By Seamus Anthony
This is the first installment of the (spontaneously created) “Rebel Zen Masters Interview Series”, where we interview people from differing walks of life that we feel represent the Rebel Zen ethos.
I am sure this happens to most us: Every now and then you come across a writer, musician or artist of any kind and get blown away by their work. Exploring their wares you get all excited and inspired and find yourself thinking “Man – that’s exactly how I feel!”.
Well that’s what happened to me just last week when I stumbled across Jonathan Mead’s writing at IlluminatedMind.net
I promptly left a few excited-like-a-kid comments at the bottom of some of his posts and then emailed Jonathan to see if he’d do me the honour of interviewing him. Here’s the result (my questions in italics).
BTW, there are heaps of links to his fantastic (and popular, if you need social proof) posts throughout the interview so make sure you go read ’em!
There’s no doubt your cowboy style of personal development writing is taking off. So tell us about yourself. What’s your story in a nutshell, that brought you to this place as the Illuminated Mind dude?
I’ve always had a natural curiosity for life and the “stuff” it’s made of. I’ve also always had a desire to improve and better my life. Living a suboptimal life never appealed to me. Well, when I started getting into Alan Watts and Eastern Philosophy, I started to realize that everything is non-dual and in reality there’s not such thing as opposites. I initially got kind of bitter about this and thought, “there’s no reason to try to better my life, because there’s no such thing as something better than anything else, there just is.” That’s a true statement, but it can be taken too far. Ultimately what matters most is your integrity and your conscience. Our society has an obsession with figuring things out logically before we act. Your heart may be screaming “this is what you need!” but your mind is saying “I refuse to make a decision until we get all the facts straight.” Ultimately, this will leave you paralyzed because there’s a lot of things in life that just don’t necessarily have a logical explanation. It’s the difference between trying to “find happiness” and “being happiness.”
What do your old school mates think about all this zany personal development talk? Or do you strategically fail to bring it up at barbecues?
This might sound really depressing but I actually don’t have many friends. My wife and I prefer to spend most of our precious time together alone. I also went to about 10 different schools growing up so I don’t really keep in contact with any of my old school mates. If I did, I don’t think I would have a problem with it though. I’ve always been the kind of person that says what everyone else is thinking, but is afraid to talk about.
I notice in a post about meditating, you mentioned various meditation aids like incense, walking, and music as “props”. I am a no-frills meditator myself these days, having tried and dispensed with most of the cliched extras. Do you have a personal aversion to ‘props’ now in your meditation? Describe how you meditate. Do you have a routine?
I think those things are good for beginner and “mid-level” meditators. It’s not easy starting out meditating though and most people give up before they actually experience the gap between thoughts. The problem with this is we talk to ourselves all the time. We’re constantly doing rambling away, whether important or not to ourselves, and meditation for the first time is a big shock for the mind. The mind naturally revolts and feels it’s existence is threatened. The key is not to wage a war against thinking, but to start out simply witnessing your thoughts. The longer you can go just witnessing them, the more your mind will start to naturally quiet down and you can actually experience meditation.
As for me, I don’t really use many props now when meditating. At times I do enjoy listening to Japanese flute music while meditating, I find it to be the most calming music I’ve ever experienced. I also still greatly enjoying walking meditation, it provided me with my first real breakthrough with meditation so I think I’ll always have a certain fondness for it.
You talk about “total contentment” as feeling like “You’ve released all thoughts, labels and judgment and you simply are. When you do this, there’s a subtle feeling that there’s no longer a difference between you and everyone else, between what in here and what’s out there”. To me this sounds like I feel when I’ve had an amazing meditation or just have simply managed to access this state during my normal activities. This to me is the enlightened state of mind. How well would you say you manage to keep this state of mind during your usual activities (if at all)?
I’m certainly not a master of keeping persistent awareness of an enlightened state throughout my entire day. It hasn’t become a permanent fixture of my consciousness, but it is something constantly running in the background for me. I would say though that I always perceive life through the lens of non-duality and unity. I don’t see myself as a separate ego, I see myself as the universe embodying a physical form in which I create a story and experience physical reality through the senses.
What are your thoughts on God? Hung out with him lately?
Wow, that’s a loaded question. My thoughts on God are that “God” is really another word for Reality or Consciousness. Obviously there are many other names, “the Universe,” “Intelligence,” “Brahman,” etc.
But yes, I hang out with “him” constantly. We shoot pool and talk shop.
Claiming to be enlightened and other such outrageous acts of sacrilege is bound to piss some people off. Is it a case of a strategy of “divide and conquer”?
No it’s not a strategy of divide and conquer at all. I just wanted to show that it’s OKAY to talk about Enlightenment, or being Enlightened for that matter. I knew when I wrote Enlightenment is Overrated it would piss a lot of people off and I risked being viewed as an arrogant bastard. The problem is, those same people that view me as arrogant, are the same people that view Enlightened people as so far beyond themselves. They think it’s reserved for sages and celibate monks. That’s exactly the opposite of what needs to be communicated. Enlightened people are just like you and me. We get pissed off, we make mistakes, and we have problems. Enlightenment does not equal some false image of perfection. Perfection and imperfection are concepts. Reality is not a concept.
Do you lead any kind of workshops or meditation classes?
I have not, but I have considered it. I have to figure a way to make a living out of this somehow.
I loved your line “I was so obsessed with thinking outside the box, it began to follow me around”. Give our readers a brief run down of your theory of embracing your creative ADD.
Embracing Creative ADD for me means accepting the fact that there’s a million different ideas constantly running around in your mind. It’s finding the connections between those seemingly disparate thoughts that seems to create the best ideas.
On a side note, I think far too many people don’t respect the gestation period of great ideas. They try to force an idea to completion before it has reached it’s natural maturity. Creative ADD is about respecting the germination of ideas and allowing your subconscious to do the work it does best, making connections. If you can simply let go and trust that your ideas will mature, you can exceed the limits of your imagination.
You wrote “I’d rather have one amazing idea than 200 muddled & broken ones”, which reminds me of my pet theory of Curly’s Law . If you are able, what would you describe as your One Thing, or does this idea fill you with horror? 😉
The essential theme I think behind “One Thing” is not sacrificing your love for doing different things, but finding the prime factor. In your case that was media. Once you realize that media is your strength, you start working on developing that strength. But it’s not that simple and I think where people like you and me get so frustrated is answering the “money question.” If we can’t figure out a way to make a living doing that “one thing” we risk end up resenting our passions.
We have to develop our inner business man and find a way to actually make this whole thing profitable. There’s a lot of mental block many of us “creative minded” people face with making money doing what we love. We think it’s sinful, we think it’s unethical. What this really stems from is a kind of rebellion against all the unauthentic people that have capitalized off of factory line music or art. We don’t want to sell out and produce art that we know will sell, but we still want to be able to feed ourselves. We have to realize that making money doing what we love doesn’t have mean selling ourselves out and we can remain authentic doing it. It may take a lot hard work and failure, but I would rather be striving my whole life in the pursuit, then be a slave to someone else’s agenda.
I can relate to your addictive problems. I have been there myself: alcohol, pot, hard drugs. It’s taken me way longer than you to kick my old habits as I always found it near on impossible to do it until I really, really wanted to. Not just ‘thought it was a good idea’, but truly, deep down just didn’t want to do it anymore. That liberating moment came first with hard drugs, then cigarettes, then pot and now drinking (for now, bets are still out on whether I stick it out with that last one!) Have you got any pointers for people out there who feel that they should probably “kick the shit”?
What it really comes down to for most people, or at least for me, was realizing that I was searching for something out there that I wasn’t finding within myself. I wanted that good feeling, I wanted that buzz, or that escape. I wanted an unnatural high because I didn’t have it authentically. I’m not sure how much advice I can give, because most people have to hit a bottom before they realize this themselves. You can scream it at them all day, but they don’t get it until it’s something they realize for themselves.
The only word of advice I can really give is to take a hard look at your past. Take a hard look at yourself. Are you trying to escape something? Have the courage to be honest with yourself and true with yourself.
What kinds of training, if any, have you done? Chi Gong? Upside-down Vampire Bat Yoga?
Haha, is that really real?
I haven’t really done any formal training. I have practiced Chi Chong breathing a lot recently though, but not through any kind of formal tutelage. I’ve always been kind of a rebel and am a big advocate of DIY enlightenment.
You mention that you are a member of BrazenCareerist.com network. How does this help you?
Brazen Careerist has gotten me some good exposure to a wider net of people than I would have gotten otherwise. It’s been more of a networking tool for me than anything.
It’s also helped me branch out to connect with people in related (and unrelated) fields that I never probably would have connected with otherwise. It’s also helped me realize that PR, Non-profit, Marketing, Personal Development and other seemingly divergent groups are really often working toward a common vision. We’re all just coming at it from different angles.
I gotta say it’s awesome to read about somebody else who’s given the Cult of Productivity the flick. I used to try and try to be this uber-organised dude, but then I was reading Getting Things Done and I just snapped and thought “You know what? Bugger this!” and since then I just write down the five tasks that will move me closest to my goals each day, and I have a running list of just absolutely everything that may or may not get done. I try and get the Big Five done but if not I say “Meh!” and I go bounce my little girl on my knee. And I am getting more done than ever! Counter Intuitive – but it works. I slack off for half the day and I am getting more done than ever! Got any anti-productivity tricks of your own to share?
I think the realization that happiness is not the result of productivity seems to be a widespread consensus moving through the personal development space.
Remaining authentic and following your natural rhythms will bring you greater happiness than any type of bulletproof productivity system.
I think we often forget and fail to respect that there are many different types of personalities in the world. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. What matters most is how you personally feel about it. You have to have the courage to freestyle life.
I have found that quitting your job is the greatest way to get ahead in life. How do you earn a crust these days, if you don’t mind me asking, and do your career plans include being the Illuminated Mind guy?
I work a regular 9 to 5 job as a graphics designer for a non-profit healthcare company. It’s really a great job and I probably complain about it more than necessary. I think the main reason for this simply that I want to be in control of my time and want to work toward my own goals, not someone elses. I want to own my mind.
I would love for Illuminated Mind to be my primary source of income, but I’m not going to bet all my chips on it. It can take a long time to bring a blog to the point of profitability. I would love to use this as a possible platform to get a book deal or sell information products.
This last question is about blogging rather than personal development. Hope that’s alright … Looking at your blog, I notice two things: 1) you are getting pretty popular and 2) you do a fair few “Top Tens” and other lists. Is it true that we still need to make lists to get a lot of diggs and up our blog traffic? How many lists can we take in? I, for one, am all listed out and (no offence) tend to pull a face whenever I see blog posts starting with “the Seven Steps to … ” or “Nine Ways to … “. Do you think rampant listing is on the endangered list?
I think people have really abused the list. They use it as a crutch to produce an article when they really don’t have an interesting idea or something worth saying. Lists also mean you don’t necessarily have to write transitions between points, which let’s be honest, is not always easy to do.
A lot of people also write lists because they’re popular. The more items on the list, the better it seems. “What, 67 ways?! OMG, 67!” They know these usually do well on social media as well, so it can be really tempting.
Lists also do well because a lot of people don’t really want to read a real article that will make them think. They want bite sized feel good bullet points. They want conveniently packaged productivity and travel size wisdom. It’s makes them feel good reading a list of “10 ways to be make your grandma feel special.” The reality is most people forget these lists before they even started reading them.
In defense of the list, however, there are certain times where a list is the best choice. If you want to give someone ten suggestions for something original (because you know I don’t need 10 more ways to make my day great) and there’s no real way to format it into a paragraph-style article, then by all means make a list. Just don’t sell your soul doing it. A good example of this was my last article 7 Rules to Re-Claim the Ownership of Your Mind. There really was no other way for me to write this. Sometimes thoughts are just better organized in points.
It’s damn hard too as a blogger trying to fit a lot of ideas into a single post. If we were all writing books, those “7 ways” might be broken up into each having their own chapter and we wouldn’t get as much shit for it.
So the lesson here is, be authentic. Write a list when you feel that’s the best choice, but don’t sell your soul trying to write what you feel will be popular.
Thanks for your time Jonathan and I hope these questions don’t blow too hard.
They didn’t blow at all, thanks for having me Seamus. Keep up the great work at Rebel Zen, I see great things in the future for this blog.
Jonathan is the author of Illuminated Mind – The less boring side of personal development. His articles include Living Freestyle; Life Without a Template and Liberate Your Life: Put Yourself on Auto-Response. You can subscribe to his here, or get more from him on twitter.