The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.” And the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.”
My guest today is Jamie Wheal, the author of the global bestseller and Pulitzer prize-nominated Stealing Fire. He’s also the founder of The Flow Genome Project, an international organization dedicated to the research and training of human performance. He’s written a new book called Recapture, The Rapture, Rethinking God, Sex and Death in a World that’s Lost its Mind, which is what we’ll focus on in our discussion today.
Our conversation was so fascinating that I decided to split it into two parts. Make sure to be on the lookout for part two. In part one, we discuss how to find meaning in your life today, the different arcs we go through in life, how to have faith and deal with uncertainty, and where we’re currently headed.
Jamie Wheal is the Executive Director of The Flow Genome Project and a leading expert in the neurophysiology of human performance. His work combines a background in expeditionary education, wilderness medicine, and surf rescue, with over a decade of advising high-growth companies on strategy, execution, and leadership. Jamie’s coaching ranges from Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Google, and Nike, to the U.S. Naval War College, and Red Bull. Since founding the organization in 2011, it has gone on to become a leading voice of evidence-based peak performance, counting award-winning academics, legendary professional athletes, special operations commanders, and Fortune 500 business leaders among the hundreds of thousands of people in its global community.
You’ll find Jamie speaking on the intersection of science and human potential to diverse, high-performance communities like Young Presidents Organization, Summit Series, TED, and MaiTai Global. At The Flow Genome Project, he leads a team of the world’s top scientists, athletes, and artists dedicated to mapping the genome of the peak-performance state known as Flow. He lives on the Colorado River with his wife Julie, their two kids Lucas and Emma, and a righteous Golden Retriever named Cassie.
Let’s jump right in to hear what Jamie had to share!
The world has become exponential in every way. On the positive side — we think of inspirational TED Talks, author Steven Pinker describing the fact that literacy is up, poverty’s down, war is down, and health is trending in the right direction. The world, by these measures, authentically feels like these are the best of times.
Conversely, we see wildfires, floods, pandemics, social unrest, and protests and think these are the worst of times.
“Toggling back and forth between that is crazy-making, and because they’re both exponential, it’s near impossible to figure out exactly where we reside. It’s almost as if they’re sort of two arcs to life. E.B. White, [the author of] the children’s book Charlotte’s Web, has this beautiful quote, ‘I wake up in the morning, torn between savoring the world, and saving it and that can make it hard to plan my days. Then I realized that the savoring has to come first, because if I didn’t have a world to savor, then there would be nothing worth saving.’” – Jamie Wheal
Our environment has shaped our need to make these two distinctions. The mere fact that the earth is 17 degrees off the axis means, barring those living at the equator, we have seasons. Seasons forced us to think about times of famine and times of feast — we had to plan, and this gave rise to savoring.
Jamie mentioned the ‘two arcs of life’, he explains how ‘savoring’ and ‘saving’ add complexity to these two arcs in the world contributing to the world seemingly losing its mind.
Not everyone is in the same position in their life. There are varying degrees of good and bad that we all experience, but there are even deeper elements to understand on a global scale.
Anyone born after World War II in the developed West was raised in the ‘Coming Alive Arc,’ where it’s never been nicer in history. All war was externalized, and massive upward ticks of consumerism, standards of living, education, and cheap debt all supported the belief in the American Dream — that anyone can become president or an astronaut. It served as the foundation that everyone deserves to be healed, whole, and healthy, to travel the world and have unique experiences. The Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials were all raised on that ideal, and it’s beautiful, uplifting, and inspiring.
Contrast that with the ‘Staying Alive Arc’ in which many people living outside of the West (some even within) experience every day. These two simultaneous truths create a world where some of us feel as though it is ending, and for others a world that is the best it’s ever been.
“I can lay in bed and think ‘What do I do with my day? How do I plan my day?’ I’ll have a phenomenal travel idea to do something amazing and an adventure to plan, an entrepreneurial idea, or a creative project. Or my mind will flip to should we be getting canned goods? Should I be researching solar panels for our roof? Maybe even [escape] to Costa Rica because the wheels are coming off in Austin? We’ve been without power for two weeks!” – Jamie Wheal
It’s creating schizophrenia-like behavior as each of us toggles between these two frames we use to try to make sense of all the data we experience to give us a clarified direction in which to act.
That’s creating a meaning crisis, and we’re searching for real leadership.
With so much uncertainty, the question is, ‘How do we rally ourselves together?’
Currently, people with mobility are people with disposable income, advanced information, and news. As we look to build our communities, anybody who considers themselves some form of a leader — whether for your family, household, or community — there’s a sliding scale that dictates what leadership to aim for. Firstly, it starts by looking at ourselves.
“If I can look after myself and bio-hack [my own] peak performance [with] sleep, rest, nutrition, mindset, and I’ve got enough gas in my tank leftover, then I can be a loving and engaging member of my family. If I don’t, if I have a concussion or some mental health challenge or an addiction, then I’m decompensated and I’m back to having to deal with me first.” – Jamie Wheal
This makes perfect sense and reminds me of that saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Our concern can expand to family, and when the family is more or less happy and there’s still more leftover, we can expand that to caring for the community, the country, the world.
This sliding scale is based on stability and access to energy and resources. Even if you are a world leader and get hit on the head with a hammer — it’s back to self-care.
Trying to navigate this all is creating a vacuum for meaning in a world with such polar extremes.
If we don’t trust authorities, organized religions, politics, or corporations — if that’s all fractured and broken, how do we find the meaning of why we’re even here?
Unfortunately, that answer is unique for everybody — it has to be! Any top-down answers, no matter how good they sound at the beginning, almost always devolve into some form of fascism over time.
Meaning 1.0 was traditional religion that offered salvation with the story of how you get to heaven but at the price of exclusion. Those who believed were saved, those who didn’t weren’t. It was a harsh approach, but it was fair because the cards were on the table for everyone to see how the game was played. This was the way of life for most of history.
Then in the 18th century, meaning 2.0 came along: the French enlightenment on modern liberalism, civil rights, civil liberties, private property, and markets. They decided that the salvation game was problematic — they had led to holy wars, inquisitions, and superstition. Instead, they wanted to be more inclusive — everybody gets to play (in theory) at the cost of salvation. Thus began the separation of church and state.
Both of these haven’t worked out too well because we’re still sitting with an awful lot of people who have played by the rules waiting for their turn to come — and yet many are still in the ‘Staying Alive’ arc. Joseph Stiglitz, a world bank and UN economic advisor, called the entire system a shell game. It’s been 40 years and the results are in: Neoliberalism and democracy have broken, and the benefits have accrued asymmetrically to those at the top.
“I had written the first chapter of this book 18 months ago, [with] a paragraph that said ‘68 people on the planet hold as much wealth as the bottom half, the bottom 4 billion. 68 people could all fit on a bus’, That sort of asymmetrical accumulation of resources occurs in no living system. That was 18 months ago just before we went to press, [and after the pandemic] it’s now 27 people. They can fit in a stretch limo. 27 humans have the same wealth as 4 billion people.” – Jamie Wheal
Whatever you believe is the best way to live, we’re about to see what happens. We’re going to see whether these systems are stable, inflationary or deflationary, efficient or inefficient. Late-stage capitalism is a total sham compared to the idea of a free market. Mike Tyson’s quote comes to mind: ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face.’
There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in organized religion, the modern liberal experiment, science, and ancient cultures, and we can put them together — we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We should understand the best parts of each and build upon them as part of our new structures going forward.
As an example, the promise of salvation was an important component of meaning 1.0. We know this because, without salvation, people succumb to the diseases of despair: depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide — because there isn’t a greater purpose.
That’s like staring into the abyss with no rope to pull you back. WHO (World Health Organization) has shed light in the last couple of years that more people commit suicide than die from all wars and natural disasters combined every year.
“Think about our newsfeeds. All we see is war and natural disasters. Now just [remove] that all, and say the silent epidemic is people saying, ‘I cannot make sense of being alive on this earth [anymore].’ [It doesn’t have to be this way because] the thing about heartbreak and facing our grief is it categorically makes us stronger and connects us to our courage. Tonglen is a Tibetan practice of meditation specifically about this. Pema Chödrön, a Tibetan nun and Buddhist teacher, lays it out [explaining] most meditations [ask you to] think happy thoughts, say a mantra, try to get to stillness. Tonglen is the exact opposite. Start with picturing [the difficulty]. Imagine it as black tar or smoke, all the pain, grief, angst, jealousy, and resentment. [Visualize it as] tar and smoke and inhale it. Then exhale light, love, compassion.” – Jamie Wheal
This practice is an imaginal exercise that works by cultivating it, just like a muscle in the gym. By building those ‘muscles’ to become better at coping with difficulties, you can expand that energy to everyone in your family, your community, and everyone in the world. The power in this practice is the foundation for meaning 3.0 because now we take our suffering and use it as raw material for our compassion.
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple and student at Pema Chödrön said, ‘My heart’s been broken open so many times, now it just swings open wide, like a suitcase.’ That’s an example of putting this into practice and learning to weep, not whimper — embracing our experience as opposed to avoiding it.
We face a tremendous amount of uncertainty, fear, and risk in the world, but the flip side is that none of us was promised a rose garden. The key is — can we step back into the bigger arc of history? Can we stack them up with courage and access what Martin Luther King called ‘soul force?’ That’s a term he used in his ‘I have a dream’ speech, borrowed from Howard Thurman — a mentor to the civil rights movement.
“Howard visited Gandhi in 1935 as the first interfaith, African American ambassador to go to India. Gandhi shared with him this notion of nonviolence, which Indians call satyagraha — basically translates to alignment with truth. Arriving back in the US, Howard knew the Sanskrit word was a mouthful, and so he rebranded it ‘soul force.’” – Jamie Wheal
Soul Force transformed civil disobedience, which typically included protestors being hurt by antagonizing people with guns and batons and dogs, to remaining unhurt in the ‘fight’ for freedoms. It became the central philosophical pillar of non-violent protest around the world.
Erica Chenoweth did an interesting study of the successful civil rights movements throughout Eastern Europe, Asia, and the United States between 1950 to 2010. Each required about three and a half percent of the population to make these phase shifts that then can create this catalytic event, which is beautiful and inspiring.
This interview was incredible. It was hard to stop asking him questions to hear his thoughts! I hope you enjoy part one as much as I did, and that you’re excited to wrap it all up in part two! Don’t forget to listen to the episode in its entirety to get the full scoop, and to share the episode with someone who needs to hear it. You could change someone’s life!
If you enjoyed this episode, let us know on Instagram! Tag Jamie, @jamiewheal, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways! Remember, this is just part one! Check out part two [here] to learn even more from Jamie.
You should also check out his website www.recapturetherapture.com to connect with him and pick up his latest book.