April 25, 2020

Stay Woke with Justin Michael Williams

What is the new world story that will spin out of our situation? Meditation doesn’t necessarily lead to a passive life — it can also encourage an active one. Today, author and recording artist Justin Michael Williams talks about how meditation helps us quiet the mind and rest in gratitude while becoming engaged members in our community. Together, we can be part of the solution.


Jeff Krasno: Justin Michael Williams, welcome to the Commune Podcast. Thank you so much for-

Justin Michael Williams: Thank you. Thank you.

Jeff Krasno: I have, in my research on you, your behaviors and proclivities, I have heard you say that you actually enjoy spending time by yourself. I'm wondering if you could talk about that, because I don't think that that's the normal human condition for people. I think people have a very difficult time spending time with themselves, and of course, our current situation is forcing a lot of us to do that.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. I think for so many of us, and I want to be really clear here, I used to have a really hard time spending time alone, and I think so many of us, we get used to finding our happiness, and our peace, and our joy from things outside of us. And I think many of us have that experience in different ways, whether it's through friends, or through family, or through drugs, or through whatever it is, social activities, or the gym, or different things that we're doing. I'm not saying that that's bad, right? It's like, of course we want to connect, of course we want to be with people.

Justin Michael Williams: But one of the things that has happened over the last few years, specifically when I started writing my book, was I remember when I signed my book deal, and my editor told me specifically, she said, "These are going to be the loneliest two years of your life." And I was like, "Really?" She was right. I mean, I had never ... because I'm not a person who can write with noise, I'm not a person who can write with music, I can't write at a café, and so I was just alone, and so it was interesting, because when this whole quarantine thing started, jokingly, I had said, and I even posted online, I said, "Oh, I just did this for the last two years, so like ..."

Jeff Krasno: Right. Yes, you're well conditioned, you're a modern monastic of lifestyle-

Justin Michael Williams: Right, but you know-

Jeff Krasno: ... within a city.

Justin Michael Williams: ... you know what's interesting, is what I've found, and this has been the deepest teaching for me, through like, all of the different practices, is if we can't be alone with ourselves, how can we ever expect to know who we really are?

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Justin Michael Williams: If we cannot be alone with ourselves, how can we ever expect to know who we are? And so, that has led me down this path, to really want to inspire people to get to know themselves, because what happens is, if we're not alone with ourselves, then everything we're learning about ourselves is then what? A reflection off of someone, or something else.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: Who I am in relation to, or compared to, or whatever, and we see how this takes us down a rabbit hole now these days with social media and comparing ourselves to other people and where we should be, and I think the deepest power comes when we've built our foundation on our inner knowing, our inner self and I feel really blessed that I've been able to cultivate a relationship with that, and been able to help other people do that over the last several years.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. I was talking with Michael Beckwith a few weeks ago, and he said something that just completely stopped me in my tracks, which is, "Loneliness is a loneliness with yourself."

Justin Michael Williams: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: And so often, we portray a false image of perfection of who we are, to compensate for the not enough-ness that we feel.

Justin Michael Williams: Ooh.

Jeff Krasno: And even when we're in very crowded social situations, or at a party, we can still feel lonely, because we are portraying ourselves, not as who we authentically are.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And that is a loneliness with yourself. When he said it, I was like, "Whoa." And the other thing I heard the other day, I listen to the Making Sense podcast, with Sam Harris. Brilliant guy.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. Amazing.

Jeff Krasno: He said, the most severe form of punishment, next to a death sentence, is solitary confinement. That we would actually rather be with murderers and those who've committed all sorts of felons, and burglars, and whatever, than we would with ourselves.

Justin Michael Williams: Wow.

Jeff Krasno: And that we are just not trained to be alone with our mind, which is where we experience existence. So, you have obviously had to develop tools and techniques for being as comfortable with yourself as you are. I wonder if you could talk about that?

Justin Michael Williams: Well, and I also want to name, too, I think like, there is a lot of discomfort still, for even, I remember when all of this started with COVID 19, and in general with life, right away, for the first two days, different people were reaching out to me, like, "Can you give us advice on how to stay ... during COVID 19?" I was like, "I don't know." Like, you guys, like ... I have no idea.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: I'm sitting here, eating a bag of Oreos. I'm trying to figure this out too, but this is, in all seriousness, this is when the practices come up to meet us, and for me, just to be very clear with people, I grew up in a home with gunshot holes literally on the outside of my house, and alcoholism, and addiction, and domestic violence, and quite frankly a lot of things that a lot of young people are facing today. I know, our sister, Marianne Williamson has been saying now for the last year, that all the research is showing that kids today are growing up with a level of PTSD that's similar to returning war veterans coming back from Iraq. And, but there's nothing like P, or post, about it when they're experiencing it day after day, after day. It's like present traumatic stress disorder, you know?

Justin Michael Williams: And that was the environment that I grew up in, and so, my internal world was constantly jacked up, just like constantly on fight or flight, constantly in fear, and I got bullied a lot in school when I was a kid, and so for me, when you grow up in that environment, and anybody who's grown up in a situation with trauma, oftentimes all you want to do is get out. Right? Like, how do I get out of this?

Justin Michael Williams: And for me, as a kid, my adaptation was to just be really smart. I was like, if I can just be really smart, I can go to college and I can get out. I'm grateful to say that I did, I ended up getting a full ride academic scholarship to go to UCLA. I get to UCLA, I go from living in what some people would call the 'hood, to a ritzy neighborhood in Los Angeles, in Westwood. I had extra money for the first time in my life, I was buying expensive jeans, which I shouldn't have been doing with my scholarship money, but I was doing it. I was out of the closet and like, everything in my life, on the external looked exactly like I had always dreamed. I checked every single box that I was expected to check.

Justin Michael Williams: And then this moment came, when I went, "Oh my God, I did everything, and I'm still miserable. I'm still not happy. This isn't what was supposed to happen, right? And I think we all have these experiences, where we try to change our job, our hair, our house, our this, our that, to try to heal something within. When I was in college, I asked a mentor of mine, I said, "I think I'm depressed. I don't understand what else I am supposed to do." And then that's the first time ever in my entire life, I heard the word meditation. He said, "You should try meditation." And I literally went, "Meda- what?" I said, "What is that?"

Justin Michael Williams: I did not ... you guys have to remember, this is like, almost 15 years ago. Oprah had not done a meditation challenge, I didn't know any Black people meditating, I literally didn't even know what it was, and in the community that I grew up in, it just wasn't a thing. That was what started to open my eyes and open the door to this practice that now, a decade and some change later, has really changed and transformed my whole life.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. And do you feel that that's different? I saw a video of you, I think going back to your high school, in Pittsburgh, is that right?

Justin Michael Williams: Pittsburgh, yeah. California, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: And it was very moving. You were, I think, speaking, and you were on, I think, part of your book tour.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, it was the first stop of the book tour.

Jeff Krasno: And I think there's 3500 students there, and there seemed to be a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and pride. Did you get a sense from the kids, that meditation is more in the zeitgeist, it is more prevalent, or they're looking at you still, like, "What?"

Justin Michael Williams: Oh, yeah. Things have changed so much. I remember even, as a part of my book tour, what we're doing, and what we'll continue to do in the fall, is we're going to high schools in underprivileged communities and giving the book away for free, and doing these big kind of TED Talk style events, teaching the kids how to meditate. What's happening is so interesting. I asked them right away when I get on the stage, I said, "How many of you have heard about meditation?"

Justin Michael Williams: And still, only half of the auditorium raises their hands, that they've ever heard of it. But the other half has heard of it, but what they think of it is basically like, a Saturday Night Live skit of what they think of meditation.

Jeff Krasno: Sure.

Justin Michael Williams: You know? So, there's a lot to break down there. They're like, "Oh, my Mom does that." So things have definitely changed, things have evolved a lot since I was in high school. Quite literally, Jeff, when I started meditating, my grandma and my Mom tried to have an intervention, because they thought I joined a cult. I wasn't doing anything, I was just meditating in Venice Beach, at Exhale.

Justin Michael Williams: There was nothing major happening, but it was such a huge deal, for the community, and I think that's a huge reason why I wanted to write this book, because there are ... we realize when we go outside of the bubbles that we're in, the spiritual echo chamber that we can be in, that there's an entire world of people, such that I could go to, we're talking about kids, just a second ago, but I was just in South Side Chicago, teaching 59 women who were all over 40, between like 40 and 75, who had all lost a child to gun violence. So, really deep experience.

Justin Michael Williams: But in the room of 50 something women, I said, "How many of you have heard of meditation?" And still, only half of them raised their hands. So, we're talking grown women in a city like Chicago, have never heard of it, have no idea what it is, and the other half of the room, I said the same thing to them, because they were mostly Black women, who were older. I said, "And those of you who have heard of it, how many of you think it's against your religion?" And again, half of them raised their hand, and they said, "I don't do that. I don't worship shrines. We don't do that, there's only one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Justin Michael Williams: And the thing is, is if we're not bringing these teachings into people's context, and helping them understand the truth about what these practices are, or can be, then they'll never be able to hear the lessons, and never be able to get some of the experiences that have helped us all, so much.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Yeah, certainly, creating a cultural relevance, or a religious relevance to the practice, I think can be helpful in making it more accessible and relatable, certainly with Christianity, there's a direct line to prayer-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: ... there's even quite a few instances in the Old Testament, that refer to meditation, I think Issac, in the book of Genesis, and then throughout other major religions, obviously Buddhism, which is essentially based on meditation.

Justin Michael Williams: Right.

Jeff Krasno: Tell me a little bit about the book, and I will say, just kind of to finish a little bit on your last comment, there are more significant mainstream, I suppose, role models that are bringing meditation into communities where it was not very prevalent. 

Jeff Krasno: But I would love for you to talk about your book, Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us. What inspired you to write it, why did you write it, and who the hell is the rest of us, too?

Justin Michael Williams: That's such a good question. So, I think I'll start with your last question, which is who is the rest of us? Because that was a really important reason why I wrote this book, or I would say, the reason why I wrote this book. So, right in the beginning of the book, on page three, I'm just going to read a little section.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: It says, "For my Black brothers and sisters, this is for you. For my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters, this is for you. For my women who have had enough, this is for you. For my starving artists and workaholic creatives, this is for you. For my conscious entrepreneurs who want to make an impact, this is for you. For those who have been discriminated against for their otherness, this is for you. For my social justice warriors, this is for you. For my tree loving planet savers, this is for you. And for all people of color, and everyone who is woke enough to understand why I'm saying that in the first place, this is for you. This book is for us, for the people."

Jeff Krasno: Beautiful.

Justin Michael Williams: And for me, it was really important, and what I've found, as I have been being guided so beautifully by some of the most amazing mentors and teachers, who many of whom, we all love, being taken under the wing of so many teachers when I was really young, and one of the things that's felt interesting to me as I've matured in my practice is that so many of the teachings don't apply the teachings directly to the very real struggles and contexts that so many of us are facing in our lives. We've heard the term spiritual bypassing a bunch, and obviously we're starting to move past that.

Justin Michael Williams: But still I find, when we look at how ... okay, so yes, love and light is good. Yes, we need to send compassion. Yes, we need to do all of those things, and they're all great, and they're all wonderful. And, how does this actually apply to social justice and environmental change, and activism, and the big disparities that are happening in our world, not just on a social level, but even internally? Like the oppression that we've internalized on our own self, or the traumas that we've all faced, regardless of how we've grown up?

Justin Michael Williams: I think for me, mostly, I think one thing that almost all traditions can agree upon, is that meditation is really about awareness, and what I find right now, more than anything, is if we're really having real awareness, not spiritually bypassed awareness, what awareness is calling us to do right now is to take action. Is to get our asses up off our meditation cushions and to take action, and not just sending the energetic love and light. Yes, we have to keep doing that, and there is more.

Justin Michael Williams: And so, my book, the intention for this book, is really to inspire us to use the practices, to teach people, first of all, how to do the practice, and second, to use the practices as a means of digging deep within, so that we can see what the best actions are, to take from our heart, for our lives, for our families, for the community, for the planet and for one another. And that's really the mission, is it's about action.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. That's a beautiful message and mission, and I completely agree with you. I'd say, my meditation is ... it's vipassana in nature, in terms of the practice itself, but the goal is self transcendence, I suppose, and ridding one's self, certainly of the desires and cravings, and the endless seeking out of external agents to address your discontent, and to provide pleasure, and relief from pain, and relief from suffering, etc. But also, to rid ourselves of the story of separation, that we are separate from nature, that we're separate from others, separate from God, working in competition with each other.

Jeff Krasno: I think if you are able to achieve a state of being where you've transcended the egoic mind, you've transcended the self, then those positive emotions that you referred to at the beginning, love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, come flooding in.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And then, as you embody those values that are trans-denominational, that have appeared perennially as universal truths in every religion-

Justin Michael Williams: All across the board, yeah.

Jeff Krasno: As you begin to embody those things, then it is, in Buddhism, it is the Eightfold Path. It is then how do I ... for lack of a better word, leverage that into right work, and right action, here on Earth?

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And for me, that is the form that an ethical life is a direct output of a spiritual life. The idea of you going into places like Chicago and bringing a practice to women who've lost their children, I mean, that is the epitome of the ethical life. I mean, almost all religious traditions culminate in some form of selfless service.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: So, I think it's just beautiful, what-

Justin Michael Williams: Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff Krasno: ... not only the words that you're speaking, but the actions that you're taking, and I think that addresses that point, that I'd like to underscore, that I agree with 100%, that it is about getting up off of our ass. That meditation doesn't necessarily suggest a contemplative life.

Justin Michael Williams: Right.

Jeff Krasno: It also can suggest an active life.

Justin Michael Williams: Yes. Yes. I believe that so wholeheartedly, and I think that one of the things that is such a common misconception is that meditation is supposed to just be about relaxing. But I really don't find it that way, and I think that's such a waste of an idea of what meditation is about, and what it can be. For me, meditation is not about relaxing, it's about becoming more alive. Becoming more fully alive, more really connected to our passions, more really connected to our emotions, like the things that we love, the people we love, the things that light us up in the world, and the things that we can do in the world, and it gives us the agency, or access to the agency that we have within ourselves to take right action.

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Justin Michael Williams: And the courage, and all the different things that can come up from it, and so I just think this practice has the ability, as you know, to help us do a lot more, and one of the things that I wanted to mention off of what you said just a second ago, Jeff, was that I think one pitfall, personally that I've witnessed and that I tried to underscore in this book, is that I agree, and while I agree 100% that at the essence core nature, there is this oneness and we are not separate, right? And that we are all coming together and we have the same desires for happiness and joy, and love, and all these different things in life.

Justin Michael Williams: But I think one of the things that has done our community a disservice, and you quite honestly, it would have to be because until recently, most of the teachings have come just really from white men, and some women, is we haven't really looked at how there is this moment where, yes, we are all one, and there is differentiation, and some of that differentiation is unfair and unjust, and we have to actually apply all of these concepts that we're learning and praising within the oneness, and see how we can apply it to these other spaces that are starving.

Justin Michael Williams: It's like, how do we pour some water into these places that are in drought? And so that is one of the things that I'd really like to hopefully make sure happens when people are reading this book. There is a chapter that was a really fun chapter to write, called The Privilege Test, and it's not like, a comparison test, but it's this really cool thing where you go through and there's like, 30 questions, and you do this little exercise where it's like, if both of your parents went to college, if you had 30 books in your house growing up, if you ... and mark, mark, mark, and it gives you kind of a score, and then it compares your score to just other people who may be different than you.

Justin Michael Williams: It's not a thing to say, "Oh, I'm better than or worse than," because even though I'm a queer Black man who grew up in this, I still have many privileges compared to some other people. And so we all have it. Then it goes, "Okay, how do I look at this, how do I sit with it in my practice, and then what do I do?"

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: And that's kind of the process that I like to take people through, all throughout different sections of the book, in different areas of their life, and for the world.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Yes. Specifically, as that idea pertains to the actual word, woke, I'm curious for you, what that word means, and it has some origins, to me, in the '60s civil rights movement-

Justin Michael Williams: Yep.

Jeff Krasno: ... but it gets used relatively loosely and perhaps incorrectly, in some contexts. So, I'm wondering how and why you landed on that word, and what that means to you?

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, so interestingly, so same thing, so what a lot of people don't know is that the word woke does originally come from '60s civil rights movement. A lot of people actually don't know that. I think most people think that it's some catchy hashtag or phrase that came around in the last like, six or seven years, or so.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. I'm old. Sorry.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, no. But no, it's great. I'm so happy that you know that, because it does come from the '60s civil rights era movement that really, what the message of that word was, when people were telling people, "Stay woke," or "Be woke," was to make sure you're watching the things and you're aware and awake to the things that are actually happening in the world, not the things that they're trying to cloak over our eyes with.

Justin Michael Williams: And so, when there's like, drugs being implanted into communities, or where there's different things happening with police brutality, and many things that are still happening today, the community was saying, "Hey, stay woke." Like, "Don't go to sleep, because if you do, then the system is going to get us," basically.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Stay alert. Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: Stay alert, stay really aware. Don't drink the Kool Aid, you know, and really pay attention. So, when I was writing this book, and these words, stay woke, came to me, around using this as the title, it aligned so much, because for me it is about staying awake to what's happening in the outside world, but also staying awake to what's happening within.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: And how that internalized systems, that are within us, are doing the same things that we're trying to fight against. And so, what I find is that when we're not caring for ourselves, when we're not building our internal landscape, then we end up internalizing the same kind of oppression, and same kind of things that we're trying to fight against in the outside world. And so, there's obviously the play on words, with like, awakened, in the spiritual world, so there's a lot of crossover.

Justin Michael Williams: But I think mostly for me, somebody asked me when I was first writing and playing with the titles, at Sounds True, they asked me, "Why don't we just call it Woke?" And I said, "No, because it's not a destination. It is a practice. It is a constant commitment." Which is why, for me, woke isn't just a word, it is a call to action.

Jeff Krasno: Exactly.

Justin Michael Williams: For us to constantly stay in this alignment, in this path of being awake, versus "Oh, I'm awakened now." Like-

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: ... I'm done. You know?

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. I think it dovetails with your message of living an active life.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And I don't know if you saw this, but our dear President Trump has a campaign in a handful of urban cities in swing states, called Woke.

Justin Michael Williams: I know. And he has Woke hats.

Jeff Krasno: Hats.

Justin Michael Williams: [inaudible 00:29:02] ... just such a ... again, it's like-

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, it is the crystallization of hypocrisy, and I won't spend too much time on his particular confection of the American grotesque. But when I saw that pop up on my feed, my stomach turned a little bit.

Justin Michael Williams: Mine totally-

Jeff Krasno: So, I'm counting on you, to keep the word- [crosstalk 00:29:31].

Justin Michael Williams: You know what's interesting, Jeff, is I had the idea for Stay Woke, where it actually came to me, several ... God, it was almost two and a half years ago, now. And the word, I didn't make up the word, obviously. It's been a word in the community, and one of a mentor of mine, Zena, actually, she brought it to my attention as a potential idea for a title, and when it happened, I was like, "Yes, that's it."

Justin Michael Williams: And then the word kind of like, took on this new meaning, and I think NPR put out this article called like, Why Woke is Dead, and this was maybe six months before the book deadline, and I wrote to Sounds True, and I said, "This can't be the title. We have to stop. I can't do this, woke is overused, it's misappropriated, it's going to be done by the time this comes out." And they said, "Okay. Beat it. If you can beat the title, we'll change it." I went into this title war, in my head, and then what ended up happening was, I was like, "Okay, you know what? I'm just going to lean into woke and see why is this title sticking so hard with me?"

Justin Michael Williams: And what I found was that, even though it's a word that's been misused and misappropriated, it's a word that we actually can't abandon. It can't be just some word that's like fleek, or bae, or whatever these little words that come and get trendy, because we actually need woke. Like, for people who have had to face an uphill battle to fight for their freedom, the freedom that really is our birthright, whether you're trans, or a woman, or disabled, or anything, we need this word, because we actually don't have something to replace it with. When people say, "What's woke mean?" It takes sentences and sentences and sentences to define it.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: So we don't have something to replace that with, so my intention is to really reclaim that word and make sure we're using it for the purposes that it really was meant for, and beyond.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. It's interesting, that point that you make, that there's not a clear like, Webster's definition for woke. I mean, I'm sure there is, it's probably kind of a general alertness to injustice, but as you say, it has a subjective meaning for people.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And it does beg conversation, which I really like. So, I'm curious, are you leaning into your practice, now, and I ask you that, just in the context of spending a lot of time alone, as many of us are, as we're called into inaction-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: ... if we're not a superhero on the front lines, as a healthcare professional, or a grocery clerk, or a biologist or a government worker, most of us are just spending time alone.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And while we're alone, we're also getting flooded with information and misinformation, and data and facts hurtled at us at light speed, that can manipulate us in some ways, into a state of fear and anxiety, and I think a lot of people are feeling that now, waves of fear, waves of anxiety. So I'm wondering, if you're feeling that at all, and-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And what you might be able to offer others, if they're feeling it?

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, thank you. I will say, I am absolutely feeling it, I have had ... I think one thing that's interesting is a lot of us are brought to this practice, because we were dealing with anxiety, or different things like that. So, a lot of people look at teachers like, "Oh, he must always just be so peaceful and relaxed." I'm like, "You guys realize why I teach this shit, right?" Because-

Jeff Krasno: Right. I have a problem.

Justin Michael Williams: Like, that's why. But for me, the waves, I get these waves of like, loneliness and sadness and wanting to be wanted, or wanting to connect. Like, they come usually twice a day for me, once in the morning and once around 8:30 PM, or so. I get this kind of wash just through. I think what I can offer to people and what the practice has taught me, more than anything, or I guess, one of the greatest things, is that there's nothing wrong with that. That there's nothing wrong with the fact that I feel anxious, or sad, or depressed, or isolated. It is okay, and of course, in a time like this, so many people are telling us and asking us to make sure we're thinking positive, make sure you're always this way. Like, we are in a very real moment in time, that is very scary for a lot of people.

Justin Michael Williams: If you're sensitive energetically, you'll feel it even more, and so what I think is, yes, we do want to try to stay positive, and we do want to stay in hope over fear. Absolutely, of course. And we don't have to relegate our hard to manage emotions to the basement. Because if we do that, what happens, we all know, is it just seeps out in some area of our life where it doesn't belong. Again, in our health, in our families, in our relationships. And so, for me, and I can't say that it's the easiest thing to do, but even still, when I feel sad, or if I feel the waves come, I try to just go, "Okay, it's all right, Justin. You feel sad, it's okay. Let's sit with it." This is what I feel, I don't have to push it away, I don't have to try to numb it out, and try to just feel it.

Justin Michael Williams: If it gets overwhelming, to the point that it's like, "Okay, I need to go do something else. It's overcoming me now." Then that's when I turn to some of the reframing tools, like gratitude practices or gratitude walk, or going outside into nature, or calling a friend, or just watching a funny video of Cardi B talking [inaudible 00:35:33] internet. Those things are useful now, and so you know, I think the biggest thing is that oftentimes people assume that meditation, or these practices are always supposed to make you feel good. I always tell people that is not true. What these practices will do is make you feel, period. It is not about good, often. But what we learn is, when we can paint with the full palette and range of all of our emotional palette, without having to demonize certain emotions over others, then we have a state of ease, knowing that we are not those waves.

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Justin Michael Williams: We are the essence that is experiencing those waves, and so-

Jeff Krasno: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that your vocabulary use is either very intentional or very well trained, because you're careful about saying, when I feel sad, or when I feel fearful, instead of I am sad, or I am fearful.

 Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: Because we are not those things, and I think that that's the one really important distinction, is that yes, you have felt sad, and maybe you feel sad, and you will feel sad again.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: But those emotions have come, and then they have gone, like invited or uninvited guests at your party. And you will see them come, and you will see them go, and to be able to establish that awareness, or that ability to witness those emotions and feelings and not be them is absolutely key. And what you say is, if you don't do that, if you just actually resort to distraction, and I do. Everybody does that, too, you know-

Justin Michael Williams: Of course.

Jeff Krasno: ... you're just like, "I don't want to that, I want to watch Netflix," or whatever. But what you're doing is, you're pushing that emotion in and Michael Singer writes about this, about the idea of samskara, of these things that then will continue to come up over and over again.

Justin Michael Williams: Over and over.

Jeff Krasno: So ...

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah. Over and over. What doesn't heal, repeats. I always live by that. Like, what doesn't heal, it's going to repeat. And right now, we're having a heightened sense of what is in dis-ease in our lives, and the interesting thing, for a lot of people, and everybody can't look at it this way, but I was talking to some people the other night, on a Zoom session, and people are like, "Well, I just can't wait things, for them to get back the way they were, back to where," and I think most of us, hopefully, are under the understanding that things are not going to be back the way they were.

Justin Michael Williams: But this is also, I think a lot of people are using that as a Band Aid, because actually, I tell people, "Look at your life really quick, and what it was. Like, was that what you really wanted? Do you really want that, the way everything was?" And if so, great. But like, take a second and look. Like, what about your life before this was out of alignment? Right now, there's this sacred pause, that's giving us a moment to hopefully be able to see what we want life to be like on the other side. Not regress backwards.

Justin Michael Williams: We have an opportunity now, some people, if we're privileged enough to actually have this opportunity, right now. It is to say, "Okay, instead of trying to spend all this time putting Band Aids over the past, so that it can be some remnants of my old life when this is over," instead, look at your old life, and say, "Okay, there's that. These are the things that I was unhappy with that I don't like, the relationships that this, that." And now, "What do I want on the other side of this?" And that's where I've been trying to keep my mind, and look at the opportunities.

Justin Michael Williams: One thing for me, Jeff, and this is super random. But like, I have looked at this opportunity to do things that I normally don't have a chance to do, and for me, I for the last four or five years, have really wanted to learn how to play guitar, much better than I play it now. But I never have time, because I'm always on the road and I don't travel with a guitar, and you have to be consistent. And so, I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. I can play guitar right now." No, it's not about how I'm going to take my entrepreneurial business to the next level in my life. Like, I can do all that overachieving stuff later, and even do some of that and stay productive now.

Justin Michael Williams: But I've been asking people, what's something that you always say, "Oh, I really wish I could do that, but only if I had time. If only I had time." Well, now you have time.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah.

Justin Michael Williams: So, what are we going to do with it? You know? And that's what I've been asking people.

BREAK

Jeff Krasno: Which is "No solution can possibly exist when you're lost in the energy of the problem."

Justin Michael Williams: Yep. That's a Michael Singer quote, actually.

Jeff Krasno: Perfect.

Justin Michael Williams: Yep. Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And you offer some real, I think, very actionable solutions and suggestions for how to spend our energy and time right now. I wonder if you could talk about it, for a minute?

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, yeah. So, I love giving practical tips, because a lot of this can be like, "Oh, this is in our heads," but mostly, going back to that quote, "No solution can possibly exist when you're lost in the energy of the problem." And you had mentioned Jeff, about the news and all this kind of stuff. For me, I have barely been looking at the news or anything, because I think, no matter what the numbers are, no matter what they say, no matter what new information comes out, no matter how many people are dying, all I can do is wash my hands and stay inside.

Justin Michael Williams: Literally, I don't care what I read, nothing is going to change about that. And so, I'm just still doing my best to do that, and just take the news and just like, "I just don't need to hear it," and obviously stuff that needs to come to me comes, but mostly if we're lost in the energy of the problem, and we're not in the energy of the solution, then our brains get totally hijacked, and we can't even see the possibilities that might be in front of us, right in front of our eyes. Simple things that I've been telling people to do that have been so profound, are first of all, a gratitude walk.

Justin Michael Williams: Now, this is a really simple practice that every ... I was shocked at how big it got on social media, all these people started tagging me and saying, "I'm on my gratitude walk, I'm on my gratitude walk." Basically, you just walk outside, obviously keeping your social distance. Just wherever you are in your neighborhood, with no aim on exactly where you're going, turn your phone on airplane mode, so nothing's coming in, so you know you're protected in that way, and set an alarm for 20 minutes. Every step you take while you're walking, say something you have to be grateful for. For the first couple minutes, you're going to say this, say that. And then you're going to feel like you're out of things.

Justin Michael Williams: What every single person consistently has said, is after about four or five minutes, they felt like they hit this threshold, and then it was like, "Oh my gosh, I have so much," and they couldn't stop, by the end of it. It's this beautiful moment to realize the things that actually really matter to us, and gratitude without going too much into the science, we know is scientifically proven to help us feel happier. I find that just a simple practice like that can get our minds out of the energy of the problem, and into the energy of the solution.

Jeff Krasno: Beautiful. I love that. To follow up on the point of gratitude for a moment, because I struggle with gratitude, I'll be honest with you.

Justin Michael Williams: Why?

Jeff Krasno: Well, I've got some solid ... I checked the box on a lot of good qualities, okay? But I will say, that it's just not a ... a virtue that comes naturally to me. Some part of me feels like, "Well, I've worked really hard for this." Like, "I deserve this," and I'm not necessarily pointing out the best part of me, either. I tried to kind of understand what it was for me, because I started kind of rolling my eyes at the endless gratitude memes, and I was like-

Justin Michael Williams: Right.

Jeff Krasno: "Okay, well, you know, that seems a little bit trite." And then it kind of took on this other meaning for me, that goes to your point around the act of life, and not just the contemplative life. Because for me, gratitude started to mean, what is the work and action I can do to acknowledge the miracle of this great gift that I've received?

Justin Michael Williams: Yes. Oh, that's beautiful, Jeff. I love the way you just phrased that.

Jeff Krasno: That was lucky, I just kind of went for it. I might have to relisten to that, because it felt good. But that gratitude for me has become more tied to my active life, to my behavior, to my right work and action. It's not just enough for me to sort of acknowledge the things that I'm grateful, or thankful for. Anyways, I'm not sure if that resonates with anyone that is listening, but for me it kind of put some scaffolding around what that thing meant, and-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: Now I'm way more connected to it, and it feels really good. The other thing that you talked about, that I thought was great, that also addresses really being able to ... use this focus time, for example, like you're doing, to get more proficient at guitar, was power hours.

Justin Michael Williams: Yes. I was hoping you would ask me about that. So, the power hours are ... this is one of my favorite things, and I talk about it in the book. It's something that I learned from my mentor, Lauren Roche, and then obviously, I gave it a catchy name, because that's what I like to try to do sometimes, but-

Jeff Krasno: You're good at that.

Justin Michael Williams: But basically, you're going to notice throughout your day, that you have a window of time, and it's different for everybody, where your mood is a little bit more elevated, just naturally. So like, if you're going through your normal day, you wake up, you have your coffee, or whatever, there is going to be a moment in time that lasts for about two or three hours, when you just feel more awake, more alert, more energized. For me, that window is usually between like 10 AM and 1 PM, or 11 and 2. And then usually I get a second wave, that comes kind of later in the evening, around 8 PM or so, like that.

Justin Michael Williams: And what you want to do is, just for a couple days, try to track this window, and when I tell people to track it, this is really important, because most people think they know when their time window is, but it's often different than you think. I remember that I used to think that mine was at two in the afternoon, but what was interesting is that's actually when it ended. But it was just when I would often drink more coffee, because I got tired. Then I thought that that was my second window.

Justin Michael Williams: So anyways, just track it for a couple days, and then in that window, you call that window your power hours. So, for me it's 10 to 1, and like, 8 to 11 PM, and what I advise people to do is to consider that time really sacred, because this is the time when your energy is lifted, when your mood is lifted, and when you have the energy to actually do something, that again, is in the energy of the solution. What so many of us do in those power hour windows, is we spend that time talking on the phone, or just cleaning, or doing something because we feel like we have that energy, and then we save the thing that really matters for our life, or for our happiness, or for our passion, or for our art, until later, until we have time.

Justin Michael Williams: And then we end up trying to do those things when we're tired, or when we're kind of hitting ... our energy is waning. What I've been recommending for people to do is find their power hours, and then if you can block out the whole two or three hours to do something productive, or something that brings you joy, great. But if not, even just blocking out 30 minutes or an hour in that power hour window is significant. Because if you did one hour every single day, in your power hour window, then by the end of the month, you've done 30 hours on something that is meaningful to you, when you have your most vital life force energy moving through you. That's been a fun way for me, and the other thing that I do, and tell people to do during that window is, just pick one thing that you're going to get done during that window. Don't put this exhaustive to do list in front of you. Because that makes it feel like work.

Justin Michael Williams: You just say, "Okay, this is my power hour window, and this is the one high quality action that I'm going to take during this window." And so you know, if you end up goofing off the entire rest of your day, or wasting, or getting lost in distraction, then you've at least done one thing that day, that was taking you in the direction of your vision, and your goals, and your dreams for the future.

Jeff Krasno: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that's such good advice, and I suppose wisdom is simply about taking your own advice. But essentialism is key, and it's so hard. Because oftentimes, for me it's writing and unfortunately, I write on the same device that's like, pinging me from 45 different directions.

Justin Michael Williams: Oh, that's hard.

Jeff Krasno: So yeah. I agree that being able to spend focused essential time is key, and also, sometimes that creative spark or wisdom will come inside that time, the periods when you can actually achieve what I think of as long wave thoughts.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: So much of our life is spent kind of in the EKG of life, which is kind of these-

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: ... jagged short wave answers and emails, and texts, and Slacks, and everything else. It's actually why I love podcasts so much, is because it is a medium where you can kind of stretch out, and I think people really appreciate that.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: So, that last, I guess, tip you might call it, although it feels more like, more substantial than a tip, is really based around helping others, and I think that that's a great place to kind of round out our conversation today. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how to do that? Because sometimes I think we feel kind of a little bit paralyzed right now, in our ability to help.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, so there's actually, there's so many ways, but there's one way in particular that has been mind blowing for me, and it's so easy, so easy. It's to get or give help, either way. One of my sisters, Shelly Tygielski, she actually started this form, it was just in Florida, for a community in Florida, where you literally go to this website and you push like, "I need help," or "I can give help." People are asking for all kinds of things, it's not even just people saying, "I need my bills paid," but it's like, a woman who's a single mom, with a newborn child in Torrence, who needs diapers, who has money, but just needs somebody to bring them to her, because she doesn't have anybody to bring them. Or an older woman who normally somebody is checking in, her neighbors or somebody is checking in on her regularly. But she just wants somebody to call her, every day at one o'clock.

Justin Michael Williams: There's all these different things, and so Shelly started this group, or this form in just Florida, and now, as of yesterday, I think they've matched 7432 people all across the country, and it also spread to Shawn King, who's a huge activist, who kind of started his own version. But there's a website, so if you know anybody who needs help, or you can even offer help in the form of money, in the form of helping somebody pay their bills, and form of a phone call.

Justin Michael Williams: The website is pandemicoflove.com. Pandemicoflove.com, and that's the original form with Shelly, and they're just doing amazing work. Sometimes 1000 people being matched in 48 hours, that are getting support and they're matching them up in micro communities, so like, if you live in whatever, Nevada, they will try to match you with somebody that you can help, nearby you. It's been a really cool opportunity to support and help.

Jeff Krasno: Man, I love that so much. It resonates with a lot of the thinking that I have been doing around what is the new world story that's going to spin out of this wicked mess. And I think it will hopefully be more local. That our lives will become more decentralized and local, and that we can lean into our communities, where we can really engage, civically more, and that idea of being able to help someone that's in proximity to you is a beautiful idea, and also it is a very effective idea.

Jeff Krasno: I was doing some research on an episode on charity, a while back, and your biochemistry actually reacts more strongly around philanthropy or altruism to a specific person that you can know, and actually see the results and the impacts of your action.

Justin Michael Williams: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeff Krasno: Versus, just like giving to the Red Cross, or whatever.

Justin Michael Williams: Right.

Jeff Krasno: But that is a beautiful endeavor.

Justin Michael Williams: Yeah, it's so cool, and I can only imagine the people that are going to be served by the time this is over, and just also, which I'm sure you saw in the research that you were doing, when it comes again, to going back to that original Michael Singer quote, of being in the energy of the solution, and not being in the energy of the problem. It's like, now you're becoming the solution, and there's no better way to be in the energy of the solution, and to get your mind in a positive space, when we see either how we can help somebody and be a part of the solution, or even if you're in a state of need, to experience that the solutions are out there, and people want to help.

Justin Michael Williams: Both of those things effect our biochemistry and our bodies, and our moods, and all these things in so many juicy ways and I think it has longterm benefits outside of just the one moment that it happens.

Justin Michael Williams: If it's okay, that I can mention about bringing mindfulness to kids in schools, is it okay if I mention-

Jeff Krasno: Please. Please do.

Justin Michael Williams: ... about that, very quickly?

Jeff Krasno: Yes.

Justin Michael Williams: So, you know, I was on my book tour, and one of the things that we did, like I mentioned, was we wanted to completely flip the traditional book tour model on its head, where you kind of typically go to bookstores in affluent neighborhoods, and we said, "Okay, what if we go to some of the most impacted cities in the United States, like South side Chicago and Atlanta, and Oakland, and New York City, and Baltimore, and Flint, Michigan, and we go to high schools, and we go to colleges and we surprise the kids, and we give them books for free, and we teach them to meditate in a way that's fun and exciting and has music, and really meets them, again, in the context that they're in?"

Justin Michael Williams: And so, with my publisher, with Sounds True, and their foundation, we actually, over the last couple months, have raised over $140,000 to go to 14 schools in the United States, and we were on that tour, and then it got paused, and it's being, hopefully, well, it will be rescheduled, but we're hoping that it will be in the fall, if all the dust settles as planned. But we're trying to get to as many schools as possible. Originally, our goal was 10, and we raised enough to go to 14, and we want to be able to go to more, and so we created this little website where people can go and donate as little as eight dollars. It costs eight dollars to get it to one child, or as large as they want, or there's even sponsorship and partnerships available. There's the opportunity to even bring us to your city, which is like, 15K to go to another city, which some partners have done.

Justin Michael Williams: And so, that's at staywokegiveback.org, and as much as I want people to get my book and read the book, what I want more than anything, and I know what our community believes is that we want everybody, especially those that don't have access, to be able to have access to this knowledge that has helped us all so much and changed our lives, and so it just is such an amazing opportunity, and I'm so grateful that so many people ... we've had thousands of people in the community donate even small amounts, and it makes a big difference. So, staywokegiveback.org, so we can get these teachings out to the kids who need us most.

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