The Gentleman Browne
Nature will fight back by killing two-thirds of the world’s population, the education system creates conformists and giving love brings love, says ‘one of Ireland’s great liberators’, psychiatrist Ivor Browne, who at 84 finds himself surrounded by women
Psychiatrist Ivor Browne, pictured at his home in Ranelagh. Photograph: Dave Meehan
‘Is he still alive?” people keep asking. Yes he is, very much so, and is as challenging as ever. Visionary, revolutionary and preparing to take leave of his “carcass” for a far better place, 84-year-old psychiatrist Ivor Browne believes that global societal collapse is imminent.
He’s been right before. In the 1970s and 80s, Browne predicted the collapse of trust in the Catholic Church. Decades ago he warned that the Americanisation of Ireland would lead to ghettoisation and the breakdown of local communities and Irish identity. He has long forecast our current economic and psychological malaise, which he thinks was created by our failure to liberate ourselves from a dependency culture instilled by the British, continued by the Catholic Church, then the EU and now a flawed global economy, one which we are sacrificing our wellbeing to prop up.
“We are not living in a healthy society. We’re living in a society that is systematically driving people mad. It’s a society that needs to be fixed,” he says.
We are, he thinks, enduring a new kind of famine – one of food for the soul.
Let’s start gently, though, with a bee that is trapped on the dishwashing brush in Browne’s kitchen sink, in the beautiful Ranelagh home that his wife “Juno”, feminist June Levine, left behind when she died in 2008. He lifts the bee carefully onto his hand, then steps through the open kitchen door to release it onto to a cascade of pink roses. “I love that bee as much as I love any of my clients and my friends,” he says.
The disappearance of bees signifies all that we are doing wrong, he believes. “We’ve pushed nature too hard and she – Gaia as some call her – is preparing, as weather events since 2000 have shown, to readjust herself.” He talks about a major ecological collapse and famine, “killing two-thirds of the world’s population”.
“I feel sorry for today’s children but this will be a good thing for the planet, and ultimately for humanity,” he says.
He predicts that the survivors will build small eco-communities, with people of all ages interacting, growing their own food, experiencing the best of primitive living, while also being connected with other communities via the web, developing science and the arts anew. Ireland as an island, with a small population and art in its genes, could be at an advantage, he thinks.
“It’s been a good thing, this horrible recession following from our enthusiasm for the material. People are relating to each other a bit more. I think there’s more optimism now. When the Celtic Tiger was functioning, people didn’t seem at all happy.”
People stressed by unemployment and mortgages they can’t pay aren’t happy either, I point out. “Yes, but underlying it is this question: what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? People are looking in other directions than the material.”
Disenchantment with religion has left us with a “false, nihilistic” approach that must be challenged. Believing that “spirituality begins where religion ends”, he sees hope in the fact that more people are now practising meditation and seeking alternative ways of living.
Browne meditates on love twice a day, to “clean” his heart of the misery and trauma he absorbs from clients and to open himself to love, which – using Jesus and Buddha as examples – he sees as “ the answer to everything”. His mantra is: “I’m sorry; forgive me; I love you; thank-you.”
He thinks it’s working. “At my age, you’d think I’d be a lonely old codger with perhaps two or three relatives who see him as a burden: instead I am surrounded by women who love me,” he says.
“If you try to relate in a loving way you find that people respond. When you give as much love as you can, you get it back 100-fold. I get this constant stream of love and care and compassion. I am surrounded by people who are full of love.”
Since 1978, long before it was a trend, Browne has meditated and practised what is now known as “mindfulness” (ironic, says Browne, since the centre is in the heart not the mind).