30/04/2014 07:58 BST | Updated 29/06/2014 06:59 BST

Mindfulness and Transformation: The Journey From Mentally Ill to Mentally Well

When I first started meditating, I was pretty clueless. Like so many anxiety-ridden, stressed-out happiness seekers, I just didn't get it. I wanted to get rid of the pain and suffering in my life, and I was in a hurry, but that's just not how it works and so my efforts yielded only superficial results.

It was pretty easy to sit quietly on my cushion and I'm sure that I did an excellent impression of a meditator, as I was all calm and still on the outside. However, there was a battle raging on the inside. I was filled with all manner of anger, hurt, bitterness and resentment; feelings that I had long suppressed in childhood, a childhood beset by abandonment, neglect and emotional abuse. I was in such a volatile emotional state that it was as though the connection between my head and heart had been severed for my own protection. Unfortunately, these things don't stay suppressed forever and when they eventually imploded I was diagnosed with various different psychiatric disorders, given a whole host of pharmaceuticals and sent on my merry way.

For a short while, the drugs calmed things down, but they were only treating the symptoms and I was interested in eradicating the cause, but sadly my psychiatrist was not and it was then that I embarked upon my journey of transformation in earnest.


I'd had a glimpse of what was possible in meditation and so I returned to it with a stronger sense of commitment. At first it was frustrating. I was all up in my head, still disconnected from my heart. There was way too much pain in there and my practice was merely an intellectual pursuit. It wasn't until I opened myself up fully to the experience of meditation and the experience of life that the transformation really began and it was mindfulness that led the way.

Mindfulness is not simply about being aware of something in your mind. It's not just about being mindful of this or that. It's a state of mind and heart that is cultivated by paying attention to every moment as it unfolds, openly, with compassion and without expectation or judgement. Quite a tall order for someone like me, but I persevered. The trouble is, you just can't think your way happy. You have to experience it and to do that, you have to experience life fully, all of it - the good, the bad and the indifferent.

For most of my life, the trauma of my childhood ruled everything. The real me was never allowed to be and, in an incredible feat of human nature, was protected by the various disguises I wore to navigate the world. Although as a child these disguises kept me safe and helped me get through the pain, as an adult they held it prisoner and mindfulness was the key to its release.

Whatever pain I suffered, and it was at times excruciating, mindfulness allowed me to just sit with the pain, to acknowledge it, know it and to say, "This is pain. This is suffering" and to not fear it. To just be with your pain, allowing it, accepting it and finally, slowly and gently letting it go is liberating.

This transformation may have started on my meditation cushion, but it didn't just remain there. Mindfulness is a life skill, it is relational, linking thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations with intentions and actions, with life as we live it everyday. Without mindfulness, meditation would be just escapism, a refuge from life, and it would be of little practical use. Instead, a life infused with mindfulness is balanced, centred and content, loving, empathetic and compassionate, awake and alive to all that is present, to the joys and sorrows of life as one. And it is not just your own joys and sorrows that need to be held in awareness, but the joys and sorrows of everyone, because the external, relational aspects of mindfulness remind us that we are all connected.

And now, having cleared the emotional backlog, I deal with life as it comes. This doesn't mean that I don't experience pain and suffering. I do. We all do. It's just a part of being human, but now with mindfulness I am able to just be with whatever I experience, to know when something needs my attention and when I need to let go. I'm just grateful to have mindfulness as my trusted companion along my journey.