Printed in the Spring 2015 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Smoley, Richard."From the Editor's Desk" Quest 103.2 (Spring 2015): pg. 42.
We're going down to London to see a friend of mine. Want to come? The speaker ”Dave, an odd-looking man with a scraggly beard and extremely thick glasses”was a member of the Kabbalah group at Oxford to which I went faithfully every Wednesday evening. The year was 1978 or early 79.
I wasn't particularly eager to go, but in the interest of broadening my horizons, I decided I would. And so that Saturday five of us piled precariously into Dave's three-wheeled motorcycle, of the color the French call caca dâoie, and made the hour's drive from Oxford to London.
Our first stop was a large and seedy pub in northwest London, complete with all the stereotypical trimmings: etched-glass windows, dark furniture, the hazy smell of stale beer and tobacco, even a drunken old man singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" to himself at full volume. Unwisely, I drank three pints of Guinness and cider in quick succession.
Then we proceeded to the neighborhood of Maida Vale, where we parked on a street lined with three-story brick buildings of flats and marched up to the top floor of one of them. When we were admitted, we went down the hall of a long, narrow flat and entered the kitchen, a room that I will always remember as both remarkably dingy and remarkably magical. The walls were a lifeless green, and the air was heavy with the smoke of roll-your-own cigarettes. A large image of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with Tarot cards affixed to the tree's paths, was painted on the near wall, half-hidden by a cluttered kitchen table. Seated in the corner, wearing a dark and not terribly clean sweater and producing the smoke that pervaded the room, was a man I shall never forget.
Although seated he did not get up to greet us it was clear that he was short and stocky. He had longish dark hair and a beard, black-rimmed glasses, and a broad face, kindly and shrewd to equal degrees, that somewhat resembled portrait busts of Socrates. Years later, when I saw The Empire Strikes Back, I wondered half-seriously whether the character Yoda was a cruel but very witty caricature of Glyn.
He was not, of course, rooted to that old armchair in the corner of his kitchen over the years I would see him in many settings but it was as if he were, as if he were a fixed and stable point around which the ever-changing world revolved. What he said to us all that afternoon is hopelessly lost in the back chambers of my memory. The Guinness-and-ciders did their work, and I nodded off occasionally.
We went home toward the end of the afternoon. It was a dark, dull, grey day, of a sort that's extremely common in England, and I don't remember being in a terribly good mood. Nor do I even remember what I thought about the experience at the time. No doubt it was something along the lines of "Well, if I'm in England, I may as well see as many corners of it as I can."
Nevertheless, I must have sensed something, because I went back to see Glyn say every two or three months during the rest of my time in England and I learned some important, and, I would say, necessary things from him. What these were would take far more than the space of this page to tell.
Glyn though it no doubt would have irked him to hear me say it was the closest thing to a Master that I have ever met. In the nearly three decades during which I knew him, I did not see him often. There would be five- or six-year stretches after my return to America when I had no contact with him. But up to the time of his death in 2007, I would make a point of seeing him whenever I went to England. More than once I went for that reason alone.
So on that grey day I had a life-changing experience. And I had no idea of it at the time. Usually you think that when you meet someone of a high spiritual caliber, the heavens will open and you will see the angels of heaven ascending and descending. Nothing of the sort happened. The whole excursion just seemed extremely odd to me.
What if I hadn't been able to see past appearances? What if I had gone by the stale and clich'd pictures of adepts that many of us have floating around in our heads? Even though I was intensely interested in the spiritual search, I would have seen nothing. I would have gone on my way to find somebody done up in one of the standard guru costumes.
So I went through an initiation on that day, complete with Guinness-and-ciders.
I know the readers of Quest well enough to understand that most of you are not beginners. Thus I suspect that many of you have had experiences of your own that were, in one way or another, very much like this one. If there's some kind of moral to be drawn from all this, it is that spiritual teachers, like life itself, will almost never match your expectations or look like your preconceived pictures. It's disturbing to realize this fact, but then it is one of the things that keep our lives fresh and vivid.