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We buried Rachel’s son today. He was just a teenage kid but like so many kids born to HIV mother, he was positive too. So his immune system was weak and he battled infection and lost.

Rachel’s a dear friend. She has such a joy in life and we’ve laughed together a lot. Today she wept the tears of a woman losing a beloved son.

At the ashram we chant the Mritunjaya Mantra. Swamiji (Swami Nishchalananda) explained to me that these chants are all about ‘archetypes’. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj also talks about chanting the old mantras as travelling a well trodden path. The words, the sound vibration of those words, have cut a channel to that great well of compassion. (Does such compassion grant our prayers, or does it deepen our understanding; give us the ability to stand back from expectation and see that ‘all is as it should be’?)

And so it is with the pure magic that African voices can conjure from the air. As I approached the church, I heard singing of great beauty. My eyes stung with tears, not from sadness but from something more reverential. The song was a lament, but also a hymn. The choir was praising God for taking one of his children back. The preacher talked of the same thing; I smiled to myself as I heard him say, ‘We cannot understand such things, this is the great mystery’, thinking of Swamiji. I’ve heard him say similar things. The preacher also told us the boy asked him how to pray so that he could know God. What an incentive to focus if you truly know your life will soon end. Indeed the boy’s face in the coffin was so small, but serene, who knows where his search took him?

Anyway, such a sea of compassion in that place. In my arrogance I thought I could add something of ‘spiritual worth’ to the atmosphere by going into my own meditation. I was quickly humbled! The fact is, I was privileged to be included in a lesson in Bhakti yoga, surrender, that instead of being in my ‘individual’ spiritual world, I was taken further to become a part of their devotion, and at the same time their grief.

We were carried in that unity of grief, tempered with reflection (prompted by the minister’s sermon), in cars, minibuses, and lorries to the graveyard where we listened to eulogies and exhortations to love and help one-another while we have the chance. A sun dappled field of trees and new graves, many clearly the graves of children. A time ‘out of time’ as I listen to the lilting Chewa voices and reflect on the awesome miracle that is my existence, the I that merely ‘Is’, beyond thought, beyond personality, in a place where time has no meaning therefore there can be no ending, no beginning, just existence. Which just happens to be magnificent, for a reason I do not know.

Back at Rachel’s house, the feeling of unity so strong that I’m not a muzungu (white guy) in a sea of black faces, we’re all just brothers & sisters. Later, Alice, Catherine, Rachel and I are sitting in the shade of a mango tree. They’re weary of grief now, and we slip into the easy friendship we had when I left last time. We talk of little things, the fact that the mango harvest is so poor this year, my life in a yoga ashram, getting Ketty from end-of-term school, the transience of life and the possibility of understanding what is that life. Afternoon turns into a beautiful tropical evening, eating mangoes with beautiful tropical people.

love to all

Tony is part of the Ashram team, who has just spent 3 months in Africa.