Jan Golembiewski

Issue sevenIssue Seven ContributorIssue seven interviews

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Interviewed by Samuel Elliott.

About The Author:

Jan Golembiewski grew up in suburban Canberra and in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. He has a PhD in psychological aspects of architecture, and he runs his own architectural practice specialising in psychological aspects of design. Jan lives in Sydney with his wife, the novelist Bem Le Hunte and their children (Taliesin, Rishi and Kashi) and a revolving collection of friends.


About Magic:

‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Sofie Laguna

This is a true story … A young man heads off on a journey to find out if magic still exists in the world, to know its wonder, and to see if it might save him when his own life is unexpectedly at stake.

In the Caribbean, he meets a Rastafarian Don Juan who teaches him about the ‘natural mystic’. Fate propels his travels through the Americas and Europe to locate the source of this knowledge in Mother Africa, where his own emerging mastery of mysticism is tested by the Sahara desert. He is imprisoned in Nigeria, and tortured, and then sold as a slave.

Magic is an incredible journey, both physical and spiritual, that reverberates with the uniqueness of lived adventure and of a passionate heart and vision. Upon closing the last page of this book, we ache for the innocence to lose our way and travel deeper, to rediscover the savage but delicious nature of the miraculous in our own lives.


What were the origins of Magic, I assume that during you actually living out the exploits detailed in the book, you didn’t exhaustively record them as they happened, with the logic that one day they would all be compiled into such a book.


Actually, when I came back from Africa, I started writing it up immediately. There were certain bits of it which I was really, really didn’t want to lose. And I started writing bits of it immediately. But I wrote in notebooks and on old typewriters and early computers, on floppy disks and goodness knows what. I also had a couple of diaries that had miraculously survived. I also wrote letters, quite detailed letters. So I had quite a lot of material and the writing of the book was, in some part, compiling and in some part expanding on bits that I hadn’t written yet in order to finish telling the story.

So, I wrote it in dribs and drabs, sometimes I would throw myself at it for a few days and then sometimes whole years would go past, maybe even whole decades, would go past where I didn’t write anything. And then in about probably about 2011, a friend of Bem [Jan’s wife], Shelly, runs a thing called Editing In Paradise. And Bem was the writer-in-residence for one of those sessions in Kangaroo Valley. On the way back from that, I was stuck in the car with Shelly for 3-4 hours and I told her that I have a story and, over the whole journey, I told her the story.

She said you have to write it. You have to then finish it and edit it. So I made a stab at finishing it and I didn’t, then I made another stab at it and I actually didn’t finish it properly until I started the editing process.


 Let’s keep delving into the issue of taking stuff out and putting stuff in. Did you find that to be difficult? You’ve mentioned that the original manuscript was something in the vicinity of 160,000 words, what was the paring process like for you?


Yeah, it was a really big manuscript. I cut it right down. I write academic work but I wasn’t very experienced in writing this long-form narrative. And someone, maybe it was Shelly, maybe it was Bem, said that it was way too long and I had to make it shorter. I said – how? That’s the story, it’s a true story. But they said you don’t want to bore people with stuff that’s not relevant. Anything that doesn’t relate to that story, just cut it out. If it doesn’t belong in the book, it doesn’t belong in the book.

I kind of got it. It’s the kill your darlings rave. I’m a great executioner. I found it fabulous, killing my darlings, I really enjoyed the process, of going through story after story, and deleting. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t have to write it first to get to that point. I had to the complete the service of transcribing it down as part of the process, before I could delete it, and whilst I did bring the script down from 160,000 words to something like 110,000 or 105, it wasn’t like I was just cutting out whole sections.

It’s not like that at all. I couldn’t just go and delete a chapter, or a string of ten pages, because all throughout the story, even if a story didn’t belong in the book, there’d be a couple of sentences that did, there’d be a sentiment that did belong, or there’d be something that was said that really did belong.


You remained calm throughout your journey. The only occasion I felt might’ve been an exception, when you did seem rattled, was when you were smoking cocaine with Imran – that felt like one of the rare instances in which you seemed to have shocked yourself and thereafter your philosophy or outlook didn’t change, but maybe updated.


I certainly did shock myself. I had no idea that anything could make you addicted, so, so fast. I thought that you had to have some dependency for some time before an addiction could strike. We had the intention of trying it once, in that evening, we tried it twice. We doubled the amount we intended on.

The experience wasn’t even nice, I didn’t even enjoy it. I had this feeling like – oh man this would be great, if only I had more. The next morning, that was all I could think about – having more and more. It surprised me, how manipulative it could be. You’re asking about my philosophy though, at that stage – I was fairly rudderless. It was before Ras Focus. I was looking for magic, I didn’t know where to find it. But it was still part of my intention. That’s why I wanted to go to Mexico, down South. I wanted to go to other places. Maybe on my day-to-day journey I wasn’t looking for Magic, but certainly when I set out it was very clearly my intention, then I forgot about it a bit, then it became true. That was the lesson that Ras Focus taught me – to have an intention and do something to achieve that intention.


Would you classify as meeting Ras Focus as the demarcation of that?


I think the first time I sensed some magic was going on, was actually with Christian [fellow traveller Jan spent some time with in Central America]. It was a dirty, manipulative magic – I was super impressed but how he was able to get girls. Being an 18-year old boy, I thought that I wouldn’t mind having some of that. It was a kind of magic of sorts, but a manipulative kind. Once I realised that it wasn’t sincere, I didn’t want a bar of it.

That was kind of exhibit one. Then there was also the fact that I felt like I was really being supported along the way. When Tony in Hawaii, looked after me. There was a gap before Imran arrived and I kind of glossed over that in the final book, a period of maybe three weeks where I hitchhiked around the California coast, where I arrived back in Berkeley with more money than when I left with. I felt like, hang on, I’m being really well supported there.

I got used to this support, before going to Austin, we went to Denver. Then there was seeing all those Shamans in San Andreas, all the shrines and crutches – that was amazing, but I felt like I couldn’t really interact with it. For starters, there was a huge language divide.

And I didn’t want magic to be done for me. I didn’t want a shaman to lift a curse, or bless me, or find me a wife, or repair a blind eye, or something like that. I was, however, interested in the evidence, the detritus of all of that magic, it was phenomenal, huge junkyards of wheelchairs and crutches and glass-eyes, it was sensational really, and bizarre and fascinating.


Tangible evidence of something, some truth of someone else.


It struck me as ample evidence that something else was going on. Then I met someone in Livingston, who didn’t know much about magic, but did know something about Rastafarianism. Before that, I didn’t know it was a deep, spiritual, very, very intense set of beliefs. I got a sense of that, by the way that I was treated by them. By those that I encountered when I was hooked on cocaine for a day, they didn’t need to help us. We were just a couple of silly white kids. We didn’t know them. They took us away, put us on a bus. Saved us from the rude boys. I had a sense that they had this incredible integrity.

Eventually I encountered this intense looking Rastafarian guy, who was staring me out. I kind of put my backpack down, far enough away from him that he still had his own personal space. But close enough to make a conversation and he opened up a conversation and told me that I had to stay at his humble abode. Which I was only to happy to do.


Was that a moment in which you took stock of the situation that something amazing, or supernatural, or spiritual was happening in that moment?


For me, at that stage, I had started realising that circumstance, unfolds beautifully, if you let it. And I was being looked after on some supernatural level. But I had to let it happen, I had to sit back and let the story unfold. That is a thing, from that point on, really does continue throughout the book and in the end, it was so intense, the willingness that I had to subject myself, rather than trying to control, or contrive the story. So that I was already developing, learning to trust it, to not push it. I certainly had no idea that I’d be staying with a Rastafarian at that point, that Ras Focus would be who that turned out to be. The mosquitoes didn’t go to his abode and the floods, the whole area flooded, but his place didn’t.

There was lots about him that defied any conceivable logic. The way he led me on that ten mile in ten minute run, I still sometimes think about it. That’s pretty extraordinary.

Magic, more than anything else, is the art of trusting in the improbable. Trusting the improbable to happen. It very, very rarely strays into the impossible. So when I ended up crossing the Sahara, what I had happen was a series of extraordinarily improbable saves and a series of extraordinarily improbable near escapes from death. But when I was with Ras Focus, he in his life strayed regularly beyond improbable, into the downright impossible or absolutely, I should say, inexplicable. Because I do believe ultimately there is an explanation, I just don’t know what it is.


Looking back now, do you feel that you were also looking for yourself albeit through the form of magic? Has your mindset changed since when you first embarked on that journey all those years ago?


The person that you are when your eighteen years old, is a product of your upbringing. Yeah, I had some extraordinary experiences as a child, I lived in Papa New Guinea and I travelled much more extensively than my other classmates. But I didn’t go to New Guinea because I was seeking adventure, seeking myself,  I went there because I was a part of a family that went there. I was very much subject to someone else’s journey, someone else’s story and as an eighteen year, we all are. We don’t have our own stories, all of us have had very controlled circumstances and if we are to make decisions about our futures, based on who we are at eighteen, we are effectively making decisions about who we become as adults based on who we are as children.

I don’t believe that that’s appropriate, I believe you can reach into your childhood and take what you want out of it. I believe we should be self-made people, but in order to make one oneself, you have to take a good distance from your past, because your past will hold you to who you were yesterday and it will say who you are going to be tomorrow, is based very much on who you were yesterday.


There seemed to be a natural progression and evolvement to your philosophies. With the teachings of Ras Focus and then from there, I felt that he had imparted quite a lot of teachings that you then felt useful and applicable to you throughout the remainder of your journey. And still do.


Well at the start of my journey, actually it did have surprising definition. Very few people set off on a journey with such a clear intention, because I wanted to find out about magic, that’s quite a clear intention. Ras Focus really, really taught me what it means to have an intense commitment to being. It was very inspiring and from that time on, I started learning from him.

One major shift for me was meeting up with Mishka [one of Jan’s brothers] because he got me meditating and brought me the tarot cards. He had gone through this huge shift within himself, it was amazing to see. So he was very inspiring for me as well.

At this point, I could afford to risk everything because I thought – what’s the risk? The worst that could happen, was that I could die and that’s not really a risk at all, because I don’t even know what that means. I don’t even know what’s at the other side of death. I’m not thoroughly convinced there’s anything to be frightened of. By that stage, I had already decided that death wasn’t something that was going to restrict me, I had gone off and lived in a squat with a guy that looked like a murderer. He had fucking scars on his face. The most important lesson I learned from him, or practiced from him, was to fear, sure, I felt some fear with him, I acknowledged that, but I didn’t let it stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I didn’t let that stop me from reading on and opening the next chapter of my life. What would happen if I did this crazy thing and went off with this guy.

I had already by that stage begun to trust my guardian angels and even if I couldn’t trust them, what’s the risk. I’m in no delusions about dying, it’s just a question of when. So I prefer to do something interesting, rather than die by hanging around and putting it off and doing something boring.


There were a couple of interesting conversations you had throughout your journey with individuals that were challenging the beliefs you unwaveringly abided by. I was impressed by how you maintained your beliefs under such intense, and oftentimes blatantly hostile, scrutiny.


 I met a lot of people that wanted to find some major fault in what I was doing. They wanted to punish me for not abiding by their laws. And I had made a decision, really I think I had made the decision when I was still with Ras Focus, there’s only one law I was willing to live by and that was the law of God, as I interpreted it.

Not as anyone else interpreting it and by God, I don’t mean God in any sense, I mean Ja, the living god as in, living and breathing in side of me and not just some sort ephemeral presence which is somehow encapsulated in this physical form. I mean, the whole of god, in this genuine, physical form. The embodiment of god in humanity – that was something that was taught to me by Ras Focus. No one I have met, has embodied this idea of god in a person, in quite the same way. I wanted to be true enough to myself, that I could do the same. Because, it struck me, at that time, as the only genuine way to be alive. It made me feel alive and so my reasons for doing it, was because it was genuine, there was nothing disingenuous about what I was going through, so when I was being cross-examined, I just stuck to the truth, as bizarre and unbelievable as that truth is, I just stayed true to it and didn’t alter my discourse around it.

Those sort of circular arguments happened all the time and people just found them endlessly entertaining. A lot of those policeman spoke to me, for hours, and they were deeply touched by my integrity. Because I would do anything to maintain my integrity, I still will. My integrity is incredibly important to me and I think they felt it was inspiring.


Your Ja Will Provide belief remained unshakable throughout your journey. And there were numerous occasions where it clearly prevailed, such as the time you were lost in deathly freezing conditions in Germany and then finding the manger.


 I started figuring that out even before I had met Ras Focus. He gave me a language for it, a context to understand. I believe and I still believe, that it is an arrogance to believe that we provide for ourselves. Unless we are referring to ourselves in the I and I sense, that Rastafarian sense, where I am the living god, in which case that’s fine. I understand totally. Look at the complexity we live among, it’s so huge, and we require so much stuff now.

I guess one of the reasons why I had to burn my passport and give away all my money and my stuff, is that I had to prove that when the chips were down and I could not provide for myself and had no means to provide for myself in this smaller, me capacity, the question was whether I would survive and I did, and boy did I. I didn’t just survive, I transformed myself, I became an extremely strong human being, one who has the courage to live my life, even many years later with extraordinary integrity and I wouldn’t trade that integrity for anything.

My life has changed since I was able to do that in Africa, but I really needed to go to those extents. I really needed to push the Cosmos, to push it to the point, where it would kill me, in order to prove that it wasn’t going to.

What I want people to do, is to know that they aren’t in control, they are never going to be in control, so there’s no point in pretending. They should therefore take delight in this beautiful, beautiful world that we live in, that’s so extraordinary that it will even look after us in the most improbable circumstances. I think that’s a really important lesson and that’s a lesson in freedom and I thought my book might be able to teach people that lesson, or at least inspire them.