By Julia Jonson
He is both larger than life and refreshingly down to earth. Reverend Mark Anthony Lord, the founder and leader of the Bodhi Spiritual Center in the City’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, reaches thousands of people through his Sunday services, ongoing classes and podcasts. He is also an author whose latest book is titled Thou Shall Not Suffer: 7 Steps to a Life of Joy.
His center started as a modest operation. Lord started teaching classes out of his apartment and eventually moved to the back of a metaphysical bookstore before he created the Bodhi Spiritual Center. “It’s amazing when I look back,” he remembers. “It all came together with so much ease. I really felt the Universe causing this vision to manifest.”
In this interview, Mark Anthony, who will be a regular contributor to illumine beginning in the Summer 2014 issue, shared about his journey to overcome addiction, tough times during his childhood and his long-term, loving marriage with his husband, all experiences that have molded him into the dynamic spiritual leader he is today.
You had a rough start in life, finding yourself in dire straights by the time you were in your 20s. Tell us about that.
Yes. By the age of 24 I was a full-blown addict. I was out of control and on the edge. It was very rough but also the beginning of my spiritual awakening. Realizing I was an addict in my mid-twenties was scary and painful. I never thought that would happen to me. But, over time fear turned into gratitude as I started awakening to my higher power, which to me was and is God within. I didn’t have that awareness or experience as a child. When I was a kid God was external, male, white, punishing, and homophobic. I credit my recovery and the many men and women who loved me in the 12 step programs for my healing around God.
The amazing thing is … there have been quantum leaps in my life that I don’t understand. I grew up a little gay boy in blue-collar Detroit. I don’t get it, now I’m a spiritual leader.
How has your role as teacher and minister helped you, the human being, along your path in life?
It has caused me to really see and face my insecurities, my character defects. When you have hundreds of people around you always mirroring and reflecting you, it can be intense. The gift is that I have learned how to have so much compassion for myself. Without this self compassion, you end up feeling horrible. Loving myself has been my greatest gift on this journey.
You say you teach spirituality, not dogma. What’s your take on the difference between religion and spirituality?
Religion teaches spirituality but also has rules of behavior, which in its extreme controls its people and excludes others. Spirituality says that you have within you your own inner guide/knower- your own joy, your own God (Divine, Source, Love … whatever word you want to call it). My purpose is to help you locate that so that you may discover your own way to live. I’m not here to tell you how to live or what to do, I just want to help you get in touch with your own Being.
Yoga is a spiritual tradition that has exploded in popularity in the Midwest. You lived in Los Angeles, then came back to the Midwest. What are your thoughts on yoga in the heartland?
Indeed. When I came back to the Midwest, it was clear that I was coming back to fertile soil, green pastures. In L.A., yoga is on every street corner. It was beautiful to be out there because I really expanded. The Midwest is really always the last to get it [trends like yoga], but what’s beautiful about this part of the country, is when it gets here it takes root and it goes deep. I feel like we are the heartland. Our Midwestern roots are strong, and I love that yoga is meeting us where we are. It’s refreshing to see that yoga is what’s naturally leading people. Just get them in their bodies!
illumine’s theme for this spring issue is cleansing, which is obviously not just about food. Your thoughts on a spiritual cleanse?
A great way to cleanse spiritually, is to fast from negativity. For 21 days do not complain. No complaining WHATSOEVER! [laughs] If you get a flat tire, get sick, a parking ticket or anything that seems negative, just say, “Gee, that’s great!” If you get to Day 5 and you start complaining, start over with Day 1. And if you get to day 20, don’t speak, just shut up (laughs). That’s my favorite cleanse. Putting an end to complaining will be like getting off sugar. You will not believe the clarity of mind and spirit you will have after 21 days of no complaining.
What inspires you to keep ministering to the masses and progressing on your own spiritual path?
I’ve been to India. I’ve sat at the feet of gurus. I’ve had mystical experiences of oneness. What matters to me now is helping other people to become free. When you understand your oneness with everyone, problems are no longer someone else’s problems. Whatever we can do to help people change the collective consciousness from fear to love is great work. My job is to help people wake up spiritually and love themselves more. I feel like I’m a “spiritual chiropractor.” I can see the mental and emotional patterns people are stuck in, and I can help adjust it or help heal it—and then they can go out and change the world!