By Randolph Fiery
Several years ago, I was impressed by research on the benefits of meditation conducted by Richard (Richie) Davidson at the University of Wisconsin. His scientific studies were coupled with collaborative conversations with both Buddhist and Christian practitioners of meditation. This combination of science, spirituality, and contemplative practice seemed to fit me, and I decided to learn how to meditate.
I knew I didn’t want to sign up for a money-making course – I wanted to find a Buddhist or Hindu practitioner who could show me how to get started. I was surprised when I found through a quick internet search that there was a Buddhist temple out in a rural area not far from where I live.
When I drove out I found the beautiful, secluded temple at the end of a little dead end lane. I walked up to the door, rang the bell, and a small man in an orange robe opened the door.
I asked, “Will you teach me to meditate?”
He answered, “Wednesday. Six”, and shut the door.
In the years since then I’ve become a meditator.
The people present on Wednesday evenings create an interesting group. Regularly attending are a man who is Roman Catholic, several practicing Muslim men and women from both Bangladesh and India, and some Hindu women from various regions in India. There are also a Methodist minister and a Baptist minister who show up at times during the year. All of these people of different faiths have found value in contemplative practice.
I’d like to tell you about two Hindu women who came from Bombay. Sandhya, who is in her mid 50s, and her Auntie Madhu, who is probably in her 80s, arrived on Wednesdays together. Auntie Madhu is about 4’8’’ tall and walks with difficulty. While Auntie speaks at least four languages and understands English, her niece says she just chooses not to speak.
Over time, I got into the habit of helping Auntie in the slow walk from the parking lot to the temple and then back again later from the temple to the parking lot. Whenever she was there, I felt drawn to sit near her during meditation. I had a sense of her great kindness and I just wanted to be around her.
One evening Sandhya approached me and said, “Auntie really loves you and wants to give you a gift. She has been waiting for weeks for it to arrive from India.”
Auntie smiled and gave me a package that contained a woolen prayer shawl that was certified as having been made in one of the weaving workshops originally set up by Gandhi. (During the British colonial period Indians had been forbidden to make textiles. One of Gandhi’s most famous acts of rebellion was to spin thread that could be woven into prayer shawls.) I was deeply touched by Auntie’s gift.
Months went by and late one winter night while I was walking them to their car, I mentioned something I had read about Mahatma Gandhi. Sandhya replied by saying,
“Yes, the Mahatma really loved Auntie.”
I stopped in my tracks and said, “What did you say?”
She repeated, “The Mahatma really loved Auntie.”
I wanted to know more….
Sandhya then told me that Auntie’s parents had been fighters along with Gandhi during the time of India’s struggle for freedom. She said that throughout Auntie’s childhood her parents had often been jailed for their actions and once were in prison for two years. She said that the Mahatma had spent a lot of time at Auntie’s home and he cared a great deal about her. What Auntie had given me was a shawl like one that had been woven during Gandhi’s time. Auntie just smiled, nodded her head, and placed her hands on my face.
On my way home that night I drove in a kind of trance. What an unexpected experience – so magical, so mysterious, so holy – and out in the middle of Virginia.
I was an aging human from the mountains of Appalachia who had just been touched lovingly by someone who had been close to Gandhi. To learn that Auntie Madhu’s kind gift was connected to that other time and other place meant a great deal to me.
That moment has given me great joy over the last few years as it reminds me that the hatred and evil of the world can be countered when we concentrate on kindness and compassion, and love. Good people are all around us and sometimes they show up when we least expect it.
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Randolph (Randy) Martin Fiery is a former social worker, marriage and family therapist, and school administrator who is now a mental health consultant and meditation trainer.
He can be contacted at – firstname.lastname@example.org
You might want to read Richard Davidson’s THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF THE BRAIN: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Ways You Think, Feel, and Live – and How You Can Change Them, co-authored with Sharon Begley and published in 2012 by Penguin Books. He has been an editor for several other books and he has written many journal articles.