‘Meaningful life’ author John Bruna
July 22, 2016 – Post Independent
by Will Grandbois
Carbondalian John Bruna’s new book, “The Wisdom of a Meaningful Life” won’t officially be released until August, but locals will have a chance to get an advanced copy in a special event at 6:30 p.m. July 25 at the Third Street Center. The books will also be available through Bruna’s Mindful Life Program, at Explore Books in Aspen, and on Amazon. The Post Independent recently caught up with Bruna to talk about his life.
PI: Tell us about your childhood.
JB: Basically, where I grew up in southern California, everybody went to prison. As a result I had some different skillsets. I basically found drugs, alcohol and violence as a path to be OK. I had an incredible mom, but she was one woman raising nine kids. I always wanted to be a good person; I just didn’t know how.
PI: How did you come to Colorado?
JB: When I turned 18, I wanted to change. We went looking for work. It was like “The Grapes of Wrath” with 13 of us in a truck with everything loaded up. We ended running out of gas and money in Grand Junction. There was a homeless camp under a bridge near Palisade. My daughter was born the next year. I lost that family due to my behaviors.
It wasn’t until later that I had an epiphany, which was of course a result of pain. It became clear that this suffering wasn’t because of how I was raised or my environment, it was because of the choices I had made. On August 21, 1984, I woke up and didn’t use alcohol, and I still haven’t almost 32 years later. I found a different question than “How can I feel good?,” which was “How can I help?.”
PI: What happened next?
JB: A friend of mine thought for some reason that I’d be good working with teenagers. I don’t know why, because I didn’t even talk to people. I worked on cars. I grunted a lot. Anyway, I interviewed at this high-end treatment facility in Burbank as an entry level tech, and they gave me a job.
I went to school and got my counseling certificate and wound up later running a facility. In that journey, I found my daughter again and got to raise her.
The journey of being dad made me think about career, and I ended up as a senior account manager, but it wasn’t fulfilling, so I wound up teaching. I thought that was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, but that’s when I met this old Tibetan lama.
Ultimately, I ended up becoming a Buddhist monk. I taught high school for three years in robes, kickin’ it with the homies, then spent three years in the monastery. I transitioned back into the life of a layperson in 2012.
PI: Tell us about a Mindful Life.
JB: Basically, the idea is to draw upon my whole life experience. I’ve had this wonderful opportunity to live in pretty much every socioeconomic condition, and with that I found that it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how you’re raised, there’s an underlying difficulty of finding your own worthiness and value in life. We designed a program to help people remember what their values are and find a way to engage in a way they find meaningful. It’s practical, universal, and not religious in any way.
PI: What made you decide to write a book?
JB: I was asked to as part of this process. I’ve heard that the best way to write is as though you were speaking. I speak all the time, so what I did with the book was come from a place of sharing.
The key thing that I really wanted was to make it accessible to everybody. Right now mindfulness is mostly in the genre of upper middle class white PhD’s.
What about the single working moms? What about the people of color? What about the mass of the United States? I think this could be a voice reminding us of our shared humanity.