There are a lot of things in this world that we simply can’t control. Adversity is sometimes one of those things yet it is an inevitable part of the human experience. We do, however, have control over our ability to train our minds to build resilience, making us more capable to handle life’s hurdles. Calgary-based pediatrician, plantrician, marathon-enthusiast and author Dr. Peter Nieman, delves into this topic in an engaging and profound conversation with Adam Markel. Dr. Peter shares how he’s been able to overcome and remain strong despite the recent tragic death of his son. He credits his work over three decades and his life philosophy based on compassion – for himself and for others – as critical to his ability to build resilience in the face of adversity.
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Building Resilience In The Face Of Adversity With Dr. Peter Nieman
I feel incredibly blessed in this moment to be able to do something that I love to do. I have a tremendous passion for a conversation with great people and this show is a wonderful tool. It’s a more interesting form of TV for me. It is the way in which me and our guests get to express our voice by the look of it with so many amazing shows that are available. It has become a new media that has leveled the playing field and given all of us equal footing in a level playing field to have a voice in the world which is something that we have as a species. We have fought for that from the beginning of time. The thing that makes sentient human beings unique and special is this capacity to share ideas, stories and to connect with people through those communications.
When you think of sentient beings, it’s not just human beings. We know that whales, dolphins, and birds communicate, and there’s so much communication that goes on. We’ve been dog lovers, we’ve had dogs and they certainly would communicate with us all the time. Always telling us what they wanted and how they felt. They never complained. One wonderful thing about being a dog owner and having those additional members of our family was the fact that they didn’t complain. They never did.
They also didn’t judge. I got nothing but unconditional love from all of our dogs across the years that we were lucky enough to have them. I have a wonderful guest. Somebody that I’m so excited that he is the first guest that I will interview from our new location. We have a mutual friend. We’ll probably talk about that a little bit to honor that other individual. My guest is Dr. Peter Nieman. He has worked as a community-based pediatrician since 1987. He believes in living by example and is a plantrician, a doctor who promotes plant-based whole food nutrition. We have a lot of things in common and some things not in common, which we will talk about in a bit.
He runs marathons and has completed 112 so far. The goal was to reach 100 by age 60 and by the grace of God, this took place when he crossed the finish line with his beautiful wife, Corinne and four children who joined him for the last few meters. Peter is also a streaker. He has maintained an uninterrupted streak of running every day since December 16, 2009. In 2016, he became a holistic life coach under the training of our mutual friend, Alan Cohen. He is author of the book, Moving Forward: The Power of Consistent Choices in Everyday Life. That book came out in 2015.
On January 1, 2020, he became a member of the world’s worst club. When he and his wife discovered the body of their son, Ben, who ended his life after a long battle with depression. He is married to Dr. Corinne Zamonsky, who also shares the same passion of inspiring healthy living. They have three children, Katie, Matt and John. Peter continues to learn what it means to be sustained by the love of God as he and his family moved forward on the journey toward developing more resilience. It is a pleasure. I’m so happy to have you on the show, Peter. Welcome.
What a joy to be with you. I think you don’t know this, but you go with me on many of my runs. You’ve been running with me quite a bit, when I listened to your podcasts that’s when you come with me. I’m inspired by your work and cannot tell enough people to tune into this podcast if they want to pivot their life, move forward, be strong and resilient.
The thought of having been with you on some of your runs, when I hear that you’ve done 112 hours, I go, “I’m getting in shape and it’s the most efficient way for me to get in shape.”
I’m looking forward to many more runs and podcasts with you.
What’s not written in that bio that you would love for people to know about you?
Looking at me holistically, what probably doesn’t come out in the bio is my love for the creator and how much I depend on God for my strength. Having gone through this difficult time, losing a child has pivoted as you can imagine. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor said, “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger.” We’re getting to experience that. We’re not alone, which is a wonderful reassuring thing. People like you, Ellen and many other people have come right alongside us. My favorite marathon is in New York and the crowds are amazing. When you do this distance, it’s 26.2 miles. It’s the same for the Kenyans as it is for mere mortals like me. We all like people to cheer us along, but isn’t that a metaphor for life? Even though we have people on the sidelines cheering us on being there for us, we still have to do the running.
The beautiful thing about running, another metaphor is that everybody has a unique pace. There’s no need to compete or compare. You’ll find what is your pivot? What is your reason to get up in the morning? What is your purpose? That’s how we run the race together. The one thing that we discovered after the loss of our son, Benjamin, who died at age 16. He ended his life quite unexpectedly. I’m South Africa originally, I’ve lived in Canada since 1983, but there’s an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I see that as a pediatrician, but I’ve also learned that it takes a village to say goodbye to a child. We’ve been supported by many good and kind people. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help other people later because of this problem, unfortunately, is getting worse where teenagers end their life because they don’t have resilience.
It’s something a lot of people don’t know that those statistics have not gotten better over the years. They’ve gone precipitously in the other direction among young teenagers. Shockingly too in some of the studies that I’ve read about, women past the age of 50. I couldn’t believe it. I would have assumed that you get to a certain age and you’ve gone through a lot. You have seen enough in your life to recognize the old adage that this too shall pass, which I want to talk to you about that cliché as well. I want to go back to something else you said earlier about Viktor Frankl. Probably, by no coincidence, we talk about Viktor Frankl in our work quite a bit in regard to a specific part of the makeup of resilient people and even when we’re sharing this with organizations and companies, “What makes for resilient teams?” That is this concept of finding meaning in things, especially things that seem to be meaningless, devastating, irreconcilable things that we believe are wholly unnecessary.
Like what Viktor Frankl endured and survived, which was to be a Holocaust camp prisoner. Ultimately survivor and someone that witnessed the deaths of countless people. While he was a prisoner, he was thinking about what meaning might come out of this. It’s something I don’t know that most of us can even put ourselves and even in the mind space to imagine that. Similar to the way that I think many people cannot put themselves in the headspace of what it would be like to lose a child. Similar irreconcilable things to find meaning in something like that has fundamentally been a part of the process of creating resilience. Not that you’re in that you are demonstrating resilience, but you’re creating it as you go along and you’re building resilience.
A lot of people don’t know that, that you’re not born resilient because it’s in our DNA as human beings. That’s how we have evolved to this point and made it through so much, but that we can learn resilience, create it and develop it. Viktor Frankl’s work is one of those. He not only got out of the camp, but he also wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. He shared his meaning therapy work with millions of people around the globe. If you could speak too, where are you in that process of finding meaning in the loss of your dear son, Benjamin?
There’s a pastor in Southern California, Rick Warren, who also lost a son, helped me a lot. He reached out to me and my wife. He supported us. He said, “There are some things you never get over, but you will find ways to get through it.” He also said, “We have a choice as humans to get something like this develop us, but some people unfortunately choose to let it destroy them or define them.” To answer your question, I’m keen to let this develop me and my wife so that we can help other families who may go through this. I’m a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy has asked me to join them in this effort too.
The whole thing about meaning is an important one. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with David Kessler’s work on grief. He is a guru when it comes to grief. He also lost a child and he worked with Elisabeth Kubler Ross. The stages of mind targeting depression and acceptance, which by the way are not linear, but he got permission to add a 6th stage, which is meaning. Many times, if we lose a spouse, a child, or a leg or whatever we may lose, can we grow from it? Can we let it develop? Can we make that choice? I often think of how I would define my own definition of resilience.
I got it one morning again when I was running. It was such a beautiful day. The birds are singing. Where I live, if I look to the west, I look at the Canadian Rockies, I’m running next to a body of water. I looked up, there was the moon setting toward the east. I thought about this. Here I am training for my next marathon, and this is a mental marathon we’re going through. The definition for me of resilience is to train our mind. As you say, we have that choice to train our mind, to have the capacity, almost like fitness, “Do I have the capacity to stay strong and to continue this thing, and to move forward,” which is continuous. When life gives us what we didn’t want or didn’t choose?”We were not born resilient but we can learn and develop it. Click To Tweet
In the Buddhist tradition, there are four noble truths of suffering. The first one is that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. People say that’s a cliché or a platitude. It’s sometimes important to pause and meditate when we hear the word cliché and platitude. Why is it that those things are maintained as such? It’s because we don’t spend enough time to think about him. The wisdom of the Buddha that lived 2,600 years ago is amazing.
It’s true that nobody can escape pain, loss, setbacks, or impermanence. The question is how do we want to respond? A lot of people react. The good news is there’s a way out of suffering. If we respond appropriately, if we have the right view, thoughts, action, words and livelihood, it’s important to make sure that we spend time to be mindful and meditate and that we also have the right concentration. I love the conscious part of your show. It’s not the pivot, it’s the conscious pivot. I think we should remind ourselves. That’s a very important word.
I believe as well because there’s so much of what we experienced, we experience by default because we’re not actively choosing. We take a lot for granted. We take our breath for granted.
Jack Kornfield has a quote about a man who used to live one inch away from his body. Not fully present, we’re not there and not in the moment. We don’t appreciate things. I have a ritual in the morning. My ritual is one that I learned from a fellow David G., who lives in Southern California. He taught me that in the morning, for 40 years he has gone by the RPM method. Not revolutions per minute. He says, “You arise, pee, and meditate.” In the mornings, when I wake up, I do what you tell us all to do, which is take that first breath and be thankful, be in the moment and realize somebody elsewhere on this beautiful planet, at that instant is leaving with the last breath. These things are so basic and yet not always easy to do. The beautiful thing is we have a choice, we do it, or we don’t. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” Get busy and just do it.
My wife, Randi, I, and our daughter Chelsea is also involved in the company. This dear friend lost a child unexpectedly many years ago. His name is Ken Druck. He is a grief expert specialist. He was a guest on our show. There’s something I want to get to as well that you said a moment ago, which is to let it develop us. I’ve not heard that language used before. I’m curious if this is language that you’ve created or whatever the origin is less important than what this means to you. “Let this develop me.” I’m wrapping my own head and heart around that term that something that’s happening.
For example, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. This event that we’ve called a crisis has changed people’s lives in profound ways. More than 100,000 people in the US alone have passed. I don’t know what the global total is. I ought to know that. It’s too many. One is too many, and yet the disruption and the change to people’s lives has gone beyond health. It’s gone into the area of their economics, finances, and businesses. It’s interesting in thinking about these unexpected events, the loss of a child being held prisoner because of your religion, your family being exterminated or genocide of things happening because of the color of your skin, religion, or any number of things.
The way that people of color in the United States have been systematically discriminated against and murdered, as we’ve seen as well. Things that are unthinkable that happen. In trying to make sense of those things so that we can both evolve as a community, as a society and individually, involves finding meaning and some other things that we may get to talk about. It feels like it involves this statement that you made to let this develop me. What do you mean by that? Please unpack that concept for us.
This is a mental marathon for me and Corinne to adjust to this new reality. I used to be a Dale Carnegie instructor. One of Dale Carnegie’s books, he talks about a cathedral in Belgium. In scripted on the cathedral or the words it is so it cannot be otherwise. The loss of a child is the reality that has happened. It cannot be otherwise. I’m a holistic coach because of Alan Cohen. If people go to my website, MovingForwardDaily.com, there are three gears have to be engaged. That’s the issue of the spirit, mind and body. For me, I want all three of those muscles to be developed and engaged in order to move forward.
It means that first and foremost, you have to not fight with God. Like somebody said, “When you fight with God, you’re always going to have to lose because your arms are not as long as His when you box with Him.” To get closer to knowing that we are sustained, there’s a line in the course of miracles. I think you’ve talked about the course before and it’s less than 50. It says, “We are sustained by the love of God.” Corrine and I are experiencing that. It brings us closer to Him. I know for some people who don’t believe or mad at God, they may disagree with me, but that’s my experience. Like Ellen Cohen says, “That’s my story. I stick to it.” It’s bringing us closer to our creator.
In difficult times, it teaches us patience and endurance. It helps us to not think about ourselves all the time, but also to consider other people to comfort them with the same comfort we’ve been comforted. It also helps us to be resilient mentally. Sometimes people are born with it and sometimes they are not, but for people who find they are not very resilient, there’s hope. It’s like, you don’t have to run a marathon, but you have the ability to get fit physically. We all have that ability to get fit or more fit mentally and we call it resilience. I have a friend of mine who was in Calgary, a social worker and an author, introduced me to the speech that Bobby Kennedy gave.
It could have been even in the time of racial unrest in the 1960s, when Bobby Kennedy ran for the presidency. He quoted a Greek philosopher Aeschylus who lived 500 years before Christ who lived in Athens and it’s about pain. Here are the words from Kennedy’s speech, “He who learns must suffer. Even in our sleep, pain cannot forget, and pain is drop by drop upon the heart. In our own despair against our will comes wisdom to us by the grace of God.” I underlined he who learns must suffer. It’s not morbid, it’s not negative. It’s real. The Buddha told that 2,600 years ago. “We cannot escape pain. We cannot escape suffering.”
Learning comes at a cost. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that personally. My dad was apt to share this with my brother and I. Frequently, he would say that there’s a front and back to everything. There is a cost to things. You pay a price for things, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want a free lunch. People that think they want something for nothing or something to be easy. They’re really selling themselves a bill of goods.
They are diluting or being untruthful with themselves because we know in our core how good it feels to put in a good day’s work, to come through something that’s tough and difficult. As painful as the process is, as excruciating as it can feel as exhausting even. The other side of that is a joy that helps you to sleep well at night, and it gives you peace of mind and helps you have clear eyes. When you look in the mirror with those clear eyes, you see something looking back at you that you respect and even love. That doesn’t come cheap nor should it, in my opinion.
I want to share how it landed for me. Let this develop me. Let it develop us. In light of everything that’s happening in the world, tremendous loss. Loss of all kinds. The pain of every conceivable kind. From the loss of a loved one, I have a dear friend from high school. We were both kids on the high school swimming team together when we met. He lost his dad to COVID-19 and couldn’t even attend his funeral. He couldn’t have a proper send-off, memorial, or mourning in the way that traditionally it’s done. There’s every imaginable loss that’s occurred. I feel so deeply that it is going to serve us in some way, that it’s already serving us in ways that we couldn’t have ever predicted or imagined.
The idea of letting these things develop us, to me, it feels that we are surrendering to wisdom, to a knowing. It’s in the book Pivot. I say something along the lines of, “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” What would be your approach to things if you knew for a fact that you couldn’t fail, there was no failing at it. On some level, there is no failing, but for not learning, nor experiencing the grace and the gift of learning that comes from that experience. Pain is pain. I don’t know that you can ever compare pain. You can’t say, “My pain is different than yours,” “Yours is tougher than mine,” because pain feels the same.
It’s not a competition. Perhaps some can look at what happened in 2020. People on December 31st of 2019 said, “May 2020 be the year of perfect vision.” 20/20 is perfect vision. It’s not the vision that we were guessing. We’re learning more about resilience, who we are, and we’re learning about caring for each other. In the Jewish tradition, I spoke to a rabbi friend of mine. He told me about a story of Jewish men who were in prison when Stalin was around. It was a rabbi and a few other guys in the prison. The rabbi was always smiling, happy, and laughing.
These other men in his prison cell looked at him and thought he was going over his mind. He was losing it, but they realized the rabbi was for real. They asked him, “Rabbi, why are you so happy?” He said, “Let me ask you, what do you do?” One guy said, “I’m a doctor.” The other guy said, “I’m a lawyer.” Another guy said, “I was a baker.” They are all sad because their profession was taken away from them. The rabbi says, “You’re sad because your profession was taken away from you, but I can never lose my profession. That’s why I’m so happy because my profession is to serve God.”
It’s quite a symbolic when we find meaning, purpose, our calling and we’re there to help other people. It makes a huge difference, not just to us, but to others because we are interconnected. When we get enlightened, learn, grow and talk about these things, it does help us, but if we keep it to ourselves, it’s not a good thing. We need to share it to help other people. As so many people have said, “My hope is that something good will come from this. Of course, there will be something bad too.” That’s what the rabbi reminded me that while we are alive, there will be good and bad, sometimes one more of the other.
That’s called life. I’m sure there are people will say, “What about the wife-beating? What about child abuse? What about the suicide rate? What about alcoholism and addictions because of COVID?” That’s all true, but it’s also true that there’s a flip side to the coin where people allowed suffering, bad times, and unprecedented times to help us to simply move forward in the right direction at a speed that’s a match for them. Hopefully in the right direction. I’m all with you. I think one day we’ll look back at this whole thing. The key thing is may we learn the right lessons so that when the next pandemic comes, we’ll be probably a bit more prepared.Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Click To Tweet
It’s a process of it developing us. That’s the point is to allow for things at times that we don’t understand that you don’t have an obvious meaning to them. This idea of, when people say, “Everything happens for a reason,” I think a lot of people feel like it’s a hollow statement. I’ve pushed back on that and called BS on that from time to time in my life too because it’s incomplete. It’s not about the fact that something is happening for a reason, but that the reason is there for our development. It’s there to develop us. The reason that something’s happening is there for our greater good as a whole.
It’s hard to see it when you’re in the middle of the marathon. When the race is finished, you put the medal around your neck, you look back and you extract from every marathon the lessons to help you do the next one better. That moment that you can see what happens when preparation and opportunity meet. I’ve got a quick story about Las Vegas. I’m training for getting back to Boston and I chose Las Vegas because it’s fast and flat. The first year I get there, the race is on a Sunday. On Saturday, you can light a candle. There’s no wind. On Sunday, I’m running into a headwind, almost blows my bump off. It’s terrible.
On Monday, no wind. I’m thinking that’s bad luck. This is resilience. You fall down, you get up, come back. The next year, exactly the same thing. There was no way I could make it run into this wind. In the third year, I didn’t think it could happen three years in a row, and it did. At about mile 24, I’m hearing a fellow behind me swear like a sailor. It’s a word that starts with the letter F and rhymes with the word duck. The guy was giving it beginners. I had to stop. I laughed so hard.
I had to hang on to my stomach. I’m saying to him, as he passes me, “Why are you so upset?” He says, “For three years in a row, you chose to run this race and the wind was the enemy.” What I took from that is sometimes we can prepare, but the opportunity isn’t there. Sometimes the opportunity is there, but we’re not prepared. I think it was Gary Player, a golfer from South Africa. He was putting and he sank a good putt. Somebody said, “Gary, that was lucky.” He said, “You’re right. The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Luck is that which happens when preparation and opportunity meet. This is a great opportunity, 2020. If we are prepared to meet this opportunity, I believe we can come out stronger.
We will be better than before. It’s not an attitude, even though attitude is everything. I shouldn’t even diminish the fact that it’s an attitude to look at things in that way. I do believe truly that we are going to be better than before in so many ways. I do want to talk about the marathon. I’ve been to Las Vegas many times and done many workshops and things there. It is a tale of two cities. It is a schizophrenia town for sure, in so many ways, but the mother nature there, it can be peaceful, calm, still hot, dry, and then below like nobody’s business. Wind’s howling in that place. I can’t even imagine running a marathon in those conditions. I’ve got to understand the mind of a man that runs the way you run. What started this? How many marathons do you run in a single year typically?
On average, about four. Houston is always my favorite one. We get away from the cold of Canada in January. The temperatures are good in Houston in January.
When did you start it?
It was a Friday evening and there was a knock on my door. I was in medical school and another medical student says to me, “We’re running a marathon tomorrow. I signed you up.” I said, “You’re kidding me. I haven’t even trained for a marathon,” but we were in good shape because of squash. We ran the thing together the next day, Saturday morning. I did my first marathon. At that point, I would have been in my early twenties and I got bitten by the bug. In medical school, I was so focused on training and residency in pediatrics.
When I landed here in Canada in 1983, it took me about ten years to start running again. My 2nd or 3rd marathon was in the early 1990s. Ever since, I’ve averaged about four or so a year. One of my meditative state is to be out there, to run, pray and be thankful. I have a 3M method for coping with the stress and adversity and it’s to move, meditate and music. I get a lot out of it. It’s a ritual of mine. The word ritual comes from Latin, which means to come together, to fit together. Things come together for me when I’m out there and it’s a real privilege to celebrate health and to feel my body with plant-based nutrition.
You came through your 100th marathon at what age?
Before 60. I did it here locally, and they gave me a book member with the number 100 on it. They allowed my wife and four kids to run next to me for the last 100 meters. We crossed the finish line together, lots of tears of joy and gratitude that you can do something like that. That I had my family with me at the time was beautiful.
We mentioned that you’re a plantrician. I want to get a little bit into that because I think doctors, for the most part, they haven’t so much talked about nutrition. It’s a tremendous failure in the medical school training that this is not more focused on.
I call it the Swiss Cheese Doctor. As you know, Swiss cheese has these holes. The hole in the doctor’s ability to be compassionate and wise is that he or she does not give enough credit to nutrition. Plantrician is a physician who believes in plant-based offered eating. PCRM.org, it’s called the Physicians Council for Responsible Medicine based out of Washington, DC. They also have a podcast called The Exam Room. This podcast has helped a lot of people to lose weight, get their blood pressure down, reverse heart disease, and diabetes. Based on my wife and I’s research in this area, we know this is not for everybody. Some people are vegetarian, some people are pescatarian, but to my knowledge, it’s the only diet plan that can reverse heart disease.
If you go on Keto or on the carnivore diet and they do studies of coronary vessels. There’s evidence to show that the story is not that happy in there, the vessels are clogged up and it’s a problem. With eating plant-based foods, you can reverse it. If you have a healthy gut microbiome, it’s good for the brain and for depression. One thing that I really like about this is that I’m never having cravings and that I can eat guilt-free because of the fiber and you’re eating real food. There’s a book by Michael Pollan called In Defense of Food and NPR summarized it. There are only three things, eat real food. That means food that rots, not processed foods. Not too much, nor exclusively, but mostly plants. It works well for us to talk like this. As a coach, when people call me and they want to talk to me about that, I’m happy to give them resources, help them and encourage them, but it’s not for everybody. I can be evangelical about this. Who was the guy that says, “I like my salad, but also with some meat?”
You define rituals earlier and as this coming together. Ritual is the key, so much of how I organize my own life is based on my ritual. The quality of my life is equal to the quality of the rituals that I maintain consciously as you pointed out. What are some of the rituals that you are consciously creating and maintaining, and maybe there’s a new one? I don’t know if you’ve swapped any out or tried something new that you’re feeling good about at the moment?
The reason that I have rituals is because of results. All of us, whether we choose a certain way to eat or a book to read or a podcast to listen to comes down to what results are we getting. I’m extremely certain that how we start the day is so important. You’ve had people on your show who talked about journaling, gratitude and stretching. For me, it’s important to start the day of being quiet and still. I’m a fountain pen lover. To sit in my study with a white sheet of paper, use my fountain pen and get ideas that come for book writing, that’s blissful. To be in the zone, to be energized, and to be in the present moment. I’m not sure if you know about the 10% Happier app by Dan Harris?
It’s one of my favorite books. It was the first book I read in 2020 and Dan Harris’ work has taken off. I don’t have the app. You’re talking about the 10% Happier app.
What Dan did was, if you’re a physician and you’re working in the COVID area, he allowed physicians to get some access to this app. My wife and I, because she’s a doctor too, we enjoyed it. We can’t say enough about it. People have different apps, but it teaches how to be mindful, how to have insight meditation. Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Judson Brewer, and a number of other famous people are the teachers on the app. I tend to do that as a bookend. Norman Vincent Peale is one of my heroes. Peale introduced me to this whole idea to have the rituals of bookends.
It’s how you start the day, how you end the day with gratitude, meditation, and mindfulness. Peale has a little booklet called Thought Conditioners. I saturate my mind with this thought conditioners before I go to bed. This is fun because it taught about how we drain the sink and then fill it up again. That’s another thing that I do is at the end of the day, you empty your pockets, you empty your mind and you let go of some of the things that didn’t work out. I’ll never forget where I was running. When I heard you talk about a blue Monday, it was a bad day for you. One of your clients didn’t want to continue with you and you perhaps took it personally and fussed over it. Most people would do that, it’s normal.
At the end of the day, the story goes, you sat with your daughter overlooking the Pacific, watching the sun go down. She said to you, “Your attitude isn’t good right now.” She knows that and that’s okay to be with what is to surrender, not to struggle, nor to fight it. Be with it because this too shall pass. It comes and it goes. It arises and it goes away. What a wonderful time for all of us in the evening before we have a proper sleep to empty our mind and to fill it with something positive, whether it be gratitude or scripture or meditational. There’s evidence that we sleep better.
My sleep took a turn for the better when I started to think before going to bed. This is a part of losing consciousness ritual. To thank God for forgiveness for my own trespasses and to forgive everyone, not leaving anyone out, not holding back forgiveness from anyone. Especially those that have maybe hurt me or my feelings or whatever thing that I might be still holding on to some resentment or some grudge over. Gratitude is such a powerful form of prayer that I formed my prayers in the structure of being grateful.
Giving thanks for them, I’m thankful for forgiving dreams and dreams are forgiveness. I want to go back to a couple of things. One is the fact that you were from South Africa. I thought for a moment that your accent might be from Kentucky or Louisiana. I couldn’t place it right away, especially you living in Calgary, but then it became quite clear. I’m familiar with that accent because of listened to an Audible book for a couple of years now. This is a book written by Michael Brown, a South African.Engage your three gears: the spirit, the mind and the body. Click To Tweet
I refer that book to you, in what you and your lovely wife are working through. As well as anybody that is working through a grief process now themselves. That’s grief over anything, the loss of the job, business, loved one or loss of our youth. There are many things that we are grieving from time to time. The book is called The Presence Process. He wrote this amazing book. It is in many ways a book about so much more than the process, but there’s a magnificent breath work process that’s introduced in the book as well. The Audible is not read by the author. It’s read by his editor at Namaste Publishing.
This gentleman’s name is David Robert Ord. His South African accent is something I could listen to. Interestingly enough, as you take podcasts on your marathons, on your training, whenever I’m on the elliptical machine or sometimes walking out in nature, I’ll listen to this Audible version of The Presence Process. You said earlier that there’s a saying that, “You can’t fight with God because you’ll lose because His arms are too long.” It had me thinking that we can’t fight with ourselves for the same reason. To fight with yourself is illogical. To quote your buddy from 10% Happier, Dan Harris, who was quoting someone else, but a powerful question to ask yourself, “Is this useful?” When you’re fighting with yourself, if you could pause even for a moment to take a breath and ask yourself the question, “Is this useful?”
That is the fastest way to probably end what some people call “The monkey mind.” It’s where your mind goes in circles and there comes a point where you clearly have to say, “Is this useful?” A quick story about Ringo Starr, the Beatle, which I got from Alan Cohen, because he likes to tell stories. He tells the story, and this is in the context of how we view ourselves, how we fight with ourselves and how we lack compassion. In terms of self-compassion, if you can ever get a professor, Kristin Neff from Austin, Texas. She’s the girl on self-compassion. Alan tells a story about Ringo started The Beatles who felt like a fraud, an imposter. It’s called the imposter syndrome. He didn’t feel worthy.
He figured, “Tomorrow, I’m going to talk to my three friends and tell them out of the four guys here, I don’t belong. I’m not as good as you guys. It’s time for me to quit, to get away. I’m embarrassed to be with the three of you, John, Paul and George.” He went to George Harrison that next morning, and he says, “George, I want to sit down with you guys and discuss our future. I don’t belong here. You guys are too good. I’m not good enough.” George listened to Ringo, he paused and said, “Ringo, funny. I’ve been thinking those things thought.” I think so many times we box with ourselves or wrestle with ourselves. The great commandment in the bible is love God and love your neighbor like yourself.
A lot of pastors, ministers, preachers, and teachers teach a lot about, “The love of God part as they should and love your neighbor as you should.” I think they forget the other part, which is loving yourself and give yourself credit. As a child of God, everybody’s unique. Like Andy said, “Meet everybody as if it’s your best friend.” By taking good care of yourself, there’s a saying that you cannot pour from an empty cup. I deliberately avoided the analogy that we have all heard when you fly, put the oxygen mask on your face first and then other ones. If your cup is empty, it’s hard to pour. To invest our time growing, getting more resilient, having a pivot, having rituals and doing it consciously, a great way to work on that tendency of wrestling with ourselves and fighting with ourselves.
That concept of the golden rule is so interesting because I think people do in many ways, treat people the way they treat themselves. “Love thy neighbor, as you love thyself,” people do that. By that, most people do not treat themselves well. They certainly don’t love themselves unconditionally and self-care is seen as selfish. It’s not that striking. If you look at it through that lens, that people are as awful at times to each other to other people, because it in many ways models how they are to themselves.
The Ringo story, if I pay it forward and tell that story again, I’m going to add something to it. I’ll probably have to tell Alan as well that I’ve embellished on the story, but I feel like there’s a joke that’s there for the taking. The joke would probably be something along the lines of, “He goes to George, who was his buddy and he says, ‘I feel like an imposter,’ and George says, ‘I was going to have said the same thing. I feel like an imposter,’ then they go to John and say, ‘John, this is how Ringo and I have felt, a bit of an imposter,’ and John says something along the lines, ‘I was going to tell you guys the exact same thing. I think you’re both imposters as well.’”
It was a big gap on some level. You have four ridiculously talented fellows and one or two that as exceptional goes, they were exceptional on top of that. I’m a huge music fan. In my opinion, John is great, as talented, as gifted as he was, as gifted as Paul is and was. They were never and could never be what they were individual as they were, as The Beatles, as a group. Maybe some folks will take exception and that’s perfectly okay.
There’s something in that from me that says, each of us individually, we have our unique gifts and talents. To aspire to share them and grow them is honoring our creator for sure. At the same time, when we collaborate and come together with others to solve problems that we are seeing in our world and have been around for a very long time, but are seeking redress now, we are so much stronger together and so much better together than we are any of us on our own.Love yourself. Give yourself credit. Click To Tweet
We are interconnected. It’s like the waves of the ocean. One wave cannot say, “I’m not part of the ocean,” or one branch of the tree cannot say, “I’m not part of this tree.” Together, we achieve more. This is a cliché, but it’s true. There is no I in team and the team stands for together. Everyone achieves more.
My final thoughts from this show are relative to that term, “This too shall pass.” Clearly, with what’s happened in all of our lives, there is this concept of the “This too shall pass,” and I do believe that that is a truism, that it is a fact if you’ve lived long enough, you know that time is a great healer. I also look at, “This too shall pass,” for some time now as not about things that we want to be resolved and that we want to get past. If you think about what “This too shall pass” means, it’s about the fact that every moment shall pass.
Even when things couldn’t be better, it’s a sunny day, you’re doing exactly what you want, you feel great about yourself, confident, loved, money is not a worry and all the things that can contribute to somebody feeling joy, that too shall pass. It cuts both ways or it’s operationally working all the time. That takes a bit of the sting out of what we might be dealing with the difficulties we might be dealing with in a single moment. It is what you said earlier about the Buddha. It’s this law of impermanence that when we appreciate that everything is impermanent, that everything is passing and that’s the nature of being.
As much as I want to hang onto it, we’re here in this beautiful place. We’ve never seen some of the things, the plants on our property bloom. What we’ve seen bloom in May and in June have been breathtaking. Some of them now are in the latter stages of that bloom. As much as I want to hang onto it, I want my mom to see it in its peak. I can’t contain the peak. I can’t make it stop what it’s evolving into. That cycle of going from something that is born to something that dies and then something that’s born again is what life is about. For me to try to hang on to the rose or Azalea or rhododendron bloom is futile. It’s a useless task and one that only can create pain.
I think the Buddha would have said it’s delusional. Whatever is delusional will make it suffer more.
If there’s one single thing that you could share with our audience, one thing that they could do, a small change or a micro pivot, is there something that comes to mind that you would encourage people to try on for size?
I would say mindfulness meditation. The beautiful thing about that is it’s independent of your religion or where you land with God or belief system or political party, or country of origin or race. I think it’s an investment that anybody can do, even if they start small and find something that is, can be customized for you. To be experiencing the beauty of being more mindful, more present, more aware, and bringing them in mindset. One that one of your previous guests talked all about a mindset. As I was running, listening to the two of you guys talking, it’s your outlook, your attitude, and mindset. It’s a muscle inside here that can be developed over time. Whatever life brings you, you can bounce back, be resilient, and as Dan Harris said, “Your life can be 10% better.”
It’s an approachable thing when we think about, “Can I be 1% better?” I like to use the British Cycling performance director, Dave Brailsford, as the example for what 1% progress looks like because he was able, in the course of a few years, to take a team that had never won the Tour De France, had not won a medal in the Olympics since 1910. Through this principled and disciplined practice of making, identifying, and implementing 1% change, 1% progress to the way that they approached every aspect of cycling.
In a few years, they were not only the Olympic medalists, but they were the top Olympic medalists. He started with the team in 2003, they won an Olympic medal for the first time in 100 years in 2004. By 2008, they won more Olympic medals than any other cycling team and then went on to win 5, 6, 7 Tour De France simply because they were able to adopt this 1% philosophy. I’ve got my own 1%, progress ritual, which is the waking ritual. That’s where I’ll leave everybody, which is that if you are reading this, the good news is you did wake up. As a lawyer, I can say there was no contract for that last night when you put your head on the pillow.
There was nothing that said you’re guaranteed to get to wake up tomorrow. That was an unexpected event and a gift as well. There are three small pieces to this 1% change in how you greet day. One is that you wake up and that’s what you’ve already done. Two, that you have some recognition that that is wasn’t guaranteed, no contract for that and it was truly something that you can be thankful for, that you can even feel blessed by. Gratitude being that second piece that you’re awake. One, that I leave to God this idea that we are waking, getting another day is out of our hands. Two, it’s up to me to feel grateful. I get to choose to do that. Three, that when I put my feet on the floor, I get to say something.
If I want to, I get to think something, if I choose to. The four simple words that I I’ve repeated for more than ten years, which is, “I love my life.” Some people love to say that, they write to us and email us to let us know how that practice has worked for them and others have pushed back. Others have said, “Those are not words that I’m ready to say,” or “I don’t feel that those words feel true. It feels like a lie,” “I feel like an imposter when I say those things.” My answer to those folks is, “You don’t have to say it because I say it certainly, but what do you want to say?”
“If you had the choice to plant a seed, as we all do at the beginning of the day, what do you want to grow out of that soil?” Choose some words that make sense to you to reflect what it is that you want to prophesize into existence for the day. As the last question, it’s simply going to be this one. I say, “I love my life,” when I put my feet on the floor in the morning. What are the words that you choose to say?
It’s similar. I got this from Dr. Peale, “Love life and life will love you back.” I forgot to mention, in the Japanese tradition, there’s a word called Naikan. It’s the Japanese term that they say, “By having gratitude, we can do something about feeling sad.” It’s an antidote to sadness, or as somebody else said, “The cure for depression is expression.” It’s true that people who cannot do these things themselves, let the two of us encourage them to dig deep, and to seek what would work for them? How are they going to run the marathon? At what pace? In which shoes? Finish the darn thing, move forward, and don’t quit. If you want to stay in touch, my email is Info@MovingForwardDaily.com. Anybody who wants to stay in touch and learn more or be encouraged or look at the book, I’m here to help. It was Zig Ziglar who said, “You can get anything in life. If you help enough other people get what they want.”When we find meaning and purpose, when we learn, grow, and get enlightened, we need to share it to help other people. Click To Tweet
Thank you for being a guest on the show. It’s been an honor. Give an extra squeeze and extra hug to your lovely wife as well.
From my heart to your heart, lots of love, peace and joy.
Everybody, please feel free to leave your comment. Let us know what you think of the episode and any questions that you have. We love you and I look forward to more and more of our interactions going forward. Ciao.
- Dr. Peter Nieman
- Alan Cohen
- Moving Forward: The Power of Consistent Choices in Everyday Life
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- David Kessler
- Elisabeth Kubler Ross
- Jack Kornfield
- Ken Druck
- The Exam Room
- In Defense of Food
- 10% Happier
- Thought Conditioners
- The Presence Process
- Kristin Neff
- @MovingForwardDaily on Facebook
- Altered Traits
- The Power of Habit
- The Wise Heart
About Dr. Peter Nieman
Dr. Nieman has worked as a pediatrician in Calgary Canada for the past 33 years. He runs marathons and has completed 112 marathons thus far. On December 16, 2009 Peter started to run every day and, by Grace, has maintained the daily streak since then. Peter authored a book “Moving Forward: The Power of Consistent Choices in Everyday Life” He follows a plant-based diet and has coached his patients to become more aware of the benefits of lifestyle. He is the medical contributor for the Calgary Herald and appeared on local and national TV on the topic of lifestyle medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Recently Peter experienced a test of his resilience when his 16 yr old son lost his battle with depression and ended his life.