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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Step outside of your “bubble” to change your perspective…especially when traveling

DR kids

Some readers may see this as a rant but I hope it’s not interpreted as such – I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to live their lives, I am just sharing what has made a big difference in mine.

 

Yesterday was Sunday in Quito, Ecuador. As a pretty religious country, all of the mom n’ pop cafe’s were closed, so I headed to a more commercial spot in the center of town for breakfast. This place was full of travelers and expats which I could easily pick up on from the looks and language of the patrons. As I was eating and FaceTiming my sister, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. When I turned around I saw an adorable little girl but as my concentration focused in on her, my heart started to break – this girl could not have been more than 4 years old but her clothes were tattered, her face was splotched with dirt, and I could easily see the white crust that comes after tears have been streaming down a face. She put out her hand for some money which I gladly gave her. We chatted for a moment, I introduced her to my little sister (via FaceTime) and she went on her way.  What really struck me though, was what happened after she left… as I watched her walk away, I noticed almost 90% of the other patrons turn their backs or plug in their headphones in anticipation of this girl walking up to them so that they wouldn’t have to acknowledge her or face the reality of the situation.

 

In a similar vein, I’m currently taking a break from the hostel life of shared dorms and bathrooms and booked a couple of nights at the JW Marriott (I’ll discuss the irony of that in a bit…) where I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. This hotel seems to be isolated from the reality that exists just outside of its doors where the employees guard against locals coming onto the property to solicit patrons with gum/water or window-washing/shoe-shining services. Now, I understand that Marriott is branded on customer experience and as a business, I get why they feel the need to “protect” guests from this type of encounter but my personal opinion is that experiences like this, while at times can be jarring, shouldn’t anger us as guests, they should open our eyes to show how good we have it… after all, this is the first place I’ve been able to actually flush my shitty toilet paper rather than throw it in the garbage…

 

One thing I’ve become tuned into over the last few years is that many people within or above our tax bracket, when traveling to under-resourced countries, do it purely for themselves. They want to see the sights and want to eat and drink like kings and queens for a fraction of the price. While they may venture far from their home country, they tend to keep themselves insulated by going to the western spots (hotels, bars, restaurants) and put a layer between themselves and the locals of the countries that they visit. The result is that they come back with some fun stories and cool experiences but no shift in perspective and no understanding of what life is truly like in that country. When I’ve asked how the trips were, the conversations seem to revolve around all of the cool things they did “WE ATE LIKE KINGS!” “WE DID THE COOLEST SHIT” etc. It’s been much less common for me to hear “the trip was amazing, it turned my world upside down and made me so grateful for what I have” or “The people were so incredible and taught me so much about love, life, and joy”

 

Why is this important?

 

Like I said – this isn’t meant to be a rant or me calling people out because they aren’t “traveling the right way.” No, I’m not here to critique travel plans – in fact… this line of thought spans far beyond traveling (I’m just using travel as a way to highlight my point).

 

The main point is that when you are only focused on yourself, and never venture out of your “bubble” it’s easy to lose perspective. You begin to think that your problems are the biggest and most important problems in the world and you miss the crucial lessons that you can learn from others living in different situations.

 

  • “I’m so pissed. School only just started and I already have so much homework I had to miss Sunday Funday”
  • “I can’t believe my ex is already dating someone else…”
  • “I get that we don’t really talk anymore but why would they have to go and unfollow me on Instagram?”
  • “My job literally sucks, I hate my boss so much”

 

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, these situations are less than optimal but to get hung up on them, let them fester, and waste energy thinking about them is such a shame.

 

When you find opportunities to “burst your bubble” and truly experience other environments – those problems that once seemed so huge start to dissolve. If you really open your heart and mind to what’s out there, everything begin to change: your perspective, your motives, everything…

 

For me personally, traveling has been one of the most effective ways to venture out of my bubble and continues to transform me every day.

 

Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to work in countries like Bosnia, Jordan, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – countries with people clearly living in a different reality than what I am used to back in the United States. In these countries I’ve worked with organizations who serve groups that are severely under resourced and/or oppressed. Working with these organizations and interacting directly with the people they serve, I’ve heard stories and had encounters that I will never forget. Stories of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty, lack of medical care, and strict oppression from both family members and governments. I’ve also seen the flip side, of people who don’t seem to have much but were so happy and grateful and willing to share what they do have. I’ve been blessed to share meals with and stay in the homes of these people and connect with them – and what I learned is that we are no different – we’re all made up of the same material, we all want love, and we all end up in the same place… the only difference are the environments that we happened to be born into. Each interaction has changed me for the better, they made me more empathetic, more curious, more grateful for what I have, more focused on others rather than myself – and I feel fortunate to have the people and opportunities in my life to expose me to the world outside of my bubble.

What’s your point?

 

With the recent news of Mac Miller’s death, which came way too soon, I’ve been thinking about other news of stars such as Avicii, Heath Ledger, and in some cases personal friends – passing at such young ages from drug overdoses and/or suicides when they seemed to have a golden road in front of them.

 

NOW DON’T GET IT TWISTED. I wouldn’t dare try to undermine what they may have been going through – I didn’t know them and I would never be so pompous to speak as if I knew the depths of their pain.

 

What I can speak on however, is my own personal experience. There was a time for me where I was so wrapped up in my bubble. I’d be concerned with how I came across to others, or if a certain girl was into me, or if I acted as cool as possible in a social situation – I just wanted to be accepted and be what I felt other people expected me to be. I’d compare myself to others in via channels like social media and would get down on myself. I was working hard but would see these people who already had the things that I wanted (both tangible and intangible things) and it would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough to earn them. My inputs weren’t immediately leading to the outcomes that I expected and so I began to question myself and my value. I would party hard and drink / do drugs to experience that peace and happiness for just a moment, while feeling like absolute shit (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) the next day because I knew it wasn’t real. My mind even went as far as fantasizing about what would happen if I died and if people would finally start to appreciate what I had to offer once I was gone. It was a dark place that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone and in fact this is the first time that I’ve ever put this out there to the public.

 

But, I was blessed with opportunities to burst that bubble that I was living in which was slowly destroying my spirit and once I started to break down those walls, those concerns stopped looking so ominous and took a back seat. I started to realize what I had and became grateful and joyful.  The questions I asked myself changed from “why don’t I have this yet?” to questions like, “how can I better serve others?” or “how can I make good use of my gifts to show my gratitude?”

 

Once my perspective shifted, so did everything else in my life. The crazy thing is that at first, my perspective was the only thing that changed. I wasn’t doing anything different, I just saw my life through a new pair of eyes until overtime it started to manifest into the physical indicators and now I don’t think you have to look too far to see how grateful I am for all that I have and how full of love and happiness my life has become.

 

This is certainly not just the case for me. At the beginning of my sabbatical I met an awesome dude in Peru who was from the states. He shared with me his story of transformation. He had hated his life – he felt empty and depressed like he couldn’t escape his situation – Peru was his last option, he had heard that it was a place for spiritual healing and decided that it was either going to change him or he was going to take his own life. I was floored by his story because the man I met was happy, in love, and radiated positive energy – in our conversations I learned so much from him about life, gratitude, and what truly matters. I would have never expected that he came from a place of so much pain and hopelessness and his transformation was all sparked from a simple shift in perspective.

 

These stories make me wonder how experiences like this may impact others who are in dark places and are turning to negative outlets as a way to escape them.

 

I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up everything they have and travel the world or become Mother Teresa. I certainly haven’t. In fact, as I mentioned, I am writing this post from the JW Marriott after doing my fair share of epic shit. I believe that we should all be able to eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the fruits of our labor – guilt free :).

 

That said, I also believe that if we are not growing, we are dying, and if we really want to grow and evolve our perspective, we must find ways to pepper in experiences that take us out of our bubble and help us see the bigger picture – after all, we are all connected. Change your perspective and you will change your life.

 

Bless Up !

 

Matt

 

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