Mike Kewley – You Are Not What You Think
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV. I'm Iain McNay and my guest today is Mike Kewley. Mike wrote in after our last newsletter because more and more, Renate and I, we feel that we don’t necessarily want to always interview people with books out, or do seminars, or are quite famous or whatever in that area. What we like to do, is also find people that are, let’s say, well below the radar but something’s happened in their life, they’ve made the discoveries, they’ve integrated them and it’s changed their life, changed the quality of their life. And Mike’s one of those people. So he lives on the Isle of Man, which I've been to, it’s very beautiful up there. He works as a sourdough baker and is also a mindfulness teacher locally. And we’re going to chat for the next hour or so and find out more about him. So, Mike, you wrote into us – that was nice.
Mike: Yeah, yeah, I wrote in around Christmas time in response to your newsletter and I just remember thinking, you know this is… ‘Cause I've watched the programme for a few years, especially when I was really in a place in my life where I was really quite desperate actually and I found that this programme and yourselves and the people you interviewed really helped me. Really, really helped me actually and so reading that and something kind of spoke to me, I guess, in my heart and I thought ‘Well, I’ll reply. I'm an ordinary person, I'm normal’ and so, yeah, so I replied.
Iain: So, you live on the Isle of Man – you’ve lived there most of your life – and your dad was actually himself a great seeker, isn’t he? He’s a Buddhist practitioner.
Mike: Yeah. He was a Theravadan layperson, then he was a Buddhist monk, a Theravadan Buddhist monk, for a time and since then he writes books and teaches Buddhism.
Iain: But what kind of influence did that have on you? Here you are, you’re growing up, you're quite young, in your teens or whatever and your Dad is a meditator, writing books on Buddhism – so that must have influenced you quite a lot.
Mike: Yeah ‘cause he worked in a factory as well. So by day he’s at work, he’s making aeroplane ejector seats but at home, I remember him getting up at, whatever, 5 or 6 am and sitting up chanting and sitting and meditating with incense, chanting in Pali. He ran the local Isle of Man Buddhist group and so he would invite Burmese Sayadaws and Bhantes over. I think they were based in Birmingham actually and they came over – Burmese monks in their robes – and we’d take them to cafes and we’d walk with them in nature spots on the Island and they’d have woolly hats on and big scarves. Me and my brother, I guess, just thought that was quite normal but heads would turn because we were with these kind of old Buddhist Burmese monks. So it did have a huge effect and of course the iconography – the statue of the Buddha – always stuck with me and especially the, I think it’s called, the Kankal Buddha which is the one where he’s fasted, so he’s almost a skeleton. This skeletal form, just kind of, you know, ‘death or enlightenment’ – this wooden statue – quite haunting. And the fact that my Dad named our house ‘Anicca,’ which is the Buddhist word for impermanence. So that was the name in our street, everyone else was called ‘Dunromin’ and whatever and we were called ‘Anicca,’ which is the Buddhist word for impermanence. So I guess I just kind of soaked that up without really being too conscious of it.
Iain: Did impermanence mean anything to you then?
Mike: No, no, no, no, no. No.
Iain: It was just a name, as such?
Mike: Yeah, it was just a name then. It means a lot now. [laughs].
Iain: We’ll come onto that. And were you happy in your childhood?
Mike: Yeah, it was quite a nice childhood. I’ve always been quite a sensitive child. I used to get quite upset at the sight of blood and my own veins, you know. The way my body worked would be quite scary. I used to cry quite a lot and get upset by that. And at a young age I asked my Dad ‘do I have to die?’ Yeah, death and blood and that kind of thing, I was quite, maybe just squeamish and quite sensitive to all of that. Yeah, quite a sensitive kid, actually.
Iain: So what happened in terms of you starting your own spiritual path? What were the triggers, rather than something that happened around you, that doesn’t involve you?
Mike: Well obviously, being brought up in Buddhism and obviously, they say ‘like father, like son’ and you always think ‘Well, I'm doing my own thing’ but if I look at my life now, I’ve basically, more or less followed my dad’s footsteps. My parents were divorced then when I was ten, so I didn’t see much of my dad. They both kind of lived in other countries at times and I didn’t really have a strong family base anymore, so I felt kind of independent from a fairly early age. But I remember reading all my dad’s books he left in the shed, for instance on Zen and on Buddhism and all sorts and I remember that the thing that stood out for me, always, was this thing about ‘no self’ and ‘emptiness.’ ‘No self’ and ‘emptiness’ kind of struck a chord with me and from quite an early age. So I read a lot of books. My bedroom wall was covered in quotes that I had written out on the wall – a graffiti wall of like Zen quotes and Haikus and all of this kind of stuff. So I was really interested in it and I think I tried meditating and stuff but it wasn’t until I was seventeen that I had a kind of crisis really and circumstances in my life weren’t much fun. Because my parents lived away, I was kind of looking after the mortgage if you like, so instead of going to study art at College, which was kind of what I wanted to do, I had to get a job in a bank, which I just hated but was something I had to do. So I was working in a job I really disliked, I was engaged at the time as well, which was really great and really helpful but I don’t know, there was just such a strain on everything at that point in my life. And feeling stuck in a situation that I felt I wasn’t in control of and I didn’t want to be in the situation. So I got signed off work with stress and this kind of thing and at that point, I just couldn’t cope anymore, looking after this house and my brother and our dog and all this stuff. I just thought, I don’t really want to be doing any of this. Then my dad came back – he was living in Israel at that time – and I just said ‘I can’t do this, I'm in a really bad place.’ So he taught me what I teach now, which is a very kind of basic mindfulness meditation practice, calming down, quietening the thoughts, the chaos. So I began to do that in earnest because I thought ‘I have to do this.’ I didn’t want to go on medication. I'm not interested in that. I thought, or believed, anyway that humans have within them the ability, if you like, to heal themselves, or to at least manage themselves, or to be responsible for themselves, without going to outside sources. I remember thinking at the time the fear, the anxiety, the depression – it’s here, it’s in my body. I can feel the heaviness, I can point to it. It’s not in you, it’s not in the doctor – it’s in my belly.
Mike: It’s mine and what am I going to do with that? Well I have to do something with that, so I started mindfulness meditation and it was like a wonder drug. Within, I think it was three months, my whole life had turned upside down. All of the problems kind of dissolved. I remember thinking that this is like magic.
Iain: So, ‘wonder drug, mindfulness,’ that’s a great mantra.
Mike: [laughing] Yeah, that was my experience.
Mike: And very quickly things turned around.
Iain: And were you disciplined? Was it something you could… did you really have to focus to do it, or was it something that came quite easily for you?
Mike: Hmm. I’m trying to remember now. I remember I was taking it quite seriously because I thought ‘I need to do this.’ Yeah, I think I was quite disciplined at the time.
Iain: Yes. Because one thing – I'm just pulling out the notes you sent me when you first wrote – ‘I knew from an early age that I somehow wasn’t myself, that the voice in my head wasn’t me.’
Iain: Just talk more about that – ‘the voice in my head wasn’t me.’
Mike: Yeah. Well, it’s not you for a start but for me as a kid and being quite sensitive… I don’t really know why, but I always had this sense – maybe that’s why I was drawn to, in Zen Buddhism, this idea of ‘no self’ and emptiness, that I somehow wasn’t myself and I always thought that, even as a kind of intuition. There were certain points in my life where I would suddenly see that, or kind of experience that and it was terrifying. Absolutely, I mean the most terrifying... I was in India once with a friend of mine – Morton – and suddenly ‘this isn’t me. This isn’t what I am, I’m not me’ and it was terrifying and I thought ‘he’s going to have to put me on a plane home’ because this…
Iain: So, you looked at your body and you realised ‘this is not…’
Mike: It’s not me speaking, it just isn’t me and it was terrifying and I’ve had a few instances. And with a friend of mine – in fact the friend I'm staying with, actually – I remember once we were out when I was, I don’t know, seventeen, eighteen and he was talking and we’re having a good time, having a drink with some friends and just seeing him talk and suddenly… and it was quite emotional, I had to kind of hold it back – ‘it’s not him doing that. It’s something bigger, it’s something beautiful coming through.’ And it was amazing, it was beautiful and I'm sure he was just telling a joke, or something that happened but just that kind of ‘Oh, my God,’ you know.
Iain: So it’s like…
Mike: …‘You’re not yourself.’
Iain: It’s a real challenge to the mind because it’s just shifting reality isn’t it, somehow? It’s like what you feel is real, what you feel is you, what you feel is the other, is not the case.
Mike: No, and that was really scary and those experiences didn’t happen very often, but they got more and more intense as I got older.
Iain: So the terrifying part was, I presume, your mind’s reaction to it, is that right?
Mike: Yeah. Just a kind of freaking out like ‘well, what am I, or what is this?’ And ‘this isn’t me.’ The voice in my head, I remember when I was, I don’t know, in my teens, kind of going ‘oh, yeah, this voice in my head is just memory.’ It’s not me, I've remembered words, I've remembered information, experiences, it’s just on a loop, it’s being played, it’s not me. And that was clear, like ‘oh yeah, these thoughts in my head.’ But that didn’t really have like a deep impact, that was more just a kind of ‘Oh.’
Iain: OK, I’m just interested in the mindfulness – and we hear more and more about mindfulness – and we’ll cover in more detail the work that you do later in the program but at that point from what you remember, how was the mindfulness so effective? Was it just slowing everything down, was it giving you a different perspective? What was the key to the effect of the impact of the mindfulness?
Mike: Well at the time – this was when I first started doing it and my situation suddenly changed – I just remember kind of feeling like I was just buying into a story about how I and other people thought something should be and actually it can be any way, there’s no… it could be anything. I could do whatever I wanted really, there’s no, you know… And so the limits seemed to fall away and I remember I wasn’t kind of buying into people’s stories and the pity ‘I'm in such a bad situation and why is it like this?’ That just all dropped away and so my mind was calm, it was clearer, I was more clear then, to follow what I felt in my heart, what I’d like to do and that worked out. And, yeah, I just felt like I’d been trudging through sludge and then suddenly I’d come onto concrete with a great pair of trainers or something – ‘oh, yeah, I didn’t know it could be like this.’ But it was to do with my attitudes and my perspectives, which changed. That’s what changed, by practicing putting them down, putting them to one side.
Iain: So you were putting the reactions of your mind to one side and then something clearer was sitting there that was more the real you. Is that… am I saying that right?
Mike: Well, at that time, this was just more about being clearer in my life I suppose. I mean early on, when I first started mindfulness, after this crisis, I don’t think it really went so deep as to feed into this thing ‘well who am I and what is this?’ It was more about changing…
Iain: The practicalities.
Mike: The practicalities, yeah, that deeper stuff came later even though I’d been thinking about it before I started practicing it.
Iain: Yeah and then you were telling me earlier, that you really went travelling quite a bit. You went to India, Nepal, Burma, Pakistan. Just talk a little bit about your travels and about who you met and what impact they had on you and how that changed you as such.
Mike: Well I started travelling because my dad began travelling and my dad did a Buddhist pilgrimage in India, after my parents got divorced. So he went around India and I remember me and my brother would get postcards from Varanasi and we’d get little things and they’d have that smell of India and they’d have this aura of something other worldly… I remember reading his postcards and one line always sticks in my head ‘today I saw a dead body floating down the river’ and it just, as for a lot of people, India does… maybe it’s a bit of a romantic image, but it does captivate your imagination, especially if you're interested in spiritual matters. So I went out there that first time in 2000 or 2001 with my dad because he was teaching retreats every year in Bodhgaya where the Buddha was enlightened. He’d go out there and teach some retreats over December, January, so I went out there with him which was great, me and my dad in India and he taught the retreats in Bodhgaya and I went on the retreat with him, sat the retreat and then he went home and I stayed on for seven months or so, travelling around.
Iain: What was pulling you?
Mike: Ah! Well what was pulling me, I guess, was what was always pulling me, which was just the sense that… OK so I grew up in a Buddhist environment and the Buddha, according to Buddhism – and I'm not a Buddhist, I make that clear, I'm not anything, I'm not religious – but according to Buddhism the Buddha was a normal human being, a normal bloke like you and like me and like people listening and he just had a desire, he had an overwhelming urge to discover what was true about himself and therefore about everything and that’s what he did and he searched. And so I kind of grew up with the idea that it’s possible for anybody to do this because that was the model I had. It’s possible for anyone to do this, you don’t need to be divine or to – blah, blah, blah. And I thought ‘well that’s the same for me then, that’s the same for me as a kid.’ But I also remember thinking at a young age, if I don’t get this, if I don’t understand this, if this doesn’t happen, then literally my life is not worth living. Like it would be a waste because otherwise what’s the point? If human beings can do this and they don’t, I remember thinking then ‘what’s the point?’ My life would be useless and a waste…
Iain: So you saw the opportunity of the potential of life, am I right in saying that?
Mike: Yeah and it was quite scary because otherwise then what am I doing. I'm just a kid and I'm into things but if I don’t understand this at some point, this is all for nothing, this is just playing about. So that drove me, that was like a beeline through various things and then various travels. Over the years I went to different countries and I was studying at the same time, so I was feeding back my travels into my degree and things like that. I met some teachers – I met Ramesh Balsekar and went to his meetings for a few weeks and that was really incredible.
Iain: He’s an interesting chap because he was an accountant originally, wasn’t he?
Mike: Yeah, I think he was the head of the Bank of India in the end.
Iain: Yes, yes.
Mike: So quite an “unspiritual” thing to do and then suddenly…
Iain: From other people I've spoken to who have met him, he was very available in his own way. Did you find that?
Mike: Yeah, he was. I was lucky enough to have a private meeting with him as well and he’s just a granddad. He’s just a sweet, old granddad. I remember him slurping his big cup of tea that said ‘best granddad in the world’ on it. And I remember his clock on the wall – all the numbers had fallen to the bottom of the clock and instead of the time, it just said ‘who cares?’
Iain: [laughs] Instead of the time, ‘who cares?’ That’s brilliant.
Mike: Yeah, it was. I just remember ‘this guy’s great.’ He’s great, he’s just so normal. And that spoke to me because I had this intuition, this feeling, that it is normal, it is available. So I travelled and I met different people and places and as I was saying, in Pakistan I went to a Madrasa and that was amazing. It was such a beautiful experience, I found Islam to be… the brotherhood side of things was so communal and embracing. I really felt welcomed and non-threatened. You know, you have all these ideas about what Islam is and what Pakistan would be but just such an embracing atmosphere. I was quite into Sufism as well and that kind of thing. So I’d always follow up things and I've met quite a lot of teachers and in the U.K. as well, I remember going to see Ramesh.
Iain: But when you… I remember reading an autobiography recently of someone who travelled a lot in India when nineteen and twenty years old and they were looking for a teacher. They wanted to find their true teacher and it was difficult for them at the time because many people wanted to be their teacher and they were young and they were American and – this was several years ago – so it was kind of a little bit prestigious for the teacher to have this possible American student or disciple. And I guess it’s quite hard, you’ve got all this availability of different teachers and doctrines and you have to be really, in your own way, discriminating and clear and feel absolutely ‘this is right for me’ because to really go with a teacher or a guru is a commitment, isn’t it?
Mike: Yeah and that’s something I've never done. I've never been a part of a group, or a society, or a religion because I thought ‘it’s me.’ I wouldn’t have said that then but you are own guru, you are your own teacher. You have to be, you can’t depend on another human being’s interpretation, their words. How do you know if their words are, you know, do they speak for you, or… So, I went to see Ramesh – and people did and were devoted to him – and certain things he said really resonated with me, I thought ‘that’s great, that’s answered things, that’s cleared things up’ but I always felt ‘well, it’s gonna come from here, it’s gonna come from me’ (points to chest area). And even Ramesh said, one day, the chances of being enlightened are like a million to one, so everyone in this room can more or less forget about it and everyone laughed and I laughed and I thought ‘that’s great, let’s go and have a Chai.’
Iain: What did enlightenment mean to you then? You’ve already said that that was kind of the purpose of your life.
Mike: Yeah, that’s a good question. Lightening bolts coming out of eyes [laughs].
Iain: So you had this image of something dramatic and sensational happening.
Mike: Yeah, like you’d know beyond doubt because it would be another worldly experience and I think like an instant transformation.
Mike: You know like one minute you’re…
Iain: All your troubles drop away and everything’s peace and bliss.
Mike: …and that’s permanent and that’s like ‘Oh, now I speak softly and I gaze at flowers and I move softly.’ That’s what I imagined it to be and some teachers I met kind of were that. So you think ‘oh, yeah, well, he’s that, so that must be it.’ Then others weren’t, others were saying that’s a load of nonsense and just be yourself and that makes sense too, so it is hard. Everyone’s saying something good.
Iain: You’ve got to have a kind of strength and courage to go with what you feel is true, to go with your intuition, haven’t you? Because as you say, there’s all these different temptations and invitations out there and you’ve just got to stay clear and it seems like you, at quite a young age, got the knack of that – had the gift of that.
Mike: Um, well, yeah. It’s not something I did or thought about, I just wasn’t interested in joining groups, or this or that because I thought, like with the depression I had when I was seventeen and the stress, it’s in here (crosses hands over chest area). So any form of enlightenment, it’s going to be in here too. I just basically trusted that at some point, hopefully, practice or no practice, something would happen. I kind of just thought that. But it’s a gamble.
Iain: OK. So, I'm just looking at the notes you gave me again now and you’re saying none of it worked. You did all this, none of it worked and you had some terrifying experiences of no-self… ‘but there was no enlightenment and by the age of twenty nine I was sick of being myself, which led to panic attacks and depression. Eventually I decided that rather than kill myself, I needed to drop my desire for enlightenment and somehow fix my life.’
Mike: Yeah. [laughing]
Iain: That’s a big change isn’t it? You’re fixed on this image of enlightenment, you do so much, you go and travel to India and meet different people, your dad’s practicing and you meditate and then… so how sick did you get of the whole thing? How extreme did it get, your frustration?
Mike: I don’t know that I got sick of it but I got sick of me not getting it and the only times it would kind of flash up were, like one time, this experience of no-self, my body went into complete paralysis, like it was contracting so hard against what felt like a real opening. I was terrified of letting go, if you want to call it that, into some experience.
Iain: Just try to explain that more. So what you’re saying is that was an experience of no-self, so what did that actually feel like at the time?
Mike: Well, I was lying in bed and actually I think I was… in the beginning of Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now, he says when he was going to kill himself and he thought ‘I’m going to kill myself and who’s the me that’s going to kill… How many me’s are there?’ And I was thinking about that and upon thinking about that, something happened. I'm not saying I had the same experience but the same train of thought. It was as if the whole of the back of my head, if you like, just opened up into a chasm and I kind of was falling back into it but my whole body started shaking and this used to happen sometimes. I’d get these kind of energetic tremors, I guess. But my body went into kind of paralysis and it was all tight. It felt like I wanted to fall back into nothing but I couldn’t, my body was like ‘hold on.’
Iain: Yeah. So there’s a kind of feeling that you want to fall back into nothing and that’s real on one level and on another level you’ve got the human level of the body and that’s going to be both at the cellular level and also in the mind – that’s terrifying, the fact of falling back into nothing because that doesn’t exist anymore, does it?
Mike: No. Exactly. On one hand I wanted to, I guess but on the other hand I was hanging on at the same time.
Mike: So that was terrifying and the results of that experience, which lasted a few days, were terrifying as well. It got worse because I switched the light on after that experience finished and I realised the room looked different. I had a drum, a djembe drum, ‘cause I'm a drummer as well and there was something different about it. And then I realised that the room and the drum was in my head and it wasn’t me in the room, it was the room in me and I was absolutely…. I thought I’d gone mad and it was horrible, it was scary, very scary. I thought I’d have to have some help.
Iain: That’s actually a very deep experience because…
Mike: But I was terrified.
Iain: I understand but that’s, in a way, the Oneness and yet where you were it was also, as you say, terrifying.
Mike: Yeah. It was.
Iain: So talk us through what happened next. You had these experiences and then you decided to get a counsellor.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. Had all the experiences, travelled, did lots of things – I did two degrees in related subjects, in East and West spirituality and philosophy – and just sitting there studying and reading and meditating as well, I just suddenly felt like I was on a plateau and I was getting kind of numb and bored and stuck in my head and I didn’t particularly want to read another book on who said what. And I felt dead and I felt ‘well, what’s the point?’ And again I kind of went into depression and I wasn’t enjoying my work and just everything seemed to be, like, I'm just not enjoying life, I'm not enjoying my life and I was getting really acutely, sick I suppose, of being me and by that I meant, me and my mind. So I said earlier, I thought clearly when I was younger, that this voice in my head isn’t me but that was it, really. It was like ‘oh, yeah,’ it was almost academic; ‘it’s not me, it can’t be me. ’ But when I was twenty nine, I was having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t really want to kill myself, I didn’t hate myself, I didn’t want to harm myself but if there was an off switch for this [points to head] and I couldn’t find it, I just didn’t want to be in my mind anymore, I didn’t want to be in my head anymore.
Iain: I think a lot of us are trying to find the off switch. It’s not always so easy to find, is it? [laughing]
Mike: Yeah. So there was that and there was stuff that had never happened before, like a panic attack and just this leaden depression. And so I thought, you know non-duality and things like that, which I was really into – the idea of non-doership and nothing – I just thought, it feels counter… it feels to go kind of against that to suddenly say ‘actually, I need help.’ I'm not talking about spiritual help, I'm talking about someone who understands depression, emotions. So I decided I'm just going to have to leave this obsession, which is what it was and get help – normal, human, practical help. So I started seeing a counsellor at university.
Iain: And it worked pretty quickly, didn’t it?
Mike: It was amazing, it was amazing. I thought ‘why didn’t I do this ten years ago?’ It would have been a short cut.
Iain: So what were the key things that you worked together with the counsellor with that really triggered this change?
Mike: Well, I think for me, most of it was stuff that basically wasn’t resolved about, particularly when I was ten years old and my parents got divorced and not really knowing the situation – the ins and outs. And of course as a child, well I certainly felt on some level, maybe it’s me, maybe I'm to blame, maybe… you know you kind of put yourself in the picture. So all that kind of basically childhood stuff that was unresolved, that hadn’t been met, that hadn’t been allowed, that hadn’t been spoken to yet, was still down there. So a lot of that came up and was met and I was able to communicate it to my parents, which was nice – to be an adult about it rather than having these childish feelings, immature feelings but very important feelings that weren’t expressed at the time. So expressing immature emotions as an adult, saying ‘I still have this, this needs to come out, this is like twenty years old.’ So I found that really helpful and emotional of course and that really seemed to work quickly.
Iain: Because the body in itself is holding on, isn’t it? It’s holding onto all the little traumas that we’ve had over the years and the blocks and even though we might have an understanding of the bigger picture, unless something is cleansed and cleared it’s going to really prevent us really falling back.
Mike: Yeah. Exactly. And I guess that’s what it was, it was holding on. Maybe think of it in terms of like a hot air balloon – you put rocks in the basket, it’s not going to lift up, where you take them out and suddenly it’s light enough to do that by itself. So those rocks, those heavy emotions, were being let go of, released.
Iain: Yeah, you hear of people spending years and years and years in counselling and therapy and making very slow progress, so what do you think contributed to your fast progress? Was it the fact you already had an experience of the Non-Dual - even though it was difficult for you and terrifying at times - do you think because you saw a wider picture? What was the key to you going through this process quite fast?
Mike: I don’t know other than I tend to be quite obsessive about things. Things I'm interested in I follow to the end and I just dived in. I thought ‘let’s do this, let’s meet these things.’ For instance, I had an experience – it was kind of an imaginative experience but it had a physical effect – of kind of meeting my shadow, if you like. I'm not into psychology and stuff, but there was this kind of shadow element to me that used to live – it was very bizarre, it used to live over my shoulder. I remember being a kid, being scared and I always used to look over my shoulder, it always felt like someone was watching me from this shoulder [points over left shoulder] and it was always a dark figure that I was very afraid of as a child. And then going through the process of counselling one night, I kind of felt ‘yeah, what is that, who is that shadow that was there as a child?’ So in my mind I turned around to it – in my imagination – I just said ‘who are you, what are you?’ And it said ‘I hate you.’ And I said ‘but why?’ And he said ‘because you ignore me, you’ve ignored me your whole life.’ And I was just thinking ‘this is weird’ and I said ‘but I love you’ that’s what I said, I said ‘I love you, because you’re me. I don’t hate you, I love you.’ And then, in my mind, the image in my mind, I embraced it and it kind of became me. So I kind of absorbed, if you like, back into me, my shadow, you know the bits that I…
Iain: So it’s something that you kept a bit outside of you, which you needed to, as you say, bring back into you.
Mike: Yeah. And that’s quite a clear memory that that happened and that seemed to be a bit of a breakthrough as well in terms of the counselling.
Iain: OK. One of the things that was quite intriguing in the original email you sent was that you had this forty five minute awakening experience in the library and it was when you were reading this book by Rupert Spira, The Transparency of Things – Rupert’s a good friend of Renate and myself and has written many good books and of course he’s been on conscious.tv several times – just talk us through what happened there.
Mike: Yeah. So I was due at an appointment with my counsellor one day and I got there a bit early and I thought I would sit in the library and I’ll do some research and then, I'm writing something out, I looked on the shelf next to me and Rupert’s book was there, this book. I’d seen him on Conscious TV and I just really thought, ‘that’s great, I just love that’ and really connected with what he said and I thought ‘at some point I’ll read his book’ so it was there. I thought ‘ah, that’s great!’ And it was in the wrong place. I mean it’s one of these – things people talk about books hitting them on their head and it was ‘the book that changed their life’ but you know I kind of looked there and his book was… someone had put it in the wrong place and it was there. So I thought ‘well that’s great,’ you know – took that and I just started reading it and I only got a few pages in, I think and then I read this sentence – and I don’t remember word for word, the sentence – but it was something like, he was talking about how the page and the words are not separate. There’s no page and the words, the words are the page, the words are made of paper too and then it was something like ‘likewise the experience you're having right now is only your own awareness.’ Now, I’d heard that said in different ways many, many times in many hundreds of books but on this occasion, for some reason, when I read that sentence, everything just stopped. [pauses] Like it just does now, everything just went… [makes popping sound].
Iain: So how do you feel now? You say everything just stops, what’s that feeling? Do you have that same feeling now?
Mike: Yeah. If I stop kind of telling the stories of my life, which that’s all I'm doing and I start talking about now, I’ll go very quiet and I’ll become… it quietens me down, it stops my mind and it’s just kind of like basking, resting in this experience, not such a mystical experience but just this – this what is happening now.
Iain: Basking… and... resting…
Mike: In this.
Iain: …in this. Yes.
Mike: So that’s what the stop was – it’s like ‘oh.’ And then I noticed, there was fear in my belly and I thought ‘oh, here we go, this is going to be some fearful experience’ and I felt it coming up from my belly, like a volcano and I thought ‘oh, God, here it comes.’ Then it went (makes hissing noise) and it went (more hissing/fizzing and spreading arms) and dissipated. And that was it. And it was still quiet and it was still crystal clear and I noticed how suddenly everything was… I remember thinking ‘it’s like it’s in technicolour.’ So everything is vibrant, everything is really alive and colourful and I started to laugh because I recognised; ‘this is it, this is what I am, it’s always been what I am, I've always been what I am, there’s only ever been what I am no matter whether it was in Burma or Pakistan, or Douglas…’ So there was just the seeing of that – the sheer obviousness of it.
Iain: The flashing lights weren’t there, then?
Mike: No, no. [both laugh] It was so subtle and so obvious, it was almost like that, ‘of course, it’s this, of course it’s this what’s happening now.’ So, yes, I started to laugh. It was a joyful recognition and it was great and then I suddenly thought ‘I’ve got to get out of here because I can’t just sit here laughing my head off, I’ve just got to get outside.’ So I went and sat in the garden, just outside the library and it was summer – it was June or July – and I just sat there for like forty five minutes or so, were unable to think, there was no momentum, nothing could get going. And just being – to put it into words ‘One with everything’ or, rather ‘there was only everything’ and there was no ‘me and it,’ there was no ‘it and me.’ There was just – I use the word Awareness – that’s the word that I feel comfortable with and familiar with – but there was just Awareness and it was me and it was everything and it was kind of experiencing itself. So that lasted about forty five minutes or so, until suddenly I realised ‘I’ve got to go, I’m late for this appointment.’ So I managed to get moving again and went into my counsellor’s office and sat down and I couldn’t speak because the table was me, she was me, I was her, I was the table, I just couldn’t…. And in the end I managed to say, something like, ‘something’s happened and is still happening’ and so she kind of said ‘well, we’ll leave it for today then and we’ll just have the next one.’ And the next thing I was on the bus on the way home and everything kind of jolted back into – the normal momentum of things was there, with thinking and being and yeah, so it was just back to normal, basically. Yeah.
Iain: But you didn’t lose the impact…
Iain: …in terms of it’s something that is still there, isn’t it?
Iain: Or it comes and goes sometimes?
Mike: Well, another way to explain it, is you could say that on that day ‘I’ as in ‘me,’ died. Or, rather, it didn’t die because it was never born, it wasn’t ever…
Iain: The illusion of the ‘I’ died?
Mike: It’s not a tactile thing the ‘me’, it’s an idea.
Mike: And it’s never really come back. There’s just what is. You call it Oneness, or awareness but there’s just non-separation, there’s just the flow of awareness as these flowers and this cup and the feeling of my feet on the floor and your jumper and my hair and the screen, peoples laptops, or their TV screens and the feeling they’re having in their body right now. It’s all this, it’s this constant, fresh, incredible, spontaneous explosion of life, of experience.
Iain: And what happens to the anxiety that you used to experience?
Mike: Well, yeah. It hasn’t come back because it was all to do with a ‘me.’
Iain: It’s completely gone?
Mike: Yeah. I don’t like to… I don’t make claims, or anything like that but I can’t see it returning ever. I mean I can’t see how that’s possible and I'm not saying life is joy and bliss and I'm skipping down the streets and kissing strangers.
Iain: You were quite sprightly when you came into the studio this evening. It wasn’t quite a skip but…
Mike: Was I? That’s the espresso (laughs). But there is a background – you can call it OK-ness. I think Ken Wilbur uses that word – there’s an OK-ness. There’s a sense of… I mean in a deep sense, I'm in love with life, I'm in love with this. Words can’t, I can’t really get the words to say it but there’s only ‘this.’ There’s only myself in a sense, not Mike but that which allows the experience of Mike. There’s only that and there’s not much thought really any more, it’s very quiet.
Iain: What happens about – you know that we all this reactivity to situations – things happen and we react. Do you still have that?
Mike: Now and again. And I'm extremely sensitive now where something does make me react, or has a reaction. So I always feel it in my heart, like literally centred on my heart, there’s a feeling of, almost like a buzz, a kind of zzzzz. And I know something needs to be looked at, something needs to be allowed. So, there’s still little things like that now and again but they kind of get eaten up and they don’t really come back. I guess they’re kind of traces left of quite fixed ideas, or habits that I had, or hang ups I had, that are no longer being fuelled. So, if there’s something that does come up, it’s ‘OK that’s here,’ it’s only myself, it’s only awareness, it’s nothing to be scared of. And then it kind of does what it needs to do and it’s not being bought into by a story. It’s just allowed, everything’s allowed to be felt and it’s not always pleasant, I'm not always in such a good mood but it’s just life, it’s just life and all the stuff that life involves and being with that.
Iain: Mike we’ve got about five minutes left so I’d like you just to chat a bit about what you do in your mindfulness work, the bakery as well if you like but I'm interested in mindfulness work, yeah.
Mike: So, yeah I teach mindfulness on the island… the Isle of Man. I've been doing it for about two years or so now. I'm really just sharing – I've been meditating and seeking for half my life now, seventeen years or so, so I really pour that into my mindfulness. It’s very much my own take on mindfulness, if you like. And it’s essentially teaching, sharing with people, giving people the opportunity to stop, just stop running around, chasing thoughts, trying to manipulate each and every experience to how we want it to be, to try and control every experience, to try and get rid of your bad thoughts, to try and grab hold of good thoughts. And just to see, by looking, yourself, at the experience you’re already having, not something new, not something mystical, what that experience is like. Which is that it’s flow, it’s change, it’s impermanent, it’s flux and thoughts self-destruct, experiences self-destruct, you don’t have to go and have a lobotomy to take a thought away, or have an operation to remove depression or anger. None of that lasts, none of that is concrete, there’s no such thing as concrete, there’s no such thing as the same. This is just human ideas, these are ideas we label reality with – ‘the same, concrete, this is how it’s going to be, I know how it’s going to be, change this, change that.’ So it’s about reducing, even as an experiment, ‘O.K. what happens if I reduce myself to just what’s happening, as it is?’ And holding that in awareness and being aware of that without fuelling the stories about that and just resting with it and there’s a deep rest available with our present moment experience. And as a practice, through mindfulness, the more you can rest there, I always say it’s like the volume gets turned down on your mind and you’re left with what’s already here, which is this experience, which is mind blowing. It’s not just sitting on a couch and a glass of water and some flowers and... This is the Universe, this Awareness, this is – I don’t often use the word ‘God’ and I certainly don’t mean a personal Christian God but in the sense that this is everything. This is it. This is it and it’s waiting for you. It’s not even waiting for you, it is you but you know you need to stop and let it say ‘hello, I'm here, I'm not anywhere else. I'm not in your thoughts about in ten years’ time, or when you win the lottery, or when you remove anger, or when you become the perfect spiritual master.’ Because it’s love, it’s here now. It loves you, it is you, it wants you to stop, it wants to execute you, it wants to chop your head off [laughs], so that you can be free. And then celebrate this and share this. So that’s kind of what I do – it’s just the invitation to settle down.
Iain: Well you do a lot and you make bread as well.
Mike: Yeah, I'm a sourdough baker. I've been doing that for about a year and a half.
Iain: Is the bread special if we come and eat your bread?
Mike: If you taste some I can guarantee your enlightenment. [both laugh] No, it’s great, it’s great bread. It’s nice to work with my hands for the first time in my life, it’s nice to make something tangible.
Iain: Mike, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. I'm really happy you wrote in and you’re not famous and you live on the Isle of Man, it’s a fairly quiet place but I think we made a very interesting program together, so thank you.
Mike: Thank you, I really, really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Iain: And thank you everyone out there for watching conscious.tv. And you know if you’re like Mike, you’re not necessarily a teacher, haven’t written a book and you feel you have something to contribute, do get in touch and we’ll always respond, Conscious TV. Thank you for watching and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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