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photo credit: Domiriel via photopin cc

photo credit: Domiriel via photopin cc

COLUMN: Radical Compassion

Interview with Jerry Colonna, Chair of the Board at Naropa University

  • conducted by Cameron Wenaus of retreat.guru and Sarah Lipton, Shambhala Times Editor-in-Chief
  • transcribed by JR Gilness, Shambhala Times Volunteer Editor
    written by Amanda Hester, Shambhala Times Volunteer Editor
  • “And in that moment, he was finally able to accept it all. In the deepest recesses of his soul, Tsukuru Tazaki understood. One heart is not connected to another through harmony alone. They are, instead, linked deeply through their wounds. Pain linked to pain, fragility to fragility. There is no silence without a cry of grief, no forgiveness without bloodshed, no acceptance without a passage through acute loss. That is what lies at the root of true harmony.”
    ~ Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

    Jerry Colonna, a former venture capitalist in New York City, is now a business and life coach integrating Buddhism into his and others everyday life. If you do a little research, you find that he’s worked for JP Morgan, helped begin the entrepreneurial ecosystem Silicone Alley, and been hailed by magazines like Forbes and Upside as being one of the more influential businessmen out there in today’s New Economy.

    He is also touted as being a Jedi-like yogi who can help you live a genuine life and meet the demands of shareholders; though rumour has it he’ll probably make you cry in the process. Jerry helps people find their ‘ah-ha’ moment, so we decided to find out what his was.

    Jerry talks about two moments that come to mind, when his heart said ‘ah-ha’, when everything clicked in terms of his contemplative path. With the first, he talks about the first time he met Pema Chodron, when he was still fairly new in his exploration of Buddhism, still very much in his head, reading as much as he could possibly read.

    It was 2003 and there was a fundraiser event going on at Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s apartment. Jerry describes, “It was kind of cool. I didn’t know it then, but everyone who was in the New York Buddhist Mafia, they were there, which was really cool, and I’m walking around, just totally lost, and Lou is walking around in tight black leather jeans and a t-shirt, and Laurie is being Laurie, and it was just mind-blowing.”

    During the evening Pema came in and began to give a teaching on the nature of groundlessness and impermanence. Jerry notes that it was the first time he had ever encountered “a truly powerful teacher”. He was doing what most of the people in the room were doing, thinking, “Oh I get it, this is really starting to make sense”, when suddenly Pema pauses and says: “Now some of you are sitting here thinking ‘I get it, this makes sense’. But what you’ve done is, you’ve just slipped ground in beneath the concept of groundlessness.” Shaken, Jerry blurts out, “Well that’s not fair!” But Pema just looked at him calmly and said, “Catholic, right?”

    Jerry remembers feeling that with this simple response Pema had cut through his desire to know the catechism of the path, helping him to realize that he had been looking to replace one form of ‘the right way’ with another form of ‘the right way’. He describes getting a chance later that evening to just sit with Pema for a few minutes, and ending up “in a puddle of tears, just crying, and she leans over to me and taps my hand and says, ‘Honey, you’re not open enough. You think you’re open. You need to open more.’ And I felt like I was dissected, like she had just sliced me open, taken out my organs, put them on the table, and said, ‘Huh, look at him.’ So that was one powerful ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

    Jerry’s second moment came from one of the sutras, in a teaching that was very profound. He reflects on it, paraphrasing what the Buddha was saying to his students as, “Don’t take my word for it. Try it. If it works for you, great, and if it doesn’t, great.” Jerry says that this sentiment in the Buddhist teachings, “Blew this little catholic boy’s mind, because this was non-dogmatic philosophy. I thought, ‘what? I actually am responsible for figuring much of this out myself?’

    I felt a wave of relief because it meant that not only was it scary, but I was in it. I could just work with what is, instead of constantly struggling to get the pat on the head, the A+, the ‘atta-boy. I had to just do it myself.”

    Read more articles in the Radical Compassion column by clicking here.


    CEO Coach Jerry Colonna

    CEO Coach Jerry Colonna

    Jerry Colonna is a certified professional coach and currently the Chair of the Board for Naropa University. Previously, he was a venture capitalist and co-launched Flatiron, which became one of the most successful early-stage investment programs. He was also an investor with JP Morgan Partners and a founding partner of Internet-specific venture firm [email protected] L.P. On Naropa’s board of trustees since 2010, he was included in Upside Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the new economy, Forbes ASAP’s list of the best VCs in the country, and Worth’s list of the 25 most generous young Americans.

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