novel ~ the point of vanishing
‘Open your mouth – the first mistake.’ Hui-Neng
The Story that Wants to be Told
The story starts from silence. Silence permeates the house. It radiates from out beyond the window, beyond the woods, beyond the Great Bear sparkling in the frosty air.
Silence is sovereign. Out of silence comes the story of a journey. It is born fully formed, immense. Yet entering this world of sound and hazard, it struggles, is plundered, reforms and one day dissolves.
A while ago, I lived for four years in the central highlands of Brazil. A bunch of us were trying to build a more or less sustainable farming-based community. We were in the middle of nowhere. The nearest telephone was two and a half hours distant; we had to hike for an hour, fording waist-deep rivers with our baggage, then drive for an hour on rough tracks to the nearest hard-top road, then still another half-hour to a village with one shop and two bars – and a phone.
Sergio Bernardes, a documentary film director of many awards, came to visit us. One evening, sitting round the fire, he asked me in English, ‘What are you really doing here?’
Sergio was a big presence. He had wild shaggy hair and a difficult face showing sadness and happiness together. It looked like it had slipped off a cliff. His head and torso belonged to one sort of man, his legs and his feet to another, less rugged man.
I said, ‘I’m on the journey that each one of us must make at some stage in the cycle of our births and deaths.’
‘Journey?’ he asked.
‘The search for truth,’ I replied, ‘The truth of who we are.’
He paused for a moment, considering. Then he said: ‘Would you write that story for me? A script of the journey for us to film.’
‘The truth that can be told is not the truth,’ I quoted Lao Tzu at him.
‘Then make it allegorical,’ he said across the flames.
Now he’s dead; I heard the news last week at the London Festival of Brazilian Film. The story still wants to be told. Woven with it is another story of the life from which it came.
* * * * *
Once upon a time that’s always now, a ruler who was searching for the Way invited all the artists of his realm to paint a picture that would enlighten and delight him.
When a year had passed, the ruler and his ministers visited the workshop of one artist who had stayed behind closed doors. His studio was bare of furnishings save for a carpet of exquisite hues. One wall was covered by a mighty painted landscape.
The ruler stood entranced and motionless. He saw the image of a changing sky above a vast and rolling land. He let his eyes scan fields and wooded slopes, moors and marshes, forests, plains and mountains. Sometimes, within the scumbled paint, he thought he saw the hint of wildlife; sometimes it seemed as if the clouds were moving and faint shadows passed across the panorama. As he stood the ruler felt a stone roll from his heart, something of his youth and innocence revive.
For a long time there was silence, broken only by the flagging wing beats of a yellow butterfly against the window pane. A cat crouched below, waiting to spring.
At length the ruler turned towards the artist at his side. He gestured to a path that started at the bottom of the picture. It wound a drunken route through hill and vale into the distance. ‘Tell me, honoured artist, where does this path lead?’
The artist answered not a word. The cat leaped at the butterfly and someone raised a startled hand. Once upon a time that’s always now, the artist took the ruler by the arm, and side by side they stepped into the picture, growing ever smaller till at last they disappeared from sight.
The Point of no Return
‘Am I dead or am I dreaming?’ The two men had been walking without talking. The Ruler strode out like a young man with the sap flow in his veins. ‘This place is paradise.’ The grass, shaved short by wind and herbivores, gave off a slickish sound each time a foot was raised. ‘Am I drunk or am I drugged?’
‘Probably yes to each of them.’ The Artist was smiling
‘Back there was hell. What are you saying?’
‘Aren’t we all somnambulists. Stumbling in the dark. Anaesthetised. Living a lifeless existence.’
‘Some of us just get on with it.’
‘A life of hell?’
They were merely coloured specks, tiny movements in a vast unpeopled land. The morning dew still sparkled on the mosses clinging to the old stone walls on either side of them.
‘What are we doing? Where are we going? What do you want from me?’
The Ruler slowed his steps. He did not hear the skylarks’ song cascading from the deep blue sky or see the fading web of vapour trails of passing jets high overhead.
‘They’re after me,’ he said. ‘Fear, mistrust and anger are the climate of our country.’ His arm grew heavy on the artist’s. ‘Messages appear from nowhere, “The Ultimate Revolution is at hand.” My security people are baffled.’ He looked behind him then back at the artist. ‘We need to keep moving. I did the best I could. Where are we going? Who are you anyway?’
‘Looks like I’m your guide along the way.’
‘Guide? Why do I need a guide? Where does this path lead?’
‘Do you want the right answer or the true one?’
‘Tell me the right one so I’ll know it’s wrong.’
‘This Way takes us to a meeting with ourselves. It is the path that every seeker has to take. In this life or another. And my name is Streamer.’
‘But Streamer, I’m not seeking anything.’
‘Victor. Call me Victor. I just don’t want to live in hell’ The Ruler’s own words seemed to throw him back to a bed of nettle memories. For a while he walked erratically, blundering and stumbling. ‘What do you mean, meeting ourselves?’
‘Finding out who we really are. Seeing our true nature. Becoming conscious of the vast unconsciousness that runs us. Look! See how green and beckoning this prospect is? Yet the Way will take us through dark regions of our inner self. Where dragons guard our secret treasures.’
‘Treasures? Are you crazy?’
‘Treasures that are everybody’s birthright.’
‘Now you make it sound attractive.’
‘We live in an age of piling up darkness. Now more and more courageous souls are striking out from every corner of the globe to live the dangers of this Way.’