top of page
  • Selva Lawler

#14 - Commencement

don Howard GoFundMe Update

There's something to be said about putting something first. The First Amendment. First in flight. First of Her Name. Your first kiss. There’s even an apt expression for it: first things first. 

So rather than bury this at the end, I wanted to reraise awareness for the GoFundMe for don Howard. To date, we've had sensational support, with 429 people donating $81,834. That leaves us with only about $18,000 needed in order to surpass the $100,000 goal. In the words of Saryon, one of the GoFundMe's creators, if we can reach this goal we will be putting don Howard and his family in good shape for some time to come.

don Howard continues to express how much this GoFundMe campaign has been a "godsend." The Maestro continues to be "absolutely stunned to the max" by the outpouring of support he has received. He told me that people's kindhearted words, donations, love, and support is "medicine for my soul. I had no idea how far back that goes and how it has stuck with folks. The words that keep coming to my mind are: gratitude, gratitude, gratitude." 

He's been - in the understatement of the century - overwhelmingly of service his entire life. It's not in don Howard's DNA to ask for anything, particularly anything material. He didn't even ask or request for this GoFundMe to be established. 

Remember that no amount is too small...or too big. 😁It's all massively helpful. And regardless of whether you are in a position to donate, please consider passing along the word. Highlighting something like this on social media demonstrates how social media has redeemable qualities. Let's demonstrate how we've learned our lessons in reciprocity and Ayni well. 


It's graduation season for many high school and college grads. I love the name given to graduation: Commencement!

It's not called Termination. It's not The End. It's not Mission Accomplished. Commencement is the beginning. The start. The launching point. The inception. The initiation. 

Churchill perfectly encompasses this notion when he motivated his troops following a victory over the Germans in World War II. As he exclaimed, "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Is there an end to any of this? Don’t take it from me, as I haven't figured anything out yet, although I'm working on it. I once received the following message: "If there's an end to it, we haven't found it yet. And we would know."

Still, we have to periodically mark and celebrate certain salient points when one time ends and another begins. A time to close out one experience and find out what's behind door number three. 

Speaking of what's behind the door, as my SpiritQuest brother Paul has written, a real Shaman can lead you to and show you the door to different states of consciousness, but it's ultimately up to you to knock on and enter that door. And what better place to do that than SpiritQuest, which some people refer to as The School of Hard Knocks. 

Our recent grads of the don Howard University of Higher Consciousness were an amazing and resilient group! They not only survived but to the contrary thrived, even when faced with an especially high degree of difficulty. Among other things, they endured 90 terrifying seconds of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake at 2:41 a.m. the first evening, as well as the aftershocks of that quake for the next several hours. Thankfully there was no real damage to the Sanctuary. The only casualty was everyone's complete and utter lack of sleep that evening following the quake. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger - or perhaps it's also stranger? 😁- and the group was clinically in command in proceeding forward unshaken and undaunted. 

As David Foster Wallace expressed in his highly celebrated Kenyon College commencement speech, if money is what you design your life around, you’ll employ a scarcity mindset and never think you'll have enough to be satisfied. Similarly, if you orient your life around external validation, no amount will be sufficient and you will constantly feel jilted. If you only derive pleasure from your physique, beauty, and sexual allure, Wallace reasons, you will always feel ugly.

There's something about the human condition where we often times only truly appreciate the value of something after we lose it or go without it. Take, for example, a night where you barely sleep a wink. That's been known to happen following an intense ceremony at SpiritQuest, or following an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. As Homer - the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey (not the Simpsons character) - articulated, “There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” Although we can all do our darndest to "just put on a happy face!" and persevere through the next day after woefully inadequate sleep, do you know what feels downright heavenly following the conclusion of that day? Sleeping! 

I'm very fortunate with my health. A few months back, I went through a 36 hour period of hellish sickness. I couldn't move and was curled up meekly in the fetal position in my bed. Every time I swallowed it felt like I was sucking a jagged marble down my throat. And yet I kept thinking about how, without having gone through that miserable experience, I wouldn't be able to appreciate my health and how I have so consistently taken my good health for granted.

Guy Ritchie in an interview a few years back discussed how you have to leave yourself to understand the value of yourself. I'm paraphrasing his message the best I can remember, but Ritchie's contention is that you have to lose things before you realize that all the stuff that you're losing is fleeting and not remotely important. You're enough, and you're always been enough. Richie claims that there’s something to be said for going through an experience where you wind up devaluing yourself before you can fully recognize and appreciate how remarkably valuable you've always been. 

Dick Jackman was my high school graduation speaker. don't know THE Dick Jackman!?!? Unfortunately, I really don't either, and I can't seem to find much of anything about him on the internet. Be that as it may, I'm thankful for his beautiful words at my high school commencement and the profound impact they have had and continue to have on my life. Dick advised our class that high school is the first draft, and what lies ahead of us is an unfinished agenda that would empower each one of us to make our mark. He encouraged us to pack carefully for the trip. He said something to the effect of, "The trip will be high speed, high tech, high intensity, and you’re going to want to travel lightly. Consequently, only bring carry-on luggage that fits nicely under your seat or in the overhead compartment of your life." 

Dick instructed us to bring six items, which were six senses, in that backpack. A sense of Reality, a sense of Ambition, a sense of Duty, a sense of Nostalgia, a sense of Optimism, and a sense of Respect. The first letter of each of these senses - R A D N O R - spelled the name of my high school, Radnor High School, which was ingenious. Dick told us that these six items would be an excellent platform from which to build the excitement of a new adventure. 

Invariably, however, we all tend to accumulate more and more junk that we don't need in that backpack. We load it up with fears, with judgments, with doubts, with self-limiting beliefs, with negative self-talk, with our own egoic needs for validation, with comparisons, with insecurities, and with regrets. Before too long, the weight of that backpack has become so backbreaking that we're limping around carrying what feels like the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Our work at SpiritQuest isn't for everyone. But when done correctly, it sure feels like dropping off a big ol' backpack of b.s. As don Howard says, "we all have some s-h-i-t to dump”, and we all have at least one monkey to get off our back. To quote the movie Payback"Nobody likes a monkey on his back. I had three, and they were cramping my style. I was gonna have to lighten the load."

The monkeys at the animal refuge near the Sanctuary are highly instructive. They seem all cute and amusing for the first few minutes, but when you run out of bananas, they get exceedingly aggressive, rather rude, start smacking you, and promptly ditch you to scour elsewhere for new friends that will feed them. And that is undoubtedly for the better. Nobody likes a monkey to be permanently on their back when what’s ahead of us is an unfinished agenda to do our own small part to improve the world and make it a slightly better place. Traveling lightly on that journey is critical. So leave the monkey - as well as worry, frustration, anger, envy, and fear - behind. None of those items are going to contribute anything valuable on the trip. 

Having a monkey on your back is highly aggravating. What can be completely debilitating, though, is the internal monkey chatter in our brains, especially when that engine of anxiety and self-criticism keeps perpetually churning. Find some outlet that can temporarily silence that, and you’re going to level up considerably. 

I'm woefully behind on keeping up with podcasts, but I recently listened to Aubrey Marcus and Michael Pollan on Aubrey's podcast and it blew me away. Trauma is an experience that can detrimentally impact our brains and reside in our bodies for decades or for our entire lives. Pollan posits that the experience of a plant medicine ceremony done under the right set and setting is the transformative agent. According to Pollan, it serves as an anti-trauma or quantum experience that changes our brains in a positive direction, enabling us to firmly break out of repetitive loops, the sense of feeling stuck, and the destructive narratives that we tell ourselves. As Pollan so eloquently explains, our minds are like a hill covered in snow, and our thoughts are like sleds going down the hills. The grooves keep getting deeper and deeper until we can’t go down the hill without slipping into those grooves. An experience like SpiritQuest is so invaluable because it dumps heaps of fresh powder on the mountain and allows us to carve whatever new path down the mountain that we desire.

We have monthly commencements at SpiritQuest. What degree do our initiates receive? In quoting the Maestro, it's a study and undergraduate degree in "The Art of Being Human". Ah, The Art of Being Human at the don Howard University of Higher Consciousness. And while we learn many essentials at SpiritQuest, it’s for sure going to require some post-graduate, post-Sanctuary experiential learning. We’ll all be refining those skills for the rest of our lives. 

You might seem perplexed by the title. The Art of Being Human. SpiritQuest is, among so many other things, a place to elevate consciousness. We all know plenty about the human condition and being human, right? The unsavory and narcissistic types we have in our midst. The constant us vs. them squabbles that have persisted for centuries with no end in sight. The nagging pain we carry in certain parts of our bodies. We’ve all felt how the marathon of life can grind us down. Human DNA is something like 96-99% identical with chimpanzees, and seeing how petty, vicious, and juvenile chimps can be, of course we'd want to evolve and transcend the human, right? 

I received a number of takeaways from this recent retreat, and the one most applicable to what I'm writing about now is this lesson: you cannot spiritually bypass the human. Both don Howard and Aubrey have talked to me about how it is not possible to transcend the human. You simply cannot spiritually bypass the human and leave the human behind.

We can and we should elevate our consciousness. Shed the doubts and fears and insecurities. Realize that things are happening for us as opposed to to us. Rewrite and alchemize the narrative where we transform from the victim to the hero. Dissolve our ego for a fleeting period and realize the oneness of which we are all a part. I'd be remiss if I didn't express how SpiritQuest is absolutely invaluable in instilling those kinds of incredibly valuable lessons in people that feel a calling to do our work and have the right heartset and mindset.

If the human is not happy, no amount of spiritual enlightenment/Bodhi/Satori/Nirvana can overcome that. The human is inherently intertwined with our higher selves, and saying “bon voyage!” and ejecting the human from the cockpit isn’t feasible. For instance, it’s folly to think you'll be able to destroy your ego. I recently saw a t-shirt that said “Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo”. While there’s some truth in that, it’s a gross oversimplification that misses the mark. That statement certainly suggests that because your ego isn’t your friend, it’s therefore your enemy, and that your ego is something to treat adversarily and that we should smite it into smithereens. Wrong. Very wrong. The self-preservation part of the ego is highly beneficial. Moreover, a healthy ego is a mastered ego, and in thinking of one of my friends who has embodied this better than anyone I know of, he has been able to put a leash on that dog. I don’t know if he house-trained it, but his ego has always been totally under control. One can live their life both humble and proud.

Human beings have a savage part firmly ingrained and programmed into our operating system. We also have a sentient, beautiful, conscious part. We have a serious and professional side, as well as a goofy and silly side. We need to roll up our sleeves and get some work done from time to time, and we need to set aside plenty of time to feel light and to play. It’s about finding the right balance, and not deluding ourselves that we’re only our higher selves or resenting our humanity. We are all of these complementary forces “mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie,” as Sara Bareilles sings in "She Used To Be Mine", and we have to reconcile all of it. 

Regardless of what kind of higher consciousness you seek - and don't get me wrong, elevating one's consciousness is unquestionably worth seeking - if you completely ignore the human, eventually the human in you is going to raise a hand and say, "Yeah, that's all fantastic. But I'm really thirsty right now and I need some water ASAP.” If we’re really tired, or have a splitting headache, those things need to be promptly addressed. Our bodies are the car we absolutely can’t trade in, and we’re the Commander in Chief of an army of 37.2 trillion cells, so we need to fuel the body with nourishment and support. It's necessary to care for and be kind to the human parts of us.

Even if you could transcend the human, why would you want to? Life is not meant to be worried about; it is meant to be lived, to be improved upon, to be enjoyed, to be loved. I was thinking of adding some more "to be" items to that list, but kept fixating on the word "be". As in the Ram Das style of "Be Here Now"

As my friend Paul outlines in his fantastic blog, we all have carte blanche to "sample the spiritual supermarket". In doing so, we should by all means absorb anything and everything that is useful. He writes, "I incorporated some of the lessons into my own path and worked upon bettering myself and discarding desires so I could just dispassionately observe. All this was leading me up the spiritual mountain that would lead to the pinnacle of enlightenment where I was a shining perfected being with no desires or faults. I'd never get angry again and live in bliss. However, that obfuscated place where desire comes from is the same place love comes from. The gamble we take to make connections with others and share in the triumphs and disappointments of our fellow human beings and all the creatures we share this planet with doesn't emanate from dispassionate observation. It comes from getting your feet wet and your clothing dirty. From living, loving, and laughing."

When we flash that smile demonstrating that we appreciate that life is a glorious game, that says it all, doesn’t it? Sure, it's preordained that because we have that human in us, we all will take our lumps. No one is immune to that, and there’s no getting around it. Our battleship gets sunk. We land on somebody else’s Boardwalk with a bunch of hotels and have to cough up a King’s ransom. We tumble down a chute in Chutes and Ladders and plummet from number 87 to number 24. We roll snake eyes. The game of life is challenging to navigate. And yet, if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, as Rudyard Kipling writes, through the other side - regardless of what happens - you’ll be tempering your spirit and having an adventure. That’s the thing. That’s the magic. That’s the game. “You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying,” as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones proclaims. But when the game is afoot, it’s exhilarating as well. 

The Art of Being Human is a practice. And it's a practice definitely worth practicing.

This phenomenal recent SpiritQuest class put together a record of extraordinary achievement, both inside and out of the maloca and la medicina, and now it is time for them to open the door and let in the present moment. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. They all left the Sanctuary with some sublime Shipibo artwork, and even more importantly, with a light backpack. 

To quote Dick from my high school commencement, we shouldn't look at the limitations in ourselves or each other, but rather pursue our collective possibilities. We're all equipped with a superpower, which is the opportunity to see life as it is and the obligation to figure out what else it can be. Dick advised us that this was heavy stuff and it warranted an instant replay, so I'll do the same here. The opportunity to see life as it is and the obligation to figure out what else it can be.

I dare you to do the same.

Cheers, -Parker


bottom of page