(Photo from the collection of Arsh Matharu Photography)
Chapter Twenty-Three (2004 ~ 33 years)
Many Blessings and Self-Inflicted Confusion
‘It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.’
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)
I continued thinking about my non-exist love affair, even though this felt self-indulgent when so much atrocity was happening in the world. Iraq. Bali. Burma. Sudan. Russia. Tibet. The list went on... I felt small and insignificant, and rightly so. My compassion grew when I focused on the wider world… able to put things into perspective. But it didn’t stop outlandish thoughts of a possible union with Alan running through my mind, creating feelings in my heart that caused it to break again and again.
Happily, my career really started and my attention was diverted.
My first major event was the motivational talk at Post School Options on January 15. Mum and Dad accompanied me to Wyong, 30 minutes away by car. I wasn’t nervous as expected because it was a new experience, and a short meditation the afternoon before helped immensely. Prior to the meditation, I had begun to feel nervous while I’d been preparing a lesson plan, collecting quotes, and fashioning an excerpt from Alan Clements’ book – Instinct for Freedom, Finding Liberation through Living, to suit the context of the meeting. Tammie had advised me that she and the Post School Options staff needed motivating out of bouts of complacency… due to the nature of working with intellectually-challenged teenagers and adults.
I practiced the meditation technique I learnt at vipassana because it had become a part of me. The tools were a part of me all the time: my breath and the ever-changing sensations of my body! So I meditated to harness my energy that was beginning to vibrate in excited overdrive. After observing my breath for a time and gaining some control of my sporadic thoughts, I was able to concentrate on my body’s heightened vibrations and merge with them, in a free-flowing, high-vibratory dance. This act allowed me to gain perspective of the coming appointment, because afterwards I didn’t feel nervous again, feeling grounded instead.
I expected to experience some anxiety in the morning; however, everything felt like a wonderful process I was blessed to be involved in, particularly because Mum and Dad were also sharing it with me. As we drove, I clapped my hands three times and clasped them, testing the action, planning to ask the adults to do it in class before we commenced the meditation. Clapping hands and then rubbing them, is a good way to detect vibrations constantly vibrating on the skin.
We arrived in Wyong and Dad pushed my chair up a hill to the premises, Mum walking to our side. A welcome breeze fanned our faces before we entered the building which was a great relief to me as the day was overcast and muggy. Toilet was the first stop, and then we moved to the adjoining building where the talk was being held to meet the Post School Options staff.
Mum saw the room first and said,
‘Oh Suzie, you had better take a deep breath’.
I didn’t feel the need but understood her concern when Dad guided my chair through a door into a small room full of people. Approximately 30 were already seated, positioning chairs to establish a clear view. Mum and Dad sat to each side of me and I shifted my wheelchair towards everyone, put on my brakes, and asked, ‘Are we waiting for Tammie?’ Tammie popped her head from behind a row of people saying, ‘I’m here’ and I realised the talk was to begin without an introduction of any kind.
This wasn’t a problem. I introduced Mum, Dad, and myself, and thanked Tammie for inviting me to speak at Post School Options. I gave a brief description of my life, an account of my first neurological hiccup and the wealth of lessons my disability had brought. I explained that I saw my problem as a great blessing, one that drove me to slow down, put matters into perspective, and experience qualities of life that mattered most—tolerance, patience, understanding, caring, compassion, love, and insight. I shared my gratitude for the love of family and friends, and my awe of the love freely given to me by strangers. ‘It often brings the best out in others,’ I told them, as people are very willing to offer assistance, seeming to be delighted to help…I felt that their willingness showed that we are here for each other as we move through life, and spoke brightly about compassion being a powerful emotion and action the key to our happiness. ‘We must give to live’.
After further sharing, I handed out the excerpt from Alan’s book and read aloud as everyone followed along. The passage focused on how to uplift our existence and help others do the same: ‘A revolution of the spirit begins by first learning how to liberate our own minds from fear, apathy, and ignorance.’ Every relationship is a vehicle to awaken the love the world desperately needs.
‘The first, and most difficult, is liberation through world relationships. By engaging in relationships, we discover ourselves, and by serving the freedom of others, one frees oneself. This style, the liberating blend of intuitive discernment, creative compassion, and basic goodness – counters the habit of self-centred fixation. And self-centred fixation is the root cause of greed, fear, anger, and all other forms of suffering.’
The piece held many other pearls of wisdom, and I recommended the entire book to everyone.
Following, I asked everyone to clap their hands three times and join me in meditation. The majority had never meditated and it was a great privilege to guide the meditation for approximately five minutes. Many people seemed refreshed on opening their eyes and said they enjoyed the experience. We briefly discussed the connection between our body and mind, and contemplated our intrinsic position in nature. I gave a short explanation of what vipassana meditation did for me; particularly the liberation I felt on realising with my entire mind and body that everything was impermanent and so was my dis-ease. I briefly discussed my autobiography; read Come fly with Me for the anti-bias/anti-discriminatory messages; and answered questions. The meeting took over an hour and a half, and I was delighted to be a part of it. I thanked everyone for the fantastic opportunity and received many goodbye hugs.
Next day, I sent Alan an email about this and in the midst of describing, I said, ‘I would love to be speaking with you in person about all this’. The next day he wrote, ‘We’ll soon have ample time to speak in person. I too look forward to it. You’re an inspiration’.
I looked very forward to that soon and having ample time to speak in person …
IN MID-FEBRUARY, I returned to Umina Public School to talk with all year 3 to year 6 classes in seven sessions, concluding the final five in April/May. It was another huge privilege! Visiting the school with Dad was also an incredible honour. Mum escorted me on one of the days and I was blessed again to perform such a loving duty with my parents. They watched in amazement at the wonderful interplay with the children, and I felt their love and joy.
After reading Come fly with Me during these talks, I would ask the children to find a position on the floor to lay or sit and close their eyes. When settled, I’d perform a guided meditation exercise, taking them through some of the workings of the body and sensations on the body. Then I’d ask them to choose a bird, and as a bird, we would fly through the changing seasons. It was a refreshing activity and a first time meditating for many.
After meditation, I would read my second story Playing in Space, and several children said it was their favourite, inspiring me to write more. Without even realising, the children provided brilliant feedback, suggesting destinations for future adventures and presenting good questions about my physical problem. I explained the circumstance of my wheelchair confinement so positively that one boy said: ‘I wish I had a wheelchair’, referring to the tricks he could perform rather than the prospect of being physically-challenged.
To conclude the session, I’d read my favourite poem I’m exactly like you (written in 2000) and others if time permitted. Often, children would surround me when the class ended asking individual questions, expressing their heart or shyness, and most of them gave me big cuddles when I asked. The cuddles were another blessing because Miss Darmody, the librarian who organised my visits and schedule, sadly told me that school policy no longer allowed children to be touched at all, even when they needed loving contact.
A communication channel was established from these classes. The children sent me letters suggesting story ideas and expressing their love through colourful poetry or prose and I posted an individual reply to each. I felt like Santa Claus when I opened the first envelope full of letters and promptly set about answering!
* * *
Alan hired a tour manager for this year’s Australian trip and I wasn’t needed as his Sydney contact person. I was a little disappointed but also grateful the amount of work was not pinned on me. Still inclined to assist, I emailed Alan’s schedule and details to my contacts from last year; including radio stations – commercial and community, meditation, and yoga centres, politicians, public figures, healing centres etc. Approximately seven lists were complied and sent to his tour manager, Chris, and we built a lovely rapport.
Alan stayed in contact with me during the lead up to his visit and I was convinced a strong friendship was growing between us. Particularly strong, since I was involved in the finer details of coordinating keys to his friend’s flat for his arrival in Sydney. He was very grateful and told me to feel free to call him anytime at his friend’s apartment.
Mum called the apartment a few times on the day he arrived to welcome him. I didn’t want her to disturb him and was embarrassed, but there was no need. He did not answer, so she left messages. Assuming he was resting or meditating, I anticipated seeing him that night. His first talk commenced early evening and I was going along, due to a generous friend’s offer to drive an hour from Sydney to pick me up, drive me to Sydney, attend the talk, drive me home, and then return to Sydney himself.
The journey down to Sydney in Dave’s v8 motorcar was chatty and fast. In no time we were looking for a car park. I smoked a joint before we arrived, to ensure my limbs stayed supple in the chair for the duration of the talk, and to settle my nerves before seeing Alan. From there, Dave wheeled me along the charming east Sydney streets, until we came to the Yoga Centre, holding his talk.
We had been waiting out the front for Yolanda only a few minutes before Alan emerged from the building. He smiled a beautiful smile and said, ‘I knew I came down here for a reason’. I beamed a smile in return and was greatly surprised to receive a cuddle and a brief kiss on the lips. Although taken aback, my main concern was the possible taste of marijuana on my lips. Alan didn’t seem to notice; he was bursting with vibrancy and I didn’t know how to take him. He was serious and reticent the last time I saw him… such was his heartache over Aung San Suu Kyi and the situation in Burma.
Because of these thoughts whirling in my mind, I wasn’t really a part of Alan and Dave’s conversation, and merely enjoyed the good vibes around me. I imagined other opportunities to talk with Alan would happen. Soon, Yolanda walked up the hill to greet us, warmly received by Alan. ‘It seems like only yesterday’ he said, as she went on his 2001 retreat in Bryon Bay. The energy was great between the four of us and when Alan’s other friends arrived, Dave, Yolanda, and I made our way into the building. The talk was upstairs and Dave needed to lift me, and then the wheelchair, to the first floor. In 1999, Dave had carried me up many steps into the SCG (Sydney Cricket Ground) member’s stand to watch the Sydney Swans with Dad. Not an easy feat; he considered this short distance incomparable exertion.
Dave placed me on a plastic chair in the room assigned to the talk and I struggled to transfer into my wheelchair so we could move freely about until the talk commenced. It was hot and stuffy on the top floor, and after many attempts, I accepted David’s offer to lift me in. Healthy men are miracles workers due to their strength, and we were quickly on the move again …
* * *
Throughout the next 29 pages of this chapter:
Down about my lack of physical independence: unable to get to two-day Dharma retreat and meet up with Alan following.
‘Spiritually Incorrect’ ~ Alan’s last Sydney event.
Mum and I drive to Byron Bay for four-day Dharma retreat: generous gift from Alan for last year’s work ~ Save Burma Save Aung San Suu Kyi tour!
Before it commenced: stayed at Sarah’s (restless), and then the Byron Bay Wheels Resort (tumultuous)…
Truth discussions and self-inflicted confusion at retreat.
Following, Thea’s ground-level home my sanctuary.
‘Spiritually Incorrect’ in Byron.
Cuddles with Ammachi ~ and a family blessing!
Blessings continue: Medicine Buddha Empowerment event and His Eminence Luding Khenchen Rinpoche.
Continue wishing for the magnanimous companion I’m meant to meet, hoping he is within physical reach…
Write letter to Alan regarding situation at home and advice on how to write honestly without hurting people’s feelings… his reply (in part):
“Suzie, if there is pure intention there is no higher good than truth. If your writing is grounded in it, you provide a gift to others. Let nothing distract you from truth. Love, Alan”
MS alternative treatments meeting: learn about Atlas Orthogonal (AO)… Revisit drastic horse fall on my neck when I was 11… commence AO: chiropractic ~ long drives south with Dad for treatment.
Despite huge physical improvement: commence receiving weekday personal care for an hour.
Meet Bryce Courtenay at a Children’s Literature Festival at Ourimbah Campus: offers to help me.
Experience suffering to know compassion more than I ever imagined possible on meeting Rory, David’s workmate.
An unknowable force/attraction pulls us together…. Rory goes DUI with me beside him on New Year’s Eve…