The Dramatic Journey of Jason Meno
In today’s podcast, we interview the amazing but humble Jason Meno, who has been doing incredible programming for the Feeling Good App for the past year. Like everyone on our app development team, Jason was driven to TEAM-CBT and the Feeling Good App by his own personal struggles, and also by his training in Buddhism and his commitment to doing something to help relieve the enormous suffering endured by so many people in the United States and around the world who are struggling with depression and anxiety.
The podcast notes will focus first on how he recently came to join our app team, and then on Jason’s amazing early years in his search for meaning and a solution to his personal suffering and tragedies.
Jason’s journey to the Feeling Good App
Jason began the podcast by describing how he became familiar with David’s work. Then he described his own personal journey and search for enlightenment. I’ll summarize some of both in these show notes.
I was struggling with severe depression in 2020. I felt like my body was falling apart because I’ve been afflicted with type 1 diabetes since I was five years old. I didn’t have the resources to work with a therapist and felt hopeless, so I searched the internet, looking for a way of overcoming depression on my own. I first turned to apps for help, but my experience was not great.
I eventually found David’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. Through that book, I discovered that depression and anxiety are cons and that I was tricking myself. However, I didn’t use the tools or do the written exercises in the book.
I started listening to the Feeling Good Podcasts and waited for the new book, Feeling Great. Often, when listening to the podcasts I would start crying. I am not a crier, and this often happened in public, so it was pretty embarrassing!
I was also practicing meditation every day, but that didn’t provide much help. It does have its benefits and was a solace for me when I had nothing else, but after years of practicing, it still didn’t give me the tools to combat the thoughts that trigger depression and suicidal urges.
But then I had an “ah-ha” moment when David talked about resistance and the power of positive reframing. It was a tremendous relief to see that it was reasonable to feel the way I was feeling. I devoured the Feeling Great book but still wanted to die since I was still not doing the written exercises that David repeatedly urges the reader to do.
Then, on one of the podcasts, someone said, “you can’t challenge your negative thoughts in your head.”
I resisted that message and told myself that I had no negative thoughts. Many of my negative thoughts are quiet since you learn to empty your mind when you meditate. But then I realized that negative thoughts are just the top layer of your consciousness and that the concept of “cognitions” not only includes thoughts like “I’m a loser,” but also your daydreams, beliefs, and perceptions.
Then, once I sat down and wrote down my negative thoughts, identified their distortions, and challenged them with more realistic thoughts, I began to feel a lot better within five minutes!
If you, the podcast listener, are feeling down, there’s a step-by-step guide in Feeling Great that could be enormously helpful to you. I started following this guide, and then I really started to feel great. After using it a few times, I had the thought, “Wow, this could be a pretty amazing app!”
One of the first questions you ask yourself, “do I really want to feel better?” had a massive impact on me and, of course, is one of the unique elements of TEAM-CBT. And although I made mistakes while using the tools on my own, they still helped more than anything else I’ve tried.
Eventually, I saw a non-TEAM therapist who provided me with some great empathy and valuable perspectives while I used the TEAM-CBT process and daily mood log on my own.
Then I suddenly realized that I had no more suicidal thoughts. TEAM-CBT is a way for you to rapidly train your mind and develop a new mindset that reduces suffering. This is an important ethical issue to me, given all the suffering that remains throughout the world, and it reminded me of my Buddhist vow to help others.
So, I signed up to be a beta tester for David’s Feeling Good App. However, I was disappointed in the early version I tested and created a 12-page document listing my complaints. Then I reached out to Jeremy Karmel, the CEO of the Feeling Good App, and he invited me to join the development team.
I was so excited that I left my job as a data scientist working on an automated insulin device and joined the app development team. And although I was not familiar with the computer language Jeremy was using, I learned it quickly, and now I’m programming all kinds of cool things for the app!
Jason’s early years
You may or may not be familiar with Herman Hesse’s famous 1922 novel, “Siddhartha,” which traced the journey of the young Buddha as he was searching for personal enlightenment and unlocking the key to human suffering. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhartha_(novel)) I have not read many books, because I am a slow reader, but that one is short and has always been one of my favorites. Jason’s intense and dramatic journey reminds me of Siddhartha’s path.
Jason’s road to TEAM-CBT, his current passion, was not a direct one at all. Like myself (David), he was raised in a strict Christian home but found himself attracted to exciting and controversial topics when he was in high school, like astral traveling and “lucid dreaming,” which means becoming aware when you are dreaming so you can take charge of your dreams and do things in your dream world that you may not be permitted to do in real life.
For example, Jason has been treated for type 1 diabetes since the age of 5 and has to monitor his blood glucose levels 24 hours a day. Things like fresh orange juice are dangerous because they cause a spike in blood sugar, but in a lucid dream you can drink all the orange juice you want! I can identify with Jason’s yearning for fresh squeezed orange juice, because I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and we had many orange trees in our yard, so the orange juice was plentiful and incredibly delicious!
When Jason was a teenager, there was a magic / occult shop near his high school that he would joyfully and curiously explore after school, but his parents were dead set against it. They told him that he was exploring ideas promoted by the devil and threatened to kick him out of the house!
I also identified with these memories, as I also used to hang out in magic stores in Phoenix when I was in high school. But these were more the kinds of shops that sold tricks of various kinds that magicians could use.
Although Jason studied biomedical engineering in college, he continued to be fascinated by his more exciting “alternative” occult pursuits, and dropped out of college to join a cult in Sedona, Arizona. The cult members insisted that he could cure his diabetes simply by believing he could, so he obediently stopped taking his insulin and monitoring his blood sugar for one day and nearly died.
Jason described that his mother struggled with emotional issues. After running away with him twice when he was 10, she lost custody and disappeared to Santiago, Chile. Jason had not heard from her since. But one day, out of the blue, his brother called him and said that their mom had suddenly returned home, and there was some talk of starting a family bakery.
Jason was thrilled and purchased a plane ticket to fly from Indiana to Hanford, California, to surprise his mom after not seeing her for 10 years and offer to help with the bakery.
But then right before leaving, his sister called and asked if he had heard the news. At first, he thought she was talking about the family bakery, but his sister said, “No, mom just committed suicide.” Jason was devastated and sadly flew home out for the funeral. Although his mother’s body was not present at the funeral, he looked and suddenly thought he saw her standing in the church during the service.
This jolted him, understandably, until it dawned on him that it was his mother’s twin sister. His aunt offered him a new life, a car, and a beautiful home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, but he was still obsessed with the cult, so he returned to the cult in Arizona.
He spent all his savings of $3,000 for special training to become a cult leader and ended up living as a homeless person in Boulder, Colorado. However. he started running out of his diabetes medications and having panic attacks. He eventually found work in a Buddhist retreat center in the mountains of Colorado and started studying Buddhism, making friends with the monks, and began doing traditional mediation.
He said that mediating intensified his negative feelings, and he became suicidal, and even tried a special “suicide meditation” that he’d learned from the cult in Arizona. They claimed that if you did this meditation, you would disappear and end up in a kind of different universe, but after trying it several times, he realized it was all bunk and gave it up, along with the other crazy cult things he’d been taught.
However, he did make a sound connection with traditional Buddhism, and lived at the retreat center for about a year. He described a special meditation where you ask yourself, “what doesn’t need to change?”
The goal is to discover that the answer is “nothing” since everything is in constant flux, and this meditation is intended to lead to a kind of acceptance. But, he says, “at first I resisted.”
He said he did experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria during some of his mediations, but that this was not a permanent cure for his depression. That’s because the meditation was a distraction or escape from his negative thoughts, a kind of temporary trance-like state, but when you finish meditating, you are back to your normal life, so your negative thoughts and feelings return.
Jason has become an enthusiastic advocate of TEAM-CBT, and described two ways of challenging negative thoughts based on David’s Externalization of Voices Technique. One approach is highly rational, and it reduces your negative feelings but does not flood you with feelings of joy or enlightenment. The other approach reduces your negative feelings AND energizes you with feelings of joy. The second involves using David’s Externalization of Voices Technique along with the three strategies for crushing negative thoughts:
The CAT, or Counter-Attack Technique.
David asked Jason to discuss one of the traditional Buddhist definitions of enlightenment. You are “enlightened” if you are free of greed, ignorance, and delusions. However, he sent this delightful email following the podcast recording:
Hi David and Rhonda,
Thank you so much again for having me on the podcast! It was a blast!
I wanted to clarify an important mistake I made:
A commonly accepted Buddhist definition of enlightenment is to be completely free of the three root poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion. These are considered to be the source of suffering / negative thoughts / mind states (Buddhists refer to these as Kleshas). I can’t remember exactly what I said in the podcast, but I think I may have incorrectly listed the three poisons as greed, delusion, and ignorance. Delusion and Ignorance are considered to be in the same category, so I think I forgot Hatred. Oops! Looks like I’ll have to brush up on my studies again! Hopefully, we can help make this clear in the show notes as well.
If you or anyone you know is at all interested in learning more about Buddhism, its philosophies, and history, I highly recommend the YouTube channel Doug’s Dharma.
I am very grateful for the creative and life-changing contributions that Jason is making in our Feeling Good App, and I feel tremendously lucky to know Jason on a personal and professional level. His quite humility speaks loudly and boldly about the kind of loving and genuine person he is, and if you decide to beta-test our app, you will have the chance to benefit from his personal journey and his professional genius!
If you’re interested, you can sign up to beta test the app at http://www.feelinggood.com/app. If you would like to contact Jason, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After reviewing the draft of the show notes, I got this link from Jason:
Also, if you are interested in reading a little more of the story, I wrote this article a few years ago about some scary health challenges I had and how I ended up leaving the Buddhist retreat center and returning to school: Buddhist Enlightenment or Just Life with Diabetes?
Thanks for listening today!
Rhonda, Jason, and David
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky is a Level 5 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her website: www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com.
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com.
This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great.
It’s on sale right now on Amazon, and it’s ridiculously cheap!
The kindle and audio versions are available now too! Check it out!