Born at the age of twenty-three
I was born at the age of twenty-three. Or perhaps it was more a case of being ‘twice-born’ as the religionists have it. At least, it was the time I finally awakened to existence, after having sleepwalked through the ‘Consensus Dream’ of life as created by the dream-making media and the masses for all my previous years of fogbound existence.
Inwardly I had known all along that life was not what was presented to me, or accepted to be, in the trudgingly grey post-war world in which I grew up. I did not belong in this world. My earliest memories as a child of three or four, are of sitting up night after night at my bedroom window in terror, watching searchlights combing the skies and enemy planes bombing the guts out of Coventry, just a few miles across the fields. This did not give me much confidence in a world I could trust.
Even my parents, although kindly, were no comfort, being a million miles away from my magical inner world as to seem another species. Thus I grew up a loner, spending hours drawing and creating my own comic books and stories, a devoted bookworm, devouring all in the children’s library until one day at the age of eight, I vividly remember pulling out The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I sat and read the first few pages with growing excitement. At last! Here was a real book, which expressed the true world of my imagination. The story of Bilbo and the Dwarves was a creative stimulus, which sank deep and coloured my consciousness from then on.
Meanwhile I dragged myself through the mean streets of what others considered the ‘real world’ as if through purgatorial treacle. School was an asylum for psychological misfits called ‘teachers’ who attempted to rule by screaming, hurling books, endless canings or hissing threats, which created a ‘white-out’ in my mind, rendering me incapable of learning school subjects for many years. Was this how life was meant to be lived, I wondered? But what else was there?
Being sent to Sunday school and subjected to the sugarcoated evangelism of Christian goodbodies did nothing to fill the gap, but only increased my desolation of soul. For even then, at the age of seven or eight, I perceived with a nauseous certainty, that they neither understood nor truly believed what they were telling us kids, but needed us to believe them to make them feel secure. The disgust that this inspired in me, created a deep-seated aversion to evangelism and all things even faintly smelling of religion for all of my teenage years.
I grew up considering myself a professional atheist; I was anti-God and anti-religion and proud of it. Therefore my about-face was all the more miraculous to me when it occurred. It was years before I realised that atheism was as much a conditioned religion of ignorance as any mindless religious fundamentalism. What I had always been seeking, unknowingly, was spirituality as opposed to religiosity. But I had always derived some spiritual solace from nature. Perhaps I had the makings of a mystic even as a teenager, as I used to regularly get up at dawn and cycle out of the city to the woods and sit there for an hour or so, listening to the sounds of the natural world awakening. Or I would go to my favourite spinney at twilight, watching a foxhole, and sit there wrapped in a blanket, imbibing the quiet ‘spirit’ of the woods long into the dark. Not ‘normal’ I was told.
As a student for four years at the Coventry College of Art, I was something of an outspoken rebel against the artistic conformism expected of us. Meanwhile outside college, as a bohemian artist and poet, I was steadily gaining a reputation as a ‘colourful character’ in the local press and art galleries for my poetry and surrealist paintings. Consciously, I was living life as fully as possible, reading ten books at time and cramming as many different experiences as I could into every twenty-four hours, in between painting, pubbing and partying. But it was never enough. Underlying everything, there was always an inner emptiness and restlessness of soul which paced like a tiger in my depths.
So it was, after college and a stint of selling shoes in a shoe shop and working in an advertising agency, I set off ‘on the road’ to see the world. I began hitchhiking around Europe, sleeping under the bridges of Paris with the tramps and starving in Spain, before landing a job in Sevilla Film Studios, painting the sets for ‘King of Kings’ and ‘El Cid.’ I also worked as a stunt-man (‘especialista’) in the films themselves. With cash in my pocket, I then went to live on the Costa Brava, becoming a member of the group of surrealist painters there; often breakfasting—to my delight—with Marcel Duchamp (the celebrated Dadaist) and cultivating a friendly acquaintance with my inspirer—Salvador Dali—who kindly allowed me to watch him paint in his studio, during the six months I lived in Cadaqués.
When I returned to England, the next couple of years found me painting scenery for the Coventry Theatre (where in the evenings, I worked as a ‘dresser’ assisting stars such as Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warris, Cliff Richard and comedian Ken Dodd). I also played in amateur dramatics and designed sets for repertory theatre companies around the country, finally working for BBC Television (as the youngest artist they had ever employed!).
For some, it was considered the climax of a career. But even such bounty did not fulfil me. Wanderlust still gripped my soul and—despairing of the indifferent attitudes of the early Sixties—I set off with two other poet friends on a ‘round the world’ jaunt to see if there was anything better. We hitchhiked all across the Continent and down Yugoslavia, through Greece, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, eventually spending over a year in Israel working on a farming kibbutz. Later I attempted to work my passage on an Italian tramp-ship bound for Japan, but the Captain went mad and we had to return to port in Eilat on the Red Sea. This was a hard period for me, mostly sleeping rough, drilling for copper in King Solomon’s mines in the Israeli desert, painting murals in people’s houses, working in a bar, painting scenery for the National Theatre, training elephants in Tel Aviv Zoo (sleeping in a tent between the cages!) and singing in a Nightclub in Acco. Finally, after having my bag and money stolen and being hounded by the authorities for overstaying my permit, I fled to Cyprus with only twelve pounds to my name.
It was January 1964: I was heart and head weary, friendless and fundless and at a crossroads in my life. Then it happened. On my third evening in Cyprus, near the port of Limassol, I was sitting gazing vacantly at the sea, when the unbelievable turning point of my life occurred. The sun had gone down. My mind was empty. Slowly a strange feeling crept upon me, as if some ghostly hand was caressing the back of my neck and tingling its way over the top of my head. My skin goose-pimpled and the hairs stood up all over my arms.
Then my body seemed to dissolve. Suddenly my consciousness was no longer limited to the body. It rapidly ‘expanded’ beyond its confines, across the ocean and the land and out into space in every direction. Instantaneously, I was aware of being everywhere in the universe at the same time—not only viewing countless things occurring, as if seen through the myriad lenses of a fly’s eye—but I actually felt myself simultaneously being all those experiences at one and the same time.
The normal functioning of my intellect was completely bypassed by this experience. Yet everything in it appeared to be recorded by my whole being. My cellular memory (wherever the cells were at that moment!) was absorbing the knowledge of countless unknowable things, that scientists are only discovering today, over fifty years later. Suddenly I understood something of that which the priesthood glibly spoke of as ‘God’ without knowing anything of its nature. There was an Omnipresent Consciousness underlying the whole universe. When my egocentric notion of myself had dissolved in That—I was That. When I came to and found myself back in the body again, I realised with awe that we were all That—in the guise of human beings. Life could never be the same again.
My whole concept of existence had been turned upside down. The cosmic carpet had been pulled out from under my brash, cocksure, student intellect. But a new joy pervaded me: the air was like diamond on the first day of the world and I could now clearly perceive the quality of soul of every being I met. However, I hadn’t the remotest idea of what had happened to me. Perhaps I was going mad? I had never taken drugs, nor read spiritual books; I had done no yoga practice and no meditation—thus my awakening was completely out of the blue. I now found myself thrust willy-nilly on what the mystics call ‘the Path.’ And henceforth there was nowhere else to go.
However, I took a deck-passage to Egypt (where, unable to pay for my room, I was suddenly taken on as head designer for Cairo Television.) Over the following months I avidly read everything I could get my hands on about the spiritual life, including the ‘bibles’ of many lands. Eventually I came across a book called Cosmic Consciousness by Dr. Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychologist, which explained to me the nature of my experience. Far from being madness, such experience appeared to have been the precursor of evolutionary development in some of the greatest souls in the history of this planet. Permanancy in that condition was the state of Enlightenment. From then on my goal was to get back to that space again and stay in it.
As I travelled on—taking a steamboat up the Nile, crossing the Sudanese desert on top of a train, hitchhiking across the Nubian desert into Ethiopa, surviving knife-attacks, bandits, rebel ambushes and many other ‘Rider Haggard’-style adventures too numerous to recount here—the Cosmic Conscious experience began to soak into me, mellowing my savage soul and making changes in both body and mind. I found I began to grow away from alcohol and tobacco and my body rejected blood-based foods, such as meat, fish and eggs. By the time I had hitchhiked down the length of Africa, a year later, they were no longer part of my diet.
Arriving in South Africa, again penniless, I finally found work as an Art Director in films and also in theatre (where I designed sets and costumes for the first ever Black & White Minstrel Show in S.A.!), plus acting, dancing and stage-managing for many productions. At this point, just as I was thinking that my next step should be learning mediation in India—lo! a Sikh Master arrived in Johannesburg, who required that prospective initiates should have abstained from meat, fish, eggs, alcohol and tobacco for three months prior to initiation. I had just completed three months and so was able to take instruction in Shabd Yoga—the Yoga of the Sacred Sound Current. After two years of faithful middle-of-the-nightly meditations as instructed, I could hear the mystic sound of which many spiritual texts spoke. However, I no longer had any interest in a worldly career.
By the time I returned to the U.K., the ‘Swinging Sixties’ had come to life and Flower Power was emerging into bloom. This was more like the world I had envisaged as a child: the colourful clothes, the openess, the desire to do good to all and the recognition of brotherhood between all hairy incense-toting travellers on the road. But in this period many I encountered were out on a limb, destroyed first by society and then by drugs, and seeking some direction in life. Nightly, my Notting Hill bedsit was full of lost souls pouring out their problems. We felt the Underground press to be anarchistic or nihilistic and no youthful publication supported the spiritual lifestyle they were seeking. Since I had become aware of it, I felt the onus was on me to do something about it.
At this time I was once more working for BBC Television as a scenic artist, saving up for my projected and imminent trip to India. Instead, I left the BBC and sank my India-bound savings into the creation of a hip mystical magazine called ‘Gandalf’s Garden’—offering hope and a positive lifestyle to the lost and lonely. Without advertising the magazine spread across the world and grateful letters poured in, but little in the way of funds. Up and coming pop stars such as Marc Bolan of T-Rex and David Bowie, gave benefit concerts to help us bring out our second issue. Gradually our core of dedicated workers developed into a community, toiling day and night and living all together in a one-roomed bedsit for three years, without payment, in order to keep the magazine afloat. Eventually, our Centre, shop, tearoom and meeting-cellar became the focal point of the mystical scene, regularly appearing on TV and in the glossy magazines, and where we invited famous Gurus and spiritual teachers from all over the world.
By 1972, we had burned ourselves out with overwork and separately all set off for our long-awaited trips to India. My journey across Europe was as a member of a dance troupe called the “Rainbow Gypsies” and we sang and entertained our way to Turkey. There I set off alone to find the sect of Whirling Dervishes, finally tracking them down in Konya. They taught me dervish mantra and I shared Sanskrit mantra with them. Later the Head Dervish sent me along a chain of Sufi teachers (one of whom was Prince Heshamatullah in Iran) all the way to Afghanistan. My next three years were spent as a sadhu—or spiritual mendicant monk, with a begging bowl, loin-cloth and turban, wandering the highways and byeways of India and Nepal. I studied every form of yoga available with many renowned masters of many traditions. But it needs a book to recount all that!
Once back home again, at the request of many on the road in India, I did write a book: Seeking the Master—A Guide to the Ashrams of India and Nepal, which became the spiritual backpacker’s bible for the Eighties.
Sharing what I had learned in India, I began teaching workshops in Mantra—the powerful Yoga of Sound—a subject in which I had specialised, and found in consequence, many students cathartically expressing long-buried psychological pains released by the vibratory effects of the mantras. In order to see them through any traumas, for the next seven years I studied many forms of psychotherapy with leaders in their fields, including Dr.William Schwartley (Primal Therapy), Dr. Frank Lake (Clinical Theology) and David Boadella (Bioenergetics), etc.
Thus I became one of the co-founders of The Open Centre for spiritualised psychotherapy at the Community Health Foundation in London, and created ‘The Inner Garden’—a Retreat and Therapy Centre in Suffolk (which was featured on BBC television.)
At long last, in 1980, through constant meditative practices, I finally entered into the state of Samadhi—the ‘God-Conscious’ condition—which I had been striving to reach again since my twenties. I withdrew from the therapy centres and removed myself to a hideaway in southern France for the next few years in order to consolidate the experience. During this time I wrote my guide to spiritual survival in the modern world—Sharing the Quest (Element Books Ltd).
For nigh on the past fifty years, I have travelled the world teaching Mantra and Advaita Workshops in many countries, as well as taking groups of students on Travelling Workshops around India during the winter months.
I have now finally retired to the Algarvian hills in southern Portugal, where I live a rather hermit-like life, working on my books and gardening.
From the time of my first spiritual awakening, I have understood that the most significant sorrow in the human soul is the sense of separation. Many feel a deep sense of isolation, feel separate from their families, from others, from their own souls and therefore from the source of That which created their Being. This condition is known as soul-sickness: the ultimate spiritual malady. Our seeming inability to feel at One with the Omnipresence is the heart of the existential dilemma. Therefore the goal of each individual (that is, in-dividual: meaning ‘that which cannot be divided’ from its source—the Omnipresence) is to remember and regain that sense of unity—to become once again whole in the soul. That is the meaning of the word Yoga (Unity)—that is, unfication with the Source—and its practice is the way back.
The point of my life’s work was made vividly poignant for me during a Conference in Israel for Peace in the Middle East Through Yoga (near Jerusalem)—to which I was an invited delegate—when the Master of Ceremonies told us the story of his visit to an Old People’s Home. He said the talk he was about to give went out the window when, as he began, an old lady in a wheelchair rolled up to him and asked piteously, “Please, have you come to take me home?” He was devastated. As he said these words, I was overcome with a powerful rush of emotion. Suddenly I recalled a scene at the age of thirteen, when my father had taken me to visit an orphanage. Whilst he talked with the director, a little boy had sidled up to me, put his hand in mine and pleadingly asked, “Uncle, have you come to take me home?” At the time I was stricken to the heart. I was powerless to do anything for this poor lonely boy. But his request had burned into my soul. At that moment, as the Master of Ceremonies spoke—it all came back to me—I saw the connections. Rising, I took the microphone and with tears streaming down my face, I shared my story with 600 people in the audience. I had just made the sudden discovery that ever since—I had dedicated the rest of my life to ‘taking people home.’