Mike Leaf was born London England in 1934. He left home and school to make his first trip to Africa at aged 16, falling in love with the continent, the people and their music. At 18 Mike walked and hitchhiked from London to South Africa across the Sahara desert and Congo Basin and stayed in Central Africa until immigrating to Israel aged 20.
As a member of a young border kibbutz he served in the newly formed paratroop unit, parachuting into the Sinai Desert in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. After serving in the paratroopers and being severely wounded he returned for three years to Central Africa living mainly in the bush operating heavy earth moving equipment, working the copper mines, building roads and dams and clearing jungle for farmlands.
Mike had always sketched and painted and finally did this full time starting in 1970. He lived from painting, printmaking and sculpture from then on. After numerous one man shows in Israel, England, Mexico and the U.S.A. he received in 2003 recognition for his artwork in the form of a grant from the prestigious Lee Krasner Jackson Pollok Foundation of New York.
A prolific artist he refills his batteries and is inspired by immersing himself in different cultures and has lived for six monthly periods in Mexico, India, Bali, Morocco, Greece, various African States, most countries in South East Asia and in Taos New Mexico and Manhattan. Due to a spinal problem he was unable to carry on with his art work for several years during which time he began to write. By diligent exercise he regained his mobility and is again sculpting and painting. Since 2000 he divides his time between the old Galilean town of Safed and Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.
The Naked Holy Man
I was in Tamal Nadu visiting an exquisite Temple. The plethora of sculptured and painted architectural features was magnificent. In a shady corner of the courtyard I came across an old, stark-naked holy man smoking a chillum. He had a head of long twisted grey dreadlocks and a matching grey beard and on his forehead was the red sign of Shiva. We smiled at one another and then in perfect English with a slight Scottish accent, he invited me to rest my feet and sit with him for a while. I asked him where he had learnt English. He told me that his father had been batman to an officer in a Scotch regiment and as a kid he had learnt English from the soldiers and later, before becoming religious, had studied it. We chatted for a while and suddenly he said, “Would you like to meet your soul?”
The question took me by surprise.
“Have I got one?” I asked with a grin.
“Ah a skeptic. We all have one,” he chuckled.
I liked this old guy with his wrinkled face and smiling eyes. Although obviously deeply religious he had a sense of humor and wasn’t a heavy-duty bible thumper. He invited me back to his room in the temple grounds for tea. This naked old holy man got a primus going and soon we were sipping tea.
“Well” he said, “would you like to meet your soul?”
I chuckled, what the hell? I thought, “Why not?” I replied.
We sat cross-legged facing one another. Although I am not at all religious, these holy places in India have a special spiritual ambience. Maybe it’s the dimness, the silence and the smell of incense.
It was difficult for me to take this nude sadu with twinkling eyes too seriously. But I’m always game for any new experience.
”I want you to sit relaxed with your eyes closed for about three hours. Can you do that?”
“I can try.” I answered.
“I will ask you some questions and I want you to answer them with your emotions not with rational logic.”
“All of us have problems or things that irk us. Give one word that comes immediately to mind that describes your problem?”
“And under that?”
I didn’t quite understand what he meant but began, “The reasons are political and perso…”
He cut me short. “Logical analysis is on holiday! What other emotion is hidden beneath that?”
I thought for a while, “Betrayal.”
‘And underlying that?’ And so on and so forth, the question and answer session went on like this slowly with long moments of silence for about an hour. Whenever I slipped into rational explanations he quickly cut me short. ‘Emotions’ he’d remind me. At last a fleeting feeling that basically each one of us is alone in this world.
“Alone, loneliness.” I said.
He sat quietly for a few moments and then asked, “How do you feel about being alone? Does it bother you?”
I thought about that for quite a long while. I’d always been a bit of a lone wolf, never been fully integrated into any group, always on the fringes. In some ways I suppose I was selfish, I did not want to be limited, or have to consider the feelings of others. I liked it that way. I understood that most people want to be members of a group, even prepared to wear a uniform. It was comforting. They needed a sense of belonging, of not being alone. Actually I was happy being alone. I began to smile.
“I see that you are smiling.”
I nodded. We sat silently for a while. Then he asked, “What color would you give to this feeling?”
After a moment trying to visualize it, “White with the tiniest hint of blue.” I replied.
“Does this feeling have a temperature?”
Now this is strange. Blue is a cold color, yet this feeling was definitely warm.
“Warm.” I answered”
Some more time passed
“Can you see or feel it anywhere in your body?”
I thought on that for a while and was surprised to feel a warm white glow in the pit of my stomach.
“Yes in my stomach.”
“Put your hands over that area.”
I did so. It was a pleasant sensation. I could feel the warmth slowly spreading throughout my body, into my torso, my limbs, my head. My eyes were still closed and by this time I was grinning broadly. I was full of this beautiful whiteness.
“Why are you smiling so?” he asked.
“I am full of white warmness,” I answered.
Some more time passed and I felt that actually I was surrounded by this whiteness. It was all around me; I was sitting in an egg shape of whiteness. When I told him this he asked me to concentrate on this egg shape. It was amazing, after a long while this shape started sending out rays. This surprising new development must have shown on my face because he asked,
“The egg shape is sending out rays.” I replied, feeling a bit of a fool and giggling uncontrollably.
“Where are these rays going?”
“They are reaching the stars, touching the mountains, the trees the people the animals, the planets.”
The light extended further and further. I was ecstatic. I realized that my light encompasses the whole universe. So wonderful was this euphoric experience that I could not help myself and suddenly burst into tears from an overdose of joyful elation. I was one with the universe, with the primal force, in complete oneness with the whole of creation. My blubbering lasted a long time. Apparently he had expected it and gave me sheets of toilet paper to wipe my eyes from a roll that was by his side. I realized that my proud feeling of being a self-sufficient lone wolf was utter bullshit, a ridiculous ego trip. I had never been alone. I was, and always had been, an integral part of this wondrous universe.
Eventually I stopped weeping and calmed down. Then he explained that I had arrived at the source. That this warm light in my stomach was the pure me, as I was born, without any influences of life’s experiences good or bad, without the millstone of logic, prejudices, rationality or biases.
“This is your soul. Whenever in need sit quietly, relax and return to this place.”
“Wow, that was terrific.” I said, wiping my eyes, “You are amazing!”
“No I’m not,” he replied, “you were prepared to be unashamed and open, so you succeeded. I was merely your guide. Maybe a good guide?” A pause. “I believe in your Western tradition you tip your guide. How about two hundred Rupees?”
I looked at this old naked holy man, with dreadlocks and the red sign of Shiva painted on his forehead, who incongruously also spoke impeccable English. This spiritual being now came down to the nitty gritty of life…cash. Contrast, the epitome of India; incredible beauty surrounded by piles of filthy excrement. Out of habit I was about to bargain and say, ’a hundred OK?’ But stopped in time.
“Here I said,” smiling at him, “take five hundred.”
After all five hundred rupees is only ten bucks.
Whether I had actually come face to face with my soul or not, I did not know, but whatever it was, it was an amazing experience………...…His hash was also pretty good.