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Rooted Ritual

by Charlie McKay

Paulo awoke to the sound of sizzling tomatoes being cooked by his grandmother in the kitchen of their two-bedroom apartment. Several seconds of serene silence passed before she sweetly beckoned him for breakfast.

“Paulo…. Paulo” she called, followed by several other soft murmurings that he couldn’t quite discern.
The air was crisp as beams of light filtered through the mosaic gaps of his slightly ajar window. He stretched, stirred, twisted and eventually rose to peer out across the vast landscape of pinkish clouds that were warmed by a golden coat from the early morning sun. Scattered throughout the region the unobtrusive bamboo-nest towers rose high into the sky and were a gentle reminder of the vastness of life that surrounded him. The awe-inspiring structures of plaited vegetation were like man-made, vertical mountains home to thousands of plants and animals. They were the heart of the city, for here, living in symbiosis with all the flora and fauna, were the people. Nestled within each hive were apartment combs just like his own, and Paulo, like so many other young residents of the province, was about to embark on a day of significant personal transformation.
Welcomed by the comforting smell of homegrown cooking Paulo tottered into the kitchen and drowsily said, “Good morning Abuela” to his grandmother who was leaning out of the window and reaching for several more tomatoes to add to the pan. As she picked the ripe, red delicacies she recognised a familiar green parrot perched on her horticultural canopy and tunefully whistled twice in appreciative acknowledgment of his presence.

“Have you done your meditation this morning?” She asked upon returning inside to the kitchen.

A brief pause followed before Paulo reluctantly built up the courage to admittedly say no.

“And why haven’t you?”, she responded in a calm but inquisitive manner. There was another slightly longer pause.

“Because … it’s hard,” he said.

“Hmm… it’s hard… it’s hard to clear your mind?”

Contemplating momentarily he replied, “Yes… yes, it is.”

“Mhmm…”, she allowed a silence to linger before continuing, “I feel that you are missing the essential essence of this morning exercise Paulo. It is not to think about clearing your mind but rather recognising that it is already so.”

“Well… well if that’s really all there is to it then what’s the point of it anyway”, he objected with boldness.

“A point is precisely not the purpose. You see when we quiet the mind we turn off that little voice inside our heads. We become aware of a stillness that exists beyond all of our wants and desires. To live happily and to live in harmony is to acknowledge that beauty prevails in the very present moment. Paulo… you understand that this is the philosophy of life. That cultivating this awareness is key to a healthy relationship with the self, to others and particularly to nature as a whole. In fact embracing this mode of being, as opposed to that of forever longing, is said to have been fundamental to the way in which my great-grandparents overcame the historic climate crisis of the mid-twenty-first century.”

He gave her a disgruntled, uninterested look as she bent down and served him two slices of avocado on toast, both of which eloquently topped with meticulously placed cherry-fried tomatoes.

“Besides anything else”, she continued, “practising mindful meditations like this will have gifted you with the sufficient preparation and mental clarity for your big day ahead.”

“My day…?”, he replied with an air of startled concern, bemused as to its significance.

“Oh Paulo..”, in a more teasing than annoyed manner, “how could you forget?… Or should I really say, of course, you would forget.” She then added, “perhaps even intentionally?”

He was now staring at her bleakly and intensely.

“Okay. Okay, then Paulo. It seems that I will once again have to remind you …”, she turned around and began watering her prize plant: the hanging Hoya Linearis of which she had aptly named ‘Little Mona Lisa’. “Today is perhaps the most important day that you will experience within this community of ours. It is the day of your initiation. The time has finally come for your coming-of-age ceremony. All of the lessons you have learnt at school, all of the wisdom passed onto you from our elders, all the guidance I have given you will finally make sense. While now you may seem confused and like so many others perhaps a little lost, all will become clear by dusk.”

It was true, all of what she had said was true. He had deliberately forced the ceremony from his mind, he did feel confused about his place in the world and he was well aware that he had drifted astray from a knowing path to follow. He tried not to think about what life would have been like were he not an orphan, he tried not to think about what kind of person he would have been had he had the same upbringing as his peers, he tried not to think about the parents who he never got to meet and whether they would be proud of him on a day like today.

But it was all too much. A quiver had taken ahold of his mouth and sharp breaths of air broke his speech, ‘I… I…”, and before he could finish his sentence his grandmother had tenderly clasped both of her hands around his crown.

“Don’t try to say anymore Paulo”, she gently whispered as she leaned down to kiss the top of his head. “I have a surprise for you. Just wait here a moment.”
After briefly disappearing she returned to the kitchen with glowing effervescence and instructed him to hold out his arms. As he did so she pulled out from behind her back a subtly stylised loincloth that was renowned throughout the region for being the traditional ritualistic attire.

“It was your father’s and his father’s before him”, she hushed in a respectful, ruminative tone.

“Abuela…”, he said with loving gratitude, “I had no idea … no idea you would keep such a thing. It’s so …”

“Now now”, she interrupted, “now is not the time for that. We have to meet with your ministerial minder at bridge B-42 alongside all the other young cohorts of this hive block. Now please, quickly get changed so that we can leave here in ten minutes.” As they approached the bridge Paulo could count from a distance a group of fifteen other high spirited adolescents, all dressed in identical ceremonial clothing to him. To their left stood a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man whose forest-green garments signified his ministerial position. The
minder was in deep concentration as he lightly touched the side of his eye, implanted optic nanotechnology allowed him to visualise the optimum bridged-route to take in order to reach the citadel on time.

“I will leave you now”, his grandmother murmured as she squeezed his hand tightly.

“I love you”, said Paulo quietly.

“And I love you”, she replied before slowly retreating towards the direction from which they came.

The sound of approaching footsteps caused the minder to put down his hand and gesture a formal bow in Paulo’s direction to which he reciprocated.

“Ah… let me see”, the minder said as he once again touched to the side of his eye, “Paulo Yaonomari… yes?, he inquired as he scrolled through an internally projected list.

“Yanomami”, Paulo corrected, remembering the importance of family heritage that his grandmother had taught him.

“My mistake”, he looked down apologetically, “Yanomami …Paulo Yanomami you are the last but certainly not least person to arrive. Before we move on you must leave behind all that which you think you are, you must prepare yourself for rebirth and thus forget everything that you think you know already”, he said with a smile, teasing a receptive look of bewilderment. “Now we must get moving.” Crossing the footbridge from his own nest tower to the next was always an enlivening experience. For just over half a mile any resident of the region could find themselves stretched out high above the canopy of a tropical evergreen forest with only a thin, geometric bamboo side netting separating them from a spectacular 100-foot drop. Led by their sagacious minder the tribe of sixteen murmured amongst themselves creating an air of eager excitement. Just wide enough to walk two abreast Paulo lingered towards the back alongside a bald-headed girl, with a reserved temperament and vibrant green eyes.

Her silence did not bother him for he was too engrossed in consoling his own thoughts; what was awaiting him at the citadel? What did it mean to forget everything you think you know already? What kind of person exactly would he be after the day’s endeavours? Breaking his train of thought, he noticed that the bald-headed girl beside him had begun to gently whisper something to herself. Attuning to the slightly lower sound vibration he determined that it must have been some kind of mantra.

Our veins are like rivers,
Our lungs are like trees,
In nature we resemble,
For Earth is our temple. Our veins are like rivers,
Our lungs are like trees,
In nature we resemble,
For Earth is our temple.

Unbeknown to him Paulo then slipped into a meditative trance for the next forty-five minutes of their journey, with walking becoming an immersive rather than conscious act. Slowly, as the wind grew stronger, he began to regain his rational perspective of the world and became very aware of his now unfamiliar surroundings. The intensity of the deep blue ocean brought with it a tingling sensation, a trace of a memory, a reason for recollection. Had he walked over this bridge before? But when? He faintly remembered two strangers. But who?
“We’re very close now”, the minder’s voice beamed from the top of the pack. The bridge was much wider than previous ones and made of tantalising crystallised corals that produced a sparkling regal quality. Rushing towards its wave-smoothed edges several of the adolescents shouted,

“Look Look!”

“Look into the water!”

“What is it?”, one cried.

“There are hundreds… no thousands!”, shouted another as Paulo joined his captivated cohorts.

“Ah-ha!”, interjected the minder, “These marvellous creatures, in all their abundant glory, are the Moon Jellyfish of the citadel. They are held in the highest regard by our people because of their regenerative powers. Some even go as far as calling them the Holders of Immortality.”

“But why?”, one voice yelped in excitement.

“An excellent question”, he replied and continued, “after the sixth mass extinction of the mid-twenty-first century the Moon Jellyfish are believed to have been one of the few species that survived on their own. All the flora and fauna that you see around you today was salvaged from climate-caused extinction by the genius of modern science and powers of genetic cloning technology. All of it… all but the Moon Jellyfish and several fungal species. That is why the Moon Jellyfish are considered sacred and allowed to proliferate around the citadel. A reminder of a not-so-distant past but also an ever-present symbol of hope. They are, in more ways than one, our last true connection to the Earth.”

Mesmerised and speechless the young cohort gazed open-mouthed into the ocean mystified by its floating inhabitants. Ushering them from their state of reverie the minder was keen to begin moving again.

“We are close. So close now!”, he exclaimed.
As they drew upon their destination a silence loomed, an apprehensive mood dawned on the tribe as they each began to realise that they were approaching their journey’s end.

“The majestic citadel of Maya Flores”, said the minder as he turned on his heels with both arms raised in the air. Before truly acknowledging it Paulo looked back and could just about discern hoards of other young groups traversing the same bridged path with their minders. Taking a deep breath in he then looked again to the citadel. It was undoubtedly magnificent. Beyond the low-walled entrance was the wonder that he had only ever heard rumours of. A cathedral? No. This was something else entirely. The monumental architectural feat had a whale-like skeletal structure and was covered in decorative diamond solar panels.

“Inside you will be assigned to a preparatory group with fifty other participants”, said the minder from behind them, “from there you will then be selected one-by-one for your individual initiation.” Smiling with a look of parental support he then gestured a formal bow and wished his entourage good fortune in the final stage of their journey.
The true scale of the aquatic temple was only fully appreciated once inside where just over 1000 initiates sat in large circles all awaiting their turn to be summoned. In his ring, Paulo sat crossed legged directly opposite the green-eyed girl who was intensely focusing on the female guide who stood in the centre of their circle. Dressed in all white, the shaman-like figure commanded the attention of the young eyes around her. Pivoting a full 360-degrees she held out in her hands what looked like a Moon Jellyfish.

“The portal to your soul”, she announced, as Paulo, rapt in awe, hunched himself forward. “Designed in the image of our sacred ocean dwellers this cybernetic headpiece will aid you to reachclairvoyance, then transcendence and ultimately enlightenment. Trust in yourself and the nano neural transmitters will release you from that which you think you are.” She then went over several mind-cleansing practices before finally instructing the now fully prepared participants to silently await their turn.

It wasn’t long before Paulo’s meditation was broken by a minder who gestured him into the next room. Upon entering the dimly lit chamber he was greeted by a soft blueish glow that emanated from the rows of giant Gentian-like pods. After being escorted to his own private capsule Paulo once again sat down crossed-legged. No bigger than a single-person teepee his solitary surrounding filled him with serenity and without hesitation, he at once placed the jelly-like headpiece entirely over his skull.
A fraction of a second must have passed before time itself then appeared to fade completely into a limitless, undifferentiated void. Visually he became immersed in an overlaying mosaic of kaleidoscopic, web-like structures. Long three-dimensional, fractal-shaped roots submerged him into an unspeakable awareness of eternal presence. All that he truly was became so lucidly clear, so plainly obvious that it was as if he had been born again.

A warm feeling flowed from the tips of his fingers and suddenly he found himself holding the hands of two faintly remembered strangers. Strangers… strangers? No. They were his parents. With them standing either side of him the three of them looked into the deep ocean blue from their place on the crystallized coral bridge.

“Look deeper”, they whispered in harmonic unison. “Look deeper…look deeper.”

And with that, he was transported again to the indigenous homeland of the Yanomami tribe. There was dancing and singing, laughter and love. He watched festival upon festival as centuries of wisdom seemed to pass onto him through the sounds of an ever-present, ethereal forest flute. He felt Nature. He understood Nature. He was Nature. The character he identified as, the Paulo he once knew was no more. He could now live his life not in singularity but in unity with all things. The forever longing he once felt had all but vanished for he now recognised his vital place in the world. His vital part in an all-encompassing, all-embracing planetary consciousness.