Gabe Wilson sits down to talk human to me about our ability to take on multiple points of view, our place in the universe as being part and as being whole, his love for basketball, life after heart surgery, living with atrial arrhythmia, expanding his sense of self, his journey with racial dynamics, being bi-racial and being Black in Brazil versus being Black in the US, and ultimately embodying love.
Remember to subscribe with:
RSS, iTunes, Google Play, or Tunein Radio
Our Conversation with Gabe Wilson
00:01 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay, Gabe. You ready for this?
00:04 Gabe Wilson: I am. Looking forward to it.
00:05 Jeffrey Shiau: You have no idea what this is about, right?
00:10 Jeffrey Shiau: Thank you for letting me rope you into this. I've actually been really, really wanting to have this conversation with you, since we first met. I actually attended... We first met at a conference. And then, I attended this workshop that you held. And we just started getting to know each other on a personal level, and I think I'm really honored to have you here. Cool. Let's get started. I start every episode with the exact same question. And that is, what about humans strikes you the most?
00:55 Gabe Wilson: Oh, shit. [chuckle] Can we curse on this? Is that okay?
01:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah.
01:00 Gabe Wilson: Okay. I'll try to keep it...
01:01 Jeffrey Shiau: The magic of podcasting.
01:03 Gabe Wilson: I'll try to keep it clean. That's a deep question. What about humans most...
01:11 Jeffrey Shiau: What about humans strikes you the most?
01:13 Gabe Wilson: Strikes me the most? I think, really simply, that we grow, strikes me the most. And so, what do I mean by that? At least, the trend in my life has been that my point of view has expanded over time. That I can take multiple points of view, and take my own, and consider past, present, future, and at one point can just experience myself as a Brazilian man, and also, a US man. And at the same time, I can appreciate that we're stardust. [chuckle] I think it's crazy. So, just from the point of view that...
02:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Shout out to Carl Sagan. [laughter]
02:06 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, Carl Sagan, totally. Totally. Farther reaches of the universe. Yeah, I think that's what strikes me the most about us, is that we're so dynamic, we are a part, and we're also the whole. Stardust and all of it. It's just crazy that we can appreciate that.
02:26 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you always have this appreciation, and just, the ability to learn and grow? Or was it something very recent?
02:33 Gabe Wilson: Did not always have that ability. Definitely, I would say that my life, up until, I would say, sophomore year in college, didn't...
02:42 Jeffrey Shiau: Second year.
02:43 Gabe Wilson: Second year, yeah. Second year in college, it did not expand too far beyond the basketball court. And girls [laughter] but mostly basketball court.
02:53 Jeffrey Shiau: How tall are you?
02:55 Gabe Wilson: I'm 6'2". [laughter]
02:57 Jeffrey Shiau: Could you dunk?
02:57 Gabe Wilson: I could dunk. I couldn't dunk, Vince Carter-style, over people. But I could dunk on a good day.
03:02 Jeffrey Shiau: You were at Stanford ball, or...
03:04 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. Well, yeah. So I played. Did not do varsity basketball. Played club basketball at Stanford.
03:10 Jeffrey Shiau: Nice.
03:12 Gabe Wilson: But, yeah, basketball was always a passion of mine. Point being, to answer your question, I did not always appreciate the fact that life is radically crazy, that we're alive, and having this conversation. We can both appreciate that it's crazy to be alive. For me, the shift happened, because I developed atrial arrhythmia in my heart.
03:38 Jeffrey Shiau: Say that again? I'm sorry.
03:39 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. So, atrial arrhythmia.
03:41 Jeffrey Shiau: Atrial arrhythmia?
03:43 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
03:43 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
03:44 Gabe Wilson: And basically, what happened sophomore year I was just playing basketball, like I always did, blowing off steam before finals. And usually played point guard, so I was bringing the ball up the court. And then all of a sudden, my heart just went into an incredibly irregular rhythm. So it was really fast. Once they've measured it, it was between 180, 190.
04:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Holy shit. Does it hurt?
04:10 Gabe Wilson: No, it didn't hurt. So, what happened, there's no pain. But I did get, and when it happens, do get incredibly light-headed. The blood is being pumped irregularly across your system. And in that first time, when it happened, there was just an incredibly strong, just primal fear response. So, this incredibly gripping fear response.
04:40 Jeffrey Shiau: Within yourself?
04:41 Gabe Wilson: Totally. Yeah. And I just literally stopped bouncing the ball. And I just walked off the court. And I wasn't really thinking, but I was just so gripped by fear. And, basically, was just kind of, verbally considering it, like kind of considering it, "Shit, am I about to die? What is going on?" It was basically oscillating between those two questions. Within, I would say, 45 minutes, my heart reset by itself. I did not have the presence of mind of asking for help or calling for 911.
05:17 Jeffrey Shiau: Wait. So it was pumping at 180 to 195 for 45 minutes?
05:22 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
05:23 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, my God.
05:24 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
05:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. Sorry. Continue. [chuckle]
05:30 Gabe Wilson: So, all to say, that that event was, you could say, the catalyst that expanded and led me into questions that expanded my perspective, like, "What is the meaning of life?" At a very, kind of, just philosophical level. And then, also, brought into question, "What's my purpose?" Do I really wanna be pre-med? Do I really wanna go to medical school? Why am I doing the things that I'm doing? The heart arrhythmia that I developed, and have been living with, has been, from 20/20 hindsight point of view, an unfortunate gift. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone, and at the same time it's totally shaped how I view life, how I understand myself, my sense of purpose that I have now. All to say, that dislodged my identity or in basketball, being a basketball player and that, I just started to grope for more meaningful ways of imagining who I am. That just grounded me in a purposeful kind of narrative.
06:48 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you still live with arterial arrhythmia?
06:51 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, so atrial arrhythmia...
06:52 Jeffrey Shiau: Atrial.
06:53 Gabe Wilson: I still have it. I had surgery two years ago.
07:00 Jeffrey Shiau: Is it an invasive surgery?
07:00 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, they don't do open heart or anything. They go through veins in your groins.
07:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, okay.
07:06 Gabe Wilson: They go up that highway, basically.
07:07 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
07:08 Gabe Wilson: Thank God for modern tech. A couple, I don't know how many decades ago, I'm sure it was decades, but it would have been open heart if they could have done anything for me. It's a benign condition, insofar as that if it happens, I'm not gonna drop dead in front of you. But if it goes on long enough, just because the blood isn't circulating efficiently, it just means that blood can pool in your heart, and when blood pools, it clots. And I could have clots in my system, and that could ostensibly kill me. But that would take a long time. I've been in the rhythm, in the hospital, them monitoring me for maybe three hours at a time, at 180.
07:51 Jeffrey Shiau: So this entire new world view, or not world view, but just your lens on life.
08:01 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
08:02 Jeffrey Shiau: Was it because you... I don't know if this is the right way to describe it, did you see death? Or did you have it in your mind because you said, "Am I about to die?"
08:24 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
08:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Was it an instant switch a few weeks afterwards? Or did it gradually...
08:32 Gabe Wilson: No. It was definitely a gradual process, just in terms of what I would say is just the expanding of my sense of self. It was a gradual process. There were about three months where I didn't know what was wrong with my heart, and nor did the doctors. Simply because I would have the rhythm, it would get triggered, and then by the time I got to the hospital, it would've reset. By the time they hooked me up to the measuring machines, it was just registering normal rhythm.
09:09 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, so, if it doesn't have the arrhythmia at the moment...
09:14 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
09:16 Jeffrey Shiau: There's no physiology that can show?
09:17 Gabe Wilson: No.
09:18 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, that's...
09:19 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, so my heart structurally, is fine. Electrically speaking, it's not.
09:23 Jeffrey Shiau: Wow.
09:25 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, so all to say, just in terms of your question, I spent a period of time of about three months, them telling me, "We don't know what's wrong with your heart, for us to find out, we need you to trigger it. So how's it happening?" I was like, "Well, it's happening when I'm playing basketball." "Great, so we want you to keep playing basketball, and we also want you to plan it when we can do it. Come in for a stress test," where they just basically run my ass on a treadmill.
09:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, man. [laughter]
09:55 Gabe Wilson: But the point being is that I didn't... They didn't know, they couldn't really tell me if it was benign or if it was malignant, if... So, that period of just not knowing was incredibly intense and anxiety-provoking. And I recall my voice changing. Literally, the tenor of my voice was changing 'cause I was so anxious, it was as if someone was just holding my neck. My voice was super constricted 'cause I was just feeling so much anxiety about, "Shit, is this... They want me to trigger it. It's the only way for them to find out if it's gonna kill me or not. Is it gonna kill me? Why would I trigger it?" That whole question of, like, "Holy shit," my life in that frame of mind, "I don't know if I have a day, I don't know if this next trigger is gonna... What is happening?" So that was really intense, and I would just simply say, and we can maybe get into this later, but conceptually speaking, none of my mental frames, none of the things that I used to rely on to make meaning and to give me a sense of agency and purpose, none of them were holding water in that mental state of just complete anxiety and just confronting this uncertainty of, "Shit, is this, today my last day? Is it my last moment when I go to the basketball court right now and trigger this thing for them?"
11:30 Jeffrey Shiau: What do you mean by holding water? Just like none of them...
11:32 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, so...
11:33 Jeffrey Shiau: Mattered or none of them made sense or?
11:35 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, just the simple... I used to find, and I think it's, it might... So a reference point that I eventually developed was, "Oh, wow, the meaning making that I make about my life, like, 'I'm gonna go be a doctor. I'm gonna hopefully live in California.'" Just those simple desires and aspirations that used to kind of inspire me at a fairly basic level, they didn't matter. So I would kind of call upon my habitual thoughts of, "Alright, it's okay, just stick to your studies, focus on being pre-med, you wanna be a doctor." And then noticing those thoughts did not matter a damn bit, given what I was living, 'cause it was so immediate, the sense of, "Shit! I don't know if this is my last day or not. Who gives a shit if I'm gonna be a doctor? I don't." So my questions started to change, like, "What's most meaningful to me right now?" And in that moment it was just really to relieve my suffering and my anxiety. So, all to say, it was basically at that point that my mom gently nudged me towards meditation just in terms of, "During this period of time when the doctors are trying to figure out what's wrong with you, why don't you try calming your body and your mind so that you can try to gain some kind of agency or control over your physiology, so to speak."
13:08 Jeffrey Shiau: Before we move forward in your life, actually I'm curious because I'm trying to imagine Gabe Wilson pre-basketball court incident, right? I'm trying to imagine it, and then now that you mention it, I'm like, "If your mother is recommending to... " Actually, first, do you have a relationship with both your mother and your father, or just...
13:28 Gabe Wilson: I do. Yeah, they're both together, and we're a unit.
13:32 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay. Great. And so pre-sophomore year, were you just the normal kid growing up and just trying to get good grades, go to a good school, and get a good career? Or were you rebellious in any way?
13:55 Gabe Wilson: No.
13:56 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you grow up in the US?
13:57 Gabe Wilson: No. I was born in New York, I lived in Brooklyn Heights, was there from zero to eight. My dad is African-American from St. Louis, Missouri. My mom is Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And so they moved to New York, they had me there, me and my brother, he's a younger brother, three-and-a-half years old. And when I was eight-and-a-half, going on nine, we moved to Rio. And so, basically, my formative years from 9 to 18 were in Rio. And then I came out to the Bay area to study, to go to undergraduate at Stanford, and I've been here since, so it's been 11 years.
14:39 Jeffrey Shiau: So a lot of the best friends in your life from childhood are Brazilian?
14:45 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, totally, yeah. So that core group of friends that accompanied me during my formative years as an adolescent, yeah, everyone's in Brazil, for sure.
14:56 Jeffrey Shiau: So when your friends see you now, or when they saw that evolution, basketball court moment, three months of just pure anxiety and then coming out the other side of... I definitely wouldn't feel or guess that you had a solid identity after those three months. It's like now it's brand new, you're like a newborn baby, right?
15:20 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
15:20 Jeffrey Shiau: And, okay, what now? When they see you now, what is it like for them?
15:29 Gabe Wilson: The brand new baby metaphor is a good one, just in terms of the nakedness of my point of view, kind of like an initiation of just shutting all these identities that didn't serve me anymore. It was, I'd say for the majority of my friends back home, back in Rio, it was just way too much to catch them up on in a way. So literally their reference point is, "Gabe Wilson used to play a lot of basketball, and now Gabe Wilson meditates a lot."
16:02 Gabe Wilson: That's pretty much it. And they love me either way, it's all good. Gabe Wilson's just in Torrey, Utah, in the desert, meditating.
16:11 Jeffrey Shiau: Now, is this in Portuguese or in English?
16:14 Gabe Wilson: They all speak in Portuguese to me.
16:17 Jeffrey Shiau: Awesome. Did you completely shelve away previous Gabe Wilson, or do you still embrace and like who you were?
16:34 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, totally. I would simply say... This is probably a moment of myself giving me praise... But I've always had a... I would probably consider myself an empath, so just deeply empathetic and always really tuned in to people and just have a desire to, at a very basic level, just love on people. And so that was always there, but I think what happened was it was secondary to, I would say, basketball. It was secondary to whatever medical/doctor aspirations I had. With the, kind of, what I would say is just the expanding of my sense of self, I would just simply say that my empathy and my circle of care and concern has just increased. And so I feel beholden to and in service to bringing more love, more human development, more capacity to as many people as possible. And that's my reason for being right now.
17:52 Jeffrey Shiau: It's so funny that you're talking about going from basketball, doctor, to empathy. 'Cause literally on the court you dropped down to the bottom of, what's the... Maslow's? Life.
18:11 Gabe Wilson: Survival needs.
18:12 Jeffrey Shiau: I need to survive right now, and right now the things that you deeply care about are deeply human. And very much at its core has existed for however long humans developed those emotions and imagination. Basketball and doctoring didn't exist, we know, many years ago, why do you think you prioritize these essentially primal things as a human?
18:51 Gabe Wilson: The primal things being just empathy, relationship...
18:54 Jeffrey Shiau: Empathy, relationship, community.
18:57 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, that's super clear. So again, it happened around the heart, the event that I had and just my time after that. I was really desperate for comfort and I would...
19:12 Jeffrey Shiau: Comfort from others to you? Or...
19:14 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. I just needed support just living with the anxiety that I was living right after the heart event. And what I realized I started to lean on my friends, and some friends were there for me and some weren't. And I was like, "What the fuck?" And so it really triggered a question in me of, what type of relationships do I wanna cultivate that are what I would call unconditional relationships, meaning that they're there through thick and thin, irregardless of what's happening. And I got really curious about why people aren't there for each other just as a general question. That kind of sourced from me, my experience. But since then I just got really curious of how can we create community, where we actually are for each other and are in service to our growth and our thriving. And are there to pick each other up when we fall. So that is just from a very embodied experiential point of view, I think, where it came from initially. Yeah.
20:27 Jeffrey Shiau: I wanna go back to your mother.
20:28 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
20:32 Jeffrey Shiau: Were you always close with your parents? Or... Okay.
20:36 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, close, for sure.
20:37 Jeffrey Shiau: And then, especially after this moment and your mother introduced the concept of meditating to you. How has your relationship with her evolved from that point? Does she meditate with you or teach you, was she your teacher?
20:53 Gabe Wilson: No, no, she wasn't. So my relationship just over time, I would say with both my parents, particularly my mom, I think, because she's a trained therapist.
21:05 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, okay.
21:05 Gabe Wilson: My practice right now as a facilitator and a coach and what not, is psychology-based. So we just kind of riff on our experiences and our practice in our lives, so there's that practice vocational connection that I have with her. And in general as I've matured and my thinking's complexified, I can connect with my parents in ways that I wasn't able to and that's just a joy. And in terms of my mom's relationship to me, in terms of the expansion of my point of view and her bumping me or nudging me towards meditation, so she wasn't my teacher, she always meditated, though. My dad meditated too in there as well, and I remember being a little kid, running through a room to get my toys and they'd be meditating. I wouldn't think anything of it, just, "Okay, that's what mom and dad are doing, back to playing."
22:01 Jeffrey Shiau: Your father also meditated?
22:02 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. Here and there, here and there.
22:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
22:06 Gabe Wilson: But, yeah. My mom basically turned me on to meditation, and human development theory and just all these things have started to frame my lived experience, in ways that basically put a growth mindset around it. Every challenge, every lived experience is potential fodder for your growth. So she just was super supportive and introduced me to practices and basic frames that allowed me to essentially launch and essentially...
22:43 Jeffrey Shiau: As if when you say launched do you mean, first heal from your anxiety first of all?
22:50 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. Launched just in terms of my development. I say, "Oh, shit. Meditation's amazing, I actually feel better than I did before my heart." These growths...
23:03 Jeffrey Shiau: Has it actually physiologically brought your arrhythmia under control? Or...
23:07 Gabe Wilson: When it's triggered, I just surrender and wait until it stops. But just in terms of when it happens, I had a little one yesterday. I appreciate my meditation practice in those moments. Yeah. In terms of launching, yeah, obviously it supported my healing, that's part of the launching too. But just in general, just my life has been supported and invigorated by these growth narratives and these practices. And when I say launch I'm just like, "My development is launching. I'm launching," as a human being since then it feels like... And obviously, it's a meandering road. [chuckle] I've fallen and regressed and jumped forward again. Yeah, that's what I mean.
24:05 Jeffrey Shiau: So previously in your mind... I'm just really, really fascinated right now. I should just... Very recently one of our mutual friends, Jeremy Capdevielle, we were just talking about identities, especially being for him a biracial male, he's a Mexican and his mother is white with an Irish background. And with you, you're half Brazilian and half Black American and then you also have the identity and experience of going to a great university, so there is that. And then, it's interesting 'cause you have these mindset of this is what having a fulfilling life means pre-basketball incident. And now you have, and it was very clear, it was very concrete, like, "I wanna be a doctor, I wanna be successful," whatever the hell that means. That's what I've been thinking about that a lot, too, what does it mean when people say, "I wanna be successful"? But now the concept of, "I wanna have a fulfilling and better life," not broadly but very personally for yourself, what does that mean?
25:40 Gabe Wilson: There are two frames. There is a service-oriented frame, I would say, and then there's just a deeply personal frame to it.
25:52 Jeffrey Shiau: From your perspective?
25:53 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, with respect to that question.
25:54 Jeffrey Shiau: How you wanna serve other people and how...
25:57 Gabe Wilson: Just in terms of fulfillment. Within the domain of my relationship to others.
26:03 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
26:05 Gabe Wilson: There's a particular type of fulfillment that I wanna experience there which is related to service and it's related to creating relationships between myself and others that serves as, you could say, a human development dojo, where we grow our emotional capacities, we grow our capacities interpersonally, we grow our capacities empathetically, cognitively in terms of the number of points of view we can take. That for me is fulfillment, is actually using my development to spur the development of others and, given the nature of the work, of the coaching relationship and the facilitation processes that we do, I inevitably also get changed and developed through others as well.
26:51 Jeffrey Shiau: Outside of the coaching and the profession that you have, for you personally, what does fulfillment for Gabe Wilson mean? If you were just sitting in your own room by yourself?
27:15 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, yeah. Right now, what comes to mind is, so this is a basketball metaphor, but it applies to my work.
27:25 Jeffrey Shiau: Oh, non-work related.
27:27 Gabe Wilson: Oh, non-work related.
27:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Yeah, non-work related, yeah.
27:29 Gabe Wilson: Fulfillment, yeah. So this goes to the personal question which is, I still have the itch of, "What is life? Why am I alive right now and why are you alive? Who are we?"
27:49 Jeffrey Shiau: Are these all recent questions from meditating...
27:51 Gabe Wilson: No. These got triggered from that heart episode, sophomore year in college. So fulfillment to me at this moment in time is to be engaged in communities where those questions are being asked and people are just really authentically living those questions. And right now the two spheres that that happens is, I can't in a way separate myself from work right now, but one is my meditation community.
28:23 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, I guess, let's just talk about that, 'cause I think a lot of listeners, they might hear this and be like, "Isn't this a show about where we don't talk about it?" But there's actually a lot of conversation... I actually just had this with someone else as well where it's so deeply personal that it's inextricably inseparable.
28:43 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. It's hard to separate right now.
28:45 Jeffrey Shiau: Right.
28:45 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. But I'll just say, in terms of that question it's in my... I'm a Zen practitioner and that question is...
28:54 Jeffrey Shiau: What do you mean by Zen practitioner?
28:56 Gabe Wilson: I practice Zen meditation. It's part of the Buddhist canon, so to speak, of meditation practices and the fundamental questions that are being asked in Zen are, "Who are you?" And we can get into maybe what that means but the point being, just that's a community where explicitly everyone's really engaged in living those questions of ultimate concern, of what is the ultimate purpose of my human life.
29:27 Jeffrey Shiau: Is that ever supposed to be answered or is that something like, no, you're supposed to continue attempting to answer that for your entire life?
29:38 Gabe Wilson: In terms of what's true from my experience, the latter. [chuckle] No enlightenment experiences over here, just a lot of faith and dedication to the practice right now.
29:53 Jeffrey Shiau: Wait, what does enlightenment mean? I always hear that and I feel like, "Oh the Dalai Lama's enlightened." What does that mean?
30:02 Gabe Wilson: That's a great question. I don't know. One of the quotes that I hold dear to my heart, that just moves me, is a quote by a Zen Master, his name is Dōgen Zenji, Zen Master Dōgen Zenji. And he says, "Enlightenment is intimacy with all things". Yeah.
30:31 Jeffrey Shiau: Intimacy... And is that up for interpretation, like emotional intimacy, physical intimacy...
30:38 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, for me it's just being intimate with all aspects of your human experience, and just to be a witness too. So I think in the context of racial dynamics that I've been in, just the simple act of giving someone the experience of being witnessed in their struggles is in and of itself healing. Just the fact that there's a presence there that is seeing you go through struggle, is in a way, cathartic and healing. So I relate to that quote in that way, it's like, "Can we be so intimate with our experience that we don't turn away from any aspect of it?"
31:28 Jeffrey Shiau: You just brought up kind of your racial dynamics and just the identity. And it's been actually really interesting... Going into this conversation I actually was very unsure, I was like, "I wonder what Gabe Wilson's really going to drive into a conversation about?" Personally, 'cause he has so many perspectives and you're just a very, very interesting person and obviously, I think it kind of shows... Yes, health. It comes down to one of the most fundamental things of...
32:03 Gabe Wilson: Totally.
32:04 Jeffrey Shiau: Because health is the thing that keeps you alive, right?
32:09 Jeffrey Shiau: And I think in previous conversations... And then we just brought it up, how does the identity of one just finding health and that transition into really wanting to continue to study and learn empathy? How does that directly apply to your racial identity? Have you always had... What has your experience been with racial identity? Well, first growing up and then now.
32:45 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. So a couple questions there. So there's the question around health, right, and the importance of that and how that maybe intersects with my different identities, and then just the general question of how is it growing up with these different identities, right? First off is, I've grown up with a ton of privilege, just from the Maslow's Needs Hierarchy, the bottom of the pyramid was well taken care of, for me.
33:17 Jeffrey Shiau: In terms of just...
33:19 Gabe Wilson: Financial resources, going to... Travel and see the world and be exposed to different cultures... Yeah, that was second to none. From that point of view, I think that many of the oppressive dynamics that some of my peers have, whether they're black, people of color, women, what have you, I was insulated a lot from some of those dynamics, just because of the privilege that surrounded me.
33:50 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you see it, though?
33:51 Gabe Wilson: No. We can get it into that, but the other dynamic also that kind of shielded me, and this is from the health point of view as well, I grew up super untraumatized from a certain point of view. And I think growing up...
34:07 Jeffrey Shiau: And very athletic.
34:08 Gabe Wilson: Yes, very athletic but also growing up in Brazil, a ton of racial dynamics there, and this is a much longer conversation and by no means am I the person to be having an in-depth conversation about it with, but the dynamics...
34:22 Jeffrey Shiau: Well, I think you have your own personal experience, right?
34:24 Gabe Wilson: Totally, yeah. I'll share with that. And so, Brazil has... I think more slaves come to Brazil than the United States. So there was a huge slave trade.
34:35 Jeffrey Shiau: Slaves from the African slave trade?
34:37 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, yeah, from the continent. And for whatever reason, I was never asked if I'm black in Brazil, that question never came up. And part of me wonders... Brazil never had Jim Crow laws, they never had slavery that once it was abolished in some way remained present through the legal system. Once it was done, it was done. From again, a legal point of view. It's still alive and well. But I think that those structures in a way didn't reinforce really dichotomous ways of relating to each other. We didn't have "black water fountains" and "white water fountains." Once slavery was done, it was done, from that point of view. So I think it's just held differently and it's just more under the radar, so to speak. From that point of view, people, the viewers, can't see me but I'm tan-looking. I'm not dark, dark.
35:44 Jeffrey Shiau: Light-skinned.
35:45 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. That also confers, I think, a certain privilege to experience of not dealing with racism. So all to say, growing up in Brazil helped. Growing up with privilege helped. Being the skin tone that I am helped. Just in terms of my well-being and being preserved from any kind of racism, so speak. In terms of my consciousness around race, that initiated as soon as I set foot at Stanford. Within 48 hours someone asked me if I was black and I had no idea how to answer that question.
36:25 Jeffrey Shiau: What did you mean? What do you mean by no idea? Was it like caught off-guard or were you...
36:29 Gabe Wilson: I had no reference points for what they were talking about. Obviously, I talked to my dad and my mom. And my identity was "I'm Gabe Wilson and I'm bi-racial." But those... The bi-racial aspects of me never were firmly integrated in my narrative of who Gabe Wilson is, so...
36:52 Jeffrey Shiau: Up until then.
36:52 Gabe Wilson: Up until then. When I was asked the question am I black I was like, "What do you mean? I don't know." And it was a funny moment because that question was asked in front of me. It was a freshman dorm, and there were like 10 of us around just getting to know each other, it's 48 hours into this four-year experience. And what proceeds to happen is a conversation about whether Gabe Wilson is black or not amongst these 10 people. [chuckle] And I am so out of my element that I'm not... Again I'm not feeling any kind of frustration, anger, resentment. I'm not feeling anything, 'cause this interaction is completely new to me.
37:29 Jeffrey Shiau: Did you just move back from Brazil?
37:31 Gabe Wilson: Yeah.
37:31 Jeffrey Shiau: Okay.
37:32 Gabe Wilson: They just debated amongst themselves whether Gabe Wilson was black. [laughter] And the consensus was that I was black. At least amongst the people of color, that was really clear. So it goes, "Shit, I'm black, word." What does that mean in this context? In this country? So yeah, that's kind of when it started, for sure.
38:00 Jeffrey Shiau: So when you say "context," you've had the experience of being a bi-racial person in Brazil. So when you say "context," you mean like you weren't exactly sure what black in America meant?
38:15 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, yeah, totally. I mean, again, the distinctions around, "Are you black? Are you white? What are you?" in Brazil. It's not a question that arises in the consciousness of people in the way that it does here in the United States. So for me to arrive at Standford...
38:34 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you mean that... Does the discrimination still exist?
38:38 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, discrimination is alive and well, but I'm just saying that the way that those distinctions, the primacy of those distinctions of identity are held differently in the... What I would just direct us to is just precisely that question, it's like, I was never asked, am I black, in Brazil. And it's kind of irrelevant from a certain point of view. It just doesn't register and within 48 hours someone asked me if I was black here in the United States at Stanford. That's just very interesting to me.
39:19 Jeffrey Shiau: At that moment it was kind of neutral but now that you look back, is it funny to you? Is it more... What do you feel now when you kind of reminiscence back to that?
39:34 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. I would point back to my privileged upbringing, and this is from the health point of view. I've experienced bigotry since then, for sure.
39:50 Jeffrey Shiau: Violence or?
39:51 Gabe Wilson: No, no violence, just microaggressions, and they'll move me. They'll kind of trigger me but they exit my system. In other words, I metabolize the experience really quickly because in a way I still feel... I just think I just didn't grow up dealing with it, right. I'm healthy from that point of view, I don't deal with like a trauma getting reactivated or some kind of experience being reanimated in my memory and that gets compounded with whatever just happened now in the form of the microaggression, like that's not happening for me. So when it happens like, "That was a microaggression, cool." And I'm pretty level-headed about it. I think it's just because of I didn't grow up with dealing with it too much.
40:41 Jeffrey Shiau: So would you say when you're walking around just like everyday as Gabe Wilson, even at home, when you're meditating. What is the lens in which you're looking at the world? Is it through... Let's say you have bifocals or something. Do you have two lens, like one's racial and one's through your experience with health, or is it largely the health and then everything else is just like things that you're starting to come more into and wanting to explore more deeply out of curiosity?
41:20 Gabe Wilson: Yeah. In terms of what is the lens, it's a great question. What is the lens or lenses that I have on as I'm walking through my world? Yeah. I'm not sure how to answer the question. So what comes to mind is I'm all of my lenses at the same time.
41:45 Jeffrey Shiau: So you are an Ivy League student, you're biracial.
41:50 Gabe Wilson: Totally. And black, white, Brazilian, US, male, straight.
41:55 Jeffrey Shiau: Black, white, Brazilian. You have an identity with health issues.
42:01 Gabe Wilson: Yeah, totally. I have... My heart is an identity, for sure. And I would say, and now this goes back to the meditative practice. In meditation, at least the way that I've been instructed and taught, you're relinquishing your thinking. You're letting your thinking go with the out breath, right. And you're just trying to identify as much as possible with, just awareness itself. And there's a way that I experience that as also one identity, so to speak. I think it's probably a good frame, so when I'm walking down the street, like walking over here, I wasn't thinking about, "I'm an Ivy League student, I'm black." I'm just walking down the street right now. And I think just in terms of my life, there are moments where I will deliberately collapse my identity into one. For example, maybe in this moment, I need to show up as a black man right now, and advocate for that point of view. Not bi-racial Gabe Wilson. Not privileged Gabe Wilson. As a black man I need to click into that experience to the degree that I can, to advocate in this moment 'cause something's going on, for that point of view. And once that is done, I'll click out of it.
43:34 Jeffrey Shiau: And maybe the next moment, I'll click into being privileged Gabe Wilson and recruit those experiences and advocate for some kind of point of view that's not being present that I have access to because of those experiences. So in my... In the way that I work with it, I try to have flexibility of mind. I don't try to fix my identity to being just black. And I think that ties back for me again and just to you listening and to whoever's listening to this, this is just how I relate with it, right, and it's part of my privilege to move between these different identities.
44:13 Gabe Wilson: My experience from a health point of view is, when I was learning about the black experience and I started to put that lens on my experience, I was like, "Holy shit. There is so much going on right now in terms of microaggressions, institutional racism." I was seeing a lot of it and it was intense, right. And when I was learning about it you could say that my identity was black and it was locked into that position. And there was a certain way that... Shit, I was looking for racism under the bed before going to sleep. It was all the time. And so for me, I was like, "Shit, this isn't a sustainable mindset." And can there be a way around discerning about when I click this perspective in? 'Cause when I'm walking around with it, everything looks like a nail to this hammer that I'm holding, that this point of view represents. And it's an incredibly discerning point of view, particularly in terms of just the social justice scene. My point is just in terms of my health, I need to have or I need to feel, I feel more health, so to speak, when I'm not fixed to any one of these identities.
45:30 Jeffrey Shiau: Do you ever at any moment feel like you couldn't or you're unable, in a moment, to transition out of an identity because there's actually an external force that's keeping you there?
45:41 Gabe Wilson: Oh, for sure. For sure, for sure. And it's in those moments precisely that... Yeah, it's in those moments like, "Is this a moment where I really need to commit to this identity?" And I'm thinking what you're saying. So there are those moments where it's like, okay, this moment... There's this point of view that's missing and I have an identity and a set of experiences because of that identity, that I can plug into and advocate for that point of view. There's also the point of view of, "Oh, I just got stopped by a police officer," and then I feel like I'm locked into being a person of color, at the very least, I'm not quite sure how they're interpreting me. But definitely as a person of color. And in that way I definitely do feel locked into those situations and I definitely do feel the... Some experiences with police where there's clearly an aggression in their system already. And I feel locked into that identity, because, at least, I interpret their hostility as somehow being predicated around just the color of my skin or whatever's going on. So yeah, for sure, I experience that, I also experience it at a lesser degree, I think, than a darker person. So yeah, totally.
47:10 Jeffrey Shiau: I wanna thank you for kind of sharing. This is actually one of the first conversations I had with someone where they're really holding so many different points of view. And sometimes I can imagine... It truly is a lifelong journey for you in terms of what your... The identity you hold with a meditation practice, the identity you hold with being bi-racial, black and Brazilian, the identity of having that health and, also, yeah, just having, and growing up with privilege. It's fucking confusing sometimes, and I'm just having this hurricane in my chest right now. Thank you so much for spending time to talk human to me today. As all listeners know, I end all conversations with also the same question. So, Gabe Wilson, from your multiple lenses, ultimately what's the point of all of this?
48:33 Gabe Wilson: [chuckle] Yeah, I would just simply say and I mean this in... Don't... Be love. I would say be love. Tell people that you love them but also be love. By your actions to be communicative of that posture that a human being can take towards each other.