Who Am I? Part Thirty Two


And then it happened… Absolutely nothing… Or did it?

A typical darshan in Sai Kulwant Hall

I just love that line; it’s actually how I’m going to end this post, at 21 December 2012, but I love it so much that I thought I would kick off with it as well. Anyway.. I went back to Prashanthi Nilayam in February 2010. It was a completely different experience from the first time. I went with a friend who had a medical condition that meant she was in a great deal of pain most of the time. We unwittingly booked our trip to coincide with Maha Shivaratri (Night of Shiva), which is one of the busiest festivals of the year. The village and the ashram were even more busy than when I went in 2009. Because of my friend’s constant pain we felt that the conditions on the ashram would be a bit harsh for her, so we found accommodation in the village; directly opposite a shop that sold themed T-shirts. The premises also doubled as a workshop where they put the motifs on the T-shirts themselves; the constant noise from the sewing machine was deafening!

Swami’s physical form was noticeably frailer, but his power was as immense as ever. During the course of our 10 day stay it was made clear to me that I did not need to go there again. Swami has his ways of letting you know; it was as if he was silently confirming that wherever you are in the world, you, yourself, are the One indivisible whole. If I am One with Swami, why would I need to travel thousands of miles to be in his physical presence?

In 2006, whilst living in Cirencester, I’d found Sai groups in Bristol and Swindon that I started to attend. Later on I found another group in Bath that resonated better with me. However, you may remember right at the beginning of this series of posts, I said that I’d always felt that I didn’t belong anywhere? No matter where I found myself, I always felt that I didn’t belong. When I was younger I didn’t understand why, but now I was beginning to understand more about who I really was and why I always felt like a fish out of water. I’d never felt any resonance with Spiritualism, I’d never felt that I belonged in the army and in many of my jobs in adult life; I’d got used to the idea of being quite the loner. In spite of this I was a bit disappointed to find that I felt exactly the same in the Sai groups too. Even though I met some lovely people, like Satyan, who was like a brother, and Patrick, they were very formal groups. Nonetheless, I would continue to attend sporadically for a few years to come.

I found that after my visits to Swami I started to undergo some quite drastic changes, both in day-to-day life and spiritually. I noticed that I was feeling extremely fatigued for no apparent reason. After I’d had this feeling for around 18 months, I mentioned it to Satyan one day during a visit to Bath. He said I needed to go for some urgent blood tests as it might be something serious. Satyan knows his onions, so I quickly made an appointment at my local surgery to see a nurse. I had the most extensive blood tests I’ve ever had in my life; she must have taken five vials of blood. But when the results came back, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. My GP said I probably had a mild form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I will never forget what else he said to me, and I quote, “we don’t know what causes it and there is no cure, so you will just have to get on with it”! So I did, and I have been ever since. At some stage I learned that extreme fatigue is one of the many “symptoms” people experience when they are going through the spiritual awakening process.

I’d had a daily routine of meditation for about the last seven years, but it had got to the stage where it was starting to feel quite mechanical, and I’d started to question the validity of it. All of a sudden I found that I was no longer meditating and to this day, I very rarely meditate at all anymore. I was also used to seeing my spirit guides and getting spirit communication on quite a regular basis. Suddenly, I no longer saw my guides and spirit communication was a thing of the past. I found that when I went to serve a church or centre, I would no longer go through my routine of preparation. I would simply turn up, when I stood up my mediumship would kick-in, and when I was called to time it would shut down until the next time. There was now a divide between me and the religion of Spiritualism that was probably wider than the Grand Canyon, but I felt that a power much greater than me wanted me to continue in this environment. At first, I didn’t understand why I could no longer see or hear spirit guides.

I had always known, that ultimately, spirit guides do not exist, as there is only One Consciousness. But like a lot of things when you are unconscious, the actual meaning and implications take some time to sink in. I eventually realised that I was in the process of evolving from my illusory perspective of duality, to one of monism. I had already found that several of the Spiritualist churches and centres were no longer booking me; this had a lot to do with them feeling that my addresses were too deep and profound and people didn’t understand them. The fact was, that I only knew one way to work; and that was the way that I was being guided by Divine Spirit. So, I was in a situation where a Divine Service in a Spiritualist church was an ideal platform for me to work from, because there was always the part of the service where the medium was required to give an address. But at the same time, most people were only interested in “messages from beyond”, so there were many who didn’t like the way I worked.

As far as day jobs went, my support worker job in Avening was past its sell-by date and I knew I needed to move on. I got a similar job with another organisation, which at first seemed like a breath of fresh air, but within a matter of weeks I realised I’d gone from the frying pan into the fire, and five months later I’d moved on. Then, for my sins, I got  a job in a “hotel” in Tetbury. It was an awful place; not cheap for the punters, and it was nothing more than a glorified pub. I stayed there until January 2011, after which I decided to have another go at being self-employed.

The morning of Sunday, April 24, apart from being Easter Sunday, was just another day. I got up and had my usual cups of tea, and then logged into my laptop to check emails and social media accounts. There was an email from my friend V in South Africa. It simply said, “Swami has gone”. I cried sporadically for most of the day, not out of grief, but out of the sheer joy of knowing that the God-man blessed me beyond my wildest dreams since entering my life way back in 2001. I have a tear or two in my eyes now as type. He had deteriorated drastically since the last time I was in Prashanthi, but devotees the world over had just assumed that Swami would come back as good as new. Baba’s message was always that the body is only temporary and that devotees should not worship his physical form. He had also said words to the effect of, “one day you will have to get used to this body not being here”. I said at the time that a physical form had never been intrinsic to the relationship I had with Swami, so there was no reason for anything to change now.

During the early morning of July 17 2012, I had an incredible experience with Swami in astral form. I grabbed his arm and it was as solid as solid can be. You can read the full account by clicking on this link – When The Avatar Comes Calling

Now speaking of 2012. You remember, don’t you? When the world was going to end? Well, during the build up I wrote a few spoof blog posts. If you click on the links below, you may or may not be amused by what you read:

Angels Ate My Hamster

Aliens Ate My Grandmother

After leaving the hotel in January 2011, I bumbled along; just managing to keep my head above water. I’d published more books with the advent of “on demand digital publishing”, which enabled me to publish without having to order hundreds of copies. It was a struggle but I learned from my mistakes and did most of the work myself. Cover design, formatting of text etc. I didn’t have very good equipment, so for some of the technical stuff I had to pay for services. But it was all OK. I never had fantastic sales, but there is nothing for an author quite like the buzz you get, when someone from the other side of the world contacts you and says that reading your book changed their life! Money just cannot buy that!

So, 2011 became 2012, and I continued to bumble. The months went by and before we knew what was happening we were into December, and in the blink of an eye the dreaded witching hour was upon us. The 21st loomed…

And then it happened… Absolutely nothing… Or did it?

 

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A Right Cockney Barrel Of Monkeys!


I love that expression, “a right cockney barrel of monkeys”.  For the uninitiated it refers to a can of worms or something complex and baffling.  I heard it for the first time on the Fast Show when they were doing a spoof of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

I thought it would make a good title for a blog post as I’m going to write about a dream/experience I had a few mornings ago that left me scratching my head.

Quite often my dreams take me back to periods in my life that were quite significant for me in terms of learning and life experience etc.  So quite often I am dreaming away when I suddenly realize I’m either back in the army, working for NAAFI or working for the Royal Mail.  Each time I know I’m there but the surroundings are completely alien; but I suppose that’s dreams for you!  Anyway, the other morning I had a really strange one.  I was back working for NAAFI, but for some reason, I was living in a military style dormitory.  I had been away somewhere and when I came back someone had taken my bed space.  But not only that, the dormitory had grown and had become a huge web of dormitories all lumped together.  Also, the individual dormitories had grown bigger and had loads and loads of beds all shoved up against each other.

My bed space had been taken by a very tall Indian man.  He was so tall he must have been twice my size, and I was looking up at him asking him if he knew where my things where.  He acted as if he didn’t want to acknowledge me; just looking at me and looking away again with a kind of subtle contempt.  I remember saying something like “hey, I don’t want the bed back, I just want to know where my things are”.  It was at this point that things got interesting.  I woke up but continued to lay in bed with my eyes closed.

All of a sudden (as happens from time to time in these situations) my brow chakra became illuminated and I could see a larger than life character right there within my third eye.  The best description I could give is that he reminded me of a throw back from a sixties soft-rock band, such as CSN&Y, who reform 100 years later and look old up on stage.  They still have long flowing hair but it’s all grey.  He looked as though he was driving a truck whilst singing or chatting away to himself.  What was strange was that his body language suggested that he was indeed behind the wheel of a truck, but I could see no steering wheel and no cab.  Suddenly I felt something being placed in my hand; and this left me in a bit of a predicament.  It felt oval-shaped, like a bar of soap, but if my feelings were correct and I was having an astral experience, I didn’t want to try to move or open my eyes because I knew I would simply be back in my body and it would be all over.  But, on the other hand, because of the way I was lying, and where my hand was situated, I wasn’t able to use my inner vision either in order to see exactly what it was.  It was quite amazing really; there I was laying in bed holding something oval-shaped that had simply been placed in my hand.  By now my friend had disappeared from my brow chakra and before you could say “right cockney barrel of monkeys” it was all over.

The object didn’t actually feel like soap but that is what sprang to mind because of the shape.  Having said that there is something else that is oval-shaped and is spiritually very significant; a lingham!  Linghams are significant because they are symbolic of the eternal indwelling spirit that has no beginning and no end; hence the oval shape.  When Sai Baba was still in his body he would materialize Linga on Maha Shivaratri; a very auspicious and important day in the Hindu calendar.  They would form in his stomach from the metals naturally present within his body and he would bring them up and out of his mouth.  Some of the Linga were very large in comparison to his tiny frame.  He would also sometimes materialize them from thin air (see video below).

I suppose I will never truly know what it was that was placed in my hand.  I would like to think it was a lingham.  But then again the whole episode could have been nothing more than a right cockney barrel of monkeys!


The Divine Teaser Part Two


In part two of The Divine Teaser I would like to share with you a little story that relates to my second visit to Prasanthi Nilayam, in February 2010.  As in part one, this event happened on my last day and it is also a prime example of Sai humour.

I went with a companion on my second visit, my then girlfriend, Ciara.  We decided to stay the first night in a good hotel and then see about accommodation on the ashram or find a simple apartment.  A significant thing also was that when we planned our trip we did not realise that it would coincide with Maha Shivaratri; one of the busiest festival times of the year.  The ashram had been unbelievably busy during my first visit, which coincided with Diwali and Gujarati New Year, but this time the volume of people was just unreal.  Because Ciara had a stomach condition, that meant she was in a great deal of pain for most of our stay, we ended up just staying in a very basic apartment for the duration.  Once the festival was under way we didn’t have much choice anyway because it would have been nigh-on impossible to find an alternative, what with the sheer numbers of people in the village.  I’d known before we set off that this trip was about her and not me.  I knew in my heart that Swami was calling Ciara; I also knew that he was aware of her stomach pains and that the harsh conditions of the ashram would have been too much for her to cope with.

Our apartment was down a side street but opposite a shop that sold T-shirts.  The motifs on the T-shirts were machined on the premises and the noise from the sewing machine was deafening.  As a result we did not sleep that well during the whole of our stay, but we kind of got used to it as the days passed.

Because of the volume of people in Puttaparthi (and on the ashram itself), I didn’t even bother to go through the business of laying my cushion down early in the hope of getting a place in the first line; I was just content to sit anywhere in Sai Kulwant Hall, and quite often I just sat at the back.  However, by the time we reached the last day of our stay Shivaratri was over, the crowds subsided and I decided that I was going to have one last go at getting as close as I could to Sri Sathya Sai Baba.  I knew that it would not only be my last darshan of the trip, but my last darshan ever, because Swami had already let me know that I would not be returning to Puttaparthi.  Baba has a way of letting you know things on an inner level, in the same way that he calls the millions and millions of devotees to the ashram; it’s just something that you know; words and physical presence are not necessary.

So, come mid-morning I lay my cushion down in the line to reserve my place and then went off about my business.  Early-ish afternoon I returned and took my place with my cushion along with the other hopefuls, and waited for the comedy capers to begin.  For the benefit of anyone reading this who has never been to Prasanthi Nilayam for the darshan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba I shall briefly explain the process of “the lines”.  Once morning darshan has finished you are allowed to go and place your cushion down in a designated area in order to reserve your place in the queue for evening darshan.  Once your cushion has been placed you can disappear until mid afternoon (but in the meantime hope that nobody steals your cushion and/or your place in the queue).  Once the first line of cushions stretches back up the hill until it can’t go any further, another queue is formed next to it.  At around 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. the queues are moved down alongside Sai Kulwant Hall.  This is where the fun begins because you get people who have not been queueing trying to sneak in and this can develop into pushing and shoving.  The two lines are then formed into four lines alongside the hall.  At some point the four people at the head of each line are invited to draw a token out of a bag, and whichever line draws token number one gets to go into the hall first, thus getting the chance to sit right at the front and get close to Baba.  Running is supposed to be strictly forbidden in such a sacred place, but as soon as people get inside they go tearing down to the front as though their lives depend on it.

I couldn’t believe my luck when the line I was in drew token number one.  Now before I go any further I will just say this.  Anyone who has had experience of Swami will know that he quite often plays Divine games (leelas), not only that, he sometimes gives us our own personal leela.  So, there I was in the line that drew token number one; things just couldn’t get any better, I was going to see my loving Lord’s Divine form one more time before leaving.  I got into the hall and sure enough people started running towards the front.  I tried my hardest to be disciplined but the trouble is, because of the runners, even though you may be in line one, if everyone runs past you and takes up all the spaces on the front row, then you wont get your prime spot.  So, seeing what was happening I convinced myself that Swami wouldn’t mind and I broke out into a trot.  However, because of other people’s selfishness I did not get my place in the front row.  But I still got a great position in row two directly opposite where Baba comes out.  There was two people sitting in front of me but I was sitting directly in the middle of their two sets of shoulders so I had a really good view; I was very excited and thanked Swami for getting me this spot.  As I have mentioned in previous posts it had got to the stage where Baba very rarely came out for morning darshan anymore, but you could bet your shirt on him coming out for evening darshan.

So I sat in my prime position, the Vedas were chanted and the bhajans were sung.  The time was getting on, so “anytime now” I thought to myself; I would see that orange robe in the distance and my heart would explode with love and my eyes would fill with tears of joy.  Then I would watch in anticipation as Baba came closer and closer to where I was sitting and I would get a really good glimpse of him.  “You never know”, I thought, “I might even get that all elusive eye contact.”  The bhajans went on and on, “yes, anytime now”, I thought again; and on and on they went.  Then I noticed something that I must admit, I found rather amusing.  There was an older Indian man sitting near me who kept looking around as though he was trying to attract the attention of anyone who would entertain him.  As he looked around with a very indignant look on his face he kept pointing at his watch, as if to say “what time does he call this”.  Then he would point and gesticulate with his hands as if miming “just who does he think he is, keeping us waiting like this”.  Then to my amazement ararthi* was called and the man got up and walked off in a huff.  The realization then dawned on me that Baba was having a bit of amusement in the way that only Baba can.

Every now and then Swami used to remind us that we were becoming far too attached to his physical form, and this was one such occasion.  I also felt that this was his way of telling me that I shouldn’t take things for granted.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that my dear Swami never came out, knowing that I wouldn’t see his physical form again, but I also saw the funny side and had a good old chuckle to myself.  In truth the whole thing was just one of Swami’s leelas.  There I was running (I’m ashamed to admit it) in Sai Kulwant Hall because I was scared of losing my place in the front row, but the reality is that we only ever sit where Swami puts us.  We all think that we are in control but all the time the Divine puppet master is having his play.  I have no room for complaint anyway because dear Baba had already blessed us beyond our wildest dreams before this incident occurred, and that will be the subject of a future blog post.

As long as I remain on this Earth I will never forget the sight of that man pointing at his watch and complaining that Sri Sathya Sai Baba was keeping us waiting; absolutely priceless.

*Arathi, aarthi or aarti (from the Sanskrit term Aaraatrik) is the ritual performed at the end of every darshan, in which the flame from wicks soaked in camphor is offered to the Divine. Aartis also refers to the song which is sung as darshan comes to a close.