Excerpt from Mark Matousek's book Mother of the Unseen World: The Mystery of Mother Meera
The following excerpt from the preface of the book Mother of the Unseen World: The Mystery of Mother Meera is provided with permission from the author, Mark Matousek. Our grateful thanks to him and his publisher, Penguin Random House. The book is available from all good booksellers and on-line vendors.
NB: Although this excerpt describes the time when Mark Matousek first met Mother Meera, the book also takes the story to the present day.
On the evening of August 24, 1984, I arrived in the nondescript village of Thalheim, a German hamlet outside Frankfurt, during a stopover from New York to India. My travel companion, Andrew Harvey, had suggested that we start our journey here with a visit to someone he was eager to see. As his guest, I hadn't inquired further, and now, as we made our way through the quiet streets, past lace-curtained windows and garden gnomes, patrolling perfectly manicured lawns, I felt jet-lagged, unanchored, and clueless as to why we were there.
Herbert, the burly, bespectacled German who'd picked us up at the airport, backed into the driveway and turned off the ignition. He instructed us to leave our bags outside and to enter the house without making a sound. Darshan had already begun, Herbert told us. I had no idea what he meant.
We tiptoed into the small foyer and closed the door behind ourselves. No sooner had I slipped off my shoes - following Andrew's lead - than my ears were filled with a strange buzzing sound like a swarm of bees or static on the radio. I rubbed my ears, but the whirring continued, breaking the otherwise eerie silence. I glanced at Andrew, who grinned at me, nodded his head, and gestured for me to follow him up the stairs.
Then I saw her. Peeking over the banister, I noticed a tiny Indian woman wearing a vermilion sari, seated on a chair, eyes closed, holding the head of a kneeling child between her hands. Her dark face was serene, her shoulders slightly hunched as she touched the boy's temples, the two frozen in a strange tableau. Neither of them moved a muscle. Finally, the young woman opened her eyes, released his head, and sat back, gazing straight into the boy's eyes. Her expression was fierce and unwavering, her head rocking slightly forward and back as she examined the boy for a few more seconds, then lowered her eyes, gazing down at her hands. The boy touched his forehead to the ground and returned to his chair, making way for an old woman, who hobbled to the carpet and knelt with difficulty, the whole process beginning again.
I was mesmerized by the sight of her. I knew immediately, without knowing how I knew, that this woman was unlike anyone I'd seen before - qualitatively different - as if she belonged to another species. I recognized viscerally, not rationally, as one would acknowledge a taste or a smell, that she was something other. Her stillness, her silence, the curve of her shoulders in silhouette, or, more than that, the atmosphere that surrounded her, reminded me of something enormous and ancient, like a mountain.
I sat down on the stairs and closed my eyes. Immediately, the background of my inner vision turned orange-gold and I felt myself sinking into a kind of trance, my body heavy, my head light. Against this glowing background, the woman appeared, floating above me in slow motion, then bouncing me through space like a seal with a ball. I was aware of being somewhere beyond myself, observing from an odd remove as she soared back and forth, teasing me, pulling me further and further from my ordinary mind.
The Baal Shem Tov, a Hasidic master who lived three hundred years ago in Poland, compared his first spiritual experience to turning around and stepping out the back door of his mind. At seven-thirty p.m. on that summer night, I stepped through the back door of my own. With no preparation whatsoever, I was shaken to the core, changed - in a matter of seconds - from a man who believed he knew the world to a person aware that he knew next to nothing.
Andrew touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes. The space in front of the woman was empty; it was my turn - she was waiting for me. I was tempted to stand up and run down the stairs. Instead, I managed to get to my feet and kneel down in front of her. Feeling awkward and ridiculous, I lowered my head, and her fingers came to rest on my temples, gripping my skull like a vice. Without intending to, my hands found her feet through the folds of her sari - they were cold and small as a child's - and I touched them as she held my head, focusing on the threads of gold in her hem. Aside from the embarrassment of kneeling in front of another person for the first time in my life, I felt nothing as I waited for her to finish. I did my best not to breathe too loudly and counted the seconds until it was over.
Finally, she released my head, I sat back on my heels and looked into her dark eyes. Her face was blank and expressionless. The irises - which nearly filled the entire oval, like a cat's - flicked back and forth as she stared at me. I had the sense that she was actually doing something with her gaze, focused with such intensity, as if she were boring through a wall. It took every ounce of my strength not to look away. Finally, she lowered her eyes and I returned to my place on the stairs.
The woman remained seated a minute more. When no one else came forward, she stood - bringing the small group to our feet - and made her way slowly up the stairs, eyes lowered to the ground, followed by the female attendant who had been seated at her side.
The small house emptied within a few minutes. Andrew led me down the narrow staircase to the basement kitchen and told me to wait there. My head was in turmoil; no sooner was I alone than I began to deconstruct my experience on the stairs. I was stressed, exhausted, hallucinating. I'd been influenced by Andrew's poetic descriptions of spiritual life in his native India. I was swept up by the strangeness of seeing this woman holding other people's heads in silence. I ticked off a list of rational explanations for what had happened. Andrew then poked his head through the doorway. "Mother Meera will see you now."