To know
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape;
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.

Robert Browning. Paracelsus

     At the time, it seemed like an inauspicious day to Ben Emerson. He'd been browsing in a bookstore on the Healdsburg town plaza, whiling away time till his appointment. Later, he'd remember it as the beginning of his quest.

      Wallace Tailor was a wiry man who looked more like a basketball player than a book store owner. He glanced at the lanky fellow leafing through some of Franklin Cartwright's book on display. The customer gave the appearance of a young Paul Newman, with that same kind of intensity.

     Tailor mused to himself. I remember the first time I came to Healdsburg to speak with Cartwright, seven years ago. I was wary of Cartwright, even though I'd read all eleven of his books and corresponded with Cartwright's associate for over a year.

     Ben's light brown hair, blue eyes, and firm chin were set in a face that was almost startling in its vitality. He appeared to be in his early forties, dressed in black corduroy trousers, dark blue cotton shirt, and maroon loafers.

     Ben selected a book and brought it to the cash register.

     "You in Healdsburg to see Dr. Cartwright?" Tailor asked. It sounded like a statement.

     Ben was surprised. "How'd you know?"

     "We get quite a few people waiting to see Dr. Cartwright. Sometimes it's quite a wait."

     Now Ben was curious. "Do you know much about Cartwright?"

     "Some. He has people who work and study with him who live around Healdsburg and Santa Rosa."

     "What does he do? Other than write books and work with students?"

     "Just that, I guess. They're a very private bunch."

     "I noticed you have quite a lot of Cartwright's books on display."


     "Do you like his books?"

     "Very much."

     His low-key enthusiasm piqued Ben's curiosity. "Do you study with him?"

      "As a matter of fact we do, my wife and I. Though we don't generally tell people unless they ask."

     "I'd appreciate some information about him. What's he like?"

      "You'll see for yourself. It'll be an interesting experience for you."

      Ben wondered if he'd stumbled onto a cult or something. He looked quizzically at the store owner. "Is this a kind of religious, uh, colony?"

      Tailor chuckled. Suddenly, he took Ben by the arm and led him behind a bookshelf, looking about apprehensively to see if anyone else was in the store or peering in through the window. He suddenly looked very serious and gazed into Ben's eyes. "You guessed! We had Charlie Manson as our pastor for awhile, till they took him to prison. Then Jim Jones was our cult leader, but he went off to Guyana, you know. And now," he looked around the bookstore again, "most nights the congregation sits on a hill up north and waits for the UFOs."

      Tailor burst out laughing and walked back to the counter.

     Ben wondered if he'd encountered a mad man.

      After collecting himself, the store owner said, "Just kidding of course. But we get quite a few people wondering if Cartwright is some kind of freak about to lead his disciples in a suicide Gatorade ritual, or an oriental guru teaching his devotees to be eleventh-century Hindus, or something equally ridiculous.

      "You'll have to judge for yourself when you meet Dr. Cartwright. But I assure you he doesn't have two heads, pays his income taxes, has a very good relationship with his wife and two children, doesn't ride around in Rolls Royce stretch limousines, doesn't claim to be able to teach you how to levitate, and around here he's looked upon as a completely ordinary man who happens to own a vineyard with its own label." He smiled warmly.

      "I've flown all the way out here," Ben said, with what he realized was a tinge of exasperation, "and yet I'm having to wait an inordinately long time."

      "I think Dr. Cartwright referred to you in a session last evening . . ."

      Ben interrupted him, excited that Cartwright would have spoken of him. "What did he say, tell me the precise words if possible." He looked at the store owner, eager to hear how he'd been referred to.

     "He said there was a professional traveling at great expense from Washington, D.C. and if the money he had used merely for his own vanity of telling people he'd seen Cartwright could have been used in helping the truly needy, then he, Cartwright, would have been able to send some kind of psychic energy to this professional without all the waste of money."

      Ben was confounded, but he didn't want to seem disconcerted to the store owner. "Well, maybe my trip won't be a complete waste."

      "If he was referring to you, it'll probably be pretty much a waste," Tailor said with an even tone.

      "Oh," Ben asked, "how's that?" Now he did feel irritated.

      "If Dr. Cartwright was referring to you, he said the professional's trip would be a waste of time because he currently didn't have the capacity to gain any real understanding from a trip such as this."

      Ben felt mildly embarassed. He realized he wouldn't get much more of value from the store owner, so he paid for the book he'd selected and asked him about a place to eat that overlooked the Russian River that he'd heard about. Tailor told him about a cafe called Camp Rose.

     Ben drove to the Camp Rose Cafe and was seated on the rear deck of the restaurant overlooking the river. He gazed at the Russian River, musing to himself. What is the reality of rivers and forests and people? The warm spring twilight hour settled over the trees and water. Daylight was just beginning to fade from the golden hills reflected in the river. He read a passage from Cartwright's book that had brought him to Healdsburg; a poem by Hakim Sanai.

              Place itself has no place:
              how could there be place
              for the creator of place,
              heaven for the maker of heaven?

     A sudden onrush of awe overwhelmed Ben as he contemplated the poem's meaning. The thought of unending time, of a divine being who creates life and death and the hereafter, sweeps away all the ordinary apparel of physical existence: tomorrow, being, eternity. He sat quietly, embracing his reverie.

      If time is unreal, Ben thought . . .

     Suddenly he felt a torrent of impatience. Ben Emerson hated waiting. He'd been cooped up in this small California hamlet for three days, waiting to speak with this man named Franklin Cartwright. What was he doing here anyway?

      He'd read Cartwright's book, The Green Rose, dealing with what was called the Perennial Tradition, and had found it so captivating that he'd called the man and asked if he could meet with him.

     Maybe I should have listened to Cartwright when he tried to discourage me, telling me that it would be a waste of time and money and he couldn't see me immediately.

      Ben had told his Executive Director that he was taking a week's vacation from the agency. He figured he'd meet with Cartwright one day and spend the rest of the time in the San Francisco area, revisiting some of his old haunts. That had been three whole days ago.

      Arriving at SFO, Ben had rented a car and headed for Healdsburg, delighting in the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito on the way. As he drove up highway 101, exhilarated by the brilliant pink drosanthemum in bloom, Ben reflected on his years at Stanford, just down the coast. Those had been halcyon days. The excitement of his doctoral research in personality simulation. Palo Alto had been a paradise: his many friends, the food, the beach walks on Half Moon Bay, the special mountain overlook he'd found on top of the Santa Cruz mountains just south of San Jose.

      After completing his Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at Stanford, Ben had spent three years at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. That had been an eye-opening experience. He'd never been in the military and was unaccustomed to the troglodyte mind of many Army officers.

     Fortunately, not all the people at Carlyle Barracks were so unimaginative. The Commandant, General Prouty, had a first-rate mind and eagerly encouraged Ben's work in developing a personality simulation system profiling Kim Jong Il. He'd met and developed a close friendship with Frank Wilson, a colonel at the Center for Strategic Leadership where Ben had worked. CSL was a war-gaming operation ensconced in a fifty-two million-dollar building and a security system to match the number of four star generals that came to participate in the simulations.

      After publishing a monograph on his personality simulation of Kim Jong Il and presenting papers at several top military conferences, Ben had been hired away from the War College by the Agency for Strategic Analysis (ASTRA). ASTRA was a think tank based in Roytown, Virginia that did contract work for the State Department, the CIA, several Fortune 100 corporations, the Pentagon's secretive Office on Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict, and other Washington-based organizations.

     Ben had also met, fallen in love with, and married Frank Wilson's sister, Angela. But the marriage had ended in divorce, as they had been unable to stay in the same room together beyond the initial period of infatuation.

     All this was washing through Ben's mind now as he sat alone in the small bed and breakfast inn in Healdsburg, waiting for the following day when he would meet with Cartwright. He had driven out to the bridge over the Russian River, then returned. Now the inn's walls were closing in on him.

     He was staying at the Calderwood Inn, located several blocks from the tree-shaded Healdsburg town plaza. Ben's room at the Calderwood Inn was named the Fireside, with a carved oak mantle, gas log fireplace, queen size canopy bed, and private bath with large tiled shower. It boasted a Queen Anne bay window with sitting area and private entrance. The Calderwood was supposed to be one of Healdsburg's best bed and breakfast inns. One hundred and fifty-five dollars a night seemed a bit pricey, but if it was only for a night or two, so what. And here it was, three days later . . .

     He'd driven out to Cartwright's rural estate when he first arrived in Healdsburg. Cartwright lived north of Healdsburg in the wine country in a large house set some way back from Timberlane Valley Drive off Dry Creek Road. There was a winery with a number of workers hauling grapes to a large shed. He passed a small tasting room with a sign outside displaying the winery's label. The house was impressive, white stone exterior with roman columns and black shutters.

      He'd been met at the front door of the large, two-story house by a strange-looking man who asked him to speak with Dr. Cartwright's secretary in a separate building just down the road. The secretary, a Miss Marshall, looking for all the world like the typical spinster librarian, had been cordial but informed Ben that he would have to wait until Dr. Cartwright could see him. And she didn't know exactly when that would be. Meanwhile Miss Marshall took down the telephone number at the inn where Ben was staying and told him she'd be in touch with him as soon as possible.

     The drive back to Healdsburg was picturesque, fields of grapes, an old abandoned general store, and huge growths of live oak and manzanita. The country air smelled magnificent, with the faint hint of honeysuckle. Healdsburg was small town USA, with its quota of antique stores, gas stations, supermarkets, and a small but pleasant center square boasting a stand of towering redwood trees.

      On the morning of the second day, Ben had called Cartwright's home and spoken to Miss Marshall. She apologized for the delay but told Ben that Dr. Cartwright was exceptionally busy completing a book for publication and the winery was in the midst of a grape press. So Dr. Cartwright, she said, would meet with him as soon as possible. After hearing nothing for another day, Ben had called again at 8 AM the next morning and had been told by Miss Marshall that Dr. Cartwright would meet with him at 1 PM the following day.

      Who does this guy think he is? Ben had said to himself after putting down the phone. He was tempted to call and tell them to stick their appointment up their Perennialist prayerbook, but he'd invested this much time and money, he might as well see it through. Ben felt strongly that Cartwright was in touch with a genuine, living spiritual tradition--otherwise he'd have abandoned the whole project.

      He'd decided to take a stroll around the tree-shaded town plaza. There were small winery shops, a woman's boutique underneath a clock tower, Sally's Cafe, and the Threshold Bookstore, where he'd spoken with the owner about Cartwright.

      At the bookstore he'd picked up a book titled The Teachers of Gurdjieff  by Raphael Lefort, and decided he'd spend the evening reading at the inn. Ben had previously read several of Gurdjieff's books and two by Ouspenky, Gurdjieff's disciple. He remembered that there'd been a student of the Gurdjieff "teaching" who'd formed a cult near Santa Rosa in the sixties and written a book about the Gurdjieffian message. He wondered if Cartwright was a follower of Gurdjieff.

      As he read Lefort's book he realized it was a kind of exposé of Gurdjieff "studies." It pictured Gurdjieff as having studied the Sufi tradition in the Middle-East for a number of years and then returning to the West to set up his own teaching centers. But Gurdjieff's teaching had been merely derivative and preparatory and the "studies" both before and after his death had been essentially the attempt to blow life into "the dead embers of the shadow of a fire."

      Lefort had traveled to the East to try to find a genuine teaching behind Gurdjieff's "work." Ben came to an interesting passage in the book.

"Those not dazzled by the outward show of mystery and exclusiveness and the claim to direct connection with us have always found a way to make contact with the true teaching. A person can always find us--witness yourself--but as to whether he is accepted or not is another question."

     Perhaps, Ben thought to himself, I'm as ignorant as this man who tried to find the source of Gurdjieff's teaching. Maybe Cartwright's correct, that I don't have the capability of gaining any real understanding. He lay contemplating who Cartwright might be, until he fell asleep.

      Breakfast at Sally's Cafe on the square the next morning proved to be interesting. Ben studied the people at the counter and in the booths, wondering which of these might be students of Cartwright. They seemed extraordinarily ordinary to him, probably because he was looking for something bizarre.

      The young man sitting next to him at the counter had a grin on his face as he looked over at Ben. "Hi, my name's Billy Peterson," he said cheerily, holding out his hand. Ben shook his hand. "I"m Ben Emerson."

     The young man was about eighteen or nineteen years old and looked for all the world like a well-dressed teenage Tom Sawyer. "So, where you from?" he asked Ben.

      "I'm from Washington, D.C." Ben replied. "How about you?"

      "Oh, I'm from Healdsburg. I'm living with my grandad and grandmother this summer, learning about the prune plum business. My grandad's one of the few left in the county who really knows all about prune plums."

      "I didn't realize there were special plums for prunes," Ben said.

      "Yeah, it's amazing how much there is to know about the different kinds of plums. Have you ever seen the big machines that shake the plum trees during harvest?" He looked at Ben with a sparkle in his eyes.

      "No, I didn't even know there were such things."

      "What're you into," the young fellow asked.

      "Studying people and seeing what mental patterns they follow," Ben said, supposing that the simplest explanation would be the best.

      "Is that artificial intelligence?"

      This surprised Ben; he hadn't expect the kid to be aware of such a subject. "Yes, as a matter of fact it is."

      "Cool," the kid said. "I wrote a paper on expert systems last semester. I go to Sonoma State." He paused for a moment. "What're you in Healdsburg for?"

      "Oh, I'm here to meet with a guy. Then I fly right back." Ben didn't want to explain that he was here to see Cartwright; he wasn't sure how the young fellow would react.

      They left the restaurant together and the young man waved goodbye as he walked toward the bookstore on the square.

      Ben decided to roam the village again, walking up Plaza Street and heading north on Healdsburg Avenue. As he was returning to the city square area half an hour or so later, he saw Billy Peterson running out of the bookstore, the store owner running after him and yelling at him to stop. The young man turned the corner and the bookstore owner stopped, breathing heavily from his exertion.

     Ben asked, "What happened?"

      "The damned kid stole a book. But I know it was that infernal Peterson boy. I'm going to call the cops." He started back toward the bookstore.

      "Wait a minute," Ben said quickly. "You remember me, don't you?"

     Tailor turned and paused. "Sure, why?"

     "I sat next to that kid at the restaurant this morning," Ben said, "he seems like a decent kid."

     "He's a damned thief is what he is," the man replied sarcastically.

     "Listen," Ben continued, "you wouldn't need to call the police if I paid for the book would you?"

      The bookstore owner looked at him as if he were crazy. "Why'd you want to do a damn fool thing like that?"

     "He just seemed like an okay kid to me," Ben said. "How much was the book?"

      "I think the kid needs to be picked up by the police," the bookstore owner insisted.

      "No one needs that kind of record following him," Ben replied. "Here's forty bucks," he handed the money to Tailor, "will that cover it?"

     "That'll more than cover what he stole, but it's the principle of the thing . . ."

      Ben interrupted. "Let's just call it even and we'll leave the cops out of this, okay?"

     "Well, it doesn't sit quite right with me," the store owner said scornfully, "but it's your forty bucks."

      As Tailor turned and headed back into the shop, Ben spoke quickly before he got away. "By the way, what book was it?"

     The store owner continued without turning to Ben. "The Green Rose."

     In the afternoon, Ben drove to Cartwright's home. It was located about half a mile from the road, on an uphill incline. He was fifteen minutes early but he decided to knock at the door anyway. He was greeted by the same man as before who told him that he'd have to wait until 1 PM. Ben walked around the grounds, noticing that there were several unusual buildings in the compound. A small stream ran in a deep, tree-covered ravine near the main house. At one end of the house sat a giant bay tree.

     The man who greeted him at the door this time was definitely Cartwright; Ben had seen his picture on the back of one of his books. He appeared to be an American, about five feet eleven, solidly built but trim. He was about sixty years of age, with a very erect bearing, though there was no stiffness in the way he held himself. He had a deep tan which was accented by his white shirt and forest green suit. He wore low, supple cordovan boots. When Ben looked into Cartwright's eyes he was immediately aware of an astounding lack of self-consciousness or pretense in the man. Cartwright looked to Ben like a grandfather type, a pleasant face with a few tufts of hair on his balding pate.

     Cartwright led Ben into what appeared to be a huge living room adjacent to his study. Ben could see the walls of the study lined with books from floor to ceiling. The living room was several feet lower than the entranceway, with comfortable fiber chairs and a leather sofa which faced a huge fireplace. There were paintings and images on all the walls of the room. One bronze icon was so striking that Ben stared at it, losing himself for a moment.

      After asking Ben to have a seat, Cartwright spoke in a quiet voice. "I want you to understand that I have agreed to meet with you today in the same way that I would agree to meet with the man who cares for my lawn or repairs my automobile. That is, there is nothing special in this meeting."

      Ben didn't know what to say. "I've read your book, The Green Rose, and felt that I wanted to speak with you. The book fascinated me; I feel you're pointing to a genuine teaching."

     Cartwright said nothing. He looked at Ben, not staring but waiting for Ben to continue.

      "I, uh, realize that I don't really know much about the Perennial Tradition or what your teachings are saying, but I feel they are alive with meaning."

      "Do you suppose that you might be able to blow life into the dead embers of the shadow of a fire that you have in your mind?" Cartwright asked.

      "How did you . . ?" Ben started. He had read those very words in the book about Gurdjieff.

      "How did I know what you were thinking yesterday? Am I a mind-reader? Do I float over the redwoods on the Healdsburg town center? Are my disciples secretly concealing strange mysteries as they move about Sonoma County?"

      "Well, no . . ." Ben stammered.

      "Yes, Gurdjieff was a derivative and preparatory teacher only. No, I am not one of his followers. Yes, you are as incapable of understanding anything spiritually significant as the fictitious Mr. Lefort when he began his quest for Gurdjieff's teachers. And no, I really cannot do anything for you right now. As I told you on the phone, this is largely a waste of your time and mine. I agreed to meet with you primarily as a courtesy, as I would with any one who petitioned me. I hope you do not think me boorish, but I really cannot spend much time with you."

      Ben suddenly felt his mind reeling, as though he might lose control. He had never experienced such a feeling before. He didn't feel angry. And he was surprised that he felt no fear.

      "What books, other than mine, have you read that seem important to you? " Cartwright asked him.

      Ben's mind raced to compile a list. "Most of Rumi's poems and essays . . ."

      Cartwright interrupted. "In what translation?"

      "Primarily by Coleman Barks and John Moyne."

      Cartwright nodded noncommittally.

      "I hadn't read Sanai's Walled Garden of Truth until I found the quotations from it in your book." Ben hesitated and looked at Cartwright for a response. There was none.

      "I've read Suhrawardi's Wisdom of Illumination--in translation, of course."

      "Interesting," Cartwright said, then waited for Ben to continue.

      "Most of Wallace Stevens's poems and essays," Ben continued.

      "What do you think of them?" Cartwright asked, without emotion.

      "Some of them I find exceptionally . . . transformative," Ben replied, wondering if that was the word he wanted.

      "Which might those be?"

      "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, Peter Quince at the Clavier, The Man With the Blue Guitar, The Glass of Water, Connoisseur of Chaos."

      "What about your background?" Cartwright asked.

      "My father was a left-wing political science professor at Harvard, one of the last of the old-line liberals who saw the world going to hell in a handbasket because of the encroachments of 'the moneyed interests,' as he called them. He was a gentleman scholar who seldom used such words as 'lackeys,' 'grinding the poor,' and 'plutocratic scum.' Seldom." Ben smiled. Cartwright had the small trace of a smile on his face.

      "My mother is a straight-arrow Republican," Ben continued, "so my adolescence was interesting, to say the least. My father made quite a bit of money on his books and remained a popular teacher at Harvard till the day he retired. My mother taught at Mt. Holyoke College, served as a city council-person in Cambridge and later, a Congressperson from the state of Massachusetts. After my father died, she was appointed American ambassador to Luxembourg."

      "What about you, personally?" Cartwright asked.

      "I guess I surprised my mother and father by my interest in what I called 'experiential religion,' beginning when I was fifteen. I joined every Protestant denomination I could find--being baptized by the Baptists and Disciples, sprinkled by the Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians, laid hands on by the fundamentalists, eagerly welcomed by the Unitarians--and attended Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox services as well as Jewish synagogue public meetings. I studied with several Hindu, Buddhist, and Moslem groups. I even found a small Spiritualist Church group near Lexington and went to several of their services. In all my studies of the various religious groups, what I was looking for, I felt, was the real experience behind the dogmas.

      "My father called himself an open-minded agnostic and my mother attended the Episcopalian church. They weren't critical of my 'researches,' but I guess they wondered where my interest in the spiritual dimension had come from.

      "I completed three undergraduate majors at Yale: political science, philosophy, and psychology. I took a masters in psychology as well as artificial intelligence and completed my Ph.D. in artificial intelligence at Stanford, writing my dissertation on personality simulation.

      "I'm a political radical, involved in environmental, economic, and labor causes from Greenpeace to Common Cause to grape boycotting. I'm very concerned about the steady erosion of freedoms in the United States and the world."

     "Good. That tells me quite a lot." Cartwright moved the conversation ahead quickly.

      "I'd like to know something of your work here," Ben said, not wanting to go away empty-handed.

      "What would you like to know?" Cartwright asked.

      "You mention in your book that there is still a living tradition that assists people to develop a higher range of perception. What does this tradition involve?"

     "Religions are the fossilized remains of a genuine tradition which has taken many names: Platonism, Gnosticism, Sufism, Alchemy, for example. This is the Perennial Tradition: the secret legacy; the single stream of initiatory teaching flowing through all the great schools of mysticism. That dynamic teaching is active in each generation, but with a new expression prescribed specifically for the people and the time. There are always many more counterfeit than authentic expressions of the true way." Cartwright paused for a moment to see if Ben was taking this in.

     "The Perennial Tradition possesses a definite science of transformation which assists us to overcome our obsession with familiar forms of knowledge, acknowledging our blindness and learning to open our spiritual eyes by stages to attain Higher Consciousness." Cartwright paused and looked at Ben. "We learn to discern higher aspects even in such seemingly mundane events as a kid stealing a book from a bookstore."

     Cartwright paused again very briefly, then rose from his chair.

     Ben was amazed at what Cartwright had just said. But he realized that it was time for him to leave. He felt he wanted to get out of the man's presence as quickly as possible.

      "I'm sorry for taking your time," Ben said.

      "There is no need to apologize. I understand why you did what you did. The fact that I'm unable to help you at this time is merely that, a fact."

     Cartwright took Ben through a room where comfortable deep-cushioned chairs were arranged in a circle. On the front wall of the room was a stunning portrait of an enchanting black woman. As Cartwright opened the door to bid farewell, he put his hand on Ben's shoulder and from a distance of several feet breathed outward toward him. Ben felt nothing unusual, though it seemed strange that Cartwright would do such a thing.

      Ben thanked him for his time and walked to his rental car in the parking lot. In the car, passing along the driveway leading out of the winery complex, a white Cadillac stretch limousine passed him. As he looked in the window of the limousine, he saw California Governor Terry Green in the back seat with several of his aides. As Ben drove rapidly toward San Francisco he puzzled over his encounter with this strange Perennialist teacher and his glimpse of Green coming to see Cartwright. What's a politician doing there?

     Beyond San Francisco, Ben turned onto highway 280 to San Jose, then south and to the top of the Santa Cruz mountains on Skyline Drive. He found the special spot he had discovered while roaming this area years before, a completely isolated mile-high stone overlook from which he could gaze down onto a dense forest and out into the valley toward San Francisco. He had once come here on a Fourth of July evening and watched at least fifteen different fireworks exhibits in the dark, from San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.

            Sitting atop the panoramic overlook in the early evening, Ben pondered his experience with Cartwright. He wondered why he didn't question whether Cartwright was genuine or a charlatan. Something about the man made Ben certain that he was authentic. Not that he understood anything of what had gone on. He felt somewhat at a loss, but he recalled Cartwright's parting words. "Remember," he had said, "this isn't like a honey pot and you have to get to the pot to get some honey."

      He didn't really have any questions about Cartwright, though he could imagine what his friends' suspicions would be. "Sure," they would say, "he was just trying to entice you by putting you off. He must think he's some big spiritual hot-shot. He's too good for a Yale B.S. and a Stanford Ph.D. You're lucky you didn't fall into his clutches."

      No, Ben thought to himself, it's not like that. I don't know what it is, but it's not phony. He didn't humiliate me, he just made it clear that he couldn't help at this time. That's what he said, "at this time." Which means possibly he would be able to help at some later time. Possibly. But what would have to be different before he could help me? And what makes me think that I'm worth helping? Not that I'm worthless, but he's probably right that I understand as little as Lefort did when he first started his quest for Gurdjieff's teachers. No, not probably--definitely. But how do I go about learning what I need to learn?

      He had brought Cartwright's book with him. Ben opened it and read a passage:
    The inner illumination is a different order of discernment concerning a higher world of meaning and being into which we must be reborn. Rumi likens us to an unborn child within our mother's body. A person converses with us, telling us about a vast and intricate world outside, with wheatfields and mountain passes, orchards in bloom, millions of galaxies at night and the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding in the daylight. We tell that person trying to converse with us that she is hallucinating, that there is no such thing as "another world" of meaning and being. This inside is the only world.


      On the plane returning to the east coast, Ben pondered further. I wonder who that beguiling black woman was in the portrait. Strange that Cartwright didn't explain anything about his house or his life. And what did he mean by calling Raphael Lefort "fictitious?"

      Ben had bought a copy of the New York Times and began reading the front page. Another huge layoff of workers in a corporation that had taken its manufacturing to Indonesia. American taxpayers' money being given to the IMF to bail out U.S. banks with bad investments in the Asian stock market. Americans no longer understanding or being aware of their loss of freedom. Ben knew he viewed the world through his own liberal perspective. Some of his friends jokingly called him a metaphysical Marxist.

      As Ben read the headlines, his encounter with Cartwright began to take on a new light. What the hell am I thinking? With the world in the mess it's in, I'm off playing disciple to some presumptuous guru. There's not a single word in Cartwright's book about how to solve the world's political-economic crises. The man evidently doesn't give a damn that the poor are being ground down by the rich.

      Still, as he looked out of the plane window to gaze at the Washington monument in the distance, a vague presentiment roiled inside him.