Tuesday, 11 June 2013

WESTERN SAINTS AND SAGES: SOME GREAT UNKNOWN SOULS



1) Lucy Cullum

You will not find any picture of Lucy Cullum on the internet, nor did she find any wide fame. But my life was blessed by meeting and knowing her. Lucy was a very advanced psychic, an enlightened soul, one of Maharishi's early disciples. And she taught me a lot about life, honesty, integrity at a time when my life was of very little account, as a young, insecure meditation teacher.

Lucy was English, and a trained nurse. She ran an old people's home when I met her, along with her friend Elsie Cadnam, and the two were in their 70s when they appeared in my life. My friend Andrew and I had set up a TM centre in the small city of Chichester, south England, and we had no idea she lived nearby. She turned up one day like a fairy godmother and life was never really the same after that.There was touch of the magical, the unpredictable about her. She was a servant of Divine Mother, but also a Jnani, a knower of wisdom, of the atman.

Lucy had helped set up TM centres in the Netherlands in the 1960s and was known in the TM movement as "The Mother of Holland". But in the UK, no-one really knew who she was. 

She had never married, had very penetrating blue eyes hidden behind thick lenses of her glasses, an untidy mop of grey hair pulled back in an ever so untidy bun, and a fund of brilliant stories about the young Maharishi. She had slightly the look of a bird, swivelling her head to one side as you talked.

Lucy and Elsie set about transforming our little centre into a quirky community just by their force of their personalities. Elsie was the perfect foil to Lucy, with a dogged common sense, the capable practicality of a nurse. They bickered constantly. One added bit of chaos was her senile 90 year old mother, who was wheelchair bound, had a vice-like grip and apparently raging hormones... and Lucy's attempts to control her mother's outbursts were a source of constant laughter. 

But here, hidden in this homely person, in a tiny little city, in an obscure part of England, lived a person of immense and exalted spiritual stature - who had the humility to mostly hide it away.

Two favourite Lucy memories come to mind. In one, we were at a meeting of TM teachers discussing some dreary directive of Maharishi's about world peace, and i was sat in a corner barely participating. But at one point my interest, and joy caught fire. Nothing changed, I did not speak or leap forward. But after the meeting Lucy said "I looked over to you and suddenly your aura burst into brilliant white light" and I thought "How on earth did you know that?"

That same winter, my friend Andrew and a few others went on a trip to a local beauty spot called Chanctonbury Ring, on top of the hills over Brighton. Lucy, in her 70s, climbed on top of a precarious rock and subsequently fell. My friend rushed to catch her and later exclaimed with wonder "She did not weigh anything! She was as light as a feather!". One of her mysterious powers at work.

Lucy could see through people, no problem.

She took one look at my mother and later told my friend "Take care of him, his mother has never loved him." Absolutely true, all my life! She would gently warn, advise, inspire, entertain. And she put her money where her mouth is by joining up to live in the TM movement's ill-starred attempt to created an "Ideal village" on a dismal housing estate north of Liverpool. I went to stay with her, once or twice. She read me like a book, and many other "special ones" she called, who needed love, approbation, a bit of TLC. 

Her teachings on living in a state of full apprehension of the absolute, of Inner Silence, were also direct, unfeigned, grounded in experience. She lived in bliss, acted from silence, acted the perfect part of an eccentric old lady. But her presence was unmistakeable - a zone of silent bliss emanated from her at all times. 

I loved Lucy, a remarkable beacon of light, an inspiration. Even after 40 long years I remember her energy, her presence, her inspiration. And I bless my fortune to have met such a soul.


2) Colin A

Many years ago, from the life of a meditating TM teacher in an obscure meditation centre on the south coast of England, my restless samskaras led to an ill-advised marriage, then kids, then a series of job moves. One of these moves was to a place called Canterbury, which at the time was one of the smelliest towns in England due to the central proximity to the town's tannery to the high street.

Working for a company that sold group pension schemes, tied into an office and feeling like a stranger in a strange land, I rapidly grew depressed and bored... just a year or so previously I had been meditating in the Swiss Alps. Now, it was sitting at a desk opposite a chain smoker, wondering what precisely had gone wrong.

But just when things seemed their bleakest, I got to know Colin A. He was a wiry, Italian looking guy with a wife and kids, and an aura around him of goodness and sanity. He was in charge of the whole department in which I worked, but wore his authority lightly and with good humour, and he was loved by just about everybody.

Colin posed a big challenge to my rigid views on just what was holiness and who were the holy. When you belong to any spiritual or religious group or school you can tend to build up a "us versus them" mentality whereby everyone who belongs to the group is seen as the pure, everyone else... infidels. It's a classic trait of human behaviour and has led to so many wars and disputes every since the first village fought the village next door.

Colin was neither religious nor spiritual in any way, simple a kind-hearted, noble kind of a guy in a very understated way. He had a great sense of humour, but it was his overall courteous and gentle demeanour that really stood out. I can't even remember any specific acts of kindness and indeed only knew him for about a year before I moved on in my career. But even after all these years - 30 years now - he has remained in my memory and in my heart as an ideal householder, a sort of King Rama of England living an obscure, modest life in an obscure town.

How much does our fractured modern society ultimately depend on these kind of people - the wise, the just, the kind-hearted? So much focus these days is on that invidious assumption that you have to push ahead, push others out of the way, struggle for your time in the sun, become as famous as possible etc etc, that it has become a mantra of the modern world: the view that life is just a struggle for the survival of the fittest. As a result there has been a sharp collapse in basic manners - in my country, England, where formality and good manners were once considered vital attributes of every English person.

Interesting that recent scientific research is finally beginning to upend this assumption, pointing to the ultimate success stories in nature that have everything to do with co-operation, not with slugging it out... the colonies of ants, or meerkats, or, well you get the idea. I hope. Niceness, therefore is a trait that saves human society, and that is a point rammed home by the Buddhist exploration of loving kindness, sacrifice, the boddhisattva ideal.

Colin's personality taught me a lot about the art of living, lessons that I have never forgotten,I have no idea what happened to him, whether his career flourished, whether he faced tragedy or triumph. But at a time I needed an inspiring ally, Colin appeared. Perhaps my view is over sentimental. Perhaps not. But I salute him.


3) Mark L






I worked with Mark for 20 years, up until he tragically died in his 40s of an obscure disease that came on very suddenly. One month he was off with a cold - an unheard thing because Mark never took a day off - the next month he was dead, leaving a young family.

Mark, like Colin before him, was the soul of courtesy and gentlemanly behaviour. He was an independant kind of a guy, who loved travelling and adventure. This is the obituary I wrote for our company after his tragic death:

Mark’s funeral was held in the small country town of Petersfield, Hampshire on a grey November day, when there was absolutely no wind. On that day the earth seemed to be holding its breath. You could not help notice the extreme stillness of the land, driving to the place where the funeral wake was held.

That same stillness pervaded the  London office on the day we heard that Mark had died, especially on the fourth floor where he worked as chief sub-editor. Words did not really work on that day. The hurt was too raw and immediate. The sight of Mark’s empty desk – with its pictures of his two young daughters and neat stack of work-related matters – was especially poignant.

Mark was no peripheral figure at our firm. He had worked here for 20 years, helping to give shape to an ever-growing company in some crucial behind-the-scenes roles. Mark started his career as the company’s only sub-editor and de facto production manager, and by the end he was the chief sub-editor of a bustling team - and unofficial king of the 4th floor. In addition, Mark cheerfully edited the house magazine and ran a thriving company football team.

By a sad irony, we had carefully planned a celebration of Mark’s career in the very month he suddenly fell ill. We never did hold that celebration. But Mark did, just before he died, get to see and smile over the spoof magazine about his exploits that many of us had gleefully compiled -  which related various comic stories from his comrades-in-arms. Some of these stories are included in our tribute.

When Mark started work in 1990, he barely even had a desk at his disposal. His job, then, was part-time, centred around a weekly publication, our only non-daily print publication at the time. He had no real experience in the world of energy and in his spare time was busily completing one of a number of novels – this particular one being set in Saxon England.

In those pre-internet days Microsoft Word was an unheard of luxury. Reporters in the London Office filed stories on separate Amstrad computers and copied stories to disc, which Mark would duly collect. The telex still ruled the day in terms of market reports. The production team had two tiny mMacs the size of tiny portable TVs.

Mark’s baptism of fire came from learning how to work with our founder, who at the end of an exceptional career still wrote editorials at the age of 80. Mark used to relate how he nearly got fired in his first weeks for changing the words of an editorial: the founder was a wordsmith and paid particular attention to getting his thoughts and paragraphs exactly right. He did not appreciate the input of a callow youngster, however well meaning.

Our firm began to expand its stable of business intelligence reports bit by bit and Mark was there overseeing the details. Mark was there every step of the way, subbing the publications and sending them off to press. Mark went reluctantly full-time and recruited his team of fellow subs and production experts - which over the years since has contained a fascinating cast of mavericks and individuals.

Without too much effort on his part, Mark the manager was born and he brought the same cheerfulness and equitable temper to managing the unruly subbing team as he did handling the ever-growing stable of equally demanding editors. The world of Business intelligence and financial journalism calls for a high degree of accuracy, and Mark had his critics in those early years, but he learned about energy as he went along – and formulated House style along the way. He quietly became very skilled in the art and science of turning edited copy into the finished article.

Mark also embraced the move over to the internet and the new challenges this brought to in-house sub-editing. He was attentive to the needs of editors. He never shouted or quarrelled with editors. He could be stubborn in pressing a point home, but he was also that rare human being – someone who could cheerfully admit when they were wrong or had made a mistake.

Above everything else, Mark had a particular style in how he lived and worked. He was optimistic, cheerful and accommodating. His love of the outdoors was legendary. This spilled over in tales he gleefully related of many yomps up mountain tops. Mark also ran a number of marathons and hill races. Age passed him by. Even with greying temples he still ran as fast as he ever had when young. Mark also created and supported the  football team, an unruly group of people with a passion for losing games and breaking limbs. 

Mark also loved to tease his comrades in arms, especially those he knew well. He was, in turn, the target of jokes which he took in part. And how many staff, after 20 years, could claim never to have lost his temper in the office? Mark was not one for rage, or for vendettas of any kind. He had a gentle courtesy that he displayed to all he met in the company and outside it.

The true measure of Mark’s standing came at his funeral. The church was packed with well-wishers, all of whom had their own separate stories to tell of Mark’s essential decency as a human being. This decency underpinned his professional life just as it did his personal life and explains why, that sad day, the London office went so quiet.

That was the obituary. What I  did not say, but can now:

The spiritual element in his life was understated, but throughout his brief life he adhered to standards of decency, honesty, and politeness that seemed truly royal. He was on the side of the good, an oasis of sanity and measured calm. I saw him tested under many conditions - the nastiest people in the office always tried to target and undermine him - but he never lost his cool.

He was at his best up on the side of a mountain with his many friends, or kayaking down some freezing mountain stream. Touchingly, a year or so before his death he won a family trip to New Zealand, all expenses paid, and wrote the trip up. His two daughters showed the same sense of adventure, even at a young age.

His death profoundly touched me. I lost a friend, someone who always showed an interest in my strange expressions of religious and yogic practice, who laughed at my jokes and cheered me up when I was feeling not so great. I firmly believe that the heart of any organisation depends on noble souls, and that when these souls go the company suffers. It certainly happened with my firm. It became a colder, more competitive place after his death.

In my sentimental way I hope that after my own death, I can see Mark again and we can sit and talk and catch up. Perhaps for me he represents so much of what I wish was in my own personality - his patience especially! I miss him, every day.