December 21, 2020: The winter equinox; the longest night and shortest day of the year…
How to weather the storm of Covid-19 and every storm that follows
It’s been tough, hasn’t it? And things have certainly changed. This is the biggest disruption to society I have experienced in my 43 years of existence. My situation has been no joy ride. I was supposed to begin my book tour back in April to promote my new book. But then Covid-19 happened. I was loving life in La Paz, Mexico, finishing the book, meeting amazing people, going whale watching, swimming in the pristine waters of the Sea of Cortez, but then the pandemic hit and everything halted.
You may have just opened a business or had travel plans disrupted. Or even worse, you may have contracted the virus or lost friends or loved ones…
The world has lost it’s shit. Virus, riots, fires, uncertainty, fear in every corner of the world. Yet, I couldn’t be happier or more grateful than I am right now.
That’s because three years ago several tragedies occurred in my life and I was plunged into a dark rabbit hole of depression for ten months. I fantasized about death, the only escape. In the words of one of my favorite musicians, Jim Morrison, “My only friend: The End.”
Then I ate some magic mushrooms one day and two weeks later I started writing this book. It’s a long story but that’s what the book is for and that’s why it’s called Taking Back My Mind: My Journey Out of Depression with Psilocybin Mushrooms. By writing this book, I inadvertently wrote my own guidebook on how to overcome adversity and weather this category 10 hurricane that’s taking the world by storm. What the mushrooms made me see that day was the incomprehensible vastness, extreme complexity, and interconnectedness of the universe, which made my problems, the same problems that made me certain life wasn’t worth living, seem minuscule. I learned some hard truths those days and those truths became the subject of the book. This article will cover the most applicable of these truths for the current times.
The day after the mushroom journey that jolted me out of depression began the magical journey I continue to this day, diving deep into meditation, yoga, breath work, philosophy, nutrition, health, and experimenting with psychedelics for mental and emotional health. As a result of my journey, there were two practices that I continue to this day that individually and collectively eradicate any stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, and sorrow immediately and leave me feeling ecstatic and grateful to be alive. While the book explores each of these practices and many more in detail, I will touch on how I use these practices to help keep me thriving despite these difficult times.
The first of these practices is a philosophy called Stoic philosophy. Two days after my mushroom journey, I felt I had a new spark; my fire had been reignited. I picked up an Entrepreneur magazine, feeling inspired, and read an article about Stoic philosophy, which focuses heavily on the topic of mortality. My dad had just died a few months before, so I was intrigued. What I have learned from this philosophy is worth more than all the gold and diamonds in the world.
Rather than bore you with historical dates and facts, I will sum up Stoicism as an operating system for navigating adversity, a structured thought process to perform mental jujitsu on any problem life throws at us, leading to victory over our problems. It is a school on how to master your mind.
Here is an excerpt from the book:
“Life is a delicate dance between the present moment, the future, and history, intrinsically tied together, and all happening, quite literally, at the same time. Our reactions to the present moment dictate the flow of the dance. The truth is that we don’t actually make anything happen, we react to things already happening around us. Unless we actively lead this dance, our emotions lead, and emotions have had their dancing shoes on for millennia. Let’s just say they are better dancers. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.” To lead this dance requires acute awareness and acceptance of the present moment and a cultivated control of our mind, which fuels our emotions, which determines our reactions.”
Life Truth #1: We control nothing except our thoughts.
On the flip side, however, we CAN have 100% control over our thoughts. It is us that keeps talking incessantly in our heads. Learn to control our thoughts, we master our mind. Master our mind, we master our life, regardless of external circumstances. Identification of what is in our control and what is not in our control, which means what is internal and what is external, is the one of most important lessons we can learn in life.
One conclusion Stoic philosophy quickly led me to was that there are no problems and there are no accidents. There are only opinions and miscalculations. Take a bear eating a salmon. Bad for the salmon, great for the bear. Same situation, different vantage point, different opinion. The situation itself, as are all situations, is neutral. As Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher famously said, “External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.” The key is to slow down time and focus on the stimuli/reaction process because it is in this split second that our opinions are formed, largely (about 95% of our awareness) a subconsciously ingrained process. If we can retrain ourselves to circumvent these knee jerk opinions by our mind and develop more positive, or at least constructive opinions, we can slowly begin to color our world a little brighter every day and make it easier to co-exist in our environment, again, regardless of the circumstances. Those are neutral. It is only our reactions that we have control over. Don’t bother thinking about anything outside of your control. It is a waste of valuable energy.
Sure, but accidents happen, right? No, they don’t. Any accident that has ever occurred is the product of a miscalculation somewhere down the road. Of course we can be the victims of someone else’s miscalculation but this is different than a random “accident.” The laws of physics are pretty stubborn. “Accidents” mean someone at some point wasn’t paying enough attention or simply got an equation wrong. We then call this an “accident” and blame… something else for this misfortune instead of learning from the mistake or miscalculation to prevent the same mistake or miscalculation from happening again. There are no accidents.
Life Truth #2: We Are All Going to Die.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
“Some things rush into existence, others out of it. Some of what now exists is already gone. Change and flux constantly remake the world, just as the incessant progression of time remakes eternity.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
Everyone and everything you know will one day, very soon in the grand scheme of our existence, vanish. While this may be a dark thought, it is the undeniable truth. If we can fully accept and embrace this truth, it can instill a sense of urgency in us to enjoy every moment that we experience. If we live by this reality, every moment is special and unique because we know and feel that it will never occur again. The present moment is all there really is. Stoicism teaches the art of maximizing this present moment to really live. Learn to “confine yourself to the present,” as Marcus Aurelius said 2,000 years ago, and you can slow down time, increase control over your thoughts, and minimize distractions, worry, and anxiety. You can appreciate what you have in the here and now more deeply with practice. Instead of painting a picture of the future, we must train ourselves to only deal with the situation at hand. Tell yourself, as Marcus often did, “Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past, or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: ‘Why is this so unbearable?’ Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” This applies to all situations.
There is a biological basis for this as well which I discuss in the book but won’t dive deep into in this article because of its complexity, and that is the activity in the “Default Mode Network” in our brain. Recent brain scans have shown a dramatic reduction in activity in this area of the brain which fuels our sense of self, or “ego,” when we are focused in the present moment, such as during meditation. During a psychedelic experience, blood flow to the DMN is reduced, literally forcing us to live in the present moment, perhaps why people report so many revelations and epiphanies during these experiences. They are present, senses fully opened, for the first time since they were children, who happen to lack a DMN until adolescence when the sense of self begins to develop. Of course this is a main topic of the book but the moral of the story is that the present moment is where all the answers lie. Recognizing and embracing death, constant change, and the impermanence of things is key to appreciating and maximizing the present moment. And this is the key to happiness.
Life Truth #3: Anxiety is Fake.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
We all do this all the time. It’s how our brains were designed. Everything is a big deal and everything is the end of the world. That good ole’ threat identification system mother nature installed us with. The good news is that it can be neutralized. The Stoic approach to this is to reflect upon this statement every time that you are stressed and believe, convince yourself, that this is true, always. Repeat this statement any time you are anxious or stressed. Eventually, you’ll begin to believe it. Thinking about these ideas during psychedelic experiences is a great way to install this operating system. It worked like a charm for me. The felt experience is so real when confronted with these universal truths during a psychedelic experience that it embeds itself in our minds like a download, which is seriously what it feels like.
Take the current situation. At first glance it appears that the world is fucked. It’s easy to be happy when things are going great. I wouldn’t say things are going great right now, but guess what, that doesn’t, nor should it, affect our happiness. Am I scared, worried, anxious, and nervous about the future? Of course, I’m only human. But Stoicism is about how to effectively deal with all of these emotions. It’s about recognizing that my mind is telling stories again and dismissing these stories. It’s about getting better at writing my own story and refocusing on what needs to be done in the present moment. I could tell myself that I am a victim of these larger than life external events and be sad and angry that Amazon has halted delivering books to several countries in light of recent events, affecting my book sales, or I can tell myself this event is outside of my control, not let it upset me, and focus on what IS in my control. I can react by feeling sorry for myself, or by diverting my thoughts to how lucky I am to even have a book published. I could tell myself that it’s lonely not being able to see friends and family and go out and do things, or I can tell myself that I have a lot of time and space right now to write and work on myself, and that is a blessing. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Whatever the universal nature assigns to any man at any time is for the good of that man at that time.”
Events and situations, no matter how difficult, have no inherent significance. It is us that assigns the significance, our opinions, which begins formulating the story, which ends up as emotions, which leads to actions. Our actions are completely determined by our story. We need to become better story tellers. This is the key to eradicating stress, anxiety, and fear, as we are the ones creating it. There can be no suffering if we change the meaning of the word. This is true power.
Back to the control thing (I’m going to go on a little bit of a tangent here). For all the efforts being made on how to win the war against Covid-19, there is a big lack of media covering something that we do have control over and is by far our best shot at preventing getting Covid-19 in the first place: our immune system. What we eat, drink, whether we exercise, our daily habits, and our sleeping routines all have an enormous impact on our health and our immune system, one of the most vital systems in our body, especially during these times.
We are currently faced with a virus that is ripping through the human population, drowning its victims in their own mucus due to an overactive immune response to this novel virus. The societal fear and response is warranted and a lot of focus is being put on measures to reduce spread of the virus with the ultimate goal of saving lives; measures like wearing masks and social distancing. One actionable aspect of prevention that is not getting nearly enough attention, however, is how we can influence and boost our immune system. As mentioned, people are not dying from the virus, they are dying from an overactive immune response, flooding their lungs with cytokines, overproducing mucus, and drowning.
While there is some mention in mainstream media about eating healthy and getting sleep to keep our immune systems strong, there are many powerful, immediately actionable practices that can boost our immune system, helping us fight off infections, bacteria, and viruses. One such practice is one of the subjects of my book; a breathing technique called the Wim Hof Method (WHM). There is a lot of science behind the method which I cover in the book as it is a big topic in itself but I will sum it up as an extremely powerful way to harness our innate power to survive and the ability to manipulate and enhance mental and bodily functions and processes at the cellular level. One of these optimized functions is our immune system.
In 2011, at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Wim Hof was injected with a dead cell-wall component of the E. Coli bacteria. The immune system reacts to this dead cell-wall as if real live bacteria has entered the body and mounts an immune response. Through practicing his breathing technique, Wim found that he could consciously raise his cortisol and epinephrine levels, in turn suppressing and resetting his immune response, preventing the symptoms of fever, chills, and headache the endotoxin normally produces. Even more impressive, when it was suggested that he was merely the exception to the rule, he insisted he could train twelve volunteers in ten days to pass the same test. All twelve volunteers were able to suppress their immune response to the endotoxin, while the control group did not. In other words, we can fight off illness and foreign invaders with a breathing technique. Perhaps not all, perhaps not Covid-19, but there is certainly reason to believe that it may make a difference and most certainly warrants research into it’s potential.
I began practicing the Wim Hof Method over two years ago when I started writing the book, and I have not gotten sick since. Even more than that, I have felt a sore throat and the onset of sickness on several occasions and on each occasion, after about a half hour of a heavy breathing session, the symptoms subsided within hours and I never got sick. The same has happened with physical pain, as the method also has very strong analgesic effects on the body. Several times when I have hurt myself physically, I have subsided the pain with several rounds of breathing. Without going deep into the science behind the method, the breathing practice induces many feel good hormones including dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and adrenaline, as well as activating our endocannabinoid and opioid (the good, endogenous, non-addictive kind) systems, and DMT, believed to reside in our pineal gland, cerebral cortex, and throughout our lungs. By practicing the Wim Hof Method every day, I am not only boosting my immune system (the full method involves an ice bath which reduces full body inflammation, one of the main factors in Covid-19 complications, and strengthens the immune system) but I feel incredible every day due to the deliberate flood of endorphins throughout my body. Wim calls it “getting high on your own supply,” and this couldn’t be more accurate. So not only do I feel great every day, I don’t worry one bit about Covid-19 because I firmly believe the power of the body, when harnessed, is much stronger than this virus. Wim Hof has stated many times recently that he “knows how to beat Covid-19.” He has stated, “I challenge any doctor or scientist in the world to prove me wrong.” I don’t believe he has been challenged. It is logical. If we can deliberately reduce inflammation and modulate our immune response to a foreign invader, these are huge implications for Covid-19.
Recently, in 2019, three independent physician-scientists from the United States and Britain, William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe, and Gregg L. Semenza, received the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for their discoveries of how “cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.” As investigation into the Wim Hof Method grows, we are discovering the mechanisms behind the miracle. Humans require a constant supply of oxygen to generate Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a messenger substance required for thousands of biochemical reactions in every cell in our bodies. Oxygen supply can vary significantly, however, due to physical activity, age, disease, and many other factors. When oxygen availability is low, a state called Hypoxia, our bodies create erythropoietin (EPO), a protein that is synthesized by the kidneys and, to a lesser extent, the liver. EPO increases the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues. Endurance athletes sometimes use EPO for doping, as it increases their supply of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Within this biological feedback loop, the scientists found a class of proteins called hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF). HIF accumulates in our cells under hypoxic conditions, in which they thrive. The HIF then binds to hypoxia-inducible elements (HIE), in thousands of target genes. These target genes act as a switch to produce EPO, which is needed to match oxygen supply and demand. In other words, HIF regulates oxygen homeostasis. As HIF accumulates in the body, specific genes are turned on, which subsequently increases EPO, and this, in turn, increases the effectiveness of crucial oxygen supply at the cellular level. The Wim Hof Method is a very effective tool for manipulating oxygen levels in the body, thus inducing these biochemical chain reactions. During breath retention, our cells sense this shortage of oxygen and adapt in a way that promotes them to be fit for future oxygen shortages. By practicing the WHM, we can control and drive this adaptation. When people are suffocating from an overactive immune response caused by inflammation sparked by Covid-19, they are suffering from hypoxia. Consistent practice of the WHM could literally prepare our cells for these hypoxic conditions, and that could mean the difference between life and death in this condition.
Why is this method not being talked about in the news? Why isn’t everyone on earth trying to boost their immune system and feel amazing in the process? It’s free and immediately available to everyone on earth. The answer to that runs deep and is about indoctrinated belief systems, but that is for another article.
The result of my journey has been the study and application of these ideas and practices which turned into a book to help others learn my process. I wake up every morning feeling physically great, mentally clean, strong, and ready for the day no matter what, and genuinely grateful for all that life continues to offer despite the current struggles. I am so very grateful that I have these powerful tools in my tool belt. Tools for happiness. I am not scared, I am not anxious, I am not worried because I cannot control the things which would trigger these emotions and the things I can control, like my thoughts and my actions, are what keep me healthy, strong, and happy.
So beyond simply wearing a mask and keeping 6 feet from everyone, let’s go a step further and incorporate these powerful tools to boost our immune system so we don’t become carriers in the first place. So that we feel incredible every day, confident that we are strong enough to fight off any virus, bacteria, or infection that comes along. This idea alone can reduce stress and anxiety surrounding Covid-19, in turn boosting our immune system. As Dr. Bruce Lipton states in The Biology of Belief, our consciousness creates our cellular action. If we are living in fear, our immune system is suppressed as energy resources are reserved for immediate threats, increasing blood flow to the extremities to prepare us to flee. Energy is rerouted to the immune system once we feel safe. Long term safety falls second to immediate safety. We cannot live in fear of a disease and boost our immune system at the same time.
That is not to say the current preventative measures should not be followed, of course they should(although prolonged use of face masks, which block oxygen flow, is not good for the immune system), but it doesn’t hurt one bit to breathe a little more.
These are just a few of the ideas, practices, and philosophies that have helped me navigate the current struggles during this pandemic. This is only part of the message I wish to share with the world. As I continue my book publishing journey, I hope to spread this message far and wide and encourage people to take their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health into their own hands. I hope to motivate people to awaken their incredible inner power to help them deal with today’s difficulties and adversities. We can all thrive despite the situation. Remember, in adversity lies the opportunity for growth, strength, resolve, and resilience. Your health, your mind, your life, is in your hands.
If you wish to learn more about these topics, check out my book: Taking Back My Mind: My Journey Out of Depression with Psilocybin Mushrooms, available on Amazon.
Stay strong, happy, and healthy!