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Mindfulness in Creativity

Lesson 1 of 1

Mindfulness in Creativity with Ajani Charles


Mindfulness in Creativity

Lesson 1 of 1

Mindfulness in Creativity with Ajani Charles


Lesson Info

Mindfulness in Creativity with Ajani Charles

Mm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mhm. Right? Yeah. Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creativelive. I'm your host, Ken Klosterman, coming to you from my home to yours, to the home of our guest today a genie, Charles. And before we get started with this episode of creative live TV where we are recording a brand new episode of our podcast, we are photographers. I want to invite you all to participate. If you are new here to creativelive. Welcome. We have a global audience that tunes in from every corner of our beautiful planet. And we love to hear from you and give you those shout outs. So whether you are tuning in right now on creative live TV, where there is a chat icon you can up in the corner, you can click on that type in where it is that you're tuning in from, or if you're on any of our social media channels, you can do that as well. Uh, so let's get started. I am super excited. Like I said, uh, to bring on the show today. Johnny Charles. Johnny is a photographer, a director producer, a mental h...

ealth advocate, and he is a Canon Canada ambassador he's based in Toronto. Johnny has just done so many amazing things in his career and continues to, and I'm thrilled to start to speak about some of those and share a lot of the things that he's done. But just to give you some highlights. He's the founder of The Visionaries, which is a Toronto based photography and cinematography, nonprofit and educational programming that mentors youth. He created a photographer photographic documentary called Project T Dot, which is a visual chronicle of the city. Toronto's hip hop culture. Uh, he has worked with incredible clients a spanning from H and M UMG Christian Dior. The call map app, which is a definitely something I want to talk to. His work has been featured in publications such as Complex Jay Z, Jay Z's Life and Times and Vogue. Uh, he has worked with many icons, including Arianna Huffington, Drink Washing Clan, Spike Lee, Director X and so much more. So please help me welcome Johnny Charles here to create a live Johnny. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Yeah, thanks for having me. That. That interest was so great that I think we can We can end this right now. I don't need to say anything. I had to leave off a lot of that Johnny as well, so it truly is. You know, I I was first introduced to you, um, the, uh our CEO, Chase Jarvis and his white Kate. And just even sort of reading everything that you do and have accomplished and, you know, such backstories as well that we'll get into, um I'm just really excited to bring you onto the show. And, um, again, we talk about not just your life and your path, but also the mindfulness, the tools and and how creativity is related to mindfulness and how you've used mindfulness with regard to career the arts, Um, and life in general. So I was thinking we could just start Johnny by What does mindfulness mean to you? Because a lot of people may not even be super familiar with what that term even really means. Write to me. Mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment. So everything that's happening in the present moment in your immediate vicinity being consciously aware of your body, the nuances of your conscious mind, um, your immediate environment. What? You're wearing things of that nature. And the non judgmental aspect of mindfulness is is hugely important because once we start judging our thoughts, bodily sensations, etcetera and then we're out of the present moment, I think it's, um there's so many a number of things in there that are important. But I think that the non judgmental part is super important and an interesting way to think about it because judgment and self judgment gets in, you know, in the way of so many of us. So let's just kind of learn a little bit about more more about you and your journey before we continue the conversation. Perhaps, uh, more about mindfulness. But of all those things that I rattled off in the beginning, what are you working on right now? That is sort of the most exciting and meaningful to you. And of course, I didn't even list off all the projects that you're involved in, right? Right now, I'd say for the first time in my life, 100% of the projects that I'm engaged in, including media engagements like this one, are meaningful to me. So there was a point in my life certainly seven years ago, when very few of the projects that I took on were truly meaning and fulfilling to me. I would take on a lot of work for money or for status, for example. But now, um, everything I take on everything I'm involved in currently is in alignment with my life's purpose, my values, my short term goals, my long term goals. And it took a long time to get to that place. It took a lot of trial and error, a lot of failure. If you want to interpret certain events from that paradigm, um and yeah, I have. I have a lot of projects on the go project. Healthy Minds is an American project there, A new non profit that was debuted on the Today Show with Carson Daly. I believe in October, So Project Healthy Minds aims to, uh, mitigate or reduce the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness in the United States and elsewhere, while providing millennials, especially with as many mental health resources as possible. And today we released a comprehensive survey on millennial mental health in the United States, which I can share with you and the creative live audience. After the show Um, As of September, I became an ambassador for Canon Canada, which is why I'm wearing this jacket. I've been shooting with Canon Products since I was 12 years old. So it means so much to me to represent this brand I've never purchased any photography equipment that wasn't made by Canon. Absolutely love their products. Their new E S R system is incredible. So very grateful to be working with them and engaging in a variety of projects under that umbrella Operation Prefrontal cortex is, uh, one of the projects I've been investing a lot of time into since 2019. Um, that was co founded by my colleague and mentor, Julian Christian Lutz. He's professionally known as Director X. Um, in Canada. He's he's the most prolific music video director. There's there's him and everyone else. And what happened in 2000 14 or 15? I believe he was shot at his own New Year's Eve party. Basically, someone is at his New Year's Eve party was shot in the back, and the bullet went through that individual and hit him. Um, so when he was able to transcend the trauma of that event, he began doing research on what would cause someone to be so angry and reactive that they would bring a firearm to a party and discharge it in a public forum. Um, and he found out that it comes down to childhood trauma and an imbalance of New York chemistry in the brain, which basically results in the amygdala, the fight flight system in the brain being overactive, and the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of executive functioning and planning and rational thought and decision making and conversations like this that becomes, um, smaller. So a lot of violent individuals, or rather, most violent individuals have an amygdala that is to overactive too dominant, whereas the prefrontal cortex is not active enough. And that's why they black out and lash out violently. And I've been in many dangerous situations. I've seen the rise in violence that's happening in Toronto first hand. So what we do at Operation Prefrontal Cortex is we're reducing gun violence, mass violence and police violence in Toronto through mindfulness and meditation, and we're working towards having our program implemented throughout the Toronto police services through the Toronto throughout the Toronto District school board and elsewhere. So we're beginning beginning that process at the moment under the constraints of covid 19. Wow, that was a lot just to, you know, I'm fascinated by by neuroscience as well. And so, like, there's one thing when you kind of understand that, okay, there are things we can do to calm ourselves. But then when you step into the level of researching and coming to understand the science behind it mhm because, I mean, a lot of times people think like, oh, meditating, you know, is Woo Woo or or something like that. Um, but But once you start to explain, sort of that, like you said, they make the fight or flight. And what? And trauma and what our brains are actually sort of actually trying to help us or what have you, um, have you seen that? Therefore, you're able to like when you're working with police forces or to implement programs. Does that understanding of the science help people kind of, uh, switch and and be more open to it. Do you think, um, it definitely helps, Especially in regards to pitching what we do to various organizations. Um, but the the proof is in the pudding. The best way to understand meditations, effectiveness and the effectiveness of other mindfulness tools is to engage in them. And it's It's unbelievable how my life has improved as a result of my mindfulness practices and all of my colleagues and meditate say the same thing. There is a lot of science on the benefits of meditation. How meditation can be used to address anxiety, depression, PTSD, um, how it improves. Focus how it can be used to relieve pain. There's a study that showed that, um, daily meditation is as effective as some antidepressants, as as some S S r I s. So there's a lot of science on this topic, and there are more studies in the works, especially as meditation becomes more and more popular. I noticed the other day that com one of my clients, they just reached 100 million downloads. So and there's and you know, so many public figures meditate and talk about the benefits, the benefits of meditation. Um, Chase Jarvis is the CEO of your company. I know that he meditates all the time, so it's becoming more and more popular, and I believe that as it grows in popularity, more funding will go towards the science. The science behind mindfulness is, uh, benefits. Absolutely. And I, um I'm also one who who, like you said the the and I want to get more into to your story as well, because the fact that we just talk about these things means that, you know, allows people to understand that they're not alone. If people are also experiencing, um, whether it's anxiety, depression, you know, stress, or you know, all the things, physical pain, like you said, Um, so and and it's something that I have a meditation practice, mindfulness practice, which is not just mean, like sailing. And we'll talk to this. But, you know, meditation does not just sitting, there are many different things. Um, that you can do that our mindfulness practices. But it's been life changing for me as well. Uh, and so I just I I think it's amazing that you're out there doing the work, not just for yourself, but then, you know, seeing how you want to realize these things for yourself. You see how it could impact your community in the world and beyond. So can you take us? I mean, I know you publicly share sort of back some of your early earlier stories, whether it's seven years ago or or, you know, just when you realize that you weren't living the life that you wanted to be living and And what was that sort of, um, experience of this realization for you? Yeah, absolutely. I can. I think I've become effective that summarizing my life story in less than five minutes. So I'll do that now. Um, I was born in, uh, Laval, Quebec, which is not too far from Montreal. Um, my father, he's a He's a professor of scholar, a writer and an editor. My mother is a psychiatric nurse. Um, and at the age of four, uh, I moved away with my parents to Haiti. That's where my family, my ancestors come from. Ultimately, they come from Africa. But, you know, within the last couple years, Haiti. So because of the volatility involved in living in Haiti and a lot of the socioeconomic strife there, we moved from Haiti to Toronto when I was five years old, and that was great. I made I'm an only child, and I've always being effective at making friends. So made some great friends when we moved to Toronto, I'm still close to many of them to this day, and since I was a kid, my parents noticed that I was always inclined to create. Visually, they recognized that I had a talent for painting for drawing, etcetera. So at the age of three, my father, who has always been supportive of me, have me audition for the Cloud Watson School for the Arts, which is in the North York district of Toronto. So the Cloud Watson School for the Arts is I'd say it's the Canadian equivalent of Juilliard, So I I loved it at that age. Um, at the in Grade four, you're immersed in all forms of art. So you're dancing, singing, drawing, painting, acting every single day in addition to taking on the type of curriculum that other students would. And at that point I found myself experiencing anxiety and depression. That may have been one of my earliest experiences of anxiety and depression, and there's multiple reasons why that was. Some were probably related to genetics. Um, my childhood etcetera. But I certainly missed the friends that I made in my previous school, so I quit the cloud. Watson School for the Arts early on went back to the quote unquote regular school system from grade 5 to 8. Then I realized that it was a mistake. And when I realized that quitting Quad Watson was a mistake was when I started falling in love with photography and I started studying photography at the Toronto School of Art, the Toronto School of Art was basically a private school and arts based private school for adults. So I started taking photography lessons at the age of 12, and everyone in my class was 2030 40 years old. And I started learning how to shoot with SLR cameras, how to shoot with film, how to develop film, and I fell back in love with art. I realized that quitting Quad Watson was a mistake. So I auditioned for the Cloud Watson Arts Program, which is the secondary school iteration of the Quad Watson program in Grade eight, and I got in and I became a visual arts major. Now, now it's a common practice for students in the Cloud Watson School of Art to audition a second time, but I believe at that time I was the first student ever to get into the program twice. Um, so when I was in the Cloud Watson Arts Program at Earl Haig Secondary School at the secondary school level, um, I started to dive deeper into my passion for art, and I started engaging in a multitude of extracurricular activities. It's also important for me to note that, uh, in the sixth grade, my father moved away. He started teaching as a professor, first at Brown University and then at many other universities around the world. So it's worth noting that I went from a two parent household as a kid to a single parent household from Grade six up until my, you know, up until much later. So that really threw me off in high school, not having my father around. We were. We were very close prior to him moving away. But when he when he moved away that that was, I realized in retrospect, that was quite traumatic for me. So in high school I poured myself into academics and extracurricular activities, and that was one of my many maladaptive coping mechanisms. I would be at school in high school from seven AM to seven PM I was on the basketball team, the rugby team, student council, countless clubs. And I was just coping with anxiety, depression, fear and uncertainty in these ways that were, um, socially acceptable but harmful to me in the in the long run, and I was immersed in the arts. And then by the end of high school, I got into numerous schools in the United States and in Canada for photography specifically. But I had an existential crisis, one of my first ones. At that point, I wasn't sure if it was possible for me to become a professional artist. I wasn't sure if photography was for me. So at the last minute before university began, I attended. Uh, I decided to attend the University of Western Ontario, now known as Western University, to study philosophy because I believe that philosophy would help me find my way in life would help me clarify my career path and make sense of the world. You don't know anything as a teenager. I don't know anything now, but it's even more the The ignorance is amplified when you're a teenager. Um, so I I attended the the University of Western Ontario, and it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I was so exhausted from the workaholism and perfectionism of high school that I mostly just parted for, um, the majority of my university years, and it was good to take a break. But towards the end of university, I realized that I had to make a decision about what my career path would be. And fortunately, taking a course on existentialism taught me that the wisest thing that I could do would be to align all aspects of my life with what I'm most passionate about. And I realized that that was art. It was art. All along throughout university, I was probably more depressed than I had ever been. And, uh, one of the reasons for that was because I was abstaining from the creation of art for the vast majority of university had taken a break from what I loved, which was much needed at first. But then it started to it started to weigh me down. So then I decided to become a professional photographer at that point, which was a path that you know wasn't as clear cut as decided to become a lawyer or a doctor, but I decided to go all in to do market research on photographers and filmmakers in Toronto to learn how to shoot digital SLR cameras, because I had to make the switch from film to digital and to network, because I knew that when I moved back to Toronto, if I wanted to become a professional photographer, I would have a lot of competition. And, you know, at that point, about two years after graduating, that's when I came across Chase, Jarvis and numerous other people that I began studying online. I began reaching out to professional photographers and filmmakers in Toronto and studying under them. Having my work critique, Um, I interned at the Torstar Corporation, which is the parent company for the Toronto Star, uh, one of the most well known publications in Canada. I was a production assistant at 235 films, which at the time was the most successful music video production company in the country, and I started learning, and when the recession hit, I realized that simply focusing on photography alone wasn't going to cut it. It wasn't going to help me to make a living financially, and it just wasn't practical. I realized at that point, Um, I need to diversify my skill set. So I created a production company at around 2000 and 12. Um, you know, producing video projects and things of that nature. And that was challenging because I didn't have a business partner. Um, I lacked in many forms of knowledge, and a lot of my fears and insecurities were unprocessed. At that point, I wasn't, uh, looking at myself, and I was still engaged in the perfectionism in workaholism that had plagued me in high school. So everything came to a head in 2014, including my my partying, which was partying, was like, also, um, you know, going to nightclubs and things of that nature was also maladaptive coping mechanism that I spent a lot of time engaged in. In 2014, all of that came to a head. I realized that the way that I was operating my business was unfulfilling and painful. The party that was engaged in was unhealthy and unfulfilled, unfulfilled and painful. All of my relationships were disarray. I just felt terrible. And I lacked this sense of self. I didn't have a clearly defined life purpose. Um, and you know, psychologically, I was falling apart. And that was another existential crisis that completely changed my life. Because I made a decision to under to begin understanding the nature of my suffering and how I engage in so many patterns within my relationships within my business, within my career, within my artistic practice that caused me to suffer and that caused others to suffer. So I did a full stop. Um, I had been seeing a psychotherapist since the age of 21 but at that point I decided to double my psychotherapy. I developed a journaling practice. I started practicing different forms of yoga and studying different forms of yoga like hatha yoga and Bhakti yoga. I started consuming every book that I could find on personal development, psychology, philosophy, etcetera. Um, and then I realized that this is the This is the preeminent problem of humanity. A lack of introspection, a lack of self knowledge, a lack of self acceptance. Um, I realized that what I was experiencing wasn't unique. It was common. It's at that point that I decided to become a mental health advocate to start working with different mental health organizations, like calm, like the Center for Addiction and Mental Health like Thrive Global like Operation Prefrontal Cortex Project Healthy Minds, etcetera. Um, so that's when I added That's when I added a new component to my career helping people helping young people especially transcend their fears and securities and mental illnesses. Um, I realized that I could combine my skills as a visual artist as a communicator, as a writer, as a speaker, um, in service of others, helping them transcend the things that were holding them back. So that's the short version of my life. Uh huh. Wow, I have so many thoughts and questions. First of all, I mean, thank you for sharing. And, um, you know, again it comes back to a lot of people when we don't like you. You talked about how you didn't. It wasn't until a certain point that you realized that you weren't the only one suffering and feeling this way. And, um and so it's even part of just knowing that you are not the only one is one thing. But then you're still sort of experiencing it, uh, and that just the knowledge that others are doesn't necessarily like fully take away. Um you're suffering and pain. Um, I'm curious we you you talked about when you were using coping mechanisms of, like, super productivity and, you know, and like you said something that's, you know, it's socially acceptable to be a workaholic or trying to to produce, produce, produce. And yet then it sounds like even when you started to, um, to dive in further to what you realize, you know, that you do love the photography of the film, making all of those things, you know, that you were still producing a lot. So, like, how How did you balance heading into now you're doing what you love, but it's still a lot, right. I want to talk about spiritual bypass, which is basically using seemingly adaptive adaptive habits and tools like mindfulness tools, journaling, um, personal development in a way that leads you to avoid yourself. It's like a very elaborate form of, uh, self avoidance. So this is a pattern that I've only started. I've only started to break recently, and so the perfectionism and workaholism that I described to you it's These are things that I've only just started to de tangle recently, despite all of my mental health advocacy work despite working with, you know, some of the most incredible mental health professionals. It's taken me at least seven years to start to let go of that, and I can give you an example. A recent example of how this played out. I went to my yoga studio about three years ago, and I left a bag there and and I just came to pick it up. I wasn't going to class and that, uh, one of my favorite teachers at the studio. I was going to a class every Sunday, 8:30 p.m. For three or four years. I would never miss that class unless I was traveling for business. I would never miss that class, and she looked at me and she said, Are you coming to class today? And I said, No, I'm just picking up my bag And she said, I'm so proud of you because I skipped her class like we had talked about this pattern. She knew how hard it was for me to break it, and that was a very small example of me breaking that, uh, that fear based pattern of workaholism and perfectionism so it can. It can manifest in ways that are socially acceptable and that people applaud you for in public. But you can die from workaholism and perfectionism just like you can die from a drug addiction. I believe that. I mean, I I often say that I'm a recovering perfectionist, but I'm still, uh, recovering because it is so deeply ingrained in your brain from childhood and all of these things that you talked about, uh, that it takes can take active awareness and practice and all of these things. Uh, and that could be that you often a lifetime. Uh, and but I think that's really interesting. Your story about how here you were going to yoga, which is a healthy thing to do. But that was still there's some aspect of trying to be perfect at going to your yoga class, you know, And and so I guess I guess I'd love to hear what some of your actual practices are. Um, that you have found. I mean, I know different things. Um are people are are attracted to different forms of mindfulness, but for a person, I think a lot of people can relate to being like Go, go, go I gotta go. Go, go and do do do and, you know, trying to manage so many things in life in in furthering my hobbies and learning and taking care of my family and making money. Um, what have you learned? Works for you. Right. Um, there's there's so many tools that have employed over the years. So I feel very grateful to be able to share what I've learned. I'm by no means an expert, but one of the ways that I first got into mindfulness was through sensory deprivation. Um, meditating in float chambers. So meditating. A friend of mine, he owned a float center. So that involves meditating in a pool of Epson salt in a dark chamber with absolutely no light and no sound. Um, with, uh, noise noise canceling headphones, so to speak. And there's no stimuli at all. And that helped me to get over my fear of being with myself. My fear of stillness, Um, my fear of my inner monologue and things of that nature. So, in the beginning, floating, uh, an hour a week for for months on end. Help me get over my fear of meditation. Then I discovered the com app, and I started using that every single day. Initially, it was very hard to sit and to be with myself and to confront myself and my fears and insecurities on a daily basis. But as I progressed through the com app and as I started developing a streak through the app, it's beautiful. How it gamify is the process of meditation. I became more comfortable with the practice. Um, bullet journaling has been incredibly beneficial. My journal since is, uh, nearly 1000 pages at this point, um, so really untangling different events in my life traumas that have experienced in childhood and adulthood has helped me a great deal. I think journaling is one of the most profound practices that a human being can engage in. Um, like I said, different forms of half of yoga in different forms of yoga, like half of yoga, back to yoga, et cetera. Um, psychotherapy has completely changed my life for the better. A couple of years ago, my my therapist since the since I was 21 she referred me to a cognitive behavioral therapist. So I now have a CBT therapist, and he has completely changed my life for the better. Improved that that type of psychotherapy has improved every aspect of my life and has helped me to challenge intrusive thoughts, maladaptive beliefs and patterns that are just not helpful to me and others. So that's been a huge, a huge benefit, a huge blessing in my life. Physical exercise, lifting weights, running. Um, incredible. There's there's enormous amounts of research related to the benefits of physical exercise, so exercise every day a journal everyday. I practice yoga every day and meditate every day. Um, I use an app called mind Doc. It was previously called Mood Path, but mine Doc is my is a mood tracking app, and that has improved my life in many profound ways. It's improved my vocabulary of emotions. Um, when I was much younger, I just thought that human beings rather sad or angry, um, or nervous, maybe. But now I know that there's thousands of pre mutations in regards to emotions, and cultivating emotional intelligence is being hugely important for me. Another very important tool is changing. Who I associate with my friends, my colleagues, my mentors, my clients. I'm far more discerning today than I than I've ever been in my life and, you know, compound interest. I believe it applies to all aspects of human life. It's not just a concept that is relegated to the world of finance. So if you surround yourself with individuals that are engaged in personal development, want to cultivate as much peace in their lives as possible have clearly defined life purposes, want to help, Others are altruistic, are creative and have similar goals and values as yourself, while you're just going to become more of that. But prior to 2014, I was going in the opposite direction in many ways. So associating with the quote unquote right people has been one of the most beneficial tools that I've employed. I've never heard anybody talk about compound interest outside of, you know, the financial world. And I really like that. Um, so, yeah, I'm gonna noodle on that one for a bit. There's because I mean, you're just laying out so many ways of approaching sort of the same ultimate sort of challenge of not of these, You know, the site, the negative self talk, the not being the judgmental. If we go back to you know what mindfulness is self judgmental, that limiting thoughts and all these things. But, I mean, it's a full time job. It is. And the reason I engage in these practices on a daily basis and the reason that I'm so vocal about these practices and about introspection and mindfulness and quote unquote self care is because I know what's on the other side of neglecting these these tools. I've been there. I know how bad it can be. Um, friends have died. Colleagues have died. Uh, I was meters away from the worst terrorist attack in Toronto. So to neglect these practices to not delve into one's consciousness to not take care of oneself can lead to chaos and not the type of chaos that we can't control but the type of chaos that is truly avoidable. So that's that's why engage in these practices. And that's why I encourage others to get to know themselves better and to take care of themselves. And, quite frankly, in the 21st century, this is probably the worst year to not engage in any of these practices. The pandemic has been so profoundly stressful on the vast majority of people. It's unbelievable. I mean, it really is. We're recording this in January coming up on a year. Uh, since many of us went into, um, stay at home or, you know, just till till since everything changed and everything always changes. Um, but you know, this This has been obviously, like you said, I think there's so many levels of stress that people don't even we don't even understand that we're in and trauma and all these things because you're in it. Um, and and so I think we've all had to become sort of this this flexibility in and and new learning new ways to cope in the unknown. And I know we were We were talking earlier about how we had to schedule. Reschedule. Uh, this, um, this live event because I lost power and the whole island, in fact, 300, people in the Pacific Northwest, um, lost power the morning that we were going to do this live. Uh, What? I mean, how what is sort of the awareness that there is chaos, and yet we always have to, like, navigate that. How have you approached that? Yeah, the the only constant is change. is a is a quote that I reflect on often, um, and, you know, due to my childhood and the coping mechanisms that I engaged and I haven't been effective at dealing with the unknown, dealing with uncertainty, dealing with chaos and mindfulness practices like mindfulness meditation have helped me to come to terms with the multitude of events, people and things that I have no control over. Um, stoicism, which is a philosophy that was developed in ancient, ancient Greece and ancient Rome, has helped me a lot as well. A quartet of stoicism is focusing all of your time and energy on living in accordance with nature and focusing on what you can control and letting go of everything else, which is often easier said than done. Um often were thrown into circumstances that are seemingly unfair and, you know, stoicism asks us to to accept those circumstances and to welcome them, no matter how painful they can be, which is very challenging. It takes practice and I fail every day. I have lapses and mindfulness. Every day. I lose my temper all the time. I experience anxiety, my experience, shame. I experienced self doubt. So mindfulness practices help me to ground myself and to realize that I can't control the outcome of events. I can't control other people. And I can't predict the future which contradicts how we're wired as human beings. We're wired for certainty. We're wired for prediction. We're wired for extrapolating. Um, so letting go of that in the face of something as profoundly chaotic as a global pandemic, for example is important. What can I control today? What is what defines my inner locus of control? Um, so for me, that's an that's an ongoing an ongoing project. I feel like you're you. I could be you saying the same things in that, uh, you know, these are all the things that I, you know struggle with as well, um, and and it it yet it is like it's still you wake up in the morning and it's still there. And so it's the, uh, talk to me about perseverance because you you mentioned that Yes, you still are. You know, experience the self doubt, the anxiety that you know. And yet you know you I know I have also invested a lot of time, energy and money in in trying to understand how to work with these things that still come up on a daily basis. But how have you, uh, persevered through not only through your mindfulness journey, but I want to kind of, um, step off for a minute and talk about, uh, like, even even you're becoming a canon ambassador. And this concept of of perseverance, you know, when you set your mind to, you know, this is something I want to achieve and you get a rejection or you get a like a No, but you like, keep going. Um, So talk to me about perseverance, right? I've I've always been I've always had a high degree of grid since childhood. Ah, and thankfully being in the Claude Watson Arts program and due to certain mentors and also due to my parents who I'm very grateful for, uh, I developed a high degree of self confidence within the context of the arts and later entrepreneurship. So, despite experiencing anxiety, depression, shame, self doubt and work has been perfectionism, which are pre mutations of shame and self doubt. I've always been able to persevere and work work towards my goals. Um, you know, I'm a writer for Thrive Global now that came about through cold emailing Arianna Huffington. She didn't respond to any of my emails for three or four months, and I kept sending them until I sent one that resonated with her. And then I started writing for the Thrive Global Platform, which, coincidentally, is, I believe, the leading platform for mitigating the burnout epidemic that many people are part of in much the same way. I signed a contract with a two year contract with Canon Canada, um, in September, and I'm so grateful to represent this brand. It's an amazing company. The executives at Cannon that I'm dealing with are incredible people. Uh, so I I signed this contract in in 2020. I first set my I first called Emailed Cannon in 2000 and eight, So I was basically calling an email in Canon Canada for 12 years, and initially it was just a grid brute brute force, so to speak. But after the existential crisis I experienced in 2014, it became more of manifest manifestation of mindfulness, of understanding that this company is meaningful to me. I can bring value to them. They, in turn, helped numerous people around the world. Their products and services are incredible. Their customer service is great. This is a good fit. I'm going to keep trying. It's the same thing with creative life. If if Kate Jarvis didn't respond to me, I emailed her 2021 2000 and 22. I would keep emailing and calling her until we, you and I would get on a colleague. And here we are. And here we are. So I think a lot of creatives, Um, because they're not engaging in introspection and mindfulness and because they have all these fears and fears and insecurities running the show from the vantage point of their subconscious minds. Um, they don't persevere. They send a send an email, they get no response, or they get to know. And then that's the end of it. They get rejected 10 times in a month, and that's the end of it. And to do, to engage in any creative venture, to be an entrepreneur, to be an artist. I believe that perseverance is incredibly important. However, based on the subject matters that we're discussing today, resting is also incredibly important. Uh, resting self reflection play hugely important. So work hard. Persevere. Never give up on your goals if they're viable goals, but also take breaks and sleep or you'll end up burning out as I have thousands of times. I think that's a that is a beautiful message. And I love the word, um, not just rest, but play because we can get So I find myself getting so serious and getting just really which is, you know, is is aligned with the anxiety and stress and and and so where does? And as adults, we don't necessarily allow ourselves this concept of play as much anymore because we're so focused on other things. But how have you you know, what does that mean for you? Yeah. This point for me plays just spontaneity, uh, randomly calling up a friend, going for a walk, Um, reading a book without any set plan, watching one of my favorite movies. Uh, you know, simply relaxing. I'm going for a light jog, calling up a family member things of that nature. And I can definitely I might be an extreme version of over seriousness and over seriousness is maladaptive to you can become too rigid psychologically if you don't have enough play if you don't rest enough, and I'm I'm definitely guilty of that as well. All right, give me your best laugh. Is this good? That's good. That's good. I I really appreciate, you know, just again. Like you're the sharing these stories allows other people to. I mean, I feel like a broken record, but to know that we're not alone, um, which, you know, comes back around to all of this important work that you're doing, not just for yourself, but then for other people. I want to continue to to sort of talk about this intersect of creativity and mindfulness and and sort of how obviously you've done a lot of studying of the brain and all of that. But But how you have seen manifest in your own life, Um, your your creative journey, right? Um, because of engaged in a lot of introspection and self reflection. Um, it manifests in my work, and I can now tap into parts of myself that were unconscious to me previously or that I was seemingly disconnected from, um and that also that is also informed my decisions when it comes to clients I ought to take on or believe I ought to take on colleagues and so on and so forth. Um, so in terms of the projects that I've taken on, most recently, they feel more in alignment with who I am as a person and my goals and values than ever before. And I believe that's a That's a reflection of cultivating mindfulness on a daily basis, even if I only experience a total of five minutes of mindfulness per day. Um, I've been able to tap into parts of myself that we're not accessible before, and my career has benefited from it. Talk to me about your work with the call map because, like you said 100 100 million downloads of the call map now it is one of the one of the ones that you hear about the most. Um, but where will you tell me about how you then, um, did you You did a piece of content with them? Is that correct? Right. I produced a video, co produced a video with Chris Atkinson. Ofcom. Um, he's the head of sleep stories. And something interesting about com that most people don't realize is that some of the most important team members are based in Toronto. And so I'm I'm affiliated with the meditation studio called Home, and I believe in and 17. I got an email from calm telling me that tomorrow Levitt, whose comes head of mindfulness, the most prominent voice in the app and certainly an individual that, uh, is incredibly important to calm success. I learned that she was having an event for her course on Gratitude at Home, the meditation studio in Toronto, and I was so confused. I was like, Why? Why are they have having it here? So I go there and I meet Tamara and I meet Chris, who's comes head of head of sleep stories. I find out that they're both from Toronto. I find out that Tamara went to my high school. She's 10 years older than me, but same arts program. And yeah, it was we connected. And I told him how calm changed my life for the better. And, uh, yeah, it was. It was profound because at that point I was disconnected from the combat. I was using it every single day, but I didn't know the people who are behind it. I didn't understand. And when I met them in person and got to got to know Chris and Tamara and some of the other team members. Later on, I was like, Oh, wow, these people truly care about mindfulness and introspection and about spreading these mindfulness practices to as many people as possible. So I ended up writing an Article four com, which Chris edited describing. It's called 232 hours because at that point I had put in 232 hours of meditation. It's about how calm changed my life. And after that they featured me in a video to tell my story about how calm the calm map changed my life. Um, through Christianne, who is, uh, one of the common team members. She's also she's also from Toronto, and she created the yoga studio that I just mentioned earlier. So there are so many. There's a lot of overlap there. Um, so after that ended up, you know, producing some videos for Com featuring one of my meditation teachers, Jeff Warren, who is also from Toronto. Um, so it's been it's been an honor. Working with calm and using the combat. I used it three or four times today, so it's an incredible tool. I highly recommend it to anyone who's, um, struggling to develop a meditation practice. I I think that it's so important to to to have something that you can return back two and back to. And it's, uh, it's awesome to hear the story of how you know you can't even it's not like you. Well, you are somebody who did for 12 years say, Hey, cannon, you know, high. But then you know, there's also these beautiful, um, alignment of serendipitous things that happened, Uh, and then it's taking advantage of those are not advantage but seeing opportunity in, you know, like you, seeing that this calm thing was happening event was happening at you know something. You, you near you and then just like going and going. And until these things align and happen, Yeah, I want to say something about serendipity. Um, it's, uh, and thank you for bringing that up. It's a It's a great word and concept. Canon reached out to me when I was on the verge of saying to myself, Well, I've tried enough. Um, maybe I won't reach out this year. It's been 12 years. It's not. Maybe this isn't for me. As soon as I said that they contacted my assistant out of nowhere. So I believe that in relation to perfectionism and workaholism, that's all about control. But often when we let go of control, the things that we want to come to fruition come to fruition or we experience something that's better or more in alignment with who we are than we could have ever imagined. So I just wanted to say that about serendipity have had so many moments like that where something serendipitous comes to fruition. And it was because I let go of the need for control, the need for certainty, and I and I let go of forcing things. Oh my gosh, it's such a good advice. I'm glad you know. That's a maybe a beautiful place to come to a close soon because it is my I. I always say my my daily practice is letting go, and but it's Yeah, even though I've been saying that for a long time, it's still this this, like not even still seeing clearly the the control aspect of that and how that can get in the way. Um of of um, yeah, just of that You're not even seeing the state that you're in or what have you? But I didn't realize that with the with the Canon Canada, um, that it was when you finally kind of let go of trying to control it. That that's when they got a hold of of Karlov of, you know, of you, that's pretty cool. Uh, an important life lesson to write, But they wouldn't have been on their radar had I not planted those seeds over the years. So I think where you know, people may get serendipity wrong is associating with a lack of work or a lack of preparation. Um, you have to meet the universe half away. Um, so I let go. But I was prepared, you know, I was prepared to work with Cannon. I was prepared to work with calm. Um, but the letting go is what, uh, let let these relationships to come to fruition. Do you believe in the word luck? Yes, I believe. I think luck can be synonymous with serendipity. And a lot of my quote unquote success has to do with luck. Um, at this point, I can say that because I know that what I perceived to be the external world or the material world is so vast and so complicated that I have little to no control over it. The pandemic is a perfect example of that. So when certain things come into my life that are beneficial for that are in alignment with my goals and values, that can't be all me. I'm I'm not the only actor involved. Absolutely, and and it's, um it's just it's so inspiring to hear your story. And I mean, there's there's we barely even talked about photography, which is often the case here on this podcast photography. All right, all right, that's our That's I mean, it's it's It's a piece of the It's a piece of the puzzle, and often we don't talk to photography here on this podcast. Um, if you're a regular listener, you you know that. But we talked. Go ahead. Yeah, The thing is, um, and I apologize for interrupting is if you're a passionate photographer or artist, Um, whether you're a professional or not, you're gonna figure out the technical nuances of what you do that for most. For most artists, for most creatives For most entrepreneurs. That's on autopilot. They'll do the research. They'll reach out to mentors. They'll go out and take pictures. But it's the psychological nuances of one's mind that most people neglect. And that's where creatives and people in general can get into all types of trouble. Um, you can be the best photographer in the world and have all types of lofty goals. But if you subconsciously believe that you're not worthy of those goals or that they are beyond you, you'll never reach them. So the technical aspects of your craft, the skill sets and things like that they're important. But if you neglect your mind many of the things that you want to have come to fruition won't I agree with you 100%? Mr. Wilson is, as I'm looking at these comments coming through, says 100% Connor Doherty says, Fantastic info and perspective, Really enjoying this check. It says so true with a heart. Uh, this has been really awesome. Johnny, I really appreciate your coming on the show. It finally happened despite the the, uh, the things that happened, uh, to conspire against us previously. But again, another lesson in when things happen, letting go. And as they you know, they happen when they're supposed to happen. You're involved in so many things. But I know, um, let's tell people where they can find you, follow you and kind of see all the links to all the projects that you are involved in and have talked about and, of course, will include a number of links, uh, in the show notes as well, right? Um, yeah. My social media handle is John at Johnny Photo at A J and I p h o t o on LinkedIn. You can you can look me up, Uh, under Johnny Charles and I promote all of the projects that I'm involved in through my social media. Uh, my website is w w dot johnny dot c a a j a and I dot c A. Um, So all of my current and future projects will be shared through those platforms, and I'm so grateful for this conversation. Um, for you, for creative live and for everyone involved. Thank you so much for having me. This is being a great honor.

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


In this episode, Ajani explains what mindfulness is, the research-based science behind it, and his personal journey to becoming a mental health advocate. You’ll learn about the many ways a mindfulness practice can benefit your creativity, career, relationships, and life. We discuss how being a workaholic or perfectionist can actually be socially acceptable coping mechanisms for anxiety and fear. He shares his favorite apps, actions, and tools that can help anyone come out on the other side of burnout. You’ll be inspired by Ajani’s life-long grit and perseverance to navigate uncertainty and thrive.


Ajani Charles is a photographer, director, producer, mental health advocate, and a Canon Canada ambassador based in Toronto. He’s the founder of The Visionaries — Toronto-based photography and cinematography non-profit and educational program, providing mentoring to youth. His photographic documentary “Project T Dot” is a visual chronicle of the city’s hip-hop culture. Ajani’s clients include H&M, Universal Music Group, Bridgestone, Christian Dior, Calm, and the UFC. His work has been featured in publications such as Complex, Jay-Z’s Life + Times, and Vogue. 


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