Shift 39: Akhilandeshvari


Turns out, it wasn’t some weird spiritual experience. It was the onset of illness. I got really, really sick.

I slept all the time. I didn’t feel like eating and I could barely get myself to drink water. I felt like my body was shutting down. I wasn’t really in pain, and I wasn’t even really all that uncomfortable. It was a weirdly pleasant sensation, like rising up through flames and floating on ash. I guess I was sort of delirious.

I started thinking about what a pleasant experience it would be to die. Leaving my body. My body felt so tired. I could circle my thighs with my hands. I was disappearing. I wasn’t sure I minded. In fact, I think I liked it.

At one point, I woke up and got a glass of orange juice. It really, really hurt to drink it.


But I drank it anyway.

And then I poured myself another glass.

And I drank it.

My throat was raging.

My muscles ached.

I was so uncomfortable.

But I wasn’t dying, and that pleasant seduction had left me, and I felt like I was going to be OK, if I could only drink another glass of orange juice, a glass of water, and maybe a cup of tea. I was alive.


Then Ted came home.


He wrapped me in a hug and tucked me back into bed.

“You don’t look so great, Starshine,” he said.

I slept some more, and when I woke, I found a glass of water and herbal tea on the nightstand.

Ted was in the kitchen.

“I think you’ll live!” he said.

I told him I had no idea what had been wrong with me.


He asked me how the year had been. I told him about training and racing and studying and doing everything to get a verbal, and then how the coach at USM gave me my verbal commitment and how now I knew I could go to college year after next, provided I stayed fit and kept up my grades.

And then, I realized that I’d lost so much strength during my illness.

“But I guess it won’t happen now,” I said. “I’m pretty well shattered.”


“You may be broken,” he said, “but you’re not shattered.”

“I don’t have any strength left,” I said.

“You’ve been pushing yourself too hard. Anybody would get ill if they pushed themselves like you did. It’s a breakdown, but it’s not the end.”

And then he told me a story.


“Have you ever heard of Akhilandeshvari?”

Of course I hadn’t.

“The name ‘Akhilan’ means ‘never not broken,’ and ‘deshvari’ means goddess. Akhilandeshvari is the goddess who is never not broken.”


“And truthfully,” he said, “if you look at any of us, is there ever a time when any of us are not broken, are truly, completely whole?”

“I’m always striving for wholeness,” I said.

“What if you didn’t strive?” he asked.


“Then I’d remain broken,” I replied.

“Exactly.” He continued with his story. “Now time was when Akhilandeshvari was a very angry god. You know, she was the type that if you didn’t come ‘just so’ she would curse you! And so people were afraid to worship her. All except the really driven people. They came in droves, for it was said that a blessing from Akhilandeshvari, whose name also means ‘Goddess who Rules the Universe,’ was sure to guarantee success.”

“What kind of success?”

“Any success. It’s Akhilandeshvari who I worshiped when I worked on Wall Street, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Oh, she was an angry goddess, and nothing anyone could ever do was ever good enough for her!

“But then one day, her beloved Shiva came in the form of a worshiper and gave her a pair of earrings. They were like multifaceted crystals. And it’s said that then all her anger blasted through the earrings and blasted through her and blasted her into a million pieces! And that’s when the light shone through her so brightly. She became the brightest Starshine on the planet.”


The next day, I felt well enough to go outside. But I didn’t feel like training.

I hung out in the garden with Ted, and the sun shone.


I carved another dragon.

“I’ll go running after this,” I told Ted.

“What for?” he asked. “Aren’t you wearing your crystal earrings? Slow down. Shine. That’s all you need to do.”


I didn’t train once for the rest of the summer. I spent the days in the sun. I slept. I let my mind daydream. I stood cupped in the palm of the meadow, with the fingers of mountains gently open all around me, and the sunshine streaming down. Oh, I was broken, all right! I was broken into a million pieces, and the light inside and the light outside were one.


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Shift 24: Dragon


“So what do you believe in?” I asked Ted.

“Doing,” he replied. “And doing things well. There’s such a thing as Energy. And if you do things in the right spirit, you build capacity for it. There’s such a thing as Power. And with enough Energy, you can hear Power speak.”

I don’t know what he means.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“I’m just carving something,” I replied.

“Are you putting your best into it?” he asked.


“Yeah,” I said.


And I realized that was true. When I do something in the best way I can, I get this feeling that I really like.

I notice it when I’m running.

It’s like something clicks. All the extra thoughts or sensations stop, and all I’ve got is attention with what I’m doing. It’s like the gears are engaged.


I felt that way while I was carving the dragon.

It didn’t turn out perfect. The wings are a little jaggedy and the head looks kinda blocky.

But it has a certain something to it that I like.


I like the way I feel when I look at it.

I think it’s my Totem or something. My Patronus. I’m gonna leave it here with Ted so that when I go back at the end of the summer, I still feel like part of me is here, and I can draw on the feelings I have when I’m up here.


“So what do you think, Little Starshine?” Ted asked.

“About what?” I replied.


I asked him how he liked the dragon.


“It’s impeccable,” he replied. “It’s got Power.”

He told me a story about one of the last trades he’d made on Wall Street, before he packed it all in. He said that he’d known when he woke up that morning that this trade would go through, and that it would bring in enough money to set up his kids and his wife. He’d dreamed the trade. But then, trading stopped on Wall Street due to a technical glitch, and when it reopened, the timing had shifted in such a way that the trade he’d planned was bust. He hadn’t made it. He made a different one, instead, and it worked. It didn’t make millions, but it made enough that the next one he made with the profits did make millions, and the delay just happened to give his wife time to realize that she wanted to divorce him, so with the profits, he was able to give her a settlement, give his kids enough for college, and take off to live up here.

“But wasn’t that the working of the universe?” I asked him.

“That was Power,” he said.


My mind rested while I slept. It doesn’t matter what we call it, I realized. He has a different term for what I was calling “the universe.”


Maybe what we call something doesn’t matter, I decided when I woke up. Some people call it “God.” Others, “the Universe” or “Destiny.” Ted calls it “Power.”

I could call it “the Dragon.” It doesn’t fricking matter.


I found Ted in the garden and told him my discovery that the term doesn’t matter.


“But the term does matter,” he said. “We need to call things by their rightful names. There is Energy in a name, Starshine.”

“I’m so confused,” I told him.

“That’s OK,” he said. “You don’t have to have it all figured out at fifteen.”

“But I’ll be sixteen in a few weeks,” I said.

“Oh! In that case,” he replied, “we’d better start buildingĀ our lexicon!”


We spent the afternoon harvesting wild herbs, and for each one, I learned two names, the common name and the Latin one, and I learned two purposes, the medicinal and the magical.

I didn’t see what this had to do with building my lexicon, but I became so engrossed in the learning that I didn’t care. I’m beginning to think that my interest and skills lie in the practical, rather than the mystical.

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Shift 15: Wildcraft

Ted got home the morning after my birthday. I found him sitting at the kitchen table, having eaten two pieces of cake. He said he liked the strawberries.


I had woken up with cramps. I didn’t want any cake.


I went outside and lay on my belly on a granite slab that had been baking in the sun all morning. The warmth felt good.

I thought about what I’d learned last night. Cramps aren’t personal. They’re part of being in a female body.

The warmth of the rock soaked through me.

As I stopped resisting, the pain shifted to discomfort. Pretty soon, it felt like heaviness or fullness. That was all.

I still had an icky stomach, though.

When I got back to the cabin, Ted fixed me a cup of tea.

After I drank it, my stomach felt settled, and I felt good enough to eat my two slices of cake.

“What was in that tea?” I asked Ted.

“Black cohosh, white willow bark, and wintergreen,” he said. “Good for when the dreams in you are full and need release.”

“How did you learn about this?” I asked him.

He handed me a wildcrafting book.


The information in that book excited me. It’s just like I thought! The universe really is our grandmother. We have here everything we need for our health and well-being, growing right outside our homes, in the wild green places.

I asked Ted if I could live with him, forever. For good. I feel safe here. I want to stay and learn wildcrafting. I want to be here where I hear the wilderness’s whispers when I walk outside the door. I want to stay where I’m cared for.

He said I couldn’t. I had to go back into the world.

“You can take refuge here,” he said. “But you can’t stay.”

“But you stay,” I said. “If you stay, I can. It’s not fair.”

He explained that he hadn’t always lived here. He’d had a wife and kids. He worked on fricking Wall Street. He was part of the world, before he left it.

I thought about his words while I carved the wood.


“You can’t drop out before you’ve dropped in,” he said. “Your life hasn’t yet begun. Sure, you’ve had some challenges. And your life hasn’t taken a typical course. You don’t know it yet, but that’s your gift. That’s your grace. You stay here, and you’ll never know that. You’ll never take that grace and share it.”

He told me I had to go back first, so that I could see if what I learned could stand the test of the world of people. If I could integrate what I knew into daily life, then I’d learned it. If not, then it was merely the first knocking of the spirit.

“Let’s see if you’ve got what it takes,” he said. “See if you can go back and keep what’s been given you. Don’t let that world rob you of it. You do that, and then maybe the world will discover that you, Little Starshine of the Universe, has something incredible to offer back.”

He made it sound important, going back. He made it seem like it was part of my path. Plus, he said I could come back next summer and spend the whole summer up here.


The last day, before I left, I couldn’t figure out how to thank him.

I thought back to who I was before I came up here, how I felt like I was just a kid struggling to find a place, and now and then, I had a hope that maybe I belonged in the big scheme of things, but that I always treated that hope like it was a little kid’s dream or wish. I thought my ideas about the universe being our grandmother was make-believe, and I let myself make-believe it because I was so alone, and that little piece of imagination was the only thing that kept me going, the only thing I could cling to when things were the toughest.

And now, I don’t think it’s make-believe.

Now I’ve felt that it’s true. The Universe is our Grandmother. And we’re all cousins. And it’s both personal and not personal, all at the same time. And I don’t have to make up my mind and I can be everything.

“Thanks, Ted,” I said. “I can see why Deon loves you.”


He wrapped me in a big hug.

“Do you know what love is?” he asked. I said no.

“Better than peanut butter,” he replied.


“So, come back next summer,” he said, “and I’ll teach you wildcrafting. If you want to learn, that is.”

I do!

He said he would be interested in hearing all about my year at school and what it’s like for me to come back to the world of people after living here, in the real world.


I gained a home, that’s what I realized when I hiked back to where Deon was going to meet me. You can think of it as being a place. But it’s not an actual physical place. Or if it is, it’s too vast to fit inside of any one thing, and it has to fit through and around everything. That’s where home is. And I’m taking it with me now when I head back to the people world.

But there’s one sure thing I decided on my hike back, I might be returning to the people world, but I wasn’t going back to Oasis Springs. There’s no way I was going to be that kid they call Stink at Oasis Springs High. I don’t know where I’ll stay or what school I’ll be in, but I won’t be at that school where they called me Stink.

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