A Walk With Sydney Banks

Feb 19, 2020

I stumbled up the curb from the roadway in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, and my companion, Sydney Banks, reached out his jacket-clad arm to steady me. We strolled, side-by-side up the concrete way toward the Thrifty Foods grocery store in the middle of the quaint, colorful harbor town.  Behind us on the water, boats bobbed in the sun, straining against their moorings as a stiff breeze whipped toward us.  It was one of those warm days that surprise in the middle of a cold snap, and I tipped my face to the sun to catch every ray.

“What’s it like for you to be a sought after as a spiritual teacher?” I said.  I have always been curious about others.  I like to know what’s under the hood.  There was beauty in everyone, beyond appearance.  From the most brazen to the most unassuming, every stereotypic look hid a sparkling gem.  I had come to this small island in the Pacific Northwest to get to know this man and he me.  We could have been any two people strolling leisurely in an artsy community, both in jeans, both in sweaters and light jackets, reveling in the cry of seagulls, sniffing the fishy smell of ocean tributaries. But my companion, Syd, was a bit more than ordinary.  He was becoming known as an important spiritual teacher who offered an understanding that bridged psychology (my profession) and spirituality.  I had been searching for that rapprochement for many years.

Since meeting Syd a couple of days ago, he had spoken of the all-ness, the nothingness, and the is-ness, as well as the three principles of “mind”, “thought” and “consciousness” but I had understood little of that.  I was more interested in him. People described Syd as enlightened, and I wasn’t really sure what that meant.  I wondered what it felt like. A small piece of discarded paper scuttled in the wind across the pavement in front of us.

“Well, dearie,” he said. “It’s quite boring!” He stopped in his tracks, his body swiveling left so that his warm brown eyes could look directly into mine, intense blue. “I’m sayin’ the same things over and over agin’, and nobody understands.”  The cadence of his Scottish brogue lilted the words, which were delivered with a rueful chuckle. I burst out laughing.  Whatever answer I had expected that was not it!  “That must be frustrating,” I said, the words escaping before I could think. “It’s tiring,” he said, with a bit of pathos. “But I keep going.”

I reached out and touched his arm.  That’s a habit of mine, a way that I connect with people when I want to convey that I understand.  I’d met a good many spiritual teachers in my life in retreat centers, churches, conferences, Catholic universities, and indigenous gatherings.  Those that seemed to have the most to offer were often ordinary.  I looked for that.  I wasn’t interested in artifice. Syd patted my hand and we continued to walk.  I was touched that he called me, “dearie,” and I was a woman who didn’t like diminishing endearments from men.  He had spoken with unmistakable affection and warmth.  I felt at ease with him, which was unusual for me with males I didn’t know well. The feeling of that moment was safe, tender and neutral.  I can’t say why, but I knew, even though I would intellectually fight what he had pointed me toward, that I had stumbled up a curb with a man who knew Truth. It would answer a thousand questions about God.