“I inherited the usual norms about life and what constitutes success,
albeit with cultural and religious nuances of my origin – be a good muslim, get a good
education, a good paying job, work hard, save money, get married,
buy a house and have babies.”
I’ve had a penchant for communicating. Being third youngest sibling of 10, however, meant that I was rarely heard.
I am Lebanese born raised during the 70’s civil war in Lebanon. My family fled to live in in the west when I was 12.
One minute we are dodging sniper bullets downtown Tripoli the next we are being ushered to our new home, Livingston Rod, Marrickville, Sydney Australia.
Throughout my teens and well into adulthood I struggled with undiagnosed PTSD and ethnicity related issues in the new world.
You can take the war out of the equation but the terror remains it seems.
At 15 I dropped out of school and started loitering on the streets of Redfern, drinking with likeminded others. I lacked due guidance and my parents were now getting on to exert any significant influence.
Misfit To Model
Things could have gone from bad to worse. Fortunately for me, however, fate intervened on my behalf at 19, when a photographer took photos of me and suggested I take them to show Peter at Chadwicks Models.
Off the streets I went and onto the pages of glossy magazines, where I remained for the next 25 years (on and off) working and living in the fashion capitals of the world.
About this same time (19) I also discovered psychology and oriental spirituality in books.
Hereon my life began to split, as a wedge began to be driven between the past, and what I thought I was, and the reality of my transcendent nature.
In my upbringing I was raised with the usual norms about life and what constitutes success as anybody else, albeit with the cultural and religious nuances of my eastern origin:
Be a good muslim, get a good education, a good paying job, work hard, save money, get married, buy a house and have babies.
There was this other thing, however, that i’d all but forgotten about.
Seeding Of Consciousness
I was 8. My father had returned home from his coffee roasting factory in the district of Bab l’ Tebani.
His clothes still reeked of that delicious aroma of coffee when he sat me on his lap to greet me.
Brushing his stubbled face against mine he whispered, “God made everything, Bassam. God is beautiful!”
I went to sleep that night huddled between 4 of my 6 sisters my mind ablaze with innocent curiosity, if God made everything, I wondered, who made God?
Ever since I’ve been grappling with questions pertaining to the mystery of the unseen. My arrival in the west had all but drowned that feverish inner desire to know the unknowable.
But not entirely…
Paris – Xmas 1988
I was now 23, living in Paris. My two American flatmates had returned home for the festive season and I was alone.
I had the book Making Of A New World, by John Bennett (a student of the Oriental teacher G. I. Gurdjieff) for the occasion and settled back to read.
Completely enthralled I read it in single sitting. I put it down and looked up and at once realised that something had happened to me.
What, though, I couldn’t say.
That night I couldn’t sleep and was insomniac for the next 4 days. I walked about the streets of Paris feeling bewildered and estranged.
It was an agonising experience.
In the end I was at home and felt a strong urge to write something down: Today I am born, promptly falling asleep thereafter.
The Making Of A Soul
If the words my father had uttered into my ears all those years back had seeded me with a curiosity for the unseen, John Bennett’s book had summoned the seedling to rouse from material slumber.
About 10 years ago it dawned on me in meditation that I had had in Paris what the Japanese term a Satori, and what I will simply call a glimpsing of my formless nature.
But since I had been wholly identified with my form I could not recognise my reality.
Imagine being a cat, for example, you’re looking at yourself in the mirror but you don’t know what you are looking at because you don’t know what a cat is.
Of course this is the whole riddle with enlightenment, or self realisation. You are looking at yourself all the time but you don’t recognise it because you don’t know what yourself looks like.
Consequently you keep defaulting to your cultured identity with what you are not – your form.
Hereon an imperceptible force began to pull my attention inward, drawing to me experiences that wold facilitate the process, including, upheaval and breakdown.
The Legacy of C. I. Gurdjieff
Following the experience in Paris the name Gurdjieff now looked huge in my imagination.
Not long after I was in the south of France when a chance meeting with an acquaintance and his girlfriend led to an encounter with his legacy.
They’d invited my then girlfriend and I to spend the weekend with them at the girl’s grandmother’s house in the nearby village of Aires.
It was an old 16th century home without electricity. I stepped into the foyer and walked straight up to a palm size framed photo of Gurdjieff leaning on the mantle piece in the dark.
It’s as if I’d known it would be there.
To say that I was surprised is an understatement.
“It’s Monsieur Gurdjieff!” Our hostess informed. “My grandmother is a student of his and they used to do Work meetings here.”
Such experiences became the norm. I share just one more here.
At 28, I discovered daily meditation out of a magazine article on a remote island in Thailand, at a place called the Sanctuary,
In those days the Sanctuary was a small rackety shack under the sun.
22 years later when I visit again for the first time by chance I was shocked to see that the shack had since transformed into a world renowned alternative Yoga/Detox resort that spread up into the hill.
My first evening standing on the cliff face overlooking the emerald green bay reminiscing, I heard the following words in my mind:
22 years ago I had brought you to my shores to teach you meditation. I then sent you out into the world to practice and now have called you back to do your work.
By now I had gotten certified as a rebirthing breathwork therapist and had been practicing for some years. The past 3 years I had been travelling the world facilitating some 30 workshops and retreats.
I began to offer individual rebirthing sessions and soon was seeing 2 to 3 people a day. On my arrival at the island I had been rejected by the resident healers. Soon, on hearing feedback about the effectiveness of the breathing technique I was facilitating spread they too sought me out for sessions.
By the time I left the the island I had rebirthed 86 people individually. And get this, I was also invited to teach meditation right there where it had all started for me.
The Great Saint Of Arunachala
I finally got my chance to join a Gurdjieff’s 4th Way group in Miami.
I was 29, the year was, and spirituality was now beginning to flourish among the youth, though most were gravitating to watered down versions.
The fastidiousness and exactness of Gurdjieff’s group work served to equip me with the ability to discern fiction from truth.
So that when I stumbled on David Goldman’s book Be As You Are expounding the teaching of Ramana Maharshi the great saint of Arunachala, it was immediately clear to me that I had come to the end of the road.
I was in New York in an esoteric book shop. I was leaving to Greece the following day and was looking for the right book for the flight.
Skimming over various prospects on the shelves my eyes settled on the Maharshi’s picture and froze for a second. The thought maybe later came to me and I continued to browse, hunching down to inspect the next shelf.
Suddenly the book I’d been looking at fell over me landing on the ground. Picking it up and placing back on the shelf, I thought maybe another time.
I bent down again and, may God strike me if I’m lying (as we say in Arabic:), 4, 5 or 6 books from that same title tumbled over me.
Beginning to laugh knowingly I heard the sales person call out from behind the counter, I think I would get that book if I was you…
“Yes, I think you’re right.”
Ironically, the book Be As You Are had been recommended to me some 8 years earlier by my old friend Yakeen.
Back To Oz
At 35 I had returned to Australia and was living in the hinterlands of NSW. I was beginning to leave the world of fashion behind and had no idea what to do post modelling. 2 years earlier I had gotten initiated in Vipassana buddhist meditation.
I spent my time deepening my practice, writing and inwardly enquiring.
One night I had a dream where I was being offered the CEO position of a major bank. The person offering me the job kept jabbing his finger at me repeating whimsically, “I know you’re not qualified for the job…but there’s something about you, eh…”
I woke up thinking that I don’t want the job!
The story of my life.
I that have always felt ill equipped for the task of life, always finding myself in situation where I had to make do.
Not least is my career in fashion as a prime example, and there were many others.
One day a friend asked if I would give him meditation instruction and a new career a meditation guide was born!
The 8 years I taught meditation in community centres in Sydney. I moved back to the city to live with my mother as her live in carer following my father’s death. When my mother passed away (God bless her), she left me a hand full of cash stashed in the sidearm of her sofa.
I decided to put it to good use and to support growing interest in my new work I used the money to get certified as a holistic therapist & life coach.
I love the idea that all these years supporting the growth of others was in part paid for by my dear mother.
In 2009, I was preparing to leave Sydney again, I received a phone call from Cranbrook School asking if I’d be interested in facilitating a mindfulness program of my own design at the school.
It was a Sunday afternoon. i was minding my friend Roberto’s old shop Junktique in Oxford street, Bondi Junction.
The fact that I had only a few minutes earlier finished watching a documentary about Vipassana meditation being taught in prisons and schools, thinking it’s the only thing that would keep me in Sydney cemented my decision to accept at once.
“Absolutely!” I said to Christophe at the other end…
It was mid-2013. After 3.5 years at Cranbrook, I left my familiar life in Sydney and boarded a plane, headed for Europe.
Two weeks earlier I had had a shift in consciousness on Bondi beach and decided to travel and share meditation with others.
Never mind that I had a total of $75 dollars to my name… (Long story)
For the next 6 years I travelled, visiting 20 countries and facilitating 90 + spiritual empowerment workshops and retreats.
The highlight of my travel during this time, and there were many, was coaching the ballet dancers from Gautier Dance company in Stuttgart, and the Portuguese women’s national Volley team, who went on to win the title that year. I’d like to think I may have had a small helping hand in this amazing feat, but who knows.
I’ve now been back in Sydney for 3 years.
Depression and suicide rates are on rise and the issue of mental health is now a major societal concern.
In response the Australian government decided to make it mandatory for businesses to offer Mental Health First Aid to Employees.
In support of this aspiring initiative I decided to become a provider of Mental Health First Aid.
Ok, enough for now. Thank you for reading this far…
I hope to inspire you to look to the light within yourself and to lead a soul inspired, authentic life of joy and significance