By Brent Purple Oliver
My past isn’t pretty.
For most of my life I’ve felt ostracized by the world, aimless and dismal.
I’ve struggled with substance abuse, I’ve seen my mental stability slip, and even flirted with that seductive swinger—suicide. How did I respond to this despair and all these challenges? I cultivated a surly, cynical, sarcastic attitude and pretty much embraced my gloomy fate. It was seriously touch and go for a long time.
I’m a mindfulness coach now. I help people looking for relief from issues like anxiety, depression, chronic pain and stress. Some are pursuing deep self-transformation, self-transcendence, and good old-fashioned liberation. And I’m their guide.
In September, I will start a year-long training program to specialize in providing trauma-sensitive mindfulness to under-served and marginalized populations.
I’ll eventually be working with people who’ve been victimized by terrible violence, neglect and oppression, offering them meditative techniques that may help them live better lives. In addition to a dedicated, precise skill set, this will require delicacy, compassion, patience and strength.
Am I a good choice for this? Certainly, the person I used to be could never do what I do now. It took over 40 years to finally figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, to find my place and get healthier. I love teaching mindfulness and I think I’m particularly suited for the job ahead, specifically because of my troubled past.
Most of my former suffering and anger stemmed from the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere. Despite constant searching, I couldn’t find anything that meant anything to me. I pissed away my chance at a college education and traditional nine-to-five success because I had no motivation. No career interested me in the slightest. I was adrift while everyone around me connected with passions and vocations and partners. I just…existed.
So I filled that plain existence with booze and drugs and nonchalant nihilism.
I raged and partied and pushed myself right up to the brink of self-destruction. None of it made me happy and I went out of my way to make other people unhappy, too. That was the only purpose I could manufacture.
It’s incapacitating to feel so utterly pointless, to have no drive or dreams beyond the next beer or joint or vicious joke; to be paralyzed and trapped in dead end jobs with no money or security. The universe flowed past me while my psychological fitness declined.
Over the years, I became deeply invested in my prickly personality and brutal humor.
They protected me but they also crippled my introspection. I saw I was becoming a miserable, mordant wretch, but I buried all that so it went unexamined. Instead, I wallowed in self-pity, amplified my contempt, and fattened the chip on my shoulder.
Even my discovery of Buddhism and meditation didn’t fully change that. Study and practice showed me that it was insane to hold on to my comforting sense of self, especially since that self was a calamitous prick. I was perpetuating my own suffering. It made sense on paper; I understood it intellectually, but I wasn’t ready to let go.
I was the bad Buddhist: grumpy, tipsy, and obnoxious.
I kept hoping the practice—as poorly and haphazardly as I did it—would magically make me enlightened while I continued to be the shitty old me I had such a soft spot for.
Buddhism did make me happier right from the start. It diverted me from extinction and changed my views and ideas about everything. More importantly, it gave me a blueprint for harmony. Following that blueprint badly was still a huge improvement for my well-being. Eventually, I was able to loosen the death-grip I had on my ornery self, to feel a little less lost and insignificant.
After that initial breakthrough, the benefits really picked up speed. I settled into a serious practice and became open to the insights it brought about. I tried to find ways to act on those insights, to break habitual patterns and change unhealthy behaviors. It became easier to see through my old self, that cranky phantom whose protection was increasingly unnecessary.
The desire to become a mindfulness coach deepened my dedication and brought some real import to my life. I studied and practiced even harder, researching and exploring the ways secular mindfulness could be applied to assuage the suffering of others. After so long languishing without purpose and listening vainly for a calling, the discovery of a committed aspiration was galvanizing.
I think it’s fitting that I focus my efforts on trauma-sensitive mindfulness for people who’ve been forgotten, neglected, abused, and victimized. My own suffering nearly destroyed me. It shoved me to the fringes of society where I felt abandoned and useless. I fought back with ignorant angst and awkward gallows humor and I did things I’ll regret until I die.
But all that brought me here; to mindfulness and healing and accord with myself. Those tribulations guided me in this direction and groomed me to be of service. I relate acutely to the pain of people who’ve been demeaned and diminished; to those without hope or resources or support or opportunity.
Without the trials of my past, ugly and harrowing as they were, I wouldn’t be where I am right now, in this unique position to help others. I hated my anguish, but now I know how to assist others with theirs.
I’ve been there, and my scars are always visible.
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Brent is a coach in Shinzen Young’s Unified Mindfulness system because it’s just such an approach. He works with individuals interested in everything from alleviating stress to pursuing classical enlightenment. He also coaches groups, and offers presentations to companies, schools, and organizations curious about the benefits of mindfulness. In addition to being a columnist at The Tattooed Buddha, Brent’s writing has also appeared in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and Morpheus. He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife, two cats, and a crippling addiction to horror. Swing by his website BrentOliverMindfulness.com for more information.
Latest posts by Brent Oliver (see all)
- Scar Tissue is Stronger - August 9, 2019
- Three Pillars of Meditation Practice to Help Stay on Track - February 28, 2019
- Back to High School…to Teach Mindfulness to Teenagers - January 24, 2019