For Russell Simmons, the Only Goal Left to Achieve Is Total Enlightenment
Photo courtesy of Russell Simmons
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
You can take the New Yorker out of the noise and the noise out of the New Yorker, but internal speed is immutable. Spend two minutes with Russell Simmons and the root of his "Rush" nickname becomes obvious.
It's 9 a.m. and the Queens-bred mogul has already meditated and taken his two daughters to school. He moved last year to this two-story, Buddha-filled, Beverly Hills - adjacent estate to be close to them. And now, at an hour when most are groggily taking their first sip of coffee, Simmons hits the elliptical machine at a sprinter's pace, fielding phone calls with a caustic tongue, espousing the virtues of meditative stillness.
"You find yourself feeling brighter with better brain functionality. You feel more connected and awake," says Simmons, a Jivamukti yoga devotee, transcendental meditation apostle and spiritual seeker. "Enlightenment sounds slightly frivolous and lofty, but the idea of living fully present and awakened all the time? I believe in it."
In addition to past lives as the co-founder of Def Jam and creator of Phat Farm, Simmons is the co-author (with Chris Morrow) of the new meditation primer Success Through Stillness. The Gotham Books release currently sits zazen at No. 6 on the New York Times Best Seller List ("Advice, How-To, Miscellaneous" division).
Besides spreading the dharma, the book chronicles Simmons' evolution from party animal to animal rights activist, humanitarian and urban yogi. It outlines meditation's physical and psychic benefits, while demystifying and dispelling all potential reservations, including lack of time or religious conflict.
Simmons also details his success in sharing the tradition with Ellen De-Generes, Oprah Winfrey and the stars of the NBA's Miami Heat.
"I started going to yoga for the chicks, but soon started reading yoga sutras and learning the meaning of yoga." Simmons speaks swiftly in his workout room, sweating in a crimson hoodie, gray sweatpants and beaded pendant.
"I got addicted," Simmons, 56, says. "You still want be high and dumb down the noise; the best thing besides drugs was yoga and then meditation."
It's impossible to forget you're in the presence of hip-hop's first branding and marketing guru. Every inch of the walls is covered in plaques honoring his philanthropic efforts.
His phone frequently erupts with the ringtone of Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." After this interview, he's heading to a development meeting at MTV with the head of his Def Pictures. Afterwards, book promotion continues on The Queen Latifah Show.
If there's an ideal evangelist for meditation, it might be Simmons. For all the Sanskrit philosophy, he's retained his streetwise New York skepticism. He's the first to tell you that he's no hippie, even if his goals include building a spiritual center in L.A. and getting meditation into Chicago public schools.
He's wary of truisms about stillness being at war with modern technology. The pioneer of the old rap industry model launched All Def Digital to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the Internet.
"Sometimes you stare at a screen so hard it promotes meditative concentration," Simmons says. "Fast-paced stuff will come at you and so will slow stuff. There's always going to be noise, but none of it's real."
For someone whose synapses fire as fast as Simmons' do, meditation is the path to creating at a navigable speed. He's a longtime vegan who has accomplished greater awareness without becoming remotely passive or apathetic. More crucially, he seems legitimately happy, a rare commodity among industry titans addicted to the next score.
"They say that if you seek anything in this world, it should be enlightenment," Simmons says when asked what's left for a man who built and sold empires in music and fashion before 45. "I want to be happy all the fucking time. Who wouldn't want to be naturally high all the time?"
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