I am repeating last week’s wild card theme because, man oh man, I am excited to find out what happens next.
There it was.
A stone wall.
I risked my life almost drowning in the watery passage that brought me here. And I followed the endless sconces along the walls of this stone tunnel. And for this?
A dead end.
The old man did warn me, I suppose. Why didn’t I listen to him?
In any case I was worn out so I took a seat on the floor, back to the wall. It was cold, as expected. And hard against my spine and sits bones. But it was a relief to have time to pause and recenter my energy.
Maybe it’s something about almost drowning that takes it out of you. Or this endless trial I set myself upon. What was it even about again?
I tried to remember how it started. How I was flown into a magnificent city in the mountains, high above the clouds. How a winged woman asked if I wanted to complete seven trials as part of some ascension process. How she brought me to the start of this labyrinthine hedge maze. And how I asked the three people for their help in solving the puzzle to reach the center.
To what end? What was at the center of the maze? What was it? My host said something about discernment, right?
Discernment. What does that mean to me? Well, I can discern that I am at the end of a long tunnel that goes nowhere. I can discern that I almost died underwater on the way here. I can discern that the old man was odd, but friendly, and he seemed… yes, he did seem truthful. I did get that sense.
So why did I ignore his advice to stay out of this passage? If he wasn’t lying, then…
It struck me then what the point of all this was again. It was about discerning who was telling the truth and who was lying.
I was going on the tip of the first man, the farmer who told me that his father saw a secret tunnel near a square pool, and that it led all the way to the center. I accepted this advice with caution at first, but when I saw the evidence of the tunnel in the pool itself, I was convinced.
Was I completely wrong about it? Did I want to believe the first man because it suited me? What about the other man? Or the woman? Which one did I truly believe?
The third man, the lovelorn treasure hunter, had told me that he already found the center of this place and that the treasure was taken. But I didn’t even know if there was a treasure in here, or if that’s what my host wanted me to find. My host never asked for a treasure.
I went with the thought that if my host wanted me to enter the labyrinth, there must be a reason. So I discounted the treasure hunter’s story as a distraction. And I just didn’t believe him, so that aside…
What about the woman? Well, that was an interesting conversation. She told me that the maze was an illusion. And so what if I were in a magical testing ground? What am I supposed to do with her advice? I can’t just walk through walls, can I?
It struck me that it hadn’t occurred to me to try. All this time I have been following the rules I knew. I walk through the spaces I find empty before me, around walls and through doors. I never thought I could just… what if I just tried it?
Feeling some resolve, I got quickly to my feet. I paused, took a deep breath, then walked forward confidently towards the stone wall before me.
Um, no that still felt like stone. Definitely not an illusion.
Or was it a matter of how much I believed it? If I really focused on the wall not being there, maybe the illusion would lose its power over me and I could pass.
So I clapped my hands together and rubbed them briskly. Then I tapped my fingers to the sides of my head near my temples and closed my eyes. I concentrated really hard on letting go the need to believe that this stone wall were as solid as it looked. I visualized it becoming an open doorway that would let me pass through it with ease. I thought and thought really hard about it for some time, squeezing my eyelids shut so tight. Then I reached out.
It was still there. The wall was still there. Damn.
Part of me wondered if I lost the belief in it as I reached out my hands. The slow, tentative movement I made must have given away my doubts in the illusion. So the wall felt as permanent as ever.
The other part of me thought maybe this was all a ridiculous waste of time. Maybe the woman was lying herself. Maybe this place really was quite solid and real.
Yet why could I not shake the feeling that she was telling me the truth? I just didn’t know what to do with it, but it felt like she meant what she said. Every word.
It reminded me of the old man. I got the same sense from him. That he spoke truth and meant every word he said.
Still, I just didn’t know how that helped me now. Maybe I can see the truth of their statements and the lies of the others. But what now? I am here, stuck at the end of the tunnel. Do I really need to swim back through that passage and show my face at the other end? Even if I made it back again, which I had some doubts about…
I was pacing back and forth and gesticulating about as I mused through my thoughts and didn’t really think about where I was. I had completely let go of the idea of the maze or the illusion or having any control over it whatsoever.
So I can tell you I was quite surprised when I came back to my senses. As I looked down, I saw my hand sticking out from the stone wall. From the inside.
Come to find out I had paced myself straight into the illusion of the wall and turned to face the tunnel behind me.
So it was an illusion! Why did it let me through now? I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.
I was so excited to discover this secret. I felt like I now had the skeleton key to the maze, like I could go anywhere from here on. If it were all an illusion, nothing should stop me.
So I turned back into the where the wall had been to see what lay beyond it. Beyond the illusion of the dead end.
And I saw it hurtling towards me. A large spinning wheel of spikes. It filled the passage in front of me and screamed along the walls, shooting sparks into the dim corridor.
I completely panicked and began running back the way I had come, back towards the water.
Then I stopped myself.
Wait, if I now knew that the maze was an illusion, then so must be this deadly trap.
Though it did seem quite a risk to take in order to test my brand new theory. It was a matter of life or death now. Do I get skewered or do I master this place once and for all?
My animal instinct said, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
It was hard to ignore.
But I did ignore it. I knew that I had come this far and that I seemed to be having great luck. I also felt that I had to prove that I was understanding the lesson in this challenge. The lesson is to be in my discernment. And if I may discern that the old man and the woman outside the maze were both speaking from truth, than I may believe both his warning of the danger and her knowledge of the illusion.
So I braced myself. My heart pumped a million beats per second. My whole body tensed in anticipation of the impact. I couldn’t keep my eyes closed and winced at the terrifying shriek of the trap careening towards me.
And when it got so close that the noise overwhelmed me and wanted to make me jump through the walls for safety…
Then it just passed right through me like an invisible thing.
I couldn’t congratulate myself more right then. I had passed the test.
And then I dropped through the floor. I started tumbling through a void. There was nothing there, no form or light or color at all. Just me, falling.
Ok, I thought, I get it. If it’s all illusion then none of it is here and now I am falling out of the illusion. I get the lesson. Now this has gone too far. Give me something to stand on, at least.
And so I landed. Strangely, it didn’t hurt. It felt more like the ground materialized under me because I asked for it, rather than what it might have seemed, that I fell from a great height and hit the bottom. I just landed in an easy standing position in the grass.
I noticed quickly that I was back in the maze. But I was in a new part of it that I had not seen before. There were hedge walls towering all around me, but there was also a spaciousness to this place. The hedges were fashioned more like a design than a puzzle, as if it were a garden on a nobleman’s estate.
As I turned I got more confirmation of the specialness of this place. It was a beautifully landscaped cloister, with beds of of flowers and groves of trees all around it. Everything looked fashioned after the gardens of the gods themselves. Marble columns and stone structures were built here and there, with vines of ancient wisteria lifting up and upon them, their multitudes of flowers draping off the edges. The sweet smell of lilac filled the air, and I located several bushes of them in blue and purple and pink.
Then I saw the chest. In the middle of the cloister was a mound of earth raised up like a square altar. On top of the mound was a gilded chest, ornately carved with detailed craftsmanship.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I hastened over, climbed up on the mount and lifted the lid on the chest. It was more heavy then I could have imagined and it took me some effort.
At last, I had it open and peered inside.
Great. Another trick. Was this, too, an illusion?
My only guess what that it was. But was it an illusion that the chest was empty or an illusion that there should be a treasure chest at all?
My thoughts were interrupted by a slow, steady clapping from behind me.
“Very well done,” said a familiar voice. I turned to see the old man in the brown robes, the self-declared heart of the maze.
“What is this?” I asked him, pointing at the empty chest.
“You see it as well as I do,” said the maze’s heart.
“Yes, it’s an empty chest. Why did I work so hard to get here only to find an empty chest?”
“Did you work that hard?” asked the old man. The question irritated me to no end.
“Give me a break! I went where many dare not. I chased your pet cockatrice, almost drowned in the water, and braved the spike trap that could have killed me… and you think it was easy?”
“Aha, you assume much, young man,” he chided me. “I didn’t say you did it the easy way. But did you really work that hard? Those on the outside already told you what to expect. I told you as well. And you didn’t have to fight anything or build any castles. I just mean to point out that you really did not have it that hard.”
“Ok, old man, I see what your saying. But I’m still mad about the threats to my life. So you’re the heart of this place. What does that mean? You built it? Why make it like this?”
“So that people like you may find their own way. I cannot tell you. No one can tell you your way but you. That is why you must be in your discernment. You must decide what is true for your life, and what choices you must make in your truth. You cannot be misled or discouraged by the words of others. That even included me. So I compliment you on not taking my advice earlier.” He winked then. “But I still think you were stupid not to.”
“What was I supposed to do? Just sit there and chat with you?”
“Yes, you could have. Did it ever occur to you to just be, just let it be? Sit down with one who knows, who is trying to help you, and who may impart some new awareness that may benefit your life? You didn’t even ask me the right questions.”
“Alright, old man. So let me ask. What is your name?”
“You already asked me that. I told you my answer. But for fun, why don’t you just call me The Hermit.”
“Ok, Hermit, whatever. What brought you to be here?”
“It was my choice.”
“Why? What was so bad in your life to choose to live here?”
“I didn’t say anything was bad in my life.”
“Then why live here? What was your purpose in coming here?”
“My purpose was to do what I do best. That is why I live here. To do what I am meant to do.”
“And what is that? What are you meant to do, what do you do best?”
“I have conversations with confused travelers.”
I grumbled and cast my arms to my sides. I felt like I was getting nowhere again with this guy.
“I can see you are frustrated,” said The Hermit. “It may be hard for you to understand me from your perspective. I get that.”
“So what is it, then? Why did you say you were the heart of the maze? Am I supposed to take you out of the maze?”
“I am the heart of the maze, as I told you. That means that this place was built by me. By my love for all life. My heart went into this place. It is a testing ground for those like yourself. Those who are lifting themselves to new heights. Heights that I may perceive but you must learn. And you all must learn in your own ways, from the places you are when you enter.”
“You say all. Are there others? Have there been others to succeed? You only told me about the failures.”
“Many did fail. And some succeeded. Those who brought you here, the winged ones. Some of them are among the victors.”
“Are you saying I will grow wings from after this?”
The old man showed signs of his jovial nature again, letting out an amused guffaw. “If you want wings, that may be possible. But knowing you, you’d likely disregard them and do it you own way.”
“I did that, yes. I ignored your advice to stay out of the passage. But would I have otherwise learned what I did, had I not gone?”
“Perhaps. There are many ways to learn. You found the one you needed at the time.” The Hermit squinted his eyes at me and asked, “So now, what will you do? Will you take me prisoner? Lead me out of my home, to give to your host as a prize for your triumph in here?”
I paused for a moment, thinking his question odd. When he first told me who he was and that I would need to kidnap him from the maze, I felt a moral dilemma in the thought of actually doing it. Now, it was more like a feeling that it wasn’t the truth.
“Wait,” I started to realize something. The Hermit looked on with some excitement in his eyes. I continued, “The winged woman who brought me to this challenge asked me to find the center of the maze and bring back what I found there. But she never said anything about what it was, or that I should find the heart.”
I thought longer. Then I remembered…
“You were the one who told me about the heart of the maze… Why, why deceive me?”
“I had no malicious intent,” begged The Hermit, offering open palms in supplication. “I told you the truth.”
“Yes, you told me the truth. But you asked leading questions,” I scolded him.
He shrugged, “Matter of perspective. Questions are not truths. I played my part.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” I said. “It was my choice what I did with your words.”
“Exactly. That is why it is so imperative to be in your discernment. You must decide what is true and you must decide how to act on that knowing. That is all this is about.”
“So there is nothing here, then. No treasure to bring back?”
“Who said anything about a treasure?” said the old man, flabbergasted. “Anyways, what better prize can you have than being able to discern the truth for the rest of your life?”
“Then for that, I thank you,” said I, sincerely.
“I think it’s time you are going, now,” said The Hermit and before I knew it or could even respond, the world was swirling before my vision again.
When I came out of the spell I found myself back in the city in the mountain in the clouds. And my friend was there on the edge of the plaza with a dozen winged people. And the woman who had led me into the challenge, my host, was there before me smiling broadly.
“Welcome back, traveler,” she said. “What have you brought me?”
“I have brought nothing. I found only an old man and his bird.”
“Then what have you learned?”
“I learned that I can be discerning about what is true and how to act on it.”
“Then who was telling the truth?”
I thought about this one another minute, then had my answer.
“They all were.”
She seemed surprised by my answer.
“In a way, they all were telling some version of truth, as they saw it. Or parts of their accounts were true. But the only one I believed completely was the woman. Even though it was hard to know what to do with her advice… I may have discounted it at first. But when she spoke it felt as though she meant to tell me the truth and not mislead me. Just like the old man in the maze. They spoke with the intention to be truthful. No manipulations or lies. It was only up to me to decide whether I believed any of them or not.”
“So you have learned a powerful lesson. You know that you can be in discernment and that you can be a truth seeker.”
“Yes, I suppose I have learned that.”
“Then you have passed the first trial. And you may rest for now.”
She nodded to one of the attendants, “Show the traveler to his quarters for some rest and see that he gets all he needs.”
A woman nodded and came to my side to escort me away.
Good. I was looking forward to a little rest after that.
A voice inside grumbled the thoughts I didn’t want to hear: Rest? You’re going to need it where you’re going.
Please leave comments on what you learned from this first trial. And share with friends who may enjoy the story, too.
Thanks for reading. See you next time.
Blessings to you all.