From being a film-maker to a spiritual writer was a journey that took her through South-East Asia and to many layers of conditioning within, says Tammy T. Stone
Everything is change. It is a truth which is hard to feel in our daily experience of the world. We want things to change so we can be happier and more fulfilled, but at the same time we cling to our ways, hoping change will come anyway. Einstein said something about this being the essence of stupidity, if I remember correctly.
More and more, I think that the key to navigating change – if we are seeking it – lies not in leaping forward blindly, but in finding balance, or the thread between who we were and who we are now, what we knew and felt before, as well as in the present moment. Even though my life seems drastically different now, I have come to realize that the seeds of these changes have been there all along.
It may not seem like that at first glance. Three years ago, I had a great job working in the film industry in Toronto, and I was pursuing my PhD in cinema and philosophy. I have always been a lover of the written word, intellectual ideas, and a bit later, in the power of movies to embody ways of seeing and being in the world. Though I could let loose and have fun – especially over drinks and karaoke – I definitely gravitated to the more serious side of things. I managed to turn every conversation into an analysis of life, its myriad problems and challenges, and dissected everything from reality TV shows to geopolitics with fervor. I always seemed to want to get at the deepest essence of things.
I am not saying that I was missing the point entirely, but I think that all my reading, and all my intense conversations, were telling me that I was looking for something I did not know how to find. I would never have used the words ‘spiritual longing,’ but there was a profound, buried desire for what seemed totally beyond my grasp, ease, contentment, fulfillment, and the big one – happiness.
Throughout, I constantly attended art films at the local cine-matheque and watched everything that came my way through work. I was drawn to films with existential themes, in which characters are constantly moving about in a confusing world, unsure of themselves and the direction their lives should take. Many of these films bordered on the negative and bleak, but they were also redemptive – they showed me that this almost desperate search for meaning was universal.
Cinema helped me see, through the eyes of their film-makers and characters, what I needed to see myself – the world is really a playground in which anything can happen, but also that it is so easy to trap ourselves in prisons of our own creation.
By the time I was laid off from my job – a lucky circumstance, though it did not seem that way at the time – I knew with a primal kind of instinct that here was my big chance. I did not know for what, but I was being guided by my intuition, and this time I was not going to ignore it. It is safe to say that since then, life has guided me in completely new directions, in direct proportion to my belief that it could.
Take the time I was in Ubud, Bali, a couple of months after losing my job, and deciding to give up my apartment in Toronto to travel in Southeast Asia. I had lived in Bangkok years before, and had loved it. I felt comfortable there, and thought that it would be a good place to start my journey, which at the moment, had no known end.
I was in a bookshop in Ubud to exchange books, and I could not find anything at all. About to give up, I did a strange thing, and looked behind the books in the back of the shelves, to see if anything was hidden there by accident. I found Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’s Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Philosophy (which I discovered later was a difficult book to find among Sri Aurobindo’s writings.)
I had never had any interest in yoga books until then,nor had I heard of the authors, but I took it anyway. I asked some new friends later if they had ever heard of this book, and one of them, a Theta healer, was beside himself. “Where did you find that? Not here in Ubud, or I would have snatched it up long ago. Sri Aurobindo is a genius. I can’t believe you found a book by him here.”
The journey begins
The book is about how we need to acknowledge that there is no single self, and that if we can get the various parts of ourselves to work together, we can achieve new heights in life. I was deeply inspired and read the whole book in a couple of days, and have since been devouring Aurobindo and The Mother’s work. I started a daily diary called ‘My Little Selves,’ and for months, I dissected my character traits one by one, trying to find a detente for my warring selves.
I learnt a lot from this exercise, and I strongly believe that if I had not taken the time to cultivate more awareness about myself, I would never have been ready to meet the man I met a couple of months later, who is now my beloved partner in life.
Magic really does exist, though at first I had to write synchronicity off as coincidence. What is magic, after all, if not a grounded belief that we can make our world, and that we are not alone in it?
That the universe gives us what we need when we willingly participate in our own well-being, is a lesson I have come to learn, though sometimes it is admittedly hard to remember. I find that having an intention really helps to keep you going on a path toward meaning, even when it seems that the road is completely obscured in fog, and sometimes in a blinding storm. For me, that intention was to understand the true meaning of freedom as deeply as I could.
I realized that leaving home to travel was the modest but all-important beginning of my search. The real journey to freedom starts once you can prepare yourself to start looking within, and discover how many layers of conditioning are coming between you and freedom, how you are rarely who you think you are, and who you desperately want to hold onto.
Also within the first few months of my travels, I met two beautiful human beings who introduced me to reiki and meditation, respectively. I was not looking for the former at all and the latter only vaguely. However, once I had my first reiki treatment, I knew this was something I needed to pursue. I had such a strong physical reaction just from being lightly touched on my skin that I felt compelled to explore further. I enrolled for a reiki course with the same teacher who gave me the treatment. I came back for the course a few months later, and it was here that I met my partner.
Just before doing this course, I did my first ever meditation of any kind – a ten-day silent vipassana course. To say it was difficult would be an understatement. However, I was enthralled by how the body could shift from being so ridiculously uncomfortable, to being light and free, to back again, all in a few concentrated, meditative hours – and the emotions – coming and going, following the ebbs and flows of the physical body’s conditions. It was just the beginning, but I was fascinated.
My partner, as it turns out – of course – has been a meditator for a long time, and when we met, things seemed perfectly aligned. Though we have varied backgrounds, we were now both at a point where we wanted to go deeper within ourselves, in hopes of undergoing the process of self-understanding and trying to be positive forces in the world.
Both of us had strong desires to visit India on an extended basis, again feeling intuitively that we could learn a lot in this vast, intoxicating country. So, we visited, and visited again. We spent almost a year in India overall, a land where sadhus, gurus, Bollywood stars, upper crust business people, cows and elephants, seem to co-exist comfortably and with ease. India was a revelation, and the biggest mirror we have ever found. Whether we were happy or miserable and fighting, there was always someone around to point us out to ourselves.
In India, we continued to study various healing modalities, and to do meditation retreats. I have made some important discoveries that have really helped me along the way. I have learnt, along with a character in one of Paulo Coelho’s novels I read, that we should not be afraid to embrace change in life because the core of who we are can never be annihilated – the important stuff stays. I have learnt that the important stuff tends to be things that have made us happy, which means that at heart, we are happy creatures who sometimes get confused by the world into thinking we need to worry all the time. I have also learnt, through various healings, doing more yoga in all its forms, and through my own practice with meditation and reiki, that the body’s capacity to heal is stronger than its capacity to get hurt. Our bodies are intelligent, and are designed to be well. The discoveries have been a real blessing. Applying them to my life in a continued way and offering them to others is the challenge. But the more time I spend in countries like India, so different from my own, so vibrant and luminous, the more I am inspired to embrace a new way of living.
I think my experiences with cinema are a perfect reflection of what is going on with me at the moment. As I mentioned, I used to have very rigid ideas of what I considered good cinema to be –the darker, the better. Watching happy or emotionally cathartic films was something I enjoyed, but these were guilty pleasures I did not consider part of my ‘real’ understanding of cinema. Over the last couple of years, I have genuinely fallen in love with Bollywood cinema (even without subtitles, I am thoroughly entranced), and find myself attracted to films with happy messages and spiritual themes. At first I was disturbed by this change in me, and thought it meant I was losing myself somehow.
Then it hit me: I have not lost anything. The important stuff stays. What has happened, I think, is that my heart has opened in such a way that there is now room for the more positive and inspiring side of being alive. What can be bad about being more open, about losing that constricting feeling I would often get when I gravitated toward the negative?
A move from the head to the heart, from trying to fathom the world of faith and spirituality intellectually, to trying, piece by piece, to live in this world first-hand –what a rewarding trajectory this has been. In many ways, the journey is in its infancy, but that is what is so exciting, to grasp how much more is to come.