Ray Rixon
Fri, August 12, 2011 at 9:58
Stephanie Hunt

Phil Greed thinks Ray Rixon is the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast.  Ray works in Phil’s art department at Coffs TAFE and they recently completed a two man show at the Grafton Regional Gallery.  Like Phil, Ray is an artist and a teacher.  But what Phil finds most interesting is the inner Ray – the yoga master who has such a great presence and a gentle calm.

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The Making of Rudrashanti   

Ray Rixon had been billed as a yoga master, so I’m thinking spiritual teacher, cosmic energy and chanting as I knock on the door of his Sapphire Beach home.  The graceful, unhurried man who opens the door and offers me tea and gluten free cake fits my expectations.  As Ray begins his story his deep, almost hypnotic voice certainly sounds the part.  Then, to my surprise, that voice talks of restlessness, life on the edge and rebellion.  Not what I expected.  Who is this man?

Rudrashanti, comes the answer.  This is Ray’s yoga name and comes from Shanti, which means peace and Rudra, who is one of Hindu’s more fearsome gods and is sometimes translated as “the wild one”.  Ray says he has no idea where these names come from, but as he recounts his life story there are eerie echoes of his name throughout.

Shanti, or peace, is sometimes said to be a feminine quality, and certainly Ray counts his mother as one of the great inspirations in his life.  “My mother was the most extraordinary human being,” Ray says.  “She was unconditionally loving, intellectually eager, and a voracious reader”. 

He insists that his mother never tried to push him into anything, but he discovered later in life that she had wanted him to become a teacher.  He certainly had potential from an early age; his kindergarten teacher describing him as a born teacher.  Yet Ray says, “I always think teaching found me.” 

Teaching may have found Ray, but in the early years it wasn’t a mantle he wore easily.  Rudra, the “wild one”, was lurking.  He started teaching at Nambucca Heads Primary but was “shipped out” after he started a relationship with a girl still in high school.  Although only 18 himself, the primary school teacher’s relationship with a 16 year old girl was not in keeping with 1960s small town Australia.  Transferred to Campbelltown, he quit five years later in revolt against a change in principal.  After a stint tramping through Europe he wound up teaching secondary school Special Ed in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where he says he did the students no favours.   He took up with an eclectic set that included professors, lawyers, small time criminals and garbage collectors.  “By day I was this teacher in the suburbs,” Ray says, “and by night I was hanging around on the inner city edges.” 

According to Ray, surfing kept him from falling over the edge.  He had become obsessed with surfing whilst at teachers college and it quickly became his sanctuary.  Riding the waves, the ‘wild one’ found his Shanti.  “Surfing was my meditation before I even knew what meditation was,” Ray explains. 

While surfing was saving his soul, art saved his teaching career.  Ray had dabbled in teaching art to junior students and an insightful principal saw that this lousy Special Ed teacher had the potential to be a gifted art teacher.  He was offered a full time role teaching art at Dover Heights Boys in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  He loved it – Ray had found his niche.

But he hadn’t found his peace quite yet.  To become a fully qualified art teacher Ray needed to attend night school to learn how to be an artist.  It wasn’t easy.  “In the first year I used to come home in tears.  I’d look around at these people who I thought were fantastic artists and then look at my scribbles and think, ‘I can’t do this’.”  He was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when a friend recommended yoga.  “It was like having the best effects of using drugs without taking the drugs,” discovered Ray.  Yoga gave Ray energy and confidence; made him feel unshakeable.

And yet along came something that would shake him to the core: he was to be forced from Dover Heights Boys, the school that had made him an art teacher, the place he felt he belonged.  In response to dropping student numbers, Ray became the first teacher  in NSW history to be force transferred out of a high school.  Angry, Ray called on the Union who agreed to fight for him, and the “wild one” became a cause celebre for the union movement.  “I was doing press conferences on the major Sydney TV channels every couple of days,” Ray explains.  To his surprise, the memory moves him to tears. It is not recalling the fight that moves him; it is remembering the support that poured in from fellow teachers.  “For 2 weeks all of the teachers in the Eastern Suburbs area paid my salary, so I didn’t lose a cent,” Ray says in wonder.

In the end Ray lost; but Coffs Harbour won.  Ray, his wife Victoria and their infant daughter Zoe moved to Coffs Harbour 29 years ago, where Ray took up a role as art teacher at Coffs Harbour High School. His son Tom was born the following year. Over the next 20 years he would inspire an entire generation of students at Coffs High and in the last five years he has been developing budding artists at the local TAFE.  He has continued his yoga, and for years has taught meditation practices to his students and the community at large.   The wild one seems to have found his Shanti as teacher and guru. 

Or has he?  I ask Ray what keeps pulling him back to teaching.  “Maybe I’m too gutless to just throw everything in and try to make a living as a painter,” he replies.  Ray has been showing his photography and painting since he first arrived in Coffs.  He says he knows his art is good, but it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.  “My paintings have always been a bit of a chew for people,” he says.  But he feels that he has something important to say.  “I would like to transpose something of how I feel when I am deeply centred in my yoga practice, which is pretty indescribable” Ray explains. So far he’s finding this “indescribable” on canvas. “I don’t think I’ve got anywhere near to what I want to say yet,” he says.  But he’s learning to be patient.

I get up to leave, not sure that I have yet understood the contradictions that are Ray.  He has spoken for two hours in that melodious voice about a restless life searching for inner calm.  On the way out, he shows me his art and I see a wild, almost fierce landscape, yet Ray is striving to communicate an indescribable peace.  Driving away I decide that what is really interesting about this man is not simply his gentle calm, but the inner conflict between the “wild one” and the peace that is the making of Rudrashanti.

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Click here to see more of Ray’s painting

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Ray doesn’t hesitate in nominating Heather McKinnon as the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast.  She’s a very senior family lawyer at Slater and Gordon in town.  That surprises me because I don’t see Ray needing a family lawyer.  It’s the yoga, he explains.  She is dedicated to yoga.  That makes sense, and I can’t wait to meet this yogic lawyer.

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Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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