Frank Liddy was a driving forces in the Twinbrook Residents Association in the seventies and eighties, taking a break for a short period to try his hand as a saxophonist in a punk band, before embracing the study of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness.
He has over 35 years’ practice-based experience with mindfulness programmes that have helped to transform the lives of many people across Ireland.
Frank is the co-founder of the Black Mountain Zen Centre and Compassionate City Belfast. He now lives in North Belfast but a return to Twinbrook is on the cards.
I remember asking my mentor, "is there a God?"
"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!" (Sir Walter Scott, 1808)
In Zen we have what are known as the four noble truths:
On 22 June 1993, after 26 years of drinking and drugging (there is no difference between alcohol and drugs, as in my experience alcohol, is a drug and a killer drug at that), alcohol stripped me of everything that was good for me.
Alcoholism is self-diagnosed. We know deep down inside if we are addicted.
Having got sober in June of 1993, after a long 26 year journey of broken promises to myself and others promising that this time would be the last time, this was never the case. Alcohol was the King, I couldn’t live with it or live without it. I lost friends as my self-centredness brought about a distrust of others and created a big fear of intimacy which I was to find out later was 'into me see'. I didn’t want anyone get close to me: if I didn’t like me then why should you like me? After many rock bottoms, I found myself going to the Clonard Novena as my last chance. I was reaching out probably for the first time in my life for hope. I was looking for a miracle as I knew that the disease that I was suffering from needed a miracle.
I REMEMBER when I was a young boy the overwhelming sense of fear that I felt when the B Specials parked outside our house in Cupar Street – and alcoholism in our home. There was B Specials outside and Carlsberg Specials inside. I suppose you could say that I was baptised in fear as fear became my way of being. I was terrified of everybody and everything and I swore as a child that I would never ever drink alcohol. Alcoholism is a killer disease, it's a disease that tells us that we aren't alcoholic and we grow up with the disease of perception.
THE birds they sang at the break of day
MINDFULNESS is greatly missing in our daily lives. We spend way too much time worrying about something that happened in the past and way too much energy struggling with decisions that may affect our future. We also become obsessed with the “Why me?” or the “Why NOT me?” We have to be able to give ourselves permission to just be what we are: human beings, not human doings. We all come with our own biases, prejudices, standards and expectations of others – but also of ourselves. This precludes us from being grateful for who we are at the core and how far we have come despite the many obstacles we face. We don't need to be resilient. We don't need to be brave. We just need to be. That is what mindfulness is. When we become mindful, we allow ourselves to be at peace with where we are at this moment. We can then take the time to see beyond the obvious and note the many things we can be grateful for that surround us, support us, and nurture us through hardships – be it family, friends, strangers, your warm bed, or the sun rising outside. It's easy to be mindful during happy times. But it can be challenging to find the stillness to appreciate our lives in the midst of hard times. Steering our minds from negativity, worry, and anxiety takes practice. The good news is that with enough focus, we are all capable.
“I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”Mark Twain. HOW many of us would agree with Twain? Sometimes our heads can be like washing machines. Mindfulness practice allows us the opportunity to slow down to take our foot off the accelerator and experience this moment for the first time. The most important thing is what’s happening now. Are we present or are we time travelling into the future or ruminating about the past?
Mindful awareness is about learning to pay attention, in the present moment, without judgement. It’s like training a muscle – training attention, to be where you want it to be. One of the benefits that we discover, through our mindfulness practice, is best described as mindfulness of speech. We are able to place our attention on our speech.
Who decides what’s good or bad? The great Shakespeare tells us that things are neither good or bad but it's thinking that makes them so. Whether we love him or hate him, I personally feel that he has it nailed.
How many times do we find ourselves looking outside ourselves for the answer, or better still how many times do we feel, that we wish we were someone different, somewhere different, doing something different? Mindfulness practice is our way of bringing our mind home. The great poet Derek Walcott writes in his beautiful poem 'Love after Love':
I love the Belfast saying 'catch yourself on'.
On Wednesday 23 June, I’ll be 28 years sober, one day at a time. It's always at this time of year as I approach my soberiety birthday that I reflect on what it was like before I got sober.