Note: Here it is, at long last, the final installment of “Tool of the Mind.” A reminder: The first two parts of these series can be found at Unexplained-Mysteries.Com. Part three you will find by scrrolling down on this blog! So without further ado — here is part four, and thanks for everyone’s patience and kind e-mails prodding me to get this last part online! The waiting is over!
Tool of the Mind: Part IV
By Ken Korczak
When I awoke, I could already make out the Big Dipper in the growing twilight. By habit, I followed the curve of the handle of the Dipper as it pointed to the orangy glow of the star Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, and the third-brightest star in the sky. I have always had a soft spot for Arcturus because it was the first star name I had learned as a child. And now, awakening from that mind-blowing “sun-bath-of-the-brain,” Arcturus seemed a gentle, welcoming friend, bringing me down to the peace and calm of a fresh spring evening. The saffron glow of Arcturus was a subtle light I could handle — it was centering.
A shivering breeze was blowing off the surface of Mille Lacs — also exactly what I needed — a sobering zephyr that could anchor me in reality. Yet, I did not give over the mantra. Not yet. My pact was to keep it up until I got home, and I was still some 200 miles away. Frankly, I had had enough of what the mantra was doing to me, and I was feeling “homesick” for my normal state of mind. Yet, I had that feeling that I wasn’t done with this particular experiment, and — what the hell — I hadn’t killed myself or anything so far.
Now, a yet another very strange happening:
As I stirred and stretched, I was surprised to find that, while I was out, someone had left a gift for me, with a mysterious message in it. It was sitting right on my stomach. It was a small pouch about big enough to hold two golf balls. It was made of extremely soft animal skin, possibly deer hide. It was tied with with a leather string. I opened it, and inside it I found a small cache of wild rice. Wild rice grows in the shallows of Minnesota Lakes, and has been harvested by Native Americans for centuries. The rice stalks protrude about 10 feet from the water’s surface. The harvest process consists of floating among the rice stalks in a boat, bending the stalks over and beating them till the rice falls into a basket.
But also inside this bag of rice was a slip of paper, and written on it was this cryptic message: “a left hand.” Extremely puzzling to be sure! What did the gift giver mean or intend to tell me by giving me a bag of rice including a line that said only, “a left hand”?
I looked around, but saw no one. Whoever had left the gift of wild rice along with the tantalizing message had done so while I was in reverie. Ordinarily, I would have started thinking very hard about the rice pouch and the significance of the message — I would have sweated bullets out of my forehead to fathom the meaning. How did it fit together? What does “wild rice” have to do with “a left hand”? and so forth. Ordinarily, a mystery such as this is like catnip to me. I’m very good at solving riddles and puzzles, and I normally can’t let something like this go until I have it figured out, but now the mantra had smoothed out such a desire. I knew I would think about it later — but little did I know that it would take me nearly 20 years to discover the significance of that bag of rice and what its message, “a left hand” meant. That’s right –I eventually got an answer to “a left hand” — but not until 20 years later!
I suppose you, my readers, will want to know what it meant also. I also suppose that you don’t want to wait 20 years, like I did, to figure out what a leather bag of wild lake rice and “a left hand” meant — so, what the hell, I’ll tell you what it meant at the end of my story.
It was time for me to continue, however. I was way behind schedule — I could have been home by now, and my mother would probably be worried about me — and it was getting dark. I climbed back into The Killing Machine. I hung the talisman pouch of native wild rice on the rearview mirror, and this made me feel very good, for some reason. In the old days, Catholics always had a St. Christopher’s icon somewhere inside their cars. St. Christopher was the patron saint of travel — until the Pope booted old St. Chris from the pantheon of saints, because, apparently, he had never really existed. Anyway, I now felt like I had a much better and more powerful good luck charm for travel — my tiki of sacred wild rice, with an excellent message, “a left hand”, given to me by a kind and secretive stranger!
I headed north again, skirting the vast shores of Mille Lacs, and went deeper into the pine-rich areas of central Minnesota. I opened the eyes of The Killing Machine by turning on its headlights. Inside, this created that faint cheery glow — “paradise by the dashboard light.” I’ve always liked driving at night, and now under the influence of the mantra, I felt the interior of The Killing Machine of was a kind of magical traveling womb, and I was warm and safe inside.
The drawback of the falling darkness is that it made the cheery vistas of the Minnesota countryside less apparent. Instead, my primary views were the feathering look of the pine trees on either side of the road, looking grainy and army green as illuminated by the headlamps of The Killing Machine. However, after another hour of driving, I reached the next spectacular Minnesota lake, with perhaps the somewhat unfortunate name of Leech Lake. A break in the trees revealed suddenly an enchanting cove, dotted with small islands, surrounded by inky black waters — but a gibbous moon was already rising and scattering the surface with ripples of gold-white light — making the nighttime surface appear a scintillating curtain separating this world from another.
As I followed a small narrow road that hugged the shores of Leech Lake, I was carried away with a sense of mystery — thinking about all-that-is beneath those dark waters, thinking about what it was like beneath the surface of lake under cover of the night — I sensed a whole inner life there, hidden and secret, unfathomable. Distracted by the hypnotizing view of the expansive moon-dappled lake, I veered off onto a gravel road that headed north from Leech Lake, and was soon deep into a heavily wooded and remote area well away from the main byways and highways. The Killing Machine roiled a violent plume of white dust behind me — it was tinted red by the tail lights — it was as if I was producing a wake of crazy dynamic cotton candy.
Driving on a lonely gravel road hugged closely on either side by sense trees and foliage, and in the darkness can create a claustrophobic effect, but as I traversed that road while also riding the mantra, I felt fantastically expanded. I could also see the twinkling spring stars above me, and they swam off into forever — mantra or no mantra, the night sky always holds the promise of an escape, eventually the ultimate escape for all of us — but again, I digress.
The shadowy shapes of trees flowed past me, and as I chanted the mantra, this tree-flow streaming past the illumination of the headlights took on a liquid aspect in my perceptions — but now it was time for something strange to happen again. That streaming fluidity of the trees blurring by suddenly gave way into what seemed an eerie, stark landscape of sharp, angular broken bones. The transition was abrupt and jarring. One instant, either side of the rode was a flowing ghostly, white-green moving smear, and the next, it was like some bizarre chemical reaction occurred, crystalizing the scene into sharp bony shapes.
What was going on was this: I had entered a large area of forest that is known as a “blow down.” This is when a tornado or a strong storm devastates an area of trees — breaking them over, snapping them in half, breaking branches — hundreds of jagged stumps jut up from the ground like stalagmites in a cave. Tree limbs, like broken arms, twisted and splintered, splay out at all angles. Once, I saw a man break his femur at a construction site accident — it was terrible to behold. The bone broke clean through and came bursting out of the man’s leg — to see that snaggled end of a white bone protruding right through the skin, looking stark and white, yet bloody in the open air is a sobering site. That’s what I thought about now amid the blow down at night — the headlights of The Killing Machine and the pale moonlight only augmented the skeletal appearance of the damaged and broken forest.
As I drove along, I had the feeling I was in some vast ancient bone yard — as if I had arrived after a battle had recently taken place, leaving thousands of mutilated corpses to gleam silently under the moon glow.
In this eerie atmosphere, The Killing Machine decided to spring a surprise on me. Suddenly, its headlights winked out, the spectral image of the gravel road disappeared before me! I pressed on the breaks immediately before I veered off the road and into the ditch. Since I was on a lonely gravel road with no other traffic, I didn’t bother to pull over to the side. I just stopped in the middle of the road, put The Killing Machine in neutral and sat there with the engine burbling. I fiddled with the light switch, turning it off and on, but headlamps would not come back on. Even in this peculiar circumstance, I continued to drum the mantra — “cows eat grass! … “cows eat grass!” … “cows eat grass!” … though I must say that at this point, the ease and automated effort which had characterized my entire mantra journey now seemed to become more forced and laborious.
I shut off the engine, fished a flashlight out of the cubby hole and got out to inspect the headlights more closely. Outside, the atmosphere was amazing. The dome of the sky was paved with glittering stars, although they were being washed out considerably by the waxing moonlight. The pine-scent of the all the broken greenery was enhanced by by sap that was more exposed than usual. I played the flashlight beam out into the wilderness revealing the silent chaos of the blow down. I popped the hood of The Killing Machine and began a rather unenthusiatic inspection of the wiring behind the headlights — under the influence of mantra, critical thinking tasks like these are the last thing you want to do. The mantra-state is decidedly nonlinear and creative, whereas working on the wiring of a car is a grounded, linear mode of human reasoning. And I said, at this point I was beginning to feel that I had reached the limit of riding the mantra, and since I was standing in the middle of nowhere on a dirt rode with headlights that needed fixing, I decided that it about time to collapse the experiment — just stopping after all this time was not so easy, however. Think of the momentum of a freight train. One can apply the breaks to a moving train, but it won’t stop on a dime. There’s too much mass and momentum to overcome, and the eventual stop will come after only so much distance is traveled.
I stopped fiddling with the lights and attempted to clear my mind of the mantra. The night had grown very cool and the chill on my face felt welcome and bracing. I craned by neck back and looked directly up at the stars. Even though it was spring, the late hour had already brought up the Summer Triangle — the stars Vega, Altair and Deneb — forming a commanding geometric signature in the sky. Presently, I began to hear something scruffling in the woods nearby. The dry grass was swishing and the branches were crackling — something was obviously approaching my way from the forest. It could have been just about anything, I knew — a wolf, moose, deer, raccoon — but in the dark, when you hear the sounds of something approaching from the woods, and something you can’t see, it’s a spine-tingling, unnerving feeling. You never know what it is — it could be Bigfoot for all you know. Also, one can assume that whatever critter s in the woods, it can probably see you before you see it, and you feel at a disadvantage. When you hear something coming toward you in the night in the woods, one’s imagination automatically kicks in, and you assume that whatever approaches is big, hairy and scary.
Whatever it was kept coming closer — I lifted the flashlight and played it toward the approaching sound — and there not more than 20 feet from me on the other side of the ditch I saw a large, amorphous shape, like a large black blob moving low to the ground, and this blob had a kind of blurry, shifting shadowy aspect as it moved along. It was very strange. What the hell was it? As it moved in and out of the brush, I caught glimpses of it, but my eyes refused to focus on it. I was far more curious that afraid now, so I walked toward it, trying to get a better look. I walked down to the edge of the ditch, which was filled with water from the spring run-off. The blob kept eluding me, moving is what seemed like a vary labored way among the brush and broken logs and branches — but then, finally, it stepped into a clearing and my flashlight beam caught it dead center.
Aha! It was a large porcupine! That explained everything! If you have never seen a porcupine under the glow of moonlight, you have never lived! When a porcupine walks, the quills on it’s back shift, roll and undulate — it gives the creature a very fluid appearance, and thus explains why it looked shapeless and blobby in dim light. This particular critter was probably having a field day here among the blow down — porcupines love to eat tree bark, and there was a lot of it here within easy reach. I watched the porcupine for several minutes, forgetting where I was and what i was doing — I was wondering around in the dark on the side of a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.
Coming to my senses, I turned and looked back — I had walked more than 50 feet from The Killing Machine. I shined my flashlight back toward it. The license plate gleamed unnaturally in the dark, and the rest of The Killing Machine looked like a giant, dark beetle resting in the middle of the road with the patience of a Buddha. As I looked back at The Killing Machine, a word suddenly came into my mind: “Fuse!” Aha! I said to myself. That’s probably why the headlights went out — I probably just blew a fuse. With this realization, I also noticed that I had stopped the mantra. It was a strange feeling, an almost unnatural feeling. It was like getting back on land after a long time on a boat, and you still have your “sea legs” under you. Just as your legs still feel the effects of the sea on dry land, the mind still jitters with the after effects of the mantra, even if you have stopped.
I walked back to The Killing Machine, feeling and hearing the pleasant crunch of gravel beneath my feet. Back in the car, I located a small box of fuses, and after a few minutes of fumbling, replaced the one that regulated the headlights. I’m no great mechanic, but this time I got lucky. I flicked the light switch and the eyes of The Killing Machine blazed to life. I turned the ignition, the engine roared, and I was soon off again — this time free of the mantra, and just feeling slightly fatigued and feeling vaguely apprehensive that my mother would probably be calling out the National Guard because I was so late in getting home.
I followed the lonely gravel road north until it eventually intersected with a black-topped county road. I still had about 2 1/2 hours to drive, and now I just stepped on the gas and let the miles roll by. I was no longer chanting the mantra, but it’s after effects seemed to make that last 175 miles blur by in about 10 minutes. It was about 4 in the morning when I finally turned The Killing Machine up the Main Street of my small home town. I drove past my mother’s small grocery store, which was dark and slumbering on the quite Main Street of Small Town, Anywhere, U.S.A.
In another minute, I was home. Of course, my mother was up, and scolded me for my odd arrival hour, and gave me the whole spiel about “not calling if you’re going to be late” and “worrying her to death,” and “yadda, yadda, yadda.” I was able to cut this expected, and not all-together-unpleasant ritual short by claiming I was dog tired, and before long, I was in my old bedroom, and I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.
I slept until about 10 o’clock the next morning. When I got up, I was delighted to see that my sister was also visiting at my mother’s house, and she had brought along with her two children, aged 2 and 3. As I walked sleepy-eyed into the kitchen, my little three-year-old nephew Monty ran up to me and shouted, “Uncle Ken! Cows eat grass!”
I suppose you all want to know, now, about the message — the curious note placed in a bag of rice which read “a left hand.” As I said, it was more than 20 years after my mantra journey before I finally got an answer as to what this meant. As I also said, I am pretty good at figuring out riddles and puzzles, and over the next 20 years, I thought frequently about what “a left hand” might have meant, if anything it all.
And the truth is, I never really did figure it out — but I did find out what it meant purely by accident and by dint of tremendous coincidence. But was it coincidence, or what it more an example of what the psychologist Carl Jung called “synchronistic?” The whole incident makes me think of what the great writer Hermann Hesse once said: “There are no such things as coincidences.”
Anyway, this is what happened: Some 20 years after my mantra journey, I was working as a VISTA volunteer at a homeless shelter in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Many residents of the shelter were people who were seriously mentally ill, most often with the dreaded brain disease of schizophrenia. One of the residents who was a “regular” and whom I came to know very well was a very large native American man whose forearms were covered with garish gashes and scars — these were healed over self-inflicted wounds from the many times he had tried to kill himself. With the help of a heavy load of medications, this tormented man was able to be somewhat normal sometimes, although his mental health and state of mind was always very precarious.
When I first met this man, he came into my office, sat down and started making small talk. Because he was a Native American, I naturally asked him what his tribal affiliation was. He told me that he was Ojibewa and had grown up in Wahcon, a small town on the shores of Mille Lacs Lake. Hearing that he was from the Mille Lacs area, I naturally told him about the gift of rice I had once received there, and about the strange message that was inside the rice pouch, “a left hand.”
Upon hearing this, the large Indian grinned broadly at me; laughed, and said: “Well, that’s my name, you know. Alvin Left Hand.”