Jason Garner – From a Life of Matter to a Life that Matters. From Rags to Riches to Opening the Heart

Jason Garner spent the first 37 years of his life, “running through life holding his breath”. Raised by a single mom, moving from house to house, working really hard in school and later in business, he believed, “that to be loved I had to be the best. I scrapped my way from a weekend job at a flea market to owning my own concert company and all the way to becoming an executive at a Fortune 500 company (CEO of Global Music at Live Nation),  producing over 20.000 concerts a year, and hanging out with rock and sports stars. Jason was twice named to Fortune magazine’s list of the top 20 highest-paid executives under 40. He was married twice, divorced twice, raised two children largely as a single dad. He made a bunch of money and then … a series of events centered around the sudden death of his mom brought, “my life to a halt and my ego to its knees.”

Jason took a break from the endless treadmill of his life and got to know himself by learning from various teachers. Through studying his health and spirituality and the inner-workings of his mind, and a meditation practice, he for the first time in his life … really breathed.

He is now integrating this insight into daily life and shares his treasure in his own unique way. Jason has a great blog, and has also published his first book through his writing, through him sharing himself.

Jason Garner’s new book is called, … And I Breathed, My Journey from a Life of Matter to a Life That Matters. Please see the links to his work at the bottom of this page. You are also invited to leave a comment as well.

Note: This is an almost full, but not complete transcript of the interview.

What brought you to a practice of meditation. Joseph Campbell talks about the 3 stages of the Hero’s journey, Separation, Initiation, Return. Tell us a little bit about that first leg of your journey, the rise to the top, from rags to riches.

Jason was born and raised by a single mom, lived in a trailer park. No money and no involvement from his father. There was a sense of loneliness, and poverty. What Jason took from that as a little boy, was that if they had more money everything would be OK. This was his narrative that he took with him. So making money would solve that. And that is what he did up to 35 years old.

He started selling gum on the school yard, and getting more and more entrepreneurial, then up to flea markets, and then starting a concert company. All the way up to CEO of Global Music, managing concerts globally. This non-stop sprint to get as much power and money as he could.

At the time it was a very sub-conscious thing. He was just doing what the American dream was telling him what he was supposed to do. He reached this place where he was very successful in his career.

He kept achieving more, but then he also kept wanting more. Everything was then tied up into his identity as “Jason the achiever”. And he was in the middle of his second divorce, and his mom had stage 4 stomach cancer, with 6 months to live. His mom had that same kind of work ethic as Jason, she was driven to save the world. Where his ethic was to get as much money. She’d spend her live giving and giving of herself.

Jason saw the similarities with him and his mom, and began to realize he had to make some changes. That hero’s journey’s moment where you realize that there is maybe a different path, this realization came to him as his mom took her last breaths in his arms. There was this realization that there has got to be more than endlessly seeking money, or seeking perfection, or seeking to save everybody. There has to be more than this endless seeking. 

Not too long after that, he exited his job. And he went on a journey, a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey. He studied with wonderful teachers including the Chan (Zen) monks and Shaolin master Wang Bo at the Shaolin temple in China, studying with Bruce Lipton, Guru Singh, Sharon Salzberg, David Wolfe and others.

Jason really wanted to dissect his life and put back together a life that he thought was more conducive to happiness.

For Jason it all comes down to self-love. A hard thing for men to say, and a hard thing for men to hear. 

We’re either aware of our need for love, or we have a unloved little boy inside of us, subconsciously driving all of our decisions. Either way we need love, and we’re seeking to find that love.

And whether we believe we find that in business, or we can stop and be honest with ourselves. And figure out ways through our lifestyle to deliver the love to us. We are seeking that love, and we are in need of that love.

And now 5-6 years from my mother’s death, I realize for me it all begins and ends with self-love. I’ve tried to build a life that fosters that self-love, and create platforms to share that self love with others.

It’s interesting to me in society it’s pushing us to more separation rather than towards more open heart and oneness. 

Yes, the whole American dream culture is set up that we are separate, that we are in competition. That we are only loved when we do something. Usually that something that is good when tied to the system. If you get everything in line, make your money, then go out and spend your money. Constantly buying what’s lacking. When you’re constantly trying to buy what is lacking, then that is how the system is set up. It’s wonderful that more and more folks are jumping in the water to swim upstream. All of this is swimming upstream. It’s not quit as lonely to be swimming upstream.

We’re seeing more companies and business leaders and engaging in a more compassionate form of business. Employees matter, peoples feelings matter, customer’s needs matter, just as much as profits.

For Jason that is very inspiring. His former Live Nation boss and mentor Michael Rufino, Arianna Huffington. People who are open about the fact that compassion is part of their business plan.

After you depart from your job, you’re in this naked state where you no longer could hide behind an identity. Describe that experience when the dolphin was following you while you were on the beach. 

Jason was in a depressed state that day, that day must have been an anniversary of his mom’s passing. He was just kind of feeling sorry for himself, looking down as he walked. He looked up and saw this dolphin right in pace with his stride, gently swimming with him along (his mother’s favorite animal). He took this as a reminder that sometimes we’re alone, there are other people walking with us. But sometimes we just have to look up, look around, and realize that we’re not really alone.

We’re taught that compassion is finding ourselves in others. But sometimes we have to look at it from an opposite place too. Its not just being nice to others that we can find compassion. We can give others a chance to be compassionate with us, by allowing our pain to be not so unique.

That day as I was walking along the beach, there were probably millions of people feeling sad about having lost a loved one. There were probably millions of people feeling a little bit lost and alone in their lives. We find compassion towards others, and there is this opportunity for us to open our hearts and experience a bit of that oneness that you were discussing. Sometimes we jump to fast to oneness, we just have to be nice to each other.

In this case can we start with, my pain is not that unique. I can find a place of commonality with others by understanding that they’re in pain as well. 

When I first read that I thought the dolphin was your first meditation teacher, as it taught you about right here is where life is, in the present moment. (laughs) So how did you go into a meditation practice from here?

When Jason left work, and starting a spiritual journey, he went to a Christian church. He had trouble with some of what is being taught, but he was OK with it. Until the gay marriage issue came up. His mother later in life had married a woman. That was a very moving experience for him, watching his mom’s courage, as she married with protesters picketing her. The Christian church didn’t flow for him anymore.

Then he found a man who became his father, Guru Singh. He met his yogi, and knew he was home. He just knew that he was supposed to be there. He asked why Jason was there, and he said he wanted to know who he was, and know God. His meditation felt like forever that day.

He’s meditated every day since then. And been blessed to be studying with great meditation teachers since. Like Sharon Salzberg, her loving kindness meditation really touched his heart. So many wonderful meditation teachers, who gave him a toolbox of meditation techniques to sit down and be on that journey of getting to know himself and getting to know the greater We. 

You talk about breathing a lot in your book, “And I breathed…” Have you noticed the quality of your breath change throughout your life?

Jason Garner on Breathing

I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe before (laughing)!

I say that somewhat facetiously, but not really. I think that when I reflect back on my life, and talk to people still in that day-to-day grind of their lives. There is a real distinction between the breathing that I do now and the lack of breathing that happens. Because you’re in fight or flight mode. You have to remember when you look at people who are desperately striving, that they’re own self-worth, and their love is tied up in that striving. So how can you breathe? When you’re literally fighting for your life.

Definitely, it’s not safe to send that message to your body that all is well, when you belief that all is not well. All is well…only when you get this next deal done.

Also I think if you don’t feel good enough. As I think a lot of us feel, that we’re also not feeling good enough to take a deep breath.. 

That’s right I think we find that carried along into our spiritual practice. Jason gives example of meditation class, and someone was having trouble breathing, but was nevertheless gutting through the meditation. Here we are in this environment of oneness, and we’re not OK enough to cough or get up and excuse ourselves. Probably because we think we’re not good enough.

This experience is not limited to business. It’s part of the western experience, its part of Original Sin, part of my goodness comes out there. It’s part of a daily journey, which is why we refer to meditation as practice. And for me, I believe that what we’re practicing is loving ourselves, and giving ourselves that permission to breathe, to sit and be OK.

Did you have any other practices that helped you befriend yourself? It’s a journey to go from not feeling deserving of love, or until you do x, y, z.  To the point where’r you’re OK, and you’re at home with yourself and the world. 

The moment that the concept that we’re practicing self-love really clicked for me, was when I went to Maui to go to Ram Dass. Sharon Salzberg was teaching there as well, so I sat down to the first meditation class with Sharon, a guided meditation. She said something that is now his mantra, “and during this meditation, you will probably get lost. And when you catch yourself spinning out, catch yourself getting lost in thoughts.

That point is the whole point in this meditation. She said not because you caught yourself, but because you have a new opportunity to begin a new relationship with yourself. So you welcome yourself back with a gentle with a gentle, “I love you”. This made him cry. Up until you then, there was still a striving part of him in meditation. He wanted to be a good meditator. He’d been a good business man, now he wanted to be the best meditator in the world.

And part of it wasn’t jiving before, but after what she said, everything clicked from that point forward. From then on his daily practice of Yoga, meditation, and nutrition is all about 100% about loving my emotional, spiritual, and physical body. And welcoming himself back again and again, by telling himself that he’s loved. And sometimes it comes in the form of words, and sometimes in the form of stretching, or a smoothie. But all these ways a ways to reinforce to himself that he matters, that it’s ok to sit, that it’s ok to breathe, and that he’s loved.

Wonderful. In terms of your relationships, how did that change as a result with your family, extended circles, job. 

It was in the midst of his second divorce, and after he began his meditation journey, he met his wonderful wife Christy Garner. Now the two of them, and their kids have a daily meditation routine, and they all do their own type of meditation. It’s a wonderful family time for them. Everyone shows up in a way that’s authentic for them. It’s really beautiful, because the practices become not just self love, but the practices of family love.

So in that sense when you change yourself, it ripples out. 

Yes, with the kids it’s not one more have-to-do, but more allowing your life to be an example, and let the kids come along. Jason’s kids have their own teachers, and they’ll join them for retreats. But they really allow their kids to have their own exploration of life together, vs everyone has to meditate for this long. They’ll rebel. We don’t want to be the people they rebel against. It’s been a validation of what conscious parenting can be, because the relationship is just so fulfilling.

If you were going back to your old work today. What would you tell them that is a different way of being? What would you tell yourself and other leaders if you could give them some insight.

First of all that company (Live Nation) has someone with a high level of consciousness, a vegan with compassionate leadership. What I would tell myself if I could go back in time, and what I do say to other business leaders, who maybe were feeling similar feelings as I was feeling in his job. It begins with a deep breath, if we can give ourselves permission to take a few deep breaths. Then we can meet in a place in the heart.

Hey you matter! Your feelings & health matters as much as the health of the business.… Click To Tweet

The real message I like to share, is “Hey you matter!” Your feelings, and your health matters as much as the health of the business. And when we can get in touch with that place where we matter, then we can go on an exploration of what’s going on. We can then talk about the inner child, our need for love, and maybe how we can pursue love through business. Giving ourselves permission.

One of the reasons why we don’t explore these things because we don’t have space in our lives. 

The power of the breath is that it creates space on so many realms for us to begin this exploration. A deep breath, and then an I love you.

What would you say especially to entrepreneurs in particular who feel like they’ll lose their edge, if they take pauses, breaths. They won’t be able to compete and come out on top any longer?

I have a lot of friends who say that to me. They’ll say, “I don’t want to meditate, because I’m worried I’ll become a monk!” And I’ll say to them, “You are sooo far from being a monk. (laughing) we’re not talking about you going off into the monastery or an ashram.”

We’re just talking about you taking a few breaths and 10 minutes of meditation a day. Sometimes we tend to be extremists in these areas. You can go as far as you want into yoga and meditation. But you can also build up a nice daily practice of a few minutes of Yoga and meditation, and taking care of yourself through nutrition. That can really fit into a lifestyle. It’s not like everyone needs to get off into the mountains. The message is not, everyone needs to become a monk.

Its just, can you embrace that part of yourself that is a monk, and give it a little bit of love each day? 

We don’t go out and shoot baskets in the weekend, and think we’ll become LeBron James. If you sit down today on the cushion, and become the Dalai Lama.

Also in a sense that if you can open your heart a little bit more by taking care of yourself, then the work that you produce, will benefit yourselves and others….

Yes, that’s right, and as entrepreneurs, we already know so many of these “life laws” already. If we abuse the business, if we abuse your employees, we know it will fall apart. And the same is true if we look at our personal lives. These same questions that we ask to ascertain the health of our business, we have to ask the same questions in our personal lives.

And when we find deficiencies, we can treat them the same way as an entrepreneur would treat them in our business, apply the same intelligence bring that to ourselves.What changes is the tactic.

Where an employee meeting might be necessary at work, meditation might be necessary in our personal lives. And where a review of the compensation plan might be necessary at work, a review of our diet might be necessary in our personal lives.

We possess these skills, its just a matter of creating a little space in our lives. And taking the extra step of understanding that YOU MATTER. Just as much as your business, your bank account, etc, that your feelings matter too.

Then you take the skills that you already possess, and you can build a life where you’re both successful and fulfilled. And I think that’s what we’re all looking for in life.

You mentioned in your book about intuitive eating, and about how eating less sugar and caffeine is one way you can settle your monkey mind right there, tell us a little more.

Jason’s friend and teacher, Ron Teeguarden, the master of Chinese herbs says two things. You’re either in the benevolent cycle (treating yourself and body with love and care), or the viscous cycle. The way out of the vicious cycle, is to take three benevolent steps towards yourself.

We are creatures of habit and so all that happens is that we begin to eat certain foods, like addictive foods, refined sugars, perhaps too much coffee everyday, and before long it just becomes a habit. So to get out of that habit is to take 3 steps into the direction that you want to go. Perhaps it is tea instead of coffee, or a green smoothie.

And before long, you build a new habit for yourself. There’s a moment of pain..

Jason has a diet that tries not to harm other beings with their diet. Fill ourselves with as much nutrients as possible. But I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything. I’ve just built this habit and allowed my tastes buds to feel good, not to martyr ourselves.

When we find ourselves into a habit that doesn’t work for ourselves anymore. This is another entrepreneurial trait. When it doesn’t work for you anymore, your mind’s racing, your health isn’t good, your weight is not what you want it to be, you just replace it with a new habit. And we make our new habits, steps in the right direction, into the direction, something that’s benevolent, compassionate towards ourselves.

And your body eventually signals, “I like that, I like how you’re treating me.”..

Yes, but that’s the hard part, you can’t hear that when it’s racing with caffeine, sugar etc. But there does come this point, my first teacher David Wolfe. He told me “listen to your body”, I had no idea what he was talking. And now a few years later, that really is how I run my diet, I listen to my body, trust what it is telling me.  And I feed it something compassionate.

On your new journey, what can you say where you’re heading now, in terms of reinventing yourself, and finding your authentic voice. 

Jason is having a lot of fun being a student, and fun writing. And this is a lot of what fulfills me, learning with teachers and with himself. And then sharing how that shows up for him in his daily life. He wrote his book, and I breathe…Which is kind of the story up until a few years ago.

And also weekly essays on my web site, Jasongarner.com. And I’m just sitting down to start working on a second book, and intermixed are beautiful interactions with teachers, friends, and great people. A bit of a Thoreau moment for me in my life. Going away for bit and recharging. In Chinese medicine we’d call it, in the middle of a Yin cycle. Replenishing, loving myself, and bringing new sources of wisdom, and then the Yang part is then, sharing with others.

Your next book , when are you thinking that will be ready?

Laughs, the last book was a story that wanted to tell itself. This next story is more working on me, then me working on it.

Maybe some final thoughts especially for men, that you could tell them that you wish you had heard sooner?

I just think its’ OK to take care of ourselves.

It’s OK to admit you’re scared sometimes.

Sometimes you have to admit that to yourself before admitting it to others.

It’s OK to admit that you need to be loved.

This idea that our feelings really matter.

The job is great, and part of a life well lived is a creative expression that often comes through our jobs.

But there is another side to us, an internal side that has to be cared for just the same.

Too many us, know people who are working themselves to death. It’s so sad to see these great men, who have accomplished so much in their lives, leaving this planet at age 50 and 60. So sad to see people, who’s only way out of this endless treadmill is a heart attack. Jason would see his friends at the hospital, great business leaders leaving.

All that is an invitation for us to look a little beyond the bravado, a little bit beyond the story that men are just warriors.

And to embrace the fact that we’re both warriors and monks. We haven’t been caring for the monk side very well. Today is the day that we can start that.

That we really matter, and we deserve that kind of care from ourselves!

Thank you..

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