Alessandro’s Unexpected Traverse
by Michael Alan Potter
|part 1 of 5|
In a tiny Asian village in an isolated mountain valley, a group of monks gathered in their simple prayer room. Chon Yon selected students for a search and rescue party and they were given pointed hoods to keep the snow off their heads.
Despite the danger, they were sent away on their mission. They walked away from their village and up into the snow that surrounded the green valley. They walked for twenty miles that day and then continued walking through the stormy night.
Justin Alessandro was mountain climbing in the Himalayas with a group of like-minded people he had met along the way. For the most part they had a relatively easy hike up to the new base camp. He felt he was doing well even though the oxygen was getting thin at this high altitude.
Several of the group had come down with pulmonary disorders they collectively called “the crud.” Justin was having some breathing problems, but he did not have it bad. He was proud that his short and powerful body was in top physical condition. However, his feet felt a little sore from the long walk to the mountain carrying his heavy pack.
Justin looked forward to hanging by ropes and pitons to the side of a cliff tomorrow. He had overcome his fear of heights. He was cognizant of the distance of a fall if the equipment failed but it just made him cautious and determined not to slip.
The night was windy with snow blowing lightly but steadily. Justin lay in his freezing cold billowing tent, having difficulty sleeping, a little short of breath and wondering why he tortured himself this way. He did not often think about why he climbed mountains. His mother used to say that he was born to it. He was of northern Italian descent. His ancient relatives had made their living climbing in the Alps for one purpose or another over millennia, so apparently he was genetically built to climb mountains.
However, right now he was thinking of calling it quits after this climb and settling in at home. He had recently married and would be a father for the first time. Mountain climbing was dangerous and an expense he would have to forgo in the future. He wondered if this train of thought might be a signal to be extra cautious on tomorrow’s ascent, but right now his bladder was full.
He looked at his bag with the cell phone, G.P.S. locator and ice axe in it. The temptation to take his equipment was strong but he decided that he would not need it. He reasoned that he would be gone for only a few minutes. With his impending class five mastery of the mountain, he could certainly walk to the edge of camp on this small plateau.
Justin left the tent, walked in the direction the wind was blowing, and stepped up to the side of the cliff to answer the call of nature. When he finished and turned to go back to his sleeping bag, icy snow stung his face as the wind picked up. His right foot was on an icy bit of rock which broke under his heel leaving his right foot hanging in space. It was as if he saw himself in slow motion as he pressed down with his left toes and tried to get his right foot back onto the cliff.
A strong gust of wind pushed him toward the edge and he had a fleeting thought that the mountain was trying to get him. He pressed down so hard on the ground with his ice encrusted left boot that the pressure made him slip on the ice and he went down and over the side. He tried getting a hold on the icy cliff with his hands, but it was a futile effort. He quickly picked up speed and rolled over onto his back fast as he could while he slid down an ice chute.
During this free fall, his life seemed to play out in his mind like a movie on fast forward. He thought of his family and he was sad that he would never see them again. Then he banged the back of his head on a rock and was knocked unconscious.
Justin lay in semi-consciousness at the bottom of a steep icy canyon. When he opened his eyes, he saw only snow and rock in the darkness. He felt paralyzed and could not use his legs. He lay still for hours and wondered how long it would take to die of hypothermia. He was pretty sure that his party would not find him in time. They would not even know he was gone until morning. They had a limited time to be on the mountain and the bottom line was they had paid a lot to be here and it was every man for himself.
In the starlight he glimpsed conically hooded ghosts moving toward him. The hooded figures surrounded him, chanting. He wondered if they were the local version of the angel of death as he faded out.
When Justin became conscious again it was light. It was hard to tell the time of day since it was heavily overcast. He was still unable to move but he could feel warmth and see steam coming off of his body. Chanting monks surrounded him; somehow they had warmed the area. The snow around him had melted but he did not see a fire. The wind howled in the distance like an angry animal, and it sent a shudder through Justin’s body.
The monks noticed that Justin was awake, and the chant changed. It seemed as if they were casting a spell upon him. Justin felt his body get up as if he had no control over it, like a zombie. His body, against his will, walked painfully for twenty miles following the monks over rough terrain as his head lolled back and forth between his shoulders.
As he was marched by the monks all day, Justin drifted in and out of consciousness and felt like a robot without will. When they reached a valley with an odd little village, he lost consciousness again.
Justin awoke in a bed of robes and blankets; he was not in any pain and thought that he might be dead. “Could this be heaven?” he wondered.
He moved his eyes around and saw a small room with rough white walls and a ceiling with beams painted in simple primary colors. Out of a little window he could see snowy mountains above rooftops. His eyes stopped on an odd painting of a blue four-armed god with three eyes, a garland of skulls, a snake around his neck and a sprig of cannabis in his topknot. The god was holding onto a trident and other items Justin could not identify.
He shifted his glance to the other side of the room. A white-bearded old man in a saffron robe sat near his bed side.
“What time is it?” was the first thing to come out of Justin’s mouth.
He heard the answer in his head. “Where am I?” Justin asked.
“Can you be more specific?”
You are safe, rest now. The old man got up and left the room. Justin thought he resembled the Buddha in profile then he fell back asleep.
Justin awoke late at night. His body felt bruised all over and very stiff. Fully awake he slowly sat up and tried to orient himself to the strange surroundings. He got out of bed slowly and painfully and dressed as best as he could in the clothes he found around the room. His neck hurt terribly. He carefully got up and slowly moved to the door and looked out. The night seemed eternal as if it had always been black outside in these mountains.
Apparently he was not dead, he was in a village and therefore could send out a message and get some help and be rescued. He could hear a noise, a vibration, a sonorous drone. He limped out the door and into the night, guessing it was close to four a.m.
The droning got louder as he moved painfully toward a building. He looked in the doorway and saw monks sitting in a room chanting. He sat down in the door way and listened to them as he gazed at the small village.
A young Chinese boy noticed him, walked over and spoke in accented English. “You are OK?”
“I’ve been better.”
“What?” asked the boy, clearly not understanding what Justin had said.
“What is this place?”
“What is your name?”
“I am called Tak.”
“I am called Justin. Glad to meet you.”
“Oh, yes,” said the boy who then folded his hands in front of his face and bowed his head slightly.
When the sun rose Tak took Justin to another room where there was a simple breakfast of gruel and tea with clarified butter.
Justin asked Tak if there was a phone, a radio or someway to contact the outside world.
“You need to see Chon Yon,” said Tak.
After breakfast Tak and Justin walked, as a cold wind blew through the village, to the building Chon Yon was in. Tak opened the door and bowed to a bearded man inside who was wearing a turban. He bowed back and went to talk to Chon Yon.
Justin studied the patterns on the tapestries and carpets while he waited. When the turbaned man came back he said they were granted an audience. They all walked into Chon Yon’s warm room and the man stayed and acted as an interpreter.
Chon Yon was sitting in lotus position. Through the interpreter he asked Justin, “Do you have any questions?”
“Where am I?” asked Justin.
“In the village.”
“I need to contact my family and tell them that I am all right.”
“Not now, later.”
“You don’t have a radio or cell phone here?”
“We do not have any electrical devices here, they interfere with mental constructions.”
“Are there any travelers going to civilization I could join up with?”
“I am sorry, we are closed now, perhaps in a month or two it can be arranged.”
Justin was beginning to get a little peeved and asked, “What do you do here?”
“We are an anchor for the Earth, our relationship with God helps keep the world together. The future looks very grim,” Chon Yon continued. “Not just for you but for all of mankind. The world is in bad state and has always been in a state of madness due to opposing desires and out of control egos.”
Not sure how to respond to that, Justin asked, “Why did you save me?”
“We try to preserve all sentient beings within our purview,” the man translated Chon Yon. “I must teach some advanced meditation now. Come see me tomorrow.”
As Justin and Tak left Chon Yon’s building a group of student monks came in the front door. Justin and Tak stopped outside and listened to the meditation chants going on inside for awhile and then they walked off together.
“The chants seem powerful,” said Justin.
“Yes prayers are powerful,” answered Tak, “but they won’t save you from everything.”
Tak took Justin to another building and they went into a room. There were two murals in the room; one showed a monk sitting within a pyramid of light meditating.
“What is that?” asked Justin.
“The mercabra, he is traveling,” said Tak simply.
The other painting was of a monk apparently turning into light. There were some words at the bottom.
“What does that say?”
“Imagine It, Live It, Do It,” answered Tak.
“Is he turning into light?” Justin thought it might be a metaphor.
“Um, it is a meditation; I do not have the words. He does it to get off the wheel of birth and death.”
“OK,” said Justin, unsure if he understood.
Tak, sensing this said, “He is ending his reincarnation cycle.”
“Can Chon Yon do that?”
“He is waiting.” Tak opened a drawer and showed Justin a dried hand and some white fur. “Yeti,” he said. The wind began howling, “Yeti,” Tak said again sounding frightened this time.
‘These people are so superstitious,’ thought Justin. He thought maybe he should leave as soon as possible before he inadvertently made a mistake and offended them.
Then Tak showed Justin a human arm bone sticking out of the stone wall. “He lost his faith during the meditation to walk through the wall,” said Tak.
“People can do that?” asked Justin amazed.
“Not him,” said Tak and he giggled.
They left the building and Justin went back to his room to rest.
At sunset dinner was a spicy fried vegetable cake with rice and tea.
Tak took Justin to a meditation class after dinner and a monk taught Justin some Sanskrit chants. One went, “Om bhur bhuvah swah, tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah pra chodayat.” It meant, ‘Through the coming, going and the balance of life, the essential nature that illumines existence is the adored one. May all perceive through subtle intellect the brilliance of enlightenment’.
When the session was over Justin was tired and went to bed.
The next day there were prayers in the morning and then the simple breakfast again. Justin decided to leave the village. Although he still felt crippled he could hobble along. He decided to tell Chon Yon at their next meeting.
Justin and Tak met with Chon Yon at the appointed time and Justin stated his intention to leave. He was prepared to face anger so it scared him when Chon Yon smiled at his acceptance of Justin’s plan but offered no help. Chon Yon’s sweet and sour smile made Justin feel as if he had signed his own death warrant.
To Justin Chon Yon seemed so venerable, “Do you live forever?”
“A man is meant to only see one degree of the great cycle,” he is told by the interpreter.
“How long is a cycle?”
“It is about 2,600 years; you call it precession. Divide 2,600 by 360 degrees and you get 72 years, the life span of a man.”
“That has to do with the movement of stars?” Justin ventured.
Justin felt he was getting nowhere and tried a different tack. “What religion is this?”
“Religions are like mountain climbing. It doesn’t matter what side of the mountain you climb, we are all trying to reach the same peak.”
Justin was getting a little angry with circular answers. “Why don’t you talk to me in my head now?”
“You were more receptive then,” said the translator.
“What do you think I should do?” asked Justin.
“May I look into your mind?”
Justin was intrigued with this proposition and agreed.
“You must sit very still and try not to think.”
Justin’s felt like an inch-long finger was moving around in his mind rearranging things.
When he was finished probing Chon Yon said, “You should reduce desire and then try to be happy every day,” he laughed loudly.
Outside of Chon Yon’s Justin asked Tak for a map.
Tak would not help him leave, and Justin began to realize that they were trying to hide this place.
“Do you mean I cannot go?” asked Justin.
“I want you to stay, but you are free to leave.”
“You could come with me,” suggested Justin.
“No, I don’t want to go. You will never leave the valley,” said the boy.
“You mean I can’t leave?”
“You can try to leave but you will never be able to return to your world as the same person. There are guardians that we have no control over, they can keep us here and they are strong this time of year.” Tak could see Justin was still unconvinced and said, “Please don’t go, there are yeti.”
Copyright © 2008 by Michael Alan Potter