I have been thinking lately what I might say were the first origins of my own, individual spiritual path. I was brought up a Christian and admired my devout parents and grandparents for their goodness when I was child but I found the Christian teachings hard to understand or believe in. Then my first ever introduction to Asian spirituality came when I was thirteen years old. I used to go with a friend to a local park to play tennis. There were a number of public tennis courts in the park. My friend and I had booked a court for three o'clock and we were a little early. There were some benches where people waited for their turn and I found myself sitting next to an elderly lady who was also waiting, dressed in her tennis outfit and carrying her racket. I was immediately fascinated by the fact that such a thin, rather frail looking old lady was still able to play tennis at all.
I said, 'hello'.
I have a vague memory of her replying with a polite, rather refined, 'good afternoon'.
I remember nothing of the rest of our conversation which was unremarkable, it was simply in the manner of the 'do you come here often, isn't it a nice day' variety. I only remember being completely captivated by the look in her eyes. Her gaze was very bright and sharp and there was a depth there also which held a mysterious quality. She asked me if I would like a copy of a book that she had translated with a friend of hers from the Chinese. I readily accepted. She proudly signed it for me and we parted for the courts.
As I played tennis with my friend I occasionally looked over at the old lady in the court next to ours. She was playing with a younger woman and was remarkably quick and agile for her age.
When I left the park that day I did not think to say 'goodbye'. I thought I would see her again but I never did.
The book she had given me was a copy of the 'Tao Te Ching' by Lao Tsu. I have treasured this little book all my life, returning to it over and over again. It led me to take up T'ai Chi, my first meditation practice, in my early twenties. Still it remains a reference especially with regard to my engaged spiritual life picturing as it does, in a remarkably tangible and dynamic way, the relationship between conventional and ultimate reality. It is a remarkable teaching on how to flow with life.
It is remarkable to me now how much such a brief encounter with someone could end up profoundly changing the life of another person and underlines to me how much potential there is in meeting children of such an impressionable age. I sometimes think of her when I meet with children myself hoping I may be able to influence someone else the way she influenced me. I can remember her face to this day. In one way this was why I found myself immediately converting to Buddhism when I first heard about it four years later in a religious education class. I could see that Buddhism made sense and thought I could be good without needing to believe in anything – I could investigate the truth for myself in my own time, I thought. But there was also something in me that trusted the mysterious depth and obvious happiness and vitality of that old lady, Margaret Ault. There was something, especially in the latter qualities, that I simply could not doubt.
So I remember Margaret with great affection and gratitude. There is also nothing like acknowledging the help we have received from others on the path to help us to be humble, avoid conceit and make us willing to do the work necessary to try to help others in return.
I offer this for your reflection