For those of you who don't know, I withdrew from school this fall, and have no intention of returning any time soon. Lets just get that on the table right now. Everybody okay? No strokes? Cool, let's move on.
I left school because I was not learning concepts or engaging in experiences, which I believed would facilitate my moving in a direction I wanted to go in life. For almost two months, I have been "doing my own thing," while many of my friends continue to work toward their undergraduate degrees. These last few weeks have been a trial by fire. I have worked as a sandal maker, written 24 articles for my blog, slept on a floor almost every night, and learned that one simple, human quality trumps all others in its ability to determine success.
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Hello all, and welcome to the first official interview hosted on my blog! I recently got the opportunity to Skype with Matthew Christodoulou, co-creator of the website, blog, and documentary series, all entitled Collective-Evolution.
Noah: Hey Matthew, welcome to my blog! First things first, why don’t we give the readers a quick explanation of what Collective-Evolution is about, and what specifically it is that you guys do.
Matthew: hey thanks, I started Collective-Evolution with my friends Joe Martino, and Mark DeNicola out of our idea to create social media, which could make individual experiences and higher-self knowledge available to the collective. In other words, we aim at bringing new consciousness to the structures of our society. A few that we have focussed on so far are: finance, education, religion, health, mainstream media, the human body, ego, and our planet.
Noah: Right on. For those unfamiliar with Collective Evolution, I’ll add from my own experience that the information presented in your two documentaries is profoundly insightful and thought-provoking.
For the sake of conciseness within this interview, however, I’ll be narrowing my questions to one especially intriguing topic, which I learned about through you guys. Could you describe briefly the practice of Sun-Gazing?
Matthew: Simply put, Sun-gazing is the practice of utilizing the radiant energy from the sun to feed the body. It’s practiced by many people around the world. Today, the way most people gain energy is through consuming food. Ultimately, however, the calories we consume are all nutrient energy, which, if you follow the causal chain back far enough, originates with the sun. By sun-gazing, we are simply cutting out the middle-man and acquiring energy directly from the source. If practiced enough, humans are capable of discontinuing predation altogether and feeding solely through sun-gazing.
Noah: To someone who has studied mainstream biology and nutrition, this certainly sounds like a radical proposition. I cannot help but notice an apparent similarity between the concept of sun-gazing and the photosynthesis metabolism of plants. Are you implying that humans are capable of performing photosynthesis?
Matthew: In regard to your definition of photosynthesis, no. Photosynthesis generally refers to the process of plants utilizing light energy to turn water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrate sugars, which can be used for food. This isn’t what takes place in humans with sun-gazing. Among other reasons, humans cannot engage in plant-like photosynthesis because we do not have chloroplasts.
However by our very nature, we are light beings. For on the quantum level, the energy of humans is made entirely of tiny light particles. Sun-gazing is simply taking light from the sun and decoding it to use it as a form of pure natural light energy that begins to reconnect neurons in the brain and reprogram the way the body utilizes and requires energy. Basically bringing us back to our natural state. The light is not transformed into anything. It remains light and enlightens the body, bringing it to a higher vibrational and conscious state which is harmonious and aligned with the universe.
Noah: It’s a fascinating concept to say the least. How would you respond, however, to the likely concern that staring directly into the sun would be damaging to the retinas of our eyes?
Matthew: During the height of the day, and especially for beginners, retinal damage is a risk. For that reason, the ideal time to sun-gaze is during the first 45 minutes of sunrise, or the last 45 minutes of sunset. During those windows, there is no ultraviolet light, so the risk of ocular damage is not significant. It’s why watching sunsets is a common practice, but no one complains of damaged eyes.
Noah: Lets consider someone who is skeptical of the validity of this concept, but is curious enough to put it to the test. Would you recommend that they stop eating food entirely and simply start watching sunsets?
Matthew: For a beginner, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend such an extreme, immersive approach. If you want to test out sun-gazing, don’t worry about fasting, just start with ten seconds of direct sunlight. Add ten seconds every day, until you are sun-gazing for several minutes on end. In my experience and with everyone I know who practices sun-gazing, you will feel progressively less compelled to consume food. You will start to feel lighter and more energetic, and your immune system will be top-notch- you won’t be getting sick at all.
Noah: That sounds pretty manageable. Do you know of anyone who has replaced eating with sun-gazing entirely? More specifically, have you replaced eating with sun-gazing entirely?
Matthew: There is an Indian man, who goes by the name HRM, and who is a world renowned sun-gazer. Reportedly, since 1995, HRM has consumed nothing but boiled water. You can see more about him by watching Collective Evolution II. As for me, living in Toronto, it’s often very cloudy and difficult to get access to enough sunlight to stop eating completely. As a result, I still consume food, but in significantly smaller quantities since I began sun-gazing, and more so during the winter than during the summer.
Noah: Right, Seattle sunsets often have similar atmospheric obstruction. The final question is how you discovered sun-gazing, and how long you have been practicing it?
Matthew: I realized my ability to sun-gaze on my own. The information was channelled to me through my higher self/ source. In other words, utilizing light-energy is an experience that I became aware of through the expansion of my own conscious state. Among others, Franco DeNicola (featured in CE I & II) helped me realize how to sun-gaze in a way that is most efficient and beneficial for the body. I’ve been practicing for about 3 years now.
Noah: Awesome. Fascinating stuff. Well Matthew, that’s all the questions I have for this specific topic. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. It is, undoubtedly, something I’m going to explore.
Matthew: Not a problem, I had fun with it as well, brother!
Final Thought: To many people who read this article, it is likely to stir up some feelings that are challenging to the ideas of mainstream physiology. If you find this is the case, and are experiencing feelings of defensiveness or anger, consider why you are experiencing that. In responding to my questions, Matthew has merely offered information based on his own experiences, and I have merely acted as a channel to facilitate the spreading of that information. If his words do not resonate with you, there is nothing for you to “fight” or argue against, for his words in no way oppose anything in your life.
If they do seem to strike a chord with you, however, I encourage all readers to experiment with the practice of sun-gazing during sunrises or sunsets. I have been experimenting myself for the past couple weeks and have noticed a definite decrease in my own appetite. It’s possible that it’s merely a placebo effect, but wouldn’t you like to find out for yourself?
Over the course of the last month, some of you have probably been wondering what the hell happened to my blog. I started out writing articles about strength and conditioning… but lately it has been all over the board with posts about psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and spirituality. Well, for those of you who miss the good old days, don’t dismay. For with this article, I’m bringing back the topic of pure, hot, nasty performance. In other words, this one’s for the meat-heads…
Allow me to make a radical claim. I believe that most men who are in semi-decent shape are capable of expressing a 30-inch vertical or better, and grabbing rim or dunking (depending on height). The reason that most cannot, is not a matter of hardware; most already have sufficient muscle-fiber content and tendon elasticity to make this happen. The discrepancy arises from the software; they simply do not have the kinesthetic awareness to utilize anything close to their physical potential. The same could be said of girls. I believe that most girls are capable of running low-12 second 100 meter dashes.
So, How Do We Upgrade Our Software?
Rate Coding is the technical term for the efficiency with which we can recruit muscle fibers. It can be improved through the ingestion of stimulants or through the experience of lifting progressively heavier shit. I’ll be focussing on the latter.
The best way to improve rate coding is through full-body, compound, organic movements. Here are some examples of good movements for training bilateral leg-extension:
There is, however, one important caveat to this approach, that all athletes should be aware of…
The Law of Diminishing Returns
Anyone who has ever followed a strength-training program is painfully aware of the law of diminishing returns. When you first start training an exercise, the results are awesome. You’re getting stronger and more coordinated every time you step in the gym. As time wears on, however, the gains start tapering off. It becomes harder to keep adding weight to the bar, and your coordination isn’t improving like it was before. Stick with it, and eventually you find yourself at the most dreaded place in all of strength training: the plateau.
Most people who reach this situation assume that they have tapped their genetic potential. They get discouraged, and stop putting any enthusiasm into their training. These people don’t know shit about the neurological side of training.
You see big gains at the start of your program due to improvement in your rate coding, because at first, you sucked. But as time wears on, your rate coding can only improve so much. Eventually, you become very comfortable with the movement, and it tapers off till you reach a plateau. Now, at this point, you can perform a systematic de-load, and try to build back up to a P.R. in the same exercise, but I am not a fan of this approach.
- because it takes weeks just to see an incremental improvement
- because it doesn’t teach any new kinesthetic awareness
This leaves us with six total exercises to train with at a given time (seven if you include a core/ hollow body exercise, which I highly endorse). Below I have labelled them in bold and written five of the best full-body, organic (anchored through feet/hands) exercises belonging to each category
- Bilateral Leg-Extension (Barbell Deadlift, Front Squat, Overhead Squat, Power Clean, Snatch)
- Unilateral Leg-Extension (Pistol Squat, Lunge, Single-leg Deadlift, Bulgarian Split Squat, Step-ups)
- Bilateral Arm-Extension (Handstand Push-up, Planche Push-up, [Overhead] Press, Dips, Jerk)
- Unilateral Arm-Extension (One-arm Push-ups, One-arm Press, One-arm Dumbbell Jerk, One-arm Med Ball throw, One-arm Handstand)
- Bilateral Arm-Flexion (Kipping Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Pendlay-rows, L-Pull-ups, Reverse Rows)
- Unilateral Arm-Flexion (One-arm chin ups, One-arm pull-ups, One-arm dumbbell rows, rope climbs, One-arm Reverse Rows)
- Core/ Hollow Body (Hollow Rocks, Hollow Outs, Toes to Bar, L-hang, L-sit)
Now, the conventional question that gets asked at this point is, “which is the best exercise to use for each of these categories?” Is squat better, or is deadlift? Is pull-up better, or is Pendlay-row?
This isn’t the question to ask.
The truth is, there is no best exercise. Every exercise listed above is flat-out phenomenal. They are each a little different, but all are tremendously beneficial for hypertrophy, kinesthetic awareness, and rate coding.
The question to ask, rather, is, “which of these exercises to I suck at the most?“
The exercise you suck at is the one that offers you the most opportunity for improvement, therefore that is the one you should be doing.
Not Strength-Training, But Weakness-Eliminating
It has been well noted by some of the world’s best athletes and coaches that the biggest improvements come not from training one’s strengths, but by eliminating their weaknesses. This sentiment is reflected in the following quotes:
“The way to strengthen a chain is by strengthening the weakest link.” –Kelly Baggett, author of the Vertical Jump Bible
“The best strength coaches are actually weakness managers.” –Grey Cook, author of Movement
“I take my weaknesses and turn them into strengths.” –Michael Jordan, a man who needs no introduction
So, without further ado, here is the exercise program I wrote up for myself yesterday:
I’m currently reading the Hero Handbook by Nate Green, the occasionally corny, but ultimately insightful fitness and life blogger. In the first chapter, Nate recommends a writing exercise called “Rules to Live By.” Essentially, the task is: make a list of your own rules- the most important rules you can think of to live by. As he points out, anybody can write “Family,” or “Career,” on a list of values, but rarely do we define what that means in terms of our own actions. So I set out to do it. I picked up a pen and immediately wrote:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –M. Gandhi
I really do see this as the guiding mantra for my life. However, after hearing Nate’s perspective, I realized that this quote, while beautiful and very true, doesn’t say anything too specific about what that requires in terms of my own actions. What, specifically, is the change I wish to be for the world?
After some consideration, I came up with the following four rules to live by:
- Don’t fight or escape what’s going on inside you- I emphasize this point a lot. Just about every dysfunction or addiction we face is created out of an attempt to escape or cover something up. Essentially, I am saying this: there is nothing we need to escape. Most of us get between 50 and 90 years to experience life as a human being. Make peace with all of it. There is no “negative.”
- Live your truth and share it with the world- Do and say what you believe in, not what is expected from someone of your demographic. Most of us play some sort of “role” for other people. To limit yourself to this mold and pretend that you are not exceptional is legitimately dishonest. We are all exceptional, and our insights are profound. Don’t let any person, or more accurately, any idea, hold you back from this rule.
- Set goals, identify the control-ables, and chip away every day-
- Setting Goals: recognize what your priorities are, and what you believe in working toward. This may conflict with the path you are currently on. It is important you acknowledge this now, so it doesn’t surprise you when you’re fifty.
- Identifying the Control-ables: Acknowledge what you do have control over, and what you do not. For example, I am in total control of whether I sit down to work on my blog on any given day. I am in control of finding social mediums to network my blog. I am not in control of whether or not people “like” what I have to say. Recognizing this allows me focus my energy productively, and let go of worrying about how it is received. I write what I believe is worth writing. Period.
- Chipping Away Every Day: Great monuments are built by consistent, careful attention- not sporadic fits of cortisol. In tackling something big, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. For instance, I’m planning to do some international travel this winter. Never having left North America, it’s hard to know where to begin. But, instead of getting paralyzed and lamenting my situation, I’ve committed to doing one piece of research every day. Maybe its about where I want to go, what I need to bring, or how I will get there. Before you know it, you look back and say, “wow” I can’t believe how much work I’ve done. That’s an awesome feeling.
- Gee, I sure hope I never find out what the purpose of my existence is…
- I really hope I never experience the feeling of being in love….
- And if there is some place in the world so beautiful that it brings tears to my eyes… well, I hope I don’t see it any time soon.
We get conditioned to believe that money is what’s important; that getting promoted is important; that being considered cool is important… It’s not. Flat out, that stuff does not matter. Having these experiences matters. As Will Smith puts it in Hitch “No [person] wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I sure hope I don’t fall in love today.’”
”They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.”
I used to consider frequently is the lack of universal verbal compatibility among people on this planet. I find it astonishing that, in an age of jet-engines and high-speed internet, most of us are still completely incapable of communicating with the people even one continent over.
What would you do if you were dropped in Shanghai, and had to take a dump? Are you gonna try to act that out for someone on the street?
This is a problem, people.
I read the Ender’s Shadow science fiction series in high school, and was impressed by the concept that author, Orson Scott Card presents about a language called Common. In the futuristic planet that Card describes, Common is a universal second language that all humans learn in school. In the same way that many Americans study Spanish, and Canadians study French growing up, all children on Card’s futuristic Earth learn Common. Though he doesn’t go into detail, the language is presumably intuitive enough that, by the time they are adults, all humans on the planet are capable of conversing with each other in Common, in addition to learning their native language at home.
I had a Spanish teacher in high school, Senor Cafe’, who was a pretty culturally uninhibited thinker. One day I posed him the following question:
“why doesn’t the UN come up with a new, grammatically straight-forward, universal language, and use it replace English as the official international language?”
“Funny you should ask,” Senor Cafe’ replied. ”They’ve tried.”
The Greatest Language You’ve Never Heard
In 1887, L.L. Zamenhof published Unua Libro, a book encapsulating the grammar of his ground-breaking new Language, Esperanto. More than 100 years before Orson Scott Card, Zamenhof engineered Esperanto (meaning “hope”) as an International Auxiliary Language to unite all peoples to better understanding through communication. Esperanto is easy to learn. There are no exceptions to the rules of its grammar or spelling. Senor Cafe’ estimated that an individual could attain fluency in as little as six months. In the 124 years following its creation, Esperantists, as they are called, have experienced their share of ups and downs. Here are a few of the highlights I found on Wikipedia:
- 1924, the American Radio Relay League adopts Esperanto as its official international auxiliary language
- 1926, Adolph Hitler mentions Esperanto in his manifesto, Mien Kampf, as an example of a language that would be used by an International Jewish Conspiracy once they achieved world domination.
- Deplorably, Zamenhof’s family was singled out along with many Esperantists for murder during the Holocaust
- 1954, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural organization recognizes Esperanto as an official “medium for international understanding.”
- whatever that means, lol
- 1965, William Shatner learns Esperanto at McGill University, and speaks it in his leading role for the 1965 B-list horror film, Incubus.
- Ido (a reformed version of Esperanto)
- Occidental (derived from the latin word for “west,” this language attempted to create vocabulary that was more easily recognizable to those who already spoke Romance Languages)
- which words are “official words” of that language,
- what, precisely, those words mean mean,
- and how exactly they are supposed to be spelled
no matter how counter-intuitive any of that may be.
For better or for worse, the lives of internet users world-wide changed forever this spring as Rebecca Black’s video, Friday went viral like no amateur music video has… ever. But that fact, in and of itself, was nothing to write home about. Like every other viral video, the buzz inevitably wore off, and people eventually forgot about it. What made Friday unique is that the attention it received was uniquely unsupportive, and unmistakably negative.
Black’s video was was uploaded in February 2011, and, after spending only four months on YouTube, was taken down. But not before garnering the unanimous title of:
“Most Disliked Video in the History of the Internet.”
The “Thumbs-Down” button under Friday was clicked 3.2 million times in well under half a year. The next closest? Justin Bieber’s Baby, boasting 1.9 million dislikes, but taking nearly two years and an internationally recognized poser to acquire them. By contrast, LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem is the most liked video in history, receiving only 970,000 “thumbs-up”. No doubt, Rebecca achieved something quite extraordinary this spring.
After discovering these statistics, however, I was left slightly dumb-founded:
How could a video that everyone hated become so popular??
My whole life, I had assumed that popularity meant everyone liking you. This video was unquestionably the most popular video in the world for those four months, yet most people allegedly despised it…
What’s more, everyone gave it a “thumbs-down”. Wouldn’t that have demoted the video down YouTube and Google searches, obscuring its visibility and preventing it from ever becoming especially popular??
Apparently Friday had dominated in spite of all the dislikes and comments attempting to “put that girl in her place.” But then, something occurred to me. What if Friday hadn’t succeeded in spite of those comments and “thumbs-downs.” What if it had succeeded because of them…
Prepare to Have your Mind Blown
After doing some research on how searches like Google and YouTube work, I discovered a concept called “relevance level.” In information sciences, relevance level of an search result (say, a music video, for example) is calculated by a complex set of algorithms and assigned a quantitative “grade.” The videos with the highest “grade” show up first on searches, in descending order. It also makes items more likely to come up in applications like Stumble-Upon.
The really astonishing twist is that giving a video a “thumbs-down” does not actually decrease its relevance level. In fact, it does the opposite; it is one of many factors which actually increases a search result’s grade.
While sites like YouTube give us the illusion that we are demoting things we don’t like, this is not the case. By viewing a page, you increase its relevance. By clicking a button (up or down) on the page, you increase its relevance. And, most of all, by commenting on a page (no matter how supportive or unsupportive your comment) you increase its relevance level, and give it a higher grade on search engines.
We’ve all heard the expression “No press is bad press.” Well, when it comes to informatics, this is literally the case. Imagine you are a search engine like Google, and your task is to bring people what they are looking for. Given that some people actively search for things they dislike, a thumbs down does not necessarily indicate that the video is not what the user is looking for. In fact, it makes it more likely that it is what they’re looking for. The reality is that there is nothing you can do to demote a page on the internet. All you can do is add information to it. That information, in turn, will make the page more relevant to searches.
Circling back to Rebecca Black’s video, right from the get-go, every person who watched that video clicked the thumbs-down button and/or said something critical of it, attempting to expose it as unworthy of our attention. Their response boosted the relevance level of the video just as much as if they were all clicking “thumbs-up,” and every comment said “great song XD.” So, haters kept hatin’ and Rebecca kept climbin’ the charts, acquiring almost 170 million views as she went.
“why doesn’t Facebook have a dislike button?”
“if they have google plus, why don’t they make google minus?”
The answer is because they can’t. Or, at least, those features would not do what you would expect them to. Google plus is essentially just a very clever way for Google to get millions of people to tell them exactly which pages of the internet are relevant to them, and disguise it as a social network. You’re helping google learn to dominate every other search engine by going through the results of a search (for free, by the way!) and saying “here, when I search for ______, this link is what I’m really looking for.” It’s nothing short of ingenious. However, a good argument could be made that all those users deserve a cut from the billions upon billions which Google Inc. will be raking in from this search engine optimization.
The Profound Parable of Friday
I was discussing this fascinating concept with my friend, Shanti this summer when we realized something quite profound. Earlier that day, we had been talking about the fossil fuel industry, and what was the best way to take our support away from it. It was one of those moments where both people just sort of look at each other, like “oh my god, are you thinking what I’m thinking??”
Relevance Theory, as we now call it, applies to all areas of life, not just information systems. By responding to something- anything- you add relevance to it- but not just on Google- in our world as well. It truly does not matter whether your commentary is supportive or malicious. As my friend Craig used to put it, haters just equal motivators. Talking trash about someone you don’t like, a corrupt industry or government… it gives us the same illusory notion that we are demoting it as when we click the “thumbs-down” on youtube. In reality, however, it just makes their work more prevalent to our society, and motivates them to work harder in spite of you.
The most powerful thing you can do to take support away from something to stop giving it relevance. In effect, stop giving it your attention.
This applies equally to music videos, to multi-national corporations, and even to people. Consider the most devastating break up you have ever experienced. What about that experience hurt the most? Was it something mean they said to you? Or was it the fact that the person to whom you were closest, decided to completely stop giving you their attention?
The principle is the same.
Most of us assume that we have to work to “take-down” the institutions of our world whose work we don’t believe in. We say things like “Fuck Monsanto” (thumbs-down button), or we write impassioned essays explaining why they are to blame for our problems (“comment: Rebecca Black is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen”). Yet these types of behaviors fail to acknowledge two realities:
1) They are adding relevance to (and thereby strengthening) the very institutions which they are attempting to demote.
2) Institutions have no influence in and of themselves. Their only influence comes from the work and attention of their supporters. Without that, they cannot exist.
So, what is the best way to overcome destructive institutions like Monsanto or Exxon-Mobile?
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “Nonresistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe.“
Conclusion- Relevance is Relative
The only way to stop adding relevance to something is to stop giving it your attention (think page views). However, many people commonly respond:
“That’s it? That’s all I can do? Stop talking about it? There’s got to be something more active that I can do...”
My first response is that taking your attention fully away from something is, in and of itself, extremely powerful. Remember the break up analogy? Corporations take it just as personally when you stop shopping with them, or renewing your membership.
But secondly, it’s worth noting that the concept of relevance is, by its very nature, completely relative. Consider a Google search. All that matters is how the items rank relative to each other. So, by giving your attention and support to something else, you indirectly decrease the relevance of the thing you no longer wish to support. Consider the following:
- What happens to Rebecca’s place on the results of a search if everyone follows the link for “Friday,” the movie with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker?
- What happens to Exxon-Mobile if everyone switches to electric cars?
- How do you feel when your boyfriend/ girlfriend moves on to someone else?
It’s all the same principle.
As a Rebecca Black once said,
“Gotta make my mind up- which seat can I take??“
Okay, maybe that quote doesn’t quite deserve the relevance I just gave it.
But, I think we can all agree: neither did the video.
Once a dysfunctional behavior has been identified, there are essentially two juxtaposing methods for treating it. The first is reflective of the way we tend to address dysfunction in the “Western World,” and so I have affectionately named it approaching dysfunction from the west. The other is more characteristic of “Eastern Philosophies,” so I refer to it here as approaching dysfunction from the east. In writing this post, I do not intend to endorse one approach and shun the other. Instead, I hope to elucidate the wisdom and value that lies within both ideologies, and show that they are not, in fact, conflicting methods, but rather can work together synergistically.
Approaching Dysfunction from the West: generally speaking, when we recognize a dysfunctional habit in the western world, our initial approach to addressing it could be encapsulated by the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:30
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is better for you to lose one of your body parts than to have your whole body go into hell.
Though threat of hell may sound extreme, this concept is nothing new to us. All Jesus is saying here is that if something in your life is taking you in a direction you don’t want to go, it’s better to discontinue that behavior completely than to let it destructively impact the rest of your life.
Take the behavior of habitual alcohol consumption for example. If drinking begins to take over your life; damage relationships; inhibit productivity with whatever your chosen occupation may be; in other words, if drinking causes you to sin, you’ll be better off cutting alcohol out of your life completely than keeping that superficial pleasure at the expense of everything else.
This concept is very prevalent in our culture. It is the ideological premise behind the concept of “giving something up” for Lent, quitting a bad habit, severing relationships with friends who are “a bad influence” on you, the movie Black Snake Moan… the list goes on and on.
I had a great experience giving up Facebook for Lent and wrote a post on my old blog about it last spring. The main thing I found so liberating about this decision was the space it freed up every time I was about to log in and realized that I had deactivated my account. It helped my get in touch with my feelings of anxiety, and opened up time for other things like reading great books.
But I challenge you to consider whether this approach, in and of itself, is necessarily a complete approach for healing dysfunction. Consider an individual who has recently spent three months in a rehab facility and recovered from a heavy physical dependency on heroin. Should he just shrug his shoulders, and continue about his life, simply regarding his former opiate dependency as “a crazy story to tell his grandkids?”
Or is there a lesson to be learned? Might he benefit from exploring whether there remains some sort of void in his life, which initially led him to experiment with drugs, and which could be equally capable of compelling him to do so again?
Enter the Eastern Philosophers…
Approaching from the East: while there is no doubt that the “western” approach to healing dysfunction can be nothing short of life-changing, that approach by itself can lack the depth or permanence needed for absolute, fundamental change. This awareness is reflected in a quote by one of my own spiritual mentors, Eckhart Tolle:
If the structures of the human mind remain unchanged, we will always end up re-creating the same world, the same evils, the same dysfunction.
The structures of the human mind, which Eckhart refers to, are very innate, very fundamental, and very ingrained in us, both individually, and collectively. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start throwing around technical jargon, claiming to know the structural specifics of the human mind. That would be beyond presumptuous. Instead, I merely think it’s worth noting the general difference in approach between the east and west.
Two of the more culturally prevalent movements in the eastern world are Buddhism and Hinduism. Arguably the central focuses of these religions are meditation and yoga. The general goal of both practices is to create an internal state of spiritual insight and tranquility. In essence, to fill the general void that compels us toward dysfunction. Contrast this with the christian practice of “cutting sin” from out lives.
Consider someone who eats junk food compulsively. They may vow to give up all sugary foods. They may remove it all from their cupboard. Yet most of us can relate to that feeling of anxiety that arises when the thought of a donut occurs to us, but we remember that we promised ourselves we wouldn’t. The societal prevalence of that feeling- that general state of anxiety- is why the practices of meditation and yoga have become as widespread as they have. In the most general sense, we are out of balance and out of touch with ourselves. This is what meditation and yoga are designed to help us with. It is also the focus of massage, acupuncture, journaling, and, perhaps the most scientifically verifiable approach of all, modern psychological therapy.
If we develop an awareness for what’s going on inside us, the compulsive anxiety abates. Without that anxiety, what would prompt us to reach for a donut, cigarette, or alcoholic beverage? Nothing. It is for this reason that the “eastern” approach is considered the deeper, more permanent type of change.
East Meets West: As you can see, one approach does not preclude the other. Practicing yoga obviously does not mean that you can’t decide to quit smoking. But one may wonder, why, if you are already working to heal your dysfunction at it’s deepest level through psychotherapy and meditation, would you bother forcing the explicit action of “quitting.” This is a valid question, as our personal anxiety is the deeper issue, and, in effect, the root cause behind all our dysfunction.
I believe this question is best answered with an analogy. Imagine you were diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that was operable by surgery. This would likely be a wake-up call with regards to the un-healthy, high-stress lifestyle you were living. Maybe you would decide to start yoga, meditation, the Paleo Diet, and begin seeing a therapist. And those would all be brilliant life-decisions. But would you forgo surgery in the hopes that your system would right-itself in time? Hell, no. You would get the surgery, AND turn your life around so it didn’t come back.
This approach of integrating the best of the Eastern and Western philosophies is the goal of integrative or holistic healing practices. Some example of integrative healers are Naturopathic physicians (ND, rather than MD), psychotherapists trained in meditation, and personal trainers who are also trained in yoga or physical therapy. Rather than simply telling you to quit and drugging you to cover up that anxiety, these professionals identify and treat your dysfunction from all sides. I genuinely believe that they are the future of health-care for our planet.
Take Home Message: We all have issues. We all have dysfunctions. If I can leave one piece of parting advise it would be this:
- be honest with yourself: you can’t start fixing your dysfunctions until you acknowledge that they are there
- stop your dysfunction habits. The longer they go on, the more damage they will do
- get some help: quitting dysfunctional habits is hard. Getting support from therapists and practicing meditation or yoga is essential for healing the deeper issue.
Hello, and welcome to the first of my two-part series on Dysfunction
This series will address the concept of dysfunction and the universal principles it carries with it to all areas of life, including health, lifestyle, socialization, politics, and more. I’m sure it sounds like I’m biting off quite a lot in trying to condense this subject into two articles, however I believe that the mechanisms at works here are really quite simple and universal when we take a step back. Read on and see what I mean…
First things first, I’ll begin with the premise upon which the rest of this post is constructed:
Dysfunction exists in our lives because we are not aware of its true, causal root. If we were fully aware of what was causing the dysfunction in our life, we would correct it. What we do become aware of is the resultant effects, or symptoms of our dysfunction. To illustrate this point, it is exorbitantly common for people to express a painful awareness for the fact that they are over-weight, out-of-shape, under stress, experiencing low self-esteem… I could go on forever. Yet, we never really understand why we have these issues. We know they are dysfunctional, unhealthy states to perpetuate, but we don’t understand how to get out of them, or, just as importantly, how we got into them.
Okay, well why does it matter how we got into them? If you’re over-weight, you’re over-weight. You should just find out what the best, scientifically-proven way to lose weight is and then do that. Same thing if you’re stressed out. You’ve got a problem, just fix it. Why would your waste your energy contemplating how it came about?
Because that type of indiscriminate use of statistical analysis doesn’t take into account the causal mechanism creating your dysfunction. Using the weight analogy is the easiest. Lets say you eat cake and ice cream every morning for breakfast. It may be well-documented that eliminating partially-hydrogenated vegetable shortening from your diet is great for losing weight. However that’s only an effective strategy if you already consume copious amounts of Crisco. What you really need to do is cut the daily cake and ice cream routine.
In addition, I’ve noticed some other significant short-comings to the approach of simply treating the symptoms of a dysfunction. Here they are:
1. You will have to treat the symptoms indefinitely. Watch this YouTube video to see what I mean:
2. Symptom-treatment is waste of time and energy. I had a friend in high school who used to smoke weed 1-2 times per week. He justified this habit by making the claim that he always went for a run the next morning, thus, presumably undoing whatever negative impact the previous day’s activities may have had on his cardiovascular system. There are several premises to that logic, which I would like to question. The more important point, however, is that if he had simply discontinued his smoking habit, there would have been no damage to “un-do.” He would not have had to spend time and energy just to maintain normalcy. Instead, running could have been a productive, maybe even enjoyable hobby for him. Imagine that
- Most nutritionists do not endorse any refined sugars due to the high insulin response they illicit. However many fitness experts assert that dextrose is the best possible post-workout recovery ingredient for re-building glycogen stores (gatorade’s formula is designed around this premise).
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) endorses “whole wheat” products as a healthy staple of the human diet for their fiber and complex carbohydrate content. Yet, a growing number of Ph. D’s, naturopathic doctors, and health-journalists cite the gluten, lectin, and phytic acid content of wheat as the cause behind several serious health problems, and advise against consuming it as a significant portion of your diet.
- Many nutritionists endorse coffee for its impressive anti-oxidant values. Neurologists and psychologists commonly advise against its habitual consumption, however, due to its propensity to create physical dependency, and a high positive incentive value for addicts (see my article on this subject).
As you can see, many of the really huge issue in health are hotly contested. It is ultimately up to you to determine who is, and who is not worth listening to. It is not enough to simply “have a doctor” and trust your health to him or her. When it comes to our well-being, we all must become an experts.
- Symptom: chronic fatigue Dysfunction: unstable circadian rhythm
- Symptom: weight-gain Dysfunction: unhealthy diet
- Symptom: anxiety/ depression Dysfunction: limited awareness for processing negative emotions
- Symptom: tight hamstrings or psoas Dysfunction: inactive pelvic stabilizers such as transverse abdominis or glutes
- Symptom: recurrent hangonvers Dysfunction: chronic alcohol consumption
- Symptom: poor social skills Dysfunction: unconscious fear of not being approved of by others
- Symptom: brain fog Dysfunction: inability to process peptides from wheat/ dairy