When I had settled back into my sleeping bag and made myself comfortable against the wall, I saw the storyteller had let his head fall on his chest. He looked like a puppet whose master had stopped pulling the strings. The journal lay open in his lap, slanted enough toward the light so that I could see the writing on the pages. They were not letters that I could recognize as English, nor were they the script of any other alphabet with which I was familiar. Instead, the shapes looked more like hieroglyphs, pictures that rested on the page as if they were poised to resume a kind of dance. Together these pictures had a harmony which I could not locate within myself or the room, despite the silence and the beauty of the light shining mystically through the ear, which seemed at that moment to be continually swirling itself into existence of its own accord.
It seemed to me that this moment of my leaving the room, of having communion with the mystical night and resuming my place along the wall of the cabin had been as much a part of the narrative the storyteller was giving us as were the actual words spoken. With my realization that the letters were not the normal handwriting of the traveler as I had been envisioning him, my sense of what was transpiring began to change. The storyteller lifted his head and the book and began to speak again as if he were picking up the narrative in mid-breath.
After the traveler arrived at the source of the Ganges, he sat on a large boulder and shut out all the chatter of the pilgrims and tourists and focused his attention on his writing. Without looking at the physical area within which he was sitting, he poured words into the book that were the union of his consciousness with the whole of what was around him. The book itself became the essence of his existence and the words which he wrote in it, which the storyteller was still reading, took on the quality of an unknown language. There was a music about the cadences, which the storyteller did not try to imitate but which, nevertheless, flowed from his voice into the listeners. Having absorbed some kind of new consciousness by seeing the script, I could take in elements of the narrative which the others in the room likely were not able to pick up.
Within the traveler’s story, the source of the Ganges had longed ceased to be the end of a trail thousands upon thousands of people had followed over the millennia. The narrative statements about arriving there were spoken matter-of-factly by the storyteller, but they were not coming from the kind of consciousness that defined the world according to science or to the familiar dispositions of the senses. Whether or not there was a mind at all within the traveler to place the symbols on the page was a question as large as an elephant in a small room for me but which for the others, not having seen the script, might not be anything special at all. It occurred to me, too, that even though the mystery of the traveler’s journey was becoming more unfathomable with each sentence spoken, it was surely possible that none of the listeners were processing these events with their minds, which may have been left by the wayside of their inner journeys much earlier in the narrative.
Through the light of the symbols, which were now merging into my consciousness, I had my particular sense of this man’s journey, and of the novice’s efforts to put his own mind into another gear in order to grasp it, and of the storyteller’s capacity to transmit something which none of us, in all the years we had come to hear him, could possibly have conceived through our mundane minds. I was now awake inside this storyteller’s tale in a way that I had never been awake for the stories of other years. As I looked around the room through the failing light of the candles, I felt like I was the only one who had passed through the story and out the other side, not only through the characters within storyteller’s tale, but also through the story of our coming to hear this man mystify us without ever carrying back into the world an explanation of why we came.
Even after I had stopped putting the bizarre symbols on the page, their light kept penetrating my inner world, which was quickly losing all boundaries. The vast spaces that joined yet separated individual Himalayan peaks seemed consciously to gather me into their reality, revealing the path I must follow when I climb onto the glacier and begin my journey. Although I knew I would never be able to fathom from where the symbols came, it felt to me that these spaces were as good as any place to attribute their origin. Beyond that there was nothing with which I could identify myself. My sense of having a personhood or a framework of time within which to place my life were all fading away rapidly. At this point, my efforts with the belt came into my mind. I remember seeing it laying across a rock in the middle of the river and trying to grasp its existence independent of all the things that gave it the appearance of a belt.
What was the difference between the belt and this mind-defying mountain that lorded over me like a planet come from beyond what a mortal existence could tolerate. Using the belt as a mind-hold, I struggled to maintain the familiar forms of my senses, but the mountain continued to rise in my imagination until I became its worshipper, disciple, or slave. Ghosts from my past were being sucked out of my inner knowing and were being transformed into beings that had a hint of familiarity, like long dead family members, but which were alien to the world I had lived in before coming into this strange landscape.
Hovering behind the visual dimension of the mountain, I was unnerved to see the flaming symbols that I had been drawing in the journal, which I was clutching in my hand as if it were a life raft in a boundless ocean. They seemed to look at me as living beings, each projecting a stream of massive thoughts, such as they might be, that could be used to build entirely new realities, stories of existences that were universes in themselves and other dimensional existences that could not even be categorized as universes or dwelling places large or small. It would take an eternity to unravel the threads of these possibilities, and yet each seemed to smile at me as if they wanted to be my friend. I realized that when I had written each of these symbols into the journal, they had found a way into my world and were now incorporating it into their voyages of discovery. Irony of ironies—I was to be their guide on my expedition, which to them represented a reality every bit as massive and unfathomable to them as theirs was to me. A framework for defining one versus the other simply did not exist, however; and the temptation in my mind to suggest to them that they were foolish even to be probing my world felt meaningless. Perhaps in some way we were equals.