Wandering the uncharted mountains of the deep
by Larry Ciptak
The other day another fish swam by and startled me. He was black and had a cross of white on his soft belly. He declared, "You are not worthy of being here, so I have decided to eat you!" I dared him to catch me, then dove deeper and rushed away, leaving him cursing my existence. "Heretic!" But he did not follow.
Later in stranger waters I felt a thousand sharp knives tearing at my flesh, but looked around and saw no perpetrator. Thrashing through the water tending my wounds, an ancient catfish with splotched skin and grey whiskers rested his tired but kind eyes on me. "The jellyfish have no use for someone like you, son. You remind them they are only powerful in a mob. These gang-fish will gather around your head and attempt to blind you. They curse your sight, the sight that betrays their own blindness!" he said.
"You must dwell deeper, as tens of scores of jellyfish lurk the surface looking for eyes to pluck out. This shallow herd exists only near light, but it is not the true light! They survive by devouring the eyes of others!" And thus he swam off.
So deeper I swam, away from the tranquil light, struggling for oxygen, delving into the icy, darkened depths.
A shark heeded my blood, slowly circled three times and glided up to me. He was lean and strong and his detached glare left me feeling ashamed that the ocean could produce such an unfeeling creature. I began to weep.
"Don't cry little fish, have no fear for I have just eaten and my satiated hunger is your pardon," he said in a calm, deliberate shark-voice. "However I will impart a lesson to you, if you beg my indulgence, for we sharks are thinking beasts and must fortify our knowledge through teaching."
"The false light that draws other fish to the surface is what renders them game. They think that light is a virtue. Ha! It is a vice, a vice they seek like moth to flame. They believe the light will protect and nourish them, but they are getting less than half a meal! They become fat and sloppy and make wonderful fare. Seeking protection and a comfortable, lazy existence they lay themselves bare to the marauders of the sea, to us soul pirates! And thus their fate — forever fed but always hungry, then cut down and swallowed, swindled by spurious nautical prophets!
"These fools know nothing of the shelter of the unfathomable depths, those protected waters where even a lowly fish like you is respected by the denizens of the deep."
"I have spared your life today, but tomorrow if I shall meet you in these shallow waters I shall devour you for your stupidity! Ha!" he said and swam off.
Further downward I proceeded.
The deeper I submerged the less life I encountered. I entered the waters seeking companionship but found instead unnerving quiet and shadowy bottoms. I heard faint echoes of innumerable prophets calling me back toward the surface, but their voices rang untrue. Their shadows surrounded me, but they would not reveal their presence. I wept for the depth I had been driven to, this lonely exile! Once I had believed no organism could survive in such desolate waters, this aquatic wasteland. The abundance of light on the exterior — however deceptive — summoned me, pledging security and conviviality with the comfort-fish.
But I was not like them. Stop, sages of the surface! Your poisonous pedagogy will injure me no longer! I will not ascend to your level again — I have bid farewell to your lies of good cheer and convenience — you feed off those who flock to your wicked candles!
Leave me to suffer my banishment in peace. I shall not offend you — you are beneath my consideration, and not capable of anything but dwelling at the facade of life, you surface-feeders! I shall call myself a bottom-feeder, a creature noble enough to exist on the scant crumbs that fall from your celebration of counterfeit abundance!
In my abandoned silence and solitude, the hidden Wisdom of the subterranean began revealing itself to me. Wisdom told me that penance is only useful to light-seekers to defend an indulgent and spongy existence. "Stop lashing yourself with the whip of reproach. It is not yourself but the beleaguered masses that you weep for! But they are no longer of your world. Tithe no more to the Ceaser-fish."
Thus Wisdom spoke to my heart and declared that the only fish I would be touched by at these depths would be worthy ones, but they too were on solitary journeys and would not bring comfort and companionship. Rather, these phantom travelers would tender judicious lessons borne of their own voluntary expulsion. These soul-teachers, insubordinate to the deceitful surface-light, would open their wild hearts and bleed truth and beauty and love in an impartial fashion. But they only reveal themselves to fellow wayfarers and I must remain in the deep if I wanted to encounter such mythical creatures. In this darkness and with these spirits I shall discover this true light, Wisdom thus spoke.
I asked Wisdom why the true light did not attract the teeming schools of Ceaser-fish.
"Only the conditioned soul is prepared to face the integrity revealed by the true light. Behold, this dictum — all fish are created equal, but they do not perish equal!"
"Discipline to fallacious beliefs is not discipline. It is self-abandonment, an alliance with fictitious precepts that keep you floating on the surface, quarry to those who nourish themselves on the souls of others, the eye-pluckers, the truth-blinders!"
"Acceptance of faulty doctrines is not acceptance. It is compliance, the murk that swallows the spirit!"
"Disciples of the deep do not ask themselves why they skulk in uninhabited waters."
Then Wisdom turned and reeled away, leaving me in these thus stirred but hushed depths.
I now wander along the uncharted mountains of the deep, rising along their crescents and occasionally catching a glimpse of the perjuring light, which still beckons but with a voice of he who is drowning, destined to rest on the bottom, but not with me.