Farewell For Now, Following Freebird

This past decade, I’ve experienced nearly every human emotion possible.

In 2011, my father died. I was 28 at the time and the oldest of four siblings.

In 2012, I was introduced to meditation and yoga.

In 2013, I moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

In 2014, I survived a stroke at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

In 2015, I quit my job and left New York to travel. Mexico became my home for the better part of two years.

My travel/psychotherapy blog Following Freebird was born.

In 2016, I learned how to let go of the bullshit that I unwittingly carried with me most of my adult life.

In 2017, I visited The Integral Heart Family of Antigua, Guatemala and became a lifelong volunteer fundraiser.

A few months later I returned home to New York.

In 2018, I started working for a company whose founder I admire on a personal level: Dale Carnegie & Associates.

In 2019, I found the most incredible woman that I fall deeper in love with every day; something I never would have done had the events of the past decade never occurred.

In 2020, I will be publishing my first book.

 

I realize how blessed I have been to integrate such valuable lessons after living in such extremities.

2011: Losing my father showed me what real loss was, and I developed a deeper sense of empathy towards others.

2012: Yoga and meditation gave me the tools I needed to quiet my overactive mind, truly listen to people, and focus on the present moment.

2013: Living in New York City made me realize that I am unable to thrive in an environment so disconnected from nature.

2014: Having a stroke taught me why people suffering from anxiety and depression often commit suicide and that most suicidal people don’t want to die, but rather they just want the pain to stop.

2015: Traveling alone in foreign countries taught me how to move forward in the face of fear. I also now understand why people who travel never view the world the same way ever again.

2016: Learning to surf showed me that everything in life, good or bad, comes in waves.

Managing a conscious community and holistic healing retreat center showed me that the bravest men and women are the ones who consistently face their fears, talk about their problems, admit their own shortcomings, and work through them with other people who are walking their own path of self-actualization.

The greatest takeaway of all was gaining a deep understanding that each and every one of us suffers, most of us in silence, in the catacombs of our own troubled minds.

This, my 33rd year on that planet, was where I finally began to understand the true meaning of life as taught by the sages of the earth for thousands of years: Suffering and the cessation of suffering.

2017: The people I have come to trust and respect most on this earth, the co-founders of the Integral Heart Family of Antigua, Guatemala, showed me that the best way to become truly wealthy was to give of myself.

Returning home to Long Island showed me that the ultimate test of enlightenment is to go home after years of traveling and spend time with my family. (Thanks Ram Das 4/6/31 – 12/22/19)

2018: I experienced karma first-hand after taking a job with a company whose founder, Dale Carnegie, wrote a book that helped me dig myself out of the deepest depression of my life.

2019: I met Erin, the love of my life. We never would have met had I not experienced all the pain, suffering, and lessons that this life set out to teach me this past decade.

2020: I feel like my life is just beginning; and as one door opens, another must be shut.

Being back in New York these past two years, I have left my vagabond ways behind and assimilated myself back into “the real world”, whatever the fuck that means. While my body is clearly here, my mind is always wandering, my heart is soaring like never before, and my spirit is leading me down a new path.

For now, I bid farewell to Following Freebird, the place I came to heal myself by openly sharing some of my most private thoughts these past five years. I am grateful to all of you, from my family and friends who have been following my journey, to the random strangers that stumbled upon my blog while Googling “Peyote Ceremony In Tulum.”

I have the utmost gratitude for those who have reached out to me when my mind would retreat to dark places; most of whom never realize how the smallest spark of hope can keep someone’s fire from going out forever.

As this door closes, another has been beckoning to be opened. I have been working on a novel, one I am hoping to finish in 2020. It has been inspired by those I’ve met in my travels and the life I have been so very blessed to live.

 

Epilogue

Back in 2015, somewhere along the backpacking trail between Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Escondido, I realized that I was traveling not in search of a destination, but rather a feeling. I’d catch glimpses of it when I would get lost in the beauty of the artwork and architecture of an old colonial city, or when I connected with people from the other side of the world and found out that I had more in common with them than most people from my hometown.

These experiences were what became the lifeblood of Following Freebird; to go where I felt the tugging on the strings tethered to my soul. They took me tens of thousands of miles to three continents, only to come back to the place where it all began.

Like Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd in Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist, determined to fulfill his Personal Legend, I too realized that wherever my heart was, there I would find my treasure.

The treasure that I traveled the world searching for was found in Erin’s love.

You could imagine my surprise when I found out that she got the below tattoo of a bird’s feather just four months before we met. Surely this was just a coincidence. 😉

After years of flying from one place to another, I have found my nest.

And now for the first time in my life, I feel home.

A Deeper Purpose

Since I returned to New York after traveling for two and a half years I’ve been asked the same question over and over again: “What made you come back?”

This should answer that question once and for all.

My desire to repatriate came shortly after visiting the Integral Heart Family in Antigua, Guatemala back in July 2017. I had known about the school through my good friend Luke aka ‘Alekosh’ for about a year and had been assisting in the fundraising efforts for the school for roughly six months at that point. I visited him in Lake Atitlán, where he now lives, then he took me to Antigua to go visit the school at the end of my visit.

That’s where a major shift within me occurred.

After walking in to see dozens of the happiest school kids I have ever seen in my life, spending time with them and letting them practice their limited English vocabularies on me, it put so many things in my life into perspective. Later that night, back at the hotel down the road I had yet another epiphany. Lying in bed I began to ponder… What in the actual fuck have I been doing with my life for the past 34 years?

The mantra of my old life path replayed in my mind over and over again like a broken record.

Study so you can get into a good college and then a good job and then find a wife, get married, have kids and make money so they can go to a good college and get a good job and fffffffuuuuuuck!!!!

Fuck all that

The sad and honest truth is this: I know too many people that have taken this path are fucking miserable. They may not admit to it, but when I look into their eyes I see souls that have lost their spark.

This happening to me is my #1 actual greatest fear in life.

Let’s not get my words twisted here. I’m not trying to say that there is anything wrong with what has come to be accepted as the “common life path.” I know plenty of couples that have taken it that are truly and genuinely happy and I am happy for them. But for ME, right now, I can’t do all that shit. I have too many things I need to figure out before even considering starting a family. I’ve been on a nonstop path of exponential growth, evolution and change for over four years now. Going down the well-paved road of life would just not have worked for me and I know that if I did take that path I would wake up one day and realize…

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I have a deep inner knowing that my purpose right now lies elsewhere right now. Besides, this planet is waaaay overpopulated with humans already. So I took a logical approach to this quandary: Why spend the majority of my time, money and energy raising one, two or three humans when I can spend a fraction of all these things and better the lives of dozens? Not to mention I’d still be free to do whatever the fuck I want… all the time.

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All kidding aside, I just could not justify settling down with somebody and bringing a new life into this world when I know of so many human souls already here on Earth that are suffering and in need of help from those born into better circumstances, like myself.

Now back to the story. A couple days later I left Guatemala and returned home, which was at that time in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico. I was happy to be back, but that feeling only lasted a couple of weeks. Afterward I fell into another bout of depression. Having been down this road before, I knew this was just my body telling me that my soul was sad and that I needed time to reflect to figure out why. What the hell was I doing in Mexico anymore anyway? I traveled to almost every corner of this beautiful country, had countless unforgettable experiences, learned a ton of new skills, focused on old and newly discovered passions and made hundreds of new friends, but for what?

What was I actually going to do? What was my purpose? I didn’t have an answer for that. All I knew was this: I needed a change.

After living with these thoughts and feelings for a few weeks, I decided to meditate and pray on the situation. I asked my guidance for an opportunity to make money and help others. A few days later I received a call from a friend who was working as an insurance adjuster in Central Florida after Hurricane Irma ripped through the area. Damn I’m good at manifesting!

I immediately began to pack up my belongings, said goodbye to friends and booked a flight to Orlando and worked as an insurance adjuster for about two months. So how was it? About eight hours a day every day we were assessing damage to multiple houses, we’d climb onto about three roofs per day in the hot sun and take a butt-load of photos of all the damage. Then we went to our AirBnB/office and input the data into the computer and compile damage reports for another eight hours or until we passed out from exhaustion, whichever comes first. It sucked, but the money was good so whatever, we dealt with it. End of that story.

When the work was complete, I came back to New York. This was extremely difficult for me at first. It was the tail end of autumn, right about the time when the weather really started to suck. After living in the tropics for so long, having the sun set on you before 5:00pm is depressing as fuck.

I didn’t know what I was going to do for work and the first few weeks I spent most of my days sleeping past noon, watching TV and drinking… alone. How enlightening! I knew I didn’t come back to New York for this empty soul-sucking existence I’ve been living since returning so I intensified my job search and reignited my spiritual practice that I put on hold since I left Mexico.

Again, I asked myself “What exactly am I looking for?” and again the same answer: “The opportunity to make money and help others.” Hmmm… Maybe I need to be a little more specific this time.

“I am looking for a career that pays me good money to work for a company that is in the business of improving the lives of others.” BINGO, nailed it! OK, now off to manifest the shit out of this one!

Not too long after, I stumbled across an online job posting for a senior financial analyst at Dale Carnegie & Associates.

Below is an accurate dramatization of my face when I read it.

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No way! A job that I can absolutely rock while working for a company that I have deeply respected for years after reading Dale Carnegie‘s world-famous bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People. This is MY fucking job and if anyone else thinks they have even a small chance at getting it they are S-O-L my friend! I do need to pay homage to my ex-girlfriend Hillary for gifting this book to me years ago. Thanks Hill! (Full Disclosure: She lent me the book. I stole it. She’s never getting it back.)

Needless to say, I got the job. I started back in late February and I never thought I’d be so excited to wake up every morning and go into an office as I am now! Finding this job was the piece in my life that was missing for years. I wanted to put myself in a position to be of service to others. This job ensures that my hypothetical ‘cup’ is constantly being refilled so that it may overflow to those less fortunate than I am.

Another great thing about this job is they are employee-focused so that I can focus my spare time on my own passions in life such as traveling, altruism, DJing and writing. These along with my new career path at Dale Carnegie & Associates make up the cornerstones of my life and what I need to maintain my own personal balance in order to feed my soul.

The person that I was years ago is gone. Finally, after years of seeking I have finally found what I was truly searching for all along: balance and purpose.

Could I have found this without traveling? I seriously doubt it. I would have likely stayed in my misery and kept pushing forward if I never had that stroke give me the warning of a lifetime:

“Live. Really live! …or die… your choice.”

Hemingway knew what he was talking about when he said:

In order to write about life, first you must live it.

And lived it I have! So that’s it. I figured out my life. Everything is great.

And they all lived happily ever after!

THE END…


Nah… that would be a horribly boring ending wouldn’t it? Now we get into the good stuff! The second act is starting and now I get to dive deeper into the greater questions in life and focus on more existential queries. One in particular that I’ve been battling for some time is this: Why are we here on Earth? Seriously… what in the actual fuck are we doing here?

In my life experience so far, researching the life works of some of the greatest minds that have ever lived, traveling, meeting new people from all corners of the Earth and learning to tap into and follow my own intuition I keep coming back to the same answer: To live my life in my highest truth and help others, especially those in need.

This is what I have to come realize is my deeper purpose in this life and that’s what I’ll continue to do until my last breath.

When we live life solely in service to ourselves, our life force naturally diminishes.
~ Sakyong Mipham

What a glorious act of synchronicity that I have come in contact with so many amazing people throughout the world, especially those who have put their blood sweat and tears into creating the Integral Heart Family of Antigua, Guatemala. Débora Prieto, Mick Quinn & Luke Maguire Armstrong are angels to these 80+ children and their families and I am blessed to be even a small part of this school’s ongoing success!

Just last week we did a huge fundraising push as GlobalGiving, the platform we use to crowdfund for the school, was matching 50% of all donations! We saw this incredible opportunity to raise a substantial amount of money so we put in lots of planning and reached out to our collective networks of generous friends and family. The squad in Antigua even found someone to make a professional video for the occasion.

 

The end result? After three days of reaching out to our friends and family we crowdfunded over $10,000 in donations from 138 different people. The amounts below don’t include the 50% match or the $1,000 bonus for finishing in second place out of over 3,700 other organizations also fundraising through GlobalGiving.

Long story short, we are altruistic gangstaz!

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I know what you’re thinking. Who is the adorable little girl with that great big smile holding the “Thank You” sign? Her name is Guadalupe ‘Lupita’ Chiwichón and she is one of the newest members of the school. I’ve been seeing her a lot on the Integral Heart Family’s Facebook page lately and love watching her quick transformation from the shy new girl into this bright ray of sunshine bursting with light! This child is my spirit animal!

I inquired to Mick and Débora about her and to see if she had a sponsor yet. They informed me that she was still in need of one and then proceeded to tell me her story.

WARNING: By reading the next paragraph you are at deep risk of invoking “all the feels”

Lupita’s Story (so far): Lupita is four years old and was abandoned by her mom at her sister’s house. Her birth-father is an alcoholic who has never cared about her. Her aunt, who already has four children of her own, was widowed after her husband was killed. She takes care of her own four children along with Lupita while she works making tortillas and earns roughly 25 quetzales or just over $3 per day.

Unfortunately this story is all too common for the vast majority of Lupita’s new classmates in this poverty stricken region of Guatemala. Children are abandoned by parents who don’t have the means to care for them mostly due to circumstances beyond their control. Luckily for these children, organizations like the Integral Heart Family and Pencils of Promise are working to end this for many who are subject to generational poverty through a combination of education, community and love.

That same day, I made the decision to become Lupita’s sponsor. For the cost of about a dollar a day, or by donating less than 0.01% of my annual gross income, her life will improve drastically.

Seems insanely affordable. Why not double down?

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So yeah, I’m sponsoring two kids at the Integral Heart Family.

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This little dude’s name is Bryon Diaz. He doesn’t know it just yet, but he and I are gonna be bros. Here’s his story:

WARNING: Even higher risk of the ‘feels’ in next paragraph

Byron’s Story (so far): He was born to a family living in a garbage dump. When he was born, his sisters Maria and Carmen had just been taken out of the dump and put in school by Luke in the program he was working for at the time called Nuestros Ahijados or Godschild Project. His mother was renting his sisters to a man for pennies a day so they could salvage recyclables in the garbage dump. His mother more or less neglected him and his sister Carmen, who at the time was eight years old. Carmen cared for him more than his mother and is the one currently ensuring he goes to school and gets an education.

Bryon’s Sister Carmen Before Nuestros Ahijados Intervened:

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Today:

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Maria, Byron & Carmen Diaz

How do I feel with my choice to sponsor two children in Guatemala? It was the easiest and best decision I’ve ever made in my life. Am I worried about the money going to the right place? Not at all. I’ve had a personal relationship with the founders of the organization for over a year now and they are some of the smartest and most caring people I’ve ever met in my life. If I can’t trust them with my donations, then I can’t trust anyone with anything.

Lupita and Byron are living just two of the 85 stories of the children currently attending the Integral Heart Family’s Education Center. There are dozens more with situations similar to theirs, some even more harrowing, and many of them are in desperate need of sponsors as well. If you can spare $35 – $55 a month to change a child’s life and ensure that they are provided with proper nutrition, medical care and school programs, please take it under consideration. The amount of satisfaction you receive from forever changing a life far outweighs having one extra dollar in your pocket every day.

-> CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BECOMING A SPONSOR <-

or

-> CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO THE INTEGRAL HEART FAMILY <-

If sponsoring or donating money online isn’t for you but you want to help and have an awesome time while doing so, our next NYC fundraiser event it will be on Saturday, May 19th at Slate, NYC.

 

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We had an awesome time at the fundraiser back in March. Check out the photo slideshow below.

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->CLICK HERE TO RSVP TO THE MAY 19 FACEBOOK EVENT<-

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The Story of Luke Maguire Armstrong (Alekosh), Co-Founder of The Integral Heart Education Center

Luke is a native of Bismarck, North Dakota and the author of “The Nomad’s Nomad”, “How we are Human”. and “iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About.” He’s an award-winning travel writer who’s spent time in 36 countries and worked on development projects in Kenya, Uganda, Cambodia, Guatemala, and in the Bronx, NY. His work to combat infant malnutrition attracted the attention of Christiane Amanpour and he was featured on the ABC News 20/20 Global Health Special.

His current focus is on financially enabling The Integral Heart Family Education Center that he co-founded with Mick Quinn & Débora Prieto in Antigua, Guatemala back in 2016. Here he teaches yoga, meditation, and philosophy to kids breaking free from the cycles of poverty they were born into.

Searching for an exit from debilitating neck pain that altered his course in 2015, Luke spent time living in Thai monasteries and studying yoga and meditation in Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, Guatemala, and the US.

For the last five years a companion on his journeying has been an imaginary hamster named Jerry. His novel “The Release of Jerry the Hamster,” is on the final lap of finishing and he will be shopping it to publishers soon.

He currently resides in San Marcos, Guatemala on the coast of Lake Atitlán. If you go here and ask for someone by the name of Luke Maguire Armstrong, you will not find him. While in Guatemala the local Mayan people know him simply as “Alekosh.”

The Story of Débora Prieto, Co-Founder of The Integral Heart Foundation

Débora Prieto was born in Vigo, Spain in October of 1972. She is an educator of mentally handicapped children and studied philosophy for three years at the University of Madrid. Débora’s active interest in perennial philosophies continues to this day.

Over the past few years, she has studied with such teachers as Andrew Cohen, Eckhart Tolle, The Dalai Lama, and she has also completed a Phowa course of consciousness death lead by Western Buddhist Lama Ole Nydahl in the Czech Republic. Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice is also a part of her daily practice and development.

From an early age Débora felt a deep interest for matters and reasoning that few around her considered important, let alone essential. Naturally, she followed a life-path that was more closely aligned with her social and cultural conditioning. She got married, found a secure job with benefits, and bought a house. She also developed some serious addictions that eventually led her to an existential crisis which offered her a choice between a life of contradiction and denial or somehow breaking free from everything she knew as being familiar.

Débora decided to take the more trusting option and shortly after separating from her husband and closing many friendships that had no true basis, she happened upon a writer who had just moved to the country across the river, Portugal, from where she lived in Western Spain. Thanks to him she was introduced to meditation and the possibility of living in a completely different way.

Débora met her future and current husband, an Irishman named Mick, quite by coincidence on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2004. From the day their paths merged they have been inseparable in an adventure of learning, growing, and evolution that has driven them until this moment in which they both work, travel and teach together on the joy of life beyond conditioning and the wondrous possibility of relationships free from personal conditioned conflict. They were married in 2007 in Ireland.

As a result of her interest in the works of Ken Wilber, Debora discovered the Big Mind Process developed by Genpo Roshi, which integrates Eastern and Western wisdom in an astonishingly original and effective manner. Débora has trained intensively since 2007 in Salt Lake City, Utah with Genpo Roshi, his staff, and Diane Hamilton in the process. In 2009 she was ordained as a monk in the Zen tradition of Sōtō.

In 2011, she and her husband Mick founded the Integral Heart Foundation which creates conscious leaders through heart-centered sponsorship and educational programs which include the development of mind, body, spirit and emotions. The education center provides education for children from families who live in poverty around the city of Antigua Guatemala.

Both Débora and Mick currently manage the education center and its six staff members. The center is currently home to 85 children with 6 learning programs, a Teacher-Training Program, a library and is serving 1,500 nutritious meals and snacks every month. Since 2011, their programs have delivered classes and support to over 1,200 children and their families in Guatemala.
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Together, their Critical-Thinking/Advanced Functioning Skills and Education Sponsorship Programs have reached an additional 2,800 students and are creating sustainable community leaders. They have also provided over 2,500 food baskets to our 40 sponsored families.

The Story of Mick Quinn, Co-Founder of Integral Heart Foundation

Mick was born and raised in Catholic Ireland. While viewing the film “Angela’s Ashes” in a theater in New York City, he turned to his American friend and said, “Do you remember when you asked what it was like growing up in Ireland?  Well, it was just like this! It was a place where I was surrounded by the continual likelihood of ‘normal’ people doing the most abnormal things; actions that were considered acceptable and customary and were embraced and protected.”

In 1986, like thousands before him, he left his home country. Mick chased the “American Dream,” found it, embraced it and then turned his back on it. After spending seven years as an illegal alien in Boston, doing anything and everything to survive, he “won” his Green Card in the lottery in 1993. This was the first turning point in his life.

The second turning point came when he was taking a meditation class taught by William Arntz, who directed and bankrolled the hit movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” On Will’s advice, Mick sold a service business he started in 1987 and moved to New York City. Then in 1994 a big break came when Mick joined a fledgling recruiting company as a junior partner. In two and a half years the company grew to eight national offices with annual revenues of $25 million.

Mick also became engaged for a time to a daughter of one of the wealthiest families in the US. Now, both his home and business addresses were on New York City’s prestigious Fifth Avenue.

This first company merged with a competitor from California as part of a pre-IPO strategy in 1997. Mick resigned his position shortly after the merger and with the two top sales people from that first company he started another venture, again from the 79th floor of World Trade Center, Tower 1. With intense effort this company ran to $3 million in a year and a half at which point Mick accepted a cash deal for his partnership in a hostile buyout move by his partners.

Tired of computer technology, Mick then started an executive coaching practice to help CEOs and other individuals balance their professional and private lives. His period as a coach gave him the time and flexibility to travel, and with a growing interest in meditation and Buddhism he traveled all over the US and to places like India and France on spiritual retreats.

On August 26th, 2001, while sitting in meditation everything became clear in a moment. Because of this, Mick decided to wind down his NYC-based life to see what might unfold from this realization. His quandary about how to resolve his seven-year business identity with the World Trade Centers was answered two weeks later on the morning of September 11.

Now without an income, his plans to begin a new life had been shuttled into overdrive. It took Mick about two years to wind down his busy life. A brief search for a home in Europe yielded a restored 19th Century watermill in northern Portugal, which he purchased the very day he viewed it.

This move also to led his path to cross with that of his wife, Debora, a native of neighboring Spain, and to a publishing deal in Spain and Latin America for his book Power and Grace – The Wisdom of Awakening.

Mick is currently leading workshops in three countries, notably the Integral Heart Foundation of Antigua, Guatemala. His work is quoted and featured in many publications, including The Washington Times, ADD Magazine, and Woman’s Weekly. He is a former NYC CEO, executive mentor, a sales and marketing expert and a serial entrepreneur with four successful startups in seven years totaling $35 million in revenues.

His most recent bestselling book, The Uncommon Path – Awakening Authentic Joy, offers its readers the clarity to be courageous, the tools to express our originality, and the awareness to sustain our full potential.