Alicia wanted to know everything about Srim’s adventures in the other world.
In the past. In his ancestor’s life.
“Is Hamil for sure your ancestor?” She asked one night, “What time in history did the boy live?”
Srim shrugged, not sure, non-committal.
She was fascinated. Alicia felt that this ability that Srim had, and the experiences he had been able to observe- were the most captivating part of his identity.
Srim, on the other hand, agreed that his mind wanderings were interesting, but almost took offense when his new girlfriend stayed fixated on this one piece of his story. Hamil’s life wasn’t Srim’s life, just a daily meditation, like a daydream, where Srim clicked into an ongoing saga. It had been like a fascinating movie for Srim, not really his story.
Srim wasn’t ashamed. But he wasn’t proud of his ability either. Srim didn’t want to tell his girlfriend, but, for years, he had felt that his meditations had become a type of addiction. Not necessarily an unhealthy addiction… but akin to spending too much time in a life of video games or Hollywood fiction. “It is not my life we’re talking about,” he told his girlfriend quietly as they lay in their small soft bed together.
She had been pressing him for details. Hungry to learn everything. Hungry to hear more of these stories that captivated her imagination.
She chose her words carefully, aware that he was putting up walls.
“Were you able… are you ever able to affect what goes on?” she asked carefully.
Srim’s breathing was slow. He chewed on her question. She listened to his long inhales, watching the outline of his cheekbone and his forehead in the darkness. Matching her exhales to his long, slow release.
“Mmmmm, yes and no,” he whispered after a moment. “I have before, once or twice… I’ve taken over for a moment, but it usually doesn’t go so good, and I’ve learned that it’s better to just observe. It’s safer.”
“Tell me,” she asked. And Srim thought back into the life of Hamil. He flared his nostrils and pulled her smell, the smell of her lovely home through his nose and he stared up at the dark ceiling.
Hamil had been fifteen years old when he was invited to apprentice under the monk named Moksha.
The old man was known around the ashram simply as Head Gardener. And it was true that every morning and every evening the old man quietly made his way among the near endless rows of plants that provided much of the food for their school and community.
Moksha, who was bald and exceedingly wrinkled, would eat his dinner each night with a group of younger monks, his workers, and they would discuss what farmwork needed to be done the coming day. Moksha never commanded or assigned tasks. But rather the younger monks would respectfully ask him what they might do the following day, how they might help, and the old monk would offer them a task. Harvesting. Watering. Planting. Moksha knew every plant in his head. Every inch of the gardens. Every bit of rocky soil, every pile of cow manure, every bucket for carrying water.
He was known by the other monks as head gardener, and he enjoyed leading the work, and guiding the young farmers, but for Moksha his personal pursuits, his life’s work, his true pursuit, was largely done away from the gardens, the sun, and the rain. His most important work took place indoors and in his own mind.
Hamil had been living at the Ashram for over two years.
He lived and worked as a young monk in training. There were more than a dozen boys like him, living a similar existence. Srim shared in simple meals and a warm place to sleep. The young monks were expected to be present at the daily pujas. They were given a simple education. And each of them were assigned long hours of hard work.
Suliwa, his cousin, took a different life. He had enrolled himself into the higher school of learning, and was now living half a day’s walk downhill, closer to the lake. Suliwa had rented a room in the small town referred to affectionately as the ‘sparrows’ nest’. Suliwa was on a path towards the scholarly pursuits of a Brahman.
Two years earlier, Hamil and Suliwa had arrived at the ashram exhausted and hungry. They were given guest quarters and Suliwa had asked the friendly monks about the possibilities for both of their educations.
Within a week Suliwa had shaken his young cousin’s hand and headed off on his own down to the lovely town. Hamil watched him walk away and had assumed he would be back by nightfall. But Suliwa didn’t return.
When Hamil had been living at the Ashram alone for two full cycles of the moon, he had become homesick and forlorn. He wanted to return to his family. He wanted to return to the valley he had known all his life. Suliwa had changed once they had reached the valley of ‘Srinigar’, and Hamil felt that his cousin had betrayed and abandoned him.
Hamil, after a long week of feeling sorry for himself came to the conclusion that making it back to his family’s home by himself was not realistic. The winter was already arriving and his best strategy would be to work hard in his new life. Learn what he could. Make friends. And enjoy the marvels of a world so different from where he had grown up.
As that first winter came to a close, and the trees came into bloom, and the warmth of the summer sun slowed all activity into an enjoyable, lazy pace. Hamil felt that the long trek home held not much excitement for him. And his new home was safe and comfortable. He was part of a large family. He was enjoying his lessons. He was growing stronger and more confident in his tasks. He had many friends of all ages, and he wasn’t treated as a young boy, but rather an equal and able part of a hardworking team.
Hamil decided to stay.
And all this time, Srim watched silently. During all the lessons and the manual labor and the meals and the prayers, Srim quietly listened and observed.
It was during Hamil’s second winter there at the Ashram, that the old monk noticed something.
One day at morning prayers Moksha glanced across the crowded room and noticed something in the morning light and swirling particles of dust and incense smoke circling around the boy that caught his attention. Something about the haze around Hamil that was different from the rest.
At dinner, after Moksha had instructed his team for the next day’s harvests and trimmings, of weed pullings, and seed collecting and grain storage, the old monk waved at Hamil, something he had never done before, and invited the boy over.
Hamil assumed that he was about to be given a task for the following day. Moving stones, or digging holes in the garden, but instead the old monk asked him a strange question.
“Listen boy, how many eyes do you have when you see?” The old monk angled his wrinkled head and looked at Hamil with just one eye, closing the other.
Hamil scrunched his forehead in confusion, “I’m sorry Head Gardener Moksha, what are you asking?”
Moksha touched his own ear and asked, “How many ears then, do you listen with?”
Again Hamil was confused and uncomfortable. He looked across the crowded room and noticed a few of the farming monks closely watching the exchange. It was odd for old Moksha to call someone as young as Hamil to personal conference.
“Tomorrow, you don’t go out to move stones. You do not go out to dig holes,” Moksha was still looking at him with just one eye, “You wake early and walk the garden trail with me. And after prayers, after breakfast you sit with me, and together we shall figure out just how many of those ears and eyes you have inside your head.”
Srim, watching and listening from the modern Western World, was fascinated by this strange line of questioning. This crossroads. He could feel the old monk looking for him, inside of Hamil. And Srim held his breath, wondering what might come of their meeting. Wondering if it was to be bad for Hamil’s fortune, or perhaps a turn of good luck.
Moksha, who had spent decades of his life, deep in meditation, deep in contemplation of the spirit, and the ability of the physical to be separate from the mind, the body to be separate from Awareness, had noticed something in the boy Hamil, and he was certain that there was some knowledge or awareness to be found there.
Truth be told, the routine of farming and producing food was of little stimulation for the old monk’s mind, but the theories of the mind and the study of the spirit were what kept him working and living. The possibility that the young monk Hamil might lead to a higher understanding of his theories was the most exciting thing to appear in the ashram in many years.
There was a sharp icy wind scraping across the grounds of the Ashram and its gardens that next morning. The old man was mostly silent on their walk. Hamil kept pace with Moksha, not sure what their work was to be. A little nervous that he had been pulled from his normal labors and tasks, and though it was a relief to not be spending the day in toil he wasn’t sure if he really wanted to spend the day with the old gardener.
When they were finished with the hour-long walk, they joined the larger group of monks for morning prayers and then breakfast. Hamil’s friends peppered him with questions, but Hamil could only shrug them off. He wasn’t sure what the day held for him. After they had eaten, as the other young monks headed of to toil, Moksha led Hamil into an alcove off the side of the main room. He used a burning candle to light a stick of incense and motioned one of the young workers over and asked politely for a pot of tea and two cups.
Then he closed his eyes and rested.
Hamil had learned in the many many months since he left his parents’ home, that when someone else closed their eyes in meditation, he might as well slow his own breathing and click into that empty space, the nothing box that was easy enough for young Hamil to access.
Srim, on the other hand, usually chose these moments to slide back to his own life. Srim rarely enjoyed the type of clarity and simple quiet found in Hamil’s mind.
And on this day Srim felt so certain that the old monk knew something, and somehow was going to engage him in conversation, that Srim went so far as to open one of Hamil’s eyes and look across at the old man.
There was Moksha. Still and silent. Sitting tall, his face at peace. No hint that he might stir. Srim, feeling bold, and somehow called to action, used his will to reach out with Hamil’s hand take the steaming pot of tea resting now between them, and with a thrill and something of a challenge, Srim carefully poured the two cups full.
He quietly set the teapot down and then softly willed Hamil’s eyes closed.
Ten minutes later Moksha cleared his throat.
Hamil back in his body, blinked his eyes open and looked at the old monk.
“Who told you to pour tea into these cups?”
Hamil shrugged, confused and slightly ashamed. He didn’t know why he had reached out and done such a thing. He was aware that he had done it, but it was not something he would normally have done.
Srim was right there, behind Hamil’s eyes, watching with full focus. Curious of what Moksha knew. What the old monk might sense.
“What is your name?”
“I know that!” The old monk chuckled and picked up his tea cup, sniffed at it, drank, and then leaned forward, staring into Hamil’s eyes, one then the other, somehow looking through him, looking through two windows, the Head Gardener asked, “What is your name?”
Srim, his heart rate up, staring through the fragrant smoke, holding the old Monk’s eye, focused his energy, dropped Hamil’s jaw, and said through him, “Sreeem”.
And Srim snapped awake, heart pounding. Srim blinked at the real room around him. He was back in his own body. In his own world. Hamil, in that other world, had ejected him, shaken Srim off in a way that was completely new. It was nauseating and unsettling. Srim looked around sweat popping on his brow, and understood that he was alone. He was back in Southern California. It was his day off, and when he glanced at the clock he was startled to see that it was almost four in the afternoon. He shuffled to the grungy kitchen, washed a cup, and filled it with questionable tap water. He wrinkled his nose as he sipped it, scanning his messy living room.
He had moved into a four-bedroom house with eight college-aged boys. Only two of them were taking classes at the nearby city college. The rest of them worked. Drank. Went surfing. Watched sports. Lived their lives around houseparties and chasing girls.
Srim rubbed his face and set the cup of water down. He needed to spend less time in Hamil’s world. Srim needed to figure out what he was doing, here, now, in this strange world.
He pulled on a jacket and decided to walk the three blocks down toward the cold ocean. Perhaps he could ride a wave before dark. Perhaps it was time to move somewhere warmer.
“But what happened exactly?” Alicia asked in the dark.
“I think I made a mistake that day, but it might have helped Hamil,” Srim talked softly, and part of him marveled that he was sharing these things, that for so long he had kept secret. Alicia squeezed his hand, encouraging him to continue, “When Hamil realized, there for the first time, that I had been inside his head… he snapped. He threw me out and put up some sort of new resistance. And after he kicked me out… I guess I kind of reassessed what I was doing… I felt like an intruder. Like what I had been doing was a creepy thing. I didn’t go back for almost a month. I was living in crappy Southern California, and I would still do a little daily meditation, an empty, quiet meditation. And for a while I avoided going back into Hamil’s life. During that time I realized I was actually using some of Hamil’s meditation style, to just go into an empty place, and that was a cool realization… But after a few weeks I got real curious as to what had happened there, in the ashram with the old monk Moksha… and I decided to just peek in, without interfering.
“Hamil had become the old man’s apprentice. They would walk the gardens each morning and night… and the old monk was actually teaching him a lot about plants… you know, if I hadn’t been kicked out, if I had been more comfortable there during that time I could have learned a lot too, but I was careful, and I would just check in here and there.
“Moksha was getting old, and he knew that after another decade or so, someone else would need to take his place there at the Ashram, and though Hamil was one of the youngest ones there, he was chosen as the Head Gardener’s apprentice, and Hamil spent long hours learning from the old man.
“Besides the information and knowledge of the gardens, the grain storage, and the food production, Moksha taught Hamil what he knew of shifting and exploring awareness. About traveling away from the body. He explained to Hamil, that he had observed someone else looking out through Hamil’s eyes, and now they knew the name, my name, Srim, though the old man seemed to understand that I wasn’t spending all that much time with Hamil, and he seemed to be fine with that. He took it upon himself to teach Hamil what he knew, and those lessons… they’re amazing.” Srim nuzzled his face into his woman’s shoulder, “I’m still dropping in to hear them… To learn from the old monk.”
Alicia squeezed Srim’s hand. He was quiet, and he was a little frustrated with himself for having said so much. He didn’t want Alicia to hold onto these stories as the foundation of their relationship… but he had never told anyone about these details, once he had started it had been a flood. It was liberating to let it all go.
Srim kissed his girlfriend’s forehead. She kissed his lips, then wiggled down and put the crown of her head under his chin, and eventually they both drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, before they made there respective mugs of tea and coffee, when Srim came out of the tiny bathroom brushing his teeth, Alicia was propped up in their bed flipping through a book.
She looked up at him and smiled.
He smiled back as he brushed.
She showed him the front cover of the book. It was forest green with the outline of a bird in flight at the center. The book’s title was written in white, he squinted and read out loud through his toothbrush ‘Spirit Walker,’ and shrugged.
Srim raised his eyebrows twice. He brushed.
Alicia raised one eyebrow in response and held the book out toward him.
He opened his hand and took the book and let his eyes play over it.
“Good?” he asked again through his toothbrushing.
Alicia nodded, jumped up from the bed, kissed his hairy chest, and slipped past him into the bathroom to take care of her morning pee.