Tallis Shivantar led an outwardly successful yet meaningless life until the age of 38, when a spiritual transformation directly reconnected him to the infinity and unconditional love of Source. Since then he has continued his previous career as a musician, as well as leading workshops and retreats on yoga, meditation and spiritual transformation. He is an avid marathon and trail runner, and is the author of the book Growing into Being. He is married with three children.
I was born into a family of agnostics and empiricists: people who believe in only what the senses tell you. It makes a lot of sense: don’t believe what other people tell you – go and experience it instead! Not a bad way of living, so long as you live with an open heart and an open body. But most of us don’t. We live conditioned by and limited within the Matrix of our ego. As a young child, one of the first questions I can remember asking my mother was: ‘what happens when we die?’ The empirical answer I received each time was: ‘You turn to dust…’ Feeling the iniquity of this, I persistently repeated the question over the years, but the answer was always the same. And so, as I grew up, the question of Death continued to tease and consume me. You turn to dust, but who are you: the real you, the one deep inside, the one experiencing this thing called life? Yes, one day my body will turn to dust. But am I merely body? The answer implanted by my parents suggested the answer must be yes – that you and I are nothing more than a few billion molecules, glued meaninglessly together by chance.
This answer never felt right.
For years and years, it seemed inconceivable that one day Life – my life – will come to an end. I devised and lived out all sorts of schemes to cheat the inevitable. Perhaps everyone else is mortal, but somehow I will live forever. Perhaps no-one else really even exists – this thing called life is all my dream, and so therefore I must be its immortal master. When you live on Death Row, there are many escapes – denial, anger, depression – but none of them involves truly living. In the meantime, I led an outwardly successful life. I excelled at school, went to Harvard at the age of 17, and then continued at Oxford for my doctorate, winning numerous scholarships and competitions along the way as a classical pianist. But it was all meaningless.
When I was 24, I suffered what doctors happily call a mini-stroke. Of course, Western medicine was stumped. No ‘cause’ was ever diagnosed, and, as a marathon runner and triathlete, I didn’t exactly fall into the typical high-risk groups either. At the time, I didn’t realise that the true cause was a broken heart, in every sense of the word. At the time, I didn’t realise that damage to the heart meridian can actually cause a stroke. And at the time, I certainly didn’t realise that this was the best thing which could ever have happened to me. Struck by a lightening bolt from within, it was the body’s way of saying ‘enough is enough, time to wake up!’ Sometimes you have to live hand in hand with death before you can live closer to life.
I did begin to live increasingly closer to the present moment, where life actually takes place, but it took the better part of another fifteen years before beginning to practise this more formally through meditation. A few months later, I experienced something which completely transformed my life. One evening, during my practice, I was led to a place beyond the Matrix. A taste of infinity. Union. Love. Light and stars surrounding me. Infinite space within both myself and the external universe, the two perfectly reflecting each other. Knowledge deeper than anything language can express: that all this, inside and outside, is ultimately one. And so, the question which had haunted my life was answered through direct experience. The body is just one slice of the cake. The next day, I remember walking down the street, thinking about how it felt similar to the day after I had lost my virginity, many years earlier… In one sense, everything was still the same – the same buildings in the same places, the same traffic, the same noise and pollution – and yet, underneath, the world was somehow completely new and different.
Sometimes I think what a waste of my life it was to have spent so much time running around in circles, including over ten years at the world’s most prestigious universities, gathering the world’s fanciest titles. As a wise master once said, universities specialise in the teaching of ‘increasingly sophisticated levels of ignorance…’ True perhaps, but in the end, time is something which can never be wasted. We must all bang our heads against brick walls for a while before waking up and smelling the roses. Now, in retrospect, I can understand the way that all the pieces of my personal jigsaw puzzle were necessary to create the ‘big picture.’ But this picture is itself just another piece in a much larger vista: one I continue to explore every day.
Today, I love to play this game called life. I do my best to try and help other people do the same. When the time comes to die, I hope I’ll be able to play that game, too, with an equally whole heart.