Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Spiritual Teacher

"Right now, right here, you are free."  With these seven words George Falcon began each session.  The topic was always the same.  Who are we?  How do we live a spiritual life and what does this mean? Though he was unknown to the masses, George touched thousands of people and influenced multitudes of lives. He was a mentor, a teacher, a spiritual guide, a man of peace.  To know George was to know God exists.

I'd heard about George for years.  He was married to my best friend Lee's sister Belinda. Lee and I would have deep discussions about life and he would always say, "you have to meet George. He's amazing."

I met George at a Christmas dinner with Lee's family in 1986.  He sat at the end of the table with his aging parents.  He was professorial in appearance, with a thick beard and olive skin that belied his Latino heritage.  He wore a blue Adidas tracksuit (his standard uniform) and he was quick to smile and laugh.  Dinner conversation was lively and entertaining, but George was largely quiet.  When the conversation shifted to spirituality, I expected him to say something.  Instead he was content to listen in silence tending to his parents' needs.  When dessert was served, he took his plate of pie and ice cream and wandered to the living room to watch the Bulls play the Knicks.

George loved basketball.  This was how we first bonded.  We talked for hours about the Lakers and their chance at another championship.  He spoke about Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and how they both hated losing more than they loved winning.  This prompted the first question I ever asked George.  "Are you saying hate is more powerful than love?"

He answered something to the effect of "love is a higher frequency emotion but sometimes we act more urgently to avoid the pain associated with hate." These spiritual/basketball talks were my first George lessons.  He loved to tell the story about Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone in the 1987 NBA Finals.  Game 1 was on a Sunday and with nine seconds left, Malone (nicknamed "The Mailman") had two free throws to give Utah the win.  Pippen stepped in front of Malone and said, "the Mailman doesn't deliver on Sundays."  Malone missed the shots and the Chicago Bulls won the game.  George used the story to emphasize the power of the "low self" over the body.  Pippen's statement was a subliminal suggestion planted in Malone's subconscious.  Malone could have countered the suggestion with his own statement such as "cancel cancel" as if to say 'I'm consciously canceling the words spoken to me.'  Instead, Malone took the bait and his body betrayed him.

It's been said when a student is ready a teacher will appear.  George was this teacher and I was a grateful and spellbound student.  I attended my first formal "George talk" in the late 80's.  We met at George and Belinda's Studio City home, about twenty of us seated on couch pillows around the living room. George began with a meditation, leading us through a series of breathing exercises to quiet the mind.  After fifteen minutes, George began the talk.

He spoke about consciousness and how the early Egyptians divided the mind into the low-self, middle-self and high-self.  The low-self corresponded to our subconscious, where the mind generates feelings, pictures and memories. George called the low-self "Annabelle," inspired by his small dog who was always yapping for attention.  This is how the low-self works.  While we attempt to quiet our mind we're distracted by noise such as hunger pangs or unpleasant feelings and memories.  Our job is to train our low-self to be aware of the distractions but not let them control our actions, like George ignored Annabelle's barking.

The middle-self is our conscious mind or intellect, where words, ideas and reasoning prevail.  George called the middle-self "Virgil," a nod to Dante's guide through hell in Dante's Inferno.  (In the story, Virgil lived a virtuous life on earth but was trapped in limbo unable to access heaven…an apt metaphor for our middle-self.)  The middle-self, our rational mind, can speak of concepts such as heaven and nirvana, but is unable to grok these experiences.  As George often said, "Virgil can lead you to the doorway, but he can't take you through."

The low-self and middle-self work together to create our identity, our ego, "the self." The low-self generates an emotion and the middle-self comes up with a story to explain the emotion.  The story is a "lie," but we believe it.  Over time, we become hypnotized by our individual stories.  We believe we are selves, separate from others and the world at large.  This leads to the major struggle of humanity, loneliness and a feeling of disconnection (from others and God).

The high-self is where we begin to recognize we are not that which we call "the self."  This is where we find freedom, where we touch love and peace.  The high-self is where we glimpse our true essence, where silence allows us to hear the "still small voice" inside.  George called the high-self "Beatrice," a tribute to Beatrice Portinari, the woman who inspired Dante's Divine Comedy.

George acknowledged the world can appear difficult, rife with pain and violence.  But he reminded us "reality is illusory."  Our world view is informed by the consciousness we resonate with.  The best way to change your reality is to shift your consciousness.  The intellect (middle-self) wants to remain in charge but our job is to be still, to observe our thoughts and feelings and return to our breath through meditation.  We are magnetic beings attracting a reality that matches our beliefs.  If we resonate with harmony, our life becomes more harmonious.  If we focus on discord, our life becomes more chaotic.

The George talks were high-minded and fascinating, but initially they had little impact on my life.  It wasn't until I experienced a personal crisis that I began to view the teachings differently.  I was 28.  I was living in San Francisco and my life was a mess.  My relationship was crumbling, my finances were dismal, my creative life was stunted and I felt like I was having an emotional breakdown.  I called George and asked if we could meet in Los Angeles.  He agreed and I drove to LA the next day.

I met George at a cafe in Larchmont Village.  He listened patiently as I explained how my life was falling apart.  After a few minutes he asked, "If your life was a basketball game what would you do right now?"  I thought for a moment.  "I'd call timeout."  "Good," he said.  "And what would you do during the timeout?"  "Rest for a moment and change my strategy." "Good," he said.  "Maybe you need to rest and design new plays."  "I can't rest, George.  I'm broke.  If I sit back and do nothing how am I going to pay my bills."  "I didn't say do nothing.  I said rest."  I was confused.  "How do you rest while you're active?"  George smiled.  "Now you're asking a good question."

George discussed how meditation allows you to take a break from the usurping energy of negative thoughts and feelings.  He said an hour of meditation equates to six hours of deep sleep.  He added that all emotions have a rhythmic counterpart in breathing--anger corresponds to one breathing modality, depression another.  By learning to consciously control my breathing rate I could begin to assert control over my low-self which at that point was controlling me.

George's words had extra weight given his own recent history.  In 1990, George was diagnosed with colon and liver cancer.  Lee and I visited him at the hospital the night before his surgery.  We expected to find a somber hospital room filled with anxiety and fear.  Instead, George gave an inspired talk to family and a few close friends.  He was smiling and energetic, no sign of worry.  The subject was "freedom" and how to proceed when your external reality does not match the perfection within.  I was stunned at how a man on the verge of life-threatening surgery was able to exhibit such equanimity.

The day after surgery, George was walking the hospital hallways.  He was released two days later.  Doctors estimated a six-month healing period but George was confident he'd need half that time.  He woke at 4:00 am each day, immersing himself in deep meditation while seated in his favorite leather chair. He ate judiciously, mainly fruit, broth and water.  Belinda acted as gatekeeper, keeping visitors away so George had time to heal.  I visited him a month after his surgery. He was quiet and reserved, his face thin and ashen.  He had a distant look, as if lost in thought.  Years later he explained he was focused on the inner healing tones above his eardrums, a meditation technique he would soon teach his students.

Two months after surgery, George was giving talks again.  He looked fit and healthy, back to his pre-surgery weight and jovial as ever.  Rather than curtailing his schedule, he dove into his teachings with a vengeance.  He gave talks at galleries, restaurants, yoga studios, production offices and private homes.  He resumed seeing private clients, working 12-14 hour days.  On any given day he drove as far south as San Diego and as far north as Santa Barbara.  It's as if he were suddenly conscious of his limited time on earth and wanted to make sure not a second was wasted.

In 1991, I moved back to Los Angeles.  I began seeing George twice weekly for private sessions.  He asked me about the tattered journal I carried with me. I told him this was where I recorded my daily thoughts and feelings.  "So that's your low-self and middle-self manual," he said.  I never viewed it that way but he was right.  "It's time to begin a high-self manual," George said. He gave me an assignment.  Purchase a new journal and fill two pages a day with a single statement written over and over.  The statement: "I am the Temple of the Living God."

I hesitated.  I knew George was Christian.  Having grown up in a Jewish household with Orthodox grandparents, I was worried I was entering dangerous ground.  I voiced my concerns.  "George, I'm Jewish.  I don't want you to try to make me a Christian.  I'm not comfortable with that and to be honest, the thought scares me." George smiled.  "Have I mentioned anything about Christianity?" "No," I said. "Have I mentioned Christ?"  "No."  "Have I mentioned religion?"  "No." "We spoke about designing new plays.  That's all we're doing right now."

I began journaling immediately.  At first it was awkward.  I felt like Bart Simpson trapped in a Catholic school principal's office.  After a few days, the words became a mantra.  I spoke them aloud as I transcribed page after page with the sentence "I am the Temple of the Living God."  The writing was soothing and questions entered my mind.  Does "the Temple" refer to my body or my spirit?  Who is the "I" in the statement--my mind, my feelings, my soul?  If I am "a Temple of the Living God," does this mean God is alive inside me?

I noticed small changes in my life.  I became more attentive to cleanliness, shaving and showering each morning instead of waiting until the end of the day.  I ate better, avoiding alcohol and sugar and opting for salads and fresh fruit.  I cut back on my use of profanity (f-bombs were my adverb of choice).  I became more conscious of the movies and books I selected, choosing positive stories instead of dissertations on life's misery.  I started making lists of things to be grateful for, the warmth of a sunny day or the simple miracle of indoor plumbing.

Slowly, imperceptibly, my life improved.  I found a job with a bunch of friends.  I reconnected with Lee.  My aunt gave me a car.  I began dating a beautiful woman from my past.  And I spent more time with George.  Monday mornings became "Breakfast With George" as Lee and I joined him at a Spanish restaurant on 3rd Street.  While George ate his favorite dish chilaquiles he used Lee and I as guinea pigs to practice new spiritual teachings.  He emphasized the need "to take it to the marketplace," using the lessons as a practical means to improve your life.

On one occasion, a couple was having an argument at a nearby table.  The spat devolved into a screaming match.  George said, "This is a great opportunity to practice peace.  What are some things we can do right now to help this couple?"  I said, "We can pray for them." "Good," George said.  "But if you're praying for a desired outcome--their peace--then it's your will doing the praying."  Lee added, "We could ask God to pray for them"  "Better, but again it's you asking God for a specific outcome instead of deferring to God's will."  I said, "We could visualize them in the light."  "Good," George said.  "But there's something you're both missing."  Lee and I were stumped.

George used the occasion to deliver an important spiritual lesson.  Rather than focus on the couple who was having a fight, he directed us to focus on ourselves. He asked us to close our eyes and begin our breathing exercises. He told us to imagine a feather resting on our upper lip.  Our breathing should be calm as to not disturb the feather.  He directed our attention to the center of our foreheads, to our pineal gland, our "third eye."  He said to focus on the peace inherent in our breathing, urging us to watch for a bright white light that would appear in the proximity of our pineal gland.

After several minutes, George asked us to open our eyes.  He asked how we were feeling.  Though neither of us encountered a bright white light, we both felt a sense of profound peace.  "What else," George asked.  We looked around the restaurant. The dining room was quiet and the couple had left. During the meditation, I'd lost focus on the couple.  I was only aware of a feeling of peace.  As I returned to "reality," my outer life resembled my inner tranquility.  I recalled a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.:  "Be the peace you wish to see in the world."

George gave us a valuable lesson, one he would soon crystalize in his teachings.  "Right now, right here, you are free."  The world outside is connected to the world inside.  ("As below so above.")  When dealing with a perceived problem (illness), our first step is to acknowledge our true essence is free from all lack.  Step two is to recognize the perceived problem as a lie (illness cannot exist in the presence of perfect health).  Next, we are to visualize imagery that reminds us we are part of a divine whole.  This might be a wave in the ocean or the branch of a tree.  We then turn to the breathing exercises.  We focus on our breath, becoming still and quiet, releasing the thoughts and feelings that appear.  The longer we remain in this state, the faster our outer world will resemble our inner one.

George continually reminded us there is "power and wisdom in letting go."  By choosing to release a negative thought or feeling, we are opting for universal consciousness over self consciousness.  He spoke of theosis, a divine union without distinction.  He referenced the Zen Buddhist concept of "not two," falling short of saying we are God but recognizing we are not apart from God. He utilized a myriad of Eastern philosophical texts, urging us to read the Diamond Sutra and the Tao Te Ching.  His favorite quote from the Tao was "the Tao does nothing yet leaves nothing undone."

George often referenced movies in his teachings, particularly ones that featured master-student relationships.  These included The Karate Kid, The Matrix, HoosiersRemo Williams and Star Wars.  He adored the films of Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris and especially loved Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon.  His favorite tv show of all time was Kung Fu.  He also loved reading.  Two of his favorite books were The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and The Life and Times of Joseph L. Greenstein written by Kung Fu creator Ed Spielman.

Some of my favorite memories include pick-up basketball games with George and Lee at parks around town.  George was a stellar basketball player in his teens and his love for the sport remained into his 60's.  He was a trash-talker on court, goading players toward their weak spot then blocking the shot with surprisingly quick hands.  Once George tried to steal the ball from an opponent and dislocated his right index finger.  He closed his eyes and bent the finger back into place.  When I asked if he was okay, he replied, "I always suspected that finger had karma."  (Who knew body parts had karma?)

Driving with George provided additional lessons.  He drove like an old lady, observing the speed limit and granting others the right of way.  When someone tailgated or honked at George, he pulled over and let them pass.  Once, George and I left a restaurant in separate cars headed for his home about six miles away.  I drove in my typical frenetic style, constantly changing lanes and passing slower cars.  I made it to his house only thirty seconds faster than him.

My connection with George ran deep.  I encountered him while visiting the Grand Canyon in the 90's.   A few years later my wife and I ran into him while vacationing in Hawaii.  In 2007, my wife and I were honored to have George preside over our wedding.  We participated in a six-week marriage course with George where he reminded us our union was a three-way contract between ourselves and God.  Having George seal our marriage pact made the ritual sacred and profound.

Over time, George focused on the role the body plays in spiritual progression.  Perhaps inspired by his own illness in 1990, he recommended that students observe their own relationship to sugar, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, meat and dairy.  It wasn't unusual to find George in the midst of a juice-only detox or raw-food cleanse.  He offered meditation seminars incorporating water-only regimens emphasizing the need to cleanse the body of toxins.  He gave day-long workshops urging complete silence, focusing only on one's breath and asanas.  His goal was to show us we were not just free from negative thoughts and feelings but from the addictive foods and chemicals that often controlled our lives.

George and I always called each other on our birthdays catching up on the Lakers and their hopes for the coming season.  Though we saw each other less frequently, I applied his lessons every day.  I'd be walking somewhere and I'd recall one of his statements as if he were speaking the words anew.  "God does not give you his life to improve your life.  He gives you his life so you have His life."

As the years progressed, George attracted a new group of students.  He increased his workload, leading more workshops and seeing a wider array of clients.  His teachings became available online attracting new acolytes from around the world. Those close to George urged him to slow down.  But he was dedicated to service and continued a torrid pace into his mid-70's.

For some reason, I forgot to call George on his birthday in April, 2016.  A few months later, I left him a message.  Strangely, he didn't call back.  Early on the morning of July 22nd, Lee called.  He was crying and his words were faint. "Georgie is gone," he said.  "He left us last night."  At the age of 78, George's cancer had returned.  He kept the news to himself, sharing it only with those closest to him.  The illness was fierce and spread quickly.  His body was ravaged and he died in a month's time.

As word spread, a wave of shock spread through the community.  Like most of his his students, I was stunned.  How could George die?  This seemed impossible.  We knew he was mortal, but he seemed beyond death as if he'd mastered life and all it's pitfalls.  Everyone thought the same thing, that George would continue teaching into his 90's like the wise old Yoda we knew him to be.  Now he was gone.

I lived the next few weeks in a fugue state.  At the memorial, George's students expressed a similar sentiment.  People gave heartfelt tributes, sharing how George had rescued them from addiction or saved their marriage or guided them through a life-threatening illness.  We heard anecdotes about George's love of kung fu movies and his penchant for See's chocolates.  We hugged and cried and reminded each other that George's spirit was still intact, he'd merely left his body.  Beneath everything there was a deep sadness.  George had been a father figure. Now, suddenly, we were all on our own. Only one thought gave us peace.  "Right now, right here, George is free."
(5" x 7", black ink print)

To view videos of George Falcon's teachings go to: