I’ve recently begun teaching meditation and I’m really enjoying it a lot. Apart from getting to share something I love deeply, It’s inspired me to look back at my own journey with Meditation and how it has shaped me. The opportunity to share this practise, that has been so instrumental in my own life, has also been an invitation for me to reconnect, & deepen my own meditation; to tune into my own inner silence so that this sharing is not just words and techniques but a living experience.
It’s taken me a long time to feel ready to teach Meditation. My own inner experience of it sits very close to my heart, It doesn’t fit tidily into words and concepts, pinning it down feels a bit like trying to hold a live butterfly.
In my twenties I was blessed to find myself, living at a meditation centre in New Zealand, with a Master in the art of Silence; Maitreya Ishwara. It was there I received the name “Shanti” but more importantly the experience of it. Shanti in the ancient yogic language of Sanskrit means “Peace”. I lived, worked (And meditated), at the Maitreya Meditation Centre for 5 years, growing and changing in ways that I’m still learning to integrate many years later. I left there with a very different inner experience than when I arrived.
I was first invited to stay by a good friend, who gave me some great advice. She said that working with a teacher isn’t so much about the surface appearance, it was what was happening inside that mattered. So from the very beginning even though there was this larger than life Mysterious Teacher heading the show, I had permission, to keep an eye on my own inner experience. In a world where our attention is constantly being swept away by the next distraction, learning to keep some attention turned inwards is invaluable .
Life’s timing can be strange. There’d been a time where I was hungry for a Guru/teacher, a guide through the seeming chaos of existence. When none appeared I surrendered to discovering what truths I could in bits and pieces, wherever they might show up. I lived by the concept of ‘Life as teacher’ and although my understandings were haphazard they were satisfying to a certain extent. I was no longer looking a teacher when I found myself sitting twice a day at ones feet.
Instead I was looking for how to utilise these understandings in a meaningful way. Maitreya was the first person I’d met who appeared to be living confidently fully at home in this the world, he remains one of the most remarkable beings I’ve ever known. Living, working and meditating alongside him I got a taste of a more expansive experience of being, or presence.
I’m not going to pretend it was all roses, we had our disagreements also, but they were small in comparison to the whole picture. The stillness and silence at the heart of his teachings remain unchanged by the nitty gritty of everyday living. Maitreya provided the encouragement, space and support for meditation to happen. That happening is an internal process that changes everything. Regular meditation opened me up to the wonder of being alive, and taught me to enjoy Being myself.
Also Sanskrit The name “Maitreya” means “friend” and “Ishwara” means “God” so “Maitreya Ishwara” translates “friend (as) God”. Rather than use the traditional term of “Guru” Maitreya encouraged people to see him as a divine friend, and to me he was. Religion has given God a bad name, and in many spiritual circles it’s not a popular concept. However having had an early grounding in Catholicism I have a bit of a God thing myself, and I Loved this aspect of his teachings. Not only did he talk about God he talked about being God, with just the right amount of Self depreciating British humour that I could believe it (at least some of the time). According to his teachings we are all divine only most of us don’t have a direct experience of this. Although Maitreya passed away suddenly in 2012 his influence on my life still holds.
Maitreya didn’t demand belief or blind following of rules; He encouraged questions and discussion, but mostly he provoked a deep curiosity to discover the truth for oneself. Most of what I learned came from his deep Love of conscious Silence; Meditation. You can talk about meditation all you like but if you want to experience it, you just have to do it. The practise of turning inwards is the perfect opportunity for self discovery, and empowerment. The truth you discover for yourself nobody can shake. Maitreya taught me to trust my thoughts and feelings as divine, and to trust there might be a master plan without having to know all the details.
He inspired in me both the hunger and the discipline to look inwards again and again, to discover the truth for myself, until it was familiar territory. I’m not saying I live there permanently but I know the address instinctually, and I know how to get there if my self delusions get out of check.
I think the age of an infallible Guru is over. The Yoga world is full of stories of teachers abusing positions of power, but we need to remember it’s our choice what power we give others. Perhaps if we see our teachers also as friends, we might be a little more aware of our own responsibilities as adults in relationship. Idolising someone can be just as dehumanising as dismissal, and as tempting as it is to see our teachers as fundamentally different from ourselves, if we do so, we rob ourselves of the possibility of becoming like them.
It is only in Acknowledging our own humanity can we find the inherent divinity within it, within ourselves and each other. I hope that my students see me also as a friend, and that my friends know they also teach me so much. Perhaps if we can really learn to see and respond to the divinity present in all of us always, maybe this Peace on earth thing might just happen.
“its very easy to know the divine plan, it’s whatever happens. Reality is Gods manifesto”.
Maitreya I loved your presence, patience and power. I loved your sparkling eyes, your fearlessness, your certainty, and your humour. I loved you for bringing “God” back, for your controversial stance on free will, and for your teachings to trust life not just as teacher but as Divine. I loved you for being so reasonably unreasonable, for being so unconditionally who you were. But most of all I loved your silence, a silence so powerful I can still hear it now if I listen. Thank you for sharing your truth, your light with the world, It will shine in my heart forever.
~ Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti