I AM 61 TODAY. Why, you might ask, am I writing a blog at midday when I should be out at a Sunday lunch partying to celebrate this most auspicious day? I indeed asked myself the same question, particularly as this time last year I was standing on my balcony aboard a boat on the Yangtze.
However I awoke this morning to an eerie silence. It was more than just a day-of-rest feel, it was that indefinable mother-of-all quietude that carries an imminent portent. No birds, no wind, no sounds of chatter, no rustling of leaves, no revving of cars, no boats passing by on the river, no visible sign of life at all. It could only mean one thing.
As I returned from a trip to Lisbon a couple of days ago where it was extremely and unseasonably cold, my assets have been adequately frozen for this year, so I have settled for the obvious. Any idea of travelling into the City of London with family to see the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, to be bought armfuls of gorgeous new art books and a slap-up lunch on the river is the dream of yesterday, and it is clear that God intended me to stay in my humble abode and write this blog. I have five potatoes in the house, and until the food delivery arrives this afternoon, so we are duly rationed.
For those overseas, please understand that snow in the City means an utter no-go. Complete lockdown, Nothing works, everybody sighs, sinks and strikes, so I am more than happy with my spuds, frankly.
However, I have put on a birthday outfit and bedecked myself with jewels to look fab because I always do. I have done this since I was a little girl in thanks to God for my life and for this unique birthday moment. There is such a fine line …
When the gods were a little kinder a few weeks ago, I saw the sun and shot out of the house like a bat out of hell. You would think that the nomadic firecracker that I am, I would be more temperate (if you forgive the pun) about a little smattering of snow. Firstly, I must advise a blizzard is occurring as I write, and secondly, snow is the most beautiful, evocative and sacred expression to experience – but, on mountains, valleys and fields, and preferably in remote areas in the Himalayas (but the Alps or Rockies would do), all of which I have witnessed with sparkling, uncontained awe. I cannot and will not, however, offer the same effusion for a howling white curtain some 30 minutes from Heathrow.
On that bright November morning when I dropped tools and dashed, I headed off to explore an old haunt of mine. Actually, it was where I worked in 1978 – the American Finance House, Chemical Bank (since taken over by J P Morgan, I think). As I ambled over Waterloo Bridge it felt surreal to be walking the steps of 40 years ago. The reason for my visit to see the building was because on the 6th floor on a sunny afternoon in 1978 at 180 The Strand WC2, after lunch in Convent Garden, I experienced my last spontaneous samadhi in full view of the open department and my boss.
I strolled past New Scotland Yard where an early Christmas tree was twinkling, flanked by two friendly cops on duty, up onto Whitehall, past Trafalgar Square and down the Strand to where I used to hang out. Turning the corner, I saw the building, covered in black. A bank it is no more.
I crossed the road to be in position to stand in front of it and looked up. The most extraordinary feeling of familiarity and love emanated from me as I stared in wonderment as I thought to myself that it had taken 30 years from that final samadhi to liberation. How could I know what was to happen to me in all those years to follow? That final spontaneous dissolving into the Magnificent One was a portent itself of something far, far greater to come. I was just a young girl of 22 or 23, more concerned with my high-heels and my job than any great spiritual event.
A gentle Autumn breeze blew around me whipping up the crackling leaves as I stood for God knows how long, as still and silent as a statue. The beauty of the moment, the grace and privilege to re-live that memory and gratitude of awakening overwhelmed me. I turned to the left and saw the Old Bailey, the famous Central Criminal Court from where I had seen Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols emerge with his brief after a court case for profanity; to my right, Australia House, a beautiful building too. Behind me stood the London School of Economics a veritable academic institution then and even today, and then, as I walked towards Covent Garden, I found my beloved India House, equally majestic and upright. Here, I imagine, my father must have frequented with immigration documents and Home Office permissions ad nauseam in the 1940s.
The difference between that final samadhi and final awakening is that I did not drop back into a corporeal sense of body; back to all my problems, habits and tendencies. As I have written many times, my experience was a total evacuation and it has taken me over 5 years to re-enter and feel the body as something that must contain me. It is for this reason hat I have returned to my yoga practice because it is the only thing that will ground me like concrete into terra firma. To be fully realised you must be completely grounded with lower body functioning as well as the top half. Realisation is NOT abandonment and flying away like Peter Pan. It is very much present with all pistons firing because to be liberated means to be free while living in the body. Otherwise you might just as well pack up and go home. Either you do it here, or abandon ship and swim off into the horizon.
Here are some photos of that day. Chemical Bank has now become a massive art gallery in a building that lay for years destitute awaiting development. Art replaced the bank … Indeed. It did with me too.
The blizzard has now passed, but my birthday will continue until midnight. A little yoga and some idle song will complete today delightfully. I only need life, company and a dollar in my pocket. That’s all, on this most auspicious day.
Happy Birthday to me.
With love and joy,
Selima Gurtler is a spiritual writer, philosopher, poet and Jnana yogi.
Her modern teachings to Self-Realization and Liberation are uniquely flavoured through the perceptive eyes of her Indian and European heritage.
Free copies of her books are available for download here: https://www.emwpeace.org/publications/
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Grace Archbishop Desmond Tutu are patrons of her work.