Healing Society’s Addictions with Russell Brand (Part 2)

Jun 11, 2020

Or, listen on Spotify

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on recovery with Russell Brand.

Last week we explored how 12-step recovery can be applied to the addictions in our lives, but can the same model work with our society? Can we collectively recognize a problem, commit to change, undertake a thorough inventory, recognize patterns, and create a culture of service? Today we take the 12-steps one step further — from personal to communal.

To hear more from Russell, sign up for his upcoming Recovery course on Commune (onecommune.com/recovery) or check out his Luminary podcast, Under the Skin (luminary.link/russell @hearluminary).

Jeff: Hi, I'm Jeff Krasno and welcome to Commune, a global wellness community and online course platform featuring some of the world's greatest teachers. We are on a mission to inspire, heal, pass down wisdom, and bring the world closer together. 

This is the Commune Podcast, where each week we explore the ideas and practices that help us live this healthy, connected, and purpose filled life.

Last week Russell Brand and I explored how 12-step recovery can be applied to the addictions in our lives, but can the same model work with our society? Can we collectively recognize a problem, commit to change, undertake a thorough inventory, recognize patterns, and create a culture of service? Today we take the 12-steps one step further — from personal to communal.

And I should mention, if these conversations about how the 12 steps can be systematically applied to a wide range of suffering – from mildly miserable to total despair —I encourage you to look into our new video course with Russell on Recovery — a 12-day program that you can take for a limited time for free. Just go to onecommune.com/recovery to sign up. That’s onecommune.com/recovery.

Russell describes how the term “recovery” is widely understood to mean we recover the person we are intended to be. What does the wanting want? Who are we when we have freed ourselves from the chains of our attachments? 

This is the second episode of my 2-part interview with Russell Brand. 

I’m Jeff Krasno, and welcome to Commune. 

Jeff: Is your ego available to me?

Russell: Yeah, it's available. The ego? You want the ego?

Jeff: Well, I want to-

Russell: It's the best of me.

Jeff: Because I've prepared to shower with you with just enough compliments.

Russell: You don't need to do it for me [inaudible 00:00:16] in this environment. It's brilliant, that introduction to the Marianne Williamson thing, but I have faith in your love.

Jeff: I know that ... but I think I want to get at a different side of your character because-

Russell: There isn't another one.

Jeff: But usually-

Russell: I'm shallow.

Jeff: You are not shallow.

Russell: I'm joking. I'm being silly.

Jeff: Because obviously you're known as a somewhat gregarious, garrulous, extroverted gentlemen who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, right? But I've seen another side of you, like the other night you interviewed Marianne Williamson who's running for president United States. You were very, very gracious and you almost ... at your own, not at your own expense, but you allowed her to have a particular kind of moment that I felt was extremely generous.

And then I've seen you just now work through the part of the 12 step, step 4 where people take this kind of rigorous inventory. And I'm just struck by how gentle and empathetic and very present and grounded that you are. I wonder if you were always that way.

Russell: I possibly always had that facility, but prior to working the 12 steps it's not something that I would have recognized as an attribute. Much of the analysis that the 12 steps can provide is about understanding the strategies that we develop and evolve in order to survive and succeed. And perhaps the personality, it could be argued, is little more than a strategy, a system of behaviors and traits deployed in order to meet certain circumstances or to achieve certain goals. And for me ... as a performer, that's the ... [inaudible 00:02:24] performance the first time I felt validated, the first time I saw a potential for escape in my conditions and circumstances.

So, I think I perhaps over bias that. But then, and of course the lens through which most people experience me is as an entertainer, so that's another bias. It's interesting when you have a public profile to ... Fame is nothing more than an extraction. And when I read about myself, which I do a lot less these days, I feel like what they're saying about me, in a way, it almost says more about them. You know, if someone says "Mostly known for his tabloid exploits," or whatever, I feel, well you must read tabloids. I've got no choice about whether or not I'm in them-

Jeff: Otherwise you'd never know.

Russell: I don't choose to be in them, but they choose to read them. It's more telling. But regardless, so I think a degree of it is the fact that the lens and mechanic for which we receive personalities or celebrity entertainment is biased towards that kind of extroversion. But to be honest in plain I've changed and come to value the more ... I don't know, passive, reflective aspect of my nature. I feel less afraid of it.

Jeff: Yeah. Is that gratifying? Do you like being in that place?

Russell: Yeah. I didn't like ... Like a lot of people that have had addiction issues, there's an inability to recognize serenity and calm. People [inaudible 00:04:11] it's quite common [inaudible 00:04:12] sort of motivated towards states of extreme depression and sadness and fear, excitement, agitation, elation, and not ... I didn't really recognize serenity. I still sometimes if I'm just in a situation where all that's required of me as I sit in a room, feel a bit fearful over that. I feel like oh, I should be doing something. Something should happen now. I should be feeling a more profound identifiable vacillating feeling.

Jeff: Right. There's some quote, "All of men's problems can be traced to his inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

Russell: Yeah.

Jeff: But you sit every day quietly. Do you ... There's a Melville quote I've always liked, "The one and only voice of God is silence." And I've heard you talk a lot about our inability to ... that human beings are limited by their five senses to understand reality, understand the world, and that in many ways our senses lie to us, and that silence is this one godlike thing that we as human beings can somehow grasp at, because silence has no beginning. It has no end. It's infinite. It has no time. It's outside of time and space. It has no form. It has no location. So, in some ways it feels a bit like a portal to God. Is that how you treat it? Do you have any ... What's your relationship with silence?

Russell: Through meditation ... there is a relationship with silence. But the way that I continue to experience meditation is I primarily note disturbance out at ... For me the experience of meditating, I sit down I think, okay, right mantra. And then I'm aware of ... I become acutely aware of any external noise and that I'll have to let go of that. And then in the internal noise of inner monologue narrative, thinking the way I was taught to meditate by Bob Roth from the David Lynch Foundation, he continues to reiterate because I suppose I continue to resist it. Thought is part of meditation. There will be thought. You have to let go of the striving. You innocently undertake meditation [inaudible 00:06:54] Do you return to the mantra? It doesn't have to be pronounced or aggressive. Sometimes it's very faint and barely there at all. You don't ... You let go of the idea that there's something that's going to be achieved because you see, because I'm ... Again, this is why the 12 steps are important to me.

I receive most things through the lens of addiction. I'm ... Even when meditating I'm trying to attain escape and numbness, and transcendence can feel like we know escape and numbness. There's the absence of self when there are the moments when meditation is inverted [inaudible 00:07:33] successful, though that flies in the face of everything I've been told. It's, Oh wow, I'm not here anymore. That's cool. Which we only know afterwards of course. But how I've been taught is well, even when you're there and you just think you're sat with your eyes shut and you're just thinking about the past or the future or you're projecting, if you are consciously returning to the mantra in an unhurried un-flustered way whenever you notice you're not thinking the mantra, your body is healing, you are getting the rest.

The way I've been taught meditation, it's in a sense quite perfunctory in some ways, like a lot of the people that practice here, let's say Jerry Seinfeld or Howard Stern, I feel like there's a lot of ... And this is obviously how they've been taught from the Maharishi ultimately, or at least in terms of its Western practice ... that's what they've been taught. They've been taught that it's a kind of tool. And I suppose all spirituality could be regarded as utilitarian, but I crave, I like the mystery. I'm interested in shamanism. I like voluptuous nurse. I think while I .... As you've said about the senses and the acknowledgement of their limitations and that they're pathways and that they can be illusory and that they can be misleading and by virtue of the fact that they're necessarily limited, the information that you're getting is collated, curated, bounded and that there is the unbounded, there is the limitless, there is limitless notes.

I still ... Even in meditative practice, I want some kind of, I don't know, some escape, some sensual thing. It's interesting. But there are times when I feel like I've meditated and it goes how I would have it go, which is absence of thought, absence of self, and I feel like well God, why would I ever do anything else? This is bliss. This is what I was looking for as a drug addict or through promiscuity or ... I want to be free of the self, and I think that that's telling, that the drive behind addiction is a kind of self-annihilation. It has always been a spiritual problem, even in less extreme situations or less extreme demonstrations. People drink because they want to feel good. They eat foods that are bad for them because they want to feel good. They watch porn or movies because they want to feel good. For me, that's a spiritual issue. You're trying to make yourself feel better and we will settle for pleasure. And in this silent practice ... there, you have freedom from that. You have freedom from that impulse.

Jeff: Do you feel that as a society we're stuck in this kind of enlightenment era, concepts of reason and rationality and individualism that has taken over? It is subdued the more spiritual or even Christian notion in this country of all men being created equal. It's a very Christian notion of God sees everyone's soul as equal. And there's been this kind of dialectic ... I would say just in the modern world in general between that notion of equality, compassion and then this kind of drive for individualism and I suppose on some level commercialism. Where did we lose our way?

Russell: When you think of ... When I think of ... science and the scientific method, it's defining edict could be that it's about veracity, truth for experimentation. This is not opinion. This is truth. We've experimented double-blind. These are facts, we can measure it, we can observe it. Stop trying to counter that with your bizarre psychedelic shamanic love of the light and the Lord and your woo woo emotionalist feminine crap. But this is an ideal of science that science is about neutral experimentation. There is no science that's conducted that does not pass through the consciousness of the observer. And even more so in practice, there is no science that is undertaken that is free from the imperatives of the people that are funding that experimentation ... You need to glance only at the pharmaceutical industry to see the way that in practice science functions. So for me ... No one's querying the value of material experimentation, observation, accessing information, trying to understand the material physical 

Russell: World, this is of course, brilliant and necessary. The problem for me is that science, in the same way that religion has previously done, uses its highest ideals to dominate territories that are none of its business when it doesn't live up to those ideals in practice. Because the fact is that the pharmaceutical industry or the food industry or the tech industry or the energy industry, present truths that are convenient to the interests of the powerful, and obscure truths that are not.

And even if one could conceive of a pure version of neutrally observed science, it still is passing through the consciousness of individuals. It still exists in this sensual and sensory realm. Only the things that there are words for it are being said, only the things that are measurable are being measured.

The idea for me that the amount of intelligence that human beings have, and the sensory instruments that we have, and their ability to read information are equal to this total potential for information is ridiculous. That's the sort of mistake. We know when we look back, and laugh, and go, "Well, they thought the world was flat. Oh they thought the sun went around the earth." That was based on study at that point.

So, now everything that we issue is based on studies from the ... There is never the apex of revelation. There will continue to be revelation. There will continue to be new information. The rules of physics, localized patterns. They were like, "Oh no, there are adjacent realms, adjacent dimensions, there's different ways of regarding the real."

Jeff: Yeah. And where, I mean, we can even see that actually Deepak talks about this essentially our special limitations. He often refers to the painted lady butterfly that has 30,000 lenses. What does the world look through 30,000 lenses? Or that they taste with their feet? What does that look like?

Russell: Yeah. How can we ever understand their experience, and awareness thing, and their beingness of that?

Jeff: These other realms of reality don't exist seems like crazy. I mean, even just the horse can only see in blue and green. I mean, what does the world look to a horse? Our reality-

Russell: That's the lyrics to their rainbow song.

Jeff: And we're thinking there. I feel bad for them.

Russell: Blue, green. Blue, green. That's it.

Jeff: That's it. I feel bad for them. So, the notion that the only thing that is real is what we can see, touch, feel, hear. I mean, Willie ... What's that poet? I think it was a Brit. He said, "We're led to believe a lie when we see with, and not through the eye, that was born in the night just to perish in the night, while the soul slept, bathed in beams of light."

It's just that we are so connected to what we can see, and touch, and connect, and think that we can solve our discontents by feeding those senses, that we've lost ourselves. I wonder if, and when I was listening to you interview Marianne, and there was interesting topics that came up, like reparations for example. She talks about how do we make reparations for slavery?

And I started thinking of like, "Can the 12 step program be applied collectively?" Could we sit here as Americans or as Brits or whatever, and be like, "Take a thorough inventory of all of our resentments, make amends for everything that we've fucked up."? Have you ever seen the 12 step be applied outside of individually? Does that work?

Russell: It's applied collectively in 12 step support groups, that the idea being that collectively there is a power, the power of our shared intention to overcome self centeredness, the root of the condition of addiction. And for me, the point where obvious forms of addiction intersect with all attachment, and not everyone has been addicted to crack, but everybody is using external and material phenomena to ameliorate in a malady. We're doing things to make ourselves feel better.

And so, there are groups. Curiously, the accompaniment to the 12 steps, the 12 traditions in most 12 step groups are used to, which I would not be able to say whether or not I belong to due to those traditions. They would say that each group is fully autonomous, the groups are leaderless, groups they're fully self-support in. One of the things I deeply admire about the structure of 12 step communities is the way that leadership is regarded as a position of service, that there is absolute and real democracy known as the group conscience that no individual can say, "We're going to do this."

Everything is determined democratically, and importantly the size of groups is somewhat managed. I mean, there are some groups, one understands there are up to 500 or 1000 people, and somewhere it's two or three. But all of those groups are independent, all those groups are autonomous, all those groups are free to govern themselves according to their own group conscience.

And I feel that perhaps when I'm having conversations about politics and political change, I feel like why are we having this conversation with the handbrake on with regard to ... Of course, we're not going to consider anything like de-centralizing the sovereignty of the United States of America or the UK. That's a given. That's staying.

We're having a stratified society based on where ultimately government is in the service of corporations. Yeah. I feel that ... Be bold. If ultimately, what we are trying to achieve is for communities and individuals a connected and actualized life where we are as free as possible, where we are as free from suffering as possible. Let's reconsider anything that might be an obstacle to that as something that could change.

Like in that Gandhi quote made, "There's no point in us kicking the British out of India if we just replicate their systems that they held over us," which is obviously what happened when the Indians did kick the British out, which I think was a mistake. In retrospect, we made the trains run on time. And also, he said with anarchic foresight, "India is a country of 70,000 villages. They should all be fully autonomous trading with one another, providing for themselves where possible."

He was arguing for decentralization that whatever your collected approach in politics from a socialist or capitalist perspective, no one is querying. The earth is primarily resourced, our job here is to maximize the efficacy of the planet. We're just talking about how to distribute the spoils of plundering the planet.

Gandhi in the same speech said, "At some point," and this is obviously in the '40s, "At some point, we're going to have to let go of our infatuation with trinkets, and objects, and gadgets."

Jeff: We're pressing it.

Russell: This is unbelievable because they didn't have iPhones obviously. Did you know back then, the iPhones were made of wood and they ran on steam?

Jeff: Yeah. That's about just the time. I think the last period in this country where there was actually a moment that we connected to this notion of common good or common destiny was sort of at the end of World War Two where we came back, and there was this sort of chicken in every pot mentality. And we took 7 million GI, and we said, "Okay. We're going to educate them through all of these new deal measures."

I was like, "Yeah. Well, there should be a safety net to dull the sharper edges of capitalism because people are left behind." And there was the rise of unions and a graduated income tax, and all of these as progressive policies that kind of hearkened back to the notion of the common good. We the people.

But since then, and essentially all these GIs came back, and then we grew this middle-class that essentially built picket fences literally around their house. They locked their doors, and there's been this kind of efflorescence of individual materialism ever since with maybe one little wave that happened in the '60s and '70s with some experimental living around shared resources. But what is going to un-fuck us in that sense?

Russell: To your point about whether or not the 12 steps could be applied on a social indeed, national or international level for a moment. Accepting terms like nation, entire nation.

Jeff: Right.

Russell: We could say, "Is this a problem? Step one, is this a problem?" Now, I love people. This is not a problem. This is not a problem if you are ... Well, we would argue ultimately from a spiritual position that we are just quarreling about what type of prison you want to be in. A lovely ornate prison or like Maharishi said, "The man in the mansion, and the man in the cage compared to the man in the cage, the man the mansion is relatively free."

But when we talk about change, the application of the 12 steps to a social situation would be, is this a problem? Is it a problem that we're living a life that where we just accept that your role is to be utilized as a kind of a unit of energy that contributes to that system? Then the second step is, is it possible that that can have gone and say, "Yeah, that is a problem that we're just regarded as an object?"

No wonder there's the inter sex objectification because everything is objectified. Everything is commodified. If you can't contribute, if you can't produce, you will end up homeless on the street. If you can't perform, if you seem to be mentally ill, if you can't live in accordance with certain values and ideals established not in a vacuum, but in order to create a society that maintained certain structures, and maintains certain privileges.

So, if you one, think that's a problem, which there's no problem for me doing that. Two, can you believe it's possible that a power greater than yourself can restore you to Santa? Is it possible that there's a different America waiting to be born that may not even bear that name, let alone that flag?

I invite people to ask, "What is your investment? What is your investment? What is it giving you? Or is it just a reappropriation of your natural unnecessary tribal instinct, reappropriate and attached to essentially an economic and ideological entity that doesn't care about you? What is the point?"

The third step, are you willing to ask for help? Now, there's a pragmatic understanding of step three when replied to addiction, people that have gone through chemical dependency and are now not chemically dependent, can offer help and solution to people that are still struggling with it. But there is a mystical aspect as literally written, it made a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God as we understand God.

Now, this is where I believe it refers back to the stuff we were talking about earlier. What's happening to us in that silence? Is there something beyond your experiences as an individual that could be instantiated in our social systems? Is there oneness? Why do these ideas of fraternity, as it would be explained in socialism, brotherhood as it would be described in Christianity, oneness as it would be described in Hinduism and Buddhism? Why do these ideas recur? Why do they seem so relevant?

What is love other than the acknowledgement of our ultimate unity, and the illusion of separation, and energetic experience of this oneness? If these things are real, but don't seem as real as a dollar bill, how can we prioritize 

Russell: How can we accelerate their value? How can we present to people these ideas as the fulcrum and spine of a new system? How can we do it? Perhaps by helping them to understand that the situation they're living in is problematic, but that it is possible for it to change and that together we can achieve that change. Why limit the conversation to, "I'd like that person in that hat to be in charge of this particular system"?

Jeff: Yeah. May I be so bold to say that you could play a very powerful role as that messenger to help change the frequency at which people live. Is that something that, I know you're not striving for that, you're just being you, but is that part of your mission in life?

Russell: I don't know what these drives are, Jeff. They're driving me mad, like a craving, they're driving, and it's always been there. First of all it was I want loads of attention, and then I want loads of sex. I want loads of drugs, and then back to the sex again, then the fame, then the money. Now because I have a program, because I live a spiritual life, the drive itself, the craving itself is neither good nor bad. In fact, we could argue from a spiritual perspective that what it ultimately wants is love and oneness. What's it trying to get to? Someone told me all desire are inappropriate substitute for the desire to be at one with God.

So the question I continually ask myself as an individual is, what is your intention in this moment? Where are you trying to get to? And so often for me, mate, what I have to be careful about is I want privilege, I want power. So more likely there's no point in complaining about Donald Trump just cause you want to be him or you want to replace him, or complaining about some sort of sexy, famous movie star because you want to replace them or be them. So in a sense for me, I have to focus on being free of my own defects of character, my own flaws, which I can only do intermittently. So it's important that I'm part of a collective so that the other empowered people in the collective that I participate in, because I think Russell, you did brilliant there. That was a lovely speech, well done. But it seems now look you've drifted back into the narcissism. Look at you. You're grandstanding.

I don't think it's necessary to have stratified societies or the sort of, those kinds of hierarchies, particularly not those that deify, rarefy and worship and individual, even though I love all that stuff. I love an icon. I love an idol, or I love Mohammed Ali, Gandhi, Che Guevara, and I know there's bad things you could say about every single one of those men. What I like about them is the things that they did that were amazing and incredible. Overcoming the odds, overcoming great power, overcoming tyranny, the circumstances of their lives. Of course they were flawed and there's some pretty extreme stuff went down with all of those guys, I would say to varying degrees, but for me, we replicate.

We continually replicate certain ideas that kind of have a hold on us, and anybody in a position of power, I think, is vulnerable to the predilections of the powerful, so one of the things I like about the traditions around 12 step support groups is that you acknowledge that all people are flawed, and you don't ever put anyone in a position where they can damage the whole of the collective. The value of the collective is everything. I think that is vital.

Jeff: Yeah. I've heard you say the opposite of addiction is connection. That's a beautiful thought.

Russell: Yes. So I suppose in addiction we are striving to make up for this absence. It could be regarded as a spiritual connection of something more pragmatic, and certainly it can be practically addressed. Connection to other people in a group, service to other people helps me to be free of the self centeredness that otherwise governs me.

Jeff: You're a beautiful man, Russell. Thank you my friend.

Russell: You’re so lovely to say that to me. Thank you.

Jeff: What does the wanting want? As Russell was so eloquently taught, “all desires are the inappropriate substitute for the desire to be at one with God.”

That is a powerful truth, and it’s a truth that needs to be lived every day. The 12 steps is a system for living in a new story, but we need each other — in the form of mentorship and community to help hold that story for each other.  

That need for community support is one of the reasons we are releasing Russell’s new Commune course on Recovery for free this January. If you go to onecommune.com/recovery you can sign up to go through the 12 steps together with tens of thousands of other people from around the world. Together we can move from unconscious unawareness to conscious awareness, and thus begin to relieve our personal and collective suffering. Onecommune.com/recovery. It’s free.

Alright, that’s it for today. Leave us a review or send me an email at [email protected]. The sun is back out in southern california after quite a bit of rain, so I’ll be a sunny window to read what you think.

I'm Jeff Krasno. Thanks for listening. 

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