What I learned from my own “Heart Attack”

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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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A toast…to a real man’s man – my Father

This post is a dedication to my father – the greatest man I will ever know.

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I was initially sitting down to write a blog post about mentorship (which will still come soon) and I started thinking about the different mentors in my life. Now, I have been blessed to have some incredible mentors through the years that have challenged me, taught me, and guided me through different phases of my life – so I am sure you can imagine I have plenty to say about them. There is one mentor however who has been there the whole time, 27 years, through the challenges, the bliss, and everything in between – my dad. Add that to the fact that it’s his 62nd trip around the sun and it’s only logical that give a little thanks and share what I’ve learned from the man, the myth, the legend… Frank Brigante.

 

From here on out I am speaking directly to you, Dad.

 

Even as I sit to write this its hard to express in so little text all that you’ve done for me. You have taught me so much – directly through your words and indirectly through your actions so I’ll just have to try my best to cover what I feel are the most important things that any father can teach his son… what it really means to be a man. Here are the skills and qualities that I’ve learned from you that feel the need to share with the world.

 

  • Strength: Men are strong. Yeah that’s something all guys grow up hearing – but you redefined what strength means to me. You taught me that the strength of a man isn’t measured by the circumference of his biceps or his bench press – it is measured by the strength of his heart and his character. You’ve shown me how to find the strength to be vulnerable and sensitive when every stereotype and instinct urged me to harden my heart because “men don’t show their emotions.” You taught me to always do the right thing, even when the outcome doesn’t favor me, and most importantly you showed me how to build up my legs and shoulders (metaphorically speaking), not to carry heavy objects, but to be able to withstand the weight of sacrifice. I grew up watching you always putting others before yourself and doing it with love, joy, and a smile on your face.
  • Toughness: You grew up without ever knowing your real father, you grew up getting your Christmas gifts from the Church donation basket. You could have let your past be a predicator of your future but instead you decided that you wanted something different for your life and your family – so you put your head down and you grinded. Year in and year out you worked your tail off to put food on the table, to put money away so we could get the college education that you couldn’t, so that we could travel the world as a family and enjoy incredible experiences. Even when we went through our ungrateful shithead phases where we threw it all back in your face, you kept up and set a standard for toughness that I will never forget and that I will always strive to live up to.
  • Bravery: You taught me to be fearless when I step into any situation, no matter how uncertain it may seem. Not because of some foolish overestimation of my own abilities but because you taught me to have faith in the face of anything that comes my way. Growing up, and still to this day, you always took the time to point out God’s hand in every situation when I couldn’t see it myself. You showed me that that nothing is a coincidence and everything is as it should be at all times because God is always in control. I can’t tell you how much peace this has brought me throughout my life and how much confidence its given me to continue to push myself beyond my known limits.
  • Work Ethic: “Commit to the Lord all that you do…” man, if I had a dollar for all of the times you’ve said that…LOL but in all seriousness, you are the physical manifestation of that expression. From cleaning the house, waking up extra early so you can make breakfast for each member of the family, to gathering us around the table to read the Bible and speak wisdom into our lives during times when we needed it most, you never half assed it – you always go full ass. But in all seriousness, no matter how big or small the task, you do it with the same level of love, care, and dedication – and that’s something I can’t say the same thing about anyone else that I know. A tip of the hat to you on that one.
  • How to treat a woman: Like every father should, you showed me how to treat and talk to women. But your lessons are different – they’re never the “hey, you come here often” or “grab them by the p***”  bullshit. No – in my 27 years of life I have never seen you speak to or treat mom in a disrespectful or undermining way. You taught me that a wife should be your true partner in life and if/when that partnership gets out of balance, you fix it… even if that means swallowing your ego and saying sorry. You’ve shown me how to have confidence with women – confidence that doing things like cooking, cleaning, and gardening for your wife doesn’t make you any less of a man. Confidence to go against all of the gender norms you grew up with simply because you love mom and it makes you happy to do these things for her. Because of you I now know that trust and communication are some of the most important elements of any relationship and I’ve had the utter joy of watching your relationship with mom become deeper and more enriched each year with no signs of slowing down. What more could a kid ask for?

 

The truth is that these points don’t even scratch the surface of all that you’ve done for me and all that you’ve taught me. But talk is cheap anyway – just like you did for me, I want to show you what I’ve learned from you. You have been such a driving force in my life, you make me want to be the best man, brother, and leader I can be – because I can only hope to carry on your legacy and make you proud. Thank you so much dad, I am so blessed to have a best friend, mentor, and father, all wrapped up into one person.

 

BIG LOVE TO YOU BROTHA

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Love,

Matt