In January, 1992, Sri Chinmoy visited the island of Tenerife. A mist of orange dust hung in the sky and I was told it was fine desert sand from the Sahara, blown across the Atlantic Ocean and this archipelago of volcanic islands by the big seasonal trade winds that roam East-West across the African continent.
My journey to Tenerife I well remember for its succession of unscheduled stopovers at odd, mountainous, late night airports where absolutely nobody spoke even a single word of any familiar language. Hours would pass then somebody would hold up a hand written cardboard sign announcing a destination you'd never heard of – an official of sorts would gesture to the gate and you would join the queue, fingers crossed, shuffling forward for another mysterious hop to the next touchdown somewhere in the Canary Islands. I felt like a bewildered anti-hero in a strange novel, lost in some separate unsignposted reality, a contemporary Alice fallen down a rabbit hole.
But arrived eventually. We climbed Mount Teide, or rather drove by car up to the 10,000-foot volcanic crater then hiked the last 2,000 feet or so, up and over an ice cap to the summit. Hardly triumphant conquerors. On the mountain road of switchbacks and steep hauls up, cascades of purple bougainvillea flowered, stands of aromatic mountain pine, small villages and sweeping vistas of sea. Parachutists leapt off the high crater walls and floated serenely down to the ocean, a twenty-minute aerial spectacular, man become soaring eagle.
One evening about midnight I had a rare experience. At functions end I had sat in the hotel lobby for a few minutes and there encountered Sri Chinmoy – he suggested that I go to my hotel room and meditate for a while, an unusual request. And so I went obediently out to my hotel balcony, sat in a wicker chair that overlooked the black expanse of ocean. It was a few minutes past midnight. Two hundred feet below the sea heaved and sighed against the dark volcanic cliffs – above, the universe flared out across indigo sky. Only a few minutes into my contemplation I had a sudden feeling of my soul, a winged bird flying out of the body cage and off into a great void. There was the feeling of a great release, of freedom and exultation and simply through volition I could soar and cover great distances. At first I gripped the sides of the chair in alarm, then gradually let myself go, the beginnings of a rapturous flight in this lovely new world of unhorizoned freedom. For all of an hour there was a great euphoria, free of time, place, self, the burdens of this anxious life.
Then around 1.00 a.m. my roommate – yes, you know who you are! – returned and mistaking my rare celestial romp for sleep slapped me heartily on the shoulder and ended my flight. Reverie broken, my experience there ended. But I still remember this lovely glimpse that my teacher showed of another dimension where all the human trappings had fallen away and for a blissful while you are only pure spirit, a peaceful soul bird winging the universe in breathless delight.
In Tenerife several of Sri Chinmoy's male disciples worked for days constructing a 100-metre running track where our guru could practice his sprinting. The rocky, uneven volcanic field provided a great challenge and we were reminded of the story of the great 11th century Tibetan yogi Jetsun Milarepa whose guru Marpa Lotsawa asked him to build three successive towers. Marpa found fault with each of the three towers and requested his neophyte disciple to start again, testing his surrender, his egolessness, humility and faith and preparing him for the great challenge of enlightenment. Mindful of this story we enjoyed building the running track and finally our own guru was highly pleased with our efforts – we were all smiles.
When we left Tenerife after two weeks I travelled back down the rabbit hole of mysterious plane rides, the same sense of unreality, irrelevant ticketing, ended up in Majorca for one night, found a room to stay surrounded by fields of onions and cabbages, a soccer pitch. But my meditation experience had left an afterglow of detachment and the running track construction had conferred a little patience. So my strange time in Spain turned out to be quite rewarding – I had won a tiny drop of inner poise and life’s ordeals seemed no longer quite so troubling.