Do you remember that scene in Shawshank Redemption in which Tim Robbins’ character escapes the prison through the sewer pipe after spending all night traipsing through shit? But to him it wasn’t shit, it was a beautiful road of opportunity, because the light at the end of the tunnel was the moon, and that meant freedom. He was so determined to be free that nothing was going to stand in his way, including a pipe full of shit.
That’s wild adaptability. It is a core quality of all living things when we foster it. But it can also go dormant on us when we suppress it.
To better understand this, let me tell you about a class of Chinese herbs called adaptogenics … Wild Adaptogenics.
Have you ever seen one of those ads for a natural remedy? You know the ones claiming that some plant or root can cure nearly all diseases? What’s our reaction when we see that kind of claim? “Yeah right, no way, impossible.” Why do we react that way? Why don’t we believe? Because we have been taught to think of the body in pieces and remedies as things that help the specific piece that’s experiencing discomfort. So when my head hurts, I take an aspirin. When I have indigestion, I take an antacid. If I’m constipated, I take a laxative. And so on.
This approach is … well … full of shit. Strong statement? Just look at us. Is anyone healthy anymore? No, we are all a walking laundry list of things that don’t work right and the pharmacy store shelves are full of specific remedies to “fix” what’s hurting. But when we take those remedies, what happens? They may stop the pain in the moment. But soon something else isn’t working. We often don’t draw this correlation, but it’s connected. Our whole body is connected. We just don’t think of it that way.
So when our head hurts it’s usually an indication that one or more of the systems in our body has a blockage. Think of it like a warning light in your car. Red … blinking … LOW OIL. And the aspirin is … well, it’s like saying, “Darn you light, stop blinking!” and then putting a piece of tape over it. Great, the light doesn’t blink any more. But a day later the entire engine has locked up because it doesn’t have lubrication from the oil. Because the problem was never the light, it was just an indication that the system had a problem. But instead of realizing this we say, “Oh man. I have such bad luck. First a blinking light and now the entire engine. This car sucks.” Then we take some more medicine.
In Eastern medicine they approach health differently. They look at the body as a series of systems that are connected through meridians, the way major cities are connected by freeways. When there’s a traffic jam, a blockage, what happens? Things don’t function right in the city. People are late for work, kids don’t get picked up from school, there’s lots of honking and chaos. The body is exactly the same.
And so Eastern medicine strives to keep the body in balance, the freeways open and clear, people moving freely between cities in cars with well-lubricated engines. If a warning light goes off, a headache for example, the first place a practitioner of Eastern medicine looks is to the system of the body that contains the head and aims to balance the system, thus relieving the headache and restoring proper function to the whole body.
Okay Jason, so what is a Wild Adaptogenic? Let’s start with wild first. A wild herb is a plant that grows all by itself in the wild. Beginning as a seed it finds its own way, naturally, not planted by a human. It ends up in the soil and then it grows from rain, soil, and sun, just the way nature intended it to.
Why is this important? Because a wild-grown plant has a special level of intelligence. It didn’t come to be through a human process. No, its story is a lot more like Tim Robbins crawling through the sewer pipe. How so? Well imagine the life of a wild herb. Let’s say a goji berry. So this goji berry plant began as a little goji berry growing on its mother. Then along came a blackbird that swooped down and plucked the goji berry from its mother’s branch and ate it. This is where the Shawshank part begins. How does the goji berry go from being a blackbird’s lunch to being its own plant? It is pooped out. It journeys through the intestines of that blackbird, refusing to let anything stand in its way, until it finds freedom … just like Tim Robbins.
Now the berry has been pooped out somewhere. It lands on the forest floor. It’s stepped on and smashed into the ground. The poop itself acts as fertilizer. If the berry has picked a spot with the right water and sun it begins to grow. And soon this berry is its very own goji bush, growing its own goji berries. And the cycle continues.
In that process, the plant develops intelligence. Think about it. After climbing through the sewer to escape Shawshank Prison, what had Tim Robbins learned? He tested the depths of his character and found that he could do it. He learned that no matter what life threw his way, even shit, he could make it. And that’s what the goji berry knows. So when you eat it you’re consuming that same intelligence.
This is going somewhere good I promise, so don’t skip ahead looking for a rock ‘n’ roll story.
So now, what is an adaptogenic? An adaptogenic is a special herb, an herb that goes into your body and helps balance whatever imbalance is occurring. It’s like Bo Jackson: it can play any position in any sport it needs to. Not a sports fan? Okay then, it’s like Tom Hanks. Plop him in a role as an astronaut, no problem; a mentally challenged boy with weak legs, no worries; a man stranded on a desert island talking to a volleyball, he’s your man. That’s what an adaptogenic herb is — a really smart, versatile plant that helps your body achieve its natural balance.
When you combine the two, wild and adaptogenic, you get a super-duper, magical combination that can cure anything! Is that a little too late night informercially for you? Well, a wild adaptogenic herb, like a wild goji berry, is a really smart, really adaptable, really strong herb that will stop at nothing to achieve its mission — which is balance. And that’s what we really, really need in our bodies … and in our world.
Let’s take this concept of being wildly adaptable a little further. This is what my entire life has been about. I traipsed through a sewer pipe, making the best of it, adapting by rewriting my story over and over again until I came out the other side, saw the light and adapted once again. Poor, scared, scrapping along selling stuff, learning Spanish, making connections, becoming a music promoter, moving up, then moving on, learning about myself, finding a new way, creating a life of happiness, abundance and love. I adapted.
Now I’m here, and I’m a father. Like you, after all that hard work, I really don’t want my kids to have to waddle around in cow dung to find the light. But I really do want them to have that wildly adaptable nature to help them when they find themselves stuck in the mud. So how do I teach that? The answer is I DON’T, just like no one taught Tim Robbins’ character how to crawl through a sewer pipe; he learned that on his own using the qualities he’d learned through his life experience.
Do you remember how entirely ineffective our parents were at teaching us about the “real world.” Remember?
“When I was your age we didn’t have Pac-Man and bicycles. We had to use our minds. Our toys were sticks and tin cans ….”
Or how about …
“There are starving kids in Africa who would love to eat that two-day-old tuna sandwich with celery sticks … why, when I was a kid we ate whatever we could find ….”
Maybe this one …
“You want to do what? Do you have any idea how much money I’ve spent on the things you want to try and then decide you don’t like? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know ….”
The only thing these lessons accomplish is to make us grow up feeling guilty for what we have, overeating a bunch of food we don’t really like, and believing that trying new things until we find what brings us joy is a bad thing. Guilty, sick, and stuck — not exactly what we want to be passing on to our kids, right?
The one thing we can for sure learn from our parents is that trying to be your child’s sole purveyor of life lessons is not always the best idea. So how do we help foster good values in our kids?
As parents, our job is to create an environment in which our children passionately learn how to adapt. Just like the goji seed that grew up to be a strong healthy plant because its mother created the right environment. Then the little goji did the rest.
Sound scary? It’s not, it’s liberating. Creating the proper environment allows you take the monkey off your back of always having to be right and always having to have the answer. It lets us be the parent not the teacher. Here’s a really crazy idea … what if we’re all learning together? And everyone is a teacher … even our kids? And everyone is a student, even you and me?
So what would this mean in practical terms?
First, every human being — every man, woman, and child — would be consuming wild adaptogenic herbs of some kind or another. This fosters your natural instinct and helps you go with the flow of life … even when it seems crappy. There are lists all over the Internet but my favorite source for information and for the herbs themselves is www.dragonherbs.com.
Secondly, we can foster this instinct in our children by encouraging them to learn about whatever makes them passionate. New environments, new teachers, new experiences, all force them to call upon their adaptability … their wild side. So while they may not be making toys out of tin cans and sticks, they can still be challenged while having fun and enjoying the life we’re providing.
I learned this by talking to my children about what they dreamed of being in the world. Then I found mentors for them who knew more than I did about those subjects.
Does your child want to be a schoolteacher? Call your favorite teacher from school and ask if they will meet with your child.
Does he/she want to be a firefighter? See if the local firehouse will let your kid come over once a week and help out.
Maybe they want to be a veterinarian. Check with your local animal shelter and find a role for your child there.
And then … the absolute key is … let them try things and change their minds about trying something new. Again and again and again. Remember the real goal isn’t finding a job, it’s to foster their ADAPTABILITY … so the more things they try the better. In my home we had a smorgasbord of new things tried and discarded, from guitar lessons to baseball to film school and even a short-lived girl-band called the “Angel Girls.” But the beautiful part is, I became my kids’ champion instead of a tired old lecture. And now, as we have found things that are sticking, I’m a part of their new life because I was there in the beginning supporting all the so-called crazy ideas.
The amazing side effect of the first two steps is that we, as parents, begin to rekindle our own adaptable nature. We become the example. As the internal workings of our body begin to shift to a more adaptable state, and as we bend and twist with our children’s new adventures, the rigidity and stiffness of our lives begins to melt away. Now we’re free to try new things, too. A green juice perhaps? A new exercise … a friendship with someone whose beliefs we used to find scary … a new love … or a book that challenges our mind.
George Harrison summed it all up when he said, “… you have to change. Because if not it’s such a waste of time … the whole thing is to try and change and make everything better. And that’s what the physical world is all about – making change.”
Big hugs of love,