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Meetings with PB


F orty years ago I rang the bell to Paul Brunton’s apartment in Lausanne in Switzerland for the first time.  I was 27, a divorced mother of two sons, Eliah a toddler and Chris, six years old.  Wounded and bleeding from existential doubts, I don’t think I would have made it if Paul Brunton did not come into my life.  “I was hanging over the abyss,” I said to him as we walked together along the shore of Geneva Lake on a lovely spring day a year later.  After a silence so long that I thought he hadn’t heard me, he said quietly, “Yes, you were.”

Our first meeting had been scheduled with very short notice.  There was no previous outward contact, but for months before I woke up every morning with a feeling of happy expectancy.  I knew I would meet someone who knew me to the core.

As Paul Brunton opened the door and I gazed into his eyes, I knew it was he.  In a sudden flash the greatness of our human nature was revealed to me.  The man standing in the doorway in the world outside and my own innermost being magically merged into one.

The experience turned my whole life around.  It made it possible for me to fight and conquer the destructive urges in my nature that were pulling me down.

Being a journalist and writer I offered to translate Paul Brunton’s books into Swedish.  Translating is a wonderful way of studying a text in depth.  And in this case, the source being spiritual, the daily contact with his writing also helped me to heal psychologically and emotionally.

At the time of my first visit with Paul Brunton I was studying philosophy and meditation with Anthony Damiani, one of his most devoted students.  Anthony’s humble love for his teacher had opened the way for me.  Anthony was a passionate Italian American mystic and philosopher, strong willed, and brilliant, with a velveteen depth of feeling.  During one of my first classes in The American Brahman bookstore in Ithaca where he taught I heard him say “PB.”  When he spoke his teacher’s initials his whole being was transfigured into one of infinite tenderness and humility.  A deep silence ensued—we all felt an angel pass through the room.

The translating enabled me to see Paul Brunton once or twice a year during the last ten years of his life.  I eventually moved back to Sweden with my children in order to help promote his books in my native country.  Larson Publications (Swedish / English), owned and run by Robert Larson and his wife Brigitta, had just published PB’s first book, The Secret Path, in Swedish when I returned to Stockholm.

I saw that many of my friends were hanging over the abyss as I had been and thought that the spiritual guidance Paul Brunton offered in his books could possibly help them too.  Here my journalistic training came in handy.  I became an investigating reporter of the inner.  PB encouraged me to write.  “You will be a bridge between the spiritual philosophy in my books and the general public,” he said.  “Don’t just write about my ideas.  Write on different life topics and then you can bring in a deeper perspective.”

I followed his advice.

Luck had it that Svenska Dagbladet, one of the two largest newspapers in Sweden at that time, had a very popular section of existential topics where I fit in.  I wrote a series of feature articles for it from the mid-1980s to 2004.  Among these I published a three-piece series about Paul Brunton, and his writings helped to promote the books that were published in wider circles.

During the ten years that Paul Brunton lived after our first meeting, my greatest joy was the visits I had with him once or twice a year.  He lived a very reclusive life, devoting himself to writing and “inner research.”  I tried to make myself useful, helping him with correspondence and practical chores.  He revised his books and helped formulate the study guides, which the Swedish publisher wanted to include in the books.

In Sweden we have a vast infrastructure of study organizations for adult education.  Paul Brunton’s books were marketed and promoted for study circles by several of the largest study organizations in Sweden.  A study circle consists of ten to twenty individuals and meets a couple of evenings a month during one semester.  It is a great way for questers to find and get to know and exchange experiences and views with each other.

It begins with meditation and then proceeds with discussion based on the questions in the study guide.

Paul Brunton encouraged the study circle to form for the study of spiritual philosophy.  He liked the idea that a group would form and meet for a short time and then dissolve.  He did not want to start movements and organizations.  “After all,” he often said, “the spiritual quest is an inner thing.”  You need to learn to rely on your inner guidance in order to realize its high goal.  Considering that, of course, guru worship and external organizations may be counterproductive.

Our time together was devoted to work and service.  The most trivial chores in PB’s presence, like disposing of garbage, or wrapping up ancient silk paintings, or cutting tomatoes took on an intensely spiritual dimension.

What does it mean?  How was it experienced?  Different individuals experienced it differently.  I felt it when I was on my way to see him in the U.S. that first time.  It was as if the protective shield on my heart was beginning to melt.  Situations, people, and events in my life were held up before my mind’s eye.  First I saw them from the outside, which is a familiar perspective.  Then the outside melted away, and the inner truth was revealed.  My tears were flowing from the time I boarded the plane to New York until we landed in Oslo.  When I came to PB much of my personal pain and bitterness had dissolved, and I felt naked, skinless.  When weaned from PB’s company I experienced his presence more and more as an unfathomable peace, clarity, or knowing.  It could also manifest as intense joy or freedom.

When I received word of PB’s passing in July of 1981, I was taking a deep breath to let my tears flow, when I had an unexpected and very clear perception of him.  His characteristic chuckle and little smile.  “Let me see now if you have understood what I taught you, or if I wasted my time on you!” his voice resounded within me.

This too was a gift.  I had wanted to—and did—ask him so many things.  He was so wide and kind, you couldn’t help doing it.  But 99% of the time he would reflect my questions back onto me: “What do you yourself think, Anna?  Find it out!”  Although it may at times have felt baffling, it served me perfectly.  I did ask myself.  And each time I asked, unknowingly I had drawn closer to the light deep within my own heart.  Now suddenly it was present there, not only in me but also in the forest and meadows surrounding me.  PB was closer than he had even been while in the body.  And his light merged with the light of my own higher self.