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They took off a few minutes later. After dinner Nate reclined his chair and watched an old Charlton Heston movie called The Omega Man while the attendants brought around blankets, pillows and soft booties. During the movie he noticed that while the others were spending their time watching movies, or reading, or talking, that Maha was sitting cross-legged on one of the couches with his eyes closed. Shortly after the movie ended he saw that Maha was done and he went over. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
Maha gave a soft smile and brought his hands up to mouth level and pressed his palms together while inclining his head slightly. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Have you been meditating long?” Nate asked him.
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“Since I was a boy.”
“Does it help?”
“It calms me, helps me stay centered.”
“If you don’t mind me saying this, I…” He hesitated. “I should shut up. I’ve already dug a couple of holes today.”
“Please continue.” Maha looked sincerely interested in what Nate had to say.
“What in the world are you doing here? Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t belong here at all. How do Buddhism and reality TV go together?”
Maha smiled. “I suppose it does seem odd.” He was silent for a moment. “I was born in the United States, but I have spent much of my life in Thailand. I know both worlds, and yet I belong in neither.”
Nate waited for him to say more, but after a while it was clear that Maha felt he had explained it sufficiently. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I was lost in Thailand, so I returned to the place of my birth, hoping to find answers there.” Maha shrugged. “Answers have not been so easy to come by.”
“And you thought you’d find answers on a reality show?”
Maha shrugged again. “How can I know unless I look? I was walking down the street and saw many people waiting in line. I followed a feeling and stood in line also. I found the others in line very interesting. Then I was chosen and here I am. The universe works in unfathomable ways.”
Nate laughed. “All those people who wanted so bad to be on this show and you walk up out of the blue and land a spot. You’re right. The universe is hard to understand.” Maha smiled and nodded. “That stuff Jenna said earlier, about how you believe you were a gangster in your last life and you have a karma debt to pay. Do you really believe that, or was it just something you told her for the cameras?”
“Absolutely I believe it.”
Nate wanted to scoff at him. It all seemed so ridiculous on the face of it. People who believed in past lives, especially people who claimed to know about their past lives, were idiots or crazy. Yet there was something so open and sincere about Maha that he couldn’t quite bring himself to dismiss him out of hand. “How do you know? Is that something you learned in meditation?”
“A holy man told me.”
“A holy man.” Now it was Nate’s turn to shrug. “Okay. I can accept that. So you were a gangster in your past life and now you have all this bad karma you have to atone for. How?”
“I do not know. But I follow the eightfold path of the Buddha as best I can and trust it will be revealed to me.”
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Nate went back to his seat. Tony leaned over.
“That’s one very strange guy,” Tony said.
“He’s not like anyone I have ever met.”
“Do you believe him?”
“If by believe you mean do I think it’s true, the past life and all? I don’t think so. That’s pretty farfetched. But if you’re asking me if I think he sincerely believes what he is saying, then yes, I do.”
“I don’t know,” Tony said skeptically.
“I think I haven’t met very many sincere people in my life,” Nate said. “Especially in LA, it seems like everyone is trying to sell a better mask. Nobody believes anything beyond the level to which they can convince you to believe it.”
“That’s a pretty deep statement from someone who has dedicated himself to pretending to be someone else.”
Nate thought about that for a moment. At first he felt kind of insulted by Tony’s statement, but then it occurred to him in a different way. “You know what? I don’t know if I’ve ever been sincere a single minute in my entire life. I mean, when I’m being me, not playing a role. Not a single minute.”
“That sounds kind of harsh.”
“I think the closest I get to being truly sincere is when I’m playing a role. Does that make any sense?”
“Not really.”
“When I get into a role, I get into the role. I don’t just play someone else, I sincerely become someone else. When I’m really working it, when I’ve really let go of myself and gotten into a role, I feel more – I don’t know – more real than I do at any other time. There are those magical moments when I feel as if I really am that person I am portraying, not Nate Devereaux. Like Nate Devereaux is the role I’m playing.”
“Geez,” Tony said. “That’s pretty intense.”
“Yeah,” Nate said, surprised at himself. “I can’t believe I just told you that. I don’t think I’ve ever really even thought of it that way before.”
“You think the cameras picked it up?”
Nate looked around. “God, I hope not.”
Tony’s next question surprised Nate. “So how are you going to play this role? I mean, how do you play a character when the character you’re playing is yourself?”
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