The Buddha of Hartlepool
When I was 21, I read a book that changed my life.
It was called, ‘Life and How to Survive It’.
How on the nose it that?
This book wasn’t by Jung, Maslow, Krishnamurti – or any of the great philosophers.
It was by John Cleese (yes, the comedian) and his therapist at the time, Robin Skynner.
Seriously, if you can find this book, check it out. It’s awesome.
The entire thing is a conversation between John and Robin about mental health – and how to become more mentally healthy.
Robin explains how, from the moment we’re born, our programming is shaped by our carers and the world around us.
To secure approval and love, we go from acting entirely naturally to believing that some of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are unacceptable.
We put these ‘bad’ parts behind a screen in our minds and forget they’re there.
If these parts are triggered, we blame and project our feelings onto others.
I’m not angry, they are.
It’s not me who’s judgemental, it’s my sister.
I’m not a bigot. It’s them.
In this way, our unique programme filters how we see reality.
In the book, Robin says the way to become more mentally healthy is to take whatever we have behind the screen and bring it into awareness.
Once it becomes conscious, it’s integrated into our reality.
And that’s how we become more authentic, more whole.
Or rather, we see more of the wholeness we already are.
In another part of book, Robin and John tackle the big questions.
The mystery at the heart of existence. Who am I? What is the meaning of life?
To use Alan Watts’ great phrase, they try to ‘eff the ineffable’.
Robin says the way he saw things was transformed – first by an LSD experience he had as a student, and then by subsequent experiences in meditation and at key moments in his life.
Over the years, he’d grown to have a profound sense that everything is connected and underpinned by unconditional love.
For him, life was inherently meaningful.
As a 21-year-old, this was the part of the book I was most interested in!
From that day on, I committed to the project and became a seeker.
I too would become Enlightened.
So, for the next 30 years, that’s what I had a crack at.
I studied psychology, philosophy and neuroscience.
I read all kinds of self-help books.
I looked to the East and the West to see what they had to say about consciousness.
I meditated, and tried various therapies.
And over the years, I did experience states of profound relaxation and bliss.
I also indulged in a lot of spiritual bypassing.
But last year I hit 50, and I still hadn’t found what I was searching for.
There’s no doubt I’d acquired a sound intellectual understanding of what this awakening game was all about.
But this wasn’t what I was after. It wasn't the real thing.
And then, last January, it happened.
Walking around my local park, my intellect, my ego - it all fell just away.
All thoughts stopped. Consciousness expanded.
‘I’ was the trees, the sky, the football pitches, the people jogging and walking their dogs.
And with that came a profound stillness, peace and contentment.
Oh my days.
All of that crazy woo-woo shit those lunatics have been going on about was actually a thing.
Call the dogs off. The search was over.
I was home.
By the time I got back to my actual house though, my ego was back online.
I could tell because I was internally debating whether it was now legit to change my LinkedIn job title to ‘Jedi’.
For the rest of the day, there was much laughter.
Finally, I’d done it. After all this time. What a relief.
But then the next day, I got up and realised that not that much had changed.
Well, nothing had changed and everything had changed.
But what hadn’t happened was a full-on Eckhart Tolle style dissolution of the ego never to be seen again, kind of a thing.
And that left me with the question, “What am I supposed to do now then?”
A big part of the answer came this month with Clare Dimond's ‘Voice’ course.
It took me right back to the start of ‘Life and How to Survive It’ – and how it’s all about integrating the parts of our programming that are still behind the screen.
Clare calls it peeling the layers the onion.
And, yes, despite my moment of realisation, it seems like I still have quite a few layers to peel!
But what a worthwhile thing to do.