When I first landed in Dubai, it was a city with a magnificent vision and I couldn’t believe my luck when a few years later I ended up editing one of the region’s biggest celebrity magazines.

Sarah Bladen By Brian Crawford

Sarah Bladen By Brian Crawford

Suddenly I was interviewing everyone from Kim Kardashian to her future husband Kanye West and anyone famous who landed on our sunny shores. There I was having a giggle with Lily Allen at a fashion show, celebrating Halloween with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith and sailing towards some man-made islands on a private yacht, with Kelly Rowland.  ‘Is that really work?’ joked my friends. It was pretty surreal to say the least.

Despite local designers clamouring to dress me for red carpet events, being flown around the world to jaw-dropping resorts and being invited to every opening (including a bar of soap!), I discovered that all that is gold doesn’t glitter. I couldn’t shake off a deep-seated malaise, a nagging feeling that something major was missing in my life. And yet at the time my super busy schedule kept me from addressing this.

It was only when I lost my dad to prostate cancer and my relationship and job crumbled, that I was faced with my worst fear of losing everything I loved. I was consumed by an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. However, this also inspired me to go on a spiritual shopping spree, trying dozens of holistic treatments, listening to motivational gurus and even travelling to the Himalayas to visit the Dalai Lama.

Eventually I came across an enlightened Himalayan Yogi and made the radical decision to move to an ashram in Karnataka, South India. My mum nearly had a heart attack: ‘You are throwing your life away!' Many friends echoed the same shocked reaction.

In my new home on a remote mountain, I was completely isolated from the world - there was no wifi and zero entertainment. We were at the mercy of nature too. Monsoons often cut off the electricity and showering involved pouring a bucket of cold water over my head. Days were spent digging out weeds and scrubbing the ashram floors. The idea of these chores is to break down our individualistic ego, which can cause us suffering.

Any physical discomfort was the least of my worries – the mental pressure was far more challenging. There was no escape either, so I meditated every day. Initially, my mind couldn’t stop racing – the ‘monkey mind’ as they call it. But I kept persevering. Sometimes I sat in silence for days on end, with hardly any human contact.

A turning point occurred almost a year later when I was sitting on top of the ashram roof, surrounded by monkeys and birds in the treetops. For once, my mind was free of any troubling thoughts. In fact, there were no thoughts at all. Mystics and hardcore meditators often talk about this natural high but here I was experiencing something incredibly blissful.

Being in the wilderness, gave me a sense of renewed life purpose and I wanted to pass on this wisdom I'd learnt. So, I returned to London and embarked on a teacher training course in meditation and mindfulness with a London-based Zen Master called Julian Daizan Skinner. He had spent over a decade in a strict Zen temple in Japan, so I knew he was the real deal. Naturally when he asked me to collaborate with him on a book about practical Zen tips, I was delighted.

Finally, I understand the meaning behind the Zen proverb, 'No mud, no lotus'. I realise that suffering can be a blessing in disguise, an opportunity for us to channel loss into something positive and to grow as human beings. Making such a radical change in my life has given me an inner calm and strength I never imagined possible.  

Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness by Julian Daizan Skinner and Sarah Bladen is out now in paperback and ebook.