Tuesday, January 12, 2010
In late 2001, I had accidentally found myself in a job titled “Billings Clerk” at Sydney’s Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick. I don’t remember what I did. It was so boring that I had to ask the supervisor every day to remind me what to do. It was something like checking that bills for hospital accommodation were paid and posting letters. If bills were long overdue, I’d phone the debtor to see if they intended paying and then make notes on the computer. That’s it - I remember. I was a goddamned debt-collector! For six months. How did that happen?! It got to the point where I actually had to spank my bum and cajole myself to make my body walk to work. By contrast, a Chinese lady colleague, Marla, told me that she had money and didn’t need to work! “I do it for fun. And to give money to charities. Drives my husband crazy!” I wondered if she was crazy.
Although I didn’t know where else I belonged, I sure as hell didn’t belong at the Royal Hospital for Women. Due to a twenty-year commitment to the spiritual search (and concurrent commitment to being a rock star and saving the world), I had built up loads of dispiriting job experience, and it had taught me that such jobs never go anywhere good. So in January 2002 I decided to quit, and head for Byron Bay. I vowed not to go on the dole either, so it was up to Byron Bay to get it’s transformative act together and sort things out for me.
On my last day of work - forever, this time - Marla gave me an envelope with a card in it and made me promise not to open it till I got on the bus in two day’s time. I intended to type up the notes for one of three books I was writing. I figured I had enough money for two months. I figured I could type and tidy one book in that time and send it to a publisher. After that, I had no idea what I’d do. But stickers on rusted out Byron Bay Kombis assure us that “Magic Happens”, and this time I hoped they were right.
I had nowhere to store my possessions so the day before I left, I put my sparkly metallic-burgundy Stratocaster copy with white scratchplate and maple neck into the music shop to be sold on consignment, then I had a big clean out and put stuff into charity bins. But after a day of sorting and throwing, I realised I still had way too much. My six boxes of diaries, screenplays, and songwriting sat on the floor like Sisyphus’s boulder multiplied by six. “How many share accommodation places and boarding house dumps have I dragged these anchors to?” Since our creative potential is infinite, there’s plenty more where they came from, so I bit the bullet and threw out everything from before 1999. That left me with one box of book notes, one backpack, and one sports bag. Still a load when you’ve got no money, but doable.
Next morning, the bus was due to leave at seven from Central Station, but all the cabs on Bondi Road were occupied. There are normally zillions of empty ones at that time. Eventually one came at six-forty. No way was I going to make it. “How long do you reckon it will take to Central Station?”
“Not long,” grunted the fat old man.
Normally in such situations, you get all the red lights, the car crawls, and time accelerates, but this time the opposite happened. This guy zipped through back streets and ducked between cars and trucks, yet somehow stayed within the speed limit. Some kind of Zen, magic carpet taxi driver! We were gliding up behind the bus in under fifteen minutes. “Wow, man, so much faster than other taxi drivers.”
“Yah,” he grunted as he took my payment and tip, then Shazammed! away. The bus driver chucked my stuff in the luggage compartment, and we were away right on seven.
After stopping at Parramatta and Chatswood, the bus churned its way up the coast on the twelve-hour journey to Byron Bay. I worried about accommodation and money, which are among my worst skill-areas. Alongside career. Oh, and women. And enlightenment. So all I could think to do was to chant OM quietly to myself all the way. Then I remembered the envelope from Marla. I opened it and found a little card wishing me luck, and there were six fifty-dollar notes! Gee, what a wise woman! But does that mean she thought I was a charity case?
In Byron Bay, I scrounged around - a few nights in a garage here, a few nights on a sofa there. It was still summer so accommodation was booked out, but within a week I was in Belongil Beachhouse, a backpacker dorm.
Steadfastly, I typed my notes onto floppy disks in internet cafes, sometimes up to seven hours per day. I also OM’d (Is that the spiritual person’s equivalent of “D’oh!”?) and read the beginning of My Master Is Myself by Andrew Cohen, the end of an early edition of The Knee Of Listening by Adi Da, and all of Be As You Are, by Ramana Maharshi. All three were bereft of useful comments on accommodation, money, careers, and women (not necessarily in that order). They were strictly about enlightenment as if enlightenment somehow doesn’t include accommodation, money, careers, and women. Hippies and spiritual seeker friends had no clue what I should do either. Barry Long followers were strict about “getting your life right”. A friend, Cole, who was into A Course in Miracles, was willing to collaborate in the creation of a personal growth business, but I was disappointing him with my lack of physical dynamism. However, I mainly spoke to Osho sannyassins and satsang groupies, so “Go with the flow” was the most common suggestion. But what if the flow empties into a smelly sewer or torrid waterfall?
After four weeks I was down to two-hundred dollars and the pile of notebook ink in need of conversion to floppy disk magnetism hadn’t diminished much, and I had begun spanking my bum to make myself go typing. At an internet cafe, I skimmed back over the material I had already typed and could see the books would need a lot more work - like a year or two. What to do in the meantime? Magic was not happening. Slumping there, I felt like never typing another word again, but I was still debating the point with myself. Just at that moment, I looked up and saw a fat man walk through the door and I had sort of an x-ray vision into his belly where a hell scene was unfolding - red and fiery with people being flogged to work. “Uh-oh, I’m losing my mind from the OMing, and the reading, and my accumulated failures.”
Nevertheless, I got more serious about meditation and keeping a diary because that was all I could think to do with my money running out and my motivation to type now dead. In my pocket diary, I wrote long tracts of enquiry in response to the books I was reading. For example, on the topic of trust, I wrote:
“By buying the ‘[money and accommodation] problem’, I actually step out of the livingness of life and this is itself the first distrust. So it’s true that trust is needed. And it begins with trusting that you don’t need the story of separation and problems. In fact, the ideal of trust is a goal and a falsehood. The seeing of the falsehood of problems and separation leaves only what could be called trust but is really only the livingness of now. No matter how I look at it, it keeps coming back to that.” Later, I wrote, “I’m sure I understand, so where are the fireworks? Ah, it doesn’t matter. Nothing needs to happen.”
Also, when on a quiet beach at sunrise, I would do things like letting my arms move how they felt like moving (like tree branches swaying in the wind or kung fu moves) as I chanted OM. The red-headed bush turkeys and red-beaked seagulls must have thought the red-nosed human was crazy. Every time money worries popped up, I chanted or read or let my body move how it wanted or I wrote in my diary. I experimented with opposite viewpoints like imagining I was an apple tree producing fruit rather than needing things, or giving my last five dollars away, or receiving a million dollars for nothing. I drew two diagrams. One was a zig-zag line going downwards and narrowing until it became an arrow pointing downward. Another was of a vertical line with imbalanced horizontal lines across it.
But it all must have been having an effect because one night I woke up around midnight and it felt like my body was melting or I was melting into my body. It was very pleasant. It was a relaxation beyond any normal kind of physical relaxation. It felt like something else inside me was melting. Perhaps liberation is an energetic phenomenon.
The next afternoon I had a beer and in a flash of insight wrote, “Is it all about ending leaks to stagnant ponds? Yes! Release! Beer = gulps of wisdom! I was trying to gather security, which was only fuelling my weakness. It’s all about discovering and cleaning up leaks - completion of illusion.” Later, I went to a cafe, and a refreshingly impolite waitress said, “You eat out too much.” She was right. During the previous week, I had started doing a slimmed-down version of Byron Katie’s technique called “The Work”, so I tried that again. I focussed on cause and effect issues using the formula, “By doing X action, I get Y result”. For example, I wrote, “By reacting to loneliness and boredom, I go to cafes, which maintains money problems and caffeine addiction.” I did this technique for five minutes, but then gave up and wrote, “It’s all unravelling. I can’t be perfect or repress.”
That night I woke some time after two and laid on my back, meditating. Soon I felt the melting again, but this time it activated some strange process inside. Energy in my body withdrew from my extremities and belly, and became centred in my head as a spark of light. Then I - as that spark of light - travelled down to the right side of my chest where a golden Buddha-like being with a tall pointy golden hat communicated in kind of psychic way:
“I am the/in the/as the heart of all beings. All beings… within. All beings… connected.”
Then he gestured to his right where a space scene opened up and many beings were meditating with cords interconnecting their hearts. Then he turned to me and asked:
With that, my attention turned back on myself and I started separating from him. Then I tried to return to him, but the harder I tried, the faster I separated until I reached the centre of my head again.
Then I opened my eyes and saw light coming from the right side of my chest. It seemed that the light was somehow projecting the world in some kind of fourth dimensional way. I remained still as I laid there enjoying the deepest sense of belonging, and memorising his words.
Then I heard footsteps getting louder along the verandah until a woman dorm resident, a Brit, opened the door and walked in. She promptly stripped naked and began playing the dancing exhibitionist, unaware that anyone was awake. In confusion, my eyes darted back and forth from her curvacious body to the light radiating from my chest.
It seems the Buddha guy left a few details out. I mean, how’s a bloke supposed to concentrate on refined spiritual matters when a naked woman is frollicking a few metres away? It’s that temptress Eve all over again. Only, she’s the apple!
Next morning, I walked along the beach to the Beach Hotel for a celebratory breakfast. Over the PA system played songs I’d never heard before with poignant lyrics like, “I want to be the sunlight in your eyes” (Head And The Heart by Chris De Burgh), “I’ve got to make a connection” (I Got The Message by ZZ Top), and “You’re standing on the ledge” (On The Ledge by Hughes Turner Project). I sat gazing out to the ocean and writing in my diary about the previous night’s experience. There was also a slight pain like the pain in the eyes when seeing overly bright light except it was located in the right side of the chest.
“Why was he golden? Why was he a he? It was the most satisfying state. It was such a relief. Might it get boring over time? Does the pleasure of it require a body? Why was it a male figure? Because I’m male? Siva/Shakti? Was it just another aspect of reality or it? It was funny that it was followed by the arrival of a naked female backpacker, which stimulated a familiar stirring in my loins. It was like the polarity of inner and outer. Perhaps out of the ocean of love appears a form that is attractive to or creates its opposite from out of that ocean. As soon as part of the One craves or clings or makes an object of the bliss of oneness, its opposite must arise. Perhaps there is an eternal dance or conflict between the masculine and feminine.”
What about his tall pointy hat? He sure didn’t get that at Grace Bros. And isn’t funny that I’d been searching all over the world for a larger perspective, and it turns out it’s only twelve inches away, and inside me and everyone?! And we’re in it already. How hard can it be? It should be for everyone. A measley twelve inches! So, out of all the things I was doing, what was the key? Be willing to let your whole life unravel and be the “livingness” of life without ideals or goals? Or simply stop objectifying? I wrote, “There’s nothing you can do. You can only be it.” But I’m not satisfied with that answer, because you need to work to understand even that idea.
Later at the Beach Hotel, I saw a spiritually inclined friend, Mitch, and seeing my enthusiasm, he asked, “Was that your first spiritual experience?”
“No. But this whole world is a spiritual experience.” And I gestured towards the ocean, and he agreed. I don’t like the word “spiritual”. Why distinguish this magnificent universe from “spiritual”? If it all came from The One, then isn’t it all “spiritual”? Besides, we are supposed to be inside the Heart Being, and I presume he’s “spiritual”.
“Why do you call it “the heart being”, when it’s on the right side instead of the left?”
“I think he meant “heart” as in centre of your being.”
I’d had other great so-called “spiritual” experiences before, but this one went to the core. Isn’t it funny how you have an experience and think, “This is it,” only to find a bigger “it” later? This one gave me the greatest sense of peace imaginable. I belonged in the very fabric of the universe. But the main thing I appreciated was that I finally heard something from the horse’s mouth, so to speak; yet it wasn’t that original - every new-ager will tell you, “We’re all interconnected.” Is being in the heart of all beings a good job? Or was he leading up to say, “Please help me escape”?
John Howard - who was not a new-ager but rather the Australian Prime Minister at the time - wouldn’t let me go on the dole in Byron Bay because the unemployment rate there is too high. No exceptions for those trying to integrate Golden Heart Being experiences, etcetera. After all, look at the wonderful jobs in the army and ASIO after 9/11! So a week later, with fifty bucks in my wallet, I was on a bus to Brisbane to study the enneagram - an ancient personality-typing system, or, more specifically, an ego-typing system. This time, there were no envelopes in my pocket with “Bon Voyage!” cards and three hundred dollars. But it occurred to me that if Marla hadn’t given me three hundred dollars, I would have been in Byron for a week less and I probably wouldn’t have had the heart being experience. Magic happened! And as I gazed down at the road, I saw tiny colourful paisley designs mixed in with its grey asphalt substance.
Upon arrival in Brisbane, I booked into a West End hostel where the beds were a metre apart and the floor was slippery and smelly from the shower and chlorinated pool water. With my tail between my legs, I entered the Brisbane Centrelink office to beg for mercy for quitting my Sydney job. They relented, but due to some technicality, my first dole payment wasn’t going to be paid for two weeks.
Next morning - a Friday - using the last two dollars of my mobile phone credit, I phoned the music shop to see if my guitar had been sold. The manager took a moment to find it, then said, “No. Nice guitar for the price. Should sell quick.”
“Do you want to buy it?”
“Ah, maybe. Let me see.” He plucked it for a few seconds, then picked up the phone again. “Yeah, maybe. I couldn’t give you the three-twenty you’d get from a consignment sale because we’d have to hold it in stock till it sold.”
“How much, then?”
That would make a big difference. Over the weekend, I visited the ATM machine, and its cold hard screen kept digitally reporting the grand total of $0.44. At least the numbers were coloured gold. I figured maybe the payment wouldn’t be processed till the next business day, which was Monday. But when Monday morning came, the ATM still said $0.44, so I phoned the music shop using the last dollar of an faded Telstra phonecard.
“We do our banking on Thursday, so it should be in your account on Friday.”
Now I had only a few coins in my pocket, and the magic had totally faded. Time for more humble pie. I visited a homeless hostel to see if they had any room, but they wanted fourteen bucks per night up front. So I went to the pawn broker and showed the shop assistant my watch and mobile phone. He sneered, “We’re not accepting watches or phones at the moment.” Rejected by a pawnboker! Does it get any worse? There was nothing else for it: I had to put my bags in the hostel storage garage and hit the streets. Maybe it will be character building, I told myself.
My first homeless day consisted of walking and sitting, walking and sitting, looking for coins on the ground, walking and sitting. It’s amazing how many gold beer bottletops are on the ground. Sure, feeling the afterglow of the “spiritual” experience and the background peace was nice, but why didn’t that Heart Being dude tell me how to get money? If he’s so cosmic and all, why didn’t he tell me where to live? Why didn’t he give me the phone number of my soulmate? Maybe he’s too busy. Maybe he’s too timeless to understand our timebound problems here on mere 3D Earth. Unless the British backpacker was my soulmate? Maybe the Heart Being handed her too me and I only had to reach out and take her. Just reach out. Or perhaps you’ve got to give everything time to settle down.
For dinner, I finished some raisin bread that I had been living off for the last few days, then sat around some more and walked some more. Around midnight I found a park bench in the botanic gardens and tried to make myself comfortable. The joints of my shoulders and hips felt the pressure of the bench’s metal plank edges, and my tummy was was unhappy. As I closed my eyes, I remembered reading about a dero in Centennial Park back in Sydney being murdered as he slept. And there was that movie with Robin Williams where vicious youths tried to set a dero on fire. Isn’t the Heart Being in them? Maybe he can protect me. Maybe from within them? Or he could leap out of my chest and kung fu their butts? Poke them in the eye with his tall pointy hat?! No, I’ll have to stay awake in case someone attacks me. I’ll have to stay awake… stay awake…
Cold wetness on my scalp brought me out of a light sleep. “Uh-oh. That’ll be the gang of youths playing tricks on me. I’ll jump up super quick to surprise them with Kung Fu or Ninjutsu. Quick!”
I lept up and spun around into full kung fu attack pose. What the…? About ten Brush-Tailed Possums were hanging around, all bushy-furred with big dark eyes, impossibly cute in the moonlight. There was even a mother with a baby clinging to her back. I didn’t frighten them at all. They were like, “Hey, whatever, dude. What’s your problem? We’re just sniffing you. And… maybe licking you… a bit. Nothing wrong with that.”
I sat down, gazing at them as they closed in to sniff me again. What were they sniffing me for? They were so gentle and sweet-natured. I wished I had something to feed them. After a while I shooed them so I could get back to not sleeping. But they wouldn’t go. Maybe they’ll protect me. Beware! Vicious attack possums! So I laid down, and tried not to sleep again. Don’t sleep…
Within a minute, there was a lick on my scalp. I sat up. “Why the hell are you sniffing and licking me?” I knew they liked fruit, but, I’m not an apple or a female British backpacker or anything. Maybe they could still smell the raisin bread. But then why lick my scalp? Then it dawned on me - fruit essence shampoo! There must have been residue on my scalp.
I had to leave them because they weren’t going to leave me alone. Besides, it was now after four and starting to get too cool, so I kept walking to warm up. My inner critic kicked in, “God, Martin, what are you doing sleeping on park benches and being eaten by possums? There are millions of beds in the world. Why can’t you even get something as basic as a bed sorted out? Clueless.”
At seven o’clock I laid face-down on the grass in the morning sunlight, soaking in the warmth. With my eyes closed, I wondered what I would do for food that day and fantasised about sitting in the sunshine of a Bondi cafe with a latte and plucking a six-string while watching the play of light on the fresh blue sea.
“Wanna coffee, mate?” I sat up and looked around. An old guy was chugging along about ten metres away. “Come on, come for coffee at the van.” A coffee sounded great. I picked up my backpack and jogged up to him and he told me about the Christian coffee van that came every morning. “If we’re quick, we can be nearly first in line.”
When we joined the queue behind the van, a Japanese tourist stopped and took a photo of us as I gave him the finger. Soon I got my paper cup of instant coffee and powdered milk, two white bread cheese sandwiches, and an apple. Prasadam from Jesus! Actually, he also once said, “I am in you and you are in me.”
We went and sat in the Sun by the river. “Thanks, for telling me about this,” I said to the old guy, whose name is sometimes Leslie.
“No worries mate. There’s one at sunset too, just past Queen Street Mall.”
I bit into a sandwich and gulped coffee from the styrofoam cup. My God, it was the best coffee and the best cheese sandwich I’d ever had. Better than a cappuccino in Double Bay or a croissant in Paris. I thought, “Is this magic happening again? Is this the effect of going with the flow? Well, it’s just survival, rather than flourishing, but this moment is good.”
That night, I broke the apple up and gave it to the possums. They weren’t very enthusiastic. “It’s not a great apple, I admit. One day, I’ll bring you some ideal possum food. I promise.”
The possums nibbled on, just being polite.
- THE END -