“Who’s your guru?”
“I don’t have one.”
The young truckie gasped audibly.
“What Teachings do you follow, then?”
“None in particular,” I responded, “I’m open-minded to all ideas and beliefs.”
I was cleaning up in the kitchen when the late arrival came in for a feed at the weekend spiritual retreat, in bushland just south of Sydney.
Clad in shorts, singlet and thongs, the young truck driver was an incongruous devotee of an Indian spiritual tradition where the more committed didis (sisters) and dadas (brothers) donned the monks robes.
And what was I doing at this retreat which featured meditation, yoga, drumming, men’s and women’s circles and kiirtan?
Well, kitchen service, for one.
It was my second year in attendance, helping my friend Supatra who was in charge of the cooking.
I had no intention of joining any organized spiritual order or religion, although I’d been attending the group’s weekly kiirtan (singing mantras out loud) for several months. I quite liked this form of singing meditation.
For many years I was drawn to the Buddhist view of the world; my aversion to the Greek church led my mother to her logical accusation that I must therefore be a Jehovah’s Witness!
Funny, how that judgmental and inflexible attitude was what turned me away from her church in the first place; and the fact that church services were conducted in Byzantine Greek and bore no resemblance to the modern Greek language. I had no hope of understanding any of it.
Many forks in the road
It’s easier to see significant turning points in life with hindsight: those signposts and detours which catapulted me into challenging, interesting, rewarding, sometimes risky, and invariably amusing experiences along the way.
There are five key events which set the pace for the ensuing adventures:
1. I decided I wanted to be a journalist.
2. I left home and lived on campus for three years while at college.
3. I lived in Greece for a year in 1988.
4. I had an epiphany while floating down a river in Nepal in 1991.
5. I randomly picked up a copy of The Celestine Prophecy while browsing through a bookstore in Athens in 1995. A sentence on the back cover claimed: “A book that comes along just once in a lifetime to change lives forever.” And it did.
When I returned to Sydney in late 1996, a series of synchronistic events led me to an astrology workshop and a weekly meditation group called Spiritual Venturers.
At the same time I embarked on a part-time Diploma of Energetic Healing course at Nature Care College, which gave me a theoretical and practical grounding into this new path of learning and discovery.
Spiritual Venturers was a mostly senior group of members who provided a safe learning environment, occasionally offering psychic readings and hands on healing demonstrations.
It was a non-threatening introduction to spirituality; at least until Supatra walked in one night and gave the dear old ladies a Tantra lesson with a young man on her lap.
Fifteen years later, we still laugh heartily about that memorable night.
Spring cleaning my life
If the Venturers group was preschool, Supatra’s quarterly urban retreats were like bypassing high school and plunging straight into a Masters degree: it thrust me out of my comfort zone and pushed all my buttons.
These intensive weekend retreats featured meditation, energy work, mandala drawings, drumming, singing, feng shui, yoga, shiatsu, cleaning, cooking and eating.
There were a lot of insights, breakthroughs and the usual dose of resistance. As one of four support team members, we debriefed with the three facilitators at the end of the day and worked on clearing our own stuff (yes, that was the highly technical term we used).
My involvement with Supatra’s retreats in the early years of the previous decade gave me a solid grounding in a variety of spiritual practices and belief systems.
Since then I’ve joined numerous meditation circles and attended a variety of spiritual and self development workshops, including a witch’s coven.
Nothing, therefore, surprises, confuses or threatens my beliefs these days - it's been a quantum leap of faith since that agnostic teenager who once insisted that “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
The witchy-poo workshop
A few years ago, a friend and I agreed to venture together into a witch’s coven for an eight-week introductory Wicca course.
Panic not. There was nothing sinister about this workshop and there was definitely no devil worship. However, we drew the line at dancing around the cauldron in the nudie-woody. No wonder Wiccans get bad press! This option was, however, available to those students interested in pursuing advanced workshops.
Despite its negative association with witchcraft, Wicca is a set of beliefs and traditions connected to nature and the divinity in all of us. It’s not that different, really, to other contemporary ‘spiritual’ beliefs.
The workshop was an interesting experience, however, I’m fairly lazy when it comes to rituals; I barely light candles or incense these days and enjoy having silence when I’m home, despite my large collection of meditation and relaxation CDs.
I’m happy with my own company.
Image: Hari Kotrotsios
After years of workshops and courses, I’ve stopped searching and seeking; I’m now focusing on living. And staying in one place for a while.
We can spend our whole life looking for answers elsewhere, but how many workshops, tarot readings, or healing sessions are enough?
How much more can we learn, integrate, shift and release before putting this knowledge to practical use?
When do we start trusting ourselves and take ownership of our life?
Besides, my brain has information overload.
Of course, we all need a helping hand every now and then, someone to guide us along the path or catch us when we stumble; someone to share a few laughs or tears.
What I believe (in a nutshell)
These are my top five beliefs that I’ve integrated over the past two decades from a variety of people and sources, including Louise Hay, Wayne Dwyer, Neale Donal Walsch, Paulo Coelho and the Dalai Lama.
I can’t prove they’re true, no more than I can prove they’re not true. But they feel right for me:
1. Life IS meant to be easy. Really, where’s the fun or purpose in suffering?
2. We are responsible for creating our life, including illness, disease and wars, so let's stop blaming everyone else.
3. There's a reason for everything that happens in our life, even though we don’t always know why.
4. We always have a choice about how we live our life, including our attitudes and beliefs.
5. There is no right or wrong, good or bad - they're simply choices we make along our human journey, all of which enhance our growth and development, even though some of our actions can be rude, selfish or cruel.
Postscript: If I had to do it all over again, I’d listen more carefully to my intuition and take more brazen risks the next time around. Beam me up, Scottie!
New Zealand 2008
New Zealand 2006
United Kingdom 2004
Athens Olympics 2004
Beijing to Athens 1994
I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi and Joondoburri people, and recognise their continuing connection to land, the waters and sky. I pay my respect to them and their cultures; and to Elders past, present and emerging.
© 2023 HARI KOTROTSIOS