What are you looking for, Stephen?’
Well, quite a few things make me happy – being with Kay [de Vogel, Stephen’s partner]; helping Australian Quakers and the Australian Capital Territory Greens with their databases and feeling part of those communities; living a quiet life in Canberra and at Tuross Head on the New South Wales south coast.
But the underlying me has often been tense and not terribly cheerful.
So I’m after more peace, more calm; I’d like to cope better with urgent decisions, and with criticism; to be able to answer ‘How are you?’ truthfully and cheerfully with ‘Fine!’
And a couple of intense experiences have made me feel I want a way which sets no limit to how far I can go.
‘How do you search for it?’
Experimenting: testing, refining, simplifying.
Quiet times are a big help. The fewer distractions, the easier it is. So I like going to Quaker Meeting. And in the quietness of the early morning, long before dawn, I love to lie awake, working things out. (When I want to keep an idea that rings true to me, I turn on the bedside light and write it down. On one more sheet of used A4 paper, with the date and the time – I do like to be able to keep all my thoughts in sequence.)
I don’t seek advice, indeed, I find it hard to accept if it comes.
But I like to be reminded about what other people have found, so:
- thank you, Paul Brunton, for A Search In Secret India, where I met Ramana Maharshi
- thank you, Rex Ambler and others, for writing about the deep experiences of the early Quakers.
And to be reminded about how to get there, so:
- thank you, John Robinson, for Honest To God when I was a teenager
- thank you, Ram Dass, for introducing me to the Witness in Be Here Now
- thank you, John Marquis, for your article showing me that relaxing is often better than intellectual analysis
- thank you, Jack Kornfield, for Buddhist wisdom in A Path With Heart.
‘What have you found?’
I’ve come quite a way, I think. I was an anxious child; then I lived mostly in my mind – first it was chess and mathematics; in my twenties Carl Rogers turned me to psychology, which I studied for nine years; then computers took over, and still take much of my time today.
However some 40 years ago I began to realise that my mind isn’t enough.
I’m learning to listen deeply to my body. This is a lovely change, and I’m gradually getting better at it.
When I’m more in touch with my body, I find I move more gently, listen more deeply, feel happier. I like that.
With this simple practice I find that I don’t need religion, teachings, rituals, words like ‘God’ and ‘spirituality’. So I doubt that I’ll reapply for membership (I was a birthright Friend but resigned many years ago).
‘Where to from here?’
Bring on the challenges!
Sure, it’s easier when I can be quiet, take my time. But I hope it’ll happen more often in more difficult situations: busy times, dark times, ‘fluff’ times (daydreaming, TV). Computers are a big test — I can disappear into my Mac for hours! ignoring posture, frowning, tensions.
I hope it’ll show itself in how I am with others – with Kay; with our daughters, their husbands and now our granddaughter; with friends; with anyone.
‘And in conclusion?’
This path truly feels like my way forward. Which adds to the happiness I get from the practice itself.