I have heard it said that by repeating the word “Om”, over and over again, for hours upon end, one can achieve a state of spiritual transcendence. The person from whom I heard this was an ancient mystic with a straggly beard who was sitting cross-legged three-quarters of the way up a mountain slope, where the air was rarefied. I was panting and out of breath and relying on my Alpenstock to keep me upright. Then all of a sudden, half hidden in the cloudy mist, I saw this fellow, his wrinkled countenance a picture of beatific bliss. Glad of the company after so many hours toiling up the mountain by myself, I slumped down next to him and we fell into conversation.
“Good day,” I said. I never say “Hello”, which is an improper form of greeting in my view, an illegitimate coinage by Thomas Edison devised from the huntsman’s cry “Tally-ho!” Look it up.
“Good day to you, sir,” replied the wrinkled ancient, “You have pierced the cloudy mist by which I am normally occluded from the eyes of ordinary mortals.”
It had never occurred to me that I might be an extraordinary mortal, and the thought was a pleasing one, so I smiled. This is not, generally speaking, a good idea, for it is my unfortunate lot that whenever I smile my face assumes the rictus cast of a maniac or a death’s head, and those who see it tend to run screaming. The ancient, however, stayed put. My smile held no terrors for him. I began to wonder if anything did.
“If what you say is true,” I ventured, “Could it be that you are one of those gnomes Rudolf Steiner writes about, invisible to the common riffraff, perceived only by those of a more elevated insight?”
“Do I look like a gnome to you?” he asked. It was not a snappish response, rather a gentle enquiry.
“I suppose not,” I said, “But as you are squatting cross-legged upon the mountain slope I cannot rightly adjudge your full height when in a standing position.”
“Rest assured I am no gnome,” he said, “I am one of the Hidden Masters of whom Madame Blavatsky wrote so eloquently.”
“Well knock me down with a feather,” I said, “But I thought you had your abode in the mountains of Tibet, whereas this is, unless I am mistaken, an Alpine peak.”
The ancient now moved for the first time since I had encountered him. He slipped one hand inside his white robe, and produced a feather, I think one plucked from a kingfisher or a heron. He waved it in front of me, and I was propelled flat on my back as if the stuffing had been knocked out of me. Gasping for breath, I sat back up and goggled at him.
“I did as you asked,” he said, “And now in return you must do as I ask.”
“What do you want me to do?” I said, between gulps for rarefied air.
“Continue up to the top of the mountain,” he said, “When you reach the summit, you will see that it is strewn with small pebbles. One among these pebbles, just one! mark you, is a mystic pebble, possession of which grants visions of realms beyond human sense to the possessor. You must find that pebble among all the other pebbles and bring it down from the mountaintop to me.”
“How will I know which is the right pebble?” I asked.
It was at this point in the conversation that he vouchsafed to me the business about repeating “Om” over and over again, for hours upon end, until I reached a state of spiritual transcendence.
“When that state is achieved,” he said, “You will be able to perceive the mystic glow of the mystic pebble. Then you must pick it up, pop it for safekeeping into your mouth, as if you were a Beckettian tramp, and suck upon it while you clamber back down the mountain.”
“Yes, oh Master!” I said, and up I went.
The air was more rarefied still at the summit, and I was gasping for breath as I collapsed on the peak next to a patch of strewn pebbles. I poked at them with my Alpenstock, wondering if I might already be spiritually advanced enough to perceive the mystic glow. After all, I had it on the highest authority that I was an extraordinary mortal who had pierced the cloudy mists which normally occluded the Hidden Master. But no particular pebble stood out from among the others, so I made myself as comfortable as possible and started to say “Om”.
“Om,” I said, “Om Om Om.”
I felt like a fool. I felt like even more of a fool when night crashed down upon the mountaintop and I was still sitting there saying “Om”. And I felt like the most foolish fool of all fools when dawn broke, and I was still sitting there, still saying “Om”, over and over again.
It has been six weeks now. I seem to be clawing my way towards a new plane of existence. I experience neither hunger nor thirst. My beard is straggly, and the sun has bleached my Alpine mountaineering garb so I appear to be wearing a white robe. My Alpenstock has been dragged away and gnawed by a venturesome mountain goat. I say “Om” and I gaze upon the pebbles, and I await spiritual transcendence.