For Books’ Sake Talks To: Isabel Losada
12th Apr 2011
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, For Books’ Sake went to meet Isabel on the Battersea Park Road to drink tea and talk about reality, self-improvement, her latest book and what happens if you take a class A hallucinogenic in the jungle.
FBS: On your website you describe yourself as ‘committed to narrative non-fiction’ – what exactly does that mean?
IL: Personal exploration using myself as a guinea pig is the area for which I’m best known. In The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment I explored every area going that claims to help you become a better and more well-rounded person.
In The Battersea Park Road to Paradise I wanted to do fewer things in more depth. For me reality is fantastically interesting. One of the long running phrases in my books is ‘I’m not making this up’.
I’m not creative enough to make up one-tenth of the wonders that are out there if you explore reality. That’s not that fiction isn’t wonderful, but I love to explore what’s here and real and now.
FBS: What’s your new book about?
IL: The Battersea Park Road to Paradise is about that moment when you wake up and think ‘How did I end up here like this? This isn’t what I planned.’ In my case, everything had gone wrong.
I had met the man I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life with me, so I had a broken heart. I had been offered my dream job, producing and fronting a TV programme, then the company had a change, and the woman who commissioned me went and all her programmes with her.
I’d lost the man of my dreams and the job of my dreams, all in a year. What happened? Every reader has their own version of that – I know I’m not unique, especailly in this recession where people are losing their jobs and their homes.
So the book is a life review. I asked ‘What’s my life all about?’ and pared it down to it’s basic elements, according to the ancient Chinese tradition, of metal, water, fire, earth and wood.
FBS: You meditated, sat perfectly still, feng-shuied your flat, did Anthony Robbins and took a class A hallucinogenic drug – what would you do again?
IL: For Vipassna meditation they wake you at four in the morning and you meditate for ten hours for ten days completely still. You don’t speak for ten days, which is easy, and you don’t make eye contact for ten days, which is easy too. And you can’t move. Which is agony.
There’s a clarity and simplicity to it. It took me the first three days to stop thinking about other people and to get to existing in the present moment. It was absolute agony, and yet now I feel quite desperate to do it again.
FBS: And what would you never do again?
IL: The sacred medicine I was offered by the shaman of the Ashaninka tribe in the Amazonian jungle was interesting… They have two plants they mix together – one is poison and the other is its antidote.
I’ve never done drugs before, and it was like wielding a chainsaw in your brain. My mind was completely taken over and it was like have three-dimensional dreams that are fantastically real, while you’re still awake. There’s no off-button so lots of people find it terrifying.
Tibetan Buddhists teach that everything is a product of your own mind, and I didn’t see any reason to be afraid of what I saw, if it came from my own imagination then I’m not scared of myself. But it made me UNBELIEVABLY ill.
You wouldn’t believe nausea could be 500 per cent more violent than your body has ever experienced. I was so ill afterwards the shamen did a shamanic healing on me. I wouldn’t do that again – not because of fear of the visions but because of the sickness.
FBS: You’re pretty ballsy and you’ve done some crazy stuff. Do you do it purely in the interests of research for your books or to satisfy your own curiosity?
IL: I saw this phrase on a banner years ago: ‘Use EVERYTHING for your learning, upliftment and growth’. It’s a Californian version of the Buddhist teaching ‘use everything to your advantage’.
Apart from the fact that upliftment sounds like something a bra should do, it’s a good way of putting it, because in the Western world, using everything to your advantage sounds grasping.
But I’ve learned what this means and the application of it. You have to get our of your comfort zone, and find what you can take from every situation and focus on what’s valuable. Use everything, all of it all the time, every day, every moment.
FBS: Has any of what you’ve done made a difference to you?
IL: I have been changed by it. And yet change is always very subtle. I live with my daughter and her best friend so lets just say they keep my feet on the ground. She would probably say that I’m more annoying than ever! But she’s also learned all this stuff indirectly through me.
I like to throw in nuggets of information into what I write. I don’t want to be preachy but I do want to pass on the benefit of what I have learned. I always think if I die tomorrow I’ll be happy because I made people laugh. That’s my aim – to entertain and to pass on the best of what I learn.