Confessions of a Recession
There are moments in ceremonial visions, or at any point in life really, where that “voice,” tells you it’s time to move. It’s the voice that told me to go to Peru. It was the voice that told me to return to Peru. It was the voice in the visions that said, “No more drugs. Time to keep your word. Time to clean up your act. Time to call your sister more often. Time to write a book.”
Set Ayahuasca aside, it’s the voice of action. The one where you actually DO what you know you must. You don’t know if they’ll pick up the phone, if you’ll be forgiven. You don’t know if you’ll get anything out of it. You have no guarantees. Yet you are filled with nothing but the creative impulse to do what you know is right.
Where does that impulse come from? And thank God it comes.
“Can we talk?”
The office room at St. Francis Friends of the Poor turned into a confessional box for the next hour as I admitted to my employers, two Franciscan Fathers, the nature of my “sins,” of my falling away from the virtues of my position.
“I don’t have the heart for this kind of work. I know it’s supposed to be noble to work with schizophrenics or the mentally ill or the poor or less fortunate, but I don’t have it in me. I’m not that person. I can’t do it anymore.”
In my head I was also thinking about the prescription drugs, the decompensations, the dullness of my daily routines, the often toxic environment of an underpaid staff of social workers. Or maybe I was thinking about managing the residents’ disability income money, calculating and keeping track of mostly imaginary numbers.
“None of us have the heart for perfect servanthood. That’s why we’re here,” Father Franklin said to me. I was crying. He handed me a kleenex.
“It’s just been so clear in my meditations and prayers lately. I’ve seen visions of me leaving this job. Of having this very conversation with you guys.”
“We like you very much, Adam." Father Franklin interrupted me. "And we want the best for you. If it’s time to go, and you feel that in your soul, then it’s time to go. Being a social worker has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a good person. So forgive yourself. God is leading you to something new. I will say this much to you, though. God is not up in the clouds. He’s right here in the facts of life. That’s where my faith in God resides after many years of doing this priestly stuff. God is in the details of everyday life.”
“This feels like a confession," I said.
“It's actually a lot like a confession,” Father O'Hearn piped in. “That’s why confession is a holy sacrament. Because we all need to get things off our chest before we can move forward. Do you have another job lined up?"
"There is a job at a yoga studio that I think will work out..."
"Are you sure it's secure? Make sure you keep your feet on the ground, Adam."
The fathers had hit the nail on the head, and they were also clearly letting me know, for the first time, that they harbored their own opinions about my upcoming book release and my South American “psychedelic” hobbies.
On the day I left St. Francis with a small box of my possessions a cool spring breeze was in the air. Within days of giving my one month notice to the priests in the makeshift corporate confessional booth, I was offered a job at my local yoga studio. I would complete a yoga teacher training, manage the studio, and teach classes. A dream situation. A new and more overtly spiritual (not religious) environment.
“Adam, are you free for a second man?”
“Sure,” I said. I was reading the Bible in the commons space of the studio. Somewhere around Christmas time I had gotten it into my head to read the Bible cover to cover, like a story-book.
“Good man. I am going to need you to manage this studio.”
Several days before Easter I had heard the studio was looking for a new manager, but it seemed sudden and somewhat "off" to offer me a job on the spot, like an old man on the street hollering for me to help him lift a box into his truck."
“Okay,” I said. “Did you know I am just now in the process of looking for another job?"
“I did not know that. Here’s how it’s going to be. You will work for me. I can’t do it anymore, and I need you. You're the right person for this job.”
“Because you’re reading the Bible. So I know that you’re honest.”
It was a convincing thing to say to me, and it stroked my ego. More than once since my ridiculous “bible reading” project (which is exactly what it was, a ridiculous project, like building a tree-fort with some twelve year old buddies and an empty nail gun in the back yard) I had thought to myself while sitting on the subway: people are thinking ‘he's one of those crazy bible-bangers’ but they’ve got it all wrong. I’m actually quite sophisticated and my reasons for reading this massive collection of books come from the heart of plant visions and astral-travel. I’ve actually had conversations with Jesus in visions. I have a book coming out that proves my cultural sophistication. This Bible is actually a sign of my immense devotion and integrity, not narrow-mindedness.
Up until that moment I had always thought of this particular yoga studio as incredibly shady. The kind of place you might see mangled tantric sorcerers bouncing around like orgasmic pogo-sticks. People introducing themselves to you by their aura color, immediately trying to sell you their product or program. And the owner himself not too dissimilar. Well-intentioned. Somewhat nurturing. Equipped with a yogic language set and a few jedi mind tricks. Yet I never felt grounded or clear with anything happening at the studio outside of the actual yoga classes. I always felt as though he was looking for ways to use me and my talents, and the talents of others, for the ultimate purpose of making “Lots and lots of money, man. We’re going to manifest all the money so we won’t even need these jobs.” (That would come later).
“Thank you,” I said to him. I closed the bible and placed it on my lap. “I am honest. I’ve been really working on myself for the past five years now. I think I can bring something really great to this studio. Ever since I decided to leave St. Francis I knew the universe would take the next step for me. This sounds like a good deal.”
And that was it. In a moment of pride I saw myself as the savior of the “too dark for me,” “too new age for me” yoga studio. I would be the lighthouse manager. No exaggerating. In one very small moment of flattery, with a Bible in my hand, I imagined myself saving the studio. A month or so later I would storm out of the studio and save my silly old self instead!
“Are you the manager?”
“Are you working on payroll?”
“How many people in the studio are on payroll?”
“How does he pay you?”
“By check. They usually bounce. Wait. Who is this again?”
“We’re calling because we’re conducting an investigation regarding the workman’s comp benefits of the studio’s employees. He is paying employees off the books to avoid his workman’s compensation dues. By law he must pay.”
“I don’t know anything about it. He just told me I’d be on payroll later this summer because it’s a process and he’s short-staffed right now.”
“You’re the third manager I’ve spoken to in the past 6 months.”
Or the day when the letter arrived from the credit-collectors: “You owe $84,000 in rent.”
Or days later when a man would appear in the middle of the studio and customers, saying, “Are you the manager?”
“I am.” I said.
“Is the owner here?”
“He’s not. He’s at the new studio getting it ready for the move.”
“New studio, huh? Isn’t that typical. Well, I’m here to serve you a notice to appear in court. He owes this place quite a bit of money before he trots off to start a new company, and he’s going to be evicted.”
In a matter of a month I had been assigned all of the shady clean up duties of a man who was eye-ball deep in debt and broken business promises. His plan was to bankrupt his old company to avoid paying his back-rent, start up a new company in its place and move out of the old location like a thief in the night. He was having me call his clients to break space-rental contracts because of his impending eviction.
Then one afternoon things took an even steeper nose dive.
"Adam. From now on you are going to take orders from Jeremiah.” The owner of the studio said to me.
“Look, I don’t want to put a Jewish face on the yoga here. I’m going to be in the back of the house. You're still going to be the face of the company. But look, I turned a candy company into millionaires. I’ve got a lot of new ideas and a lot of connections. We can make this place profitable and honest and everyone can get a slice of the yoga pie.” Jeremiah chuckled and put his feet up on the studio owner's desk.
Overnight the new company had been sold in part to a Hassidic Jew. He had actually uttered the words, “yoga pie.”
If I had been in touch with my own egotistical motivation to “save the studio by my divine rays” at this point I probably would have chuckled to recognize that a Hassidic Jew and a Protestant Christian were going to compete for saviorship of the yoga company.
The competition was short-lived.
“So let’s go to the Russian baths later on, how does that sound ladies?” Jeremiah and the studio owner were talking with two young women in the back office.
“What are you guys talking about?" I asked. "Nevermind. Look. I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you’re having a business meeting in the studio then you need to include me. Even if I don’t have a say, I need to be present if we're talking about the studio's future.”
“We’re talking with business consultants right now,” the studio owner said. He had a smug grin on his face.
Then he looked at Jeremiah and they both laughed at me. The studio owner saw my anger and put his hand over his mouth.
“Business consultants? These girls are half your age, and you're asking them to the Russian Baths after your meeting?”
“Yes. From now on, you just take the orders from us and mind your own business. You don’t have the experience to sit in on these meetings.”
At which point, something inside of me broke. A gasket was blown. Jupiter entered Aries. Uranus went into my career house. Something big happened for me. Whether it was the unethical nature of how the business was being run. Seeing the “real side” of a spiritual business for the first time. One too many phone calls cleaning up broken contracts and a mess that was not my own. Being asked to lie on a regular basis. Being caught up in my own delusions of grandeur, I’m going to help bring light to this place, or being the closest I’ve ever been to punching a yogi in the third eye, I gathered my things and left.
“Alright. I’m done. I’m out of here. Good luck guys."
I wasn't worried about money or my future, I had simply had enough.
Of course the story is more complex than that. Layered and textured by many moments of psychic vulnerability, hypocrisy, things said between the lines, promises made to imaginary people, into thin air. Long story short, for about two months of my life I got caught up in the idea that my professional calling was to save a yoga studio that I could not save. Perhaps the studio will be saved in the future or will change for the better. I believe that anything can be redeemed. Yet something in me honestly doubts it.
When I was leaving one of the two young women, someone I had seen on many occasions with other men like the studio owner (twice her age, manipulative and polyamorous), said to me, “If we’re going to heal the planet, then we’re going to have to stand by each other, even if we’re imperfect, Adam. We all have to love each other unconditionally.”
I appreciated her idealism and had grown to like her as a friend, but I also wondered, “Isn’t there also an appropriate time to draw boundaries and say ‘enough is enough'? To say: "I can't commit to just any old thing that approaches me with the word ‘love’ hanging out of its mouth." Talking about unconditional love seemed more like the justification for an unhealthy romantic behavioral pattern, and a lust for power on the part of these older men. Her parting words were like the trance of a cobra snake, filling me with a venemous kind of saddness and confusion for several days afterward.
I filed for unemployment this week. I felt ashamed. Ashamed at first because I never pictured myself jobless. Then ashamed because I realized how arrogant it was to be embarrased for needing help. Ashamed because even as I write this I realize that my concerns, if compared to the suffering of others, are petty. If learning my place in the world, realizing myself as a divine being was the first theme in my spiritual journey, then it’s safe to say that relationships, commitment, and money have been the turf of my new struggles.
Right after taking the job at the studio, on an impulse, just following that same voice inside of me, I had moved me and my fiancée from the projects in Brooklyn to a nicer and more expensive apartment in the West Village. I wanted to be closer to the studio. I was moving "up."
“I’ve had enough of the ghetto and the guns and shootings. We’re leaving.”
“But can we afford it, sweetie?” my fiancée asked me.
“God will totally help us,” I said. “Your problem is that you don’t see the big picture. Everything is blossoming for us right now”
Now, sitting on my apartment stoop, funds slowly running dry, still uncertain if unemployment will be granted to me, I miss something about Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. The much cheaper rent, obviously, but also the feeling of thick humanity. The bared teeth and mucus and cough of it all. The feeling that people are surviving around me, and that my worst fears are just white noise. There is something of a celestial peace that would occasionally appear to me while living in the projects of Brooklyn that I miss now that I'm living outside of my means in the West Village.
I see Jesus' face from the projects and its black like the night sky. My white neighbors and the money and the Wall Street cars creeping down my block in the West Village all make me angry. Angry at myself. At my hypocrisy. Ashamed of my prejudices.
I'm sitting on my stoop at night wondering, "How did this happen to me? I was doing great. How did I manage to mess this up?"
Tears and a hot shower. The process of being broken down, little by little.
So it helps to remember my prayer on Easter Sunday, lifting the cup of medicine to my head and saying, “I don’t think I can work at my job any longer. Help me find my true path. I’ll go wherever you send me, God. Just show me the next step and give me the courage to walk with you.”
I am thankful for the time I spent at St. Francis Friends of the Poor, and I’m perhaps even more thankful for the eye-opening experiences at the Yoga Studio (I’m not so naïve as to see even that difficult situation as black and white). I'm thankful for what is happening to me, even though I can no longer see the future. Maybe the point is that I never could. That none of us can see the future if we're truly alive in the present.
So, if my first meditation from the medicine was about "staying in my place," then my second piece of advice for anybody on a spiritual path, and especially those working with the medicine would be this: If you ask God to guide your path, if you drink from the cup and ask God to make you more real, then be prepared to walk at times with only enough light for the very next step. Talking only in proportion to that walk, pray for more of God's love.
This July 4th, please join me, Charles Eisenstein, the Green Bus Tour, and Reality Sandwich's Ken Jordan and Jennifer Palmer for "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Tell Us Is Possible," a weekend of storytelling, bodywork, dancing, and great healthy food. It takes place at the beautiful Waterfall House, two hours north of New York. It should be a wonderful weekend. I hope you join us!