Fully aware that no one can ever describe another human being, let alone Rob, accurately, I like to add just some strokes, some colours, some textures to one possible picture of him. Fully aware that each of us knew Rob in their own particular ways, had their own particular relationship with him, experienced, perceived and will continue to perceive Rob in their very own personal ways.
Rob was a passionate human being.
Whatever he gave his attention, time and energy to, he had no choice but to give himself a 150%. Whatever it was, it became very dear, very important to him. A calling he couldn’t ignore. His engagement was never superficial. It was always an in-depth diving in.
Rob couldn’t, wouldn’t do superficial.
Rob often felt a sense of duty. A sense of being given a task.
An obligation he had to meet, honour and respect. At times irrespective of his own personal preferences.
On the one hand his way to fulfil this duty was very inclusive. Inclusive in terms of the scope of the different ways of seeing he applied in his exploration.
On the other hand his approach was very exclusive: As he focused and gathered his energy in service of the task, everything else, everyone else had to stand back; to respect and at least not to hinder his need for focus and utter commitment.
This radicality of engagement was not always easy. It could be challenging and difficult at times. Rob could feel lonely in it.
It was painful for Rob when his work was not met with an openness, interest and vigour that matched his. Rob could get upset when he felt his work was misunderstood, flattened, reduced, or oversimplified.
This pain was not about him being misunderstood but about the work not being given the energy and openness of mind it deserved.
Rob inquired deeply, he cared deeply and wished for a receiving that mirrored his dedication. He asked us to be as willing as he was, to stretch, to question, to be kept on our toes, to step with him outside any limiting box and to look afresh.
Rob would often reach the limits of whatever framework he started his exploration and investigation in. And Rob never stopped here: He ventured on, beyond the now limiting framework, no matter how taboo this seemed.
Rob had a confidence I never witnessed in anyone before.
Rob trusted this movement, even, or especially, if it led into unknown territory.
Because Rob had to keep stretching, expanding, questioning.
Rob’s aim was not to destroy cherished theories, convictions or beliefs just for the sake of it, but it was a drive to go beyond: Beyond, to more depth, more beauty, more meaning, more freedom. And whatever was discovered fathomed along the way informed and fertilized his venturing on. And those around him could never catch up, Rob was always miles ahead…..
Rob’s “goings beyond” (there was more than one) included struggle ….. struggle, and always, a forging of something new, a weaving together of before seemingly unconnected strands, a creative connecting, a courageous opening. It was wonderful to witness.
It was jaw dropping to see how Rob found or made new connections that once expressed were so obvious. How he found new ways of looking that were potentially so transformative, liberating and so beautiful. Rob always seemed to yearn to unveil and name yet another layer of meaning, depth, beauty, mystery.
Rob’s heart and soul needed this calling:
Sometime, last summer, after Rob finished yet another series of talks, there was a short period where nothing new was beckoning him.
We spoke about his need to have something he felt called to engage with, and that this was very much what made him continue, despite his illness and the, at times, excruciating difficulties this brought. To live life without this felt somehow meaningless.
Rob was my friend.
And Rob was demanding as a friend…he would not please anyone just to please them.
Rob had high expectations; he would point out blind spots, question one’s choices, behaviours and strategies, and demand honesty to oneself.
Rob could be very generous.
If there was genuine curiosity and interest: No matter how tired, no matter how ill and unwell at times…he always loved to share, discuss, explain. When met with interest it seemed he could access a source of energy unavailable to him just a minute earlier.
Rob could be very funny, he could be some kind of Mr. Bean impersonation for hours.
Rob was very disciplined: He flossed his teeth every night!!!!
Rob was a rebel. A mischievous rebel with a passionate commitment to climate action and he inspired so many to step up and get actively involved.
Long before the unfolding climate emergency was given any importance in Insight Meditation circles Rob challenged his Dharma teacher colleagues on their silence, taking the risk of being criticized for the frankness of his words.
Rob was snobbish and he admitted it freely. He was snobbish around matters of poetry, music, paintings, Dharma …and football, which in Rob’s eyes was an art.
Rob didn’t care which team won. This wasn’t important. Important was the artistry and the beauty of a game. Rob suffered … and he really did suffer, when, in his eyes, a game wasn’t played beautifully and really delighted when it was.
Rob preferred to walk on country lanes rather than rough territory. Rough territory would distract him too much from his musing and ponderings. He would often stop to make notes in his notebook that he always carried with him.
On most walks and outings Rob took at least one book along (just in case!). Thick tomes that may be carried for miles and often stayed unopened.
Whilst I knew Rob, he read extensively on classical and modern philosophy, Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, mathematics, quantum physics, Post-Jungian Psychology, lucid dreaming, climate change and, and, and…
Rob loved to read poetry and wrote countless poems himself.
Over some poems he would sweat for weeks…until they were just right: Each punctuation, each word’s location on the page of importance.
Each sound of each word considered in its interplay with the other words.
To say that Rob was spiritually adventurous would be an understatement.
At different points of his life, outside observers might have described him as an atheist, Jewish Kabbalist, a Christian mystic, a Theravadan Buddhist, a Mahayana Buddhist, a Tantric Buddhist, or a “post-Buddhist”.
But those who knew him understood that no labels fitted him.
Rob wasn’t interested in becoming an “ist” of any kind.
Rob’s heart was deeply moved and shaped by elements and aspects of all these different traditions and respected and revered the beauty, depth, meaning, sense of sacredness and mystery they could bring.
Always exploring, always going further, always digging deeper.
Always questioning, stretching, opening up.
Rob had so many gifts and one of Rob’s gifts was that he was so very able to share the depth, meaning, beauty and sense of sacredness he perceived ….and thus opening in others the ability to perceive in these ways as well.
Until the last weeks of his life when he became so very tired and weak I believed that Rob was not a soul to whom the words “Rest in Peace” were appropriate.
Peace and calm was not what he was after most of his life, yet in the very end he wanted rest.
Wherever you are now dear Rob I hope you can continue to question, explore, inquire, stretch….and have some rest and peace.