Changing the course of our life-river
Those long ago peregrinations that led to discipleship owe much to a dear and now departed companion, my wife – Subarata. Irish-born and fiercely independent, she had asked her parents for a one-way ticket to New Zealand as a 20th birthday present. They consented – and so it was that I first met her in 1975 in the city of Hamilton.
Through chance or fate, she knew somebody that I knew, and on this particular day both of us decided to visit this mutual friend. I hitchhiked 400 miles, she had flown 13,000 miles – and when we met on that summer afternoon long ago, in an instant we became friends.
Reclusive by nature, we lived in remote places, often going for months without seeing anybody. Subarata loved animals – in one mountain hideaway she acquired three pet wild pigs, two beautiful Border Collie dogs called Scruffles and Scobie, a white Palomino horse named Trigger, four nameless and disapproving hens, some zebra finches and a madly eccentric pet lamb called Darley. Goats also lurked, and once a pet fawn – unsnared from a fence – stayed for a brief convalescence.
When Subarata’s visa expired, the Immigration Department gave her three days to leave New Zealand, so in the small South Island town of Motueka we got married in a registry office. We were both indifferent to marriage, so there was no ring, no flowers – it was as meaningless as signing a bank deposit slip, but it enabled her to stay.
In 1979 we consulted the I-Ching, the mystical Chinese Book of Changes, and followed its murky promptings to Australia. We travelled from Perth in the West to Adelaide in South Australia via circuitous ways and innumerable adventures, eventually settling out near Port Adelaide and beginning another kind of odyssey. For it was there that 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, sharing 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 for the tour bus arrivals, I a charlatan wine waiter and handyman, and we lived in a caravan parked up in the dusty backyard 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. We wandered 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.
Then we moved to Adelaide. One afternoon late that year, as randomly as a feather carried on a breeze, we crossed a city street 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 preordained, a whisper from the awakening soul? I do believe so.
Then we responded to an unrelated 'learn to meditate‘ advertisement – and there Sri Chinmoy was again, in his transcendental aspect, on Sipra’s shrine. Unusually, in this first introductory session, Sipra left us at the start of our first exercise to go shopping, returning sometime later to check on our progress! Perhaps when the God-Hour strikes, technique and training hardly matter – grace smoothes the way and clears away all obstacles!
Shortly after, we went to New York. We first saw Sri Chinmoy 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.