CHASING STORM CLOUDS
Jasson Salisbury and Mia Taninaka choose surf, art and meditation over stress and mass media. No wonder they’re stoked.
He calmly steps away from the table and heads out help Ziggy reel the cloud in. Mia’s all joy, sipping a purple smoothie with her belly popping forward, full with their next babe on the way. Later, Ziggy screams through the house with no pants on to let us know he’s done a shidoobi on the grass. They’ve just moved back to Australia after a handful of years abroad and are settling in comfortably.
These are people who own their own time. Jasson ‘Salsa’ Salisbury’s known as a smooth operator in the water and on land it’s no different. He’s recently completed a meditation teacher training and is passionate about sharing the way that sitting calmly for 20 minutes at a time has changed his life. Mia Taninaka is an artist of all sorts, known primarily for her colourful, animistic paintings. If spirit animals had psychedelic spirit animals, they’d probably be Mia’s paintings.
Between the fervent screechings of their little wildling Ziggy, I ask Mia and Jasson about the life they’ve built together around surfing, art, meditation, travel and raising a family. SW: You’re the front-page editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. What do you run as the cover story and make everyone read about? Jasson: Probably something about how bad it is to be reading the Sydney Morning Herald – or any other major paper – as your main source of news. There are so many quality outlets that provide information unaffected by self interest and/or political agendas and you’re settling for nonesense that avoids real issues in favour of fear mongering and celebrity gossip. It’s a soup made of nothing and it creates division. It’s just crap. I don’t know how that would go down as a front page story but it’s something I think about a lot. How people are brainwashed and distracted by what the mainstream media wants them to read while real stories are being untold or purposely avoided.
It’s sad how the worst things make the biggest headlines. Jasson: If you’re constantly absorbing that, trying to digest all that crap then how can you get on with your life? If it’s just bad news, bad news, bad news, you become consumed by it and then you spend all of your time trying to make sense of it. You need to get rid of those intrusions if you hope to evolve.
You teach meditation, how did it come into your life? Jasson: The stereotypical kind of idea of meditation is that you have to make sacrifices – like it’s this reclusive way of life that’s about retreating from the world. That it takes lots and lots of time and commitment. But Vedic meditation is specifically for “householders”, people who are integrated into the Western mode of living. The goal isn’t the meditation itself, the goal is about improving the way you live your life, and the meditation is just one small element that you do twice a day. You don’t have to change anything. You slip in these meditation sessions and it instantly improves the way you go about your day. When I first started meditating I was living on the Northern Beaches and studying graphic design in the city 5 days a week. Then I was doing labouring work 5 days a week. I was finding it really hard to stay on top of projects. I was getting stressed and had anxiety and I started to ask myself: “Is this how I want to be living? Is all this the life for me?”
And is it going to be this way forever? Jasson: Exactly. I was questioning that. “Is this just how it is? This can’t be it!” I started searching around for how I could get beyond those feelings and I got onto some guided meditation practice and that opened the doors. My buddy then put me onto Vedic meditation and from the moment I learnt it, everything started getting better. All of these cool things
We're half way through our interview and Ziggy calls out from the front porch I've got one! I caught a storm cloud! He's two and wielding his new tip shop fishing rod skyward. The joy of seeing Ziggy doing this makes Jasson smile.
started happening and lining up. I was finally getting on top of all of that accumulated stress and the anxiety began leaving my life. Opportunities presented themselves almost like magic. And that’s continued through to today. I believe things fall into place more easily when you’re meditating twice a day. Nothing more than simple 20 minute sessions.
You touched on the point that some people find the idea of meditation inaccessible, like it’s only for certain types of people or that it comes with all these rules about how to live, but at their core these practices are about making the stresses of life easier to cope with, about creating a calmer internal environment so you don’t end up saying or doing things that you can’t take back. It’s a very difficult thing in this modern world to deal with your own shit well. Jasson: Totally. And I did hit a point where I was like “I wanna go and sit in a cave and just meditate.” But that felt like the easy option. That’s the challenge for us; how do we integrate spirituality and daily life? We’ve lost a lot of our connection to spirituality due to our education and conditioning. I’ve found weaving those worlds together to be empowering and liberating.
Where does creativity fit in with all of this? Jasson: The source of your being is where creativity comes from and it’s a bit like a tap. If I stop surfing, or if I don’t meditate, my creativity becomes so clunky. Not necessarily in terms of making art, but more in the way I think and problem solve and even in my interactions with
Zig. When I’m taking good care of myself and feeling really grounded and solid, the creativity flows. Things become graceful.
Mia: It really depends on what you’re tyring to put out there. A lot of people thrive on depression – not just depression, but negativity – and that’s when they feel most inspired to express themselves, when they’re at their worst. If I’m in a really good place, I’m at my most inspired and motivated and my imagination will go off in its own way. If I’m painting under pressure, like a deadline, that works in a way, but it takes me so many goes of drawing or painting to get something good. Basically I need to clear out the crap first. It’s like that Artists Way book by Julia Cameron, you do your three morning pages every single morning so you get rid of all the crap in your head that’s not necessary, so then all the good stuff can come up after.
What pulls you away from your creativity? Mia: Laziness. That’s a big one. I can come up with so many reasons why I don’t have time for something. This guy’s a good reason ( pointing to Ziggy).
Jasson: It’s funny the way your minds tricks you into thinking there’s not enough time to do stuff, when really making time is exactly what’s going to take you to the next level, especially creatively. Mia: And you do feel funny inside if you don’t act on that impulse. You feel unsettled. When you get that agitation you might not want to work or be creative, but that’s exactly what you need to do to feel inspired again.
You’ve both chosen careers where you get to manage your own time. Why is that important ? Mia: We’ve tried to build our lives around happiness. If something is gonna stress us out, then we choose to go the other way. There are times when you gotta do stuff that you don’t want to do – like pay rent ( laughs) – but for the most part we’re pretty good at challenging
ourselves in positive ways. And we keep each other in check. I know Jass will sometimes feel like, “Oh, I’ve gotta take care of the family,” or whatever and it’s like, “Yeah, but it’s not helping anyone to do something that gives you no joy or satisfaction just to make sure the money is coming in.” If you do something you’re really passionate about I believe you’ll become successful in those areas.
It’s a lovely philosophy but how do you navigate between the reality of lean times and the thought of having to get a crappy job to provide for the family over staying true to your passion? Jasson: It’s so scary. There might be a certain decision that, from a logical standpoint, will bring in finance and provide security, but if it doesn’t feel right I’ll try to listen to that feeling rather than to the conditioned logic. It’s difficult to have faith that it will all be ok but we’ve all got an intuitive voice and I believe that if you can listen to that voice honestly then you won’t regret the choices you make. And I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy overcoming these fears and limitations. Slowly you get more comfortable with this way of thinking. I remember reading a book by Gurdjieff, Meetings with Remarkable Men. He was on a quest for knowledge and he was so intelligent with the way he went about making money that it became fun. The fear of it was replaced by excitement. Rather than be overwhelmed by problems he enjoyed the challenge of solving and overcoming them.
I find your artwork really magical, Mia. It inspires a sense of wonder and magic and personification of the wild world around us. Mia: My art is a visual of what is there. I always see weird animals and stuff in bathroom tiles. I see faces in everything. A lot of people do. I think that it’s really cool
– there’s a face there! I guess I’m trying to unveil and show what’s possible to see around us if we open up and open our eyes a little bit.
I love how you’re not afraid of wild and vivid colour in your work. Mia: I have struggled with trying to pull back the colours. I really do like things to be colourful.
How do you know when a piece is finished? Mia: I have no idea ( laughs). I definitely know when it’s not done. I spend so much time just sitting back from a painting, looking, and trying to figure out what it wants.
Some people might question if that’s a good use of time, staring at a painting. Mia: I guess it’s better not to surround yourself with the kind of people who question the value of enjoying art ( laughs). But I can see their point.
If you had to have one song play every time you walked into the room, what would it be? Jasson: I can’t remember the song but it’s a bunch of guys dancing in overalls with their armpits out.
Mia: The YMCA? ( laughs)
Jasson: No, no. Come on Eileen! Yeah that’s it. I don’t know why I got the visual first. So when I walk into any room, there’s like hairy men in overalls with their armpits out dancing on the street ( laughs).
It seems like y’all like to steer clear of overtly planning your future. I wanted to ask you about control – with surfing, art, meditation – they can all be exercises in confronting how much we can or should control. Jasson: With surfing, as soon as I’m trying to control stuff, it feels clunky. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t feel good. I get way too caught up in the head space and forget about how good it feels. And that’s exactly how it works with meditation. I guess we try to set a loose intention, and that’s as far as our planning goes. The intention is there, but how we get to the end point is just up to the cosmos…
A lot of our culture drives us toward locking in the marriage, mortgage, career and with no flexibility. To decide that you’d rather be open to spontaneity and the unexpected is still a pretty radical thing for a family. Mia: It’s pretty scary, as well. There’re times when we’re like “Man, it’d be so good to have some stability’, but then think about what that comes with and then we’re like “Nah, we’re doing pretty good.” When we think about all of the things that we’ve done we just wouldn’t want to change any of it.
Jasson: Why chase security when there is no security. Everything’s constantly in a state of flux, nothing’s ever stable in the material world. You’re hunting security in a place where it doesn’t really exist. It’s liberating to try and become more comfortable in those places that are a little bit scary because you never really know what’s coming.
What do you hope happens when we die? Jasson: We just end up in one of Mia’s paintings. It’s crazy how no one really talks about death, but it’s a certainty. It’s not like I’m excited to die, but I do find it kind of exciting. It’s the ultimate unknown that we’re all moving towards.
Mia: I remember reading this story about two babies in a womb. One of them says “I can’t wait to see what happens when we get to the other side.” And the other one is like “Nah. There’s nothing out there. It’s just death.” And the more optimistic says “You can hear the mother. If you really listen you can hear and know that there’s something on the other side.” And the pessimistic one says “Nah. There’s nothing there.” It’s pretty much the exact same as here. Surely this isn’t just it. It doesn’t seem like something to be frightened of. But, I mean, I don’t really wanna die any time soon. I like it here.