 and standing on a razor's edge between my old life and an entirely new one. I desired nothing more from my time on Earth than to feel everything as intensely as I could, from euphoria to despair. Yet I found my experiences restricted by the suffocating guidelines set by my Muslim family and Islamic school. As graduation approached, I acknowledged that the parasitic doubts that had been growing inside of me and eating me alive needed to be treated, or they would kill me.
I swallowed philosophical lectures and devoured religious texts, but the gnawing lingered. I couldn’t choose. I couldn’t choose with the half-baked pink matter behind my eyes. I couldn’t make the cosmic decision of who I would be on my own — I needed some older, wiser being to make it for me. I needed more than man-made words and ideas. I needed to wipe the slate clean, tabula rasa, and see reality without my faulty mental programming. I needed to get higher — high enough to speak to God myself. Dissolving a bitter tab on my tongue was far more palatable than taking a premature trip to the afterlife.
So, one full-mooned Fourth of July, after the fireworks died, I sat at the desk where everything happened in my room and placed two tiny squares on my virgin tongue. I chewed the bitter paper until it dissolved, wanting to waste not a molecule of potential wisdom.
Several skipped heartbeats later and my eyes were now black holes. It was nothing I expected but everything I wanted. For the first time, I was caught by surprise. For the first time, I was certain I was alive. Everything was just as alive as I: the carpet was breathing, my fairy lights were a billion pairs of eyes, and the trees – oh, I needed to go talk to the trees. I drifted down the stairs and out the door, guided through my pitch black childhood home by my body’s memory alone. The trees greeted me with excited waves and dances. Some may say it was just the wind making the branches sway — but I understood then that the Universe doesn’t work that way. The trees and the wind come from the same Source, and every moment in our reality is the product of children of the void working in harmony. I too am a product of this void, incomprehensible and unimaginable by its very nature. Stars winked and told me they were putting on a show tonight and I was the only audience member. The moon was shining brighter than the sun. She told me she would protect me tonight, and for all eternity should I need her to.
As I melted into the sofa under the night sky, I became less and less. When I was almost nothing, it occurred to me that I may be dying. If I was, there was nothing I could do about it. If I was, all I could do was let go. Once I accepted this, I became more and more, everything and nothing.
At some point I teleported back to my bedroom. I looked down and found a gold-embroidered copy of the Quran in my hands, reminding me of the intention I’d set to dissect the book that held my life in its hands. A voice wiser than the one who told me not to judge a book by its cover whispered, “A book is just a book – 604 pages cannot contain the secrets of a Universe. Look around. What you see is an unfathomably small portion of all that is.” In an instant, I was free. I never again had to feel guilty for feeling the sun on my bare skin, listening to music, or kissing a beautiful stranger. God wasn’t angry with me. I had arrived at the catharsis that I had been yearning for my whole life. I was simultaneously inflated and humbled. As the illusory fear of divine punishment and eternal damnation disappeared, I felt warmer and lighter than I ever had, as if I would float away without the pile of fluffy blankets tethering me to the Earth.
My sandpaper tongue served as a reminder that I still required water. As I drank, I felt every sip permeating and healing the cells of my body. I emerged from my blanket cocoon to look in the mirror. My skin was covered in luminescent, swirling patterns in vibrant colors not native to this dimension. I stared into my own eyes, trying to see who I was now. A somehow familiar yet alien voice (perhaps my higher self) said, “I see the world through your eyes,” and I knew then that I was the Universe experiencing itself through the eyes of this one human for a little while. And if I am the Universe, so are you.
I closed my eyes and became only soul, no body. The ephemeral blood, bones, and skin separating me from everything else were irrelevant. There was nothing left of me but eternal consciousness — nothing to think about, nothing to decide, nothing to do. Through the Alan Watts lecture playing in my AirPods, I received a divine revelation: “The meaning of life is just to be alive; it’s so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet everybody rushes about in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” What would I do now that I had been let in on this secret?
As the sun rose, the birds sang a lullaby to help me sleep and I thought, I’m so lucky. Tomorrow I will wake up and I won’t have to decide who to be — I will simply be. ■
By: Hafsa Haider
Graphics: Victoria Porter
Graphics: Victoria Porter