Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Due to the fact that the extraordinary amount of information I was attempting to put into a single blog post made me feel like my head was going to explode, I decided it would be best to create a series of shorter articles that were more easily digestible, of which this will be the first.
A couple weeks ago, I asked the universe for a mystical experience - I had no idea it was going to be so much freaking WORK or I would've asked for something else...a pony would be less disruptive... Maybe next time I'll ask for a pony. Before that, I kept focusing on money and success - I was working 12-18 hour days, 7 days a week (I had no life) - and when things just took a turn completely the other way, I decided there were a few things the universe wanted me to get out of the way before I could get to my goal. So I bit at the bait the universe tossed my way, and asked for a mind-blowing mystical experience to wake my ass up.
This isn't something I have never experienced, it's just that I haven't experienced it in a really long time, and when you're going through those dark places in life you kind of yearn to have something just shine a huge light in your eyes and wake you up, and say "You're veering off course dude - let's move you over this way." The thing to remember when you ask for this shit, is, if you're out of balance, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to wake your recalcitrant ass up. We're humans - we're known for being resistant to change. Actually, it's kind of in our programming.
Back in 1993, Pearl Jam recorded a song called "
". There's a line in this song that has always haunted me: "That which you fear the most, can meet you half way". Every time I found myself in a place I didn't like, with an outcome that was so far removed from where I actually intended to be, I would reflect on this line of this song, and try to look back and see what I was actually focusing on during the creation of this particular event in my life. Without a scintilla of deviation, I could always see that there was fear in my path that I was trying to shove down and ignore, and basically not deal with.
Years later, I would come to understand this in more depth, as I boldly examined how this phenomenon works in life. It's not just me, it's everybody - we all have an Achilles heel that if we don't learn to overcome, will kick our ass and throw a motherfucker of a monkey wrench into our life. Ever had that happen? Raise your hand if you're with me.
So how did I overcome this? Did I actually overcome this? More importantly, how do you overcome this? Right? I mean you're reading this for a reason obviously - not just voyeuristic fascination. You probably want to understand, "How does this work?" Well for one thing, it's a journey... Not a destination. And every day it's a commitment to transforming yourself through quieting your mind. Yeah, it takes work. ... Are you still with me?
The first thing I want to say is, the answer is simple. But the caveat is, it's not easy. Change is f****** hard, and just to prove that to you, I'll ask you a question: How many times have you found yourself in a cycle that you just couldn't seem to break free of, even though you knew that it was self-destructive or harming you in some way? How many times have you watched somebody you love self-destruct and felt helpless because there was nothing that you could do to help them? Places like AA and rehab facilities would be empty if it weren't for the fact that someone got to the point where they felt that it was life and death, and made the decision that they didn't want to die. Those are the people who committed to change in the face of what they felt was certain death if they didn't change themselves at a core level and remove their self-destructive tendencies. Their success is what others hung onto, to convince themselves maybe they could do it too. And that's how 12-step programs became popular. That's also why support groups for people with cancer are important, grief support groups, abuse survivor support groups, AIDS support groups, and on and on and on. And the reason for this is, community.
Community has always been an important part of our social human nature. When we isolate ourselves, that hamster wheel we call a mind, spins and spins recursively, and the self talk can end up driving us to despair. However, when we find a group of like-minded people, and within that group, are elders with compassion, who have been in that same hole you're trying to dig yourself out of - whether it be overcoming an illness, trying to get out of homelessness, trying to get off drugs or alcohol, trying to lose weight, or trying to find another human being who understands what it was like to be abused, and come out the other side, whole, when you feel fundamentally flawed and broken - we find comfort in the wisdom and compassion of others who have been on that journey. And the reason is, we finally feel like we have found a safe place away from judgement, and it is in this place, where we can begin to cease the self-destructive pastime of judging ourselves. Sadly, this is a behavior we all learn - we are ruthless with our judgement of ourselves as a vigilant and well-intended, but totally fucked up protection mechanism within our subconscious mind. And it is toxic to ourselves and others, because we spread it around like a virus, especially when we are completely unaware that we are doing this.
So this was my big mystical experience. The answer that I kept getting, was to be a light bearer. Someone who could be courageous enough to reveal their flaws and share their path, and in doing this, light the way for others who feel overwhelmed with their circumstances, and afraid of their uncertain futures. And ultimately, to create a community of support and safety for anyone who is interested in overcoming their own demons be they big or small.
I realized each of us has our own Achilles heel. It's not always the same as somebody else's, and it will manifest through our weakest part, whatever that may be. Wherever the fear leads it. It could be through illness, through substance abuse, through a cycle abusive relationships, through overeating, through a fear of never having enough which may manifest in either greed, or possibly poverty (both resulting in a feeling of emptiness), or in just about any other way a person can express pain and fear. But that's the big mind-blowing revelation here - it's all a manifestation of our fears. So with that in mind, it might be easier to not judge somebody else who is flawed and struggling at something that is easy for you to do, when you have your own flaws that you struggle with, though they may be different.
We are all leaves on the same tree.
Now with that said I'm going to talk about how science supports all of this, and how we have infinitely more power than we realize, and it is in harnessing that power that we set ourselves free. I just wanted to set the stage for compassion, because that is the thing that we hold ourselves together with, as a community. We are a community -from the the macrocosm, to the microcosm, we are all in this together.
Let's start with the microcosm - our DNA
Here's something you might not think about everyday. Are you aware that your body and all that it inhabits is a collection of 50-80 trillion cells? Not only that, but like leaves on a tree, they are dying and regenerating new cells at different rates, depending on their purpose. Some cells take years to regenerate, while others take months or even days, but at the molecular level, they are all the same: 46 pairs of double helix strands of DNA (each comprised of 6 smaller molecules, which can be further reduced to nucleotides, but I won't get into that because I'm not a cell biologist, and it just makes my brain hurt. But if you want to read more about it,
) with a little thingy on the end of each strand, called a telomere.
Telomeres are what I want to talk about right now.
What are telomeres?
These are like the plastic things on the ends of your shoelaces. They keep the whole thing from getting all fucked up and unraveling, and they facilitate the ability to thread your laces into the eye holes so your shoes don't fall off). In a similar way, telomeres preserve the integrity of the information contained in the DNA molecules. They contain no coding, but when the DNA replicates, each successive reproduction reduces the length of the telomere. For a while after this discovery, scientists believed that this meant that they could tell you how long you were going to live. Because once the telomere is gone, the integrity of the DNA has been compromised, and this leads to aging diseases and illness, as it ultimately leads to senescence, or cell death. This was discovered by a man named Leonard Hayflick in the 1960s, hence the term for this, "The Hayflick limit".
According to Leonard Hayflick's calculation, this equated to about 70 to 120 years on the average. But he capped off at a hundred and twenty, and if you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that the longest documented lifespan is about that long. However, this is not really true and we'll get to that in a little while. First I want to tell you about a couple women and a guy, named Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak.
In 2009 these three people were recognized for their discovery of an enzyme called telomerase, back in 1984, by being awarded
What is telomerase?
Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein that adds a species-dependent telomere repeat sequence to the end of the telomeres.
But how can you know which cell the telomerase will lengthen the telomeres on?
A cell biologist who did research in cloning stem cells in the sixties, and taught medical students at Stanford, by the name of Bruce Lipton, put his academic and professional career and reputation on the line to answer that question, through his research in the field of epigenetics.
What is epigenetics?
I'm glad you asked! Epigenetics is the heritable changes in gene expression independent of changes in DNA sequence, which affects how cells read the genes.
There are only about 1 to 3 genes that create genetic illnesses, of which there are only about 7, and none of them are cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and any of the other stress-related or age related illnesses that are prevalent in our society. This means that all these other diseases manifest themselves through gene expression (the determination of active vs. inactive genes). The good news about this is, we can do something about it. This is what I mean by our Achilles heel.
We may have genetic predisposition to certain illnesses, and through lifestyle and environmental stressors, create a conducive environment for these illnesses to manifest in our lives.Through the medium of epigenetics, we actually have the power within ourselves to either down-regulate, or upregulate these genes.
Here's a scholarly
that explains how 3 factors influence gene expression through epigenetics. It's pretty dry reading, so I'll just recap the 3 factors here:
As you can probably see, there is definitely some overlap between these three factors, and you can see how one can affect the other. For example, living in a hostile environment can create psychological stress, which can result in physical, mental and emotional dis-ease. This can affect lifestyle choices and often does. For example people who come from abusive families with a lack of support very often can begin to abuse alcohol, drugs, or even food. Or they can get into a violent lifestyle, or find themselves in another type of abusive situation. So these can take a lot of twists and turns to get down to the final outcome of illness...or death. They have done studies on cancer and found that one
People with heart disease typically have issues with their ability to control their anger, frustration and feelings of helplessness, which get expressed in the form of long term stress. Stress temporarily shuts down the immune system, and constricts blood vessels as it releases chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. These are the fight or flight chemicals that we were historically - back in caveman days - utilize to protect ourselves from predators such as giant dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers.
Back then when the threat disappeared, those chemicals ceased as well, and then, within a few minutes we would come back to homeostasis. But in our world today there are so many different environmental stressors, such a proliferation of dysfunction, resulting in an inordinate amount of fear, self-loathing, and feelings of unworthiness, that the brain doesn't respond to the immediate threat being gone, the way it did back when all we had to worry about were saber tooth tigers, velociraptors, and the occasional clubbing over the head.
Typically those things that we stress out about today, aren't gone in 5 minutes or 10 minutes or an hour. Typically these become a way of life for many of us. For most of us. And then, to make matters worse, we actually become addicted to the chemicals that get released in our brain that create this shitshow. As a result of this, we find ourselves going back to these things that are familiar - these situations where we can find the adrenaline rush that makes us feel alive again. Our body believes that we need this in order to continue to feel alive... Because it is familiar.
The long term consequence of this is senescence. Cell death. Stress hastens the aging process, creating autoimmune disease, and other stress-related illnesses which shorten, and significantly reduce the quality of our lives. But there's hope... And it's something we all have the power within ourselves to do.
Our brain is a kick-ass pharmacy