Brother Solitaire

Brother Solitaire walks through the garden of his cloister. The vigorous morning sun has climbed up into the sky and heated the clipped rosemary hedges. The fragrance of the rosemary drifts into the walkway. Small bees swarm ceaselessly around the light blue flowers of the rosemary, the sound of their activity an indolent drone. The light is clear and golden; it warms the patient stone of the benches. It would be pleasant to sit here, if only there were time.

Brother Solitaire wears a coarse brown robe that rebuffs the caress of the day. The cowl hangs on either side of his face, like blinders on a horse. He fixes his gaze on the worn stones of the pavement before him. Brother Solitaire could have worn a more pleasant garment, but this was the one that fell to hand when he awoke. Now it seems a little late to change. Somehow the day fills up.

There is a fountain that murmurs in the center of the garden. The fountain throws moisture into the air; a cool, fine mist that drifts up like the languid exhalation of a newly-beloved. There are fruit trees in the garden, figs pendulous and heavy, apricots, mangoes and avocados. There is a lovely arcaded walkway that circumambulates the garden and embraces it. There are four gates that open from the arcade to the outside. The first gateway leads to the clamor of the marketplace. The second gateway leads to the quarter of the dance halls and ballrooms. The third leads to the ancient university. The last leads to a beautiful, unsullied forest. Every day scholars and dancers and merchants and woodsmen come and gather at the gates calling to Brother Solitaire. Sometimes Brother Solitaire leaves the cloister and joins them. It is then that he remembers that he is not a monk. He is a wealthy man of noble lineage, and the place he lives is not a cloister, it is a palace. After each foray he returns invigorated, and for a time he notices the beauty of his garden. But then, inevitably, he falls back into his familiar ways and gradually drifts again into forgetfulness.

Brother Solitaire paces the garden of his palace, and his feet find the depressions worn in the flagstones by his regular comings and goings. The grooves lead him on past the gates and toward the center of the garden.

He passes the first gate, and the merchants call out. “Come to our marketplace. There are beautiful soft clothes for you to wear and clever devices for your diversion. We have spices and wines and candies. The roasts are on the spit; they are brown and dripping. There is a feast ready and your cleverest companions await with their wits sharpened.” And brother Solitaire says, “I will come and sample your wares on Friday from 3:00 until 8:00. I have put aside an adequate amount from my budget.”

He passes the second gate and the dancers call out. “Come dance with us. Come abandon yourself to the banked curves of movement. Put your arms around us and we’ll dive together into the crystalline blue depths of the music. The currents will whirl us by creatures with needle teeth and iridescent fins, safe in the bathysphere of each other’s arms.” And brother Solitaire says “I will dance with you on Tuesday night from 9:00 until 2:00. I have good dancing shoes and a change of shirts.”

The scholars call out. “Come and study with us. We have stored up arcane secrets and uncovered truths so large that they are overlooked. Come wander through the streets of societies that do not yet exist, and those that are already dust. We have preserved the laments of the bereaved like insects in amber. Come quickly. We have letters for you. They are a thousand years old.” And Brother Solitaire says “I have signed up for your seminar on Monday mornings. I will be early for class, and I will bring a notebook and three pens.”

The woodsmen call out. “Come with us to the forest. The seasons are turning and as they turn they grind out gold. Perhaps today the daffodils will push their fingers out of the thawing earth. Perhaps the birds will arrive to sing their songs older than man. Perhaps the brittle leaves will waltz with the breeze. Watch them describe the contours of the air, and meander to the ground. The woods are breathing out a perfume, and each day it is a new one.” And Brother Solitaire says “We will walk together this weekend from 10:00 until 3:00. I have bought sunscreen and a hat.”

Brother Solitaire always gives each group its due. He is unfailingly polite, if a bit distant. He wishes he could spend more time with them, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time. Where does the day go? Brother Solitaire proceeds to the center of the garden. He does not want to miss his meeting.

He arrives early, as usual. He sits down on the bench, but does not notice its warmth. He does not smell the fragrance of the fruits around him. He does not hear the birds that sing in the trees, nor does he see the figures they draw in the air with their flight. He leans forward and looks down and his cowl falls forward and blocks off the view to the sides. He sees his shadow on the ground before him. He speaks to it:

“How about today? Will you show me the way today? If you would only make the first small movement, I would follow you.” He leans forward and the shadow leans forward, too. He grows still and the shadow grows still. He watches and watches, and then it seems to him that perhaps one of the shadow’s hands is beginning to move. Is it gesturing, or is it just the shadow of a bird overlaid upon his own? As he tries to decide, a cloud drifts in front of the sun. The sharp golden light becomes gray and flat, and the shadow fades away. When it reappears, the shadow is in the same position as he. It does not move. He sighs and the shadow sighs. He leans back and the shadow follows. He recommences his vigil. Brother Solitaire waits.

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About Tom Weiser
This blog is devoted to the development of the Bad Lama's Guide to Meditation.

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