Words and photos by Jason Goldwatch
At some point in my memory of it all, I slowly awoke. I was an adolescent enthralled by art, mischief and awareness. I was young and curious and happened upon the impossibly complex miracle of psychoactive molecules. I was gifted with tiny glimpses through the veil. I was seeking and was given simple answers to impossible questions.
It became a time of brave psychedelic mountaineering that teetered on a neon edge of ancient wisdom and complete psychosis.
I’d like to just blame it on Nancy Reagan. But, in American public schools, no one speaks about finding consciousness, about being aware. No one teaches about waking up a being, a spirit of light locked into a fleshy body of water standing on a spinning round rock floating in an infinite black void …
The monotony of a life that was prepared for a young being on Earth made no sense to me, and thus I began to crack it and shift it and peel it apart. As most young and curious folks do, I turned to “religion” for answers. But, to me, religions spoke of fear and control and were riddled with grubby human hand prints. The religions I saw didn’t speak to what I fundamentally knew on my own.
So I turned my back on organized religions, scoffed at the new-wave Bay Area cornball thing surrounding me, and forged my own path into the exploration of awareness. I knew the truth I was seeking ultimately lies within myself. And there were no spiritual heroes that held any weight in my young, rebel mind.
That is, until I began to hear about the lighter side of one of my most favorite SF-based bombers, Michael LeSage, a.k.a. GIANT. One of my personal heroes of street art, and to me a true wizard of the night, and a real leader of the “fuck you!”
It was a long strange path, but through an assortment of mystical experiences and conversations with new heroes (such as Mike) that I would begin to wander home.
Mike loves Mass Appeal and is with spreading wisdom through words and magic. He was kind enough to sit with me one sunny afternoon in Golden Gate Park to discuss how he fell into calling what he sees unfolding as “Buddhism” in this strange experience that is being alive.
My man — the master wizard and grand dudebro — Mike Giant.
Mass Appeal: What’s the one thing you try to keep in the forefront of your mind every day?
That this life is impermanent and I should be doing everything I can to stay healthy and make a positive contribution.
How do you balance being an ancient sentient being made of electric, infinite love source with taxes, Big Macs and police officers?
I guess my balance comes from not filing taxes, not eating meat and avoiding the cops. It’s a lot easier to feel the love when you’re not in debt, not consuming murder and not in jail.
I feel I’m here to inspire and open young hearts and minds to how amazing and precious life is. Why are you here as Mike, bro?
We’re on the same trip, homie! I see lots of potential in the world around me and I feel like I have some power to inspire people of all ages to explore their own potential. That’s what it’s all about.
If I suddenly awoke on a road and didn’t remember where I was going, and had forgotten where I had left from, it would be pretty fucking intense. But that’s what’s happening essentially right now; how am I supposed to deal with that?
Are you alluding to the feeling of timelessness and ego-lessness when you’re in tune with the present moment?
I mean being born, having forgotten where I come from and facing a death I know nothing about.
Oh, okay. Well, on one level, the conflict over birth and death, like the idea of birth and death itself, is a construct of the thinking mind. You’ll realize that for yourself if you sit in meditation for a few days and get yourself into an egoless state. Once you’re there you’ll really see that birth and death are just ideas, nothing more. They have no basis in actual reality. The real living Universe has no beginning and no end. And since I’ve personally accepted the timelessness of the Universe, I no longer see death as an endpoint but a point of transition. I feel like modern science explains this point well. Scientists estimate that an average human being contains 4,700,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of hydrogen. When you die, none of those hydrogen atoms die. They just move on. You feel me?
When I look around I feel like it’s not balanced, it’s not fair. It seems like evil outweighs good. Why, dude?
Because it’s so easy to be lazy and apathetic about the Evil that’s at work around us. It’s harder to get motivated and be the change you wish to see in the world.
I’m not religious, but when I describe how I think about it all, it’s been described as Buddhist. How did you come to settle in Buddhism?
It sounds like you are getting to understand the nature of Reality in your own way and simply hearing the same ideas in Buddhist philosophy. The same is true for myself. Of all the different schools of philosophy, Buddhism has always made the most sense to me. It’s as simple as that.
Have you thought about leaving civilian life and dedicating every moment to the dharma?
To be honest, I don’t think you have to leave civilian life to dedicate every moment to practicing the Buddha’s teachings, or dharma in this case. The Buddha taught a way for each of us to find enlightenment in our own way based on our particular circumstances. Granted, I think monastic practice can accelerate one’s understanding, but I don’t think it’s the only way to embody the Buddha’s teachings.
I can’t put into words the main benefit, so let’s just say it can make modern life easier to deal with. For instance, if you’re waiting to see a doctor, instead of getting anxious and impatient, meditate. If you’re stuck in traffic, meditate. If you’re nervous waiting for a date to arrive, meditate. If you’re having a hard time getting to sleep, meditate. You feel me?
I think people don’t meditate because they’re afraid they “don’t know how.” Explain how simple meditation actually is.
Of the many different kinds of meditation practices, I generally practice Vipassana. It simply uses the breath as an object of concentration. I just sit comfortably with my back straight and upright. I close my eyes, shut my mouth and breathe through my nose. I just try to relax and breathe naturally. I keep all my attention on the physical sensations of breathing. I concentrate on the feeling of air moving in and out of my nose or concentrate on the rise and fall of my belly as my body breathes. When I notice that I’m thinking about something, anything, I just bring my attention back my breath in a loving, non-judgmental way. That’s it. As thoughts arise, I come back to my breath — over and over. It’s so simple.
Why are people so afraid to die?
I can only speak for myself. I feel like I have a lot to offer the world and I simply hope I get the opportunity to continue my work and my mission. I also want to experience the full range of human experience, including old age. I look forward to be a wrinkled old man.
Why am I in a dimension where fear rules everything?
Our culture thrives on fear and we are products of our culture. Take the movie industry, for example. The movie ratings board will approve a Quentin Tarantino [movie] that features hundreds of graphic murders and won’t approve a movie that plainly depicts a hard cock or a wet pussy. What does that say about our culture? It’s teaching our children that murder is fine and sex needs to be hidden away. Fuck that shit. And fuck Quentin Tarantino!
What do you fear?
Colon cancer. That’s about it.
How do you interpret starving children and abused animals?
What do you mean by “interpret”? Like, why are there starving children and abused animals at all?
I mean, how am I supposed to understand why some children are raised loved, nurtured and warm at night, while some are abandoned and left in the dark? “It’s their karma” is too simple for me here.
We don’t get to choose birth, as an animal or a human being. We don’t get to choose our parents. We don’t get to choose where we are born or into what kind of household. Nor do we get to choose the karma we are born with. That’s part of what karma is. Thich Nhat Hanh described that to me as “Ancestral Karma.” He also helped me understand that karma is affected by my actions, that through my actions I can uproot the unhelpful karma in my life and replace it with helpful karma. And we all have this capacity to overcome our unhelpful karma, whether we were born in the gutter or a palace. All are created equal!
What’s going to happen when I die?
In the physical sense, like I explained earlier, your body, or vessel, will decompose and the atoms of your body will disperse and reconnect with the world around you. Simple as that. To me, it’s pretty obvious that when the brain dies, so does the thinker. I don’t believe we have a soul that somehow contains our personalities and accumulated experiences, but I have seen compelling evidence to the contrary (just look into the process that Tibetan lamas go through to find their reincarnated friends.) What I do believe is that I will live on in my works and in my influence on people’s lives. That’s why I draw so much everyday and agree to do interviews, like this one.
What is love?
A single word with infinite meanings. In the grand scheme, I see love as the base positive/creative energy of the Universe. In the earthly, day-to-day way, I see love as the intention and capacity to offer and embody joy, compassion and equanimity.
What is hate?
The negative/destructive energy of the Universe, expressed by us humans as indifference, oppression and ignorance (see Quentin Tarantino.)
Am I an ape locked in a fractal, or is there a divine plan unraveling for me to experience?
I don’t think the Divine has a plan, but it is inside you waiting to be discovered.
‘The fuck is up with China?
Shit, I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s up with my next-door neighbor, much less folks on the other side of the planet. I mean, I don’t watch TV and I don’t trust the media, so I’d have to go to China myself to let you know the real deal.
Why do I want to hug you?
Because I give the best hugs in the world! Well, second best. There’s a girl named Pakayla in NY that gives the best hugs in the world, but I think I’m a close second.
If you don’t have 10 minutes to watch the full video below, don’t bother. It’s a meditation in itself.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 53. Read more stories from the issue here.