I had walked all day to meet the swami at the top of the mountain. This was when I was a sprout, looking for wisdom in all sorts of off beat places (it was the 70’s after all). I was concerned about the threat of nuclear war, mass starvation, and race relations, so I was off for India in a bid to find the meaning of life. It’s a long flight to Delhi, and a 12 hour train ride into the mountains. From there a bus (itself a prewar relic) creaked, wheezed and groaned its way into increasingly higher altitudes, past vertiginous precipices, and sudden death curves to a village were we disembarked and hiked for almost 8 hours.
The sun was setting when my turn came to see the mystic. It was usual, I had been told, to wait for some time in his presence before he granted the opportunity to ask a question. So I waited, thinking about the journey and wondering if I would be able to make it back to Delhi in time to catch my return flight. I had sat for at least an hour and was beginning to regret my coming so far, even if it was to hear Ravi Shankar’s own mystic speak of the unfathomable things of the universe, when I became aware the guru now had his eyes open and was staring at me.
“Have you brought the sacrifice, my son?” he asked in a thick accent, his head bobbing slightly back and forth.
“Yes, o wise one.” I answered as I had been instructed, and placed a crisp $100 bill on the platform before him. He closed his eyes and began to chant and before I could say “Jack Robinson” the bill had disappeared and his eyes were closed. A cool breeze began to blow (we were, after all, at 12,000 feet altitude), so I hugged my jacket even more tightly to me. It was another fifteen minutes before he once again opened his eyes and regarded me.
“Do you wish to know the secret of life, my son?” he asked.
“Yes, o wise one.” I responded.
“Never eat anything bigger than your head.” he replied and closed his eyes.
Before I had a chance to say “What the H—“ two muscular men had picked me up and carried me outside.
“This is the path to your future.” they intoned, pointing down the way I had ascended a few hours before and then bowing deeply and trotting back up the mountain.
I walked back down in silence, meditating on what I had been told.
Today, quite some years later, I finally understood the wisdom of that saying.