I’m always curious when a new spiritual teacher comes to town, so I grab the chance to hear Catherine Ingram speak on a cold winter’s night in one of Melbourne’s more salubrious suburbs. A friend has sent me a flyer featuring a genial – looking woman, a short spiel about her and the dates and times of her Dharma (spiritual practice) talks. It also suggests an individual donation of $15 to $20 for the teaching.
I’ve never heard of Catherine before (although she visits Australia every two years) so I arrive with few expectations and my usual skepticism – I’ve been disappointed too many times before by spiritual teachers to get excited.
In the foyer of a grand and beautiful house, a friend and I sign the attendance register. No one asks for money. I notice an A4 size yellow envelope on the desk and ask if this is for donations. It is indeed for that purpose and into it I place $20, although no-one seems all that interested. However, Catherine Ingram starts to interest me.
It is now 7.25pm and the talk is due to start in five minutes. We are directed into an adjacent room where the atmosphere is subdued and on a sofa in front of us is the genial woman from the flyer. Now to you, dear reader, this may seem ordinary. To me, however, her presence is a remarkable thing. This is because I’ve spent many hours waiting for spiritual teachers over the years and most of them have been late and tetchy. To see Catherine sitting serenely, waiting for her audience to arrive (and looking not the least bit cross) is quite a sight. In fact, most of her audience is late so it’s another fifteen minutes before she starts speaking. When she does, her voice is warm, gentle and clear. She also has a great laugh.
She tells us she has nothing to teach and that we might even find the whole thing a bit weird. This evening is more about entrainment, she says, rather than feeding the mind with information. She suggests that sitting with other people who have been drawn to this place tonight may encourage shifts in perception and new ways of being together.
She speaks of living in joy and of how, over the decades, most of her beliefs have fallen away, including those she acquired whilst living in a Buddhist monastery. She says there’s an awakening going on and that it’s possible to live with lightness and ease. She speaks of the love she has for life and of how this extends to tiny bugs and even the occasional spider needing eviction from her room.
Her words are interspersed with lots of silence.
I don’t see Elvis or the Ghost of Christmas past. What I do see is a woman who offers something real and genuine. She has a lightness of being, a wonderful laugh and a genuinely joyful presence. She offers me a glimpse of a new and more benign way of relating to the world.
At the end of the night, when most of the audience has left, I hear her talking to one of my companions about Leonard Cohen. It turns out she is one of his closest friends. My heart lifts and I leave, convinced this woman is all she appears to be.
Read more encounters with spiritual teachers over the years in Claire Bell’s Waiting for Guru