The trees are SO BIG!

When I told one of my friends from Birmingham that I was moving to Oregon, the first thing IMG_5588he said was “OMG the trees there are SO BIG!” I found myself in the woods, somewhere in the middle of Oregon looking at the biggest trees I have ever seen, with no reception and dragging my luggage into a cabin. I met a fellow Jesuit Volunteer who was having trouble with her luggage and I offered to help her since we were headed to the same gender-neutral cabin. I was one of only three guys in the cabin, all of which were LGBT. We were given name tags to wear, and the staff asked us to write our preferred gender pronouns and I immediately knew I had made the right decision to serve through JVC Northwest.

145 JV’s from all over the country arrived in Camp Adams in Molalla, OR and received materials for our journey with JVC Northwest. We got t-shirts, folders, notebooks, pens and papers that will lead us into the coming week of what JVCNW calls discernment. I have often heard this term in the Jesuit community. According to Wikipedia, within the Christian religious context, discernment “…can be used to describe the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or for one’s life. In large part, it describes the interior search for an answer to the question of one’s vocation…”

I wouldn’t completely define myself as a Christian, but this is exactly what I have felt during Orientation and this is what JVC Northwest wants JV’s to understand when we were called to apply for this program and to remember in our placement sites.  For me, it was difficult to leave the comforts of my house in Birmingham, but something unexplainable pushed me all the way out here to Oregon. And now, here I am sitting in my desk that was used by previous JV’s that lived in my house that looks like the Social Justice Club from college took over.

Looking around during Orientation, I saw that many JV’s came from white upper-middle class families. Being one of only a few Latinos was a weird experience, but I enjoyed that many JV’s felt as strongly as I did about social and ecological justice issues. The week consisted of many workshops, lectures, tools and reading material that would help us incorporate the four pilars into our JV year; community, simple living, social and ecological justice and spirituality. I knew that I wanted to continue my spiritual journey, but I also knew that I needed to do more personal work in simple living. Our monthly stipend is only $100, with $100 transportation and $20 for emergency. Since my service site is only a 10 minute walk from my house, I get to use the extra $100 for other expenses including weekend trips to Portland.

I met my 7 housemates in Orientation anIMG_5594d they are probably one of the nicest group of individuals  that I have met. On the last day of Orientation our support families (families that help you integrate into the community that you’re serving/living in) drove us to our house in Gresham, OR. The house has 9 rooms, 2 and half bathrooms, 2 floors, a large kitchen, dining room and living room. After we saw that there were 8 of us, we knew that making community decisions will be a large process. Our shared community stipend has to be spent accordingly on large amounts of groceries. Making dinner plans is a large task since we have to make food for all 8 of us. When we were making a list of groceries for the first time, and I began to have a headache and I think one of my housemates could tell. She briefly mentioned that it might be a good idea to go around and check up on how each of us are feeling. I think it was because she saw how stressed I looked.

IMG_5596The 4 people assigned to get groceries came back with large quantities of food, and everyone began to help in the kitchen to make our first dinner. The only other guy in the house, Danny, brought out his iPhone and began to play some oldies. I was coming down from the staircase when I heard Respect by Aretha Franklin. I slid into the kitchen and started dancing to the song and everyone laughed, danced and sang along with me. I felt so happy and overjoyed. I know we’re not all going to be best friends, but so far, this really isn’t so bad… and the trees are seriously SO BIG!

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Goodbye, Alabama!

In the middle of applying to a handful of jobs before graduating college, I received an email about an opportunity to intern for the federal government with an organization called “The Washington Center”. I have heard about the program before, and I heard acquaintances say that they had a great time in Washington DC. I applied for the program hoping to land a summer paid internship in DC and didn’t hear anything two weeks after graduation. I had just moved into an apartment in Manhattan, NYC when I receive an email from The Washington Center. The email stated that I was accepted for a paid internship program working for the Birmingham VA Medical Center in Birmingham, AL. The opportunity for a higher paying internship in health care seemed incredible, but as a Latino gay man who grew up in one of the most liberal areas of the United States, living in Deep South and what used to be the largest segregated city in the country seemed a bit daunting.

A week later, I packed my bags and headed for Birmingham, AL not knowing what to expect.

Me in ATL

Me in ATL

A great group of friends, a few trips to incredible cities, a few pounds heavier from all the greasy food, and a boyfriend later, here I am still in Birmingham, AL packing my bags to leave for another adventure. When I first moved to Birmingham, I thought it would be impossible to connect with people here, but little did I know that southern people are extremely genuine people. The friends that I have met here have truly gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable. I even began to jokingly call my friends Jeff and Russell (life partners) my Birmingham parents, because they truly sought me when I needed help. While Birmingham is a small city, it has its perks and it’s very up-and-coming. There are some great restaurants and festivals, and if you don’t feel like that’s enough, you can take a 2-hour drive to Atlanta, GA or Nashville, TN. Or you can take a weekend beach trip to the Gulf Shores or the Florida panhandle. On top of that, New Orleans is only a 6-hour drive, a trip that I made more than once and it was worth it!

I put on my jeans for casual Friday at work just yesterday and I felt extremely bloated. I realized that my friends and coworkers had been feeding me as much southern food as possible in my goodbye parties and some birthday parties I recently attended. My boss jokingly said “maybe this peach cobbler, fried chicken, shrimp and girts and banana pudding will make you stay.” I wish food would be the decision maker for me, because leaving Birmingham is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make – something that I thought was impossible when I first moved here.

I will admit that there were some tough days working at the Birmingham VA hospital and from bhamparents
simply living in AL. I was often asked about my heritage and given stares, which is something I was not used to. My college was named one of the most diverse colleges in the country, and my high school was one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in an area that was already extremely diverse. Coming to a place where this isn’t the norm was a challenge that I expected, but I overcame and embraced it. There were times were I would drive down the highway and see billboards that openly talked about how the bible condemns certain practices and about going to hell. I learned to find the humor in these, but it was definitely shocking at first.

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Now I really have to stop procrastinating this whole packing situation, so let me wrap it up. I made the experience the best I could and I would do it all over again. I would like to thank all my Birmingham friends who are reading this and those who aren’t. I truly gained a new home and a new family when I moved here. All the tiny experiences and beautiful moments I had, I will take with me to Oregon and wherever I go next. Thank you for all your support, generosity and friendship. I will see you soon!

New Adventures! – Decisions, Choices and Changes

Hi again!

I decided to bring back my blog since I am currently in the process of embarking on a new journey  and I saw that blogging was something that I enjoyed doing during my last semester of college.

After I graduated college back in May 2014 I decided to take a year to “figure things out.” I got a nice comfy job in Birmingham, AL at a VA hospital. While here, I looked into different options to move my career forward. Many things happened in this year. I thought I was going abroad, and didn’t. I thought about going to graduate school and couldn’t come up with the money. I thought I would go back home, but I didn’t feel compelled to do that either. After much debate and decision making, I finally decided to apply to Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest and got an amazing position as the Anti-Poverty Specialist for Catholic Charities in their El Programa Hispano office in Gresham, OR. Gresham is a suburb 20 minutes outside of Portland (50 minutes in public transportation).

Moving back to the West Coast is taking a lot of planning on my end since I currently live in the Deep South. So I’m carefully planning my itinerary for the next month before the big move.

Here is my schedule for the next month:
July 18th – Goodbye party at my house in Birmingham, Alabama.

July 26th – Drive from Birmingham, AL to Baldwin, NY (Long Island), where my parents live, with Richard (my cat!). Not looking forward to the 18 hour drive.

My cat, Richard. He is now over 8 months old.

July 30th – Fly from New York to San Francisco, CA and hang out in in Bay Area with high school friends and my best friend.

August 3rd – Fly from SFO to PDX (Portland!) where I will meet my ride to take me to week long orientation in Camp Adams just outside of Portland.

All exciting things that will happen before I embark on this new journey. But the choice to leave Alabama and not go back to NY was not an easy one. I made some great friends, met an amazing guy, and became a pet owner. And now I will leave this all behind, but I always knew that I was not going to stay here and this was very temporary. While my job was comfy, there was nothing that inspired me to stay there. While I learned to really love the South and Birmingham, there was nothing for me here to grow in my career.

i’m really excited to move, but I’m also going to miss my comfortable life terribly. I will look forward to the bright days, and I will watch for the tough ones. Nonetheless, I am happy with my decision. Hopefully everything will turn for the better.

Goodbye!

It has been an incredible experience to learn how to reach to an audience that is interested in practicing spirituality. With a growing rate of people who identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” I wanted to grab the attention of college students, because college is a spiritual experience as you have seen in my posts.

I am currently developing ideas about other blogs/websites that I want to create about activism and new experiences that I will be embarking on after my college graduation in less than 2 weeks. So, if you are interested and want to keep in contact, please follow me on social media or email:

Instagram: carlosagb

Twitter: carlosagonzxx

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carlos.andre.5811

email: carlosagb22@gmail.com

Again, thank you so much for all your attention and please do not hesitate to contact me 🙂

Peace,

Carlos

Judgment Calls

One of my favorite new age spiritual leaders, Gabrielle Bernstein, mentioned in a recent blog post called 5 Ways to Awaken Your Hidden Power the power that judgment has in our relationships. Bernstein challenges her readers and followers to “Judge No More:”

“Judge No More
Judgment weakens your power. I recently felt this firsthand when I noticed myself casually trash-talking. I wasn’t necessarily saying anything really mean or untrue, but it was trash-talking nonetheless. Afterwards I felt awful. My energy was low and I was weak. After witnessing how my words had weakened my power, I decided to change my ways. That moment I started counting how many days I’ve gone without judging. It’s been seven days now and I feel more energized, more connected to others and more powerful!

The reason is simple: Judgment creates separation. A Course in Miracles says, “The ego cannot survive without judgment. The ego seeks to divide and separate. Spirit seeks to unify and heal.” Though judgment may be our default, unity is our truth. The moment we release judgment, unity is restored. Each shift from judgment to unity is a miracle. {Tweet it} Join me in counting days of judgment and raising our high vibes!”

In our early 20s, we believe that judgment is almost nature to us. However, this is completely wrong. We judge each other and ourselves every day. And frankly, like Bernstein says, judging creates separation. We can look at any examples throughout history that people have judged one another and has  created separations between two communities of people.

As I have mentioned, before this spiritual awakening, I was in a really rough spot in my life. I had little to look forward to, and no one to really speak to about my issues. When I first started practicing meditation and reading spiritual books, a close friend of mine began to judge me for my new ways of thinking. I would tell him about my new perspective on life, people and the world, and he would bash it with saying that I wasn’t being realistic. I told him that what’s realistic is that love is everywhere and only love can save us from our dark places. By the way, I’m not saying it’s not okay to sit on sadness. It is keen to acknowledge the way you feel about a situation, so that you may move on once you are ready.

Nonetheless, my friend’s judgments strained our friendship. I couldn’t talk to him as much as I used to, because knowing that he was judging me made me feel uncomfortable and like he wasn’t being a good friend. He tried to contact me, but I often ignored him.

We eventually spoke about the issue, and he realized that whether or not spirituality works for him, it’s working for me and I was happy to be spiritually awakened by texts and practices.

Acknowledging when we judge can be a really weird moment. I’m sure my friend felt weird and awkward when I told him about him judging me. But the power of acknowledgement is that we can continually judge less as we keep bringing it to consciousness, because we begin to realize how toxic it is to judge one another and ourselves. This is only causing harm and our society will go nowhere if we keep judgment alive.

I’m Going on a Retreat!

Last Fall, I made the decision to go on a school retreat. I was a bit hesitant at first because I have never been in a retreat before. However, it ended up being one of the most life changing experiences in my life. I met new friends, I let out all that I had inside, and I came back to school anew.

1461081_827560913936782_1731667006_nThe student-led retreat had many components that students get to engage in. Last year, the theme was “Love and Be Loved.” The goal was to acknowledge that whoever you are, you are loved in some way by someone. The talks by the leaders included; trust, friendship, forgiveness, love-in-action, love and be loved, and perceptions. I don’t want to give too much away because students might read this blog and it might spoil all the fun.

The point is that I met people in my school that I never acknowledged before, and now we are friends. The retreat also had small groups, each one led by a student leader. My leader became a great friend from school that I now speak to often. We got to connect by talking about issues within our lives that have hindered us, but have also shaped the person who we are today.

1460021_827565840602956_198714055_nThis retreat taught me that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Sometimes we cannot hold in all that we have inside and we just have to let it out. There might be a situation in our lives that has been holding us back from the great person that we truly are. The retreat helped me think about these issues and really see how it has been effecting my life.

Once I got back to school, I felt refreshed and as if I was ready to take on the rest of the semester. Maybe it was the no-phones policy, or maybe it was not being in the city – but letting go of all those feelings made me feel like a new person.

1441476_823543824338491_2005760824_nI had such a great time in the last retreat, I decided to lead the same retreat this semester. I will be giving talks about perceptions, forgiveness, and love-in-action from my life experiences.

So all of those who are in college, go to your campus ministry office (or a related office that hosts retreats) and check out their schedule for retreats. Sometimes getting off-campus with fellow school mates is just what you may need. It’s great to bring all those issues that we have inside to surface so we can see what we can do about them.

Top 8 Practices to Deal with Stress

I just came out of midterms, so it is only sensible to go back and look at the spiritual practices that worked for me during the week. This is does not mean that we should limit our meditation practices to only during times of stress, but what I mean to say here is that, during stressful times, these practices can be key to our mental well-being. Besides the top 8, there are many other ways to deal with stress, so do not limit yourself to these. Research and find other spiritual ways that may best suit you to deal with stress. 

8. Drink tea

I will admittedly say that I am a coffee addict. And drinking coffee at 2am the night before my microeconomics midterm exam was not my best hour. After coming to this realization, I immediately switched to tea. Generally speaking, water is a great substitute for coffee because it hydrates your body. With a tea bag on a cold night, tea can be extremely soothing. Tea gets number 8 because it is a long-term process to use tea as a way to calm your body from stressful situations.

7. Read something unrelated to what is stressing you

Reading a book that has nothing to do with your studies or work can be a bit distracting. But when you read a spiritual book, or a non-fiction book, then you can take yourself out of a situation and come back to work with a fresh mind. Reading takes 7, because it can be distracting if you get too into the book you’re reading. People work differently, so it might work for some and not for others.

6. Yoga

It is proven that yoga makes you poop better. This is TMI, but it’s completely true. Yoga has given me a feeling of centeredness when I practice it in the morning, and it helps me go about my day easier. Yoga is a great practice during times of stress because it not only makes you poop better, but it also takes you away from your “monkey mind” to focus on your body. After your mind is focused on your body, you may come to the realization that you may be overthinking a few things. Another great thing about yoga, it can take as long as you want. YouTube a yoga session with Esther Eckhart that lasts only 7 minutes and you’ll find yourself a bit more grounded. Even a simple sun salutation will do the trick.

5. Take a walk

Taking a walk is almost always necessary when something stressful is happening. I often take walks around my job building when it is too chaotic in the office. Also, being stuck in a building from 9am-5pm is just unrealistic. If adults would take nap hours like they did in Europe in ‘90s, society would just be in a better place. But I’m just ranting now – take a walk! If things seem like they’re boiling, getting a breath of fresh air works its immediate beauty, and once you get back to work you will take that walk from outside indoors and find peace at your desk.

4. Talk to a friend

The benefits of talking to a friend or significant other can have immediate effects. You release all the tension that has been holding you from achieving greatness. When I was studying for midterms, my mom called me and all of a sudden I ended up talking to her about how stressed I was. She made me feel a little better by saying that she knows me, and she knows that I will do fine. I also called my friend Mary (shout out!), she reiterated what my mom said in much better wording, and left me feeling great about myself. Sometimes others hold the language that truly reflects who you really are. During times of stress we tend to forget those little things.

3. Incense

Light up some incense! Incense is an extremely inexpensive investment, and I highly recommend it. I didn’t have incense for about two weeks, and I was having a difficult time dealing with all the things happening at school and work. Once I lit up some incense, my dorm became a safe haven. The feeling that I got once I entered my room was more calming that before. This takes 3rd place because it is crazy how immediate incense works.

2. Sleep

After 5 hours of sleep, I realized that not only was this not enough to stay awake in class, I also realized that I was not going to do well in one of my exams. Sleeping is essential because it can help restore all the energy you used during the day, and wake up anew the next day. Your brain will literarily function better. During my midterms week, I only slept a few hours. This caused some catastrophe when I was in class. I forgot some assignments, I was not prepared for two exams, and I was tired. Often getting a good at least 7 hours to feel refreshed.

1. Meditate or Pray… or both

Meditation and prayer come at the top 1 because it truly does have its immediate effects. This might be bias of me, since I try to meditate daily. However, I stopped during the week because my ego told me I had no time. Utter lies! The ego can be very sneaky during times of stress. When I heard my inner guide say to me “meditate.” I took action and sat on my bed, put on my timer, and meditated. I felt more at ease once I was done, and immediately began memorizing vocabulary words for an exam.