Don’t Just Sit There!
I learned to meditate in diapers. Two years old, and my shaman father (think Mr. Miyagi meets Santa Claus), lifted my nearly naked baby body into his Zenned-out home office to breathe deeply, meditate, and climb into lotus pose. Next to tall stacks of texts—Rumi, Alan Watts, Jung—I planted tiny headstands, gazed into his hazel eyes, and listened as he spoke about love, the soul, and humanity’s common purpose on this planet.
Conceived as a kind of freedom child in St. Petersburg by my Russian parents—who fled to Jackson Heights, Queens, to escape Soviet religious persecution—I was ready for the idyllic, all-American childhood I had come to see as my birthright by the time I was six. Then my mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Tragic. Sudden. Cancer. Within six months, she was gone. When asked to describe my childhood after that, I usually mention Running with Scissors, a memoir of a comically dysfunctional household headed by an eccentric therapist. If that doesn’t do the trick, I tell them this story.
My father, a medical doctor by training, cured himself of tuberculosis with a shaman in the woods outside St. Petersburg via Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and meditation. As the Soviets had banned these healing arts, my father saw America as the spot to
establish a psychotherapeutic practice that integrated shamanic, spiritual traditions. Setting up his office in our new apartment, his clients tended to be, shall we say, eccentric. Once, as a teenager, I heard Bach’s Goldberg Variations emanate from the living room, and strolled out of my bedroom to find his client—a pale woman in her twenties, bandaged wrists, shaved head—delicately pushing keys on our grand piano. One guy used to pee on our houseplants because he thought his urine was sacred!
A freethinker with a big gray beard and the kindest eyes, my father used to say that my shitty neighborhood public school was “conformist,” that the teachers and students were “asleep.” So I skipped classes to spend time alone in the library, reading Freud, Jung, and the other authors he favored. Nights and weekends, we meditated hours on end, and he trained me, after a fashion, in his psychotherapeutic and shamanic traditions. He also strutted around our apartment in his undies, played a mean saxophone, and drank me under the table. It was, shall we say, an unconventional childhood. And that’s before I bring up my Mohawk-coiffed, metal head big brother. Hi, Genia!
Signed to a Sony recording contract at the tender age of twenty, my life blurred into a stream of limousines, recording studios, cocaine, heroin, and sex. After my mother’s death, I felt like a window to my soul had cracked open, revealing a light that I desperately wanted to access. But I was stuck. Every once in a while when I was sober, I tried to meditate with my father like I used to, but it usually made the pain worse. It probably didn’t help that I was the kind of “spiritual” person who took breaks in the middle of a yoga class to blow coke lines in the bathroom!
Dropped by Sony, my downward descent spiraled into chaos. I moved in with a guy more akin to a drug dealer than a partner, and lived in a world of fashion shows, nightclubs, and parties. Accidentally pregnant, I finally stayed sober, until my
four-month-old daughter, Ula, died of SIDS. Half our apartment burned down, and we lived in the not burned out part for four months waiting for renovations. My best friend hung himself. None of this stopped me, but when my father died suddenly two years later, I cracked open completely. After a drug-fueled, hazy year straight out of Requiem for a Dream, I finally got sober.
When I finally kicked heroin, I committed to learn everything my father had tried to teach me while he was alive. I took stock of my messy life, disgusted by what I saw. At the time, I had no intention of writing a book; I was just searching for that X-Files truth. You know, the one that’s out there. But the more I studied and applied what I learned to everyday experiences, I began to grasp the power of meditation as a tool for healing and breakthrough. At last, I realized the “out there” truth I had spent my entire life looking for was actually in here, deep down inside me.
My father used to say, “meditation and yoga are wonderful tools, but they’re not the point.” It didn’t matter if I could meditate like a champ or pop up a kick-ass headstand; what mattered was that I could connect to my soul, and how awake I was to my true purpose on the planet. That required something new, and in mastering the spiritual toolkit I gleaned from my father, I now have access to an incredible spiritual high every day sans booze or blow.
I will be brutally honest: the work I teach isn’t easy. Even as a precocious student, to transform in the way I craved required years of dedicated study. Sure, a meditative mind calms, but a serious practice typically kicks up a lot of unpleasant shit. It forces us to confront aspects of ourselves we may see as ugly or shameful. We may run right into reality when we’d rather blast off to fantasyland. Meditation is first about clarifying who you truly are. Only then can you begin to create who you want to be.
Many of the concepts and ideas I lay out in this book build
on a philosophy of enlightenment known as The Fourth Way, developed in the early twentieth century by the Greek-Armenian mystic and philosopher George Gurdjieff. The other three paths to spiritual enlightenment take the way of the yogi, the monk, and the fakir—ascetics who shed worldly aims to purify their souls. This Fourth Way shows that we don’t have to escape modern life to reach enlightenment. Instead, you can use everyday experiences—a trip to the grocery store, a phone call with mom, the morning commute—to learn truths, practice mindfulness, and live on the spiritual plane. I like to think of this Fourth Way as a kind of “enlightenment for the rest of us.”
You can visualize this practice as an effort to live at the intersection of two lines that form a cross.
Along the horizontal line run the tangible, external realities we face in the physical world. Kids. Cars. Conference calls. The vertical line, by contrast, is the invisible, spiritual dimension of reality—the world of meditation, prayer, and the soul. The monk and yogi live almost entirely on the vertical line, for example, while most of us live our lives on the horizontal. This Fourth Way shows us that at the intersection of these lines we can live materially
satisfying cosmopolitan lives and satisfy our souls with transcendent spiritual bliss.
This philosophy teaches that all humans live under a set of spiritual laws that govern our experiences along the vertical and horizontal lines. These laws exert influence whether we’re aware of them or not, and if we’re inattentive, they can shape the contours of our lives in unpleasant ways. When I work with clients, I help them identify the laws working against them, then teach them how to integrate this knowledge into purposeful meditative practice. The process is messy, profound, and often a little painful. Over time, I’ve refined 44 of these laws as the backbone of my personal spiritual practice, as well as the work I do with my clients.
Since I acquired the tools to live above these laws, my life has transformed. No lie: when I started this work, I lived on food stamps and slept on friends’ couches. Several years later, I lead meditations from L.A. to the Mediterranean coast and points beyond. I’ve built a thriving practice doing work I love. I interact with the state of gratitude in a way I never thought possible. I’m married to the man of my dreams. I could go on. And on. But it’s not just me. I’ve helped clients overcome addiction, lose weight, trade unfulfilling jobs for dream careers and soul-sucking relationships for true love, embrace sexuality, and transform their lives in ways they could not possibly have imagined.
After I show you that the easiest way to understand your soul is to watch Forrest Gump, then share easy-to-use tools to meditate, the bite-sized chapters that follow lay out tiny, potent doses of spiritual info to walk you through steps you can take to live above the laws that keep you asleep on this planet. You’ll begin with a meditative practice, building up to thirty minutes daily. As your practice unfolds, each law reveals itself chapter by chapter until you begin to grasp the key role it plays. Finally, for every law
I’ve designed an aligned exercise—a verification point—that will let you see the ways a law operates in your life, and show you how to live above it. I suggest you buy a nice new journal, as several of the verifications use written exercises. You can also use a journal to jot down new ideas and discoveries as you work through the laws.
Once you make the commitment to do this work, extraordinary things will happen. You have a choice, though. If you want to feel really, really good for three days, read this book all the way through. If you want to transform your life, then you’ll need to meditate and do the exercises in each chapter, perhaps forming a study group to work through the laws with friends. The choice is yours. Really, no judgment. Either way, you win! But, these practices are the metaphysical equivalent of gym weights. When you lift, you chisel and tone your body. When you use these practices, you cut away the spiritual fat around your soul, sculpting your being into the masterpiece it was designed to be. As the process unfolds, you may realize you actually are your soul, and then you will find that anything . . . yes, anything . . . is possible.
At this point, you might ask, “What do you mean, I am my soul?” Well, to answer that question, we need to talk about Gump. Forrest Gump.