Varsha 2020 Issue, Stories - Mark Tulin


The Mountain Spirit

By Mark Tulini


It was after a particularly challenging yoga class when Danny fell apart.

“It’s okay to cry,” said Lana, who, in the past, had shared tea and emotional comfort.


The two sat on the parquet floor with legs crossed.


“Why don’t you talk about it,” Lana encouraged Danny as she put a hand on his shoulder. She’s one of the wealthiest women in Montecito who made her fortune as a magazine publisher, but her real wealth lies in her compassion.


“I can’t do this anymore,” Danny cried. “I feel so agitated and restless like I have to move on to something else.”


Lana had seen his tears before. She knew that he recently broke up with his boyfriend and had many childhood scars.


“I’d like to help you, Danny,” said Lana. “Do you need money? Do you want a better place to live? I know the cutest bungalow available off the Coastal Highway.”


“It’s nothing like that, Lana. I’m frustrated. I love teaching yoga, but I feel trapped like I have to move somewhere.”




“I don’t know,” said Danny dejectedly.


Lana rolled up her mat while Danny fastened his sandals.


“Maybe you need to take a solitary retreat, Danny. That’s what I do when I feel suffocated by the trappings of life.”


“Retreat? Where?”


“In the mountains, my love. There you can figure out your next move.”


“Is it far?”


“No, my love. It’s only a few minutes from Santa Barbara.”


Lana offered Danny the use of a Yurt in the Santa Ynez Mountains. She talked about the magic there, the sounds of nature, the history of the woodsy terrain, and the Native American spirit so thick that you could cut it with a knife.


“Take the yurt for a weekend. Longer if you need it.”


Danny was reluctant, but Lana insisted.


Friday morning, Danny made his way up the steep and winding San Marcos Pass. His guilt about leaving his yoga class behind and breaking up with his boyfriend still troubled him as he turned down the stony path. Despite these thoughts, Danny felt hopeful. Danny trusted Lana, and the mountains were as beautiful as she said. His intuition said something good would happen here. He had to listen to it.


When he came to the location, it wasn’t a surprise that the yurt was in perfect condition—all the comforts of a furnished apartment and a packed refrigerator in the remoteness of a secluded mountain top.


On the first day, all Danny wanted to do was lie on the bed, look through the crown of the yurt, and gaze into the vast sky. How beautiful it was to be able to look at the hawks gliding overhead, to hear the sounds of nature, and not have to think about anything troublesome. He contemplated the serene blue sky and counted the number of birds that passed before his eyes.

Danny fell asleep and had a powerful dream. The images were so intense that when he woke the next morning, he remembered them in detail and wrote it down.


I followed the stranger’s sure-footed movements as we made our way deep into the mountains.


He told me that we would be walking on holy ground. "Be conscious of who came before us," he said cryptically. “For they will bring you gifts.”


“I only take certain people into the mountain,” he said, “those who need healing.” He knew that I suffered from an imbalance that the doctors couldn’t treat. “It’s a problem with your soul,” he said with conviction. “Your life-force is blocked.”


I watched the stranger collect several bundles of sage and place one under my nose.


“Fill up your lungs with this aroma,” he said. “It will calm your restlessness.”


He seemed to know what I needed; unlike anyone I’ve ever met. But, how could he? I didn’t recognize him, although he looked vaguely familiar.


"Dream Sage heals what's troubling you so you can sleep and have good dreams. Breathe it in deep, Danny,” he said with the conviction of a doctor.


I followed him down a long, spiralling path of gravel. I could smell smoke as we neared the destination.


At a clearing, there was a fire burning. The familiar stranger tossed a bundle of the Dream Sage into the fire pit. It crackled and sizzled once it hit the flames, sending up a burst of smoke.


A warm presence entered my body that seemed to relax me instantly.

Soon an apparition appeared. A group of expressive dancers in sheer silks moved around the fire to a hypnotizing drumbeat. The stranger assured me that these spirits were here to help, like dreams, they come to us for a reason.


Although the dancers were compelling, I was still anxious. I couldn’t help worrying about things I couldn’t control.


“Relax,” he said, “watch the fire glow. Allow it to take you away. Find your natural rhythm to the drumbeat."


I was not much of a dancer, but I tried. I took off my shoes and began to sway on the mountain floor. My body moved freely and without pain. Out of the thick, smoky air, the Chumash ancestors began to chant. The dancers strutted and swirled to a soothing drumbeat.


The louder the drums, the faster everyone moved. I could feel the Chumash energy take me to a place where I felt lighter. Soon I was too dizzy to stand. My legs buckled, and I fell. Unable to keep my eyes open on the ground, I made a pillow with an armful of leaves. I slept as if I had been drunk on wine.


When I woke the next morning from the bright sunlight, I looked up at the sky and could see a glowing orange sun, magnificent birds soaring overhead, a woodpecker tapping on a nearby tree, and squirrels rustling in a pile of leaves. The gentle winds whispered words of comfort, words of strength.


“All you have to do is look up at the sky and see the Chumash spirit riding on the backs of the hawks, and they will guide you.”



On the second day, Danny took his yoga mat and followed a trail down to a beautiful waterfall. He sat on a slate rock and watched the stream of water and the foamy bubbles. His attention drifted from the aqua paradise to a cluster of bulbous wild mushrooms at his feet. He heard the rustling leaves in the distance and then curiously watched a beetle slowly move across the ground. Streaks of sunlight warmed his face; bits of the mountain forest floated along its circuitous journey.


He thought about the ancient yogis in loose-fitting loincloths with bare chests, skinny and brown, sinewy and flexible. He thought about how wise they must have been, their breathing connected to their movements without anyone having to remind them—one breath into the next to enlightenment.


That’s why Danny chose to be a yoga instructor. He wanted to experience bliss and stop clinging to painful childhood memories and failed relationships that often defined him. He tried to start over, to live a more balanced life, free of drama and desire.

Danny breathed through one nostril at a time in rapid succession. He made his belly swirl in small slow circles. He took long, deep inhales and exhaled until he fell into a dreamy state of quiet relaxation.


With the spirit of the ancient yogis by his side, Danny rose from his lotus position and gracefully flowed into spontaneous movements. When Danny taught yoga, he tried to do every pose correctly. Now he allowed himself to enjoy yoga without criticism or the need to be perfect. At the waterfall, Danny didn’t worry about making mistakes or trying to impress. He connected to the spirit of his imagination and allowed the universe to flow through him with each breath.

“Just be yourself, Danny,” he heard the spirit say. “Don’t worry about anything else.”


“Nothing is as important as the present,” Danny chanted to himself.

Danny returned to the yurt before sundown, had a light supper, and wrote in his journal about his experiences in the mountains. Despite being there for a short time, he noticed that his head was much clearer, and his hands didn’t tremble.

He realized that in the silence of the mountains, he found what he was looking for—clarity and peace. While in the misty, panoramic view of nature, he didn't need to pursue things. He could hear the guiding spirit telling him to let go and enjoy the moment.


As Danny walked the trail the next day, he knew that he would return to these mountains. He would tell Lana that his mountain experience was fulfilling and ready to resume his yoga teaching. She would be happy and offer the yurt whenever Danny felt the pressure of a busy life. On the dusty mountain floor, he discovered the spirit and grounded his soles into the rocky trail before going back home, enjoying the crunchy sound that his boots made.



Mark Tulin is a former therapist from Philadelphia who now lives in California. He has two poetry books, Magical Yogis and Awkward Grace. His upcoming book, The Asthmatic Kid and Other Stories available to pre-order. Mark has been featured in Amethyst Review, Strands Publishers, Fiction on the Web, Terror House Magazine, Trembling with Fear, Life In The Time, Still Point Journal, The Writing Disorder, New Readers Magazine, among others. Mark’s website, Crow On The Wire.


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