Without another word, the two made their way to the rear of the monastery and took their place in the back of a room where ornate tapestries graced the walls and floors.
The ceiling was cut from the bowels of the mountain in a high-arching vault evocative of a private cathedral. The children sat cross-legged facing a handful of monks who were seated at the front of the room
A cymbal was rung and a deep-throated growl began to emanate from the mouth of a monk bent over with age. The chant filled the room with the dimension of sound, while an inaudible vibration began to infuse each heart with the energy of awareness.
Sheridan found himself relaxing into the music’s undulating tide. His mind became immersed in a pool of stillness, his anxieties soaked in the profound faith of uncorrupted voices.
He closed his eyes, abandoning himself to a place so deep; he could feel alone and at one with nature, all at once.
It had been so long since music had carried Sheridan to such a place he had almost forgotten it was possible. The music washed over him in waves of peace that drew out the poisonous tension that clung to every cell of his body.
In the midst of the wafting chant Sheridan heard a familiar voice call to him:
The ambient voice, floating in the sightless realm of Sheridan’s consciousness, brought to mind the voice of a stranger that had once been his only lifeline in an unseen world.
His mind traveled back through the years to that day. He remembered:
“Everything’s going to be alright . . .” a young voice says.
In the crowded cell of a Russian prison, Sheridan lays face down on the concrete floor, his crumpled body barely stirring. His torn shirt hangs at his side exposing a bloodied back—-the result of a ruthless flogging at the end of a knout.
The Russian whip, made of leather thongs and twisted wire, has left the brand of a hundred cuts on his lacerated flesh. With tender care, the young prisoner washes the wounds as Sheridan’s moans echo off the concrete walls.
Tearing his bedsheet in half, the amateur nurse swathes Sheridan’s back with the swatch of cotton cloth. Then taking off his own shirt, he spreads it across the floor.
Ever so gently, he turns Sheridan onto his back. Sheridan’s eyes are swollen shut, his eyelids cut and bleeding. The stranger cradles Sheridan’s head in his crossed legs.
He rips the remains of his bedsheet into narrow strips wrapping the makeshift bandage across Sheridan’s eyes and around his head.
The young man motions to another prisoner. He is handed a crude metal cup, which he places to Sheridan’s mouth.
Sheridan takes a drink.
“I need to get out of here,” Sheridan whimpers, slurring his words through battered lips. “There’s a place I need to be.”
“How do you know this is not where you need to be?” the young prisoner asked.
“Why are you here?” Sheridan mumbles.
“I don’t know yet,” The young voice says, once again tipping the cup against Sheridan’s lips. Sheridan takes a long drink. He swallows hard.
“They didn’t tell you why you were arrested?”
The fellow captive dabs at the water running down Sheridan’s chin.
“I know why I was arrested, but I don’t know what purpose brings me here.”
“What could be the purpose of this?” Sheridan says, turning his head to the sound of the stranger’s voice.
“What indeed? When we ask that question we find our way.”
In the depths of the stillness, Sheridan could sense he was not alone. The voice called to him again:
“Sheridan,” The familiar voice called. “Follow my voice to the sea of bodhi.”
Sheridan descended through the “innerverse” of consciousness like a deep-sea diver entering the otherworldly domain of the ocean floor.
The voice called again when a white door appeared at the end of a long black hallway
An unyielding force drew him toward the door even as his apprehensions urged him back. His hand gripped the doorknob, then, with a twist, he pushed it open. The white door swung out into a sea of cerulean blue.
There, wearing the pleased expression of a proud teacher, stood the source of the young voice.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Kunchen said.
In that moment a bolt of pure energy struck Sheridan’s chest. His heart leapt as he felt a yoke of transcendent friendship fuse them soul to soul.
Sheridan opened his eyes just as Kunchen’s eyelids lifted. The blissed-out look on Sheridan’s face said it all. His eyes gleamed with wonder as he marveled at his visit to the sacred depths.
“What was that?” he asked. “I suddenly felt like I’ve known you all of my life.”
“The Buddhists call it kalyanamitra, or soul friends. It’s a sacred connection you find with those that help you on your journey.” Kunchen explained.
Sheridan looked down at his own clasped hands.
“I’ve felt that connection once before . . . in a cell in a Russian Gulag many years ago.
When I heard your voice . . . I thought it was his.”
“The Vatican had sent me to recover artifacts we feared would be destroyed by activists who longed for the anti-religious days of the Soviet Union. Somehow, news of my plans was leaked. I was kidnapped, beaten within an inch of my life, and left for dead in a crowded cell.”
“I thought it was the end of the line . . . “
Sheridan rubbed his face with his hands. He pulled at a loose thread on his pants.
“Then I heard a young man’s voice say, ‘Everything’s gonna be alright.’” He nursed me back to health . . . probably saved my life. Even though I never saw his face, I learned to trust him completely.”
Sheridan turned his head to Kunchen.
“He once told me I should look for the purpose in every circumstance.”
Sheridan returned to ponder the loose thread.
“But I never understood what good could have come out of that experience.”
Kunchen laid his hand across Sheridan’s back.
“Maybe it was so you could learn to trust his voice.”