Jerome Flynn Chooses Mindfulness over the Sword
We sat down with Jerome Flynn to discuss his recent Sleep Story and to learn about his mindfulness journey.
Jerome Flynn is a British actor and singer, famous on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond for roles including most recently Bronn, the mercenary swordsman in the HBO fantasy series, Game of Thrones, and Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake in Ripper Street, the Amazon Prime thriller series set in the Victorian London of Jack the Ripper.
The seventh series of Game of Thrones premieres next month, in mid-July, while the fifth season of Ripper Street did so recently.
Less known is that Flynn, 54, is a serious practitioner and advocate of meditation, which he has been practicing for over a quarter of a century, since first discovering it in his late 20s.
With a kind and calming voice and his mindfulness background we knew he'd be perfect to read one of our bedtime stories for grown-ups. Sleep Stories are sleep-inducing tales that mix soothing words, music, sound-effects and mindfulness techniques to help adult listeners wind down and drift off to sleep. We're so happy he said yes!
Flynn read an original story called A Magical Winter Night. It is set in a mythical land and has the feel and style of some folktale from long ago.
When did you first get interested in meditation?
JF: I discovered meditation in my late twenties when I was seeking answers to my own condition and trying to better understand who I really was.
So, I started reading books on meditation and enlightenment. I then found a meditation teacher and went on an intense retreat with him to India.
The whole experience really turned my life on its head, opening the door to a completely fresh and much more authentic understanding of myself and of what you might call the nature of being.
I’ve been practicing [meditation] in one way or another ever since. Initially for about 10 years, I was doing it two or three hours a day. The early intensity felt important to really help burn through all the old mental and emotional habits of a lifetime.
In the last few years, I’ve eased off the hours and hopefully integrated the meditation into my everyday life.
Daily meditation is still very important to me. I sit for half hour in the morning and definitely feel the difference in the flow of my day if I miss it.
I was lucky that I discovered meditation just when my first wave of fame hit.
It was a crazy time [because] just as I was discovering more depth and meaning in my life through meditation and contemplation, my pop music career and the culture of fame surrounding it brought in the potential for a whole load of shallowness and self-importance.
I was definitely already searching for answers before then – but the ‘fame thing’ probably just sped up the process as I sensed the danger and stifling feeling of getting lost in that shallowness and froth. I’m grateful for it all but I’m so glad I had a meditation practice.
How did and does meditation help you?
JF: Well professionally, meditation definitely helped me to deal with that first experience of fame. In the midst of all the craziness of that pop froth, being number one in the charts and so on ... there’s a cultural fascination with fame, which can translate into a mixture of being put on a strange kind of pedestal one minute to being slagged off and brought down the next, which, of course, is unhealthy either way if it’s taken seriously by the ego.
It’s all too easy to end up on some kind of self-created island where you’re actually less connected to the real flow of life and the people and places that matter to you most.
Actually, with today’s social media explosion, you might easily say that many of the pitfalls and dangers of fame have become available to us all.
Meditation really helped ground and center me beyond the identification with success, and the praise and criticism that go with it.
I would occasionally fall prey to panic attacks in those stressful, highly exposed situations, such as before a big TV performance or interview.
If I felt the panic coming on, then meditation and mindfulness often helped me to breathe deeply and connect to the present moment, allowing feelings of paranoia and fear to fall into the background.
I find mindfulness techniques a useful way to help bring the practice into my waking, walking, and talking day ... and especially the use of breath for returning to a present, heart-centered space.
Did Robson Green – your co-star and singing partner – also meditate?
JF: I don’t think Rob was meditating but sometimes on big occasions, we would both get nervous and he would say to me, “Come on Romy, tell me some of that stuff”.
Do you ever have trouble sleeping yourself?
JF: I always get off to sleep okay, but then I’ll often wake up in the middle of the night, maybe for an hour or so.
It definitely feels like there are cycles to my sleep pattern, and once awake, the worrisome mind can kick in; so, instead of just letting it worry or wander, I like to listen to stories or podcasts myself, or do some mindfulness exercises. And now, Calm has become a really cool addition to my nighttime options.
You once said, “Mindfulness changed my life”. What did you mean by that?
JF: Meditation introduced to me a deeper truth of who I am at the core of my being, to a self that is intimately connected to everything.
It showed me a place of wholeness in myself that is free from fear and self-judgment, truly present and available for life’s magical flow, rather than distracted by self-concern, of the past and future.
The symptoms of that, in turn, are a deeper relaxation, creativity, and awareness of the beauty in all things.
It showed me that true creativity and love come from a place beyond the patterns of the mind. It comes from a deeper, timeless place in ourselves.
What was your impression of the Sleep Story, A Magical Winter Night, that you’ve just read for Calm?
JF: It felt like a sort of Eastern European folk tale from a couple of centuries ago.
What was it like reading the Sleep Story for Calm? Did you feel like falling asleep yourself?
JF: Often in performance, you’re wanting to maintain a certain energy. Reading this story for Calm, I still needed to sustain this sort of energy but at a much lower level.
I had to be careful not to relax too much because while reading it, I was deliberately getting slower and softer as the story continued.
It was such a pleasure to do and a rare feeling to work on something that I’m so behind and that's helping to bring healing and sanity to a world that so desperately needs it.
You’ve said that you would like more schools to teach the techniques of mindfulness and meditation to their students. Why?
JF: That started when a good friend of mine, Elizabeth Daniels, had a passion and vision to bring mindfulness and mindful breathing to young people. Tragically, two local teenagers had recently taken their lives and Elizabeth wanted to do something.
Through her, I was invited to visit our local school in St. Davids, Pembrokeshire [in Wales], where the children had started learning mindfulness and meditation.
Once they had been learning it for a few weeks, I was invited in to speak about my own experience and hear about theirs. It was truly heartening and inspiring to hear how quickly they had started to appreciate the tools of mindfulness and how much it had affected them after only a few weeks.
I would definitely like to be part of the movement to bring mindfulness into schools; in fact, in terms of education, I don’t think there’s anything more important. In these desperately volatile, fast-changing times, it is crucial we help our young people in the school of self-understanding, emotional maturity and mental wellbeing. How much we invest in that area could well be the difference between us making it through the next millennia on a healthy, life-supporting planet, or not.