Awakening the Self
*This is a long-form essay. Essentially, a very high-level overview of my spiritual life thus far. The intention is for you to get to know me and to provide you with the lens that I’m currently viewing the world through, based on where I have been. There are seven parts to this essay. If you would like to read these in their individual parts you can go here.
**Note: the ¨Self¨ that I’m referring to throughout this essay is meant for you to define and interpret on your own.
This is a story of trust in life. A story of doubt, misalignment, fear, and uncertainty. Also a story of forgiveness, intuition, faith, surrender, devotion, insight, love, and inspiration. A story of finding meaning in this inherently mysterious place. It’s my story. Not a complete story in its details nor in its end. However, it is what I have to share with the world right now. It recaps the experiences that have brought me to today’s Jaden.
There’s a deep longing inside of me to know who it is that ‘I’ am. A longing to do my best to bring the abysmal expression of myself out in order to give to life. In order to love fully, to live with passion, and be able to receive life's abundance. This inner call voices itself to me to not be afraid of who I am. Though I still live in fear, I keep listening and walking closer to it. As I get closer to this Self, it becomes less scary and more natural. The fear begins to fall away and what’s left is just me. All my attachments, worries, judgements, and resistance diminishes when I listen to this place. This is the true me. Beyond all labels, mental constructs, characteristics, and patterns I sit there waiting to receive myself wholly, as I am. All the shame, fear, and doubt that kept me from this place is accepted here.
This is a story about the place inside of me that is unconditionally forgiving and loving. The part of me that no matter what experience I go through has my back. The strong, valiant, courageous and humble one. The place that I can always come back to when I feel that I have lost myself. The place that knows.
And this is, my friend, is a place that we have in common. This is why I am sharing my story with you. In hopes that you can relate to it and remember the Self that is unshakeable in you. It’s important that we remember. I believe the more we do the less we feel lost and misdirected. It’s easy to be misaligned in the world today, but it’s incredibly refreshing to know that we can always come back. If something feels off or wrong, we can always come back to this home base. It’s our compass. Our natural intelligence. This… this is a far greater mind than our mind.
I’m writing this so I do not forget. I thank you. Thank you for witnessing my process and affirming this Self with me. I’m grateful beyond measure.
Hello, my name is Jaden Ramsey. For the last several years of my life I have been on a voyage of creating depth and meaning. I’m here, in this space, to share some of my personal discoveries in hopes of connecting with and relating to you, who are most likely on the same journey. We could say that all humans are on this journey. The journey of what it means to be alive. Will we ever know? I’m not sure we will and I don’t think that’s the point. Where I’ve found the most meaning in my life are those brief moments of remembering. The nostalgic moments that create a sigh of relief so relaxing that you feel your life’s work has been completed. This deep sense of rest is so fleeting, yet feels like it could last forever.
These are the instances in time that we live for. I’ve had countless of these moments in the last several years of my life thanks to some great teachers, friends, spiritual practices, nature, and a willingness in myself to find them. What I’ve come to understand is that these moments of remembering are actually our most natural state of being. I want to share, through writing, to keep this thread of remembering alive within myself and intend to connect to that same thread in your heart.
Where have I been..?
A little over three years ago I quit my job as a financial analyst at a Big Tech company. This decision came after almost two years of work and many stories, of what I thought life was about, falling to the wayside. I graduated college in 2016 with a degree in finance that was backed by fear and the minimal amount of student loan debt that you can get away with in the US. My ticket to success was surely locked in with a college degree in something technical and a job at a major corporation. I was “set for life” as some would say. My life up until this point was spent following what I will refer to as the ‘should do’ path, which is just the path that is created for us by other people.. I looked out into the world and saw exactly what society valued. It was an easy choice for me to pursue the security of a college degree, let alone to have more than the average understanding about something as idiosyncratic as the financial market. Once I had gotten my feet wet in the ‘real world’ though I knew that I had made a wrong turn somewhere in my life. So, I began to retrace the steps back, into my Self, and found a thread of what I wanted to create in my life. I have been on this journey ever since.
This pilgrimage into my heart has been mostly served by the means of a deep dive into yoga. This ancient science of liberation has many layers to it that I will go into in further detail later, but for now I’ll just say that it has been a powerful tool for self-examination and empowerment. I’ve spent the last four dismantling who I thought I was in order to discover deeper layers of truth within myself. I believe this will continue cyclically throughout my life because the ego wants to create a static Jaden while nature is doing Her dance, continuously transforming. Therefore, ‘who I am’ is ever-changing. The practice of yoga has taken me many places inside myself that I had no idea existed. More importantly, it’s shown me that I’m here to experience those moments of remembering. The more I remember, the more I actually can express who I truly am in my life.
Who am I..?
Overall, I am a man desiring to experience the extraordinary in the ordinary. Meaning, I am a man looking to align himself with that which is natural and authentic. Discovering what it means to be natural requires observing the mind, therefore a clarity of where it gets in the way of finding my relation to nature. Hence, why I have found the practices of yoga to be essential in my process. So, I am a man devoted to self-transformation through the means of yoga practices and rituals. I am also a man who enjoys sharing these practices with others who are receptive and willing. I am a man who has a deep respect and regard for my teachers, friends, and family who have helped and supported me on my path. I am a man who places love over fear. I am a man concerned about our youth and the conditions we have imposed on them. A man that has seen what these conditions have created within himself. A man who is willing to help others in their discovery of the Self and subsequent deconstruction of conditions. I am a man who enjoys observing and listening to life. I am a man who loves the ocean. I am a man who loves to dance, sing, cook, and indulge in delicious meals with my partner. I am a man who loves passionately and lives deeply.
Where am I going..?
In short, I don’t know. In the past not knowing has ultimately scared me into doing something else that wasn’t completely from the heart. This time around it feels different. It feels good not to know. I feel a deep trust in life setting up the conditions for me to give myself to it. To follow the remembering. I want to have work that I can give myself fully to. That is one thing that is most certain. I know it won’t feel good otherwise. So, here I am giving myself to you. I trust so much in this remembering that I know when I give myself fully to you, you receive me. From there let’s see what’s possible. I have no idea where I am going or what I am going to do but I know how I will walk. I know that I will open myself to You.
I was 11 years old when I started to question the Judeo-Christian system. I was attending a Christian outdoor adventure summer camp where there were many activities any young kid would be in heaven with. From white water rafting to paintball and skateboarding to obstacle courses, this place had it all. The activities were layered with subtle Christian principles and prayer, which I liked because it was far from an ‘in your face’ approach to church camp. They did a nice job of connecting spiritual principles with the worldly, more material, activities we were participating in. This is something in which I’ve found all religion to be pointing to, emphasizing the importance of our relation to the divine, eternal, and extraordinary qualities of life through our simple, mundane, and short-lived existence. This gives us a connection to virtues that are based in spirit alone.
The religions and spiritual practices I have encountered in my life thus far all attempt to connect the individual to the inherent goodness of the spirit, so that we may walk in a path that promotes the highest good. So, it makes sense and is quite ingenious to me to have a youth camp where the kids are exposed to such virtues through the activities they naturally enjoy engaging in. I’m certain that I carry many of these same virtues today that were revealed to me as a malleable young man, which I am thankful for because I believe they have helped me walk a fairly loving and peaceful life. Nevertheless, I came out of the camp skeptical.
It was the last night of our week-long camp journey. We had played our hearts out. I know for myself, I was ready to get back to my parents and life at home. It was always good to have time away from my parents because it would help me realize how much love and gratitude I had for them.
Anyway, the evening of the last day arrived and I remember the camp counselor bringing kids out of our cabin to talk to them on the front porch. I was playing a card game with friends inside the cabin, knowing that my name was soon to be called. As I played, I wondered what these conversations were about and why they were lasting so long. Eventually, the camp counselor came in, looked at me, and gave me the nod and smile that it was my turn for ‘the talk.’ I was a little nervous as to what was to be shared. I guess I was just feeling the intensity of the conversation that was to be had.
My camp counselor couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. At my age of 11 though, he seemed to be so old, cool and wise about how to live the best life. I definitely had a reverence for him as any kid does in such a role model. We sat on the porch steps right outside the cabin during dusk . One of his hands wielded a Bible. I remember that our discussion was about Jesus, but you will have to forgive me on the details.
I was quite inquiring as a young boy, so I most likely had some questions and curiosity around the topic. The only thing I remember vividly about this conversation was the end. Towards the end of our conversation he turned, looked into my eyes and asked me if I was “ready to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior?” I remember this question coming into my consciousness dauntingly. It seemed like a really pivotal moment in my life and I didn’t want to mess it up. All we had talked about in the conversation had built to this point. Again, I can’t remember clearly but I feel like this question came out of a lot of my questioning and curiosity of Christianity.
Up until this point in my life, religion had been a noise in the background. We didn’t go to church often, some holidays here and there, but God wasn’t ever a huge element in my household. I would say more so the virtues of faith were upheld by my parents and they didn’t bring the doctrine inside the house because ultimately they wanted me to choose what I believed in. I don’t know if that was their intention, but that’s what it felt like and I am thankful to them for that space.
However, this question brought religion to the forefront of my life. It seemed like if I answered “yes” I would be committing to something that I honestly didn’t understand one bit. On the other side of the coin, if I said “no,” I questioned whether I would be making a wrong decision or if I would be judged in some way not only by someone who I respected, but also all the people who had some kind of faith in my life. It was a big moment. This was all happening inside me within milliseconds. I had to act quick.
Ultimately, the fear and uncertainty drove me to say “yes..?” hesitantly. After my confirmation I remember a simple nod from him in acceptance of my answer. He went on to read a verse from the Bible and subsequently congratulated me on being saved by Jesus Christ. It was such a weird feeling for me. “Saved from what?” I thought. I had zero idea what I had just committed myself to, but on some level there was also a place inside me that did know. How confusing. In the energy of his congratulations it felt like my life had now been made perfect and without this agreement I would be off course. It didn’t sit right with me. I felt like there was more to the story that wasn’t being shared with me. I felt that there were some tools in which I could live a more aligned life but all I got was an intense question, which came at a moment where it didn’t seem appropriate to ask.
Looking back, this is where I became skeptical and quite put off by religion. Some place inside me knew that there’s more to it than committing my word. What happens after I commit my word? How do my actions consistently reflect that word? These aren’t things I was necessarily thinking at my age back then, but I see them as sources of my confusion. Honestly, the whole conversation was so overwhelming for me that I think I just forgot about it minutes later and went back inside to play cards with my friends.
The main thing here was that this was a moment in which I lost my trust in a system that reflects the possibilities of connecting with something much bigger than yourself (i.e. religion). There was no divine spark transferred. No living transmission. There was no living spirit in our conversation and my sensitive 11-year old self knew it. My walls came up and I now related all religion to a half-truth.
Shortly following the summer camp of self-initiation into being a religious skeptic, I was ironically placed in a private Catholic school. It was the best school around the area we lived in, just outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland. The public schools around were sub-par. So, after a 4-year attempt in the public school system my parents rightfully decided for better. Most private schools in the area were founded on some religious context, so St. Peter’s was the chosen grade school. It was the first Catholic school established in southern Maryland and its building structures showed it.
I was enrolled at St. Peter’s for grades six through eight, where I was required to participate in a class strictly dedicated to the study of the Bible and Catholicism three times a week and attend mass every Wednesday. Again, I had entered into a space where religion was a normality, where everyone seemed to agree with and understand it.
Eventually, my experience during summer camp and the following skepticism had moved to the back of my mind. I think many of us have had experiences like this in our life, where we have some kind of inner signaling that’s later forgotten about or ignored because of the power of our environment. It has been a major element of my path of self-discovery, learning to stay in my truth whatever the outside may be reflecting to me. Looking back though, I’m grateful for this slip in memory because it planted seeds for the later integration of the many of the great virtues of this religion and the profound teachings of the Bible. Truth is in the discernment of the teachings.
Nonetheless, my three years at St. Peter’s catalyzed more curiosity. I remember a couple nights where I stayed up late with my grandmother, when I spent the weekend at her house, studying the Bible and trying to figure this whole thing out. As we talked I noticed some discrepancies between what they were teaching us in school versus what she was sharing with me. Grandma Margaret’s religious background was closest to a Methodist denomination which has completely different ritual and doctrine around the teachings of Christ.
The skepticism bubbled up once again. So much so that by the time I graduated from middle school I didn’t want to have anything to do with religion. It didn’t make sense to me and no one was giving me the answers I was looking for, so I dropped it completely. This was mostly an internal dialogue that I had with myself. I don’t think I ever voiced my disregard to anyone.
My family moved to Arizona in my freshman year of high school and from there I attended public school, where I only went to church occasionally. We attended the local community non-denominational church, which was more tame than any other church that I had visited before. The worship music was modern and had more of a Christian rock band vibe. Moreover, people didn’t dress up which was a completely new sight for me. Another experience to confuse and take me out of the story I thought religion to be.
For about the next eight years religion and spirituality weren’t necessarily present in my life, meaning I didn’t consciously participate in them, but I continued to unconsciously live in a way that upheld the virtues I had learned in the earlier years. During this period of my life I would say I lived agnostically. Based on all my experiences it felt as if nothing was truly known about the Divine, therefore I had to give up trying to understand it myself.
A question that drives me to this day is how we can answer the hard questions of life in a way that promotes the curiosity and creativity of the individual? Many of us had our favorite teachers, coaches, pastors, mentors, counselors, etc., growing up. The odds are that these people were likely the ones helping us probe into the hard questions of life, the questions that seem to have no right answer. These people helped us understand more about ourselves through their authenticity, humility and most likely vulnerability. I have had many of these people come into my life and I am grateful for the wisdom they shared through their experience. I was not given answers from these people but guidance into my inner world, where I could find the answer for myself. This I can only see in hindsight, but it’s important because I realize it’s the answer I was looking for in every single instance of asking an existential question. To be shown that I have the capability and capacity to find it within myself.
So, looking back at my so called years of agnosticism, I learned many things that assisted me in awakening to the fact that I was and have always been on the path to discovering my Self, the seed nesting within the heart that is unlimited in its potential and exceeds all expectations. The place that helps us go to our limits and stretch beyond them. The place that can transform hate into love, fear into faith, and anger into forgiveness. It’s the force inside everything living, pulling it forward in time. To know this Self is to know why we are here in the first place. Therefore, all my inquiry could be traced back to one single question: “Why am I here?”
In 2016, I graduated college and started my corporate job as a financial analyst. Many goals were achieved to get to this point, but a part of me still felt incomplete. At the time, I thought this feeling was due to my transition into the ‘real world’ as the modern public calls it. It’s quite absurd, in my opinion, that graduating college and beginning a nine-to-five is the qualifier for the ‘real world’, but this is how far we’ve come. Nonetheless, I made a big transition in how I operated day to day, so there was the typical amount of unease any great change brings.
My days were filled with crunching numbers in excel spreadsheets, learning to navigate corporate culture, and trying to figure out the best life path with my fellow - newly initiated into the ‘real world’ - colleagues. At some point the magic, luster, and awe of the corporate package begins to fade. For those of you who have worked a corporate job before, you know exactly what I mean. For those that have saved themselves from this illusion, let me explain.
Big companies like to give their employees many shiny objects. The employees are able to hold onto these or generate hope for them in the future. With these the company taps into the psychological feedback loop of the employee, which creates more commitment by the attachment to the shiny objects. Therefore, it helps the company attain their goals and retain employees committed to their vision. These shiny objects include but are not limited to 401k matching, stock options, performance bonuses, paid vacation, paid sabbatical, paid training and certification programs, tickets to local events (sports, music, convention, etc.), on-site fitness centers and doctors offices, paid lunches/happy hours, day care, laundry services, etc. Basically all of the things people talk about at the average dinner party.
Sounds great, right? Everyone wins. The company grows their profits and the employees get the perk of living a comfortable and untroubled life. That is the idea, at least. In reality, it’s never enough. The employee will continually chase the shiny objects dangled in front of them by the employer in order to try to fill their lack of vitality, fulfillment, inspiration, and enthusiasm for the work they do.
Of course, this does not describe every company and certainly not every employee but this is what I observed for the majority, when I entered the workplace. This most definitely was based on my perspective and may not be fully true, but it was true for me at the time. I am sharing what I saw because it shaped my next steps in awakening the Self.
As I turned my attention toward the upper-management of the company, I saw my destiny. What I was on track for was not appealing to me at all. It was a huge ego death, this realization. I had worked hard to get to that point only to realize that it was simply the idea of success that brought me there. An idea that was imprinted on me by a society that praises wealth, prestige and achievement further reinforced by my own desires and dispositions. So I was in a position that looked, to the outside world, like I had everything going for me but inside I felt like a fraud.
Time passed and as I continued to feel my inauthenticity, I began a deeper existential search. I would listen to philosophical, spiritual, and high performance podcasts throughout my workday. The time outside of work was spent diving deeper into these subjects and feeding some creative projects I had as an outlet. One of which was my own podcast that had the premise of exploring how our society had become so disconnected, from self and others. I would interview people I knew that had incredible stories. The point was that all of us have an interesting story of how we have come to the moment we are standing in now. The fascinating thing is that we can relate to someone else’s journey and this somehow brings us a sense of solidarity. That we’re not alone. That everyone here is faced with the challenges of life, although they manifest uniquely.
Through this podcast, I started to discover what mattered most to me was my relationship to my life and the people in it. It gave me a sense of purpose. I also got to witness many of my friends’ stories and experience on a deeper level how resilient, inspiring, and beautiful they are. One of the first interviews I conducted was with my good friend, Grant. He had recently arrived back in the U.S. after a long journey abroad that took him around the world in search of answers. This interview triggered a series of events that would take me deeper into the Self I was awakening to. It was the catalyst for my path into Yoga. Something I knew very little about at the time, but Grant was soon to become my first mentor and teacher of the ancient science of transformation.
Grant and I met at an insurance company where I worked part-time during my junior year of college. He helped train the wave of people I began the job with and was appointed as my supervisor when the month-long training period was over, which I was joyous about because we shared common interests. Over the next year, we would get to know each other fairly well.
From the beginning of our relationship Grant inspired me. If you asked people about him they would most likely tell you that they are inspired by him. He’s a natural-born leader, exceptionally charismatic, unapologetically authentic, incredibly devoted to Truth, remarkable at communication, intensely focused, compassionate, and loving. He’s the type of person everyone loves to be around. Both for his fun-loving heart and his ability to inspire people to go beyond their limits. These are things I saw in Grant from my initial encounters with him and they grew more apparent to me in the years following.
A little over a year after I started, Grant and I both left the company. I went to an internship for my senior year of college and he was leaving the corporate world entirely. We went our separate ways but the karmic bond we had would inevitably connect us again. This brings us full circle to the podcast episode in early 2017.
Grant had recently returned from a trip around the world. He went from corporate nine-to-fiver and Olympic style weightlifter to full on yogi. I watched this transformation occur over a short period of time. Through social media I followed his travels. More importantly, I read the words he was sharing and noticed that it seemed he had also traveled somewhere inside himself. Like he had found deeper meaning to his life. Now, just to recap, at this time I had recently graduated and was working as a financial analyst. So, I watched this all from a 6x6 cubicle. You’ll remember from earlier that I was in search of something deeper, more grand, and vast since I felt like a charlatan in my full-time corporate gig. Looking back, what Grant was sharing through his social media was exactly what I was looking for. It seemed that he had broken free from success defined by societal norms. Something that I knew was possible for me, but wasn’t sure how. So, you could imagine my curiosity and the desire to talk to him about his experiences. When we talked, he shared his whole process; what took him on the journey in the first place, what he was searching for, and what he found. In the end, the all encompassing answer was simply… “Yoga.” It’s what caused him to go searching in the first place and also what he found more of.
After the interview, Grant invited me to come to community yoga classes he was teaching in the park. My curiosity of how yoga could generate such transformation led me to accept the invitation without question. I only knew yoga by its ancillary benefits of flexibility and good health, at the time. Soon enough I was showing up to every class at the park. He started hosting classes in his home as well. I was at every one of those, too. Eventually, seeing my commitment and desire to learn more, Grant invited me to join him in his morning personal practice. I remember asking him what time to show up and him saying “I start at 5 am.” Without hesitation I was there.
So, early October of 2017 is when I started my daily yoga practice. Reflecting on it, the practice worked on me in ways unseen. I practiced with Grant morning and evening everyday, meanwhile working my day job. I had entered what I like to call my ‘closet yogi’ phase. So much was moving inside of me, but how could I explain it to anyone? It was ineffable, the experience of true yoga. I didn’t really even know what was happening. I just knew it was giving me exactly what I needed at the time, so I kept going.
One of the many definitions of Yoga is union. While it is inadequate to describe it in one word, this simple definition will help me share what was going on for me during this time. I was experiencing union with my mind and body through what Grant was teaching me. Clarity, peace, and vitality that I had not experienced before. He walked me through the methods of freeing stuck energy in the body using kriya and hatha yoga. We also talked about the history and philosophy of these practices. A lot of the yoga today is watered down. The strength, flexibility, and wellness we receive from it is only the tip of the iceberg.
What Grant and I shared was something special. We naturally followed the traditional way in which these practices were handed down, one-to-one. Someone who has journeyed further into the Self than the other, passing the torch. A friend supporting another friend. This has been going on from the beginning of time and in my opinion is the only way a spiritual teaching can be given in its authenticity.
There’s a beautiful quote by a highly regarded yoga teacher named BKS Iyengar that highlights a great teacher and what Grant was for me. “The yogi uses all his resources to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. He shares his strength with the weak until they become strong. He shares his courage with those that are timid until they become brave by his example.”
A teacher is only able to teach to the extent in which they’ve journeyed. This is the magic of yoga. The depths of it can only be shared authentically, beyond dogma and theory. It must be experienced. It’s a universal and syncretic teaching that’s transmitted through the human beings that have made the teaching their own. Meaning, they have been able to bring forth more of the essence of who they are, through practice. Yoga helps us illuminate what’s hidden in plain sight. By directing the will (mind) inward, profound secrets of life are unlocked. They are not really secrets, though. They are actually the most obvious and ordinary, but remain unseen until our awareness is refined enough to view them. They are the most individual, but also paradoxically the most universal.
With the help of a yoga practice and a great teacher, my life started to make a lot more sense. I was able to answer a lot of the questions I had, simply through breathing and moving in a structured way. It was fascinating. My days were filled with high energy and profound thoughts. During this time, my corporate job started to make less sense. It was hard to relate to my work and colleagues because I was finding so much meaning outside of the workplace. My job became secondary. Matter of fact, most things in my life became secondary to my practice.
I walked into 2018 knowing deep down that major shifts were coming my way. I felt like my soul was being sucked every time I showed up to work. I had this feeling that there was so much potential that I had not tapped into and my job as a financial analyst was in the way of that. I ended up leaving my job in April of that year.
Have you ever felt that a choice you made was beyond you? Like you didn’t actually have any other option but to make the decision? This was one of those moments for me. The decision came quite easily. I reached a dead end and worked my way back on track by leaving the corporate environment, with no intention of returning.
After I quit my job I went travelling. My travels took me from London all the way to Vietnam and many places in between. I got to explore the roots of yoga in India and its modern equivalent in London yoga studios. I had officially begun my quest into this timeless wisdom. Although I was arriving at answers, my practice was bringing up more questions and curiosity. So, the search was necessary. Eventually, I came back to the US with more uncertainty than I had left with. On top of that, I felt radically disconnected from the modern lifestyle. I was developing a serious devotion to my practice. Therefore, with my Self. Activities and experiences that used to appeal to me no longer had the same influence. However, even in my uncertainty I felt a deep sense of meaning.
Spirituality came back to me the more I practiced yoga. I had a couple experiences in early 2018 that brought me to points of no return in my spiritual life. They made me rethink my agnosticism and start believing that a union with my Self is something real and possible. I started to feel this guiding force inside of me. I’m referring to it as the Self, but it also corresponds with higher power, intuition, God, potential, higher self, spirit, etc. It was the first time in my life that I realized there is some place inside of me that, if tuned to, always has my best interest and knows what is right. So, the meaning I was finding (and still am) in my practice was from getting to know this place. I started to believe again. I began to understand what faith is and how it’s actually an active exercise of the human will that can be developed and embodied. My practice brought me full circle and helped that confused little kid inside of me from all those years ago. It gave me a way to align my words with my actions and vice-versa.
The reason I'm sharing this process is because I believe it is a long and a lifetime journey to awaken the Self. It takes an immense amount of training the fearful mind to trust in life´s inherent goodness. It takes time to let go of the things that are holding us back from experiencing the highest states of existence. But I can say from my experience it's all been worth it. For me, there’s always been bliss, joy and fulfilment on the other side of uncertainty.
I’m sure we’ve all been in a place where our life has lacked meaning. Where we have reached a goal and soon after realized it wasn’t as fulfilling as we made it up to be. We have all been searching at some point in our lives. What is it that we search for and why is it so damn crucial that we find it? I’m not sure there is an answer. However, what I found during this time with my yoga practice and guidance from Grant was that we must experience our wholeness in order to realize it. Looking externally, we will search endlessly in an attempt to fill a void of meaninglessness. Nothing will ever seem to quite fill this void. But something interesting happens when we turn this search inward. It is at this point that we decide to fill our own cup. Even better, remember that it has always been full. From this place, our individual potential is sitting in the palm of our hand and we can consciously choose to participate in the realization of it.
Awakening the Self is an act of faith. I learned this as I journeyed into yoga. It takes great courage to turn away from the influence of the world and start to listen to the Self. To strip away what is not ours but has been taken on by us. We must continuously examine, discern, and digest the inputs from the world while remembering the voice inside. The voice is quiet at first, but I’ve discovered that it becomes louder and more persistent as I walk this path. By the end of 2018, my trust in this voice was increased by seeing the doors that were opening for me in my life.. I had made drastic changes in my life by listening to this voice. However, what was to come in the next few years would be beyond my most deep-seated dreams.
My yoga practice continued to be my guiding and centering force moving into 2019. As I said before, not much else made sense for me to do with my time. I was still practicing with Grant in the mornings and evenings, while I was sorting out what to do with my life. A couple months into the year, Grant had some space for roommates and invited me to move in. This was the house he was teaching yoga in and I was grateful for the opportunity to be steps away from my yoga shala, to live with my best friend and teacher. Another friend, Adi, also moved into the house at the same time as me. So, I lived with two other people that were devoted to their respective spiritual practices, which gave me so much support in my own practice.
Grant and I had practiced so much together at this point. There’s a special phenomenon that happens when you are practicing yoga with someone else consistently. I believe this phenomenon also exists for other modalities, sports, and arts such as tai chi, dance, and music but I will talk about it in reference to yoga because that’s where I’ve experienced it most. The experience could be referred to as coherence. When you are moving and breathing together, with a focused intention, it creates coherence. You might think of it as vibes. Grant and I definitely had a shared vibe after almost two years of consistent practice with each other. Similar to how an improv jazz ensemble musician may know his fellow musicians so well that he can predict what note someone will hit next, that’s how Grant and I became. Something was bound to be created between us, we didn’t know exactly what, but we knew that if we kept practicing the insight would come.
I was learning so much from Grant, not only in a technical way pertaining to the physical practice of yoga and its philosophy, but also how to carry myself in life. Yoga is a tool to train the inner world. You’re able to zoom out on yourself and see all your patterns play out in front of you on the mat. The idea then is to adapt what you’ve found in your research (i.e. practice). Therefore, you can live a life unobstructed by your past because you’ve been able to integrate it in the safe training grounds of a yoga studio.
We all have trauma. The trauma is stored in our bodies and plays a large part in how we interact with the world. It protects us against experiencing the same suffering twice. An intelligent aspect of the body-mind, but oftentimes creates a veil of danger where there is none. So, it’s also a paradoxical aspect of the human organism because we create more fear when we view the world through our trauma-lens and it causes more suffering. Hence, why yoga is a useful tool. It can bring us outside of this loop and allow us to see with clearer lenses.
We all get caught in our patterns. It’s a part of the human experience and, in my opinion, actually what makes it so beautiful. It helps us remember the power that we hold to bring our own system back to harmony by means of our own will. What surprises me is that, up until the last 10 years or so, children were rarely given tools to navigate their inner worlds. Our society is just now breaking ground on healthy ways to deal with our trauma at a young age. This excites me for the generations to come because the earlier we can sort out our wounds and have tools to navigate future suffering, the better. But, I digress.
Grant and I were busy training the inner world and we knew what we had created together could be replicated with other people. Many ideas were tossed around that year between us, but they all led back to a yoga school. One of Grant’s philosophies is to cross the divide between the spiritual and the scientific. To be able to show that they can be held at the same time. Also, to narrow the gap between where we are currently and the potential we see for ourselves. Thus, Bridge the Gap Yoga (BTGY) was created to support people in their process of becoming who they know they are meant to be.
At this point, the bond was strong between the house mates; Grant, Adi, and I. We formed a strong team and prepared all summer for the big launch of our yoga school in the fall. Adi would eventually leave the team at the end of the year but not before we launched with a week-long grand opening and two months of expansion thereafter. The launch was a huge success. We had 130+ people come through our home-based studio that week and generated a lot of excitement in the yoga community of Phoenix. Many people came through our yoga school over the two months succeeding our grand opening and the feedback was that what we were offering was unique and supportive.
I started teaching a yoga class weekly in our home-studio that summer and by the time of the grand opening I was finding it useful in deepening my own practice. Until the point I started teaching, my spiritual practice was for the most part held close. So, sharing my practice openly and taking a step into the teacher role was a shift for me. If you’ve taught yoga before you know that teaching is mostly about sharing your own vibe. There’s vulnerability and inevitably intimacy in it. Of course, there’s more to teaching than just this, but I believe it to be the essential aspect.
A good teacher, then, is able to share the essence of her/himself through the practice they guide. Again, that means you can only share the level of vibe you have created within, through your own practice. Hence, the deepening of your practice comes naturally when you step into teaching. I believe this to be translatable to anything that is taught. When we take on responsibility for others to learn something there’s a natural desire to get it right.
So, teaching allowed me to bring out more of the Self that I was awakening to through my practice. I had the ability to relate in a new way to a practice that was only centered around my process before. It was also helpful to see that what was useful for me was also useful for many other people that were coming through BTGY.
We created a community of practitioners devoted to awakening the Self, but at the same time not so blown out of reality. It’s challenging to navigate a spiritual path at times because we can fall into the trap of spiritual bypassing. This is where we settle for the ¨It’s All One'' doctrine because it makes life a lot easier. Instead of moving around our problems or ‘elevating’ above them, we must transmute and move through them. If we are avoiding that, we are most likely caught in a trip. I’ve been there and will continue to find ways in which I can be more grounded.
Regardless, this happens often in spiritual communities today and something we wanted to avoid. Our goal from the beginning was to create a community where people could use the tools in their daily life and not as an escape from it. We weren’t perfect in establishing a grounded community and that was simply due to our individual levels of development. With time came discernment and clarity. Kudos goes to Grant for organizing and steering the ship masterfully in that regard.
Over the next year Grant and I went on to create several retreats (local and international), teaching at festivals, 9-week intensive yoga deepening programs, kirtans (devotional chanting with music), and an online platform with a course containing 12+ hours of content. There were many ups and downs during this time, but I was making a living by doing what I loved. A dream came true. Not only was I sustaining myself with something that I don’t consider a job, but I was also able to strengthen my inquiry into the Self while supporting others in their process. I grew tons during this time.
However, by August 2020 I was quite burnt out. During the four months prior, Grant and I spent every day of the week building our online platform and shooting videos for the course. This was all while we held three levels of intensive programs. Monday through Thursday we had 3-hour evening sessions for the people enrolled in our programs. So in an average week we were putting in 60 hours of work to build our yoga school. Some weeks it was more.
We definitely had fun doing this and learned a lot from it, but there comes a point where you're so saturated that it starts to drain you. This is the downfall of doing work that you love and are passionate about. Sometimes you get so involved in it that you forget to nurture, rejuvenate, and come back to center. I believe planned sabbaticals are a necessary element for anyone doing work that is challenging to separate from personal life. You come back so much more refreshed, clear and able to serve your community at a higher capacity.
By chance, I had planned to visit the love of my life, Sandra, who I had met earlier in the year. She was in Germany and it was perfectly timed for me to take a step back. Going to see her allowed me to slow down incredibly. To catch my breath.
I could write a whole essay on what love has done for me in the awakening process. Right away and first, it helped me see what ways in which I had not integrated my spiritual practice into my daily life. If you have a spiritual practice and a significant other you know exactly what I’m talking about. Many of the patterns I thought I worked through in my practice were coming up in relationship. Fear of abandonment, distrust, self-worth, doubt, you name it. It all came and it wasn’t easy. In yoga these are called samskaras.
I realized that I had been awakening for the most part in isolation. I had the BTGY community and Grant as a teacher of course, which were a tremendous gift in my life. However, I had become dependent on this ‘safe bubble’ that I had created (more on this later). The seeds of the samskaras I was carrying were still germinating. I had essentially moved from an ashram out into the world and if you look up stories about monks disrobing you’ll know how challenging this can be. Obviously, I’m exaggerating and I wouldn’t compare myself to a monk, but you get the point.
Intimacy brings up all of our wounds. Our trauma most likely stems from a sense of being unloved in the past and we would never want to experience that hurt again, so the walls come up. In my opinion the intimacy with my partner has been the most fruitful in my journey of discovering the Self. It has helped me strip back layers that I didn’t know were there. Like I said, I can go on and on about this but the overarching point for me is that my spiritual practice needs to be relational.
There are people that are meant to be living full-time in ashrams, monasteries, caves, hermitages, etc. in this lifetime and I am super thankful that those people are holding space for our world in this way. But I am not one of these people. I believe most of us are not these people. Therefore, I believe that we must adapt our spiritual experiences and awakenings to human life and relationships. There are definitely times for periods of practice in isolation. I wholeheartedly believe this. But if your findings from isolated self-study are not integrated into your life thereafter, are you truly living your awakening? The spiritual path is the ultimate test because we will never escape our humanness. We are fallible by design. That’s what makes life so rich. We can improve endlessly! What a gift.
So, the first realization of my time away from Grant and the yoga school was that I had missed the boat on yoga in relationship. My second then, was what I already mentioned earlier about developing dependency. I realized I had gotten way too comfortable with the support of my teacher, Grant, and also the support of the BTGY community. This was a necessary aspect of my process though to find my way back to the Self.
Another very tricky to navigate phenomenon on the spiritual path is making whatever practice you do YOURS. Matter of fact, I think anything you learn from someone else should be made yours. Now, what I mean by this is that what you learn is taken in by applying it repeatedly, consistently and then digested (i.e. embodied). Do this long enough until it’s fully digested and something profoundly new and creative will be expressed out of you that’s hitting the essence of what you were taught. In other words, you can share the same teaching in a way that’s authentically expressed through you.
This NEEDS to be the case. I emphasize this because I’ve learned from experience. Not doing this is what allowed me to stay in my safety bubble and do many things that were not truly authentic for me. Again, all a part of my process. If this is not attended to, you will most likely be spinning in self-created dogma that misses the point of awakening the Self in the first place. Nevertheless, a difficult thing to navigate because you must fully digest what you’ve received first and it’s not so apparent when that happens. It’s extraordinarily subtle and that’s why it’s easy to miss. Everything is subtle on this path, so we must pay attention and use discernment.
I think the game is set up this way on purpose because your creative expression is able to reflect the beauty of life to you. Your expression allows you to make the essence of any faith, religion, creed, doctrine, authentically yours. It shows you your creative power as an individual and where that power comes from. When you can create, you get to know this power and whatever you create allows you to have a living connection to the Self. This is solely your connection and only could ever be that way. In my opinion, this is what all religions and their scriptures are trying to point us to. The point of any spiritual work is to have a living connection to the Self.
Now, at this point in my journey I was far from making the practice authentic for me. I also think that there’s an ever-deepening authenticity as we continue to pull back the curtains on the Self, so I will continue to do so. However, I trust that the realization of knowing what I need to do is powerful enough to take me there. A crucial and necessary first step. The next and final part of this essay will bring you to where I am today on this journey.
There are a multitude of experiences that have helped me in awakening the Self, that I left out of this essay. From solo retreats to a fast in the desert, many different kinds of ceremonies, and uncommon practices there has been a lot of time and energy focused on exploring and expanding the Self. The reason I haven’t included these stories and my realizations from them is because they all usually draw back to one common denominator. Forgiveness. A remembering and thereafter a forgiving for not seeing the Self.
My story on this path has been largely one of forgiveness. A remembering of the guiding force inside of me and the ability to forgive through compassion. ¨How could I forget this Self?¨ I often ask when I forget. The Self is what’s truly forgiving. It is there through all of my unawareness and ignorance, waiting for me to come back. All of my so-called spiritual experiences have brought me back to this place.
So, what’s the point of awakening the Self then? As far as I’m aware, it’s to be able to easily generate compassion when we do forget. Moreover, to forget less. The more we discover the characteristics of the Self, the less we forget. Therefore, we avoid having to find our way back. Of course, this sounds easier than it is. Some say that it’s a simple process, but it’s not easy. I agree. It’s challenging enough to forgive for the smallest of things sometimes.
I think this is a call, though. A call that demonstrates our longing to heed the inner-voice. The Self is unforgettable. persistent and demands us to listen. I’ve learned more this year how to listen to the inner-voice than ever and there has been so much beauty created in my life by doing it.
At the end of December 2020 Sandra and I came to Costa Rica to be together without restrictions and to visit Grant, who had moved here. To say the least, 2020 was a challenging year for couples with international love, but Costa Rica was tame with restrictions compared to other countries. We had no plan to leave the country once we arrived and we still don’t nine months later.
Nonetheless, we stayed with Grant for a month to ground and set intentions for the new year. After that, we lived in a community with eight other people for two months. This was a time of massive expansion because we decided to use the time we had as a community to practice together mornings and evenings. There’s an intensity that comes when you’re in a space where everyone is working through their stuff together. Momentum builds, you can quickly go deep within yourself, and it can feel like you’re burning from the inside out as you move through layers of limitations.
I went through a lot in those months and in the end I realized that I could no longer be a part of Bridge the Gap Yoga. I knew that it was time for me to move on because there were other things that were wanting to be expressed through me. The inner-voice told me that it was time to step away and be on my own journey. Of course, this was a challenge for me because like I said before it was something I was attached to. I shared this with Grant as soon as it came through and he of course understood.
We’ve all experienced the death of a relationship and how it can take some time to center afterwards. This was definitely that for me. A project that I had put my heart and soul into for the last three years was no longer in my reality. More importantly, I was deciding to step away from the support of a teacher that I had become dependent on being around. So although it was a major death for me, it was an extremely empowering decision.
This was a significant marker in the awakening of the Self journey for me. It officially put me on a path of my own, where I awakened to unconscious dependence on people for my process. A step in the direction of making the practice my own. Fortunately, awakening the Self could only ever be a solo journey. You can only accumulate tools for so long. At some point you must put them to the test. The test, in this case, is seeing how much more of the Self those tools allow you to bring out. No one else can do that for you. This doesn't mean that at this point I no longer need community or teachers, I most certainly do, it just means that I can come to these in a new, empowered way.
As I said earlier in this essay, I knew by example that I had the capability and the capacity to find Truth within myself, but it was conceptual up until this point in my process. Truly awakening to the fact that this is a solo path and not just conceptualizing that, has changed my life. There’s been grief, confusion, doubt, fear, frustration and tons of uncertainty but it is such a blessing to be living it. A journey that has graced me with so much more belief and trust in the Self.
In essence, what I was searching for all those years, even back to my childhood when I was questioning faith, was this: To know that what I was looking for was inside of me and I am the one that has to bring it out. Again, I have known this before but it has taken time to reach a more embodied understanding of it. We can conceptualize things until the end of time, but embodiment, meaning the wisdom is directing how we live our life, is a whole different story. And I believe we must embody our faith. Whatever we believe in it must be a Truth that is naturally guiding our actions in the world. Something that we don’t even have to think about. The wisdom we gain from awakening the Self will naturally overflow into our lives.
I believe that my life’s work is to continue to harness this naturality until I become a living, breathing embodiment of the Self. In this way I must walk myself home. I must take steps into the unknown with certainty that I will be caught by the Self. I must trust that voice inside, doing everything I can to nurture and grow it so that it may outweigh the other noises that create dissonance. I must do the things that help me remember the Self each day. I must know without question that I will always find my way back. Time is my ally in this journey. No matter how long it takes, I will.
So, my story ends here. Where I am. Living in a house next to the beach in Costa Rica. This country has its grip on me and I’m putting up no fight. It's a true paradise. However, I have learned over these past months that paradise does not come free. It certainly has not been an easy time here, but it has been the most rewarding time of my life. I’ve found myself here, in many ways. I have healed here. I have been turned into a man here. I’m riding a flow that has every cell in my being shouting ‘’yes!’’ I am finding more meaning and purpose in my life each day, my relationships are better than ever, and most importantly I feel free to be myself.
I feel that my wave is just beginning to become visible far off on the horizon. There’s so much more wisdom to be awakened and at the same time I am extraordinarily happy and proud to be right here. I would like to say thank you to all of my friends, family, loved ones and teachers that have supported me in this process. You know who you are and I am incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such supportive and loving people all the time. I don’t know where I would be without you and I intend to continue to honor you through the way I walk on this Earth.
Thank you for witnessing my journey. I’m optimistic that this has given you some value in your process of awakening the Self. May your journey be blessed beyond measure.