Yung Pueblo (meaning “young people”) is a pen name belonging to Diego Perez, who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at age 4 with his family. As a teen, he became seriously involved in activism. But as a young man, he got into drugs and then recovery before embarking on a path of self-discovery and transformation through Vipassana meditation.

In 2013, Perez started posting poetry on Instagram, and his insights were soon resonating with a growing number of fans. Today he has 2.4 million Instagram followers and is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author. As Yung Pueblo, Perez posts using clean, unembellished type—a sans serif font all in lowercase black letters on a plain white background.

His words seem to float on the screen, despite the weighty truths they carry. Here, Perez talks with Unity Magazine editor Katy Koontz about how introspection can lead first to healing and then to liberation, and why it’s important that we learn to celebrate change.

Katy Koontz: You are a major proponent of self-love, which you stress is very different from self-centeredness. Can you explain the difference?

Yung Pueblo: I think of self-love as a form of introspection that helps you heal and helps you know yourself. It’s not just doing whatever you want to do or buying yourself whatever you want to have. It’s more being able to spend time with yourself and wholeheartedly accepting what you discover—a deep embrace of who you are and who you want to become.

It means you’ll be more likely to speak your truth. You won’t let other people take advantage of you, and you’ll be able to show up in the world in a way that really feels genuine. And that’s just the beginning because self-love opens the door for you to love all beings unconditionally.

KK: You name radical honesty—which you describe as being in constant contact with your truth—as one of the pillars of self-love. What makes radical honesty so radical?

YP: We often get accustomed to running away from ourselves, especially now that everyone has cell phones. It’s just so easy to find some sort of pleasure so you don’t have to spend time with the agitation that’s inside of you. The radical part of it is really owning whatever arises within yourself and spending time with it. That idea emerged from my own story.

I hit my rock bottom because I’d spent so much time lying to myself. I realized that if lying got me into that place, telling myself the truth all the time instead would probably get me out of it.

KK: That makes sense because anything you’d be hiding from yourself would perpetuate the problem, right?

YP: Totally. It’s about you being able to sit with your discomfort and not soothe it away immediately. Of course, self-soothing is important. It’s not ideal to always be in a state of discomfort. But allowing yourself discomfort can also help you grow. Sometimes the discomfort will feel like some sort of agitation, but you don’t know what it actually is.

When that happens, ask yourself, Am I upset? Am I impatient? What’s actually happening in this moment? Being able to spend the time to allow your awareness to have a moment to blossom so you can see yourself clearly could make a world of difference.

KK: In your book Lighter [Harmony, 2022], you wrote that letting go is essentially a profound acceptance of the present moment. Can you say more about that process?

YP: Every time you get caught up in something, you’re either in the past or in the future. You’re either feeling tension about something that’s already happened or fearing something that hasn’t happened yet. But if you can just fully accept it in the present moment, that’s the act of letting go.

Say to yourself, Okay, this is what’s happening in this moment, and I’m just going to live now as opposed to living in my imagination. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in protecting ourselves when there’s really no danger at all. 

KK: I think technology can play into that. We used to be with ourselves a lot more, but now, because we’re so plugged in, it seems we’re constantly with everybody in the universe.

YP: Every time we’re reading or consuming information while we’re scrolling on our phones, we’re really burning a lot of energy. We’re expending so much more energy than we would have 10 years ago or even five years ago. I don’t think we’re fully aware of how exhausting that really is for us.

Listening in with Yung Pueblo Making Introspection an Art Form

KK: I like how you describe the difference between healing and liberation. Can you go into that?

YP: What attracted me to meditation was its healing aspect. Once I started meditating, the intensities of my reactions started decreasing. Craving and aversion were still there, but they weren’t as dominant as they used to be. There was more space in my mind. Then when I went back to understand more of the Buddha’s teaching, that opened me up to the idea that liberation was possible. Everything was bending in that direction as I kept meditating.

Liberation goes a lot further than healing because when you find the source of all your dissatisfaction, all your stress, all your suffering, you see it comes down to craving—craving things to exist in a certain way. And when you can recognize that and connect it to what’s happening in the body and to how that affects the mind, you can understand it to the point where what you crave doesn’t need to happen anymore.

That takes practice because it requires retraining the mind so that it develops equanimity as opposed to constantly craving or experiencing aversion or just rolling in ignorance. It’s a long journey, but it’s doable. And it’s preferable because the alternative is living from a place of ego, and that’s always going to hurt.

So I’m better off cultivating a lens of compassion and equanimity and living from that space. If you take the liberation journey really seriously, this becomes much easier to do because you have a clear path to walk.

KK: Of course, all of this involves change, which for many people is a dirty word. You’ve said that change has easily been your greatest teacher and that if we spend too much time fearing change, we will forget to celebrate it. Why is celebrating change necessary?

YP: We fear change so much because we see only one side of it—the things that get taken away—and we don’t concentrate on the fact that change is also the same mechanism that allows the things we’ve loved so much to even exist. If the universe were totally static, then nothing would ever come to fruition. All the joys of life we owe to change. All the moments of wisdom, including those moments when we can really heal our relationships with others, are happening because of change.

I think we too easily forget that. We want to fight change. When there’s a situation that we really like, we want to keep everything the same, but it’s just not possible. The universe is like a river. It’s constantly in motion. Instead of fighting it, embrace it with your presence. Be there, enjoy it, live it, and learn from it because the situation is not going to be able to stay the same forever. It may stay the same for a long time—for instance, you may be able to enjoy your family unit for decades, but at one point someone will pass away. That’s just the reality of life.

Let me really enjoy the people around me now so I don’t regret not fully appreciating them later, and let me try to be a little more flexible so I can flow with what’s happening. I can still dictate my goals and decide how I want to spend my time and my energy, but pretty much all I can control are my own actions.

KK: If our readers could come away with one core piece of advice for dealing with change, what would you suggest?

YP: Taking a moment to intentionally reflect on the truth of impermanence, even if it’s just at the intellectual level, is a valuable practice. It grounds you in reality. Out of that should emerge appreciation, especially if you are enjoying what’s happening in front of you right now.

KK: You’ve mentioned that individual healing and global change have to move together as one if we want to successfully forge a new global peace. Why is that?

YP: To put it simply, as people heal themselves—by getting more in touch with their emotional history and developing more self-awareness—they’re going to be less likely to want to hurt other people. Then this giant web of humanity will have fewer points of pain. Right now, people are just passing their pain on to each other.

It gets worse when power is involved, by the way. Power functions like a magnet. It will literally pull on your roughest parts, making them emerge, so when people who didn’t have power before suddenly get power, sometimes really ugly things happen.

KK: What do you think about the interest in Eastern spiritual practices growing in the West?

YP: This has been happening since the ’70s, but because of social media, now it’s grown exponentially. People are able to see all the different options they have in front of them. At the same time, they’re also seeing that being miserable is going out of style.

More people are just realizing, Okay, I don’t have to be miserable. There are real alternatives for me to feel better so I can live a more fulfilled life. There’s a very wide range of those alternatives—from all the various forms of Western psychotherapy to practices like mindfulness and meditation—and they all require some degree of introspection.

All these are essentially tools for getting to know yourself and living your life without so much tension.

This introspection is becoming part of our culture now. Even when people go on dates they’re asking each other questions such as, “What was your childhood like? What do you do to help yourself in moments of tension? How are you growing these days?” It’s exciting because I don’t know of any other point in human history where there have been this many people actively healing themselves all around the world.

“If the universe were totally static, then nothing would ever come to fruition. All the joys of life we owe to change. All the moments of wisdom, including those moments when we can really heal our relationships with others, are happening because of change.”

KK: I like your recommendation of looking for and recognizing patterns because if you’re looking for a pattern in your life, you’re less likely to waste time beating yourself up. Focusing on the pattern seems less threatening than focusing on what you perceive as a fault. Do you agree?

YP: Totally. The mind is a giant series of patterns, and the ones that we have difficulty with can fly under the radar. If you turn that lens inward, you can say to yourself, I have this pattern of fear or I really don’t like to be alone. When you recognize your own patterns, that helps you not just work with them but also start learning how to actually dissolve them. You can’t do that until you recognize them.

KK: The first quote of yours that really caught my attention was: “Every time I meet more of myself, I can know and love more of you.” It’s about making space inside yourself so you’re available to and have compassion for other people. How did you come to write that?

YP: I’m glad you brought that one up because I love it. I think it was back in 2017 when I wrote that. I was spending a lot of time riding my bike in New York City—from Crown Heights to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. And it just hit me while I was riding how interconnected my relationship with myself is with what’s even possible with another human being.

KK: It’s interesting to me how much you can say in just one sentence.

YP: That piece is in my first book, Inward [Andrews McMeel, 2018], and with that one specifically I was actively trying to bring minimalism to everything I wrote. I would write something down and then I would look at it and ask myself what words I could delete to thin it out even more.

KK: You write that the beauty of intuition is that it will push you to grow, but you also mention that there may be moments when you’re too afraid to listen to what it’s trying to tell you—and that’s okay because you can return to it later. What has your journey with intuition been like?

YP: My experience of intuition is that it’s often asking me to do something outside of my comfort zone that will help me grow and push me to live a better life. I remember my intuition was really clear when I felt I needed to start writing. I felt that after my third silent 10-day meditation course, but I didn’t feel ready to start writing just yet. So I didn’t take writing seriously until about a year and a half later.

The message was still there all along, but when I started doing it, it felt like that was the right time. Intuition can let you know way ahead of time about things you want to do, and then you’ll build the courage to actually get there.

KK: How do you know when something is real guidance and not just a desire?

YP: For me, it comes out as a pretty calm, clear awareness. It feels like a direction that will continually pop up, but it’s not frantic like the cravings of the mind. It doesn’t have tension in it.

KK: What’s your daily meditation practice like?

YP: I’ve been doing two hours of Vipassana a day consistently since 2015, so for more than seven years, and it’s been phenomenal. I do one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. It functions like two pillars of my day. I don’t always wake up and go right into meditation. Maybe I’ll do two hours of work first and then meditate, and then sometime in the evening I’ll meditate again with my wife.

Meditation is a moment when I can just come back to what’s real. I tend to get so caught up in my mind with what all I have to do, and that creates a lot of unnecessary stress. But then when I sit down and meditate, it feels like I’m coming back to what’s true, to that truth of impermanence.

Yung Pueblo (a pen name for writer and speaker Diego Perez) is the New York Times best-selling author of three books: Inward (Andrews McMeel, 2018), Clarity & Connection (Andrews McMeel, 2021), and Lighter (Harmony, 2022). Follow him on Instagram at @yung_pueblo and visit

This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.

About the Author

Katy Koontz is the editor in chief of Unity Magazine.


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