I grew up in a theatrical family where my material needs were well cared for; I attended convent schools from age four and boarding schools from age seven, but I found no resonance in the adults around me for my inner life. My mother, a most compassionate human being and an exceptionally talented character actress, told me that she had suffered a ‘nervous breakdown’ aged 12 when she believed her family were trying to poison her. By the time she had me, she had attempted suicide twice and had received the diagnosis of manic depression.
At a certain point in our sessions, the counsellor leaned forward and asked, ‘Caroline, has it ever occurred to you that your parents are doing their best?’ It hadn’t. In later years, I appreciated the wisdom of that question, but at the time it didn’t help me very much. The therapy lasted for several months and was a lifeline amid the pressure of my student days. It also sowed the seeds for wanting to pursue this kind of reflection.
When I left university, I returned to London to live for a while in my childhood home in Shepherds Bush, before moving to rented accommodation. My confidence was through the floor and, instead of pursuing a career congruent with my newly acquired 2:1 degree, I worked for several agencies, cleaning flats. I knew that I had to continue to pursue therapeutic and healing assistance for as long as it took to feel at ease with being who I was in the world.
I arrived at my first therapy session in London with a pile of correspondence between me and my parents – I had been agonisingly trying to find some clarity of communication between us and would ask them to send back my original letter with their reply, so I could check the relevance of how they had responded. When my therapist had read the letters, I asked him, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I think you’re just asking to be understood.’ The sessions took place weekly for just over a year. Through them I was able to understand my dilemmas and difficulties more clearly, and also gained confidence in identifying and expressing emotion, but it was not until I discovered meditation that I experienced a whole new level of freedom of choice in my life. It was the combined influence of the experience of acting on stage and the exploration of emotional and mental states that therapy facilitated that paved the way for a lifelong interest in the human psyche and spiritual and meditative paths.
I stumbled on meditation by chance at a summer school run by the Association of Humanistic Psychology, in south-west France. There, answering a small notice in the dining room – ‘Meditation on the grass at 10pm, bring a blanket’ – I met John Garrie, a British actor with a background in Taoist and Buddhist practice who became a meditation teacher, and later that year I entered a seven-year intensive training in insight meditation. Since then, I have run many workshops and retreats, and written a meditation workbook for children, Making Friends with Ourselves.
Early experiences of therapy helped me become much clearer about what I was actually feeling and experiencing, and meditation offered approaches and methods to deepen and integrate those experiences and place them in a wider context, beyond the exclusive view of a ‘personal self’.
Over the years, it has become clear that the family of origin into which I was born was perfect (you could say tailor-made) to provide exactly the grist for my evolutionary mill that was needed. I remember my parents warmly now, with the deepest respect, love and gratitude.