Here at the Kingsbridge Library we offer two meditation classes a week, which are among the most popular programs we offer. I recently caught up with Alan, who with his wife, Lioudmila, is one of our class leaders.
Tell us what brings you to the library today.
I'm here to lead a Sahaja meditation class. My wife and I have been running two classes a week, Mondays at 6 p.m. for beginners, and Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. for those who’ve advanced beyond the beginner stage. The classes are free of charge and we are most grateful to the Kingsbridge Library for working with us, for marketing the classes on their email lists and in the local press. It’s been running for eighteen months and those who come say it’s a great success. On an average week we meditate with more than 30 people, of whom 4 or so will be coming for the first time.
How do you think meditation helps you, and helps our patrons?
Sahaja meditation has transformed my life for the better. It allows one to be in the present, it’s very powerful in bringing about inner change. It’s about being rather than doing or believing. It has made a positive impact on the lives of the patrons of Kingsbridge Library who have come to the class. Here's what a few of them have told me:
Doris C. - "Sahaja Meditation is an opening to a new and wider level of awareness. It has allowed me to have a far broader view of my world, my life and the lives of those around me. Getting out of one's little self is so refreshing. It's a renewal, an awakening, and a far more joyful existence.”
Sergio M. - “Sahaja meditation has helped my overall being. My mind is clearer, more relaxed and I have a better disposition."
Paulina R. - “Sahaja meditation lets you make rational and compassionate decisions, accepting life and others without judgmental prejudices, false expectations and social pressures. And with all that, you do not at all feel superior, just equal.”
We also teach Sahaja meditation in public high schools across the country courtesy of HealthCorps, the Dr. Mehmet Oz 501(c) 3 foundation.
You work in publishing, correct? Can you tell us about that?
I have my own small publishing company, and work as a consultant for a major publisher. I began in mass-market paperbacks as Sales Manager of Corgi Books in London. For seven years I was Sales Director of Penguin Books in the UK and Europe. In 1986 I was invited to be a co-founder of a new company, Bloomsbury Publishing where I was marketing director, then a commissioning editor and in 1997 I started Bloomsbury in New York. I was lucky to work at all levels and in different aspects of book publishing, from mass-market to literary, in sales, marketing and editorial, and I enjoyed them all. I was fortunate to travel the world and to meet extraordinary and wonderful people in the book trade. It never ever felt like work.
Do you have any advice for budding authors?
This is a big topic and there’s a great deal that one might say. The most important advice?
- Believe in yourself.
- Great writers are also great readers. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to great writers, and I have, their knowledge and understanding of writing is encyclopedic.
- Don’t write for a market. Markets are artificial constructs, at best they’re figments of someone’s imagination. Write for yourself, your judgment is the pole star by which you should navigate.
- There’s a cliché In book publishing—no one knows anything. When Bloomsbury published Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, it was rejected out of hand by Barnes and Noble and Borders, they said it was ‘a Manhattan book’. An even better example is the Harry Potter books where Bloomsbury is the originating publisher. The first book was rejected by twelve other publishers, many distributors wouldn’t take it on. No one here wants to read about an English boarding school. Such experts forget the power and extent of the human imagination.
- Be persistent. Write because you must and never give up. Making writing, like meditation, an ongoing discipline.
- Don’t stop working on your book until you can’t make it any better. Until you can’t improve it further, don’t submit it to a publisher, and don’t stop until you’ve given it your very best—otherwise, why bother?
- Show, don’t tell. A cliché of every writing course, but true—and I try to observe this when teaching meditation!
Do you have a favorite book or author (or several favorites)?
l love discovering an unmistakably unique voice in a writer, so I never tire of reading Tolstoy, whose metaphysical asides are peerless and special, as in War and Peace, and Resurrection, his last great novel which got him excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox church. I am inspired by two Bengali writers, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra, who was never published in the West. He wrote exquisitely about the multiplicity of subtle relationships that exist between men and women. Juan Mascaro’s masterly introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Upanishads, is an exceptional essay on spirituality and one I re-read constantly. My all-time favorite writer is Grégoire de Kalbermatten. I’ve published four of his books, and the scale, scope and historical perspective he brings is unrivaled and unequaled. I recommend The Breaking of the Seventh Seal. Finally, the speeches of Shri Mataji, the founder of Sahaja Meditation, are unparalleled, unique and marvelous. Her book, Journey Within - the final steps to self realization is a must read.
Do you have any early memories of visiting the library?
There were few books in our house but my mother used to take me as a small boy to our nearest library in East Belfast, quite a long walk, some two or three miles. Going there was a special treat, that special, heady smell of books, the magic world one entered,the places visited, the diversity of people encountered between the pages. My Mum was an avid reader, and when I was a little older, I would go alone and chose books for her. (I’d know if she’d already read a book, because she’d draw a circle, in pencil around the page number 29, the number of our house). My father, although he’d left school at twelve because of family circumstances, thanks to public libraries, was extremely well-read and he could quote Shakespeare’s speeches verbatim. As a teenager, I found that a little bit of research in my library, and reading beyond the set texts in school, could turn a B grade into an A. Being a staunch supporter of public libraries is in my blood.
Besides meditation, what else brings you to the New York Public Library?
I visit libraries to browse through the new book sections, to read newspapers and magazines that I wouldn’t wish to buy. One of the things I love about libraries is that humanity is experienced at its best; people of all faiths, ages, and cultures, come for entertainment, self education, personal enlightenment and to participate in community activities. It seems to me that the value and values that libraries bring to a community is much more than can be measured in mere dollars and cents.
Thank you so much, Alan, for taking the time to talk with me today!
Please show your support for our libraries and programs like Alan's by signing a letter to tell the city that New Yorkers deserve more funding for libraries so that all can benefit from more books, more computers, more classes, and more hours.