From the age of 13 I had a close-knit group of friends at school. When I was around 15 this all changed. After a lot of painful discussions, I fell out with my friends and they turned on me, leaving me feeling isolated and alone, at an age in which I was trying to figure out who I was and what my place was in the world. This was incredibly distressing. During this time, I noticed an advert in my local library for Buddhist meditation classes. Maybe I was being an idealistic teenager; maybe I was just curious, but something caught my eye and I took myself along to one of those classes. I was the youngest there by about 20 years. And yet my lasting memory was not particularly the meditation, although that was important; it was of being taken seriously and being treated like an adult. Here was an opportunity for exploration.
I continued to attend classes for a number of months. Through the classes I learned to understand my own suffering in a more compassionate way – and understand that suffering and difficulty is a natural part of life. I learned that I was not alone. Although we are all so different in many ways, we all share what it is to be human.
When I was 18, I moved up to Newcastle to go to university and I forgot all about meditation and Buddhism for a number of years, while my experience of ‘finding myself’ included studying, partying and drinking. However, in 2006, following the break-up of a relationship, I remembered that something had helped me once. I went online and searched for ‘meditation’ and ‘Newcastle’ and found the Newcastle Buddhist Centre. I went along to their regular class and it was like coming home.
I began supporting classes and leading meditation in 2007. At that time I was in university and had just started my PhD. During the course of my PhD, as my meditation practice and interest in Buddhism developed, my interest in an academic career began to fade. Instead, I felt moved to share what I had gained with others. In 2010 I began training as a Breathworks mindfulness trainer. At the same time I also retrained as a therapeutic counsellor. Both of these were completely life-changing experiences. In learning to teach and support others I learned even more about myself.
Unfortunately, I soon also learned that many of the people who might need and benefit from the skills I had just acquired are often unable to afford private classes, courses and sessions and I realised that I wanted to offer a service that was as inclusive as possible. In 2013, I set up Mindfulness Based Therapies (now Mindful Therapies) in order to provide mindfulness classes and courses to as many people as possible regardless of income. It has been an absolute privilege to do the work that I have been doing over the last two years. I have met and worked with some wonderful people. I feel constantly inspired by watching people grow and develop through taking the courage to make positive changes.
At the same time, I began to make changes in my own life and practice. My Buddhist practice, that had once been so important to me, had started to feel stale, and I was beginning to question whether it was still working for me. Where was my sense of joy and inspiration? Somewhere along the line I had lost sight of this and so I began to take a step back. In the beginning of 2015 I began to move away from my volunteering role at the Newcastle Buddhist Centre and began exploring what it might mean to no longer call myself a Buddhist. While still very much practicing the Dharma (teachings of the Buddha), I am realising that the label ‘Buddhist’ is no longer an accurate description of my beliefs and practice. 2015 has become a year of inspiration and exploration in which I am discovering different meditation practices and different ways of thinking about mindfulness.
I am still constantly exploring and developing my practice and my practice constantly changes. It is really important to me to stay inspired and keep my practice fresh. I find it so useful to continually ask myself – what inspires me? I am so grateful for having discovered meditation and mindfulness all those years ago. At the time I had no idea it would lead to me setting up a company and teaching others. My practice has taken my life in a direction I never anticipated and who knows where it will lead…?