by John W. Steele
A little boy named Eric arose from his body and immediately shot like lightning to his favorite place in the universe. With the speed of thought he found himself at the edge of a large lake.
The lake was so vast that it filled the entire horizon.The waters of the lake were the color of turquoise and exceedingly clear, like fine crystal. Within the lake were many glorious swimming creatures. Immense leviathans the color of ivory swam on the surface and spewed geysers of blue mist high into the sky.
Along the edge of the lake wound an ancient pathway. The trail ran through mountains that bordered the lake. The mountains were made of the finest jade and reached so high into the sky that Eric couldn’t determine their height.
The pristine hardwood forests in the hills were filled with enormous trees. Golden oaks and hard rock maples thrived in this place. The trees were resplendent with leaves that appeared like etched silver. The branches of their tremendous limbs bore fruit that appeared to be made of gold.
The little boy loved this place. Of all the adventures he had ever known in his mind-world he adored this place the most and believed the lake to be his true home.
Eric found great delight in walking along the trail by the lake, and he had traveled the trail many times. He had met many interesting characters in this magical place, and he always felt refreshed and invigorated when he returned to his body afterwards.
As he wandered along on the ancient path he saw a large figure in the distance. As he drew nearer he could see it was a giant. The mighty hulk stood nearly nine fathoms tall. Its body was dense and powerful. The flesh of the titan appeared to be made of fine white marble, and its physiognomy was fair and pleasant to behold. In the center of the giant’s forehead blinked a large single blue eye.
The giant glanced at the boy as he approached, but he did not acknowledge him. Eric didn’t fear the giant, for he knew it lived in his mind and would not harm him. The Goliath had gathered a huge pile of rocks, most of them the size of a large pumpkin. The pile of boulders nearly reached the giant’s waist.
Eric watched in awe as the giant held out his arm, and pointed his finger at the golden moon, suspended far away in the heavens. Seizing one of the boulders, the giant made a monumental effort and hurled the heavy rock at the moon. The ground shook as the boulder flew into space at enormous velocity and disappeared into the sky. But in time, far off in the lake, a huge splatter could be seen as the rock fell from the heavens and collided with the water. The giant gazed at the splash in the lake and shook his head. Then he picked up another boulder and began the ritual once again.
The little boy watched the monster perform his labors for a long time. Finally, his curiosity got the best of him, and he called out to the colossal creature. “Why are you hurling the boulders, my friend?”
The giant wiped the sweat form his brow with a swath of animal skin suspended from his loin cloth. Then gazing off at the heavens he pointed at the golden-faced moon: “I will hurl a boulder far enough that it will land on the moon.”
“Why would you want to do such a thing?” Eric asked.
“Because I will have been the first to have done so. No one has ever accomplished such an endeavor.”
“I see you are my spirit of will and determination,” Eric replied, “but surely you know that this is an impossible feat. Even if you were to accomplish such a thing it would only be an illusion, for even here in this mystical place certain laws exist. What would it mean if you were capable of attaining such a goal? To do so would be without merit. Like a man killing a magnificent tiger with a powerful weapon in order to appear courageous.
“Accomplishments such as this require no true courage; they serve only to glorify the inane. A deed of this nature has no real value; it is akin to shadow boxing or talking to spirits.
“I know we shall meet again, giant. You have shown me that it is better to apply my efforts to labors that will bear fruit and not to waste my will on things impotent and distorted.”
The boy’s words angered the giant, and he stamped his foot on the ground. The ground rumbled at his displeasure. “You are just a boy,” the giant yelled. “I represent all that is possible and all that can be accomplished.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Eric said, “but you are a fool, and many fools end up alone and broken, because they have pursued ideas that are artificial and ephemeral. But I wish you luck, giant, in your endeavors.”
The giant sneered at him and picked up another boulder. Eric continued his journey through the dream world.
Lost in the beauty of his surroundings, Eric hardly noticed an old man sitting on a boulder ahead of him, but he smelled the acrid scent of burning flesh. The character before him appeared as a living skeleton. The mystic was naked but for a tiny loincloth, and his ribs protruded from his torso like the splines of a boat. His hair hung below his shoulders and his beard drooped to his navel. The ascetic held his hand over the glowing, red-hot embers of a fire that crackled before him.
The boy gazed in amazement at the old man perched on the rock. The flesh of the mystic’s hand had nearly burned to the bone, yet he sat with a stoic look on his face. Eric continued to watch. Occasionally he would see the wizard grimace as he reveled in his agony.
Eventually Eric approached him and asked, “My God, man, are you crazy? Why do you torture yourself in such a manner?”
The ascetic roused as if from a trance, and said, “I wish to conquer suffering. He that conquers suffering becomes a god.”
Eric marveled at this man lost in his delusion. Not knowing what to say, the little boy picked up a stone and began rubbing the stone on the top of his head.
The ascetic spoke in a hollow voice that sounded like an echo and asked, “What are you doing, boy?”
“By rubbing this stone on my head, I will to turn it into a gold coin.”
The mystic laughed. “No amount of rubbing a stone on your head will turn it into coin of gold.”
“No amount of self-abuse or immolation will allow you to conquer suffering.”
The mystic did not listen and continued to sear his naked flesh on the cherry-red embers. “Pain is the essence of all things, boy. He who conquers pain controls reality.”
“Suffering cannot be conquered,” the boy said. “Pain can be bottomless. One does not conquer suffering by creating it; one conquers suffering by becoming it.”
Begone, boy!” the old man said. “You’re becoming a nuisance.”
“I see you are my spirit of self-destruction,” Eric said. “I am glad I met you, for I now realize some suffering is useless and has little value. When a man reduces himself to ashes, only the fire is satisfied.”
Eric watched the ascetic as he continued to struggle with a flame. A tear formed in the old man’s eye, and trickled from his cheek.
The boy began to notice his world becoming blurred. He knew his sojourn in this wonderful place would soon draw to a conclusion. He concentrated on his hands and struggled as he willed each finger to move as he strove to center himself. Once again focused, he continued on his journey.
Turning a corner along the old trail, Eric came upon a priest sitting erect on a velvet cushion. The venerable sage wore a black robe with gold trim. Over his head were seven stars, which formed a crescent. Before the priest stood an altar of limestone. Upon the altar sat a single grain of sand in a golden bowl. The scent of sandalwood filled the air. Eric listened as the priest recited a mantra while staring intensely at the speck of sand.
Eric sat down beside the master and began to concentrate on the grain of sand as well. After a long time the priest spoke: “This particle of sand has no inside.”
“It has an outside, so it must have an inside.”
“No, no,” the wise man said. “The inside just gets smaller and smaller until there is only outside. In this regard this humble grain of sand is no different from the entire cosmos. The inside is the outside.”
Eric marveled at the priest’s words for a while. The boy reached down to the ground and gently picked up a tiny caterpillar that was crawling through the leaves. Holding the scrap of life before the priest, he said, “O venerable teacher, if the inside is the outside, and the outside is the inside, what is it I hold in my hand?”
The little boy’s world was becoming dim now. A silver cord appeared before him shimmering like a road made of quicksilver. Before the priest could answer, Eric flew away like an arrow and with a slight jolt re-entered his material body.
A golden morning had broken. The magnificent sun shimmered through the trees, creating a panorama so vivid it was dazzling. Eric knew a wonderful new day awaited him.
He slipped into his jeans and ran out into his backyard. A bluebird perched in a dogwood tree sang a song of joy and gratitude. Eric marveled at the nature of sincerity expressed in the little bird’s song.
The little boy gazed upward into a deep blue sky. He knew he was looking into himself.
Copyright © 2007 by John W. Steele