6 March 2018.
So, where was I? I had lost my home, job and relationship overnight on 5 August 2016. With all my things in storage, at first I had dragged myself and my big red suitcase to Devon, where I re-discovered that I had a list of dreams inside me, dusty and faint, nearly forgotten, but still there. Then I had wandered to Kent, to visit the most unconditionally loving person I knew. After Kent, I made a little circuit of friends’ spare rooms for several weeks, and on the day we pick the story back up, it was mid-September, and I was sitting in a sun-drenched bedroom just north of the river in Cambridge, with the window open. I had my laptop open in front of me, and I was wondering what I should do with my life and where I should go next. I had a home arranged in England’s Lake District from November for several months, but I needed to fill the time until then.
I was reflecting on how special it had been to visit Lyme Regis, in connection with my love for Jane Austen. I asked myself, ‘what is the next item on the list of things I have always wanted to do?’ The answer came immediately: ‘hear Mooji teach in person’.
Mooji is a spiritual master in the Advaita Zen tradition, which is a contemplative branch of Hinduism. He is an older Jamaican man with long dreadlocks, a big Buddha belly, skin that shines like polished wood and a very merry soul. One of my favourite talks by him, which I have watched again and again on YouTube, is titled ‘Even your breath is love’. He teaches about the Pure Self, the Self that is the piece of God lodged in each person, and the way this true Self mixes with the small self, the ego. He teaches how to un-mix them through a process of observing oneself and discerning whether you are identifying either with your true or false self. I had been watching videos of him teaching on YouTube for about four years, and his ideas were only occasional light touchstones for me at that point. In the middle of a sleepless, anxious night, I would put on a recording of him speaking about peace and feel comforted and fall asleep, but I didn’t understand his teachings deeply or experientially at all at that point.
I typed ‘Mooji teaching’ into a search engine and was directed to his organisation’s website, where large letters announced on the home page that registration was now open for a seven-day silent meditation retreat with Mooji in Zmar, Portugal, in several weeks’ time, in late October. Perfect timing. I felt a rush of joy, and again the sense that this was my path unfolding in front of me, another serendipity. I felt deeply called. I consulted my bank account, looked at how much the retreat cost, considered for a moment, and then used the money I had been saving in case I needed a rental deposit on a new room somewhere. I had temporary work lined up in Cambridge for several weeks, starting soon, which I planned to use to replenish this safety fund. I booked a bunk bed in a room shared with other women. I remember that just before I pressed the ‘book’ button on the website, a swarm of bees passed by the window, buzzing loudly at second-storey height, where I was, and I thought of the Frenchman briefly, and then clicked ‘book’.
The Frenchman kept bees, you see. The Frenchman had changed his mind about us, and had been regularly in touch. I can hear the wise ones of you out there shouting, ‘No, Joy, no! You must never go back to him after what he did to you!’ And you are right. But I did.
I want to explain, to expose, something. It feels like something dark and personal to me and quite difficult to write about, but of course it is universal, a part of being human. When I was dating the Frenchman, and for all my life before that, I was really, really unconscious of the distortions on my perspective and behaviour in relationships as a result of pain. Eckhart Tolle calls the manifestation of darkness in each person ‘the pain body’ and characterises it as an entity that takes us over, like a bad spell, or a monster living inside us that wakes up periodically and desires to experience itself by creating more of itself; and so it acts in painful ways and perceives the actions of others as painful to us. It is also part of what Mooji would call the ego.
I suppose this is true of every pain monster, but mine is the only one I know intimately, and she is truly monstrous. Angry, sometimes abusively so, critical, obsessive, immature. In the short time I had dated the Frenchman, our two pain monsters had tangled incessantly in a macabre dance, and by the time he ended things so dramatically, we had fired about equal rounds of unconscious bullets at each other, and we were both bleeding inwardly. The inrush of new love with him had raised all my insecurities, all my fear. I had never known how to do relationships any other way.
So around the time I was preparing for my trip to see Mooji in Portugal, the Frenchman and I were still dancing around each other, and I decided to go see him in France after Mooji’s retreat finished. I know, I know…it was a bad idea – but it was also, strangely, the right thing to do. I think that is because the rhythm of growth proceeds according to a music in which a certain amount of tension and darkness is necessary to create enough force in the compulsion to evolve. The timings and character of this music, I imagine, are unique to every person.
There was also an administrative snafu in my temp agency’s office at this time, which delayed the start of the temporary contract I had been offered by two weeks, while we awaited the arrival of a form confirming my right to work in the UK, a technicality. The amount of pay I lost as a result of this was exactly the same amount I had kept saved for a rental deposit and exactly the same cost of the Mooji retreat. I found this interesting, though it was extremely frustrating. I couldn’t help but see it in a spiritual light, ultimately…it was as if God kept emptying me of the things around me in life, my cords to safety, my attachments to stable things. I was growing increasingly pliable, moistened by tears and in constant flux.
Since I was already flying to Portugal to see Mooji, and had time on my hands, I decided to honour another dream from my list and spend time visiting the beaches of the Algarve before traveling inland to the mountains for the retreat at Zmar. I found a private room in a hostel on a busy road in a small hamlet between large towns, which was as cheap as a bed in a youth hostel bunk room in the resort towns. I think this was because the hostel was in an undesirable location. But it was perfect for me, because it was within walking distance of a coastal path with many quiet and beautiful beaches along it.
Staying in a private room for a whole week after over two months of instability, and enduring a ragged spirit in other people’s living spaces, was indescribably blissful. As much as I love the friends I stayed with and appreciated the many temporary gifts of space, it was never my space. That private room was mine in some deeply important way which I badly needed at that moment. The days I spent hiking the coastal path and stopping at new beaches to swim and sunbathe were some of the best in my entire life. It was like a gift I had given to myself. I was alone, in peace and contentment, and in awe at the beauty of these beaches, which were the most beautiful, the most like paradise that I had ever seen in my life. It was late October, and it was baking hot, the last week of the autumn to be so before the weather turned.
On the day I travelled to Zmar for the retreat, I kept seeing butterflies everywhere, the symbol of transformation. There was one printed on the doormat in front of the entrance to the train station café and one printed on my cardboard coffee cup. A real butterfly, bright blue, drifted past me while I waited for the train, and then after I boarded, there was one tattooed on the arm of a woman sleeping across the aisle. I guessed that she was going to Zmar, too. A few days before, my friend Rafa had sent me a quote by Maya Angelou: ‘We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’. I think that the days of lying in the hot Portugal sun before the retreat were the final melting of an old version of me as I was entering chrysalis. It was peaceful, loving, a gift from God.
The seven-day silent meditation retreat with Mooji was held on a large eco resort called Zmar, which is inland, just north of the Algarve beaches where I had been. It is a large, green, dusty site on the top of a forested foothill, with little villages of wooden cabins arranged around a central communal area holding structures for gathering, eating, swimming and relaxing. There was one massive, white, elegant, auditorium-sized tent where the 700 of us attending the retreat would go to hear Mooji speak twice a day. We, however, would not speak, make eye contact with each other, read books, listen to music, use mobile phones or contact the outside world for a full week. The point of this was to immerse our attention fully in the pure Self. There was another smaller white tent made into a meditation and yoga space, scattered with mats, cushions, blankets and sofas.
There had been a large, disastrous fire at Zmar several weeks before the retreat, and it had been touch and go whether the retreat would go ahead. The usual dining hall, administrative offices, therapy rooms and swimming pool were charred, black and roped-off. There was water in the swimming pool, but it was the wrong colour, green with unhealthy yellow clouds. It was fascinating to observe the deconstructed buildings, to see rubble, fallen walls and the toxic substances released into the pool, while I was experiencing the deconstruction of my own material world and beginning to melt into a chrysalis state internally.
I found it really interesting that I didn’t mind about not being able to swim, or talk, read, etc. at all, because hearing Mooji speak in person every day was better than swimming. He emitted pure love through his words, and it was like breathing love, swimming in a stream of pure love, for about five to six hours a day, one two to three-hour session in the morning, and another in the evening.
His words called out to the part of myself that is also pure love, and helped me begin to find and understand this part of me. As the pure love rose in me, it began slowly deconstructing the false parts of me, in a process that felt like grace. As I look back at that last sentence from where I am writing this now, over a year later, I see that it is quite a gentle and pretty-looking summary of what has actually been a long, hard, dirty process. The false and dark parts of myself would engulf me, and I would need to watch what was happening with a warrior-like focus, and take my attention again and again to the space of pure love inside myself, and feel the strange, confusing, often agonising pains of a false self burning away in the presence of divine love. During these moments, I have cried and cried with grief, and thought about killing myself, and felt more alone than I thought possible, and felt weak and crazy and confused and stupid and worthless.
Mooji lovingly explained to us that the ego doesn’t want to die, so it puts up a fight when the pure self shows up. I have always been spit out the other side of these showdowns with less darkness and more light in my being, and afterwards I feel an incredible sense of peace, love, clarity and new energy for life. It feels like a shifting of balance inside my being, from darkness to light. I think that this has always been taking place inside me in gradual steps, and that it is always taking place in everybody in gradual steps, but my week with Mooji turbo-charged the whole thing for me.
The week of the retreat was just the very beginning of learning how to find and experience the pure love part of myself. I was really dark and muddy before. It was as if Mooji said, ‘Hey, did you know that you are wearing a virtual reality headset that shows you a fictitious version of the world through the distorted filter of the ego? Take it off and see life as it truly is.’ There were two or three times when this shift in perception happened for me during the first five days of the retreat, but that was all, just two or three brief glimpses. However, Mooji spent every teaching session guiding others to this place, so I was continually hearing Mooji and others describe how they got there and what it felt like, and what they saw. They almost always mentioned that they saw everything and everyone in the world as oneness, connected, a whole, and that the substance of everything was love. This resonated on a deep level with me every time I heard it, although I did not have a significant experience of it.
On the last day of the retreat, I had the opportunity to be one of the questioners who speaks directly to Mooji. I had noticed that whenever Mooji had conversations with questioners, he unearthed something unconscious to the questioner, and spun the exposed darkness back into light for them, in exactly the way that they needed. I investigated my own inner world ceaselessly, mentally, egoically, and I was burning with curiosity about what Mooji would find in me that I couldn’t see.
I felt pulled along very powerfully by the forces of serendipity on the last day: to skip early morning yoga and sit in meditation instead, to go to breakfast at a certain time, to skip going back to my cabin for a shower, and to line up early at a certain entrance of the teaching hall before the morning session. When the time came to file into the big, white tent, I found a seat only a few rows back from Mooji’s chair on the stage, by far the closest I had been to him all week. At a certain point early in the session that day, my hand raised as if of its own volition, and Mooji called me up to the microphone, and we spoke.
I was horrified to hear the worst parts I knew of myself show up, and other previously unconscious worst parts, all stumblingly spoken and amplified by sound equipment in front of Mooji and 700 people, and with cameras trained upon me, transmitting to thousands of people watching live on YouTube, and unable to control what spilled out of my mouth. I saw childishness, manipulative flattery, arrogance, unworthiness, pretension, competitiveness. It was also mixed with my good stuff, but it was a hard and embarrassing moment. But then the embarrassment was burning…away.
It didn’t matter that these dark parts of me existed. They exist for everybody, in different forms. The part of me that is a piece of God looks calmly, lovingly and non-judgmentally on the whole of me and the rest of life, too. Mooji, the people watching in the hall, and the thousands of people watching on YouTube livestream, were all ME, the real ME. Embarrassment was false, and disappeared. I didn’t actually catch most of what Mooji said to me. It was like my ears were stuffed up, but this change happened to me while he was talking. I remember closing my eyes.
My eyes opened and ears unstuffed to hear the most important thing he said to me, my medicine to take away: ‘The grip of egoic identity is slipping, like a piece of ice in a bowl of warm water. A melting is taking place automatically. The ice doesn’t have to think about it. It doesn’t have to say, ‘melt, melt, melt’. It is happening anyway.’
This released me at once from the fierce and unhelpful mental churning I had been applying to ideas all week, and all my life, really, and I realised I could surrender to a process of grace. I would still need to learn how to direct my attention, but this was a different thing than using my egoic mind to try to force itself to melt. Oh, bless you, Mooji. I felt such a sweet sense of relief.
And then the nicest thing happened. He finished speaking after this and smiled at me, and then I asked him if I could come up on stage and get a hug. All the questioners had been getting hugs all week. He gestured me up, and I went up the steps and over to his chair, and I remember the way he threw his arms wide with a huge smile, still sitting in his chair, and I leaned down to hug him. It felt like all the love of God, embodied, hugging me. He smelled wonderful, of incense and cologne, healthy and fresh, and I realised he was beautifully groomed. A small part of me realised I had been associating the walking of my spiritual path with a departure from all the prevailing ideas of society, and at once I realised, laughing at myself a bit, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to groom, Joy, and I realised I was this unwashed, dishevelled woman in ragged clothes…but it was okay. It was funny. Mooji was hugging and shaking me, saying ‘wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful’, and I said, ‘I love you, Mooji. Thank you so much for answering my question’. He replied, still hugging me, ‘Oh, pure love, my darling, pure love, my darling, pure love.’
I had my eyes closed, and an image entered my mind at that point of a blue line of light, which traced a new border between my pure Self and ego. They were still fused firmly together, but now I could see which was which. It was extraordinary. I went back to my seat and stayed in a state of peace, love and clarity for the rest of the day, wandering around the site, looking at trees. My embarrassment came back periodically, but then kept burning away again, as I saw it was on the other side of the glowing blue line.
The next day I got up before dawn to share a taxi to the airport, to go see the Frenchman. I caught a flight from Lisbon to Bordeaux. I remember that the last teaching I heard from Mooji was to hang on to everything we had learned, and I remember a very insistent tugging thought telling me that my desire to see the Frenchman was somehow at odds with what I had been learning from Mooji all week, was at odds with truth. I can put that clearly into words in hindsight, but at the time, this was just an uncomfortable blot, a suppression, a not-wanting-to-see feeling floating around inside myself. I was compulsively, blindly acting on old programming. Going back to the chopping block for another round of pain.
It was delicious to see the Frenchman again, like being presented with something that you love to eat that is really, really bad for you. Chocolate cake to a diabetic. I was immediately whisked out of my meditative clarity into a heavy appetite for romantic entangling, sex, him. We went camping for a week in Menigoute, France to attend the nature documentary film festival there. Serendipitously, it was the perfect environment for me to transition out of a week in silence, because we were either in a beautiful, ancient French forest with mossy trees, a lake and giant boulders, or in a dark auditorium in comfortable seats, watching films exquisitely capturing the natural world, for the most part in French. I have only about 20% comprehension of French, so I interacted with the films mainly as images, and it was extremely peaceful hearing the soothing, rolling commentaries in French.
Although I was swamped by a matrix of false attachment and sensual blindness at the beginning, the old problems still existed between us, and I saw that his behaviour triggered my insecurities and pain again and again. My new awareness told me, ‘it’s not him, it’s you…that is your trigger…this isn’t his fault, he is just being himself’. My new awareness helped me understand that it was best to take my burning, confused, triggered self away from the field of combat and sit quietly alone until I felt peaceful again. I saw the perfection of the situation, that I had been given the most perfect practice conditions possible for my new lessons, including rich exercise material.
Of course, this was a painful week of spiritual practice, not a week of sweet new love being born. Nothing worked. He saw it before I did…my attachment to the dream of being with him was still too strong, and I still hoped. I had one big outpouring in the car as he drove me back to the airport at the end of my visit, where I broke down and sobbed out my grief and sadness at the way he had broken up with me and how it had felt to lose all the structures in my life overnight. I felt him truly see it, and he responded with deep compassion and regret, and we hugged goodbye in a genuine moment of connection at the airport.
Reader, he is not the villain of this story. That is what the space of pure love inside me has explained over time. He simply acted from a place of unconsciousness, his behaviours hijacked by an overwhelming pain that distorted his thinking and feelings. Pure love really is unconditional. That means that absolutely everything is forgivable.
For my personal romantic future on this planet, I know that I would like to be with someone who understands his own darkness enough to control it in the close, fearful mirror-world of romantic intimacy. Although I know that Pure Love is unconditionally forgiving, I think that is different from approving of or accepting the behaviour that comes from dark places. I don’t approve of the way the Frenchman treated me. But looking with the eyes of Pure Love, I can forgive him now, and I can forgive myself.
Let me tell you something nice about him. He is enchanted by flowers, by the whole natural world. I took him to see the Cambridge University Botanic Garden once, and he was absolutely transported with joy. I have a large collection of photographs depicting the same sweet scene: the Frenchman leaning down to closely examine a new flower, transfixed. The only variations in each photo are the flower, his clothes and the sky behind him. The Frenchman has a space of pure love inside himself, too, which is emitted out into the world, mixed with darkness sometimes…just the same as the rest of us.
Serendipity Story #5 coming soon…
The featured image is ‘Butterfly Mother in a Book’ by Vladimir Kush.
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