When I was a relatively new disciple, I remember hearing a comment (indirectly) that Guru had recommended keeping a diary of spiritual experiences. For a few years, I did keep a diary. It was a real economist’s diary – the absolute minimum of words, about 5 entries per year. I had almost forgotten about it, but in writing this book, I dug it out and glanced through the very short entries. A typical entry was something like, ‘2002 – Zurich – CKG concert, many instruments, good meditation’. It was hardly something to write a book from, but it reminded me of a weekend away that I had almost completely forgotten about. It brought back memories of visiting the beautiful city of Zurich and taking the tram to the outskirts for functions with Sri Chinmoy in an old wooden hall, and an impromptu function in a beautiful outdoor garden. Just a short note, but it brings back the vibration of the weekend and meditation. Vague forgotten recollections come springing back. It seems the mind has a very quick capacity to forget moments of great spiritual upliftment. It soon returns to the daily cycle of insignificant worries and mundane activities.
For me, a couple of pages of the most perfunctory notes evoked so many good memories. There is a saying in the spiritual life 'the past is dust'. But, as Sri Chinmoy would also remark – sometimes the past is also golden. In the spiritual life, there are times when profound meditations seem a far cry. You can doubt the capacity to ever regain and re-experience previous meditations. Sri Chinmoy remarks that, when going through a dry period, remembering these previous experiences and consciousness can help it to return. We may start off with visualising, but this visualisation alone has great power and can make it a reality.
Guru always encouraged us to have weekends with other disciples for spiritual activities and periods of fun and relaxation. Meditations are no longer than usual, but you get a great boost from just being around other disciples, even if you are just playing fun games and spending time together. It makes you realise how plastic the mind is, and how it can be influenced by the environment around you.
Daily life has its own flow, actually it can sometimes seem more like a grind. Some good bits, but mostly routine; maybe time drags slowly. When you spent time with Sri Chinmoy, time could suddenly speed up. So much seemed to happen, you didn't have time to think and reflect as you went from one activity to another. It may sound curious, perhaps the idealised version of the spiritual life is sitting in a cave meditating. But, to Sri Chinmoy, that wasn't what a modern spiritual life was about. Twice a year, there are two weeks of celebrations arranged. One in April, to mark Sri Chinmoy's arrival in the West on April 13th, 1964; and one to mark Guru's birthday on August 27th. Since Guru's passing, there is now a third, shorter anniversary – Guru's Mahasamadhi in October.
At celebrations, there is a flow of activities, learning songs, preparing a stage set, getting ready for the next meditation, off to a race, the next meal. It seemed there was no end; if you took time out and stopped to analyse, you thought, 'I'm doing a bit too much, I should need some relaxation or period of doing nothing'. Often in the middle of a celebration, I get the thought I should take some time out, go to a cafe, go to Manhattan, read a book, and take it easy. But the funny thing is, when I go there I feel unsatisfied; it seems so mundane compared to the inspiration and energy you get from being in the vortex of spiritual activity and constant purpose. The usual rules don’t seem to apply. It is being in the middle of this incessant flow that the mind doesn't get opportunity for its usual dominance. You are living more spontaneously, more in the heart. It can feel very refreshing and re-energising. After returning from New York, the usual issues of the world seem so insipid; you think, ‘Why do I ever bother with watching the TV? Why can't I always live with this spontaneity and joy?’
However, I remember my first Celebration, in April 2000, as quite a testing experience. I didn’t really know what to expect, and I found many of my daily habits disrupted. Firstly, visiting Jamaica, Queens, New York was quite a culture shock. I imagined New York to be all plush skyscrapers like in downtown Manhattan. But, where I stayed on 196 Street was a fairly dirty and uninspiring block; it really felt like a different country to England. There were no bicycles anywhere, just SUVs driving everywhere at break-neck speed. I am so glad I don’t live in NY. The spiritual life invariably finds a way to push you out of your comfort zone; and celebrations are certainly a great opportunity to make progress. I found that the more often I went to celebrations, the more I got from it; there was definitely a learning curve in dealing with such a different environment and routine. When, later, I wasn’t weighed down with so many expectations, it became much easier to fall into the flow of spiritual energy, rather than pushing the other way to keep things in your own image.
Since Guru’s physical passing, celebrations are just as significant. Some things are different; there is certainly less spontaneity – which to Guru came effortlessly. But, the consciousness is the same; the Aspiration-Ground is still a very rewarding place to meditate. Even on getting out of the taxi on arriving, you feel something indescribable in the air from the local environs which, to me, have such a strong sense of Guru’s presence. Going to Guru’s Aspiration-Ground (our central meeting place) can have just as powerful an impact as seeing Guru in the physical. Because the feeling of meditation is so strong, I find it much easier to meditate for a long time. In my ordinary life, there are always things grasping at my attention – work, computer, TV. But, in New York, things just drop away leaving you free to spend all day meditating and enjoying life.