First I want to quickly mention that I do not have the rights to share this video (taken with my iPhone during Russell Brand’s online course), nor do I have permission to share the transcript. So if you are interested in either, view them while you can. Scroll all the way-way-way down, if you want to check that out asap.
I just wanted to get that out of the way before I officially started the blog post. Next is an old photo of me (at a 10 day silent vipassana retreat) and a bit about my past. Then I’ll get into the Russell and Ram stuff. It’s all going somewhere. I promise. Today is for the die-hards. It’s a super-long post today!
Yogic philosophy saved my life. It actually all started with Zen philosophy in 1993, when I discovered Charlotte Joko Beck’s writing. I loved her book titled “Nothing Special” and I knew it was a sign for me. Some sort of light post. I was interested in Zen books several years before that, but Charlotte’s work stood out for me in a profound way.
A year later, yoga asanas came into the picture, then Vedic philosophy and meditation. It all wafted in and out of my life. I remember hearing Ram Dass speak in New York before I knew who he was. This was also in the 90’s and it was totally by chance. I was at a yoga conference, sitting right in front, staring into his face thinking, “Who is this man?” After his lecture I looked into his work and from that point on his voice was a cathartic practice in my life. I loved hearing him speak. It always made me feel better. It’s like he could put the disjointed mental pieces back together and make me feel whole again.
At the time I was in my 20’s and I didn’t have anyone in my life that I could talk to about self-imposed suffering, surrender, mysticism or spiritual matters — and definitely not from a Vedantic perspective. Which is what I felt most drawn to. So Ram Dass and a few others became my refuge, a sort of lighthouse and sounding board. When I would submerge myself in certain books or recordings, I wouldn’t feel so alone in my thoughts. I felt “normal” and life was ok again.
Ram Dass has since died, but before his stroke, aging and health issues, he was such a charmer! He could be so bare-bones honest, vulnerable in a jewel-like way and speak so eloquently about the messy-ness of life and spiritual matters. He had such a gift that I had never seen anywhere else. His slow decline and passing is such a missing for me. But I have to tell you, I think Russel Brand is developing a similar spark.
I watched Russell gradually evolve and transform his life. He got sober, fell passionately in love with meditation and yoga asanas, fell out of the celebrity glitz spotlight, married a longtime friend and became a father. He also went back to university for a degree in politics and religion. Of course he will never be Ram Dass, but Russell is the only person I know of that can carry that torch.
While I am not an “addict” in the way most people define that world (I have no taste for drugs or alcohol or other actives that most people would view as harmful), I have the ability resonate with people in AA or recovery because I totally get the 12 Steps. I also understand how suffering is self-induced. It’s something that many of us create in our minds over and over again — even though the consequences are detrimental for us. I would definitely call that an addiction. Hearing Russell speak about AA, recovery, surrender and grace is comforting to me. It’s like I’m listening to old Ram Dass recordings again. Thanks, Russ!
Embedded below is a snippet of a lecture in Russell Brand’s online course (filmed from my laptop with my iPhone). It was a part of a course for people seeking healing from drug and alcohol addiction (or people like me that love to talk about surrender). I thought it was fabulous and I wanted to share it.
I also added a Ram Dass quote and video, and inserted it before Russell’s, just as a point of reference and homage to Ram Dass. RIP beloved Ram Dass! You are missed. Sending mega love and appreciation your way. I know you don’t need it, but I still send it!
“The most important aspect of love is not in giving or the receiving: it’s in the being. When I need love from others, or need to give love to others, I’m caught in an unstable situation. Being in love, rather than giving or taking love, is the only thing that provides stability.” – Ram Dass
Russell’s Video Transcript
“…In the kind of cultures that I’m guessing you’re from, and the kind of culture I’m from, there’s this sort of Protestant idea of “We’re going to work our way out of. I’m going to work to not be greedy and lustful.” But the wording is very clear and very deliberate. It will be removed.
For me, that will be getting into woo-woo land, like getting into the territory, “Oh, did you just cosmic wish yourself a helicopter? I just wanted a helicopter, so I wrote down on a pad and stuck it under the pillow, and the next day there were a helicopter.” This is not that. This is like, I mean, but it is pretty peculiar.
The way I can best relate it to you is, I was a proper smackhead and, that was my job almost. It was more than a job. It was a devotion. It was dedication. It was, let’s face it, it was a spiritual pursuit. I believed that heroin would take away my problems. I handed my will and my life over to heroin. I came to believe that heroin would restore me to sanity every time I felt insane. And it’s what I did all day long. One of my mates told a friend of ours, “Russell don’t do drugs anymore” when I was about three weeks clean, and she said, “Well, what does he do then?” Because that’s all I was. I was Russell who took drugs. That’s it. I get up, I do the drugs, I drink, I take drugs, I drink, I take drugs.
I remember giving an incredibly grand speech that I still like to reflect on from time to time when I was in treatment for drugs and alcohol. They make you go to this sort of barn dance thing to reintroduce you to society. Anyone that’s been in rehab or treatment, you will know this. They take you on day trips, things where you have to go in a minibus, and sometimes you’re wearing a coat, and the coat’s done up a little bit too much like that, and in the back of a bus, and then people will see you in the back of a bus, and that’s the you that they’ll always think of. Like if you’ve got a new hat and someone meets you in that new hat, they don’t know it’s a new hat. You’re the guy in the hat to them.
So I was going on day trips to Go Kart places. I was attending barn dances for alcoholics. And I remember putting on an old suit from London to go to this provincial bloody New Year’s Eve barn dance for alcoholics, and I did not like one bit the bonhomous glee of the chummy alcoholics pressing the flesh and slapping the shoulder and telling you it’s all going to be okay. And the alcohol-free glee, so happily dancing without drugs or alcohol or anything that I could see that would keep me straight.
I walked right out of there. I thought, “I do not like these squares.” Really, I was terrified actually. I was just terrified and anxious and two weeks clean. December somewhere in England, all cold, wearing a suit that I used to wear when I was using, finding the foils in the pockets that night. I was thinking, “Oh God, it was so recent.” It was so recent, that other life, but yet a world away when you step across, when you make the jump, when you make the jump into the abyss. At this point, I’ve not worked Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven. I’ve admitted I’ve got a problem. I’ve come to believe that it could change. I’ve made a decision to kind of listen to these people in this treatment center. But a barn dance? There’s some shit that I will not eat. When you try to barn dance me out of my heroin addiction, I say, “No. No pasa nada. That’s enough. If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.”
So I marched right out of that barn dance, which probably might’ve looked like a barn dance move, or at least a square dancing move to the uninitiated. And this woman, God love her, she followed me out, Lucy. “Russell.” She was one of those people willing to participate in those scenes. How adept I was at finding those women back then. “Russell, what are you doing? You’re so self-destructive and crazy.”
“Yeah, I am babe.” So out I marched, and I said, “It’s not for me, all of this. You’re not going to hear, ‘Oh, Russell, he stopped taking drugs. He got clean.’ I’ll be dead at 27.” Which I think I already was, so I was really playing it quite close to the line at that point. It was on me. “I’ll be dead at 27. You’re not going to hear that Russell got his shit together and turned his life around,” and a real sort of grand, sub-James Dean, anxious little rant at dear Lucy, and off I marched. Off I marched.
But between that day and this one, I have taken no drugs. I have drank no alcohol. This is impossible. Somehow it was removed. The need to take drugs was removed. Up until December the 13th, 2002, every day, drugs. On December the 13th, no drugs. December the 14th, no drugs. 15th, no drugs. Today, no drugs. How does this happen? How does it happen? Certainly not within the limitations of the consciousness that I was previously experiencing. That was a place that required drugs. Without drugs, there was nothing. That was who I was. But somehow it was removed from me.
This is how I feel this ingenious system was evolved around clear objects of addiction such as alcohol and drugs. Because there, it’s clear to identify which is more, I want to say, ethereal elsewhere. Not so easy to notice in a relationship. “Oh, wow. I no longer need to dominate or depend upon my wife in order to feel okay. We are behaving as equal partners in life together.” Not so easy to identify that, not so clear.
But the system that works for drugs and alcohol will work for this one. It will be removed. We don’t give out, I suppose elsewhere it’s kind of obvious. I speak sometimes to beautiful young atheists. Some boy, 17, great natural root lift, hair just Hugh Grant enough into some new dimension. I’ve watched him doing some pull-up thing in a gym. I hated him until I spoke to him, because he was just doing them so effortlessly. I thought, “You little asshole.” But then of course he destroyed that by being cute and complimentary. And he talked about his sort of ability with music and all this stuff, and he goes, “If people talk to me, I will talk about God and death. The small talk, it wears out pretty fast with me, so we get around to God and death.” “Well, I don’t believe in God,” he said, all preppy and atheistic, the rush of teenage atheism that comes with, “Oh, I don’t need mum and dad no more, so perhaps I’ll just shirk God off and all.” He said, “Like my ability with music. I’ve worked hard, I’ve worked hard.”
But who gives you the ability to work hard? Who gives you this life, this life that you call your life? What do you mean, your life? “This is my life. I’ll do I want with my life.” Who is my? Who is I? What is all of this? Did you give yourself legs and feet and a face and eyes, and your own respiratory system and the ability to convert oxygen into your blood, and then a botanical system around you, and machinery that provides the very things you need, and limitless space, and literature, and the English language? Did you invent it? Was it you? Are you Shakespeare? Are you Gandhi? Are you Diana? Are you every single deity, all energy, all forms, all formlessness, all dark matter? Is it you? Or are you just some little pipsqueak pipping about, popping around, floating around on the limitless?
Step Seven is an invitation to interface with that, and an acknowledgment that your consciousness may somehow interact with that limitlessness, particularly when freed of the prohibitive, defective characteristics that form the boundaries of selfhood, personhood, limit, limitations. The individual is all about limitation. Rationalism is all about limitation. Materialism, limitation. But we need to deal with the limitless, because limitation has brought us to the place where we are, and we don’t like it here, evidently. We need to take drugs to cope, or we need to have sex to cope, or we need to get a better job to cope, or we need other people to love us, or to have loads of money, or to be continually given compliments. And for me, as a sort of dyed-in-the-wool standard addict, I need so much of everything so continuously that I’ve had no choice but to recognize that what I really need is absolute surrender. Absolute surrender. Unconditional, waving-the-white-flag, lay-down-your-arms surrender.
I was told by yet another swami in an ashram, “The world’s got nothing else to give you now, Russell. It can only take from you.” And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like being told that, because I needed the world. I needed the world for money, and cars, and blowjobs, and self-esteem, and ice cream. The idea that the tap was being turned off, I’m like, “No. No. Give me something. You better give me something, man.”
It all took two years, but I realized, “Hold a minute. That’s a good thing.” The world’s got nothing else to give you. That means I don’t have to walk into every fucking situation, every single interaction, with my arms bowl ready. “Make me feel better, will you? How about a little compliment? Here, just a couple of scraps to get me through this next interaction. Does me hair look all right? I ain’t aging, am I?” Some dreadful, dismal, T. S. Eliot poem, some slow descent into the Prufrockian wastelands. Freedom now. No one can give me anything.
It doesn’t make me into some kind of a James Bond vicar. Far from it. It means that my job is to give to the world, to give, and that, again, even that’s too grandiose. That’s my tendency. To give to whoever’s in front of me. The world is whoever’s in front of me. So it’s like, “All right. Instead of…”
My tendency up until this program, and if I don’t work this program day to day, moment to moment, fort to fort, is, “You better give me fucking something.” Commodification. Everyone a commodity, everyone an opportunity. And before I condemn myself too hard, I remember that that is also the ideology of our time. Commercialism, consumerism, materialism. If it has no value, if you have no value, you are washed up on these streets. What are those people that we pass in their tents under bridges? Oh, yeah, we couldn’t turn their energy into money, so we just, we leave them there to die. Okay, is that the system? That’s our system. If your skillset is not monetizable, fuck off. Okay, that’s cool.
But some people’s skill set is not monetizable. Some people just need to read, or sit around, or meditate, or look at a strawberry. Consider the lily. What’s he talking about when he’s saying that? Just to look at the beauty of the world. It is as it is, is as it is. It’s all beautiful, it’s all fine.
But if everything’s got to be strapped up with a dollar sign, including human beings, don’t be surprised if people, people with great appetites, great craving, start to see every person that’s potentially attractive to them as a sexual partner. Everyone that’s got assets a, “Oh, I can mine that person. I can mine that person.” I need to be reminded that the people of the world are not vessels to fill me up. “Oh, this guy, he’s got a production company. Come over here and give me a job. Oh, you run a broadcasting network? You got a private jet? I’ll fucking have that.”
People are, I’m here to serve them. I’m here to serve them. Sometimes I hope it’s in a way that’s sort of like, “Oh my God, you’ve really made a difference” type way. Malcolm X making Cassius Clay into Muhammad Ali type way. But other times it might be like a simple making someone feel better about how hard it is. It’s so hard here sometimes. I think that, in my experience, has more visceral value in the ecology of my being that I’m talking about here, this place of defect, and malady, and pain, and suffering.
Once I did this event. It was a British charity comic relief, like a night to raise awareness. You know, awareness. People want their awareness raised. Raise their awareness right up so high, raise their awareness and some money for addiction and stuff. It was at a big venue, like 10,000 people, I guess, and it was live on the BBC, and lots of cool people performed, musicians and comedians and stuff, and I hosted the event. And it felt abstract, because it felt like it was entertainment, which is what it was. But someone brought their kid, who was an addict. And in interaction with another human being, there is the possibility that something will pass between us.
And that’s the essence of this, is the reminder that civilizations, empires come and go. Species rise and fall. But consciousness itself, this thing that’s talking to itself through matter, this is eternal. We replace finite with the infinite. We replace the temporal with the eternal. We don’t spend all our time worrying about a lovely pair of ankle-high, patent leather, purple booties when we could be talking about honor. Honor. We don’t spend our time worrying about whether or not we can be fellated from in the middle of a helix, a multidimensional fellatio, when we could be talking about grace. Grace, some invisible force that can carry you from the imprisonment of addiction, the imprisonment of attachment, the imprisonment of the belief in your own limitation and smallness, to a place of transcendence. But this can only be achieved if you are willing to humbly ask for your shortcomings to be removed. This is where we are now…”