My dad left school at 13, most people did in those days.
He started work on a building site.
Houses in east London didn’t have interior plumbing.
So at 6am, in the winter, he’d get up, go into the back yard and break the ice off the tap.
Then he’d take his shirt off and have a wash.
In the evenings, after work, when everyone else went to the pub, he didn’t go with them.
He went home and taught himself to read and write properly, so that he could get a better job.
And he passed the exam to join the police.
That was pretty much the pattern of Dad’s life.
Whatever you didn’t like, whatever made you uncomfortable, don’t run away from it.
Face it head on and out-think it.
When he was a young copper, he worked in south London.
He was put on night shift.
The streets still had gas lights then, so you had eight hours out in the pitch black, totally alone.
Your mind would play tricks on you.
Dad decided the best way to beat it was to face it.
So about 2am he headed towards the middle of Tooting Beck.
Tooting Beck was a very large area of wild land.
There was nothing there except some woods, with a lunatic asylum, and a graveyard, in the middle.
That’s where he went.
Obviously everything was pitch black, no street lights, no light at all.
The only sound was the snapping of twigs under your boots.
And the piercing screams from the asylum.
Dad would head towards the graveyard.
Then he’d feel around for one of the crooked, overgrown graves.
Then he’d sit on it, unwrap his sandwich and make himself slowly eat it.
Training himself not to be afraid of the dark.
Not to believe whatever his mind made up.
He said the worst time was when he was walking through the woods and he felt something brush against his face.
He reached out to see what it was.
It was a foot, which as he carefully felt upwards was attached to a slowly swinging leg.
In the pitch black, Dad had to get the body down.
Then slowly feel it all over, in the dark, to check it wasn’t breathing.
Meanwhile, the only sounds are the screams from the lunatic asylum.
And what you hope are animals walking around the graves.
Dad later found out one of the lunatics had escaped from the asylum and hanged himself.
It wasn’t pleasant, but that was how he out-thought his fear of the dark.
He put himself in a place that was worse than his imagination, and he beat it.
He beat his own imagination.
Which is where reality starts.
Dad never knew anything about Buddha.
But I think he would have understood what Buddha said, two thousand years earlier:
“Nothing can harm a man so much as his own thoughts untamed”.