On the Power of Gratitude, A Conversation with Jewel

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25 years since her debut, she talks to us from lockdown in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado

2020 is a momentous year for Jewel, the 25th anniversary of her debut album, Pieces of You, with an exclusive anniversary package of the album to be released later this year. It was also 25 years ago that we last spoke, for an interview for Musician magazine about Melissa Etheridge, who was starring in the VH-1 show Duets, which she was taping that day. For this she invited some newcomers to duet with her, including Jewel, Joan Osborne and Sophie Hawkins, all of whom were still unknown. Jewel’s performance was passionate and poignant both, and from that moment on everyone knew Jewel.

Jewel, “Grateful”

This occasion, though perhaps more consequential, is less cheerful. We spoke a few weeks ago in the midst of the lockdown, and discussed several of the projects she’s been busy doing during this time. These include a weekly Live from San Quarantine speaker series every Thursday at 3 pm PT on twitch.tv/inspirehouse to raise awareness of mental health issues. These are a series of surprisingly deep and informative conversations with experts, thought leaders and musicians.

Part of the mission is to raise funds by getting at least 5000 people to pledge $1 a day for a year, with one-hundred percent of proceeds going toward at-risk youth. Jewel’s already raised over $550,000 for her foundation, Inspiring Children.

Growing up with no running water on an Alaskan homestead, Jewel became a homeless teenager in San Diego, and from there ascended to the highest ranks of this industry. From the very start her career happened powerfully; her first album was one of the best-selling debuts of all time.

But coming from dire circumstances at such a young age caused anxiety, something she’s battled for years. Doing so, she’s become a champion for the power of mindfulness, which we discuss in the following interview. She offers free mindfulness exercises and an online mental health community at JewelNeverBroken.com. Now during this Pandemic, with much of America on lockdown, the resultant isolation has caused a dramatic rise in mental heath problems. The rate of suicide is about 300% higher now than usual. So she is doing her best to share her message of mindfulness, and other strategies for dealing with the perpetual fear of this situation.

Her embrace of mindfulness is reflected in her new single, “Grateful,” which we discuss in this conversation. It’s a song, she said, that was informed by her own struggles with anxiety, and by one of the most powerful kinds of medicine for it – gratitude. The power of gratitude to combat anxiety, as expressed in the song, is profound. “When darkness is all that I see,” she sings, “there is a remedy… the sun’s gonna shine in this heart of mine.”

We spoke to her over the phone from her home in Colorado, where she’s on lockdown up in the Rockies with her son.

“It’s not that different, though,” she said, “from our normal lives. We spend most of our time outside. In nature.”

AMERICAN SONGWRITER: Your new song “Grateful” is powerful , and with a message we need now more than ever, in the midst of the lockdown and pandemic. To focus on the blessings at hand, and remember they’re not gone.

JEWEL: Thank you. And yes, I agree. It was inspired by anxiety. Past and present. And it is about the power of gratitude to fight it. Because now is a time of more anxiety than ever and people are suffering, I really see the pandemic as threefold. There’s the virus, economic fall out and then mental health fall out. I don’t think I really was up to planning getting through each one. Suicides tend to dramatically increase during the pandemic and isolation right now, suicide hotlines are up 300 percent. So I think we need to be really thoughtful about our mental health discussion.

Jewel, “Grateful,” Live

The danger of  loss of life from mental health followups is actually greater than the virus. Again, it creates variety. Not all of us will get the virus, but pretty much a hundred percent of us will be touched by anxiety, worry, and depression.

I think we have a long road ahead of us. This is an unprecedented time in history. Never had world events led to the whole world going through this pretty much all at the same time. And it’s going to redistribute. I don’t know if things are going to go back to normal.

We need resiliency. We need to be present and reading the signs in real time to understand how can we restructure and support ourselves, if we are overcome with anxiety it makes that process much harder.

It’s good that you and others are emphasizing the impact this is having on kids.

Yeah. Getting out in nature for a lot of families is hard. I see the parents that have multiple kids in the city and they’re trying to do multiple home schooling. It’s a lot. Parents are dealing with so much. And again, I’m just sort of advising people to remember what our children will take away from this. If we don’t get all the homework done, they will survive. That’s life. But creating a mood with calm and interest and fun during the pandemic is really important.

Obviously this is hard for adults. But it must be really unusual for a child to go through this, and for so long. What’s the best way of helping them through this?

I think shielding our kids from the brunt of the news is really important. There’s a lot of studies that show that we shouldn’t actually expose our kids to the huge world at too young of an age. They kind of can’t comprehend even, you know, tornadoes, or world disasters, and other things that make the world dangerous. Psychologically I think they really first have to feel like the world is a good place, and then as they grow older, they can start to build on that and realize things happen. Tragedies happen.

They need to learn that it’s  not scary to be alive. I think that’s extra important right now. So again, not having the news on in the house helps. I get my news from the local medical websites and the government websites, just to sort of minimize the exposure to what’s happened in the news, where they hyper-focus on everything. I call it “fear porn.”

We have to limit our exposure, especially for our kids. We have to be responsible. So for my son, he’s doing okay. He knows about the virus. It’s just a hard time for a lot of people.

“Grateful” is perfect for now. Yesterday here in Los Angeles I listened to it, and it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and for a moment I forgot all about the pandemic. And for this sun I felt grateful. As you are singing, “the sun’s going to shine in this heart of mine.”

Thank you. It felt like the right song for me right now. I learned about power of gratitude when I was struggling with really intense anxiety and panic attacks when I was 18 in San Diego, living in my car.

I learned that there are only two basic states of being. There’s dilated, where you feel open and calm and relaxed. And there’s contracted, where you don’t. I realized I could hack my way out of an anxious state by forcing myself dilate, like participating in gratitude. Every soft feeling or action leads to one of two things, the joy, gratitude, curiosity and observation that’s going to make you open and to dilate. Worry, fear, anxiety, grief, jealousy, etcetera, cause you to contract.

I remember the first time I was able to do it, it was feeling of the sunshine through this tree on the street corner in San Diego, and I am profoundly grateful for that moment that I have right there. It warded off my panic attacks for the first time. Incredible thing.

You know, when you suffer from anxiety, you realize if you find something that works it can be powerful. That’s what I wrote the song about. Only we can give up our happiness, nobody can take it even in the most extreme and adverse situation. Many of our greatest leaders and greatest artists have found ways to make it work for them. You know, this time that’s happening. We have no control over what’s happening. We do get to choose what it does to us, remembering that is very empowering, not convenient, but very empowering.

I realized how much power I was giving away. Constantly. I was constantly worried, constantly anxious, constantly. And there’s lots of reasons to worry, but it doesn’t help. And so at some point you say, all right, well, if I’m not going to kill myself, what am I going to do? At this point I knew nobody’s coming for me. I have to come for me.

When we’re absorbed in worry, we don’t see it. The most effective way to change your life, sadly, is showing up. It sounds so simple, but it’s hard.

It makes me think of Tom Petty’s song “Crawling Back To You,” and the line “most things I worry about never happen anyway. Which is so true.

I love that song! My son is a singer in a band and they do that song.

Really? That is great. Cool he knows that song.

My son has great taste in music. He loves Bob Dylan, he loves Blood on the Tracks, it’s his favorite album, he loves Bob Marley, loves Hendrix. He likes a lot of classic music.

Has the anxiety extended through your music career?

I think it was most intense when I was younger. At this job, even so many people in my profession, they OD or have psychological breakdowns, it’s a difficult job. You have a lot of very sensitive people, probably with typically diverse or difficult backgrounds, they come into an industry that’s hard. You don’t get to sleep at the right time. You’re encouraged to drink or do drugs. You aren’t given a lot of downtime to recoup or rest, you’re really kept going. And then if you make it you’re really expected to keep going. Psychologically it’s a lot to digest.

For me, when I got discovered my number one job was to be a happy person and number two job was to be a musician. Really had to stay true to that. Nobody gets out of this for the anxiety. And if we’re doing a job, right, we should be changing all the time. You know, pushing ourselves all the time, which means you’re going to be uncomfortable a lot.

So having the skillset, I need to slow down and to digest what’s happening or whatever a person needs to be able to deal with that change. That’s not something we’re typically supported to do. I was very radical in my job; I took years between records at the height. No manager or label wants that, but I had to do it because I didn’t want to become a statistic. You know, from a kid who moved out at 15, to then being a statistic of somebody who is famous, you just see it over and over and over. And I was just willing to do whatever it took to make sure that wasn’t me.

I was lucky that my label was always very supportive of me artistically. I always got to do the art I wanted. I always wanted to make the art I wanted, I got to dress how I wanted. They supported me in taking all the risks and all the changes that I did. I made it very clear I am a singer-songwriter. It’s a very different thing than being a pop singer in a sense that the things that I listen to that I feel that I want to write about are particular. They knew that about me. I didn’t want to be famous more than I wanted to, hopefully, be a great writer. For a long time.

That’s a hard thing to do. It’s turns people off. It’s individual, you know, every artist has to find their own way through that. I’m sure they weren’t thrilled that it took years between records. But, again, this isn’t an industry that typically supports an artist not making money for two years.

“Grateful” is a powerful song, and the vocal is great. It made me realize what a soulful singer you are.

Thanks. Yeah. I have a song out right now called “No More Tears” and if you listen to both of those you kind of get a grip on where they’re going. It does kind of have a throwback Seventies old school vibe. For me, that was really fun to cover some new ground and a challenge for writing as well.

Your San Quarantine show from home during lockdown is a cool idea, and a great fundraiser. You’ve already raised $550,000 for your foundation. Right?

Yes. So many people are hurting because of Covid. So I’ve done fundraisers. People in Vegas, where I have my foundation, are destroyed by this. 95% of the parents of our kids have lost their job, so keeping our kids in housing and all has been a challenge, so we did some fundraisers.

And I’m continuing this speaker series, called “Live from San Quarantine,” where we have professors talk about mindfulness and mental health. I’ve also had friends, like Brad Paisley, and fellow musicians that are doing amazing in the world.

I know mindfulness is integral to your work. Can you explain what mindfulness is?

It’s about being consciously present, and how to build a muscle of learning to do that. It’s about figuring out how to put mindfulness into motion. There are certain exercises that are practical, that will help retrain happiness. Happiness as a side effect of habit. Some of us were raised with households where there were good habits being taught, and happiness is a side effect of that. Mine wasn’t that way.

So we actually have to retrain our brain, which is not easy. When we’re young, we’re getting trained and programmed without realizing it, and as an adult you have to be conscious about what you are learning.

There are exercises that are very simple to help with this, and you can find them at www.jewelneverbroken.com They are simple three-minute exercises that just sort of tackle one habit, one at a time.

Mindfulness is just being present. It’s the magic of being present. Because that’s when you can change things. You have that when you can see opportunities, if we’re not present, we can’t. So it’s an important skill to learn because so many of us aren’t actually present and a lot of the opportunities that we wish we had are passing us by, because we don’t really actually notice them.

That’s a great lesson for everyone, and especially for songwriters. Thanks Jewel. Great to talk to you again. I am grateful.

[Laughs] I am, too. Thanks, I really appreciate it.

Jewel’s Foundation: Inspiring Children

Free Mental Health Tools: jewelneverbroken.com

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