I had it all, or so I thought.
“Everyday is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
Growing up in a well-to-do American family is materially comfortable.
Family troubles aside—and they can be considerable—life is full of pleasure: desires are satisfied, drinks guzzled, and fanciful whims gained. There are high school football games, schooldays, workdays, sex, traveling, television, Fourth of July celebrations, drama, weekend all-nighters, jokes, cliques, victories, and defeats. Like a giant cliché, life unfolds, and it unfolds around a focal point: me—I—a separate ego.
From here good and bad, love and hate, sad, mad, happy, despair, upbeat, low, subject, object, outside, come together to form one’s life experience.
To keep some form of sanity, we follow our mind and attempt to gratify its wants and needs as a way to find fulfillment and success. We create stories and follow them. We listen to our thoughts intently—to the point where we eventually become them. We go for more and more.
 But is that it? Is there any marrow to it, or is it all about trying to have an even better time or seeking a higher position on a corporate ladder? I found out. Coming home at three in the morning tired, intoxicated, full of shallow thoughts and loaded with cheap laughs, my life was passing before my eyes.
Throughout my first two years in college, I often had the urge to ‘black out,’ literally. Though I wasn’t conscious enough to be aware of it at the time, I wanted to be able to float through life, running from painful experiences that had rooted themselves into my psyche.
The path at the time was simply to ignore any stirrings within and to keep going, to press on, to focus on money and being accepted within the constructs of the society I found myself in. To do everything but communicate how I really felt, or for that matter, to even know how I felt.
These were the values. Sure, I had to do well in school or make money, but those were externalities that had nothing to do with what was driving me (and on a macroscopic level, parts of our culture), not facing up and turning in to examine myself. I was so compulsive, impulsive—always trying to escape or be numb or tough.
 No, instead of learning to be present, I dove into the culture I found myself in, I donned the mask, and I kept wading out more deeply into the fog that surrounded me—totally blind to what lay buried beneath the facade, and believing that my blindness was the standard way to go about this life.
It seemed that the more I was able to close-off, the more alcohol or drugs I was able to consume, and the more money I was able to surround myself with, the more attention I garnered—the more I moved up some invisible ladder. I was armoring myself and feeling more comfortable with the things I appeared to be gaining. I felt ‘cooler.’ I felt stronger, and so I continued to build upon this illusory pile.
But in reality I was being weak and I was running away from myself as fast as I could possibly go. What’s funny to me as I look back on that time was how upside down everything was. How could being blacked out connote any form of strength? How could suppressing painful memories be powerful? How could living in my thoughts and hiding behind the things I did or the judgments I created, be rewarding? It didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Looking back, it seemed that the culture I was buying into was telling me: “the faster you are able to run away from being present, the more quickly you can scamper away from who you are below the surface, the better off you will be, and the more things you can hide behind.”
But this party line is simply a figment of imagination—a creation that is as substantial and sturdy as a sandcastle. Something was shifting inside me. I wasn’t aware of what it was or how it was working. I just began to question what was going on around me and why I went along without checking in with myself—without questioning the narrative spinning in my head.
I changed my life and woke up during my junior year of college: I had had enough.
The drinking didn’t do it for me. The partying didn’t do it for me. Vegas, Miami, L.A., didn’t do it for me. The sensual possibilities didn’t do it for me. I felt completely strange and insubstantial in my own body. Everything I had created, my ego, my friendships, my internal wiring, my identity—aspects of my external being I had spent years cultivating, shaping and re-shaping—were just the bones of a paper tiger in the face of the stirrings of what lay buried beneath. I was blind. I had been living in a dream and I was finally beginning to realize it.
I came from a wealthy family and life was beyond comfortable. I felt physically fit, attractive, sociable, intelligent, perfectly capable of leading some sort of idealistic life following a well-groomed path. On the surface, everything looked great. How could I complain then? What could possibly be wrong? A college degree, loads of friends, money, travel, flexibility, and any form of ingestible escape (drugs), were all at my grasping fingertips.
Looking back, I see the attractiveness of such a lifestyle: an existence in which one is constantly re-filling his or her cup, satisfying each and every craving. It seems very appealing. But, for some strange reason, it felt incomplete, even shallow—and the more I attempted to reach outside myself for things, the more apparent the incompleteness became.
The slow change within my heart had been an ongoing process. There had been an upwelling of feeling and emotion when I had been alone hiking in the hills or swimming in the ocean. Also, brief moments of disconnect from my social life allowed questions concerning what I was doing to bubble up. But fear and doubt coincided with these thoughts. So, naturally I did what I was good at, I dove back into my life with added vigor. I denied. I suppressed all my inner yearnings with more alcohol, more drugs, and more meaningless relationships. I searched for more of the same to fill the growing inner void and outer disconnection—feeding my ego, only to have it come back to me over and over again.
There was something deep inside that persisted in repelling my unconscious overtures. Though I did not realize it at the time, my Self was saving me from myself. How could I realize what was going on? It seemed so strange. I had everything, but then, why this feeling of meaninglessness? Why complain? I was a lucky man, right? What else was there to get, to have, to experience? I had it all, right? The answer, though it took time, was very simple. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to see, and no one to follow: there is nothing other than learning to be in this life, in this moment.
Some inner intelligence could foresee my future. It knew that I was on the wrong path. No matter how rich, powerful, or likeable I ever became, ‘something’ knew that these ghosts would never bring true happiness, lasting connection, or unadulterated freedom. My existence would continue to resemble that of a hungry, impulsive ghost: running to this and that only to have it float through my body and out again.
I would live this way, deluded into thinking it was the only way of being, my entire life. My existence would be a shadow that would never come to know its real host or feel the intimate relationship one could have with this very life. No—this was not for me. The truth lay beyond all these things. Little pleasures were not a permanent solution, they were part of the never-ending, cyclical problem.
If time passes in the blink of an eye, how could insubstantial things be more valuable than the present moment?
One early morning after going out and drinking, I came home feeling slightly ill. I crawled into bed and passed out, something many of us can relate to. In the night I dreamed that a powerful, jet-black snake had been sucking vital energy from the back of my neck. Its muscles pulsated with each drink. All I could do was grab and pull, but to no avail. My energy had been sapped. I was horrified because I knew that to let the snake win—to be overcome—meant losing my soul and spirit to something that was not me—a ‘vampiric’ fabrication of me that would feed on more and more fabrications—a true soul and spirit sucker.
With all my might I finally pulled its fangs from my back and threw it to the ground. It writhed and wiggled in front of me, making a hissing sound. I was truly disgusted. Suddenly it began moving toward me to attack again and attach itself to me once more. It was tenacious, pugnacious, and it was bent on returning. I am no master, but the life-sucking black snake had to go.
This profound, adrenaline-pumping dream shook me to my core. I was disengaged from whatever chains were holding me back and the ensuing space allowed me to act spontaneously the next day, without regret. In the morning I packed my things and left. My inner Self had shown me some truth. There was no denying it and I felt compelled to move toward open space.
To continue down my path without change would have meant to live my life in complete delusion and denial. I changed my life that day, walking away from many of my closest acquaintances. It is was not an easy process, but the clarity that came with change, especially drastic, tough change, was more than enough of a confirmation for me:
Jumping headlong into wide-open space.
The initial process of dropping everything and leaving was very difficult. As I said, there was nothing amazing about completely changing my life and being ok with not knowing where I was, who I was, or what I was doing. It took some time for me to be ok with this and to appreciate the value and clarity of not knowing.
When the dust settled, I felt empowered and, ‘shockingly,’ life still came and went as it always had, moment-to-moment. For the first time I could see through some of my attachments. I could see through the glamour with which I was once enamored and I was able to catch brief glimpses of feelings I had not quite experienced fully before. Light and darkness, the moments I deemed comfortable or uncomfortable, appeared more brilliantly than before and I felt that I had begun to step out of my perpetuated state of grey for the first time. All the cycles, all the neurotic behaviors, all the disservices to the body, were cast out and laid bare before the growing light of internally focused, inquisitive observation. This was the beginning of my path of awareness.
Each of us is different.
Some will not have to do anything like this, and some will have to do more. There is no right or wrong and this is an interesting conclusion when it begins to settle. All that is required is honesty and true listening to the stirrings within. There is no other barometer than that, no other energy with which to power our movements. If the heart-mind is given room and given open inner ears, it will show us the way to the Self, the path we must take. It is that simple.
And on the other side, this process in its entirety, applies to everyone. All external pleasures we attach ourselves to are delusions—images, projections, comfortable thought forms—that keep us plugged into our small mind. The mind is always running. And without witnessing the rampant movement and dissociating ourselves from it, we will never be satisfied—we will run and run, and then, run some more.
We will strive and strive to fill our cup. We will always look ahead for the next thing; the next car, the next mate, the next job, the next happy hour, the next externality we can grab and hold onto. This unending cycle will repeat our entire lives and we will not notice that our eyes are closed, enraptured by the dream. Life will ultimately follow suit. It will pass us by and we will continue trying to comfort ourselves among all the questions, all the unfinished things. Our ghost will hunger for more and we, believing we are the ghost and not knowing anything else, will keep going—on and on and on.
Seeing the snake before succumbing to it was crucial. By just seeing it, I could begin to make a change. Telling the snake, a metaphor for one’s small, created ego, “I see you,” and being able to recognize it throughout our day, is just as effective. For the ego, like most other things in the world of form, is a mere creation. It is who we think we are and it is propped up only by our continual feeding of it. And by ‘feeding’ I mean our identification with it.
But this creation, this shadow is not who we are.
Every time we act impulsively, every time we judge, every time we resist what naturally comes, and thus identify with it, we are feeding ego and making it stronger. We are losing touch with our inner core and stepping out into a fog.
It is possible to stop feeding our egotistical view of the world through watching our actions, feelings, and thoughts—becoming a witness of the ego rather than the unconscious actor. Practicing impeccable speech, staying present, and going with the flow, are all ways of stopping the trend of ego and initiating change. Witness the mind for a while and see what happens. I often asked myself: Am I truly present? Are my thoughts positive or negative, compassionate or selfish? Do I see the world from my point of view and through my desires, or am I coming from unfettered clarity? Am I open or am I closed?
I learned much about who I was, or more truthfully, who I thought I was. It was interesting to study and watch my ego in action, and I was often taken aback by the nasty thoughts, righteous justifications, and unnecessary dialogue that popped up when I was feeling uncomfortable and abandoning my inner Self.
You may experience something similar, so listen to your heart-mind. Give it space. Allow it to make itself known to you through self-examination and the cultivation of inner stillness. Begin to bring this into all phases of your life, the good and the bad—equanimity knows nothing of the two.
In order to raise awareness, we must be willing to recognize the options before us and the path that lies ahead. This is entirely up to us because in the end, we are the ones who create everything. we are the ones who suffer, who feel up, down and sometimes, all over the place. We are the ones who continue to perpetuate an unfulfilling and fabricated reality. And this is great news of course! Knowing that we are responsible, we are the cause, and that the unexamined ego is the culprit, is the first step. Understanding that we can change it all through awareness is everything we need to know. There is nothing standing in our way. If we dig deep, if we turn our consciousness back in on itself, we will find an unobstructed openness renewed within the vastness of each moment. Trust this, and you will be freed from any internal prison.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard