Dag Allemaal is a weekly Flemish Magazine with readership of almost 1.5 million. On the 3rd of February 2004, Dag Allemaal published an interview with Sterling Campbell, a Falun Gong practitioner who plays the drums in David Bowie’s Band. The interview was given in November when the band’s tour passed through Belgium. Below is the text of the interview.
Truthfulness, compassion and forbearance are the three virtues Sterling Campbell, the drummer of David Bowie, strives for. He is a practitioner of the old Chinese meditation system Falun Dafa. ‘Falun Dafa keeps me on the rails. It made me into a better person,’ he says, when we meet him in a hotel in Brussels.
Journalist: How did you come into contact with meditation?
Sterling: I wanted to get rid of my addictions. Although I had sworn never to give in to drink, drugs and women – the temptations of the music industry – I still fell for it. On the scarce moments that I was sober, I was dissapointed in myself. Every day I had the intention not to drink and smoke anymore. Nevertheless every evening I was in the pub. When friends offered drink, drugs or cigarettes, I accepted them. Every night I lay in bed stoned and drunk.
Besides steadfastness of character I missed depth in my life. I wanted to find an antidote for the world of glitter and glamour that I was living in. In the beginning, my search brought me to Tai Chi. Then I went on retreats and spent thousands of dollars on yoga-sessions. But nothing touched me. The pricey teachings didn’t penetrate. It also disgusted me that I had to pay so much money to find inner peace.
Because I still didn’t achieve any effect at all after several months, I put away the idea of meditation. I decided to go to the fitness centre to work on my body and become fit. Through that I wanted to get off the drink and drugs. I went there once. All those vain men rolling their muscles and admiring themselves all the time in the mirror was not something I wanted to be a part of. When I walked a couple of days later through a park in New York, I saw some people doing some slow, flowing movements. I was fascinated by it and kept looking until they finished. They distributed flyers and I took one. In that flyer I read that I could go to a trial lesson. A little suspicious, I asked for more information. I wanted to know in particular what those lessons would cost me. Because they were free of charge, I decided to go.
Journalist: Are you so stingy?
Sterling: No. But when people offer something for free, it cannot be bad. If they had asked me for money, I would never have gone to that meeting. Once again I would have thought this was an easy way to get some money.
During the first lesson I didn’t feel a lot, although it was nice that my thoughts didn’t stray off to the day-to-day-worries like with the other meditation exercices. After the course I received a book about the background of Falun Dafa. On the bus home I began to read. I couldn’t stop reading. On every page, in every sentence, I recognised something of myself. For the first time in my life I looked into myself. What I saw was not pretty. I was an egotistic pain-in-the-neck. The only thing I was interested in was ‘Me, Me, Me’ - my career, my ego and my social status. I was always looking for attention and was jealous of the succes of others. Also, not being loyal was an expression of my egotism. The only things I saw were my ego and my libido and I didn’t consider the feelings of my girlfriend. The egotism wasn’t the consequence of my music career and the succes with David Bowie. As a child I already knew how to manipulate people. And when I was very young it was already my goal to become famous through music and to earn a lot of money.
Journalist: What was the influence meditation had on you?
Sterling: I got less superficial through it. One month after the first lesson I didn’t touch a cigarette, alcohol or drugs. I just didn’t want it anymore. Kicking my drugs habit was a piece of cake compared with what I still had to deal with: letting go of my fears, jealousy, egotism and competitive behavior.
Journalist: How did your pub-buddies and family react to the changes in your life?
Sterling: They didn’t understand a thing about it. (smiles) One night I was still drinking, smoking marihuana, lighting up one cigarette after another and the next day I refused it all. The first months I still went to the bars, but it quickly bored me. Having a conversation when you are sober with a dead drunk friend is not interesting. (smiles) Some friends were happy that I finally broke with the things that I had detested for a while; others found it suspicious.
Journalist: Maybe they were afraid that you felt in the hands of a guru. Is Falun Dafa a religion or a sect?
Sterling: No. It is a meditation technique that urges people to become better and more generous. The technique has three pillars: truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. There is no worship, temples or idolatry. Neither is there any organisation or hierarchy. I still didn’t have to contribute a penny, whereby with a sect that is generally the case. The Chinese government pictures Falun Dafa as a sect because it is afraid of the big succes of the movement. When the government suddenly announced that Falun Dafa was a sect, for a moment it became difficult. People asked me more and more questions; people looked at me in a suspicious way, even in a pitiable way. It hurt my ego. Would they really think that I would be so foolish as to join a sect?
Journalist: How can you now keep it up in the world of music without alcohol or drugs?
Sterling: By simply saying ‘no thank you’ when someone offers me something. When I meditate I am more focused on what I want or what I don’t want. I also work harder. In the past I hardly practised because I was convinced that I was an excellent drummer. But every time I came on stage, I practically died from fear. Now that almost doesn’t happen anymore. Before we go touring, I rehearse extra hard, so that I know what I have to do on stage. To put it shortly, I am more professional then before. Now David and the band come in the first place, before it was having fun and earning a lot of money. Every day I try to make some free time to meditate. That requires discipline, especially when we are on tour. But after the meditation I feel better, more clear and peaceful.
Journalist: the three pillars of Falun Dafa are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
Sterling: I became more sincere. Now I also have eyes for the problems of other people. In the past I hardly listened when friends poured out their harts to me; now I really try to help them. I also became more patient. It expresses in little things, like letting other people walk on the metro first. I also react better to people who are scolding me or want to fight with me. In the past I struck back. Now it doesn’t bother me anymore. When I feel the stress coming on, I meditate. Then everything becomes less important.
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