I had the incredible opportunity to speak with Dr. Michael Rock recently as the first episode of Roam Free, my new podcast!
I am inordinately excited to bring this conversation to you. I was lucky to meet Dr. Rock on a “silent” retreat on the Texas coast. I say “silent” because we ended up taking a walk and speaking about his life, thus leading to his place on this podcast, an episode I am very grateful to share.
His story is incredible, and we only had time for a few of the fantastic stories he had to offer. What I was most interested in at first was his transition from Emotional Intelligence in business to his studies and development of Spiritual Intelligence, but what stood out as primary in the conversation was his relationship with his daughter.
Towards the latter part of the ‘cast Dr. Rock speaks of Siobhan, his daughter who was conceived early in his life. Though separated when she was young, they had a loving relationship, especially through Siobhan’s diagnosis with ALS. She died in 2014, at the age of 41.
I have great gratitude at the thought of having been able to participate in this conversation. Special thanks to Stephen Ramseur is due for coming along and asking the first question on the podcast.
And another note: recording introductions is really hard. Like, way harder than I thought. It took me about eight times to get it right but it was still a little ramble-y. Grace is appreciated. 🙂
If you enjoyed the ‘cast and want to hear more, or if you like any of the blog posts, feel free to shop through the Amazon Affiliates link below. I get paid a small fee off of anything you buy through this link, with no extra cost to you.
Right before posting I checked the word count: over 2600. I think that might be more than most papers I wrote during my entire academic career. In the English Department.
I’m really proud of it, and I’m definitely not complaining. The infographic-y quote photos were original (stock images, but designed by me), and I’ve gotten amazing feedback already. I hope those of you who are reading these consistently know that I appreciate you immensely, and it really is difficult to articulate the gratitude.
So, for this post, something more relaxed. Just like a Cougar Mellencamp song, this one’s straight from the heart.
Today I went out to Government Canyon Natural Area (I currently live in San Antonio) to film two videos I have outlined. Sadly, I found it closed for the exact day of the week I showed up, so I wandered over to Friedrich Wilderness Park.
The packed parking lot was not a good sign. I love the high park attendance, but the crowd, and the dire winds which seemed to flow from some ancillary (20 pt word) direction both seemed to predict a no-video kinda day. And it was.
But I kept walking anyhow. For some reason I felt called into the deeper forest area, and so I took to the trail, the paved, concrete snake, and walked it until I found a bench and sat down.
I sat and saw the light for some time, flickering through the shading branches, articulating glimpses of some etherial reality I see in deeper areas of being. These places are only opened to me at certain points in life, typically when plans are foiled, when operations are aborted, when I’m late to my own party. These moments actually happen quite a bit. In fact, I’m beginning to think that the key to enlightenment is in being totally tardy to most concrete ideas of life.
This light kept its momentum in my sight, and I moved back along the trail. The path continued past others on the same way, but I was drawn to the tall trees hanging over.
Most passers-by probably thought I was nuts, some guy staring at trees. But to me, these are beings of this same light, composed of the same stratae of truth that might indeed compose G-d. I see drastic similarities. The flowing, undulating giving-ness of being alive was there, in these madly swaying super-vegetables of pollenacious allergy torture.
Running through my thoughts at this juncture was the memory of my friend, the brilliant poet, wanderer, and wise person (though don’t tell him I said that) Gabriel Pedro Prado.
This mystic man has been my main teacher these last few years. It’s funny, because it seems he first endeavored to teach me through maddening me. By no means do I think this to actually have been his intention, but in memory it looks simply to be my controlling nature, rationalization of all things, and narrow vision which ran right up against his freedom. And only hilarity could be found in that equation, for real freedom is this warping of all rational “reality,” an aimless, purposeless flux of reason and linearity, something that gargles and spits out your best life intentions and presumptions right into the dirt, all with a laugh, a dance, a grin. A knowing look in the eye…
This summer I filmed Gabe for a movie I am putting together. The very first scene was a true test of mine own presence.
I asked where he would want to go to film this first scene. There was no plan: in the spirit of what I’d learned since, both about the pathless path and the man himself, a prior commitment or designated motif of any kind would be foolish. Instead, I brought the idea of going to a local park to film some of his ancient practices, practices meant to allow the peace or healing, or power to be called to some place, whether in a physical body or natural landscape. He agreed, and so off we went.
Specifically, his intention for that day seemed to be for the healing of the land. He told me that a medicine wheel sounded like a good idea to set up, and, excited by the prospect of this being on video, I readily agreed.
However, when we arrived at the park, Gabe walked off into the forest. I was following him on camera, and the interaction was a little awkward. It seemed to me that Gabe had some alternative mission in mind. He did. He talked to trees.
Literally. When we stepped out into a small clearing surrounded by copses of trees, I asked him to show me how he talked to them. And he did, displaying a means of communication I had never seen before. He placed his hands on the tree, breathed in, and breathed out through his mouth.
Immediately, there was a space. It is hard to articulate, but a silence seemed to occur, one which all life seemed to honor. And then it was filled by a response: trees began clapping, birds spoke to one to the other, cicadas played their harp-limbs. All caught on camera.
All of this was in jubilation. As if, though it sounds crazy, the forest and all its inhabitants might actually be alive and ready, ready and waiting for just one person to notice them.
It’s only been six months or so since I filmed that occurrence, a pure happening of connection, but when I went to the park today, I felt the invitation of some sort to connect in that way. And so, when I walked out into the forest, amidst the howls and wails of bulldozers and construction equipment across the street at their work, I took a deep breath, and listened.
The wind that day was howling so hard it seemed to threaten to buckle the beautiful trees. In fact, in the spirit of Gabe’s teachings, I stripped the wind and trees of their causal relations and simply observed the trees as they were: enraged, furrowing their canopy wills into the air-space with such violent tremens.
I listened. And in that listening I began to understand, that just as our bodies must make motion to give off their stress, just how exercise and running release the old reservoirs of distress that bind our human parts, so the land must cast off that which harms its soul, its very nature.
This brought me to the obvious conclusion, that the land was off of its foundational mark. In order for there to be release, there must be stress, and stress only occurs at the violation of some natural covenant, of the basic coding for this stressed organism’s existence.
My mind went immediately to the machines building across the street. Was it another apartment complex? A suburb? A strip mall with its scraped-scorched-earth techniques? I enjoy all of these creations in their own ways, but at what cost to the actual soul of the land?
There has been a tremendous weight in my spirit as of late, one which I believe to be much more common amongst others than we might ever speak aloud. It is the weight of homesickness, the weight of a longing for actual joy. It is the desire for just one thing, just one aspect of life that is not artificial, not forgotten. In short, we want Just One Thing, just one thing, to heal us at a deep level.
It seems that in human civilization we have forgotten most of these two things. In my experience, the “ground”, the land from which we come, from which we are fed and clothed and sheltered, and to which we go back to, has been treated as a “resource,” as something to take from and maybe have a little experience with now and again, to go vacation or walk upon.
The land is not a resource. It is a living, breathing, feeling spiritual being. It is also capable of response, and I sense this land is beginning to wake up in a very real way. I saw personally some of the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey, and I have no real interest in seeing that again. I could list off other specifically unsavory aspects of this un-spiritual view of the world (desertification, continually decreasing nutritional quality, extreme soil erosion, etc) but i think you get the picture.
And our Breath of Life: where is our Spirit? Might I suggest our breath, our fully oxygenated breath, seems to have been taken from us by our own surrender of our natural habitats? We have left behind much of the harmony that is not only possible, but is REAL when we are in a right relationship with the land. It would seem to me only a natural causal understanding that the abandonment of the land and our designed relationship to it would result in the air and water eliciting a like, though eventual, response.
Now, please read: I have no interest in discouragement. In fact, I fully believe that only a few of us turning around our old perceptions and ways of living to a more connected way of life can change, quite literally, the whole world. If only a few of us would pray for the peace of the land to return, for the magic to return, the joy and genuine love that comes when we are in our right relation with this land; if a few of us would remember this, be still to pray and meditate into this, to ask for this, to live this, everything would change.
When I came home later on I began to consider all I’d observed. I concluded that the true thing to do in this situation was in fact to seek out this magic, this peace of the land. I would make this a dedicated facet of my life, and integrate the prayer and meditation of this into the day to day. I live now with the genuine calling to the land to wake up in spirit, and to others who also are awake, those who sense this, for us together to bring the reality of joy back into human experience again.
These practices and beliefs tend to (or perhaps intentionally) frustrate the rational mind in order to force the acceptance of a lived reality, or the denial of the potential way of freedom entirely. The power of this practice cannot be overstated: the limits of the rational mind are bypassed, the body is moved back into, and the healing of the heart from past nervous civilized life becomes real.
Our joy comes much from the land. Our hearts are filled by this realization, and to move continually deeper and deeper into this is to follow our individual path into a truly lived life.
We all know the mounting pressure: it seems like there’s a type of weight surrounding the average person, some kind of need to change, to make this world better for the next generation.
This pressure can be one of two things: an inky blackness which we walk around in, which we multiply by our own despair; or the call to deep introspection, to find our very individual and light-giving change as a gift for the next generation. Interpretation defines the difference.
But the shift into a new mode of life oftentimes can be quite difficult. When you break from the old way of living, tremors begin to happen not just in your physical or dietary lives, but in the deeper parts of yourself, your spiritual and mental lives. Many of these changes can be more intense than others, but my experience with change is that the best first steps are always practical.
Listening is key to any real change. Sensing the issue at hand, the quandary to be understood, and acting out of what is real. This is how humans grew from nature, how we have developed our minds and, in my opinion, how we will make this world better for our children and grandchildren. In fact, the more perceptive we are, the more aware of our bodies and the land we live on and from, the greater our powers and options for change will be.
The blessing of our world today is that many of the issues listed below are changed very simply on the consumer level. Simply opting for local companies cuts out excess transport fuel while typically increasing value. Companies like Amazon create a near instant demand-delivery system, and the network’s very wide distribution includes many companies doing excellent work to change this world for the better, the more natural. Avenues like these give me great hope that a blend of beautiful technology and the beauty of nature will create a truly peaceful future if enough participate.
Just remember: always give yourself space to shift. Whenever we make a change on a topical level of ourselves, something much deeper moves. Rest is important here, as well as daily meditation. Just be sure not to take things too seriously: I get the feeling humanity’s current pickle is due to a lack of humor anyway. These options below are all meant for your health, for where your peacefulness abounds, so does the natural peace of the world.
So just be chill, and change it all in stride.
What We Wear
The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, according to this article by Forbes. The industry is beat only by oil in its wastefulness. Also, in places like the Middle East and Asia, where production of cotton is the main source of income for farmers, enormous amounts of water are used. In fact, one t-shirt uses as much water as one person drinks in 2 and a half years. THAT’S ALOT OF WATER. JEEZ.
ALSO I recorded a video in which I unbox/”post-debox” the Sole Rebels shoes I ordered for Christmas. They are hand made and CRAZY comfortable, featuring an animal-free construction, recycled inner tubes and tires as key components, and the only WFTO certification of Fair Trade for a shoe company in Ethiopia. They check all the awesome boxes, and also offer products for people other than hippies (hipster yuppies..?). They also feature FREE SHIPPING, so check em out.
And when you’re done with your threads, find a new place for them instead of throwing them out. There’s about a half million people in the US who are homeless (and counting), and many are children. This winter has also been a record setter in many areas, and lots of people could use the warmth. Salvation Army and Goodwill provide jobs through the resale of donated clothing, and local clothing donation organizations do awesome jobs of making sure clothes are available for all.
Many brands are also doing really cool recycling programs. Madewell and Patagonia are owning with their initiatives, and even H&M is offering discounts on future purchases or store credit for used clothes. There’s lots of cool things happening in this industry, so there’s certainly hope to be had.
It’s the Food, Dude
So, this next part probably won’t be a shock to you. If it is, just hit up Netflix for the doc “What the Health.” Email me for digital Kleenex.
In fact, one of the worst industries in the world for the environment is agriculture. And most specifically, animal agriculture.
Now, I know this is a touchy subject. Lots of people get worked up in this type of convo, and for lots of reasons. Yes, there is real and genuine logic both for the plant-only diet due to genuine compassion and for a meat eating lifestyle. In fact, we need grazing animals to heal the land, and livestock is just the ticket. However, I have to say that, after growing up working a deer lease in my ‘teens with my dad, I have cut out animal products from my diet and life near entirely.
Well, “cut out” doesn’t quite cut it as my mindset. I would say instead that I’ve moved into a mentality of abundance: I believe that there is more than enough for everyone on this planet, and the consumption of anything hurtful to anyone/thing else is simply unnecessary.
In fact, a massive part of my own story has to do with a drastic decrease in depression and anxiety, bodily fat and joint inflammation upon the switch to pure plants. I found my zits gone, the darkness a little lifted (it wouldn’t clear until the last tip on this post), and my life much more beautiful and clarified. I didn’t get saved, just simplified. And a lot of that process I trace back to my high school years on the deer lease.
We worked hard 2-3 years to pull one buck. Ice, rain, blazing-Texas-mosquito-heat: we were there, driving fence posts and filling feeders, all for The One Take. That one buck would be skinned, butchered, and frozen to make literally a freezer and a half of cuts. We gave half to the food bank, and eat them all year. In fact, I still get a real thirst for fresh venison at times, especially in colder weather.
I considered that Real Meat. Meat you killed yourself, with your community, as a rite of passage. The rite kinda sucked, since the one deer we did get (oh, and I shot a hog. Lame.) took us literally a day and a night to clean and get in the suburban. And it was so cold, our fingers froze trying to gut it. Froze in the blood, mind you, with no processing shop open at 2 AM. Yup.
However, it was a rite. And it’s something I’m still proud of to this day, and grateful for having experienced. Yet, after That One Take, I think my meat eating days were numbered. A few years later myself and some friends had some serious talks and decided leaving the animal-eating way behind was a wise thing. It just didn’t make sense that we cared about humans, yet forgot about literally everything else on the face of the earth. And we were ahead of the curve too: “plant based” is one of the hottest phrases right now, and for good reason.
A large part of my quest this past couple years has effectively been to figure out what exactly Real Food is. And what I’ve found at this stage might very well be the map to the Holy Grail. It also might be exactly where I came from.
Throughout childhood I was fed excellent home-cooked meals my mom and dad made. She would make time-tested family recipes; he would grill the chicken, and try to grow backyard vegetables. However, with high school and the advent of my driver’s license I ate a tremendous amount of fast food. I was a cross country runner, and so was skinny as a beanpole. While I could burn tons of calories and stayed toothpick-y, I experienced serious repercussions from this diet: horrible sinus allergies and insomnia, deep depression and scalding anxiety plagued me constantly. The running likely saved my life as an outlet, though its true fuel only came about through the careful meals of my parents.
College saw me thirty pounds heavier in one semester. I kept eating terrible food, growing more energy-less and listless, more tired and terrible about life. Culminating in deep distress, wondering how to survive at all the coming years much less a university degree, I took firm action. I realized ownership of life, both of my own and the life of everything else.
This decision was not separated from others; in fact, one of the primary points of stress was how to live in a way that gave, not simply destroyed. And this is where I shifted to a mostly plant-oriented diet, and later on, to a locally-oriented way of eating.
In fact, just this last fall I operated a food delivery service. A simple endeavor, I would drive to a large-scale Hill Country organic garden, pick up the produce, and deliver it to the doorsteps of neighbors. My revenue after gas was fresh food, but this alone lit up the lives of myself and family. Every other Friday was the family lunch: three generations together at one table. And my hauling this loot meant that all shared from the moment of my change in the dishes we were able to make and enjoy.
As stated in the introduction, the quality of our peacefulness determines the peace of the world around us. This is a very ancient, very powerful spiritual teaching: that the peace of the world is actually in our hearts, and the peace at the core of the world can be called out by our very lives, through this peace given naturally to us by our very existence.
Peace cannot be kept. Peace just is. It is in ourselves, it is the actual composition of the world. Without peace, this world would not exist. Without space, no newness would come into existence. Without the pause, the lungs could not shift to inhalation. And so on, etc, etc.
The beauty of real peace is that it has to do with rest. The parasympathetic nervous system is our system of “rest and digest.” This is the system that gets us our food, lets us be creative, and helps us just be, contented with life, initiating change in the quiet, fun, partying, meditative way with which natural, lasting change comes about. This state of being allows rational and gut change to occur as a natural way of life. Adapting is what we are good at as people. Perhaps let it happen in the products you buy as well.
And allow, without anxiety, the changes you need to move through you, like a gentle mist. Do not hold yourself, or any principle; instead, move with what clearly is needed in life. As a good friend always says: “take what you need, leave the rest.”
And a word on our planet: this land is very old. It is very wise. It has been through many shifts before, and it knows what to do.
One of the very wisest things we can strive for is a big, deep breath. Let the land rest, let our bodies rest, let our souls rest. This is how healing begins.
Mr. Cup has been with me for over a decade. I painted this fella together when I was a but a young human, stuck in art class one blustery day in the Texas Hill Country.
The cup was handed to me intact, rough and unvarnished. I still remember the white walls of the classroom and how this color connected my memory with the cut linoleum floor, flecked with past paint attempts, with the unglazed stone of the cup itself.
My task was to bring something brand new into the world, a sort of color, some individuality, some aesthetic shaping to the thing. To instill a warmth, a vibration, a framework for the heart and mind to grasp what would be held so tightly for a sustenance of the body. But it needed a substance of the soul first, and that comes only with experience.
I thought about this cup now and again throughout my school years, used it to drink hot coco from on Texas’ spare chilly nights. My hot beverage drinking days were yet to come, and even then I would abandon the prescribed liquid to enjoy decaf teas. I’m not a wimp, just a little caffeine-particular, thank you very much.
Through various house movings, through changes in city, scenery, this cup continued to stay around. Stuffed with packing paper, jammed with care into brown boxes, yielding crates where other cups cracked or chipped, this one stayed itself, whole, unbroken, true to its own form. True to the form pressed upon it by a kid with eager hands and Goldfish breath. Truly gracious.
As I moved through the grades I naturally became forgetful of this cup. I would rush from and to home, barely taking time to breathe much less eat, or heat up some special liquid.
That time was far and away from me. The school days were those of survival: 4 am cross country practices with additional afternoon runs, weekend track meets, taekwondo practice, the occasional detention. First dates, skateboarding sessions. Deer hunting season, bird hunting season, a trip to see family.
And the sudden rush that, after each of those moments, a certain forgetfulness takes me. A certain lack of presence: a realization that the experience has come, has gone, has washed away forever from my body, mind, spirit. My self had been in the space of the event, but my soul had yet to fill it.
It has only been in the last couple years that I have taken any time out of the day to be thoughtful and rest. Before that it seemed I collected stress like some do pennies, and this built up to an anxiety that, by age 22, I could barely function under. And with this ever-increasing weight came the softly slipping feeling, the deepening burden of forgetfulness: the stress of not being present in my own life.
It grew so much that a year and a half ago I broke down.
I found myself unable to continue with my university degree; I could barely cope with life. I stayed in my apartment for weeks, contemplating my existence and wondering what in the world I was going to do.
Only then could I see that my life had been a series of events in which everything I could have ever wanted was apparent. Yet, I had never created the space in which to receive any of it.
I was in a world of blaring TVs, headphones that disconnect us from the other, suburbs that mow down the beautiful land, food made with disgust, and attitudes that all this was normal or, at least, tolerable, something to accept, something I came from. And yet I wanted no part of it. In fact, I was mourning my lostness in it.
I retreated inward. I spent long weeks in solitude, pondering next moves.
Then, a realization: I had to accomplish one smaller dream in order to achieve the ultimate dream of a good life. Something that was basic, core to me, something I had always wanted to do. So I did the only sensible thing a 22-year-old kid with a midlife crisis (literally what a counselor said I was experiencing. At 22.) would do:
I sold everything and hit the road.
I lived out of my truck and went everywhere I’d ever wanted to go. I met and stayed with crazy thespians in New Mexico, saw Earthships in Taos, slept under the stars in the Hill Country, learned to surf in California, and walked barefoot the salt flats of Nevada. My life was filled with deep spiritual encounters, late night conversations, free drinks. I was immersed in nature at Big Sur, enamored with the setting sun in Arizona, transfixed with the Native poverty at Four Corners.
But with the experiences came back the reality of growing up. With each beautiful thing there seemed to be another darker, mirrored thing which encountered me on my journey: Grandparents who had died from cancer much too early. My brother’s birth complications and endless surgeries. The death of a cousin. The depression and tiny attention span I had faced from early childhood; the disgust I had with myself for them.
There had to be some way for me to feel fulfilled, to be healed in life. I had taken the first step, now for something that would last.
I came back just a little bit healed, and wondering a great deal what to do.
Returning to family, I deduced correctly I needed to make true, inner health a priority. A new, intentional chapter was started: I began to institute a time of stillness every day. At least for ten minutes I would take time to breathe, relax, meditate, do yoga. Or enjoy a cup of tea. I made it my job to take care of myself, to create space in the Moment for Something Holy to come in.
And it’s worked absolute wonders.
Five minutes was what I started with. A tiny space within to rest and listen: to my body, to the natural world, to the divine life flowing through all. A tiny space that was filled with eternity.
With employment obligations, that five quickly became ten, then thirty. Yesterday, I clocked at least two hours’ meditation time. And I’ve never felt better.
Now, to clarify, it’s taken a year or so to get the discipline. I had to relax enough to know what I actually wanted and enjoyed in life, which is ironic considering the stressball I had been previously. I had thought that you had to force everything to get your dreams, but it turns out that the best work I’ve ever done has been in deep relaxation. And I get a lot more done, too.
Inner healing was placed as of primary importance as well. I decided to make it my personal job to unpack each painful memory of loss, depression, social awkwardness, self-judgment, to experience it in deep sympathy for myself, and to fill that space again with deep compassion, with deep love.
With mental clarity and peace increasing daily, I had energy to finish my degree, taking 27 hours my final semester to graduate on track. I travelled more, seeing New York City and Nashville for the first times, and took up film as an actor and director.
I developed the fortitude to work multiple jobs, often clocking shifts over fourteen hours long. I saved up enough, then quit. Now I am using this clarity and decisional benefit to pursue my dream of working online, writing, making videos, and podcasting. In fact, I finished shooting my first movie this last summer.
And I’ve literally never been happier.
It turns out that healing and the good life have to do with coming back to where you begin. Receiving good things has much more to do with tuning in and relaxing, allowing what is good to wash over you in perfect peace. The reality of this life is that we are blessed with breath, every second. And it is in that breath that we might truly find life. I believe this realization is the main work of a human soul.
This was the true work I was engaged in as a kid: creating something real, something joyful, something simple. Today, it’s how I think of a blog, or of a trip with a friend. But I guess what I’ll always relate it to was that original creation of color on the untested coffee cup.
And so, here I am, with my coffee (tea) cup, enjoying away. The color has been carefully stroked over the rough exterior, the glaze has been added. There has been fire, and with it a kind of toughening, a callous over the deepening variations of color. It’s got a few small chips; these make it better for the wear. This cup knows who it is, who made it, and what it is for.