Really Living on a River: Guest Post by Al Izykowski

Great story of joy and suffering, beauty and physical and emotional intensity from my great friend Al Izykowski: enjoy. It was a Thursday night, March 5th, 5 degrees at 10pm. The full moon hung huge in the crystal clear skies amidst the silence of the windless air as I gazed out the patio door contemplating my life. Choice…plop on the lazy boy and listen to more low grade TV entertainment and commercialized propaganda perpetuating conformity, or get off my ass and listen to the voice in my head and the wonderful sounds outside the door that cannot be imitated, duplicated or replicated.

I could hear the TV in the other room as I began pulling on my bike shorts, tights, layers of clothing and organizing the bike and gear. My wife looks a what I am doing and looks at me with a glance that says, “you are crazy”. I am not deterred. I finish the prep for the conditions and saddle my horse into the van and head off to my launch point. Before I roll I send a text to you my friend, as there is no one else who would better appreciate and would get it. Your text back was: “fuck yeah!” Inspiration! As I rolled out, the air bit crisply and reminded me that I was not a spectator on the lazy boy, but a participant in the real show. Whatever doubts or concerns I may have had about what somebody may think or whether this was a prudent thing to do quickly vanished as I rolled down the bank of the river in the same place I have several times before in the light of day amidst the sights and sounds of whizzing snowmobiles. This was different, way different. No people, no machines, no sounds, no distractions. For a brief moment my brain went on pause, I wondered maybe I am crazy, nobody else is here. As I charged down the river bank onto the frozen ice tracks my ears were greeted with the overwhelming sound of the snow and ice crunching under my tires, reminding me of special memories as a child, and as a father, playing in the snow.

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So here the little journey begins…on the river….and in my mind. Once I settled into the moment the magic began. The huge full moon hung low casting long shadows as the familiar surroundings took on a new look. Within minutes moving down the river the ambient light of the city and the troubles of the day dimmed and I was moved to a unique place. Everything looked different, felt different, and all the while the only sound was that crunching beneath my wheels. I was in auditory overload flooded by that magical sound as my mind raced to sort out the troubles of my day and life.  Thoughts quickly changed to “now” and I entered the zone of really living. As I rolled down the river passing familiar sights and under familiar bridges, the sound beneath my wheels took me to a place of less familiar sights and sounds, in particular the sounds of the ocean. So, I began to experiment with moving in and out of hard pack, into fluff, into ice, and back and forth and until I found a rhythm. I let my mind wander and remember the sounds of lying on a beach in Grand Cayman and what the ocean sounded like. I sashayed in and out of the different surfaces and created the sounds of waves crashing on the shore, and that subtle sound of the backwash as the wave retreating back to sea, and another crashing on the shore, and retreating, crashing and retreating. I wiggled my toes and I could feel the warmth of the sandy beach between them. For a few seconds at a time I would close my eyes, and despite the icicles hanging from my chin, I was on that beach that I re-created in my mind enjoying the sounds of the ocean that I commanded, as the waves crashed and retreated…I basked in its magnificence listening to the sea on frozen river.

And so it went, as I pedaled my ship totally lost in what felt like a moment.

Well all ships must return to port, and even the longest days at the beach lead back home. As I wiggled my toes again I came to the realization that the grit I was feeling was not sand, but the beginning of loss of feeling, I wanted to keep going nonetheless. The further I got from the city and the safety of my car the more I got into the moment. As I write this I still do not remember making a conscience choice to turn and go back, I just did.

And the journey begins anew. I stopped to take a drink and send a photo to you. The insulated water bottle was a solid frozen chunk of ice, the phone displayed a message I never saw before….do not use device, temperature too low. I packed a bottle of Gatorade in my jacket thinking my body heat would keep it viable as a back-up…also frozen solid. Uh oh, no hydration, no communication, and frozen toes in a pair of leather work boots and cotton socks, a long way out and the temp dropped to zero!

Time to switch gears. Though I experienced all the same sights and sounds as I had on the way out, it was a whole different mind set. The ride back brought a whole different perspective, I couldn’t believe I had gone so far in what seemed like just a moment (right?) Now I realized I may be in some trouble. Ironically, the survival ride back was as rewarding as the pleasurable ride out. Fortunately, I turned back just in time. I was gassed, soaked with sweat, dehydrated and toes on the verge of frostbite. I peered around every bend haunted by those comforting waves hoping the next corner would land me be back to start…seriously wondering if I would make it.

The journey back is always a personal one and the self talk within one’s mind is often the difference that defines the experience.  I thought of your journey back. Needless to say I made it and was never in any real danger. The mystery is, that the initial motivation to get as far away was surpassed only by the motivation to get back.

So, what could have, should have, would have been just another mundane Thursday night in the teeth of an angry winter, had I not seized the moment, was instead a short adventure I will always remember and be indebted to the notion of "really living" for.

As I peeled off the sweat soaked layers while the car warmed up, I looked at the clock and was amazed at what I saw. All of this happened in just 2 hours!

Through my shivers I smiled and thought of the Art of Really Living, the messenger, the message. I realized that I had briefly expanded time, compacted time, and if only for a little while, I really lived! Thank you, thank you!

The best things in life often really are free…..if we are willing to pay for them.

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives

Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives. What is a Really Living Moment?

At the heart of The Art of Really Living is the notion of a “really living moment” and its extreme, the “event horizon moment.” This blog post is an attempt to explain, “what does that mean and why does it matter?”

A “really living moment,” is simply this: any event, activity, moment in time, or memory that leaves a lasting impression – creates a “dent” in your perceptive memory that expands your sense of time in the temporal past. Perhaps it is easier to describe the opposite: the inverse of really living moments are the mundane hours, days and weeks of the routine – of life on “autopilot,” where these same days and weeks disappear in memory and leave swaths of time unaccounted for. In these cases it is as though you never really lived at all. From my experience, and from the research on cognitive perceptions on time, here are a few descriptions of time expanding “really living” moments.

    1. Uniqueness: Eye opening unique experiences that take you well beyond your current experiences: Examples: entering a convent in Greece during vespers, walking the markets in Beijing the first time, trying Pace (sheeps brain stew) in Albania, viewing the birth of your first child.
    2. Beauty: experiences (be they aural, visual, tactile, gustatory or olifactory). Examples: standing atop a karst in Thailand as the sun sets, the smell of jasmine in the evening, the last bite of a plate of Vietnamise lemon grass chicken, the first glimpse of the emerald waters and white sand of perfect Caribbean beach, hearing a line of poetry that resonates with you.
    3. Physical Intensity (adrenaline) intense physical activities – often with some risk associated. Examples: the last lap of a criterium bike race fraught with possibility (and crashes), skiing the steepest chutes in Colorado or Utah, completing a 500 lb. one-legged squat from lower than 90 degrees while leaning over at 72 degrees balanced on a 1mm wide 18 inch blade, traveling 31mph directly at a wall on ice (short track speedskating), eating a trinidad moruga scorpion pepper, splashing into the 34 degree Black Sea with friends.
    4. Emotional Intensity (love, desire, fear) intense emotional connections – often with some fear or risk associated. Examples: watching your daughter put her heart into a close basketball game, the first kiss, falling in love, the first “I love you,” exposing your true feelings about something important to someone close to you, the perfect father's day of "really living" adventures with your daughter.
    5. Flow State: strengths-centered activity relying on the myelinated circuits in your brain. These activities are recorded with a high speed camera – time disappears in the present but our brains record more data, more memories. More memories = more time. Examples: any activity (sport, hobby, relationship, music, etc.) that transports you into the hyperfocused state of flow. For me it is bicycle racing, skiing, exploring, writing, music, traveling, deep conversations with people smarter than me, creative dialog and wordplay.

These elements are all “stackable” meaning that they can all take place simultaneously. Occasionally when this happens, time itself can feel like it stands still and “event horizon moments” are born. Rather than a dent in your memory, it is an expansive experience that actually creates a sense of time from nothing. Often these moments have aspects of both positive and negative emotions associated with them. Eugene O’Kelley described it best in his great book Chasing Daylight where he described these wonderful / terrible moments when he had to say goodbye to loved ones – forever – due to brain cancer, but in so doing, created “perfect moments where time stopped.” Event Horizon moments are rare, they are intense, but they are made of life itself: of love, fear and the act of creation.

What are your “really living” moments made out of?Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 9.39.26 AM

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Arrival in Vlore - the emerald sea

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the one picture I waited the whole trip for: the Black Sea Plunge

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A day of "really living"

It is Time: To Slow Time, to Expand Time, to Create Time

FullSizeRender I want to climb the ladder of my internal clock

I want to clock the ladder of my internal climb

I want to slow the hands of father time

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And time the slow hands of my fatherhood

I want to kiss my young child’s forehead and wake to find her still a child

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I want to love the loves of my life and live a life that I love

I want to sleep the dreams of heroes and be the hero of my dreams

I accept this kind of life may mean suffering for me

I will choose this suffering rather than let it choose me

It is time to create event horizons where meaning supersedes all

It is time…. to create moments of such gravity where time ceases to exist at all

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For the people we truly love, this one sacred gift we can give

The gift back of time:  It is time… to “really live”

 

"Every man dies, not every man really lives"

How to Speed Through Life With Nothing to Remember:

So… Go ahead, avoid the highs and lows of life – and here’s what you are going to get: Each September will come faster, leaves piled at your feet

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and no one, NO ONE will warm you or sing you to sleep

Want to speed through life with nothing to remember?

Here’s how to reap another pale September:

Watch lots of tv, sit on the couch,

Eat the exact same foods, develop a pouch

Meet no new friends, become a stay at home grouch

Do the same damn thing every single day, walk with a slouch

Your arm chair? The gauze of advil, and air conditioning, Your staid routines and complacent pace?

These things are the warp drive to temporal hyperspace.

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How Long Did Summers Last as a Kid?

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 3.24.04 PM How long did summers last as a kid?

Splashing into the lake, riding bikes across busy streets.

Crushes, broken hearts, bruises and dirty knees.

We all know summer lasted “forever” as a kid..

Everything was new - we really lived everything we did.

And now? How long do they last, in this world of the mundane?

I don’t know about you but I ache to live endless summers again.

4. The New Physics of Time Part 1: The First Law

“I can’t stand to think my life is going by so fast and I’m not really living it.”“Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.”

(Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway)

The First Law of Temporal Dynamics - Contraction

I'm dying.

I might look healthy, but according to my calculations, I don't have much time left - a couple of years at most and it is going fast.

Don’t worry, this is not some “Last Lecture.” Or maybe it is, for all of us. We are all in the same boat: we are all dying and we all have less time than the calendar of chronological years suggests. If you are a reader of this blog, you probably already feel this. Chronologically I'm only half done, but experientially the story is different.

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Question: Do you feel that time is accelerating? That hours are growing shorter and that each year flies more quickly than the last? Time is the most valuable commodity we have as humans, and it is passing through our hands like so many grains of sand. I want do something about that: how can we manage the actual experience of time?

Eating right and exercising helps a little but solves the wrong problem. In a exponentially accelerating scale, tacking on a few integers does not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, particularly when adding a few years seems to involve a life of asceticism.

Consider another paradigm of time based on our actual experiences – “experiential time.” I have now asked nearly 100 people the following question, "Think back: when you were 8 years old, how long did summer last?" The answer, nearly ubiquitous, is, "forever." Let's scale back "forever" and instead assume that from an experiential standpoint a summer in youth, say, as an 8 year old, feels about the same as a whole year as a 20-something. And that same year as a 20-something starts to feel awfully similar to a decade in middle age.

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If you plot experiential time vs. chronological time, a frightening graph appears. The area under the curve represents a simple measure of “life” and the math is not promising. Here's a simple graph showing this decay in experiential time with markers at age 8, 20, and 50. We've been trying to measure the "area under the curve" with a yardstick of chronology - it doesn't' work and leads to huge errors in our math.

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It gets worse if you plot experiential time linearly keeping the area under the curve (life) constant. Since "experiential time" is merely the area under the curve, we must now take the integral of the equation or simply readjust the x axis according to the logarithmic scale we just shared to figure our "true age" or "life left." When you plot time as we experience it cognitively, a 44 year old with a life expectancy of 86 is not “half done” – rather from an experiential standpoint life is more than 92% over!

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The First Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Contraction

All other factors being held constant, the conduit for the flow of time, as processed through the constraints of cognition, will contract, resulting in the subsequent perception of the acceleration of time.

I'll admit it - this terrifies me. Is anyone else terrified? You should be. Life isn't just half over. We don't have 50 or 40 years in front of us to do all of those bucket list things - NO, life is in its final chords, the fat lady is singing, and we are, practically speaking, nearly dead.

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The good news, even great news, is that it doesn't have to be this way - if we accept that time is not linear, that the brain processes time according to a different set of rules, then we can accept the possibility that we can alter the perception of time as processed by the brain, and hence really live "longer."

It is perhaps a cliched notion that "if you cannot add more years to your life, add more life to your years" but the reality of our experiences and the findings of modern neuroscience provide tools and ideas to make this happen.

THE METAPHOR:

Let me introduce the first metaphor for the new physics of time - We've all heard time described as a "river" flowing infinitely forward, and infinitely backward - this is a good place to start. To improve the metaphor, consider our experiences with time as if the brain is a "garden hose" through which time flows. What happens when you constrict a fixed flow of water through a garden hose? According the physics principle of (V) = (Q)/(A) the velocity (V) of a flow is indirectly proportional to the cross sectional area of the conduit (A) assuming a fixed flow (Q). This, I believe, perfectly describes what is happening to most of us - we are creating lives that accidentally constrict the passageway for the flow of time and in so doing cause it to accelerate.

Let me demonstrate through the life and times of an 8 year old and his or her garden hose or conduit for time. The two axes that determine the speed of water through a hose are width and height or, breadth and depth.

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Specifically in this case, cross section of the hose is driven by the breadth and depth. The breadth we are talking about is breadth of experience. For an 8 year old, the whole world is NEW. There is so much to find joy in, skipping rocks, running pel-mel into a lake or ocean, fireworks, sledding, it is all new. 8 year olds also have a "depth" of experience emotionally, not only do they experience the joy of love, of summer nights, and discovering new things, they also skin their knees, get hit by baseballs, find themselves alone or lost or both, get into fights and they cry. A lot.

Now lets consider the experience of a 20 year old. Now they've declared a major and are honing in on their future career. They've experienced a lot, so new experiences, while still common are not an everyday thing like an 8 year old. They've also acquired a taste for comfort. They've learned to avoid those horrible experiences where they are picked last for the team, mocked for being odd, or rejected for their interests by aligning with a more homogeneous group of friends. Their hose, their conduit for time has narrowed. As their brain matures, their "set point" for the processing of time becomes fixed which is why I consider the set point for the notion of "1 year" fixed here at age 20, not at age 8.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 11.08.55 PMFast forward and now consider the average middle aged office worker. Routine rules the day - same wake up time, same commute, same co-workers, same type of problems in the same department. Even when they go on vacation, they go to the same place. The middle aged professional also has the money to eliminate the pains and aches of life. The modern conveniences of air conditioning, heat, Advil, and TV, have created a platinum sweater around him or her. This muffling gauze of modernity necessarily constrains the highs as well as the lows, like wearing earplugs for the sometimes jarring music of life. This narrow existence and comfortable life further constricts the breadth and depth of the temporal conduit, and by middle age, time races by, flowing in an artificially pressurized valve, much like arteriosclerosis.

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The middle aged man or woman feels safe, they are comfortable.. And they are, as the saying goes, "killing time" as it flies by.

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The antidote here is quite simple - in order to expand the conduit of time and hence slow it down you have to increase the breadth and depth of your experiences - live more like an 8 year old, or as Hemingway writes, live life like a bullfighter. Now to some extent many adults sense this - they sense life is passing them by and so they intuitively seek out new opportunities to expand the breadth of their experience. They decide to take classes, learn a new language, pick up an instrument, resume singing lessons, take up a sport - and to some extent it works - these expand the breadth of experience.

BUT, these experiences only expand their lives in one dimensionsand hence their hose of time is flat, there's no depth to those new experiences. Why? For the simple reason that there is no risk in those activities, no fear of failure. An unfortunate truth of life is that without risk of failure, without the possibility or actuality of suffering, then you cannot have depth. So, to conclude this first metaphor, in order to unconstrict the garden hose, you have to take on risk in those new experiences. If you take up piano, sign up for a recital, if you take up singing, perform on stage, if you take up running, enter a race. Also, when you go on vacation, never go to the same place twice.

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So, how to know if you are 'doing it right?" If something you are pursuing doesn't carry the risk of real tears upon failure, if it doesn't carry that kind of emotional commitment, then you aren't "living all the way up" and you will not be able to slow time to that of an 8 year old, or a bullfighter.

But, if you expand your set of experiences, and allow the pendulum of emotions to re-enter your life, take chances, get emotionally vested, then you can widen your hose of life and slow time. That is really living.

I want my graph to expand and accordion out like the graph below. I'm willing to take on the risks and failures and suffering required. Time to enter the bullring...

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Next up:

The Second Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Inversion

The experience of time in the present is often inversely proportional to the experience of time as remembered in the past (experiential time). Remembered time governs the overall experience of time.

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3. A Simple Measure of Life: Time

Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.Benjamin Franklin

If time is the stuff life is made of, what is time itself made of? 

As children we were trained to believe that time is composed of a linear set of markers, ticking forward into the future, tocking back into the past. This, however, is a lie, and it matters. Time, as we actually experience it, is anything but linear. Through the distortions of cognition, time speeds by or freezes, is made or filled, wasted or killed.

If we accept that “experiential time” – i.e. time as processed through our brains - is not chronological and linear, then we can begin to imagine that it might be possible to influence or manipulate the experience of time in ways that are beneficial and accretive. If you accept this, then you can accept that it might be possible to experience more life through the lens of time and hence really live longer without adding a single chronological day.

“Are you killing time or making time?”

There exists, in fact, an alternate paradigm of time with a set of rules that we all experience but for some reason continue to ignore in favor of the linear view of chronological time. After more than 10 years of studying and thinking about time, I have uncovered some elegantly simple insights about the nature of what time is actually composed of.  In the coming weeks I will share what I have discovered about the New Physics of Time and its application to how we experience life.  You may end up wondering, as I did, why we ever accepted an alternate notion of time in the first place.

Three Laws of Temporal Dynamics govern experiential time.

First Law: Temporal Contraction Second Law: Temporal Inversion Third Law: Temporal Expansion

These laws can each be documented with: a)  a relatable story that demonstrates how the law plays out in reality, b) a metaphor describing the system dynamics, and c) suggested mechanisms to manipulate time in beneficial, accretive or expansive ways.

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The First Law of Temporal Dynamics: The Law of Contraction

All other factors being held constant, the conduit for the flow of time, as processed through the constraints of cognition, will contract, resulting in the subsequent perception of the acceleration of time.

Coming Soon: In post 4. I will explain the first law in detail.

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