So there I am, leaning over the glass counter at the deli section of the grocery store, and it hits me—my first contraction. A tornado begins to spiral in my womb and a pain I can only describe as being trampled by wild animals in a stampede. I am hit with a wave of orgasmic energy, and I look up, and I can see and hear and smell and sense everything. I am like a psychic mama deer in a tornado, in a stampede on ecstasy.
And as I look through the crowd, I see this one woman. She comes right towards me. She's present, she's clear, she's bright, vibrant. And she walks right up to me, and she says, "Are you gonna have a baby?" I say, "Yes." She says, "When?" "Now!" "Can I touch you for good luck?" "Of course." We grab hands, and I look in her deep, rich, dark eyes—cornrow hair, dark chocolate skin. And she holds my pale white hand. Two conscious present women just marveling at the experience or the miracle really of birth. Life. "Good luck," she says. Yeah, I was gonna need some of that because, you see, this was not the plan. I was not supposed to be going into labor a month early at the grocery store while my girlfriend is buying sandwiches. My husband is not supposed to be at a job interview in New York City. My midwife is supposed to be delivering a home birth in the canyon—canyon views, nature, birthing tub on the patio, crackling fire.
Yeah. And now that I'm a month early, legally, she can't do that. So we call my backup doctor at the hospital, and he says, "Okay, keep her somewhere close in town for the early labor. And when she's dilated, bring her in." So on the way to my girlfriend's apartment, as I am tornado-ing and moaning in the car, I remember the words of my midwife in birthing school. "Having a conscious birth is your birthright. To choose how to bring in life from the immaterial to the material. But remember," she said, "man makes plans, God laughs. Trust and surrender." This was surrender time.
We get to the apartment. I drop on all fours. My midwife comes in. Three girlfriends. I look up, and I'm surrounded by a circle of women. They put me in a warm bathtub, and my midwife says, "Okay, Amara, this is the part where you open. So I want you to focus on your baby. And when the pain comes instead of pulling back, lean in instead." Okay. So I'm in the tub, and a sort of life review begins—a sort of inner schooling. I remember moments from my childhood. I begin to make amends, accept apologies. Yes, yes. And I prepare myself to be the mother that I need and I want to be.
And as I embrace that openness and become one with the vortex, forty minutes later, I feel my son's head make contact with my pelvic bones. Boom. I look at my midwife, and I say, "Well, you told me to open." She feels me and says, "Oh my God, she's crowning. Get her to the hospital now." I just wanna stay in the tub, but she could lose her license. So we gotta go. They pull me up out of the tub, throw me in a pair of pjs that my girlfriend had worn two years earlier when she was giving birth to her baby. They grab a bag of groceries or handbags, a boombox, and into the car we go.
Driving down the road. Five minutes flat to the hospital. We open the door. The emergency room. They get a wheelchair. Put me in it. I enter the field of the hospital. Bright lights, nurses coming at me, trying to get me to fill out forms, registration. Wounded people in the emergency room looking at me in horror. "What happened to her?" says one guy. "She's having a baby." "Good God!"
They wheel me into the elevator. I get into a quiet room. And now I am a psychic mama deer in a tornado, in the epicenter of the stampede, on ecstasy, and now on fire. I'm like 300 degrees. My girlfriends are sweating. How can anyone even be this hot? And I rip off my shirt. I squat down, and I let out a lion's roar. Waaaaaa! I think I can deliver this baby myself. The nurse comes in, and she says, "You'll have to wait. Your doctor's not here." "Wait? I'm crowning. I can't. I can't. I can't." They put me on a table. They strap me with a heart monitor, and I hear the sound of medical clinking metal equipment coming into the room. An intern walks in, sits down between my legs. She's like thirteen years old. And I look at the nurse, and I say, "I want my doctor." She says, "He's not here yet." "Then I want my midwife." "She's not allowed." "I want my husband." "I don't know where he is." "I want drugs." "It's too late for that." And all I can think is I can't. I can't. I can't. And I begin to wail. I am inconsolable. I don't know if I'm breathing or birthing. I'm confused. I'm lost. I'm panicking. I'm afraid.
My doctor walks in ten minutes later, pushes the intern aside, sits down. He looks at me. He looks at the heart monitor. He looks at everyone in the room, and he says, "Amara, the baby's stuck. His heart rate's dropping. If you don't get him out on the next contraction, I'm gonna pull him out by force." I think. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I know what this means. Metal forceps coming in and grabbing a hold of my child's head. Pulling on his little neck and spine. No. Cutting my perineum. Blood. Stitches. No, no, no, no. My midwife leans in and whispers in my ear, "Amara. This is it. Be present and focus on your child. You can do this."
And so I tune in with my son, and I'm saying, "Okay, okay honey, this is it. This is it." I can feel him. He's cramped. He's squished. He's hot. He's thirsty. He just wants out. "Are we doing this or not? What's happening?" "Yes, this is it. We're doing it. We're doing it. I'm sorry about the . . . it's confusing. It's complicated. "We're going. We're going now." Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. And as the next wave comes, the room suddenly fills with thousands and thousands of little golden Buddhas. Ahhh! And as I bear down to give birth to my child, all the little golden Buddhas they go like this ......
The universe was with me, birthing with me. Out my baby comes onto my chest. I look at him, and I am looking into the eyes of Source. Source is looking back at me. This is what we are. My girlfriends cut the cord. Placenta comes out. Everything's cool. And the nurse comes over to take my son. And I know what she's thinking because I'm psychic. She wants to take him away to do unthinkable things in this moment of trust, at this most profound moment in our lives. To cut him and inject him and leave him abandoned, looking at the fluorescent lighting. I reach over. I grab her hand, and I say, "Take your hand off my baby." Mama deer becomes tiger mama. I step up off the table. I'm naked with my child. And everyone in the room gasps. I walk over to the boombox. Background music my girlfriend had been playing, and I turn it up. And the song that happens to be on is Hare Krishna by Krishna Das. And so I begin to dance around the room with my son. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare. Everyone backs up.
And I am so happy. One of the nurses in the corner, she grabs the phone. "Yeah, she's doing that bonding thing. Yeah. We're not gonna be able to take him. No, no, no. It's not gonna happen." My girlfriend from the grocery store, she pulls out a bottle of champagne and chocolate cake, and we have a party. The nurses eventually warm up. They come over to me, and they ask, "What was it like?" They had never seen a natural unassisted birth in their career. Never. Not one. I told them about the psychic mama deer and the vortex and the stampede and the ecstasy. And my doctor comes over. He looks at my child. Five pounds, five ounces perfectly healthy. Legs off the charts.
"He's small. You're small. Your husband's small. It's okay. He's fine." I'm alone in a room resting. And I'm looking at my precious son, his little head fitting in the palm of my hand. He's waiting for something, and I know what it is. And then his head just turns towards the door, and in walks Daddy. Yeah, he's psychic too. Daddy picks him up. And in these last moments before he falls asleep, Source meeting Source, they bond, connect. And he takes him in his arms as he falls asleep. My husband looks at me, and he says, "Honey, you look great. How was it?"
That day, behind the fear and the doubt and the story that says, I can't, I can't do this, I can't, I found my I can. And I'll tell you this. Man makes plans, God doesn't laugh. God smiles.
So I'm thinking about getting a nose job. I just wanna look more Jewish. I'm gonna make it bigger. I had a breakup, and my grandma called. I was crying. She was like, "Honey, it's time we get you a nose job. "What?" "Find you a husband." "What?" "I mean, it's not very attractive to wake up next to a giant schnoz like that, Alicia? Hmmm?" "Grandma, ouch. I mean, if a husband is what we're going for, wouldn't a boob job be more effective? Or a blow job or a day job—that'd be less invasive." So it's 2015. And I'm about to perform these opening lines for my brand new standup comedy show, The Oy of Sex, at the Hollywood French festival. And something weird is happening. They're delaying the show because it's so sold out. They're actually lining the stage with audience members. As I get on, they cue the music. I do my show. "Hi. So I'm thinking about getting a nose job . . ." And it goes amazing. I kill it. People leave having grown and laughed and cried. And I have an amazing time afterward. This woman pushes through the crowd. She's got cat-eye glasses, and she says, "Phenomenal show, Alicia. I'm a producer, and I'm taking you off Broadway."
I go home. I get into my ritual postshow bath, and I am riding high. I'm thinking, you know, sure. I've performed around the world. Sure. I've won a bunch of awards, but now I think it's finally happening. Like I think, this is it.
And I flash back to a few months before. I'm on the operating table. I am having my eggs harvested and frozen—pushing snooze on my biological clock. Just hoping that my career takes off before I have a family. And this anaesthesiologist says, "Okay, Alicia." He hooks me up with morphine, and he says, "Can you count back from ten for me?" "Okay. Ten, nine, eight, you're cute. . ."
Flash forward. Four, three, two, one . . . Happy New Year. It's December. I'm in Big Sur, California. I am floating nude in a hot tub, overlooking a cliff, watching shooting stars fall into the Pacific Ocean. And this painfully handsome British man leans over, and says, "Happy New Year. I'm Colin." "Colin?" "Colin." "Colin, ha ha ha ha!" And for the next like several hours, we just start to banter back and forth—very high-level witty banter. And we're giggling, and we're sharing stories of life-altering medicine journeys, and Advaita gurus, and world travel. And oh! Colin just says, "I'm very impressed you're taking a show off Broadway. What's it about?” "Um . . .Inner peace. Love. Sex." . . . "Really?"
That's when he leans in. He caresses my face. He kisses me, and Korea just starts to rumble up my spine as his hands sweep through the water toward my yoni. And I just give in to the absolute bliss of Esalen Institute. Thank you. This is what I came here for. For the next week, Colin and I are just being totally inappropriate in the tubs every night. One night at dinner, we're eating spaghetti, and he just in like the best possible move of comedy and romance in combination, he takes one long piece of spaghetti. He places one end in his mouth and one end in mine, and just bit by bit, we go full lady and the tramp, and my heart is a flutter. I can't believe this is happening. Is this really happening? Like, can I actually have this?
I dunno if I can have this. I freeze. And that old fear of loss just starts to haunt me. And I just breathe through the fear because it's so good. I don't wanna miss this. And I just say, "Yes, I can have this. Yes, I can." And Colin, oh my God, he's amazing. He's a massage therapist in Argentina. And he says that he actually just got a job offer in California. Like he might move here. So two days later, he flies back to Buenos Aires. I fly to New York for my show, and we're sending love notes across the globe.
And then our calls start to taper off. And I realize I was just a post-divorce fling. And I have by this point in my life done mountains of therapy, meditation, healing my inner child work. I have traveled solo throughout India. I have tasted moments of nondual awakening but, no matter what I try, nothing works, and it just hurts. And I'm single again.
Flash forward to New York. It's opening night. We have the premier. They cue the music. I come out. I kill it. People laugh and cry and grow. All of our hard work has paid off, and it feels really good. Afterward, I take the train uptown to 72nd street. I'm missing Colin. That's mainly what I'm thinking about. I get in the postshow ritual tub.
And I check my belly in the mirror, and I'm carrying into the tub like literally a bucket of chocolate malt balls with me. I flip on the music and, of course, it's this song “I'm so tired of being alone. I'm so tired of on my own. Won't you help me?” And I just start bawling. And then I spiral further into the rumination, into the misery around my career. And I think, you know, people get really excited when they hear I'm a comedian. They go, "Oh my God, you know what you should do? You should do a show about . . . mmm . . . spirituality." "Oh, you know, you should talk about white fragility." "Oh, you know, you should talk about the pandemic, you know, tell the truth, you know, the truth." Whatever that is! "The truth."
And whenever people say, "Oh my God, you know what'd be so funny . . ." or they wanna pay me to write a script or a show, like on the outside I'm like, "Oh yeah, that would be totally fun. That's awesome." And on the inside, I just cringe. And I’m just like, oh no, I can't. I can't. I just can't be funny on command. Can't do it. I don't know why, but it's really frustrating to watch all the people I started with get on TV and just not have the kind of conventional success that I dreamt of as a kid.
And after eighteen shows in New York, nothing comes of it. No new booker, no new manager, no agent, no Netflix special. And I just start to wonder, like, Maybe I'm not good enough. And some part of me just gives up, which in a way is really freeing. A year later, I'm doing the show for some friends in Bali, and we have a lot of fun, and I'm just doing it for fun. That night I go home alone. Again, I get into the postshow bath. I'm missing whoever I'm missing when there's a knock at the door.
Two people who were at the show saw me leave alone. I don't really know them, but they bust the door open. They sweep me onto the couch, and they hold me in a tight embrace for the next hour. Robin and Ben are sharing love, and appreciations, and care. And their wisdom just breaks my big tender heart open. And Robin looks me straight in the eye. And she says, "Alicia, you know, you're not just a comedian, right? You're also a priestess. You're like a badass comedy tantrika. I see the goddess moving through you and awakening that entire audience. I see it. You know, after the goddess performs her magic, she needs to return to the temple for replenishment." "You know, I'd really like to be replenished with some money and success." "Alicia, just go talk to the goddess."
So after they leave, I climb back in the tub. I light the requisite candles and incense. I play the requisite flute music, and I speak to the invisible comedy goddess in the air. And I plead with her. "Goddess. I have not been honoring who I am, what I provide, and what is flowing through me. Please show me your will for me."
Just then the candles flicker. The music stops. And the goddess of comedy speaks to me . . .like in my head. A . . . LI . . .CIA! Ha ha. Just kidding. I'm the god of the comedy. Come on! "Write this down, so you can speak it. Alicia, other comedians may use me as a means to an end. But for you, that's a betrayal cos you're here to wake up. That's what you get to do. You don't get to control how your career goes. You just get to enjoy the ride." I don't wanna be forced. I wanna be invited, discovered, savored, known.
"I wanna trick you into seeing every painful truth, feeling every sensation and emotion, and then transcending it all. I want all of you from the broken down, cracked out miserable parts to the dancing night rainbow parts. Baby, I wanna make you rich in spirit, but only, only after I have tied you up and teased you and knocked you down on your knees, so you are begging me to chop off your head to slay every last thought of disconnection, untruth, and disease till you are worshiping me with uncontrollable orgasmic laughter. So fuck your little Instagram following, fuck your childish attempts to impress and seduce with your cleverness because what's on offer is so much bigger.
And guess what? You don't even need to be healed to be funny. You just need to welcome everything as it is right here now cos this is it. And welcome all of these people—these miraculous precious beings—into your temple. Nothing to fix, nothing to prove, nothing to become. This is it. And I hope you enjoy the shit out of it right here now."
I'm about four years old. I remember that time. My grandfather woke me up very early every morning, and he'd tell me, "Gede, go and wash your face. We will go soon." After everything is ready, he took the equipment he had—hand knife, dirty rice bag. That was all our equipment every morning. We were going to the jungle and the rice field after that. He leaned down and told me, "Gede, jump on." As a four-year-old kid, he always put me on his back. Sometimes he put me on his shoulders to make me comfortable. As a kid, that's the only dream that kid has. We went into the jungle, played in the mud, played in the water. But that's not how the story will begin.
Along the way, we passed many other farmers—young farmers and old farmers. Along the way, my grandfather always told me stories of his life, how he lived, how he struggled to keep the family alive with hard work—physical work. And at that time, I really wanted to know the purpose of him telling me these things. It seems like he wanted to tell me very early. He said I wouldn't always be on his back. And "Life will not be easy for you soon when you grow." And I realized quickly, too, that I will not always be there on his shoulder or on his back. I saw many people working and working at the age of seven years old, eight years old. I know I will be there soon doing those things. And the reason why my grandfather always told me about life, about being strong physically, about working with the hands, about putting everything on the head and being responsible for your family.
Time flies so quickly. When I was six to seven years old, all changed. All things turned to me then. Seems like what I'd imagined a few years ago happened very soon. I saw myself needing to wake up every morning. So I realized something very important—why my grandfather always woke me up so early. He wanted to train me to not always depend on people to wake me up. So I got used to waking up every morning so early, taking my hand knife, taking my rice bag. Exactly the same as he did.
So as a kid, I went to primary school, and every kid had a bicycle. I asked for the same to my father and my grandfather. The way they treat me is so different. "Gede, you will have that, but you need to do something. I will give you one cow to take care of. And then one day, when you keep and take care and treat this cow well, you can make this cow fat, and we will sell it. And some part will be used to buy your bicycle." So us kids were motivated, fully motivated every time, every morning before going to school—not going too far from home because we are living in the forest in the countryside of our village.
So there's so many sources of cow food we can get. I got that cow food, gave the cow food, gave the cow a drink. Of course, speaking a little bit with the cow! I said, "Cow, grow quickly so I can ride my bike by your sacrifice. So now you are my boss because I'm sacrificing my time every morning for you. And one day I will sell you to get my bike, so I can go to school with it and save my uniform. So I don't use my feet and wear out my shoes because the time is coming." I have just one hour or forty-five minutes to get the food.
You know why I must go that early in the morning? Because when I'm back from school, I'm not doing the same as many other kids in my village. There are two parts to the village. There is the center. And then the outside of the village or the countryside. I'm not one of the kids who lives in the center with a parent who can provide everything because tourism has come since the 1960s to our historical village. So I'm living behind the door, born from a low-class farmer. So that's how it goes.
After I'm back from school, I need to take off my uniform very quickly. My mom says, "Gede, you know where your father's working?" "No. Where, Mom?" "In the corner of the village, two kilometers from here. Change your clothes. Run. Help your dad." I even didn't get lunch. You know what my father's job is? He's Spiderman.
He's a coconut climber and harvester since a very early age, like me in my story. Every day of his life, he climbs many coconut trees on people's land and property. Drops the coconuts. And then my role is after school I bring some food for him. We have lunch together there. And then the new story begins. So my role is to collect all the coconuts he drops with his friend from the trees. Picking them up one by one and then putting them in a place where he orders. The job is not done yet. The place where we harvest the coconuts is almost three or four kilometers inside the jungle. And then in my village, there were no highways as we were an old village. So they parked four kilometers away. And then the next job is to collect those coconuts and carry them to the truck.
Don't be shocked, guys. Now you realize why I'm not tall like you guys. I got pinched a lot by coconut grass in my head and on my shoulders. So night comes. In that time, I wasn't sleeping with my parents. Our house has a very small space, and we don't have so much room. We have several rooms and a kitchen with a fire stove, still using a wood fire. And it burns every night to keep us warm. I was sleeping with my grandfather in the kitchen. So we took the coffee wood every afternoon and burned it, as coffee wood gives constant fire and warmth for the room. And then, every night before we slept, he always put his right hand on my forehead and started the story to forget the big day we had—all the work we'd done. So he always told me about how to struggle in life, how to keep my spirits up, how to keep motivated. "Look straight, find what you want to reach in life."
But in the same time, I always said to my grandfather, "I'm a young and small kid, seven years old to eight years old. I'm a normal kid." I'd compare myself to every other kid in the village. Some other kids had good bicycles. When they went back home, they played with marbles. They played other things. They played what we call Tactic or they used sticks made from wood. I'd ask my grandfather, "Why are you forcing me to work? Why are my parents forcing me to work?" I know that it's with a good purpose. But you know how he replied? He holds me by my forehead strongly, and he said, "Gede, don't blame anybody for what you feel now. Don't regret any of it and how life treats you hard today. It will impact you in your future. Maybe you are not as lucky as other kids today not having what they have got easily. You're doing hard work since an early age. And that will have a very good impact. You are the one who will carry on this family in the right way. You will be strong in your knees and carry all the problems of this family on your back. And you are the one who will be changing the family situation in the future."
And that same conversation day by day, every night the same. When I'm complaining those words are coming. Until one day, I stopped complaining and just did it because I know that they're coming every time. And I know that's for the good of me. He always said, "Life is a mystery. When I'm gone, you will grow. And you will realize and say thanks when I'm in heaven." That he always said, every time we went to sleep.
Time flies. 2011. I graduated from the Vocational School of Tourism—amazing for a kid living somewhere with no phone, nothing. Just playing with the cow, speaking with the cow every day.
Sometimes I met my friend just for a few minutes before my grandfather called me. "Gede, take a shower in the river. Don't speak with your friend. We have something to do."
So I had all those plans in my mind of how to escape from this situation and change my family life. By going to Denpasar. You know, it's not the USA. It's not Europe. But it was a big thing for me at that time. So I say, 'Denpasar.' It's my European version. You know why? Because the kids living in the forest, in the countryside of the village, in the same situation as me were thinking of going to Denpasar because it's the capital where all the money is, where all the hotels are, where we can get sources of living to change our family life. But new things are coming. I'm facing two big problems. How to go. And my mom's permission.
Normally other parents will say, go, but in this case, I'm Balinese, and I don't have a brother or sister in this family. So I'm the only young guy. I have a cousin, but he married early and never went to school. Actually, he stopped going to school. So I am the one who graduated well in that time. And my mom always said, "There are so many fields to work in the village. Why do you need to go to Denpasar? There are so many people can get jobs around here. Why you need to go there?" I know the reason why my mom said those things. Not to hold me from going or stopping me from escaping from this village. She wanted me to stay with her. She had a big fear. That the only one son she has, who will be responsible for the family, will leave her and maybe a fear of the city because she never went. She was uneducated.
And she was thinking I would lose my way in friendship. Maybe take drugs or have to get married early because of a mistake with a woman. That often happens now in Bali. But I said to my mom, "This is my dream. I want to chase my dream, changing our family situation." And then suddenly, a few days later, I get a call from my friend Made, which changed all the story. He called me in the morning. "Gede, you still want to go to Denpasar?" I said, "What?" "I will go in two days. Are you in?" Okay. Now the real challenge is coming. What I needed to say. And I said to Made, "I will use my gentle voice with her. I will go." And I said to Made immediately, "Yes, I will go."
Stepping up to my mom's room, she sits in conversation with my dad. And I said, "Sorry, I'm interrupting. Mom, this is gonna be the last conversation we have about this argument. A friend called me, and I need to go to Denpasar in two days. All the papers required, all my clothes are ready. I will go." My mom looked me in tears, and she said, "Okay, I cannot hold you back anymore. If that's your dream, as long as you can keep yourself safe, you can go."
And the tears story is coming. Everybody knows we are coming from the low-class of farmers, but the good thing is we are really good in family relations. I didn't have money to help my friend to buy the petrol. So my mom took her small savings from her candy box to give to me. My auntie gave money to me. My uncle came giving some money. And then my grandfather gave me some money. And the one who's strong and the tough guy in the family, my dad, which I never expected. He was crying. Yes. He always treated me hard, like, "Gede, don't let that go. Take that, do that." But in that time, he's crying. In that moment everybody gave me a big responsibility by giving that money. And I believe in their mind, "This guy will change the family and give that money back in a different amount."
I carry that responsibility as I have all the basics; I'm strong after working, have good shoulders to carry any problem. A top childhood taught me to be strong in my personality, strong in mentality and physically, to hold any problem, to carry any problem.
Finally, we went to Denpasar. Lively. Not that friendly yet. For a jungle kid, it's not easy to get a job in the city. We needed a connection, someone we knew. Trying from one hotel to the other hotel. The power of patience. They refused in many places. And I said, "No problem, Made. We will try." Made always complained like, "Oh Gede. This is so hard. Let's go back to the village." "Wait, we sacrificed so much to come here. We had so many arguments before we came here." And then one day a friend called me, another friend. "Gede, there is a big company opening recruitment for employees." And I said, "Where?" I wrote by hand and brought my papers.
Then Quiksilver, in collaboration with Savrical Bali, built a big store in Nusa Dua and hired me in the warehouse for three months. I worked so hard, and a new recruitment came for a sales promotion boy. I'm climbing. I got that position. I worked so hard. And I got a quick promotion from my boss, but life is still a mystery. Four years seven months, or almost five years. After all those feelings I get in the city, I feel this is my life. I got friends. I got money. I paid off debts of my mom's from the lender by sending money every month. But June 2015, everything began. I think this is the reason why my mom never liked me going to Denpasar. I got a call from my dad. My mom had a big problem with her health.
And I'm the only one guy. Like he said, I will be responsible. Like my grandfather said, I will be responsible for the family. In that time, I'm facing the biggest decision of my life. What do I need to do now? I'm happy with my life in the city. You can imagine for a young kid who went from jumping to seeing clubs, many women from other regions. I did not see them a lot in my jungle. Honestly! I saw so many Australian girls. I was even working with them. Listen to my language. You can imagine where I could find them in my jungle!
So this is a big problem at that time. These are the people I love most is the problem. There is no other woman I love more than my mom with all that she sacrificed for me. I need five months to think. I don't sleep well. My work capacity is going down. My boss asked me "What happened, Gede?" I said, "My mom is sick. I love my job, but I love my mom." So finally, with the support of my friends, they said, "Anytime you want to come back, the door of this store is always open." So I decided to go back to my mom. And then I imagined since I've been in the city, I needed to prepare myself to go back to that jungle, but that's not hard for me. It will not be so hard. That's where I began my childhood.
I went back to the village. Everybody looked at me with my new Quiksilver T-shirt, Ripco shorts, Havaianas sandals. And you know what? Some Balinese joke with us when we're back from Denpasar. "Hey, boss, when you go back?" "No, I'm not going back. I will stay. My mom is sick." The first week was so hard. What to do? I'm here. All my skills don't work here. I tried to find a job nearby. That's still hard. Everybody's got the same problem as me.
So one day I'm standing in the big door to the village when a guy from Holland approached me. His name is Harold. "Hey, young man. Can you tell me what is behind this door? I see just a jungle. Is it a cemetery?" "No, that's where I live. If you think that's a cemetery, I'm a zombie. "You wanna come in to check?" "Yeah, I'm interested. I want to see." I said to him, "You will like this place. The center is just eight hectares, and the rest is nine hundred hectares, sir. We have rice fields. We have people weaving. We have people making baskets." And in that time, he told me, "You are doing a good explanation, and you have such good English. Where did you learn?" "I practice. I never did a course or anything. Even listening to something in bed is so hard." So I said to him, "What do you think?" "You can do something with it if, as you say, you don't have job." So this is what my grandfather said. Life is a mystery.
So I started thinking about what Harold said and then created something, which I'm still doing today. So I built a trekking activity which explains all the history of my village, which is the oldest village in Bali. It exists since the eighth century, and then a new mystery appears. So the trek I'm using is the one I used to hold the coconuts, to bring grass on my head for my cow. I'm using that same track today for trekking.
So since I was a kid, my grandfather always said, "Life is a mystery. We never know what will happen." So whatever I've done as a kid, I can use for something in the future. So for the trek, normally I'm climbing, I'm working hard, with a heavy weight on my head. Now I'm using it to earn something. I even teach some of the young community to do the same trekking as me, and then we do it. I train them to do the same to earn money, train them in English, build their confidence. And we can do it. We are not just kids in the jungle. We can do something.
I'm therefore beekeeping with my cousin in the jungle, which I'm doing today as the next story. And then something happened really big for myself. I was elected to be the Youth Community Leader in my banjar because of all my ideas—everything. I'm not proud of myself for that, but the people are proud with what I'm doing. So I said to them, "I'm not leading you. We will share the direction, how to do everything. I am not a leader who gives you orders. Let's find direction together."
So we created something. We created trekking activities speaking a lot about the equality between the outsider and the original who lives in the center. Not all people like me, honestly, because I speak a lot about that. I'm really happy with this thing going well. The honey is going well. I'm helping my cousin with marketing to people that start to come to the jungle, tasting our honey, buying our honey, doing basket workshops, got enough hours coming. And then we never imagined that would come, this big, epic story. For Bali. Everybody in this room knows we got a big hit. We hang on and depend a lot on tourism. I cannot lie about that. So at that moment, I start thinking again. What to do?
A few weeks later, my friend from Canada—her name is Suzanne—she often comes to Bali and really loves Bali and been to my bee farm, which I'm developing with my cousin, calls me. Life is a mystery. She tells me, "Gede, I remember your honey has a medication purpose and an old historical Balinese medication with a natural base. Why don't you join with the things I'm creating together with my beautiful friend, Colin, with my inspiring friend, Made, and Steve—Stephen McCluff. And then I said, "Yes, I will join in with your purpose."
I went back to my ancestors' village nearby Slove of Monagune, where my grandfather originally came from. Every time I go back there to pray in ceremonies, I see so many people have these hives, these black beehives. So I said to Suzanne, "Yes, I will be involved in this Togetherness Project with the spirit of togetherness and make an income sustain an income for my community in this village and my ancestors' village.
I went to Ubud to speak with Steve and Colin and brought some product and put this beautiful stuff in Bags of Hope. The coffee from the north, the recycled bag from North Gianyar. There are some herbs from my friend Futu. They are beautiful weavings—the process of which had been laying down for twenty-five years and woke up because of COVID-19. So we are in the same team with the spirit of togetherness.
And then, after a few months working, this thing goes well. Many people came to support and remembered all about our purpose. So this is what I say. Life is full of mystery. We never know when we are doing something hard in the past, it can create something beautiful for our future and supply strong knees, a strong back to hold everything, to show to people that we can.
I can feel a togetherness spirit in this room. You are very kind to have me here, and I hope this pandemic will pass soon, and we will meet in a different situation—in a good situation. Let's keep the spirit of togetherness, and let's spread it. Hold each other's hand. The solution is there. Life is good when we are together. Thank you so much. I'm Gede.
I am standing in the foothills of the Himalaya. Blue expansive sky above me. Prayer flags fluttering in the breeze and just above the rhododendron forest, white Nepali mountains. And I'm not gonna see any of it because I can't take another step. My physical body is fine, but finally, the weight of my self-hatred is so heavy that I can't even pick up my leg. Next to me, with love in his eyes, my ex-boyfriend. He's just broken up with me because I'm toxic. It's not that I'm mean to him or abusive. He says it's like living with a black hole that all the joy and the happiness has just sucked inside. And I haven't realized that I hate myself. I've wanted to commit suicide for years just to escape the pain that's in my head. But I believe so strongly in reincarnation. I think you just come straight back. I can't even kill myself to escape from this planet.
And even though everything is falling apart in my world, I know that I chose this. I chose him leaving me and walking away. You see, two weeks before, I'm in a temple in India. And I am praying. Who am I? I've been reading books by gurus with unpronounceable names. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and they're all saying, "Ask the question, who am I?" And they talk about how we are not our body, and we are not our mind. And I think, Wow, maybe I can go beyond my mind. And so I start to pray. I want to know myself. I want to know myself. And this question comes, "What if your parents think that you're nuts?" I have dreadlocks. I've been barefoot for years. I quit my successful corporate job in advertising five years ago to hang out with shamans in Siberia, monks in Tibet.
My parents are kindhearted small-town Scottish Christians. They probably already think I'm pretty far gone. So yes, I want to know myself, even if my parents think that I'm crazy. Who am I? Who am I? Last question. Do you want to know yourself more than you want to be with Nicholas? Nicholas is my love. He's my best friend. He's my teacher. Don't make me choose. And I see those two paths. I see the life with Nicholas, us traveling the world, living in our home in Rishikesh. Maybe having a family. And the other path is just darkness. Where does that go? The path of knowing myself. Who am I fooling? And yet I know this is the only chance I ever have to be happy.
I return to my prayer. Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? I am praying with every fiber of my being, every cell of my body. I've never wanted anything more than I want in that moment. Who am I? And then nothing. There is a void. There is not even an eye to experience a void. And it's not the kind of nothing where everything stays the same after. It's the kind of nothing where everything changes. Later I discover this experience, which isn't an experience, is called Sunyata. The void. Emptiness. And after an eternity, there is an eye again, observing a void. And then my mind scrambles back. What just happened? What just happened? Did I just die? Did my dad just die? Did Nicholas just die? What just happened? What just happened? And even though I am freaking out, something inside of me knows my question was answered, and I just experienced the truth.
And so I returned to Rishikesh excited to share with Nicholas this powerful spiritual experience I've had. And he dumps me. And I know that this is leading me on my path of knowing myself, but it doesn't help that twenty-nine-year-old little girl who's just lost her home and her life and her beloved.
And I take myself to Lumbini where the Buddha was born. And I lock myself in meditation boot camp. From four o'clock in the morning until ten o'clock at night, I am in constant presence and meditation in a tiny Tibetan temple with a monk banging a drum and chanting deep dark Mahakala Pujas, the destroyer of the ego. It's dark, and there's yak butter lamps and paintings of the Buddha's life on the temple walls. And I sit there for days and weeks. And after a while, I see my self-hatred. I see that monster and that beast, and I know that I've created it. I'm this tiny little girl with a candle. And it has fangs, and it's snarling. And it can destroy me at any moment. I've got no idea what to do. And I just back away from it.
And the beating of the drum from the monk, it's like it starts to beat from inside of me. And I start to feel my heart coming back on line. And from that place, I look at the stories I've been telling myself about what's wrong with me, about why I hate myself and I trace them back. And they're just stories cos I can see from this place that nothing is true. And I get to a story where I am six years old in the playground in Scotland, and Allison and Emily are standing over me. "You're ugly. No one likes you. No one wants to be your friend. Your mom's English."
And I think they must be right because no one wants to be my friend, and I am a crybaby. And this continues for six years. Every break, every lunch, I'm running away from them, or I'm locked in the toilet with my feet up on the toilet seat so they can't find me. And I grow into an adult believing what they're telling me is truth. That no one will ever love me. That I am broken. And I put on masks, hoping that other people can't see inside—thinking if I hate myself, no one else will need to hate me.
And with this monk beating the drum and from this experience I've had in India, I realize these girls who said these things to me, they were kids. They were just kids. And I remember they had big brothers and sisters who were probably saying that to them. And, of course, I can forgive them. Of course I can just let it go because it's not true. But I realize I did the same thing. I took that hatred and that bullying home. And I did the same thing to my little brothers, and I bullied them and I was so cruel to them, and so mean to them.
Can I ever forgive myself for that? And as I ask the question, I realize that I'm stroking my hair. Yes, I can forgive myself for this. I am forgiving myself for this. And I realize every single part of me, everything I've experienced, is worthy of love. All of it. And what I didn't know then that I know now is I needed to be covered in those paper cuts. So I could sit in front of other people who've been stabbed and say to them, "You are worthy of love. You can get through this. You can forgive this. You can let this go." And they know that it's true because they see in my eyes that I've been through hell and escaped and that now I'm happy.
And in that temple, I pull the scarf back off my face, and it's packed with golden dragonflies. Out of nowhere, golden dragonflies everywhere. And it's like they're flying all around my head, and they're taking these thoughts out of my brain. And I am free. For the first time in my life, this love is just pouring through my brain, and through my heart, and through my body. And I look down at my heart and, you know, sometimes you just see that little boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, that little pulse.
And I thank my heart for always beating for me. I've treated her so badly. I've been so mean to her. I've blamed so much on her, and she's always cheered for me. And I hear my heart say to me, "Who else would I beat for?"
"Mommy? Can you tell me a story?" My head just hit the pillow when my six-year-old daughter asked me the same question every single night. I was so sleepy. All that I could think of was bed. So I told her, "Okay, I'm gonna tell you five stories of my life that happens on five beds."
The first story, the first bed, is my childhood bed. It's the bed where my mom and I would cuddle every night, and she would tell me bedtime stories. But my mom was always so exhausted after a long working day that she would always tell me incoherent stories. And I was always correcting her. "Hey, Mommy, it's not right. The person you talk about now already died. How come she came back to life?" Little did I know at the time that people we thought were gone can and do come back.
The second bed was a death bed. Nineteen-year-old me was lying on an operation bed, legs wide open. "It's done. You can get up and go now," the doctor said. One month before this, I was a sophomore at the top university in China. And I had just been elected as the president for the biggest association in college. I also started my first love affair ever with an English lawyer. For the first time in my life, I invited a man between my legs and had wild ecstatic sex in the heat of which I unconsciously created a baby. This man, who asked me to marry him few weeks ago, never saw me again since he knew I was pregnant. I stumbled out of the operation room into the arms of my mom, who was trying to hold her tears back. I knew something between my legs has changed forever. I went from top student to scandal. A shame for my family and my community.
However, as my good girl mask got torn up with my yoni that got torn in the abortion, the old me died with my baby, and the new me was coming into being. So I ran away from classrooms into the wild, into my wildness to find myself and to heal. I started doing yoga and qigong daily. I went to nature adventure clubs. I became a vegan. I left my promising career opportunities in China and went to Europe in search of a new landscape, a new lifestyle, a new identity. People said, "Sometimes you have to leave in order to come back."
After five years of world travel, I came back to China, the land where I was born, and I found myself on the third bed. Twenty-four-year-old me lying on the small bed at home, legs wide open again. Only this time to give birth to my baby girl. It's seven long hours after my water broke. I've done everything the midwife told me to do. I held onto the thigh of my husband and the bed. I groaned. I pushed. I was exhausted. My baby was not coming. My husband and my friends, who had been cheering me on for the last seven hours, had now become quiet. "It's too long. She needs to be taken to the hospital," the midwife said. All my life, I've shut myself down, swallowed, digested, and accepted everything. But at this moment, I knew if I don't speak up, there's no way I can birth this baby. I would die in the hospital.
So I finally had the courage to say, "I don't think the midwife's way works for me." A woman came to my ears, and she said, "If so, just do it your way." I felt blood rush back to my veins again while I felt still weak. So I asked with the last ounce of energy I still had, "Could you please gimme some encouragement?" And now they all went, "You are doing great. You're amazing. I can see the baby's hand already!" I took a long deep breath and one last roar. It felt like the biggest poop of my life just got squeezed out of my yoni. And there was my baby—only she's shining like gold, and she smells great.
I'm so happy that I gave a much better birth to my baby than my mom to me. My mom had such a traumatic birth experience with me that she thought I would go through exactly the same. Looks like I defied her prophecy.
Soon I realized I was married to a man who was exactly like my dad—abusive, violent, dependent on me for money, gave me sexual trauma. And that made me feel worse than a prostitute in my own marriage. I was determined not to repeat the history of my mom. So I left my husband, my job, my house, everything I had in China again and went to Europe to heal myself. In the worst days in Europe, I was picking up horse shit for $10 per hour—one arm with my baby sucking my breast. And I remember five years ago, I was the top student in Cambridge, hanging out with Oxford and Harvard friends who got $1 million job offers right after graduation. And now here I was—jobless, penniless, homeless, a single mom. I was the most unattractive woman I knew.
Until I met Barack. I was pouring my heart out desperately on the piano in the museum when Barack, a single dad from Turkey, walked in with his son and saw me. Two months later, we were in bed in his flat, having the most epic savage cathartic sex of our lives. I was having mind-blowing heart and ass opening, bed rattling, neighbors complaining, and soul stretching liquid explosions of orgasms of my life.
In that worst period of my life, outside of that bed of orgasm, I felt totally worthless—ugly, the smelliest piece of shit. But Barack? He fucked the shit out of me. He penetrated me to the core and unleashed that lioness that'd been sleeping there all along. And he told me, "You gave me the best sex in my life." And later, only later, I knew from friends that actually every man says that to every woman, but I chose to believe him. And I thought, maybe I'm really good at this. So I got out of bed, went to my desk, and wrote down every single detail of the orgasms and pains of my yoni. And I shared it on social media.
Now, this is such a taboo in China that it went viral very soon. So I created my holistic sexuality course for women in China. And in one year, I went from zero to my first one thousand clients. From zero to my first six figures. I got on TV, in newspapers, magazines. My business was growing wild, like my baby, but my relationship with men is—I wouldn't say a contrast to my business success—but it's like sex. It's in, out in out. I really wanna stay in longer, but I'm mostly out.
And one night after yet another devastating breakup, instead of just looking on Tinder for another guy to give me some love, I called my mom. "Mom, can you tell me your story of your yoni?" My mom told me everything—her yoni, her mom's yoni, her love stories, her pains—with tears and a lot of joy because finally, someone cares. We became friends again. I taught her yoga, dance, couch surfing, and BDSM. She came to my tantric classes in a women's temple. And with my help, ten years after the day she was almost bitten to death by my dad, she found the love of her life, who was a Danish hippie. And they just celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary.
My last bed is the bed at the very beginning of my talk, where my daughter and I would cuddle and tell bedtime stories. So she asked me to tell her a story, and I told her the story I told you tonight. And when she heard the part about my first baby who died in the abortion, guess what she said. "Mommy, that was me." So twenty-five years after the incoherent bedtime stories of my mom, I finally realized that people that we thought were gone can and do come back.
My yoni, which has been the greatest source of shame and pain in my life, has now become the greatest source of power that created a baby, created a six-figure income, a business that gets a lot of yonis well fucked by life and a time location free life here in paradise Bali, which is exactly the life I dreamed of five years ago when I was picking up horse shit. So my shit has become my gold. My greatest pain has become my greatest power. So can yours.
Thank you. Thank you for letting me see you, the deeper imperfect, perfect parts of you, not just the paradigms of the world you were born into. And I gotta say it takes my breath away. And sometimes we speak because we have nothing to say. No words needed, though, because presence is your essence. And essence is your beauty—the only kind of beauty capable of bringing a warrior like me down to his knees.
For as long as I can remember, the way that I got love from my mother was when I got good grades. You know, the problem was that I rarely did. In my best year, I was a C+ student. It wasn't that I was dumb or uninterested. It's just that no one took the time to acknowledge that I was different. You know, not like the other kids who sat up straight, did what they were told, and got a kick out of getting gold stars. And it was all good until I turned nine.
Then my elementary school, P.S. 211 on the east side of the Bronx, the boogie down Bronx in New York city, started sending home progress reports, basically saying that I was failing. I don't know what got into my mother that night. She must've been contemplating it the whole way home. She stormed into my room with her leather belt and then proceeded to beat me. And she threatened me if I didn't get my act together. And she pleaded me to be more like my sisters Taisha and Clarabelle, the ones who were everything I wasn't. You get beat one time, two times, three times you cry. I cried. You get beat ten times, twenty times, fifty times you learn to block out the pain. Cry? What's that? I got beat a few hundred times. When that happens, you learn to laugh. You learn to build an amor that says, “YOU CAN’T HURT ME.” My mom saw this. So she just started beating me with the metal part of the belt. I cried. It hurt like hell until it didn't. Now, the boy isn't a boy—the boy is a man. And I would be lying if I were here to say that it still doesn't hurt like hell.
So God, tell me what's real. Tell me what's fake. Why is everything about you a fricking debate? What's the point of love? Because every time I've shown it, it's only brought me pain.
Right after I dropped out of college . . . (College? That was my father's idea). . . I wanted to be a marketer, a storyteller who changed the lives of people through products that I believed in - business being my vehicle. I have my dad to blame for this. When I returned back home from university, one of the first places I went was to visit my cousin. Historically, a safe place for me to be me. It's also where my aunt and my uncle lived. Moments after finding out that I dropped out of college, my aunt looked me directly in the eyes and said, "You'll never be anybody without a college degree." I immediately laughed because I thought she may be right.
So God, tell me what’s wrong. Tell me how to feel.
One day, I kid you not, I walked out of my house where I was living on the beach, and I go for a walk. While on the walk, I see my outrageously beautiful German girlfriend with long blonde hair in the darkest corner of the beach, cuddling another man, stroking his chest so gently. And I would be lying if I didn't say I wish it was me. I heard they were dance partners. She said it was nothing. I found out months later she cheated on me.
So my God, tell me if you’re real, why do I hurt? Why is there pain? Why does everything good always have to fade? I hope it’s cool I’m being real with you. I just want to let you in. My God, I’m calling. Are you listening?
Dear Pedro, my child, I'll keep this brief. You need gratitude. Maybe just a sample. There's reasons for my actions, even if I never showed you. I remember when you were five years old and proclaimed to me that you wanted to be free, that you wanted to be a vessel for me. So I gave you the grace of not one or two but three motorbike accidents that left you with permanent tattoos, left you crippled for weeks at a time, so you can contemplate who are you. I gifted you chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain. My son, did you really think that these were coincidences?
How insignificant that these moments that you were having a hard time surrendering to now become. Can you remember how that changed some things? How grateful and present and resilient you magically became? My son, do you need me to go on? I can do this all day. Just look at your hands. Three crooked fingers. All the times your hips and knees will lock up for no apparent reason. The too many toe bangs to count, the headaches, the migraines, the heartbreaks, the toxic thoughts, the two emergency surgeries, the asthma, and random blackouts growing up that left you hospitalized for weeks at a time, divinely orchestrated to help you live into your destiny and allowing the infinite wisdom you already have inside of you to pour, pour, pour out of you into a limitless cup of pure potential. Pedro, it's time you woke up. My son, I know you're confused, so why don't you take a seat and let me pray for you.
My prayer is that you live your life in such alignment that at any moment, you can hear the words that you have a week left to live, and you would not do anything differently because you are already full. It's why I keep taking things away from you that you think you need to show you where you're not free, to show you where you're not capable to lead. So my son, when I make things hard for you, just know this is me celebrating you. Stop wishing things were easier. Wish you were better. Let the moment take you to a level of depth that you've never been. You are growing from this experience of life if you choose, and to quote Napoleon, "Death is nothing, but to live defeated is to die daily."
My child, my prayer is that you bring a sense of alignment into your world that is bar none. That you be the exception. And if things keep coming into your life that are outside of your control, just know I'm giving you a gift. You are growing at a different level of depth than most people will ever go in their life so that you, you could be the person who leads. And I'll let you in on a little known secret. You can't take people to places you've never been. So go and penetrate the world, my son, with all you have to give and allow it to penetrate you back at your deepest core of being because you are so beautiful and you are complete, and you are the beggar you meet on the street and you are inclined to be. And I pray to God that you will be free because I want you to run and feel the grass on your feet. Hi, my name is Pedro and I'm waking up.
I'm twenty-six years old. And I'm the new host of a small Swedish TV show. I'm just beginning to feel comfortable with the whole thing, like talking straight to the camera as if it was my best friend and the last couple of weeks, I'm starting to get a few really good reviews. They say that I have 'it.' I feel so good. And I feel so proud.
This day a man walks into the office. I've never seen him before, but he presents himself as a producer of the Nobel Prize live event. He sits down, and he looks at me all the time when he's speaking and starts saying that it's a four-hour-long live event. I know that and all of Sweden will be watching. And then he asks me if I want to be that year's TV host. I almost start laughing because I'm so new. I've just been on television for two months. I'm a beginner. And no, I'm not ready. Absolutely not. But the producer and reporters of my small TV show—they go nuts. They're so excited because they know I will be in all the newspapers, all the magazines, and I will spread light to the tiny TV show.
So I say yes to make them happy. Two months later, I'm dressed as a princess. I'm wearing a long blue silky dress, jewels, makeup, and I'm standing in the blue hall. It's the main hall of the Swedish town hall. It's a castle-like building with twenty-two-meter high ceilings, marble floors. And in just minutes, the Swedish king and queen will walk down the stairs, followed by this year's Noble Prize winners.
Yeah, I'm here to guide the TV audience throughout this four-hour-long live event. And yeah, it's a huge step in my career, and it's supposed to be a moment of celebration, but I can't breathe, and I can't feel my feet. And in the next moment, I experience something I've never experienced before. It's like I contract into a small bubble. I leave my body, and suddenly I see myself from above looking down at myself at this empty shell standing on the floor.
And from that moment, it feels like I'm trying to survive the evening. I'm the captain of the Titanic, but I don't know anything about boats. The next day I wake up to an article in a newspaper, and the reporter says that watching me made her so embarrassed that she needed to hide behind a pillow. And the next day, I'm on the list of the most unpopular people of Sweden. I start looking down when I meet my coworkers in the TV corridors because I can't stand meeting their eyes. But I decide that I will learn from this. I will never ever not listen to my 'no' again.
So do I listen to my no from that moment? No, I don't. I say yes to having lunch when I want to eat alone. I go to parties when I would like to stay home. I stay too long in relationships. And I even say yes to impossible projects like playing a part in a theater play that requires me to travel for two hours and not getting paid, but instead needing to pay for the equipment, the rent, and no upside whatsoever and doing that for weeks until I can't stand it for one more minute and then quitting absolutely too late. It's insanity. I'm so afraid of making people disappointed that I end up with people being really disappointed and angry.
To be honest, I've never been a fast learner. I've done things over and over and over until they hurt myself and others. It feels like I'm walking around in this too-tight costume. I can't breathe in my own life. It feels like I'm dying.
So I leave this small TV show, and I decide that I will jump on to one-year actor training because I loved theater when I was a kid. And I'm so longing to be joyful as a kid again. And it's an incredible year—so much fun. And at the end of the year, we have a big performance. I don't know this, but there is a soap opera producer in the audience. And she calls me a few days later, and she asks me if I want to play one of the main characters in the soap opera Friends and Enemies. And I feel this instant joy like bubbling energy in my heart. Like, yes! And then crushing energy. Crushing thoughts saying, You can't do that. You're a serious journalist. Are you crazy? People will be so disappointed.
So I'm struggling with this for a week. Should I choose this joy that I'm feeling or this tight costume? It feels like for me going from being a serious journalist to becoming a soap opera actress is the same thing as if I would have been a nun and then suddenly become a stripper. And I don't know if you had the experience or if you remember the experience of being a teacher's pet or an adult's favorite and at the same time feeling the weight of that and that finally messing up and disappointing them sets you free. So that's what's happening—because I chose the soap opera. Ahh! And people judged me badly. I'm not at all seen as a serious journalist anymore, but I'm free.
Ten years later, I'm on vacation in the South of France with my husband and two kids. And we are walking by the ocean—glitter in the waves, a soft breeze, and these golden pink lights everywhere. And I just ask my husband to please stop. We just stand there. Me and him and our kids. I can feel it everywhere. "I want to live here. I want to move from Sweden to France." And I look at my husband, and he just nods and says, "Me too." But there is no way we can make this happen. We don't have the money. We don't have any job contacts or friends in the South of France. We have no one to pick us up if we fail.
And the following two months are the most scary and challenging of my life. It feels like I'm dying and being born at the same time because people get angry, upset, disappointed. How can we be so selfish, irresponsible, and leave people behind like that?
But every time I close my eyes and I think about a life in the South of France, I feel this bubbling life force running through my veins. And we take a leap of faith through the fear and with the courage of many lions. We made our way to France, and we found everything. We found a house, friends, money to survive, and so much more.
I'm not married anymore. And I don't live in the South of France anymore. Huge life changes that brought up my biggest fears—the fear of being alone, the fear of feeling guilty, ashamed. But it's never been about choosing or not choosing fear to me. It's been about listening to that inner voice that speaks to me through my longing, my inspiration. And sometimes as a very clear no. My soul's voice and my soul didn't choose life to be born here on earth to play small and safe or to please others. My soul wants me to grow and to expand and, most of all, to be happy. So my soul is my wise and kind guru.
It was the mid-1980s, somewhere in the middle of Canada—you know, the tall part of America!
Now there was actually a very, very fatal illness sweeping the nation, and little children were getting very sick. If they were cheated, they had disabilities. It was called spinal meningitis. It's orally contracted. And what happens is it goes into the spinal column, and it affects the nervous system. And, in effect, actually, the fever affects the brain so much that it can shut a small child down.
Now the 1980s. Tape decks, VCRs, station wagons, come on. Great decade! Budweiser was king, and Donald Trump was just a mere mortal wearing boxy suits and buying real estate. But I really wanna tell you about a little girl's journey, her brush with death, her glimpse at the other side. And that little girl is me.
I was sitting eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the stairs. I loved to sit there because I could watch all the foot traffic move around the house, but I was really hot, like really hot. And Oh, I love this sandwich. I'm not hungry anymore. What's happening to me? Oh, I'm gonna go to the kitchen and talk to the adults cos they always know what to do.
So I go to the kitchen, and I pull on Auntie Gina's shirt, and I'm like, "Auntie Gina, can you feel my forehead?" And she leans down, and she puts her hand on my forehead, and she says, "Oh dear, this child is really hot. I'm really concerned about her." Well, I scurry away because I'm like, Oh no, I've done something wrong now. Oh no, why am I so hot? And I put my little head through the banisters on the stairs, and I look out, and I listen to the adults as they make a commotion and talk about the hospital. Oh no, not the hospital. I really, really don't wanna go the hospital. That's where people go when they get really sick. Sure enough, they're throwing things into a bag. They're acting a little funny, and it's just a circus, and we're running out the door.
And the hospital—clean, clinical, bright white lights, beeping sounds—doctors, nurses being called to all different floors. Surely a doctor comes and stands right in front of me, and he assesses me immediately. And he says, "This child is very sick. We think she has spinal meningitis. If we test her, we might lose her. Let's get her immediately to intensive care." I'm isolated in a room. I'm dressed in white. I'm sitting straight up in my bed. I now have intravenous being put into my arms—medicine running through my body. I don't know what's happening.
My mother comes and sits on the corner of my bed, and she says to me, "Sweetheart, do you know what you have?" "No, I don't." "It's spinal meningitis, sweetheart." "Spider man ingitis? Oh, that sounds really scary." "Yes. We're very concerned for you. You see, we need you to make it through the night." "Okay." And with that, she got up, and she exited the room and went into the hall. It had grown quiet now, and night was falling. I sat in my bed, medicine running through my body. Exhausted. And I fell asleep.
Sure enough, I woke up to something coming down next to me. A spider. Oh, okay. I'm gonna close my eyes. I'm gonna get myself really nice and tight like a board. And hopefully, this will go away. I open my eyes. I turn to the right. What-what is going on over here? Three unidentifiable shadowy men standing next to my bed. So I now have a spider and three men over here. Oh boy. This is what she was telling me about. If I close my eyes really tight, I think, Yeah, this is gonna go away, right? Yeah. And it does.
That was a close one. Okay. But now what's going on now? Oh my God. I'm in a hospital, and I can hear dogs barking. There are three, four, five dogs in the room with me. They're barking so loud. They're snarling. They are drooling, and they are attacking my bed. They know I'm vulnerable, and they're coming for me. They're gonna take me down to Hades and present me to Persephone. What is going on? They oh, they can't get in. Oh, thank goodness. They can't get in. They keep attacking it, but they can't get in. There's a bubble around my bed that's protecting me—some kind of a force field.
Thank goodness. Okay. I'm just gonna wait this out. This is just gonna go away. Yeah. Daylight is breaking. I can see it now. And like a good vampire movie, I know those dogs are going away, and they just get off of me, and they slither away through the cracks of the room. And the room is bathed in this warm white light. And I'm like, Oh, thank goodness. I've made it through the night.
But now what's happening? I thought this was all over. No, it's not. It's not over. Oh my gosh. I'm getting up outta my body. I think they call this astral traveling, and I am looking back at myself. Phenomenal! Wow. And I can feel something beautiful and warm coming from behind me. Oh my goodness, what is that? Wow, that feels so good. And I can hear string instruments. Oh, it's beautiful.
"Beloved. You are at a checkpoint." "Oh, a-a checkpoint?" "Yes, beloved. You see, you are now at a place where you can make a choice. How do you want to choose? Do you want to go back into that life, or do you want to come back behind the veil? We must warn you that if you come back here, you will have to work two times as hard. You see, beloved, the life that you have chosen, the contract that you have chosen is for your soul's evolutionary process. And the souls that you come into contact with will also evolve. It's a very multi-layered process, you see, my beloved?" "Yeah. I-I understand. Okay. Uh, so if I go there, how long will it take exactly?"
"You see, beloved, for us it's a very quick timeline. Blink of an eye, really. But for you, once you will be embodied, time will move quite slow." "Oh, okay. I-I, okay. And what's . . . what's gonna happen? Can you tell me a little bit about that?" "Well, beloved, you see, there will be great global catastrophes. You will witness genocide. You will see abuse of human life and source life on the planet. There will be technological wars, famine, and you will feel it all." "Oh, okay. Sad." "Yes, beloved. And you will have a heart—an empathetic heart.
And you see, there will be hardship, heartache, and your heart will break." "I understand. What else?" "Well, beloved, there will be beauty beyond belief. There will be human connection, joy—pure joy—humor, surprise, and elements that you can only experience if you choose to contract this life as a human." "I see. Well, I-I suppose I accept that, and I understand. Yes, I agree. I agree to this."
And with that, I felt my body, my spirit slip back into my body, and I was looking back at my family, connected again. I could feel their collective hearts beat, their prayers answered. Their little girl had made it through the night. She wouldn't be taken from them too soon in this life. I felt cells regenerating and blood pulsing through my body. I was going to heal. I was going to make it.
You see, there's actually many of us that have an experience like this. In fact, one in ten people that's admitted to the hospital has what is called a near-death experience, but because of fear or shame, embarrassment, we conceal this immaculate experience. We don't share it. And yet it's so beautiful to know that there's something beyond this. To know that it's pain-free. To know that we have to live without regrets here. That this is our training ground. That this is our playground. Our learning, our schoolhouse.
I hope this message is something you can take with you tonight. Death is really very simple, you see. It's just a transformational doorway. A transformational doorway for the mystical energy that is spirit and spirit never ends. Thank you so much. Thank you so so much for being my audience for that story—that's the first time. Thank you so much.
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.