The Healing Heart Behind Aurora Arts
When I first caught a glimpse of Mat Chandler, he was hunched over a piece of intricately cut plywood in the UF Arts & Architecture Digital Fabrication Lab at Infinity Hall.
At face value, he seems to fit the profile of a local techie immersed in the futuristic realm of 3D printing, laser cutting and startups.
If you brush away the loose sawdust and look behind the hi-tech machinery, however, you find a man more rooted in the ancient past than the faraway future.
Mat is the founder of Aurora Healing Arts, a new age healing center in the heart of downtown Gainesville.
Opened in January of 2015, the creation of Aurora was not the result of a well thought out business plan, but rather the culmination of a lifelong journey marked by family, pain and self-discovery.
In a small town outside of Sebastian, Fla., Mat grew up in a poor community where very few kids escaped the winding dirt roads and worn down trailers. From the time he was 14 years old, his summers were filled with 80 hour work weeks and after school hours were filled with endless shifts at restaurants and nightclubs.
“I thought ‘Okay, here’s my way up, but not necessarily my way out of the situation,’” Mat said, “But at least my way up into something better.”
Mat’s rigorous work ethic didn’t translate to the classroom, however. His school days were littered with fights, bad grades and trouble. With consistent D’s and F’s and a messy disciplinary record, his academic future was looking bleaker with every passing school year.
It wasn’t until 9th grade, when a guidance counselor nominated him for a scholarship that covered two years of community college and two years at a Florida university that his outlook started to change. All he needed to do was stop fighting and raise his grades.
“I was just blown away, like all of a sudden I had a future,” Mat said. “I remember feeling that like all of a sudden the small dirt road had opened up to the possibilities of the whole world.”
By his senior year of high school, Mat had straight A’s and never resorted to violence again. His latent passion for drawing was surfacing and with some encouragement from his mom, he dove headfirst into architecture.
Mat moved on to community college and then to the University of Florida, where he completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship. He was part of the first class to go through Gainesville’s “Hacker House,” started running the Fab Lab and spent all of his free time traveling the world.
From Ireland to Mexico, Mat fell in love with the concept of hostels and vowed to one day create a beautiful space for travelers to stay in Gainesville.
But his travel plans and hostel dreams were abruptly brought to a halt with news from back home: His mom was diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live.
Her passing brought forth a painful sea of grief, guilt, self-hatred and unrelenting heartache. Mat struggled to find a reason to live.
“At first, I remember thinking, ‘life can’t go on.’”
Mat characterizes his mom’s death as the single biggest defining moment in his life. It created an internal awakening that inspired him to figure out the purpose of his existence.
When he accepted a project of 3D printing a Buddha statue for Gainesville’s Zen Center not long after, he tumbled into the world of Kundalini yoga, breathwork and books on spiritual healing. He started to focus on self compassion and letting go of the pain instead of clinging to it for comfort.
“After reading Pema Chödrön’s ‘The Places That Scare You,’ I had to sit and be with the heartache and figure out what it means to heal myself,” Matt said. “Not go into that pain and make myself sick.”
The idea of starting a hostel became the idea of starting a healing arts center as his life shifted towards a more spiritual path. He bought a small property at 109 SE 4th Ave. The same tireless work ethic from his childhood allowed him to transform the 108-year-old house into a warm, inviting space for healing.
From yoga to ecstatic dancing to gong meditation, Aurora functions as an “anything goes” spiritual haven. The classes, which are primarily donation based, are designed to be safe spaces for people who have never delved into spirituality before.
Mat welcomes teachings from all over the world and encourages people to step out of their mental chatter, go deeper into their hearts and let love and peace lead the way.
Whether he’s printing futuristic furniture in the Fab Lab or ringing the ancient gong at Aurora, Mat has moved on from the dirt path of his hometown to the spiritual path of Gainesville, and beyond.
For more information on classes at Aurora Healing Arts, visit their Facebook page.