Russell Simmons wants to set meditation on fire, the way he did with hip-hop through the Def Jam music label beginning in the 1980s. Toward that end, he’s written a new book, “Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple,” which he’ll discuss in Seattle on Monday.
I called him this week because I think these days most of us could use a little stillness in our lives, and because the idea of a hip-hop entrepreneur bringing the message intrigued me. I asked what his book would add to the already huge pile of meditation books.
“This one is going to add best-seller, popularity, simplicity,” he said. “You know this one is going to further the cause of changing the vibration of the planet. This one is going to affect people who would not be reached by other meditation books. And this book is going to demystify meditation in such a way that we can really start to make an effort to put it in schools.”
I don’t know how successful daily meditation will make you, but if Simmons, who’s been doing it for 15 years, is an example, you don’t have to worry that it will mellow you out too much. He is still a prolific entrepreneur, who seems constantly to create new businesses, from music to clothing to a financial-services company, movies and television.
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This is his third book (it’s cowritten with Chris Morrow) and follows “Do You!” and “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All.” Despite the titles, all three books share a focus on achieving happiness, even spiritual enlightenment, plus maybe some money, but only as a side benefit.
“If you are looking for worldly things,” Simmons said, “you can only get money in the present. You can’t get no money in the future. And when you calm your mind and are more present, less distracted by the noise, like I said, the functionality of your brain is much greater, but also the results from your work later (will be greater).”
He said meditation helps a person focus on the present, “ … needing nothing and being focused attracts everything.”
Simmons said, “Neediness is the cause of suffering.” Happiness, he said, comes from a still mind. We’ve heard that, of course.
As in many self-improvement books, the most useful parts in Simmons’ volume tend to be reminders of old messages.
Simmons is known for his devotion to yoga and meditation, but happiness and a still mind are not what people — well, what I — generally associate with hip-hop, probably because the most commercially successful kind seems to embrace other values.
“ ’Cause they’re wrong,” Simmons said. “They don’t know that when you’re listening to a beautiful melody everything disappears but the melody.”
Some hip-hop, sure, but gangsta rap?
He said you can find horrible, offensive stuff in other genres of music, rock, country, opera.
“We can go throughout history and choose any kind of music and assign all the qualities that we give to hip-hop to all of it.” Yes, but I don’t want to listen to any of that to find stillness.
Simmons and Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly had an on-air disagreement last week over whether one of Beyoncé’s songs was leading young women astray. I asked if that had brought on some of the stress that meditation removes. He said no, it just made him laugh. “Everybody’s got an opinion.”
In one chapter, he writes about not being judgmental, and that prompted me to ask about his relationship with the people who work for him. High-achieving CEOs can sometimes be hard on the help.
He called out to someone in the room with him, “Hey, you hear that? He just said I’m not pleasant.”
“I got a little tolerance,” Simmons said, “but I like people to be better. I like to remind people to be better or whatever, but I ain’t no tyrant.”
The other guy, Simmons’ driver for 45 years, Kenny Lee, said, well, stuff happens, then they bantered back and forth. They’re still friends after all those years, so it can’t be too bad, Simmons said.
When I reached Simmons he’d just dropped off his two daughters at school and was making himself a vegan breakfast at his place in L.A. He has a chapter in the book on mindful eating — which among other things says you should concentrate on your food and nothing else while eating. He cooked and ate while we talked; he admits he’s not perfect.
No matter what, he said, he meditates for at least 20 minutes twice a day and he goes to yoga class. He’s always been an anxious person, but said yoga and meditation help him focus.
In the book, he writes about his earlier attachment to drinking, drugs and chasing money and women. He’s still working on his challenges with women, but he said the rest is behind him.
He writes, “You can gain control over your life by regaining control of your mind through meditation.” That’s the message that carries through the book and leads up to a brief section on how to meditate.
At its most basic level, meditation is just sitting quietly for at least 20 minutes, no blank mind, no difficult pose, just quiet.
I suppose we have come to a place in our culture where we need a program or a book to do that, or at least to have permission to do it. To turn off the TV, pull off the earphones, close our eyes to the Internet and just sit. A life without time for that really does need a change.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org