There was a feather on his pillow when he settled down to sleep that last time. He had no idea where it had come from. If it was time to die, so be it…
Always the same beginning to the dream; the swim to the hidden beach on the Greek island, the beautiful sun blazing down on his naked body–far from the world he had left when he plunged into the water and began the half-hour’s crawl.
That much had been real, though the recurring dream gave it a new quality. When his world had come crashing down, when all meaning had seemed lost, he had gathered up his meagre savings and taken that last minute holiday to the tiny, poor place on the Greek island; its white rocks reflecting the sun amidst the glittering, dark blue of the Mediterranean sea.
On that far sand, he remembered actually falling asleep and waking to see the patterns in the bright rock face above him, though upside down to his normal vision. He had renewed his climbing as an act healing for the breakdown; a form of living therapy that absorbed him and took his febrile mind away from its imagined woes…
Upside down and with his climber’s mind, he had seen, clearly, the foot and handholds in the rock. Most would have missed them, but the strange perspective seemed to emphasise their position, their do-ability. And then, above the visible way-markers – far above them – the opening of the dark cave, set midway along the cliff face. For a second he had glimpsed the tiny outlines of vertical rocks set as pillars in that mysterious elevation. But, when he blinked, he couldn’t see them any more.
He remembered, then, the regret at having to swim back, the now sunburned skin left foolishly unprotected. Hauling himself out of the water on the familiar beach, next to the room in the old villa that was his home for a while. A short walk to his towel, trunks and tee-shirt and he was back in the small square with the two tavernas, sipping cheap Greek wine and washing its appalling refreshment down with bottled water and a feta salad. How hungry he had felt, then.
There were other naked people on the beach, but none of them headed for the hidden place beyond the headland. Perhaps no-one else had seen it as he had?
The return to ‘civilisation’ had been hard. He had been granted sick leave by his company, who were keen to see him fully recovered and back ‘in harness’. But then his health began to decline in a way that seemed unrelated to the mental breakdown.
He would wake each night, his whole body dripping with the sweat from the dream. It had become a nightmare. Always, it would go the same: he would be climbing that cliff in the intense heat, his wet fingers only just holding on to the sharp and unforgiving rock. Each night, he would get farther up the cliff face.
And then, last night, he had pulled himself over the final ledge, and lay, panting with wet effort, on the cool floor of the cave.
For a while in the dream, he just lay there, turning his head and marvelling at the fact that there actually were two tall rocks set as pillars to support – and mark – the entranceway. The soft sound of knowing feet walking slowly on dusty rock made him raise his prone body and gaze into the black of the cave. Half-revealed by the light, a man in a simple white robe looked down at him. In his right hand he held another white garment… and then it all faded… and he knew he had one last choice. He could shake himself awake, and die in bed, or he could stay…
He chose to stay. The gentle figure stood before him, offering the second robe. He tried to rise to his knees but other hands held him pinned, forcing his mouth down into the ancient dust of the place. He fought, but knew there was symbolic meaning here. He let them. They moved his head, firmly but gently, till the image of the dust of the earth filled his senses… they let his head rise.
He tried to see them, but they were shadows, sliding around the space. The one before him – the gentle one – lit a candle. His mind seized on the image and he tried to move forwards towards it, but the two other had his kneeling body fast and he was not able to move. What was the meaning of this? He used all his strength to push to his feet, and, this time, they did not oppose him – but kept hold of his arms. His feet pushed against the cold rock floor, and, together, the three followed the tiny light of the candle, so that it didn’t fade, but grew brighter as his efforts overcame the dark resistance.
Ahead, the candle had stopped moving. He knew this was important, and pulled those dependent on him towards it. The first monk now stood before a small table; and had placed the white robe over a number of objects whose outlines protruded like an Alpine snow scene. Part of the robe was pulled back to reveal a bowl of herbs, some unknown fruit and a stone goblet of what looked like water. Kind fingers fed him the herbs. They were bitter-sweet but focussed his consciousness. Then came the fruit, which washed away the taste of the herbs. At the end came the water – like liquid kindness. He gulped it down, but it was pulled away too soon. There was a feeling of truth about the water, a simple honesty about what really was, a revealing of what lay beneath everything.
For a second it all made sense; what they were doing to him. They had shown his his own life in miniature. From the simplest awareness of the dust; the very stuff of the world to be, as he grew from infant to child to man, becoming ever more aware of the ‘world’ around him. Seeing that he had seen, the first monk pulled the robe away from the remaining objects beneath. He gasped as he saw the precision of the model, carved by hand in stone to reflect the simple village bay from which his swim had begun. Every detail was exact, it was as though he were looking down, like a great bird might, on the place he called home.
The robe was placed over his head. It felt strange to have clothes on, again. The whiteness of the soft material seemed to have a life of its own. Now the two hands urged him backwards, creating enough space for the first monk to place the candle between the table-top tableau of the world and himself. What did that mean? For a fraction of a second his vision seemed to spin, to take the light of the candle and turn it into a million threads of woven world...
And then he knew… knew that he was seeing seeing… That he had stepped backwards and unhooked something he thought was inseparable. The eyes that watched propelled him towards the growing light of the cave’s entrance. He knew where he was going, but fought the organic fear as he was rushed, faster and faster – and still backwards – towards the high and empty space outside the mouth of the cave.
The eyes were full of love. As the hands said goodbye, they watched while time stopped and he turned, turned in way that no human flesh could achieve; but that was natural and perfect for the wings of a soaring hawk.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.