By Fred Pruyn

Before I met my best friend theosophy, I was a passionate sailplane flyer. I loved the silence, and the smell of a freshly mown, almost deserted airfield early in the morning. The playful larks enjoyed those long summer days as much as I did on the airstrip, far from the bustle of the city. There at times I played with roaring thermals. These noble whirlwinds, which secure safe passage for so many trekking birds, lifted me with divine power to touch the base of huge clouds. When I felt abrupt jerks and noticed a sudden increase in lift, it was as if a giant had taken me to the clouds in the palm of his hand, an almost indescribable feeling. At other times my warm whirling friends took me gently, almost imperceptibly, to majestic heights in a clear blue sky. Then I could really soar like an eagle in my gently turning aircraft. When I was really lucky, I would find a buzzard or sparrow-hawk sharing a thermal with me. I noticed how easy they found this sport -- perhaps they loved the powerful thermals just as I did. Once as I flew over the ancient town of Delft and saw the tiny creatures below doing what they had to do, my thoughts went to the noble Dutch writer Multatuli, who wrote that "Seen from the moon we all look alike."

After a few years I came to the conclusion that flying sailplanes would not bring me the happiness I was really looking for. I dreamed my days away flying higher and higher, mesmerized by the aircraft's magnetism. This life was idle in all its fascinating aspects; nevertheless, it acted as a magnifying glass which led me to the conviction that however useless one's life may seem from the outside, it has its own message hidden in a time capsule. Through this lens my selfish life suddenly seemed a grotesque, ever-changing play of exaltation and depression: after much work and planning, euphoria could suddenly change to depression when the weather spoiled a longed-for day.

Now with other occupations and interests, I sometimes recall those experiences with mixed feelings. When I passed the ''first half'' of my embodied life, I went through another thermal -- but this time a mental one -- and a sudden thought came to me: just as a thermal loses its power when it rises to high altitudes, and at its highest point dissolves into the wide ocean of the sky, our powers diminish relentlessly once we pass our most vital point. Thermals have been on earth for millions of years, and most probably will be here for eons to come, so instead of trying to fly a thermal, wouldn't it be better to become one? And seen from the right perspective we are thermals even now. Just as these tiny cyclones gather heat and work their way up through the cold, hostile air, we gather life and energy at birth and take off on a lofty flight. But the real magic comes when we try to live in our buddhic nature, seeking the power to love and serve each and every one uncompromisingly. At that point nature becomes our ally, and we will be sustained as needed. Perhaps we can act as powerful thermals in human life, carrying other souls to greater heights and offering them a wider perspective on this illusionary earth. Then we would again be like the gods, who can do without the ups and downs of life but use them for a noble purpose.

(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 2001; copyright © 2001 Theosophical University Press)

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The thoughts that come unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have. -- John Locke