Breathing in. Breathing out. Just letting go.

Kurt’s life was simple up here on the hill. He lived in a simple bivouac. A raised floor woven from palm fronds kept him above the rainforest floor where snakes and leeches slithered. A tarp strung above and covered with fronds kept out the tropical rain and sun. The rainforest vines had grown over it already. He was literally the thick of it up here in his splendid isolation. His only companion was the book of the great Vietnamese Zen master. It contained all he needed.

I vow to practice mindful breathing, looking deeply into things.

Every day, he just sat. Just breathed. And listened to the plants grow. There was nothing to distract him here, in the thick of it. The impenetrable rainforest canopy in the valley below him stretched to Cape Melville, where he could glimpse the Coral Sea. On his platform he would sit every day. When sitting, just sit. Each evening he would prepare a simple meal from rice and beans he had carried in. Then sit the night, listening, breathing. Perhaps sleeping as lightly as a moonbeam on water.

This morning the mist had cleared and he could see the overgrown, disused track a thousand metres down the valley below him. Kurt’s was a forgotten valley. There was not even much wildlife up this high. Just him and the plants.

He was aware of all that lay before him. But had no thoughts about it. No attachment. No aversion. Just his mind at rest, but aware it was at rest. Awareness of awareness, the Zen master called it.

Total Situational Awareness, a very different instructor had taught him years ago while training for his first tour of Vietnam.

Now, into his awareness stumbled two tiny distant figures. One swept the ground with a long-handled metal detector, staring at the dirt beside the creek they had followed up the valley, through the rainforest and out into a clearing, yet unknowingly right into the thick of things. Fossickers. Prospectors. Seekers after material wealth.

The other fossicker, sweaty in khaki shorts and shirt like his mate, carried a backpack topped by tin pans for winnowing gold out of creek beds. They stepped out of the shadows.

“Hey, Troy, get a load of this,” one shouted, looking up.

“Holey doley, a dope plant bigger than a Christmas tree,” Troy replied.

‘No mate, a whole bloody valley full of dope plants bigger than Christmas trees,” the first one said, with a sweep of his arm. He pulled a plant over and breathed in deeply as he pushed his face into the biggest bud he had ever seen. “Aaahhh, Nirvana,” he said, and breathed out.

“Geez Orrie,” Troy said. “We don’t want to hang around here. This is somebody’s crop. They’ll have some bad, bad blokes hanging around here looking after it. Crop sitters.”

“Nah, mate. Look, there’s no fresh tracks anywhere around the perimeter or up the valley there, or down where we just been. No sign of life. Either they planted this and left it to grow on its own over the wet season, or it was abandoned years ago by some old Cape York hippies and has just kept growing.”

“I dunno,” Troy said. “And I’m not hanging around to find out. I’m off.”

“Hang on a sec, ya wuss.” Orrie tore buds the size of ripe pawpaws off the tops of half a dozen plants and stuffed them down his shirt.

Kurt sat cross-legged on his platform hidden in the thick of things. A Steyr SSG 69, the world’s deadliest sniper rifle, balanced perfectly on a bipod in front of him. The right ear of the seeker with the bulging shirt appeared in the cross-hairs of the telescopic sight. Kurt gently raised the cross-hairs half-a-head for distance, then half-a-head in the direction the seeker was walking, to allow for the split second the bullet would take to get there. And a nose more to allow for the breeze.

He remembered the Zen master’s prayer: I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free. In his mind arose no thoughts of the past. No thoughts of the future. Just the present moment. Right here. Right now. In the thick of things. His finger caressed the trigger, light as a moonbeam.

Breathing in.

Breathing out.

Just letting go.

And squeeze.

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