From Spirits to Spirituality
What caused gym-junkie, festival-loving twin brothers James and Phil Coulson to turn from an endless spiral of partying to a life of peace and tranquility? And how did they overcome their stressful and busy world to become spiritually aware? It started with an awakening.
Two years ago, Gold Coast DJ’s James and Phil Coulson were living the music-lover’s lifestyle: partying and going to every festival they could, drinking every weekend and punishing their bodies at Cross-fit.
But it wasn’t just their bodies that were taking a hammering. “When you’re drinking you become so numb to the people around you, and you become quite selfish and say things that hurt people,” Phil recalls.
“One day I woke up and everything changed.”
Phil tells how he woke one July morning in 2014 with an overwhelming sense of dread and the sudden realisation that his life wasn’t permanent. “What’s going to happen after this?” he asked.
Over the next few weeks he felt lost and unsure of himself, until a client he was doing some design work for gave him a copy of The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. The book, by Eckhart Tolle, was first published in the late 1990s, and has been described as a New Age re-working of Zen. Tolle’s main message is that people should focus on the present rather than become anxious about the past or future.
The book helped Phil understand what was happening to him, allowing him to discover a new outlook on life … a more mindful one.
“We’re not here to work and get stressed over work and lead a doing life,” Phil says. James adds, “we’re human beings, not human doings”.
At first, this ‘spiritual awakening’ only happened to Phil, not to James. As twin brothers, the duo are very close and James wanted to “find out what the hell he was talking about because I couldn’t understand it”. So James started reading spiritual books as well to understand what Phil was going through.
“One thing I thought would help me understand was by doing an ayahuasca ceremony in Peru,” James says. Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic medicine that has been used for thousands of years by indigenous Amazonian cultures for healing, divination and spiritual awakening. This sacred plant brew is said to help people get in touch with their spirit and explore higher states of consciousness.
Leading up to the ayahuasca retreat in December 2015, the brothers trekked for 10 days along the Inca trail in the Peruvian Andes, finishing in Machu Picchu. This high-altitude, ancient city has long intrigued archaeologists, and remains a centre for both spirituality and astronomy.
The brothers spent their first night in the small village of Huallabamba. “It was incredible,” Phil says. “We stayed on top of a mountain with streams on either side. I’ve never seen a star so clearly or so many. It was beautiful.”
The second day involved an intense ascent up to the 4,200 m Dead Woman’s Pass, where the brothers found it difficult to breathe, but the spectacular views well worth the physical challenge. By the time they had completed the trek, Phil and James felt ready for the ayahuasca retreat.
James says he believed this spirit quest would help him better understand what Phil went through.
Even before the final stage of the spiritual retreat there were other challenges with the brothers having to undergo a special cleanse which saw them having to forgoe alcohol, drugs and meat.
“It’s definitely not for everyone, that’s for sure. It’s a very heart-opening and mind-expanding experience,” James says.
It changed James’ life and way of thinking. He says it forced him to face many of his demons and made him more mindful of the world around him. Most importantly it gave him a holistic sense of where he belonged and the things he had to do.
“I feel like I should have children now. That was one thing that I got out of it.”
Phil says if used over time the new lifestyle allows people to let go of everyday stresses that plague our lives.
“That’s one of the bigger things everyone needs to do. Just let go of things, don’t hold on.”
In February 2016, the brothers attended the Wanderlust festival in Thredbo, New South Wales. For three days, James and Phil learned more about yoga, meditation and mindfulness from experienced instructors and speakers.
One event was practicing yoga on top of a mountain, where a DJ played chilled tunes. “That was one of the best yoga festivals we’ve ever done. We loved it,” Phil says.
“(Yoga) makes people more in touch with themselves and more mindful. If there was one thing I could go back in time and do, I would start yoga at 12 or 13 (years of age).”
The brothers say they find peace and a sense of grounding from meditation. The hardest part, they say, is finding the time to meditate. But once you do, they believe, the benefits come quickly. “People can be rude to you and you think ‘you know what? It doesn’t bother me’.”
James and Phil now meditate daily.
Today, James and Phil are truly enjoying running C Squared Design on the Gold Coast, with their spiritual journey allowing them a true joy in everything they do.
The brothers have learned to live in the present moment, sit back and appreciate the world and the people they interact with more, and ultimately lead a more mindful and meaningful life.
When the brothers first started the business – before the awakening – they regularly experienced a lot of anxiety, but their newfound perspective has not only relieved them of the burden of stress but made every challenge something to look forward to instead of dreaded.
They live by the mantra ‘work to live, not live to work’. They work from a home studio and love their jobs. “Going to work everyday is not even work,” James says. “We love it.”
He says he feels like his life’s become simple and relatively boring, but “I have never been happier in my whole entire life.” Once a year the twins take a month off specifically to travel and gain a greater perspective on the world.
When asked how others can change their lives, the brothers say it is important to be more aware of surroundings. “Be mindful of how your actions are treating others,” James says.
“When eating breakfast, just eat breakfast and put away the phone. Try to do random acts of kindness and slow down to self-reflect and stop, look around and smell the flowers’.
“We’re very down-to-Earth people. We’re not massive hippies or anything. We still run a successful business. Our whole outlook on living and what’s important has totally shifted. I hope this is happening to a lot of people.”
At the end of the day, James asks how important can rushing around be? “Just appreciate what you’ve got around you,” he says. “You can’t do that when you’re in a rush everywhere.”
It should be noted some of ayahuasca’s components – including the potent psychoactive compound DMT – are illegal in most countries. It has been linked to mental health issues and other dangers including some deaths.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have published numerous warnings on its use.
“While this is not illegal in Peru and Ecuador, there is no way to thoroughly vet ayahuasca tour operators, and if you choose to participate, please be aware of the potential security and health risks involved,” DFAT says.
“Some participants have been seriously assaulted and robbed. Victims report a range of experiences, from being alert but unable to maintain control of their surroundings, to total amnesia.”