This is probably the longest blog post ever! Take a coffee break if necessary, but read to the end, you won’t be disappointed!
I have just been reminded that the name of the nursing home where Mrs H stayed was Selena House; and that is where I’m going to begin this post. Within a month of moving into the home my mum became very ill and was admitted to hospital; GWH in Swindon; the same hospital where she had received such appalling treatment before. At some stage I had a telephone conversation with a consultant who told me that my mum had come to the end of her life and probably only had a couple of hours left. She went on to say that there was a chance my mum might last a couple of days, but in all likelihood she would be gone in a couple of hours. I explained to the consultant that there was no such thing as death and agreed with her that when Mrs H was considered “well” enough, she would be taken back to Selena House where she would be given TLC until she expired.
I was booked to do a clairvoyant demonstration in Bristol that afternoon, and that’s what I did. I was of the opinion that if the Divine wanted me to be with my mum when she left this life, then it would happen. It would make no odds if I went flying to Swindon like a bat out of hell to be at her side, or whether I didn’t. When I arrived at Selena House in the evening, five or six hours after my conversation with the consultant, my mum was asleep in the lounge. A member of staff woke her up and she then sat up and had a sandwich. She would go on to have two more birthdays.
In April 2009 I noticed that there were no longer any lucid moments at all. Mrs H had zero mobility, she was doubly incontinent and now what little mind she had, was gone completely. I’d had a lot of pleasure getting to know this “new” person who had once been my mother, but it now seemed that after several false alarms, she was at last getting ready to leave her body. During the early hours of the morning of May 11 2009, I got a call from the night staff at Selena House informing me that my mum was very poorly. As before, I knew that it would not change anything if I went bombing off to Swindon. I visited at my usual time of around mid-day. I went into my mum’s room and she was indeed at the point of no return. Her mouth was dry, her eyes had glazed over and she had the rattle in her throat. I wet her lips, and placing my hands on her, I asked the higher power to allow the energy of love to flow through me. Afterwards, I noticed that she had some colour in her face. I knew that at a soul level she was absolutely fine and would soon be free. I then left in the knowledge that I would never see Mrs H in physical form again. At 00.40 am the following morning, the duty nurse rang me and advised that Mrs H was about to expire, and less than a minute later she breathed her last. I was very relieved and happy that a wonderful soul was now free.
In 2012 Selena House was closed down by the authorities for malpractice, and some time after, the building was damaged by fire.
In a way, through my annoyance (I think anger is too strong a word) and frustration at family for their complete and utter lack of interest in my mum’s situation, I actually felt sorry for them. For the last four and a half years I’d had an enriching experience getting to know a new person and actually had some very joyous moments, whereas they had missed out. They didn’t miss out on their inheritance though! My mum had very little by today’s standards, and it had to be shared between me and my brother, the three grown-up kids from his first marriage and his two grand kids. At the time of writing it is over eight years since my mum’s funeral, and apart from bumping into my nephew in Swindon a couple of times, I’ve not seen any of them since.
In July 2009 I started to question more and more my work as a medium. In the space of less than a week there had been two incidents in Spiritualist churches I served that really made me think that I was wasting my time. Spiritualism had always given me the impression that it was stuck in the past, but I had evolved considerably since the days of sitting with Sue and John Geis in Gloucester, and no longer saw the point of constantly obsessing over messages. Many of the people I encountered seemed to have very little understanding of the spirit, and some of the behaviour was beyond me. However, while all this was going on, I received the inner call from Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and in October 2009 I was on my way to Prashanthi Nilayam.
No one can come here unless he is called. Not even 20,000 horses can bring you here if you are not called – Baba
My inheritance afforded me the luxury of being able to book a flight to Bangalore. As with my snow story from a previous post, to save me having to write loads, I’m going to copy and paste a chapter from my last publication, From Logic To Enlightenment. It’s a bit of a seat belt job, so hold on!
The story I’m going to share with you first appeared in my book, Astral Travelling, The Avatar and Me, which was published in 2010, and tells the story of my journey to the ashram of my guru, Sri Sathya Sai Baba in Southern India. That book is now out of print, but a second edition was published in early 2013 with a new title, The Amazing Journey, and an extra chapter. The account you are about to read is not a word-for-word repeat of what appeared in those two books, but rather a brand new article specially written for my blog. I decided to share it here because the person I am now is more evolved than the person who wrote the original, therefore the style of writing is slightly different. I hope you enjoy it!
Swami first came into my life in 2001 and things have never been the same since; well you wouldn’t expect them to be, would you? In 2003 I had it in my head that I was going to go to Baba’s ashram, Prashanthi Nilayam (Abode Of The Highest Peace), but Swami obviously had other ideas and my life went off in another direction. However, cue 2009 and I received the inner calling from the Avatar; and what followed was a truly amazing and somewhat surreal experience. But first here is the best definition of an Avatar that I’ve ever come across. It’s from Author Jonathan Roof’s book Pathways to God:
The word Avatar is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “descent”. An Avatar is a descent of spirit into form. Although all people are spiritual beings encased in mortal bodies, the word Avatar describes the manifestation of God in human form. All people possess a divine inner reality, but few manifest it. The Avatar expresses divinity throughout his incarnation. His earthly career is a sign of his everlasting love for all people.
I managed to get a really cheap direct flight from Heathrow to Bangalore and my Sai brother, Satyan, arranged a taxi for me at the other end. My other friend had said that I could stay at her flat in Swindon the night before my departure as it was much easier for me to travel from Swindon than where I live in Tetbury. So all was going to go swimmingly well, wasn’t it? Well wasn’t it? I think you know what is coming next. Yes, correct! My idea of a plan in no way resembled the plan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba. So, my dear readers sit back, relax, fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride…
I’d had to sleep on the floor in the living room of my friend’s tiny flat, which wasn’t a problem at all, but I suppose, coupled with the excitement of the journey, I had no more than two hours sleep. I had a wonderful flight; it was my first long haul and I was very pleasantly surprised how enjoyable it was, but I had no sleep on the plane either, for no particular reason; it just didn’t seem to happen. So by the time I landed in Bangalore I’d had about 2 hours sleep in the last 48, but no big deal; after all, everything was going to go swimmingly, wasn’t it?
I exited the airport at around midnight local time, and I soon realized (to my horror) that in amongst the throng of people waiting at the exit for passengers, and who were holding up signs with the passengers’ names on, there was no one holding up a sign with my name. My fears were soon confirmed when in a fairly short space of time I was the only person left waiting at the exit. “Billy-No-Mates Westerner” standing out like a sore thumb, thousands of miles from home! Sure enough I soon attracted attention; from airport security, because no loitering is allowed due to the constant terrorist threats in India, and from local “wide-boy” taxi staff on the lookout for gullible Westerners to overcharge for the journey to Baba’s ashram in Puttaparthi. I think I fitted that bill admirably, I couldn’t have been a better candidate; even if I’d had “mug” tattooed on my forehead! To cut a long story short, I had the mobile number for the taxi driver and the security staff phoned him on my behalf. It turned out that my dear friend Satyan had given him the wrong flight details so he wasn’t expecting me until the next day. He told the security staff that he was “on his way”, but it soon transpired that in India the phrase, “I’m on my way”, means something completely different from what it does in England. I should say before we go any further, that my account of events is quite drastically truncated; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to add all the minute detail of everything that happened to me. But, nonetheless, I’m sure you will have a good idea by the time this chapter is finished.
I was told by security that I needed to wait on some benches by a kiosk that was to my left of the airport exit, and the taxi driver would meet me there. Well time ticked by, daylight broke and I was beginning to wonder if my taxi would ever turn up. It got to the point where I got fed up waiting and decided to find my own taxi. Wrong move! Cue Swami and one of his famous leelas (Divine play). I was immediately accosted by intrepid folk who wanted me to take one of their taxis. Accosting quickly turned to harassment, and with my lack of sleep I soon became hot and bothered; to the extent that I nearly took up their offer until I saw the car they wanted me to travel in. My change of mind made their harassment more intense and I struggled back in the direction of the benches with my heavy bag. Just as I was approaching (taxi folk in hot pursuit) I saw a man waving at me; he was also clutching a piece of paper to his chest. As I got closer I breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed the words “Mr Richard” written on the aforementioned piece of paper. My taxi had arrived. I’d exited the airport at midnight; it was now 07:00 am!
It soon became very clear that the whole business had been engineered by Swami. Had there been no mix-up I would have travelled to Prashanthi in darkness; and thus would have missed all the wondrous sights that now unfolded before my eyes, like a play; being acted out scene by scene in accordance with a script that had been written with meticulous precision. It was my first trip to this amazing land and in the three and a half hours or so it took for us to arrive at the ashram I must have witnessed virtually every single aspect of Indian culture.
I saw Red Kites flying gracefully above; I witnessed the colour and the bustle of the small towns and villages we passed through, bullock carts sharing the roads with the cars and trucks. Unfortunately, not everything I saw was welcoming to the eye, such as the poverty; I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. However, the most distressing sight that I saw was when we passed through one small town and I saw a group of women in the back of a smallish open-backed truck. At first glance they reminded me of cattle that had been herded onto the back of the vehicle. There was a man standing on the running board at the back berating one of the women, and as we drove past he struck her. I couldn’t believe my eyes; but the look of pain on the woman’s face confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming.
After stopping for refreshment in the town of Chikkaballapur we arrived at the ashram gates at 10:30 am. Taxis are not normally allowed in but the driver explained to the seva dals (stewards) on the gate that I had never been to Prashanthi before, so he was permitted to drive me up to the accommodation office. My head was in a spin, due to a combination of having had no sleep, for what seemed like a lifetime, and the incredible sights I’d seen en-route from the airport. The sun was beating down now too and for the first time I was experiencing the incredibly fierce Indian heat. I’d worn jeans for the journey and spilt coffee down them on the plane; needless to say, as well as feeling as though I was being cooked in the thick denim, the odour from the coffee stains wasn’t exactly pleasant on the nose either.
The taxi driver directed me to the appropriate block and then off he went on his way. A rather stern and extremely efficient seva dal booked me in, and before I could blink, a coolie grabbed my bag and proceeded to lead me to my “hotel”. When I arrived at block DD2 I could not believe my eyes. It was dormitory accommodation at its most basic! Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think for one minute that it was beneath me, it’s just that I thought I’d left dormitories behind when I left the army all those years ago. The beds were the single metal-framed type and the mattresses had been used by countless devotees over the months and years; the communal facilities were down at the far end.
A rather kindly seva dal must have sensed I was feeling disorientated and confused and he helped me find a decent mattress. Another devotee gave me a spare mosquito net, so all I needed was a shower and some suitable clothing. It was such a relief to get my smelly jeans off and get in the shower. I changed into a pair of lounge pants I’d brought with me and some flip-flops and decided to go and familiarize myself with the ashram and purchase some appropriate clothing. The only problem was that the lounge pants were too big for me and they had no pockets and by the time I got to the shop I realized that it was only open at certain times and I’d missed out; I would have to carry on as I was until the next day.
I couldn’t believe how busy the ashram was; I was getting jostled everywhere I went. It seemed that every corner I turned I was getting pushed and shoved; it was like being in the crowd at a football match. I found this quite intimidating, especially with the lack of sleep; yes, it was turning out to be quite an experience. All of a sudden I was thousands of miles from home and my life seemed to have been turned completely on its head; my comfort zone had been exchanged for searing heat, pushing and shoving, no sleep, confusion, more heat, more pushing and shoving; and I was now feeling even more disorientated and vulnerable. What I also found disturbing was the massive police and military presence on the ashram. After all, was this not The Abode of The Highest Peace? What was with all the machine guns and rifles? I was getting more confused by the minute.
At some stage I wandered past the South Indian canteen, and thinking that it was about time I ate something, I purchased some food coupons from the nearby kiosk and ventured in. I couldn’t believe how cheap the food was; just very simple vegetarian food and it tasted wonderful. I then wandered out again to face another buffeting from the hordes. By this time, I’d realized that my Western flip-flops were not suitable for trudging about in all day and I was now limping from all the blisters on the bottom of my feet. One good thing was that I had established where darshan (within the sight of a Divine being) was to take place and at the appropriate time I hobbled over to the Sai Kulwant Hall in the hope that I might make some sense of all the confusion.
At this early stage I had not been educated in the practice of laying a cushion down after morning darshan in order to reserve a place in the line for evening darshan; all that was to come. Instead I hobbled up to the entrance and was amazed to find that I had to undergo a body search before being allowed in. Now I REALLY was struggling to take it all in. There were already thousands of people seated in the hall and I made my way to a spot that gave me a good view of the mandir (temple). This bit was quite strange because on one hand I felt like a little boy lost, my feet were killing me from the blisters, and being a big softy Westerner, I didn’t get on with having to sit for ages on a hard concrete floor either; to say I was uncomfortable was an understatement. But on the other hand, the Vedic chanting was beautiful; I’d never heard it before, and then all of a sudden it happened. I felt a pulling sensation from within my chest as though someone was actually reaching inside me and pulling on my heart. Then my eyes welled up with tears of joy. I remember thinking to myself, “it must be Swami; Swami must be coming”.
A few moments later, sure enough, I saw his tiny frame appear in the distance as he was wheeled into the hall. This was my first ever sight of the Avatar and I had the most incredible feeling of love come over me; a feeling that I’d never experienced before. I was quite a distance away from Baba, but I could see him clearly and he even seemed to position himself on the mandir in such a way that I had clear sight of him. I knew that he knew I was there and I knew that he did this especially for me. I just wished that I could have made sense of all the other stuff. Anyway, I was sitting on that concrete floor for what seemed like eons when…
All of a sudden there was a CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, a bell started to sound; it was unbelievably loud, similar to a church bell, but just continuous clanging. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t even know the bell was there, but somehow I’d managed to sit virtually on top of it. On glancing around I realized that the bell was housed in a concrete structure so I hadn’t seen it when I sat down. Having had no sleep and having also been sitting on the stone floor for some time, the bell going off just made me want to scream. But it was a sound I grew to love as the days went by as I learned that it signalled the singing of my favourite devotional song, which was always sung at the end of darshan. When darshan was over I struggled to my feet and hobbled towards the exit. As I did so, one of the many resident pigeons in Sai Kulwant Hall emptied the contents of its bowels all over my arm. “Just about sums up my day”, I thought, as I limped on my way.
The other devotees in my vicinity in DD2 were very helpful; they understood what I was experiencing, but there was a lesson to be learned here. I had been thinking that the ashram should have been called “The Abode Of The Biggest Hassle You Ever Experienced In Your Life”, and not “The Abode Of The Highest Peace”. However, in the bed next to me was an oriental man. He never spoke to anybody, although if you spoke to him he would answer but would not engage in conversation. I couldn’t help but observe his behaviour. All he did was read his spiritual texts, meditate and sleep. He would kneel on the floor and use his bed as a table and read his book of scripture, whatever book it was. He always seemed at peace regardless. That first night in the dormitory was a nightmare for me; I still never slept a wink, so how did HE do it?
My oriental friend had a pre-bedtime meditation and immediately fell asleep. It was as though I was being told that my “Abode Of The Highest Peace” was wherever I made it; and my friend certainly was at peace. I realized afterwards that Swami had engineered the whole thing and that I was being shown that it is possible to find peace wherever you are, if you are spiritually awakened enough to transcend the “nonsense” of the material world. At the time I could not understand how that man managed to find so much peace; the noise in the dormitory at night was unbelievable. There was people coughing and snoring, and getting up to use the facilities. The door into the communal toilets was on a spring, and every time someone got up to use the amenities you heard an almighty BANG as the spring door slammed shut. I tossed and turned all night, my mind dancing around all over the place and playing all kinds of tricks on me. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever sleep again as the first devotees started to get up at around 03:30. The oriental man was one of them. He awoke and immediately had a meditation before getting on with his day. I did not think that I could sink any lower, but Swami had other ideas.
I continued to lay there wondering if I would ever get to sleep again and gradually the other devotees in the beds near to me started to get up. We chatted and I mentioned that I still hadn’t slept; I was also starting to feel guilty that I had travelled thousands of miles to the ashram of “God in human form”, yet I’d not engaged in any meditation or reading of spiritual texts. My new friends pointed out to me that I would not be able to function without sleep and they encouraged me to remain in bed. By now it was 07:00 am and they were all going out into their day. I decided to take the advice, and to my pleasant surprise, I actually managed to drop off to sleep. I awoke again around 11:00 am and went for a shower; I decided that I needed to solve the problem of my clothing and have another go at familiarizing myself with the ashram. Yes, most definitely the previous day had been nothing short of a surreal nightmare. But having said that, in amongst all the confusion and fear I’d had an incredible inner experience with my loving God-man, Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
I ventured out into the ashram and immediately I was met with a continuation of the previous day. The heat, the pushing and shoving and the blisters; I was in despair. I felt more and more fearful and vulnerable as the morning turned to afternoon; I was completely lost, unable to make head or tail of what was happening to me. There are little kiosks dotted about the ashram at various locations where you can get a coffee; tiny cardboard cups for 6 Rupees. Whenever I stood in the queue I would have someone come and blatantly stand in front of me, or simply shove me out of the way before standing in front of me. It just helped to pile on the agony. At some point I felt at rock-bottom, and I got myself one of the little cups of coffee, sat down on a wall and started to cry. I felt like I had been reduced to zero; like I had no life of my own. I felt as though I was being worked by a puppet master. Many of you reading this may be familiar with the old Thunderbirds TV programme, where you could actually see the strings on the puppets; well I really did feel that I was a puppet that was being controlled by strings. I felt as though I was in the grip of a power so mighty, that I had no control whatsoever of my movements. I’d tried to settle myself in to ashram life but at every turn of the corner I was met with a brick wall.
As I sat on the wall crying, my life, metaphorically, flashed before me. I felt so insignificant, so tiny and so worthless; like I had less significance than a single grain of sand in the Sahara Desert. Everything I’d ever done; all my spiritual work of the previous seven years, in fact my whole life, felt worthless and completely and utterly meaningless. I just did not have a clue what I was going to do. At some point I got up and started wandering around again.
I don’t remember when exactly, but after hobbling around for a while I stumbled across the Western canteen by “accident”. I realized that I’d hardly eaten anything since the meal in the South Indian canteen the previous day. I felt ready for some food and thought it might perk me up, but I had no idea as I walked up the pathway that Swami was about to pick me up and dust me down. As I neared the entrance I could see that there was some writing etched into the stone wall just to the right of the doorway. Out of curiosity I stopped to read what it said and it was then that I realized that all my nightmares had been nothing more than Swami’s play. He’d led me along that pathway in order to bring me to this moment. As I perused the writing I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. All of a sudden the penny dropped. I had doubted Swami because I’d allowed my mind and my ego to rule me; now as I read I could see that my beloved Baba had no choice but to use “tough love” in order to help his child. What I was reading was Baba’s Surrender Prayer. If you are not familiar with it allow me to enlighten you.
Sai Baba’s Surrender Prayer
Why get agitated? Let Me take care of all your business. I shall be the one who will think about them. I am waiting for nothing else than your surrender to Me, and then you do not have to worry anymore about anything. Say farewell to all fears and discouragement. You demonstrate that you do not trust Me. On the contrary, you must rely blindly on Me. To surrender means: To turn your thoughts away from troubles, to turn them away from difficulties you encounter and from all your problems. Leave everything into My hands saying “Lord, Thy will be done, you think of it”. That is to say: “Lord I thank you for you have taken everything in your hands, and you will resolve this for my highest good”.
Remember that thinking of the consequences of a thing is contrary to surrender. That is to say, when you worry that a situation has not had the desired outcome, you thus demonstrate that you do not believe in My love for you. You will prove that you do not consider your life to be under My control and that nothing escapes Me. Never think: How is this to end? What is going to happen? If you give in to this temptation, you demonstrate that you do not trust Me. Do you want Me to deal with it…yes or no? Then you must stop being anxious about it! I shall guide you only if you completely surrender to Me and when I must lead you into a different path than the one you expect; I carry you in my arms.
What seriously upsets you is your reasoning, your worrying, your obsession, your will to provide for yourselves at any price. I can do so many things when the being, as much in his material necessities as in his spiritual ones, turns to Me saying: “You think of it”, then he closes his eyes and rests quietly. You will receive a lot but only when your prayer will rely fully upon Me. You pray to Me when in pain so that I intervene, but in the way you desire it. You do not rely on Me, but you want Me to adjust to your requests.
Don’t believe like sick ones who ask a treatment of the doctor, all the time suggesting it to him. Do not do that: But rather, even in sad circumstances, say: “Lord I praise and thank you for this problem, for this necessity. I pray you to arrange things as you please for this terrestrial and temporal life; you know very well what is best for me. Sometimes you feel that disasters increase instead of diminish.
Do not get agitated. Close your eyes and tell me with faith: “Thy will be done. You think of it”, and when you speak thus, I accomplish a miracle when necessary. I only think of it when you trust me totally. I always think of you, but I can only help you completely when you fully rely on me.
As you can imagine I was blown away by that. I stand by what I’ve said already, that we are in control of our lives, no matter what. However, the Creative Force that willed the whole game into existence has the power to override the rules any time it wants and turn our lives upside down in the blink of an eye. Baba made sure that I was in no doubt as to who was pulling the strings. I really didn’t have any control of what was happening to me; and that was a frightening feeling I can tell you. But now the sun had risen in my heart and I was off inside the canteen for some food. All of a sudden I had my appetite back and I had a feast fit for a king. It was a bit more expensive than the South Indian canteen but still very cheap indeed. When I’d finished eating I went outside and sat on the long concrete bench that was built into the wall by the entrance door.
There was an Indian man sitting next to me, and I couldn’t help noticing that he was wearing western style shoes with socks. It may seem like a stupid thing to notice, but up until then, every male Indian I’d seen was either bare footed or wearing flip-flops. All of a sudden he spoke to me; he said his name was Sunil and he came from Bangalore. He explained that he was not particularly spiritual and did not stay on the ashram. He just loved coming to Prashanthi, so he visited once or twice a year and stayed in accommodation in the village. We had a really good chat; he was a very nice man and seemed to understand what I’d experienced. Most importantly, he managed to put my mind at rest with regard to the military presence and the sub-machine guns etc. He explained that a very high-ranking government minister had been visiting the ashram in order to seek Baba’s guidance; hence there was extra security because of the threat of terrorism. It was such a relief to hear that and I realized straight away that the encounter was just another scene in Swami’s play, but Sunil REALLY was a Godsend. He asked if I’d been into the village at all, and when I said I hadn’t, he offered to show me around. I was really grateful for this. Alas, all good things must come to an end, eventually he had to get on with his day and we parted company. That was the one and only time I saw him, but from then on everything fell into place.
Evening darshan had been another incredible experience, with Swami pulling on my heart again just before he came out and my eyes welling up with tears of joy. I did miss the shop again, but it didn’t matter and I eventually sorted out my clothing on day three. After darshan, I went back to the Western canteen for my evening meal. Whilst in there I encountered a Croatian man named Goran who was looking for a room-mate. So the next day I was able to transfer from the dormitory into room C19 in one of the blocks. My second and final night in DD2 was another sleepless one, but I didn’t care. I got on really well with Goran and from day three onwards my sleep pattern returned to normal. I met many amazing people during my time at Prashanthi and of all the things I learned there are two that stand out. Firstly, our “abode of the highest peace” is anywhere we choose to make it, and…
Swami most certainly does move in mysterious ways.
Jai Sai Ram