Spiritual searching 2: Search …


Samye Ling – meditation room

Spirituality is hugely affected by childhood circumstances especially if these are adverse. As a traumatised child I knew about sin and guilt, and had to find ways to deal with a punishing primitive god who watched everything I did, ready to pounce in retribution. The authoritarian god needed placating and compliance; my search was for a God that was ‘other’ – different, a healing God who brought an unimaginable freedom that could take me beyond and release me from myself.

Perhaps that’s why at 22 I went off to the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir, Scotland with a friend for a visit – this was the 1970s. It was different from anything I’d done before. The Tibetan monks in their robes brought with them the mystery and ‘otherness’ of the spiritual life. I liked the large meditation room with the statues and decorations, but I found the actual seated practice hard after the first fifteen minutes or so, and we were in there for long sessions several times a day. I couldn’t feel my crossed limbs which kept going numb, and my back ached. I did try to focus my mind and to empty it, but became quickly distracted by my thoughts and wondering about the others there. Yet I gleaned something about the value of being without words and clearing the mind, about the importance of the spiritual dimension. I went to yoga and remember the instructor lifting my arm and saying, ‘call that relaxed!’ I didn’t know how to relax; I was too busy checking to see how I was doing in comparison to everyone else – I was in a new territory, and didn’t know how or who to be in it.

There were activities in the afternoon – pottery I seem to remember, but I didn’t feel confident about arty things. My friend sneaked out in the evenings to drink and smoke, but I knew that I didn’t want to do that. I had come to find something else, although I didn’t yet know what it was. One day I dipped out of a session and went for a walk, time apart that I can still remember felt really good. I was on my own up a hill, probably for the first time in my life, and felt a rare moment of peace. The countryside was wonderful after London, and although it was January the sun shone. I wondered about God, and thought perhaps I could believe in him – though not in the old way. I was fascinated by the people staying in the monastery. They seemed to me to have a purpose, and to be happy. I even wrote a poem about wanting what they had – I noted their shining eyes. They seemed to have a quality of lightness. This experience opened me to the idea of spiritual light – it was something new and I’d found it – or had it found me?

What lasted from all those years ago was yoga, silent meditation and the countryside – wonderful graces that all contribute to where I am now.