Michael Harding, author of the bestselling memoir, Staring at Lakes, feels privileged to be touring, reading from his book and chatting to audiences. He will be at the Ballymaloe Grainstore on Nov 7 as part of a national tour.
Harding, who writes a column in the Irish Times and is also a playwright, does not regret revealing his thoughts and anxieties, and often with self-deprecating humour. “I think it’s a relief to reveal myself. It’s like therapy. I went to a therapist when I was depressed, but I’ve found that there’s nothing better for me than to express what’s on my mind. I’m lucky to have people willing to listen to me. I feel hugely blessed to be blathering to people about the size of my prostate, or whatever. I also find it fun, being able to ridicule myself.”
But underneath the humour is a darkness, leavened by Buddhist practice, meditation and mindfulness. In 2011, Harding, a former priest, suffered physical, emotional and spiritual collapse. “It took 18 months for me to be able to physically endure four or five hours up out of the bed. When I was really sick and depressed, I didn’t find any consolation in religion. I had drifted away from any kind of religious behaviour. I couldn’t even look at a religious image or think about anything religious. It seemed like appalling hocus pocus. But, once I started to heal, I found myself lighting the candles again and filling the water bowls. That’s my nature. Certain animals have a certain nature and mine is to be religious. Whether or not it’s a weakness, I can’t stop myself.”
Faith, says Harding, “is not certitude. Faith is an act of hopefulness that maybe we’re not alone. So, 50% of the time, I make an act of hope and, as for the other 50%, I look out and think ‘Christ, we’re here on our own. It’s just an accident that we’re here’.”
Harding says he can’t be contained by Catholicism and Buddhism. He distills both traditions.
“Meditation would be the thing for me and living in the moment, mindfully. That goes through Buddhism and Catholicism. It goes through secular therapies. I really think it’s the method that’s answering most needs, at the moment. It’s a spirituality that’s just rooted in kindness, being in the present moment, letting go of anxiety and judgement and negative energies.”
Staring at Lakes, which deals with depression, is also a meditation on love and marriage. Harding is married to sculptor, Cathy Carman.
“We were a most unlikely couple. When we met, I was a priest and she was this very sophisticated, enlightened feminist and artist, living her own life in a bohemian way in Dublin. We had a long affair and then eventually got married. We’re together nearly 30 years,” he says. They have a daughter, Sophia.
Harding’s book includes “a funny story about how I got fed up with the dishwasher and fecked off.” He moved to Mullingar for five years. “It’s not that we separated. Cathy came to Mullingar every weekend. It was more like we needed some space. If I hadn’t done what I did, we wouldn’t be together now. I think that men and women are not suited to the nuclear family, once the children are reared. In my show, when I talk about this, I get a great response from women and men that are happily married. In order to have a good relationship, you need to feel, to some extent, that your partner is a stranger to you in some way.”
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