Are you unemployed? Skint? Considering New Age solutions to your problems? You might just have the 2008 Financial Crash Blues: and you’re not alone. Fearghus Roulston finds the new spiritual side of the recession in Manchester.
Buddhism isn’t something readily associated with the north-west of England. Football, yes. Music, contemporary art, flat caps, the labour movement – but not Buddhism. It’s something I would expect in the trendier corners of the south-east, alongside classes teaching people to cope with the spiritual emptiness that comes from immense wealth and knit-your-own-hummus lessons.
But it’s a rapidly growing scene in many of the north’s major cities, with thriving Buddhist centres in Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere. Why are people turning to meditation and alternative spirituality now? I’m attending a six-week class to find out.
What had always put me off attending Buddhist meditation classes was, frankly, the clientèle. At the posh-ish university I went to, the people who went were typical gap-yah-in-Indiah stereotypes who I’d usually cross the road to avoid.
So I was a little nervous about the group I’d meet on my introduction to meditation. My classist prejudices turned out to be misguided, though – what struck me about the first class was that everyone seemed so normal.
No ageing hippies or posh squatters – everyone I talked to seemed to have a normal job in admin, retail and hospitality.
I asked why people had become interested in meditation. Was it the spiritual element? An alternative to the consumerist mentality fostered by successive UK governments as an alternative to political choice? (I didn’t use those exact words. I’m not Noam Chomsky, alright.)
What came through initially was a general dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the UK. People have done everything they were told to do – get a degree, get a job, get a house – and still they are stressed, unhappy, struggling for cash, not feeling fulfilled or satisfied.
Apart from a handful of people who were there because of advice from their therapist (including one gimlet-eyed man with anger management issues who I kept half an eye on throughout), almost everyone expressed the same problem: they had too much to worry about and they hoped meditation would help them calm down. Nearly all of them were worried about money.
The government has just released its first happiness index, the Orwellian-sounding Measuring National Wellbeing Programme. Responses by 165,000 people in the annual population survey reveal the average rating of “life satisfaction” in Britain is 7.4 out of 10, whatever that means.
But the anxiety amongst people I met on the first week of my Manchunian meditation course suggests this may be a bit of an optimistic estimate. I’m hoping to find out why in the next few weeks.
Fearghus Roulston will be back next week with more Meditating on the Recession.