‘Calm and peaceful’ Michael Harding prefers to live in the moment

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

The author and Irish Times columnist Michael Harding says he is at peace and no longer searching for meaning. He comes to the Lime Tree on Thursday, March 5 to read from the book

ALMOST two years ago, author Michael Harding and comedian Tommy Tiernan came together for a meeting of minds on the Lime Tree stage, the result being a fascinating occasion for all of those in attendance.

The event was ostensibly to plug Harding’s memoir Staring at Lakes, documenting his struggles with depression. Tiernan has also been frank about his own struggles with depression, offering a common thread that links the two men.

Both also share a innate humour and wit, but deeper than that, they are both true story tellers at heart. Harding, who has been a social worker, a priest, an actor and playwright, columnist, author and now memoirist, says his love for story telling is at the centre of everything he has done.

“I think in every single one of them, I am a story teller,” he says of his many careers.

“I think that is what links them, that is the thread going through the beads. So that if I am writing a play, or column, or book, or if I am standing on stage, I am actually doing in my mind the same thing, and that is telling a story. I am telling a story to entertain you.”

Soon, the Irish Times columnist, who has just released his second memoir Hanging with the Elephant, will take to the Gaiety stage in John B Keane’s The Field.

“I have done a good bit of acting over the years, but I don’t see it as different from writing a story, as being part of a play where you are telling the story,” says the Cavan born man, now living in Westmeath.

“I am going to have a big long rest after that, for about six months, hiding in the garden,” he laughs.

It is the new memoir that sees Harding return to the Lime Tree next week. The follow-up to the best selling Staring at Lakes emerged from a six week period when his wife - a sculptor - left for an exhibition in Poland. Harding thought to do some meditation while she was gone, but the painful memory of his own mother’s death two years previous lingered, affecting his thoughts.

“I found that once I tried to meditate, the only thing that would come into my head, was my mother,” he says. “She died two years earlier - and I realised that there was unfinished business. I felt very sad and probably I felt bad that I hadn’t done enough for her. I just wrote a kind of a meditation on her life, and how in the end she had become very sad.”

He says the book helped him come to terms with her passing, and has helped many of its readers who see echoes of their own lost loved ones in the character. The process of writing all of his books has been cathartic, Harding agrees.

“I have written five books and every one of them moved me on in life because it allows me to express things that are inside me, that are not good if you keep them inside you,” he says.

“They are not good to keep bottle up, so you let them out and kind of free them and then you can move on.”

He is happier now, he says, and no longer searching for meaning as he once was.

“I think, one of the great journeys I have made in life is the discovery that I know very little,” says Harding.

“I am probably saying to people to stop looking for meaning. People look for meaning and happiness and it doesn’t make them happy. You are always striving to find this thing, but I find if you let go of everything and just live in the present moment, then you don’t have to worry.

“In general I would think I am very peaceful person, I am a very calm person. Be present now in your body and your mind and attend to the moment that you are there with somebody else. That is all.”

Hanging with the Elephant: An Evening with Michael Harding takes place on March 5