The Me I Was Then

By Tony Crisp

As a skinny, sunken chested and spotty thirteen year old, I started walking the mile to school instead of riding the bus. A beautiful blonde Swedish pen friend had dumped me, and a probing look in my big bedroom mirror had assured me I needed to do something about the shape I was in. So I walked from St Pancras Church along the Euston Road to Marylebone High Street twice a day, using a deep breathing exercise I had found in a book about yoga. The aim was to breathe in and out as fully as possible, lifting the shoulders to gain the maximum in-breath, then almost fold over with collapsed chest to get the full out breath. I was oblivious to the strange looks from passing pedestrians and motorists as my shoulders regularly rose and fell while I strode purposefully along. But that first week I gained an inch on my chest. Okay, it was painful to grow that much in a week, and then again the next week. But gradually the growth slowed when I had gained four inches on my chest.

It was an extraordinary lesson to learn so young, to know that through directing my attention and energy in a particular way I could radically change my body. I went on to extend this with other exercises in the nearby YMCA gym. I even lied about my age because I needed to be fourteen to join.

What I noticed as the months went by was that not only was I changing my body, but I was also changing my confidence and social life. In other words the guys at school started wanting me to be their friend, to be in their team, instead of ignoring me and leaving me to be an outsider.

At fifteen this led me to start experimenting with what amount to mental exercises, to see if the mind could be changed as radically as the body. What I uncovered in that direction was even more far reaching than what had happened to my body. I didn’t just find change, I uncovered unsuspected depths and heights. I found facets of myself previously unknown.

The mental experience I would like to describe happened in 1953, when I was sixteen, and already deeply interested in the possibilities of the human mind, I took a course in deep relaxation. I practiced every day for three months, tensing my muscles, relaxing them, then passing my awareness over and over my body, dropping the feeling of tension. After three months I was quite proficient. One evening, after coming home from dining out with friends, I went to bed thinking I would leave my usual practice, but in the end decided to practice even though it was late. After going over my body several times I suddenly lost my right arm. I had no sensation of it other than space, hugeness. Then I lost my left arm, and – my whole body. It was like falling through a trap-door into the stars. I had no sense of having a body. Thoughts had ceased, except for a murmur apparently a thousand miles away. Yet in blackness, in immensity, in absence of thought I existed vitally as bodiless awareness. We think that we are our body because we have no other experience of our existence. So we identify with our body and so are terrified of dying – which in a sense is what we do every time we go to sleep and leave our sense of a body behind.  But i felt from that experience that fundamentally we are just the wonder of awareness and can be anything we like – obviously it takes an age to change our body, but we can be free of all the strange thoughts and belief about just being a body.

After that day I could repeat the experience almost any time I sat down and used the relaxation technique. I felt at the time, and still believe it correct, that I had fallen asleep yet remained awake. Waking, critical awareness, had been taken through the magic doors of sleep into a universe it seldom ever sees – deep dreamless sleep. I realised that as we enter sleep all our sense are switched off and we are fundamentally bodiless awareness.

I realise that what I describe must seem like a strange and even imaginary world to many people – except that it isn’t – but many people do not give three months of their life in everyday practice at the age of 16 to break through the barriers of our physical senses.

Now in my seventies, my chest capacity is still way beyond most people’s and the range of my inner experience is incredible rich, varied, and inclusive of skills and inner adaptability I would otherwise have lacked. This has enabled me to be professionally employed in work as varied as photography and journalism, plumbing and stock market investment, a chef and psychotherapist, a radio and television broadcaster and an author, a computer technician and a building contractor, a father and a lover – these last two not professionally. 🙂

This is all mentioned to point out that although I was thrown out of school at fifteen for being a hopeless scholar who didn’t even know his alphabet, couldn’t write using punctuation, and who started life prematurely with a weak and ailing body, there is the possibility of transformation and learning new skills. I had begun learning incredibly powerful tools of change.

At period, with a lot of emotion I realised also while looking at my connections with others, how important it is to have skills and share them with others. The emotion was that I realised and admitted to myself how many skills I have gathered in my life, and how much I am willing to share them with others. Also I saw that I am always learning – at the moment particularly learning a lot more about the computer and programs. But I tend to discount this, as I feel it as playing. I look at others who take learning so seriously and seek acclaim for it in diplomas, and feel that I am not learning, but in fact I am constantly learning new skills.

Because I was thrown out of school at 15, I never sought diplomas or pieces of paper but keep playing with Life. So at first I was a photographer, became a nurse, a writer, a yoga teacher, then a psychotherapist – because in playing I fell into a new world of experience and was recognised by others as an authority on it. Also learnt and worked as an electrician, plumber, house repairs, became a radio and occasionally TV person responding to people’s dreams – I forgot, I had written best sellers about dreams – Too much to mention, but see – what I am saying is that each of us have unlimited potential if we no longer block our way forward through believing we must conform to succeed.

I see now that I am waking to an awareness of my connection with other people and life. I feel this more and more as a practical awareness, and use it as well as I can. But it is also a growing mystical awareness of my oneness with life. As I started this experience for instance, I had a distinct sense of being at one with, in fact being, the song of the bird I could hear in the evening air. I felt my boundaries, the perimeter of my selfhood, growing thin and allowing my being to melt into all things. I had an understanding of this as what happened to one at death if one could meet all the images and fears of the mind and heart and pass through them.

I had started by changing my body and then moved inwards, and your physical well being is a good place to start learning what tools work, what it feels like to create new health and shape, and what it is like to take charge of you life.

Reasonable and enjoyable exercise is a much more powerful mood shifter than most psychoactive drugs. It also brings more lasting energy and liveliness than coffee or other artificial stimulants. It feels good to feel good. In my seventies I am one of the few people who do not need to take medical drugs to keep me going or reduce blood pressure. Tools for change are wonderful life preservers and life enhancers. Physical health improves mental health, and mental health improves physical health.


***Unfortunately this is no longer true after my stroke. I asked a specialist how it happened that having never drunk alcohol, never smoked, never used fats in my diet, ate whole food and always avoided  adulterated food such as white flour, white sugar and white rice, been a vegetarian for much of my life and I still had a stroke. She said that it is an unfortunate truth that it can simply be a genetic condition. True; my mother and grandfather died of strokes. See Tony’s Experience of Stroke

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