How did a man who created a company with over a billion dollars in sales, a respected man in his community, a husband of nearly 30 years and father of two beautiful children end up one night in April of 2015 surrounded by about 10 sheriff’s deputies pointing their guns and rifles at his head? This the 50 year journey of a man who traveled from torment to freedom, from concealing a secret inner life to finding the light and finally living in his truth. This is my story.
It’s the path you take, the steps you make, that makes you who you are.
I came into this world at 12:01 am at Mount Sinai Hospital in the Bronx, the son of Estelle and Alfred Schwartz, as damaged goods with no return policy.
I grew up in a poor section of the Bronx, New York, and quickly learned that life was not a fairy tale or like the Ozzie and Harriet show I watched on television every week. My parents, along with my two brothers, lived in a 500 square foot apartment in the Projects. It was a melting pot of hard-working families of different creeds and colors, all barely making ends meet. My circle of friends was a hodgepodge of different cultural and religious backgrounds which shaped my view of the world and continues to influence me to this day. But I was different, not in the way that was obvious but inside. My Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) started in my early teens and I had trouble with authority. This was the 1960’s and the mental health profession had yet to understand and recognize this disorder. I was a troublemaker, lacked focus or was just disruptive. I learned early on to hide who I was just to get by, to fit in and get along. It was a pattern that would dominate my life.
While part of me was shaped by the mental illness that was enveloping my physical self, a spiritual part was growing just as strongly. I remember the first time I was deeply moved by the social injustices that were rampant (and continue to be) in society. When I was 8 years old I read a rather benign illustrated book about Abraham Lincoln. It began to shape my political and social views of the world. I was now acutely aware of how life seemed random and unfair. Wealth, opportunity and happiness can be shaped not by who you are but where you happened to be born, your skin color and religion. That just didn’t make sense to me. But I was 8, what the hell did I know? Then five years later at 13, the year of my Bar Mitzvah, the year I would be considered a man in my Jewish faith, I stumbled upon the book, “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. It was about the young Buddha and his search for the meaning of life. One day he began meditating under the Bodhi tree to look within for the truth, believing there was a better way of life beyond the existence of materialism and finding internal peace and happiness. The book had a profound effect on how I viewed my own life.
And it was this confluence of ideas; the reality of living in the real world and the spiritual journey you must take to understand it all that started a revolution within me. It would take another 50 years to bring that revolution to fruition and give me the strength and bravery to change everything and begin a different life.
There is essential Unity in all religions as there is no difference in the truths inculcated by the various faiths. This Harmony binds them all and must form the basis for a new era of peace, love and grace on earth.
As a young teenager, I was growing more and more confused about what my life was all about. I was constantly seeking a mentor, someone who could help me out of my depressive state. I wanted to understand these deep feelings I had that things were not right, this never-ending consumption, greed and the “dog eat dog” world we lived in. Raging with hormones, my harmful brain chemistry and deepening feelings of utter loneliness, I searched for something that would ease the pain. I had started smoking marijuana at the age of 12 but it wasn’t enough and honestly it was darn expensive for a kid. Then something quite miraculous happened. And strangely enough, it was something that scientists had discovered long ago… that music soothes the savage beast.
I’ve always had a close affinity with music, no matter the genre. At six I took guitar lessons, begged my dad and got a trumpet at nine, obsessively listened to radio any chance I got and much to my parents chagrin at twelve brought 4 foot high speakers so I could blast my music in my bedroom. But it was a trip I took with my girlfriend Rochelle when I was 14 that truly changed my life forever.
It was a Wednesday night in October when Rochelle, me and her parents went to Creedmoor Mental Institution to play music for the patients. We played classic songs like “Blowing In The Wind” and “This Land Is Your Land”. When we were done and I was packing up, a young red-haired 18 year old patient named William began to play the piano. No one else paid any attention or even heard him. It was as if he was invisible, which of course he was. But I was stunned by it. I left the “comfort zone” up front, walked over to him and just stood there in awe, simply listening in total reverential silence. And when he was done, William looked up at me and smiled from ear to ear. I burst into tears. It sounded like Mozart but it was his own creation. It was stunning to me that a musical genius was sitting in one of the most highly secured, disabling drug-endemic institutions for the insane in the world! The experience set my attitude about psychiatry, prescription drugs and the mental health profession. Something I knew was very wrong with this picture but there was nothing I could do about it as a young teenager. Throughout my life frustration grew with all the broken systems we are all forced to endure. But it was the music that I hung on to. For that one night, William became my mentor.
It would be the turning point in my appreciation for music’s powers to heal and connect people in a way that I was just beginning to understand.
Just a year later I would see how music could heal entire groups of people. It was Friday, April 5, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered the day before and the teachers planned a ceremony for the entire school in our auditorium. Our school was 50% African-American and the rest of us all the colors of the rainbow. We were told put our arms around the person next to us and embrace then to hold hands with our neighbors. Music filled the entire room and we started singing “We Shall Overcome”. I felt total connectedness with everyone around me and in the world who were mourning this incredible man. That moment reinforced that music was a special source of happiness and peace. It is why it is such an important part of my message on this website.
Unfortunately as my ADD began to take over my life, it destroyed my ability to focus on the practice and study of music. One by one I dropped playing and singing, the joys of my life was slowly being replaced by things that no longer soothed my soul. I became, for all practical purposes, a “normal” teenager. Drugs, girls and working at whatever jobs I could get to make a little money to support those new interests occupied my time. But not surprisingly I wasn’t very good with authority so I hopped from one job to another from paperboy at 9 to making bagels to being a busboy where my cousin Jerry worked in the Catskills. After my experience at Creedmoor, I even went back for a job in their cafeteria. And although my inability to take orders from anyone lead to a plethora of menial jobs, it actually set me on a path that would eventually make me a very wealthy man.
Revelations and Disappointments
So here I was, graduating High School with no real vision of what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew is that I needed to get away from New York, my parents, my cramped apartment…everything my life had been up to that moment. It was time to explore the possibilities so with just a backpack I headed off to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to study pre-med with visions of going into the Peace Corps. When I arrived I wanted to find a commune to live-in, the farthest from my childhood hometown as I could get. Unfortunately reality didn’t live up to my idealism and I was stuck in a dorm with the rest of the freshman.
There are small, seemingly unimportant moments in time that are turning points in our lives and forever change the future path we take. One night I saw a flyer for a yoga class at my school. I have no idea why this simple poster grabbed my attention in that exact moment but it spoke to me. I decide to go and met the man that would shape the rest of my life. His name was Dada Acharya, and the group was called Ananda Marga, who would become my Yoga Teacher and Mentor.
Practicing meditation and yoga, learning to live the life in this peace and harmony was a revelation I had not experienced since I discovered the power of music. It was as if my entire being resonated in a different way and I was finally able to calm my explosive brain, get a handle on my ADD and deepening depression.
This was it! This was going to be my life for the rest of my life. I had found my place and my mission. I was truly happy for the first time…. Ever! My intention was to drop out of college, and become a Yogi Monk. I had it all planned out. I would hitchhike across country to New York, visit my parents for a few days and then hop a plane to India and my new, happy, healthy life living and learning in a Yoga/Buddhist Monastery. Then I would make my way to Sante Fe to set up a Yoga Ashram where I would live out my days in peace and harmony teaching Yoga and the “Way”. A simple, beautiful plan, right? Not so fast….
I am Gar
So before I explain how my perfect life plan turned out, I want to backtrack to tell you how I got the name Gar. I was born Gary Michael Schwartz but changed it later in life to Gary Michaels. Every student of Yoga who studies the philosophy and way of life as I did is given a new name by their teacher. The night before Ananda Marga was to give me that name I had a flash of inspiration about what it should be. When I told my teacher that I would like to offer GAR as my new name he smiled and asked me if I knew what Gar meant in Sanskrit. I knew it was a fish but beyond that I was pretty clueless. Ananda Marga then explained that Gar meant “Door to the Soul”. It fit me perfectly because I was constantly searching for answers, not only about the path to my own happiness but for all of us… all of mankind. And as it turned out I would travel through many “doors” to finally have my answer. It was perfect, Ananda Marga told me. And so it is.
So back to my perfect plan! When I told Ananda Marga that I knew my life’s purpose and I was off to India to become a Monk, he shook his head, no. What?! My mentor had another path for me; one that really didn’t make any sense at the time. He told me that I had a different destiny. I had to leave his stewardship and that of becoming a monk, go out in the world and find a wife, have children and become a financial success. Then and only then could I return to my mission of bringing my gifts to the world. Wow, that didn’t sound right to me at all but here was a man I trusted with my life so how could I argue with him? I simply had to trust him and his vision of Gar. And so I did. I left UNM and went back home to find my life… again.
Back in New York, the place I was determined to escape from, I landed without a plan. Honestly I was lost with no book, no map or guide to show me the way. My peace and harmony shattered. How was I going to do everything my teacher set out for me? It was just too much for my ADD inflicted mind to deal with. So I took the easy way out and got a job at the post office.
This certainly wasn’t the road to wealth and success but at the time it was the best I could do. Then it happened again, that seemingly unimportant decision that would change everything once again.
The Start of a New Path
My girlfriend at the time asked me go Bennington College in Vermont, a progressive Liberal Arts institution that teaches students to hone their ability to thrive in a world without givens, to tolerate ambiguity, and to see clear to a solution even when a path is not laid out before them. On a whim I decided to go. It was winter and the rural campus was breathtaking. The 1920’s era buildings covered in white snow evoked a scene from a fairy tale and I was entranced. I felt I landed smack in the middle of Thoreau’s imaginings. When we went to the admissions office and the woman there asked if I would like to apply. I shrugged a yes… what did I have to lose? My girlfriend was turned down but I was admitted. My life just took another interesting turn!
Spent one (1) year taking all the courses necessary to meet the college requirements for a B.A. (Major) in economics and then went on to Rutgers Graduate School and received my MBA (with an emphasis) in accounting and marketing. Time to put on my big boy pants! I got a job at the famed Dun & Bradstreet commercial business data firm. I worked for Jim, a very tough, hard-edged Irishman who pulled no punches and didn’t suffer fools. I thought I was in for a very rocky ride.
Despite my growing ability to hide my continuing deep depression, and my fear and insecurity about my abilities, I still hated authority and Jim was the poster child for demanding bosses. To my surprise, Jim treated me, a 26 year old upstart, differently than everyone else. He valued me. Now that was something I had never experienced before. In the past, I was always making trouble by bucking management, now I was the teacher’s pet. And you know what? It felt good to be trusted and appreciated.
Jim was put in charge of a very important deal and he chose me to be his right hand man. I don’t mind telling you I was scared. But his faith in me and my new found belief in myself helped me to land the client. For the first time in my life I was a winner and I finally saw a glimpse of my future, one my teacher envisioned all those years ago. Success, I realized, was attainable if you are willing to believe in yourself… and I finally did!
California Here I Come…. OR Meeting My Destiny And Not Liking It Very Much!
I guess this would be the perfect place to talk about meeting and falling in love with the woman who would become my wife and the mother of my two children. As there is still too much unfinished business between us I have decided to leave that part of my life out of this biography for now.
I won’t go into the details about how I made my fortune. But if you would please indulge my ego for just a moment, I am a fantastic salesman and marketing man. I’ve also been somewhat of a visionary when it comes to my passions and I was an early advocate for saving the planet. So, on a plain paper napkin I mapped out my new business and then just went for it.
It was the late 1980’s and I founded one of the first earth friendly companies that recycled printer cartridges. It made me a lot of money. I was, for all intents and purposes, a successful and respected business man, husband and father of two beautiful children. I had done it, just as my mentor Ananda Marga had predicted all those years ago. I was finally living my destiny…. the American dream. Unfortunately it would eventually become my nightmare. Ananda Marga had failed to mention that part of the journey….
Let’s go back to 1991, the year I was clinically diagnosed with bipolar II disorder with manic depression thrown in for good measure. I knew that the darkness growing inside of me was making me miserable. I jumped from one $450 an hour psychiatrist to another, without 3 to 6 month intervals between visits, after 2 to 3 years it was time to “stop the nonsense” and rotate to another one…eight (8) in all, all with the same message, all with the same cure, “pop this new pill and it will make you happy again.”
A whopping 10,000 grams, a whopping 20+ lbs in all, 5,000 grams, 11 lbs of lithium, alone, the drug of choice of our American Psychiatric Association and AMA. I called this brew of pills…my “Bi-Polar Drug Cocktail”. It would start when I opened my eyes every morning. I ingested 4 or 5 pills and that was just before breakfast! Since nothing really worked I started experimenting myself. And I smoked lots of marijuana. I figured out that in the 25 years I was on these pills I had tried 121 different anti-depressant drugs (a whopping 5,000gms), taken 10 pounds of lithium and tried to commit suicide three times. But nothing worked.
I suffered in silence. For over 30 years, I hid the real me. I smiled but felt no happiness; I laughed but felt no joy. I was the artificial man, forced to appear as happy and normal while feeling this churning inside of me. A voice, my inner demon, always speaking, always screaming… why can’t I be happy like everyone else? Every day I asked the universe, why do I have to live in such sorrow and in a perpetual state of depression? And it was relentless. There wasn’t one moment that this monkey on my back took a vacation. Not even for the birth of my children or when my business made me a wealthy man.
Despite my unending inner turmoil, incessant mental and emotional pain day and night which didn’t stop except for the precious 2 to 3 hours of deep sleep I got each evening, I presented to the world a well-adjusted, happy guy who was living the American dream. I pushed it down and stayed silent because it was my duty to be a good husband to my wife, good father to my kids and a good employer to my 1000s of workers. I became a workaholic, sleeping little and spending 13 to 14 hours, seven days at work at my business. I refused to fall into the trap of victim and make every excuse in the book for my mental illness.
It wasn’t my parent’s fault, or because I had a deprived childhood or because I had a fight with my wife (Which happened all too often) or my drug dealer didn’t show up that day. I wasn’t angry at the world or at God or even at myself. I was just unhappy and honestly I learned to live with it. That is until….
Burning Down The House
I said that I wouldn’t talk about my wife but I’m going to make an exception at this point in my story because our relationship was the spark that set the fire that finally released me from this silent misery. My marriage was far from perfect. My wife can be a difficult person. Born poor, she grew up in a rough neighborhood in Queens, NY, she grew up to be tough both inside and out. But it also made her smart and savvy, an ambitious survivor who supported me in my own dogged determination to have a successful business. We argued about everything, every decision I made both personally and professionally. It got to the point where I just did what I wanted and told her after the fact. I figured that since there would be a fight either way, I might as well live my life the way I wanted. It was no way to live.
And then one day I had had enough. There wasn’t one specific moment or incident that I can point to which set it all in motion. After 30 years of living a life that wasn’t mine, that gave me nothing but unhappiness in a self-imposed prison of drugs that didn’t work and in a loving but very, very challenging and money-centric relationship, I wanted to be free. One day in November of 2014, I packed up one piece of luggage and, with my backpack; I walked out on my marriage and my life. It would mark the beginning of my decent into hell…
Thistles And Thorns
The first thing I did was file for divorce to end my 29 year, 7 month marriage. I was sure that would make me happy! Then after 23 tortuous, brutally agonizing years as this high-functioning, suicidal drug addict I decided no more drugs (I stopped all drugs, cold turkey! It would go on to take thirteen (13) months to get all of the drugs out of my system). I was sure that would make me happy! But it didn’t. I would have to walk through a little more fire before I found my truth, my center, my purpose…. my happiness.
Earlier in December of 2013, I sold my business for a substantial amount of money but was hired to run the company under a three year contract. Despite the change in personal life, my decision to wean myself off all the drugs I was taking, I still had to keep it together for my kids and my employees who were depending on me for their livelihoods. And I did until everything that happened in my life up to that moment, my disappointment in not following my first passion to become a monk, the pain and anguish of my depression and ADD and a marriage that crushed me finally burst into the open with such force that it sent me into a tailspin.
I was having trouble at work. I felt that my new bosses were destroying everything I had built with terrible management decisions. My people, the employees I called family were being hurt by their actions. I got angry and pushed back. They fired me in April of 2015.
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2015, I was a 60 something year old, upper-middle-class Jewish father of two heading to my home in the Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley with my dog, Marty in the backseat. I went to the gate and tried to get onto my property. Within minutes, at 6:30pm, I was surrounded by ten (10) county sheriffs with guns and rifles pointed at my head. I was arrested, taken to the LA County jail and treated like a common criminal. I was stripped searched in front of five Mexican gang members, interrogated and threatened that I wouldn’t get out of jail until I admitted being mentally ill.
Instead of recognizing this gross “misunderstanding” of my arrest, and releasing me immediately, the desk sergeant told me I needed an attitude adjustment. So to teach me a lesson he handcuffed me to a bench for seven (7) hours and I was fed one soggy, tuna fish sandwich during the seven (7) hours….. Until a huge guy about 450 pounds came and sat right next to me on the bench and on the other side of me another dude about 350 pounds sat down next to me, and the bigger one, named Melvin, whispered in my ear, “Hey bro, I feel connected to you”, and then said, “We been checking you out for the last five hours and we’re going to help you break out of this jail, we’re going to help you break out.” Now I was, understandably, concerned, to say the least, because I was within two (2 ) feet of the command desk sergeant, command desk, and they probably heard all of this. However, I was so fried like a banana I just turned to the big guy, Melvin, and said, “Are you out of your mind, if you break me out of this prison, they’re gonna keep me in here for life. (2 hours ago I was a rich guy from Hidden Hills California and I’m now a common criminal). He, then, said OK I understand. Well for the next two hours the two of them sat on each side of me Melvin and Antonio Antonias, who was a poet and he kept reciting his poetry to me, non-stop for more than two hours, and actually for the first hour I had the worst headache listen to this guys rap poetry and then believe it or not it started to grow on me and then I actually said to Antonio Antonias to help you out when we get out of here maybe I could connect you with some people. Melvin was a former NCAA 1 pro college football player from the University of Oregon and then he got messed up with crystal meth.
I refused to give in to their absurd demands and as a result, for “punishment”, I was never arraigned. Again, asked to call my lawyer or even to call anyone on the outside and I was, simply, denied my request, over and over, again. Instead, the sergeant told me I needed an “attitude adjustment!”
That night after being assigned a cell, at 2:45 am in the middle of the night, approx one (1) hour after I finally fell asleep, four (4) Sheriff Deputies burst into my jail cell. Because I had every intention of leaving there in the same healthy body that I came in with! It was a stand-off that felt like eternity. I think it went for about 15 minutes me against the four sheriff deputy jailers.
When, by only I can say a miracle, they turned and left and the last one kicked the steel (soundproof) door behind him, I totally broke down and cried and cried and cried and just kept saying, “Thank you, God, for saving my life!”
I didn’t give in to their threats, (I had every intention of leaving there … alive!), so I stood my ground, and stayed frozen like a statue, tough, I stood tall, tough, immovable, steely-eyed for what seemed like an eternity … “And did it my way!”
I was, finally, allowed to leave the “prison” with no paperwork, whatsoever, four (4) days later on Thursday afternoon, April 9th, the desk sergeant saying simply,
“Michaels, get out of here.” I asked if I can have some release paperwork and the response was a cold hard look and then,
” Just get out of here”. And, so I walked out a free man….I thought!
I had to confess to hearing voices speak to me and believed that I was God or I would not be taken to arraignment. Again I asked to call my lawyer. Instead, the sergeant told me I needed an attitude adjustment. So to teach me a lesson he handcuffed me to a bench for seven hours and I was fed one soggy tuna fish sandwich. Four (4) days later three (3) sheriff deputies burst into my jail cell and threatened to “kick my head in”. I didn’t give in and finally was allowed to leave with no paperwork four hours later. It wasn’t the only run in with the law.
I would have twelve “interactions” with law enforcement over the next 18 months for which I was arrested only one other time. I spent a week in prison which was an experience that scared the living sh*t out of me. But more importantly it changed my life for the better because through those harrowing days I discovered how broken our system of justice truly was.
Ironically, when I walked out on my marriage all I wanted was my freedom. And what I got was one incarceration after another. Not only did I spend time in jail, I was involuntarily committed to a state run mental institution on three separate occasions. For each “psychiatric hold” ranged from 3-14 days. The doctors forced drugs down my throat against my will. I felt like a human guinea pig. They experimented on my mind, my body and my soul. Didn’t they understand, I’d been through all this before? Nothing worked! But they wouldn’t listen or didn’t care. “I was crazy” according to their “system”… what I said didn’t matter. I was invisible, just like William, the red-headed 18 year musical genius I had met all those years before at Creedmoor Mental Institution when I was 14.
These episodes nearly broke me. Despite a near heart attack, a drug induced TIA (mini stroke), being placed into a state of false sleep, loss of my eyesight and contracting edema which caused a dangerously high build-up of fluids in my lower extremities, they continued their assault forcing me to ingest obscene amounts of drugs. I had had enough!
The Rebirth Of Gar
For all the horror of those days, in hindsight it formed the basis of how I would eventually start to truly heal my body and my soul. I realized that the only person who could fix me… was me. No one was going to save me. I went deep, deep within myself and recognized that I had hit the very lowest rock-bottom of my life, the rock bottom of my soul. I meditated, for hours and went deeper than I had ever gone before. When I emerged I looked in the mirror and said;
“Gar, you and I are gonna do it. No, NOT GONNA, MY GOD, GONNA no longer exists. WE ARE GAR, WE ARE GAR… WE ARE WINNING!“
I believed… I visualized internally during my silence, during my meditations that I had already healed myself. I was no longer emotionally enslaved. I kept repeating it to myself, slowly, calmly breathing in and breathing out, over and over and over again until there was no separation between Gary, Gary Michaels, Gary Michael Schwartz…. and GAR.
My chains were, now, broken, my chains were, now, gone and I promised at that point I would never allow that “thing” to make a comeback and bother Gar again! And then I made a vow… a promise that I would spend the rest of MY LIFE helping other tortured, tormented, suffering souls like I had been.
This revelation and the journey to become whole again formed the basis of my mission, the reason I was here in the first place. My mentor, Ananda Marga, had been right all along. I didn’t know enough, hadn’t lived enough to truly understand what I was meant to do. It would have been so easy to just become that monk who lived in total peace and harmony. But I wasn’t ready because I couldn’t understand that that exalted state would only be achieved once I understood the complete opposite. It was the path I took to get here that I had to share with the world so that others could benefit and learn from all that I had gone through.
That is why I have created this movement to emotional and mental happiness, self-worth, self-dignity, and hopefully be a human transformative catalyst from our current money-ego-power-greed-dog eat dog, heartless, compassionless- obsessed socio-political culture of America into one that is still tough, thick-skinned, and economically competitive but……one that will be now predicated on honesty, humility, humbleness, compassion, giving, charity, freedom and equal opportunity and rights for all, regardless of skin color, race, nationality, place of birth, gender, sexual preference, age, mental/physical different abilities, how much money you have in your pocket now, or how much money your family had in their pockets a time of birth….”This land was made for you and for me!”
I want to be a part of a spiritual transformation of our society!’
And throughout my remaining days on this earth, not be apart from, but be a part of, by, and for my brothers and sisters who have not been as fortunate as I.
May you stay forever young! It’s the path you take, the steps you make, that makes you who you are.
It’s the life you live, the gifts you give, the love that’s in your heart.
I just try to do the best I can to be a better man.
I don’t’ have to walk on water; it’s how I walk on land to communicate my message and help to others.
Peace, Love, Grace and Namasgar,