Monday morning, 9am, back on the contracting treadmill again, contestant and collaborator in the nine to five daily grind, my services as an Art Worker required and hired by an inner city design studio. It has been a while since I’ve worked in an office—my work is mostly from home and for my own clients these days, a design business run out of what is “home office” to those who employ me, smoke screen and smoked glass desk removed just a bedroom to me. I think I will need the hard stuff to get up to speed, something black and finely ground in a double-sized cup it will be.

Taking my leave as my day’s work has yet to be briefed in, I borrow a colleague’s swipe card and pass modern art “features”, steel and glass reception area through security door to the chill of the outside, worst winter in a half century my cold comfort on way to café.

The area where I am working would once have been industrial, but now is “industrial chic”, former warehouses and good, honest workplaces replaced by advertising and design firms, a hard days work renovated and re-branded at a through the glass ceiling hourly rate. I shouldn’t be too judgemental though, judge a book by it’s $200 an hour, designed and glossy cover. Marxist roots from my younger, porridge and empty cupboard university days aside, this industry now pays my wage.

The café, not the nearest but location of only choice for those with discerning tastes, is unusually anarchic and open plan—one single, banquet-style table down the middle, counters and sliding cabinets of gourmet sandwiches and baking either side, just tell the girl at the counter what you’ve ordered and pay, pick it up when they call your name.

As I queue to order my double-shot, needed doubly beverage, two women of middle age but less than middle awareness stroll blithely past, rushing words between breaths sharpened by the brisk walk between hair salon and café, attention divided between trim and soy options and a conversation started hours before, awareness of others in the world none at all. Minds half parked in second garage and professionally managed share portfolios, these later-day house-wives didn’t precisely jump the queue to the counter, rather they drove right past as if there was else on their private road.

It was liked being robbed by a bank manager, money removed from your account with a smile and hidden fee. I didn’t realise they had not seen me, were actually going to cut me off until their Bulgari purses were open, credit cards proffered for over-priced milky brew. They walked right past me like I was the hired help.

Something started to smoulder, something other than pesto and camembert panini was toasting, burning. Legs planted wide, shoulders stiffening, bristling, fury and anger black was brewing, boiling inside, double strength cup of scalding wrath to be thrown rather than swallowed. I was not going to let this injustice just walk by, let total unawareness and ignorance of others stand unchallenged.

“Excuse me, you see behind me, that empty space, that is a queue, where you should be standing!” My tone and force of speech were the verbal equivalent of a pointing, shaking finger.

Shock, mile-wide eyes spinning, reeling embarrassment, silence in the whole café, nowhere to hide

“You know how I’m standing here?” My tone was raising, volume increasing, voice on cusp of scream and yell, question posed but no answer expected, for it was clearly known. “Well maybe you don’t know, seeing how you’ve walked right past me, but it’s called a queue…”

I lowered my tone, softened volume but not intensity, the pressure in the room doubling like the calm before a raging storm.

“…and… it… begins… with… ME!”

I am walking closer and they are backing, stumbling away. I’m so angry and direct that the force of my words are like stomach punching, air stealing violent blows.

But…

Standing on the cliff-top of indignation and righteous, fully justified anger, something prevented me from jumping off. I thought all these words, cocked tirade’s trigger and took aim to fire, but in the end did not. Something made me holster my weapon, hold my tongue against weight of common sense and wounded pride.

I could have illumined those two women of their ignorance, could have jolted them out of their middle-aged double-rinsed and blow-dried complacency as if fingers in a socket, but I didn’t have the heart to do so. It wasn’t weakness. It simply didn’t feel right.

The spiritual life has rules and guidelines plenty, philosophies and treatises on life and how to live it stacked high enough to build libraries, let alone fill shelves, but one phrase and guiding principle is enough to be keystone and pole star to them all, summary and closing sentence to all the words in the world: listen to your heart.

Beyond reason and logic, philosophy and law, your heart will always tell you the right thing to do, reveal, through intuition and feeling, the correct, clear path ahead, the road to happiness straight and true. The heart is the mouthpiece and vouchsafe of the soul, immutable diamond and infallible guiding light at the core of your being, inner pilot and guide through this life and every life. Practise listening to your heart, hone your ears to its still small voice and guidance, and you will never walk astray.

I ordered my coffee, took a seat at the large central table, let my boiled blood settle amidst the scream and squeal of coffee being made. Seeing clearly instead of red, I took a deep breath, calmed myself, let inner peace as it always does, dissolve life’s raging tumults and storms. My clouds of anger were chased away by a cool, clear-thinking heart, dissipated by the rays of the inner sun, and happiness, clouded for a while, began to shine again.

Your mind may not know
What will make you happy,
But your heart does know
How to make you happy.
Listen to your heart.
Sri Chinmoy,
Twenty-Seven Thousand Aspiration-Plants, Part 172

Strangely and very much disconcertingly absent from pen and desk, writing paper blank now curling at the edges these past few months, I’ve finished and submitted a story nay epic 4000 word behemoth to the soon to be published Episode 17 of Inspiration-Letters at the Sri Chinmoy Centre.

Here is a sneak peak, teaser and few opening words from a wagon-load of writing which I near shed tears and lost sleep over—it’s no joke trying to write after several months not, not to mention write with significant quantity and hoped for quality…

Across the Ocean to Swim or Sink

Sri Advaita AcaryaHe was a bear of a man, with a bear-like, straggly grey beard, the last vestige and visage of the Rabbinical life-path his Hebrew parents had probably intended, in a preacher-like occupation—Religious Studies professor and faculty head—secular Rabbi to the hundreds of truth-seeking youth who passed through his lecture theatres and tutorial rooms each year. Post lecture, sermon from the mount of Intellectualism, dozens would congregate around him for curriculum advice or, just as likely, words of learned wisdom. For a while, those many years ago while I was under his tutelage, I felt it my mission in life to tread the knowledge-paved road of academia, climb the spiral staircase of learning’s ivory tower, one heaped stack of books at a time.

Thus I found myself in his office one afternoon discussing a post-graduate pathway, when a throw-away comment made more of an impression than all the academic advice combined. Like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle only I was building, something about this comment fit into place, rang true within the broader tapestry of my life’s finely woven experiences.

“I left home and went to India when I was a teenager, convinced that the world was an illusion. I soon found out that it was very real…”

I was far more interested in this apparently banished, near-forgotten youthful self than the mature one behind the desk before me—the version of my Religious Studies professor that could be ambitious, audacious enough to believe that everything around him, everything he knew might be wrong, than the version convinced that everything he knew was right. You see, I too used to think the world was an illusion, and I too found out that it is real, or at least not to be lightly, easily denied.

A trip to visit a mysterious uncle, whose sagely, intuitive advice proved to be presciently exact (with apologies to Sumangali).

Uncle Kevin and grandmotherWhile still somewhat new to meditation, and some months before becoming a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, I discovered to my great joy my Mother’s sister was a practitioner of this new, seductive art, a coincidence maybe not so far fetched in a family of twelve siblings. During the unimaginably long holidays before the start of university, three months which more practical students spent working, more hedonistic partying, I went to visit this meditating Aunt on her semi-rural farm.

The journey north from Wellington to Opotiki —”The place of children” in Maori, and tiny town of several thousand on the south-eastern shore of the Bay of Plenty—was made by thumb, hitch-hiking with a friend more experienced in such matters, journeying home to see his parents in down-the-road Whakatane.

We did pretty well in haphazard transportation at first, securing a non-stop ride to just north of Taupo almost immediately, a small township on the edge of a giant lake that is sole reminder of a massively self-imploding volcano one thousand years ago. Deposited upon the junction where State Highway 1 turns away from Rotorua and then Whakatane, it appeared we would travel no further that day, stranded witnesses to a cool, clear-skied falling dusk, particularly suiting of the musical ambiance created by pocket walkman.

Auspiciously, and in almost complete dark, my companion and I were sighted by a passing couple, intercepted leaving the road to take overnight shelter in an empty field, their back seat coincidentally empty. Almost the age of our own parents, and we their offspring, the husband and wife likely saw in us the resemblance of their progeny, generously inviting and then driving us to their lakeside home in Rotorua; feeding and then offering us welcome rest in absent daughters’ beds until the morn. While not quite as prevalent as it once was—people actually lock their doors here in New Zealand now—you can still find generosity and selfless hospitality everywhere this country, if you persist in breaking through the shy outer reserve.

Arriving before lunch the next day, life on my Aunt’s farm—more suburban homestead with miniature organic plot and orchard than farm—consisted of activities unremarkable in such places, yet refreshingly new to this lifelong urban dweller. Picking ripe avocados from overburdened trees, chasing chickens out their coups to steal over-sized free-range eggs, and endless games with extremely active younger cousins, our first meeting since Aunt’s remarriage. And going for runs and bike rides with another cousin much closer to me in acquaintance and age, touring inexhaustible sun-drenched panoramas in the neighbouring countryside.

Then in her final year of high school, I got to show off to this cousin a little as “the big cousin,” first of an extended family of now more than twenty to go to university. Always surprisingly good at giving advice to others, (yet hopeless at self-prescribing—read on…), I knowledgeably explained the ins and outs of debated higher education options from a position of genuine experience. In the end she chose psychology as her degree major, much against my protestations and advice, although maybe it should have been self-evident that very few people are receptive to the one truly insightful thing I have to say about higher learning —don’t do it!

The true reason for my visit to Opotiki that summer was neither rural or familial idyll, but to catch up with this spiritually inclined Aunt not seen for years, and also, meet a most mysterious Uncle. Not my Aunt’s recently married new husband though, a kind-hearted farmer of local prominence but in truth little mystery, but her first cousin—technically not an actual uncle, but the term is close enough. They were as close to each other as brother and sister, born but a day apart, and virtually grew up together. They were alike in looks as well as interests—including a shared sense of spirituality.

My Aunt, a former medical nurse, and current member of the district health board, had turned to traditional Maori healing in recent years, describing how she would choose home-made remedies for patients based on experience and knowledge, and intuition—a “voice from within” guiding her to the medicine best to prescribe. Several months before, in knowledge of my new-found enthusiasm for meditation and all things spiritual, she had sent me a cryptic invitation to make this trip north, writing of her cousin and uncle whom I had last seen when I was four years old: “You might get something very special out of meeting him again.”

An enigma before I had even laid eyes upon him, I was regaled with seemingly fanciful tales of his exploits by other family members: “He was a US Navy Seal once”; “He was beaten and left for dead in the Australian desert, found and nursed back to health by Aborigines, who taught him mysterious healing arts and powers,” and, “He can survive in the bush for up to a month without food, drawing life-force for sustenance from trees alone.”

Whatever the truth to such stories, he was undeniably an impressive sight in the flesh: bushman’s leather hat and jacket on powerful six-foot frame; firm, engaging handshake conveying a calm poise and quiet determination. And confidence—he had this quality in spades, self-evident in a tale told about conquering fear: confronting a small town trouble maker with a bullet engraved with bully’s name, telling him to leave town else there would be a second bullet which wouldn’t be given by hand. Even more impressive was his face: youthful and sparkling despite his age—over fifty but ten years younger in appearance—with lively, piercing blue eyes that unnervingly looked right through you.

I asked him about the Navy Seals—”I don’t talk about that” the firm reply. He viewed himself as “only a healer”, going where inwardly directed—where ever he and healing abilities might be of service. He talked discreetly of the state of my aura, and, my curiosity aroused, gave me a “healing”, an experience consisting of broad sweeping movements made up and down self’s invisible energy field, small “male” and “female” crystals held in each hand. I was pronounced “looking better” afterwards, and in truth did feel a little lighter—subtly so, but if anything more was accomplished that day I was not spiritually aware enough to ascertain.

At this point in my life, although having discovered meditation, a path embarked upon with all the vigour and determination one has when convinced of your life’s calling, I was, perhaps contradictorily, in enormous personal turmoil, unsure of my direction beyond this lifestyle choice—a solo, daily practise which in some respects raised more questions than answered. Enormously frustrated, I could envisage a golden future in occasional glimpses, but was stuck within a present that was anything but.

This bushman Uncle might just have sensed some of this, and before I departed homeward, compulsory to attend university lectures soon to begin, offered unbidden three pieces of sagely advice.

“Your time of book learning has come to an end.” An odd statement at the time, the final year of university degree about to begin, but in truth a statement I was not completely unreceptive to, anything but enthused with this current aspect of my life course.

“You will soon need to learn how to make money quickly.” Advising me to begin buying and selling items for profit, he gave me $500 to get started, as though I was doubting of his sincerity, and to my complete jaw-dropping amazement.

And the final advice? “I don’t know who God is, but if He made all of this,” a broad gesture made to entirety of surroundings, “He’s a pretty nice guy.”

Two weeks after this conversation I had added an unforeseen option to my educational curriculum, meditation classes at the Sri Chinmoy Centre —beginning of the end for most part forgettable academic career, or “time of book-learning,” and early beginnings of full-time meditation occupation, tutelage embarked under the guiding hand of teacher Sri Chinmoy.

Within months I found myself engaged in an assortment of odd jobs and money raising schemes, “making money quickly” to see Sri Chinmoy for the first time in New York, air fare from New Zealand no joke on modest student income.

And likewise, I don’t know who God is, not in any final, definitive sense at least, but as the years pass by I do have some inkling as to what He is—love, peace, wisdom and beauty—the presence of which grows stronger every day.