Messenger Chapter Seven

P A R T   T W O

Another World

August, 1979

 

 

 

Chapter Seven.

Experience

My room — my cell — has one window, facing south. In daytime I see the mountain, but at night the mountain is only a finger pointing to the moon. And it is the moon that I see in my imagination, by day as well as night: The moon, full silver, giving itself a halo of deep blue against the black sky, sailing clear and calm, unmoved by the tragedy and farce below.

At this great height, air is thin. Nights obscured by snowstorms are rare; cloud cover so thick as to block out the moon is scarcely less so. In the many years I have been here, I cannot recall a night whose moon was lost to cloud cover. At most, I have seen layers of cloud illumined from behind, great uneven porous blankets of grey, shining into one halo of light. But mostly the nights are clear with the light of the moon in its phases.

Our discipline requires monks to rise at 2 a.m., but I long ago accustomed myself to rise before that—at about 12:30 or so, I suppose, though I have no clock by which to measure—so that I could meditate without stealing time from prayer. I could take time from daylight hours, but the buildings are never so silent—so death‑still—as just before the beginnings of our day.

Mr. Conway knows, of course. He explicitly gave permission years ago, saying he thought it a very good practice. “But what impulse brings you to ask my permission for an action performed entirely within your own room?”

“I just thought it would be better.”

The Conway smile, wry and affectionate. “But why today? You’ve done this 17 months at least.”

And so I had, though I’d told no one. How had he known? Well, how did he know anything? Had he not known everything important since I’d dropped in on them?

If he had objected to my midnight meditations, I would have had to give them up, even if he never said another word. Voluntary obedience is given freely or not at all. But I would have missed them sorely. Even on nights of the new moon, my awareness of the moon’s presence overcame my inability to see it.

Nobody can look the sun in the eye, and the stars are (seemingly) too remote to call forth from me a sense of personal relation. But the moon, which is so much closer, so obviously a silent, solitary traveller, I know like a friend. This same moon, passing beyond the mountain that lies opposite the mountain on which I and the rest of the monastery perch, looks down also on those other parts of the Earth that I can see no more. My mother, if she is still alive, looks up at the moon, perhaps. My father and brothers and cousins—whoever are still alive—they may see it hanging over the fields as they make their way home from a long afternoon’s hunting; or they may see it shining pale in the early morning, before fuller daylight fades it away. Except for the sun (which nobody can gaze at) and the stars (so seemingly remote), the moon is the last bit of human life my family and I still share, a last reminder that we still live on the same planet. At least, that’s one way of seeing it.

But even this link, frail as it is through distance and muteness, is but a one‑way link. I look up at the silent silver circle, or oval, or semi‑circle, or sickle, and know that others of my family half a world away may perhaps have looked up at it a few hours before. Or maybe not. It is a matter of probabilities. But they, looking up at the moon, almost certainly do not think of me. Even a mother, whose love never allows her to forget a child however long after its death, has no particular reason to associate that child with the moon when she has no reason to suspect that the child is still alive to see it.

 

But then—and it is sometimes hard to remember—neither my family nor most folks back “in civilization” spend much time looking at the moon. Too many alternatives competing for attention. I was—how old?—20 at least, before I fully realized that the moon rises and sets, that it regularly changes course across the sky, that its very size alters with time, now seemingly nearer, now farther away. As a boy I thought of the moon, when I did think of it, as I saw it on the calendar: full moon, quarter‑moon, new moon. That a new moon couldn’t be seen, that there were other clear‑cut phases such as crescent or gibbous, that the moon appears in daylight not seldom but often, I was never told and never observed. My father’s farm was on the outskirts of a city of 35,000, and so we lived (not knowing the difference) with the constant nighttime phenomenon of skyglow: background light reflecting from streetlights and electric signs and the lights of houses. We never saw the stars clearly, though we did not realize it. But the moon was there. Why did we pay so little attention to the moon?

Useless rhetorical question, that: Why not ask why we paid so little attention to so much of the world around us?

My father, for instance, had grown up closer to the natural world than I did. He had fed farm animals; as a child had plowed with horses; as a boy had had to keep the family firebox filled with firewood as one of his chores. His own father all of his life planted according to the light and dark of the moon. You’d think my father would have been instinctively aware of his ties to the land, which means close to the weather, which means close to the elements, which means, as well, close to the sun and moon.

But he wanted to be modern, as his father was not modern, and so he put his faith in fertilizers and handbooks. Tractors and television and modern life in general took him—took all of us—a long way from the rhythms underlying the world. And it was only God’s grace, certainly no will of mine, that brought me here and relieved me of everything I knew.

 

2

 

What drove me to begin writing this was the sudden, disruptive presence of our new guest. Mr. Conway and Mr. Barnard have delegated me to deal with him, for the very good reason that I am (a) the youngest here, and (b) like Mr. Dennis Corbin, an American and a pilot. I am, therefore, presumed to be the person who will seem least strange and threatening to Corbin (and also, I suspect, I am presumed to be the person least likely to be disturbed by his company). I cannot fault the logic, and certainly they have a lot more experience than I in such matters, but already the negatives are considerable.

For one thing, the mere presence of an outsider—someone who, just a few weeks ago, was in the world beyond the altiplano—has kicked up memories, and with them feelings and hungers, long dormant. He mentions that he’d once been stationed in Dover, Delaware—sending my mind caroming from thought to thought. Delaware, across the river from New Jersey and Vineland. . .the farm. . .canoeing on the Maurice and Cohansey Rivers with my friend Ed. . .or riding around the back roads in his pickup, looking for deer. . .making our way in a skiff, looking for eagles’ nests in the swamp country south of Dividing Creek. . .tramping through the woods with my younger brother Tommy one brilliant fall day. . .Thanksgiving dinners at Grandmom Napoli’s house, back in the years before she got sick and died. . .her children and their husbands and wives. . .13 young cousins around the long holiday tables joined end to end and extended through the dining room into the front hall. . .Fourth‑of‑July get‑togethers on outdoor grills. . .one particular fourth when it rained and we moved the cookout inside Grandmom’s garage. . .the almost forgotten taste of hamburgers and hot dogs and marshmallows. . .joining the crowds at the football stadium when the time came for the fireworks. . .birthday parties with cousins from both sides. . .Grandmom Chiari’s farmhouse kitchen and the cookie jar in her pantry, always full. . .anise cookies. . .knot cookies. . .Grandmom pressing cookies on you as though they were something that was good for you but you didn’t eat enough of. . . .

And as I sit here mentioning the memories that came back, others press in on me, like the day (it must have been in the spring of 1947, because I was already 10 but not yet 11) when I first got to drive the tractor for real. Dad and my older brother Angelo sat on the planter behind the tractor, putting in tomato transplants, and I guided the tractor at a constant slow speed down the row, feeling very responsible and very grown up. At the end of every row, I’d put in the clutch and take it out of gear and Angelo would climb up, raise the planter, turn the tractor into the next row, lower the planter, take the tractor out of gear again, re‑seat himself on the planter next to dad, and pick up another clump of transplants. Dad would give the word and off we’d go down another row. Without me Angelo would have had to drive and dad would have had to put in both rows at once. It would have been a lot slower. So I knew I’d been a genuine help, and went home feeling like I’d passed an initiation of sorts, not that I knew anything of such concepts at the time.

Well, there you are: One memory leads to another, and they flood in stronger than the life around me. They are all alive within me—clearer, in some ways, than when I lived among them, but, as Yeats said in another context, all changed, changed utterly. The passage of years is water flowing over stone, eroding all feelings, whether good, bad, sharp, sweet, until finally only memories survive. Some we alter deliberately, others unconsciously. The most painful are remembered only as memories of memories, toned down, muted, until tolerable.

And everything Dennis Corbin says triggers another cascade of memories and associations. Not his fault, but his doing. I wouldn’t say I’d been repressing all these memories, but certainly they weren’t an active part of my present life.

They are active now.

Portions of my life I’d mostly forgotten; connections I’d never made; details I’d never consciously noted. It throws me off‑balance.

And then too, although Dennis Corbin is 16 years younger than I am, and comes from Southern California—which you’d think would give us about as much in common as if he’d arrived straight from Mars—he and I seem to instinctively understand each other.

Well, no, that’s not even close to being right. He doesn’t begin to understand me, any more than he could understand anyone here. For one thing, he thinks I’m near his age, because, since I was 26 when I came here in 1962, that’s how old I look now. (How am I supposed to explain that to him? With time, I suppose.)

Still, we do have surprising amounts in common. We’re countrymen (paisans, my father would say) and that’s the same common bond I have with Mr. Barnard, even though his America was of another era. Somehow countrymen come out of a shared experience that leads them to see the world a little differently. Mr. Conway and Mr. Herrick, as Englishmen, sense the same thing between themselves, I’m sure.

Being ex‑flyers (though Corbin probably doesn’t yet realize that he’s “ex‑”) is another bond, as is military service, which is something I share with Mr. Conway and not with Mr. Barnard, even though Mr. Conway’s service was in wartime and mine wasn’t.

But of course the most profound experience—this time and place, inner and outer—I cannot even hint at, now or for some time to come.

.3.

 

God opened a door, and I, after some hesitation, walked through. And as I sit here on the other side of that door, writing—a brilliant serene quarter‑moon outside lighting the sky and the face of Karakal—I realize how difficult it will be to describe this new place I’ve come to.

Even to recreate the sequence of events that led me here is difficult enough. As my attention was redirected inward, external events came to mean less and less, and I kept no record. I suppose I could talk to Mr. Conway, and to Sunnie, and to certain others, to refresh my memory, but I find myself reluctant to do that. The facts that will prove most relevant will be those that call attention to themselves—else others would.

And now I suppose my constant arguments with Corbin—here five weeks now, though it seems like more—are beginning to spill onto these pages. For I am very much aware, from dealing with that stubborn and unresponsive person, how very little sympathy my present way of understanding life would receive in the world outside. Although I too once believed in “luck” and “chance” and “accident”—to an extent I’d nearly forgotten until Mr. Conway set me to writing this long memoir—still there was a difference between the way I saw the world then and the way Dennis Corbin, and presumably his generation, sees it now.

In practice I saw the world through materialist eyes, it’s true, but still, my Catholic childhood had left me a  watertight mental compartment in which I retained an idea of God, and prayer, and a hidden dimension to life. I believed in science and technology and Progress—yet I retained an innate skepticism inherited from generations of Italian peasants in general, and from my spectacularly skeptical father in particular. I assumed that America was the model on which would be constructed the civilization of the future—yet I did not totally dismiss the cautions of history. (In youth I had come to identify with English history, via Winston Churchill, and where were the English now?)

In short, my mental constitution had its own checks and balances, and I cannot believe that I presented the monks of Shangri‑la with quite the challenge presented by Mr. Dennis Corbin, who apparently suffers no doubts, is open to no argument, and recognizes no beliefs, expertise or achievements other than his own.

A sore point, Mr. Dennis Corbin. He’s my baby, but he and I were instinctively at odds from the moment he opened his eyes in our infirmary. I can understand why he might blame us for the crash that brought him here, but, after all, insofar as we were to blame, it was only because we were what we were. And we—I particularly—did save his life. You’d think he would bear it in mind. But apparently our existence, and what it implies to him, is too threatening. Has the world changed so much since 1962? Or is he a very unrepresentative sample? The latter, I hope.

In fact, I suppose the gap between us is mostly explained by three specific differences: He is many years younger; he hasn’t spent 17 years among companions and knowledge and a reality to be found nowhere else on earth; and he hasn’t received special training.

Particularly the last.

.4.

 

By August, 1964, enough time had passed since my escape for me to know beyond doubt that the inhabitants of what must become my world did not hold it against me that I had been willing to jeopardize their world to try to regain mine.

Mr. Conway’s sole comment, delivered on the altiplano, had been that I should consider my escape as an experiment demonstrating how difficult it is to elude unnoticed surveillance. The Chinese, he had said, were known to be at least equally vigilant, although their surveillance relied on different methods; I should consider my life saved. His logic was unassailable. (Only later did I notice everything his brief statement implied.) And in any case, I had instantly given up any idea of regaining the outside world when I had opened my eyes to find him watching me.

The others never referred to my little hike directly or indirectly, unless I mentioned it first, which I soon felt no need to do. Only with Sunnie, sometimes, would I talk of Marianne, allowing myself to feel something of the loneliness and the sense of the irretrievable passage of time. And often Mr. Barnard and I, after listening to the BBC news, would find ourselves going back again to life in rural and urban America as one or the other of us had experienced it. Otherwise, I let thoughts of the outside world sink below my horizon, and kept busier than I would have had to, deliberately doing more than my share of the innumerable chores that go into maintaining a place. (Just hauling up the wood we need is an undertaking that leads us to live to a rhythm somewhat like that of the animals: particularly busy storing up in summer, then very slack in winter. This rhythm I’d seen close enough, growing up on my father’s farm. It fit very comfortably.)

I thought to take this life one day at a time, following my father’s advice on getting through any apparently endless chore. “Just work one row at a time, George,” he’d say. “Don’t do the other rows till we get there.” One day early in the winter of 1964, I thought of us following the sweet‑potato digger, working bent over, picking up the sweets from the sifted ground and packing them into bushel baskets. I had to smile: Getting through one day at a time in Shangri‑la might have its difficulties—its pain, even—but at least it couldn’t get much worse than some of the truly numbing aspects of farmwork.

.5.

 

I stood at the window of Mr. Conway’s cell, watching the sun withdraw its light from the valley in the fleet sunset that is all we see in our low latitude. (Lhasa, for comparison, is at about the latitude of Cairo, Egypt.) It created a striking contrast: Below, the ink‑black valley; at our own level, fast‑gathering darkness, with the glittering white reflection retreating up the mountain wall far to the east; above us, the lightest part of the sky, as yet undimmed. When the last bit of light was gone, Mr. Conway lit a lamp, and suddenly, quietly, on that August day in 1964, he was asking me what was wrong. I had been here then 21 months, living the routine I have tried to sketch. I said nothing was wrong, and he continued to sit quietly watching me until I realized that maybe there was something.

“It isn’t much, really. Something about that sunset. It’s beautiful, I wish they lasted longer, but something about it disturbs me. I don’t know what.”

“How do you feel about the dark, George?”

I shrugged, I remember. “Not much, one way or the other. When it gets dark, you turn on a light.”

Mr. Conway smiled. “Do I hear your father speaking?”

I gave out a short sharp bark of surprised, delighted laughter. “Yes! You do! That’s dad speaking, exactly!” I laughed again, a vision of my matter‑of‑fact, one‑thing‑then‑the‑next father suddenly fresh before my mind’s eye.

“So when it gets dark, you turn on a light. And is that all that darkness means to you, George? An opportunity to dispel it?”

Some shooting‑star of a thought flashed by, too fast for me to make it out. Whatever it was, it left me uneasy. “I don’t know,” I said, hoping to dismiss the subject. Mr. Conway had called me into his cell for a reason. What was it?

“Do you see? That sunset stirred deeper feelings than you realized. The mere mention of the significance of sunset, of the coming of darkness, leaves you restless. And there behind you is the nighttime sky. Does that mean nothing to you but a backdrop for a lantern, or a campfire?”

Still leaning against the wall, I shrugged. “I guess I’m not much of a poet.”

“We are all poets, George, only few of us write verse. We all have the ability to respond to the movements of the world. Some are inspired to write verse, some to sing, some merely to expand silently like a flower.”

I smiled skeptically. ”Mr. Barnard?“

“Do you think he did not respond to the world? How could he have become a successful man of business but by some deep attunement to the world’s cycles? And he was successful, you know, quite successful, until the world changed more quickly than he could adjust to.”

“Mr. Conway, I’m very fond of Mr. Barnard, and I can see that he has a lot of fine qualities, but I can’t quite see him writing poetry and watching sunsets in between pyramiding utility stocks.”

The twinkle in his eye showed how my irony had struck him. It was much the sort of comment he might have made. “One might argue that a greater awareness might have enabled him to evade disaster.”

“Watching sunsets?”

“Sensing rhythms.”

“I don’t get what you mean.”

“No, but I fancy Henry would. Ask him, some time, about the rhythms of securities exchanges and commodities markets and such. His life in business and finance provided him with graphic experience of the cyclical rhythms underlying our life.”

He motioned me to the cell’s other chair—obviously another of Mr. Barnard ‘s (really quite polished) productions. “George, I ask you to consider: How did I know that our brief sunset stirred feelings deep within you? You were scarcely aware of it yourself.”

I didn’t have to think very hard. “You watch people,” I said. “You watch movements, and the expressions on faces, and you listen. You hear people’s tone of voice, and hesitations, and things like that.”

“All right. But is that all?”

.6.

 

My father taught me—silently, by osmosis, as was his way—a deep distrust. Of the complementary errors of naive credulity and naive incredulity, he instilled in me a deep wariness of the former, and only a faint echo of the latter. It’s better to believe too little than too much. So he believed and so he lived; so, inevitably, he taught his children, while we had little or no defense. Unfortunately, he never realized—or anyway never conveyed—that you can go quite as far wrong by closing yourself to new ideas as by rushing to accept every new idea without reserve. Those who resist new ideas—like me, like most of my family, and even more like Mr. Dennis Corbin—naturally remain captive to old ideas, including a lot of unexamined baggage that came with the territory: the things that were generally accepted when they were growing up. And if you have been raised to react with instinctive hostility to any new way of viewing the world, it’s pretty hard to escape from the prison‑bars of your assumptions. In fact, it can be nearly impossible for you even to believe that the bars exist.

Now, by the time Mr. Conway called me into his monk’s cell and used my reaction to the sunset as his excuse to offer me their training, I had been there long enough to have some of my assumptions shaken. So when he asked me if close observation entirely explained how he’d known what was going through my mind, I knew what he was getting at, if I didn’t really know how to answer.

Actually, I suppose I was a little bit afraid to answer. I didn’t know how much I wanted to know, or how much I wanted to admit to knowing. “I suppose you want me to say that sometimes it seems like the people around here read minds,” I said reluctantly. [Even putting it in a way that set the greatest distance between the idea and any sense that I believed in the idea, I felt like a grown man admitting that he believed in ghosts, or was afraid of the dark.]

Mr. Conway didn’t let me slide by. “Is that how it seems to you?”

“Well— [even more reluctantly] the thought has crossed my mind from time to time. Mr. Barnard comes awfully close sometimes to answering things I haven’t said. And Sunnie, in particular, seems to know an awful lot about what I’m feeling, even when I work pretty hard to cover it up. [And am I surprised to hear myself come out with that sentence!] But I guess I don’t really believe it; they just pay close attention, I guess. Like you.”

Mr. Conway nodded, listening, considering. “Anything in the nature of `mind over matter’ is as alien to you as it once was to me, I take it. Speculative at best, absurd at worst?”

“That’s about it,” I said, relieved. “It’s something it would be nice to believe in, but I don’t see any reason to think it really exists.”

“Particularly,” he said dryly, “in light of your extensive research into the subject.”

Which brought me up short. Unexamined assumptions.

“No point in arguing possibilities, George. But you might, sometime, find it diverting to consider the subject of telepathy in connection with such phenomena as mass hysteria and fads and [a small, wry smile] political gatherings. And you might think of it not as conscious, directed action but as unconscious reception. Not reading, but receiving hunches. Intuition. Dreams. Interesting connections may suggest themselves.”

.7.

 

However, as Mr. Conway pointed out, in such matters belief meant little; experience, everything. He offered me the experience.

“Your life had some purpose in bringing you to this place at this time. Your life’s circumstances are a unique opportunity. Everyone’s are. Your life is the puzzle that has been set for you, and your life’s challenge is to decipher the puzzle’s meaning by living it, by growing into it, until you become the pattern.”

I said I didn’t understand what he meant, and in any case didn’t even see a pattern. He assured me that no one ever did, except in retrospect. “Do you think God would set you so easy a challenge that it could be understood in advance? He has greater respect for you than that.” He stated quite flatly that the pattern was there to be found, and that no one’s life was ever meaningless, however it might look from within or without.

“In your own case, you have been afforded an opportunity you would never have sought out. Your life outside these walls has ended; you have accepted that. You have no one for whom you are responsible. You have no cares that cannot be accepted by others. Duties and responsibilities and distractions have been lifted from your shoulders. You are free to do as much as your courage and honesty and stamina allow you to do. Not many people have been offered so favorable an opportunity.”

But—I asked him—what was the point? No, I didn’t know what my purpose in life was, but so what? If it had a purpose, wouldn’t I find it in the living of it? If not, what was the use searching for it? I wasn’t all that interested in the question of mental telepathy and such things anyway. What was in it for me?

He made a tent of his hands. “I don’t want to mislead you. Powers are not my focus, yet the path I would start you on leads to insights and abilities that many would call magical. You know already that I can read your mind more easily than you yourself can. You will find yourself suggesting thoughts to others, and knowing their thoughts before they do. You may learn to say the words to others that touch their deepest well‑springs of emotion. As you become more whole, more all‑of‑a‑piece, you will acquire a personal weight, a gravity, that exacts respect and even deference from others. You will learn, among other things, the totally unsatisfactory nature of words. [And if I hadn’t learned that lesson long ago, this long exercise of writing would have brought the lesson home!] You may go well beyond these gifts, to more important things: mental recall, emotional stability, compassion. The working of miracles.”

I had been watching him all the time he spoke, but my attention redoubled when he said that. “You really mean that,” I said.

“Yes, I really mean it. You’ll find it one of your chief obstacles, perhaps.”

I didn’t understand.

“This is where many fail. Miracles are a great distraction. The point of your training would be, not to give you these gifts of the spirit, however desirable they may be, but to help you tame the drunken monkey, and sober it, and put it to better use.”

“I guess I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m sure you don’t. You’ve never noticed the monkey’s existence. But soon you will, and then you will understand.”

“Well, I’m glad, because right now I sure don’t. Am I being particularly dense, or haven’t you gotten to the punch line yet?”

He smiled. “The punch line is that I would like to show you how to save yourself and others.”

“From the fires of hell?”

“From the fires of self‑involvement and isolation from the world, which are perhaps hotter flames, more continuously stoked and assiduously tended.”

Again I didn’t understand. What could be farther removed from the world than a monastery on a mountain in remotest Tibet?

“We each have a unique point of view of the world, George. That is what we have been given to work with. As we develop that gift, we make our contribution.”

“To . . .”

“To the human race. To life. Each of us is given something unique, to enrich the whole.”

Thinking about some of my fellow airmen—not to mention some of my college fraternity brothers!—I smiled. “Do you really think everybody has something to contribute?”

“I don’t think it, I know it.”

“Even if they did, how would they do it? You don’t want everybody writing autobiographies, I imagine.”

“Your Thoreau said truly, somewhere in Walden, that more is published than is ever printed. We publish our lives to everyone we touch, George, whether we would or not.”

“We do?”

“Who could live out his life without affecting those around him? And, less obviously, we are all part of mankind, and our experiences and sensations cannot fail to be recorded upon the memory of the human organism.”

“Ah, the racial unconscious,” I said. “I always thought that was only a metaphor.”

Mr. Conway looked pleased. “You are familiar with the work of Dr. Jung?”

“Only superficially. I’ve read his book Modern Man in Search of a Soul.”

“A pleasure we have not had. Someday, after your training has progressed beyond its initial stages, you would place us in your debt by reconstructing it for us.”

“Oh, I couldn’t! It was a couple years ago that I read it.”

A smile. “Everything you have ever experienced is within you. You could retrieve it all now, if you knew how. When the time comes, you will be able to do it with far less trouble than you can imagine.”

“Tell me how, and I’ll do it right this minute.”

That statement delighted him. “If it could be told, George, don’t you think the instructions would have been written down long ago? I can guide you along the way, but I cannot simply tell you. Like so much else, it is beyond words.”

[I thought at the time that perhaps Mr. Conway was exaggerating the promise, but sure enough, in 1975 I was able to give the monastery, as a sort of general Christmas present, a substantially accurate transcript of Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Mr. Herrick, in particular, expressed great gratitude.]

Mr. Conway repeated himself (as he did only rarely) as a form of underlining. “Beyond words. But I intend to escort you as other escorted me, and as you no doubt will later escort others.”

“Here? Doesn’t everybody here already know everything I’m supposed to learn?”

“By no means. Different people have different gifts, different tasks. Also, they progress at different rates. I judge that you would progress quite rapidly. If you are willing. . .”

A pause, which Mr. Conway showed no disposition to fill. “Well,” I said at length, “I suppose it’ll help pass the time. I’m not making any promises about how good a student I’m going to be, but if you’re willing to take me on, I’ll give it the old college try.”

.8.

 

I had committed myself to a strenuous routine. I would awaken at 2 a.m.; would engage in silent meditation until a 6 a.m. meal; would receive instruction from Mr. Conway for two hours; would read passages in works he would provide and would think about what I had read. I would meditate some more until the noon meal. After noon I would meditate, spend two hours in intense physical exercise, and then would be in bed and asleep by 6 p.m., ready to be awakened again eight hours later. Mr. Conway assured me that the regimen would be neither so easy as to be boring nor so difficult as to be beyond my strength. In any case he would be there observing—or rather, participating—and could adjust the routine as necessary. He told me that the routine he had outlined was far more taxing than that followed by the monks of Shangri‑la—and assured me that I would find the results worth the effort. I asked when we should start. He smiled, and I knew he was asking: Why wait? Now is the time.

.9.

 

I was in bed by 6 p.m., keyed up as I had not been since the night before my induction into the Air Force. As then, I told myself that I could handle anything they could throw at me. As then, I wished I had a better idea of what I was letting myself in for. He had told me I was to bring no food or drink to my room. “Were you to bring even a glass of water, you would find that your thoughts soon tended more toward the glass than toward your true objective. Right now, when you are at the very beginning, you must eliminate every indulgence, as the only way to eliminate distractions. Later, different rules will apply.” I wondered what the different rules would be.

I lay awake a long time, staring at the blackness above. I knew I should sleep, but my body just laughed at me and said it was far too early. I said we’d have to get up early, and it said, in return, that we could worry about that when the time came. I knew better than to argue: I’ve never been able to force myself to sleep. So I made myself lie quietly, concentrating on not wearing myself out tossing and turning. I knew a few tricks for luring sleep, but tonight they wouldn’t work, so there I was. After a while I let the thoughts flow freely, and followed where they led.

For a while, they moved back and forth, retracing my time here. Meeting various people. Mr. Barnard’s story of the monastery since 1931. The differences from the story that was told in Lost Horizon. Sunnie’s story of her introduction to the place. Mr. Conway’s experiences in the trenches of northern France.

Something sent me back to happy days in the U‑2, soaring high above everything, monitoring instruments with half my mind and day‑dreaming with the other half. Not so long ago, but already seeming like scenes from somebody else’s life.

I thought about Marianne. I had resigned myself long ago to the fact that every so often, be it at intervals of weeks or months or days, my thoughts would return to her. I found it amazing that certain types of pain seemed absolutely unblunted by the passage of any amount of time.

Some college memories came back, including one which presented itself with great insistence: two of my friends, David and Lou, trying to persuade me to join them in playing with hypnosis. David had learned, somewhere, how to do what he called hypnotic regressions, supposedly bringing back people’s memories of past lives. I’d wanted no part of it, considering it occult foolishness. [Was that what I was getting involved with now? I brushed the uneasiness aside. If I got in too deep, I could always quit.]

I hadn’t thought about David and Lou for some time. David had whole‑heartedly believed in reincarnation. Well, by now he’d had years to find out if he’d been right. He’d been killed in a car crash in ’58, about a year and a half after we got out of school. It was an odd thought: If he was right about reincarnation, he might already be back in another body somewhere.

I wondered, lying there, what Lou had done with his life. Married, probably, and raising a family.

Which, of course, brought me right back to thoughts of Marianne, as usual.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *