Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Joyous Path: The Life of Avatar Meher Baba's Sister, Mani (Volume 1) by Heather Nadel

I read a lot. Yet it is not often that a book actually changes my life. The Joyous Path has done just that. Maybe not on the outside, where I still remain somewhat crotchety, an extroverted introvert, with her head in a book, or her hands creating art. But internally, this book has moved me tremendously, caused me to reexamine my world, spiritual path, behaviors, and that winding track we call the journey of life.

Heather Nadel has opened a window into the life of Mani Irani, the sister of Avatar Meher Baba. Even though I knew Mani, have heard her tell stories of her life with Baba, and have read much, written by others, about the times covered in this book, it was new, fresh and vibrant. It is  written with a viewpoint that is allowed by a biographer, rather than the subject herself, had she written a memoir. The author has gathered multiple sources, and interwoven these bits from letters, journals, transcript, memory, and memoirs of others, to create the picture of the early days in the discipleship of Meher Baba. As the subject of the book is Mani, much of what is relayed involves Baba's women disciples (mandali) rather that the men mandali, as strict seclusion for the women was observed on Baba's command. The more I read, the more in awe of the devotion, and the humility of these women, so completely focused on Baba. I became acutely aware of how, almost surely, I would fail, were I in the same situation, while also being in awe of the joy, humor, and complete willingness with which they all carried out His orders. Volume one contains family background and moves through The New Life and the early 1950's. In this age of electronics and modern conveniences, it is easy to forget (or to have never known) what life without such wonders, particularly in India, involved. While I was fascinated by the descriptions of Baba's work and world, it was the little things that drew me in-- the skits, stories, and tasks of daily life.

For all who knew Mani, her voice comes through, loud and clear, on every page. I hear her in my head as I read. I am once again sitting in Mandali Hall at Meherazad, just north of Ahmadnagar, in India, listening to the sister of Avatar Meher Baba share tales of her life's journey. And to those who did not have the fortune to meet Mani, or have never heard of Meher Baba, you're in for a treat. For Mani, regardless of your own personal spiritual beliefs, is the exemplification of the love exchange between Master and disciple. It is a beautiful story, a journey of devotion to God. Heather Nadel, who was Mani's longtime helper and companion, beautifully ties together the tales of Mani and her life. (Full disclosure: I am privileged to call Heather friend, and blessed to call her sister. Just about the smartest thing my big brother Erico ever did was to be persistent and marry this beautiful soul. But even if we did not share a surname, I still would love this book. I can hardly believe how perfectly Heather captured Mani's spirit and shares it with the reader.)

Mani S. Irani was an amazing woman, and a huge influence in my life. Her love, and her devotion to God, carried out daily, with a smile, a laugh, a touch of tenderness, and a huge dose compassion, helped show me a path to follow, and a way to try and shape my life. I'm not nearly as successful as Mani was, but when I stumble, I can hear her voice encouraging me to brush myself off and try again. I hear her now, in my head and heart, when I despair of my own spiritual inadequacies, or fret over my own weaknesses. I'd let her spirit grow dim, these years since her passing, but with this book, I have been able to take a sip at that wellspring of her love for God, and move ahead, renewed. I read it slowly, to savor each sip provided, and refresh my spiritual self.

In short, The Joyous Path is a joyous read.

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