“My limbs are like palm trees
Swaying in the breeze
My body’s an oasis
To drink from as you please
I’m not seeing what I’m meant to believe in
Your non excuse for human being
“The image is no images
It’s not what it seems”
Soixsie and the Banshees, Mirage, 1978.
It was 1978 and the punk scene was exploding and my first ever gig was Siouxsie
and the Banshees. You were either after cocaine and money or you were angry
about apartheid, Thatcher, racism, whaling, sexual abuse or just men in general
and usually pissed or stoned or both.
I was more a psychedelic anarchist and moved into the border-lands of
subculture and student life. I wasn’t just interested in busting the system, I
wanted to bust up the illusion of reality that created the system in the first place.
In my final year I graduated to psychiatric hospital with Honours in acute
It wasn’t just dope that did it, although it never happened without quite a lot of it.
Early childhood trauma, mistrust of authority, self-reliance, and a harshly
reckless analytical mind are probably equally to blame.
As a child I had been taught to pray using simple mantra-like phrases. I came to
the conclusion that the machine of the Universe was Love because it was the only
thing that wished to be. Everything else was shadow and so long as we have
some kind of concept of “God” out there we must always be separate from “Him”.
Ultimately connection with whatever you want to call it had to be in a state of
awareness of “reality” unobstructed by some kind of idea about it or prayer to it.
So I learned how to develop nonconceptual awareness but I didn’t know this was
called meditation. Over time I learned more.
It is only through learning; through practice especially at times of mental
torment, contemplation, reading, listening to teachings, in discussions that this
practice has developed and I have found a purpose in life. This practice takes you
to a place where you cannot live unless you see the only valid life as a life
dedicated to understanding, kindness and compassion to oneself and to others.
Once you have taken the “red pill” nothing is the same again. Once you have seen
the madness of it all you have only three choices. Go mad yourself, sedate
yourself, or try to change the world. How do we do that? We have no choice but
to work out how.
In days gone by, we could become a monk or hermit, shamen or healer, but today
this means we have to step up to the challenge to make a better world because
society has taken us to a place where we are destroying the planet that gives us
life itself. The world has not really gone mad. The world has always been mad in
some sense or another.
Mental illness is an epidemic but the cause of the problem is not depression,
anxiety and stress caused by some kind of new virus of “madness”, it is society
itself. Something has not so much gone very wrong, it has just got worse and
worse over time. We are at a threshold of change. We have to face this change or
face our own destruction. The planet will survive.
Human sadness in our society is connected to the way we are fouling up the life
support systems of planet. It is caused by the way we drive ourselves to acquire
things that give us a sense of who we are. We are driven by our need to find
meaning and security in our own achievements and our ability to store up
wealth; to safeguard our individual futures, rather than share what we have with
our fellow human beings. Social injustice creates fear of social disadvantage and
so we all become sheep protected by the mindless shepherd of profit and
To save the world we need to learn to give “just for the hell of it”. To save
ourselves we have to learn how to love. To save the world we have to start by
understanding our own minds and relearn what actually feels good in our
bodies. We must be true to ourselves and be smart about it. This takes courage
and understanding and mindfulness is the key.
This is why I gave up my work in environmental management. I gave up trying to
make a more sustainable world by raising awareness, policy and politics and
became the midwife of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. I helped to establish it
and then became its Development Manger, taking evidence-based mindfulness
into the Oxford University for students and the workplace.
In the end though, mindfulness as therapy, self-help and performance
enhancement are only a Trojan horses for change. They can become social
control or navel gazing at best. If it doesn’t empower each one of us to make to
make a difference mindfulness could just help us fuck up the world faster than
we are already. “Making a difference” is the cure for madness both for ourselves
and others in this crazy world. This is what mindfulness4change.com is all about.