“Spiritual Director is a heavy title” is usually what I say in response to someone first learning my job title at Alo House. To lighten the moment, I almost always follow up with my personal definition of the word spirituality – the space in between us and our impulses. So what I essentially hope to see accomplished by our clients is building that space up within themselves before entering back into the world.
I am not a religious man. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says “Loving-Kindness is my religion”, and this begins to touch upon my belief. I truly believe that every major religious path is pointing toward the same goal: the eventual arrival home– a state of being that includes safety, unconditional love, and a feeling of belonging and connection. I feel very fortunate to see the world this way, free from fixed mind in a perpetual state of openness toward all. This was brought about by my diverse religious and cultural upbringing and adulthood, of which I am supremely grateful.
My mothers side of the family were spiritual healers dating back three generations. They taught me from my earliest childhood that God is Love, that the Universe and all of creation are the physical manifestation of Divine Love, and that any belief outside of this truth is a misperception to rise above through deep, inner communement with Love, the source of all things. I was also taught how to pray for healing at a young age, and that if the healer and those who sought to be healed shared the consciousness of belief that healing was possible, great things could be accomplished, including the miraculous. This was an exquisite teaching in youth that would serve me the rest of my life.
My fathers influence on me was that of eastern mysticism and Buddhist philosophy, and he greatly admired African culture. I was introduced to the music and food of India at a young age, was taken to African culture festivals in Los Angeles in the 1980’s, was taught about great spiritual leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi by both of my parents, and was encouraged to see the human race as a colorless family. I was 10 years old when my father introduced me to the mystic teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, a spiritual genius who’s teachings would later play a huge role in my life.
Even with a great spiritual and cultural upbringing, my parents could not shield me from physical and emotional pain. I began to experience obsessive condemning thinking and despair. I had a limited awareness that there were others in the world who felt as I did, and a result, I bottled up these feelings until they were so unbearable I turned to drugs and alcohol in my early teenage years. My spiritual and emotional growth became stunted, I was often in a variety of trouble and my actions hurt many people. This went on for 13 years until I was 26 years old and I found myself homeless in only boxer shorts, wandering in the streets of Los Angeles’s skid row district.
I was fortunate to find drug and alcohol treatment in 2003, which led to sobriety. I began to spiritually and emotionally grow again, which was both painful and wonderful. At about a year sober I met my spiritual teacher Zhenpen Nyima, a practicing Tibetan Buddhist of the Nyingma lineage. He taught me the most valuable tools of my adulthood, how to meditate and how to serve living beings. Through the practice of meditation, I began to develop an understanding not only of the nature of mind, but an awareness of my intrinsic oneness with all things.
It hasn’t been a flawless ride. For a couple of years, I refused to grow spiritually and emotionally and I suffered states of mind that bordered the intolerable. I stopped meditating and indulged in selfish behavior regularly. I could talk about spiritual principles but I wasn’t living them to my core. This was a necessary stage in my education that would not only ring in the next phase of my inner development, but would lead me to Alo House Recovery Centers.
The year before arriving to Alo House, I read a quote by His Holiness The Dalai Lama that changed the course of my life. “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” Reading this in conjunction with a few humbling life events created a significant ego smashing which deepened my practice. Putting meditation first seemed to align the rest of my life beautifully. I was more available for my loved ones, for strangers, for myself. Most notably, I began walk through extreme difficulty and hardship with a level of grace that previously seemed unimaginable. This built a confidence I had been looking for my entire life, one that allowed me to live and love in each moment deeper than ever before. Unnecessary fear became a sensation in the body, not a belief to base decisions on.
I was first introduced to Jared and Evan, the Canadian born owners of Alo House, by Bob Forrest, who has been a mentor of mine since I first entered into recovery. I could see right away that Jared & Evan were different. I still think it has something to do with them carrying the collective Canadian mindset of truly wanting people to succeed, be fairly treated, and live simply. Alo House was then called Acadia Malibu, was newly blossoming onto the scene as a treatment center, and followed a philosophy of treating clients with compassion, dignity and respect. I had long since given up on a place like this existing, since the majority of my interaction with the drug and alcohol treatment world seemed to be based on the model of profits before people. But these two gentlemen, who happen to also be best friends, have demonstrated time and time again that they care deeply for the world, want to understand and compassionately treat those suffering with addiction with love, often doing so sacrificing financial gain. I am one of the longest standing staff members here, and I would not still be here if this were not the way.
Though I do teach meditation and the explore the realms of consciousness daily, take clients to sweat lodge ceremonies, spiritual centers, the recording studio, and see clients individually for what I call ‘Spirit Warrior’ sessions, my main job at Alo House Recovery Centers is to become a mirror for our clients. Much like trying to see your reflection in a body of water, the water needs to become still for the image to be clear. Stillness within creates a space for any one I sit with to see themselves clearly, and they begin to understand their own predicament and the necessary steps toward unentangling themselves. There is no magic to the process other than this. The true miracle for both myself and the client is the fact that we find ourselves at this stage in our lives, at this particular treatment center, involved in a parallel process of inner work that could save lives.
Maya Angelou once said “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Many great things are said and done here at Alo House on a daily basis, but it is the feeling we are all left with day after day, year after year that endures, and will likely be the establishing factor behind new connections formed within our clients and whomever they cross paths with in the future.
I am grateful to be counted among you at this particular time on the planet. May we all in our own way establish the bravery within ourselves to work toward lessening the suffering in the world.
With enduring Love,