(The Sorcerers’ Crossing by Taisha Abelar)
We went to the rack where the coats and boots were kept outside the back door of the house.
She handed me a wide-rimmed straw hat and led me to a clearing a short distance from the kitchen annex.
The sun shone brightly and it was an unusually warm day.
Clara told me to put on the hat.
She pointed to an area surrounded by a wire fence where the ground had been dug in furrows and lined with small plants in neat parallel rows.
“Who cleared the ground and put in all the plants?” I asked, surprised because I hadn’t noticed Clara working there. “It looks like a huge project. Did you do it yourself?”
“No. Someone else came and did it for me.”
“But when? I’ve been here every day and didn’t see anyone.”
“That’s no mystery,” Clara said. “The person who worked on this vegetable garden came when you were at the cave.”
Her explanation didn’t satisfy me.
The garden was so well organized that it looked like it had taken more than one person to lay it out.
Before I could probe her further, Clara announced, “From now on you’ll take care of this garden. Consider it your new task.”
I tried not to show my disappointment at being given yet another task that required daily attention. I had thought that by physical exercise Clara had meant that we were going to practice a new martial art form; preferably one using a classical Chinese weapon like the broadsword or long pole. Seeing my downcast look, Clara assured me that cultivating a garden would be good for me. It would give me the physical activity and exposure to the sun that I needed for health and wellbeing.
She also pointed out that for more than six months I had been doing nothing but focusing on incidents of my life. Caring for something outside of myself would prevent me from becoming more self-centered.
It shocked me to realize that half a year had passed. To me, it seemed like only yesterday that I had come to Clara’s house and my life had changed so drastically that nothing remained the same.
“Most people only know how to care for themselves,” Clara said, jolting me out of my train of thought. “Although not very well at that.”
“Because of this overwhelming emphasis, the self becomes distorted; full of outrageous demands.”
We walked to a wooden gate; the entrance to the garden.
“Working in this garden will give you a special kind of energy that you can’t get from recapitulating or breathing or practicing kung fu,” Clara said.
“What kind of energy is that?”
“The energy of the earth,” she replied.
Her eyes were as green as the new plants.
She added, “The energy of the earth complements the energy of the sun. Perhaps you’ll feel it entering through your hands as you work the soil.”
“Or it may start to flow into your legs as you squat on the ground.”
I had never worked in a garden before and wasn’t sure what to do. I asked her to outline my duties. She peered at me for a moment as if wondering if she had picked the right person for the task.
“The ground is still moist from yesterday’s rain,” she said, stooping down to touch the soil. “But when it’s dry, you’ll have to carry buckets of water from the stream; or if you’re very clever, you can devise an irrigation system.”
“I might just do that,” I said confidently. “I’ll construct an electric water pump like one I saw in a house in the country; and connect it to the dynamo.”
“Then I wouldn’t have to lug the buckets of water up the hill.”
“It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as the plants get watered.”
“Also, you’ll have to feed the plants every two weeks from that pile of compost at the end of the garden. And make sure that all the weeds are pulled. Around here they spread like wildfire. And keep the gate closed so no rabbits can get in.”
“No problem,” I assured her half-heartedly.
“Good. You can begin now.”
She pointed to a bucket and told me to fill it with compost and mix it into the soil around each plant. When I returned with the bucket full of what I hoped wasn’t night soil, [* night soil- human excreta used as fertilizer] she gave me a digging tool with which to loosen the earth.
For a while she watched as I worked, cautioning me not to dig too closely to the tender plants. As I concentrated on the task, I felt a sense of well-being, and a strange peace surround me. The dirt was cool and soft in my fingers. For the first time since I had been in Clara’s house, I felt truly at ease, safe and protected,
“The energy of the earth is nurturing,” she remarked, as if noticing my change of mood. “You’re empty enough from your recapitulation that some of it is already creeping into your body.”
“You feel at ease because you know that the earth is the mother of all things.”
She swept her hands over the rows of plants. “Everything comes from the earth.”
“The earth sustains and nourishes us; and when we die, our bodies return to it.”
She paused for a moment then added, “Unless of course, we succeed in the great crossing.”
“You mean there’s a chance that we won’t die?” I asked. “Really, Clara, aren’t you exaggerating?”
“We all have a chance for freedom,” she said softly, “but it’s up to each one of us to seize it and turn it into an actuality.”
She explained that by storing energy, we can dissolve our preconceptions about the world and the body; thus making room in our warehouse for other possibilities.
A chance not to die was one of these possibilities.
She said that the best explanation of this extravagant alternative was offered by the sages of ancient China.
They claimed that it is feasible for one’s personal awareness, or te, to link up knowingly with the all-encompassing awareness or Tao.
Then when death comes, one’s individual awareness is not dispersed as in ordinary dying, but expands and unites with the greater whole.
She added that the recapitulation in the setting of a cocoon-like cave had enabled me to gather and store energy.
Now I needed to use that energy to strengthen my bond with the abstract force called the spirit.
“That’s why you have to cultivate the garden and absorb its energy, and also the energy of the sun,” she said:
“The sun bestows its energy on the earth and causes things to grow. If you allow the sun’s light to enter your body, your energy, too, will flourish.”
Clara told me to wash my hands in a bucket of water, and to sit on a log by a clearing outside the fenced garden because she was going to show me how to begin to direct my attention to the sun. She said that I should always wear a wide-rimmed hat in order to shield my head and face.
She also warned me never to do any of the breathing passes she was about to show me for more than a few minutes at a time.
“Why are they called breathing passes?” I asked.
“Because the pre-set intent of these passes is to pass energy from the breath to the area where we place our attention. It could be an organ in our body or an energy channel; or even a thought, or a memory as in the case of the recapitulation.”
“What is important is that energy is transmitted, thus fulfilling the intent established beforehand.”
“The result is sheer magic because it appears as if it had sprung out of nowhere.”
“That’s why we call these movements and breaths sorcery passes.”
Clara instructed me to face the sun with my eyes closed, and then take a deep breath through my mouth, and pull the sun’s warmth and light into my stomach.
I was to hold it there for as long as I could, then swallow, and finally, exhale any air that was left.
“Pretend you’re a sunflower,” she teased. “Always keep your face toward the sun when you breathe.”
“The light of the sun charges the breath with power, so be sure to take big gulps of air, and completely fill your lungs. Do this three times.”
She explained that in this exercise, the energy of the sun automatically spreads throughout the entire body. Yet, we could deliberately send the sun’s healing rays to any area by touching the spot where we want the energy to go; or by simply using the mind to direct energy to it.
“Actually, when you have practiced this breath long enough, you don’t need to use your hands anymore,” she went on. “You can just visualize the sun’s rays oozing directly into a specific part of your body.”
She suggested that I do the same three breaths, but this time breathing through my nose and visualizing the light flowing down into my back; thus energizing the channels along my spine. That way, the sun’s rays would flood my entire body.
“If you want to bypass breathing through the nose or mouth altogether,” Clara said, “you can breathe directly with your stomach or your chest or your back.”
“You can even bring the energy up the body through the soles of your feet.”
She told me to concentrate on my lower abdomen on the spot just below my navel, and breathe in a relaxed fashion until I could feel a bond forming between my body and the sun. As I inhaled under her guidance, I could feel the inside of my stomach becoming warmer and filled with light.
After a while, Clara told me to practice breathing with other areas.
She touched the spot on my forehead between my eyes. When I concentrated my attention there, my head became flushed with a yellow glow.
Clara recommended that I absorb as much of the sun’s vitality as I could by holding my breath; then rolling my eyes in a clockwise direction before exhaling.
I did as she instructed and the yellow glow intensified.
“Now stand up and try breathing with your back,” she said, and helped me to take off my jacket. I turned my back to the sun and tried to place my attention on the various centers she pointed out with a touch.
One was between my shoulder blades, another was at the nape of my neck. As I breathed, visualizing the sun on my back, I felt a warmth move up and down my spine, then rush to my head.
I became so dizzy that I nearly lost my balance.
“That’s enough for today,” Clara said, handing me my jacket.
I sat down feeling giddy, as if I were happily drunk.
Clara said, “The light of the sun is pure power. After all, it’s the most intensely gathered energy there is.”
She said that an invisible line of energy flows out directly from the top of the head, upward to the realm of not-being; or it can flow from the realm of not-being down into us via an opening at the very center of the top of the head.
“If you like, you can call it the life line that links us to a greater awareness,” she said. “The sun, if used properly, charges this line and causes it to spring into action.”
“That’s why the crown of the head must always be protected.”
Clara said that before we returned to the house, she was going to show me another powerful sorcery pass; one involving a series of body movements.
She said that it had to be executed in one single motion, with strength, precision and grace; but without straining.
“I can’t urge you enough to practice all the passes I’ve shown you,” she said. “They are the indispensable companions of the recapitulation.”
“This one did wonders for me. Watch me closely. See if you can see my double.”
“Your what?” I said, panicking.
I was afraid I would miss something crucial, or not know what to make of it even if I saw it.
“Watch my double,” she repeated, enunciating the words carefully. “It’s like a double exposure.”
“You have enough energy to intend with me the result of this sorcery pass.”
“But tell me again, Clara, what is the result?”
“The double: The ethereal body: The counterpart of the physical body, which by now you must know, or at least suspect, is not merely a projection of the mind.”
She moved to an area of level ground, and stood with her feet together and her arms at her sides.
“Clara, wait. I’m sure I don’t have enough energy to see what you’re referring to, because I can’t even understand it conceptually.”
“It doesn’t matter if you understand it conceptually.”
“Just watch closely. Maybe I have enough power for both of us to intend my double.”
In the most agile movement I had yet seen her perform, she brought her arms over her head, with her palms touching in a gesture of prayer.
Then she arched backward, forming an elegant bow with her arms stretched out behind her, almost to the ground.
She flipped her body laterally to the left so that instantly she ended up bending forward almost touching the ground; and before I could even open my mouth in surprise, she had flipped back and her body was gracefully arched backward.
She flipped back and forth two more times, as if to give me a chance to see her inconceivably fast and graceful movements; or perhaps a chance to see her double.
At one point in her movement, I saw her as a hazy shape, just as if she were a life-size photograph that had been double exposed.
For a fraction of an instant, there were two Claras moving, one a millisecond behind the other.
I was completely perplexed by what I saw, which when I thought about it, I could explain as being an optical illusion created by her speed.
But at a bodily level, I knew that my eyes had seen something inconceivable.
I had had enough energy to suspend my common sense expectations, and allow another possibility to enter in.
Clara stopped her exquisite acrobatics and came and stood beside me, not even out of breath. She explained that this sorcery pass enables the body to unite with its double in the realm of not-being; a realm whose entrance hovers above the head and slightly behind it.
“By bending backward with the arms outstretched, we create a bridge,” Clara said. “And since the body and the double are like two ends of a rainbow, we can intend them to join.”
“Is there any specific time when I should practice this pass?” I asked.
“This is a sorcery pass of the twilight,” she said. “But you have to have lots of energy, and be extremely calm in order to do it.
“The twilight helps you to become calm and gives you an added boost of energy. That’s why the end of the day is the best time to practice it.”