Most of us are great complainers. And we can always think of something to complain about. But I’ve just met a man who has no interest in moaning, indeed he spends his life sorting out other people’s problems instead. In newspapers, on television and radio, in his books and on his website. Oh, and he has videos and CDs as well. The Barefoot Doctor,- who never uses his real name, except for booking airplane tickets- has made a famous name for himself by advising people on how to get rid of unwanted moans and be happy. And his popularity is linked to the breezy, no-nonsense, in-your-faceness of his unique perspective on matters spiritual. Imagine the Vinnie Jones of the New Age world. Brought up in the East End of London, his dad, -who is a “really tough dude”,- was a keen amateur boxer who only sent him to Aikido lessons to stop him fighting so much with the other kids. And because of the Beatles, he says, he accidentally became a hippy. He’s written five books, including the enormously enjoyable and practical “Handbook for the Urban Warrior” and his latest one, ‘Liberation’ will be in our shops in November.
In ancient China, the barefoot doctor was a wandering healer who knew a bit of everything and travelled from village to village, modestly practicing his arts. Probably he wore a simple robe and a little beard. But this particular barefoot has no beard or flowing robe, he even dresses like Vinnie Jones, in pared down and groovy designer black. He’s tanned and toned and shakes my hand warmly, but very firmly. None of your wishy-washy new -agey vibe here. Not a crystal to be seen. He’s here in Ireland to launch a product range with Boots, bath products to make you damn sexy, he explains. Which took a lot of research to develop. Do they work?
The barefoot doctor is an urban warrior who sells a carefully marketed blend of spiritual recipes for stressed out urbanites. For human beings with flaws, people who just want to feel a bit better so that they can make more money and buy more stuff and get laid more often. In other words, most of us.
In the new book, ‘Liberation’, he’s taken fifty two of the most commonly complained about states of mind, and provided recipes for dealing with them. I hadn’t realised there were so many, I tell him.
“These are fifty two of the things that come up most regularly. Like being stuck in a duff job and not being able to get out of it, or stuck in a duff relationship…”
Or not having a job or a relationship?
“Yes, or trying to get rid of one and then wanting to get another one! Anyway, for each problem, I’ve detailed the specific points to press, to create the right energetic field in which your mind will be able to re-programme what needs to be re-programmed in itself, in order to change.”
It’s sort of autobiographical, he tells me.
“Because I went off to a stone barn, on the Pembrokeshire coast, in the middle of winter, to write it. And it wasn’t even heated, there wasn’t any dry coal or dry wood, it was a real ordeal. And I sat there for ten days and wrote the book. It starts on the train and ends when I get back to Paddington and I wrote six thousand words a day.”
I’m very impressed, I say. But I just have to ask you, why are you not barefoot?
“The reason I’ve got my shoes on is because I’m not actually doing a healing at this moment. And even if I was, I’d probably keep them on because there’s a stone floor and I can’t be bothered to take them off.”
Even though he’s not precious or pretentious, this is a man who really has studied his stuff. He started learning Aikido from the age of eleven, and then got into yoga because he was a Beatles fan and they were into all things Indian.
“My yoga teacher knew RD Laing, which was how I got to know RD Laing and I studied Humanistic Psychotherapy. And then I did Tai Chi and then I went to live with the Indians in New Mexico. Because I thought they would have the wisdom for how to deal with such troubled times as these. And while I was there, I qualified as a doctor of Chinese medicine. And I came back to London in 1993, to heal people, feeling that I had learned an incredible gift, but wanting to turn it into an art form that everyone can enjoy. And wanting it to be part of the pop culture.”
Then, six years ago, things took off. He was given a column in a magazine called ‘Spirit”.
“I had a problem page and it was really popular. So popular that I had publishers offering me book deals. Then my girlfriend bought me a really smart shirt and it wasn’t the kind of shirt that I would normally wear. ‘It’s not one of your normal urban warrior shirts”, she said. And I thought brilliant! Barefoot Doctor’s Handbook for the Urban Warrior. That’s it. A spiritual survival guide, for the modern world. I was doing gigs in clubs, at the time-I still do-so clubbers were my market. Hey listen, listen, you want to do a healing? A healing a healing that gives you the feeling…”.
So he designed a book that looked like an album cover and instead of doing book readings in shops, he toured the clubs with a DJ and did healing raps. And now he’s on the way to becoming an internationally acclaimed best-selling guru type.
Out of all the stuff he’s learned, I ask him, what works best for him? What does he do every day, when he wakes up?
“The first thing I do, to be honest is….”
Have a black coffee?
“No, I don’t like coffee, I drink tea. Lots of tea. But I flip through the tarot cards a few times, while my mind is starting to turn over, just to see what the day is all about. And then I do Chinese yoga, which is like callisthenics, push ups, sit ups, that kind of thing, which is very strengthening and makes you very flexible. Then I’ll do half an hour of vocal exercises, because I am a musician and I use my voice a lot and I talk all day! Because if you are in control of your voice and you like the sound of it, other people like the sound of it too, and they like what you are saying! And it also makes me very very happy, doing vocal exercises. I make sounds which activate different energies in my body. There’s sounds for the different chakras. And after that, I do about an hour and a half of Tai Chi.”
All before breakfast?
“Yes. It only takes three hours. This morning, I got up at six, which was later than usual, but that’s because I had a late night last night. But if I had spent the extra hour asleep and not done my exercises, I would never have been able to do the TV interview. I would feel as if I hadn’t woken up properly. And by nine, I’m ready to face the world and I eat some food, sit at my computer and answer my emails. I get about three hundred a day.”
You have to answer all of them?
“I don’t have to but I like to. Generally they are people asking for advice. And I have a duty to share what I know and I love doing it, it gives me great pleasure.”
In the “Urban Warrior” books, he writes very convincingly about how people are destroying the planet because they want to live in cities, because they are addicted to the energy. Why is it addictive and what do we do about it?
“We are addicted to the energy of other people, rather than learning how to source the energy from within, which is where it comes from, anyway. True energy is always sourced from within. When you take up Tai Chi or yoga, and you start to access energy in that way, you find that you are less likely to need to go down to the pub and hang with other people. More of the time you are happy to just be with yourself and to be with nature, to get out of the city. The more you start sourcing your own energy, the less you want to be in the city and the more you do get out.”
What are we getting from our addiction to each other’s energy?
“From negative people-addiction? Comfort, which momentarily allays the existential terror of being alone and the void that that represents. For instance, right now, if the two of us were not self-contained, we would be talking shit, just for the sake of it and pulling on each other’s energy.”
Is that why when a man and a woman get together, romantically, you often get an underlying current of manipulation?
“Often? Always! Well, in my fantasy there’s a couple somewhere who don’t do that with each other. Yes, people suck a lot of energy in relationships. “You’ll never find anybody who will put up with you like I do!’ That’s a classic example of manipulation.”
Has he ever been in a relationship where that didn’t happen?
“No, I have yet to meet a woman who I don’t feel that with. But I don’t feel any lack, I feel totally complete within myself. Of course, that includes the possibility of having women in my life!”
So is he going to write a book about relationships?
“No. It would be too yeuchy!”
I accuse him of being very male-oriented, in his approach. He is affronted.
“I consider myself an honorary sister! I love women. I write for women and very sensitive guys who have great relationships with their mothers. Very sorted guys.”
But if a guy is so sorted, I say, he doesn’t need you.
“Oh come on, none of us are sorted, are we?”
I suppose you’re right, I say, but I think the urban warrior tag would appeal to macho guys. He has to agree.
“Well, funnily enough, I was just approached to see if I would be interested in training a formula one team of racing drivers. They had just read my book and they thought it was absolutely amazing. They want to be trained in the Zen of motor-racing!”
“Liberation” is published by Thorsons, in November. £14.99