'Talk to us about your work'
In late November 2000, I was in New York for a few days. I had taken a few days off work to be with Guru before he left for the Christmas Trip. During that week, there were meditation functions every evening. On Wednesday night, when we were passing in front of Guru to take prasad, he said to me: "Utsahi, I would like you to talk to us about your work... something serious, something funny... for 30 to 45 minutes. Just let me know when you are ready."
I was in shock. What would Guru want to know about my work? What could I say for 30-45 minutes about my job? Why was Guru asking me to do such a thing? Just thinking about it, I was already all stressed out, and my mind was working like crazy: Why, why, why? But, of course, I smiled and answered: Yes, Guru.
When leaving the Aspiration-Ground, Disharini, who had heard this conversation, suggested that I could talk about meditation classes as well. This opened up a new door... Yes, I could talk not only about my academic and intellectual work, but also about my spiritual work. So a plan started to take shape. Planning something like this is like rolling a snowball: you start with a small thing, and add on to it, little by little...
Needless to say, these moments of preparation were quite stressful; I had to prepare something to present in front of Guru and disciples. But in another way, I loved these moments; they were very special, full of energy.
Two days later, on Friday, November 30th, I felt I was ready... nervous, but ready. That evening, since it was very cold outside, the meditation function was held indoors at PS 86. Soon after we started, Guru called me up on stage.
How can a disciple feel when talking in front of his Master about matters that are intellectual, mental - in front of a Master who has given so many talks with his heart and soul? I had written a little plan on a piece of paper, simply to make me less insecure, in case my mind suddenly went blank:
- "Part 1- My regular classes
- Part 2- My children; a parent and a teacher
- Part 3- Meditation classes."
But these handwritten notes were more to calm my insecurity than anything else...
While preparing this, I had come to realize that everything we do in life can be spiritual. So I had planned to share this truth. In order to set the tone, I started by reciting this poem of Guru’s that I love very much:
Wherever you go, go with inspiration and aspiration.
Whatever you do, do with love and concern.
Whomever you see, see with purity’s beauty
And responsibility’s glory.
Sri Chinmoy 1
Then I started relating some incidents about my job, some serious, some funny. I talked about a conference where I made a presentation, in Nicaragua. I had the turista... To stabilize my system, I had been fasting for two or three days, only drinking water, with salt and sugar added. A young couple let me stay in their studio for the day. Before leaving, they had told me that there was cold water in their fridge. You have to know that in this country, they put their drinking water in recycled rum bottles. I was sick and all alone in their home. I was really thirsty and needed to drink. I took what I thought was a bottle of water from the fridge; but after drinking a full glass in one shot, I realized that I had swallowed four or five ounces of pure rum, with the addition of a bit of salt and sugar...
I also explained how it happened that I became a professor: I had been a child welfare worker in northern New Brunswick for a few years. The Director of the School of Social Work in Moncton, five hours away, had a dream in which he saw me on his staff. He called and told me about this dream, and offered me a professor’s job. I accepted, moving into the academic world. It was actually because of this that I settled in Moncton, where I eventually came to know about Guru and the path. Otherwise, in Campbellton, where I had been living, there would have been zero chances of meeting Guru.
I talked about some of my experiences when giving meditation classes... how these transformed me... how I feel Guru’s presence as soon as we start talking about the path, about Guru, and about one of the constant consequences: after a two-hour workshop, I am totally transformed and energized, while when giving my regular academic classes, after the same amount of time, I am drained, exhausted...
After the initial moments of tension, the presentation went well. I was still nervous, but honoured to be able to do this for Guru. After 40-45 minutes, I bowed to Guru and went to sit down. Immediately, Guru asked for a standing ovation. And then he asked if I would be ready for some questions from the audience. How could I say no? I was pleased to... So I went up again and answered, the best I could, five or six questions from the people present. And then another ovation! Then there was prasad. Guru called me up and offered me prasad from his hand. He then said:
Utsahi, you are a professor of life and a student of the heart. As a student of the heart, you are unique. As a professor of life, you are also unique. As a student of the heart, you are offering your soul’s fragrance to the world at large. As a professor of life, you are sleeplessly and breathlessly learning from the Lord the creation.
I didn’t know that someone was taking photos during the whole presentation. A dozen photos were given to me a few weeks later. In them, I can see how attentive Guru is, his sweet smile when I cracked a joke, his appreciation when he applauded, his divine smile when he offered me prasad.
Little did I know at the time that this experience would transform my work. Since then, I have considered my teaching, my research, my writings as a spiritual experience. At the start of each semester, for example, I take the time to walk around the assigned classrooms, praying and meditating that the students will be receptive and that I will be an instrument of the Supreme.
What a gift! You give a little to Guru and he offers you the world in return. Ever since this experience, my life, my thoughts and actions have taken on another dimension. Gratitude, Guru, for this beautiful experience. Because of you, my regular job has been transformed. Through another miracle of yours, you have eliminated the walls between my academic work and my spiritual mission on earth. All is divine... "Wherever you go... Whatever you do... Whomever you see..."
- 1. The Wings of Joy: Finding Your Path to Inner Peace, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997, p. 194