The Ultimate Pillar of Success: Be an Existential DJ

Arts, Education, Front Page, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

       Imagine the sheer astonishment of Leonardo Da Vinci if he were suddenly alive and flying in a 747 at 35,000 feet above the ground. Can you see his mind-body – all his senses – become arrested in a state of complete Nirvana? Can you see him gasping at the recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that one of his wildest luminary visions is now a reality. The nature of humanity, however, suggests that the sublime bliss of this experience is likely to dissipate by more than half by the time he sets foot on his return flight. The emotional return on the experience will continue to diminish with each passing flight until one day he will get on the airplane, shut his window, shut his eyes, and hope for a new dream to entertain him during the hours that follow.

         What happened to his awe? What happened to the ecstasy? This diminished return on experience is known as, hedonic adaptation (def. the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative life events or changes). It so happens that being awestruck is the key to being our best selves, the key to our inspiration, and the key to liberating our inner genius. When in a state of utter surprise, we are attentive, we learn more, we think and perform better. These behaviors define what it means to be in an ecstatic state of mind (aka – a “flow state” or “the zone”). Unfortunately, the more exposed we become to the goings-on of the world around us, the less surprised or compelled we are by anything that happens, and the less affected we are by the sheer magnificence that engulfs being a living, breathing human being.

          So how do we transcend the been-theres and done-thats of our adult minds – the banality of our everyday lives? Can we reverse-engineer the experiences that allow us to use our minds in the most optimal way and tap into our highest potential? Legendary observationist, Charles Darwin, said: “Attention, if sudden and close, graduates to surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.”

Charles Darwin resting against pillar covered with vines.

           But how many of us today have the attention span of Charles Darwin? And how, in a world where the patience to pay attention to any one thing is so rapidly in decline, can we mindfully slow down and focus for long enough to become interested? Might this not explain why children seem less and less likely to sit through a full-length movie, but prefer instead to watch YouTube?

 

       We know that our minds and moods are dictated by neurochemistry. After years of examination, science seems to have become fairly accurate in identifying scenarios that trigger the chemicals which cause us to feel, think, and act in the various ways that we do. So, if scientists can predict which chemical will be released during a given situation, then we should be able to – using a variety of methods – author our own neurochemical Nirvana. Timothy Leery obviously believed so. And his “trippy” method, though highly controversial and ultimately unsuccessful, is still very much in use today. MDMA, for instance, is being prescribed to PTSD and OCD patients on a regular basis, and in many of these cases is being reported to have, in one afternoon, the same effect of 10 years of psychotherapy. (And yes, I did just use 3 acronyms in one sentence.) Using drugs as tools or loopholes to alter our state of consciousness in search of ecstasy is no doubt a controversial topic. But perhaps, through a delicate and mindful combination of psychology, technology, and pharmacology, the future will allow us to engineer our own paradise, offering us the proverbial “red pill”, a super-drug that has managed to dispense the bathwater and reprieve only the baby.

      Pharmaceuticals, however, are nowhere near our only hope. Neurochemicals, after all, are stimulated naturally and require no drug whatsoever if the human in question is disciplined enough to seek the proper experience and dedicate himself to the time and patience necessary to become submerged in said experience. For some, such ecstasy may be rendered through a specific artistic endeavor, or by spanning time in some natural or designed heterotopia; outer vastness reflects inner vastness, after all. Others might meet their hedonistic needs through meditation or Yoga, or maybe through an extreme sport where the risk of danger or injury is present. Personally, I haven’t found a high quite so exhilarating as that of leaping from the top of a tall cliff into a deep, glassy body of water. Though it is a very short rush, facing the fear of what I perceive in the moment (accurately or not) as falling to my death leaves me feeling completely alive.

 

       No matter the method, bliss and sublime well-being are consciously achievable and are not limited to fleeting moments which lie outside of our control. The final frontier has been said to be outer space, but I would contend that perhaps there is a final-final frontier, one which consists of our own inner space. You don’t need to be a “flow-junky” or a philosophical hedonist to aspire to have the key to your own happiness and your own gift of genius. As Brain Games host, Jason Silva, puts it, “Ask yourself: What makes me feel alive? What gives me the goosebumps? What makes me well up?” When you have the answer to these questions, make note of the surroundings – both those which lie without as well as those which lie within. Nail down the formula, and then, like a DJ with all the tools at your fingertips, tweak and tailor each component. Mix, match, and harmonize your own Nirvana.

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Tom Brady (or someone like him) for Mayor!

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady missed the entire 2008–09 football season after he suffered a serious knee injury caused by the type of tackle that was banned in 2009 by the NFL’s new “Brady Rule.”
Tom Brady throwing a touchdown pass during Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 (Jeff Haynes—AFP/Getty Images)

 

     As I watched Tom Brady lead the Patriots to yet another victory in a Super Bowl this year, I found that I wanted to know more about this man who pulled off the impossible.  My teacher brain saw a “kid” who had tapped into his potential.  My 40-year interest in how our brains work (which helped me tremendously as a teacher) made me wonder how he thinks and decides in the short and long term.  Even those football fans who aren’t Brady fans must surely recognize his ability to think and act under extreme pressure.  Maybe this is just the kind of leader our city needs.

     So, let’s take a look at ol’ Tom.  Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft.  The pre-draft report on Brady by Pro Football Weekly summarized: “Poor build. Very skinny and narrow.  Ended the ’99 season weighing 195 pounds, and still looks like a rail at 211. Lacks great physical stature and strength.  Can get pushed down more easily than you’d like.”  Before the big game this year, Brady said, “I am in the best shape of my life,” to which many old-timers laughed.  How can a 39-year-old athlete be in better shape than when he was 22?  As it turns out, Brady was right.  If you don’t believe it, search the internet for pictures from 2000 for the old Brady model and 2017 for the new and improved model. He actually IS more physically fit than when he was drafted.  But, Brady was actually quite successful even before he upgraded his body to the fit athlete he is today.  There must be something else.

     That same draft report listed “decision-making” as Brady’s positive attribute, something that he went on to prove was the most valuable aspect of his marketable skills.  In Coach Bill Belichick’s words regarding the hiring of Brady said, “Tom had been in situations–both in playing-time and game-management situations, tight games against good competition–and he’d handled all of them pretty well.”  From there, Brady started amassing knowledge about playing quarterback at the professional level, something that is frankly quite different than the college level game.  This increase in knowledge and experience coupled with a strong work ethic certainly must have played a role in Brady’s success. But, was thinking and working hard (and the better body) all that Brady needed to lead the New England Patriots of the National Football League (NFL) to five Super Bowl victories (2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, and 2017) and earn him the Most Valuable Player (MVP) four times (2002, 2004, 2015, and 2017)?  He seems to have been born with an incredible radar for finding the open man, the main problem every quarterback must solve — and solve it in a matter of seconds.  There’s just no time for deep, thoughtful contemplation about the math involved in getting the football to the right guy when a whole line of angry linebackers are bearing down on him.  Brady possesses something quite intangible, something that we know exists but can’t specifically identify, something that goes deeper than thought but is delicately intertwined with thought.  Brady has intuition.

    This ability is referred to by science types as intelligent intuition.  It’s certainly recognized in the business world. Bruce Kasanoff, Forbes writer, says that intuition is the highest form of intelligence but that having the instinct alone is not good enough.  Kasanoff says it must be harnessed and honed through research and self education. “You might say that I’m a believer in the power of disciplined intuition. Do your legwork, use your brain, share logical arguments, and I’ll trust and respect your intuitive powers.  But if you merely sit in your hammock and ask me to trust your intuition, I’ll quickly be out the door without saying goodbye. I say this from personal experience; the more research I do, the better my intuition works.”  This is how the Leonardo da Vincis, Benjamin Franklins, Albert Einsteins, and Tom Bradys of the world became masters in their fields, setting a mark so high that those that follow will have to work very hard just to reach it much less surpass it.

     So, let’s turn to the problem of electing a mayor for Corpus Christi.  In our pool of candidates thus far, is there a Brady in the bunch?  No doubt, we have some with the knowledge and experience necessary to get the job done to a reasonable degree.  Some have limited knowledge and experience but are good people who want to serve the citizens and work to get the city back on track.  Others have very little to offer in any of these areas.   Which one of them has depth of knowledge in city matters, experience in getting to the root of a problem, courage in the face of a crisis, intuitive intelligence, an ability to connect with the stakeholders, a willingness to see failure as part of the problem-solving process, and an ego that is in check?  A resume’ and campaign speech will never offer that information. Perhaps instead of a candidate forum where questions are asked and answered, our city manager should hand them a real city problem to solve between now and election day, give them the access to the same resources as an elected council member, and let them go to work.  The one who does the most research and comes up with the best solution to the problem would get my vote.

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