I was given a beautiful new book with Native American proverbs. This Navajo proverb reminds me of the central them of my book, The Rewired Brain. We become what we think the most and if we want to change our lives, we must change our thoughts.
It has been a couple of weeks since I returned from the Nuba Mountains of Northern Sudan, Africa. After going to a place like this, I get very confused and it takes me a while to make any sense of this world and my place in it. So, I just stay quiet and ponder for a while. Sudan is a country that has long seen horrific conflicts. Two rounds of north-south civil war cost the lives of 1.5 million people, and a conflict in Darfur drove two million people from their homes and killed more than 200,000.
The largely Christian population of the Nuba Mountains has been the targets of the ethnic cleansing and genocide for the past 6 years by the Islamic Republic of Sudan led by the brutal dictator and war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The Nuba Mountains are a war zone where residences live in desperate conditions, constantly fleeing from relentless bombs, armed attacks and seeking refuge inside foxholes and caves. The continuous attacks have limited access to food, water and prevented the planting of crops creating a terrible famine. The bombing of medical clinics and hospitals have left much of the population without any health care. Perhaps most evil, the North Sudanese government has banned all humanitarian aid from coming into this region. This means that when we go there, we are operating illegally. All of our supplies, everything that goes in and out of those Mountains, come through the very unstable and dangerous capital of South Sudan, Juba using old, large Russian made cargo planes called Antonovs…we ride in the back with our cargo.
Why would you go there you might ask? First, I sit on the board of the Persecution Project Foundation and we are a non-profit organization that brings food, medical care, crisis relief, and hope to victims genocide and religious persecution in Sudan. We are currently helping to build a hospital in the middle of the Nuba Mountains, and we delivered 15 tons of food and medicine as well as an ambulance on this trip. I also go because I love the people (especially the children) of the Sudan, and I believe this is what God has called me to do. I do not believe my life is any more important than that of any child in those Mountains. If you are interest in our organization, “like” us on Facebook at Persecution Project Foundation.
In the next few days, I will share pictures and videos from this trip. I do this not because I want to bring attention to me because I don’t. I share them for three reasons: 1) so that you will be aware of what is happening in that part of Africa, and you can keep these beautiful people who are being persecuted in your thoughts and prayers; 2) if you would like to support the work of our non-profit, you can go to http://persecutionproject.org; and 3) I share them to help us ALL realized how incredibly blessed we are.
This blog post contains excerpts from Chapter 10 of my book, The ReWired Brain
Human sexual desire is the most complex form of sexual motivation among all living things. It’s a combination of genetic programming and variables of life experience, producing the utmost sophisticated nuance and variety of sex on the face of the planet. David Schnarch, The Passionate Marriage
In the 2012 movie Hope Springs, Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have been married for thirty-one years. They live a safe, monotonous, routine-driven life. Each morning Kay dutifully cooks Arnold the same breakfast he’s had for the past three decades, one sunny-side-up egg and a piece of bacon, while he reads the paper. After chowing down his grub, Arnold leaves for work, and Kay does the same. Day after day this marriage cycles around work, sleep, meals, and watching the Golf Channel. Spontaneity, intimacy, passion, and sex do not exist in their world. Although Arnold loves his wife, he is clearly oblivious of this fact, hypnotized and quite content with his quiet though bland life. In contrast, Kay desperately desires change. Deep within, she is a passionate woman who longs for a marriage bursting with intimacy and steamy sex.
In one of the first scenes, Kay is disappointed when Arnold leaves for work without acknowledging their thirty-first wedding anniversary. She expresses this sentiment to a co-worker later that morning, asking if change in a marriage absent of intimacy, affection, and passion is even possible.
Her co-worker doesn’t offer much hope. “Change your marriage? What do you mean? Like you mostly eat in on Fridays then you eat out, or you’re at each other’s throats then suddenly you’re Cinderella and Prince Charming. . . . No, you marry who you marry, you are who you are. . . . Why would that change? . . . For that to happen it would have to be so bad that somebody was willing to risk everything just to shake things up, but then it might not come down your way. . . . Nah, marriages don’t change.”
Determined to create a better marriage, Kay ignores these cynical words. She dips into her savings account and books a week of intensive marriage counseling with a renowned therapist, Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell), in the sleepy New England town of Great Hope Springs.
After a very difficult and often hostile first session, Dr. Feld says to the couple, “You two have come here to try to restore intimacy to your marriage . . . to find ways to communicate your needs to one another . . . to cultivate intimacy and to develop the tools to sustain that intimacy going forward.
“The first step in rebuilding a marriage is tearing away some of the scar tissue that has built up over the years. . . . It can be very painful, but it’s worth it. I like to think of . . . the metaphor of when you have a deviated septum, and you can’t breathe . . . you have to break the nose in order to fix it.”
I love this movie and believe every couple, especially ones that are experiencing difficulty, should watch it. It is inspiring to watch Kay, who for years has played the role of a shrinking violet, reach the point where she is no longer willing to live the rest of her life sacrificing intimacy and sex for the sake of a comfortable and safe marriage.
What Is Possible with Intimacy and Sex
I believe sex and intimacy within a committed and covenant relationship are two of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. We all know what sex is, the physical offering of ourselves to one another. Intimacy is a bit more complex. It is being emotionally close to your partner, being able to completely share your inner world, who you really are, with that person. It is about being vulnerable and connecting honestly and in-depth in all areas of your life. Intimacy can include sensual expression; sharing thoughts, feelings, and ideas; and being aware of who you and your partner are as individuals. It is possible to have sex without intimacy, but a central premise of this chapter is that sex without intimacy is problematic. When two people are united in a committed relationship, they create a deeply passionate and transformational encounter that has the capacity to bring about closeness and maturation in a relationship like no other human experience.
In my new book, The Rewired Brain, I talk about how we humans essentially have two minds in one brain. The first is our more primitive mind and it resides in the mid to lower portion of our brains. This part of our brain is responsible for fast, automatic, and effortless thinking and it is called System 1 thinking. What we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch become electrical signals that travel through the primitive portions of our brains and trigger emotions, impressions, and intuitions. On the positive side, System 1 thinking is responsible for spontaneity as well as key aspects of social popularity and creativity. Our second mind (called System 2) emerges from our much more sophisticate front brain called the neocortex. System 2 is responsible for conscious thought and reasoning and is also responsible for imagination, fantasy, and diversity in experiences.
You may at this point be asking what does all this System 1 and System 2 stuff have to do with intimacy and sex? Well at its best, sex and intimacy blend the best parts of System 1 and System 2 emotions and behaviors in a mystical manner that powerfully transitions our intimate relationships from mundane to extraordinary. When System 1 instincts such as sexual desire, spontaneity, creativity, and longing for connection dynamically merge with System 2 qualities such as imagination, fantasy, and diversity, two mature individuals have the powerful capacity to transcend space and time.
This type of intimacy with another person is what makes us truly unique and human.
In profoundly spiritual acts of bonding, your commitment to your partner is conveyed through actions, not just words. You enter a capsule of sexual space, and time stops. Here you and your partner can experience deep connection and transformational joy and love.
You come alive by every heightened sensation, not just in your body but also in your mind. The climax of orgasm is almost secondary because the connection is so profound. And with increasing intimacy over time, this communion grows stronger, even outside the bedroom, as you begin to relate to each other in new ways.
You experience exciting, new adventures while laughing and playing together like carefree children running through a beautiful meadow.
Some of you may be frustrated at this point, rolling your eyes and saying, “Okay, okay, Dr. Ski. This world of mountaintop or romantic-novel-type sex may be the goal, but my marriage looks nothing like what you are describing. I’m stuck on the ground floor with Kay and Arnold.”
Next time in part 2, I will talk about getting unstuck and especially for those of us over 50 years of age….cliff hanger!
In the last letter, I emphasized how incredibly powerful our thoughts are—and that includes our thoughts about aging. So how we feel and whether we look and act sexy in our 50s and beyond depends in large part on how we think about ourselves. If you feel good about yourself, you project an air of youthful confidence that everyone around you notices.
But let’s face it, thoughts alone are not enough….thoughts must also generate new activities that keep you vigorous. So here is the first and perhaps the most important action your thoughts must produce to keep you young.
If you really want to look and feel youthful in your 50s and well beyond, you must be active and the more active you are, the more energetic and lively your life will be.
This week I’m giving the keynote speech at a conference in Arizona called “Feed You Genome” and I emphasize in that talk that “Change is Your Destiny” and you are in charge of so much of that change…whether you change in a healthy or unhealthy direction…its up to you!
I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before, and the last thing you want is another lecture on why you should exercise. Everyone knows that exercise is one of the best anti-aging and disease-fighting tools we have, and we all should be working out, regardless of age.
What I am going to share with you, though, is how to make exercise fun and motivating…because if you find something that you really love doing, you are more likely to do it regularly. And the more you move, the better you feel and look.
Channel Your Inner Child
I believe that as we get older, much of our exercise routines should be about channeling our inner child. I’m sure many of you feel like me. I simply can’t believe I am as old as I am. The years went way too fast and I don’t feel my age. I still have many of the same thoughts as I did in my 20s. It’s like I’m a young man trapped in an old man’s body. But let me encourage you, it’s time to break out of this old man’s (woman’s) body and mindset.
That’s why I believe as we age, we all have an inner child that still wants to come out and play instead of mindlessly walking or jogging on a treadmill. So let it come out and play!
Think back to what you loved to do when you were a kid. Maybe it was shooting hoops or tossing a football around. Or maybe was taking a ballet or jazz classes. Perhaps it was jumping rope or playing hopscotch with neighborhood friends. I encourage you to look back on those moments of unbridled joy and use them to find inspiration in creating fun workouts.
I personally think dancing is one of the best ways to bring fun into exercise, all while improving joint health, cardiovascular endurance, and even brain health. One study revealed that 76 percent of older adults who danced frequently exhibited fewer signs of dementia.1 In fact, dancing was a much better activity for cognitive health than answering crossword puzzles or reading. In my new book, The ReWired Brain, I emphasize how brain plasticity is critical to keeping a young and flexible mind, and for reasons we don’t clearly understand, free style dancing appears to support brain plasticity more than any activity we have found.
I absolutely love to dance, especially to the soul music of the 1960s and 1970s. I dance by myself when no one is watching every morning getting ready for my day, and I am the first on the dance floor when any live music starts. Even without the research telling me so, I deeply sense how dance connects my mind, body, and spirit to stay young. So dance! Even if you have two left feet, dance anyway!
When I’m not cutting a rug, I use my neighborhood as my “gym.” At some point every day, I speed walk the hills around my office. Every half mile or so, I stop to do pushups, bench dips, lunges, squats, planks, tricep dips, and other bodyweight exercises. All the while, I am getting fresh air, feeling the sunshine, smiling at the people I pass, and clearing my mind. It’s only about an hour, but its me-time that’s fun, and I cherish it.
Muscles are Sexy at Every Age
No matter what your age, nothing makes you look sexier or more youthful than toned, strong muscles.
While aerobic exercise reduces body fat and keeps your heart healthy, the only way to increase lean muscle mass is to engage in some form of strength or resistance training at least three or four days a week.
I know that the idea of building muscle can seem daunting, especially if you’re older and haven’t done it for a while—or ever. But you don’t need to lift heavy dumbbells or barbells, or figure out how to use intimidating machines at the gym…unless you want to. You can start with 3- or 5-lb. hand weights and move up from there.
You can also build muscle the “old fashioned” way by doing bodyweight exercises, like I do. Resistance bands are a great option too. They allow you to keep constant tension, working the muscle harder (even though it may not feel like it at the time). And if you belong to a local Y or swim club, take swim aerobics classes. Water provides an excellent source of resistance for toning muscles.
Remember, my promise to you is that I will always provide you with accurate information, based on the latest science. I look forward to helping you live your best life in your 40s, 60s, 80s, and beyond!
Be young and have fun!
It is with incredible sadness that I sense that our great country is rapidly moving in a very angry, fear-driven and dangerous direction. In my new book, The Rewired Brain, I talk about how that during deeply dark periods of history, we see the dangers of our animal-like survival instincts. These instincts rapidly react when we encounter people that are different (i.e. gender, race, religion, or nationality) than us. Then is especially dangerous if we are edged on by charismatic individuals/leaders from our same tribe.
Then, there is a powerful tendency to move toward fear or hate that ultimately leads to violence, racism, bigotry, misogyny, and exclusion.
In contrast to our animal instincts, I also believe that we have better angels within us. For me as a Christian, this belief is heavily inspired by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Consequently at times like these, it is critical to look to Jesus’s words in the gospels such as his Sermon on the Mount starting with the beatitudes in the 5th chapter of Matthew. Read Jesus’s words in Matt 5:43-48 where he implores us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Read the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) when Jesus was asked, ‘Who is your neighbor?’ Notice the neighbor, hero and Good Samaritan of the parable is not someone from the religious establishment, not a representative of the dominate political party or race, but an extraordinarily beautiful individual from a religiously despised minority. Read Jesus’s words in Matt 25:31-46 and notice how He says we will ultimately be judged …‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Jesus’s teachings turn everything and especially our animal instincts to be first and dominate upside down.
I have spent the past 15 years working with refugees from all over the world. I traveled to Darfur, Sudan when millions of people were being killed in an horrific genocide. I currently tutor Syrian refugee children every week. In all of these circumstances, these poor, unfortunate (typically women and children) beautiful people have done nothing to deserve their fate. These Syrians families have lost everything, their homes in places like Aleppo and Homs, most of their family members killed to genocide, all of their possessions, gone. They lived in tin cans and tents in refugee camps in Jordan for 4-5 years and were vetted for over two long years to have the right to walk on our soil. The rumor that there is a lack of vetting is simply not true. These poor people are simply the victims of horrific unthinkable circumstances…these are Jesus’s special ones…our neighbors.
And each time I’m with them, I think, ‘there but for the grace of God go I and my family.’
There are those who rationalize our country’s direction and executive orders by saying all of this is to keep us safe. But I am also a scientist and the data says otherwise. There has never been a case where a Syrian refugee killed an American, and yet these people are banned from our country indefinitely.
You have a 6000 times better chance of being killed by your friends and neighbors than an Islamic immigrant. If you want to ban someone, ban your friends and neighbors.
You have a 10 times greater chance of being killed by an armed toddler or 15 times more likely of being killed by lightning than an Islamic immigrant.
I would end by reminding us that aside from Native Americans, we are all immigrants to this great country. Hate or ban who you want, but do it knowing that if you are an American or a Christian, you are doing it against the key principles that this country stands for and the words and actions of Jesus Christ when he walked this earth.