When I recently came across a quote by B. Brown, where she says that “vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I want you to see in me,” I stopped for a moment and inquired, especially into what it means for me as a man. Because that is not how it is for me anymore.
If vulnerability is certainly the first thing I look for in you, it is also the first thing I want you to see in me. Why? And how did I get here?
As for most people growing up in this society, I learned very early how to be tough, harsh, critical, independent, even threatening. As a boy, I learned that to be a so-called real man I had to take on this tough guy image and show the world only certain parts of myself that the culture I live in has defined as manly. I also learned that protecting myself was necessary in order to survive.
In the emotionally unstable family where I grew up, I very soon worked out an impressive collection of strategies to protect myself, close my heart, space out, dissociate, and be on guard at all times.
My dad never cried, never talked about his feelings, never showed any pain or emotion. He was and still is as impenetrable as one can be. My Mum, on the other hand, was an emotional bomb, exploding regularly, especially when you least expected it, and usually right in your face.
However, and in the midst of it all, when I was still very young I had a sense that protecting myself in that way meant that life could not really be lived fully. Of course, I didn’t understand it intellectually then, but I feel that I always knew deep inside that being open and real was the only way to be a full human Being.
I have been a spiritual seeker for as long as I remember, at least since that day, as a 4-year old, when, crawling on the bright green sofa, I suddenly stopped and stared at the adults… looking at the dramas going on. I knew that this was a show adults were lost in, and that reality was something else.
Vulnerability is my most innocent and authentic state. It is being open and able to receive life in all its dimensions.
Vulnerability feels like an immense asset, my greatest gift, and as a man the source of my intrinsic strength.
Our current values and ideals in society portray softness as undesirable and dangerous to our well-being. In reality, the opposite is true: our vulnerability empowers us to love deeper and grow stronger.
I spent many years opening and closing, moving between trust and fear, experimenting with being vulnerable and being protected. I had lived my life with the belief that exposing myself without any mask would somehow get me hurt and isolated.
Embracing vulnerability totally, one hundred percent, did require an in-depth experience that permanently terminated my embedded concepts that being vulnerable is dangerous. I had to experience in my very marrow that I had it all wrong and that the exact opposite of what I feared the most would be what actually happened if I exposed myself, naked.
This experience can only happen through grace. For me, it happened in an intensive meditation process. There, by pure miracle, I experienced that the more I opened the more I touched people, even strangers. The more I exposed myself without any mask, the more people opened their hearts. The more I revealed my shadows, the more love was showered on me. The more I was vulnerable, the more I was alive. This was one of the most life-changing and extraordinary inner phenomena I have ever encountered. I had it all wrong, for so long.
From that moment onward, what I always intuitively knew became natural again; since then vulnerability is my way of life and my greatest resource. And as a man, I would say that vulnerability is real strength, one that bends without breaking and that touches people where they most need to be touched. It is my most reliable friend, one that is always available and more intimate than my own breath.
Vulnerability creates connections. It is the source of all connectedness and without it, Oneness can never be experienced.
We were in 1989 and I don’t know if credit cards existed then, but I had surely never seen one. Mobile phones and internet were not yet invented and I felt free in a way I certainly don’t feel today.
In the midst of my hippy life, I used to make quick money selling jewelry on the streets in the south of France, and then, after a month or so, I would make my way back to India where I would spend a year, sometimes two. Those days the cheapest way was to travel overland to Greece, often spending time on paradisiac beaches in the south of Crete, and fly east from Athens. I remember arriving in the Greek capital after an overnight ferry trip, and checking out the cheapest travel agents near Monastiraki; I always had 2 basic requirements: the ticket needed to be a real deal, and the flight had to be soon, preferably tonight or tomorrow. And considering that planning in advance was against my philosophy, I didn’t have a visa to anywhere, so the flight needed to land in a country not requiring one. That’s how for a few years, Nepal, which delivered 30 days’ visas on arrival, became my base. That was plenty of time to apply for a 6 months’ Indian visa, go trekking for 3 weeks, collect my passport and travel overland to Varanasi.
Now, although I am a survivor in many ways, I never ventured too far in the forbidden side of life. I certainly played with my limits and stretched many rules, but I always had a clear sense of where the red line laid. On the hippy trail you hear many crazy stories, but one was recurrent and sounded easy. Buy travelers checks, declare them stolen, get new ones, and sell the old ones on the black market in Katmandu for half its value. Easy. I had heard that story so many times, although I can’t recall someone who actually did it himself.
So, when on a Friday afternoon I walked out of “Alex travels” in Athens with a one-way ticket to Katmandu for the next day, I decided to give it a try.
I had 2900 dollars, all changed in Travelers checks already; those were all my saving which were supposed to last me for at least one year in Asia.
I headed to the American Express office, went straight to the counter and explained that someone had just grabbed my bag and stolen all my money. “I see” said the lady behind the desk “do you have the receipts with the serial numbers?” “Yes I do” I replied, happy that everything seemed to be going as planned.
I handed over the numbers and she went behind a door, came back, and declared “Ok, the declaration of lost is done. Please go to the police station, get a certificate of theft, and come back on Monday for an interview.”
“An interview? For what? Can’t you just issue me new traveler checks now? I have a flight to Nepal tomorrow.”
“Sorry Sir, it is not possible, come back tomorrow morning and we will do the necessary.”
As I walked out of the office I didn’t like what was happening. I had not really understood why I had to come back and why she had not issued new checks here and then as I had expected. Something wasn’t smooth and I certainly didn’t feel like going to the Police. I already regretted my move and started to chicken out.
I decided that I would go back the next morning to the AmEx office with my traveler’s checks and tell them that they suddenly reappeared. It may sound strange and I may feel stupid, but who cared? I had a flight to Nepal in the evening and I was not about to get into trouble now.
The next morning at ten, I entered the AmEx office, went to the counter and explained my situation to a different lady. “I lost my travelers checks yesterday and came to get new ones issued, but I was asked to come back today. Meanwhile I found them, so all is fine, I just wanted to inform you.” I handed my new found checks to the rather unfriendly woman across the counter, “here they are. 2900 Dollars.”
I expected her to say “thank you for informing us, have a nice trip”, but instead she grabbed the bundle of checks, looked at them, and without even counting them, she teared them all into small pieces and threw them in the bin.
Now, I still see myself standing there, completely shocked and stupefied. Those checks were perfectly fine, they were mine and all I had.
I must have looked rather astonished, and she explained “those checks were cancelled yesterday and they can’t be used anymore. We need to issue new ones”.
Ah sure, indeed that made sense. I took a deep breath of relief and just stood there, somehow waiting for her to issue the new ones.
“How long is it going to take?” I asked impatiently. I wanted to get out of there and I hoped it wouldn’t take half an hour to issue my new traveler checks. I felt pissed off getting myself into such trouble.
“It will take about 10 days.”
I Jumped. “You mean 10 minutes?”
“About 10 days, maybe more” she replied nonchalantly, “you first need to talk to a representative in the main London office and only she can allow the re issue. Today the office is closed, tomorrow is Sunday, Monday is a bank holiday. On Tuesday you can call. Her name is MS Trubung and here is her number. Oh, and you can call collect. “
That’s how I walked out of the AmEx Office in Athens, a name and a phone number written on a piece of paper. I counted my money. 12 dollars and just enough Drachmas in coins to get me through the day and into the airport.
Yes, that’s how I landed in Kathmandu a couple of days later after a long journey via Moscow and Bangladesh. I remember exchanging my 2 dollars with a sweet Nepali man on the plane and taking a local bus from the airport to a cheap little den on Freak Street that I knew well and where I wouldn’t need to pay any advance on the room. I changed my 10-dollar bill at the very best rate on the black market, contemplated the 286 Nepali rupees I got for it and figured out that I could walk everywhere, pay my rent when leaving and have 3 rupees a day at the most to eat. That wasn’t much but I was survivor after all and I knew Kathmandu well enough to find my way. I quickly read the couple of books I had brought with me and sold them to the “exchange, buy and sell bookshop” in Thamel, a fancier part of town where straight tourists stayed, and got some extra cash. I found a little Thali place where I could eat lunch everyday with the locals and pay later. On Durbar Square I befriended a beautiful sadhu with dreadlocks far longer than mine who not only gave me free chai but also shared his dope.
I went to the AmEx Office every day. The way to call the mysterious all powerful woman in London who had the fate of my life in her hands, was through the little STS/ISD booth next to the office- but for that the phone needed to be in working order, the timing with London needed to fit, there had to be electricity in that part of Katmandu at that moment and of course MS Trubung had to be available and willing to talk with me. The whole procedure took 17 days, until one morning she finally gave the green light and M. Deepesh issued me 2900 dollars.
Amazingly, that day I still had over 100 rupees in my pocket. I had learned a lot in those two and half weeks, not only new skills in surviving but also and foremost, this experience had taught me to be in the moment and appreciate every small thing as a divine gift. I had learned to look deeper into people’s eyes.
Nepalese are among the poorest people in the world, yet they are outstandingly cheerful and smiley; they radiate an inner peace and contentment rather rare in our modern world, and it is always striking and remarkable to arrive from the west and see so many individuals deeply connected with their heart and the nature and the gods.
Those days in Katmandu taught me a lot about the simplicity of living, and what it actually means and takes to be truly happy. Many essential questions grew roots inside myself and would ignite an inquiry process still alive today.
That story showed me once again that no matter the ordeal, there is a gift in every situation, and that the most precious and life changing opportunities can be very well disguised.
A month or so later, in the late 80’s, it is Opium that found its way into my life for a very last goodbye.
After a short stay in Calcutta, I had decided to travel to Europe overland. I had packed my bag and waived everyone goodbye.
I had crisscrossed the country a few times already on Indian trains, usually on reserved 3Tier second class compartments, where I had a berth for myself and a minimum of comfort. But today, it is the unreserved general section I am boarding, non-reserved, non-AC, with no sleeping berths and not even seats as such. Tickets are very cheap, and those compartments are usually crowded with the poorer part of the population, but the price is not always the criteria for ending up here. When a train is really full, and there is no way to get a reservation even with baksheesh or connections, this 3rd class section can be the only way to go- and that’s what had happened this time for me.
I am in the Howrah station on the other side of Calcutta, boarding the legendary Jammu-Tawi Express. It is one of the most extended train trips you can undertake in this country; over 2000 km in the distance, and 2 days and 2 nights if all goes on schedule, which, in those days at least, never happened. I am undoubtedly apprehensive, and to be honest, I am not at all excited about it. But I have no choice as I was not ready to postpone my trip for another few weeks.
The crowd is dense and eclectic, but the chaos has something reassuring here. It is part of normality, and there are an underlying harmony and mellowness in it. Disorder in India is a very unique notion that includes a sense of freedom, of free-flow; it is incredibly earthy yet disconcerting by its whirling liveliness.
I make my way through the crowd. Howrah station at rush hour must be one of the most densely populated places on earth. People are everywhere, going this way, coming from that way, looking for their platform among dozens, searching for their compartment in trains that seem to stretch forever. And then there are all those waiting, all those sleeping on the floor, at every possible corner. In the middle of the way are people sitting or lying down, while thousands of others are rushing past them. Many seem to just live there, most are begging. All age groups are here. Mothers are breastfeeding their newborn, kids are running around, and some old people who may not be that old, but whose life spent on the street has taken its toll. Families are sitting in clusters with all their possessions. My eyes lock with a little girl’s eyes; she is maybe 8, sitting there with her parents, looking around. Time stops for a moment as I stare into a life too vibrant to make sense of. That child is obviously undernourished and sleeping on the streets since her birth. And yet, there is a quality of presence, a light, and openness in those eyes. I can see the divine, I can see life throbbing and love shinning. She smiles. I keep moving with the crowd. I will never see her again, never know her story, never understand what that smile was about; and yet in that short meeting, the divine had transpired.
I get into the very last carriage, and I find a spot on a bench. I sigh in relief. I had dreaded an over-packed compartment where I would have to stand or sit on the floor for what is probably going to be a 3 days’ journey. I stash my backpack in a corner under the wooden plank we are sitting on. People keep pouring in, and we are already 6 sitting on what is a bench for 4. “I better keep my seat” I think, already wondering how I am going to go to the bathroom without losing my precious spot.
This time before departure is always the most stressful, and only with the first jerk of the train moving will the tension ease.
Here we are, the siren is finally announcing the imminent departure, and I can feel a subtle jolting. There are 17 different types of horns or whistles blown in the Indian Railways, each one having its own meaning, but this long, high-pitched one is perhaps the most relieving of all.
We are now slowly moving westward, and I am squeezed between 2 Bengali men, both on their way to Kashmir. There is a family with 3 little kids sharing our bench, and opposite, we have a mixed crowd including an older lady accompanied by her son. She is wearing an oversized pair of very thick glasses, tied around her head with a rubber band. She looks ancient and frail, and it feels almost painful to see her sitting on a wooden plank for such a long journey. I wonder where they are going, what their story is.
Life in this compartment is a rawer and even more human version of what I was used to in 2nd class, it is more crowded and less comfortable. But the most dreaded scenario had not happened. I do have a seat.
There is a lot of commotion around, and people are moving in all directions; most of them still looking for a spot to sit.
Indian trains are extraordinarily rich, especially in the poorest part where I find myself now. There is so much stimulus on the senses from different angles at any given time, so many impressions on the nervous system. It is an ongoing festival of sounds and colours and vibrations. It is often gut-wrenching to see humanity in such a raw and primal state, but there always comes a moment where relaxation happens, and all looks simple and part of a more significant happening. I am slowly relaxing into myself, letting the movement of the train and the passing rice fields be part of the landscape. We are now entering a little station. More people will come in, trying to squeeze wherever possible. Chai Wallahs will go around and sell tea in small clay cups meant to be thrown out after use. Our train now comes to a full stop. I better keep my seat. From peanuts to sodas to samosas to newspapers, anything can be purchased through the bars of the window without leaving your place. I look outside. There is a large clock hanging there above the platform- it is now 11.20.
“We only left one hour ago,” I think to myself. I quickly figure out that I may still be here in 2 or 3 days, and I don’t feel about counting how many hours that adds to.
“Cha Cha Cha!!! “A little boy, hardly 10, manages to place his big aluminium teapot on the floor between all the legs, feet and sandals. My 2 neighbours get a cup and look satisfied. At 50 paisa it is ok, and I also get one. I have a money belt on, where I keep my cash and passport, but I also have a little purse with coins and small change. I haven’t used it for a while, and it is in my backpack, right there under the seat. It should be easily within reach in one of the side pockets. Without leaving my seat, I bend down, open the zip, and feel around a bit, until I suddenly touch something I had forgotten. My eyes must have lit up. Yes, now I remember, it is another cotton purse where I used to keep my grass. I know that I don’t have grass with me, but what I now remember and feel through the bag is really unexpected and exciting. It is a rather good piece of Opium that I had almost thrown away in Varanasi. But instead of discarding it, I had put it in that little purse and forgotten it.
Now our train is leaving again, and I inconspicuously hold that little piece in my hand, assessing the situation and wondering what to do with it.
At other times I maybe have discreetly rolled it into a small joint and smoked it at the door of the compartment while half hanging outside watching the Indian countryside. But here I don’t feel to leave my seat for too long. We are still well within West Bengal, and the journey has basically just started.
I carefully divide the piece into 2, put one half in my pocket and, casually passing my hand over my face, I swallow the other half.
Slowly, almost unperceivably, as the train keeps rolling and life keeps unfolding according to a cosmic law I don’t dream of understanding, the sense of time changes. It stretches, stops, and starts again according to new principles. Villages come and go outside of the window; platforms appear and then make way for more fields and more outstanding nature. Sellers enter the compartment with their goods and leave unnoticed. Little kids sweep the floor and then come back to collect a few paisas. Food is served, and eaten. People look at each other, and eyes stare into the mystery of other human beings.
As I look up, I notice that it’s dark. Night must have fallen already, and I have a little shrug of surprise. It is all very noisy and alive, the kids are running around, and life is in full swing in carriage number 29. I am now part of this little group of approximately 20 people, most of us squeezed on the 2 wooden benches, and a few sitting or lying on the floor. It’s an excellent time to ask Ravi, my neighbour, to keep my seat 5 minutes while I go to the bathroom. I have been pretty quiet and with myself, but I had connected with Ravi and impressed him with the fluency of my Bengali. The trip to the bathroom is memorable; it is filthier than I have ever seen, and apparently, the water supplies run out. People are sleeping everywhere on the floor.
I stand by the carriage door, hold myself to the bars and swing outside. The air is warm, and the train is now smoothly zooming through the night. I feel one with the wind.
I come back. My seat is taken. I realise that my neighbours had just spread slightly in my absence, closing the little gap meant for my buttocks. They all come closer to each other again, and I sit down. “Was I away more than 5 minutes?” I wonder,” could it be that I stood there by the door for hours?” I have no idea, but I do notice the lightening of the sky outside and the orange shade over the green of the fields.
Breakfast is served. A very long stop at a Station. Lunch. Another toilet break. I doze and fall asleep, maybe. Another day passes, or two I can’t tell. I eat the second and very last bit of that sticky black paste, and time slows further. Another night. Another day.
Suddenly there is an unusual movement in the carriage. People are getting ready. I ask Ravi. “We are arriving in Jammu soon. Last stop” he says. I scratch my eyes. 2 or 3 days have passed just like that, and I am now at the feet of the mighty Himalayas, off to Srinagar and then Pahalgam where I want to see Jesus’s grave.
I soon find myself in a rickshaw in search of a guest house to finally lie down and sleep. It has been the most extra ordinary journey ever in this country. The longest yet the shortest. The most uncomfortable yet the easiest and most relaxing.
My story with Opium ended here in Jammu, and I never touched that black latex again.
Watching Notre Dame engulfed in flames was shocking and I certainly was deeply affected.
Less than 24 hours later, as over a billion dollar had already been donated by individuals, and as the French President announced on TV that the bells of ND would ring again in 5 years, I entered another state of shock.
How could the burning of such a monument bring so much passion and empathy and cash, when the 12th century city of Aleppo, World Heritage in Syria, almost completely destroyed under American bombing 5 years ago, has hardly started reconstruction because the first million dollar has not yet arrived!
Why hundreds of other historical sites over the world, from Afganisthan to Lebanon, as ancient and monumental as the Paris Cathedral, are facing such indifference? Why the world mobilise on unprecedented scale when 9 people are killed by a terrorist in Paris, New York or London, but the genocide of an entire population in the Middle East or the starvation of millions in Africa are not enough to even make it to the headline?
I visited Notre Dame a few years ago for the last time, and I certainly remember the outrageous beauty of it. But I also remember how sad I felt seeing those millions of tourists flocking in with their cameras, most of them not remotely connected with what this place essentially has to offer.
As I tried to make abstraction of the blood that thousands of women shed as they were burned alive in that Cathedral, as I struggled to forget the tortures and unimaginable suffering that took place there under the umbrella of the Catholic Church, I walked away with a churning stomach.
Last night again, the archbishop of ND de Paris was life on TV at prime time, and in between a few tears he had the guts to ask “ We trust in God, but I don’t understand why this happened to us, and why now”.
Again I chuckled. What about the millions of kids victim of sexual abuse and whose lives have been destroyed? What about the extraordinary cover up on the paedophilia ring in the Catholic Church? What about Lyon’s Archbishop Philippe Barbarin, who was found guilty by a French court earlier this month, but whose resignation was refused by Pope Francis?
What about this planet, the only Cathedral we have, and the unprecedented crises it is facing? As the global scientific community is warning of a 40 % chance of human extinction before the end of this century, and that the number one issue facing planet earth today is overpopulation, the Catholic Church goes on demonising even condoms…
Pope Francis made it clear last month that the Church is not responsible for the sexual abuses, and obviously for this fire also he won’t feel responsible.
Luckily the Devil is well alive.
Every cathedral will burn and be rebuilt, and then one day be gone forever.
Every living being will go through birth and the challenges of life, through diseases and accidents, will pick himself up, stand again, and then one day be gone forever.
Every planet, every galaxy, every black hole will go through the same process, in its own way, its own timing.
As cruel as it may seem
Impermanence is the nature of all
Remembering this is the only freedom
It’s a chilly but sunny morning here in Corfu and I am pulling out my favorite sweater, a navy blue cardigan that has followed me everywhere since that morning 10 years ago, when I had just checked in and was settling in to my room on the 17th floor of my hotel in Bangkok.
Although I certainly have the Money Line, cash is something that I always had to work for and create. Except maybe that one day!
Let me backtrack a few hours and take you to New Delhi where I had just arrived from an extended stay in the Himalayas. It had been a long bus trip down from the mountains; we’d been delayed by a few landslides and a punctured tire, and it was near about midnight. I had a flight to Thailand the next morning and just needed a room for the night.
Exhausted, I made my way to the Paharganj main Bazaar that I knew like my own pockets. I hesitated between a couple of places as the rickshaw zoomed through the night, but “Take me to Hare Rama Guest House” is what came out of my mouth as we approached the bazaar. My words were met by a “Yes Sir, no problem, Sir,” and my driver soon stopped in front of the sleepy guest house. Hare Rama was a cheap den, rundown, gloomy, but I knew that their two rooms upstairs were usually available and that the bed was comfy enough for the night.
Indeed, room number 502 on the fifth floor was available. After the usual formalities, I walked up the steep marble staircase with my backpack, opened the door, turned on the fan, locked the door behind me, and fell on the bed delighted to finally be horizontal after a long journey…
I was pleased with my room; it had no windows, no a/c, no nothing, but the bed was as I remembered it, rather new and unusually comfortable. The white sheets and the pillow were also nice. I got up and took a cold shower. I could have easily called Reception and asked for “hot water please” and magic would have probably happened and hot water would have finally run through my shower – but how long it would have taken no one knew – and I could not be bothered.
As I got myself ready for bed I did something I don’t recall ever doing before – and something I would never fail to do after that night… I put my two hands under the edge of the mattress and lifted it. I don’t know what I thought, maybe I was just checking the quality of the mattress or was curious about the wooden plank it was sitting on. As I let go and the mattress fell back into place, a vacuum was created and one paper note swirled out and fell on the floor. I scratched my tired eyes, hardly believing it – it looked like a 500-euro note. I lifted the mattress again and whooooosh… here flew another 500-euro note from under the mattress.
Now, flabbergasted, I lifted up the mattress again and kept it in the air, properly checking what was hiding there underneath. Another perfectly flat, crispy, purple note was lying there. I inspected it with the other two more closely – yes, 1500 euros in total.
Hardly believing my luck while already dreaming of more, I searched on the other side of the bed also. No, that was it. “The previous person probably left in a hurry and forgot his stash,” I thought. Hippies like myself staying in this cheap part of town were famous for carrying cash, sometimes the full amount of what they needed for a six-month stay in India. And of course those 500-euro notes were extremely convenient and lucrative when exchanged on the black market.
It was getting late and I decided to get the sleep I needed and keep the bills on the bedside table until morning. I looked at them again, dazzled yet aware of the many thoughts running through my head, from “Maybe I should take them down to the reception now” to “Maybe I should hide them in case someone comes looking for them.” Leaving them there until morning felt like taking a smart middle way, and that’s what I did and I quickly fell asleep.
A knock at my door woke me up in the middle of a dream. “7 o’clock sir, your taxi is waiting,” said a voice on the other side of the door. Oh, yes, I remembered that I had ordered a taxi for 7:00! I sat on my bed, turned the light on, and quickly assessed the situation. The three notes were still there on the little plastic table, my bag was basically ready and I had plenty of time to get to the airport and catch my flight to Bangkok. I would have a coffee and something to eat at the airport. “Ok, I will be down in 10 minutes,” I replied.
I stood up and got ready, put on my pants, secured my money belt around my waist, and looked at those three big notes again, thinking… I put them in my pocket, planning a final spontaneous decision in the next five minutes. As I reached Reception, haggard, with my pack on my back, I was handed a small cup of sweetened tea and asked to sign the entry book with my time of departure and next destination. As I filled in the details I looked a few lines above mine to see who had been in room 502 before me. Gunter Schmid, check-out yesterday at 8 pm, next destination Frankfurt. OK, I thought, the owner of those notes was probably airborne to the West, and keeping the cash felt the only sensible thing to do. It was a gift from Existence, and I sighed in relief with a smile in my heart.
I paid my 350-rupees hotel bill, the taxi driver put my pack in the boot, I waved everyone goodbye, and off I went to the airport.
A few hours later, still exhilarated by my good luck, I was sitting in a full Thai Airways aircraft en route to Bangkok. The trip to the airport had been smooth as Thai silk, the flight left on time and I was now looking forward to my next adventure. Thailand was always my favorite place to hang out for a month or so while I renewed my Indian visa.
Sitting in a window seat, enjoying my lunch, a beer and the delightful Thai hospitality, I reflected upon that weird find in the Hare Rama Guest House last night. I couldn’t help but imagine the story behind my discovery, what had happened to that mysterious Mr. Schmid and if he had yet realized… I imagined him about to land in Frankfurt, short of 1500 euros. I also recalled the times I’d kept my own cash under the mattress and had to leave a hotel room in a hurry, maybe not yet well awake after a short night’s sleep. Had I ever left something behind?
“We are now flying over flooded Bangladesh,” announced the captain over the speakers, bringing to a standstill my fantasizing mind in full swing. I guessed that we were already halfway to Bangkok and it was time to stretch my legs. I stood up and slowly made my way to the back of the aircraft. The four toilets being occupied, I opted for another stroll. I remember feeling my money belt under my shirt and already planning to look at my three unexplained purple bills while in the lavatory. Somehow I was still in a kind of wonder and a part of me probably expected them to no longer be there.
Back at the lavatories. Above the doors, two lights were green, two were red. Hmmm, I thought, which one? Without time to inquire into the process that would see me push one door rather than the other, I pushed the one on the left.
I entered the cubicle. Aircraft lavatories have always fascinated me; the striking contrast between the tiny physical space and the considerable sense of privacy they provide. Aside from doing the obvious, here is a space where you suddenly can, as if by enchantment, make faces in the mirror, rearrange your balls, and check your wallet. I opened my money belt and pulled out the three notes I had carefully placed behind my own stash. There they were, still. I smiled, looked into the mirror and mumbled, “I am really lucky, I wonder what comes next?”
My eyes suddenly fell on something greenish behind the plastic hand cream dispenser. I reached out. Five notes nicely folded. 500 dollars in total. Now this was too much! I looked around and behind, looked on the floor… but that was it. No wallet, no ID, just those five notes. Had the passenger before me sorted her money and forgotten it there? Who was it? What to do now? What was going on?
Had it been in a wallet or with an ID next to it, I would have certainly taken it to an attendant, I thought, but just cash? I considered… Someone knocked on the door! I guessed I had been in there long enough and that it was time to go out. Was it the person whose cash I’d found? I put the five notes into my pocket, opened the door, looked at the man about to take my place and said, “Did you forget something?” I still remember the look on his face and his “No, I just need to shit.” OH? OK… sorry for asking such a question. I went back to my seat.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. I didn’t get up again but kept my senses open in case someone was looking for their lost money, and I decided to keep my treasure until someone asked for it – but eventually no one did and I landed in Bangkok with 500 extra dollars in my pocket.
I finally arrived at my longtime favorite condo just 10 minutes from buzzing Kao San Road. The lady at Reception simply gave me the key and told me to get the lift to the 17th floor and find my apartment. I would need to bring my passport down later, she explained, but there was no hurry. The flat looked delightful, with a large window and balcony overlooking the Chao Phraya River. It was beautifully clean and the floor was still wet. Someone had obviously checked out not long before.
I jumped on the big cozy bed. Wow, what a journey, I thought, so happy to be here! I would have a good shower and head to the streets in search of fruits and coconuts, and I would eat a green curry. It was my ritual on my first day here. I was hungry.
Coming from India, Thailand was a delight in many ways, and one of them was the safety box in each room. There it was, between the huge flat screen and the fridge. This one had a number lock, which meant one less key to carry and to lose. I fiddled with the door and the numbers, bent down, reached inside with my hand and there… a bulging wallet, huge, full to the max. I looked more carefully inside the dark metal box, went over the black velvet and emptied it. A few elastic bands and plastic pins and a pencil… otherwise nothing else but this wallet. I opened it. Travellers cheques, credit cards, dozens of big notes in Euro and US dollars, a bundle of 1000 Baht notes. Herr Rolf Honegger. Berlin.
A few crazy thoughts went through my mind, but I closed the wallet and put it back where I’d found it. I would keep it there as if I had not seen it, put my own valuables somewhere else and see what life had in store for me. I could not understand what this was all about. Was it a test? A gift? An omen?
For the third time on such a short trip, money which didn’t belong to me had appeared in front of me. Had this ever happened before? No, never.
I was so absorbed in my thoughts, staring at the safe and its mysterious wallet, feeling my rumbling stomach and floating in the magic of this inexplicable happening, that I almost didn’t hear the phone ringing.
“Hallo Mister!?” I recognized the voice of the lady at the reception.
“The person who checked out this morning just called,” she continued. “He was on his way to Ko Samet, but forgot his passport in the room. He will come back very soon. Do you mind if we come in with him when he arrives?”
“Yes of course, no problem,” I replied.
“Thank you, Mister, see you soon.”
I looked at the safe. “That is a lot of money in there,” I thought. But this time there wasn’t much to cogitate, the owner was on his way and would soon knock on my door. I emptied my bag onto the bed and started putting my few belongings away. As I opened the cupboard to hang my shirts, there was a gorgeous navy blue jumper neatly folded on one of the shelves. I looked at it, tried it on, and immediately fell in love with it. Perfect fit. I folded it back and put it where I had found it.
A knock on the door. “Excuse me for disturb,” said a middle-aged gentleman, “I forgot my wallet this morning, my taxi is waiting downstairs, do you mind if I come in?” I let him in and he walked straight to the safe, bent down, put his hairy hand inside and pulled out the wallet. “Here it is, thank you so much and enjoy your stay.” He must have trusted me because he hardly went through it.
“There is a blue jumper in the cupboard,” I added. “You must have also forgotten it.”
I took it from the shelf and handed it to him. “Oh, yes, but I don’t need it. You can keep it; it is brand new.”
I shook his hand, wished him a lovely trip to Samet and closed the door.
Meera always told me that having zero background as a painter and having never been to art school was a gift in disguise. She said that so many people coming to her were so loaded with ideas and concepts, had too much baggage, and that she spent so much time trying to free them from their knowledge. In that sense I was free already.
Today when I look at my paintings I recognize that, and I am in awe every single time. Meera taught us very little techniques, almost nothing really. And yet I see beauty all around right now, I see mystery and depth, I see the wild cyclone in movement and I feel the centre of it. I see both my aching and my silent heart, the joy and the pain, this whispering longing taking me to the unknown…
As years are passing and I am slowly collecting knowledge, I can see how right she was. Looking at paintings I did in her trainings when I knew nothing, I often stop in amazement at a certain freedom I had then. Many times I realise that today I would not be able to paint with that magenta next to that bright pink, or to suddenly enter a heavy stroke of black ink in the middle of a beautiful light flowery painting. Staying in touch and alive with that innocence and that freedom is a constant challenge. That freedom has a beauty of its own and the taste of the divine.
Painting with Meera in Osho’s garden, listening to Him and meditating every day, was a happening hard to describe. Osho’s presence is tangible in every word Meera utters, in every move she does, in every painting she creates. Osho’s vision is the connection between Meera and me.
After the first season helping in Meera’s caravan I finally got in touch with the creative fire within and I just wanted to paint. Meera had been right and now she wanted me to keep going wild into unchartered places. When I told her that I now just wanted to paint, had no juice for helping, and would rather explore on my own outside the training, she offered me to come in the group and do as I wanted. I could even have a corner in the room, and as long as I was around she was happy.
And so, I spent the last few winters in the painting training, doing as I please, knowing no limit and no boundary. I was officially part of the staff, but I refused to work and help, and would immediately leave if pushed. Meera wanted me in there and so kept widening the exceptional status I had. I was certainly the source of much admiration, but also envy and jealousy. Clearly I isolated myself and became a freak. During the days off there was so much work for the staff, so much to prepare, but as my friends were busy from morning to night gluing paper, mixing colours, cleaning and deep cleaning, I would just sit there on the roof under the trees and paint all day long, forgetting to eat, only having two or three breaks a day to meditate in the Buddha Hall.
We were painting on Krishna roof those days, an amazing open space in the heart of the commune, under magnificent ancient trees with amazing greeneries all around. During the evening meditation, when everything stops and everyone gathers together to meditate with Osho, I again had a special permission to stay on the roof and paint if I wanted; and sometimes I would miss the evening meditation and paint till midnight, alone in that huge space, with all the lights on and music playing.
Those are the days when my creativity took off. I was intense and prolific.
Meera could see that I was flowering and she kept supporting me. She was obviously aware that this situation was not right, that my entitlement was an issue, and my dramas out of place. Over the years she asked her closest friends many times “Should I kick out Nirav?” No matter the feedback she always chose love over fear. She always chose Yes over No. She always focussed on the light and the expression of creativity. Against what made sense and what was right from a therapeutic standpoint she always kept my potential in sight and did whatever was needed to support it.
My journey with Meera had just started. A glimpse at me had in a way been enough for her to see my unexplored potential, and very soon she was reconfirmed in her intuition. She gave me everything, let me do all I wanted, didn’t set limits and kept showering me with her love. She took me in the staff for five years continuously, and invited me to her trainings abroad.
The problem was that not only I didn’t believe in my potential as an artist, but receiving so much unconditional love was not possible for me. The more she gave the more I pushed her away. Those five years were intense, extraordinary in many ways, and also extremely painful. I frequently exploded into intense emotional dramas, freaked out in the middle of the groups, challenged her and pushed her to her edge. As her book “ReAwakening of Art” was about to be published, I forced her to remove my name from it. Obviously my name would have appeared in a beautiful way, and this is one of the most painful things I ever did. My name was removed and the book was published.
Today a dedicated copy is by my bedside table, and whenever I try and read Meera’s words to me on the cover, my eyes instantly fill with tears.
Maybe this Tribute is also an effort to complete something between us and ease the pain in my heart.
It is now 9.35 sometimes in December 2000, it is a beautiful misty morning in Koregaon Park, and Meera’s painting training is about to start. This part will last six weeks and has to be booked as one course. Over sixty participants will soon be picked up in the Multiversity Plaza and brought to the group room. In the last three days, Meera’s experienced staff had been busy setting up the space, mixing hundreds of litres of acrylic colours, gluing papers together to create huge pieces of canvas, sorting out brushes and watercolours, and organising so many many details. I had just been part of the crew for two weeks and I knew what a major happening it was.
I had decided not to join and obviously Meera could not force me, but something in my heart felt heavy as I wandered around the commune. I watched all those people arriving, excited and ready to embark on a journey that would change many lives.
Meera arrived in her black robe, smiling. The plaza was packed. “Where is Nirav?” she asked one of her assistants.
Here I was, sitting on a table at the back, partly in shock, partly sad, but also deep down knowing that something was soon going to happen and change the course of my life. There was a sense of urgency, a bubbly intensity, and magic was in the air. We were in the heart of Osho’s garden, between His Samadhi and the Buddha Hall where He spoke for many years, and there was never a doubt as who was actually running the show.
The group was starting in less than five minutes and there was no more time for discussion. Meera walked over to me “Nirav, did you find the money and are you coming?” “No, I am not coming, sorry!” I replied. “Oh, Nirav, this is not possible. Come! You join the staff now, I will find a way.”
She gave me a hug, took my hand and pulled me with her to the centre of the plaza. She gave me a list and a pen which I ticked as she called the names of the participants.
I was silent as we all walked together to the group room. I was hardly realising what had just happened, and how I suddenly found myself here; but obviously a match had just been thrown into my inner chambers and fire would soon engulf all my ideas and concepts of who I stubbornly believe I am. Most importantly my creativity was going to explode into thousands of rainbows and transform the very way I experience life.