Into the Crystal Palace

Maura McNamara
Nov 11, 2018 · 8 min read

I spent the eve of my 30th birthday in Detroit, in the living room of new friends, floating on cannabis and kratom, and surrounded by mounds of luminous crystals. I had a rose quartz nugget in my hand over my heart, and two huge pieces of something beautiful planted in my lap. And despite being sure that I would never ever find myself indulging in such nonsense, I was talking to them. No, I was praying to them. And they were reaching from the portal of my 31st year on earth, and pulling me through.

A month earlier, just before leaving on a five month trip across country in pursuit of art and healing, a friend bequeathed me with a festival name for the road. “You’re chasing medicine women and plant spirits, huh? Well, you’re Fractal now.”

I protested. Of course five months on the road seeking out earth wisdom would change me, but I anticipated that looking very much like current me, just… stronger, less broken, more grown. I wasn’t going to, like, turn into a totally different person. “I only deserve that name if I come back with dreads,” I said. He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I promise!” I insisted. “I’m not going to turn into one of those woo-woo crystal people.”

“Whatever, Fractal.”

I’ve known for a while now through communion with entheogens that plants want to cooperate with humans. Many, including cannabis, are deeply curious about the human experience and want to dance through the human body and nervous system. Some non-psychoactive plants like dandelions grow everywhere, in the medians of highways and in the cracks of strip mall sidewalks, practically screaming out to be plucked and consumed. Others, like mushrooms (actually a fungi, not a plant), are downright shepherds of the human species and the planet, capable of, as Paul Stamets puts it, “saving the world” from the damage we’ve inflicted by curing endemic diseases, removing parasites, cleansing polluted environments, and rebooting new life forms.

Plants, I got. Rocks, though? Those have taken longer to claim my attention as worthy allies.

One night a few years ago as I lay in my hammock, floating in the twilight of an ayahuasca journey and listening to the plants revel joyously in the rain, I understood deeply that everything is imbued with consciousness: humans and animals and plants of course, but also the land, the earth, minerals themselves. This revelation, while transmitted irrevocably through the direct experience, has been one of the more difficult to bring back to my everyday consciousness and hold with the same knowingness as I did that night. Rocks and minerals as they exist in my daily life have been relegated mostly to the muted realm of the utilitarian, taken for granted as the ground upon which I tread while going somewhere important, as doorknobs and window cranks and silverware, as the gravel stuck in my shoe. But spirits willing and more than capable of relationship?

Nathan and his girlfriend share a minimally furnished apartment, graced in every corner and on almost every surface with museum quality crystal formations. Nathan, who scours the internet and forgotten roadside hippie stands for unique and supercharged pieces, never intended the be one of those people either. He exudes quiet wisdom and speaks with exquisite, calm clarity. Perhaps because of his humility, I instantly trusted him.

I knelt before his coffee table, taking in a row of football sized crystals, intent on understanding their allure, but cautious to presume I might pick up one up and hold it. Nathan’s friends, settling into the room around me, immediately selected a few rocks for themselves, clearly versed in the various spells cast by each, and placed them on their bodies while launching into an animated conversation about THC infused hot sauce.

Nathan appeared from the dining room carrying something toward me. “Hey. Hold this. It’s a heart opener.” He extended a brick of pinkish rock that looked like cured ham and I later learned was morganite.

Heart opener. Of course. I reached out to receive it. “Did the crystal tell you I needed that?”

He smiled. “I could sense it. You can feel more than you can put words or thoughts to.”

I laughed to myself. How composed I thought myself to be. Yet I sensed his ability to x-ray through me and serve up my secrets with loving clarity. I didn’t mind.

As he settled in and we talked, Nathan told me that his dad had died a few years earlier and he had completely lost himself in an ocean of grief. His usual practices became powerless to ground him in the purpose of life as he’d known it, and his experience of the world darkened into dysphoria.

In the uncanny way so many of us stagger into the light, he came to crystals as a kind of desperate last resort. He’d parked at the bowling alley one day to meet friends and found himself inexplicably drawn into the crystal shop next door, where he became attached to an irrationally expensive piece of fire opal, thinking well, what the hell, ok. Typical crystal shop sucker. And yet…

“Crystals saved my life. The trauma I experienced around losing my dad was so enormous, I just shut everything off. No one around me knew what to do. The crystals were the first things that asked me, ‘How is your heart stuck? How is it not flowing as it once did?’

“I’m a triple Libra,” he said. “Part of my journey is to learn how to love completely without being vulnerable to damage. A lot of people don’t even have the capacity to open their heart up enough to be betrayed. It’s a good sign.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

As Nathan talked, I felt my body softening. It was like I suddenly dropped some armor I hadn’t even realized that I’d picked up in the melee somewhere along the road. The prayer that I’d been chanting regularly to please not let pain change me, to please keep my heart soft, suddenly came charging through my body, and negative space opened in my chest like a sigh. Whether it was the power of Nathan’s acknowledgment that gave me permission to dismantle, or the crystal in my hand offering me an energetic release valve, I leaned into the relief. Thank you, I transmitted to both Nathan and the crystal. I accept this communion, and I don’t need to understand it.

“You’ve been betrayed, or you’ve suffered loss,” Nathan said quietly. ”Whatever it is, in the process of living life, we open to experiences that wound us. These crystals can show you that it’s safe to be vulnerable again, that you have taken the lessons you’ve learned through past experiences, and you know how to do this.

“They taught me that I’m strong enough to meet life. So now, when something out there whacks me up the side of the head, and I’m like, ‘It’s dangerous out there! Hell yeah I’m closing off!’ The crystals remind me, ‘Hey! You can do this. Open up. You’re wasting your existence by not letting experience in. Don’t wait another moment to face what’s happening!’

“Here. Just spend some time with these.” Nathan passed several more beautiful formations to me. “Crystals are like a group of friends. Every one offers a different perspective and if you ask them for help, they will apply their particular wisdom to your situation.”

I sat with the crystals for a long time that night as we wove through conversation. I was mostly happy to sit still and quiet, letting the warmth of these old friends circulate a comforting hum in the room around me. My gratitude for belonging there was immense. Worthy of their kindness just for being there and so relieved to be able to receive it.

Reality as we experience it is created by our minds and manifested by our language, and most of us spend a lot of time living in what Terence McKenna refers to as a “shared hallucination.” But there are as many possible expressions of reality as there are imaginations, and it is our opportunity and responsibility as human incarnates to question the confines of default communal structures and make our own meaning. As I’ve opened myself to realms beyond the rational and the describable, trading in the rigid comfort of certainty for the wild ocean of possibility, I’ve found myself in relationships with people and ideas that I once resisted and even scorned.

When I cling to judgment, it is because I fear that I will be weak, like a leaf battered about by whatever winds came along to sweep me up. Identity-less. But I continually learn that it is a relief to stop judging. To trust my own sacred experience in each moment and so to carry with me nothing I must defend against another’s paradigm. When I lay down my desire to analyze experience intellectually, I discover the beautiful possibility of receiving another’s beliefs, their reality — their hallucination — as a gift.

Indeed, it is a sweet treasure to be welcomed into someone else’s universe, to humbly walk through the corridors of their palace. Oh so you decided to paint this enormous mural over the stairs here! Look at that exquisite mosaic. I didn’t know you could arrange a broken vase in such a way! To marvel at this belief here, feel the ragged edges of that nagging wound, touch the intricate tool they acquired in that old battle. This is the library at which I come to learn: the sacred paths that others have walked so that I can walk a different one. The pains we carry for each other, the ecstasies. All the wisdom we ever need that already dwells within us. In the communal pulse of life lived, of survival sown.

So maybe I am one of those people now. Maybe I’m woo-woo. Hey, I’m Fractal. If this is what that means, I don’t mind like I thought I would. I want to live in a universe where a man’s life is saved by crystals. That kind of magical story makes my life more wild, more lush, more worth tending. I want to live in a shared hallucination, but one where we all agree to throw open the doors of our palaces when we see each other tired and broken, where we offer each other a spot at the hearth where we have healed our own wounds, where it is safe to lay down our armor. Where we are not afraid to show each other our sacred places and we tread with devotion and love in each other’s lands. Where we aren’t shy about handing someone a crystal and we aren’t shy to accept it.

As we said our goodbyes and I stepped out into the night, a chip of rose quartz in my pocket, Nathan suddenly called to me from the door. “Hey! Don’t be afraid. Wherever you go, pollen flies off of you and it seeds beautiful things.”

A choke of tenderness caught in my throat, and I half fell back off the curb into the darkness. “Thank you,” I called back. Thank you for saving my life a little bit tonight, too.

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