Finding and keeping a sacred audience on the road to Thalheim
Mother Meera was born in India in 1960 and has been living in Germany since the early 1980s. Not a teacher in the conventional sense, she is believed to be an avatar rather than a guru. The difference? A guru can point the seeker in the direction of God; an avatar can give the experience of being with God. No words are used, no practice other than meditation and prayer—the mother’s path is simplicity itself.
We knew the journey to see her would be tough, but not as tough as it was. A 400-mile walk from Oostende to Thalheim, our rucksacks suddenly filled with rocks, the road before us turned to elastic. Simple things—getting water, food, and a place to sleep—became big deals. And then the challenge of spending day after day doing the same thing with the same person (my friend Olivia), trying to walk in love and not distracted boredom, trying to love your companion and not strangle her. The pilgrimage was something I never understood. What were the rules? How were we supposed to be? From the start, the walk was a brick wall, and it just got higher, more difficult to scale, more difficult to break down.
From my diary:
If the spiritual trip is about anything, it’s about the destruction of the ego, the dying to live again. Not only difficult, but frightening as hell. And we get plenty of practice in giving up our small selves.
This walk constantly challenges our humility and pride. I want to tell everybody, “Hey, we’re not travelers, we’re not layabouts, we’re pilgrims! You should be welcoming us, you should be feeding us and inviting us into your homes and all the things you haven’t been doing.”
This was definitely not how it should have been. By midway I expected to have broken through the barriers to the other side, to be walking with a beatific look on my face, children running out to touch my hem. No way—we had opportunities day after day to expose our humanity, warts and all.
Approaching a day as a spiritual journey is new for me. I’ve never consciously tried to open myself indiscriminately to people and situations. Of course it’s easy when you’re comfortable, but some people make it hard for you to love them, and some situations are hard to accept.
I’ve never stopped wondering what I was doing. After four weeks I could stand it no longer. I phoned Mother Meera and, through her secretary, asked, “Are you with us on this journey?” The answer came back, “Whatever you believe.” My heart sank at first, but then began to soar. For the first time I had a glimmer of Mother Meera’s presence. I think she was telling me there is something I can do, a part I can play in receiving God.
Responsibility, though onerous, is at least something you have a say in. The walk never got easier. By the time we reached Thalheim I was confused and wanted to go home. I had the depressing thought that I had just put myself through a month of discomfort for nothing.
We bathed and rested and walked the final two miles to darshan, an audience with Mother Meera. It was like walking into Bethlehem, an invisible star over her house. I cried with the sacredness of the occasion.
It’s about 10 o’clock, and we’ve just come out of Mother Meera’s house and we’re sitting in the village square. Darshan was a very, very peaceful experience for me. She has a very searching look, not the pool of love I expected to fall into, but something I don’t think I’ve seen in another human being: a look that is almost alien, almost nonhuman, not in a spooky way, but in a divine way. I feel probably as peaceful as I’ve ever felt. I came with hundreds of questions; the questions are still there, but in a way they’re not really important. At the moment the most important thing is just to maintain this sense of stillness.
No great fireworks, no epiphany, but a profound shift took place then. Six months later I still feel changed: more solid, more connected. Though I pray less now, and meditate less, sometimes I think that if I turned round quickly enough I’d find Mother Meera standing by my shoulder.