Thursday, April 29, 2021

Biohacking and Tapping into the Brain: An Interview with Dr. Patrick Porter

Dr. Patrick Porter
Two of my passions are technology and the brain. The former has been fascinating to me not only because of the promises and potential dangers of Artificial Intelligence but also in terms of using technological advances on a personal and societal level to help humanity and to make life easier and more convenient. Moreover, the brain has always intrigued me not only because of its significant role in overall health and psychology but also as a means of better understanding ourselves alongside our thoughts and emotions.

When I heard about an upcoming conference entitled biohacking, which features neuroscientific expert and the founder of BrainTap Dr. Patrick Porter, I was immediately intrigued to have an interview with him. There were various questions and a few concerns on my mind, but I was rather surprised that Dr. Porter was not only able to assuage and dispel my fears and worries but he also provided me with significant and highly interesting information to boot.

My first concern was related to the brain itself. Currently, many psychologists are using the brain as the focal point for treatments that follow the lines and logic of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Positive Psychology. Although I support both, I also caution against them because they seem to minimize other processes at work that are equally important and essential. We are more than our brain, so to focus and locate all and everything on this admittedly highly significant organ of our body would be misleading while overlooking the unconscious processes occurring in the background hidden away from our purview would be counterproductive.

Secondly, the idea of simply motivating and blindly cheerleading yourself with happy and optimistic thoughts regardless of the facts and circumstances of one's current reality and situation can pose risks and dangers. By zooming into the positive without acknowledging, learning from, or appreciating the power of negative emotions, one can cause more harm than good. We are more than our brain and thoughts and there is more to the brain than we think.

Yet Dr. Porter is a visionary not only in having used technology at a time when most of us had not given it much thought but more importantly using it in conjunction with the brain itself. When he said that most of the processes of the brain are situated in the unconscious, it was music to my ears. It was also music to my ears when he mentioned that we are living in the best of times in which we have easy access to classical music when compared to various decades and some centuries ago, all thanks to the advent of technology. 

He further explained that there are three brains to speak of that are interconnected and that work together. We have the level of thought in our cranium, but we also have a heart-brain connected and tied with our emotions as well as a gut-brain, which is in constant communication with the rest of our nervous system. 

When we say things like, my heart is not in it, we are pointing to that kind of experience. This becomes also important for the choice of profession as there tend to be more heart attacks on Monday mornings as opposed to any other day and time of the week.  Likewise, we feel those butterflies or knots in our stomach, where our gut-bio is in direct communication with our brain via neuron connections, not to mention our gut feeling, the cradle of our intuition.

As to Positive Psychology, Dr. Porter agreed with me that it is important to go through different processes to reach a healthier and higher state. We cannot look past or ignore current difficulties nor the predicaments and traumas of the past. However, we need to be aware of them, process them, and deal with them but should not unnecessarily harbor or linger there for too long. In many cases, sensations and feelings of gratitude can help us bridge the gap.

Yet it is of utmost importance to have a positive outlook on life, something that both Dr. Porter and I strongly and intuitively believe in. It is not a matter of deluding or misleading oneself, and it is also not merely about seeing the glass as half empty or half full. It is rather an essential building block towards happiness because negativity would always stop you in your tracks and pull you down. In fact, while positivity has the power to turn on gene expressions, negativity can do the exact opposite. Furthermore, keeping the brain positive will help to keep the immune system functioning at its highest level, generally referred to as psycho-immunology.

Our optimistic outlook was not the only thing we had in common. We both believe in the influence of evolution on psychological processes, ancient traditions that form the often unconscious matrix, and collective basis of modern habits and proclivities. For instance, it comes as no surprise that our romantic dates often include candlelight to set the scene, similar to how we would gather around the fire to relax, unwind, and tell stories at night after a long day of work, an activity that may have led to love-making, even for our ancestors. A similar influence has been the correlation between watching cave paintings under the influence of flickering lights and our modern equivalent of watching movies in a dark room via projections on a white screen.

What exactly is Brain Tap and how does it work? My answer is that I am not so sure. Dr. Porter gave explanations of the processes of how and why it works, but I think that it would be one of the cases where one needs to personally experience it to get the full gist of it. Also, he has such a profound in-depth knowledge of the brain, energy levels, and technology with a combination of various fields including quantum physics that it becomes a bit difficult to follow and keep up with the theoretical frameworks. Nonetheless, I will try to paraphrase it to the best of my knowledge, but it is my recommendation to listen to him explain it directly (you have a link to the interview at the bottom of the post).

It appears that it consists of the integrated use of light, sound, and vibration therapy that would affect and elicit certain specific and targeted brain waves and frequencies, all of which are part of a process called biohacking, a measurable and scientific manner of using technological and digital tools to upgrade our biological systems. This has been mainly used for treatments of brain recovery, such as dementia and concussions, but it can also be applied to PTSD, different types of trauma as well as conditions like attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. Moreover, it can also be used to boost and improve overall mental health and life satisfaction. 

This technology-driven meditation would include guided imagery. In fact, visualization can have a significant impact in terms of health and well-being. Studies show that simply visualizing events can reduce anxiety and improve performance. Athletes often prepare before important events and matches by mentalizing their movements, while job seekers would mentally and emotionally go over and rehearse their interview, and some may even do the same before a romantic date.

To throw light into the mix is indeed ingenious. In fact, it is not surprising that it would have profound effects. First off, when we immerse ourselves and bask in the sunlight, various healthy and soothing, feel-good conscious and unconscious processes are set in motion. It is the lack of light, the darkness of night during which our body prepares for restful and refreshing sleep. It is then not surprising that light plays a significant role in our sleep cycle via the production and regulation of melatonin.

However, light, sound, and vibrations can also be part of meditation practices. Different colors and sounds evoke different kinds of feelings and sensations, and one can purposefully use light to address and heal certain parts and aspects. With BrainTap, Dr. Porter is using his knowledge and experience to channel the effects of light onto the person’s health and well-being.

Light in its purest form is also a staple of spirituality, whether we talk about, figuratively or literally, seeing the light, whether in front of us or at the end of the tunnel, or whether we refer to spirits and angels as moving points in light, with auras and halos of light emanating from them as well as the quintessential experience of enlightenment of the Buddha; all in all, light is quite often associated with spirituality.

I am aware that some may shudder at the mention of spirituality and would perhaps prefer science without any such metaphysical intrusions. But I would disagree. Many psychological and certain philosophical traditions, and, in fact, even certain atheists are not averse to the importance and influence of spirituality to give meaning, shape, and purpose to one’s life and experiences.

This is also apparent in the move towards and embrace of mindfulness in different approaches to therapy. I think that mindfulness is often misunderstood and most likely also misused, but it is easily the most important aspect of connecting with one’s authentic or higher self. But first, we need to be clear about what we mean by mindfulness.

I gasped at how perfectly Dr. Porter captured my own feelings and understanding of mindfulness. It is simply being in the present, and it is not merely doing meditation and yoga once or twice a day. Mindfulness needs to be constant and ever-present. We need to be mindful eaters, parents, students, and teachers, employees and bosses, patients and doctors. It is not one thing that can be separated, but it is all things with each one at a time, and this mindful awareness can help unlock and activate our potential that is patiently waiting to be discovered deep inside of us.

Without mindfulness, the connection with the present and our present thoughts, feelings, and sensations, we could be at best only half alive. But to create any lasting change or happiness, we need to consciously create our life. A lot of people go through their days on autopilot, with their brains stuck in its default mode network, or are driven by their desire to perform, do better, and advance in their careers, or they may simply want to make more money. Although this is commendable, at the same time, it is important to note and realize that time is much more than mere money.

But we also need to let time run its course. On one hand, we need time off. These moments of rest, downtime, and me-time are essential not only for health but also for productivity. On the other hand, there are many cases where we cannot and should not press or accelerate time. When Dr. Porter mentions that you can reach the state of mind of a practicing Buddhist monk, I pause.

I think in matters of health and wellness, it is not time that should be of the essence but making sure that one is on the right path. Many are so driven by quick results and outcomes and are frustrated when that does not occur as quickly as they wish. This is a fallacy. Patience needs to be fostered as one walks towards one's goal. Certain therapies may take years and as long as some progress is made on a regular basis, I certainly see no harm in that.

Healing is a process in both senses of the word. Apart from taking its time and resisting one’s temptation of rushing or accelerating it, we also need to process and digest the information and experiences. The same is true for personal development or spiritual experiences. Although we have an idealized fantasy of being clubbed over the head with a sudden insight, an unannounced visit by the Holy Spirit, or an experience of enlightenment, the truth is it takes a substantial amount of effort. It is best to synergize various aspects and create safe and healthy conditions to release pent-up feelings and energy and reboot our brain before expecting any of it to take place.

In a similar vein, we need to practice our mindfulness and train our brains. We do not just wake up knowing how to do things but like athletes, we need to train our body and mind towards it. It may look easy, but it involves time and effort and constant and consistent dedication. When we come to think of it, the brain itself is a muscle, and there are different ways of strengthening and fomenting it with healthy habits and practices. Although some are born with innate characteristics, those still need to be discovered, developed, and come to the foreground.

Technology can certainly help us along the way, but the onus would still remain on us. As Dr. Porter himself states, he teaches people how to think but not what to think. We need to own our health by stepping up and taking responsibility for our own well-being. The space and the tools are there, but we need to create the necessary change and learn from our challenges and stress. 

We cannot expect technology to give us everything served on a plate or a platter; the world of The Matrix in which you can download languages and skills and make them your own does not exist. And this is for the better. Because when things take their time and are bound with effort, not only do we learn and remember them better, but we appreciate them more.

For the full-length interview on YouTube with Dr. Patrick Porter, please click here.

If you prefer to listen to the interview, here is the link to my podcast: Arash's World Podcast

Monday, April 26, 2021

Mind and Cherish your Coincidences: An Interview with Dr. Neil J. Farber

Dr. Neil J. Farber
In the Bible, dreams were the portal through which messages were delegated from the spiritual realm with the earthly one below. Not only would God-sent angels communicate with mortal humans, but these prophetic dreams and guidance would be vital and often lifesaving information for the parties involved. The father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud considered dreams the royal road to the unconscious. When people dismiss dreams or deem apparent coincidences and connections in life to be randomly generated, empty, and meaningless processes, then I would like to contort that the universe is not haphazard but works like ingenious clockwork with or without a Creator working at its helm.

It should then come as no coincidence or surprise that I was thrilled to speak to Dr. Neil J. Farber about his book Serendipity: Utilizing Everyday Unexpected Events to Improve Your Life and Career. Dr. Farber is a general internist with over forty years of seeing patients, teaching, and doing academic research. He has written and published over 60 scientific medical articles on various fascinating topics. What most resonated with me was his patient-centered approach in which the doctor does not quickly diagnose patients nor jump to conclusions but instead opts to work with the patient to shed light, better understand, and treat the ailment the patient is afflicted with.

Applying this wide-angled approach combined with ample knowledge and experience, Dr. Farber has been helping patients throughout his career. His approach actively involves and invokes the patient in the process of exploration; he would let the patient tell their story and end up getting more information that way. This compassionate and humanistic way of dealing with patients alongside his own teaching of mindfulness within the medical practice has not only changed but significantly improved and enriched the field and community.

Recently, propelled by a dream, he has embarked upon sharing his experiences both personal and biographical with all of us on the fascinating topic of coincidences. At a young age, he knew that he wanted to be a physician, and now in retirement, he knew what kind of book he wanted to write about; the latter happened one night after a dream and although he could not recall the exact details of it, he was suddenly made aware of its topic: serendipity.

But what exactly is serendipity, I asked him. It stems from a Persian tale of three princes living on an island called Serendip (modern-day Sri Lanka). Anytime, these three princes had a wish, it would appear in front of them, and it was as such that the term serendipity was coined and came into existence in the 18th century by the British writer Horace Walpole.

However, serendipity is not a matter of sheer luck, and it is important to know and highlight the difference between the two concepts. Luck, which incidentally could be qualified as good or bad, just happens to you; you do not have to be involved or even do anything for it to happen and occur. Or if anything, it may involve very minimal effort, such as buying a lottery ticket that, as luck would have it, turns out to be the winning number.

On the other hand, serendipity is a process that you would have to be actively involved. For instance, it does not just happen on its own, but you would have to recognize the event and then realize it. It is generally something meaningful that you would have to recognize, value, and take advantage of. Unlike luck, serendipity is always good, although it may differ in its amount of fruitfulness and its benefits.

For serendipity to occur and to enrich your life, you would have to be in the right mindset. You would need to be observant and curious enough to explore it but also to make connections to previous knowledge and experiences. Apart from connecting the dots, you would need to be mindful and look around to see what is there. Many of us go through life with blindfolds and are in a hurry or in a rush and often miss out on the many glorious options and opportunities that could lead to amazing discoveries alongside personal development.

These “happy accidents”, as I like to term them, have been documented throughout history. A case in point is Scottish physician Sir Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin that has been an astonishing game-changer in the field of medicine and has saved innumerable lives and continues to do so. It all happened due to a string of coincidences that Fleming was observant and astute enough to perceive and act upon.

He had set up his elaborate experiment on a staphylococcus culture plate but since the window had been accidentally left open, mold had landed on the experimental plates. Fleming first thought that the experiment had been a failure until he realized that the mold was secreting a substance that was killing the bacteria. And the rest is history, while countless beings are grateful for this fortunate accident.

How and why does serendipity come about? That question could be contentious as there are different and opposing views on the matter. Some claim that it is because the universe is random, and these random mechanisms lead to certain coincidental outcomes. Since you have so many different haphazard occurrences happening all the time, it is only a matter of time to deduce connections between them. As mentioned earlier, I have difficulty accepting and embracing this view.

Others claim that the universe has a particular established order. This makes more sense to me as I see predetermined meaning and purpose in the sequences and strings of coincidences that lead to certain outcomes down the line. In many cases, everything had to happen a certain way for the present moment to be as it is. Make certain changes, incisions, and adjustments across the interconnected and interdependent line of existence, and many things would be different and have different results and outcomes. For instance, if my great-great-great-grandfather had not glanced at a specific woman walking down the road one afternoon, I would not be here writing this. These strings of important and relevant events may or may not have been brought about by a higher power, but that is left to one’s own belief system to decipher and to make sense and light of.

Personally, I think that the universe is responsive to our heartfelt wishes and desires. Years ago, I was privy to a program called The Secret, which was in turn based on a book by Australian writer Rhonda Byrne. The ideas around the law of attraction presented therein were not only unscientific and hokey pokey but they seemed to amount to mere wishful thinking. But as I am curious and tend to be open to various perspectives and different ways of thinking and as various people and celebrities were earnestly swearing by it, I decided to give it a chance.

I was shocked to find out that it actually worked on several occasions and instances in my life. My wishes had become true in pretty much the exact way and manner I had wished it. For the wish to become true, there are, however, certain prerequisites. First, you would have to make an explicit but relatively reasonable wish and you would have to want and desire it from the bottom of your heart.

Then, you would have to work hard for it. You would have to give it room to appear so tight and limited timeframes would not work. It may take a year or a decade but with consistent persistence and an open and mindful attitude, it will come true. It is certainly not a case of mere wishful thinking as it is not something that will just fall from the skies and happen no matter what.

Again, you would have to work hard, be consistent, be honest, be patient and be aware of the signs and signals that will cross your path. Once you do, it will indeed come true, and there is no scientific explanation and reasoning in my mind to justify its occurrence. In fact, my wish was stated openly on this same blog and a letter purportedly designated to the Almighty or the powers that be. The process could be driven by karma, it could be simply the universe at work or it may even be led and driven by a spiritual entity or higher power.

But as Dr. Farber himself states - and by the way, he tends to be more diplomatic in his responses and does not take definite or definitive sides and stances in the matter - whatever your belief is, it is most important that you recognize that these events are indeed happening and to make them meaningful for yourself. Many things are indeed linked and interconnected whether we perceive them to be so or not. Yet it is our mindful and open attitude that can help us use its power and benefits to improve our lives and most likely those of others around us.

However, many are either afraid of taking the necessary steps or they may get too comfortable with their situation and their status quo. And this type of hindrance and obstacle can stop us in our tracks. In fact, it takes courage to take a different path. We often rationalize and try to convince ourselves that it is better to stay in the current situation and circumstances at the expense of greater opportunities, profound experiences of happiness, and personal fulfillment down the road. By being attentive to and mindful of these signs and coincidences that cross our path, you can improve both your personal as well as professional life.

To watch and listen to the full-length interview with Dr. Neil J. Farber, please click here.

If you prefer podcasts, you really should be following Arash's World Podcast on your favorite platform, but here's a link to the episode ; )

Using Mindfulness to Create Serendipity and to Improve Your Personal and Professional Life 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Climbing your Inner Mountain: An Inspiring Interview with Michael Schauch

Michael Schauch
On paper, we seemed to have very little in common. Michael Schauch is an avid mountaineer, and although I like to look at mountains, I would stay away from them with a ten-foot pole. He is an entrepreneur, while I can barely manage my own finances. He wrote a book about mountain climbing in the Himalayas, and although I am interested in the region, mainly for cultural and philosophical reasons, my interest in sports and outdoor activities beyond the occasional walk is minimal.

But these initial surface and superficial differences between Mike and me do not tell the whole story. In fact, I believe that you could pick any two random people, and once you examine them and their lives more closely, analyze them more deeply, you will find that they will have several things in common. This is like another version of Kevin Bacon’s six degrees of separation showing us not only how connected (in both analog and digital senses of the word) we are but also that it goes beyond skin-deep.

In fact, I was wrong to assume that we had little in common. That is just the tip of the iceberg because not only is his book A Story about Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya interesting and well-written, but it is indeed personally appealing to me. We ended up having many things in common, which may have been a case of sheer coincidence, a divine plan, or both, or neither.

To start off, by zooming and focusing too much on the mountains, I failed to see the woods, the trees, and the ocean, that is, our common love and admiration for nature. In fact, we both identify with and see ourselves as part and parcel of nature. Moreover, his story was set in my current hometown Vancouver. As I read on and delved deeper into his personal story, I found out that his father was German, and I grew up in Germany. In fact, at one point in time, I used to live less than half an hour from his father’s hometown in Solingen.

Furthermore, Mike was interested in traveling and exploring different cultures and had an interest in Buddhism, all of them are checks on my side as well. Mountains were his passion, but in a sense, his profession of choice was writing, one of my budding, nagging and ever-present passions (feel free to browse through this blog for a brief glimpse thereof). I believe that childhood dreams and ideals are more spontaneous, free, unhindered, and unencumbered by adult thinking and consideration, and they tend to point to our true self, especially when it comes to our calling and vocation.

One of the themes we discussed during our interview was not to judge by appearances and that those appearances are indeed deceiving. We know we should not judge a book by its cover but often do it anyway. Yet as Mike told me during our interview, we should always examine everything and not take things for face value; we ought to look past and beyond the surface and see and understand what is lying beneath and underneath. 

In his book, Mike details a conversation he had with a Buddhist monk, which occurred with a spectacular view and scenery as a backdrop to accentuate and elevate the already profound message. The monk asks him, what would happen if you and I switched clothes. If I wore your jeans and shirt and you wore my Buddhist robes, would that make you a Buddhist monk and me a mountaineering tourist?

And yet, we tend to quickly jump to conclusions as we hold fast onto preconceived notions and often judge without stopping, pausing, or even thinking. The day in my undergrad years when I decided to don a Hare Krishna haircut, not out of conviction but out of playful fun because it was on my list of wacky things to do in my life, I was surprised and shocked how people suddenly and abruptly changed their interactions and behaviors with me. Some people were more respectful and greeted me in a rather stereotypical Hare Krishna fashion and manner, while others shouted obscenities at me.

Closer at home, while my brothers just laughed and took it as good hearty fun and my father was slightly confused, my mother was offended and refused to talk to me for a few weeks. All this had come about not because of my actions, behaviors, or opinions but was simply due to a different hairstyle. It was such a refreshing and eye-opening experience, a type of unexpected social experiment that told me volumes about how people, even those close to and around us, quickly judge a person by their haircuts. Let alone, skin color, religious and sexual orientation, profession, and all of this was occurring in a place and within an environment that is known for being rather liberal and open-minded.

Growing up, both Mike and I had stood out in our respective communities. Due to our ethnic backgrounds, we looked different; in other words, we were a visible minority. This creates an initial distance and separation between us and others. There seems to be a wedge and wall between us and everyone else in the community, and it puts us on the spot as one is immediately bombarded with preconceived notions, whether they are spoken or remain unspoken. Although unpleasant and uncomfortable, at the same time, this experience is an opportunity for building strength and resilience.

This is also similar to the experience of the secluded self-sufficient and semi-nomadic mountain dwellers of Nepal who had been living the same way for hundreds of years and who continued making a home in the harsh and difficult terrains of the Himalayas. They had little access to facilities and infrastructure, from roads to water to electricity and technology, many things that we take for given and for granted in our Western lifestyle. In fact, Nepal is a country that is composed of various separate ethnic backgrounds and identities and most of them have different traditions, customs, and beliefs, and even significantly different languages. Add to that, a society that is marked and still often driven by the idea of a caste system, which tends to divide people into different categories.

The region of the Lost Valley was not only difficult and challenging ground to get to, but it had also been only recently opened to the outside world and to tourists and mountain climbers. Naturally, Mike was immediately drawn to it, and it was not just a matter of climbing the impressive pyramid mountain of the area, there was also a force guiding him in that direction. As a result, he put together a crew that included artists and nature photographers including his wife and partner-in-adventure to capture this unique lifestyle before it changed while also making it to the top of that beautiful mountain.

All of them put their life on hold and gathered and collected the necessary funds to embark on this mountaineering adventure. His own German upbringing brought the strong will and determination to fixate his eyes on the prize, the snow-capped summit of pyramid mountain. It was a very difficult undertaking, even difficult for me to read about in the comfort of my abode, with various unexpected pitfalls and difficulties along the way that he vividly describes and outlines in his book. As he kept inching closer to his purported and stated goal, he also sensed a spiritual connection with the place as well as its people.

Normally, books of this ilk would then end with him reaching the top of the mountain while showcasing and showing off his pictures. But suddenly, the book takes an unexpected and, in my view, welcoming sharp turn. In fact, Mike fails in his endeavors and is not able to fulfill his long-held desire of climbing that mountain. At the time, he feels desolate, bewildered, and heartbroken. I can only imagine putting in so much time, effort, and money to make his dream a reality and suddenly not being able to complete the final step due to unexpected and unforeseen bureaucratic and climatic hurdles.

As a result, he had time to spare, and they decided to spend it in a nearby village. There he met Karma, a bright and promising young girl alongside her family; immediately, there was a spiritual bond and connection between them all. It was one of these synchronicities and alignments that like puzzle pieces fit and are meant to go together. It may have been a past life or a divine force, but in the end, it gave him one of the most important and meaningful experiences of his life, much more so than climbing a mountain would or ever could.

In fact, Mike explained to me that the initial goal was not so much to get to the top of the mountain, but it was more about the deep human connection he wished to foster between the people around him. His travels in the region gave him an in-depth and inside look of culture, lifestyle and traditions that were foreign and yet familiar, at times horrifying and yet emotionally comforting and satisfying, a world of contradictions in which beauty reigned hand in hand with hardship. Indeed, while not being able to climb the pyramid mountain, he had successfully climbed and conquered his inner mountain.

This experience gave him a new and significantly different lease on life. What was seen as normal and as commonplace was now put and tilted on its head. Although traveling opens the mind, his journey ended up being the experience of a lifetime, as he managed to connect and resonate with people living a different lifestyle embracing different views about what is important and relevant in life. It also helped him to connect with his authentic self, the inner feeling, and certainty that we call intuition and gut feeling.

While sometimes we need to make difficult decisions and they may seem illogical, unreasonable, or even highly uncomfortable, they may turn out to be the best choices we have ever made. Equally, if we are open to those friendly and supportive winks and nudges of fate and destiny, where a sign or a face appears out of nowhere but is meant to teach us something about ourselves, and when we heed that call and trust and follow its direction, it may take us not only to unexpected and rewarding places but to where we were meant to be in the first place.

In my mind, there is little doubt that it must have been fate or a divine force that was guiding Mike along his travels and whispering in his ear, and yet, he was always presented with the choice of either heeding the call or of turning a blind eye or his back to it. In moments like these, those who are set in their ways and are stubborn or inflexible and fail to adjust to the changing circumstances will miss out on some of life’s most precious rewards and experiences.

Just like the changing culture of the mountain dwellers, it is important to go with the flow. In many ways, modernity and technology are easing their life and burdens. They have water, toilets, electricity and begin to enjoy the ubiquitous benefits of technology. But deep inside they do not unplug or disconnect from their dharma, their cultural background and identity, their unique way of life and being. And ironically, Mike’s rambling sojourn in the Lost Valley helped him find his way and path to his inner self, one that is grounded and embedded in peace, harmony, understanding, and compassion while beckoning and inviting us to take up that challenge of climbing that inner mountain entrenched deep within and inside each of us.

For the full-length interview on Youtube, please click Arash's World: Interview with Mike Schauch, whereas a podcast is available here at Arash's World Podcast.

To further explore the world of Mike Schauch, please go to his website:

Monday, April 12, 2021

Pets and Vets Matter: An Interview with Sandy Weaver

Sandy Weaver
Dogs are man’s best friend, they say. But they are much more than that. In fact, they are not only a perfect companion for man, woman & child, but they are great examples and wonderful models to follow when it comes to being happy and living in the moment. In the words of Sandy Weaver, Mindset Expert, and Workplace Happiness Director, dogs are “perfectly in-the-now creatures”. And unlike their demanding and never satisfied human counterparts, dogs do not ask for much: Give them their daily walk and treat them to some doggy snacks every once in a while and they will wag their tails with joy and appreciation.

It is not merely a matter of simplicity, but it demonstrates profound gratitude for life and one’s surroundings. Furthermore, dogs will stand by you when your human friends have left you behind; they will accept you the way you are, while your fickle and anxious parents and spouses overwhelm you with rules and conditions to abide by and to live by. In fact, all that dogs ask for is your company and presence. They are loyal to a fault and will go through thick and thin and to the end of the world and back if it makes you happy.

We sometimes say it is a dog-eat-dog world out there but that might give a rather unfair perception and description of canines. Dogs tend to act in the best interest of their caregivers as their safety and well-being are paramount to them and they will go to great lengths to protect them from any harm or threats by potential intruders, be they canine or otherwise. Moreover, dogs are wonderfully resilient and have so much to teach their human caregivers.

To shed some light on these topics regarding the canine world and vis-à-vis happiness in both human and canine terms as well as an appreciation for all the work that veterinarians do to keep our pets safe and healthy, I was more than thrilled to talk to Sandy Weaver, author of Happy Vet Happy Pet: Caring for your Pet’s Caregiver. Not only does she have a profound love and a great understanding of the animal world and those who care for them, she also had various interesting insights into happiness and motivation including what makes humans tick and why they act the way they do, both for better and for worse.

One thing that Sandy immediately confirmed with me is that pets are not only valuable and relevant to many people’s lives but that they are also in great and popular demand these days. In fact, shelters are emptied out as people have adopted them left and right and there are often long waiting lists. This is mostly due to people suddenly having found themselves with more time on their hands. On the other hand, many are now able to have and take care of pets thanks to the change of work conditions via the options of remote work, another added benefit of working from home.

It seems that those of us, myself partially included, who did not necessarily give the space and importance to pets in our lives are now being shown how much value and how many benefits pets offer and bring to the table. These furry creatures help us feel connected and can give us a deeper sense of purpose in our lives. It takes a pandemic for us to reconsider and bring to the foreground various values, including the rights and relevance of animals and to remind us about deep connections that we can have not only with loved ones and family members but also with these nonverbal creatures.

Personally, I have had happy brushes with cats (yes, I am more of a cat person) and I have always cherished each and every one of them. Yet right on the threshold of the pandemic, a month before lockdowns and quarantines entered our world and our daily vocabulary, we decided to get a hamster on my son’s behest. My initial impression of hamsters was that they are a slight step up the ladder from the pet goldfish we used to have. Yet I was wrong and underestimated these adorable and precious creatures.

It was during times of isolation and distancing that we created a much closer bond with our tiny furry friend. Even though our shifts and lifestyles are different as he is nocturnal and, unlike us, he actually loves and relishes doing regular exercise on his wheel, we ended up spending quality time with him regardless and despite the fact that he is often sleepy and tired. Yet grab and shake a bag or open a fridge door, and he would immediately open his eyes and move his whiskers with eager interest and anticipation.

Yet he is at the same time very well-behaved and surprisingly obedient. Hamsters are much easier to train than cats and much more reliable and consistent than those pesky felines. At first, Mr. Floofles, our hamster, would bite us but soon he learned not to do so. The most impressive thing was when we put his food on one of our plates, he would not touch it. Once we switched over to his designated plate, he would immediately devour parts of his food and stuff the rest within his cheeks.

When we first got him, Mr. Floofles was jumpy, nervous, and suspicious. He still is occasionally paranoid and likes to protect his food as if his life depended on it. But he is much less startled by sudden and unexpected sounds and noises. Where he used to suddenly sit up and perk up in fear, he now does a proverbial shrug with his hamster shoulders.

But do not underestimate hamsters. They are excellent escape artists. I was shocked one day to see how he could squeak through the bottom of the door frame. A few times, he successfully managed to break out of his three-storied luxury home and would wander the apartment at night. One time he escaped to God knows where for the whole day. We thought that he had left us at that point.

We were very saddened by this, but most of all, it affected my son who had suddenly lost his friend and companion. And yet, at night, he suddenly reappeared and made his way to his cage. We were overcome with emotion, and my son cried tears of joy and relief. Mr. Floofles has not escaped since but at least we know that he would come back should he hit the road again.

As Sandy reconfirmed with me, every pet and animal is unique, as unique as humans are and they differ from each other, but like their human counterparts, they are also affected by the environment they are raised in. The personality of their caregivers and the surroundings of the home affect them emotionally and psychologically.

We often tend to forget or ignore that animals are sentient beings and that they will go through whole ranges of emotions, including stress, fear, and sadness. They may not be as anxious as their human counterparts, and they certainly do not worry about vague and uncertain future events, the bread and butter of daily human living, a life that is charged and loaded with worries that may turn out to be trivial and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Yet even if you are mindful and are fully living in the present, you often cannot escape the feelings of stress and fear of a given moment and that would also pertain to animals. We have to keep in mind that ultimately, we are in charge of and responsible for the care and well-being of these wonderful creatures.

We should also be aware of the fact that pets bring so much value to our lives. They have so much to offer. It is not an overstatement to say that our hamster changed our lives and that he is a happy member of our family now. It is through him that the realities of pandemic life with its challenges, restrictions, sacrifices, and adjustments have become much more bearable for us.

And let us not forget those in charge of and entrusted with the health and well-being of our beloved pets, the veterinarians. When I was reading David Kessler’s book on grief, I was shocked to find out that vets have high suicidal rates. This was before the pandemic had set in and exasperated everything for every one of us. But veterinarians experience high levels of stress, more so than many others, and I wanted to know potential reasons for the increase of anxiety among them.

One of the reasons is the way their job and livelihood is viewed by others. In our society, medical doctors and physicians are considered essential and their profession is seen as a worthwhile aspiration and career. Doctors are often put on a pedestal and are generally treated with respect and even admiration. This is rightly so because in many cases, they can save our lives and ensure health and wellness.

Second in line, we have the dentists. They may not get the merit and respect they deserve, and we may be afraid of paying them a visit, but especially when we are suffering from a throbbing toothache, we consider them a lifesaver.

Third in line are psychologists. We are often barely aware that they are there, and some of us may avoid them like the pest. We may run away from them in fear of being analyzed and of having our angst revealed and uncovered by them like an open book or we may shun them because of the stigma that we and others have attached to them, both to our own and everyone else’s demerit. Yet we still have unspoken and unacknowledged awe and respect for them.

Yet sadly, vets are often missing from this picture. Veterinarians usually choose their profession in childhood and think of it as a calling and a vocation and less of a job or a career. They are called to care for animals. And, in fact, as Sandy explained to me, it is very difficult to get into vet schools. Since there are fewer schools around that specialize in animal care, the cost goes up significantly, and there will be more competition. As a result, their debts would increase, while vets would make about half as much as a human doctor would make when entering the professional world. 

Although they have the same levels of skills and are as qualified and, in some cases, even more so than medically trained doctors, veterinarians are often treated as non-essential, and worse, they may be even considered hired help. People often treat them like it is a transaction instead of a professional relationship; people would be referring to them as if they were car mechanics and would want to find the best deals out there so that they can save money.

But pets are not mere possessions like cars, and we should not evaluate sentient lives the same way we assess non-living objects. Sandy told me it would be best to acquire pet insurance for your animal companion so that you would not have to fret or worry about unexpected and unaccounted costs coming your way on rainy days and in case of an emergency.

Moreover, pet owners must keep in mind that the vets they are dealing with are respected and professional human beings. Comments and viewpoints that see them as only hired help will make them feel undervalued and underappreciated, especially considering the type of work they are doing and the services they are providing.

In fact, what Sandy pointed out to me is that not only are they animal lovers, to begin with, and they share the pain and suffering of these creatures, not only are vets driven by their passion and vocation to help the animals and pets in their care and they try their best to support the worried, stressed, and anxious caregivers, they are also more often than not in huge debt. Their extensive studies will have brought upon them loads of debt in student loans, and they cannot and certainly should not provide their services for free or for minimal fees.

Not being able to turn a profit in addition to a lack of respect for their noble profession will make vets feel more vulnerable. So next time, you take your pet to the vet, remember that your pets deserve the best care and that the person who can provide that care to your cherished friend and creature is a sentient being with outstanding qualifications and who wants the best for your pet, and by extension, for you, the caregiver.


It was a pleasure & delight to talk with Sandy on these various topics. There are many other topics that we touched upon but that could not be covered here in writing. Here is a link to the full-length interview:


If you are curious about what my hamster Mr. Floofles is up to, here is his YouTube link:

If you prefer to listen to the interview, here's the link to my podcast: Arash's World Podcast

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Saying No to Child Abuse: An Interview with Steve Simpson

Steve Simpson

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Matthew 18:1-5

Although the emotional needs of children were a topic of concern and debate by intellectuals and poets during the period of the Enlightenment and the Romantic Period, most people including parents still perceived and conceived children to be a form of miniature adults. Children were often considered a younger not fully developed version of their parents and were often treated in similar ways than others. This is perhaps why the practice of child labor in Victorian times, vehemently exposed and decried by novelist Charles Dickens, did not raise red flags or alarms to the degree it should have and would have in today’s modern age.

Even the focus of the promising new field of psychology in the nineteenth century was squarely and firmly put on the life and well-being of adults. Although Sigmund Freud was one of the pioneers to look at and consider how and why trauma develops in early childhood, his patients and subjects were mainly adults. If they were case studies of children, as in famous cases like Little Hans, he had little personal contact with the children and the study would be undertaken to illuminate not the psychological state and the well-being of children per se but rather to serve as insight for the onset of trauma and neurosis in adult stages and conditions.

It was his own daughter Anna Freud that started to take children more seriously and fully focused on them giving them the place and the attention they deserve and need. Ever since then, our perception of children has been changing, and yet, not unlike Victorian times, there is still resistance in accepting and understanding the mindset and paradigm of children while misconceptions and misperceptions still abound, especially when it comes to good parenting and effective teaching.

Yet even long before all of this, was it not Jesus who relished in the presence of children calling them blessed and already in the state of God’s kingdom? How was such an important view of and appreciation for children not valued nor taken into consideration? And still, there were and continue to be atrocities committed to these innocent, helpless, and utterly beautiful beings during times of war and genocide, and children have been often exploited as a workforce, be it through slavery or in the form of child labor during the industrialized era up to this day.

Sadly enough, even today, we are not faring too well when it comes to the safety and protection of children. And I am not talking about evil forces that allow children to be recruited as living baits and shields for bombs and landmines or that train them to hurt and kill others. I am talking about how parents and teachers view and treat their children in the allegedly more civilized and enlightened world of ours.

More importantly, cases of child abuse abound in modern days. They are perpetrated by family members, teachers, or local community members, including religious and sports facilities that had been entrusted with the care as well as physical and spiritual development of these beings, but instead, children are horribly and cruelly abused by the people they trusted. These reprehensible and criminal acts are occurring in a climate in which child abuse is often ignored, overlooked, mishandled, or even tolerated.

Thank goodness, more and more people have the courage to speak out about their traumatic experiences as well as many other brave people who point out and strongly condemn cases of child abuse. One of these admirable people is Steve Simpson, a child advocate and the author of The Teenage and Young Adult Survival Handbook series and with whom I had the pleasure to converse about these difficult and harrowing issues. Steve’s personal experiences and insight are not only a rock and foundation for those who have suffered child abuse in all its different forms but also to all the rest of us on how to spot child abuse, what to do about it, and, most importantly, how to avoid it in the first place.

But first, let us consider Steve’s case and I am certain that many of us will not only be able to relate with his experiences, but we may also know children and subsequent adults who feel, act, and behave in that manner. Trauma can come in different forms and formats and in different shades and grades. Although most families are more or less dysfunctional, some households will perpetuate devastating effects on the children raised in those toxic environments. With Steve, it was growing up with an alcoholic father who would physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse his son.

The violent, volatile, and unstable behavior of his father would have serious and long-lasting repercussions and effects on Steve’s health and well-being. First off, in his home, Steve would always be on guard and would never be able to fully relax or enjoy these precious years of childhood and innocence. At any point in time and without any discernible reason, pretext, or warning, Steve would be hit, beaten, pushed, or have things thrown at him by his alcoholic father.

Although the physical abuse is unbearable and unimaginable by itself, it was the verbal abuse that affected him more deeply and more profoundly. This resulted in a lack of self-esteem and confidence. As a result, he would not perform well in school. Regarding that time period within the educational setting, he refers to himself as a “Z” student, the polar opposite of an “A” student.

All this has very little to do with intelligence and is certainly not due to laziness or a lack of desire; in fact, Steve immediately struck me as not only highly intelligent, both intellectually and emotionally, but he also had a profound interest in reading and writing during childhood (and not unlike someone who is typing these lines here).

Yet because of the verbal abuse that he had endured for many years, Steve, like many other victims of abuse, started to feel and believe that not only was he dumb and flawed but that his life had little value and that there was no hope nor chance for him to turn things around. This made him feel suicidal at the tender age of eleven. He felt hopeless but he also felt guilty for everything that had happened to him. Internalizing and taking on blame and guilt weighed him down and led to his desire not to die but rather to stop living under these conditions and circumstances.

No child should go through such states of suffering and depression. He got by and around through couch-surfing, that is by staying at people’s homes for a stretch of time but when protective services were contacted, he had the chance of experiencing different foster homes. Although they were far from perfect, at least, no one got violent, nor did they say horrible things to each other, and so Steve got a glimpse that changed his mindset and gave him some hope for the future: What he had perceived to be normal up to that point was in fact not necessarily the norm for everyone else.

Moreover, it was through the self-help groups that he realized he was not at fault. It had nothing to do with him but everything to do with his abusive father. An abuser will abuse others and even blame and gaslight them for the abuse, but this is far from the truth. Steve was not responsible nor did he in any way whatsoever deserve or merit the abuse nor did he bring it upon himself. It was all the perpetrator’s, his father’s, doing and undoing, and Steve did not have to carry the blame and guilt for that. That realization not only felt like a welcome emotional relief but more importantly, it demonstrated that there were a way and path out of the world of trauma.

Lo and behold, only a few years later, Steve would make things happen and move from a “Z” student to become a model student on an honor roll. The awareness that we can not only deal with but overcome and heal from trauma and abuse is powerful and uplifting. Moreover, it should also give us pause and make us more sensitive to notice cases where and when intentional and even unwanted abuse is happening. For instance, a comment or a joke may be perceived and reacted to differently by a victim of abuse, and they may even act out of line. Yet beneath it all, it is not necessarily about what one has said and done but more about what it has triggered in the other person.

So the person who wrote “Sticks and stones may break my bones/ But words shall never hurt me” had not been an abused child because those who have suffered abuse tend to become more sensitive to words and comments made by others. Words and comments made on the sly, disparaging or hurtful comments and jokes or sarcastic remarks and behaviors, such as eye-rolling and other nonverbal gestures of that ilk will affect people differently; nonetheless, those who have had a history or a past of verbal abuse may react to them much more strongly and more intensely than others would.

For instance, those who are aggressive and have violent outbursts more often than not have their own sets of traumas and traumatic experiences that are coming to the foreground. It may have little if anything to do with what one has said and done but simply be their (mis)interpretation of the situation. In either case, we should take it all, be it anger directed at us in person or via social media, with a grain of salt and stop taking everything personally. Instead, we should pause and look at others and ourselves with empathy, compassion, and understanding.

The common denominator here is that we simply do not know what the person has been through or is going through at a given moment. Instead of resorting to sarcasm, adding fuel to the fire by being aggressive to ourselves or others, by putting others on the spot or immediately calling them out on their behavior, we may want to stop for a moment, take a deep breath and instead, show compassion and empathy.

It does not hurt to be nice, friendly, and caring with others as long as it is not a case of pretense or passive-aggressive behavior. As a teacher or parent, we can also model good behavior and we may be strict and call out bad behavior, but it needs to be done in a caring, respectful, and supportive manner. Being demanding and caring are not mutually exclusive; yet being abusive is never acceptable and it does not matter whether it is at schools, at home, or at the workplace.

As Steve pointed out to me, my experience with my son’s cruel and verbally and emotionally abusive teacher who was supported and encouraged by the passive-aggressive and gaslighting principal at the time (it was a few years ago and the principal has been transferred to another place since then) was a clear case of parental bullying by school authorities. This was briefly discussed in our interview and I shall outline it in more detail in another post but let it suffice here by making clear that teachers, school staff and principals are and must be responsible for the welfare of their students (our children) irrespective of whether it is occurring during pandemic times or not.

Neither teachers nor parents want to ruin the whole perspective of school for the children, and it is important to not only keep their self-esteem intact but also to develop and promote its growth. Moreover, it is the responsibility of everyone close to children, be they parents, family members, friends, or teachers to spot and notice any sudden changes in the child’s reactions and behavior. One should then notify and let others know whether it is a case of bullying, of being bullied, or anything else that causes concern within one’s community.

As Steve explains, we are quick to call the authorities for other types and more minor forms of infringement, but we often refrain from doing so when it comes to issues of child abuse. Although at schools, teachers and principals tend to be general points of contact, it would be even better to go to social workers who are not only better trained for these types of situations but who also have more time and resources to check on students. As a parent, you want to make sure that the communication lines are open before your child decides to run away, engages in illicit and dangerous activities, or, God forbid, attempts, or commits suicide.

In certain cases, it could be avoided if you can spot the warning signs in time. It is important not to dismiss any concerning, odd, or unusual behavior. If you think a family member, relative or, friend is being abused, step in and get involved. You would need to take action, and it may even involve calling protective services, or contacting authorities. If you yourself feel that you might hurt yourself, reach out and call your local hotlines for mental health and suicide.

But many people will not run away physically, they would more often run away from their painful issues and experiences. Or they may blindly accept and believe that their suffering is a fixed and given status quo. They would essentially give up on happiness, be stuck in suffering, and try to be comfortable with it all. But you cannot escape yourself nor can you run away from trauma; it will catch up on you and catch you off-guard.

Self-esteem is not only important now; it is also of relevance in later life when it comes to relationships and for success at work. As Steve explains even celebrities may lack self-esteem as they also struggle with emotional issues and may even commit suicide. But suicide is never ever an option. It is irreversible and a permanent solution to temporary issues, no matter how significant or insurmountable we may think our problems may be at any given moment. Both Steve and I wholeheartedly agree that things will always get better. It often needs time and effort, but it will. The dark cloud that is over your head will be lifted.

However, no one is asked to do this alone and there is help around us all. It is essential to reach out and look for it. There is nothing embarrassing about asking for help. Furthermore, it would help to help others. When you help others, not only are you doing good unto others, but you also realize how much you have to give, and it will raise your self-esteem. It is best to volunteer and join clubs to make a difference in other people’s lives so that your own life can be touched and changed as well. While abuse is a vicious cycle, help is its opposite beneficial cycle, and what goes around comes around.

Finally, there are two things that we should keep in mind both for ourselves as well as for others. No one has to be sad and be in an abusive situation or relationship. This applies to all our intimate relationships ranging from family, friendships to partners and spouses. Secondly, no one has the right to abuse us or others and we all have the responsibility to make this clear through our words and actions by saying no to all forms of abuse and by especially standing up for all those who find it hard to stand on their two feet, precious children who need our help.

Many thanks to Steve Simpson and Tara Schwartz, and Kristi Hughes!

For the full-length interview with Steve Simpson on YouTube, please click: here

The interview is also available at Arash's World Podcast.