Inspiration-Letters 28 - working in the world
Welcome to issue 28 of Inspiration-Letters - on the theme of 'Working in the world'
Working in the world
by Mahiruha Klein
As a cashier, my interactions with my customers are sometimes quite brief, but they can be very fulfilling in that short time period. I enjoy hearing about their perspectives on life, on art, on spirituality.
Once I asked a customer who her favorite poet was. She said she didn’t know off the top of her head, and then asked me about my favorite poet. I told her my favorites include Sri Chinmoy, Wallace Stevens and Valmiki. The name “Valmiki” struck her fancy somehow and she asked me who that was and I told her that Valmiki was the ancient Indian sage who wrote the Ramayana. She said, “Wow, that’s really funny. I just dusted off an old copy of the Ramayana that’s been sitting around my house for ages. I’ve started reading it again.” She told me she found it very interesting. I told her I read the Ramayana online sometimes, so I can sound out the Sanskrit in English transliteration. It’s very powerful.
Guru once directed his disciples, when they were putting on a production of his play about Lord Rama, My Rama is My All, to include the Sanskrit couplet that concludes the epic:
“In all countries there are wives, in all countries there are friends,
But nowhere will I find a brother like Lakshmana.”
A few days ago, another customer asked me how I was feeling and I told her that, for the past couple of weeks, I have felt a tremendous burden has been lifted off my shoulders. I can breathe! I told her I could not exactly account for it. She told me that many, many people have also had similar experiences, that it could be a collective feeling, and that’s why I can tap into it.
I guess some of the most precious experiences I have had in my discipleship have been collective experiences, where I could share with many other disciples the spiritual realities that Guru was invoking. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the meditations at PS 86 so much, even more than most of my meditations at Aspiration-Ground. It was an enclosed room, and I could feel the change in consciousness in the room as Guru brought down realities from rarefied higher worlds. At the same time, I felt that the group aspiration contributed something to the experience.
That same day I spoke to a young concert violinist about his favorite violin concertos and we both listed Korngold’s as being among our top five. His concerto is not as well-known as, say, Brahms’ or Tschaikowsky, but it is lavishly beautiful, especially with Jascha Heifetz’s playing on it.
One customer, named Zach, came to my line. He looked like a college kid but when I asked him his age he said he was thirty-five! I was surprised, and I asked him what his secret was. He said, “Booze, pizza and ice cream!” I laughed and thought to myself it is rather his childlike heart and generous smile that has kept him young.
Many people tell me that my name is very beautiful and when I tell them that I got my name from my teacher, Sri Chinmoy, and that it means “Tree”, they seem sincerely moved. They often tell me how fortunate I am to have received this name (agreed!) and they offer their own take on it: sacrifice, rootedness, patience, self-giving, oneness. In other words, my customers offer me the chance to value my spiritual name more deeply and more consciously.
I have many Lithuanian customers. Lithuania is somehow very closely related to Sanskrit. The great philologist Marija Gimbutas went into the Lithuanian countryside and was amazed to find that she could converse with the peasants using simple Sanskrit phrases. Many of these people who come to my register have names like Rasa, Indra, Drona, Osha, Devadas, Sita, Janina, Urgita, Swapna, Agvedas. They are delighted when I tell them the meaning of their names in Sanskrit.
One woman came to my line, she looked a little despondent. I asked her what was the matter, but she wouldn’t tell me. So, as I was ringing up her groceries, I tried to meditate on Guru and asked him if he could choose a poem to share with her. Suddenly the poem popped into my brain and I wrote down very fast on a bit of receipt paper and handed to her the following poem:
“Don’t be so unthinkably impatient.
After all, you are not the wind.
Don’t pretend to be supremely calm.
After all, you are not another God.”
-Sri Chinmoy, from “The Golden Boat"
She read it three times silently, her lips moving, and then she burst into tears and said that the poem was the answer to her prayers. She also told me she knows Guru from our old restaurant Victory’s Banner and that he was speaking to her through the poem.
I am happy and fortunate to be able to share Guru’s light in my so-called outer world job.
Working in the World
by Dhiraja McBryde
My brother and I were both unemployed – but, heck, it was the 1980s, it was summer time – things could have been a lot worse! There was sunshine during the day and trips to the movies in the evening. Our sister would roar up the drive on her motorbike at the end of the day, home from work, sunburnt, black with sweat and soil. She was, in the words of our other brother, a peasant who lumped giant bags of carrots about the fields. She did work hard and long for not much pay on a commercial market garden. Forty years later she can hardly walk.
‘I’d done half a day’s work by the time you slack humps got out of bed,’ she would regularly opine.
‘What have you been doing all day?’ she asked as she arrived home to find us relaxing on deckchairs in the backyard.
‘Oh … thinking,’ we replied. This did not seem to her to be a worthwhile undertaking!
Mum seemed to share her disdain. Mum referred to us as ‘the drones’, not because we droned on all day expressing the fruits of our ‘thinking’, nor because we were delightful furry insects, but because we were ‘persons who live on the labour of others; parasitic loafers’.
How are we to discern the nature of ultimate reality, what is God like? To answer these questions, we may consult those who have reached a knowledge of and degree of intimacy with the supreme realities as to be able to speak with authority on these things. Also, we can just look about at creation, at the world of atoms and chemical compounds and living things and draw quite some understanding from that.
I observe my cow friends. Sometimes they stand about admiring the scenery; sometimes they interact with each other, licking their friends’ ears or butting the shoulders of those who bother them; sometimes they even chat with visiting primates; but mostly they apply themselves rigorously to the necessary job of mowing the lawn.
Everything in the world is working.
The plants seem to be just standing around but are actually hard at work digging the soil, harvesting sunlight, manufacturing sugar and negotiating with subterranean fungus over a reasonable payment of carbohydrates for services rendered.
When I sit and vacantly watch the world go by, each cell is working away – mitochondria fuelling the movement of stuff from here to there across cell membranes – growing, repairing, regenerating.
The drone’s life – relaxing in his armchair in the sun – is not the life that we see in the world. It seems that if ultimate reality has brought forth the world that we see, then ultimate reality is not in favour of sitting about doing nothing.
As Sri Chinmoy put it:
‘Do what God always does:
Never stop working
Sri Chinmoy, #49,638, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, part 50, Agni Press, 2009
Saint Paul brought it down to a more mundane level: ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat’ – 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
After university I worked at the Statistics Department (Tatauranga Aotearoa), briefly at the Labour Department (Te Tari Mahi), back to the Statistics Department, then as a background painter for Warner Brothers cartoons, layout artist for a magazine (not quite Vogue, in fact The Digest of Engineering, Marketing and Management); then for Jason’s Travel Publications, then Greenlane Hospital. After that I worked for a few years as a warehouseman in the Dress For Less warehouse humping cardboard boxes for the minimum wage.
For the last twenty years I have worked for the largest (though still fairly small) educational book publishing company in New Zealand, designing and doing the layout of school textbooks.
It is odd that they call this a CV - a curriculum vitae – as if a list of jobs were a description of life.
As a child I had no intention or desire for such goings on. I wanted to be a great mystic lost in contemplation of divine reality in a cave remote from civilisation.
We may think that what we need is to withdraw to a cave in the Himalayas, a cabin in the Massachusetts woods, a quiet cloister where we can apply ourselves to our sadhana in order to attain to spiritual heights. But what is the world here for, the world of driving to work down the South-western Motorway, of working on your 4 GHz Intel Core i7 5K Retina, 27-inch iMac to produce Level 2 Earth and Space Science Learning Workbook, of running in the hills and visiting the cows; why is this world here if our only goal is to escape it? No, rather, it is these very mundane things that are our sadhana.
There is a story of one of the ‘desert fathers’ – the early Christian monks who lived in the deserts of Egypt in the third century – who had a great temper. Living in community with the other monks sparked in him an anger that he knew was contrary to what he aspired to but that he could not control. Things that his confreres did and said provoked in him great anger. He withdrew, therefore, to a lonely hermitage where he could be undisturbed.
It was not long, however, before his water jar fell over and broke. It was then that he realised that his anger was not the result of his brother-monks’ actions – it had followed him into solitude and could be provoked there even by the ‘actions’ of an inanimate object.
He packed up his hermitage and returned to the monastery – only there could he work out his perfection.
It is in working with our colleagues, it is in putting up with the Boss, in dealing with annoying editors and recalcitrant authors and printers who take too long and do a bad job on paper which is too thin, it is in the satisfaction of creativity and the delight of a job well done, it is in all these that we make our progress.
Burger King with Angels on the Side
by Sharani Robins
Driving home from work at the end of a long week, I felt tired and ready to call it a day. Almost home, I took an exit off the highway that emptied onto a strip of small shops, big box stores, restaurants, gas stations and motels. One thing I knew for sure was that I didn't feel like cooking dinner once I got home. I asked myself the question - where should I get dinner tonight? Clear as a bell, I heard the words Burger King. Not necessarily my favorite since there aren't lots of choices for vegetarians but I said ok Burger King it is. And it's one of the first restaurants I come to after I exit off the highway.
I went inside instead of doing the drive-thru with the thought that a vegetarian order at the burger joint might be better placed in person at the counter. Once inside, I found myself waiting in a line that didn't seem to budge and a puzzling atmosphere seemed to prevail. Someone who appeared to be the boss was barking orders at his crew amidst a mood of mayhem.
As the time ticked by with no food in sight, I thought that this fast food restaurant was anything but fast. There was a group of about 5 people who were off to the side of me who had apparently already ordered and were getting vocal and boisterous about how long it was taking for their food to arrive.
The boss looked exasperated and the workers who were visible to us looked confused. Next the boss told the workers to speed up because there were people getting mad and upset about how long they had been waiting. This seemed to get the group over to the side more agitated because they took what he said as an insult, as if he was saying they shouldn't be mad. Then someone came inside and said that they had just come through the drive thru and were given completely different food than what they had ordered. A perfect storm was on the menu at Burger King tonight. I almost left without waiting for the food I had ordered and paid for just to escape the chaos.
I felt bad for the supervisor because I could tell that the other group waiting inside had misunderstood his comment. He was just trying to get their order to them more quickly and they got upset with him, asked him his name and threatened to complain about him to his superiors.
By the time I finally received my food and left, I felt like I had just participated in a drama and wondered if I had taken too much for granted that a fast food restaurant transaction is ordinarily a speedy affair.
The next morning as I sat at my shrine for meditation, prayer and singing the Burger King experience came back into my awareness. I was wishing that I had thought of something sympathetic to say once I finally picked up my food from this person in the thick of the situation. A feeling came over me that this boss badly needed encouragement after all the things that went wrong while I was in there the prior night. Still I doubted myself and thought what I could possibly do as a complete stranger in this chance encounter at Burger King.
I encouraged myself to brainstorm further by remembering several unique experiences I had after reading the book Angels in My Hair by Lorna Byrne. The author describes that she has an ability to communicate with and see angels and that this ability began when she was a child. One theme that stayed with me after reading it was the notion that angels really want us to be kind to one another. I began to feel awareness of angels too after reading this book and even had an angel encounter that included this notion about kindness balanced with the idea that we bear no personal responsibility for others, even our closest family because their care and transformation is God's task. At the time I was concerned about my mother and it felt very freeing to adopt this perspective. A paradox then unfolded where God could use me to help others more than ever because I felt I was just an instrument.
With the influence of that book and my subsequent experiences returning to my awareness, I inwardly asked if I should try to think of some gesture of kindness to offer related to the Burger King incident. I heard and felt a very strong yes and attributed the answer to be another angel experience. Somewhat surprised by the notion to take this chance encounter that seriously, I repeated the question a couple more times to a continued resounding affirmative response.
The next question became what in the world to actually do? Finally I settled on the idea to bring a bag of Easter chocolates that I had in the house to Burger King and purposely go through the drive through order and pickup window in order to offer them. So again I ordered food, this time from the car. When I got up to the window to pay, I asked if the supervisor from the prior night was at the restaurant today. The young person at the pick up window left to find out and came back with an older woman who turned out to be his boss. She said no he wasn't here this morning.
I explained that I was in the restaurant the prior night and there seemed to be quite a lot going on that was difficult to manage and I felt bad for the man in charge who seemed somewhat overwhelmed. She replied yes and added that he had called her on the phone about it. I held out the bag of candy and said I wanted to give him this to cheer him up. She smiled, took it and emphatically answered that she would make sure he received it.
When I returned home, I felt as if I had accomplished the task I was supposed to do and had been perhaps an instrument of a situation larger than surface understanding. Later when I replayed the whole experience in my mind's eye, I glanced at a picture of myself as a young child that I keep on my shrine and it was gleaming/radiating light. I picked up the photo off the table, looked at it and it felt like light was coming out of the photo as if to confirm that following the inner prompting was a valuable lesson.
The encounter made me think of the song performed by Joan Osborne on her 1995 album Relish called "One of Us" which includes the lyrics "what if God was one of us" and "just a stranger on a bus trying to make his way home." Sometimes it is easier than others for me to practice kindness in ordinary daily activities. Honestly I didn't return to that particular Burger King again for quite some time. However, the memory stays with me to this day even though several years have gone by since then. Angels can provide guidance and instruction in unusual ways when you keep an open mind, an open heart and a willingness to lend a hand even amongst the burgers, fries and soda at the neighborhood Burger King and beyond.