Last month, when the clocks sprung forward but my morning yoga teacher did not, I wandered the blacktop of Fresh Pond Mall on a Sunday morning and discovered Aladdin Auto, as well as some remarkable sculptures and signs promoting thelighter.org. Mahmood Rezaei-Kamalabad happened by and invited me for a return visit when he was open for the business of art, spiritual nourishment, and auto repair.
I stopped by last week on a sunny afternoon. The giant overhead door was open, revealing a conventional garage with two SUV’s jacked up on pneumatic hoists, as well as concrete block walls plastered with signs espousing God’s plan and a battalion of upright steel sculptures standing to one side, encircling a table and chairs. Mahmood greeted me like a long lost friend, poured us tea in glass-stemmed cups, opened a fresh package of dates, and gestured for me to sit.
Two giant flags hung above my head. The stars and stripes overlaid with gold Arabic lettering, and a royal purple banner with intersecting gold rings. Mahmood sat opposite. A felt skullcap hugged his noggin; grey locks billowed out below and merged with his full beard, framing his tan, weathered face. I asked about the rings. His smile revealed two rows of perfect, tiny teeth. Words flowed out from between them.
“Human beings are made of two parts; God is a single unity. We need to be two parts in order to go forth and multiply, but we seek, always, to become one, to become like God. When we find the spirit, we become one. The intersecting rings are our two parts; the edge of each ring goes through the center of the other. The focal point is the intersection. Unity lies within.
Mahmood guides me a to a small shrine with a thick book resting on a podium. “The Lighter” is printed in gold on the dull red cover. “This is the Koran, the Talmud, and the Bible, all bound into one volume. The Lighter is the intersection of these three religions.” He has assembled this anthology and sent one to the Library of Congress, the Vatican, and the National Libraries of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel. There is also a copy in the Qaanaaq Library in Greenland, the northernmost settlement on the globe. According to Mahmood, “The Lighter sits on top of the world.” It also perches in a garage in Cambridge.
Mahmood lays a black cardboard with his intersecting circles on the lectern, asks me to align my index finger with the center of the image and stare as a third circle, the unity, rises off the image into space. I suggest, “It’s a spiritual hologram.” He seems pleased with that analogy.
Back at our tea he continues to unspool his fascinating explanation of our material and ethereal world. ”We look outward with our two eyes to find the unity, but the unity is not external, it is internal. We need to look out to see the multiplicity but then let the multiplicity reflects back on us, to penetrate our interior.” When I take out my pad to make notes, he stops speaking until I am finished. I find his simple pause both respectful and patient. He has stacks of drawings – sketches for his sculptures, variations on his intersecting rings. He makes a fresh diagram for me, two circles, our eyes, projecting out into the world, seeking the reflection that comes together within our head. What Buddhists call our third eye center. I wonder for a moment if perhaps all spiritual teachings are variations of the same theme. Then immediately recognize that no, there are two major variations: teachings that celebrate the god within us, and those that purport that god exists beyond.
I ask Mahmood, “How will we live tomorrow?” He doesn’t hesitate a moment “We will live in peace within ourselves. That peace will reflect to the exterior. Whatever is within me is within you.”
In less than half an hour, we are confidantes. He asks for a hug. He explains opposing forces in all of nature, the spherical energy that resides within all human beings. He leads me to the back of the garage, pausing for a moment to confer with a mechanic wrestling with a rear axle, to demonstrate his machine of human wellness. It’s a stretcher with straps and buckles, within a steel tubular frame, anchored laterally to another tubular frame, anchored vertically to a podium. Mahmood turns on the device. The stretcher rotates around a horizontal axis within a frame rotating around the vertical axis. A person strapped inside experiences spherical rotation. Watching it makes me stomach queasy.
I want to take a photograph but that seems wrong. The machine is rather crude, while the concept is elegant; the physical reality doesn’t do justice to the ideal. Mahmood explains how the machine will balance our internal systems with the external environment. I am reminded of Futurity, the Lisps musical about a Civil War era peace-making machine, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and steampunk. Another vision of the future cloaked in technology of the past.
It’s time to go. He gives me his sketches. I give him my cycling card. We hug and express mutual love. Is he just another eccentric or a true visionary? I lean toward the latter. Because I want to believe there is a visionary in every eccentric, but also because I feel so full, rich in sunshine and light and human warmth. Mahmood knows something about axles and steel and the spirit. And he is generous in sharing it with anyone who takes the time to come his way.