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How Mindfulness Can Create a ‘Sane New World’

In this interview Melli and Ruby explore the importance of the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm so excited to introduce you to today's guest, Ruby Wax. Now I'm really sure that so many of you have heard of Ruby before. She has had an extensive career in television and as a comedian. But what many of you may not know about Ruby is that she's also studied to be a psychotherapist and has her master's degree in MBCT, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which makes Ruby also a qualified mindfulness teacher. So quite a group of skills you have there, Ruby.

And also she's the author of a really wonderful book called Sane New World. Ruby, thank you so much for taking the time out for this summit. I really appreciate it. Yeah, sure. Thank you.

We've tried to do this for awhile now. We have, we have, and we've made it. So I'm really curious. The, as I just kind of said that you, you have had a really, quite a dramatic career shift from being a TV star to studying mindfulness. What led you to make such a dramatic life change? Well, I worked at the BBC for twenty-five years, and then there's a time where it's your time to leave.

Right. You can either be pushed out screaming or, or just leave grace, graciously. And also, you know, we're supposed to be dead by 30. You have to reinvent yourself. And so I did, I, you know, otherwise you're always clutching onto the past going, remember me, I was..

You know, eventually you're, you're begging to be back on TV, playing a corpse. So I always know when to leave the party before the party leaves me. So I first, I, I, studied to be a psychotherapist. I didn't really want to be a psychotherapist, but I was always, I was a terrible psychotherapist. I remember cause I come from comedy, so when I was working with I, I was just an intern, I would go, Oh, come on, cut to the punchline.

I didn't really say it, but that's what I was thinking. But you know, I was, I went to Berkeley when I was much younger and I thought that would interest me, but it was, I really wanted to see what was in the brain. And when was at Berkeley, the only brain you could look into was a corpse, which was not of interest. But recently, you know, what's happened, and I thought, Oh, well, let's skip all the Heidegger and Freud and Winnicott, adorable people, but let's get to the meat of the matter. And then also, because I had depression, I was personally looking for something that could work.

That I know there's no cure and there's no magic pill, but I, I, I instinctively knew there must be some way that I could hear an early warning. Yeah. Like an animal before a tsunami. I was sure that, that may be mindfulness would give me that. Hm.

And you've ended up being an, an educator on, you know, mental illness and the brain. And so you... The poster girl for mental illness. The poster girl, the poster girl for mental illness. Yeah.

But that happened accidentally. And if you want. Yeah. I, about seven years ago, I was, I worked for Comic Relief and they gave some of the money to mental health charities. So they said, could they use my photo? And I said, yeah, sure.

I thought it was going to be tiny. You know, how. Comic relief have a zillion people. It depends where you are as far as your popularity ratings and mine were already plummeting. So I thought it was teeny, but they put giant posters of me all over the tube station that said one in four people have mental illness.

One in five people have dandruff. I have both. So I was mortified. So what I thought was I'd write a show and that I would pretend that was my publicity poster. And so I wrote a show.

I wouldn't have done it except they outed me. And I did it. I performed in mental institutions for two years, trying out the material that I was only going to perform for them because they're my people. But then it often it went to theater theaters and it came to Australia. So the tribe got bigger.

Yeah. And then when I went to Oxford to study under Mark Williams, I said, the point of me doing this is not to necessarily be a mindfulness teacher, but to somehow combine it with entertainment. And he trusted me on it. And so I had to write a dissertation, but my practical, I put on a play and I added lot more comedy, but all the, you know, educators at Oxford came and it was mindfulness for the masses. And, and so that's now the show that I tour.

I don't mention the M word. It's it's really entertainment. There's kind of virtual, you know, stories going on behind me. If you don't like my material, the floor shows really good, the light show. And you go through the brain and you go through evolution and then very, at the end, at the end, I say, Oh, if you want to just, I start talking about neuro-plasticity and self-regulation, and the show ends in darkness, which is hilarious a for comedy show.

And they don't know they're meditating, but they are. So it ends in this, it, the lights go out and it ends in silence. And I've done the show a hundred times. There's never been a peep. Because my fear was somebody would go, what are we doing here with our legs on the ground? And sometimes it's maybe a thousand people and it's deadly silent.

There's never been a cough. It's, it's, Mark's seen it a few times. It's it's pretty fun. Then the lights go up. I say, you can all have a drink now.

And then if you want to come back in and we'll have a discussion, cause it worked really well in the mental institution. Then all those people come in and then everybody opens up. And it's like, it's like, you're it, it's evangelical in there. Because it, this is no longer in a mental institution. These are people, people, and they want to talk and it is as if the flood gates open and it becomes really intimate.

Everybody starts revealing. I feel like a mental dating service because sometimes I'll go, can anybody answer this guy's question or help him? And then somebody will say, yeah, I can. And off they go together. So what is it, what is it that they want to talk about? What is it? Because it sounds like this show's taken on a life of its own and there's something that people are, are when you're saying they're evangelical, what are they wanting to share? What's coming out? But you know, we're so isolated. And once you take the skin off, right? There's young kids in there, nobody can admit something's wrong.

And read my lips. I'm not talking about mental illness. I'm talking about the state of the nation. And it's almost like I've done a kind of mental strip tease, so they feel safe and now the flood gates are open. You know, really macho guys.

I remember one guy standing up on the, you know, the balcony. It happened to be about, he said, you know, I've been on medication for 20, 25 years. I've never told my wife. She was sitting next to him. Oh wow.

And somebody down, it's like the Muppets. They're all, they, people want to talk and be freed from cocktail chatter. And God bless them, they're doing it in a theater. I eventually have to turn off the lights because we can't be there all night. But then I meet them in the lobby and we keep going because I love when people talk to me with no fat.

Don't don't. I can't take any more of that small talk. The realness and the authenticity that people get to share in that space. Yeah, it's really cool. One of the things that I really love about your work is that you are really on a mission to de-stigmatize, you know, depression, other forms of mental illness.

And I think that's such an important thing. It's certainly a really personal thing in my life. A lot of people really close to me have very serious depression, have tried to take their own lives. And I think part of the reason for that was because they felt so isolated and they felt like something that they were bad. They were unworthy.

There was all this stuff put on top of any, what essentially is an illness. And I love that about your work, that, that you do that. It's no longer one in four, you know. That was the show that I did that Comic Relief outed me on. This show is for everybody.

And so there is no distinction anymore. I mean, I, when they. There is something called mental illness, which I don't, I believe is something you're you're pregnant or you're not pregnant. Yeah. I don't think there's a sliding scale.

I really think that a schizophrenic is as different as I am to somebody with Alzheimer's. And you wouldn't say to somebody with Alzheimer's, well come on, you remember where the keys are? So the word depression is not a great word. It's a disease and you either have it or you don't have it. Yeah. So when I do this show, it is to ,it's to everybody who has, you know, those thoughts in their head that are making them think, Oh my God, I, you know, probably you think I'm, I'm an idiot.

You know, I wish, I've never had that inner voice that said what a wonderful thing I'm doing. And may I say how attractive I am I today. I don't think many people have that voice. But that kind of, let's just get that out of the closet. You know, I like to talk about here's here's my flaws, show me yours.

That's, that's to me, my idea of a good time. Yeah. Well, I, you know, I interviewed Dan Harris the other day and he described it as, you know, the voice in my head is an asshole. And I was like, yeah. I think the voice in most people's head is a bit of an asshole.

Well, and what I loved, you know, it's when I studied with Mark, and thing is there's a reason why it's there. You know, we keep blaming the world, like I was saying, we blame global warming and whoever the enemy is, I don't know who they already more, they change every half an hour. But the conflict is in here and then we project it onto the world. So the bully isn't out there. It's in here.

Yeah. And again, you know, nothing will change until we declare a truce in our own minds. Yeah. You know, you have this in, in your book, this reminds me, you have these two kinds of people that you described, and I really love this. You have the mad mad people, and then the normal mad people.

Could you describe for our viewers, like paint a picture of what you mean by normal mad? What's a normal mad person? Oh, I should get my book. I forgot. Because now I'm in the midst of writing the new one. So I, because it's due today, tomorrow. So that's kinda, well, what's normal mad? Normal mad's everybody.

We're just all faking it. You know? I mean, that is, that's kind of, life's mission is to keep your mental clothes on, but underneath we're just seething. I mean, my dream in life is to go back to when I was a kid, you know, and I'm at a cocktail party, which I've stopped going to. And I just want to go, how long do I have to face you? Okay. When is the moment I want to turn away because that happened 20 minutes ago? It's we need such self-control to like reign in the beast and the problem, the problem is we don't even acknowledge there is a beast.

So all the, all the, I think, all these little conflicts are the normal mad. I don't know anybody normal. If somebody called me that I'd be really insulted. And of course the mad mad, only because I have mental illness, can I ever talk about other. You know, it takes up only a black guy can be funny about blacks and Jews can do it with Jews.I can get away with because they smell I'm of their species.

I perform to those people in there dressed in full Cleopatra garb, you know, with a nose tube up their nose, you know, making noises that are not on the human spectrum. They know that I adore them. So that's why I can say, you know, the bipolars used to say, I laughed. I cried. And, you know, I get fan mail from the psychotics who still write to me, I'm going to kill you.

That is my fan. So you don't mind, you know. People say that those are the mad mad. But again, this, this new book in the show was for the normal mad. But I do at one point say, can I just speak to my people for a minute? You know who you are and then I'll go, you in this row.

And there's a cluster of you in the back. Well, everybody wants to be in that club now. I talk to them for a minute to say, that at one point, because I'm making fun of having to buy 150 blue and white striped cushions at three o'clock in the morning because I thought I'm one of those domestic girls. Yeah. Literally on nautical websites for five hours, my finger's bleeding.

I did get them delivered. This isn't a joke. And they were smaller than they were in the picture. Some of them werethe size of a leaf of toilet paper. 150, not 150, but even 25, where was I going with that? And then I say at this point, I, I realized I wasn't an inspired interior decorator, but that I had mental illness.

Because after one thing gets off the list, check, then came the bath towels with hundreds of bath towels. They come in families now the bath towels. Everybody in the audience gets it. But I am talking about my mental illness, not the way it got heavy, but it's the early warnings. Right.

This is the whole thing about the mindfulness. When did you write off emails and when have you tipped to addiction and you're starting to answer spam. Right. Where, where we have no braking system. Right.

No one gave us the brakes. So you talk a lot about, in your, in your books and in your show, you're, you're a very public advocate of, of mindfulness and how it can kind of help. I know you mentioned in your book, you know, that our brains were not really designed for this day and age and, and that mindfulness is kind of a key skill in handling this modern age with more, more wisdom and skill. Yeah. So how, how does mindfulness help? Well, you know, nothing is more boring than when you hear programs where people going, but the internet, this, you know, this there's too much whatever.

And I go, excuse me, you put it there, you put it there. What was it like? Did a meteorite land last week and suddenly we have this? This is called human accomplishment. Yeah. This is what we have. Mobile phones and internet.

And hopefully someday I can get a virtual Brazilian. You know, let's use it here. And PS... You had to say that at the moment, when I took a sip of water. I nearlysprayed it on the laptop.

So here's the thing. There's only going to be more and it'll be fantastic when it gets here, but it's like, you built this. It's, I always say, it's like you have a Ferrari on your head, but nobody gave you the keys for your brain. Is it? It's a, it's a great piece of machinery, but we need another piece to be able to cope with it. You know, it's this time, if we evolve our psychology, it'll have to keep up with the technology because we don't know how to maintain it.

So for me, mindfulness, I always think it, you know, it sounds like you're chilling out, so, the word I hate the most. It's, it's learning how to navigate through all of that to say, okay, I have to shut the lid down now just for a minute because people think, Oh, well, did you close shop for the rest of your life, to understand that if you know how to pull those breaks, you know, you're then when you come back in, you you'll beat the competition. You'll get the better grade in the exam. You'll make more money. It isn't about, you know, saying, I give up.

It's about saying I'm actually pulling, I'm pulling down the cortisol, which means the redness is coming down so that I can think really clear when I go back into the game. Yeah. And I'm sure other things do that. I just happened to study mindfulness. I always say, listen, if it's not for you, close the book.

Yeah. It just happened to work for me. Yeah. And when you say, you know, mindfulness helps you to pull the brakes or you know, with, if you are having, let's say, an influx of negative thoughts or you're having a really difficult emotion, how, maybe in your own direct experience, how does mindfulness change that for you? So in the past, they might've been one way you would deal with that situation. Has mindfulness changed the way that you would experience that, the way that you would handle that? I get, you know, the, there, this is going on right now of what do I look like? I have a sore on my nose.

I haven't slept a lot. Does she notice I might not be making sense. And you don't, you know, I got a critic giving me some really horrifying reviews as we sit here. But the thing is, again, it's that, it's that if you're sitting with them the whole time, rather than running from them, eventually you'll go, oh God, that tune again. And then the big trick is not to give yourself a whipping for it.

Otherwise you're just going off going, not only do I hate myself, I hate myself for hating myself. And now I'm depressed about being, you know, the endless narrative working in there. I'd say when I, and, and to me, a lot of the mindfulness thing, I know they'd hate to say it is learning tricks, but they're, they're physiological tricks. I mean, if you look at a brain scanner, it's not your image, what's your imagination? Your cortisol is going down. Your heart is slowing.

So when I go on stage now, I used to get nervous and, and my face would go into this kind of love me, love me, expression, you know, which I hate on comedians. And they can smell your fear, the audience, and they turn on you. Then you stop, you stop remembering your lines and you get the dry mouth. And they turn on you like animals, but there's no pity. I've seen that.

And then it get, gets worse and worse. So just because, you know, it's like, if you did sit ups, you get a six pack, because of this endless practicing mindfulness, when I go on the stage, because I'm a little more primed only because I practice it. If I said, if I feel the dry mouth starting, if I stop and send my focus to my feet on the ground, they can't tell. But then I can feel that that redness come down so that I've never lost a line since this. And also that neural wifi thing.

When I, when I get cool, they get cool and you feel this ripple of everybody going Aaah, they don't know why. They don't have to, but I cleared it. I cleared. I soothed myself. And so now I'm soothing tthe hird row and the fifth row is soothing the eighth row.

And that ripple effect goes right through. So for the sake of my profession... Yeah, yeah. This did me a lot of favors. So it's like, it sounds like, you know, the, the, the stream of stuff, difficult stuff still comes, but it's how you respond to it.

It's not that it makes it go away, but it's the way that you respond to it, that you get to do anything. You duck and dive. Yeah. So you've been practicing mindfulness for, for some time now. So what I'm curious to know is in your own direct experience, how, what kinds of insights, realizations, other benefits, unexpected benefits, any surprises that have come as a, as a part of that journey? You mean when you've done it a little while? Yeah.

So you've been practicing. How long have you been practicing for now? Well it's not that, it's because when you write the book, you're kind of seeped in it. Yeah, yeah. You're immersed in that world and then on the road educating about it as well. It just feels like it's, it's kind of become into my, it's in my flesh now a little bit, so.

Yeah. I think what happens, what is happening is that I used to really be addicted to other people because I saw myself in their reflection and I've used them for my sound bites. Somebody once said that to me and you know, I, I get a good line and I'd leave. And I think that guy was hilarious. He wasn't, I was hilarious.

I was using him like a squash court. And, and so I was addicted. Sometimes with people with nothing in common, but their, their voice was like a soothing radion because I don't like silence. And now I really, to me, it's so interesting. I've become obsessed with neuroscience and how the brain works and how we think.

And I don't want them to eat into my air time. So unless there's real love or, you know, there's somebody that's like eating a rich dinner food. I can't, I can't do it anymore. So somebody who was so social and outgoing is now, I went on holiday by myself last week, just to give myself a break. And people went, how could you go alone? And I went, how could I go with anybody? Because you're going to interfere with my, you know, the eye candy.

Right. And I never felt less alone. So it's, my addiction to people is waning.I'm coming off of that one. Yeah. It's unusual.

And that's a whole lifetime of being addicted. Yeah. Wow. And I'm curious to know how it's affected your experience of depression. Well, I haven't had depression for seven years.

Not bully for me. And then just at Christmas, just before Christmas, it came again. It rose it's a little head. And I told this to Mark Williams, that it did deliver what it says on the package. I, I still got it.

There's no mental, you know, we Americans love to own, we love to have something we could take at a weekend workshop for how to heal our own inner health. We love that. Or, you know, call my Aunt Sally from a past life because she's going to help me with this one. We don't like having to work for it. But I finally saw the point of this whole thing is that I, I finally got it that I was getting ill because it's very hard when your brain has gone down.

There's no spare brain to make an assessment. But I, I did, it took me a while still. I started to go, Oh, this is the real thing. And rather than get even busier and start making dinner parties for people I've never met, so I used to do that in the past. I start taking on jobs.

I go to every event, every event, just to keep it so that I wouldn't have to look in the Holocaust of my brain. So to sort of stay distracted? Oh man. Yeah. You really don't want to look in. That's a hell hole in there.

It's like I say, if the devil had Tourette's, that's what it would sound like. So that's when the blue and white started, what's our cushion start coming in and things get really important. You know, I wake up in the morning sweating about a lampshade. So I got it, that something wasn't right. And I canceled everything.

Bully for me. This has never been done and I shut it down and then I went to a retreat where, you know, where I shut the door and turned everything off. And I actually sat it out and waited for the cortisol to come down. And after five days, well, the last depression was three months of sitting on a chair thinking, thinking the sun was never going to come back out again. You know, that there was an eclipse.

This time, it hurts like, hell, this is, you know, I've interviewed, when I have the audience, sometimes somebody will stand up and say, I have, I've had cancer and depression. And I, I've always said what's worse, and they always say the cancer. One guy said the cancer made, I, all I wanted to do with was live with the depression. All I wanted to do is die. It's bad.

But if you, because of that then you see it from a different angle. It's not me. It's just there. And it did pass. And so, yeah, mindfulness, it, it did deliver.

I could sense it early. And if you sense it early, it's you can, you can start building the bomb shelter. Yeah. And it left and it left as, you know, stealthily as it came in. It's like, it's kind of my, you know, building the wall to defend yourself, but also knowing the, the beast will come.

Yeah, yeah. Or maybe not. So I'm thinking that there would be people watching this who can really relate to what you're saying. And as I mentioned, there are definitely people that I know who would, you know, really relate to that experience of just how deep and dark and hard to deal with depression is and then having the stigma on top as well. But I'm wondering what advice you would give to someone who might be watching this who's gone through exactly what you've been through and they're thinking about maybe practicing mindfulness to see if it could help them.

Would you have any advice or, or anything that you'd, you'd kind of like to offer those people? If they really are in the full, you know, not bad hair day, but, you know, you can't tell whether you're gonna have a manicure or jump off a cliff, same thing, don't do mindfulness. You're really sick. And when your mind is out of control, commission, there is no mind. You know to, to regulate the mind. So be nice to yourself.

You know, I hate people who say perk up, like, because I never thought of that. You, you know, you got to sit with this monster and it will pass. The word medication comes to mind. But before we get into meditation because it's like you go to cold turkey off of diabetes, so do have your depression, deal with it. And when you come out again, that's when you go back to the gym and then you work the muscle.

But, you know, it's a disease about self-punishment and self-loathing. The last thing you want to do is something where you'll go, Oh, I can't do it. So you'll wait for mindfulness and never return. Yeah. So when, when, when someone's feeling better, that would be the time...

You'll know when you feel better because the lights came on. Yeah, yeah. But I mean, I wish somebody said to me what I'm now, you know, trying to do, I'm doing it in October is starting to open walk-in centers because part of the healing is meeting your own people. And when you can see they have the same dead, dead animal, look in their eye, then, you know, phew, I didn't make this up, because that's, that's the stigma that we actually think we're making it up because you haven't got a scab. And so I would say find your people.

Maybe, I know in Australia, you're way ahead of the game. Are we? You know. Oh yeah. You have the best website for depression. What is it? Beyond Blue.

Yeah. Those guys are doing awesome work. They're really amazing. Yeah. That's true, they they offer a lot of support here in Australia.

Yeah. But even I think what I'm, what I'm hearing from you is there's a huge amount of power in just knowing that you're not alone and that it, you have that, you're not making it up, that it, that it really is an illness. And yeah, you can get support. Maybe I can just ask you one, one more question. And it's the question that I've been asking everyone who's taking part in this summit.

And that is, you know, it's being said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. It's also been said that mindfulness has gone mainstream. Now I don't really think it's gone mainstream per se. I think it's entering, it's definitely becoming de-stigmatized. It's definitely entering mainstream culture, but I don't think the majority of people are doing it.

That's for sure. My question is if the majority of people were to take up mindfulness, you know, in the way that they've taken up, brushing their teeth, something that they do everyday, what kind of, how would that change things? What kind of a world do you think that would create? I haven't got that kind of imagination. I really don't. But I'm also a cynic, that we are animals, that as adorable as we are we created the Coliseum and put on floor shows that make, you know, Sodom and Gomorrah look like tea at the Ritz. You know, we are animals.

We really have to work hard to get back the compassion that was kind of inbuilt, but got drilled out somewhere because you know, you needed to win the race when you were 10. I don't know if people have the time to actually start working those muscles or seeing the point of it. If you had that discipline, what can I say? I really only liked being around people who do this because it works like neural wifi. If I'm near it, the air is easier to breathe, but how do you know what the world would be like? I, you know, we we've been at war so long. Why would it change? You know, why would it change? How has it changed the people that, you know, when you say you're around people who do mindfulness.

Well, let's pretend if people did have the time and let's just say there were more people like those people that you find it easier, the air easier to breathe around, what kind of traits are there? What are, what are you seeing that makes the air easier to breathe? Oh, okay. But don't let me, I'm a cynic too. That's okay. Oh, for my book, this is it. I did a silent retreat and they did my EEG before and after I came out.

That was interesting. There were people in there that I really, in the silence, couldn't stand and I would laugh about it with the woman who was running the thing, is that she said, Oh, I know when I go on a silent retreat, I've married two of them. I've divorced seven. You know, and you're thinking, they opened their mouths. I thought he was a serial killer.

He ends up like a professor at Oxford. But we project on people. So it wouldn't be just because you do mindfulness because you know, everything's up for interpretation. Probably the biggest jerks in the world are the people that, you know, have the guru complex. But the real deal, like a Mark Williams, was the most humble.

I always thought he was a trainspotter, a humble human being on earth. When he speaks, there's no fat in any sentence. It's just, it's, it's, it's beyond inspiration. There's no narcissism. That I've never seen before.

I've never seen humility when somebody's that bright. We were talking about it today. There's this, there's a specific word, but neuroscientists who knows so much about their brains, but know nothing about their brains. You know, again, it's that ego of look how much I can stuff in, so that I can show, you know, show my plumes and, you know, thicken my armor. Even the people who study the brain haven't got a clue as to how their minds work.

So the pleasure of being somebody who, you know, they have an open vista, they're not pegging me as a loud American or somebody, I look like, you know, they knew when they were five in their project, you feel free of the projection. You know, being, I was a comedian, people come up, came up to me and they're laughing and I haven't said anything. You know, John Cleese once had a heart attack in a grocer, in a supermarket around the corner from here, and people were applauding because they thought he was doing a sketch. Like you go in a supermarket and do a sketch by yourself. Oh my goodness.

So I don't like people projecting on me and I really try... You know, at first you catch yourself projecting, like, why am I reacting to her that way. Then it'll come to me. Oh yeah. When I was 12, there was somebody who looked just like her and she's stole my Barbie.

And then gradually, when you start saying, how come that's the reaction, rather than finding more flaws in you. It's do you really realize how wrong you get people? How wrong you get people. Sometimes treating them like an idiot and it turns out they're a mathematical genius. You're the idiot. Yeah, mindfulness.

That's one of the things I think ... The door is open. Yeah and you realize that the thoughts in your head about somebody aren't anything to do with that person really. Nothing.

Talk

4.7

How Mindfulness Can Create a ‘Sane New World’

In this interview Melli and Ruby explore the importance of the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien and I'm so excited to introduce you to today's guest, Ruby Wax. Now I'm really sure that so many of you have heard of Ruby before. She has had an extensive career in television and as a comedian. But what many of you may not know about Ruby is that she's also studied to be a psychotherapist and has her master's degree in MBCT, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which makes Ruby also a qualified mindfulness teacher. So quite a group of skills you have there, Ruby.

And also she's the author of a really wonderful book called Sane New World. Ruby, thank you so much for taking the time out for this summit. I really appreciate it. Yeah, sure. Thank you.

We've tried to do this for awhile now. We have, we have, and we've made it. So I'm really curious. The, as I just kind of said that you, you have had a really, quite a dramatic career shift from being a TV star to studying mindfulness. What led you to make such a dramatic life change? Well, I worked at the BBC for twenty-five years, and then there's a time where it's your time to leave.

Right. You can either be pushed out screaming or, or just leave grace, graciously. And also, you know, we're supposed to be dead by 30. You have to reinvent yourself. And so I did, I, you know, otherwise you're always clutching onto the past going, remember me, I was..

You know, eventually you're, you're begging to be back on TV, playing a corpse. So I always know when to leave the party before the party leaves me. So I first, I, I, studied to be a psychotherapist. I didn't really want to be a psychotherapist, but I was always, I was a terrible psychotherapist. I remember cause I come from comedy, so when I was working with I, I was just an intern, I would go, Oh, come on, cut to the punchline.

I didn't really say it, but that's what I was thinking. But you know, I was, I went to Berkeley when I was much younger and I thought that would interest me, but it was, I really wanted to see what was in the brain. And when was at Berkeley, the only brain you could look into was a corpse, which was not of interest. But recently, you know, what's happened, and I thought, Oh, well, let's skip all the Heidegger and Freud and Winnicott, adorable people, but let's get to the meat of the matter. And then also, because I had depression, I was personally looking for something that could work.

That I know there's no cure and there's no magic pill, but I, I, I instinctively knew there must be some way that I could hear an early warning. Yeah. Like an animal before a tsunami. I was sure that, that may be mindfulness would give me that. Hm.

And you've ended up being an, an educator on, you know, mental illness and the brain. And so you... The poster girl for mental illness. The poster girl, the poster girl for mental illness. Yeah.

But that happened accidentally. And if you want. Yeah. I, about seven years ago, I was, I worked for Comic Relief and they gave some of the money to mental health charities. So they said, could they use my photo? And I said, yeah, sure.

I thought it was going to be tiny. You know, how. Comic relief have a zillion people. It depends where you are as far as your popularity ratings and mine were already plummeting. So I thought it was teeny, but they put giant posters of me all over the tube station that said one in four people have mental illness.

One in five people have dandruff. I have both. So I was mortified. So what I thought was I'd write a show and that I would pretend that was my publicity poster. And so I wrote a show.

I wouldn't have done it except they outed me. And I did it. I performed in mental institutions for two years, trying out the material that I was only going to perform for them because they're my people. But then it often it went to theater theaters and it came to Australia. So the tribe got bigger.

Yeah. And then when I went to Oxford to study under Mark Williams, I said, the point of me doing this is not to necessarily be a mindfulness teacher, but to somehow combine it with entertainment. And he trusted me on it. And so I had to write a dissertation, but my practical, I put on a play and I added lot more comedy, but all the, you know, educators at Oxford came and it was mindfulness for the masses. And, and so that's now the show that I tour.

I don't mention the M word. It's it's really entertainment. There's kind of virtual, you know, stories going on behind me. If you don't like my material, the floor shows really good, the light show. And you go through the brain and you go through evolution and then very, at the end, at the end, I say, Oh, if you want to just, I start talking about neuro-plasticity and self-regulation, and the show ends in darkness, which is hilarious a for comedy show.

And they don't know they're meditating, but they are. So it ends in this, it, the lights go out and it ends in silence. And I've done the show a hundred times. There's never been a peep. Because my fear was somebody would go, what are we doing here with our legs on the ground? And sometimes it's maybe a thousand people and it's deadly silent.

There's never been a cough. It's, it's, Mark's seen it a few times. It's it's pretty fun. Then the lights go up. I say, you can all have a drink now.

And then if you want to come back in and we'll have a discussion, cause it worked really well in the mental institution. Then all those people come in and then everybody opens up. And it's like, it's like, you're it, it's evangelical in there. Because it, this is no longer in a mental institution. These are people, people, and they want to talk and it is as if the flood gates open and it becomes really intimate.

Everybody starts revealing. I feel like a mental dating service because sometimes I'll go, can anybody answer this guy's question or help him? And then somebody will say, yeah, I can. And off they go together. So what is it, what is it that they want to talk about? What is it? Because it sounds like this show's taken on a life of its own and there's something that people are, are when you're saying they're evangelical, what are they wanting to share? What's coming out? But you know, we're so isolated. And once you take the skin off, right? There's young kids in there, nobody can admit something's wrong.

And read my lips. I'm not talking about mental illness. I'm talking about the state of the nation. And it's almost like I've done a kind of mental strip tease, so they feel safe and now the flood gates are open. You know, really macho guys.

I remember one guy standing up on the, you know, the balcony. It happened to be about, he said, you know, I've been on medication for 20, 25 years. I've never told my wife. She was sitting next to him. Oh wow.

And somebody down, it's like the Muppets. They're all, they, people want to talk and be freed from cocktail chatter. And God bless them, they're doing it in a theater. I eventually have to turn off the lights because we can't be there all night. But then I meet them in the lobby and we keep going because I love when people talk to me with no fat.

Don't don't. I can't take any more of that small talk. The realness and the authenticity that people get to share in that space. Yeah, it's really cool. One of the things that I really love about your work is that you are really on a mission to de-stigmatize, you know, depression, other forms of mental illness.

And I think that's such an important thing. It's certainly a really personal thing in my life. A lot of people really close to me have very serious depression, have tried to take their own lives. And I think part of the reason for that was because they felt so isolated and they felt like something that they were bad. They were unworthy.

There was all this stuff put on top of any, what essentially is an illness. And I love that about your work, that, that you do that. It's no longer one in four, you know. That was the show that I did that Comic Relief outed me on. This show is for everybody.

And so there is no distinction anymore. I mean, I, when they. There is something called mental illness, which I don't, I believe is something you're you're pregnant or you're not pregnant. Yeah. I don't think there's a sliding scale.

I really think that a schizophrenic is as different as I am to somebody with Alzheimer's. And you wouldn't say to somebody with Alzheimer's, well come on, you remember where the keys are? So the word depression is not a great word. It's a disease and you either have it or you don't have it. Yeah. So when I do this show, it is to ,it's to everybody who has, you know, those thoughts in their head that are making them think, Oh my God, I, you know, probably you think I'm, I'm an idiot.

You know, I wish, I've never had that inner voice that said what a wonderful thing I'm doing. And may I say how attractive I am I today. I don't think many people have that voice. But that kind of, let's just get that out of the closet. You know, I like to talk about here's here's my flaws, show me yours.

That's, that's to me, my idea of a good time. Yeah. Well, I, you know, I interviewed Dan Harris the other day and he described it as, you know, the voice in my head is an asshole. And I was like, yeah. I think the voice in most people's head is a bit of an asshole.

Well, and what I loved, you know, it's when I studied with Mark, and thing is there's a reason why it's there. You know, we keep blaming the world, like I was saying, we blame global warming and whoever the enemy is, I don't know who they already more, they change every half an hour. But the conflict is in here and then we project it onto the world. So the bully isn't out there. It's in here.

Yeah. And again, you know, nothing will change until we declare a truce in our own minds. Yeah. You know, you have this in, in your book, this reminds me, you have these two kinds of people that you described, and I really love this. You have the mad mad people, and then the normal mad people.

Could you describe for our viewers, like paint a picture of what you mean by normal mad? What's a normal mad person? Oh, I should get my book. I forgot. Because now I'm in the midst of writing the new one. So I, because it's due today, tomorrow. So that's kinda, well, what's normal mad? Normal mad's everybody.

We're just all faking it. You know? I mean, that is, that's kind of, life's mission is to keep your mental clothes on, but underneath we're just seething. I mean, my dream in life is to go back to when I was a kid, you know, and I'm at a cocktail party, which I've stopped going to. And I just want to go, how long do I have to face you? Okay. When is the moment I want to turn away because that happened 20 minutes ago? It's we need such self-control to like reign in the beast and the problem, the problem is we don't even acknowledge there is a beast.

So all the, all the, I think, all these little conflicts are the normal mad. I don't know anybody normal. If somebody called me that I'd be really insulted. And of course the mad mad, only because I have mental illness, can I ever talk about other. You know, it takes up only a black guy can be funny about blacks and Jews can do it with Jews.I can get away with because they smell I'm of their species.

I perform to those people in there dressed in full Cleopatra garb, you know, with a nose tube up their nose, you know, making noises that are not on the human spectrum. They know that I adore them. So that's why I can say, you know, the bipolars used to say, I laughed. I cried. And, you know, I get fan mail from the psychotics who still write to me, I'm going to kill you.

That is my fan. So you don't mind, you know. People say that those are the mad mad. But again, this, this new book in the show was for the normal mad. But I do at one point say, can I just speak to my people for a minute? You know who you are and then I'll go, you in this row.

And there's a cluster of you in the back. Well, everybody wants to be in that club now. I talk to them for a minute to say, that at one point, because I'm making fun of having to buy 150 blue and white striped cushions at three o'clock in the morning because I thought I'm one of those domestic girls. Yeah. Literally on nautical websites for five hours, my finger's bleeding.

I did get them delivered. This isn't a joke. And they were smaller than they were in the picture. Some of them werethe size of a leaf of toilet paper. 150, not 150, but even 25, where was I going with that? And then I say at this point, I, I realized I wasn't an inspired interior decorator, but that I had mental illness.

Because after one thing gets off the list, check, then came the bath towels with hundreds of bath towels. They come in families now the bath towels. Everybody in the audience gets it. But I am talking about my mental illness, not the way it got heavy, but it's the early warnings. Right.

This is the whole thing about the mindfulness. When did you write off emails and when have you tipped to addiction and you're starting to answer spam. Right. Where, where we have no braking system. Right.

No one gave us the brakes. So you talk a lot about, in your, in your books and in your show, you're, you're a very public advocate of, of mindfulness and how it can kind of help. I know you mentioned in your book, you know, that our brains were not really designed for this day and age and, and that mindfulness is kind of a key skill in handling this modern age with more, more wisdom and skill. Yeah. So how, how does mindfulness help? Well, you know, nothing is more boring than when you hear programs where people going, but the internet, this, you know, this there's too much whatever.

And I go, excuse me, you put it there, you put it there. What was it like? Did a meteorite land last week and suddenly we have this? This is called human accomplishment. Yeah. This is what we have. Mobile phones and internet.

And hopefully someday I can get a virtual Brazilian. You know, let's use it here. And PS... You had to say that at the moment, when I took a sip of water. I nearlysprayed it on the laptop.

So here's the thing. There's only going to be more and it'll be fantastic when it gets here, but it's like, you built this. It's, I always say, it's like you have a Ferrari on your head, but nobody gave you the keys for your brain. Is it? It's a, it's a great piece of machinery, but we need another piece to be able to cope with it. You know, it's this time, if we evolve our psychology, it'll have to keep up with the technology because we don't know how to maintain it.

So for me, mindfulness, I always think it, you know, it sounds like you're chilling out, so, the word I hate the most. It's, it's learning how to navigate through all of that to say, okay, I have to shut the lid down now just for a minute because people think, Oh, well, did you close shop for the rest of your life, to understand that if you know how to pull those breaks, you know, you're then when you come back in, you you'll beat the competition. You'll get the better grade in the exam. You'll make more money. It isn't about, you know, saying, I give up.

It's about saying I'm actually pulling, I'm pulling down the cortisol, which means the redness is coming down so that I can think really clear when I go back into the game. Yeah. And I'm sure other things do that. I just happened to study mindfulness. I always say, listen, if it's not for you, close the book.

Yeah. It just happened to work for me. Yeah. And when you say, you know, mindfulness helps you to pull the brakes or you know, with, if you are having, let's say, an influx of negative thoughts or you're having a really difficult emotion, how, maybe in your own direct experience, how does mindfulness change that for you? So in the past, they might've been one way you would deal with that situation. Has mindfulness changed the way that you would experience that, the way that you would handle that? I get, you know, the, there, this is going on right now of what do I look like? I have a sore on my nose.

I haven't slept a lot. Does she notice I might not be making sense. And you don't, you know, I got a critic giving me some really horrifying reviews as we sit here. But the thing is, again, it's that, it's that if you're sitting with them the whole time, rather than running from them, eventually you'll go, oh God, that tune again. And then the big trick is not to give yourself a whipping for it.

Otherwise you're just going off going, not only do I hate myself, I hate myself for hating myself. And now I'm depressed about being, you know, the endless narrative working in there. I'd say when I, and, and to me, a lot of the mindfulness thing, I know they'd hate to say it is learning tricks, but they're, they're physiological tricks. I mean, if you look at a brain scanner, it's not your image, what's your imagination? Your cortisol is going down. Your heart is slowing.

So when I go on stage now, I used to get nervous and, and my face would go into this kind of love me, love me, expression, you know, which I hate on comedians. And they can smell your fear, the audience, and they turn on you. Then you stop, you stop remembering your lines and you get the dry mouth. And they turn on you like animals, but there's no pity. I've seen that.

And then it get, gets worse and worse. So just because, you know, it's like, if you did sit ups, you get a six pack, because of this endless practicing mindfulness, when I go on the stage, because I'm a little more primed only because I practice it. If I said, if I feel the dry mouth starting, if I stop and send my focus to my feet on the ground, they can't tell. But then I can feel that that redness come down so that I've never lost a line since this. And also that neural wifi thing.

When I, when I get cool, they get cool and you feel this ripple of everybody going Aaah, they don't know why. They don't have to, but I cleared it. I cleared. I soothed myself. And so now I'm soothing tthe hird row and the fifth row is soothing the eighth row.

And that ripple effect goes right through. So for the sake of my profession... Yeah, yeah. This did me a lot of favors. So it's like, it sounds like, you know, the, the, the stream of stuff, difficult stuff still comes, but it's how you respond to it.

It's not that it makes it go away, but it's the way that you respond to it, that you get to do anything. You duck and dive. Yeah. So you've been practicing mindfulness for, for some time now. So what I'm curious to know is in your own direct experience, how, what kinds of insights, realizations, other benefits, unexpected benefits, any surprises that have come as a, as a part of that journey? You mean when you've done it a little while? Yeah.

So you've been practicing. How long have you been practicing for now? Well it's not that, it's because when you write the book, you're kind of seeped in it. Yeah, yeah. You're immersed in that world and then on the road educating about it as well. It just feels like it's, it's kind of become into my, it's in my flesh now a little bit, so.

Yeah. I think what happens, what is happening is that I used to really be addicted to other people because I saw myself in their reflection and I've used them for my sound bites. Somebody once said that to me and you know, I, I get a good line and I'd leave. And I think that guy was hilarious. He wasn't, I was hilarious.

I was using him like a squash court. And, and so I was addicted. Sometimes with people with nothing in common, but their, their voice was like a soothing radion because I don't like silence. And now I really, to me, it's so interesting. I've become obsessed with neuroscience and how the brain works and how we think.

And I don't want them to eat into my air time. So unless there's real love or, you know, there's somebody that's like eating a rich dinner food. I can't, I can't do it anymore. So somebody who was so social and outgoing is now, I went on holiday by myself last week, just to give myself a break. And people went, how could you go alone? And I went, how could I go with anybody? Because you're going to interfere with my, you know, the eye candy.

Right. And I never felt less alone. So it's, my addiction to people is waning.I'm coming off of that one. Yeah. It's unusual.

And that's a whole lifetime of being addicted. Yeah. Wow. And I'm curious to know how it's affected your experience of depression. Well, I haven't had depression for seven years.

Not bully for me. And then just at Christmas, just before Christmas, it came again. It rose it's a little head. And I told this to Mark Williams, that it did deliver what it says on the package. I, I still got it.

There's no mental, you know, we Americans love to own, we love to have something we could take at a weekend workshop for how to heal our own inner health. We love that. Or, you know, call my Aunt Sally from a past life because she's going to help me with this one. We don't like having to work for it. But I finally saw the point of this whole thing is that I, I finally got it that I was getting ill because it's very hard when your brain has gone down.

There's no spare brain to make an assessment. But I, I did, it took me a while still. I started to go, Oh, this is the real thing. And rather than get even busier and start making dinner parties for people I've never met, so I used to do that in the past. I start taking on jobs.

I go to every event, every event, just to keep it so that I wouldn't have to look in the Holocaust of my brain. So to sort of stay distracted? Oh man. Yeah. You really don't want to look in. That's a hell hole in there.

It's like I say, if the devil had Tourette's, that's what it would sound like. So that's when the blue and white started, what's our cushion start coming in and things get really important. You know, I wake up in the morning sweating about a lampshade. So I got it, that something wasn't right. And I canceled everything.

Bully for me. This has never been done and I shut it down and then I went to a retreat where, you know, where I shut the door and turned everything off. And I actually sat it out and waited for the cortisol to come down. And after five days, well, the last depression was three months of sitting on a chair thinking, thinking the sun was never going to come back out again. You know, that there was an eclipse.

This time, it hurts like, hell, this is, you know, I've interviewed, when I have the audience, sometimes somebody will stand up and say, I have, I've had cancer and depression. And I, I've always said what's worse, and they always say the cancer. One guy said the cancer made, I, all I wanted to do with was live with the depression. All I wanted to do is die. It's bad.

But if you, because of that then you see it from a different angle. It's not me. It's just there. And it did pass. And so, yeah, mindfulness, it, it did deliver.

I could sense it early. And if you sense it early, it's you can, you can start building the bomb shelter. Yeah. And it left and it left as, you know, stealthily as it came in. It's like, it's kind of my, you know, building the wall to defend yourself, but also knowing the, the beast will come.

Yeah, yeah. Or maybe not. So I'm thinking that there would be people watching this who can really relate to what you're saying. And as I mentioned, there are definitely people that I know who would, you know, really relate to that experience of just how deep and dark and hard to deal with depression is and then having the stigma on top as well. But I'm wondering what advice you would give to someone who might be watching this who's gone through exactly what you've been through and they're thinking about maybe practicing mindfulness to see if it could help them.

Would you have any advice or, or anything that you'd, you'd kind of like to offer those people? If they really are in the full, you know, not bad hair day, but, you know, you can't tell whether you're gonna have a manicure or jump off a cliff, same thing, don't do mindfulness. You're really sick. And when your mind is out of control, commission, there is no mind. You know to, to regulate the mind. So be nice to yourself.

You know, I hate people who say perk up, like, because I never thought of that. You, you know, you got to sit with this monster and it will pass. The word medication comes to mind. But before we get into meditation because it's like you go to cold turkey off of diabetes, so do have your depression, deal with it. And when you come out again, that's when you go back to the gym and then you work the muscle.

But, you know, it's a disease about self-punishment and self-loathing. The last thing you want to do is something where you'll go, Oh, I can't do it. So you'll wait for mindfulness and never return. Yeah. So when, when, when someone's feeling better, that would be the time...

You'll know when you feel better because the lights came on. Yeah, yeah. But I mean, I wish somebody said to me what I'm now, you know, trying to do, I'm doing it in October is starting to open walk-in centers because part of the healing is meeting your own people. And when you can see they have the same dead, dead animal, look in their eye, then, you know, phew, I didn't make this up, because that's, that's the stigma that we actually think we're making it up because you haven't got a scab. And so I would say find your people.

Maybe, I know in Australia, you're way ahead of the game. Are we? You know. Oh yeah. You have the best website for depression. What is it? Beyond Blue.

Yeah. Those guys are doing awesome work. They're really amazing. Yeah. That's true, they they offer a lot of support here in Australia.

Yeah. But even I think what I'm, what I'm hearing from you is there's a huge amount of power in just knowing that you're not alone and that it, you have that, you're not making it up, that it, that it really is an illness. And yeah, you can get support. Maybe I can just ask you one, one more question. And it's the question that I've been asking everyone who's taking part in this summit.

And that is, you know, it's being said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. It's also been said that mindfulness has gone mainstream. Now I don't really think it's gone mainstream per se. I think it's entering, it's definitely becoming de-stigmatized. It's definitely entering mainstream culture, but I don't think the majority of people are doing it.

That's for sure. My question is if the majority of people were to take up mindfulness, you know, in the way that they've taken up, brushing their teeth, something that they do everyday, what kind of, how would that change things? What kind of a world do you think that would create? I haven't got that kind of imagination. I really don't. But I'm also a cynic, that we are animals, that as adorable as we are we created the Coliseum and put on floor shows that make, you know, Sodom and Gomorrah look like tea at the Ritz. You know, we are animals.

We really have to work hard to get back the compassion that was kind of inbuilt, but got drilled out somewhere because you know, you needed to win the race when you were 10. I don't know if people have the time to actually start working those muscles or seeing the point of it. If you had that discipline, what can I say? I really only liked being around people who do this because it works like neural wifi. If I'm near it, the air is easier to breathe, but how do you know what the world would be like? I, you know, we we've been at war so long. Why would it change? You know, why would it change? How has it changed the people that, you know, when you say you're around people who do mindfulness.

Well, let's pretend if people did have the time and let's just say there were more people like those people that you find it easier, the air easier to breathe around, what kind of traits are there? What are, what are you seeing that makes the air easier to breathe? Oh, okay. But don't let me, I'm a cynic too. That's okay. Oh, for my book, this is it. I did a silent retreat and they did my EEG before and after I came out.

That was interesting. There were people in there that I really, in the silence, couldn't stand and I would laugh about it with the woman who was running the thing, is that she said, Oh, I know when I go on a silent retreat, I've married two of them. I've divorced seven. You know, and you're thinking, they opened their mouths. I thought he was a serial killer.

He ends up like a professor at Oxford. But we project on people. So it wouldn't be just because you do mindfulness because you know, everything's up for interpretation. Probably the biggest jerks in the world are the people that, you know, have the guru complex. But the real deal, like a Mark Williams, was the most humble.

I always thought he was a trainspotter, a humble human being on earth. When he speaks, there's no fat in any sentence. It's just, it's, it's, it's beyond inspiration. There's no narcissism. That I've never seen before.

I've never seen humility when somebody's that bright. We were talking about it today. There's this, there's a specific word, but neuroscientists who knows so much about their brains, but know nothing about their brains. You know, again, it's that ego of look how much I can stuff in, so that I can show, you know, show my plumes and, you know, thicken my armor. Even the people who study the brain haven't got a clue as to how their minds work.

So the pleasure of being somebody who, you know, they have an open vista, they're not pegging me as a loud American or somebody, I look like, you know, they knew when they were five in their project, you feel free of the projection. You know, being, I was a comedian, people come up, came up to me and they're laughing and I haven't said anything. You know, John Cleese once had a heart attack in a grocer, in a supermarket around the corner from here, and people were applauding because they thought he was doing a sketch. Like you go in a supermarket and do a sketch by yourself. Oh my goodness.

So I don't like people projecting on me and I really try... You know, at first you catch yourself projecting, like, why am I reacting to her that way. Then it'll come to me. Oh yeah. When I was 12, there was somebody who looked just like her and she's stole my Barbie.

And then gradually, when you start saying, how come that's the reaction, rather than finding more flaws in you. It's do you really realize how wrong you get people? How wrong you get people. Sometimes treating them like an idiot and it turns out they're a mathematical genius. You're the idiot. Yeah, mindfulness.

That's one of the things I think ... The door is open. Yeah and you realize that the thoughts in your head about somebody aren't anything to do with that person really. Nothing.

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