The Recapitulation: the Cornerstone of the Art of Freedom

(The Sorcerers’ Crossing)

“The way I look is a matter of keeping my inner being in balance with the surroundings,” she said, shaking the water off her hands. “Everything we do hinges on that balance. We can be young and vibrant like this stream, or old and ominous like the lava mountains in Arizona. It’s up to us.”

I surprised myself by asking her, as if I believed what she was saying, if there was a way I could gain that balance.

She nodded. “You most certainly can,” she said. “And you will, by practicing the unique exercise I’m going to teach you: the recapitulation.”

“I can’t wait to practice it,” I said excitedly, putting on my boots.

Then for no explicable reason, I became so agitated that I jumped up and said, “Shouldn’t we be on our way again?”

“We’ve already arrived,” Clara announced, and pointed to a small cave on the side of a hill.

As I gazed at it, my excitement drained out of me. There was something ominous and foreboding about the gaping hole; but inviting, too. I had a definite urge to explore it, yet at the same time I was afraid of what I might find inside. I suspected we were somewhere in the proximity of her house; a thought I found comforting.

Clara informed me that this was a place of power, a spot the ancient geomancers from China, the practitioners of feng-shui, would have undoubtedly picked as a temple site.

“Here, the elements of water, wood and air are in perfect harmony,” she said. “Here, energy circulates in abundance.

“You’ll see what I mean when you get inside the cave.

“You must use the energy of this unique spot to purify yourself.”

“Are you saying that I have to stay here?”

“Didn’t you know that in the ancient Orient, monks and scholars used to retreat to caves?” she asked.

“Being surrounded by the earth helped them to meditate.”

She urged me to crawl inside the cave.

Daringly, I eased myself in, putting all thoughts of bats and spiders out of my mind. It was dark and cool, and there was room for only one person.

Clara told me to sit cross-legged, leaning my back against the wall.

I hesitated, not wanting to dirty my jacket, but once I leaned back, I was relieved to be able to rest. Even though the ceiling was close to my head and the ground pressed hard against my tailbone, it wasn’t claustrophobic. A mild, almost imperceptible current of air circulated in the cave.

I felt invigorated, just as Clara had said I would. I was about to take off my jacket and sit on it when Clara, squatting at the mouth of the cave, spoke.

“The apex of the special art I want to teach you,” she began, “is called the abstract flight, and the means to achieve it we call the recapitulation.”

She reached inside the cave and touched the left and right sides of my forehead. “Awareness must shift from here to here,” she said:

“As children, we can easily do this, but once the seal of the body has been broken through wasteful excesses, only a special manipulation of awareness, right living, and celibacy can restore the energy that has drained out; energy needed to make the shift.”

I definitely understood everything she said.

I even felt that awareness was like a current of energy that could go from one side of the forehead to the other, and I visualized the gap in between the two points as a vast space; a void that impedes the crossing.

I listened intently as she continued talking. “The body must be tremendously strong,” she said, “so that awareness can be keen and fluid in order to jump from one side of the abyss to the other in the blink of an eye.”

As she voiced her statements, something extraordinary happened.

I became absolutely certain that I would be staying with Clara in Mexico.

What I wanted to feel was that I would be returning to Arizona in a few days; but what I actually felt was that I would not be going back.

I also knew that my realization was not merely the acceptance of what Clara had had in mind from the start; but that I was powerless to resist her intentions because the force that was maneuvering me was not hers alone.

“From now on, you have to lead a life in which awareness has top priority,” she said, as if she knew I had made the tacit commitment of remaining with her:

“You must avoid anything that is weakening and harmful to your body or your mind.”

“Also, it is essential, for the time being, to break all physical and emotional ties with the world.”

“Why is that so important?”

“Because before anything else, you must acquire unity.”

Clara explained that we are convinced that a dualism exists in us; that the mind is the insubstantial, part of ourselves, and the body is the concrete part. This division keeps our energy in a state of chaotic separation, and prevents it from coalescing.

“Being divided is our human condition,” she admitted. “But our division is not between the mind and the body, but between the body, which houses the mind or the self, and the double, which is the receptacle of our basic energy.”

She said that before birth, man’s imposed duality doesn’t exist, but that from birth on, the two parts are separated by the pull of mankind’s intent.

One part turns outward and becomes the physical body; the other, inward and becomes the double.

At death the heavier part, the body, returns to the earth to be absorbed by it, and the light part, the double, becomes free.

But unfortunately, since the double was never perfected, it experiences freedom for only an instant, before it is scattered into the universe.

“If we die without erasing our false dualism of body and mind, we die an ordinary death,” she said.

“How else can we die?”

Clara peered at me with one eyebrow raised.

Rather than answer my question, she revealed in a confiding tone that we die because the possibility that we could be transformed hasn’t entered our conception.

She stressed that this transformation must be accomplished during our lifetime, and that to succeed in this task is the only true purpose a human being can have.

All other attainments are transient since death dissolves them into nothingness.

“What does this transformation entail?” I asked.

“It entails a total change,” she said. “And that is accomplished by the recapitulation: the cornerstone of the art of freedom.

“The art I am going to teach you is called the art of freedom; an art infinitely difficult to practice, but even more difficult to explain.”

Clara said that every procedure she was going to teach me, or every task she might ask me to perform, no matter how ordinary it might seem to me, was a step toward fulfilling the ultimate goal of the art of freedom: the abstract flight.

“What I’m going to show you first are simple movements that you must do daily,” she continued.

“Regard them always as an indispensable part of your life.”

“First, I’ll show you a breath that has been a secret for generations. This breath mirrors the dual forces of creation and destruction, of light and darkness, of being and not-being.”

She told me to move outside of the cave, then directed me, by gentle manipulation, to sit with my spine curved forward and to bring my knees to my chest as high as I could.

While keeping my feet on the ground, I was to wrap my arms around my calves and firmly clasp my hands in front of my knees, or if I wished I could clasp each elbow. She gently eased my head down until my chin touched my chest.

I had to strain the muscles of my arms to keep my knees from pushing out sideways. My chest was constricted and so was my abdomen. My neck made a cracking sound as I tucked my chin in.

“This is a powerful breath,” she said. “It may knock you out or put you to sleep.

“If it does, return to the house when you wake up.”

“By the way, this cave is just behind the house. Follow the path and you’ll be there in two minutes.”

Clara instructed me to take short, shallow breaths.

I told her that her request was redundant since that was the only way I could breathe in that position. She said that even if I only partially released the arm pressure I was creating with my hands, my breath would return to normal.

But this wasn’t what she was after. She wanted me to continue the shallow breaths for at least ten minutes. I stayed in that position for perhaps half an hour, all the while taking shallow breaths as she had instructed.

After the initial cramping in my stomach and legs subsided, the breaths seemed to soften my insides and dissolve them.

Then after an excruciatingly long time, Clara gave me a push that made me roll backward so I was lying on the ground, but she didn’t permit me to release the pressure of my arms.

I felt a moment of relief when my back touched the ground, but it was only when she instructed me to unclasp my hands and stretch out my legs that I felt complete release in my abdomen and chest. The only way of describing what I felt is to say that something inside me had been unlocked by that breath and had been dissolved or released.

As Clara had predicted, I became so drowsy that I crawled back inside the cave and fell asleep. I must have slept for at least a couple of hours in the cave. And judging from the position I was lying in when I woke up, I hadn’t moved a muscle.

I believed that that was probably because there wasn’t any room in the cave for me to toss and turn in my sleep, but it could also have been because I was so totally relaxed, I didn’t need to move.

I walked back to the house, following Clara’s directions.

She was on the patio, sitting in a rattan armchair.

I had the impression that another woman had been sitting there with her, and when she heard me coming, she had quickly gotten up and left.

“Ah, you look much more relaxed now,” Clara said. “That breath and posture does wonders for us.”

Clara said that if this breath is performed regularly, with calmness and deliberation, it gradually balances our internal energy.

Before I could tell her how invigorated I felt, she asked me to sit down because she wanted to show me one other body maneuver crucial for erasing out false dualism.

She asked me to sit with my back straight and my eyes slightly lowered so that I would be gazing at the tip of my nose.

“This breath should be done without the constraints of clothing,” she began. “But rather than having you strip naked in the patio in broad daylight, we’ll make an exception.”

“First, you inhale deeply, bringing in the air as if you were breathing through your vagina. Pull in your stomach and draw the air up along your spine, past the kidneys, to a point between the shoulder blades. Hold the air there for a moment, then raise it even further up to the back of the head, then over the top of your head to the point between your eyebrows.”

She said that after holding it there for a moment, I was to exhale through the nose as I mentally guided the air down the front of my body, first to the point just below the navel, and then to my vagina, where the cycle had begun.

I began to practice the breathing exercise.

Clara brought her hand to the base of my spine, then traced a line up my back, over my head, and gently pressed the spot between my eyebrows.

“Try to bring the breath here,” she said. “The reason you keep your eyes halfway open is so that you can concentrate on the bridge of your nose as you circulate the air up your back and over your head to this point; and also so you can use your gaze to guide the air down the front of your body, returning it to your sexual organs.”

Clara said that circulating the breath in such a fashion creates an impenetrable shield that prevents outside disruptive influences from piercing the body’s field of energy: It also keeps vital inner energy from dispersing outwardly.

She stressed that the inhalation and exhalation should be inaudible, and that the breathing exercise could be done while one is standing, sitting or lying down; although in the beginning it is easier to do it while sitting on a cushion or on a chair.

“Now,” she said, pulling her chair closer to mine, “let’s talk about what we began discussing this morning: the recapitulation.”

A shiver went through me.

I told her that although I had no conception of what she was talking about, I knew it was going to be something monumental and I wasn’t sure I was prepared to hear it.

She insisted that I was nervous because some part of me sensed that she was about to disclose perhaps the most important technique of self-renewal.

Patiently she explained that the recapitulation is the act of calling back the energy we have already spent in past actions.

To recapitulate entails recalling all the people we have met, all the places we have seen, and all the feelings we have had in our entire lives; starting from the present and going back to the earliest memories; then sweeping them clean, one by one, with the sweeping breath.

I listened, intrigued, although I couldn’t help feeling that what she said was more than nonsensical to me.

Before I could make any comments at all, she firmly took my chin in her hands and instructed me to inhale through the nose as she turned my head to the left, and then exhale as she turned it to the right. Next, I was to turn my head to the left and right in a single movement without breathing. She said that this is a mysterious way of breathing and the key to the recapitulation, because inhaling allows us to pull back energy that we lost; while exhaling permits us to expel foreign, undesirable energy that has accumulated in us through interacting with our fellow men.

“In order to live and interact, we need energy,” Clara went on. “Normally, the energy spent in living is gone forever from us.”

“Were it not for the recapitulation, we would never have the chance to renew ourselves. Recapitulating our lives and sweeping our past with the sweeping breath work as a unit.”

Recalling everyone I had ever known and everything I had ever felt in my life seemed to me an absurd and impossible task. “That can take forever,” I said, hoping that a practical remark might block Clara’s unreasonable line of thought.

“It certainly can,” she agreed. “But I assure you, Talsha, you have everything to gain by doing it, and nothing to lose.”

I took a few deep breaths, moving my head from left to right imitating the way she had shown me to breathe in order to placate her, and let her know I had been paying attention.

With a wry smile, she warned me that recapitulating is not an arbitrary or capricious exercise.

“When you recapitulate, try to feel some long stretchy fibers that extend out from your midsection,” she explained:

“Then align the turning motion of your head with the movement of these elusive fibers. They are the conduits that will bring back the energy that you’ve left behind.

“In order to recuperate our strength and unity, we have to release our energy trapped in the world and pull it back to us.”

She assured me that while recapitulating, we extend those stretchy fibers of energy across space and time to the persons, places and events we are examining.

The result is that we can return to every moment of our lives and act as if we were actually there. This possibility sent shivers through me.

Although intellectually I was intrigued by what Clara was saying, I had no intention of returning to my disagreeable past, even if it was only in my mind.

If nothing else, I took pride in having escaped an unbearable life situation. I was not about to go back and mentally relive all the moments I had tried so hard to forget.

Yet Clara seemed to be so utterly serious and sincere in explaining the recapitulation technique to me, that for a moment, I put my objections aside, and concentrated on what she was saying.

I asked her if the order in which one recollects the past matters. She said that the important point is to re-experience the events and feelings in as much detail as possible, and to touch them with the sweeping breath, thereby releasing one’s trapped energy.

“Is this exercise part of the Buddhist tradition?” I asked.

“No, it isn’t,” she replied solemnly. “This is part of another tradition. Someday, soon, you’ll find out what that tradition is.”

***

In the middle of our conversation on the patio, Clara suddenly had a vacant, far-away look as if she had caught sight of something or someone at the side of the house.

She hurriedly got up and excused herself, leaving me to ponder the importance of all the things she had said.

I didn’t see Clara again until the following morning at breakfast.

As we sat to eat our morning meal of shredded meat and rice, I told Clara that on my return trip from the cave yesterday, I had confirmed her statement that it was only a short distance from the house.

“Why did we really meander so much to get there, Clara?” I asked.

Clara burst out laughing. “I was trying to get you to take off your boots, so we passed by the stream,” she replied.

“Why did I have to take off my boots? Was it because of my blister?”

“It wasn’t your blister,” Clara said emphatically. “I needed to poke very crucial points on the soles of your feet to awaken you from your lifelong lethargy. Otherwise, you would have never listened to me.”

“Aren’t you exaggerating, Clara? I would have listened to you even if you didn’t poke my feet.”

She shook her head and gave me a knowing smile. “All of us were brought up to live in a sort of limbo where nothing counts except petty, immediate gratifications,” she said. “And women are the masters of that state.

“Not until we recapitulate can we overcome our upbringing. And talking about recapitulating …”

Clara noticed my pained expression and laughed.

“Do I have to go back to the cave, Clara?” I interrupted, anticipating what I thought she was going to tell me. “I’d much rather stay here with you. If you pose for me, I can make a few sketches of you, and then paint your portrait.”

“No, thank you,” she said, uninterested. “What I am going to do is give you some preliminary instructions on how to proceed with the recapitulation.”

When we had finished eating, Clara handed me a writing pad and pencil. I thought she had changed her mind about my sketching her portrait.

But as she pushed the writing materials toward me, she said that I should begin making a list of all the people I had met, starting from the present and going back to my earliest memories.

“That’s impossible!” I gasped. “How on earth am I going to remember everyone I’ve ever come into contact with from day one?”

Clara moved the plates aside to give me room to write.

“Difficult, true, but not impossible,” she said. “It’s a necessary part of the recapitulation. The list forms a matrix for the mind to hook on to.”

She said that the initial stage of the recapitulation consists of two things.

The first is the list, the second is setting up the scene, and setting up the scene consists of visualizing all the details pertinent to the events that one is going to recall.

“Once you have all the elements in place, use the sweeping breath. The movement of your head is like a fan that stirs everything in that scene,” she said:

“If you’re remembering a room, for example, breathe in the walls, the ceiling, the furniture, the people you see.

And don’t stop until you have absorbed every last bit of energy you left behind.”

“How will I know when I’ve done that?” I asked. “Your body will tell you when you’ve had enough,” she assured me:

“Remember, intend to inhale the energy that you left in the scene you’re recapitulating, and intend to exhale the extraneous energy thrust into you by others.”

Overwhelmed by the task of making the list and beginning to recapitulate, I couldn’t think at all. A perverse and involuntary reaction of my mind was to go absolutely blank.

Then a deluge of thoughts flooded in, making it impossible for me to know where to start. Clara explained that we must start the recapitulation by first focusing our attention on our past sexual activity.

“Why do you have to begin there?” I asked suspiciously.

“That’s where the bulk of our energy is caught,” Clara explained. “That’s why we must free those memories first!”

“I don’t think my sexual encounters were all that important.”

“It doesn’t matter. You could have been staring up at the ceiling bored to death, or seeing shooting stars or fireworks- someone still left his energy inside you and walked off with a ton of yours.”

I was totally put off by her statement. To go back to my sexual experiences now seemed repugnant.

“It’s bad enough,” I said, “to relive my childhood memories, but I won’t hash up what happened with men.”

Clara looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Besides,” I argued, “you’ll probably expect me to confide in you. But really, Clara, I don’t think what I did with men is anyone’s business.”

I thought I had made my point.

Clara resolutely shook her head and said, “Do you want those men you had to continue feeding from your energy? Do you want those men to get stronger as you get stronger? Do you want to be their source of energy for the rest of your life?”

“No. I don’t think you understand the importance of the sexual act or the scope of the recapitulation.”

“You’re right, Clara. I don’t understand the reason for your bizarre request.

“And what’s this business of men getting stronger because I’m their source of energy? I’m nobody’s source or provider. I promise you that.”

She smiled and said that she had made a mistake in forcing a confrontation of ideologies at this time.

“Bear with me,” she begged:

“This is a belief I have chosen to uphold. As you progress with your recapitulation, I will tell you about the origin of this belief.

“Suffice it to say that it is a critical part of the art I’m teaching you.”

“If it’s as important as you claim, Clara, perhaps you’d better tell me about it now,” I said. “Before we go any further with the recapitulation, I’d like to know what I’m getting into.”

“All right, if you insist,” she said, nodding.

She poured some camomile tea into our mugs and added a spoonful of honey to hers.

In the authoritative voice of a teacher enlightening a neophyte, she explained that women, more so than men, are the true supporters of the social order, and that to fulfill this role, they have been reared uniformly the world over to be at the service of men.

“It makes no difference whether women are bought right off the slave block, or they are courted and loved,” she stressed. “Their fundamental purpose and fate is still the same: to nourish, shelter and serve men.”

Clara looked at me, I believed, to assess if I was following her argument.

I thought I was, but my gut reaction was that her entire premise seemed wrong.

“That may be true in some cases,” I said, “but I don’t think you can make such sweeping generalizations to include all women.”

Clara disagreed vehemently. “The diabolical part of women’s servile position is that it doesn’t appear to be merely a social prescription,” she said, “but a fundamental biological imperative.”

“Wait a minute, Clara,” I protested. “How did you arrive at that?”

She explained that every species has a biological imperative to perpetuate itself, and that nature has provided tools in order to ensure that the merging of female and male energies takes place in the most efficient way.

She said that in the human realm, although the primary function of sexual intercourse is procreation, it also has a secondary and covert function, which is to ensure a continual flow of energy from women to men.

Clara put such a stress on the word ‘men’ that I had to ask, “Why do you say it as if it were a one-way street? Isn’t the sexual act an even exchange of energy between male and female?”

“No,” she said emphatically. “Men leave specific energy lines inside the body of women. They are like luminous tapeworms that move inside the womb, sipping up energy.”

“That sounds positively sinister,” I said, humoring her.

She continued her exposition in utter seriousness. “The energy lines are put there for an even more sinister reason,” she said, ignoring my nervous laughter, “which is to ensure that a steady supply of energy reaches the man who deposited them.

“Those lines of energy, established through sexual intercourse, collect and steal energy from the female body to benefit the male who left them there.”

Clara was so adamant in what she was saying that I couldn’t joke about it but had to take her seriously.

As I listened, I felt my nervous smile turn into a snarl.

“Not that I accept for a minute what you’re saying, Clara,” I said, “but just out of curiosity, how in the world did you arrive at such a preposterous notion? Did someone tell you about this?”

“Yes, my teacher told me about it.

“At first, I didn’t believe him either,” she admitted, “but he also taught me the art of freedom, and that means that I learned to see the flow of energy.

“Now I know he was accurate in his assessments, because I can see the worm-like filaments in women’s bodies for myself. You, for example, have a number of them, all of them still active.”

“Let’s say that’s true, Clara,” I said uneasily. “Just for the sake of argument, let me ask you why should this be possible? Isn’t this one-way energy flow unfair to women?”

“The whole world is unfair to women!” she exclaimed. “But that’s not the point.”

“What is the point, Clara? I know I’m missing it.”

“Nature’s imperative is to perpetuate our species,” she explained. “In order to ensure that this continues to take place, women have to carry an excessive burden at their basic energy level, and that means a flow of energy that taxes women.”

“But you still haven’t explained why this should be so,” I said, already becoming swayed by the force of her convictions.

“Women are the foundation for perpetuating the human species,” Clara replied. “The bulk of the energy comes from them, not only to gestate, give birth and nourish their offspring, but also for ensuring that the male plays his part in this whole process.”

Clara explained that ideally this process ensures that a woman feeds her man energetically through the filaments he left inside her body, so that the man becomes mysteriously dependent on her at an ethereal level.

This is expressed in the overt behavior of the man returning to the same woman again and again to maintain his source of sustenance.

That way, Clara said, nature ensures that men, in addition to their immediate drive for sexual gratification, set up more permanent bonds with women.

“These energy fibers left in women’s wombs also become merged with the energy makeup of the offspring, should conception take place,” Clara elaborated:

“It may be the rudiments of family ties, for the energy from the father merges with that of the fetus, and enables the man to sense that the child is his own.”

“These are some of the facts of life a girl’s mother never tells her.”

“Women are reared to be easily seduced by men, without the slightest idea of the consequences of sexual intercourse in terms of the energy drainage it produces in them. This is my point and this is what is not fair.”

As I listened to Clara talk, I had to agree that some of what she said made sense to me at a deep bodily level.

She urged me not just to agree or disagree with her, but to think this through and evaluate what she had said in a courageous, unprejudiced and intelligent manner.

“It’s bad enough that one man leaves energy lines inside a woman’s body,” Clara went on, “although that is necessary for having offspring and ensuring their survival.”

“But to have the energy lines of ten or twenty men inside her feeding off her luminosity is more than anyone can bear. No wonder women can never lift up their heads.”

“Can a woman get rid of those lines?” I asked, more and more convinced that there was some truth to what Clara was saying.

“A woman carries those luminous worms for seven years,” Clara said, “after which time they disappear or fade out.

“But the wretched part is that when the seven years are about to be up, the whole army of worms, from the very first man a woman had to the very last one, all become agitated at once so that the woman is driven to have sexual intercourse again.”

Then all the worms spring to life stronger than ever to feed off the woman’s luminous energy for another seven years. It really is a never-ending cycle.”

“What if the woman is celibate?” I asked. “Do the worms just die out?”

“Yes, if she can resist having sex for seven years.”

“But it’s nearly impossible for a woman to remain celibate like that in our day and age, unless she becomes a nun, or has money to support herself.”

“And even then she still would need a totally different rationale.”

“Why is that, Clara?”

“Because not only is it a biological imperative that women have sexual intercourse, but it is also a social mandate.”

Clara gave me then a most confusing and distressing example.

She said that since we are unable to see the flow of energy, we may be needlessly perpetuating patterns of behavior or emotional interpretations associated with this unseen flow of energy.

For instance, for society to demand that women marry or at least offer themselves to men is wrong, as it is wrong for women to feel unfulfilled unless they have a man’s semen inside them.

It is true that a man’s energy lines give women purpose; make them fulfill their biological destinies of feeding men and their offspring. But human beings are intelligent enough to demand of themselves more than merely the fulfillment of the reproduction imperative.

She said that, for example, to evolve is an equal if not a greater imperative than to reproduce; and that, in this case, evolving entails the awakening of women to their true role in the energetic scheme of reproduction.

She then turned her argument to the personal level and said that I had been reared, like every other woman, by a mother who regarded as her primary function raising me to find a suitable husband so I would not have the stigma of being a spinster.

I was really bred, like an animal, to have sex, no matter what my mother chose to call it.

“You, like every other woman, have been tricked and forced into submission,” Clara said. “And the sad part is that you’re trapped in this pattern, even if you don’t intend to procreate.”

Her statements were so distressing that I laughed out of sheer nervousness.

Clara wasn’t fazed at all.

“Perhaps all this is true, Clara,” I said, trying not to sound condescending. “But in my case, how can remembering the past change anything? Isn’t it all water under the bridge?”

“I can only tell you that to wake up, you must break a vicious circle,” she countered, her green eyes assessing me curiously.

I reiterated that I didn’t believe in her theories about diabolic biological imperatives or vampirelike males leeching off women’s energy, and argued that just sitting in a cave remembering isn’t going to change anything.

“There are certain things I just don’t want to think about ever again,” I snapped and banged my fist on the kitchen table.

I stood up ready to leave and told her that I didn’t want to hear any more about the recapitulation, the list of names, or any biological imperatives.

“Let’s make a deal,” Clara said, with the air of a merchant getting ready to cheat a customer. “You’re a fair person; you like to be honorable. So I’ll propose that we reach an agreement.”

“What kind of an agreement?” I asked with mounting anxiety.

She tore off a sheet from the writing pad and handed it to me. “I want you to write and sign a promissory voucher stating that you’re going to try the recapitulation exercise for one month only. If, after a month, you don’t notice any increase in energy, or any improvement in how you feel toward yourself or toward life in general, you will be free to go back home, wherever home is. If this turns out to be the case, you can simply write off the entire experience as the bizarre request of an eccentric woman.”

I sat down again to calm myself. As I took a few sips of tea, the thought struck me that it was the least I could do after all the trouble Clara had gone to for me.

Besides, it was apparent that she wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easily.

I could always go through the motions of recapitulating my memories: After all, who is to know if, in the cave, I did the visualization and breathing, or if I just daydreamed or took a nap?

“It’s only one month,” she said sincerely. “You won’t be signing your life away. Believe me, I’m really trying to help you.”

“I know that,” I said. “But why would you bother doing all this for me? Why me, Clara?”

“There is a reason,” she replied, “but it’s so farfetched that I can’t spring it on you now.”

“The only thing I can tell you is that by helping you, I’m fulfilling a worthy purpose; paying off a debt.”

“Would you accept my repaying a debt as a reason?”

Clara looked at me so hopefully that I picked up the pencil and wrote the voucher, deliberately fussing over the wording so that there would be no confusion about the one-month time frame.

She bargained with me for not including in that month the time it took me to draw up the list of names. I agreed and made an addendum to that effect.

Then, in spite of my better judgement, I signed it.

***

It took weeks of brain-racking work to compile the list. I hated myself for having let Clara talk me into not including that time in the voucher.

During those long days, I worked in absolute solitude and silence.

I only saw Clara at breakfast and at dinner, which we ate in the kitchen; but we hardly spoke.

She would rebuff all my attempts at cordial conversation, saying that we would talk again when I had finished my list.

When I had completed it, she put down her sewing and immediately accompanied me to the cave. It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and according to Clara, early morning and late afternoon were the most propitious times to begin such a vast undertaking.

At the entrance of the cave, she gave me some instructions.

“Take the first person on your list”, Clara said, “and work your memory to recall everything you experienced with that person from the moment you two met to the last time you interacted. Or, if you prefer, you can work backward, from the last time you had dealings with that person to your first encounter.”

Armed with the list, I went to the cave every day.

At first, recapitulating was painstaking work.

I couldn’t concentrate because I dreaded dredging up the past.

My mind would wander from what I considered to be one traumatic event to the next, or I would simply rest or daydream.

But after a while, I became intrigued with the clarity and detail that my recollections were acquiring.

I even began to be more objective about experiences I had always considered to be taboo.

Surprisingly, I also felt stronger and more optimistic.

Sometimes, as I breathed, it was as if energy were oozing back into my body, causing my muscles to become warm and to bulge.

I became so involved in my recapitulation task that I didn’t need a whole month to prove its worth.

***