29 on 29.
I’m not one for fancy celebrations. I am simply too non-materialistic for extravagant displays of celebratory expression. Don’t get me wrong, I believe deeply in the role of ritual and communal gathering to acknowledge and commemorate significant events and life transitions. I just don’t need cake for my kind of ritualistic celebrations. Well, until this year.
This year I turned 29. Not the perpetual I am really 47 kind of 29, but the real 29. Only once in your life will the date of your birth and your age align. This happens to be that year for me. I’m not one for creating significance out of randomness, but hey a lot of randomness ends up being pretty significant, so I will indulge.
On March 29th, 2019 somewhere around 8:30 AM I turned 29 years old, and for two whole minutes, I was older than my twin brother who was still a measly 28.
Birthdays up to this point have ranged from memorable childhood treasure hunts to time spent working in hospital. In general, I don’t plan anything for my birthday, mainly because in the past I haven’t really had the flexibility to do anything extravagant in the first place.
My typical birthday ritual has turned from one of opening presents and cards to one of reflection, an inward journey to express outward gratitude. This year was no different, only this time the gratitude just never seemed to stop.
To be honest, there was a time 6 years ago, just before my 23rd birthday when I wasn’t so sure I was going to make it to 23. I was 6 months into medical school and withering away, physically and mentally. I was always a skinny kid without much to lose, but I had withered away to skin and bones and a brain that was no longer working. Up to this point in my academic life, I was beyond an over-achiever. I was achieving things that one couldn’t even over-achieve at. I had transcended over-achievement. The only problem, I did not realize perfection was not possible or that my achievements were not sustainable either.
I had been president of my high school class from 10th to 12th grade, excelling in sports, with a GPA somewhere in the stratosphere. I graduated with a BS in Chemistry a semester early from the College William and Mary, receiving Summa Cum Laude recognition being somewhere in the top 1% of students. During the last 2 years of college I took part in research and worked part time as a emergency room scribe at a local hospital. I enjoyed my life, but my life did not have room for distractions. You didn’t just walk into medical school.
I was fortunate enough to get into the University of Virginia School of Medicine, my top school, but even before beginning I started getting some strange feelings that I needed to walk another path. Still very much stuck in the rational sphere, the early awakenings of my intuition were quickly left silenced by the ladder rungs of academic society beckoning to be climbed.
It wasn’t until the world came crashing down before my 23rd birthday that I realized I needed to walk another path. I just didn’t know at the time, if that path would lead me to another life or to remain in this one.
The story of my awakening is for another time or perhaps a future book, but I share this glimpse to let you see the significance of birthdays to me now. While I wouldn’t say I live every day like it is my last, I will often find myself engaged in activities that are a part of God’s plan before others or even my own at the expense of an expense, a lower grade or a massive inconvenience. I just don’t care about the nonsense.
This year, shortly after 8:30 AM, the gratitude circle started, beginning first with the most beautiful and thoughtful person I have ever met, my soon to be wife Kalia. Our relationship together is one of those “make meaning out of randomness things” I was mentioning earlier and is beyond remarkable. It certainly has not been easy in any way, like all relationships, as two souls seek to grow into one. Through every step of the last 2.5 years, she has been with me, encouraging me to walk my way, helping me grow my spiritual practice and trust in my intuition like no one else. Without her I would not be in Charlottesville now, would not have started my collaborative clinic Resilient Roots, would not likely be with any woman given the trajectory I was on before meeting her in the hospital. Love is mysterious. Love is miraculous. Love somehow found its way to me and I say thank you every day it hangs around.
Leaving the apartment I made my way to the clinic. The “clinic,” however, is nothing like your traditional clinic. It is a humble space, one small patient space and one working space for myself and my clinic partner, my brother in medicine: Ryan Hall. On this day, we were not seeing patients, but instead, conducting case reviews, reviewing new patients and going through recent and upcoming patients. For you see, care at Resilient Roots doesn’t start and stop during the appointments. We are constantly discussing recent changes, reviewing records, reviewing laboratory tests, researching and answering the questions of our patients. In our clinic, we recognize we need time for every patient, so we plan for it and commit to it every week. The ideas and plans that have come out of these hours of review are arguably more valuable than anything we conjure up during the visit itself, and the best part? It’s absolutely exhilarating.
At the end of my time in residency, I started to experience “The Dreads.” “The Dreads” is my term for the feeling upon waking of absolute dread, disillusionment and apathy that results from the thoughts of the work that is to come. I love medicine. I love holding space with people, but by the end of my residency training I was waking up with “The Dreads.” They are immobilizing, paralyzing, and for me, entirely ego-dystonic. They were the sign I needed change, and I have not looked back.
Since returning home to start Resilient Roots and be with my loved ones, I have not had the tiniest whiff of “The Dreads,” confirmation beyond doubt I am where I need to be, that I am pursuing my passion and my soul is at peace.
I feel beyond lucky, beyond grateful to be able to pursue my passions and actually choose to work on my birthday because I love what I do and who I am able to do it with.
I could practice medicine alone and I would be fine, but I would not be entirely happy and my patients would not benefit from the depth of my partner Ryan Hall and the exponential synergy created when we work together.
So yes, I was grateful to go to “work,” to be in a space with another who walks the same road of authentic wellness.
Dare I say, it was a party!
After our morning of work and lunch together, Ryan and I parted ways, beginning my way home much before the Friday rush hour traffic.
In my car, rested a birthday cake made by Sidney Hall: Ryan’s wife. I cannot tell you the last time I had a cake, let alone a birthday cake.
Calling this cake a birthday cake, however, is like calling Albert Einstein smart; silly descriptors like this come nowhere close to embodying the essence of the object or the individual.
Made from the deliberate thoughtfulness and artistry of Ryan’s wife, I was left wordless with the fact that 1). Someone would make and gift me such a divine cake and 2). I would actually be able to eat it and not expect some horrible negative ramifications.
Sidney makes a living, creating plant-based baked goods that become the first “fill in the blank” people have been able to have in years and years, and more than one tear of joy has been shed from her “cakeistry”
Making it home without indulging, I walked our dogs in the warm spring air, my ear buds popping with the song of the week on repeat.
Stepping inside to rest and make some dinner, I awaited the return of Kalia to share in the remainder of this day and her birthday gift.
Kalia, you see, knows me too well.
She can make my smile, laugh, cry and crumble without as much as a conscious thought.
And for my birthday, and my non-materialistic desires, there was no birthday “object,” but instead an interpretive report about the nature of our spiritual union.
Based on Mayan astrology, the report provided insights into the spiritual purpose of our union, the strengths, weaknesses and the mission before us.
Give me this 7 years ago and I wouldn’t have given it one glance.
Give it to me even 3 years ago and I would have asked who is this person I am divinely partnered with?
Even in the moment, present as ever with her as we read through this interpretation, I could not yet fully grasp the love and gratitude that would flow from me because of this “gift.”
It was not until the next day when I burst into tears while driving and listening to one of our songs that I was struck with the gratitude for her presence, pushing me in directions I previously would not have seen or been willing to explore.
The story of how we met defies logic, defies rationality and was assuredly a result of spiritual powers, and this moment only seemed to further emphasize to my heart how lucky I was to have her love and presence in my life.
Gratitude you see, is not a thought, it’s not actually even an action, it is a wordless feeling, felt in moments of absolute unconditional love, thoughtfulness and divine surrender. Gratitude is the recognition that you are a part of the greater whole and that others in the greater whole love you, care for you and deeply wish you well.
Birthdays, you see, were never meant for feeling older, richer, wiser, fuller or superficially loved.
Birthdays were meant for gratitude, deep and unwavering gratitude.
29 on 29
2018’s chapter has come to an end and we are turning the page to 2019. The hype is here and we are all thinking or have thought about our New Year's resolution, hoping that it lasts longer than the first two weeks of January. Many New Year’s resolutions involve a new addition into our daily lifestyle, such as going to the gym or picking up a new hobby. What if this year we changed our thinking about resolutions, passing up the opportunity to add a new activity, and decided to declutter, make space, and create a hopeful void?
Consistently I see us all pursuing the phenomenon I like to call “add plus,” where we continually add more items, activities or pursuits into our daily lives without taking time to realize the true limits of time or what must be removed in order for that to actually be accomplished. Whether the activities involve truly productive pursuits or a mixture of ceaseless procrastination, there is no meaningful difference when it comes to the phenomenon of “add plus.” Moving beyond the simple concept of “removing to replace,” what I am really getting at is the recognition that the deeper work we must all pursue is one directed inward, one of removing physical, emotional, and spiritual barriers to one’s flourishing. Put into more artistic and poetic imagery, what this task is calling for is the re-creation of a void, a margin, a womb in which beauty, creative endeavors, spontaneity, and love can all grow and eventually come forth into this miraculous world.
In practical terms, this practice of removing, of creating a void, of re-incubating the soul takes many forms. The first is in my daily interactions with patients. Despite my cognitive desires otherwise, what I am seeking now more than ever in my preparation to sit with my patients is not more research, knowledge or notes, but emptiness, receptivity, openness to what they truly need in that moment. Seeking to let go of my own distorted thoughts and put down the needs of my other patients, I breathe and listen to create a womb and void in which we can collectively rest as we walk on the path to wellness and wholeness.
Outside of the clinic, I am ruthless about removing distractions, needless tasks and items that remove me from my creative endeavours, my time with my fiance and our dogs, and my space to engage in self care. As I continue to grow in my greater spiritual practice, I have begun to see that my intention must be to acknowledge the shear volume of thoughts, beliefs and experiences accumulated by my presence in this world, and seek to empty myself of these “things” so that I may rest in the persistent awareness of who I really am: love.
While I offer a glimpse of my practical and spiritual pursuits in the greater effort to create the hopeful void, there are many other ways one can begin the intention of removal or re-incubation. You may find that simply writing down a list of daily activities in your life and marking which are truly essential and which are perhaps at best “a maybe,” is one of the most productive practices in this greater pursuit. After making the list, go through the maybes with a careful eye and reflect on which activities would require or take the most energy and act from this new place of mindful understanding. Having less on our schedules allows us to do the essential tasks at hand with a clear mind and healthy heart and create space for the new opportunities of growth and nourishment we could not have seen previously.
As productive beings, we will always feel inclined to fill every free hour with something, anything to do. We will often forget that even though we are motivated by efficiency, we are not robots and need time to de-stress, to declutter. Having a busy schedule is one thing, but teetering into having an overwhelming and impossible schedule is another. Mental health and spiritual growth are not realized by the addition of an activity or a pursuit, but by the removal of one. Let 2019 be the year of the edit, the void, the margin, the creative womb and perhaps you will forget there was ever such as thing as a “New Year’s resolution.”
With the craze of the holidays and end of the year feelings, we would like you to take a minute to reflect on your achievements, improvements, and future goals with our special ebook “Make Love With Joy”. With five insightful chapters, we hope this ebook provides a space of healing and reflection. Beginning with an exploration of the concepts “meaning” and “purpose”, we dance on through to uncover the real truth behind joy. We gratefully share this with you as we all collectively find our purpose, make meaning from our service and through it all: find joy!
As a child, I was taught that God gave humans the ability to choose.
Free will they said.
As a young adult, I have learned that even if that choice is God given, it is still mine to make.
With this ability, I can choose where my future will take me or where it won’t.
It is easy, however, to get seduced by free will and its allure of control.
Free will, you see, is not control. It’s simply the illusion of it.
If it was, why would humans feel such trepidation, anxiety, and angst when making certain decisions? If we had control of the outcome or certainty about the end result, would there be such a thing as anxiety? doubt? worry?
When we mistake free will with control we are asking to be hurt, disappointed, for our expectations not to be met.
But before I get too far astray in the esoteric, I want to bring this back to the real purpose of this message.
To illustrate the hauntingly beautiful truth about free will and the power of choice.
You will always have a choice, even when you have absolutely no control.
Now when it comes to choices, it is clear that not all choices are easy.
In another paradoxically beautiful truth, the most challenging choices, and even the choices we get in every way “wrong” are the ones that are the most profound and life changing.
Which begs the question:
How do we even come to the feeling that a choice needs to be made?
Some choices that require immediate action are obvious as to how they arise, I needed to pick out a shirt before I walked into work entirely naked. We can all agree that a clear choice needed to be made at a very precise time..
But what about the not so clear, time independent choices, the ones that seem like there may not even be a choice in the first place?
What prompts us to feel like we need to make a choice?
Or should I say
Need to make change?
Is it because we feel that we cannot keep up with our current situation and the pieces are falling left in right?
Is it the universe speaking to us to say it’s time to do something different?
Is it because we know things can get better, even if we don’t really know what better looks like?
In my experience, all of these reasons, and many more are also true.
Choice, you see, implies change. Now you may argue that choosing not to chose doesn’t result in any meaningful change, or choosing to delay the choice in question also resulted in net no change, but I would argue this is far from the truth.
Ever heard the expression it took a hundred times until ***
What if I stopped asking my patient after attempt number 3 to try to incorporate meditation into her life?
Would I have ever have gotten to the 57th time when she said, I actually tried it and wasn’t so bad, and I actually found it rather fun.
Free will does not mean control.
But choice is always change, even if you can’t see it and realize you actually made a choice.
But coming back to the main question again
What compels us to make a choice, make a choice when it’s not 8 AM and we have to put on a shirt?
For that my friends, I share with you the story of my “sister” Rhett.
In her very own words.
Recently, I started to feel a deepening anxiety and a feeling that “something was just not quite right”. I recognized and acknowledged that I was incredibly fortunate to pursue my education in Germany and I could not be happier with my life here.
I have great friends, a sweet little studio, and am in the center of Europe.
I started noticing I was asking myself a million times, “how could you want to change when everything is going well?” “when you have everything and more than you could have dreamed of?”
But the feeling would not go away and I knew that I needed to change something.
I needed to make a choice. A choice that ultimately lead me down an entirely unexpected path.
I decided to embark on a new journey of changing universities. The German education is one of the most confusing things I have tried to tackle. There are a plethora of different forms I need- not to mention they are all in a language I do not speak fluently, and since I am an international student; my highschool diploma does not allow me to study directly at a public university. In a practical sense me, this means I will have to take a semester off to enroll in intensive German courses and then take one year of further preparatory courses.
When I started to contemplate this scenario. I wasn’t so sure I was willing to take a year and a half off school. I mean, I originally wanted to finish by the time I was 22, like a “normal” college student.
I wanted to be working by the time I was 23 like a “normal” young adult.
I wanted to begin my masters by the time I was 26, like a “normal” young woman.
Then, I looked around me and realized that normal was actually just code for
Someone else’s choice.
People all around me are not “normal” because they realized that normal was someones else choice to not understand their free will.
I know people who are 30 and just starting their bachelors, I know people who never got their bachelors and are undoubtedly successful, I know people who finished their degrees in three years and some who finished in six.
Who wants to be normal? Who wants to be someone else’s choice?
Life moves fast, almost too fast. But, it can also move at your own pace. With choice, we are allowed to slow down life or speed it up to what we can handle and what we want.
For me, I realized that my degree would be on pause and I would not be on a “normal” track, but it will be going the way I want.
I have the world to look to for advice and for comfort; everyone does their own way and it all seems to work out.
I read a quote once by John Lennon when I was about 12 years old which has stuck with me till this day:
“Everything will be okay in the end and if it’s not okay then it’s not the end.”
Free will is not control.
Choice is change.
Normal is somone else’s choice.
I will take my free will, to choose and change, knowing that normal can never be the end.
What a wonderful evening in DC meeting so many passionate souls in the world of integrative and functional medicine. You can watch the whole show with this video. If your pressed for time and want to watch Angie and I’s presentation on the power of the autoimmune paleo diet to reverse chronic disease and out current collaborative research project you can go to the 43:00 mark in the show.
I cannot emphasize enough how groundbreaking and important it is for you to explore James Maskell’s work with KNEW health, a radical paradigm shift on how we pay for and receive truly supportive healthcare. A huge thanks to James and his entire team for making this possible.
Dedicated to the flourishing of your being