Chapter Six: The Tank

     It is five o’clock p.m. on July twenty-seventh.

In twelve hours we will meet with the others to begin our own form of treatment. My son and I are each in our own little bedrooms, enjoying the silence. We have another decision to make, and thought a bit of solitude might do us some good before we talk about it. Despite my best efforts to rest my mind, it continues to return to Rupa. It took everything I had this morning to let the conversation in the car linger and dissipate in the air with so many questions unanswered. What did he mean when he said “another here”? Does he really think he saw the actual Rupa? Are hallucinations a sign of Burnout?

Be still. Breathe.

     These thoughts can wait. I need to figure out what is next for us here first. I need to be strong for my son, and be present here in the woods…Breathe in…I made my choice, and I know it was the right one…Breathe out…We will be happy here…I’ve really always wanted this kind of life for us…Breathe in…Breathe out…I decide to replay the events of the afternoon to occupy my churning mind.

     When we first arrived, the Mother showed us to this same tiny cabin we have called home for the past four summers in a way that felt strangely formal. My son stayed in the woods to play with friends while I met with the other adults and the Mother. Despite four summers of exploring these woods with a curious child, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in foreign territory as I walked to her house, a good fifteen-minute walk from where we would be sleeping. Everything felt heavier, less certain without some idea of when or if we would ever go back.

     Some people refer to the Mother’s house as “the cabin”, though there are many cabins in the Circle. We are certain that the Mother lives there, but no one knows where in the house she lives exactly. It is an absolutely enormous wooden house, stacked so high that it feels like it is leaning over me when I stand on its giant porch. Most of our time as a group is spent somewhere on its ground floor, a sprawling communal space that is always open and inviting. There are five fireplaces that I can recall on this first floor, a huge library, a kitchen that looks like it could be used to cook a meal for hundreds at a time, a breathtaking dining area with a table made of huge cut tree trunks, and countless variations of the sitting room where our meeting was being held. That particular room is where we typically hold meetings, and happens to be my favorite in the house. It has very little furniture; just huge, beautiful rugs overlapping each other in front of a massive fireplace, and plenty of pillows to sit on.

     I had chosen a firm purple pillow and was sitting, legs crossed under me, when I realized that I felt uncomfortable in this room full of people I had just begun to see as family. I scanned the room, avoiding eye contact with the others and eventually fixed on Bodhi, Dorian’s five-year-old son, who appeared to be the only child in the house. He had a fascination with the tiny wooden toys that the Mother had been carving since she was young, and was carefully placing them in a perfect line down a tight spiral staircase that descended oddly from the ceiling in the corner of the room.

     The Mother was watching Bodhi too, a sweet, content smile on her face as he slid down one stair at a time on his bottom, stopping to take two toys from his basket and place them carefuly beside him on each step. Bodhi whispered under his breath as he sat each toy down, and the Mother nodded slowly with each word, silently approving his assessment of her works.

     “Cow…Pick…Cat…Shish…Cow…Cow…Cow…”

     I’m pretty sure those last three were supposed to be people. Though we were all here and ready to begin, the Mother waited until Bodhi had placed the very last toy on the ground to speak. She clasped her hands in front of her chest and smiled.

     “Perfect. We are all here.”

     Her words seemed to throw Bodhi into reverse. With the same deliberate, careful pace, he began working backwards the way he came, whispering night-night as he placed each toy back in the basket. The Mother continued.

     “I am so happy to have you here, more than you know. I won’t take much of your time, as I expect you are all tired from traveling.”

     We spent the next hour discussing the treatment plan, which the Mother had decided on with the help of Tok. The treatment itself was nothing new to us at all, but the time commitment was shocking. Twelve hours in the tank, twelve hours out. We are to try our best to stay in a state of meditation in the tank, but no sleeping. We would repeat that cycle for six days until Tok’s first visit, and adjust if necessary. There are three Tanks buried all around the Lighted Woods, about a half mile apart, but I had only known about two of them until now. We’ve used them every summer in retreats for meditation, but only for about two hours at a time; the word  t w e l v e  sounded so weighty in that meeting. Like it might be a little hard to swallow after saying it.

     As the Mother spoke, I looked in her direction, but my attention was on Bodhi. I could see him in my periphery, performing his ritual on the stairs over and over, as paced and steady as a robot. How would a child like Bodhi handle twelve hours of meditation? Could that possibly be good for him?

     Meetings in the cabin usually ended with me scolding myself for not paying better attention, and this one was no different. I snapped out of a daydream of little Bodhi pacing holes in the Tank floor to see that everyone was standing up, making their way to the kitchen where we usually made tea after meetings. I tried my best to slip out unnoticed, slowly walking toward the open doors and down the steps of the porch, breaking into a run as soon as my feet hit the grass.

     I ran through the woods as fast as my legs could carry me, and felt a smile spread across my face. The Lighted Woods have always smelled much different and richer than other places, but this afternoon they smelled like heaven. I felt weightless as I jumped over logs and streams, keeping a pace so quick it surprised me. I hadn’t run like that in years. By the time I made it back to the cabin, I was nearly in tears, laughing and breathless. My sparkly-eyed son was sitting on the tiny porch of our cabin, his own smile turning to laughter as I approached.

     “Mom! What’s so funny? What happened?”

     “Nothing happened. Aren’t these woods perfect?”

     “I think so. The other kids got tired of playing. I’m glad you’re back. What did they say? Was it good news?”

     “It was great news. We get to go in the Tanks for twelve whole hours, just us, every day. We get to pick night or day, and we have to go back early in the morning to tell the Mother what we choose.”

     “TWELVE? What if everyone chooses day? We could pick night and just sleep, Mom. It wouldn’t seem so long. But probably everyone will think of that.”

     My son’s smile had faded, and he was looking down at his shoes, worried. I sat beside him, still out of breath, putting my arm around his shoulders.

     “We can’t sleep, honey. We have to stay awake. And the Mother said she will do her best to help everyone get the time they want, but some people might not.”

     We sat in silence for several minutes, hugging each other close. My son’s little feet began swinging in time with the sounds of the frogs and birds. He raised his head to look at me, his eyes beginning to twinkle.

     “Can we paint, like we do in our brains? Can it be an adventure?”

     “It can be whatever we want, buddy. We can always make everything whatever we want.”

     A tiny knock at my bedroom door snaps me out of my memory. I look up to see my son standing in my doorway, his olive green explorer bag slung across his chest, a pencil in one hand and a blue leather journal stamped with the words “Idea Machine” in the other. Teddy’s eyes are peeking out of his bag and I swear they look like they’re sparkling, too.

     “Mom? I can’t find the calm. I’m ready to decide. Can we go to the woods?”

     I roll over, closing my eyes and faking a yawn.

     “I don’t know, buddy. I’m pretty tired.”, I tell him, peeking out from under my pillow to see if he’s buying it.

     He grabs my ankle with both hands and pulls, nearly pulling me into the floor. I am shocked at how strong he is.

     “Ok! I’m up, let’s go!”

     He is already out the door and nearly out of my sight by the time I slip my boots on and make it outside. I run to catch up and realize I forgot my bag in the cabin when I look up and see it slung over his shoulder with his own, flying behind him as he runs. I lose sight of him completely, but I know where he’s going.

     When I reach the Place I see my son, sprawled out on our favorite rock in these woods, shoes already off and feet dangling in the stream below him as he furiously writes in his little book. I walk over to him, breathless, and motion to my bag on the rock beside him.

     “Since when do you take care of me?”

     He smiles and pats the rock beside him for me to sit without looking up from his book. I sit next to him and take off my boots. The water feels much colder than it did just a few days ago. My son pauses his writing and looks up from his book. Something about the way he always takes a deep breath before he speaks makes him seem much older than he is. He opens his book toward me, pointing to headings at the top of two pages of messy, scribbled charts, complete with tiny illustrations in each box. The pages are labeled “DAY” and “NIGHT”. He is assigning point values to the beauty of the woods at different times. He’s ranked everything from the animals we would see out to specific colors in the sky, and although it is barely readable, it is brilliant.

     “What do you think, Mom?”

     “I don’t even know what to say.”

     The chart grows blurry with my tears. The sunset vs. the sunrise. Stars vs. clouds. Shadows in the night vs. reflections in the stream. Night sounds, day smells…my tiny son is quantifying the beauty of our world in his little notebook, and every single thing about this moment is perfect to me.

     “I think you have a really beautiful brain.”

. . .