I met Mike Crossland in 2017 at the Green Gathering festival. I didn’t have a car, so had booked Marcus and I into the ‘Camplight’ area, staying in pre-erected, reclaimed tents. Mike was there with his wife Kate, and their daughter. The Camplight area was its own little community, and we spent a lot of time chatting between excursions around the festival site, enjoying a camp fire together, and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. We met again there the following year, and have kept in touch sporadically since. Mike is a fellow writer, and I was delighted when he agreed to write this guest post for me, about how he has found his own Space to Breathe by following the path his mother showed him when he was a child.
When I was a child, my mum used to disappear for a few hours every Sunday morning. I never questioned why she went to Quakers
, or what she did there. Quakers don’t proselytise and try and convince people to join their faith, and as a child it was part of the weekly routine, like Top of the Pops on a Thursday or a Sunday night bath.
I was well into my thirties before I went to a Quaker meeting – with my mum, to an 18th century meeting house near the house I grew up in. I recognised several people there: from anti-war marches and the local Fairtrade and homelessness groups. Quakers believe in four key principles – peace, equality, simplicity and truth – and there is a lot of crossover with protest, environmental and pacifist groups.
The heart of a Quaker meeting is one hour of silent worship, interrupted only if people are moved to speak, or ‘minister’. At my meeting people sometimes read poetry or from the bible, or speak about local or global issues which concern them. Although based in Christianity, Quakers encompass a broad range of beliefs. I certainly don’t feel out of place although I’m very much at the agnostic end of the belief spectrum.
I go to a Quaker meeting most weeks now. I find sitting in shared silence for an hour a profound and moving experience. The people I have met through Quakers are from all walks of life and are caring, thoughtful and interesting. I have engaged more with the local community by going to my local meeting and have found Quaker traits crossing into my daily life: trying harder to avoid judging people, trying to listen before I speak (always a challenge for me!), trying to live more simply and thoughtfully.
During the COVID crisis we have not been meeting in person, but lots of us sit in silence at home each Sunday morning. It is oddly powerful knowing that my friends from the meeting are doing the same thing at the same time, as are Quakers from across the world.
Whilst my daughter’s school is closed to slow the spread of the virus, we have been meditating every morning for 5 minutes. I slow my breathing
, listen to the birdsong, and try to create some inner peace. I’ve found this helps to control my anxiety about the global crisis, and it grounds us all before the new routine of schooling from home and our permitted once-daily bike ride.
My partner and daughter don’t go to Quaker meetings, apart from the monthly shared lunch, and I don’t try and encourage them to come along. I just go out of the flat for a couple of hours every Sunday morning. It’s part of our weekly routine.
In the last ten years I have gone from being a globe-trotting academic with a gold frequent flyer card to someone who’d rather stay in his local area. I’ve slowed down, become vegan, joined a choir, cut back on drinking, stopped going to fancy restaurants, stopped flying, sold my car, and bought a bike. I work part-time with visually impaired people in an NHS eye hospital and am attempting to write a book. I live in West London with my wife, 8-year old daughter, and two crazy cats. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.