“The unexamined life is not worth living” wrote the philosopher Socrates some 2400 years ago. I take that statement at face value. One can coast casually through life in the middle of comfortable safe predictability, only to come to the finale with that great realization posed by Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilych, who admits that his whole life was wrong. He is struck by a force in the chest and side, and sees a light all around him; it seems hard to escape the conclusion that the light and the realization are acts of God. Imagine that – a whole life dedicated to chasing the material; indulging instincts, only to find out that the whole game was futile. Nothing inherently wrong with this approach; after all, we are hard-wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But what if there is so much more than meets the eye? Unfathomable depths of potential existence? Consciousness expressed in an entirely different plane?
I grew up awestruck with the natural world that surrounded my home, Cornwall, in the southwest of England. Magic was in the air. It was hard not to be taken back thousands of years to divine my mysterious forebears. They could tap into a power that has been long-forgotten. I always instinctively knew that there was more to existence than the drudge of day-to-day living. I was drawn to accounts such as Life in The World Unseen by Anthony Borgia, or George Richie’s Return from Tomorrow. There had to be something more. This led me to Huxley’s Doors of Perception, and before long I was in the company of those great explorers of the inner domain, Timothy Leary and Ram Dass. They traversed the brave new worlds of visionary psychedelia – horizons that beckoned seductively in a never-ending kaleidoscope of richness. Such explorations are not for the weak of heart, and having several such doors opened, I was forever changed. Once you have seen Beyond, the world of the material, or Maya, as Eastern Mysticism calls it, is never the same.
I discovered India after the Hippie Trail was long gone. It was really only a matter of time. I had been drawn to Transcendental Meditation where it blossomed in the UK, and the allure of the East was quickly established. The likes of Allan Watts enticed me to the world of Zen, and Bhuddism became my new soul-mate. A painful dissolution of my first marriage drove me to great despair and suffering, and as I have found out many times in later life, these are the foundations for a desire to seek some kind of greater meaning. As they say, pain is the great motivator. I searched for the Divine in every spectacular sunset of my home, the West Coast of BC.
I took Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning to be some kind of personal talisman, a need to know More. To have The Veils lifted. An inner voice was whispering in my ear: “India, India, India..” I was not unfamiliar with its siren song, being saturated in its culture growing up with tales of my father’s World War 2 experiences there. So I found myself on a 3 month hiatus from work in the Sivananda Ashram in Southern Kerela, taking part in a Yoga Vacation Camp. It was a fast track full-immersion of the devotional life. Austere early morning arising, rugged dormitory accommodation, bare sustenance, and yoga, meditation, and instruction from dawn to dusk. I learned about the underlying concept of much of “spiritual” life in India, which is selfless service; gratitude for what you have been given – a concept sometimes foreign to the culture of self-entitlement we have in the West.
To say this was full-on would be an understatement.But after these two intense weeks, I was well prepared to explore the rich tradition of inner exploration that has been central to life in India for over 5,000 years. I reveled in the colourful festivals such as Divali and Holi, and was ever-drawn into the riotously decorated Hindu temples with their pantheon of a million deities.Everywhere I was invited to partake in pujas – the sometimes interminable ritual of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the Divine. I heard heart-aching bajans in tiny Sufi temples- love songs to the Beloved. I stayed in one of the most atmospheric sites of ancient India, Hampi – temple ruins scattered over hundreds of kilometers of what was once a mighty city of 500,000. Wherever I looked there were pilgrims of every stripe, marching to a very different drum, offering their devotions to the Divine, in whatever form that might take. The Hindu’s have a tradition of “Guest is God”. On more occasions than I can recall, I was invited to stranger’s homes where they treated me like a visiting deity. Perhaps this is the most engaging aspect of Indian religion.
Date With Destiny
My already-whetted curiosity about all things Indian led me back there in 2001. My life had bottomed out, and I sought refuge in a hypnotherapist-healer where I was now living on Vancouver Island. When I asked her much later why she had never hypnotized me, she replied that her job was “DE-hypnotising”: her view was to remove me from the “clouds of illusion”. So saying, she invited me to accompany her the next year with ten others to a 3-week retreat into the “Silence of Arunachala”. Mount Arunachala is one the most sacred sites in India, home to one of the greatest, beloved mystics, Sri Ramana Maharshi. In a time when the West was just discovering the hidden secrets of Sacred India, Ramana Maharshi sent a beacon of enlightenment which illuminated many disciples from around the world. To those who were “ready”, he silently transmitted his sublime peace, permeating the very depths of the seeker’s soul, to be forever changed.
I arrived at the foot of Mount Arunachala, dusty and disheveled after traversing the width and breadth of India for the previous six months.I had experienced everything from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Traveling is hard in India. Everything arrives in its own time, and if you haven’t the patience of Job, or at least the Indian attitude of everlasting acceptance, it will assuredly drive you mad. Rest stops at spiritual watering holes had for the most part kept me sane from the rigours of traversing 10,000 kilometers.
Mercifully I had been saved from absolute exhaustion in a hiatus in the healing hands of Auroville, two hours from Arunachala on the coast of South West India.
This intentional spiritual community was the vision of Sri Aurobindu,a beloved philosopher, yogi, guru, educator and poet. His vision was a community that would become “an experiment in human unity”. It became reality in 1968 when representatives from 143 nations came together to found a “City of the Future”. It is recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, with its own unique charter under the Government of India. One day I may well return to this magical place to belong to a universal town where “men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities”
I joined my Canadian contingent, in the competent hands of our De-hypnotiser Guide, who piloted us neophytes through the sometimes stormy waters of transformation. For three weeks I meditated deep in the silence of Arunachala, and received daily satsang with VP Gneshan, the great-nephew of Ramana. Something happened to me there that I have no way of really comprehending. I described a transcendent experience in my book “Nirvana By Installments” that I wrote after a particularly powerful experience at the top of Mt Arunachala with the resident mystic, Aya, after a six-hour “puja”.
One moment I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next I was physically knocked over by a blast of energy that was utterly palpable. It was waves coming through to me, throwing me into another dimension. I saw where Aya dwelt. It was indeed cosmic: a brief window into his soul, the infinite, expanding everywhere, and then, as soon as I was there, it went. There were tears, tears of pure joy, of having had such a rare opportunity to experience the unearthly, the mystical, the other side that was there all the time, that was within us, that connected us to every thing, the universal chord.
I was absolutely there, completely in the present, but connected forwards and backwards to all time. I had never had anything happen quite like this. It’s what I heard about through legendary stories of those given the key to the innermost sanctums. And then peace, utter cessation of all the mental dross that constitutes normal conditions. A profound joy. A sense of wonder of this cosmic connection, a knowledge of how we are all connected.
At the time I imagined that all my life would now unfold in some heavenly bliss-like manner, surrounded permanently with choirs of angels, lined up awaiting my next instructions. But no, it was not to be. I had witnessed the power of Arunachala.. It was but a glimpse, soon to be rendered suspicious by the decades of logic built up in my rational mind. When part of you is aware of a way of being that is highly desirable, but contrary to all previous experience, a certain tension arises. Particularly when that means a total turn around in outlook, and a dropping of that entire precariously developed persona, the imbecile infant ego. It is a struggle between the mind that desires the comfort of the familiar, and the heart that wants to complete the journey home.
This was to be the first of several “openings” that have driven me deeper into Within ever since. I have encountered numerous other teachings and teachers. I have sat with Mooji and watched Eckhart Tolle a few feet away in awe. Jed Mckenna brings me back to the present with razor-sharp precision. Adyashanti is now and Zen. Byron Katie keeps me honest with The Work.I had an “awakening to clarity” with Fred Davis. Rick Archer inspires me with his BATGAP interviews. Spiritualteachers.org tells me who’s for real.
The Road Less Traveled continues to draw me ever onwards