Finding our spiritual path
In 1979 we consulted the I-Ching, the mystical Chinese book of changes, followed it's murky promptings to Australia, travelled from Perth in the West to Adelaide in South Australia via circuitous ways and innumerable adventures, eventually settling out near Port Adelaide and the beginnings of another kind of odyssey. For it was here we found the Sri Chinmoy Centre.
Travelling east from Perth you can cross the endless Nullarbor Plain by road along the Eyre Highway – a 2,700 km epic – or in leisurely fashion on the Indian Pacific railway, gazing out for two days at the vast, unpopulated desert which features the longest dead straight stretch of rail in the world – so flat you can see the slow curve of the earth's rim. But we flagged a car on the edge of that red expanse, shared the journey with two strangers who ended up being firm friends and who gave us four months of work in their outback motel, the Quorn Mill Motel. Subarata became the new waitress to the tour bus arrivals, I a charlatan wine waiter and handyman and we lived in a caravan parked up in the dusty back yard of the motel.
Sometimes our new friends towed our caravan-home 200 miles north and left us for a few days at road's end in the empty, endless hills, their rust-orange escarpments and valleys of pale eucalyptus spread out in all directions. Wandering under extravagantly beautiful sunsets and dawn skies filled with flocks of wheeling birds, their wings turning grey, then pink, then silver as they turned in unison in the first sunlight, an aerial spectacular high up against the blue, exulting in the new day's gift of life.
How fragile everything is
Some places, some names, summon aching memories that linger in your mind forever. Like Alice Springs, that town in the red heart of Australia. In our gypsy days, a year before we found Guru, Subarata and I caught the express bus from Alice to Adelaide, a day plus an overnight on the long haul south, guaranteed to get you there in 24 hours. But 300 miles on and late into the speeding night we hit an unsavvy kangaroo, and the bus shuddered to a broken halt. It was 4 a.m., black as ebony save for the riotous stars, the desert chill biting through our thin clothes, passengers huddled around a blazing roadside fire.
Subarata was furious at the prospect of the six-hour wait for a replacement bus, and we ended up arguing. Somehow it all worsened, male pride and raw emotion and wrenching words spilling out, shouting into the silence, the indifferent empty desert. We stood apart, distanced by anger, two people who loved each other but were unable to overcome their pride, standing there separate in the huge night. A little later a jeep came down the road with three Italian miners, and Subarata flagged them down to hitch a ride. “Are you coming?” she said to me. “No,” I said. And so she stepped into the jeep and they drove away.
I almost lost all connection with Subarata here. It was one of those watershed moments when everything in our lives could have irrevocably changed, veered away into an entirely different future, our whole destiny together teetering, precarious with final goodbyes, the sudden exit of someone who otherwise would have filled your whole life. I hitched a later ride at daybreak with another solitary traveler, and lingered at a friend’s house on the outskirts of Adelaide for three days. Then I found my heart again and called her, and gradually our lives reconverged.
But I always remember that incident: how fragile everything is, how little moments can turn our life around, how easily we can lose the things we most treasure, and I still see her turning away from me in that immense landscape, the look in her eyes. I had become her past; she was moving on determinedly into her future, resolute with that painful courage that humans have, to go beyond a heavy heart, the tearing hurts and losses, the self-inflicted wounds of love, back turned and stepping away from me with that stubborn set of the face and the refusal to look back, then climbing into the jeep and disappearing in a swirl of red dust, never once looking back, into the yellowing light of the dawn.
Then we moved to Adelaide. One afternoon, as randomly as a feather carried on a breeze, we crossed a city street late in that year and wandered into a café in search of a cooling drink – and that was how, in an utterly fortuitous, whimsical moment, we first encountered the name of Sri Chinmoy. That profound and life changing moment seems so capricious. Might the breeze have carried us as easily through another doorway to a different end? I don’t know. But there he was, smiling at us from a photo on the cafe wall and inside both of us something far away stirred. Was it the recognition of something pre-ordained, a whisper from the awakening soul? I do believe so.
I had 30 plus years sowing my wild oats - travel, life experiences, discarded careers – so the spiritual quest was the inevitable fruit of discovering how unsatisfactory the outer solutions to happiness had been. God, the universe, grace, call it what you like, these had tapped me on the shoulder, the difficulties melted away – as in the proverb, ‘when the disciple is ready, the master appears’.