Yoga people who meditate their way to superhero powers. That’s the basic, and amazingly original, concept behind James Connor’s debut novel The Superyogi Scenario. It’s fast-paced action, suspense, and spirituality all rolled up in one yoga mat.
James wrote Superyogi during a meditation retreat that was three years long. (You probably could develop super powers after meditating for that long.) Now there’s good chatter in Hollywood about Superyogi becoming a movie, and James is meditatively at work on the next book in the series, The Superyogi Seduction. He talked about how he went from sitting in quiet meditation to creating superheroes trying to save the world in this interview.
Name: James Connor
Creative expression: Author
Latest project: The Superyogi Scenario: Rise of the Unusuals. It’s a new take on the superhero story where supernatural abilities emerge from yoga and meditation instead of radioactive spider bites or lab mishaps. It’s based on authentic verses from The Yoga Sutra. However, not everyone uses their powers for good.
Have you always been creative, or did it come to you later in life?
I’ve always been excited by how creative other people are. I’m the first to geek out when people write songs, tell stories, bring products to life, and design something the world has never seen. Later in life, I learned that the karmic cause of creativity is rejoicing in other people’s creativity. When your heart gets excited about what other people do, you find that your own ideas pop to the surface too. It’s a nice cause-and-effect relationship.
Who was your first mentor?
When I was 30, I met heavyweight Buddhist lamas who gave me the most meaningful piece of advice I’ve ever received: “All the happiness in the world comes from taking care of others. All the suffering in the world comes from taking care of yourself.” The wisdom comes from Master Shantideva (8th century) and his practice of Exchanging Self and Others. Essentially, you try to stand in other people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. Then give them what they want and need. I’ve found putting other people first makes everything work nicely and more people happy.
Is The Superyogi Scenario your first book?
It’s my first fiction novel. I owned a successful advertising agency in New York City for 14 years. I had a non-fiction business book in 2009, The Perfection of Marketing, which several critics were kind enough to call “Marketing Book of the Year.”
Talk about what you were doing before the book.
I had been studying the great texts on meditation from the past 25 centuries in the Mahayana Buddhist and yoga lineages for 12 years. Before I went to work, I would meditate on the people I would see that day and what I could do to help them. My heart and mind felt so clear after many years of meditating that a new thought emerged: I started wondering how far an ordinary Westerner could transform their heart and mind if they devoted themselves fully to the path of meditation. I was willing to be a bit of a spiritual test pilot, so I sold my business and undertook a 1,000-day isolated meditation retreat.
People generally think meditation is about clearing your mind; did scenes of your hero, Diamond Mind, dealing with your villain, Physique, start popping into your head in between mantra repetition?
That would be my mind shifting off my meditation object! So no, I was disciplined during my meditation sessions. My main meditation objects were examining if I could maintain love for everyone no matter how they treated me, and investigating the ultimate nature of reality—to discover the interdependence between deeds and my experience of reality. Those meditation objects are fascinating, so fortunately, distraction wasn’t much of an issue.
You wrote Superyogi on your weekly day off from meditation. How long did the book take to write?
When you do a long retreat, anything over 3 months, one piece of advice is to take one day as a kind of play day. On Saturday nights I wouldn’t get up for a 4 am session and sleep in. It was glorious. I would still do a morning meditation session, mostly because I love to meditate.
Then on Sunday afternoons I would sit and write. I imagined I was taking someone to a movie so they could experience some of the wisdom I had worked so hard to taste in retreat. It was a fun creative challenge. In the end, it took 4 years. Kirkus Reviews said that it “may have invented a new sub-genre.” It gives me confidence that the world is ready to explore authentic philosophy in new, fun ways.
What’s an average day of writing for you?
I only have one rule when I write. I check my motivation: Will reading this help someone? I know people’s lives are precious, that they are too busy, and they have lots of things competing for their time. Am I giving them a unique experience on each page that will be meaningful for their lives? With that motivation, the words flow.
You opted not only to self publish, but to launch your own imprint, Sky Grove. What led to that, instead of going the traditional publishing route?
I have this deep belief that there is an audience of spiritual people who are longing for more meaningful mass-market entertainment. I started a publishing company to do that, and not just for my books, but for other talented authors with significant spiritual experience as well.
The other main decision factor for me was timing. If I had gone through a traditional publisher, they most often take 18-24 months to release a book as there are many books in their pipeline. By creating Sky Grove, we could get this story to readers inside of six months.
Is writing an imperative for you, or is it a means to an end (like, a method of carrying a spiritual message)?
The question at the front of my mind is, will this benefit people? I’ve had some level of craft since I was young. I won a Raven Society Award in support of my creative writing when I was at the University of Virginia, but I didn’t ultimately decide to pursue publishing. I could write plot points, but didn’t feel like I had important enough things to say.
It wasn’t until 20 years later that I published a fiction novel. I write when I feel there is something valuable to communicate. Otherwise, I just stay silent.
When I do write I try to choose the most compelling way to do it. Sometimes it will be through a novel, or a movie script, or through blog post. Or I’ll write a meditation course as I do through GoBeyond.org, which teaches people how to meditate from authentic scriptural sources. Always, having something important to say comes first.
If you had to choose among your superhero creations, who would you want to have lunch with if she or he were a real person?
Physique, the main villain of The Superyogi Scenario, is on my mind — mainly because she’s the person who needs the most help. She’s a yogi who gets twisted when a peace activist she loves is killed as collateral damage in an allied drone attack. She snaps and comes to the conclusion that the only way certain governments will stop abusing their power is if they understand how bad it feels. She gets caught up in the cycle of revenge. You don’t want to develop supernormal abilities when you have mental afflictions.
Physique wasn’t always a twisted yogi, so even though she would be very scary to sit down with over lunch, I would want to try to dissuade her from her course of action. There are likely to be some of those moments when Physique reappears in the second book, The Superyogi Seduction.
Has your writing schedule changed now that you’re not meditating full time, six days a week?
After I meditate in the morning, I write for a few hours each day. Lately, it’s been converting The Superyogi Scenario into a Hollywood screenplay. I think it will improve my fiction writing in novels. It’s like writer’s cross-training.
Do you have some favorite books on creativity?
I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Robert McKee’s Story. It’s mainly for screenwriters, but his insights about what makes for compelling beats within a scene are magnificent.
Where do you think creativity comes from?
Rejoice in other people’s creativity. It tells your mind creativity is important and cool. Then your mind wants to play, too.