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The following is taken from Why You Get Sick – How You Get Well by Dr. Arthur Janov and reviews some of the basic theory behind Primal Therapy.
“There is one neurosis, many manifestations and one cure ‘feeling.’”
Repressed pain divides the self in two, and each side wars with the other. One is the real self, loaded with needs and pain that are submerged; the other is the unreal self that attempts to deal with the outside world by trying to fulfill unmet needs with neurotic habits or behaviors such as obsessions or addictions. The split of the self is the essence of neurosis, and neurosis can kill.
That pain is the result of needs and feelings that have gone unfulfilled in early life. Those early unmet needs create what I call Primal Pain. Coming close to death at birth or feeling unloved as a child are examples of such Pain. The Pain goes unfelt at the time because the body is not equipped to experience it fully and deal with it. When the Pain is too much, it is repressed and stored away. When enough unresolved Pain has occurred, we lose access to our feelings and become neurotic.
“The number one killer in the world today is not cancer or heart disease, it is repression.”
Primal Therapy is important in the field of psychology, for it means, ultimately, the end to so much suffering in human beings. Discovering a way to treat Pain means there is a way to stop the misery in which so many of us are mired every day of our lives. After two decades of research, after dealing with thousands of patients with every imaginable psychological and physical affliction, we have arrived at a precise, predictable therapy that reduces the amount of time one spends in treatment and eliminates all the wasted motion. It is a therapy that has been investigated by independent scientists, and the findings are consistent. Primal Therapy is able to reduce or eliminate a host of physical and psychic ailments in a relatively short period of time with lasting results.
“Feeling Pain is the end of suffering.”
We have found ways to measure the ongoing presence and chronic effects of early trauma. We have observed time and again that even though it is not felt, the force of the memory remains in the system, reverberating on lower brain levels and moving against the body wherever it happens to be vulnerable. It shapes our interests, values, motivations and ideas. By reliving these traumas, patients can return back to early events and know with certainty how they formed adult behavior and symptoms.
“Repression is the hidden force behind illness.”
We can see how buried memories constantly activate the system, putting pressure on vital organs and creating disruptions that can eventually result in serious illness. The problem for too many of us is that suddenly we find ourselves with afflictions or obsessions and have no idea how it all happened. We don’t know why we can’t sleep, why we can’t find a mate, why we are obsessed with this idea or that or why we don’t function as we want to sexually. Primal Therapy can clarify these seeming mysteries.
It sometimes seems that everyone is suffering in their own way, and few are aware of it. Television is riddled with ads for ibuprofen, aspirin, sleeping pills and other pain killers, implicitly acknowledging the Pain we are all in but without ever acknowledging it explicitly. Nothing dramatic happens, but so many of us have developed this disease or that, from high blood pressure to allergies, colitis, anxiety attacks, asthma, circulation problems and heart palpitations (our history literally becomes palpable). So many ailments that seem inexplicable—depression and phobias, ulcers and migraines—may all stem from the same source. So might many of our personality quirks, our habits and behavior patterns, our drives and obsessions. One powerful piece of evidence for the fact of the same kinds of Pains being behind so many different afflictions and behavioral problems is that the same kinds of tranquilizers or pain killers are used to treat all of them.
In the fields of medicine and psychotherapy today, doctors deal with symptoms. Just look at the DSM-IV, the psychiatric diagnostic and statistical manual, with page after page of every conceivable variation of neurosis. And in Washington, D.C., they have erected monuments to symptoms, a building for each one “drug abuse, alcoholism, heart disease, cancer and so on. Experts specialize in treating colitis, ulcers, migraines, diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, depression, marital problems, eating disorders, etc., knowing more and more about narrower and narrower subjects. They add salt, take away salt, add thyroid, remove thyroid, speculate about the reasons for one’s allergies or unhappiness, analyze dreams and nearly always prescribe medication. They are trying to normalize the symptom instead of normalizing the person who has it, trying to normalize the manifestation instead of the system that makes it manifest.
Delving deep into the unconscious has allowed us to clarify the basis of adult behavior. We have a good idea of what lies in the unconscious, and it doesn’t seem to be the mystical emporium so often described. We have learned in Primal Therapy that irrespective of whether the Pain is manifest in the body or in the mind, the person is not himself; there is a dislocation of function that is global. Both emotional and physical pain deform cells and cause alterations that show up in measurements of vital signs, brain function and chemistry, the immune system, hormones, peripheral blood flow and in a person’s behavior. Everything is askew.
Primal Therapy works in reverse of the normal approach. Instead of working from symptoms to possible causes, we work from causes to symptoms. The focus is always deep. From this approach, we have developed a more profound understanding of who we are and what drives us, our basic, hidden, unconscious motivations.
John’s Primal therapy sessions with Arthur Janov in 1970 were the crucial catalyst in Lennon’s most emotionally bare album, “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.” This page includes an interview with Janov together with Lennon’s own recollections, plus a revealing insight into the therapy sessions by Pauline Lennon.
“His [Arthur Janov’s] thing is to feel the pain that’s accumulated inside you ever since your childhood. I had to do it to really kill off all the religious myths. In the therapy you really feel every painful moment of your life – it’s excruciating, you are forced to realise that your pain, the kind that makes you wake up afraid with your
heart pounding, is really yours and not the result of somebody up in the sky. It’s the result of your parents and your environment.
As I realised this it all started to fall into place. This therapy forced me to have done with all the God shit…… Most people channel their pain into God or masturbation or some dream of making it…… [It’s] facing up to reality instead of always looking for some kind of heaven.”
– From the Red Mole Interview, 1971
“There’s no way of describing it, it all sounds so straight just talking about it, what actually you do is cry. Instead of penting up emotion, or pain, feel it rather than putting it away for some rainy day….. I think everybody’s blocked, I haven’t met anybody that isn’t a complete blockage of pain from childhood, from birth on…… It’s like somewhere along the line we were switched off not to feel things, like for instance, crying, men crying and women being very girlish or whatever it is, somewhere you have to switch into a role and this therapy gives you back the switch, locate it and switch back into feeling just as a human being, not as a male or a female or as a famous person or not famous person, they switch you back to being a baby and therefore you feel as a child does, but it’s something we forget because there’s so much pressure and pain and whatever it is that is life, everyday life, that we gradually switch off over the years. All the generation gap crap is that the older people are more dead, as the years go by the pain doesn’t go away, the pain of living, you have to kill yourself to survive. This allows you to live and survive without killing yourself.”
– from the Howard Smith Radio Interview, 1970
In 2000, Arthur Janov talked about John’s treatment to Mojo Magazine’s John Harris.
How did you come to treat John and Yoko?
I think, unbeknownst to me, the publisher sent him a review copy of The Primal Scream (Janov’s first book on the subject). Then he or Yoko called me and asked me if I could come to England. I said there was no way, and so I hung up. But at that time, I had two kids who were fully into Beatlemania—so when I told them we weren’t going to England they started screaming and yelling. They said “You’ve got take us”. They were about 10 and 13. So I took them out of school, and it was the best time of their lives.
Can you recall your first meeting?
[Thinking back] Oh…we did a lot of the therapy at Tittenhurst Park. That huge white house. We did a lot of it in the recording studio, while they were building it. That was kind of difficult. But it went very, very well. John had about as much pain as I’ve ever seen in my life. And he was a very dedicated patient. Very serious about it. When I said to him, “You’ve got to come to LA now, I can’t spend the rest of my life in England”, he said, “Fine”, and he came.
In lots of Lennon books, his treatment is written about very melodramatically: “John screamed helplessly like a child, while Janov pulled him deeper and deeper into the darkest corners of his past…”
[Pained] Oh God. That’s just nonsense. We don’t do anything like that.
He responded well to therapy, anyway?
Yeah. He had tremendous insights. I just found out this morning that they’re re-releasing the Primal album [John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band]. And if you look at that album, it’s very evident what he got out of it. I love that album. After he finished it, he sent it to us, and I played it to a group of about 50 people, and they were all in a heap. They really understood what he was doing. It sent off everybody into their Primals. It was whole new direction for him, the level of simplicity was amazing.
Were you aware that he was writing the album in LA?
He and I talked a lot about some of that stuff. He would say, “What about religion?” and I would say something like, “People in pain usually seek out religion”. And he would say, “Oh, God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. So some of those songs came out of our discussions.
Did he talk to you about acid and its effects on him?
Well, I knew about it. I can’t disclose specifics, but in general, I’ll tell you this: LSD is the most devastating thing for mental health that ever existed. To this day, we see people who’ve been on LSD, and they have a different brain-wave pattern, as if their defences are totally broken down; it stays.
Timothy Leary was in favour of the idea of ego-destruction…
I think he destroyed so many people by touting LSD. It’s a very, very dangerous drug.
To what extent was John’s therapy cut short by the US Immigration authorities?
One day, John came to me and said, “We’ve got to get out of the country”. The immigration services – and, he thought, Nixon was after him. He said, “Could you send a therapist to Mexico with me?” I said “We can’t do that, John”. We had too many patients to take care of. They cut the therapy off just as it started, really. We were just getting going.
Inside two years of the release of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, John was back in LA, in the worst possible frame of mind – doing drugs, drinking…
Well, that wouldn’t be surprising to me. We had opened him up, and we didn’t have time to put him back together again. I told him that he had to finish it, but…I forget what happened then…he moved to New York, so it wasn’t possible.
Was that a source of regret?
It would be with any patient. John was really a genius, but he was just another patient. We care about everybody we treat, and we try very hard not to let anybody go too early.
You used the word “genius” then. So you think there’s a lot of truth in that notion…
[Emphatically] Oh, I think so. He had this perception – he could see inside people in a way that I’ve rarely seen.
Did you find, in the wake of John Lennon/Plastic Ono band, that you became a fashionable name to drop?
Yeah. John wanted to put an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “This is it: Primal Therapy.” I said to him, “I don’t want you to do that. This therapy’s far more important than The Beatles in the long run of history, and I think it’s got to stand on its own.” I couldn’t stop it…but we’ve since…done a tremendous amount of science and research, and it holds up.
Vivian Janov: “Well, really, to be honest, I think he [John] did say “THIS IS IT!” and I think he said that about everything. I am not even going to say, ‘This is it’, now we’re getting like stupidly simple, nothing is ‘IT’. Primal is ‘it’ in a certain sense for people who have blocked off that big chunk of pain and childhood and are always pulling against that, never being free. I think he did think again, “OK, the Maharishi disappointed me, now Janov is it”, and I think maybe he did go overboard, and I think Arthur may have represented to him the new brilliant father he never had.
What the therapy is about is releasing the tension and the repressed pain of early childhood, and that release comes about in the therapy through talking about your life, crying about the pain, and sometimes people do shout or scream, but I really try to get away from the idea of screaming because that’s not the usual thing, people usually cry about pain.
Through that release, people come to feel very cleansed, very free, very knowledgeable about what really happened to them when they were children. In primal therapy, people actually relive the scenes, the painful scenes of their life and have the emotions, the feelings expressed that they really didn’t express when they were children, and that’s the big difference, and that’s what’s so therapeutic.”
Yoko Ono was also interviewed for the same BBC Radio Programme: “I think that Primal Therapy, in fact, did a lot of good for us…for him, I think, he kept saying that a guy usually can’t cry, but it’s alright to cry, and he was able to cry, and that was a very good thing for him. So that instead of penting up emotions and expressing it as anger, [he’d be] just sort of crying and [then] forgetting about it.”
“God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”
“In the absence of the removal of pain, the best that can happen to a suffering adult is to try to fulfil the lacks in his childhood; to find a support group which is understanding, tolerant, with whom one can express one’s feelings and problems. A family substitute, if you will. It is even more helpful if the group provides an ideational system that bolsters the defence. It really doesn’t matter about the content of the ideation so long as it reassures, bolsters, supports, makes the person feel not alone, helps him to think that there is a higher power who will help him, etc. Those beliefs must run counter to the unconscious pain – ’I’m all alone, I’ve never had any help, no one cares, there was and is no one to support and guide me’. Those are the real feelings resulting from thousands of childhood experiences. That is why so many of the support groups embrace religious tenets. Often, the religious ideation alone is enough because one can imagine that there is someone watching over, that ‘I am in his hands’, that he will take care and help, etc. Needs force the imagination of fulfilment because fulfilment is the only thing that can ease a chronic malaise. That is the function of belief systems; they manufacture a fulfilment that doesn’t exist to balm the unconscious need. They attempt to normalize.”
– Arthur Janov
“Our pain is the pain we go through all the time. You’re born in pain, and pain is what we’re in most of the time. And I think that the bigger the pain, the more gods we need.”
– John Lennon, 1970
“Daddy come home”
Pauline Lennon married John’s father Freddie in 1969. Twenty-one years later, she published her book in which she described one of John’s therapy sessions…
“In the early summer of 1970 John Lennon was undergoing intensive treatment at the Janov Institute for Primal Therapy in Los Angeles. It was a hot day in June, but for some weeks now John had been isolated from the outside world, spending most of his time exclusively with his therapist, a highly trained, sympathetic man who had himself undergone primal therapy and with whom John had built up a high level of trust.
The session was being conducted in a small, sound-proof room without windows, the walls of which were padded on two sides to allow the patient readily to express the powerful emotions which would inevitably demand release. Audio and video recorders were in operation to provide a record of the session from which both patient and therapist could later gain useful insights.
But John was only minimally aware of his surroundings at the Institute. As he lay flat on his back on the floor, as was customary during primal sessions, his consciousness had returned to a day in June 1946, a day which had been so painful that he had attempted to blot it from his memory. But now, at the gentle insistence of the therapist, he began to recall every detail of the Saturday afternoon in Blackpool when, at the age of five and a half, he had been asked to choose between his parents but had finally ended up by losing both of them.
Slowly he began to tune into the atmosphere of the Hall’s house in Ivy Avenue where he had been staying for some weeks with his father awaiting emigration to New Zealand. It was here that Julia had unexpectedly appeared on that afternoon to ask that John be returned to her.
The pungent odour of Freddie’s Woodbine cigarettes suddenly filled his nostrils – he was once again sitting on his father’s knee in the modestly furnished front room and his beautiful red-haired mother was standing opposite him, smiling at him with that irresistible smile of hers which always melted his heart. As he became aware of the haunting perfume she always wore, he recalled how much he loved her. But suddenly his father’s voice interrupted the lovely warm feeling he was experiencing and the words he heard him speaking seemed strange and frightening.
‘And what is your Daddy saying to you, John?’ urged the therapist, noting John’s distress but realizing the need to carry on. John’s reply was barely audible. ‘He’s saying “Mummy’s going away and she won’t be coming back again. Do you want to go with her or stay with me and go to New Zealand?”.’ He spoke these words in a whispered voice, drawing up his knees and clenching his fists with anxiety . ‘I’m staying with my Daddy, I don’t want to leave my Daddy,’ John continued, but then he came to an abrupt halt and his features contorted as if he was now beset by some new unbearable fear.
‘My Mummy’s walking away down the road,’ he recalled, speaking in increasingly shorter breaths. ‘I’m running after her, I’ve reached her and I’m holding her hand. Daddy’s still standing in the doorway and I’m shouting to him to join us. “Come on Daddy, come on Daddy ,” I’m shouting, but he won’t come.’
The atmosphere in the session room reflected an electrifying degree of tension, and it was clear that John was experiencing a deep level of pain.
‘Tell your father what you need of him,’ instructed the therapist, encouraging John to follow through his pain and to discharge the strong emotions which were now nearing the surface.
John found it almost impossible to give voice to the words he wanted to say, but they eventually came out in a choked sob. ‘Daddy, I want you to come and join me and Mummy. I don’t want you to leave me.’ As he spoke it was as if he had suddenly released a floodgate of sorrow, and for the first time in many years his tears began to flow freely. But there was still more pain to be unleashed and it was the role of the therapist to push John a little further until he reached the core of his anguish.
‘Your Daddy can’t hear you, John,’ he pressed him. ‘Tell your Daddy what you need of him.’
‘I need you to come after me. I need you to hold me, Daddy,’ pleaded John, his voice now raised to screaming pitch as all the hurt and rage of nearly twenty-five years came pouring out. He was now on his knees, pounding the wall as he screamed the words ‘Daddy, Daddy’ over and over again. And as he punched away the pain, his feeling of anguish was compounded by a new and totally overwhelming terror.
His consciousness now shifted to the day he fell into a deep gully of sand on Blackpool beach, from which he was unable to free himself until his father found him. He felt himself to be surrounded by dark walls on all four sides and he was gripped by a sensation of blind panic as the sand appeared to be closing over him, shutting out the light of the sky.
‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,’ he screamed, his whole body now shaking with fear. But there was no way that John could make his Daddy hear him, and once again he felt isolated and deserted. He was overcome by a sense of dread that he would never see his father again. It seemed that the trauma of the beach incident and the ordeal of his parents’ parting a few days later had become inextricably intertwined in John’s subconscious, resulting in an emotional burden which had remained with him since childhood but which had been too terrible for him ever to recall.
But now, as John curled himself into the foetal position, the therapist knew that the worst of the tension had been released, and at John’s request he enacted the role of his father and bent down to stroke his head gently.”
A New Book on The Beatles and Primal Therapy
The Gospel According to The Beatles by Steve Turner
Early in 1970 a publicist at the New York publishing company G. P. Put- nam sent John a copy of a new book, The Primal Scream: Primal Therapy, the Cure for Neurosis, by California psychotherapist Arthur Janov, hoping that John might review or at least endorse it. The package arrived at Titten- hurst Park, and both John and Yoko avidly read it. They were impressed with Janov’s claims to be able to rid people of neuroses by helping them relive their past emotional pain.
Janov’s theory was that adult neuroses are built on early childhood trauma. Even though hidden from the conscious mind, these early experiences con- tinue to exert control through fear. He believed that the only way to deprive them of their power was to dig deep and relive the anxieties. “I believe that the only way to eliminate neurosis is with overthrow by force and violence,” he wrote. “The force of years of compressed feelings and denied needs; the violence of wrenching them out of an unreal system.”
The theory made sense to John. He’d been hurt in his childhood by the rejection of his father and the removal from his mother’s care, and his char- acter had been formed by this pain. In order to survive he had to ignore his feelings and live by the code of behavior authorized by his Aunt Mimi. He learned that to act on his feelings was not socially acceptable, and he there- fore suppressed them. They would rise to the surface only when he was angry or drunk. The moments in his songwriting that he’d always been most proud of were those when he’d let his feelings dominate-”In My Life,” “Help,” “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
If Janov’s theory was true, John had a huge reservoir of unexplored and unexpressed feelings that could be responsible for his bitterness, pessimism, jealousy, cynicism, violence, lack of confidence, and even his need to find strong male figures to look up to. Maybe he didn’t need salvation from sin, release from the world of illusion, or increased blood flow to the brain but purgation of bad memories and a reconnection to his feelings.
In March 1970 Yoko phoned Janov and invited him to come to Tittenhurst to begin immediate therapy with her and John. When he arrived, Janov was shocked to see John’s condition. It was as if he had been through a complete nervous breakdown. He had ended up locking himself in. “He couldn’t get out of his house,” says Janov. “He couldn’t get out of his room. He was in very bad shape. He’d had a lifetime of pain. The drugs he was taking didn’t do him much good because they opened him up. After a while his defenses just crum- bled. He couldn’t function anymore.”
The primal therapist’s job was simply to prompt him to explore his more painful memories. How had his relationships been with his father, mother, Mimi? When had he last cried? Had he ever felt lonely as a child? The early sessions took place in the partly built recording studio at Tittenhurst. Then they moved to a London hotel until they all left for Los Angeles on April 23, 1970. John and Yoko rented a home on Nimes Road in Bel Air where they were treated on a one-to-one basis for four months while also attending group sessions at the Primal Institute in West Los Angeles.
“I’ve rarely seen pain like John’s, and I’ve seen a lot of pain,” says Janov. “It was mostly about his mother but quite a bit about Brian (Epstein) that I can’t talk about. Also his relationship with Mimi. Mimi had been tough on him, There was almost more pain than you could possibly imagine. It would put him on the floor, and he’d lay there writhing around. He would scream, but he told me that he hadn’t known how to scream. Yoko had had to teach him.”
It was while undergoing Primal Therapy that John wrote his first solo album, Plastic Ono Band, every track of which revealed the pain that had recently been exposed. There hadn’t been a rock album with such naked emo- tion before. He sang about rejection and loneliness, fear and isolation, about the departure of his father and the death of his mother, about the pressure of fame and the destrucdveness of drugs. Phil Specter’s deliberately primitive production and the anguished vocals on “Mother” gave the impression that the recording had been an extension of the therapy. It soon became known as the Primal Album.
Three of the songs gave his revised view of religion. Only the year before he had spoken enthusiastically about God as “a power that we’re all capable of tapping” and, asked whether he believed in an afterlife, said he definitely did because, “In meditation, on drugs, and on diets, I have been aware of soul and have been aware of the power.” Now he was adamantly atheist. Religion in general was a drug (“Working Class Hero”), Krishna was pie in the sky (“I Found Out”), and God was a concept by which we measure our pain (“God”).
Dominating the album was the theme that he needed to feel his own pain or else face a life of seeking refuge in fantasy. The particular fantasies he iso- lated^-sex, drugs, television, and religion-had long been his favorites. The song “God,” probably based on his memory of the fourth-century Nicene Creed still used in the Church of England (“We believe in one God…”), listed fifteen things he’d lost faith in, starting with magic and ending with the Beat- les. Nine of the fifteen were connected with religion. His conclusion was that all he now believed in was himself and Yoko because that was “reality.” The song ended with the assertion that “the dream” was over, meaning the dream of the Beatles as savior figures.
Although Janov didn’t attempt to talk patients out of their personal reli- gious beliefs, it’s clear from The Primal Scream that he was no fan of God. (John once said that Janov believed that religion was “legalized madness.”)
In two pages of The Primal Scream given to his views on Transcendental Meditation, Janov recounted the story of a patient, a senior Vedanta monk, who had been meditating for twelve years. “But the final result of all this bliss,” Janov wrote, “was a complete breakdown and the need for therapy. Perhaps this deserves some explanation. I think that the state of bliss comes from a complete suppression of self, giving oneself over to a fantasy (deity) of one’s own creation, a merging with this product of one’s imagination, and a loss of reality. It is a state of total unreality, a socially institutionalized psy- chosis, as it were.”
This would have chimed with John’s experience and with Yoko’s skepti- cism about gurus. Although Janov never discussed specific religions with John, they did discuss God. “He asked me why people believed so fervently,” Janov says. “I said, look at their pain. The more pain they’re in, the more they’re going to believe. It’s the transformation of that feeling, of the need. ‘I need protection,’ ‘I need love’-and there it is. John said, ‘You mean that God is a concept by which we measure our pain?’ I’d seen this with people who came to me for therapy. I had a Muslim come in with a prayer rug and one day he just stopped. I asked him why he’d stopped praying, and he just said, ‘I fell in love with my pain.’ It made sense.”
To promote Plastic Ono Band John gave an extensive interview to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner that was the frankest and most revealing insight into the Beatles thus far. He argued that nothing had changed in Britain because of the Beatles except that there were “a lot of middle-class kids with long hair walking around London in trendy clothes.” In that sense, the Beat- les were a myth, he said, and he no longer believed in myths. Picking up where he had left off in “God,” he said, “I don’t believe in it. The dream is over. And I’m not just talking about the Beatles. I’m talking about the generation thing. The dream is over. It’s over and we-well I have anyway, personally-gotta get down to so-called reality.”
In a radio interview given in December 1970 John said that Primal Ther- apy had provided him with a mirror in which to see himself. “I had to look into my own soul,” he said. “I wasn’t looking at it from a mystical perspec- tive which tended to color things or from a psychedelic perspective or being a famous Beatle perspective or making a Beatle record perspective. All those things gave a color to what I did. This time it was just me in a mirror, and so it came out like that.”
His next album. Imagine, recorded at Tittenhurst in 1971, continued the ruthless self-examination, but this time with more melodic flair. Although prompted by his experiences in Primal Therapy, it involved the same approach to writing that he had started with “Help!” and “In My Life.” At the root was the idea that confession led to self-knowledge, which in turn led to wholeness.
While shining a light into the dark comers of his psyche in songs like “Jeal- ous Guy” and “Crippled Inside,” he also shone it on the world outside. He demanded truth of himself, and also of others. “Give Me Some Truth” was a sharp, polished attack on politicians-America was still involved in Viet- nam-accusing them of everything from condescension to neurosis.
The title song encapsulated his Utopian dream. In essence it was no differ- ent from most people’s: the best of all possible worlds was one without fear, war, greed, hunger, or hatred. In place of division he wanted unity, brother- hood, and shared wealth. It parallels the new heaven and the new earth that he would have read about in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the for- mer things are passed away” (v. 4).
He differed from the biblical vision in attributing humanity’s problems to national borders, personal ownership, and religious belief where the Bible blamed fallen nature, rebellion, and spiritual evil and argued that religion, national borders, and personal possessions were some of the ways in which the progress of evil could be slowed down.
The song started with the arguments of existentialism. He believed, cor- rectly, that the notion of heaven and hell hinders people from simply “living for today.” The possibility makes people look back to their past sins and for- ward to the final judgment. The present is lived in the light of both. Saint Paul would have agreed with John in this respect. He said that if there was no res- urrection of the dead, we might as well indulge our appetites to the fullest because “tomorrow we die.” John summed up the song as “Antireligious, antinationalistic, anticonventional, and anticapitalistic.” He reckoned that it broke into the mass market, where “God” had been perceived as too “heavy,” because unlike the earlier song it was “sugar-coated.”
The title provided the key. John didn’t use the word “imagine” to mean sim- ply “suppose” or “assume.” He believed in imagination as a form of magic; if enough people believed something to be true, the reality would manifest itself. One of the inspirations behind the song was a book on prayer that Dick Gre- gory had given him. Gregory can no longer remember the title or the author but knows that John would call him to discuss the theories it was promoting. “It spoke about forgiveness, love, and the power of the mind,” he says. “It had prayers in it, but not the kind that you would hear in a church. They were the prayers of the power within, the power that you can’t release if you are hold-ing hatred, bitterness, or pain.” This was the concept behind the 1969 “War Is Over-If You Want It” campaign, when he and Yoko had posters put up at sig- nificant sites in ten world cities announcing WAR IS OVER! IF YOU WANT IT. Four years later this concept informed the creation of their “conceptual coun- try” called Nutopia. “Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of NUTOPIA,” they said in an advertisement. “NUTOPIA has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic. All people of NUTOPIA are ambassadors of the country. As two ambassadors of NUTOPIA, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recogni- tion in the United Nations of our country and our people.”
The fullest explanation of their theory came in May 1979 when they paid for a full-page announcement on the back page of the New York Times headed “A Love Letter from John and Yoko to People Who Ask Us What, When and Why.” It was their defense against accusations that they were artistically and politically inactive, hiding in their luxury apartment without a care for the world. The case they put was that “our silence is a silence of love and not indifference.” They were spending their time making good wishes. “We are all part of the sky, more so than of the earth. Remember, we love you.”
The crux of the argument was that they had the power to effect change through mind power. “More and more we are starting to wish and pray. The things that we have tried to achieve in the past by flashing a V sign, we try now though wishing. We are not doing this because it is simpler. Wishing is more effective than waving flags. It works. It’s like magic. Magic is simple. Magic is real. The secret of it is to know that it is simple, and not kill it with an elaborate ritual which is a sign of insecurity. . . . Everyone has goodness inside, and… all people who come to us are angels in disguise, carrying mes- sages and gifts to us from the Universe. Magic is logical. Try it sometime.”
It sounded as though they were suggesting a sprinkling of fairy dust and a wave of a wand would sort out the world’s problems, bul subsequent revela- tions by former employees have shown that John and Yoko came to believe in magic in a literal sense. After 1975 John sought guidance through using a wide range of occult practices from astrology and seances to numerology and directionalism.
Following his bold atheistic statements in “God” and “Imagine” in the early 1970s, John abandoned the spiritual in favor of the political. On mov- ing to New York he associated with the young left-wing radicals Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and Rennie Davis, who were then seen as the scourge of the establishment. His 1972 album Some Time in New York City was almost e ‘ sively political, lending moral support to feminists and Irish Nationalists, and Steve Turner.
(2006). The Gospel According to The Beatles. Louisville, Kentucky. Westminster John Knox Press.
Interview w/ John Lennon About Primal Therapy
from The Lost John Lennon Interview
By TARIQ ALI and ROBIN BLACKBURN
John Lennon: …At one time I was so much involved in the religious bullshit that I used to go around calling myself a Christian Communist, but as Janov says, religion is legalised madness. It was therapy that stripped away all that and made me feel my own pain.
RB: This analyst you went to, what’s his name…
RB: His ideas seem to have something in common with Laing in that he doesn’t want to reconcile people to their misery, to adjust them to the world but rather to make them face up to its causes?
JL: Well, his thing is to feel the pain that’s accumulated inside you ever since your childhood. I had to do it to really kill off all the religious myths. In the therapy you really feel every painful moment of your life–it’s excruciating, you are forced to realise that your pain, the kind that makes you wake up afraid with your heart pounding, is really yours and not the result of somebody up in the sky. It’s the result of your parents and your environment.
As I realised this it all started to fall into place. This therapy forced me to have done with all the God shit. All of us growing up have come to terms with too much pain. Although we repress it, it’s still there. The worst pain is that of not being wanted, of realising your parents do not need you in the way you need them.
When I was a child I experienced moments of not wanting to see the ugliness, not wanting to see not being wanted. This lack of love went into my eyes and into my mind. Janov doesn’t just talk to you about this but makes you feel it–once you’ve allowed yourself to feel again, you do most of the work yourself.
When you wake up and your heart is going like the clappers or your back feels strained, or you develop some other hang-up, you should let your mind go to the pain and the pain itself will regurgitate the memory which originally caused you to suppress it in your body. In this way the pain goes to the right channel instead of being repressed again, as it is if you take a pill or a bath, saying ‘Well, I’ll get over it’. Most people channel their pain into God or masturbation or some dream of making it.
The therapy is like a very slow acid trip which happens naturally in your body. It is hard to talk about, you know, because–you feel ‘I am pain’ and it sounds sort of arbitrary, but pain to me now has a different meaning because of having physically felt all these extraordinary repressions. It was like taking gloves off, and feeling your own skin for the first time.
It’s a bit of a drag to say so, but I don’t think you can understand this unless you’ve gone through it–though I try to put some of it over on the album. But for me at any rate it was all part of dissolving the God trip or father-figure trip. Facing up to reality instead of always looking for some kind of heaven.