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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Short Life Lessons From Andrew Jordan

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Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

In the 1960s and ’70s, I grew up as a gay kid in San Francisco, the only son of two deaf parents.  My mom was born deaf, and my father lost his hearing at sixteen from meningitis. From a very early age, my sister and I were asked to do very grown-up tasks like speaking on the phone to banks, doctors, and the like. Needing to step up like this for our parents made both of us grow up fast.
It also taught us to be very present for what was happening around us, not only so that we could follow what our parents and their friends were saying, but so that we could ensure our parents’ safety. We also needed to keep ourselves safe from embarrassing misunderstandings from strangers who did not immediately know our parents were deaf. This way of living taught me how to be mindful from a very early age, a life skill that would serve me well as I got older.

Then as a young teen, I started understanding my sexuality more and eventually came out in the late ’70s and early ’80s. That was terrifying and certainly liberating! I had to be ready for whatever came my way. Growing up with deaf parents, I had always felt different, but this new teasing, the questions, the shaming, and the self-shame, were nerve-racking.  Learning how to stand in my truth – when met with ignorance – was very hard but I knew that meeting people’s questions and ignorance with kindness was best for all concerned. I knew I needed allies more than I needed my indignation, so I tried to build connections when I could.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

Mindfulness! I am so thankful for my own mindfulness practice. I especially think it helped me navigate the pandemic with more ease than not. I still had my moments of despair, but they did not last long. When I was a kid, I was in Fight, Flight, or Freeze a lot: my grades were terrible, I was teased about my parents, and from a very early age I had the inkling that I was gay. These factors played a role in keeping me stressed and unfocused. Mindfulness could have helped me be more present and aware of what sensations arose so that I could have been more skillful with them.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

The mistaken belief that Mindfulness is a calming practice. Or that the end goal is an empty mind. Both those states of awareness can happen, but it has been my experience that just waking up to whatever might be present is a more reasonable goal. When we practice, we don’t need to get anywhere mentally or physically, we just try and notice what is present in the body and mind and, with kindness, realize that is enough. One of my favorite recommendations is to make it a habit of taking a few deep breaths through the nose many times during the day. It immediately has the effect of waking up the mind and connecting us to our hearts and bodies. After all, at its core Mindfulness is Breath-taking.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

In my mid-forties, I started to become dissatisfied with the things I was striving for: the perfect career, perfect relationships, perfect physique, and perfect experiences. Striving for those things was exhausting and not an effective way to have meaningful and long-lasting well-being. I found a helpful therapist to help me navigate these big revelations and emotions so that I could find a healthier way to show up for my life.  Through doing this inner work, as well as implementing a consistent mindfulness practice, I have found the ability to find more equanimity, grace, and resilience than ever before.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

I am not willing to listen to every thought or doubt that I have. Thoughts are like itches; we don’t have to believe every thought or scratch every one of life’s itches. I wrote a children’s book about it but have not submitted it yet. Does anyone out there know any publishers?

What is your morning routine?

I wake up around 6:30 am most days, due to some biological clock thing. Right away, before even getting out of bed, I meditate for upwards of half an hour. Then I go downstairs and have Ginger/Turmeric Tea (from Trader Joe’s). I am allergic to coffee – I break out in canker sores all over my mouth – it’s not fun!

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

Well, besides Mindfulness, I would have to say my practice of swimming in San Francisco Bay has enriched my life. I have a great group of people that I swim with, and they are always thinking of some new and different destinations to swim to within the bay. That relatively new community for me of men and women from all over the world has been a real delight. Getting into that cold water, sometimes as cold as 48 degrees, reminds me each time that “yes, I can do hard things.” It can be challenging to get in, but I have a rule, I don’t say to myself “it’s cold!”- instead I say, “It’s just sensation!” or “This is sensational!”

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

I have a spot in my living room that has a small table. When I need to really focus, I write there. I notice that when my back is upright, my mind is clearer and more alert. This is very much how mindfulness teachers invite practitioners to sit.

The other tip is when I write I remind myself that great works of literature are not written, they are rewritten. So, whenever I begin to write a manuscript, I try to remember this, and it takes the pressure off me to create some perfect piece of art that has been sent from some divine source. Occasionally it can feel like some sacred message is pouring out of me, but I don’t rely on that as my impetus to write.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

This will probably be read as shameless self-promotion but publishing my first book, Puppy Mind, really changed the trajectory of my life for the better. The story I have told myself my entire life, up until that point (and I still hear those whispers of self-doubt), was that I was not a smart person. I went to summer school, or some fashion of that, almost every year throughout grammar school. My grades were terrible, and it was not until college that I started doing well academically. I was finally able to study theater full time, doing something that I loved. Creating and having published Puppy Mind, as well as my three other books, has helped liberate me from the unhelpful thoughts about my intellectual abilities.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Take imperfect action. I see so many friends start to date someone, or think about moving somewhere, consider higher education, or think about pursuing a new career and they get bogged down in the weeds of looking for perfect when good might just be enough for now. This lesson showed up in my own life when I started teaching Mindfulness about 8 years ago. I had taken three courses in the study of mindfulness, but I certainly was no expert, then a friend encouraged me to try teaching it and I did just that. Was I perfect at it? No. Did I get better at it? Yes! As I tell the over three hundred kids I work with each week and the hundreds of Mindful Arts SF volunteers I have trained over the years, Practice Makes Progress. Just try – what’s the BEST that could happen?



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