A trip to visit a mysterious uncle, whose sagely, intuitive advice proved to be presciently exact (with apologies to Sumangali). While 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.
Thrift stores, cheap chocolates and masterpieces by Van Gogh and Cezanne—so begins the 16th edition of Inspiration-Letters, magazine style forum for inspired writers of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. A fitting beginning it is too, for all the authors are koan-carrying members of a meditation group espousing a philosophy of merging the heights of spirituality with the here and everyday, and what could be more lofty and lowly than the two masters of post-impressionism rubbing shoulders in a one dollar shop? All the world may well be a stage, and we the players therein, but some of the sets are truth be told, less than top-drawer. The Inspiration-Letters editor, in possession of red pen and hugely discounted bargains, proceeds to the check-out, continues his introduction:
“As the cashier was checking me out, I happened to glance at her name tag: ‘Karamvir’ it said. I knew ‘vir’ means hero in many Indian languages. I asked her what ‘karam’ meant. She told me that ‘karam’ means fate. So ‘Karamvir’ means ‘she who is the master of her destiny, the one who is victorious over her fate!’ Apparently she had never thought about the meaning of her name before, so she just nodded, smiled shyly and handed me my merchandise.”I am reminded of a supermarket closer to home, where checkout operators are likely as not to be Indian, lowly in station but sweeter in nature than the most expensive chocolates, and names hand-picked from the loftiest spiritual literature. While shopping for bread and milk I have been charmed and served by the entire pantheon of Indian goddesses—Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga included. The topic for this latest issue of Inspiration-Letters is “Destiny”, and it was the destiny of seven writers and myself to contribute, stories all of the moving and workings of nature’s most mysterious force—fate, and its invisible hold on our lives.
Home Is Where The Heart IsInspiration-Letters opens with top-drawer writer Sumangali Morhall’s Home Is Where The Heart Is, a tale of time spent in Thailand and the titular lesson learned: home is where the heart is, no matter where mind or body may roam. Sumangali is a master of poetry and lyricism—her gentle evocation of landscapes inner and outer sing a tale of destiny as sweetly as a nightingale’s call, and moved one reader to comment “no one describes nature better than her. Her description of monsoon rains will rise like steam in your memory every time you get caught in heavy rain ever again.”
“I arrived at the start of monsoon. From a veranda I would watch the sky as it jealously gathered navy blue cloud with long grey fingers, until its arms could hold no more, and the whole hoard was spilt on the earth at once. The traffic thickened and curdled, borders between road and path were eaten away by hungry torrents, where sandalled feet sloshed towards any cover they could find. It was at those times I liked to go for a walk.”
It Is WrittenAlaskan Palyati Fouse weaves in It Is Written the working of destiny with film of the moment Slumdog Millionaire, and recounts a recent discussion with someone described only as a genius:
“I had a lengthy discussion with a genius recently about destiny. I asked many questions because, at first, I did not agree with what he had to say.”I for one am highly curious to discover the name of the genius, for it is not written. Perhaps he is unnamed deliberately by the author, lest lost sheep like myself beat a grassy path to his isolated mountain top. Telling of living alone like a beacon in the dark, just her and destiny on the uppermost edge of the American continent, Palyati talks and inspires with her account of swimming against the spiritual tide, and deserves more than just the respect of some distant shaper of destiny in doing so.
There Was A Child Went ForthA reader of my own story, There Was A Child Went Forth—title lifted directly from Whitman—commented that he found me to be a good writer, but my stories somewhat depressing. While not ego-shattering, his feedback was certainly unexpected, and from far enough left field to make me pause and reflect. Am I a depressing person; is there less joy in my writing than there should be; in my life as well?
“The journey from child to man is said to be a passage, but for me childhood and adulthood were separated not by distance but a straight line, worlds cleaved apart as if by sharpest knife.”There is a simple answer to both question and self-doubt—the true story of my life is a tale far more intense than any written. The experiences I went through before joining the spiritual life were more harrowing than any yet related, and while as prone to exaggeration as any writer, in the case of my own backstory, I am not writing larger than reality. With admirable honesty, Palyati Fouse in It Is Written follows the very same thread:
“Recalling life experiences and my reactions to them before joining this path makes my stomach knot up. There is nothing for me there in the deepest sense. It is the continual inner urge to progress spiritually that keeps me alive.”Destiny may at times be a blunt instrument, but none can deny the necessity of its scalpel-like role, its work and operation, through trial and tribulation, needed for our ultimate good. Yes this is an intimidating truth, but it is one anything but depressing, for it speaks of perfection, promises a happiness never-ending.
Magical Mystery TourIn Magical Mystery Tour, professional writer and published author Noivedya Juddery tells of his new preoccupation as film screenwriter, and how the casting of a young aspiring actress really is an act of destiny. At times a treatise on the millennia old debate on determinism, Noivedya writes and winds to the conclusion that life is the greatest mystery tour of them all.
“Occasionally, airlines and tour organisers speak of mystery tours, for which adventurous travellers pay for a tour to a place unknown. It might not be where you wanted or expected to go, but you will hopefully enjoy the destination. Life, of course, is the greatest mystery tour of them all – and however much you might influence your pilot, you never know where he will take you.”
How I Came To The Spiritual LifeIn How I Came To The Spiritual Life, Abhinabha Tangerman relates with a Zen-like directness how he came to the spiritual life. To approximate an old Zen saying, if you see the Buddha on the road, you see the Buddha on the road, and in getting lost on a dark Dutch road Abhinabha found his own path to enlightenment—a lecture that would change his life forever.
“The speaker was a Belgian man of about forty years, exuding a marked inner poise. As soon as he started speaking my disappointment vanished. He talked about a spiritual life, a life of peace, love and happiness and the ways to bring these qualities to the fore through meditation. The man was very nice, humble and likeable. And his words were like music to my ears.”Courageously, Abhinabha shares two dreams of Sri Chinmoy which convinced him to become a full time student of meditation, and concludes that he guesses it was destiny. For me there is no guesswork in this convincing, inspiring story.
Some Thoughts On The Way ForwardIn Some Thoughts On The Way Forward, Jogyata Dallas waves the banner and writes a ringing call to arms on karma yoga—the yoga of action and work, and his forceful words are like an Emersonian edict for a new spiritual age. Jogyata is at his best writing of nature inner and outer, poetically intertwining the idyllic landscape of Bali with the sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky contours of the human soul:
“Horizoned and other-worldly, magnified by haze, the grey pencil sketch of Mt. Agung soars up to improbable altitudes, its ragged bulk cloud-garlanded, mysterious and remote from the far-below, scrambling destinies of man. Beyond the shoreline grey skeins of wrinkled seas crest and break—long ocean rollers at their journey’s end. Away from our usual melodramas, Bali’s peace and languor and the heavy gravity of the afternoon conspire, press you down supine.”
Overcoming DestinyMahiruha Klein writes in Overcoming Destiny of his first personal message from Sri Chinmoy, and of the message received the very eve of his Guru’s passing: “Hope is sweeter than the sweetest. Sweeter than ambrosia.” Chasing hope like a bee to nectar, Mahiruha is all parts sincere and heart-felt, and his words possess the silent width and weight of the best, other-world inspired writing.
“That was the last time I ever saw Sri Chinmoy. He passed away the following morning, quite early. But his last words to us, that hope is sweeter than ambrosia, touched me deeply. My Master told me in that phrase to keep a positive attitude, to stay happy and well, and to remain hopeful. Sri Chinmoy’s first message to me was to forswear anxiety about what people think of me or how I am judged in the eyes of society. His last message to me was to keep hope alive forever.”In my case, it is tempting to dwell upon the fact that I had few personal messages from Sri Chinmoy, but like doubt itself this is the path and fiat of a false, never profitable coin. I was one of Sri Chinmoy’s students who had very little outer contact with him—I can count literally on fingertips the times he spoke to me—but to flail now for what will never be would be to miss totally an inner contact that has always been. I can write books of all the messages that have come in quiet moments and dreams, and it this inner communication that is the true currency of spirituality, a wealth of heart and soul that can never be spent, now or when the flickering flame of human life finally burns out. Again where doubt is concerned, memory is without doubt the quickest, easiest to reach for antidote, and I need look no further than my own submission to Inspiration-Letters to be reunited with Destiny’s eternal, inner communion:
“I remember a vivid dream not long after I returned to New Zealand, of a most beautiful young woman who took me to house where many people were meeting, and above the head of each a small, shining speck of light. The woman, whom I instantly felt a deep, wordless love for, explained this point of light as the soul. Her name may well have been Destiny, for that was what I found upon joining Sri Chinmoy’s path.”There is a sense now that we students of Sri Chinmoy are swimming in lonely seas, all coming to terms with a sudden, unexpected change of course. But how much and what has changed, and what exactly has been lost? In vanishing from sight it can be said that the boatman has merely charged garments, shed his human appearance to become the ocean and sea itself. In staying the course and continuing to sail, even though upon seas uncharted, are we not in the heart of where we have always been? In the Master’s boat. On board an immortal journey of the soul.
Time passed writing about passing time in an airport coffee shop... Travelling. Again. In Melbourne Airport, for four and half hours, but not my final destination, or even second to final in this marathon, budget airline leapfrog across the Pacific, Tasman and Indian Oceans. I am in an airport café sipping the oh so treasured caffeinated chocolate beverage I swore yet again to give up. And shall swear again, once the well of heart-quickened words dries, trails to a final period, final drop of coffee swallowed at the end of this page... I am flying to Bali today, a Christmas holiday come a month late but not a moment too soon. A break from work and yet more work, a break of some considerable force to my cheerfully forgotten, paid just on time bottom line. Work to live or live to work? In truth I would prefer neither, but forced to choose I am working to be alive, and right now is the time for living. It is not such a bad place to be stranded, this sun-burned, lucky land. I have always liked Australia—more so than anywhere else on Earth save the United Kingdom, it is just like home—albeit a sun-drenched, sun-worshiping version of such. Hotter of temperature and temperament than New Zealand, it is our louder, brasher “across the ditch” own. I admire the self-confidence and assertiveness here, rare in my home of birds that do not fly and single lone predator—the Katipo spider, a pint-sized beast of passive-aggressive hostility at best, likely to bite only when pushed into corner or shoe. New Zealanders, more like the sheep who outnumber us twenty to one than killer spiders, tend to follow the herd, herd instinctively to the back of a pen. Like the damp, green pastures from mountains to sea, we are softer round surface and edge than Australians; we shrink from a person of loud, sure hand. Australia has a vastness not just of its land, although perhaps learned of it; of wide open spaces and limitless, continental horizons—a vastness of heart and mind less sighted in smaller, skinnier isles. “Mateship,” the word for universal friendship between blokes really exists in Australia. The airport security officer who gave directions not with authority but airless amity; the student who made my coffee neither embarrassed to be serving me, or by way of compensation, haughty—such is far from common in less secure, narrow lands. It took a while, several hours in fact, and all of the previous words, before untold Australian flags, t-shirts and hats of yellow and green led me to realise that today is January 26, Australia Day, the one day of three hundred and sixty-five that Australians take even more pride in being themselves than their unabashed norm. Serendipity has a way of following me around, especially when writing...
Salutation To The Soul Of Australia My aspiring heart is saluting you. My illumining soul is loving you. In you I see the perfect combination of the body's service and the vital's dynamism. Your soul is at once the embodiment of the ancient sun and revelation of tomorrow's dawn. Your body's consciousness is the expansion of vastness. Your heart's delight is the perfection of illumination. Slowly and steadily your body walks. Pointedly and unerringly your mind runs. Devotedly and unconditionally your heart dives. Eternally and supremely your soul flies. Your life's greatness-dream is humanity's transcendental pride. Your life's goodness-reality is humanity's universal treasure. —Sri Chinmoy, My Heart's Salutation To Australia, Part 1.* * * During my first year of university, a time now so long ago tales of such begin increasingly to sound like they belong in the history books I read there, one of the highlights of each week was the student newspaper, more read by the student community than any tiresome book or text. I would in maturity and time end up working for this newspaper—my first ever graphic design and typesetting role, and my first ever writing—but for now, unaware of greater horizons ahead, I admired those vaster in others. In the writing of the editor and staff of this newspaper there was an assuredness of thought and pen that I, just out of high school not yet out of teenage angst, desperately, instinctively craved—an assuredness of self I sought the words for but could not actually name. Meditation would eventually provide that name. That year the editor wrote the same editorial twenty-six times, every week of publication drafted different versions of the same theme—how to get to the end and find the words to fill his long past due, inspiration long past gone editorial. It was an editorial on writing an editorial if you will, and was often surprisingly funny. Some fifteen years later I am reminded of this editor’s confident, stream of consciousness notes about nothing, for it seems I too am writing a story about writing a story—a feat I literally thought myself incapable of once upon a distant time. Like running a race I expect this story will have an ebb and flow, tired and energetic patches, and in time, one foot and word in front of the other, a second wind. Then, hopefully and finally, second cup of coffee consumed, an end. * * * Hours are passing slowly, words less easily in this airport coffee shop, sitting in a corner surrounded by no-one, monopolising a power outlet meant not for laptop but lamp. My coffee is finished, once confident pen not so loud or bold, its flight near grounded and my plane, hours yet to board, not yet departed. They say the most common opening sentence in blogging is “Sorry I haven't written for a long time...” Is this the internet era version of every English teacher’s most hated closure, “And then I woke up”? I certainly hope, as my pen leans into a drifting doze, that unlike newspaper reading students in a university lecture, my readers are still half awake... It's a funny thing, the waxing and waning of creativity, writing’s ebb and flow. When you ”want” words they often do not come, for writing is a horse that can be ridden but not controlled, a ship to be sailed rather than boat to be rowed. Like meditation, you don't “do” it—it is a state that comes to you when you forget to ”do,” cease to strive and struggle, control and command. Becoming a good writer is often described as a process of finding your “voice;” an analogy to the meditative discipline of listening to the still small voice within. Like true meditation, good writing comes from a place deep within, beyond the noisy, scattered and often directionless voice of the mind. So am I doing good writing? I hope so, but can a writer truly judge his own cover? Such is surely the prerogative of his readers, not pejorative of a caffeine-addled ego, and to know the answer to this question it surely would not hurt to listen longer to the writer’s voice within...
“We can listen to the dictates of the soul, or feel the presence of the inner voice, without being guided by a very deep meditation. Even in the hustle and bustle of life we can hear the inner voice, but if we meditate, then it becomes extremely easy to listen to the voice within. Without practising spirituality we may hear the inner voice, we may even see the soul, but we will doubt our experience. We will say, “This cannot be the soul; this voice is not coming from the soul.” But if we have a very good, deep meditation, we can hear the voice, we can see the soul with inner certainty.” —Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 13.January 26th, Australia Day, 2009.
Bob Munden is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest man with a gun who has ever lived, and we're not talking about a 4x100 metre relay with gun in hand. Of the eighteen world records you can hold in fast draw shooting—the sport of drawing and shooting a gun in the manner of wild west lore—Bob has held all eighteen since 1960, and he holds them still in his ultra steady hand. This fastest gunslinger than the rest has won 3,500 trophies and 800 major championships, and while his picture might be on the back of cereal boxes, his sheriff's badge didn't come out of one. Is Bob the fastest man with a gun alive? Yes, but that’s barely grazing the surface of his intergalactic prowess. Friends, humans and countrymen, Bob Munden is the fastest human being alive. Fire away Bob, tell us just how fast you are...
“Fast draw is the fastest thing a human being does...”Bob Munden is a straight shooter. Being interviewed, he drawls but never hesitates before taking aim, and if certainty was a target, he would hit the bulls-eye every time. Being interviewed, Bob Munden doesn't just tell the television reporter how fast he is—he verbally shoots his questioner directly between the eyes, for so fast is this dead-eye gunslinger, he can answer questions even before they are asked.
“Nobody does anything faster than what I do with guns...”Which was a statement, not answer or explanation. Like Newton or Einstein, Sheriff Bob is laying down the law—of physics and of time. Slightly slower than Bob Munden on the universal scale of speed, a barely perceptible flicker of doubt fires across the television interviewer’s mind. Suspicious, the reporter takes aim, queries: “Can you give it a comparison to something that would come close?”
“The speed of light...” drawls big shot Bob, laconically, and uncharacteristically slowly. “There is nothing next to it.”Is this man fast with the truth as well? Is he on a supersonic flight of fancy that only reality can rein in? Bob Munden may talk fast and loose, but his gun is quicker than even his tongue. Already believers, a crowd of Western movie extras gather, stand and applaud his every move at a shooting demonstration, stiffly. In less than two one hundredths of one second, Bob will blow all of their minds.
“It's a number we’re not familiar with...”Two hundredths of one second is the time it takes Bob to fire and hit a target; draw, cock, level, fire, shoot and hit almost at the speed of light. One day we may build space ships fast enough to go where only Bob has gone before. Bob Munden, star of shooting may go supernova one day, explode into empty space with the sound of his gun his only reminder, like speeding light from a long dead star. Bob Munden lives in moments unexplored by humanity—he shoots his gun faster than you or I can think. Bob may just be consciousness itself—the acme of sense and thought, the sea upon which the human mind floats. Does Bob fire the gun, or is Bob the gun itself; trigger, bullet and mind at one? “He shot two and it sounded like it was one shot,” the reporter exclaims upon viewing Bob burst two balloons mounted meters apart, faster than you or I could shoot one. Faster than you or I could shoot none would be a more mathematically correct description of the scene. “Here's one going into the gun.” Bob Munden may fire with bullets, but he talks with poetry. At the shooing demonstration, but not entirely on the same planet, the reporter again declares that “two shots are going to sound like one.” Is this a moment of Zen, a moment of universal oneness, or a song by U2 from 1983? Stuck with the rest of us in the everyday dimensions of time and space, the television reporter is clearly unable to comprehend the singularity of Bob Munden’s genius. What is the sound of one gun firing? Silence in the infinite forest of Bob Munden’s Buddha-mind.
There’s a funny saying about things that go around coming around. Usually it’s karma, an eye for an eye and a sow for a reap—the great spiritual law of the universe that dictates bad things for things done badly, good for that done gladly. But inspiration goes around as well, and more like a fire than the predictable arc of an arrow—leaping, dancing, taking light as it spreads; a force that creates and multiplies rather than destroys. A blog comment by a reader inspired me to write an entire post in return, a list of childhood memories which beget and became My First Meme, a charming, illumining anecdote on age, meditation and self-transcendence at Sumangali.org:
Age does not matter. Until his passing at age 76, Sri Chinmoy proved that to me. Through his life of meditation and self-transcendence he showed me that perhaps I am not as limited as I think. I hope to continue forgetting how old I really am. I hope to feel amused, rather than bound, if I do happen to remember, and grateful to Sri Chinmoy, especially if others find it funny too.The torch is passed, the wheel turned. And so it goes...
What Matter Age?I can relate to the sentiments above in so many ways. At age thirteen, and in my first year in High School, I would at times be mistaken for sixteen or older, not because of my size, but my attitude and demeanour. I was overly serious and “adult,” something of an grown up trapped in a child’s body, and for the most part related to my elders better than my peers. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it is making you miserable. It was and then some. Now twenty years on and thirty-three, I find age to be a bit of a joke. I have reached a kind of dim, twilight zone, like a purgatory between youth and senility, where I have to stop and think to remember my age. I still can not believe I am in my thirties, and for that matter during my twenties I could not believe I was not a teen. This is only because of meditation. With the regular practise of meditation—in which I am certainly no expert, but hopefully an advertisement for: a poster-child for meditation’s slow-dawning felicitation to experience life in the ever present, ever lasting now—I again feel as I did before those forgettable, teen-aged years. Like a child. Like myself once more. Musing upon the inevitable forward march of age, I am reminded of learning to drive recently—several years ago in fact—in which getting over the insistent feeling that I was an impostor acting as a grown-up—driving seeming like such a grown-up thing to be doing—was far harder than getting a handle on the rules, firm grip of the wheel. Likewise my career. After years striding the streets as a postman—a card-carrying job for loners, introverts and others who wish to drop out of the ‘nine to five,’ or in my case, approximate a wandering, meditating monk, composing poetry while roaming up to thirteen kilometres a day, I exchanged hair shirt for one starched, press-ganged into a pre-press job with a design company, and rejoined my last seen at university, career-making peers on the cusp of their thirties, threshold or over of marriage, mortgages and children. What a joke it all was. Feeling like a child trapped in a far too big body I had to get head around idea of being an “adult,” or at least its outer appearance; joining serious colleagues in serious decisions about heavy responsibilities and pressing problems—not to mention getting in line for performance appraisals and promotion, a necessary evil when regular, expensive overseas trips to supply my meditation habit—or self-enlightenment sanity excursions as I subtitle them—were a necessity. Throughout my extended tour of the five-days-a-week world of adult duty, I was always keenly conscious of the illusory nature of it all, of its secondary status to the pursuit of my ageless, real identity. Funnily enough, and this is a very real letter of recommendation for meditation, I find that people value a person who can bring a child’s touch to a serious situation, a person able to laugh and to joke, remain good-natured and even-tempered when others do not. I was genuinely moved by the extent my colleagues showed their appreciation when it was time to move on from that job—their sincere, heart-felt sentiment running to pages on hand-made leaving card. Not to mention all of the hugs I had to dodge. In feeling like a child still, I in truth should be grateful to my mother, whose raising of me was anything but conventional—I am “old” enough, or at least wise enough to appreciate this now. Now sixty-five and looking barely fifty, she is a guileless, child-like woman, and as far away from adult politics and game-playing as is possible; it is I her child who has to point out the alternative interpretation of occasional, unintentional faux pas. Her youth-like, light of heart qualities I once mistakenly sought to uproot in myself, leave behind in a wrong-headed, head-strong rush to “grow up”—early, regrettable attempts at self-transformation with a labourer’s pitchfork, rather than the meditation’s gentle pruning. But most of all, I can relate to Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of self-transcendence—transcendence of mind, belief, achievement and of age. In this respect alone I have so much to be grateful to my meditation teacher for. Initially self-taught in meditation—I am something of an autodidact in most things; a good quality when one remembers to be humble, or the much that one does not know—I have come to learn that meditation is so much more than a moment of peace, or a silent mind only in a silent room. Sri Chinmoy’s philosophy of the child-like heart, of living as a child rather than living childishly, has re-invented my life in the most remarkable ways, transformed me in a fashion I once could not imagine. Compared to my former self, you could say I am re-born. Photo Credits
Six facts about me as a child, with due respect to Pavitrata.
1. No fast fried pleasures, pleaseI never spent my pocket money on junk food as a child. Which is not to say that I didn't like junk food, or to suggest merely a lack of money, but rather that spending hard earned, all too easily lost riches on something lasting but a fleeting moment—the temporary sense pleasure of food—made no sense to me at all. I remember my early bewilderment clearly, not really understanding my peers as they downed sodas and crisps wantonly, their pocket money flagrantly, and I am not an adult who remembers not his childhood—to a large extent, no small thanks to meditation, it lives and breathes in me still. It is a great shame this innate childhood common sense became less than innate as the years passed by, a growing worldliness, wisdom of the “ways of men” passing me not.
2. Pop music not so popularI couldn’t bear popular music as a child. I listened to and owned nothing but classical music until the age of nine, and according to my mother used to cry in my early years if anything less refined was played. I taught myself to play the piano, memorising more by ear than note pieces by the great composers, and used literally to shudder at the sound and sight of punk bands then at their height. That all changed with the advent of synth-pop—I skipped screaming electric guitar anthems, safety pins in your nose, furious drum solos, and went directly from Mozart to Madonna; Cyndi Lauper, Howard Jones and Nik Kershaw in between. I was pretty normal from that point on. As a teenager I dreamed of haircuts and concerts, rather than wigs and concertos, and gave up the piano for the guitar after an intense battle of wills with a piano teacher, who told me on the morning of my Grade 3 exam that, lest my results harm her reputation, she was disowning me. I did fail, by all of four marks, but more due to the fact that I didn't feel inspired to practise, than any glee sought in tarnishing a disagreeable piano teacher’s name. I had refused to learn music theory; she had refused to teach me as accustomed “by heart.” I may not have been vindicated by my grade, but they have schools today devoted to the instincts I was following.
3. Football was my lifeFootball was my life for a number of years. Growing up in rugby mad “God’s Own” I rose at ungodly hours to watch “that other game,” fleetingly available when broadcast from the other side of the world, then spent morning, lunch and evening playing same with friends; otherwise just kicking a ball alone. I was told by a coach at age fourteen that I had the talent to go to the highest level, if I could but “get the right attitude as well,” but it was meditation rather than football that coached me in the power of self-belief; trained out of me, ten minutes practise a day, my nagging, dribbling sense of self-doubt.
4. Turning JapaneseI was fascinated with Japan from an earliest age. When offered the chance by my mother to buy a book on a special occasion, I chose a children’s guide to this implicitly intriguing land of kimonos, karate and kabuki. Soon afterward I demanded lessons in karate, and attempted several times to learn the language—with more enthusiasm than steel or resolve. Upon adulthood my fascination has waxed rather than waned; a more than decade-long marriage to the practise of meditation just one example of my un-struck appetite for things Nihon.
“Japan is a country filled with infinite beauty. It has an image of a beautiful flower garden. This beauty is expressed through inner peace. Man has seen many things, but of these things peace is new. Japan is offering this new treasure to the world. “Japan has some other very special capacities to offer. Japan produces such small, beautiful things. God is infinite and finite-larger than the largest and smaller than the smallest. He is both the ocean and the drop. He is inside me as a human being and, again, He is inside the vast sky and ocean. In Japan I see God the Creator in His small aspect, but at the same time, so beautiful and powerful. Here I see the finite expressing the Beauty and Divinity of God in such a powerful way, and I am deeply impressed. It is like the difference between seeing a child do something and a grown-up do it. When the child does it, I get much more joy. In Japan's case, the child is Japan's childlike flower-consciousness-a beautiful flower is reaching the highest in terms of beauty and purity. As soon as I think of Japan, my mind feels beauty, my heart feels purity and my life feels humility. I could write hundreds and hundreds of poems about Japan. In fact, I have already written them in the depths of my gratitude-heart.” Sri Chinmoy, Excerpt from Japan: Soul-Beauty's Heart-Garden
5. Altar-ed statesI was raised a Christian. Not that I actually enjoyed going to Church, or Sunday School—in fact I would beg my mother every Sunday to leave me at home to watch “Big League Soccer, yet I studied and memorised the stories of faith, courage and heroism in my Picture Bible unbidden, and would pray most evenings without prompting.My last visit to church was around age thirteen, a time when my local congregation, almost completely absent of fellow teenagers, was split pew and rafters over the siting the altar—two metres this way or that I kid you not. I don't claim to be high and mighty but I do have a good eye for low and petty, and my hunger for spirituality and inner truth would from this point seek a different nama-rupa—name and form.
6. Interest in a mythical, mid-Atlantic climeI have always been fascinated by tales of the lost continent of Atlantis. A childhood cartoon, of futuristic cities and technology existing beneath the surface of ocean, caught for only several episodes before sadly it went off-air, evoked hazy, strangely familiar memories that could not be placed; dreams that felt more like memories and that found another flame in stories my mother would tell of her mother, how she spoke cryptically of the existence a long forgotten, long ago buried land—to me a tantalising suggestion that there might still exist a living, breathing link through memories passed to an ancient, mythical mid-Atlantic clime.
Make me a MemeWrite up your own list of childhood facts and I’ll mention you here:
- Pavitrata: Six Childhood Facts—Pavitrata, the “cheerful fellow” who got the ball rolling
- Sumangali: My First Meme—Mummy, mummies, cheese and the reading of minds make for a quite outstanding list of childhood facts
- Sharani.org: The 6 Childhood Facts Meme—Tutus, patent leather shoes and the forbidden fruit of chocolate feature in Sharani’s walk down childhood’s memory lane.
Sri Chinmoy by Pavitrata TaylorOne normally apologises when one has been inadvertently amiss in something, and recently I have been very amiss—my writing here at A Sensitivity to Things literally missing in action, very much to my own regret—for in its absence I miss writing like near nothing else. But how does one say sorry, sincerely and originally, when “I’m sorry I haven't posted for a while” is officially the most common opening sentence in blogging? More fittingly by writing something new in my opinion, making amends and righting wrongs by writing, jumping back on the horse instead of moaning its distant, departed form. For a while I had a Comment of the Week™ feature, a device which delivered a dependable, near ready to eat, half to fully baked with only a little heating or writing on my part, blog topic each week, but such a feature requires not just commenter but author too, the hen house absolutely necessary before discussion of chicken or egg can begin. Ex nilhilo nihil fit. Nothing comes from nothing. Well, the goose has laid a golden egg this week. A magical comment delivered to me, quite unexpectedly, out of the internet’s magic ether.
A Cheerful FellowPavitrata Taylor, self-proclaimed, self-evident “cheerful fellow,” is a photographer who recently started a fine site dedicated to his photography (including personal favourite pictures of meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy), and he revealed himself to have more than just a talented eye, talented pen leaving a comment of epic proportions in response to Thirteen Facts About Me As A Child. Well done Pavitrata, Commenter of the Week™—you can take it from here.
6 Childhood Facts by Pavitrata Taylor
- My first school was next to a graveyard in Malaya. Nothing the teacher had could match the passing funeral corteges.
- My first teenage school was a Catholic College in Belize. My RE teacher was the Head of the College. He had me down to burn in hell for not being a Catholic, as I was allowed to skip Mass. Later he ran off with the school secretary and a large chunk of school funds. Interpol caught up with them living the high life in Hawaii.
- The Catholic College was next to a small busy airport. Ask me anything about Cessnas or Pipers or Dakotas - the best plane that ever flew. Bar none. Nothing the College had could match that!
- My next school was a Methodist School in Belize. I got beaten for getting into an argument with a teacher as I said Australia was not the same thing as Australasia, she said there was no difference, I disagreed.
- I got thrown off my bike by a skull on the way home from school. Riding high speed across the mud-flats I hit a bump - the top of the skull embedded in the hard mud - and went flying. I dug it up and took it home; t’was a miraculous thing, I contemplated it for so long, put flowers and a candle by it, and gave it a name. I planned a burial with some wise words by Geronimo from my Niehardt book of Great Indian Chiefs, but my dad found the skull and it was taken for forensics. I never saw it again. I guess that first school in Malaya got me thinking early about stuff.
- Even Dakotas have their limits. One crashed into a river bank five minutes after take off, overloaded with a massive cargo of cucumbers. The pilot vanished. They thought he had survived and run off, as some suspicious plant substances were also found in the wreckage. A few months later a farmer killed a big alligator up-river. The pilot’s watch was found inside the alligator. I was a cheerful fellow, for all that. Still am.