These were strange days. The war, and noise and rumour of war was every day coming closer. People were streaming into the City or going out of the City in carts and bicycles, cars and buses loaded with possessions.

The boy met many people putting things together for their journey.

Just keep going… 

He found a very old man standing undecided on a street corner.

“I don’t know where to go. he told the boy. All my life I have been seeking a secret haven.”

The boy listened attentively. You see. it does not matter how long the search takes. nor where it takes you.” said the old man.


“In fact, when you set out, pray the road be long and the experiences many. Learn and learn again from those you meet on the road, but always keep your goal fixed in your mm That is your ultimate aim, never be diverted from it. Better you take long years and arrive finally at the harbour in the evening and drop anchor as the moon is rising over the mountains.” He gazed thoughtfully at the boy. 

Lo anchor at evening 

“And what if you should find the place a disappointment? Will your voyage have been all for nothing?”

He shook his head resolutely. “Not a bit of it. You see. without your ideal you would never have started out in the first place. This dream you had, why - it gave you the journey:

and think, think how much you have gained on the way.”


One day the boy met a very angry man tearing at his own hair. I am always angry and I wish I wasn’t,” said the man unhappily. “Every day I try to remind myself not to be ill- tempered or irritable or unkind - I even write it down. But the slightest little thing sets me off, and although I know I should stop, I can’t. I rage and roar and bellow and judge and condemn until the anger is all burned out and then I bitterly regret it. But a little while later I’m off again, and mostly to people I like, which makes it worse.”  

Rage… 

“I’ve tried everything,” he went on. “Change of diet, sleeping pills, alcohol, music, hypnosis. Nothing works. I am Out of my own control. I pray that the anger will wash out and I’ll be left free of it because I know it’s pointless and I never remember afterwards what made me angry in the first place.”

“Perhaps you should go and live at the temple with the monks,” suggested the boy.

“I tried but I only got angry with them too over - nothing. I’m better off on my own - then I can only be angry with myself.”


The angry man had a card hanging around his neck. “It’s meant to remind me,” the man said and recited, “Think deeply, speak gently, love much, laugh often, give freely, pray earnestly and be kind.” He threw up his hands in despair. “I have all the rules,” he declared, “but I can’t keep one of them.” He tugged a tattered book from his pocket and pointed to a page. He read aloud: “Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or conceited or proud.”  

Love is kind… 

“It’s not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable. Love does not keep a record of wrongs ...“He slammed a finger angrily on the page. “And I am always irritable and I never forget wrongs

- in fact I dream of the most terrible revenge I could inflict. And I hate myself because I cannot stop. I hate it!” he stormed angrily, and strode away, red and fuming.


Near the market where the children ate a boy was leading a blind old man who was plucking at a single stringed violin and warbling a song all out of tune. The old blind musician sat down to eat with them. “An old man,” he said suddenly, “is just a tattered coat upon a stick unless -“ he peered at the boy with sightless eyes, “Unless his soul clap its hands and sing,” he wheezed, raising his tinny voice, “and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.”  

singing masters of the soul 

“Is that what you are doing?” asked the boy.

The blind musician nodded confidentially. “I am going to find the singing masters of my soul. And get me to the Holy City.”

“Where’s that?”


“Oh, it’s a dream, the dream I have been searching for all my life. But it’s where my immortal soul belongs.” He picked up his broken fiddle. “And if I ever put on mortal form again what do you think I might want?”

“To see,” suggested the boy.  

 

Song of dreams 

The blind man shook his head. “Oh, I can see now,” he said. “No, I should like to be a palace bird, perched on a golden bough singing to all the lords and ladies about what was, and is, and is to come.”


There was a hotel near the market where many young foreign travellers stopped. They came into the City with huge backpacks, hair long and clothes grimy, but they seemed to have no shortage of money when it came to eating or drinking beer. There was an open-air restaurant below the hotel where they all gathered to gossip.  

Thirsty work 

Beggars and maimed soldiers came by, hats in hand, but these travellers were very mean when it came to giving anything away. The boy was looking into the video game parlour next door where the school kids were playing combat games on the screens with great enthusiasm. A man thrust a coin at the boy.

“Do you want to play? - Go on.” The boy shook his head. ‘All the games are war games - just like all the films.”


The man nodded. “That’s what everyone seems to like. Violence is the way of the world.” He was dressed like a traveller except he was older and didn’t have the backpack, or the plastic bottle of drinking water or big dirty boots.

“What are you?” asked the boy politely.

“I’m an explorer,” the man replied.

The boy studied him carefully. “You don’t look like an explorer,” he told him. “Shouldn’t you have a big backpack with a tent and a compass and ropes and maps and things?”  

exploress 

“It all depends what you are going to explore,” said the explorer. “If you are going to explore mountain passes you need ropes and ice picks and if you are going to cross deserts you need water and a compass.”

“So what are you going to explore?”

The explorer glanced around uncertainly as if he had a secret he didn’t want anyone to hear.


Overhead the moon had risen - a nearly full moon glowing in a cloudless night sky. The explorer pointed There’s a far side to the moon that no one has ever seen except the astronauts.”

“That’s where you’re going?”

The explorer shook his head and pointed to the river broad as a sea by night. ‘Centuries ago sailors set out from here to try and reach the other side of the world.

Land ahoy! 

“Everyone triought they were crazy because everyone knew that the world was flat and once you got to the edge you fell off.”

“Is that where you are going?”

The man looked hard at him, “I’m setting off to discover the other side of the soul. You think I’m crazy?”

The boy merely frowned. “But how do you set off on such a journey and what do you take with you?”


“One thing I’ve learned,” replied the explorer, “is when you give up anything it is as if you are setting out on a journey towards an unknown goal. But when you give up something, you always gain something else, although you won’t know what until it happens.”

“If I gave up collecting rubbish,” said the boy, “I’d just go hungry.” But the explorer was already away on the brink of his journeyings and didn’t hear him. “Perhaps it is music you abandon, and cast yourself free into a seemingly silent world where the only sound is the wind sighing or the waves breaking.” The explorer paused.  

Music of the spheres 

“Perhaps when you are older and have had someone to love, you may realise that desire is an unreliable foundation for affection and decide to do without it. At first you will feel like a solitary hermit setting out into the unknown alone - but like every journey it will bring its rewards, however difficult it is to predict them. You see we have to set ourselves free and cast off all those things familiar to us if we are ever to discover what lies within us on the other side of our own soul.’


 He waved an arm gently around them. ‘This landscape outside, of rivers and fields and streets and houses, of work and play, is much the same wherever we go - as are the problems - but the landscape on the other side of the soul is unknown and there are few indeed who are prepared to break with their familiar ways and set out like an early explorer and not look back.”  

Don’t look back 

He watched the traffic. “You cannot set out on this journey by car or motorbike or even a bicycle. Perhaps not even on foot. But you have to set off with intent and the pangs and the suffering and the wish to return to the familiar will be very hard to bear at the start. So ask yourself: do you have the strength and do you have the purpose? They will be your companions, and trust and faith will be your guides.


“We must believe that our soul, like our planet, is round and there is something on the other side. The temptation is to feel as uncertain as those early navigators, fearful if they went too far they would fall over the edge and plunge into the abyss. That is why all those things familiar to us and in which we take such pleasure have such a strong hold over us.  

Burn your boats 

“How hard it is for us to burn our boats so that we cannot return to the beckoning shore of our own cravings. But if we wish to discover a new dimension, if we wish to free ourselves from these bonds then we must close our ears and shut our eyes and strike out into the deep for the unknown shore of our own soul - wherever it may be.”


Then the boy confided with the explorer and told him about the Garden. He told him everything, and the explorer listened patiently until he finished. “I have only one question to ask you,” he said. “If there are two paths, the narrow stony path that leads to your Garden or the broad, well-lit comradely path of the satisfaction of your pleasures and desires, which one will you take?”  

Which way? 

The boy hesitated, “I hope I would take the narrow path to the Garden - but it isn’t clearly marked, is it?” he pleaded.

“No,” agreed the explorer, “If it were, there would be no test of faith and hope. For what is seen cannot be hoped for. By faith we must seek this other country. For you the Garden, for me the gate of the soul. And we must trust ourselves to the path of hope to get there.”


“What is the most important part of you?” he asked the boy. ‘The body you can see and feel until it dies, or your soul, which you cannot see or feel but is the real you, and if you strengthen it, will fly through the open door of death, while the body, however richly you have sustained it, will fail and fall.”

Through an open door?

 

 
 

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9

 
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