Chapter Two

New School.

Near the end of second grade, my mother told me we were changing schools. This was initially met with confusion and fear. A new school, new people, forced change…many unknowns. My first day of school at St. Peter’s Catholic was one for the record books. Things were way different and there would change.

My mother sensed a change in my attitude toward school during second grade. I never confided in her about Mrs. Page’s threat but Mom noticed I no longer looked forward to school. Ultimately, we switched schools because my mom wanted me to go to the public elementary which she had attended, but we went to the Catholic school because my grandparents (my dad’s parents) wanted their grandkids to go to the best school in the town, which they determined to be St. Peters. My mom grew tired of their constant pressure and yielded to the Catholics. Why the religious school? I think because it was expensive, had uniforms, the largest campus and biggest buildings of the private schools, certainly the biggest church. There was likely a little bit of the whole religious education bit too. Pop-pop was former navy, and of the last generation to fully flower and seed (to reach maturity) under the doctrine of right and wrong—the USA way or the Highway—and St. Peter’s clearly ran a tight ship when it came to rules of dress, conduct, and all that Catholic rigmarole, so perhaps there is a connection.

At St. Peter’s, all the grades (1 thru 8) lined up on the driveway outside the main building and waited till the bell rang to signal it was time to gather around the flag pole for the morning prayer and to recite the pledge of allegiance to the federal government. At the old Baptist school we sat at our desks and did these things and the bigger schoolwide gathering outside was different enough that I remember feeling excited. I also remember being anxious; new people, new class, new school, even new clothes—a uniform of blue shorts with a red polo shirt.

Standing there reciting the pledge gave my mind time to run wild with thoughts: Why did we have to change schools? Would I have friends? Will I like my teacher? How long will we be out here? Anxiety spiked, woe to the new third grader. Then, abruptly, a bird flying high above pooped and that poop splatted directly on my hand. A big, wet, white and gray loogy of poop. My kid-self thought this was a very, very, bad sign. I discreetly brushed the poop off into the grass with the edge of my backpack strap and stared straight ahead. The last thing I wanted was to be known as the bird-poop boy. Oh brother, right? Fortunately, no one ever knew. Nowadays, I view that bird pooping as Good Medicine. That bird was saving me from self-destructive thoughts. What better way to jolt an eight-year old out of self-destructive thoughts then to poop on his hand during the Pledge of Allegiance?

We made it into the classroom without further excitement and I sat down at my new desk. My newly sharpened pencil was glittering and a bit of excitement for the day crept back in. We all did introductions, I think there were three other new kids, but everyone else had been together since at least first grade. There was certainly some self-doubt that I would fit in but I remember feeling that everything was turning out just fine and had mostly forgotten about the bird poop bomb.

Early in the day, Mrs. Paiva called me up to her desk, she was calling each kid to her desk so I carefully placed my pencil in the groove at the front of desk before standing up. Once standing, it was suddenly quite intimidating to walk to her desk, I was instantly anxious about it. What it is about walking up to the teacher’s desk that feels so scary? Being up there, in front? Everyone is looking at you. I could trace the gaze of thirty other kids on my back. At third grade, I was already preconditioned to cultivate a false image and the pressure of it was astonishing. How do we help kids deal with this? Anyway, I liked Mrs. Paiva. She had good energy and was able to calm your nerves with a simple smile. A feeling that she would take care of me warmed me right up. But when I got back to my desk, my pencil was gone and the kids who sat around my desk were snickering. Great… I looked around and suspected it was the blond kid sitting next to my right, Jose. At a complete loss of what to do, I raised my hand and informed Mrs. Paiva that my pencil was missing from my desk. Jose quickly handed it over with a chuckle and informed everyone that he found it on the floor after it rolled off my desk. Sure Jose. Anyway, I decided to forget it and soon enough we would become friends. To put it bluntly, I wanted to be friends with him so he wouldn’t have a reason to pick on me.

That day I also became friends with Jeffrey. Now that I think about it, he was the most non-white kid in my class. Jeffrey was half Trinidadian and half white but he was just as dark-skinned as his dad. Something clicked between me and him. We became best friends. Throughout our friendship, I knew I could always count on him.

There were a few other boys in my class that I considered friends, though the only houses I ever slept over at were Jose’s and Jeffrey’s, but the best friend I’ve ever known is my younger brother. Good ol’ Richie was born 15 months after me and there is hardly a memory that does not feature his blond shaggy head and massive grin. We didn’t live in a neighborhood so we were each other’s only playmates. We grew up together. Though Richie and I were inseparable at home, at school we barely talked. It is easy to catch myself in a regret mood about this schoolyard separation and why regret that I believed it was uncool to talk to your siblings at school. In elementary school I was highly fearful of any reasons for people to pick on me and I was convinced that hanging out with my younger brother was ammunition. Furthermore, on some level I was envious of Richie’s outgoing personality and the ease with which he navigated school’s social groups. Richie always seemed so happy after school when we waited for our mom to pick us up. He was always engaged in conversation and was always the last of the three kids to get into the car. Meanwhile, I was always waiting silently and carefully watching for mom’s car to appear. Mom noticed these things.

St. Peters presented new challenges for social navigation. The new school was larger and more kids ate lunch together which meant more kids took recess together. This meant there was more opportunity for kids to bully others. One of my new friends, Michael, was constantly being bullied around. One day during lunch, I was doing my usual thing where I stood alone, not really talking to anyone, but observing everyone, when I noticed Michael being bullied by another boy in our class. This boy liked to prove how tough he was. Michael looked upset. He was being shoved around. I could feel his fear and I could feel the other boy’s thrill. I also noticed that the single recess referee was oblivious and I felt that it was up to me to stop it. So I started running. While I ran, I felt myself give in to the feeling of revenge. I felt myself run faster. I felt kids watching me. I felt the playground monitor, Mrs. P, notice my movement. No doubt she felt my intense energy. At the last moment, I leapt into the air and pulled my right leg up so that my right knee would impact with the boy’s left thigh. We crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs. He was crying. I was fighting back tears. Michael looked alarmed. Mrs. P wasn’t pleased. We were taken straight to the principal’s office where I explained that I did what I did because I didn’t believe the adults would intervene. That the adults never stop bullies. She said this was unacceptable behavior and that I must trust that the teachers know better than me. It was clear that the Principal was caught off guard by my comments and she reacted defensively—her tone was defiant and I left without feeling circumstances would positively change.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that I was usually more excited about seeing my dogs stretched out under the Live Oak tree back home then was for lunch recess. Sometime around 4th or 5th grade, my mom asked if I wanted to learn how to ride horses. Nowadays she explains that she wanted me to have a passion and was hoping it would give me something to look forward too—Mom was worried that I wasn’t stoked on school. She knew I preferred the company of animals to people. In fact, mom recently told me that it was common for me to get all worked up over another person’s actions if I deemed them “not right”. Probably why I preferred playing with the dogs. My first horse friends were Aunt Anna’s horses, Rhythm and Dancer. ‘Twas love at first sight. It was instantly clear that I could relate to horses and they to me. It was intuitive. I trusted them and they trusted me. When mom saw this, she took me to the stable down the road where they taught me to groom the horses and how to ride. My cousin Ashley started riding too and before long her dad built a barn and bought two horses, Blaze and Dixie, and 10 or so black angus cows. Uncle OJ was incredibly generous with his horses and barn; I remember being thrilled when he asked if I wanted to ride with him and his daughters to go buy the animals. I think that was one of the first trips I took with Uncle OJ, but there would be many more. It was soon time for a bigger stable and mom, always ready to support me and not entirely fond of the stable managers, started driving me once a week to a stable that was at least ninety minutes away. It was called Affinity Farms. Mom said they did competitions and that there would be more horses I could ride—though she knew by then I wanted my own horse friend. I remember being nervous. New people did that to me. But oh the Horses. And the Barn! Huge! And so many horses. I wanted to ride there!

Which brings me to an interesting tid bit about that first visit to Affinity Farms. Richie came along, and I guess Kayla did too. Riche and me enjoy a special relationship. We always played together but we also loved to antagonize each other. He nor I, ever tired of discovering new ways to get under each other’s skin. We were walking along through the center corridor of the barn, stalls lining both sides, when I came across an open stall. I just had to walk in and examine everything. This was the moment Richie was waiting for. No sooner did I reach the center of the stall when the door slammed shut behind me. A clink of metal and high pitched laughter told me that it was now locked. I spun around and demanded that he unlock it. He did not. Instead he laughed. I started to get mad. This was not the time! This wasn’t funny, I yelled. Richie laughed again. I stepped back to consider my options. There was no way Richie would let me out. I’d have to find my own way out, which meant climbing up and over the ten foot tall fence that separated the two of us. Luckily, the boards were spaced about two inches apart, tight, but plenty of space for my kid-sized fingers and shoes. A smile bloomed on my lips as I walked towards the fence where Richie was standing and still laughing. I felt victorious. Richie looked worried. Yet, I clearly underestimated his resourcefulness. The second my fingers reached out to grab the boards, Richie’s hand reached out and grabbed a leather riding crop that was leaning against the fence. Oh yes he did. Dear Richie began lashing out at my fingers with that crop. It hurt but there was no turning back now. I was going to do whatever it took to get over that fence and who knows what I would do when I caught up to Richie. When Richie realized I wasn’t going to give in to the finger whipping, he dropped that crop and ran right out the barn to where Mom was talking to the owner. Revenge would wait.

This was our childhood pattern. One of us always ran to mom. There was only one occasion where the battle didn’t stop at home base, aka mom.

That time we were in high school, Riche was in 11th grade, me in 12th. A year earlier, our dad introduced us to a game called paintball. It was the new craze. Everyone wanted to play paintball. You ran around and shot each other. Often, the balls traveled hundreds of feet per second and left bruises. We loved it. It was terrifying and thrilling. The adrenaline rushes were incredibly addictive. Sneaking around. Crawling on your belly through the woods, fully aware that at any point the world around you could explode into a fury of paintballs. Knowing that at any moment you could sneak up on someone and put a single paint ball square into their back. We were playing war and we were completely unaware of the harm this game was inflicting on our psyche and nervous systems.

Every weekend was paintball. Me, Richie, dad, CJ (our grandpa), John, Rob, and Uncle Scott were the main crew but others would come and go. Our course was giant dirt hill left over from the pond Uncle Scott dug out. There were bunkers dug into the top, barriers to hide behind, old barrels or pieces of fence. All of us were addicted to it. But tempers would flare. This was war, remember? Or was it a game?

Anyway, Richie and I were the main instigators and energy behind the course, whether or not we had company. Just the two of us would go out there and entertain ourselves. If we had money for paintballs, then great, but if not, we threw compacted balls of dirt. It was while playing dirt bomb wars that the home base rule was broken. I was standing atop the dirt hill, which was at least ten feet tall with steep sides, maybe 85 degrees. Richie stood beneath me at grass level. I Found a big one. It took two hands and a over head throw to launch this sucker. He turned to run but it was too late. The dirt bomb connected wit his right calf and he face planted into the earth. Something told me to run. So I ran. I sprinted the entire way home. Well aware of the boiling rage that was consuming my brother. Mom was my only chance. I stood behind her, clutching at her waist, smiling victorious. Then I saw the paintball gun in his hands. Mom yelled in surprise. Richie fired two shots. One exploded on my shirt and the other missed. Mom was pissed. This is also an example of the damage paintball caused to our psyche. I was willing to hide behind my mom, knowing that there was a good chance she would be shot by a paintball, and Richie was willing to hit her to get to me. Paintball was glorifying reactive aggression at the expense of active compassion.

There was, however, a precedent to paintball. Before we had guns, we had go karts and sour orange trees. This game was simple. If you were driving a go kart, your objective was to avoid being hit by oranges thrown by whomever was on foot, whose objective was to throw oranges at whomever drove a go kart. This was often very painful and nearly always resulted in shouting matches and heated tempers—exactly like paintball. Once, I hit my brother in the groin and he responded by attempting to run me over. Only a last second vertical leap saved me from being mortally wounded, if not killed. You’d think this was a warning we’d heed, but no authority figures in our lives we prepared to teach mindfulness in the face of society’s unrelenting pressure to shoot first and ask questions later. Mom would tell us not to play orange wars, and she didn’t like paintball either. But Dad liked paintball. And Mom was losing out to the strength of a corrupt USA culture which celebrated violence. Many of the moments in which I threw an orange were imbued with the angst and frustration, the sense of separation, which came from school. This is a pattern which existed during the dodge ball and war ball games on the playground. These were the few group games I actively sought to participate in. In dodge ball, one person stood within a circle of 10-15 throwers—I liked being the dodger because it was truly satisfying to avoid the balls. It felt like I was avoiding bullies. War ball was different. There were two teams of around 20 kids facing each other across a dividing line. Nearly everyone looked at war ball as a way to inflict pain. It speaks volumes of the intense popularity of these two games at my school. War ball in particular, was perhaps the most widely favored group game on the playground. At our school, we used basketballs and there was at least one occasion where a boy’s head was split open. Everyone knew it was no accident. The boy, Jose, who kicked the ball was intending to hurt to other and kicked it with his full strength. He feigned innocence and though war ball was suspended, it soon returned. Tempers would flair during these games. Just like paintball and orange wars.

Mind you, all this was occurring at a private Catholic Preparatory school, with mandatory religion classes and weekly church-service. Amazingly, the kids who most often bullied others were also the kids who wanted to be altar servers. Granted we were all encouraged to participate in Mass, from ushers, to choir, to reading, to serving, but the altar server jobs were highly prized and the popular/bully kids would hold grudges against anyone if they thought you were encroaching on their turf.

Mom says I immediately joined the choir when we started at St. Peters School. She says I was excited to sing and that it was clear I loved it. I struggled for years to pull any memories of this. It was if a black shadow enveloped all images of the choir section. It was only during the writing of this book that I remembered yes, I did love singing in the choir. Singing felt good. But it wasn’t cool to sing in the choir and those kids who did sing were made fun. Those kids did their best to rob the choir of the joy and I soon succumbed to the pressure.

Strangely, it was cool to be an altar server and because I so desperately wanted people to like me, which I now take to mean treated as an equal, I asked about serving. Nope, you have to be a Catholic. Episcopalians cannot be an altar server in a Catholic church. This was in 5th grade, also the age that kids could choose to convert to Catholicism. So I pondered this for awhile. Should I convert so I could participate in Mass and be one of those altar servers? Will people like me then? If I’m up there in the corner behind the altar, up there with the popular kids, would I then be popular too? During my deliberations, I remembered that non-Catholics have to pay significantly more in tuition. If I converted, my parents wouldn’t have to pay so much. This appealed to me. I knew that God was God, no matter the church, and I felt it was wrong to force people to pay more just ‘cause they go to different church. If I converted, then I could be an altar server, and save my parents some money. A win win. I converted, though I told the priest it was because I agreed that Catholicism was better than Episcopalian—I figured he wouldn’t agree with my money saving tactics. Afterwards, a little voice in my consciousness was questioning the attitude of the priest when he asked why I wanted to convert. It felt a bit like I was being accused of subversion. This set off a chain reaction that led me to notice all the other times, mostly in the mandatory religion classes, that the Catholic religion seemed…off. For example, during a discussion on other religions—such as Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism—the teacher made a declaration that even though these other people mean well and claim to believe in God, they’re mistaken and not true Christians. This felt cruel. If God is God, how can she say that other religions are wrong? Or that they’re not as true as Catholicism? I was slowly becoming aware that something was weird about religion. But that didn’t stop me from looking forward to middle school when I could altar serve and sit up there with the popular kids.

Wanting to altar serve coincided with choosing to quit riding. Yes, riding was amazing. I loved every minute of it and was nearly always begging for more and longer lessons. Soon I was begging to go straight from school to the barn, no going home first. The friendship, the partnership, that I experienced with the horses was incredibly energizing and calming all at once. Then one day I decided to change into my riding clothes after school—so excited was I to ride. Because I rode English, my pants were tight like yoga pants and my boots were actually women’s and sported a bit of leather lacey-fringe. You might guess that it never occurred to me that kids would point and make fun of me for my outfit. My fragile ego buckled. Despite those verbal attacks, my passion for riding held strong, right up till an announcer in a dressage competition mistook me for a girl. The combination of schoolyard peers rejecting me for riding and the announcer’s mistake sapped the last bit of self-confidence and I abruptly told mom that I no longer wanted to ride at Affinity.

Mom tried hard to support me. When Aunt Kay asked if I would like to have Caliber, mom said Yes! Caliber and I enjoyed an amazingly strong soul connection. Early in our relationship, before he was officially “my” horse, Caliber was attacked by one of OJ’s dogs. The dog left foot long gashes in his hide—it looked like Caliber was attacked by a panther. It was as if a magnet was pulling me to spend time with him. I was out there all the time speaking with him. Our bond was deep. At one point who moved him out to my Aunt Anna’s barn where I’d visit every morning before school to feed him. So strong in fact that neither my mom nor I were inclined to “Break” him. The only horse trainers we knew, trained rather roughly. Their methods were one of domination and not compassion. The word commonly used to train a horse was “Breaking in”. That speaks enough of the methods we were exposed to. We did invite one lady out who tried but failed to get through to him. We eventually sold him. We simply didn’t know how to handle two-year-old stallion. Afterwards, I went into a bit of a depression. What I find fascinating is that it wasn’t till I wrote this paragraph and my mother commented on it, that I was able to dig up more complete memories of this era. For example, in the first version I did not remember that Caliber first belonged to OJ. I did not even remember his time at my Aunts. Once my mom reminded me, or corrected me, images began to trickle in. Was I blocking these memories?

The first time I lied to a teacher was caused by my intense desire to do anything to be liked by these popular kids. In seventh grade end we took a field trip, to celebrate the closing school year, to Sea World Orlando. I was extra excited for this trip because my mom would be chaperoning—surprising? Mom was always a safe zone for me. She understands me better than anyone and during middle school, even though I often pretended to be annoyed by her care and curiosity into my life, I secretly yearned for her daily question—how was school today? Also, a lot of my classmates really liked my mom, so I would be sort of popular that day. The day was going great till the last hour or so when myself and four of the popular kids asked if we could go on one more ride. We promised to be at the exit gate by the agreed departure time. Our teacher was not inclined to let us wander the park solo, but because I—the good student—was with the four others, she relented. After the ride however, the others wanted to explore the nearby playground. There, we saw a child crying. The five of us went over to him and learned he couldn’t find his father. While we were talking to him, his dad found him and thanked us for trying to console his boy. I checked my watch and saw we would have just enough time to make it back to the gate but my friends had a different plan. They declared we would all be going to take one last look at Shamu, on the other side of the park and far from the exit. “Don’t you want to hang with us?” They inquired of me, not so lovingly. “We can’t go unless you come too, and besides, it’s not cool to rat us out.”

One of the girls, a daughter of another teacher at our school, told us we would all need to agree on a story. She said we would be questioned, probably individually, and we would have to all say the same thing or we would all be in trouble. Our story was that we spent the entire time helping the little boy find his dad. Apparently, the others sensed my discomfort at lying and in unison they stopped walking and turned toward me. They pressured me into agreeing to tell the lie. Mostly they feigned we’re all old friends and suckered me right into their sticky web.        

We were an hour late to the exit. Our teacher was not impressed. My mom was not either. When I was questioned, when I lied, I felt terrible. It felt like I was being cut open from my heart to my gut. I was anxious. Terrified. But I also wanted the others to like me. The teacher believed us, but only because she did not think I was capable of lying. My mother knew though. She knew I lied. I couldn’t bear to lie to her, so later that night I told her the truth. That was also the last seventh grade field trip to Sea World. Richie complained that I ruined all the fun for his future seventh grade experience.

This begs a discussion on what it means to be popular, at least in my childhood. When I pause to consider the most common traits shared by the most popular kids throughout elementary to high school…it is a truly depressing list. The most popular kids were often the ones who spoke the most. Not necessarily via answering teacher-posed questions during class, quite the opposite, those kids were often not popular, but rather the kids who spoke the most when the teacher was speaking or when it was clear that we were not to talk. They also fostered an air of superiority. Constantly commenting on the dress of others—since we wore uniforms, it was mostly on the style of someone’s shoes or how new the uniform clothing was. The fashion sense of a haircut. They were also the most likely to bully another. This bullying was most often in the form of condescending chatter and the incredibly painful, effective method of pointing and laughing. The top criteria for the most popular kids was the willingness of the student to laugh or mock the teacher—in front of the teacher and with the teacher fully aware of the action. Once, the majority of my eighth grade class openly mocked the music teacher until the gentleman broke down and cried. I clearly remember a feeling of intense shame, embarrassment, and fear as he exited the room. That was only five minutes into class. The rest of us so-called unpopular kids were the ones who intuitively felt that it was deeply wrong to bully others, that it was disrespectful to speak while the teacher was talking, and that it was mean to mock a teacher. Unfortunately, most of us were also afraid that if we spoke up to protect each other, we would become the focus of the negative attention. This specter was often sufficient to quiet us down and accept the cruelty—especially after I was disciplined on the playground for knocking the bully to the ground. A few times, I tried to intervene verbally, but cowered once I became the focus of attention. Fear won out.

There was one moment, in 8th grade, in which I gave in to the evil voice and laughed along with everyone else as the regular bullies were verbally harassing one of our classmates. This moment haunted me for years afterwards. There was boy in my class with only one lung. He seemed to have a few other minor physical ailments but he was also one of the brightest students in the school and always held a joke at the ready. There was rarely a day that someone did not point and laugh at him. I liked Sam. He was only ever friendly, never did he speak ill of anyone. He was incredibly outgoing and amazingly creative. He was quick to laugh and he laughed good and hard and when he laughed he nearly always broke into a wheezing cough which turned his face bright red. The popular kids zeroed in on him. This harassment was a constant in Sam’s school life from at least third grade, when I joined the class, through eighth grade. Publicly, Sam held up well, till one day at the lunch table. All I remember was that someone started poking fun at Sam for being “sick”. Soon, nearly everyone was laughing and pointing at him. At some point, caught up in the furor, and wanting to be popular, I found myself laughing. Sam was in tears. Suddenly, his mom appeared behind him (she was cooking lunch for us that day). She was crying, but she managed to unleash a punishing lecture on cruelty to our class that sent my gut into twists and left me feeling dirty. I am grateful for her efforts to make us feel the way her son felt. That feeling has stuck with me ever since as a reminder of the perils of wanting to be liked.

                wanting to be liked is wanting to be an image. let go of the image and be who you are.

This brings me to piano. My mom encouraged me to play piano. It was pretty awesome. You push these keys in and beautiful sounds fill the air. I displayed a keen interest in learning how to play. Mom started finding me piano teachers. One of these teachers told me it was time to play a recital. Just me and a piano in big auditorium with stadium style seating. Though I played plenty of church tunes, especially Christmas songs, I picked a very simple piece out of my instruction book. The teacher stressed the importance of memorizing the piece. During the recital, I forgot the ending and, in a flash, made up my own. It felt really good, yet I was worried people would know. Mom said no one could tell. The teacher told me to practice harder. I quit taking lessons soon after. Was there a battle of images at play here? The idea that you have to stick to the prescribed tune versus improvising? Clearly, it was ok that I made up my own ending, especially since I forgot the original, so why was I worried. In my mind, I failed. The stress surrounding the possibly of future recitals—and future so-called failures—became the focal point for distancing myself from playing piano. It was a distance that took around 15 years to come back ‘round to when I lived with a classical guitarist who rekindled my love of playing music. Nowadays, I play the flute and exclusively improvise. I’m simply not interested in reading someone else’s music when it comes to expressing myself through the flute. When I play the flute, I feel in synch with myself and with the cosmos.

Yogi Bhajan said that there is only one you in existence. In all of creation, in all the billions of universes, there is only one you. Yet, if you spend your life on Earth not being you—mirroring images and pretending to be what you are not—then when you Die, it is as if you never existed.

This message certainly brings forth fresh realizations that my early school years—maybe even all my school years—were spent chasing images and living in fear of expressing myself—fear that myself was not an approved image. I’m not saying every moment whilst at school, but many of them. Because if you are afraid to raise your hand in class because you don’t want to be see as a know-it-all, so you never raise your hand, were you ever in class? I’m inclined to say no, you weren’t there. Fortunately, home was a safe place where I felt comfortable to be me. School though was a constant struggle. This means that for most of my early life I did not even exist. Think I am being dramatic? I often kept to myself and shied from speaking with people because I feared being judged for saying something not cool, or simply not knowing what would happen. I quit riding horses, an activity that I deeply loved, because I feared being judged. I quit the choir. I quit piano. And as you shall see in the next chapter, these images affected my involvement in sports.

in which case, let us lose all which is not truly ours, and let what is thine shine forth.

Introduction

Autobiography of a 21st Century Yogi

Introduction

An autobiography is about a person’s life, right? We can all agree on that. This autobiography is my life’s story, from just before I was born to around my 32nd solar revolution (or birthday). But let us take it another step. A life story is about what a person did. Or is it? A saying goes: we are human beings, not human doings. The distinction is significant. A person can do. A person cannot do. Or we can just be here. We can be Present. This may seem like a minor scuffle over semantics, but this distinction is deep. Many sage-warrior have declared that what a person does, what a person thinks, how they perceive, and what they believe…all that is content. It is not who the person is. You can’t point to a single event and declare that event is he. Human Beings are constantly changing. We have to. In order to thrive, we push our boundaries to live and learn. An autobiography then, has the potential to be more than a laundry list of deeds. An autobiography can be a story of a person’s Presence.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Our ability to be present depends on our belief structure which in turn is shaped by how we perceive. I can’t be fully present in a conversation if I don’t believe that it is worth my time to listen to anyone and whether or not I believe that I ought to listen will depend on whether or not I perceive other people to be worth listening to. Any effort to paint a self portrait will need to uncover key events that influenced how I perceive the universe, how those perceptions influence my belief structure, and how I became aware of all of this.

A mentor and friend of mine, from my days whitewater rafting the Chattooga River, is fond of saying that we are all trees growing tall. As we grow tall, our point of view changes. A sapling, deep within a thicket, may believe she is surrounded by impenetrable forest but when that same sapling grows to be a towering tree, she easily sees that the river is only a short walk and that there is a meadow nearby. The sapling’s perception changed as she grew. Her world looked mighty different at fifty feet then five feet.

Life is hard. Life is simple. Which is it? Whichever adjective you choose to describe life depends on your perception. How you perceive a given moment. In other words, how your belief system treats a given moment. Your perception generates feelings which create your mood, which fuels your perception, which generates feelings that create your mood… See where I’m going with this? It is a circle, or wheel, going ‘round and ‘round into infinity. But what determines our beliefs? What causes a person to believe life is easy or life is great versus life sucks and isn’t life so unfair? Everything and nothing! That is, there is no “right” answer just as there is no “wrong” answer because both of those are subject to a perception. As far as God-the cosmic spirit-- is concerned, there is only that which leads back to God. And we Modern Humans, all social media’d and advertised up, are under constant bombardment by perceptions that have little to do with the pursuit of true happiness. These capitalist perceptions are looking to influence our beliefs into believing there is a right and a wrong. That way, we can be easily influenced into buying goods or services that build up Images—aka keeping up with the Jones’—we can be influenced into hating other people, hating other nations, supporting wars, and consuming and abusing the Earth who is our ever-gracious Mother. Clearly, this is often to our detriment as a cohesive family, because truly, all us folks are here on Earth together and therefore we are all members of the Human Family.

“…all members of the human family.”

The above statement does not unilaterally describe my core belief from birth to now, June 2, 2018. In fact, there are probably few areas where my core beliefs have not shifted around. These discrepancies are largely responsible for why I’m writing this story. I wanted, I needed, to understand how it is that a person’s beliefs can change. I wanted to know what beliefs even are. Most importantly, I wanted to trace my life’s path to figure out where it is that I forget what it is to just Be myself. I feel that the more aware I become of my own life then the more aware I will become of everyone else. And when I say everyone else, I also include our plant, animal, insect, and fish friends. Everyone equals all. This is the heart of yoga. This is essence of spirituality. It is the bedrock of humanity.

So my friend, I invite you to join me, Francis Alexander Perryman Jr (aka Alex, Pman, TA, and Al), in the unfolding growth of my Presence from the womb and beyond, with a little socio and politico commentary here and there because what are we if not products of our culture and times? Whether we like it or not, be it sticking with the status quo or seeking change, we are just as much a part of society as we are not. Furthermore, I believe each of us chose, to incarnate on Earth at this moment for specific reasons, namely to Grow.

Before we go any further, let me be straight up. The title of this book does not imply that, through years and years of enthusiastic self-disciplined meditation, I have reached the mythical level of awareness (read:enlightenment) of fabled yogic masters like the Buddah, Merlin, or Moses. Though that would be groovy, I don’t feel it matters. Heck, my thoughts can be as bullheaded and crazy as anyone’s. Just ask my partner. What I do feel matters, is that I believe in myself—that I believe in my own powers—that I know that no matter the direction traveled, all directions lead to infinity—all directions lead to Good—and  likewise for you—I believe you and every other being exists to be Good. We are all traveling along our very own and exceptionally unique path towards knowing who we are. That path, though at times windy and dark and light and everything in between, ultimately leads to the essence of creation and that essence is infinitely Good. Yogi Masters like Jesus of Nazareth, Yogi Bhajan, and Black Elk preached to know thyself, to “Be still and know that I am God”.

Did I just say Jesus was a Yogi? Yep, sure did. The word Yoga means to unite with the infinite consciousness and Jesus preached that the Holy Spirit—the infinite consciousness—is within us all and that true happiness—the kingdom of God within—lies in realizing that truth. The truth being that we are all connected. We are not separate beings living close together but one vast Spirit of interconnectedness. It is said that when we truly realize our connection to Source, our attachment to our Content falls away to uncover our True Name (or true identity).

therefore, if you have set an intention to know your true identity, then you are a modern yogi.

For these pages, my intention, is to bring you into my sandals (I don’t like wearing shoes) so you can experience the moments that have nudged me along to embracing this belief. Why? Because it feels good to share our stories with one another—especially those stories that tell the tale of believing in God, the Cosmic Spirit. After all, folks have been doing it forever. And because from time to time in my life I have come across certain books that have helped me become Aware…and the moment has come for me to give back.

You know what? It is downright scary to consider sharing my life with you. I can feel part of my ego rebelling at the idea. A great writer really throws it all out on the line. But that’s also the sort of thing that fear clings too. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, fear is always gonna be there, just don’t let fear in the driver seat, keep fear sitting passenger [heavily paraphrased]. So far, my journey on this Earth plane has been...a lot of things.  There are many things I have sought to forget, only to find that the effort to forget makes them harder to ignore. There are moments I am not proud of. There are things I have done for which, until recently, I was ashamed for. There are memories I cherish. But in order to grow we must embrace--we must love unconditionally--all that we are, all that we have done, and all that we will be.

Because forgetting, ignoring, pride, shame, and even cherishing are all thoughts. That means they are ultimately all forms of doing. And remember, we are human beings, not human doings. We are here to Be Present and to realize the Kingdom of God within.

As I write this, that famous statue of the thinking man pops into my head. You know the one I am talking about. That guy sitting on a rock, hunched over, his chin pressed into the hard knuckles of his fist...he is clearly thinking. He also looks absolutely miserable. That’s what happens when we get too caught up in doing and forget to be present.

Someone says “good morning!” and you think, “but rain is forecasted and I’ll have to drive my car in the rain but I need to replace the tires on my car because they’re worn down but I haven’t the time to do so because I’m working overtime to pay for the new television and now I’ll have to drive slow in the rain but I hate driving slow and I hate the rain and if God loved me then he wouldn’t let it rain and my tires would never go bald but how can I say that? What kind of complainer am I? What a wretched person I am…” 

So…

let us be present and not thinking about what we are going to say when it is our turn to talk because

our thoughts are our worse critic and

excessive thinking removes us from the Moment which ultimately leads to a feeling of separateness—the definition of sin—

but

by accepting our actions, feelings, and thoughts, we create the space to anchor ourselves in the present moment and become who we truly are

It feels freeing to embrace my path and accept the challenge to share it. But where to start? Childhood seems an obvious choice but which memories to share takes a bit more effort to feel out. But then there are all these other stories and tidbits… Best to relax and breathe deep. See what pops into my head.

 

 

Chapter One

Autobiography of a 21st Century Yogi

Chapter One

closing my eyes…removing my hands from the keyboard to rest them on my lap…breathing deeply…breathing slowly…now breathing into my heart center…

I find myself sitting in my second grade classroom. The girl to my right holds a folded piece of paper and glances furtively between the paper note, to me, and to the girl sitting to my left. She mouths the question “will you?” as her hand hovers in the space between our desks. A flash of heat flushes through my face. My eyes flit between the teacher, Mrs. Page, and the folded paper. My mind entertains the possibilities: I pass the note between the girls and Mrs. Page doesn’t notice and the girls thank me and maybe I even become popular; I pass the note and Mrs. Page sees me, I get singled out in front of the class and receives who knows what kind of shameful and embarrassing punishment causing the whole class to laugh at me; or I decline passing the note to avoid any unwanted attention and the girls hold it against me—telling our classmates that I was too scared to pass the note and bringing further embarrassment and shame. My arm darts out to pluck the note from her outstretched hand.

 “Mr. Perryman!”

Mrs. Page’s voice rings accusingly through the air. Every head turns towards me in a frightening display of synchronicity and with an array of facial expressions. Some of my classmates wear looks of amusement; many with looks of confusion and the ones nearest me look concerned. My friend Tyler holds is forehead in empathy. He too is a shy one. The very air in the classroom tenses and I can feel in my very bones the vibrations from Mrs. Page’s heavy footsteps as she approaches my desk, her right arm stretches towards me as she aims her index finger at my face. My breathing becomes fast and shallow and my face impossibly hot. I’m sure my shoulders hunch forward while my butt slides forward in my chair in an attempt to become as small as possible. Anything to make it harder for people to see me—to see whatever punishment I would receive for the crime of note passing.

“Give me that note.”

I hand it over and stare at my desk and work to ignore the feeling of so many pairs of eyes boring into my body. The worse was happening. So much attention. And of the worse kind. It wasn’t even my note! What does the note say! Am I going to be in trouble for that? What is Mrs. Page going to say? What will my mom say? Have I let her down? The unknowns were terrifying. Why were they terrifying?

Of her three kids, my mother says I was the quiet one. Hardly said a word to anyone till I was three years old and then I spoke whole sentences. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say, on the contrary, I remember my mind moving at starlight speeds as it considered my expansive environment. So fast was the racing of my thoughts that I developed a stutter in early childhood. My mouth couldn’t keep up with my thoughts and my thoughts didn’t want to slow down. I’d speak half of a sentence before my brain jumped to the next thought, leaving my tongue to stutter out wherever my brain left it. Once this happened it was nearly hopeless to pick up where I left off. In the beginning, I didn’t think this was strange or out of the ordinary. It simply was. I tried to slow my thoughts down but I struggled to and often the thoughts moved faster. The stutter became more than just a mild challenge when I began speaking to more adults, often relatives, and realized that they felt embarrassed for me, and what was once innocent now wore the cloth of shame. Their emotion gave me an emotion to cling to. It was a cue—I feel embarrassed for your stutter, don’t you? Later, classmates would laugh or snicker, perhaps because of greater social cueing but also because I felt embarrassed (because of the way adults reacted, I began to react the same). Circles.

The opposite of hope, fear is merely a harmful perception of a given moment which means that fears do not exist unless we perceive them to be

My childhood self reacted to the stuttering by rationalizing I ought to shy from conversations with anyone. If I didn’t speak, then I couldn’t stutter. I could stay in my thoughts and be Safe from potential embarrassment and Safe from those feelings that I did not fully comprehend. My mind gave into a fear of attention, because attention might require me to speak and I might stutter.

Once, my mom sent me to a speech therapist, so concerned was she for my stutter, and likely concerned for how shy I had become, but the speech therapist did not help, if anything, the visits gave my mind more ammunition to use as it rationalized why conversing was a gamble.

So I was certainly concerned that I may stutter during any explanation of my sinister note passing.

“Mr.Perryman, you do know that there is no note passing in my class?” She asks rhetorically. The entire class hanging on her southern drawl.
“Yes. Mrs. Page.”
“Do you know what happens when kids get caught passing notes?”
“No.” I replied hesitatingly
“No…What?”
“No. Mrs. Page” A few snickers echo through the classroom. My body shifts into full flight mode. Sweat beads in my armpits, behind my knees, and anywhere else skin touches skin.
“You know all those black kids you see around town?” Mrs. Page asks, now gently, feigning genuine concern with my answer. The change of tone startles me but the question brings confusion. Have I seen black kids? Sure, but I don’t really know any. Sometimes I’ve played with them at the Freedom Playground (a public park). But there aren’t any in my class. Never have been. What do black kids have to do with passing notes? This was completely unknown to me. The classroom was now dead quiet.
“Yes. Mrs Page?” What else could I say?
“Have you seen how they all have big noses? Each one of those kids was in my class and they all misbehaved. When kids misbehave in my class, I reach over and grab them by the nose, like this, (she sticks her index and middle fingers deep into her nostrils and yanks upward with dramatic flourish, her elbow high above her head) and I lift them into the air and toss them right out of my class (her hand and arm now making a flinging motion, dripping with condescension, toward the classroom door. Now you don’t want that to happen to you, do you? I promise you it is quite painful and you’ll have that big nose for the rest of your life.”

“N-n-o Mrs. Page.” Again, what else was there to say? A feeling of shame floods my limbs. Confusion too. Yet, she pays no mind to the emotions spinning me around and returns to teaching as if she was merely remarking on the weather.

Heavy moment for a seven year old.

Granted, I did not understand the gravity of her threat nor the culture beneath it. In second grade, I did not know what racism was. She might have as well been speaking a foreign language. But her tone, that resonated deep. My mother always told me we are all the same and we can do anything we want to do. I cannot even remember the first time I saw a non-Caucasian so it must not have been a big deal. Yet, something clicked deep inside of me. Though my mind did not understand the weight of her words, my heart told me her words carried a separation that was meant to inflict pain.

it was my first conscious encounter with authority-figure cruelty and it left me feeling inferior.

This begs another important point:

Your tone carries feeling.

P.S. It’s how we most readily communicate with animals, like our dog friends.

My child-self did not understand the swirling emotions deep within my chest and it left me feeling inferior. Perhaps because she seemed so sure of herself, and I was so confused, that it caused me to feel less than. My mind instructed me to resent her and I quickly obliged.

After school, in the car ride home, my heart begged me to tell my mom what happened. But my mind pleaded no. What will mom say? She might blame me! What if Mrs. Page punishes me because I told my mom? That feeling of wrongness permeated my being, screaming to be let out, but in the end my mind won out. I kept my mouth shut. Of course my mother could tell I was struggling with something but, when she asked me how school was, I lied and mumbled “it was ok,” before clamming back up.

Eventually, I figured out what racism and bigotry are. Perhaps Mrs. Page never meant any harm by her comment classroom threat, perhaps she never thought it to be a threat, but then what does that say about our culture? That a grade school teacher would use racism to scare a child into fitting her perception of classroom behavior? Afterwards, she never asked how I felt, so I must assume she thought the whole ordeal was a non-event.

But why this memory is important and how this memory has most influenced my life, is the affect it has had on my personal empathy for my ancestors, family, and friends, because once I learned the cultural implications of her threat I compared all instances of racist speech and intent to the feeling of inferiority I felt in that classroom. For nearly my whole life I have judged my ancestors, friends, and family, for even the tiniest hint of bigotry and racism. There was no mercy.

Often I took it further. If I thought you were picking on someone, because they were dorky, fat, or shy, I resented you. I doubt anyone ever guessed this was going on inside my head. Unfortunately for me, my mood darkened every time I filed away one of these mental judgments, because a thought carries energy--a thought will always carry energy--just like electric current, and the energy created by a thought affects both the creator and the receiver. So every time I mentally judged someone for perceived bigotry, not only did I shoot them with a burst of low-vibration energy, but I shot myself as well. This black energy built up like so much crud. To top it off, because I feared sharing that 2nd grade memory, I never gave the memory a fair chance to teach me it’s truth and the wall of resistance I erected to shut it deep inside went a step further and extended that wall of resistance between my mind and my heart.

our minds do this to us. our mind wants to be in charge.

But we have to remember that we are not our mind. Our mind exists for our benefit. It is akin to a tool. We use the tool, but the tool ought not to use us. This wall of resistance was the first one my mind erected but, and perhaps because “what’s one when you can have two,” it would not be the last. These walls like to band together, like interlocking puzzle pieces of a great Berlin-esque wall.

walls of resistance always create separation between our heart and mind and our-self and others.

This wall reduced the communication between my heart and my mind, and because these two unique organs are complementary and part of a holistic organ system, any disruption creates havoc over harmony. Soon after, I began to resent anyone I perceived to be acting with negative intent, regardless of whether or not that individual was aware of how their actions were being received. These judgments naturally made me want to separate myself from my peers. I did not want to join conversations because I didn’t want to be disappointed when people made fun of someone. I wanted to like everyone and I wanted to be friendly but I could not understand why my peers spent most of their time belittling each other. Seriously, it seemed all the “popular” kids wanted to do was pick on each other and share jokes about the kids they deemed weren’t “popular.” Books and pages became my conversation. I eagerly read stories of light versus dark, especially science fiction novels that featured a good hero versus all the bad. Heck, my Star Wars book collection grew to over seventy books between fifth and twelfth grade.

it is curious how these Dominos touch, fall, and string together.

High school was spent in books and online computer games where I could escape into perceived anonymity and avoid the possibility of attention. But now this habit of avoidance had become a cycle unto itself. By avoiding social gatherings, I became fearful of them, and stuck my head deeper into my books and games. I began to think that no one talked about anything worth talking about, that all my peers’ conversation were silly and dumb. It became easier to rationalize why I kept to myself—I was just different and that was that.

But wait, you ask, do I really believe that Mrs. Page is responsible for my behavior? No. I believe my resistance to fully experience the event’s emotion is responsible for my behavior. There was a lesson to be learned, but I was afraid to learn it. Perhaps it wasn’t the Best time to learn it?

There is one more memory around this period of my life which bears mention because my inability to reconcile the event’s emotions affected me for years and was of a similar feel. It was the first time I kissed a girl.

My brother Richie and sister Kayla, and me would often have a babysitter for a few hours in the afternoon when our mom had obligations with the various community service organizations she volunteered for. One of the girls would bring her younger sister, who happened to be in my class. This was either first or second grade. One day her sister, my brother, and me were playing with lego’s, building little lego cities, when we decided to play-act Mario Brothers. At one point we realized that someone had to kiss the princess, and since I was Mario, it was agreed it should be me. I remember planting one quick peck on her lips and going right back to fighting imaginary monsters with my brother. Completely oblivious to her perception of the moment. The next day at recess, several of my classmates came over and started laughing at me. Accusing me of kissing a girl, something about getting cooties, and expressing general disbelief that I would do such a thing. It was the first time any of my peers made fun of me. My face turned hot and I felt hurt inside. They felt this and upped their antagonism. Why were my classmates pointing fingers and laughing at me? She’s a girl, not a monster. It was just a play-kiss! I felt inferior. I felt they were erecting a wall between us, that they were separating me from them. Unaware she was nearby and watching, I jumped to deny that I kissed her. My thoughts told me to do anything to get them to stop shaming me. But I felt worse once I heard the sound of crying behind me. She was standing just a few feet away. My denial created a separation between her and me.

Was this what friends did? I thought long and hard about this and before long my thoughts convinced me that I should be wary of initiating any conversation or friendship with any girl. This conclusion did not feel good, but who was I to argue with my own thoughts? For the next few years I feared being friends with a girl would lead to negative attention from my peers.

This began to change in middle school. There was a girl, Paloma, who, on Valentines Day, always gave me a big fancy Valentine card whereas everyone else got a smaller paper note. She was the prettiest girl my class. So I started giving her a fancy card. I even began talking to her. My mom was thrilled. I began to feel freer than I ever felt since before first grade. There was a problem though. My friend Jose also liked her.

Jose and I were best friends. We met in third grade and became quick friends. We both loved playing soccer. Jose was one of two kids I befriended at St. Peters who house’s I regularly slept over at. We’d ride bicycles around his neighborhood and swim around the lake and jump of off our friend’s two story dockhouse smack into the lily pads. It was epic.

Eventually, I suspect this girl told her friends that she liked me and the word got around. When he heard this, for the first time in our friendship, he began picking on me; Calling me names, laughing and cracking jokes at my expenses, often from a distance but close enough that I could hear and always within a group of our classmates. It hurt me deeply. Nowadays, I can only laugh at the whole situation, but back then…I pretended not to like the girl anymore and avoided talking with her. I sensed that she was hurt and confused but I’d do anything to avoid being picked on. Anything to avoid feeling inferior. One day, I saw her and him holding hands at the playground. I felt like the world was upside down. Negative thinking powered up. What was the point of having friends anyway? Most everyone seemed to want to be cruel to everyone else. As far as I was concerned, I was down to one good friend whom I trusted. School seemed pretty awful. Around this time I developed the habit of always having a Star Wars book handy, one that I could read in the few minutes before class started while everyone else chatted at their desks till the teacher commenced class.

 I went the whole first year of high school without allowing myself a close friend. Not because I didn’t want one, but because I was scared of developing relationships. When I learned that most of the high school kids went to each other’s houses on the weekend and threw parties, drank beers, and smoked weed…I suggested to my brother that we play computer games with our grandpa, at his house, every Friday night. This morphed into Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and sometimes Sunday. When Richie, my brother, got a car and started visiting friends’ houses during the weekdays, I resented him. I resented that he wasn’t scared to make friends. For the first time ever, we started getting into real arguments and fights. All because of my fear.

There was another dynamic occurring. The endless number of cliques and subgroups within these schools created a culture of exclusion. My fear of joining a subgroup because they seemed popular was matched only by my fear of joining an unpopular subgroup. Sometimes I wonder how Humans have managed to survive this long.

The next key moment of my Growth came when I befriended Rob. Rob was a year above me, and seemed like me, in that he didn’t really fit in with most kids. We became friends because one day I was too afraid to sit at the lunch tables inside the main hall where my classmates usually sat and I noticed his picnic table, outside by the oak trees, had an empty seat. I was a little afraid to sit down but I felt pulled to sit down. I even walked a few rounds around the outside seating area before admitting to myself that that was where I had to sit. So over I went and without a word, I sat down and began eating. I was hella nervous but totally committed. He and his two friends were talking about a computer game they played. It was called Starcraft, and I played it too. Are you talking about Starcraft, I asked? The ice was broken and we became friends. We all had something in common. My friendship with Rob is the longest lasting friendship of my life, if you don’t count my siblings.

That friendship with Rob gave me the confidence I needed to be willing to make friends again and in my junior year of high school, I allowed myself to be friends with two guys in my own grade. Things were looking great. I even looked forward to school, because I had friends there.

Then later in my Junior year, one of the kids from my elementary school, one of the few who never picked on me for being a loner, chose to laugh and call me names because I was reading a book in the few minutes before class started. We were sitting at a group table which meant there were now five people laughing at me. I lost it. I jumped out of my chair and began punching him in the arm, rapidly and crying my eyes out, until the teacher came over and pulled me away. You can imagine the whispers this sent floating along the school hallways. I dove deeper into my sci-fi novels. Meanwhile, Rob started coming over to my grandpa’s for our weekend computer game marathons. I didn’t make any new friends during my senior year of high school.

And as for girls--It would take until my second year of university for me to kiss another girl—about eleven years after the Mario and Princess Peach kiss.

My point is that fear is always around somewhere. Bad memories are bound to be around. But you can’t let fear hang around because fear is energy and all energy attracts. It only takes a brief action to reach out and stop the Dominos from falling over.

better to face your fear and turn it into hope

 I got a bit ahead of myself there but I wanted you to see the progression. I’ll try not to jump around too much.