My two beautiful mutant genes

I have a potentially lethal genetic disease. It’s been passed on in my family generation to generation. I may or may not see it all the time as a gift, but it’s a gift.

Gene mutations made us human beings. I won the lottery, I have the body and the mind of a human being. It took countless mutations to go from single-cell organisms to human beings. Am I not going to be thankful just because two mutations–out of countless mutations–didn’t go the way I expected? Our ego is petty and get hung up in minutia. 

It took a greater wisdom than mine to chart the way, who am I to complain about two mutations that I don’t understand?

I can’t change my genes. I can’t kick and scream all I want, nothing can change this fact. So, why all the kicking and screaming?

I’ve spent decades with a healthy body, while others struggle with the most ravaging symptoms of the same disease since the day they are born. Some of these kids and their parents are fighting to find a cure for this disease. This fills me with humility.

“I want what she had.” We live comparing our lives to the lives of others, blind to the infinite ways in which we’re blessed. I’m working on making every day a day of thanks-giving. I’m thankful for my genes, my little mutant genes.

Searching for Greatness and Meaning

“Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart?” 

Carlos Castaneda

I was writing a post about what it takes to do your greatest work. It started with the quote above and the thesis was that to make your greatest contribution you need to follow a path with heart, that you need to find and follow your passion because otherwise it would be very difficult to apply yourself to your fullest ability and won’t make the required sacrifices.

But the wheels of my post came off halfway through.

For the last year I’ve been on the quest of starting my own business. One that lets me do the things that I love eight hours a day. I think our society needs the unique contribution of each of us and I don’t think that my current job is an adequate outlet for my unique contribution.

Charting a new path scares me and it’s making me go back to basics in my spiritual practice. This reinforces the idea that I’m on the right path. One way to look at it is that we are all actors in a play and the director is now asking me to take on a more challenging role. A role that looks more difficult, that makes me feel uncertain—a role that will make me grow.

In my post I said that the reason why I hadn’t applied myself to my fullest capacity at any point of my life was because I hadn’t dared to walk a path with a heart. At that point, a deep part of me protested. We haven’t done our best? Ever? Then I was flooded with the memory of a few episodes when I had to overcome significant challenges. Other memories visited me today.

In this search for meaning and greatness, in this treasure hunt, what if I’ve been sitting on the treasure all along. I vaguely remember the story of a man who dreams of a treasure hidden in a distant land. After much toiling and sacrifices, he finally finds the place of his dreams. But he doesn’t find any treasures, only a poor man who tells him that he has had the same stupid dream. The place the poor man describes is exactly like the house of the man who had traveled from so far away.

This greatness I’m looking for, am I really going to find it in what I do? This greatness, how is it different from fame and money?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I’ve lived through many financial difficulties, none of which have actually happened. I’ve been wishing to have more money in the bank and a higher salary. I’ve stressed about money for so long, when I live in the biggest house I’ve ever lived. When I’m more than what my parents earned at any point of their lives.

I’ve been looking for abundance, blind to the abundance around me. Material abundance, but more importantly, abundance of love.

What greatness am I looking for? What else do I need to be?

I’ve been impatient, thinking that I’m running out of time to achieve greatness and earn money. I’m changing my focus to developing an appreciation for being me.

I’m not changing my goals, just getting rid of some dead weight.

The Truth

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

— David Foster Wallace

This post is dedicated to you as much as it is dedicated to myself.

We need your voice. We need your perspective. We need your stories. We need your dreams–not in your head, but here, among us, where we can see them too; we want to dream your dreams.

But to get them out, you need to work hard. No one you admire got to where they got by taking an elevator to the top. They all worked hard. You need to show up.

You also need courage. You need courage to keep working when success is far from guaranteed, when no one is looking. You need courage to keep working despite the people who tell you that is not worth your effort, that it’s not going to work–despite even the voices from within you that say that this is too risky or uncomfortable. You need courage to fight the instincts to run back to the herd, to run to your safe space and never come back because the specter of failure is too frightening.

And what’s the secret to have courage? Love. You need to love your dreams so much that you would be willing to face the most terrible of all monsters–the Truth. The Truth telling you that you have relegated your dreams, that you have not written the first word of your novel. The Truth will show us that, contrary to the lie we’ve been telling ourselves our whole life, our dreams do matter. The Truth will tell you that the world needs your dreams and that you have not been working on them, that you have more time every day than you admit, that you’ve been selfish, hoarding your dreams.

You’ve been looking outside for validation, but what you need the most, love, comes from within. Only love from within will keep you going when nobody’s looking. Only love will keep you going when everybody else got bored, or cold, and went back home.

You’ve been brainwashed into believing that love happens, when in fact, love is cultivated. Love must be cultivated every day, at every step, in every decision. Breath in, breath out. Love, like courage, is the result of everyday discipline. But we choose to ignore the Truth and wait for The Big Test. We fool ourselves pretending that we’re waiting for something big enough to be worthy of our love and courage, we fool ourselves so that we can ignore that we have traded our sense of self for a cubicle and a wage.

You’ve been paying more attention to the circus outside; you’ve been, perhaps, playing the informed citizen game, at the expense of the inside voice, at the expense of the Truth. The country doesn’t need your attention. The country–the world!–needs your presence. We need you to show up; we need your song. It’s long road, we need to start today.

Coda

Do you remember your dreams as a kid? As a teenager?

One evening, I went to bed after reading Beckett’s More Pricks Than Kicks very intensely for four hours. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air not fully awake, emerging from a quicksand of vivid dreams. I was feeling an overdose of satisfaction.

Ten years later, I was taking a nap. I had left the radio on and it woke me up with All The Children by Stanley Jordan. The sound was loud and more dense than anything I had heard before. The music was flooding my mind. What I didn’t realize was that my senses would not have been capable of such extraordinary perception. A few seconds later I woke up again, this time for real. I had just dreamed the most amazing music ever played.

The things I’m most competent in, they don’t inspire this kind of dreams. It’s a scary place to be, but an opportunity for growth, full of possibilities.

Fear of Future Pain

In talking with a friend about her partner’s jealousy, I could not help but to reflect on my own. I found that some of my feelings of jealousy arise from fear of future pain. I would feel immense pain if my wife left me and jealousy is part of my brain warning me against that scenario.

I had what appeared to be meningitis about twenty years ago; the diagnosis was uncertain. I felt deep fatigue for about three weeks, two of which I spent in the hospital. During that period, I had four or five episodes in which half of my body would go numb. It was scary.
Feeling the numbness coming made me very anxious, particularly because the doctors were not sure about the diagnosis.

In one of those episodes, the numbness was so intense that moving my arm started to get difficult. Panic set in. Then I lost my speech.

Paradoxically, the intensity of this episode brought a gift. Along with my speech, I lost any trace of anxiety; fear disappeared instantly.

Jill Bolte-Taylor reports feeling inner peace when she had a stroke that affected the left side of her brain, which is the part that controls speech and the right side of our body. Her TED talk is one of the most watched ever.

I didn’t find the relationship between Jill’s experience and mine until recently, when I heard Phil Stutz and Barry Michels describing in their podcast a mental tool called Dissolving Thoughts that reduces anxiety by training your mind to pause speech activity and temporarily ignore concepts (Coming Alive Podcast, Episode 12, minute 28). It’s not easy to master, but I’ve found the results astounding.

What I think is that the same part of our brain responsible for speech is also responsible for most of our anxiety. It’s a voice that constantly tells us all the ways in which our life can go wrong–all the kinds of pain we may suffer in the future.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

Mark Twain

Our left brain is expert in drawing a straight line from the present into a terrifying future. The thing is that life never happens linearly and most of our left brain predictions never come true. Anxiety, jealousy and their relatives waste our energy without any benefit.

Communication and anticipating the consequences of our decisions are indispensable functions of our left brain. But, like with everything else, there must be a balance. Left unchecked, that part of the left brain will shrink our world with the fear of future pain.

Human life is about expansion—expanding our circle of influence, expanding our abilities. It is our job to fight the impulses of the lizard brain, the legacy of our animal past, so that our evolution and the evolution of our society are not held back by imaginary demons.

Hiding our shadow

We all have parts of ourselves that we would rather hide from other people. The closer someone gets, though, the more likely it is that they see our shadow. Isn’t it more honest to show our shadow upfront?

A while ago I heard the story of a guy who tried some of the most popular dating sites with terrible results. In one occasion, he and a woman found each other in dating website and struck a friendship chatting online. Fun and warm conversations led to an actual date. His hopes were high but the date ended in disappointment when his date backed off the moment she saw his bald spot, invisible in his profile pictures.

Brokenhearted, the guy focused on the ignominy of the lack of hair in a particular spot on his head and all the dates it would ruin. He looked at the online profiles of other men and none of them showed a bald spot. Instead, they all had big smiles and, according to their profiles, they were cheery, fun, generous men whose favorite part of the day was when they had the chance to help other people.

Looking at the profiles of people he, as a straight guy, was not interested in, was like looking at the people you meet at a bar, but sober and in full daylight. Everything in their profiles was partially true–as in 5% true. Right then, the solution to everyone’s online dating disappointments came to him–a dating website where people were encouraged to show their ugly, their bald spots, from the get-go. No one would walk out on him again.

The website was a success until its novelty wore off and the status quo crept back in.

To disclose or not to disclose, there isn’t a right answer. I would argue that that’s not even the right question. People carry with them complex stories that we won’t understand until we get close, until we show up with empathy and love.

One of my top 3 favorite novels of all times is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It is a gripping work of beauty, the product of a great artist, a joy to read. I knew nothing about the book before I started reading it, I’m not even sure why I borrowed it from the library. In Spanish, the word envolver means to involve and to envelope. The book involved me and enveloped me. Little by little I fell in love with the beauty of its bright side and the beauty of its shadow.

Knowing upfront how dark the shadow of The God Small Things is would not have helped at all. Taking the shadow out of context would have given me a distorted view of the story before I had the opportunity to really know it. It wasn’t that I had invested too much in the story to stop reading the book once its brutality became apparent. Instead, I realized at some moment that the heavy and dark moments of the story belonged in there. Even more than that, there was no story without them.

I don’t have a bald spot now, but what about ten years from now? Twenty? What about the unknown unknowns? The meltdown when I got laid off, the time my wife had to take me to the hospital, the crises of faith.

The shadow doesn’t define us, and yet it is an important part of who we are. When we think about hiding it or not, we’re making the mistake of isolating it from the rest of us. Seeing the shadow in the context of who we are as a whole places it in the right context. Just because we or others can’t accept parts of who we are doesn’t mean that they are unacceptable.

Instead of focusing on bald spots and scars, yours or mine, let’s show up to life with vulnerability. Let’s get to know each other as human beings, accepting our own shadows and each other’s shadows. It’s one way to heal our society.

Efficient vs Instructive

Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

Learning is a slow process.

In the last year I’ve been learning about producing, mixing and mastering music. I learn new things all the times. I learn by reading articles, by watching videos and by trying new things.

Often, I face a disjunctive—do things the old way, or try something new. The old way–i.e., the way I learned last week—would take me five minutes. When I try something new I usually think that it’s not going to take more than ten minutes. Three hours later, after failing ten times, I finally achieve my purpose. Each of the failures teaches me something new.

My day is still 24 hours long. I don’t always have the luxury of trying new things all the time. And I don’t want to try new things when I’m paying my bills online. I want to get that done as soon as possible. The practice is to keep in mind the importance of learning the important things. I have to keep in mind that the fastest way is not always the best when I’m making art. I’m in this for the long run, my commitment is deep, so there’s no need to run.

The Intangible Dreams of People

“In this endeavor to wed the vision of the Old World with that of the New, it is the writer, not the statesman, who is our strongest arm. Though we do not wholly believe it yet, the interior life is a real life, and the intangible dreams of people have a tangible effect on the world.”

—James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

I don’t want to die with songs in my heart that I never sung.

. . .

I spent most of 2016 searching for answers. I could not verbalize the questions, but that didn’t matter—I was hungry.

I had a job, friends, my mom had survived kidney failure and was doing great. Things that had stressed me for the year before were gone, solved. I was earning more money than I needed. I was getting twice as much done at work with half the effort. And yet, I felt a deep lack of satisfaction.

If I extended the line that my life was tracing into the future, I could see myself reaching a gray zone—not the crashing and burning of young stars who can’t handle fame, nor the generosity and magnanimity of heroes of our time like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but a dull, gray area.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted or what I was looking for. But things converged piece by piece. I wanted to exercise more, for example. To exercise frequently, I would need more discipline and my best idea to build discipline was to start to meditate everyday. Similarly, the answer to get the other things that I wanted led me to the same thought: I need to start meditation.

I took a course on Buddhism, read about neuro-linguistic programming, practiced lucid dreaming and the Silva Method, meditated with a Buddhist group. It wasn’t a straightforward process and I felt lost most of the time, but eventually I reached the destination of that one-year journey–I found a spiritual path, or the other way around.

The path I found was new to me, and yet, if I looked back at my steps, I could see how I had followed it in one way or another. It was a new path where I found old passions. Respect for the Earth and its creatures was in me since I was a kid. Finding a path in which this was an important principle made me fall in love. And in love I felt. At the exact same time, I found my spiritual path and my wife, the loves of my life.

. . .

In simple terms, my path as a framework to guide my decisions. A more intimate explanation, though, in that the path is a loving and stern master who has a mission for me—the quest for ever expanding love.
Within two months of committing to meditation and my spiritual path, I quit my job. Another circuitous journey landed me working to further renewable energy in the world. A job with a purpose, no doubt. But the path is calling again.

I’m restless in my comfort zone. Old love interests are pulling my sleeves: music and writing. I’m an expert at what I do and somewhat inept (for the moment) at these two disciplines. Why would I leave my comfort zone at the age of 41? Culture.

Culture shapes our views of the world. We’ve seen ourselves, the human species, as separate, as superior to the world of Nature. We’ve also privileged the individual over the wellbeing of society. The result we’re seeing is injustice and inequality. We need a change in culture.

I want to make art to effect a positive change in society. My role models are not the ones who became famous, but the ones who sought to contribute to the betterment of our world. The ones who selflessly fought so that the situation of others could improve. I believe that artists have the power of changing the culture and the responsibility to make the world a better place. I want to be one of them.

On Writing, Fish and Destiny

I wrote my first short story when I was in third grade.

That winter morning, I woke up with a stuffy nose and a mild fever. Outside, the temperature was around the low 50s. Cold. Mexico City-cold. So I got to stay home, even though I was not too sick. I immediately got down to business.

A bunch of G.I. Joe operatives put He-Man in a prison. He escaped and smashed their heads. A giant James Bond missing his legs put He-Man and his henchmen out of commission with a flame thrower. Then they all played with a football made out of play dough.

Many spectacular plays into the game, I got bored out of my brain. I dragged my slippers the whole twenty-five feet to the living room and checked the clock on the wall. It was barely past nine. We didn’t have cable — that was for rich people — and there were no cartoons on broadcast TV that early. Channel 5 would not even start transmitting until noon. In complete denial I channel-surfed, hoping for a miracle. The closest to a cartoon I watched that morning was static and color bars.

In defeat, I turned to my parent’s typewriter. Would I still be here, telling you any stories at all, if I had I chosen to play with the vacuum cleaner instead? All we know is that that morning I wrote a story about a group of orphaned siblings who lived in a farm and took care of each other. My first short story.

. . . 

When I was a freshman in college, a professor asked us why we wanted to be engineers. “I’ve been taking electronic devices apart since I was a kid.” That was the most common answer. I thought that was dumb. I did so many things when I was a kid, and yet, there I was, on my way to becoming an engineer and not a professional baseball player, an entomologist, or a singer. Or a writer.

I wrote more fiction and poetry in middle- and high-school. In college, I joined a creative writing club and took a class to learn how to write a script. I was telling these things to my friend. He has a long career as a writer and I wanted some advice. “It’s OK, you don’t have to convince me you want to be a writer,” he said. It wasn’t him I was trying to convince.

I want to write. I want to write with my guts. I want to bring the shadow out and express the things I haven’t said and say them with courage. I want to master the art. I want to be one of the voices my people have, to share laughter and love, to denounce disenfranchisement and discrimination. I want to counter underrepresentation by showing brown people as the owners of their own stories; and not just dancing on the beach honoring the gods, but also creating the future; a future shared by everyone. I want my writing intersect with service. I want to serve by writing.

But.

There’s a part in me — the fish from The Cat in the Hat — who thinks this is a bad, bad idea. “This crazy ‘writing’ thing is just going to mess up your home, there’s no call from the Universe, listen… Nothing!” the fish says. “Well, it’s not just the Universe calling, I also feel an itch inside me,” I say, mumbling the words, not so sure about all this at this point. “Think about it, is this really your destiny?” the fish says. He makes me think and in thinking I get lost.

When I’m in front of my computer, the cursor blinking, the fish makes me think. “I’m new at this, not very skilled. I’m forty-one.” When I get stuck, and I get stuck a lot, “I’m exposing myself, people will realize I am a fraud. How about we get coffee and a muffin instead?”

The fish is creative. “I don’t have important things to say. My perspective doesn’t matter. I’ll run out of ideas. Nobody will read me. Or many people will read me and then I’ll have to own what I said. I won’t ‘make it’ and that will make me a loser. I’m dreaming. Who do I think I am? This is just for the chosen ones.” The fish adds, “You’re not one of them.”

All this sound and fury and yet, the fish is just a fish. I don’t think he even cares. He’s just a fish; for Christ’s sake, he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. I don’t think the fish will go away, though. Do you remember how at the end of A Beautiful Mind, John Nash still sees Charles, Marcee and Parcher at the Noble Prize ceremony? The merit is in not engaging with the Furies. Don’t converse with the fish.

Writing […] might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. 

— Neil Gaiman


My task is to keep at it, with discipline and courage. Leave the big questions about calling and destiny to someone else, I’m building something here, brick by brick. I’m a construction worker, a carpenter. I work because the work makes me whistle and I whistle to get me through the rough patches of my work.

Public domain image via the Wellcome Collection

I have the discipline and I know I could go on with discipline alone, but the road will lead to nowhere without courage. The courage I’ll find as I traverse the road in search for courage. The courage to say what I have to say — what I need to say. The courage to counter the fish, to swim upstream. To know when to follow the rules and when not to follow the rules.

There is no destiny. There is only the space between the word we just wrote and the one we’re looking for. There is only the present moment and the next word, no answers from above.

This post was previously published in Medium.