I have always been what you might call a 'skeptic'. When I was a child, my mother forced me to attend Mass with her, claiming that even if I didn't want to be there, ultimately God would look on it with favor. But no matter how often I heard the priest pontificate on the limitless amount of love God has for all of us weak mortals, no matter how often I was told about the incredible works of Jesus, I could never overlook the fact that I was being asked to believe in ideas for which there was no evidence, ideas which contradicted all rules of logic. This mindset has persisted into my adult life. I've encountered all sorts of 'mystics' in my day, from nutty wiccans to self satisfied Buddhists, and they all seemed to have one thing in common: the belief that their ideas were correct, that the reason that I didn't believe in them was evidence that I was just a close minded humbug. Guilty as charged I suppose,
My wife on the other hand is exactly the opposite; she is open to all sorts of beliefs, from radical health diets to alternative medicine. I used to try to point out how absurd some of these things are, that they're just cultural fads that have no meaning, but eventually I just gave up, figuring that as long as she didn't expect me to jump on board these various crazes, they didn't really harm me in long run.
That was my reaction when Sharon told me that she was going to be starting this Zen meditation course at the community center. I told her that I hoped she would enjoy herself, but that I wasn't at all interested. I figured that would be the end of it. After a month of these mediation sessions however, Sharon started trying to actively recruit me.
"John," she would say, "these sessions have changed my entire life. I really think they could help you too." Not interested.
"John," she would say, "these sessions are becoming an important part of my life. I really want to share that with you. It could really bring us closer together." Still not interested.
Then one day Sharon pulled out her ultimate weapon, the one trump card powerful enough to overcome a lifetime of skepticism.
"John," she said, "if you come to just one of these sessions, I'll try anal sex." Sharon knew me too well: before I met Sharon I had a girlfriend who loved anal, a love that I quickly came to share. I had tried for years to persuade Sharon to try it, but without success. I realized that if she was willing to use up this trump card, it meant that these meditations sessions were really important.
And so, with great trepidation, I accompanied her to the community center one Saturday afternoon, completely uncertain as to what to expect. She led me to a classroom on the center's second level, one that was empty of desks. In place of the usual furniture was a motley assortment of mats. There was no one there when we arrived, but we were early; I expected the rest of the class would be along shortly. I was wrong. The class was scheduled to start at three, but at 2:59 there was still nobody buy my wife and I in the room. I was concerned that we had got the wrong class room, or that perhaps today's session was cancelled, but Sharon calmly assured me that nothing was amiss.
At 3:01 the classroom door opened and another person finally arrived. He was an oriental man, who appeared to be in the later stages of middle age, yet he had an indefinable quality of energy to him. He was carrying a bag that resembles those I've seen doctors carry in old movies, the ones that they always seem to have when they make house calls.
"Ah Sharon, good to see you as always," he said to my wife. "And this I take it is your husband, John." He looked at me. I held out my hand in greeting, and made an effort to be polite.
"My name is John Haysworth. Pleased to meet you Mr..."
The old man smiled enigmatically. "You may call me Sayasu. That name is as good as any." This is exactly the type of behavior that so often infuriates me when dealing with 'mystical' people, but for my wife's sake I made a heavy effort not to show my frustration. Instead, I asked the question that was on my mind.
"So where are the members of this class?" In response, I received another enigmatic smile, and an equally enigmatic response.
"Everybody who needs to be here is here. That is all that we can be concerned with." It was beginning to require a lot of effort to hide my growing frustration, but still I kept my tongue in check. Sayasu opened the bag he had brought, and from it produced three candles and an ornate glass container. He grabbed three mats and placed them in a circle, and then put the candles in the center. He lit the candles, and almost immediately I could detect an odd smell from the smoke. It wasn't like any incense I'd ever encountered before, but it wasn't at all unpleasant. Quite the contrary, as I inhaled this aroma some of my frustration seemed to dissipate. "All right," said Sayasu, once the candles had been burning for several minutes, "I think we're ready to begin."
It was at this point that this experience became decidedly bizarre, for as soon as he announced that we would begin, my normally shy (almost prudish) wife began to remove her clothes.
"Sharon!" I exclaimed "what the hell are you doing?"
"John, honey, please don't be nervous. This is part of the process. Clothing acts as a shield for the inner self. Once we begin to find that self, we find that our naked forms are much truer and more beautiful expressions for that self." As she talked, she continued to disrobe. Soon she stood before me completely naked. Sayasu watched this without any discernable reaction; judging by his face he could easily have been watching a marathon chess match.
"So this is what you've been doing the past month? You've been sitting in a classroom having naked time with this pervy old man?" I was beyond frustration at this point, and well into the realm of rage. I could not believe that my wife of almost ten years would betray me in this way.
"John, you have to believe me when I tell you that it isn't like that at all. What goes on here is unlike anything you can imagine, it can only be experienced. Please, just try it." She gave me a look of such heartbreaking earnestness that instead of acting on my inclination to storm out of the room, I took several deep breathes and tried to calm down. The incense was thicker than ever, and again it seemed to have an eerily calming effect, and I began to see the situation in a different way. This was clearly extremely important to my wife. I knew that she loved me, she had never done anything before that would make me doubt that. Besides, I reasoned to myself, if anything happened that seemed untoward, I could simply choose to leave.
"Alright Sharon, I'll trust you. So I take it that I'm supposed to get naked too?" She nodded, clearly exhuberant at my change of heart. With another hesitatant look at Sayasu, who continued to stand there placidly, I removed my clothes. Sayasu did the same and motioned for us to sit on the mats.
He opened the glass container that he had produced earlier and dipped his hand into it. He walked over to each of us in turn and rubbed some oily feeling substance across our forheads; that being done he anointed himself and sat down.