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After a lifetime of searching, Alistair finds himself

I have spend four decades (probably more) looking for the self, to find myself

There’s a great cartoon I saw recently which shows a man looking under a bed at his double – same shirt, same trousers, same hair – who’s lying there, hiding. The caption runs: “After a lifetime of searching, Leonard finds himself.”

The more I looked at this picture the more it tickled me and – simultaneously – made me cringe.

In some shape or form, I have spent four decades (probably more) looking to find myself. From an early age – maybe ten or eleven  – I had this sense that my real life wasn’t to be found in the suburban sameness of the Hampshire town where I grew up. “Real life” shimmered like a mirage on the horizon – perhaps when I became a teenager? or when I went to University? or when I was grown up? 

My true self, sequinned in diamonds

Of course, the closer I got to each of these benchmarks, the further off my real life seemed to dance. At Cambridge, I was happy but there was a sense that when I came out fully and discovered sex and drugs then my real life might start. When I disappeared into the maelstrom of 1990s Berlin and had a lot of sex and drugs, I always imagined that I was just stretching my wings ready for the real flight. Coming back to London and starting in TV, I imagined that perhaps fame might cut the mustard. And then when I was disillusioned with that, then Buddhism and meditation beckoned. 

Tibetan Buddhism, Thai Forest Buddhism, Ayahuasca, psychotherapy, and then Tibetan Buddhism again. I picked them all up with the unspoken breathlessness that characterised all my searching. Surely all these gold-plated methods would lead me one day around the corner and – boom! – there I would be my true self, sequinned in diamonds and shining like a star. 

Embarrassment, softly mixed with sorrow

It’s embarrassing really. The desperate search for an alternate Alistair. One that has no pimples, doesn’t wake up feeling tired and feels radiant, gold-hearted love for racist old ladies and ugly children.

The embarrassment is also softly mixed with sorrow. That all those decades were wasted when I could have just been enjoying the self that I got given when I was born in 1970. Still, I suspect I’m not alone in this, which gives me enormous solace.

It’s here where it’s always been

There’s a Tibetan story about the poor man who lives his life in a dirt hut unaware that, buried a few inches under the floor, is a pot of immeasurable gold. He dies on top of it, completely unaware of how close he was to its riches.

Where did I imagine that I was going to find myself? Up a mountain? In the jungle? Anywhere else?

Gently, gently, I’m letting myself down into the soft, smooshy reality of my body as-it-is. The practice of somatic sitting is the tool for entry. And when I enter it’s beautifully simple and intensely dense. And it’s absolutely, 100%, here. 

Here, where it’s always been. 

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