Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Path

Approximately two days before the beginning of eternity and at least five kilometers past the far edges of infinity, there once lived a wise old coot. Now before you roll your eyes and say that's impossible, let me assure you that he was, in fact, wise. There is documented evidence in existence, although i admit i haven't seen it.

The story as i heard it is that early one morning, just as the temperatures started to climb, the old man woke from an amazing dream to find that his head had exploded during the night. The part of this predicament that he found amusing was that he didn't really care. As hard as it was for him to imagine, he just wasn't bothered in the least. Fine, no head, he thought in passing, as he got up and put away the branches and leaves he had slept under.

Luckily for him, his morning rituals were so completely ingrained that he didn't have to have a head to remember what to do or how to do it. So, without a thought, he faced the sun, pressed his hands together in thanks for another day, chanted "the" verse until he disappeared, and began his daily pilgrimage around the lone grain of sand lying in the center of the clearing. It didn't take long to make one circle around, but he would continue, around and around, until the sun had risen high enough for the shadows to disappear and the heat of the sun to warm his skin.

It was during these daily circumambulations that he felt most alive, energized and full of life. He had come to worship this grain of sand for it's ability to transport him completely beyond time and space, completely beyond existence, completely beyond "beyond," with the implied limits that come with that comparison to "here." In this place beyond limits he simply was. Step. Breath. Step. Breath. Step. Breath. Step. Breath. No more than that. No less than that. Life reduced to the simplest of simplicities mysteriously expanded being to the unimaginable and inexplicable.

When had he first learned this? How had he stumbled on it? This one grain of sand — how had it become the focus of his life?

As his skin began to warm, later that morning, he slowly began to reappear. With sweat dripping from every pore of his body he left the center of the clearing and sat in the shade of a tree to eat a little and drink as much as his body would hold. The next session would be harder, it always was, and he would need the liquids to fight off the heat from the rising sun. But even though it was harder, the second session of the day was always the most fruitful, taking him so deep into the circle that he became that grain of sand.

He remembered the first time he had come across the clearing those many, many decades ago. While resting under this very same tree, he noticed what appeared to be a well trod path in the shape of a very small circle right in the middle of the clearing. Odd, he thought to himself, as he got up to investigate. The path had obviously been walked often and the earth was packed rock hard all the way around. But, it couldn't be more than seven or eight steps in all each time around. What could it possibly be? Who could have possibly made it? For what reason?

Without even thinking about it he made his first trip around the path right then and there, but it wasn't until years later that he first noticed the grain of sand.

For the first few days after he stumbled onto this strange path, he wasn't really sure what he was doing. It turned out to be exactly seven steps, heel to toe, around the path, and to do that he had to walk slower then he ever thought possible. But for reasons he didn't understand, he was compelled to continue, hour after hour, day after day. Typically he would walk for a few hours and then rest in the shade of one of the large trees on the edge of the clearing. Then, after a break he went back and walked some more — always hoping the the reason (or reasons) for the path's existence would become clear.

One thing soon became obvious to him, even if it wasn't why the path was there. During his late afternoon walks, he began to notice that his mind was much quieter, almost calmer, than it was when he began his walks first thing in the morning. When he first noticed that, he was shocked. It had never occurred to him how busy his mind had always been. But, now that he noticed the short periods of silence, it made the morning periods feel like feeding time in the monkey cage at a zoo. And as the periods of calm lengthened and became more numerous, he started to grow very attached to them. Very, very attached. So much so that he soon couldn't imagine doing anything with his day other than walking around and around and around his path.

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, he settled into a routine and his ability to maintain long hours of silence grew.

not finished yet...