I first met Todd Perelmuter in his New York office, an airy sunlit place that feels more like a Japanese garden than a Manhattan office building. I had seen him speak a few months before at a conference on stress-management and his inspirational message resonated with me in my fast-paced, and often stressful, job as a journalist. I immediately called up his people to arrange an interview. When I arrived at his office, he humbly greeted me himself, invited me in and poured me a cup of herbal tea as he began to recount the story of how he unexpectedly found himself on a spiritual journey that would change not only his life, but the lives of countless others.
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The year was 2012. Todd was the youngest award-winning Creative Director at the world’s largest ad agency in New York City. It was the job he was working towards for most of his life. Every week was filled with parties and upscale bars. He was being wined and dined by vendors hoping for his business. He was being invited to and honored at advertising award shows in places like Las Vegas and the French Riviera. He lived in a luxury high-rise apartment building in the center of Manhattan making a solid six figures. His dating card was full and there was never a dull moment. At the time, he thought life was perfect and couldn’t get any better. Well, except for the hangovers the next morning and the damage he was doing to his body.
On the surface, everything was perfect. But one day when Todd arrived at work, he noticed his team was quietly gathered in a small office. Todd went in to find out a dear coworker of his had committed suicide. He was in shock. The man seemed like a very happy husband and father of two. No one could believe it. The guy left work Friday as if nothing was wrong, and then on Monday morning the office learned he was sitting in his car parked inside his detached garage on Sunday afternoon when he ignited 20 tanks of propane in the back of his SUV, causing an explosion that sent a fireball into the sky that could be seen from miles away.
Todd had heard lots of stories of suicide in his industry, but this was the first time it hit so close to home. He couldn’t stop thinking about what would drive a person to do this. The man was only a little older than Todd and he seemed to have everything. Todd wondered, “Is this where my life is heading?”
The rest of the day Todd reflected on his life, his friends and his coworkers. He thought of how many of them were working too hard, drinking too much, eating too poorly, and sleeping too little. He realized they all had too much stress and too little fulfillment. They were constantly chasing fleeting external pleasures, but never getting true, lasting, inner happiness. They were just jumping from one distraction to the next so that they never had to look inward and see just how empty their lives really were. They confused full schedules for full lives.
That was the day Todd decided to quit his job. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he knew there was more to life than the work, play, sleep cycle and he was determined to figure out what that was. Soon after that tragic day, he went into his boss’s office and handed in his letter of resignation.
Over the next couple weeks, Todd gave away his belongings, gave up his apartment, and bought a one-way ticket to India. He had studied Western religions in great detail, but he knew almost nothing about spirituality and felt strongly drawn to the East. He had no plan but he trusted the answers would present themselves at the right time.
Once in India, the spiritual capital of the world, his path became clear. Everyone he met was telling him about some amazing guru he had to meet or some incredible ashram he had to go see.
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He would go on to spend the next 9 years living with gurus in ashrams around India, with Buddhist monks and lamas in monasteries across northern India and Southeast Asia, and with shamans in tribes and jungles throughout South America. He learned everything he could about meditation, their spiritual philosophies and rituals, their practices and beliefs.
Towards the end of his 9 life-changing years, he went off into the middle of a forest in New Zealand to meditate in complete isolation for 50 days. It was during this time that his life and purpose became clear.
After his 50 days, Todd headed back to the U.S. where he founded the non-profit organization, EastWesticism, so he could share everything he’s learned with people who don’t have the time or resources to drop everything they’re doing and take 9 years off from their lives. His goal, he tells me, is simple: help everyone have a stress-free, peaceful and calm mind.
When we look around us, we see a world addicted: to phones, work, sex, gambling, unhealthy food, drugs, alcohol, social media, video games, TV, news, gossip, caffeine, porn, shopping, smoking and so on. The list is endless. Todd points out that it’s no wonder we don’t have peace on earth, the majority of us don’t have peace in our lives. When most of us do find a moment of peace and quiet, we find it so unsettling that we immediately find something to disturb it.
From what Todd’s learned on his spiritual journey, and from the response he gets from businesses and people he’s worked with, he knows we can work without stress, love without limits, and find joy in the quiet stillness that lies within each of us. When we rediscover this ability, when we become more aware and present, every aspect of our lives improves.