Our Centre Community: Shyam (Sean Crabtree)
For as long as I can remember, Salt Spring Centre has always been my home away from home and held a very special place in my heart.
My childhood community
I was born on Saltspring Island in a tipi on Isabella Point, a short kayak row away from Fulford, and “met” Baba Hari Dass (Babaji) when I was 1 1/2 years old. I was given the name Shyam, which means “peaceful” by way of describing the color of blue at sunrise and sunset; Krishna’s skin color.
Isn’t this an idyllic picture of guru and cherub? Don’t let it fool you — I was a terror! Just ask anyone. Everyone. Babaji’s favorite story he never failed to repeat (even up until a couple years ago) was a time when some unsuspecting woman was walking by me to the mound with her tray of food and I just flipped the tray over, swiftly striking out of nowhere. What an angel. However, he also repeated how I reminded him of himself as a child: energetic, I think. Meanwhile, I was helping everyone around me work on their patience! (You’re welcome.)
Here’s a serene scene that speaks volumes about the special lifelong bond between mother and child, even though we were probably having a discussion about my behavior earlier. I’m eternally grateful for the close-knit bond with my mother due to our open relationship. It taught me what a relationship was; honest, respectful, understanding. These days the technical term is “Attachment Parenting”, but back then they just called it “Listening to your Kids”. It was very new.
My childhood is filled with memories of being surrounded by adults in the Centre community who asked me what I thought and then listened respectfully (imagine that), guiding me encouragingly towards my personally-set goals. To be surrounded by such a community is a great gift, and one I’m constantly grateful for—even though they didn’t always tell me when my underwear was on the outside. (You’re welcome for the entertainment.)
One vivid memory I have is asking Sanatan to make me a long sword, after a grove of nettles had stung me one-too-many times. I wanted to promptly slash it to bits. What I have no memory of is him even batting an eye before giving me (ME!) a very verrry long, perfectly pointed stick to “play with”—completely unsupervised no less! But I think that was the beauty of that environment: being given trust and tons of freedom to exercise the imagination in great, wide open spaces within the confines of a large safety blanket. As a result, the Centre’s environment yielded some amazing people.
Writing this brought back a flood of early memories: Babaji twirling the clubs like baseball bats; volleyball sessions next to the basketball court in front of the barn; the raft at our personal Blackburn Beach; looking forward to the Flying Kundalinis at every Hanuman Olympics in the front field along with a Tug of Peace and a potato sack battle; rope swinging on the mound’s tree; the road cutting straight through the property; the large hole in main room floor with steps going down stairs to basement (SN: check me on that one, it goes back a ways); ferries and ferry line-ups then driving to the next ferry. All these seemingly unconnected parts are exactly what makes me feel that much more connected to The Land, as we affectionately called it. Our land.
Searching for a similar community
After high school, I looked for a larger group to serve with and craved discipline. Who knew that’d be with the military? My mother was not thrilled. I first served in the Canadian Army Reserves, but desired more. I used my dual-citizenship from Dad to join in the US, where military is done right! I would go on to serve in the Marine Corps as a medic, and had the good fortune of being deployed on a grand-scale NATO Peacekeeping Operation to Kosovo & Albania—still referred to today as a job done “right”. It was impressive to see what a mission of that magnitude could achieve when money is not a factor and the aim is honorable.
After my duty was done, I followed the sage advice to “live in Northern California but leave before you get too soft, and live in New York but leave before you get too cold.” I was strangely attracted to Santa Cruz and found I had a vast history there from childhood, and I also rediscovered our sister-satsang Mount Madonna. While taking two years of college there, I fell in love with the practice of Aikido, the sole non-violent martial art. My love for Aikido pushed me farther afield to New York, where a world Master had a prominent dojo. It was a familiar community that rhymed with that from my childhood, where great people were attracted by greatness. I felt home again, in a way.
Between adventures elsewhere, though, I’d always return to my true home and family. Who knew digging in the dirt would be more fun as adults?!
Unfortunately, my first 6-months in New York turned out to be an all-time personal low; everything went wrong. Little did I know that I’d be living the key Aikido tenet “Get knocked down seven times, get up eight.” But by the good graces of two native New Yorkers, darling disciples from Mount Madonna, before long I was back on a path to success. What I learned to love most about New York City is that it’s a great place to get something done! My schedule included Aikido training before work or after work, a 9-5 workday, then university classes at night and on weekends. I also had the opportunity to help produce “Jewel in the Jungle”, the first documentary on Sri Ram Ashram. Although that lifestyle made it very easy to get a lot done, after seven years I needed a break. For me, there was only one answer.
Finding my family
“Fortune favors the bold” was my Marine Corps unit’s motto, and it certainly rang true when a SSCY staff position opened up just when I was moving back and desperately needing a semi-sabbatical. My second night there, I was introduced to my future wife, Melinda, who was living at the centre as a KY—and had lived in New York for the past 8 years. Strangely coincidental, her yoga studio in New York was one block from my dojo there. (Life never ceases to amaze me!) Our wonderful friendship had time and room to grow while KYs, and hasn’t stopped since. When my time was up, Melinda asked what was next for me. I said, “Call me crazy, but I’m going to travel around the world.” Without pause she said, “Oooo… Me, too. Let’s go!” At that moment I was certain that I had stumbled into something special.
Before long, we moved to Poland, joining my friends from the New York dojo already living there, and then we proceeded to travel all over Europe—16 countries and 50 cities in less than 2 years! I always thought I’d like to meet a girl and travel for a couple years before starting a family; as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. We shared a magnificently memory-rich time while traveling and learning about each other deeply, and having fun doing what we love best: exploring. It was fitting that I proposed to her on our trip to Prague, along the river shore as the sun set behind the castle complex; perfection. Next, the question was: where should the wedding be? For us, there was only one answer.
Organizing a wedding is no easy task, and we found that if you can both make it through the wedding planning you’ve earned the prize of staying together. (It should be a requirement!) The final month was extremely trying on Melinda as she individually managed bringing our plans together to fruition. (Thanks also, in large part, to being assisted by my Mom.) It was an amazing feat, and I am grateful to have seen that side of her I hadn’t seen before. We held an intimate outside gathering of 60 people on a cloudless sunny Saturday on the mound shaded under the tree I used to swing on and that Babaji had sat beneath. It was nearly two years to the day of meeting each other there. For our officiant, we both agreed it must be Sharada; there was only one answer.
We’ve since moved back to the US, and are settling in to our new life in Santa Monica after our beautiful baby Penelope was born last summer. One of our vows was to never forget the place where we met and to reflect it in our daily lives. Already our shared past is creating our shared future—as I write Melinda is singing the Healing Mantra in the other room to soothe our baby to sleep. Often we’ll break out the harmonium to play satsang songs just for fun, and Penny loves banging on the keys!
Every day I remember the example set by Babaji and those surrounding him, and strive to live up to the ideals they set. Among all the teachings, I still find it challenging enough achieving just these. Such a simple maxim, yet a very profound set of rules for daily living.
Meditate every day,
Meet people without fear,
You know when they say, “Go to your happy place”? For me, there has only ever been one answer.