Atop the Monolith Lives the Enlightened One
The legends say atop the monolith lives the enlightened one. All-knowing, he need not leave his temple above the cliffs. We all knew this story before we could swim. I sat on the beach and looked at the monolith rise from the turquoise waters. Its cliffs rose straight towards the sky, the height of ten palms. Only banana trees on the edge of the stone tower were visible from our beach. The waves crashed into its base. The tower overlooked our beach and our village from the middle of the bay. And I looked back.
The legends say that the enlightened one never moves, waiting for one worthy to reach the top. To reach enlightenment. Everyone tries, of course, half-heartedly, to see how far they can get before they fall into the waters. But it’s mostly fun. My people believe it an impossibility. They believe it will never be achieved again.
I don’t believe that.
The sun was setting now in the waters behind the massive pillar of stone. I could not see the sun behind the towering silhouette, but I loved the red skies. The night’s festival was just beginning. And I drank and danced in the village with my people deep into the night.
I woke before my people with a headache and ran the beach. I swam the distance to the monolith and undulated in the waves at its base. It towered over me and reached into the heavens. The cliff face was rough. I grabbed hold and began to pull myself up out of the warm water. I climbed higher than any palm tree and then looked down. The height froze me. My leg, with my wet foot pressed into a hold, began to shake uncontrollably. I slipped and my work flew away from me as the rock face receded in my free fall. I hit the water and floated, exhausted and breathless. I caught my breath and swam back to the beach.
I watched the pillar as I meditated on the beach for the rest of the day. The sun set and the fires blazed again. I wanted to celebrate the day with my people. But I needed my strength for tomorrow’s work. I stayed in my spot, away from the village, in the dark, and meditated. I watched the behemoth rising from the waters.
I woke with sunrise. I ran the beach. I swam to the rock and began my climb. I had blisters from the day before. As I climbed my worn hands began to rip against the jagged rock face. Blood began to spill from my hands. I pushed past the height I had reached the day before, leaving red patches along the cliffside. I tried to continue, but the pain was too much. It ran through me. It became my world. And I let go. I fell into the warm waters below. The salt rushed into my wounds. I made my way back to shore and sat in the shallows and meditated, letting the ocean tend to my body. I watched the sunset and then the fires in the distance.
I woke and ran the beach and swam to rock. My bleeding hands added the the bloodstains of yesterday, but I did not let go. I stopped and controlled my breathing. I controlled my body. Blood ran from my hands, but I did not feel it. I only focused on the point, far above, where the cliff met the sky. I continued to climb. I climbed past my height of yesterday, adding more red to the rocks. Soon the blood became too much and my grip slipped. And into the water I plunged once more.
Back at the beach, I sat alone in the shallows and watched the sky glow behind the monolith.
I ran the beach and swam to the rock. I began my journey skyward. There was no blood today. My hands had become strong and callused. I climbed past my bloodstains and kept climbing until I was the height of three palms. I looked down and began to shake. I brought my focus back to my breath and looked up to where the pillar met the sky. I breathed. Deep and slow. My leg stopped shaking and my hands were mine again. I continued. I doubled my height. I reached a point where the rock face became smooth for several arm lengths. I could not reach another hold and did not know where to go. I had to jump upwards past the smooth face to the next hold.
I breathed deep. And leapt. I could not reach. I stretched, but I could not grasp it. And I began my free fall. I fell for seconds. The air howled past my ears. I hit the water with a crash. It stung my naked body. I went up for breath and made my way back to the beach. I had missed the sunset today.
I woke the next day and tried the leap again and came tumbling down. And the next day and the next. For weeks I tried to make the leap. And for weeks I failed. Maybe my people were right. Maybe it was an impossibility. Maybe it will never be accomplished again. I needed guidance.
I walked to my village and spoke to my grandfather.
“I know I have been gone a long time. I have been on a journey.”
“I know. We have been watching you. You are becoming the stuff of legends, Ira. Some believe you will make it. We watch every day.” He laughed. “Others think you are mad.”
“Is it possible?”
“That is a question only you can answer, Ira.”
“Have you seen it done?”
He leaned in and smiled. “Yes.”
“How can I achieve it?”
“My son, I will tell you this. You are offering nothing. You fail and you try again the next day. You cannot reach it knowing there’s always tomorrow. You must offer something worthy of what you desire.”
I woke the next morning and did not run the beach. I swam to the other side of the monolith. I crawled out of the water and stood upon rocky ground at the base of a cliff. This side was never climbed as the other is. A mistake will cost you your life. I walked up to the rock face and began to climb as I had for months before. My tough hands ate up the rock. There was nothing below me, only a pathway to travel above me. I climbed to heights I had never been. I controlled my body. There was nothing else. I kept looking up until the top was in sight. Ten palms up, above all else. I grabbed the top and pushed myself up. I was on my hands and knees on a grassy patch on top of the monolith. I looked up to see the temple.
But there was nothing.
The top of the monolith was but a flat clearing of grass, boulders and banana trees. I didn’t understand. Where was the temple? Where was the enlightened one? Why had my elders lied to me?
I looked back at my village in the distance below me. I turned around and walked to the other side of the monolith. I looked west over the ocean and meditated to the setting sun. I had never seen the sun touch the water before. And it was beautiful.
I woke the next day and gathered together the boulders on the precipice. And I began to build my temple.
more by KRAMER LINDELL
photograph by Dominik Schröder
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