Meet the Derbyshire farmer who has become an unlikely YouTube star
Meditation, in its full meaning, always defies description, according to retired Derbyshire farmer John Butler.
It is a practice that has been used for millennia to help bring calm to restless, over-active minds from the still and quiet depths beyond, with some archaeologists dating meditation back to as early as 5,000 BCE.
And, it is one that 83-year-old John, from Bakewell, has practiced for much of his life.
He first started to meditate at the age of 26 after travelling to Peru, in South America ‘to make the world a better place’.
“It wasn’t so easy”, he explained. “But when I was there, something very important happened to me. Things had gone a bit wrong and, one day, I was sitting on a mountainside when a little voice seemed to say, ‘To make whole be whole’.
"By then, I’d heard of meditation so, when I came home, I looked for and found a School of Meditation in London. Immediately after learning the practice, it opened up a whole new way of seeing, which I’ve practiced ever since. It really became the cornerstone of my spiritual practice, and I cannot over-emphasize its value.
John said: "Meditation always helps to open the situation up so you connect with something bigger. It’s always comforting, and never threatening.
"For many years I’ve been active talking about and teaching meditation to those who were interested and wanting to learn.”
Although meditation and a yearning for ’absolute fulfilment’ have been an integral part of John’s life, he also holds a love for nature which he developed as a child.
He first gained public attention in the 1970’s as one of the pioneer organic farmers, growing vegetables on the Lincolnshire Fens.
But besides farming and meditation, John has lived an extraordinarily interesting life which, as well as Peru, has included long periods in Australia, Africa, the USA, and Russia.
Through his life-long search, John said he’s also suffered much physical and emotional pain but has “always followed his heart in its devotion to God and the eventual aim of full spiritual realisation.”
John added: “I fell in love with the process of meditation as soon as I started and I’ve done a lot with meditation throughout my life.
“And, in many ways I’ve had quite a difficult life. It was in my late 40’s when my life really fell to pieces and for many years I wandered around completely lost, struggling with depression and all sorts of troubles.
“I’d been through a great love experience then which didn’t work out but it completely took over, I couldn’t go on living as I had been previously. So, I left my farm and wandered off not knowing what to do with myself just with this one word ‘love’ in my mind which I couldn’t connect to.”
He added: “Meditation continued through all that and I was very active for many years in the School of Meditation which taught me in London.”
Having practiced meditation for over six decades, John has now become an unlikely YouTube sensation in his twilight years for videos in which he speaks from experience about meditation and the development of spiritual understanding.
And, given the stresses of the last year, it appears many more are now seeking videos such as his - with his Spiritual Unfoldment YouTube channel recently topping 118,00 subscribers and 20 million views.
John said the idea for his channel developed after his debut interview, four years ago, on ‘Conscious TV’, another Youtube channel which focuses on those with experience of higher consciousness.
With friend and cameraman Phil Shankland, he has since recorded nearly 200 of his own videos.
Speaking of his YouTube fame, John added: “You don’t expect this at the end of life, do you?”
Despite being brought up with Christianity and familiar with it, John said he follows no particular teaching and instead speaks entirely from his own experience, using examples from nature and simple common sense.
Liking the title ‘Mr Nothing’, he suggests to his followers, ‘Feel your feet on the ground – listen and look’.
Sitting in Bakewell’s Cricket Pavilion on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, John explained: “Besides bringing the mind to rest, meditation always brings attention to the present ‘Now’.
"Then you come to realise that here we are, surrounded by activity on the green grass, with people talking and children playing while – if you listen beyond the sound, it all takes place in silence.
“Meditation expands the mind to access this silence, which is actually ‘no-thing’ – the silence which is also stillness, which is space, which is freedom, which is peace, which is presence, which is spirit – because, where does one end and the other begin?
“You don’t have to do anything with the mind - the mind remains the mind but, like a balloon rising above the clouds, you go beyond it. Whatever our situation is in life, whatever we’re struggling with, we always tend to hold onto and identify with our own particular mental context – in other words, our clouds.
“But when awareness is raised to the freedom of a higher point of view, it is not ill or unhappy, hungry or poor at all. It’s completely unaffected by these worldly things.
“This is the eternal nothing or no-thing which, step by step unfolds into an ever greater appreciation of spirit.”
To date, John has written no less than 10 books – each entirely from his own, first-hand experience, which provide a unique account of a lifetime’s spiritual awakening.
His YouTube videos see him addressing questions arising from the books as well as thoughts sent in by viewers while also giving some guiding principles of meditation.