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!

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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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