Finding the 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.
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.
Then in a newspaper, that ‘learn to meditate’ advert, an enquiring phone call or two and Sipra inviting us around, not to a class as there were none then running but to her flat for some starting tuition. And there he was again in a photo on her shrine! He kept finding us, beckoning us in some beautiful tryst with Destiny.
Sipra has a great sense of humor and will forgive me recounting this next incident. We were shown into a small room where we saw for the very first time a large Transcendental photo. We were invited to sit on the carpet, to look at Guru’s third eye and to breathe in peace. Then she said, “I have to go shopping for a while, I’ll be back soon”, and thereupon left us, returning over half an hour later clutching her shopping bags. That was the only lesson in meditation we ever had. A short time later Sipra invited us to become disciples and our photos went to New York for our new Guru’s consideration.
Shortly after we went to New York. Subarata loved her independence and also loved her family, often travelling home to Ireland. I decided to go to New York to meet Guru and phoned Subarata in Ireland, but she didn't want to go – she liked her independence a lot. When she returned and saw my firm intention, she eventually declared that she had decided to go also.
We first saw Guru at an evening meditation, sometime in early 1981. There was white light all around him and something stirred in my memory, a pleasing feeling of recollection and of coming home. We stood afterwards in the school corridor down which he walked on the way to his car and in those few moments I think something quite significant happened. Guru looked at both of us and smiled very beautifully – his eyes flickered up and down and he was looking at my heart centre. I could feel something happening there, a block removed, a small explosion of feeling. After that I never worried about how to meditate any more – I felt it had all been taken care of, an initiation of some kind, and that meditation was really a gift or an act of grace. We just had to be willing to keep trying.
This outer tale is nothing much, but I sometimes wonder at the inner things hidden from our understanding, and marvel that two people such as we could be so blessed. This gift of discipleship irrevocably changed the course of our life river and set us firmly on the great journey back to God, that supreme quest and highest calling that lies at the heart of each and every human life.