The Invisible Streams of Jonny Hawkins
Why Nothing More frontman may be an "empath."
Posted Aug 07, 2018
“We used to dream
We used to name the stars
Tracing futures lying in the dark.”
– From “Just Say When” by Nothing More
Empathy can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, being sensitive to our own emotions and the emotions of others can be a strong foundation for being caring, understanding and connected to ourselves and to others. More, empathy can drive creativity, as we perceive more of what’s happening in the world and can use that information to fuel novel thoughts and ideas.
However, the intensity of being so in touch with everything going on inside of and around us can be frightening and overwhelming. And we may have trouble processing all of the information we are taking in, resulting in difficulty knowing what’s “real” and what’s not.
Jonny Hawkins of the band Nothing More may be someone with extreme levels of empathy–also known as an “empath.” Hawkins recalled the first time he heard that term, and how he initially struggled to understand how empathy could be both helpful and harmful.
“I think my grandmother called me an empath one time, and I remember identifying with that. It felt pretty accurate, because even when I was younger, I was just highly sensitive to the people around me and the environment–all sorts of things going on under the surface. It almost felt like a blessing and a curse at times,” Hawkins told me. “Usually when I think of empathy I think of other people…how it connects and relates to others. But I actually think there’s a deeper core to being an empath or having that proclivity, or having that natural bent…You have to cope with the real world. You go through years of putting up boundaries in your own mind and physically, like in the real world. Those boundaries are kind of what outline how we interact with ourselves and how we interact with others. Otherwise, we’d be wild and following any impulse in the moment. But I think there’s one wall or boundary we put up in our minds that relates to imagination–which also relates to creativity.”
Not everyone was necessarily open to hearing about Hawkins’ experiences. He was aware at an early age that some people may have found his experiences off-putting or even frightening.
“In a lot of cases, people just shut themselves off to that, because they view it as just muddy and icky. It’s like a lot of people politically who live in an echo chamber–they think they have a balanced view but they really don’t. They’re just seeking out situations to put themselves in the center of others who have the same thought and idea,” he said.
Hawkins’ first clue that he may be highly in tune with his own personal experience was that he experienced vivid dreams. Interestingly, his willingness to take his own dreams as something that was serious and important came from his religious upbringing.
“I’ve always been interested in how the subconscious mind communicates with the conscious mind. And that’s where dreams enter. It will conjure up a narrative or something with symbolism. My interest in dreams actually started when I was a child, and it was religiously based, because I grew up being raised Christian. And I was always in Sunday school, and all these camps. So, I was constantly learning about the Bible,” he described. “I was always fascinated by the characters in the Bible that were like dream interpreters and prophets and people who saw visions. I think Joseph was one of them, I think Daniel was one of them. There was always something mystical and elusive and mysterious about it to me. And so I think that started me down a path–being aware of it. And I think for a lot of people who claim to never have dreams or never remember them, I’ll always say well, you probably do, you have never put it in your mind that it’s either useful, or that you should remember them.
“And I had that in my mind at a young age–that there was something potentially useful or something to be learned from them.”
Hawkins even has a specific strategy to remember his dreams. “One of the biggest strategies that I personally had is when I wake up, I don’t open my eyes,” Hawkins explained. “I’ve learned that when you open your eyes, you almost immediately start the waking up process of the mind that goes into the more conscious awake state. And you almost immediately lose the images and the narratives you have in your dreams. So, I always keep my eyes shut for awhile. And in doing that, I tend to remember a lot more dreams, and have more interesting experiences with it.”
There were times when Hawkins felt that he was experiencing dreams that were somehow in tune with what was happening in his life–almost to the point where his dreams would be predictive of future events. He explained one instance in which he felt he was aware of his grandfather’s impending Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
“I’ve had a wide variety of dreams that have been self-revealing or the more interesting ones are the ones that relate to reality with events occurring. For example, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he had never had any episodes or problems or memory loss or anything like that. But one night I dreamt this dream…I woke up in a sweat, breathing heavy and then I got a phone call later that morning. And everything I had dreamt, I had experienced first person in his body,” Hawkins recalled. “My dad had been called to come over because my grandmother was afraid. He had had his first intense Alzheimer’s experience. And even the exact phrase which was repeated in my dream, which was, ‘What are you saying? I can’t understand you,’ which is what my grandmother kept saying to him, was something I had experienced simultaneously, that I didn’t know was occurring in the real world. I’ve had other experiences like that where there’ve been these invisible streams on some sort of web in which we’re connected. And there’s some sort of information communicated across those, and for me it’s been in dreams at times.”
Other times, Hawkins felt that his dreams translated into experiences when he was awake in which he would see things that were not necessarily present in the physical world. “I remember I was probably about seven years old, and I said to the darkness–my room was completely pitch black–and I said, ‘I want to see something.’ And I didn’t know who or what or what I was talking to necessarily. Maybe at the time I believed I was talking to God or something. But as soon as I said that…my mind started hallucinating or projecting a black blob that started forming at the corner of the room. And it said my name–what felt like was here in the real world. Like my auditory faculties heard my name spoken in a deep voice. And it felt so real,” he recalled. “Of course I know now it was just me letting those walls between reality and imagination down so far that my mind literally hallucinated a reality to me or projected it. But it scared the shit out of me. I immediately, like a child, pulled the covers over my head and said, ‘Nope, nope, nope, stop, stop.’"
“And instinctually I knew, even though I couldn’t describe what was happening, I knew that I had to dip my toes into the waters of insanity.”
This type of experience was particularly frightening to Hawkins, who has been outspoken about the mental illness in his family, including his aunt who struggles with schizophrenia. “My aunt Jenny, she was a schizophrenic. She’s been in a home for almost thirty years now…While I wasn’t consciously thinking of her at the time, I think there was some part of my mind that being genetically related, or having similar proclivities or whatever you want to call it, but there was some part of me that recognized that that was a scary terrain to let that wall too far down, because it’s kind of dangerous,” Hawkins said. “Like if you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy obviously you can get yourself into some danger in the real world. And on the inner world you kind of just get lost. I think that natural flexibility in that part of my mind…some people just have more of a brick and mortar wall between reality and fantasy. And I think a lot of people have more of a sliding door maybe? And some people just don’t have a wall at all, and they’re like my aunt Jenny, who’s checked out entirely from reality. So, I think there’s a door there that relates to being an empath–just letting things through that the average person might instinctively deem dangerous…because you’re letting in a lot of other people’s energies.”
As Hawkins got older, he felt that the double-edged sword of empathy continued to manifest in his life. He described how sometimes his intuitive processes lead him to be paranoid and jealous.
“I think the biggest challenge for anyone who is imaginative or creative is having some sort of counterbalance to that. For years, I feel like it affected my personal relationships the most because sometimes you can’t tell the difference between what’s actually occurred in reality, and all of the colors on top of those experiences that you put there yourself. And that can lead to some things–very misguided responses to relationships…So much can occur in your own mind. That was a difficulty in my life…whereas in the music world it was nothing but a strength,” he explained. “I’ve had a stronger connection with my current girlfriend than anyone I ever met before. She’s a very social person–a very different type of person. One time she was describing a former male colleague in very positive terms. Even though there was nothing sexual in her description, it made me jealous. There are times when I don’t factor in who the other person is, and I’m pretty much projecting myself onto every event–which is a pretty imbalanced way of looking at life because it excludes other people–it takes them out of the equation.”
And yet Hawkins described other times in which his intuition turned out to be more accurate. “There’s the times when you pick up on something but you can’t put your finger on it. And then there are other times when you pick up on something and it’s pretty clear only because…the vibes, the energy, the feeling that you get is so in line with an experience you’ve had yourself first person in the past. That there’s no denying that there’s something related to that experience you’ve had in the past– ven though you have no evidence. It’s more of a feeling which is in the fuzzy domain of evidence,” Hawkins described. “There was a time when I had never crossed the line and was unfaithful, but I was incredibly tempted to. It was a work boss–something about his vibe, I immediately picked up on a feeling like what I felt in that past experience with my ex…But there was nothing that he did in the real world…Sure enough a week later it turns out he was going through an exact parallel situation to what I had in the past–wasn’t crossing the line but was constantly tempted to cheat and in that really stuck place. It’s tricky because how do you explain what you picked up on? It’s like a billion subconscious clues that you can never really quantify."
“Facts are like these little snapshots from different angles.”
More recently, Hawkins has become interested in his own experience of synchronicity–the occurrence of events that seem connected but don’t necessarily have a discernible, provable link. He explained how the number “22” has had a long standing significance for him.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about synchronicity, or what other people call signs. I’ve always been intrigued by them…People think in life it’s one way or the other, like there are these mutually exclusive truths. And sometimes it’s like no…I think there are moments that aren’t coincidences. I’ve had too many experiences, like with the number 22,” Hawkins said. “One of my best friends when we were kids–his lucky number was 22. And we looked at the TV and the lottery was on, and he said, ‘God if we’re going to be the biggest band in the world, show me a sign and let it be 22 at the end of the lottery. And then they went 13, 5 or something like that. And we just laughed it off and said ‘Oh well’ and walked away from the television. And then there were two more numbers off the screen…and all the numbers moved over, and it goes 22,22.”
Hawkins initially dismissed the experience as a coincidence, but other similar experiences followed that gave him pause. “That could be this silly coincidence. But even if it was…I gave it significance after that. Then I started seeing it everywhere in the real world. And a lot of that, it’s like your car–you see your car everywhere now, but you didn’t notice it before,” he described. “But then I’ve had a lot of other coincidences where there was just this weird timing of that number–with certain things that were said by people, or when people would call me about something incredibly important right at that time. Or I woke up from a dream at 10:22, which military time is 22:22, and I was dreaming about the number 22. I’ve had those kinds of experiences where it’s like you can’t write all this off. It’s not good or bad–like people making signs into omens or blessings–it’s just significant.”
Over time, several things have helped Hawkins get more of the positives of being an empath, while minimizing the negative effects. One of the things that Hawkins felt has helped him minimize the negative impact of being an empath was exercise.
“Two or three years ago I forced myself to get on a workout regimen, where I had to do something in the physical world that was demanding,” Hawkins said. “It kind of calmed my mind because I didn’t have enough energy to let my mind wander.”
Hawkins has also used the skepticism he’s often received from others as a motivation to pursue his creative passions. Feeling that he needed to censor himself from talking about many of his experiences resulted in his focusing on expressing those experiences through his music. “Like when you just say whatever is on your mind you don’t get that pressure that becomes creativity. So, when people didn’t believe me, or I knew that something was going to happen but I couldn’t communicate it to anyone, I just used it like a force–like a dammed up river–to make it happen in the real world,” Hawkins explained.
More, Hawkins has watched as the creativity fueled by being an empath has received more mainstream praise. In 2017 Nothing More received three Grammy nominations from their album The Stories We tell Ourselves, had their single “Go To War” reach number one on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, and are in the middle of a world tour supporting that album. And he feels that his extreme empathy has been somewhat vindicated–that people are appreciating how being an empath is something positive and useful in the “real” world rather than something that should be scary to others.
“For the most part, it wasn’t something appreciated or validated until the real world success manifested. It’s frustrating as an artist at first, but the flip side of that is it’s kind of a fuel. When you know you’re–and I hate to use a biblical word–righteous…you know in your gut you’re right about something but you don’t have any way to prove it, there is a justification or a vindication or self-righteous satisfaction when things do come to fruition in the real world,” Hawkins said.
“Because nobody really believes you.”