“The only things that matter in this life are effort and simplicity,” the monk told me. We sat a short distance apart on an ancient wall made of massive, moss-covered hand-shaped block of stone as big as coffee tables.
At least, I seemed to be me.
I was different. Completely different, but still me. Dreams are like that. Dreams from another lifetime. I didn’t seem to care. I knew. And I gladly sank into the world of long ago.
I was eating the only meal I’d had that day. There was a deep pool of clear water beside the wall. I could see to the bottom, where, a foot or two under the still surface, two hand tools someone had lost, or discarded lay. I reached down with water up to my shoulder and retrieved one and set it dripping on the flat top of the wall. It seemed important to pull it out and let it dry. Someone might need it. That’s when he came to sit beside me.
I was exhausted, but exhilarated more. Whatever rice and sauce I was eating was hot and good. I shoveled it into my mouth with my fingers.
The day had begun far away, hours earlier. I had been in a race of a sort, with what seemed like hundreds —certainly many dozens— of people. That part seemed kind of changeable. Some looked like Westerners, but most were from all over the world, of all colors and sizes and ages. Women and children, too. Old men and women shuffling with staffs. There was a feeling in my chest of joy of the running through jungle, up and down ravines through heavy brush, across bare rock headlands and hillsides, then plunging back into the heavy jungle again. I looked down once and realized with a shock that I was a woman, with the diagonal strap of a backpack running between my bare breasts. That was a surprise, but again, it didn’t seem to matter in the heat of the jungle, and the animal thrill of running. Others were more or less clothed, but no one seemed to notice. I realized this was a different me, in a time long since passed. Some door in my head, some deep-down locked portal had fallen open, and I had fallen in.
My fellow-racers and I existed only in the moment and for the thrill of the run.
My heart nearly burst with joy, and I quickened my pace.
Everything was lush and vibrant around me. I felt more alive than ever before; every cell in my body tingled with an almost divine energy. The race had begun in the crowds of an old city in India, somewhere in a region I knew as Gujarat. If it doesn’t exist in modern times, it did a thousand years ago in the southwest part of the subcontinent. I just knew that somehow.
We left the city in a large group, everyone focused on finishing the race. Soon, we were into the woods, the deep jungle, and the crowd of runners thinned out as some moved ahead and some settled into a slower pace.
The sun was hot in the open, but mostly I ran lightly through tall shade, feeling strength coursing through my body. Barefoot, thick leaves protected my feet as I ran under massive trees, through the understory of thick vines and bushes, often with the path nearly disappearing. Other runners were all around me at times, but I usually could see at least one or two. We waded streams and ran under waterfalls, and the calls of monkeys and raucous, colorful birds cheered us on. I passed old people who shuffled along, waving cheerfully to me as I passed. One such was an elderly woman in her peasant sari, wide hips rolling underneath, a cane steadying her progress. “Ayii, daughter! You are swift on this day! Run! Run faster!”
And so I did.
It went on like this all day. We never stopped for rest or food. But by early evening, the pace slowed, and we clustered at the bottom of a slope covered in deep leaves, with a cable running down it at waist height, like a tram line, or, as it turned out, the handrail of an escalator. It was moving up, as was the whole leaf-covered slope.
We stepped in small groups on the magical moving tramway, held the cable and glided up, glad finally to be able to rest. At first, I still tried to run, but a man behind me chuckled and said: “don’t run now, daughter. Let it take you.”
At the top was a wide plateau that disappeared into the distance in all directions. It had stone walls and paths, stone buildings covered in moss and vines with tile roofs. Everything had a feeling of immense antiquity.
Under a gigantic forest canopy all was cool and quiet and serene. People moved at a walk now, talking. We headed to a building where we would get food. On the way I passed a towering statue of the Buddha, seated in the lotus position on a platform as big as a modern city block. It must have been eight stories high, seemingly carved from one piece of stone. I experienced a moment of an intense spiritual feeling. The entire scene turned white for a few seconds and I felt peace spread inside that I’ve never felt before. It passed after a moment, and I leaned over and pressed my forehead against the statue’s base. It felt alive, but moving at a pace of geologic time far beyond my comprehension.
I followed others into a low building, got my bowl of food and went back outside. I was in a state of wonder at all that was around me, found my way to a place on that stone wall away from the others, and sat down.
As I was eating, the monk joined me. I did not hear him. He wore a long, dark simple grey robe with no adornment. He seemedmore Japanese than Indian, both in appearance and garb. He carried a folded paper fan in his left hand. His skin was light brown and his hair, cut not overly short, was black, as were his eyes. He carried himself with reserve and dignity. When he sat, he became utterly still, so much so that things around him seemed to slow, too, even the air. He was out of place, but still not alien.
He sat for a moment, watching, impassive, as I picked the tool from the water and laid it beside me on the flat stones. It was a two-bladed hand tool for digging, one side a sharp pick, the other flat-bladed like an adze. I watched the water dripping from the tool on the broad stone of the wall, made of blocks that were three feet on a side, and ate without thinking. I felt his presence, but did not look at him.
When he spoke, his voice was quiet, but strong. He had watched me for a while, and gazed at the dripping tool beside me, then said “The only things that matter now are effort and simplicity. This you now know.” And then he was gone.
That’s when the dream ended. I wanted to go back, to find more out about what he meant. But the moment was over.