In Michael Fischman’s book, Stumbling Into Infinity: An Ordinary Man in the Sphere of Enlightenment, it becomes apparent that Fischman is neither ordinary nor stumbling. While he emphasizes that this is his personal story, he has adeptly written a debut nonfiction work that is multiple books at once, layered one beneath the other and bound together by everyman’s search for the answer to the question ‘Why am I here?’ Nearly all of us ask this question more than once in our lives, but Fischman is a man driven more intensely than most to find the answer. His passionate quest makes for an extraordinary memoir.
In the first chapter Fischman writes that his parents, perhaps to protect his innocence, had kept his grandfather’s death a secret from him. He recalls, “One night, when I was about three-years-old, while my parents and sister were asleep…I awoke before dawn and saw Grandpa. Transparent as a mist of smoke he stood still in our bedroom doorway… I didn’t know why he was there.” The author continues, “And it was many years before I realized that Grandpa’s death had coincided with the time of his mysterious visit. At age eight, alone in his Grandma’s hospital room, he saw her take her last breath. “I knew she was gone. I stood shaking, as though I’d been dipped in ice water. I’d seen death.”
Perhaps his early childhood experience with death, and physical abuse by his father, explains the author’s ever present concern with the meaning of life and living a better life. Or perhaps, as he speculates, you could blame it on growing up in the sixties and seventies. Whatever the reasons, Fischman remembers from his college experiences that “I was more interested in attaining a state of Nirvana and enlightenment that studying for my chemistry finals and graduating from college.” But like most Westerners, Fischman believed then that one should be independent minded and find their own way in spiritual matters. This first layer of the memoir continues to follow Fischman’s quest, ultimately leading the reader to his close friendship with one of the Eastern world’s great spiritual gurus and the assumption of the leadership of his U.S. organization.
The spiritual leader of whom Fischman became a devotee is His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the organization of which Fischman is currently president is the Art of Living Foundation in the U.S. In the second layer of the book the author shares his account of what led him to the Sri Sri (Shree Shree) and the Art of Living movement. “As someone who had an intimate seat at the beginning of a great spiritual movement, I wanted to convey some of the magic and mystery of those early years – little known stories, private moments with Sri Sri, and the extraordinary combination of wisdom and innocence I saw in him.”
It is the most tightly woven stories of the two men together personally that provide the most intriguing lessons for the reader. I was inspired by many of these small but insightful stories including one in which the guru explains to Fischman: “The Art of Living is being in service…If someone asks you, ‘Can you take some luggage in your car?’ and you say, ‘No, I have no room,’ and then you say, ‘Wait, wait let me see,’ this is not service. Saying ‘No’ immediately causes a block for them somewhere…It would be better the other way around, first say ‘Yes.’ Then, if there is some difficulty, say ‘No, sorry, I can’t do it.’ Do you see the difference? It shows that you are willing. And it is that willingness that creates harmony.”
Stumbling Into Infinity: An Ordinary Man in the Sphere of Enlightenment is a book that offers further evidence of the impact of the spiritual teachings of India on Western civilization. Through it, Michael Fischman and the ancient spiritualism of His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar give the reader the opportunity to experience the model for the current “Life Coach” phenomenon in the U.S. This book clearly demonstrates that “old” wisdom offers relevant and empowering answers, based on self-reflection and service to others, to everyman’s questions: “Who am I?,” “What am I doing here?,” and “Where am I going?”