Perry Farrell: Three Steps to Fearless Spirituality
How a rock icon brings harmony to all types of creative efforts.
Posted August 9, 2022 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- Rock icon Perry Farrell is on a mission to educate people on making space for more spirituality, creativity, and joy.
- A fearless spirituality starts with trusting our intentions and choosing the words that best suit us.
- Perry explains that to really pull this off we need to make our message simple, beautiful, and joyful.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Rabbi who marched alongside Martin Luther King in Selma, observed, “Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality to which the mind can never relate.”
I first encountered Perry Farrell’s music in 1988, when Jane’s Addiction released “Mountain Song.” I had never heard anything like it before. A bass riff carrying the song, psychedelic washes of guitar, tribal drumming, and, of course, Perry’s distinctive lyrics and vocals. The music of Jane’s Addiction had a soul-shattering effect on me.
In the three decades since, I continue to seek soulful inspiration in Perry’s music, art, and the unique cultural gatherings and festivals he hosts. There are blasts of fearless spirituality in all his creative endeavours, whether artistic, philanthropic, or entrepreneurial. I recently spent some time talking about this with Perry. He left me with a lot to unpack.
Trust Your Intentions
Most of us have been socialized into compartmentalizing our work lives from our spiritual lives. Spirituality is seen as inward and sacred, while what we do for a living demands a compromised version of ourselves crafted for public consumption.
But if turning on our spiritual senses only happens when we detach from the world, then spirituality belongs to those dwelling in isolation, high in the mountains. And while Perry now explains that “Mountain Song” was about drugs, it nonetheless seems prophetic that the first words I ever heard this spiritual entrepreneur shout were: “Comin’ down the mountain.”
Much of my work has been to combat the arbitrary divide between the spiritual and the everyday. Being an artist empowers Perry to resist the cultural pressures of compartmentalization. As he explained to me, “The most important aspect of what I do is in the intention.”
It makes no sense to try and parse out the difference between artistic, spiritual, and business motivations. They are born of the same intention, and all serve the same intentional end:
“You know, I've been wiped out three times in my life,” he shares earnestly, reflecting on past entrepreneurial endeavours that didn’t quite work out. “But the intention was so strong in my heart. It's hard to explain to people who are thinking about the money and trying to protect me. How do you explain ‘I know you're trying to protect me. But don't worry, it's gonna be fine.’”
That’s a deep truth, rooted in psychological understanding. Research shows that our motivations in seeking and offering counsel are multifaceted. We’re always juggling a mix of considerations, ranging from moral concerns to desires for sustaining meaningful relationships to instrumental concerns about financial gains or losses. If we’re going to be fearless in our spirituality, the first lesson is that we need to trust our intentions, messy as they may be.
Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle to our spiritual efforts is listening to one voice in isolation. Fooling ourselves into thinking that one variable, like money, needs to necessarily trump our principles or personal relationships.
Choose Words that Are Authentic to You
Throughout our conversation, Perry was very particular about the words he chose. As an artist, he understands that the specifics of language matter: “I understand the power of money, what money can get. But I would rather use the term 'currency.' Currency is a very musical term. And you could kind of get your head around navigating life with the currency to, let's say, help somebody. Even when we’re being transactional, we can use love as part of the currency.”
This was a brilliant play on words. “Currency” can refer to the paper money in circulation. But it can also refer to a medium of exchange more generally, or intellectual expression. If we’re engaging in business activities to further spiritual goals, then the language of “currency” is far more effective in conveying our intentions than “money.”
This is the second important lesson. Perry’s insight echoes the philosopher Richard Rorty, who argued that we should never use the vocabulary of people we disagree with; we are best served using the unique language of our particular culture without fear: “My mission is to educate people. I'm not afraid of the consequences. God gives with the intention of us turning around and doing a mitzvah for somebody else.”
“Mitzvah” is a word from the Jewish tradition with no English equivalent. I have defined mitzvah as a moment of doing that creates a space of being with something greater than ourselves. We are in a cultural moment of rebuilding which demands unabashedly spiritual ideas to support the process. Perry had a beautiful take on this: “Some people think of scriptural language as jargon. If you want to call it jargon, OK. But as Jews, part of our job is to educate people in this jargon. If we do it well, we’ll have pulled something special off.”
Fill Your Message with Joy
A fearless spirituality starts with trusting our intentions and choosing the words that best suit us. But there is one more critical piece to this puzzle: “To really pull this off, you've got to have an artistic way of sending out your message. You have to make that message simple, but beautiful. You have to make that message joyful.”
Perry joins teachers like Rabbi Simcha Bunim who taught joy as the wisdom that prepares for prophecy and links him to other spiritual traditions like the smiling Buddha, the Holy Laughter of Christianity, or the Hindu practice of Hasya yoga.
Joy is what brings harmony to Perry’s artistic, spiritual, and entrepreneurial motivations. If you’ve seen him perform live, the exuberant look of joy on his face sticks with you, long after the band has left the stage. It’s a reminder that through small steps we can all become a little more fearless in facing the challenges of a chaotic world.
Heschel, A.J. 1966. The Vocation of the Cantor. American Conference of Cantors.
Rorty, R. 1989. Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Weitzner, D. 2021. Connected Capitalism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Transform Work. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Weitzner, D. & Deutsch, Y. 2015. Understanding Motivation and Social Influence in Stakeholder Prioritization. Organization Studies, 36: 1337–1360.