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Miguel Rivera: What Comes for You Will Have to Go Through Me

Miguel Rivera: What Comes for You Will Have to Go Through Me


November 15, 2022


Tony Patrick

Miguel Rivera is a musician, mentor, translator, award winning sound editor, teacher and grandfather based in Los Angeles. He is a board member of multiple education, cultural and healing based organizations including, Shade Tree, a mentoring group that introduces at risk youth to traditional Native American ceremonies and ways of knowledge; the Guild of Future Architects, an organization dedicated to collaboratively shaping a kind, just, inclusive and prosperous world; Wolf Connection, an organization dedicated to re-establishing neglected relationships between nature and humans; and Soldier’s Heart, an organization dedicated to working with veterans, among others.


I am originally from Guatemala, and moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. I'm a professional musician. I was told I was going to be a doctor, like my father was, but somehow I took a liking to being a musician. So, I became a touring and recording musician. After playing professionally for a few years, I got involved in post production for film and television and poetry translation.

Some time later, I was connected with some Native American elders along the process. So, I started, not performing, per se, but practicing Native American rituals. It started with participating in  a sweat lodge, the Stone People's Lodge, then vision questing and sun dancing, as a way of understanding what they were trying to teach me.

Eventually, I was instructed by my teachers to take it out to the community while I was still playing as a musician and working in post-production for film and television. I started mentoring kids at a young age. We started “Shade Tree”, a mentoring group here in LA in 1995. To this day, I'm still in touch with many of those kids who are now adults. Many had been trying to transition out from inner city gangs. Eventually I started working with people in and out of prisons, people in rehab, and people recently released from the military.

To me, this work is about creating rites of passage and restoring community integrity.

For most of the people we worked with, the trauma that they carry inside of them originates in the home. So, my mission is often to reestablish the sanctity of the home, activating, reactivating, or reinvigorating the office of the father and the office of the mother, or the universal mother and universal father; this is my way of referring to the Archetypal energies associated with the roles.

When I was 28 years old, I had already spent a couple years working with Native American elders. Somebody was making threats to the community that we had here in Los Angeles. So, I called up one of my elders and I said, "What do I do?" He goes, "Come out and I'll fix it for you."

We got into a sweat lodge in Santa Fe. He said, "Whatever's going to come after you is going to have to go through me first." I had never heard anybody say that to me. All of a sudden, I understood what powerful words a father and a mother are. They’re protectors to the children.

That affected me to this day. Even when I say it out loud and remember it. Whatever's going to come after you is going to have to go through me first.


I realized at some point in time that everything I do has a long reach in mind. I think what's important is to realize that, whatever you touch, whatever you do, make sure that you put a blessing in it. So that way, whenever it reaches somebody else, they'll feel that blessing, even if they don't know that you're delivering it.

If you do something and put a blessing on it, it can change somebody's life. Whether it's cooking a piece of food, baking bread, drawing, or whatever you do, paying it forward, like saying hello to somebody, like smiling at somebody in a car, I think has an impact.


I remembered while I was doing a presentation for the Jung Association of Western Massachusetts last Friday. A woman was talking about how she worked with non-ordinary reality states. That's a phrase I hadn't heard since I read the Don Juan books in the 1970s.

Guatemala, where I grew up, is a very Catholic country, but there's also a lot of syncretism with native ceremonies, in particular the Maya way of life. Mayan cosmology is deeply embedded in all the Catholic churches in Guatemala. Because of this, it's a very mystical experience when you go into a church in Guatemala. All the churches were built on top of Mayan temples. A lot of the Earth deities are the new saints. You have a lot of saints in Guatemala that don't look like the Catholic saints that came over from Europe or the Middle East.

But anyway, Holy Week is a very big deal in Guatemala and on the Good Friday of Holy Week, there's a reenactment during holy mass of the crucifixion and the death of Christ in the church. On this particular Good Friday during  high mass, there was a massive rainstorm that came into the city in which I was living. All the electricity went out.

The church had about, I'd say a dozen domes in the three parts of the church. They all had little tiny windows in the cupulas.

All the electricity went out. There was no light in the church except for the candles at the altar, way in the front of the church. I was in the back.

With each lightning bolt, as they would come through in different directions, through the little windows on the domes of the church and with the smoke and the incense rising, it had an extreme stroboscopic effect, as if I were in a discotheque or something.

Truly, now that I'm much older and I understand the effects of psychedelics, I was tripping during high mass.

Because lightning, if you look at it very carefully, has different hues. Sometimes they're purplish. Sometimes they're orangish or greenish and very, very, very, very translucent.

So, these beams from the lightning bolts would come from different directions, angles and intervals; going through the smoke from the candles and the incense, I was hypnotized, gone. I realized that whatever was happening in the church was a lot smaller and insignificant. I was more interested in what was happening out there, because to me, that was where the real mystery was. I had a sense of how powerful the storm and nature are, especially the  thunder. I was in a trance.


The most powerful word that I know I would say would have to be love, love, unconditional love. Being loved, being held, being protected by love, being blessed by love and all in relationship to it.

Love is how you generate a sense of being home. Having a home on this Earth is by being loved.


I think the fact is that we have objectified the world around us. We don't have a reciprocal relationship with the earth. We take, we take, and we take from the earth, but we never give back.

We have to think about how we're going to give back to the earth and be grateful for what the earth gives to us.

Nature, out of its own accord, is incredibly abundant, but we humans hoard. Nature doesn't hoard like we do.

We don't even give ourselves to the world in death. We don't even allow ourselves to be food for plants or other animals when we die. So, we're incredibly selfish and arrogant.

I think if there's something that we could learn, it would be how to be reciprocal with the world and how to be reciprocal with the universe.


My biggest challenge was probably dealing with my father’s death when I was three years old. I was not prepared to handle it. It created a shock that I did not understand or comprehend, and seriously affected my life.

I had to overcome the pressure in my family structure, sometimes called primogeniture, where the leadership of the family is passed on to the elder male. As soon as my father died, I was tasked with that office at three years old.

It was an overwhelming responsibility and not necessarily one thatI was taught, or explained to me.

My life has been trying to figure out how to be fathered on the sly.

When I was 12 years old, I was put in a boarding school. The first week that I was there, all the boys in there all had stories about their fathers. I did not have one story to share about my father. I then decided I was going to learn how to be fathered from every man or adult that I met. I always try to learn something from someone, because I know there's something beneficial to learning. Sometimes I even call it reverse fathering. But it took me a long time to understand the importance of it.


Well, I think I have put myself or found myself in situations  where I see the complexity of human life displayed from a very young age.

I was born in Guatemala, the son of a Surgeon and a Nurse. My father set up his clinic in the front part of the family home, an old Spanish Colonial residence. After my father’s death, my mother built a small hospital in the back part of the house in memory of my father. Then my uncle, who was also a surgeon, took over the clinic that was in front of the house. So all my youth, everything that we did was all related to being in service to life.

I would see all kinds of things happen.  When people knocked on the door, they were always looking for the doctor, trying to  figure out how to deal with whatever they had. Later, in high school, I even went to work at a hospital. I was an orderly in an emergency room for two years. Human nature, let’s say, was on display, all the time. One of the things I noticed was that several of the Surgeons working there were studying to be Psychiatrists. To me, if you are  a healer, you are always looking for the root or the disease, and they had realized that it is not always in the body. I also recognized that many of the patients were looking for a place to be safe

Even when the context changed, I witnessed human nature. Whether it was as a musician on the road or as I drove a taxi cab in Los Angeles for two years. Eventually, I started to recognize patterns that I had already seen in the emergency room and my house.


Many people are looking for ways to make change in their lives, and they're willing to be open.

What's really hard is the fact that we don't know how to navigate difficult territory, like understanding how to deal with anger or resentment or hatred that we carry inside. We often don't know how to express it.

Many of us don't even know how to tell the story of what happened in our own lives. We don't even have the ability, not only to express it, but know how to tell it in a safe place.

To me, it requires a level of inquiry. I see it with people when I work with people in rehab, people in and out of jail, people in and out of the military. They look for ways to make community. I think it’s important to cultivate that, so that the truth of what is going on with us can be shared and witnessed. The way we have set up ritual structures or educational structures don’t necessarily provide the answers that are needed. So, we have to look in interesting ways to figure out how to open up ourselves to what we need.


We seriously lack adults and elders in our culture these days. That’s why our mission as mentors is to  transition youth into adults and adults into elders, working with various groups here in Los Angeles; Youth Mentoring Connection, Street Poets, Rhythm Arts Alliance, Shade Tree, WGRW. Our job is to be able to figure out how to do that on a larger scale, so that we can begin to deal with the issues that are plaguing the country, such as suicide, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and violence. They’re often all rooted in the fact that, for many of us, home life is not necessarily a viable thing.

I think it's important for young people to be seen by elders. It's also important for elders to be seen by young people.

I've been around a lot of old people. These are friends that I highly respect, that are really beautiful human beings, who say to me, "I feel totally useless." I would reply, "Listen, you give me the hope that someday I will be able to be as elegant as you are." They give me a place to get to, an anchor point to know.

On the other hand, a lot of the kids I mentor don't know if they're going to be a grandparent. They don't even know if they're going to be parents. They don't even know if they're going to live to be 25 years old.

But when I was 10 years old, I didn't think I would live to be 33. I was terrified to be 33, because I thought I would die at that age. Then I got to be 40 and I realized, hey, I made it. I'm 69 now.

I tell them, “I want you to grow up to be a wrinkled up old gray hair like me. I want you to be a wrinkled up old gray hair, spending time with young people the way I'm spending time with you here today." I've said that many times to the kids that we work with, that we mentor, and I truly mean it.

My job is to be there and to be seen and to know and to let the young people know that I remember what it was like to be confused and struggling at that age, and put a blessing there and witness. Say, "Yeah, it's okay to be there. It's okay to not know what you're doing. But I'm telling you here today, that you can make it."