'Big Love' book inspired by New Age spirituality
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At a time when so many people are discouraged by the constant barrage of news coming out of Washington, D.C., perhaps they are ready to hear about how choosing love can make life better.
Gay writer Scott Stabile, 46, with his inspirational posts and videos, has attracted a devoted social media following, including over 350,000 Facebook fans. A regular contributor to the Huffington Post as well as conducting personal empowerment workshops around the world, his new book, "Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart," a combination of memoir and essays, has just been published by New World Library. While on a recent visit to the Bay Area, Stabile met with the Bay Area Reporter for an interview.
Operating out of a New Age self-empowerment philosophy, Stabile, a self-described "love advocate," has had to deal with some tragic episodes in his life, including his parents being murdered when he was 14, his brother dying of a heroin overdose nine years later, and, soon after, joining a cult for 13 years before wrenching himself out of it.
Yet despite the hardships life has thrown at him, Stabile never succumbed to despair.
"In each instance it was love that carried me back to my center," he said. "Love challenged me to move forward, despite my fears. Every single time, love walked me home."
Stabile said that it was only when he began to share the core of himself - "courage and fear, happiness and heartbreak" - that his Facebook page really took off, even seeing his readers as a community, "where many feel comfortable sharing themselves and discovering in the process that we are not really alone. We are family."
When asked why he decided to write his book, Stabile replied, "I wanted to expand on some of the same themes I had talked about on Facebook in book form, such as kindness, compassion, and empathy."
The tragedies in his life have played a role in his work. His parents were shot and killed in the Detroit fruit market they owned by one of their employees.
"The impact of their death is mostly in how it has helped me to connect with people," Stabile said. "These experiences of trauma and grief have given me empathy for those who are going through any pain. I buried the reality of my parents' death somewhere deep inside where I could ignore the pain of it all. Only when I started to face that pain did I begin to feel freer.
"I think one of the great gifts that came from losing them was learning that I am stronger and more resilient than I imagined myself to be," he said. "The heartbreak has made me a more empathetic and compassionate human being."
Stabile was ultimately able to forgive his parents' murderer.
"I had no intention of forgiving him for years, but we all know what it's like to be ruled by something we feel is unforgivable and how toxic and ugly that can feel," he said. "When I started to see him as another human being with pain and struggles, I could start to empathize with him. No one who is operating from self-love or who felt safe could murder other people. I couldn't connect with the idea of murdering but I could connect with being so enraged I wanted people to die and I can connect with feeling unloved or unworthy. When you see people as human beings and connect to their pain, it's hard to hate them. With empathy and compassion, I found forgiveness. Actually, through empathy and compassion, forgiveness found me."
Stabile also had to cope with his older brother, Ricky's, addiction to heroin and eventual overdose death. He describes in his book a harrowing scene where his brother, desperate to kick his addiction, agreed to let his parents shackle him, with metal cuffs by wrists and ankles, to a pole in their basement connected to a thick chain that gave him five feet of mobility in any direction. He was dressed only in white briefs, with a mattress on the floor next to the pole and a dirty bucket nearby serving as his toilet.
"I was shocked to see my brother chained up like a wild dog. Like a prisoner. Like someone who had already tried everything else to get clean," Stabile said.
This cold-turkey withdrawal didn't work, despite going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and many stints in rehab. Stabile feels addiction is a choice.
"Years ago I came to the view that it was beyond his control, but changed my mind that even though we live in an addictive world, anyone who is living a sober life has made a choice to be sober and it is a choice they are making every day of their lives," he said. "I absolutely believe that the way to overcome addiction is believing we have a choice to move beyond it."
The grief he underwent after Ricky's death was one of the factors that motivated him to join a cult.
"I was longing for deeper spirituality and a greater sense of community in my life," Stabile said. "I was 23 when I met a group of loving people, who were students of this guru, while working at a New Age bookshop. I met a charismatic spiritual teacher who offered a 'faster track' to enlightenment. In the cult some would call New Age, I found a family, and, in the leader, I found a best friend and father figure as well as an enlightened master."
Stabile doesn't name the cult or the leader in his book, nor would he do so during the interview despite repeated attempts.
"I don't feel a desire to out him and there's no name for the cult anyway. I just realized he wasn't enlightened. He was professing to be one thing, but in his actions he was saying something else, without going into any details. It's a grand lie when you claim to offer enlightenment as your main thing but then discover it's not true. The community treated me badly when I left, they shunned me."
So why not expose them publicly?
"If you were to talk to his students, they would have a very different interpretation of their experience," Stabile said. "He's still around and people are still in his community. I didn't want to be vindictive and saying his name seems vindictive to me and I don't feel a need to do that."
Stabile talked about how being gay has influenced his philosophy.
"I definitely had some shame around being gay when I was growing up," he said. "But I later realized that this shame is rooted in other people's ideas of what is right or wrong. Still, sometimes that shame is provoked by second-guessing some of my actions or holding back, thinking what I'm doing is effeminate, for example, and that kind of judgment on myself is that shame coming through. I'm living my life happily as an out gay man. I live with my partner in Michigan, but that shame does creep in once in awhile."
Stabile doesn't think his Facebook fans care at all about his sexuality, and admits one could read his book and not even know he was gay (the ideal is for love that transcends all categories, including sexuality) but does hope that his openness about being gay makes it easier for some of his gay readers to be more open and comfortable with their sexuality. Also, if there are other readers who have prejudices about LGBT people that they might re-evaluate and open themselves to acceptance of others regardless of their sexuality.
When asked why LGBT people seem drawn to New Age philosophies (especially during the AIDS crisis, when the late Louise Hay, aka the queen of the New Age, was very popular), Stabile traced it back to the depth of shame they've had to carry and wanting to move beyond that and "embrace our truth, share our truth with the world. The truth of personal development, self-help or whatever you want to call that world, be who you are, embrace who you are, then see how the world is transformed once you do, I can see why LGBT people would find the New Age attractive."
How would Stabile apply his philosophy to President Donald Trump?
"I haven't mastered the 'Big Love' approach with Trump. Since his election I've been more vocal about my politics, which I hadn't been previously, on my Facebook page. I think he's an incredibly disillusioned, disinvolved human being who's doing profound harm to our country and the world."
Stabile is honest about his failures. He talks about writing the 2012 children's feature film "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure," which was a disaster.
"I wasn't going to let it stop me from sharing my creativity," he said. "It taught me that success is built on a lot of failures. I now define success as what kind of person I am in the world, meaning how kind and compassionate I am, which is rooted in the energy of love."
Ultimately what Stabile wants all his readers, including his LGBT followers, to realize is that they aren't alone in their struggles, so to consider choosing love more often and see how it impacts the relationships they have with themselves and others.