Some of the more alert ministers were probably wondering why I wasn’t playing my usual hosting role at the LA ministers meeting this past September. The answer is going to take an article to explain. So here it goes.
At the August ministers meeting, I sat in my chair doing my SE’s with the rest of the ministerial body. John Morton and staff were leaving the next week for Europe and the Heaven on Earth tour to travel with the Traveler through a multi-national, multi-ethnic kaleidoscope of wonders. It seemed to me like a fabulous and impossibly out-of-reach dream. I’d tried to go the previous three years and each time, due to lack of funds, I wound up staying home and watching online.
I sat in the front row of the Brentwood Ballroom chanting my tone. “I want to go,” said my heart. “I want to go. I want to go.” And in the quiet of the stillness created by the hundreds of ministers join in Satsang, I heard the reply: “Then go.”
“Who, me? Are you sure I can go?” I asked.
Then the booming voice of authority that many of us have come to love as initiates said, “YES!”
Still, some part of me couldn’t believe it. “Why?” I asked. And this time the reply was more subtle. And it amounted to something like, “It will be a demonstration.”
“Oh,” I thought. “That sounds like a good thing.” It made me feel good, like I had something to offer. I didn’t understand exactly what the demonstration would be. But I didn’t care. I’d gotten a green light from Spirit, and I was going to Europe!
I was working with a budget of a couple thousand dollars. And when I saw just how expensive last minute tickets to Europe were, even on the cheapest, most bare-bones option, Norwegian Air. I found myself second-guessing. Making that purchase of a flight to Europe that would diminish my savings by a third was in some ways the most challenging part of the whole trip. It was so much money! What a rip off!
And I couldn’t buy it myself. I needed my wife’s help to navigate the web page and make the purchase. So not only did I have to convince myself this was a good idea, I had to convince her. And she was in no mood to be convinced. “You’re crazy!” she said. And I was hard-pressed to argue.
The fact that she finally agreed to buy the ticket is a testament to the amount of Light support being poured out in favor of me going. I felt it. I saw it. And I knew that whatever was happening, the Light was present and working closely with us both. Thank God. And thanks to Rita’s spirit of generosity.
I flew into London, John and company’s first stop on the European trip. My e-mails to MSIA acquaintances in London looking for a place to stay had turned up many busy people and nowhere to roost. So I checked into a hostel.
In the bed above mine was a man named Sebastian. He was out of money and on the verge of returning to his home in Romania. But without hesitation, he offered to take me to the street to get something to eat. “I can help you,” he said. “It’s dangerous for a blind person to be wandering the streets on his own. Your safety is the main thing.” It was a good argument. I took his shoulder and off we went, laughing and singing through the streets of London like old college roommates.
He took me to his favorite Buddhist temple, a place of Light and compassion. I took him to the local MSIA ministers meeting where he met John and the group and then waited outside for us to finish so we could walk home together. I treated him to meals. He treated me to stories of angels, prophecies about the Pope, and his views on good and evil.
I mentioned I was going on to Spain. He asked me to take him along. A free trip to Spain was much more interesting to him than returning to Romania. “And I can help you,” he said.
I had to admit that his help and companionship had been a blessing thus far. I bought him a ticket and together we flew to Madrid.
After attending an MSIA open seminar in Madrid, we traveled together through Spain and arrived in Santiago de Compostela where the Royal Road was about to start. I fantasized about finding my way into the training. “Sebastian,” I said, “we have to part ways. I want to be at this retreat and you’re here on a joy ride.” After a long argument, we agreed to split up. Before parting ways I gave him money for a plane ticket back to Romania. If I had never met him he would now be back home, I reasoned. Leaving him with a way back felt much better on my conscience.
The Royal Road, it turned out, wasn’t open to me. Not only was I short on cash, there was no room at the inn. I was politely invited to leave the hotel, which I did, finding my way to a hostel in the old city of Santiago, my fallback option.
Now I was alone. No wife, no dog, no Sebastian. And I had to admit, I was scared. How would I find my way?
But my fears quickly evaporated. I met lots of interesting travelers at the hostel. And if my time with Sebastian had taught me one thing, it was to engage with people, open up to them, and they would reciprocate.
Each traveler I talked to had a different story about their time on the Camino. From the 77-year-old Scott who treated me to Brandy and talked about his time traveling the world on a Navy pension to the young Spanish literature student who gave me eloquently descriptive narratives of the old city we walked through together, each one made for interesting and generous company. I was grateful and inspired.
The Light of the Royal Road retreat was very present during those days. Without being in the retreat, I was palpably experiencing its effects. Even in my moments of anxiousness and doubt, I felt the spiritual protection of the Traveler…
Soon I found myself emboldened to walk the streets of the old city myself, slowly and cautiously, tap-tapping along with my cane. Besides enjoying a pilgrims mass at the iconic St. James Cathedral, I found my way to street musicians, drawn to them like a moth to candles. I met buskers from all over Europe, even sharing some songs with them on their guitars.
The next stop for John and crew was Geneva, Switzerland. With the help of a friend from the hostel, I browsed fares for flights to Geneva. I hesitated. There was a dinner open to MSIA folks. and after that..? The Heaven On Earth tour. And my name was definitely not on the list of participants. I would be in Geneva alone. No more friendly pilgrims fresh off the Camino. Switzerland alone sounded cold and scary. What was I to do? I took a leap of faith and bought the ticket to Geneva.
The MSIA dinner in Geneva was wonderful. The presence of the Traveler and initiates from all over the world. This is what I had come for. I ate and drank and made merry like it was my last meal in Heaven on Earth.
But it wasn’t. I discovered the next day that someone I’d met at the dinner, without my asking, had donated so that I could participate in the first two days of the tour. I was shocked at the news and ecstatic at the opportunity.
I enjoyed the heights of Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. I descended some 500 steps to enter a cave carved out of an enormous glacier. And I feasted with initiates in the presence of the Traveler.
And then my time with the group ended. With the help of another participant leaving the trip I took the train back to Geneva and checked in at a hostel. It was a clean, well-maintained place. But not the five-star hotel I’d grown accustomed to so quickly during the last few days. I was sad. I missed John, the group, and Heaven on Earth.
“It’s inside of you,” I told myself as I sat on my bed wondering what to do next. “Heaven on Earth isn’t a five-star hotel or John’s presence at your meals. It’s a state of consciousness.”
“Yeah, but how will I —“ my doubting questions were interrupted as I met my new roommate. From Barcelona, Spain, it turned out. We had a lot to talk about. Before long we were off together to a language exchange group he knew about at a bar in Geneva.
And so it went as I continued traveling through Switzerland alone and on to Italy. I kept meeting the perfect people at the perfect time. An Irish-Swiss woman to walk me to the train station and chat about her Irish ancestry. A German professor who took me to eat fondue in a small Swiss-German town. A Swiss-American medical student who walked me through a 12th-century temple, showing me around as if she’d been assigned as my tour guide.
Because in a way, she had. The Traveler had given her the assignment and she had accepted. I saw the Light going to each person I met. Often they would talk about spirituality or meditation without any prompting from me. And I would share my experience with them. But I was careful to give them only a little bit more than I sensed they already had. I didn’t want to overwhelm them. The best thing, I found, was mostly just to listen.
I kept waiting for my luck to run out. But it didn’t. A group of Swiss-Germans gave me a ride from the train station to my hotel in their little yellow BMW. A couple in Milan, Italy insisted on taking me out to gelato. It was a remarkable affirmation of the Traveler’s protection. I just had to be cautious, assertive, and above all, patient.
My heart filled up with the kindness of those willing to help, and often befriend, a blind traveler making his way through Europe alone. And as one of the people I met reminded me after I thanked them profusely, “I get a lot out of helping you, too, you know.” I thought about the times I’d gone out of my way to help others and realized she was so right.
“You’re very brave,” I heard again and again. It was a kind thing to say. Especially since I wasn’t sure if I was being very brave or very stupid. Maybe in truth, it was a little of both. Like ‘brupid’, or ‘stupave.’,
But whatever I called it, I had to acknowledge that the Traveler was allowing me the experience I’d asked for. And he was giving it to me in the most graceful way possible. I had to take the initiative. I had to be the one to take the next step. And every time I did, the Traveler was right there to make the way smooth, to give me as much ease as he could without spoiling my lessons.
When I finally met up with my wife and we traveled together to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, I was struck again by how present the Traveler was. He hadn’t left just because I was with a companion. I got inwardly that it was good that we came all that way. Even though we weren’t with the MSIA group, I got that our presence there mattered to the work that was being done by John and the others.
And now, back in Prana, I have the privilege to reflect on the blessings of all these travels and to recognize that they have truly been a demonstration, just as I’d heard Spirit promise before I left. But the greatest demonstration of all has been to myself. They’ve reminded me what I’m capable of and how much support I receive from the Traveler. They’ve demonstrated that it’s really up to me to take the first step and then to let go and let God.
The other side to the demonstration is this: having adventures and doing what others might consider brave is in some ways much easier than staying put and holding for others who are in movement. The day-in and day-out routine of life takes courage to love and live fully. The temptation to call what is ordinary boring or lacking zest is really a trick of the ego to throw us into unnecessary experience. Just breathing in and breathing out, being fully present, is the greatest achievement anyone can claim.
So I’m endeavoring to love my domestic life again, just as it is. The routine, the comfort, the predictability. I’m learning to love it all, at least until the next trip I can take.