Losing his dreams in life in order to help others discover theirs; finding his heart and purpose in the process: The story of Chester Ruiz.

As kids we all have dreams of becoming something spectacular one day in the future. Some kids want to become a farmer, or policeman, while others want to be a fireman or astronaut. For Chester Ruiz it was clear: he wanted to become a professional boxer. As the windy road of life so happens, often we do not get what we want; rather we get what we need. This life lesson, our medicine, is not one that comes too easily. But for those who embrace their soul’s path, the inner quest of the heart, the result is happiness.

The journey of the heart is not one chosen easily by the majority. They are susceptible to finding their way down a path of boundless surprises when life does not go as expected. Once befallen, it is easier to stay down in the dirt than fight your way back to your feet, finding new meaning and purpose. It is not the successes that define us in life; it is the struggles and obstacles that we had to overcome in the process. To each person the process takes on its own relative meaning. Chester Ruiz is no exception.

At fifty-two years of age, Chester has every reason to be sour on life. Growing up in Loma de Mico, a poor barrio of Grenada, Nicaragua, with dirt floors and no running water, with little chance of success being handed to him, he had to fight his way to where he currently is in life. In a house with eight males and two females, impoverished by the conditions of the life of his family, every extra bread crumb or piece of rice was fought over. Little did he know what his upbringing would mean for his future.

As a child, Chester always had a love of boxing. Henry, his older brother, was a boxer as long as he could remember. Henry went on to become a professional boxer, achieving 8thin world ranking (accruing a Pro-Champ of Latin America along the way), but by the time Chester got serious about the sport at age thirteen, his brother had already retired. Henry, a teacher of children by profession, went on to create an amateur boxing program for poor kids in the neighborhood. Henry was a huge inspiration on Chester.

In his first fight at age thirteen he was knocked out cold. He went on to win his next four fights. It was clear in his mind: he wanted to be World Champion. But did Chester have what it takes to get there? He eventually went on to fight his way to six national tournaments. Five of the six he won, taking home four bronze and one silver medal. After one fight with Camilo Ortega in Managua in which he won a gold medal he was forced to join the Nicaraguan Army. But this was good news for his boxing future.

All the best boxers were in the Army. He fought with Rosendo Alvaraez who went on to become World Champion. By all means, Chester was well on his way to living out his dream. We have our agenda in life but life has its own; the latter plan always getting its way. All roads lead to the same destination, however. On a trip home to visit family Chester was involved in a bad accident. He fell from a moving truck onto his elbow, resulting in the end of his boxing dreams of a world title. He retired at age twenty.

Not much time passed before Chester was back in the ring, this time in the capacity of his elder brother Henry: teaching children in the barrio. He started his coaching at the La Iguana Verde School of Boxing, a well-known and respected program in Nicaragua. At this school he quickly found himself in the presence of hungry boxers who wanted to become the best. He trained Victor Mayorga, who went on to become World Champion. Sadly though, Victor never returned much to the community in the way of gratitude.

Chester was married at age twenty-two. His wife, Melania, was twenty-four years old. Soon they would start a family. Little did he know that is life was about to experience more twists and turns, taking away all that he loved, including his family. His brothers were all gifted musicians and they spent time together singing and playing music. They thought he was good, that he had what it takes to succeed in such a highly competitive field. One brother encouraged him to take up music, to become a singer.

His up-and-coming band, Combo 76, found almost immediate success with the public. They were often invited to national festivals, sometimes winning awards for popularity. They once sang at Centro Recreativo, with seating for 1000 persons. Eventually their fame and popularity catapulted them onto a national TV program in 1992. At this point Chester was playing the part of the successful singer during the day but was an abusive drinker in the night. It was starting to affect how he sang and lived.

It is only a matter of time before our shadow side rears its ugly head. Chester’s reality was getting worse by the day. It was common for him to have all day and night drinking binges. It was not uncommon for Chester to wake up in the street, fully clothed, bruised and battered, at sunrise, after a long night’s bender. After our truth is revealed we have a choice: we can either choose to stop or continue on. Chester continued down the path of heavy drinking, effectively killing his music career by age thirty-five.

Chester was now at rock bottom in life. He had relentlessly pursued two huge opportunities to get himself and his family out of the ghetto in order to create a normal life for them – both had failed. And, even more so, on a deep inmost level, Chester felt like a let-down to himself and his family, a real failure at life. To add salt to the wound, two years earlier when his daughter with Down syndrome was born, he made a promise to God that he would stop drinking. But he did not. And now his life was in shambles.

No more were his nights filled with fall-down drinking escapades, Chester, now determined to beat his demon and get his life back in order, was on a mission. One night his bigger brother took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; since then his life has been changed for the better. On September 15th, 2009, he took his last drink, thus altering his ensuing path in life. He continued singing on weekends in order to keep his love and passion for music and people alive. He decided to start teaching boxing again.

Now a part of the Alexis Aguello boxing program, he was back in the streets teaching kids from his heart anew. Chester knew that this was what made him happy in life, that his true calling is helping children become a part of something bigger than them, to find a way out of the daily trouble on the streets and hopefully one day poverty. The kids find tremendous motivation and resolve by being involved in a sport of such agile skill and rugged determination, where training and hard work pay results – same as life.

The kids in his program come from severe poverty, and as with Chester, all growing up without running water and electricity.  They all arrive already with checkered backgrounds; were if not for the program they would end up roaming the streets inevitably getting into trouble or worse, most likely killed. They come from the neighborhoods called “Red Areas” – streets the average Nicaraguan would not dare walk down. These barrios are controlled by drug gangs; with drugs being supplied openly by the police.

In life one never knows where they will meet a Chester. We met because each morning a bike would arrive at my housing unit in Granada – it was Chester coming to work as a security guard. Over time we became friends, eventually leading me to know about his family, life and background. His is a story not unlike any other human who has a dream as a child, or as an adult. He went after his dreams twice in life and both ended in utter failure. But Chester is a boxer, one who would not be counted out of the fight.

Life does not always go as we wish; never tie a bow around it. You can never know if the gift will ever arrive – so lose your expectations. The universe always finds a way send us messages as to our true purpose in life. The further we push away from our sole objective here on earth the harder the universe pushes back. When they are not heeded the universe increases the frequency and severity of the message(s). Until the message is clearly understood, it will keep persisting in innumerable forms.

Like boxers, we all get knocked down in life from time to time. There is a guarantee at some time in your life you will face such a juncture. There is no shame in getting knocked down in life but there is shame in deciding not to get back up again. Chester was knocked more times than any boxer would care to openly admit, but each time it happened he quickly found the seed of positivity, sowing renewed hope for his family’s future – placing him on a new course in life, a path to profound inner contentedness, happiness.

It was in being stubbornly human, striving for his dreams of being a boxer and then a professional singer, having lost each because of excessive abuse of alcohol, and after endless barriers and battles, bringing him to his lowest point psychologically, that allowed Chester to find his true path in life: helping children. One can never know greatness if one never tries. But one also cannot ever taste or know inner happiness if one does not look deep within, choosing the intense quest of darkness in order to find light.

It was this dark and difficult path, the road less traveled, finally beating his fight with alcohol (his hardest opponent) – keeping his promise to his daughter and family, and finding his way back to coaching boxing to children afresh, whilst over a long period of time losing two dreams due to severe addiction, that led Chester to do the extreme grueling inner-work of self, his soul, life, that is required to make happiness an everyday part of one’s life. All the answers to your questions lie within the ring of life – ding, ding!

Chester is a volunteer and receives very little help with expenses for his boxing program. To make a donation, please contact him here.

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.

Ep. #4 Synchronistic Altruism: Homeless and on the run: Meeting Norbert in Amsterdam.

If eighteen years of brainwashing at the hands of nuns and priests in Catholic school taught me anything, it was to be charitable, help those in need and the Golden Rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. These are basic tenants of humanity, we all can agree. But how many of us actually carry them out; how many of us demonstratively match our actions to our words? Forty-five years into this ‘simulated life’ and I am still learning every minute, day – lifetimes.

Growing up it was instilled in me that as helpful as it was to give a man a fish it was far more valuable if you taught him how to fish for himself. A soft-spot for those less advantaged in life, it was innate. Something I never had to specifically learn or be told; it felt natural to me to look after them, almost instinctive. It was as if I was preparing one day to be on that side of the table without knowing how, when, or if. We now have that answer – complimentary wheels included.  

It is late 2010s, I am spending my summers living in Europe as a writer. And another three to four months a year traveling the world in my wheelchair, blogging for those whom travel is a challenge. Later I would have an apartment in Amsterdam, Holland, but for much of my time there it is spent in an upper-scale hostel. Hostels are the absolute best for meeting all different type people the world over. Amsterdam: surely a city not lacking in off-the-wall personalities.

This one particular summer I decided to divide my time in Amsterdam into two separate six- week trips. The first would be a bit earlier, in spring, the latter later, into fall. I had never been there for King’s Day, which meant I would be in the city for a time and an event new to me. I had heard it was a wild party but nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem. During the debauchery, shockingly I witnessed a man in the nascent stages of a psychological melt-down.

Later that afternoon in the café, when approached to check his mental state, as he was heavily dosed up on multiple drugs, resulting in adverse ‘Sponge-Bob Square Pants’ type stares, in need of adult supervision, he finally allowed me to talk with him. He would affectionately come to be known as Davo AKA “Crazy Dave.” Davo was a straggly, dreadlock haired down-under wild man, hell-bent on pissing away his newly acquired Australian lawsuit money that summer in Europe.

Each night, at the hostel bar, a gaggle of us would gather to imbibe and indulge decadence. Basically, we were motley group of new friends, from all over the planet, amalgamating as one. Like moths drawn to the magic of ‘the trail’ – sharing understanding and bonding through rich inter-cultural conversation. One night a new guy appeared in the picture – or rather, on the couch. Who was this cat? He looked disheveled – oddly a wee bit dodgy. Something was amiss.

Days passed and he was still there. On the third day, I noticed different people in our crowd ordering food, and when it arrived they would say they were not hungry, pushing the food toward the yet unknown scraggly person, now a part of our ensemble. Later that day I found out that he was from Poland, homeless with nowhere to go each night, other than the streets. Wow, really?! My heart immediately went out to him. But my mind had so many questions.

The next day in the auditorium, a public room with lots of couches and chairs for us to loiter, our group clustered. We would do the same outside the hostel almost every night, on Oostpark. Some days we were there from 11:00 to 03:00 the next morning. Everyone boogied off, doing their thing, leaving only him and I alone. “Hello, what is your name?” “I am Norbert,” he said. He went on to tell me, “I am homeless,” and “I currently live in the park, hidden in the brush.”

Immediately my eyes welled up. I was unsure what I had just heard. He went on to tell me, “Everyone I know steals from me. No one is honest; they all lie to me; take advantage of me.” He continued, “I have no real true friends in life – I am alone on the streets. Currently I live in a park, under a tree, on the dirt.” He explained, “I was squatting on a boat but one morning the owner came home and I had to run, leaving all my belongings there, including my cell phone.”

Before continuing on with the story, let me interject some perspective. I am a spiritual person who has walked through hell to be me. Reading has been an essential tool on my journey. It was also a key part of my recovery and ultimately, healing. It was the foundation needed for writing my first book: Unbreakable Mind.  Although I espouse ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life, sometimes a person just needs a hand extended with love to get them get back up to the sink.

Being a prolific reader (3-5 books a week), and especially since spending my summers living in Amsterdam, I packed a small library to read. One book that I was most enchanted: Altruism, by a favorite author of mine, Matthieu Ricard. A 700 + page yellow behemoth of lessons awaited me.  As with all books, there are no mistakes – they come to you at the time meant. And, true of all lessons in life, one must first be receptive to change before any enlightenment is possible.

This book changed me; it affected me in profound ways. The book spoke to my soul, extending deep into my core being – Holy Spirit. I thought I understood altruism but I was tremendously mistaken. It is so much more than simply lending a hand or helping someone. Often it is argued how possible is it to be ‘purely altruistic’ but this book makes the case. It explains the high level of compassion, care and concern needed for the well-being of another to help them in their life.

 “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

Well, it was time to put the metal to the grind. What better time to hone an indispensable life lesson? Or simply put, welcome the universe at play with synchronicity. We were both meant to meet one another and speak alone that day. I decided that I was going to step up and show him what it meant to have a good friend, someone who is genuinely concerned with your inner-prosperity, not just today but also the future – someone who wants better for your life, always.

While he was visiting the bathroom I took the opportunity to fold up Euros, placing them under his beer. Being a poor writer did not pay my bills but being a trader did, providing me enough to share. When he returned for a sip of beer he saw it and said, “What is this…Why?” It was hard to play dumb as no one was there to scapegoat action I would have preferred unseen.  Aware he was Polish, I asked, “Are you Catholic?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Merry Christmas, early.”

That afternoon he went on to tell me a story of extreme heartbreak. At this time he was ‘on the lam’ from the law in Poland – other friends were not so lucky. Some unfortunate things outside his immediate control happened. He and some friends were working for a wealthy businessman and were not paid.  So they robbed his property in order to eat. They worked for two months and were left to starve. All this meant he had no papers, thus living in Holland illegally – a ghost.

“Show me a man without a skeleton in his closet and I will show you a man without virtue. “         – Abraham Lincoln

None of that mattered to me. And at this point helping him with lawyers and legal fees was the least of his worries. He was homeless, living on the streets of a major European city. His biggest daily concerns were primal: food, water, shelter – basic survival. He was living like an animal in the bushes of many a popular park in central Amsterdam, including Vondelpark. Whilst tourists passed by, ignorantly bliss to his dire plight, someone’s son, brother, uncle – was living a hell.

As we sat in the auditorium one chilly spring afternoon on the couch together, drinking beers and eating fries (top 3 in Amsterdam), talking and smiling, he was completely baffled – he wanted to know why I was assisting him in life, why did I chose him? Who was I? He only knew me as the quiet general who liked to eat and drink, puff and chat, meet new interesting people, listen to music and wonder beneath the stars with anyone crazy enough to join the cacophony.  

Norbert, “You deserve to have a good friend in life; you merit to be treated with dignity and respect. You are worthy of love and having someone in life that values you and treats you as a real friend – and now you do not have that. You are lacking the primary essentials in life, needs all humans require and warrant. I will be that friend, I will show you that there are good people in the world still, who love others unconditionally and wish happiness for you.” He cried softly.   

The thought that someone I had just crossed paths with synchronously needed to be reminded he was human, entitled to respect, kindness, goodness, love, courage, dignity, worthiness, joy, hope and dreams – like every other human on this planet, hit me like a ton of bricks. Searching for an opportunity to marry my actions to my words, the universe provided me an alter: a triple cross, draped in neon. Our lives would be forever altered in time. So many others’ lives too!

Friends suddenly all poured back in, the party was back in full swing. Not ten minutes passed since everyone had gone off for a smoke or to the café to fetch some more beers and two lives, now inextricably intertwined, had universally changed in tremendous ways, setting off ripples of love and goodness, ad infinitum. My heart felt like it never did before; it was electrified. The light that was lit inside of Norbert was clear – he now had a friend for life. His grin said it all.

The next morning I was awakened by a knock at my door at 08:30. Aware the cleaning service was not due in that morning – I was puzzled as to who could be at my door so early. It was Norbert, with a big smile. Over time his constant thirst for living life and daily dose of positivism secretly lifted me up on my most difficult days. He stood there, two large white plastic bags in tow. They were filled with food and shower items – gifts of love. What had just happened? I was stunned.

This slim-shady looking Pole, coming from spending the night sleeping in the local park located adjacent the hostel, without the most basic necessities of life, could only think of me, of how he could make me content. Wow! Are you kidding me? The night before I gave him my room key so he could go have a hot shower. He took note of the fruits and snacks I had on my desk and decided to surprise me with my favorites. The fruit was [always] fresh from the Turkish stand.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.  — Proverb attributed to Buddha

On my return trip that summer, upon arriving at the hostel, Norbert was waiting outside for me. He always had a welcome satchel of treats and bathroom items when I arrived; and travel to-go bag when I departed. From that day forward, to the end of my stay in September, never once did he leave my side. Amsterdam is a big city with dangers, aside from all the drugged up tourists ‘running amok’ in Centrum, home to the Red Light District, where safety is prudent.

A person whose life has been dealt a bad hand but approaches every morning with a glimmer of hope, always overly optimistic the sun will shine tomorrow. He almost has a touch of innocent naïveté. He now had a safe place to keep his bag of life’s belongings, to eat whenever needed, or have a shower and rest. Without ID he could not stay at the hostel; papers are required for proper ID. Often I would give him a pillow and linens to bring to the park to sleep for the night.

Every morning he was at my door – even one day after being stabbed in Oostpark on his way to see me. The greatest helper an injured person could wish, forever a step ahead of me. Always he handled the wheelchair for all Uber rides – endlessly my guardian, always ensuring my safety everywhere we went. He constantly checked locations we patronized for accessibility. He never knew how much that meant. His love and care meant the world to me. I am forever grateful.

We went everywhere together, most times surrounded by other friends from the hostel. Over the next two summers we shared countless memories. We visited museums, exhibitions, the zoo, the beach, went to lunch at fancy places and spent much time in the sun at local cafes, enveloped in conversation. He told me how special all those trips were to him – how they made him feel like a little boy again. He had a hard upbringing in rural Poland where money was tight. 

If ever I wished [secretly] to have a little brother in life – I had found him.

Many nights at the start of the relationship he wanted to know why I was so generous to him. Explaining the 700 page opus on Altruism was out of the question. But a story from a past life was not. I told him that most likely in the 1500s, in Europe, I was a poor peasant in trouble, in dreadful need, and he was a rich businessman who took pity on me and my family. This was the universe’s karmic balance. In fact, truth told: he was my helper, an angel – my life teacher.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.  – Polish Proverb

But, oh, yes, it is our circus, and they are our monkeys.

The measure of any civilized society is how it treats those who are in need. The measure of an individual is how he/she, through daily virtue and practice, treats those same in need. By which he transcends all differences, helping relieving suffering of others, giving fellow humans hope for days of happiness ahead, assisting others without question or prejudice, eliminating despair and instilling hope, truly caring and concerning for the welfare of others. That is just a start!

Life’s worth and happiness do not come from how many toys or titles you can collect but the good you do in life.  We all originate from the same wellspring of humanity. It goes beyond the ethos of a society, squarely at the base of your core values as a person, as a human. Anyone can help another person – Altruism is about transforming their whole life into one that guarantees them the same universal dignity and respect afforded all humanity. It is about service to others. 

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”  – Albert Einstein

There is no limit to what ‘true altruism’ can accomplish. In the end, we are here on this planet to contribute to the betterment of humanity: it is our sacred duty, to the extent our best inner strengths are utilized for the sake of all people. When we die no one remembers our 3000sq meter home but they certainly remember those whom we helped from disparagement, those we supported their greatest inner qualities so as to awaken happiness. That is one’s true legacy.

Everyone within them possesses immeasurable gifts of treasure and promise; it is up to us to tap into that creative light, encouraging others to be their best self – to shine their brightest.

Life is a dance best done together. Thank you for being my partner – your love, Norbert.

Three years on, life is vastly different for Norbert. No longer are the park, jail or prison nightly sleeping options. He now has a full-time construction job, a Polish girlfriend and an apartment replete with friends, in a nice suburb of Amsterdam. He has made progress on the legal front, expecting to get his “papers” within months. He now has dignity, hope, confidence, joy and happiness in his life again. He dreams of one day going to America. I’ll be waiting, arms open.  

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.

Unbreakable Mind: One year anniversary – a letter of love and gratitude.

This weekend is the one year anniversary of publishing my first book, Unbreakable Mind. It was quite the experience getting to that point; it has been an amazing journey since. It has opened new doors never thought possible before, including being made into a movie in 2020. I am endlessly grateful to the process – the unfolding of the universe’s plan for us, no matter how different we think it will be. Mine just happened to include a ticket for the express train; and it was free ( 🤣 ) – though the true price was unimaginable, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Nonetheless, it has all brought me to this place, a place of healing and, as a result, helping others.

The book has assisted and touched thousands of lives, more than I ever could have dreamed or thought possible. Each month it continues to grow in new directions, amazing me at every turn. It can now be found in countless local, city, university and medical school libraries and bookstores. As well, one can find copies in a number of world-wide city and town libraries. Many teachers use the book for essay topics or various types instruction to their students as part of their lesson plan. It is also now under consideration at numerous well respected medical schools as required reading due to its unique perspective through the patient’s eyes. For all these reasons, I am filled with infinite gratitude and endless thanks.

There are no mistakes in life – events, places or people. Books come to us at the right time; we must be ready to receive the message. If you decided to read my book, thank you – I hope it resonated with your life and you found healing or meaning through it. Or perhaps just liked the story and found motivation and inspiration, as a result. If you know someone who has a struggle and could benefit from the book, please consider sharing the book or perhaps sending them a copy. I am eternally grateful for all those who have been a part of this journey, directly or indirectly. As this one year anniversary is upon me, I marvel at the possibilities the future holds. Thank you for being a part of the magik of the trail – the gratefulness in my heart is unbound, over-filled with love and gratitude. Love and light. S

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.