In 1992 I found myself studying Illustration at Cartrefle Art College in north Wales in Wrexham. I was 21 and, to borrow the words of writer Nick Kent,
“a weird kid, certainly – moody, introspective, unsure of himself, girlish-looking, long limbed, fresh faced, a victim of bad posture”.
I had pretensions of making some great artistic statement on the world, but if you had asked me at the time what that would be I would have been hard-pressed to give a clear answer. I had several goals in mind when I attended art college: one was to loose my virginity and get a girlfriend (I had been something of a late starter when it came to puberty and felt it a urgent matter to make up for lost time); the other goal was to make new friends and have new experiences.
By the end of my first term at college my life was in full swing. I was dating a very attractive young woman called Nadia who was Saudi Arabian and, in my romantic longing, exuded a certain exotic charm over me. I was surrounded by a large collection of new friends, including several friends whom I felt a deep connection with and a sense that I could really be myself as well as share a desire to question and ponder the mysteries of life. At this stage in my life I was rather shy and lacking in confidence – I had been bullied in my years at school and so to find myself popular with so many friends (and also at the centre of a certain amount of attention from the young women at the college, who seem to take a shine to my pretty, androgynous looks) I found rather intoxicating and a bit overwhelming.
Somewhere in the midst of all this my good friend Steve and myself decided that we would like to learn to meditate. We both shared a interest in eastern mysticism and I had read Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, and was fascinated by the ideas around changing one consciousness through other means than drugs. We discovered a meditation class, run by a small Buddhist group several miles away in Llangollen, and soon began making our weekly visit to these classes where we were introduced to several meditation practices, which included the Mindfulness of the Breathing body and the Metta Bhavana the cultivation of loving kindness. After a while of attending these classes and practicing meditation at home we attended a weekend retreat where we had the opportunity to explore meditation in more depth.
The Monday following the retreat I was in Wrexham when I noticed that I started to feel a little strange and unsettled; suddenly strong emotion’s and feelings began to flood my body and tears began to fill my eyes. I felt a bit freaked-out and was not sure what was happening, so I decided the best course of action was to seek refuge at a friend’s house and I rushed round to my friend Annie’s house. She invited me in and offered me a cup of tea. As we spoke I mentioned what had happened and found myself breaking down in floods of tears as I suddenly realized that any new-found confidence that I felt about myself and my life had come from external sources, such as a beautiful girlfriend or being popular, but deep inside myself not much had really changed. I was still the shy young man, lacking any real confidence in himself or a sense of positive self-worth .
I believe I glimpsed a truth that day that had a profound effect on me and shaped the course of my life till this day. I realized that unless I did some kind of inner work on myself then I would spend the rest of my life running from one relationship, or situation, to the next, looking for security or affirmation. It was very challenging and unsettling to admit this to myself, but even then, as a naive young man, I glimpsed something that day. I feel it is important to realize that if we seek refuge in the external world around us as a basis for our sense of self worth and identity then we are constantly in a process of having to actively maintain these external forms to defend and define our sense of self. These aspects of our life that we take to be fixed and solid are impermanent and subject to change and flux. If however we choose to shift our focus inward, then our way of being in relation to the world becomes very different. We can still have fulfilling relationships and material possessions but we no longer look to them to define who we are. My continued exploration of Buddhism, yoga and meditation has been an expression of this and something that continues to support me as I make my way through the world.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.