Thought not strictly about India, her work involves gurus, enlightenment and the Dalai Lama, so we thought it excuse enough to get in touch. We spoke to bestselling author Isabel Losada about her new book The Battersea Park Road to Paradise, self help weekends with Antony Robbins, potent South American hallucinogens and a dread-locked guru named Mooji.
Isabel Losada: Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment was published 10 yrs ago, and explored personal happiness. I followed the advice given to writers to ‘write what you know about’. I knew about joy, curiosity and exploration into spirituality and human potential. I was interested in many different teachings that claim to be able to teach us how to be happier and more well adjusted people. So I went to explore this, not to make fun of the teachings, but to make fun of my own preconceptions. (For example, we know that anything that comes from California is suspect don’t we?) Anyway, the book did very well, and was a huge international success.
theindiaphile: Were you happy at this stage?
Isabel Losada: Well, to answer that we would have to stop and define happiness. But the short answer would be ‘Yes.’ I learnt a huge amount from the many different disciplines I’d explored. I sneaked into BPRTE the best of what I learned in every area, and yes, I learnt a lot about happiness, responsibility, and spiritual insight of various kinds.
Then I went on to explore – in the next book, ‘For Tibet, With Love’ – what one person can do to make a difference in the world. Having looked inwards, I looked outwards. I was attracted to support His Holiness The Dalai Lama because, at the moment we were in the middle of supporting this ‘war on terror’ and it seemed more sensible to me to support peace. He also talks about peace both internally and externally, and so he was the man for me…..
Then there’s another book, ‘Men!’ That’s a whole other story.
theindiaphile: Then what lead you to write The Battersea Park Road to Paradise?
Everything that could have gone wrong in my life had gone wrong. A major TV series I had devised and would have fronted was cancelled through no fault of mine and I had the worst case of a broken heart which any woman could ever suffer. I was professionally, personally and spiritually in a hole. So I thought ok, well so much for everything I’ve learned. It’s bought me here.
So I threw away everything, except that famous one line teaching of The Dalai Lama, ‘my religion is kindness.’ I wanted to pare life down to its basic elements, almost literally. I looked at the Chinese elements of metal, fire, wood, water, earth – which are the stuff of life according to the ancients. And that seemed like a good premise for new journey.
theindiaphile: What kind of places did your journey take you to?
Isabel Losada: The ancient Chinese believed that our environment influences us, which led me to Feng Shui. Is there something called Chi which has subtle effect on our mood? Or is it all ‘medieval superstition’ as the current Chinese Government state. I called in three different Feng Shui advisers to my home (one at a time) and as you can image, much entertainment ensued. All three recommended by the Feng Shui society, and none of them agreeing on much.
The next element was fire. So I did the ‘Awakening the Giant Within’ by Antony Robbins, who I thought I would hate. But he is one of those people, a bit like Billy Connolly, who charms you within 5 minutes. He’s the best in the world at what he does, and the thing about him is whatever it is you want in your life he teaches 100 responsibility, zero excuses, and he’s spent a lifetime collecting anecdotes that refute your excuses. Afraid you’re too old? He’ll tell you about a 95 year old women running the marathon. He’s got one like that for everything. He likes to show you you can do things that you don’t think you can. His weekends start on Fri night by walking on fire, all 5000 people in his seminar. He doesn’t say ‘If things have gone wrong’ it’s your fault… he says if it’s gone wrong, try a different strategy. It’s an immensely practical, positive message.
theindiaphile: I image you left from that weekend feeling pretty good?
Isabel Losada: I left once again reminded that my health, my attitude, my energy levels, the quality of my personal relationships and the difference I make in the world is my responsibility. Antony Robbins is a great believer in moving the body – a typical quote would be ‘you say you fat because you’re big boned. No, you’re fat because you eat too much and you don’t move your body.’
theindiaphile: What happened next?
Isabel Losada: I was challenged by a friend to sit still for ten days. Or to go and learn Vipassana meditation. It’s 10 days of 10 hours a day meditation, not speaking, not moving, not making eye contact with anyone. It’s physically very painful. You don’t move. Not speaking is the easy part. Initially I found it almost impossible to stay awake – the only thing which kept me awake was the pain. I also rebelled against the necessarily controlling nature of the course. I was imagining Shawshank Redemption.
I can say with 100% conviction that I loathed it, and when I left my greatest fear was that I would ever want to return. Sure enough, a year later I’m longing to go back. Somebody recently said, ‘the one thing worse than doing Vipassana, is not doing Vipassana’. I recognise in my self the need to sit still.
theindiaphile: I understand that, at some point in this journey, you met Mooji. (Spiritual teacher in Brixton)
Isabel Losada: Well that’s a lovely story. It happened in quite a strange way. I received a message on Facebook. As FB fans know, the message comes with a small picture. This picture was the size of the tip of my finger, and it was of a friend of mine with an amazing looking man. I looked at his eyes, even in this tiny image, and I wrote to her immediately, ‘Who is that?’ His eyes look like oceans. She wrote back, ‘he’s my guru.’ Despite my wariness about the whole concept of a guru, I was so entranced by his face I went to hear him and much to my alarm his presence felt strangely like home. It wasn’t so much anything he said, but his presence. It was simply extraordinary. We don’t know what we mean when we say ‘the divine’ but in my lifetime the presence of his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the presence of Mooji have most encapsulated something… that we could call a divine presence. (www.mooji.org)
theindiaphile: Tell us a bit about Mooji? What kind of teachings does he offer?
Isabel Losada: Mooji asks questions. He asks you the kind of questions that you might imagine an ocean would ask you? Such as who is ‘I’? Are you breathing or are you being breathed?
And one I thought about for weeks after the first meeting: Your inner observer that observes you, does that observer observe with interest or does the observer just observe?
What was appealing to me about his teachings is that he doesn’t give answers. Not even the most cynical journalist could accuse him of anything bad because he just asks questions.
Anyway, ultimately what he does is to enable you to realise that you are not your mind. You are beyond your mind. You are not your thoughts. I go into this in more detail in the book but this is quite life changing.
So at this point I was offered an opportunity to travel to the South American jungle and meet a shaman from The Ashaninca tribe. Which I did.
theindiaphile: That sounds incredible. Which country are they in?
Isabel Losada: Peru. It was extraordinary living with a tribe whose ways of life remains unchanged for the last 5000 years, a real privilege and I was offered the opportunity to swallow some ‘sacred medicine’, known in other countries as a class A drug, called Ayahusasca. It separates you from your mind, so I had an opportunity to test Mooji’s teachings that we are not our thoughts. In the way that, if as a women you have a baby you experience your body being overtaken by a force greater than yourself – you do not give birth, you body gives birth and you watch – similarly when you swallow Ayahusasca, your mind and thoughts are overtaken by the drug.
I had never taken any form of drug before…I was a drug virgin. The following day had I been offered a million pounds to do it again I would have declined. Despite that, I had understood enough of Mooji’s teachings that I wasn’t the slightest bit frightened. Some people find the experience terrifying because they see their identity as being their thoughts, so if they see a monster they think they’re going to be eaten. Whereas I metaphorically stood back, watching – what an interesting vision! When I returned, and people said to me, Gosh how brave, I could never do this. It wasn’t the sickness they were frightened of; it was the experience of losing their minds.
theindiaphile: And at the end of this extraordinary journey, how do you find yourself now?
Isabel Losada: Well, if I had known at the start of this project that, at the ending of the book things externally would be much the same, I would have been despairing. But this feeling of everything being wrong, this pothole I was in is gone. I am where I was, but not in a hole anymore. The difficulties of my life remain… but what is reality anyway? Everything is the same, but everything is profoundly different.
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