Addiction and Awakening
My mental health had never been good, an anxious child became a neurotic and fearful teenager and by the age of 14 I’d already developed an unhealthy dependence upon alcohol. By my 30s it was manifesting into full blown alcoholism and a whole collection of other addictive behaviours, anxiety disorders and chronic debilitating depression. To put it bluntly, I was a mess.
In 1999 someone bought me a book on meditation, I long ago gave the book away and can’t remember it’s title but the introduction has stuck with me. The author listed all the things meditation is good for. Depression, yes I ticked that box, anxiety, yes that one too, addictions, I had loads of those, tick that box. It was quite a long list and I think that I ticked pretty much all of the boxes. But then it said something which at the time seemed quite strange; it said that if you practice meditation and mindfulness with any degree of seriousness it will change you and fundamentally change how you understand yourself and experience the world. I thought no more about it. I practiced because I needed to find a way out of my suffering, and it worked, quickly I found that my mind was slowing down and I could enjoy some real space from my troubled mind. After a few months I could find relief from my mind without recourse to alcohol, I didn’t need it anymore, so I stopped drinking.
And then it happened. I hadn’t been off the booze for long, only a few months, when I experienced what I now understand to be an awakening. It didn’t last long and I’m no enlightened master (ask my partner) but it changed things for me. Just as the book described, it fundamentally changed my understanding of myself and my experience of the world. I knew that the suffering I’d been through was unnecessary and that there is a way out and having made that discovery how could I stand back and watch the suffering of others and do nothing? I could see the possibilities Mindfulness offers us as individuals but also the wonderful potential mindful living offers for all humanity.
So ever since then I’ve been telling anyone who would listen, very few at first, but now many many people want to listen
It seemed obvious to me that Mindfulness offered the solution and in 2002 I was the first person in the UK to teach Mindfulness as a treatment for addiction and have helped more than 300 people to find a complete and lasting recovery to what is widely believed to be an incurable disease. As well as helping hundreds of others with depression, anxiety, mental and emotional suffering. It’s been a wonderful journey, fantastic fun and I’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve worked with top sports people, entrepreneurs, celebrities, senior executives at Blue chip companies; I’ve been on TV and radio and had my work featured in a BBC documentary. I’ve even been invited to the House of Lords (I don’t think I’ll be invited back).
But you don’t need to be unwell to practice mindfulness and it soon became clear to me that it could help everyone. In 2010 I founded The Now Project, to help bring Mindfulness to as many people as I can. The project didn’t have a name for the first three years and there was no real plan, but the project has evolved and is now so much more than me. We’ve run about 70 mindfulness retreats, hundreds of classes and introduced more than 5000 people to a better way of living. The Now Project is bringing Mindfulness to so many people and it’s a joy to do this work.