Finding the energy we need, all around us
In 2009, Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz is having one of the busiest years of his life. A nonstop tour schedule and monotonous daily routine have completely drained him of the energy he needs to create — the one thing that gives him the most joy. In this episode, Jason shares how an opportunity to disconnect on a four-day hike through the Peruvian Andes is just what he needs to remind himself that there is an infinite source of energy all around us.
Finding the energy we need, all around us
JASON MRAZ: This entire day has been uphill. Hours and hours of climbing. The trail looks like a staircase that goes all the way up to the heavens. To infinity. The steps are made of large stones, hand carved, hand laid, most of them by a centuries-old civilization. I can’t see where they stop.
ROHAN GUNATILLAKE: When life gets busy, it can be hard to find the energy to do anything, even the things we really love. That’s what Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz discovers during one of the busiest years of his life. Exhausted, depleted, and drained, he’s unable to enjoy the fruits of his hard-earned success. In this episode, Jason shares how stepping away from his busy life reminds him that the energy he needs is actually all around him.
In this series, we combine immersive first-person stories, breathtaking music, and mindfulness prompts so that we may see our lives reflected back to us in other people’s stories. And that can lead to improvements in our own inner lives.
From WaitWhat, this is Meditative Story. I’m Rohan, and I’ll be your guide.
The body relaxed. The body breathing. Your senses open, your mind open, meeting the world.
MRAZ: My gaze is fixed on the path in front of me. The ground is a little muddy with uneven stone steps embedded in the trail. The stones are slick with moisture. Everything is damp out here. Even the air — which is thinner than I’m used to at this altitude — is misty and wet.
I breathe in deeply. Listen to the bird song in the towering cedar trees. And finally, look up at what’s ahead.
Majestic mountains rise proudly, their rugged faces etched with time.
I’m in the Andes in Peru. Over the next four days, my friend John and I, along with our guide Adrian, are hiking to Machu Picchu, the world-famous archaeological site of an aged Incan sanctuary nestled high up on a secluded mountain ridge.
Everything is so green — green, green, green. Swaths of trees give way to rocky terrain. The two mountains ahead of us sit obscured by a veil of clouds. The range beyond, dotted by snow-capped peaks, disappears into a haze.
Adrian stops in the middle of the trail. He’s Peruvian, from the local Q’eros community, but he’s dressed like a modern-day explorer, complete with an Indiana Jones-style hat. “Do you see that third mountain?” he says. I draw my eyes to the shape shrouded in the distance. I can’t make it out. “That’s where we’re going today.”
The reality of it hits me. For the next several hours, we’re going to walk over these first few peaks. Then we’re going someplace else, I can’t even see yet.
It sounds daunting, but I can’t wait. It’s exactly what I came here for.
We estimate we’ll travel four to five miles a day along mist laden trails, from the Sacred Valley up to the highlands.
On this first day, I don’t totally know what to expect. I don’t know if my feet will ache or if I’ll get blisters. I just put one foot in front of the other.
Beneath my poncho, I adjust the straps on my backpack. I didn’t bring much on this trip. Just a few sets of clothes, some sleep gear, a digital camera, a polaroid camera, and my journal, sealed inside a Ziploc bag to protect it from the moisture in the air. I have my cell phone, but there’s no reception. And I’m glad about that.
What I’m looking forward to the most is being unreachable. This is the busiest year of my life, and the pressure is constant. The expectations are relentless. I fought for my success. But now, I feel my life becoming less and less about creating — the thing that lights me up — and instead I’m getting overrun by busyness.
Being busy as a musician is great; it’s what I’ve worked for my whole career. But I start to feel like I’m stretched too thin.
I think back to a few years ago, sitting in a diner across from a friend of mine, Toca. We’ve played music together since the early days — before my music started to take off. He knows me. I mean he really sees me. And he sees how lost I am, even though I’m sitting right here in front of him. Constant travel. Endless meetings. Every moment is filled with the kind of work that feels more like an obligation, than something I once loved to do. My eyes are dull. I say “I’ve drifted so far from my creative process, from the path I chose for myself. I’m lost.”
This is the first time I say this out loud to anyone. And I’m glad to be able to share it with someone who understands me. But I don’t know what to do about it. I think that taking a break from the busyness might help me refresh my perspective, but I don’t want to slow the momentum of a career that’s taken me so many years to establish. Other people rely on me now to keep working. That weighs on me too.
But truthfully, by the time I sit down to write my songs, the energy just isn’t there. It’s used up. And when my mind gets tired, it turns on itself. There’s a self doubt that’s always there, right over my shoulder. I worry that if I keep letting the busyness of my schedule consume my energy, all I’ll have left is self-loathing and darkness.
The trail curves and the trees open up to a beautiful dark green valley, nestled between a cluster of earth mounds. Low hanging clouds cling to their sides. I’m cold, sweaty, I’m rain-sogged. I’m still unsure what awaits me on this trip. But my muscles pump blood to new areas of my legs and I keep my head up as I continue the ascent.
“Cloud coming!” Adrian calls down from further up the trail. John and I look ahead just in time to see a large gray shape floating towards us from across the valley. We quickly take off our backpacks and pull out our waterproof pants and ponchos. This is going to be a wet one.
It’s the second day of our hike. We’ve gotten good at reading the clouds. At this altitude, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, we walk in and out of them constantly. Depending on the color, we know if it’s going to be a light rain or a heavy rain, a blinding cloud or just more of a fun cloud. Either way, it’s going to be cold.
This entire day has been uphill. Hours and hours of climbing. The trail looks like a staircase that goes all the way up to the heavens. To infinity. The steps are made of large stones, hand carved, hand laid, most of them by a centuries-old civilization. I can’t see where they stop.
I was curious about what I might discover through disconnecting on this trip….but right now, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. And tired. And sore. Depleted of my energy, doubts begin to surface. Was this the right idea? Am I accomplishing anything with this experience? Will I be able to finish?
Adrian can tell. He steps up beside me and he says softly, “Walk slowly… We don’t have to hurry… Breathe…” My body softens.
Adrian reminds me to tune my awareness, to see where I am and what we’re doing.
“Remember, we’re walking on the body of Mother Earth — Pachamama,” he says — the goddess respected in Inca mythology. “She is alive and we live on her body. We must walk in reverence of her. Love her with every step.”
Adrian goes on. “We never really leave her. We’re just born anew through all her beautiful expressions. The spirits of our ancestors are still with us today. All around us.”
Adrian’s words ring in my head as the hours of stair climbing continue. The air grows crisper and my legs get more and more tired, but something in me tells me I can keep going.
I begin to imagine myself as one of the deer that lives on this mountain. With four legs instead of two, climbing starts to feel easier. And as we continue up the path, I think, but what if I’m the condor that soars through the clouds? Then I don’t need legs at all; I can fly to the top of this mountain. But then, I wonder…what if I’m the mountain itself? Then I’m already at the top.
The clouds clear. The vast landscape reveals the sheer grandeur and untamed power of this land. I think about how I’m just one expression of a larger entity. How the spirit in me is the same as the spirits in the plants, animals, wind, and rain. My steps become lighter. The difficulty of the climb begins to melt away.
If only this kind of energy existed back home, where everyday — filled with repetition and effort — feels like an infinite staircase.
GUNATILLAKE: Adrian is pointing Jason to a different kind of energy here, a wider frame of reference. When things are tough for you day to day, how can you draw energy from the things that surround you?
MRAZ: After five more hours of climbing, we reach the summit and begin a 45 minute descent down to our campsite. The ground is a small valley and it’s hard-packed and a little grassier than the rocky trail we’ve been on all day. A few other groups of hikers have set up camp and are quietly mingling — rewarding themselves with popcorn made fresh on the campfire.
As John and I put down our packs and stretch our arms, Adrian walks over to us. “What’s the nicest hotel you’ve ever stayed in? Four stars? Five stars?”
I shrug and say, “Sure, I guess.”
Adrian’s eyes light up. “Tonight, One Million Star Hotel.”
I laugh and I smile. But looking out at the campsite — a grass lawn with a few muddy patches — I don’t really know what he means.
That night, when the sun starts to go down, we sit and watch the landscape change. The mountains are painted with shadows against this beautiful watercolor sky. Once the campfires dim, there’s no human light sources out here.
As the sunlight fades beyond the horizon, the galaxy night light turns on. And we see what Adrian was talking about.
It really is a million stars. A soupy, rich band of the Milky Way, stretching all the way across the sky. It’s so visible it looks closer than it really is. Like it’s just hanging there. Close enough to touch.
I lay on my back in my sleeping bag, out in the open. My attention is drawn upwards again and again and again. I don’t want to look away from it. It’s so intense that I don’t even want to sleep. I just want to bask in this light for hours, watching for shooting stars.
In my life of touring and being on the road, I never see this kind of sky. There are too many lights, too many distractions pulling my attention. My whole world can feel reduced to the size of a hotel room. But the truth is, the stars are always there. Even if I can’t see them.
I feel a surge of connection to the Earth and to the stars. I’m sourced by their energy, their power and their strength. It’s the feeling I’m used to getting when I write my music. A feeling I always feared was at risk of getting extinguished. But now, I find it here. It’s all around me.
On the late-morning of the fourth day, we crest a final small ridge. The valley below sits in a cloud. Shrouded in mystery.
We watch as the clouds part and the craggy gray stone walls of Machu Picchu come into view. I’m wet and cold and my shoes are covered in mud. I’ve been through all my clothes, I’m unshaven and unkempt. But this moment feels special.
We climb to the top row of terraces. I turn to my right, and I see tourists. In clean clothes and clean shoes. It’s like they came fresh from a tennis court. I’m reminded that, while we hiked for four days to get here, other people, dozens and dozens of them, took the train. It’s only a day trip from the closest city of Cusco.
It’s kind of hilarious but it also bursts my bubble a little. I want this to be a sacred and secluded place. But we immediately start to blend back into the noise of real life. I feel small again. Like I’m no longer one with the mountain. For days, my awareness has been tuned to something greater. I’m nervous I won’t be able to embrace or embody that connection in everyday life — in conversation or in the presence of other people.
Before we get completely lost in the hustle and bustle of touring the site, John, Adrian, and I step off to the side and form a little circle. We tune our awareness and quietly share what we enjoyed about the hike, what we’re grateful for.
I take out my Polaroid camera and I turn it around, set it up so it’s facing all three of us, set the self timer and snap a picture to remember this day.
In the foggy air, feeling the warmth in my leg muscles, I watch the photo slowly develop. Only, something’s off. The picture looks corrupted. It looks like there’s a golden light coming out of our chests and encircling our heads. No other picture I’ve taken on this trip looks like this, so it seems like it’s more than a camera error.
Without missing a beat Adrian points to the photo and says, “The Apus, the spirits. Our ancestors! They are with us and all around us. They’re here in this photo!”
I’m not sure how I’d explain this image. But, it’s like a validation of everything I experienced over the last four days. That feeling of deep connection with the earth, the sky, the plants, the animals. With John and Adrian. Even with the tourists in their squeaky clean clothes.
The energy of strength — of constant renewal — that exists all around us, exists in me too. Here. At home. On the road. When I’m so busy, it can be hard to see. I’ve always told myself I can only get it from working on my music, and taking time for myself to be creative. But that energy is always there, like the stars in the night sky, ever-present, even when they’re not visible.
I feel so grateful for the time I took to disconnect. My mind is ready for a new season of work. I see now how my routine isolates me, cuts me off from the energy of those around me. It’s ironic that it took a trip away from my daily life for me to reconnect with everything back home. But now, I feel ready to return.
GUNATILLAKE: For each of us, our everyday busyness can act like a kind of disconnecting shield. To balance that, bring to mind a place, or an experience, that helps you find comfort and ease. Allow yourself to tap its energy across space and time.
MRAZ: Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center is a highly energized place. Producers, costume designers, prop makers, and performers always seem to be running this way and that. Just like the busy New York sidewalks outside, these hallways have a quickness to them.
Thankfully, here in my dressing room, things are a little calmer.
It’s only been a few days since I stood in Machu Picchu with John and Adrian. But now I’m in New York, preparing to play on Saturday Night Live.
Part of me knows I should be nervous. That I should feel not worthy, not prepared, not the caliber of performer that can take on a show like this. But I glide into New York City feeling that sense of expansiveness I’ve had all week. I feel the Earth under the tarmac at the airport. Under the paved streets. And in this building. I know that now, when I’m open to the connection with everything around me. I think back to Adrian and smile. I remember that I am sourced by Pachamama, Mother Nature and all of her energy. And that old sense of darkness waiting over my shoulder is much less present.
I keep my dressing room dimly lit. I light a little incense and Palo Santo. I still have this rugged, mountain film on me. I’ve kept my facial hair, which isn’t normally something I would feel comfortable with. But I’m a little more kind to myself right now.
One by one, cast members come to my dressing room to visit. Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen. I offer to smudge each of them with sage and give them a blessing. There’s a vibe in here. An energy. Everyone is smiling.
I know a hike in the mountains can’t last forever. Eventually, I’ll settle back into the real world, the busy days rallying to put on a show, the long nights traveling by bus, and the hectic schedule of my busy calendar. But I’m trying to bring a little of the mountain with me for as long as I can.
The trip has given me a new way of being. A new way of seeing. And a new way of experiencing. Here in New York, I feel connected to the cast members, to the crew members, to my manager, and to my friends.
I don’t have a lack of energy if my energy is the energy of the audience or the energy of the people I’m working with. We share that energy, and it’s all around us.
Looking back, it’s now been almost 15 years since my hike through the Andes, and I’m feeling that exhaustion again. It’s on a loop. When your days start to get full, when your schedule overflows with little tasks, it’s easy to forget what that sense of oneness feels like. That’s when I know it’s time to disconnect — and reconnect. And that needn’t mean taking on another multi-day mountain trek. It’s just going on a short walk near my home, feeling the pulse of the earth beneath my feet. Or even taking some time to do the laundry in a mindful way, letting go of everything else I “have to” do just for a little while. Or it can just mean that I’m revisiting this story in my mind, reliving everything I felt, re-energizing myself for everything I “get to” do.
Those moments of disconnection and reconnection are reminders that, even when your life feels like an infinite staircase and you don’t know where it ends, the energy you need to keep going is all around you. When we let the clouds part, we remember that there are a million stars waiting to lend us their light.
Rohan’s closing meditation
GUNATILLAKE: Thank you, Jason.
The grind of day to day life is real. I’m sorry folks but if you think that as a mindfulness guy, my life is all deep calm and endless connection with all sentient beings, as much as I’d like that to be true, it’s really not. Most of my life is fairly relentless, with my various work commitments, family life and chores, and it drains the energy. So I too have had to learn how to recharge, and as much as I’d like to go trekking in the Andes as a break, like Jason says, we need to be able to learn how to recharge in the middle of where we are. The energy we need is all around us if we’re able to turn to it.
So, inspired by Jason’s story, I’ll guide you through a short meditation with a couple of different ideas or lenses through which we might connect with something bigger than us. They are lenses that are so helpful for me, and I hope that they can be that for you too.
But to start, we need to drop out of the everyday grind, the patterns of doing and chasing.
A good way to do that is just to allow the mind to settle.
Deliberately switching position from being the person being pushed around by thoughts, by obligations, by momentum.
And instead becoming the watcher.
Watching any thoughts or busyness as it happens, but no longer in its thrall, stepping out of that storm for now, as much as we can.
Let’s turn to that stunning moment in Jason’s Peruvian adventure, when he checks into the one million star hotel.
It’s a moment where Jason connects with the cosmic, and as far away as that moment might feel from where we are right now, how about we still try to do the same.
With eyes closed or open, whatever makes most sense for where you are and what you’re doing, notice the sense of heat within the body.
We are warm-blooded, so let’s feel that warmth now.
Feeling the warmth however it’s presenting for you right now.
If your mind is a bit quiet, you may notice heat in the center of the body, with other parts more cool, other parts warmer.
The attention interested in the heat of the body.
And as much as a stretch as it might feel, it is true that the atoms that make up our bodies came from stars.
So we are made of stars, made of the ancestors of the stars that Jason sees above him in Peru. Our heat, once theirs.
So as we sit, lie down, stand or move where we are, we are surrounded in all directions by stars.
Unimaginable power all around us and at unimaginable distances.
All sending you their heat and light.
All recharging you in their own way.
Another very classic way I like to recharge is to feel the earth.
When I need a break and go for a walk, I love to drop the pace a tiny bit, being just that tiny bit more deliberate with my stride, taking care to sense into how my feet are contacting the earth.
It’s really fun when you’re walking to do this, but you can do it in whatever posture you’re in really.
The key thing is to allow the awareness to soak into the parts of the body where it contacts the ground — maybe the soles of your feet, your back if you’re lying down, or your seat if you’re sitting.
Feeling into those sensations there and sensing how the earth is supporting you — its gravity, its solidity.
Again, plugging into the earth, using our awareness. An opportunity to recharge.
The type of meditation we’re doing here is actually quite ancient and relates to the four elements, as our ancestors understood the universe to be made up of: we started with fire, in the form of stars, and then moved to earth.
There is also of course water and air — the elements of fluidity and adaptability, of movement and expansion, but we’ll save those for another day.
Today, and for the next week ahead, let’s keep in mind the idea that when we feel the need to recharge, we can.
When things feel dull, we can turn to heat and to fire, that within us and that all around us.
And when things feel flighty or disconnected, we can turn to the earth to ground ourselves — stability and steadiness always available.
So thank you Jason for reminding us that what we need is all around us when we drop the noise and turn to that which gives us energy.
And thank you. Knowing that you enjoy the show so much is a big source of energy for me for sure.
We’d love to hear your personal reflections from Jason’s episode. How did you relate to his story? You can find us on all your social media platforms through our handle @MeditativeStory, or you can email us at: [email protected].