SERENITY: Meditation saved Garry Hamnett’s life and now he is excited to be offering meditation classes back in his hometown. Photo Troy Baker D9701-03

FIFTEEN years ago, Garry Hamnett hopped in his car, drove to Rotorua, and tried to end his life in a cheap motel room.

The particulars of this story are his own, but the circumstances leading up to that fateful day are ones we’ve seen time and time again.

The Whakatane native first began his work as a shoe cobbler 35 years ago, working in a shop on Commerce Street opposite to where Countdown now stands.

“After I left school, I was given an apprenticeship,” Garry says. “It was wonderful; it set me up for life.”

Things were going well, so he eventually bought the shoe repair side of the business from his boss and became self-employed.

But the pressures and busyness of life reached a tipping point for Garry when the country faced an economic downturn.

“The country took a bit of a financial dip and, unfortunately, my business took more of a dip than I expected,” Garry says. “In the end, I pretty much lost everything. That’s a hard pill to swallow. And I was thinking ‘what’s the point? I’ve got nothing.’”

Having grown up and done business in Whakatane his whole life, he found it even more difficult to go through this while in the public eye.

“In a small town like Whakatane, everybody knows everybody. I was well-known. You can lose mana in a heartbeat,” he says.

“So I thought, well, I might as well go. I’m very blessed. I have a wonderful family. But when you have the black dog of depression, you lose sight of those things. So I just got in the car and I drove.”

Luckily, Garry’s story didn’t end in that motel room. He survived. And he shares that part of his history because it shows just how far he has come.

“I’ve got scars on my wrist, I call them my survival stripes,” he says. “I beat suicide. I beat depression. I’m proud of that. I want other people going through that to realise that they’re not on their own, and yes, help is out there.”

Although Garry received medical help – and also had a “damned good counsellor” – it was something else entirely that he attributes to saving his life.

After a couple of months’ break, he was offered a job at a shoe repair shop in Tauranga. He agreed and, while working there, decided to try out a meditation class one day.

“I went to the meditation class, got the bug, and went, ‘wow, this makes a whole lot of sense,’” Garry says.

From that point on, he continued to learn, study and practise meditation, carrying it with him wherever he went.

“You can meditate anywhere – in the bush, on the beach. I’ve put headphones in and meditated 38,000 feet up on a jet,” he says.

Now, 15 years later, Garry is teaching people what he calls “a very powerful, but very gentle” form of meditation.

“Meditation is about quieting the mind,” Garry says. “Have you heard the phrase ‘stop the world, I want to get off’? Well, we learn to stop our world. We step off our world for 20 minutes a day. Then we’re able to step back into our world, much more peaceful and much more relaxed.”

The same principles that helped Garry work through his depression can also be utilised by those who are anxious, stressed or overworked. Even those not dealing with mental health issues can get a lot from it.

“It’s about you not controlling your thoughts, but it’s also about not allowing your thoughts to control you,” he explains. “If you can do that, and start separating those two concepts, you’re well on your way.”

“It’s not a quick fix, it’s not like taking an aspirin for a headache. It’s all about practise – that’s the key.”

Garry’s first meditation class will be held at the Awakeri Events Centre on Tuesday, March 24 from 6pm to 7pm. Those interested in joining can email Garry at garryhamnett64@gmail.com or visit his Facebook page Serenity Well Being Whakatane.

Classes will be held there every Tuesday, open to all ages, and operating on a koha basis.

“Meditation should be for everybody, not just those that can afford it,” Garry says. “There are many people for whom meditation would do a world of good, but they have nothing.

For me meditation is about getting the message out there to every sector of the community.”

As every person is different, Garry likes to find out what each student is interested in and give them options. Classes, then, will focus on the basics, working through different types of seated meditation, and exploring mantra and focus meditation practices.

A lot of what Garry teaches goes back to that very first class he took all those years ago.

“That first class was simple and I’m thankful for that,” he says. “Even today, it has shown me the right way to teach, to get the basics right. If you build your foundation right, you can build anything on it. So I teach people the foundations.”

“To me, it’s a blessing to bring this gift back to Whakatane. Back to my hometown.”

john.morin@thebeacon.co.nz