Brain Health

5 Life Lessons for a Profound Existence

A Radical Life: 5 Life Lessons

We are often told that life is a journey. When we fall, we must pick up ourselves and continue toward a destination. Many of us have constructed our goals from cues outside of us. In this age of social media, it’s often easier to look to others for an example of what will make us feel more enriched, satisfied, successful, and impactful, all the while missing out on the gift each day brings.

Human beings are capable of living a profound, radical existence. This does not come after one achieves a certain number of successes, accolades, or followers. Nor does it come when others declare. It is the cornerstone of being human. Although looking outside of oneself can suggest a path, a person starts on the journey with their own courage.

Life’s journey is an opportunity to get closer to our true nature, that which is inside each of us. It is toward the genuine self. This is the same direction that I travel, but no two people arrive at it the same way. It is the flow state of being who I am in everything I do and everyone I communicate with. Within that state, there is no need for holding back, making exceptions, covering up intentions, stating untruths, or showing half-heartedness. The message is life is simple – radiate your energy.

As the words placed in sentences take form, an amazing thing happens to the reader. A sentence in itself is an isolated thought, but, when weaved together in an article or book, the words can move mountains. They carry significance and potential energy, and, when they enter the listening mind, they can be transformative. I won’t get into detail here, but as we are assimilating the words, our body responds, signaling neurotransmitters in our brain to decode and incorporate them. Depending on how our brain reacts, words can either nourish us or wilt us.

Consider the following a nourishing extract of timely life lessons:

Flowers are a Lesson in Life
The Flower Shows Us Both the Quality of the Environment and the Functioning of the Plant. Pexels source.

Life Lesson 1: What most people think of as reality is merely perception.

What most people think of as “reality” is a perception of the senses gathering what is observed, interpreting it, and projecting the way it thinks it is. Life is a very fascinating concept. Our mutual reality is only an agreed-upon hallucination. When there is a disagreement, go toward the tension to understand it further. If you feel stressed or embarrassed by an interaction, seek to clarify with the sender the meaning and intention of the words conveyed. Most often it is a mixture of distortion in the message by both the sender and the receiver.

Trust your intuition and remember that you can visualize a narrative that provides you growth, learning, and resilience. Since no one knows the full picture of their life as it is being lived, facing each adversity or challenge with peace and curiosity enables one to explore the lesson in that experience. We can apply a narrative to it, and it is up to us to craft it. Is it a pitfall or a stepping stone?

Whatever it is your life goal, remember that no expectation, coursework. or job description can truly encapsulate what it is that you have a passion to become. Many people spend their entire lives trying to conform to outward expectations, never realizing the true passion that fuels them on the inside. Find out what your passion is and let it grow.

There will be some obstacles along the way. There is no such thing as absolute failure, or even absolute success for that matter. Remember that if Thomas Edison had stopped at 199 tries, or so it is said, he would never have invented the lightbulb the “next time.” Nevertheless, the way the earliest lightbulbs evolved into the current technologies could not be foreseen.

unrecognizable woman demonstrating light bulb in hands
Photo by Anete Lusina on

Life Lesson 2: Health originates on the inside, just as disease does.

I spent a lot of time learning about disease but was never taught about health in medical school. It took two decades to discover a message of health that transcends medical textbooks and the way the system is addressing it. When a patient comes into the clinic with multiple medications for several overlapping illnesses, enough to have to take medications for side effects, are we not missing an opportunity to connect and find the root cause?

The body adapts to stressors and trauma, real or perceived. A memory of the experience calls for an action. The brain conserves energy by adapting, forming more predictable behaviors. Sometimes these adaptations lead us to repeating behaviors that can be harmful to the body in the long run. These are the seeds from which the roots of disease germinate.

Behavior’s intentions are not intrinsically “wrong,” but the way the brain found a pathway to coping with a stressor. A behavior can be a source of health too. Whatever your goals are, know that you can achieve them by exploring the cause of the behavior. It’s incredible to think that, even at the time of experiencing a trauma, it was only the brain’s perception that led to the memories that we hold onto.

To address the root cause of behavior, start by writing down in words the feelings as they flow out. In a way, this becomes a story that you can read and process. Imagine yourself as survivor not a victim through this journey and contemplate how these events shaped you into the person that you are today. We cannot change the past or know with certainty the future. We can only change how we relate to them – the story we craft – and live in this moment toward our most genuine selves. And, if professional help is needed, seek the guidance.

There is nothing wrong with having a coach or therapist to assist you on your journey. Every person would benefit from one.

In the moment of now, what we consume that is good for the brain is good for the body, and vice versa. The words, images, sounds, air, and food we take in are magical and induce genetic production (of hormonal signals) within us. Feed yourself the right fuel for all of these.

Life Lesson 3: Our bodies are the interface of nature and nurture.

The long-standing debate in psychology and health involves the question “is one’s life more affected by their genetic code or by what they learned or how the environment affected them?” But, rather than opposing forces, nature and nurture are more like a lock and a key to each other. The journey to understanding this already starts at the moment the sperm meets the egg. A “spark,” generated by an influx of ions like calcium, sodium, and an efflux of hydrogen initiates the process. Even at this primordial state, the environment is interacting with the zygote.

The size and influence of the environment grows as the organism grows. From ions to hormones, the fetus already becomes affected by the outside world through the direct blood transfer of maternal signals in the placenta. And even during this time, significant stress experienced by a mother can translate to an increased risk of disease in the offspring later into adulthood.

The environment shapes our genetic expression. The body has four major ways of interacting with the environment, which I like to call “the four I’s”:

  • Ingestion, or what is taken in through our mouth. This includes foods, drinks, toxins, and microbes
  • Inspiration, or what is taken in through our respiratory system. This includes air, clean or polluted, smoking, drug use, toxins, and microbes.
  • Injury, or what damage we face on or through our skin. This includes blunt trauma, burns, injection drug use, toxins, and microbes.
  • Impression, or the “inside job” of how our body adapts to the outside with perception and behavior. We can truly shape the environment with our perception.

These exposures enter our bodies and ultimately interface with our vascular system. There is a genetic expression as the substance interacts with the cells in our blood or lining our blood vessels. The substances literally turn on genetic production. The body forms enzymes, cytokines, hormones, and other molecules, which adjust the body to these absorbed substances. This process can elicit damage-associated molecular proteins which lead to inflammation and repair mechanisms. Thus, these substances form the pathway for which disease develops.

To summarize, the body and the environment are two sides of the same coin. It’s all about providing your body with the optimal environment for optimal health.

white rabbit in brown wooden box
Photo by Elijah O’Donnell on

Life Lesson 4: Love is the secret to living a whole life.

Love can shift and be the inertia to grow, and its absence can stunt growth. Love can provide longevity, fortify behavior, and reframe perceived reality. Many of the characteristics of the blue zones, where people live a longer life, inform us of the important lesson of love. Whether it is developing a life mission, social circles, faith-based group, or family, people who are loved live longer.

Remember that, even though we may be loved by many people in this world, like our friends and family, the most important person for you to be loved by is YOU. Some people can spend their lives being the most critical on themselves, more than they would ever a friend or family member. The truth is that all of us can be that way. Just remember to show yourself some compassion.

We all make mistakes or misjudgments. Our brains have a bias trap. They make mistakes, forget, focus on or ignore things, which cloud judgements. However, it is from within the uniqueness of our brains that stories, books, insight, and leadership come. Trust and love trigger growth, development, creativity, and outwardly propagate your gifts.

The springtime (my favorite time of year) is an excellent example for us of growth. It is fascinating to see how suddenly the plant shoots grow and flowers blossom. Botanists, gardeners, and nature-lovers alike know that it is a combination of warmer temperatures, the right amount of sunlight and water, and the right soil. I like to think that maybe its also a little bit of “love” and “trust” that transforms the plant from a dormant state to taking a chance to grow.

Can understanding love and trust be explained with our knowledge of neuroscience? Oxytocin might explain it. This neuropeptide is produced in the hypothalamus and activates physical and mental changes, such as uterine contractions and the sexual response. It has been associated with bonding and social connection. The secret to the effects of oxytocin may lie in its ability to suppress the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” response, and activate the parasympathetic, “the rest and digest” response. It activates dopamine and serotonin, responsible for satisfaction and pleasure. We can activate this in others through our friendship and physical touch, or for ourselves by self-care.

Take those ingredients needed for plants and apply those lessons in your life. What is your environment? How does your circle of friends nurture you and you nurture them? Do you have the ingredients of growth in your life?

Nature Gives Us Many Lessons
The Springtime teaches us a lesson of growth. Photo taken by Christopher M. Cirino, DO MPH

Life Lesson 5: Find your gift and let it shine

One of my favorite quotes is “the meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.” (Pablo Picasso)

We have the fundamental ability to affect others through our message. To cultivate your message and share it to others is a form of love. I have seen people take the first step toward health, just because of the words I have said or the connection that we shared. I can say the same about the many wonderful people, such as my teachers, mentors, and friends that have done that in my life. I liken it to “packets of energy,” through our words and actions, given to others, that trigger hormonal and neurotransmitter responses in them. These molecules change us from the inside and can actually affect our health.

Wherever we are with our belief in God, we are unable to know the meaning of the universe except through our perceptions, behaviors, and actions and the connections we form with others. We experience God by showing love and gratitude to others.

The universe has a fabric that is mysterious and marvelous. It is self-organizing at once and then entropic. We all will go through this cycle. May your life be a flow-state of your joy, creativity, and love. May it be a song that is heard far and loudly.

2 replies »

  1. Dr. Cirino, I enjoy reading your articles, it’s so very true, we are in control of our well being and our physical health is an extension of our spiritual health. The question of “nature vs. nurture” is an interesting one, after doing a stint of foster care and adopting a child with early trauma and drug exposure, it would seem genetics plays a primary role in the cycle of addiction and emotional issues. But does it? These are individuals that most often didn’t receive the most basic of human needs, trust, love, connection of consistent parenting throughout childhood. How does that impact their genetic code, their neurological milieu? What’s interesting is the study of epigenetics? I wonder if humans are more malleable than we realize and our genetic code more vulnerable than we suspect?

    • Thanks Linda for the stimulating comments. It’s fascinating to think how our genetic code is turned on by any of the ways we interact with the environment. I look at it as a vulnerability but also empowering. As humans, we have to persevere, in spite of at times a hostile environment. From the earlier organisms that are unprotected in the environment, to we humans who are scaling multi-systemic structure (and more!) that are capable of withstanding stressors yet structurally persist.

      I invite any additional comments and thanks for reading.

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