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!

 

Body Statement

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We have the power to pick the lock of our own suffering!

Our bodies.

There is perhaps no greater manifestation of anxiety than that which we place upon our physical form. We spend so much of our time in an elliptical of judgement, comparing ourselves to others. In a marathon of attack thoughts, we obsess over pounds we have yet to shed, muscles we haven’t developed, and physiques we may never attain.  It’s more exhausting beating ourselves up over our perceived imperfections than it is actually going to the gym!

Anyone who has known me for a while knows that I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my body. I’ve been obese, anorexic, and everything in between. I’ve carried the shame of being overweight, and I’ve known the pains of starving for perfection. At every weight, from a high of 240 lbs. to a low of 155; in lifestyles variances, a completely sedentary video gamer in my adolescence to a hyper active 7-days a week, twice a day gym goer by my mid-twenties; and in every diet, from processed fast foods to organically vegan, the feeling has always been the same: I’m not good enough.

That’s my life’s F.E.A.R. maxim, and by fear I mean “false evidence appearing real.” And indeed, it’s a pretty terrifying refrain!

Recently I started re-reading Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles. It’s a 40-day guidebook for manifesting a radically happy life. Four years ago, when I was living in Kansas and only dreaming of California, a friend randomly suggested it to me. What I thought would be another dust collecting Amazon purchase ended up being THE catalyst for a new and amazing life. I’m positive I would still be stuck in Wichita if I had not read that book and done the work that allowed me to attract the life I have today in Los Angeles. Three years later, everything about my life has changed! Well everything but one…

The sunset photos on the beach, selfies with colorful friends, inspirational meditation quotes, and vegan food porn pics have all been posted with that same “I’m not good enough” refrain lodged into my subconscious. That’s called the ego–the part of you that wants to cling to the familiar, playing it small so you never step into the uncomfortability  of the unknown. A positive statement about my body is what my ego fears the most.

So, of course, in reading May Causes Miracles again, one miraculous shift under my belt, it’s fitting that this longstanding ritual of body hating would surface. I’m so thankful that it did because in doing the course work this past week which was focused on the relationship we have with our body, I have finally come to not just know but truly feel a massive shift: You can either identify with the physique that is your body or you can vibrate with the grander purpose of what it is you are meant to do with the physical form you were given.

I’ve spent the last few days really meditating on exactly what it is that I, Jason Aaron Dilts, was put on this planet to do. Once the fog of attack thoughts cleared, it was so obvious. I am here to create community. I am here to bring people together as an activist under banners that collectively bring forward meaningful progress. I am  also here to use my gift of writing to articulate in spoken and written words messages that will resonate for positive cultural shifts and deep healing. When we let go of negative dialogue and limiting beliefs we allow in the freedom to receive everything those limitations have been blocking. Instead of the fear maxim of “I’m not good enough” I now have the mantra of “I am not my body. I am free.”

I know I am not the only person who is handicapped by body image issues. I am sharing this post because I hope if you too are gripped by negative perceptions about your body that you’ll be so bold as to step outside this limiting belief. Sit for a moment and think about YOU–not your body but your essence. What is it you were born to do? What brings tears of joy to your eyes when you think about doing it? What do you know you were put on this earth to do?

When you know the answer to that, you have the power to write your own body statement! And I want you to write it out. Sit in stillness and listen to a song that uplifts you. I listened to Donna DeLory’s “Sanctuary” while I wrote mine and I’m happy to recommend some otherbeautiful mantras. As the song plays, breathe in the feeling of joy that living this purpose will give you. Breathe out the any anxieties that arise.

Write it out.

There’s something powerful about putting down in words the essence of who you are.  Those words are your body!

I’ll start by pasting my statement in the comments. Share yours in the comments below if you feel called to. Or place it somewhere at home where you’ll be able to see it regularly to remind  yourself that our purpose is our body!

PS) Read May Cause Miracles–I’ll even buy you a copy if you can’t afford one yourself (serious, private message me!).

Our Stories Matter

12088224_10100781798975842_1426083380258562527_nOur stories matter. Where we go, who we meet, what we learn, what we do, and how we do it aren’t just matters of personal chronology—they’re part of a collective tapestry. Our stories are experiences lived within a body that’d distinct to us, yet only put into motion by effects greater than us.

So at 33—likely well over 1/3 of my life already lived—what is my story? More importantly, why does it matter? My life is no more or less significant than anyone else’s, though like everyone else, I have a distinct mission. Part of my life’s purpose is sharing so that others may learn and grow from the experiences I’ve had. I know this to be true because I’ve seen the effects.

The moniker of this blog—Homo on the Range—was a monthly column published in a local arts/lifestyle magazine in Wichita, Kansas from 2009-2012 and later in a regional Midwest LGBT publication until the end of 2013. These were formative years as it relates to equality because it was during this timeframe that public opinion in the US on same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general began to shift dramatically. Most HotR readers were straight, and many of them were Republicans who were somewhat traditional in their mindset.

Over the course of 60+ columns, I learned that an authentic voice can have a real effect—anywhere! There’s a reason why public opinion on LGBT rights shifted so fast—so many of us were telling our stories in our own unique ways. With the advent of social media, those once ignorant or resistant saw that our lives and our love weren’t all that different from their own. Homo on the Range was one person in one place; there were many far more significant voices that got us to where we are today. If you’re honest about who you are, your message with resonate with the audience that it’s meant to reach, and it will have a ripple effect!

It’s now 2016 and I’m not in Kansas anymore. I live in Los Angeles and work at a spiritual community center in avant-hippie Venice Beach. I practice Kundalini yoga, eat vegan food, and frequently partake in sound healings. My life literally couldn’t be any less “Homo on the Range.” And just like there was a story about the gay guy who once ran the Democratic Party in Kansas, there’s a story in what I’m experiencing now—several actually!

I’ve resisted writing much about my life in California, partly because it’s been such an inside-out experience, but also because what I do now seemingly has nothing to do with what I did before. How does one go from being an agitated, agonist political activist to a peace-seeking, meditating spirit junkie? I had to trace the evolution of who I’ve been to understand it myself…and it goes something like this:

  • Political Activist: I realized I was gay when I was 14. The same day I understood this about myself I also knew there could be no congruence between who I am and what I was raised to believe. I grew up baptized in fundamentalist Christianity; I had to choose between my sexuality and my spirituality. I embraced the former and stuck a big middle finger to the imaginary man in the sky. Coming out of the closet also meant going to war with those who wanted to keep me inside. I got politically active at 17 during the 2000 election because I didn’t want George W. Bush picking the Supreme Court justices who would define what my legal rights would be. Two years later, President Bush was fighting a “war on terror” and I was named the executive director of the Democratic Party in Wichita, KS—while I was still a teenager and very much out —a bold thing back in those days! I ran the Democratic Party for 8 years, fixated on turning Kansas blue. Most of the candidates I worked with lost, but in the process we built a robust party organization of progressive activists in the middle of a very conservative state. During my tenure, we elected the first Latina to the KS House, the first black woman to the KS Senate, and sent the first Indian-American to the Kansas Legislature. Most importantly, we made our community stronger by connecting with each other over shared values.
  • Arts Advocate: Politics was only able to give me an outlet for my outrage; there was nothing to cultivate my creativity or nurture my soul. I found a fresh energy in art: going to film festivals, being transfixed by canvasses at galleries, and getting lost in the sounds of local bands playing in refashioned warehouses. Needing a change of my own, I left my post as ED of the Democratic Party after the Obama election. I got involved with a local group called ROKICT whose mission was to promote art and culture in Wichita, and with the same gusto and passion I had poured into politics, I made advocating for art my mission. It was a fun romp that also allowed me to start freelance writing—which is how Homo on the Range was born!
  • City Council Candidate: So maybe I wasn’t quite done with politics. Simultaneous to the “ROKICT days” was my quest to win a seat on the Wichita City Council. It was rooted in a deep desire to develop Wichita’s downtown and have the arts community be at the center of that revitalization. I hoped to unit the Democratic Party with an emerging coalition of artists and musicians to pull off what would have been historic: the election of the first openly gay official to a major city office. The trouble was all in the timing—and the intention. I realized that if I won a seat on the city council I’d likely be anchored in Wichita well into my 40’s. I’d barely left Kansas at that point and I wanted to experience so much more in life. The truth is that I found politics to be a constant stress and a draining burden, especially with the ridiculous amount of money one needs to raise in order to be viable. I was fundamentally unhappy, and was really only in the race because I felt obligated to all the people who supported me—and there was many! So with broad support, impressive fundraising numbers, and the wind at my back I pulled the plug on my own campaign at the end of 2010. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, simultaneously liberating and absolutely frightening.
  • Lost Wanderer: What happens when you abruptly leave public life, 12188907_10100795921993202_2558272347108691660_ndetonating your own career for reasons most people don’t understand? You get a job at a non-profit that has nothing to do with the work you once did, get out of town as much as possible, drink lots of alcohol, and find a random person on the Internet to be your best friend! Or at least that’s what I did. I found myself having to constantly explain my decision to people whenever I’d run in to someone while out (and it was Wichita, which meant it wasn’t hard to run into someone you know). This got annoying so every chance I got, I’d get out of town, going to Kansas City, Lawrence, Austin, NYC, San Francisco, and just about anywhere I could afford to travel on my modest salary as a non-profit events manager. This wasn’t often enough for my liking, and since most of my friends didn’t really understand my decisions, vodka, tequila, rum, and red wine became great companions! I found conversations with libations less than enthralling, though, and decided to make a person who had randomly friended me on Facebook my new best friend. For two years, about the only person I shared much of my life with was a guy named Amir. He lived on the East Coast and knew nothing about my prior life, so it was easy to just lose myself in him. Amir had a lot of issues, though, which is probably why I was attracted to him. Gay, Muslim, and mentally anguished, he was everything that we collectively are afraid of. It was too much for him. He killed himself at the end of 2011 in a very harrowing experience that I’m not going to detail here. More alcohol—and this time loud blaring of Nirvana music and an obsession with Kurt Cobain followed…for like six months. I dreamed about suicide everyday and did some really risk shit for the next few months. After I discovered mold in my apartment, my naturopathic doctor friend and his very wise cat took me in. It’s there that I began to heal.
  • Change Manifester: By the time I moved in with the doctor and the 18518_938299313952_980317045_ncat, I was taking antidepressants and generally resigned to living unhappily ever after in Wichita for the rest of my life. I tried to find jobs to hire me out of Wichita, but to no avail…I was stuck, or so I felt. At the start of 2012, I did make two positive changes: to be completely vegan and to start exploring my long shelved spiritual side. Omar’s death shook me to my core and made me realize that we’re all souls traveling on a plane. My mother opened my mind to more eastern philosophies and I found comfort in the idea of reincarnation—that our journey on this earth in this body is one of many we’ll experience as part of a beautiful cycle of lives. The doctor taught me how to meditate, the cat reminded me what it feels like to be loved, and by fall I had a renewed sense of optimism when I visited Los Angeles for the first time. It was a formative trip: I hiked to the top of mountains, saw the Pacific ocean for the first time, ate amazing vegan food all day, and enjoyed wearing a tank top in WeHo on Halloween. When I saw the sunset at the top of Runyon Canyon for the first time and looked out at the sprawling city below, I heard a clear message. “Somewhere down there in the midst of all those buildings there’s a place for you. There are people you need to meet, work you need to do, and a life you need to live. Get yourself here and you will live a life more full and more happy than you could ever imagine.” I flushed the antidepressants down the toilet that night and went back to Kansas the next day with “Change Your Life” as my ethos. I checked myself in to a 10-day silent Vipassna meditation retreat at year’s end and spent all of 2013 working a plan to get me to LA within 12 months. It included working 4 jobs, doing Gabby Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles course, letting go of a lot of old shit, and also getting a giant tattoo with the words “Change Your Life” etched onto my torso just to ensure I didn’t back out of this contract I had made with myself. Yeah maybe that was extreme, but it worked! I ended up saving enough money to live in LA without a job for a year, but got hired into a job that brought me to my new home a month earlier than planned. It was clear that LA was where I needed to be.

It wasn’t until I got to LA that I understood what anything I’d done had meant. The timeline of events, jobs, and identities that I enumerate above seemed like fragments of a fractured existence. Yet once I started doing some serious self-examination, everything began to make sense. It’s that journey that I want to start sharing—what I’ve learned since I moved to LA and what I’ve come to understand is important for us to realize collectively. It’s an inner journey with serious outward effect!

Our stories matter because all of us are connected; I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter in this wide-open range! More to come soon, I promise!!

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Don’t get COOKed. Own Who You Are.

Own It!

Own It! Courtesy of Dan Cook’s Instagram

Who you are matters. What you do with your life matters. The image you present to the world matters. And most of all, your identity matters. That’s because each of us occupies a distinct space on this planet that no one else can satisfy. Personalities, talents, and capabilities collide with mission, purpose, and destiny to allow the unfolding of 7 billion epic adventures—all at one time.

A recent celebrity encounter on the beach reminded me of my own responsibility. Yes, that’s the most LA sentence ever written.

It was a sunny day in Venice and I just wanted to soak up the rays. I was landlocked in Kansas for 15 years so whenever it’s above 80 degrees there’s a personal mandate that I find at least an hour to suntan. So I threw on my banana shorts, ripped off my shirt and put on my shades. A 2-minute walk later and I was lying in the sand, caring only about how beautiful the rolling ocean in front of me appeared. This dabble of luxury was actual an act of defiance.

Laying shirtless in the sand for me means bearing some of my deepest personal wounds to the world. I was overweight as a kid and well into adulthood. Ten years ago I dropped 80 lbs., going from a blobby high of 240 down to a very thin 160 in 10 months. Stretch marks envelop pretty much ever corner of my body as a result. I’ve been obese. I’ve been anorexic. I’ve been many things in between. Right now I’m at a point where I could afford to lose a good 10 lbs. and tone up my muscles a bit. So on top of the stretch marks, I’ve got a thicker gut that I’m used to carrying around. Hence the defiance—I’m keenly aware that I’m no pinup model and this, after all, is Southern California so if ever I forget, a constant parade of shirtless muscle boys with toned asses and chiseled chests will remind me.

Weight, in excess or in absence, is the physical manifestation of much deeper forces. I was obese as a kid because food was where I found comfort—an escape from the taunting and teasing I endured throughout my adolescence on account of being gay. As an adult, it’s still all too often where I find solace. Especially when I’m stressed or lonely, food becomes my comfort. If I don’t keep my insecurities in check, the beach turns into a discomfort. Which is part of why I constantly put myself in a situation sans shirt. When I bear my chest I’m baring my soul—sometimes messy, but always true.

Since July 2013, taking off my shirt has revealed more than just my stretch marks. I have a giant sized Buddha engraved squarely between my ribs that runs the entire length of my abdomen. The words CHANGE YOUR LIFE are floating inside the jolly deity’s tongue. Those words are there to remind me that forward motion is the only trajectory. They were purposely etched onto the spot where I carry the most shame so that I could be continuously reminded to keep the negative self-talk in check. It’s working—and if I ever needed proof the universe sent it to me in the form of Dane Cook. Yes, the comedian Dane Cook.

After spending a good 2 hours tanning, I took a walk along the ocean and called my dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. In the middle of explaining the spiritual significance of plant based medicine (which I’m pretty sure one-ups the “I’m the gay son” quotient) some guy asked me if he could take my picture, specifically of my tattoo. Not having much experience with paparazzi, I obliged, a little annoyed that my conversation was interrupted. I didn’t bother to introduce myself or even take the time to get off the phone. Turns out it was a celebrity taking a picture of ME.

An hour later, I learned that I had been COOKed, DANE COOKED. Apparently, he found my banana shorts, Andy Warhol hair, and giant tattoo amusing enough to have his way with me on social media, snarky comments about self-identity and all. My phone started to blow up as I watched a steady stream of several thousand Facebook “likes”, Instagram “loves”, and Twitter “re-tweets.” Then there were the comments—all 500+ of them in total. That’s where shit gets interesting….

The initial reaction to my likeness being blasted to over 5 million people was a mix of body shaming/gay bashing/transphobia (I’m not transgender, though it would be cool if I were…)/Miley Cyrus jokes. Apparently some people think I look like a wrecking ball…

Basically ever insecurity I had ever encountered was on full display for the world to see; and the world was giving me back exactly what I had been giving myself! The first few dozen comments were harsh. I had a moment when I started to go into the story of believing them. Then I realized we write our own stories! The venom in those comments doesn’t even come close to the potency of the defeating words I’ve often found floating around in my own mind. So I decided to just OWN IT.

I’m gay. I wear colorful clothes. I have weird tattoos. I rock large crystals around my neck. I have spiritual beliefs many find bazaar. I have stretch marks and body fat. That’s me, right now in this moment. And I’m good with that.

So I posted a simple statement that read: “Happy to be comfortable in my own skin. Proud to be gay. Own who you are. Love is the only thing that’s real. Everything else is an illusion.” Then I pasted a link to this blog explaining the origin of the tattoo.

Once I flipped the dialogue in my own head a funny thing happened—the conversation online shifted. A cavalry of “be yourself” defenders came riding in. Words about being who you are, loving yourself, and accepting your physical form overtook the haters. My message box started to be flooded with people telling me their own stories about battling eating disorders, feeling out of place, and wanting to change their lives. Shift the energy within and it emanates out.

Getting good with who we are is important not so much for our own egos, but rather for understanding how the uniqueness of our being fits into a broader collective. For me, I live as boldly and authentically as possible, presenting a colorful, loud and unique avatar so that others might step out of their shell and step into the fullness of who they are. When we work to ignite the spark in others, we all grow exactly as we should.

Dane Cook had his way with me at the beach, but we’re the ones who can get the last laugh if we just drop into the uniqueness of our own identity. OWN WHO YOU ARE

Sat Nam in the City

When I lived in Kansas, I was homo on the range; literally—and as a matter of literature.

I was an out gay man running a political party at 19, and several years later a columnist for a popular local m10845912_10100546475785402_4435399975493342740_nagazine called Naked City. It was sort of like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City. Except my life really wasn’t glamorous, the city wasn’t New York, and I spent more time politicking than I did dating men. So actually it wasn’t Sex and the City at all. Homo on the Range, both the column and the life, was its own, unique creation.

Then I left the range and moved to California. There’s really nothing special about being gay in in the Golden State. It’s actually rather commonplace here, especially in Los Angeles. If you followed my adventure on Facebook, you saw a never-ending feast of vegan food, endless sunsets on the beach, palm trees galore, and an overall happy life. That was genuine. You didn’t see the other element that was equally real, though: the depth of how alone I felt after I moved.

Even when I was at my lowest, I always knew how to be me in Wichita. I continually attracted people into my orbit. I really didn’t have to do much work, either. I assumed LA would be the same. It wasn’t. This is a town of ambition, egos, and fast-paced movers. Friends are often seen as potential competitors, and the sprawl makes meeting up for coffee an arduous affair. I found myself wandering this curious city alone most days. That bothered me at first, but then I stopped fighting that loneliness and just went into it: deep inside its chasm, to the innermost chamber of my mind.

Turns out that the journey within has a range far more vast than Kansas—and it’s open to everyone, the gays included!

You’ve probably noticed that I post often about meditating and something called Kundalini Yoga. When I moved to Los Angeles, I anticipated spending a lot of time in West Hollywood drinking mojitos at The Abby and cruising hot boys on the Santa Monica strip. I think I’ve done that exactly twice in the fourteen months I’ve lived here. Instead, I spend a lot of time doing weird hand gestures, holding uncomfortable postures, chanting phrases I can barely pronounce, and breathing in and out at odd intervals.

It all started when I stepped into a place called Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood. I knew exactly two people when I moved to this city, and one of them always posted about going to that spot. I enjoyed yoga for a bit in Wichita, and wanted to get back into it. I assumed this was a “normal” yoga studio—you know the kind where they do down dogs and warrior poses while sort of tiptoeing around the fact that there’s a higher purpose to all the movement? Kundalini Yoga is anything but usual, and it’s totally out of the closet when it comes to its spiritual nature.

In Kundalini, you pull energy up your spine and through the seven chakras, working to balance the power-centers in your body. You focus on your body, mind, and soul being in unison. You quiet your thinking and let the stillness of a calm mind heal you. There are literally thousands of kriya for doing this, and pretty much any problem you’re having can be dealt with on your yoga mat. Weird energy or high stress at work? Mediate to release irrationality! Difficult boss? Ego eradicator! Want to manifest something specific, like say new friends or a more money? There’s a mantra you can sing! Addicted to Internet porn? There’s even a literal butt-kicking series that will help you harness your sexual energy! There’s a reason some people call it Kundalooney—it sounds bazaar until you give it a try.

It was in the range of this odd practice and within the science of its motions that I began to find my own footing in the new city that I now call home—and on a deeper level that I began to feel truly and wholly at peace. Loneliness gave way to a divine self-examination and allowed me to go deep—really deep into issues I’d never resolved. In Kundalini Yoga, we have a mantra that’s a constant refrain: Sat Nam. Loosely translated, it means “truth is my name.” There’s no segmenting parts of yourself when it comes to stepping in to your divine truth.

As a gay man who grew up attending a fundamentalist Christian school and came of age during the heyday of right-wing Christianity dominating our politics, I had divorced my spiritual self from my sexual self. Most of us who are gay feel at some point that we have to make a choice between being who we are or being true to our religion. I choose to be honest, and in doing so had to acknowledge the truth that Christianity (and organized religion in general) wasn’t the path for me. For my entire adult life, I pretty much left it there. Yet, somehow I could never leave behind the guilt and the shame that far too often accompanies the reality of being gay.

We busted through the closet door, survived an epidemic, lived our lives out in the open and among opposition, and have now won the right to march down the aisle to marry. Yet all of those battles have left us shell-shocked as a community and in need of healing on a deep and profound level.

Within Kundalini Yoga, I found an integrated acceptance that I’ve never known. I’ve discovered a practice that I can come to as an out gay man where I can sit equally and without shame. Once I got serious about the practice, I started to find a community of like-minded people on a similar journey. And recently, I’ve found a spiritual home in Venice where I’m making new friends and collaborating my talents.

I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I am very much still on the range—a never-ending horizon of deep discovery that’s guided by something greater than me. I acknowledge my spiritual self, and because of that I am very much proud to be a homo!

I went over a year without updating this blog because I really didn’t know how I could be “homo on the range” in California. Now I understand that the range stretches far beyond the prairies, and that gay people everywhere have continual expansion to do themselves, no matter where we live! I’m going to start updating this again regularly, though instead of the whole gay boy in Kansas shtick, this will focus on the spiritual path that’s unfolding as I step out of shame and claim the divine nature of having incarnated as a gay man.

I guess I’ll never be Carrie Bradshaw. That’s ok. I can settle for Sat Nam in the City!

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