Brazil and My Life-Changing Question

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2007

By the end of 2006, I was spiritually at one of my all-time lows. I repeatedly questioned my own existence in this world in a very “George Bailey” sort of way (James Stewart’s character in the 1946 film “It’s A Wonderful Life”), that maybe the world would be best without me. To be honest, I used to think about that pretty regularly for several years. But this time around, I had a son on the way so I snapped out of it quickly, especially after our trip to Brazil in 2007.

In early 2007, my glowingly pregnant wife and I packed some suitcases and found ourselves on a plane ride to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And just as you’d expect, the landscape was breathtaking. The crisp, blue ocean and its waves rippling towards the crowded sandy shores of Ipanema, Copacabana, and Leblon beaches… and the sun rising and setting behind the arresting views of Rio’s majestic mountains coloring the skies gold and purple… it was God’s true work of art.

But it wasn’t the scenery that changed my life. It was the people.

Maracanã Stadium

I remember being inside a stopped tour bus on our way to Rio’s famed Maracanã stadium, and watching a couple people with handheld percussion instruments and singing on the street corner. Then slowly more people started showing up with instruments of their own having an impromptu bossa nova/samba jam session. Just before our bus started to drive off, I watched as more people showed up smiling and laughing and dancing in a celebration in which everyone seemed to have been invited. If I wasn’t stuck on the bus, I’d have gone out and partied with them too. It was like one of those really old black and white cartoons where all the animals in the forest randomly decide to have a parade in a “fuck it, we’re doing this” sort of way. It was glorious to watch.

There were various times on the beach when I’d watch people of all ages, races, and statuses play pickup games of beach soccer. It didn’t seem to matter who you were, where you’re from, and what you did for a living… if you knew how to play, you were most welcome to come. It was amazing watching them play, too. They play with such happiness and soul, much in the same way they perform capoeira – smiling and lively, with that unique rhythm they call “ginga.” What they could do with their feet was more captivating than what American basketball players can do with their hands.

Leblon beach, the mountains, and the ocean under the sun.

On a Sunday, we were invited to our friend Hassan’s house, who lives at the base of Corcovado mountain, and what a mesmerizing view it was from his back patio. Every Sunday, he said, he and his friends and some relatives get together, have lunch and drinks, and sing Beatles karaoke songs at the top of their lungs. I told Hassan that I’ve been observing how the people of Rio seemed so happy despite generally not having so much. He reminded me that there’s a lot of crime and political and social issues in Rio, but what makes Brazilians pretty unique is that even though many people don’t have as much as Americans, they make the most of what they have. He said, “We have the sun, the moon, the mountains, and each other. What else can possibly make us happier?”

At the time I was making so much money that I can impulse buy whatever I wanted. But I was miserable with what I was doing in life. I was miserable with so much depression and anxiety. Then here’s my friend Hassan and his family – they didn’t have nearly as many material things as I did, but they were immensely happier than me.

And that’s when I asked myself the most important question I’ve ever asked myself: How can I have the happiness that they have?

By the time we got home from Brazil, that question burned inside of me. I had no idea at the time what I was going to do, but I felt like a huge change was going to come.

By summer of that year, I randomly enrolled in a free introduction to Zen Shiatsu Japanese bodywork class because I thought it would be pretty fun. After the instructor taught us a few techniques, it was our turn to practice them on our classmates. And when I first laid my hands on my training partner to practice those techniques, it all made sense. A new door opened for me, and it was about time to jump into the great ocean of life and catch a wave. From that moment on, I found myself formally learning shiatsu, acupuncture, Chinese herbology, and Clinical Qigong energy healing, all of which I now do for a living.

My trip to Brazil was the pivotal moment of my life, leading to a career and life change that led me on a path towards the happiness I’ve been searching for. I can show my kids that life isn’t always about materialism, it’s about service to humanity… compassion and healing. And over the years my wife has watched me evolve from being perpetually angry, bitter, anxious, and depressed… to a much more fulfilled, happier person with a true purpose. And even though I still go through some intense moments of anxiety and depression, I’m now better at handling them with more clarity. 

I’ll forever have a special place in my heart for Brazil and Brazilians. I’m forever grateful.

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