Diving for Pearls with Maggie Kay
In the Oyster Shell
A New Job
John’s death hit me very hard. Re-orientating my career after that life changing pilgrimage to the Himalayas the previous year, I attended an interview to study a postgraduate degree at the London School of Economics. It was a terrible interview and I didn’t get in. I was feeling emotionally trashed and physically unwell, eventually realizing that I was coming down with chicken pox. Then I got the news that my precious guru, Dhardo Rimpoche, had also just passed away. I spent the next two weeks on a thin, hard futon mattress in my bedroom in my community home feeling like I was dying myself. I have never felt so ill before or since in my life. Adult chicken pox is no joke, let alone a double bereavement.
As I was recovering, I cancelled a planned solitary retreat in a cave at a remote mountain retreat center near Granada in Spain. I just didn’t have the inner resources to travel, be on my own, or abroad, let alone do a solitary retreat in a cave up a mountain. Instead, I joined my dear friend and spiritual mentor, Ratnavandana, who was living in a country cottage in Cornwall at the time.
Resting for a couple of weeks in that plump, generous, airy country house was truly nourishing. Hardly able to speak or eat, I did nothing other than feel terrible and cry. I was allowed to be and held in soulful, understanding, unconditional friendship that needed nothing in return. What an amazing gift of love, space and time. I will always be grateful for that, teaching me exactly what is needed to tend grieving loved ones in the future.
Within a month or two I was recovered and applied for a job at Phoenix Community Housing Co-op. Phoenix was originally set up to house the first wave of Buddhists that settled in the area when the LBC was established in the 1970s. Now in 1990, Phoenix had evolved into a housing association for single people more generally, though it still housed a lot of Buddhists.
My interview was with the Chairman, Ajita, a charismatic, mystical, former street-wise Glaswegian who I had first met at the Glasgow Buddhist Centre in 1984. In fact, Ajita had been Chairman of the center when I first came along to meditation classes, and it was he I asked to lead the meditation society I went on to set up at my university. Here we were, six years later, both now living in London as part of the Triratna community.
I got the job! It was a big leap as I only had a little housing coop experience (as my home community was part of a neighboring housing co-op), but my degree in social science, ability to write and communicate well, and experience doing PR and marketing at Windhorse Typesetters all helped – not to mention my own Scottish charm. So I became Phoenix’s Housing Development Manager.
Ajita was very hands-on in Phoenix, as was his German partner, Susanne, who worked beside us in our open plan office as the Housing Manager. One of Susanne’s endearing features was that she spoke English with a Scottish accent (having picked it up from Ajita), so there was a very Scottish vibe created by the three of us at Phoenix. Susanne and I also were both going through the ordination process together and we became very dear friends. Tragically, Ajita passed away in 1995, but Susanne and I remained close, especially as we were destined to follow very similar paths in the future.
In my early days of Phoenix, there were huge projects and stretches ahead, but I rose to the challenges with relish, pouring my all into my new work. In those early few months, I managed to negotiate the purchase of four large Victorian houses (housing 20 people otherwise at risk of eviction) from the council at half their market value; arranging Phoenix’s first ever loan from a bank; and making winning bids for nearly a million pounds in grants to renovate many properties.
I had to hold my own with the ‘big wigs’ of the London social housing world – directors of housing associations, managers of financial institutions and councilors and senior staff in local government. I was a 26-year-old semi-monastic Buddhist wearing clothes from a charity shop, but carried it off with energy and confidence.
The work suited my skill set and personality. Success depended on bringing people together for a joint purpose, building belief and creating something wonderful out of nothing – a Phoenix rising from the ashes right enough. My main resources were passion and determination and a bit of a silvery tongue. Ever since then I have enjoyed unshakable belief that a bunch of people with no assets can do anything together if they put their minds and hearts together; a theme that has repeated itself through more recent parts of my life.
On the Rebound
My personal life was not quite so successful, however. It was as though a light had been extinguished in my soul. Grief made me feel mildly depressed and I was going through the motions emotionally. It probably suited me to lose myself in my work rather than feel my feelings. I was content enough living with three good Buddhist friends in our community house (having moved on from the ordination hothouse community) and being involved in activities at the LBC, studying Buddhism and going on ordination preparation retreats. In 1991 I was nearly recommended for ordination, but something was holding me back and it didn’t feel right. It didn’t happen.
Around then, I got back involved with a boyfriend I had been with a year or two before, Colin. We were not madly in love, which suited me. It had bothered me when we were first together that I was quite bedazzled by him yet he seemed a bit cool about me. That perceived indifference was what led to us splitting up before. But now the dynamic between us was balanced. I was more self-contained which gave him more space to be enthusiastic.
Colin was a great friend and amazing to talk to as he was such a good listener and a wise soul. He also shared the Buddhist world with me, being newly ordained himself and a full-time part of the Triratna community. It was safe to get honest with Colin about my inner world and all my feelings, which meant it was possible to get honest with myself.
I wasn’t completely well, feeling increasingly exhausted and below par. By Christmas 1990, I was running out of steam. Continually stressed by the relentless pace of my work at Phoenix, I was no longer able to ward off the post-viral fatigue that was beginning to envelop me. I wasn’t going to get away with being manically busy and ignoring my emotions any longer. Contemplating the possibility that I might need to cut down to part-time work, I arranged to have an extended holiday over the Christmas holidays.
Ratnavandana had now moved to another place in Cornwall, this time an apartment in a country house amidst beautiful public gardens. She was away for a few weeks, and so I went back to Cornwall again to stay in her house and do some more healing.
This time I was on my own, which was less comforting than my previous stay, but the solitude was welcome. I slept, went for walks, and dived deeply into my inner world without interruption. I meditated, drew, wrote in my journal and read Women Who Run with the Wolves – a ground-breaking book doing the rounds in our circles that explored archetypal female psychology.
Inspired by the book, I found myself making some drawings which were very revealing. I drew a representation of myself as a big fluffy chick that had just laid a large golden egg. Stick-like men in suits and top hats were gathering around in awe of the egg congratulating me. But they weren’t really congratulating me. They just wanted the golden egg I was laying. The drawing made me see that part of why I was ill was that I had been pushing myself to perform and achieve to gain the approval of men in authority.
Somehow that realization broke the spell, and after that five-week break, I was better again. I didn’t need to cut down to part-time work. The post viral fatigue was over and maybe, just maybe, I was beginning to get over the loss of John.
Known as the Inner Wisdom Coach and formerly an ordained Buddhist, Maggie specialises in meditation, mindfulness, law of attraction, metaphysics and spiritual intelligence for life, love and business.
As well as coaching one-to-one, she trains accredited Thrivecraft life coaches and meditation teachers and runs retreats and workshops for soulful entrepreneurs, coaches and well being professionals.
In 2016, with her son Jamie grown up, Maggie established Thrivecraft Home Hub, a riverside country retreat in Cornwall, UK, where she lives with her soul mate husband, Patrick.
Her new book – Diving for Pearls: A Wise Woman's Guide to Finding Love (O Books) – is a highly readable true love and spiritual adventure story laced with tips and teachings on meditation, Buddhism, inner wisdom and relationships relevant to all.
Maggie's vision for the future includes taking Thrivecraft worldwide via a new online academy; continuing to mentor coaches, well-being professionals and meditation teachers to grow and prosper their businesses; producing audios of her full range of guided meditations; and writing further books to inspire and support everyone to create rich, happy and fulfilling lives.
Buy Diving for Pearls on Amazon.
Thrivecraft with Maggie Kay
Wisdom. Inspiration. Self-belief.