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How To Reach A Peak Experience

How To Reach A Peak Experience

Live Streaming Event: Interview with Dr. Mindy Howard of Inner Space Training

UPDATE: Goodness gracious! This event suffered the cruel fate of technical difficulties. I will reschedule. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Have you heard about the peak experiences astronauts have in space? Those moments of eye-opening transcendence when universal truths are revealed? Or something even more mindblowing?

I’ve never left earth, but I can imagine how a peak experience resembles, or includes, an epiphany. Maybe several. But I need more information.

What defines a peak experience? Do all astronauts have them? What about space tourists? Are there challenges to achieving them? And how can you boost your odds?

We’ll find out when I interview Dr. Mindy Howard, founder of Inner Space Training.

Mindy Howard of Inner Space Training

She helps new astronauts and space tourists overcome emotional and mental challenges to achieve peak experiences

I wouldn’t be surprised to find you can use her methods here on Earth.

This interview will be rescheduled when Google Hangouts On Air (or otherwise) decides to play nice. I hope that will be soon.



Drop Your Jaws

Drop Your Jaws

Ah, the epiphany. The hallowed ground of aha! The unexpected flash of insight. A lightning bolt of wisdom straight outta who-knows-where.

It’s like a mindset orgasm. And it’s the holy grail of this (not so) humble blog.

If I could manufacture an epiphany for you, I would do it every ding dong day

animated explosion in lab

Alas, I can’t just cook one up. There are no tools, processes, or black magic that can birth such a thing. That’s one reason epiphanies are priceless.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know it’s a jewel of an experience that’s always on my radar. And this week it was dropped on my place setting in several ways.

First, space.

An astronaut’s peak experience may reach the heights of an epiphany, so they’re often synonymous

I’m really excited to learn more about peak experiences, and what it takes to put yourself in position to have one, when I interview Mindy Howard, founder of Inner Space Training. Her organization helps new astronauts and space tourists overcome mental and emotional challenges to reach peak experiences in space.

cat jumps into space

That interview is happening Thursday, April 28th, at 11AM PST. Mark your calendars.

More details in Monday’s newsletter (you gotta subscribe to get the extra treats I pack in there). I’ll also post them here around the same time.

Next, in the Wall Street Journal this week, six “luminaries”, including a Harvard science professor and a documentary filmmaker, were asked to say something about epiphanies. It’ll take <5 minutes to read, so I encourage you to do so. But let me bring your attention to two particular points of view.

From award-winning playwright/screenwriter Tony Kushner:

“There’s something like a hallelujah imprinted in the word epiphany. The force of these moments is part of the reason we even create a category like epiphany. They chasten you, suggesting that there are levels of meaning and comprehension available that choose human beings rather than the other way around.”

Ok. It bears repeating. Epiphanies can’t be induced.

The conditions can be right for an epiphany to occur. But you can’t order one up at the drive-thru

mini car at drive thru

However. What’s interesting about this perspective is that, when you try to make sense of it all – when you’ve had the aha! and you’re standing there, with your jaw on the ground, parsing the Amazing that’s just occurred – you can also realize that this wasn’t something that happened TO you. It’s something that happened WITH you. FOR you, even.

The universe somehow recognized a fertile field, then planted its eye opening seed.

That’s pretty cool.

And from novelist Elizabeth Gilbert:

“The reason epiphanies feel so surprising is twofold. First, it’s the surprise of seeing a truth revealed. Second, it’s the deep shock of wondering why it took you so long to see it in the first place. It’s something that was there all the while.”

This is the meat-and-potatoes of epiphanies. It’s not like a veil is pulled back to reveal giants exist or we’re all made of LEGO. No.

The reward – the insight of epiphanies – is understanding

Suddenly there’s one less mystery in a world full of them. You’re a step closer to universal truth, even if that’s never fully within reach.

I have gone to find myself T-shirt

Finally, in Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow writes about an infrequently-visited topic: Awe.

Awe is not necessary for an epiphany. In fact, awe can often happen after the fact. But awe has much in common with epiphanies.

For instance, psychologists discovered awe “typically includes feelings of vastness—something larger than a person’s self or experience—and accommodation—that a person expand their understanding of the world to include this new information”. “It often occurred when a person had an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world” and it “makes you re-evaluate what you actually know.”

Familiar, eh? It continues.

“Awe also encourages people to account for what they’re experiencing. When you’re feeling this emotion, “you have this strong motivation to explain what’s in front of your eyes,” says Piercarlo Valdesolo, an assistant professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College. A couple years back, he and a colleague looked at how people deal with the uncertainty inherent in awe. They found that awe seems to nudge people towards “agentic explanation”—they’re less likely to accept that something happened randomly.”

“Instead, they’ll attribute it to an agent, like a god, a supernatural force, or a person.”

bike trick without a bike

Kushner may ascribe divine agency to the stroke of insight, but people still want the cause of awe to be logical and rational.

One of the best parts of awe, like epiphanies, is the after-effect, the glow

According to University of Houston assistant professor, Melanie Rudd, “awe promoted generosity. It also improved participants’ ethical decision making. A paper still under review indicates that awe makes people more humble, too.”

“We actually experience awe a lot more frequently than we think,” says Rudd. We encounter something in the big wide world, our minds opens as we look for an explanation, and as a result we open up to connecting to other people. “But if you are keeping yourself in your routine of life, it’s going to be hard to experience that feeling of accommodation,” she says. “Just going out into newness, you’re going to be more likely to run into something that’s awe-inspiring.”

And THAT, my fine friends, is why I write: to help you think differently, try something new, expand your mind, and reap the rewards.

I hope you find it awesome.

man on outside of skyscraper just chilling


Photo Credits: Shonduras on YouTube | The Chive


Lickin’ the Lack of Love

Lickin’ the Lack of Love

The Roches, a super-talented trio of sisters who can harmonize with the best of ‘em, have a song that always stuck in my craw. It’s called Want Not Want Not.

It’s an upbeat, almost proud bit of lyrical perspective on eliminating desire.

You can take my picture I don’t care
You can have my attitude I don’t care
The limousine I never ride in I don’t care
Go ahead fix my wagon I don’t care

Want not want not want not

I wish there was a true love
I wish there was a great art
I wish there always was enough
But I’d not want if I were smart

Want not want not want not

We’ve heard this before, right? Desire causes suffering

Nonetheless, we want away. We want so bad it hurts.

Some glorify their goals as if they’ll bring instant, never-ending bliss.

Man rides ass with fireworks

Others get obsessive and make their desire a full-time job.

But that can get in the way of appreciating what’s right in front of you.

Bunny sees self in latte

If we don’t get the thing we want, we feel like dirt. We failed. Life sucks.

Or we get what we want, and it turns out to be something other than what we expected.

Panda says What

So it seems logical that, if we simply stop wanting, we stop feeling bad

Ummm, yeah.

Let’s be real. How many of us would just turn off wanting? Really. How many of us can?!

You know, if your life is nothing but meditating in a cave, maybe you can get to the point where you have no desires. But it’s just not the case for anyone I know.

We’re human! We want our lives to be better, richer. To experience more love and peace and fun.

girl with toy microphone

We naturally have desires. When we were fish, we desired food, so we sprouted feet to walk on land. Now we desire fish for dinner, so we sprout keys to the car to take us to the market.

The wanting of something, no matter how trivial or grandiose, is part of the human experience. But here’s the thing.

With desire comes the acknowledgement of what we lack

It has to, doesn’t it? The moment I say I want a new Tesla, I’m identifying the lack of a Tesla in my garage.

(In my case, it also indicates the lack of a garage. Grrrr.)

Tiny trailer

That was always my beef with the law of attraction. It’s one thing to focus on what you want, which is certainly helpful for its attainment. But it’s another – an impossibility – to ignore the lack of that thing. It’s implicit.

This is both a relief, and cause for concern, for anyone seeking love

As shared by Brain Pickings, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, in his book Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life,  tells us that the partner of our dreams isn’t, exactly, separate from us.

“We fall in love not just with a person wholly external to us, but with a fantasy of how that person can fill what is missing from our interior lives.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine a significant other fulfilling the desire to have a significant other. But this is about how your loved one actually quells a frustration inside us.

“All love stories are frustration stories… To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want.”

Whoda thunk? We’re so used to the idea that the world exists outside of us, our dream mate must exist outside of us, too.

But maybe it all begins with what’s inside of us, what our psychic persona is made of. Maybe we create our loved ones.

“… the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; that you have dreamed them up before you met them; not out of nothing — nothing comes of nothing — but out of prior experience, both real and wished for.”

It’s like, who we are dictates who our squeeze will be

Chicks on cat via The Chive

But before we decide to skip Tinder and search within, let’s look at this a little more closely.

It’s weird to think that what is lacking in our lives – and that feeling of accompanying frustration – indicates our future partner. Isn’t the world more arbitrary? Aren’t we bouncing around the world like ping pong balls on lottery night?

And what about love?

How can true love be boiled down to, essentially, an internal itch that gets scratched?

First, let’s admit there’s different kinds of love.

With romantic love, we think of what the other does for us, like “She makes me feel so good.” or “He brings me such joy.”

popeye and olive oyl

But there’s another kind of love. Some call it agape. It’s more of wanting-the-other-person-to-be-happy kind of love. This quote always worked for me.

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

It’s about shared experience. It’s about giving your loved one the space to act individually, and with you, together. It’s less about how the other serves you and more about you serving everyone.

If you love someone set them free

So how can you find your true love, resolving a personal frustration, and avoid self-centered limitations?

I don’t know. But I have some ideas that are worth trying.

1. Turn the desire into an act of generosity.

We can’t stop wanting. And we can’t avoid the implicit lack that comes with it. So just ditch the paradigm altogether. Instead, look for ways to be the type of person you’d like to have in your life. If there is a law of attraction, you’ll be seeing a likeminded soul.

2. Reduce your frustrations.

Seems counter-intuitive. If, indeed, true love is a frustration resolved, are you less likely to find love if you have fewer of them? (Besides, who says reducing frustrations is any easier than desires?)

All I’m saying is, a less frustrated you is a happier you. And a happier you is more likely to meet a special someone. Just live in the flow of life, letting things be as they are without getting hung up on ‘em.

3. Redefine love.

We’re pre-disposed to want the love of another. Hey, it’s biology, after all. But think differently. Can true love come in many forms? Can it be artificial? Will a cuddle party serve your need for gentle touch? Would you facilitate one?

Life is so mysterious, and surprising, and wacky, and fascinating

Throw yourself into it. Desire all you want. Want all you desire. Just allow whatever happens to happen.

You may find yourself swooning.

In love gif


Photo Credits: The Chive | WENN | | StingVevo

Do You Imbue?

Do You Imbue?

Quick: Which do you value more?

Salmon that was caught in the wild or raised in farms?

(This is not a post about nutrition. Promise.)

Me? I like my orange-colored seafood wild, baby. When I think of farm-raised fish, I imagine crowded pools, dirty water, and less nutritious meat.

This distinction may or may not be true, depending on which culinary expert you ask. But that’s the story I’m buying today.

Look, I couldn’t taste the difference, wild vs. farmed, anyway. And I couldn’t tell by looking at it either.

I just have my story.

End of the day? The true value of the fish is subjective

wolf fish

Where you place value is a result of your experiences and the stories you tell yourself about them.

We know this. When you accept that everyone has their own version of reality, it’s no stretch to understand that what you consider valuable could be different than what I consider valuable.

But humans are social creatures who band together with commonalities as the adhesive. The group determines where value lies.

If all the members of your tribe think elongated necks are drop-dead gorgeous, you probably think so, too.

longneck village

Value can be imbued on something that may intrinsically have none

As long as your peops say it’s so.

Seems easy to understand when you’re looking at what other cultures have defined as valuable.

But let’s look in the mirror and see if we can pull out some hidden truths.

As you probably heard, a Silicon Valley startup named Diamond Foundry, backed by high profile investors like Ev Williams and Leonardo DiCaprio, has created a process for growing diamonds.

In a garage.

diamonds made artificially

Here’s the thing. They look the same. They feel the same. And down to the atom, they are the same.

But are they? Do they have the same value?

As reported in Quartz,

“…if it was identical to a natural diamond down to every last atom … what does it even mean to be the real thing?”

“Was this not as real as a natural diamond, forged in the depths of the earth, spat toward the surface by an ancient volcano? And perhaps even ethically superior?”

Just look at it. They’re really something.

diamond from diamond foundry

But is it a d i a m o n d? I mean, do you think it’s got the same value?

We’re in some questionable territory.

Most of the time, we use abductive reasoning, otherwise known as the duck test.

If it looks like a diamond, swims like a diamond, and quacks like a diamond, then it probably is a diamond.

You know what I mean.

ducks crossing the road

But if you know your rock was generated in a plasma reactor – if you know it’s not a diamond as we’ve come to know it – does it have the same charge? The same zing?

We have, collectively, imbued value on something and it’s become common wisdom

But why?

As the Quartz article points out, DeBeers – maybe the most famous diamond company in the world – has been committed to

“…making consumers believe in its greatest asset, which isn’t actually diamonds, but rather the idea of diamonds.”

“The company explicitly defined the “diamond dream” in a 2014 report: “The allure that diamonds have for consumers, based on their association with romance and a sense of the eternal, and the fact that they are seen as a lasting source of value.”

In fact, 75 years ago, on the heels of the Great Depression, they hired an advertising agency, N.W. Ayer, to make them a cultural touchstone.

“As Edward Jay Epstein chronicled in The Atlantic magazine in 1982, the ad agency focused not simply on sales, but what it called “a problem in mass psychology”—its mission to make the diamond engagement ring “a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services.”

It worked. In just three years, between 1938 and 1941, N.W. Ayer helped increase De Beers’ US diamond sales by 55%. Far more importantly, the agency planted the powerful idea in the American psyche that a diamond was an essential step in romantic courtship—and its size was directly proportional to the love, worth, and prowess of the man who offered it.

Nobody thinks diamonds are glorified gobs of granite. We can agree that diamonds are something to behold.

engagement ring as pan lining

But it took a new story – a new perspective, generated by an ad agency! – to make diamonds the symbol of eternal love they are today.

In other words, we imbued immense value on something based on an idea

And that idea is reinforced every time our newly engaged friends show off their new rock. Because now, with this new collective point-of-view, only a diamond engagement ring could be the real thing. For most people, anyhow.

Consider the different ways we imbue value

Clothes make the man.

That sentiment’s been around since the 1500s. Clearly some believe that fashion sense is valuable.

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him. – Leo Aikman

Some think communicating with respect and generosity is valuable.

And then some people think actions speak louder than words.

Emerson quote

Each perspective is true for the ones that hold it.

We imbue value subjectively and define value collectively

Yes, we each hold certain things dear. Some are more universal – like a kiss from your squeeze or ice cream on a hot day.

Some are more… unique.

many roofs one building

So go ahead. Propose away with that polished pebble ring. I think it’s totally sweet.

But will she like it?

Depends where your honey imbues value.

leaves that look like lips


Photo credits: Featured via The Chive | DailyNewsBlog | National Geographic via YouTube | Diamond Foundry

Can You Picture Your Reality?

Can You Picture Your Reality?

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Everyone agrees with that, right? A quick look around this blog indicates I sure do. Then again, some Native Americans and indigenous people think pictures steal your soul. We’ll exclude them from the photo-loving train.

For the rest of us, it goes without saying that the best snaps tell a story without one word written.

Horse consoles cow holding beef

But what about the story told to the photographer?

How does that impact the photograph?

This very question was put to six shutterbugs in an experiment that illuminates how we see the world, how we interpret it, and ultimately, how we behave in it.

Created by Canon Australia, the experiment is – at least indirectly – meant to sell cameras. Let’s forgive that aspect in favor of the giant dose of perspective-altering it provides.

The set-up is simple. Six photographers are asked to shoot a man’s portrait and “flesh out the essence of who he is”.

But here’s the twist. Each of them are told a different story about the man. Unknown to the others, he is presented as:

  • A millionaire
  • A recovering alcoholic
  • A psychic
  • A fisherman
  • An ex-prison inmate
  • A life saver

Can you guess what happened?

Surprise, surprise. Six very different portraits.

Each photographer captured his “essence” based on the story they were told

They all saw him differently based on that story. Then they retold that story through their photo.

Even though it was a total lie.

The story influenced the perspective, which influenced the result

Check it out.

The stories we believe form the spine of our reality

Have you ever heard of Significant Objects? This is another story-related experiment that reaches similar conclusions.

A group of writers were tasked with selling random, garage-sale items – each worth less than $2.00 –  on Ebay. Instead of posting them with just the description, dimensions, size, etc., they crafted stories about these items. Compelling, detailed, narratives.

Some wrote about how the item hearkened back to a vanished era. Or the item’s magical powers. How it was used in ritual. How it served as a guardian spirit or played a role in a historical event.

The stories were not presented as factual. Writers took care to avoid the impression that the story is a true one, with bylines and the like. So no wool was pulled over anyone’s eyes.

Want to guess what happened?

Surprise, surprise! $128.74 worth of worthless junk was sold for $3612.51! Storytelling’s where it’s at, baby.

What does this tell us about stories, our beliefs, and how we use them?

The quote at the end of the video is particularly illustrative.

“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is in front of it.”

Can’t argue with that. But it could just as easily have read:

Reality is shaped more by the person behind the eyes than by what is in front of them.

This is what it’s all about, friends. There is no ONE reality. There are zillions of realities. One for each sentient being. (And who knows how many others?)

There is only your reality. It’s the only one that exists. For you. And it’s built on the stories you’ve told yourself.

Penguin, on a newly discovered capsized wreck

Wheee! <reaction>

These girders are slippery. <story>

Cold metal is fun for sliding on. <reality>

Ice fisherman, as he slurps some borscht

Oooh. <reaction>

A plastic spoon would’ve been better. <story>

Cold metal is a tiny nuisance. <reality>

Flick: Yikes! <reaction>

Freezing flagpoles hurt. <story>

Cold metal = harmful beast. <reality>

tongue stuck to cold pole

Same cold metal. Totally different stories about it. Totally different realities. All true.

The glorious things is, most of the time, you can choose your own story. And get yourself a new reality!


All the world’s a stage and we are merely players.

Old man Bill had it almost right. When you consider that we create our own stories, and they determine our reality, we are the players, the directors, producers, and everything else in the only show that really matters.

Just knowing that your stories form your reality is a path to thinking differently

This simple, yet profound truth gives you the keys to destiny’s car. Now you can identify, evaluate, and change those stories to suit you better.

Try it! Pick an aspect of your life, business, or whatever that’s not serving you as well as you’d like. And tease out the story that forms the basis of it. Challenge the assumptions. And replace it with a new story. Just for fun.

If you’re stuck for ideas, hit me up here.

It may feel awkward, or less “real”, at first. But keep serving that new story to yourself.

Your unconscious mind will begin to adopt it. And once that happens, you’ll see changes aplenty.

Then take a picture. A new one. I bet it’ll reflect the essence of your new perspective perfectly.

cotton ball cloud (c) Brock Davis

cotton ball cloud (c) Brock Davis


Featured Image Source: Zev

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