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Mindfulness Master John Shearer writes, speaks and shares his experiences of mental suffering and suicide to help people overcome their dark times. Image: Emma Pritchard.

Mindfulness over matter

He stood on the bank of the Murrumbidgee River and looked at the water.

He even picked out a gum tree that looked easy to throw a rope over.

Suicidal and severely depressed following a horrendous truck accident on the Hume Highway in 1982, John Shearer had had enough.

His life wasn’t the same.

He wanted it to end.

Suddenly, he heard a tiny voice in the back of his head.

It had been there since his accident, but he never took any notice of it.

Until that day.

It said, “it’s OK, there’s a reason, you’ll get through this”.

Fast forward to 2020, and Mr Shearer has a new perspective of life.

In the years since he walked away from the river and turned his back on the gum tree, Mr Shearer has relocated to the Clarence Valley, spent ten years mentoring youths in juvenile justice and reaching out to people in need with a vision of sharing his past experiences to change the future of others. 

A self-described mindfulness master, spiritual life coach, peer support mentor and author, Mr Shearer has dedicated more than 9000 hours to studying and researching mindful practice, a way of experiencing the world on a moment to moment basis, to provide clarity and inner peace.

Today, he “values the dark years” of his life, referring to them as life lessons.

He has hit rock bottom, lost close friends to suicide, and seen and experienced the devastating effects of mental illness.

Turning negative thoughts and memories into positive empowerment, he combines his knowledge and wisdom of mindfulness with his own experiences of mental suffering and suicide, to raise awareness, mentor, motivate and educate others to love, learn, support, speak up, demonstrate empathy, and to listen to others, and to themselves.

In his own words, Mr Shearer adamantly believes bereavement is best understood by those who have experienced grief and loss, and the world needs “an army of mentor,” who have experienced the “dark times” of life, to help others find their way back into the light.

This is why he is so passionate about his work.

Mr Shearer has found his reason.

He got through the dark years, because his life wasn’t meant to end on the riverbank.

“It was certainly a very dark time of my life,” Mr Shearer recalls, adding he never experienced any suicidal thoughts prior to the truck accident which almost killed him and subsequently, had a severe impact on the next fifteen years of his life.

“Overnight I went from eating steak to eating mincemeat, I didn’t handle it at all and I went down, I really did.”

Although his physical health gradually started to recover, Mr Shearer’s mental health continued to decline.

He was diagnosed with mental illness and prescribed medications to battle heavy depression which kept overcoming him in waves.

But the battle couldn’t be won with pills and he became “trapped by the mental health system”.

Told by mental health professionals that he would never be cured, be reliant on medications for the rest of his life, never work again and never be the person he once was, his world collapsed.

In 1997, he hit rock bottom.

Thinking his life wasn’t going to get any better, Mr Shearer suddenly experienced what he calls “his miracle”, when he welcomed an unexpected visitor one day in the form of an old friend who he hadn’t seen for years.

His friend told him he’d had a spiritual prompt to visit him.

Mr Shearer hasn’t seen his old friend since that day in 1997.

He has no idea where he went, or how to find him, but he knows the effect his visit had on him.

It changed him, it set him on a new, brighter pathway.

“He shared his story with me, his life story,” Mr Shearer recalls.

“He had moved to Sydney to become a professional punter and gambling got him.

“He had found his rock bottom, but he told me he then found his way out of it through spirituality and that’s why he followed his spiritual prompts and subsequently, visited me that day.

“I haven’t been able to find him since.

“He has no idea what he did for me, and the date that he visited me ended up becoming World Mental Health Day.

“Two days after he visited, I had what I can only call a spiritual awakening, and my life just slowly started to change.

“I was able to get off the medication, get my life back and I’ve never been depressed since just with a simple change in perspective.”

A spiritual awakening is believed by many to be the beginning of an individual’s initiation on a spiritual path when they wake up to a new life and move forward in a different direction.

Mr Shearer doesn’t doubt his old friend visited him that day for a reason.

He believes everything happens for a reason, even though it might not always appear that way.

It is almost as if the voice that suddenly spoke up on the day he went to the Murrumbidgee River is still revealing its purpose.

When Mr Shearer is asked about those fifteen dark years today, he doesn’t divert the topic or close the conversation, pretending they never happened.

They did happen, and they shaped Mr Shearer’s life, placing him where he believes he needs to be today.

As he describes his “life lessons,” Mr Shearer reflects on how his own experiences have helped him to help others.

You could say Mr Shearer follows his spiritual prompts.

One day, he followed his spiritual prompt when he approached and spoke to a man who was sitting alone at a bus stop.

That man later contacted Mr Shearer and told him he had saved his life.

When Mr Shearer had approached him, he’d been contemplating suicide.

The life lesson from that experience, is you should never be or feel afraid to speak to someone.

Mr Shearer also followed his spiritual prompt while he was working with youths in juvenile justice.

One day, he noticed a young man sitting on his own, so he approached him and spoke to him.

Although the youth didn’t engage in the conversation, he told Mr Shearer it was the best conversation he had ever had. 

Mr Shearer encourages people to follow their intuition and talk to others, even strangers, and to never be afraid to trust their sixth sense, or gut feeling.

He says it is important to connect with others, in mindfulness and in spirituality.

He is also a strong advocate for positive mental health and helping others get their lives back on track.

“My definition of mentally healthy is if you can maintain peace of mind and clarity of mind, no matter what is happening in your life or in the world, that’s mentally healthy and it’s very achievable,” he said.

In 2014, Mr Shearer invited Australians who were experiencing mental suffering to participate in an online event called Mindfulness Day.

Close to 5000 people attended and the event became Mr Shearer’s first book, Mindful Actions.

Recently, he has published a second book, Mindful Insights, a 52 week journey to master your mind.

As he flicks through the pages of his latest work and recounts his life in detail, Mr Shearer also thinks about his new, ongoing project.

Motivated from his own experiences of suicide, Mr Shearer has recently launched his own website, where he has created a network of online support services and contacts.

Prompted by his previous and ongoing research of mindfulness and mindfulness practice, Mr Shearer feels it is extremely important to create more support networks and services for those who are suffering mental illness in the Clarence Valley, and to let them know that help is available.

He is encouraging anyone who wants to reach out or seek help for a friend or loved one to visit the website or contact him directly at [email protected]

Mr Shearer is also involved with Our Healthy Clarence, a collaboration of community groups and service providers who support mental health and well-being in the Clarence Valley and he is also encouraging people to visit the site on Facebook.

As the world around us reshapes itself amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Shearer says now is the time to unite and be there for one another.

As World Suicide Prevention Day and R U OK Day recently gave communities timely reminders to always look out for one another, Mr Shearer is spreading his message to be mindful, pause and connect.
Because we all have a reason for being here.

If this story has raised issues of a personal nature, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.