When I was younger I had the idea that when you travelled somewhere far away where no one knew you, you had the opportunity to reinvent yourself. With no one around you to remind you of who you were or where you came from you were free to cast off all the masks you’d grown up with and allow a new expression of the Self to emerge – a freer, purer Self, maybe even one veil closer to revealing the True Self!
I had yet to learnt that who you are is profoundly influenced by what you do.
In 2001 I flew to Thailand on a one way ticket with 100 euros in my pocket and the confident expectation of finding a job teaching English. I soon discovered that there was a national holiday for the next month and all the schools and universities were closed. I ran down to the internet cafe in a panic and a few hours of anxious searching revealed that there were plenty of well-paid jobs teaching English in South Korea; the schools would give you an apartment for free and even pay your flight there! You just needed to be a native speaker and have a university degree.
I had a diploma from the School of Life, having hit the road at 18 and graduated from the trance parties of Goa as Tom Thumb L.S.D but I didn’t have a paper certificate to show for it. I’d always heard that it was worth investing in education so i went on down to Khao San Road and bought myself a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Cambridge University. Nothing but the best for me and it only cost 30 bucks.
I’ll spare you the nightmare story of teaching English in South Korea. Suffice to say that after a month there the manager informed me one day that for some mysterious reason the official in the immigration office didn’t seem to think my diploma was real. Could I think of any reason why that might be? I grabbed my first pay check and jumped on a boat to Japan.
Now in the cities of Japan there’s a network of street stalls run by Israelis who sell fake Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton bags, silver rings and other shiny junk to the followers of Japan’s biggest religion: Consumerism. As it happened I had lived for a while in |Israel, I even spoke some Hebrew, and I used my contacts to get a job as a street merchant in Tokyo.
I got a room in a Gaijin House and paid $300 a month to share a room with 3 other smelly, snoring foreigners on the make. We even had to put 100 yen – a dollar – in the shower to get 5 minutes of hot water. I met my boss, Sagi, a heavyset Israeli who had made his fortune in Japan selling Winnie the Pooh bears to drunk businessmen in the red light district.
‘Tell me, Tommy, are you Jewish?’
‘Well, no one’s perfect. Look, it’s easy to make money here; you just have to understand the Japanese are like sheep. We are the wolf!’
A few days later I had 5 tables set up on the street, my merchandise lit up by light bulbs that were run by a portable generator. I stood in front of rows of necklaces, bracelets, rings and watches trying out my first words in Japanese.
‘Irashaemasai! Kunbanwa! Yasku shimas!’
It didn’t do any good. For the first week I stood there for 12 hours each day in the cold and didn’t sell shit. I sang the Radiohead song to myself:
‘I’m not here, this isn’t happening.’
I eventually learned to sell and in a way that was even worse.
The real money was in the watches; the Japanese knew they were fake – they had the real one at home in a safe and just wanted a Rolex to wear every day which wouldn’t matter if it got scratched. For the most part my customers were drunk businessmen stumbling out of hostess bars and brothels at midnight; often I’d hate to catch them before they fell on top of my stall and tried to sell them a watch instead. If they looked wealthy I might try to interest them in one of the special quality fakes I kept in a secret pocket. Yes, I was that guy in the street who sold Rolex watches out of his inside pocket.
I made money. In fact, one day at Christmas I made more than anyone else on the team. When I told my boss on the phone his voice shone with pride.
‘Really, Tommy? Are you sure you’re not Jewish?’
But as the Bible has it, ‘What profit man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?’
As i stood there in the street thinking about nothing except money day after day, squeezing out all the yen I could from my gullible Japanese customers with a mixture of flattery, bullying and trickery, I no longer recognized myself. I felt polluted and sick inside. So one day I gathered all my earnings and jumped on a plane to India. I guessed if there was somewhere I could heal my soul and find myself again it would be there.
I travelled from ashram to ashram listening to each guru in turn peddle their philosophies and all I could see were street merchants in saffron robes selling counterfeit spirituality. There was one guy I liked at the last ashram I ended up at in the Himalayas; a small man by the name of Jadooji,he had a roguish twinkle in his eye and a kind of inner smile when he gave darshan to the self-serious Western devotees who jostled to have the honour of touching his feet.
On afternoon I remained in the hall after he’d given his usual spiel about Atman and Brahman and the search for Truth. The last of the bedazzled devotees wandered off with their personalised mantras and Jadooji looked in my direction.
‘Did you enjoy today’s darshan?’ he asked with smiling eyes.
‘I’m sorry, you’re a good talker but all this spiritual stuff…I just don’t buy it!’
‘I can make you a discount!’ Jadooji laughed, ‘Ok, I can see you’re a tough customer so come closer and I’ll tell you the inner-most secret teaching for free!’ Looking left and right he whispered in my ear: ‘It’s easter to sell people a load of shit than it is to give them the truth!’
“Nice one! But you do know the Truth then?’
‘Jadooji rocked back on his heels with a crafty look on his face. ‘Oh, yes. But the truth cannot be told, it can only be seen.’
‘Here we go.’
‘But I will give you a special meditation and maybe you will see for yourself!’
To be honest, I’ve never liked meditation. That’s a bit embarrassing to admit as I make my living organising meditation retreats in the Sahara Desert. But while I love to take time for myself in quiet places, I’ve just never been a fan of sitting cross-legged and watching my own breath. I get bored. I even read somewhere that boredom is the point – it puts your mind to sleep so your Inner Self can awake. But in my case booth of them fall asleep every time.
‘I promise you’ll stay awake!’ Jadooji grinned, reading my thoughts, ‘All you have to do is take your hand like so, make a fist, and then go knock! knock! on your head!’
‘Yes. Do it thousand times a day and sooner or later someone will be asking “who’s there?”‘
Well, it wasn’t boring.
Painful, annoying and a little embarrassing at times but never boring. While all the other Seeks of Truth sat in lotus positions tuning into their third eyes, practicing yogic alternative nostril breathing or chanting one of the countless names of God, I walked around rapping on my head and giving myself a migraine. No one said anything to me directly but I could sense the entire ashram was laughing at me. They had to hide their smiles behind cups of tea when I entered the canteen and I began to wonder if Jadooji was having a good laugh at my expense.
You’ve heard of the Chinese water torture? A constant stream of drops of water on the forehead. I was ready to tell anyone anything. I knocked on my head all day without any answer. I even woke myself up one when I rapped on my head in my dreams.
One afternoon I sat in the main meditation hall hoping to make eye contact with a blonde German girl but her eyes were turned inwards and I probably didn’t cut too impressive a figure. with my particular meditation routine. I realised then I had reached breaking point.
‘Ok, that’s it. I quit.’
‘What a pity. You were doing so well!” a familiar voice chuckled.
I opened my eyes to see Jadooji sat in front of me on a leather couch and I looked around and was startled to find myself in a kind of hotel lobby with carpeted floors, sofas and two large doors which presumably opened onto some great chamber.
‘Where the hell am I?’
‘In the meditation hall, of course. But you have finally found the way towards your Inner Self! In fact, it’s on the other side of those doors. Shall we go and see?’
Would you? Right now. To leave behind all you know. To leave behind who you think you are. To trade in your entire life and identity for a glimpse of the Truth?
‘Could we maybe just take a peek?’
‘We can look through the keyholes!’ Jadooji laughed.
We got to our knees, shuffled towards the two imposing wooden doors, put our eyes to the locks and looked in upon my Inner Self.
If you ever get the chance don’t do it.
It took my a few moments to even understand what I was looking at. Hundreds of people sat on benches in a kind of parliament, booing and cheering as each speaker got up take their turn to address the others. Hundreds of people and each one of them was me.
Me fat and hairy, legs sprawled open and scratching my crotch; me thin and anxious, biting my nails; me wearing wigs or dressed in leather or doing nude acrobatics or waves knifes around in the air with a menacing flourish.
You’ll appreciate it wasn’t quite what I had expected.
When I pulled myself together enough to listen to what was actually being said I heard me in a second hand grey suit, pot belly and unwashed hair stammer:
‘In conclusion, it is vitally important that we do our utmost to set a good example. We must resist the impulse, tempting though it may be…
‘Oh, come off it!’ Yelled me in a plastic track suit. greased back hair and a toilet brush moustache. ‘Who gives a toss what we do? No one’s going to see us and even if they do who gives a fuck?’
‘But ii doesn’t make a pretty picture does it now?’ queried me in a housewife’s dress, dropping my knitting, ‘it does look so awful when others do it.’ She sat down to polite applause from her side of the benches. But on the other side of the chamber me in tight trousers, and a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to reveal a hairy chest and gold chain, got up and declared:
‘Do it? That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. What we need to do, what we need to do a lot more often, is exactly just to do-o-o-o-o-o it!’ Me gave a swagger to broad cheers of support from around him.
I pulled myself away from the keyhole and watched Jadooji chuckling along like it was an enjoyable puppet show.
‘What the hell are they..am I…talking about?’
‘I believe you are currently debating whether or not to pick your nose!’
‘But they’ve been going on about it for ages!’
‘In here, yes. But in the meditation hall only a few seconds have elapsed.’
What else could I do but look in again?
I watched for the next half an hour – three or four seconds – while me in a philosopher’s jacket pontificated whether an action was still wrong if no one saw it; me in a lab coat analysed the risk of spreading malignant bacteria; me with blue hair and piercings yelled wildly that it was an act of rebellion and freedom to wipe my bogies where the hell I pleased; and me in an expensive cocktail dress declared the whole business was simply too disgusting for words and could we please talk about the state of my eyelashes instead?
Finally the whole discussion was rendered moot when an explosion was head in the parliament and my eyes focused on the me with tight trousers and Hawaii shirt who had teamed up with me in the track suit and me the hairy savage in a loin cloth along with many other unsavoury versions of me. Armed with guns,grenades, knives and clubs I watched me go around intimidating my selves.
‘Enough blahblahblah!’ Me in the Hawaii shirt shouted. ‘From now on things are going to be different around here. When we want to do something we’re just going to go ahead and do-o-o-o-o it!’ The speech brought large cheers and the nearby me’s who complained had their noses broken.
I broke away in shock. ‘Jadooji, what does this mean?’
He looked at me gravely. ‘I’m afraid it means…you’re going to pick your nose. Please be so kind as not to wipe your finger over the carpets. We only had them cleaned last week.’
I opened my eyes to find myself sat in the meditation hall with my finger up my nose and in that moment the German girl came out of her trance and glanced in my direction before looking quickly away in disgust. I felt a regime crumble inside me. I walked out into the garden in a kind of a daze where Jadooji sat on a bench as though awaiting me. He read the look in my eyes and sighed:
‘Ah, I see the brief dictatorship of the Do-it! faction is over. They never do hold onto power for very long.’
I sat down beside him and realised I was trembling.
‘Jadooji, I don’t understand how-‘
‘Do you remember those little plastic wheels they used to attach to the back of car seats for children on long journeys?’
‘I think parents give their kids Ipads these days. But yeah, I had one of those when I was little.’
‘You still have one, my friend, all of us do. Tooting the horn and pretending we know where we’re going. We are all passengers inside ourselves.
‘Yes, I know you don’t understand, So it is like this only: what is the greatest unsolved mystery in the world? Hmm? I will tell: what happens to the light in the refrigerator when you close the door? When you look – there it is! But when you close the door and walk away…and so it is the with the Inner Self! It is only there when you open the door and look inside..oh, by the way, here is a tissue for your finger.’