I first encountered meditation and mindfulness through Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. At the time, I was struggling with finding work-life balance as a public high school teacher. I never seemed to have much time for myself – just a few hours on Sunday afternoons. If I was lucky.
My work days would start at dawn. I’d wake up, work on lesson plans, and then go to school. At around 6pm, I would go home with mixed feelings about my worth as a teacher, make more lesson plans, eat dinner in 5-10 minutes, work some more, and then go to bed, to repeat again the next day. Weekends were the same minus teaching lessons. Sometimes I’d go to the gym for an hour. On top of lesson preparation, I was learning school protocols, preparing for meetings, and training myself to check my work emails regularly. I was also frequently defending my ideas and approach to teaching. My life felt overwhelming, exhausting, and emotionally painful.
I was willing to try almost anything to survive – even ‘hippy stuff.’ Making an effort to meditate led to a glimpse of a peace that escapism or alcohol couldn’t provide. These early attempts at meditation saved me from certain burnout and depression.
Having discovered an alternative to the whirlwind of self-criticism, anger, fear, stress, and shame inside, I began to put more effort into meditating. I incorporated what seemed useful for me and didn’t worry about the rest.
Soon, it became a foundation for my everyday life. Over the next few years, I deepened my practice on meditation retreats at Samye Ling temple in Scotland and Plum Village in France. This intensive practice on growing inner calm and peace led to deep shifts in my perspectives on happiness and what it means to live well. I also became a Buddhist and chose to practice the 5 Mindfulness Trainings (guidelines for freedom from suffering) for the rest of my life.
These shifts spread into my language teaching career. To my surprise, I was able to remain calmer in the face of conflict. I was able to be more accepting towards the mistakes and imperfections in myself and others. I could take a minute to mindfully walk down the hall of my school and really relax into it, momentarily free from pressure and stress.
Without a doubt, meditation saved my career and my sanity. I was able to get back in touch with my love for teaching and am calmer when encountering conflict.
I then crossed paths with Zenways, a UK-based Zen group that practices the Rinzai Zen Buddhist tradition and Zen yoga. Their focus on health and wellbeing as well as deeper insights into life impressed me. I took the leap and trained as a mindfulness and meditation teacher under the guidance of Julian ‘Daizan’ Skinner Roshi, the first Englishman to become a Rinzai Zen master in Japan. I also became one of Daizan’s Zen students.
Lately, I have been on retreat in Ireland, England, and Thailand to practice mindfulness, peaceful co-existence, and facing death to develop fearlessness. I also continue to work closely with Zen Master Daizan.
My aim is to help others to live healthier, more happily, and more peacefully. We can all be calm and clear like mountains. It just takes practice.