Word Limit

Spoken words cannot do justice to the rich inner lives that each of us live.

No matter how politely or sincerely delivered, the words, “good” or “fine” or “interesting” are just utterances; accepted tender in an exchange which demands a particular kind of rudimentary currency.

Words are symbols of our feelings and thoughts, but they are not our feelings and thoughts. Our feelings and thoughts are too rapid, too complex, too subtle and nuanced to ever be fully understood through language. Each of us.

People who are intuitive have an edge. Somehow, such people can look and feel and sense the life behind the speech and limiting language. They dip into the sea and feel for themselves what it is like instead of reading the weather report.

Sometimes the best kind of empathy and understanding occurs in silence. Through deeply feeling and hearing what a person is saying on a different level, and not being concerned with having an appropriate response, or acting a certain way.

And in our own minds – remember too, that words are just symbols. Symbols which have been created to give life and coherence to our existence and what we think and fee. It’s easy to over identify with words – can’t, should, happy, sad, big, hate, love. But if words had never been invented, if we had no framework for our thoughts, we would be left with a sense of being and perceiving. Not labeling and judging.

I believe that in being and perceiving we can learn the most about ourselves, and the world around us. We are free to see our own judgement and short-comings, and how we cause ourselves to suffer. We can see the world in its boundless glory, everything beautiful and miraculous and perfect how we find it.


About Saris

It was long and soft and slipped like silk through my fingers. Of all the saris I had worn up until now, this was my favorite – this faded, baby pink sari, gifted to me by a girl I barely knew, but had admired from afar. A jagged splash of deep rose ink and a small knot tied in one corner were the only signs that it had not always been mine. The end part, or the pallu had ornate brown and gold leaves stitched into it. It was seven meters long but felt like nothing, like air; a gorgeous celestial garment woven from ether and dreams.

Up until then I had only two saris of my own: one (also second-hand) was white with burned gold, brown and grey leaf-like patterns on it. It had a two-inch brown trim on the top and bottom length of it and was so light and fine that I had to wind it an additional time around my slip, just to be sure that nothing was revealed. This was my first sari. The second one I sourced for myself at a shop in Brisbane: it cost $30 dollars and was made of a heavy, non see-through fabric. It was gorgeous in its own right – a dark emerald green, emblazoned with bright gold stitching and an intricate, gold-patterned pallu. It was striking.The pallu had not been hemmed, and there were thick strands of loose material hanging down from it which I never did get around to fixing.

It took me a long time to achieve mastery in dressing myself in sari, as it was an intricate business. However, I was told that gradual mastery was quite common. For the first few months, I would stand in the Centre bathroom in my long white cotton slip (made specifically for saris) and blouse, waiting for my friend to rush in while disciples started to gather outside for the meditation. She would wrap and pleat my sari around me, talking all the time so that I could learn. The blouse sleeves stop a few inches above the elbow, and the bottom of it sits just under the bust, so the midriff is exposed. The blouse is buttoned from the front and scoops down below the collar-bone. The slip was tied high around the waist with a sort of draw-string, and had to be secured tightly in order to support several yards of material that needed to hang off it. Two large safety pins were used to secure the thick fold of pleats at the front, and to secure the layers of pleated material on the left-hand shoulder.

It did indeed take me a long time to “get it”, including one trip to New Zealand and one trip to New York to see my master. In the end though, like any good mother, my friend had to stand back and let me test my wings. There were many botched attempts, some occurring in my home-town Centre, and others in more exposed forums. These, however, were an accepted part of every females disciple’s initial years on the path. Saris were to be worn at the twice-weekly formal meditations, and during business hours for those working at disciple enterprises. The boys were required to wear all white for purity.

When I went for my first trip to New Zealand, I was not prepared for how many other female disciples there would be, or that they were all relatively young, like me. I was the exception at my own Centre in Australia.  Here, I was one of many. Nor was I prepared for the awe I would feel at meeting so many of my sister devotees. Their devotion, their poise, their inner beauty seemed to radiate outwards and make everything and everyone around them sacred and pure.

There were many functions and meditations to attend in New Zealand, and I only had two saris. At some point, I was gifted with the beautiful pink one which was to become a favourite. I also purchased another brand-new sari whilst I was there. This one was a deep midnight blue, beautifully hemmed and had gold embroidery on the pallu and edges. It was magnificent, and everyone exclaimed when I wore it for the first time, although the material was crisp and slightly coarse from never being used. It was to become my “good sari” for the first couple of years.

I found it difficult to buy saris in Brisbane, my home town. The shop that I initially purchased from closed down, and it would seem that I had to wait for overseas or interstate trips to bring some variety into my meditation wardrobe.

I visited my master many times in New York, in the suburb of Jamaica, Queens. Some of his students had set up businesses there, which were chiefly supported and sustained by other students. One shop on Parsons Boulevard primary sold garments for female disciples. During my first couple of trips to New York, I was too shy to go in there for any longer than a couple of minutes. The lightness and purity of the space were somehow both dazzling and overwhelming. The staff were like celebrities in my eyes: women (or ‘girls’ as we called them) who had spiritual names; who had been with the master for many years, decades even. Women who lived in New York, and who I had only seen from afar when someone had pointed them out and whispered something to me about their greatness or special connection with our master. I felt out of place and inferior around them.

When I finally did work up the courage to enter the store (usually dressed in my standard sneakers, cargo pants and t-shirt) it took more courage not to leave; not to feel like an alien in this heavenly realm, where the colour black did not exist; where celestial music played, and delicate trinkets, incense and gorgeous arrays of fabrics colluded to impress upon the customer that they were no longer in Jamaica, Queens, or even on Earth.

Over the years I purchase many of my favourite saris from this store, and all of them were beautiful. One which I became renown for was a power-red sari with bright silver spangles and embroidery around the pallu and hem. People always commented when I wore it that it suited me, and that perhaps it reflected something in my aura. Some called it “Kali red”, after the Indian female deity Maha Kali, who transforms through death.

Another favourite was a gorgeous hot-pink sari with swirls of light and dark toned pinks running through it that always made me feel vibrant and girly and empowered. I purchased a few that were very fine and ethereal – one was field-green with big rose-coloured lillies on it, and tones of burnt gold. Another was like something from a dream or lofty meditation – dark blue, purple, light blue, merging into creams and whites and golds. I didn’t wear that one much, on account of it being very fine and often slipping out of place. I had different coloured blouses to match with all of them, but would wear white as a staple.

I always loved wearing sari. To me, it heightened my aspiration, invoked purity and consciousness, and inspired reverence. One “boy” disciple gamely ventured to a group of girls one day in New York that saris win over street clothes any day; that shorts or skirts or pants can never compete with the long, flowing garments that make women look like goddesses of the utmost purity.

When I left the path, one of things I missed most was wearing sari. I kept my saris for years until, in a time of upheaval and uncertain of what to do with them any longer, I gave them to a friend who said she would like to have them. This is a vague recollection, and I am not even certain of who this friend is. If I am meant to see them again, I am sure they will find their way back to me. Each one has special memories attached to it. The midnight-blue sari I wore with a white cardigan when I first met my master, on a crisp New York day in April. I was twenty-one. From hundreds of onlookers sitting on the bleachers, I answered the call for any “little” girls to race down to him and arm wrestle with another girl to see who was the strongest. I competed against an eastern European girl and won. The master took a photo of us from his seat, and I am grinning cheekily back at him, still locking hands with my competitor, both of us lying across the ground in sari, oblivious to the dirt. Then there were the saris I always wore to work in the disciple-run cafes in Australia and America – there were many, but a series of them were fluroescent and floral patterned. There was the pastel violet and sky-blue sari I usually wore on my birthday, or “soul-day.” The white sari I usually wore on my master’s soul-day.The white sari I wore with layers of jackets after he died, and I watched him being buried in New York one freezing October.

Each sari has special memories and special meanings. For me, they were sacred garments. I hope that wherever they are now, they are bringing joy to their owner, and filling the space with their sacred memories. They were truly blessed, from years of meditation and aspiration and selfless-service, as I was blessed to wear them. They kept me safe and now I pray they are being kept safe in someone else’s keeping.


The Space Between Thoughts

Even before my feet touched the floor this morning, my mind became bogged down with the things I thought I “had” to do today. My Sunday sleep-in was spoiled as soon as I woke with feelings of dreaded duty.

The seconds, minutes and hours slipped by as I procrastinated doing what I felt I ought to do. I was grumpy, resistant and filled with criticism. Most of my thoughts were negative. Tired and feeling hurried and busy from the last hectic week, my thoughts were still busily zooming around and colliding with one another. My week had been busy. My thoughts were busy. There was a distinct lack of spaciousness in my life.

Eventually, I dangled a carrot in front of my own nose and went to my favorite coffee shop to read, have a coffee and relax for a couple of hours before doing the things I was so distinctly not looking forward to doing.

After chatting on the phone with a few people who reminded me I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t feel like doing, and really starting to appreciate the atmosphere of my favourite hangout, my whole body began to relax. My thoughts, previously inflexible, rapid and focused on a single, distasteful outcome, were now expansive, positive and spacious.

I sipped my coffee, ate my Huavos Rancheros, played with my phone and then stretched out on the couch to read my book. “The Places That Scare You” is written by the famous Western Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. In the twelve years that I have been studying meditation and spiritual philosophy, this is the book that speaks most clearly to me. Instead of resorting to positive affirmations, striving for higher and loftier goals and endeavouring to always be upbeat and happy, it encourages readers to sit with their pain, their discomfort and their suffering without judgement.

Once we stop running from our pain and can be still with it and view it with compassion, we can begin to show more compassion, love and non-judgement towards ourselves. There is nowhere to be, nothing to do, no outcome to be achieved – only acceptance of our own moment-by-moment existence, with all of its pain and suffering and joys – and a warrior’s ability to be present with all of those things.

With my body stretched out and feet pointing towards the road, I was in prime position to watch the cars go by, the birds flying in the distance, the clouds moving slowly, and the way the light shifted as the sun began its gradual descent behind the townhouses and office blocks lining Wynnum Road. Someone had hung a dream-catcher on the front awning, and it spun and moved and reacted to the flow of traffic moving past it.

And suddenly, I fell into myself, felt peaceful and happy, and wondered why I was placing so much pressure on myself earlier in the day. I realised that it was only now that I had the opportunity to visit the place between thoughts; that hallowed place where, once noticed, a person can dwell in peace and equanimity and budding awareness of their own self. Relaxation, enjoyment and fun creates space in our lives, and in our minds.

In what could be considered the negation of my responsibilities, I spent nearly five hours at the coffee shop, the last hour spent playing cards with a friend and drinking beer. Then we left, went to another coffee shop, had hot drinks and treats, and then played in the local park.

I came home and didn’t have any regrets about my day. My anger, resentment and feelings of pressure from the morning had disappeared and were replaced by ease and calm and the beginnings of a more loving and compassionate outlook. I never did the thing I was dreading, and didn’t feel bad about it.

It is only when we show love and compassion and understanding towards ourselves that we can then show it towards others. We can’t fill our neighbour’s cup from ours if there is nothing inside of it. So first, be good to yourself. Then, be good within yourself. And then lastly, be good to others.

Just One Thing Different

I love to write. When I write, I come alive and feel as though I can do magic; that anything’s possible. All of the wild thoughts and imaginings and creations in my head clamber to take form and rush from my mind down to my fingers almost quicker than I can assemble them.

Yet I have found far too many reasons not to write over the last couple of years. Consumed by doubt, my words – still swirling around in my mind; still vivid and colourful – refused to be channeled for anyone else to see. They grew shy, and unsure of themselves. In they end, they hardly knew how to come out at all, even for me. When they did, they were hesitant, and disappeared quickly. My spring of creativity dried up, or perhaps it was dammed. The words no longer vied for my attention. They hid, impervious to coaxing, and took solace in the fact that they were safe and comfortable.

Yet here I am, writing this now and yes: it feels clunky and base and contrived. Like I’ve lost my rhythm, my treasured flow. Like I’m cutting coarse fabric with blunt scissors. “Use it or lose it” – the perfectionist in me says I’ve lost it, and cringes at the idea of clicking “publish” and sending this into cyberspace to be met by you. But I’m determined to write it, because today I promised myself that I would start to do just one thing differently in order to change my life for the better, and give life to my precious words again.

That one thing different is this: instead of saying “no”, say “yes.” Instead of finding reasons to stay safe and comfortable and right, find reasons to do that which burns to be done. Feed the aspiration, not the fear. Find reasons to do the undo-able, speak the unspeakable, and say, “yes” to what is in the heart to do.

It is hard. It is hard being a perfectionist and offering up imperfect words. It is hard to feel that something which was once light and easy and fun is now hard and sluggish and requiring conscious effort. It’s harder to have no words; to have only the yearning for words, and the regret at all the words that have gone unwritten.

I am determined to feed my aspiration. Today, imperfect words. Tomorrow, imperfect words. In ten years’ time – more imperfect words. Because there is no such thing as perfect words. There is only what we want to do, and whether we have the courage to manifest it – to say “yes” to our aspiration instead of our fears.

So this is my one thing different. Choosing “want” over “don’t want,” and “yes” over “no.” Thank you for reading these imperfect words. I hope very, very much that there will be more to come.