The first thing I see when I open Zoom is Dermot Whelan twisting and turning his phone camera around, just enough for me to get a glimpse of what looks like a rooftop garden filled with luminous grass in early February.
The Today FM broadcaster and Republic of Telly staple is ready for our chat in his usual cheerful and giddy form. Despite the conversation centered around his newfound meditation journey – a seemingly ‘serious’ subject – Whelan believes the wellness world is one that could do with a dose of humour.
But what led Dermot on this new path?
Following a panic attack some years back, Dermot knew he had to slow down and change his ways. He started devoting his time to looking for tools necessary to kick his anxiety. He soon found that meditation was the solution.
Upon putting this new tool to practice, people started asking him to give them tips on meditation. Whelan realised he wasn’t sure how to teach people, so he took a trip to California to master the craft.
“It was never my plan to become a meditation teacher. I had never had any intention to tell anyone about this.
I always felt like there were kind of two halves to me, the outwards comedian woohoo side and then there was the more private quiet meditating side, I never really thought that the two would ever blend.” The Limerick native released his book Mind Full in 2021 – an easy guide to meditation full of his quirky humour too- and then as a qualified teacher, decided to take his skills and innovative approach on a new tour called Mind Full in 2022, combining both comedy and meditation.
His latest venture might not be one that we expected but he says his family was not surprised. He said this path gave him an ability to bring more of himself and more depth to his work which made it far more fulfilling.
“I couldn’t believe that it’s only monks, professional athletes, and soldiers with post-traumatic stress who get to find out this stuff, like why do we have to hit crisis point to know more?” Dermot became somewhat of an accidental teacher, simply because he wanted more people to learn about the benefits that came with embracing the mindful practice.
He remembers doing a comedy show with his Today FM co-host Dave Moore with a 10,000 audience and thinking it was fun but two days later, taught meditation to thirty people in an insurance company and was absolutely buzzing after it.
By nature, comedy keeps people entertained for the duration of the show, but when Whelan began blending comedy with meditation, “they’re taking away more than just a belly laugh, they’re taking away stuff that can really help them in their lives in terms of managing stress, managing sleep, dealing with challenges and anxiety”, he says.
“It feels like everything I’ve done in my life in work and out of work has come to allow me to do this now.” Like in every part of our lives, we want a bit of craic. At work, in our relationships, our hobbies, but when we think of mindfulness, it may be harder to link but Dermot thinks this is precisely where we need it.
“I do think that a lot of the wellness world can take itself so seriously, you have to talk in hushed tones and say namaste a lot and suddenly use language that you would never use.
“I want to take these useful tips and use my comedy and humour as a vehicle because humour is that magical tool for helping people to be at ease and when we’re laughing and open too, we learn”, he adds.
When we try meditation, we often think we’re doing it wrong. We think we can turn a magic switch and all of our thoughts will suddenly disappear and when that doesn’t happen on our first try, we tend to give up.
Being aware of this, Dermot advises that “just because you have thoughts and your mind is busy doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong, failing and it doesn’t mean that it’s for other people, not you. Once people understand that your mind wandering is part of it, then they go, ah, okay!” The science behind meditation shocked Dermot the most.
“When I heard that, when you sit down, even if you’re a beginner, try some of the techniques that I teach, you can shrink the part of your brain that causes anxious thoughts and I was like, wow, that is if you, excuse the pun, a no-brainer.” “The monks have known this for years for thousands of years before and science is the language of today and that’s what people are latching onto,” he adds.
When asked who inspires him, Dermot ponders for a while but eventually firmly says Bono. He’s inspired by his courage of always reaching for the stars, even when people were sniggering at him. He finds that he has always been acutely aware of the many stumbling blocks that we throw at ourselves.
“That’s why meditation for me has been such an amazing help, it shines a light on the things that I’m putting in my own way and so I understand myself a little bit better”, he said.
Dermot also enjoys a good dollop of silence and tried many retreats around Ireland including a Buddhist one “in the back arse of Cavan”, he jokes. He said that his co-host Dave laughs at him because he fantasises regularly about moving to an island and living in a cave.
If he’s looking for a cave like-town I suggest my hometown of Navan. I take it as a no, as he laughs profusely.
Having changed the likes of actor Cillian Murphy’s perspective on meditation