In the US, it’s Thanksgiving today. And while I know this year has been trying for so many, I can’t help but be intensely thankful for so, so many things. I’m grateful that I was born when, where and to whom I was born. I’m grateful to know God up close and personal. I’m grateful for my extraordinary friends, the life I’ve led, my son, the incredible healing I’ve had, and for the incredible thoughtfulness of the lovely gent I’m seeing these days.
I’m a little under the weather, which always makes me a bit existential. So I’m even more acutely grateful than normal, today, for the extraordinary health of every cell in my body. I’m grateful that God has prospered and protected me, all the days of my life, and I’m grateful for what’s ahead.
And OH!, I can almost not convey with words the extent of my gratitude for the experiences I’ve had. Travel, work, life, love: you name it. I’ve cycled the islands of Croatia, boxed with the Muslim boys of Brussels, worked to bring healthy food to people who’d otherwise not have had access and executive-ed a Silicon Valley startup, all the way to acquisition. Unbelievable.
The teachers I’ve had along the way have unlocked a lot of my capacity to live into—and revel in—these experiences. Most of the celebrity teachers I’ve had, I’ve learned from via their books or online work. But in the last 8 weeks I’ve had the honor and privilege to be in the same room as a number of those people I’ve learned from, from afar; people like Deepak Chopra, Anne Lamott, Brené Brown and Marina Abramović , each the undisputed best at what they do.
Brené changed my life, Anne cracked me entirely up and Marina opened my eyes. But Deepak? The thing is, Deepak and I go way back. Perhaps the first personal growth or “wizlit” book I ever read, besides the Bible, was his book Quantum Healing, which I read when I was about 14. I had several of terminally ill relatives I was watching experience their illnesses, and some of the ideas he suggested rocked my world, in that context. The idea that the cells of our bodies renew entirely ever 7 years, for one. The idea that there is a literal, proven connection between our mental state and the health of our bodies, for another.
These concepts were not just revolutionary to me because I was a child; they were quite revolutionary in the world at large, in 1989. And they were certainly revolutionary in the setting of my childhood, good old Bakersfield, California.
I found these ideas deeply exciting and comforting, at the same time. They felt like a gift, like an endowment of a new level of understanding of how our bodies heal, and a new sense of control over my own body and my own health outcomes, something that had previously seemed so mysterious and opaque it was almost terrifying, given the stakes.
I recently attended a Deepak lecture in San Francisco. Sometimes, I’m intentionally negligent at documenting these things on social media, mostly when I decide to stay all the way present in the moment, where I am. I did manage to post this photo and somewhat cryptic caption to Facebook, though:
This post was met with two, really different reactions. The people I know who have done a lot of workshops and personal growth work in the East-meets-West realm, their reaction was something like this:
Translation: PREACH, Deepak.
But the other people in my world, many of them thinking, wisdom-pursuing people themselves, had a slightly different reaction. It looked more like this:
So I thought I’d break it down a little bit, because these principles are eye-opening and mindset-shifting.
First, Part A: “There is no such thing as a thing. Nouns are a convention of language. Everything is activity.”
At a scientific level, smaller than our cells, really at the level of atoms, nothing is an actual, solid, fixed thing. Even the wood of the table before you consists of trillions of atoms in constant motion, moving so fast that we perceive them as solid. Places are in constant flux, too. Climate change is one example, but just one. A map of the world 5,000 years ago would be nearly unrecognizable, and the pace of change is actually witnessable even ore easily when you look at places like Venice or the coast of Malibu.
The only constant is change. This is even more true with our bodies, where cells are constantly dying so that new ones can be born. And even more true when we look at the landscapes of our lives, who we are, with whom we co-exist, what we do, and how we operate.
My pal Deepak was just saying that this idea that we have about nouns, that there are people, places or things that are constant, is just a linguistic hack we use to help simplify the world and the way we talk about it. But really, we’re all—everything is—a verb. We are in constant motion, constantly in action, at every level of being. There’s something peaceful about acknowledging that. It helps begin to un-click the attachment we can have to the way things are, which can often be at crossroads with the inevitable flow and motion of life.
Part B is related: You: Born this day. Dead this day. Birth and death every day in between.
The cells of our eyes regenerate every 48 hours. Colon cells renew every 4 days. Our livers? Every 6 weeks.
On one level, Deepak was saying that we are literally dying and being born, at a cellular level, literally every single day of our lives.
But the more esoteric elements of our being are also dying and being born continually. Our traumas and hopes. Our fears and memories. Our daily routines and life partners, our housemates and what we do. Our identities: literally, how we see ourselves and who we are in this life we live. All of these things are extremely malleable. They change all the time, but we often feel at mercy to their incessant change, terrorized by time. When we decide to accept this change, learn about them and be intentional about how we operate vis-a-vis this constant death and birth, things get very fun and possibilities begin to unlock that we never might have seen when we were fighting the flow.
Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn once said that “You can’t fight the waves. But you can learn to surf.” That’s what I think Deepak was ultimately saying a few weeks back, when I saw him speak. That the waves of life are constant activity and constant change. Learn to surf them, and you’re in business: the business of an intentional, joyful, well life.
P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 24 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.