“Fit”

WVXU, public radio, 91.7 FM

 

Julie IsphordingLife Medicine … I’ve read it and re-read it, and it’s dog-eared, and I turn to different stories all the time and find inspiration during certain points in my life.  But, what is Life Medicine about according to you, the author?

 

Dr. Nancy Spence:  Well, if I had to sum it up in a few words, I would say that ...[Life Medicine]--[is] about how to live a fulfilling, passionate, meaningful life-- one we won’t regret in the end.

 

J. I.    You even have comic strips in the book…. 

 

N. S. There are selections from 90 authors and yes, there are comic strips.   I think it’s nice to have fun on the journey of life, and sometimes comic strips can sum [things] up succinctly.

 

J. I.  I know; I love them—those are my favorite…. This book is a page-turner.  You keep looking for more and more.

 

It’s the time of year many of us are making resolutions.  A lot of us have already given up on our resolutions.  What insights does Life Medicine offer on how to achieve the [dreams] we’ve set for ourselves?

 

N. S. Well, researchers say that success with our dreams is a matter of knowing which stage of … change we are in and what the stumbling blocks are at each stage … and then employing … strategies to overcome those roadblocks.

 

To give you a quick overview …— initially, we go through a stage where  we realize the cost of what we are doing now.  For example, we are in a job we’ve outgrown, and a light bulb suddenly goes off in our head:  “Oh, that’s why I’m tired and irritable all the time!” 

 

Or we’ve always wanted to get a college degree, or hike the Appalachian Trail, or slow down and rest, spend time in solitude…. But we realize that the years are ticking away and, if we don’t get started, we’ll never do it.

 

The stumbling block at this stage is always fear… that doing something different might threaten our relationships; that the financial risks might be too huge; that we will try it and get hurt or it won’t work out; that we don’t have the time; that other people will disapprove, or whatever.

 

There is a story in Life Medicine by a San Francisco newspaper reporter—Mike Macintyre is his name—who realized one lunch hour as he was sitting eating his turkey sandwich that he had a job with good pay and wonderful perks, he had a beautiful apartment and wonderful girlfriend.  But he said he realized that he had played life too close to the vest, and he had never really lived his life.

 

Well, of course, when he announced that he was quitting a perfectly good job to walk without a penny from the Pacific Ocean to Cape Fear, North Carolina, everyone lined up to offer their advice. His brother said, “I hate being broke and having to scrounge.” His dad said, “You are going to get rousted by the cops.” And his grandmother warned him that he was going to “get raped out there on the road.”

 

I think Mary Oliver, the poet, has written a wonderful poem that does a powerful job of articulating the sway of what I call these “guardians at the gate to our larger life” and how we finally, when the time is right, must walk past them.

 

She says, “One day you finally knew what you had to do and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice though the whole began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles mend my life each voice cried, but you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do.”

 

And then she goes on to say, “though the very foundations were shaking and though the melancholy was terrible, it was already late enough and you needed to get started.”

 

Robyn Davidson who trekked 1700 miles by herself on a camel across the Australian outback says the most difficult part of any venture is going to be the decision to act, and that our fears are paper tigers when we look back.

 

She said—she has written a book about her adventures called Tracks— “One really can do anything one decides to do.  One really can act to change one’s life for the better.”

 

 I would say that most of our New Year’s resolutions are probably less dramatic than taking a camel across Australia or walking penniless across America

 

J. I.  It’s not on my list!

 

N. S. –but because most of us are going to need help at this getting-started stage so that we get past simply thinking about sending resumes or getting past simply thinking about signing up for the gym, whatever, there is an entire chapter in Life Medicine on “the do’s and don’ts of risking” and how to deal with our fears. 

 

Now, the second stage of successfully moving toward our dreams is to test it out before we take the big plunge.

 

Some people like to jump right in and do things right away, but research seems to suggest that taking little steps along the way, making a plan, making a timetable, asking questions before we do the real thing, is the way that leads to success.

 

For example, we run the bike trail at Lunken Airport several times a week to start getting in shape for the triathlon we would like to enter down the road. So, those little steps are what make the difference.

 

And then there is a third stage when we finally take the big action:  We actually hike the Appalachian Trail.  We actually give up caffeine.  We actually stop smoking.

 

The musician Sting…do you know what he did before he became a rock musician? He was a teacher.  He was 24 years-old.  He had a wife and a new baby, and, at this point in his life, he decided to give it all up to join a rock band. He calls this stage when we actually take the action … “a leap into cold water that can actually carry you into a state of grace.”  [These] are the words that Sting uses.

 

I think the challenge at this stage is to hang in when the going gets tough.  You mentioned people already breaking their resolutions. The stats say that one-third of people have already broken their resolutions within two weeks. But, if we can hold out for a month, the chances are that three-quarters of us will make it to the end.

 

J. I.  We are talking with Dr. Nancy Spence, a truly inspiring woman who put together the wonderful book, Life Medicine: Wisdom for Extraordinary Living.  It’s like an inspiration cookbook, in my words, or maybe we’ll call it Life 101. We are going to talk more with her here at “FIT” and WVXU and the X-Star Network.    

 

 [BREAK]

 

J. I. I’m Julie Isphording, and you are listening to “FIT,” and today we are getting a healthy dose of inspiration about making the most of our lives, and our guest today is Dr. Nancy Spence.  She wrote the book, I love this thing:  Life Medicine: Wisdom for Extraordinary Living.

 

It is [a] chapter-by-chapter compilation of tons of stories.  Some of them you may know, some of them you may not know.  But all of them are inspiring in some form or fashion…

 

And, Dr. Spence, one of the chapters is called, “Don’t Die Wondering.”  “Don’t Die Wondering” is actually the title of one of the chapters, and you open with a personal story of risk-taking that could have killed you.

 

Now, how do we sort out the difference between risks we need to take and those that simply would put our lives in peril? I mean, how do you define the difference in the word risk?

 

N. S. Well, first let me share my story. Six years ago I was with a group in India traveling north toward Katmandu, Nepal in the Himalayas, and the road we were on was a narrow switchback road into wild isolated mountain, and there were goats and wild dogs unexpectbly jumping into the road.

 

It was like being on a kamikaze mission. Our van had balding tires, and the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the vehicle, and our driver seemed to be nodding to sleep. Yet, he would accelerate to pass anything in front of us, right at the point as we were rounding turns in the road with drop-offs hundreds of feet into a churning river below us.

 

As we speeded ahead, we encountered wreck after spectacular wreck, as anyone who has been to that part of the [world] will remember.  There was a bus that had plunged into the river just hours earlier, and there was a truck that had overturned in the chasm with the driver still inside as we passed, and there was crushed shell of another bus that had been abandoned in a ditch.

 

And, through it all I kept asking myself, “What am I doing on this highway?” And I had a flash on insight what it must be like for people meeting unexpected death.  And the thought that kept going through my mind was, “Oh, no, not yet.  I am not ready.  I haven’t done all the things that I want to do!”

 

 It wasn’t until I was safely back in Ohio that I realized that the journey to authentic living, as described in culture after culture, is #1: being called away from what’s familiar;  #2: taking the risk to answer that call;  #3: encountering a road of trials-- which I was in the Himalayas—and eventually receiving blessings which we are required to come back and share.

 

Now, one of the lessons for me is that I finally got it, on a cellular level, not just in my head, that our time on earth is brief, so we better be living now the life that we say matters to us.

 

Now, obviously if I had been one of the passengers in the doom vehicles I might view things differently. Yet, I think Helen Keller was right when she said, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.”

 

 Interestingly, studies report that people who describe high well-being in their fifties and high well-being in their sixties have lived lives of risk, including risks that failed. More people, in one study that I read recently, over the age of sixty-five regretted what they hadn’t risked more than what they had risked that hadn’t turned out the way they had wished.

 

Now, this does not mean--to get back to your question-- that we take foolhardy risks for the sole purpose of thrills.  The risks that we do take are things that flow from who we are, from what matters deeply to us and what our purpose in life is.

 

To give you one more story—several years ago, I was in Queenstown, New Zealand where the highest bungee jump in the world is (I have been told that it is where bungee jumping actually originated) and several of my traveling companions put on their harnesses and jumped.

 

For me, jumping off that trestle wasn’t a risk worth taking because, for me, it didn’t spring from what mattered deeply. It was more of an adrenaline rush, or would have been if I had have done it.

 

Now, on the other hand, in two weeks I will be camping with a tribe on Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain with lions and wild animals roaming about, the way I understand it.

 

And I have to say that, while my bungee-jumping acquaintances might not risk my adventure, being eating by a lion is a risk—and I think it is a remote risk—that I will take as a cultural exchange with the Hadza people is something that matters deeply to me.  So, my point is:  what is a risk for one person may be foolhardiness for someone else.

 

That really entails that we know who we are, we do know what matters to us and, of course, we don’t know that unless we stop, we spend time in solitude, we listen to who we really are within (and there are whole chapters in Life Medicine on those topics as well).

 

J. I. Yeah, we will check in with you after you get back from spending time with the lions and the tigers and the bears. My goodness, gracious!  … Nancy, there is another harrowing story in Life Medicine on a climber—you know, the one where he is lost on Mount Everest. What does his story tell us about achieving the goals that we set for ourselves? Why did you put that in [Life Medicine]?

 

N. S. This is a true story about a mountain climber who spent a decade preparing to tackle Mt. Everest. As most of us are probably aware, it is a very treacherous undertaking. You camp four times going up and down the mountain.  Bodies of two frozen Sherpa guides are at one of the camps, a grim reminder of how tenuous life is a 26, 000 feet.

 

This climber had apparently waited for days for a break in the weather to make his ascent.  The break finally came.  He did get to the pinnacle of Everest, but on his way down the summit, which I understand is the most dangerous part of the trip, the break in the weather abruptly closed, and he found himself in a total whiteout.

 

He was exhausted.  He was running low on oxygen.  He was lost.  He was fighting panic.  And he knew, if he stopped, he would freeze within minutes. So what he did, he said, was he kept going—moving one step forward and another step forward, moving one inch at a time forward, forward and forward.

 

And when he thought he could take it no longer, suddenly a gust of wind opened a seam of light, and he looked in front of him, and there, a mere one hundred yards away, was camp, and within minutes he was safely inside his tent.

 

This story I think has a lot to say about achieving our dreams, achieving our goals, our resolutions as it reflects the research that tells us that two things are more crucial to success than anything else:  one is that we must have passion for what we are doing--he obviously did—that that is more important than talent, brains, money or anything else. 

 

And the second thing is that we must have persistence… keep at it and keep at it, even when we seem to be making little progress.

 

J. I. Never let yourself off the hook!  Well, how do you get the book because people should have it and read it and re-read it?

 

N. S. It is available at Joseph Beth Booksellers [in Cincinnati].  Or if people would like to email lifemedicine2002@yahoo.com, they can get it that way.  Or call 1-800-824-3722.