The five signs
I was born in Middlesbrough into a working class family in August 1960. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and had a good time doing things that young men did in those days.
By the time I was 26 I was wondering what on earth was going on around me. Very few people seemed happy. Everybody seemed to be going about their business, going to work, coming home, going to bed, but, they didn't seem happy.
I asked my self again and again, does anybody think happiness is worth pursuing? I would ask some members of my family and got blank looks like I was an alien. I would ask to certain friends who I thought may be sensitive to my quest but just got "that look" again.
I carried on in my own little world for a few more years until one evening reading the local newspaper and I came across 20 signs of unhappiness and I had at least 5 of them.
1 You feel that you are not good enough - yep that was me!
2 You find yourself judging yourself and others - yep, I did!
3 You feel like your daily life is meaningless and task driven - another yes!
4 You endlessly compare yourself with others - oh dear, yes again!
5 You are often critical of yourself - oh and another big yes!
I carried these burdens around for another couple of years and wondered what on earth life was all about, whilst feeling rather confused about who I was and what to do. I was never really career oriented as I sensed it wasn’t a career that would lead to happiness.
Then I saw it! A poster in a local library advertising an evening talk on meditation. I went along a couple of weeks later with a few friends. I was hooked. The guy giving the talk seemed genuine and what he said resonated with me.
I signed up to learn meditation (my friends were not impressed) and two weeks later went to the venue of the teacher and, during a short and beautiful ceremony I learned the art of meditation.
I had been practising for two weeks and then I knew that I…to be continued
It had been only two weeks and I realised that I would practice meditation for the rest of my life. This coming from somebody who couldn't even commit to an evening out, was quite something.
After meditating for 20 minutes a day for two weeks, I was changing, my life was changing. I didn't understand how the change was taking place, but it was. I felt more content, felt less anxious, more confident and best of all, more alive.
My friends noticed the changes too, and some of them wanted some of it for themselves. I even started a small meditation group and taught some myself. I had found a key to unlock my life. It wasn't that I was problem free or that I felt blissful everyday, but the way I was relating to my problems changed.
My car still broke down, some days business was not good, but I seemed to flow with these problems more and not get so uptight.
I realised that it was not about a problem free life but how I met and dealt with them. Some days I would still feel a little low but now I had a way of working with my moods. They didn't matter so much. I realised that this was life, sometimes feeling good, sometimes feeling down.
It was remarkable that this very simple but ancient practice was having such an effect on me and, I wanted more.
At this time in the late 1980s and early 1990s I had a small business selling alternative clothing and jewellery on a market stall in the north of England and was loving it. Due to meditating I was in a good space, and meeting and greeting all the people at my little market stall was a joy.
I started reading anything I could get my hands on about meditation. What stood out was that the Buddhists seemed to be the experts when it came to mindfulness meditation.
I had never been very religious (and I am still not) but I wasn't going to let a small thing like a world religion get in the way. So in usually Malcolm style off I went on my explorations.
But first there was, what I thought was a small journey to a place and a festival called Glastonbury with two good friends, and what happened there changed the direction of my life forever…
Who are these people?
I loved Glastonbury, and just to add to the good time, the weather was superb, no wellies needed, and out came our flip flops. One of the highlights was watching and listening to Van Morrison under the setting sun and the early evening stars.
The next day I saw a sign for a Buddhist meditation group in one of the tents. I went along for a session - I was not going to miss this. I remember the theme, they were talking about peacefulness coming not from trying to control the external world, but from our own mind.
We meditated for 20 minutes then he taught for a few minutes afterwords. What surprised me was how very normal they appeared, they didn’t seem spiritual in any way at all. A part of me was pleased to see this, but another part of me was a little disappointed, in my naivety I somehow expected them to be glowing with light and walking on lotus flowers, with angelic smiles on their ultra serene faces.
However, through all that I sensed they were quite content, and of course I wanted to know more, I wanted to interrogate them to find their secret. They obviously knew something I didn’t.
At some point I got to talk to one of them. I kept trying to move the conversation on so that he would reveal his deep wisdom to me and I would forever live in ecstasy. It became obvious to me that he was an ordinary guy when he told my he came from Barnsley in Yorkshire (I was born in Yorkshire) and not some other-worldly spiritual realm.
He said there were a group of guys from his Buddhist Order starting activities in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Yes, you guessed right, I went along to the first evening they had there, and I dragged along 3 friends.
I attended every week for around 18 months, and even moved into a Buddhist community.
I relished living with this group of Buddhists. We had fun, we meditated together and socialised together. I began to help out at the centre, guiding some meditations and doing a little teaching, and though I was nervous being up-front, I was actually good at it, to my surprise.
I even gave up my market stall business and a group of us opened a Buddhist ethical business. A percentage of our profits went to worthwhile causes in the UK and India. There was no pay structure as we all got the same pay…really, it was pocket money as we didn't need a lot to live on.
One thing dawned on me at this time. I had been anxious and nervous for decades but that was changing. I stopped feeling so bothered by what people were thinking of me, this was liberating, and of course, you guessed it, I wanted more.
I then decided to make my next move…this move, and indeed my whole journey wasn't strategic in any way - I am not strategically minded - it was all done when the time felt right.
I tend to be an all or nothing person and I wanted to go all the way with what I had found, so I asked to be ordained into the Western Buddhist Order. After four years of training and many retreats I was invited to be ordained on a four month retreat in the mountains in Spain…I absolutely relished immersing myself in this experience.
At my ordination I was given what I consider to be a beautiful name, Suryacitta, meaning, he who has a heart like the sun.
After 4 months I returned back to Newcastle as a shiny new member of the Buddhist Order, and continued to work in our Buddhist business.
However, I wasn't finished with going deeper into the Buddhist world just yet…I then decided to make what I believe to be the most transformative decision of my life…to be continued
Facing the wall
In 2001 I decided, or a decision was made by some deep part of me to give everything up and dedicate the next period of my life to meditation, I decided to move into a semi monastic set-up and to live and work at Vajraloka retreat centre in the hills of north Wales.
I moved there in the spring of 2001. Before arriving there however, I took the opportunity to spend nine weeks travelling around northern India and Nepal. It was a great experience touring some of the Buddhist sites.
When I arrived back I went straight to Vajraloka and felt instantly at home. I knew there was no where in the whole world I would rather be. I had found my home. After a few months in the main house I moved into a log cabin in the grounds, which was about 12x8ft with just a bed, a small desk and a rail for a few clothes…and I didn’t fill that. I lived there for the next four and a half years.
We would run retreats for the general public for a week or two then we would have time as a community, meditating and maintaining the centre.
Some retreats we would meditate for 5-6 hours a day for days on end…it was difficult but I was in my element. I loved the simplicity of life there.
I had no keys, no credit cards, very few possessions and received a few pounds a week to save up to go visit family occasionally.
This was my paradise. There were some retreats where I would sit for hours on end just looking at a white wall. From the usual viewpoint, this would be classed as madness, but this for me was the height of sanity. You cannot sit in front of a wall doing nothing but looking at it without beginning to get to know your own mind.
It wasn't always easy because when you take away your distractions you are left to face yourself. However, I did not go there for an easy life, I went there for a simple life, which enabled me to just focus on meditation.
When I wasn't meditating or helping with practical things around the place I would sit for hours, just watching the birds eating from the bird feeders, which I hung from the guttering of my cabin.
It was here I started to write. My first attempts at writing were published in our order newsletter and I got some glowing feedback about them. Leaving school as I did at 15 with no qualifications, I had absolutely no idea I could write well. However, I was able to express in very simple terms what I understood mindfulness meditation was about.
There were big changes going on internally too. My mind was quiet, I felt very present and I was very satisfied with what I was doing, and sharing what I was doing with others who wanted to do the same.
I really did not miss the things of this world.
But all good (and bad) things come to an end. I was still very happy at Vajraloka but something inside was urging me to begin to think about going back into the world.
I ventured out to teach in various centres around the country. Teaching people in the outside world made me realise that mindfulness and compassion meditation was for everybody (who was interested) and not just those living in quiet rural retreat centres.
It had also been a long time being celibate and it was time to bring this to an end, so with these two impulses knocking at the door, I made my next move, and what a move it was. I moved from the quiet, meditative, serene life at Vajraloka to…to be continued
Back in the world
In the Autumn of 2005 after 13 years of celibacy and five years of living simply I decided it was time for a change and moved to Brighton, a place that couldn’t be more different to the place I lived in and loved.
I moved into a Buddhist community and worked part time in the Buddhist business there. It was here that I was asked to write an article on meditation for a local magazine, and they liked it. I had taken on the pen name of the Happy Buddha and created myself a simple website.
I created an eight week course on the subject of happiness and ran that in Brighton which was very successful. This was to become my first book, Happiness and How it Happens - Finding contentment through mindfulness.
After about six months I met a beautiful woman called Gaynor. After about 9 months of seeing each other we decided it was time for us to live together. So I moved out of the community and into her lovely home in Brighton.
Sometime in 2007 we decided to move to the Midlands to be near Gaynor’s family.
After moving to the Midlands I continued to teach and to write. One of the first things we did in our new home was to build a meditation space where we could run meditation sessions and lead courses and retreats.
In 2013 Gaynor and I started a new business Mindfulness CIC - a not - profit business offering mindfulness and compassion for all. We still run this today.
I started to get known as a teacher of mindfulness and compassion and got invited to run retreats and events throughout the UK, Europe and then Australia.
Gaynor and I got married in June 2014 amid a lovely Buddhist ceremony.
I continued to write and my second book Mindfulness and Compassion - embracing life with loving kindness was released in October 2015. I am still writing.
Although I am very much from a Buddhist background I teach people of any faith or no faith at all. I doesn't matter to me at all.
It has been a great journey and I love what I do. I see the benefits and the joy which mindfulness brings to people’s lives.
My third book A Mindful Life came out in November 2017.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey as much as I enjoyed living it.
I now run mindfulness courses, mindfulness teacher training and meditation retreats in the UK and Europe.