The Urban Monk Podcast — Living Your Best Life, On Purpose
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Purpose or Meaning?
How much would you pay for a drug that not only improved your sleep but also reduced your risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s? Science hasn’t been able to come up with that drug yet, but behavioral scientist Vic Strecher has shown us a path with his work on living with purpose.
Many people in the West come to a point where they experience anxiety over the absence of purpose and meaning in their lives. Dr. Strecher points out that this is a centuries-old struggle and that while “meaning” has been elusive for most, purpose can be developed by everyone.
Dr. Strecher says that when you have goals developed around things that you deeply value and they become operationalized, then you are on the path to living a life on purpose. Start by asking yourself, “What do I care about most?”
Leading A Bigger Life
Dr. Strecher’s interest in this topic came with an emotional cost. His daughter, Julia, developed a serious heart condition after a bout of chicken pox as an infant. She was fortunate to receive a life-saving heart transplant as a young child. She died unexpectedly at the age of 19. Dr. Strecher experienced the deep grief that comes with the loss of a child. His daughter’s voice came to him during his period of grief and directed him to “get over yourself.” They had worked to make her life bigger. They had succeeded. Now it was his turn to live a life like that.
He discovered that if he was going to live his bigger life and work towards a greater purpose, then he would need to be healthier. He followed five pillars that allowed him to live more fully: Sleep, Presence, Activity, Creativity, and Eating. He makes sure to check these five boxes each day.
In addition to improving his health, Dr. Strecher also began to contemplate his own mortality. The night before her death, while they were in the Caribbean, his daughter,Julia, said to her boyfriend, “I am so happy now, Brian, I could die!”
In her 19 years, his daughter had worked towards leaving a meaningful legacy. There was little room for fear.
Dr. Strecher eventually came to the realization that he wasn’t scared of dying. He was scared of never truly living. Part of his legacy was his decision to teach his 250 students as if he was teaching his own daughter.
“If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind” – Seneca the Younger
You need to set a destination. You have to have the energy to get there, and you have to have the focus to maintain the direction. Vic Strecher calls these the “harbor, wind, and rudder.”
Dr.Strecher says that we need to give ourselves space to lead a “big life.” This is done by becoming healthier. It’s done by improving our focus and concentration. Various forms of meditation can make that easier. We have to constantly ask ourselves during our daily activities, “Could I be doing something more aligned with my purpose right now?”
We can develop purpose in the different domains of our life – family, work, etc. – and these domains can collide. We’ll be able to manage the collision as long as we maintain our energy and willpower.
Once we begin on the path to living our purpose, the only other thing we need to do is to watch how our purpose will evolve and be prepared to step into it.
When we experience the self-transcendence that comes from a commitment to love, connection, and community, we make ourselves better and the world will benefit.
Dr. Strecher’s book, “Life On Purpose” can be purchased here.
Interview notes from the show:
Welcome back. It’s Pedram, and I’m excited to have you here as always. This week, I’ve got a gentleman by the name of Vic Strecher, awesome interview. Meaning and purpose. Let’s put meaning aside let’s talk about purpose. He had some really interesting ways of looking at it. He had a really interesting life story, and it got me thinking and I know it will for you. Next week, a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Fader who’s a sports psychologist who works for elite teams, talking about how this methodology that he uses with teams can apply to us down here in the real world and again awesome interview. I’ve had a real nice string of great interviews. We can really enjoy the stuff coming your way.
Today, Vic Strecher I’ll see you on the other side. I want to open up a discussion about those, because purpose is something we don’t talk about enough. Enjoy. A lot of times, when people are talking about meaning and purpose, they seem to be intertwined. It’s like finding meaning and purpose in your life, meaning and purpose, right? It’s very much in the narrative of this new aged conversation. You actually separate those and you say that there’s a big difference. I would love to just get in to unpack in that.
Sure. It’s a great question too. Albert Camus for example, the famous existentialist, philosopher didn’t believe in God. Actually, he said, “There’s probably no meaning in the universe.” If you think about it, we’re of course the third rock from the sun and we have one sun out of one hundred billion suns in this known universe. Every single one of those suns probably has some solar system, we’re just finding out by the way with the planets. Then our universe is probably one in over a hundred billion universes.
As Albert Camus was saying, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a lot of meaning in our lives. There may be. It may be that we have a great meaning in depth by some creator, but he didn’t believe that. Many other people do not believe that currently and yet you could still have purpose. I want to simplify purpose almost despiritualize it a little bit and separate it a bit from meaning and just saying that what I mean by purpose is that it’s your core values that are operationalized. Another way of putting that is to think about the goals in your life that you most deeply value, and you might setup a medical, or number of goals, and put together that becomes a purpose for you. Whether that purpose has bigger universal meaning or not, it’s really hard to say quite honestly.
I think back to the original est training, and landmark, and all these where they try decouple all that and talk about what your meaning making machines. There’s a lot of cliff notes, Buddhism packed into that, but there’s also a lot of … Yeah, there’s just a lot of just interesting diversions there, if you will. Would you say that most people actually would then by this definition have a sense of purpose already? Because if you uncouple it for meaning, they’re plugged into something?
I do believe so, yes. All you need to do maybe is just go home and look at your family a little bit, or go to work and start thinking for more than a minute or so start thinking, “What do I care most about at work? Why do I work? What are the things that give me the greatest joy? What are the things that I most deeply value?” For me personally, I’m a professor and the things that I most deeply value are my students, the people who I most deeply value. I setup a goal around those students and say, “My purpose in my life at work is to teach everyone of my students as if they’re my own daughter.” That becomes a purpose for me.
We know that setting goals by the way as opposed to just saying, “Do your best,” whether it’s holding your breath or whatever it is, any performance. If you set a goal, you do better than just saying, “Do your best.” Usually by about 20% or 30% or so, whether if I said, “Pedram, I want you to hold your breath as long as you can.” Maybe you could hold your breath two minutes, but if I setup a clock and it was a little beyond two minutes, you’d be more likely to hold your breath a little bit longer.
We know that a goal is motivating, but holding your breath probably isn’t something you deeply value unless you’re maybe David Blaine. The idea of holding your breath is not really a good purpose in your life, but picking something that you do deeply value, maybe it’s your students, maybe it’s a spouse or partner, maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s your community, and starting to think about that in different domains. Setting a goal around those things that you most deeply value starts creating a purpose.
There are other things in my mind that help me create a purpose, but that’s a good place to start. In my mind anyway, that’s a good way to think about purpose and in part maybe despiritualize it just a little bit.
Yeah, a lot of people are waiting for purpose to come bang them over the head, right?
I’m waiting this clue from above. What you’re saying is let’s reverse that a little bit. Let’s just look at what’s important for us in our lives and then just get on those tracks and then what, follow the breadcrumbs and just see where that takes us or then start setting goals along those lines.
Yeah and then Aristotle, 2400 years ago said, “It’s not about just having purpose then you can go to Disney World, it’s more about being aligned with your purpose,” what he called your, “Inner diamond or your true self,” and being aligned with that purpose every single day is something that requires energy, vitality everyday. It requires self control and will power everyday. One of the things that I talk about a lot in my book is trying to develop more energy and will power everyday. Very much, I use this metaphor of a sailboat. If your body is a boat, you want wind in your sails everyday, but you also need a rudder. You need to be able to stir it. More importantly and most importantly, it’s good to have a harbor. You need a direction.
Having those three things, having a harbor, having wind in your sales, and having a rudder, those three things are really keys I think to well-being.
Let’s tease that out a little bit. What would the rudder be in my life? What would the harbor be and then what would the wind in the sails be?
Seneca over two thousand years ago said, “It doesn’t matter how much wind is in your sails if you don’t have a harbor.” What he’s basically saying is we all know a lot of people with energy in their lives, but you also need this direction, you need a purpose. I would just add to what Seneca had said and say, “You also need to be able to control or stir your boat. You need self-control.” We know that people who have a lot of control of their lives with enough energy, with a direction in their lives, tend to have a very strong well-being. We know that those people also live longer. They’re less likely to suffer heart attack or stroke. They’re far less likely to develop depression. Seniors and senior centers are actually 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease if they have a strong purpose in their lives and are aligned with that purpose. They even have better sex. There are all sorts of things.
If this were a pill, this would be a billion dollar, multi-billion dollar drug. If someone had invented a pill like this, they’d win the Nobel Prize. Being a scientist and having done a lot of work with the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, I wonder why they’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into this new “drug.” I think I know the answer it’s because it’s a morph, it’s a fervently. You can’t really put your finger on this the way you can put your finger on the amount of force exerted by blood on a vessel for example. You can basically measure that, but how do you measure purpose? Can you remeasure it? Does it replicate? That sort of thing. Those are issues that scientist get queasy about it. They don’t feel like they can do that.
We all know that lifestyle is really the biggest damaging, inflating factor in our healthcare crisis and I each know these guys are going crazy trying to plug up holes in a sinking ship. We know that lifestyle is a behavioral issue. Most of us know that the cheesecake is probably not the best food choice tonight. We’d probably go for the walk, but we don’t. You’re a behavioral scientist, you’re PhD in behavioral science and so you have been studying this, but then there’s a pivot. You had a personal tragedy in your life that really drove you into looking at purpose. You went from behavior to purpose and meaning, and really this ark has really I think created a breath of understanding wisdom that makes your message unique. I’d love to just get into that a little bit and what happened at that crossroads.
Thank you for bringing that up. Yeah, I’ve been working in this field for over thirty years. In our field overall, if you look at the various theories and approaches to behavior change, let’s take something like cigarette smoking. Very early on, when I started in this field, it was more about fear based models. Let’s scare the crap out of a person. That we know very often, people might smoke and then you scare them and they may even smoke more, because it really … It hits this part of the brain called, “The amygdala,” that may shutdown executive functioning and the ability to really strategically plan.
Then it moved into other models such as social norm models and those all make sense. They gradually added to our ability to help people make changes. Although I don’t think fear models are all that helpful personally. Then we start moving into more deeply motivating models, what’s called, “Motivational interviewing” as an example of that self-determination theory. This is where you’re really thinking about the person’s core values. I think this is one step beyond. It’s beyond just core values. How do you setup goals around this core values and how do you think about a purpose that you might have in your life?
I’ll give you an example in my own life. I can give you an example of my daughter who passed away five years ago at the age of nineteen. She was born healthy but then she caught a virus when she was six months old, just the chickenpox virus and that virus attacked her heart. Thank God, it doesn’t happen to the vast majority of kids who get chickenpox, they just get a rash and a fever for a few days. Unfortunately, this happened to my daughter. Her only hope was a heart transplant. For us, we had … For my family, we had to decide and we did literally around the dinner table what we call our “gathering place.” We decided whether to list her or not for her new heart or not, but we’ve decided in 1991 that we would list her for a heart and she became one of the first kids to get a heart transplant.
At that point when we were listing her, we have to think, “If we do this at all, because maybe we shouldn’t list her. Maybe we should just let her die,” but we thought, “If we do list her, we’re going to have to give her a unique life, a big life as if everyday might be her last day.” That not only changed her and our approach to her, but it changed us. Suddenly our lives turned into technicolor and it is the cliff notes Buddhism approach of thinking a great deal about your own death. Buddhist obviously think a lot about their own death, and we started thinking about our own deaths.
I know that’s not popular in western culture to start considering more, but obviously it’s very helpful. For us, it was very helpful. I started thinking, what do I want in my heads down? When I started thinking, “What would Julia want? What kind of legacy would Julia want to have if she’s even three years old and dies, if she’s six years old and dies, if she’s sixteen or she’s ninety, what would she want? How could we facilitate that?” We did that and she lived very, very big lives. Five years ago when she died very suddenly of a heart attack, the night before, we were in the Caribbean and she told her boyfriend, “I am so happy now Brian that I could die.” Those are very meaningful words for us. Maybe she felt something coming, she had just been checked up. There was no warning of this really. That night, she died very suddenly and in her sleep of a heart attack.
I went through this existential crisis myself as people do who has children and went through months of grieving. I started wondering about myself just thinking, “I’m a behavioral scientist. I should learn more about myself as I’m going through this grieving process.” One of the things I discovered that was part of my own grief was the loss of purpose, the loss of my big purpose which is my daughter Julia. I realized, literally was two miles out on Michigan in my kayak. I was watching the sun come up at 5:15 in the morning. I just had a big dream with Julia and that. I went out and I saw the sun come up and everything started shimmering around me from the sun. Suddenly, I just felt Julia deeply in me and I felt her saying to me, “You need to get over it.”
They are very clear words, “You need to get over it.” I realized it wasn’t like, “You need to get over this.” It was more like, “You need to get over yourself. You need to get over your own grief and over this …” I don’t want to view this as a negative. Everybody was very supportive of me grieving and my wife grieving of course. After a while, you got to have to get over yourself. You have to start thinking about other people and other things that are bigger than you. You have to start self-transcending.
I came back and I had already canceled my class to teach coming up and of course my university said, “Of course, you just lost your daughter. We don’t expect you to go back and teach.” I came back from my kayak trip and I said, “I’d like to change my mind on that. If it’s okay I’d like to teach.” I was determined to teach every one of my students as if they were Julia. That became my new purpose, my work purpose. I have other purposes in my life. One of them is to help other people find purpose. That’s more of a community or global purpose. My work purpose directly everyday was to teach every one of my students. I have over two hundred fifty students, so that means they’re coming in and they want to get into med school or into grad school, or they need a job, or they want an internship, and every one of them is Julia. That means I’ll see them no matter what.
Maybe they have other problems, emotional problems, or anxiety, or drinking problems, or problems with weed, or whatever those things are, I’ll listen to them. I get a lot back from those students. As you were saying before, “I’m interested in lifestyle change too.” One thing I started finding as I was trying to be aligned with that purpose that Aristotelian diamond that’s in my head, that truth self everyday, I realized, “Boy, I have to be healthier to do this.” I need more energy and I need more self control. Everyday I try to sleep better. I try to be more present. I meditate everyday and I have for decades now.
I walk to work everyday and that’s a good half an hour walk. I try to be creative everyday, and I try to eat well. I think about that in terms of very simplified, very simple behaviors that are all positive. Sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating or myself what I call, “Space.” For me, giving myself space everyday is very important. I do that not to avoid disease and death, because I really don’t care about dying. Although I have a lot to do before I die, but I care a lot about not living. Mark Twain once said, “Basically, I don’t care about dying. I care a lot about not living.” That really struck home to me. I really do want to live a big life and part of that big life is my purpose. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. You transformed this original purpose and so purpose can get upgraded, right? It then shifted.
Right, all the time.
Your original narrative was we want to create a big life for Julia and we’re just going to go and look, it lasted nineteen beautiful years and so you didn’t really have to reexamine that. Then when you had this moment where it was time to now take that energy and plug it in, all your children became Julia and that bigger purpose from what I’m hearing drives you to meditate, it drives you to walk to work, it drives you to take care of yourself, and without that it’s like, “Okay, what’s the point? What do you need? Six pack abs.” None of those things really makes sense without having the purpose on the backend to then create the life that you need to fill and be healthy for.
In that cliff notes of Buddhism, I love that phrase by the way. Thank you. I’m going to use it, I think, but in that concept, a big part of Buddhism obviously is focus and concentration. I prefer the word focus over concentration personally, but because it’s removing all the clutter. If I’m watching television and the Kardashian sisters are on, I would ask myself, “Do I really want to be watching what the Kardashian sisters are doing? Do I really care,” or this football team planning another football team that I don’t really care about, or this golf tournament, or whatever it is. Do I really care about that? Could I be doing something that’s a little more aligned with my purpose?
I’m not saying you should never watch television or you should never do X, Y, or Z. It’s just that there’s so much clutter in our lives now and we don’t know that, but one of the things that purpose does is focus your life. I think it’s a very Buddhist concept to have a purpose that you care deeply about or set of purposes maybe in different domains. One of the things we’ve been studying now is the fact that our purpose is often can collide. My work purpose, if I’m really aligned with all my students and spending a lot of time then my family purpose which is being super engaged with my wife, maybe that runs into a collision course.
How do I align with both of those things? Here’s where our researchers found that both energy and will power are together really important. If you have both of those things working for you then you’re far more likely to be aligned with multiple purposes that might be somehow orthogonally or in some opposite manner connected. Does that make sense?
There’s well more than you know. I did my dissertation when I was a monk on Taoist Alchemy and what some of the internal precepts were. The key to manifestation in Taoist Alchemy is the alignment of your attention with your intention or your focus with your will power.
In doing so, you take the fire and the water and you create steam and then you could actually do things. This is incredibly aligned, because I’m glad this research is coming out. What the ancients were saying about, you could have all the willpower in the world, but if you’re unfocused, you just wonder that energy and you don’t have the harbor. No, absolutely, I’m super aligned with this. I love how you then unpack it. You have your true self purpose and then your hedonistic purpose, which you talked about in the book.
I think a lot of people get caught up in that. A lot of people watch this secret and then think that their purpose is how to yacht and lots of girls in bikinis around them. It’s just a distorted image of what, right? Let’s talk about true self purpose.
It’s so funny that this goes back so far too, over three thousand years thinking more about your true self and being aligned. If you do go back to Aristotle, imagine he lived in a time where there was Epicurus and Epicurus was saying, “It’s all about pleasure. Happiness is all about pleasure.” Aristotle said, “Pleasure is fine. I don’t have anything wrong with pleasure, but just hedonic pleasure, just focusing on these materialogics or that sort of I’m in Disney World all the time now.” That’s okay, but if that’s all you care about, he said, “That’s the life for, in his terms grazing animals.” While we all like to graze, we like to graze on food and good drink, and sex, and many other things. At the same time, we know, most of us know that there’s something much more to life and that’s where he talked about what he called, “Eudaimonic well-being,” which is being in touched with your inner diamond.
Of course, in Hinduism that’s called “the Atman.” We actually try to explore this using functional magnetic resonance imaging. A team of researchers that I work with at the University of Michigan and some of them now are at Penn, some are at UCLA actually too. We wanted to find out first of all whether this Atman or Diamond or whatever you want to call it, this true self, it could be found in the brain and whether stimulating in that part of the brain actually led to behavior changes later.
We put people into MRI and half but then these are all sedentary people that really could use more physical activity. We put them in MRI and we asked half of them to think more about their purposeful core values. There’s this part of the brain called the, “vmPFC” or Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, viewpoint right here and move between your eyes and go back in about an inch or so, between a half an inch and an inch, you’ll discover the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That’s been associated with the self. We hypothesize it more blood flowed go to that part as they were thinking more about these purposeful core values. Sure enough it did.
Then with both groups, we sent them through their smart phones every day for a month, messages about needing to workout more. In one group, the group that was residing their core values, we sent them a message as well about their values that they cared most about. The other group, the control group that was just asked to recite their daily routine just to control condition, we asked them or we sent them messages about their least important values.
Sure enough we gave everybody accelerometers. These are like fuel bands and fit bits and things. We followed them for a month, and we found sure enough that people who recited their core purposeful values reduce their sedentary behavior significantly more than the other group. Importantly, the more blood flow that went to this part of the brain related to the self, the more reduction in sedentary behavior.
We’re trying to connect the dots just a little bit physiologically. What’s going on in the brain. I was in Northern India, just north of Rishikesh and I was meeting with a guru there. I told the guru about this study, this research we were doing. He said, “Oh yeah, this is … We’ve known it for a long time. This is where the self is.” I just left and I said, “How’d you know that?” He said, “You know, if you meditate in the cave for six months, you’re able to look around your brain.” Now, that’s not my area of expertise, it’s your area. I was fascinated by this idea that three thousand years ago maybe people could do their own internal MRIs just through meditation. I am fascinated by that whole concept. I’d actually be really interested in your ideas about this.
Yeah, that’s the world I’ve lived in for a while and so the precept is you turn the light of awareness around so that you can observe your internal universe and there’s plenty of data. There’s six thousand years worth of data from all these people that made their minds their laboratories.
Wow, it’s a great term.
Right and now it’s like we could correlate it and cross-correlate it with fMRI and all these wonderful things, but it’s like, “Hey, we’re focusing them on something and their third eye is lighting up.” That’s not arbitrary. We were in Lakshman Jhula per chance, like how far north Rishikesh?
It was just about an hour north of Rishikesh, yeah, so that was beautiful.
It’s a beautiful part of the world. It’s a very interesting part of the world and it’s not … It’s unlike any other part of the world in my experience. It’s a crazy place. On that note, you have a whole chapter on self-transcendence which is very much in line with the practices that we’re talking there. In your fMRI behavioral studies, academic background, what is self-transcendence and how can we look at it scientifically?
First of all, I do think that it’s not just what I think. There’s a lot of research now that shows that when people are thinking more about their core purpose, they are transcending themselves. We also know that when they’re transcending themselves, thinking about things like love or connection, community, those sorts of things, it become less defensive. As a behavioral scientist in public health who’s trying to get people to say, “Wow, I need to change.” Remember, we were talking early on about the importance of epiphany experiences. We can talk about small changes and those are all good. I have all sorts of little rituals and habits that help me maintain my health, but at the same time, I am fascinated by the epiphany experience, by the quantum change. What makes a person suddenly go, “Wow, this is so important.”
When that happens, I am … What we found is that when you’re transcending you become less defensive to change. As a behavioral scientist, I’m really interested in why people do smoke or why people eat too much, why people don’t workout. Of course we’ve tried fear tactics, what scare the crap out of people. We often find that that produces a reverse effect. People then eat more or they drink more, or they smoke more weed or whatever it is. That’s probably because what we’re doing is causing more stress and why do they eat? Why do they smoke weed? Why do they drink too much? Why do they smoke? Because of stress. It makes perfect sense.
What we find, if we ask people to start residing their transcending core purposeful values such as love or community, kindness, support, these sorts of things, they become far less defensive to making changes. Then when you start saying, “It might be a good idea to think about some of these behavior changes,” far more likely to go ahead and do that. As a behavioral scientist in public health, I am really interested in this idea of self-transcendence, how do we do this? I almost view defensiveness like a castle wall. We build these walls and they’re thicker and thicker. I’d say in our society, they’re increasingly thicker, because media is turned into micro media. Now we can just listen to Fox News or NPR, or MSNBC, depending on what our political affiliation is, or cultural affiliation, we can surround ourselves with everybody who completely agrees with us all the time. Hence, making our castle wall thicker and thicker.
What I found is I recommend to people, every once in a while, “Open the castle wall door. Open up the drawbridge.” People can walk in. You can bring them in under heavily on guard and walk them out if you want when you’re done. In other words, if you’re very liberal, watch Fox News for half an hour a week and vice versa. More importantly, you can just walk and break open and Ramdas talks about being broken open. Your ego breaks open. In fact, when the stuff for the major stroke in these early 60s, he said, “My ego is broken, now I see clearly.” That’s like his wall is just coming to crumbles.
I’ve worked in our cancer center for fifteen years and directed cancer survivorship and cancer prevention. I’ve seen hundreds of cancer survivors break open. When that happens, suddenly they see clearly and they make these big quantum life changes and it’s so magical to watch this happen. It’s very cool. The other way to handle this castle wall, because we don’t want to be broken open typically is to transcend a wall. Start thinking above our ego, “Can we see more clearly if we rise above this and look up around?” For me, that’s a nice metaphor to use in terms of saying … in terms of what’s going on in the brain. That’s something that really needs to be studied more. I just think this is an amazing area for research to go on.
When you start talking quite frankly about self-transcendence to most scientist they go, “Oh, I don’t know. It seems like I have a mooshy spiritual subject that’s meant for something other than my line of work.
As the world is lighting and obesity is rising and people are doping themselves up on antidepressants.
If we ran out of ideas, yeah.
Yeah. You journey a couple hundred miles down from the place you were at above Rishikesh and there’s a town called, “Benares,” where it’s one of the most profound areas I’ve been to where they just … they cremate their dead. There’s this bone yards on the other side of the river where the Shaivite priests and monks sit there with human remains and contemplate their own existence and their own death. It’s just this really powerful unraveling of their self identity and their ego. That’s built into the fabric of their operating system, because for people in the west it’s like you got the car accident, you got the tragic death of a family member, you have these things that come in tangentially. It hits you from the first sight and break your ego, but that’s a bolt of lightning.
What if there was a practice? What if there were ways to soften that and be able to poke through and just see through one of the bricks in the wall? What does that afford? What does that give us and how does that help us transform into people with more agency? I think that there’s a really powerful piece that you’re unlocking in this. It’s also a basis for why a lot of people still really are into religion. There’s something it serves.
Yup. Wow. Thank you for saying that. I really think that’s exactly what it’s trying to do in the book, try to unlock some of those. I can’t say that I’m a monk like you are and I don’t have that type of training, but I do have a lot of scientific training. I try to approach it from that science side. Also, I read a lot. I read a lot of philosophy and I try to learn as much as I could. That’s why I did travel to Bali, to India, to learn more from gurus who really understood this much better than I do.
I got to say, the gurus and the guys in Bali and India, they’ve been saying this for thousands of years and so now I think the balancing of this message is also coming through functional MRI and studies that are happening in the Ivory Towers, and the institutions in the world with people like yourself. This is all part of the same narrative that we’re … Look, we’re all trying to alleviate human suffering. We’re trying to make things better, right?
One of the things that I’m really interested in right now Pedram is meditation and different forms of meditation. In India, this guru said, “Look, Vic, there are over two hundred forms of meditation that we think about here anyway and they do different things.” Some probably are not right for you at all. Probably too advanced in some ways, which I would certainly understand if they saw me in the bar that night. It makes perfect sense for some people. One of the things we’ve been learning is for example love and kindness meditation is an incredible form of meditation to help you develop a more transcending purpose.
We have been studying that in MRI. Really interesting. We see reduction and stereotyping. There’s all sorts of things that love and kindness meditation does. Observational meditation, just being outside and listening to birds or the wind, or other things has a different effect. Then focus meditation such as on a mantra, that has a different effect. I see a future where if we could start thinking about these different forms of meditation being relevant to different issues of person who wants to work on, we could start prescribing the right type of meditation or right type of mindfulness. I’m guessing that that’s something that monks have done for a long time, but I really would like to take that and move that forward.
Yeah, if you look at the actual, and I thank you and I honor that, because this is a big bone I have to pick with the tabloid media, is that if you get into the disciplines of the lineages that have ancient scrolls for thousands of years and are … they have these bodies of work that they keep advancing and they have these universities of consciousness that they keep building upon and they meet and they collaborate and they talk and say, “What’s your experience of this?” There’s these schools of thought that are still holding on.
Then you come to America and it’s just like, “Give me a meditation for better sex.” You know what I mean? It’s this real trivialization of things that just don’t necessarily apply or like, “I’m trying to stop my mind, tell me how to do that?” It’s like, “You’d cut off your head. That’s not how that works.” Yeah, there’s a lot there and I think that this is a real interesting era where we can go back and dig into these traditions and say, “What is your experience of this? I would like to brain map this. What’s your experience of this, I would like to do a quantitative analysis and put five thousand people on each of these.”
We can now carry meditation further. We can carry all of our disciplines further by not having these camps and say, “I’m afraid of that. That’s outside of my belief system.” That’s not science, right? Science is, “Let’s look at the things that can help.”
There you go. That’s exactly right. Science should be open minded to this. If scientists open their minds a little bit and understood what the outcomes are of these cohorts that is developing with a high purpose versus low purpose. Follow them for two, five, seven, ten years and for example, if a diet reduced your depression level, let’s just take a diet or any kind of diet. You’d follow them, you see reduction in depression, heart disease, and stroke, and diabetes, and everything that purpose does. That’d be the new diet. That’d be a diet that everybody takes on that all doctors recommend. If it were a pill, it would be a multi-billion dollar pill.
Yet, because it’s purpose and because it’s free, and that anybody can discover this, it seems to generate very little media support, very little excitement. That’s my purpose to try to help people develop that build tools. I’m working on an app that helps people align with their purpose every day.
I love that. There’s a couple ways to read into that. There’s the big brother way, which is the media sells the Kardashian’s. The media needs you to be a blind consumer like I need to watch TV and want that Toyota truck, because obviously I have to desire things. There’s some of these the Buddhist call, “Hungry ghosts,” people stumbling around without any agency and being driven by other minds. A human mind that comes to life is very powerful thing. Based on your studies, it’s giving people the personal power to actually step in and do the things that would bring up their energy, bring up their vitality, and bring up their agency in control. That’s incredible stuff. People would start voting differently. People will start reading more books. People would start actually waking up and that’s the world we need. We need people to do that.
I found it incredibly powerful in my own life now just say and I don’t want to sound self-serving by this by any means. I’ve been teaching for over thirty years and I’ve given literally thousands of lectures and talks and keynote address kinds of things. Over the last couple of years since I’ve really discovered my purpose and become more aligned, people come up to me and they regularly say, “You just changed my life.” That was the most powerful talk I’ve ever heard, that thing or “You seem to have this inner light in you. You seem to be a special person.” I didn’t have that before. People didn’t come up to me and I never felt particularly special. I really didn’t.
Now, I’m starting to realize that having this purpose and the direction, and meaning in this way does make you special. I’m not trying to do that in a narcissistic way. It’s just I’m observing that when I give a talk, I see people tearing up. Even when I’m not talking about my daughter. When I start talking about purpose and meaning, I just gave a talk in the state of Washington to their medical society. Many people coming up saying, “You’ve just changed the way I’m going to practice medicine for the rest of my life.” I haven’t gotten that before. There is something very, very powerful as you’re saying about this.
I feel like to go back to the metaphor that I’ve found a current in the lake that is a really strong current, really powerful and I do have wind in my sails, and I have a rudder, and I have a very, very strong harbor to sail for. My life has changed dramatically. I can thank my daughter Julia and the way she sacrificed her own life with us. I will always be thankful to her for this because she gave it to me.
We can all thank her for this. The ancients talk about this a lot, right, is you surrender your individual will to the greater will. You’re something much bigger than you speaking through you at these lectures, right? It’s university applicable and it touches all of us. There’s a very big distinction between a guy who has “look at me energy” versus a guy who got out of the way for his purpose to shine through. That drives you. That carries you forward. It energizes you and it empowers you. Thank God for that. That’s exactly what we need in life.
Listen, I can’t over emphasize how important I find this work to be. I would love my students, my listeners, my readers, my viewers, everyone to get a copy of this book, so let’s get into it. What is the title? Where can people find it? How can people get a hold of you?
The title is called, “Life On Purpose: How Living For What Matters Most Changes Everything.” It’s produced by Harper Collins, Harper One and out of San Francisco. It’s available in your Barnes & Noble store and your Amazon, but also we really try to promote it strongly in independent bookstores as well. I’ve written a specific letter to all independent bookstores because I’m a huge fan. Hopefully, you can find it in your any bookstore as well.
Excellent. Here’s the book right here, it’s called, “Life On Purpose.” I’ll put it up right over here. Fantastic read. I think that this really is the missing ingredient where everyone’s talking about, “What do I eat? What kills smoothie? Coconut oil is going to change everything for me.” I think that that’s really … It’s really base. There’s a lot of conversation that revolves around diet and weight loss that doesn’t touch the transformative stuff. Somehow culturally, we’ve been afraid to touch it and this is where all the best nectar is in my opinion and where transformational change on this higher level than fixes things way downstream. It’s powerful work, it’s a powerful message and I honor you for doing the work that you do.
Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.
Hope you enjoyed it. I loved it. I really like this conversation about purpose. I think we need to be talking about this all the time in our culture and Vic’s got a great message. Next week, sport psychology Jonathan Fader. Awesome interview. Again, hope you’re going to enjoy that one. Tune in for it. If you’re watching the video over here to my left, we’ve got a couple of our past episodes. I invite yo to check them out. We’re doing a lot of work for you in trying to get these stories and unpack them. I’m really enjoying this. I love my job. If you’re listening, go in your feed, find the last ones and if you’re not subscribed, please do so. I have a lot of content coming your way and I have a lot of love that I am going to share with you.
If you’re not a member of The Urban Monk Reboot, I invite you to join that. It’s the urbanmonk.com/reboot and it is free. I have some of the best advice I’ve given to people for all of these years I’ve been doing what I do. It’s all built into a seven-day methodology to really unpack your diet, your sleep, your exercise, and your mindset. I’ve got tai chi videos, meditations, all kinds of good stuff in there for you for free. Why? Because I’m here to help you. Check it out. I’ll see you next week.