Part Three (click here to go back to the start)
I Found Jesus (he was behind my airplane seat all along)
Right … where was I?
Oh yeah … So … After discovering meditation and DIY Enlightenment I spent the next few years quite blissed out. You know: “Very Zen” as the saying goes. In some ways it helped to kill my ambition for a while, which may or may not have been a bad thing, I’m not sure. I was just plain happy as Larry to hang out, meditate, read, play music for music’s sake (rather than with any career objective) and well, continue to party and have exciting affairs with beautiful young women.
Nothing wrong with all of that right? But as my twenties turned into my thirties and I found myself happily settled with a beautiful young lady (still my partner now and the wonderful mother of our child) I became aware that the old existential unease was returning. How could this be? I could still meditate myself happy, but increasingly over the years the darkness remained, hidden not that far under the surface.
I didn’t think about it too much, but I was certainly aware of it.
Then in 2007 when my girl was 5 months pregnant, we did what most couples do as they are preparing to have a baby – we went adventuring around the globe!
My partner is French and likes to return there as often as possible, but since meeting me the trips back to her homeland had ground to a halt and what’s more, I’d done the tropics and South East Asia more than once but had never made it further north than Japan. I really wanted to see Ireland, from where my Grandparents emigrated to Australia back in the dark ages. So we bought our tickets and got ready to roll.
Hair Raising Adventures … on the way to the airport.
My girl’s father drove us to the airport that night in his big 4 wheel drive truck. As we made our way a small car suddenly swung right from the left lane across our path and consequently we smashed right into it.
We had only been traveling at about 50ks an hour, but that was fast enough to cause an almighty bang. Our truck has an awesome bull-bar on the front, so our vehicle incurred only minor damage, but the car we hit was mashed. We jumped out to find a young lady sitting stunned in the drivers seat with her mobile phone still hovering by her ear. She had obviously been using it while driving and being distracted, pulled about the stupidest maneuver I have ever witnessed.
The back seat on her drivers side was a crumpled mess. If we had hit where she was instead of there, she would have been in big trouble.
Meanwhile, we had a plane to catch, so while my partner stood at the side of the road and (most endearingly) bollocksed the girl driver in French, me and Gramps made sure the girl was ok, got her details, pushed her crippled car to the side of the road, excused ourselves for having to dash and promptly did just that. (Funny thing was the last thing I remember saying to the girl was “Thanks” as we left her to it. “For what”, I mused later, “nearly killing us?”)
The Mini-Van Ride From Hell
By the time we got to the airport we were concerned about our unborn child. Did the impact cause any problems? Were we going to go through some miscarriage nightmare halfway between Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur? We didn’t know, but she felt fine and we were talking expensive air tickets here, so we just got on the plane.
Turned out there were no problems with the bubs (although now, at 19 months old, she is starting to find ways to cause them!) and the flight was bumpy but uneventful.
We don’t like flying much and wanted to spend a few days in Malaysia to break up the journey. The airport at Kuala Lumpur is a 45 minute drive from the city, and we had a mini van organised to take us to our hotel. This drive turned out to the third scariest moment of the entire trip, and definitely hinted at the ongoing trend of insanely scary transport experiences that was to mar an otherwise wonderful holiday.
I won’t go into much detail about this drive other than to say that I nicknamed the minivan service (which repeated it’s hair raising performance on each of the other 3 pre-organised commutes) the “White Knuckle Express”. I will never forget the old Australian man who was in the van with us and his nervous Oh-God-I-am-going-to-die-now laugh of terror. I actually ended up screaming at the mobile phone bearing driver to calm and slow down but he gave me such a look of pure hate into the rear view mirror that I simply shut up and held on. (I am saying this was a scary drive as a fully-confirmed veteran of hairy South East Asian driving experiences.)
The Flight From Hell
Anyway, we enjoyed a few lovely days in the delightful Kuala Lumpur and soon were on our plane for Paris.
Now we flew on Malaysia Airlines. The travel agent back in Melbourne had recommended them, and I had flown on them to Thailand back in 2000 and had found it all very nice … then.
Unfortunately when we boarded the plane I couldn’t help but notice that the nice uniforms that the stewardesses wear wearing back in 2000 seemed to be the same, only a little faded and threadbare.
And the inside of the plane seemed to be the same, only the armrests were coming away and the walls were rattling … a lot.
The entertainment system I had been so impressed 7 years before with was still there, although it kept freezing and crackling, as if all the wiring was dodgy. Same went for the cabin lighting.
Overall I got the feeling that Malaysia Airlines’ bean-counters had been cutting corners on maintenance and repairs inside the cabin. As we took off I had little choice but to hope that this wasn’t also true for the actual business side of the airplane mechanics.
All was well until somewhere over the Indian Himalayas we hit an immense storm. Now, we had been a little late for the airport (despite 2nd insanely reckless “White Knuckle Express” ride) and had been plonked in the very back row of the plane. (Never again.)
As the storm thundered on (we could see lightening and rain out the windows) not only did we get shook up and down in the usual turbulence fashion, but we were also shaking side-to-side. We learned later that this was due to the tail of the plane fishtailing. The storm went on and on, and the cabin crew, who already looked tired and miserable, went very quite indeed.
The captain wasn’t, he blathered on and on but unfortunately my Malaysian language skills arent up to much, so I didn’t understand a word. Eventually he swapped into halting English only to say: “We fly in big storm. Please fasten your seatbelts; this could be dangerous.”
COULD BE DANGEROUS?!
This is not what you want to hear from your captain when you are apparently flying in an active washing machine through a cyclone while the flickering TV screen on the back of the seat in front of you cheerfully insists on illustrating how we were currently over the Himalayan mountains! Those things are spiky man!
I could go on and on, but suffice to say that storm lasted no less than THREE hours, during which time we were shook about like rag dolls and generally scared shitless. My girl, a much better flier than me, was sobbing in my lap and the person next to me actually vomited into her paper bag (I thought that only happened in the movies) and all I could think was “This is it – we are about to die”.
It was at this time that I made pals with God again.
My Theology of Relativity (an incomplete explanation)
Ok so really what happened was that I was so scared that I was doing lots of meditating-in-action to stay calm. You know, deep breathing, focusing on transcending the ego’s fear of death and all of that Zen, “Power of Now” stuff. And it was working for a while, but eventually my fear got the better of me and I began to pray … to God … for the first time in many a year.
And, you know what? It helped. Especially as in my near-delirious state, and always having had a lively imagination, things were going all “Conversations With God” in that I wasn’t just praying into a void but rather the Big Guy was actually talking right back!
But once we landed safely in Paris (and chatted to a nice Australian couple by the baggage thing who dumbfounded us when they remarked what a calm and pleasant flight it was!) I found myself wondering how I had come to this, praying to the God I had previously rejected (and the dogma of whose fundamentalist followers I still do reject)?
At first I put it down to simple fear. Honestly believing I was facing immanent death, I have freaked out and prayed like a big baby.
And to an extent this was true.
Over the coming months I noticed that if I allowed myself to pray to my own fuzzy, New Age / Christian hybrid of “God” I felt a lot better and that darkness, that unease I had been feeling subsided. And I realised that I had had the Christian God so thoroughly drummed into me as a kid, that it in fact out-and-out rejecting this God (or at least the friendly side of “Him”) was causing some kind of existential dissonance inside me. I realised it is easier for me to simply allow the general concept of God back into my schemata, but to settle my problems with my Christian upbringing by simply updating my version of the whole thing.
I allowed myself to meld my fuzzy New Age concepts of a big, benign Universe or “Great Spirit” with my hard-edged Zen ideas with that nice, friendly, white bearded God-guy that I used to find great comfort praying to as a kid – MINUS all the burn-in-hell-you-sinner crap which is of no use to me whatsoever.
And you know, what? As silly as the whole thing sounds – it works for me! It put paid to a semi-conscious battle that had been raging inside me between the little boy who still believes, and the man who knows better.
Which is all very well, but how can I say that Truth is relative.
Well, I believe that we can’t ever truly know the whole truth – because, in the words of that great philosopher-clown Billy Connolly: “It’s too big”. We are like mosquitoes trying to understand the Sydney Harbour Bridge: it can’t be done.
But we can come to understand what version of the truth works for us to help us achieve happiness, not just on an intellectual level (for me, Zen, Taoism, scientific rationalism) but on an emotional child-within kind of way too (for me, Fuzzy, New Age version of God).
Here’s the crux if it again: You can’t know the absolute truth for certain, it isn’t possible, so make up your own version of Truth and be happy with that (and then leave others to enjoy their versions of Truth).
So ends my mad ramble. Now go forth and create your own Special Theology of Relativity and generally be awesome.
P.S. – After re-reading this, I am not sure that I have really managed to capture the power of what it is I am trying to say. Unfortunately, the “truth” for me today is that I have run out of writing steam and time, but maybe at some point I will come back and add to this rather unsatisfactory explanation of my actual theory, which seemed to get a bit of a back seat to the adventure story in the end. Or maybe I won’t. In case I don’t (highly likely) and you want to know more about this kind of thing, I suggest you look up “perennial philosophy”.