By Forest Riggs
Spring has finally arrived and with it comes a time of renewal, rebirth, and growth. There is no better time than springtime to come out of old patterns, habits, and ways — the very things that impede our progress as human beings. It’s in the air, as “they” say.
For over 20 years now, Galveston BOI (Born on the Island) Anthony Rios has been studying, training, and teaching in the much-needed fields of Spiritual Awareness and Shamanism. This is certainly no new thing; however, a quick internet search will reveal just how strong the movement has become in the LGBT world. The little island of Galveston is no exception as opportunities for growth and self-fulfillment have become available.
“The message to all is that you are a divine creature.
There is nothing wrong or flawed with you.
You have to own this and live with
Once you do this, awaken yourself fully, the rest falls into place.”
Born into a Galveston family of strong, Latino Catholics, Rios from early on was taught religion, faith and dogma. A lot of dogma. Quick to be told what is a sin or bad, a child grows with burdens, fears, chains, and bars around their spiritual self. Compound that pain by knowing you are gay or different, and over time you lose the spirituality with which you were born. Feelings of “I am not good enough” or “I will never fit in” can cause one to feel unloved, unwanted and unworthy.
Sadly, many gays turn to alcohol, drugs and even sex as a way to bandage their pain. Society pretty much screams at us that “You cannot be gay and be good or spiritual.”
Fortunately, there is a huge difference between being religious and being spiritual.
Over the years, Rios encountered numerous gay men that felt spiritual inside, but had closed themselves to it or denied it. Many stated they had no outlet or place to renew their spirituality. Who do you talk to about such things? Certainly not the church that condemns you.
Unfortunately, society tends to equate anything “gay” as sexual. Over the years this has caused gays to lose their spirituality and certainly to not celebrate it.
“In truth, spirituality and sexuality are compatible. There is spirituality in our sexuality,” Rios says. “It is us that has separated the two. We as gay men need to reconnect and reclaim our spirituality and divinity. In a sense, we need to move beyond gay. This is what challenges us most.”
With a degree in communications and after leaving the family business in 2016, Rios decided to devote his life and purpose (his spiritual path or journey) to helping others along their way to awakening and healing. With years of training, retreats, and courses in spiritual awakening and Shamanism, Rios started the program “Beyond Gay.”
This programs offers assistance and guidance to gay men looking to move beyond “gay” and develop or enhance their spiritual side while remaining true to their identity.
“I wanted to create a program where like-minded men can gather, learn and enhance their spiritual journey,” he says. “For those that chose drugs, alcohol, sex, or other bandages, this is a way to reconnect with the Divine and move beyond the negatives.”
Being aware of such needs, in 2013 Rios launched “Gay Male Spirituality”, a Facebook group. Currently there are over 1000 members in various states and countries.
Through the group, Rios offers instructional and informational videos and teachings.
Rios, the facilitator, is always ready to meet one-on-one or with a group, either in person or via video to teach and share. The group is “closed” and interested parties must contact Rios and request to join.
Participants have found the group page to be enlightening and rewarding. (It seems that men, especially those between the ages of 40 and 60, find a yearning for something more, but have no way or outlet to find it.) For Rios, this spiritual awakening or renewal movement among gay men offers a way, especially for recovering Catholics and others, to stay connected but not be burdened with dogma or be bound by the often bitterness and sadness of their youth. The renewal is with the individual and not a physical church or set of man-made rules.
Around the country and, in fact, the world, there are groups, “fairy retreats”, seminars, camps and even communities of gay men that have taken an active role in their spiritual journey. One might be so bold as to say that spiritual gay men have come out of the closet.
Along with the spiritual renewal teachings, Rios has also studied, trained and is a practicing Shaman. Just the word “Shaman” can, and often does, scare people away: “Bunch of weirdo, hocus-pocus crap, witchcraft.”
In fact, it is far from those things. Shamanism is an ancient spiritual practice that has roots in indigenous cultures throughout the world. It strives for universal peace. So misunderstood, it is often overlooked; however, the teachings are beautiful and very real. From herbs and medicines to drumming and shamanic journeys, the practice is always harmonious and meant for enlightenment and healing. The journeys teach how to ask for guidance, communicate with guardian spirits, and cleanse the soul through various practices. There are many variations when it comes to types and communities (cultures and traditions); however, the main message is the same for all participants.
In January, Rios held a three-day retreat with his basic workshop “Way of the Shaman.” The retreat was so well accepted, he will be hosting another, scheduled June 1–2.
“This is an introduction and experiential workshop,” Rios says. “It can open the door to more study and growth. These workshops give you the tools to take your journey and ask questions for yourself.”
After numerous trips to Mexico in order to train and attend retreats, Rios says his path has taken him full circle from a boy with questions and doubts in a dogmatic faith system to one of a sensible structure that includes traditional healing, blessings, rituals, the use of plants and natural items, and, of course, prayers. The practice is alive and well, and available to all who seek it.
Rios lives in Galveston and is a guest faculty member with the Foundation for Shamanic studies in San Francisco and can be reached by email at Arios797@gmail.com or the Facebook page Gay Male Spirituality. His blog can be found at TheGayShaman.wordpress.com. For more information, log on to Shamanism.org.
(Note: Spiritual awakening and Shaman practices are certainly not limited to gay men only. Rios says there are groups, classes and retreats for lesbians, heterosexuals, and transgender communities. He is in touch with many; however, being a gay man, this is the group with which he is most closely related and connected. He is available to assist anyone seeking information.)