John Maxwell Taylor interview for Enneagram Monthly
In the following transcript of A Conversation with John Maxwell Taylor, John speaks openly and in depth about many aspects of his life and work, ranging from his experience of opening for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to the process of his own spiritual awakening.
John was interviewed by Jack Labanauskas about CRAZY WISDOM, spirituality, archetypes, masks, Findhorn, Darkness and Light, Forever Jung and more for Enneagram Monthly, May and June 2002 issues, 748 Wayside Rd., Portola Valley CA 94028. Phone: 650-851-4806. Email: EnneaMonth@aol.com.
Jack Labanauskas: We heard raving reviews of your spiritual musical Crazy Wisdom, about the life and teachings of Gurdjieff, and enjoyed listening to the double CD set. It’s refreshing to hear a mix of good cheer, music and spirituality rolled into one. How did you come to Gurdjieff and when?
John Maxwell Taylor: In 1967 after being in the rock music business for well over a decade, I found myself living in Los Angeles, making recordings in Hollywood as part of a singing duo, doing original compositions, and also playing guitar in a lot of sessions. While living in L.A., I became very interested in Eastern philosophy. The sixties were a time when many people were becoming aware of meditation for the first time. My introduction to Eastern meditation was through Yogananda, through The Autobiography of a Yogi, about the same time George Harrison got into it. I had some very profound experiences early on in my practice and realized that everything that had driven me in life up to that point, show biz and all that, had been based on egotism, basically. The desire to immortalize oneself through mortal means never works out in the end.
As soon as I experienced the spiritual nature of creation and of my own being, the reason for doing the things that I had been doing in my life up until that point were no longer valid. I did a complete about face and dedicated myself to spiritualizing my consciousness on a permanent basis. Of course I kept going in and out. I’d be awakening one day and asleep the next and so forth.
At the same time that I encountered the Yogananda material, I also ran into some books by Ouspensky. Strangely enough it was at the house of an actor, Robert Walker, who’s father of the same name did the “Strangers on a Train” film by Hitchcock. I used to go down to the Walker’s house at the beach where people like Peter Fonda and a lot of rich pseudo hippies were always talking about things that were over my head; semi-Buddhist concepts and so forth. So being out to lunch on what they were talking about, I looked around the bookshelves and found several books by Ouspensky and would sit there reading things that really rang a bell for me
On one level, I was practicing meditation which tilts consciousness toward the transcendent but doesn’t necessarily make one spiritually competent in life and at the same time studying Gurdjieff which can. What I found from reading Ouspensky, which led to reading Gurdjieff, was there was something there that could help you come out of the trance caused by the reaction of your functions to the world of sleeping people, of which I was one. Gurdjieff helped me create a vehicle, an inner structure, which could allow the transpersonal aspect of being that I accessed in eastern meditation to effectively flow through my personal self into active life. You’ve probably seen yourself, Jack, that there’s a tendency when westerners throw themselves into eastern meditation that they become ungrounded and float around. Here in Southern California, we call them “Bliss Bunnies.”
Sue Ann McKean: Bliss Ninnies over here.
JMT: I live in Encinitas where I’m 3 minutes from the beautiful Self Realization grounds on the cliff tops overlooking the Pacific. The emanations there are incredible so it attracts many visitors, including bliss bunnies, or bliss ninnies, those odd few who really don’t want to be on this planet so they come to the grounds and dream of heaven.
JL: We’re near Berkeley and Marin County, two places where hot-tubbing and spirituality meet. I would add to your description of bliss bunnies or ninnies, that some of the more impatient ones don’t wait for blissful states but imitate blissed out mannerisms in hope that it will bring about those states. The less serious among them seem to have cut out the middle man entirely, and instead of throwing themselves heartily into meditation first, go straight to meandering about in a wishful stupor aping what according to them looks like a higher spiritual state.
JMT: It’s what Gurdjieff called “a silly saint.” They can experience something perhaps, but they can’t knock a nail into a piece of wood. In my initial phases of self-transformation, or whatever you want to call it, I had a burning desire to break out of a perception of creation as material weight in which I was suffocating. The vibratory quality appeared to me so dense that I felt I was trapped in it. I had to make a huge effort to burst through that which meant concentrating a lot on the Ajna and top of the head and doing pranayama exercises. If these are done with certain intensity, they can and will blow a hole in the top of your head, and then your consciousness goes out or up there. There was a certain period of time when I was in that state, and I have to admit I was a bit of a bliss ninnie myself… you know…mustn’t eat this and mustn’t touch that. But something in my nature is very practical and it eventually compelled me to come to terms with really being in embodiment and now it’s 30 plus years on.
I feel that full embodiment of our spirituality is extremely important for us collectively right now as an evolving spiritual race. Humanity’s split in two. Those who are totally asleep and those who are waking up through some form of awareness that there’s more to life than just superficial appearances. Yet as soon as people start to get tilted towards a spiritual direction then this floatiness comes around, which may be a necessary stage. But at the same time, with the world being in such peril as it is right now, we need a very pragmatic sort of spirituality. A spirituality that’s going to bring about change in society so that we are fully here spiritually and physically and do not live abstractly in a realm of concepts.
JL: Yes, but at the same time it’s like pushing on a rope — you can’t speed things up beyond what our natural development permits.
JMT: No, this is true. And I think what you’re referring to is what Gurdjieff said that people aren’t really interested sufficiently in true knowledge to ever be able to evolve as a mass. I’m not expecting to see a huge transformation in society overnight. And it’s not a major dream of mine to see that happen. But I do feel that a certain amount of societal leavening is necessary. Or if you look at it as a scale, a balanced scale, there needs to be enough practical spirituality put on the up side. Just to tip the scales, somewhat so that there is more balance in society, I think that’s what I’m talking about really. George Bernard Shaw once said, “If the Christians are going to redeem anybody, they had better start looking a bit more redeemed.” I think that if the results of what you and I and the readers of this magazine are interested in are so wonderful, then we have to be able to embody the results right down to the most practical level.
SM: John, I know Gurdjieff stressed work, the integration of what you’re talking about, the upper chakras with being more embodied, would it be using work as a therapy or work as a practice and including that with what?
JMT: Are you talking about physical labor?
SM: I’m just wondering how do you make these two seemingly opposite qualities come together, the earth and the spirit? Matter and spirituality?
JMT: Right. Well, the Gurdjieff work is also referred to as the Fourth Way because it deals with developing three forces, three senses of intelligence at the same time to produce balanced man, man number four. He often said that man is a three-brained being. Observing and developing our mental brain, our emotional brain and our physical brain at the same time develops a fourth function, the physical brain. For example, the doing function is located in the belly. It’s the moving instinctive aspect of ourselves that knows how to act, move us and things around in the world. The problem with us as a species is we’re always using the wrong brain for the wrong job. You wouldn’t wash the dishes with your mental brain, or do your income taxes with your emotional brain, would you?
JL: Arrgh the dreaded T-word. I was up last night doing taxes, I have no clue which center I used for that, but the language was earthy, unfit to print and included what little Russian I remembered from the refugee camp days.
JMT: The goal that I see, anyway, for myself and what I believe that I’ve learned from the Gurdjieff work, is to try to keep the three brains equally in balance and to use the appropriate one for the appropriate task. If I’m doing something physical, I would put my center of gravity more in the belly area and I would be acting from there. If I’m doing something that requires a lot of mental attention I would put my center of gravity in my head. If I’m doing something that requires a feeling function to be activated, I would put it in the center of my chest. If I’m on stage and I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing up there, then I would have all three of those firing at the same time. In balance… which means that the “I” or the sense of “I am-ness” which is the reality underlying the structure of my physical, mental and emotional selves can manifest out through them and into the world as a presence, an atmosphere that surrounds me and attracts the events of my life.
This presence gives sense of real “I” that manifests through the three brains when they’re in harmony. It will come through. When they’re not in harmony what you get is a partial expression. In other words there’s going to be too much mental energy, too much emotional or too much physical energy. The person feels unbalanced. When the three are in balance is what people in sports refer to as being in “the Zone.” I suppose that’s the easiest metaphor. Actions are performed with ease with a sense of being fully alive as you perform that action. So I practice this all day long to some degree or other; when I’m eating my breakfast, when I’m going for a walk, when I’m talking on the phone. Talking to you, for example, I’ve got the receiver to my head and I’m speaking from my head, so my center of attention could predominantly move up to my head. But if it did, then it might lighten the necessary feeling quality and sense of being grounded that would come from also having my emotional brain and my physical brain involved at the same time.
JL: How do you accomplish this balance. Do you place your attention as if you were thinking and talking partially from your heart? From your head? From your gut?
JMT: Yes, partially, but the main practice is sensing and feeling every part of myself simultaneously. For example, as we’re talking about this I’m becoming very aware of my arms and my legs. And they’re starting to tingle. So there’s a more solid sense of wholeness than there was a few seconds ago, before the conversation moved in this direction. A sense of unity is developing in me even as I speak. Yes, because I’m speaking there is perhaps a core of attention in the head. But it’s balanced by an equally powerful, though perhaps not quite so active sense of presence in my chest and in my tummy. This is backed up by a feeling of tingling that’s going on in my arms and my legs. So there’s a sort of a thickness, a presence that’s developing as I’m sitting here talking to you.
JL: Is it like allowing your consciousness to swell and incorporate the rest of your body where the other sensations live?
JMT: That’s very well put. Yes.
JL: Okay, so instead of being a point focused near your mouth and ear, you sort of expand and…
JMT: …feel everything simultaneously. With practice, it becomes second nature. For example, you walk into a bookstore, pick up what you want to buy, go up to the cash register, there’s a line and you have to wait. While you were looking for the book you were paying attention to searching. But when you get in line you have to wait. So then you could start sensing and feeling by putting your mind into your arms and legs till they vibrate and tingle. Then, dropping your attention down out of your head, into your torso to meet what’s coming up through your body from the floor through your feet. You then hold this field of gather attention while you observe what is going on around you. So while you’re waiting to be served you’re balancing your three brains. When its your turn to walk up to the counter to pay for your book, you try to maintain that gathered state while you’re speaking to the sales person. If they’re the grumpy sort—you get these rude sales people these days—there might be a tendency for you to slip out of it for a second, because you’re dealing with a negative energy field. But if you were to remember yourself, or maintain that charged force while you’re talking to that person, there could actually be a buildup of this energy. I teach a workshop based on this called “Spiritual Social Self Defense”…a form of sociological Aikido if you will. This is what we try to do onstage.
I am working at the moment with 14 people presenting a concert version of my new musical on Gurdjieff, Crazy Wisdom. When we are performing, we try to have the sensation that we’re holding a field of energy up there collectively among the different people performing, but also within each individual themselves. When this happens, it tends to make the audience replicate the state we are in. That’s really transformational theater. The more conscious you are of consciousness while you’re performing, the room becomes full of consciousness, the people replicate that state and everybody has an experience which is way beyond what it would be if we were just getting up there playing characters.
SM: I can hear what I would call the belly energy, the energy that comes from presence of the body. What would the emotional energy be? Sensing the tingling, etc., it feels like the body energy, but how do you incorporate the heart center, the feeling center in this?
JMT: Imagine a lake in a valley, on either side you have steep mountains. The wind comes and it ruffles the surface of the lake. That would be the emotions that go up and down all day long with feeling, subtle shifts in our emotions because of what we’re encountering externally or imagining. But in the depths of the lake is pure feeling, undisturbed by the wind. If we can drop beneath the surface of our emotions we can produce an inner warmth based on pure feeling in chest and stomach. This becomes the energy field upon which the subtle changes of ordinary personal feeling can fluctuate without getting out of hand. From there we can allow ourselves to rise to the surface and experience the waves of feeling as the lake would know the shifts on its own surface. We would experience them without becoming them.
For example, I’m a romantic person and when I go on a date with somebody who’s appealing to me the tendency would be, as she’s sitting there looking beautiful to slip into a sort of trance. You know, you go a bit slack jawed and your eyes glaze over and you start projecting like mad onto that poor soul. She becomes the recipient of your Anima projections. Well, if I were to look at my beautiful date and do the exercise we were just talking about at the same time, what would happen is that the impression of who she really is would fall upon my essence untrammeled by my projections. That gone into a trance type thing would recede and I would see her for who she really is. That could open up a feeling of love inside me that would be close to what Gurdjieff calls “objective love” rather than something based upon the emotional permutations from the surface of the lake. Not to say that those aren’t wonderful and very valid. I love to experience them myself. But as we all know, emotional energy moves faster than mental energy. If we’re not careful we can get swept off into a storm very quickly and when negative emotions are activated in a way that is out of the control of our governing factor…well, it’s an invitation to chaos, really.
SM: So the projection existed in the ripples on the lake rather than in the depth where you see what is real.
SM: …in one’s self and in the other.
JMT: I’m glad you asked the question about feeling because if my center of gravity is anywhere implanted by nature in my being, it would be in my feeling function. I would say that my center of gravity is in the mental part of my emotional nature. In other words, I’m able to hold my emotional nature steady most of the time so that I’m able to experience pure feeling in it’s untrammeled state rather than separating from it by being too much in my head, which is a tendency we all have. So I’m not an emotional person per se, but I am a deeply feeling person whose sense of governorship is in the mental part of the emotions.
SM: Does each center then have the three components? Like your mental center has a mental part, and emotional part, and a physical part.
JMT: Yes. Did you know that before or did it just come to you?
SM: No, I didn’t really, I didn’t know it got that specific.
JMT: Yes. In Maurice Nicoll’s books on the psychological aspects of the Gurdjieff work he goes into that quite a bit. It’s nice that you came to it just like that, by yourself, because you self-initiated yourself into that awareness. Whereas if you’d got it from a book then it might have stayed with you as a concept for a long time before it translated into being.
SM: I think you can feel your feelings and think about your feelings and have sensations about your feelings. I’ve thought about this a lot; the nature of the body, sensing, emotional feelings, and those intersections between the centers, but I haven’t thought, wow, each center has…
JMT: Yes it does. And when you’re in the observational mode and you can see them in operation then it’s easy to keep those three centers in balance, the three aspects of the emotions or the three aspects of the mind or the three aspects of the body. So part of a daily practice is concerned with that, with observing and monitoring and keeping things in balance, nudging everything back into the middle of the road so you can go straight. That’s part of the work. Another aspect is when the result of that observing leads with other practices to a continued state of presence. Maurice Nicoll once said that you can’t actually remember yourself. But you can put yourself in the way of being remembered, which is an interesting thing. Something we have forgotten is remembering us. I think that’s what happens when the presence comes — you’ve done your work, you’ve practiced lining everything up, but maybe nothing happens for a while. Then all of a sudden it falls upon you like a holy shroud and you feel it right down to the soles of your feet. That’s the best. It’s not for nothing that they call this “the Work”. It goes back a long long way. The “harvest is plentiful the labors are few” because not many people wish to devote their lives to trying to be aware in this way.
JL: This is an area where the enneagram of type is expressing the three ways that each center can work. We have 9 types, 3 heart types, 3 head types and 3 gut types. Each is grounded in one of the three places in the body in their own particular way.
JMT: That would be very interesting to explore. I hadn’t thought of that but that would be…
JL: I think here is the connection between Gurdjieff and the enneagram of type. Well, one of the connections anyway, making both teachings merely a continuation of the same wisdom, like Wilber’s spectrum theory of consciousness where all mental manifestations are segments of one continuous wave.
JMT: I think it was Abraham Maslow that said that we are living in the age of synthesis. There are tremendous possibilities for over-lapping truths and systems right now. Which is going to raise the hackles on traditionalists that want to keep “this over here” and “that over there”. Do you know the symbol called the mandorla. It’s when you have two circles and they’re separate from each. There’s no connection between them. But when you move them slightly till they overlap each other a little bit, a third reality is created…That area where they overlap.
JL: The overlapping part that looks like an almond?
JMT: Yes. And where the Gurdjieff work and the Enneagram work overlap — that’s where you have that almond shape, that area. There’s probably a great truth here that needs to be explored because my understanding tells me that our perceptions of the Enneagram and its possibilities should be constantly evolving. If it just stayed where it has been, then it wouldn’t be serving people the way it is now on such a large scale.
JL: We have had articles about comparisons between the Enneagram and the MBTI. Pat Wyman used the same mandorla model. Certain E-types and MBTI combinations have a lot of overlap and others very little. We searched for a match including both systems. We ended up concluding that you measure different things by different means. Measuring weights takes a scale and measuring distance a yardstick.
JMT: Speaking of differences one of the interesting aspects that Gurdjieff talks about is the multiplicity of different “I’s” that make up an individual. You can perhaps think first person… “I want this and I don’t want that… I like this and not that… there’s a constantly changing stream of little “I”s passing through us all day long. What I’ve noticed is that they have a certain flavor depending on which part of what center, or brain if you will, they’re coming from. Am I making myself clear about what I mean by these little “I’s”? Roberto Assagioli would have called them “sub-personalities” I suppose.
JL: That’s a very good point. People who have been struggling for a long time trying to determine what their Enneagram type is will like that idea. Many have looked at their lives under different circumstances and said, “well, at that time, when I was 18, I was definitely such and such” and then “at 30 I was this other thing.”
SM: Or depending on which center you happen to inhabit at the time, you might have a different sense of yourself or a different “I.”
JMT: Well, this is very true. What subdivision of whichever brain, mental, emotional or doing you drop into in any given moment in your progression through the day is going to determine the type aspect you’re manifesting at that particular moment. For example, let’s go back to that scenario where I’m sitting in a restaurant with a beautiful woman, right? And if I go into what I call “emotional self-hypnosis” about it and start projecting like mad, God knows who I would be at that moment. It could be an “I” completely inimical to the way I might wish to present myself. Too often the “I” that expresses is automatic and who or what comes out is not necessarily what we want to be at that moment. If we were constant enough and knew where all our internal levers and psychological gears were, and were able to pull the right one at the right moment, then the right personality type we manifest would match the situation. Was it Walt Whitman who said, “Do I contradict myself? Then I contradict myself, I contain multitudes.” Man’s name is “legion” …same thing…
JL: “I contain multitudes?”
JMT: We play host to thousands of pseudo selves and have to learn to observe them all and not say “I” to them. This kind of detached observation can lead to something more permanent within ourselves. In my play Forever Jung I played 20 different characters acting out the story of Carl Jung’s life in 2 hours and 10 minutes. You can imagine how intense that was. Jung from the cradle to the grave plus friends, lovers, his wife, Freud, patients, lunatics, etc., all the while exploring his psychological nature and insights. I had a tremendous success with that play. In spite of the intensity and complexity of the performance as an actor I always kept an aspect of myself in the observational mode. Even when I was totally involved in the creation of the moment, of the character, what they’re saying, where they are going onstage etc., there was always an aspect that had to be a simultaneous monitoring process. Otherwise you forget your lines and you’re going left instead of right and so forth. So I developed a really uncanny ability to observe myself while I was doing this play live. That has carried over into my daily life so that now, I see different aspects of myself in motion more easily. If you will, different Enneagram types are expressing through me at various times throughout the day. In that observational mode, I’m able to not let them take over and completely dominate my expression if I don’t want them to.
SM: What is your predominant Enneagram type?
JMT: The Performer… no surprise there. But certainly lurking in me somewhere there’s also a bit of the Tragic Romantic. You know the song? “I always long for what I’m missing… The lovely lips I should be kissing.” So where does that come from? From a group of “I” s, a coalition of sub-personalities that live in some subdivision of my consciousness, in some center or part of a center and occasionally they will come up. But they are not “I” s associated with my predominant type. It’s perhaps a group of “I” s formed around past disappointments in love.
SM: So do you believe there is one predominant Enneagram type? Or is it that situations bring out various types in us?
JMT: Hard to say. I think our type expressions interchange and shift around at different times in our lives. You may have to work with one for a few years. You are in the grip of an archetypal pattern that you think you can never change of break free from. Then it starts to fade away as you move on and your aims, desires, self perceptions change. Your life goes into new phases of importance. I don’t know about you, but in this particular life I have lived many lives. Even my walk has changed. I don’t walk anymore like I did when I was a rock musician. The way I sit, walk, stand and move reflects 35 years of work on myself, of trying not to be identified with my functions and making them obey my will. When I walk down the road now I’m doing the exercises and I’m remembering myself, or trying to and be in that place we were talking about earlier. I’ve seen videos of the sacred movements of Gurdjieff where the enneagram is drawn on the floor and people are moving from one point to another.
SM: That movie, “Meetings with Remarkable Men,” Jack thought was so boring, he got antsy after no more than a 1/2 hour of it. But at the end of the movie they have a . . .
JL: Sorry folks, not very cool or spiritual of me, but I promise not to mention what I thought of the acting…
JMT: It’s not a completely successful movie, largely because of the somewhat embalmed approach. I think most of the people in Gurdjieff community are aware that it has some limitations and there was quite a bit of disappointment when it first came out. But I have watched it several times and it’s always interesting to watch myself watching it. If I’m tired, my mind wanders. But if I practice self remembering while watching, it becomes a completely different experience. The ability to relate to it is in me any given day. One day I can be there, another day not, so it’s all on me. But the movements at the end are absolutely incredible.
SM: Yea, they are.
JMT: And there’s that great line where he meets a Sufi who says to him, “If I wanted to give my brother 1/10th of my realization I would be unable to do so. It would be like trying to fill a man with bread simply by looking at him, I would not be able to do it.” That’s one of the dilemma’s that we all face and I’m sure that you come up with that in the creation of the magazine and so forth—you may know something, but in order to transmit it to your readers you have to put it into a certain form. Otherwise it would be like trying to fill a man with bread simply by looking at him. You wouldn’t be able to do it. The words that we speak become the medium of transmission that allows us to communicate the vibratory intent underneath the words to give the listener an awakening experience to the degree that they will be able to understand what we’re trying to say.
JL: Yes indeed, I think more and more that it’s not so much what I consciously want to transmit but who I am that eventually will trickle through or down, whatever. Whether or not I have the intention to transmit or not to transmit something particular is irrelevant. In the end the essence of who I am or the essence of the teaching itself is going to be what gets through.
JMT: For myself I have to start with a conscious intention, otherwise what comes out is simply automatic outpouring, which may or may not have some value. I have found, in performance particularly, that this happens best if my focus is upon staying in alignment within myself so that the three brains are working together. Also, that I am concentrated mainly on the wordless sense of truth behind what it is that’s being said or played through me to out there. If my focus is upon the words or trying to get through mentally, it sort of cramps everything down and the cart is before the horse.
I think it was Leonard Bernstein, who in an interview said that when he was conducting the NY Philharmonic, he could get himself into such a place where he felt he was where the composer was when he was first inspired and writing the piece. Bernstein as the conductor transmits that quality to the orchestra, which in turn passes it to the audience. Then the audience finds itself in the place the composer was when he was writing the piece. It’s a circular movement and when the circle is completed then the whole is there. Otherwise we always end up in limbo. It’s like following the points on the enneagram and stopping before you’ve gone all the way around. The entire process of possibilities needs to be fully absorbed so you eventually have the whole thing inside yourself.
SM: So after you learn your lines as an actor, you’re listening to what? silence? nothing? emptiness?
JMT: Oh yes, that’s great! Yes! I really like talking with you. You’re saying and asking wonderful things. Peter Brook, who’s the director of the Royal Shakespeare Company who directed “Meetings with Remarkable Men and. . .”
SM: Mahabharata, too. . .
JMT: Mahabharata, yes. In one of his books he talks a lot about a particular quality of silence that I’ve experienced when I’m facing the audience. The lights are so bright in my face I can’t see that they are still there. But their attention has become so pinpoint focused upon the moment that’s being created, that they listen as if there’s one ear out there — it’s almost as if the human affect has disappeared and there’s nothing but presence listening to presence. It’s actually beyond words, and I’m failing to express it properly, but when it’s happening it’s hyper real. It’s very tangible and I think it’s recognizable. People know what it is to be in that place. You can have it one on one with someone too.
JL: You must have had that same affinity even during your rock and roll time. It’s also called, being “on.”
JMT: Yes, that’s true. And what I learned from the rock and roll thing was that it does connect you with the lowest chakras. It’s the easiest way to connect with an audience because it’s so visceral. I performed with a number of artists who had enormous charisma and magnetism and they were able to fill stadiums and theaters with this force that absolutely took the audience and brought them across the footlights into this rapport with what was being created there.
JL: Are you talking about when you were performing with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones?
JMT: Well, The Beatles in particular certainly did that. When we opened for The Beatles in Paris in 1965, the difference between the audiences in America and in France was that the French audiences didn’t scream. When the Beatles played at Shea Stadium they couldn’t hear themselves. In fact, the reason they stopped touring was because there was so much racket being made by the audience they might as well have not been playing. For a band like that, it was not interesting to do. But when they played in Paris you could hear a pin drop. After we finished our set and they went on, we went into the auditorium and sat there and listened. It was absolutely unbelievable. It was four people playing as if it was one person. I can see it in my mind. It’s like I’m reliving and yet I can’t really describe it to you. It was just absolutely extraordinary.
We did two shows with them and did the same thing, we went and sat in the audience and listened to them and it was remarkable. They speak in England of when you see the Queen and it’s as if she’s surrounded by a halo. They call it the “Royal Awe.” The Queen may not actually have a halo. But it’s like you’re so awe-struck she seems to be surrounded by an aura, a halo. It was exactly that way with the Beatles. It was like that when we were backstage before they went on. When you’re looking at them individually and they’re nodding to you across the room and so forth, surrounded by their bodyguards and flunkies, their magnetism was absolutely extraordinary. These four pale figures who then walk up on the stage, and they play, and the whole room is filled with incredible magnetism.
SM: Can you explain that in terms of an archetypal possession? Because the Beatles as individuals, like George Harrison, went on to become sort of an ordinary person. But during that period there was something that swept up not only the people that heard them but the Beatles themselves. Like a wave that just came in and swept them up and then receded leaving all kind of fragments and going their separate ways.
JMT: Right, and then if you’re not careful you end up doing an impersonation of who you were when that was happening.
SM: Yea, I think Paul kind of did that.
JMT: Yes. He’s still trying to recapture that, but the magnetism and the aura has gone to a certain degree. Yet I think that phrase you used, archetypal possession — it is very much that. Once that happens and millions of people are focusing their attention upon you, then that becomes very… I remember a phrase that Madonna used when she was just hitting the big time. She referred to herself as “We Who Rule the Universe.”
I heard years later that she suffers from terrible insomnia. I thought “Well, what does she think about ruling the universe when she can’t turn her brain off and go to sleep.”
SM: Well, Madonna is a great archetype.
JMT: Yea, she’s huge.
SM: The mother.
JMT: And Jung said it was very dangerous to let yourself be possessed by an archetype because you can’t get rid of it. I always think of the story of the Old Man of the Sea and the legend of Sinbad the Sailor. On one of his journeys he comes to a river and there’s an old man sitting under a tree there. And he says “Oh, young man, I’m an old man, help me… I wish to cross to the other side, carry me across on your back.” So he puts him on his shoulders and they walk into the water he takes him across the other side but then the old guy won’t get off. He’s actually “The Old Man of the Sea” and the far bank of the river is littered with the bones of those who died under his weight. We have to be careful how we act because an action can become a habit which breeds “I”s that may be related to a collective archetype and then they grip us. When you are possessed by an archetype, you can’t get rid of it. It puts our sub-personalities in service to that archetype and it will eat you alive.
JL: So it’s a Faustian bargain.
JMT: Faustian bargain, yes sir, absolutely.
JL: That explains rap to me and rappers, who in my opinion perform at the level of the neck… the medulla, tops, on a good day.
JMT: I think perhaps you mean the Muladhara…the lowest chakra?
JL: Ha, ha, that’s good, the anal chakra, hmm, the next one up would work too, Svadhisthana chakra, ruling elimination and sex, located at the root of the genitals. But I really meant at the level of the neck as opposed to the higher parts of the brain.
JMT: Well you do see where their neck’s going when they do it — back and forth like turtles so you may be on to something. I guess I resist a little because in Taoism the medulla is referred to as the mouth of God; its where our “daily bread” of life energy comes in as we breathe and to me the medulla is sacred. To me rap is the most awful noise ever inflicted on the ears of the human race, with grunge rock and disco not far behind. And that’s from an ex-rock and roller! All these musical manias represent a collective phenomenon of mass hypnosis but with rap it’s almost like being hit over the head, stunned into unconsciousness with a tree trunk. It’s very dense, extremely mechanical and repetitive and verbally it’s feeding a lot of people because it represents their sense of victim consciousness… life isn’t fair. It’s the verbal throwing up of endless lists of internal complaints against the universe. It does no good to rail against the world and fate… Shakespeare’s “The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”
JL: OK, no offense to the medulla intended. I merely commented about the neck as inferior to the head and the medulla as inferior to the Sahasrara or crown chakra.
End of Part One
Sue Ann McKean:
So one way to prevent ourselves from being possessed by these archetypes that affect all of us, would be to continually self-remember or stay conscious. Or what would be the method of not being overtaken?
John Maxwell Taylor:
Great question. As I traveled around doing the play about Jung I became aware of the power of the multitudinous archetypal energies that are floating around in the collective unconscious. These forces are thought forms that can latch onto you, or pass through you, perhaps briefly. You find yourself playing host to foreign impulses that are not self-generated. When you’re tired and on a journey, do you ever get into that state where your thoughts are tumbling around and you can no longer identify which are your own thoughts and which are fragments of the mass of consciousness around you? Everything starts to swim inside your head. Doing the exercises we were talking about earlier, particularly the sensing and feeling exercise that grounds your feet, arms, and legs, prevents that from happening. To a large degree I learned to insulate myself by practicing those exercises while I traveled and not let myself get possessed by other people’s collective thoughts.
There are groups in society, for example political parties. You go to a Democratic convention and they’re going to think one way. If you hang out with Republicans, then you’ll pick up another set of impressions. If you are not careful, after a couple of days you don’t think like yourself anymore, despite thinking you know what you already know. This all has to do with the power of suggestion and that’s what keeps society as a whole asleep. As awakening individuals, we have to try to insulate ourselves from the effects of collective sleep, without spending the whole day holding up shields and buffers, because that’s tiresome.
Are you saying that during the rock and roll days of the 60’s you already had a jaundiced view and were trying not to get gobbled up by the pursuit of an archetype?
JL: So you were fighting it even as you were opening for the Beatles?
JMT: Yes. Around that time we also did some shows with the Rolling Stones at the Olympia Music Hall. We did 10 days with them and that was a completely different kind of energy than the Beatles. They were particularly interested in us because the lead singer in our band had a huge reputation in England for a while. Actually he had become the biggest rock star in Europe for a brief period. The French couldn’t play rock and roll and he was the first person who did it right for them in their own backyard.
SM: He was French?
JMT: No, he was American. His name was Vince Taylor.
SM: Oh, I’ve heard of him.
JMT: The Stones used to stand in the wings every night and watch us perform because we had a great band and Vince moved fantastically on stage. He could drive the audience wild. I learned a tremendous amount about projecting magnetism to an audience from him. But Mick Jagger never came to watch; it was the others, Brian Jones, Charley Watts and the rest standing around in the wings listening to us and watching Vince do his great moves. But not Jagger, which was strange because in those days Mick did not move very well on stage and he could have learned something.
The last night of the 10 days Jagger was there, he stood in the wings and he watched. We tore the place apart. We were closing the first half and Vince was magnificent, right on form. He had this thing he used to pull off with the mike stand where he would throw the whole contraption up high into the air. As it came down he would catch it on his back in such a way that it slipped under his arms and he would hang on for a few seconds like it was a cross. It was actually something he took from James Dean, who did the same thing with a rifle in a publicity shot for his last movie, Giant. Of course, the crowd went nuts and as Vince walked off stage, Jagger said to him, “you finished, man?” Vince says, “No man, we was just practicing.” It was very, very cool.
That was the thing about British musicians at that time. They were cool and they were masters of the put-down. The pre “Give Peace a Chance” Lennon was a good example of that type of behavior, although he kept it going even after he went hippie. “The only thing you wrote was Yesterday” remark to McCartney illustrates it well. There was a subculture of being cool in a uniquely English way. I was not a part of that. I couldn’t do it because of the cruel element that could easily slip into it. I think I had a bit of unconscious repugnance towards it because all that stuff comes from false personality. I was looking for the truth, even then, even through rock and roll. So I got to see there, and later on in Hollywood what false personality can do to people.
JL: I wonder where that craving to be cool came from — was it a residue of the bebop jazz period?
JMT: Yes. But it was translated through an English sensibility to create a subculture that would give the British rocker a superior attitude in a country where everybody wants to be superior to everybody else and has for centuries.
SM: In France?
JMT: No, not France, I meant in Britain. The U.K is a layered, hierarchical society. You can get castigated for the tone of your voice, your regional or class accent — they pin you down immediately—you’re from so and so; therefore you don’t count.
SM: They’re understated though.
JMT: Very understated and that can make it even more cruel, and cutting. If an idiot calls me a fool I’m none the worse for it while he remains exactly what he is. But English can do put downs in a way that make you feel that maybe they are right… perhaps you are an idiot! There’s a line in some old movie where David Niven is playing a British ambassador. He puts someone in line diplomatically at a social event. The ambassador from another country, who has just observed this turns to someone and says… “you have to admire Sir Arthur (Niven)… he always manages to give the impression that God must be an Englishman.” So the early British rock musicians created a superior subculture towards anyone who wasn’t a rock musician, or worse, not a musician at all. Then they filled the halls with great music and an attitude that went with it. Eric Clapton still has that attitude to a certain degree. Eric is an old school British rocker. I once heard an interview with him where he gave his opinion on the American group Big Brother and the Holding Company.
SM: Janis Joplin’s group.
JMT: Yes, he put that group down in an understated manner and I thought, “There he goes.” He was doing something only Eric can do in his British rock musician way. It’s a certain manner of being dismissive. Like I said, I never bought into the being cool scene. I was somewhere else internally. The guys in the bands that I played with used to call me the Professor and laugh at me because of the books I carried around. While they would go out having wild times in the various cities that we toured throughout Europe, I would go off to look at museums and castles. I even went to the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Domremy, and Burgos in Spain, because it’s the early proving ground of El Cid Campeador. I was attracted to spiritual warriors even though at that time I knew nothing about spiritual possibilities. Later I realized these visionary historical individuals represented archetypes that were subliminally preparing me to take charge of my consciousness a few years down the road.
Their lives inspired me to drive the hordes of alien thoughts that invade the mind in our mad societies, back into the ocean of collective darkness from which they spring. Like Yogananda later on, studying the lives of these great beings awakened in me the desire to establish a center of pure consciousness, a kingdom of light in the center of my own brain. So travelling Europe in those days, even as a rocker, was a sort of pilgrimage for me. As I say, I wasn’t a spiritual person then; there wasn’t a light bulb blazing away over my head. But there was something deep in the core of my being that could see through all the stuff that the bands believed in. I saw that their hedonistic lifestyle was leading them nowhere. In comparison, I led a sober life back then. I loved playing the music so much that it was my religion. I was discovering myself by playing, though I didn’t realize it. I was developing the ability to stand in front of audiences and sway the whole room in the direction that I wanted it to go.
SM: To feel the power of that without getting narcissistic or having to prove yourself?
JMT: I had a 6 month period where I was heading dangerously in that direction when I was living in Hollywood because everyone was so bloody phony. In order to beat them at their own game I began taking it on. I got to a point where I was beating them at their own game. That was in 1967, the year that I ran into Yogananda and had a spiritual awakening. Then I gave up trying to immortalize myself through mortal means. I let go of it.
SM: So you were heading in that direction?
JMT: I was heading in that direction as a means to surviving in Hollywood and I found that I could do it better than most. But I didn’t like what I was becoming. I developed a huge, almost hypnotic power over people on and off stage. Something warned me inwardly that such power could be fatal if it was not matched by an equal force of love. But where does one find love of that magnitude? And how do you deal with a world full of people who wouldn’t want it even if you had it? So while this is going on another part of me is thinking, is there a God or isn’t there, because if this is all there is, then I’m going to stick my head in the oven. Finally it became so intense that I got an answer.
SM: I’m curious about the false personality. In your experience with the enneagram as a study of false personality, do you see value in putting attention and energy on understanding the falseness?
JMT: Yes, I think it’s important that alongside recognition of false personality, that we recognize another button that says true personality. False personality is a graft over our soul. We all naturally try to accommodate ourselves to society and what we think society’s perceptions of us are. True personality or the expression of our personal uniqueness, gets layered over by this graft of trying to please others. We become compromised, even to the point where we develop a crust over our essence, a hard shell. The task then is to learn to de-crystallize the crust of false personality so that the true personality can come out again and be recognized by ourselves and by others. Then what would be the true manifestation of any of the personality types on the enneagram? If the false personality were de-crystallized, then wouldn’t you see magnificence in each of those aspects? I think so.
SM: They talk about the holy idea being our true nature. I have a little trouble with that because it’s so linear; I’m a point 2 on the enneagram and when I de-crystallize my 2-ness, I become the holy idea of freedom. There’s something too pat about that.
JMT: Right. Ideally, one could be all of them simultaneously or alternate fluidly, moving from one point to another at will. Like the people dancing in the Gurdjieff film, Meetings with Remarkable Men. Like the dancers, you’d be able to move to whatever point you wanted to be, or to express, at any given moment throughout the day. There would be fluidity and there would be a holiness that comes from wholeness. A natural human being would encompass all of the aspects. One thing I would like to say, coming back to Carl Jung, is that you can never get rid of the shadow. You can never get completely rid of the false personality. All of those aspects are going to be there. We have to learn to co-exist with the shadow and make it serve the whole. Otherwise we would be like a piano with no black keys.
SM: The false personality is part of the whole, so it serves the whole.
JMT: I agree. The problem starts when we become nothing but that, which is what has happened in society today. You can see that in popular entertainment, which is a mirror of our collective psychological state. The shadow has taken over to the point where the dysfunctional aspects of our natures are sitting on a usurped throne like Richard III celebrating his own psychological pathology. In this form of narcissism the world and even nature must serve and celebrate personal madness. “Shine out sun till I have bought a glass that I may see my shadow as I pass!”
The difference between Jung and Freud was that Freud felt our problems stemmed from the failure to integrate the primal side of our natures. But Jung thought our problems stemmed from the failure to recognize and integrate our spiritual natures, the suppression of our souls. Collectively we now suppress the holiness of wholeness and that includes getting our shadows to behave responsibly. This is what Gurdjieff meant when he said we must “learn to become good angels and good devils.” A good devil is the shadow in service to the whole; the process fully spiritualizes every aspect of ourselves. Each part has to be transformed, uplifted, redeemed, capable of receiving and reflecting the light from the phenomenal world. Only in this sense can we know the absolute truth about ourselves.
SM: That we’re basically religious beings?
JL: Essentially that’s the argument about human nature — do we suppress the animal in us so that the noble human can develop, by adding layers of confinement — that’s the Freudian or conservative view. Or do we do we assume that inside of us is a pure and wonderful human who is trapped by layers of confinement — that’s the humanist or liberal view.
JMT: As I mentioned earlier, the truth is in the middle. We need a certain amount of conservatism, an ability to keep order in the midst of the self indulgent aspects of ourselves that don’t wish to respond to self discipline and the work required to develop self mastery and real consciousness. Also we need a complementary degree of liberalism to prevent the governing aspects from ossifying into rigidity, dogmatism, self-interest, and repression. In a nutshell, there’s a metaphor for our mad society; what it boils down to is a lack of balance. Instead of liberals vs. conservatives and vice versa, we need the best qualities of both. I can’t wait around another thousand years for that to happen so I am trying to create the ideal state right now within myself. Utopia begins with a balanced order in the individual human psyche. Only from that will we create a better external world. Jung said, “Reality lies at the point of tension between the opposites.” And I said, as a Gemini, you know the type… “He jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions.”
I am able to live with multiplicity and with the contradictory aspects of my own nature. It’s easier now that I may have evolved a bit to stay in that middle ground that Jung talked about. To me that is where the real “I” may be found. There is a certain inner vibration in the spine and rib cage that is like an electromagnetic coil being charged up when one lives predominantly at the “point of tension between the opposites” inside oneself. As a race our task is to maintain an even balance between our limitations and our unlimited possibilities, between the shadow and the light, between the mechanical aspects and the awakened or awakening aspects. If we try to get rid of any of that, then there’s not going to be balance, because both extremes make up the panoply of who we are.
The trick is to walk right down the middle of the road of life, to see all of these things and not get swayed too much in one direction or the other. In this way the core of one’s identity is centered in “I,” the sense of “I-ness.” As we look outward through the senses there is a natural feeling of “I” in this place, seeing and expressing through these functions. When we become solely identified with functions, we become our own limitations. But when our sense of identity is rooted in the I-ness through those means of expression, whatever their temporal limitations, then we may have a degree of choice in our lives and that’s when real life begins. That’s why Gurdjieff says over and over, “Man cannot do.” We can’t do anything as long as we are only our functions. When identity is transferred from the functions to the “I” then the functions become the servants and then one may do things more congruently in the world. Otherwise, it’s like the saying in the Vedas, “the fool, deluded by self says, ‘this I did and that I wrought,’ never knowing it is the in-dwelling spirit that acts.” As we accustom ourselves to remaining centered in that particular presence that comes from living in the “I” more, the quality changes in what is being done around, through and to us.
SM: So do you think that’s what Jesus meant by “the narrow gate?” Most people choose the way that’s wide, that leads to destruction and few take the way through the narrow gate that leads to life.
JMT: I think that’s probably true. It may be a metaphor for the spine of an individual that is the real tree of life. The spine is the first thing that grows in the human embryo, out and down from the medulla oblongata at the back of the neck. First, one cell forms in what will become the medulla and then the spine grows — the tree of life. For me this is where our real sense of I-ness is naturally located. It’s in the spine, in the central core of the individual, the narrow way. The wide way is when we get flung far out, into the extremes of life. I’m radical center — I like to stay in the middle.
JL: Some say, that’s a vulnerable area, in the middle of the road, where you can get hit by traffic.
JMT: I’ll try not to—I’ll hop out of the way if I see something coming. The thing is, living from the “I” allows you to choose what road you want to be on. Otherwise you’re on a conveyor belt that’s taking you on a journey to nowhere. We want to be on the royal highway, the one that leads back to infinity. Gurdjieff says that behind “Real I” lies infinity!
JL: I like the conveyor belt idea.
JMT: Yes, it’s a nice metaphor as long as you’re not asleep. We have to be able to get off when we want to and not wait for it to dump us God knows where. A sense of “I” in the spine is the road to infinity; it’s the most powerful thing a human being can have. The quality of our lives and us depends on the quality of our consciousness in relation to the spine, the tree of life. Moses said to the burning bush, which is the spine all lit up, “Who art Thou, Lord?” and the burning bush says, “I am that I am.” Everything divine about us begins there.
JL: And to begin the process of returning to the divine in us?
JMT: We can center ourselves through certain exercises, many of which I teach in my classes and workshops. These include unique ways of cultivating a certain presence, sensing, feeling and self-remembering. They focus the flow of energy that’s pouring in through the senses out into the world, reversing it. So you can be looking out at the world with 50% of your attention and looking within with 50% of attention at the same time. There’s a dual process going on and I think Gurdjieff himself was a full embodiment of that process. In all the accounts we have of him, that’s the sense you get, the external manifestation is equal is to internal congruence he was holding all the time.
SM: So the point of self-remembering is to re-direct energy toward the self, as Jung would call it. We also need attention going into the world to be able to balance the spiritual and the material. There would be a re-direction of energy in and out simultaneously.
JMT: Yes. While we talk to people, while we buy our groceries, while we get up on stage to perform or speak, while we talk on the telephone, while we look at the people that we love, when the dogs are yapping and you want to put them outside; all the time you try to have that feeling of divided attention so that you’re without and within to an equal degree at any given moment.
JL: Going back to Jung, when and why did you come up with your show Forever Jung?
JMT: We talked earlier about when I started doing meditation and had become interested in Gurdjieff. I had been reading about him then.
JL: Was that around 1966?
JMT: Right. But by 1971 I had retired temporarily from the music business and had gone to live on Anglesey, an island off the coast of Wales. I spent a lot of time there while growing up. I went back there to meditate, fast, and do what I could to make a permanent breakthrough into the level of consciousness that I believed was my birthright. But after a few months on the island I began to have some difficulties. In a place that’s totally surrounded by nature, the vast openness of the sea and sky, there’s nowhere to hide from yourself. I began to have physical problems, probably brought on by too much fasting and different things began disturbing my meditation. What kept me going was studying Gurdjieff. I had never seen a picture of the man and asked the small, local library to order some books on Gurdjieff, including Beelzebub’s Tales. When the books came I opened them one evening and looked at a picture of Gurdjieff for the first time. I had an extraordinary experience of awakening consciousness that lasted for about ten days. I can’t describe it. But I can tell you this: Gurdjieff is alive. He is as alive today, perhaps even more so than when he was walking around on this planet. And what he is now came out of his eyes in that picture, an energy or magnetism that rewired my brain, my body and my perception of life.
The work that I had been doing prior to that was like building a house and wiring it with electrical wiring that wasn’t hooked up to the mains. Something about the vibration and energy behind Gurdjieff’s face, even the atomic weight of the book itself triggered this extraordinary experience. It was as if all of a sudden an electrician had arrived and hooked me up to the mains. All this juice surged through my being and I had these perceptions that I won’t belabor. It went on for about ten days. When you have an experience like that and it’s over, somehow you’re left trying to reintegrate those perceptions into ordinary life and that is when Jung became important to me.
JL: I see, between Eastern thought, meditation, Gurdjieff and Jung there is not much that is left out.
JMT: …if you want to exclude the transmutation of sex energy, the development of conscience, compassion and learning to live as a human being in the real world as a spiritual subversive, you could say that’s all there is to it.
JL: Good grief, what got over me, far be it to exclude any of this.
JMT: No, seriously, if the Atman or the individualized spark of divinity within us is in reality the Brahman that exists everywhere, then in order for the Atman to re-expand back into the Infinite, it has to go in every direction. It can’t just go through the bright light area. Jung said, “one does not become conscious by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” When I had that awakening experience I saw everything in every direction; then I had to learn to live with it, the whole wonderful glory of the soul and all of the wonderful and terrible stuff in the human nature. I had to learn to integrate these and that’s where Jung can be so helpful to us all. For me I got started by reading his autobiography which is an absolutely incredible book.
Now you run into people in Gurdjieff groups who run the dogma that you can’t get “it”… whatever it is Gurdjieff has to offer, from reading books. I completely disagree. It depends on who is doing the reading and here is the proof of that. A friend of mine, who has been in old guard Gurdjieff groups for years, told me that the only person, the only one mind you, who has become what Gurdjieff says a real man should be, is the boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter. He got it while in prison doing life in solitary confinement, after Gurdjieff’s books came into his hands. He had no life, nothing to lose and realized he was in two prisons… The one around him and the one in his head. And out of that pressure and the direct influence of Mr. Gurdjieff, his companion in solitude, he woke up! Carter has said “Mr. Gurdjieff saved my life.” I believe him. No question. He saved mine too.
Coming back to Jung, I have to stress something about living in solitude on that island. When you’re in a place like that and you’re right on the edge and you think your life may be coming to an end, then the divine can speak to you and have an awakening effect. You may not have it if you were reading these books on the bus or train while going to work. Although even that is possible if your wish to awaken is sufficiently all consuming.
With Gurdjieff I had an experience of what it is like to be truly conscious, then got put back in my little box. Following that, from Jung I had to learn about integration and living with the shadow. These two experiences are the lock and key that get you out of the “box system” as Jung calls it, and puts you in touch with ordinary life in a whole way. Once that process was started in me I was able to leave the Isle of Anglesey and went North to live at Findhorn.
SM: The Spiritual community in Scotland?
JMT: Yes. Findhorn was like an umbrella of light under which I was placed for nine months so that I could further heal, balance, and integrate all these experiences, absorb them into my being and then come to America and life here.
SM: Were you at Findhorn during that time that Peter and Eileen were there?
JMT: They were. This was 1973, Dorothy McLean was still there, David Spangler and his co-workers were just getting ready to leave when I arrived.
SM: It was still the very young beginnings of that movement?
JMT: It had moved from being a place where the focus was on growing the outsized vegetables, to a place where human beings were growing their souls. It was such an eclectic mix of types from around the world. If you were coming from the right place behaviorally when you lived there and were in line with consciousness and in line with the whole, everything was harmonious; if you flipped over into false personality or egotism, you stood out like a sore thumb.
JL: Was Findhorn in those days prone to get a lot of drugs, sex, hot tubs and rock and roll?
JMT: No it was nothing like that. But people are people. What sometimes occurred was that hippies who came there expecting a free ride were in for a rude awakening because Findhorn was a working community. There was an enormous amount of clarity there at that particular time, a tremendous energy of transformation. My nine months were just long enough for me to give birth to myself in the principles of world service. That was the end of the phase of my spiritual quest where it was all about me trying to become divine, ta da… and about more world service.
Peter Caddy used to say that work is love in action. I must accent that Findhorn was a working community and we were trained in a way that we would feel a sense of responsibility to serving humanity as our larger self and to making the planet a better place. One was expected to become a living demonstration of what one could become by living there. Hopefully, by the time an individual left he or she would be able to carry the essence of Findhorn back to whichever country one came from. And be able to speak to others about it without being preachy about the Findhorn experience.
SM: Was the focus on working in the garden?
JMT: Partly working in the garden, but I worked also in the theater. I had three jobs. I cooked two or three times a week, I worked in the office and I also worked in the theater. We used to put on variety shows with a tremendous cast of international talent. That’s when I became aware that theater could be used for something other than mere entertainment. It could be used to transmit a healing and awakening force into the world.
JL: Do you look at theater as a method to communicate that can fly under the radar catching people without their screens up. When they’re not expecting to be indoctrinated, wide open to receive amusement and instead get hit by teaching.
JMT: Yes, what a great metaphor. I’m a sort of a theatrical subversive. With all of my background in pop and being an entertainer, I’m able to keep people interested on that level while at the same time there is something else going on — the transmission of information about what the new model of humanity can be or what a person can become. That’s why I choose to write a musical about Gurdjieff because he himself is a progenitor or a model of that type of individual, one who lives in presence and self-remembering. Ordinary theater is too often what I call the “theater of sleep.”
JL: As opposed to what?
JMT: Transformational theater! The theater of sleep is about ordinary life characterized by the phrase from the Rubayat of Omar Kayam: “I left by the same door I entered.” Unfortunately that which is now regarded a true art in theater and cinema is the celebration of how much like the sleeping world the thing is… Give me strength. We already know too well what that is. Where is the art that asks us what we are doing here on this planet and is there any sort of higher purpose to existence? Where are the plays of real ideas as opposed to permutations of human stupidity? Very few exist. For me the last great play of the 20th century was Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and before that Christopher Fry did some wonderful things. Peter Brook has tried with things like The Mahabharata but that’s about it as far as I’m concerned, although I may be wrong.
When I was doing Forever Jung, I was nominated for the Gradiva Award. It is given by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis every year to people in different fields of the arts, film, literature, theater etc., that help the public to have a deeper appreciation of the psychological process. I was up for the best actor in 1996 for my portrayal of Jung in Forever Jung. The previous year’s winner was John Malkovich and I was up against Uta Hagen, a very respected New York Theater diva, teacher and writer on acting. She was nominated for her performance as Melanie Klein, who was a Freudian analyst. I thought ‘she probably has forgotten more about acting then I’ll ever know, she’s bound to get it.’ But I happened to be in New York the weekend of the ceremony and showed up and I won. That was a big surprise. The next day I went to see Uta Hagen in Mrs. Klein. Obviously she’s a superb actress but it wasn’t twenty minutes into the play before I realized the whole thing was going nowhere. It was three people screaming at each other and the basic idea of the text was, “you never gave any recognition”… “you never really appreciated me!”…The usual twoddle. And in the middle of it I had an epiphany. A light went on in my head and I heard this voice, and it’s not that I’m into hearing voices, but something said, “John, you deserved to win.” And I got it. It was not just for the acting but it was for what Forever Jung stood for. It was signified by the intent to bring something different into the world that was nourishing on a higher level from what was happening in this nice theater in New York that was basically taking the audience nowhere.
SM: John, do you still perform Forever Jung?
JMT: No. After 250 performances in five years I needed to do something else. I have been approached by a director from New York and asked if I could rewrite Forever Jung for a full cast. I have done that now and if we get full production, I would just play Jung and not the other nineteen characters. That I could do in a long run. The one-man version, 20 characters a night, 12 shows a week, would be a bit much on my system.
JL: Talking about performances, how do people find out when and where Crazy Wisdom is on?
JMT: They can look on my web site and it always will be updated there.
JL: Also, how they can order the CD?
JMT: They can order it from the our web site. They can also contact me if they want to know more about the various classes I teach. These are listed on my site along with various audio tapes and a video of Forever Jung, which is the only actual document of the live show. Due to recent demand I am making that available again for a while.
JL: Can we re-visit your concept on transformational theater and get into it a little deeper?
JMT: The basic principle is that you try to generate something on stage that will fall upon the members of the audience at a deeper level than personality. But to get through to that essential part of a group of individuals, you’ve got to have enough human interest coming off the stage to engage each particular personality type, while trying to bypass personality and trigger something essential. It’s a paradox, which is the natural ground for transformation. The principles involved begin with the creator, the person who initially has the seed idea for the particular vision, play, piece of music, that is going to come off the stage. The person who generates the idea has to have found the trigger for that generation at the core of his or her own being, or the end result is simply mechanical, no matter how clever or artsy.
In other words, if what you are transmitting to the audience comes from the automatic subjective outpouring of the complexities of personality function and dysfunction, and then you’re going to trigger the automatic programming that runs peoples reactions. Also you’re up against type, personal history, likes and dislikes, energy levels of the moment, room temperature and God knows what. But, if you can transmit from core to core while you act, sing, dance etc., on the level of fully human level, then you’re going to evoke a resonance in all the different personality types that is beyond type. The room is going to come in harmony with you, and there will be a collective experience for everybody at the deepest level, whether each individual there is fully aware of what is happening to them or not.
JL: As much as all personalities are different, many core dynamics in all of us are similar. Do you agree?
JMT: There is an aspect to our ability to feel that is universal. We all know what sorrow is, as we do joy and love. Each individual experience is personal of course and yet there is universality at the same time, something beyond words. Even a cat or a dog knows when you are sad. But as we approach the core level of human existence, feeling seems to carry us into spiritual states of feeling that do not have opposites, the steady state of being that we might say burns in the heart of an atom. Audiences are made up of people and their bodies are made of atoms. Get those atoms to vibrate in a manner that is stronger than the physical limitations of personal programming and the individual human functions might light up. We might start to remember what it feels like to be what a normal human being should be…Integrated, energized and hopeful about life’s essential value.
I see this result in people attending concert performances of Crazy Wisdom in California right now. I saw it over and over again throughout the five years of touring in Forever Jung. That was partly due to playing that particular individual. Jung had a huge presence and I used to feel it flowing through me on stage and going out into the hall. It doesn’t mean he was there of course. But when you play a historical figure there is always a sense that one is invoking the spirits of the dead.
Originally the actor was a sort of priest or shaman who went into a nether world and made the invisible visible. In Forever Jung I played 20 different characters myself. Now, with Crazy Wisdom we have fourteen people on stage so now the individual members of the cast must find the personality of the characters that they’re playing — the characteristics that make them uniquely who they are — and yet, at the same time, try to act as a whole group from a unified core of being. When you have so many diverse types of performers on stage, if they don’t have some sort of collective, perhaps even non-verbalized understanding of what it is they’re trying to do, then essence is not going to transmit to the audience and trigger off essence. When we’re rehearsing there is definitely a coming together of this group on a kind of core level beyond personality. It just happens. You can’t help it when you’re dealing with someone like Gurdjieff.
JL: How do you accomplish it? Is it through the nature of the material itself, which makes essence come through, or are there specific things you need to do?
JMT: Well, the answer is both, really. The nature of the man makes the performers subject to his life purpose, which was to remain awake and fully functional at the same time. As for specific things, I try to teach by example and embody what I feel is the presence resulting from my years working with Gurdjieff’s material. Quite naturally the singer/actors in the play have asked questions and started to read books by and about Gurdjieff. It would have been quite wrong for me to impose any other requirement than to sing well and try to understand what the play is about from the script. To my delight some of them naturally began exploring themselves in new ways as a result of being in the play.
Creating Crazy Wisdom was the easiest thing I’ve ever written. I never had to look for a word or a phrase or a note as I was writing it. Whenever I sat down to create, it was always there. The next line or note or orchestral idea just came without any brain chewing on my part. The material itself demands that you approach it from an essential part of yourself. I tried always to do that and each day easily slipped into a place that brought a lot of presence in the room as I was writing the script and score and recording the music for the CD. When it is played back, or the songs are sung live, the energy which was there in the original creative moment reconstitutes in the performance and in the room, and out to the audience — it’s just in the nature of the work itself. But in rehearsals I consciously try to keep people from getting identified with what we might call the negative aspects of false personality when human stuff comes up. It’s not always easy… But I try.
JL: And how do you do that?
JMT: With a look perhaps and a self re-centering that makes them replicate my state. And by staying out of conversations that can lead to dualistic conversations like “Well, I said this,” “No you didn’t.” “You said that!” etc. I made a rule a few years ago never to explain myself. To stay out of personality conflicts and stick to principles. I only get in trouble when I do try to explain myself because explanations are always after the fact. And then peoples’ subjectivity takes what you say and explains it back to you from what they have managed to make out of your second hand “facts.” Such conversations never go anywhere because they come from nowhere. My wish is to keep things simple, direct and easily understandable when trouble starts. Otherwise one gets pulled into peoples’ mechanical stuff where you become the external representative of the denying aspects of themselves that they usually argue with inside their own heads!
That’s one reason people love to argue. When the arguer is in your own internal dialogue it is often a slippery customer, a shape shifter. When you shift that to arguing with a person the shape shifter has a face and you can see it react when you push its buttons. So you think you can win a power struggle which is nonsense. Nobody wins externally in arguments. But you can save your sense of self if you know what you are doing.
JL: That’s not easy and requires a lot of thoughtfulness and practice.
JMT: I have developed a program called “Spiritual Social Self Defense” that teaches people to avoid being drained of life energy by negative people and situations and actually become more unified in the face of difficulty.
JL: Sounds like the tantric approach which uses energy, good bad or indifferent. The idea being that energy is energy and it’s us, our passions, fixations or whatever, that may or may not let us direct energy to good use. I imagine that show business is a cauldron bubbling with all sorts of juice.
JMT: When you are dealing with actors and performance things can get real hairy. The egos are very fragile. I was once in a musical where this terrible argument broke out on stage because people were being asked to stand in different positions on the stage. “Well, I’m not going to stand there. That’s my spot! I stood there last time! I’m not gonna move!” That type of thing. It’s false personality — the little id, and we need to come from a bigger place than that if we’re going to be able to work with Transformational Theater. We’re all-human and can get identified with our reactions to things. But Gurdjieff’s methods lead to a re-alignment of personality that can allow essence to transmit through it in a very clear practical way.
The nature of the material in Crazy Wisdom demands that first I, the author, then the performers and finally the auditors become transparent in themselves. Then something remarkable can happen. An essential energy related to Gurdjieff’s life and work lives again through the process of telling the story. The truth is always in the myth, not the facts. Jung said, “The world has sold its soul for a mass of disconnected facts.” We can preserve and enhance the mythic quality of our own lives by associating our thoughts and consciousness with recast and retold tales of great beings.
Transformational Theater is a metaphor for how we want to interact with everybody on the stage of life because life is constantly improvised theater! We never know who or what is going to show up next, or what our response will be till we open our mouths and then we are on the judo mat, being weighed in the balance to demonstrate the degree to which our souls are crystallized. We can transform those interactions with people in daily life by not coming from the smallest parts of ourselves, the limited aspects of false personality, but from true personality which is a reflection of essence — which itself is a reflection of the Atman, or the soul or whatever you want to call it. Then something real is being created in the world, on stage and in life.
JL: Did you pick your actors with that perspective in mind and were they aware from the beginning that this is the ultimate goal?
JMT: Yes. I’ve worked with some of them before. For example, Tom Jepperson, who is currently playing Gurdjieff sang the lead in my first musical, Faustorama, nine years ago. There are difficulties in trying to portray someone like Gurdjieff on stage. Here you have this being who supposedly had a consciousness that was very different from the average. We have to make his appearance on stage in such a way that he becomes the representative of a great form of knowledge. Yet he must still be sufficiently human, at some points in the proceedings, that people can identify with him and see that he had similar life experience to themselves; otherwise they are not going to be able to relate to him. I had to look for the most intensely human moments in his life. What a lot of people don’t know about Gurdjieff is that he referred to his wife, Julia, as “my uniquely beloved woman.”
People sometimes read books by or about Gurdjieff and say, “There’s no love in the Gurdjieff work,” which isn’t true at all, although such thinking might make it appealing to some types. There’s certainly no room for false sentiment and the way our needy aspects corrupt with grasping the initial impulse of love, that is always pure. The more I’ve gone into Gurdjieff’s work and applied it in my life, I have found that there is a tremendous amount of love, a love that is extremely practical, because it helps people be in touch with their essence rather than false personality. In the middle of the play, after Gurdjieff’s wife passes away, there’s a moment when the audience is going to think, “Well, what is his reaction? How does he deal with it?” We know historically that he went to his room for about a week, and nobody heard anything from him at all. No one knew what was going on. Finally he came out, asked what day it was, and was told Saturday, men’s Turkish bath day. Since the local Archbishop had just shown up to offer his condolences, Gurdjieff insisted, to the man’s embarrassment, that he accompany him and the men to the Turkish bath.
In the play there’s actually a comedy song about this. The audience has the shock of seeing Gurdjieff lose his wife and soon after this comedy number with saucy lyrics. And they wonder what is going on? Does Gurdjieff have no feelings at all? But when the men march back from the Turkish bath the Archbishop says to Gurdjieff, “You joke, you laugh, do you not grieve the loss of your wife?” At which point Gurdjieff dismisses him and has this big solo song, which is the big number in Act II where he sings about what he’s feeling about the loss of his wife. It’s really an incredible moment due to the fact that Tom Jepperson, who is playing Gurdjieff, lost his own wife to cancer also. “Sometimes we smile to hide the fears, sometimes we laugh to hide the tears…” A meditation on his loss of Julia… Perhaps the only person Gurdjieff could ever be truly close to. Then the song picks up into a marching affirmation that he’s going to do what he came here to do… wake people up! And he ends up singing triumphantly, “My Soul is Alive!” So because Tom himself had that experience, it’s extremely powerful. Tom came into my life on the grid of synchronicity. I didn’t go looking for him; he was just the right person for that job. I have a few other people in the play that fit like a hand in a glove for the parts they’re playing.
JL: What type of reception does your play receive?
JMT: Well, I can give you two answers to that. In the very first concert performance that we did, the audience response was absolutely overwhelming. At the end they all leapt to their feet as if electrified and the applause just went on and on and on. The other thing that’s nice is that they all laughed in the right places. It was very gratifying, and I did see a number of people wiping tears from their eyes. With a subject like Gurdjieff, the play could potentially be very intimidating mentally because a lot of information is being transmitted along with the fun and games. It’s nice to see that people have that sort of feeling and humor response as well.
Secondly, just yesterday, a gentleman who was in one of the original Gurdjieff groups in New York called me. He is probably in his eighties now. He had actually known Madame Ouspensky and Olga and Thomas Hartman and did the sacred dances with some of the characters that are in the play. Anyway, about 10 days ago, he got the CD, so I asked him what he thought of it and he says, “Oh, John. Oh, it’s just so absolutely incredible. I have to tell you, I have this headset, and I’ve been walking around La Jolla listening to the play. I arrived at my bank just as I was listening to the last piece of music… the finale… and I stood there in line at the bank, and tears started pouring down my face. I’m standing there with tears streaming down my face, and people are coming up and saying ‘Are you all right? What’s the matter?’” He was so moved by the end of the play. Well, that was very gratifying for me. So both the performances and the CD are having that effect on people. It depends, of course to a degree on type. If they’re not the emotional types, people won’t have that particular kind of response, but hopefully we can stimulate everybody on some level through the CD.
SM: Any performances coming here to the Bay Area?
JMT: Well, the problem right now is we’ve got fourteen people to pay for the travel and the lodging and so forth, so that’s something that’s going to happen down the road. But a couple of Equity theaters back east are taking a look at it. At the moment we are playing a lot of New Thought churches like Unity.
JL: Do you have to have an orchestra?
JMT: No. Not yet. It gets real expensive with live musicians and the score is quite symphonic. So when I did the mix for the CD, I did a second mix immediately afterward without the lead vocals. So the back up sound in concert is like the full orchestra and the chorus but minus the lead vocals.
JL: Oh, okay, Karaoke style.
JMT: The leads can perform live, and then the chorus sings along with the chorus that’s on the digital master; that way the chorus sounds really big when everybody kicks in. Otherwise every member of the chorus would need a mic which would be hard to manage. Also the prerecorded orchestral sound is always consistent from venue to venue. Live bands are very hard to manage sound wise without huge expense. We would need sixty plus musicians to replicate the sound on the CD
JL: How many of the people who did the acting also did the singing on the CD?
JMT: More or less everybody who’s on the recording is in the live show.
JL: Doing their own part?
JMT: Yes, in the same part. So what you hear on the CD is what we do live at the moment. Actually there are more songs on the CD than in the live show because I wanted to make the CD a unique listening experience in itself. One can have a “theater of the mind” experience listening to it that goes through Gurdjieff’s life from 1915 to 1949 and then follows him after death to see where he goes and what happens to him in the beyond. People who were important in Gurdjieff’s life crisscross the path of the drama; Ouspenski and his wife Sophia, A. R. Orage, John Bennett, Thomas and Olga de Hartman and so on… and in the finale they all join him in the afterlife to give testimony before an Angelic Hierarchy as to what they learned from Gurdjieff. The closing words are an affirmation for the possible salvation of the earth through the development of consciousness and true conscience. You can’t have one without the other… Both are essential to true evolution because then power that comes with consciousness needs to be married to an inner sense of compassion, whether others know these qualities are present in us or not.
To me entertainment really means “to enter into at-one-ment with.”
Since my primary enneagram type is the entertainer, I try to create pieces that will help people to experience one-ness, in themselves and with the rest of creation. That to me is the true purpose of art… To entertain and uplift at the same time. As George Harrison reportedly said… “We’re not just here to jitterbug”… Hopefully we can sing, dance, laugh, learn and grow all at the same time.
It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Good fortune with your wonderful work.