A Spiritual Life – Community and Family

I find that life keeps giving me signposts.  I just don’t notice them until later on.  In the month leading up to moving into the small spiritual community I hitchhiked and was given a lift by a priest.  I carried out an audit on a laundry with a very Christian manager.  I had wonderful deep conversations with both and, whilst their beliefs were not for me, I admired their passion and their sense of purpose.  If felt like life was saying “Stop messing about!”

It was no real surprise that while I was painting the house, that the community was going to live in, that I decided I wanted to live there too.  It was a large terraced house with six bedrooms on three floors with a large living room, a small kitchen, a dining room and a large first floor room that we used for meditation.  It still had the bells to ring for the servants.

The original six people were a mix of a wonderful older woman we called ‘Witchy”, an older man Frank, John who owned the house, who was 40, and three of us young men in their early 20’s.  It changed fairly quickly in the first year when Witchy died and Frank decided to move into a care home and one of the younger men left.  Their places were filled quickly by a woman and two men in their twenties.

Our motto was ‘House First’ – to put the purpose of the house as a spiritual centre before our own needs.  I would say the underlying structure was Christian with Hindu flavours with us following rules we agreed with John, who was our leader and teacher.  We meditated a lot and opened our house for meditation groups.  We were all vegetarian. John used to run a meditation group from his café in Battersea and those people became part of our wider community.  They would visit our house and we would visit theirs.

We were young.  Our conversations inspired us and we were having fun. Our shared cost of living was low.  We all shared the housework and the cooking.  Most weekends we had visitors.  Over the years a lot of people visited the house.

We all worked.  I was still a Scout Leader and used to pop in to see my family every Thursday for tea before the scout meetings. I had good friends outside of the house.  Initially, I was keen to talk to everyone about what we were doing but I soon found out that those who were interested would start the conversation.  I didn’t need to push. 

Living in a community is not easy.  You have to learn how to share space and flex your behaviour.  I had a lot of guilt from not being perfect. Anything that was bothering us or any breach of the rules was discussed in our house meetings.  We were young and eager to learn together so we accepted any censures, which were not a big deal.  It was sometimes uncomfortable but we always managed to talk things out, and we grew.

We discussed a lot.  I read a lot.  We meditated a lot. We were given messages of comfort and inspiration through John.  I studied astrology (scarily accurate), numerology, palmistry and the Tarot. It was all exciting and full of meaning for me.  I particularly liked the deep conversations with visitors when I used the Tarot as a bridge to open up their talking about their problems.  Any of my issues were talked over with John, who was a great support.

Over the years, as we grew older, things started to change. The woman and one of the men left to get married.  We were left with four of us, all men, and a lot of energy went out of the house. 

Over 10 years I had grown.  I started to find life with the four of us hard.  I had a great job as a BT salesperson.  This may seem a contrast with living in a spiritual community, being vegetarian and tee-total, but wouldn’t you want a salesperson who was moral, empathic and good at making the technology understandable.  I loved the job.  I did my visits in the morning and wrote reports in the evening.  However, because I was free in the afternoon, the bulk of the housekeeping and the cooking starting falling on me.  Part of me resented it and part of me felt bad about resenting it.

I am generally very upbeat and positive and I found this sometimes upset the others who were not having such a good time. My view is that staying positive and turning problems into a challenge is better than being negative about them. I believe that is the reason that I have had a great life.

I also started to question some of the things in the house that felt limiting.  For the last two years I knew a change was coming but I was frustrated because I still wanted to live in a spiritual community, just not this one! As always, I talked with John about it and he was understanding but it felt like I was in limbo.

We were still holding regular meditation groups and at one I was asked if I could give a lift to a woman who was attending a Mathew Manning workshop that we were going to.  That’s when I met Susan for the first time.  We didn’t talk much that day but she started to come to the meditation groups and we started having deep conversations together.  Her beliefs and thoughts were very similar to mine.

She was a reflexologist and yoga teacher going through a divorce, with young girls 11 and 13.  I asked her to teach me reflexology. Before my lessons I liked talking to her girls.  I invited her out to a Burns night in London.  I found myself spending most afternoons popping in for a chat.  One day we were talking seriously about our future and we decided we should just stay very good friends.

That evening I went into the meditation room on my own.  I wanted to clear my head and find out what I wanted in my heart.  I just wanted to be with Susan.  As I walked out of the meditation room, the phone rang.  It was Susan.  I picked it up and said “Will you marry me?”  She said “Yes, please.”  A week later I moved out of the community and in with Susan.

Sometimes life’s signposts are very clear.  That was 35 years ago this year.

So there I was, 32 years old, moving out of the spiritual community into a semi-detached house with Susan and her two daughters, 11 and 13.  I had enough money saved up to buy her ex-husband’s share of the house and in June we married, with a honeymoon in Crete with the two girls. 

I love being in a family!  Growing up the eldest of seven children I felt a sense of responsibility.  My brothers and sisters pestered me some of the time, so I used to escape to the woods to avoid the responsibility and the mob.  However, I loved all their different personalities, the closeness of us, with a loving Mum at the centre and a hard-working Dad protecting us and earning to support us.  I felt proud when we all went out for a meal or on holiday together.  This feeling remains as we grow older.  We all get on when we meet.  Our children all get on.  We live separate lives.  Some keep closer than others.  I realise that our experience of each other is based more on our early years together rather than the fifty years since then, so I don’t really know them anymore, but it still feels good when we are all together.

The community was a different kind of family.  We were friends and we learned together and respected each other, and we had fun but it never had the same warmth.  As soon as I moved in with Susan and the girls I felt at home.  I was startled by the first shouting match between Susan and one of the girls, but it was real and honest and quickly over and forgotten.  I felt free to express myself in this family, to share my joy and enthusiasm and also, my grumpy.

Susan and I decided not to have children together.  It has never bothered me because I love my girls.  They have always felt like mine.  I hope I have always treated them that way.  I am very proud of both of them.  They chose good husbands, they are good mums and that shows through my wonderful grandchildren.  I would not have missed one second of my experiences with them over the last thirty-five years.

Susan is my best friend, my partner in our spiritual journey, my saviour, my grounding influence and, still too often, the outlet for my frustrations.  Love is too small a word to describe how I feel about her.  Amazing things have happened to me by being with her.

Not long after we met, I was head hunted into a bigger job.  My new office was in Brighton but my clients were in Woking and Reading so I was on the road a lot.  I could never have taken the job while in the community.  With Susan’s support it started an interesting career with lots of promotions and a life changing redundancy package at 50.

A year after we got married, we moved into a bigger detached house.  Susan was teaching yoga for adult education and practicing reflexology from home and we wanted more room to run meditation groups and workshops.  We are both natural teachers and everything we have learned on our spiritual journey has been shared with others.  I believe that teaching deepens your understanding and feel for spiritual practices.  Sue would find the audience and I would help her in the groups and workshops.  This helped me grow and keep grounded, and it supported the way I worked in the corporate world.

I know that meditation and journeying and vision quests can teach us a lot but I believe family, and the interactions with people around us, is where we learn most.  Our experiences in life mirror what is happening inside us.  We get feedback through the results of our behaviour and communication.  My life has been a constant experiment.  If I am unhappy, I always try to do something different and see what results I get.  What the meditation etc. does is give insights and ideas on what to try next.

For the last 35 years Susan and I have journeyed together.  On a vision quest I asked the two raccoons that visited me each night to give Susan my love.  She was doing her quest in another part of the Island.  When I read her journal after the quest, I read that two racoons had visited her at dawn and seemed to be talking to each other and saying “Is she the one?”

She is!

To be continued….metaphysics.

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