Q. Do you think that your business career would be vastly different if you had been meditating all your life?
A. If I had been meditating all of my life, I think there would be a change. I don’t know what that change would be, but [I’d certainly have been] more present. I lost some deals over anger. I used to yell a lot and I’m sure there are some people who had experiences with me that were not so palatable because I used to yell. I made some mistakes where I wasn’t calm in situations where I should’ve been. I’m sure my career would have been different. I’m sure I made lots of mistakes that could’ve been avoided if I had operated from a more comfortable seat.
What do you make of the fact that both you and Rick Rubin, your Def Jam Co-Founder, believe in the benefits of meditation?
I don’t know. Rick was a big yogi for many years. I don’t know if he still practices daily, but I know he’s been an advocate and a practitioner of yoga as well. But I think it’s just a big coincidence. Every creative should learn to be peaceful inside—the only moments that you’re ever creative are those seconds when your mind is at peace.
Everybody producing music is drawn into a state of mediation through the music. If you’re great at producing a song it’s because you have seconds of absolute clarity, quietness in the mind, where you’re singularly focused. Everybody has these seconds, but extending these seconds is the reason we practice meditation.
So were you this self-aware before you first began to meditate?
We all have our states. Off and on we all have presence at different points in our life. Take a joke, for example—the punch line is just for one second, but [in that moment] everything disappears except what’s funny. If you can live the way you feel when that joke hits you, you can see all the miracles unfolding around you, you can see how beautiful how life is.
Can you give an example of when meditation has made a difference in your day?
This morning. I rolled over, I had a clogged nose, a little bit of a headache, meditated for 20 minutes and I noticed a shift in the way I felt. I had a sensation of joy, my headache was gone, my nose had cleared, but more than that I felt awake and alive.
When I started meditating this morning I had a bunch of stuff on my mind. By the end, that stuff was still on my mind but it was less troublesome. There are so many people who need so much, and you have to confront it. [After meditating,] things I had to do weren’t any less urgent, but they felt easier to get to. You let go of the anxiety that’s associated with your workday. Sometimes when you meditate the first thing [that your mind does] is take inventory. And afterwards you can go to work and clean up your agenda because you realize it’s nothing to cause anxiety, you can just go do it.
Were you an anxious person before you first began meditating?
I don’t think I was anxiety filled but I was an insomniac, which can be consistent with someone who has anxiety. I certainly used to ruffle my feathers over nothing. And now those things don’t bother me. I’m a much easier person to deal with and I get much more work done because of it. I could go on, but it’s all in my book.
I just think it’s pretty obvious that we’re all searching for a quiet moment. If we could have the sensation that the world moves slowly, we’d do anything for it, we’d take any pill. The idea of clouding your mind is almost the same idea of clearing your mind. Total focus is almost like being drunk because you become happy when the mind has less noise. There are many different routes to clarity—running, working out, listening to music, painting—all these things promote single-pointed focus.
All the stuff we compile, all the stuff we put in our safe, we think it makes us feel calm because we then think we have what we need. But neediness is a cause of suffering. When we meditate, we can see these things and become less attached to them—the idea that those things are something that give you happiness, is an idea you can let go.
It’s because we are needy that we suffer. There are many causes of suffering, but neediness is the key. How often have you heard people say, “If I could only get this, change that, or fix this?” That’s the challenge of life—there’s always going to be something.
So then how do you handle living in America, a culture that’s designed around need and materialism?
You know, I like to say that you can be an urban yogi—they can live around people’s neediness and the influence of the suffering people, yet their suffering will not penetrate the urban yogi. And that’s because there’s always going to be distractions. You could sit in what you’d think is a quiet cave and still be surrounded by lots of noise. You could sit in a cave for hours on end or you can live in a city and be distracted by noise. It’s how you handle it that matters.
Needing nothing is not unattainable—it’s just the process of accepting where you are. Your current condition is an abundant one—you have everything you need. And you have to learn to operate from that place [so you’re prepared] when what they call chaos comes upon you. For example, we practice yoga in difficult poses so that we can smile and breathe in difficult poses in life. Hold your breath for long enough and all you’ll want is a breath of air. And the beauty becomes that breath. The breath is all you need.
Named one of USA Today’s “Top 25 Most Influential People of the Past 25 Years,” Russell Simmons is a businessman and cultural leader most noted for cofounding Def Jam Recordings with partner Rick Rubin in 1983, producing and/or managing early hip-hop artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Will Smith and the Beastie Boys and signing artists like LL Cool J, Ludacris, and Jay Z. In 1992 he founded the fashion label Phat Farm, an urban streetwear company that he subsequently sold in 2004 for a reported $140 million. His current company, Rush Communications, is a holding company with investments in businesses including Def Jam Enterprises, UniRush Financial Services and the hip-hop media site GlobalGrind, among other media, fashion and entertainment ventures. Mr. Simmons is also a best-selling author and a vocal proponent of yoga and meditation, the benefits of which are espoused in his most recent best-selling book, “Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple.”
(Photo Credit: Rush Communications)