All my life, as far back as I can remember, I was searching for something. I had no idea what that something was. Wherever I went, with whoever, to do whatever I constantly had this underlying current – an uncomfortable feeling in my own skin. This was regardless of how close and friendly I was to whoever I was sharing the moment with. It made little difference whether it was a fun and safe environment or a chaotic dangerous place (I preferred the danger and chaos, at least it had an emotional charge). My thoughts and emotions where completely unmanageable by me. Alcohol proved to be a life saver as Im sure I would never had made it through on my own having to deal with that inner hell. It was the mask I wore that hid all this from the rest of the world. I believed it was my best friend and over time it almost destroyed me. In a nutshell thats alcoholism. Alcohol was the solution I was searching for (and rapidly found from an early age), the ISM is the illness, one of its many symptoms I have just briefly explained to you. Theres more, a whole lot more, but that will do for now.
The 11th Step of the 12Step Program that I treat (it demands to be treat, one way or the other) the ISM with suggests Meditation (amongst other things).
By the time it came for me to work Step 11 I had already through the previous 10 Steps experienced “The necessary complete psychic change vital to sustaining recovery” (‘The Doctors Opinion’ – Big Book of AA). However the psychic change is impermanent, as is all things in life. It requires work on a daily basis – just for today; one day at a time! Alcoholism is a subtle foe!! So I set off on a remarkable journey into meditation. Meditation takes on many forms and is a personal endeavour. However it just so happens (Recovery has presented way too many incidents for me to still believe in coincidences ) that around this time, thanks to two individuals and the others they quickly enlisted the help of, a meditation centre of a unique variety came into fruition.
It all started at Changing Lives Recovery Centre late 2013. I was onboard almost from the start and would look forward to our monthly get-togethers . In a few short months it quickly outgrew the RC and moved into a Commercial Building in the centre of Newcastle. At this point gatherings where still monthly (last Saturday each month), but progressed to two classes – morning and afternoon. Numbers quickly outgrew the capacity of the building. Meditation was proven extremely popular. It was supported by a mixture of the recovery community and interested members of the public.
This gave birth to the ‘Just Meditation’ Centre of today. A building in the heart of Newcastle’s Westgate Road, purposely designed to facilitate daily meditation workshops. It is the brain child of the original founders – Fr Nicholas Buxton (St John the Baptist Church) & Ollie Bachelor (CE Client Services Changing Lives).
Nicholas is a Priest, but like many in attendance he has a colourful past – He was once a drop out who took copious amounts of drink and drugs before meditation helped him turn his life around. He drifted between jobs as a labourer, cleaner, painter & decorator and a barman while staying in squats and taking copious amounts of drink and drugs. He dreamed of being a writer, artist or musician but, by the age of 27, was living on a boat on the Isle of Wight, where he started a boatyard management course. But, after falling in with a group of bikers and drug dealers, he dropped out of the course and reached a point where his drinking became such a problem he wasn’t capable of holding down a job.
“I used to drink beer, stout, vodka, gin and wine. I would start in the morning and drink through the day, not every day, but I did drink a lot. I certainly had a problem.” He also took cannabis and speed and went through an acid phase but the alcohol was worse because, he says: “I couldn’t control it.”
His wake-up call came when his friend, Steve, who also lived on a boat, fell in and drowned while drunk: “That could have been me. We used to hang out and drink together and I had had a few near misses, falling in. I was very upset. It made me realise I had to get out of that lifestyle.”
Realising he needed to get away before he ended ‘washed up on a beach’ he sold all his possessions, including his prized punk rock and metal record collection, and headed to India, to ‘sort himself out’. After two years spent in Indian ashrams and a Thai Buddhist monastery in New Zealand, he returned to the UK to continue his spiritual journey: He was accepted by Cambridge University to read theology and religious studies, going on to gain a PhD in Buddhist philosophy before becoming ordained.
Ollie is Chief Executive Director of Client Services for Changing Lives, a national charity which provides specialist support services to vulnerable people and their families in order to help them make positive, lasting changes in their lives. He began work as a social worker in the late 1970’s, before training as a probation officer at the London School of Economics. He is a specialist on the subject of substance misuse and has worked throughout England and Scotland in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. Ollie is also a dedicated practitioner of meditation.
The building itself is exquisite. It maintains a touch of class whilst striving to remain simplistic. Though the new project is still in its infancy, numbers are relatively healthy. The group is a really good mixture, a very healthy, vibrant gathering, made of up of people in their 20s and 30s up to their 60s. It hasn’t achieved its goal of opening on a daily basis yet but is heading in that direction. New facilitators are been trained by Nicholas and volunteer posts are slowly but surely been taking up by those who value the importance of the centre.
Nicholas says – “You don’t need to travel to a retreat in the Bahamas or a beach in Bali in order to meditate. It’s here and now. It’s about regulating your attention, and not allowing your thoughts to wander, so you don’t get caught up in the busyness of your mind: “Harder to do than it looks.”
People usually begin with meditation to help with one particular life problem they are struggling with. There is a multitude of reasons, for example: to help with stress, quiet a busy mind, relieve anxiety and help calm worry, mental health issues, to make sense of of everything and find some serenity, as part of a 12 step program, or just to get some time to relax and unwind. There are many more examples, we usually start for one reason and find it helps us with other challenging situations. However meditation doesn’t just help us deal with the negative stuff we face, it also adds to the positive, accentuating the things we already enjoy. We find peace within ourselves and learn to lighten up and appreciate life. I myself have found I meditate for the sake of meditating. Thats not what I had in mind when I first started, but thats how its developed. All other benefits (and there are many) are an added bonus.
Meditating in a group, sharing openly on how we are developing our practice, what it helps with, what we find difficult about it and gaining others experience and perspective. These are the fruits of having a meditation centre in the midst of a busy city.
I encourage anyone who is interested to come along on a Saturday morning. Meditation starts 11am prompt, but the group meet at the centre for a cuppa and a chat around 10:30am.
The Newcastle Meditation Centre, 71b Westgate Road
Newcastle upon Tyne.
D&O in Freso