362: The Fundamental Ingredient in a Well-Lived (and long) Life: Honor What Makes Your Heart Sing, 13 life lessons from Dr. Gladys McGarey
"I still have yet to discover a secret ingredient that has been proven to ensure a long and healthy life—well, not one you can put into a blender, anyway. But I can help you discover the secrets of true health and happiness . . . they're based on a simple shift in perspective."—Gladys McGarey, MD, author of The Well-Lived Life: A 102-year-old doctor's six secrets to health and happiness at every age
Born in 1921, Dr. Gladys McGarey's life journey began living and experiencing the life truths she later learned contributed to her living her long healthy and happy life. A doctor in holistic medicine for over 80 years, Dr. McGarey's life story in childhood and young adulthood reads like a history book now taught in classrooms. In 1930 as a young child, while on a train from Delhi to Bombay (now Mumbai) with her family who was returning to the states after having lived in India for some years, she witnessed Gandhi's historic salt march. As she worked her way through school and became a doctor, she battled with cultural norms of where a woman's place should be, and as life continued to unfold, having honored what was speaking to her about what brought her to life even when others disagreed, she continued to witness truth after truth of the medicine one receives when they trust their heart.
Released on May 1st of this year, Dr. Gladys McGarey's book is a treasure of inspiration, backed by science of the power of honoring your language of how you find life in living. Below I will be sharing 11 insights and ahas that she teaches that perhaps will inspire you to trust what your heart is saying even if you don't know what will transpire.
"Part of what makes mysterious happenings possible is our belief that we don't know everything . . . I cannot overstate the importance of keeping a sense of wonder about the world as we age. It is what keeps us young. Our souls benefit from our holding on to the idea that we don't know what's going to happen next."
Let's get started.
1.Find your life force
"To be truly alive, we must find the life force within ourselves and direct our energy toward it."
Dr. McGarey calls it our "juice" and explains that "the process of finding our juice that keeps us vital". She shares that in many Eastern philosophies "there is a certain energy tied to well-being", two terms used to describe this are prana as well as chi. Western philosophers often use the term purpose or motivation. She continues to remind that while finding our juice and cultivating it won't "ensure perfect health, running out or losing our juice is often a major obstacle to feeling good".
When we don't find our juice, both our mental and physical health start to wane. Finding what your juice is may shift and change over your life journey, but keep yourself in the process of finding what lights you up, what makes you feel energized when you are engaged in whatever it is you discover. That is your juice. That is your life force and it is immeasurably powerful to living well.
Multiple studies at the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study "observed a link between a high sense of purpose and decreased mortality in adults over fifty." Similarly to what Dr. McGarey shares, when we find what is our purpose, our calling, our prana, whatever term you want to give it, the world receives this positive energy, and not only is our well-being improved, but so too is the world's. Why? "The joy [finding our juice] brings to our lives will ripple out to the world around us".
2. Know this to be true: You are as you are and that is an awesome thing
"We're supposed to be shaped precisely as we are, because that way we can fit together. It isn't anyone's job to judge the shape of anyone else's piece, and in the same way, it isn't useful to try to make ourselves more or less like anyone else or to worry if they judge our shape."
What Dr. McGarey then reminds us is for each of us, knowing that we are made the way we are for a reason to give something awesomely unique to the world, to contribute positively in a way only we can, it is our responsibility to find it, embrace it and share it because "each of us is essential". And when we tap into our truth, our true self, we inspire others to do the same in their own lives.
"When we feel ourselves click into the whole puzzle, we become part of the pattern of life. When this happens, we exchange juice with the world around us. Our juice flows freely, and we have more of it than ever before."
3. Multiple streams of 'juice'
"We're able to connect with life best when we get juice from multiple places. A puzzle piece doesn't just click in on one side; it clicks in on two, three or four. What that looks like varies from person to person ."
When you find your juice, you may think it will be one thing, but in actuality, our life is full of multiple sources of inspiration and energy, and each, when consciously chosen using our self-awareness to ascertain what fuels us and what drains us, we can cultivate a life full of juice. From our work, to our relationships, to our hobbies, to how we nourish ourselves. McGarey speaks in this section about how the 'should's from the culture that surrounds us can make us involve ourselves in life choices that 'should' be the best choice when such advice is incorrect, even though perhaps well-intended. Her example that she uses is choosing to be a parent. While she herself loved and loves being a doctor, she also loved and wanted to be a parent. Being both during the mid twentieth century was scoffed at, but to her, working as a doctor was her juice, but so too was being a parent. She dismissed what others said was 'best' and honored what gave her energy. But raising kids and being a parent isn't going to be a source of juice for everyone and that is vitally important to understand. I use the example of being a parent because it is a common one purported as including, "well, of course it is exhausting - that is what parenting is!" But I say this most sincerely as a teacher who met many hundreds even thousands of parents over my 20-year tenure - for some people it drained them, for others it lifted them. It isn't being a parent that is the medicine for a happy life, it is choosing what is discovered to be your juice and for some that is parenting, but not for all.
I so appreciated her pointing this out and sharing her own experience as a parent that indeed, it isn't something that everyone will find to be their purpose and honoring that is vitally important to living well. For me, I knew this pretty quickly, but I was amazed, especially more upon reflection, how adamant society was to tell me I was wrong, even though they had no idea what made me fill inspired and full of energy. That is all the more reason to trust your own journey, your inner voice, your soul as many call it, and keep searching until you find your juice. You will know it when you come across it, and as mentioned above, there will be MANY things that will give you juice. Explore, delight and include them in your life as you will. Some will remain in your life your entire life journey and some will only be a part of your life for a chapter or two, and understanding this truth demonstrates you are living consciously and are aware of what fuels you and what drains you.
4. Embrace movement - physically, emotionally, spiritually
"Understanding the power of movement can get us through almost anything. It's a sacred truth that helps us in our hardest moments."
From stuck energy to blocked adrenal glands, movement is needed to bring us to good health. Studies continually demonstrate that physical movement, simply walking briskly for ten minutes, increases life expectancy, and such physical activity helps us move through stress and even depression. Why? Through physical movement, the brain is signaled "to release feel-good hormones and these have profound effects on both short and long term health." From our mood to how our brain's cognition improves, movement is good and that includes forgiveness to release stuck emotions, moving through fear, anger and disappointment is beneficial to our mental health, and thus why understanding how to become aware of our thoughts is crucial to understanding how they either impede or improve the quality of our life. If the former, it is time to make a move to learn something new to change what is thwarting our ability to let go of certain emotions we are stuck in.
5. Understand a necessary transition period may have to be traversed
Dr. McGarey points out that when you do find your juice, it is likely that you will have to, in order to do what you love doing, what brings you to life, "go through a transition in life. It shows us who we really are. This may require us to make a change, start doing something new, or stop doing something we've done for quite some time".
It may not be a dramatic change, but merely a changing of the stories you tell yourself, how you engage with the world or the habits you have been incorporating into your daily life, but it may be a significant change - a job change, relationship change or shift, a move. When you find out what you can uniquely give to the world and what the world engages with as you give a positive contribution that only you can give, you come to see that indeed you have a gift within you that needs to not be tucked away. Dr. McGarey writes "our search for juice connects us to the greater question of why we're here?" She goes on to address that this is regardless of whether you have a formal belief structure or not, so whether you are spiritually or religiously inclined, atheist or agnostic or anything that guides you in life. When you find your 'why' you have found your juice and that is the 'medicine' for a healthy and long life IF you choose to engage with it.
Sharing that after her own divorce from her husband who she had been married to for decades and shared six children, it was when she stepped away from a marriage, that for some time was filled with much love and goodness, that "life got a whole lot better from there . . . I became who I had always been meant to be." It is when we cling to what we know that no longer serves us or never served us that cause us pain and prevent us from healing. And the healing can only take place when we embrace our life force and trust what it will bring into our lives.
6. Bravely be love
"Our life force is activated by love."
Fear is inevitable in life, in many forms, but it is when we choose to remain in this state of fear that our lives are adversely affected. Dr. McGarey reminds that "Fear destroys our sense of reason, making it impossible to see things clearly."
And here is the good news. When we acknowledge fear, but don't linger in this state of feeling, but instead take action, either through asking questions, asking for help, or at the very least stop digging more of a fearful hole for ourselves by spiraling into more worry, we begin to step ever closer to finding our juice. You will appear fearless, but not in a daredevil way. But rather, as McGarey writes, as "a person who approaches life with an open heart."
When we open our hearts, we are opening our lives to love. It can enter our lives in any number of ways from the kindness experienced from others, a smile, or support as you make your intentions known and bravely pursue your calling.
7. The importance of self-love
"When we refuse to love ourselves, we shut out love from everyone else, too . . . Self-love is not pride at all. It is gratitude for the life we have been given."
When we finally remember that we have always been lovable, "that is when we become "love-able". In other words, "self-love is the basis of all love". This will require us to step away from, let go of, choose differently so as no longer to include, parts of our life that want us to believe we are not lovable or not wonderful just as we are, that what lights us up is wrong, or lacking or not enough. Dr. McGarey uses the example of the tumor that needed to be removed when she had breast cancer, in order to be loving to herself, to give herself life, she had to remove the tumor. Instead of fearing cancer, she honored herself and her body, by being loving and removing it.
She goes on to talk about telomeres (the end caps on our chromosomes), and how studies have revealed they are affected by our thoughts. Simply put, positive thinking, which involves the thoughts we think about ourselves and whether or not we are deserving of love, beginning with regularly giving ourselves love that includes honoring what gives us vitality and juice, "does affect the way our genes express themselves, which can have profound effect on both our health and our experience of being alive."
Wow! IF that isn't a reason to cultivate a life of vitality and honoring our true self and purpose, than well, just wow. :)
Thoughts create images in our mind, and depending upon what those thoughts are, we are either healing or hurting ourselves. Our life force, as discussed in #1 is a powerful healer when we embrace it and welcome it into our lives.
8. Connect and contribute what you uniquely can
"Life comes from our connection, is supported by our connection and creates connection. We are happiest and healthiest when we are contributing to and drawing from our collective life force."
Positive social connections are crucial to our overall well-being and good health. And when you have found your life force and are bravely sharing it with the world, more energy is created. On the flip-side when you are drawn to others because of what they are giving to the world, you're connecting with them, and supporting their journey is equally energizing to both parties.
The key is yes, connect, but connect through what you can uniquely offer. This takes bravery because you are making yourself vulnerable, but you are also tapping into supporting others in ways you may never know which is why when someone or something speaks to you, supporting them genuinely in ways that are welcomed and you can partake is a priceless gift given and received.
With that said, finding friends, again creating connection, is awesome medicine, but also not something to be rushed or forced. McGarey suggests start with your neighbors and then move on to people you work with or network with at work by simply being kind and curious.
When you are living your life force in everyday life, more serendipitous meetings will occur, "pushing new people your direction", we simply need to remain open to seeing them. With that said, we need to actively be aware of how we feel and how our juice or life force responds to new people that cross our path. If anybody is draining our juice, this is when we need to honor our boundaries.
9. The importance of boundaries
"Setting boundaries starts with knowing who we are and what we came to do. We must first understand what gives us juice and what drains it, because that shows us what's on our soul's path and what's interfering with it."
Boundaries is a topic we have talked about in depth here on the podcast (episode #343), so I encourage you to listen/read that episode/post for specific tips and tools for understanding how to set and know what your boundaries need to be. However, to begin with, in order to have the right boundaries, "we have to know ourselves really well" as Dr. McGarey shares.
Boundaries in our life are a bit different than boundaries as we understand them when it comes to sovereign states for example, but not really if we look more closely. Boundaries are set to honor what we need in our life to flourish, and as we grow and change, and life and other people are dynamic as well, our boundaries will change also. But it is essential that we are the ones moving them, not anyone else. For example, another country cannot tell their neighboring country that the boundaries will change (i.e., the former mentioned country decides to take more land without permission). Nope, that is not how boundaries in our lives work. We have to, upon knowing and discovering what we need, set our boundaries and adjust them as we recognize they need to change to continually support our life journey of living well.
10. Life reflects what you give
"When we contribute positively to our collective life force, our individual life force benefits. We find greater purpose and meaning in our days. We understand not only that we are part of a greater whole but how we are part of that whole. We align with what life intended for us to do all along."
If you are at a point in your life where you feel life is just not going your way, it is hard, it is constant struggle, and you have lost trust in others, yourself and/or the world, ask yourself the following questions as listed by Dr. McGarey:
- If you feel unsupported by those around you, are you truly supporting them?
- Are you contributing to the world or pulling from it?
- Are you offering joy and positivity to the world around you?
- Can the community trust in you?
- Are you able to maintain strong boundaries regarding where you put your attention and still find the friend in everyone?
She reminds us that "community is a give-and-take relationship" and we can't come to the community with an 'ask' or a demand for a specific outcome. We actually just have to show up with our true selves give with loving kindness while honoring our integrity and while we have clarity in our own life journey, having set intentions because we know ourselves, we can simply let go. We don't know how the support will show up or who you will begin to work with that will involve trust, but so long as we engage with self-love (knowledge of where your boundaries are and why they are there) as well as our life force that brings us to life, we are becoming part of the collective force that creates the healthy connection we need to live well and live a long, lovely life.
11. Lessons are everywhere and in everything
"We live our best lives when we approach life with curiosity and desire to learn from everything."
Something that was the subject in a recent Monday Motivational post is the idea that even when things look like they may be falling apart, they may actually be trying to help us if only we shift our perspective to see this truth. When we realize that there is a helpful lesson to learn even in unwanted events, the quality of our everydays and thus our entire life changes for the better. McGarey shares, "Life always has new teachings to offer us if we can find the courage to look for them."
Admittedly, it will take great courage and inner strength to look for the wisdom that is hidden in the unwanted. But when we choose this path, we are helping our health. Why? "We are moving our attention away from suffering and directing it back toward life". Remember earlier in the list when we talked about movement? If we stay stuck in focusing on what isn't working, what is unwanted, we are not helping ourselves, but stopping life from happening, from moving forward. "Seeing everything [as a teacher] helps us make our life a living, breathing process."
Now you might be thinking, well, that is just too Polly-Anna positive for me, Shannon. But I beg to differ. It is actually more realist than anything else. It is accepting what is and choosing to use it for fuel to constructively move forward to give you life rather than drain your life. McGarey concurs, "True optimism isn't toxic, because focusing on the positive does not mean denying the negative. It does not mean we dissociate from our pain, whether it's physical or emotional, or pretend that things are okay when they aren't. Instead, it means we look for what's wonderful anyway. We allow what hurts to hurt while continuing to search for the lesson in it and be grateful for the teaching."
12. Understand what true health is: Steer your energy toward life
"True health is about living with the world around us as an engaged, participatory experience."
Encouraging readers to 'spend your energy wildly', Dr. McGarey teaches that once we have discovered and embraced our life force, we have an abundance of energy, and now we can spend it by enjoying our lives. And because we gain energy by embracing our life force, we have much to spend as we engage with the world, and so bravely, "tap into [your] deepest knowing", let yourself be who you are and give what you can uniquely give. It will energize you in return and create a wonderful give-and-take relationship that will continue to give you life. With that said, we need to step toward and engage with "things that feel good and help us grow".
What energizes you may not energy someone else in the same way or at all. Reminding us that each of us has to find our own rhythm that works best for us, as well as remembering to adapt to it as what we learn and as life unfolds reveals is best moving forward.
And don't forget, choosing to and needing to rest is indeed an action. We all need to rest. This is a nourishing self-love practice that is necessary. Some may say resting is being lazy. Dr. McGarey disagrees writing, "Being lazy is when we withhold our life force from the collective; it's when we hold back, refusing to give, refusing to participate. This drains our juice. The purpose of resting is just the opposite. When we rest, we're consciously dedicating our energy toward what's most important to us."
13. Turn toward life, your life and what makes you come alive
"Learning to listen to our own inner knowing is the key to discerning, in any given moment, how and where to invest our life force. And it takes truly living to understand this. We're meant to interact with our lives. The work of life is simple: We must try and fail until we succeed."
A truth that is shared repeatedly here on the blog/podcast and in different phrases and words, but all are focusing our attention on the truth that you have something that makes you come alive within you. Find that, and you find your path forward. You won't know what the path will reveal, but follow the vitality that you receive, remember to get to know yourself along the way and apply that knowledge to the decisions you make about what you will explore, who you will dance with and also carry with you the knowledge that, as Dr. McGarey reminds, "you are right on time". Your health depends on you bravely and with an open heart and mind stepping in a direction that brings you to life.
Explore the book, The Well-Lived Life here.
—And Just Like That, season 2
Tune in to the end of today's episode to hear a detailed review of why I recommend the second season of And Just Like That on Max, addressing the critics of the show and sharing why this season dovetails wonderfully with the topic of today's episode.
~Explore all of the episodes of The Simple Sophisticate podcast here.