“You’ve heard of Heartbreak Hotel, haven’t you?
“It’s where the broken hearted lovers go (they cry there in the gloom). Of course, we don’t put satsangis there. There’s no call for it.
“But I’m rushing on … forgive me. Let me introduce myself. I’m your tour operator; here’s my card and there’s my name:
Mr I. Focus, that’s me. I arrange travel to the Inward Isle and organize the accommodation along the way.
“That mention of Heartbreak Hotel just now – that was just a joke! (Don’t mistake me, I love my job, my boss and his customers, but I have to look on the funny side of things sometimes.) Actually, that particular hotel is owned by Worldly Love and it’s not on a very good side of town. My boss’s company, Spiritual Departures, is based in a much better district, in Discipleship actually, which is altogether preferable.
“One of the hotels we use a lot in Discipleship is Longing Lodge, right next to the airport. We put our most serious clients there, I would say. They generally arrive in Longing Lodge when they’re ready for the trip across the sea to The Beloved’s Arms, which is actually our destination on the Inward Isle. It’s a wonderful view as you come in on the plane. Yes, it’s our final destination and a most desirable one. My responsibility certainly ends then, as the host there personally arranges for onward travel into the high peaks. No, I can’t really describe The Beloved’s Arms on Inward Isle. You’ll have to go there, you really will, and see for yourself.
“What did you say your name was? Mr Try-Hard? Well, Mr Try-Hard, I’m putting you, as is usual with newcomers, into Hopeful House for a while. You’ll be taken from Hopeful House by helicopter to Longing Lodge when you’re ready.
“Now, and this is the funny thing: I just can’t say when ‘ready’ will be! You see, it’s so much up to you. What I can tell you is that we have some rather erratic guests in Hopeful House. Just a few come in, register, go straight upstairs (with no fuss at all) to the helipad on the roof and get the next flight out. But the others … well, all I can say is that they’re a constant surprise.
“We have many people who (believe it or not) make the effort time after time to get to the roof – and it’s not an easy climb – but who never stay long enough to get into the helicopter. I’m waiting there with my list (I have to check off the names, you see), I turn my back – only for a moment – and when I turn back they’ve gone. Yes, literally gone!
“I find them a few minutes later asleep on the stairs or calling up a friend on the phone, even playing cricket in the garden. They’ve completely forgotten what they set out to do – until the next day, when up they come again, only to disappear the moment I take my eye off them.
“Oh, it’s a very difficult job I’ve got. I’ve known some people spend half a lifetime in these antics – yes, half a lifetime. So, Mr Try-Hard, my advice is: if you get near the rooftop, hang on to me, do!
“Mind you, not everyone even gets as far as the rooftop. There are some who book into the hotel and seem keen but then spend a lot of time sitting on the stairs. Why? Well, that’s a good question. It’s a comfortable staircase, I suppose. They see a reassuring bit of sky up above, and they settle down and make do with that. Perhaps they like imagining the trip rather than making that little bit of effort to actually do it. Someone even wrote a travel manual describing it all, from the stairs. Believe it or not, he’d never made the trip, just used to climb to the landing every day and head back down in the evening.
“Then there’s the luggage – stacks and stacks of it, getting stuck round the bends, and of course I have to tell them that they can’t bring it on board the helicopter. ‘Miss Preoccupied,’ I was saying only yesterday, ‘please open this bag and let me have a look. My dear, you are really not going to need all this stuff. Please leave behind your righteous indignation, your gossip, and all those worries; and there’s an awful lot of daydreams here that are not going to be allowed in the air with you.’
“But would she let go? No, she would not. In the end she couldn’t stagger with them to the top. She’ll be back, I’m sure.… The only trouble is, I’ve just seen her taking it all out of one bag and stuffing it into another – she doesn’t seem to realize that having an expensive bag and a new label on the luggage isn’t going to change anything.
“What’s that? You’re asking me what you should take? Well, since you ask, I would say: almost nothing. Carry nothing, Mr Try-Hard, but choose what you wear with care. Humility makes the best undergarment, worn close to the skin, whatever you put on top. Detachment for your topcoat, I would say, but fill the pockets with kindness and remember that a lightweight suit of steady application should definitely be the basis of your wardrobe. Your hat, your scarf and your gloves should be of that incomparable fabric, devotion to guru, and finally, ‘Love’ trainers will give a lift like nothing else can.
“Come on, Mr Try-Hard, I’m beginning to have high hopes for you. Here we are at Hopeful House. You can do it, you know; you really can. I’ll give you a little time to acclimatize, and I’ll see you presently on the roof. Don’t worry if it takes a while to get your bearings. I’m always waiting, and you’ll always find me at the top of those stairs just as soon as you’re ready.