A deep unearthly voice sounds in the darkness. It’s Atanas singing Mila Rodino – the Bulgarian anthem. Echo intensifies the thrilling sensation I get while sitting in a closed space of a few square meters, where the only opening is a door. I am looking at a pond immersed in slightly brighter darkness of this night, and at the stars above it. All of this is accompanied by splashes of hot water coming to the surface straight from underground and splashing on stones and our bodies. We’re sitting naked on the floor enjoying one of many Bulgarian hot springs, and Atanas’ voice reminds me of one night I’ve spent in the Dejani monastery in Romanian Fagaras mountains. This time the voice is single, but multiplied by the echo brings back the memory of that divine choir of twenty Orthodox monks.
The anthem turns into a song about Bulgarian warriors. So many folklore songs have this theme of freedom fighters… or theme of a girl. This one song combines both of them – soldiers gather to set off for a battle for the fatherland, and they swear on their women’s honor that they will not rest as long as there will be even one Turk stepping on Bulgarian land, or until they will die on the battlefield. Just one of them whose woman died has nothing to swear on, so he swears on his horse and sword. A horse is just food for dogs – his comrades mock him – and a sword is just a piece of steel. Go home, your oath is not worth a dime. What to do, the young soldier goes back home to ask his mother what oath he should take. Ask your dear father, she replies. How, since he’s lying in his grave for long years now. Then swear on my life, the life of your old mother, go back to your companions, and fight for Bulgaria.
* * *
– The most important thing is thinking. The state of mind, awareness of what surrounds you, and what is within you. This is the basis of existence. – Atanas puts down a cup of herbal tea and with the end of a teaspoon, he reaches for a drop of honey. Everything separately – this way you can taste the true taste of the herbs and enjoy the true taste of the honey. This was his first lesson for me. – But what is after thinking? Then it’s air. Breathing – without it within 4 minutes you would be dead. It is necessary to learn to breathe consciously, the right way.
He shows me a breathing exercise – we’re emptying our lungs more than it is physically possible… and a bit more after that. Taking in more than it is possible… and a bit more after that.
– This way you are using your whole lungs. Change the whole air, every day. Then you can breathe with a new one, new energy.
I try one more time. Maybe it is just all in my head, but I feel like I am slowly settling down. Settling down on this day, like putting roots in this moment. Releasing the old everyday load and breathing in the present moment. Today’s energy.
– And what is next? – he asks me.
– Yes. – he confirms, stroking his long beard. One more sip of the tea and a drop of honey. – A human cannot live without water. Of course, it is important what do you drink, but not only. It is important how you drink and how you feel. Do you know that water can sense feelings? In Japan they’ve made an experiment – they’ve spoken to water, then instantly froze it and examined the structure of ice crystals. And do you know how beautifully the water looked when it heard positive words and feelings? And how chaotic was the structure when they abused it?
I make a mental note to check out the pictures later.
– We are built of water. Think how it looks in a man that is full of hatred, sadness, fear, anger, and bitterness. And how beautiful we may be if we cherish the positive thoughts in us.
He strokes young Boyan’s head. The boy runs off, grabs a bike, and disappears on a sandy road going through the village.
– So water. What will be next, how do you think?
– Food? – I’m guessing.
– Yes, it is important. Next in the order, but there is one other thing in between. Without food, just drinking water, you can survive a month. And without what another thing will you die within a few days?
At first, nothing comes to my mind, maybe because from breakfast I ate just a few plums and this thought of food is stuck in my mind. But suddenly some idea appears.
– Yes, exactly. Without sleep, you will either die or go insane. And for sure you will be tired, unfocused, and not fully aware of what is happening around you and inside you. Good sleep is very important, I will show you a few ways to ensure peaceful sleep and proper waking up to start a new day well.
I pour more tea for us both. Naska holding small Yasin on her arm joins us. The small boy is constantly rubbing his eyes, something is wrong. For few past days, Naska has been putting in his eyes a few drops of milk from a nursing mother. This will help.
– And next is food, as you’ve said. But also conscious. It all depends on when you will plant the seed, how will you plant it. If you will plant the seed just straight by putting it into the soil it might grow, but it will be weak. Give it your energy, give it your love. Keep each seed for a few seconds in your mouth, give it your water, make the connection between the two of you. Let it know you and it will love you and will bestow you with great fruits. Just after that, you should know about the moon phases – when to plant, when to harvest, when to get rid of wild weeds. The knowledge of which plants like each other, which cooperate, and which is better to separate.
* * *
– When you’re playing guitar you have entirely different type of energy. – he notes after a few songs. – And I don’t know what you are playing there, which chords. Teach me.
I try to explain to him the way I find sounds on the guitar, but cannot. I know the music theory, I can dress chords and sounds in the math of keys and scales, but this is not it. The majority of the chords I play weren’t calculated but just played. They even don’t have names, they just sound good in my ear even if in theory they cannot make sense. I cannot explain this, it is more of a feeling than the knowledge you can pass forward. I tell him about the theory, intervals, related chords – but this is not music. It’s like writing a book about dancing.
– I understand. It’s a shame, but it’s a good thing that you cannot explain it. This means that it comes from within you, it is your true energy.
He takes a beautifully carved kaval into his hands and plays one of the Bulgarian songs, of course about a girl and her boy that returns after fighting the Turkish people. I try to make a single sound with his second kaval, but cannot. It’s all about lips and control over the airflow.
– Nasko, I dream about playing kaval. How to make even a single note?
– I don’t know how. I am just playing, just try. – sort of a “revenge” for my clumsy guitar explanations.
* * *
In the evening we sit together on the floor of their house playing a board game. I train my Bulgarian, nobody pushes you into practicing language as much as kids. Just as in the morning little Syanka showed me her treasures – shells, stones and dried-up flowers, explaining to me in Bulgarian their stories. And being strongly convinced that I understand everything, because how could it be that somebody doesn’t understand speech?
At one moment Naska comes into the room where we play, wearing a beautiful snow-white dress. Today it is their thirteenth anniversary, they are not celebrating in any special way, just sitting on the floor together with kids and one stranger and spending time together. How to celebrate if every day is a celebration? Magical moment.
* * *
I open my eyes, trying to figure out where I am. The last night I tried to travel in the stars just like Atanas told me too. But I fell into sleep a bit too quickly, tired after the whole day and night bathing in hot springs.
– You’ve escaped into sleep very quickly, haven’t gone far. I haven’t seen your shadow.
I confirm, excuse myself with tiredness.
– Ah, it’s nothing. But practice it, each time you will be able to go further. You know, me with Naska we travel very often. She complains I am very fast, in one single moment I am already in the stars and she cannot catch me. She tells me my shadow just flashes before her and I’m not there anymore. But one time she caught up to me halfway, you should have seen how happy she was, really!
We’re lying in a tent, on sheep’s fleece, a present from one of Atanas’ friends. I try to focus on starting this new day in a way that Atanas explained to me yesterday. After that, we go out on a grassy field bathing in the morning July sun. Gathering energy for the new day, making one movement after another, moving the energy higher and higher – from the ground to the top of the head.
– We could have gone even further, but not today. It’s enough for the morning, let’s go swim in the river. – we run towards a small stream surrounded by trees.
Waking up all the senses in the cold water.