Season 2: Episode #1
What makes a hero?
According to Philosopher and Scholar Joseph Campbell, a hero is an archetypal figure who takes a journey from his or her ordinary world, goes out on an adventure, through a decisive crisis wins a victory, then returns home transformed with gained wisdom to offer others. This podcast features inspiring stories of real people on The Hero’s Journey and the pivotal moments that changed the course of their lives forever.
If you're a thinking, feeling person, you want a greater sense of depth in your life, you want to be more healthy, you want things to work out between you and yourself and you and others in ways that bring a sense of success or accomplishment. And if things are not working for you like they were not working for me, I wanted to go through the journey to find out what I could be. To be aware of how that process works would terrify anyone.
The Hero’s Journey in not for the faint of heart. Hal Filiar-Aguilera found that to be true when he stepped out of his ordinary world and into an adventure that would take him to the depths of who he thought he was to reveal much more than he imagined. You will be riveted to hear what this Hero learned about God, life, and himself. I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Hal Filiar-Aguilera now lives in Portland, Oregon with his husband Don and their canine Tucker. He has been working as a technical designer for a local commercial AV integrator for the last 10 years. And he’s an ordained minister, a professional guitarist, a and singer/songwriter. You can find his many musical projects on Spotify and iTunes.
How do we know each other?
Let's see. I met you when you were working on Dolly Parton's show and I was friends with Naomi and you got Naomi tickets to a taping and Patti LaBelle was on. Of course, Dolly was there, the guy from Dallas…
Oh my God.
Yeah, that was a significant moment. It was way cool.
Was that your pivotal moment? Ok. Show’s over! (laughing)
Gosh that was late 80s I think. Subsequently, Naomi and I hired Jeff to do the album that we recorded. That was years later.
Yeah. You guys had hired my husband Jeff to produce your album. And Naomi and I have been close friends since college. I actually did an episode with her in Season 1. So we know each other through our friend Naomi. She’s the link.
Okay so what was your ordinary world like before you got your call?
I was living in Ohio. I was really deeply involved with the church and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I had just graduated with an engineering degree and I tried it for a couple years and it didn't really fit me. During that time and even before I graduated, I was involved in this one church and I was on the music team, playing guitar and doing some singing. And the church was also kind of very community oriented in the sense that a bunch of us lived on the same street and this one building I lived in had multiple apartments and everybody in the all the apartments were part of this church.
Simultaneously, I was dealing with my sexuality and how those collided; the church and you know, those feelings. And so, I was kind of floating around trying to figure out who I was and you know, how I fit into the church and what my roles were. I was really hungry for God and really wanted to kind of conquer my sexuality. When it comes to the church, there's a big conflict between what they see is acceptable and what they don't. And that war kind of raged within me as well. And I'd kind of committed myself to working on essentially becoming straight.
Hal got his first call to adventure through a seemingly random encounter. His church was sponsoring a spiritual conference, which attracted people from all over the country. He had volunteered to make airport runs for the arriving out-of-towners and that’s when he met a woman named Naomi from California.
I picked her up at the airport and we had like an instant connection and that developed throughout the conference. And I let her know where I was at in my journey and she invited me to consider moving out to California to go through some of the various ex-gay ministries that were happening at the time. So I believe that's kind of the moment that I was being presented with this opportunity to just kind of move on from where I was at and go into a new era in a sense of you know, what I was looking for. My interest in not being homosexual was very strong and I felt like here was an opportunity to really pursue that in a deeper way than I already had been, which was pretty encompassing but it wasn't fully immersive in the way that I thought that it could be.
I honestly thought that the battle that I had been experiencing since I became a born-again Christian would be won. It'd be over. There'd be an ending point. I wouldn't have to deal with this anymore. And full on heterosexuality for me. And being the person that I thought God wanted me to be, which included being straight.
California represented the dream life of ocean, sunshine, the glamour of Hollywood, and Hal’s childhood favorite, Disneyland. Naomi even offered him a place to live with she and her family. So, he made the decision to leave Ohio and boldly head West to finally get delivered from homosexuality.
The reality of California was much more raw than I expected I guess. It was a very different life from Ohio. Beforehand back in Ohio wanting to become the soldier of God that I felt like I needed to be, here I was in boot camp in California. There's an external pulling apart because you're in a completely different culture. The ability to make a living is much more difficult because it costs more to live there. And then you know, on a spiritual level, I was going into a surgery that lasted for years. You know, it was a kind of a pulling a part of every, every molecule of my being to figure out how do I remove this—what I considered cancer—from my, my soul and replace it with something that was healthy and vibrant as far as God was concerned. My expectations were very different than what reality was.
In this California bootcamp, Hal went on a regimen of therapy, prayer meetings, fellowship groups, and conferences all supporting his quest to become straight. It was in therapy where he excavated this eye-opening discovery:
My sexuality is not the issue, really. It's my entire being. It wasn't about my attractions. It was about who I was as a person to my very core. You know that analogy of you've got a yard full of rocks. Some are bigger than others and you start trying to clean the yard. And you pick up the biggest ones first. And you start to realize that there's all these millions of little ones. My thinking was there was one rock in the yard and that was the only rock that I needed to deal with. Ha! That's hysterical. It's not true. It's not just one rock. There are so many other things that contribute to a clean yard.
Throughout that process, I was dealing with my past. My dad passed away when I was three. My mom remarried twice. Both of my stepfather's were unpleasant. (Laughs) My first one was kind of abusive. He was very critical and would do stuff like trying to get the dog to nip at me. I think he crossed a line with me sexually but it was very mild, it wasn't a full-on kind of abusive situation. My second stepfather, I disliked immediately and she stayed married to him for the rest of his life. He and I just never connected.
There was a long line of me trying to fulfill that part of my life you know, where I was looking for a father figure, a male mentor in a way that, that wasn't sexual. So, my therapy back in those days helped me realize that this wasn't about my attractions. This was about the fact that I had this kind of huge hole in my life because of the absence of my dad. You know, I was trying to make that pain go away. Therapy helped me see that maybe, the pain will never go away but I can function even with it being there.
On the Hero’s Journey, the Hero meets a mentor who helps him navigate the new world. Naomi became a key mentor during this part of the healing process.
She was kind of a parental figure. I mean, we were friends but we were also kind of trying to do ministry together, we were songwriting partners, we were like brother and sister and she had a parental role in my life as well. I hate to characterize it so simply but she taught me what a mother actually is and where you know, my mom was kind of mean and crazy and involved with these other men that she brought into my life. It was an education in what it means to be family with her and with Paul subsequently. It wasn't just kind of theoretical going to therapy once a week kind of thing or support groups or prayer sessions or whatever. I was actually in a family situation that showed me what it meant to be a family in a way that I had never understood before in my life. It was foundational. I mean, I can't begin to describe the hands-on experience of that. That was transformational alone right there.
Hal received yet another call to adventure. This time it came from his pastor back in Ohio who invited him to audition for the Music Director position at his home church.
I laughed at him (laughs) because I had no intention of moving back to Ohio. I had no desire whatsoever. And we got off the phone and I started to think about it and before I knew it, I was calling him and saying yes, that I would do it. It was like I was pulled back to this church, this organization, this group of people that I loved who were asking me to be a leader in their church, which I ultimately accepted the position, which was quite the tearing apart of my relationship with Naomi. And it made no sense whatsoever because she and I had just recorded an album together. We were working on being like a Christian duo musically and ministry-wise and I was getting this call back to Ohio that made absolutely no sense. I was so confident that I had to do it.
And the implications of that was, it removed me from the support group that I had in my ex-gay stuff. And it took me out of that completely and put me back into kind of a “normal life,” I guess.
I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…Today we’re talking with Hal Filiar-Aguilera about his all encompassing quest to rid himself of homosexuality, and the discovery that his life was really about so much more… His story continues.
So, Hal was now back at the church in Ohio without his supportive California community to lean on.
I tried dating this one girl in the church and it was a disaster, it was just such a disaster. And I was already struggling, you know, it was just like the feelings that I had that I was trying to work on back in California that I thought that I had gotten a level of success over, or conquering over, you know came back fully strongly. Not that they ever really left but you know, here I was kind of in a sense unprotected from my support group. I was in this environment of this church, I was in leadership position and there came to a point one time after I had failed in this relationship p that I just I thought to myself, I can't do this anymore, this is ridiculous.
I had been I had been knocking on that door and pushing on that wall and banging my head against that wall for my entire adult life and it wasn't changing. It would have ebb and flow. I thought I would have… I was having a measure of success but really, it never changed and I had to examine what I felt God felt about it and I came to the conclusion that it didn't matter to him. The discomfort that I had with it began internally for me and was supported by the atmosphere that I put myself in to support my internal perspective.
Do you know what that discomfort was inside of yourself?
I guess all I could say is I didn't want it to be so.
What did it mean if it were so?
Somehow, I was less of a man, that my masculinity would be called into question, that my status as a male in the society would be less than, that I was uncomfortable with expressing those kind of feelings to another male. You know, the word homophobia gets used ad nauseam and probably not well but I think that sort of represents my feelings about myself.
What are the implications if you were to allow that in your life?
Would I be alone the rest of my life? Would I constantly have unfulfilled desires? Would I be rejected? I mean, I was already rejecting myself so it follows that everybody else would anyway. The discomfort of intimacy with another human being regardless of gender, I think, not having had any kind of support from my family about what that meant in a healthy way, just terrified the crap out of me. (laugh)
In his earnest desire to find answers and deepen the awareness of his spiritual connection, Hal learned a technique: how to Practice the Presence of G-d.
Through that tool, I was able to realize that in my sense of who God was and is, there is no issue with me as far as my sexuality is concerned. It was just a sense that I had, it was just this kind of awareness. I couldn't point to a line in a song or something in Scripture or anything outside of myself to corroborate that. It was purely just an acknowledgement of a great truth within myself.
When you realize that God doesn't give a shit about this stuff, then you have to figure out well then, who really does and why do they. And the finger comes back of course to me, as well as the people that I had joined up with. They supported my own desire to not be who I am.
During this time, Hal began dabbling in relationships with men, completely unbeknownst to the church. It was on a camping trip with a couple guys where Hal met his first official partner.
It was when he and I hooked up that I quit the church. I remember thinking that I needed to take that step because for all my adult life, I had basically hid within the church. I didn't want to face who I was. I didn't feel safe and the church was a great place to hide in.
Now out of hiding, Hal got more involved with this guy. Not only was he exploring a gay relationship, he began to explore drugs as well. His new partner had introduced him to methamphetamine.
The Moment When is a defining moment that shifts the trajectory of one’s life. Hal was now on a slow spiral into addiction. Once again Naomi extended a lifeline.
She invited me to this thing called Breakthrough which is a weekend retreat that basically held up a mirror to you and said “this is your life, this is who you are, what are you gonna do about it” kind of a thing. And during that weekend, they played this…it's more of an exercise called Lifeboat and it illustrated to the individuals that were playing what your perspective was about life in the sense of, Do you want to live or do you not want to live? That exercise made me aware of the fact that I didn't want to live. That I chose during the game to die. I think that was the pivot moment for me when I came to realize how much I didn't want to be on the planet, how much my, how much my dad's death was kind of like a… it took, it took the desire to live away from me and that I had been operating up until that time with a desire to die. I didn't want to be here.
I was a very passive person and I just kind of let life happen to me. And subsequently, I got deeper into the drug situation with the guy that I was with and there was one moment when — I didn't overdose — but I took something that, that made me pass out. I woke up puking and it was that moment that I went, I want to live.
And I quit. I quit cold turkey. I broke up with the guy that I was with. I got out of that apartment. I just basically just cut myself off from every possible outlet that I had and I got back into therapy, because it was like I was waking up, going where the f…, where the hell am I? Three years of my life was completely a big question mark. What was I doing? What was I thinking? Why was I doing all that stuff? Who am I? How did I get here and where do I go from here now? It was like redacted. If you had an audio and videotape that just got cut out because it was completely gone. And I had to deal with the consequences of my actions that led up to that.
From the moment that I did that lifeboat game to you know, when I quit doing drugs, it was a couple years. It took that long for it to kind of sink in. You know what I mean? It wasn't instantaneous, where I went, okay now I'm better.
It took it took a while for it to really grab hold and to become an active part of my psyche. So what's weird about it is that, you know, like I went into it thinking I need to be straight. I don't want to be homosexual anymore. When it really was, I needed to figure out if I wanted to live or not.
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Today we’re exploring how symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg, and how digging for truth brings freedom with my guest Hal Filiar-Aguilera.
Hal went back into therapy for a couple of years to process what had happened and acquire some tools to support him in his transition to wholeness.
I had started dating a man who's now my husband and he actually took me in after the kind of chaos and destruction that had happened with my previous partner who ended up passing away, which was devastating in it of itself. He got really sick. He died on February 14th. My husband who I was dating back then really supported me in that process. I mean, he helped me deal with the aftermath of my previous partner's death. The mess that that was just beyond incredible.
The pieces of Hal’s life began to come together. He and his partner Don relocated to Portland Oregon where he picked up some day jobs while exploring the music scene. Though he was very musical, he was also quite techy. Perhaps it was inherited from his late father who was a systems engineer for Standard Oil back in the days of early computers.
And remember, Hal had that electrical engineering degree from years back, but it never seemed to fit, until a friend reached out from an AV company.
He called me one day out of the blue and said, “They're looking for somebody in this engineering department. Would you be interested?” And I was like, “I guess so.” And I interviewed, I got the job, I had been there for over 10 years. The job is kind of a combination of technical and performance in the sense that I'm basically taking AV systems and fleshing them out onto paper so that they get built in a commercial setting. And this job, which literally fell into my lap. I had no idea even the industry even existed. And this job has become like this amalgamation of my performance experience as well as my technical experience. And I look back at the kind of turns that I've taken over time which kind of opened up this door that I don't think would have ever opened for me, otherwise.
I'm married to an incredible man. I had this job that I never thought that I would be capable of doing. You know, whether or not anyone believes in this kind of thing but I've reached out to my dad through prayer or whatever you want to call it to help me with the technical part of my job. And I know, you know, whether it's just DNA or it was an actual spiritual experience but it was like this connection happened with him that I didn't know was there. I felt completely overwhelmed by this job. I had no idea that I could do this. I never thought that I could and I've been relatively successful at it. I mean, that's just kind of like one gift that I was given as a result of waking up to my desire to want to live.
As Hal took the road back to his ordinary world, he recounted the insights he had gained along the way.
I was always under the impression that wholeness had to do with being heterosexual. But really, what it had to do with was having a strong sense of self and feeling like, you know, the resources that you have as a person are all within you already. It's not external. It doesn't come from another place. It's already there. That God has gifted us with the resources that we need to function, to love ourselves, to relate to other people in a healthy way. It's all there, it's just buried, or if it's not there, there are tools that you can learn how to use.
It was like my focus got shifted from okay, let's become straight to hey, let's just become, I don't want to say a better person because that doesn't mean anything. A more rounded, emotionally balanced, a healthy relating person to myself, to others, and to you know, God however I perceive him to be.
Wow, that's a huge paradigm shift from what you were initially going for. You know, to extricate the cancer within to now embracing your whole entire being rather than just trying to get rid of this one piece.
Exactly. When you're on your knees at church and you’re opening up your arms wide to God and you're saying, you know, “I want the fire to engulf me. I want to become who you want me to be.” What happens is, is that you lose everything. The entire part of you—I'm starting to cry—you get completely torn down and built back up. You're not a completely different person but the building blocks are in different places.
But you have no idea what you're asking for. And if you did, you wouldn't be asking for it. I think if we knew what exactly what is about to happen over the next I don't know, how many years, we'd be like “no freaking way dude, I’m outta here.” I don't want to go through that.
Can I have my attorney look over this document? Before I sign? Oh my gosh. You know, I kind of wonder though, I can't verify this but I think that our soul wants it. There's this deep part of us that we're not totally connected to but it is crying out for that transformation and it is, it’s willing to go through that fire. And then, there are all that other parts of us that are trying it, protect us from that, and are resistant to that, but something deeply inside of us wants that.
It's a good point. It totally makes sense that you know, we're not here to be happy on this planet. It's not about being happy, it's about becoming who we’re meant to be. And I think to some degree, however that process happens, we're here for that very reason. I mean, if you're a thinking, feeling person, you want a greater sense of depth in your life, you want to be more healthy, you want things to work out between you and yourself and you and others in ways that bring a sense of success or accomplishment. And if things are not working for you like they were not working for me, I wanted to go through the journey to find out what I could be. To be aware of how that process works would terrify anyone.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t complete, until the Hero returns home with the Elixir. Here is the wisdom that Hal brings back.
Being an adult in the midst of a psyche that is filled with every year that you've been alive, not living out of the younger years but living in the present moment and yet using everything from the past as either tools or you know, warning signs or a perspective or understanding or enlightenment. My last couple of years of therapy helped me to make decisions that were better for me that I wasn't able to make before and I guess I call that maturity. Depth. Strength maybe. It's not easy. It’s not easy in any way shape or form to function as an adult in this society, on this planet.
In my 20s, I was terrified that there was no way that I would be able to ever take care of myself. I'm actually doing it. I still have tremendous amount of faults and perspectives that are not quite accurate, (laughs) but I can look at myself and I go, I'm actually an adult. I'm actually carrying myself like one and even though I have tons of moments where I don't want to be one, I'm still able to be one. Whereas, I couldn't do that before. I was so dependent and so needy and so broken in my own self-estimation.
There were counseling sessions, numerous ones, relationships, that breakthrough weekend. There were so many things that just kind of propelling me forward to, I don't know what else to call besides maturity.
I gave Hal a few words about the way I see him.
You are an incredibly courageous person to go toward the truth in yourself, especially things that you're trying so hard to not have as true, that you reject in yourself, and you don't realize that they're an aspect that doesn't need to be rejected. It's only one little piece in that yard of rocks. It seems like in some way besides courage that you have a trust in this life. I don't know if you know at the time but when you look back you have stayed in it. You have stayed in this journey. You kept going towards the things that we're calling you, and even though they were difficult, you went sideways and you went into the dark pit, you got out.
So, what does it take to do that? It takes incredible trust that life will provide the lessons and the journey and somehow you’ll find your way. And even though it felt like you were running away from yourself, and maybe you were at times, you also ran toward yourself.
What's so touching to me about you is your sincerity. You're an open system. You are refreshing in a world that’s very congealed, opinionated people, which we all can be. But when I encounter somebody with an open system, there's so much room in there to dance and find, discover, to grow and you have that in you. You've always had it. I've always felt that way toward you and experienced that around you. So it's not surprising that you got to this place. It's like of course, of course you did because something in you was always been going toward it.
And I so appreciate you being incredibly candid and willing to share the depths of your soul's journey and the cries and the discovery. It's so powerful and beautiful and impactful. Thank you.
This is this has been a gift. Thank you. Thank you so much.
If you want to download Hal’s music, you can check the show notes for song titles and where to find them.
The Moment When…is produced by SoulMine Productions. Music is composed by Jeff Lams.
This episode was sponsored by these generous Patrons: Gene & Susan Miller, AND John and Karen Ferraro.
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Stay tuned for many more fantastic episodes, coming out each month for YOUR inspiration and transformation. Until next time…I’m Belinda Lams.