Photo by my Scuba Diving Instructor Gunner Eggers, I witnessed this beauty during a live-a-board excursion in the Similan Islands, article and personal adventure by Paula Erskine
“Buoyed by water, he can fly in any direction-up, down, sideways-by merily flipping his hand. Underwater, man becomes an archangel.” Jacques Yves Cousteau
I remember pestering my father as a child while he rested. I walked on his back with my light frame as I asked him to think of a colour or a number. I remember closing my eyes and trying to visualize the answer feeling that it would appear to me. I don’t recall what percent of the time I guessed correctly, but perhaps these were my first attempts to tap into my father’s thoughts. I remember trying to guess how many cars would come through the gate before our friends would arrive to play with us at the campground. In general, I felt that alot of things worked out for me and that what was happening seemed to be my fate in hindsight. I tried to connect all my experiences in my head, if this hadn’t happened, then would the rest of happened as it did? What control did we have on how we lived and what fate had in store for us? At 19, I found myself fascinated with my Philosophy class at York University. It was the first time I had ever heard of Dr. Carl Gustav Jung and his discovery of the collective consciousness. One example was when an Olympic champion had broken the record for running the fastest mile. Before him, nobody could do it. It was considered to be impossible. But after he broke the record, suddenly, collectively, runners all over the world, who had not communicated with each other, were able to surpass what was deemed impossible for so long. These people were not communicating via internet or phone. Just observing that there a was time when these were not common methods of communication is one example of how society has grown forward technologically at least, for better or for worse. It was as if there was something in the air that was, contagiously progressing mankind as a whole. So one can ask, was our limited mind, limiting us from surpassing what we thought we could achieve? Was there perhaps a possibility to access an unlimited realm? For years I have witnessed the evidence in favor of the fact that humans are all connected to a collective consciousness that pushes man to evolve together.
I found this to be the most profound discovery of my philosophical ponderings. Why was it when when a song popped into my head and I turned on the radio, the same song was playing? Not when I yearned to see someone, but when that person actually popped in my head (out of nowhere, or was it in fact the collective consciousness) did they seamlessly walk into the store I was working in? How many times have we picked up on the thoughts of others when the mind is still? Why do I continue to wake up 1 minute before my alarm sounds in the morning? Another example is why is it when someones pops in my head and the phone rings with their voice on the other line I can’t help but exclaim, “I was just thinking of you!” If you talk to anyone around you, everyone has experienced all of the above and so much more. I have never had any control over such happenings, but have always felt compelled to discover a way to uncover the “evolutionary force” and tune in to that intuition which seems to be based in every human being.
Was it naivety that made me feel protected from harm in my youth? As children, we are generally fearless, innocent and somehow, so wise. One has heard the expressions “out of the mouths of babes.” Perhaps it Means children seem to be directly connected to a truth untainted by positive or negative experiences gained later on. They see and observe in the “now” with “innocent” eyes. They are naive in the sense that they don’t understand what adults deem to have consequences or what we project to be potentially dangerous based on our experiences. But anyone who has heard children speak when observing adult hypocrisy, when literally doing as an adult does even though an adult wants them to do “what they say” can clearly see that there is an innate wisdom that we, who were once children, are endowed with, from birth. The pure words and thoughts of children can make us adults laugh out loud and declare, “how do they come up with this stuff?” If only there was a way to regain their/our enjoyment of the “now” and return, as William Blake has a song, “return to innocence.” In a way, like clearing a slate to live happy and now.
There are still so many proofs that we were all connected and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. More than once I had a gut feeling about something which turned out to be true. I had perused several “seeking” books on this subject some that made me feel I was on the cusp of uncovering the secrets of maintaining a happy and purposeful life. Some of the books boiled down their vision boards to be filled with images of a mansion, a sports car or bicycle. Are accumulating objects in the material world the end-goal and can they lead to a sense of inner satisfaction? Haven’t we learned from the Egyptians that, we can’t take it with us? I love the line in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” when they refer to the hope that a granite counter and a picket fence would fix the real life character’s marriage. I see the reflection in my own life. It’s not that I didn’t want things or success because I wanted that too. But “things” were not giving me that key to fully unlock what was missing in my life.
I was seeking some inner peace and answers. I went to doctors that treated symptoms, and naturopathic doctors who helped me give me a little more insight as to how to treat “symptoms” and possible causes. I learned that a by-product of low thyroid function could be depression. I still had no idea why some experiences or reading something would trigger a cluster of wonderfully intuitive moments, weeks or days. I still had no way of keeping that feeling alive in me that made me feel like life was conspiring to help me feel better and enjoy my life unobstructed. Through these negative experiences, I still believed these were just phases for my growth and still never doubted that everything in my life happened “for a reason.” I was always very positive and attracted to solutions to deal with the waves of emotional “sensitivity” labelled as depression, followed by waves of random panic. These “feelings” came and went on rare occasions but interfered with my goal to enjoy my life. I found travelling for a living helpful in hiding this shameful and uncharacteristic defect of my positive, fun personality. Sometimes I could delay telling friends I was home till I was fully rested and ready to face the world again.
More often than not, travelling to a new destination made me feel brand new again. Every step in a different country was a baby step. I tapped into my inner explorer, met and spoke to new and interesting people and had plenty of inspiring stories to share when I got home. Each new country gave me a chance to reinvent and improve myself. Travelling is an education in itself. I relish every privileged exploration as if by trekking new territories, that spark of wonder and spontaneity ignites again and again. Inadvertently I interviewed and interacted and recorded people through photography and journals from many different cultures and did not feel that we were all worlds apart. I have held so much admiration for the people I observe and am a bit of a fan of life lived elsewhere. I have always been attracted to the customs of other cultures and flying fulfilled this drive to globe trot. Starting over fresh in a new country made me forget what was bothering me from my past. But was forgetting the only way to move forward? With each trip I made new memories and embraced the happiness that comes from a renewed chance or lease on life.
“What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a key hole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what’s going on.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau
Back in Canada, my enthusiasm to enjoy and improve the quality of my home life fueled an even more urgent exploration of several different types of therapies. I didn’t think something was wrong with my life, but something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel quite right. I could not sustain a healthy mental attitude towards emotionally challenging subjects. I attended several different types of yoga classes seeking more help to cope with stress and managing my emotions. Although some had turned Yoga into fitness or a money making business, I craved the collective silence laying down on a mat at the end of class. Laying there, I was grateful for the silence around me, but it was just a temporary break from outside noise. In the heat of hot yoga classes, I was grateful the heat rose above where I lay, somehow making it less stifling.
Several other places I felt uneasy, unwelcomed, emotional, frustrated or disturbed from psychic activities. I didn’t want someone to predict who I was or sentence me to what would happen to me. I was not comfortable contacting dead spirits and didn’t feel that it would help me to find my own way of maintaining any kind of peace. I wanted to be the expert on how to be the “best” me. My friend went to a session with someone who was “taken over” by another entity and testified that they were all told they were from the lost city of Atlantis. I felt that it would be harmful, pointless and a little disturbing for me. The last few psychic readings I allowed someone to do had me reduced to sobbing tears.
An acquaintance in Thailand had said, never ever let anyone read Tarot cards are predict your future, they steal your energy. It was true. Any hope of a happy life was quashed by people claiming to see my future and placing their ideas into places in my brain which took years to remove. The incessant predictions kept influencing and having a hold on every decision I made, like a “pop up” reminder that I have no say and no control and the next move I make will ultimately end in a way I can’t seem to avoid because the psychic has said so. It was anti-intuitive, going against my zest for what was spontaneous, beautiful, marvelous and happy. I sought the purpose of life, not what may come according to people who don’t even know one thing about me. So I ended my journey with psychics and somehow deduced that inner intuition was a safe place I have always known. Everyday I was having life lessons taught to me through sincere conversations and observing how my actions affected my ability to enjoy everyone and everything.
One place invited me in and proceeded to massage my organs for free. Then I was encouraged to buy and wear a white karate outfit which, in his broken english, was ” for atmosphere.” I had an uneasy feeling in my gut that the teachings were incomplete or not rooted in pure knowledge. I felt a little violated and was less educated about this Asian therapy, and I just couldn’t bring myself to come back. I was open but could not stand to be uncomfortable. Another studio had no time to meet with me as they were filming a commercial, and yet another studio refused to let me enter the room because it was 5 minutes into the class. I bawled my eyes out in the lobby out of frustration from a long, tired journey of trying to feel normal. It was like trying to find the key to an unknown solution.
After many years of seeking one’s purpose for being in this life and uncertain of the path ahead, my conditionings were accumulating and bogging me down. This mental weight was preventing me from living a fully happy existence. My conditionings were built in messages that kept me in a limited mindset of what I could or could not achieve. These were formed long ago and although I had proved some of them to be false, I was powerless when it came to acknowledging and destroying negative thoughts that influenced me when I was overtired and getting into a powerless phase. Logically I knew that what was overwhelming in the present, would fade away in time. I thought the balance meant that the good times were fleeting, so enjoy it, before it’s gone. The bad times made me appreciate the good and balanced it out. Somehow when I got too judgemental, something negative would happen to “balance” the egotistical part of me where I did exactly as I pleased.
Not all, but some of these acts, had consequences it seemed, or benefits beyond what I could have conceived. One decade turned into the next, and I tried to uncover that fearlessness with which I had started my life. Many times I felt like everything was designed to go in my favor. Other times, my undiagnosed thyroid problem was putting me on a roller coaster of emotions. Even after finally getting medication to regulate my thyroid gland, it would be years before I felt normal. Rules, advice, conditionings, guilt, false ideas, other peoples’ plans or visions of who I was were like barricades to sustaining a joyful state. Besides carrying my own baggage, trying to carry other people’s burdens was my specialty. As a result, socializing could sometimes make me feel anxious. I wanted to fill myself up with something that was good for my growth. Instead I found myself sentenced to be a sounding board. My instinct has always been to pack my bags and run far, far away.
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders.But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”
Jacques Yves Cousteau
One day, I was walking with my friend Audrey in Munich, Germany on a 24 hour layover. She told me that she was planning to go to Thailand to attend a wedding in the autumn and I expressed that I would love to go there. Nearly four years of dating someone who didn’t own a passport was taking me in a direction that didn’t feel quite right. I spent the next two months preparing for my first backpacking trip and getting used to the idea of taking a sabbatical from my Canadian life.
The beaches in Thailand seemed to call out “calm, here.” Kata Beach during the lingering trickles of the tropical rainy season 2005, less than one year after the Tsunami, Thailand. Photo and personal adventure by Paula Erskine
It was my greatest hope that Thailand would slow down my life to a manageable pace where I could re-invent me. I found two more colleagues willing to take the 18 hour flight to Thailand for an indefinite amount of time. It took three flight attendants at the stand-by mercy of Northwest Airlines six days to reach Thailand. One of us anxiously expressed her worst fears that we would not have seats on all of the six flights we attempted. We pep-talked her to reprogram herself to create “space” on the aircraft for us. Even though this six day twist put a dent in our plans, it taught me that nothing planned ever happens according to plan. Not exactly. But there is an even better plan out there if we just enjoy each moment in the present long enough to discover that fate is rooting for us. But I wasn’t there yet. I was about to experience the stress of travelling in threes and trying to catch up to the trip which Audrey had started 6 days prior.
First stop, Busy Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand, photo by Carmelina
Bangkok’s busy streets, standing Buddha and fresh fruit smoothies were exciting but we knew we had to waste afternoons in travel agencies making plans for the week ahead. Somehow the beaches were calling out “calm, here”. Ko Chang was one of the closest beach reprieves from Bangkok. We booked an advertised 3 and a half hour van ride which turned into a 5 hour reality bus followed by a short ferry over to the relaxing island. The sunsets were spectacular and our favourite place to eat was the “Treehouse” Restaurant which we climbed up to the platform and waited for our food to arrive while lounging in a hammock.
Ko Chang, one of the closest beaches outside of Bangkok.
Thailand turned out to be the beginning of my seeking calm inside and out. But it would take a month before I felt my shoulders unshrug and I began to chillax. It would take an unplanned, four month sabbatical in Thailand with an unscheduled stop in Malaysia to change my life forever.
After Koh Chang, we headed back to the mainland and booked train tickets to the north and explored in the intermittent rain. Within a week, we flew south to Phuket to the much anticipated beaches that did not disappoint. October’s rainy season lingered longer than the Lonely Planet guide books had mentioned and we sometimes felt “stuck” because the other side of Thailand in the Janguat province of Surat Thani (southern Gulf of Thailand), the full moon party island of Ko Pha Ngan, was covered in rain and mud. But as soon as we stuck around long enough at Phuket’s Kata Beach, we discovered that getting qualified with scuba diving courses would help pass the time. What lay below the surface of the Andaman Sea, was a treasure trove of beauty. Within the first thirty seconds of delving beneath the sea and looking up at the sun streaming through the depths, I felt a shift happen that made me feel like the “new” refreshed me had returned. The gratitude was just pouring out of my every pore and changed my perspectve of my journey. Scuba Diving was the first time I was relieved of all thought in a very long time. It hadn’t taken years to reclaim who I was, it took seconds of thoughtlessness. I could have scuba-dived forever, just to get that feeling inside to spark up again. I felt that everything in that glorious sea was created just for my enjoyment. I felt one with the sea and a deep, grateful appreciation for being able to absorb fully the joy.
Scuba Diving in the Andaman Sea, Thailand with a school of fish that respectfully kept their distance, but mimicked our every move. Photo by Gunner Eggers
Obviously, I could not continue scuba diving indefinitely just to get that feeling. So again, I was faced with how to sustain that feeling of bliss and block any negativity that got in the way. Fighting the negativity was exhausting and did not make me feel positive. But I fought it plenty. I blamed others because in a room full of positivity, one negative person or thing could consume my feeling of well-being. I fought with myself too, trying to dispel feelings of life wasted, resentment, failure, time wasted, and feeling guilty for trying find my own selfish happiness formula. I was visiting Buddhist temples looking for a sign, serene beaches and conversing with people who were on their own seeking paths. Travelling for travelling sake and checking off destinations didn’t seem to be the overall goal. What everybody seemed to be seeking was happiness and collectivity in a mostly Buddhist country. Thailand was the hope trip that revealed to me that happiness was not a selfish act but actually my birthright.
Peace in the Andaman Sea, photo of Paula, article by Paula Erskine
Many of the challenges I have experienced were growth spurts in disguise. With every test, I drew on my philosophic tendencies to reflect on solutions to each segment of my life. Within a year of returning back to Canada from Thailand, I found myself searching again for a way to deal with people and life in a peaceful manner. I had experienced a shift of consciousness while scuba diving but still did not know how to maintain that feeling of wellness through every aspect of my life. I can only say that after 30 seconds, I felt like my “self” again. I was seeking to feel like I used to. I felt like it was a hint of a gift that the feeling I am seeking is there and attainable. But I still did not know how to hang on to it. I had visited numerous Buddhist temples and have read many books with beautiful quotes and stories to learn from. I had tremendous admiration for Buddha and other cultures prophets that perhaps in combination could somehow form the key to my happiness. Then I don’t know quite how I found it, but somewhere in my seeking the great search, I saw an ad for a free yoga class around the corner of my house and found out that there would be meditation also. I had nothing to lose. I packed my runners and yoga mat and was greeted very warmly. I was asked to remove my shoes and ended up sitting comfortably in a chair. It was a peaceful place that lead me through a guided meditation which felt very good and something I could handle. I brought a friend, and enjoyed learning about the chakras, or energy wheels in the body that govern different organs and parts of the body. I paid close attention and attended with pleasure. It felt like I was getting to the root of my problems and was about to find the solutions.
I have found the destination in the form of a sustainable, truthful, transformative meditation around the corner from my house. Nobody charged me money or told me what to feel. But three classes in, I returned home to tell my new Russian husband, (that I had met backpacking, but that’s another story), about how peaceful I felt. Suddenly, a charge of energy, like a waterfall, surged up through my torso up through my head and I stood up with excitement. When I stood up I felt my whole body energized to reveal that I had received the enlightenment, the connection that Buddha had sought his entire life.
Now this was an experience that I felt compelled to pursue. It gave me that feeling I found under the sea but a thousand times more powerful. It was portable and permeating because it happened following the meditation class. Since then, I have come to discover these sensations are known in Sahaja Yoga as vibrations and have helped me to feel that bliss when I am meditating, collective, listening to music, watching inspiring movies, socializing, spending time in nature and scuba diving of course! It was as I suspected the key to discovering how everything and everyone is connected! The key could be discovered spontaneously and with a simple moment where a gap in the thoughts allows one to feel the oneness and the flow happening inside. My thoughts pulled me back and forth from past to futuristic thinking and interfered with my enjoyment of the present. I was able to identify the root of my problems and was gifted the solution on how to not only cope with stress but to enjoy a path that is built on happiness.
I have since learned that timeless, inspired works of art or nature, including the underwater “art museum” I experienced, had the power to stop my thoughts long enough for me to experience a shift. I returned to feeling like myself again. I was very comfortable in water, so fear was not a factor when it came to scuba diving. I was innocently just interested in an adventure with my friends and trying something new. Which is why when I started watching Jacques Yves Cousteau’s documentaries with my husband, post-Thailand, a flood of vibrations filled me up with such enjoyment! Was Jacques Yves Cousteau perhaps, a realized soul? Was I connecting to the excitement of scuba diving through powerful, adventurous music and underwater images? Then I had an epiphany. Scuba diving was my first meditation.
A cleansing waterfall, Koh Chang island, 4 hours away from Bangkok, Thailand, accessible by ferry.
This bliss can be felt in the fourth dimension which is “ours” to discover in this lifetime. The space between the thoughts that battle for our attention between past conditionings and worrying about the future is the door to paradise that William Blake has described in his poetry. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” The space of “thoughtlessness” occurs in the “present” and through the awakening of kundalini energy (the sacred energy within everyone) I was granted with the feeling of connection. My perspective was changed forever for the better. Conditionings don’t define me anymore, but I have to “sweep” my mind of them daily. The future does not exist, so when I get into planning or anxiety mode, I take a few seconds to clear the “I”-ness out of my system so I stay the course of just enjoying the present and maintaining a balanced state. I learned for the first time in this simple, spontaneous experience of meditating collectively, that Yoga actually means union, meaning union with the divine. In my personal experience living in the western world, I had never taken an exercise, or yoga or any other type of class that had ever alluded to this union. In one fell swoop of a cool breeze, I felt the union with others and nature. It made me feel the physical proof that I had just plugged in to to the infinite realm. I am the spirit, which is eternal and resides in the heart. At last, I had found the answers to all my questions and the source of unending happiness.
Searching for Enlightenment, Bangkok, photo of Paula Erskine and Fatima by Carmelina
A few things I learned in this spontaneous meditation method is to forgive my past, forgive everyone including myself so that I can start with a fresh slate. Guilt and fear are myths that we create in our minds. Reconnecting with the enlightened brain through the present is the source of truth and a “cleansed” perspective. If I collect anything in this life now, it is the tangible feeling of joy and happiness. I am not alone in this journey. This is the destination that evolved my personality to a whole new level. For me, it affirms Dr. Carl Gustav Jungs findings that we can tap into a collective consciousness that gives us a sense of oneness. A feeling that there is an organized love that has gifted this beautiful earth for our enjoyment is evident. I have access to the tools for coping with life when setbacks and mini-dramas try to suck me back in to my old, reactive and conditioned responses. Maintaining a healthy meditation practice helps me to grow within a proven happiness formula that is not limited by the mind. Now I know that the balance actually refers to an inward journey through the present. I don’t leave home without it for it is always within me and built to share. And by the way, you have it too.
Try your own “Experiment with Truth” by taking the meditation course for free online at www.freemeditation.com
I enjoy the “Meditation for Beginners” video as well. Since even more can be felt when meditating collectively
you can join a free class, anywhere in the world, just check the website for more locations. Try the classes for
two months and see how you feel.
Another great website is www.free-meditation.ca
Sahaja Yoga is now a UNESCO partner for peace.