Total Eclipse of the Smart

Version 2We live in the age of information, with finger-ready access to data and facts on any subject. Most of us carry a portal to the world in our pockets, our cell phones the entry point to knowledge once housed in grand facilities and available only to those privileged with admittance.  Smart phones have somewhat democratized information access, yet they’ve also dumbed us down.  Overloaded with text messages, e-mails, breaking news updates, Insta-pics, and Facebook feeds, we simultaneously see everything while knowing nothing. It’s an accomplishment just to clear out our in-boxes and read through our feeds, and those digital demands can siphon energy away from more natural pursuits. In the information age, we’ve traded action for access, reflexively severing the most dynamic parts of ourselves onto an onyx screen.

Yet even in the most diluted of circumstances, each of us knows who we really are. There’s a deep knowing and understand that cuts through the distractions of any age to connect us to our higher, most authentic self. The time is upon us to remember who we really are and start acting on our own instincts!

I’m sitting outside right now at the La Brea Tar Pits writing this column as the solar eclipse is happening. I forgot the buy the glasses, and yes, I have peaked up a few times for a brief second at the sun; hopefully I won’t go blind! While I’m not privy to the solar views the dozens of excited people around me are seeing, I am very much connected to the energy of this moment. I’m in the sunlight soaking up the deepest possible meaning of what is happening right now on our planet, and in particular in our country. This total eclipse is all about examining what we’ve been hiding, uncovering the brightest parts of ourselves we’ve allowed to be eclipsed by the demands of the day and of this age. It’s a moment of collective and individual accountability.

Collectively, there’s no doubt that the United States is in the midst of a dark chapter as a country. We’ve seen an ideology of racism, sexism, and xenophobia emerge from shadows many of us thought were banished decades ago.  We’ve seen greed as a guiding force in nearly every institution. Corruption is now a primary characteristic of many of our leaders. Our new President is a narcissist, uninterested in facts, insecure about his own abilities, and powered only by the accolades of others. It’s easy to be upset at Donald Trump, and while we have every right to be outraged, this moment demands that we ask ourselves how we got here.

We’ve spent the past decade staring at ourselves, our eyes transfixed by an electronic screen that ultimately reflects back to us whatever we want to see. When the Narcissus of Greek mythology looked at his reflection in the water, he became so enthralled by what he saw that he couldn’t pull himself away, surrendering his will to live to an image that eventually killed him because he couldn’t pry himself up from his own beauty. Our smart phones are a 21st century pool, and the world we’ve created inside them has every bit as much power over us as Narcissus’ reflection! Energy knows no ideology; all stripes of thought have been part of what lead us to this moment. While Trump appeals to only a segment of the population, and while the majority of us voted to have a different leader, collectively we’ve been unconsciously culling a dark, self-motivated energy that merely manifested physically in the form of President Trump.

On an individual level, each of us knows how we’ve been playing it small. For myself, I know that I’ve spent WAY too much time obsessing over the latest “breaking news” and listening to echoes of political commentary and not enough time taking action on issue I care about. I’ve wasted hours reading mindless political articles and not enough time writing about higher truths and deeper concepts. For all the time I’ve spent as a political spectator over the past year, I could have written a book and been a novelist by now! I’ve played it small socially, too. I’ve mindlessly surfed my Facebook feed instead of connecting with actual people and deepening friendships. I’ve chatted up strangers on Grindr I never had any intension of actually meeting instead of attempting to connect with guys in a real and authentic way. In short, I’ve allowed technology to dim my own light as much as this eclipse has darkened part of our world today. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

I’m determined to make this moment count, though, and for this eclipse to be the end of the shade I throw on my own light!

This morning I was doing a kundalini meditation to align with my creative flow. It’s a specific kriya for breaking free from that which holds you back so that you can take positive steps forward to live out what you instinctively know is your mission in life. It’s the perfect action for the moment! With eyes closed and arms stretched out at the heart center, right hand placed flat over left, I recited the mantra Hari Nam Sat Nam Hari Nam Hari Hari Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Hari. According to the teacher Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, “The first part of this mantra aligns the powerful creative flow of life (Hari Nam) with your personal identity and destiny.  The second line aligns your intuitions with your intention so the unseen hand of spirit supports your fulfillment.”

It’s a simple mantra really, but over the course of 11 minutes my mind started to wander. Every time I would think about what I was having for lunch, how much my arms hurt, what I needed to do later in the day, etc. I would lose focus and mess up the chanting, getting frustrated and feeling like a failure. As soon as I would calm my mind and focus on the words, though, I could seamlessly recite the mantra and feel a powerful energy envelop me. In this moments, I felt unstoppable. I went in and out of this dance of alignment and misalignment for several minutes before having a realization: when we focus on the work we know we’re here to do, we ARE unstoppable. When we get distracted by our own thoughts—the Narcissus within us— we lose sight of our true power and purpose and it can often feel as though we’re drowning in our own frustration. I understood in that moment that our truth lies in taking action on what we intuitively know we’re here to do, and that in doing so happiness and harmony flows naturally to us.

ig_20987021_1920377438236866_6799378810950123520_n-1503327834_600It’s a lot easier to just dive into our smart phones than it is to use our talents to serve the highest good. Too many of us have dimmed our light at a time when we’re being called on to shine bright. We can see where that’s gotten us. This total eclipse moment is an opportunity for all of us to examine our lives and decide what shifts we’re going to take.  We need to all take a moment to get very clear about what our mission is—what do we need to be doing in this moment to best serve the world? What talents do we have, what skills do we possess that we need to hone? What seeds are we going to plant and what work are we going to do over the next several months?

The time is upon us to stop staring at our smart phones and start doing something more dynamic with our lives! With each of us committing to small, right actions daily, we can emerge from this collective dark shadow just as the sun emerged after the brief moment of darkness today!

PS) I highly recommend trying the meditation I mentioned above! Click here for details and instructions.

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Ego-Friendly Wines

14125689_10101021973399372_6531290440239798060_oTwo things happened when I moved to California that I wasn’t expecting: I started meditating every day and red wine became my favorite drink.  For the last few years, I’ve navigated this odd dance between two diabolical forces: one a practice of calming the mind to go deep in order to mine intuitive knowledge, and the other a tasty indulgence that numbs the mind.  There have been days when I have had extremely powerful kundalini yoga classes where I could literally feel knots being untied in my stomach and heavy burdens lifted; then I’d come home blissed out and celebrate this liberation with a glass coastal Pinot Noir or mountainous Argentinian Malbec.

Somewhere in the mix of the pallet, bliss would morph into fog. What started as a spiritually-induced high turned into a chemically-inflicted (though extremely delicious!) haze that would usually see me passed out asleep early, and up in the morning with a mild to semi-splitting headache. Nothing that a bold cup of coffee couldn’t cure, and not what I would consider to be an addiction, but it was a pattern that began to have a rather unhealthy grip over me.

Be careful of patterns—they have a way of surreptitiously arresting your advancement! It wasn’t until recently that I understood the connection between spiritual development and alcohol craving: the unabashed ability of the ego to quickly trick us into thinking we’re making progress on our journey when, really, we’re just running in place!  When we start to grow, our ego (our limited, separated self that’s body-identified) gets scared. As a natural defense, the ego finds a way to contain our progress.  It finds distractions, often pleasant and harmless in their benign form, that keep us from making real transformation. You can change your activity, but until you’re ready to fully embrace an entire new way of seeing yourself and your place in the world, you’re not really making any huge personal shift. I don’t see the ego as being the conscious-minded answer to “the devil”, but rather the very natural defenses all of us put up when we’re confronted with uncomfortability. Change is hard. When you’re in a practice of meditation, mindfulness, or any personal growth, you will learn things about yourself that are often difficult to own up to. For me, that’s when the cork-screw would come out.

This isn’t a post about alcoholism; I’ve never considered myself an alcoholic. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with responsible drinking. I think you can be a conscious, spiritual person who is growing and evolving and also reasonably enjoy wine and other libations. There’s a line, though, when enjoyment crosses over into escape. While I don’t hold any particular judgments about the fact that for about 2 years I was drinking 2-4 glasses of wine almost every night at home after what were often rough and stressful days, I do now see how that action was limiting my growth and getting in the way of fully embodying my purpose.

My biggest fear has always been that I won’t do anything significant with me life. So gripped by this anxiety that I’ll never make a meaningful contribution, I fell into the clutches of inaction without even knowing I was being held. I have certainly done a good amount of meaningful work over the past few years, but it’s my writing that suffered each time I’d pop open a bottle. When I drink, I tire easily, and I lose the ability to access any higher form of articulation. Since moving to LA, I have learned so much in all of my kundalini classes, and even more in the “off-the-mat meditation” that was my job as executive director of a spiritual center. Often, I’ve had bursts of thoughts that I felt would be useful to share. I’d intend to write a blog post based on what I was seeing and learning, but when I got home, and after I’d do my nightly meditation, I’d hit the wine instead of the keyboard. My ego convinced me that I needed to reward myself, but looking back I see four years of missed opportunities to share in a meaningful way and also significantly develop my portfolio as a writer. That was selfish.

When you’ve been given the privilege of knowing something useful, you have an energetic obligation to share so that others can also benefit. And that’s exactly what I am going to start doing with this post.

Last night during my evening kriya, I was chanting a mantra for self-healing: Guru Guru Wahe Guru Guru Ram Das Guru, a repetition that projects the mind to the infinite and brings in finite guidance. Somewhere in the intonation of those 11 minutes, I saw exactly how I’d been playing it small.

I have a gift and I haven’t been using it. Instead, I have used red wine to relax away the tensions I’ve been experiencing, indulging out the larger lessons the universe has been trying to teach me. Instead of drinking away my stress, I need to transmute what I perceive as strain by writing about it.

I then saw beyond myself and into a collective conscious that I am a small part of within the broader LGBT community. As a collective, we’ve also been playing it small! Those of us who incarnated as LGBT beings did so for very specific reasons: we are ushering in new paradigms around love, sex, and gender, forging new understandings that are expanding what is possible or everyone. Many have stepped up to meet this moment, but many others in the community are dimming their lights with addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, and other substances. At a time when people are literally dying in the streets because of hate, it’s never been more important for all of us to wake up to our missions in life!

This fall I’m taking the kundalini yoga and meditation teacher’s training. I decided to do this because I’m ready to step up and share what I’m learning in hopes it can help others heal and transform. I won’t be the perfect yogi. I have limited flexibility, abysmal mind/body coordination, I drink coffee, and turbans really aren’t my thing.  I’m not going to stop drinking red wine just yet, but I am going to drink much less and be much more mindful of my actions. When I feel I have something that needs to be shared, I’m going to write that out before I uncork that really delicious red blend from Paso Robles!

The ego isn’t our enemy: it’s a stubborn barometer of our stasis. We’re here to learn, grow, and share. That’s how we keep the ego in check and our true selves powering forward.

So, cheers to less wine and more written words!

Creative: Who Am I Not to Be

17990210_10101263858354982_3911944009933736439_oI moved to Los Angeles four years ago from Kansas. That doesn’t make me special. It’s actually quite cliché: the gay guy from the Midwest who escapes the doldrums of small town life to chase the allure of the big city lights. I live in a locale where people arrive every day from all over the world, their dreams and ambitions powering their journey for a different life. Like so many here, I fancy myself a creative: a believer that I have some sort of artistic magic that needs to be shared with the world; entrenched in the mindset that I have intrinsic talent that needs to be read; and motivated by an urgent sense that my words can have some sort of positive effect.

Or so I did. Somewhere along the way my identity as a creative faded and lately I’ve been wondering exactly what it is I am.

I’m a writer, or at least I used to be. In Kansas, I had a popular column called “Homo on the Range” and I wrote for the Wichita Eagle about art, music, and local entertainment. I understood what it meant to be a creative in a place like Wichita. In HotR, my words were helping to further a much-needed dialogue about LGBT equality. When I wrote for the Eagle, those bylines were either illuminating emerging, unsung, or often-times celebrated artistry or they were spotlighting unique cultural happenings. I saw the value in using my ability to write as a vehicle for enticing people into an interactive experience with art. I understood that stories can change minds and that words can shift hearts. In short, I knew what it meant to be a creative force. On that understanding, I was certain that I’d be able to power forward in a new city.

A funny thing happened when I moved to LA, though: my creative spark flat-lined.

It was all a rush of newness at first: hiking in scenic mountains overlooking a metropolis full of billions of lights; miles long walks along the roaring ocean; an endless buffet of colorful vegan food; literally millions of people from every culture around the world. I didn’t have the desire to write because I just wanted to experience life—and I did! Newness eventually fades into normalcy, though. After a while anything becomes routine. Once the luster wore off and I settled into a state of static contentment, I found that when I would try to write, that spark just wasn’t there. Accessing that part of me had always been innate, but suddenly, it was a struggle. It didn’t take me long to realize why.

Inferiority: a massive case of self-doubt and an all-consuming feeling that I’m not good enough.

It’s easy to think that you have talent when you live in a mid-sized city with a largely manufacturing economy where creatives usually bolt for urban and more densely-populated locales after high school. Yet, when you move to the entertainment capital of the world, there are thousands of new people arriving everyday who are more accomplished, more ambitious, better educated, and better looking than you. They’re not afraid to say that to your face, either! It’s also easy to think you’re special when conformity is the predominant culture. In Kansas, my brand was being a progressive gay activist in a red state who was unashamed of being myself and who embraced funkier tastes in fashion, food, and art. Which means that in Los Angeles, I’m basically invisible! When I moved here I realized there was literally nothing special about me. I had nothing to offer that wasn’t already being done. I had no words to say that would be of any use to anyone. I used to think I had books, movies, and TV shows inside of me that just needed the space to be written and birthed to the world. I quickly found out that there’s a hundred-thousand people in front of me, though, who are all better developed and better connected. So I just surrendered to that feeling of inferiority.

Then I started working at a spiritual community center in Venice Beach: something that is even a little weird for Los Angeles! In a temple full of painters, musicians, visionaries, and entrepreneurs I was certain I would rekindle that creative spark. The opposite happened. I found myself charged with the responsibility of bringing needed order and structure to a free-flowing concept that, while beautiful in its pure state, needed parameters to grow.  Organizational charts, budget tracking, revenue forecasting, and staff job descriptions became my life. Sure, there’s a certain spark of creativity in every venture—but this wasn’t the creative mission I was looking for.

I did somehow manage to fashion a unique brand, though it wasn’t exactly one I anticipated or relished embracing: while still flashy, colorful, and very gay I was also a Hillary Clinton-supporting Democrat in a community full of largely anarchist-minded Bernie Sanders voters. I value common sense and hard work, and found myself less interested in “vision-boarding” and “manifesting” than I was eager to just get shit done. Once branded “a militant liberal” by a state lawmaker in Kansas, I was suddenly a conservative! It was the beliefs I had about my own power that proved to be the most limiting, though. With rotating life-coaches, healers, celebrities, and rock stars who had no problem asserting their voice and talents, I found myself constantly struggling to get a word in. Every person I’d meet seemed more charming, better looking, and far more gifted that me. Over time I just gave up. I conceded my creative talents to what I internalized as being the superior artistic gifts those around me possessed. I quietly decided to let the creatives do their world-changing thing, and I’d stay in my organized, practical corner getting shit done. Or, as set up by this mindset, getting shit on. Ironically by the time our center closed its doors, I felt as out of place in ultra-liberal, avant-hipster Venice as I did in conservative, Republican Wichita—and I meditate with crystals and practice kundalini yoga every day!

This is usually the point where I would blame someone else for my experience or go further down the line of attack on myself. The one great thing about being “invisible” in Los Angeles is that it’s given me a lot of space for personal growth. Now I know better. It was a gift that I moved here and had my identity completely stripped away. When you let go of who you think you are you can allow in all that you didn’t even know you could become.

During my first weeks in LA, I attended a Marianne Williamson lecture. The celebrate author and spiritual teacher gives regular talks about a metaphysical text call A Course In Miracles. She said something that night I’ll never forget. Reading from her first book, A Return to Love, her words were a jolt to a lifetime of self-doubt:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

12970883_10100910347882802_3382417353157470810_oMy fear has always been that I’m not good enough and that because of this I’ll never succeed or do anything significant with my life. It’s why so many times I’ve gotten close to achieving something I deeply desired and then gave up or saw it fade away. What I experience has never had anything to do with anybody else; every occurrence has been 100% self-perpetuated.  You can change your location, you can shift your vocation, you can alter your look, you can dabble in different practices, and you can surround yourself with a whole new tribe; but until you’re ready to fully own the responsibility that comes with being who you are in any given lifetime, you’ll never really be satisfied. Hence why I felt the same in Venice as I did in Wichita—in this specific area, while I was living in two different locations at two very different points of my life, I was mentally in exactly the same space!

So yes, I am a creative. It’s my essence. Not because I’ve created anything significant lately, but because intrinsically I know it’s part of what I came here to do. I can’t say that I have that “spark” back just yet, but I do feel as though there’s been a shift in my own perception. I don’t need to be like anyone else or have the status, recognition, fame, or following of another writer or creative. I just need to write from a place of authenticity, and trust that my words will be useful to whoever needs to read them. Accepting that actually takes a lot of the pressure off. Something about that spurs me to get typing again!