Hello and welcome to A Happy Place, your weekly guide to finding mental freedom in our frenetic world. I'm Cotton. And today we're going on a bit of a spiritual journey with an actual real life monk, I suppose.
And I've got a pain in my foot or a headache. That's not the whole of me. I've got a headache, but other bits of so, so OK. I've got a bit of self-hatred going on in the side, but there's more to me than that. And meditation helps you connect with the more rather than less. I tell you what, my chat with Galong Tipton is going to make you think and rethink about everything you thought you understood about your own thoughts and feelings.
Galong, by the way, is a title meaning Senior Monk. But before I turn your life upside down in a good way, I promise a huge thank you to the sponsors of this series of happy place we do now. I'm really conscious of my impact on the environment and I'm sure you are too. And I'm always looking for little ways to make small but meaningful changes in my own life. Professional haircare brand. We do believe that by acting together we can make a bigger impact.
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Hello, Galong Tipton, it's so wonderful to have you on. Happy place. Thank you for inviting me. It's an absolute pleasure. I have so many questions to ask you. I'm not even sure where to begin, but I am going to start by thanking you for writing such a beautiful book. I loved reading amongst Guide to Happiness. I found it extremely comforting, I think, at a time when most of us feel pretty stressed out. So thank you, first of all.
You're welcome. I'm really glad you liked it.
I did. I loved it a lot. You know, I guess it's nice to give everybody the back story, but I reached out to you on Instagram after I had read it. My my brother in law actually posted me the book knowing that it would be right up my street. And I was like, we need to have a chat. I mean, I you don't need to have a chat with me, but I need to have a chat with you big time, because there were just so many points I dogeared so many pages of the and underlined so many bets.
And I guess let's start at the beginning of the book where you start to kind of unpick happiness for us.
And obviously that's a subject matter that I'm very curious about, hence the name of the podcast Happy Place, which can at times be a guess a little bit loaded because I don't necessarily align with the thinking that, you know, happiness is a destination.
It's something that you arrive at down the line. But I find it really interesting to to look at it and and work out, I guess, at the moment why so many of us feel not very happy at all. You know, often will blame circumstance, but. But it goes much deeper than that, right?
Yeah. I think I think the the basic problem is that we we're all caught up in an endless search that that search for happiness. That's the problem, because searching creates more searching. Any kind of habit we we follow just builds more of itself. So if we're always searching for something, we're going to be always searching for something. So whatever happens is never good enough. And of course, this is the kind of cycle we're all trapped in and this is the cycle that the advertising industry loves about us, that they can manipulate that in us.
The fact that we're never satisfied, you know, we get something and then we want something else. So I think the problem is, is that the more we're looking for something outside of ourselves, the more endless that hunger becomes. And we never we never find any kind of satisfaction.
Yeah, it's it goes to the next level, doesn't it, sort of craving. And it's a real subterranean level of craving where you're not even aware of what you want or how you might get it or what you'll feel like after you've, you know, attained it. But it's just that sort of deep craving that I think most of us have felt, especially during the last year. But we feel probably more lacking than than we ever have. And it is, like you say, is it's totally endless.
And you describe happiness in the book as freedom.
And again, that is something that we just feel that we have our freedom stripped from us right now because there are so many rules and regulations and things that we can't do, which previously were completely normal for us, like having friends to our home, seeing family, etc. But it's not impossible to feel freedom at this point.
You know, you demonstrate that in the book. So how can we cultivate more of an internal or a mental freedom when there are so many outside of exterior restrictions in place?
Yeah, I think you've nailed it by saying the word into internal interior freedom. Mental freedom is what kind of freedom are we talking about? And yes, it's true that in this last year, it's been very, very difficult for all of us because all of the things that we depend upon or most of the things we depend upon for happiness have become take it, they've been taken away from us. And so all the building blocks that we use for our support have gone.
And we're backed into a corner just with ourselves and with our stress. And I think the kind of freedom I'm talking about, which is obviously connected with the message of the book, which is meditation, is can we free our minds from that endless hunger and can we free our minds from all of the negative, painful emotions and thoughts that drag us down? I don't mean we should have no thoughts or emotions. I just mean can we be less controlled by our own stress and our own dissatisfaction?
These are states of mind and we can change them.
Yeah, I mean, this is, again, a huge takeaway from the book that we have so much more agency over all of that than we believe. You know, we we often feel like we are our emotions and our thoughts are facts.
Always, you know, our our brains are kind of constantly ruminating on worries, problems lacking. And we end up feeling that it's all absolutely true. And you're saying in the book that, you know, one of the biggest benefits of meditation is the relationship that we can cultivate with our emotions and thoughts rather than thinking they're fact. They're they're they're part of us. It's having. A different dynamic with them, is that the right way of articulating it?
Absolutely, and that's the key is the relationship. We do have a relationship with our thoughts because we're thinking those thoughts and we're feeling those feelings. So what is that part of our self that knows how we're feeling? You know, if we're upset or we're angry or frustrated? Well, if we know that we're feeling that that knowing part of our mind is not in the feeling. It's like the observer and the observed, isn't it, that the subjects and objects.
So I think meditation is about connecting with the backdrop, the awareness. You know, in the book I use a lot of imagery around the sky and clouds. So the metaphor there is that our mind is like the sky and then it contains lots of clouds and it can be like clouds, heavy clouds, whatever. But the sky is always bigger than the clouds. And in that sense, our mind is always bigger than our thoughts and emotions, because the the part of us that sees how we're feeling is not in the feeling.
And would you describe that as purely the mind that's having that experience? Because I'm always so fascinated in this. And it can be it can become difficult when you start playing language to all of this as well, because everyone will have a different way of describing it or way of thinking about it. But of course, we know we have our physical body. We know we have our brain that's creating all of these thoughts. You know, what sort of language do you deem appropriate and how do you describe that other part?
You know, whether it is the awareness, the soul, what is the I'm really interested in that bit of us at the moment and sort of sort of looking at how we can look after that bit of ourselves rather than just mental health, physical health, what that other bit is.
Yeah, I like the word awareness. I like the word consciousness. It's that part of our self that experiences everything. We experience our life. We experience our own bodies. We experience our own thoughts and emotions. And that experience the observer, the the part of ourself that that is seeing and feeling and experiencing that part is beyond the experience. So that part is freedom, that that is where freedom is. And I think meditation is about connecting with that part.
And for some people, it's a spiritual experience. For some people it's not. I mean, meditation isn't isn't only for people who are into Buddhism or spirituality. It's simply a experience of the mind. And everyone has a mind so everyone can meditate.
It feels like the bit of us that gets left behind or neglected somewhat because we I think, you know, in everyday life, in the modern world, we are perhaps encouraged or promoted to sort of, you know, be smart, be intelligent, look after your mind or even with, you know, how mindfulness is talked about today. And obviously to sort of look after your physical body, but other kind of gets forgotten.
And I think all of us, everyone listening to this, myself included, will have heard before conversation around the understanding that happiness has to come from within. Like we all kind of inherently know that. But we on a daily basis, with every decision and choice we make, choose to sort of forget that. And we're constantly looking for something else, for a quick fix or for validation outside of ourselves or for something that we can buy that's going to fill a hole.
I mean, you use this excellent word to describe that which is grasping. Can you talk a little bit more around that for us?
Yeah. I mean, we are in a situation where we're constantly being told happiness will come from material objects and from situations around us. And and that's been sort of manipulated within us all the time. We're shown all these shiny objects and told if you have this, then you'll be happy. And so we spend loads of effort running after that thing. Yeah, we we get that. We might not get it or we might get that thing and then find that the one thing is still there that grasping that need for something is still there.
We just move the goalposts and look for something else, something bigger or better. And so it never stops does it? And that grasping is the minds in some minds, habit of always wanting something and always been pulled outside. I mean, one of the things about meditation is that you shift the focus from outside to inside. I don't mean you become kind of detached and cut off and kind of separate from reality. I just mean you start to pay more attention to your inner world and you start to look at the grasp in itself.
You know, instead of looking at the the thing you're grasping at, you could look at the grasping the happiness that you have and then you can start to change it and you can start to relax and find that the thing you wanted is actually already there within you. Because happiness is happiness is a state of mind, isn't it? I mean, if you imagine when you get the thing you want, if you go down that road and you're looking for happiness from a material object to a situation, OK, so you get.
Art, but then what do you actually feel in that moment, you feel a sense of relief, you feel a sense of completion, you feel a sense of peace, joy, you feel fulfilled. Well, these are feelings. I mean, they're inside your own mind. So you could just cut out the middleman and go straight for the feeling. Yeah.
And you think we're we're so but doing that because we're constantly told, again, probably due to advertising that we do need fixing, that there's something wrong with us that we are actually lacking and that they're going to be able to fix it for us. Whereas I don't think many of us grow up. You know, not I'm not talking about childhood because most kids, you know, who are lucky enough to have a sort of stable upbringing will just feel quite happy in the moment and be in the moment.
But when we move into our teen years and at our adulthood, that's when we start to actually believe, God, there is something wrong with me. I am lacking. There is some sort of distress and I need fixing. Somebody has got to fix me. And if we can sort of revert back to I'm already complete, I'm already OK, that's going to stop that cycle, that constant cycle of of craving and wanting.
Yeah, it's it's very interesting. In the book I give an example of a study that was done in a place called The Dark, which is in the north of India. And this is a place that for centuries was kind of closed off to Western culture. It's a kind of small mountainous region. And in this study, it described how in the 1980s they kind of opened up and they started to have access to Western advertising and the young people in the capital city started to try to make their skin whiter.
They started to use kind of bleaching products on their skin for the first time ever because they were seeing these huge billboards of adverts from the West with these very glamorized images of people who are supposedly happy. They've got it all. That's what you should aim for, is blown up into a huge size, like a kind of God figure. And then these young people with these beautiful brown golden faces suddenly felt dissatisfied with how they looked. And they thought, no, I need to be white, so I need to go and buy bleach and bleach my skin.
I mean, they use this kind of face cream that made the skin lighter and this dissatisfaction starts to arise. And so that's a kind of a metaphor. Example for how we all live here in the West is that we're constantly shown imagery and information that makes us think there's something wrong with you. And until you until you do what I'm telling you to do, I, the advertiser or whatever I the person selling you this thing until you do this, you'll always feel there's something missing.
And it's almost hard to avoid at this point in time, you know, maybe not so much 10, 20 years ago. Obviously, advertising is, as always, kind of well in the last sort of 60, 70 years has been really potent. But in the last 10 years, we've also had social media to contend with as well. So, you know, it is everywhere and also due to not only social media, but just how we communicate with each other, how we imbibe information via the news newspapers as so many outlets now, whereas we were, you know, that that was reduced.
We were starved of it to some extent back in the day because we didn't have laptops, phones. We carry it around with us. We would make more of a choice as to I'm going to now read a newspaper. I'm going to turn the TV on. Now we feel like it's omnipresent.
And do you think that is possibly why the statistics for everything is just everything's up at the moment. Anxiety, depression, OCD, any mental health illness seems to just be pushed to its limits right now on mass because we can't escape that sort of mind trickery essentially.
Yeah, I do think that's a contributing factor. And as you say, years and years ago, you made a choice to find out what's going on in the news. And that's an informed choice and it's a conscious choice. But now there's this sort of the way we've processed the way we process information has completely changed. It's coming at us all the time. And the way that the news is monetized as well is a new thing in that the the headlines will be written in a certain way that draws you in.
And the easiest way to draw somebody in is to frighten them. So you frighten people, you draw them in, they open the article. There's some ads in there. You click in there and you're caught. And so there's a monetization behind it. And obviously not all news is like that. And I hugely respect good journalism, of course, but there is an aspect to it where there's something underneath it that is manipulating us, isn't there? Without doubt, yeah.
And as you say, with social media, we're where we've entered this reality, where so much of our self-worth is based on likes and clicks and validation. And you could go through life thinking, well, I don't know if I'm actually enjoying myself, so I better check if other people think I'm enjoying myself. Yeah, I bet I better. I better. Photograph this experience and post it online to check if it's likable, if I get enough likes, then I then I know I'm OK if I say so, validations all given to others, isn't it?
Lights up to when you step back from it. And when you unpack something like this, you know, it's there's just the clarity where you go. This is lunacy. Like what we're living in at the moment is lunacy, not only because it exists, but because it's become completely normalized. You know, that's not what you've just described. There is an extraordinary it isn't for few people out there. It's it's for like 99 percent of people who have a phone will seek some sort of even if it's a very subconscious level, some sort of outside validation.
And I've had sort of a great insight into this for my whole adult life because I, you know, started working in this weird industry as a child.
So I was aware of that sort of dynamic, like, oh, other people can tell me if I'm doing OK en masse. And I've had to be very careful over the years looking at that, you know, how much weight can I put over there and how much can I own for myself? And I think when you start to pick it all apart and also look at certainly with the news and advertising that we can follow most threads back and unfortunately, is most threads back to money.
I think there's liberation in that because you go this is just a bit of a trick. Like I don't have to believe all this. I can actually step back. I can choose to think this isn't actually real. I can make a distinction between the sort of fantasy element or the sensationalized element and actually what deep, deep down I know to be true. And that's just may be a case of sort of excavating all of the stuff we pile upon.
You know, that knowing. I guess. I think so.
And and this this world we're describing, I mean, you know, in one sense it's horrific and but we're caught in it now. This is the way we function. This is how we live and this is how we earn our money. And this is how society, the wheels of society turn. So so I'm not suggesting we can just blow up the machine now, but I am suggesting that we're in such an extreme situation that we we now really need to to do something as a matter of survival.
We need to take better care of ourselves, better care of our mental health. And people are doing that. The conversation about mental health, the conversation about mindfulness and other things like that has really grown because that's that's the healing that we can apply within this situation so that we can function within this really weird reality we're in, but in a better way. And as you say, it's about stripping away all the extra stuff and finding out who you are.
Well, who am I? I'm here in my room sitting here. Who am I? Who am I right now? In this moment, I am alive. I'm breathing. I'm good. There's nothing wrong with me. I have a mind that has a deep well of possibilities, potential. We've all got incredible potential within us. We just forgot to look.
We really have and I love taking it. Taking a step back in a moment to go write all these stories I've got in my head. What is true here? Like is this you know, I was thinking it just yesterday because my my son, who is eight, has, you know, trouble sleeping. And I often get into the negative cycle of going, there's something wrong with this situation. I'm doing something wrong. There's something wrong with the way that he's thinking about the world as he goes to sleep.
And actually, like this has been going on over a year now. So my husband and I, you know, we talk a lot about all sorts of stuff. We're deeply curious about all elements of everything. And we've sort of just got to a place where we're accepting that this is just a phase that he's going through and we don't need to fix him and we don't need to fix us. This is just something that we're going through. And I think often we are so quick and it's usually due to comparison, like, oh, my friend's kids are sleeping.
Or if you put this into the context of work, achievement, whatever else people are using as markers to to work out if they think they're okay, it's because we're looking to everybody else rather than am I do I need fixing or can I just be okay in all of this chaos that we're living through?
I think so. And I think that for me, that's a really powerful definition of happiness, is to be OK with with not being OK. You know, happiness isn't all about feeling great and having a good time. It's also about being able to just accept the darkness and the difficulty and the struggle and all the painful stuff. Not not to throw that away or hate that or reject that, but just to to relax into it. And I think that's the kind of compassion, isn't it?
I think compassion. I think love. I think real love is where you can love whatever is happening right now in this moment, even the difficult stuff. And just to to relax into that and. And to be with that, without pushing it away to make friends with your experience, whatever that experience is.
Yeah, well, I think, you know, certainly if you've been through any tough moment in life, that how you react to it really won't change what's going on. I mean, in a negative sense, if you're if you're sort of constantly pushing against trying to suppress it, fighting against it, that won't change the experience. Whereas if you choose to lean into it and you know, this is something I've only been doing very, very recently, you know, I had much tougher times, say, a decade ago.
And I was just trying to suppress all of it. And you realize it actually then just stretches the time out that you're dealing with all of those thoughts. So I think, you know, maybe that is exactly where the freedom lies, is in sort of the acceptance and the and the leaning into to difficult times, rather than making it harder for you, for yourself, basically, by sort of trying to squash everything down and and minimize it and get rid of it.
Yeah, I agree. And in my own experience, that's definitely true. I about ten years ago, I was doing a very, very long retreat. It finished in 2010. It was a for a four year long retreat. I describe this in the book. The book starts by describing how it felt to come out of that retreat and come back to London. So in that retreat of, you know, four years where you're completely enclosed in a retreat house, you're on a remote Scottish island, there's no contact with the outside world.
It was a very terrifying experience, especially at first, because there I am stuck with my own mind for all that time. And there were times when I couldn't even meditate. I was just so traumatized by the misery I found within myself. I went through extremely severe depression for the first part of that retreat. And what changed it for me was when I learnt to do exactly what you were just describing, which is to stop hating myself for being depressed and to stop hating the depression, but to almost imagine the Depression is a friend who's struggling.
And would you what would you do for that friend? You would sit with them and you would accept them how they are you you would just hold them and be with me there with them. So I learnt how to do that for myself. I learnt how to find the the feelings within myself physically. I mean, I could feel the depression as a kind of sinking feeling in my heart or like like a sort of coldness inside just to feel that and love that and give that huge amount of compassion.
And it started to change because I wasn't resisting and pushing and hating. It's that it's like lean in and you lean into it. And if you joined together with the thing that hurts you, then it's not hurting you anymore because you in it a one. There is this and this is hurting me. There's just an experience of peace and oneness.
I love that. And strangely, I. I talk to Rhonda Byrne on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and she described such a similar experience. And it's definitely something I wish I'd known about ten years ago. And I'm really fascinated with this experience. And I loved reading about it in your book because, again, the modern world promotes this sort of velocity that we're meant to keep up with. And with that hand in hand comes the notion that if you're not enjoying something or something's not working for you, that you ditch, you get out, you move on, you find something new, a new chapter, whereas, you know, you stuck this out.
You found the piece in it by sticking with it for the full four years. And patience isn't something that we particularly crave, but it's such a beautiful quality to really understand and have. What was it within you that that made you realise I can't give up even though I'm feeling this darkness and I'm struggling and I don't think I should be struggling? What really kept you in that space and kept you so you could get to that point, that that switch point for you?
Yeah, to be honest, I nearly I very nearly did leave the retreat halfway through. I thought, I can't take this anymore. It's it's just it's torture. But what kept me from leaving was knowing that that I had to I had to resolve this somehow because it's the thing that had been tormenting me for years and years and years. I mean, it's why I became a monk in the first place and I became a monk in my early 20s because of severe burnout, severe depression, panic attacks, anxiety.
And then I became a monk. And I think I probably suppressed all of it because I really got into being a monk and learning meditation and a new lifestyle. And then I started to teach meditation and be quite out there in the public. And maybe you kind of adopt a bit of a persona and you're not really looking at yourself. So then, you know, 12 years into being a monk, I went into this long retreat and it came up full force, all the stuff I've been hiding from that.
That voice in my head that kept telling me I was no good. This is negative self talk. And so I think what kept me going was I thought, well, if you if you don't deal with this now, you're just going to be going round in circles and you've got the tools. You're in a Buddhist retreat center, for goodness sake. You know, you've got all the tools with you. It's like you've got the medicine on the table.
Are you going to take it or not? And I just knew that. I mean, I'd studied a lot about Buddhist philosophy, so mean I knew what the teachings tell you, which is that acceptance and compassion are the only way forward. And so I thought, OK, I've got to apply this. And somehow I found a way. Maybe you hit rock bottom and then that's the only way is to come up. So somehow I found a way to to to feel what I was feeling with with a sense of compassion, to give that part of myself acceptance, love and compassion.
And the whole experience changed because up until that point, it felt like I was it felt like I was inside some kind of torture chamber, being kind of tormented all the time by my own thoughts. And when I learned to lean into that and relax into that, it became like an experience, almost like being wrapped in a warm duvet, you know, became like a pleasant experience of self acceptance. It made me have much more of a gentle attitude towards my own mind.
And so now, of course, I still get upset and stressed and all that stuff, but I'm much more gentle with myself. I don't I just I just accept how I feel. And it kind of passes after a while. Well, that's it, isn't it?
Because you know, that that just perfectly illustrates how we can have a really decent relationship with our thoughts and emotions. And I think we're so quick in the modern world. And and this is probably all due to advertising and social media and the lacking that we believe we might have or the fixing that we think we need is that as soon as we feel anything other than good, we lump on self-loathing into the mix, which just that's the bit that I feel traps us all, is the sort of self-loathing bear.
And I was so interested in in the book, how you sort of tamed thinking in a in a spiritual and expansive way with essentially science, because you talk about neuroplasticity and how we all have the capability to change our thought processes and change these neural pathways. Can you can you talk to us a little bit about that? Because I don't want to sit here and be like we need to sell meditation to the masses because people would do it or not.
But I think there are so many benefits and so many ways that we can really promote and talk about this subject matter with, you know, not only that, a beautiful, expansive thinking in mind, but also scientifically what's happening in our brains.
Yeah, I agree. I think the scientific research that's gone into mindfulness meditation has definitely made it more acceptable for people. And that's great. It's great that you can you can put somebody in a scanner and show that meditation has positively affected their brain. And then you can look at the readout, you can look at the diagram and you can show, yeah, they have a healthier brain, just like if you take your your body to a gym, you'll see muscle after a while.
The same with the with the mind. So I think that's really great. And then also, you touched upon neuroplasticity. So even if you're not looking at scans and results and evidence and research, just the concept that we are we are changeable. We can develop, we can train, just knowing that is is really, really a breakthrough. Because actually we're doing all the time, all the time throughout the day, we are manipulating our own neuroplasticity, usually in a way that isn't that helpful in that we we get into sort of old habits again and again and they just become stronger and stronger.
It's almost like we're training ourselves to be stressed in training. We we're training and self loathing. Yeah, we are a long way. But why the fact we can train and those things mean we can also train in things that help us so we could train in peace, love, kindness, compassion, calm, we can train and all those things too. It's just where you put your training knowing that makes you want to meditate, because then you see that, OK, I can I can develop myself into a calm, positive person.
And when I say calm, I don't mean like sort of tranquilized and zoned out like a zombie. I mean, literally to be at peace with yourself and at peace with the world and to be happy. And that's that's a trainable skill. And I think it's it's something that people are more and more inspired to do.
Yeah, it's liberating, isn't it? It's liberating knowing that you aren't all these miserable thoughts and emotions are just a bad habit.
And you are you're more than you thought. You have more potential than he realized. But then what I find is that is that when people start meditating, they often slightly go down like a rabbit hole and it makes it harder for themselves. Because what often happens is they have this idea that meditation means you're supposed to kind of go into a trance like state, like clear your mind of all your thoughts and just kind of vanish. And that is a huge rabbit hole to fall down because it's impossible and it's incredibly painful.
If you sit there trying to eradicate all your thoughts, they just get stronger. The more you tell your mind to shut up, the louder. Yes. Yeah. And then you think I'm a failure. I can't meditate. Oh, you know, I'm not I'm not qualified for this because I've got a really busy mind. It will never work for me. But the whole problem is it's based on a misconception that people think meditation is about shutting down, switching off, which is understandable because we're so stressed and so busy.
We'd like a bit of shuteye. Wouldn't we like to just kind of like just switch? Yeah, just switch it off. But but then. So what? Supposing you could just knock yourself unconscious for ten minutes. You still got to wake up at the end of it. Back to square one. So as you said, it's about changing your relationship with your thoughts. It's not about getting rid of them. So it's about learning how to be less enslaved by them so that you can start to be the boss of your own mind.
So when you're you know, for anybody listening to this who has never tried meditation, maybe feels a bit nervous because they think it's not for them. What you've just said, I've got a busy mind, etc., when you're in that meditative state or you're you're attempting to to try out for the first time, what are you likely to experience and what is. I don't know if using the word aim is correct, but what what is the experience that that would be beneficial to have that the capabilities to have neuroplasticity and to retrain our minds?
Yeah, this is the thing. So on paper, it sounds incredibly simple. You might be told a technique such as sit down and focus on your own breathing. I mean, that sounds incredibly simple, but the reality is it's really difficult because you manage about three breaths and then you're off of three breaths and then you're off. You're thinking about shopping lists, emails, things you saw on TV. You get distracted by sounds. You think, why am I doing this?
Or then you think, have I fed the cats? You know, it's all over the place, but that's the work. And that's the beauty of it. Because actually the whole point and this is back to neuroplasticity, the whole point of the training is to learn how, you know, your mind drifts, but then you bring it back and it's actually the return in the counts returning to the breath. That's what really counts, because every time you you know, you got caught up in your thoughts, every time you bring yourself back to the breath, it's like you're showing your mind who's boss.
You're teaching yourself. Oh, I don't have to I don't have to buy into that thought, I can consciously move myself back to the breath. So it's almost like you're you're weakening the attachment that your mind has towards those thoughts, that addiction. You're curing yourself of the addiction. And so that if the coming back is what makes you stronger, you've got to have somewhere to come back from. So those thoughts that took you away are not a problem at all.
In fact, they're part of the solution. And I found I find that when people understand that they stop beating themselves up when they meditate, they don't you know, they stop thinking, oh, my mind is so busy, I'm a failure. They see the busy mind is precisely the thing that enables them to come back to the breath. So in a way, bring it on, bring on these thoughts, help they help you. They help you to come back to to your awareness.
And this obviously takes daily commitment or dedication. It's not like, you know, try this once a month and your life is going to change. This is sort of something that needs to be incorporated because, you know, I still meditate infrequently. And, you know, there are no excuses. I think part of me reading your book and wanting to talk to you today is because I really want to, you know, get back to what I know really works for me because I've been sort of on off dipping in and out of meditation or really since I was a kid, because my mum's been deeply fascinated with meditation and yoga and lots of other things to sort of remedy a lot of the pain that she does still feel today.
And she's she is perhaps grasping a little bit with some of it. And I don't think she'd mind me saying that because she kind of knows it. I think I obviously do it, too. But she's she's always encouraged me to sort of look to to these sorts of practices to find some sort of peace. And I really want to get back to it. And I think what I realised when I do come back to it is that my attachment to negative feelings is so much stronger.
And the stories, the negative stories that I carry around with me feel so true, like so factual. I find it really hard to to come back to the breath because they're so overwhelming.
And I think there'll be so many people out there who will have had something awful happen to them and they might have lost their job, lost their loved one. Maybe they've been told. I think this is the tricky one as well. Maybe they've been told by a person or lots of other people that they're useless, bad, no good at something. And I think it's perhaps difficult when you're trying to come back to the breath to really remember that that doesn't have to all be true.
It feels so true. And I just wonder if the way out of that is to just make it a daily discipline and that those feelings and that attachment dissipate over time?
I think so. I think it is about making it a daily practice, but there are some tricks you can apply that help that to be easier. Like one thing is not to try and do big, long sessions, but just to start with ten minutes a day, ten minutes a day is very doable. And then the other thing is it's not only about sitting down on a chair or cushion and meditating. It's also about those tiny moments throughout the day.
I talk about this a lot in the book about how mindfulness in daily life is the key. You can be standing in the queue at the supermarket and you can feel the ground under your feet just for a few seconds. You can be stuck in traffic. You can be washing your hands, you can be brushing your teeth. You can have these mindful moments. And that doesn't feel like a big time commitment because you're just adding mindfulness to the mix of what you're already doing.
But then also, it's not always about the breath like you described. Sometimes we have these really difficult, painful feelings. And then there's a whole story behind those feelings. And I think sometimes it's about feeling the feeling without the story. So so when I was in my retreat, I wasn't using the breath at all. In fact, I was there with this horrific sadness inside me. And I used that as the meditation because my mind was kind of flipping off into all the stories about why I was sad, huge, long stories which are valid.
I'm not suggesting that's all just rubbish. It's valid. But in terms of meditation, if you drop the storyline and go straight to the feeling, you can find freedom.
Yes, that is er I'm thinking of a particular situation in my own life. You know, we're all going through stuff constantly aren't we. Of course. And there's a particular situation and if I actually eradicate the story from this set up and I just think about the emotion, there's probably a little tiny bit of anger, but probably mostly sadness. I think if we go back, we, you know, we rewind back about 50 minutes into this conversation and then I can look at, oh, how could I lean into that?
That's the sweet spot there. And I think I just forget that it just forget it.
Yeah. And I find the easiest way for me to do it is to. Is defined physically where I feel it in my body. Yeah, so if it's an anger, maybe I feel like a burning inside my chest or if it's a sadness, maybe it's a sinking feeling. But there's a kind of physical residue of the emotion, isn't there? There's a physical feeling. And so what I try to do is, is just drop the stories and feel the feeling in my body and use that as a meditation.
Just focus on that without trying to push it away, without trying to justify it, without trying to analyze it. Just it is what it is. And I'm there with it. And because I'm now relaxing into it with kindness, you're forgiving yourself for how you feel. And the feeling starts to change because you're no longer strangling it with all the stories or pushing it down or telling it it's bad. You're allowing it. You're allowing it. This is you you are you are you in this moment feeling what you're feeling?
And that's fine. You're allowing yourself.
That's self compassion right there, isn't it? That's yeah. I think dropping the story, you know, gives room for a bit of self compassion. I can see that in my own life. Like if I get rid of a story, I feel so much more empathy and just connection to those feelings. And I stop the sort of constant habit, again, of beating myself up about stuff is that is liberation in itself. You know, we haven't even touched on your your amazing life story.
And I'd love to ask you a couple of questions about that. You know how? Because I think a lot you know, you talked about burnout a moment ago and en masse, we're feeling burn out right now. You know, we've done like a year of this resilience now. And and everybody, you know, there's obviously varying degrees due to circumstance or whatever, but we've all had to have a sort of shield of of resilience up. And we've had to really work through a lot of inner stuff because we're much less distracted than normal.
And I think we're all a bit worn out, like mentally, physically. You know, sometimes I do moan about this a bit too much, but I'm, you know, doing what many are, which is juggling home school with with work. And you sort of physically feel slightly beaten by the relentlessness of everything without without any let up.
And your reaction to having burned out whilst you were living in New York, acting, making music, like you said, with ambition and money and all of that stuff, what kind of happened to create that catalyst to go from burnout to to choosing this this committed life of being a monk?
Well, I got incredibly sick and very, very suddenly I literally woke up in my apartment in Brooklyn one morning having all the symptoms of a heart attack. And I was terrified. And I went to doctors and they said, we don't know what's wrong with you, but it's probably stress. It's probably your excessive lifestyle. I was partying all the time. I was taking those substances and just not looking after myself. And so it was a complete crash, complete collapse.
And I was ill for a while. I was ill for a few months. And I thought, I've I've really blown it. I've really I've hit rock bottom. What am I going to do? And my mother was looking after me at the time she she was living in the States at that time of year. I went to her place, she looked after me and she had all these books about meditation because meditation and Buddhism had already always been there in the background as I grew up.
But I'd never taken it very seriously. But all these books were there. I'm desperate. I'm reading these books and these books are telling me you can you are you are okay. There's nothing wrong with you. You've just got caught up in your stress. You don't realize that your mind has incredible potential. So this message really started to grab me and I wanted to learn meditation. And then an old school friend of mine told me that there's a Buddhist monastery in Scotland where at that time they'd started a thing where you could be a monk for a year, like a one just a one year thing where you go.
And I went there, I said, I'm going. She was going. I said, I'm coming with you. And I went there and it was full of young people like myself, people who kind of burned out on the rave scene or people who'd had some kind of crisis. And then there were also people who hadn't had some big tragedy. They were just kind of seeking. But a lot of a lot of young people, I think 40 or 50 of us all took robes at the same time.
We became monks and nuns and it was going to be just for a year. And for many people it was. But for me it lasted longer because at the end of that year, I got really into it. I thought, I'm going to stay longer, I'm going to do another year. And then in my second year, I went into retreat for nine months. And in that nine month long retreat, I started to really think about my life.
Who am I? What am I, what am I doing? Do I want to just go back to to the states and carry on with my so-called career? Is that really making me happy? What is it that got me here? Is is horrific amounts of stress. Maybe I've been living just for my ego all this time. Maybe it's just been so much about me. What would it be like to live with compassion? What would it be like to help others?
I started to ask these questions and for me the choice was to stay a monk. So I eventually I took lifelong vows. And now I've been a monk for, what, 26, 27 years. And it's it's become something that I never, ever would have dreamt I would be a monk. I was so not a monk type of person. You know, all my friends from the old days were saying, oh, my goodness, he's joined a cult.
You have to rescue him. What's happened to him? He's taken LSD and gone mad. What's going on? We have to go and get him. But but somehow, I don't know. Sometimes extreme people go from one extreme to the other. But somehow this this isn't too extreme for me, because actually, you might think being a monk is extreme. You give up so much, but you actually gain much more than you give up.
Yeah, that's just the myth of the modern world telling you you're giving up stuff, really, isn't it?
Well, yeah. What am I giving up? I'm giving up things that made me suffer anyway. And I'm really I love being a monk and I love the fact that it's given me a platform from which I can communicate a positive message and I can use my own history of depression and anxiety and addiction and all of that. I can now go into drug rehab centers. I can go into prisons, hospitals, help people with what I've learned and I'm still learning.
So it's very fulfilling, so, so fulfilling and and an incredible and something just really jumped out at me when you were talking there. And that is the word retreat, because we've all you know, we've all heard the word retreat talked about in in lots of different ways in the sense that you're using it in a kind of I'm going on a spa retreat.
But actually, when we think about the real meaning of the word like to retreat from life, sometimes that could be seen as a negative light. You're retreating from it. You're not dealing with it. But there's so much to be gained from physically retreating from all of this noise and craziness. You know, you've you've made that active choice so you can go inwards and to look at the stuff that you want to heal or have acceptance around, what can we on an everyday level learn from retreat?
You know, is there a time when retreating is negative and we're not dealing with stuff, or is it always a positive thing to do?
Well, it depends what you're doing with your mind at the time. And when I went into retreat, maybe some people thought or said, in fact, oh, you're running away from life. But the whole point is I was going deeper. I was going into an enclosed space to look at my mind and heal stuff, because the whole point of retreat is to then come out of retreat at the end with a new perspective and re-engage with the world.
And I mean, now I'm very much in the world. I'm very busy. I'm just as busy and stressed as everybody else. But I've got tools which help me navigate that stuff because of retreat. And I think lockdown can be retreat. I mean, people pay loads of money to go on retreats. We've got a government enforced retreat. Most of us use it, you know, because as you said, it's a time of healing. It's a time of introspection.
And yes, of course, we're all desperate to get get out of lockdown and get on with our lives. But I'm sure when we look back, there's going to be a feeling of, wow, we went through that. That year was horrible, but also amazing. And we learnt so much and we got closer to our families and we got closer to ourselves and something came out of it, some kind of, I don't know, some kind of spiritual development can come out of being alone with yourself.
So so retreat can be anything. I mean, you know, I've done long retreats. I've also done short retreats even a day, a weekend. Why not take some time out? Even half a day. A day. We just shut the phone off and you just meditate all day, not like constantly, but sessions all day. It means that you're giving yourself an environment through which you can go really deep. And then when you come out of that, you've learnt something.
We're scared too, aren't we? We're scared to step off.
The the roundabout is terrifying. Terrifying. I mean, when I went into that four year retreat, I was terrified because after all, it's a bit like lockdown. All the things that you use for your survival and happiness and joy are all taken away from you and you're just going to be with yourself. And I didn't like myself. The thought of locking myself in a room with me was horrific because I didn't like myself. Why would I want to spend time with somebody I didn't like?
And so the only way forward was to learn to like myself. And that's what that experience of going through the Depression and leaning into it really taught me, is that you can make friends with yourself and be at peace with your own company. And I think if you do that, it can help your relationships with others as well, because somebody who doesn't like themself can't really like anybody else, or they pretend to like other people, hoping they'll like them back.
You know what I mean? Yeah, but if you learn to to to enjoy your own company, you can really be there for others, that compassion can spread and become something that can heal the society around us.
You know what? I did a an Instagram live chat the other day with this amazing new friend of mine. Really, I've made a lot of new friends in the last 12 months, having not met any of them face to face, but just people that I've I've met online. And this great guy called John Lancaster, who has Treacher Collins syndrome, and he has this beautiful Instagram page where he talks about self-love, acceptance and compassion daily. And it's it's really an amazing page to land on and to, like, hear him talk and to watch his videos.
And the most interesting thing, when I was talking to John, who who is an amazing place of of, you know, just self acceptance and self compassion, the amount of people that were commenting afterwards saying, I hate myself, I hate myself, I'm not a good person. I was actually shocked. You know, I shouldn't be really, because I've felt like that many times over my lifetime. But I think it was just the sheer volume of of comments like that.
And I think for a lot of the people that were making those comments, they really do feel, again, going back to our earlier trapped in it, like there is no way out of that because they just are a bad person. They have made mistakes. They have made bad choices. What would you say to somebody who's feeling like that at the moment?
I think we've got to realize it's not our fault. We're we're in a very toxic environment that constantly tells us there's something wrong with us. We're always told you're not this enough, you're not that enough. You'll only be happy if you lose weight or if you look like this celebrity or that, or you'll only be happy if when or because we're constantly being brainwashed negatively. So we need to give ourselves a hug and say, look, it's not your fault.
You're in a very difficult environment. And so then you don't have to stop blaming others and say, right, society's crap. I want to I want to just blow it all up. No, you can just know that that you have you've got yourself into this state through a lot of conditioning, a lot of external factors, internal factors, whatever. But you can change and you can start to OK, well, meditation is is an amazing healing for that because those voices in your head that tell you you're no good, they are just thoughts, they're just very loud thoughts and meditation helps you to believe those thoughts less to give them less power and instead to connect with your inner goodness, your inner potential for peace, happiness and goodness.
You're connecting with the sky instead of the clouds. Your you're you're realizing that you're bigger than your self-hatred, I suppose. And I've got a pain in my foot or a headache. That's not the whole of me. I've got a headache but other bits of so, so OK. I've got a bit of self-hatred going on in the side, but there's more to me than that. And meditation helps you connect with the more rather than the less. Oh God.
That's real food for thought. Yeah. We just get in such a mess with all of this don't we. And like you say, it's not our fault. This is a really hard environment to live in for everyone.
You know, things are really complex with technology and news and the bombardment of that and how we communicate with each other, you know, even outside of a pandemic. That's confusing. So and that's a really lovely takeaway. And again, it just all leads back to that self compassion, doesn't it? And that that self-love and being kinder to ourselves, that's just, you know, meditating is a nice way of doing that little gift yourself, like having that moment with yourself.
Yeah. And it can just be moments as well. Of course, it's great to sit down and do formal meditation, but some people find that so difficult. So why not just wash your hands mindfully or chop the vegetables mindfully, have that moment of peace? Because normally when you're washing your hands or chopping the vegetables or ironing or walking somewhere, normally our head is somewhere else, totally caught up in all the stress. So what about just walking or just ironing or just washing the hands, meaning bringing your mind to where your body is and being with the moment.
That is compassion because you're you're giving yourself peace. You're giving yourself a break.
We all need that at the moment, don't we? We all need that. I think that might grow. Mindfulness that you're talking about is something that we can all definitely go away and practice immediately and, you know, experiment, see how that feels and go with it. I'm I'm certainly going to walk away and do that today and for the rest of lockdown for the rest of my life. I'm going to create these little micro moments for sure.
I mean, I could literally talk to you for about a year and I'd still have a, you know, a bag full of questions to ask you. But we've we've done a whole hour, which is whizzed by so quickly. Thank you so much, Tipton, for for such wisdom and thoughtfulness around, you know, what your. Offering to the happy place listeners, I think this is amazing and I've so enjoyed change you today. Thank you. I've really enjoyed it, too.
It's been a great conversation and I've really enjoyed your your points and your questions and your perspective on things as well. Thank you.
It was ever so tempting to keep Tipton on the zem call for hours. I could have really done with it. But you know what? That that time we had with him was just perfect. Thank you so much for your time. And his book, Amongst Guide to Happiness is out now. Urge you to get it. It is beautiful. It goes into loads of lovely detail about the key to unlocking your inner happiness. Now, if you've got a mate who'd benefit from a reality check and a bit of a breather, tell them about this episode.
If they're struggling, push it their way. Get them to subscribe to the podcast for free. All that good stuff. Again, a massive thanks to Galong Tipton to our sponsors. We do natural hair care to the producers of this episode, Matt Hale and Anoushka Tator rethink audio. And how could I forget you lot? Thank you for listening. I love you. I'll see you next week.