Love is a fine thing, objectivity too. Both can provide insight, and that’s why we turn to others for help. Fine. But who can identify your deepest reality and help you realise it? Who is uncivilised enough to understand the crippling dangers of domestication? Who really lives with the quietest voice of the unconscious; acts on what it says, thereby speaking to the quietest voice of others? Who!? Most of us turn to advice from people who are just as confused as we are: worse, because they (or their careers) are involved in our lives, because they are hoping to realise their dreams through us, because they are speaking on behalf of the system or on behalf of their little group, because they have vested interests, they are likely to give us the worst (which in many cases amounts to the safest and laziest) advice possible.
So what to do? Who to turn to? There don’t seem to be many expert human beings. Is there anyone who has risen sufficiently above the human condition to be able to speak meaningfully about our captivity, who can see us thrashing about in the web of the world (of the mind, the emotions) and who really knows why? Is there anyone who speaks directly to the unfathomable I, where there is nothing the world can know of? My view is ‘yes’, there is.
As a young man I had a very powerful urge to be free of suffering, ignorance, fear and confusion. It seemed to me that solving the problem of the self was priority one; yet, like many many other people before me with an urge to set out on a psychological adventure, I discovered that available guidance was incredibly sparse. There were plenty of self-help books of course, an innumerable number of adults with advice and an infinite number of subjects that could be studied. But the subject — self-discovery — where was the course in that?
And so, like many people, I grasped at straws. I fell upon whatever came into view that seemed to open this unlocked mystery that I was carrying around; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Deepak Chopra, The Tao of Pooh, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, My Dinner with Andre, anything which seemed to open up a new path into the unknown. It wasn’t long before I turned to the source of these works — to Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Lao Tzu and the author of the Upanishads — for answers; but I soon reasoned that whatever truth they had realised couldn’t possibly be confined to a handful of people over two millennia ago. There must be people now who have realised the same thing; who are living it, not just talking about it. So after a few more abortive experiments which churches, ashrams, therapists and other useless priestly endeavours, I hit the ‘Guru scene.’
To say that the world of ‘enlightened men’ is full of charlatans of the highest rank would be an understatement, but eventually I came across the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti and Georg Gurdjieff, the first two people to bring the reality of the East to the West. These were the first two modern people I encountered who appeared to actually be in contact with the meaning of life, or at least a fascinating truth which didn’t require a script. Krishnamurti seemed to say the same thing over and over and over again, yet never uttered a cliché or seemed to repeat himself. And it was peculiar stuff — somehow the mind couldn’t quite grasp it, impossible to remember; yet nourishing. A sense that the impossible was actually being spoken to.
Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti (whose life stories, incidentally, were fascinating) led me to Barry Long.
Barry Long was a self-declared spiritual master, a ‘world teacher’ or ‘guru’, words that make the secular mind vibrate with outraged scorn and the religious mind shrink back, as if from the pitchfork of Satan. The idea that someone could be free of suffering, could know the truth of death, could teach love or life; could be, in a word, enlightened — and not just ‘someone’, but someone living, someone ordinary, someone called Barry! — all this is usually rejected as the worst kind of cultic madness; indeed Barry Long’s teaching was often described as a cult.
Cult is a word which only ever refers to small groups led by an individual, never large groups led by a central figure, a class or an ‘identity’, such as Christianity, Buddhism, capitalism, socialism (official and unofficial), nationalism or Tottenham Hotspur; all of which are very obviously cults. The ordinary behaviour of ordinary people, gathered around viddy-screens to listen to big brothers, stuffing their faces with soma, marching off to a daily dose of alienating unlife, gathered giggling around centrigual bumble-puppies and lathered up over the latest pneumatic priestess; none of this counts as cult-behaviour; while, on the other hand, listening to someone who actually knows what they are on about, and loving the truth he lives and expresses, can only mean orgies and brainwashing and mass-suicide.
Not that, as I say, there aren’t an enormous number of creepy cults out there, fake masters and outright con-men. Since shamans began to monopolise access to the psyche, many thousands of years ago, through the innumerable mad sects and proto-religions that populate fringe-history, up to Jonestown, the Moonies, the shennanigans of Adi Da, Sai Baba and God knows what else that can be found, today, in the nooks and crannies of ‘spirituality’, men (always men) have been using the power of their personalities1 to lord it over credulous seekers.
Was Barry Long such a man? You’ll have to make your own mind up there; I can only speak for myself. Subtle creepiness, platitudinous cant, a weird sense of ‘specialness’, blindness to certain aspects of human life (especially sex), and other ‘alarm bells’ didn’t and don’t ring for me with Barry Long, just as they didn’t when I first came across Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti (or Sri Ramana Maharshi and Mooji for that matter). I don’t know if these men really were completely free of the human-all-too-human condition, but they were completely original, spoke with impressive authority, were not above-it-all and what they say worked; and that’s how it was with Barry Long.
I encountered his tape ‘Who Am I?’ when I was in my early twenties and it blew my mind, briefly stilling it to a state which was completely new to me and allowing something extraordinary to swell in my awareness. Not a psychological effect or trippy illusion — the kind of thing I’d had with drugs, Buddhism and other tricks I’d tried — but an extraordinary experience of the ‘I’ which precedes the ‘self’ which I think and feel I am. Listening to this tape felt like I was doing the most subversive thing on earth, listening to a truth so revolutionary it could dissolve the world, übergoldstein. After this I spent around ten years reading his books and listening to his tapes, which I still occasionally return to. I also attended a couple of his seminars.
The first one I went to, when I was still unconvinced about his status as a enlightened man, was in Sydney. It was a one-day event in a meeting room of a university. He began, as he usually did, by talking for half an hour, then there was his version of guided meditation, and then questions. I was astonished by three things. Firstly, the questions people asked him were amazingly, hilariously, intimate — ‘Barry, I don’t like the way my husband touches my breasts. He seems to grapple with them’ or ‘Barry, I am 80 and my sex-drive is low. My young wife wants to take another lover and I’m thinking it might be a good idea’ or ‘Barry. I’m dying.’ Secondly, his answers always seemed to be spot on. Not ‘mystic’ or holier-than-thou, but very practical. Thirdly, at this meeting, there happened to be on the lawn outside some kind of ‘children’s event’ hosted by McDonalds. There was a man out there on the mic who was shouting at the children with the harsh, over-involved mania that some adults adopt when trying to whip up fun in children. It was ghastly, and impossible to ignore; and yet Barry wasn’t distracted by it in the slightest. He maintained phenomenal presence — not the beatific calm you might imagine, but a very simple easy imperturbability that I felt, very much, that I wanted a piece of. No matter what he might be teaching, I thought, I want to be as present as this man.
In my view Barry Long’s books and tapes about presence are peerless. One of the basic reasons I would recommend Barry Long’s teaching is not holy-holy God-intoxication but the practical benefits of ‘Self Mastery’. I have mastered myself to some degree, and so am able to offer advice to others on doing the same. Although a lot of this comes from Barry Long, it’s all my experience and it works, but I would direct anyone seriously interested in overcoming what I call ‘the self-informed-self’ to Long’s ‘Meditation: A Foundation Course’, ‘Stillness is the Way’ and the superb ‘How to Stop Thinking’ tape, which are far more powerful and effective than what I have to say on the subject.2
I have also incorporated into my work many of Barry Long’s insights about life generally, particularly what he had to say about emotion and sexual love, which was completely original. He said that emotions, which feed on the mind (particularly on likes and dislikes), comprised the bedrock of the false self and that these emotions were, first of all, hell, and secondly, radically different to the subtle feeling or sensation of ‘I-consciousness’ underneath.
Along with basic lack of presence there are two things which interrupt this I-consciousness, or the easy simplicity of simply living; two things which disturb the psyche and make people emotional and unhappy (which Barry defined as ‘happy-today-unhappy-tomorrow’). These were ‘not getting your life right’ and ‘the love between man and woman’.
He released several book and tapes on making love without emotion, on staying conscious with your partner, and he said a great deal about being honest, straight and present at work, with your children, family and friends; all of which was exceptionally direct, perceptive and practically useful. In short, the truth. I find it impossible to imagine that I could have experienced the love with women that I have without them. Not that the world never felt love before Barry Long, or that, even with his teachings, my own relations with women haven’t still been ruined by my selfish insensitivity and cruelty3, but what he said was radically new, completely original and superbly effective. His ‘Making Love’ book changed my sex life and that of many other people, not just ‘for the better’ — as in, having better sex — but into an entirely new reality. Not one that you might imagine — incense sticks, cheesy breathing and soft-focus giggling-and-nibbling — but a kind of intimacy and pleasure, almost terrifying in its intensity, that spread into my entire life.
I’ve emphasised in this account the practical nature of Barry Long’s teaching, its almost secular benefits — freedom from worry, from romantic problems, from emotional-slavery and so on. But the heart of the whole matter does come down to something which hardcore atheists and sceptics find impossible to swallow; adoration of and consequent experience and knowledge of the unknowable, the mystery of experience, the vivid strangeness of the present moment and the reality of one’s own consciousness, which the thinking mind can never grasp. All of this Barry Long rightly summed up with the word ‘God’ — not the fictional abstract-emotional God of established religion and myth, but the strange reality of life, the life behind the appearance-of-the-world conveyed to the mind by the mind. This life is the subject of religions like Buddhism, Advaita, Zen and Taoism, all of which are sometimes called ‘atheist,’ in that attention paid to God or gods is at best secondary, but which seek to uncover an ultimate reality which is still, literally, divine.4 ‘Living the divine life’ is phrase guaranteed to give materialist minds the willies, but it’s what Barry Long taught, and taught better than anyone I have ever heard of.
Now that I have absorbed so much of Long’s teachings it is sometimes hard to tell where his truth ends and mine begins, but there are very clear antecedents, not least in some of the language I use, which originated in Barry’s precise and powerful writing and speaking. I talk, as he did, of ‘the fiendess’, ‘the condition of creatures in existence,‘ ‘the unhappy supermind’ and ‘the mythic universe.’ Again, I do have some original things to say on these matters — with more on their way — but I urge anyone reading this who has enjoyed my essays on sex, suffering, emotion and self to read Barry Long. You might recoil at his sometimes alarmingly strident style, his cheesy book covers and some of his bafflingly weird and stupendously un-PC statements, but, if you persist — and, needless to say, if you can put aside your opinions and beliefs, which are always barriers to encountering the new — you’ll find something quite unbelievably good.
My gratitude to the man called Barry Long is boundless.
Here is a short excerpt from one of Barry’s tapes (How to Live Joyously — published in the book ‘Only Fear Dies’). It is the source of the account of personality and character that I gave in my recent ‘Words of Truth for Young People’.
THE BEING BEHIND THE MASK
by Barry Long
A long, long time ago, when human beings were not so fixed in their physical bodies as they are today, there lived a man (or was it a woman?) who made for himself a marvelous mask — a mask that could pull many faces. The man used to put on the mask and entertain himself by suddenly accosting people and watching their reactions. Sometimes the mask would be laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes grimacing and scowling.
His victims were always shocked at the sight of such an extraordinary, unnatural, unfamiliar face — even when it was smiling. Whether they laughed or cried made no difference to him. All he wanted was the excitement of their reactions. He knew he was himself behind the mask. He knew he was the joker — and that the joke was on them.
At first, he’d pop out with the mask on a couple of times a day. Then, as he got used to the excitement and wanted more, he began leaving the mask on all day. Finally, he saw no need to take it off at all — and slept in it.
For years, the man wandered through the land enjoying himself behind the mask. Then one day he awoke, feeling a feeling he’d never felt before — he felt lonely, cut-off, something missing. Jumping up in alarm he stepped out in front of a beautiful woman — and immediately he fell in love with her. But the woman screamed and ran away, shocked by the frightening, unfamiliar face.
‘Stop,’ he cried, ‘It’s not me!’ wrenching at the mask to tear it off. But it was him. The mask wouldn’t come off. It was stuck to his flesh. It had become his face. The man, through his fabulous mask, was the first person to enter this unhappy world.
Time went by. No matter how hard he tried to tell everyone what a disaster he’d brought on himself, no one would believe him. No one was interested in listening anyway, because they’d all copied him. They’d all put on masks of their own — to get the new excitement of playing at being what they were not. Like him, they’d all become the mask.
How the man eventually put a stop to the masquerade and returned to his joyous being, is the finale of the story; for all fables must have a happy ending. However, only when you, the reader, are joyous and free of unhappiness now (which is any moment) will the story truly come to an end. For you are the man or woman in the mask.
The mask you are wearing is your personality. Look in the bathroom mirror — that’s it. Watch the face you pull. Sometimes approving; often disapproving. You can’t really believe it’s you. So you look in every passing mirror, even shop windows, to reassure yourself and confirm it’s YOU. Sometimes, you even get the weird, irrational feeling of wanting to strip off the mask, don’t you? This is not uncommon. It’s just that people don’t like to talk about it; it sounds silly. But it’s not so silly, is it? — when you start being honest.
The biggest load you’re carrying in your life is your personality — the strain of pretense. Keeping it up weighs you down and sucks the life out of you. You blame so many things for the feeling of heaviness and lack of life. You blame your work, your relationships, your diet, your problems. And yet it’s your personality that has cut you off from your natural joy and vibrancy.
The personality makes you worried and emotional. It’s the cause of your moods and self-doubt, your depressions and times of misery. It confuses your mind. It’s fearful of the future and guilty or regretful of the past. It gets listless, bored and restless with the present. It’s the unsuspected shadow that slides in between you and your partner. It’s the cunning and knowing in the eyes. It lives off every kind of stimulus, good and bad, depression and excitement. And it’s utterly terrified of being found out — discovered as the phony and spoiler it is.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself? Then you’re ready to begin dismantling the personality. I say dismantle because the personality is a ‘mantle’, a cloak. And you’ve thrown the mantle of the personality around you, to shield you from the nastiness of the world and the hurtfulness of people.
You have made the personality your protector. You have handed over much of your authority. So the personality jumps to your defense immediately when you feel hurt, threatened or criticized. It hits out for you with piercing or bludgeoning words. Sometimes you wince at its violence and insensitivity. But then it’s your champion, your defender. So you meekly go along with its often appalling behavior, and make excuses for it to yourself. The wily protector, given absolute power, becomes the absolute dictator. And you despair of ever being free.
The truth is, you have no need of this protection. The personality is like a bully at school whose gang you once joined to be on the safe side. After you’ve grown up he comes back and convinces you that you still need him. He’s able to do this because, without knowing it, you harbor all the pain of yesterday — the old fears and hurts of your childhood, your youth and adult life. The bully, knowing your fear, won’t leave you alone. And you’re terrified to lose his protection.
Notwithstanding this, the personality does have its place and role. It makes a rotten master, but is a good servant. The servant must no longer be allowed to run your life. It’s fouled it up long enough.
Everything you perceive as wrong with the world is the result of someone’s personality. In fact, the world itself was constructed by personality’s ignorance. That’s why the world is such a cruel, exploitative and dishonest place, compared with the beauty and integrity of the earth and nature. Just as the personality lives off you, and drains your resources, so the world is exhausting the earth’s resources.
Behind every personality, behind every mask, is a character. Character is your God-given uniqueness. Character is what you have to return to more consciously in yourself — the character of your joyous being behind the personality. Everybody without exception has character. The personality so often obscures and deprives you of the pleasure of your character, but this lovable or admirable character appears when the personality is no longer active, when the frontal awareness is connected directly with the flame of innocence. The man or woman is then seen in a different light; the unique character shines forth, and we feel pleased or privileged to be in their company.
The stress of the personality arises out of the terrible contradiction of trying to hold on to existence, while the life that you are lets go every moment. Life is ceaseless movement. Everything now is different in some way to what it was yesterday.
Why don’t we move like life, with the speed of love that lets go every moment? The answer is in the two words life and existence. Life is in existence but existence is not life. Life is new every moment. Existence also should be new every moment, but we hold on to it and it becomes painful. If you don’t hold on to existence, you are the life in it, new every moment. Then the two become a harmony. Then being is joyous.
The harmonious interchange between life within and existence without depends on you keeping your psyche free-flowing. The personality clogs the psychic system which is naturally ever moving. The personality freeze-frames our existence. We’ve freeze-framed our houses, our possessions, our children; and made them ‘mine’. We hang on to them as though they’d disappear if we don’t cling to them. It’s all due to the insecure personality that feels it must either hold on or lose its identity. So we fight people or countries to hold on to what we have. But life as we see it around us, behind all the personable people and their personal problems, holds on to nothing…
- And these personalities can be very powerful. They are often powerful enough dabble in the psyche — the freeky-deeky layer of wyrd between the daytime world and the mysteries of the superconscious depths.
- Barry, apart from being immeasurably wiser than I am, is also simpler and more direct. I have a tendency to overly elaborate prose — including forests of footnotes!
- Barry spent a lot of time in his seminars pointing out how man sneakily uses knowledge of Barry’s teachings to further his own sexually dishonest aims, and women should never believe what men say, no matter how noble.
- Note that atheists rarely direct their scorn at these teachings.