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Poet, Healer & Teacher
Photo by Lara Fiedler
Jay Ramsay is the author of many books including his New & Selected Poems Kingdom of the Edge (Element, 1999), Alchemy—the art of transformation (Thorsons, 1997: also available in Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, German, and Dutch), Tao Te Ching with Martin Palmer (Element/Vega reprint 2002), and his radical new book Crucible of Love—the alchemy of passionate relationships (O Books, 2005). Co-founder of the poetry collective Angels of Fire in London, in 1983, he has performed his work for many years, also available in his recent recording Night Road of the Sun (2004). Poetry editor of Kindred Spirit magazine and Caduceus, project director of Chrysalis—the poet in you (since 1990) with its two part correspondence course by post, and co-founder with painter Genie Poretsky-Lee of The Lotus Foundation in North London (a small healing and art centre, in 2001), he is also a UKCP accredited psychosynthesis psychotherapist and NFSH spiritual healer, offering one-to-one sessions in Stroud and London, and running workshops in Europe and America.
An Interview with Jay Ramsay
by Dee Sunshine (January - October 2005)
Dee - When I first met you, at the tail end of 1980, you struck me as an intense and quite angry young man, and I remember liking you instantly, because we were in the same kind of space; and because you were four years my senior you took on something of the role of mentor. We stayed in touch with each other by letter over the years, and it seemed we were travelling in parallel with each other. Both of us developed an interest in spirituality, and indeed, both of us are spiritual healers. I don't think our younger selves would recognise who we've become. I'd like to ask you about your journey from there to here. It interests me greatly, because I remember you were quite ambitious as a young man, and also, I thought you had the talent and drive to become a famous poet, up there with Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and the like. However, by going down the spiritual path, and your poetry going down that route too, against the zeitgeist of gritty realism, post-modern irony and ennui, you have probably sabotaged any possibility of joining the ranks of the elite of the poetry world. I'd guess you have few regrets about your choices, as you seem to be a more rounded, happier person than you were back then, but do you feel unjustly sidelined because of the themes and concerns of your poetry?
Jay - I think it's inevitable to be sidelined if we are (as I believe we are) just a little ahead of our time. Also for me the spiritual direction was something I had to follow; 'it chose me as much as I chose it' in that sense. But also something very important happened to me around 1989, which coincided with a kind of breakdown I wrote about in my little book ‘Strange Days’ (which Rupert Loydell published) which was that my exclusive and egoic identification with poetry was shattered. That was vital, difficult as it was, because - paradoxically - the very poetry I wanted to write meant that this also had to happen. I didn't see it at the time of course; I was far too immersed in feeling that I had actually ‘died’, that my life had already become posthumous. And that retreat and subsequent withdrawal meant also leaving the public arena of the literary scene, and all the energy I had put in to being public with Angels of Fire, which culminated after four Festivals and various TV programmes in our South Bank launch in 1988. We sold out the Purcell Room (400 people came!), and then the energy for all of that went, as I burnt out. As I surfaced down the line some 6-7 months later I realized (among many things) that my life wasn’t simply about 'me' (or 'my' poetry) anymore, it was about people and about healing. So I was told, as I sat looking out of the window into the valley on the last morning, wondering what the hell it had all been about, "you had to fail in order to heal". I have never forgotten that. And from there, as well as returning for a short time to London, I also started Chrysalis, my 2 part correspondence course in poetry, and my one to one work with people which naturally emerged from people bringing their poems - and the stories behind the poems. From then, I was no longer exclusively a poet. I was something more in the making - an 'artist-healer'. And that meant, I guess, the sidelines. Ah, but they look like main tracks to me...
Dee - All through my thirties I’d have agreed with you totally about these sidelines being main tracks. There were times when my half-full bottle was overflowing with optimism, ‘God’, love, you name it... Then, at the age of 39, just two weeks before the birth of my baby daughter, I had a brain haemorrhage. I won’t go into all the gory details here, suffice to say, it was like someone pissed all over my bonfire. The last three years it’s been a case of trying to dry out my sticks and hoping I can get the damn thing lit again. I’m now sufficiently removed from this event to be almost amused (or bemused) by it. A simple (and painful) reminder of my mortality put all my beautifully crafted beliefs in jeopardy. When I found my space as a ‘healer’, back in 1992, I genuinely began to believe that humanity might well be moving in the right direction. Now, I have to confess, I’m not so sure. I’m still trying to ‘move towards the light’ and still trying to make an active difference, but not with all my heart. I just need to see George Bush Jnr on the idiot box to remind me of what an evil, painful world this place can be. For all the new age gurus and spiritual healers out there, we still haven’t managed to prevent the murder and torture of millions of innocents who unfortunately live where strategic gas pipelines are needed or, worse, where there’s oil. On the news yesterday George Beelzebub was sworn in for his second term, and all I can think is, pity the poor people of Iran. I’m finding it hard to maintain that little bubble of light I used to be able to protect myself with. I’m trying, God knows I’m trying, but I can’t help but see all sorts of evil portents in the wind. Even daft wee things, like the fact that most of my friends (and myself, I’m ashamed to admit) have abandoned their vegetarian principles. Maybe it’s just my perspective having been skewed by poor wiring in the grey matter, but when I see a tsunami devastate a chunk of Asia I am not cheered by the public’s ‘generosity’, but saddened by its complete lack of it. The newspapers’ fanfares about how the ‘great’ British public has raised a couple of hundred million pounds in the relief effort is NOT good news to me. Let’s get that in perspective, it averages out about £4 per head of population. The cost of a packet of fags. I do NOT deem that to be generous. And our government’s offer of £50 million would be laughable, were it not so damn tragic (especially in light of the fact that they just recently spent £3,100,000,000 on killing, maiming and torturing people in Iraq). I’m sorry to rave on here, but what I’m trying to illustrate is that the world might not be getting better, and humankind might not be ‘evolving’. We might even be teetering on the brink of extinction. There’s a lot of ignorance, hate, fear and anger out there; and to my mind’s eye (and I imagine to the majority of people’s) there is little to be optimistic about. These are the sort of doubts that assail me on a daily basis, and they have dented (but not entirely destroyed) my spiritual beliefs. I’ve been living in a state of duality (some might say schizophrenia) these last three years. I was actually in hospital when the planes hit the twin towers, so that may also have coloured my perception. A lot of people I know who are into ‘the new age’ trip are kind of woolly, fluffy round the edges, and (quite often), none too bright. You, on the other hand, are sharp, intelligent, erudite and articulate. So, what I want to know is, how do your beliefs stand up in light of what is going on in the world? Do you really believe humankind is evolving spiritually? Do you suffer doubts? And if so, what doubts? And how do you deal with them? Please understand I am not attacking your position here. I think these are important questions, especially in light of recent world events.
Jay - It's a very fine question, and I respect you for it. You might also want to take a look at my recent sequence about Iraq called Diary on John Mingay's website in Fife: these were written day by day at the time from reading newspapers and watching live TV reports. I felt I had to write 'back' about what was happening, and that also involved addressing the complexity of the situation - not quite as simple as either 'side' might care to admit, or so it seemed to me. It is a complex world we live in, and failed simplification is a major source of despair. I had a father who killed Germans in North Africa because he believed that if Germany prevailed there would be a New Dark Age. I am still lucky to have him: aged 87 he is wondering if all his efforts were in vain; he is wondering as you are, and I am as well. What I can say is that if we buy into collective negativity in the name of 'reality' we can get equally (and very ironically) lost: what really matters is that we each 'raise our game', and raise our energy in the process...otherwise? We simply become part of he problem. Christ knew this: he knew perfectly well the world was Roman, and still his earnest and complete ministry was to raise its vibration. Because we live on the 'only planet of choice' we can go on choosing to be idiots. The awesome truth is we really DO have complete free will. It is no good blaming God (and never was). It really is up to us, but until we are willing to take responsibility we will go on living like children (and teenagers, let alone new agers). My sense is that we are living in a time when we are being forced to withdraw our projections from failing leaders of all kinds and take that responsibility. The problem is the old infrastructures still remain and we do not yet have the kind of 'community rule' that real responsibility entails (as the old and pure anarchists c.1842 always knew). That would actually mean significant collapse of the world as we know it, as that REM song gestures. And I actually think something like that will happen, and pretty much has to if the level of response you mention yourself does not quicken. At the same time we live in an end time that has been predicted for centuries - in the Mayan Calendar (till 2012) as well as the Giza Pyramid (Humanity is crossing 'the river of fire'). So is all this historical deja vu as well? The other thing I know is that the real reality (for me) is spirit, and that, as you say, is Love. The Love that really does invite us beyond our minds - and our brains as well? The rest is distortion, the clouds we live with on this planet of learning, this School of Earth where kids of all sizes don't want to study. And still: we must be the change we want to see. That is all there is left to do. Remember Mr Eliot 'Ours is only the trying/ The rest is not our business' (FOUR QUARTETS). And we do infinitely more than we know and can see with the good we do. So take heart?
Dee - Like Rupert Loydell, who I interviewed previously, you are a passionate believer in what you are doing and, as a result, seem to be frenetically busy. Not only are you a prolific writer, you are an editor, an anthologist, a workshop leader and a spiritual healer. Do you ever manage to get some chill out time? If so, what do you do to recharge your batteries? I’d also like to ask you, now that you are in your mid-forties are you getting broody at all? Any notion that you’d like to add some little Ramsays to the world, or is that a path you would prefer to avoid?
Jay - A few years ago I learnt an invaluable lesson: if you wait till you get to the end of the sentence to get a break, it never comes. The trick is to pause in the middle of the sentence! I have also learnt to multi-task, I have had to, so the one-pointed days of my 20's have been superseded by a more feminine simultaneous ability to do several things at once, flowing as much as possible between my various different hats/roles. But realizing as I did in 2000 that ALL my work is about healing and has healing as its background and source was invaluable. It meant I was no longer trying to be three different people (how it felt). I had a unifying quality behind me. That was really very important. The shift towards service (and Self rather than ego) that came with it was also essential energetically - I have energy now I did not have then. As for relaxing - yes, and we're back to the middle of the sentence. I love to get lost in woods, and to dance for as long as I can. I love being in the sun as well. I never dreamed I could be this busy, and I'm still getting more active. I need to financially as well. And yes, some of it is no doubt unconscious compensation for not having had children. I'm not ruling that out, but I'm philosophical. There are enough of us here as it is - and of course it keeps me closer to death with the poignancy of my own life-line not continuing (I am the only son in my family). My continuity has to be spiritual: that is all that remains.
Dee - On the theme of mortality, I want you to imagine this scenario. You go to the doctor, suffering from occasional blurring of the vision in one eye. He sends you to the hospital for a CAT scan, and it turns out you have a brain tumour, which is inoperable. The consultant’s prognosis is not good. His estimate is that you will live another six months, a year if you are lucky. On the plus side, however, he’s fairly certain that you will not suffer any major debilitating effects from this condition until the last week of your life. So, what do you do with the indefinite amount of time that’s left to you?
Jay - Classic question - and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I would carry on doing exactly what I'm doing now. It's taken me years to get to a real sense of what my life is in its complex strands of poetry, therapy and healing - and I do believe this is it. At the same time, there are things I would prioritise - like spending more time with my father. Like addressing all unfinished business of love I can be aware of (past as well as present). I'd definitely book a trip to Egypt as well. Would I marry Lara? Would that be fair on her? There's another conversation. I'd be busy, for sure, and I would want to get less busy. And less busy still. And more still. Finally to BE as much as possible, and fulfil the longing and knowing I always had as a child about returning to the Source which visible sunlight has always reminded me of...but 'being' also as an adult now, as far as possible totally existentially aware, and more alive than my belief systems, than all the past knowing or sensing I have lived with as reality. That would feel like getting ready at least, for the unimaginable wave that is the moment of death.
Dee - And following on from that, what would you expect to find on the other side of the door that is the death of the physical body? Would it be a return to the Source? Tell me what you imagine that Source to be? How certain are you of what you believe it to be? Tell me also, what’s your take on the Hindu/ Buddhist concept of reincarnation and the Christian/ Jewish/ Moslem idea of heaven, hell and judgement?
Jay - My understanding is that our physical body contains an exact counterpart (the etheric body) that connects us to what we call 'the invisible world' which we pass into when we die. This etheric is also visible to those who have passed into the etheric state. This enables those in spirit to 'look into' our lives, also to support us as they frequently do. The etheric is in many ways like the physical world, but it exists at a higher vibration. The Source is something else far beyond, like our physical sun. God is inexpressible in this sense, as mystics have always known. But we are all (finally) in an upward spiral of growth, so the Source exerts its influence rather as the moon does over tides. We are really one universe, that's what we will come to see. But I can only image the Source (I see it, personally, as a radiant 'white sun'): I can't say that it is so. Reincarnation has always made sense to me, as it did to the early Christians: however the Eastern attitude (since you ask) is more karma-orientated than our Western view, that quite simply sees that we cannot possibly live all we are in one life. As for hell and heaven, these are really states of mind related to the reality we endorse. They are not permanent states of being or experience as the spiritual world is not a static place; it is a place of constant growth and evolution, which actually inspires our own world to evolve. That's how I see it.
Dee - There are two books that hold a very special place in my heart, ‘The Prophet’ by Kahlil Gibran and ‘Illusions’ by Richard Bach. I encountered both these books when I was a young man; and their effect upon me was profound. Reading them was like an act of remembering; and I was awakened from my slumbers. Over the years I must have bought about twenty copies of each and passed them on to family, lovers and friends. Are there any books out there that have had a similar sort of impact for you? If so, which books? And can you tell me a bit about them? On a similar groove, I’d like to know which book you would select as your Desert Island Book.
Jay - A hard question for a man with a house full of books! Maybe I should turn them all into a dream boat...but one outstanding and little known beacon book for me has been Satprem's account of Sri Aurobindo in ‘The Adventure Of Consciousness’ (Institute for Evolutionary Research, New York: translated from the French). It is both biographical and metaphysical and traces Aurobindo's life from his early radical Rimbaud-inspired days (for which he was imprisoned by the British Raj) through to the founding of his ashram with The Mother at Pondicherry, and his psychic activity against the Nazis during WW2. It's one of those books I re-read every 10 years. Another, much more popular, is Piero Ferrucci's ‘What We May Be’ (1982) - the visions & techniques of psychosynthesis, in which I'm trained to UKCP level as I think you know, as a practising therapist. It was the book that got me into it, which I read on a Greek island beach on Leros in 1985, and part of how my life and poetry changed at that time after (as well as during) Angels of Fire and the whole (then) exclusively political poetry scene. My favourite book as an adolescent was Somerset Maugham's ‘The Razor's Edge’ (1944), about a mystic called Larry who intrigues everyone with his enigmatic humility; as a child it had to be J. Meade Falkner's ‘Moonfleet’ (East Fleet in coastal Devon is the real location)...and I reckon I'd be re-treading both if I had more desert island time!
Dee - You mention in your last email that you are working with ‘trance music’. Most people, when they think of ‘trance music’ would assume you’re talking about the offshoot of techno, which is particularly favoured amongst the Goa party brigade. I’m presuming you’re not a late convert to ‘The Chemical Generation’ (but do correct me if I’m wrong) and that you are talking about a different kind of ‘trance music’. Can you tell me more about this project? And will it involve poetry too?
Jay - Only the natural chemicals within these days - endorphins! (No excess required, and no desire to distort in any way perceived reality). And the space described by this kind of trance, or ecstatic dance, is a drug, alcohol & smoke free dance zone. My partner and fiancée Lara Fiedler - artist, photographer, art teacher and dancer - has developed her work from her 10 year dance experience and training in 5 Rhythms, under her own title "TranscendAnce - Moving Into Being" (capital A for emphasis), also bringing the practise of art - drawing and painting - into the dance space. After many years in Bristol she is now working locally a stone's throw from my house here in Uplands, Stroud at our local All Saints community hall. It is fantastic and innovative work. Together we are also running 'Dancing Poetry' workshops where people move, and then write. They are literally 'moved', and into the space of their own dance which deepens the physical as well as individual connection. My own experience of the dance (this kind of dance at least) is that it really opens new doors of perception, bringing a deeper consciousness forward with all its deep potential for life. And I do believe this kind of work belongs to the future we are moving into, despite the madness all around. It is profoundly civilized and chaotic in the best sense at the same time, deeply wild. I've been starting to write more specifically out of this space, although sometimes words are not necessary or even desirable. The gesture of the dance itself can be enough too. It's the same kind of paradox as you sometimes get on spiritual retreat - words can get in the way!
Dee - In conclusion now, Jay, you’ve been on the ‘spiritual path’ for quite some time now as both student and teacher. I imagine that quite a few folk reading this (or at least those that have bothered reading this far) are ‘spiritually curious’. What would you say to them to encourage them in their curiosity? What advice would you give?
Jay - Stay open, and stay curious: recognize that for anything to exist we also have to give it credence, and stay in touch with your discrimination. The point is that the spiritual world exists despite our illusions and distortions, and not because of them. I was watching the film 'Photographing Fairies' (1997) with my partner Lara last night late on BBC2; and that film in so many ways captures both the distortion and the reality. (It is deceptively naive in that sense). But your question brings me back also to the 17 year old traveller I was most of all at home in mysticism and the mystery and what I came to call 'pure experience'; so my advice would always be to experience the adventure of life first hand as much as possible, recognizing that all accounts of it are hearsay, are subjective in that sense, and are perhaps not the book you need to write. I believe we are coming into a time when experience and individuality will be acknowledged keys to spiritual life that has moved away from all the negative control of religious structures, most of which are now in their demise. The arts, music and dance will be central in this resurgence where healing will also be central at the same time. The art of living itself will be our new context, our new hope and direction. Where the way is always home, but on a journey where our evolution IS our journey in this 'School of Earth'; and recognized as such. Finally, know that there is an invisible world around you helping, guiding and protecting you at every moment. You are not alone. Il buon tempo vera. The best is yet to come.
© Dee Sunshine & Jay Ramsay, 2005
Jay Ramsay's Poetry
Anamnesis: a sequence of nine poems for St James' Church
Jay Ramsay Links
The Lotus Foundation
O Books - publisher of 'Crucible Of Love'
PS Avalon - publisher of 'The Heart's Ragged Evangelist'
Roberto Assagioli: 'The Act Of Will' (1975)
Piero Ferrucci: 'What We May Be' (1982)
Will Parfitt: 'Psychosynthesis' (2003)
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