Growing up in the UK as a Mid-90's baby was far from a normal experience, especially mine. For a start, at around age 10, I used to listen to 50 Cent’s album on my commute to middle school. Screaming the words “I’ll whip ya head boy” before I was about to start a day’s education; no wonder I was such an angry child growing up lol.
I grew up in a small town, around 30 miles south of Birmingham, called Droitwich Spa. Aside from the few strange, bewildering people who become obsessively attached to the old town, it’s actually a rather quiet, pleasant place in terms of crime and violence. However, UK culture has always been based around alcohol consumption and ‘laddish’ antics, this was heavily communicated throughout my high school experience (ages 13-16). Between these years, on a weekend, you would probably find my friends and I spinning round in the park whilst chugging a 3-liter bottle of cider. Pitiful and amusing I know. Yet this became a regular part of growing up in my early days, and upon reflection I became heavily curious as to why I chased the escapism from the norm, and the methods to which I chose to purse it, namely alcohol. These questions and others have led to me to force myself to tackle the unfixed issues that lie beneath the surface of who I am.
My life growing up wasn't particularly bad, it was confusing at times, but it could have been a lot worse. I have an amazing Mother who has always been extremely supportive, and although we were forced to move to a council estate at when I was at the young age of 6, I never went without. And my mom would work as hard as she could to make sure I got most of the things I wanted. Still, I was certainly a very cheeky, rebellious young man. I say this with confidence as it has moulded me into the person I am today. I was the constant class clown, dragging my peers into mischief, getting suspended from school for various silly reasons; I was certainly that child, screaming for attention in some way shape or form. So, this is the picture... Me, my friends and a bottle of cider it was, with a Sony Ericcson phone, a few cigarettes we could find lying round the house and an album by the Arctic Monkeys being screamed across a park (the proper music they made, not the pretentious new stuff). When I used to explain this way of growing up to Americans and Europeans on my travels, they would gawp in disbelief at the atrocious behaviours of a 14-year-old boy, but then I'd probably show them Shameless, or Skins and they'd very quickly understand the dynamics.
Last August I returned from travelling around Australia, I spent 18 months living and working across Oz. This was certainly the best part of 2 years of my life, however, the drinking culture stuck with me. I was still using alcohol and other drugs as an escapism from my problems. Although at this point it was masked by the sense of being on the other side of the world; establishing strong connections with incredible people, beautiful weather, girls, food and without being too hard on myself I was certainly happy to be partying around this time.
I know there’s a lot of people out there that have and still do use these methods of escapism, and I hope I can relate to my readers on a deep, honest basis.
I came back to England for my dad’s wedding and decided to stay home as funds were low and there were only 4 months left on my Australian Visa. It was an incredible feeling to come back and see all my close family, as well as surprising my mother with my return. As amazing as it was, these feelings of enjoyment quickly passed, the change of environment started to shake my reality and the feeling of being out of sync with society started to set in. I wasn’t surprised - Going from living with 100’s of interesting people in the free and unchallenged hostel environment, to a secluded bedroom in the Westland's.
Then Lockdown happened. The nail in the coffin as far as I was concerned at the time. I completely lost my sense of self, feelings of depression and anxiety riddled me. I spent weeks in bed, contemplating things I never thought possible. Even the simple task of dragging myself out of bed for a shower seemed impossible with the heavy feelings of a depressed mind. I knew it was time for a change and I was ready for a new approach to life.
One late evening during lockdown, while scrolling through the desperate depths of YouTube, I came across a Joe Rogan Podcast featuring Naval Ravikant. Naval is a tech investor in America, he became famous for a tweet that went viral called “How to get rich” but he also is a massive advocate for meditation and believes happiness is a skill we can all learn just like getting money and being fit!
During the podcast Naval began to explain meditation in a way that really explained the logic behind why it’s important, and it was instrumental in winning me over in taking it seriously. He said to imagine that unresolved thoughts in our mind are built up over time like unread emails, and over time these emails build up and become brushed under the carpet and ignored. Meditation requires you to sit with yourself and your mind full of thoughts; this can be very intimidating - to have to sit and listen to yourself. One of the many reasons a lot of people get put off by the practice. However, by sitting quiet with our eyes closed, practicing the art of doing nothing, thoughts pop up like unread emails. By facing these problems one by one, we start to work through these issues that have been bothering us, and even if we don’t find solutions to these problems, we can get peace of mind by acknowledging and facing the problem head on. Then, one day you hit the magic number 0 of unread emails, and this feeling is said to be one of a superior presence and peace of mind. So, Naval says by simply sitting with your eyes closed for 60 minutes a day, allowing your mind to run - not fighting or resisting any thoughts that come to mind, we can train our brains to become mindful and view our thoughts like a passenger. This is an incredible skill that can give you power over any negative thoughts that arise.
Initially the prospect of hallucination through meditation intrigued me. But as I undertook the practice, the initial naïve interest in hallucination wore off, and I began to feel a change in myself. I noticed I was more considerate; kinder, thoughtful. In day-to-day life, rather than take the piss or interrupting people, I was taking the time to listen. Listening to myself had begun to make me more compassionate and understanding, without even knowing. I’ve been doing meditation for around a year now, and it's benefited my life in many ways. Through the practice of meditation, I began to notice recurring negative thought patterns that had taken over my life! The many problems I had been burying deep within myself started to surface. In some ways it made me very upset at the time, but this was all part of a process to cleanse myself and seek truth, rather than playing the victim and burying these emotions.
The Podcast had ignited a spark within me, it was the beginning of my own personal spiritual journey that I continue to embark on. I was no longer feeling sorry for myself but intrigued by the laws of mindfulness. I’d always been a very ‘overstimulated’ person. Feeding off the typical 21st century suburban environment brought with it unknown feelings of anxiety and fear. Meditation gave me an element of control over this, a release. Whenever I feel my mind racing, I use meditation to bring my attention back to the present moment, breathe, and regain a clear perspective.
It was over the next few months of mediation that I regained some power over my depression, and the idea of wanting to start a brand linked with mental health and mindfulness was born. I was toying with the name of ‘mindful men’ before ultimately deciding on Zenful Men as a name for this project, the project I hoped would help people who had become affected by depression like myself. But this was just the beginning. Meditation was the perfect door to open at the time it did, it led me to many more important habits and ideologies that began to change and influence my life in ways I could never have imagined. And I wanted to share it with you all, in a productive and helpful way, and so;
Zenful Men was born.