Clayton Hairs


Jessica Raschke


Berrima, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


May 2, 2017

Clayton Hairs

Clayton Hairs: A heart full of vision and compassion

It is rare to meet someone who holds a balanced combination of intrinsically beautiful qualities: intelligence, humour, compassion, creativity and depth, all dotted with knowing self-deprecation that alerts you to their humanness. Photographer and meditator (among other things) Clayton Hairs is one of those people. His homeland South Africa was the springboard from which he leapt into a career of journalism and photography, which has led to a lifetime (so far) of exploring and cultivating wordliness and wisdom. But, like for many of us, becoming a parent has been where the toughest yet most enriching life lessons have been learned. When I met with Clayton, he asked me why I’m doing a project like The Soul Spectrum. And so that’s where we began.

Jess: In some ways, The Soul Spectrum is very much for my own purposes, as well as being a gift to others. I think it helps me find that place within me. I feel like ‘soul’ can be quite elusive for me, and I’m really intrigued by people who seem to be connected to that deep part of themselves a lot of the time.

Clayton: I think rigour is a part of it and there is a slightly unfashionable word that is appropriate – ‘discipline’. The word ‘discipline’ stems from the word ‘disciple’. It’s important to say something about the way we perceive this word from a Judeo/Christian/Muslim versus an (Eastern) mystical point of view. From a mystical perspective if you’re a disciple of some following then discipline isn’t something imposed from the outside, it’s something that drives you from within, because it’s really a thing born of love. It is a desirous thing, so you want to do it.

I had to find a way to be able to keep doing this sort of thing, because it’s the only skill I’ve got. Besides driving a car, I don’t know how to do anything else. The only thing I’ve ever known how to do is shoot television or take photographs. So I had to try and make it work in the context of my life. There is a lovely saying and it goes like this, ‘Freedom from freedom is real freedom’. When you have got no choice, you’ve only really got one choice, and that’s to do what is right according to your heart. That is absolute freedom.

Jess: It’s a bit of a mind bend.

Clayton: Yes. So, when you have no choice, this is the way out. When you have no choice there is only one choice. The notion of fate plays no part in it. In the West we have forgone the idea of fate. It’s such a narcissistic culture that we think that we have the power and capacity to influence everything and anything around us.

I’ve just come back from Bali, and I drove a car there for three weeks. I drove every single day and it is pandemonium, it’s manic, and for not one moment did I see any anger, not even once. And you think, “What is that all about?” The more I was there, the more I realised they have an absolutely fatalistic view of the world. And perhaps it’s because they believe in reincarnation and this might be just one of 10,000 lives. So this is just your lot, these are the cards you have been dealt, and you just make the best of it. That flies in the face of Western notions of spirituality, especially more recently where it’s become caught up in “If you can dream it, you can create it.” It’s very caught up in a materialist self-indulgence. “If you can think yourself happy, you will be happy,” but that is not life. Life is about crying as well, but when we cry we should cry properly – cry a lot.

Jess: There is a lot of that kind of thinking in the West. A very consumerist, capitalist mindset comes into play and that leads to individualism, and you need to preserve that individualism at all costs. It’s not fatalism, it’s about showing sheer determination to fight for yourself and your needs only.

Clayton: Or the opposite. You know the type of thinking that says, “You’re just lazy, you haven’t made your life,” as opposed to, “No, I have done my best and it’s okay”. We are so hard on ourselves, we are so relentlessly self-judgmental and we have almost no compassion for ourselves whatsoever in the West. As soon as that creeps in you can buy yourself a teaspoon of cement…

Jess: A teaspoon of cement?

Clayton: I’ve only ever come across this saying in Australia! “Go to Bunnings, buy yourself a teaspoon of cement and harden up.”

Jess: I’ve never heard that expression!

Clayton: It’s just so unnecessarily harsh, you know.

Jess: Yes, that’s true.

Be generous with compassion.

Clayton: Be generous with compassion. You can wallow in self-pity, but you can say, “Yeah, this is pretty hard and it’s alright, it’s okay.” Unfortunately, in the West we have this notion that being compassionate (including with ourselves) is not okay. We’ve also lost touch with community, we really have, because of this individualism and rampant capitalism. In Bali, there it is [pointing to one of his photographs], that lady is sitting there and she is absolutely surrounded by people. Sure, a lot of obligation comes with that, they are at ceremony every three or four days, it’s an incredible duty. In the West we cannot conceive of that degree of duty. Duty is almost a dirty word – a bit passe.

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about where you were born?

Clayton: I was born in South Africa. I just went to a government school, very ordinary. It was the norm, private schooling was a very rare thing in South Africa and also in New Zealand, so my wife says. I grew up in a family that was so far removed from any spiritual notion it’s almost comical. I used to go to church with my granny, a Methodist Church on a Sunday. It came to a point where you had to get christened. I had the conversation with my Dad, something like, “I want to get this done.” And he said, “Great, go ahead.” So I said, “Will you come?” He said, “No, because I’d be a complete heretic going and sitting in the church for that one day.” In some weird way I remember the feeling that came to me, more than I remember the actual conversation. I was quite struck by his integrity in rejecting formal religion.

Jess: Yes.

Clayton: It was pertinent to me. There was a great deal of integrity in my father and in our family, but definitely not any sort of spiritual thing. So I don’t have any real background, I keep wanting to say in this life, but I very rarely think about reincarnation, to be honest with you. But I always did have a real sense of there being a higher power, of something beyond me, almost at a feeling level, and it was stridently dependent on the notion of integrity. Some sort of sacred thing, like there was something sanctified and sacred … even though I was pretty much brought up in an entrepreneur’s home by a money-making man.

It was an undeniable feeling and I never really acted on that. I was a sporty sort of dude. I was a bit of a renegade. We had far too much fun. So I didn’t really follow up on the feeling. I did a few things. I drove, I studied, I did something I didn’t really want to do because I was being paid for it. I did my undergrad and it took me twice as long as it should have.

Jess: What did you do?

Clayton: I did commerce and it took me five or six years to finish a three-year degree, but I finished it anyway. Then I bought an old Land Rover and I drove through Africa for about 18 months to two years, up to the Red Sea with an ex-partner, and then we came down again. Then I wanted to tell stories about Africa. The irony of being raised in South Africa is that we had no notion of where we were. We really didn’t really conceive of the fact that we lived in Africa. I had cousins who were born in Australia and my uncle moved here in the early 1970s. We used to talk to him on the phone. They used to talk about Africa and it was only after the telephone conversation had ended that I would think, “Oh, they were talking about here.” We had no idea that that is where we were. So when the whole change-over happened in 1994, I wanted to know about where I lived, so that was the purpose of the trip. So I came back from this trip and I wanted to tell stories about Africa and Africans because it was quite a sad place that most white South Africans really knew nothing about.

Jess: Yes, a lot of trauma.

Clayton: Yes, and it was almost slightly hopeless in many ways. Commercially speaking, it was so far behind. Anyway, I did a diploma in journalism and I happened to get work experience for two or three weeks at the equivalent of 60 Minutes in South Africa. When I was there one of the researchers left and they offered me a job and I was appalling. I had no idea about anything journalistically. I had done a three-month diploma and I just didn’t know what I was doing. I was surrounded by people who had done their entire undergrad in journalism and they were just on top of things and they knew how it all works. I didn’t have things together at all.

Jess: But they offered you the work for some reason, though?

Clayton: I think the executive producer wanted to have a moment with me, I think he was quite keen on me, I’m almost certain of it. And I think it was more to do with that rather than aptitude! He practically pulled me in at some point and said, “Look mate, I want to show you what’s behind me.” There was a whole pile of CVs, it was about a metre high, and he said, “Those people there would like to be sitting where you’re sitting, so you better pull your finger out, big time.” And I really didn’t have the wherewithal to do that.

My real problem was that I would miss the wood for the trees all the time. I was so caught up in detail that I really had no perspective. I would try too hard. I would research things to the nth degree. At the time I was in a relationship with a girl and she had a friend, Michelle, who did a meditation practice called Heartfulness Meditation. We would all go to dinner together and I would bash Michelle with questions on spiritual matters, because I was always reading about it.

She used to answer these questions and she’d get to the point where she’d say, “Look, I’m just a work in progress, Clayton, I don’t have all the answers.” And I loved that. It was just so honest, humble and so real. She suggested I try the meditation that she does. I went and I did some preliminary things, but I didn’t really follow it up. And then there was a bloke from India who was coming to visit, so she called and said, “Why don’t you come along?” So I did and I thought, “Well, I’ll just do this.” It was a daily thing and I thought I must give it a go. You know, why not. And I just found such a massive change, it was extraordinary, I was not getting caught up in the detail. I didn’t even realise that that was my problem, but it was now fixed and I could perceive how to overcome my shortcomings.


Jess: And you noticed that while in meditation? Or was that like a side effect.

Clayton: It was a side effect. I was getting stories to air and I was doing a great job. I was a lighter human being. I was quite shocked because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t really me. I was quite conscious of the fact that there was something happening beyond me. So, what was nice was that it didn’t bring about any egotistical thing. It wasn’t because of me being something special, it was because there was something beyond that which was special. There wasn’t a growth of ego, as a result. But then ego did come to play and I thought I was too good for the job.

I decided to go to India. I wanted to find out about this Heartfulness Meditation practice that I was doing. I did it for about a year and a half or two years. I had taught myself camera work because I was so appalling at the journalism side of things and now I thought I could ‘go it alone’. I thought I’ll become a producer camera man and I’ll go to India and do all these great these stories.

Jess: Did you have stories in mind? Or were you directed to do particular stories?

Clayton: Yes, I did. I did quite a few interesting things … a really strange thing happened to me before I had gone driving through Africa. I was with a girlfriend. We had a film, this was before I started taking pictures or anything. But she was studying graphic design at uni and they had to put a little film together. They asked me to shoot the video with a home handycam. I shot these pictures of buildings in Johannesburg while we were driving, really low angles of these spires into the sky. They asked me to put some music to the images and I used a song by Tom Waits called The Earth Died Screaming. Now Tom Waits was pretty out there in 1992.

We put it all together and we handed it in on a Friday morning. It had to be in before 9am, so we handed it in at the School of Design. Then four or five of us went to watch the movie Twelve Monkeys, which was on at the 10:30am screening (it was the first screening in the morning), and it just so happened to be the film’s release day in South Africa.

Clayton: Was it with Mel Gibson?

Jess: No, who’s the Die Hard guy? He was married to Demi Moore.

Clayton: Yes, that’s right.

Jess: Bruce Willis!

Clayton: That’s right, Bruce Willis! So, we went watch this film. My girlfriend and I couldn’t find the other guys from our home video group. It was getting late, the doors were shutting, so we went into the cinema and we sat by ourselves. We couldn’t see whether the others had arrived or not. As I said, It was the first screening of Twelve Monkeys of that day in the country, remember this was pre-internet. There’s a moment in that film where they use Tom Waits’ The Earth Died Screaming and low-angle post-apocalyptic visuals of buildings like spires in the sky. My girlfriend and I stood up in the cinema looking for the other people because we just couldn’t believe what was going on. They had snuck in the back and they had seen it as well. And when something so coincidental happens you have to ask, “What is that?!” You just don’t get more intense than that.

Jess: That’s the collective unconscious.

Clayton: Yes, that’s right, the zeitgeist. And I’ve always loved the idea of the zeitgeist. And this was just there and I couldn’t refute what was happening. So, fast forward a few years and I have gone through Africa and I have got this job and I have left the job because I think I am fabulous and…

Jess: I’m sure you were!

Clayton: I wasn’t really. I got a hold of a lady, her name was Medha Patkar. She’s North Indian, she’s a fabulous woman, she protests against the building of dams close to villages. She stands in the flood-plains and people bring her food to eat, but she does not leave that place until the waters rise. And the waters rise because they have built these dams. The waters rise and rise and she doesn’t move. It can get to the point where she is almost swamped and she just stands. I wanted to do a documentary about her so I called her on a day very soon before I was due to leave for India. It just so happened that she had come to Cape Town for a conference and she was on the exact same plane as me, going back to India. This was not planned at all.

Jess: Highly unlikely coincidence!

Clayton: Exactly. The weird thing is that I started doing the meditation and I forgot all about Medha Patkar so I didn’t go and do any of the filming. But I went to India; I spent a year there and it was pretty real.

Jess: Yeah, I have only been to India for a month. It’s a sensory festival.

Clayton: Yeah, that’s right.But what I was doing was exactly contrary to that, and that’s maybe why in India so much of this happens. It is so sensorial that the meditation helps you go beyond the sensory. I spent probably three hours a day in meditation and then I moved to London. I moved from this paradise to hell.

Jess: What were the key differences between your India experience and London?

Clayton: The nice thing about India was that I was with Indians, so I was in some way protected, it was like being in a family setting. Part of the practice that we do involves a spiritual cleansing at the end of every day. You literally let go of the entire day with a visualisation technique. Then there is a sort of supplementary part, a cleaning on a more subtle level. The idea is that you’re making room for expansion, so your consciousness can expand. I had been in India for nearly a year and then I went to the heartland of capitalism. Thrust into capitalism. It was so full on because I was almost assaulted at a spiritual level in London. It was so dense; the amount of heaviness and grossness, and I had been in a place of real lightness, it was really light and this was just dense heavy heaviness and it was pretty hectic.

Jess: So, what took you to London?

Clayton: I had a girlfriend. We tried to see if it would work, and she went to London, so I thought I would meet her there. So I was there for about eight years.

Jess: That was a very bumpy transition by the sounds of it, a confronting transition.

Clayton: Yeah. This is where I have a slight objection with the way that spirituality is presented in a New Age context. It’s the idea that everything is roses. One of the teachers that I followed always said if you want to smell the rose you need to feel the thorns, the two things go together, they are one and the same thing. Love is essentially heartbreak, there must be pain. So yes there were bumps, absolutely, but by the same token there was massive growth. Because I did learn what it means to let go and not try to control everything.

I don’t drink alcohol, it just naturally fell away when I began practicing meditation, it wasn’t a conscious thing. I didn’t make some sort of external imposition that said I can’t drink. I just noticed when I first started doing meditation in South Africa that I would go out with friends and I just had no inclination to get pissed. I thought to myself, “God, I’m going to be a social pariah.”

Jess: Australia is even worse!

Clayton: I realised that I would be drinking to satisfy others because I was feeling quite happy, I was in quite in a good place, I was feeling really at ease with myself, so the reality dawned on me that I would be getting drunk or drinking at least to make someone else feel at ease. I just thought that is ridiculous. Drinking just fell away and the same thing happened with meat; I don’t eat meat, either. So living in London and not being a drinker is a fairly challenging thing. I am sorry to say this, but when you’re in England the only time you see someone’s front teeth is when they’re smiling because they’re pissed. I found it to be a miserable existence. So it wasn’t the place for me, that’s the long and short of it.

Then I met Rochelle and that’s where the next chapter comes in. I’d probably go as far as to say the next chapter has been probably the hardest part of my life, without a doubt. The last six or seven years have been absolutely physically exhausting, but again it’s been the biggest growth.

Jess: So you met Rochelle, you married and now you have two children.

Clayton: Yeah, we met in Yorkshire. We were together probably three or four years before we had Phoebe. She’s seven now, so we have been together for about ten years. Phoebe didn’t sleep through the night until she was five. She would wake every two hours. You wouldn’t get longer than an hour and a half duration of sleep. That was…

Jess: Torturous.

Clayton: Absolutely torturous. Yeah. I carried on doing the meditation because it was the only thing that kept me there. I would have run away. I said to Rochelle the other night that the only reason we stuck together is because of the spiritual practice, there is no doubt about that.

There has to be some root to a relationship because otherwise it is just so vacuous. Like any Western society where alcohol is the go-to solution for everything, even though we don’t like to acknowledge that is the reality. The nice thing about moving to a new country is that you don’t have baggage of the past. So, yes, I do live in Australia and there is a massive alcohol problem, but I can avoid it. I move in a lot of foreigners’ circles, a lot of Indians and people from all around, cultures that don’t have alcohol as their base. Which is really quite hard for us to understand, it’s like, “What do you do? Do you never laugh?” Well, actually they probably laugh a lot more.

Jess: So what brought you and Rochelle to Australia? She is Kiwi, isn’t she?

Clayton: She is a Kiwi. We met in Yorkshire at a place called Boggle Hole. It’s fabulous, there is a story about a creature.

Jess: Boggle Hole, you couldn’t make that name up!

Clayton: Yeah, that’s right! I was looking for a location to shoot a crazy idea and there was a YHA in a place where you couldn’t even drive to, you had to walk to it. Which was in this place called Boggle Hole. There is a little cave and there is supposedly an animal or being lives in there, which is called a boggle, and it’s a hole so it’s call Boggle Hole.

Jess: That’s funny.

Clayton: Yeah, Rochelle was the chef and I was the only guest at the YHA, I don’t think they had many guests. She cooked for me and I said, “Look, I’m not sitting out there by myself in the lounge, I’ll come and sit in the kitchen with you.” So that’s how it all started. She wanted to study nursing and the only place she could do nursing without having to have an undergrad in nursing was to come to Sydney, so she did her Masters in Nursing. Rochelle has had quite a hard time as well, because she did excellently with her studies, she was top of the class. With all the trouble that we had with Phoebe, particularly the anxiety issues, she just had to give it all up. It’s been that sacrifice, which is another big word that I find is missing from the modern notion of spirituality.

Nature is completely dependable. The sun comes up every morning and it goes down every night, the seasons come and they go, they go and go around, and you can depend on them.

Jess: You’ve mentioned these words, like discipline, sacrifice and integrity as well.

Clayton: Yeah.

Jess: They sound like they’re your core values?

Clayton: Yes, absolutely.

Clayton: And I think that’s what nature is, nature is all those things. Nature is completely dependable. The sun comes up every morning and it goes down every night, the seasons come and they go, they go and go around, and you can depend on them. Maybe that’s at the core of our outrage at destroying the environment. There is something even though we don’t consciously put it into words that is beyond reproach, which is nature, and maybe that’s why we get so up in arms. We can’t square the circle of destroying it. One of the ideas is to be simple and in tune with nature.

Jess: I’ll go back to the meditation, we touched on the camera work and photography … to what extent is your photographic work in tune with your spiritual self?

Clayton: It’s a really good question, because it’s something that really bothers me. I would like to integrate these things [photography and spirituality], put it out there at a really subtle level in a moment of meditation. It sets up the results there and then, and I think that it’s happening. Just looking at these pictures of prayer [points at photographs of people praying], all of a sudden, I am so attracted to these pictures. And I am certain that’s a consequence of trying to make peace with what I do and…

Jess: Well, it’s funny, I can’t see how photography and spirituality would be incongruous. Where’s the…

Clayton: Where’s the dilemma?

Jess: Yes, it sounds like you’ve got a thorn in your side.

Clayton: I do. I did and…

Jess: From the outside looking in, photography and spirituality is all about the transcendent.

Clayton: That’s so good to hear.

Jess: It’s capturing a moment and holding that sacred or keeping it still so you can really look at the beauty.

Clayton: Look the idea is that you ultimately give up everything, that’s the ultimate because to move beyond you have got to let everything go and that idea has terrified me. Because it’s the only thing I have, it’s the only thing I know and I have to let that go.

Jess: Photography?

Clayton: Yes, but I think I’m realising more and more that it’s letting go of the idea that you are in control of the output. For example, I didn’t set any of these scenes up that you are looking at. They just happened and I happened to be there, and so I’m letting go of the idea that I’m somehow the driver. Maybe that’s been my solution because I have always thought, “Oh my god, I have got to give up all this, the thing that I love.” But that’s really coming from a place of the intellect, it’s not really a thing of the heart. A thing of the heart is far more subtle and integrative. When there’s a hiccup, it doesn’t bash into the hiccup. Things will happen so that the hiccup becomes a none thing, and that’s just how the heart works. But making peace with that is a really difficult thing to do. I think men particularly have a massive problem, maybe because we are traditionally the hunter gatherers, you have to go and make that kill, and you have to make things happen. So the idea of letting things happen is contrary to the masculine impulse. So probably that’s where my problems have come in.


Jess: Earlier you said there was a sense of something else working through you. There was this feeling that you it wasn’t necessarily you but a greater force directing you, your work and your decision making. Is that feeling still there?

Clayton: Yes. A really big part of the practice that we do is refining all these aspects of yourself. It’s not the demolition of the ego, that’s not the point. The point is to refine the ego. If you don’t have an ego, then you wouldn’t know you could stand up. It is an essential part of our being. So you refine the ego so it isn’t narcissism, it’s for our betterment. But the ego can be vainglorious. It wants to stand triumphant at any given opportunity, so you’ve got to be mindful.

It’s possible that I’ve taken that analogy too far, it’s my predisposition to take things to extremes. It’s an allowing and it’s a submission, allowing yourself to be submissive. For Westerners, and I’ll speak for myself here, that’s a difficult notion to get to grips with. Even the idea of having a spiritual master or someone who we perceive to be above us, it flies in the face of what us Westerners think we should be. It’s a lifetime’s work to make peace with that, it’s not a thunderbolt moment. It’s far more gradual, you’ve just got to keep at it.

Jess: And refine, refine.

Clayton: I love this idea, which I read in a book. I forget the name, but it was a psychology related book. As you opened the book, both pages were pitch black. There was literally a pinprick of white on these double pages. The author described the conscious mind as the pinprick, and the blackness as the subconscious. The conscious mind is so small as to almost be negligible amid the consequences of what we are. Everything we have done, everything that happens, is all part of the actions that we’ve taken. That’s how karma works, whatever you do will come back. The idea that you have some control over the subconscious terrain is just folly. Then the question comes how do we resolve the subconscious that we really don’t have the wherewithal to engage with? The meditation practice I do cleans the heart chakra to begin with. You know, people always talk about the heart, “He’s got a good heart, he’s warm-hearted.” Cleaning that part of ourselves makes us lighter. But it also gets us over this karmic debt that we have to pay. I’m not saying the cleaning removes it entirely, but it’s removed to a massive degree such that the karmic follow on is minimised substantially. But you have to be willing to say, “I can’t do it on my own.” It’s a huge thing for a Westerner, a Western male particularly, to make peace with the idea that there are others – a spiritual master for example – that might be more capable, or have more ability than you do in this area, and to submit to this calibre of being.

Jess: Yes, you need to allow that kind of evolution to occur.

Clayton: Yes, that’s a good word. ‘Evolution’. I mean you think about it, in the fifteenth century paedophilia was rife. That was the way it was. But humanity has evolved at a spiritual level. Now, in our modern context, it’s so appalling you can’t even talk about it. There is evolution at a group level but more importantly at an individual level. That’s our job.

There is the idea that one evolved soul might offset tens of thousands of others, because they’re vibrating at a level of consciousness which is far higher than hundreds of thousands of others. So, it doesn’t really matter provided you have got a few people of calibre who are able to stand in the wind. I think there are those who are permanently in tune, and provided they exist then they offset millions of others. That’s the only hope I think we have.


Jess: The Soul Spectrum looks at ideas of soul and spirit. What is soul in the context of the meditation that you practice?

Clayton: It’s an individual thing, but I think it’s an undeniable part of the greater thing. I think it’s a part of a whole. We do have soul and there are two aspects to the soul. One is that it is perfect and the other is that it needs to grow. It is perfect, but it can expand. If we can submit ourselves sufficiently to the higher powers then we can allow ourselves to be a vehicle of something much greater than ourselves. And when I say ourselves, I mean our soul, our individual soul.

What never leaves us that is the notion of ‘you’ and that notion of ‘you’ is your spirit, is your soul. So when a person dies you can still think of them, you’re just vibrating with them because they are still there, they are just not in physical form.

Jess: They’re not necessarily lost.

Clayton: Not at all. I remember we were looking for a place in London while I was there, an ashram, I suppose you would call it. We found a beautiful deconsecrated church, but the graves were still there. And our spiritual guide insisted, “There must be no graves at all.” We got talking with him about it and he said that the problem with Westerners is that they are so caught up in individualism that when the body dies the soul is so lost and so caught up in this notion of being flesh and blood that it never leaves the body.

So, if you’re in a cemetery or graveyard, there are heaps of spirits around because they are lost souls. They don’t realise they have got to go home, they don’t realise they’ve got to move to the next plane, they are so caught up in body consciousness. The person who looks at me in the mirror is not my body, it’s something beyond the eyes. The master wasn’t having any of that. He was terrified of ghosts, he just hated the idea of them.

Jess: You mentioned past lives before. How did you come to know your past lives?

Clayton: I don’t, I don’t at all. I don’t try and regress, I don’t do any of that stuff. It just seems to me that you get spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring, summer, autumn, winter … it doesn’t stop. The water runs down to the sea, it evaporates, it goes into the clouds, it falls back to the earth, it runs down the stream, it doesn’t stop. So how can we possibly stop? How can we even have the idea that it’s going to stop? Are we so vainglorious that we are beyond nature? It’s really quite tragic to think there is nothing beyond this life.

I watched this TED talk yesterday with that French free diver. Have you seen that one? It was fascinating. His hero is Jacques Mayol. He talks about what he goes through and essentially he is just in deep meditation when he is doing it. He goes down to I think 123 metres. A big thing occurred to him: there was a photograph taken by a spacecraft. It was an image back towards earth from a billion light years away. We are just so, so insignificant, so small. He said that when he is down in those deepest parts, that’s exactly how he feels. All these grand ideas and plans don’t really matter because he is just so insignificant. He says all you can do is submit. That is a lifetime’s work right there, to be able to submit, to just let go. I think that’s exactly our challenge.

Jess: Which is huge.

Clayton: Massive.

Jess: Because there are times when you think you cannot possibly let go. For a political cause, for principles that need to be protected and defended. You wonder to what extent that letting go applies to those kinds of situations and injustices.

Clayton: I love the idea that the Indians have got about duty. Duty is a very big part of their country; they call it dharma. It really is not about outcomes, it’s got nothing to do with outcomes, it’s all about doing your absolutely best at the job you need to do now. That might be the military. It’s just doing your absolute best with integrity and with heart, and don’t expect any outcomes because the outcomes aren’t up to you. I think that’s the big take away from me.

Jess: So, what’s next for you? Have you got plans?

Clayton: I do meditations on Wednesdays. We are going to do the meditations at Sara-Jane Cleland’s naturopathy clinic. It’s a big thing for me. I never see myself as leader of any sort, so if there’s very a challenge, then this is it. I have always been the renegade, fly below the radar type. All of a sudden I am the stand up guy. If there’s ever been a learning curve, then here it is. This learning curve business never stops. You have got to be fallible.

Jess: Well it doesn’t stop because I think you must want to be learning.

Clayton: Yeah, I suppose.

Jess: Otherwise it could stop!

Clayton: Yeah, that is probably true.

Jess: Just watch daytime television with a bottle of beer!

Clayton: From a spiritual point of view, I have no idea. I’m quite happy not to know.

Jess: It’s a mystery.

Clayton: I am too small to understand the bigger picture. But I am absolutely confident that there are those that know what the bigger picture is. And I am quite at ease with saying, “I don’t know,” as a position of strength. About 20 years ago I would have baulked at the idea that saying “I don’t know,” is a strength. I don’t know the answer.

An important part of Heartfulness Meditation is this idea of transmission. The objective is to clean and expand the consciousness. But if you want to clean something, you have to use a device of a similar nature. If you’ve got smoke in a room and you take a tennis racquet to get the smoke out, it’s useless, you can’t do it. But open a window and let it take the air out, and all of a sudden it’s clean. In the same way, if you want the soul to be clean and to grow, then you have to use something of a similar nature. And that is transmission.

This system was rediscovered from about two thousand years ago. How can you let someone else grow in a spiritual way by using your own heart’s capacity? The other person has to be willing to try. And if they’re willing to try, then one person can allow another person to grow. If any evolution has taken place within me, then it’s been in spite of myself. All I’ve been doing is to be willing, and the rest follows from the transmission. It’s called prana hutti and it means life force. Allowing the life force to do its work.

Jess: Thank you.

* For more information about Clayton Hairs, please visit

* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit

* Interview very kindly transcribed by Alissa Angel


Tara Hunt


Jessica Raschke


Wollongong, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


August 28, 2016

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt: Dancing with diversity and spirit

Every now and again you meet someone who is younger than you, but they have clearly lived so much more than you ever have (okay, I will speak for myself here). Tara Hunt is one of those people. Effervescent, intelligent, energetic, talented and wise, Tara spends her days researching and writing about male suicide … as well fuelling her passion for belly dancing. They might sound like opposing energetic forces, but the ultimate effect is something akin to balance. Embracing life’s dark, as well as its light. Hold on tight for some serious inspiration with Tara Hunt. (And, no, she’s not as intense as the photos appear!)   

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Tara: Well, I grew up in Redfern, right across from the Rabbitohs Stadium on Chalmers Street, so it was really central inner city. It was a great place to grow up, particularly because there was an abundance of different cultures and backgrounds and religious groups constantly around in the area. Our neighbours were Swiss, there were Vietnamese neighbours, and there was a big Indigenous community as well. It was just really fantastic being among so many different groups and I think that that has been particularly formative for me in terms of who I am now, being a belly dancer and being so interested in different cultures in a really in-depth way. It’s just given me a complete fascination with how different people live and make meaning in their lives.

So, when we moved here [to Wollongong] when I was about 12, it was a bit of a culture shock. With most regional areas, although it’s not like this anymore now here, there’s one Asian boy in the entire school.

Jess: It was very mono-cultural?

Tara: Really mono-cultural and I was just a bit shocked. I really struggled for a long time to find my place here. I think it gave me a really different perspective on the difficulties that people can experience in life because this area is middle-class with no evident struggles with homelessness and drug addiction. Mum now tells me stories about the kinds of kids that I would be hanging out with as a 4 or 5-year-old and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t realise that was kind of going on.” She tells me of a friend I had who liked to pretend that she was a mouse, that was her thing, but apparently her Mum was addicted to heroin and was a sex worker. So, there seemed to be none of that here, but one of the primary reasons for moving down here was the suffocation that can happen in the inner city and wanting to have a tree change.

Jess: So, is it just you and your parents or have you got siblings?

Tara: And my little sister, Zoe, she’s 21 or 22 and lives in Melbourne now. So, that was a pretty big change moving down here and a cultural change as well. I grew up in the Uniting Church community in Redfern, which was really fantastic in a lot of ways, just because it had a really profound sense of community that I really value now and I try to create it as well. My parents were very pivotal in creating this. My mother worked in a community development officer role. She organised the community garden out the back and a whole bunch of programs associated with it, which she eventually got really burnt out from doing. I can now understand just how easy that is from things that I’m involved with organising. That deep sense of community and access to people and involvement with people from really different backgrounds that come together for this one purpose, this over-arching goal or interest.

A lot of the stories from my childhood do revolve around these kinds of groups. And it really showcased my parents’ strengths as people as well. I don’t think I know of any people who were more generous than my parents with their time and energy – or anything actually. If they have something and another person needs it more …

Jess: … they’ll hand it over.

Tara: Yes, one of the most vivid early memories that I have – I was probably about six – is of a local fellow in the church, he was separated from his partner and the kids were living in Melbourne at the time. They were young teenagers and I had met them a few times. He was not very well-off financially as a result of the separation and he spent money on purchasing tickets for his kids to come up and visit him – I think it was a holiday or something. But then it turned out that the kids couldn’t come and he couldn’t get a refund on the tickets. It was a sizeable amount for him at that time and I just knew from my interpretation of the event that he just really needed the money.

I remember this really amazing secret mission that me and my parents went on. They found out the price of the tickets and secretly put the money in his letterbox. His house was within two blocks of our place so we went on a walk and I put it in his letterbox. I just remember that it was exciting, and thinking that this was the best thing that could be done at this moment, and this is what my parents could do to help this guy. I try to use that to remember that that is what I should be doing. It’s really easy at times to just go through your paces and you don’t really think about what you’re doing and what people need around you. I try to bring it back to that feeling as much as possible, to think about how I can be the most generous in this moment with what I have.


Jess: It was obviously a really formative moment?

Tara: Yeah, my parents are full of that kind of stuff so I’m really proud of them for doing that.

Jess: So, if you landed in Wollongong at about age 12, then did you start at a new high school?

Tara: I was in Year 6 so I think that the whole plan for moving was around our school ages. My sister was in Year 2 so she was pretty young. I’d already moved schools a lot. That’s probably also quite an interesting thing. At the time of the big hail storm in Sydney in 1999, I moved from a local Catholic primary school, Paddington Public, and then moved to Mount Ousley Public School which is 300 metres up the road. This was one of the reasons why they picked this place, my parents were very strategic that way, close to the high school, close to the primary school, close to the university…

Jess: They had it all sorted out!

Tara: They totally did. So, I moved there but I didn’t really fit in. Some people go through life never really quite fitting in. If you’re that kind of person, you just have to say, “Well, I’m never going to fit in,” so you stop trying very hard.

Jess: Just going your own way?

Tara: Yeah, you just exist. I went to Mount Ousley which was particularly mono-cultural, then another high school in Wollongong. I still have one really good friend that I made at that school. But I remember sitting down at the table one day for dinner and randomly asking what would happen if I moved schools. I don’t even remember if I was ruminating or thinking very deeply about it. I don’t think that I was particularly attached to the place or felt particularly challenged. I was just coasting because I could and I think in that way I really needed to have been in an environment where there is a challenge present or that I have to rise to …

Jess: … there’s a stimulus, you need that stimulus.

Tara: Yeah, or otherwise you can just do what’s easy. I’m quite lazy at the end of the day.

Jess: Sure not, you don’t sound like that at all!

Tara: Well, you could always be working harder but I usually opt not to.

Jess: You do need to rest sometimes.

Tara: I struggle to remember that. I wasn’t particularly connected and I was really precocious. Throughout all of my schooling I’ve been the weirdo, I’d just sit in a corner and read books, I was a complete and utter bookworm. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time in Year 7. I kept on trying to apply 19th century social norms to the current context…

Jess: Okay, that would have been interesting!

Tara: Yeah, it was an interesting experiment. Nobody really understood. I really enjoyed incorporating insults from those time periods into the current day.

Jess: That would have been pretty classy!

Tara: Yes, calling people ninny-hammers! I need to bring that one back, it’s so good. Yeah, nobody really quite understood what I was saying at any point, they still don’t. So anyway, after that I moved to St Mary’s which is a large, single sex private school and that was really tough because, to some extent, I didn’t have the academic discipline that I needed to succeed well. I was doing well at my previous high school without any effort, but the benchmark was a lot higher so it took me a long time to figure out how I could achieve the benchmarks that I needed to with the lowest effort. Just in terms of not killing yourself in the process of trying to achieve these higher benchmarks. And I’ve always been a complete and utter perfectionist and, at that point, I didn’t really have any other hobbies, all of my identity was dependent on success at school. So, that was really tough but my understanding of what success was at that point was particularly inflexible. I was incredibly disappointed if I got below 90% on anything … profoundly disappointed.

Jess: I can completely relate, it makes sense to me.

Tara: Yeah, I think that was one of the really big things that I had to work through and it took years and years and years.

Jess: It takes a while for that to rub off, doesn’t it?

Tara: You have to find strategies to deal with that inclination and for me, that was all that I really had at that point. I eventually found a group of crazy weirdos like me…

Jess: Misfits?

I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I need to be doing with my life … [It] has been clear as crystal from the very beginning and I’ve got no idea what has to happen for some people to be like that.

Tara: Yeah, there was a long time of trying to figure out girls’ school social dynamics and trying to fit in. There was a lot of adolescent, teenage angst associated with that … lots of psychologist appointments and distressed parents. But I did have a couple of teachers that were really good at noticing that I was a particularly unusual student that needed an additional push and interest.

I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I need to be doing with my life. Some people are interested in so many things and like to taste little bits and pieces of everything, and they struggle to find a coherent narrative for themselves. Mine has been clear as crystal from the very beginning and I’ve got no idea what has to happen for some people to be like that.

Jess: So, what’s the clear as crystal sense of purpose and meaning?

Tara: The thing that gives me the most satisfaction in life is forming connections between things. Whether that’s abstract, practical, physical, or whatever, I love the mental satisfaction of getting two things that look different and finding a way to make them connect in a beautiful and unusual way. One of my earliest memories is that I had a Barbie doll that my Nanna bought for me, it was one of those very princess pink ones. I was playing with it, at the Uniting Church, and I saw this thing on the ground and I was like, “Hello,” and I picked it up and it was a crown. It was the most perfect crown and it fit perfectly. I thought, ‘That wasn’t mine but it works and it’s beautiful.” I get a feeling of satisfaction from making connections, it’s the basis of most of the things that I do, whether it’s in making costumes, bringing together unusual combinations of colours and textures into a coherent whole. In academia, it’s creating links between really disparate models of theories to bringing it together, like framing a new problem…

Jess: Like synthesising them?

Tara: Yes, synthesis. And with dance that’s how you make an interesting and dynamic performance. You want to highlight parts of the music to help the audience hear the thing that you’re hearing within the music that you want to bring to life.

Jess: And, I guess, the end goal is to make it more beautiful, whatever that thing is?

Tara: Yeah, I guess so. I guess that goes to, “What is beauty?” Beautiful, coherent, elegant – to make it make a little bit more sense, maybe?

Jess: Maybe bring harmony to it?

Tara: Yeah!

Jess: I’m just thinking in those terms because I’ve got a similar background experience with my childhood. I’ve got migrant parents and I went to a school that was completely multicultural. It was really strange to see an Anglo person! So I grew up among cultural diversity and it was completely the norm, it was really standard, and then I got thrown into a mono-cultural high school which was just misery for me, I have to say. It was the worst time in my adolescence! I love diversity, eclecticism, and what was so beautiful for me about growing up in that context is that you have diversity and it’s harmonious. There wasn’t any discernible conflict going on. There were Muslim kids, a handful of Buddhist kids, I was at a Catholic school interestingly but we just had kids from all over the place and they just took whoever was in the catchment area.

It really resonates, I was thinking that makes sense, actually, bringing connection and togetherness to what looks like a mishmash – they couldn’t possibly be brought together or you assume that they can’t be brought together.

Tara: Yeah and maybe that is what also drives my interest. Well, particularly in Middle Eastern culture, there’s something within the music, within the group dynamics and the just hanging out culture that is there; that really resonates with me and I can’t access that with people from a more Anglo-Saxon background. I’ve got a really wonderful group of friends now that, like Nadia, who I dance with and Sako, a Syrian-Armenian guitarist and Atif, he’s a Syrian darbuka player. And we just hang out.

I have a lot of difficulty disconnecting the academic part of my mind from social interaction. I think that that was the thing that I really liked about myself for a long time, but now I’m starting to realise that it actually does have negative side-effects about connection with other people.

Middle Eastern culture and music [has] taught me to be more present and comfortable with not having to be constantly intellectually performing.

Jess: The academic side of things?

Tara: Yes, I think so. If I’m constantly analysing stuff in a way that other people just don’t care about … you have to mirror where the other person is at. But within this group, we are all connected by a love of Middle Eastern culture and music. But it’s taught me to be a bit more present and comfortable with not having to be constantly intellectually performing.

Jess: Just being.

Tara: Yeah, it’s just nice when people come into your life that teach you something that you really needed to know. Just opening that extra level of comfort with yourself and not having to play that role all the time is a big relief.

Jess: So, just stepping back a bit then, tell me more about the academic pathway? You’re currently studying a PhD?

Tara: Ten years ago, I was like, “I’m going to do a PhD, yeah! By the time I’m 25!” Well, I haven’t done that. I had this intention really early on and it just happened. Because my parents have social work backgrounds, we discuss our emotions and experiences quite academically in a really abstract way, which is great for psychologising.

Jess: And for sport?

Tara: Yes, it is like a sport! We really commit to it and develop these really complex theories about exploring people’s behaviours and it is like an intellectual sport in a way. So that world isn’t alien to me and it’s quite apt in that way that my father works with engaging fathers and men. Well, I’m now doing a PhD in men and suicide. That’s not entirely of my own choice, there was a certain degree of pragmatism that has gone into the selection of that topic. It’s appropriate and pertinent right now, it’s really important and relevant, and there was funding available for it. It also connects with my personal interests and being able to massage it into a thing that I am quite interested in, which is gender dynamics and how that impacts our responses to other people.

Jess: I was curious to know what led to the male suicide focus in particular. So, let’s start with the suicide first. What was the interest in suicide?

Tara: Well, when I was still contemplating being a clinical psychologist I tried out with Lifeline and did a couple of years as a telephone counsellor. I think that that is a job I could do but it’s not one that I want to do. I find it hard to be as emotionally present and generous as you can with the people in your life in combination with doing that within your professional life. I just made a decision that I can’t do that, it’s just going to be too hard. Academic stuff is like mother’s milk to me, I love it, so I decided to go down that pathway. I was approached to be on the Board of Directors of Lifeline, South Coast when I 19. That was a jump in the deep end!

Jess: That’s amazing!

Tara: It took years to feel even mildly comfortable with the role but it was an amazing learning experience. It was actually Gordon Bradbury, the mayor of Wollongong, he was on the board at that time and he approached me as he thought I might be interested. I think that did really set me up to be doing a PhD in this area. I’m interested in it and I think that it’s really important. Some people come into it with a lot of personal experience in the area, but I don’t have a lot of my own experience.

As a teenager, I was quite depressed and potentially suicidal in that adolescent way, but I don’t feel that experience really provides any insight into the topic of my PhD. My dad’s focus on men’s health. “Do I really even want to go into this?” Doing stuff that Dad is interested in, but that was an illogical concern, I think it’s been great to get his insight into it as well, he’s got a lot of experience and understanding and now he’s sometimes coming to me.

Jess: To seek your advice?

Tara: Yes, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know Dad!’ Because academically I know a lot, but practice is his side of the thing. So, I guess it was personal interest and pragmatism that got me here. It’s horrible and soul-crushing work, a lot of the time. To be able to research it you do, to a certain extent, need to be able to intellectualise it. You have to be really disciplined with yourself so that you don’t force that onto other people as well, because it can seem really callous. So I generally avoid talking about my PhD as much as possible. Because you never know whether someone else has experienced suicide. And anything like that could be triggering because, of course, they are going to interpret what you say through their lens of their own experience so I try to keep a lid on it as much as possible.

I love making connections and forming relationships.

Jess: So, when you’re saying it’s difficult and soul-destroying is it because the focus is on people being suicidal?

Tara: Well, my focus isn’t entirely on people being suicidal. I’m looking at the impact of gender on the interpretation and response to male suicidality and telephone counsellors. So, I’m looking at telephone counsellor’s interpretation of a person’s presentation, rather than the nitty-gritty of their own personal experience. I’m not doing a clinic PhD so that steers me into a policy, research route. It’s more having the discipline to turn up every day and do the same thing, every day, and rarely meeting your personal goals. Just because you have to be so focussed and the concentration you need to be able to work well and frequently you’re just not and trying to reconcile that and not feel guilty. It’s tough but what job isn’t tough? It’s just you and the thing in front of you, your one job is to write this thing. That been really hard for me because I love going off and making connections and forming relationships. I think that is why dancing has been particularly good because I do have a way to do that.

Jess: I was going to lead into that … the antidote to the PhD claustrophobia, I suppose.

Tara: Yeah, it is claustrophobia…

Jess: For you, it’s the dancing?

Tara: Definitely! I started that in the second year of uni. A really important part of identity formation is knowing the way that you attribute your value as a human onto these things that you do. There’s some philosophies that really dislike that. I am what I do, that’s really important to me to take a mind and body approach. I think the thing that I struggled with throughout adolescence was not attributing my value as a person onto my grades, but in second year uni that was a pretty stressful time. I performed brilliantly that year, actually, I don’t know how but it just got to a point where I can’t continue like this. It’s a fragile thing when the confidence and identity you had is dependent on the marks you get – that is just too fragile. I was too enmeshed with my academic practice, I really needed to find a way to step back. At that point I was grinding my teeth so hard that I broke three teeth in one night.

I woke up one day and I was drinking a margarita a bit later. I thought, “Why is this so sore?” I realised I had seriously chipped one on each side and one at the front. I could barely open my mouth for a couple of weeks because the muscles were so fatigued from grinding so hard at night. I just need something that I could do. I had already seen a belly dancer when I was about 15, and I had tried it then. It was Mum’s way of trying to connect with me as a grumpy, moody adolescent. Adolescents are flippant so I ended up not committing to it, but I went back to it as a 19-20-year-old. I was like, “I love this, I really love it!” Over the years, it became about developing a deep personal connection with the music, food and culture.

Slowly I wanted to become good, I never really do things in a half-hearted way. If I going to dance, I’ve got to be a professional. If I’m going to go to uni, I’ve got to do a PhD. If I do anything, I’ve got to really fucking do it, so I tried to be really disciplined and had goals of dancing for hours a week, which eventually prompted me to live quite a healthy lifestyle, which has been helpful in staying sane throughout the PhD process. It meant that my academic failures, even if they were caused by dance, weren’t such a burden upon me. It let me breathe a little bit, in a way, and it let me explore other parts of myself that I hadn’t really done before. Then there’s all the things associated with belly dancing, like costuming, that’s a really big part of my life now. I really love making costumes so it has opened up a world of creativity and performance.


Jess: So, is there a plan for how you might bring these elements of your life together?

Tara: Yeah, it’s interesting that you ask that. My ideal job probably would be a research position looking at recently migrated men from culturally diverse backgrounds. And particularly my interest is in how meaning is made in this new cultural context and where it is important to maintain past traditions and experiences as well. That’s probably my real research interest and of course I would find a way to bring everything together. That would be perfect but there’s no money in that, that’s not going to happen.

Jess: You never know. You could work in psychology and start writing…

Tara: I’m never going to be an academic and thankfully, with the help of my supervisors, I’ve been able to position my PhD as a bit more of a policy driven, practical applied PhD, which will hopefully get me a job at the end of this.

Jess: I’ve heard from psychology and social worker friends that there’s a bit of a tension between social work and psychology.

Tara: Totally!

Jess: So how does that work in your family?

Tara: Well, I think it means I’m a really bad psychologist because, at the end of the day, I really do hate psychology, the orientation of the practise of it. The rigid focus on the individual is just so stupid. For me, it just ignores all the important parts of the situation, which is relationships, which is everything that surrounds a person. So I think I’m a social worker at heart. I guess my PhD is kind of about that. It’s how meaning is created through communication dynamics and social dynamics. That is an interesting point and that’s probably why I didn’t end up going into being a clinical psychologist, I just can’t entertain for a moment that that’s enough, that diagnosing is enough, and that you can ease mental distress through CBT without looking at other contributing factors. That has only been recent through other conversations that I’ve had recently as well. I was talking with a psychiatrist who is Middle Eastern, he’s from Syria. We were talking about it the other night and I was asking what is the Middle Eastern concept of psychology, is there a practice of that there? Well no, because it’s a collective of society, one person’s pain is everybody’s pain and it just doesn’t work. That means that the practice of psychology is just so restricted and so culturally inflexible and there has been very little work on figuring out how it actually can be applied…

Jess: … in broader terms … more realistically …

Tara: Yes, that’s a complete and utter failure for me – it just doesn’t work.

Jess: Now that I’ve led you to the path of disenchantment … that’s really interesting because it’s like an ambivalence that you have to negotiate as you are completing your work.

Tara: Luckily, I realise that it’d be a bigger problem if I had done a clinical PhD but luckily, whether I realised it consciously or not, being a psychologist was not going to sit well with me. Thank God! Dodged that bullet!

Jess: The Soul Spectrum is interested in what brings meaning to people’s lives, how people fashion meaning for themselves and what they believe to be the source of spirit and soul in life. Would you mind speaking to these ideas?

Tara: That’s a hard one. I’m such an academic I find it really hard because I have to translate what you mean by soul to what I mean by soul or what I believe about the connection between the mind and body. It gets a bit complicated for me. What would I say if I wasn’t thinking about it too hard? Everybody does it differently and the way we relate to ourselves and others in the world is just created through a complex interaction between our biology and our life history and our upbringing.

I’m not sure whether my understanding of soul is going to be helpful to anybody else, which is interesting. So, what do I think the soul is? Everybody has that quiet, internal place … maybe this is what I think about it. I’ve been thinking about personality a lot recently, and I’ve had a lot of discussions with friends about what personality is. It’s kind of related, it’s who we are as people. There is very little about us that is constant. Although it is interesting that I like to describe myself as a very consistent, constant person, but we are always re-evaluating, reassessing how we are in the world and modifying it, and we modify who we are in the process, and the person that other people see is going to be different in every context.

So, every person is a constellation of all of these relationship dynamics and interactions. I enjoy being consistent so I try to make sure that the way I behave in one situation is quite consistent across the rest. But at the same time, I am like a crazy introvert at times, so I really need down time because sometimes I’m just a horrible person to be around. Soul, so what do you mean by soul?

Jess: That’s a good question which is why I’m asking it. When I think about it, it’s that deep and centred place within a person that is quiet and gently guides a person in their own direction. I know that can be separate from spirit, which is more about the energy that a person projects. The sense of a person that is there … it’s like when you encounter a dead body and that sort of sense of essence is divorced from the body, if it’s not breathing and pulsating then it’s not really in possession of soul. I’d say that soul is this core element that makes a person that person and spirit is the energy that gets emitted by that person and they can be different. Because what lies truly deeply within a person may not necessarily be self-evident – maybe that’s persona or something?

Tara: That’s a nice delineation. I guess in some ways I can see that because I use similar terms.

Jess: People can take it very literally to mean when you die the soul leaves the body, that there is some tangible, even intangible entity that exits the body and is reincarnated. People can take it very literally and not take is as a symbolic truth about each person; that there is just something core to their being that only belongs to their being.

Tara: Yeah, I think I believe that, but unfortunately, seven years of studying psychology means that I’ve got all this baggage about the meta-theory behind what saying you have a soul really means. While I may relate to the sentiment non-academically, academically there is a lot of cognitive distance around that I guess. I’m at a very early point in my journey…

Jess: Yes, you’re young!

Tara: I’m only 25. I think I need to think about it more.

Jess: It’s not an essential life question, maybe it’s not meant to be answered.

Tara: No, but I think it’s important to think about it, and a lot of it is caught up in terms. Maybe I use different terms to refer to that as well. You defined what you meant by that really well, and I think I would largely agree with what you are saying because I also think that in terms of energy.

Jess: That’s alright. It’s a life journey thing, the extent to which the question is important to you and where you are in your life. I’m turning 40 this year. There’s certain points in your life when that question takes on some importance.

Tara: Maybe that’s right, maybe now for me it’s more important to be participating in that life lesson. I’m still learning about who I am and how I do change within the world, maybe what also stays the same, and that is the internal part of you. I think in the past year that thing about not over-intellectualising everything has been the biggest important life lesson that I’ve had. You can still have really worthwhile relationships without convoluted academic discussion – that was a really surprising revelation for me. Why the hell didn’t I know that?

Jess: And a liberating one as well?

Tara: Yeah, I think so and that thing about not pushing stuff onto people and just being happy to meet the other person where they are because you always discover new aspects of yourself through that. So, at the moment I’m really more focussed on how to form really good relationships with other people rather than theorising so much about myself. But I think that they are really related – it’s impossible to separate that kind of stuff out.

Jess: I guess maybe in knowing yourself it helps. The better you know yourself, the easier it is to know others. It’s like a mirror thing, because the more you recognise your own complexity and your own contradictions, your own failings, foibles, perfections and imperfections, it’s easier to recognise that in someone else with love and compassion, and empathy surfaces more readily…

Tara: Yeah that’s really true but that being said, I feel like I do know myself very well. So, although you’re always discovering new things about yourself, I’ve always been pretty comfortable with who I am. The challenge has always been to try and figure out how I can co-exist with other people with that sense of confidence of who I am because that’s not always very well received. I think one of the issues that I had within adolescence was that I wasn’t a social chameleon. I was very bad at adapting myself to new social contexts where you had to in order to survive – I just refused to do that. I think people who do that inevitably get a bit more flack at school. I think that that has made life a lot simpler for me in a lot of other ways since then. I have always been very confident in that self-knowledge of myself and that I know myself enough to be able to make the decisions that I need to.

Jess: So where to from here for you? I know it’s been hinted at a bit…

Tara: I’m always thinking about where to from here. Finding a way that I can make the money I need and pursue dancing is the big one. At the end of the day right now, probably the thing that I want to pursue most is dancing but I don’t know if I could do that in a full-time capacity either. I can’t see myself wanting to do too much of anything. My goal is, post PhD, to find a job that will support me doing dancing.

Jess: See where that takes you.

Tara: Yeah, but I can’t imagine that I’m going to be a full-time dancer – that’s really untenable. I want to form more creative relationships with people and be able to contribute to a creative community in which we broaden and extend Middle Eastern dance in Australia. I want to continue with the community engagement stuff that I do, around that. For me, one of the big difficulties of being a Middle Eastern dancer is that we take a lot from the culture. We take music, we take dance, we take all of this really important cultural stuff and there’s rarely a direct way in which we give back. So, I’ve been involved with SCARF [Strategic Community Assistance for Refugee Families], a local community organisation and I really want to continue doing that kind of work, which is supporting people from those communities now coming to Australia because a lot of the war and distress that is going on right now. So, that’s really important for me to be ethically engaged in what I do.

A developing focus of my research has been on how to conduct research that is engaged with communities. This has really inspired me in terms of my future research as well. In this way, dancing has helped me to see what I truly value in academia. My aspirations for my future research is to be a tool for communities wishing to conduct their own research – on things that will improve lives, wellbeing, effective practice! Whatever the community identifies as being important to them. I define “community” quite broadly here, as I find anything that is grounded in the needs and values of people quite inspiring. But immediately, at the end of the day I want to finish my PhD with novel and useful results that will improve professional practice and outcomes for suicidal men.

Jess: I’m sure you will. Thanks very much, Tara.

* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit

* Interview very kindly transcribed by Dana Junokas


Zenith Virago


Jessica Raschke


Bowral, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-mé


October 10, 2016

Zenith Virago

Zenith Virago: The Walk of Life, Death and Bereavement

The inimitable Zenith Virago is wise, compassionate and just downright passionate about life, death and everything in between. I first encountered her while listening to a Radio National interview, and was disarmed by her candour and courage in working with death, bereavement and grief. I was compelled to learn more about her work at the Natural Death Care Centre in the Byron Shire in New South Wales, and soon found myself signed up to her Deathwalker Training in Sydney, and then officiating funerals in the Southern Highlands. The apparent ease with which Zenith lives her truth is truly inspiring and a testament to just how easy it can be, if only we allow it. And it might take an intimate relationship with death to get us there. 

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up, what’s your origin story?

Zenith: I grew up in England with a pretty regular family, but one of the interesting things is that my grandfather was the head gravedigger and manager of the Wandsworth Cemetery in South London. Each week as a child, I used to visit my grandparents, we had to walk all the way up through the cemetery to a stone house at the top. So I certainly had a familiarity with cemeteries and graves from when I was very young.

My best friend died when I was 15 and that really impacted me about the randomness of death, and when death comes in the fullness of life. I sat exploring all of that, feeling “Oh well, I could be dead by the weekend.” It took me about 18 months to really work out a whole lot of things about death, which allowed me to have death – particularly sudden death – as a friend and as an asset.

Jess: So you had an early introduction or an early familiarisation with death. Were you drawn to working with death at that particular time, at that young age?

Zenith: No, not at all, not like some people. No, I got married, had children, I went travelling. Then in the early 1980s, as part of the gay subculture, I got caught up in the HIV crisis. Lots of my friends were gay man who contracted HIV, so I spent time with them. Not so much at the moment of death, but during their dying, and it was an amazing learning. Some of them saw the virus as a gift to them. Some were great teachers to me about how people can live a life even while they are dying.

There were lots and lots of lessons in the 80s for me around that, but still I didn’t think that I would be working in that field, not for a second. Then later I worked in law which was great grounding. Then my best friend Sylvia died in the mid-1990s. That took me on a deep journey, and sitting here with you is still part of that journey.

Jess: Just to backtrack a moment. How was it that the people with HIV found it to be a gift?

Zenith: Well, it’s a bit like some people when they get a diagnosis of a disease that is going to kill them. They may feel a sense of relief. They know they have limited time, they’re not going to have to plan for their old age, they can take charge of things and get themselves organised. Some of the guys felt it gave them an opportunity to go deeper into their spirituality where they wouldn’t have said they were spiritual people before. They were able to live with themselves, but they may have been a minority, where most people may say, “Why is this happening to me? Oh my God, I don’t want to die, I’m young.”

Sylvia died suddenly in her garden one morning. I went with her husband that afternoon, by his invitation, to identify her body. When we walked out of the morgue I said, “We could do this, do you want me to find out how to do it?” And we did. A local and generous funeral director told me how to do it – all of paperwork for the procedure. We built a coffin, we drove her in our own car, we did the ceremony and we pushed her into the cremator. That was a good day. That day was my 37th birthday.

Jess: Your 37th birthday? Right on the day. That is symbolic in its own way wasn’t it, like a threshold moment for you?

Zenith: Yes, it certainly was, but life offers us things and we say, “Yes” or “No”. You embrace it or you run away from it. It was a total embracing for me. There were things that led to that moment. Each small thing on its own is just a little incident, but when you put them all together they all lead to one moment, and then everything comes away from that and starts to lead to another. So there were lots of things that allowed me to be that person for that occasion, over a long period of time, but also in the couple of months beforehand. It’s the mystery, the beautiful mystery.

Jess: So can you tell me what some of those things were?

Zenith: Sylvia and I were close friends, she was 50-ish. We went for an adventure to see a local healer, an 80-year-old man named Eric, he was a phenomenon. We spent time together as it was a long drive. When I got there I told him I didn’t have anything wrong, I was just coming with my friend for the experience, for fun.

He responded with, “What I can do for you will make you go really deep.” I said, “Well stop right there, because I don’t know if I want to go deeper.” I sat there for a moment and I thought, “Okay, you’ve come all this way, this guy’s incredible.” I said, “Okay.” Sylvia and I went for three times. We had a great adventure together each month, and then a week after that last visit Sylvia died suddenly and my life went really deep.

Jess: How long after Sylvia’s death did you start with funerals?

Zenith: I did her funeral service three days later. Then shortly after another friend was killed on the highway. She was on a little scooter and a big ute knocked her off the road. Her husband asked me if I would do it for her, which I did.

Then all of a sudden, I got an opportunity to go to India, I managed to raise $5,000 overnight. Soon I found myself up a mountain with the Dalai Lama. I had an experience with him that was so incredible it just completely blew my cellular body apart into a sort of state of ecstasy, bliss. In that moment I thought, “This is amazing.” Then I thought, “I know this feeling, this is my intrinsic nature, this has nothing to do with him, he’s just woken it up. I can have this whenever I want, I just have to remember it!” Once you know something you can’t not know it. Twenty-five years later, I feel like I’m in that state of being a lot of the time. In that absolute state of joy, wonder and bliss while still functioning. But internally it’s a practice for me.

Jess: Grounded mysticism.

Zenith: I don’t know; I don’t need to put a word on it.


Jess: So what happened with the Dalai Lama? You were just in conversation with him?

Zenith: No, he came along and I took his hand, because I thought it’s too good a moment to miss. If I’m anything I am a person who knows a moment when it offers itself. We had a small, light conversation. For anyone who has been in his presence, he brings an incredible quality that is very radiant, you can fall into that or you can see your own reflection.

Jess: Well, that is highly transformative and profound. There must have been a lead up to that?

Zenith: No I wouldn’t say so.

Jess: Not at all?

Zenith: Some people have an experience like that and they see God. Maybe what we see is the meaning of life, your own intrinsic nature, that we’re all loved. It is possible to feel like that. The system doesn’t support that, it doesn’t want people to be joyful and ecstatic. People get locked up for feeling like that, there are lots of people in mental institutions who are just awake. I see so many people in the street who are just the living dead, they are dulled. People who live like that are sometimes in shock, it depends on what culture you grow up in. If you were living in a meditative community then maybe it’s a different experience, but we’re living in the oppressive mainstream.

Jess: Just going back to Sylvia’s death and meeting with the Dalai Lama…

Zenith: Yes… the biggest thing is saying yes to what life offers you. Being in the fullness of life by saying yes rather than no.

Jess: So in response to Sylvia’s death…

Zenith: Well, I felt Sylvia was there saying to me, if I have a handle on it, it will all be alright, we can make this okay. It was sudden, it was shocking. The ceremony was the best it could be, very simple, people felt empowered. I remember the local priest came to the ceremony uninvited, and one of the daughters, the 17-year-old, stood up at the funeral, and told him to go away.

Bereavement is a natural state of loss, but the quality and the experience of it is different for everyone, depending on who you are, your relationship with the person, how they die, their attitude towards death and dying. 

Jess: Wow, that’s an empowered 17-year-old!

Zenith: She said, “We are doing this.”

Jess: Why was he there?

Zenith: I don’t know why, I was busy, too many things to sort out. He may have liked Sylvia, she was a great woman and it was a very strong village, but the daughter was reactionary and she was able to say that. I don’t even know if he left or not, I just remember her getting up and saying to him, “You shouldn’t be here.” Who knows what was behind it.

Jess: So when I did the Deathwalker Training with you last year, you talked a lot about healthy bereavement as being part of the Deathwalker process. It sounds like Sylvia’s funeral service was, I guess, a prototype of a healthy bereavement process?

Zenith: It was the absolute best we could create in those circumstances. It was real, it was meaningful and authentic, and it was appropriate for her. Bereavement is a natural state of loss, but the quality and the experience of it is different for everyone, depending on who you are, your relationship with the person, how they die, their attitude towards death and dying. Every bereavement has a different equation.

You can arrive at a funeral that looks like a disaster and you can transform your own feelings into an easier, healthier place to be.

It’s about how the people who are left behind deal with that situation. How empowered they feel in the process before the ceremony, then the ceremony itself, they are the two biggest contributing factors towards bereavement. If you are dealt with harshly and you’re in shock and people don’t allow for that, and you get moved along really fast, then you get a ceremony that doesn’t offer you any wisdom or healing, or some understanding. You are going to find yourself with the body gone, buried or cremated, and you are still in shock. Not only have you not been soothed or cared for, but the shock has been compounded by an insensitive and shocking funeral. Most people have been to a shocking funeral, they know they feel worse when they come out than they did when they went in, because of what happens in that space. But a lot of people can dissolve that because once you have been to a good funeral you see that, in a way, you have to do it for yourself on the inside, it doesn’t matter what what is happening on the outside. So you can arrive at a funeral that looks like a disaster and you can transform your own feelings into an easier, healthier place to be.

Jess: I guess you can experience tensions within families, where one cohort might be conventional traditionalists and the other might be more open to their emotions and are looking for a more expressive service. Have you been in situations where there has been that incompatibility?

Zenith: Yes, often. It’s just different viewpoints. So for me it’s just about acknowledging all of that and trying to get the best outcome where people are generous to each other. To try and see the other person’s point of view. Whether they understand it or not is a different thing, at least you acknowledge it and then it’s about how to integrate that into some mediation or compromise. Sometimes it’s an absolute nightmare, but generally if you are a solutions person rather than a rescuer … sometimes they will come up with their own solution which is ideal, but if not you can make an offering and they can consider it and that might be enough for a solution, but generally you can have everything, you can have it all.

I feel I am a servant to everyone, trying to make it work and not to piss anybody off. Even within the hundreds of people who are there at a ceremony. Even when I didn’t have much experience, I still had very pragmatic approach and that was very useful with those experiences.

Jess: I recently watched an episode of ‘The Moaning of Life’ [hosted by Karl Pilkington], have you heard of that? The host was going to different countries and looking at different conventions around death. One example is in the Philippines where they suspend coffins from the side of a cliff. Another place where the dead body is dressed and propped up and made up and the coffin is bounced around. What are the prevailing funeral conventions in Australian culture and to what extent do you think they could be opened up further?

Zenith: I haven’t seen it; I haven’t had a TV for 25 years. When I first started, I was very concerned about the ceremony itself, the end of that journey, where the body goes and how it’s treated. But over the years I am more interested in what’s most important, and that is how you live and how you die. If you die well, and you’re gracious and generous and people who love you see that and feel that, then it doesn’t matter what comes after that, it is all just a bonus.

We are fascinated by what happens to the body because in a way it’s over there, it’s not about what’s happening on the inside. We can decorate it; we can make it look fun. We all know what it’s like to go to a good funeral, and I put my energy into making the funeral a great funeral. But if I only had the choice to do one thing, it would be to put energy into people dying well. Some 20 years later I found myself with the Dalai Lama again and I asked him a question. I asked, “What can we do so the people we leave behind don’t hurt so much?” He said that the best thing we can do is live a good life because it’s impossible for them to hurt then; it’s so simple.

The conventions we have are often religiously dictated. People will generally have a religious faith and they will look to that for comfort and guidance. There is a whole group of people who don’t have a traditional faith and they are also looking for comfort and for meaning, they are looking to make some sense of it all. They are creating a death style that works for them.


Jess: You just said that if you could focus all your energies to one thing it would be for people to die well. It would be to…

Zenith: Just for people to live well and die well.

Jess: So what does that look like for you? What does living well and dying well look like?

Zenith: Exactly what’s in front of you. I am living my life: I’m having fun, I’m healthy, I am in a currency of generosity, I’m saying yes to what life offers me. I feel I contribute to a better world, I give information and knowledge away with a trust that it will continue to ripple out, it won’t just sit with that one person. Even if it plants a seed with them right now, it might take 20 years to sprout, it’s better than if you don’t plant the seed as there is no chance for it to grow.

We are in a culture that doesn’t respect ageing and death, just like it doesn’t respect women, it doesn’t respect death because the masses think they can beat death, that they can live forever.

And for me it’s about making friends with death, it’s living the reality that I could die at any moment. Up until 56, I said I could die tomorrow but now I say I could die today because the odds are getting narrower! I’m getting closer and closer to death. Either suddenly or expectedly. But looking around here I can see lots of people are oblivious to anything, to any death. Faith and religion should support you. When the chips are down or when something is challenging, faith can be a help or a hindrance. People live as if they are never going to die and a lot of people live with the knowledge they are going to die and they are good with that. We are in a culture that doesn’t respect ageing and death, just like it doesn’t respect women, it doesn’t respect death because the masses think they can beat death, that they can live forever.

Jess: Yes, it’s on its way for all of us…

Zenith: It’s like doctors who instead of saying to someone, “You are dying, what do you want to do with your last period of time? We can make it as pain free and as comfortable as possible.” Instead they say, “We can try this or we can try that.”People look to doctors to get the best advice they can, but they don’t realise that the doctor is probably terrified of death themselves because they can’t fix it, it’s out of their control. Most people’s fears around death are about being out of control, not being able to control it all.

Jess: What might be some of the key or obvious qualities in the students who sign up to the Deathwalker training?

Zenith: There is a curiosity and a sense of enquiry and that might look like many different things. Some people feel they have a deep calling, that they’ve always been interested and they’ve been looking for something meaningful. Some people have become marriage celebrants and they want to do funerals, they want to give the best service they can. There are people who are already in a profession, like social workers, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, doctors, nurses who want enhance their professional skills, so they can offer more and have a broader understanding to be of more assistance to the people that they work with.

Jess: I remember a topic that we talked about at the Deathwalker Training: the seduction of the profound. I’m curious about this idea and I wonder what draws people to the Deathwalker Training. Perhaps you can only really feel the depth and the meaning and the truth of life if you sit with the reality of death or if you live close to it?

Zenith: Yes, it’s different for everyone, our mundane lives can be exciting or ordinary, but the profound is very seductive, it’s the ecstasy, it’s the bliss. And once you taste it, you think, this is like luxury, I’d love to live like that.

I think extreme sports people get it the best, they want to do something they love, that thrills or satisfies them, but is dangerous. They do it, and if they die doing it, their family accepts they died doing something they love… I have a lot of love and respect for extreme sports people. Some people put their longing away because they can’t take that risk because of their children or whatever.

Jess: It’s interesting that it takes going into those places of depth and meaning to really feel the marrow, to really go into the marrow of existence. Surely there’s a balanced way, where you can sit comfortably within the depths but also sit comfortably within the shallows. I don’t mean shallow in a derogatory kind of way, but in terms of the humdrum.

Zenith: Well, it’s the mundane. Yeah, it’s just what it is. The philosophers often ask, “Is this a dream?” I’m sitting here looking around [in Springett’s Arcade in Bowral, New South Wales] and watching people walking past. It fills me with a fascination and a sort of deep sadness at the same time because so many people seem very unhappy.

I sit in lots of different experiences. When you sit with people who are really alive, even if they are dying, it’s a great teacher. If they are truly alive there is something so captivating about them, about what they see. You can be in the mundane but still be in the profound on the inside. And that’s what you see with people who devote their life to a meditative or contemplating order or religion or spirituality. When you meet that person there is something really lovely about them. Petrea King has that.

Jess: Yes, she lives close by [to Bowral] in Bundanoon.

Zenith: If people are hurt they put protection up, or they’re fearful and find someone who will protect them, or some philosophy that will protect them.

Jess: Where do you begin with all of that? While there is observing of this sort of mindlessness here, there is also a lot of yearning.

Zenith: Yes, people are longing for meaning. Lots of people have a big empty hole inside them and consumerism has now become the latest religion offering to fill people up. You are never going to fill emptiness up by buying new things. If people are happy, then they don’t need that much. And if you’re really happy, then you want everyone to be happy, it’s like when you first fall in love and you want everyone to feel like that.

Jess: One of the key questions that The Soul Spectrum asks is how do people generate meaning for themselves? And what does soul and spirit feel like for each of the people that I speak with. So what does that feel like for you?

Zenith: I think it feels light, easy, rich.

I think being in a human body is one of the most incredible experiences: to be functioning, to experiencing pleasure, to experience sex, love, to be someone, to eat, to lay on the beach in the sun, to swim, to have a hot shower.

Jess: Well that’s great! Do you think you think soul exists?

Zenith: I feel we have something, like an energy, like everything has an energy. A plant has it when it’s alive, it has an energy that is responsive and seeks the sunlight and enjoys the rain. I think our intrinsic nature is not about how we look or what body we’re in, it’s a joy, it’s a deep joy in a way that includes everything. I think being in a human body is one of the most incredible experiences: to be functioning, to experiencing pleasure, to experience sex, love, to be someone, to eat, to lay on the beach in the sun, to swim, to have a hot shower. All those things are incredibly joyful which without a body you wouldn’t experience. Bruce Lipton spent many years pondering why we have bodies and he said it’s because you can’t enjoy chocolate without a body.

Jess: It’s as simple as that!

Zenith: Most people believe when we die something leaves the body and most people take comfort in the belief that something goes somewhere, they may go on to meet people who died before them, they may become part of everything, they may be around, they may be able to talk to them. People even think they control the weather like, “Oh Dad, turn the weather on for us,” they are all comforting beliefs. I don’t know what happens, what exists.

Jess: Who can say.

Zenith: I certainly know when people are in full radiance they are infectious; we all carry that radiance. People get glimpses of that but it closes back down because our environments don’t support that. If everybody felt like that all the time we wouldn’t need all these extra things.

We wouldn’t just be feeding our bodies; we would be feeding our souls. We would have a better work/play balance, and we wouldn’t need all of that money in the bank, we would just be happy.

Jess: In Western cultures in particular there is a death phobia. I don’t really like to use that word ‘phobia’, but there is death…

Zenith: …aversion.

Jess: Yes, death aversion. In the handful of funerals that I’ve done this year, I really notice for maybe a day afterwards that when I’m having a shower I’m really feeling it: I’m really having a shower; when I’m eating something, I’m really tasting the food

Zenith: Because you are in the profound.

Jess: It heightens the beauty of life and I wonder if there is that kind of relationship going on in Western culture where being averse to the truth of death means you’re cut off from life. It’s interesting we need to hold death close in order to really live.

Zenith: Yes, and my work has made me lighter and lighter.

Jess: If you hadn’t been drawn to working with death and writing beautiful funerals for people, where would you be right now? Do you think you would still have emerged as a similar Zenith?

Zenith: No. Death has polished me into something beautiful. I had a choice to work in law or to become a real estate agent. I talked to a few people and they said I would hate real estate. I could have made a lot of money. It was just before Byron Bay boomed into a holiday mecca and even people who were real estate agents said I would probably be great but it wouldn’t make me happy. I did law, it was a step I needed to do. I could have been seduced by money and gone somewhere else completely different. I could be wealthy, I could be living in a big house, great view, going on holiday a lot, but I wouldn’t swap my life as it is now for anything.

Jess: Where to from here for you? You’ve evolved into the Deathwalker Training after 25 years or so?

Zenith: The Deathwalker Training is about giving and sharing information, education, experience and wisdom, before the need is there. It felt like I was in crisis control at the bedside, at funerals. I wanted to reach people when they weren’t in a critical situation. The Deathwalker Training has been absolutely fantastic. What I’m looking at next is a body of work about stepping into elder-hood with death as the goal and the outcome, thinking about what I want to do with that time, and how to be the best asset I can to my family, friends, or to the world.

Preparing for death. The Deathwalker Training covers legal, practical, social and spiritual aspects, but really it’s something much deeper, it’s a transmission. Death can come for you any time. That’s what I am thinking about now, it seems the next natural progression. But life … it doesn’t matter what I want or where I might like to go, I’ve learnt enough about my life to know that life will offer me something and that will be where I go. So it might be … actually, I don’t want to be limited by my own imagination. Because if 25 years ago someone said, “This is the person you are going to be and this is what you are going to be doing,” I would have said, “You’ve got the wrong person!” I say YES unless I get a big body NO. So it’s not like I say yes to absolutely everything, but pretty much!

Jess: Yeah, that was crossing my mind. I am inclined to say yes but then…

Zenith: You have to pay attention to your body and listen to it, you have to love your body for that to happen otherwise you see it as an enemy. It’s not going to be an asset to you.

Jess: Trust…

Zenith: Trust in the mystery, the people, trust in the self. I think trust is a big asset and teacher for me.

Jess: Thanks very much, Zenith.


* For more information about the Natural Death Care Centre, please visit

* Photographs courtesy of Hamish Ta-mé. For more information about Hamish, please visit

* Interview very kindly transcribed by Alissa Angel