“Travel is a sort of door through which one exits reality into an unexplored world that seems like a dream.”
– Guy de Maupassant
I had dreamt of visiting New York for years. I have always loved travelling and on earlier trips across the Atlantic I’d visited a number of cities, such as Los Angeles, Miami, and Tampa but, apart from a short layover once at JFK, New York was still on my list. The States hold special fascination in the hearts of Italians and to visit America is a collective dream.
That summer I decided to treat myself to the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps. I couldn’t wait to lose myself among the streets of Manhattan, go shopping, admire the majesty of the Empire State Building, have dinner in a typical restaurant with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
It would be a solo trip. I had recently come out of a long-term relationship—we’d lived together for ten years—and I’d spent the last three months trying to put the pieces of my life back together. Now, all I wanted was to lose myself in a trip that would help me clear my mind, a sort of reset. I wanted to start a new chapter in my life with renewed enthusiasm. I needed a new outlook, and surely the distance from the places I knew would offer the detachment I needed to see it all from a fresh perspective.
About four or five years before I had begun reading New Thought authors such as Napoleon Hill, Charles F. Haanel, and Thomas Troward. I read pretty much whatever works of theirs I could get my hands on and thanks to them I came to understand that each person is responsible for their own reality. The idea that I could have the power to determine my own destiny via thought was exhilarating but according to the theories I’d read, influence on reality is exerted on an unconscious level. In other words, totally outside our direct control—a thought that instilled in me considerable terror.
I had begun to realize that for a strange law of the universe, the people in our lives represent a reflection of some aspect of ourselves. So if a person changes on the inside, their external world must also change. In fact, I was fully aware that I was the cause of my recent separation, a response to some internal transformation that had taken place. Understanding this, however, didn’t give me comfort. A break-up is always a painful experience and I knew there was still, unfortunately, more to endure.
Pondering the end of my relationship, I suspected that the path of personal and spiritual growth I’d undertaken had been the cause of it all. If that was the case, I was probably, in some way, demolishing my old world to make room for something different that would reflect the new me.
Even if I understood instinctively that things would eventually work out, it was little consolation. I would have preferred to have my subconscious ask my opinion before making a mess of my life in such a drastic way! Indeed it was the sensation of not having control that unnerved me and, I must admit, made me more than a little afraid.
A two-week trip seemed like an opportunity for some precious reflection. I could reorder my past—or at least try to—and start down a new road, renewed and without anchors or emotional restraints.
The day before my departure I scanned the list I’d prepared. Everything was packed, with the exception of a few toiletries I’d put in my bag in the morning. I double-checked to make sure I had my tape recorder, the kind that fits in your pocket, to take audio notes during the trip. I don’t like writing much and so it would be a more practical and quicker way to record my thoughts and impressions. I could hardly believe only one night separated me from New York! I couldn’t wait to leave.
Suddenly, all the monks stood up, pressed their hands together and bowed slightly toward the master and walked quickly away with small steps. I stood there, immobile, little more than an arm’s length away from the now-empty cushions. I hadn’t expected to remain alone with him and would have given anything to call the monks back, to beg them to stay there with us. What was I supposed to do? My embarrassment, however, was alleviated when he lifted his eyes and, with a broad smile, gestured for me to take a seat on the cushion closest to him.
I sat down rather awkwardly, my arms and legs caught up in the long robe. I wasn’t used to all those folds of fabric and once I settled on the cushion I carefully covered the lower part of my body so that nothing was left exposed. Not knowing if I was supposed to be the first one to speak I tried a timid, “Good morning, master.”
He didn’t respond and remained perfectly still, his eyes closed. Maybe he hadn’t heard me, and I wondered if I should greet him again more loudly, if for nothing else than to break the dramatic silence. Not wanting to make a mistake, I opted to sit quietly and, since I’d finally found a comfortable position, observe him and wait.
Resting with his eyes closed and a hint of a smile, the master finally broke the silence.
I sense that your mind is troubled. You are captive of a thousand questions about why you are here, how you should behave, and what you should do to gain my favor. Your mind is not at peace as you try to imagine how others might see you. You are at the mercy of an illusory world and you try to protect yourself from it with frenetic mental activity, formulating hypotheses about what others think.
The Monk with No Past
Translated from the Italian by Lori Hetherington