I have just got back from my autumn Zen retreat at Crosby Hall, near Liverpool. Friends and acquaintances are under the impression that this is a relaxing experience, that maybe I go there for a week of cleansing food and lettuce water, long saunas and soothing new age music. It is nothing like this.
In some ways it is the hardest week of the year, involving long hours of silent meditation, chanting in Japanese, getting up at 5 am, strictly vegetarian food, silence, and much mental wrestling with an illusory ego.
I am not relaxed when I get home; I am exhausted.
But what I have done is de-stressed. Life has become very simple and stripped down. It takes a couple of hours to realise this. Suddenly the world is full of frantically loud speech, I have to witness the madness of traffic or trains, and then, as the final blow, I hear the news on the radio and see the chaos of moving pictures on the television.
Suddenly, the world of bombs and guns, Brexit and Trump, fireballs and football floods in through screens. I am reminded of that lyric of Prefab Sprout: Once more the sound of crying is number one across the earth.
Nothing has changed, nothing has been learned, it seems, while I have been away, except now it seems more obvious to me why people seem so stressed and unhappy.
Sometimes I think all it would take is for everybody to spend a bit more time in silence.