READY OR NOT

December 17, 2012

Because I don’t live in Myanmar, nor have I been here before, it had been difficult to have any perspective as to how much of a big deal the MTV EXIT Live In Myanmar concert would be. And because it was the first of it’s kind for this country, there was almost no way of being truly prepared.

 

Human trafficking is a global issue and it is estimated that more than 20 million people around the world are currently the victims of trafficking. Half of these men, women, and children are from Asia.

 

The issue has been especially bad here in Myanmar, and up until just a few years ago, the government wouldn’t even admit that trafficking was a problem, therefore anyone who wanted to do something about it was forced to do so quietly, making it incredibly challenging to engage people and educate communities on the issue. This is also a country where less than a decade ago, people were hiding books under floorboards as any extended education was frowned upon by a paranoid leadership.

 

You can imagine then, with little to no education, one could easily be fooled or forced into an exploitative situation, i.e. enslaved at sea on a fishing boat, locked in food or clothing factories, violently forced to work long hours with little food and water; some of them drugged and sold to private homes to serve as wives in forced marriages, or sold into slavery as a sex worker. This is what today’s human-trafficking and exploitation problem looks like. It’s very real and it affects us all.

 

I accepted the invitation to participate in the MTV Exit concert here in Myanmar because I knew it would attract thousands and have the potential to reach millions more through radio, newspaper, and television broadcast, shining an even brighter light on the issue. A concert of this capacity, an open-air concert in front of the revered Schwedagon Pagoda, had never happened before, making it an opportunity for many to participate in something brave and new, celebrating the changes happening in their country.

 

I knew some of my songs had found their way to Myanmar but was still surprised by the invitation. I created for my life and my music the possibility of being an activist, lending my voice to great causes, and this is what the universe delivered, ready or not.

 

Moments before taking the stage I ran into Kevin Bales, an economist and hero of mine, whose TED talk introduced modern-day slavery to the social network. I consider Kevin one of the leaders of the ongoing anti-slavery and sustainable-freedom movement and it was seeing him backstage, a long way from California, that I began to experience the important significance of the event. This is a global crisis, and our concert was continuing to bring it into light. Kevin was wearing a black “slavery sucks” t-shirt and he insisted I wear it during my set. It was already damp and odorous with his sweat from the day’s scorching heat, but I didn’t flinch when he gave it to me. I was honored. He literally took the shirt off his back for me.

 

Then I walked onstage to polite applause.

Followed by what sounded like an ocean turning to glass.

Silence.

 

This may or may not be entirely true and I’m not sure how it will all translate on TV. I could’ve just not heard anything, experiencing an aural black out due to heightened senses and a racing mind.

 

Buddhists, of which Myanmar’s population is 80%, practice mindfulness, which is described as an attentive awareness of the reality of things, especially of the present moment. It is an antidote to delusion and is considered a power.

 

My racing mind however, rendered me powerless as I immediately began scanning my brain for things I could do differently; new approaches towards connecting with the sea of curious first time concert-goers. I became a ‘try-hard.’ A Try-Hard is a coffee shop term I use for a musician who shows up trying hard to be seen and heard, rather than being relaxed in the sharing of their songs. This took me out of the moment, which then led me to missing cues I’d relied on all year. I was having a hard time with my fingers and ears at that point, and lost the ability to grasp the sacredness of the space and the exclusivity of the event. I was there to perform and I had slipped below my A-game. I felt I was living inside my own shred series, live, without the need of an overdub. An inner battle between understanding my self worth and a lack of it commenced.

 

Here were 50 thousand attentive people, observing, raising their hands in the air, shouting freedom! They did everything I invited them to do; dance, play and participate. But I continued to fear the language barrier and let my lack of concentration steal my thunder. I hadn’t learned yet that Burmese consider it in an honor to have foreigners in their country. Feeling lackluster, I questioned if my show and I were the right fit for the gig. This is never a good thought to have while you’re performing.

 

One of my less positive thoughts sang, kill me now, but only for a shameful second. Should lightning strike me dead, I didn’t want this show to be my last. I was better than this.

 

What steered me away from sheer panic or flipping into default mode was the homework I’d done on human trafficking, along with the smiles I’d meet as a scanned the crowd of happy concert-goers. This concert wasn’t about me. It was a radical awareness rally disguised as a rock concert. I was there to help create a draw, to be sugar in helping medicine go down. And I was grateful to be of service. And it was gratitude, once again, that got me to the next level.

 

The entire experience was unique; perhaps the most unique concert I’ll ever play. I saw a hundred thousand hands in the air and heard 50 thousand strong chant the word Freedom! And though all this was happening, I still stood nervously inside my skin and inside my songs. I wouldn’t fully relax until after the concert was over.

 

By then, I felt a little embarrassment speaking to the press, feeling as if my songs were not the powerful, pinnacle everyone was hoping for. Still, I never turned my attention away from the real issue. I was there as a messenger, helping to spread peace, prevention tools, and protection from the horrors of human trafficking.

 

My head, heavy with thought, dropped tired to avoid the bright lights of the press wall. I stared at my hands, the same hands I’ve had with me all my life. I remembered picking up a guitar for the first time when I was 17. And I remembered telling myself at 18 that I would pursue music as a career until I’m 40, and if I didn’t succeed, at least I would have played guitar for 22 years and by then, contract or no, I’d probably rock. And as I looked down past my hands, allowing my gaze to drift further down the slope of the shaky wooden platform we were all standing on; myself, the lights and cameras, all of us a few hundred yards away from the ancient golden stupa, my feeling of any lack of self worth finally dissipated. When I looked up, towards the magnificent light of the distant pagoda, I had returned to calm.

 

I felt in that moment anyone can rise to fame and fill an arena. Few get to go on tour and entertain audiences with their unique sound, catchy lyrics or beautiful voice. And even fewer get the opportunity to be one of the first to sing with tens of thousands in a movement to bring an end to human trafficking. I got to do that here in Myanmar. And it was awesome. And I am ready now.

 

COMMENTS (29)
  • Avatar of consuelo
    consuelo said ...

    I’ve watched the “MTV World Stage: Live in Myanmar” video several times and cannot imagine that a plain grey t-shirt would have made the same impact that the black shirt with almost neon white “SLAVERY SUCKS” did. Good choice. Once again, thanks for all you do to create a just and sustainable world for everyone.

  • Avatar of draagonfly21
    draagonfly21 said ...

    “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

    ― A.A. Milne

  • Avatar of glorirf
    glorirf said ...

    rise a doobie for that :)

  • Avatar of ama83
    ama83 said ...

    progress is the law of Life/Love, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfill

  • Avatar of ama83
    ama83 said ...

    progress is the law of Life, whose law demands of us only what we can certainly fulfill!

  • Avatar of binkie3
    binkie3 said ...

    wow! It takes a lot of strength to admit ones fears and feelings of failure,
    it’s powerful to realize you’re not the most important thing and let go of your own individual problems,

    sharing this will educate everyone who will read this,
    making clear everyone has their fears, their failures and disappointments.
    The most important thing is not to give up, never let yourself be stopped by fear,
    and try to follow your dreams, how ever scary that might be… it will be worth it in the end!
    Maybe not in the way you wanted to, but still, you will grow as a person…

    and of course, try to do something for those who aren’t as fortunate to be able to worry about luxury-but-very-real-in-our-own-live-things like “will my voice sound nice” (or, in my case, will I be able to reach all of my students in a pleasant matter during my lessons) because they are busy worrying about food, health or freedom…

    you’re one of the most beautiful people I have heard from in a long time,
    combining a lightheartedness and fun (that inspires me to have more fun with my kids and my students and not take myself to serious) with a deeper meaning of what is important in live..
    it’s impossible not to like you!

    thank you Jason for sharing you!
    and thank you for thanking us to listen…
    (and thank you auto correct, school has been a while ago ;)

  • Avatar of tonniew
    tonniew said ...

    I wrote a long entry but instead of sending it, I will just say, in your words, we’re “Only Human.”

  • Avatar of jmartinisu
    jmartinisu said ...

    Jason,

    I want to give a HUGE thanks for being willing to shine some light on such an important issue. I have been to Myanmar twice, most recently to teach this summer, and it is one of my favorite places in the world. I have fallen in love with the people and culture, and my heart breaks not only for their histories, but also current realities. So little is known about what truly goes on inside this country, so I applaud you and MTV EXIT for taking this step. I hope it enlightens people and spurs them to act and speak up.

    On another note, I just recently discovered your music (other than what I have heard on the radio) and you definitely have turned me into a fan. I just missed your concert in my area as I was in Myanmar at the time. So, I hope to catch you the next time around, and I’m definitely looking forward to some new music soon!

    Sincerely,
    Jenny

  • Avatar of gmhefner
    gmhefner said ...

    jason,

    thank you for having the courage to commit to and complete the concert. and thank you for sharing your doubts and fears about it with us. sharing one’s weaknesses takes strength, a leap of faith. but the act of sharing brings people closer, and together we are all stronger.

    as for you feeling off your game this time……..

    heck, we never stop being students, do we? ;) it’s a wonderful thing, but can be quite terrifying at the time. small steps, my friend, like the ones you took getting through the concert make all the difference – a pebble dropped in the middle of still pond can result in some substantial waves at the shore regardless of how “perfect” it is. you did accomplish the goal of shining a light and now you have experience for the next time. no one is perfect all the time – that’s exactly what is wonderful about human beings. even with our imperfections, we can still soar, and that is what beautiful is all about.

    thank you for writing – we will keep reading. :)
    peace, brother.

  • Avatar of freedmysoul
    freedmysoul said ...

    J.-
    ‘We’re connected now.’ A simple, familiar statement, yet incredibly significant, at least to me. I have always felt connected to you. Always will. This post resonates the classic FF Mraz. The man who allowed us into his heart and his soul. Now reborn, liberated, at peace, and alive,yet understandably cautious. You have embraced your life’s purpose. You are where you are supposed to be, missing the cues you are supposed to miss, touching and changing the lives of people you were meant to touch, writing the lyrics only you can write and delivering the words as perfectly as they were intended to be heard in the moment. I am so proud of you, and can’t wait to see how MTV captures the event.
    As always, I adore you, Mr. Mraz.
    Diane
    ps- hair please!

  • Avatar of amend414
    amend414 said ...

    I accidentally pressed submit friggin iPhone key board is so tiny. In short, what you do really helps and don’t sell yourself short.

  • Avatar of amend414
    amend414 said ...

    I beg to differ. Not anyone can put on a show in front of thousands of people. Maybe you’ve experienced so many times you neglect to realize what you do for a living maybe people like myself couldn’t fathom of doing ask any wallflower out there they’ll tell ya. Ask any stage crew member, anyone behind a camera on a film. Some people prefer to be in the crowd cheering on those that step up to the challenge of being the center of attention. I agree with You on a lot of things and I understands what your meaning to say that you had the opportunity to use your god given talents to REALLY TRUTHFILLY AND WHOLEHEARTEDLY make a difference to a cause, that to us in the western world see as “just a cause” but others live the horrors of the reality of their daily lives.

  • Avatar of GloriousMe
    GloriousMe said ...

    I’m continually amazed at the graceful way you share yourself and your music. I think you tour with a great band and Mona is always awesome…but at the heart of everything, it’s just you and a guitar. Seeing you live, the songs that spoke best to me where the ones you sang on stage alone with bright light probably burning into your retina. You carry all those shows including the Myanmar show on your shoulders. That’s a lot for any one human to bare-up under. I have no bought the audience felt your passion and compassion, which makes for the best in any kind of performance. And of course, it’s better to be ready late, than never ready at all. :)

  • Avatar of sailucie
    sailucie said ...

    Innocence, humble, comes to mind. Searching to fill all the gaps between these little clouds. Ha! breath little child, perfection is not of this earth so why worry. Let the butterfly fly to its favorite tree and it will find its way home. Reach high and the sky will be yours. Thank you for opening the light inside of us to this awareness of human trafficking.

  • Avatar of crystale80
    crystale80 said ...

    Je ne suis pas très à l’aise avec l’anglais et avec la traduction je ne suis pas certaine de faire passer mon sentiment exact, alors je prends le risque d’écrire dans ma langue, le français.
    C’est très surprenant d’apprendre que vous étiez nerveux, vous êtes toujours habité d’une grande sérénité sur scène.
    Cela nous rappelle que vous êtes un être humain comme nous tous avec ses qualités mais aussi ses défauts, sa force et ses faiblesses.
    Voyez ce que nous faisons subir à ce monde, à cette planète “Terre” et ce que l’humain fait subir à l’être humain.
    Vous êtes toujours attentif à tout ce qui vous entoure, à ce titre votre aide est précieuse.
    Nous regardons, nous comprenons et nous répandons à notre tour, tout autour de nous et avec vous.
    Merci infiniment Jason.
    C’est toujours un plaisir de vous lire.

  • Avatar of kalixxooxx
    kalixxooxx said ...

    I needed to read this now more than ever. I have just started my first tour outside of my hometown and I have had several shows that felt out of my realm. I was so stuck in my own head, I could not settle down and just play. It got to the point where I’ve considered canceling shows because I felt like I couldn’t do it. Knowing that someone like you still has those same feelings after playing thousands of shows, makes me feel like I’m going to be okay. I have said it time and time again, you are an inspiration in everything that you do. The fact that you can stand up for those who can not stand for themselves, its truly enlightening and I hope to one day be as great and wholesome of a musician as you.

  • Avatar of 4meclara
    4meclara said ...

    And YOU ROCK! The sheer authenticity of this post reminds me of how I felt a year ago, when I had read a piece of your writing for the first time, namely your last note on Facebook – ‘Closer To Fine’. At that point, I had just heard a couple of your songs (I live on the other side of the world, literally and metaphorically, that’s my lame excuse) and I wanted to find out more about this startling artist, Jason Mraz. I liked your Facebook page and one day I read that note. I loved your writing so much, I had even the nerve of writing that inappropriate comment: “Please write more!” (It seemed so unfair to me that I had arrived there too late. I knew nothing about that Freshness Factor Forum, but I wouldn’t just give up…) A couple of months later, I became a regular reader of this Journal while entering the journey of discovering your old songs, your new songs, your live songs. Your music and your writing made me gain a new insight into the world, a different and fresh perspective. So, once again: thank you! And please INSPIRE more!

  • Avatar of normason
    normason said ...

    You were not yourself when you put on Kevin Bales t-shirt. You were feeling and smelling someone else’s body waste, accepting to step out of the ritual that makes you comfortable on stage in order to do service to someone else’s wishes, someone you admire and consider more important than yourself. One day I hope to be this gracious. I’m proud of you.

    Love

    Norma

  • Avatar of kathyred2
    kathyred2 said ...

    Firstly, I want to say Thanks You. And I am not hoping you are very nervous on stage and we feel like you are very charm.

    We excited since we got the news, until we got tickets in hand. But we still can’t believe that we can see you on stage and we are in your concert and you are going to perform one hour nonstop.

    Thanks you for your supporting and I had a great night for my life time. And hope to get chance to see you again in Myanmar.

    Red.

  • Avatar of madyjune
    madyjune said ...

    First of all, I really want to thank you for your amazing performance. It is really a big deal for us to see an international artist like you in Myanmar. I’ve been your fan for many years and I’ve never dreamed of ever getting the chance to attend your concert. I spend the whole day standing for 7 hours before seeing your performance, but it was totally worth it. I hope you will come back to perform in Myanmar next time.

  • Avatar of amyneedscoffee

    Jason,

    Sometimes I think we go along in life feeling like we are walking down the path we were meant to be on. Then something larger than us stops us dead in our tracks. Realizing how insignificant we are when faced with realities we cannot imagine. I so admire you on how selfless and courageous you are. I believe you could have totally bombed ( not possible) yet the reason you were standing on stage would never have “bombed” or been lost in translation. You were a symbol of positivity, change, and a kindness concern for them. You sharing your insecurities just reminds us how you are like the rest of us. Thank you for that.

    As you were gone & we all listened to the horrible Connecticut Elementary School shootings. Having 3 kids I can’t even imagine the tragedy. But my heart hurts for everyone in any way touched by this. I decided to decorate an angel tree this year in my home. I wrote the names of each victim on each of their own ornament balls. I started to question my intentions…was this for me? What am I doing? I went back to my first thought when I had this idea…Im hoping Im sending out a message to all our new angels that they will not be forgotten & that I care about each of them. My kids don’t quite understand what Im doing… I just want them to know we dont have to know people to care about them!

    Thank you for your continued inspiration!

    Amy

  • Your nervousness is a sign that you knew just how important this was… it means that you care. This might come out all wrong, but I’ll try to explain it this way. With respect to my profession and being new at it as a soon-to-be graduate, someone wise once told me “if you’re not scared, you’re dangerous”. It meant that while we should all feel confident and comfortable in our abilities, that little bit of apprehension we feel when we get nervous kind of keeps us on our toes. It’s funny, people have told me that I approach things well and praise me for handling nerve-wracking situations calmly; meanwhile, my own thoughts are in chaos kind of how you described here- and they say ‘really? you were nervous?’. So you may have had all this going on in your head, but to those people who were seeing a concert for the first time and were there for that special moment, you were probably just as smooth as you always are. I’ve seen you in concert several times now, and it’s pretty evident that you put your heart and soul into everything you do. I bet that audience will cherish the memory for as long as they live.

    On another note, thank you for calling attention to this issue and educating people like me. I had a vague notion that this was going on in the world, but you have inspired me to become more informed.

    Have a restful, peaceful holiday.

  • Avatar of Libbzyloo
    Libbzyloo said ...

    Jason, I would never of imagined you to be at all nervous ever, you just look like you fit in so well on stage. I completely empathise with your experience, I get this everytime I try and perform, it’s not cool be a grade 5 violinist and not being able to show anyone! You were fab at the O2, leap and remember a net will always appear <3

  • Avatar of MarLuna
    MarLuna said ...

    First I’d love to hug you, and let you know how much pleasure I found to have you be the one representing the movement of positive change from the USA. You did the first leap into your dharma. YOU WERE MEANT ALL ALONG TO BE AT THE FOREFRONT (Read and hear that in “a voice as big as the sea”). That’s why you’re being asked by Gaia (Farm Aid, Tree planting, Antarctica) and again from spirit (Jason Mraz Foundations, Presidency, Human trafficking) to gather these both; and with the gifts you have bravely discovered in your fingers and voice – to the mind and delivered by the soul. You’ve been led to gather these wise and powerful friends and tie them together to make a bow of a beautiful package to be delivered to the world.

    I can understand your heaviness in wanting to give the people all of the best in you (and I can bet you did deliver just that- monks are probably singing your perfect songs in tones that vibrate the soul) but frankly sweetness MTV is just a stepping stone, you can get there in a more thoughtful approach. I only saw snippets of your performance it was interrupted by amateur interviews with good intentions but not paired right for the movement you & I most likely pictured. Therefore I’m glad you’re ready now because we’ve been waiting for you.

  • Avatar of kidest
    kidest said ...

    Yes yes yes you are!

    It is who you are, all of it, that’s brought you to where you now stand and what you now face. This unique you and all that you bring through and are an opening for, are exactly the light needed by the causes showing up to stand before you. You are an exact match to this. You are perfectly aligned and in the right place. You are so divinely placed. Stand firmly in your readiness love.

    You are so supported through threads that have no bounds – on stage and off stage there’s always a great hand holding you steady. Love has you.

    Thank you for you ~

    <3

  • Avatar of consuelo
    consuelo said ...

    Oh, yeah, and by the way FREEDOM indeed ROCKS!!

  • Avatar of shalex
    shalex said ...

    This is inspiring Jason! Gratitude has helped me get out of my self(ish) as well. I struggle with what people think of me but I’m learning that to hide what I have is to deny who I am AND that living with fear is lying to myself. I’m not gonna let anything hold me down from my powerful uniqueness!

    I am extremely greatfull for your beautiful music. Thank you,

    LOVE

  • Avatar of consuelo
    consuelo said ...

    Glad to hear you are ready. Take a well deserved rest over the holidays , set your intention for 2013 and let’s all get out there and create the beautiful world we want to live in. You have the ability to make a huge difference just in the way you live your life. The music is just icing on the cake for me. I’ve known Kevin for over 30 years, and yes, he is the kind of guy who will give you the shirt off his back. You both are making the world a better place for all of us. And I am grateful for both of you.

    I’m looking forward to more beautiful music from you next year.

    Sincerely,
    Joan

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