Haven’t done much, I must admit. I’ve had a tough few weeks. I allowed momentum to slow to a halt after my great week with Hugh and the NCMH bods and have struggled to get started again. I’ve done little comedy work, I’ve canceled gigs […]
The Little Lay Buddhist Who Could…
I’ve been meditating, on and off, for about eighteen years now. I’ve been practicing mindfulness since I was a child – I just didn’t know I was doing it. I’d lie on the grass in Gelli Park (soon to feature, along side little ol’ me in an upcoming edition of BBC Wales Live!), close my eyes, and watch the veins in my eyelids, feel the warm summer breeze on my skin and listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees, the birds in the sky, the children playing…and some cunt with a disk-cutter.
I don’t know what it is with Valleys Folk ™ but unless they can hear a disk-cutter, tile-cutter, or some other kind of saw in the background then it ain’t summer. Fuck you and your swallows.
That was me meditating when I was a kid, that was. I discovered The Dharma Bums, Alan Watts, and all that shit in my late teens, as you do, but I was also a software nerd and so fell in love with Hackers by Stephen Levy and the whole culture that formed back in those days around Berkeley, MIT, the Homebrew Computer Club etc.
I happily rolled along with completely the wrong idea of what Buddhism is for a couple of years and then one day, coming back from a training course in Bristol and quite by chance, I picked up a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. After sitting in the summer sun in the front garden of our then-home in Maesycwmmer, I was reduced to Paltrow-level blubbing by the sheer force of kindness, compassion, and empathy in the book. Rinpoche, embodying the Bodhisattva spirit, I guess, had produced a work of gentle strength and raging compassion. I decided to dive deeper.
I checked out a few introductory texts, The Elements of Buddhism by John Snelling is one that I particularly enjoyed. It contains a sound introduction to most schools of Buddhism and is a short, easily digested reference, perfect for the interested layperson.
I’m a perfectionist, in the pejorative sense. Unless everything is in it’s place and all the ducks are standing to attention, to self-indulgently mix a few metaphors for a while, I can’t start shit. This is one of the major end-of-level baddies I’m gonna have to smack the shit out of in order to progress. Writers’ Block like you would not believe.
This perfectionism insinuated itself into my search for further guidance, reading, and like-minded folk. (Those among you of a Buddhist persuasion will have already noticed that I was – unknowingly, at the time – searching for what some of us call The Three Jewels: The Buddha, as personified by a ** teacher; The Dharma as encompassed by the teachings of The Buddha; and The Sangha, the community of lay and monastic Buddhist practitioners). My perfectionism hindered my acquisition of knowledge: during one sincerely silly five minutes I found myself hesitating while deliberating over two schools of Buddhism because one wore brown robes and the other, the cooler, more Zen-like black.
Madness, but I was a young man.
Once I’d gotten over my childish Western desire to pick something that would bolster my own view of myself and my ego instead of challenging it, I met with a group of Ch’an (Chinese Zen) practitioners in Cardiff. I practiced on and off with them for some time, with long periods of absence, my perfectionism and frustration thwarting my attempts at any kind of long-term, committed practice. I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready. I practice nonetheless.
In one episode of Porridge, after The Miracle of The Missing Echo, Bunny Warren tells Fletch,
“I was brought up a Catholic. Not a very good one but something like this, well…makes you think, don’t it?”
That’s how I feel about Buddhism. I tell myself that I do my best, but…
Meditation, that’s what you need!
I’ve read a lot of Buddhist literature over the years but it’s all just words, really. I found that when my anxiety was too great to meditate I could calm my mind a little by doing something repetitive. Eric S. Raymond once said the same thing about programmers who often will do mindless, repetitive work just to clear out their internal desktop. My mindfulness tool is and always will be music. Sometimes it’s rudiments on the practice pad and sometimes it’s scales on the bass. Some people lift weights or sand wood or hit golf balls. Anything that gets you ‘into the zone/groove/moment/flow/whatever you like to call it’.
Once my mind has calmed a little and the internal fire alarm has died down to a distant dinging, I try again to meditate. Sometimes it works (although ‘works’ isn’t the right word – maybe ‘happens’ is better) and sometimes it doesn’t.
There’s a quote attributed to His Holiness The Dalai Lama that goes something like:
“You should try to meditate for an hour each; unless you’re really busy, in which case you should meditate for two hours.”
True or not, I like it. It pushes back against the damaging belief that the harder you work, the more you’re worth as a human being. That’s all kinds of bullshit. You don’t really have to meditate for two hours a day, though (when would you shit?) Any meditation teacher worth their salt will tell you that even five minutes a day is better than nothing.
Give it a try. It won’t hurt you.
I used to work for a mindfulness charity and was once privileged enough to speak to a group of mostly middle-aged men who were all struggling in their own way. Naturally, being working-class lads from the valleys, they were dubious about all this ‘tree-hugging, hippy stuff’ but they listened to what I had to say and I’m happy to report that they all said they’d like to know more and sign up for a course. Sometimes you just get the best days, y’know?
It isn’t for everyone, there’s nothing to be afraid of, there are incredibly benificial side-effects in most cases and no-one need know you spent five minutes sat bolt-upright staring at a wall.
I’m up to 63% Happy on MoodScope now. Some of the advice they gave was:
…take a little time to try and pin down precisely what’s been going right, so the good times keep on coming.
- I’m working hard and almost have the spine of the show sorted.
- I have reached out to professionals (counsellor, GP etc)
- I have reached out to family and friends, come clean, and explained
what’s going on and how they can help.
- I’ve allowed them to help.
- I take my medication, I meditate.
- I read and I write more than I ever have before.
I need to add better diet, supplements, and training to this list and I think I’ll be on my way.
I started this post this afternoon but then HippyTaff turned up. I kind of lost the thread of what I was talking about but I hope this is of use to someone and maybe I’ll pick up the threads in future posts.
p.s. You may have noticed the Amazon links. I’m not trying to hawk you anything, I promise. Everything I recommend (and there will not be much) is because I honestly think they might help. Feel free to beg, borrow, or steal them but if you would like to help me eat then Amazon send shit very well packaged, so I’ve heard. Possibly too well, but that’s for another
It’s terrifying, how quickly the time passes. The last Moodscope test I did was forty-two days ago but feels like a week.
I’m tired today. I’m waking up every day without the strength to clench a fist, my legs shake, feel weak, like they can’t hold me up; I feel top-heavy, unbalanced. To most people who know me, that’s no surprise. Lee calls me The Human Pinball: I don’t actually walk, most of the time, I just bump into and off shit until I get where I need to be. This feels different, though. Wrong. I know I’ve put weight on and I have weird feet but this is ridiculous.
Moodscope reckons I’m 52% happy today. I can see why. I’m up, washed, dressed, and working, all before eleven. I’ve been working on the show, on the admin, and on booking some gigs so you can all come and say hello. I’m feeling stronger and more determined than I have for a while. I’m in an environment where I feel safe and supported, I have time to work and to think and to plan. I’m only on one set of meds now and I’m over the worst of the withdrawal from the last lot. I’m feeling pretty ok today. That’s lovely.
Mam & Dad have been married for forty-eight years today so I’m gonna go see them at some point, and then I’m off to a Depression Busting course at The Pop Factory, Porth, this afternoon from 1pm to 3pm. I started a Depression Busting course a few years ago and got a hell of a lot out of it but had to bail before the end so I’m looking forward to getting through a whole course.
I’ll blog about it and if anyone would like to attend the course but is feeling anxious and would like to meet up to go in together, drop me a line and I’ll meet you outside.
During the first public performance of 40% Happy last Thursday, I mentioned to the audience that the show was gonna be a bit ropey. They understood, some even told me after the show that they found it interesting, watching someone working through material and ideas […]
This week has been difficult. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve spent the last few weeks coming off one set of meds and onto another – with the new meds failing to counter the withdrawal from the old. So I’ve been dealing with withdrawal AND side effects. I’ve been on my arse, if I’m honest. The depression has been gradually lifting for a few days and the anxiety is doing the same, now that last night’s gig is over, but the physical exhaustion is a killer. I’m not sure if it’s withdrawal or side-effects or depression or anxiety burnout or a combination of a four but some mornings I physically cannot move for a few minutes after I’ve woken up and my body feels like it’s made of lead. Sometimes I feel the anxiety has drained me, sapped my strength, and other times it fees more neuro-chemical-ish. Whatever it is, it’s a pain in the ring and something I’ve been dealing with as best I can for a while now.
Getting to the gig was difficult. Last Friday, after a stressful week and no meds, I was exhausted, unable to get off the bed, and ready to quit comedy. I didn’t, and I’m glad. I have fought hard this week. I’ve worked my arse off all day every day and I’ve been feeling like hammered shit throughout but I want to be a stand-up comic and so I’ll do what I have to. I’m glad I fought, because I won.
It depends on your definition of ‘won’, obviously, but the biggest battle I had to fight last night was getting on stage. I’ve not been that nervous since my first gig at A Shot in The Dark on City Road all those years ago. I stopped my last-minute cramming at around five and had a shower. I dressed, made some tea and toast, and broke down crying. I cried for a while. I needed to.
A fucking good cry, some fresh air, and a wash later and I was ready to face the gig. I was still nervous, naturally, but the tears and wracking sobs had loosened a lot of tension that I’d been carrying so I felt more ready for it. It’s surprising how important the physical game is. Tightness, tension, and pain can all make me just uncomfortable enough to throw me off my game, I go onstage in the wrong kind of mood and it takes me a time to get into the groove of things. Like last night, I went on a little later than expected. No worries, this kind of thing usually happens, but I let myself drop back out of gear a little bit. I thought of a couple of introductory jokes while Paul was introducing me and weaved them into the intro, in my head, which I inevitably forgot on taking to the stage. The intro was as ropey as fuck.
I got into my stride after a while, realising that I was doing stand-up comedy at The Duke and not standing trial for something dicey, and I think we got there in the end. I’ll call it a home draw and I’ll take that at this early stage in the season.
For various depression and family-related reasons, I hadn’t been able to spend as much time working on the show as I’d have liked and so had to rely on a couple of old ‘bits’ to bolster the ideas that I’d not had time to flesh out yet. I think I spent longer on this than on the actual tale but when I eventually got to it, it worked a treat.
The whole thing was shonkey, in my opinion, as I expected. I’m happy, though. The big bits and main ideas worked so I now have a good framework on which I can build the show. That’s what I wanted, really: an indication that I’m not wasting my time.
If I can take anything from this at all, learn any lessons, it’s that preparation is key: if I want to be a professional then I have to think and act and work and prepare like one from now on. It’s a physically hard game, too. You wouldn’t realise how exhausted it can be unless you’ve done it, and I was never the kid they called “speedy” in school. Add to that the energy-sapping anxiety and physical weakness caused by the meds and you can imagine the state I’m in this morning. I wasn’t built for heat or hard work so I need to get myself physically fitter if I’m going to survive and thrive as a comedian.
We had a lovey packed house and Leroy Brito did the business in support, all held together by Paul James’ warm, soft, capable hands so, once again: thanks, Neath. I’ll be back next year to preview the final show before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe and I won’t forget Paul’s promise 😉
It’s Friday morning, a beautiful day in these scarred, old valleys. I’m listening to some Art Blakey and contemplating a walk down the town for a bacon roll and a brew.
I’ve been working hard, you know!