When One Door Closes

Nightclub doorman Carlos Alberto on his journey to becoming a meditation instructor.

Photograph by Joshua Simpson

In his early twenties, Carlos Alberto found financial stability in New York City’s vibrant club scene, producing events and working the doors. Along the way, a chance reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace led him down a path of inquiry that has had its own surges and slumps. Last year, Alberto, 47, decided it was time to commit to his long-nurtured “secret passion” for yoga and meditation. He completed a mindfulness teacher-
training course and has embarked on a career as an instructor of meditation, teaching classes at MNDFL studio and to middle-school students in underserved communities.

What do you do?

I’ve been moonlighting for the past four years as a doorman for the rooftop lounge at the James Hotel in Soho. I’m the guy who decides whether you get into the club or not.

How does mindfulness
help your work?

When I’m working a door, I put on a mask. You don’t see my smile. If you do, you’ll know I’m a nice guy. Then, if I say “no” you won’t accept it. My mask indicates that I’m not attached to whether this person gets in or not. It’s not “I don’t give a shit about you”—it’s more “this is the way it is.” I’m not going to budge. That’s it.

How do you balance your practice with the urban night life?

When you are in something and you know it’s shallow and superficial and not really serving anyone and you have something of a spiritual backbone, you’re torn. I struggled for years, trying to make sense of it, trying to figure out how to live in it and work on my practice. I seesawed back and forth, dropping my practice and living the life, then catching myself and returning to my practice.

I seesawed back and forth, dropping my practice and living the life, then catching myself and returning
to my practice.

I got disheartened. Then I just renounced the nightlife. I thought, “You know what? Forget it. I’m going to do what I know is right.” I let it all go and went through a couple of years as an urban monk—celibate, not making any money. Finally, OK, this was not working. I said to myself, “Dude, you live in New York, you have to work. You have to accept that this is what it is.”

Did you try to share your experiences?

I saw these lost souls out, drunk and partying and trying to forget their woes, not realizing that there was another way. I’ve seen some crazy stuff at night. But my private life was always this secret thing, because my moonlighting nightlife was based on being cool. Every once in a while, I had a one-on-one conversation with someone, in a booth, by the bar, at the door, and really connected with that person. I could see the shift—I thought, “Wow, if I could just figure out a way to reach these people.”

How did you start teaching mindfulness?

My first gig as a meditation instructor was for a woman who produces these parties—“Get Down”—in the Meatpacking District. She saw my Instagram account and suggested that I lead a meditation at the beginning of one of her parties. When she gave me the name of the club, I couldn’t believe it: I had worked there as a head doorman years ago. Of all the places! My two worlds melded: I walked back in, reborn as a meditation instructor.

How does it feel to transition into this new phase of your life?

Working as a doorman has rewarded me financially and afforded me my days to do what I want, but at my age it’s time to let go. This year, I stepped into owning what I want to do. Meditation and yoga have always been my thing, but I never thought I could pursue it realistically.

I’m on fire—so alive, so clear, so happy. I’m owning who I am and what I am about. I’ve never been this consistent with my practice, meditating at least 30 minutes a day. There are always so many excuses not to meditate or not to go to yoga. I get it now: There is no excuse.