Just as suddenly as I was drawn into this experience, I found myself back on the glacier in front of the red-head woman. My hands were flat on the ice, which was burning through my arms and deeper into my body. Perhaps it would have been easier had I experienced this naked reality in a house in the world at home, which would provide more familiar shelter, but the mountains, sky and valleys were for me the better grounding point. In the end, it did not matter, for all boundaries, subtle or gross, serve the same purpose of protecting us from the raw field of pure existence in which we unknowingly exist.
I tried to find a personal quality within the red-head woman’s eyes, but she was only there in outer form as a being whose mystery had only become more unfathomable. There was no point trying. I quickly came back to my weary mind with its pathetic threads of thought. I am embarrassed to confess that I asked her if she were the sadhu. She looked at me with such a depth of disgust that I will never recall my mystical experiences without remembering how deeply my mind was capable of betraying me. Perhaps this was the practical lesson I got on the ice that day.
When she got up and started walking away, I just followed. Something inside of me was burning. We never spoke a word for the hours it took to return to the snout of the glacier. When I saw her climb down to the trail, she was a hundred yards ahead of me. When I reached the trail, she was no longer in sight. I never saw her again.
The narrative stopped, at least in its aural context. The candles had long since died away. The first gray rays of the sun were making their way sheepishly into the room. The storyteller had gone and the book lay on the table with the candles. The other listeners remained suspended between whatever reality they had experienced and the drab materiality of the cabin. In a moment they would start stirring. After several years, I had recognized the ritual process of these pilgrims opening their eyes and confronting the reality that they had fully abandoned during the last eight hours. It always took a while, for me at least, merely to accept that I had to return to a world hopelessly banal in its living, and that what could easily have been a simple crack in my human mind from previous stories had during this story widened into a genuine fissure.
None of us ever spoke after these journeys. We knew each other by first names and the minimal information that distinguished us from each other in other ways than size, shape, race, or the mere fact that we existed as something specific. The trauma of contemplating a return to the cars and the retracing of a journey dependent upon primitive material technology, made it imperative that we maintain silence as we each reluctantly and grievously gathered our belongings and cleaned up our share of the debris we had created over the two days of waiting that had preceded the arrival of the storyteller. By now we had given up understanding the entire event, including the anonymity of the storyteller because what we carried away had such an other worldly impact that the mere mystery of this one man was barely worth a thought.
As the others leave, I remain longer than usual suspended between realities. It doesn’t matter to them. They pay me no more attention than they do to each other. How can it be otherwise? Then, indeed, that is the way I want it. As a living being now realizing from this story that my real existence is pure existence—without mind, body or any form—I can penetrate the illusion of these storytelling sessions. My purpose in remaining behind after this story is to return the whole story of yearly pilgrimages to the original wellspring of intent that lies at the core of my being. In dwelling with this intent, I return to the knowledge that my mode of existence has manifested this hologram of people and stories and that my existence as an individual within the story, which has included the people involved, the cabins, the candles, the book and the ear, is a creation within that intent. I exist both inside and outside the story, but now that the story is coming to its end, I have the final role to play.
I remember everything now. I have been here before; nevertheless, I face the final act with trepidation because once taken, the human condition that I have wrapped around my pure existence core and to which I have become accustomed for these hours, will slide off as a quickly as a robe sliding frictionlessly off a naked body. Yet that is my destiny, for there is nowhere for me to go within the world that had arisen out of my eternal core, outside of which nothing else exists. My human form has always been temporary.
Now only the book and the ear remain in my consciousness. They rest innocently on the table awaiting their final disposition. I pull myself out of the sleeping bag, stand, and glance around the cabin for a last opportunity to admire the perfect illusion which I have created for myself. Now, however, it is time to acknowledge the absolute reality that lay behind this tale. I walk to the table and pick up the book. I move around the table and face the ear, which has stood absolute in its substance during the entire narrative that has been the essence of this dream. Poised on the edge of the void that separates one reality from another, I leap upon the porch of the ear and peer down into the darkness. With book in hand, I slide down the spiral and drop into freefall, pulling the room, the world, and the rest of the ear behind me.