I'm twelve years old. I'm on the school bus I ride to and from school every day—that big yellow bus with the double-seater seats with the little kids in the front and the big kids in the back. Well, today I'm in the middle of the bus. I'm talking to all my friends, having our usual banter bouncing up and down. And I hear a voice. Tanner Johnson. Ugh, your standard school bully. Well, Tanner yells from the back of the bus as loud as he possibly can for everyone on the bus to hear right at me, "You are a brown cow." Brown cow—attacking everything that's different about me.
You see, I'm your star child. I get straight A's. The teachers love me. I don't wanna stand out for any reason. I'm already the tall girl with big curly hair, dark skin, dark eyes. I've got the middle Eastern nose. I don't wanna stand out. In that moment, I flashback to years ago.
I'm six years old. We're at the Calgary Stampede, this big citywide event. We're in this crowded room, shoulder to shoulder. And with my family, we shuffle onto this escalator, and this woman turns around and tells my parents to go back where they came from. And as slowly as the escalator is moving down to the floor below, this feeling of sadness moves up and wraps me up. And this knot that had never existed before has now formed in my stomach. I don't remember what my dad said in that moment, but I know that he stood up for us. And I also remember that my heart broke, and I never wanted to feel this shame or sadness again. And so, this belief that I had to fit in to survive was solidified.
You see, my parents came to Canada in 1982 as refugees from their home country of Iran. At the time the newly formed government was persecuting my family and thousands of other families who were members of the Baha'i faith. The newly formed government was giving them two choices, recant your faith or face prison, and oftentimes even death. And so my parents chose to give up everything that was familiar to them, including their own family, and leave to find a life that was better for their children. My parents sacrificed everything to seek out opportunity, security, and acceptance. And the sacrifice that they made has informed every single decision that I have made in my life.
I'm back on the bus. And I remember the courage that my dad had in that moment. I take a deep breath like I'm breathing in the courage that my parents had when they were forced to leave their home and leave everything that was familiar to find a new life. And I look Tanner right in the eyes, and I yell as loud as I can, "At least brown cows make chocolate milk."
It was that moment that my warrior spirit was sparked because I knew that what I had to say in that moment was bigger than just standing up for me. It was about standing up for every kid on that bus that was different—to tell them that their differences have value. And to tell me that I don't have to be ashamed. The impact that I had on that bus and everyone around me was unforgettable. And I knew it was because I showed up as my authentic self. Being a member of the Baha'i community, I grew up with this tight-knit community. It was awesome, but I also had formed some really strong beliefs. And I had drawn some really deep lines in the sand. If you were this, you were good. And if you were that you were bad.
And when I was twenty-one, I finally moved out on my own to go to university. But that meant that I had to leave that community that I was so familiar with and comfortable with. Now I'm in this new city, and I have to make new friends. And all of a sudden, these people aren't fitting into the boxes that I had once created. I'm meeting people who are gay, straight, bisexual, non-drinkers, drinkers, weed smokers, weed-growers, weed trimmers, doctors, yogis, teachers, artists, cultural creators, and some who are all of the above. And unexpectedly, they're all inspiring me to be my best self which is incredible and eye-opening and heart-opening. And also really scary because that meant that I had to reidentify the way I saw myself moving through this world with this new understanding and this new empathetic heart. The world went from being easily black and white to completely gray. And I was scared, and I felt like I was being a traitor, particularly to my parents and this community that loved me so deeply because they also brought so many incredible things into my life.
And so I retreated. I needed time to understand and figure it all out. Well, what did that look like? I stopped meditating. I stopped praying. I stopped reflecting. I was drowning in sadness. The guilt was overwhelming.
And then one day I'm sitting in my room alone, and I look over at my nightstand, and there's this Baha'i book of meditations that I used to read from daily, and something was calling me that it was time to pick up the book. So I reach over, and I open it. And this is what I read. "The more difficulties one sees in the world, the more perfect one becomes. The more you plow and dig the ground, the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree, the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding it, the better it cuts. And therefore, the more sorrows one sees, the more perfect one becomes."
In reading these words, I realize that the pain of this past year wasn't for nothing. I am the earth being plowed. I am the gold and the fire becoming more and more pure. I am the steel being sharpened. I started reading these words every morning, and every night I would breathe these words so that every cell in my body could feel these words because they reminded me that you don't have to be afraid. You don't have to be afraid of pain or confusion. It wasn't all wrong. I was coming out stronger. I was forging my new own path. I wasn't being a traitor. In fact, I was just being really honest with myself.
And the biggest thing that I realize is you don't have to forget your past to grow. In fact, it's the foundation that you are growing upon. The values that I grew up with are still within me and play a role in my life because nothing in life is a mistake. Looking back, the twelve-year-old me could have been quiet on the bus, and I didn't have to follow my heart. And I would've still been of service today, but I know it wouldn't have been with the same impact. And most importantly, the feeling of righteousness that I have in my bones. And it feels so good to know that this is my truth. The path of creative service is not dissimilar from the one named in the Baha'i meditation. It's not always an easy one, but the more I am willing to plow, the more I am willing to have my branches cut and to face the grind, the more powerful and impactful it becomes. I need me. Not the condition me. Not the one trying to impress, not the one feeling unworthy. I just need me. I need the authentic me to shine through. And that's why I'm here today to share my authentic truth with you.
You see, I love words. Words are powerful. And sometimes you hear some words from some friends and they will stay with you for quite a long time. Like these three words a friend shared with me, "Revealing is healing."
So today, I would like to reveal to you the story of how I began my journey into this life. And to be quite honest with you, everything I'm gonna tell you I wish I didn't tell you, but I'm gonna do it. When I was six years old, I'm starting to journey into life and into school. I'm just like every other boy of my age except I've a strange name, my hair is very red, and I've got many freckles on my skin. No big deal, but I'm also the only one like this in the school. And one day in the playground, a group of boys come and they stand all around me. There are many, and I'm alone. And they start to scream at me some very intelligent stuff like "Carrot hair, carrot hair, you've got rusty skin." I'm six years old. The only thing I get is that I'm scared. They continue. And one comes and pushes me, and I'm falling. They are laughing, and I'm crying on the floor. To be honest, I hated it.
So imagine this on repeat over many years quite a few times. I had to learn to live with this fear looking down. And I never know when the next treatment of humiliation would come around. At some point, I told myself that I need to talk about it and ask for help. So who's the first person you talk to? Your mother. "Mum, at school, there are boys. They always make fun of me. They call me names all the time, and they hurt me. Mom, please do something. Help me." "Listen, it's nothing. It's just words. They won't kill you. Get over it, okay, and stop it." Now you see those words—they felt like they were killing me. I felt unseen, and unmet, and unworthy. And I get it. My mother—she's a schoolteacher. And the only thing that matters to her is the good grades. And I can do that quite well but for the rest. The shaming, the humiliating, the bullying "doesn't matter" means to me I do not matter.
So, as you can imagine, I had a poor level of self-esteem as I grew up, and I had to live like that because life goes on. So me and my good grades, we had a mission—destination; find a job. And eventually, I did. I ended up working and as an executive in a bank, and it's not exactly the dream job. I'm working far too much, and I'm burning out. My dad passed away, and my girlfriend at the time had a great idea. She disappeared overnight. Not happy. I'm depressed.
One day I'm waking up, and everything feels blurry. My mind is foggy. I can't make sense of anything. And I can't recognize where I am. All I hear is beep beep beep, beep beep. Somebody comes. This man is a nurse, and he tells me, "You're in hospital, in the intensive care unit. You had a bad accident. You cannot move for the moment. Be patient. We're taking care of you." I don't understand. All I know is that I'm in this bed, and my body's plugged to many machines, and there's many pipes in my body, and I can't move.
I'm just waking up from a coma that lasted fourteen days. And I'm on my way to the third of three surgeries—long, complex, and major surgeries. So days go by in this intensive care unit. And eventually, with time, things got a bit better, and I'm taken to a patient room, and one day a doctor comes, and he tells me, "We think that you intended to end your life when you drove that car into a tree." "What are you talking about?" I have zero memory of anything. Zero. But there's one thing I get is that to him, there's something wrong with me and I'm trouble.
And again, here I am filled with shame and guilt. To be honest, I felt crap. And I start to understand that they have a plan for my life—a plan that I don't like—and I start to feel the trap. And there's no way I'm gonna let myself go there. So a few months later, as soon as I could, I found myself a place somewhere, anywhere. And I got myself out of hospital, and I left behind all the medical programs. I'm twenty-nine. I'm rather crippled. I'm alone, and I'm scared for my life. But I know I have to do something. I have to fix myself. And I have no idea how I'm gonna do that.
Eventually, at some point, I managed to pick myself up, and one step at a time, day after day, I got there, and it wasn't like I go from there to there, more like this. I had to bring myself back up many times, and I received some very mysterious help along the way. And I learned a lot. So I embarked on this journey of self-healing and bodywork. And eventually, I got there. I spent the last seventeen years trying to fix this body so it can be functional. And this is now part of my daily life. And it will always be. And I kind of like it like that, in fact. But what happened to the other part of me? What happened to this scared boy, the part of me that was keeping me hiding, taking no risk, and playing little in life?
I realized that instead of walking towards life, I was walking away from life. So I still had to fix that part. And something had to happen. Early this year, as I'm enjoying my morning routine, not the one you're thinking of—the French one, coffee, croissant in a café—I meet a very inspiring person, and I feel extremely motivated when she talks to me about her upcoming course starting in two days. Something inside feels this is right for me. So within five minutes of knowing her, I said, "Deal. Please sign me in. I'm coming." And I'm excited. I'm gonna start a course learning to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time—if not all of my life.
So we are halfway into the training and my initial excitement changed a bit to slightly uncomfortable, embarrassment, and fear. I think I've made a mistake. This wasn't for me. I don't have what it takes. And naturally, I opened up to the teacher about it, and she listened. She said, "I get it. Why don't you go home and watch a few more videos of other students who did the course and try to find inspiration? See if it works for you. And we'll see how it goes from there." Sounded like a good idea.
So I go home that night and get on my laptop and get online. I watch one video after the other, one video after the other. And as I'm watching, I can see there's one thing in me that says, "Oh yeah, me too. I'm gonna do that." And there's another part of me who says, "No way. I don't have what it takes. There's no chance I'm gonna do that." So you see, that night I'm split, and I can't sleep. I'm anxious, and I'm nervous, and I don't know what's going on. I'm in my bed. I'm tossing and turning, tossing and turning. And I'm trying to figure out what is this all about?
And in the middle of this tossing and turning, I start to have flashbacks and some vague memories. And I start to connect the dots. I'm afraid that I can die from shame and humiliation. It's all about my initial trauma of public humiliation in school. That night there's a frightening monster just came out of the dark, and I'm scared. So at this point, I have two options. I go for it, and I face it. Or I quit. I resign, and I give up, which will feel like I'm driving my car into the tree one more time. And also, I would have to tell everybody, and I would have to face the shame of telling them one more time. And that's not me. That's the old me.
So I consider that. "Trust me, trust the process. Use the framework I'm giving you, and you'll be just fine. Do as I tell you. Trust me. I know my stuff." Those were the words that we heard at the beginning of the training from our coach. And it sounded doable, and it sounded easy. So I had to remind myself of those words, but also of my intention that I had taken many years ago to transform myself and to overcome the hurdles that were in my way—my own limiting beliefs. So I took a firm decision that I'm gonna go for it. And eventually, with the practice with the team, I crafted my story. Not one time. God knows how many times I repeated over and over again. And I got there. I mean, I got here. I got here, and I didn't come here alone. I brought with me a six-year-old child.
And me speaking in front of you here is him beating the beast from the past and taming the ghosts. When I was a child, I loved any kind of superhero. We do that, right? But I thought about it many, many times until I understood that it was just because I wanted to be like one of them—out of my wound of feeling unworthy, inadequate, or not enough. So I met a superhero, and he's six years old, and I know where he lives. You see, life has extremely mysterious ways and powerful ways to make whole again that which was once broken.
And my mom was right. These words didn't kill me. Though they nearly did. And my friend was right that "Revealing is healing," but I found something else. That "Healing is also revealing." Let me explain. My journey of healing myself has revealed to me my strengths within my weaknesses. My termination within my fears. My capacities within my doubts and my beauty within my vulnerability and my many scars. Now, I am no different. I know that all of you, all of you here tonight, without exception, you all have many scars of many types, and they're beautiful. They make you beautiful. They can reveal your inner gems, your inner treasures, which I hope you'd see for yourself. But more importantly, they do not define who you are. Our scars do not define who we are because it's up to us to choose how we're gonna write the story. And in life, a real story never has an ending. It only has new beginnings.
So my new story goes like this. I'm forty-five, and I'm a lucky man living on the gorgeous island of Bali surrounded by amazing inspirational people. I'm coming back, and I'm ready. I've got two powerful and amazing friends that will be always there for my life. Fear—hello, fear. Vulnerability—hello, vulnerability. With these two guys, I'm walking towards my life, and I'm willing to welcome what's coming my way. I know I might have to pick myself back up again more than one time because that's life. And I know also I will. My beautiful heart is now open and willing to share more of it. I'm ready. And now if you were to ask me, "How do I know I'm ready? How do we know when we are ready?" I think I would simply tell you that I was born ready for my life.
I'm standing in the middle of the rice field with Andy next to the holy spring. White herons fly in the sunset sky. My sarong dancing in the breeze. He's surprised me with a tight embrace, and then our lips fall on each other gently without closing eyelids. Down there, I could feel him hardening. And my yoni is swelling. Meanwhile, the clouds around the sun start to clear up miraculously. So does the cloud on my heart—the last few years of being single and lonely. That kiss reminds me of Neruda's poem. "I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees. You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot stop spring from coming."
It was spring of 2019. I just met Andy, an adventurous artist, with sharp piercing eyes. We hit it off right away. And after that first kiss, we went to his hotel room. I run my fingers down his spine. "You give me chills," he said, and I'm thrilled. We start traveling high and deep. We get wild in a small toilet on a shaky plane at ten thousand feet. In the lush virgin jungle among flying foxes and noisy pigs. Even under the sea. The waves hit me. I lost my snorkel and fins. I was struggling. I couldn't breathe. Andy grabs my hand and says, "Breathe, Ling, breathe." He keeps my head above water and navigates me safely to the shore. He saved me. From that moment on, I see Andy as the man who can always keep me safe and will never abandon me no matter what. It's exactly the man I've been dreaming of.
So I did everything to make sure he stayed in my life. I supported him in every little thing he needs my help in to the extent of being hyperextended. But as time goes by, I realize that when I want to get closer to him, even when we're inside each other's bodies, he's saying no to me, energetically. He's always keeping me at an arm's length. And also, I feel more and more lonely, not seen, not wanted in our relationship. I keep saying yes to him in everything until one day, after feeling rejected by him again, I locked myself in his bedroom crying, and I heard him outside the bedroom running around with another girl at the party, laughing crazy and throwing her in the pool right next to me—crying in the bedroom. Almost two years since our first kiss, I finally realized that this relationship was never what I wished it could be.
So I left with an empty heart that's desperate for a refill. Soon, I met Yuri on Tinder. He would spend one hour talking on the phone with me daily. He cares about me. He gives me healing recipes for my period. And unlike Andy, who says I'm just a hookup for him, Yuri says he's here for a serious relationship, even marriage. He starts to call me baby.
And one day, Yuri tells me about this investment that he has been in for the last few years. And he paints a picture of me and my daughter living in our dream home if I invested. Although it seems too good to be true, and I actually never met Yuri, I choose to believe that he is sent by God to compensate me after my emotional bankruptcy with Andy. And he said he can even lend money to me. It's the first time in my life a man is trying to help me financially rather than me give them money. So I send him all my money, and I am getting a good return on investment although, you know, there are ups and downs in the stock market, which sometimes feels scary, but Yuri is always there to navigate me safely through it.
You see, he is the man that keeps me safe and will never abandon me no matter what. It's exactly what I'm looking for. It was 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening in January 2021. A message from Yuri pops up. It's the day that we've been waiting for, that we're supposed to take our return on investment to pay for my bills. But instead, I'm getting the runaround from Yuri and the customer service in an investment company. And after the tenth call to Yuri without him picking up, I understood something. I have been the victim of a well-executed, highly orchestrated professional scam.
I lost all my money that I'd ever saved. Plus the money of my clients, who invested through me because they trusted me. And now, not only penniless but also in debt—two hundred thousand dollars. My heart sinks. A chill comes up through my spine. I couldn't breathe. I'm panicking. The only person I could think of at that moment was Andy, cos last time I was drowning, he was there. He saved me. So I call him. "Andy, please come now. Please. I just lost all my money. Could you please come here and hold me?" And he said, "Ling, this is your life. It's not my life. Breathe, Ling, just breathe." He hangs up the phone.
Over the next few days, as I was desperately looking online, on social media, looking for friends to come and keep me company, I saw the video of Andy with his new sexy fling. Dancing, traveling around luxury places that I wanted to visit with him while I, a few weeks after we broke up, end up in emotional and financial bankruptcy. "You are worthless. You are not wanted." These voices keep haunting me weeks after the tragedy.
My therapist asked me in one session, "What is it that makes you so hooked to Yuri and Andy? Is there any story in your childhood that reminds you of this?" I looked into the well of memories.
I'm five years old, and I'm crying alone on the small bed in my boarding school in China. My parents thought that was the best education I can get. Plus, you only get in because your dad works in the army. That's your privilege, Mom told me. But I hate this prison. I get bitten when I don't behave like a machine. I need some cuddles and bedtime stories from my mom when she's just five minutes away. For one day, it's Children's Day. And when my parents walk in, I'm so excited. I thought I would go home with them that day like many other kids, but as they turn quietly to leave, I can tell they're not gonna take me. I start crying like crazy. I was holding firmly onto the thigh of my mom as she's going down the stairs. And I'm dropping step by step like a fat heavy mop. Some teachers came and grabbed me and I had to watch her leave—desperately.
Right there, right then, I got a belief. Everyone I love is gonna leave me. I'm worthless. I'm not wanted. But maybe, like my parents said, if I become somebody as they wish, someone might notice me, choose me, and save me from this misery. So I work hard to win any game I'm in.
Although I grew up poor in a small house, sharing smelly toilets, messy kitchens with military families, I got to be that woman who makes a multi-six-figure business in just one year, empowering women in their sexuality. I transformed myself from that awkward, shy little kid to a powerful woman who speaks three languages, dances the wildest, and even gives the best blow job in the world. I am the most wealthy, well-known, and the only sexually liberated person in my whole family tree. But in the end, I still failed relationship after relationship. One abortion, one failed marriage, countless heartbreaking love stories. I became a single mom, penniless at the age of twenty-five.
And after working six years, six years of working my ass off to make money, at the age of thirty-one, just when I think that I can say goodbye forever to the humiliating life in poverty, my life crashed in front of me because I invested everything in the wrong relationship again. I have dealt with many adversities in my life—sexual abuse, domestic violence—but this time, I can't do it alone anymore. For the first time in my life, I had to let go of my pride and ask for help publicly for support and money. Then I got some comments.
"You were just telling you were financially free not long ago. Now you're asking us for money." "How dare you teach others on awakening and wealth and relationships when you're so fucked up." "You must be so greedy and empty. That's why you attracted such a man." You see, after all these comments, actually, I realize I'm not a victim of a fraud. I'm the fraud.
Luckily there are still some friends and clients and even strangers who see me and trust me when I don't even trust myself. A lot of them are here tonight. Some of you donated money. Some of you offered me services like trauma release. Pedro, my fellow speaker, was offering me coaching to rebuild my business. Daniela was putting needles all over my body to activate my stagnant energy. And Aren, he told me, "Your next public speech is gonna be 'How I was scammed for more than half a million dollars. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.'" And Alicia. One day she told me, "Ling, all of these people love you because of who you are, not because you were successful or wealthy." This discovery liberated me. After I lost everything, I thought I need to be worthy. The unconditional love I received broke the spell of 'I'm worthless,' I'm not wanted,' or 'I need to be somebody in order to be saved.'
So now, three months after the greatest happening in my life, I'm standing here to share this story. And although I'm still single, in debt, messy, I've never felt so safe, so wanted, so worthy.
I learned that life is not a competition to become the strongest. Life is a penis. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down, but it won't stay hard forever. And we can make love to it whatever state it is in. Although the caprice of life can at any minute take away all my money, my business, the people I love, again and again, it cannot stop this swell from growing. Just like that poem said, "You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot stop spring from coming."
So let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room. I know what the burning question is and, yes, I do give fifty percent off all manicures. And I think that's worth it. It's fine. Okay, now that the mood is a little bit light, let's go ahead and get down to the brass tacks.
On August 28th, 2011, I opened my eyes to white fluorescent lights—confused, dazed. I can't move my mouth. I can't talk. My eyes are darting from side to side. What is going on? A nurse walks into the room—her eyes just as surprised as mine. She looks at me. I look at her. She darts out of the room. The next thing, a man walks in wearing a white lab coat. Comes in. Pulls a breathing tube out of me. He says, "You're gonna be all right, son. Welcome back." Moments later, I pass out. Next time I wake up, it's not a doctor I see. It's my family. It's my mom. I'm still confused. I have no idea what's happened. "What's going on?" I say with a raspy voice. "Where am I? What's going on?" My mom leans in, gives me a kiss on the forehead, and says, "Sweetheart, it's gonna be okay. You're gonna be all right."
The extent of my injuries was very, very severe. And I had a long, arduous task of recovery ahead of me. I went from being this very independent, successful military man to someone who was completely now dependent on the people around me. And so this transition that happened so fast, it was very jarring, to say the least. And I was very angry. And when I say angry, I mean, I was an asshole.
To this day, I still feel sorry for those nurses that had to deal with me and my grumpiness because it'd be 3:00 a.m. I still hadn't had the strength to lift my arms up and scratch my head. 3:00 a.m. in a medical ward, "Nurse, nurse, nurse." I got other military guys telling me, "Casio, shut up." I'm like, "Man, my head itches. Please, nurse, please come scratch my head."
Months would go on, and slowly I would regain functionality in my legs. And then the day came when this one big heavyset black African American man and another African American woman stood me up for the first time in six months. And I'm screaming at them. "I can't do this. I cannot do this. This hurts. Put me back." And they yelled back at me, "You're gonna do it, man. You're gonna do it, sweetheart."
And this repeats itself for the next three months every day until eventually, I'm walking back. One step, two steps, three steps. “Okay, that's enough for today. I'm gonna go sit down, back in bed, and go back to sleep. Maybe tomorrow we'll double that.”
I went from being this really independent man to relying on people. And that was a very hard transition. And at the time, I kind of criticized and, I guess, tortured myself mentally for asking for help.
But eventually, after months, I could walk out of that hospital on my own. And then I got a piece of myself back, which was nice because once I could finally walk back into that hospital, find those nurses that put up with all my bullshit. I went up to this one woman who was there the whole time when I was there. I was like, "Ma'am, I'm so sorry for being such an asshole." She's like, "Hey, sweetheart." She's from southern Florida. She's got a nice thick Southern accent. She's like, "Sweetheart, you don't have to apologize for anything. You were one of the good ones." We embraced. Finally, said our final goodbyes, and that was it. And here I am today, standing in front of you all.
There's a knock on the window. Joshua, the tallest boy in my class, comes through it. First, his long blond hair followed by a Metallica T-shirt, ripped jeans, and combat boots. He's late. And if he comes in through the main entrance, he'll get detention. The thing is, he didn't oversleep. He works an early newspaper round to financially support his family. We all know it. And it's actually the teacher that opened the window for him because what he and I understand is that the rules are made up. Some other teachers—they don't get this.
And I often verbally disagree with how they run things. You know, I'm not the quiet type. "Sandra, another zero." My German teacher would crinkle her nose when giving me back a vocabulary test. You see, I inherited my mother's wicked way with words and my father's wicked brain, but somehow their desire for education escaped me entirely. I was bored.
I'm eight years old—in more pain than I've ever been in. My mother wasn't home. She was working late at a convention. My dad is lying on a couch with me. He's holding my head. He's crying. "Please give me your pain. Please give me your pain." The thing is, I've got an ear infection, but he's too drunk to get up and get me ear drops.
I'm seventeen and in the final year of high school. Even though it is a school night, all my closest friends are sitting on this huge circular couch that my mother and I picked out together. We talk about what teacher made a stupid joke and who's crushing on who. No one really wants to talk about what happened earlier that day.
Earlier that day, I'm sitting in the second to last row in a nondescript classroom. You know, the row where the average troublemaker usually sits. The door opens, and the head of my department walks in. He looks straight at me, and I laugh a little guiltily because what happened was I skipped some classes the week before. He and I, we had this fantastic system. I would write a note pretending it was my mom's saying that I was sick. He would accept my note and pretend to believe me. He asked me to follow him into the hallway. And I think Uh oh, I've been to the dentist one too many times this year. Instead, in the hallway, my mother is there. "Your father passed away earlier this morning," she says.
I'm six years old, and I'm learning to write. And it turns out I'm ambidextrous. I sit on my dad's knee in his tiny home office. It still smells like the cigar he just finished smoking. "Daddy," I say to him. "I can learn to write with my right hand or my left. Just like you." He swallows and looks at me solemnly. "When I was in the orphanage, they would hit my left hand with a ruler every single day because I couldn't write with the right hand."
After high school, I enroll in the Bachelor of Economics. Now I really wanted to study something way more unemployable and interesting. But after my parents got divorced, the once or twice my dad and I spoke, we could only talk about school. And I remember telling him, "Dad, I'm doing actually pretty well in economics." And he joked how I would end up as a fancy business lady in an expensive SUV instead of a muddy 4x4 that he would prefer. So when my mother suggested maybe I study something useful first, that's exactly what I did.
It's the first Monday of university. I am ready for a fresh start. A place where no one knows who I am and where I can be anyone other than the girl whose dad just died. However, after three days of math classes, I am utterly befuddled. "Why would anyone want to learn math that has both the regular alphabet and the Greek alphabet mixed in?" We're in the kitchen. My mom's on one side of the dining table, and I'm on the other. By then, I am so angry. Tears are coming down my face, and I'm screaming. "I don't get it. This was supposed to be fun. It's just math." She takes a deep breath and sniffs back at me. "So quit. I don't want you living in my house if you're gonna be like this."
It's the second Monday of university. I'm in a small room with only forty students. A small lady is in the front. She's got this ramrod straight spine and short dark hair. There's gray in it and pain in her eyes. She's lecturing under the early beginnings of Judaism. And she carries the history of her people with her every single day. For the very first time in my life, I'm starting to think that maybe I'm not the smartest person in the room after all.
You know, there's this thing that students always need more of, and I'm sure you can guess it's money. So what happens is I end up working in the Amsterdam airport and, if you've worked in hospitality, you know about this, we don't have clients or customers. No, we have guests. I'm not sure what kind of guests would leave their croissant crumbs all over your house and yell at you when their flight is delayed. It's more like feeding an army of angry two-year-olds.
And in this job, my female managers—they don't like me much. I don't know. Young, pretty, smart-mouthed—not everyone's cup of tea. Clang! I'm in the back slicing tomatoes. The cute dishwasher tells me about his weekend, and I'm relieved to be away from our guests. There's three managers huddled behind a computer. My favorite male manager speaks. "We need to order Mountain Dew." The nicest female manager that stole three bar shifts from me the week before after we had a disagreement speaks next. "Um, Mountain Dew. Do you spell that with M O U or M A U?" That's when I decide I never want to work for someone who's dumber than me ever again.
It's 23rd August 2017. By then, I've finished seven years of university. I'm officially an engineer. I've helped neuroscientists figure out where God lives in the brain. I've done research about tourism in India. I've presented on people going on pilgrimages to Elvis Presley's house. Surprisingly, I can't find a job. So what happens is that I enroll as an entrepreneur at the Chamber of Commerce.
For the first time in my life, I feel like my dad and I have something in common after all. You see, when he was sober, he was working, building, selling, inventing, tinkering. And actually, by the time I was nine, our family home was paid off. And it's this thing where we share maybe a hunger to decide what we do with our time. A hunger that did not have to listen to what anyone else wants for us and a desire to get paid for the stuff our brain comes out with. I'm utterly clueless as to what I'm doing. And although my dad would've known nothing about online marketing, for the first time in my life, I miss him. And I wanna tell him, "Dad, even though I didn't end up writing with my left hand after that little speech of yours, maybe we're the same—you and I.
It's 27th February 2021. And in the past three and a half years, I've signed clients, and I've lost clients. I've left friends behind, and I found a new family here. I've messed up more than I can count, but I've also done really well for myself. Most days, I still have no clue what I'm doing, but I do know this. No one else chose my life for me.
I wanna share a little story about my growth with the connection to the spirit of nature. Actually, I grew up just a few kilometers away from here in the village of Nyuh Kuning, and my beautiful, amazing late mother, Linda Garland, the queen of bamboo (We love you, Boo.) taught me that to embrace the world, to embrace the spirit of everyone around us, we must surrender. We must surrender to the universe. We must surrender to everything and just let the universal energy come in. And from there we get power.
And growing up in Nyuh Kuning, in beautiful valleys like here, I would run around like a little Mowgli boy and climb coconut trees, fall off coconut trees, jump into rivers, fall over rocks, and learn how the spirit of nature worked, how the ecosystems and the people of Bali respected nature. And I wanna bring you to a time in 1988, when a holy man named Daaji, Gus Daaji, some of you may know, came to my home in Sangingan, the home of my father, and he blessed us on the full moon.
And Daaji was an amazing, powerful balian, as they call it. And, you know, in the middle of his mantras with the offerings five meters away, he would throw up a flower, and it would land right in the glass of the holy water. I mean, Michael Jordan had nothing on Daaji. I tell you, it's amazing. And this power and this connection with nature and the spirit of nature was so strong in Daaji.
I grew up alone a lot when I was young because my parents were overseas building houses for the rich and famous. So a lot of the time, I was with amazing people like Daaji, and we would go around Bali and pray in the different phases of the moon, no moon, full moon, and basically find every excuse to go and dress up in pakaian nadat and hang out in the temples and eat lots of yummy food and and watch the wayang kulit. It was an amazing childhood.
But then, ten and a half years of age, I found myself extracted from Bali and plopped into a British boarding school in Singapore. No idea what to do. My brother had gone there, so of course, I had to follow suit. I remember a few weeks after arriving at the boarding school, I was in the cafeteria, big smile, like, Hey, how you? You know, full Bali style. And this guy, this Singaporean guy, I remember he came up to me. He's like, "Dude, why are you so happy?" and I was confused. And then I was like, "Oh no, no, no, I'm-I'm not happy." And I stopped smiling, and I got more and more of these weird kind of interactions. And, unfortunately, I slowly learned to kind of like fit in to this energy that was in this urban environment of a very strict regimented boardinghouse.
And I learned to lie to fit in. I learned to be part of the pack, Lord of the Flies kind of stuff, and luckily I had some good friends, good people around me, friends and family who challenged me slowly. They kind of whispered it at first cos I was trying so hard to fit in. "Why are you trying to be someone you are not?" I had completely disconnected with who I was with this amazing spirit and really a core compassion that was free to express in Bali, and there it was all protected.
And I got horrible grades in school, and it was just very hard to connect with people, and slowly I adapted, and I learned how to listen to people and just kind of go from their high frequency to help them calm down. And I would just be a listener and a few very good friends actually helped me to do this and stay calm because I would be very kind of nervous about the condition of everybody around me. So I was always checking is everyone okay? Does everyone like me? And it was really this seeking of a kind of love that my self-love was conditioned on whether those around me were loving me.
And slowly, I learned that love comes from the inside. I had to be like my mother—surrender, just let the energy flow. If the energy is a high energy, slowly it will calm down. This too will pass.
And I was bullied a lot, beaten to buggery. Even though I went to a boarding school, they fought the small kids, and they even bet on us. It was pretty hardcore. I got smashed in sports, bashed my knee, broke a patellar tendon, da da da. When I was in medical care, they burnt my guitar. So kids in boarding school . . .!
But I slowly learned that if we do not connect with the spirit in ourselves, with the spirit around us, and the spirit in those around us, we can never be happy. And Daaji would always talk about Tri Hita Karana—this amazing philosophy here in Bali, and the way he said it to me as a child was very simple. He said, "It's three definitions of happiness, human to human—happy, human to environment—happy, human to God, to the divine—happy, and you must have all three happiness to truly be happy. And growing up in Bali, it was like by osmosis, you kind of followed this way.
But to then be extracted out of it and actually to try to kind of intellectually comprehend it and then go past the intellectual orgasms and whatever of it and actually go back to a place of the authentic real feeling of it was a slow long hard process for me. And I guess, in the end, I had my mother, who was this amazing beam of light compassion for the planet and for the people around her, and my father, who was this kind of eclectic traditionalist. He was very into Hindu rituals and animistic rituals, and antiques, and the plural lineage of Indonesia's amazing religious past and giving me all the routines. I then put this together to understand for the first time how I could connect with the spirit of nature around me.
And it took me about, I think, twenty-two years to figure it out and really be in a place of resolve and be okay with what Daaji had told me when I was seven, eight years old. This energy when I'm working, when I'm in a city, I can now go and escape and just try to connect with either a tree or maybe just some bushes, or maybe it's just some grass and soil. And I can put my hand to the ground and give my connection, my frequency. And I can try to release all the crap in my head and all the emotion, everything, and just reconnect. And this is something that I've been learning to do, and it's still a long journey, of course.
I guess if I had one thing to share, it's that a lifelong learning of connecting with the spirit of nature is something that we all need to invest in every single day of our lives. And especially for the future generations, Gen Z, Gen Alpha, Gen whatever. If they do not have this connection with nature, they will not have the spiritual and heart tools to create this sustainable future that we all are praying will come to be. So may we all learn together every day to connect with the spirit of nature and help to spread that to everyone around us.
I'm in bed. It's a tender Monday morning in New York, and we're basking in post-orgasmic bliss. On this Monday morning, everything is relaxed. We let go. And suddenly, he asks me, "Margot, will you spend the rest of your life with me?" My God. That's the last thing I wanted to hear. I don't believe in marriage. I don't believe in ending up in a golden cage of marriage, like my parents. So I'm like scratching my chin. And I'm thinking, on the other hand, I do have a belief that having a man in your life is tantamount to being successful. So what to do? So I tell him, "Darling, I'm so honored. Give me five minutes, so I think about it."
So I tiptoe down from the loft of our bedroom in New York, and I discreetly and silently go to the office downstairs, open the door, close it, grab the phone, and make a call to my friend Robert the lawyer. "Hi, Robert, can you tell me how much money does it cost and how much time does it take to divorce in New York?" "Oh, easy. $200 and in two days." Oh, wow. This is just what I wanted to hear. "Thank you." I hang up the phone, go back to the bedroom. "Darling, it's a yes, it's a yes."
Well, time passes, and now we're five years later, and $200 and I'm a divorced woman, and I'm on my way to India to meet this famed spiritual master called Osho in Pune. I have to admit that I have a broken heart. This divorce wasn't so easy. I made it sound easy, but I woke up to the fact that this man really loved me, and I kind of maybe didn't take him seriously enough. So my heart is crying. I missed an opportunity for love.
So I come in front of Osho—the great Osho. Ah, he's wonderful. He wears a white robe, and he has a long beard, and he's at the same time, impressive and tender and soft and open. And I look in his eyes, and I say, "Osho, my heart is broken. Will you help me?" Osho takes a flashlight out of his pocket, shines it on me, reads something mysterious—I don't know what—and says to me, "You have gone in deep emotions and suffered a lot, but it has not affected your core." "Ah, I see. There's hope. I don't have to stay stuck in this sadness and these tears for the rest of my life." And then he says, "Okay, go to do the vipassana group and come and see me later." "Okay. Very good."
Off we go to the vipassana. Piece of cake. I'm such a good meditator. I am going to learn my peace on the pillow. It's gonna be easy. No problem. (It's my ego speaking.) Anyway, we arrive at the vipassana. We start the meditation. I sit on the pillow, and it's not at all what I expected. In fact, what happens is one mad soap opera after another starts to unwind in my mind while I'm sitting there, and there's nothing I could do about it. So the first day, I see my husband, or I should say my ex-husband, getting his bones bruised by some karate champions, losing the fight. The next day, I see gangsters coming and dousing gasoline over his house, and everything is burning. His pajamas are on fire. He jumps through the window into the pool. Ha ha ha! The next day the cops are stopping him and fining him because he didn't pay his debts, and he goes to jail.
I'm watching all this, and I'm kind of wondering, what is this? What is going on here? This never happened to me before. And I have to admit that there is a secret part of me that kind of relishes the revenge. I am having my revenge sitting on the pillow in fact, but I don't feel too proud about it.
Anyway, it goes on and on and on day after day, another soap opera, and it goes on. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm totally fed up. So I go to the teacher. I said, "Teacher, what is going on here?" And I explain what's going on. And she says something very wise. She says, "Well, when your body or your mind are wounded, then the infection is there, and the pus has to be released so the infection can heal. And so the wound also can heal. So your mind is like your body. Your mind is releasing the wound, and there's nothing you can do." Nothing I can do. Gee. Back on the pillow with hope. Same old, same old, more soap operas. He breaks a leg. He goes to the hospital.
So finally I said, okay, it's enough. I'm gonna ask Osho for help. So I write Osho a letter, and I said, "Dear Osho, I didn't come to sit on the pillow here to kill my husband. Can you do something to help me?" I send the letter over. The next day peace in the house. No more soap operas. Everything is quiet. Peace on the pillow. Peace in my mind—blessings. Oh my God. Finally, I can meditate. Thank you, Osho. I'm very grateful.
So I meditate, and the pearl arrives. The gift of this week-long meditation. This inner voice that says to me, "As a human being, you are a woman who is free, whether she has a man in her life or not." Now that to me meant a lot because I realized at that moment that I was actually in this program—in this belief—that I married this man because this was the way to be successful. This was the way to go out in the world to be socially accepted. And so without a husband, no success. So now I was getting the real teaching. And now the challenge was you are free as you are, and you don't need to have anybody to feel you can be creative and successful. So this was a new step into a new life for me—a big teaching. So I was very grateful.
So end of the meditation, I go home. I rest, and I remember Osho told me to come see him when I was finished. Well, I got nothing to tell him, really, except I'm full of gratitude. Well, I go anyway. So I walk in the hall, the lecture hall. There's about forty people there, all rather solemn and serious. Germans. I sit down. I wait until they call my name. And when they call my name, I go sit at Osho's feet. And I just look at him adoringly. And I say, "Thank you" because I have nothing else to say, really.
And then he smiles, and he puts his middle finger on my third eye as he usually does as a blessing. I receive it expecting nothing in particular. And all of a sudden, I feel like I'm in an earthquake. The ground under my coccyx is rumbling and grumbling and shaking. And I say, "What is going on?" And soon enough, it turns out that this grumbling and shaking is this uncontrollable laughter that is coming up from my loins through my bones. And I'm exploding in mirth, and there's nothing I can do to control it. Ha-ha-ha. And I laugh, and I laugh until I roll on the floor. I'm rolling on the floor with laughter, and Osho is laughing in his beard. And now, all of a sudden, the whole room is laughing, and I'm completely helpless. I'm here with my legs up, my arms up, laughing, laughing, holding my belly. Finally, they have to carry me to my seat. Okay. Well, this is a pretty exhausting experience. So at the end of it, we go home, and I say, "Wow, that was great. That was definitely, you know, a good gift—this laughter."
I go home, and I think, Ah, time to rest. I'm really tired. The next day I get up. It's not finished. What happens, to my great amazement, is that every day at 7:00 p.m., the laughter comes back, and I have nothing to do with it. I might be walking down the street—ha-ha-ha-ha! I might be eating a restaurant with a friend—ha-ha-ha-ha! The food goes everywhere. It explodes in a moment that is completely unexpected. I forget. I don't know when it's coming. Suddenly the plate and food flies and my friend laughs.
I get the tissue, the laughing tissue, out of my bag. I'm ready by then. And then I'd be writing a letter to someone—ha-ha-ha! Anyway, whatever I do—talking to a friend, walking down the street—the laughter comes back day after day after day. And guess what? Guess how long it came back? One month. Imagine that. For one month, you are breaking out in uncontrollable mirth, complete laughter. You have no control over it. You are not even doing it. It's happening to you. You don't know where it's coming from, but you realize a few things. You realize, my friends, that when you laugh, something happens. You are dissociated from the object of your laughter. You become a sort of a witness to something which isn't, you know, you. It's something. You are laughing, but you don't know what it is. So, after a while laughing and laughing and laughing, I start to realize what's happening here.
I'm laughing at myself. You know, I'm laughing at myself because why else? Why else would I be laughing? So, then I start to say, "Yeah, I'm laughing at myself. Well, okay. So who is the self I'm laughing at? Oh. And I start to see all the shenanigans I've played in my life, and all the idiocies and the divorce and you know, everything becomes a kind of a ridiculous joke, you know? And I begin to see like life, everything around it, everything around me, you know, I see everything as a ridiculous joke. I can't take anybody seriously anymore. Myself the first. I am a clown. Everybody's a clown. Okay. Forget about it. Get onto your work. Write your letters. Do your thing. Ha-ha-ha! There it comes back to remind me once again.
And so finally, I realized that this master had given me an incredible gift, and that was this gift to not be able to take myself seriously anymore, and not be able to take anything in life seriously anymore. And so there is this kind of deep inner joy, especially there, because imagine what would happen to you if every night at 7:00 p.m. you would start to laugh for no reason. I mean, it doesn't make any sense. You're not doing it. Okay? You have no reason to laugh and there it goes, and you have no control over it. I mean, it does something. It imprints laughter in the cells of your body. And you know that laughter is part of your nature, and laughter is your way to enlightenment. Okay. So that's the story.
I'm five years old. And I find myself wearing my first suit. It was a matching replica of what my dad was wearing. Just think classic Men in Black. We were in Las Vegas at one of the most iconic hotels in the entire world—the MGM Grand—at my father's company convention. While holding my dad's hand, walking through the casino, we saw it. Lit in bright lights, surrounded by people with their film roll cameras taking photos. As we got closer, my grip got tighter, and there it was—the grand prize that the casino was advertising—one million dollars in $20 bills in stacks of $10,000. Now gripping my dad's hand with all my might to get his attention. In his face, I can see the excitement that we shared. Smiling, I said next, "Dad, I'm gonna be a millionaire."
Once we made it back home to the Boogie Down Bronx in New York City, where I was born and grew up, I started sharing my excitement of becoming rich without having a clue what that would entail. My excitement got so bad that my mom one day snapped at me and said, "Look, boy, shut up."
After this experience, I felt it was no longer safe to express. I isolated myself. I couldn't relate to others. They just weren't interested in talking about the same things that made this heart beat a little bit faster, that consumed this mind day and night. You see, while the other kids were sitting up straight doing what they were told and getting high out of getting good grades, I was daydreaming. I was doodling. I was masterminding in my mind what I deemed to be a compelling future. When I got home from school while my sisters were doing homework, I was listening to my dad's personal development and business tapes in Spanish. Over the years, hundreds of them. What resonated about these tapes and what fueled my drive was that everyone that I listened to shared how they were just like me, often misunderstood, misfits, rebels, troublemakers, the ones who saw the world differently and who weren't fond of rules.
Thanks to this habit and others that were later developed, before my nineteenth birthday, I made my first $100,000. Before my twenty-second birthday, I had broken the sales record at one of the most iconic brands in the entire world. Before my twenty-fifth birthday, I had helped my clients generate tens and tens of millions of dollars.
And I was miserable. In fact, the moment I knew it was after leading a two-day, all-day and night business seminar, which I call a top lion, for over two hundred people who had traveled from all around the country to be there. It was the fifth time in a series that was supposed to be hundreds all around the country for thousands of entrepreneurs. And because it wasn't New York City this time, I invited my family cos I wanted them to share this experience with me.
After two full days, it was the closing ceremony. And I asked everyone to stand in a massive circle around this grand ballroom with beautiful chandeliers. And I asked who would be willing to share what the last two days were like for them. Person after person after person said, "This experience changed my life. My life will never be the same. I've been to every event under the sun and this by far was the best." After everyone shared what they got out of this training, I looked at my dad, who was standing by the entrance of the ballroom to my right, and I see tears falling down his cheeks. In his eyes, I saw what I can only describe as proud. And I imagine if I can hear his inner dialogue, it would've said something like, "That's my boy."
In that moment, I felt something I lost when I was nine years old. As I arrived home from school, out was walking my father suitcase and bags in hand. I knew. I immediately dropped my book bag and ran to my dad with all my might, and I dropped to my knees, and I grabbed my father's legs. As I looked into his eyes as I was crying, I said, "Pa, please don't go." I knew my parents were going through a hard time, but none of us expected this. My mother grabbed me, and without saying a word, he walked out. I blamed myself for my parents' divorce.
And now here we were in this grand ballroom with tears falling down his cheeks. I finally felt I did it. Everything I ever wanted to do with my existence to make my father proud, to have him witness me having done it—the materialization of that moment we shared when I was just five years old. I felt the tears coming before I stopped them. And in that moment, an undeniable feeling of truth arose inside of me. And it was that I had been living my life to get my dad's love, to get my dad to come back.
Every action surgically taken to show him that I am worthy, to show him that I am significant. And in that moment, I can clearly see that none of it mattered to me at all. And this was confirmed when I woke up the next day, feeling my entire body sore in every part of my body from giving my heart and soul on that stage for over thirty hours over the course of two days. And I remember the first thought that arose in my mind, and it was Now what? Now what? I had just done everything I thought I ever wanted to do with my existence. And I felt nothing.
That's when I knew I couldn't do it anymore. That was the last time I facilitated that training. One week later, I find myself on a plane to a tiny island in Thailand. This is me walking away from it all. Everything felt like it was crumbling, including my identity and who I thought I was. I had to get away. Maybe this is how my dad felt when he walked away from me, my mother, and my three sisters. My experience in Thailand only intensified things. I literally could not focus and do basic tasks that my business required to thrive.
I became a person I did not recognize and found myself in a love affair that broke me open in ways I now see were necessary but were so painful. One day I'm sitting at a busy cafe attempting to get some work done that my team had been waiting on for weeks. And it started to rain. And when it started to rain in walked this couple and they see two empty seats positioned directly in front of me and they say, "Can I sit?" Then the next words outta this guy's mouth whose name I would later find out was Chris was, "It looks like you're working on something important." "You could say that." And just like that, we went on to have a beautiful conversation.
Now when I say we went on to have a beautiful conversation, what I mean is we spent all the time talking about me, which is something I would only realize much, much later. And somewhere in that conversation, I asked, "What's your story? What do you do?" I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of, "I help people who are ready to wake up wake up." Looking at the clueless look on my face, he went on and said, "Basically, it's the next step from where you are now." Now I was very intrigued. I asked him to tell me more. "Well, it's hard to explain, man. It's really something you have to have a direct experience of to understand. If you feel called, I can give you an introduction section." "I feel called. How do we connect?" And we exchanged contacts, and I walked out.
The longer I stayed on the island, the more lost I felt. During a sunset walk on the beach, I remember hearing my inner voice say, "You need help. You need help." And in that moment, I remembered what Chris said. "When you're ready, just get in touch."
Now I was ready. And what Chris put me through next, I cannot put into words. What I experienced that day was the beginning of discovering who I would be if my father was dead. I was confronted with questions I could no longer ignore. Who am I beyond my father's approval? What might I discover about myself? What would life demand of me? And how generous would I be with my one wild and precious life? What Chris started to teach me that day was a very simple practice to take total responsibility for my inner world. To let go of what no longer serves me by relaxing into my heart's truth, no matter what, no matter what over and over and over again, especially when I don't feel like it. Whenever I was lost in my mind wrestling with my ego to find the comfortable place to rest, Chris would have me repeat a simple mantra, which was, "I don't know. I don't know anything."
Sitting there in the unknown. Empty with no desire to fix, prove, protect, fight, or even blame. That's when a drive infinitely more powerful than any other force I've ever experienced in my life arose. It whispered into my mind a question. "Do you or do you not want to know what's beyond yourself?" "Yes. Yes, I do." Now in life's infinite wisdom, she met me by showing me where my limits were, where my openness and presence stopped, where I was seeking certainty and significance rather than growth and contribution. Going through this was the hardest thing I've ever gone through my entire life. It was an ego's death, but I leaned into it despite the uncertainty of it all. And the more I did, through how I showed up moment to moment in my life, the more life showed me it's not about me.
It revealed to me how, when I get out of the way, my presence can impact the web of life and my existence matters by itself. And how to the proportion I hold this presence, I can experience what it's like to feel free from the chains of suffering and how when I'm free of suffering, I can contribute to breaking down the walls of separation between myself, others, and how others relate to their mission— to create a more connected humanity and world through my God-given gifts, which is a whole new way to do business and build brands that matter for generations to come. Because what's business about at the end of the day? Is it about validating our own egos, or is it about creating a dream come true result for those we have the privilege to serve?
After this realization, I wanted nothing to do with this stage until I knew it would be different. Until my clarity of purpose was so abundantly clear that it radiated out my presence so intensely that it could not be ignored. Until it was no longer about feeding this monster called my ego, which I created to meet my need for certainty and significance. Until I cared more about what the universe wanted from me than feeling safe in this fragile heart.
Well, now here I am. Here I am. Was it easy? No. In full transparency, it still isn't at times. I had to give up the safety of the illusion of control, which means I had to master the terrifying act of being vulnerable—the one thing I wanted to avoid since I was five because it wasn't safe. To be different and to be generous. Shutdown after shutdown after shutdown. Rejection after rejection after rejection.
It never felt safe to be me. And let me be clear. I don't want it to come across as if I have it all figured out or that everything always works out because it doesn't, but life is not here to be lived perfectly. It's here to be lived generously. And to me, what that means is what I give while I'm here matters. This is not a belief or a knowing. Through experience, it is my truth as I've seen the miracles. So here's my generous invitation to all of you. If you're anything like me, and you too know you're here to be generous with your existence and a vessel for other people's growth in some way, some shape, or some form, I say, let's do that. Let's not let our past or our current awareness of what's possible limit how generous we can be with our existence.
I believe part of our destiny is to align and lean into the vastness of our future, especially when our mind says, "That's not a good idea!" But you know. You know. It's step by step, experience by experience, to become the person you've always wished to be. To get out of the way and let life be generous through you.
My name is Pedro, and I believe in the power of being generous.
Did you know, I just read this, by the year 2050, the oceans are gonna run out of fish? What if I have a child one day, and they get dumped and all I can say is, "Oh, honey, don't worry. There are plenty of . . . plastic bags in the sea."
I'm a professional comedian. And my sense of humor keeps me sane and helps me tell the truth ever since I was a kid.
I'm seven years old. I'm swinging in this hammock that my parents installed above my bed. And I like to do acrobatic tricks on it. And I'm trying to process what I've just read. We are chopping down the rainforest in the Amazon. We're losing a hundred and fifty species every day—creatures and plants that took billions and billions of years to evolve are dying every day. And adults know that what's happening is bad, and they're doing it anyway. And even though I love their crispy French fries, I decided to take a stand and boycott McDonald's. I start the Earth Club at my school, and I decide it's my job to save the entire planet, which will be way easier than saving my parents' marriage.
By age twenty-six, it hits me. I can barely save myself from my various addictions, much less save the world. Turns out I'm not the Messiah.
But it's not until November 4th, 2016, that I realize something even bigger. I'm at La Peña in Berkeley, and we are all watching the election returns. Next to me is Adam, my gorgeous conscious philanthropist boyfriend. His hand is on my knee. Missouri falls to Trump. And in that moment, it seems like everything hopeful in my life is slipping away. I can feel my gorgeous boyfriend is about to break up with me. My home country is about to vote someone into office who will waste the last moments that we have to rein in climate change. And I can feel my comedy career also slipping down the drain because at this moment, I realize not only am I not going to save the world, for the first time in my life, in my hopeful heart, I realize, that it seems possible no one will save the world.
That moment and many others after—pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, the death of George Floyd, countless lies and scandals from our president—are the moments that break my hope. And since then, I haven't found anything funny. A surgeon loses their sense of sight—they can't take tumors out anymore. You know what's coming. A winemaker loses their sense of smell—they can't make excellent wine anymore. A comedian loses her sense of humor—she can't make people laugh anymore.
I feel more and more angry every day as the California wildfires caused by terrible droughts have me lying in bed at night. I'm choking on the smoke. My breasts ache for too many weeks in the month from the endocrine disruptors in my food supply. I can't drink the tap water because it's polluted with carcinogenic pesticides. All I can think of is about our culture, this culture of harder, better, faster, more, more, and more, this destroy and dominate nature, dominate women, children, jungles, oceans, fish.
It just seems like any joke that upholds this patriarchal system is just another brick in the wall causing the destruction of the earth, which just so you know, I'm calling the patriarchal dynamic. It is not the fault of men. Men, you are imprisoned as you know in this system as much as anyone else. The truth is, I'm at a place in my life where I have no humor. I have no laughter. I have no jokes. And clearly, neither do you at this moment.
After four years of humorless despair, in November of 2020, I go with my medicine teacher to the woods of Santa Cruz. We're in the mountains. I ingest a handful of mushrooms and some ketamine, trying to find some answers.
And my hips start to shake involuntarily. They're rattling. They're rustling the leaves below me. The sun starts peeking through the trees, and suddenly, I'm shaking. I just start to relax for the first time in four years. And I'm overcome finally with awe and gratitude that billions and billions of years of miracle upon miracle has created all of this. It's created you and me. And this awareness, us in these human bodies, the awareness to actually recognize the miracles that we have evolved into. So much energy is coursing through me, lightning shooting up my spine out my fingertips, through my pussy. This is what it feels like to be enlightened. I get it.
But I remember what my lineage calls these mushrooms. I remember they're called Los Ninos Santos, the little clowns, and they're laughing at me. They're laughing at how silly and seriously I am taking myself, and they're laughing with me, and they're laughing through me, and they're laughing at my tension and my anger and my fear. And they're telling me that these are all in the way of my aliveness, and they tell me then the answer that even if everything on the entire planet dies, it's all gonna be okay because right here, right now, my job is to shake and feel and laugh for no reason at all.
And that might be the only thing that does, in fact, save the world.
So I'm sat there. I roll another joint, even though I'm already brain-dead from the four Tramadol that I had for lunch. My company's falling apart, and I barely slept for the last few months. I haven't been able to pay any of my staff for the second time over the last three months. Some of these staff are my friends. They're people that are close to me. I'm feeling crushed by the feeling of failure that's overcoming me. The first time this happened, I assured them that I was more than capable of dealing with the situation. I felt like I had it under control. The second time this happened, it was abundantly clear that it wasn't something I had under control, nor was I able to stick to any of my promises.
My mind's still buzzing. And I'm sat perfectly still underneath the heat of a 400 watt light with sweat dribbling off the end of my nose. The twelve five-foot-tall cannabis plants that are sat in my garage needed some water, and I needed the fucking money from them. It wasn't a good spot to be. I wasn't happy where I was. I also wasn't looking forward to returning back into the house. I took out my phone. I looked at the time. It was close to 10:00 p.m. I managed to ignore all the unread WhatsApp messages that just represented more and more problems going on in my life. I had no desire to walk back into that house at that moment. I would actually rather have stayed in that sweaty, horrible little tent rather than go back into that house and listen to my girlfriend tell me what a useless man I'd become.
Despite that pain that I was going through, I slowly picked myself up. I finished the watering process and started slowly trekking my way back into the house while smoking the joint, obviously. As I entered the house, I'm greeted by exactly what I expected. The not-so-patient girlfriend was there, ready to have what was clearly World War III, possibly World War 1,003, by this point. And I knew exactly what to expect. I knew exactly what to go through. It was the exact same argument every single time. Had different variations, of course, but there was the same essence.
"You always put your business before me. I'm not a priority." I know. "You're selfish. You're a narcissist." That I also believe I know. (Thanks guys.) I was getting dramatic then. "You need to close that call center. It's a toxic environment. It's not doing you any good whatsoever." This one was a little bit more difficult to accept. I wasn't as clear on this one. The reason being is I was so scared of failure. My ego was so kicked up around this subject. I was so scared of failing in that business. It was so attached to my identity that I absolutely refused to accept that one even though there might have been a shred of truth in it. We've all probably been in that spot.
So this time is a little bit different. The argument begins. I'm not even hearing any of the words. I'm in a really still place. And then, all of a sudden, I become overcome with a different type of emotion. I start to feel a wrenching feeling in my stomach that starts to double me over. I start to feel tears well up in my eyes. I couldn't even remember the last time that I'd actually cried. This whole sensation was totally alien to me. I was sat there thinking Men don't cry. This isn't what I should be doing. I don't understand.
As I sat there with pain coursing through my body—I had my face in my hands—the last remnants of my ego was dripping through my fingers. And I was sat there just feeling like a scared, upset little boy. It was in that moment that I realized one really, really simple fact. I fucking hated the person that I'd become. I fucking hated myself at that moment in time—everything that I was doing, everything that I was a part of. I'd spent months and months trying to pour buckets out of the sinking ship that I'd been trying to ride that were full of false hope, lies, empty promises.
I'd spent years and years trying to acquire things at the expense of people, trying to be the man when ironically, what I'd actually achieved was being further from being the man that I wanted to be every single day.
I went from being a coke dealer to running call centers. And it was a really interesting transition. I decided that I wanted to get out of the coke game. And initially, I thought it was because it was the right thing to do. What I quickly realized is it was all for self-serving gain—the narcissism kicking back in again for sure. I realized what was happening. And I tried going into call centers. I got into the coke game because I was interested in money, power, and status. I then moved to the call center game because I was interested in money, power, and status. The strange thing was when I was involved in the coke game, the people that were buying things off me, they really fucking wanted the coke. Like there was no two ways about it. They wanted it. Nice and simple. In the call center game, I very much doubt that the older and vulnerable people that we were selling dodgy insurance products to really needed what it was that we were offering, especially when the products that we were offering were pretty much the same price that you would pay for a new TV or a new fridge.
It was in that moment that I kind of realized that legality is not synonymous with morality. And when I sat there in that moment without any of the shiny badges of honor that I had—all of these things that I thought made me successful—all I was left with was myself. I'd spent twenty-eight years chasing after things that really didn't fucking matter, chasing after things that I didn't even like. I was in a really horrible place. I felt broken. I felt lost. But the only thing that was different in this particular moment is that I felt a certain level of hope, and that little piece of hope came from a space of understanding.
I knew who I was. Don't get me wrong, I was not happy with who I was, but I was aware of where I was at. So I had a starting point. Just having that starting point to me was a little glimpse of hope. The fact that I was in the place that I was in, that I felt the way that I did, meant that I wanted to be somebody completely different. And this gave me a choice. It gave me a different option. It allowed me to choose people over things. It allowed me to go into a position where I could empower rather than have power over. This simple, simple thing allowed me to start creating the world that I want to and become a person I actually respect.