‘Unorthodox’ by Michael Stone

Picture New York City–Now, imagine Wall Street, impeccably dressed bankers and traders with slick short hair...And then, picture a vegetarian, unshaven, ponytail-wearing, hippy Hedge Fund Trader...THAT was ME!

Yep, it was a secret double life - Capitalist Hedge Fund trader by day, and Tree-hugging Community Activist by night! Like the many on Wall St, I dreamt of being a trader since I was young, and I remember when I was at North Sydney Boys High, always wanting to study economics & finance. However, when I started my first job out of uni in corporate finance, I realised that I had different values to my colleagues, and after just a few years as a trader, I started to wonder what my real purpose in life was.

One of my values is to push myself through limiting beliefs or fears which may be holding me back. When I decided to overcome my claustrophobia, I thought the best course of action was to be placed into the most enclosed space possible, so I booked myself in to do an overnight ceremonial BURIAL! Yes, I know, pretty crazy right!

This experience took place on a property 2 hours outside of Manhattan. It began in the morning with our small group of 8 participants, sitting in a circle to share why the hell we were going to dig our own graves and bury ourselves...The facilitators were two indigenous Huichol shamans from Mexico, wearing traditional white robes adorned with intricately woven patterns of sacred plants and animals native to their culture. I spoke of my claustrophobia and the uncertainly around my chosen career. Others shared how they were using this ceremony to let go of a relationship or illness. The shamans tell us that they are going to stay up all night long, drumming around the sacred fire, while we lay in our graves, until sunrise. We’re all given a pick and a shovel and I start digging into the hard, rocky soil, and after several hours of digging, I feel like the Energiser Bunny -I just keep digging and digging and digging... I am in a trance state.

By late afternoon, I have dug a hole about 3 feet deep, 2 feet wide, and 6 feet long. Finally, the time has come, and I lie down in my grave. The shamans lay wooden branches across the top of our graves, then, they shovel dirt on top, leaving a small gap in one corner so that air can get in. The sound of the soil landing just above my face is so INTENSE, the air is heavy, as is being surrounded by earth all around me, in such a small space. We are told to stay awake, and reflect on why we are here, despite being utterly exhausted... I hear the shamans drumming through the night, as I weave in and out of dream states. And an amazing vision comes...

I am standing at the edge of a cliff. There is a paper people-chain standing beside me, and after the first cut-out person takes my hand, I slowly leap off the cliff edge. In slow-motion, the people-chain expands as I float off the cliff, into the air, and safely down to the ground. For me, it’s a clear message that I need to take a leap of faith, and leave my job as a Wall St trader, which I am no longer passionate about. This vision surpassed the expectation of overcoming my claustrophobia, which was definitely nailed in the coffin!

In the morning, the branches are removed...I sit up and call out, “Here I Am for the Very First Time!”

It was some months later when 911 happened, and I was a block away...The first thing I notice were people running back into the subway station, as I was leaving the subway...Large group of people staring at a gaping hole... people jumping out... Went into my office on 16th floor, watching everything unfold on the TV screens... As the Towers collapse, our building is shaking and I just want to get out of there. There’s a pharmacy on the ground floor of our building, and I put on a face mask with wet paper towels. I open the foyer doors and go outside into hell... it was like a Nuclear Apocalypse... the world is a dark, dark grey, with ash on the ground up to here, and the air was full of bits of burning debris.

I thought it could be WWIII and I prayed that I would live to see another day. In survival mode, I walk rapidly, like an emotionless zombie, across the Brooklyn Bridge, all the way to our apartment in Park Slope. My wife is incredibly relieved to see me, and I collapse, covered in dust, ash, and whatever else you can imagine, on a chair and start to cry. We then hear that the planes may have carried anthrax, so I throw my clothes outside and run to the shower to wash off.

After that, I can’t seem to take my eyes off the horrible footage on TV, so my wife drags me away and we walk to nearby Prospect Park. But even here, there are burning pieces of financial statements floating in the air. It was difficult to come to terms with what had happened, but what made it frustrating, was that I felt helpless –people were either dead or alive, and there was nothing I could do to help. But, there was one thing that I did have control over –that was my own life –I could choose to stay in a corporate, soul-less job, or I could do something more meaningful, in honour of those that died.

I made a commitment to take that leap of faith that I had seen previously in my vision, and I quit my job as a trader. After the events of 911it was hard for me to stay in NYC... every time I heard a plane over head, I felt uneasy, and the massive police presence constantly reminded me of 911. It was time to return home to Sydney. After having worked in a few dysfunctional work places, I loved the idea of office environments where staff were valued, so I created a network of practitioners and facilitators who we sent into workplaces to do massage, yoga, nutrition, stress management, laughter workshops and team building.

16 years later, we’ve helped tens of thousands of employees. I also brought the “crazy” Burial Ceremony to Australia, which is called, “The Embrace of the Earth”, and have led over a dozen of these. Last but not least, I facilitate men’s groups -safe places for men to share their stories & challenges. I still have obstacles in my life, but as I move forwards, I can take those leaps of faith, trusting and believing in myself, without having to dig my own grave!

Michael Stone

Nature Philosophy Community Member’s epic deep nature connection story!






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