I wish Jason Mraz would go back to his roots, commented a commentator recently. This I pondered.
Do they mean go back to Slovakia? Or only as far back as Virginia? I assumed the wish was music related, but still I wondered if they meant I go back as far as Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact, programs that kick-started my little musical self into action. Certainly not. I doubt the comment came from my pre-school teacher. The request must have been referring to the origin of my original music; my public debut; The long defunct R&B group, Dressed To Kill.
Yes, my awkward boy band Dressed To Kill, whose influences included Boyz II Men, Color Me Badd (who are still active BTW!) and The Jackson 5. I was the youngest in the group at 13, but I had the highest voice which meant I always sang the Michael Jackson parts. We played such esteemed venues as The Stew Festival, A UCA Cheerleading Competition, and Jennifer Richardson’s 15th birthday party.
The first song I ever wrote I penned during 8th grade civics class. Recorded then over an instrumental b-side of a C+C music factory song, my song went straight into rotation at Skate America. Played only once, but awesome enough that people kept skating to it without noticing a break in the flow. I Think I Love You Girl, was the song that would land me the invitation to join the group who already sang similar hits such as, Baby, I’m Hooked On You and You Make Me Feel Alive, Girl. We spoke a common language, girl.
Some of the other guys in the group were much older. One of them a 911 dispatcher, which may as well have been a police officer, would often tell me to avoid women, which I found strange considering women were the focus of our material. But he said women were like drugs and once I had a taste, I’d only want them more. Just say no he said. So I took his advice and channeled my wanting in song.
It’s also during those short years singing in the group and skating around in circles that my contribution to climate change is at it’s greatest. After all, my hair needed to be aerodynamic for jive skating, so I would empty my sister’s aerosol hairspray every Friday while blow drying all of my hair to the right like a gentle sloping lady-killing wave. Looking back I conclude it was important to feel cool, even if I wasn’t.
By the time I was 16, a year before Justin Bieber came into the world, I had forgotten about Dressed To Kill and began dabbling in equally embarrassing art forms in high school: show choir, drama, cheerleading, jazz, tap & ballet, burying the VHS tapes of the boy band era and, unapologetically, moved on.
Someone recently asked me, What are you like when you’re in love?
When I’m in love, I’m at my best. I feel strong. Willing to serve. Willing to share. I’m a better listener. And I’m able to give all of my attention to my work, as well as my relationship. Love makes me feel superhuman. After all, Love is what we as human’s do best. (see population explosion.)
In all my “research” on Love, I conclude it has nothing to do with partnership, that’s secondary. Love begins within. When you listen to the little voice in your head, or to the urge in your gut, and you obey it, you will likely lead yourself down the path which you were meant to travel all along. By ignoring your intuition or disobeying your dreams, one becomes stuck, the body grows heavy and tired with incompletion or defeat, and sadness finds it’s way into the movie of your life. When you let your heart lead you, Love triumphs and fills you with the experience of being happy and successful.
When you take action to live the life you truly wish to live, you become illuminated in love. You lose yourself entirely and become what in many religions call, a servant of God, or a servant of Love. Others will take note of your glow, either with attraction or envy, both of which inspire. And if partnership is on your wish list, it will find you. You will attract it with your walk and talk and worry-free demeanor.
This Valentine’s Day, worry not about impressing your crush or partner with a surprise gift. Let your gift be your invitation to create something together. You are after all, two bodies with one mind; two individuals on entirely different journeys who have agreed to stand side by side as you each grow, develop and unfold into the beings you were brought here to be. And if you’re not in a relationship, think of those people, pets or projects you love and give yourself to them.
The difference between vinyasa-flow and Bikram yoga is who I am after class. After a grounding flow class, if someone cuts me off, I calmly press on the brakes and let them go. After Bikram, if someone cuts me off, I toot my horn and call them an a-hole.
If we do not discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us.
– William Feather said that.
And it is so true. If we don’t take care of our bodies, sickness will arise and force us to reconsider our health. In the cold season it’s important to stay warm with soups, teas, comfort foods and cozy clothing. To catch a cold literally means that a certain part of the body will freeze, shut down, or get blocked, preventing overall energy from circulating properly. This weekend I am taking my last 4 of 86 total flights this year. Had I not had the discipline to manage my immune system, keeping hydrated, and avoiding all airline food, I doubt I would’ve maintained a clean bill of health for the duration.
Having an audience or someone else to live for always helps. Being love is being for others after all.
I can’t express enough how much I appreciate there being audiences to share with. I liken it to having a family to live for, or a garden to tend. You are needed, and that makes all the difference in the world. Audiences become my thousands of mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins, lovers and friends, all of whom call on me for love and support.
Concerts are agreements between myself and others to meet at a scheduled time and place to enjoy music together. Rough estimates tell us that we played live to nearly 1 million fans in 2012. Therefore I have a million reasons to be healthy, present, and prepared for our events; giving each crowd my very best. Whenever I come up short, I don’t sleep very well. It feels like the world is collapsing in on me, which then forces me to flex my muscles, get back on the horse, apologize, and/or grovel at the feet of my million masters, praying the game isn’t over and that I get to continue.
Discipline shouldn’t be rigid and boring though. After all, it’s meant to enhance life, not diminish it. Therefore it’s important for me to allow life to happen and avoid trying to control it. This means accepting all changes in the emotional landscape, accepting evolution and any expansion or retraction of ideas, having compassion for a constantly changing environment, and being patient, which is not about having an ability to wait, but more about how I act while I’m waiting. Allowing the world to be what it’s choosing to be is integral in balancing my otherwise strict routines. It keeps things interesting at least. A few years ago I tried locking myself in my house, thinking I could keep anything bad from entering the property. It worked, but I also felt I was keeping a lot of joy from entering as well. Discipline needs it’s allowances.
In my previous post, I shared my nervous experience onstage in Myanmar. Performance panic shows up in my life about once a month and I usually connect it to a lack of preparation. I went there thinking I could give the audience a similar show as I would give to any other city – thinking they deserved to see the same kind of show we would play to New York or Paris – but realized too late that it was a different beast altogether. The lessons I learned will only enrich all future performances as I now have a slightly better understanding how to approach a stage of that caliber.
Looking back, I had similar experiences when I first starting playing big stages; opening for Dave Matthews and The Rolling Stones for instance. On the first gigs I felt I was out of my league, almost resentful of my management for putting me there, but with experience and preparation I found I could coast right through it and make good use of my stage time, connecting from a grand stage as I would from an intimate corner of a coffee shop.
In 2013 I will not be traveling with Tricia, who’s been my partner in transformation, food guru and yoga teacher for many years. This means I will be required to be even more disciplined than ever, managing my own meals and yoga practice. (Thank you @BeingTricia for being a part of my life and amazing journey. I am incredibly grateful for you and how you tirelessly serve others. I will keep you in my heart and imagine you there still kicking my ass and making me laugh, and I will demonstrate my gratitude for your service by integrating into my life everything you’ve taught me about health, wellness and success.)
In Myanmar, the common greeting is Mingalabar, which means, “May you have auspiciousness or causes of success.” That is my wish for you this holiday season; that you have auspiciousness and many causes of success. May you know how much power you have in your breath, present in this moment and the next.
Thank you for reading. And thank you for your comments and additions. I appreciate them all.
Now sit back and enjoy this delightful holiday retrospective from my ancestors.
On December 2nd I woke up in London, the last stop on a short, successful tour of Europe. Reviewing the pages from my journal that morning reveal notes about how to improve my show. I then boarded a plane and flew back to San Diego, stamping my passport closed on another exciting chapter. My life sounds easy and breezy. And it is.
Dec 2nd was also the day that Shine, a 21 year young man escaped imprisonment from a fishing vessel where he was held prisoner and forced to work for 3 months. I sat with Shine at a monastery in Yangon, Myanmar yesterday as he told me his story.
While visiting a Buddhist temple, he and his best friend met a young girl who asked if they’d help her find her missing mobile phone. As the boys got to know the girl that afternoon, she invited them to consider traveling to Bangkok where her uncle could get them good jobs. Charmed by the girl, it sounded like a good idea. (This is generally the case for victims of trafficking. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)
Shine and his friend went to a nearby border town and joined an illegal migration from Myanmar into Thailand.
An illegal migration takes 8 days, walking through overgrown forests at night, remaining quiet, with little to eat or drink. People migrate like this all the time hoping for light at the end of the journey. More often then not the groups are misled and don’t end up where they were promised. This was the case for Shine. Instead of bustling Bangkok, he arrived at a remote dock, where he realized he’d been had.
The boat captains began dividing up the men. Shine insisted he and his friend stick together. They were denied. So they put up a fight. Shine was struck over the head. When he regained consciousness, he was already at sea, without his companion.
The boat returned to the dock once a month but each time all the trafficked men on board were locked up, unable to go ashore.
After three months of grueling, unpaid labor, the boat was accidentally left unlocked for a moment at one of the moorings. Shine made a run for it and seeing another boat being raided, he was able to run directly to authorities who immediately conducted a raid on his boat, freeing 8 other men. His friend however, is still missing. Some boats would be gone from the dock for up to 6 months, he said. And it’s possible his friend was forced onto one of these boats.
Since Shine’s return to Myanmar he’s worked diligently with UN officials and local authorities to find his friend and to prosecute their traffickers. One of the traffickers agreed by phone to release the missing boy and return him by Dec 13th. But as of this post on Dec 17th, there is still no sign of him.
I couldn’t help but think of my best friends back home and how easy our lives have been growing up in the United States. For whatever reason we were born into better circumstances, with freedoms and opportunities, and yet we still complain about slow internet or traffic jams or having to work extra hours during the holidays. I wished in those moments after speaking with Shine that I could call my friends and my parents and thank them and tell them how much I appreciate and love them. I always had a hot meal on Thanksgiving. And I was given all of my childhood (and much of my adulthood) to be a kid, free to dream. I didn’t ask for this life. It just was. Therefore it should be the strength of those of us born into better circumstances that lend a hand in lifting others up.
Cases like Shine’s are rampant in Southeast Asia. People are born into awful situations everyday, and many more are being coerced into exploitative situations as we speak. I believe everyone deserves a chance to pursue their dream. More and more survivors of exploitation are coming forward exposing their traffickers and the trade routes, and improvements are being made. But to truly eradicate this problem, it’s going to take a global effort, for example making sure there isn’t slavery in the products we buy.
Similar to Shine’s story, a mother and her 11 year old son had also just returned home to Myanmar after they too were fooled into thinking they would have a nice job and a better life working at a snack food factory in Thailand. They too migrated via the illegal route across 8 dark nights of jungle terrain, witnessing young girls being raped, and children being injured on the narrow path. The group of 100 ran out of food and water on the 6th day, making everyone weak and irritable, but any noise or complaint warranted a beating from their guides.
Upon arrival into Thailand, the mother and son were forced into an overcrowded van and taken to a shrimp peeling factory where they were forced to work from 3am to late in the evening everyday for 4 months; the young boy standing on a crate to reach the tables, on his feet all day, everyday. At night the boy would check the gate of the factory to see whether or not it was locked. Thankfully, a gate was left open one night and the mother and child escaped into the darkness, phoning a friend with a mobile phone the boy had stolen inside the factory for use in this very escape. He had kept the battery off of the phone to save its power and to prevent the phone from ringing. They connected with authorities who conducted a raid, but by then the factory had been tipped off and deported it’s illegal workers before it could be accused of harboring slaves. There had been as many as 700 people working in the factory at one time.
The most shocking thing I heard of all the survivor stories came from the mouth of the mother. Had she and her 11 year old son been captured during their escape, she was going to demand they both be killed; starting with her son, so she could see before she fell that his suffering had ended. The thought of being tortured any longer in those conditions was too much to bear.
Other than her tears you would never know that such a horrible thing had happened. The mother had gained back the weight she lost in the ordeal, and the boy was anxious to get to school and be a kid again. He was smiling during much of our visit together. They are ordinary people like you and I, who just want to live happy lives.
In Myanmar, there isn’t yet a television in every home. But the country is coming into it’s own quickly and media giants like MTV and CNN are there on the front lines educating audiences. Until then, the majority of the work to educate citizens is still done at the grass roots level, peer to peer. Groups like AFXB, an interactive theater group, travel the country performing in monasteries and schools, teaching kids of all ages about HIV prevention and human trafficking. At the political level, the government has recognized trafficking as a huge problem and recently signed into action The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, criminalizing sex and labor trafficking.
NGO’s such as WalkFree.Org are pushing big businesses even harder to prove they don’t have slavery in their supply chain. See on their website how they’ve recently sited Nintendo, a popular Christmas time toy maker, for using conflict minerals; those mined with slave labor and violence in the Congo in Africa. Game over.
I worked alongside a passionate woman from the United Nations who was happy the issue is finally in the public eye because the problem is currently the largest it’s ever been.
If you’re like me and you believe we can end this in our lifetime, join the fight to end exploitation and human trafficking by learning more and taking action @ WalkFree.Org.
Thanks for reading. And thank you for making a difference that makes a difference. – Jason