Finding A Home In the Now: Talking Peace with Jordan Bach

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(Photo by Ahmed AlBawardi) (Photo by Ahmed AlBawardi)
By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
You may not know Jordan Bach yet, but the young life coach and writer  has made a name for himself in New York City and beyond with his straightforward approach to self-actualization. With significant celebrity cachet—including friends like Janet Mock, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and the cast of “Lookingâ€â€”and millions of hits to his website, Bach may be one of the most influential queer teachers on the modern spiritual scene. We talked about how he entered the field of life coaching, the role of melancholy in queer life, and the two straightforward-yet-difficult steps of self-actualization. PQ Monthly: What made you decide to engage in this work? Jordan Bach: When I moved to New York at 18, I enrolled at Parsons School of Design. When I graduated and started interviewing for jobs in design & marketing, it felt as if I was making a big mistake. I went through a little bit of a crisis. I left New York and was fully invested in asking myself, “What do you want to do with your life? What are you good at? What can you offer to the world?†All of us need to take the time to wage a full-scale investigation about who we are and what gifts we bring with us. Rumi wrote, “Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.†I’m fascinated at how this universal spiritual principle works out in the lives of ordinary people like me. I enjoy investigating it. That’s how I fell into being a coach, facilitating people on their own investigations. PQ: In your narrative, there seems to be a subtle undercurrent of loneliness both as the catalyst for this transformation as well as the soil where this transformation grew out of. JB: Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been a melancholy person. I’ve always felt a sort of bittersweet, wistful, longing feeling in my heart. Like homesickness. As I grew up and studied myself alongside many wisdom traditions and spiritual texts, I discovered that melancholy isn’t necessarily depression. We live in a society quick to pathologize very natural parts of ourselves. Our souls are homesick. But we’re here are on a mission. I think that the degree to which we can be in touch with our longing for a better place is the degree to which we can be effective here on Earth doing the work we were made to do. Perhaps many of us who incarnate as gay are supposed to feel a certain tenor of melancholy in our lives; maybe we’re supposed to learn to find wisdom and comfort in it.  PQ: In gay literature, melancholy was central to the narrative for so long, up until this sea change in the Nineties when characters were suddenly marked by a manic exuberance, a constant partying, and a lack of depth. JB: I think the manic, overblown exuberance you’re talking about is a response rather than a natural impulse. Many of us were children who felt unsure of ourselves, and we were so desperate for approval that we’d do anything to get it. You know, I interviewed a well-known fitness expert, Keoni Hudoba; he was able to talk honestly about escaping the emotional pain of having once been morbidly obese. He wanted to distract people from his pain, and so he was the clown, the jester, the comedian—anything to keep people, including himself, from noticing the shame. There are myriad ways we attempt to do this. There are also myriad ways we choose to identify with our shame: we glorify our woundedness on the internet, we drag our victimhood behind us like a dead body. What makes “Looking†remarkable is that, for the first time, we aren’t so much seeing the hurt caused us by outside forces like homophobia, but rather the hurt caused us by ourselves.  PQ: What sort of ways do you see people try to escape that loneliness and that melancholy that we're talking about? JB: We use drugs, alcohol, sex, seduction, work, gym. It’s not that any of these things are inherently bad, though. That’s where a lot of well-intentioned people get it wrong. Pema Chodron talks about how the Buddhist monastic tradition advised against drugs and alcohol not because they are immoral, but because we use these things as babysitters, with “the tenacious hope that we could be saved from being who we are.† PQ: Considering that there are so many impulses that make many gay people want to escape the present moment, how do we make the present moment tenable again? JB: Mental well-being is the end of external searching, and a return to peace. What we have to understand is that beneath all of this frantic hunting for another rush of some sort is a search for inner peace. And when we realize peace is an attribute in all of us that we simply cannot find outside ourselves, it brings us back to ourselves and the present moment. Finding a home in the now happens when we realize that to get what we truly want, we don’t need to do anything — we need to stop doing, [which] removes the blocks to our awareness of love’s presence, which is our natural inheritance. Of course, this all sounds lovely, but means nothing if we don’t actually practice it. People like to read this stuff. But the important thing is practicing these principles when everything is going to shit. We go to the gym to work our physical muscles, and we also have to train our spiritual muscles. Peace, serenity, authenticity. These qualities aren’t a destination; they’re a process. It’s not that you are or aren’t an authentic person—you simply accept or deny the offer in each moment to be authentic. So, are any of us going to reach a point where it’s nonstop inner peace from here on out? No. Living in the moment, living in authenticity, making a home for yourself within yourself—is a process. The good news, though, is that there are only two steps to all of this work: begin, and continue.