It was some time ago now. Looking back, it feels like another life that someone else was living for me. But it wasn’t too long ago after all; almost yesterday in the greater insignificance of one lifetime. I was living out of a single room in the flatlet I was using as my practice. Trying desperately to juggle the needs of others and the expectations they had of me, with my own burning desires for myself. It was an impossible task with an inevitable ending. It was just a matter of time before I would have to make a move that would bring an end to my life as I had been knowing it and drastically change the lives of those around me. But it wasn’t that dramatic, really, it was just symbolic of the internal shifts that had already been made inside of me. You know those things that happen to you that you only realise in retrospect?
“Just come and live with me she said” one day. Giggling at her own seriousness. And so I did. And so we began. It was only going to be temporary. She had left commercial flying to go on a walk-about through India. I was unpacking my lost dreams, trying to find what I truly desired. Through truly wanting freedom for each other, we allowed one another to feel truly seen and believed in for the first time in our lives.
Soon we began, without even realising it, to imagine a life together. Or rather, increasingly, we could not imagine one without each other. A strange thing for two atheists with little value for societal norms to admit. Over the years, I had worked with every description of struggle. From bored housewives, or people who had lost the ability to speak, to those needing something as drastic as a change in their own physical gender. Few people were nearly as remarkable as Fiona. But, I was starting to realise that there was a common question underlying all therapeutic conversations – How do I go on? How can I carve out some sort of purpose to my everyday existence? It started to feel as if our days together, the relationship between Fiona and I, had become an embodiment of these very questions.
As we sat talking one evening about our pains, our longings, our histories and the new experiences we wanted for each other, I said “Don’t go to India, let’s bring India to you”. Somehow, through this, we found a shared dream. A dream I had once lost and then found in the remarkable human that Fiona is – The Centre for Purposeful Living.
We stumbled upon a house that would set the stage for our desires. And, since then, it has not only been our home but a philosophy café; a meditation studio; a yoga ashram; a tai-chi venue; a live music gig; and, even, a safe space for shibari (Japanese rope bondage).
The trouble with purpose is you don’t always choose it, it often chooses you. During lockdown the house became a homeschool and our retreat accommodation was repurposed to store food for those in need. All driven by Fiona and the abundance of her love. She could not help but respond, in some way, to the needs of the time.
The need for food is growing and if we can continue to secure funding, we hope that the #FoodFirst project will become a permanent community project. The world in lock-down has revealed many cracks in the fabric of our society. But as Leonard Cohen would say “that’s how the light gets in”.
Social distancing has simultaneously induced a compression of emotions for most of us. Those who have continued with therapy seem to have gone through some of the most intense transitions in their lives. We have had to work hard to make the most of the cracks that #lockdown has revealed.
We will be reopening the Centre for Purposeful Living as soon as it feels sensible to do so. But, for now, you can join Fiona and I in a Mindfulness Based Approach to Addiction and an intensive Vipassana Retreat (available soon, online). By November we hope that it will be safe to host our retreat at the Buddhist Retreat Centre, as planned: Buddhism, Existential Philosophy and Psychotherapy. If this is not possible, it will also be made available online.
In the meantime, in these uncertain times, I think it is important to demonstrate love. The days ahead of us will still take courage. They will require that we have conviction in our beliefs, in what truly matters. As Leonard would encourage “Love is the only engine of survival”.