The Mindful Delinquent. Imperfect, reluctant, renegade meditator, mindfulness teacher and coach, writer, speaker and advocate of acknowledging a rarely spoken-out-loud-in-public truth: practising mindfulness meditation, or any meditation come to that, can initially feel just a little bit shit. There, I said it; I feel cleansed.
It is particularly challenging to turn our attention inwards when we are experiencing stress and physical or emotional pain; we are hard-wired not to go there. This was absolutely true for me. I never wanted to be still … and then I had no choice.
It’s fair to say I was not born on Walton mountain. My parents were amazing, intelligent, funny people – so sharp; their stories were the best. But, sadly, they had their problems.
As a result, I was never really okay in my own skin and certainly never felt safe. When we don’t have healthy attachments as children we look elsewhere to find this connection. I bonded with achieving, shoe shopping and looking after everyone except myself. Then, I self-medicated my internal pain and hole in the soul with Sauvignon Blanc.
Like many in my position, I looked okay from the outside. I did pretty well in business, but made a poor decision and purchased a ‘too good to be true’ franchise which resulted in a long court case. Conflict and impending poverty were not so great for calming down my already hyper-stimulated limbic system.
Eventually, the case was settled out of court and my life began to improve. I did a lot of healing and personal growth work and got into the whole ‘laws of attraction’ thing. I was like Alice in Wonderland, off on my own adventure to create a life beyond my wildest dreams. I went to theatre school, did scriptwriting and film courses, and sang in a pop choir.
Yes! I was the hero of my own story; hope was indeed here, a happy ending possible. I imagined fireside stories, a toothless banjo player, a rabble of urchin children who would sing songs of my adventures and the legend that was me.
But before I really got anywhere … I got sick, real sick. It got bad, real bad. (Cue John Wayne and One Sad Banjo.) I developed a chronic health condition and was pretty much debilitated for five or six years. I was in daily physical and emotional pain and there were many days I was too weak to get out of bed. My body was empty of any strength and my mind was saying ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I went from anger (this was so not on the tin when I bought the beans) to a deep despair and depression. I had never been in need or this vulnerable before. I was alone, and it felt like everywhere I turned to for help I was met with cool indifference; this was, indeed, my long dark night of the soul.
I didn’t know it then, but this was a major turning point. With little human support or medical solution readily available, I had no choice but to stop and be still; to turn towards what was happening rather than try to escape it. I must have listened to at least a couple of thousand dharma talks from wonderful teachers such as Jonathan Foust, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and Anh-Huong Nguyen, Pema Chodran and Eckhart Tolle.
Eventually, I started to practice, mostly lying down as I was too weak to sit. Slowly, slowly, everything began to change. Much to my surprise, I found myself feeling more and more okay and, most importantly, I was able to be okay, when I was not okay.
I also embarked on an eight-year desperate quest to recover my physical health. No stone was left unturned. Two years ago, I had to accept there might be no definitive solution to my condition. But I am now around 75% improved from those dark dismal days. So, good enough is, well, good enough. It has to be.
Before I could truly move forward, I had a grieving process to go through for the excellent health and strength I had lost and the dreams that failed to come to fruition. Eventually, I found a good degree of peace and acceptance, and did find the support I needed, by turning to available well- balanced people (we need at least a few preferably), rather than replicating a childhood pattern of going to one or two unhealthy individuals for this vital connection. None of us can do this alone.
So, was getting ill the best thing that ever happened to me? Were the birds tweety tweeting outside my window as I turned towards the light? Well, I’m not so sure about that, but mindfulness has revolutionised my ability to be with pain and discomfort to the point where I am – alright. Anyway, I don’t think it’s about one definitive happy Hollywood ending anymore; we can live joyfully irrespective. We are, after all, an evolutionary work in progress; and, let’s not forget, there’s always that damn pigeon!
I realise now that we human beings are an amazing bunch. We have the capacity for resilience, self- examination, to challenge our beliefs, adapt, change and grow. We can, to a good enough point, heal the wounds of childhood.
Once we get more okay in our own skin, we have the possibility of building something beautiful out of what is left, no matter how much has been lost. We can seek meaning from our circumstances and become willing to experience noble failure; to live a valiant life that’s true to ourselves no matter how great or small the chances of success.
We may well, probably will, fall flat on our face at times. But with mindfulness to hold us, we can feel the pain, go foetal, grieve, teeter on the edge or even rage at the dying of light. It doesn’t matter, as long as we eventually scrape ourselves off the floor, review and re-set our course.
It’s never the failure that does for us. It’s the giving up.
The Japanese have an art form called Kintsugi: the skilful repair of broken pottery by putting it back together with gold or platinum glue. It’s a beautiful metaphor for creating something exquisite from the car crashes of our lives. All of our tears, fears, failures, humiliations, loss, grief, piss poor decisions, our whole personal catastrophe, can be put back together in such a way that it far exceeds the beauty and strength of the original. And the cracks become the strongest part of the pot. I like that.
The Mindful Delinquent is my Kintsugi. My knackered, shattered, metaphorical little fruit bowl cobbled back together with, yes, some Mutley-esque mutterings, but also with love and all the healing, recovery and creative work I’ve done over the last fifteen years.
I hope to inform, inspire, make you laugh and most importantly, give some hope to those like me, who thought that mindfulness could never work for them because they felt so damned, damaged and alone in their pain.
I started by saying that mindfulness is not easy and it can feel a bit shit. So, I’d like to finish by saying that, irrespective of this, it is still, beyond doubt, absolutely and utterly worth doing. There is so much hope! And major bonus – we don’t have to be perfect, do it perfectly or even like it, come to that. It works anyway, despite ourselves.
We might even intermittently experience joy and happiness for absolutely no reason whatsoever and accidentally appreciate the present moment. Not such a bad result for slowing down and maybe taking a little time every day to simply be still.
The Mindful Delinquent
Daring to do it, just a little bit badly!
Check out the Education & Accreditation page for details of my professional teacher training qualifications and ongoing development. Have a look at the Podcasts and Blog for a mindful mash-up and maybe you might fancy doing one of my Live Training Events or even some One-to-one Training and Coaching.