The moment arrived unannounced during a set of solitary yoga postures on my plush, living room rug. A long stretch to relieve the tension of the day popped something open inside me. It was not a ligament or a tendon. It was my hardened heart.
In the Hollywood version of the story, the hero manages to crawl to the phone, call 911, and then wakes up in a hospital bed after a miraculous, life-saving operation by a brilliant, open-heart surgeon. The experience impresses upon our hero a number of crucial life lessons. After the crisis, the hero’s character and actions towards others change profoundly for the better.
Unfortunately, life does not resemble a Hollywood B movie. My physical heart had not split open while in shoulder stand on the rug. A more subtle heart had opened, and with it, a door to a new world and another destiny.
It all started with Jorge, the new employee I would never have gone to lunch with if my usual lunch-buddies had not run off somewhere without me. Jorge was Mexican, the only Latin guy on the second floor executive suite of Wallco, a wallpaper distribution company that hired mostly white Anglos in 1981, when Miami’s transformation into a multi-cultural city began in earnest.
Jorge, like me, was in his early thirties, average looking, average height, dark hair, brown eyes, thin mustache — an easy to get lost in the crowd kind of guy. I had no idea his unheralded arrival would trigger a seminal occurrence in my life.
Wallco hired Jorge for its fledgling export division. Jorge’s mission was to open up markets in South America and the Caribbean–approximately one quarter of the world–all by himself. He had the ability to speak Spanish and, I presumed, super-human sales skills coupled with a pioneering spirit. I didn’t envy Jorge one bit.
I considered myself above Jorge. I was the high and mighty Marketing Director—Jorge the lowly new sales recruit. I had served my time in sales. I was grateful beyond words not to have to spend my days selling wallpaper sample books to dealers who had no more room in their stores for them. I figured, if nothing else, I could learn something about the export market by going to lunch with the new recruit. Besides, Jorge was the only soul left on the second floor other than myself.
Jorge suggested we eat at a quiet, natural food restaurant in Miami Springs. My lunch prospects had just been elevated from a singular, fatty, McDonald’s affair to a tasty, low cholesterol engagement. I happily agreed.
Over salads and grain burgers, I discovered Jorge was a vegetarian and engaged in practicing meditation on a daily basis. Here was a subject I had some interest in, having experimented with various forms and teachers of meditation over the years. You might say I was a semi-serious spiritual seeker. I had reached a curious crossroads, a sort of impasse in my life.
I had everything a thirty something American male could wish for: the perfect job in a field I enjoyed; a great boss; a townhouse bachelor pad; girlfriends, a few pals to hang out with; a sports car and club memberships. I had scrupulously followed the prescribed formulas for success. I had cobbled together many of the accoutrements of an ideal life.
Yet I felt restless and unfulfilled.
I was terrified there was something terribly wrong with me. I felt the cold winds of middle age blowing in my direction. I saw myself dating one girl after another well into my eighties, until I finally abandoned the search for true love when my body and spirit caved in from old age.
There I was, sitting across from this lowly new recruit munching on his iceberg lettuce. He casually mentioned losing 80 pounds after becoming a vegetarian. I commented that it must have taken a great deal of willpower. He answered, “Not really.”
I began to pepper Jorge with questions. The guy was unlike many of the salespeople in our company I regularly rubbed elbows with. He had a depth and an intensity that I found intriguing.
I asked Jorge what kind of meditation he practiced. He said it was not a “kind of meditation.” He launched into a passionate discourse about a profound experience of peace the meditation opened up for him. He invited me to a presentation scheduled at a hotel on Miami Beach that evening. I told myself there was no way I was going to drive all the way from South Miami to the Beach to attend some dubious spiritual seminar.
That night, I found myself sitting in a lime green, orange accented meeting room at the Carlyle Hotel.
Curiosity—and some undefinable vibe emanating from between Jorge’s words at lunch had picked me up from the chocolate brown pit sofa in my living room and deposited me in an uncomfortable chair surrounded by a room full of strangers.
Indian music played from six-foot speakers flanking a makeshift stage. The only thing that kept me in my seat was the absence of Hare-Krishna-like chanting.
I glanced to my left and caught a glimpse of Jorge, who smiled kindly at me. Someone took the stage and began speaking into a microphone.
The Indian Music and the microphone are the only details I recall after the program began. My perspective slowly shifted from an external focus to a pleasant inner experience.
A succession of three speakers addressed the gathering that evening. I do not recall a single word any one of them said. I just remember feeling relaxed. I had an experience that can only be described as feeling at home with myself.
For the first time in a very long while, I had actually enjoyed myself without a great deal of effort or alcohol to help me along. I felt like an invisible hand had knocked off a layer of caked mud from my body.
It is difficult for me to describe what happened after that evening. I can only say that it marked the beginning of a long journey that lasts to this day, to this very moment.
In the days and weeks after the event at the Carlyle Hotel, I met Jorge’s teacher, who essentially introduced me to myself. I thought I knew myself pretty well. I began to see that the image I held of myself was only a faint glimmer of a deeper, broader Self, filled with possibilities.
Many years later, my life remains full of challenges, but I face them with real joy and optimism. I have discovered that life can be every bit as beautiful as you want it to be. It takes some courage and effort, but the possibility is real for anyone willing to step up to the plate.
I look inward now for satisfaction, rather than chasing it on the outside. I shake hands with myself on a daily basis through meditation. I feel more grounded. I feel more love from within, which reflects positively into my outer life.
It occurs to me that I should have picked up the tab for Jorge’s lunch. Jorge, buddy, if you’re out there somewhere and can read this, please know that I owe you one.
Top photo from the Dutchville Exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute