I emerge from the mouth of a snake. I see the eyes of a corpse roll to the back of its head, its skin and flesh pulled upwards from its feet and skull. I sit on a rock in prostration where the snake had been and feel my own skin and flesh pulled from me like a cloth over my head. A beaked entity stretches my skin like a hide across a frame and scrapes it raw with its talons.
I sit as a skeleton on the rock, then fall backwards out of myself as a new body. I make jewelry from the fingers and hands and wear them across my breasts and place the skull atop my own head. I gather the bones and throw them into a fire before the rock, lighting up the cave that I now stand within.
I dance, and as I dance, bone-deep cuts appear on my upper arms and ankles, like bands so cleanly cut that no blood pours out. I feel my flesh once again be pulled from myself, this time not as a singular piece, but in solid chunks, like one pulling meat from a bone. First my arms, then my legs, then my torso, and finally my skull. Standing as a bare skeleton, I step into the fire and sit in the embers, allowing the fire to consume my bones, turning them black and crushing them into ash.
The fire dies and I emerge from the ashes crawling toward the mouth of the cave. I pull myself through into a mist covered charnel ground. I have been here before. It is flanked by two mountain peaks; the ground is cold and made of ash and bone.
I stumble like a newborn animal across the stretch of the grounds to the edge of the cliff where a man in plain brown robes stands. He turns to face me and I see a face that I recognize but cannot name. He has black hair that pulls backward and down his neck, he has a mustache which falls on either side of his mouth, with a small bristled beard beneath. His forehead slopes slightly forward, giving his features an overall mask-like form. He pulls me forward and throws me through the air.
I soar through the mist and into a dense and green forest. I sail through it as though it is merely a passageway, emerging into open air on the other side. I fly through the clouds high in the mountains, everything is grey, cold, and crisp.
I see the clouds part, revealing a sanctuary built into the side of a peak with gravel and rock just beneath it. I land and stare up at what appears to be a deserted place. It is well decorated, but faded, empty and yet echoing a life that once lived within its walls.
I turn to find the man in the brown robe behind me grinning that mask-like grin. He holds his arm out to the sanctuary, closes his fist and pulls his arm down through the air, subsequently demolishing the building off the face of the mountain.
I stare at him as though in asking why. He sits on the gravel and I sit across from him. Without his lips moving, he explains that a building, no matter how holy, is like a body. And that a body, no matter its existence, is holy. But the two are alike most in that they house, they are containers, and therefore are subsequently empty in their nature. Without the light within, a building is nothing more than a shell. Without the essence within, a body is nothing more than a shell.
He removes his face to reveal a red, gold, and black wrathful one beneath, continuing to grin. Then removes this to reveal a tangled and writhing creature of pain, disease, and suffering, its bright green eyes rolling in agony. I reach forward to help, asking what I can do to relieve its pain. The tentacles writhe and fly toward me as though to attach themselves. A voice from within says that I must learn to act in compassion without becoming part of the suffering itself. It will attach like a leech, feeding the internal agony of the one, while feasting upon and depleting the other.
I straighten my back and return to the writhing creature, mindful of presenting compassion without opening myself as a vessel to be ingested, or to ingest in turn. The tentacles writhe manically across my chest and shoulders, seeking to latch on but to no avail.
I lean back into a seated position and the creature is pulled out of the robes, vanishing in the air and revealing the first face once again. This one does not seem like a mask, but like skin and bones.
He smiles at me, no longer grinning.
Emptiness, he says, is an existence. It, like air, can be contained, but does not have to become the container. Like the sanctuary had once been a grand display of accomplishment, it was nothing more than a container for something of a formless nature. Life and purpose moved through the building like air through the lungs. Always present, yet always changing and in constant movement. It is not stagnant, and to become stagnant is to become contained. With containment comes comfort, and in this comfort you can rot without knowing.
It is natural to be in one form, and then to not. It does not mean there is no existence, only that existence in and of itself is boundless. To be free to move in and out, one must understand the nature of the shackles which bind them and hold them enclosed. Existence is not meant to be sealed, but it gains great benefit from being formed, and it is in these forms that action, benefit, and compassion can be transmitted. Without form, you are existence.
He reaches to the top of his head which the skull meets, and in one swift motion splits his body into two, each side falling away like the shells of an egg, revealing nothingness. The robes pile before me and the body becomes ash, spreading itself across the ground. The wind pulls me to my feet and sends me flying back through the clouds and I awake in bed.