As the weeks wore on at the Intensive I settled into a comfortable routine. Working in the pit was good exercise and my strength and stamina seemed to increase daily. Afternoons I'd take a book down to Big Wheeling Creek and sit on the bank to read and think until I got restless, then take a swim or poke around the rocks looking for crayfish. As I got to know and trust the others at the farm, the evening meetings and confrontation sessions became less intimidating, and I looked upon them more as a challenge than a threat. I even began to look forward to them. In fact I found myself enjoying most everything about the Intensive, including the fact that I didn't see much of Rose. Then everything changed.
We'd gone a week without rain and the pit had become an unforgiving place of heat and dust. For several days we'd been battling a vein of solid rock and the hours passed slowly. Each day when noon finally arrived and we stood to survey our labors, it looked as if we'd never come. After nearly a week of this our spirits had dropped considerably. One day as we dragged past the farmhouse at noon on our way to wash at the spring, we were surprised to see Rose sitting on the porch. Rose’s schedule that summer, like most everything else about him, was unpredictable. Still, it was unusual for him to come out to the farm before bricklaying time. For a moment he looked like any other farmer in these hills, rocking on his glider in a wide straw hat, gazing out at his land.
"You look like Arabian grave diggers," he said loudly as we headed towards him, our shirtless bodies caked with a thin layer of mud from the dust and sweat. "If there is such a thing."
"You figuring to start laying bricks a little early today, Mister Rose?" said Dan.
"No bricks today," Rose said. "I've got other plans--for all of us." He grinned mysteriously and we waited for him to elaborate. Instead he leaned back and cut his chin towards the road.
"Eric just took off about ten minutes ago," he said. "Some girl pulled up in a broken down car and honked her horn. He come running down the hill. They talked for a minute, then he hopped in and left. He won't be back."
I looked over to the edge of the field across from the house. Eric's bright blue tent was still among the trees.
"His tent's still here," I said.
"Yeah, he left everything, Rose said. "But he won't be back." The finality in his voice gave me chills. It was as if he were talking about someone who had just died.
"Why do you think he left, Mister Rose?" Rob asked.
Rose looked at him and shook his head in mock disbelief at such a naive question. "The same reason ordinary men do anything in this life," Rose said. "Sex. A girl honked her horn for him and he came running, that's all. Like a good little dog."
Rose gave a gleeful chuckle and patted an old black briefcase on the seat beside him. "The worst of it is, though, he'll never know the secret of what's in this satchel. Spread the word will you Phil? Everyone meet in the farmhouse at two o'clock."
After washing up I made lunch at my campsite. Two thoughts kept going through my mind. One was an excited curiosity about what was in Rose's satchel. The other was an obsessive reverie on the same thing that had taken Eric from the farm. If a girl had come by and honked for me at that moment, I may not have gone with her, but I would have been sorely tempted.
At two o'clock we all gathered in the living room and tittered excitedly like adolescents at a junior high dance. When Rose walked in the room fell silent. He sat down in his customary chair and laid his briefcase on the ottoman in front of him.
"For those of you who haven't heard," he said, clicking the brass catches one at a time, "this thing's filled with dynamite. I've been thinking about it, and the only way any of you people are going to get enlightened is if I blow us all into the Absolute at the same time." Everyone laughed nervously.
An hour later, however, many of us wished he hadn't been kidding. At least we would have died quickly. His satchel contained mimeographed sheets innocently entitled, "The Numbers," along with a cassette player and a half-dozen tapes.
He paired us off and gave each pair a copy of The Numbers, which was a set of six pages of mathematical problems. One person was to read the problems aloud and his partner was to add the numbers in his head. After an hour, we'd switch roles. It sounded innocent enough and everyone plunged into it in high spirits. Soon the room was filled with the sound of verbal math.
My partner, Mark, was holding the papers, so I shrugged to indicate I'd take first crack at it. Mark started firing. The first page was relatively easy, adding up pairs of two digit numbers. The second page was a little harder, requiring carry-overs from one column to another. Still, it was a manageable challenge, almost fun. But the problems continued to get harder--three digit numbers, three digit with carry-over--and the noise in the room increased with the frustration level. Then just as everyone was reaching the breaking point Rose turned on the cassette player and a tape of one of his lectures blared above the cacophony.
By two-thirty the room was a sweatbox . Adding columns of numbers in your head is hard enough without seventeen other people shouting numbers at the same time, while a tape of Rose explaining the difference between the Manifested Mind and the Unmanifested Mind plays loudly in the background. With each new problem I thought of quitting, but Mark kept shouting numbers. When I looked around everyone else was pushing on, so I did too. Sometimes my mind went blank. At other times, answers came immediately, intuitively, without having to work through the individual math. Sometimes Rose's taped voice was just white noise, an irritating blur, but then I'd finish off a page of numbers and realize I could remember every word he said. When my hour was over I was drained and I looked at Mark with true sympathy for what he was about to endure. When the two hours were finally up Rose announced that we would be doing this everyday at two o'clock from now on. Class dismissed.
I shuffled towards the creek in the late afternoon heat, tired and frustrated. Just when I felt I was settling into the rhythm of the farm and getting my head on straight, Rose shook everything up with this numbers routine. I was especially annoyed because tonight was my turn to chair the evening meeting. I'd spent hours planning for it, thinking up questions for each person and anticipating their answers, eager to show off my fledgling cross-examination skills. Now I felt sure the meeting would be a dud. After "The Numbers," who could think, let alone confront?
When I came out of the woods for the evening meeting I saw that Rose's van was still in the parking area, and I became even more despondent. Not only would my meeting flop, Rose would be there to see it happen. Inside, the farmhouse was alive with noise and energy. Rose was sitting at the dining room table, reading from some handwritten notes and peppering his listeners with one question after another. It turned out they were part of a lecture he was working on entitled, "The Lecture of Questions." The whole lecture was to be a litany of provocative questions, or koans.
"Does a man enjoy or is he consumed?" Rose intoned, his dime-store reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.
"Do you have possessions, or are you possessed by them?
"Does a man own a house, or does the house own him?
"Does a man have power, or is he overpowered?
"What is sin?
"Is it a sin to eat meat?
"Are the animals our brothers?
"Do animals sin when they eat other animals?
"Is it wrong to kill except for food?
"If so, do we do wrong by not eating the people we kill?"
Some of those present seemed lost in thought, as if pondering something three or four questions back. Others were excited, even agitated, asking Rose questions about his questions, or arguing about them with each other. I tried to hide my annoyance. Rose had pre-empted my evening in the limelight. Or so I thought.
"It's after seven, you know, if you want to have a meeting," he said.
His comment was close enough to a directive that people grudgingly left the table and filed into the living room. I was still worried that Rose would join us and overwhelm the meeting, but he remained in the dining room.
I began with a quote from Ouspensky's The Fourth Way. With everyone still fired up from Rose’s questions the meeting took off quickly, and soon became a heated confrontation session. Most of the confrontation focused on Jack, who had angered a few people recently, and who had enough quirks to fill a month of meetings. Jack was hot-tempered and emotional, and always appeared as if he was on the verge of breaking into something--laughter, tears, uncontrollable rage--you could never be quite sure which. Everyone took turns throwing tough comments and questions at him. I sat back smugly, pleased that "my" meeting had turned out so well. Then Rose's short, imposing figure appeared in the doorway.
"Maybe it's none of my business," he said quietly, "but this is all bullshit. Completely useless." The room fell silent. "I've told you people before, if confrontation is too direct the person will just get angry, not have any realizations." Then he disappeared back into the dining room.
Technically, it was still my meeting. But the fire was out and there was no getting it lit again. One by one people filed out, until Rose once more had a quorum in the dining room. He told us he would be staying at the farm full time now, until his lecture was completed. Then he began reading from his notes again.
"What are you doing for certain and what is done to you?
"Do we think or imagine that we think?
"Does a tree create wind by waving its branches?
"If we observe our thoughts, who is looking?
"Is there a soul?
"Did it exist before the body or must it be developed, grown, or evolved?
"Can a man become?
"How shall he know what he should become?"
The next morning the pit was jammed. The veterans wondered aloud at this sudden recognition of the spiritual benefits of pick and shovel work by those who formerly thought it beneath them, but were grateful for the new blood. We now had enough bodies for two full shifts of shovelers and pickers, and a good-natured competition sprang up between the two crews. There was joking and ribbing and the morning flew by.
Just before noon I noticed that everyone had picked up the pace considerably. I was puzzled by this late surge of effort until I glanced up and saw Rose standing at the edge of the pit, accompanied by Phil. For several minutes he said nothing, then he turned to Phil and said loudly enough for everyone to hear, "They're not working intelligently."
The picks and shovels fell silent.
Rob, working next to me, muttered under his breath. "How intelligent do you have to be to dig a ditch?"
Rose pointed towards a corner we thought we had completed. "You might already be too low over there."
"But Mister Rose," Phil protested. "we measured and its eight feet."
"Maybe it's eight feet somewhere, but unless you get a two-by-four and a level, there's no way of knowing where you're at." He glanced around at us. "By the way, I need eight of you down at the spring," he said, then turned and walked away.
In less than a minute he managed to make our job twice as difficult while cutting the work crew in half. The days of carefree digging were over. From now on, we would have to stop and measure every inch of the way.
A few days later when I showed up at the house at two o'clock for "The Numbers," I found a crowd gathered at the bulletin board. A notice in Rose's unmistakable hand proclaimed that from now on rapport meetings would be held daily at one o'clock. There was also a breakdown of who would be in the three separate groups that would be sitting together. I was disappointed to find I had been left out of what was generally considered to be the highest energy group. I felt slighted, even insulted, but tried to reminded myself that Rose made up the groupings based on potential energy compatibility among the members, not as rewards or punishments.
Strangely, no one seemed happy about the rapport meetings, even though Rose emphasized sitting in rapport as an important element in speeding up the development of insight and intuition. Instead, there was grumbling that since it was customary to refrain from eating before a rapport sitting, this new development in effect cut out the lunch hour.
A new state of mind settled in immediately. That afternoon there was no joking during "The Numbers." Afterwards no one sat on the porch and chatted, as had become our custom, or suggested a swim in the creek, as someone usually did. We just scattered to our private spots around the farm. That evening, too, there was none of the usual nervous chitchat before the meeting. We sat silently in the living room as we waited for Rose to finish up a phone call.
When he did, he sat down in what we had come to regard as his chair, even though it was no more comfortable than any of the others, and looked us over for a moment before he spoke. His voice was measured, and he seemed exceptionally calm.
"I've been thinking about you people, and why you're not moving spiritually," he said. The evenness of his words magnified their effect. We all thought we'd been suffering sufficiently to be making good spiritual progress.
"All of you are getting hung up on your egos. And because you're looking at it from the inside, you can't see it."
And with that, he started around the room, pointing out in each of us our primary personality trait--what Gurdjieff would have called our "chief feature." As he discussed each person in turn, Rose would identify his chief characteristic--with one it was selfishness, another, cowardice, a third, manipulation, and so on. He'd also give an example of it and explain how it permeated that person's whole personality. Then he’d talk about why it was psychologically or spiritually destructive to that individual. He proceeded counter-clockwise, and since I was two seats to his left, I had plenty of time to worry about what might be coming. Finally it was my turn.
"Now with Dave Gold, it's vanity. Somewhere along the line he got the mistaken idea that he’s a tremendously important individual. The rest of us are just incidental characters to him. He’s the star of the show and we’re the extras. You take your life in your hands when you work with Dave Gold, because he doesn't pay attention to anybody but himself. And you can't tell him anything because he’s convinced he already knows everything there is to know."
He didn't stop there, but continued to elaborate on my flaws in painful detail. Four or five minutes was all he gave anyone, and I had no reason to believe he spent any longer on me. It just seemed like hours, as each word stripped off another layer of skin. When he was through I felt as naked and vulnerable as I had after he laid into me at that first meeting.
From that point on, there was no relaxing around Rose. Every statement, every idiosyncrasy or habit was more ammunition for the relentless barrage of confrontation he directed at all of us. Sometimes his barbs were coated with humor, like when explained why he didn’t bother confronting Craig very often.
"Nobody’s going to give that guy any headaches," he said. "Craig’s still tripping through the horse turds thinking they’re marshmallows."
More often, though, his message was delivered straight up with an intensity bordering on anger. We speculated about this, as with everything Rose did or said, and wondered whether he was actually angry at these times, or if an enlightened man only allowed himself to manifest anger to get his point across.
That debate was settled a few days later when Rose discovered that someone had cut down an ancient walnut tree by the bunkhouse because it blocked the view of the sunset. We were struggling through The Numbers when he burst in, his face crimson with fury, veins bulging on either side of his neck. Rose never mentioned the transgressor by name, but for forty-five minutes he stormed and raged, recounting every item on the farm that had been lost, damaged, or destroyed that summer.
"This is my farm, damn it! These are my trees. These are my tools. I'm not tied up having to earn a living because my in whole life I've never discarded anything of value. Now a bunch of dopeheads are busting up everything I own."
Then he itemized the new farm rules. No trees were to be cut. No lumber could be used for any purpose without first clearing it with him. The shed would be padlocked and no one would get so much as a nail without signing out for it.
"And I'm tired of people taking a powder around here when things get too intense." He stared at Steve, who had gone to Cleveland the week before to be best man at his brother's wedding.
"Funerals are one thing," Rose said. "If someone in your family dies, then you've got to bury your dead. But you don't have to dance at their wedding and celebrate their folly."
Then his final pronouncement. "Once you leave the farm, for any reason, don't come back."
"The Great Walnut Tree Massacre," as the blow-up came to be known, marked yet another turning point in the Intensive. Before, you might run across Rose once or twice during the day, and usually he'd glance at what you were doing in silence. Now, he seemed to be everywhere with a comment about everything.
I turned out to be one of his prime targets. Once he assigned four of us to pull the rusty nails from a pile of scrap lumber and straighten them for re-use. It took several days and periodically Rose would come around to inspect the growing pile of nails. Every time he encountered a nail that hadn't been salvaged to his satisfaction, he called it a "Dave Gold Special." At an evening meeting he jabbed at my vanity and got a good laugh to boot by referring to a conspicuous pimple in the center of my forehead as my "third eye." At the same meeting he later classified me as "semi-sincere," which to Rose is an oxymoron on par with "partial virgin," or "slightly dead." Two days later he demoted me to the "low energy" rapport group, and joked that it was because of the life-size blow-up Barbie doll I kept in my tent. But worst of all, and the most puzzling, was his steadfast refusal to accept anything from me, be it a cookie or an offer to mix his mortar.
Attempting to please him was like trying to hit a moving target. Just when we thought our farm labor might be living up to his expectations, Rose announced that we had turned ourselves into work machines. Our physical activity was just a distraction from the "real work" of facing ourselves, he said. From now on, he told us, there'd be no labor on Mondays--whether we wanted to work or not.
The following Monday passed tediously. A restlessness bordering on depression hung over the farm, and the evening meeting reflected our mood. Instead of the usual caginess or combativeness, people began confessing to hopeless inadequacies. Dale was particularly hard on himself, complaining that he wasn't getting anywhere, despite his summer-long stay at the farm.
Just then Rose walked in from the dining room where he had been reading the evening paper and listening to our meeting. He looked towards Larry and said, "You've been staying in the bus with Dale all summer. Have you noticed any change since he's been here?"
"It's kind of hard to tell," Larry said cautiously, "but he does seem more confident than he did at the beginning?" Rose had been riding Dale pretty hard and Larry was probably reluctant to say anything too positive.
Rose said nothing and turned to Mark. "What about you? Do you see anything different about Dale?"
Mark thought for a second. "He works harder than when he started. He's a lot more energetic."
Rose continued around the room, asking about Dale. Someone said he was easier to talk to, another mentioned that he had more poise. Rose waited until everyone had spoken.
"It's only in hindsight that you'll know whether you made a jump," he said. "Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourselves. Keep working, keep pushing, Be relentless. "
He moved from the doorway as if to leave, then turned back to us again. "There's a door open for you people--all of you," he said. "But you’re going to have to fight your way up to it."
The next day in the pit, we debated what Rose meant by his last comment. A door open to what? Some thought Rose was referring to a door that was open into his head, his Enlightenment experience. Transmission. How long would the door remain open? How did a person become a worthy candidate for transmission? Was it an opportunity that always awaited us? Or was the Intensive a special chance?
We argued the point all morning. After work we went into the farmhouse with the intention of asking Rose what he meant, but there was a new face at the dining room table and the afternoon took on a different tone. Rose had mentioned that someone was flying in from Los Angeles and we assumed this was him, although there was certainly nothing about him that said "California."
His name was John. He was tall and lean, with an angular face and sharp Semitic features that made him appear older than he probably was. His face was perpetually serious--"dolorous," as Rob later described it--and I subsequently learned that both his parents were survivors of Auschwitz.
John had read some of Rose’s books and had become interested enough to start corresponding with him. Now, having flown three thousand miles to meet him personally, he was apparently prepared to do dharma combat. He took a small spiral notebook from his shirt pocket and began to ask Rose questions from a long list. His inquiries were heavy and ponderous, concerning the void, oblivion, ego death, and darkness.
Rose was in high spirits, as he almost always was when meeting an interested potential student for the first time, and he answered the questions with appropriate, but light-hearted responses. John never smiled. He just kept reading depressing questions from his notebook.
"Doesn’t it ever get tiring being a spiritual teacher, trying to bridge the gap between the mundane and the Absolute?" John asked.
"Do I get tired of people walking on my back? No, that I don't mind. It's the perpetual leaning against the bridge that makes me weary." Rose laughed good-naturedly.
"What I mean is," John went on, "it's almost like you're the tie that all these people have to God..."
"No, no. Don't expect me to put in a good word for anybody with the man upstairs. Believe me, I have no standing."
Everyone laughed but John. He didn't blink.
"But doesn't a spiritual master have an eternal responsibility to his students, to make sure they all attain perfect Enlightenment?"
"Ugh," Rose said, as if there were something distasteful in his mouth. "When I die I'm leaving this place permanently. You guys won’t get any more help from me. Don't pray to me for any advice, like I'm still floating around watching you."
John was still earnest. "But how can we find the road to the Absolute if we don't have a teacher to guide us?"
"Hey," Rose said, his voice now serious but his eyes still smiling. "There is no road. There are no teachers, no students. Nobody’s here. Nobody's doing anything. You have to realize that. There's only a roomful of dummies sitting in the dark asking each other, 'Are we dummies?'"
Rose broke into deep laughter, all the lines in his face coming together in total, uninhibited glee. Even John joined in this time. When the laughter died down he said to Rose, "You looked like the laughing Buddha just then."
Suddenly we were aware that the phone was ringing. Phil went to answer it in the other room. When he came back he looked at me.
"Dave Gold," he said. "Your mother's on the phone."
The room fell silent. Embarrassed and a bit nervous, I shrugged my shoulders and walked to the telephone.
"Hi. What's up?"
"I'm sorry to call. You know I wouldn't interrupt unless it was important..."
"Is everyone okay?"
"Sure, sure. Everything's fine. It's your boss. He made a special call. He says something came up at work and he needs to talk to you. He seems like such a nice man. I promised you'd call him."
I took down the number she gave me, and promised I'd take care of it. After I hung up I sat on the ottoman, staring at the phone. Another burst of laughter came from the dining room. I folded the number and put it my pocket, then went back in.
Rose was in the middle of a story about his brother Joe. As soon as he finished he turned to me. "What's going on in Pittsburgh?"
The unexpected spotlight caught me off guard. I spoke before I had time to rehearse. "My boss called about something. My mother told him I'd call back."
"Call him," Rose said forcefully. It was more of an order than a suggestion. "He might be in some kind of jam."
"I know what he wants. He needs somebody to work and I'm the last resort."
"Well, if he needs you, you better go."
My thoughts were still of the "no return" policy Rose had recently instated.
"I don't want to leave," I said.
"That's not the point. This guy's been equitable with you, and you don't turn your back on a friend."
It was almost as if Rose was trying to get rid of me, to encourage me to leave then not let me come back. Dejected, I went back into the living room, and called my boss. As I suspected, he was in a tight spot and I was the last warm body available.
I walked back into the dining room and told Rose I had to leave right away.
"Good," was his only reply.
Minutes later I stood in front of my tent, too bewildered to know what to do next. Was I leaving for good? The thought of walking away and not returning was more than I could handle. I left everything as it was and packed only for a few days then went back to the farmhouse, determined to clarify my status before leaving the farm. But when I was face to face with Rose all I could say was good-bye, which was all he said to me.
My unexpected return to the world was neither as traumatic as I'd feared or as exhilarating as I'd secretly hoped. I was pleasantly surprised at how detached I felt from the play of life around me as I went about the business of fulfilling my commitments at work. It took only three days to do what needed to be done and before I knew it I was headed back to the Intensive.
As I drove the winding roads back to the farm that evening I speculated about what awaited me. Separation had sharpened my sense of what I had been a part of at the farm--the energy, community, shared sense of purpose--and I wondered if I would be able, or even allowed, to fit back in.
It was close to eleven o'clock when I arrived. Rose and a few stragglers were still in the dining room talking after the meeting. I watched carefully for smiles or frowns when I walked through the door, but there were only blank stares, first at me, then at Rose.
"We had a little accident while you were away," Rose said. He waited, as if watching for my reaction.
"There was a storm out here last night," he went on. "Lightning hit that big cherry tree north of your tent and took it down. Your tent's crushed."
I didn't know what to say or feel.
"We salvaged what we could of your stuff," Rose said. "Dale put it in the blue bus. You can stay there the rest of the summer."
Feeling somewhat dazed and not knowing how to respond, I thanked everyone. Then I borrowed a flashlight and hurried down to my campsite. The giant cherry tree that had shaded my tent was split in two about twenty feet from the ground, and the top half--at least two feet in diameter--lay flat on the ground, a torn piece of brown canvass peeking out from underneath it. I shuddered involuntarily. No one in that tent would have survived. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a maze of conflicting emotions--sadness at the destruction of my tent, an almost giddy relief that I wasn't in it, confusion as to why I had to suffer this calamity, and most of all, bewilderment at the unlikely course of events that had quite possibly prevented my death. Feeling drained and tired I headed for the blue bus.
It was miserable. The bus was hot and musty. Breathing was difficult, sleeping impossible. Mosquitoes buzzed my ears, mice scurried about the floors and walls, and just before dawn the bats rattled the tin behind my cot as they returned from their nightly rounds. I was up and out at daybreak, taking deep breaths of fresh morning air and wondering how I was going to survive my last week on the farm.
I turned around, surprised to hear a voice so early in the day. It was Rob, walking down the hill with a large backpack.
A few days before I left for Pittsburgh, Rob had set out for the back edge of the farm, where he had pitched a tent and apparently remained until now. He told me about his week in the woods as he loaded his car, and I joined him on the walk back to the campsite to retrieve the rest of his gear.
We proceeded to the hilltop at the west end of the farm, then down an embankment so steep that a few times we had to scramble on all fours to keep from falling. About half-way down I could see small sections of a meandering creek, and at the bottom of the hill we came upon a grassy plateau with a small tent sitting about ten feet from the water.
We followed the creek upstream a few hundred yards, and Rob showed me the waterfall where he showered each morning. As we sat silently on a large flat rock in the middle of the creek, staring at the steep shale walls that kept the sounds of civilization from penetrating the ravine, I knew what I wanted to do.
Rob grinned when I asked him if I could move into his tent for the remainder of my stay. "I was hoping I wouldn’t have to lug it back up the mountain," he said.
He helped me think through the details as we made our way back to the farmhouse. He had fasted during his week-long stay and the prospect of dragging food and cooking gear all the way to the campsite convinced me to do the same. A sleeping bag, water jug, flashlight, and maybe a book or two was all I would need. I was able to haul it all out in one trip, and by nightfall, I was settled into my new home, listening to the rippling water and the sounds of the woods.
I thought I would miss the pit, The Numbers, rapport. But the time passed quickly, even pleasantly. Fasting relaxed my body and quieted my mind, and after a couple of days I forgot all about food. The weather was good, and the bugs weren't bad. Each morning I stood under the waterfall and whooped and hollered in the cold water. Meditation came more easily than ever before, and in the evenings I followed the stream to a clear blue lake and watched the sun set over the water.
On the sixth evening as I lay in my tent, wondering what I should to commemorate my final night on the farm, the wind, which had been blowing steadily all day, suddenly picked up, and I could hear rumblings in the distance. As I lay there the reverberations grew louder and closer and I knew that the peaceful weather was about to end.
I grabbed my flashlight and went outside to examine the tent. Only four of the eight anchor loops had stakes in them, and those were small plastic things that didn't penetrate very deeply into the rocky soil. I began hurriedly to fashion wooden stakes out of branches as the rain began to fall, and within minutes I was grappling with the tent in a torrential storm, trying to drive my makeshift tent stakes into the ground with the heel of my work boot. The lightning drew closer, until there was no longer any delay between the streaks of light and the bellowing thunder. As I struggled to keep the tent from blowing away, I found myself observing the process, impassively watching myself work with an uncharacteristic calm and thoroughness. It was such a pleasant sensation I even slowed my efforts slightly so as to prolong the feeling.
When I was done I stripped off my wet clothes and laid on my sleeping bag, listening with delight to the relentless thunder and the roar of the swelling creek, marveling at each flash of lightning that lit up my tent like daylight.
The following morning I awoke twice. First from sleep to waking consciousness, as usual. Then abruptly and without warning from waking consciousness to a level of awareness I'd never experienced before. As I lay there I was startlingly aware of being only a nameless entity lying in a tiny nylon cubicle, staring at a metal pole. I had no sense of my persona and all the negative baggage that came with it. I felt clean. This, I thought, must be the observer Rose talks about. The one who objectively watches life through your eyes. The observer who can lead you to your True Self. In those moments it was glaringly apparent to me that this was the path to Reality, that regardless of what I might accomplish or acquire, or who I might surround myself with in life, that this entity, this being-ness, was the essential substance of my life, and was the vehicle of my destiny if I was to have one.
It was not a particularly joyous revelation. More like a childhood memory, long lost in the cluttered attic of my mind, that had suddenly surfaced. "Oh, yeah," it felt like. "I remember now."
I crawled out of the tent and waded up the creek, allowing the cool waters to rush past my ankles, shins, knees. I paused in the swift current, staring at the steep rock wall that bordered the stream, listening to the roar of the rain-swollen waterfall. Gradually my physical perceptions blended together, until I could no longer separate sight from sound from feeling. The surroundings became less and less real, until the outside world faded and my inner feelings created a new one in its place. For the first and only time in my life I was completely happy, and the world reflected it back to me in every way imaginable. I felt wrapped in a blissful light.
"So this is happiness," I thought, overwhelmed and awed by the sense of rapture and joy that surrounded me. Immediately, the feeling left, preferring, I suppose, not to be named, not to be captured in thought. I felt no sadness at it’s leaving, however, only a clear knowledge that now was when the work began in earnest. Within an hour I had packed and cleared the campsite, careful to remove all traces of my visit, and started up the steep hillside that led to the farm.
I had packed all of my belongings before I moved into Rob's tent, so once I placed what I had carried back with me into the car, I was ready to leave. I had planned to take a final walk to my original campsite to organize my thoughts before saying good-bye to Rose, but when I closed the car door and turned around he was standing there, just a few feet away.
"Heading out, are you?" he said.
"Yeah, not much choice, really. Classes start Monday." I looked into his pale blue eyes--laughing, piercing, yet eternally neutral.
"I want to thank you for everything you've done for me," I said, suddenly aware of a catch in my throat.
Rose narrowed his eyes as if scrutinizing me for a moment, but said nothing.
"Is there anything I can do to repay you?" I asked.
He smiled warmly. "Just pass it on," he said. "That's all I ask of anyone. Just pass it on."