John Mayer, philosopher?
Say it ain’t so.
With Mayer’s bevy of famous exes, “lothario” seems more appropriate for the Your Body is a Wonderland singer.
Maybe you know him for his crooning. Or songwriting prowess.
Or his ridiculously gi-normous sleeve tattoo.
In a recent episode of the Call Her Daddy podcast, Mayer demonstrated some RadReads-level of existential inquiry.
And along the way, he needled the world’s richest man.
When hostess Alex Cooper asked him about setting the record straight on his reputation as a “manhole,” here’s Mayer’s response:
You’re trying to eat the monster, who’s trying to eat you.
I’ve never heard a more true thing said about me. And I look at other people right now and say: ‘Elon Musk,’ you’re trying to eat the monster, that’s trying to eat you.
Finally, Mayer highlights the cost the eating this monster:
I don’t know where this idea of stubborn fight until death came from. You lose everything.
All week, I couldn’t help wonder: What monster am I trying to eat?
A story of clinging
Allow me a hard pivot here.
It starts in a therapy chair (courtesy of Mark Epstein’s book Zen and the Art of Therapy).
The patient is Jack (a pseudonym), a 60 year old man.
Jack’s asking his therapist a simple question:
“When will I ever be healed?”
There’s a backstory here.
Jack’s parents were Holocaust survivors who had lost their first families (including a young child). They had met in a displaced persons camp, got married and had Jack.
Jack was born in South Africa and now lives in New York. His parents are long-deceased.
He’s navigating his own adulthood, including a divorce, a new job and helping his kids transition into adulthood.
Yet Jack intensely recalls his parents’ sadness and expresses despair in “the impossibility of ever being free of their pain.”
To use Mayer’s word, the desire to be healed is Jack’s version of “the monster.”
Mark Epstein (both the therapist and author) describes this pattern as “clinging.” Clinging brings on suffering and unhappiness:
“Sometimes clinging shows itself in intimate relationships, when someone holds on in a needy way; sometimes it shows itself in therapy, when people can’t stop blaming their parents for ruining their lives; sometimes it is revealed when people repeatedly blame themselves in a punitive way for not being perfect; and sometimes, as in Jack’s case, it comes in the form of repetitive plaintive thoughts that take on a life of their own.”
Jack’s clinging, while understandable, created a “relentless and repetitive thinking that clogs our every day lives and obscures the pure mind of spontaneity that hides within.” Epstein points out that Jack’s early trauma “cannot be healed by simply pointing out its origins” and instead we can be “compassionate toward his childhood predicament rather than identifying exclusively with the pain of it.”
The “monster,” it turns out was this preoccupation of being healed yet it prevented Jack from taking “flight, to see the greater picture or hear the sweeter sound.”
Everyone has their monsters
As a therapist in a the hard-charging city of New York, Epstein documents countless stories of monsters and clinging.
There’s the couple stuck on measuring, comparing and demanding reciprocity in their marriage. Here, the ego pre-occupied with mental accounting becomes the monster that saps the love out of the relationship.
There’s a stepmother clinging to her unrealistic expectations that her step kids will love her like their birth mom. The monster here combines the expectations and the lack of control over a difficult familial situation.
And there’s the middle-aged epicure and lover of life. He’s a cook, collector of art and appreciator of fine things – who’s terrified of dying. The monster is his own “deteriorating maleness,” clinging to his “obsessive evaluation of women” when deep inside he’s an “egomaniac with low self-esteem.”
As for me?
Mr. Mayer made me think long and hard about my monsters. What was I clinging to?
Wanting to know that I matter. That I will be remembered once I’m gone. That I am more than a speck of dust in this infinite universe.
So my striving, my always-on brain, my urgency to create – much of it is driven by joy.
But it’s also driven by fear.
By the monster.
So back to John Mayer.
He offers us wisdom. Wisdom that comes with age and perspective.
We haven’t learned that “retreat” is an option.
Not all the monsters need to be fought. We can release the grip of the clinging.
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