Konda Mason sits down to talk human to me about joy, kindness, sorrow, pain, suffering, caring, and resilience
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My Conversation with Konda Mason:
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:01:35] OK. We're going to go get started here. Konda, you are one of my soul leaders, one of my Yoda's in my life, and I'm so happy that we get to do an episode of Talk Human To Me. How are you today?
Konda Mason: [00:01:56] I'm great. I'm really great. It's a good day.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:01:59] It's a good Friday.
Konda Mason: [00:02:02] It is a good Friday.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:02:05] I start every episode with the same question, and that is: what about humans strikes you the most?
Konda Mason: [00:02:22] Hm. What about humans strike me the most? It is our inherent nature to actually care. And, our resiliency to weather the storms that life just brings, that life just is, life is, l know they say life is ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows. That's what life is. Ten thousand joys, ten thousand sorrows. It's up and down. And it is amazing to me how humans have the ability to be resilient against, with, and respond to rather, the ten thousand sorrows, and to come back. And, to actually still have that human, innate nature of actual care and compassion. That is what strikes me the most about humans.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:03:36] It's interesting that you're bringing up care and resiliency together as two peas in the same pod. A lot of times you might hear care with words like love, or care with laughter, care with joy. I think it's one of those words that is tied to warmth. Resiliency, when you hear that, you might have some fanboys that are thinking Star Wars! Or resiliency, a lot of people who have illness, they are resilient in their process. Why do you think when you're thinking about what about human strikes you the most, those two words in your mind pair with each other?
Konda Mason: [00:04:29] Oh, that's a good question. When I think of resiliency I think of a response; as a response to a stimuli, right? Something happens in the world, something happens. And, resiliency is the ability to withstand that crises or that challenge. And, I think at the core of that, at the core of that is a deep caring for one's self, for others. I mean you know, I look at, you look at 9/11, you look at real crises that have happened on the planet, you look at a fire in Oakland, right? And, I think of the resilient community that we are. And, a lot of our resiliency is based on the deep caring that we have for each other. And, that we're in this together. It's one of those [pause] -- things don't happen in isolation, they happen to, what seems to be isolated, that even in your own personal life, it seems like something has happened to me. Well, you're connected to your family, you're connected to your friends, you're connected. You're always connected. You're always connected. And, those resilient moments, even when you're thinking of [pause] -- The worst moment in my life has just happened. I'm thinking of taking my own life. A deep caring for, "But, what would happen, if I did that, with my sister? How would that, how would that impact her? How would that impact the people around me?" That caring, even in the moment when you don't think you're caring for yourself, you are caring for other people. And that brings your resiliency. So, it's a relationship between the caring and the resiliency, because caring is what gives you the fuel to be resilient.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:06:38] Was this something that has always been innate within yourself? Or, do you think through the years, through experiences, this was something that you had to be in the moment yourself? To have this come at you in certain ways, to have to demonstrate or show care, or show resiliency. And then, it became more clear in your head that this was important to you. Or, was this something that really came later in your life?
Konda Mason: [00:07:21] I grew up in a neighborhood that was, I didn't know at the time, but I know as a grown up, that it was, you know, a poor neighborhood in Southern California; primarily Black and Hispanic, neighborhood. And, I grew up with a lot of resiliency. I didn't have the words for it. I didn't know what it was.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:07:49] Were you aware that you were in the lower income, poor neighborhood as a kid?
Konda Mason: [00:07:54] I didn't. I didn't until we moved, until we moved out of it. When we moved out of it, I realized what we lived in, because my parents finally got to a point where, you know, they can move us out of that neighborhood. And, it was at that point, even though I longed to go back, you know, because that's where my friends were, I realized then, the social economics of my situation that I wasn't aware of.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:08:27] I find that weird, the word "social economic".
Konda Mason: [00:08:30] Right.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:08:34] Because, the way you just mentioned, where, although we moved to a nicer area, you missed your friends in the poorer area.
Konda Mason: [00:08:44] Absolutely.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:08:44] And, for me, I actually, I'm a son of immigrant parents as well. And, I also wasn't really aware of our financial situation you're in, and you finally move to a different area, and you go to school, and you see a kid with the new Nikes or Reeboks.
Konda Mason: [00:09:07] Right, right. Or, even have lunch money.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:09:10] Exactly.
Konda Mason: [00:09:10] We didn't have lunch money.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:09:11] Like, "Oh, why do you get to go to the lunch line, and I always have to bring something made from home?”
Konda Mason: [00:09:18] Right.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:09:18] Or sometimes something smaller.
Konda Mason: [00:09:20] Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And, you notice that once you leave it. And, it was, I was 12 going on 13 when that happened, when we moved. And, that was a whole set of circumstances because we actually moved from that Black and Latino neighborhood into an all White town, like three Black families perhaps in an entire town. We were like a third or fourth black family. And, it was, it was hard. And, the resiliency of my mother who grew up, you know, in the South, and had to make her way, and all of that, she is the one, who I would say really, when the words I use now, resiliency, that she embedded in us. And, it's interesting that I have to say that. There was a song by Billie Holiday, that she wrote, that's called, 'God Bless the Child That's Got His Own'. And the lyrics of that song - my mother used to play that song all the time, and say to us, "God bless the child that's got his own." It's all about, it's about you getting it together, essentially, it's about you. No matter what's happening out in the world, whatever pressures, God bless a child that can actually get up, stand up, and keep moving. And, that was our theme song, and she embedded that. And, that really embedded a sense of resiliency in us.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:11:10] I love that you bring that up, and that song taking, making sure you start with yourself, right? That is care, in it's most pure form. And, it's interesting. I see so many of my friends now, and even just other colleagues, other folks I meet, there's so many distractions - maybe not distractions - but there's so many things that you can receive or relate with in this world. And, we tend to try to participate and spread ourselves to those things before we even first take care of ourselves. Do you find yourself surrounded by folks that are almost kind of fractured in some sense? Do you feel fractured sometimes?
Konda Mason: [00:12:11] Oh yea, I think that, this is an interesting question, because there's layers to me. The first layer is, that first layer of being in this world. First of all, were you loved? Did you, do you feel that you're lovable? I grew up in a family that was, knock on wood, I hit the lotto, I was so loved. I knew I was loved. And there's never been a doubt in my mind, "Konda are you lovable?" It's like of, "Of course!", right? I mean it doesn't even occur to me. As I grow and continue to evolve and understand, and try to understand behaviors and what's going on with people, I realize that, so many people didn't get that. They do not actually feel that they are lovable. That is a huge fracture from the very beginning, right there, and how it plays out. So, if you don't have that core, you're out here. You're just fractured out here. Anything can sway you. Many challenges in life can just sway you and get you off center, because you're not centered in many ways. And, you've got to really figure out how to get that grounding in that center. And, a lot of people are working their entire lives to try to find that, and to get that, and have it to certain degrees. So, if you don't, in my opinion, if you don't have that core, then the fracturedness of all the stimuli, and all that that comes at you, you are swayed by more easily, because you're looking for meaning. You're looking for a grounding. You're looking for that place that makes you human. I, again, was really fortunate that my entire life I was loved. I knew I was loved. I learned how to love from mother. My mother taught me what love was. And my family. And so, I am splintered by my to-do lists, you know? I'm splintered by the multitasking that it takes to live, and the work that I choose to do. But, ultimately, in the deepest sense of me, I am not splintered. I have a real sense of [pause] -- I've been an entrepreneur my whole life, for example, because I listen. I've never really, I've had maybe one job, it probably lasted a month, I have this deep knowing, and this faith in this knowing that's inside of me.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:15:19] What do you mean by knowing?
Konda Mason: [00:15:20] There is this, there's a sense, it's just this sense that, that feels abundant, and there's a sense of abundance within me. There's a sense of abundance, and within that abundance, I feel that, I have no doubt that, my life is good. Tons of tragedy, don't get me wrong, tons of tragedy. You know, I mean, I can tell you about some tragedy. I probably have experienced more tragedy than most people you know within my family. It's like I had a big family, and everybody is dead, but one person. And so, that said, but, I have this sense of faith in something that's a knowing inside of me, and I move with that. And, I listen to it, and I move with it. And, so I don't, I don't know any other way to present that. But, that is the ground on which I go to bed, and that I wake up. And, there's no splinter there at all. I don't have a splinter there, if that makes any sense to you.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:16:53] That makes a lot of sense, especially when you're talking about how, again, you're, you're so grateful to feel love for almost all your life. And, it's, it's interesting because you, when actually just now, I thought it was the way you briefly mentioned tragedy, you talked over it really quickly, like, ‘I've had some tragedy, but you know.' And then, is that something that is a personal practice, or is it something that you actually avoid, or do you actually confront --
Konda Mason: [00:17:33] My tragedy?
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:17:33] Your tragedy.
Konda Mason: [00:17:35] Oh gosh, yea. I don't avoid. I was just on a roll talking about something else. But, people who know me all know. If you know me. It's like one of those things, if you really knew me, you would know that my family came into this world with this very weird disease that very few people have. And, it has taken the lives of my family. And, I am in the immediate family, the sole survivor who it hasn't hit. And, you know what that's about, I have no idea. But I'm the one, you know? And so, you know, to have a family that you love so deeply, like my brothers, my mother, best friends, best, best friends. And, they literally died in my arms. It's hard. It was really hard. And, you know, life is ten-thousand joys and ten-thousand sorrows, and we, you know, nothing lasts forever. Everything changes. Everything. I'm going to die. You're going to die. We're all going to die. We're all going to go up and down, and it's like, my work, my internal work is to love and let go. And, it's become really clear to me, that that is what goes on in this human realm. Love and let go.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:19:25] I've always found it interesting in moments of high tension for myself, and I've seen a lot of, we have a lot of mutual friends and colleagues, and I see in a lot of, in their intense moments as well. And then they see you. I always have this strange thing that just relaxes.
Konda Mason: [00:19:51] Me?
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:19:51] When I see you. Yea, it's, although I know you have a million things going on at once, and there might be some frenetic energy, but even in that moment, there's this quality with you, and maybe that is that core that you're talking about inside of you, that is always abundant.
Konda Mason: [00:20:18] Yeah. Yeah, I have a, I've been so blessed. I have really been, you know, come out on the winning end in this life, because not only were these people who were my family - they're amazing people who I learned a lot from, and their everlasting lessons, I mean deep people, incredible beings, and and I'm the youngest. So, I had the benefit of being the youngest in the family, and learning all I had. It was just like, it was just poured into me. And, so that's there. And then, I also, you know, I have a deep, spiritual practice. And, that is a huge part of, I mean, absolutely every moment of my life. It informs the cells within my body, my spiritual practice, and it's around, you know, meditation, and Dharma, and Buddhism. You know, I just came back from--
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:21:23] Is it lifelong as well?
Konda Mason: [00:21:25] Sorry?
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:21:25] Was this a lifelong practice?
Konda Mason: [00:21:27] It wasn't, it wasn't. But what was prior to that was Christianity, and, you know this, and before that was just this deep sense of something bigger than myself, and as a little kid, like, you know, I would just, like, I had just this wealth of what is this thing inside of me that kept me in this place of rapture practically. And, so it's moved, and it's moved from religious, to spiritual, to what is where I am now in terms of my Dharma practice. And so, you literally, you're catching me from two weeks ago, I was, I sat in a retreat for a whole month in silence, for a month. And, you know, and seven hours of meditation a day for thirty days straight, and that kind of, that kind of practice, is real. But the effects are, just, you know, I'm working. I'm just a person trying to, you know, have a healthier, better life, and be aware of my unhealthy, conditioned parts of me. And, they come up all the time. And when they do, one, become aware of it, two, make another choice. And, so I'm working on that, and I'll be working on that my whole life.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:23:05] Can you talk about that, because I think a lot of people that might be listening to this, especially those nonstop entrepreneurs, right? A lot of times we'd like to, we never like to project, I don't know why we call it weakness, but we don't want to project some sort of fragility within us, because we can crush it, we can rock it, right.? And, here you are being vulnerable, and what you just said about being able to observe and feel when you have something coming in, and that is maybe not as positive, and it's a little bit negative, I don't know if it's a physical manifestation, or if it's just a mental manifestation of health, but what, what are some specific things that you find yourself doing that will help, kind of, dispel that.
Konda Mason: [00:24:17] I mean, I've been working on this a long time. So, because of my practice, my Dharma practice, I am a person who sees myself. You know, it's mindfulness. It's really about -- that's what mindfulness really is, is being mindful -- people say, "Be mindful about something." What that really means is, be present right now in what's going on in who you are. What's happening with your body right now? "Oh, my body's tight. Oh, I'm really mad. This person pissed me off. I'm mad. My body's tight." I'm feeling like, you know and I may have just said something that, I really didn't want to say in that way. It's because of my practice, and has been for a long time, I just have that mechanism that sees me and catches me sooner than later than it used to be. How one does that meditation, mindfulness meditation, insight meditation is my tool. I'm sure there's other tools out there, but that's the tool that I know, and that I use. And the more mindful, and the more I become mindful, the better person I am talking to you, or talking to anyone, you know, going to bed at night. That's my tool, is mindfulness.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:25:56] I like that you talked about that. I have a lot of friends who also ask me about meditation. And, it's interesting when people say, "Oh, I can't meditate. It's so hard." And then, I'm asking them, "Oh, why do you think it's hard?", "It's so hard to completely think about nothing." And I think that's this weird notion, this misconception, it's like, “You've seen too many kung fu movies, my friend.” [laughs].
Konda Mason: [00:26:21] Everybody says that, everybody thinks that. You know, I was just talking about this last night. The mind is a thought machine. That's what it's supposed to do. It's a thought machine. Your heart is a blood pumping machine. That's what it's supposed to do, right? Every little organ has its own. The mind is a thought machine. It's supposed to think. It's supposed to give thoughts. It's supposed to produce thoughts, and that's what it does, constantly. But meditation is not not having thoughts, because that's not, that's like telling the heart to stop pumping. You don't want that. There's a difference between thoughts and thinking. So, if it's a thought machine, that's creating thoughts, the gap that, what meditation does, in mindfulness meditation, is allow those thoughts to come and almost like a ticker tape, let them go through the mind and out, and say, "Thank you for coming." This thinking grabs onto one of them, and has a whole story; now I'm going to tell the story, like "Oh yeah, I should've done that." or, "What's for lunch? I wonder what they're doing downstairs for Sexy Salad?" or, “My God, you know, I wish I had said, you know, when I see them, or I'm going to go in, oh, yeah I gotta” -- that's the thinking part. So, if you can see those thoughts that are coming by, that says, you know, sexy salad goes across my thought machine, and I go, and I'm in meditation, it's like, and it just passes by without a story. Without a story. And, you start to really see the thoughts that come through your head. You start to see, and you create a gap between taking it, and creating the story, and you see, and you're already down the road before you realize, "Oh I just did a whole thing," and that happens all the time, and then I just come back, come back to my breath. Come back to my body. And, it's like, "OK, back to my breath." Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. And, it's just about being aware that mindfulness and that awareness of looking at how you, the things that you think about, if we took the time to, even for one minute, if you could look at the many thoughts that go through our mind, and the stories that we tell, and how we cling to those stories, and those stories that typically, that's where the challenge is, that's where the challenge is, because often those stories create challenges for us. Our mind is wrapped up in something that has an emotional content that's charged. What if you didn't do that, because you have a choice? What if you saw yourself do that, and just stop it, and watch it go by instead? You would be responding, instead of reacting.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:29:45] Is that, to you, what a fulfilling life looks like? Where you can be so appreciative, and joyful, and present, and loving of all the amazing things that are happening in your life. But, if none of it was there, you would be able to be just as present, and joyful, and watching it--
Konda Mason: [00:30:15] Watch it go by.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:30:15] Yeah, watch it go by.
Konda Mason: [00:30:17] Yeah. I mean you know the reality is that, life is hard and painful. Pain is going to happen. Pain is everywhere, right? Physical pain, emotional pain, you know, pain is just a part of our experience.
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:30:35] It's important.
Konda Mason: [00:30:36] Exactly, you know, you couldn't, it's just like day and night, like, it's just a part of the experience on this planet, and in this human body. But, there's a difference between pain and suffering. So, what I'm talking about is being able to take pain, have pain exist. Pain is here. When I start taking that painful moment, and adding a story to it, and yadda yadda yadda, and all this stuff and I get emotional, and it turns into anger and it turns into fierceness, and all of this, that's when suffering starts to take place. So, what I'm saying is that I'm not looking at any nirvana like life is just great. Life is freaking painful. It's the difference of my adding to that pain, and having the ability to not do that. So that's all that I'm saying, is that life is ten-thousand joys, and ten-thousand sorrows, and those sorrows are right there. And when they come, can I handle it in a different way?
Jeffrey Shiau: [00:32:06] Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. I like ending all of my conversations with this simple question. Maybe it's not so simple, but: ultimately what's the point of all of this?
Konda Mason: [00:32:32] Hm. The point of all of this, I think the point of all of this is for us to learn how to be kind. Learn how to be kind. To ourselves, and to each other. I think our full humaness, I believe that we are born into this planet with a compassionate heart. And, all this stuff happens, and we lose our way. We find it, we lose it, we find it, we lose it. But, I think that coming back to that predominant mode of a compassionate and kind heart. That's what my point is. That's where I'm trying to get to every day, and every moment, that, like some ultimate goal, that in every moment, in every moment, can I be kinder in this moment.
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