The Divine Movie
The seeking starts.
He stood on the pavement with about 10 people he had never met before, and others gradually joined these and it grew into a small crowd. Some held flowers, ‘should I have brought flowers’, he thought. Small sub groups formed and chatted. The energy felt good. Then an Indian looking man came up to him.
“Are you from Sri Lanka?
“Oh I was told there was someone from Sri Lanka arriving today”
“Hello I’m Sri, what’s your name”
“Nice to meet you Shirish” he repeated the name in an attempt to remember it.
“Nice to meet you” he replied as he took a lazy puff on a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth.
They chatted about places, various people, and what they did for a living, and then Shirish glanced up at the building opposite and a figure could be seen on the 4th floor looking out. Sri quickly looked up too and his heart leapt as he wondered if the figure that had appeared was the one he had come to meet. The crowd stirred, palpable anticipation in the energy now. Within moments everyone started to move quickly, dashing across the road, like a herd about to stampede. The pace changed again as they squeezed through parked cars, bumping into each other gently, and Sri thought how rushed they all seemed for supposed spiritual seekers, and settled back into his lazy pace of acceptance, letting others go past him who seemed to want it more urgently.
The entrance to the building herded them all tighter, and the stairs meant it was single file, one after the other up the worn timber clad steps, around and around the lift shaft in the middle, three flights and a landing, three flights and a landing, with the dim daylight from a ventilation shaft on each middle flight.
As he climbed he focused on his steps, one at a time, thoughts filtering into his awareness, and his heart felt like it would burst with all the emotion at the thought of what lay ahead. Was he climbing his last ever staircase. Would life ever be the same after whatever happened up there. Excitement was mixed with fear, and longing, and deep acceptance, that he had been brought by his destiny. As he took the next steps he felt he was not moving but the staircase and walls and window were moving around him, it was action in slow motion. He had experienced this feeling before. Like moving through air which had the density of oil, and his awareness was as sharp as it could be, and he lost all sense of time and space, until thoughts came once again. How had he ended up there, climbing this staircase, with unknown people? He remembered the night the voice had come to him, clearly with authority, as he lay trying to sleep.
Retreat in the hills.
“Be a light unto yourself”
Barely a onth earlier, on a Sunday morning Sri awoke early. There was a lot to do. He had to pack and sort out the last few things, drop of the book for a friend in need, and some documents to a colleague. He sensed something life changing was going to happen, and it made his whole body shiver, but there was no time to dwell on it now, the practical things had to be taken care of. He packed quickly, checked the kitchen for rubbish, arranged some files on a pile of stuff on the side board, looked around the flat and thanked it by bowing, hands clasped in front off him. He went down to the rusty blue car and as he set off he noticed the sky was fairly clear, soft sunlight through the trees, and the roads were practically empty. As he dropped of the various things that needed to be dropped off, a calmness started to steal space from the anxiety that he’d woken with. Although tired he was looking forward to the drive, he would fill up with petrol after the bridge. It was February 1st, and he was pleased he had managed to keep to his own promise and leave that day.
There were a few calls he also needed to make, some letting go and good byes. He drove past a familiar place and felt nothing for the person there. Yet they had been so entwined at one point. Past the power station, and over the bridge, the water looked still below. He had to hurry or he wouldn’t make it before the gates closed. Out of the city and onto the open road, more bits of his life seemed to drop away with each mile. The doubts of being self indulgent and doing the wrong thing disappeared. Everyone would manage fine without him, and if not this was one of the fears he wanted to face. He had said goodbye to his mother with sadness, that always seemed to happen, and the few close friends he called had wished him various good things. Now he was alone on this journey, another 2 hours to go. He put on the radio and started to whistle.
‘Shit it’s started to rain, what a pain, and I’m getting late,’ he thought. He turned off the main tar road onto the narrow bumpy estate road, over potholes and past the small mud houses, through thick tropical vegetation on either side; and as the road ascended more steeply the temperature seemed to change, his body reacted. He was glad he had made it before dark. The road would have been difficult otherwise, and at least the gate would be open.
He drove around the bend and his heart sank. Would he have got this far and be prevented. Ok stay calm, don’t forget it’s all fine whatever happens.’ This is what he had become accustomed to saying to himself, when things didn’t turn out the way he had imagined. So he stopped in front of the locked gate, and suddenly remembered that due to the robberies they had started closing it on Sundays. He realized he still had several choices. Turn back and find a hotel for the night in town, or leave the car there, walk the remaining stretch and come back for it in the morning. Then he also remembered the key was supposedly with the watcher in one of the houses further up. He locked the car, even though he gave it a blessing, and set off. It was starting to get dark.
As he quickened his pace he saw two men. He waved to them and shouted a few words. They replied and gestured he should take a path down to their house, so he walked around and approached them smiling. Even after so many years he hadn’t mastered the language, but made them understand he needed to unlock the gate and drive up. They said it wasn’t possible on Sundays, and his heart sank again. Was something really conspiring against him. Try the other house further up one said, and he set off again.
The trees lining the road were taller on this stretch, and the road took several turns. He heard children’s voices, and walked up to the small mud house. The watcher was smiling and immediately agreed to come with him, and they set off together, the watcher sarong clad with keys in one hand and an umbrella in the other. It had become cooler and gently drizzled.
He felt relieved as he saw the watcher shut the gate, and finally set off in the car for the last stretch of the journey with the watcher by his side. And as he dropped off the watcher at his little house, gave him a few sweets for his children, drove off and smiled back to him, there was relief in his heart, and the sight of the little wooden board further up the road welcomed him to his new home.
As he parked the car and took his one bag from the back seat a tremendous feeling of happiness surged through him. The familiar sounds and sites of the garden, the fresh cool air that stroked his face, and the golden afternoon light. It was like coming home, this place in the hills. He walked past the little pond that seemed to have more plants around it than the last time, across the swept sand path and onto the irregular stone paving that led to the little office. A candle was already flickering inside and a familiar voice drifted out.
“Hello” said the man sitting at a small desk by the single window of the room. Welcome back. How long are you planning to stay this time?”
“Hello Sarath, I’ll be here for at least three weeks, maybe more. Who knows what can happen.”
“Yes who knows” Sarath smiled broadly. Which room would you like, let’s see, there are a couple down at the bottom.”
“The one over there” he said pointing towards the wall opposite the door, down the path that led away from the office.
“Err, I’m sorry that’s full till the 5th “
“Ok then, I’ll move inn when it’s free.”
He collected a few candles, asked for a torch, and took the sheets, pillow case and blanket that Sarath handed him. As he walked out of the office Sarath simply said,
“have a nice stay.”
“Thank you I’m sure I will, oh I forgot, can I have a badge.” Unable to hold back a smile Sarath passed him one of the badges.
His room was in a line of six down a flight of steps about a storey and a half below the office and car park area, past the bathroom block and vegetable patches. He had stayed there many times before. Approaching the rooms he passed a young bare chested man who was hanging up his clothes to dry, and he smiled at him without saying anything, conscious of the fact that he was now in silence. The room was as it had been on previous visits, a single wooden framed bed, small rustic wooden side table, a clothes rack on one wall next to a wooden shelf above the bed. The room was barely five feet wide and about ten feet long, with a single small window in the wall behind the bed. As he shut the door and sat down to absorb the moment, took a deep breath as he realized it was the beginning of three weeks in silence, the longest period of going within that he had attempted so far; an inner knowing said that it would be a period of transformation, he would say goodbye to something in himself.
The centre could accommodate about 45 people, just over half were male rooms on the south side, separating them from the female rooms were the sunset meditation spot, the pond and garden. Above the office level was the kitchen and dining room, and a half flight of steps higher was the meditation hall. A small library and two other rooms sat next to the meditation hall and beyond that following the path north for another thirty metres was the managers cottage.
Off the semi enclosed courtyard next to the kitchen a path led south on the upper level to a cottage reserved for the resident monk. This was the most secluded part of the centre, with an uninterrupted view of the valley and hills beyond. Above the centre the crest of the range of hills was covered with tall slender pine trees, and one lone Kuti stood hidden within, for those that wanted more solitude. He looked up towards the forest and wondered if maybe later on he would move in to the forest.
It was dark outside as he struck the match and felt wooden the surface of the table for the candle. The soft flickering light struggled to fill the room, the space seemed smaller than before, and a brief feeling of claustrophobia crossed his mind. It felt like being in a prison cell, he could only imagine, and as he lay back on the bed to observe the feeling it gradually passed making way for a cozy sensation; and his attention went to his breathing.
Maybe fifteen to twenty minutes went by, he opened his eyes and realized he had fallen asleep. A bell was ringing calling everyone for the evening snack. Through the dark he climbed the steps only the torchlight illuminating the path, scanning for snakes or scorpions that may not have heard him approaching. The dining room was dimly lit by a kerosene lamp and as he made his way in he could make out other figures seated along the sides of the space. The snack was basic consisting of dry rusks and margarine, and soya coffee. Taking a few in his palm while clutching the torch and holding the cup in the other hand he made his way out onto the narrow verandah and sat alone on the cement bench his back resting on the irregular stone wall.
It was fresh outside, a gentle breeze rustled the leaves that passively moved their grey night shapes, and as his body relaxed on the cool cement he smiled broadly staring into the night sounds. A person passed him but he didn’t look up. He sensed the other person who sat at the far end of the bench also wanted to be slightly alone.
His body relaxed even more, his eyes tired from the journey earlier in the day and the stress of finishing everything in time. He decided it was time for bed. As he washed the cup up and felt the coldness of the water on his hands he again thanked god for bringing him back to this place, and later as he lay down on the hard mattress, smiling and seconds away from falling asleep, he thanked God for giving him the opportunity to find himself.