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Searching or crystals? – Mark Kogen Shawcroft

I left education when I was 29. I had cocooned myself in its embrace for 6 years. I felt I had found myself, found my friends, found my love of life. Experimented! I took photos, studied film and criticised some of the world’s greatest art pieces. Thinking I knew best. I spent many hours sat with my friends testing our theories on why life and why anything. We were drunk on the sound of our own voices and it was lively. I guess we all knew we we’re just making it up. I spent even more hours waiting at the bar to be served my next pint. I ate a lot of cooked breakfasts at the world’s greasiest cafe, hoping to purge my body from the Sambuca I drunk. It was a great time to be alive and I felt it. I had previously felt miserable and I felt quite literally reborn. I felt very new.

Then it came to an end and I moved to London in search of work. Impermanence punched me in the face. Not content at that, it stuck the boot in. Where had everything gone? I missed my old friends but came to the realisation it would never be the same. This really hurt. I felt they probably moved on and adapted. That really didn’t help. Could I move on? Did work destroy everybody else’s lust for life? I think boredom was eating me alive. I could not play at life anymore, I had to do something. This was very painful. I had to do things I did not want to do, when I did not want to do them, with people I hoped would fall under one of London’s lovely red buses. Nothing seemed genuine. I did not know what to put my trust in. The world still seemed beautiful but I doubted if I could get comfortable in it the way I was. The feelings of being an outsider had returned. I felt depressed, or was I just sulking?

Somehow, I ended up reading a Christmas Humphreys book on Zen. It stated that this very angst would return over and over again. This would drive some to seek the origin of their suffering. That sounded very melodramatic so seemed to fit me like a glove. At the back of the book an address: The London Buddhist Society. So I went and did a little course. Then joined the Zen group. Then after a while was accepted into the senior group. I was a little in awe. Here in London, near Victoria Station. A calm in the heart of the termite mound. This old building. Full of history and permeated with the smell of countless incense sticks. It felt special and I guess I was feeling a bit more special again. I felt I was gaining access to the spiritual Illuminati. I was seduced by the idea of being able to become selfless. I didn’t really know what that was. I forgot myself for a second on the cushion and almost had a panic attack. Maybe I didn’t want to be selfless at all. One thing I did find out was this self liked custard creams. One of the teachers inquired who kept eating so many. I discreetly emptied a packet into the tin the following week. I was just settling in but often felt exposed. Then I found a new job. I started work as a prison officer in Pentonville Prison. I was away in training and could not go to the Zendo for a few months. The first time I returned I was late. I felt I could not enter the Zendo. I was gripped with a horrible apprehension. Would I get shouted at? Not just going in but the feeling that no-one would have noticed I had not been for a while. No-one would have remembered I ever went. I was totally anonymous and deeply forgettable. No-one would say hello. Or even who are you. Here I was trying to forget myself, who am I fooling? I felt insignificant and I didn’t like it. I just went home. Rather than go home with my tail between my legs. My ego found a nice way of feeling secure. I decided I needed something more loose, less disciplined. A more comfortable fit. Something easier. Somewhere you did not get shouted at if you nodded off. Something for moi.

I still needed something. Firstly I tried Kundalini Yoga. My breath held in uncomfortable positions. Felt a bit like drowning. I didn’t like this. I tried opening my chakras. I looked for my spirit guide. It arrived. Of course it did, I made it up. I went on a journey through my body. Looking for trauma to release. I had my eyes photographed. They told me my digestive system was slow. But I had known my own toilet habits for years. I went to a new age spiritual fair. My aura was orange I think. It meant something I can’t remember what. I also read all kinds of books. How to converse with angels. Hearing voices in the static on the airways. Books about keys, secrets, labyrinths, the Templars, the druids. I felt an affinity towards Odin. I even joined a little spiritual group. Everyone there was a very nice when we weren’t bickering about our mystical prowess. These things can get in your head. I was looking at black cats, ravens and waiting for my next deja vu. I bought some CDs of sitar music. I bought some cheap crystals. I felt sure one was plastic. But it didn’t really work. I could not distract myself from my discomfort. I basically had the same itch I always had. Being with myself. I knew deep down I had to face myself to forget myself. It was true after all. So I started sitting in another Zen group that was on my way home from work. I turned up. I didn’t say much. I was a bit anonymous. But I felt that was okay. Then this Christmas I went to see my mum. On the way I stopped at Stonehenge. There looking me in the eye. Sitting on a stone. Two Ravens. Huginn and Muninn. I don’t believe in you. So I am extra grateful you turned out for me.