What I learned from my own “Heart Attack”

RMD cheese

What’s up beautiful people.

 

I am finally back to blogging after taking off for the last month and back on U.S. soil after the last 6.5 months. Needless to say, I have a lotttt to write about. To spare you the trauma of reading everything in one post, I’ll be sharing learnings and insights from my journey in bits and pieces over the next several weeks.

 

As a brief overview for those who may not have been following – I just recently returned to the U.S. after a sabbatical that I took with my company, Deloitte Consulting. Long story short, my journey ended up taking a few unexpected (but amazing) twists and turns which ultimately led me to Florianopolis, Brazil, to work with an organization called Rosemary Dream. I came to Rosemary Dream to serve as a life coach and facilitator for their flagship empowerment program called “Heart Attack.” The name may elicit a bit of a visceral reaction when you first read it but that is exactly the point…

 

We often hear stories of individuals who had a catastrophic event or near death experience in their life that forever changes them. The stories often follow a similar pattern:

 

  • There was a normal life before the event
  • Then the event happens and they have a realization of what is truly important to them
  • They move into the next phase of their life with a new vision and a sense of appreciation and wonder
  • They often look back and recall the challenging situation as “the best thing that ever happened to me”

 

These stories are usually both inspiring and enlightening and I love reading them, but what about those of us who haven’t had an experience like that? And why must we wait until something so dramatic happens before we wake up, realize what is truly important, and take responsibility for our lives?

 

This is why the Heart Attack program exists, the creators wanted to develop a program that yields the same beneficial effects of a near death experience, without having to nearly experience death.

 

I came to Rosemary Dream expecting to help coach the Heart Attack program, offer as much value as possible given my background, and leave with fond memories of the people and the program. Never did I expect to be transformed in the way that I was…

 

Today, I sit here a better man:

 

  • Physically: I feel stronger than I ever have in my entire life
  • Mentally: I feel clear, focused, and motivated to crush my new goals
  • Emotionally: I feel liberated and healed with an improved ability and confidence to handle any situation that comes my way
  • Spiritually: My heart is full. I feel more grateful than I ever have, I feel happier than I have ever been, and there is more love and richness in my life than I have ever experienced

 

I’ll eventually post about some specifics from the program but for the remainder of this post, I want to share 3 key learnings from my experience in Heart Attack. While these may not seem like net-new insights (and while I already rationally understood these points to be true), Heart Attack allowed me to experience them directly and to solidify the learnings deep inside of my heart and mind.

 

  1. There is a direct correlation between challenges/adversity and personal growth/proud moments. It’s interesting – as human beings, we often try to avoid challenging situations or things that scare the absolute shit out of us. We work hard to bring comfort to our lives; just look at 90% of commercials and consumer products, they are all about making life easier – free of challenging situations and void of “bad” emotions. The paradox is that growth and fulfillment doesn’t happen when we stay inside our comfort zones.  Take a moment to think about the things in your life that you are most proud of or recall your biggest accomplishments. I would bet money that the things that come to mind were very challenging for you or scared the shit out of you when you first faced them. Knowing this – WHY IS IT THAT WE STILL AVOID THESE CHALLENGING SITUATIONS WHEN THEY COME?! WHY IS IT THAT WHEN WE FACE ADVERSITY OR WHEN THINGS DON’T GO OUR WAY, WE BECOME IRRATIBLE, SAD, ANGRY, INSECURE, ETC.?!? It’s crazy how the mind works…

 

During this program I was pushed to my limits – I took a silent fast for 4 days and 3 nights in complete isolation with no food or water, I sat hunched over in a Temescal (sweat lodge) for 3 hours where individuals scream, cry, and pee themselves due to the intensity, I partook in Amazonian medicine ceremonies and ran barefoot on the beach as fast as I could for 2.5 hours straight. Earlier in the program, there were many times where in the midst of the experience, I found myself thinking “this sucks” or wishing it would be over soon. This all changed however, when during one particularly tough experience I recalled one of my favorite Bible verses from the book of James. It reads – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face challenges/trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. In that moment everything clicked, I realized that instead of resisting, I should be grateful for the difficulties and embrace them, knowing that they are building my perseverance and strengthening me. From that moment on, during the most difficult times, I found myself with my head to the sky, saying “thank you” and feeling a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to grow.

 

In Heart Attack, when things get intense, rather than back off, we press in. When people hit their breaking point and lash out in anger or break down and weep, we don’t try to “fix” or soften the situation, we embrace it with a “this is amazing” and press in a bit more, trusting that the experience is making us stronger in the long run. At Rosemary, we understand that resistance is the way.

 

So in your life, when you start to feel that fear, that insecurity, or that frustration, that’s a good sign. Step into it, don’t try to avoid it or soften it. Always remember… No pressure, no diamonds 🙂

 

 

 

2. It’s vulnerability, not openness, that truly connects people and breaks barriers. I consider myself a pretty open person and I never mind sharing personal things about myself. In fact, I often use this as a way to connect with others, I’ll share something personal and it makes that person feel safe with me and builds trust. What I realized during my time at Rosemary is that while I would share things that were personal, I rarely shared things that truly made me feel vulnerable. For example, my life story contains a past that was full of trouble and anger. When I share that, people will often say, “wow thanks for sharing that” or “you were brave to share that with the group”  but the truth is, this is wrong. It’s easy for me to be open about those things because they are behind me – I can confidently talk about those experiences because I know that today, I am a totally different person. The result of this openness tends to be a more one-sided connection, where the person I shared with would feel more connected with me than I would with them because while I was being open, I was not being vulnerable.

 

 

But then I had an experience that changed all of that…

 

When I got to Rosemary, the two men I worked most closely with were absolute STUDS. Now, I’m blessed that all of my guy friends are studs but these guys were next level. Tall, athletic, handsome, long hair flowing in the wind, model looking faces and ON TOP of all of that, they were brilliant at what they did – smart, well spoken, caring, and decisive. Alpha’s in every way.

 

When I first started working with them, I knew I loved them, but there was a barrier between us. As I was looking into what this barrier was, I realized it was my own insecurities. I’ve always been pretty confident, but I realized that part of my confidence was propped up on an identity I had built for myself around being “smart”, “athletic”, etc. and when I was faced with these two studs, that identity crumbled underneath my feet and I was left feeling low, questioning my value. (I will definitely be writing an entire post about this experience but for now, all you need to know is that’s how I was feeling.)

 

During the Heart Attack program, we had an activity that was all about breaking personal barriers and facing challenging situations. During this activity, I sat in the center of the circle, looked these two studs in the face, and in front of everyone, got as real as I possibly could have. I talked about my own insecurities around my physical appearance and described how I focused on other things to compensate for those insecurities, I told them that while I loved them, I had experienced thoughts about not wanting to continue to work with them out of fear of being lost in their shadow. I pretty much expressed every challenging thought that went through my head as a result of being around them.

 

The result was profound. First, it was extremely liberating to express how I felt to these guys, and expressing it in front of a larger group was even more empowering because there was nothing left that I was trying to hide – while these thoughts/insecurities never plagued me, they did exist and I judged myself for having them, never wanting anyone to know these thoughts crept into my “strong, positive mind.” Second, and more importantly, was what this vulnerability did for my relationship with stud 1 and stud 2. The next day I had conversations with each of them to talk about what had transpired the previous night. With all of the cards out on the table, both sides felt a much stronger and deeper connection with each other. The studs also shared some of the same insecurities they were feeling when I first came into Rosemary (like I said, the mind can be a real b**ch sometimes). This vulnerability bred a new level of trust and openness in the relationship and I am happy to say that very specifically, from that moment on, our friendship turned into more of a brotherhood that I share with only a few select people.

 

From there I was sold, I saw the value in this real vulnerability and wanted to continue to test it out. I wrote letters to two of my best friends from home – our relationships were seemingly fine, but there were small little things in my mind that I felt were holding us back from going a bit deeper with each other – and expressed everything that was on my mind, raw, with no sugar coating. Their responses were absolutely incredible and again, from the moment I received their responses, I felt instantly more connected to my friends of 10+ years that I had never experienced before. It was real and pure and has already yielded such amazing results for us.

 

So the takeaway? There is a difference between being open and being vulnerable – true vulnerability can make your heart beat 5x faster and instill a bit of nausea in you before you express it – when you start to feel that, it means you are moving in the right direction. Just like with challenging situations, this is where the real growth happens, step into it and I guarantee you will love the results (note that in some extreme situations you can experience a vulnerability hangover and find yourself thinking “why on earth did I just share that I feel so weak” – keep in mind that’s just the ego doing its work and know that the truth will set you free.)

 

 

3. The only way to truly catalyze transformation in someone is through unconditional love. My third and final point is a little bit esoteric and hard to capture in specific words/examples but it is the most important point that I can make. The Heart Attack program is an immersive 30 day program packed with sessions and experiences to spark empowerment and transformation in the lives of the participants. My team poured time and energy into developing impeccable content and memorable experiences for the participants. What I came to realize however, was that while the sessions had great information, they were not the gamechanger. The gamechanger was the way this content was delivered – with love in our hearts and deep care and commitment towards each participant. Remember, it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. We showed up each day with unconditional love for each participant and poured that love into them day-in and day-out, no matter what.

 

 

When we had our end-of-program feedback session, the was a common thread in all of the comments from the participants was around how we treated them. They mayyybe remembered 30% of the content that they learned over the last month, but that will eventually fade too – what they will never forget however, is how much love and belief we had in them to actually spark change – because as my girl Maya Angelou says… People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

 

As I thought more about this, I realized this was the case for me when I came out of the dark ages – I attribute that transformation not to all of the words that people told me about changing my behavior, I attribute that to the unconditional love and belief that I felt from my family. This point was signed, sealed, and delivered during my last couple of days at Rosemary Dream where I experienced an outpouring of love and appreciation from the Rosemary team that I had never felt before and one that I will never forget. At Rosemary, that same love is so embedded in the culture and is clear in everything they do; from cooking you a meal, to sharing a conversation, to giving you a compliment in the morning, you can feel the love in all of it and the only word I can use to describe it is PURE.

 

So here I sit, after my own Heart Attack experience. Everything feels different. I clear understand the things that I want to bring into my life, I understand my gifts and my voice and am ready to bring them to others with a lot of love, I feel an amazing sense of reverence for this thing called life and no matter what happens to me, I can sit back and be grateful, and THAT my friends… is truly a blessing.

 

To close out this post I want to leave you with one final quote that I hope you never forget “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa

 

So, less show and more soul – we have a lot of love to share 🙂

 

LOVE YOU FAM! ❤

Matt

 

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Summiting Volcan Cotopaxi – when there is a mountain in front of you, just take it one step at a time…

Hey fam – I know it’s been a while since my last post so thank you for being patient. The past two months have been full of travel. I had a close friend visit who had a rough year back at home so I wanted to make our time together fun and meaningful – we explored a lot of the country and met some amazing people along the way. For our last week together I wanted to end on a “high” note – I wanted to do something that would push us beyond our limits but if we accomplished it, would be unforgettable. What better way to do that than to climb the 3rd highest active volcano in the world, Volcan Cotopaxi?

Volvan Cotopaxi

The lead up:

When we decided that we would try to summit Cotopaxi, we didn’t know really what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that it was the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador and the 3rd highest active volcano in the world – pretty badass. Once we decided that we were going to do it, we had to prep.

 

Although I’m a pretty physically active person, I knew this was going to be a challenge and called for a different type of fitness and training. Most of my training for the past 4 months had been spent at the beach surfing and doing yoga/explosive style workouts at sea level. Cotopaxi was going to be an uphill climb, battling the elements at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) up to the summit. So, we set out on a 2 week tour through Ecuador to acclimatize to the proper altitude, get our legs ready for some serious trekking, and of course enjoy Ecuador’s natural beauty along the way.

 

  • We spent about a week total between Cuenca (2560 meters but ~3,900 meters at Cajas National Park) and Banos (1,820 meters) which weren’t as much serious prep as it was living at a higher altitude and taking a few half-day hikes – still amazing (pics below)
  • When we left Banos, we headed to Latacunga to hike the Quilotoa loop – a 3 day, 30 mile trek through the mountains in some pretty tough terrain until we arrived at Laguna de Quilotoa (3,914 meters – pictures below). It was challenging but rewarding
  • Finally, for our last 2 days before the attempted summit, we stayed at Secret Garden Cotopaxi, an beautiful hostel where we could see the monstrosity that is Volcan Cotopaxi from every angle (beautiful but intimidating – also pictured below)
  • From Secret Garden, we were also able to hike up to the summit of Volcan Pasachoa (~4,200 meters)
summit of Volcan Pasachoa
Summit of Volcan Pasachoa
  • All of this was good training but to put it in context, Cotopaxi’s basecamp alone sits at 4,800 meters… so we knew that it was going to be a whole new kind of animal

 

 

The summit:

We arrived at basecamp (El Refugio) at 3 pm the day before the summit to settle in and get our gear ready. We would be heading out at 12:30 am the following morning so we ate a bit of dinner and tried to get some rest before the climb…needless to say I didn’t get much sleep.

 

The first couple hours of the climb were amazing – the sky was lit up by the moon and the stars and I felt fresh, strong, and grateful…

 

Then we hit the glaciers – pure snow and ice – we put on our crampons (metal spikes for the bottom of your boots) and grabbed our ice picks. This is where shit got real.

 

The glaciers were steep, like double black diamond steep and if you fell, you’d either be sliding down Cotopaxi forever or fall into one of the thousands of crevices that went 80 meters into the depths of the volcano. Pretty friggin scary for a kid who doesn’t enjoy heights (more specifically, ledges at high altitudes). Add to this our extreme altitude where the air is ~50% less dense and the air molecules are much farther apart. The result? Oxygen deprivation, fatigue, nausea, headaches, etc.

 

About 3.5 hours in (with about 3 more to go) the oxygen deprivation started hitting me, I was fatigued and nauseous. I’d look down and I’d see how far we climbed, but then I would look up to the summit and it didn’t look like we were getting any closer to it. At ~4 hours into the hike, I told my buddy and my guide that I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue, we were getting ready to turn around. As we were getting ready to head back, my mind flooded with voices – I could hear my dad’s last words to me before the climb “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” and my mom saying “God will give you the strength to do all things”  and finally I recalled the 40% rule from my book Living With a Seal…more on the 40% rule later.

 

With this new inspiration, I stood up and started moving forward. Now, don’t be confused, this was not like I got a second wind and sped victoriously up the mountain. No, I took it slow, vomited twice, and slipped and stumbled intermittently for the next 2 hours to the summit.

 

But guess what… I still made it. As we reached the summit I could see the sun just rising up above the clouds. I was overcome with emotion and gratitude and just wept. The grueling process to get to the top and witness the beauty was overwhelming for me and I have never felt closer to God than I did at that moment. A moment I will never forget.

 

What I learned:

Through this experience, I learned a lot, but I want to share 3 quick insights that apply to our lives in almost everything we do:

 

 

  • When you are attempting a challenging endeavor, set an intention
  • Have a sense for where you are headed, but take it one step at a time
  • When you are pushing yourself, remember the 40% rule

 

 

  • Set an intention: Setting out on this endeavor, I knew it would be a challenge. I learned a while ago how important it is to set an intention to focus on during a rigorous challenge – it helps keep you focused and committed to your cause. The interesting insight for me however, was how quickly my intention changed. At first, my intention was set around myself. I wanted this achievement to be a symbol for me to represent future challenges that came my way – remembering the grit that it takes to overcome them. My intention however, quickly shifted… As we were trekking, I became filled with gratitude. I was thankful to God for the legs that were carrying me up the face of the volcano, for my lungs that were pumping hard to get limited oxygen into my body. I was thankful that I had one of my best friends next to me to share the experience with. I started to think about my mentors at work who supported me 100% to make this sabbatical opportunity possible, and finally I was thankful for my family who stood by me for my entire life up to this point – giving me the courage and confidence to take on this entire adventure in the first place. So what started out as something for me, quickly became a dedication climb – to the people that made this all possible, to show that I didn’t take this for granted. What I learned was that by setting my intention on others, I was able to access a new source of energy to keep pushing forward – if it was just for me, I think I would have stopped before the summit. 

 

  • Take it one step at a time: Before leaving for base camp, I was talking to my dad and I mentioned that while I felt confident, looking at that Volcano everyday was a bit intimidating. My dad responded with simple but powerful advice, “you know where you are headed, now just take it one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other.” As we were ascending, the air was getting thinner, and I was losing steam. I’d look back down from where we came and see how far we had climbed but then I would look up to the summit and it looked like we barely made any progress and that defeated feeling of “we’ll never get there” started to settle in. At that point I had sat down on the ice and told my guide I didn’t think I’d be able to continue – we were getting ready to turn around when my dad’s words came back into my mind “One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.” And for the next 3 hours up to the summit, that’s exactly what I did, I put all of my focus towards locking in each step, putting one foot in front of the other, only seldom taking a glance at the summit. In life, when we are facing a goal/challenge, getting to the other side can seem daunting and so far away. In these moments, the best thing you can do is break it down and focus on taking one step at a time towards your goal. What I learned is that success for any goal/challenge is not about the one big decision of “I’m going to summit Cotopaxi” but the thousands of small choices you make to continue to push forward until you finally arrive at your destination.

 

  • Remember the 40% Rule: About a year ago I read a really great book called Living With a Seal. In the book, serial entrepreneur, Jesse Itzler, hires a badass Navy Seal to come live with his family and teach him about mental and physical toughness. In the book, the Navy Seal reveals The 40% Rule.  The rule is simple: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done. While I was sitting, ready to give up and my dad’s voice popped into my head, so did the 40% rule. I realized that my mind was being soft as a survival mechanism, and that my body had a lot more to give – so I pushed on. And yes, it was tough and at many points it sucked…but I still made it. So the next time you hit your known limits, just remember you still have 60% more to give and push on.

 

 

I’ll never forget this experience and I am so grateful to all of the people and events in my life that made it possible. I hope you enjoyed the read and remember it the next time you have a mountain (physical or metaphorical) in front of you. Climb on!

 

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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