From Becoming A Somebody to Becoming A Nobody
The story of the last 3.5 years that changed the course of my life forever.
The course of my life over the past 3.5 years has shifted in a way I could have never predicted. I have not written much or talked about this publicly, but some of those close to me have been somewhat aware of the changes I’ve went through.
It has been a magical journey. One with the highest highs and the lowest lows. I woke up this morning with an energy to write this story down, mainly for myself.
I share all of this not to tell anyone how to live or cast judgment. Rather, just to share my direct experience in order to express myself and maybe help anyone who might be going through something similar.
Becoming A Somebody
3.5 years ago I was living in New York city. My startup Troops had raised its series B, and I was almost 4 years into the company with seemingly unbounding energy to make it successful...albeit fueled by adrenaline and fear.
When I think about my moment to moment life experience, there was almost a maniacal emphasis on producing.
I’d get up around 530-6, hit the gym, read, meditate, and be in the office by 8am. In between these activities I was usually listening to a podcast or some piece of material oriented around improving my life in some shape or form.
Workdays were frenetic and adrenaline filled racing from one activity to another. At the time though, it never felt like work to me. I loved the feeling of making things happen and then seeing the fruits of my labor. That was all I’d had known and those conditioned behaviors seemed to be serving me well by society’s standards.
Following work, there’d usually be some form of dating or business networking activity that would fill an evening. And then I’d get up and do the same thing again and again.
If you asked most people around me at the time, I imagine they would say I was “killing it” with the normal emotions of a highly functioning human.
These were the games I was playing and I was a pretty good game player.
Though my life might look mildly similar on the outside today, the inside back then was a totally different story. It felt like every single moment of every day contained thoughts oriented around insatiable drive to prepare for a better future:
To make my company successful
To eat healthier
To have a better body
To have more friends
To have more experiences and try everything that life had to offer
To put it simply, I was very focused on “becoming somebody.” And I couldn’t be satisfied or sit still.
It almost felt like there was a continuous program that was constantly running in the background that looked at every moment as a means to an end to get the highest yield on life…whatever that means.
This state consumed me consciously and unconsciously. It’s who I thought I was.
And even though I had been meditating most days for 7 years, the concept of presence was very much an on and off switch. There was a polarity between when I sat down on the chair and what my mind looked like every other moment of the day.
A Catalyst to A Gradual Shift
In January of 2018, I had my first ayahuasca experience and then I had another one in April of that year. I know, I know…here we go, another guy talking about how ayahuasca changed his life. I’m also kind of laughing because after the first one, of course I decided to turn a sacred ritual into a “quarterly activity.”
These experiences were multifaceted and quite profound, but two big things happened to me that changed the course of my being.
In the first experience, I had an experience where I truly felt like I was able to touch the divine. Like I was in the complete love and presence of my creator. The direct experience of being so enraptured in love was so powerful that it is not only impossible to forget, it is impossible to not seek returning back to that place with all of my heart. For a month following the experience, I was on a complete cloud of love and levity as I returned to my normal activities.
The second experience, I had what some people may consider a kundalini awakening. Energy pulsed through my body for over 5 hours during the experience. As unfamiliar as this was, I was told shaking could be a symptom of purging so I was not alarmed. It kind of felt like my body was doing a little dance without any conscious thoughts and then became immensely pleasurable.
And then, to my surprise, a few weeks later the energy started to pulsate through my body during my daily meditation. I shook it off as residue from the experience, but later that day it happened again…and then again.
The energy began to pulse through me every time I had a quiet mind, sometimes happening 10-15x a day. To say I was alarmed was an understatement. The spontaneous nature of the energy made trying to sleep miserable and for many awkward moments around other people as I tried to conceal what I was experiencing inside me.
To put it in context, kundalini symptoms basically look and feel like you have this involuntarily, spontaneous energetic sensation and at times jerking through the body. You can subdue the energy with your mind most times, but it arises purely spontaneously.
This is a video I had my parents take in July of that year that so I had something to show the Doctors. Although this may look odd, when this was happening (and in general) there were no conscious thoughts in my mind. Energy was just shooting through me and I just observe(d) it in my head as it does its thing.
**note if this is happening to you or someone you know, please see resources I’ve included at the end of the post**
The first few months of this happening to me, I had no idea what it was and was scared shitless.
Did I screw myself up? Did ayahuasca do some irreversible damage to me?
One day I googled “shaking during meditation” and found this Quora thread that was the first time I had ever seen the word Kundalini. It described my symptoms quite accurately which was comforting…for a day.
But still I needed answers. I didn’t know anyone who had ever gone through this that I could talk to. And all kinds of additional weird things started happening to me from seeing all kinds of visuals when I closed my eyes to sleep, to hearing voices in the middle of the night, and waking up in weird Asana poses.
I thought I was going crazy and when I told my parents they were pretty alarmed and concerned.
And the shaking…had I developed epilepsy or Parkinson's disease?
I went and saw every western doctor I could find that focuses on anything related to involuntarily shaking from neurologists, to epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease specialists which culminated in a 36 hour brain study at NYU hospital.
This is a picture of me at my brain study in September 2019.
And despite the energy causing involuntarily gyrating through my body with wires hooked up to my brain at NYU hospital no one in western medicine could tell me what was going on with my body.
“It must be stress” is what they said.
After four years of running a startup, I knew what stress looked like and this was definitely not stress. I later came to realize this period I was going through both physically and mentally is often called a “Spiritual Emergency.” A month or so later I found this book on Spiritual Emergency from Stanislav Graf which was incredibly helpful.
I became consumed with figuring out what was happening with me. Dissatisfied with my answers from western doctors, I sought out many teachers and modalities in eastern traditions to try to understand what was going on and how to work with this experience.
The Energy As My Teacher
At the time, I was still heavily invested in all of the things that I was previously such as my career, health, personal life and family life…but my number one priority started to become exploring this energy pulsing through my body.
Why did this happen to me?
Why were all these out-there spiritual people telling me how lucky I was?
What actually happens when all this energy fully runs its course?
I just want to be able to get some sleep and get on with my damn life! What happened to the simplicity of wanting to be successful, make money, and have a rich personal & social life!?
The answers to these questions started to become the most important part of my life. I mean how could they not when something so visceral is happening to your physical body?
I consumed every book I could read and worked with many different people until I found a teacher that felt like they could help me.
The belief system that started to resonate with me was that we are energetic beings. This energy (prana, qi, ka) is constantly running through our bodies if we are healthy. And all of us have a latent energy center at the base of our spine that contains an extraordinary amount of energy. For most people, this remains latent and undiscovered their entire life. But for whatever reason, in my case it got completely blown open leaving me with this feeling of energy surging through my body.
The shaking in response to the flow of energy was due to energetic “blocks” in my body stored from previous experiences, lives, or repressed emotions. These are often called Samskara or patterns in certain eastern traditions.
With this idea is that we are all energy, even things like thoughts and emotions are made up of energy. When most animals experience some sort of trauma, they allow it to pass through their physical body by shaking or not being consumed by it.
Because of our lovely prefrontal cortex, most humans ignorantly engage with these energies when they happen. We try to analyze them or repress them instead of just letting them pass. In one way or another, we “get caught up” in a thought or emotion mostly in order to try and protect ourselves. This ignorance causes the energy to get blocked or stuck in our bodies vs. allowing it to flow smoothly through.
At the time, a consistent theme from all the wisdom and teachers I could find was that in order to more systematically become enlightened and have optimal health & functioning, I needed to remove these blocks so the energy could flow smoothly.
This concept of energetic blocks and removing is pervasive in the spiritual world so naturally you have all types of people telling you different ways you can remove them.
Being an experienced meditator, at this point I was pretty good at watching my thoughts. So what resonated with me was this idea that I could examine any moment or thing I was resisting and then let that go in that moment. Practically this looked like being able to observe things that triggered me, caused me to feel bad or were simply negative emotions and then surrender to them in real time or shortly after.
By surrender, I mean feeling into the experience or emotion and then sitting with it without judgment until it dissolved. Upon observing it, I would often in my head say “can you accept or allow that you feel x” or “can you allow that you felt x.” When I would think about the emotion or resistance, my body would often tense up and the task was more or less to relax into that tension until it disappeared. Sometimes I’d just start balling my eyes out in the middle of a meeting inexplicably and would just have to turn my camera off and go with it.
This process became my most important task or every moment of every day. Presence and alertness became my best friend in order to run this process and sometimes it felt like I did it over 50x a day.
Over the years as I’ve done this, the energy has smoothed out. And though the jerkiness shown in the video has quieted down, the energy still pulses through me at a visceral level where I can feel it surging through my body most days. I’ve come to learn that this physical response to the energy is also just a conditioned pattern or concept that needs to be released which I am still actively working on.
To say all this made everyday life (especially dating 🤣) interesting is an understatement : )
I want this post and concept to be actionable so I created a more in depth review of how to actively and habitually practice “letting go” of patterns here as described above.
At first, having such a pointed focus on observing everything all day long felt like a bit of an effort. It kind of reminds me of when I’d read a Tony Robbins’ type book and they’d give you some advice on how to control your emotions or state, and then actually remembering to habituate it in practice was very hard.
In this instance, the process of observing and relinquishing patterns clicked rather quickly and eventually became almost like an automatic part of my cognition. It feels effortless and like a natural part of who I am. Eventually, everything became a spiritual practice or meditation. And everything I got triggered by in my daily activities became an opportunity to examine a pattern and let it go.
I am not sure why, but my whole life every wise person has told me to do the thing that doesn’t feel like work. For me for some reason, there is nothing more resonant with that statement than the practices I’ve just described within the grander context of Self-realization.
Through almost gradual inertia, all of those maniacal thoughts about preparing for a better future by being successful in business, physically, and socially became replaced by preparing for a better future by growing spiritually. It just was far more interesting to me and the pull was stronger than anything I’d ever experienced. It was like I downloaded a program that could not be uninstalled even if I wanted to. I didn’t have a choice! I now understood why many people who’ve had deep spiritual experiences make remarks like “once the door has been opened, there’s no going back.”
As this was all happening, I still participated in all my worldly activities like my job and social life earnestly. But inside of me, what were previously primary motives took a back seat to this burning desire to explore the Self and bounds of consciousness to arrive permanently at unconditional love.
I started to view the primary function of my worldly pursuits as a mirror in order to show me what I was resisting and causing me to react. The primary goal was to evolve my level of consciousness, and the world was the classroom.
What was pissing me off at work?
What did I perceive as going right or wrong in my dating life?
What caused me to feel sad or happy?
What part of any experience am I resisting?
Every time I got triggered by something, I’d deal with it using the letting go process in the moment or write it down to eventually deal with it later.
All of these were like keys to showing me underlying patterns and programs that needed to be addressed so that I could become a more clear channel of light and have a completely open heart at all times.
The end state I was and am still seeking (I know seeking is a bad word!) is unconditional peace, joy, and acceptance for all things regardless of the circumstances outside of me. I wanted to remove all these programs that prevented me from unconditional love of everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Before all of this happened, I was trying to control everything in the outside world to match my patterns so that I could feel good. Even from a pure logic standpoint vs. innate desire, controlling everything outside of me in order to feel a certain way seemed like a very precarious way to live. I wanted to go from conditional joy to unconditional joy; to move to a state where the inside world was unaffected by the outside world so that I could feel good all the time. To me, that is what the spiritual path is all about.
At the end of the day, the only reason why anyone does anything is to feel a certain way. So why not play the game of addressing the root cause vs. continue to play an un-winnable game. I tried it and went hard in the paint, and it just seemed trying to make everything in your life perfect all the time is an impossible task.
Becoming No One
All this work and focus on having a permanent spiritual awakening has had an immense impact on my day to day experience. The progress and understanding has been gradual vs. a light switch that just turned on.
Today, I am much more at ease and equanimous. Despite the harsh emotional climate the past few years of struggling with health issues and being on the roller coaster of selling a company, things don’t really bother me anymore. When they do, I am able to bounce back to peace very quickly and accept reality as it it. This acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy or want things, but if they don’t materialize you don’t get caught up in that. You work and experience life dutifully, while increasing your ability to accept all things with an open heart.
My mind also feels a lot more empty. I have long periods of no thoughts or voice in my head at all and everything happens spontaneously while I just watch it. Sometimes I wish I could compare what the inside of my mind looked like before vs. now just to see how much less cluttered it is, but I guess things don’t quite work like that!
Lastly, there is no shortage of phenomena I have experienced during this process that often fall in the category of temporary siddhis. I don’t think it’s worth regaling you about these experiences, but it’s a lot of it’s been pretty out there and occurs without any outside substances typically used to experience altered states of consciousness. These experiences that occur with increasing levels of frequency have substantiated my belief that as you evolve spiritually, your brain and physical body evolve opening rendering new capabilities. Thus, my current belief is that we all are evolution, and the path of human evolution is innately intertwined with the evolution of your consciousness.
As someone who believes in Science, I was highly skeptical of many of these phenomena until they started to happen to me in ways so visceral that they are impossible to ignore or deny…when something happens like seeing a giant white aura around someone, you can’t unsee it! Your perspectives change due to new context which cements the idea that everyone’s beliefs are merely reflections of their own experience. This knowing further absolves you of separateness.
With all this progress and revelation, I was feeling good and then there was yet another major inflection point. One day I woke up and recognized that all of this obsession and militantness with spiritual growth, is yet another attachment. It is just trading one game for another one.
Both games were oriented towards humans’ inherent desire to survive. The materialistic game focused on outward success in life was ultimately grounded in the desire to be safe and secure. All the feelings you get by being successful in anything come back to self preservation when you trace it back to the core.
And guess what, for me at least, my insatiable drive to become enlightened and closer to the divine ended up having very similar roots. The ego was dying to achieve something in preserving the conceptual self based on its own merit. And of course, it wanted a pat on the back for the efforts and rewards.
In the same way, I was a voracious pursuer of knowledge and achievement in the material world, I was exhibiting the equivalent behavior in the spiritual realm. Reading every book, listening to every podcast, meditating and practicing qigong with heroic discipline and zeal. There was still a focus on getting somewhere or becoming someone on the back of my own efforts. Even if it was done in a way grounded in humility and humbleness vs. all of these “awakened” people out there who are engaged in spiritual comparison, there was still a DOer.
As my spiritual teacher put it, “I’ve never seen anyone trying to die so hard, that’s resisting dying.”
But who is the self? Who is this I?
And by who, I mean who is this doer thinking that more doing is going to result in complete realization.
If you are merely a witness to a collection of experiences and ideas thrust upon you which constructs a personality…is that really you?
To relinquish all attachments and defense of “who you are,” while pursuing the things that inspire and resonate with you as they happen is my task at hand. This is my current pursuit in my phase of self-realization and it occurs every moment of everyday.
For me the identification with that I vs. the one who experiences feels like a revolving door. One day I’m there, the next I get sucked back in. In any case, my life is a lot better now and I trust it is all unfolding in perfect timing.
This idea of becoming no one (or permanent dis-identification with the ego) doesn’t mean that you are not in this world. In fact, to most people nothing might be different about you at all.
But internally, there is a vast difference to the texture of the experience on the inside. This is why people say “in this world, but not of it.” And it is my observation and hypothesis that many great leaders and luminaries creating vast change in the material world operate from this place.
So don’t think by pursuing these ideas, you’re relegating yourself to become an unproductive hermit. In fact, you will have more creativity and inspiration than ever, in whatever form that may take. Just ask Elon!
The most interesting and frankly challenging part of this journey has been the polarity of where I came from and where I am trying to go. For so long I was so focused on becoming someone, to now being inspired to become no one.
My career, my ultra successful peer group, the expectation that others have put on me…those mirrors have not changed. I have not dropped out of society to live in an ashram so that I no longer need to encounter these things. That would be fleeing from my Guru…which is all people and things perfectly unfolding to bring the Self back to remembrance of the truth about who you are.
I think the thing I must face most regularly is the reaction to the outside world on this shift. For so long, I was leading the pack in so many areas of my life that society puts on a pedestal. And now, my innate desires have taken me somewhere else. When most people around you are trying to become a somebody, and you’re trying to become an embodiment of love, the mirror to your patterns is strong if you stay planted in this space. I guess that’s the point.
I feel the judgment even if it's passive amongst people around me. It’s as if I was in a race and they feel like the horse just lost its wind and all the other horses have pulled ahead.
“I don’t mean to say anything, but what happened to this horse? Why is it now behaving this way?”
Under the veil of this race, the horse has decided to play a different game.
And who is this I anyways? It is certainly not this body or these thoughts. But we will save that for a future discussion ; )
If you liked reading this, feel free to click the ❤️ button on this post so more people can discover it on Substack 🙏
A note to readers: if you find yourself going through a similar energetic experience or confusion, I highly recommend the book Spiritual Emergency by Stanislav Grof.
Additional suggested reading specific to this post:
Thanks for reading Life-LongLearner! Subscribe for free to receive new posts