Finding Wisdom Within: A Profile of Yung Pueblo

Finding Wisdom Within: A Profile of Yung Pueblo

Lessons on Emotional Maturity From His New Book, Lighter

Photo by Fernando Samalot

Explore what it means to truly cultivate wisdom in an interview with author and poet Yung Pueblo.

Diego Perez—the person behind the astonishingly popular pen name “yung pueblo”—is only 34, but his eloquent insights, shared in bite-sized portions on Instagram, are helping millions grow in maturity and wisdom. “Avoidance is the opposite of emotional maturity,” writes Perez in his newest book, Lighter, who finally stopped running from his sadness and anxiety after driving himself to the edge through excessive drug use.

At 23, Perez hit rock bottom. While lying immobile on the floor, convinced his heart would soon explode, Perez looked back at his life with profound regret. He vowed that if he lived, he would never again turn to drugs, alcohol, or excessive partying to distract himself from his truth or his pain. “Lying to myself about how I was feeling had caused disaster, so I refused to do it any longer,” Perez told me. “I felt as if I had no other option. It was either that or my life.”

That was in 2011, before Perez even knew what meditation was. “Running away from myself had led me to the worst point in my life, so I intuitively understood that I needed to figure out how to stay present with all my feelings.” For a whole year, Perez simply practiced getting comfortable with his discomfort. “I would literally sit on my bed for hours, just feeling what it felt like to crave, to feel anxiety, to feel sadness, whatever was popping up.” He quickly discovered that trying to escape from himself “took up so much more energy than mustering the courage to embrace solitude and stillness.”

In 2012, after having only formally meditated for one half hour, Perez attended his first 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. Fortunately, the countless hours he’d spent sitting on his bed had helped him lay a foundation of resiliency and fortitude. “At a meditation retreat, you’re basically just sitting with all the discomfort at a much deeper level.”

Perez, who says that he hasn’t been meditating long compared to some meditators he knows—“only ten years”—meditates for a full hour every morning and every evening. He also regularly attends 30 and 45-day meditation retreats. Perez credits his meditation practice with increased equanimity and patience as he experiences his emotions arise and pass away. “I’ve learned to honor my feelings without causing more friction in myself or throwing them onto other people, which is a big part of emotional maturity.”

Perez says the opportunity for healing is always open to anyone who seeks it. He doesn’t see meditation as the only path to personal growth, but for him it has proved miraculous. “Turning inward by practicing meditation felt like an intimate and personal renaissance. I started learning so much about myself and the human mind. Closing my eyes to feel what was really inside me opened me up to an entire universe,” Perez writes in Lighter. “Not only did I gain insight into my personal emotional history, but I also started feeling the undercurrent of impermanence that is pervasive throughout all of reality.”

Perez says Lighter is the book he’s been waiting to write since he started on his healing journey. Nonetheless, he considers himself more as a “spiritual friend” than “spiritual teacher.” His goal is to help others stay motivated on their own unique healing journey by offering inspiration, encouragement, and reassurance along the way.

An Ongoing Process of Maturation

Emotional maturation is one of the major themes in Lighter. In fact, the name “yung pueblo” means “young people,” reflecting Perez’s observation that humanity is still young, and has much growing and maturing still to do. As we collectively heal ourselves, “our actions will become more intentional, our decisions will become more compassionate, our thinking will become clearer, and the future of the world will become brighter.”

We usually think of learning as a key part of maturing, but Perez shares that maturing is just as much a process of unlearning, because we all have a lot of “deconditioning” work to do. “From the moment we’re born, we arrive with very thick conditioning, and it is accumulating constantly,” Perez explained. “When I think about meditation, basically what I’m doing is ‘deconditioning.’ Sitting with all the tough emotions that are passing through feels like a process of shedding. It’s as if I’m letting go of all that heaviness that keeps getting pulled from the past into the present.”

Perez says that part of growing in emotional maturity is the understanding that your immediate thoughts are not always correct and that it is worth your time to patiently investigate the roots of your patterns. Perez is now able to slow down when challenging things happen, instead of falling back into blind reactions rooted in the past. “For example, these days if my wife and I get into a disagreement, we both stop trying to win. We don’t care who wins. Now what’s important is understanding each other’s perspective. If we’ve understood each other and ourselves better, then we’ve both won.”

Signs Your Emotional Maturity is Growing

Perez defines emotional maturity as “continuous growth,” versus a state of perfection one should attempt to achieve. He shares many signposts that can indicate maturity is growing in Lighter, including:

Growing self-awareness. “Emotional maturity begins when you turn your attention inward. Cultivate the ability to see yourself as you move through the vicissitudes of life without running away or suppressing what comes up in your mind.”

An increased sense of self-responsibility. “If you believe that every moment of tension in your mind is always someone else’s fault, then it will be difficult to feel substantial happiness or real peace. The ocean of life will push you here and there until you raise your sails and navigate through the waves that try to hold you back.”

You give yourself what you need, instead of what you crave. “Treating your energy like a precious resource has a deep effect on your life.”

You learn to say no. “Giving the greater share of your energy to your goals is not selfish. It means you know yourself so deeply that there is no confusion as to what truly matters to you and what you are currently building.”

You notice that similar emotions attract. “Emotions usually attract similar emotions, and what you give to others in interpersonal situations is normally what you will get back.”

Compassion: “Emotional maturity gives you the strength to see things outside your own perspective. Being able to place yourself in another person’s shoes and see their context is an active form of compassion.”

Humility: “Knowing that others always have something to teach you keeps you from condescension and harsh judgment.”

Intuition: “We all feel our own intuition differently. For me it appears as a quiet knowing that persists until I follow through on it, even if this means taking a considerable leap or a large risk… The beauty of intuition is that, if you listen, it will push you to grow.”

Lighter reads more like a healing manual than a compilation of poems and short prose like Perez’s previous two books, but it is still sprinkled with wisdom-dense poems like this one to help people on their journey towards emotional maturation:

maturity is when you can finally ride
the ups and downs of life
without getting tossed around by them
you don’t expect everything to be perfect
you know change is constant
you don’t judge yourself when times get hard
you live in gratitude
you enjoy the good when it’s here

C Fernando Samalot

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