The Way of the Gonzo
Beginning a book is like beginning a relationship – you start out full of hope, excitement and expectation, checking out the exterior, the cover, then maybe spending a bit of time flicking through a few pages, testing the water, looking for signs that it has substance and intrigue until slowly you get drawn in and…
Actually, y’know what? Fuck it – stop that train of thought, I’m boring myself already, I’m not kicking this off with an analogy, it’s way too early to go all Forrest Gump on you – there’ll be plenty of time for that later…
The real point is – why should you read beyond the first page?
And perhaps more importantly, why should you trust me?
The simple answer to that is – you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t trust me at all (actually it’s a pretty good rule not to trust anyone who uses the word should or shouldn’t).
That’s what that book If you meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him was all about – if he says he’s the Buddha then he’s not the Buddha ‘cos you are the Buddha. Not that I’ve read it, it’s just one of those great books that you don’t have to read ‘cos it’s all in the title, like Feel the Fear and do it Anyway; pick it up, look at the cover, put it back on the shelf, job done.
I’d love to write a book like that.
The original working title of this book was The Keith Richards Health Plan, but Keith’s people thought that it probably wasn’t such a fantastic idea after all and his lawyers are bigger than my lawyers. In fact, I don’t have lawyers. I don’t even have people. But even that title, much as I loved it, didn’t quite have that ‘does what it says on the can’ immediacy.
I’d tweak the Buddha book title a little, something like ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Mug Him’ because:
a) I’m against capital punishment and if we kill everyone who goes around claiming to be a messiah there’d be a lot of dead sports presenters lying around.
b) It’s a bit of a baby bathwater scenario, a lot of gurus, spiritual teachers and even therapists have some clever things to say, and they’re worth mugging for their wisdom.
One person worth mugging is my friend John Williams, author of the great Screw Work Let’s Play, who taught me this easy little process by which you can find your life’s purpose, your own unique message to the world.
He said –
imagine that you have the opportunity to meet yourself as a small child, with all that you know now as an adult. What message would you would want to give to the mini you?
Try it – it’s a killer exercise and might really help
This is what came to me – quick as a flash.
“Don’t trust anyone who tells you that they know what’s right for you. Trust yourself – YOU are the expert.”
And that goes for you too. Trust yourself – you bought, borrowed or stole this book right? Something in YOU knew… You’re the expert, of you, no one else. And anyone who says they’re an expert of anything, let alone you, is to be treated with great suspicion. Expertise is cool, but experts have stopped learning.
My maternal Grandparents, Pete and Alice Muckley, had a big hand in drumming that one into me. “Don’t trust authority,” Pete used to warn me. “Look what happened on the Somme.”
You just can’t argue with stats like that.
And as the not quite as impressive as my Grandfather but nevertheless brilliant controversial Rolls Royce collecting possibly assassinated by the CIA charismatic unblinking contradictory trickster and sex guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, or Osho as he was perhaps better known, put it in the very first of his Ten Commandments:
“Never obey anyone’s command unless it is coming from within you also.”
Or more simply in the words of Bob Dylan, “don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters”. Then again you’ve got Shakespeare who must have been abducted by aliens for the amount of shit that he really understood; I mean, “to thine own self be true,” how good is that? And then you’ve got the great beast himself, the much maligned bad boy of magic, Aleister Crowley with, “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law…”
Oh, and Osho’s third Commandment’s pretty cool too:
“Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.”
Which kind of makes this book redundant.
Oh – you’re still there…
Sorry, I was distracted listening to this really rather far out Indian slide guitar player called Debashish Bhattacharya – think Ry Cooder on acid – but given that I haven’t lost you, all we are saaaaaaaying is that this book will offer you absolutely NO NEW WISDOM WHATSOEVER.
You already know it all.
Honest. Trust me. NO! Don’t trust me, trust yourself – oh fuck it…
And so, anyway, what is the promise of Play From Your Fucking Heart? What’s it selling – it must be selling something right? If it’s not new wisdom or happiness, what exactly are you gonna get from investing your precious time in reading this book?
A glimmer. A glimmer that there is something more, perhaps much, much more, to life than you realised. Maybe a flashback, a fleeting memory of a time in your life when you knew that anything was possible, a time before you became cautious and wary. As a culture we have never been more sedated by technology and gadgets and comforting distractions from life – to Play From Your Fucking Heart is to wake up, to go all the way, to be alone with the gods, to live LIFE in perfect laughter free from fear that anaesthetises and deadens, to press the self-destruct button on mundanity and break the chains of the slaves of the ordinary.
In The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, who counselled the dying in their last days, revealed the most common regret:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Play From Your Fucking Heart…
Is the antidote.
And in a way you could call this an eco book, as its entire contents have been recycled. Y’see I’m writing with the stated belief that there is NO new wisdom, that in fact the experience that you the reader has whenever you read something and go, ‘oh wow, that is deep’ – is one of already knowing, of a part of yourself that was already there waking up to an eternal collective truth, and that the writer acts as a trigger or stimulant rather than as a wise sage or guru or clever bastard who ‘knows all’.
One clever bastard wise sage guru mad Irish builder stroke shaman Itrust – and there are very few that I do – is Shivam O’Brien, introducer of this book and tribal leader at the mighty Spirit Horse Community in Wales, and, more to the point, Gonzo as fuck (more of him later).
Shivam was not only responsible for turning me onto Debashish Bhattacharya but also Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and his book I Am That. Now there’s a humble and profound tome, and it illustrates my point perfectly because in 1973, forty years before this book, he wrote,
did I ever tell you that you do not know and, therefore, you are inferior? Let those who invented such distinctions prove them. I do not claim to know what you do not. In fact, I know much less than you do.
And I really do know much less than you; about you, and many other things.
And what’s more, the older I get the more I realise how little I know, the wiser I get the more I see my own ignorance. It’s vast…
Of course many ‘self-help’ books are written by self-appointed gurus – some good, some not – and whilst I have at times benefited greatly from these writings, each time I read something and go – oh wow, that’s really clever shit – I then almost immediately read something else and go – hold on you fucker, that stuff I just read that seemed so fresh and exciting and new was just a rehash of what the Vedics/NativeAmericans/Sufis/Aborigines/Pagans/Tibetans/Druids/Buddhists and/or Mayans were saying five/ten/fifteen/twenty thousand years ago…
That in itself is not a criticism but an acknowledgement that the writers that have most impressed me – Osho, George Gurdjieff, Eckhart Tolle, David Deida, Deepak Chopra to name a few – are really just great translators, they have all taken ancient teachings and revamped and repackaged them for a contemporary audience.
And so this is what I’m offering – a collection of all my experiences and learning from over twenty years of psychotherapy practice and participation (with doses of tantra, paganism, shamanism and psychedelic exploration thrown in) presented, I hope, in a fresh and accessible way, avoiding ‘therapy speak’ with the aim being to communicate valuable concepts without intimidating or excluding you, ‘cos all too often I’ve read important works that have left me excited but overwhelmed, with a sense of how unattainable the teachings appear to be.
Therapy is no longer taboo – it’s a multi-million pound mainstream industry and people are hungry for change. With Play From Your Fucking Heart I’m attempting to offer a fresh and irreverent perspective to some of the fundamentals of self-help and personal development, taking therapy down to street level, a rock and roll guidebook to the science of the bleedin’ obvious.
I chose to write this book partly in response to people asking ‘when are you going to write a book?’ To be honest, I couldn’t see the point in a market that seemed flooded with self-help books but then it came to me – I know the creative world, not only do I know it but I’ve failed in just about every area from music, theatre, film and writing, I’ve lived the life, taken the drugs, experienced the highs and lows, survived and come out (more or less) intact.
Then, more importantly, the title came to me and I realised that there is a gap in the market for a more ‘twisted’ self-help book, a book for people who wouldn’t normally be seen dead reading a self-help book – fucked up rock’n rollers, scooter riding creatives, left-field crazies, dope fiends, Hoxton untouchables, underground eccentrics, midlife burn-outs and hipsters trapped in mainstream suits and lives wanting an escape plan.
Those of you who, dare I say, it, live on the ledge
… beyond the edge.
My kinda people.
Now hold your wild horses – don’t feel downhearted…
Look at it like this – in days gone by, the second worst penalty after the death sentence was exile. That’s gotta tell you something about just how much we all fear exclusion from the tribe no matter how many times you ask Marlon what’s he’s rebelling against and he replies “whaddaya-got?”
But I bring good news people – way, way out there, far from the safety of the tribe, deep in the wasteland on the ledge beyond the edge, there is a tribe, another tribe, a tribe of exiles, a tribe of misfits, a tribe of outsiders who await you with open arms saying ‘come brother, come sister, we have a place for you by the fire and food aplenty and dry clothes and shelter’ and you fall to your knees and give thanks crying ‘Lawsy Lawsy, good Lord willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise, I HAVE come home’ or some such authentic Frontier gibberish – I’ll leave that to you to fill in the gaps.
But you get my point right?
You’re not alone.
I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative. I don’t like anything in the mainstream and they don’t like me.
Bill Hicks said that…
I should probably interject at this point and, just in case the title of this book wasn’t enough to give it away, point out that I’m a massive Stones freak. I don’t mean I’m one of those people who sold the house and the kids in order to follow them around the world on tour, but as an entity they had a huge impact on forming my life. The Stones were somehow, inexplicably, my introduction to the esoteric, to the mystic, to the shadow side, to the forbidden, to the exotic, to the unknowable. Whilst The Beatles woke me up and turned me onto music in the first place, The Stones drew my attention to something that I still find hard to put into words, to something sensual and dark and pleasurable and very much alive. When I listened to The Beatles I was intrigued by the complexity and wonder of their accomplished musicianship, when I put a Stones album on I could smell them.
The Stones provided a soundtrack for my entire life.
They changed the way I looked at the world.
They made me feel that I belonged.
I’m dyslexic. That was my ticket to the outer edges. I was one of the early Ritalin kids. I remember when the IQ test results came back from the child psychologist as being in the mid 140s, my Dad’s puzzled response was, “well – if you’re not stupid… you must be lazy.”
The shrink in charge of the fiasco that was my school experience said, “we normally give these pills to fat ladies, but we’re going to try them on you,” and so for the next three years, breakfast became a twenty milligram tablet of methylphenidate marked Ciba on the side. Wikipedia states that the drug:
possesses some structural and pharmacological similarities to cocaine, though it is less potent and longer in duration. Psychotic symptoms from long term methylphenidate use can include hearing voices, visual hallucinations, urges to harm oneself, severe anxiety, euphoria, grandiosity, paranoid delusions, confusion, increased aggression and irritability.
What could possibly go wrong?
So learning has always been a struggle, and as a practitioner I have always striven to make things as simplistic as possible, to make what appears complex immediate and accessible and I’ve always rejected the idea of the therapist as the clever, all knowing, enlightened one. My approach in my daily work is to make sure I’m firmly off the pedestal and these attitudes have strongly influenced and shaped this book. Psychotherapeutic concepts can be intimidating, but strip away the loftiness and you discover that it’s actually very simple, which is what I mean by the science of the bleedin’ obvious.
When people ask me what I do I always hesitate – I hate that question; it makes me almost as uncomfortable a going through customs. In my twenties I was a drug crazed rock’n roll guitar player in a group called The Batniks – a band once described as ‘so underground that no one knows they’re there…’ I moonlighted as a stagehand in film, TV and theatre when not signing on, living a colourful and impoverished life as an East End squatter and self-intentioned drop-out – not that I ever dropped in long enough to drop out…
In my thirties I cleaned up my act and worked as a psychotherapist for 13 years; I then tried calling myself a coach – why not? Everyone else does. I’ve been to India and trained in tantra but that doesn’t quite qualify me to call myself a Guru, and I’ve been buried alive and fasted in the wilderness for days on end but that doesn’t quite make me a Shaman… and Psycho-therapeutic Shamanic Coaching Guru is a real mouthful.
Over the years people started calling me a Gonzo Therapist, and I guess that’ll do – I’m stuck with it now anyway – but when it comes to marketing it’s not really a winner because NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IT MEANS…
So, before I lay any of my twisted ideas on you, I better clear that one up.
Ok, now… that very well may mean absolutely nothing to you, but – given that the universe has placed this book in your hands, chances are that YOU my friend…
Are a Gonzo seeker.
Which rumour has it may well in fact be the name of the very tribe that lives way out on the ledge beyond the edge (bank details and cult indoctrination specifics will follow later in this chapter.)
So what… is… Gonzo?
Let’s start with Wikipedia:
The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavours. Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism that is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative.
Gonzo journalism disregards the ‘polished’ edited product favoured by newspaper media and strives for a more gritty approach. Use of quotations, sarcasm, humour, exaggeration, and profanity is common.
Get the picture?
Then I started considering who my lifelong heroes were and that began to make sense of something, especially as I realised there was a commonality, a thread.
Apart from Keith Richards there was Hunter S. Thompson, Bill Hicks, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan to name a few.
All, to my mind – Gonzo pioneers.
People who, you could argue – well I am anyway – Iin medieval times might well have had the role of The Fool.
So I began to look at the role of The Fool in historical culture. And a quote from some obscure site struck me as pertinent:
The fool constantly questions our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. The fool lifts the veil of authority, devoid of decorum, acting irreverently, unmasking the unpleasant aspects of power.
Now, bear with me and remember that I’m trying to explain to you (and me – for we always write for ourselves) the qualities that make a Gonzo seeker.
This led me to Heyókȟa, and then things started to get really exciting.
The word Heyókȟa refers to the Lakota Indians’ concept of a contrarian, jester, satirist or sacred clown.
(Keep Thompson, Hicks, Lennon and Jagger in mind as you read on).
Their satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say.
Principally, the Heyókȟa functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviours to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Heyókȟas also have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame – they sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are.
In addition, sacred clowns serve an important role in shaping tribal codes. Heyókȟa’s don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. Paradoxically, however, it is by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behaviour. This is because they are the only ones who can ask “Why?” about sensitive topics and employ satire to question the specialists and carriers of sacred knowledge or those in positions of power and authority. In doing so, they demonstrate concretely the theories of balance and imbalance. Their role is to penetrate deception, turn over rocks, and create a deeper awareness.
Now that to me… is proper Gonzo.
Knew a thing or two did those Lakotans.
Now I’ve been mostly going on, and on, andonabout the importance of The Fool. But I also need to include another hero of mine, yet another Heyókȟa, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (Armenian: Greek: Γεώργιος Γεωργιάδης, Russian: Гео́ргий Ива́нович Гюрджи́ев, January 13, 1866? – October 29, 1949) was a mystic and spiritual teacher. He called his discipline “The Work” (connoting “work on oneself”) according to Gurdjieff’s principles and instructions, or (originally) the “Fourth Way”. Gurdjieff claimed that people cannot perceive reality in their current state because they do not possess consciousness but rather live in a state of a hypnotic “waking sleep”.
“Man lives his life in sleep, and in sleep he dies.” As a result of this condition each person perceives things from a completely subjective perspective. Gurdjieff stated that maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more awake. He asserted that people in their typical state function as unconscious automatons, but that one can “wake up” and become a different sort of human being altogether.
Did you get that bit?
Maleficent events such as wars and so on could not possibly take place if people were more awake.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’ll probably have got your head around the connections I’m making between The Fool, Heyókȟa, and Gonzo. And if you took in the stuff about Heyókȟa then you will get the connection I’m making with Gurdjieff, Thompson, Hicks etc.
So–what defines a true Gonzo seeker?
A Gonzo seeker, whilst almost certainly being a habitual user of quotations, sarcasm, humour, exaggeration, and profanity, realises that one can ‘wake up’ and become a different sort of human being altogether.
A Gonzo seeker questions perceptions of wisdom and truth, lifts the veil of authority, acting irreverently, unmasking the unpleasant aspects of power, challenging the routine taken-for-granted aspects of daily rituals, asking difficult questions, and saying things others are too afraid to say.
A Gonzo seeker doesn’t care about rules, regulations or social norms.
A Gonzo seeker would neither belong to any club that would have them as a member nor define themselves as a Gonzo seeker.
And above all the Gonzo seeker is always daring, different and impractical, asserting integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the common place, the slaves of the ordinary.
Now, just before I wrap this chapter up there are a couple more points I need to make.
First off – and you may have got this already through your own keen powers of observation – I’m really quite fucked up. Sorry – but I am. And it’s taken over twenty years of ‘personal development’ to get to this stage, and for that I make no apology.
Osho always said either be completely stupid, dumb, unaware and blind to anything other than your shitty existence, or go for the big one and full self-actualisation. It’s the getting caught in the middle that really hurts.
And so I’m not saying I’m a car crash or that I’m (all that) dangerous, just that I inhabit that uncomfortable place in between ignorance and enlightenment.
The UKCP (that’s the United Kingdom Council of Psychotherapists to you mere mortals) will probably have me whacked for revealing this but… do you know that most psychotherapists are deeply neurotic and fucked up? Like many psychiatrists are MAD? I don’t know how it works with tantra and shamanism. Maybe all tantrikas have shit sex lives and shamans are afraid of dogs or summink.
I mentioned Shivam O’Brien earlier, and the reason I trust him is simple, it’s because he wears his dysfunction on his sleeve, there’s no bullshit and he’s in a constant state of learning. That’s the kind of qualification I’m looking for these days – I don’t care too much for certificates. The real teachers tend to have lived.
I remember when it first dawned on me that my therapist wasn’t exactly… functioning all that well. It really did my head in at first, but then after a while a kind of slow relief crept in – like therapists weren’t part of some über master-race that I could never possibly be a member of. And in all honesty, if you’re looking for a therapist it really pays to have one who’s really been in the shit, otherwise how are they ever gonna know about life? From a text book? Remember what we said about Heyókȟas – they ‘have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame.’
Sometimes I feel over-qualified.
And sadly there’s more and more battery-farmed therapists around than ever who read their Jung and Freud but never did an hour’s work on themselves – I say get a fuckup any day, just make sure they’re one step ahead and there are no blood stains on the couch.
But you see that’s the magic, that’s what I realised when I first saw a shrink when I was twenty-eight, it was like – oh, okay… so all the disasters in my life suddenly become qualifications if I turn them around and share them with people in a creative way.
It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.
And now to the second and final point.
I don’t see myself as being in the happiness business.
In other words, not only will this book bring you no new wisdom, but it won’t make you happy either. Oh, and while we’re here I should take this opportunity to point out that, unlike the promise of many cheap and not so cheap weekend therapy workshops available in your area right now, this book is unlikely to change your life; because – that’s your job.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, happiness.
Which, unless you hit the BIG ONE of enlightenment (and we’ll explore that in the next chapter), is like all other experiences, fleeting. And I can’t say that it interests me especially or even motivates me. I believe that happiness, like that other elusive delight, sex, has been harnessed by mass marketing as a sales tool, and we are made to feel somehow that if we are not in a state of perpetual bliss we are somehow falling behind or failing.
Fair enough, you look at those 1950s space age instant TV dinner smiling sexpot in a pencil skirt adverts which suggested attainment of satori if you just bought a Hoover and you can accept that in the wake of eighty million dead they might wanna be looking on the bright side… But the idea that happiness can be purchased or even that we are entitled to it is just plain dumb.
Likewise, we’ve somehow learned that if we are not perpetually ‘in love’ with our ‘loved ones’ then the relationship is somehow flawed, doomed or ‘toxic’. Bullshit. Love is fluid, it ebbs and it flows from moment to moment, it’s about as constant and consistent as the shifting oceans and to imagine that it’s predictable is folly.
I come more from the Jim Morrison school of psychology – he said,
“expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”
Not the most popular view I know, and I totally get that selling a book with a promise of happiness is easier and almost certainly more lucrative than one that invites and evokes your deepest fear, but don’t you feel what Jim is offering is so much more exciting?
A great teacher of mine, the late Rex Bradley, once said to me,
emotions don’t have a mixing board – they just have a master volume. You can’t fade out sadness and pain and fade up happiness and joy. You turn one down they all go down.
There’s a joke in Alcoholics Anonymous – there’s a good thing and a bad thing about giving up drinking.
The good thing is you get your feelings back.
And the bad thing is you get your feelings back.
Likewise, if this book does happen to make you happier, it will also make you sadder. I remember going to my first therapist after the first eighteen months and saying, “what the fuck? I feel worse now than when I first started coming,” and she said, “I guess it’s working then.”
Happiness, like sadness and everything else in the universe, is fleeting, it comes and it goes. And also happiness is NOT a universal experience – what makes me happy certainly won’t make everyone happy, so how can you write a book or a doctrine based on that one?
I only just started reading I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj but on opening it the first chapter heading I saw was All Search for Happiness is Misery.
So I guess I’m not the first…
For me happiness is Merry Clayton’s vocal on Gimme Shelter, the opening chord to Hard Day’s Night, the crackle of the needle on vinyl, my daughters at the school gates, a Don McCullin photograph, a pair of vintage Mission speakers, a whole day to myself, a pair of 1947 Levis Vintage Clothing 501s, it’s that almost tearful welling up of warm emotion in the heart on seeing (from my middle-class middle-aged armchair at home) the Arctic Monkeys headline Glastonbury for the first time all wide-eyed and unbelieving and grateful…
Sadness is a Cormac McCarthy book, a Don McCullin photograph, tears on my daughter’s cheek as I say goodbye, an Edward Thomas poem, loneliness, everyone I’ve ever disappointed, absent friends, making the same fucking mistake for the hundredth time, my Grandparents’ ashes in the bottom of a cupboard in the back bedroom, electricity pylons across open countryside…
It’s Mumford and Sons headlining Glastonbury.