Saturday, November 18, 2017

Her Creativity And Mystery

When an infinitely curious and inquisitive mind and a sensitive and emotional heart like mine meet life, there is great potential to live in a combination of infinite wonder, torment and faith and doubt.

Questions like does perception create life or does life create perception circle round and round at times giving rise to creative stress that leads to burnout and at times leading to creative tension that leads to openings that satisfy the insatiable thirst of an infinite philosopher.

Inquiries like these make the chicken or the egg conundrum seem trivial. They make the notion of sanity and insanity seem arbitrarily subjective.

Sometimes I wonder if life is living me or I am living life. Sometimes I wonder if I am in a waking state or if I am inside of a dream. Sometimes I wonder if this is the afterlife. Sometimes I wonder if I am even me at all.

And how could I not have these questions in the midst of the bottomless creative mystery that life is? How could I not be constantly sniffing beneath every manifestation if they all exude a scent of the universal essence that my heart has always been longing for?

I am quietly, calmly and intensely desperate to realize the eternal in a way that satiates the existential angst that lives in my gut. I am secretly crossing beyond the threshold of the supposed known into the depths of the timeless divinity that permeates all that is.

And how could I not be? After all this unrest. After all this unease. After all this longing.

I would write that I am ready. But I don't know who I am. So I'll just write that I am here. Willing.

Friday, November 10, 2017

What's The Point Anyway?

Somehow at some point in my life I decided that I was going to pretend like I was always doing well and living my life with a sense of meaning and purpose. It seemed like a good marketing strategy as a voice teacher living in a very competitive and capitalistic world.

How will I present myself to the world if I want to seem attractive and compelling? Well, by coming off as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. A guy that always has a passionate fire burning within and is always enthralled and in love with his life and his life's work. A guy that is always lit up and happy to be alive. It was a good plan, wouldn't you say? I mean, who wants to study voice, acting or work on their self-esteem with a miserable dud. How will I put food on the table if I don't figure out how to appeal to my prospective students?

So yeah, I've always been that strategic planner that does things with attention to detail and with awareness of the implications of his choices. Well, not always, but you know what I mean - after I grew up and stuff.

As a teenager I was always embarrassed to have friends over. I always thought my house needed to be repainted, cleaned up and organized. Somehow, I always felt like the disheveled state that I perceived my house to be in said something about me.

Truth be told, and contrary to my boyfriend's belief. I take tremendous pride in the way that I present to the world. It is utterly important to me that my house, my car, my body, my, my clothes and even my spelling and social media don't elicit the idea that I am some sort of unaware hot mess.

And like many people, I made the mistake of linking my pride in myself with an outrageous sense of entitlement.

In other words, I felt that if I was educated, fit, clean, organized and presented myself in a professional, skilled and well refined fashion, I would automatically be granted success in whichever endeavors I pursued with sincere intention. Because after all, isn't that what is drilled into our brains from the second we come out of the womb? (Or should I say from the second we are conceived?)

"You are the master of your own destiny" - do this, this and this and you'll get this, this and this. But it's just not true is it?

So there, that's where the "what's the point?" title of this post comes from. When you feel like you're doing your best, when you feel like you're being earnest and sincere, when you feel like you are working really hard and paying attention to just about every angle but are just not seeing the expected results. What happens?

I don't know about you, but for me it's a state of helplessness and despair. And then a story starts to deeply embed itself in the fabric of my unconscious. "It's pointless" - I won't get recognized or rewarded for my efforts anyway. "What's the point of working and trying so hard if I can't even pay my bills?" "Better to stay on the couch and stay on my phone."

This is what in psychology is known as learned helplessness. It's a pattern and cycle that becomes extremely difficult to become conscious of in oneself. And it can happen to us in any area of our lives.

For me, it usually gets me with career stuff. For others it gets them with relationships. For others it gets them with health and fitness. For others it gets them with life as a whole. For my students, it can get them with vocalizing.

Giving up is doesn't always happen because we're lazy and because we want things to be easy. Giving up can also happen because we are literally burned out and tired of attempting to achieve something without any measure of success that we can account for. It happens because life can be hard, society can be unfair, people can be cruel and stuff can just suck sometimes.

But the hardest thing to get past is the idea that we are in control and that we are entitled to something. And the other hard thing to get past is giving up on our familiar persistent desires and wishes. Another thing our culture drills into our head to NEVER give up on no matter what. Another piece of shitty advice that we can thank the delusional world we live in for. And come at me with your rebuttals, because I am ready.

The point of my sharing this is not to be negative, although it will inevitably appear that way to anyone who is still in the phase of ardently trying or anyone who is in the phase of enjoying the illusion of having created their own success. But the point of me sharing this is for creating awareness around how real life can work sometimes and letting you know that if you're burned out and feeling hopeless and tired of the "same old shit" - that you know that you are not alone and that you are not crazy or lazy or stupid. Because you are not. You are just experiencing some very justified exhaustion and weariness that is part of being alive.

Regardless of what privileged people say, life is really, really hard sometimes and it's okay to admit that and to wonder what the point of all of this is. Sometimes, asking that question is perfectly reasonable and normal. Sometimes feeling like a victim that has not been lucky and who the gods must be playing a joke on is a natural result of walking on this earth. And in my book, that is totally normal, natural and even acceptable.

So there. Maybe there isn't a point. Maybe it's okay that you're fed up and tired. Maybe you just need to know that someone knows how you feel and understands you. Maybe you just need to know that it's natural to feel the way you feel sometimes. Maybe you just need to know that you are OK. Maybe you just need to know that there is nothing wrong with you.

Maybe you just need to hear that the way you feel makes sense. Maybe you just need a hug.

And here is my hug to you.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Me Too

Usually when I'm going to write something, I write it from what feels to be a spontaneous and unplanned place. This one is different. To be honest, I feel my heart pounding a little faster and I honestly feel scared to write what I am about to write.

Since the Weinstein horrors have been surfacing I have kind of been undesirably forced to look at the parts of my past that resonate with the sour notes being played by these public revelations on some of the realities of the world of show business.

What I am mostly scared about, is not about telling the truth about some of the resonating things that I have been through, but what I am more scared about is the lack of caring and the negative reactions that I might get for publicly divulging how I have been a victim of sleazeballs that were not respectful of my naive and youthful mind, brain and body.

Lucky for me, I've always had the makings of a strong and self-protective soul that for whatever reason knows its worth and value. Unlucky for me, that was only a latent potential that wasn't always as realized as it is now.

Normally, I am of the folks that chooses to go with the classic deep denial line of "I don't care what people think about me" style of portraying myself, but the consideration of even writing this note is challenging that protective layer of denial. Again, I am scared of what people will think about me when they read this. Even worse, I am scared that people won't even read this.

And that's a clue into one of my primary fears. The fear that no one really cares about me. The fear that people will call me a drama queen. The fear that people will tell me that I am only sharing this because I have nothing else going on in my life and that I am doing it for attention. The fear of people thinking that I am just doing this to jump on the hip #metoo wagon. The fear that I'll be blamed or punished in any way for revealing what I am about to reveal. The fear that I am going to be accused of writing in a way in which I believe myself to be more important than I am and that I am just manipulating people into caring about me. And believe me, I cold go on with the list of fears. But I won't. I won't thanks to Anthony Rapp daring to go forth in sharing his story.

I will, however, explain a little bit of why I feel so afraid: First, because I am thoroughly trained in expecting people to belittle the pain of most of my vulnerable confessions, especially when they are not seen as a "good enough" reason to be stirred by the event. Second, because for whatever reason I feel that people only care about popular or renowned people. Regular folks like me have no business publicly sharing stuff like this because it doesn't serve anything other than playing a victim and making everyone around uncomfortable. That kind of public confession should be reserved to celebrities, because underneath it all, we regular people just don't matter enough.

Well today I am deciding, as I have been deciding little by little for all of my life, that I matter enough to share my story. And here it is...

Pardon the redundancy, but due to a large combination of events, along with my temperament, personality and life experiences, I was a teenager that arrived at the point of profoundly feeling like I really didn't matter. It's a long story, which I am open to talking about, and in fact have been for most of my life, but without much success in creating many significant and mature dialogues about it.

I always loved to sing. It was one of the few things that made me feel important and like I mattered at least a little bit. Whenever I would sing as a kid on my family summer vacations, my uncles and cousins would praise my voice. Not so much because it was great, but because they just thought everything that their visiting cousin did was cool. But it didn't matter, I loved to sing and I wanted to believe that I was good. Which honestly, I kind of was, except I couldn't keep up with the singing stars of my youth, my voice would horribly crack when I attempted to sing the really high and loud notes. But again, it didn't matter, I was still celebrated.

Those summer vacations, and a handful of oohs and aaahs as a reaction from strangers hearing me sing, made me feel like I had a gift. But even beyond that, I really, really just loved to sing and I kind of liked the way I made myself feel when I would sing my favorite songs as a child.

Long story short, the combination of my love of singing and my idea that few others thought I was good along with my feeling of not mattering because I was nobody, led me to a path of pursuing a career in which I believed I was going to be an important international singing superstar. I decided that to matter I had to be famous and that to be famous I had to study singing and acting in college.

So I did.

Come to find out, I really wasn't as good as I thought. I mean, I was, but I was not experienced enough and lacked the confidence in the face of reality. I went from being one of the only people who could sing in a small suburb in the Dominican Republic, to being one among many who had been playing the leading roles in their high school musicals. Something that the pretty much none of the high schools I had attended down in the Dominican Republic had.

So I went from being a big fish in a little pond, to being a small fish in a much bigger pond. And I didn't even go to a big or well-known school. In fact, I ended up going to a school that very few people know and that to this day has a relatively small theater and music department.

My first audition to get in the musical was horrendous. I was so nervous, clueless and insecure that I basically screamed the whole song, rolled my eyes to myself the whole time and was incredibly awkward in my entrance and exit. There was nothing I gave that said "promising," at least in my eyes.

But I'm not the type of person that tanks something and then goes "oh well, this must not be for me." Fortunately I have a little more perseverance than that. And I also have days when I can admit that I am responsible for my failures. And this was one of those days. I knew I had tanked my audition and I didn't really expect to get a part in the musical of my freshman semester. I had a feeling my name would not be on the callback or casting list on the days to come.

I accepted my defeat gracefully and when the musical went on, I of course went to see it. I loved it so much I wrote a great review for it. It had been so nice to see all these people up there doing what I always wanted to be doing. Singing for an applause. Singing for recognition. Singing for the sake of loving singing. I wanted to do that so bad. And I was so proud and happy for them to have done that for themselves.

Fast forward to my second semester in college, and I had already made some progress, definitely not enough to be in these musicals either, but enough to be in the ensemble of the children's musicals, which I didn't even make. To this day, I don't know if it had anything to do with my horrendous first impression or if it had to do with there not being enough room for me. The point is, I was involved in the shows as a stage hand and although I was dying to be a member of the performing cast, I was happy to be so up and close with the whole cast. I was a silent, yet also often vocal cheerleader wishing all the performers the best and admiring the work they did as actors, dancers and singers. I was fully collaborating and participating in the productions, but still silently struggled with my sense of not mattering, especially since I was nothing but a stage hand. So I know how it feels for people who have jobs that people consider menial. Especially when it's paired with the level of low self-worth and self-esteem that I was silently struggling with. It's not pretty, but you push through it and "you do for the love of others what you wouldn't do for yourself" as someone I respect very much says.

Now it's next year, I'm a sophomore now - I've had a whole summer to get better, a whole summer to work on my singing, my acting, not much on my dancing, because I never though that was going to happen for me so I didn't bother much, but it didn't matter, because many leading roles, which were what I wanted did not require dancing. Well, many except the one that we put on that year which was a heavy tap dancing show. Needless to say, I didn't get a lead. But guess what? I made it into the tap-dancing ensemble because they didn't have enough men! Something that any small theater school attendee knows all about. Most of these people are women. And the guys either don't sing, don't dance at all or don't really strive to get into musicals.

So there I was, tap dancing through rehearsals, scared shitless, half dissociated, and extremely uncomfortable trying to push through my total inability to tap dance. It was embarrassing. Not that many people noticed, because if the school I went to was good at something, it was at reinforcing my sense of loneliness and not-matteringness that I had already been going through. Like many theater youngsters, most of these people where fixated on themselves. If I have more than three stories in the banks of my memory of a fellow thespian noticing my struggles and offering me help, I'd be shocked. But maybe they were there and I missed them in my cloud of self-loathing and phony confidence. I don't know.

At this time, my school had three major theater authorities, Laura, who was my favorite. Milton, who was the Academy Award Winning celebrity professor of acting, and Phil who was in charge of the musicals. There was also Christy, from the music department. At the time, she played the piano for auditions. And incidentally, she had rejected me in my entry audition for the school, on the basis of me not even knowing the most basic of music notation. By the way, Laura was the one who accepted me into the school as an Acting student, she even got me a partial scholarship based on my talent.

I hate this part in writing, when I feel like I am about to get to the meat of what I want to share, and I find myself meandering and losing steam. But I am doing my best here to push through. The inner saboteur keeps telling me to scrap all of this and just go for that walk that I intended to go on before I stopped on the way out to start writing this. But I know this aspect of me too well, and I will push through and get what I need to off my chest. Because I matter, dammit.

If my memory doesn't fail me, it is now the second semester of my sophomore year, around the time of auditions for the season's shows. Milton, the one that gets away with telling me in front of the whole class that I look like a bum, that is asking me what the fuck I am doing, gets in the bathroom where I am going to pee and locks the door behind him. This creepy, intimidating, namedropping and crass figure is now directly behind me, slides his hand across my chest through the inside of the top of my shirt and says "Oh Gabriel!" in the creepiest possible way. I can't remember if he kissed my neck or not, but I am pretty sure he did. I had no clue of what to do. I wasn't as scared as I was paralyzed and shocked. I had no idea what to do other than to say "Milton! What are you doing?" to which he reacted with a smile first, and then by stepping back when he saw how unwelcome he was. I was grossed out. I told some of my peers and they had not much more of a reaction than "Really? What the fuck?" which was pretty much all I wanted at the time. So it was all good. Or so I thought. But I don't think so. I don't think I'm OK with what happened that day. I can tell because as I wrote that, I feel my body flooded with adrenaline and disdain and anger. I was violated that day and that was not OK.

Was I an adult? Yes. Did I keep it from going further? Yes. Was this still assault and violation? Yes. I wasn't consenting. I was a vulnerable student and this man took advantage. I am disgusted as I write this, because I would never want something like this to happen to anyone else under similar circumstances. It's abuse of power, it's crossing a boundary and it's not OK.

And I wish I could stop there. But Phil, the married man, who I hope is now healthier and more mature also made a pass at me. In some ways even worse because he kissed me on the lips in the small costume room by the black box theater in which the first musical that I wrote the review for took place. This other creep, who I hope with all my heart is now reformed, used to make inappropriate remarks into my ear about details of my sex life that I would regrettably share with a peer with a big mouth at the time and then he would disgustingly lick the inside of my ear. He did this once or twice, I can't really remember, but he did it once and that was bad enough.

The incident in the costume room happened shortly before auditions took place too. I don't know if that was just a coincidence or these power abusers just knew that the students were more vulnerable around that time because they wanted to get in the shows so bad or what the case was, but whatever the case was. He made some inappropriate remark, he was married and had introduced all of us to his husband whom he "loved" and would tell sweet jokes about, he knew I had a girlfriend and he still took advantage of a time when we were alone and he reached in to kiss me. I kissed him back out of feeling cornered and also dying to get a leading role and I immediately realized what I had done and retreated. Remorse set in instantly and I felt cheap and horrible for longer than I suspect I allowed myself to admit to myself.

I survived most of my teens and twenties by way of dissociation and denial. And I know I am not alone in this which is part of why I am sharing these experiences with all of you. I thought I wasn't impacted but again, I feel a rush of adrenaline and what I suspect to be a cocktail of brain chemicals releasing the suppressed trauma. So in that way, I hope this ends up to be a healing experience and not one of further trauma.

I ask that if you are helped or relate to this story or know anyone who would, that you share that with me and that you share it with anyone else. And if you went to school with me and went through anything similar, that you be brave and share with me either in public or in private so that I can feel less alone in these things. This really wasn't fun and although I wouldn't say this is the reason why I've backed off tremendously from pursuing a career as an actor and singer in show business, I have to admit that these experiences have had a negative impact on my view of the industry. Especially now with all the Weinstein stuff.

It's a power abuse issue, it's a corruption issue, it's pervasive in all fields where humans are involved. And I know that. I hate that I constantly feel like I have to defend my right to express what I've been through by working really hard for not wanting to come off as a victim. "I know I am not alone in this," "I know this issue is pervasive in all industries," "I know that fill in the blank with a statement that makes me sound like less of a victim and makes me sound like my sharing is not just for the service of my own ego." All of those caveats and statement qualifiers are stemming from the same issue that I began talking about in all of this. That feeling of not mattering, of not being important, of not being worthy. It's a horrible disease that I know most of us struggle through, and this time I don't say that to soften the blow that I might be giving to those who feel uncomfortable by my sharing, but more because I know it to be true now that I am in the position of being a teacher who has power. A power that I respect and treat with great caution because I know how prone to abuse it we are. And that is why I tread very cautiously with my students and I do everything I can to make them feel safe, seen, important and respected. So if there is a silver lining to all of this, it might be that. I don't know.

Lastly, at the risk of sounding contradictory, I wouldn't want to pretend like I have never made anyone feel uncomfortable or hurt anybody or been abusive of any power I might have in any given circumstance, but I do want to say that I find it extremely important that we all share with loved ones the things that we go through and the things that we feel we put each other through. People can't read our minds and unless we share what is happening in there, no one can know.

That is why I do this too. So that people can know. And sometimes it’s not easy. These two accounts I shared happened well over a decade ago. So I understand all these actors and actresses coming out now sharing their stories on the heels of the bravery of each other. Another reason why I think it's important to share your story. You never know who you might be inspiring.

OK, I think it's time for that walk now. I need it.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thank You Old World

As Kermit the frog likes to say, it's not easy being green. And I would know because I've spent pretty much all of my life being a green little knucklehead that has had no clue about life and how it works.

Which is why I want to take a minute to say thank you to all the old world teachers, like monks, priests and zen masters that came from Japan and the old world to bring their wisdom teachings to this very green and immature country filled with self-indulgent magical thinkers and trinket addicts.

Thank you to all the old wise men and women who have left their trail of breadcrumbs to guide the dumb, naive and stubborn folk like me.

Thank you to all the teachers, professors and mature and wise men and women who have truly emotionally grown up and have put their money where they mouth is. To those patient, persevering stand up people who didn't cower and stuck it out through thick and thin.

To those who didn't bail and run out and avoided facing the relational hardships in their lives. To those old souls, the old school, the ones who don't go into the childish "fuck its" that most emotionally grown children do.

To the men and women that have known how to cry and face their fears and given up their ego addiction to make way for love and taking responsibility.

Thank you to those who haven't fallen into the momentum of endless trends and fashions. Thank you to those old school souls that have been able to adapt and remain in balance. In spirit, mind and body.

To those who are able to look past the myriad of distractions and have been able to keep it simple and to the point.

Thank you wisdom teachers, awake beings, present folk, men and women of good. Men and women of heart. Men and women of truth.

Thank you sincere, responsible, caring and engaged and open hearts and souls who push past their own victim identities and become self-realized and actualized.

Thank you to those who didn't silo themselves and acted like aliens or islands unto themselves.

Thank you Africa, thank you Japan, thank you India, thank you Europe, thank you Old World, thank you conscious and wise grandmas and grandpas. Thank you masters, thank you teachers, thank you mature and truthful, simple and honest, common sense grown up souls.

Gassho. Namaste. Gratias Tibi.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pros And Cons Of My Eastern Spirituality (Nonduality) Path

When I was a kid, I focused on nothing but on getting my immediate needs met from my environment. At times I succeeded and at times I failed. When I succeeded I was happy, when I failed, I was hurt. And boy was I a sensitive and stubborn little one.

When I became a teenager, I focused on nothing more than on my list of endless disappointments through my childhood. All my happy memories had disappeared and all my unhappy ones had become the focal point of my angry teen-aged existence. I blamed people, I pointed fingers, I held grudges and I was eternally disappointed.

It was then when I decided "fuck them," I'm going to detach from everyone and make my own life the way I want it. I promised myself that I would become the next international super star, conquering both the Spanish and English speaking parts of the globe. I was the best singer in the world, so it wasn't going to be that difficult. All I had to do was believe hard enough and work on it until I got discovered. So I went to college for singing. LOL.

When I saw how little success I was having at getting all the leading roles in school, my confidence (or should I say arrogance) started to break. By the time I was in my junior year, the list of failures at being the star of a small private college was starting to show me that maybe I wasn't going to break through in the way I had previously envisioned.

That's when all my work at personal development (back then called self-help) was not the whole key to my liberation. And that's when I stumbled across eastern spirituality teachings that focused on living in the now and becoming enlightened.

"This whole being a super star that's going to conquer the whole world is not working out so well, let me give this spiritual enlightenment thing a shot" my ego thought.

And so I did. I gave the enlightenment thing a shot and pretty much ditched the whole personal development thing altogether. Now, my life wasn't about self-improvement, it was about spiritual enlightenment.

This switch confused everyone around me. "What happened? Gabriel was so driven and determined and now he's given up. What the heck is going on?"

I stopped going to the gym, I stopped going to therapy, I stopped caring about how I looked, I stopped working, I stopped tending to my relationships, I stopped setting and pursuing goals, I stopped everything.

All I focused on was on self-inquiry, spirituality and enlightenment.

I did it so hard that I precipitated an awakening experience that took place in my basement apartment in the summer of 2007. It went something like this:

I was laying in my bed and I was thinking to myself: "How do I know that I am thinking?" to which I answered, "Who just asked that question?" to which I answered "Who just asked who asked that question?" and so on.

Apparently, the intensity and depth of my self-inquiry triggered a cataclysmic experience in which awareness became aware of itself. And since this was seemingly my first time experiencing that consciously, my whole world shifted in an instant. Since then I have never been able to be anywhere near the guy I used to be.

As you could imagine, this awakening was another pivotal turning point for me. Now, I have "awakened." Now, I am "enlightened." And boy was this a trip. Ten years later, I sit here and am shocked at how intensely deluded I became after that life-changing experience.

I wish I could say that every day after that experience I was a much better person, but I am sad to say that this was not the case. If anything I became more arrogant, more deluded and more insane than I had ever been before.

It hasn’t been until 7 psychotic breaks later, multiple hospitalizations, years of therapy and a LOT of servings of humble pie that I have been able to catch up with the massive whirlwind that all of this transformation has put my poor psyche through.

And here's where I think I got super confused and why I think it took that long to get to some sanity since then...

Clearly stated, I fell for the trap of stubbornly and exclusively attaching myself with the notions and teachings offered by ancient eastern spirituality.

Things like: - You are not the body (so why exercise?) - You are not the mind (so why do therapy?) - You are not your emotions (so why apologize?) - You are not the self (so why work?) - There is only now (so why save?) - The past is an illusion (so why study?) - All is well (so why bother?)
On and on...

And here's what I was missing: These are merely pointers and teachings. They have their uses, origins, their reasons and their intents. But none of them are total truth. As the wise spiritual adage goes: “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”

A lot of these teachings come from India, Japan and many other places. But let's look at India. In India, the country runs in a great state of chaos, the body isn't seen as sacred or holy. The sage Nisargadatta Maharaj, who was one of my favorites was a chain-smoking, body denying, screaming sage. Ramana Maharshi, who is credited a lot for popularizing the self-inquiry that I was engaging in, in my basement apartment, only wore a rag around his groin and lived on a mountain and refused to go to his father's funeral. These people have a different culture, a different set of conditioning and a different set of values than we do here. And that was precisely what I loved about their teaching. The "Neti Neti" (not this, not that) or “Via Negativa” (way of negating) approach to awakening. An approach based in denial of everything except consciousness.

In India, I probably would have been an enlightenment success story. I would have sat under a tree and became a sadhu. But I was in Long Island, New York. So that didn't go over too well.

About Japanese Zen, another one of the philosophies that I found extremely attractive (mostly because of the exotic appeal that it had to the heavily materialistic and insecure American boy that I was) contains these teachings of "Chop wood and carry water” and simple teachings like “When you’re hungry, eat. When you’re tired, sleep.” Which even though I understood to be metaphors, I still attempted to cram these pointers in my daily millennial existence by denying my talents, gifts and abilities as well as suppressing my western boy desires and overall humanness. All by living in an unconscious vow of poverty and dependence on credit cards, my Dad and banks that provided school loans. I was just trying to “keep it simple.”

Having a job, being engaged and being a dutiful and responsible citizen seemed ridiculous. Ridiculous being a code word for absolutely terrifying.

One of the things that helped loosen my denial was when my teacher of the time, Adyashanti said in many of his talks: "The spiritual personality type is more afraid of life than he is afraid of death" (I'm paraphrasing, but that was pretty much it.) When I heard that, something deep inside of me knew that what he was saying was true. Somehow I knew that I was only half awake.

What saved me and got me out of it? A LOT of grace. A LOT of grace in the form of help, perseverance, tenacity, sincerity and love.

Mostly what did it for me, where my voice teacher, Mark Baxter, my spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, and later in life my zen teacher, Cheri Huber and the sangha that she guides. Somehow, seeing these people doing what I want to do and seemingly having all of the things that I desire, gave me hope that it is possible to integrate all these things and actually have a life that I want to live. They're all teaching, writing, have homes that they love and are "in the world but not of it."

Which by the way reminds me of another thing that helped me greatly: embracing Christianity and the dualistic religions.

Non-duality gave me the distance through denial of myself, my family, my relationships, my heritage, my desires, my individuality and my humanity as a whole. And even though it gave me a ton of awareness and stability, in the end left me dry and bored.

Duality gave me the embrace, the love, the inclusion and the acceptance and compassion to admit myself, my family, my relationships, my heritage, my desires, my individuality and my humanity as a whole. And even though it can give me a lot of stress and overwhelm, I has also given me a lot of devotion, compassion, aliveness and a willingness to engage and participate.

Because of both of these approaches, along with an unbelievable amount of grace, I can say that I am proud to be who I am and I am happy to be alive and well today.

Today, the edge of my practice is to keep these two approaches in balance. I do that through ongoing spiritual practice and through ongoing engagement in life.

Thank you for reading my story and I hope it's of some use to you.

Gabriel

Saturday, September 23, 2017

An Exercise In Transparent Vulnerability

Here's another long one. I've been going through it... again. I am recent out of getting really good care from a hospital in which I had to be admitted for psycho-emotional difficulties. If you know me intimately at all, you know that that has been one of the children that I've been given to tend to for most of my life. And as many of you know, this unsettled, hurt and crying inner child is not the easiest to learn to tend to.

Being a teacher and feeling the need to be a model of possibility, hope, light and love can come with a tremendous amount of challenge when the wounded child within is flaring up. Ironically, the very same model/mentor aspect of my being (a.k.a the "well adjusted adult") is both, the savior and the tormentor of this beautiful crying inner infant.

And as anybody who's signed up for the task of true healing will attest to, it is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart.

I post this to keep modeling what it is like to be open, honest and vulnerable as I have been doing for as long as I've been able to. And if you're wondering where such a cooky decision came from, I'll tell you that it comes from how alone and hurt I've personally felt due to a lifetime of lacking people in my immediate life that know how to consistently model what healthy, honest and undefended transparency and vulnerability look like. Truth be told, the culture of secrecy, shame and extreme emotional privacy (in conjunction with the idealization of putting out an image of indestructible happiness, success and pride) has not only not worked for me. And I can unequivocally state that it has sincerely been the single most painful aspect of society that I have had to experience as a human in this world we all share.

As someone who currently is and has been in a handful of intimate relationships and as someone who is serving in the roles of private voice teacher, acting coach and self-esteem mentor, I know full well that I am not alone in my feelings. I know that, although most of us are afraid to publicly open up about it, many of us are deeply crying inside. Sadly, we sensitive types feel like unlovable freaks for being the only ones openly hurting. All while many others are masterfully pretending to have a completely wound-free life. And even though I understand that being private is everyone's prerogative, I know how isolating and invalidating this chosen privacy can feel for us highly sensitive people. And even though I know people have their valid reasons to hide their pain, I feel that somebody's gotta do the dirty work and come forward. Let that fool be me.

Also, none of this is new, it seems it has always been this way. In fact, it is rumored that the Buddha (whom I deeply admire and love) stated thousands of years ago that life is suffering (the first noble truth). And I suppose that as humans we're each karmically hooked up to suffer more or less over different things. I in particular, have suffered a lot because of people's understandable tendency to project and present and image that is not consistent with their truth. I wasn't always as conscious about this as I am today, but this has truly been the bane of my relational existence.

As a child, what I always wanted more than anything else was for things to line up. I wanted English teachers to have good spelling and grammar, I wanted priests to be loving and compassionate, I wanted presidents to be wise and lead their countries with great sincerity, love and intelligence. I tightly associated what I saw that I heard people say they were with what their job description was. I anticipated no negative surprises. I expected consistency and honesty. Or at least honesty and transparency alone. Little did I know that I was in for the ride of my life. Little did I know, that I had incarnated in a dimension of reality where more than commonplace, hypocrisy happens to be absolutely normal and the standard of our social living.

In line with all of this, those of you who know me intimately are probably aware of my attribution to a lot of my inner conflict to the broken marriage that I was an offspring of. And again, I know I am not alone in that. In fact, I know so well that I am not alone in that, that I know for a fact that more people suffer for this very reason than people themselves are aware of. I grew up hearing my mom and my dad saying how much they loved each other, but although initially I was naive and buying it, it didn't take long before I ended up feeling deeply confused due to the fact that this love was not becoming manifest in a way that made sense to me. For most of my childhood my parents had a long distance relationship. A very long distance relationship, with an ocean and 1,553 miles of distance in between, to be more specific.

But love conquers everything, doesn't it? Well it does and it doesn't. Although my parents did have great love for each other, they had what I understand to be very little capacity to make their marriage work. And love didn't conquer that. Avoidance did. It took a long time for all of this to surface and become as clear as it is now, and a lot of difficult shit went down in between. I, for one feel quite traumatized and battered by it, and although my siblings claim to be over it, I am not.

I write this to reach for support as I have in the past, with good results. I don't ask for prayers because, at least for the time being, I'm not too hooked up to be a prayer type. But in spite of that, if a prayer is all you can offer, I will gladly take it.

I also write this because I don't want to be one more of the bunch that copes and bottles this stuff up inside. That has not worked for me at all in the past and it doesn't seem to be working for other people. No matter how much they pretend to be fine. But who knows, maybe it's more than I'm higher maintenance than most and have high standards. Funny, my original intent was to write something like: "Nothing angers me more than privileged people who take credit for their privilege by claiming that their privilege was something they created through their hard work." (Think Donald Trump who seems to believe everything he's ever accomplished is all due to HIM.) Instead, all this other stuff came out. And I'm glad it did.

Your words of empathy and support would be deeply appreciated. The retreat helped all of this beautiful expression of an honest crying heart to emerge. And I am so grateful for it.

I trust that you will handle this tenderly. And if you don't, it's your loss and not mine. That last line I just wrote for those who would be concerned about me for publishing my heart on this sleeve called Blogspot.

With great love, Gabriel

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Feeling Good All The Time

I completely understand the longing and desire to feel good all the time. After all, we are wired to pursue feeling good and avoid feeling bad as a mechanism of survival. Of course we will choose comfort, safety and feeling good over discomfort, unsafety and feeling bad. It's the only reason why we are still around - because instead of choosing to stay in the freezing cold, we chose to seek temperatures that allow us to remain alive. Instead of choosing foods that taste awful and are poisonous, we chose to eat nourishing foods that taste delicious. Instead of choosing... well, we all get the point.

Fast forward a couple thousand of years and here we are. In a world were all of our past choices as a species led to the present times. A time when our desires and drives have remained the same, just that are completely different in content. Now, it's not a choice between staying in the freezing winter that will kill us due to hypothermia, now it's a choice of whether we want it to be 70 or 74 degrees according to our heating unit or air conditioner. Which will it be? Now it's not a choice of whether to go for that suspicious looking berry and that tried-and-true apple. Now it's whether we want a chocolate chip cookie or a slice of tiramisu. Our choices have changed a ton, wouldn't you say?

The answer is an obvious yes, and the irony is that studies have shown that the more choices we have, the more overwhelmed our brains get and the more stress we experience. Things were definitely simpler and easier when our choices were two and one was the obvious right one and one was the obvious wrong one. When we have hundreds of choices, our brain panics a bit and freezes a little. "What should I choose?" "What do you think?" "Which one is the best?" Questions we have all been asked by friends. 

But, shouldn't we be experts at choosing? Shouldn't we just KNOW what we want? Especially now that we have all this generational and collective practice? Seems like not. And THIS is EXACTLY WHY I love the ancient tradition of Zen. Because it brings me back to the beginning of time, where no phrase is wiser than something as simple as "Chop wood, carry water."

A very different message from the promises of spiritual enlightenment that I imagined as a tween that was just beginning to dive into spirituality. Back then, if someone tried to sell me Zen, I would have rejected it as quickly as I would have rejected anything that made any sense back when I was in my twenties. "Screw anything logical, rational, reasonable and true," covertly said the resistant and self-centered voice in my head. Why have Zen when I can have infinite bliss and happiness?

And here's the answer: because there is no such thing as feeling good all the time. Because that simplistic and reductionist view of what is possible in life is nothing more than a pipe dream and an utter fantasy. And although I can completely understand the innocent belief in its possibility, I can completely see that it's just not true or possible.

Now, spirituality is not about seeking to feel good all the time. Now, spirituality for me is about acceptance of the reality of life. Now, spirituality is about paying attention to everything and believing nothing. Now, spirituality is about allowing life to be what it is and has always been. Now, spirituality is about embracing and being intimate with. Now, spirituality is about letting life speak to me and dictate to me rather than the other way around. Now, spirituality is about surrender and not about control. Now, spirituality is about taking responsibility and not about dreaming and hoping that magic will save me. Now, spirituality is about saying saying thank you for all blessings rather than asking for more. Now, spirituality is about receiving my life openly rather than resisting and fighting the love that I am.

Gassho.