What does Madhappy mean to you?
Madhappy is a movement that celebrates being human through events and through clothing that gives us space to talk about things that we don’t usually have the space to talk about, and to do it in a way that allows us to see and support each other.
Can you share your journey with us? How did you get to where you are today?
My journey started when I was a sophomore at NYU. I started managing the band MGMT with my roommate and we wound up forming a record label to put out their first album. I had this really fun journey with so many bands and did a joint venture with Sony through several hundred concerts, eventually raised a technology fun, and started investing in tech start ups as well as musicians. When I was in my early 20s I started getting panic attacks and very debilitating anxiety. I found meditation as a way to cope with those challenges. I didn’t feel like there were many spaces for me to talk about what was going on behind the scenes of my (what was perceived to be) successful company. So meditation became a personal way for me to grow. It was incredibly transformative for me. Five years ago I ended up leaving my record label and tech fund. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but knew that I wanted to do something different. In my free time I started organizing group mediation and spaces where people could talk about real things like mental health, body image, social media, career transition, etc. Basically all the things Madhappy is focussed on. What we saw in those early gatherings was that people wanted to come meditate together, they wanted to talk about real things, they wanted community, they wanted to be seen and be heard. They wanted to support each other. So we continued to organize group gatherings, called Medi Club, and eventually The Big Quiet (TBQ) was born out of that. Today TBQ gathers thousands of people at world landmarks like Madison Square Garden, the top of the World Trade Center, and under the blue whale at The Museum of Natural History. At each TBQ event, we have really rich sound bath experiences and we feature special performances, all by musicians who are passionate about mediation. We’ve worked with musicians like Miguel, Sophie Tucker, members of Arcade Fire and Bishop Briggs. Today I run and lead TBQ as well as speak at Fortune 500 companies and conferences as well as startups and nonprofits about community building, leadership and meditation.
How do you prioritize mental health?
I have many different ways in which I prioritize my mental health. The first is by saying no. That is my greatest means for prioritizing mental health. I am very selective about what I say yes to. I find that it is critical that I make time to be with myself and take time to recharge and prioritize space. I am a social introvert so getting time alone is really how I recharge. I also find that my daily meditation practice is critical for my mental health. As someone who has a history with mental health challenges, my daily practice has been a real game-changer for building a stronger foundation for my emotional health. I find that being in community and having people in my life that I love and that love me back is a really critical piece to my mental health so I really do my best to prioritize making the time and having the energy to be in a community with people that I love. I also prioritize my mental health through fitness, eating clean, moving my body, and just doing my best to not sit at a computer all day and get some blood flowing. Lastly, I have really clear boundaries about how I use my phone. I have all of my notifications turned off. This way I check all my notifications, emails and text messages in batches when I want to. I try to take regular “tech sabbaths” where I am fully off my phone.
Can you talk a little bit about the role of social media when it comes to taking part in the mental health epidemic?
It’s become really clear to me that what we yearn most is human connection. Social media feels like it is a way to have human connection but most of the time it’s an illusion. If we look back over the history of time we see that people have existed in tribes for the large majority of the time humans have even existed. In those tribes we relied on each other to survive; for people to mutually contribute and support one another and add to the greater good of the group. It’s built into our DNA to cooperate and be in community. What I’ve seen today is that in a relatively short period of time, we’ve shifted out of being in a space where we are constantly supporting and giving to each other. We live in a time now where an individual in a modern city or suburb can go an entire day, month, or even most of their lifetime being totally surrounded by other people, but really feeling alone. We’re encountering thousands of people on a daily basis but they are mostly stranger. This is a really new phenomenon to be around people but not be engaging or having personal, intimate, and shared dynamics with them. So we end up with a lot of people who don’t feel like they have a community or space to go to engage and support. Technology can be a way to fill that void, but its very ephemeral. I think it’s illusion of connecting us is creating a deeper sense of loneliness. We are constantly watching highlight reels of our peers on a regular basis through social media and comparing it to our internal challenges. We start to think everyone’s lives are very different from ours when in fact we all, or most of us, go through the same personal challenges. I also feel that this constant communication and contact of social media in this digital age of being bombarded with so much information and having constant concern with how we are being perceived online creates a burden on our nervous system because we are processing way too much information. I’ve seen with myself, and with others, that this constant input can lead to fatigue and exhaustion and things like anxiety and toxic stress.
What do you think the pros and cons are of meditating in a group or community versus meditating alone?
If you look back to ancient lineages of mediation practices there are two key components. One is an individual being trained and learning from a teacher how to have a self-sufficient daily meditation practice. The other piece is that the individual is able to practice in a community with others. I am a big believer in both. Teaching people so they are capable of practicing on their own, but encouraging them to share this experience in community. A solo practice is great because it is where we learn to build consistency, really repair our nervous system and optimize our bodies to show up in the world. Meditating in groups is great for accountability, giving us a sense of a refresher and reminder of how important it is to practice. It also tends to lead to deeper human connection not only through the shared process of sitting in quiet, but what happens after groups meditate is that people have conversations and learn they are more open to deeper socializing, communication and connection.
Give us a day in the life of Jesse.
I usually wake up around 7:00 or 7:30. In the summertime I will either make a smoothie or have a quick breakfast. I hop on my bike, cruise over to my co-working space in Williamsburg. I always take from about 9:00 - 1:00 to focus on what’s important. That may look like responding to emails, that may look like writing or working on a talk - but I never take meetings during this time. I usually then have lunch and will take a couple of phone calls or meetings but I like to make those limited to three or four maximum a day. Then I have time in the afternoon to check in on how I’m doing, always get a meditation in, and do some form of exercise after work. In the evenings I usually teach courses, do public speaking. On my nights off I am just relaxing or recharging or seeing friends.
How do you think about your brand? How do you make sure you’re aligning with the right people and companies that reflect that?
I am really big on communicating honestly and pushing myself to be real about what's going in my life. Every time I do share that, or I do communicate vulnerably through social media or my brand, I like to attach learnings to it. I use my brand to express my truth and what I’m going through, but also to express what I’ve learned and the wisdom I’ve acquired through my lived experiences and my challenges. For me, I am a values person so if I’m aligning with people or other brands its important to me that those brands are individual and share my same values and express them on an authentic level. I love people in brands that are full color and full spectrum. So for me, I appreciate people that not only meditate and have wellness practices but also party and eat cheeseburgers and listen to rap music. I love people in brands that embrace the shadows, the dark stuff, the things that make the highs appreciated.
Favorite Madhappy Piece
Podcast your into right now
Gladiator by the Boston Globe
Johnny Pollard and my Dad
If you had a billboard that everyone in the world could see, what would it say?
Life isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you.
Who would headline at your music festival?
A collaboration between Chet Baker and Kendrick Lamar.