Michael Fischman is the author of the multi-award winning memoir, Stumbling Into Infinity: An Ordinary Man in the Sphere of Enlightenment, and a founding member and former president of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s U.S. Art of Living Foundation.
Having been associated with Art of Living since 25 years, he shares his views about Spirituality and his spiritual journey.
Q: You gave up a successful career to follow a spiritual path. What inspired you to do that?
Michael Fischman: I was always looking for my purpose in life, and a way to contribute in a bigger way. I knew that my advertising career wasn’t right. Of course, people don’t have to give up their careers or family to lead an integrated spiritual life or to make a contribution. But in my case, I was searching. I guess I was also responding to the need of the time, with this start-up spiritual organization, though I didn’t think of it that way then. The real answer to your question is that the first time I assisted Sri Sri with an Art of Living Course, in 1989, it was a high I had never experienced in the working world, or anywhere. I was so inspired, and happy to be involved in something that was so beneficial. I continued to feel a greater connection to life as I kept helping. There was so much satisfaction.
Q: You grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, with set ideas about God and religion. How did you connect with Indian Spirituality?
Michael Fischman: There was never any conflict for me. I started meditating when I was in my twenties, in the 1970s. There was a fascination with India and mysticism in the youth culture at that time, and I liked doing what the Beatles had done. I just naturally gravitated to it.
Q: You have been associated with the Art of Living and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for more than 25 years. Give us a brief insight into how that contributed to your spiritual growth.
Michael Fischman: There are so many ways they have contributed. I learned several powerful things that make a noticeable difference—the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique and Sahaj Samadhi meditation, deep silence courses, knowledge about life, the mind, and emotions. The biggest is being around Sri Sri. Being around a master sets an example for living a loving, compassionate, and productive life.
Q: Were you ever enticed by lucrative career opportunities? Did you ever feel the urge to quit the spiritual path?
Michael Fischman: I have actually been offered many career opportunities. I was once offered the chance to work for a dear friend who saw how much I was doing for Art of Living. I would have made a lot of money and been very comfortable in a material way. I did think about it, though not about quitting the spiritual path. I gave that one job some thought, but I finally felt that what I was doing was so helpful and even significant. I didn’t want to stop that activity or growth for some extra comfort.
Q: What are the two most special memories you have from your long association with your master?
Michael Fischman: There is only one. That is the feeling level of unconditional love that pulls me through life. That is something that has come with that association. That is a common experience, even for some people who have just had a glance from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.That unconditional love allows people to move gracefully through the uncomfortable and challenging times in life.
Q: Tell us more about your book, Stumbling Into Infinity? Is it an autobiographical account or a self-help book?
Michael Fischman: It is the memoir of the son of a Holocaust survivor. I found myself at a very special time, at the start of a great spiritual movement, and I wanted others to have a taste of the feeling and magic of that time, and to share my experience with an enlightened master. I share my challenges too, so in that sense someone can be inspired to meet their own challenges.
Q: How do people relate to spirituality in the U.S.? How is it different in India?
Michael Fischman: Everyone is looking for a higher purpose and a higher value in life no matter where they live. There are different expressions of it in the West and East. There are many traditions. Besides organized religion, in the U.S. there has been a tremendous interest in yoga. Even many shopping malls have a yoga studio. It is often more physical and benefit oriented. In India, the spiritual dimension is even on the surface.
Q: You have had your share of highs and lows in relationships, as you describe in your book. Since you are now happily married, what is your advice to youth for dealing with failed relationships?
Michael Fischman: My advice, not just for youth, is not to be dependent on something or someone outside for your happiness. Not that you can’t enjoy people, but joy and happiness is coming from inside, even when you are with other people. As a concept alone that is not helpful, but it is possible to live that as an experience. The spiritual practices help you tap that joy. Conflict with people often comes from unrealistic expectations. They do this or that and I’ll be happy and fulfilled. But you find out that nobody can do this or that all the time. It is possible to have contact with an inner bliss and stability no matter what is happening outside.
Q: There is lot of unrest and confusion among the youth today owing to a rise in crime and corruption. Can spirituality be an antidote to all the existing ills in society?
Michael Fischman: Sri Sri has been inspiring youth to take a stand against corruption for some time. Art of Living people have made a commitment not to give bribes, even if it seems something will not happen. The interesting thing is that their stance often ends up inspiring the people who a moment ago were asking for a bribe. And recently he started the Volunteer for a Better India program. He brings this up wherever he is speaking. They are developing a web portal where people can find places to volunteer in some way, everything from an hour doing clean-up somewhere to starting a school. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar himself is a role model for many, encouraging people to take a stand, join hands, and make a difference. In the U.S., Art of Living has a campaign going on right now, with the slogan, Non-violence: No higher calling. There seems to be a desire for higher values everywhere.
Q: One thing you love most about India is…
Michael Fischman: The people. Friendly, compassionate, warm, inviting, a sense of human values and regard for family. In my experience.
Q: What kind of challenges do you face while teaching courses or training people?
Michael Fischman: There is only one of me. If there were more of me, I could teach more courses and train more people.
Q: Are you content with your life? Or are you still seeking fulfillment?
Michael Fischman: I am a work in progress. But I would say most of my major desires have been fulfilled, so there is a certain sense of contentment and satisfaction. I feel lucky that I have been on a spiritual path and have been able to make a contribution.
To read more about his book Stumbling Into Infinity