Help From Above
In the first year of my PhD I became Sri Chinmoy's student. Prior to that I had completed a BSc, an MSc and had worked for a little over a year at MAF Technology (Ruakura) as a senior research associate.
It was at that time that I met and became closely involved in the study of what was to become my PhD research topic, which was looking at endocrine systems to ascertain aspects of the physiology of bone development in growing mammals. Thus I found myself armed with a new and exciting research topic and enrolled at the University of Waikato, with a prestigious scholarship from MAF Technology, in whose modern-ish laboratories I was to perform the research, and where I had allocated office space and access to a well-equipped scientific research library. Brilliant!
However my family circumstances were in the throes of upheaval. All four of my grandparents, as well as my Nana's mother (my great-grandmother) had just up and died and my uncle – a very wise and kind man to whom we all looked for guidance at this time – was stricken with leukaemia. Several months before he died he advised us to learn how to meditate. He said that, "Meditation brings you close to God!" So my mother and I both attended free meditation classes that were being offered as a community service by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. And we enjoyed them so much, we joined the Centre ourselves!
When my uncle died he left us to the guidance of the wise, kind and universal philosophy of Sri Chinmoy, with which we have been happy and safe for many years now. But I digress... this is really a story about my studies and how meditation augmented and ultimately completed my research.
Every Sunday afternoon for more than three years I would drive to Auckland from Hamilton (which took 1 hour and 47 minutes), attend meditation night at the Centre, and drive back late at night. Over these three years I also went to New York several times to attend Sri Chinmoy's special celebrations, which were most fun-filled and fulfilling events. At this point I had better mention that these trips were much against my main PhD supervisor's advice and wishes! He felt that they were fruitless exercises and were distractions from the main focus of my life, which he felt was my budding scientific career. At one stage he called me into his office to rant at me about it! I calmly pointed out that these trips had not slowed my studies down, and I had also always met my work deadlines – and he had to agree! This was a small victory. I had noticed changes, though, with the passing of time. My focus shifting off my direct studies had side effects that I could never have imagined had I been outside of the situation. I found my perspective clarified and I became more liberal in my technical discussions and in decisions regarding my research directions – and I started coming across as a flexible and (in some instances) clever thinker! In short, my meditation life made me more philosophical, and as I was studying for a Doctorate of Philosophy degree, this was very useful.
However the full meditation-derived benefits to my study came as the end of my research drew near early in 1994 when thesis writing (sketchily begun as research was carried out) began in earnest. For any research project (or degree involving one) there is not really any clear end, what with new avenues of research developing and suggesting themselves, as the main line of research grows and evolves. The project itself is usually not clearly set out at the beginning as, with progress, results determine further directions, in which way the study takes form. The end of a fruitful project like the one I was working on was when enough data had accumulated for a sizeable thesis. However I had reached the end of the time for the research grant under the terms of the MAF scholarship, and I was also scheduled to go to New York for 12 days in April, which was one week away. I had worked hard to complete the comprehensive requirements for laboratory work so as to be at leisure to write the thesis intensively when I got back – freshly inspired – from overseas. How wrong could I be? My supervisor called me into his office (uh oh) and Laid Down The Law! He told me that if I went away at this point (when he felt I needed to focus for a few months on intensive thesis writing) my grant (already near the end) would be terminated and there would no longer be office space for me when I returned!! (Talk about a Drama King!) His intention was to pressurise me to cancel my trip to New York so that I would not lose my "Focus" on the project, in which MAF had a vested interest.
I was silent in that meeting, knowing that my whole career was on the line. On the line also was a post-doctoral fellow position at the University of West Virginia that I was negotiating for and which would be secured should I successfully finish my PhD within the next couple of months. Unknown to my supervisor I was also extremely reluctant to cancel my trip to New York – in fact, that was not an option. My sense of values had changed regarding what was important to me, and this was. What's more I viewed the trip as beneficial to myself personally, as well as to my work, in a way that I was not ready to impart to my supervisor, whose values were not the same. So I went home and prayed. Actually, I prayed really hard – a fervent and sincere prayer – asking for guidance and strength as I was about to forfeit everything I had ever worked for. If it was indeed God's Will then the whole PhD thesis would have to be written in less than a week (which is impossible!) or I would have to walk away from everything, here and now. (I was praying for the surrender and peace of mind to do this very thing for the thesis writing task was actually impossible.)
HOWEVER – and very suddenly – a Fire (for want of a better word) lit inside of me – very intense, very concentrated. I was drawn up as if by an unseen Hand and started to type frantically. I was focused and absolutely clear, fast and accurate, and the thesis started to form beneath my flying fingers. I filled up disks with information, correctly typed and formatted, and discussions and theories – as well as stored information from my brain – were lucidly and effortlessly discussed and retrieved. New concepts (that would never normally have occurred to me) were thrown about with ease and a comprehensive and complicated scientific document formed. Do not be deceived – this did not happen in a couple of hours – it happened over five days and five nights. Data and information were collated from MAF and the University and diagrams and photographic illustrations were also assembled from different places. All the time, at every second, my whole being was filled with the same, unabated level of intensity and purpose that guided me – and in that short time, my thesis became ready to submit! The Impossible had occurred. What should, by rights, have taken months instead took days. What is more, during this time (since the Fire took over) there was no sleep. I worked the whole time and there was no tiredness, even though I never lay down or rested for over 120 hours. Indeed, I felt refreshed! But it was as if I was just watching the whole procedure, fascinated. And here comes the icing on the cake – my supervisor was impressed by it and said that it was the best PhD thesis to have come out of his department to date! And some of the discussion points – he said also – were brilliant!
When I read the thesis myself a couple of months later (before my oral exams) I marvelled at the well-rounded and clever conclusions that had been drawn, the extrapolations from the information garnered during research were extraordinary and left me breathless. I know that I was not responsible for producing that superb piece of work. I just observed whilst it was being assembled. I am not being humble or modest when I say that I personally was not up to that standard scientifically – I am merely stating the truth. For some reason this work was meant to be done and – for want of a better description of proceedings – my being was just an instrument.
After my oral exams were successfully behind me and the PhD degree conferred, I then walked away from that particular career and embarked upon another. People ask how on earth I could become a café worker after doing top-level scientific research and that I must miss it... but no! I have never had a pang or looked back. The café I work in, The Blue Bird, is no ordinary place – it is a place that tries to offer a tiny bit of Sri Chinmoy's world to everyone who enters it. His music, philosophy and meditation can be heard, seen and felt in the ambience of spirituality that we try to create there.
The sudden loss of my close-knit and loving family no doubt changed my perspective on life, and my mother and I found comfort in the all-embracing philosophy of Sri Chinmoy. Everyone in the world is your brother or sister and there is a universal thread of unity and oneness in everyone and everything that is none other than God. This is God's Playground and He is always there, but unobserved. However, in your direst moments of absolute need, He may reveal Himself, and moments like that leave you changed forever. That there is disharmony amongst the people of the world means that there is much work to do. However small or menial my current work is, it does in a small part address the disharmony of the world, and this has been a more rewarding and fulfilling turn to my career than I can express.
Return to: The Homepage of Toshala Elliott
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