Within and Without


The Holy Man sat within the protection of the cave looking out. The first of the spring rains drumming on the stones beyond the entrance had drawn his consciousness up out of deep meditation and into physical reality. As he slowly came back into his body the resolve he had formulated in the last days of autumn still burned within him. This spring he would leave the cave and return to the world.

Since time immemorial the cave had been regarded as a place of spiritual retreat for in that culture the last third of life was seen as time of renunciation, retreat and meditation for those seeking spiritual salvation.

At first life in the cave was difficult for the man. The winters were harsh and his meagre supply of food meant he was often cold and hungry. A travelling sage passed by one summer and taught him how to regulate his breathing and enter more fully into meditation. Things became easier after that but the man was still troubled by desires – desires for comfort, for a woman, for a good hot meal, for companionship – the list went on and on. “I must negate all desire,” he told himself. “Only then will I find lasting peace and salvation.”

For years he wrestled with this. Despite his inner turmoil the local villagers decided he was a holy man and thus worthy of their veneration. During the warmer months they took to visiting him. They bought with them offerings of food they had grown and blankets they had woven. In return they expected him to heal the ills that beset them, answer the problems that troubled them and, sometimes even absolve them of their wrong doings. “Why do we suffer so?” they wept and wailed. “Why is life so hard?” Gratefully the man took the food and blankets. Humbly he offered them what he had – a smile, a place to stop the world awhile and recharge. People said just being in his presence bought them peace.

When the winter snows fell on the higher slopes above the cave the Holy Man retreated deep inside himself. Within his mind he would gather up the troubles the people had bought to him and carry them higher and higher until they dissolved into the pure light of spirit.

Over the years the Holy Man’s fame grew. In the summer months people from distant lands began to visit him seeking wisdom. At first these travellers were young and mostly male. Their matted hair and ragged clothing reminded him of his own younger self. The girls with them were as unworldly as temple handmaidens. “Our society is utterly bereft of the spiritual,” they all said. “People are so motivated by desire they are exploiting both the planet and those less fortunate than themselves.”

When the winter snows fell and the tracks to the cave became impassable the Holy Man picked up his drum and let its rhythms carry him deep into trance. Now his meditation took him within the Earth. Deeper and deeper he went feeling the pain of humanity, the pain of the exploited Earth. A deep, dark howl of despair bought him back to the surface of his mind. “We must all negate desire,” he thought. “Only then will all find salvation. Only then will the Earth heal.”

Years passed. More and more people made the pilgrimage to see the Holy Man. The travellers from distant lands were richer and more worldly now. Many came with entourages – film crews, study groups of holistic practitioners, groups of followers and spiritual seekers. Speaking with them the Holy Man came to understand that their affluence was a product of fulfilled desires. Unlike the villagers who desired health and prosperity many of these new seekers already had these things. The questions they asked were different. “How can we save the Earth,” they asked. “How can we help the sick and the poor?”

Meditating alone the Holy Man came to see that it was not desire that caused humanity’s problems. Without desire nothing would happen – no babies would be born, no crops grown, no buildings constructed, no businesses started. Indeed, he realised, desire was the engine that created all activity.

His winter meditations changed. Now he no longer wrestled with desire. Instead he sought to understand it. Up to the light he went then on out to the stars. Spinning across galaxies and dancing on light beams he lost sight of himself and of the Earth below until suddenly the currents swept him through crystalline caves and along the vast underground rivers that flow beneath the Earth’s surface. Journeying deeper still he left the physical realms behind and plunged into the ancestral and collective timelines of humanity. The universe became holographic and he lost of awareness of himself as a man. Indeed it seemed to him that he had lived many lifetimes – sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman, sometimes rich, sometimes poor.

The following summer the Holy Man sat in the lotus position as folk from across the globe toiled up the mountain slope to be with him. Many were deeply troubled by the political situation in their home countries and by the growing spectre of climate change. “I need to return to the world,” thought the Holy Man. “I will spend one more winter here then I will leave.”

That winter the Holy Man did not journey to the stars and he did not plunge into the deepest recesses of human consciousness. Instead he sat in silence.

When the spring rains fell on the rocks outside the cave the man emerged into full awareness of his surroundings. A deep sense of inner calm flowed through his being. “I am no more holy than those rocks,” he thought. “All life is sacred. I will leave this cave now and return to the world. I have not negated all desire. Instead I have simply shifted my desires. Now I do not seek my own salvation or even the salvation of others. What I seek is to live in harmony with nature and with humanity.”

16 thoughts on “Within and Without

  1. Lovely story, Suzanne, beautifully told.
    No, desire is not the root of all evil…as you say, desire is one of the survival mechanisms of life. Slavery to the kind of desire that seeks only to slake itself for personal gain or pleasure, though, is a different matter. In the end, it comes down to whether we are looking within or without…and how you define the difference πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Sue. I was really exploring ideas in this story. Your comment adds further illumination. I have a feeling I’ll exploring related ideas for a while yet. πŸ™‚


  2. Pingback: Within and Without ~ Suzanne #writephoto | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  3. Pingback: Photo prompt round-up: Within #writephoto | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

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