Phil felt the bonds around his hands as terror gripped him with a taste of surreal vanilla. The crowd was forming. There were about two hundred and fifty in the colony and about fifty were already there. The wooden stake gave him the posture he always lacked in his natural gait.
As the wood was being stacked around him, he practiced Tonglen.
He breathed in his fear of the ordeal he was about to face and then on his exhale, he breathed out all the bliss he could muster. He did this over and over with each breath.
After a few minutes, he thought about others he knew who suffered under fire. He breathed in their suffering from the flames of ignorance and then breathed out all his bliss with each breath to visualize healing that pain.
Then he imagined all the humans in all the universes who went through this and the whole ranges of emotion they felt. He breathed their suffering from the flames and then breathed out as much compassion and bliss as he could.
And then he breathed in every being’s suffering that was ever burned alive. And then he exhaled all the joy and kindness and wish for freedom he could. Over. And. Over.
It helped him realize that there was no hope. But that is it’s own kind of comfort. Knowing there is no way out. Knowing that facing raw manic cruelty in sheer terror is really okay. But he also knew it would end. It would not be forever.
And then as the crowd gathered, a man with very expensive clothes and a really tacky, overpriced headpiece declared.
“After this fire this heretic will burn in hell forever!”
Phil laughed. “You have NO IDEA what a hell is,” he said. “After you’ve emptied a few of them then you kind of get an idea.”
“Oo! Scary. What are you going to do? Tie me to a stake and burn me?”
In the crowd was a woman of 35 years with gray hair. Next to her was her sister wife, a young pregnant woman of fourteen who wore an eight pointed star around her neck. They held hands.
He looked at the men as they began to light the pyre. He looked at the grimmest one as he began his final words.
“Oh you HIGHER men …” he said mockingly. My friend Zarathustra LEFT the likes of you in his cave! Have you been to Zarathustra’s cave? Let me tell you, you have not! Nor are you worthy of it.”
He switched to his theater voice.
“You HIGHER men … the WORST thing in you is that you have, none of you, learned to dance as you ought to dance — to dance beyond yourselves!”
He felt the warmth coming up from the flames. It was soft and comforting in a way. He looked up to the sky at a constellation shaped like an eight pointed compass. “How appropriate” he thought. Then he looked over the horizon to the planet Dendicon. He then screamed to the air the rest of the Zarathustra quote.
“WHAT DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU HAVE FAILED? ….”
Phill paused and looked at their leader as the fire began to rise.
His body tensed in fear. He tried to relax it. But it tensed again. He raised his voice one more time before the shock of self-immolation began. He directed his quote to the two women but changed all masculine references to feminine …
“How many things are still possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, you good dancers, high! higher! And do not forget the good laughter! This crown of laughter, this rose-garland crown: to YOU, my SISTERS, do I cast this crown! Laughing have I consecrated: You HIGHER WOMEN, learn, I pray you — to laugh! ”
The leader scoffed out a twisted laugh. But then a chill cut through his arrogance.
It cut through the night like a spinning pulsar. It came from depths, melding with his sheer terror and transcended reality itself.
Everyones’ face knew this laugh was the truth of the Universe. The never-finished truth. The unattainable truth. Truth without hope OR fear.
Phil stopped laughing and went back to Tonglen, he breathed in his terror and breathed out liberating laughter. Each laugh grew higher, better, and freer. But in the end, he was breathing in suffering and breathing out madness.
Liberated madness. CHOSEN madness.
He laughed even as the flames first licked his calves. The tonglen practice gave him that gift. And for it he was grateful. But then …
His body shook and writhed and his soul laughed its last at its schism began.
The flames took him as everyone watched him writhe in agony.
The two women stared at their husband. The older one with her gray hair shining and blowing in the wind. The younger one grasping her eight point pendant. The oldest whispered to you younger.
“Our husband is evil and I’m sorry I brought your life into his.”
Her sister wife whispered back.
“Let’s leave NOW mom. Let’s go back to our real home.”
They left the pyre early. Planned their escape. And in thirteen days, they were both out of the compound forever.
*** "Ye higher men, the worst thing in you is that ye have none of you learned to dance as ye ought to dance to dance beyond yourselves! What doth it matter that ye have failed! How many things are still possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, ye good dancers, high! higher! And do not forget the good laughter! This crown of the laughter, this rose-garland crown: to you, my brethren, do I cast this crown! Laughing hath I consecrated; ye higher men, learn, I pray you to laugh!"