Thinking and feelings will not kill you

Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 01:00

MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:Listening to a deep part of yourself is a way out of despair

I WAS a priest in Nottingham for about three years. Looking back, I realise how important my experience in hearing confessions was. You get to know people, the voices and, visiting them in their homes, you get to know their situation.

At that time in 1968, married couples were having incredible difficulties with the Pope’s teaching on birth control. I began to say to myself, this is crazy teaching.

The theological and psychological understanding of sexuality was rubbish. It was not grounded in reality. It was a burden on good families. Someone reported me to the bishop.

He called me in and told me I must publicly support the teaching, that I was committing mortal sin by disobeying the Pope and I would have to resign. I was scared to death. I had nothing. What would my family think? I also had this fear that, because I was committing mortal sin, I’d get cancer or in some way I was going to be punished.

But I was sure of the goodness of the people. It was either them or the Pope and I’m glad to say, the Pope lost.

The bishop demanded I resign but asked me to wait until after the Christmas ceremonies. I refused; saying to do so would collude in his faulty beliefs.

The controversy opened my eyes to the dictatorship of the Vatican, to the secrecy and the primacy of the organisation, and the enormous gap between it and the people.

With the financial support of many Catholics, I studied modern philosophy and world religions at Lancaster University. It was an exciting time. After that I worked with the London Council of Social Service.

I returned to Dublin in 1976 to work with Combat Poverty. Then, together with my partner, we opened an antiques shop in 1981.

I was involved in a very special and deeply rewarding personal relationship with him but that collapsed in 1990 and my whole world fell apart.

I was shocked at the depth of despair, loneliness, aloneness, helplessness and the total sense of loss. Call it depression or a nervous breakdown but I was wary of, and avoided, the medical route.

Whiskey, big warm open fires and the listening of my friends helped me to keep going. It became a nervous breakthrough.

I was introduced to Fr Pat Murray who had a meditation and growth centre in Athy. His teaching is based on a simple, but not easy, axiom – “know yourself” – your body, your feelings, your thinking and, most important of all, the strengths of your spirit. “Seek you first the power of god(ness) within you, and all else will follow.”

He said, “I will show you the tools – meditation, journalling, nature work, and daily work – and how to use them. You will discover for yourself what is the root of your loss and despair. You must be your own expert.” I began and I discovered a great pain – the mother wound, the father wound. It was and is the great journey of my life.

Two years later, I was in Ballyvaughan with two friends. They left after a few days and I was unable to face the feelings and physical pain, despair and emptiness that emerged. The old wound was back. I felt so completely and totally alone. I felt there was no point in keeping going; I couldn’t handle any more of this pain.

I drove to the Bishops Quarter pier. The tide was in and I had the car facing into the sea. The sea was so calm, still, silent, peaceful. That’s what I was searching for. I thought “drive in”.

My work with Fr Pat came into play. As I sat there in the car I knew that that peace and calm was deep inside me. The fruit of meditation. The journey to this awareness began when I wrote about my earliest memory of my mother.

She is in the corner of the field, behind the house at home, on a spring morning, sitting on the milking stool. I’m watching her, the cow’s tail is hitting her but not hurting her, she has her head against the flank of the cow. First of all, I’m angry and jealous of the bloody cow because it is getting something I realised I didn’t get.

But Fr Pat Murray’s teaching was to look back at that experience and ask yourself, “What was awakened in your spirit?”

It was my mother’s calmness, silence, peacefulness, strength and courage and the realisation came to me that this was the first awakening of my soul by my mother in me when I was a very young boy.

What I could now see in my mother was in me too. Even now, as I remember this memory, I weep with love for her. Later on I uncovered similar moments about my dad.

They awakened in me, the me I never knew, that I am able to be kind and gentle, loving and attentive and able to keep going.

Looking at the sea, I realised at that moment that no matter what hit me, I had the strength and the ability to come through.

It’s my view that the person who commits suicide is living with such pain. It takes great courage and strength. It’s the only answer they can find to the pain.

It is near impossible to understand unless you’ve been there yourself. Suicide is the chosen road to life. I do not believe in the medical model and treatments.

I learned from my work that feelings, thinking and imagination will not kill you. They are there to invite you to listen to the deepest part of yourself.

The wonderful thing about it all was that I loved again my mam and dad. I wrote a letter to them in their grave: If I was to be born again, I want you to be the same Mam and Dad as in 1942.

I wouldn’t be me without you being you, and being the you that you were with me. I’d be a different John Keane, and I like John Keane.

For the past 15 years, John Keane has taught two meditation groups based on Fr Pat Murray’s teaching. From September, he starts a meditation and personal development group. Contact him on tel: 087 6787223 or

In conversation with JOANNE HUNT