FABx Stories Worth Telling


Togetherness and Why It Matters

Tonight I'm gonna talk about why togetherness matters. And I wanted to do that by telling you three short stories of journeys in my life and experiences that I've had and why I believe that. So the first of those stories begins in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1980 when I attended a survival gathering of the Lakota - the indigenous people of that area - on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And this survival gathering was all about people from all over the world, environmentalists, activists, Native American leaders coming together to defend the land of the Lakota. The Lakota had experienced 200 years of colonialism. Four hundred and eighty treaties were made by the government, and every single one was broken by the government, not by the Lakota. So here they were in this situation. There was uranium under the ground, and that's what the people wanted. So they were there to fight for their lands. And when I was standing there, I was watching on the stage a young Lakota woman dancing, and there were some Lakota elders playing the sacred drum. This was an incredible sound. And this young Lakota woman was dancing, and her long black hair was trailing in the wind. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen, and I still remember it very clearly today. But as she was dancing, this very scary thing happened. A B-52 bomber flew low over the top of the stage. There was an air force base nearby. And I think it was a deliberate attempt by these people to say, "We're the boss. We're gonna take your land." But I felt with that sense of togetherness with these people from all over the world, with the same passion, with the same desire to work together, to protect their land, that it was possible. I want to go forward about ten years to 1990. We'd just come through ten years or more of, I guess, the Cold War or America pointing nuclear missiles at Russia. And I was taught growing up that Russians were the enemy. And I could never quite understand that. I'd never met a Russian person. And I was always wondering "Why are they the enemy? What's so bad about these Russians. Why do they want to destroy us? Why do they want to blow us up and destroy our way of life and everything else?" But I realized that I had to go there to find out for myself. So I was able to organize a private invitation to visit the Ukraine, which was part of Russia at that time. And I was invited by a woman by the name of Mira. Mira means peace. And she was head of the People's Diplomacy club in this town. But before I went to Krivoy Rog, I had this crazy idea with my wife Steph, who's sitting down here tonight, to cycle from Europe to Russia and carry an Earth flag, which represents the Earth and oneness - that we only have one planet and together we must protect it. So we cycled through Europe and Eastern Europe, and we got to Russia. And then we took a train to Red Square in Moscow, and we unfurled the Earth flag. All these people looked at us kind of strange. "What are you doing?" "What's all this about?" So we explained that we had some media coverage. And then we went down to Krivoy Rog, and we met the family, the Russians, and we spent ten days with Mira, her family, her friends, and every day we got into these incredible conversations, explaining about our life, how we lived in the West. They told us all about life and Russia, all the difficulties they had, their dreams, their loves - all that was important to them. And we told them what ours were. And on the last day, they put on this lunch for us, and there were Cossacks, and there were World War II veterans. And there were young Russian people - Ukrainians - and teenagers. And we had this incredible experience. And when we went to leave, when we finished that lunch - we were leaving the next day - we embraced with the most incredible love and feeling and devotion and respect - respect for each other. And again, at that moment, I realized that togetherness really matters. And the third story is an experience in Indonesia about eight years ago. And I was traveling with six Australian men up the rivers of Borneo in North Kalimantan. We were traveling on canoes up this river with engines on the back. And we were going up to this village called Setulang up in the original rainforest of Kalimantan. 130 million years old, the oldest rainforest on the planet. So we were going to this village for the first time. We were gonna spend a few days with the Dayak people, with the indigenous tribes of that area. And as we were traveling up this river, and I want you to just kinda come with me on this part of the journey. So we're traveling up on these boats, the sun setting coming down through the trees, two hornbills, which are the sacred birds of the Dayak, flew in front of us, in front of our path, which is a very good omen. And then we came around the bend in the river, as we entered into the village. And there was about fifty of the Dayaks all lined up waiting for us in their traditional costumes. So happy to welcome us. These strangers from a country, Australia, New Zealand, whatever, they'd probably never heard of, but they were there to welcome us. And they were so honored that we'd come to their village. And then, for the next six days, they took us into the forest. We stayed in the forest. They danced. They sang. So much joy, so much connectedness, so much togetherness over those few days. And we got to understand about the way that they live their spiritual connection with the forest. And, of course, we tell them about our lives. And this was an incredible experience. And again, when we went to leave, we were like family. We were family. But we left with some sense of sadness because what future do they have? You know, palm oil. I'm sure you know all about that. It's coming into those areas. But I really felt then, and I certainly believe it now that together we can make a difference. Together we can save those forests. We can help them preserve their culture. So coming to today, I decided to sort of put all this together. And what do we do with togetherness? How can we make it really impactful? So I decided to start a project called The Togetherness Project. And part of the reason why we're here tonight, The Togetherness Project is all about working together with people from different countries, nationalities, cultures, Balinese, Indonesians, Bule, foreigners from many different countries like you all are tonight. And I really believe that if we can put our minds together, our creativity, our passion, our beliefs, we can do wonderful things. I think on this island in particular, during this time, it's such an incredible opportunity to do that, to forge a really powerful sustainable future on this island. And I think of what we've done so far with The Togetherness Project bringing back the traditions through the ikat, through the weaving revival, which you've seen tonight. That's probably one good example, where there's twenty-five women now in the community of Pesalakan, and they're employed, that stopped doing the ikat weaving twenty-five years ago, but have now brought it back and created some income during this time. The honey farm up in Karangasem. The traditional coffee in Munduk. We're supporting organic farmers here - indigenous farmers in Bali. If anybody wants to have their land turned into an organic farm, we're providing that service and supporting the local people as well. We're organizing events. The first one's gonna be next month in October. So I really, really hope that all of you can get involved in some way. I mean, just tonight, you can buy a Bag of Hope if you wish. These sell for 850,000, and all that money goes to support the communities. So I really believe that togetherness does matter and we can all play our part. Thank you.

Deconstructing Identity Labels

As I appear before you, start to notice what impressions begin to form. What does my attire say about me? The sound of my voice, my stature, my skin color? My name is Nadine McNeil. I'm from Jamaica, where I lived until I was sixteen years old. In 1982 I headed off to Ontario, Canada - first time leaving Jamaica - where I would join a private all-girls Catholic school, Holy Name of Mary High School. There were 325 students. Three were black. Tracey, who was born in Canada, who ran track and field, myself, and my Caribbean sister Jackie from Grenada. And we got teased because we had this singsongy voice. Anyway, our fellow students would often ask us, "Did you live in a hut in Jamaica?" or "Did you wear grass skirts?" A couple of years later, I'm living in New York City. Anyone here from New York? Yeah. So it's rush hour. I'm on the D train, and the train is packed, and we're all like this, and we're right up against each other. And I said something to the woman standing next to me, and she goes, "Bitch get off me. Go back to your country where you came on your banana boat." And I went, "Oh shit." Now what was interesting was that woman and I shared a skin color. So, then I began to understand what the term racialism means. Racialism is essentially a softer version of racism, but there are more nuances that are mixed up in it. And so began my story of internalizing, silencing stereotypes, labels, identity. This would continue throughout my life. And even when I worked at the United Nations, an organization whose premise is founded on equality and inclusion, I would meet these statements and these stereotypes and these limiting beliefs. And then, when I would try to share with my colleagues my experience, I'd get about three responses. One would be, "Are you sure you heard correctly?" The other one would be, "Nah, that's not what they meant." The third one would be, "They must have been joking." So I was gaslit up the yin yang. You know, coming from Jamaica - I'm an only child - I was raised by two married parents. And up until that point, moving to Canada and then New York, I identified with my high school where I lived. The values my parents instilled in me were study hard, work hard, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And for God's sakes, don't get pregnant out of wedlock. So, here we are, 2020 living while black, and we're still having these conversations. There's a tendency to be uncomfortable about having the conversations, but how do we defy, dismantle the stereotypes without the conversations? Yes, I am a Black woman. Sometimes I'm angry. Other times I'm sad. My heart breaks that we're still having this conversation one hundred years after the abolition of slavery . . . or more. So my call to action standing here before you is that we start to pause. Think about the labels that we identify ourselves with, the assumptions we make based on what people look like. Nadine McNeil educated in Canada, the United States, and Europe. My CV arrives across your desk. And then I come through the door. "Oh shit. How do I put these two things together?" This is what happens when we fall into the danger of a single story. A Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, talks about this. And she says the danger of the single story is not so much that it's inaccurate. It's the fact that it's incomplete. So we see someone, we make some decisions and assumptions about that person. We treat that person on that basis, and we've lost a whole opportunity to learn so much more. My repeated experience, no matter where I've lived in the world, is that ultimately we all want to be seen, heard, and loved. Thank you very much.

SHE is on FIRE, I Will Let HER Speak

So I would like to share a story with you today about power. And this what you can see - it's not that I'm nervous. It's because my yoni is on fire. But it hasn't been like that always. So I let her now speak. When I was twenty-two, I ended up in Nepal meeting a guru. I was innocently devoted and dedicated to be the pure tool for good, so I could serve and heal, and I would say, to save this world. How dangerous that can be. So the first day I arrived there, I was taken to his room. And first, his assistant said, "You need to be cleared, so you can work with him." And how was that? I was put onto the bed. He had his hands choking my neck, and he fucked me like a rabbit. I didn't know what to do. I didn't have anyone there. And no one actually knew where I was because I was told to not say where this sacred pilgrimage would take place. During that month, as much as I had experienced this hardcore abuse, rape, control, and manipulation, in the same time, I had experienced the beauty of the stupa and the people praying there, living in the Buddhist temple, hearing the sound of the gongs. So it was confusing to me. I went back to Czech. I made it home, but I was destroyed. And there was a moment which was, for me, was the turning point, when I saw another sister was beaten. When another sister was yelled at. When another sister was disempowered. And so I knew in the moment when I was facing death, after not sleeping the whole night as I was cleaning his flat, and I was driving back to my unit, and I fell asleep, and I woke up, and the truck was in front of me. I knew I will either die or I have to get out. It wasn't easy, but I came out. I fell into a deep depression. I really didn't want to be there. I was devastated. And in that time, I received a blessing from my father, picking me up from my room, looking in my eyes and saying, "I don't know what's happening. I don't know what you need to change but change it. And remember, you are my daughter, and we will never give up." So in the new year under the stars, I said, "Okay, I want to know what a life is. I want to live." And I set myself on a really profound journey. Little did I know what was ahead of me. So not like most people coming here to Bali. With a divine orchestration and profound synchronicities, I came here actually to forget about spirituality. Such a cosmic joke. And I came to study traditional Balinese dance. My child's dream was to just dance. And so I did, and I fulfilled my dream. I danced in a concert in Surabaya. National TV was there. I was in the newspapers. I danced in the exhibition, and I was dancing as a Czech woman traditional Balinese dance. And then I was even initiated by the priest in a small village, close to the waterfall, to that sacred dance to be the vessel for the divine to transmit its message to the tribe. So then I said, "Okay." In another new year, I said, "I want to know what spirituality is. Show me." In a week I met my teacher. And a few months later, I went to my first yoga teacher training. I was doing yoga from four o'clock in the morning. I was eating just raw food, and I was surrounded by epic, amazing human beings who didn't punish me, who weren't screaming at me, who weren't abusing me, who were showering me with so much love. And I don't know what the space was in that, you know, divine constellation. But there was one night when in the Anahata Resort, I went down to my room and I just laid down and boom, suddenly I entered the space, the dimension, where I knew myself in all there is. And I knew myself as that profound nothing. And then coming back, I witnessed the formation of this beautiful body. Like, wow, such a miracle. And I took that breath, and here I was again. But different. Something had changed. I didn't have any clue what just happened. I went back up to have dinner, and I was speaking to one of my teachers, Simon, and I was, you know, trying to put it into words, and he was just looking at me. And I just knew in that moment that he can't meet me there. So from that moment, I was on a high-speed road, like really, really high speed, like the speed of light. And I was like, where is that fan? Like when you're in front of the fan, and everything is shredding away. So I was healing. I was healing, and I was healing. And I just had this love pulsing inside of me. And I didn't have any clue, you know, what to do with it. But then I put it into creating the retreats because I just so felt I wanted to give it to others. Like I wanted others to experience that. So I created the conditions. I created a project called Your Life. So retreats with raw food, yoga, and different healing modalities as I had experienced that magic or miracle through me. Later on, I created a company, which was and still is devoted and dedicated to serve high vibrational plants to bring the health and wealth back into our bodies; to bring back that power into our hands so we can raise and remember that grace. And I saw like, you know, I'm on the purpose. I have nailed it. But there was that like, "Hey, but what about your sexuality?" You know what I'm speaking about? Right? So I dived in. I dived fully with the desire and knowing that I can, you know, experience myself through another and with the desire that I can experience the good with another. So not just that I could, you know, orgasm by myself, I could like pleasure myself, but then to really surrender into the hands of another. So, tick! And little I knew that later on, I will meet another guru, and little I knew that that would be the big initiation to really own and claim that divine power, that holy spirit, THE self, or whatever name you want to put on it as me in all its versions. And really receive myself, receive myself fully with all its shadows, with all its light and turn in to that family inside of me, to that holy child, which is quite epic, bringing me all the way here. Same as that orgasmic place, and the presence through which I can deliver this. And so the last thing. I just saw this quote, and I had to write it down, and it says, "Buddhatvam Yosityonisamasritam." I don't know if I have written it right. It means "Enlightenment is in your yoni." Or like enlightenment is in your sexual organ. So it doesn't matter if it is the yoni or the penis. But I want to inspire you to really dig in. To come down. So then you can REALLY rise up. Thank you.

Breaking Free

It's the morning of the big day. A festival to celebrate the anniversary of the new Innovation Lab, the greatest achievement of my career at the global economic powerhouse, the IMF. I've been in the auditorium since 6.00 a.m. setting everything up with my team. We're about to open the doors for the opening ceremony. And when we do, a flood of gray/black suits are gonna come in. I'm so enjoying the contrast that I've created, with the bright pink and yellow and teal balloons throughout this space. My vision has come to fruition, and I can't wait to see how people react. As the suits begin to walk in, my excitement builds. The managing director, one of the most powerful women in the world, takes the microphone. She says, "I want to recognize the person that made this all happen." I stand up a little bit straighter, and I'm ready to step forward. And then she says the name Travis Wagner. Now, just to be clear, that is not my name! As I graciously clap for Travis, my heart sinks. You see, two years ago, I had it made. I had the sexy red sports car with the sunroof and the Bose sound system, a walk-in closet overflowing with sheath dresses and heeled shoes, and other First World essentials, a UN-issued blue badge that whisked me past barricades and security guards and inside the headquarters of the global financial empire in Washington, D.C. A pretty much guaranteed paycheck for the rest of my life. Acquaintances, accessories, and assurances—I had it all. I'd always loved the world of business in the marketplace. My dad taught me the value of working hard, and he clued me in that the point of life was to stay busy. Turns out I was amazing at both of those. I remember one of my first summer jobs. I'm sixteen years old, driving in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, but I don't care because I have a job, and I'm in love with the glamor of the nine-to-five routine. I'm listening to the morning radio, the windows down, drinking my French Vanilla Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and I can't wait to arrive in the office. As I walk in, I smell coffee. I hear the clicking of keyboards and the chatter of gossip from the odd cast of characters around me, and this warm feeling of familiarity rushes over me. I'm part of a community. I have a place. I belong. After that, I had a whole string of blue-collar jobs. I just loved the fact that I could walk in, get myself hired, and start getting a paycheck, whether it was at the gas station, fast-food restaurant, the clothing store at the mall. By the time I finished college, I had at least twenty jobs on my résumé. Soon I found myself in the capital of the United States at a fancy new job building my career. I worked hard. I had a title. I had an office. I had a reputation. And yet, despite having more than I'd ever had before, more success, more security, more opportunity, I couldn't help but notice that as time went on, something was missing. I wasn't happy. Somewhere along the way, I'd lost that spark. I remember talking to my dad one day, and he said, "Do you think you'd ever be able to go back to waiting tables?" He knew how much I'd loved working at this trendy Italian restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara at the end of college. And then I thought about it for a minute. And I realized that no. I'd become jaded and entitled. And the higher I climbed, the more my ego was all up in it. I didn't recognize the woman that I'd become. For more than a decade, I had been trading my time, my energy, and most importantly, my passion for someone else's idea of success. While I was playing this game of validation and acceptance and making money like everybody else around me, it was sapping my energy and suffocating my soul. Life was passing me by while I was languishing inside these polished concrete walls of compromise. I was living someone else's dream. So that morning, when I heard Travis's name announced on the microphone, it was both heartbreaking and the permission I needed to walk away. Three months and two tantra events later, I'm standing on the curb at Dulles International Airport, waving goodbye to my brother and sister. I've sold my car, packed my life into a storage unit, and handed over my responsibilities at the Innovation Lab. You see, what not everyone knew about me was that I had a double life. Part of me was Sensible Susan, who loved structure, followed the rules, and knew how to get the job done. The other part of me was this woo-woo wild woman, the insatiably curious seeker who wanted to taste and experience life fully. I'd been dipping my toe in that woo-woo river for many years, but now I had the freedom to jump in fully. And once I unlocked that door, there was no stopping me. Just like those jobs back in high school, college, I was taking it all in. I was traveling around the world, dancing at festivals, signing up for workshops, trying the latest tantra techniques, checking out all the spiritual hotspots. I was alive. You see, Sensible Susan had been delivering on someone else's dream and playing the game pretty well, but it wasn't until I gave myself to that wild woman fully that I started really living my own life. I started discovering what abundance means to me. Who am I? And what do I value when the old identity and everything familiar has been stripped away? What's left? What is worthy of my time and my energy? Earlier this year, I moved to Bali. I traded my high heels for flip-flops, those concrete walls for the jungle canopy, and the crush of bureaucracy for the cushion of heart-centered community. I found freedom. I found connection. I found incredible beauty and celebration and that magic I'd been craving. And most of all, I've been dreaming whole new dreams about what's possible for myself and the planet and starting to build that new paradigm from my own vision, weaving a new world into existence in every moment and living life on my own terms. I'm part of a project team that's about to launch something epic. It's gonna change the world, and I'm supposed to be sitting down talking about strategy. And instead, I'm stirring this huge pot of cacao and making sure that it's just the right blend of sweet and spicy. And just like those balloons at the party back then, I'm putting my own special magic into this place. This is how I wanna show up right now. The difference between then and now is that I don't need validation for my cacao and for my wild woman. She's fully present, fully accepted, fully integrated. And at that moment, I realize that I've broken free. Free from that constraint of societal programming and free from living someone else's life because, let's face it, if I was listening to that programming, I should be married by now. I should have full-grown kids. I should have a car, and a mortgage, and a pile of debt that I'm working my way out of. And guess what? I'm not. I'm not even wearing a bra.

I Knew I'd End Up in Jail

Can I ask everybody, put your hands on your heart for a second. I just want you to take a second and ask yourself, Who loves Julia Roberts? Yeah? Yeah? Guys, do you wanna hear a story about how Julia Robert saved my life? All right. We'll get to that in a second. First, we'll go back to twelve-year-old me. Now, believe it or not, I didn't always look like a Bollywood villain. You see it, right? You could see it. I could be a fucking Bollywood villain, I promise. It's a dream of mine. Twelve-year-old me wasn't this guy. Twelve-year-old me was fat. He had braces. He had glasses. He had asthma. He had a gap in his teeth from the braces. Did any of you ever have the wrench that made your teeth gap? You know what I'm talking about here? It was bullshit. Twelve-year-old me had all that. I was the slowest runner in my entire grade. Everybody would be waiting for me on the other end, and I'd be jiggling along cos I had boy boobs, not man boobs—I was twelve. I'd be wheezing cos I had asthma, and I'd be whistling coz of the gap in my teeth. It's not like I needed any more attention, but I got it. Now my dad. He was born in Vancouver, but he's brown. He's a coconut. He's brown on the outside, white on the inside. And his name's Paul. He was born named Paul. Paul was an angry dad. He'd be there yelling all the time. Mainly at any of my sporting events. I used to hate going to baseball. Baseball's a high-pressure sport. I could catch. I could hit. But the running part wasn't my jam. That was the hard part for me, you know? And Paul would be yelling from the sidelines. And every time I'd hit almost a fucking home run, he'd be going. "YEAH, run, Aren, RUN." And I'd be running as slow as possible or as fast as I possibly could like an underwater slow-motion hippo going, "Fuck you, Dad." And the coaches would be like, "Paul, can you wait in the car?" cos he was just too much. Now I grew up in East Vancouver, the rough part of town. My school was known for gang violence, machete attacks, and recruitment into local drug dealing trafficking operations. It wasn't the best place for the kid with the whistle. It wasn't the best place for the kid with the boy boobs. I used to get called Bitch Tits Bahia. Don't you fucking repeat that. (That's my housemate.) So my best friend at the time, his name was Ricardo. He was from El Salvador, and he had abs at eleven years old. It was fucking bullshit. I was the fat friend. He got all the girls, and I was sitting there whistling. Ricardo had an older cousin named Nelson, and Nelson was a gangster, and everybody loved Nelson. Everybody gave Nelson respect. And when I was with Nelson, people were nicer to me. I didn't get bullied when I was with Nelson. So me and Ricardo wanted to be just like Nelson. It wasn't long before I started dealing drugs because that was the thing to do in my neighborhood. If you wanted girls, you wanted respect, and you didn't wanna get fucked with, sell some dope. So I started off selling weed, then MDMA, and then this and that and this and that. Before you knew it, I was running a nationwide drug dealing operation. I thought it was like a rap music video. My life was cool at the time, you know, for a couple of years, and the distance between me and my father grew and grew and grew. I wasn't exactly making Pops proud, but it didn't matter to me. I had money. I had women. I had a white Mercedes with a tan-colored interior. Inside fish sticks, outside tartar sauce—it was the paint job. So I used to pull up that Benz next to my dad's old truck like Fuck you, Dad thinking I was all cool. And it wasn't until I came home, crying to my folks at twenty-three years old. And I was a drug addict. The stress and trauma of that life had gotten to me. Once the Mexican cartel started getting into the picture, things were just a little too scary for me. Once my friends started getting kidnapped, things were a little too scary for me, and I was popping pills just to stay okay with everything happening, but I wasn't okay. It was the rock bottom part of my life. I needed to do something to change. The drugs really gotta hold of me, as Eminem would say. So I found this counselor, and he told me to do something called iboga. Anybody heard of iboga before? It's an African plant root from Gabon. I didn't know where Gabon was either, don't worry. It's like ayahuasca from Africa, except it's horrible. It's like your stern, angry dad telling you how much of a fuckup you are over and over and over. And if you move, you'll throw up. So you just gotta sit there and take it. I did this for a week straight and, on the third day of an eight-hour journey, I saw my entire life flash before my eyes. I saw how did this guy become a drug dealer? How did little fat Aren whistling along go to becoming adult boy? I saw all the choices. I saw how I was that guy. But I also saw that I could make some changes. I saw that I could take responsibility for my future. And I saw that I needed to make a big leap. I needed to do something different. Now the mornings after you take iboga, you sit there shivering in a blanket, contemplating your life. And they told me, "Yeah, you could watch Netflix." I was like, "Okay." So I'm sitting there, and they're like, "Don't watch anything violent. Don't watch anything scary. Positive, happy things only. It'll come up later in your journeys." I was like, "Okay." Already a strange situation. So I flip on Netflix, and that's when my world changed. That's when I saw a miracle. I was taken to a new scene. I was taken to somewhere completely different than anything I've ever witnessed before. I saw the magic of Bali. I saw an offering, devotional prayer. I saw beautiful Balinese people. It was different than anything I'd ever experienced. I knew whatever that was, I needed it in my life. That's when the movie Eat, Pray, Love changed my life. Who would've thought? So I'm sitting there shivering, and I go, "I need to get there. Where is this movie?" Tap, tap, tap, Google, Google, Google. Bali. Dope. Book a ticket to Bali. "Where's Bali?" Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, Indonesia. Awesome. "Where's Indonesia?" Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. "Really? Fuck. It's there?" I swear I thought it was near Japan or some shit. So two days later, I land in Ubud, Bali. I mean, I get there, and I'm still adult boy. I rock up in a Louis Vuitton shirt and diamond earrings to Yoga Barn! Like, "What's up?" I'm just like, Whoa. It's a completely different world to me, but I know I need to get engaged in this community somehow, some way, and quick. Now I used to teach kickboxing in Canada, and I thought, Well, there's a yoga teacher training starting next week. It's like the same thing, right? I could do this. It's like kickboxing teaching, just with better asses. Great. So I end up in this yoga teacher training with this teacher named Denise Payne. She's about that big. She's looking up at me, and she doesn't take any shit. And I still rock up with the same ego I had in Vancouver. I was still that same guy trying to make it in the world of green juice and quinoa. That yoga teacher training was tough. I didn't exactly do a good job. While I was trying to learn about chakras, I was partying on the weekends, going on Tinder dates, getting tattoos. I was still exhibiting the same patterns of East Van Aren in Ubud, Bali. She didn't have any of it. She wasn't happy with how I showed up in that. And I didn't give a shit. I was still a drug dealer. The culmination of it was at the end at the graduation ceremony. And everyone's happy. It's a celebration. Except she comes to me, and she goes, "Hey, I can't pass you in this yoga teacher training. I can't put my name on your certificate." And I look at her. She's about that big to me, but I felt small. I think Am I the only person who's ever failed yoga teacher training? Shit. I give my best "I don't give a fuck" face. She goes, "Aren, when are you gonna give a shit about something? When are you actually gonna show up? You could be so great if you just got over your bullshit." No one ever talked to me like that, and it hurt. I tried not to cry. Tried to be tough. All the other yogis are happy, prancing around—fucking mala beads everywhere. And I gotta go back to Vancouver. I failed the shanti shanti world, and I gotta go back to East Van, and I know it's waiting for me. I know I gotta get out of that life cos it's gonna swallow me up whole. I'm flying back to Vancouver. My heart is in my stomach. I'm scared for my life. The next six months were the hardest six months of my entire life. I chose that I wanted to get out, but anytime you wanna make a leap to do something different, you're gonna meet resistance. It's like the universe asking you, "How bad do you want it?" And I had to go through it. I remember one moment that was a shift for me. Now to get out, I needed an exit strategy, and to get out, I needed to make some cash, and I couldn't just leave like that. So I was still in the dope game, and I had to do this one drug deal. I was selling two kilos of coke to a couple of guys I didn't really know well. I was setting up for this drug deal, and I brought a big gun with me. It was a .40 cal. with a silencer on it. It was about that big. I was trying to figure out where to hide it just in case things went wrong so I could shoot these guys cos I wasn't trying to lose these two keys. I couldn't afford it. As I was trying to figure it out, I had a moment where I just stopped and collapsed. I was having a panic attack. I thought to myself, Is this what my world is right now? Am I trying to psych myself up to shoot a couple of guys over some blow? This is MY life? It was a dangerous place to be on that ground. A broken boy with a loaded handgun and just then Denise Payne. "Aren, when you gonna give a shit about something? When are you actually gonna show up? When are you gonna get over your own bullshit?" And I sit there, and I'm like, Fuck Denise. She's right. She's right. I knew what I needed to do. I made a decision right there. Six months later, I'm in prison. The prison's name is Hotel K—Kerobokan maximum security prison in Bali—an hour away from here. But I'm not a prisoner. I'm teaching yoga. Denise Payne had me finish my yoga teacher training by volunteering a hundred hours in prison to these prisoners. Being in jail was great because I could leave. It's like a low-pressure situation. Now, I wasn't a very good yoga teacher, but it's not like the students could go anywhere. It's not like they had anything better going on. I even made friends with the Balinese mafia. It's not like they took my classes or anything, but they'd crowd around watching me teach, smoking cigarettes, going, "Hey, bro, nice tattoos," and I'd be like, "Thanks, Maaray, cool." That time in prison was important for me. I was clearing karma. I had to do my time. I had to go back and finish something that I fucked up and come back at it as a better man to show that I could change. I wasn't that guy that I showed up as. I could shift. I could make a decision. I could be a new man. So I moved to Ubud, Bali and I chose that I wanted to be a good guy. I didn't wanna be a criminal anymore. I wanted to make my parents proud, but I knew I needed to do a lot of work right here. Cos, that guy that was buying everybody wheatgrass shots wasn't killing it. I was cheesy. For real. So I did a bunch of self-work. I did eight meditation retreats, three yoga teacher trainings, a bunch of tantra trainings, authentic relating. I saw psychiatrists, spiritual counselors. I saw shamans. I did ayahuasca. I did Kambo. I did cacao ceremonies. I danced ecstatically. I did a bunch of shit that guys in my old neighborhood would question my sexuality for. Cos I was eye gazing with guys named Sheva, and I was crying with dudes named Lion. I would've gotten my ass kicked. These are important times for me. I had to do it. I had to shift. I had to put in the work, and I learned a lot during those years. It's been quite a journey. Since that time making those shifts, making those changes, and investing myself, I learned I could do anything I wanted. In four years, I opened up four businesses, and all of them had a big impact on the island. I was done making money that didn't have something bigger than just me. I didn't wanna make another cent that didn't make my dad proud. The first business still funds a school for mentally disabled Balinese children. And when I took Paul there, he was about to cry. He saw that I wasn't that gangster anymore. He saw that I was doing something better than who I was then. And I got to see my dad finally proud of me. We're putting out online global vipassana, helping everybody meditate in the whole world, and I'm not selling coke anymore. I've been free of opiates for four years now. Completely clean. Thank you. So my dad. He called me like a month ago, and he was, you know, catching up with me. We're cool now. And he goes, "Hey, I'm getting fat now." And I go, "Really? What's going on?" He's like, "Well, I just can't get motivated to run. I can't get motivated to do anything, you know. I'm just being lazy." And I'm like, "Well, Dad, I've been running every day." And he goes, "YOU'VE been running?" I'm like, "Yeah. All the time." He's like, "You used to hate running." And I'm like, "I know, but I'm not that kid anymore, you know. I revisited something that I wasn't good at back then. And I'm a different person now, and I love running." He's like, "Wow, that's inspiring. Do you have any advice for me?" And I was like, "YEAH, run, Paul, RUN."

Purging the Armour, Leaving the Cage

Dressed in all white, sitting cross-legged on this mat, waiting for the shaman to call my name up for my fifth cup of ayahuasca - it's my fifth ayahuasca journey. Waiting. No nervousness. I did this four times already. I know what to expect. He calls me up. I pop up off my mat with this arrogance, with this lack of humility, with this overly confident asshole kind of vibe that only a native New Yorker who has a penthouse in Manhattan, fancy clothes, all the trappings of a posh life that you could have. I approached the shaman and his facilitators. He hands me the cup with two hands with all this reverence, and I look down at him. I don't even sit. I kind of bend down a little bit. I take the cup with one hand and look at him in his eyes. And he's like, "Take a second, brother, bond with the cup, set your intentions, breathe." I look at him in his eyes, and I'm like, "Cool, here we go. There you go, champ." I make my way back to my mat. Sit down. Ten minutes goes by. I feel the medicine snaking through my system. You guys know. You guys know what that feels like, right? I feel the beads of sweat. I'm like, All right, heating up a little bit. It's about to hit me. That fucking medicine hit me like Thor's hammer. Bonzai! I lay on the mat. It takes me right back to the eighteen-year-old me standing in a courtroom looking at a judge. "What? What'd you say?" "Guilty." Wrongly imprisoned at eighteen years old. Sentenced to eight years in a New York state prison. I turn around. Look at my father. See the utter look of powerlessness on his face that he can't save his boy. I see my mother, and I can just feel her heart just contract. I look at myself, the eighteen-year-old and I see him just fall to pieces. Another wave of the medicine hits me. It takes me to the nine-year-old me. Seeing my first murder and my father standing over the guy as I watched the life go out of his eyes. He said, "You see, son, that's a crackhead. Don't do drugs. Come on, let's get a hot dog." Bang! Another wave of the medicine hits me. It takes me to the twenty-one-year-old me on my 87th day straight in solitary confinement, standing at my gate, waiting for the officer to give me my lunch. And he looks at me, at my eyes. He spits in my food, says "It looks like it could use a little seasoning." I smile back at him and slap the tray back on his pants and go lie down. I won't be eating for the rest of the day. Bang! Another wave of the medicine hits me. It takes me to the twenty-seven-year-old version of myself standing over my father's lifeless body. He just died a few hours ago, and I wouldn't let the coroner come see. I wanted to see how he died. And as I looked down at him, I didn't even know what to feel. I couldn't even cry. I just looked at him. Then two days later, me walking my sister down the aisle to give her away at her own wedding. As I laid down on that mat . . . well, actually I couldn't be lying down 'cause I was purging. Everything was coming up. Everything. When there was no more liquid in my body, it was just that deep, dark black, dry heaving. I was making sounds that I did not think that I was capable of making. Getting it all into this bucket, shaking and crying and screaming. I lost my shit. That ceremony lasted till about 4.00 p.m. the next day. Just an agony. And throughout that whole experience of me seeing all of these formative events, I just asked, "Why?" Not "Why me?" Because self-pity is a luxury that I could no longer afford. I was asking, "Why? Why are you showing me this?" The medicine told me, "I'm just showing you this to show you who you became." Fast forward. I'm back in New York in my apartment. Living my life. You see, when I went to Peru, I weighed 185 pounds. I was jacked, jacked! All right? I left that retreat ten days later, weighing 165 pounds. And I realized that I lost 15 pounds of fury, not anger. Anger's too simple. Fury. Cold fury that I was ready to unleash at the drop of a dime. If you looked at me wrong, ooh! And I sat in that apartment with my expensive rugs, custom-made mirrors, sharp lights, all of that. I was like, No, you did all right for yourself, though. Fuck 'em. You're here now. None of that shit matters. Yeah. None of it matters. Until I was smoking a spliff at 11.00 a.m. on a Wednesday. I'll never forget it. My penthouse overlooked the Empire State Building. So I was looking at the Empire State Building. Looked back into these big beautiful windows, saw my rugs, my tables, my chairs, my lights. And I was like, No, you did your damn thing. You're all right. You're good, man. So I said to myself, Well, what would the twenty-three-year-old prison version of Melvin think of who I've become? So I went to him, and I was like, "What do you think?" He's like, "Oh, you're doing your thing, man. Look at you. You're on top of the world. You have everything that we wanted." Because when I was in prison, guys had pictures of women in bikinis and all of these things. Not me. I had rugs. I had flatware. I remember one of my guys walked by my cell, and he's like, "Yo, what? You gay?" And I was like, "What do you mean?" And he's like, "What's with all this shit on your wall? I was like, "No, this is all the stuff that I'm gonna have." The twenty-three-year-old version of me was very satisfied. So then I went back. So, well, let me ask the thirteen-year-old version of me. And I looked at the boy who I was, and I said, "Hey, look, this is me. Got cool dreads. Got a little beard. Got some muscles. I got cool shit." And the little boy looked at me, and he said, "But who are you?" And I was like, "I'm you. Look, we have the same scars. We look exactly the same." He said, "You're not me. You're my betrayer. What happened to our dreams? What happened to being like Indiana Jones? What happened to adventures? What happened to all of that stuff? Look at this." And I looked at my apartment, and it took me all the way back to my fifth ceremony when I was purging up all of that armor that I had on, all this bravado, all of this kind of insecurity, lack of confidence, lack of self-worth. Because to that version of myself, that's what the world taught me I was, and I needed to have these things in order to become somebody of repute. In that instance of me standing on my balcony, looking in my apartment, I shook my head, and I was like, Yeah, you did good, but we're done. This is done. Let's get outta here. Three months later, I find myself back in Peru. Invited to come and live, to study the medicine, to become initiated under their mesa, but actually to go deeper into my own journey, to see who I really am because all of those external trappings that I accumulated actually blinded me to who I really was. Those were just another form of armor to keep me from getting to my own truth. So I go into my initiation. Ten-day tobacco diet in isolation. I've done 270 days straight in isolation in prison. Ten days is nothing. I could do that on my head. What? I don't have any books either? That's fine. Don't worry about it. And I went from somebody who was the facilitator first, cleaning up your purge buckets, walking you to the bathroom, rubbing your back, holding your hair back when you were purging to holding my own retreats and operating my own mesa and pouring my own medicine. And after three years of that, I realized I put myself in another cage because you had to come to the mountain to see me. And it was quite easy for me to throw thunderbolts down from Mount Pious. "Drink clean water. Yeah, no, you shouldn't eat junk food." I grew my own food there. Right? What I realized, though, is that there was a dissonance. It's all well and good to be at a retreat or hiding out somewhere, sequestering yourself and wielding your medicine. But how effective are you wielding that medicine in the "real world?" So I found myself back in my old neighborhood in Chelsea, walking down 23rd Street, fresh off a flight, fresh from JFK, going to see a client. 'Cause, that's what I do. And there was a woman standing on the corner of 23rd and 6th Avenue, and she was asking for help. And everybody had their headphones in. People were looking at her. Thought she was homeless. Kind of ignored her. And I walked right over to her, and I said, "You need some help?" She said, "Yeah, I'm looking for Burlington Coat Factory." And I was like, "Yeah, it's right across the street. Look." And she was like, "Yeah, if I could see, I wouldn't be asking you for help. I'm blind." And I was like, "Oh, well here, come on. Let's go." So I walk her across the street. "Why are you going to Burlington Coat Factory?" "Oh, I got invited to a wedding. I want to get my niece a nice present." So I take the time to go into the store with her. We buy a nice gift, and I ask her, "Well, do you live in Selis Manor?" And she was like, "Yeah. And I was like, "Oh." She said, "How did you know?" And I was like, "Oh, I used to live right across the street in 144." And she was like, "Oh." I walk her back home. We get in front of her apartment building. And she said, "Can I touch your face? Can I see what you look like?" "Sure." I lean down. She touches me. She feels my hair. "Oh, beautiful—inside and out." "Thank you." I walked down the street. My phone goes off. It's my mom. "Hey, Mom, funniest thing just happened." "What, Mel?" So I tell her the story. And she said, "What's so funny about that?" And I was like, "That's so bizarre." And she was like, "Why, son? That's who you are." I thought that this journey was this path of spirituality. This path of oneness, this path of shamanism, mysticism, all of that. Not for me. It's just a path to remind me to remember who I really am. I've been called a lot of things in my life. A shaman, a healer, a good therapist, Hartzog, 98A3345, an asshole, nigger, piece of shit, servant, useful. But what do I call myself? I'm just Melvin, the widow's son. Thank you.

Resistance to Faith

I remember the day I came out to my mother. We were both sitting across from each other at the kitchen table where we normally ate. Gravely I mentioned there was something important that I needed to tell her while struggling to hide the nervous mix of misdirected anger and anticipation pumping through my veins. "Mother, I'm an atheist," I told her. And as the words rolled down my tongue, I could feel the liberating joy that every self-respecting teenager experiences when making a stance against anything their parents stand for. Mind you, this word 'atheist' I had just heard for the first time just a few weeks earlier. And for long nights afterward, lying awake on my bed, staring at the ceiling, I kept pondering about its meaning and the implications of this word. Was there really no God? It's impossible. Especially when considering that I have never directly experienced anything remotely close to my preconceived ideas of what God looked like. And to make matters worse it wasn't the first time my parents had lied or been wrong about something. So after having survived the traumatizing truths of Santa Claus in childhood life, I didn't want to be taken for a fool anymore. You see, in my head, those who professed their religion did it because 1, they needed to be told how to behave. Otherwise, they would act like pricks. And 2, they were so afraid of their own death that this was the only way they knew how to find solace. At thirteen, I knew better than that. So I went through life thinking myself better than those around me, clutching to the identity I had crafted for myself. That of a hardened rationalist who pretended to be smart enough to understand Nietzsche's rhetoric without having picked up a single one of his books, let alone write the man's full name from memory. Now I never much believed in the Catholic view of an afterlife, but nobody ever told me about the sinking feeling in my chest that accompanied the anxiety-inducing thoughts of my own death. Scared as I was of my own questions, I kept burying them deep inside me because I was an atheist, dang it. And life is hard. Everything is meaningless. The cake is a lie, and I better man up, put a fake smile on my face, and pretend to be happy with it all. Sure, I was terrified of dying, but at least I didn't need no holy text to tell me that killing was wrong. That is obvious. Was there anybody who really needed a reminder of that? To cope with the fact that this was going to be the only life that I would ever get to live, I got fixated with the idea that pleasure was a real way to really experience life. Flirting, drinking, inhaling, ingesting, and snorting my way through countless sleepless nights and increasingly disgusting hangovers. After a while, once I got bored of this, a friend introduced me to yoga, and I was like, Huh, this is easy. I can do it. I got it. So I started practicing every now and then, and man, I started feeling so good about myself. So blessed and in touch with a universe that surrounded me while smoking the second joint of the day. Sometimes the third one, if it was a lucky day—just before midday so my girlfriend wouldn't see me high when she came back home from work. Man, how I wish somebody had told me earlier that spirituality would feel so great. And so easy. All I had to do was sit there for a while and relax. Then try not to fart too loud during downward dog. Why did I ever want to be an atheist in the first place? I even had a Buddha on my arm that I'm sure brought me this much closer to enlightenment. Until one night dancing with my girlfriend in one of her favorite bars. To be honest, at that moment, I thought I was hypnotizing her with my sexy Latino movements, but I must have been doing something pretty wrong because instead, she grabbed my arm and asked, "What's wrong?" "What do you mean what's wrong? Nothing's wrong? I'm just dancing." But she just made a funny face. "What do you mean with the funny face? You're funny." But at the same time, inside my head, alarms were going off. Not just because she was giving me that witchy stare that women do every time they know something's up. But because right there, I knew that no matter how much I said I loved her, my words would be forever hollow if I didn't confess the secret I had been keeping from her. Still not believing what I was about to do, I turn around and look at her as I'm standing at the edge of a cliff with my foot ready to jump. "I slept with someone else," but the music was too loud, and she didn't hear. So she asked, "What?" "I said I slept with someone else." Later that same night, sitting in the bed we shared listening to her sobbing, I kept searching inside me for something, anything that would help me figure it out, what the heck was wrong with me. I was supposed to have no need for a god that judged my actions, no need for an external law that condemned me to hell if I did wrong. I was supposed to be a good man for the simple fact that I knew what good looked like. And instead, here I was. Nothing but an asshole willing to trade yet another one of my values for a two-minute fuck. To say that I was ashamed says nothing about the repulsion I felt when thinking about who I had become because the whole time I knew, I knew what I had to do, but I always had a good excuse not to do so. Things were either too hard, too tasty, or too cheap for me not to indulge in them and, in the process of doing so, I churn myself into my own biggest lie. Now I must say I was hopeful because, despite the fact that I was not proud of the things I had done, in knowing that I had stood up for something that at least for once I stood up for something that I believed to be holy, I could see a faint glimmer of the real being that couldn't wait to surface inside of me. Now, it wasn't easy. You see for a long time afterward, a terrible guilt and self-doubt kept creeping on me. I felt unsure that I would ever be able to trust myself again, but by keeping tiny promises, simple things that I knew, hopefully, that I wouldn't fail and be able to do every single day. Slowly I regained my confidence, the confidence that I had lost. And thanks to this, I finally realized that I was not defined by the things that I had done in the past but by the actions that I was committing in the present moment. Along the way, I realized the importance of living in something bigger than my ego. You see, it's not easy to be truthful. It's not easy to be yourself. It takes an incredible amount of courage and an almost masochistic willingness to face your most painful fears. I am hopeful, though. I mean, I'm happy actually because today I can say that my words are no longer hollow. Now, instead, thanks to everything I've done since that day, they're filled with love. And through that, I've regained my faith because now I am convinced that inside me lies everything I'll ever need to be my best self, the real self. If I'm only there being honest. Thank you.

You Are Not Your Company

Three-point-two billion dollars. That is the amount my friend's company was just acquired for. Now I, having worked there for a couple of years, stood to make a little fortune from it. Excitedly I took out my phone. I was gonna text him, but I paused. I hesitated. What would I even say? "Congratulations?" That's so cliché. "What happened? I thought we were gonna go public? Wink." Ugh. Who says that? It's gonna so backfire. You know what? You have to just schedule an email to send later. Come on. I mean, he's getting plenty of messages anyway. Doesn't need another one from me, but this is pretty big news. I mean, a couple of billion dollars is worth a text message. I don't even text him that often but wait a second. Only friends text each other. Are we still friends anymore? I mean, after all, we started at the same place eight years ago. I used to sleep on their couches, and now they're practically at the top of the start of Mount Everest. And here I am, three failed companies later, still struggling in obscurity in the big game of entrepreneurship. It was 11.00 p.m. I was standing alone in my room in a 7,000 square foot place with five bathrooms all to myself. Dripping wet from the shower, I had no towel. Where the fuck was the towel? So angry beyond anything I realized. "God damn it, it's in the other room." You see, this normally wouldn't be a problem. Except on that day, my left foot was swollen up like a basketball, and I could hardly move. That very morning I just beat my personal best record at the gym. But by evening, for reasons I didn't understand, every step felt like I was going to trip and crack my head open on the concrete floor. I sat down on the toilet seat, burying my head in my hands. I wished my girlfriend was there. She took care of me the last time I was sick. But we broke up. We were together for three years. I haven't cried about that yet. She used to tell me I was always working. I remembered my mom. She used to help me. She told me I don't call her. And when she calls me, I'm either in a meeting or just about to leave the house. For some reason, I remember this kind lady who gave me a quarter to take the bus home when I ran away from home at ten years old. My grandparents—whose house I was running to on foot along the railroad track, a thousand miles away—they all passed away while I was in college. I didn't get to say goodbye to any of them. I was too busy. Too busy studying. Too busy to go back for their funerals. Is this my life? Just before I turned sixteen, I moved to Vancouver, Canada from China with my parents. First day of school, I desperately wanted to fit in, but I couldn't understand a thing. Luckily, there was this Chinese kid. He was telling me how he'd been there for six years and how the school worked. Then the teacher called him to speak in front of the room. Even I could tell he was stumbling, not at all colloquial. In fact, in his mumbling words and heavy accent, he kind of sounded like a buffoon. He's been here for six years, I thought to myself. What a failure. I am never going to be like him. In that moment, I made the decision to not speak Chinese, only speak English, and disconnect myself from everything that I thought was a failure. I'm going to master the English language by the time I graduate high school, I thought to myself. It served me well. I spent that entire summer reading To Kill a Mockingbird page to page, looking up the dictionary twenty times for every page. Within two years, I became the school's debate captain. People told me that I had no accent. Oh my God. That was my ... boy, was I proud. There's just one problem. It didn't really help me with girls. I still didn't know how to talk to them. You see, my way of confessing my crush—she played the trumpet—was to tell the band teacher to move me from trombone, which was on the opposite side of the school band, let me remind you, to playing trumpet just so I could sit next to her and tell her ... exactly nothing. She didn't notice me. Yeah, she didn't notice me. So I thought I just gotta be more successful. You see, college mission was right around the corner. So I made it to Princeton. And in case you don't know what Princeton is, we beat out Harvard eighteen out of the last twenty years as the number one ranked school in America, which means the number one ranked school in the world, right? That didn't work either. So what's next? Well, how about entrepreneurship? Oh, that's where I got really hooked. As a freshman, I won the entrepreneurship competition taking home a big check, beating out all the seniors. And before I graduated college, I was worth eight million dollars funded by the best investor in Silicon Valley Y Combinator behind legendary companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. "I'm gonna get you a Ferrari for your twenty-fifth birthday," I told my first girlfriend, bless her heart. And that is until I started failing company after company while everyone around me seemed to be having these multi-billion-dollar successes. "You are not your company." I found myself at my first session in the Founders Support Group. The truth in their words echoed deep inside me. You see, on the days that the company was doing well, I was on top of the world. I could walk into any bar and to any sexy woman and say, "How you doing?" Until she turned me down anyway, and then I would kick myself in the foot, "I just gotta be more successful, right?" And on days the company wasn't doing well, I didn't wanna get outta bed. The truth is, no matter how it looked on the outside, I was living a permanent baseline experience of failure. What I hate to admit is that being brought to my knees in the game of entrepreneurship is perhaps the greatest gift for me early in life. You see, life seems to have a habit of teaching me the same lesson over and over and over again until I really, really get it. In the moments that I felt like an utter and complete failure, I gathered just enough humility to discover what else is out there. I went to the Founders Support Group. I read the books, did the workshops and yoga, meditating on death, you know, spirituality, coaching, everything that people do when they're finding themselves unfulfilled and unhappy. I wish I could tell you it was an overnight transformation, but the truth is it took years and years and continues to be an ongoing process. But when I finally got it in my heart and my body, not just at the top of my head, that I am not my company, things started to shift. I was able to move out of living with coworkers into my own place. I could tell my mom. I'd call her and tell her I love her. I gave myself the permission to be nurtured by Mother Bali just during this global pandemic rather than rush home to San Francisco cos that's where the successful people live! You know, a dear friend and teammate asked me, "Does this mean you're going to quit your company now and become a new musician acrobat?" 'Cause he saw me finding time for myself to learn to play the guitar and dangle women off my bare feet in the amazing practice of acro-yoga, of course. I chuckled at that. I hoped he was not worried about his job. You see, I'm incredibly fortunate to have a genuine passion in entrepreneurship, that I'd discovered, and in moments that I'm not my company, the natural state of being is to create from a place of love and authenticity rather than strive from a place of fear of unacceptance. When I'm not my company, I get to come to work each day, being inspired by our mission of transforming people's relationship with money rather than burnt out by the anxiety that we may never succeed no matter how hard we try. You see, when I'm not my company, success changes from something that is always in the future permanently doomed to be out of reach to something that is available in the present. Every moment I live my values of love, growth, authenticity, discipline, and contribution, I get to experience success. And when I'm not my company, I get to have the distinct pleasure of picking up the phone and telling my friends, my dear friends, "Congratulations. I'm so proud of you. I'm so grateful to be on your path." Thank you very much.

Awakening the Power Between My Legs

I'm in an open-aired villa in Bali, standing in the garden with my feet on the grass, looking up at the full moon. My left ear is being penetrated by the sound of someone moaning. Almost like someone is about to orgasm. In my right ear, I hear this screaming, slapping sound. Someone is being spanked and REALLY enjoying it. Basically, around me is this sound of laughter, joy, and pleasure. In that moment, I put my hands on my ears, and I'm thinking, Just please make it stop—the sound. Just make it stop. What am I even doing here? And so this moment marks the end of a two and a half, three-week phase in my life a few years ago back here in Bali that changed my life completely. A year prior to that, I finished my master in innovation management and left traveling because I was inspiring to become this tough-ass businesswoman and career lady. So I thought it was time for an adventure first. At the time, I was doing yin yoga teacher training with Tina Nance, and she kept asking this annoying question, "How much can you feel? How much can you feel? How much can you feel?" In those classes, I was thinking, Seriously, lady, shut up. I can't feel anymore. Meanwhile, I kept on being invited to all these places I didn't know about. And so I ended up at my very first ecstatic dance where you dance barefoot, no alcohol, no talking. And within five minutes, I was going crazy. I was having the best time of my life. And I felt something just unlocking. And that led me to my very first contact dance, where I ended up rolling around on the floor with a bunch of strangers sweating all over them. And that led me to my very first sacred sexuality temple party. In other words, a sex party. And so, in that moment, under the full moon, I found myself being triggered by the sound of other people's pleasure. It was in that moment that I realized Tina made an impact. "How much can you feel?" Well, in that moment, I was feeling a lot. I was feeling how deeply blocked I'd been. I didn't voice myself. I didn't moan during sex. I didn't communicate my desires. I was taught to stay quiet and to stay silent. And so that's why during my five-year relationship, I never had an orgasm with him, and he never knew. That's why I thought I was broken. Because I didn't speak up for myself, not only in the bedroom but basically also not anywhere else in my life. And so, in that moment, I realized that could be different. There was a different world out there, but I was scared shitless because that meant that I had to feel. I had to feel how I've been lying to myself. How I've been pressing away and disregarding this part of me that had been screaming for attention for years. And so, in that moment, under the full moon, tears started rolling down my face in a seemingly endless stream. Now, the next morning I woke up with what seemed like the biggest hangover I've ever had in my entire life, and not from alcohol but from all the lies I'd been telling myself. But stuff started shifting after that moment, after those few weeks. And I suddenly felt the pull to stop with the birth control pill I had been on for over a decade. And then I ended up going to all these workshops, trainings, online courses around my menstruation cycle, my body, my intuition, contrast, sexuality. And during that time, I got the idea to teach and host naked yoga workshops. Yes, you heard that right. People without any clothes, bending forwards touching their toes. So how did I end up from studying innovation management to now suddenly wanting to teach naked yoga? What are people going to think? What are my parents going to say? And am I seriously gonna throw away everything that I worked for over the past years? And so, I found myself back in the Netherlands talking to my mom about this decision that I was about to make. Am I just forgetting about these past three weeks and this past year and just go down the corporate career path? Or am I letting those three weeks in Bali take me onto a whole different path? And in that moment, my mom asked me a question, and it's probably a question you've heard before. "What would you do if money wasn't the issue?" And so that night, I booked my ticket back to Bali. Two months later, I packed up all the courage I had into a suitcase with no plan, no certainty, no savings. I was feeling scared. I was feeling confused. My friends and family were confused, but I knew I had to go back. And so I got on that plane, and I moved to the other side of the world. I ended up starting my own business. And from there, step by step, I got onto the path and doing the work and the mission that I'm on today. In those three weeks, what happened is that I got really curious on what made me ME, and it made me realize that I was taught to hide, to blame, and to shame basically everything that was at the core of who I was, that was at the core of being a woman—my menstruation cycle, my body's wisdom, my intuition, and my sexuality. And so me going off traveling and exploring the world was actually me looking for an initiation into womanhood, for an initiation into being human. And so those three weeks basically blew apart every single structure and belief system that I was taught. Those weeks showed me that there is nothing wrong with me. Like there's nothing wrong with me! It's amazing. And they showed me that freedom exists. And so ever since that moment, I've been following my intuition, picking up breadcrumb after breadcrumb. Ended up from teaching naked yoga to guiding women closer to their bodies, into their intuition, helping them connect to their cycle, and now helping them unlock their sexuality, their core feminine, creative power—the power of their pussy. So did everything suddenly become easy? Hell no. I still crumble. I've been falling down and getting back up more times than I can count. And still, sometimes I wonder, Wouldn't it just be so much easier to get a normal job? And in those moments, when that happens, I come back to my body, and I ask her, "What is it that you desire?" And every single time, she guides me back on the path that I'm meant to walk. So world, watch out because I'm on a mission to help every woman ignite the power of her pussy. Because when I did that, I started to radiate and shine and follow my desires. I started to follow that which makes my soul go wild from excitement. I became my most juicy, sexy, authentic self. And I take actions from that place instead of a place of shame and blame. And so now I have the absolute honor to gift that to other women. So women remember this, the core of your power lies in between your legs. So will you meet me there?
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