In April 2009 there was an article in Boyz about a new group for gay men that had recently started in London. It was the first in a new section they were launching called ‘passions’ where gay men shared what they were passionate about. I had recently started the group at its first venue, the Light Centre in Victoria, and was looking to promote the sessions so had contacted Boyz. Little did I know that this fortnightly class, initially meeting on Sunday mornings with about 10 people would still be going 9 years latter and that over 1,000 men would have come to the class.
It took many years of encouragement from a good friend, Juan Serrano, before I took the leap and set up the group. Without his confidence in me I don’t think I would ever have done it. A big thank you to him! I still remember him telling me how there was a gay meditation group back in Madrid, and how he was sure if Spanish men would come to a mindfulness class then it would be possible in London.
After about 6 months of meeting in the Light Centre I decided to find a new venue where we could meet weekly. I remembered the room that Bodhi had used for his Five Rhythms dance class. I had assisted Bodhi with setting up the class each week and I remembered it was somewhere central and was a good sized room and so contacted the venue and arranged to go in and visit. On meeting with the Warden there it turned out a room had recently become free on Monday nights, so I had the chance to book it.
The only difficulty was that I needed to pay for three months in advance, and put down a deposit of three months – so I had to find 6 months rent. I did not have £1600 and for a moment I thought to just let it pass and leave the meeting. Instead I said I would go ahead and made the booking. Then came the question of how to pay! A friend agreed to lend me £800. I then spoke with my mother to ask for a loan. She spoke to my step father – who when I first came out many years earlier had not had the most positive attitude to me being gay! But he agreed, and they leant me the other £800.
I feel a huge sense of gratitude to the people who helped to make the group possible at the start. Juan for his encouragement, Bodhi for providing me with an idea of where to run the group, David Hews for his generosity and trust in me to lend £800 and my mother and step-father, Jillian and Steve Clements for their support.
Then came the other forms of support. Graham Humphreys offered his time as a designer to create the first fliers for the group:
A big thank you also to Kevin O’Neil who helped me set up my website and blog to help promote the group. Then there are the people who helped as the group got established. Andy Jones who used to come in early to help set up and made it so much easier to get the room ready than doing it on my own. Meirion Todd, Tim Waldron, Malcolm Morris and the others who were the first door babes and kitchen angels. Without them it would have been so much harder to have run the group as it became established. A big thank you to Ian Patrick who was one of the first to help with the clean up at the end and for years oversaw the washing up. Ian has been our longest standing regular, seeing the group as it has developed over the years since he first came in 2010.
A big thank you to Kam Munsamy who gave his time for free to take group photos for our first publicity and has come in again more recently to take photos of the group.
These are a few of the people who were involved or helped as the group became established. There were also indirectly my teachers from the monastery, from whom I had learnt what I then went on to share through the group. The training in the monastery continues to underpin my practice which in turn informs how I teach at the group.
Then there have been the many people since who have given their time on the door and in helping to make tea, wash up and clear away at the end. A big thank you to all of you! Dan and Sam who for some time were the main door babes and whose commitment to helping meant there was always someone there at the door to welcome people as they arrived. Alex who helped on the door before Sam and Dan and is now once more assisting as a door babe. Then there are the rest of the current door babes: Frank, Boyan, Howard, Kelvin, Lloyd and Simon. Thanks to them there is always a smiling face to welcome you at the door and give new members a few minutes introduction. I’m sure all of you remember your first time and just how much a difference it made to have someone there to greet you and help put you at your ease as you arrived.
There will be people I have forgotten in this list, and my apologies if your name is not here – but thank you to everyone who has leant their time to help over the years.
Buddhism teaches interdependence – that we live as part of an interconnected whole and are not isolated individuals acting with only our own agency. Remembering all of the people who contributed to the early years of the group I feel an immense sense of gratitude for their contribution, and it is a reminder that I didn’t do this alone, but with their help. Without any one of them it would have been a slightly different group. We live in this matrix of interconnecting influences, but often do not see all of the people involved with an event we go to or an experience we have.
It’s useful to remember that we never really do anything in isolation. Our successes are built on our connections with others. The sense of self-worth and confidence we have got from the encouragement a teacher gave us on seeing a skill, or family and parents instilled in us. Our failures too grow from our interaction with others – the fear we have to put ourselves forward that may come from a chance remark of a teacher many years ago still lodged in our being. As I look to go forward from here, keeping the group healthy and thriving, I know that I do it not just on my own, but through the help of others, and through you…all of the people who have come to the group in the past or are still coming now, and those yet to come to the group in the future who in their turn will take on a role in helping and supporting.