From priest to supermarket shelf-stacker, Daily Mail columnist and now CEO, Simon Parke wants us to tackle the tricky stuff inside
“Mine is a story of failure,” begins Simon Parke, CEO of The Mind Clinic, when asked about his amazing journey. Of course he is being entirely self-deprecating, but there is an intense modesty about Parke who has navigated the highs and lows of life. “I was a Church of England priest for 20 years in London, and I thought that would be it for the rest of my life,” he explains. “But I had a sense that after 20 years, the adventure was over. It was a very difficult moment, but I firmly believe that life has to be an adventure or it is not worth doing.
“My decision to leave the priesthood wasn’t about my faith, but about the role. People imagine that you will always be a priest, but the dog collar begins to define you – they either think you are better or worse than you are. Of course, when I left the Church, the house goes with the job, and I had nowhere to live and no money.
”I applied to five supermarkets and four said no – no-one wanted a vicar on the shop floor – but the last used psychological testing to recruit and I passed, so they offered me a job. I worked there for three years and it was such a great time, we had such a laugh. I was appointed chair of the shop union, and I defended employees and sat in on tribunals. It really was the place that I discovered the meaning of life. People are people, you are what you are, and labels are not good things. I didn’t feel any different about myself as a vicar or working in a supermarket.”
Having written a book, Shelf Life, about his experiences at the supermarket, he embarked upon The Beautiful Life (republished as The Journey Home) in which he identified ten new commandments or attitudes for coping with the strains and pressures of modern life. “It opened up a whole new life for me,” says Parke. “I was asked to do some consultancy for the NHS, I started doing retreats and the Daily Mail asked me to write a weekly column.”
Today, Parke is CEO of The Mind Clinic, an organisation which goes into workplaces to provide employer-sponsored, confidential mind help for employees. “We take active listening therapy into businesses and we offer six sessions in a day for individuals who would like help. It’s entirely confidential and our work is not passed back to management, but the net result in the workplace is entirely positive.”
Tackling our inner feelings, “the stuff that’s going on inside,” as Parke describes it, is key to positive health. He identifies several scenarios that many of us tackle, from unresolved issues from our childhood, to quarter life crises when all the ‘success’ measures have been ticked but we still feel dissatisfied on the inside. “It’s important to bring things to the surface,” explains Parke. “We often get kidnapped by our feelings and moving what’s inside to outside of the body is the first step.
“We should welcome negative or upsetting emotions but we shouldn’t let them stay. Once we process it, nothing can hurt us. It’s the heart of mindfulness to notice feelings but not to judge ourselves. It is something that anyone can do.”
Parke’s latest book, One-Minute Mindfulness, uses stories, simple thoughts and practical exercises to help us return to the present moment and remain there. “We need to allow ourselves to fail,” he says. “The place to start is self-acceptance, by thinking, ‘I will fail, but that’s OK’. The majority of people are professors of self-punishment, but if you set off with that mindset, you will fail.
“We need to create a climate of self-acceptance, and mindfulness will thrive. You can buy a thousand self-help books, but the answers come from within. For many there will be issues from childhood, and we internalise voices of criticism, whether it’s parents or teachers we hear. It’s a matter of dismantling these and knowing that we are all born as a clean slate.”
Simon Parke’s One-Minute Mindfulness is published by Hay House. Visit themindclinic.org
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