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A Long Walk
Finally it's over. I didn't try to make the best of it. I just suffered. I always imagined things would be different once I got out, but they weren't. The discontent remained and the moments slipped away as I always looked forward to a better tomorrow. I have no choice now, but to act or live the only life I have, without distinction and enjoyment. Schools out. It's time to live.
I wake up and look around. A smile overtakes my face and my insides burn in excitement as I realize that today and every day hence is mine to lead. A light breeze blows through the open windows, the leaves rustle. I look outside at the luscious greens and the dark clouds through which beams of sunlight pierce. A comforting feeling of content overcomes me. I turn over and breathe in the fresh air, listen to the life of nature, the wind, the rain: it is beautiful. I imagine myself flying blissfully through the clouds, on top of the world, carefree. I zoom by cities. I see the empire state building glimmering like a tiny monopoly piece. I hover over the unending pacific, flying towards the rising sun, keeping my eyes on my shadow, dancing in the waves. And then…Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep. My reverie is interrupted by my alarm clock, still set for 6:45. I suddenly feel guilty.
I force myself into motion and go through my routine, breakfast, shower, the news, but once that’s over I am lost. I sit on the couch in the shadowy living room. It is storming now; the pattering of the rain is the only sound. I stare at my distorted reflection in the T.V., at the way my blue eyes betray shades of green, and indicate a coolness that frightens me. I wonder who I am and what, if anything, I am meant to be. I close my eyes and ask myself over and over: “what do you want?” There is no answer, but I feel some force deep in my subconscious that wants to be…simply to be, to see, to feel, to breath and to know.
Later my mom comes home from work with my little brother, Ethan. They shuffle in the door. I am at the table reading. She hangs her coat, and sets the mail on the counter.
“How was your day?”
“It was good. What did you do today?”
I shrug “Nothing much” Her eyes widen characteristically in anger.
“What do you mean nothing much?”
“I've just been relaxing”
“You can't sit around here all day! If you don't figure out what you’re doing I'll kick you out!”
I look up from my book. “Calm down.”
“Your lack of ambition really scares me.”
“Mom, I know what I'm doing.”
“Traveling.” I reply lightly before taking an obnoxiously loud bite out of an apple.
“Don't freak out about this, ok. Just listen… and try to understand”
She thrusts her face forward giving me a hostile smile “Brandon, you need money to travel.”
I Huff in frustration. “No you don’t. You’re so close minded.”
“How are you going to do it then?”
“I'm going to walk.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Do you have any idea…?” She starts. I roll my eyes in annoyance. “You know what, do whatever you want. When you’re freezing and starving on the streets maybe you'll wake up from your dream world. ” She says storming off with a sigh of frustration.
“I'm leaving Friday” I call out to her. Whack! A door slams shut.
I wanted exhilarating adventure, trips through steep mountains and blazing deserts. I wanted to train under masters of the ancient arts. I wanted to meet interesting people and open my self up to different ways of life. I wanted to get in touch with what it is to be human.
The next day I stood at the foot of the porch and looked upon my old house. I had many fond memories of childhood. Forts in the woods, games of hide and go seek and capture the flag. The world still seemed big; there was great mystery in the secluded nooks of my house, the unopened boxes in the basement, the visits from holiday saints, but now childhood was over. That magic was gone, an illusion shattered by the experience of growing up. I took my first step off that porch and never turned back.
I walked down Main Street, burdened by my stuffed back pack, feeling that everyone was staring at me, like I didn’t belong. I watched people rushing from place to place, joyless and robotic and felt pity. By the time the sun was setting I’d walked thirty miles out of the suburbs and into Philadelphia. I didn’t want to stop so anxious was I to leave. I walked through the crowded streets looking for a place to stay, a church, a shelter, but there was nothing, but old boarded up brick buildings. I chose one and squeezed through a gap in the boards. It was dark and cold, it smelled like old people and the house creaked and moaned with age. I set a pallet and stayed my first miserable night alone and homeless.
I kept on walking from place to place. The journey got better and better with experience. Everywhere I went I found a mentor, a college professor, a martial artist, a writer, a musician, a businessman a film maker and learned as much as I could from them, often receiving a great deal of hospitality. I made it all the way across Europe and through most of Asia learning the languages and customs. Still I felt I was missing something.
My final destination was Tibet. I had had my heart set on its mysterious lands since the day I left.
I remember walking up a steep, lonely mountain road. It was winter; the peaks were snow covered and the air chill and thin. Ahead the blurs of two men were visible blocking the road as it squeezed between two high mountain peaks. Still out of sight I looked over the guard rails and kicked a stone into the clouds below. I took a deep breath and climbed under, laboriously making my way along the mountain side. It took hours to cross the barricade. My bare hands were sore and dry, cracked into a million pieces separated by lines of exposed flesh. I was exhausted; my throat was rough from lack of water, every muscle burned and not a single conscious thought entered my mind, distracted by pain and focused by determination. When I finally made it past the barricade and into the outskirts of Taksang I fainted in the road.
When I came too I found myself covered by beautifully quilted blankets in a small square room. The walls were made of white clay, the floors and ceilings of wood. The room was bare except for my mat on the floor and a table with water and bread on it. The sun struggled to shine through the closed paper windows. I was in a Buddhist monastery. There was a doorway that led outside, but my view was blocked by the railing from where I was laying. I got up and stepped through it onto a balcony overlooking the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. It was sunrise. The monastery stood closely embedded into the side of the mountain. It was made up of several connected square towers that rose successively higher up the slope. The tallest one in the middle had a red border around the top with a pattern of yellow circles on it and the roof was a shimmering gold made of three curved pyramid like shapes stacked upside down from largest to smallest and topped with a point. The view was of lush and untouched forest covering the hilly expanse.
I walked down a set of stairs beside the tower and found a bald man in a thick burgundy robe meditating. He was so still that he almost seemed lifeless. His hair was grey, but his face was unaged by wrinkles. I began to walk away not wanting to disturb him, but he called to me “Do not go, my friend.” I turned and waited for him to move. He slowly raised his arms above his head in a stretch and let out a deep relaxing sigh. He slammed them onto the ground and back flipped onto his feet. I jumped at the sound. He smiled pleasantly.
“Good Morning” he said strolling towards me.
“Good Morning” I replied.
“My name is Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche.”
“I’m Brandon” I tried to shake his hand, but he was oblivious to the custom and gave me an odd look.
“Oh yeah! I’m sorry.” I stood up straight and bowed remembering the customs I’d learned from a Buddhist scholar in Beijing.
He bowed and looked me over from head to toe. “You’re an American. How did you get here?” He asked.
“I climbed” I replied.
“Are you searching for something?”
“Of whatever you have to teach me”
He laughed. “I am sorry I cannot teach you. I cannot give you answers unless you have questions. Your heart is not in the right place.”
“What do you mean?”
“That you seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge tells me that you seek power and not enlightenment.”
“I seek power because it’s the only thing that makes me feel significant...I can't find contentment and so I search and search and no matter what I do I still want more because I feel inadequate. Your Holiness, I need guidance.”
“I see that you are desperate. You are looking for something which every man is entitled to, peace of mind. I will help you.
“Thank you, your holiness.”
“As long as you prove yourself worthy. Although it will take a long time for you to understand...I will tell you now, the answer to your question. You must master Music, Martial Arts and Language.”
“I’m already very learned.”
“That may be so, but you have done it from the wrong perspective. You must master music to acquire an appreciation of time, martial arts to sense the raw energy of your existence, and language to free your heart.”
I was skeptical, but with no other options, I started over. I had to work very hard to change my perspective. My first challenge was to stop thinking about my goal and to start thinking about my experience. We would play music all day and by the end you could literally feel time moving by, penetrating and carrying you. We would fast for weeks and meditate for days. We would climb through the mountains until our limbs were too weary too support us and we would practice complex spiritual dances to coordinate the body. Every sense in my body was awakened and mastered. All the while we constantly talked about feelings, about meanings, about definitions, about everything until there was no longer any discrepancy between what I thought and what I communicated. I learned everything they had to teach me and was born anew. A year had passed and at long last it was time to go home.
I didn't know what to expect. Everything looked the same as it always had as I drove through my old neighborhood. I pulled into the driveway. Tears were already spilling down my cheeks. I considered ringing the doorbell, like such a stranger did I feel, but I didn't want to enter so coldly. I went in through the garage door and immediately saw my little brother, all grown up, playing video games in the living room.
“Ethan...” He was startled for a moment until he recognized me. He leapt up.
“Brandon...Brandon! Mom! Mom! Brandon's home”
We embraced, squeezing the life out of each other, so happy and soothed to be reunited. Mom ran down the stairs and, as soon as she saw me, started bawling. I was her son. I never forgot that. Dad raced home from work as soon as he heard.
Everyone had changed so much, but not so much as I had.
After everyone gathered and settled down I told them my story.
“So what are you going to do now?” My mom asked.
I knew exactly what I was going to do. So many people had helped me in so many ways and thus I felt that my enlightenment was a gift that I should share.
I smiled and replied “I'm going on a walk”