It was the winter of 1986 when my older sister frizbeed 15 year old me a cassette tape her friend had given her. As she passed my bedroom door, my sister presciently commented that I was probably going to be more into it than she would be. The cassette was labelled ‘guided progressive muscle relaxation’. I found a quiet space where I wouldn’t be disturbed, lay on my back in the dark and clicked ‘play’ on my Walkman. A true beginner, I had no expectations, was curious and bored on a school night. A slow, calm voice proceeded to guide a basic progressive muscle relaxation involving lifting each limb parallel to the floor and tensing the muscles for a minute before allowing the limbs to rest on the floor again. As I worked through every muscle group I became aware of novel sensations, a growing depth of peace and calm I was experiencing in my whole body. I remember thinking how easy it would be to fall asleep but just as easy to stay awake and rest in this new state of being. At the end of the 45 minute recording I was amazed at the sense of contentment I felt in my mind, body and buzzing around my heart. A typical angst-ridden teen, suddenly everything in life was okay just as it was, and even more amazingly, I felt that I myself was okay just as I was. I decided to put this new state of being to the test so I walked through the house engaging with family members. I felt like an astronaut exploring a new land from deep within my padded space suit of bliss. This sense of safe detachment and inner peace was such a revelation that I half expected family members to notice and ask what was up with me, but they all behaved as normal for them, adding to my realisation that this inner space was a sanctuary, and a completely new way of being in the world.
That was the beginning of my journey with meditation that is now in its 36th year. The path has been varied, from open-eyed raja yoga meditation, satsang with self-proclaimed gurus in India, to all-night arms in the air Vedic chanting fiestas, self-guided nature immersions, yoga nidra, and ten day silent insight meditation retreats. Over the years I consumed many ancient texts and modern books, undertook mindfulness based cognitive therapy training, studied social sciences and counselling, sat with many eastern and western teachers and at times tried on other people’s and cultures’ spiritual belief systems for size. Through all of this I came to realise that reading books can be inspiring but ultimately is no substitute for doing the practice. I have learnt that teachers are only there to show us that they are flawed human beings like the rest of us, and that while a guide on the path is needed for some sections, no one can do the work for us, and the inner journey is our own to walk. My beliefs have evolved through many cycles of grasping and releasing concepts, and today I feel that hard rules and dogmatic spiritual belief systems are a potentially dangerous form of security and should never replace our own spiritual wisdom that comes simply by observing and turning towards knowing oneself.
Twenty years into my meditation adventure, I was invited to teach mindfulness to people with cancer. Witnessing revelations, sharing in struggles, and receiving wise feedback, opened me to even more of the possibilities available through regular practice. It has been a great privilege to guide war veterans, young people, people with pain and suffering of all kinds, and those preparing for the end of their life to explore their inner worlds through meditation. It is not a cliché or hyperbole when I say, my students have been my greatest teachers. In taking the seat of the teacher, I aim to hold a space for meditation which is open to diverse experiences by inviting you to find your own way and make your own choices. I think often of the simplicity of my first experiences of meditation and how transformative an uncluttered sequence of cues can be. With that in mind, I seek to communicate techniques clearly, with neither mysticism nor fundamentalism. I aim to allow your experience to be your own and to not cloud your journey towards self with my own or others’ beliefs. I offer time-tested techniques with space for creative approaches, provide the opportunity to reflect, share and refine, with support and tips for moving through or around common obstacles to practice as they arise.