Michael Harding - Hanging with the Elephant

In his new book,Hanging with the Elephant , writer Michael Harding is back in Leitrim in the north-west of Ireland. His wife has left for a six-week trip to Poland and he is alone for the first time since his illness two years earlier. Faced with this time on his own, Harding resolves to examine the threat of depression that is a constant presence in his life and his dependency on his wife, the beloved, since his illness. But, as he attempts to tame the 'elephant' - an Asian metaphor for the unruly mind - he finds himself drawn back to the death of his mother during the summer of 2012.
Written with unflinching honesty, Hanging with the Elephant begins as one man's quest to overcome his demons, but becomes a journey into the depths of the soul, where we are given a glimpse of the one thing that holds us all.
What was the biggest misconception you had about sitting down to meditate?
That I was going to meditate. The idea that there was a thing called meditation and that I could somehow do it. It took me a long time to realize that there is nothing that you can call meditation. When you try to meditate you’re not meditating. And when you try not to meditate then you’re definitely not meditating. But when you let go of either, I think there’s a possibility of getting somewhere That is there is a possibility of getting into the moment of being that is now. Without any duality. And for a second that is meditating. Although the minute you realize you’re meditating, you have already stopped. It’s tricky.
How did your experience of Catholicism colour your experience with Buddhist meditation?
The fundamental clash is that the Catholic tradition exists on a strong duality. There is the immanent world and the transcendent world. There is us, and the great other we call god. In Buddhism there is less dualism. There is more a tendency to see this moment now as the possibility of all things. But at a deeper level they are the same.
How do you define creativity?
Looking into your lovers eyes and thinking of how you can reach out and touch them is creative. Thinking how can I love this person. What can I do in this moment for this person. All that is creative. And making plays, or writing books or making art needs to have this sense of creation at its base. When you make your art an act of love then you get creative. And art cannot happen if the artist is not in love. So that’s the first thing. That’s what creativity is. It’s not about making things or being famous. It’s the anonymous individual, all of us, each day, holding the one we love. That’s what I believe. There is nothing else.
Do you place value in ritual in your life? 
All ritual attracts me. A good play is a ritual in which the community comes together to share a story and find their identity in the story. A dinner with family and friends. The Christmas dinner. The Eucharist of the Christian tradition. The pujas of the Buddhist community at Jampa Ling. And making love. They are all rituals of becoming. By aspiring to be, we become, and are. Ritual creates the universe new, like the Hindu god breathing in and out and in and out and thus creating and recreating the universe.
What are the finest parts of Irish society today?
The finest parts of Irish society are our continued ability to treat each other very deeply as a family. We belong with each other. We make up the universe in our stories, imaginations, and in our arguments. Our obsession with politics is funny because it’s a way of us being together. We’re madly irrational compared to many European cultures, but that’s our best bit. I can’t believe how beautiful this island is, and that we are here and that the weather is so good.
Is suffering necessary for growth?
Suffering and joy are two sides of the one thing. You can’t have one without the other. For me there is no wisdom in achievement. When you ask questions like, do I need suffering to grow, do I need to be alone to become creative, it’s really asking the wrong questions. Go back to a basic idea. Do you need to meditate? Well, the minute you try to meditate, you are not meditating. The minute you strive to do something you will never do it. For me the wisdom is that we are already where we should be. We are already meditating. We have already achieved everything. So in this sense you don’t need suffering to grow. You don’t need to be alone to become creative. It’s just a fact that you do suffer, you do find yourself sometimes alone. We are here. That’s the bliss. We are already here. There is nowhere to go, and nothing to achieve. We have achieved everything already. But things exist. Like east and west. Up and down. Night and day. We don’t need night to make day. It just IS the way it IS.
If you could give advice to a large group of people what would it be? 
The advice I would give anyone is never give advice. And perhaps use the word should as seldom as you can.