A Search For Peace, Freedom & Maybe Love
A lot of people ask me how I started my journey of personal growth, especially people who are interested in working with me. They don’t just want to know that I took a course or read a book, they really want to know why, and what I was experiencing that led me to seek a new way of living. Depending on the situation and the person, whether it’s on the phone or face to face at one of our first sessions, I tell them the short version or the long – or somewhere in between. Each time though, there are some common pieces or truths I share. This will fall somewhere on that continuum.
I’m taking a risk here – of putting this online where it can be scrutinized and judged but it’s been a long time coming and if it helps one person start their journey of personal growth, it’ll be worth it. If it makes you not want to work with me, then that’s probably for the best. If it helps you connect to me before we even meet, to know that I’m not perfect and I’m ok with that, and that I’ll accept you exactly as you are right now, then we’ll both be grateful I shared this.
It started with a book that I didn’t finish until 15 years later, called “Peace is Every Step – The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life”, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It was May 1995, and I had just finished 2nd year of my Psychology BA, my first long relationship, and my 5th or 10th bout of seasonal depression (anxiety followed by depression followed by a short-lived resurrection). It was the worst of any of them but I didn’t know what it was at the time or really realize that it was ME who had the problem. I thought it was everybody else, or my situation, or school, or my girlfriend driving me nuts… but it was me.
I did catch on at a younger age that there was something seasonal about it – that I loved summers and felt like king of the world, and in the winters I felt like dirt. I had no clue what to do about it so I just passively rolled with it. Even though I was in Psychology, I never let myself realize and accept it was anxiety and depression or dare ask anyone for help. With each autumn, with each leaf falling from the trees, I’d begin my fall, my descent into darkness. That year was pretty tumultuous and that’s putting it lightly.
By May, I had finished an extra summer school course and was at the airport, ready to leave on a trip to Greece for some fun, and then to Israel to be with my extended family. With the longer sunny days, and winter a couple of months behind me, I was already feeling a bit better – a bit more happiness and life in my veins. With each new bud on a tree, the smell of fresh grass, I felt more alive, yet I carried with me the residue of a challenging year, and a fear of my next fall.
I saw that book, Peace is Every Step, at the airport bookstore and picked it up, read the first couple of pages and bought it to read on my trip. It pulled me to it somehow and I had never read a book like that before – mostly I read textbooks and schoolbooks, if I read at all.
Within a few days in Greece, and a few adventures, I was having the best time of my life. I felt free, with surges of bliss, peace, contentment and joy flowing through me. The book was a reminder to me of something I instinctively knew my whole life but never learned about – it was natural. I met great people and connected effortlessly to everyone… I even fell in love for a few days. How would I know? I never knew love before, just adolescent crushes and heartbreaks. Yes, it was so quick after my breakup but that wasn’t me in the relationship, it was my dark side. Unfortunately for both of us, she barely got to know the real me – I barely did either.
So with my spirits up and living in the present as the book was teaching me (of which I had only read less than half) I took away a lesson for life that I must have forgotten at least a million times since then – that peace is within us, it’s natural, in the present moment, with each breath and with each step we take. So simple, but so easily forgotten and ignored. Instead, I’d spend too much time in my head, thinking, analyzing and dreaming, but not the good kind.
I’ll skip the whole rest of the summer, except I feel compelled to mention the death of my aunt in Israel and being with my family at the time is something imprinted on my soul. It was incredibly sad and yet 20 years later, I can realize that there was a gift in those few weeks that I spent with my family – a bond was forged that can never be broken.
A Promise to Myself
As it often happens with people, especially me, when we’re feeling good, we stop doing the things that helped us get to that good place. I did make one promise to myself that summer though, and that was if I ever started feeling low again, I’d go see a doctor. So with the new school year, the leaves changing color, my mood descending, I was bounced around a bit and ended up seeing a psychiatrist who put me on anti-depressants. It was a bit too late though. I had fallen and caused irreparable damage – I had lost a meaningful friendship, nearly lost my life one night and everything changed after that for several years (forever, really).
The anti-depressants kicked in finally, and in the process, over time, my soul got locked up behind a protective wall.
I didn’t remember the book or my lessons in mindfulness and presence. I merely existed, a shell of a man. I was on those pills for the rest of university, gained 40 pounds, lost my enthusiasm, my confidence, and lived only in my head, thinking how to be, not being the real me. Guy was gone.
The only good things worth mentioning are that I had a family who loved me, a couple of close friends who kept me company despite me being all locked up, and this – which is another story – of how a crazy cat broke into my house and eventually disappeared but led me to rescuing two animals, a cat and then a dog, who ultimately rescued me and taught me how to love.
Go figure I’d leave the world of Psychology and wanting to help people. I got practical, logical, reasonable and went to do an MBA. I lost more of myself and my confidence if there was any left. Though I showed myself I could work my ass off, make good grades and a few friends, it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t real. I had no connection to my inner self, the real me was hidden behind a protective wall that only came down with a few too many drinks … I’ll leave it at that for now.
Let me fast forward to my second year of running my own IT/Web business (yes, I’m skipping over some good parts and some bad but here’s where things pick up and this isn’t my autobiography, just meaningful bits and pieces of my journey).
When The Student is Ready…
It was September 2002, and I got a call from a man who needed my services to help him and his wife with their new website. They wanted to promote it and get people to find it – it was a new field called SEO and I was good at it, that’s how he found me in the first place. We had a nice talk, very different from every other business call I had to that point. There was something real about it and about him. He was interested in me as a person, not just what I could do for him. He seemed to like me and said, “Consider this a handshake over the phone, you’ve got the job. And, I’d like to meet you in person so you can get to know us and what we do.” I got off the phone and knew that was strange, out of the ordinary, but surprisingly nice.
I went the following week to a professional building, I was dressed all professionally myself, and I was greeted by a tall, young man with a lot of light in his eyes, wearing a baseball jersey and torn jeans. Huh! We talked that day and got to know each other and I started to understand what they did. They ran workshops and retreats to help people discover themselves, connect to their best selves, learn to believe and trust in themselves, learn to be real, to heal and to live life with more peace, clarity, and confidence.
His wife and partner at the time (they have now chosen different paths but we are all still connected) was in their words, The Product. She was the main teacher/leader and program designer – a strong, intuitive, wise, take no shit from anyone kind of woman. Together with a few others, they ran programs and enlightened people – I don’t mean the Buddha kind of way but she/they got people to face themselves and wake up to how they were living and taught them how to live a new, more authentic life.
I got to meet her after a few weeks of working on their project at an informal meeting (drinks at a pub) and we were all becoming friendly, which was the only way they liked to do business – real people working together with no airs. They invited me to one of their programs and at the time I didn’t want to go. It was a three day program and I didn’t want to invest that much time people-pleasing so I could make a few dollars on their project. A meeting here and there and a few phone calls – ok – but three days? I avoided it as long as I could, I was scared but didn’t really know it at the time. My client persisted, he had a way of doing that compassionately, and eventually I agreed to go.
It was October 30th 2002, I walked into the building and saw a reception table with volunteers greeting people. The shining face of one young woman caught my eye (I was always a sucker for a pretty face) and she gave me my name tag.
I went into the program room but I was armed with a new technique people started using on blind dates at the time (new because cellphones hadn’t been around all that long). I arranged for a friend to call me at 11am and I would tell my clients that this was nice but I had another client emergency and had to leave.
The program leader introduced herself and asked each person why they were there and what they wanted to get out of this. Being a shy introvert, I let each of the 39 other attendees go before me. By the time my turn came up, I had cycled through several reasons I could give – I’m here to help me with my business, I’m here to help me with networking, I’m here because I was afraid to say NO to a client and lose their business…. I’m here… for me, to find Guy. I didn’t utter those exact words but it’s what I wanted. Within 2 hours, at 11am, I didn’t answer the phone. I was IN and I was in it for me.
A Sliver of Light
During those three days, I accessed a part of myself I hadn’t felt in what seemed like a lifetime. It helped me crack a tiny little hole in my defensive armor so I could feel something real. It let in just enough light not to blind me and make me turn away. By the end, I had some hope, I wanted to learn more and take it further. I knew myself though, and realized that if I didn’t commit then and there, on the spot, to taking their next program, that within a few days (like after a vacation), I would fall back into old ways and think this was just a dream. I put down a deposit for a 5 day retreat that was coming up a few months later.
Over the next few months, I read some mind-opening books, talked with my client/coach/friend, started practicing what I was learning, and got ready for the retreat. That program really brought me to a new place – I felt a part of me that I thought was dead – I was still very stuck and completely confused but at least I felt something real and I let the other people get to know me and all my fears. It was liberating.
I learned a lot from my new teachers and friends and am grateful for their investment in me as a person, a soul – for believing in me when I didn’t, and for helping me to believe in myself. Though I stopped being their Web Guy ages ago, we’re friends and connected for life.
And, guess what else? I’m married to the girl who gave me my name tag! That’s another meaningful story and I’ll skip the details for now. Her name means Light, and she’s been the greatest friend, teacher, partner, and love of my life. Something I always yearned for but never believed was possible for me.
This was just the start of my journey, it’s had many twists and turns and ups and downs since then. It hasn’t all been comfortable and easy, and there were times I wanted to and indeed did stop. I’ve learned that only creates more pain. It’s ok to rest for a while but we’re meant to keep moving with life, not resist it.
I’m forever grateful to my old, scared, locked up self who begrudgingly took those courageous steps – if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today. And now I get to guide others on their own journeys of self discovery and growth.
So, you never know what’s around the corner, just beyond your current situation, unless you take that step, with just a tiny bit of faith and a sliver of an open heart and mind.
Life can be a beautiful, meaningful journey if you let it – better yet, if you choose it. If you’re even just slightly open to it, I’d love to take a few steps on this journey with you and help you find the answers, or the questions, you need to help you create a meaningful life.