Since nineteen years old, I have looked for gurus.
When I was fifteen, I met Jesus. This changed everything.
That same year I found St Francis of Assisi, and began to travel in the long train that since the 1200s has quietly followed him; a pilgrimage of laughter and simplicity – of prayer and tears too, and delight in our mother the Earth.
But still I looked. When I was sixteen I found Siddhartha Gautama, through the writing of Herman Hesse first, exploding so vivid on my surprised imagination. I wore sandals like Gandhi’s (from whom I also learned) and walked through the English countryside to sit on the warm tiled floor of the open church, at the foot of a stone pillar with the sunlight falling on it, just in quietness. And on my way there, I stopped in the place where the river made a ford across the road, standing barefoot in the joyous company of our sister the Water. And it was almost the case that Francesco and Siddhartha were with me.
I worked with monks and nuns, in different communities. I borrowed Sister Felicity’s book Barefoot Journey. Almost forty years later I still have it, that borrowed copy. I still feel guilty. The ex-nun from whom I borrowed it will be dead. I must make a note to have it tucked in my coffin when I am cremated, and thus – if it may be – take it back to her.
When I was nineteen I discovered Zen, and found the book Unsui, by Giei Sato, and Ina May’s book Spiritual Midwifery, and Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching.
That year, I asked for a guru, knelt and begged: ‘Please send me a guru. I need a teacher I can ask and trust.’
But the only answer I heard was ‘If you want a guru in the world, you must be it. Put the guru there yourself.’
Since then I found David Whiteland’s Book of Pages, and I found the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh. Being Peace is my favourite, and Peace is Every Step. I look at the pictures of his face, I listen to his voice and his teaching. I went to the peace meditation he led in Trafalgar Square. This is a man I can learn from, and I hold it a sacred and special gift to have been here on Earth at the same time as he is. Thich Nhat Hanh is a man who can help us wake up.
About ten years after I found Thich Nhat Hanh, I came across Eckhart Tolle. He is what he says; enlightened. The wisest person I have come across so far. He has been a teacher of mine, a teacher in the truest sense – still is. And I have the profoundest sense of gratitude to have been here on Earth at the same time as him. The vibration of this man translates into my centre as courage, steadiness, a peaceful hope, or a hopeful peace.
There are two more. In recent years I have discovered the work and teaching of Vandana Shiva. She has taught me a little bit about ecology and politics, but less than she might have hoped because that was not what I was paying attention to. Really, I was looking at pictures of her, videos of her, and learning what it is to be a woman.
Most recently of all, through my friend Michelle Wilbert Everett, I have been introduced to the poetry of Mary Oliver; and in that poetry, that face, that awareness, those attitudes, I know I have met another true teacher.
With only one of those, my teachers, have I ever been in the same room at the same time – Thich Nhat Hanh – and that was in Trafalgar Square with several thousand other people.
It surprises me that these are the ones I have learned from – I thought I would learn in church, from Christian Leaders. But the church has been more an arena of contribution than of learning, for me. I falter in saying this. Should I be embarrassed? Ashamed? Does it reveal my arrogance? Who knows. Plough on.
So, all these have been my teachers, and perhaps William Penn, Frederick Leboyer, John Holt and A.S Neill too; but still sometimes I long as much as when I was nineteen to go into the room of another living human being, and find wisdom that can guide me.
But even so, I have been grateful not to have that because, if I had, I think it might have distracted me from what I actually do. You remember George Fox said, “Christ has come to teach His people Himself”? Well, so when I am perplexed – or any time, really, every day – I go into the low rough chamber of my heart; a rustic kind of place, like a cob house. You have to stoop going in under that lintel, the step is worn and the door ancient. In that room, which opens onto a garden where birds sing and wild creatures pass through unmolested, I meet with my master, the one who bought me, whose property I am, the Lord Jesus. And I talk to Him, and tell him what’s on my mind. And He teaches me, Himself, just as George Fox said He would. He still maintains that if I want a guru in the world, it’s my job to put the guru there.
For all these who have taught me, shaped me, guided me, I am so grateful. And if you read the work of these people, watch their videos, look long and deep at your faces, you will know everything I know that is any good. That’s assuming you also know the living Lord Jesus, who I think will meet with you in the quietness of your own heart’s chamber, too.