The Beckoning Land that is within

In spite of the fact that all three of Rowena Farre's books were in a certain measure autobiographical, she remains a mystery. The place of her birth, her real name and ancestry, whether her first book was autobiography, in fact, or fiction? It is, on reading her last book, a matter on which, beyond a certain notional interest, I find myself wholly and happily agnostic. Whoever she was, she was a person out of sorts with the world she was born into and on, an ever more consciously realized, spiritual quest. In this way, the book leads on from her earlier one about her life with Roma and Traveller communities. There she was following a nomadic impulse that ran in parallel to 'ordinary life' whilst here she is following a nomadic life that enfolds and transforms 'ordinary' life.

In this her third book, she returns to places associated with her childhood, Hong Kong, Ceylon and India, in the early Sixties, and, before it became 'fashionably hippy', in search of that other world that is enfolded in this one, a world 'transformed' (a word she loved from childhood) into yet something other, by a quality of vision, of centered, calming insight. The world as it is in its pristine unity.

Through the course of this journey, she meets, among many others, two people who exemplify her quest. The one is the herbalist she had known as a child in a mysterious shop down the road from where she lived, now transformed into a Taoist hermit, living on an as yet undisturbed island near Hong Kong. The second is a nameless hermit, living in a cave, in the Himalayas, accompanied by two sadhus, who appears a fully liberated being, of intense and transfiguring stillness.

Both of these encounters at one level carry a certain level of improbability in how they emerge yet, as we know, the mystical often manifests itself magically. What are the chances that I would encounter the name of a critical meditation teacher from two different sources in the space of ten minutes and meet them in a small Oxford village the day after? And they are encounters prepared for as glimpses of her reading suggest; for example, her having absorbed Ouspensky's 'In Search of the Miraculous'.

More than this, it is the insightful nature of the encounters that rings true. The Taoist sage is perfectly themselves and different yet resonant with the Indian sage who is perfectly themselves. There is a realism about Farre's accounts - a judicious understatement too - that sings authenticity (even if they were part products of imagination for imagination appropriately applied reveals truthfulness). The Taoist sage sings of the importance of being centered in the world navigating its dimensions with simplified ease. The Indian sage sings of liberation from the confinement of the world - of the inward leap to return to the source. Both would have recognized the other in their being different yet the same in their non-attachment.

It is too a lovely book - beautifully written, humble, questing and observant of times and places as well as realities beyond time and place. You live through the racket of Chinese New Year, the casual interactions that spring up journeying in India and the shifts in the world as countries decolonize and emerge as well as try to accommodate tradition and change. Simply read as travelogue, it is an accomplished text.

But more that this, the book is an invitation to re-visit one's past most animating experiences, to test out how and where you felt most alive, to seek out the touch of an inviting otherness; and, reflect on the level of your inward freedom to which that otherness invites you. The otherness that is wholly enfolded in the deepest vein of yourself.


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