I was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1950 of Roman Catholic Italian- American parents and had a Catholic education through high school.I was an altar boy in grade school and active in the Boy Scouts. At age ten I started to play guitar and music became my emotional outlet.While in high school I was active in Junior Achievement, speech team, student council, National Honor Society and played guitar for the folk masses. I was a good kid.
I entered Ohio University in 1968 and studied English and Philosophy. The Vietnam War, the counter-culture and radical politics had a life changing impact on me. I was a full participant in the cultural change that was sweeping the world. The kid from Youngstown was morphing.
Upon graduating from college in 1972, I moved to Boston with a band and after a few months it broke up. Out of desperation, I took a job as the New England traffic controller for the U-Haul truck rental company just for the money and soon quit. I went into a depression. All that stuff I studied in college started to become real to me. I was suffering and in an existential dilemma. I began a process of questioning everything I believed.
This was the initial step for a life changing decision that I was to make. I decided that I was going to live from my heart and follow what I was passionate about. I would figure out the money. Jazz music was my passion and I wanted to be around that sound and the people who made it. Soon thereafter, I was hired as a door man at The Jazz Workshop, the premier jazz club in New England and within a few months became the assistant manager.
I became friendly with Rebecca, a waitress at the club and after work would hang out with her and other night people at her apartment. She had a library of books on metaphysics, spirituality, consciousness and mysticism. I was asking myself “Who am I?” and felt these books could hold the answer. “Think On These Things” by J. Krishnamurti and “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass launched me in the study of myself.
Krishnamurti’s method was to question and to ultimately act from one’s own inner authority with very few beliefs. Nothing was fixed and most things were in process. A lot of his teaching was about accepting uncertainty and piercing the illusion of security. Ram Dass’ teaching is heart centered and based in Hindu mysticism with an emphasis on Bhakti yoga and surrender. These two teachers were a powerful brew for me. I came to resonate with Ram Dass the most.
In 1973 I became a road manager for CTI Records, a successful mainstream jazz label based in New York City. I was on the road a lot and when back in town studied Ram Dass intensely. His message of unconditional love of self and others as well as seeking the truth that cut across all boundaries of culture, ethnicity and religion resonated deeply with me. His goal was union with God through the heart opening practice of Bhakti yoga which included study with a guru and surrendering one’s life and will to God. This would become my goal as well.
I started to frequent Weiser’s, an esoteric bookstore and became familiar with a wide range of mystical literature including the work of the Russian teacher, George Gurdjieff. I joined a Gurdjieff study group and immersed myself in a self-observation practice that became foundational for everything that was to follow.
Around this time, Mary Ann, a friend from college came to visit and eventually moved in with me. She told me about her guru, Shivananda Valentina who had an ashram in Miami Beach, Florida. In 1974, after driving a cab in New York for a few months, Mary Ann and I moved to Miami Beach.
The Light of Shivananda Valentina ashram was a stucco house with a garage and fair sized back yard.The front room was the sanctuary and Valentina and her initiated disciples lived in the other rooms. We practiced Hatha yoga with Valentina in the mornings and in the evening she taught from a place of utter surrender, transmitting heart opening power, presence and peace.The Bhakti path was love of God, guru, self and others, surrendering the illusion of control.Valentina was the living embodiment of the real mysticism that is at the core of all spiritual traditions.She passed on in the late 1970’s.Her vibration still resonates deeply within me.
Mary Ann and I returned to Athens, Ohio in 1975 where we had gone to college and I began playing bass with a jazz group. Through friends of Mary Ann, I was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism and astrology. We began meditating and studied the Four Noble Truths as well as the Eightfold Path which are foundational principles of Buddhism. A Wiccan priestess, Nikki, was our astrology teacher. I found astrology to be a deep system describing psychological complexes, aspects of relationships and karma.
Mary Ann and I split up in 1978 and I began graduate school, completing my M.A. in Radio –Television Management in 1980. In the following years I did radio promotion for an independent jazz label in New York, owned a record and bookstore back in Athens, married, moved to Cincinnati, worked in public broadcasting, divorced, played bass in a blues group and in 1992 entered recovery for behavior and thinking that was making my life unmanageable.
For twenty seven years I have been doing 12 step recovery work and have experienced that it is a non-dogmatic, “where the rubber meets the road” way to know God through the surrender of the illusion of control. It is a spiritual program and a good way to live. I’m grateful for it.
It had been twenty years since I had been a student of Valentina and in 1995 I met Richard Francis, a mystic and former Jehovah’s Witness.I began a ten year course of study with Richard and hosted with him a weekly spiritual talk show on the radio.Richard was well-versed in the literature of mysticism and taught metaphysical interpretation of the Bible. He authored a number of books on spiritual topics, including a rendering of the Tao Te Ching that I studied closely.Richard’s path was unconditional love, surrender and non-dual perception of reality. I grew in an appreciation of the underlying oneness containing the dance of yin/yang, polarity and duality.All is One.
Richard and I were brothers in spirit. He passed on a few years ago and his gentle way of being is with me still.
The radio station where I worked for twenty years was sold in 2005 and I was not hired by the new owners. I was bitter, resentful and angry. After a few months, I realized that if I hung onto to these feelings it was like drinking poison and thinking that the other guy was going to die. I realized that I was killing myself from the inside out. Shortly after this insight, I viewed my situation as an opportunity to grow more fully into my heart and to be in service to others professionally.
I remembered interviewing Dr. Debbie Ooten, owner of the Conscious Living Center, on the radio and had lunch with her. She extended an offer to me to join her at the Center where I would attend the School of Conscious Living for two years and become certified as an Enneagram Teacher and Life Coach. The Enneagram is a psycho-spiritual tool describing our unconscious/habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving as well as the underlying motivation. It is a powerful tool for developing self-observation and becoming more conscious and aware, engendering conscious choice.
In 2007, I was certified as an Enneagram Teacher and Life Coach and became a professional member of the International Enneagram Association. Additionally, I became a faculty member in the School of Conscious Living and have been teaching with Debbie for twelve years. I have had the opportunity to be a presenter on the Holy Ideas and the Virtues, spiritual components of the Enneagram, at conferences in the United States, Canada and Europe.
I have experienced Debbie as a powerful change agent as a psychologist, mentor and teacher of consciousness influenced by the work of Gurdjieff.Just by being who she is will challenge your assumptions about everything and rattle your comfort zone. She is in a deep embrace with the dark and the light, the All and Everything where nothing is excluded and everything has a place in the ever ascending spiral of consciousness.At her best, she knows mercy and can tenderly attend to your suffering while wielding the sword of Truth. Debbie is the most human of all the teachers that have attended to my conscious evolution. Therein lies my task to fully accept my humanity as a spiritual being having a human experience.
Ron Esposito is a certified Life Coach, Spiritual Mentor and Enneagram Teacher at the Conscious Living Center. Contact: [email protected]