I seeked out a meeting Jono a few years ago, a teacher of mine went to a Wake Up Sydney! event, the very first one, she said when she heard the man who started the community talk, she thought of me, she said I need to meet him as she thought there was something similar in our energy. So I contacted him, something I had never really done before with a stranger who I had never met or even seen, I just emailed Jono and told him about my business and vision for coaching, asked to grab a coffee and have a chat about his community. He agreed, much to my surprise, and we grabbed a coffee in a café in Bronte, fast forward 4 years and here we are again, only this time we have formed a friendship, I have actually attended a lot of his events and have become a keen advocate for Wake Up Sydney!
Jono is outwardly one of the calmest people I’ve ever met, and perhaps that is what my teacher saw as the common energy from us both. He is very insightful, when you speak with him you can tell he has really done the ‘work’ and by that I mean the inner investigation, digging, ripping apart, pulling back together and he’s figured out how to create a life that suits him, rather than chasing down dreams society follows. Jono has created a community based on his values, but also allowed much freedom for individuals to grow and voice their own, it’s a unique movement. It’s welcoming, collaborative and up to the individuals who participate to own the energy of what it projects. Jono says she doesn’t want to be a leader, but rather serve, as you read on below, he has some valuable learnings and ways he has discovered his path in life.
L: What is your definition of a passion in life?
J: When I think about passion, two things come to mind. Firstly, it could be something that ‘breaks your heart’ that you then want to act on. An issue or cause, something you want to change. Or it could be something that can really ‘open your heart’ similar to the feeling of falling in love, like when you are in love with a person. They both come out of the ability to slow down and be still, and allowing yourself to feel either the heart break or the heart open, which can be a very similar experience.
L: What a beautiful way to look at it, and I agree, a passion is really about the feeling you get rather than a tangible outcome, thing or someone.
J: Absolutely, I think it’s like having a real fire inside of you. When it awakens, when it’s fully felt, it infuses your whole body. What often stops it happening is constant distraction, like a numbing, so that we don’t actually fully feel what is possible. It’s kind of scary in a way cause it means your life is going to change. It’s the ability to pull back from distractions, pull back from technology, at times – not all the time, to give yourself the space to feel. Take the concept of Sabbaths in religious traditions, they took a day to rest, to do nothing, to disconnect from everything. There is a lot of wisdom in that.
L: So what would you say is your passion in life?
J: For me it’s about being in spaces that help me to feel more, and also to create spaces where we as a group can feel more. These ‘spaces’ allow for our authentic nature to emerge. If I use the analogy of cement on top of earth, when we break the cement, there is this space where we can be still and quiet and open, so the grass can grow through. I am really passionate about uncovering the best part of ourselves, which is our real nature that wants to love, to care, to take risks, to feel alive.
L: I see passion as so unique to each of us, so it’s inspiring to hear what it means to you in your colourful words. I really hope people reading this can connect in with what it means to them through your examples.
J: Actually, the other thing I am passionate about is the combination of looking after your inner world and connecting it to your outer world. Learning how to do that in whatever way you choose, as there is a wide range to choose from. Applying that to issues that are going on in the world at the moment, there are two kinds of camps. The people that stay in their inner world and they can become a little bit self-absorbed, I have noticed that in myself. Then there are the angry reactive ones. And if both of those worlds could come together, something else happens, and that is what I am passionate about, how I can bring those two worlds together. When I am on either side too much, it’s not right.
L: Is it about how to best to integrate them?
J: Yeah, because one is not better than the other. You can be an activist, and say look at those people sitting on the mountain meditating they should be doing something. The meditation people recommend the activists need to learn how to calm their mind, but if we can come to that sense of peace together we can unlock something new for the world.
L: Can you tell some of your journey to getting where you are today, and leading a passionate life?
J: I started out on a traditional path, what I call the narrative of society. I believed that if I achieved certain things I’d feel great. I was in the corporate environment, making the steps yet not feeling the truth of the supposed reward. In fact I was feeling the opposite, feeling more unhappy, burnt out, depressed and at a deeper level like I was going against the grain. Battling between what I deeply wanted and what I thought other people wanted from me. As I continued to push against my own nature my body reacted, to the point I was in a boardroom presenting and I had a visceral response where I needed to throw up. I knew something was wrong and I needed to break out. So I stopped. It was practical. I took a few months break intending to go back. After a few months I knew I couldn’t go back but I needed to make money.
I saw an ad in my local paper, for a male Nanny. I applied and got the job looking after two 6 year-old boys. On the first night I was putting them to bed, one of them popped up and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ It was this moment where I felt purpose. I felt love. I thought, ‘wow, here I am in a foreign environment, the pay was really different, the status was zero, and yet there was this moment of feeling really purposeful, happy, a genuine type of happy’. I stayed there for nearly 5 years.
During this period, I had more time. To walk, swim, read, look after myself in a different way. What opened up for me was an appreciation for what I already had in my life. The ocean meant everything to me, trees became important, and my health, piece of mind, and also over time I began to feel really wealthy even with nothing in my bank account. I was so happy, peaceful, content and fulfilled. At the same time it was a really painful experience from an ego point of view. The family I worked with was quite wealthy, having regular dinner and cocktail parties and I would often be mistaken as a guest, they mixed with the who’s who. I’d get asked, ‘who are you?’ and I would reply that ‘I am the Nanny’. Nine times out of 10 people would say, ‘oh’ and move on quickly. This had never happened for me before, it was like someone punching me in the guts. I felt like I was a nobody, a no one, I was suffering in letting go of my story of who I was meant to be. It took me close to a year, and then the suffering dropped away. To feel okay with who I was, without identifying myself to a traditional status, to accomplishment, I was just okay being me.
About this time the concept of kindness came through to me, especially being kind to myself. I heard a Tibetan teaching. A concept called maitre (pronounced my-tree), translated as ‘unconditional friendliness towards yourself.’ The first time I heard it, it blew my mind. I had these conditions within myself, some things where positive and I appreciated them, some things where negative and avoided that part of myself. I tested it, I told myself when anything arises I could be unconditionally friendly and treat it with no judgment and treat it with warmth. This begun my journey of self-care. I figured out all the things I loved, I discovered wisdom teachings, meditation, I loved music particularly live music, film, inspiring speakers, and I felt a need for community, a way to bring all these things together. So it took a few years for things to emerge for me.
L: From your experience, and how you unearthed all this for yourself, what tips would you give others to discover what is important to them?
J: A number of things. It’s a big question…
Spending time in nature. It does something, especially if you’re currently not doing anything in nature.
A willingness to be embarrassed. I think lots of people know what they want to do, and they think it’s not much it or won’t make a difference, it’s not a big deal. Being able to get over a sense of embarrassment will bring it forward and enable you to do it.
Often when you’re questioning your purpose, it can keep you in a small conversation with yourself. When I was in this contemplation, someone challenged me with a question, which was expansive and opened up possibility to me, and that questions was ‘how can you serve?’ So if you can constantly ask yourself, ‘how can I serve?’ nearly like a prayer, to yourself. There is something about the posture of service that accelerates people finding their purpose. It’s for the greater good, as opposed to being just about you, it points you to where you fit in the greater world.
There is something about early mornings, really early, about 3am, to ask this question at that time. It’s about where we are at that time, we’re a little more open and can receive.
The heart thing comes up again, ask yourself ‘what breaks my heart?’
L: What’s your belief about making money from your passion, or purpose?
J: If it’s your business, absolutely. But a passion doesn’t have to be your business. I think that is where people get confused. You need to be really clear, is this something that is a business or it’s not? If it is, be unapologetic about doing that because that is the oxygen that keeps it alive. But it’s not the reason you’re doing it. Purpose is no.1 reason for doing it. Your relationships, who you deal with is the second reason, and money is no. 3. The money allows the purpose and relationships to stay alive. I really believe that. I get really sad when I hear that’s not possible, when people can’t commercialise their passion. We live in this world where money is the currency, you can either fight against that and hate that it is the case and be broke, or you can be smart, figure it out and find a way to pay yourself and contribute.
L: Do you feel and see a dramatic difference in yourself, or the way you view the world, since living a more purposeful life?
J: More peace. More confidence. Satisfaction. I used to think, ‘if I die now that would be really sad, because I actually didn’t give my gift to the world’ – not that the world will be different, but it’ll be different to me. Now I feel like I am giving my gift to the world and I am genuinely satisfied about that.
L: How would you sum up Wake Up Sydney!
J: It’s the business of creating community. In a world were we are becoming more isolated, with single dwelling houses are in the rise, it’s a challenge for me to figure out how to create community, there aren’t models everywhere signposting how to do it, there is no guru figure or religious leader, I want a community that doesn’t have one of those, it’s a community around kindness, courage and living with courage, living with more wisdom. The events we put on hopefully encourage those things. The sheer fact you’re with people in a collective sense makes people feel not alone. To be around people who live more like this. If I where to give us a modality, it would be a ‘transformational entertainment business’.
L: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in setting up Wake Up Sydney?
J: I would like to talk about the difficulties, some people may look at what I’m doing and say, ‘walk in the park’, but it has been really tough. It is so important people know that. If I were to portray that this whole thing is easy, then it’s such a disservice to people wanting to do it themselves. I really want to reinforce it’s a lot of damn hard work, and when people don’t see that it’s very discouraging when they try. I think it’s as much hard work to follow your passion as anything else is, except there is this purpose underneath, that fuels you in a different way.
Some hurdles would be setting up a financial model that has integrity. That’s difficult.
Another is not getting carried away with projections. Early on I was a bit freaked out about being the leader of this and I spoke with a Buddhist nun about my fears of being seen as a leader but also wanting to start the community. She told me, ‘get over it, the truth is this, some people are doing to think you’re a complete dick for doing this, and others will think you’re god-like. Your only job is to stay true to yourself and observe that happening, but just don’t go to it, don’t go to either side, don’t buy into what other people say.’ That was a huge piece of advice for me. It was difficult. There were times when I thought I was pretty fucking amazing, reading and hearing what people are saying, and then there were times when I’d get criticism about my event and I would collapse.
Thirdly, looking after my health, a tenancy to misbalance purpose, and become so absorbed in purpose that you can neglect yourself. I am very clear now how important it is to have a really healthy body. So my health deteriorated as I gave so much. Just the basics, food, exercise, sleep, managing stress levels. There can be a lot of adrenalin, which is a robbing chemical.
L: So I’m interested in how you keep your commitment, that persistence to keep going?
J: I keep going back to the question, ‘how can I serve?’ I actually want to dedicate my life to something, utterly. I was very influenced by a Buddhist vow bodhisattva. The vow that can be taken by anyone, the vow is to ‘dedicate your life to the benefit of all beings’. I haven’t formally taken that vowel, but within myself that is my personal promise. It can sound grandiose, but it feels like the thing that I am most committed to. It’s like a dedication of sorts. I notice when I come back to my heart space, that I can feel committed, if I think rationally all the time, I feel it’s too hard and want to take the easier road.
L: We’ve spoken a lot about the head and heart space, I work with clients on integrating head, heart and gut, what part does your instinct or intuition play as part of your guiding mechanism?
J: I always used to ask people if things were right, or ask for advice, was I being helpful or not helpful, right or wrong, what could or should I do, and I remember once this woman looked straight at me and saying, ‘I’m fucking over this, you have such a good radar, good gut, good instincts, listen to it’. So I do it more and more now. Even when something can be very rational to me, but doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, listening to my gut is a big part. I need balance, it’s not like letting one rule the other it’s about balancing them, what comes out is a middle ground.
L: Any final words?
J: I missed out a big piece of what I am passionate about at the beginning! I am SO passionate about Sydney. It’s a strange connection, a real gut connection. I feel that Sydney has this unique role and place in the world. Not many other cities have as much beauty, wealth, multiculturalism, it’s got everything, it’s small yet it’s a global city, I feel like it has the opportunity to lead in a whole different way. My vision and passion is for Sydney to put its mark on the map by putting kindness at its centre. That kindness will be a benchmark for what we do, figuring out a way to make that a reality, not just a dream. That is what Sydney becomes known for, a very caring, warm hearted place, so we lead the way in social justice, mindfulness practices and taking care. I think people would love that purpose as a city, I think it’s one thing to have that individual purpose, but how cool would it be to be part of a city that cares. If we could do that, other cities would want to follow. I think kindness is one thing everyone agrees on, you might think it’s cheesy, but you can’t say you don’t like kindness or debate it.
If you haven’t been inspired already, I suggest you head to Jono’s website, Wake Up Sydney! Here you can read first hand how his actions and beliefs have manifested into a ground swell of like-minded people coming together to celebrate kindness, courage and wisdom. There are events all year round, so sign-up for the emails and get along to one, you’ll feel the energy for yourself and become part of the kindness community in Sydney, and at the very least subscribe to receive the kindness cards and start distributing them!