Our mindful man of the month is Chris Grosso (author, musician and spiritualist). His arduous journey toward inner peace and balance is truly hopeful.
When you think of what a wise-man should look like, you think old, white-haired, long-bearded. You picture the clichés from every George Lucas and kung-fu film you’ve ever seen. If you ever have the fortune to meet or speak to Chris Grosso, he will redefine your perception of the physical forms wisdom can take.
Having a conversation with Chris is like talking to Yoda if Yoda was wearing black-rimmed glasses and a backwards, fitted baseball cap. He is humbly brilliant and insightful. His thoughtfulness and consideration of the world he lives in and the existence he leads is astounding and is maybe and only upstaged by his sincerity as a person. He is, without question, one of the most genuine, candid and honorably-intentioned people I have encountered.
I recently conducted an interview with Chris, who is the best-selling author of Indie Spiritualist: a no bullshit exploration of spirituality, and my first impression of him was that I couldn’t believe how nice he was to me. Not that I expected him to be a jerk (after all, he just wrote a book that promotes the importance of love and acceptance for both one’s self and others) but I was amazed at how he treated a start-up editorial intern like a colleague.
You see, if you google Chris Grosso, you get a mixture of imagery. In some of the pictures he looks inquisitive, intellectual and artistic, which is enough of a force to be reckoned with; but in others, he’s actually standing next to some of the influential and well-known people that he has interviewed and worked with. I mean, when you see a dude with his arm around Treach from Naughty by Nature, you realize that he’s gotten some exposure. (Not to downplay the many other spiritual people he has crossed paths with, but Treach stood out to my less-spiritually-educated eye.)
So, right before I got to interview Chris, as the call was going through on my Skype user interface, I was kind-of having an “oh shit” moment. This guy was definitely out of my league. Thankfully, Chris’s welcoming smile, which only left his face long enough for him to answer my questions, and his gentle demeanor calmed me down enough to do my job.
Indie Spiritualist is an account of Chris’s personal experiences (encompassing his immersion into underground culture, addiction, spiritual awakenings, recovery, musical endeavors, literary ventures and personal growth) that are used to detail his path toward his individual brand of spirituality and his passion for aiding others in their journey.
What stands out the most about Chris’s philosophy is that it is non-dogmatic, rules and doctrines need not apply. He truly believes that higher consciousness is inside of us all and that we must all find our own paths to unlocking it. He does not subscribe to one dogma or teacher. He has an eclectic philosophy that pulls from the teachings of various figures, from the Buddha to Ram Dass to Ken Wilbur.
He is an anomaly in the eyes of some spiritual practitioners, because he comes from a counterculture background. He spent years participating and performing in the punk/hardcore music scene. He has more than a few tattoos, gauges in his ears and a style that is representative of the music that he loves. His penchant for questioning the status quo played a big part in the formation of his individual approach to mindfulness and spirituality.
From one grunge head to another this was refreshing for me to hear. In Chris’s words, “You can be into spirituality and still love these other things. You don’t have to give up one for the other.” This is just part of what makes Grosso a special kind of spiritualist, but it might be the part that makes him so accessible to many people. His words resonate with many who are looking for acceptance in the spiritual realm.
Chris’s path was molded by his struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs, which, not without a considerable amount of pain and suffering, caused him to seek a better way to live. Like many who face addiction and depression and struggle with self-love and self-acceptance, Chris had to go to his darkest places before he could start reaching for the light.
I asked Chris quite a bit about his addiction. It is part of his story that is of particular familiarity to me as I have had my own bouts with substance abuse. I asked him to define his addiction/recovery as it related to his spirituality. I wanted to know if he found his spiritual side because of his battles with dependency or if the two parts of his life were subsequent and intertwined. His answer to the question was more satisfying than I was expecting and it opened up the conversation to much more.
He brought up an interview that he had conducted with a Trappist monk named Father Thomas Keating. “I’d mentioned to him in the interview that I was in recovery from addiction…and he kind of laughed and he was like ‘Well, I’m in recovery too, but I’m in recovery from the human condition.‘”
This description of the human condition is one that comes from the teachings of the Buddha, and it’s an idea that Chris holds true in his exploration of spirituality. According to the Buddha’s First Noble Truth, to be human is to suffer. In other words, it is an inevitable part of the human condition to experience the suffering associated with being alive.
We are all looking for better ways to live, regardless of our specific brands of struggle.
So our conversation turned to suffering. You see, as is the teaching of the Buddha, Chris believes that although we must suffer, we can control the degree to which we suffer to a greater extent than most of us give ourselves credit for.
Everyone has scars. Chris and I were able to relate on our propensity for self-destructive behavior as a method for numbing out feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. But anguish comes in many forms: heartbreak, loss of loved ones, failure and just plain old disappointment. In turn, we all deal with these darker parts of life in our own way. Some drink or do drugs; others engage in meaningless sexual encounters, overeat or spend money to fill the void. Some just ignore the problem, pretend it’s not there until it drives them mad.
Whatever your fears and vices may be, we all have thoughts that are disturbing. We can all be victims of the nature of ego, which is to fill our existence with a self-reflective dialogue that can often render us emotionally shaken and defeated.
For Chris, a combination of daily meditation, cathartic exercise and self-expression allow him to be conscious of his thoughts, to bear witness to them rather than be oppressed by them…
“The thoughts, they arise, but we don’t have to feed into them. Meditation helps to calm our discursive minds, but it doesn’t really bring it to a halt. The thoughts are still going to come, but we learn to disidentify from them and the emotions, because the thoughts create emotions and it becomes a vicious cycle. But as we learn to be the witness to these thoughts and emotions, there’s a space that opens up between them and we are more identified with the witnessing and awareness of them happening rather than them happening.”
One of the most poignant parts of Chris’s philosophy is that while it makes room for self-improvement, it also emphasizes an acceptance of who and what we are…”We do things that better ourselves in certain areas of our lives, but the most important thing is recognizing that, in this moment, we’re perfect as we are.”
He notes that this sounds a bit cliché, but stresses its truth…”In this moment, this is what’s happening. It’s ok…I am ok with who I am.”
Grosso also brings an ever evolving and open minded standpoint to spirituality. He has an insightful awareness that there is a thin line between making strides toward being more enlightened and buying into the thought of yourself as a more enlightened person…”It’s as soon as we start to think we have it all figured out that we are usually the farthest away from what it really is.”
So we have a spiritual man who has found a way to navigate this life by practicing and preaching the spread of unconditional love and acceptance. He doesn’t promote a right or a wrong philosophy. There are no rules, doctrines or dogmas. He respects everyone’s individual right to believe, worship and exercise their own faith, and furthermore he encourages this diversity and singularity in religious lifestyle.
If that doesn’t sound enlightened, I don’t know what does.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Chris what life is like now that he’s a best-selling author. He explained to me that it is a nice thing to be able to say, but that his motivation for success and his gratitude for achieving it both stem from the pure joy he gets when someone thanks him for sharing his story and helping them along their journey.
Chris Grosso’s authenticity, kindness and empathy come through in his final quote from our interview…”I wrote the book to be an extension of service…Having come so close to death so many times in my life…the fact that I’ve been so close to that and I’m still here, that’s nothing short of grace to me…I literally just want to help other people, because I know how bad it gets…that’s where my passion truly lies.”
If you are looking for a way to access your spiritual side, looking for better ways to live or simply have an appreciation for deep thinking and compassionate existence, listen to what Chris Grosso has to say. He is a modern day philosopher worth listening to, an ambassador of mindfulness, a wise man beyond his years and, if I might be so bold as to consider myself a good judge of character, a hell of a human being.
[image: via Praveen on flickr]