Diego Perez—better known as yung pueblo—offers poetic insights on love, attachment, craving, and freedom through his book Inward and on his social media channels. But he’s not a meditation teacher—just a meditator who has something to say, and a way with words. He spoke with Mindful.org’s Stephanie Domet about life before meditation and the hope that fuels his work.
Q: What compelled you to start meditating?
A: I think basically my own inner misery and dissatisfaction. I was just dominated by my sadness and anxiety and I felt a sense of inadequacy with my inability to love myself and felt just generally lost and unhappy. When I started seeing that some of the biggest parts of my unhappiness were related to me allowing my craving to just dominate my action, and I saw how unhealthy I had become by consuming a lot of different drugs, not taking care of myself, using drugs as a vehicle to get as far away from myself as possible, it all came to a screeching halt. One day I just felt like I was dying. And I decided that was enough. I felt miserable enough that I decided I would try anything to get myself out of that hole.
Q: How did you lift yourself out of that level of despair?
A: I wanted to add new value to my life, so I went over to Oregon, to a farm that my friend was working on, and I spent three months out there, so literally my day to day was simply farming, working in the gardens. It was good because it helped me get more in touch with being present, living a simple life. I stopped doing hard drugs about a year before, in the summer of 2011, and really started switching my life around, taking better care of myself—just practicing honest observation, honestly observing myself without running away, trying to see where all my discomfort was coming from. And then it was the summer of 2012 when I did my first meditation course. It really hit home in a way that nothing else ever has. I felt—even though it was very difficult for me, the course—I felt like I had lost a hundred pounds in my mind if that makes sense. I had lost so much mental weight and I felt better than ever, much more in touch with myself, much more at home in my own body and mind. I was just scratching the surface of how much more there was to really let go of.
Q: What does “letting go” mean to you, and when did you first realize it was something you could do?
A: It took time to realize that letting go was even happening. I think a year or two into my practice I started realizing that with really keen observation, real equanimity there was no grabbing, there was no attachment there, there was just this being able to accept what I was observing, with no active attachment. There’s so much we’re attached to, so much that’s driving all the tension and stress in the mind, and the act of letting go is really what unbinds all these tangled up patterns. To me letting go is just decreasing all these patterns that have been embedded throughout our lifetime in our subconscious mind and doing that through some sort of practice.
Q: You write under the name yung pueblo—young people. You’ve said this name refers to how young humanity is—and how much potential we have. What have you seen that gives you hope we’ll lean into that potential?
A: Before university, I spent a lot of time in the world of activism and I saw how powerful people could be when they came together around a common cause. But I always felt like something big was missing—what else can we add to our movements that could make everything much more powerful and effective in the long run? And then I started seeing that maybe it’s this aspect of wisdom, maturing, cultivating our minds—when I started doing my own personal cultivation, I saw that there was so much I did not know, there was a lack of maturity there. And when I started looking at the world, I saw how craving and aversion and ignorance really created this whole social-political system that we live in. To create a global peace, there needs to be more and more people who are able to feel a deep inner peace because inner peace comes with mental clarity, and with that mental clarity comes more creativity, more energy that we can use to better problem-solve and to look at the world much more clearly which makes all of our actions that much more effective.
There’s a threshold we cross when we start doing this inner work when we fundamentally begin to feel that to harm another is to harm one’s self.
I’m still walking on the path, I have much more to learn. Knowing that we don’t have to be perfect to make a certain degree of change, gives me hope. I’m not asking people to be perfect. I just think that there’s a threshold we cross when we start doing this inner work when we fundamentally begin to feel that to harm another is to harm one’s self. Not just intellectually but in my lived experience, it is literally to my benefit to not harm other people. As more and more people actually feel that, our world will change radically.
Q: You talk a lot about relationships—how to have healthy relationships, how to recognize when you’re not in one. How does your practice inform the advice you give?
A: I think just by trial and error. I’ve been married for five years. We’ve been together since we were young—she was 18 and I was 19, now I’m 32 and she’s 30. We have so much love for each other, but we learned that some of that love came with attachments that caused so much friction in our relationships. In the beginning of our relationship we just had no conception of being able to do inner work, know ourselves, or love ourselves, so there were a lot of arguments, and unnecessary conflict, but as we started meditating we started realizing that once we became serious about our personal individual growth and freedom it created so much more harmony in our relationship. Of course, we’re not perfect, but we’re learning how to just essentially better love each other, and better love ourselves, and that has really informed a lot of my writing on relationships.
Q: What are some things you do to maintain healthy boundaries in your life?
A: The primary thing that I do that helps me maintain healthy boundaries is that every day I have time to myself when I meditate. Every day I meditate two hours a day, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening—like two pillars that hold up every single day. I’ve been doing that now for about four years and it has not only radically changed my life, but it helps me see myself, rejuvenate myself, and it helps me grow and maintain a sense of mental clarity. Even though there are ups and downs every day, I feel that it gives me so much that it would be foolish not to do it.
Q: What do you most want people to know about the value of mindfulness practices?
A: What I’ve come to understand through meditating is that a lot of our habit patterns are so deeply embedded in our subconscious and if we just think about things intellectually yes, there is a certain degree of progress we can make, but if we’re able to actually figure out through a practice how to really unbind those deeply embedded patterns, that conditioning over our entire lifetime, it helps so much, and I think that’s really done through meditation. If you can go on a long course, it just is truly invaluable. If it’s not something you can do, to go to a course, then practice to the degree that you can.
Q: You talk a lot about freedom, liberation. I think you’re talking about a kind of self-liberation, internal liberation—but how can our own mindfulness help dismantle the external systems of oppression that bear down on so many of us?
A: When I speak about freedom, there are these two words that I use often, they don’t necessarily equate, but one is healing and the other is freedom. And to me healing is doing what you need to do to decrease your mental tension so that you feel better, feel a little bit happier, feel a new sense of mental stability and a lot of that revolves around healing your personal traumas. Traumas become so dense they become these massive things that we have to live with and walk with but at the other end of that is real true liberation. By that I mean moving forward on the path in a way where you’re totally eradicating all deep conditioning that is stopping you from being totally loving, totally compassionate, having real sympathetic joy and real equanimity. To be able to do that—that’s a very long path.
Healing isn’t a forever thing, eventually there is an end to it.
I’m a mediator, but I’m not a meditation teacher. My writing is for people who are entering this world of personal transformation. Healing isn’t a forever thing, eventually, there is an end to it. I think as our personal liberation grows, as we cultivate our freedom and enhance it, that can only add to our movements to make this world a much better place, to really create a humane society, a world where we can all live well without harming each other—which is completely possible if we can imagine it, it’s possible. There have been so many groups of people who have tried to change their social structures and some of them have been successful, but a lot of times these movements crumble from within or become unstable. There’s so much inner work that hasn’t been done. You can have this ideal that you want to create a better world, but if you have not done your personal inner work, then there’s a big chance that these deep cravings or aversions, some ignorance or ego will come up—especially in moments when you have power—and it becomes really difficult to continue with your ideals in a virtuous way.
But there’s something that makes this moment in time very special. If you look historically there have been no other moments like this, where not only eastern practices but also western therapy have become global. If you live in a major city, you have so much more access. I mean, we have a ways to go in regards to accessibility, but we have so much more access than ever before to actually take up an introspective practice that will truly meet us where we’re at, so we can dig deep, decrease whatever it is that’s causing us so much mental tension. And in that decrease in mental tension, we’re going to be not only much kinder to ourselves but much more gentle and peaceful with those around us and much more creative in our solutions. More and more we’re seeing that people who are active in social movements are also meditating and getting serious about their own mental healing, their own self-liberation, and to me, that’s really exciting. It couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time when we have these monolithic challenges in front of us, climate change, racism, sexism, things we have to undo so that we can all live much happier lives. Now we have that missing piece, the ability to build inner peace which will later support global peace.