Summer Fiction: The Way

by Sam Clemmons

My fascination with the mystery began long ago, when I first came to Japan. Chance encounters with bits and pieces of a secret eastern religion drew me towards a path, a path that initiates referred to simply as “The Way”.

The power of The Way was immediately obvious to me. Not only did it dominate my mind and body, it truly moved me. Yet, like all religions, it was misunderstood. Those who failed to grasp It’s power did not call it THE Way. No, instead they derided it and demeaned it. While they sensed its force, they felt it was not the main path to another plane of existence. They called it the “SUB-way”.

My first experience with “The Way” was like that of many others. The closing of doors, a sense of confinement that was immediate and unshakeable. I settled beside the door and scanned for clues from those around me, my enigmatic mentors. This was clearly the time to move beyond the self, and those of The Way knew how. While the assault of sights, sounds and the way smells sent me reeling, all around me heads bobbed in apparent successful denial of this reality.

Many of the believers seemed to be in some kind of trance, a meditative stupor. They were oblivious to their surroundings. I stared in awe. Finally, I caught the eye of one old master. He turned away and quickly went into his own trance. I knew I was on to something.

We stopped and some exited, secure in the knowledge that they had travelled far enough along the path. Others entered The Way, clearly aware that their journey had just begun. None hesitated to begin their meditation. Suddenly, an old guru (perhaps a high priestess), jostled her way through the crowd and wedged herself between two believers. A sharp whistle blew, announcing the resumption of the ritual, unfortunately damaging my eardrum. A flinch would have meant acknowledgement and thus failure. I had so much to learn. But I was fortunate. There were other newcomers who were held off by the doors, fated to seek another way.

Yet somehow, I knew one would come.

As we gained speed, I spied a haggard old veteran of The Way. He was yawning while he scratched himself in an obvious demonstration of the superfluous nature of social mores. I ignored him, pretending he did not exist. I was learning. The car shook as an incoherent chant came through the speaker, leading, exhorting the faithful. It guided us as we hurtled through the dim, dark void.

It was then that the real truth became clear. The Way never left the stations. Why should it? This had nothing to do with moving from place to place. It was a chance to discipline the mind and body. A place to push one’s self to the limits of tolerance. To test how much suffering one can endure through hours of grueling training. Only after that could a true believer achieve the goal of every member of The Way: total detachment, unconsciousness, and the resulting bliss…

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