The Golden Age
From Golden Age correspondent Liz Gilbert.
Stretching leisurely between the hills and the sea lie the Adelaide plains, comfortably divided into family-sized parcels of land. Here, more than anywhere else in this country, the Great Australian Dream of a-home-of-your-own is likely to be realised. Short-term visitors call it "sleepy Adelaide". Those who stay longer might more accurately say, "Still waters run deep." Adelaide isn't asleep; it's merely cautious. Three-and-a-half years ago a battered Honda motorcycle bearing two premies made the first inroads into Adelaide's complacency. John Macgregor and Mary Starrs rode the city streets till they found functional - if somewhat cramped - premises in Pulteney Street, where they set up the ashram, satsang hall, Divine Sales and offices, all rolled into one.
Today our regional headquarters contains a large, carpeted satsang hall, divided at the back into offices for a full-time staff of four plus their many part-time helpers. Adelaide community has 85 Active Members with 38 premies living in 100 per cent situations.
A far cry from the Pulteney Street days! Slowly but surely, satsang, service and meditation are eroding away the cautiousness which is our heritage as Adelaidians.
At first glance it seems a paradox that Adelaide's citizens are notoriously conservative, and yet consistently re-elect the most progressive State Government in Australia. It seems that Adelaide clings to the status quo only until it's sure that something better is in the offing. Once the validity of a new law or proposal - however radical - is demonstrated, the full force of Adelaide's citizenry supports it. And this is true also of our DLM community.
Satsang has a very powerful influence on community consciousness, especially since it has become more participatory with weekly Community Focus workshop groups and twice-a-week Premie Refresher Courses.
We're finding more and more that satsang ensures that whenever we begin to believe that Knowledge is somethingor-other, the whole concept is exposed and blown to pieces before it's had much time to take hold.
But this is possible only because our increasing experience of Knowledge is encouraging us to trust it and want it more. Ira Woods told us, "Meditate, and it'll turn out perfectly." So we've been trying it! The results? As Graham Swift, Programs Director here, says, "Gradually Guru Maharaj Ji seems to be redirecting our attention into the thing that really causes everything else to happen. We used to run around like headless chooks
No. 32, August 1976
trying to get people to come to us. As soon as we started to concentrate on the quality of our own experience, they started coming of their own accord."
The last year or so has seen the development of a surprising normality within the community. An outsider would see Divine Light Mission here as a close-knit, efficient organisation working enthusiastically to promote its ideals. The various official departments operate harmoniously. A well-run food co-op serves the community. The AMP Committee fosters "family within the family" groups, and provides service opportunities. Many premies have regular, stabilising service. Each fortnight the comprehensive newsletter keeps everybody informed and in tune, and a special section of it caters to aspirants. On the lighter side, PLAyers and musicians rehearse and have a workshop every week. The wheels have been set in motion, and the whole machine is running dependably.
This normality is reflected in the people who come to DLM today. Our 30 or so aspirants are of all ages and walks of life, and their presence in the community cancels out our former image of a dropout-rehabilitation scheme!
"Once we really started meditating," comments Community Director Vic Marsh, "we discovered that 'being a premie' didn't mean thinking like a hippie, or sleeping on the floor, or being young, as we were unconsciously projecting …. that in fact Knowledge really was an experience which went beyond all the accidents of our own particular lifestyle and conditioning. Once we started to open up to a real experience in meditation, the way seemed to open up for so many different people to come and join us. It really has given this community a boost to grow with the age and experience that some of the recent aspirants are bringing with them. Of course, we're all babies in Knowledge, but it does fill out the picture."
It will be interesting to watch the effect on the community as people of different age-groups start coming to Knowledge. Angie McLachlan, whose oldest child is 13, was initiated during Ira's visit to Adelaide. She points out: "Many of the early premies who turned to Knowledge were so disillusioned with life that they refused even to face it, with the result that they've had to learn both how to function in society and grow in Knowledge at the same time. Perhaps it's easier for those of us who've adjusted well to society even while needing to find that hidden purpose."
The number of children in the community has risen sharply as more family people have come to Knowledge. It became obvious that our children's facilities (a small nursery in the offices at the back of the satsang hall) were hopelessly inadequate. So the Mission took over the lease of a small house in the next street, and nursery is held there every night. The children have room to group themselves into similar ages or interests, leaving the babies to sleep undisturbed. And on saturday nights (Community night at the satsang hall) musicians entertain the nursery children with singalongs.
Running parallel with all this is the development of a satellite community at Whyalla, in the north of South Australia. Mary Starrs, who pioneered Adelaide, has joined Brian Murray, another ashram premie, to form the nucleus of a small band of four Active Members. Five or six aspirants there are participating in a Seminar One course, and another Introduction to Knowledge Series will soon be needed to cater for newcomers.
So …. it's all quite a picture for the outside observer … one big happy family, with the occasional hitches and tense moments far outweighed by smiling faces and the obvious love.
But we on the inside must keep reminding ourselves that the whole structure is indeed a structure, and that all the outward developments are nothing but a roof over our heads to keep out the worst of the rain so we can get on with the business of practising Knowledge. It's so easy to get caught up in material things - either to perform our service from our heads and to judge our progress by tangibles, or to swing the opposite way, and regard "the bureaucracy" with suspicion. Time and time again Maharaj Ji reminds us that Divine Light Mission can't bring us peace; that peace comes from within.
"When we try to substitute the hugs, the smiles and the good vibes for the experience of meditation, we're treading on thin ice," says Finance Director Keith Brewster. "You know, we can count up the people in AMP, the 'bricks and mortar', to see where we're at - and on that level there are healthy signs of growth and stability. But it's only the constant enjoyment of our life as we can experience it at the source that shows us, or anybody else, that we're on the right track."
Slowly, understanding is dawning. Our steadily-growing strength in Knowledge has been accelerated by several events this year. First Derek Harper came to help us prepare for Ira Woods' visit, with the result that we were more open to the clarity and simplicity of Ira's satsang.
With Knowledge Reviews for everyone, Ira proved practically that meditation isn't the battle we all thought it was but on the contrary, a simple, beautiful process. After giving Knowledge to two new premies Ira left us stronger, clearer and more quietly determined, and practising Knowledge on another plane altogether.
Since then three meditation retreats (one for the community, one for premies in ashrams and community centres, and one for parents), visits from interstate, the recent National Conference and the beautiful experience of seeing Maharaj Ji on video, have all flowed into our progression like tributaries into a river, adding to it and strengthening it.
Which isn't to say that Adelaide has become the City of Light (despite its founder Colonel William!), or that we're all in a state of perfect realisation. Rather, it means that we're left with a few less games to play. We have our bursts of enthusiasm, and times of dogged plodding. And we still have something of that tenacious resistance to change … a sort of "let's not rush into things" syndrome which is the hallmark of this city.
But it's also evident that we're becoming more and more deep-rooted in Knowledge, and less in our concepts of it. It's becoming a little easier to flow with meditation without constantly stopping to check on our progress. We seem to be more aware of the vastness of Knowledge, and the need for a perfect guide. We seem to be understanding a little more of what Maharaj Ji tells us.
As with every person in the world, we're our own worst enemy. But we're realising that, as premies, we're also our own best friend.