- The Everyday Philosopher
Alex Vasquez - Life is a Gift
Updated: Nov 5, 2022
What is philosophy for you?
For me, philosophy has always been about being open to other belief systems and other people's ideas, and with an open mind and with curiosity. I never felt that one certain belief should be prescribed to everybody. I feel like there are good things in all types of teachings and belief systems and religions. And there's really something to learn about life as a whole from all these sources.
You say “open-minded”, but do you have at the same time, certain principles that you are adamant about?
I wouldn't just say I'm open to anybody's teaching or anybody's belief. I have my own values and principles that I stand by. Number one is harm no one, so any type of belief system or philosophy or ideology that is in the mindset of “us versus them” or “us better than somebody else”, I don't believe in that, or I won't entertain something like that. So, any system or any philosophy that is teaching love, growth, expansion of humanity and those type of things, that's what I'll be open to. So, for example, I was born Christian in a Christian household, and we were raised very Christian, but I was always into alternative things like heavy metal and punk rock and scary movies. And these were all things that I was told “That's of the devil. You're going to go to hell for liking these things.” So, I'm open to things that go against what my family's philosophy was, or my family's teachings were.
What attracts you to these things, the horror movies and heavy metal?
I think growing up I've always wanted to be different and always pushed myself to be different, because I come from a huge family. I'm one of 11 kids. And so, I have a lot of brothers and sisters and a lot of them are all very similar. A lot of them have same tastes in music. They have the same dress style. To this day they're all living very similar lives. I never wanted to be that way.
Why do you want to be different? Why do you see value in difference?
I feel like it has allowed me to be more knowledgeable in things that other people are not because I've allowed myself to have friends that were of different race and ethnic origins or different sexual orientations and stuff like that. Whereas I know some people I have grown up with are like, “oh, no, that's gay”, or “no, we don't do that”. And I've never wanted to be like that. I'm not going to put a barrier between me and someone else because I'm different. Instead, I feel like me being as different as possible is what's going to allow me to attract more people and things to me.
So, you're saying being different as a means to open up to other ways of life?
You mentioned your family. And I also know that you didn't have a very easy childhood, but you still made a life for yourself. You seem to be a very stable person, very happy in some way. What gave you the strength despite a difficult childhood to be able to build that life?
It kind of goes back to that last question. As a young child, I remember always being academic; I loved school. It was my favorite place to be. And, growing up as a kid and all the trauma I've been through, school has always been a safe place to be. And that's why I loved it so much. So, I would go to school, and I know I'd get fed breakfast, I'd have lunch. I had friends. I had people who cared about me. I had opportunities to be smart and get recognized for these things, where going back home to my huge family with their issues and their problems with drugs and alcohol and abuse and just all types of traumas, I knew I would have to fade in the back. So, I think that allowed me to succeed because I recognized that doing well in school got me the recognition that I was always looking for in my big family. When I was able to do the book report or solve the math problem or read the whole paragraph in class, I enjoyed that, and I think that's what allowed me to push forward and continue to want to excel and be better in life, because I was already reaping the rewards as a young child. But then, of course in high school, we all are teenagers, and we all do bad things. So, we all mess up a little bit. There was a point in high school when my mom died. She died of a heroin overdose. And my life kind of shifted at that point. And my family got kind of twisted. I was 16, so I was looked at as like a semi-adult. My aunt, who was taking care of me, my mom's sister, she moved out and got a one-bedroom apartment, basically saying “no room for you here”. So, at 16 years old, I had to get a job. It was my first job. I was a bagger at a grocery store. And I dropped out of high school because my mentality at the time was that school is not important anymore, I need to make money to survive. I dropped out of school and got to work. And I almost started seeing my life going down the path that I didn't want it to go down. But then the one thing that I was struggling with at the time was my sexuality. I did not come out with my sexuality until I was an adult. I was 18 years old. So, when I got my first job, I met my first boyfriend and that's when I started to live my life my way and went back to school and got my high school diploma. I got it a year late, but I graduated almost on time when I was supposed to. And I got a culinary arts degree, so life has been kind of normal ever since.
I want to insist on this last question because still I am not sure all your brothers and sisters were able to come out of this situation in a healthy way, so it seems to me that something else was driving you.
I saw something more important in life. And again, I recognized excuses very early on and in my early 20s, I started realizing that a lot of people in my family were stuck in this victim mentality of “why is the world doing this to me? Why is this so bad on me?” And I never would accept that. It was “what can I do to make life better for me? What do I need to do to have a better outcome for life?” I didn't want to be a drug dealer. I didn't want to be a gangbanger. I didn't want to be a rapper. I didn't want to live off welfare. I didn't want to claim I had a disability, none of those things… those didn't mean values of life to me. I never was someone who was okay with hurting somebody to get ahead. That was another thing that I was never okay with my family. Because there were some people in my family who were shady, and these were things they would teach people, like, “seize the opportunity if you see somebody not looking” or, “if somebody is lacking in this sense, you can use that to your advantage to manipulate them.” And I never thought that was okay.
You always had this moral axis, this inner voice?
I watched a lot of Disney films. I always had this weight on me of like, that's not right or that's not good. And I guess there was always kind of this inner voice in me telling me things that you should and shouldn't do.
What is your relationship with the spiritual dimension of the world and with that, I don't mean a specific religion. I mean, with the mystery, with something greater than us, with anything that is not just material.
Well, it's a one-way relationship because I don't get too much feedback from the other side. But I would like to think the relationship is a good one. I think spirituality has become a big topic in the last like 5-10 years. I can see how it can be bad at the same time to commercialize and make it a product. And that's horrible. But I do like the fact that it's opening doors for people to connect with whatever form of spirituality they want. So, for me, I've never really been big into religion or spirituality at all growing up, and I used to hate going to church. To the point where I was a troublemaker in church. That was the only place that I was a troublemaker in, because I didn't like it. We used to go three times a week and I hated it. I used to get baptized every Sunday because I thought it was fun. But when I got into my high school years, there was a period in my life where I went through that severe punk heavy metal dark phase. And I wouldn't say I was worshipping the devil, but I definitely was very anti-Christ and like anti-religion at the time. And I think that was just a phase. And then my mom died, and then life just kind of went dark and cold. I didn't really have any religion at all. I didn't pray, I didn't have spirituality or anything. And then, I would say around 24-25, things changed. I don't know what it was. I think I just got older; but I started watching a lot of Oprah. I started watching Oprah Winfrey Network and she would have Super Soul Sunday and she would have Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. And I sucked it in like a sponge. And the pandemic hit, and I had nothing else better to do because I got laid off work, and I had nothing to do so all I did was stay at home and just walk around outside in the park. And I started reading and doing more things, and that's when I started connecting. As a kid I was always a big Harry Potter fan, and then the New Age spirituality movement came in with this idea of “what is your magic?” And I'm, “Wait, so magic is real.” And so that's when it all came back. I've already heard of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra and all these different teachings and things and theories and stuff like that, so it all keeps coming back full circle to me. Today I think my relationship with spirit is a pretty good one, and now I have taken a lot of time to be silent, a lot of time to ask the universe for guidance, for wisdom, to be grateful for the life that I'm given and really try to have those connecting moments with what's bigger than me.
Philosophy is the love of wisdom. And we all hope that we are becoming a little bit wiser, wiser in time. In what way do you think you're wiser today than let's say two three years ago?
The importance of getting to know yourself. In between relationships, before I met Jay and after my last relationship, I spent a really low year trying to spread myself super thin, dating and hanging out with a bunch of friends and going out here and there, and I was just zip zapping through life and not really taking a moment to get to know what Alex wants. And I saw myself going back into a low depressive state that I was in times in my life that I didn't like and I worked really hard to get out of. And then what happened in the pandemic allowed me to quiet down and have nothing else to do but get to know myself and sit with myself. And I think one thing that I know now but I didn't know then is that there is a lot of beauty and a lot to learn just by sitting with yourself and in writing things down.
You take more time now to do that since the pandemic?
Some people say you need five minutes or 15 minutes, that’s true. And I do take my five to 15 minutes, but I also need like a couple of hours a week at least…
What do you do in those hours?
I'll play a playlist of my favorite music. Music that brings on positive thoughts, songs that make me happy. I like to clean for some reason, a big mentality of mine is that cleanliness is close to godliness and when you're trying to connect with spirit, I feel like it's rude to invite that into a dirty space. So, I always like to put on music and start cleaning and make sure the floors are swept and mopped and candles are lit, and incense is burning. When I want to connect with spirit, I think of it as if I'm inviting a very important guest over, like my grandma's coming over, like my mom is coming over. So, I do that first, clean the house and get everything set and then once that's ready, I'll either make myself a nice meal with meaning to it or with energy of love or nourishment. I'm grateful for this dish and food, and then I sit in silence and try to meditate, trying to analyze all these thoughts - why am I thinking all these things? Why are they there? and trying to let that go. And then just really having a moment of gratitude. I like to be really thankful for my life. And I like to ask whatever out there to continue to guide me because at this point, I am grateful for the life that has been given to me and I understand that it is a gift, which is why I think I am different, why I think I am meant to be better. I'm really asking spirit to keep pushing me to be that, so I don't get sidetracked, so I don't fall off, so I don't mess up. Because I still want to keep that momentum going, I want to live to 100 years old. Like the old man who's wise in his rocking chair and be like, “when I was 20 years old…” Yeah, I want to be that guy.