Ocra lived on a high river bank, close to a forest that rose up the hill as a dense wall. Behind the hill, as far as the eye could see, more hills, higher hills were sleeping in fog. The river bed was covered in boulders, mossy at the top where crows and herons would sit and nib at it, slimy and shiny at the bottom having been embraced by the waters for so long. The swift waters were especially dangerous in spring during the high water season.
Ocra has lived here since she could remember herself, brought up by the previous Keeper, Oni. She never knew her parents or if she ever had any – Oni never spoke about such things. Ocra has been raised to take care of the Hill Region, and since Oni has passed into the subtle realm, she has been the Keeper. She knew there must be other Keepers for every hill beyond her realm, but she never met them.
Every morning she would come up to the edge of the bank, open her palms and just take in the life force flowing in the air, then she would lie in the river bed, speaking to the river. The river was named Anduna, and Ocra knew her very well – as well as you can know a river – a living being so different from and superior to us. Hills and rivers, not to speak of the Mother Bharat, live in a different time span taking little notice of the fast changes in our small lives, unaffected by them. But you can hear them speaking if you hearken to their flow of life force and tune in to their mind.
Ocra remembered how she first heard Anduna. She was 4 springs at that time. Oni was teaching her to meditate and lie in water without breathing for a long time and merge into the river’s life force. After some futile attempts Ocra was finally able to relax and clear her mind to let in the life force. First she felt amazingly peaceful and safe and lost track of time, when gradually the soft sound of a song started to flow into her mind – the song of Anduna. She didn’t understand the words, but she could feel the meaning with her heart: “Anduna is my name, and I feel my might and beauty as I’m flowing over the Mother, the sparkling magical world around me is filled with life force and is overflowing with love, I want to spread it all around me in gratitude to the Mother”.
Over the years she would ask her questions about the world and listen to her songs, as the time went the songs became clearer and their bond stronger. This was one of many duties of a Keeper– to create and maintain bonds with the powerful living beings whose presence is not perceived by people but who shape the life on Mother Bharat. So Ocra also learned how to listen to the hill, the ocean, the fire and the wind, the sun and the moon. Keepers call them Devas and accept their guidance on how to take care of their region.
Another duty of a Keeper would be to internalize and formulate the Devas’ songs in their own language. That’s why they would also become known as poets and singers. But those songs were not ordinary songs, they weren’t meant to entertain or inform. Rather with their subtle beauty they would put people in a state of meditation connecting them with the heart of the Keeper. From this heart wisdom would flow into the listeners’ hearts who then feel like it was their own. In this way Keepers would weave harmony into the world.
On a clear evening of the light half of the first autumn month Ocra was sitting near her stone house running her fingers over the strings of her small harp singing the Autumn Song. This was a very unusual song – she heard it from leaves and tree bark when she was patrolling her realm two days ago. Ocra never listened to the songs of inferior beings, but this time she felt she had to. Something was different about the seriousness of the message. As usually during a patrol she opened her palms to sense if the flow of the life force was healthy in this part of her region – she could feel the thin herby flow from the dying leaves, the transparent but strong flow from the trees, several agile flows from small animals – everything was in order.
Ocra was leaving when she noticed that the leaves were rustling rhythmically and there was a certain emotion hidden there, the emotion they wished to convey. Then, as Oni had taught her, she sat down on the ground, put her open palms on the knees and closed her eyes. First she breathed in and out at regular intervals controlling the life force movement in her own body. Thus she muted her outer senses, stopped her mind’s work and focused on the gentle rumbling humming emitted by the hill and by the soil itself. When the humming filled her she started to rock side to side in accordance with the waves of the sound. At this moment the rhythmical rustling of the dying leaves unfolded and flew into her ears, but this time she could understand what message they were eager to share.
Ocra diligently noted all the subtle feelings, emotions and images she perceived and then, without opening her eyes, she came back to her senses and used the mind to create associations with every item she received through this song. This would help the Keeper create the song of the dying leaves later.
Ocra didn’t get tired like ordinary people do, she rarely ate and slept for just a couple of hours a day. People need food and sleep to refill the life force supply in their body, but Keepers didn’t have a supply – their life force was always flowing in and out entwining with the life force of all the living beings in their region allowing them to merge into the nature, be one with it. This feature made them perfect for their role.
But there was a kind of tiredness Ocra could feel – the tiredness of spirit. It came when she would only fulfill her duties and forgot about the spirit. The spirit required feeding. Oni was particularly adamant about this practice, teaching Ocra over and over to meditate early in the morning, while everyone was still asleep, so that she could realize herself as a small spark inside her body, a spark which is an infinite part of the primordial light – the Original Living Being. Oni explained that every spark has a deep-rooted desire to express their love to this Original Being and receive reciprocation – this interaction is the fundamental practice that enabled Keepers to stay alive and maintain their qualification. And their duties, Oni used to tell, were the expression of love they can offer to the Being. It was the hardest practice for Ocra to learn, but she quickly realized she couldn’t perform her duties if she didn’t feed the spirit.
So after creating associations for the song of the dying leaves she felt a little tired in spirit. She understood why – the unusual source of the song and the emotional message she received made her a little restless. She needed answers. So Ocra climbed the topmost boulder in the vicinity, lay out the deer skin she always kept on her for such occasions and sat upright aligning the flow of her life force. She took the beads hanging from her neck into the right hand and started to chant the secret mantra Oni taught her.
Immediately she felt relieved and little by little as if connected to her long lost true home. Ocra loved her life and the work she was doing in her region, she felt satisfied. But chanting this mantra brought a completely different level of satisfaction. The chanting made her delve deep into herself, to the places within her she had never known existed before she tried it for the first time. With years of practice Ocra also found herself connected to other living beings who lived beyond her region, in fact beyond mother Bharat herself, she only communicated with them during the chanting of the secret mantra through the feeling of connection and support they gave her – she saw vague images and felt their life force, but that was it. She knew herself to be a part of a big picture, of a family she left long ago. This always made her feel fearless because she knew she lived in a world created and maintained by those who care for her.
But this time Ocra also had a task. So she addressed the Original Being – but there was no answer. This was the first experience for Ocra when she felt someone’s presence, but couldn’t communicate. Then she tested the other living beings she felt support from during chanting. One of them whom she saw as a man in white clothes with a long white beard answered her question with short, but concise messages that just appeared in her mind like gusts of fresh wind. Satisfied, but puzzled, Ocra opened her eyes and felt pregnant with knowledge and wisdom of the elders – that is what she called them in her heart.
Slowly she got up and for some time just stood there taking in everything she learnt. Then she collected the skin and put it in her side bag. The bag reminded her of Oni again: the mentor embroidered this bag for her student when she came of age, that is turned 14. Before the Keeper’s initiation Oni sent her to gather the herbs that only adult Keepers were allowed to gather and gave her this bag. The embroidery showed a deer family grazing in the forest made with threads of different colours and some gem stones Oni received as donation from the village people.
Emerging from her thought Ocra noticed that it was darkening and headed home. She was safe because she knew what she had to do. Having returned home, she entered her stone house, a small one-room hut with a fireplace and a stove along the back wall, two beds, a couple of chests and a table with chairs. The beds weren’t ordinary human ones, it was imperative for them to be purely natural built without any human craft so that they helped Keepers to be connected to their region at all times. They looked more like big nests woven from soft branches, covered in fresh leaves and grass. It was autumn now, so the leaves and grass turned yellow and red. By the end of winter they would almost entirely wear out, so they were sometimes substituted with soft evergreen foliage until the beds were buried in the woods in spring and created again in spring.
The table was cluttered with books and notebooks –one of the Keepers’ duties was to carefully note down all the songs they hear and chronicle all the events they experience or even just hear of. No one Ocra knew needed books, people would come and hear her songs and remember them forever passing them down to their descendants, but she knew from Devas there would come time when people would only be able to learn from books.
It was dark inside, and as the last light of the day was leaving the hut, it made everything look blue and soft as if blurred. Ocra fumbled in the dark to make fire, it wasn’t very cold yet, the autumn was still settling in, but the presence of fire always gave her a sense of approval from the Devas. Then lit a candle, sat at the table, took out an inkbottle, a writing stick and opened her notebook. For a moment she paused taking a breath before diving into inspired writing. She loved the process, it was always so immersive and liberating – she felt like a vessel filled with infinite wisdom and beauty seeking to pour it on paper.
Ocra was writing for an hour or so, pausing to find a better word or metaphor for what she felt and perceived during her meditation. Then she extinguished both the candle and the fire and went to bed. Keepers didn’t actually sleep at night. Their body and mind needed rest just for a couple of hours so they plunged in a deep meditative state. They used the time to breathe in synch with mother Bharat and to tune into the flow of life force of the whole planet.
The next morning was the first day of autumn. Ocra knew the song of the dying leaves had to be sung today. After the morning rituals she washed her clothing in the Anduna river and hanged it outside the house, changed into a formal Keepers’ dress which was kept in a chest beside her bed, then reached behind her bed for a harp case, took it out and went outside to play in the sun. Ocra closed her eyes and let her innermost feelings lead her fingers to accompany the poem that she wrote yesterday. At first she lightly touched several strings one by one to set the mood of a meditative atmosphere. Then she swiftly ran her fingers over them pulling chords and sequences with regular intervals as if every chord needed to take its breath: breathing out, fading, pausing, breathing in, building up again… Then the gaps began to shorten gradually and the chords weaved into a continuous fabric of music with a melody emerging on top of it. This is when Ocra’s voice entered following the pattern of the melody, flowing beneath it:
The life is leaving us and death is closing in,
The juice of life cut off - fragile and dry or skin.
We heard so many living fade and die before,
Being full of fear while passing to the other shore,
But we don’t fret regretting neither life nor death
For just external shells are cast with our last breath.
For shapes and forms will die and are already thus
But only we live on and joy lives on in us.