Ten Awakenings: A Guide Home
This essay was inspired by a recent podcast where I was asked to outline the various practices, experiences and initiations that led me to where I am today. For a deeper dive into my story and the lessons learned along the journey, check out my interview on Soul Kitchen with Jasper Mutsaerts.
I Am an Archetype
When I began to walk/crawl/free-fall down the pathless path of my death & rebirth transformational journey five years ago, leaving behind my Hollywood Dream life, I felt like I was the only person who had walked this path before. I didn’t know anyone in my LA advertising life who was taking the leap that I was daring to make. I felt alone, scared and confused.
It wasn’t long before I started meeting more and more people who were like me. Actually, just like me. I went from feeling like an odd duck to a cliche! It turns out, there are thousands of humans leaving the modern world to embark on a Hero’s Journey into the unknown. This was a huge relief, and also a bit of a Cosmic Joke. Here I was, thinking I was so special, when it turns out I was walking in the footsteps of billions of humans spanning history on a quest to find deeper meaning in their lives, and in Life itself.
While in retrospect my journey looks like many others, in the experience of it, it still felt, at times, unbearably mysterious. What a gift! What a challenge!
This essay is my attempt to construct an archetype and map of the various practices, trainings, experiences and “medicines” that have guided me Home over the past five years of this crazy journey that Life has brought me on. While each journey, like each individual, is miraculously unique, there are also shared themes, discoveries and chapter markers that can serve as a Lighthouse, guiding those who feel lost at sea Home to the island within.
On the surface, it can certainly be said that my path is one of great privilege, representing a very Western-oriented, masculine-driven roadmap that makes for a daring, dramatic story. Beneath the surface, there is something far more universally human that permeates: a classic death, rebirth, resurrection tale, or pre-tragic, tragic, post-tragic. This tripartite saga is as indigenously human as bonfires and storytelling, and in fact, for most of human history, these stories were told around the fire. Here we are, ironically, sharing our souls on portals of pixels thousands of miles from one another. My hope is that my tale helps you to write your own tale, and one day we can meet again by the fire, look each other in the eyes, and share our hearts, tears and smiles.
May it be so!
Constructing a Guide
Before we begin, I want to emphasize that I am entirely a work-in-progress. I don’t claim to have “made it” to anywhere, and in fact, the “further” I “get” on this journey, the more I realize there’s truly nowhere to go other than right here, right now. It’s only Here that leads to There, and There is only ever simply Here.
I’ve got more work to do. A lot more! Lifetimes more!
If I look back on Tucker’s life these past five years, there are certain memories that consistently stand out as “awakenings.” Some awakened me to a deeper sense of connection to my physical body. Some awakened me to a deeper sense of connection to my psychological parts. Some to what we call Soul. Most profoundly, some awakened me to re-membering of the Source that gives rise to all of these other “Me’s.”
This map is not a recipe, but it can be a guide. I wish I had this guide five years ago! Then again, the Mystery of it all made it so much more riveting and delicious. And scary.
I may not be able to offer my Younger Self this map, but I can offer it to whoever is reading this. I pray and trust it will be of service to those it’s meant to find.
Ten Awakenings That Gave Birth To “Me”
Before I gained anything, I had to walk away from everything. I left my job at the height of my career, separated with my high school sweetheart after 10 years of love, deleted all my social media, sold all my possessions, donated ⅓ of my savings in the form of reparations, moved from the hippest neighborhood in LA to a remote, off-the-grid island in Maine, cleared my calendar of all commitments, and sat in the stillness of the Nothingness that I felt I now was.
This created freedom, but not the kind that feels good. It was more like Death. I killed every mask I had ever worn. I stripped away all identities. I lost myself with nothing to guide me except for a prayer that one day I’d find myself again. It wasn’t literal suicide, which I had contemplated, but it was certainly psychological suicide. I even made a list of all my deepest fears, and, one by one, set out to face them head-on.
This dying process took years. The bulk of it transpired from 2017–2020. I had nothing to live for, but in a way, there was no one there to live. I felt like a shipwreck. Useless and abandoned. I then had to ditch this discarded ship and learn to swim in the ocean of uncertainty. It was dark, cold and directionless. I prayed, weped and begged the Universe to shine a Lighthouse that would guide me Home. My offering was nothing less than Everything.
When there was nothing, suddenly there was a whole lot of something: pain. This manifested in a myriad of ways. I lost 25 pounds in one year. I had debilitating lower back pain due to a repeated herniated disk issue along with sciatica. I was severely depressed, depleted and exhausted. None of the physical pain was anywhere near as bad as the psychological devastation I was feeling on the inside.
Grief became all I knew. I grieved the death of the dream life that had gotten me so far yet left me with so little. I grieved the ending of my 10 year relationship with my soulmate, best friend, lover and wife. I grieved that she was hitting rock bottom with Bipolar II disorder and addiction issues at the same time that I was questioning whether I still wanted to live. I grieved that I had lost all passion for the one passion and sense of purpose I’d had since I was 13 years old: documentary filmmaking. I grieved our broken society and systems, all the suffering that modernism, consumerism, technology and humanism were having on Planet Earth and all her inhabitants. I grieved that there was no physical place on the planet where I felt at home. No connection to my ancestors. No religion or traditions I could fall back on. There was seemingly nothing larger than “me” that I could lean on for support.
I grieved being alone and feeling abandoned by the Universe. I grieved so hard that I couldn’t breathe. And then I grieved some more. And some more. And some more.
Where do you turn when you’re broken and life has become unmanageable? By the grace of God, an angel named Rebekkah entered my life at exactly the right moment and told me to walk 12 Steps towards God. So I did. I had no other choice.
The 12 Steps (Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, CODA, etc.) are spiritual programs designed to help those who’ve hit rock bottom. Below are the first three steps, which I’ve modified to more accurately express how I translated their invitation:
1. We admitted we were powerless over Life — that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a Higher Power of our choosing.
For the first time in my life, I could place my trust in something larger than myself. This was in stark contrast to the atheist, materialist paradigm I grew up in, which basically taught me that life is a random unfolding of events mostly out of my control that occur for no reason other than “shit happens.” The 12 Steps offered me a new orientation: shit happens, and it’s not in your control, but if you have Faith and walk the steps, God’s got your back.
Call it positive psychology. Call it religion. Call it brainwashing. I honestly didn’t care. It worked for me. It’s worked miracles for millions.
I attended 1–2 meetings a week for two years, worked all 12 Steps, had two amazing sponsors and began offering sponsoring to others. It was in these church basements with crappy coffee and broken plastic chairs that I first encountered synchronicities galore. Every. Single. Meeting…I got exactly what I needed. It was as if God personally hand-delivered the perfect message that I needed to hear through the vessel of some stranger simply sharing their story. It was here that I learned the power of vulnerability and the medicine of making our tears public. Meetings are completely free. Self-organized. A place where I could show up as my whole, messy self and be unconditionally loved. Maybe, I thought, if these people can love me, I can, too.
There was a moment when faith became Faith. This happened through direct, experiential encounters with God. I was God. I was Everything. God went from being a concept, a mysterious “Higher Power” out there, beyond here, to something that is always and only ever Right Here.
Psychedelics paradoxically made everything more mysterious while revealing that everything is…Perfect. It’s a Perfect mystery that is so mysterious that it’s completely obvious, and so obvious that it’s completely mysterious. I won’t explore what was revealed and how in this essay, but I will say that these journeys for me were very rarely about “healing” on the personality level, which so much of the Psychedelic Renaissance is focused on (for better and worse). For whatever reason, nearly all of my journeys involved quick ego deaths which led to Consciousness exploring itself in all its empty Fullness and full Emptiness. The two exceptions are iboga, which deserves an essay of its own, and my first psychedelic journey, a ketamine-assisted therapy session where my ego fought like hell, which led to, well, Hell.
My journeys since have included psilocybin, ayahuasca, ketamine, san pedro, peyote and LSD. Every experience has been utterly life-changing and Life-shaping. At times it was challenging to integrate these experiences into daily life, sometimes leading to solipsism, nihilism and a desire to “get back” to these states of sheer Bliss and “kosmic orgasms.” Finding helpful maps, which I discuss below, was essential in helping me not get overly lost.
For me (and speaking only for me), any challenges associated with psychedelics (including some scary trips) were far outweighed by the deep Knowing that transcends (and includes) the limited ego mind. In the process, this appears to have mostly killed my psychological fear of death. Now, when I’m in a flow state or fall asleep at night, I do die. I die all the time! I lose my sense of self, and Awareness goes on. This experiential grace gives little me, Tucker, an unshakable faith in Faith. It’s impossible to state in words how impactful this has been.
Over the past four years I’ve spent 60 days in silence at various meditation retreats, including Hridaya, Spirit Rock, PachaMama and Monastic Academy. All four of these centers were extremely different in their teachings and orientations, which helped provide a multitude of perspectives and prevent any one teaching from becoming a new form of dogma or religion.
Each experience was quite similar to a psychedelic journey: epically beautiful, hauntingly scary, utterly life-changing and piercingly potent. My first silent retreat I cried for five days straight. By day 10, I was flowing in a deep sense of peace and acceptance, something I hadn’t ever felt in my adult life. The challenge was, it more evidently illuminated just how anxious and depressed I was in my “normal” state, and the thought of going back to this baseline felt like death. I had no choice but to move forward. It almost felt like I was walking up a mountain, and the further I got, the more boiling lava started filling the path below me. If I turned around I would be burned alive in Hell, so I had to keep climbing. Some have said to me that my journey was “courageous.” Maybe so, but is it really that courageous if there’s no choice in the matter? Plus, as silent retreats have shown “me”, there is no one home to make these choices. Thoughts, actions, sensations and experiences are just arising. There is no doer. There’s not even a Witness. There’s just This infinite, timeless, boundless unfolding.
Silent retreats made it evidently clear that I am not in control. Because I don’t exist. At least not in the way that my ego perceives. And yet, there can be the experience of being in control, of being a somebody who is doing, being and becoming in the world. What a gift! What a curse! It is whatever we make of it. But who is this one making something of it? Silent meditation retreats are a great place to find out :)
Even if one is not interested in nondual awakening, silent retreats can be a potent container to detach from the outside world, including our addictions to technology, and to sit in the discomfort of doing nothing. In today’s modern world, I sense they’re essential “maintenance” tools. It’s like taking a vacation from modernity, a chance to befriend our “monkey minds” and an opportunity to witness anything and everything that arises. I’ve also had some of my most creative insights and breakthroughs happen during these retreats.
Of course, it’s what we do after the retreat that is, in a sense, most important. But even if you 99.9% go back to your old life, there is a 99.9% chance that you will not be the same person. One day, when the time is right, your soul will feel the disconnect, and an ache in your heart will invite you (or push you) in a new direction. Trust the process.
I’ve been epically blessed to have had some of the most incredible therapists, psychiatrists and coaches support me on my journey. I honestly don’t know how I got so lucky.
Dr. Omid Naim is a psychiatrist who founded Hope Integrative Medicine in Los Angeles. He was there to hold me at the start of my downward spiral in 2017–2018. Dr. Naim provided two life-saving blessings. The first was, instead of prescribing me pharmaceutical medication, he prescribed me a book that literally saved my life: Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin, a developmental model that gave me a reason to live again, as I explore in this essay. The second gift was a ketamine-assisted therapy session, which, despite being extremely scary and destabilizing, ended up being exactly what I needed to experience in order to shake me awake from the zombie-like slumber I was drowning in.
Dr. Naim recommended I work with a therapist/coach/spiritual guide that he himself went to at one point in his life. Her name is Deborah Wilder. I’ve met a lot of angels in my life. Deborah is at the very top of this list. We met over FaceTime once a week for over two years. Words will never do justice to how much Deborah has impacted my life. I’ve sent nearly all of my family members and a half dozen of my closest friends to her, and all have had profound experiences. Deborah simply rests in Presence and speaks from her heart. Sometimes she gives me the hard advice that I need to hear. Other times she just tells me how much she loves me, which helps give me permission to love myself. Sometimes she invites me into guided practices to work directly with whatever is arising. Deborah is simply Love. A true elder of the highest caliber.
Most recently, I completed six months of coaching with Dr. Holly Woods, a purpose guide and spiritual mentor who has trained with many of the same programs that I have, including Integral Coaching Canada, Purpose Guides Institute, Animas Valley Institute, STAGES International and more. Holly’s book The Golden Thread was a game changer for me, helping to clarify my relationship to purpose and service during a time of developmental transition. For anyone looking to deepen their relationship with how they show up in the world from their integrative, whole self, I would give Holly my highest recommendation!
I’ve had a host of other guides, teachers and angels come into my life over the past four years, too many to list here. I’ve also been shaped by countless therapy modalities from an array of lineages. To name a few: Pacific Integral’s Generating Transformative Change (GTC), The Finder’s Course, Internal Family Systems (IFS), International School of Temple Arts (ISTA), Awaken as Love, grief ceremonies, breathwork, Osho Dynamic Meditations, Kim Barta shamanic psychotherapy, Craniosacral therapy, Wild Mind nature-based therapy, Circling and Authentic Relating, Nonviolent Communication, art therapy, technology detoxes, fasting & weeklong body cleanses, medium ancestral healing, gratitude and prayer practices, and more.
The most powerful therapist/coach/guide has been Mother Nature. Vision Quests are an opportunity to put your life on the line, literally and metaphorically, giving yourself up to Soul with the understanding that, if you come back alive, you will be guided by something much larger and, in a way, less forgiving than our egos. That something is Soul. A warning: awakening to Soul is surrendering to the flow of something out of the ego’s control. Proceed with caution and know that you’re about to sign up for the greatest adventure of your lifetime!
Soul is that which gives our Spirit shape, direction and purpose here in this embodied human lifetime. We each have a mythopoetic identity that I see as a “Soul contract.” It’s a prayer, a promise, a purpose and a potent possibility for our greatest unfolding here on Planet Earth. I speak in-depth about this work in this Mountain Whispers podcast.
Vision Quests involve four days of fasting and soloing in the remote wilderness with only a tarp and some water. The fasting and isolation becomes a potent psychoactive catalyst for tuning into our deepest depths. Our internal psyche is projected onto the external world around us, so much so that internal and external become more evidently exactly what they are: illusions. The separation between “this world” and “that realm” becomes mighty blurred, and voices and visions start sweeping through Awareness in an altered, dream-like way.
While the Vision Quests themselves can be extraordinarily powerful experiences, like psychedelics, it’s often the integration work that happens afterwards that ensures Soul becomes our new lived reality rather than a fleeting, forgotten memory. I was so fortunate to work with some incredible guides via Animas Valley Institute, an organization that has earned my highest recommendation.
My Soul contract, which I recently got tattooed on my left arm, is “Seeing, Synthesizing, Storytelling.” I consider the very words that I’m writing right now to be guided by Soul, as I’m taking all the experiences I’ve seen throughout my transformational death & rebirth journey, synthesizing them into this essay, and telling the story of my unfolding in the hopes it guides others Home to their own connection with Soul. This is my prayer, my offering and my devotion to Life itself.
Over the past four years, I’ve visited, lived, apprenticed and explored over 25 intentional communities around the globe. Some are listed with an asterix (*) in this recently published map of 150+ Transformational Communities.
Intentional communities, regenerative villages and spiritual sanghas, for me, have been lifesaving Lighthouses that have guided me to what Margaret Wheatley calls “islands of sanity.” They are homes for my inner Home to become One with people, places and experiences which are both widely diverse yet often perfectly attuned to the medicine my soul longs to dissolve into.
I’ll be honest: I often find it very life-draining to live back in the modern world for extended durations. There is a palpable, tangible, tactile, energetic, somatic, emotional and visceral experience of living in community that is extremely hard if not impossible to find in much of modern America, particularly during a global pandemic when in-person community life has nearly vanished.
I got the community bug, or it got me! Currently, I’m on a mission to find and/or create the place that I feel called to devote my life to before starting a family, so that my kids can grow up in this “more beautiful world my heart knows is possible.” I’m helping to form an intentional village in Bali called Nuanu, creating an open-source Community Constitution as well as a cultural blueprint which synthesizes my love for storytelling with my desire to live the protopian stories we’re envisioning, becoming that change we want to see in the world.
To get a taste of what community life has meant for me, see this article I wrote about my time at PachaMama.
I also have a vision for how to bring the experiences of community back to modern America via a network of Lighthouses, which you can read about here. I’d love any feedback, ideas or collaborators to join this mission!
At the end of the day, the greatest adversities, deepest grief and most heart-opening expansions came in the form of romantic relationships. This started with separating with Sam, my high school sweetheart of 10 years. The moment we made this decision, it felt as if our love transcended the romantic and became Infinite. Ironically, I sense I only really knew how deep love could go when I let go of the one person who I loved more than myself. That love hurts because it’s so gigantic. And yet somehow, that love can gracefully embrace the pain, for it arises and falls in the unbounded ocean of Love that is infinite. A simpler way to say it: this love I was experiencing was God’s love, not just Tucker’s.
For the next two years, I was single and celibate as I went inward into my cocoon, knowing any relationship that I started would have all the same challenges unless I first did the inner work on myself. During this time, all the deepest wounds and most haunting memories arose from childhood. I realized how much my understanding of love was constructed around a scarcity mindset: “My partner is going to abandon me. I’ll be left all alone. Forgotten. Discarded. Because, fundamentally, there’s something wrong with me. Therefore, I’m obviously unlovable.”
This previously unconscious narrative was now ringing in my awareness as if it were a firing alarm blasting off in my psyche. The crazy part is: Overall, I had a really good childhood. I didn’t have any capital T trauma that so many others had to face. In a way, this prevented me from looking within and being with the parts of me that felt so wounded and afraid. The story of “Tucker being so privileged” ironically prevented me from acting from that place of deep gratitude because internally I felt like shit, while externally society and everyone around me were reflecting to me that I should feel like a million bucks. This was a difficult hill to climb, unraveling introjects that walled me off from my own heart.
Just when I felt that I finally “made it” to that place of inner wholeness, to that self-actualized, awakened, healed Tucker that I had been working so hard to get to (lol), well, that’s when I met Bora. It was an 11 month relationship that was extraordinarily magical and insanely humbling. All the wounds, shadows and triggers that I thought I had worked through in years of therapy, workshops and retreats came roaring back. I would often think to myself, “Holy shit, this again!” What transpired in 11 months was a full-blown transformation from a karmic relationship to a dharmic one. Just as we got to a place of deep, unconditional love, we decided to separate. I can’t explain why. The story I can construct is that our souls came together to have us go through this initiation, and when the work was done, our relationship was done. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
A couple months later, I met Irina. For the first few months, we were super close friends. We both had dreams about each other where we merged into one being. It was the most incredible dream that I ever had — more like a psychedelic experience than a typical dream. One day we became more than friends, and our journey into a new dimension of connection began to unfold. Like all relationships, there were challenges, but for the first time in my life I finally felt, experienced and understood what a truly healthy adult relationship coming from a place of deep love, respect and nonattachment looks like. “Ohhh, I get it now. This is what all those spiritual relationship books are pointing to!”
My experience of romantic love today is that it’s an opportunity to love God via God-shapeshifted-into-my-lover-in-the-form-of-an-angel-and-human, a devotion to something larger than myself while also opening me up to the Self that I truly am. The more my heart opens, the more I open. Romantic relationships sourced in a deep Soul connection have been the absolute greatest gift of my entire life, even and especially in their most challenging days.
Life happens. Something unfolds. It’s a complete Mystery. Then the ego wants to make sense of it. The mind wants to map it. The self wants to story it.
“No, how beautiful!”
There you go again, wanting to create a story about a story that describes an experience that’s already gone.
This is the predictable, often hilarious, sometimes devastating, and always entertaining game of being a human. We’re storytelling machines! It’s both our superpower and our achilles heel. Well, that’s my narrative, at least ;)
Deconstructing the mind (which often involves constructing stories in order to deconstruct other stories) is one of the games I most enjoy playing. Developmental psychology is one of the most invaluable tools I’ve found to navigate this game.
The ego (which at its core is just a story) loves to tell stories, and stories about stories. Often these narratives and beliefs take on a particular shape, flavor and perspective depending on the structure of the ego that they are being filtered through. How you experienced the world when you were 5 months old is very different from when you were 5, 15, or 50 years old. To make things even more complex, how we experienced the world 5 minutes ago is often very different from how we do so in this moment. We can regress and progress up and down, left and right, backwards and forwards through an infinite sea of perspectives and stories.
Some brave souls have attempted to map this beautiful madness into structured systems. Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics map various worldviews. Susanne Cook-Greuter, Robert Kegan and Terri O’Fallon map stages of ego development. Many others have maped various spiritual state-stages. The model that has most alivened me recently is O’Fallon’s STAGES International, which is a hybrid of Cook-Greuter’s ego development with Wilber’s Integral Theory and Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual state-stages.
One stage I’ve been exploring over the past couple years is called Construct Aware, where one’s identity begins to shift from the narrative self to Awareness itself. This awareness of Awareness can perhaps be described as being aware of the movie theater screen, not just immersed in the scenes and characters unfolding on this screen. The canvass of Consciousness becomes a new orientation as colors and brushstrokes arise and fall to create an infinite, timeless, unbounded, ever-changing portrait that we call “reality.”
With this comes the recognition that language, stories, beliefs, emotions, feelings and even experiences are Empty, or in other words, they are temporary, absent of meaning beyond what we project onto them, and never impacting the underlying Awareness that gives rise to all. A practical example of this: if you say that you’re sad, from one perspective, I can never truly know what sad you’re actually describing. All I can do is either project my definition and/or felt-sense experience of what sadness is onto you, or ask you clarifying questions to get as close as possible to what I perceive might be your experience of sadness. This recognition often guides me to a new form of connection via energetic attuning and sensing, which usually feels more somatic than cerebral.
In this Construct Aware stage, life can begin to take on a more dream-like quality. Things perhaps aren’t as real as they once appeared, and yet, the experience of being Awareness holds the capacity to feel all of it more intimately, for Awareness holds all, not just the individual ego-mind-body. Often life shifts into a much more receptive mode as living in-the-moment, flowing from one experience to the next (often guided by intuition or a felt-sense of “knowing”) takes precedence over concrete goals, objectives and self-narrative-perpetuating desires, like becoming our self-actualizing authentic selves.
“What authentic self? I’m constantly shapeshifting each and every moment, flowing in and out experiences attuning to the environmental conditions and infinite other factors that are too endless to name. All of this is just happening!”
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are endless and frankly unavoidable (exactly what I’m doing here) which can create a “hall of mirrors’’ effect where the mind becomes seemingly inescapable, and often the very attempts to escape it are what reify it, much like a Chinese finger trap.
There’s really no way to end this story, for it is endless. Life will keep on keeping on even after this ego-body-mind is long gone. Awareness is here, now. Time, space and everything in between arises in this Awareness, including the story of Awareness. This groundless ground has become a new Lighthouse for my soul, except this Lighthouse is also giving rise to all the other Lighthouses. One day, a new Lighthouse might arise that holds all the other Lighthouses, including the Lighthouse that holds all the other Lighthouses. On and on we go!
It’s Just A Map (or is it?)
The stories above are just a map, not the territory of my life. But also, contrary to popular belief, the map can be part of the territory, too!
One map I’ve found very useful in navigating through the complexity of transformation is Ken Wilber’s “Wake Up. Grow Up. Clean Up. Show Up.” I could further break down my 10 Awakenings into Wilber’s four categories, but here’s the thing: Everything is everything. Each of the 10 experiences I highlighted above directly shaped Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up and Showing Up. To separate, categorize and label each experience feels almost blasphemous to the beauty of the emergent unfolding. The entire Universe in all its infinite Perfection has led to this moment of me typing these words! Yes, constructing maps and using language is a beautiful part of the human experience. It can also be incredibly limiting and reduce the flow of Everything into some cognitive formula.
My guidance would be to use all the maps, models and guides one can find (like this article). Then tune into your body, heart, mind and soul to feel with all dimensions of your being which path to travel down next. Then, take one step, listen to the whispers of Spirit, and trust the unfolding. It’s not that simple. And it’s also that simple.
Thanks for joining me as I reconstruct the practices, experiences and unfoldings that have created the Me that is right here, right now. My prayer is that it can be helpful in guiding those who may feel lost at sea Home to the island within, or to wherever their souls are seeking to explore next :)
May the journey be delicious!
Explore my latest projects and more of my writings here.
Check out this map of Transformational Communities around the globe.