Mike Atkinson

I first found myself part of the mental health system in the 1960s. Since that time, as well as coming to terms with my own life, I have sought to encourage and support others in their individual needs through various support groups. I gave up my business career to become a support worker in the caring professions until my recent retirement. I have also been involved in prison visiting, supporting individuals serving jail sentences, most of whom have some sort of mental health problem.

In recent years I have received much benefit in joining and helping run
Walk and Talk and have expanded my awareness by receiving training in spiritual healing, Indian head massage, reflexology and other forms of help. Who and what I am today is largely a result of coming to terms with the following, which could be referred to as ‘mental exercises’ or ‘steps towards enlightenment’:

(i) Our greatest responsibility, and often the most challenging thing we face, is to develop a healthy and positive relationship with ourselves. It is easy to imagine that we have no choice or control over our lives. Empowerment is the awareness that we cannot change the past or control the future but we can choose our response to the present moment. Life is about growing into maturity, where we see our problems, however hard, as intended for our self-development, and we can look back on our lives with satisfaction at what we have endured and achieved. To me, success in life is going all out to achieve the ‘Three As’: Acceptance, Awareness and Appreciation.

(ii) We have been given free will to choose between awareness and denial. Many of our problems are caused by resisting what is and desiring to change what we can’t. We can easily find ourselves searching for solutions to problems and miss the real solution of acceptance. We cannot control change but we can control how it affects our lives. Denial is resistance to what is and the source of negativity, indifference and intolerance. We are not designed to fight against the world as it is, but to create a world that could be, by extending our thinking and beliefs from the past into alignment with the present. Positive and effective change is not the result of resistance but the expansion of greater awareness often generated through minority groups working together.

(iii) We need to become aware of our true or higher self. We like to regard ourselves as a civilised nation but as humans we haven’t yet fully come to terms with our natural instinct to oppose anything and anyone that appears to be a threat to our safety and well being. Wildlife have a similar instinct to ourselves but possess far greater awareness of what is going on around them since we have been lulled into a sense of false security by what we regard as authority to rely on. Dependency then arouses greater fears within us when we feel vulnerable and look around for someone to blame for it. Sickness and ill health is often best treated through acceptance rather than fighting the condition. However, much of our modern society and health system denies this, and has made us a generation more dependent on chemical drugs than on ourselves and on the natural order of things. It is suggested that the origin of sickness and suffering is the result of the loss of our natural wisdom of the body and soul, causing us to lose contact with our true selves. A true knowledge of self gives us a healthy feeling of identity and inner wholeness. Dependency and denial has the opposite effect. Anti-depressants are anti the natural functioning of our minds and bodies, are produced more out of greed and desire for conformity and control than from genuine care and compassion for one another.

(iv) We don’t see things as they really are but how they appear to be from who we are. We see reality through the way we think so our perception is distorted. Accepting we all live within our own reality bubble and recognising there is good in all of us enables us to appreciate one another as unique individuals and to avoid our differences from creating conflict and division. Belief is not reality, awareness is. Our beliefs are ideas produced by repeated thoughts to bridge the vacuum between unknowing and certainty. Our ideas can be compared to different forms of artificial lighting that can be used to remove the darkness, whilst awareness is the true light that shines from the joining together of various ideas. It is considered a good idea for some of us to take medication. Normality is an idea created to justify the assertion that we live in a free country, as is the need for us to be diagnosed, categorised and labelled on our health records. In order to create a truly free society we need to evolve into a greater awareness of ourselves in relation to one another to work together in cooperation.

(v) To know ourselves we need to look beyond what we think and feel and be able to communicate our needs and our pain with one another in such a way that will bring us together in unity and loving harmony. It is often easier to express our beliefs and opinions to cover up the hurt we feel inside; in so doing we close ourselves down in order to block awareness, holding onto our pain and attracting negativity that takes over our thinking so we hurt ourselves. We all desire to feel good but our emotions need assurances as to where we are going and rely on the way we think to maintain a sense of balance and stability in our lives. At the same time our thinking needs to be governed by discretion, discernment and awareness. Belief without awareness can poison our sensitivity and ultimately destroy lives, as in the case of extreme fundamentalism. We first need to discover where we are on life’s journey in order to know who we really are rather than who we think we are, by detaching ourselves from our beliefs and preconceived ideas, whilst finding the courage to venture into the unknown with an open heart and mind so we can discover our true selves.

(vi) My personal faith tells me that we are all perfect, and how dare we suggest otherwise by judging one another and ourselves. To imagine we are superior or inferior to others brings judgment on ourselves. Making mistakes is part of our natural human development and does not mean we are imperfect within ourselves. Self-hatred, guilt and unforgiveness can enslave us to a life of misery. People we know, not least our parents, are liable to project their failings onto us, due to denial, so we learn to do the same to others, causing us to live sub-human lives. It does not mean, however, that we should dismiss anyone who attempts to disagree, disprove, criticise or correct us as they may prove to be the best teachers for our future development. If we believe we are right then we are wrong. Believing in ourselves is knowing our true sense of value and worth as individuals. Any disagreements we have with others are for us to find the best way forward for our lives. To convert our beliefs from a sense of right and wrong into appreciation liberates us into accepting each other and ourselves for who we are, to enjoy life.

Our modern individualistic and egotistical society, in which many are out for themselves, not only leaves a lot of people feeling lost, isolated and of little value, it has duped us into imagining that materialistic objects and possessions can satisfy our basic needs. It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as victims to, rather than victors over, our circumstances, which gives us a sense of anger, helplessness and dependency and ultimately leads to denial. By choosing to appreciate everything and complain about nothing, no one can make us a victim. The need to complain is the consequence of being in an environment in which we are unable to express and share how we really feel. For our personal well being we all need in some form or other:

    I am aware that many people today are seriously lacking these important aspects in their lives and this gives me a passion to develop and extend a sense of community in any way possible. Community building is not about agreeing with everyone. That’s impossible. It’s about accepting and appreciating each other for our uniqueness as individuals in order to enjoy the diversity created between us. In times of despair we need to be there for one another so nobody is left trying to fight the world on their own. Society does not have the answers to our basic needs - we do within ourselves. Professionals are there to serve as guides when we lose our way. By getting together to share and work in building community we will receive a sense of purpose and satisfaction in return.
    Walk and Talk is just one way in which we can do that. To say we are here to bless one another is easy. To discover what that really means may well be the key to our future happiness and fulfilment, in knowing ourselves and appreciating the best that life has to give us.

    Michael Atkinson