Interview: BALANCE (2002)

June 04, 2002

Time was when Gordon Matthew Sumner, Britain's legendary rock and roll entertainer universally known as Sting, enjoyed portraying himself as a macho type player on the world stage, of what was then pop's multi-faceted musical styles with names like New Wave, Acid, Grunge and Punk rock.

The chart-riding artists of the era flaunted names like Gary Glitter, Johnny Rotten and groups with suggestive names, like the Sex Pistols, were idolized by doting fans; expecting a persona of machismo from their stage idols. It was, at the time, commercially acceptable, even necessary for Sting to also project this macho image, which he felt was craved by his young, dreamy-eyed devotees. But behind the "Rambo" posturing there lurked a kinder, gentler Sting.

Sting's once-much vaunted macho image began its decline as the artist matured and began a fervent quest for greater spirituality and depth of outlook. He believes that the kinder, gentler more caring side of his personality always existed. He feels it sprung from his mother; was nurtured by her and needed only the right opportunity to blossom into the compassionate, caring and insightful man into whom he has evolved. Sting's mother, an accomplished pianist, and a woman of towering spiritual strength, nudged Sting into becoming a musician. He says, "I quite literally got music from my mother. I remember, as a child, I would sit at her feet as she played the piano, and watch, fascinated, as she worked the pedals."

As Sting grew older, his mother taught him to play the guitar. "She also listened to and encouraged me," he says. He continues, "It was she who helped teach me to seek the meaning of life, outside of music."

Sting describes her as an attractive and informed woman whose guidance was instrumental in teaching him that the mark of maturity in a man is to accept that a part of yourself is woman. He adds, "Qualities you get from your mother are sensitivity, creativity and a sense of giving. Whereas your father provides a sense of challenge - the fighter, the need to win."

These beliefs launched Sting into a far reaching quest for peace, understanding, depth of outlook and the true meaning of life. They also, inevitably, brought him to Yoga, He says, "I was 38 or 39 before I became a disciple of this very spiritual art. My one regret is that I didn't begin earlier. I think I would have been further along the path, had I started earlier."

Sting then second-guesses himself. "But then again, perhaps I wasn't ready. I had been through various fitness regimes before. I ran about five miles a day and I did aerobics for awhile. I always try to stay fit because as a performer fitness is essential. Still, it wasn't until I met Danny Paradise, who became my mentor in Yoga, that I took the discipline seriously."

Sting met Paradise in Egypt while working on the post-production of his album, 'Soul Cages'. The two were introduced by Dominic Miller; Sting's guitarist, who had met Danny, also a musician, while the two were playing in a restaurant in Cairo. Dominic suggested that Sting learn Yoga from Danny.

Sting recalls, "I knew nothing about Yoga at the time. I thought its practitioners just sat on the floor cross-legged and contemplated their navels. It never really struck me as something in which I would be interested. I was into more aggressive workouts. But Dominic assured me, it would be most difficult and physically demanding."

"The next day Danny and I had a trial workout, and within 20 minutes, he had put a big dent in my pride and my self esteem. As fit as I thought I was, I just couldn't do the things he was doing. It was like he was from another planet in terms of balance, strength and grace. So I said, 'That's for me.' The day after that Trudie and I took our first official lessons; and from then on I was stuck."

Sting reveals that yoga also allows him greater composure to confront the more stressful events of his day. He says, "My mind develops calmness and clarity and I get a lot more done." He stresses that there are more benefits to yoga than he would have thought had he not gotten into it.

"It really is not just physical," he says, "The deeper I get into Yoga I realize, it is indeed a spiritual practice." He adds that as he gets older and more contemplative, Yoga helps his breathing as well as his mind and is very closely linked to meditation.

Over the years Sting's Yoga practice has forged a path deep enough to sustain his life development. He says, "It is almost like music, there's no end to it." He continues, "It is very inspiring. It makes me want to keep going. If anything, it's reversing my aging process. I can now do things with my body that I wouldn't even have thought possible when I was an athletic teenager."

Even the members of Sting's group, practice Yoga. Sting discloses, "We do at least an hour and a half of Yoga before every concert. I think it increases our cohesion. It certainly keeps us all fit. It's not easy being on the road. You have strange hours and are offered strange food. It's not the healthiest occupation. You spend every night up late and you drink alcohol or whatever. Yoga is a good balancing trick for all of us."

Through Yoga, Sting, born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, has Metamorphosed dramatically. Today, his music transcends the boundaries of the average rock and roller, and has brought him to a place to which many of his peers can only aspire. His work spans a quarter of a century and now embraces almost every genre of music from rock and reggae to jazz, country, Celtic and Middle Eastern Music. As one industry expert observes, "Sting fashions a musical soundtrack for our times. He is a consistent pioneer and risk-taker." To which Sting replies, "I have a curious mind. My strategy is to be as creative and optimistic as possible. Maybe I'm naive."

Two decades ago, deeply troubled by the mindless decimation of the world's rain forests, the adverse effects caused to the indigenous people and the detrimental and probably irreversible environmental damage, which loss of the forest was causing to the planet as a whole, Sting and Trudie formed the now widely acclaimed Rain forest Foundation. Working tirelessly with Trudie, he has helped sponsor scores of benefit concerts to raise awareness of the plight of the rain forests, and the natives who call it home and has raised millions of dollars to battle for its preservation.

He has also helped raised millions of dollars for Amnesty International, an organization which fires his imagination. He says of Amnesty International, "I like its approach to achieving desperately needed world change. "It is the most civilized organization in history. I like its focus. It is non-violent, and it is effective. Its currency is the written word, and its weapon is the letter. Its focus on individuals and the concentration and tenacity with which they defend those imprisoned for their ideas has earned it the cautious respect of repressive governments throughout the world."

He is also very involved in other humanitarian organizations including Band Aid and Live Aid, and organizations promoting cross-cultural tolerance and understanding among diverse people.

Although Sting was born into Roman Catholicism, and has dabbled with many organized religions over the years, including Hinduism and Islam, he is more spiritual than religious and as an extension of his yoga practice, he is inspired by, and loves India's religious philosophies.

He has traveled on numerous pilgrimages to the Himalayas and to many Asian spiritual shrines. On these retreats he always arranges to travel with the common people of the land, the grassroots element - eating, sleeping, learning from and interacting with them. Sometimes he travels with the holy men of the country for the same reasons.

Sting is devoted to family life. He has six children, four of whom are with his current wife, Trudie, a Royal Shakespearean trained actress, a film maker and the chief fund-raiser and director of the Rain forest Foundation.

She also produces many of Sting's concerts, and frequently appears on stage with him. Together they depend on Yoga to help maintain their well-being and the high energy pace of their lives.

Sting's children range in ages from their early teens to their early twenties. He dreams that they will all lead lives of happiness and fulfillment. He says, "I'd like my kids to have as much as I've had and more. But I don't think we can sit back and expect the political system to ensure that. It's up to all of us to do something."

"As a parent one of the most difficult things in the world is to let go. Your natural instinct is to protect your children. The world is a dangerous place and we tend to be over-protective but at the same time we need to trust our children so that they can grow in confidence."

Through the years Sting has evolved into a celebrated performer and along the way, a connected human being. He works tirelessly to make a difference in the world. Sting is an inspiration to his many fans and to those around him.

© Balance magazine by Radcliffe A. Joe



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