I suppose I've always been looking for the hidden Truth underlying all things - a childhood spent with my nose in a book, a degree in theoretical physics, scything my way through philosophy then psychology then anthropology in an attempt to make sense of it all...I think I had long realised that the mind wasn't capable of the answers I was looking for, but I thought what else was I to do?
In my late teens, something inside drove me to push myself in all directions at once, to try and experience everything and anything - I travelled quite a bit, tried my hand at boxing and theatre, tried to write a novel which collapsed under the weight of the umpteenth rewrite. Like many who lacked a proper channel to express the urge for meaning, I embraced the hedonistic side of life for a while, but again something inside always said this wasn't it, this isn't me.
I started meditating a year before I became a student of Sri Chinmoy, inspired by a couple of friends of mine, one of whom was a Zen Buddhist and used to regale me with tales of his stints in far-flung monasteries. All I had was a book and bits of advice...I did feel the benefits immediately, more awareness, I wasn't reacting to situations that previously used to drive me nuts...but very soon I felt myself pushing against a ceiling which my mind wouldn't let me break through.
During that year I went on a pilgrimage along the famous Camino de Santiago in north-west Spain. On the route, some faint sense of or connection with the Divine was definitely awoken, and so for the next six months there was a situation where meditation occupied one space inside of me, and God another....Hmmm, I thought, that's a bit odd, and thought no further.
It always amazes me that with all my reading and scouring for answers, I had never really absorbed the Eastern perspective on life until I came to the meditation classes organised by the Dublin Sri Chinmoy Centre. It was almost as if it was withholding itself until I had reached a certain stage of readiness (through my year's meditation and the discipline I got from sports training, I imagine). But in this age old philosophy, reflections of which can be found in all spiritual paths East or West, everything seemed to hang together. Meditation, which previously seemed to me something one did just to be more aware and less stressed, took a new importance as the very means by which I could reach that Truth I had been for so long searching for, by which that connection with that deepest divine part of myself could be made permanent. All of a sudden, I knew an end had come to my speculating, and now all that remained was to put it into practice and make it a reality...... I went to some further advanced classes and was given the opportunity to become a student of Sri Chinmoy's - yet even though Sri Chinmoy's philosophy struck such a huge chord inside me and I was really enjoying the meditations, I was still a little hesitant to make what seemed like quite a lifestyle change...but yet again that inner voice inside me would brook no nonsense from my mind. At the beginning I told myself to just take it one step at a time, one step at a time, and slowly, with time and practice, the liberating reality of this way of living began to make itself felt...
Another thing that takes on another dimension in hindsight... At the time, I was also reading a lot on Zen and going to a few meditations held by that group - how is it that I ended up on this path and not on that one? I don't know is the plain answer, I don't ever remember making a conscious choice - one day I just realised I hadn't been going to the other meditations for quite a while. Sometimes the workings of the soul are beyond your capacity to understand them at the time. As time progressed, I came to feel more and more that each soul has their own special path through which they can make progress, and realised that this truly was mine...
At the beginning of my time in the Centre, I had many misconceptions about meditation and the spiritual life which I had to clear up (and still do, no doubt). I grandly imagined that any meditation group worth its salt had to be at least aiming for the goal of sitting cross-legged 24-7 - instead I found myself part of a group that was commited to remaining in the day-to-day world and spreading, by their very being there, the qualities and strengths they obtained from spiritual practice; who channelled their spiritual lives through a myriad number of avenues - running, singing, painting, poetry, the list was endless...
The other, and bigger misconception was the role of the teacher. We'd have a lot of personal contact, I imagined, but he'd basically just be teaching me the techniques and then letting me get on with the job. I suppose I imagined someone older, wiser, but still with the same ingrained faults as I had. I don't think I really believed it was possible for someone to be the master of his nature, to dispense with faults and limitations we chafe against every day; in my mind, I had consigned each of us to our physical and mental cages for good.
Without opening his mouth, Sri Chinmoy began to teach me otherwise. In silent meditation, I could sense him soaring to worlds of vastness; I longed to follow but couldn't. But somehow I knew that here, before my eyes, was a living example of one who is free, free of doubt and fear and worry, soaring above all that everyday bondage. See, it can be done, spoke again that inner voice; it has been done, and I too can grow into that state someday.
The more I visit Sri Chinmoy, the more I become aware of what love such an enlightened state embodies. The thought-cages are blown away that separate man from man; all that is left is a feeling of inseparable oneness with humanity. It is the reason why Sri Chinmoy works so tirelessly to raise the consciousness of his fellow man; the reason he accepts students in the first place. Someone who has reached that state sees no dividing line between himself and the rest of humanity; he cannot be truly satisfied knowing that the rest of humankind is still suffering, still imperfect. He treats humanity's imperfections as his own imperfections and works to transform them in whatever way he can.
Under his guidance, his students' capacity to give and receive that same love and concern is awakened and expanded in their hearts, and it is not long before they feel a subtle inward connection with Sri Chinmoy even though they might be an ocean's width apart, as I am. Obstacles arise and imperfections rear their ugly head, but the strength gained by holding fast to this meditative connection to someone who has risen above such imperfections has gotten me through the odd rough patch.