It was January 17, 2019. Coming home from an intense experience like ISTA training can feel like returning to the arms of a loved one after a long journey—a deep surrendering sigh, body melts into relaxation, and everything feels good. This time, however, my house no longer felt like home. Yet despite that, I felt curious rather than disconcerted. It was as though I was watching life unfold with the effortlessness of a river following its path.
Within days I called the friend and realtor who helped me buy my home and arranged to have lunch to discuss the possibility of selling it. As we shared the simple meal I prepared, she explained that the market was strong, the home would likely sell quickly, and it just came down to deciding. I told her I’d sit with it for a couple of weeks and let her know by the time I returned from my upcoming trip to Brazil. The next day, January 31st, I boarded my flight.
I began visiting the Yawanawá tribe of the western Brazilian Amazon in 2016, learning of them during my first ayahuasca retreat in January of that year. My time with the tribe, working with their traditional medicines and finding balance and stillness while immersed in the healing energy of the forest, transformed my life. Back then I felt like a stranger in a mysterious world. This time—my third visit—felt like coming home. Off the grid, free of distractions, I had space and stillness to tune into myself.
Over the course of ten days in the jungle, I lost a good amount of weight. Being on a restricted diet to work deeply with kambo (frog medicine) and uní (ayahuasca) will do that to you. The sleep deprivation too. I looked tired and haggard by the end of the trip but felt immense clarity and peace. During our last night in the village of Mutum, deep on the force of uní, I had a powerful vision—one of the most powerful I’ve ever had. I saw with such certainty how to move forward, as though I was witnessing something that had already happened.
How fully do you trust your intuition, your visions, and your guides?
My 75-year-old father has been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2006. He was struggling; alone, depressed and lonely, deteriorating. He’s hung on to life for my sake and has been largely devoid of his own joy for years. All the while I had been living my life focused on my personal happiness and content with talking with him frequently but only seeing him every few months. His negativity and heavy energy when we were together in person were tolerable only for brief periods. I often felt drained after visiting him, even though I love him with all my heart. The honest truth is that I hadn’t been strong enough or grounded enough to hold space for him and all that he’s living with. I was still learning to be there for myself.
My childhood home, my father’s home, is also where my demons lie patiently in dormant wait alongside the traumas and struggles of my childhood and adolescent years. As much as I had confronted and healed within myself in recent years, there were some things that I hadn’t yet been ready for. But going any further on my path meant that I finally had to stop running. Without realizing it, I had been preparing for this moment—to return to where my life began and heal the wounds that draped my soul like old chains. It wasn’t just about showing up for my father, but about showing up for myself. As I shared recently, we can only show up for others to the extent that we’ve learned to show up for ourselves. Everything comes back to us.
It’s easy to be on a spiritual journey when you’re living where you want, immersed in a community of like-minded individuals, and feeling fully supported by your environment. But what does your practice of mindfulness, patience, loving compassion, and grounded stillness look like when you’re no longer where you want to be, are no longer supported in the ways you were accustomed to, and every day you’re challenged, triggered, and pushed to your limits? Do you run back to where it feels safe, or do you wholeheartedly accept the gift you’re presented with—the opportunity to apply your practice in the real world and deepen, expand, and grow stronger than you imagined possible?
To be the man I aspire to be, I’ve had to face myself, and I continue to do so every day. Much like the Rumi poem about not seeking love but rather seeking and removing everything that blocks us from love, living the greatest expression of yourself requires clearing away by any means necessary everything that holds you back from embodying the limitless nature of your true self.
That night, the fire at the center of our open-air ceremonial thatched hut consumed me, burning away the man I once was so that I could rise from the ashes. I remember kneeling on the earth in front of my chair, clawing the ground as a deep growl echoed from some forgotten part of my soul, and as my heart quicked, all fear and doubt were gone.
A few months later I sold my Oakland home and many of my possessions, made a commitment to donate a sizable portion of the proceeds to The SOFIE Foundation to help the organization complete a critically important feature-length documentary called The Spirit of Tatá about Tatá Yawanawá, the spiritual leader of the Yawanawá tribe who died in December 2016 at 103 years, and joined SOFIE as its first CEO. I also moved back into my childhood home just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where I currently live with my father.
If nothing held you back, who would you be and how would you live?