“Concentration. Focus. Discipline. No mind will ever break into greatest without these traits. To achieve awareness, mental mobility, to achieve higher being, one must learn to clear away the arsenical murk that clouds and poisons us. To see requires training, and no tool is of more importance to the way of sight, then is meditation. To begin, one must first…one must first…we will start – oh for Aels – ALEXANDRA!”
The sudden sounding off of my name made me scurry to attention, stuffing my notebook haphazardly under my butt as I turned to my master, attempting interest.
I expected a verbal lashing, swift and succinct, but my Master in his white robes, sitting in lotus position in the whisking meadow looking more divine than a holy steeple, simply slumped his hands over his knees. He sighed, leaning forward, his brows raised.
“My dear apprentice, your tenacity is admirable, your spirit, unconquerable. However, what is it about sitting still that confounds you so?”
I sat slack jawed. Master El had never cracked a smile at me much less complimented me. The several months of painful realizations to my abilities had left me working harder than ever on my studies. That said of course, the one study that I had always been bad at, and continued to be bad at, was meditation. I never quite understood it, much less having been able to achieve it, and years and years of failure at inner peace, or, whatever it was, had fallen into utter disinterest. I’d always figured that as I progressed in my education at the Observatories, the study of meditation would grow less prevalent, as I moved on to more advanced subjects.
Master El was obsessed with it.
However, this was the opportunity! Come at last! The moment for me to connect with my Master, to confide in him of this struggle of both ability and interest. For us to finally open up to one another and to become closer as teacher and student, the one thing I longed for!
I decided to lie instead.
“I am paying attention!” I cried, “I was, just, taking notes! I’m sorry I – ! Um, m-may we start again?”
Master El’s eyes glazed lazily to the left, his disappointed (or, perhaps irritation?) left completely unmasked. My stomach dropped. What was wrong with me. Why had I lied? My Master linked his fingers together in his lap, seeming to think. The day was a gorgeous day, and the meadow was abundant in wild flowers; foxglove, snapdragons, and cowslip were of especial bloom, and the sun was neither too hot nor too cold and the clouds were fluffed wonderfully. My Master had been in a good mood. I had been in a good mood, and yet here I was again, ruining things. My chest twisted.
Why did I always ruin things?
“I’m sorry,” I said, my words little as I stared dumbly into the grass, “I know I have not been the best student. I am a constant disappointment. I don’t know what I was thinking with applying for this apprenticeship.” I felt my throat grip, and I felt the tears begin to well in my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to cry, and to force it all down I swallowed it, including any further words I had wanted to say. Leaving all around me hanging in a terrible uncomfortable silence.
But a relaxed sigh broke the quiet, and forcing myself to look up into the face of my Master, I could see he was smiling. It was small; only a corner curl of the lip, but it was there, and confusion washed over me. Did I at long last say something right? Or was he simply about to agree with my assessment of myself and boot me out the door? Like he should have done on day one, I thought. I internally flinched at the possibility. My heart pounded. I so wanted him to speak, but I expressed patience. Or, at least I was trying, but I wondered if my expression was conveying it.
“Alexandra, you surprise me.”
“What?” I said, unable to stop myself. My Master chuckled, and I became more alarmed than ever. I had never heard him laugh before.
“Young woman,” he started, rubbing his hands together, “you are undoubtedly the worst apprentice I have ever had. You are belligerent, impulsive, and have been praised for too long over your advancements, making you conceited. You slack on your household duties, break out of the tower at night to go do whatever gallivanting that you do; you are disorganized, disassociated, and entirely bombastic. You have not a disciplined bone in your body. You are a terrible, terrible student.”
As he said this he ticked off my every flaw on his fingers, one by one. My lower lip trembled, as all my greatest fears had been realized. He was going to expel me from the apprenticeship. I felt as if I was being ripped apart. Never had I felt such shame and guilt. I tried to keep my gazed, as for some reason I felt the need to look into my Master’s eyes as he disowned me. I would do this. I would accept my utter failure. A tear broke loose from my eye and rolled down my cheek, but still I held the gaze, and with this my Master plucked a yellow flower from his left, and held it before himself, examining it.
“However,” he continued, “you are undoubtedly the most interesting, willful, fiercely curious, brilliant and likeminded apprentice I have ever had.”
A gasp escaped my lips, a sort of relief flooding me. “Master El?”
“Do you know what this is?” Master El asked me, reaching through the space between us and handing the little flower to me, “It is ragwort. A common weed that grows in vibrancy. At the gardens these flowers are removed; plucked immediately so to make sure it doesn’t wreck the sophisticated assortment that has been pruned to perfection. But out here, in the wild, there are entire seas of ragwort. Yellow fields reaching for miles at times. It is an unwanted plant because it is a conquering plant. In the civilized world of gardening it is an outcast, but out here, in the brilliance of the meadow, it lives in its element. Unhampered by the arbitrary constraints of what is beautiful, and what is not.”
Tears. Tears flew freely from my eyes at this moment, as my Master gazed over the meadow. A different sort of knot had formed in me; an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and respect, that I had never felt in any moment of my life.
A quiet lasted for some time, as each of us it seemed, took in the words that had been spoken. Silently, I raised my hand, and tucked the small, ragwort bloom into my hair. With the same silence, I took my position, crossing my legs and leaving the wetness shining on my cheeks, refusing to wipe it away. Master El turned back to me, assuming his impeccable posture, and both of us took a breath.
“Good meditation, is all about breathing.” he said.
I took another breath, closing my eyes, and an enormous smile washed over my face.
I actually felt at peace.