Friday, 4 November 2011

The Walk

There were but a few men who embraced austerity wholeheartedly, like the old monk Raphael who spent a cloistered life all the way -  true to his calling, and in full adherence to the norms. But as he became too old and inept, burdened with a failed vision and blurry thoughts, he realised that the time has come to leave this earthly abode. On a sunny morning, he expressed his wish to his fellow monks that he would like to go out for a while, all by himself, to the empty meadows that outlined the monastery. He wanted to feel the nature, in whatever ways it happened to welcome him. Since they knew him very well, no one raised any objection to his wish - the only one he had expressed in his entire existence with them.

Raphael went out slowly, his feet following the walking stick which led the way as much as his trembling hands would let it. He felt a wisp of freedom at some corner of his clogged mind. There were memories, which refused to emerge. He felt happy about that. When many in this world are struggling to get rid of memories and get on with life anew in a never-ending process, it's bliss to remain oblivious to the painful, insignificant past, the uneventful present that gives nothing to rejoice, and the uncertainty and false expectations of what many call the future, which they believe exists out there, far away from them. For Raphael, all dimensions of memory, experiences and expectations were rolled into one now. All that he could feel was that his back ached terribly, and his limbs refused to move in accordance with his will.

The will, or what they call self-will, refused to fade away, to his disappointment. The very same will that led him to self-denial, the renouncement of worldly pleasures. And paradoxically, he never found anyone in the monastery who could fully renounce self-will, for the attainment of the ultimate experience of being at one with what they sought. They were supposed to gain salvation only then, since it was not to come to them on their terms.

But there was always a sense of self-justification in his life. At least he did try hard, for so many years, to get rid of all the emotional and intellectual baggage in order to have a clear perspective of the essence of life, and Truth, and selflessness. Many would ask whether he had gained anything from all this, but what he kept asking himself for years was whether there was anything worth possessing that he had lost in the process. Nothing. Moreover, the quiet moments of introspection that he had within the lonesome walls of the library and prayer rooms gave him a lot of insights... to the meaninglessness of it all. Of the whole business of gaining and losing.

As he walked by, thoughts slipped in and out of his mind, without taking any shape. He just wished he could switch off the mind altogether, and be truly free. To be unconcerned about what was going to happen the next moment and...

He just felt something pulling at his walking stick, and had to strain his eyes to see that it was a puppy, or a dog, or something in between. If he strained his ears, he could hear the impatient grunts as well. What was this creature doing to him? Even though he couldn't perceive the shape or intent of things in front of him, he could feel a friendliness, or playfulness, that was tugging at the other end of his walking stick. This creature wants to lead him, a bit faster, to some place, or something. He just played along, by not trying to scare the creature away. He tried to walk to the direction to which he was led. And yes, his new friend, or the last friend, was very kind and patient. He just had to adjust his breath and forget his aching back and walk to a slightly higher terrain, feeling surprisingly better, as he did that.

And he felt the magic of the sun, filtered through the clouds, as his friend made him stand there, close to the leafless trees. He didn't know what to do then, because his friend stopped pulling at his stick and just walked around him, smelling his cassock and trying to lick the mud off his shoes.He wished he could lift up his head, but he knew he couldn't. It was enough to feel the sun through his hood. He didn't worry now that he couldn't see the source of warmth that encompassed him. It just felt good. Really good. He was surprised that one could feel so good by just standing under the sun. He stayed there for a long time, and when he began to feel tired of his newly found sense of elation, his friend sensed it and started directing him again, just the way he did earlier.

This time he was taken towards the trees, and was made to stand under them. They were really old trees, and he didn't remember seeing them before. But he never went out of the monastery, and these must have been mere saplings, if they existed, when he came to the monastery many years ago. He just remembered walking all the way through the meadow from where the road ended. There were a lot of memories, before and after that long walk, but he didn't bother to remember. The trees, though leafless, provided shade for him now through their numerous branches that spread right above his head. Once again, he began to feel good, really good.

Raphael looked at the puppy-dog-creature-friend with a smile in his eyes and asked: "Well my friend, we had some sunshine, and we had some shade, and it was all so good. Now, where will you take me next?"

He waited for a reply but got none except a playful tug at his cassock and a friendly grunt.


Image Courtesy: Creative Writing Ink, Writing Prompt November 1st.