My name is Paul Follows, I have been practising meditating for 17 years & teaching it for 14 years. I trained formally in a Buddhist Tradition for 9 years (8 hours per week of study besides meditation.)
During that time I attended a 5 year long Buddhist Meditation Teacher Training Programme that included:
- Teaching skills and meditation guidance skill reviewed by Senior Monks & Nuns, and Peers.
- Home study and exams based on many meditation texts.
Since 2003 I have taught meditation to adults in various locations in Surrey and the surrounding area (including Kingston, Surbiton, Sutton, Weybridge, Wimbledon, Byfleet and Pyrford.)
During this time I have been fortunate to teach mindfulness and guide meditations at RHS Wisley Gardens, Woking High School, Surbiton High School, Spirit Daycare in Pyford and Woking Quakers.
I only teach and guide meditations in which I have deep personal experience and understanding.
I’m a husband and father and I have a full time job as a Consulting Engineer and Life Coach.
I started meditating formally as an adult in 1999. Before that I’d meditated as a child without knowing what it was. It just seemed fun to go under the bed covers, spin around, allow my perception of the universe to just fall away and observe the passing thoughts. It was fun, natural, and I never thought to tell anyone.
My first experience of formal meditation happened out of the blue in 1999 when I was 30. A clear and profound experience of the mind of Mahamudra Tantra via the Yoga of Sleep just occurred spontaneously. This is a very specific advanced practice used by Buddhist monks mainly in Tibet. Somehow I knew it was a meditation experience and it set me on my journey with a real curiosity and a wish to experience such a sublime state again.
Buddhists would therefore describe my level of attainment from 1999 to 2014 as Stream Enterer (sorry for the technical blurb here but I like to try to be precise, that way it’s more clear what I can help others with.)
My current state (since January 2015) could simply be described as awakened ***. Using more complicated language, the obstructions to liberation have ceased but the obstructions to omniscience haven’t. The day to day experience of this is that I experience everything (the good the bad and the ugly) generally within contentment. Every now and again a negative feeling arises but they have no power to disturb the contentment; effort doesn’t need to be applied anymore. These negative feelings so far have been short but intense periods of previously suppressed/repressed trauma, perhaps from childhood. They are becoming less and less frequent.
The next step is to continue to meditate on emptiness and to allow the remaining suppressed/repressed feelings to come and go via mindfulness of feelings. The final step is the removal of the obstructions to omniscience (Buddhahood.)
Over the years my peace has been enriched by the following methods and techniques:
Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism (Sutra & Tantra),
Soto Zen Buddhism,
Hindu Advaita Vedanta (non duality.)
My daily practice included breathing meditation, mindfulness, love, compassion, wisdom / non-duality / prasangika presentation of emptiness, resting in impersonal awareness.
Irrespective of the various methods and techniques I have employed, since 2000 my base practices have been breathing meditation, mindfulness of feelings and wisdom/emptiness. I love the calm and stillness that breathing meditation uncovers, the healing and honesty that mindfulness of feelings brings and the cessation of personal suffering that emptiness causes.
When challenging states of mind arose I practiced Insight Meditation and Zen. Through these methods I developed some mental composure into challenging states of mind such as grief, shame, guilt, anger, self loathing and terror. Deep levels of emotional healing, dignity, & empathy arise naturally when mindfulness is brought to these otherwise daunting states of mind. Fundamentally denial of suffering is reduced.
Over time my body gradually became far less tense and I slept significantly more peacefully.
Recent Events in a little more detail.
In November 2014, after years of consistent (varied) practice, the underlying mood that had been present for much of my life (melancholy) fell away. It hasn’t come back.
A month later it became very evident that body and mind, awareness, consciousness, whatever we wish to call them are not “owned” by anyone. Like all other objects they lack intrinsic ownership. This lead to an even deeper stillness and clarity.
Towards the end of January 2015, after mindfully sitting with some historic deep childhood suffering, the ability to have personal suffering fell away. It seems that was the last bit of denial gone. It was also the last bit of hope gone. I saw that hope is the opposite of peaceful acceptance. In being fully open to the suffering, it ceased to have any power to disturb my mind.
I still experience uncontrolled thoughts outside of formal meditation and some uncontrolled feelings (if an intense situation arises) but so far they have no power to disturb the deep stillness. There is some “personal” stuff that plays out mentally and verbally but it’s like “fumes” that have no power to disturb the deep stillness and contentment.
I still have very strong conviction and commitment to social justness. I can still be a blunt northerner, I still forget things, I haven’t stopped being me.
*** I am well aware that this is a bold statement that could draw criticism, scepticism and even disbelief from traditional Buddhist communities. From my point of view (right from the beginning) I’ve been baffled by the logic of those who are practising the Buddhist path to liberation (4 noble truths) but don’t believe it’s actually achievable. That doesn’t make any sense. As an Engineer I tend to do things that I believe are possible. If I believe something isn’t possible I either challenge my own view or I go off and do something else.
I’m equally puzzled as to why anyone would keep secret their attainments and abilities from other sincere practitioners. In terms of my experience, I’m an “open book” and happy to be found by others seeking methods and help uncovering peace and tranquillity. Again, this is unconventional within many traditional Buddhist circles. I appreciate the subtleties of the arguments for and against and I have chosen to be honest, open and available. I treat fellow meditators as autonomous adults who are capable of noting others attainments and successes in a positive way.
If you are interested in meditation why not attend a drop in class or book onto a course. Peace is surprisingly close.