Like most of humanity, Erin and I have had more than our fair share of challenges in the first half of 2020. However, regardless of everything we are blessed to still have our health, jobs, and sanity. Now we are able to enjoy a few days off from working, selling our home, packing, moving, and putting out an actual raging electrical fire on our old neighbor’s property all in the midst of a global pandemic. Needless to say we were more than happy to take some time and enjoy what we have been referring to as, ‘halftime.’
Anyone who watches football knows that the second half of the game rarely plays out the same as the first. Both teams have a chance to rest, reflect on what they did well and the mistakes they made, pivot their game plan, make necessary adjustments, and come out ready to fight with a renewed sense of energy in the third quarter.
This is our mindset moving forward through the rest of 2020 and beyond!
A little less than a year ago, we began talking about our plans for the future, how we envisioned it, where and how we wanted to live. Prior to meeting her, I had a half-baked plan to buy some land on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala with the intention of creating a Digital Nomad retreat center; a place where remote workers/travelers could come together and discover the local wonder that exists on this magical lake.
Given the current state of the world, I’m glad that I didn’t move forward with that plan.
Dreaming is a vital part of living a fulfilling life. It gives us a reason to keep pushing forward, especially when going through difficult times. Meeting someone that you can co-create a brand new shared dream with is more magnificent than I ever could have imagined. Do we know exactly where we will end up? Nope! After much discussion and research, we easily agreed on relocating somewhere out west.
So we set our sights on the Pacific Northwest!
Earlier this year things began to align for us in the most unusual ways. Like millions of other people around the globe, both of us were forced to work from home until further notice. A couple months later, we were given the green light to work remotely indefinitely. We put the house up for sale and it was under contract in two weeks! We searched tirelessly for a rental out west and she found the perfect lake house on the Idaho/Washington State border not too far from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Our collective powers of manifestation and our ability to get things done together, all while working full time from home have proven that we are an incredible team.
For our personal halftime show, while our material possessions and cars are shipped to our new home, we spent a much needed relaxing week in California visiting her parents.
A little over a week ago we arrived to a place that neither one of us has ever been before, in what will be our new temporary home until we find a spot to build our forever nest. She and I could live anywhere in the world, so long as we have each other we’ll always be home.
This new adventure is one that I can finally share with someone who makes me excited to get out of bed every morning before the sun so we can watch it rise together.
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.
Two hours north of New York City, there are mountains. I’ll meet you there.
Last week the voices in my head were louder than usual, desperately seeking my attention. They were saying the same things they usually did, like “Run Joe, run for your life! Its a trap! Get the hell outta here!” Hmmm, get outta here you say? What’s that… go camping? Brilliant idea! I should listen to the voices more often!
I packed up my camping gear on Thursday night and as soon as I finished work on Friday evening I was off to the Catskills!
I pulled up to Kennedy L. Wilson Campground in Mount Tremper, NY at 8:45pm, just in time to get a site as the check-in station closes at 9:00pm. Hell yeah brother! From there I parked the truck at my site, threw on my headlamp, set up camp, made a fire and cooked up some food as I sipped a bit of Casamigos Tequila and took a few hits of “the pot.”
With clear skies in the forecast all weekend, I left the rain guard off my tent so I could sleep butt-naked underneath the stars… the way we were meant to.
Early the next morning I woke to the pleasant sensation of the sun’s warmth on my face.Damn, this was a great fucking idea… thanks voices!!!
After breakfast I set out to tackle the hiking trail to Overlook Mountain, the old hotel ruins and Fire Tower. This trail, which I hiked three years prior, was three miles uphill and three miles back down with potential to run into rattlesnakes. Hell yes, sign me up!
At the summit, I sat with about a dozen other hikers as we watched the sun and the morning mist battle it out for the rights to the mountain. The mist eventually won though the sun put up a good fight.
My final ascent up the old fire tower provided a much better vantage point to behold this small portion of the Catskills in all their glory.
The way down was much quicker for obvious gravitational reasons. Before getting back in my truck to drive back to my campsite, I overheard part of a conversation between a man and his daughter. This is what I heard:
Daughter: Yeah Dad, you love hiking!
Father: I had no choice, it was either that or stay where I was forever.
My Internal Thoughts: Hell yeah brother!
Once I got back to the campground I was exhausted so I decided to lay down for a little bit. A “little bit” turned out to be two hours and when I woke, the sun was beginning to set and my stomach demanded food so I made a fire and broke out the tequila for an encore of yesterday’s performance.
Other than the obvious reasons for my solo getaway to the mountains, like mental health preservation, clean air and the excitement that came along with the potential for a slow and painful death by a rattlesnake bite or a bear-mauling, I also wanted to finish the manuscript of a book that my good friend Luke trusted me with reading. I was one of his few hand-selected beta readers and he entrusted me with providing him with valuable feedback on this book he’s been working on for years. It is called “The Release of Jerry the Hamster” and it is a story with much deeper message than the title lets on.
I could have finished it a day or two before my camping trip, but I wanted to complete it in the forest, the place where Jerry and his woodland friends in the story had most of their adventures. To say I was impressed by the creativity that Luke poured into the book would be an understatement. This being Luke’s first pass at a to-be-published work of fiction, I can honestly say I am beyond impressed and can not wait until it is shared with the world! All in good time.
It was in this very moment I remember a smile creeping across my face. The voices did me good and my weekend getaway “into the wild” was a complete success. I could not have asked for anything more. As my phone used the final bit of its battery to power my Bluetooth speakers it could not have died after a more perfect song. It was “I Mua” by Nahko, whose final lyrics are “What a beautiful life.” Indeed it is. Not too long after that I crawled into my tent to go to sleep underneath the stars for the last time that weekend, a bittersweet feeling.
I woke again to the sun on my skin the following morning. “What a beautiful life” I said to myself as I stared at the sky before I climbed out of my tent. As I broke down my camping gear and cleaned up my site I felt inspired to leave a little note for whoever may be the next person to stay there; an old Native American adage that I’ve held close to my heart ever since I first read it years ago.
Before I head back home to Long Island, I had to make a quick detour at exit 18 on the NY Thruway, just a half hour drive southeast of my campsite. There I would meet two hooligans that I used to get into trouble with back when we were crazy college kids a decade and a half ago.
In the town of my Alma Mater, SUNY New Paltz, I met Jake aka ‘Boner’ and Dan aka ‘Toilet’ at the new German spot Shatzi’s on Main Street for some food and grapefruit-infused beer before going canoeing in the Roundout Reservoir. Even our old friend, co-worker and famously foul-mouthed ex-P&G’s bartender Jenna met us there for a drink.
Tossing the canoe on top of Dan’s Subaru gave birth to the best Dad joke I’ve heard in months… and thus the word ‘Scanoebaru’ was born!
Scanoebaru… get it!? AHHHH HAHAHAHA!
Paddling a canoe at sunset with good friends and a twelve pack of Miller High Life is, in my honest opinion, the best way that this weekend could have ended.
I’m still not too sure who the girl is, but she came canoeing with us as well. Her, Jake and Dan all got Guatemalan friendship bracelets that day. It was a glorious day for canoes, Subarus and friends.
I’m blessed to be able to heed the calling of my internal voices. Some may call it insanity, others intuition and some even say they’re spirit guides keeping us on course to live the experiences that we’re meant to fulfill in this lifetime. If they keep leading me to weekends in nature and spontaneous meet-ups like this one, you bet I’ll be looking to them for guidance more often than not!
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!