“For picking up the pearls one must oneself dive deep into the ocean”
This interview is brought to you by the fellows of the Heartfulness Fellowship. It kicks off our interview series, called, Pearls of Wisdom, where we document the experiences, memories and journeys in meditation of the residents of Param Dham ashram. Many of these people have had spiritual journeys spanning decades. They are seasoned travellers on the path and have experienced the twists and turns and highs and lows of their quest. We hope, by sharing their stories, we may also learn from their wisdom.
Introducing, Thomas John Whitlam, born in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada.
When, why and how did you first begin practising Heartfulness Meditation?
Well, it’s three questions. So, taking them in order.
When? I started on 10 April, 1973.
Why? I felt like I wanted to become better. I think that’s driven me to do a lot of things in my life. I was looking to change positively.
How? I was living together with a friend of mine and he and two other friends started doing the practise through the first preceptor in Canada, Christine Priesland. She started to do the practise during a trip to India in 1971. She came back to Canada and started to work in the same office where I worked. Some friends of mine started and the fellow that I was living with started. I saw changes in him, dramatic changes in his personality. And so, looking for change in myself, I decided that I would give it a try. I’m very happy that I did.
How has your journey in Heartfulness Meditation been so far?
That was an easy question [chuckles].
When you first started practising, what are the kind of changes that you perceived in yourself?
Well, this was quite a while ago. It’s been a constant, I suppose, roller coaster would give a bit too much emphasis to the downs, although there have certainly been times where I have felt challenged doing the practise. It’s not a constant upward motion it’s more undulating in the upward direction. Certainly the experience of an expansion of what I feel myself to be, has always been there, even though at the beginning I didn’t always recognize it as that. More and more I see that it is changing the boundaries of what the self is. So you come to recognize that you are more than what you thought you were – constantly. Which can be a challenge at times. Because sometimes the ego is a little resentful of too rapid change. At least that has been my experience. I’m not always as accepting of change as I should be. I think it’s a common problem actually. Unfortunately we have the feeling that we can stay in one place, but we can’t. No one can. You’re either going up or you’re going down. There is no static state for anybody in the world. Particularly when you are happy in some particular state. You say to yourself, “Oh, this is nice, I’ll stay here for a while.” – No!
Has there been any time over the last 45 years you have been meditating where you stopped meditating or taken a break from the practise?
Well, I’ve never stopped going to satsangh. I have stopped doing the practise from time to time. Again, there is sometimes a kind of reluctance to move forward. But I can’t say that I’ve ever quit. Many people have. They’ve quit and then come back. So it’s not unusual, particularly over a long period of time. My belief is that once you start, you are in it, and you may try to get away, but you’ll always be drawn back, either in this lifetime or another lifetime.
Is there anything that helped you in these moments to pick up the practise where you left off? Or was it more a process which you worked through yourself?
I really don’t know, I’m not sure. I would have to think about that.
Do you have any experiences/stories you would like to share about the Mission/Masters? We know that you were the editor of a particular book, we would love to hear about that experience.
Well, the books were just typing in on the computer what the Master wrote in his diaries. I mean, his English is beyond editing. I’m talking about Chariji. He was such an intellect that it was difficult to do anything but just type in what he wrote. So editing was not much of a challenge.
In terms of stories, there is one experience that I would like to tell. This was when I first met Babuji and Chariji. They were touring Europe. It was Babuji’s second tour of Europe in 1976. I followed them around Europe. It was an amazing opportunity to be with both of them in very small groups. Five or six people would have been a big gathering at that time in Europe. But there was one occasion where Dr Hans Gangloff who was the centre-in-charge of Germany at that time, and quite a well-known psychiatrist, had arranged a public meeting in Munich and advertised it well in advance and invited the media. A large group showed up. He had underestimated the response and even though it was a fairly large hall, kind of like a lecture theatre with sloping seats coming down to the stage at the front, the place was overcrowded. There was media and a lot of people there who had been invited by Dr Gangloff, and been drawn by his reputation. There was a big turn out and it was packed. We abhyasis were standing at the back of the room and Babuji was seated on the stage in this big overstuffed chair facing the audience. He was a fairly small person, so it looked as if he was disappearing into the chair. This elderly German lady with a cane came walking down, just as things were about to start and started walking along the front of the stage, just in front of Babuji, looking for a place to sit in the packed room. Babuji had been looking off to the other side and she was coming from the opposite direction. I was watching. He looked back towards her and immediately, without a pause, and to me that was the amazing part, he immediately got up and took her arm and sat her in his chair and he stood off to the side. Dr Gangloff had been talking to someone and he looked around to see that there’s this little old lady sitting on the stage in Babuji’s big chair. Of course then five people offered her their seat and Dr Gangloff came up and ushered her to another chair. But to me, the amazing part was not that Babuji gave up his chair to this woman, but that there was no thought or pause between him seeing and reacting. And I still really don’t understand it. Because if it was any normal human being they would look and they would think and say to themselves, “Here is an old lady, what is she doing? She is looking for a chair. Okay, should I give her my chair? Maybe that would not be correct in this situation.” At least there would be a couple of seconds before taking action. It was surprising to me that Babuji reacted without apparent thought.
How have you seen the evolution of the Mission from SRCM to Heartfulness? What are the changes that you have witnessed? How are the abhyasis of this generation different from the abhyasis in earlier ones?
I’m speaking from the point of view as a preceptor, because I’ve been a preceptor for quite as while as well. The current work that is going on seems like how it was in Babuji’s time; quite frankly, it seems to be harkening back to how things were then. I mean there were many changes over the years. We were allowed to do distant sittings and then we weren’t allowed to do distant sittings. Now, we are allowed to do them again. I mean I don’t want to say that these are changes, but I think they are adaptations to the needs of the time. To me, there has been no change in Sahaj Marg, other than a name change, if you want to call it that, but an opening up. And one reason that I am saying that it is like Babuji’s time is because there was a long period in the history of the Mission when we were very strict about making sure that people had three introductory sittings before they joined group meditations. But Babuji used to say anyone can come. They were welcomed at bandaras. A sadhu would show up with his ochre robes and he would be welcomed in to come and sit. And that’s more of what is happening now. Things are opening up, I can invite people from another meditation discipline and say, “Please come and join our satsangh.” And I don’t think that it was that one time it was open and another time it was closed. The needs of the times change and the Master knows what is needed at a particular time. And there are times when you need to consolidate your energies and focus on developing a cadre of people who can take the work forward, seriously; and there are periods of time where you open it up. It’s like breathing. When you take in a breath and hold it for a second and let it out and breathe again. One thing is not better than the other, and different times require different things. We are opening up and expanding and letting people in and we may move on to a period where we consolidate and take stock – who knows? It’s the Master who can determine these things.
I’ve been blessed with knowing three Masters and, superficially, they all have been very different. But they are all one. From my point of view, there is only one Master.
Which book from the Mission have you found yourself returning to over and over again over the course of your meditation journey?
Well, Reality at Dawn was the first book I ever read and it is one that really deserves to be read again and again.
My Master, of course, is a gem. I don’t think that there is any other way to describe it. It is fantastic.
Those are my top two.
Is there any particular quote from the Masters that has stayed with you, or resonated with you?
Lalaji’s quote; “God has hidden himself inside your heart and exposed you. Hide yourself and expose God.”
There are many people nowadays, especially our generation, who struggle with regularity of practise and the practise in general. Considering your long meditation journey, do you have any tips to give to meditators, both new and aspiring?
First of all, it’s not just your generation which has trouble with the practise. There is only one person who I’ve ever met who I believed did the practise exactly as prescribed. I don’t necessarily think it’s important to do everything every day exactly correctly and I don’t think anyone does. Sometimes, people feel that if they can’t sit for half an hour then, to heck with it. I think it’s better to sit for 5 minutes than not to sit at all, because just as you get into the habit of doing the practise, you can also get out of the habit of doing the practise. And it can be hard to get back into it. Even with the cleaning, sit for 5 minutes if you can’t sit for 20 or 30. That would be one thing.
So, be regular rather than lengthy is what I am saying, if you have to choose.
The thing that made the most difference to me in my practise is keeping a diary. I didn’t for many years in the beginning, and then I started and the change was just dramatic. Everybody I know who has kept a diary has found it extremely beneficial. And It doesn’t have to be long-winded. People ask, what to write? But just start scratching away and you will find it really does make a difference. One of the major benefits is that it causes you to be more aware of what is going on inside, because you know that you will have to describe it afterwards. So there is more focus on what is happening. And that’s very important for your progress.