They passed through the doors and down a dimly lit corridor with Mani wheels lining each side.
Sheridan held out his hand, feeling the raised letters of the mantra of on the cold metal. He knew the six-syllabled mantra of the was meant to transform the body and mind. His head dropped. He watched his well-worn boots fall upon a wooden floor made smooth by the faithful steps of monks.
Looking up to discover he had been left behind, he was drawn to a light emanating from a large open room on the right side of the passageway. He slowed to a stop, pulling up to an opening framed by two hand-carved pillars. He leaned in, struggling to adjust his eyes. The room held an inky darkness that reached into every corner. And at its center a single candlestick, made of blue-stained wood, stood six feet tall, bearing a candle the size of a coffee can. The candle burned with a warm, almost lightless flame that flickered in the deepest shades of burgundy and amber.
Sheridan took a step inside. He could feel the warmth in his shoulders, like a penetrating heat-rub being massaged into his muscles. And the cut on his knee warmed too, tingling with the sharp pricks of a thousand needles. He thought of the of biblical times, whose legendary powers to heal and soothe were well known by the ancient world. The potion’s secret formula was so highly treasured by the villagers of the oasis, where the miraculous balm was concocted, that a threat was inscribed on the village synagogue’s mosaic floor:
Whoever reveals the secret of the village to the gentiles, the One whose eyes roam over the entire earth and see what is concealed will uproot this person and his seed from under the sun.
Like peering through night-vision goggles that reveal an infrared world, his eyes began to adjust to the dark red hue the candle cast across the room. As the shapes and figures came into focus he realized it was a sick ward for victims of Sunlight Deprivation Syndrome. An aisle led around the perimeter of the room with sickbeds along each side. He stepped inside and began to walk down the aisle. Monks, both young and old, attended to the sick, some with food and water and others with news from home. Sheridan felt his bandaged knee, rubbing at the tingling heat that intensified with every step.
A hand fell upon Sheridan’s shoulder.
“It’s the plague of darkness,” Kunchen said. “It’s not just the land that needs the sun.”
Sheridan turned to the center of the room and approached the candle.
Coming to a stop just inches away from the crimson flame, he felt the warmth in his knee begin to cool and the tingling dissipate. Without a word Kunchen kneeled at Sheridan’s side and began to untie the red cloth from his knee. He watched Kunchen unwrap the dressing. Then, as Kunchen rolled up his pants leg, Sheridan stared in disbelief at what he saw: the deep gash was gone. He reached for his knee, marveling at the smooth flesh: Not even a scar is left.
“It’s amazing. The light seems to be have completely healed it.” Sheridan said.
He studied the burning candle.
What is it?” Sheridan asked.
“A combination of beeswax and a resin made of sunflowers.” Sheridan cocked his head toward Kunchen.
“That sounds like a formula from an alchemy notebook I discovered outside of . The Vatican was desperate to have it put away.”
“They are nervous bunch, aren’t they?” Kunchen replied, as he excused himself to kneel at the bed of an old Tibetan woman who had summoned him with her shaky hand.
A pleasant monk joined Sheridan.
“The synthesis for this candle, was it a formula handed down from the days of Shambhala?” Sheridan asked, his eyes returned to the flame.
“It’s not Tibetan,” he said plainly.
“Kunchen found it somewhere in the Middle East . . . said something about an ancient library.”
Sheridan tilted his head, taking a slow turn toward the amiable monk.
“A library in the Middle East?” The pleasant man gave a shrug with a closed-lip smile. Sheridan spun past the monk to set his eyes on Kunchen where he kneeled at the old woman’s bedside. Kunchen angled his head to the side, his face slack and eyes pinched—-as if he could hear the murmuring in Sheridan’s mind. Then his checks rose and eyes wrinkled as he turned to face Sheridan’s inquisitive gaze.
“I want to show you something.” Kunchen said.
“Okay,” Sheridan replied, not returning the smile.
Without another word, the two made their way to the rear of the monastery and took their place in the back of a room where ornate tapestries graced the walls and floors. The ceiling was cut from the bowels of the mountain in a high-arching vault evocative of a private cathedral. The children sat cross-legged facing a handful of monks who were seated at the front of the room.
A cymbal was rung and a deep-throated growl began to emanate from the mouth of a monk bent over with age. The chant filled the room with the dimension of sound, while an inaudible vibration began to infuse each heart with the energy of awareness. Sheridan found himself relaxing into the music’s undulating tide. His mind became immersed in a pool of stillness, his anxieties soaked in the profound faith of uncorrupted voices. He closed his eyes, abandoning himself to a place so deep; he could feel alone and at one with nature, all at once.
It had been so long since music had carried Sheridan to such a place he had almost forgotten it was possible. The music washed over him in waves of peace that drew out the poisonous tension that clung to every cell of his body. In the midst of the wafting chant Sheridan heard a familiar voice call to him:
The ambient voice, floating in the sightless realm of Sheridan’s consciousness, brought to mind the voice of a stranger that had once been his only lifeline in an unseen world.
“Everything’s going to be alright . . .” a young voice says.
In the crowded cell of a Russian prison, Sheridan lays face down on the concrete floor, his crumpled body barely stirring. His torn shirt hangs at his side exposing a bloodied back—-the result of a ruthless flogging at the end of a knout. The Russian whip, made of leather thongs and twisted wire, has left the brand of a hundred cuts on his lacerated flesh. With tender care, the young prisoner washes the wounds as Sheridan’s moans echo off the concrete walls. Tearing his bedsheet in half, the amateur nurse swathes Sheridan’s back with the swatch of cotton cloth. Then taking off his own shirt, he spreads it across the floor. Ever so gently, he turns Sheridan onto his back. Sheridan’s eyes are swollen shut, his eyelids cut and bleeding. The stranger cradles Sheridan’s head in his crossed legs. He rips the remains of his bedsheet into narrow strips wrapping the makeshift bandage across Sheridan’s eyes and around his head.
The young man motions to another prisoner. He is handed a crude metal cup, which he places to Sheridan’s mouth.
Sheridan takes a drink.
“I need to get out of here,” Sheridan whimpers, slurring his words through battered lips. “There’s a place I need to be.”
“How do you know this is not where you need to be?” the young prisoner asked.
“Why are you here?” Sheridan mumbles.
“I don’t know yet,” The young voice says, once again tipping the cup against Sheridan’s lips. Sheridan takes a long drink. He swallows hard.
“They didn’t tell you why you were arrested?”
The fellow captive dabs at the water running down Sheridan’s chin.
“I know why I was arrested, but I don’t know what purpose brings me here.”
“What could be the purpose of this?” Sheridan says, turning his head to the sound of the stranger’s voice.
“What indeed? When we ask that question we find our way.”
In the depths of the stillness, Sheridan could sense he was not alone. The voice called to him again:
“Sheridan,” The familiar voice called. “Follow my voice to the sea of .”
Sheridan descended through the “innerverse” of consciousness like a deep-sea diver entering the otherworldly domain of the ocean floor.
The voice called again when a white door appeared at the end of a long black hallway. An unyielding force drew him toward the door even as his apprehensions urged him back. His hand gripped the doorknob, then, with a twist, he pushed it open. The white door swung out into a sea of cerulean blue. There, wearing the pleased expression of a proud teacher, stood the source of the young voice.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Kunchen said.
In that moment a bolt of pure energy struck Sheridan’s chest. His heart leapt as he felt a yoke of transcendent friendship fuse them soul to soul.
Sheridan opened his eyes just as Kunchen’s eyelids lifted. The blissed-out look on Sheridan’s face said it all. His eyes gleamed with wonder as he marveled at his visit to the sacred depths.
“What was that?” he asked. “I suddenly felt like I’ve known you all of my life.”
“The Buddhists call it kalyanamitra, or soul friends. It’s a sacred connection you find with those that help you on your journey.” Kunchen explained.
Sheridan looked down at his clasped hands. “I’ve felt that connection once before . . . in a cell in a Russian Gulag many years ago. When I heard your voice . . . I thought it was his. The Vatican had sent me to recover artifacts we feared would be destroyed by activists who longed for the anti-religious days of the Soviet Union. Somehow, news of my plans was leaked. I was kidnapped, beaten within an inch of my life, and left for dead in a crowded cell. I thought it was the end of the line . . . “
Sheridan rubbed his face with his hands. He pulled at a loose thread on his pants.
“Then I heard a young man’s voice say, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright.’” He nursed me back to health . . . probably saved my life. Even though I never saw his face, I learned to trust him completely.”
Sheridan turned his head to Kunchen. “He once told me I should look for the purpose in every situation.”
Sheridan returned to ponder the loose thread. “But I never understood what good could have come out of that experience.”
Kunchen laid his hand across Sheridan’s back.
“Maybe it was so you could learn to trust his voice.”
The next morning they left the Shambhala outpost and rendezvoused with the caravan of awaiting trucks.
“Let’s get loaded and out of here!” barked Evan, energized by the prospects that awaited them at the . Mitch took charge of the preparations with military precision. In a matter of minutes, the pack animals were relieved of their burdens, and the trucks were weighed down with theirs.
Evan jogged up to Sheridan, giving him a friendly slap on the back.
“You about ready?”
“Yeah, just give me a minute,” he answered. With his lips pursed in angst, Sheridan lowered his gaze. He gave the ground a kick and watched the dirt rise up in a puff of dust. Raising his head, he was met with the smile of Kunchen’s crinkled eyes. A pang of loss struck his gut.
“You’re a good man,” Sheridan said. “I can’t help but think I’ve been a disappointment to you. Maybe . . . when you’re older . . . you will see things differently.”
“Soon you will the one that sees things differently,” Kunchen said without a hint of reproach. “Then you will understand that your battles and the plight of mankind are inextricably intertwined.”
Sheridan put a hand on Kunchen’s shoulder.
“The way I see it right now . . . I have my own battles to fight.”
Evan leapt onto the rusted metal runner of the lead truck and began to wave. “We’re moving out!”
“Time to say good-bye,” Sheridan said.
The crinkles in Kunchen’s smiling eyes deepened. “We need not say good-bye.”
Crossing his hands over his heart, Sheridan leaned forward in a bow.
Kunchen stood unfazed as the trucks took to the road, leaving him in a cloud of dust and smoke. Sheridan watched Kunchen’s stalwart figure grow smaller until a speck of dust made him blink. Then suddenly, like an evaporating vapor, he was gone.
As their caravan of thieves retreated across the Himalayan high plains, Sheridan wondered if Kunchen’s promise had been born of the naïve faith of a young heart or from a source of secret knowledge.
His question did not go unanswered for long. That very night, in the throes of a fitful sleep, the dream visited Sheridan again.
In the background Sheridan saw a brilliantly vivid scene where wild flowers dotted a green meadow in splashes of purple, red, and yellow. In the midst of the meadow stood the familiar hooded figure that had visited his dreams so many times before. The figure turned to reveal a piercing stare burning in the shadows of the closely draped fabric. With the dignity of ritual ceremony, the figure slowly pulled back the hood, revealing the kind face of Kunchen!
“All this time it’s been you?” Sheridan asked.
Kunchen waded through the verdant pasture. “When death came to take you from a crowded prison cell, I was there. When it seemed the music no longer held you in its care, I was there. And now I’ve come again, bearing an ancient secret that reveals the birthright of your sacred lineage.” Then the music of the “Song of Oneness” took to the wind joining with the upraised voice of the timeless mystic:
You are not alone
There are others just like you
On this journey of a dream
A holy rendezvous
You are not alone,
You are not alone
Kunchen pointed to a flock of birds overhead as they made a wide, perfectly synchronized turn.
“See the birds? Without a word they move together, all listening to some unspoken command. It is satori, to see yourself as part of a grand plan choreographed by the Divine.” He pressed his palm against Sheridan’s chest:
It may not always show you know
Life’s just a masquerade
But in everyone you meet
There hides the masterpiece . . .
. . . of love
Awaking with a start, Sheridan reached for the Book of Songs. Dipping his quill into the bottle of ink, he began to write.
You are not alone
There are others just like you . . .