A lightness that feels natural
A spiritual teacher from New Zealand came to Amsterdam this summer. VolZin-editor Lisette Thooft checked him out, and became enthralled.
By Lisette Thooft
Is that him? Is my first reaction when Bernie Prior enters the room where we are waiting for him, fifteen or so people. It is not quite what you might expect from a charismatic spiritual teacher, a Western mystic who says he is enlightened. Prior, Englishman by birth and settled in New-Zealand, is 55 years old, but looks younger with his slender body and his long blond hair, combed back into a thin ponytail.
He sits down and begins to talk. I am sitting opposite him on the front row, invited to take a seat there by an acquaintance of mine, the guy who lured me to this meeting in the Amsterdam spiritual centre De Roos, with a statement: ‘This is the successor to Barry Long.’ Barry Long is dead now; he was a spiritual teacher from Australia whom I zealously followed for years. I translated some of his books and he thoroughly changed my life – for the better – with his clear, practical advice and spiritual teaching.
The successor to Long? I am curious, but sceptical: we’ll see.
And I do see. Or rather: I hear. Even more precisely: I feel. What Prior says, generally remains somewhat abstract, not to say vague. He talks about living from the heart, from a deep spiritual or divine source. You reach inside, he says – and he demonstrates it with his hands – into the deep of yourself, and from that depth arises spirit, or God, who reaches up and takes over from you. When that happens, Prior says, old conditioning is being triggered: ‘Awareness ignites patterns.’ You’re up against yourself, you could say. All this I have heard before, in somewhat different words, it is not new for me. But meanwhile I am being enthralled by this man. It is not quite clear what exactly it is: his fluent stream of words, his graceful gestures, his eyes, or yet another, mysterious element, an aura around him. Now and then he fixes his stare on people. When his eyes lock with mine, I tumble backwards. Not physically of course, but emotionally. It is as if these eyes are looking straight through me and see everything I have in me, every fear, every desire. It feels naked, and it makes me think of Adam and Eve who try to hide for God, in the garden of Eden. I can’t stand it for very long: I close my eyes and feel like a coward.
After this first evening I cancel some dates in order to be able to see Prior again. He is in the Netherlands for a week, on a worldtour called ‘Being Real and Becoming Real’. Real, that means living from that deep source. Prior has developed a kind of ritual, The Form, that he presents as an instrument to help people to get to this source. Interesting and new about it is that you do this for someone else. One person sits in a chair, eyes closed, and the other moves around and performs the series of movements. The idea is that everyone can learn this, so as a couple or as friends you can do it for each other, daily, to clear your consciousness.
What does it do to people? Prior states that it can have such a tremendous effect that some people spontaneously drop into deep meditation. But my neighbour on the front row whispers that he experienced nothing to speak of, nor did a friend of his. At the end of the Saturday meeting there is a demonstration of The Form and my acquaintace shoves me to the fore to be the guinea pig. I am invited into the chair in front of the audience. Feet on the ground, hands on my knees with palms upward, eyes closed. So I can’t see what he does, which is somewhat uncomfortable for a curious reporter. By the spots of light and shadow on my eyelids I can tell that sometimes he stands in front of me, and then again he moves away. Now I feel his hands on my feet, very lightly, then I feel them tapping my shoulders. The demonstration ends with his fingertips on my forehead.
Later I watch a movie on the internet in which Prior is being interviewd while one of his female assistants demonstrates The Form. It looks like she is weaving invisible threads around the sitting person, a web of movements. She kneels, she raises her hands in a priestly, greeting fashion, she makes half circles, she kneels again, and so it goes on for a while. Prior meanwhile tells the interviewer that he spontaneously began to move this way, together with a woman, twenty years ago when he had a series of intensive spiritual experiences. From there he developed The Form, but it is still developing itself. In reality, he says, we all live from an infinite power, a divine energy that lives in our deepest selves. What one feels in one’s body, the sensation of life, is the manifestation of this power. Usually we don’t notice this because we are so busy thinking, but when you do The Form, either on the giving or the receiving end, you shove that thinking aside and plunge into the deep source of energy. Any superfluous mental energy is then pulled down by the movements, he says, into the earth, which acts as an enormous filter that returns the energy in a cleansed form. Then you feel that you have always been one with that deep source, that we are all one in that energy and that there is therefore also a deep connection between all of us, whatever we do and whatever we think. It is rather esoteric talk.
However that may be, there certainly is an effect on me. The rest of the day I feel remarkably energetic and alive. It is as if the summer has become a bit more summery, the light has become a little lighter, the air more airy. Something is tingling around me, and something is tingling inside. That night I hardly sleep, but it is no problem – I am just lying there, enjoying myself. Next day I am wide awake and in an indestructibly good mood. I laugh about things that would normally irritate me. And this lasts, and lasts, the day after, another day… My partner notices it too: I am relaxed, open and loving. “I’ll have to give Bernie Prior a big tip,” he jokes. “It is as if you are in love.” Yes, that’s how it feels, but in love with whom? Not with the person of Prior – he has left Amsterdam and that is fine with me. I am in love with everything, with life itself, my own life, my own man. There is a lightness in my life that feels completely natural. This is the way I would like to remain, always… But alas, after ten days the effect has disappeard. Worse: I encounter myself, just like Bernie said: old pain and distrust of which I did not know I still had them in me, raise their ugly heads. I quarrel irrationally, I slam a door. I want The Form again!
You can learn to do it, I read on the website, when you go to one of the longer retreats, in England, Germany, the Fiji-isles. Too far, too expensive, too much hassle. But it turns out that the organisation is just now setting up a centre in Amsterdam, on the Singel. This Autumn one can come there and practice The Form, in a series of evenings, or a weekend. What a delightful coincidence. As if it was meant to be.