Another week passed before she spoke to him again. Her hair was getting longer and she seemed less concerned about maintaining any style. It just grew, as if responding to movements inside her mind, which he was sure had been completely transformed by her journey onto the glacier. During the time he spent alone on the rock, he tried to reframe his way of being with her. He realized that his mind was still bound by the way it had been trained in schools and the media of his home life, which, it was becoming more obvious, did not serve him here. Even though his intent in coming to the Ganges was not based on the interests of tourists, he felt that his awareness was closer to their interests than to hers.
As a meditation exercise, he picked an object from his pack and took it to the river, to which many attributed mystical qualities, and tried to locate the thingness of it. He focused his attention on a belt, which he lay out on the rock. In doing so, he realized he was taking his first steps as a child on a journey that he had not been prepared for as he rode up the narrow dirt road to the village, which he was beginning to understand was a way station along a path of inner transformation. If he took anything away from the early stages of his discussion with the young, red-head woman, it was that his geographical journey had provided a means of separating his thoughts from the world. The magic of this village had been created over thousands of years by thousands of thousands of pilgrims who had been following the teachings of their gurus and the example of previous generations of seekers.
For days, he focused on the belt expecting some astonishing revelation to arise out of the leather and the metal buckle. Was he looking for God? The archetypal belt out of which all belts were made, as Plato suggested? Or the categories of the mind, which Kant had identified? Or the Brahman of Shankara and the Upanishads? Was he depending too much on his senses? Did he need to invoke the spirit of the river or the mountains or a deity who would open the door into the vision the woman was trying to show him. After he had exhausted all of these mental ploys, he gave up on the belt and returned to writing his thoughts, which he noticed, despite his failure with the belt, were distinctly changing.
As before, his thoughts became clearer when he wrote. While recording the different efforts he had made to penetrate into the depths of the belt, he remembered another response he made to her assertion that without knowing his life as “a thing in itself,” his entire life was unreal. “Is this maya?” he had asked. “No,” she had replied. “The concept of maya is what people hide behind in order to avoid the mere truth that they exist. To call ignorance something is to tie it to your mind, which wants nothing more than to maintain the illusion of the world. To know, independent of anything in your life, that you absolutely exist is a truth you have to bear alone. To be real in this way is truly to be alive.”
The handwriting in the journal trembled with fear as he contemplated that next step. When she had said this to him, it was only his conditioned mind that had responded to her words. Now he knew more. Even though the belt remained an impenetrable object, he now understood that underneath its surface appearance there was a shadow of reality that he was touching with his probing thoughts. He had finally understood what she had meant about metaphor.