Lu Mīn’s first tutorials with the Elder resembled the visits of a young one to his NaNa-Shime or favoured relative.
Lu Mīn had been carefully instructed in how to behave, and forced to spend many hours practicing the correct Rites to ensure that he did them correctly. This made Lu Mīn dread visiting the Elder, not out of fear or awe, but for wishing to avoid boredom.
He would arrive, observing the Rites of greeting and respecting the Host. Then he would take his seat before the Elder, who offered him some of the Chi , saying nothing.
Then the Elder would continue to watch Lu Mīn in silence.
The silence made Lu Mīn very uncomfortable at first, but then he grew to accept and even enjoy it. The two would sit in companionable silence for hours at a time. Lu Mīn would get up once he had grown tired of the silence, bowing in the required form and leave for his own dwelling. It never occurred to him to ask for permission to leave or try and occupy the time he spent with the Elder in any different way.
Many were curious about what was happening between the Elder and Lu Mīn, not the least of whom was Lu Mīn’s own Na-Shizu, a well-respected member of the village known for a sharp tongue and a quick mind.
—What is the Elder teaching you, Lu? –she would ask.
—Why, many things—Lu Mīn would reply.
And out of a respect that did not come naturally to her, Lu Mīn’s Na-Shizu did not inquire further.
One passage of Se-Lim, Lu Mīn appeared at the Elder’s dwelling for his ‘lesson’, only to find that the Elder was not there, and the traditional lights to indicate an entry was welcome were not burning.
Most young ones may have taken this for a Sign their lessons were cancelled, but not Lu Mīn. He knew that the Elder could easily have sent word if this were the case, and he knew the Elder too well to believe he could possibly cancel the session unless it was a serious matter, indeed.
So Lu Mīn entered the porch area of the Elder’s dwelling and knocked loudly to announce his arrival. But he heard nothing and saw no indication that the Elder waited within. Many may have given up at this point, but not Lu Mīn—he entered the dwelling, announcing himself in a loud voice, and went to his customary spot, where he waited.
The darkness and warmth were very comforting and Lu Mīn, seated in the position of Go-na, soon fell asleep.
It was to the sound of a golden bell ringing loudly in his ears that Lu Mīn woke up. He uttered a cry of shock and sprang from the floor, only to realize that there was no sound—save the tinkling of his little bell and his own inner wind. The darkness inside had grown into the image of the darkness without.
Though Lu Mīn was not afraid, he did become aware of a Presence in the dwelling, something that seemed to be Aware. This feeling grew and altered with the bouncing images cast by Lu Mīn’s imagination. And as Lu Mīn spun around, he noticed the Presence form shapes and patterns in a kind rainbow of colorless color. It acted automatically, without any shame, enacting a dance that it seemed to repeat ceaselessly, as if known and remembered without beginning or end.
Lu Mīn did not stay in that place too long, the images gradually lost their intensity once he became aware of his hunger. And so, with a respectful bow to the Presence and the absent Elder, he made his way to his own dwelling.
The next passage, Lu Mīn again appeared at the Elder’s dwelling, expecting it to be empty as before. But it was not. The Elder was waiting for Lu Mīn on his porch.
—Why Lu Mīn, it brings joy seeing you.—the Elder spoke.
—A great joy.—replied Lu Mīn. He paused a moment and then added, —I suspected you to be absent, like last passage.—
The Elder bowed deeply at this, said nothing, and entered his dwelling.
The two faced each other as before, drinking Chi. But whereas before Lu Mīn was content to remain silent, this time he was filled with the desire to speak, asking the Elder questions about what he had seen and experienced.
But the Elder was content to watch, as before.
This pattern reasserted itself over several passages and more lessons. Each time the pupil grew more restless.
Then finally, after much yearning and inner turmoil, Lu Mīn once again came upon the dwelling empty, its welcoming light out.
With eagerness the young one entered, finding his spot and hurriedly adopting the position open to Go-na, ready to experience the Presence.
But his taut limbs and anxious mind would not calm, and tiredness remained far away. Lu Mīn waited and waited, until the darkness within had grown into the image of the darkness without.
The Presence he so eagerly desired remained beyond, so, feeling a new burden, the young one returned to his dwelling.
Thoughts of his Experience drove out all peace, and he spent the absence of Se-Lim brooding over it.
With the beginning of a new passage, Lu Mīn was eager to get to the Elder’s dwelling, hoping he would gather the courage needed to confront the aged one.
Finally his lessons in the Signs were completed and he could attend to the Elder. But once again, the dwelling’s lights were out.
Again Lu Mīn entered and sat in his usual spot, in the position of Go-na. Again he waited eagerly for the Presence and again he was disappointed. Again he returned to his dwelling.
Several more passages of Se-Lim proceeded in this way, the Elder’s dwelling silent and dark, Lu Mīn waiting inside.
The Elder’s dwelling was separated from the main community so that few passers-by realized Lu Mīn entered when the Elder was not there. But Lu Mīn’s Na-Shizu had taken it upon herself to watch her young one’s comings and goings.
On the eighth such passage she came out of the foliage to confront her young one exiting the dwelling, looking more dejected than ever.
—My young one, explain what is this? Why would you enter the dwelling of another without their presence?—
Lu Mīn answered.
—I know it is not the customary thing to do, but the Elder has been playing tricks on me. He wants me to enter the dwelling in such a manner. At first I thought I knew why, but now I do not. —
Lu Mīn’s Na-Shizu brought Lu Mīn to their dwelling and let him eat as much as it pleased him.
In Se-Lim’s absence, Lu Mīn entered a deep rest. And in his rest he had a dream.
It was a dream full of darkness. It was a heavy dark, heavier than being held down by a mountain.
The darkness filled Lu Mīn with terror and he attempted to scream, but when he did, no sound came out. Then Lu Mīn felt himself melting into the darkness, every part of his being fighting to avoid the inevitable.
Just as the process was coming to its terrible conclusion, Lu Mīn woke. Terror passed into an ecstatic relief and he got up immediately to look at the Lesser Lights, to feel the cold pleasure of the air.
That was when he noticed the Presence, dancing everywhere with a strength and vigour it had not had before.
Lu Mīn watched in wonder. He was silent and still, carefully remembering the patterns wound by the Presence, begging his eyes not to forget what they had seen. To the day of his departing, Lu Mīn claimed all he had to do to remember that particular darkness was close his eyes.
Lu Mīn kept awake in a trance until Se-Lim light overcame the Lesser Lights.
Pulled from his reverie, Lu Mīn made it straightways to the dwelling of the Elder, eager to see him and tell him what he had seen and experienced.
The Elder was preparing to leave the dwelling when Lu Mīn arrived.
—I know it is not the custom, but I must speak with you.—he burst with an excited voice.
—You are right, it is not the custom.—replied the Elder.—and having duties to perform I must follow the customs. A young one such as yourself is not above the customs. Study the Signs, and come here again when you have been summoned…and not before.—