Overlooking the Pleistos Valley on Mount Parnassus in Greece lie the ruins of The Temple of Apollo. Carved into the stone at this temple were 147 Delphic Maxims, said to be given by the Greek God Apollo himself. Quite possibly the most famous of these is the simple yet profound saying “Know thyself.” Among the other 146 maxims is a wealth of ancient insight and values that the most virtuous of people still hold today.
Ancient Greek philosophy arose over a half a millennia before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. This time and area of the world is often referred to as “The Cradle of Western Civilization.” At the time, philosophy was used as a way to perceive the world through a lens of truth without the influence of dogmatic principles that religion often imposes on its followers.
The maxims are also believed to have come from the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece.
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!!!!
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…
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.
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!
Below is an accurate dramatization of my face when I read it.
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!
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!
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?
So yeah, I’m sponsoring two kids at the Integral Heart Family.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Apparently surviving a stroke that took half my eyesight and almost killed me would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. Before I get into how all that transpired, I need to give a little background on how it got to that point.
Growing up, my parents took the same approach to life that most people growing up in the United States could relate to. Their plan for my three younger siblings and me was simple: Go to school and get good grades so you can go to a good college. Then get a good job and make a lot of money so you can have nice things and then you’ll be happy. This was the mantra that I, like many other kids in the U.S., grew up with; the American Dream. I followed the guidelines and my years of hard work finally paid off when I landed a job working for a Fortune 500 company in Rockefeller Center, Manhattan.
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a professional businessman. I wanted to wear nice suits, work in an office with breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, dine in fancy restaurants, and date women outside of my Long Island gene pool. Each of these I had achieved more and more year after year as I slowly clawed my way up the corporate ladder. One job change, a couple moves from Long Island to Queens then the Upper West side of Manhattan, a few raises and promotions after almost a decade in the corporate finance realm, and I finally got to the point where I felt like I had “made it.”
However, when I got to that point I still wasn’t completely satisfied. In fact, I only wanted more. Then I saw an opportunity to move further up in the ranks when my director informed me that she would be leaving the company. This was the opportunity I was waiting for! I asked for and received more responsibility along with a sizeable increase to my salary. This eventually transpired into a “be careful what you wish for” situation. In the coming months I felt the responsibilities and workload piling up with no relief in sight. So began the silent war within myself that would lead to the event that shattered all that I had built for myself my entire life.
I worked longer and harder than I ever had in order to prove myself. In doing so, my life became completely imbalanced with the scale always weighted toward work. Over the next six months my stress and anxiety levels were higher than ever trying to keep up with my new workload, as the company had not yet found a suitable replacement to fill the empty role in the finance department. My mind began to turn against me and I felt as if I were stuck in the trenches of my work-related stress even when I left the office. Luckily at this point I was about to go on vacation with my girlfriend at the time to visit her parents, who had retired to a small village in Mexico. It was my first time visiting the country and I was delighted by the relaxed and care-free attitude of the locals and blown away by the beautiful beaches and nature that I immersed myself in. This was the vacation I needed! But all good things must come to an end, so on New Year’s Day 2014, we were dropped off at the airport to head back to New York City, or so we thought.
At the airline service counter, I was handed my boarding pass to return home. In that exact moment, I felt a sharp pain on my left temple like I had never experienced before in my life. I shut my eyes, grabbed my head, and let out a grunt. When I opened them, half my vision was gone and everything was blurry. Something was very wrong. I let my girlfriend know what was happening and that I was pretty sure I was having a stroke. I told her to get an ambulance immediately. I lay down where I was, drank some water, and began vomiting as my body convulsed on the floor of the airport. As the paramedics arrived, I began to feel a tingling sensation run throughout the right side of my body and I was starting to lose control of basic motor functions and consciousness. It was in this moment that for the first time in my life I thought to myself, “I might die.” I’ve been afraid before, but nothing could compare to the feeling I had on the floor of the airport on New Year’s Day 2014. The paramedics hooked me up to an IV and took me to the nearest hospital, which was luckily just down the road from the airport.
I was fortunate to survive with only having partial vision loss and no nerve damage. It was only when returning to New York would I realize the cause of my brain injury. The doctors at Cornell discovered a hole (PFO) inside my heart, which caused the blood clot in my brain. Not too longer after diagnosis, I was on the operating table in Columbia Hospital to remedy the situation. I never thought I’d be having heart surgery in my early thirties. My, how life is full of surprises!
Readjusting to city life after a stroke and heart surgery was by no means easy. At first, it was really bad. I had trouble physically getting around the crowded streets of New York City with only half my eyesight. My personality had changed drastically, as I had become more solemn. My relationships with my girlfriend, family, friends, and co-workers had all shifted to some awkward place that I was unfamiliar with, each in their own way. Invoking intimacy was not what it used to be, as my sex drive was stuck in first gear. I was nowhere near as fun and positive as I used to be when hanging out with friends and family. I had difficulty focusing so my performance at work suffered a great deal as well. My weekly therapy sessions proved to help temporarily, but my mind would constantly return to dark places. After a year of living this new life as a man I was no longer familiar with and didn’t even want to be around, the thoughts of leaving the planet began to cross my mind for the first time ever. That really scared me, so I did something I promised myself I would never do: go on medication.
I went on antidepressants and was also given Xanax that I was instructed to take only when my anxiety levels become unbearable. After just a few days, I levelled out. My depression was gone and my anxiety was non-existent. There was just one little problem: I didn’t really feel anything. Everything was just “fine.” If something good happened, my emotional response was “That’s fine.” Something bad happened? Also fine. At first I was so glad to have rid myself of crippling depression and anxiety that I was satisfied with living as a flesh-covered robot. That lasted only a couple of months. After a while I saw that I was rapidly dismantling into a highly functioning soulless drone. Was this better than living as the strung-out anxiety-ridden person I was before? Were there no other options for me to choose for continuing on with my life?
After picking up my prescription pills for the third month in a row, I hit the gym and when I got home later that evening, I realized they had slipped out of a hole in the bottom of my gym bag. I took this as a sign and decided to try going off of my meds cold-turkey. I fought through the withdrawals following the first few days then started to feel really human again. At this point in time, it was a little over a year after I survived the stroke and it became abundantly clear that I had a choice between pushing on with the usual day to day or maintaining my sanity. I chose my sanity. It was early 2015 when I officially decided I would quit my job to travel and figure things out somewhere else in the world. I immediately began downsizing my life. Most of my possessions were sold, donated, given away, or put in storage. With each item that left my possession, I felt physically and emotionally lighter, as if I were dropping off weights I had been carrying on my shoulders for years. That’s when I began the journey that would change my life forever.
In the summer of 2015 I bought an RV and my girlfriend, dog, and I decided to leave the corporate world behind and start anew in Mexico. After three months, a ten thousand mile road trip, and just over a month living together in the foreign country, it became apparent to us that our relationship of over three years was not going to work any longer. After it sunk in that everything we were planning for the future fell apart, I was completely lost. At least when I was in New York I had the comfort and stability of my job, family, friends, home country, and a language I was fluent in. Now I fell into yet another dark place, but not for long! I was determined to make the best of my situation, so I grabbed a backpack and began solo travelling for the first time in my life!
In the first month, I was just winging it and hopping on buses to the next stop on the backpacker trail of mid-western Mexico. This was a great experience where I met tons of friendly locals, expats, and travellers from all over the world. For the next phase of my travels, I decided to do a bit more planning. I was still hurting from my break-up and needed some physical, mental, and spiritual healing. So the next phase of my trip included an Ayahuasca ceremony in the Pueblo Mágico of Tepoztlán. My experience with Ayahuasca was very introspective and I kept receiving the same message over and over again: “You are on the right path.”
Next was a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in Coatepec, Veracruz, another Pueblo Mágico. This was one of the most difficult yet profoundly enlightening experiences I’ve ever gone through. Ten days of being silent and meditating for eleven hours a day really helped silence my mind and take control of my thoughts and actions.
The last stop in my second walkabout was a month-long work exchange stay at a holistic healing retreat center called The Sanctuary in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. Here it took just a few days at for me to realize that the Ayahuasca was right. I was on the right path! I learned new meditation techniques, was doing yoga every day, got a crash course on preparing meals for a high-raw vegan lifestyle, and shared the community house with extraordinary people from all walks of life. We worked, chanted, communed in nighttime ceremonies, shared our most intimate thoughts and feelings, and even cried together. This was exactly what I needed! Not too long after arriving, I ended up joining the team as general manager and The Sanctuary became my home for the next six months. During that time, I helped guide dozens of people through that chapter of their life’s journey, an experience I’ll never forget! It was here where I learned that truly spiritual people are those who have been through hell and have the overwhelming desire to help others out of their own versions of it.
After The Sanctuary, I was presented with the ultimate traveler moneymaking opportunity: trimming marijuana in Northern California, so I took it. I spent the next two months hunched over a table as a pot hairdresser. Once again, it was the people I was surrounded by that made the experience a memorable one. Nothing helps the time fly like sharing stories, listening to our favorite music, and laughing together around the fireplace at night when our fingers needed to rest.
With California in my rear-view, I made a stop in New York to visit friends and family before heading to Puerto Rico. This was the home of a girl I fell in love with during my time in Mexico. The connection we forged during our short time together was different than any other in my entire life. It was based on a love and respect for who the other person was at their core as opposed to who we wanted them to be. Though the relationship would not continue after my visit, she without a doubt raised the bar in my ongoing search for a partner in life.
Once again I was leaving a piece of my heart behind and continued on with my travel journey! I flew into Cancún and worked my way slowly back to the beach city that helped heal my heart better than any other: Puerto Escondido. This trip was more about the journey than the destination for sure. In the Yucatan peninsula I witnessed and scaled massive ancient Mayan pyramids. While in Tulum I participated in a beautiful and emotional peyote ceremony where I took an even deeper look into the inner workings of my mind. In Palenque, I became one with nature after consuming the local magical mushrooms and bathing in the jungle’s mystical waterfalls near the ruins. As usual, sharing these experiences with travel mates amplified my experience. At this point I was a certified travel junky and never wanted it to end! Good thing I was going to nest in a beach paradise and backpacking hotspot.
Back in Puerto Escondido, I stayed in a Vivo Escondido Hostel for a month until I found a
long-term rental. You guessed it… more awesome people!
I ended up at a gorgeous newly-constructed two-story house where I would spend the next six months pursuing passions that I had been neglecting for years. I learned to surf, explored the local natural beauty, focused on healthy living, caught up on my travel blog, wrote a few articles, DJed at multiple venues, and made sure to enjoy every day as best I could. Mexico gave me the opportunity to let me live my life the way I wanted to for a while without any judgment, and for that I am forever grateful.
Just a few months ago, I took a two and a half week visa-run/vacation to Guatemala to visit my friend Luke Maguire Armstrong in San Marcos. He and I met while I was managing the Sanctuary in Puerto Escondido the year before and ever since becoming friends, I grew ever more curious of his work with a school for impoverished children in Antigua, Guatemala. I spent my first two weeks immersing myself in the raw beauty of the active volcano communities surrounding Lake Atitlán where he lived. Here I would partake in yoga, cacao ceremonies, ecstatic dance at the Yoga Forest, and even Bhakti singing at The Fungi Academy. All activities of course were shared with new and exciting traveller friends of various nationalities. For the finale of my stay, I even booked myself a DJ gig at Bar Sublime, a quick ten-minute boat ride across the lake to San Pedro.
After bidding farewell to my new friends I met on the lake, Luke and I headed to Antigua to visit the Integral Heart Foundation’s school. Though I had been helping remotely with fundraising efforts for months before visiting, actually meeting the children I was helping made it much more personal for me. It was incredibly heartwarming to actually see the children in person, knowing the adverse environment they had come from not too long ago. None of them were going to school and many were forced to rummage through garbage dumps for pennies a day due to difficult circumstances. No wonder these were the happiest school kids I had ever met in my life!
A couple days later, I said goodbye to Luke and the kids to return to Puerto Escondido. However, when I got back a shift happened within me and I slipped into another depression. I began to question what I really wanted and needed in my life. I missed my friends and family back home and my funds were starting to run low. After a month of self-reflection, I decided it was time to return to New York.
So now I have come full circle… kind of. Over the course of a little more than two years I have had more adventures and experienced more of what this incredible world has to offer than most people do their entire lives. It’s comical for me to look back at all that happened, remember living in my own personal hell for so long, and to see how far I’ve come since those times of intense despair. It was like a mental quicksand; the more I struggled, the deeper I would sink into it. Of all the lessons I’ve learned, my greatest one is probably this: My mind can be my worst enemy or greatest ally. In the end, I am the one who gets to choose which one it will be. I had to journey into the unknown and experience life firsthand to personally integrate this lesson myself. My experiences and the hundreds of connections I made along the way were what really saved my life. Without them, I don’t even want to begin to think about where I would be right now. I still have no vision on my right peripheral, but I can once again see a beautiful future for myself, something I had lost immediately following the stroke.
In over two years of traveling I have had many revelations, but none more important than this: At the very core of my being, I am a traveler. It is one of the few things in life that makes me feel truly alive. By traveling, I saw for myself that so much of what I thought I knew about foreign cultures was wrong until I experienced them firsthand.
Meeting people from all corners of the Earth gave me a new perspective on life. I realized that although we may have been born thousands of miles away, were raised in completely different cultures, and in many instances didn’t speak the same native tongue, none of us were that different from each other. In fact, many of us were on our own personal quests searching for a deeper meaning in life.
Living and working in New York City for a decade had put me in contact with people from all over the world. This, however, was completely different from my experiences traveling, as most Manhattanites had found their way and were usually more focused on their careers than soul-searching. In my personal experiences with the people I’ve encountered, those who travel are seekers, searching for something that was missing in their lives back home. For me, I was missing a greater purpose, something that my fundraising efforts with the Integral Heart Family in Guatemala fulfills.
The best part of my story called life thus far is that it is nowhere close to being complete. I still have many more chapters to write, thousands of new characters to meet, and countless adventures to experience. In over two years of travel, the greatest gifts I have received were the connections I have made with my soul tribe from all corners of the Earth. I left New York to heal myself and find a higher purpose and I feel that I have accomplished these goals. In my experience living over thirty-four years on this planet, I have found no greater healer than creating deep and meaningful connections with other souls. This lesson I promised myself to follow through with and spread to as many other people as possible. What better place to continue this journey than New York!
It’s been a while since my last travel blog and I’m definitely skipping over months of my journeys in 2017. I’ll get to them at some point, so bare with me.
Fast forward a half a dozen months since I flew into Cancun back in late January and my 180 day Mexico tourist visa was about to expire so I needed to leave Mexico for a bit. What better excuse to go and visit the neighboring country of Guatemala! Luckily for me, my friend Luke lives in a house overlooking the mile-high Lake Atitlán in the active volcano town of San Marcos, Guatemala. It’s good to have friends in high places!
After the 12 hour overnight bus ride to San Cristobal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas, I stayed at the most recommended hostel from my fellow travelers: Hostal Puerta Viaja. It’s basically an enormous re-purposed colonial mansion located in the heart of the city. Every night they have a very affordable dinner available for their guests as well as nighttime musical entertainment in house.
My stay in San Cristobal this time around was short lived as I had booked a 5:30am bus ride to Panahachel, Guatemala the next morning so I could be in San Marcos before nightfall.
After arriving in Panajachel, the main port of Lake Atitlán, I immediately hopped on a boat to San Marcos to meet my friend Luke at his home, Lush Atitlán, on the lake.
SO… WHO IS LUKE?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself since he and I met back in the summer of 2016. I’ve heard and seen bits and pieces of his life and the more I get to know about him, the more interesting of a human being he becomes. He’s traveled to over forty countries, helped with the Founding of the Integral Heart Foundation and written multiple books; one of which is a novel he’s been working on over the past few years and was nearly finished with it by the time of my visit.
Below is a photo of him working on his current passion project, a novel entitled “Jerry the Hamster”.
Needless to say he has a unique writing technique.
He and I first met a little over a year ago while I was general manager of The Sanctuary in Puerto Escondido. One morning, he walked in to our 6:45am meditation session with an expression on his face that I knew all too well. Without revealing any intimate details of his life, I’ll simply say that he was going through a difficult relationship situation. Over the past decade of my life, I too have visited the same realm of despair and heartache more often than I’d like to admit. We became fast friends and have been following each other’s adventures in life ever since. Seeing his new home on the Lake in San Marcos and his work with the Integral Heart Foundation made me grow curious of who this guy really was and his vision regarding how he lives his life. While exponentially more people have been reaching out to me lately on how I have drastically transitioned from the corporate life to traveling and living abroad, I have been looking to Luke for my own guidance. I couldn’t think of a better way to truly understand a person than by living in their world for a while; so I did… and I was not disappointed.
MY FIRST FULL DAY ON LAKE ATITLÁN
“THE DAY OUT OF TIME”
I woke up early to meditate by the lake before venturing out. Around 9:00am there was a knock at the door. When Luke opened it, he was greeted by his friend Niels who joyfully exclaimed “Today is the day out of time!” Both perplexed, we pushed him for clarification. So he explained:
“The Day out of Time” is always synchronized with July 25th. Based on The Galactic Calendar, this is the 365th day of the year, but this day is no day of the month, and no day of the week. This is a day for sacred pause and celebration before the dawning of The Galactic New Year which is always July 26th!
Obviously the timing of my visit to the lake could not be better. So… how does one respond to news like this? You invite the man in for a joint and a guitar/drum circle of course! Not a bad start to the day out of time in my opinion. The rest of my day refused to disappoint as well.
Afterward Luke and I headed to Circles Cafe and Hostel to satisfy our munchies and my caffeine addiction. This incredible place was the logical next stop in our journey through the day out of time. I love my coffee, so having the below setting as my place to enjoy it only magnified my sipping experience.
After our food and my caffeine needs were satisfied, we wandered through the town meeting Luke’s friends, practiced counting to 10 in Mayan with the local children and catching up on all that’s been happening in our lives since we met last year. While exploring this new city, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the incredible artistry at every turn.
Later on that evening, we headed to an outdoor improv class hosted by a friend of Luke’s.
To end the night, we had dinner at a restaurant that also happened to have a temezcal-like sauna. We went in for four doors, three of which lasted for 108 chants of our favorite mantras.
That more or less sums up the activities in our day out of time.
The following day was more productive and less eventful as I spent most of my time doing work for my recently launched business concept: P2P Puerto Escondido. Being in such a gorgeous and relaxing setting was perfect for me to put all my focus into the finishing touches for the company launch party back on August 12th.
The day after began with a fun twist on two very relaxing past-times/hobbies. It was called “Marijuana Yoga”. I don’t think I need to explain how this works, but just in case, I’ve provided a simple flow chart below.
Smoke marijuana -> Do Yoga -> Acquire food and coffee afterward
Not too long after coffee and breakfast, I received a message from my friend Miguel from Spain that I met several months earlier in Puerto Escondido while staying in Vivo Escondido Hostel. His message was pretty simple. See photo and caption below.
Are you here?
SAN PEDRO (PART 1)
He just left San Marcos and was across the Lake in San Pedro. Being that I planned on heading over there at some point, I figured, why not now? The fun thing about being on the lake is that anytime you want to go to a different town, all you need to do is head over to the dock and wait 20 minutes or less for the next boat to come around. So I took the 6:00pm boat to San Marcos and checked in to Mikaso Hotel y Restaurante. When Miguel told me there was a jacuzzi on the roof I was sold.
Real quick thing to note before I go any further. San Marcos is the chill/hippie/spiritual/mindful/zen town on the lake while San Pedro is the party town. I do enjoy balance in my life. That evening we went for dinner and drinks at Bar Sublime, which is in a gorgeous location surrounded by local flora right on the lake. Shortly after we finished dinner, the DJ started playing. Long story short, I was both buzzed off the beer and displeased with the music so I inquired with the bartender regarding any openings for a DJ next weekend. He pointed me in the right direction and boom… I’m hired for next Friday.
The next day was spent relaxing in the rooftop hot tub and wandering around the city before returning to San Marcos.
BACK TO SAN MARCOS
After staying at Luke’s place for my first few nights, I decided to try out some new scenery… for less than $10/night why not? I stayed down the road in Hostel San Marcos for a couple nights. In a word: ‘meh’. Afterwards I checked myself into Hostal del Lago, it was easy to see that’s where I’d be spending the remainder of my time in San Marcos.
With an incredible staff, yoga available several times a day, fun night time group activities like drum circles, movie night, live music and karaoke, it is clear why this is the best hostel in San Marcos… possibly the best one on the lake. Oh, did I mention the views?
Aside from the place itself, it definitely attracted some incredibly interesting travelers with whom I made fast friends with. One of which was a traveling photographer from Chechnya who I was lucky enough to get some free professional DJ head shots from in an incredible setting.
Another was a traveling guitarist from Detroit. He and another hostel guest had a jam session one night. Good times.😎
The day after checking in to Hostel del Lago, Luke asked me “Do you want to go to a cacao ceremony and ecstatic dance a little ways up the mountain?” Since he has been living on the lake for about seven months at this point, he has become quite privy to the more interesting happenings in the area. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot regarding proper traveling. My preferred method is most definitely having a friend that you met and connected well with in your travels that now lives in the place you want to visit. I highly recommend doing this whenever possible.
The day began with a visually stunning half hour trek up the mountain to the Yoga Forest. I had no expectations on what this place would look like before going, but if I did they would have been surpassed.
Upon arrival, we were each handed our cup of hot cacao and sat in a circle with the rest of the group as ambient music played in the background. After a while, people rose from their sitting positions and started moving slowly to the music. The cacao was kicking in! Soon enough the group of roughly 30 people started dancing in tribal-like fashion to the music for several hours.
Everything was more enjoyable than I imagined it would be. A combination of the natural high from the cacao, being half way up a mountain in the forest surrounded with incredible people from all over the world and views overlooking the lake easily made it one of the major highlights of my visit to Guatemala.
FINAL DAY IN SAN MARCOS: CACAO CEREMONY AND BHAKTI AT THE FUNGI ACADEMY
Yeah… my curiosity piqued when I found out that a Fungi Academy existed as well. Feeling adventurous one night, Miguel and I decided to climb up the mountain in the dark to see what it was all about. When we arrived at 9:00pm the mostly German inhabitants of the Fungi Academy were shocked that we made it all the way up the hill in the dark… and me in flip-flops. We chatted with them to get some information on the academy before heading back down the hill and they let us know of yet another cacao ceremony… this one with with Bhakti afterwards. So of course we got the info on that and climbed back up the mountain a couple days later with our new group of friends from Hostel del Lago.
We had some time to relax and enjoy the views while they were setting up the ceremony space, so we decided to get creative with some panoramic photos.
Not too long after, we were called inside for a quick tour of the academy. I learned more about medicinal mushrooms in the next half hour than I have in all my life.
When class was out of session, we all made our way to the ceremonial space, created another circle similar to the yoga forest and sipped our cacao while we all sang and chanted various songs and mantras primarily in English, Hindi and Sanskrit. It has only been about a year and a half since I incorporated chanting mantras into my weekly schedule. There is something to be said about the resonance and intention behind them that always leaves me feeling like some major shift happened within my body once I am finished. Doing it in large groups only magnifies this feeling.
BACK TO SAN PEDRO
By the time we finished chanting our last mantra in the Fungi Academy, we had about 2 hours to catch the last boat to San Pedro and about 3 hours until my DJ gig at Bar Sublime began. This was the first time I took a motorized boat across a lake in order to get to a gig. This is something I could definitely get used to, especially at sunset.
Before heading to Bar Sublime, I checked into what is known as the biggest party hostel on the lake… Hostel Fe. Before I was given the keys to my room, the bartender poured two shots of tequila, handed me one and said “Welcome to Hostel Fe!” It was easy to see how my stay here was going to go.
Off to my gig… just a two minute walk down the road from the hostel, how convenient. The interesting thing about Guatemala is that all music needs to be shut off by 11:00pm. Yes, ridiculous I know, but those are the laws and they are heavily enforced. Starting a nighttime gig at 8:00pm was interesting… and once the legendary trivia night was finished back at Hostel Fe, the crowd poured in and the last hour of my gig was the highest energy crowd I’ve had since La Piedra de la Iguana back in Puerto Escondido about a month prior.
The next day my new friends and I mostly hung out around the hostel, laughed as we recapped the happenings of the previous night and listened to music on the balcony. Other than that, things were mostly uneventful until the next day when Luke and I headed to Antigua to visit the children and staff at the Integral Heart Education Center.
THE INTEGRAL HEART EDUCATION CENTER IN ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
So I’ll be upfront. This school was my main reason for coming to Guatemala. Don’t get me wrong, getting my visa renewed, visiting Luke, experiencing Lake Atitlán and connecting with dozens of extraordinary people were amazing add-ons, but I’ve felt called to visit this school the moment I saw Luke first talk about it in a video I saw of his last year.
I don’t believe in coincidences anymore, but I strongly believe in following signs. While I was still in the corporate world, shortly after I made my decision to leave New York and head to Mexico, I heard about a lunch and learn down the street from my office at the CBS corporate office known as “Black Rock“. After reading the communications e-mail from CBS about the lunch and learn, I was intrigued.
Come to a lunch and learn with New York native entrepreneur, philanthropist and author to learn how he turned an initial investment of $25 into more than 200 schools around the world.
You have my attention. This man turned out to be Adam Braun, the founder of Pencils of Promise and he is 5 months younger than me. On my 12,500 mile road trip through North America back in 2015-2016, this was the first book I read and I loved every page and chapter/(mantra) of it. Where did he get his original inspiration to begin this global organization? You guessed it: Guatemala. That’s when the seed was planted in my subconscious. Now let’s get back to our visit to the Integral Heart Center in Antigua.
Luke and I stayed just a few minutes walking distance from the center and when we arrived, the younger kids were in the middle of English class and upon entering a dozen or so of them began shouting “Luuuuuuuuke”. It was easy to see that he is popular with the kids here.
I was given a quick tour of the school, sat in on and participated in some of the classroom games and activities then was told the story of some of the kids. Hearing the story of the Hernandez children really hit me in the heart. Below is the video I made that helped to raise over $1,500 during my visit.
Though we’ve had support from a little under 200 individual donors throughout the world, we are nearing the end of October and are a little more than $21,000 short of our goal for 2017 to keep the school going. We’ll be doing some very hard pushing to get the money needed to ensure that these kids have a chance at life. It won’t be easy by any means, but we do not see failure as an option.
I’ve asked before. I’m asking now. And I’ll keep asking until we find sustainable funding and don’t need to ask individuals any longer. Anyone who has the means to donate, knows someone who can help or has any input on how we can achieve sustainable funding to give these 80 kids a real chance at life, please, please do so. Donate, share or reach out to me, Luke or Mick with any way you think you can help.
At the time of this article’s publication I have been out of the corporate world for just over two years. I’ve traveled extensively throughout much of North & Central America and have learned more about myself and the people that inhabit our world then I have in the 32 years prior. I’ve learned some of the greatest life lessons in my past two years and one profound lesson during my time in Guatemala that I’ll share now.
“Bucket lists” are not for me. I don’t have a list of places that I need to check off some imaginary list in my mind before I die. I started doing that while traveling and found it to be immensely unfulfilling. Looking back, the most memorable moments I’ve had in my life wasn’t witnessing the power of Niagra Falls, hiking through the narrows at Zion National Park in Utah, kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland or camping out on the cliffs of Meat Cove in the northern most point of Nova Scotia. Don’t get me wrong, they were all incredible experiences, except maybe the Blarney Stone… I heard the locals get drunk and piss on it at night. Sorry for ruining the magic for anyone reading this.
What I’ve found in over two years of traveling is that creating deep lasting connections with some of the most incredibly inspirational people I have ever met in my life is what has filled my soul more than anything. I’ve left places on my journey that didn’t resonate with me and stayed longer at those that did. Because of these intuition-driven choices I’ve built deep purposeful relationships with the people who live there and now feel as if I have many places on this planet where I can call “home.” I now see home as a feeling rather than a place.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
From the time of my visit to Guatemala to this post’s publishing, many things have happened. I have returned to Mexico, test-launched a business concept (P2P Puerto Escondido) and abruptly left for central Florida to help a friend settle insurance claims after Hurricane Irma rolled through the middle of the state back on September 10th. My path has taken plenty of unexpected turns and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s this: Life has some crazy yet exciting plan for me and my only job is not pay attention to the signs, stay on the path and not fuck it up.
Having faith that everything will work out for the best even in my darkest moments has proven to be the greatest challenge thus far. I would without a doubt be completely and utterly lost without the help and guidance from those I have met along the way. They have been the ones to help me open up to the beauty of the unknown. I am beyond grateful that I made the decision to take the road less traveled; there is no doubt in my mind that it has in fact made all the difference.
The week I spent in Tulum was one of the major highlights of my journey through this region of Mexico. Not even getting bit by a stray dog on my first full day could ruin all that lie ahead of me. Exploring the natural wonders and participating in an inspiring plant medicine ceremony in this gorgeous coastal city with a bunch of new friends from all over the world can help you get over just about anything.
I arrived in Tulum late at night and was welcomed to the hostel by a couple of friendly Argentinian guys. Quick travel note: When traveling in Mexico be prepared to meet a ton of people from the following countries:
Australia (This also goes for the rest of the world. These people are everywhere. There is no escape.)
First thing after breakfast the next morning I hopped on my complimentary rental bike from the Lobo Inn Hostel and headed into town. About five minutes into my journey I heard a dog barking behind me. Then it got closer… and closer… until the poor hungry bastard bit my heel.
Thankfully he found the stench of my feet unbearable and walked away immediately after the attack. I didn’t incur any major injuries or get rabies… I hope.
After drowning the wound in antiseptic, I then headed to visit my friend Rodrigo’s gallery, TAI Gallery located in downtown Tulum on the corner of Chetumal-Cancún/ Mexico 307 & Acquario Sur.
He and I met at an Ayahuasca ceremony in Tepoztlán back in February of last year. After the ceremony, we began to chat and he told me that if I were ever in town when he had a peyote ceremony I should join. Obviously I agreed and here I am in Tulum for a ceremony. That story I’ll save for the end of this post as it served as the grand finale of my week long stay in the area.
When they are at the ceremonias, they see what they have to do in their lifes, so kauyumari (the blue deer) gives them all the tools to keep walking and leave offerings.
One of these tools is the ability to make beautiful jewelry, so they have an income to buy food and a roof to live under.
All the jewelry is inspired directly from visions they have during ceremonies. The colours to put in, the history and prayer that goes into each bead they use is a gift of patience, love, and talent.
My ceremony would be at the end of the week, so I had plenty of time to explore in the meantime!
Tulum is home to some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Mexico, so I made sure to explore them, along with the ruins, right after meeting up with Rodrigo.
After a couple days on the soft-sand beaches amongst the coconut palm trees I met up with my friend Finn from Germany. We met back at the Mezcal Hostel in Cancún and decided to go exploring the Ruins and cenotes of Coba just an hour north of the city.
After exploring and scaling the ruins of Coba, we rented some bikes and took off for the Cenotes just a few miles away.
Cenotes are natural pits or sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.
Come join me on my descent into the Earth in the time-lapse video below.
Once deep inside the Earth, we were greeted by some of the freshest groundwater we’ve ever encountered. What better way to cool off after a day of scaling ruins and
I’m not gonna do what everyone thinks I’m gonna do and just…. flip out man!
Some live music at Batey in downtown Tulum after our adventure.
The next day I headed off to the hostel where the German girls I met back in Cancún were staying before we headed to what we were told were the best cenotes in the area.
But first I had to get a photo with the biggest dream catcher I’ve ever seen.
The term “dream big” became the recurring joke of the day.
We headed off on our 20 mile bicycle journey north of Tulum to the Dos Ojos Cenote.
Biking that long will work up a hell of an appetite, so before diving into the caves we made sure to order a ton of fresh ceviche.
Now we’re ready for our descent into the caves!
The cenotes Finn and I swam in in Coba the other day were no way as fun as the cenotes of Dos Ojos.
Of course we had to get a group shot before heading back to Tulum.
And of course someone’s bike chain had to fall off every mile or so on theway back.
Later that night we said goodbye to Yannick and Florian who were headed to Merida. This would not be the last I saw of these crazy Austrians.
To finish off my time in Tulum I would participate in an incredible peyote ceremony administered by my friend Rodrigo and a few others.
No phone usage allowed during the ceremony to allow deep introspection. I did however snap a photo of our Shaman guide the morning after the all night ceremony.
After the ceremony we gathered our offerings of fruits, vegetables and flowers and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise and gift them to the ocean. I’ve had many plant medicine ceremonies over the past year, but this one was very special and I wanted something to remember it.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a plethora of this jewelery available at Rodrigo’s TAI Gallery located in downtown Tulum. After browsing through the shop and seeing the gorgeous bracelet below with a vision of a bird weaved into into it, I immediately knew it was made for me.
The person I’ve been evolving into over my past year and a half of travel values the lessons and the experiences we take with us when our bodies die and are returned to the earth and our spirit returns to source. In my new way of living, material objects serve little purpose unless they act as a reminder to the aforementioned.
As of very recently, I was glad to hear that thanks to a little networking, my friend Lee was able to arrange an Ayahuasca ceremony at the same location we had the peyote ceremony the previous month.
It is one of the greatest gifts in life to play even the smallest part in the divine timing that helps connect others through ceremony.
Next stop: Merida.
My visit to 🇵🇷Puerto Rico🇵🇷 was driven by my desire to explore a connection with an incredible woman that I fell for back in Puerto Escondido in the summer of 2016.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned while traveling, it’s this: Nothing ever works out exactly how I plan, but more often than not, things usually find a way to turn out infinitely better that way in the long run.
During my 40 day visit to La Isla Del Encanto I was delighted to have experienced so much more than I had originally bargained for.
What I have come to realize is that one of the greatest personal benefits I receive from traveling is the deepening of my knowledge regarding the history and anthropology of each region I visit from the people who have lived their most of their lives. That said, I was delighted to find the Puerto Rican people to be among some of the friendliest I’ve come across in my travels throughout Latin America thus far. At every stop in my tour of the island I was greeted with a smile, open arms and a plethora of food… usually in the form of pork and plantains.
However, when it came to conversing with the Puerto Rican people in their native tongue it didn’t take long for me to realize that Puerto Ricans speak their own unique brand of Spanish. When attempting to speak their language, I was told that I talk like a Mexican. Well… at least I’m doing that right.😊
Besides the people, the gorgeous landscapes and natural resources of the island have proven to be one of its most exquisite assets.
El Yunque Rainforest:
El Yunque is a sub-tropical mountainous rain forest located on the eastern end of Puerto Rico, where the trade winds first meet the island and dump the rain.
The Puerto Rico rainforest is a unique part of the U.S. National Forest System.
Christmas this year was spent wading through the drowned forests of La Parguera in the southwest coast of the island.
El Rincon, the surfer’s part of the island, hosts beautiful coastlines and many beach-side restaurants.
ART & MUSIC
It is now incredibly apparent to me that art comes in many forms and I recently had to rethink the way I encapsulate it. If you asked me how I would define art, my answer would be this: Devine love transformed into a tangible gift for the senses of others. When a musician performs from their heart, those lucky enough to bare witness feel it stir something deep within themselves. This was a pleasant surprise for me on more than one occasion during my time in Puerto Rico.
Ileana Mercedes Cabra Joglar aka ILE (of Calle Trece)
After hearing recordings of her angelic voice fill the halls of the Sanctuary back in the summer of 2016, I moved my arrival date to Puerto Rico up a week so that I’d be able to catch this incredibly talented and beautiful artist perform live at Teatro Tapia in Old San Juan. Although she’s only 27 years old, she has an incredibly mature talent with a fan base that spans several generations.
Lucky for you, I recorded a portion of my favorite song from her performance that night back in December 2016.
Roberto Roena (The Puerto RicanGodfather of Salsa)
When it comes to salsa music, it’s not usually my go-to genre, but I will say this: Roberto and his band know how to absolutely rock a packed club!
Claudi of Pinc Louds
One Sunday morning we went to an event, Hangover Brunch, where her friend was performing and I was surprised to find the artist, Claudi of Pinc Louds, from New York City was also performing in the hipster region of Rio Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The arts district starts at ‘Stop 12’ in Miramar and continues for approximately 4 miles with the largest concentration of arts, culture, nightlife and entertainment in the Caribbean! We made sure to spend some time in this area to behold some of its breathtaking street art.
I just wanted to add this little tid-bit regarding men’s fashion in the Caribbean as I find it to be fascinating. Being considered a stylish man anywhere in the Caribbean is actually quite simple. All you need to do is wear a short sleeve button down shirt with four pockets on the front. Make sure there are FOUR pockets! I cannot stress this enough! That’s it. You are now a Carribbean fashion icon!
CULTURE, HISTORY & POLITICS
Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian
As divine timing would have it, the final weekend of my visit just happened to be the biggest party weekend in Puerto Rico. That’s right, I was there to experience the San Sebastián Street Festival in Old San Juan. On this long weekend in mid-January from Thursday to Sunday all the roads in Old San Juan are closed off to motor vehicles. Over 200,000 people were shuttled in by the busload and the entire city becomes one giant festival filled with music, dancing, food and of course drinking.
For those who don’t know, San Sebastián was this bad-ass from the third century AD who was crucified by the the Roman emperor Diocletian’s reign during the persecution of Christians. He is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. Despite this being the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian, he was, according to legend, rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Shortly afterwards he went to Diocletian to warn him about his sins, and as a result was clubbed to death. He is venerated in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and celebrated in the streets of Old San Juan for one weekend every year.
Promise Law: From my understanding, Promise Law in Puerto Rico can be summed up like so: Seven people from the United States come to the capital of Puerto Rico to decide what is best for it’s people. The governor basically gets their coffee and/or any snacks they require and then proceeds to tell the Puerto Rican people that all is good.
I would like to point out two things regarding Puerto Rico’s economy. First of all, Puerto Rico is in serious debt. Secondly, one of the major catalysts for this are taxes that the United States imposes on them grossly outweigh the financial benefit they receive in return as a colony. The American Revolution was started because of taxation without representation, so it’s no surprise that many of the Puerto Rican people want to either be their own country or become the 51st state.
Whilst in a bookstore, I happened upon a book entitled “Free Puerto Rico”, so my curiosity got the best of me. I flipped to the first page and this is what I found:
The Pardon of Oscar Lopez: For those who don’t know, he was one of the leaders of FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional). His Presidential pardon occurred during my visit in the twilight of Obama’s presidency. Oscar Lopez is to Puerto Rico what Guy Fawkes is to England and the rest of the world.
I feel this is an important part of history to reflect on to better understand how imperialism, colonization and policing the world have proven time and time again to be major catalysts in the rise of radical terrorist activities worldwide.
One artist in a gallery I came across in Old San Juan had an interesting take on American foreign policy in a vivid portrayal shown in the painting below.
It’s incredible how perceptions change when you look at something from the outside rather than from within. This holds true not just for nations, but for relations as well.
LOVE❤️ & LETTING GO😢
Distance is an interesting thing. The well-known and somewhat trite saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” has time and time again proven to be true throughout my life.
My favorite 19th century poet and writer, Kalil Gibran, paints a much better picture with his words when he speaks of togetherness in his masterpiece, The Prophet:
Let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each others’ cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another your bread, but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the Cyprus grow not in each other’s shadow.
The time I spent in Puerto Rico was without a doubt one of the fastest 40 days I’ve lived so far on this earth. I now have a much deeper understanding of relativity after my visit.
It’s a beautiful thing to be lucky enough to have someone in your life that you can miss when they are not in your presence. It’s even more beautiful feeling as if they are right beside you even when you are thousands of miles apart.
My appreciation and understanding of art has grown exponentially in recent years. If I had to choose my favorite medium, it would be the ephemeral human being as it flows graciously through life.
I see art in watching someone lovingly dance through the kitchen as they prepare a delicious meal. There is art in transforming the tears of screaming toddlers into smiles and laughs through song. Art can be stepping into a house full of strangers from all corners of the world and immediately inquire if those preparing dinner would like any help. And of course, it truly is an art to breathe new life into the heart of another that lost its way not too long ago.
I’ve experienced so much from so many different relationships in this life to perceive love the way I used to. The most profound lesson I’ve integrated is understanding the difference between love and co-dependence. The easiest way I could exemplify the difference between the two is thus:
Co-dependence says “I need you and can’t live without you.”
Love says “I want you in my life but I wish you the the greatest happiness possible in yours, even if it isn’t with me.”
It wasn’t that long ago when I mistook co-dependence for love. I was however lucky enough to discover the remedy for this common misconception; that being self love. It is only when I learned to truly love myself that I was able to fully embody the love of another.
Now I have no intention of bestowing upon you all the juicy details of my love life, but there some less intimate parts that I am more than happy to share.
There was one thing she said to me last summer that still rings true in my heart today and I’m sure it always will. Six little words that completely changed the way I look at love and relationships in general.
I don’t want to own you
After hearing that, I took some time to reflect on all of my previous relationships and had a major revelation as to where they had all gone wrong. Each and every one, in its own way, felt like a mutual ownership of the other person’s free will. It was almost as if I signed up for some form of consensual slavery. Whenever the relationship ended, after the grieving portion at least, I always felt a deep sense of freedom wash over me. This major realization changed everything. I have the utmost of gratitude for the opportunity to break free from these mental chains I’ve carried with me throughout most of my life.
Though our time together was short-lived, having it come to an end hurts in a new and beautiful way. It was the first time I shared a mutual love with someone where we could appreciate each other for exactly who the other person is at their core. The major reason for this being that I only recently figured out who I really am.
It was only when I started to understand, appreciate and love myself that I was truly able to welcome the same from another. Reaching this milestone in my ever-expanding emotional maturity has forever changed me and I am eternally grateful for the experience.
So what’s next for us?
Facing the fact that we would once again be separated for another extended period of time, we both decided not to continue the same long-distance relationship path that we had for the 5 months before my visit.
Living this new reality hurt us both deeply, but we welcome the pain with all its intensity. What better way to grow and evolve than to allow all the feels to wash over us.
A dear friend and one of my life’s greatest teachers once said:
Sometimes it really sucks being a human
I couldn’t agree more. The bright side of the less desirable moments of life is that the pain we feel in the wabi sabi of life helps us grow, evolve and make the pleasurable moments that much more enjoyable.
Though we are no longer together, I have absolutely no regrets regarding the time we invested in each other. In being with her, I gained a much deeper understanding of what love truly is.
In this particular case of love and letting go, I plan on taking the alchemist’s approach to coping with the pain.
So, what will I create? I have a good idea thus far, though I’m not yet ready to share it, and am always open to new avenues of inspiration. Lucky for me, my third backpacking trip through Mexico has begun. What better way to heal a bruised heart and find the missing pieces of our soul than to travel?
And what better next stop after a break-up than Cancún?
I’ll leave you now with a few select lyrics and a link to the video of a very special song that I’ve had on repeat for some time now. No other lyrics at the moment more accurately capture my feelings and state of mind after leaving La Isla Del Encanto.
The road will teach you how to love and let go
It can be lonely but it’s the only thing that we’ve ever known
I’ve traveled half way across the country and back
Only to find love undefined and I’m okay with that