A chent'annos!

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend. He's interested in longevity, and had recently made a commitment to a new diet. He said, "You know, I don't care at all if food tastes good. I just want it to be healthy."

Now, I'm all for healthy eating. Still, my first thought was, "How sad." Not to care at all whether or not you get any enjoyment from one of your everyday activities? How can one place absolutely no value on pleasure? Then I thought a little more, and I realized that implicit in his statement was the assumption that whether or not food tastes good is irrelevant to its healthfulness. The more I considered this, the more I wondered whether it was true. I started doing some research.

The short answer is this: Pleasure is definitely good for us. Enjoyment causes the release of a variety of substances that have health-promoting properties. It's not the case that healthy food is all about nutrient balances, and tasting good is just a nice bonus. Tasting good is part of what makes food healthy.

I've just come back from Sardinia, a beautiful Italian island in the Mediterranean that has one of the highest percentages of centenarians – people over 100 – in the world. (A chent'annos is a common Sardinian toast, meaning "to 100 years!") I can confirm that this long-lived population most definitely values pleasure. Deliciousness is not optional for them; they prioritize it, and invest time into making sure that their food tastes good. Then they spend time – lots of it – enjoying that delicious food along with their families and friends.

Let's be clear here: I'm not telling you to eat nothing but chocolate cake all the time. I'm saying that the pleasure you get from eating food is part that food's health-promoting properties. It's worth spending some effort on creating a meal that you'll enjoy. Choking down a bland vegetable you don't even like will do a lot less for your health than savoring one that you like, cooked in whatever way you most enjoy.

Besides, if we don't enjoy our lives, then what would be the point of living to 100, anyway?

A chent'annos!

Are love and freedom opposites?

I recently led a yoga retreat to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. The group energy was perfect, the scenery was stunning, we were all adopting the Guatemalan habit of slowing down to fully experience beauty. Best of all, I was watching people's hearts open as they came to know and love themselves more deeply.

(If you were there, know that I was in awe and appreciation of you the whole time.)

Several times I had the thought, "I wish I could do this more than once a year. But I can't, because of my kids."

I love my kids. At 9 and 6, they're a source of joy, laughter, and the deepest possible satisfaction. Still, it's undeniable that having kids restricts one's freedom.

Really, every human relationship restricts our freedom, doesn't it? When you're in a relationship with someone else, you have to consider their needs, not just your own. You can't just go do whatever you want. You have to think about how it will impact them. And so we give up some of our freedom to have love.

At least, we give up some of our outer freedom. With our inner freedom, it's a different story. Inner freedom is never constrained by love. Inner freedom is, if anything, enhanced by love. It leads us into new territories, showing us parts of ourselves we might never have discovered otherwise, and leading us to expand ever farther.

Love restricts our freedom to do, but increases our freedom to be.

And that, my friends, is a worthwhile tradeoff.

May your life be rich in love, adventure, and possibility.

Feeding the Heart

As the central pump for blood, the heart provides blood flow to every part of the body – including itself.

When the heart muscle contracts, during the phase known as systole (SIS-tahl-ee), it pushes blood out into the tissues of the body (including the lungs, where it will get oxygenated). At this time, when the heart is working hard to provide for the body, the force of its contraction squeezes its own blood vessels (the coronary arteries), impeding flow to the heart muscle itself. Thus, when the heart is working the hardest, it can't get any blood flow for itself.

When the heart muscle relaxes, during diastole (die-AS-toll-ee), that's when the coronary arteries open and the heart receives its own supply of fresh blood. This rest phase not only allows the chambers of the heart to fill with blood again, ready for pumping; it also gives the heart muscle itself the blood flow that's crucial for it to continue functioning. The rest phase is a necessary part of the cycle.

Sometimes, in our lives, we may feel like we're stuck in systole; constantly working hard to provide for others, without the time for rest. While we're in this mode, we can't get what we need for ourselves. Like the heart, we squeeze down on our own flow of nourishment while we work hard for others. If we stay like this, we often begin to experience burnout, as we continue to try to function on an empty tank, with no fresh flow to sustain us.

Remember that your own nourishment comes when you relax. Like the heart, when you're in diastole, that's when you get your own blood flow. The heart loves to provide for others, pumping nourishment out far and wide. Just remember that the heart itself is nourished during rest.

The Bright Side of Social Media

So many of us now get our news from social media, and so much of that news is negative and fear-inducing. How can we stay present to the beauty of the world in the face of this onslaught? Is the answer to avoid social media altogether?

Many have noted that the goal of news media organizations (including those whose content is shared by your friends) is to scare the $*@! out of you. The simple recognition that what you see was chosen out of all the news in the world as the absolute worst thing that happened recently can do wonders for reframing the way you feel about it all.

Furthermore, I believe that social media contains its own antidote. There, between the pieces of deliberately fear-inducing bad news, are moments from the lives of your friends. These are the things that are actually happening, right now, to those you know and care about. If you read your social media feeds and concentrate on this news, what you'll find looks very different than what the news media wants you to see. In my network, people do have bad things happen to them from time to time, but the overwhelming majority of my friends' posts about their lives are positive. People celebrate their partners and children, post beautiful images of nature, spend time with friends. Love and beauty are overwhelmingly the themes.

This is how I stay as grounded and present as possible without completely eliminating social media. Love and beauty make up most people's lives, most of the time. Soak your heart in that, and suddenly the world looks a lot brighter.


Among the liver's many jobs is to detoxify substances within the body. When the liver discovers a toxin (which are generated within the body by our own metabolism, as well as coming in from outside of us), it chemically modifies it. The goal is to change the toxin so that it becomes both inert (i.e. no longer toxic) and easily excreted (usually through the kidneys).

The liver is quite good at this. But sometimes it gets confused. On occasion, the liver sees a molecule that's actually inert, but it treats it like a toxin. It chemically modifies it as usual, and in some cases, the liver actually creates a toxin out of a perfectly harmless substance. In other words, the liver doesn't always detoxify; sometimes, it toxifies.

The mind seems to be capable of a similar reaction. Have you ever had a loved one say something completely innocent, something that would sound harmless to most people, but been suddenly thrown into anger, or guilt, or grief? Your mind has taken a nontoxic thought, and created a toxic one out of it.

We can't control the reactions in our livers, but our minds are different. In the moment, we may not be able to stop the underlying process through which the strong emotion was generated. But we can see it for what it is; a toxin created from a harmless idea. We can be curious about what triggered that reaction. In this way, maybe we can get a little distance from that toxin, and maybe we can even interrupt the process so that it isn't so strong the next time.

Taste the Sweetness

Have you ever chewed on a starchy food, like a cracker or some rice, and noticed it slowly becoming sweet in your mouth?

That's from the action of salivary amylase, a digestive enzyme in your saliva. It begins the process of digestion in the mouth, by breaking down starches into their component sugars, which you can then taste. (Starches are nothing but long chains of sugars.)  It takes a while to start working; if you swallow your food too quickly, you'll miss this transformation.

The thing is, salivary amylase doesn't really need to be there. There are much more powerful amylases, made by the pancreas and squirted into the small intestine, that digest carbohydrates right at their site of absorption. These enzymes can very well do the job without that little bit of help from salivary amylase.

But salivary amylase has a nice benefit: it lets us taste the sweetness of the world. Instead of waiting until later in the process, the body begins taking apart our food into its component parts right away, as if to say, "Did you notice?  This simple food is made up of little sweet things linked together."  But only if we let our food linger a bit as we chew it.

Isn't all of life made up of little sweet parts?  Isn't even a traffic jam made up of tiny visions of clouds and trees and flowers?  When put together into the form of our obligations, they might seem like boring old starch.  But if we let them linger for a while, maybe we can start to notice the many tiny moments of sweetness from which life is made.

Are You Fibrillating?

The muscle cells of your heart all work together in a synchronous rhythm.  Coordinated by an electrical system, the cells also communicate directly with each other, so that they can organize to accomplish their vital task.

Fibrillation occurs when the heart muscle cells aren't working together properly.  Each cell is contracting rhythmically, so in that sense, it's doing what it's supposed to do.  But without the right coordination, the cells all beat at their own rhythm, accomplishing nothing.  The heart quivers but does not function.

Have you ever felt like you're fibrillating?  You're working hard at a thousand different things, but things just don't seem to be going anywhere?

Those electrical shockers are designed to work on fibrillating hearts.  (That's why they're called defibrillators.)  Contrary to popular belief, giving an electric shock doesn't start a stopped heart.  It stops a fibrillating one.  The doctors put those pads on your chest, yell "CLEAR!," and stop your heart.

This is exactly the right thing to do to a fibrillating heart.  It synchronizes the heart muscle cells by stopping them all at the same time.  Then they can start again, working together so that they can actually accomplish something.

People report a similar phenomenon in their fibrillating lives.  Many people report that a traumatic event, such as a cancer diagnosis, stops everything in their lives for a period of time.  When they start back up again, they have a renewed focus on what's truly important.  Their actions are more purposeful.  Their lives are filled with new meaning.

If you feel like you're fibrillating, maybe it doesn't have to take a trauma to cause this defibrillation.  What if you simply decided to put things on pause for a while?  What if you stopped struggling and let go of as much as possible, focusing only on resting and renewing?  What if you allowed yourself to rest as if your life depended on it?  Perhaps you would emerge from that stopped period with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.

Keep in mind a crucial point: the defibrillator doesn't force the heart to start again.  It only stops it, then allows it to start back up when it's ready.  So if you take a pause, don't set an endpoint.  Focus only on pausing, then allow yourself to start again whenever that starts happening on its own.

Often, when we're going a million directions at once, all we really need is to stop.



The Whites of Your Eyes

What are the whites of your eyes for?

The white part of your eye is called the sclera. It's made up of thick connective tissue, primarily Type I collagen, the same protein that makes up your tendons and ligaments. It holds the shape of the eye, and provides protection for the delicate inner structures of the eye.

But why is it so big and white?

To perform its functions, the sclera doesn't need to be nearly as big as it is. And it certainly doesn't need to be white. Take a look at your pets, or at pictures of animals. Compared to ours, their sclera compose only a tiny portion of the visible part of the eye. In some species, the sclera are disguised, with a color similar to that of the iris. In fact, no other species has sclera as big and distinctive as ours. Even monkeys have much smaller and darker sclera. And since the larger sclera don't make the eye any better at seeing, it seems there must be a non-visual reason for their distinctiveness.

It's thought that the sclera are so obvious in humans for a social reason. Having such large sclera allows other humans to see where we're looking with a high degree of accuracy. In other words, the whites of your eyes are there to allow you to broadcast your thoughts (well, some of them) wordlessly to other people, by making it obvious to them what you're looking at. Are you looking into their eyes, or just slightly to the side? Are you looking intently at an object, or just staring off into space?

Your eyes are able to make everyone around you a little bit telepathic.

Disorganized Healing

Have you ever looked closely at a wound while it's healing?  You might have noticed a type of pink, bumpy, uneven tissue called granulation tissue.

Granulation tissue forms while a wound is healing.  It looks uneven because the tissue isn't very well-organized.  During the process of healing, granulation tissue forms quickly to fill the wound.  It consists mainly of blood vessels and loose connective tissue.  This allows the body to mobilize other cells to create a more permanent tissue as the process of healing continues.  It would be easy to look at granulation tissue and believe that something has gone wrong with the healing process; this terribly chaotic thing has formed.  But what may look like a failed healing process is really just a first step.

When we're wounded emotionally or spiritually, the process is similar.  When the process of our healing begins, the first new growth often looks disorganized and uneven.  It may appear that we haven't really healed, but just allowed something to loosely fill the gap.  Seeing ourselves at this stage, we could easily assume that our healing process hasn't quite worked, that we've allowed our wound to be filled with something that's uneven and doesn't quite fit.  Did we do it wrong?

If you see this happening in your body or your life, be tender with yourself.  Protect the new growth, and allow the process of healing to continue.  Right now, things may look a little disorganized.  But it's just a natural step in the process.

Stronger Together

I love syncytia (sin-SISH-ah).  I love the beautiful sound of it, and also its meaning.

A syncytium is a cell formed by the fusion of many other cells.  The best example in the human body is your skeletal muscle (the muscles you're in voluntary control of).  Thousands of cells fuse together to form one long myofiber (muscle cell).  Each smaller cell retains its nucleus (where it houses its genetic material), so it has its own individual identity to some extent, even after being absorbed into the syncytium.  They're all organized to pull in the same direction.  After birth, these syncytia are ready to be strong and allow you to move through the world (although it takes a baby a while to develop the ability to coordinate the movements well).

And isn't that a metaphor for life?  To accomplish our work in the world, thousands of us come together.  We can each retain our core identity, even as we become part of that whole.  When we fuse into larger groups, we're stronger.  We all pull in the same direction, and we can move almost anything.