Some people count themselves lucky to have one calling in life. I count myself extremely blessed to have had two.
The first came at the age of seven. I was sitting in front of the television, watching George Best being interviewed by a suited and booted BBC reporter immediately after the 1968 European Cup Final. There and then I decided what I was going to do with my life. It wasn’t that I decided I was going to be a footballer like George Best. What I was going to be was the man who asked the questions. What I was going to be was an interviewer. That was my calling.
Through my twenties, thirties and forties, I lived an enviable life, at least on the face of it. For those three decades, I travelled the world interviewing A-list Hollywood actors, rock stars and sports personalities for national newspapers and magazines. A typical day’s ‘work’ for me involved holding conversations with the likes of Paul McCartney, Drew Barrymore, Van Morrison, Usain Bolt, Keith Richards, Denzel Washington, Madonna and Smokey Robinson. Even George Best.
I’d realised my dream and was being paid well for doing what I loved. But I was rarely happy.
I’d always been an anxious child, suffering from frequent panic attacks. In adulthood, there were frequent bouts of heavy depression. By the time I reached the age of thirty, most of my waking hours were spent in a state of anxiety, to one degree or another. I became so accustomed to feeling anxious that it became completely normal. I’d reached a point where I couldn’t imagine a life without anxiety. I was living on my nerves, living on autopilot, at the mercy of my own thoughts, lost in the endless story of my life, never listening to what my body was telling me. Looking back, I can see that I was barely showing up in my own life. Instead I was constantly restless, always striving to be somewhere else. Anywhere but here, in the moment.
As I embarked on yet another trip to meet yet another celebrity, my life appeared to be going just fine. But there was a rumbling under the floorboards telling me that things were far from fine.
Towards the end of 2012, in my fiftieth year, that rumbling under the floorboards got louder and louder and louder. My life appeared to be collapsing all around me. Yet another catastrophic romantic relationship had hit the rocks. My father was about to die. Work was drying up. I was in big financial trouble. I was in the middle of three major health scares. My home situation had become untenable. My drinking was out of control and I was sleeping with difficulty. My days were taut with anxiety, heavy with depression. Around this time I often thought about suicide and it was the casual way I thought about it that troubled me, scared me.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I understood that the life I was living was no longer sustainable but I could not for the life of me imagine how I was going to start turning things around.
Then I discovered mindfulness. For some people, mindfulness is a slow, steady process. It might take months before they start noticing any major benefits. For others, like myself, it is immediately transformative.
Within the first few days of meditation practice, I noticed that I was travelling that little bit lighter. Within a few weeks, I started to realise that I wasn’t feeling remotely anxious. I could see that I was disengaging from my old mental habits. I was no longer feeding my old reactive patterns. The past and the future had lost their ominous power. I was finding it easier and easier to experience the present moment as it really is.
In meditation, I discovered the kind of quiet spaciousness that I’d been looking for all my life. With practice, I learned how to carry that quiet spaciousness away from the meditation bench and into the rest of my day. Truly, it felt like I had found an entirely new way of being.
In the midst of it all, I discovered my second calling: teaching mindfulness. In 2014 I became fully qualified as a mindfulness teacher, having trained for a year with Sussex Partnership/NHS in Brighton & Hove.
In 2016 I formed the Brighton Mindfulness Centre with Gerard Evans. Since that time, we have worked together on a wide range of mindfulness and wellbeing teaching enterprises. In 2017, we co-wrote and published The Turning Point, which incorporates an eight-week mindfulness course.
These days, I can barely recognize my old self, the anxious, depressed individual for whom peace of mind seemed like an impossible dream. Mindfulness practice has truly transformed my life. It has helped me to enjoy a more wakeful, healthier, happier life, a life turned towards experience rather than away, a life of connection rather than alienation, a life travelled lightly rather than weighed down with fears and anxieties.
On my approach to teaching, I recognise that, if this practice has worked for me, then it has the potential to work for anybody.