I’m sitting under the cool white tarpaulin of the Urban Sports Club booth at Munich’s Wanderlust 108 and I’m feeling slightly apprehensive. Not because I’m about to do a Mindful Triathlon or a headstand workshop but because I’m about to interview German rapper Curse and he must have done a million interviews before. I want to ask him the right questions – ones that will interest him. But before I finish that thought he’s standing right in front of me.
“Hi,” he says warmly shaking my hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” It’s about 2:30pm and the sun has reached its peak trajectory. Wanderlust festival-goers sprawl on the grass outside our booth like lizards, too hot to move. A few of them lift their heads as Curse approaches, tilting their sunglasses down their noses to make sure it is who they think it is. Curse settles down on a stool next to me and I tell him about the Urban Sports Club blog and how glad I am to have the opportunity to speak to him. “Pleasure,” he says.
For those of you who don’t know, Curse is a hip hop artist but in recent years he’s become very involved in the world of meditation, Buddhism and enlightenment. He has a weekly Podcast on the subject, he wrote a book about it last year and now, between touring albums, he runs workshops and sessions on it too. Just a few hours earlier Curse had guided 1000+ people through the final part of our Wanderlust108 mindful triathlon. It was a powerful experience and a fitting end to a morning of packed activities.
Curse’s English is perfect. No trace of his native German accent remains, replaced instead by a rolling American one – West Coast, I guess, because of its slow, laid-back tempo. He’s rockstar cool with his black sunglasses, plain black t-shirt and Californian drawl. There’s a buzz in our booth, a charged energy, no doubt because Curse is here. But if he notices he doesn’t let on; he sits with both arms at his side, legs stretched, one ankle crossed over the other, a picture of ease and openness. His head is tilted slightly towards me and through his sunglasses I can see his eyes locked-in, engaged, ready to be totally immersed in our conversation. And just like that any apprehension I have melts away. There’s no need to worry about which questions I ask – he’s clearly open to answering anything I throw at him, so I start with how he first became interested in Buddhism.
He tells me that even as a kid he was interested in human beings. How we function, behave, think. How we relate to ourselves and each other. Even as a kid, he says, he was interested in psychology and religion. But he was also interested in rap music. “And when I was a teenager it was a lot cooler to be a rapper than to be a psychologist,” he laughs. “And it was giving me a lot more energy and an identity so I decided okay. I’ll be a rapper. And if that doesn’t work out I can study psychology.”
It most certainly did work out. Curse released his first album Feuerwasser in 2000 and since then has toured the world, released ten more albums, and been labelled Germany’s greatest lyricist. His success following his first release was unprecedented, which is why Curse found it very confusing that, despite the sold-out shows, the adoring fans, the rockstar lifestyle, he felt unfulfilled.
The harder the rain, the sweeter the sun
“At a certain point in my career I sort of hit a wall inside myself,” he says, shifting forward in his seat to look me square in the eye. “I got less and less energetic, enthusiastic. I was doing what I love, what I’d always wanted to do, but I was feeling worse and worse.” He looks perplexed. “Isn’t that what everybody tells you? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, all that stuff. I was doing what I love! How was it not fulfilling me?”
At the time Curse had been working non-stop for ten years. “It was always the next album and the next studio and then touring and being on the road and I was always thinking, where is this fulfilment? Maybe it’s around the next corner. Or if 50 more people come to my show, or if the next album is better or if I go to a nicer restaurant or get a nice car. I was running and running and running and running but I couldn’t get there. And then I ran against a wall. And I realised this isn’t working. I need to slow down, stop running, try something else.”
‘Something else’ turned out to be a revisit to his boyhood interest in spirituality. But Curse struggled with the logistics of aligning his identity as a rapper with this new path of enlightenment. Until: “One day I asked myself why do I have to just do one thing? Who made the rule that if you like chess you can’t play soccer? Who made the rule that if you’re a rapper you can’t be interested in anything else? Who made that rule? It took me a few years to realise that I don’t have to choose and I can integrate all these things and that I can make an album but I can also write a book and that’s fine.”
Curse has clearly spent a lot of time reflecting on the pressures of living within stereotypes – and he says that these pressures aren’t just in the obvious places – music, business, fashion – he says this pressure is in the mindfulness industry too. “You get a lot of people who think they have to fulfil an image,” he says. “They feel they have to produce happy, relaxed Instagram content every day, to project this care-free, positive lifestyle. And that’s a lot of pressure because whose life is like that? No one’s. We’re human beings and we’re going to get hungry and grumpy and sleepy and angry. That’s just human experience.”
Curse says that trying to fight this reality is like denying that you’re a human being. Instead we should embrace these human aspects of life and own it. “Say yes I get angry, yes I get annoyed. Yes I do. And I can recognise these feelings and own these feelings. It’s a different approach to saying “Good vibes only!”
An eye opening perspective on meditation
Curse’s advice is so wonderfully down-to-earth, so human, that I can’t help but laugh out loud. When I think of meditation teachers and gurus I think of people who never feel anger or frustration. I imagine them meditating for hours at a time, not a single thought drifting into their consciousness. But Curse is here to say: that’s all BS.
“So many people sit down and try to meditate and they realise that their thoughts come up. And afterwards they tell me ‘I can’t meditate, all these thoughts came up.’ And I always say ‘That’s great! You’re advanced!’ Because they’re realising something. They realise that if they just sit there and don’t keep their minds busy then this is what happens. We have all these thoughts. And not just thoughts – crazy thoughts! That we weren’t even thinking before! This is our subconscious programme that runs the whole time and it’s mainly anxiety and a lot of fear. But if you recognise that and can name it and know that this is what’s going on in your mind, then fantastic.”
Curse explains that meditation is about recognising your feelings, your fears and anxieties and simply being present with them. I always thought that because I had intrusive thoughts that I wasn’t meditating, but, as Curse passionately tells me “But you did! You very much did! Because meditation is not numbing out – it’s not forgetting the world, spacing out. That’s sleeping or getting a massage or going to the sauna. Meditation is getting to know your mind. Whatever happens is your meditation. You’re totally doing it right, you’re totally getting it.”
Biggest influences, best advice
“I’ve had the privilege of really listening and being near some great teachers.” Curse’s London-based Lama was one of the first to come and live in the west in the ‘60s. This Lama grew up in a monastery and was recognised as a reincarnate at the age of 5. And just as you would expect from a reincarnated Lama “he likes chilling, eating croissants and drinking coffee,” Curse laughs.
I ask Curse if he uses any specific techniques in his meditation and learnings. He leans back, puts his right ankle over his left knee and smiles as if he’s about to tell me a really good secret. “I asked my teacher what technique I should choose – what’s my practice, what’s my path. I was thinking oh now I’m on this spiritual path, this meditation path, I have to follow some strict rules, I have to do it right. And my teacher gave me a few suggestions, directions and then he said: ‘But – you can also just relax man.’”
Curse laughs gleefully. “He told me I should just go out and explore and trust myself and see what comes. And I was so happy that he gave me that advice, that he didn’t tell me to sit and stare at the wall for twenty years.”
But Curse thinks he also gave him a huge responsibility. “He said you have to be grateful, aware, check in with yourself. He told me to relax but he also gave me the hardest job in the world, to constantly stay aware and keep looking at myself and always take responsibility.”
After Curse realised he could be a rapper and explore his spirituality at the same time, he’s intertwined those two worlds seamlessly. “I’m doing a whole bunch of stuff,” he says. He’s working on a new album, touring, writing, a weekly podcast, dabbling in movies and running meditation classes and workshops. He lists them quickly and then he leads forward and earnestly and says “But the essence is this: I try to navigate through my life in the most joyful and healthy way that I can. Which a lot of the time is not healthy and not joyful – but I give it my best. I love sharing what I experience and learn with other people. And that can be through music, through meditation or a podcast. Whatever it is, it’s always something I’m excited about or that I’ve learnt or that’s helped me shift perspective. I put it out there and hope that people try it out, see if it works for them, see if they like it – and tell me what you think because I might learn something from you. And that’s pretty much the foundation of everything I do.”
Then our time is up, and as he shakes my hand I realise I’m still holding on to my list of questions. I’d been so engrossed in our conversation that I hadn’t even looked at them, not even once.
Urban Sports Club has tons of meditation partners across Europe. Take a look at our site to see what’s on in your area.