Despite a steady increase in life expectancy, medical science is facing diminishing returns. It has been estimated that every increase in lifespan since 1990 has resulted in only ten months of increased healthy life; the rest is only prolonged suffering and the decline of aging. Globally more people now die of so-called “lifestyle diseases” than from infectious diseases. Doctors cannot make choices about lifestyle; only the patient can. Finally, half of all heart attacks before old age occur in people who live a good lifestyle, managing their weight, eating right, and exercising regularly.
What lies beyond lifestyle? That’s a matter of much speculation. Will human existence be improved in the future through technology, genetic manipulation, nano-robots in the bloodstream serving as cancer hunters? Or will it take a new philosophical conception, one that entices people away from a life of speed, constant activity, and stress?
By all odds it will take both, because innovations in technology can’t succeed if we continue to define well-being in old, outworn ways. Consider the following statements, which almost everyone, including doctors, take as fact:
- The body is a machine, and like all machines it breaks down.
- Aging is a pre-determined process, probably controlled by our genes.
- The body is a mindless lump of matter except for the brain, which has evolved to produce mind or consciousness.]
- The causes of most diseases are now known. What remains is to find effective drugs to target each malady.
- You are healthy until something goes wrong, which is signaled by the appearance of symptoms.
In reality none of these statements is correct. The body isn’t a machine; machines cannot heal themselves. The body isn’t mindless; every cell is imbued with vast knowledge that far surpasses anything found in medical textbooks. The brain doesn’t produce the mind; that’s merely an assumption that has never been proved.
The most urgent need facing each of us is how to envision our bodies without the burden of outworn assumptions, which is why, starting in two weeks, an annual symposium known as Sages & Scientists Symposium will bring together the best thinkers with views both humanistic and scientific. This year’s theme is “The Future of Well-Being,” and the public is invited to attend. There is nothing on the planet as open to the free exchange of ideas, from every kind of thinker and researcher, all aiming to find a way forward into a viable future.
I started writing in high school after my first love dumped me. I was devastated. Though I wasn’t a loner, I didn’t yet have any close friends. So, I started talking to myself as a way to heal. Once on the mend, I realized I wasn’t just talking to myself. I had begun a conversation with the Universe.
In college, I wasn’t allowed to write creatively in the English department. This was before the burgeoning of creative writing programs. But a kind theater professor, Doc Palmer, took me under his wing, and told me that if I became a theatre major, he would take care of me. So I begin by writing plays, that was part of our deal. I’d sign up for his courses, though he’d give me different assignments. Instead of a paper on Oedipus or Hedda Gabbler, he’d invite me to write specific scenes modeled after the great playwrights. I also had to partake in every aspect of theater from set design to acting. This unexpected apprenticeship has stayed with me.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. Your book is great. In fact, I love it. Your writing style is really good. But you don’t have social media following or a substantial email list.” This is what a publisher told an acquaintance of mine when she pitched her book. Another acquaintance was turned down to be an affiliate marketer by an online course provider because they required at least 250,000 followers and a website with “very good” traffic for her to qualify.
These are just a couple of examples of how social media has shifted the way we’re seen and treated these days. In both cases, they were explicitly saying, “Without the numbers, you are worthless to us.” Through the social media lens, our worth is only as much as the number of followers we have or the size of our email list; the number of pageviews, impressions and clicks; and all the other vanity metrics that people seem to care a great deal about nowadays. So, if you’re not an influencer, forget about it.
In the meantime, while many people strive to be the next Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian or PewDiePie, those who truly want to make a difference in the world get caught up in the crossfire and are measured by the same vanity-metrics yardstick. Those numbers translate to money, after all.
In the Amazon, vast areas of rain forest are burning. Globally, millions of species of plants, animals, birds, insects, and reptiles have gone or are going extinct. Glaciers are melting. The Barrier Reef and corals around the world are dying. Children displaced by the climate crisis and brutal governments are starving, being imprisoned, and murdered. Fascism is on the rise. On and on. . .
“We Mayans know that it sometimes takes catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions to convince humans to change,” the shaman told our group as we sat beneath the Great Jaguar Pyramid in Tikal, Guatemala. “We experienced this a thousand years ago. Our leaders continued with policies that cut forests, drained swamps, destroyed the environment and changed the climate. Crises followed crises. The once great Mayan empire collapsed.”
In her recent Emmy acceptance speech for acting, Alex Borstein told the story of her grandmother, who courageously stepped out of a death line in a Nazi concentration camp and thus survived. So, she advises, “Step out of line, ladies, step out of line.” All around the world, women, often young women, are doing just that. Their strong voices and brave actions are inspiring others as they stand up, speak out, and “step out of line.”
Greta Thunberg started alone, sitting in front of the Swedish parliament every week, striking to call attention to the dire emergency of climate change. One year later, in September 2019, millions of people around the world joined this passionate and articulate 16-year-old woman in a global climate strike, protesting destruction of the environment. She is the latest in a long line of dedicated environmental activists.
More than 20 years ago, Julia Butterfly Hill also started alone. In 1997, at the age of 23, she began living in an old-growth redwood tree to protest the logging of these forests in California. She endured two years of attempts to break her resolve, including helicopter harassment. In the end, the tree was saved, and Julia has continued her activism, co-founding groups to work for social change. Greta appears to be carrying her legacy forward.
Have you ever felt a stirring inside for something more in your life? Many of us look at life with a view that holds some ups, some downs and lots of in between. The highs are filled with satisfaction and success. You easily connect to these high vibration experiences. The lows might be filled with frustration, grief or sadness; but again it has your attention. It’s the in-between when your mind begins to touch the unsettled. This gets people craving a little more zest, love and maybe adventure. The channel between the highs and lows can stir unanswered emotions and feelings. Eventually thoughts begin to bubble up. These feelings and emotions are a call for action. If the call is acted on, you often find your life purpose. If the emotions are ignored, you might feel unsure of your life. Possibly you feel stuck, until you get the courage to sort out this energy.
These unanswered emotions and thoughts often hint at your life path that has yet to be discovered. This is an opportunity to create a life where you experience love in all areas of your life. You freely give and receive love. Life becomes a steady flow of connection to all.
Once a man awoke to find himself in a room he didn’t quite recognize. Nothing was certain except for an unexplained dizzy feeling. All around him were mirrors, closets, and tables with trays of different-colored makeup. The place was familiar, but what was he doing there? Anxiety began to seep in as he struggled to remember. But remember what? This was obviously the dressing room of some large theater, but what was his role? Each time he looked into the mirror he felt a stab of pain, because he wasn’t quite sure who was looking back at him. He felt suddenly alone.
Not knowing what else to do, he ran over and opened one of the closets. Inside he found a stiffly pressed, well-decorated uniform that obviously belonged to a very important general. He liked the strength of its appearance. Perhaps this was his costume. Quickly he dressed himself and stood at attention in front of one of the large dressing mirrors. His heart sank. This was a bold wardrobe indeed … but not his. As much as he didn’t want to, he took off the uniform. He tried another closet. This had in it a brightly colored costume from a circus. Not wasting a minute, he jumped into it. No good. Besides not fitting him, the costume made him look and feel like a clown. His desperation mounted. He tried another closet.
Kids aren’t the only ones who need to play, adults need regular playtime, too.
Earlier this year, my wife and I spent a month living in a beachfront house in Maui, Hawaii. We had done the same thing last year and went back this year because it was such an amazingly fun and bonding experience for us.
Every morning, I got up early and did my regular meditation and yoga or qigong routine. Then I ate breakfast and spent two hours writing.
After that, the rest of the day was devoted to playtime.
My wife and I went swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and hiking. We relaxed on the beach and enjoyed some incredible meals at some great restaurants. And we spent our evenings reading, socializing with friends, playing Scrabble, listening to music, and watching our favorite TV shows.
And you know what?
When the question arises, “Why write? Why create?” I’m drawn to ask, “Why breathe? Why climb to a place where you can see the horizon? Why look for things soft and durable to wrap around a wound? Why call into the canyon between us to see if anyone is there?” Because all these efforts help us live.
Repeatedly, we’re called to engage experience as a way to manifest what we carry within us, bringing what is dormant into the world. As the tree that a seed carries breaks ground in time, reflection, dialogue, and writing are seed-like forms by which we release our inwardness into the world. This is why we listen and express. This is why we write, why we create. Because expression is like sunlight that emanates from within. It causes the soul to blossom in time.
Life that contributes to the whole. We are all part of something bigger and we have a role to play. By contributing to the whole, we are then building a world collectively that is better than the world we came in with.
Can you overcome these obstacles and contribute something positive to the world? As you contribute something positive, you uplift everyone around you.
We all know what it is like to be held captive of the little things in life — those petty concerns and small desires that steal their way into how we look at our lives and pit us against anyone or anything seen as trying to take away our anticipated desire. Here is a short list of these little troublemakers that often make big trouble for us whenever we mistake them for being our friends:
• Unrealistic expectations that others should treat us only as we imagine they should
• Strong attachments to even the smallest and strangest of our possessions
• Pressing convictions that no one else sees things as clearly as we do
• Nagging resentments from relationships past and present
• Perfect certainty that no one is permitted to interrupt our pleasures
How can we say for sure that these conditions are little more than big nothings in the scheme of things? We have all been through those telltale moments in our lives when, due to a crisis of some kind beyond our control, we are momentarily able to see where we had lost sight of what was really worthwhile.
There are simply endless opportunities that we have daily to help others. It feels good to us to help, and it feels great to the recipient, too! Scientific studies have shown that giving of our time, energy, or money greatly helps boost all of those feel-good chemicals our brains just love.
Here are seven real benefits – backed by science – of how contributing to the lives of other people can help us find peace.
- A Longer Life – If you want to enjoy a long, healthy life, start volunteering! Find out what kinds of things you can volunteer for at your childrens’ school, make scarves for the homeless, or help deliver food to those who are home-bound. Studies show that the people who contribute in these ways will actually lengthen their lives due to an increased ability to handle stress, a reduction in depression, and an increased immune system strength. The caveat is that you can’t just do it once – it needs to become a consistent part of your life in order to reap the health benefits.
Can you believe that it's already August?
Have you gotten around to doing all the things that you said you would do this summer?
Have you had that “perfect” summer day?
I am big believer in creating perfect days! Although it tends to happen more when I am on vacation or weekends, a few times a month I religiously wake up and declare “Let’s have a perfect day.”
Now I know that some people tend to shudder at the word “perfect” since being a perfectionist or trying to get things “perfect” has caused them pain or utter exhaustion. So, when I talk about a “perfect day,” it is not about some ideal of perfection or creating a day with moments that look picture perfect on Instagram. It’s about creating a day that is perfect for you and the people partaking in your perfect day.
Thirty-four years ago, in my mid-thirties, I was working hard at becoming a good poet, when I was thrust into my journey with cancer. The torque of that experience pulled me from all my goals and routines and aspirations. I was left in the raw, uncertain simplicity of being alive and trying, by any means possible, to stay alive. I had few native gifts to help me through. The one closest to my heart was the aliveness of expression that lived below my want to be a poet. And so, I began to journal daily about my deepest fears, feelings, pains, and dreams, about the prospects of living and dying. I didn’t think of it as “writing” or as “material.” More, I was climbing the rope of honest expression, day by day, into tomorrow. It became a muscular and tender, honest space in which I began to access my own inner healing. This was my first in-depth experience of writing as a spiritual practice.
“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” so the old saying goes. Easier said than done, perhaps? I don’t think so. You see, life’s trials can be seen as horrible events that make you question, “Why me?” Or, those same trials can be seen as great opportunities to grow, expand, and evolve in ways we may not have thought possible.
So the question is: how? How do we harness the power of these challenges and turn them into amazing opportunities instead of allowing them to suck us down into the mire of negativity where we know we’ll get stuck?
Of course, everyone’s experience is going to be a bit different, but there are some basic “guidelines” to follow in order to learn to persevere in the face of adversity! To that end, here are four ways to see the opportunities among the challenges.
Guess what? Every single part of you is perfectly integrated into your life’s purpose! And it is all happening right now….
As a former attorney turned writer and unconventional career coach, I listen to creative minds, visionaries, and entrepreneurs every day in my coaching practice. I am moved by the grand spirit that moves them. They climb walls with passion, ambition, and frustration. They secretly dream big, because they are big. “I don’t even know if I’ll ever have what I want,” they say. But I do. I know we are relentlessly drawn to where we belong.
We don’t choose our wildest dreams. They choose us.
When we’re not using our deepest gifts, we can feel like trout thrashing about on a dock desperate to find water. It’s that necessary to live our calling. We’ve said “yes” to some sacred arrangement in the ethers, and here on earth—until we live our most meaningful dreams--we ache with the pangs of blessings unfulfilled. We can golf if we want to, but it will never fill that hole. We can shop, but we can’t buy our freedom.
I wrote this letter to the part of myself that dared to listen to her pain more than her need for stability. That part helped me write my first book This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and discover my best life.
Years ago, I sat in front of the Pacific Ocean, and considered taking my life. I didn’t see another choice. I was an honors graduate of Harvard Law School on partnership track at a corporate law firm. I couldn’t bear my day-evening-weekend job, even with its ostentatious paycheck. I couldn’t figure out any other options with my frantic analytical mind. I had no glistening faith or trust in myself, the Universe, or even the tooth fairy, back then.
You build that faith, when you leap--- not before.
So, I screamed and cried in my journal. I let out one desperate wail near sunset. And I made the choices that gave birth to a life I couldn’t imagine. This letter is to her with my love and gratitude…
You wanted an impossible life. You wanted freedom. You wanted to rip off your lawyer clothes and identity and walk for miles on beaches-- on a Tuesday, a weekday. You didn’t even really know what you wanted.
“Have fun is my message. Be silly. You’re allowed to be silly. There’s nothing wrong with it.” — Jimmy Fallon
A few days ago, a friend said to me, “Maria, you have got to start going out more! You have got to start having more fun!”
Her words landed like a thud because I knew she was right. I love my work, but for the most part, it’s pretty serious stuff. I’ve also noticed that if you’re not careful, your life can end up drowning in all sorts of seriousness as you get older.
So, I decided to take my friend’s advice to heart and make fun my goal for this summer. I know fun can seem kind of trivial when the world feels like it’s falling apart, but it’s actually an important tool that we can use to recharge. It’s also an ingredient to a life with purpose and the optimism we need to keep moving forward.
At my dinner table this week, I asked my daughter Christina and her friend Claire (both who are lots of fun) about the role of fun in their lives. Christina said it’s important to have friends who can make you laugh at just about anything. Claire said she enjoys going out, dancing, and talking to all kinds of different people.
Now, I don’t go out dancing, but I do have a monthly poker night at my house that’s pretty fun. I also go to New York once a month for The Today Show, and when I’m there I try to hang out with my cousins and friends who make me laugh. And when I’m back home, I also hang out with my kids a bunch, which I always find to be great fun.
My point is that my life isn’t short on joy, but I still know that I could do a better job of getting out of my house and consciously adding more fun into my life.