Growing on the spiritual path
Before I started the spiritual path, I thought I was doing okay: yoga in the morning to relax and energize, and the rest of the day to pursue my outer activities. My wife and I had been blessed with two beautiful children; the perfect family – one boy and one girl – plus a relatively stable marriage. And, since I was the Director of the School of Social Work, I could envision a promising career. I was already serving on national committees and boards, sharing my little knowledge in the sphere of the intellectual world. I was a career man, investing a lot in my work. The icing on the cake came when I published my first book in 1985.
My parents were so proud of their little boy, born and raised in a farming community, in the francophone village of St-André, New Brunswick. On a farm, the oldest boy’s traditional destiny is to continue the family enterprise. The other boys have to look somewhere else, because there is no room for more than one on a family farm. So it was that I received the education that had brought me, after a few detours, to this position. A professor’s job, a stable marriage, two children, a house and two cars, what else could I ask for? A few promotions maybe? The rest was perfect... From farm boy to professor, everyone considered this to be success.
But my inner voice was echoing my yoga teacher’s words and the running guy’s spiritual Master’s message: look inwards – inner progress rather than outer success. The real journey has nothing to do with outer success. The ego’s trip is, from a spiritual point of view, useless, meaningless, and utterly false. Do you want to continue with your illusions and delusions? Or do you want to abandon all this and explore the inner journey?
As I began to immerse myself in it, Guru Sri Chinmoy’s message was putting into another perspective all my desire for name, fame and material wealth. According to his philosophy, the outer life is nothing compared to the unimaginable joy, bliss and delight of the inner life. To him, formal education is worth little if we don’t have an inner life, a life of love, devotion, surrender. What? Love? I thought I knew what it meant. Devotion I could accept, to some extent, maybe, on Sunday! But surrender? No way... I did not make all this effort over the years simply to let everything go. After all, this was my life, and I was not ready to accept a life of surrender.
Meeting the Peace Runners
When I joined Sri Chinmoy’s path in 1987, I was still in Eastern Canada, and a professor at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick. There were hardly any spiritual communities in the area, let alone in the city. One vegetarian restaurant had opened recently, but it was for wealthy people who could afford the food and the scenery of the place. A vegetarian store, The Corn Crib, was selling the basics for vegetarians. The store also had a bulletin board where customers could read about or post information about community activities. Moncton also had no specialized running store or information about the world of running.
When the first International Sri Chinmoy Peace Run arrived with two teams of runners from the world over, carrying the Peace Torch step by step the 5,500 km from the east coast to the west coast of Canada, I had the privilege of hosting these elite runners. This was, for me, a heart-opener!
One little incident: A neighbour and friend of mine owned a restaurant, The Pizza Delight and we had arranged for one complimentary meal for every runner. Those runners tell me that they still remember that evening, on Mountain Road, feasting on all-you-can-eat spaghetti, pizza, delicious breads toasted on a special bread bar, and more! Having been on the road for weeks, these amazing runners – so humble, so full of joy, simply running for peace – gave me a beautiful introduction to the world of Sri Chinmoy. Such an unforgettable moment!
Things that helped me
How to describe my early life on this spiritual journey? In a culture where the term “Guru” raised suspicion and doubt? In an academic world where spirituality was not well accepted, to say the least? It was not always easy.
Of course, there was the “Inner Hand,” the “Inner Voice” that was always present, in various forms, to guide me. But there were also certain circumstances and strategies that helped me, including the following:
- Meditating daily. In those early days, I meditated for only 20 to 30 minutes. In addition, I would read a short passage from one of the daily meditation books. Each morning, this reading would give me a spiritual message from our Guru. I did not want to miss my morning meditation, so I would make sure I got up before my early-morning son, because after he was up, it was too difficult, if not impossible, to meditate!
- Singing sacred songs. One of the first songs I was introduced to after I joined Sri Chinmoy’s path was the one called The Invocation. Over the years, I have learned to cherish this song. It is a long, meditative mantra. It has a haunting effect that is extremely powerful, divine. And when Guru sang it with us, on special occasions like April 13th or August 27th of every year, the experience I had was beyond words. Roofs and walls were vibrating, hearts were radiating, and souls were beaming with light... Fifteen years later, I still remember moments such as the one that happened in 1999, when one thousand disciples sang the “Invocation" with Guru at a college auditorium on the occasion of his birthday. Many times have I said to myself that living this incarnation was well worth the trouble, if only for any one of the unique moments when we sang this special song with Guru.
Two others also helped me tremendously at the beginning: I must never give up and Smile, my soul, smile!
- Diplomacy. The dear members of my family had been educated in the Catholic faith and were not open to even discussing the concept of a Guru, let alone the fact that I claimed one as my master! So I was very discreet and did not talk about my spiritual practice with my parents or relatives for a few years.
- Trips to visit Sri Chinmoy. During my early days after 1987, I would try to go down to New York at least twice per year, for our international celebrations in April and August. Although this was most difficult on the home front, between the family life and my work obligations, these trips helped me in so many ways: reconnecting with our Guru, seeing friends from all over the world, being inspired by all the spiritual events. Eventually I rented a little room in the house of a local disciple, so I could stay close to Aspiration-Ground, the place where most of our activities were held.
- Having a sympathetic boss. At some point in my early career, a colleague and I created a program in Social Work at the university. This colleague was open to spirituality and to alternative methods of helping people. I wanted to offer meditation classes, so that other people could benefit as I was benefitting from meditating. His response: “Sure. It will create good vibrations in our building.”
- Moving to a city with a larger Centre. In 1990, I was invited to move to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, and establish a School of Social Work at the University of Ottawa. So my wife, our two kids and I moved to this new city, which had a large meditation centre and many more meditation opportunities than where I lived before.
- Opening my profession to spirituality. My boss did not like to travel, and I never said no to travel! In 1992, he asked me if I would go and represent our School at an international conference in San Diego for our profession. Of course, I was happy to go. It was a huge conference, with many thousands attending. I attended a special event called “Spirituality in the caring professions” and discovered that there was quite a network of professionals interested in spirituality all around the world. Wow! What an opening!
Nothing is impossible
Years ago, when I was fairly new on the path: I was talking to another disciple who was performing in a play that evening at Aspiration-Ground; it was already after 5 p.m., and nothing was ready.
“This is impossible", I told him! To which he responded: “On this Path, nothing is impossible!" That really impressed me. Nothing is impossible! And now I agree with him. I have experienced it many times since our conversation.
Another Ottawa disciple and I were driving down to New York for a weekend. Wanting to be in our best consciousness to meet our Guru, we decided to recite the mantra Purity, and we did, for a couple of hours. Upon hearing about this initiative, Guru suggested: No! Not one mantra, but seven mantras.
And he gave us seven mantras to recite: Purity, Faith, Determination, Compassion, Concern, Gratitude, Devotion.
What a gift from Guru! In our Centre, many times we have recited these seven mantras.
'For the good of your soul'
In 1992, my wife decided to end our 25-year marriage. It was very tough for me and it was also quite a challenge for our two children. Furthermore, in my culture, when one separates, he or she soon finds another partner. At that point, our Guru Sri Chinmoy told me: “You can do what you want, but for the good of your soul, it is better to lead a celibate life.” What a message coming from our Guru! All gratitude to Sri Chinmoy!