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March 21st, 2014
The little prince stood at the balcony that overlooked his father's kingdom. Stooping maples shaded delicate lavender and orchids from the midday sun. Somewhere in the distance, the village hid within the forest. He had never seen the village before. He wondered what it was like. He wondered what the people were like, what the houses looked like, what the air smelled like.
Every day, the little prince returned to the same spot overlooking the balcony. He gazed upon the gardens as the seasons changed: winter, spring, summer, to fall. The leaves of the stooping maples rusted deep red before the first frost chilled the air. The gardens were lonely in the winter; everything was quiet and still. The little prince continued to watch, day after day, until the tips of lavender once again pushed through the earth and spring soon followed. All the while, the little prince continued wondering how the hidden village experienced the change of the seasons.
Did they enjoy the changing of leaves as he did?
Did they feel the same silent solitude during the winter?
The truth was – he had never left the palace before: he had yet to see the world from any place other than the balcony.
As the sun set in the sky, the little prince would tire and grow weary. He would gaze with sullen eyes. Every day, his father's voice would echo through the marble halls of the palace, commanding the little prince to come inside for the night.
Every night, the little prince would lie awake, staring at his arched ceilings and imagining the world outside of the palace. As time progressed, he grew more and more curious. The questions solidified in his mind and returned more and more frequently. He spent more time overlooking the balcony, trying to see farther each day.
As he grew older, he spent most of his time learning from his father's advisers. They taught him the intricacies of politics, mathematics, and history. He learned in the presence of elderly, wise men with white beards so that one day he could assume the position of power on his father's throne. He no longer had time to gaze from the balcony, but every night, he would reconstruct the images on his arched ceilings, and the questions burned hotter than ever at the forefront of his mind.
And one day, when his arms and legs were strong enough, he looked back over his shoulder at the palace of his youth and descended from the balcony.
The grass felt soft on his fingertips. The aroma that permeated the garden smelled closer and more alive than ever. He took in the world around him in a new light. For so long, he had only known the cold, white marble of the palace. What he noticed most was the different textures all around him. Leaves were smooth while the tree-trunks were rough with ridges, in some places the ground was damp with dew, and sunlight filtered through the diaphanous canopy overhead. At first he was disoriented, confused, lost, and scared, but all the while he was brave.
He yearned to see so much more.
So he continued into the forest alone.
The village was not what he had expected. The huts were small and made from straw and banana leaves. A road of packed dirt and mud ran through the middle. Children his age sat at the steps of their huts. Their stares bore down on the little prince. They had scars on their hands and feet from working with course rope and stone tools. Elderly men with grey beards reclined against the walls, inhaling long and deeply from a smoldering pipe. Wrinkles traversed their faces, and they stared emotionlessly at the little prince with milky, colorless eyes. These men were unlike the little prince's advisers.
Everyone wore faded rags that had been handed down for generations. The little prince felt uncomfortable and out of place in his silken robes. Where the other children had scars on their forearms, he had golden ringed-bracelets.
It was a different world than what he had expected. Somehow, he felt appreciative for having seen it in this manner. He came to realize that the village was real while the palace of his youth had been an illusion. As the sun set lower in the sky and his surroundings darkened, the little prince left the village and found his way to the shores of a river. There, he stripped from his robes and golden bracelets. He cast all of this into the waters and watched it float downstream until he could see it no more.
He wore only a simple tunic. His arms and legs were bare. In his mind he supposed that he was no longer a prince, either. In this way, he returned to the village.
And the other children accepted him. Without the illusion of wealth and power, they saw him for who he was.
He smiled back.
For the first time in his life, he had friends other than the arched ceilings of the marble palace. These friends spoke back. They walked and talked and understood him instead of echoing back his own words like the cavernous temple in which he grew up. At the steps of the banana leaf hut, in front of the packed mud road, the little boy felt content and, in a way, at home.
He had already learned so much in a day; he left behind his old life. He saw the world for what it truly was. It was not paradise, but he didn't mind.
As night fell, the little boy remained at the steps of the hut, and he noticed, in the middle of the dirt road, a stone pillar. It was not very tall, much shorter than the columns that raised the palace, and it was peculiar. There was but one hole in its stone face.
While the little boy examined this pillar from afar, one of the grayed men rose from his seat against the wall. From the folds of his rags, he produced a single, round moon peach. With shaking hands, he placed this moon peach in the hole carved into the stone. The fruit dropped into the hollow space inside and came to rest.
Then, the old man returned to his place against the wall of the hut. Everything returned to normal. The last rays of light fled beneath the skyline, the chirps and buzzes of nocturnal life gradually rose and fell, and candles lit up in the windows of the huts.
Still, the single, moon round peach rested in the hollow space within the pillar.
The little boy without silk robes or golden bracelets followed his new friends into the hut. The walls were small and the ceiling low. There were no beds. Moonlight did not beam onto the marble archways. Despite all of this, the little boy was no longer alone. Surrounded by his friends, he could not help smiling even as he fell asleep.
While he slept, the forest awoke. At the edge of the village, the bushes rustled with life. The aroma of the ripe moon peach wafted through the humid air, attracting much attention. The trees grew other fruits, but moon peaches were reserved solely for the orchards of the villagers. To get ones hands on a moon peach was quite a rarity.
Well into the night, a greedy nose poked and prodded at the air. Without a second thought, it followed the sweet scent of nectar at the base of the pillar. Under the cover of night, the curly-tailed blue nose carefully made its way across the dirt path that traversed the village. Frequently, the monkey swiveled its head to check for anyone watching. Its senses and instincts were at their highest level, its hair bristling at even the slightest disturbance.
When it reached the origin of the smell, the monkey eyed the hole in the pillar suspiciously. Its yellow eyes widened in excitement upon seeing the unmistakable moon peach with its perfectly ripened skin. Without hesitation, the monkey plunged its furry arm into the hole in the stone pillar. Upon grasping the moon peach, the monkey was careful not to crush the tender flesh of the fruit. The animal could think of but a single thought in the world – the taste of sweet juice on its tongue.
When the monkey tried to remove the fruit from the stone pillar, it ran into trouble. By grasping the fruit, it was forced to make a fist with its hand. While the monkey could easily reach through the hole with an open hand, its fist would not fit through on the way back. In vain, the monkey pulled from every angle and every direction to remove the fruit from the pillar. Refusing to give up its prized possession, the monkey wrenched with all its might, yet each and every time it failed.
It was impossible.
The only way to remove its hand was to let go of the moon peach.
Hours passed. The shadows of night came and went. The chirps and buzzes of nocturnal life faded once again into the caves and hollow tree trunks from which they came. Still, the curly-tailed blue nose remained at the base of the pillar, too consumed by its greed to let go of its prize. It remained there, pulling with all its might, even when the little boy woke from his dreams.
Yawning and rubbing his eyes, the little boy rose from the mat on which he slept. He gazed upon the unfamiliar walls and ceiling of the hut, basked in morning light. From the outside he heard hushed voices, so he decided to investigate. Exiting through the grassy divider in the doorway, he stumbled upon a large group of people surrounding the pillar. They spoke in quiet voices, their faces solemn in understanding. The little boy slithered through the crowd until he could what had everyone's attention.
In the center of the village, at the base of the pillar, the curly-tailed blue nose shrieked and howled. Its anger and pain rang out into the morning air. In its eyes, the little boy saw a potent mixture of fear and greed. While it wanted desperately to escape the people and flee back into the forest, it simply could not let go of its diamond opus, the moon peach. The little boy's heart plummeted into his tiny chest upon seeing the monkey's self-inflicted torture.
From the ranks of the villagers, the old, wrinkled man with milky eyes emerged. He approached the stone pillar silently with a slight limp. In his frail, jittering right hand, he grasped the hilt of a nightmarish machete. Its serrated edge glinted in the morning light, and the old man never blinked as he neared the monkey. The other villagers' emotionless expressions never changed.
They had seen it all before.
In one fatal motion, the shrieking and howling ceased and all fell silent. The moon peach toppled out of the lifeless hand.
The monkey finally let go.
Monk Sidd and Wake sat across from each other cross-legged with their hands resting in their laps.
Sunlight bounced off the steep walls of the narrow passageway and reflected off the trickling water. The air was still and silent save for the streaming of water from channel to channel. The water swirled and settled in a series of interconnected pools before quietly moving on.
"Ever since that day as a young boy, I have traveled the world searching for the reason why that poor animal refused to let go," said Monk Sidd.
"I have come a long way since my days in the marble palace," he continued. "Both in distance and in spirit."
Overhead, songbirds flew across the chasm and ferns swayed in the breeze. Wake's surroundings contrasted starkly with the conclusion of Monk Sidd's solemn experience. Even so, the story resonated with Wake. After all he had seen and experienced in his own life, he understood the meaning behind Sidd's words. In such a cruel, brutal world, the only way to escape is to let go. He just hadn't understood it so clearly before.
With a thin tree branch, Monk Sidd traced circles in the pool of swirling water beside them.
"This is a sacred place in the temple," explained the monk. "These pools originate deep within the mountain and flow all the way from this cliff-side, through the forest, and down to ocean."
Wake craned his neck. Everything around him was so calm, so peaceful. He tried to stay as still as possible, afraid to make even the slightest disturbance.
Monk Sidd pointed to a swirling knot of foam with the stick.
"These little whirlpools represent the chakras of energy within our bodies and spirits."
He freed the tangled knot of leaves and branches, and the water streamed clearly, unimpeded.
"Once you open your chakras, you will be able to know the full extent of your spirit."
Wake was skeptical.
"So you're telling me that if I untangle these branches and leaves with a stick, then I'll be able to control my powers."
"Makes total sense."
"You do not believe me," stated the monk without emotion.
Wake stretched his arms behind his head. He was beginning to doubt the monk and his teachings.
"You know what? I can't say that I do believe you. You're very wise. I can't say I've met another person with your kind of experiences – but still. What you're talking about makes no sense. It's all philosophy and spirituality, nothing real. I didn't exactly get here by breathing deeply and talking about life. The spirits didn't get me here – sleepless nights and exhaustion did that."
"But the spirits did bring you here. Your indomitable spirit refused to bend and become corrupted."
"Yes. We all persevered together. It was grueling and terrible," Wake snapped. "More than once I thought I was going to die in that boat. But can't you see? There's nothing spiritual about that."
The monk rose to his feet.
"You remind me of myself. I did not see things I did not believe. I had to be shown. I had to experience the world for myself. I will wash away your blindness and show you the spirit trapped within you."
Wake watched the monk close his eyes and breathe deeply. Every bit of his body stood absolutely still. Then, without warning, the monk looked directly into Wake's eyes. The intensity of his expression bore down on Wake, and in that moment he felt utterly exposed. He felt as if the powerful stare pierced through him and every one of his life's experiences.
Simultaneously, the monk pressed a thumb to the center of his chest and his forehead. At first, Wake felt nothing, but then an energy emanated from the points of contact. He couldn't move and his mind went completely blank.
Complete and utter blackness.
A stairway began at his feet, but it wasn't truly a stairway. It was a path made of light. Without thinking, Wake began to walk, and as he walked, the path faded from behind him. All around him, the blackness was overbearing like gravity weighing down with unimaginable force.
With each step, the gravity intensified. He felt it first on his shoulders, then his ribcage, and finally his head. No matter how hard he tried to continue on the path of light, he could not move his legs.
Struggling to breathe, he clawed and gritted his teeth, pulling himself by his fingernails along the path of light. He mustered the strength to lift his neck one final time, and when he did, he could not believe his eyes. At the end of the path of light, he saw himself.
But it wasn't truly himself - at least, he didn't think it was.
At the end of the path, the figure was enormous and cloaked in soft light. At its core, it compressed a burning sphere of the light. It let none of the light escape into the void, tensing its arms and hands. The figure's eyes glowed white with severe intensity.
Collapsed on the thin path of light, Wake shivered as a chill trickled down his spine. The figure loomed infinitely close and infinitely far away, cornering the fallen traveler into the smallest crevices of his mind. Wake could feel but two simple emotions:
Never before had he been so afraid of himself, the dense, raw power held between his own two hands. He couldn't look into his own smoldering two eyes. The figure before him was somehow older, wiser, and beyond suffering, yet at the same time, it was still Wake. As he reached out towards the light, he could not help wondering how.
How could that be him?
How could it possibly be?
He blinked and closed his eyes with all his might, but every time he reopened, the figure was still there, cloaked in purifying light. He had no choice but to see the truth.
It really was him.
When he accepted this reality, the light severed like a vein from the figure at the end of the path. The figure faded into the void, and Wake felt the gravity dissipate beneath him.
He fell for an eternity and an instant.
When he opened his eyes, he felt the familiar sensation of air on his cheek and stable ground beneath his feet. He wobbled and collapsed like a newborn child, eating a mouthful of earth in the process. When he looked up, Monk Sidd loomed over him.
"You have seen the light."
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