When I hit my early forties I went looking for some sort of spiritual path. Partly it was about my art and partly creeping mortality you could say – I knew there was something missing from my life and so I started reading up on various religions and practices. I steered clear of the three big monotheist ones and Buddhism for some reason.
The Nords with their runes. Shaman with their totems.
I carved these things – it was my means of expression at the time and my way of finding out if they actually worked. It was all very interesting.
One day at the library in the Hindu Guru section I picked up a book called Introduction to Tantra.
When I started reading it I realised it wasn’t Hindu at all – it was Tibetan Buddhist.
On the back of the book there was a photograph of its author – Lama Yeshe.
Every time I looked at that photo I just had to smile and everything he said made perfect sense to me.
There was this one meditation technique, the first thing I tried, that gave me that shift. He described a way of sitting and watching thoughts arrive and leave in the mind’s eye. The practice was to concentrate on the space left behind by the thought and to maintain the awareness of the hole as new tangents rose.
I found myself building up these empty spaces and all of a sudden they just all merged into a huge cavernous vacuum inside my head. It was like an enormous aircraft hangar with absolutely nothing inside and it was familiar somehow. I opened my eyes and everything was normal – yet everything had changed.
In the days that followed I was in some kind of bliss state. I went about life just the same but was pretty happy about everything – I must have been insufferable. Sleeping was another problem – every time I lay down and closed my eyes I was back in that big aircraft hangar wide awake.
It didn’t last. There was a problem getting paid for a job I’d done and it all came crashing down – the old thought processes kicked in and I was able to sleep finally.
I’d had that initial boost that Lama Yeshe had talked about though and now had the appetite to learn as much as I could about Tibetan Buddhism.
It turned out that Lama had died in 1984 – the same year my children were born and he was hugely instrumental in bringing Mahayana and Varjayana Buddhism to the west.
Some years later the Dalai Lama Visited Wellington – here was a man who had written these books I had tried to understand yet he spoke simply of happiness and freedom from desire. The thing that struck home that he said which was devastating to me though – You can’t just call yourself a Buddhist if you haven’t taken your vows properly…
The Ghost of Electricity – War Stories by Jon McLeary is a new initiative at Off The Tracks, a series of stories and reflections from painter, writer and musician Jon McLeary