JOURNEY TO WISDOM
Darkness. Coal black darkness. Darkness which makes no difference if eyes are open or shut tight. Nothing can be seen but the images of the mind. The incessant beat of a muffled drum surrounds everything, itís origin indiscernible. The torrid air is full of the scent and smoke of burnt sweetgrass. Heat which radiates from the twenty-nine pre-heated rocks in the fire pit, permeates every pore of the naked bodies around me. The drumming stops abruptly and the unseen medicine-man suddenly gives a terrifying whoop. All is silent. A huge, gigantically felt silence envelopes us. Just as abruptly as the drumming stopped, it starts again just as a medicine-man begins a melodic, hypnotic chant in his native Cherokee language. The combination of sensations is mesmerizing as something seemingly reaches deep into my body and stokes my very soul. In that instant, I knew that I was where the journey to my other world was to begin. The seed of a spiritual awakening had been planted here, in the sweat lodge.
I was introduced, by an acquaintance of mine, to an old gentleman who addressed himself as Merlin. There seemed something rather peculiar about this fellow; he was amiable yet somehow distant, as though he wasnít really there at all. White bushy eyebrows under a shaved head accentuated his strange, almost sinister, dark eyes. They were like deep endless pools that one could enter and continue on ad infinitum to some other realm, some other dimension. Broad shoulders carried powerful arms on the end of which were huge hands that emphasized his powerful stature. Even the way he carried himself, with long, slow, deliberate strides suggested a power and strength that, even for his years, would be no match for many men younger than himself. Alas, the years had taken their toll on him for under his massive chest there protruded a belly that had obviously seen an abundance of food. Immaculately, yet simply dressed, here was a man who knew where he had been and who seemed to hold the secrets of the past.
Right from our introduction, Merlin seemed to have taken a liking to me and, although I had some inexplicable feeling of malevolence, I seemed drawn to him as well. We decided to see each other again and he suggested that we have dinner one night the next week at one of the best restaurants in the city. He somehow sensed my embarrassment (I was not a man of means) and pronounced that it would be his treat, that I could make it up to him in the future should I be inclined to do so. On those conditions, I accepted.
As I drove home, I pondered this mysterious gentleman and had an eerie sensation that my thought processes were being altered in some way. They were my own thoughts but, at the same time, there was something sitting in the dark recesses of my mind that was unobtrusively watching them.
The week quickly passed and, as I dressed for our dinner engagement, I chose articles of clothing that I had not worn for some time. It seemed unusual to me even while I was doing it, but the choices I was making were somehow correct. The clothes themselves were not flashy nor flamboyant, however, almost as an afterthought, I added a wrist bracelet made of heavy gold. I had come across it in a tiny, ancient curio shop I had found on one of my travels outside of the city. The proprietor said that he had had it for a good many years. He explained that no one seemed to want it since it was quite heavy (for a bracelet) and unusually and intricately designed. When I got it home I castigated myself for purchasing something so outlandish which I would never wear. I immediately put it in a drawer kept for such articles I had accumulated.
Upon entering the restaurant, I introduced myself to the maitre dí and told him who I was to meet. I was immediately impressed by the fact that Merlin was quite well known. I was told that the "good doctor" had been anticipating my arrival and that he was waiting for me. He had selected a table that was somewhat secluded, but at the same time had a magnificent view of the rest of the establishment and an equally fine view of the city spread out before us. Merlin announced, after the customary greetings, that he had taken the liberty of ordering dinner for both of us (with the appropriate wine of course). I felt that he was being rather presumptuous but kept it to myself since I enjoy most varieties of food and it was, after all, a restaurant with a high profile.
The usual small talk ensued, feeling each other out I suppose, and I was feeling quite at ease by the time our dinner was served. After a minor lull in the conversation, while we were enjoying our exquisite food, Merlin glanced toward my wrist and said that he noticed I was wearing my heavy antique wrist bracelet. I was astonished. I couldnít have mentioned the bracelet to him at our first encounter, I could not see why I would have. It must have been obvious from my facial expression that I was stunned. He grinned widely and a strange light flickered across his dark black eyes. I was about to ask him how on earth he knew I possessed the bracelet when he held up his hand to silence me. Leaning forward and staring directly into my wide-opened eyes, he proclaimed that he knew a great many things about me that I probably couldnít even guess about myself. He was silent for a moment, as though weighing his next words, and then, with unwavering eyes and a severe, stern look on his face, he declared that he, Merlin, was a shaman. A shaman of the highest order.
After the initial shock had subsided, he went on to tell me that he had been waiting for me for many years. When we had finally met the week before, he knew that the time was right for my apprenticeship to begin. My mind was racing with so many questions I was unable to stop long enough to actually ask any of them aloud. He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a neatly folded sheet of paper. He handed it to me explaining that I was not to read it until I got home later that night. He assured me that it was my decision that would either continue or end our brief relationship; he would know my decision as soon as I had read what was written on the paper. With that, he continued on with his meal as though nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.
I was at a loss for words, or rather, I was at a loss for words that I wanted to speak. Instead, what came out was ordinary conversation about nothing in particular, generalities about the world, about life, about love, and about God only knows what else. We spoke of everything, yet nothing. I couldnít seem to bring the conversation back to what he had said. It was somehow blocked from being spoken. Every time my mind wanted to initiate one of the hundreds of questions I wanted to ask, some inane comment would spew from my mouth. This continued right until we parted company, shortly after dinner, when I lost sight of him rounding the corner with those long, slow, deliberate strides.
I rushed home and, immediately upon entering my humble home, gently but deliberately open the folds of paper. On it was written a list, a list of books. Each entry was meticulously written and described each title in detail as to the name of the author, precise date of publication, exact issue and specific publisher. There were ancient titles by Machiavelli, Aechylus, Homer and Herodotus; later titles by Teilhard de Chardin, Montaigne, Cellini, and Robert Burton; more recent titles by Ellen White, Hesse, Colette and Whitman, "The Oceans of Theosophy" by Judd, "The Greek Way" by Edith Hamilton; and more modern titles by Elaine Pagels, Richard Bach, Castaneda and Nicholson; Greek anthologies of drama and the anthropological "Lucy"; and, of course, The Old Testament. At the bottom of the page were three short sentences which read: "You must acquire and own these books for yourself. Once you have them, they must be read, in order. You will then know what you must do".
I had to order a book search for some of them. It took me six months to get "The Anatomy of Melancholy" by Burton. It was found, I learned, in a small book shop somewhere in London. It cost a small fortune for all of them and Iím not finished reading them all yet.
I started on the list not because I had to, there was no mark to be assigned, no grade to fight for, rather, it was something I wanted to do. It seemed, at the time I started, that I hadnít done anything I wanted to do for some time. Truthfully, I didnít know what I wanted. I had just turned forty and one might argue that I was going through the male version of menopause - a mid-life crisis if you will. As I said, I didnít know what I wanted, where I was going, or even how to begin to find out how to get there.
Although I haven't seen Merlin for quite some time, he seems to somehow appear just after I finish another book on his list. We discuss what I have read and my experiences afterwards. Soon after, he disappears with those long, slow, deliberate strides, just as mysteriously as he appeared.
I know where I am now. Iím on a quest for something far greater than knowledge. While it is true that knowledge comes through reading and studying, only knowledge coupled with experience brings wisdom and enlightenment.