Wise beyond his 27 years and with a down-to-earth north London accent to boot, dad-of-one Matthew Ahmet followed his teenage dream of performing Shaolin kung fu on stage as a monk from the Shaolin Temple.
A decade ago, at 16, he left behind the life of a normal teenager – computer games and trainers included – to wash his clothes in a bucket and sleep on a plank of wood in Zhengzhou, China.
“I saw the show The Wheel Of Life when I was 11 and then I was in that show when I was 21 – a decade had gone round and my wheel had gone in a full circle, my dream had come true,” he says.
Now back in the UK and running the Shaolin Temple Cheshunt, Ahmet shares what he’s learned.
1. Don’t take anything for granted
“Growing up in London, you have this attitude – I was very egotistical. I went out to China wanting to learn just to flip and to kick and what I ended up getting out of it was completely different. Living at the Shaolin Temple I had to wash clothes by hand and fetch water.
"A lot of youngsters believe their life is hard here, but we have running water, we have hot water, we have regular showers and it’s these things that we take for granted, and that we don’t really realise we do, until we see a different kind of life.”
2. Passions – not possessions – make you happy
“People say, ‘You’ve got to have [running] water, how can you live like that?’ Well we do in China. That’s the lifestyle for the monks and they’re extremely happy. I feel that’s missing from Western society. People might have money, iPhones, a car, but what they don’t have is happiness. It’s a real goal in life, to find what you’re passionate about.”
3. Don’t fear death, live
“I think people are dying to live, they’re struggling to survive, so they can one day die. It should be the reverse: living to live. We only have one life and it’s inevitable that we die. In Shaolin philosophy, no one fears death. There’s no way out of it, so you’ve got to make the most of every single second of every single day that you have.”
4. Stopping will help you go further
“Rather than stand still, people like to keep moving, but what happens is they drain themselves out. You can actually get further by stopping sometimes. It’s like going on a long road trip. You say, ‘No, I’m not going to stop my car. I’m going to keep going, then stop when the fuel dies out’.
"But if you stop every so often at a service station, you get that break and then keep going. Meditation is a way for me to recharge my batteries without panicking. So many people live in a fast-paced world and think they’re achieving their goals, but they end up getting stressed and overworked, then they get sick more often. Kung fu really gave me a different outlook on living.”
5. Meditate every day
“Like with everything, meditation has become a big fad at the moment, but people expect to go to a meditation class and find peace, whereas in actuality, meditation isn’t like a class that you can take. It’s an emotional state you have to find and you have to practise every day. If you only meditate once a week, you’re not going to improve, you have to give yourself a lot of time to find that inner peace.”
6. Don’t be afraid of silence
“Sometimes people are actually afraid of that silence. Sometimes the loudest noise can be silence. Inner peace worries people because when they’re not seeing something, they don’t know what to think about.
"So they turn on the TV, they go and eat – but meditation is about finding your inner self and what your passion is. Just lie in bed a little bit longer in the morning, not trying to sleep, just thinking about your goals. What’s your dream?”
7. Wake early and embrace the day
“I wake up around 5am and it starts with training, going outside. It’s just a habit now, but it’s also my passion. I know what I want to do. It’s like children. Children very rarely sleep late, because as soon as the light comes into their room, they just want to get up, play Lego, or draw, because for them, life is glorious.
"For a lot of adults, especially in Western society, it becomes a chore – five more minutes snooze and then another five minutes snooze. They’re energised at work, but then when they get home, they slouch on the couch and get into bad habits.”
8. Find your goal, find yourself
“Some people laugh and say, ‘You know what, I can’t even remember what I used to dream about when I was a child’. They’ve become objects of society and they’re not really fulfilling their goals, they’re filling the goals of society. Deep down they feel lost. It’s very important to find yourself.
"Meditation allows you to reflect on yourself and look at that person in the mirror and decide if that person is who you want to be. If you’re so engaged all of the time, you’re on email and your phone and you never stop, you never have the chance to look at yourself.”
9. Give 100% every day
“Think about when you’ve had a great day and you feel 99% and so high on your own energy. Then you go to work and most people probably feel under 60% for most of their days. When you add up the days, you’re only living half the year and half the life. There are so many great things out there, but because you’re only running at 60%, you can’t get much more out of life than that.
Life is as simple as a choice. If you love to swim, then you need to swim every day. If a kid loves to play Lego, he has to play every day. If you love something, you have to commit to it. Whether you’re fascinated by space or music, you have to give 100% and when you give 100%, you will get 100% back – that’s how it works. It’s karma in the most obvious way. What you put in, you get out.”
10. Responsibility gives you purpose
“In 2007, I became a coach where I was teaching a class of students, and you’re living at these temples and you become a father figure. It’s such a wonderful experience, so I really wanted to have my own children. A lot of people I’ve grown up with and students of mine who are older than me are scared of having that responsibility.
"I think having that responsibility gives you greater opportunity because you have this meaning, this ‘why’. It’s this automatic push to be the best person for your children, your family. It’s a very powerful motivator. I think a lot of people lack motivation in their personal life, because they don’t have any responsibility.
"At work they do, but when they get home, there’s no meaning and all they want to do is engage in TV shows for countless hours or scroll on Facebook on their phone for hours on end, whereas just playing with a child sometimes is such a powerful, wonderful thing.”
11. Find your ‘why’
“There are so many different sayings I love, but one of the things I say to people the most is that you have to find your ‘why’. As soon as you find your ‘why’, you’re set. I have this saying which is ‘know why, then no why’. So many people ask, ‘Why should I do this?
"Why do I need to pay this bill? Why do I need to go to work? Blah blah blah…’ The reason they’re asking ‘why’ is because they don’t know the answer. But as soon as you know why, there are no questions.”
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