Hi, my name is Tom and I’ve lived all over the world. That always seems to be the most interesting thing about me when I introduce myself to people. Everyone wants to know where you’re from. Well, in my mind, I am from many places, and I am not from anywhere. I am a wandering spirit, as are we all.
I was born in Israel, just like Jesus. Not to draw any implicit connection, but you know, just sayin’. It’s not a bad place to be born. This was just before things got really heated over there, but anyway I don’t remember too much about Israel. We moved by the time I was 2 years old. My parents are not Jewish nor military folk. My dad was an adventurous software engineer, and these days he’s an adventurous manager. He wanted to travel, and travel we did.
My parents are both from Belgium. This is how I usually phrase it. I don’t say that I’m from Belgium. Not that I have anything against Belgium. My bloodline is from Belgium. But only for a while. If you trace it back, century after century, it goes on branching and wheeling across the world and eventually, I guess, into the Ocean, and back to the stars. But my spirit is from many places. For my spirit, discovering different cultures is like remembering the many masks I have worn throughout time and space. Does that sound cosmic enough?
I’m a pretty cosmic kind of guy. To me, what is happening nowadays, this whole globalization business, is pretty cosmic. I like to look for the highest potential in everything. There’s a lot that is not perfect about globalization. But to me the hidden gift of globalization is the ability for every individual to remember their universal nature. To realize that every culture, every language, is just a different way of expressing essential human themes. And at the heart of these is the pair of longing and embodiment… longing for home, and embodying love. Because love is our home.
One of the shadows of globalization is that it seems to be creating a world where money rules everything, and we’re all becoming the faceless agents of a system beyond anyone’s control. A system driven only by profit, that is draining the world’s resources and exploits those unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s like a great virus that covers the richness of humanity in sheathes of materiality. But maybe this virus is a necessary devil, acting as a carrier for a global communication network that can birth a new consciousness: that of all humanity as one global family. That’s my dream. That perhaps we can all awaken to the fact that we are all united and our only real purpose is to serve one another. That everything else is just a distraction.
For the last 14 years I’ve lived in the United States. Before that I lived in Taiwan and Belgium. In the States, I’ve lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Chicago, and California. I loved going to school in Washington DC. I didn’t like school in Virginia. I didn’t like North Carolina either, I was very rebellious and North Carolina felt far too conservative for me. I wanted to leave as soon as possible. Chicago was my relief from North Carolina, my great hub of culture and sophistication, but in Chicago I felt cut off and isolated. The city felt cold and hostile, although it had its moments of beauty.
But looking back, I spent a lot of my life feeling isolated and cut off. I was an introverted kid, I spent a lot of my time in books and in thought. I had a mean narcissistic streak, and felt like others couldn’t relate to me. But I don’t think I tried too hard to communicate my feelings to others. They were too obscured in complex ideas about the world and why, ultimately, it was a meaningless and hopeless place. Deep down, I was probably kind of depressed.
I ended up studying Philosophy in Chicago. I’ve always been fascinated by the big ideas of mankind. The big bang. Quantum theory. Theism vs. atheism. The meaning of life (42, incidentally). Death. And one avenue into many of these contemplations was psychedelic drugs. I loved taking drugs. They put me into an entirely different world that most people didn’t understand. Like the gateway into Narnia! I felt that in one night on mushrooms I had more thoughts than the average person had in a year. I thought about things most people would never care to think about. And it felt so… strange! They were like nothing else I had ever experienced.
But my experiences weren’t always pleasant. Sometimes I touched a deep hopelessness, a feeling that life was a meaningless charade where we all pretend everything is fine but deep down we all know it is doomed. At other times I would become aware of a presence that seemed so powerful it would overcome me completely, and for it to enter Tom would have to die. That was the most terrifying.
As I continued to experiment with psychedelics, these experiences became more and more frequent. Something wanted to take over, and I struggled to hold onto the reigns, even as the absurdities of my life were highlighted for me. I felt like an actor who refused to read the lines the director handed me, and instead stumbled around on stage foolishly and self-consciously.
This was also accompanied by a feeling that my friends and other people around me weren’t real, they were also just actors playing out their roles. This made me feel crazy, and then I became afraid that I would be seen as crazy and terrible things would happen to me. I was on a bad trip, folks. And it would have kept getting worse if I hadn’t, somehow, found it in myself to surrender.
If there is a message to my story, it is all captured in this word–surrender. I feel that it is perhaps the most profound thing we, as human beings, can do. To give up our need to control life. To trust. To let go of our ideas, our beliefs, our reason, our faith and our doubt. All of these can be ways that our minds go on attempting to control life. To give up our tendency to complain or blame others for our problems. To give up our tendency to judge others and ourselves. Essentially, to give up all the noise in our heads that keeps us from just being in the present moment, and becoming the silent witness of what is happening.
Surrender. I feel that I surrendered to two things simultaneously. I surrendered to a higher power and I surrendered to my physical experience. Before that happened, I never could have understood how deeply connected those two are. Our bodies are always having some physical experience, but we spend most of our time distracting ourselves from how our bodies are feeling. We move around, we go around doing things, we talk to each other, we drink and eat and sleep. But we usually spend very little time just sitting, closing our eyes, and feeling what’s going on with our bodies. It gets uncomfortable very quickly. I think most people realize this when they take psychedelics–it’s pretty uncomfortable to be in a body. Even when your body is perfectly healthy, it’s still liable to have all kinds of aches and pains just from sitting still. And when you’re high, it feels even stranger. You sweat for no reason, it just feels damn weird. You feel like a spirit that’s been thrown in a strange cage of bones and flesh and fluids. The body is weird!
But what does that discomfort have to do with a higher power? Well, as I said, most of our minds’ activity seems to be about distracting us from the present moment. Our minds are very future and past oriented. So much of our time is spent complaining about the past or anticipating the future. We work jobs we don’t like looking forward to when we get out of work. We go on vacation to places where we can go on distracting ourselves, with food and drink and this and that. And if anything happens to snap us out of our distraction, we get frustrated! And along the way, we develop a strong sense of who we are. We identify with our beliefs, with our behavior, with where we’re from, with what we’ve done, with what we like, and so on. But what happens when we start to just sit with the discomfort of the present moment? All that stuff starts getting burned away.
The ego starts getting burned away. When we surrender to the present moment, to just sitting with ourselves and reality as it is, all of our thoughts about the past and future and ourselves start to get burned away. They don’t serve any function anymore. There’s just this moment and the sensations going through the body, which are all impermanent. And there is the consciousness that is witnessing the body, witnessing the present moment. The consciousness that has always been there. The consciousness that was there when Tom was born, when Tom became 12, when Tom became 21, the consciousness that is here right now. But this consciousness has not always been Tom. Tom is an idea that appeared in this consciousness at some point. There is no point in tracing where this idea came from. But there is great value in seeing that it is an illusion. It is a useful illusion. A beautiful illusion, even, at times. But it is still an illusion. And the truth is far greater. The truth is that I am consciousness. I am not my beliefs, not my thoughts, not my deeds, not my past. I am not where I’ve lived, who I’ve known, or what I’ve done. I am consciousness, just as the deer outside my house is consciousness, my girlfriend is consciousness, my parents are consciousness, and you are consciousness. We are all consciousness, and consciousness is all there is. And this is beautiful. This is unifying, harmonizing, and it is peaceful.
And in the space of seeing this, something else becomes apparent. What becomes apparent is that there is a force moving through all things. I see, with more and more clarity, that I am not the source of my actions or my deeds, any more than I am the source of the sensations in my body or the things I witness externally. In fact, everything is just happening, and if I can do anything at all, I can surrender to what is happening. I can surrender to the flow of life through me. I can surrender to the sensations I feel. I can surrender to the situations life brings me. And in this surrender, there is a sense of communion. A sense that I am coming into harmony with the source of all of this.
And it’s also a sense that Tom is dying. Not that my body is dying, but that identification with the body is dying. That identification with thoughts is dying, so thought patterns that used to be very strong start to unravel. Thoughts like “this is good” and “that is bad.” When there is just consciousness observing and embracing what it sees, these thought patterns start to unravel. And so the sense of Tom unravels as well. The whole flavor of life changes. And it’s wonderful! It’s liberating, and peaceful, and full of love and beauty.
So when I tell my story of living, I start to tell a story of dying. As one of my spiritual teachers said, “The art of living is also the art of dying.” Because we all die eventually. And they say that the wise are those who, rather than despair, use this realization as the fuel for their desire to find what is deathless. Because saints and sages of all traditions have told us there is a deathless. And it is not a matter of faith, it is a matter of inquiry into your own being and realizing the truth for yourself. As we realize this, on a collective level, all the divisions of religion and creed will drop away.
When I tell my story, I always find myself drawn to what I consider to be the essential. My girlfriend has a different style, she loves to chronicle events and people and use the stories to share her wisdom. I just go straight to being. I don’t think that one is right and the other is wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to be interested in the every-day realities of material life, to highlight the dramas we all play out. I just know that my spirit just wants to rest in this truth–we are all consciousness. And we don’t need anything else! We can just be consciousness and sip the divine tea of freedom.
This is also why I love tea ceremony. It takes being and turns it into an art. When we sip tea, we sip being. We meet as one and leave as one, and the ceremony reminds us of our unity.
I love my parents, I love Belgium, I love God, I love Jesus and the Buddha and Lao Tzu and Mooji and Goenkaji, I love my brother and my girlfriend. I love the US and Santa Cruz. The more I lose myself, the more I love, because I don’t need anything to be any particular way. I just accept and embrace everything as it is. And if an impulse arises inside me to make an adjustment, to fix something, to change something, to protest something, then I embrace that as well. Because I see how everything is a part of the whole, and the whole goes on changing. And sometimes the changes come through us. It’s a beautiful paradox that cannot be understood, only lived.
Life is a beautiful paradox that cannot be understood, only lived.
When all’s said and done, this isn’t my story, it’s our story. That gives me hope. I look forward to a day when we encourage our kids to meditate, when we hold compassion in greater esteem than knowledge. I pray that my life can be a pure light of illumination for others, and that together we heal the wounds of the world through the depth of our surrender.
OK, I think that’s enough for today. I hope this finds you all well, inspired, peaceful and loving. May all beings be released from suffering. May we all be supported in walking this holy path. May we have fun too!