Entering the London Tube system was a daunting experience. Here I was about to come into uncomfortably lose proximity to characters of every conceivable type… homeless, alcoholics, Goths who look like the walking dead, punks itching for a fight, cold-looking businessmen, scantily-dressed wild teenagers, heavy-metal freaks covered in tattoos and multiple body-piercings, and (possibly the most frightening) over-zealous religious fanatics trying to convert anyone in their path!
For the last 11 years all I had seen each day were a few animals, the other monks, and some visiting pilgrims. I definitely wasn’t ready for this encounter with London’s concentrated mix of worldly energies. As I left Paddington Station’s train platform I took one last gulp of fresh air and headed in the direction of the Underground entrance which would take me down beneath the concrete of the city.
The mechanical escalators rattled and rumbled as they carried me progressively deeper into the subterranean bowels of London. Fresh air became a distant memory as it was replaced by the fetid and dirty smell of the Underground network. Escalator after escalator, turning many corners, cutting a path through the crowds of strange people, getting bumped and pushed. All the while with the oppressive sensation of being deep underground with the weight of the bustling metropolis above. It struck me how so many humans are trying to survive all cramped together like sardines… and in such unnatural conditions. It’s hardly surprising that there is so much stress and aggression in the world!
Before long I was starting to feel quite nauseas and light-headed. It was at about this point that I instinctively exercised my survival skill of blocking out surrounding vibrations. In the monastery I hadn’t had much need to do that. Now suddenly I found myself doing it automatically. Instead of having all my senses extended out beyond the normal physical range, now I retracted them all into myself, shutting out all the diverse feelings from the environment around me. In this state I effectively “switched off” my sensitivity, being aware now of only the superficial sights and sounds around me, leaving my senses feeling somewhat dull in comparison. Curiously this reaction had kicked-in automatically like some kind of survival mechanism, one which I would come to rely on frequently. I now continued my journey like a horse with its blinkers on, seeing only what I needed to in order to get to my destination.
That destination was my mother’s house in the town that was home to the person I used to be many years ago before I entered the monastery.