This week a friend of mine will walk away from his rapidly growing clothing line. He will switch off his iPhone, turn off his Mac, and drop out from Facebook, Twitter and every other social media.
He will give up the ambition that has made his fashion business start to be recognised worldwide, and he will give up the social life that sees him flit in and out of hundreds of peoples lives every day.
This week my friend will be ordained as a Buddhist monk.
As an out and proud atheist I am in awe of his willingness to step away from the very thing that drives and defines him, and also at a time and in an industry where a fickle mind is the very thing that puts money in his pockets. Fashion is fickle and immediate, of course classic brands will remain and would have us believe that style will endure, but are any of us ever really brave enough to give up our passion, our growing business, a love affair or even our favourite meal in the hope of enlightenment?
Or at the very least, for a very large portion of good karma?
I look at the things I have amassed over the years and surrounded myself with, and not just the material things (of which there are many) but also the relationships and friendships I've nurtured or walked away from. I look to the rituals and 'quirks' I have that allow me to leave the house every morning and prepare me emotionally and physically every day, and I wonder if I could ever truly give them up? I try very hard to live a simple, uncomplicated life but when I think about the minor details that make my day run smoothly, things like a perfectly timed tube arrival and then actually getting a seat, or a deadline met with time to spare, or even down to just getting my favourite shower stall at the gym and I wonder, could I ever give up the inconsequential for a months worth of meditating and quiet reflection? Are any of us willing to let go of the things we can control to gain a little more insight into the things that make us 'tick'?
The reasons for my friend taking the decision to be ordained are personal to him but after talking to him and learning what his time in the temple will consist of, it is the total opposite of how most of us live our lives now. I am not talking about spirituality or moral code but more about the way our lives are filled with details and distractions and how our minds are filled with things we will never really need or learn to use. How many of us become annoyed because the barista didn't make our coffee just how we like it or because we didn't get included in a group email? How many of us really concentrate on what we should be doing or whom we should be paying attention to? It's so difficult to focus on anything constructive and when we do focus on ourselves, it's normally on how good our hair looks, rather than 'how can I make myself a better and calmer person today?'
"I will have to eat what I am given, I cannot ask for anything at all, I will have to sleep on the floor, speak quietly, sleep little, eat little. Practice patience, self-control and self-awareness every single waking moment of the day. During the time I'm a monk the key is to be mindful of every thought and every action. Not to yearn for anything, not to acknowledge when I'm hungry, to suppress sexual desire and not even think of it. When I'm walking only focus on walking, when I'm meditating I'm only meditating."
Sounds like hell doesn't it? I seriously do not know if I could do it or if I'd even want to. I've even given it some thought that maybe it's just his perfect excuse to step away from the frivolity and inherent falseness of fashion, but fashion is my friends business and he's very good at it. The decision to become ordained is not some spur of the moment whim or a "I need a sabbatical' ego trip. This isn't an 'Eat, Love, Pray' research trip either, it's a personal decision that is also part of his culture, his upbringing and at the core of how he makes his life choices. From listening to Mark and understanding his reasons for wanting to walk away from a life that some may see as glamorous and others deem as meaningless, it makes sense for him to step back and just let life 'be', but he is very driven and his company is his (financial) lifeline.
The boss isn't just going on a holiday, he's going away to become a monk. He may not ever come back? Or maybe he'll come back forever changed?
"When I was working on my most recent range an American friend said he finds it bizarre how I can be a Buddhist and function in the fashion industry. I said to him that you can work in any industry, no matter how bitchy or catty and still be Buddhist. If you don't associate, rise to or put yourself in those negative situations, 9 times out of 10 you don't find yourself in them. Some of my friends are Atheist and say that they don't believe in Buddhism. My response to them is, even if it is all hocus pocus, and karma, reincarnation, and merit do not exist? At least I am learning a psychology of how to simplify my life and how to do every action out of kindness... Surely something good will come from that?"
I'm not a Buddhist but for me these are the simple principles I try and live my own life by, but I still do not know if I could sacrifice all of my little comforts, the things that make my day better, or the relationships that help me to be strong to truly find some peace or the ever elusive 'enlightenment' that most of us are searching for, but what is most inspiring about Marks journey is he isn't sure of what he will find either.
I've asked him what he will miss most and he told me it would be his partner. His business will be hard to let go of and hard not to focus on but he has faith it will still be there without him, and even though his business is all about appearance, he's certainly not going to miss his hair or his eyebrows or any of his expensive denim. He's not going to be aware of getting or missing 'that Friday feeling' either because he'll be sat crossed leg in 'saffron robes' and enjoying peaceful solitude.
I have no idea if saffron is in this season but I guess ultimately, in Mark Thomas Taylor's case, once you're 'in fashion' you're never really out of it, even when you're a monk.