They told me it was my soul that they held in their hands. It was in a glass vial and corked at the top. It was somewhere between a liquid and a solid. Milky colored, and blemished.
They told me that a soul that was pure and true was unblemished and it would shine, and shine, and shine. They told me that even my eyes were unfit to behold purity. But they told me that they could make me fit. First my eyes so that I might behold goodness. And then my soul itself so that I might become goodness.
They told me that mine could be different than it wa.
They told me that they only could if I worked for it, untiringly.
They told me that they only could if I wanted it more than anything.
They told me that I was an initiate, and I wanted to be, and I was.
They told me that it would begin in the books and it did. That first class had so many rows of students. And the entire wall was nothing but windows. We sat their, pouring dutifully over the ancient leather-clad tomes. Each little identical desk had a corked vial on it. Inside each vial a substance between a liquid and a solid. Each one a bit different in color, yet all of them bruised, blemished, and unpure. The weakest of us fell away. The classes got smaller. The windows in our classrooms grew smaller. And I learned. I learned all that their was to know in that book when I sat in a room alone with the teacher where the window was smaller than my palm and so far above my head.
They told me that the blemish was beginning to fade.
They told me my soul was growing brighter.
They told me I should believe them. And I did.
They told me that The Time of Contemplation came when the books were mastered. And it did. I was brought to a room stripped bare. There were no windows. And I was given the vial, and they left me. They must have fed me because I would have starved otherwise. It was a long time.
They told me to study the vial carefully when they finally let me out. Words sounded so strange. My brain had to work hard at understanig them. Faces looked strange. It had been so long.
They told me to study the vial carefully when they finally let me out. And I did. I told them what they wanted me to say. I told them the truth that I saw. I told them that the blemish was fading. I told them that my soul in the little glass vial was beginning to shine even brighter.
They told me it was now the time of letting go. It was not hard. I had grown so far away from the life I had once known. I left them all behind. I sent them letters that said goodbye. It was not hard. I wrote in brief sentences. I expressed no emotion to them. It was time to leave them behind. It was not hard. I burned my possesions and foresook the life I’d had.
They told me that this was not all enough.
They told me that I had reached a plateau.
They told me that they could do no more for me.
They told me that it was me, now, only me. That I must want it.
They told me that I must want it more, and more and more.
They told me that my wanting must becoming a need. And my need must become more than a need.
They told me that I must be willing to do anything. That I must be willing to trade anything. That I must be willing to sell anything, sacrifice anything, give up anything.
They told me that I must not fear recieving pain. The students were told to inflict it on me. Every day I walked into that room. And I suffered at their hands.
They told me that I could have a lighter soul, a whiter soul, that though I had come so far, I had seen nothing yet.
They told me these things. And I believed them. So I wanted it. It became a need. And more than a need. I was willing to do anything. I did everything: sold everything, sacrrificed everything, gave up everything.
They told me that those terrible things I did in the name of purifying and sanctifying, they told me it would be worth it. They told me I would shine and shine and shine, that the world itself would fall away before the luminosity of what I was becoming and I believed them.
They told me that I must not fear inflicting pain. They brought in the younger students for me to inflict it upon. Every day I walked into that room. And they suffered at my hands.
They told me that this journey was almost over. They told me that it was all nearly complete. And it was.
On the last day a man came into the small cell I’d occupied for so very long. He bore the ceromonial markings that the order gives to those who have begun their training. And yet his robes were not official ones. He swept the room. I had never seen him before. I decided that he must be a failed student of the place: a man who’d been on the journey long enough to renounce everything, yet never reached the promised rewards at the end.
And yet his smile said something else entirely.
When his hip bumped my desk the vial began to teeter. My soul, within the vial, it was the brightest thing that I had ever seen. But it was not as bright as it could be, or it should be.
My hands reached out for it, and his hands did to. They met and cancelled each other out on the way to stopping the thing. It toppled off the desk. It shattered on the floor with a terrible musicality. My soul, it floated away.
“No.” I said. “no.”
He acted as though he hadn’t heard me. And he spoke in the sort-of tone you might use to convey a family secret for bakking good muffins. “Can I tell you something?” He began, and with out waiting for an answer he said, “You have been living a lie. The contents of the vial is smoke and mirrors, nothing more. The soul is not a thing that you can distill and pour into a glass. It is not some best part of you waiting to emerge. It is the accumulation of all that you have done, all that you have believed, all that you have filled yourself up with. It can not be purified by running from life. It can not be sanctified through cruelty. By dispensing with that thing, your soul has been set free. And so the only question now is, ‘What will you do now?’”
And many years from that time, I found myself sweeping rooms and bearing the marks of the initiate, like that man. I found myself not unhappy that I did not wear the official robes. I had found that the man, a whole life time ago had been right. He had been right about what the soul is, and he had been right about the only question, “What will you do now?”