I grew up in the historic town of Abingdon in Oxfordshire in the south east of England. I enjoyed the privileges of a middle-class upbringing, attending decent schools and having my practical needs met, but at the same time intense relationship problems between my mother and father affected me deeply.
My mother was an atheist and my father a Christian. My father took my sister and I to church some Sundays, and I used to sing in a church choir, but church was always something that I considered boring and irrelevant; I had no real sense of the gospel at the heart of the Christian faith.
As a teenager I was an atheist like my mother, and I was very dismissive of the idea of God, believing religion to be fantasy and seeing believers as naive. I would even say that the idea of God angered me.
I became heavily involved in music which provided a focus during my early teens. I felt a great deal of anger towards my father over the way he treated my mother, my sister, and I, but found an outlet for difficult emotions in alternative music artists like Marilyn Manson and Rage Against the Machine. Letting off steam in the mosh pit at a rock concert was liberating, and attending music festivals was a highlight of my teenage years.
A turning point in my life came when my mother was unexpectedly diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in her early fifties. I was 17 at the time. Watching my mother suffer through a gruelling treatment regime was hugely upsetting. Her marriage with my father was already strained, but the cancer diagnosis increased hostilities and my parents eventually separated with my mother moving back to her native country of Holland as a way of escaping the hurtful relationship.
My mother was desperate to recover, and embarked upon a spiritual journey of sorts as she sought to find alternative therapies with a view to becoming well again. She became very interested in new age spirituality, and started following teachers such as Deepak Chopra, Brandon Bays, and Eckhart Tolle. I found a great deal of inspiration in these teachers, and for the first time in my life developed a yearning for truth, becoming obsessed with the idea that I could attain enlightenment or self-realisation.
After a long and gruelling illness my mother finally passed away in 2003, and watching her die after being so determined to recover was deeply saddening. The full impact of my mother’s death didn’t hit me right away, but it was a catalyst for me spiritually – I found myself asking big questions about the meaning of life and I wanted to understand the reasons why my mother had to suffer so terribly.
My mother’s illness had coincided with my time at university, which meant a lot of journeying back and forth between England and Holland. Although I was studying Commercial Music my deep passion for spirituality had been ignited, and I used to spend hours meditating or lying in the bath listening to tapes by the comparative religion philosopher Alan Watts. Another teacher who a friend introduced me to at the time was Ramana Maharshi, an Indian guru who taught a method of spiritual investigation called self-enquiry.
Following my mother’s death in 2003 my spiritual search became really chaotic. I went on various meditation retreats, and became involved in a kind of cult led by an Indian teacher named Ratu Bagus who taught a practice known as ‘shaking meditation’. I experienced turbulent mental health during this time and was full of confusion, depression, and hopelessness. My sister was becoming worried about me, and with good reason; I was really struggling.
Around this time I entered into my first serious relationship with a girl who I had met at university, and upon graduation began my career with a fairly prestigious and well paid job in the heart of the music industry. There were some good times, but I was also very lost spiritually, and my obsession with enlightenment eventually led me to attend psychotherapy for the first time.
To say psychotherapy was eye-opening would be an understatement. It was as though I had for many years been seeking a guru or master who could understand me and help me, and finally, in my psychotherapist, I had found that person.
A tremendous amount of healing took place in my psychotherapy sessions which I attended on and off for several years. I was able to process a range of difficult emotions, and eventually come to terms with my mother’s death and deal with a lot of the pain that I had bottled up during my childhood when my mother and father were fighting.
Despite my psychotherapy sessions being incredibly helpful, my search for enlightenment was not over. In fact, it was only just beginning.