The Making of Auspicious Good Fortune

Auspicious Good Fortune is officially launched today, 27th of April 2012. I thought I would tell you the story of how it came to be, as this is a tale of mysterious good fortune in itself.

The end was really the beginning. The poem on the last pages of the book was written just after Sri Chinmoy‘s passing in 2007. I was sitting in the place of meditation, known as Aspiration-Ground, where my Guru spent much of his time in New York. I had written down a few of my recollections in years past, but knew at that moment I would not be satisfied until I had put them together as a complete story – the story of how I came to this particular spiritual path, or to any path at all, and how my life has continued since.

I had delighted in writing little anecdotes until that day, but a book seemed a bridge too far. There were surely other people with much more to say, and no doubt with more talent, but I felt compelled beyond anything I can really describe. It was massively daunting, but I knew I had to try. I spent a year praying on and off for inspiration or direction, but nothing came. I just stared as though at an empty canvas, with a brush in one hand.

By April 2009 I had still not begun, and decided to meditate on it more sincerely during a visit back to New York. Still nothing. I headed for the plane back to London feeling none the wiser, and in truth somewhat tetchy that my prayers had been ignored.

As I got to the gate, one of the stewards called me aside and explained that another passenger wanted to switch seats with me. Apparently the man was blind, and wanted the aisle, so it would be easier for him to move around if necessary. Relieved it was such a simple request, I agreed to change to the middle seat – certainly not my first choice on a busy transatlantic flight, but I hoped to be sleeping most of the way.

In came the blind man, with a walking stick and dark glasses, aided by the steward. He sat down, took his glasses off, pulled out some manuscripts from his bag and began reading. I assure you they were not in braille.

He was somewhat well-built let us say, and took over a little more than just our shared arm rest, so I had to pinch myself into my already seemingly tiny space. I am not proud to admit that everything he did irritated me from then; I imagined all sorts of things about him that were completely unfair, based on ignorant stereotypes and my own general dissatisfaction with the circumstances. I would wait for dinner, and then invoke sleep as soon as possible.

One of the perks of being vegetarian is that ‘special’ airline meals are served first. Along came the steward a short time later, with my pre-ordered choice.

“Oh, I forgot to order vegetarian,” said the man, half to me and half to himself.

“You’re vegetarian?” I blurted with audible surprise that I could possibly have anything in common with this unscrupulous man.

“Yes, I try to eat vegetarian whenever I can. Mainly for spiritual reasons, but also because it’s better for the planet, of course.”

“Of course,” I replied, chastened and curious. I realised I could not begin eating until I knew this poor fellow could secure his preferred meal. I would not sacrifice my entire tray, especially since he had just downed an enormous sandwich from his bag, but I had already softened enough to consider halving it with him if he would accept.

And so we talked while waiting, and we talked over dinner once a spare vegetarian tray was found. In fact we talked most of the way back to London. This meeting was actually the answer to my prayers, and I shuddered at how I very nearly missed the opportunity, by virtue of my own… lack of virtue.

It turns out he had never claimed to be blind. Whether by Chinese whispers or inaccurate data entry – perhaps compounded by the dark glasses and stick – his incapacity from a recent operation had mysteriously mutated into blindness according to the airline staff. He was in obvious discomfort, needing to move around regularly, and expressed his gratitude several times for the change of seats. He still took over more than his share of the arm rest, but I suddenly stopped minding.

We had much to discuss – much more than would fill a fleeting transatlantic hop. He was following a path of meditation, somewhat different from my own, but with many similarities. He was also a literary agent, specialising in spirituality and memoir. We both confessed that while we may exchange pleasantries with our neighbours on flights, we wouldn’t normally strike up a conversation, as privacy and personal space are already at a premium. Even he admitted our meeting was obviously ‘meant to be’. Little did he know its significance for me. It took me a few hours to bring up the subject, due to my intimidation, but I eventually said I had been praying for direction on writing my own story.

Two things he told me stayed with me most powerfully:

  1. Start. Don’t wait until you’re ready, you’ll never be ready, just start. You will ultimately discard a lot of what you write to begin with, but unless you get it out, you won’t discover the real story.
  2. Write the book you would most like to read. Write about the things that matter most to you, and don’t worry about whether they matter to anyone else. What fires your inspiration will come across as real, meaningful and authentic, and that’s what will mean most – to you and to your potential readers.

He was right. I followed just those two maxims throughout the literary journey that began that day. It still took three years, but I know now it could not have happened any quicker.

We exchanged cards as we went our separate ways. I contacted him, but never heard back. I thought in some way we had become friends, but who was I kidding? He was a big successful literary agent with decades of experience, countless success stories, and no doubt countless people hounding him for advice and attention. I was a small-fry first-time author with no clue of how to move in publishing circles. He had played his essential role, and it was time for others to play theirs. I was fortunate to have his ear for five minutes, let alone five hours.

Most of all, my gratitude goes to Sri Chinmoy, without whom the story would not exist in the first place. I hope it is clear I am grateful to this literary agent, who taught me not just about how to start writing a book, but also a good deal about not judging a book by its cover. I also want to thank The Writers’ Workshop for their editorial advice, especially Claire Gillman for her insightful and sensitive mentoring. Last but by no means least, I want to thank John Hunt for agreeing to publish the book. I received many rejections from other publishers, which is to be expected given the state of the economy, and especially the publishing market. One of many things Sri Chinmoy taught me is never to give up. In the end, I could not have hoped for a more perfect outcome, and would not wish it any other way. Auspicious Good Fortune is now published under Mantra Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing, specialising in Eastern-inspired spirituality.

It is still somewhat unreal to hold the printed book in my hand, with the cover I chose, the words I wrote, the experiences that have come to pass in this incredibly fortunate lifetime. So the journey continues, or maybe it has only just begun…

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11 Responses to The Making of Auspicious Good Fortune

  1. Dave May 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    Dear Sumangali,

    I have found great inspiration for my own spiritual journey in reading your book ‘Auspicious Good Fortune’.
    To hear the desperateness in some of your experiences,
    then the illumining, joyful outcome that is your blossoming spiritual life, gives me much inspiration and hope for my own spiritual journey.

    How many times I am drawn into destructive patterns of behaviour, some so subtle there hard to spot, that seem to create a mind jungle I can not escape.
    So to read of your courageous journey of the spiritual heart, often into the unkown with only your faith to guide you, fills me with dread and hope in equal measure, but at different occasions.
    Written in a time I too inhabited at a similar age, so feel an instant affinity and familiarity; then the galloping success which you have achieved with the guidance both inner and outer of Sri Chinmoy; fills me with the determination to, as Sri Chinmoy says ‘ never give up’.

    Kind regards,


    • Sumangali May 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Dave, it really means more than I can say.

      Although we are each unique, and our paths are also necessarily unique, so many of our human and divine experiences are similar, and I take great comfort in that. I have made more than my share of mistakes, so I feel lucky to have come even this far – spiritually or generally – and this is only a tiny beginning. I really believe that if things can go right for me, they can go right for anyone; if I can make a go of things, then anyone can. I used to think I had to be closer to some ideal of perfection before I could begin my spiritual journey, but of course that’s absurd – the journey is exactly what perfects us, one baby-step at a time. We just have to turn up as we are, every day, and put one foot in front of the other.

      Which of course sounds easier than it is!

      You mention dread and hope in the same sentence. I like that, I think it’s honest and wise – not to expect it to all be a walk in the park, but to know every effort is worth it, because the results are real in the deepest sense. Also to know that the effort – although necessary – is as nothing compared to the unbelievable and undeservable Grace that comes when we commit ourselves to our inner work.

      I read something today in Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, that I thought summed up this concept very neatly: “It is like a man who gets a new saw for Christmas, on the first morning feeling its weight and wondering at its power, hardly thinking of it as a tool from which he will produce years of labor.”

      I don’t feel I’m necessarily endowed with any special qualities that equip me for this work. To apply Donald Miller’s analogy to my own experience, I see the “saw” as what Sri Chinmoy calls “aspiration”. In Sri Chinmoy’s words “Aspiration is the inner courage. And what is the inner courage? The inner courage is called implicit faith in one’s divine Pilot.” [Source]

      So it all comes full circle. If nothing else, life has taught me that I really am nothing without God’s Grace. It sounds trite, and it’s easy to say, but really feeling and remembering that, everything becomes a lot less complicated and less daunting. For me at least, nobody proves that ideal more clearly and powerfully than Sri Chinmoy.

  2. Jaitra May 5, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Sumangali, may I add my congratulations for Auspicious Good Fortune to what I am sure will soon be a very long list of praise!

    I too have now had the auspicious good fortune to read your debut novel, and can predict without hesitation that it is destined to grace most gracefully the shelves of aspiring readers all over the world.

    Can I also predict a sequel, for my one criticism of your book is that I couldn’t lose myself in it forever!

    • Sumangali May 6, 2012 at 7:23 am #

      Thank you very much Jaitra, your congratulations are most welcome! And I very much hope your first prediction comes true – are you perchance known for your clairvoyance? Although if so that means I will be writing a sequel, which does rather fill me with dread right now. Also I’m quite sure the world can’t afford to lose such a gifted writer and designer as yourself, let alone forever :-) Seriously though, thank you very much for your generous response, it means a great deal.

  3. Snehashila May 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    To a most skillful and inspiring writer:

    Of course I fully identify with your hesitancy in starting. I’m suffering from that same disease.

    Your special book is truly a dream come true!

    And may good fortune continue to rain down upon your sweet head!

    More, please?

    • Sumangali May 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Oh Snehashila, what a lovely surprise to see you here! My heart goes out to you, I hope the advice of the mysterious “blind” man helps you to make a mark on the empty canvas.

      I think what I realised is that the “writing a book” concept is a mental leap, but the reality is actually very gradual. People asked me how long it took to write, and I saw there are so many possible answers to that question. I knew I was writing it three years ago, but maybe I already started writing it when I was taking notes in my personal journals, or when describing in more detail particular experiences. Looking back I believe the book had already started writing itself as the experiences themselves unfolded, as that’s when I inwardly recorded them. If that’s the case, you have already begun!

      In my case, since I was with Sri Chinmoy for a relatively short time, I did not have the problem you might have of choosing what experiences to include. You must have so much material to work from! I know in a sense that’s a nice problem to have, but it must make the process more daunting. There is a lot to be said for writing it all down, and then taking things out later. That lessens the fear of not getting it “right” first time.

      What I found most helpful was the second point – write the book you would most like to read. Don’t worry whether other people will enjoy it, just enjoy it yourself, and the story will find its way.

      Good luck and Godspeed, I so look forward to reading the result!

  4. Bhashini May 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    Wow! Thanks for sharing that story. Isn’t it funny how our prayers are answered in the most unexpected ways?
    I know how difficult the journey was but I’m really pleased you stuck with it (although when you feel an inner compulsion as strong as this one, experience tells me there’s no resisting)
    I’m reading this book for the second time which is miraculous in itself. The only books I’ve revisited in the past (apart from Sri Chinmoy’s writings) are Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Shantaram. If anything I’m enjoying it even more this time. Your beautifully crafted, poetic sentences are making me alternately smile laugh and cry all over again. The story is told with such refreshing honesty and it resonates with me on a level very few other books reach.
    I’m sure this book will inspire other spiritually lost souls searching for a sense of belonging in a bewildering world.
    Thanks for seeing it through from inspiration to publication :)

    • Sumangali May 4, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Thanks so much for your reply Bhashini, I’m genuinely honoured for the book to be included in your list of re-reads! I rarely read a book twice, and my list is pretty similar, except I’d add Musashi :-) I’m actually blown away by your response, I can’t completely take it in. It’s kind of strange working on a project so intensely for so long, and then suddenly it’s not in the imagination anymore, it’s real. You and a few others have been an integral part of the whole process, I definitely could not have done it on my own, so THANK YOU too. I don’t think there was a single day when I didn’t wonder why on earth I’m going through with it, but somehow in my heart of hearts I didn’t feel like it was a choice. Most days it was enough to pray and meditate on it, and to remember Sri Chinmoy’s simple but powerful maxim “never give up”. Some days though I just really needed to get feedback and encouragement from people who understood where I was trying to go with it. The whole experience has taught me so much about myself and life in general, especially about oneness with other people – receiving as as well as offering. It’s been worth persevering just for those insights. As you say though, overall I hope it’s going to reach other people who are looking for their own pathways through a bewildering world – whether or not those pathways are similar to mine. We’re all in it together after all.

  5. Hita Hirons April 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Oh my god, imagine if you had not spoken to that guy!

    Your book is winging its way to me from Amazon, and even though I already read your final draft I have to say I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing again, in its proper printed form. I think that what really touched me was the way you freely expressed the sweetness of your relationship with your teacher, and how your book seems to have really said what you wanted to say about him in a very direct way. Students of Sri Chinmoy did get a lot of contact with him, much more than many spiritual masters of the past, and more than enough for all of us to make up our own minds about what he was doing with his life and what he was trying to do for us individually. He had thousands of students, and if you ask each one of them what their teacher did for them, you would really wonder if one person had enough time to do all that! For lots of reasons the first years after a spiritual master passes away are difficult, but one of the things I do like about this time is that people’s own particular stories start to come forward.

    I think it’s a testament to the quality of your writing that I was able to read about a subject with which I am very familiar, ie Sri Chinmoy, and enjoy it as though I was experiencing it for the first time; probably not an audience you originally thought you were catering for! For those of us who shared some of the experiences and events you describe in your book, it is an opportunity to revisit it all with fresh and grateful eyes. You managed to make us feel, as readers, that the good fortune you felt had come your way was also just as much ours. That is a rare achievement, and although your skill as a writer is indisputable, I think it is more due to your natural generosity as a person. I really feel that you wrote your book with your heart and because you wanted to share something with everyone rather than wanting to capture something for yourself. To me, that is a big difference!

    So, congratulations dear Sumangali! I hope that this is the first of many books and that after you have got over the shock of being in print for the first time you will start work on your next one : )

    • Sumangali April 28, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

      Hita, thank you for your very kind and generous feedback! I was actually going to start thanking my friends and family at the end of that post, and then I realised I was already sounding like I was at an Oscars ceremony, when all I’ve done is publish a book – only one of around a million published in the world each year. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a very big deal to me. So I will say here publicly what I have said many times to you and others who have supported me thus far through this project: THANK YOU! I really can’t imagine how I could have got here without you. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to have the encouragement of people around me.

      I had. No. Idea. How challenging it would be on just about every level. I would definitely do it again, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and the thought of starting a second one is not exactly thrilling right now! It is an amazing experience, I’ve learned and grown a lot through it, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but it’s definitely no joke putting your heart out there for the world to see. As an artist, I know you understand a lot of what I’m saying, that’s one reason I am so grateful to you for your support. You respect the creative process as a force to be reckoned with, rather than only a fun little hobby with which to whittle away those long winter evenings. I think of creativity as like Mother Nature herself – she can be gentle and balmy and beautiful, but she also has access to the thunderbolts and whitewater, so watch out!

      One thing I think I found most challenging is how to fit such a massive subject into just a few pages. As you say, we have so many memories, many of them personal and unique, because Sri Chinmoy made himself available to his students a lot more than many spiritual Masters might have done. Also each experience has significance on so many levels, and is inextricably linked to so many other teachings and experiences – of one’s own and of others – that it’s hard to contain them in a single story. I’ve tried to do what the literary agent advised, and talk about the things that matter most to me, without wondering whether they matter to anyone else, or I suppose also without wondering why they matter. I hope the fact that they have affected me profoundly is enough reason to include them, and I hope almost as a collection of vignettes, the episodes hint at a whole which is too huge to describe. After all, this is what painters and poets alike have to do – hint at infinity with just a few earthly tools and materials.

      I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s fine. I didn’t write it for everyone, I wrote it for people who like the same things I do :-) I hope more people will write of their own experiences in time, and share them when they feel ready. The pieces will fit together in a broadening patchwork quilt then, with all the different textures and colours of human and divine experience. What you say about needing time to recover from Sri Chinmoy’s passing is so true, then having the chance to reflect and to bring our experiences forward. Obviously this process will be different for each person – some will want to voice their memories right away; others will want to keep them private for some time, or of course maybe forever. Personally I found writing to be very healing and helpful in terms of gaining perspective. As you have very kindly hinted, and as I know you feel with your own creations, I want my creativity primarily to be of service and inspiration to others. If it can help me too, so much the better, but I see it mainly as a spiritual act, rather than as therapy. From a selfish point of view, I can’t wait to read more of other people’s experiences though! After all, I love true stories best, especially stories of transformation.


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