Five Questions: Yosi Sergant
Yosi Sergant lives at the intersection of art and social justice and believes in the power of creative people to accelerate change in the world. He thinks we rely wholly and deeply on creativity yet we invest so little time, love, attention, and wealth in that space. His goal is to change that dynamic. He is a community organizer based in Los Angeles and is best known for co-producing the Barack Obama “Hope” poster and campaign with artist Shepard Fairey.
We grabbed a bite at Jackson Market and Deli in Culver City and chatted about love being a conscious choice, his battle with alcohol, the fears that come along with fatherhood, and of course he answered Five Questions. Meet Yosi.
How do you define being “in love”?
“In love” is a state of perception. We’re constantly being offered love, and we’re constantly being given love. It’s when we’re able to actually see it and place intentionality on it, when it becomes visible to us—similar to gratitude, similar to fear—is when it becomes a centerpiece of our experience in the world. I’m not sure being in love is a thing that you lose or you gain. It doesn’t come or go, it’s an awareness beyond anything else.
I love my wife all the time. And I am in love with my wife all the time. Sometimes that state of “in” is heightened when I’m able to see it. When it’s a conscious part of my experience. There are lots of things in my life that I’m grateful for. That doesn’t mean I’m walking around in gratitude. Love is similar. Love is a series of actions, it’s a way of being, it’s a mentality and a thought process, it’s consistent and steadily there for you if you can focus on it and put it into awareness.
Me: I appreciate that. Love is a state of being. Sometimes we don’t recognize it.
Yosi: It’s there for me to tap into whenever I have the consciousness to surface it. Either consciously or unconsciously, it is made to surface for me. By somebody’s overt actions or by a life moment. But if you want it to be present and a conscious part of your life, it takes great intentionality, it takes work. You have to seed that and water and nurture it. It’s not something for me in my life that is just naturally there in permanence. While love is there ever-permanent in my life, being in love as a conscious sate, it’s work.
What's the most difficult thing you've ever had to do?
Facing mortality. It came at a point when I was on a trip with my father in the Middle East and he had a heart attack while we were on the airplane. He survived, I saw him yesterday. But this was an intense experience of electric shock paddles and CPR on an airplane. It was not an easy experience. It wasn’t the actual moment of medical emergency that was the hardest part of it. It was the realization that he wasn’t going to be around forever. It was the first time that the way that I was living in the world, with youthful reckless abandon, was challenged in a very real way and shook me to my core. Spending the next few weeks really handling it poorly. I drank myself silly. I numbed myself with weed and alcohol to a place of showing up when I needed to show up, but not in a way that I would be proud of today. I wasn’t absent, I was just not capable of supporting my family the way that I would today. That was really hard. Working through that was the hard part. That’s the most difficult thing that I had to challenge. Facing that reality and undoing the pain that I caused because I wasn’t able to really show up.
Me: What did you do to get out of it?
Yosi: It was a moment of great transition. It was not the end of the problem, it was the beginning of the end of the problem. It brought a lot of clarity to the way that I was living in the world that was selfish and self-engaged and destructive. It reminded me that I wasn’t going achieve goals that I had set for myself and that planning to be a version of myself in the future that I was proud of wasn’t enough any more. I had to start living like that person. That took time. It ended up with me having to admit that I was drinking alcoholicly, that I’m not able to run away from who I was and how I was living, having to make real changes how I was living in the world and how I was treating people and myself. While it sounds like a really horrible situation, it was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. It resulted in me having a conscious relationship with myself and my family and my community and the world at large. That, to me, is such a blessing.
Me: I’m a stroke survivor, so I’m familiar with being faced with mortality. For myself, not for other people though. I look at my experience having two strokes in two days as the best thing that ever happened to me. I got to go to the edge where I thought this was my last day on earth, and I got to look over the edge and say, “I’m grateful for everything that’s happened.” And that’s it. Now that I’ve come back from the edge, I’m able to see things differently. Being able to repurpose a tragic event into something that was the catapult to become the person you should be is huge.
Yosi: Being shaken into consciousness whatever that shake is. The AA slang is your bottom is when you stop digging. For some people it takes a stroke. For some people it’s a broken nail. For some it’s real arrests and real problems. Everyone’s shake-up happens. Not everyone, but a lot of people go through this. You hope it happens in soft and gentle ways, but unfortunately that’s not always the case, sometimes it’s too late and there’s real damage done. Going through it isn’t easy. Once you emerge, perspective becomes real. How you live in love, how you live in gratitude. For me it dramatically shifted.
Me: I’m glad it shifted that way.
Yosi: Me too! [Laughter]
What's your greatest fear?
It changes often. Recently, it’s associated with my kid and failing him in some way. Failing to set him up for the ability to reach his full potential. Whatever that is to him. I’m somebody who sleeps little, but sleeps well, and I’ve found myself waking up and thinking about it. I’m that sappy guy who’s crying during TV commercials and TV these days for some reason. I was on an airplane and I saw this bad cop show, I couldn’t get away from it. I don’t watch those things intentionally. I was just so upset thinking that this character was someone’s kid, and if that happened to my kid, I thought about how the potential fear being associated with my reality was crushing to me.
What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know before you die?
Peace. I have a very active mind. One that is often an unsafe place for me to be if I spend too much time there. So I think I would like to really explore mindfulness and an ability to slow myself down and to come to being at peace with the silence.
Me: Do you meditate now?
Yosi: Not really. For a long time, I was bike-riding in the city of L.A. with no car, and it was close. You have to stay hyperaware because there are doors and cars and potholes, but you’re pedaling for 45 minutes at a time which is a meditative state which I call active meditation. The breath and the blood and the sun and the white noise of what it all becomes. I was hyperconscious and also living in a very present way. You can’t spend much time thinking about your bills or your dog or your girl when you’re like, “Car, door, sunlight, boom.”
That practice, I found, was the closest I’ve been able to get to living in the present in the most honest way. Everything else has felt very heady. Which doesn’t feel as honest.
Me: Have you practiced guided meditation?
Yosi: I fail at it every time I try. It’s hard. I’ve taken guided, I’ve taken trance.
Me: Have you done chanting at all?
Yosi: As part of yoga, I’ve done it somewhat, but not in a way that I’ve given it a shot. The tactic of chanting versus meditation versus some other way of finding peace is unclear. I think I’ll be spending the rest of my life looking for it.
Me: Let me know when you find it. [Laughter]
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
I keep going back to a lot of emotional states. I’ll miss feeling needed, feeling loved, feeling a part of. I have great value attached to those. There are people who get great joy secluding themselves in log cabins and feeling self-sufficient and feeling empowered in that way. I’m not one of those people. The feeling that I get from showing up and feeling a part of my family, and the feeling I get that happened this year for the first time when my kid fell and scraped his elbow and my kisses were magical. They take on a new import when one kiss and his elbow is better. That feeling is unmatchable. It’s enough to satiate me for weeks, months, a lifetime. That feeling is the feeling I’ll miss the most.