“People come into your orbit. People go out of your orbit. In, out. In, out. It’s the basic yin-yang, contraction-expansion motion of the ocean of existence itself.”~ Barefoot Doctor, Stephen Russell, Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao: A Spiritual Handbook for the Urban Warrior
I learned a few days ago about the sudden passing of the Barefoot Doctor, Stephen Russell, whom I was privileged to have write the Foreword for my book, The Passionate Life, and who has been an incredible inspiration to me since the first time I read The Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao, over twenty years ago. Stephen was a Taoist master, therapist, speaker, workshop leader, musician, and a prolific author. When I first read his Guide to the Tao, I was at a crossroads in my life and his book gave me the courage to take the leap toward the exciting unknown. One thing that I definitely didn’t know at that time was that I would have the opportunity to speak directly with Stephen or that he would somehow be involved in my journey. I never imagined that I’d have a radio show on which he would be my guest or that he would eventually write the Foreword to my first published book. Such experiences are a testament to the fact that, allowing ourselves to dream the life we want also involves being open to the twists and turns along our path, in spite of not knowing where they will take us. The incredible experiences that they often lead to are ones that we couldn’t have imagined in the first place.
In 2014, the Barefoot Doctor agreed to be a guest on my blog talk radio show, Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years. I was thrilled and excited to have the opportunity to ask him all of the many questions I had swirling in my mind since reading several of his books by that time. It was on October 19, 2014 that he was scheduled to call into the show. He was in Italy that night, having just completed a workshop there. He had an early flight home to London the next day, but he stayed up to be on my live broadcast. My show was at 5:00pm in Austin, Texas, which was 1:00am Italy. But, my worse fear came true and the connection failed during my live broadcast. Stephen was messaging me while I was on-air, letting me know that he was trying to connect, but it wasn’t working. In an attempt to fill the “dead air,” I asked him to send me a message that I could read aloud to listeners. “I’m getting better looking as I grow older…and more eccentric,” he joked. Then he wrote the words that I needed in that very moment, “life is more fun every day in spite of the hassles.”
To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I woke up the next day in a complete funk. The gloomy feeling lifted when I received an e-mail from the Barefoot Doctor. He promised to try again when we figured out how to manage the technical issues. That’s when I knew that the Barefoot Doctor would continue to play an important part on my journey.
In early 2017, we had managed to figure out how to conduct interviews with guests across the globe, with minimal risk of a technical glitches, or to, at least, avoid the level of malfunction that had occurred in 2014 with the Barefoot Doctor’s first attempted interview. And, so, I invited Stephen, once again, to be the guest on my program. The interview aired on February 5, 2017 and was even more transformative than when I read his Guide to the Tao. After all, I had him right there on the line to ask all of those questions rattling through my brain.
Personally, at that time, I had been trying to find a way to deal with the stress that was going on in this country and in the world in 2017 without becoming so stressed out, myself, so that I could continue to be effective in my service to others through my writing, my show, and my work as a psychologist. I was in the midst of writing my book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, and I had begun to write the chapter on Staying Positive in Spite of All the Bad News. “Just when you think things can’t get any more insane in the world,” I wrote, “every day we seem to sink to a new low of absurdity. And the news seems to be happening faster and faster. It’s quite dizzying and difficult to even attempt to keep up….The question that I often ask myself in order to loosen the grip of anxiety about the news is, ‘Will I allow this to defeat me?’ The answer is always a loud and resounding ‘no.’” I decided to ask the Barefoot Doctor his perspective about how to deal with the tension in the world. Here are some excerpts from that interview with the Barefoot Doctor, Stephen Russell, and that are now included in my book. These words of his resonate even more-so now than ever in 2020. As I re-read them right now, they bring me hope and help me to maintain my equilibrium in this topsy-turvy world. [You can hear the entire interview right here: Barefoot Doctor on Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years]
“Everything cycles from yin to yang, it goes from easy to difficult, from good to bad, and the same thing that’s good one day is bad the next, and so on. You can take that as being either terrifying or exciting or a combination of the two…. The problem is that we look at life through the model of ‘either/or.’ It’s either good or it’s bad. But, as you know, in reality, it’s never one or the other; it’s always both. We need to not jump to conclusions or react from fear, but rather to trust that everything and everyone is a manifestation of the same mysterious presence that informs us and makes this entire universe.”
“We are one big family, and the more we remember that, the more we stop blaming the anti-heroes. The more we realize we’re all in this together, that we’re all responsible, then each of us has a power from right inside our heart to really powerfully influence the collective.”
I’m deeply saddened that I never had the opportunity to meet the Barefoot Doctor in person and that we have suddenly lost someone who was such a force for positive in the world. But, his light still shines on in those of us all around the globe whom he has touched and with the wisdom he’s left behind with his books, videos, and music.
Let’s remember, most of all, these words of his:
“In this ever increasingly unhinged reality, in which all the familiar structures are morphing or coming off their moorings, it makes sense once you’ve gone fifty orbits or more round the sun that you stop driving yourself mad trying to conform or keep up – and you instead grab the adventure while you still can, and with all your wealth of experience and knowledge, go forth and have a total ball.” ~ Barefoot Doctor, from his Foreword to The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age
Thank you, Barefoot Doctor, for leaving your mark on humanity…and for the light you shone along my journey.
The sudden losses of beautiful beings, such as the Barefoot Doctor and the many others who are like beautiful shooting stars, remind us that we need to go forth today, right now, no matter our age, and, as he wrote in my book, “have a total ball.”
All My Love,
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Check out Dr. Mara’s internationally best-selling book, The Passionate Life: Creating Vitality & Joy at Any Age, with the Foreword by the Barefoot Doctor.