Have we forgotten about being happy in our pursuit of happiness? We’ve been well-trained to go after what we want, but are we missing out on life by always focusing on some future event? How many times have we gotten to the achievement, the love, the admiration that we were so convinced would fill us, only to realize that no matter how meaningful, the sense of satisfaction gave way to some familiar form of discontent?

In The Mystery of You, Emilio Diez Barroso invites you to uncover a piece that is untouched by the happenings of life, and he encourages us to discover who we are beyond our familiar identities and roles. He grounds this awakening that was once reserved for monasteries, into a nitty-gritty, everyday parenting, and business-type life. Emilio shows us how to stop the ways in which we perpetuate our own suffering, and claim our inherent capacity to experience the bliss of being fully alive. Here’s my conversation with Emilio Diez Barroso.

Benji Block: Welcome in to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host, Benji Block. Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Emilio Diez Barroso, who’s just come out with a new book titled The Mystery of You: Freedom Is Closer Than You Think. Emilio, thank you for being here with us on Author Hour today.

Emilio Diez Barroso: Oh, thanks for having me, Benji.

Benji Block: Let’s start here, Emilio. Give some context to yourself and the work that you do, maybe a bit of your background.

Emilio Diez Barroso: Of course. I was born and raised in Mexico City. I’ve been in the States for about 25 years. I grew up in a very unique situation, where my family was very prominent in Mexico. By very prominent, I mean, 0.000001. The environment that I got to grow up in was one of a lot of privilege and luxury. What was fascinating about it, is that it gave me an early glimpse at how, no matter how much money, power, recognition, admiration people had, it seemed to never be enough. I obviously didn’t fully get that early on. I had to run my own journey of trying to pursue and get as much as I could, before realizing that it really was a never-ending game.

Happiness Is for Now, Not for Someday

Benji Block: I’m excited to dive into a little bit more of that story over the next few minutes. Let’s go here, right off the top. Why was this the right time to write this book and work on a project like this?

Emilio Diez Barroso: I mentor a lot of people. I am an entrepreneur. I run a couple of family offices and a venture fund, and managing billions of dollars. I’m dealing with individuals that should be really happy. It’s fascinating to be in conversations where the people from the outside seem to have it all together, really don’t. There’s a level of inner anxiety and stress that I think culturally that we’ve accepted as the norm. I just don’t believe that’s really something that we should accept.

Benji Block: You’re writing; are you having some of those people in mind, you’re writing directly to them? Who’s that ideal reader as you work on this project?

Emilio Diez Barroso: It’s anyone that’s really gotten to a place in their life, where they are starting to question what things are really all about. It’s really for me, 15 years ago, where I was actually, I had achieved a relative level of success, where I wasn’t worrying about my food, or providing for my family. Yet, I was still operating as if I was surviving. I dove deep into self-help and spirituality to try to get answers to some of these questions that I was having a difficult time getting anyone to have answers to.

The reality is that most of the books that I got exposed to were books written by teachers, or gurus, or monks, or people that really lived lifestyles that didn’t match my reality. Some part of me was reading what was possible, the level of awakened or enlightenment that these individuals had. It’s like, well, I want that inner peace, but I don’t really think I can have it until I am done with parenting, until I am done, or at least with young kids. Until I am done with running businesses and managing money and paying taxes. Not these things that seem very, very real in my life. I just spent quite a bit of time postponing what I now know is possible in the middle of all that craziness.

Benji Block: You use this word until. I think, some people would say someday, right? This happiness is going to hit us in the face at some point. It’s just not right now. We’re going to find what we’re looking for, and I think self-help and some of that can end up in that space, where it’s always tomorrow. What was that wake-up moment for you, Emilio? You’re processing, you’re reading these books, but then you got to, at some point, enlightenment or awakening starts to happen within you.

Emilio Diez Barroso: Yeah. What I realized is that I had shifted my A-type from business. If I go early on, it was, how many — Can I get the good grades, then can I get the girls? Can I have the car? Can I have the things? Can I get the acknowledgment? Can I get the recognition from my peers? Can I be blah, blah? Then I was like, “Okay. Well, that’s material. Let me shift into things that are more meaningful, like levels of consciousness, healing.” I hadn’t really shifted out of a paradigm of not right now. It was very much driven by once I have a higher level of consciousness, once I’m able to heal these things, then I’ll be okay.

I think, that’s what I see a lot of spiritual seekers, or people that are in this self-help getting stuck around. They’re associating their well-being with some future event. That’s just exhausting. It sets you up for the nature of if we’re to speak about impermanence. I think as a concept, I got it. When I really got is like, Oh, shoot. Everything that I’m trying to achieve is also going to pass. What game am I playing here?

Benji Block: It is very baked into western society, to make a ladder out of everything. When we come into spirituality, or people will talk about finding themselves, it still becomes yet another ladder that we have to climb and prove achievement in spiritual enlightenment as well. If we’re not careful, I think, it almost happens just the same as the rat race.

Emilio Diez Barroso: It totally does. It totally does. I speak in the book as this reference to the Pac-Man mentality. It’s like, it just “Go Benji Block, go Benji Block, go Benji Block. It’s like, what’s the food that we’re going to go, Benji Block?” It’s understandable. I think it serves, because ultimately, I’ve spent dozens and dozens of weeks in silence retreats, just being still and trying to inquire deeply into the nature of things and sit with those deep existential questions. I was caught on the same treadmill. I saw that the hundreds of people that I was sitting with in some of these meditation retreats, were also caught in this. Even, they had been doing that for 40, 50 years.

Being a Chameleon

Benji Block: We’ll get into some of what has to shift for us to be out of that, and some movement away from it. I wanted to tell you right from the top because as soon as I started reading your introduction, there was a line that jumped off the page at me personally. This is about you. This is not about me, but you compared yourself to a chameleon and I have been saying that for years. You say that your story for a very long time was that you move through the world as a chameleon. I would love to hear a little bit of that. What contributed to that chameleon-like nature and the waking up of going, “Man, I just form to whatever room I’m in and try to become that”?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Yeah. For me, actually — I think it is an asset, but I only saw it as an asset and didn’t really, back then, see it as a liability for me. I thought it was just an amazing way of adapt to whatever situation I was in. What was really happening, and I thought of myself as very self — I had a lot of self-confidence, but it was always of managing a deep insecurity. I’m not sure if you can relate to this at all, but there was a sense of I got to give people value.

Benji Block: Oh, for sure.

Emilio Diez Barroso: If I am giving people value by even how I present, or how I’m engaged in conversation or my interests, if they match theirs, then somehow, deep down is I’ll be worthy. Deeper down is I won’t be abandoned. I have created all these coping mechanisms to not deal with this deep insecurity of unworthiness that I was totally unaware existed. I would just move through the world, becoming incredibly adept at picking up on the subtleties, and always being with this facade, which to me, seemed authentic at the time of like, “Yeah, I like that too. Or, yeah, you want me to be the businessman? I’ll be the businessman. You want me to be the spiritual guy? I’ll be the spiritual guy.” This girl that I’m interested likes this, I can like that, too.

Even subtler ways, where, how I dressed, or how I spent my day, or the things I listened to. Certainly, the things that I gained knowledge around, or I produced, or how I dedicated my time. It was fascinating to notice how much it permeated every aspect of my life.

Benji Block: I love that you brought up adaptability and insecurity because I think there is a view from one side, where it’s great that you have that confidence and that adaptability. Then you have to move through and you have to recognize a certain level of awareness to go, okay, there’s also this dark side, this hidden side of insecurity that’s here. I found the more that I press into that and go, “Okay, that does exist. There is some dark side.” There is some trying to gain approval, get a reward, whatever it is, find acceptance, in that insecurity space. Well, once you’re aware of it, and you start to actually go down that road and try to heal and address it, there is on the other side adaptability, like the conversation we’re having right now, where I can be present and there is a mobility in our conversation.

I don’t feel like, I have to impress you. That’s the shift, I feel like. Is that what you experienced, where you can see the good of it now, but it’s not quite the same where that insecurity is really what’s driving?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Yeah. I love how you phrase that. What I found is that there are different levels and thresholds and ways to approach it. In the book, I have a few different sections where I speak of mental freedom, emotional freedom, physical freedom, and spiritual freedom. Insecurity at a mental freedom is really getting – and most of us can conceptualize and say, “Okay, I get that I’m into being insecure here. I get why I’m doing it.” There’s value to starting to move the foundation of those coping mechanisms that we’ve developed.

Then, there’s the emotional layer, which is a little subtler. Then, there’s the physical layer, which is actually more challenging attempts to deal with some of these things physically, because they’ve become almost like energetic nodes in our body that have contracted. We can deal with things mentally and emotionally, but unless those are released, they become the deviation routes that our energy has to navigate around to be able to move through life. They become difficult to pick up sometimes.

Then from a spiritual perspective, because I love the psychological approach and the spiritual approach. There’s only so much psychology you can do with some of those core misunderstandings around unworthiness. Because I did a lot of psychological work, and I thought I was good. Then when it would show up, I was like, “Oh, it’s still here.”

What I found unravel the whole thing, was diving deep into the spiritual inquiry of ultimately, who is the one experiencing all of these emotions? Who is this character and this identity that I’ve created, that needs to be protected, enhanced, that is important, that sustains a certain level of we’ll call it receptivity, adaptability, or recognition? I noticed that even the positive things that I was able to reframe psychologically, were still keeping me imprisoned from a spiritual perspective. What really happens when you unravel that from a more spiritual angle, is that how I describe it, and it’s just a visual that works for me.

It’s almost like, I had a balloon — this balloon, I was constantly pumping air into it. It had a pinprick hole, or a few pinprick holes. It was always deflating. My sense of self was determined by how inflated this balloon was at any given time, and particularly how inflated it was compared to the other balloon next to me and the balloon that I was protecting, and the future balloon and the past balloon. It was always inflating it with achievement, recognition, even self-love. All these things were. This balloon was, no matter how inflated, or deflated, I was still imprisoned by its boundaries and its idea that this balloon was separate from the rest. Ultimately, at the core, I was air. I wasn’t the balloon.

In one of my multiple silent retreats in day 8 of a 10-day retreat, it felt like this pinprick hole all of a sudden became a gash. My instinct was to try to blow quicker. It’s like, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” It wasn’t one of those spiritual realizations, where it’s just bliss and happy and joy. It was one of those that’s like, oh, shoot. Almost like playing a video game and throwing the remote on the floor and saying, “There’s no, there’s no winning.”

Benji Block: You’re there — Oh, man. I have so many questions. Walk me through what you’re about to say.

Emilio Diez Barroso: No, no. Please go for it.

Benji Block: I just wonder what that moment is like, after the realization. Because I like the analogy of you throw the controller on the floor and go, “I give up.” Then you’re coming out of a silent retreat. You’re going back to normal life. The balloon is still what is applauded and appreciated. You’re going back and there’s tons of other people that view themselves as balloons. Just, what’s the process there?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Totally. It’s interesting, because in previous silent retreats, or previous – I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced one of those moments where someone’s like, the separation between you and the rest of life disappears. It could be called a state of flow. It’s just like, it’s magnificent. There’s no you experience in the moment, it’s just life. For some, it happens doing a sport, or activity, or art, or being with a newborn, or watching a sunset. There are so many things that can do that.

I had a lot of those experiences. Coming out of them, similarly to coming out of these retreats, someone’s like, “Oh, yeah. The experience that passed.” What was different after this time, is that all of the energy that I had relied on prior to that balloon popping, for lack of a better word, was gone. It had totally snuffed out. I came back into the world of running a business and having employees and just parenting relationships, everything, totally disoriented. What was strange about this is that it was a disorientation that wasn’t looking for orientation, if that can make any sense. It was like this deep contentment, and this deep comfort with the unknown, that had no intrinsic motivations. No feel to go and achieve something.

It was very strange to be with my team, that I was like, “Okay, this is our five-year goal, 10-year goal, this is where we’re going.” Also, to say like, just the concept of time as past, present, and future linear, lost its ground. That was so strange for those around me.

Benji Block: Yeah. How do you go about trying to explain that, or even, how do people start interacting with you differently, because of some of your realizations?

Emilio Diez Barroso: People recognize that there was something different and started those conversations at the beginning, I wanted to share. This was maybe eight years ago. I just wanted to talk about this. It’s like, this is what happened. I almost wanted to stop people in the street and tell them, “No, no, no. You don’t get it. You really are this video game character, but you’re more than that. You are the whole video game. You are the creator. You’re the one playing it, and you’ve taken yourself to be this little character. You can snap out of all of it.”

Then that faded. This deep silence started to almost like Benji Block back up into the world, but from a very different place. From a place where everything I had done up until that point was very much self-oriented. It’s like, how do I get more? Then it just shifted with, how do I show up in the world in a way that’s redeeming all those parts of even myself, because I still have a human psychology that need to be reminded of their inherent perfection. That doesn’t mean that we don’t go and do things. Now, the motivation is just completely different. It’s a lot more self-replenishing because it doesn’t have a – it’s not exhaustive as it used to be for me.

Showing Up in the World

Benji Block: Let’s go there. When you’re thinking of how you show up in the world now and some of that development, it takes us back to the beginning, because the temptation would be you think for some of us, when we’re 19 minutes into this conversation, you’re going, “Okay. Well, I can have this awareness,” but the tendency, like we were talking about before you show up with a bunch of other people that are also trying to climb this spiritual ladder. what are the biggest shifts, or changes, Emilio, for you in how you show up in the world to be a part of something bigger than yourself?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Yeah. I mean, my life became about service. I used to think service needed to look a particular way, like I would look at Mother Teresa and say, “Okay, well that’s service.” We look at this. Service looks for me, like how I’m interacting with you in this moment. How I drove today in my car. How I looked at someone in the street. It’s a deep presence from which I am listening to a stranger, or someone I’m mentoring, or someone I’m considering investing in. It’s not a passive service, where it sees everything through the glow of gushy love. It’s almost like a fierce service that just responds to the moment in a way that a parent would respond to a child, where sometimes it includes disciplining that child, but it’s always in service to this higher consciousness.

Benji Block: Deep presence, fierce service. That deep presence is something I think, living from that place in a world that’s distracted. I mean, just the regularities of life. Someone might look at, and I’m not saying this, but I’m just saying I could say, if you’re going, “Oh, well. It’s easier for Emilio because he has blank, or he had — he was in that 0.1% in Mexico City, 25 whatever years ago. Now, he has the ability to go on these silent retreats, or do these things.”

Push back on that for a bit, because I do think it’s something that more people are waking up to, or tapping into this idea of deep presence. It’s something we – I don’t know that I can say, we need it more than ever. We’ve always needed it. How do we maybe start to tap into that, and live in that state of deep presence?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Yeah. I love that. I thought I heard two questions, so let me take the one – let me take the first one. The first one is, what do I say to someone that thinks, “Well, yes. It’s easy for Emilio because he’s got his life figured out. He’s a successful businessman that doesn’t need to worry about paying the bills.” I used to always caveat this conversation with saying, yeah, as long as you have your basic needs met. But then, I got to spend time in places, in rural places, with people that have, I wouldn’t even say, the basic minimums, that are really struggling to even provide for their family. I saw an inner peace in them, that I realized was so profoundly powerful, because it took down all those concepts that I would previously condition to yes, as long as you have these – from a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, as long as you have these things covered, then you can – And certainly, there’s something that having those needs met allowed me to go and dedicate my time to be still and silent for weeks at a time, which someone that is not in that situation may not be able to.

But because I thought I needed to have those things covered in order to go and do that, so that then I will be free, that was the whole mechanism that was still feeding the, “Oh, there’s all these things that need to happen before.” Unless I disrupted that, I think, it was still – Because there are other ways, because for someone to say, well, as long as you have food and shelter. If someone is in a war-torn territory, they say, “Well, as long as you have not dropping bombs.” You can just keep going, even for someone that is well off, and say, “Well, yeah. As long as I know that college has been, right, as long as I know my retirement, or as long as I own my house instead of renting my house.” There’s always this way in which we postpone.

I’ve similarly, as I’m sure you have and some of the listeners have met people that are so well off, and they just don’t have that inner peace. There’s a deep inner impoverishment that I think we’ve all picked up on. On the other side, the presence question, how do we live and be present, was something that was very challenging for me. Because I heard be present. It almost felt like, I had to roll up my sleeves, be super intent, have my eyes connected, make eye contact, my body position a certain way, and not be thinking any thoughts.

All these things that my ego said, “No, it’s time to be present now.” I realize it’s a lot simpler than that. It’s not really being present. It’s recognizing the presence that’s already there. If rather than creating a particular state that almost seems manufactured, I check in with what’s already present, then my body immediately relaxes, and I connect with this place that’s just taking in life. The byproduct of that is that this inner narrator that is always telling me what it thinks about what’s happening and interpreting what’s happening and has opinions, starts thinning out. What I call the gap between reality and my experience of reality becomes smaller and smaller. Then, presence is the natural experience from there.

Benji Block: You said, you check in with presence. It might be hard to describe what that looks like. If you were to explain that in greater detail and go down that road, how would you explain checking in with presence?

Emilio Diez Barroso: It’s like, in this moment, for example, I am speaking and I am listening to you. I could be giving my attention to lots of other things that are distracting me, or I can just – and by check-in, I mean, almost get curious. What part of me is already fully here? If I get curious like that, I realize that there’s a significant amount of my attention that’s fully here. I speak of it, almost like your – Imagine, your feet are planted on the ground. We’re used to being on our toes, or I was certainly used to being on my toes. Being on my toes forces me to take the next step.

What is it like somatically, even if we’re sitting down right now, to feel our feet planted on the ground? To me, that gives me a somatic – a physical sensation in my body of just being here. I can still choose to take the next step, but I’m not taking the next step because I have momentum, or otherwise, I’m going to fall. I think, but when I check in with my presence, I feel the ground in my legs and my feet. That’s where the physical freedom comes in. If we can use the body as this – because the mind is always somewhere else, but the body is always here.

If I can use the body as my direct experience of the now, then it stays out of the concept of what the now should be like. It’s like, no, in this moment, I actually feel the back of my back rested against the chair. What does that feel like? My bum against the bottom of the chair and my feet on the ground, and my hands touching each other. I can get really intimate with all those sensations, then that immediately brings me right here.

Benji Block: Yeah. I think, we have this capability in the West. I can only speak for the West really. I see a habit of our mind being where we live from. Our mind is great. If our mind is what dictates all of life’s experience, it’s only good at a couple of things and it’s not great at being here. To allow that presence to be something that we intentionally focus on, I’m grateful for that coming into the lexicon of Western teachers. I’m grateful for your voice on this in this episode, and the book you wrote, because I think there is a space that’s starting – this is starting to be talked about more in this idea of deep presence, checking in with presence. I love these conversations and I think you explain that so well. Let me ask you, is there any other maybe rituals that helped you call yourself into presence and into awareness that you would want to talk about here as we start to wrap up?

Emilio Diez Barroso: Oh, yeah. I list a lot of them in the book. I want to just double-click on something you said. The part of what made it challenging for me all those years, to get free, was that I thought that I needed to tame the mind. That I thought I needed my mind to be quiet in order for me to be free. I thought, that if I was truly free, then I wouldn’t be able to run the businesses, or have fiduciary responsibility with some of the people that I helped navigate their finances, or all these things that are high in responsibilities that require high mental engagement.

What I realized is that the thoughts themselves are infused with presence. Presence is not a state that is fixed. Presence is the equivalent of going on a hike. The difference is, every step you’re taking, you’re trying to decide the pros and cons. What happens if I go here? Will this get me to a better place? As opposed to just the experience of hiking. What I’m suggesting is that life can be like that experience of hiking for all of us, where every step we’re taking, we can still reach the top, we can still take care of ourselves, but it’s coming from that sense of flow, and more natural experience of inner peace, than the one that’s anxious and overthinking and thinking that the mind needs to be the one deciding where the next step is going to be.

Benji Block: That’s good clarity.

Emilio Diez Barroso: As far as rituals, there’s a lot. The one that I highlight in the book that is so valuable for me is inquiry. Inquiry is this practice of questioning my thoughts. Byron Katie, this incredible author and friend has a process called The Work. She invites you to question any stressful thought and check for its validity. I found this to be at the mental level, so incredibly freeing, because it makes me realize how much of what I’m thinking at any given moment is not really founded on any factual information. It’s interpretation, it’s filtered through all of my conditioning and wounding.

If I can question these thoughts, the byproduct of that is just a freer experience of being. I want to also talk about meditation as a ritual. I think, when I started meditating, I hated meditation. Because it was like, “Oh, now I have to sit down and spend even five minutes trying to quiet my mind.” My mind is this super active beast, especially when I’m expecting it to get quiet, it gets even louder. I thought I was terrible at meditation. Then I realized, meditation, I hold it now very differently.

If we go back to that experience of hiking, meditation is just the experience of being here. If I can be here, even if my mind is noisy, even if my body’s uncomfortable, and still be here, hold it as this space of allowance, then the natural tendency of that is that those thoughts will stop being as active. What used to be calling my attention, because I’m not resisting it, will stop calling it as actively. Now, meditation is just this beautiful, enjoyable practice that’s equivalent to me going on a walk or doing a sport that I like.

Benji Block: How long did you practice meditation before it became that way?

Emilio Diez Barroso: For too long.

Benji Block: Too long.

Emilio Diez Barroso: Too long. Because remember, I spent a good 8, 10 years of my life going to 5, 6, 7 retreats a year, that were just all about meditating. Every time I sat down, I was like, “Okay, here I go. Let me meditate.” It was brutal. It’s interesting, because now that I say it, I hadn’t thought of it this way, but it’s also how I approached parenting. I approached parenting, I was like, “Okay, time to be with my toddler. Let me roll up my sleeves, and get ready for this.”

There’s so much easier way to go through life, where now parenting or meditation become the joys of life, which I know conceptually, we all say, “Oh, yeah. I love my children. I love being with them.” In reality, it was challenging. It was it was draining. Because I thought I had to be on. I thought I had to be performing. I thought I needed to manufacture and control states. Going back to that hiking, if I’m just going on a hike when I’m interacting with my kids, it’s beautiful.

The ego freaks out, because the ego says, “Well, no, no. Because you do have to control, because you have to take care of them. You’re the one responsible and you’re the role model.” All those things are online. It’s like the equivalent to say, “No, but you need to make sure you’re not stepping on a cliff when you’re hiking. You got to make sure that you’re not falling off.” All those things are online. If I can trust that all those things are online, then my experience of being just really flows. Those things happen to be online even more acutely because I’m not distracted with all that mental chatter.

Benji Block: Man, I could talk to you about this all day, Emilio. I am grateful for you, even pulling that into a parenting example. I think, there’s business wrapped up in that as well. I think, even, I would say, personal application, conversationally, I’m doing a lot of these interviews and these conversations and the best ones flow from that same state of deep presence that you’re talking about. Because it’s easy for me to go, “Okay. What’s the next question? How do I push the conversation forward?” All the things that I have to do professionally, which are important, but they’re online, like you said, automatically. When I trust my instinct of where a conversation could go to be helpful to our listeners, or for us to let things go back and forth, those are the best conversations that I end up in.

I think, both in parenting, like you’re saying, professionally, there’s ways that this flows into that as well. As we start to wrap up here, I wonder if there would be any final, whether it’s a takeaway, or maybe it’s more of a feeling that you hope readers will experience when they complete the book.

Emilio Diez Barroso: I’d love for a reader to just be more attuned to what life and our inherent nature is like. That there is a way that they don’t need to postpone, that they don’t need to be a guru, or a teacher, or a monk. That the peace that some of these individuals have experienced in a cave in the Himalayas can be experienced in the middle of the chaos and the craziness of entrepreneurship, or parenting, or relationships.

Like a lot of things in life, we just were never trained. It’s almost like, we’re running an old operating system that is just ready for an update. I hope my book provides a guideline for that updating of that software.

Benji Block: I think, the book does. I know this conversation has. Again, the name of the book, The Mystery of You: Freedom Is Closer Than You Think. Emilio, thank you so much for this conversation. Besides checking out the book, are there other ways that people can find you, or reach out?

Emilio Diez Barroso: No. I just think every time that they think of me, they remember that they’re already free.

Benji Block: I love it. That’s wonderful. Well, the book is on Amazon. We encourage listeners to go pick it up and to read it and believe it will be a fantastic prompting towards deep presence. Emilio, thank you for being on Author Hour today.

Emilio Diez Barroso: Benji, thank you for this. Really enjoyed it.