The story of my life is not remarkable. It’s not rich in tales of high drama, overcoming insurmountable obstacles, or displays of academic and artistic brilliance. In this respect, I’m ordinary. Like everyone else I’ve fantasized of achieving great distinction, of public acclaim and its attendant benefits. But In reality it can never be. The public gaze would be too much for me to bear. The characteristics I’ve inherited mark out the boundaries of what, for me, is possible; to realise these fantasies I would have to be someone else, which of course is impossible; to wish I were someone else is a self-betrayal. It seems clear cut - we have to accept ourselves. I’m happy being ordinary.
In setting the scene for my post I would love to recount a tale of blissful youth, a text-book joyride throughout early adulthood culminating in a fulfilled maturity. But that would be fiction. Neither can I claim the role of victim, wronged by others yet stoically fighting against all the odds to find contentment. Tales like these abound. And yet they gain their strength via the perpetration of ill deeds and selfish acts. So somewhere there are villains; don’t they have stories too?
I’ll own up. Due to my poor performance as a husband, father, and provider, I can claim the role of knave, or general ne’er-do-well. A minor villain. As a feckless youth, leaving school devoid of qualifications, direction, and common sense, I launched myself into the world of work with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a socially inept, self-absorbed, and callow youth. From 16 through to 30 I had a string of non-memorable jobs, long periods of unemployment, a wedding, and four children. Drink bingeing sessions were the order of the day. This went hand in hand with nights away and ill-afforded money spent, culminating with a year out, living with another woman. I was around thirty years old when I found myself back at home with my family, tail between my legs, facing the biggest crisis of my life.
It’s an understatement to say I was in poor shape. Confidence all but destroyed, and self-esteem at an all time low, I felt helpless - a sad, self-pitying wretch, at the end of his tether, unable to stand the pain of self-loathing. I sought help. Not professional, simply advice; assistance to help relieve the suffering. I became steeped in self-help books, psychology, psychotherapy, and all kinds of faddish treatments purporting to heal wounded souls. Each night would find me sitting,surrounded by these books. I would alternate between avidly looking for the solution to my particular ills, and intense introspection. It became a nightly ritual, a meditation. It bore fruit.
The change was instant. What I once thought of as metaphor became reality - I saw the light. It came without warning, as if a switch flicked, initiating a flood of brightness. I was awash, internally and externally. The room became clearer, more intensely vivid than it had ever been before. More importantly, this was accompanied by the absolute conviction that I knew The Truth. The Secret. I chuckled to myself as my morbid preoccupations melted away, replaced by a deep joy. A cliché I know, but this is how it was. I make no apologies.
How long this lasted, I have no idea, it could have been 5 or even 50 minutes. As for the profound knowledge I held, this had gone as quickly as it came. But it did have a lasting effect. The profundity of the experience lay in its unequivocal demonstration of the transience of everyday knowledge. How we feel about ourselves isn’t fixed. There is no reality in self-loathing. It was all I needed to know.
Had I been of a religious disposition, there’s no doubt I would have interpreted this ‘intervention’ as the work of God. Or had there been a 'voice', or unambiguous sign, this story might have taken a different turn; unfortunately, as spectacular as it was, there was no logic inherent in the experience compelling me to draw such a conclusion. Being of a rational sceptical nature, I was simply amazed at the wondrous mechanism we call “mind”. God, it may not have been, but it was good.
We can never know for sure if moments in our lives were pivotal. It may be the case that we were heading in that direction anyway, and we use out of the ordinary moments as markers, or dramatic devices for telling our stories. I don’t know. But I have to believe my epiphany, was the decisive moment in my adult life. Almost at a stroke, I stopped smoking, reduced drinking, got into shape, and more importantly, I took responsibility for my life. Life, for my family and I, got immeasurably better.
The telling of this story is not intended to suggest I have in some way been chosen, or that I own powers far above the ordinary. On the contrary, it can happen to anyone. I was fortunate. I had unwittingly created conditions forcing me into focused meditation. The results are not uncommon, except in many cases it is intended - monks and mystics have been doing it for at least two thousands years. Neither can I claim to be a good person. The episode served to move me forward from a position of helplessness, to a level where I had control, and therefore hope. I still have a long way to go and I would love another boost in the form of a “religious experience”, but that’s being greedy. I’ll have to settle for perspiration rather than “inspiration”, whether divine or otherwise. I cannot forget that many others, lost and helpless, are never so fortunate. I often wonder where I would have been today had it not been for this helping hand. It’s taught me not to judge too harshly.
There, but for the grace of something, go I.