Family life is full of major and minor crises — the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce — and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It’s difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.
I was born on January 20, 1971 to two wonderful parents. My mother, Kathy, was a housewife, and my father, John, was a heavy equipment operator and a farmer. My parents were a bit odd, but then again, whose parents aren’t. In spite of the baby fat and mom’s bad haircuts, I had a great childhood.
My mother was religious and would attend church every day. Fortunately, my brother, sister and I were only required to go on Sundays. I know you may find this surprising, but the Catholic Church dispenses guilt like candy on Halloween and like a sack full of empty calories, I gobbled that shame down willingly. In spite of that, I am very grateful that I had some spiritual structure in my early life even if it meant a lot of shame to work through in the out years.
My mother has always been the backbone of my life. Although her religious beliefs were strong, she never failed to show me gentleness, compassion and unconditional love. To this day I still call her if I have a “tummy ache.”
My father is agnostic. The farm was his “God,” and I could tell that it brought him the same peace that my mother’s faith brought her. He would spend most of his free time on the farm, and on weekends and summer vacations, so would I. My father is one of the most stubborn, old-fashioned people I know, but he has a strength and integrity that I strive to model in my life. In many ways he is my moral compass. Whenever I find myself facing a difficult challenge, I ask myself what my father would do. It never fails to bring me the clarity I need.
My parents were married for over twenty-five years, but not happily. While they were always civil to one another, they were far from satisfied. They rarely spent time together, and shared little in common. Eventually they divorced. It was a very respectful break-up, and they are friends to this day. They are both remarried now and very happy with their new partners.
I have a wonderful relationship with my brother and sister. Even the best childhoods can be rocky at times. Around each corner are a new obstacle and a new drama. I had the privilege of sharing that time with Jason and Jennifer. The three of us have very different lives now, but the bond of sharing the innocent turmoil of childhood is strong. Even now, living more than 2000 miles away, I draw strength from that bond and consider the two of them among my closest friends.
My brother, Jason works with computers in Groton, Connecticut and is doing very well (even if he has to spend most of his day working with Microsoft Windows). He has a beautiful wife, Amy who is like a sister to me. They have a beautiful daughter named Zoë.
My sister, Jennifer, is an occupational therapist and works at a retirement home in Mystic, Connecticut. Like me, she has seen some rough times, which culminated in a very bad, yet life changing car accident. She has pulled through all of that however, and those experiences have made her one of the most compassionate people I know. Her work in the retirement home is just one example of her compassionate heart. She and her husband Alden have the sweetest daughter, Haley.
My teenage years were anything but happy, from the ages twelve to eighteen, my life was filled with pain, rage and confusion. Drugs were one manifestation of my inward turmoil, and the strain on my family was considerable. The storm raged on for nearly five years, which to a young person might as well be an eternity. Some of this had to do with the normal issues of growing up and discovering one’s own identity, but not all of it. In addition to all the usual experiences that young people need to work through, I was also dealing with my sexuality.
Growing up queer is not easy, even today, but at the time there were no gay role models, and I didn’t know what to think about my sexuality. Part of the problem was that I didn’t feel gay . . .I liked women a lot and still do, but I couldn’t chase away the desire to connect with men too. All of the pressures that society puts on boys to be straight combined with the piles of guilt acquired from my Catholic upbringing made for a very tumultuous time.
In spite of all the acting-out, I can see that even then I was deeply committed to finding spiritual peace. I was simply looking in all the wrong places. Rather than embrace my pain, I had been taught that pain was something to run from. I thought I had found “God” in drugs and sex, but this only offered a temporary reprieve and ultimately resulted in greater suffering. On February 17, 1989, shortly after my 18th birthday, I hit my bottom. In a suicidal fit, I felt my ego begin to buckle under the weight of my guilt and shame. I had reached a point in which my only choices were life and death. I no longer had the luxury of walking through life like one of the living dead and I no longer had the will to live. Yet deep in my heart I knew that I wasn’t ready to die. It was in that moment that I first experienced the healing power of spiritual surrender. I had in that instant what is commonly called a spiritual rebirth, and nothing in my life has been the same since.
On that night, I found myself lying on my bed, crying hysterically and yet feeling peace— real peace— for the first time in my life. If an angel had appeared to me in that moment and told me what I would be asked to do from that point on, I probably would have picked up the razor blade again. I may have found peace, but courage and faith were virtues that would take years to develop. From that “dark night of the soul,” I have journeyed a great distance. I have found a number of tools to assist me in this journey and countless friends and teachers who have shown me that peace is a choice.
My first step on to the spiritual path came in the form of a twelve-step meeting. For me the twelve-steps were the missing keys that I had been looking for. This is not to say that I liked them. In fact, I resented the twelve steps for years. Their insistence on finding a higher power didn’t thrill me. After years of Catholic inspired guilt, I had little use for “God”. But I did recognize the importance of following the steps, so I did my best to find other approaches to spirituality. At the time, Mystic, Connecticut was not known for being spiritually progressive, so my choices were few. I decided to check out a yoga class.
It was quite a sight, me at eighteen sporting a bleach blond mullet surround by a room full of middle-aged housewives chanting “Om”. Ellie Brown, the teacher, was one of the most important figures in my life. In spite of the awkward poses and being the only person under forty, I kept coming back. I had found home. For me finding yoga was like love at first sight. To this day it is the centerpiece of my life because I know that without it, I would most certainly be dead.
My yoga practice quickly led me to seated meditation, which became my second love. My whole life had been filled with wild thoughts, and not the type of thoughts that lead to a well-ordered and joyful life. Seated meditation continues to bring me the peace and clarity I need to make all sorts of decisions that are inspired rather than fear based and ego driven.
About a year into my spiritual journey, I began to study A Course In Miracles (ACIM) and in time I even picked up the Bible (which in itself was nothing short of a miracle). While meditation and yoga helped me to quiet my mind, ACIM put me on a fast track to reprogramming the computer that was my brain. I felt as though my meditation and yoga practice was constantly sabotaged by my ego mind, but with the help of ACIM, I began to see things in a new way and my mind began to find healing on the deepest levels of my psyche. So for me, my path, is a three-step approach that involves yoga, seated meditation and ACIM.
Each of these three elements in my path helped me to let go of my preconceptions about who I was, and I began to see myself as a spiritual being, as an expression of the divine rather than a set of roles such as gender, social class, or occupation. More importantly, I began to see that same light in virtually everyone I met. This healing process continues daily.
During my senior year in high school, I began the oft-times difficult process of coming out and admitting to myself and others that I was queer. This went well at times and not so well at others. For the most part my family has been very accepting. Others have reacted with bitterness and hostility. For me, it has been a journey that has led from self-loathing to self-acceptance and ultimately to self-celebration! This was a difficult leap to make, and a leap that I hope many more queer men and woman will make as well. It is one thing to acknowledge and embrace who you are, it is yet another to see that who you are is the most valid and perfect thing you can be. For me being queer is not an illness or a defect that I need to accept or learn to live with. It is part of the unique and beautiful person that Spirit created me to be.
As my own personal healing began I felt drawn to help others find their path too. At first I thought the best way to do this would be through social work. I went to college and studied hard. I loved much of what I learned, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that modern social work was only a temporary solution. It was like the Buddhist proverb about rearranging the furniture in a burning house. No matter how many welfare checks get distributed or school hot lunches get served, the underlying pain and suffering that created the need in the first place would still be there. So I decided to move on to a different profession.
I studied massage therapy at the Bancroft School of Massage in Worchester, Massachusetts, and Yoga and Meditation at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lennox, Massachusetts. In addition to that formal training, I read and studied with a passion and attended lectures, workshops and retreats. I found a great home in San Francisco, where I do most of my teaching. I do travel throughout the country lecturing, teaching workshops and leading retreats. In 2002 I started leading Yoga Teacher Training programs, which have been wildly successful. Teaching others to teach yoga and then watching them go out into the world to share yoga in their own unique way has been beautiful and rewarding. It is a beautiful thing to see your work growing and thriving in the world.
Writing is also a big passion of mine. It is a great way to convey my thoughts and ideas and to go deep within myself. For me writing, be it articles, short stories, or my books, is a profound form of meditation that I have the honor of sharing with folks all over the world. I continue to write and have several new books in the works that I hope to have released soon.
In April of 2011, I took the biggest and most challenging step of my life and fulfilled my long-time goal of becoming a father. After years of trying, I was finally matched with the most beautiful little boy. His start in life was a very rough one, but now that we have found each other everything seems to be set right. In spite of dire predictions from many professionals, he is now walking and talking and proving to everyone he meets that miracles do happen. For my part, I realize that everything in my life—the joy, the pain, the spiritual practice, was all to prepare me for being a daddy. For as hard as it is to be a single father, greeting each morning with one of his ‘snuggle huggs’ makes the job seem easy. In his eyes I have found my dharma (life’s purpose) and his laughter is the fastest path I have found to samadahi (estasy).
When I was a child, I always hated when a TV show would end with, “To be continued. . . ” But I have come to realize that that is the nature of my life. The story is never ending and always unfolding. I have been blessed with the most amazing family, friends and teachers and I look forward to each new day knowing that if it’s my last day, I will leave this world without regret.