Be At Peace With Life Just As It Is: Conversations with F**K It’s John Parkin
F**K It founder and author John Parkin talks to Claire Gillman about his new book and about being a worrier…
Claire: Be At Peace is the latest book in your F**k It series. For your fans and followers of your work, how does this one lead on from the previous books?
John: So, Be at Peace with Life Just As It Is, comes from an experiment I was doing last year with being more peaceful. I did a whole range of things, including doing a lot more meditation and doing more exercises around getting calm to try and find more peace around the everyday life stuff. It came out of that. There were quite a few surprises in there as well.
So, in terms of the series of books, well, the books have kind of gone from around 10 years ago which is F**k It! The Ultimate Spiritual Way which is my discovery of the “F**K it!” thing into a deeper exploration of this thing which is more therapeutic, which is F**k It therapy.
And then, a few years ago, about three years ago, I did F**k It! Do What You Love which is more about finding things in your life that you love doing, stop doing the stuff that you really hate.
I suppose it’s gone back more to the original thing which is about just how we are.
Claire: The structure of the book is based on a “game of life” if you like. So, life and peace are a process on three different of levels. So, how did you come up with this rather novel approach?
John: It is the three-act structure, the classic story structure. I’ve studied story structure because I used to write fiction and screenplays. And so I’m very aware of it. I love the story structure because the idea of the classic three-acts is archetypal. The protagonist wants something more than anything else in the world. They go from home, and they decide to go on a journey.
The reason it’s so appealing, and the reason it’s in everything that we see in terms of stories, is that it’s us. That’s how we are. We want stuff. And we then go on a journey to find it. And then, we face challenges. And then, we learn things and we become wiser. Then we tend to return home different.
And so that’s the structure behind it. And that’s what these levels are about really. It kind of mirrors the hero’s journey. And it allowed me to discover something that I don’t think I expected at the beginning…
Claire: …which is…
John: …that I thought it was a journey into peacefulness. You see, I’m naturally not a “F**K it!” person. I’ve kind of come from generations of worriers, not warriors, people who worry a lot. And so, I do worry about things, and I do get stressed about stuff.
So, “F**K it!” has been really good for me over the years (and all the other things I do such as meditation, Qi Gong, yoga and things like that).
So, I thought this is a big journey into being more peaceful in myself. And right from the beginning, I realized there was something else about it.
As you know, level one of the book is what most of us go through in our lives—it’s “I’ll be at peace when…” And there’s lots of other things when we realize what we’d like in life to be content or to be at peace with ourselves or whatever.
So, the whole of the first part of the book explores, “I’ll be at peace when I get my exams… I’ll be at peace when I get my first job… I’ll be at peace when I find a partner… I’ll be at peace when I’ve got my house.” I hear this and it’s like, “Oh, it’s crazy, what we do. It’s so crazy.” But we all do it.
Claire: That’s the progression of your life—from the exams to when my health is better at the end.
John: Well, the end is “I’ll be at peace when I die”. So, I tell the story right from childhood all the way through life “I’ll be at peace when I’m retired. I’ll be at peace when I’ve had the operation,” and yes, “I’ll be at peace when I’m dead.”
So yes, that’s level one.
And so, level two, is what I thought this book was going to be about. Level two is the realization. “I’m going to be okay when…”—which is what we all do, we humans. It’s like, “Oh, I’ll feel better when I’m… I’ll be okay when…”
Claire: There were moments when I was reading it when I thought, “Oh, no! That’s me.”
John: Well, yeah. It’s dreadful really. It’s awful that we do it and yet we know we do it.
I have the most extreme example of this. I’m very allergic to nuts in particular—nuts and fish—and in a way that they can kill me if I eat enough of them. I occasionally have an inadvertent episode. I haven’t had a really serious episode for a long time. But I had enough to go through getting reactions in my body. It’s the start of anaphylactic shock that could end in me being in a hospital and being resuscitated. Clearly, there’s a risk of dying from it.
But generally speaking, what happens is I go through these symptoms. I get lumps on my body. I feel sick. I get a very bad stomachache, and this progresses over a few hours because it only really hits its peak after five hours.
So, I don’t know as these symptoms are arising whether this is going to be the big one or whether it’s going to rise and then drift back down. It usually does. And I have to stay calm.
I’m usually in the middle of some concern or stress about something. I’m traveling, worried about the talk I’ve got to do the next day or whatever it is. And then, I get this kind of moment of like, “Oh, my goodness. I could die!” It’s that perspective moment. “What have I been worrying about? Why am I concerned about? Look what a great life I have! Why am I concerned about that? What am I doing?”
I have a little pact with myself, with my life. I promise just to keep things in perspective and enjoy everything and not worry about all the stuff I worry about. Even if there’s some serious stuff going on, I realize that it’s relatively small compared to the big things and compared to me shuffling off this mortal coil.
So, I do this thing. And invariably, three hours later, I realize I’m okay. And I kind of go, “Phew…” I have a beautiful period of relief and relaxation and kind of “Ah, what a beautiful message, what a beautiful lesson I’ve had today. This is wonderful” or I just feel great, and I’m in love with everything and everyone and life as it is.
It lasts anywhere between an hour and maybe, I don’t know, a couple of days. There are little remnants of it, little ripples of it. But generally speaking, I will then start to worry about something else.
Claire: It seems to me that although the book is ostensibly about finding peace, largely, the central tenet of it is about worrying or caring less.
John: Yes, it is. And that’s the kind of the level three thing. And that’s why it’s worked so well with F**k It! The unique thing about F**k It! is that it has this inherent thing in it about when you say “F**K it!” to something, you’re implicitly saying that that thing is mattering, “It’s too heavy for me. It’s mattering too much.” And you’re implicitly saying, “In the end, it doesn’t matter so much.” So, there’s that perspective moment when you say “F**K it!”
I think it’s quite unique in the language. Neuroscientists have shown how the F word has an effect on the body and the mind. And even, that we say a swear word from a different part of the brain. Normal language comes from the left hemisphere. And when we swear, it comes from the right hemisphere. But saying “F it!” in particular is like my having had the allergy scare. It’s like a balancing mechanism.
Claire: Maybe this comment is unfair, but it seems to me that some of the ideas in this book are quite paradoxical.
John: It’s actually the simplest book. And it’s the most paradoxical. I think it’s the key point to the whole thing. It’s simplest in that, once you get it, it’s really easy and really obvious like most big messages and big ideas. But if you don’t get it, it’s really difficult.
You’re right that it’s paradoxical. Just to go over the structure again, level one—and I talk about the acts. Level one is “I’ll be at peace when… I’ll be okay when…” which in a film – the first act, the first 20 minutes is about being at home and going through the normal stuff and realizing that things aren’t right. You’re not happy or you want more. So, there’s a call to a journey. So, you go on a journey.
And the journey in this book, which is level two, is the inner journey. So, I realize that I’m constantly putting off my own happiness or being at peace. And the realization for level two is “Amazing! I can be at peace now. I can be peaceful now.” And that’s what act two is. That’s when you go on a journey, and then you face challenges.
The first part of the second act in a film which is from about 20 or 30 minutes to halfway through the film is usually quite a nice time. The character has left home, they’re on a journey. It’s quite sweet. They’ve got adventures. It’s good. They’ve got friends. They’ve got allies. There’s new things, new stuff.
And that, in the book, is about basically teaching people how to relax and how to be peaceful. I talk about the ways I use. I found one in particular, really powerful way is to meditate which really works for me and has worked for quite a lot of people now that I’ve taught it to. And I talk about things like gratitude. These things work for making you calm or more peaceful. And I use them every day.
But you get to a point halfway through a film or halfway through a story (which is actually halfway through that second level) when you say, “I’m at peace now, but then there’s always something that brings me out of it.”
It’s something that’s hard to get over for the main character. And it’s hard to get over for us all. “I feel really peaceful, and then I get a big bill in. I feel really peaceful, then I get a diagnosis.” And they really take you out of it. So, how can I be at peace? How can I be peaceful when there’s this thing?
And so, the journey through that second level is trying to stay calm or to be calm after and keeping going and not just going back to your old life which is “Argh!” That’s what it’s like.
A lot of people in life when they do the journey, the inner journey, they will get catapulted back to level one. There are people that go away on their journey, but they end up back in their ordinary life.
So, for most people, this kind of spiritual journey is the level two that I’m talking about. It’s the attempt to stay calm. It’s the attempt to stay at peace. This is the dualistic model. There’s the stressed me, and there’s the peaceful me. There’s the bad world, and there’s the good world, there’s the not me, and there’s the spiritual me. This is where we separate everything.
And most religions do it. Most philosophies do it. Most of us do it even if we’re really spiritual and really into this stuff. But there is the level three for a reason.
At the end of act two in a story or in a film, the biggest challenge comes about 20 minutes to half an hour before the end of the film. And they have to overcome it. It’s called the “all is lost” moment in a story. And it’s usually set in a confined space, like in a cave. We are very trapped. And it looks like you’re going to die, or you’re not going to get what you want. This exists in almost every story there is. The character has to survive and get over it in order to get through to the end.
And then, the last part of any story, generally speaking, most protagonists in a story will end up going back home to ordinary life, to life as it was, but changed.
And in level three, the idea is, after going through that, there’s always something. It’s life as it is — its up’s and its down’s. But the new knowledge, the bit I’ve taken from the journey that I’ve gone on, is that, actually, the “at peace” bit doesn’t mean just being at peace now because I’m calm; it means being at peace with the whole lot. So, there’s a bigger feeling.
I don’t really want to talk about enlightenment. But that to me is enlightenment. And it’s also a God view of this, the idea of an all-accepting quality.
Most religions and spiritual philosophies talk about this same thing – this deep acceptance. Acceptance is a hard thing to talk about. This is what level three is about, what acceptance is really about. And acceptance for me in this is “at peace.”
And the last thing I’ll say about this thing here which is kind of accepting everything is okay. There’s a part of our brain that, all the time, is in touch with this truth that everything is fine as it is… I think.
Claire: So, when you get it, it’s not as though it’s a revelation; it’s a recognition that this is how it can be.
John: Hopefully, after you’ve read the book, when we understand this thing of level three, what’s great is that we can be in the other stuff, but there’s still a gentle awareness that that’s there all the time. It’s a background thing.
And what helps with this (and also to explain it) is to understand that there really is a part of the brain that’s doing that all the time.
Claire: Well, I found the book immensely comforting actually.
John: Well, I’m glad you felt that sense of comfort. What I hope that we get to understanding on the third level, is this lovely thing: when we’re out of the awareness that everything is okay, when we’re in either level one or level two which is “I’ll be okay when…” or “I feel so calm… ahhh…”, it’s all the same.
It’s the same if I’m stressed as it is when I’m relaxed. It’s the same if I’m nasty as it is when I’m kind. And the best way for people and for me to understand it is imagining an ideal parent.
An ideal parent loves unconditionally and accepts the whole thing. I imagine the bits of me, whatever they are, that one might not normally like—stressed,unkind, worrying, nasty, whatever thoughts I might have. I imagine how an ideal parent would be with a small child being aggressive or angry or stressed or whatever. You just want to hold them and say it’s okay.
So that’s the sense for me of this thing. It’s all-embracing. And it’s okay. It’s okay as it is.
And that’s how people sometimes have a view of a benign God. I think that’s how Christians or modern-day religions I suppose have a sense of Jesus or of God holding them and embracing them and things are all right.
Claire: I encourage our readers to read this book. You will get a great deal from it. It’s very humorous. And although there are these paradoxical themes, once you get it, it really is worthwhile. And it is very simple, like you say. Are you pleased with the book, John?
John: I am. And I think you’re right. I think it’s easy to read in that it’s a light read. And I’ll keep you entertained as you read it and giggling even when I’m talking about very serious things.
It can be challenging to really get to the heart of this. Enlightenment isn’t a state that lasts forever. Enlightenment is moments where things are clear. When you get those moments of understanding (and we all do), it can be the real, basic, everyday stuff, that that thing is really easy. Suddenly, you kind of go, “Oh, it’s like that. Oh, wow.” So then it’s easy. It’s simple. And it’s just going to happen.
And I talk about this in the book. The understanding can happen in many different ways. You can be sitting around one day, and then it’s clearer, or you can go through it chronologically and do lots of practice, and then kind of finally realize.
But the main thing for me is to keep people entertained or at least feeling the lightness of it.
In the end, this is a beautiful, comforting and light-hearted message. I mean it’s incredible really. And this goes back to Julian of Norwich (who’s the Christian mystic, the first female writer in the English language they think) who said: “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” That’s the message she had from being very, very sick. She came back from nearly dying. Her greatest insight was “It’s fine as it is. Everything is fine”. That’s what she wanted to say.
And it’s kind of what I want to say, not just to people but to myself all the time. And that’s the comforting message. It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s going to work out. It’s fine. And it’s not just fine. It’s beautiful as it is. Even the messy stuff is lovely, is beautiful. It’s fine!
So, there is that part of our brain knowing it all the time. We can start to say it all the time. But then I’m still going to forget it. “Oh, my God! Today, I’ve got to… yada-yada-yada… What if that happens? What if this happens?” And you go, “It’s fine.”
Find Out More
F**k It! Be at Peace with Life As It Is by John C Parkin (£10.99, Hay House, published 5 June in the UK). John and Gaia Pollilni, his wife and F**k It co-founder, run weekends in the London and Brighton. There next one in Brighton is the F**k It Festival on 18-19 August. They also run retreats in Italy throughout the year.