Mother, Daughter, Son-in-Law: Three Paths to Awakening

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 3.38.37 PMWe come from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean and couldn’t be more different if we tried—Ed from a crowded apartment in the Bronx, Deb from boarding school in the English countryside. But we both began the spiritual journey at the same time in the late 1960’s while we were young: Ed was a Latin dance teacher in his twenties living in Miami and New York City, hanging out at discos and Studio 54, while Deb was an art student in her late teens and living in London.

When she was just 15 years old, Deb’s mother took her to a meditation retreat. “I was a pretty wild teenager, my older siblings were all elsewhere, and as her youngest my mother had no intention of leaving me in London on my own. I had met some of the people who would be at the retreat and she assured me she was only going for three days, so I agreed. I had no idea what would happen or that it would change my life. I really didn’t understand what I was meant to be doing, but the experience of sitting in silence was one of coming home, of feeling that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I sat for hours. My mother stayed for three days but I stayed for ten. I didn’t want to leave; I didn’t want to be parted from this place of belonging. I was home again, and it was as if I had never left.”

At the same time, age 26 and on another continent, Ed was discovering meditation at an ashram in India. “In New York I had met Paramhansa Swami Satyananda, a yogi from northern India, and he invited me to train with him at his ashram, the Bihar School of Yoga. It seemed like a way I could find a real meaning to life, so I went from a ‘flowers-in-your-hair’ sixties hippie to a swami in the discipline of an ashram. I was determined to attain my deepest purpose: Self-Realization, the highest realization in Yoga. I knew that if meditation could awaken my ability to stabilize my mind then I would be free. I learnt that it’s one thing to sit and be quiet in a cave, but the real accomplishment is if you can be inwardly quiet and calm in a crowded city. Then the greatest joy awaits you.”

Finding our separate ways in meditation is what also brought us together. Both of us were seeking answers to the same question: Is it possible to live in this world that appears so heartless, with a heart that is open and loving?

Meanwhile, Deb’s mother, Anne Bancroft (not the actress but the author), had also found answers of her own. She is 92 years old now, residing in an assisted living home in London. And her spiritual journey is blossoming. “The first insight came when I was in my late thirties and was going through the trauma of divorce. One night I felt deeply repentant for my own actions. The next morning, as I switched on the radio and heard the first note of music a radically different kind of reality was suddenly present. Nothing physical had altered but I saw everything as having a clarity and depth I had never known before, a ‘thusness’, a ‘just-so-ness’, which had nothing to do with the world of opinion. Seeing things in this way brought an indescribable happiness. I felt myself to be part of everything without division, part of a total oneness.

“The experience was so transformative that I assumed it must be a general condition which other people knew about but which I had never heard of. I then met Dr. Daisetz Suzuki, a Zen master, who was paying a rare visit to England from his temple in Japan. I asked him what I should do next. He advised me to live a confident and trustful life and not to look for explanations but to experience what is here and now as it is, just this. He said that I should embrace both wisdom and compassion: the wisdom to see things as they are and the compassion to act always from a generous heart. This advice has followed me in and out of my life ever since to the extent I have been able to rise to its challenge. It now stands me in good stead as I reach the end of that life.”

We all want and deserve to have a good life. With mindful awareness we can dissolve the root of hatred in ourselves and thereby end the war within; we can create the opportunity for a different reality to emerge, a heartfelt path of wisdom and compassion, regardless of which generation we come from!

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