‘Unbroken’: Louie Zamperini’s story offers crucial lessons for improving mental, spiritual health

Louis Zamperini

Reviewing “Unbroken” is a difficult task. The story of famous Olympian and World War II hero Louie Zamperini’s life includes an endless list of lessons. Author Laura Hillenbrand, who also penned “Seabiscuit,” has churned out a product that is essential reading for anyone who seeks to improve their mental and spiritual health. Mr. Zamperini’s tale is a road map for greatness, and it is one that all Americans would be wise to study.

In short, the book can be divided into the following segments:

    • Louie’s defiant childhood and the moment he realized that his defiance could be channeled to bring him positive attention.
    • His time as an elite runner at USC and his 5,000-meter run at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
    • Louie’s training and missions as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
    • The crash of the B-24 named “Green Hornet,” and his survival in shark-infested waters for 47 days.
    • His time spent as a prisoner of war at multiple Japanese camps, including Kwajalein (“Execution Island”), Ofuna (a secret interrogation center), Omari and Naoetsu (where Mutsuhiro Watanabe made it his all-consuming mission to break Zamperini’s spirit).
    • The end of the war, Louie’s decent into darkness with PTSD, and his salvation through Christ.

Each chapter of Mr. Zamperini’s life could be turned into its own book, yet Ms. Hillenbrand found a way to seamlessly tie them all together into a thought-provoking read that lives up to its billing: “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”

How does a man survive in the middle of the ocean on a tiny raft for 47 days? How does a man endure the horrors of a POW camp, where every effort is made to strip him of his humanity (e.g., injecting him with experimental drugs, beating him daily, and making him regularly clean up a pig’s bowel movements with his bare hands in return for food)?

The answer comes down to realizing that how you think about things — the conscious decisions you make every day regarding what to focus on — play a crucial role in shaping the outcome of your life.

Ms. Hillenbrand writes:

“Exposure, dehydration, stress, and hunger had quickly driven many of [World War I pilot Eddie Rickenbacker’s] party insane, a common fate for raft-bound men. Louie was more concerned with sanity than he was about sustenance. He kept thinking of a college physiology class he had taken, in which the instructor taught them to think of the mind as a muscle that would atrophy if left idle. Louie was determine that no matter what happened to their bodies, their minds would stay under their control. …

Within a few days of the crash, Louie began peppering the other two with questions on every conceivable subject. Phil took up the challenge, and soon he and Louie turned the raft into a nonstop quiz show. …

For Louie and Phil, the conversations were healing, pulling them out of their suffering and setting the future before them as a concrete thing. As they imagined themselves back in the world again, they willed a happy ending onto their ordeal and made it their expectation. With these talks, they created something to live for. …

Though all three men faced the same hardship, their differing perception of it appeared to be shaping their fates. Louie and Phil’s hope displaced their fear and inspired them to work toward their survival, and each success renewed their physical and emotional vigor. Mac’s resignation seemed to paralyze him, and the less he participated in their efforts to survive, the more he slipped. Though he did the least, as the days passed, it was he who faded the most. Louie and Phil’s optimism, and Mac’s hopelessness, were becoming self-fulfilling,” (Lauren Hillenbrand. Unbroken. New York: Random House, 2010. 145-148).

While “Mac” would ultimately redeem himself for some of his early behavior on the raft (e.g., he ate the only source of food the men had while they slept the first night), his inability to change his focus from death to life appears to be a major reason for his failure to survive.

One way to explain what is going on is this: the unconscious mind never sleeps. Since the unconscious mind operates outside time and space (i.e., think of how time and space operate in your dreams), it is vitally important that you are aware of what you decide to add to the mix. During the day a person plants seeds of thought into his subconscious. Those seeds eventually take root, and the fruit they bear affects both the conscious and subconscious mind. When the mind is weighed down with negative thoughts, it in turn weighs down the spirit. The spirit is strong — stronger than we can ever imagine — but when it breaks, then the body and mind surely follow.

Louie Zamperini understood that just as it was important to exercise his body if he wanted to be a world-class runner, the real key to success is to exercise the muscles that can not be seen or measured on a scale. In order to excel in the physical world an individual must also concentrate on the metaphysical. For Mr. Zamperini, whose PTSD after the war led him to abuse alcohol as a way of dealing with flashbacks and nightmares, peace was finally found when he embraced Christianity.

“In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.” (376)

The night that Mr. Zamperini fully understood his own faith, his nightmares ended. He regained his life, saved his marriage and even found it within himself to forgive the men who tortured him during the war.

While “Unbroken” is scheduled to be released to the big screen this Christmas, I highly recommend buying the book and adding it to your reading list before then. I find it hard to imagine that by the time you turn the last page that you will not experience a “single, silent moment” that will change your life for the better.

The power of ‘thank you’

We’ve all had good bosses and bad bosses. Over the years, I’ve found that the best ones are those who take time on occasion to say two simple words: ‘thank you.’

As I’ve said before, at the deepest of levels everyone wants to be loved and appreciated. When you say ‘thank you’ to someone you are letting them know that, indeed, they have self-worth. Employees will stick around a lot longer, they’ll work harder and they’ll be exponentially more loyal if the phrase ‘thank you’ is said regularly. This sounds like it should be common sense, but for many organizations (even some that are perceived as being extremely successful), it is not.

My worst bosses over the years have been individuals who have viewed their employees as cattle. They used people to squeeze as much productivity out of them as possible, and when they were done with them they shrugged their shoulders and looked for the next piece of meat. Yes, if you demand a lot from employees you will probably a lot out of them  — until they quit — but the person who is treated with dignity and respect brings all sorts of intangibles to the table that ‘Worker No. 74562’ does not.

When I enjoyed working for someone, my hardest efforts seemed to flow naturally. I didn’t have to psyche myself up to do my job. I didn’t have to put my “work hat” on because it was essentially “on” all the time. I put in extra hours … simply because. I spent time trying to figure out ways to solve problems during my off hours … because I wanted to. I stuck around after the close of business to do little things that might not be noticed by my superiors, but that I knew would benefit the organization.

With that said, it should be noted that I do not expect people to be babied. Some employees expect to be praised simply for doing their job. That is the wrong answer and, truthfully, there are many people with such a warped perception of what their workplace environment should be.

On a deeper level, saying ‘thank you’ for all that you’ve been given is also very powerful. I suggest saying ‘thank you’ for something every day when you wake up and every day before you go to bed. Once you start — once you become conscious of just how much you have to be thankful for — the list will not stop. You’ll be amazed at just how much you’ve taken your life, your health, your family and friends for granted.

Just as you become a harder worker when you have a boss who says ‘thank you,’ you become a better person when you become thankful for the abundance in your life. Taking a quiet moment every day to acknowledge how thankful you are for a loving wife, a best friend or just a heart that beats will change you. As you become more thankful, you will be become more humble. When you become more humble, you treat those around you with more respect. When you respect yourself and others around you that respect will be returned in spades.

Think about how often you go through the day on autopilot. Eat, shower, shave, dress, drive to work with the radio on to avoid having to confront your own thoughts … work, work, work … and then head home for just long enough to eat and pass out. Turn the radio off on your drive to work and spend more time listening to the commentary in your own head. Evaluate it. Analyze it and, again, be thankful. You will be surprised at just how powerful those two words can be.

In keeping with the theme of this post I will lead by example: I am thankful every day for the friends I have met through this blog and other social media sites. There are individuals, young and old, who I have met online who have made me a better person. You have pushed and prodded me to think about many issues from new perspectives. You have creatively lifted me up when I was down. You have taught me that everyone — particularly those I disagree with the most — is worthy of respect.

Although I sometimes fall short of the lessons you have taught me over the years, I can confidently say that I am a better person for having been in contact with you. I am always striving to improve myself and for your part in helping to keep the ball rolling in the right direction I say it again: “thank you.”

Your mind can not be trusted because you are not your mind

Science mind

In a strange turn of events, the conservative guy who doesn’t believe in science (Didn’t anyone tell you us conservatives don’t believe in science?) was catching up on his regular reading of the “I F**king Love Science” Facebook page and thought he’d share it on his little old blog.

Consider the following procedures:

The Ganzfeld Procedure:

At first this sounds like a bad practical joke. Begin by turning the radio to a station playing static. Then lie down on the couch and tape a pair of halved ping-pong balls over your eyes. Within minutes, you should begin to experience bizarre set of sensory distortions. Some people see horses prancing in the clouds, or hear the voice of a dead relative. It turns out that the mind is addicted to sensation, so that when there’s little to sense — that’s the purpose of the ping pong balls and static — your brain ends up inventing its own.

The Incredible Shrinking Hand:

Last month, researchers at Oxford University announced the discovery of a powerful new painkiller: inverted binoculars. The scientists found that subjects who looked at a wounded hand through the wrong end of binoculars, making the hand appear smaller, felt significantly less pain and even experienced decreased swelling. According to the researchers, this demonstrates that even basic bodily sensations such as pain are modulated by what we see. So next time you stub your toe or cut your finger, do yourself a favor: look away.

The Rubber Hand Illusion:

If you happen to have a rubber arm in the closet, then this hallucination is for you. Begin by hiding your actual arm behind a box on a table so that you can’t see it. Then arrange the fake arm on the table, so that from your point of view it looks like it could be your hidden arm.

A friend should then stroke both the real hand and the rubber hand in the same place and at the same time. After a few minutes, you should feel like the fake limb has become your own flesh.

Then have your friend stab the rubber hand, or hit it with a hammer: You will feel a powerful jolt of anxiety and pain, since your brain is convinced that the rubber hand is real.

Science is great, but it has its limits. Worse, hubris leads researchers to believe that through their five (often unreliable) senses they could unlock all the mysteries of the universe. For many, science is just as much of a religion as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism.

One of the questions I often have for my skeptical friends is: How do you know that there aren’t forces in motion that are operating on levels beyond the understanding of your fives senses? A tape recorder is made to understand the world through sound waves, but that doesn’t mean that light waves don’t exist. Likewise, we (the elegant machines we are) understand the world through sight, sound, touch, smell and taste — but it’s very possible the world is made up of “matter” that our senses can not detect.

As the “I F**king Love Science” page points out, the mind is apparently “addicted to sensation” — so much so that it will “invent” sensation when you try and cut it off.

Another way of saying all of this is that your ego is addicted to sensation. But you are not your ego. You are much, much more. Many people have so much faith in science that they refuse to explore these questions, and as a result they become a slave to their ego.

A host of faiths have asserted for ages that there is a “self” operating behind the ego, and those who have become more in tune with it have used that connection to greatly enrich their lives (and the lives of others).

As I’ve pointed out before, it is no coincidence that television programming encourages you to run up the credit card for things you don’t need. The brain is addicted to sensation, and with that comes an addiction to gadgets and gizmos, designer clothes and fancy cars. At that point, you are a slave to other men and organizations that do not have your best interest in mind.

The person who can observe reality from a higher level of consciousness does not care about celebrities and video games, gossip and politics. The person who is in tune with his oneness with the universe and cognizant of his own higher being is not easily pitted against his fellow man. He can not be exploited by politicians. He thinks for himself and follows the path his heart instructs him to follow.

You were meant to accomplish great things. You have a higher purpose, but modern society is geared towards getting you to deny who and what your really are. Whether it’s through meditation, reading the wisdom of Lao Tzu, familiarizing yourself with the teachings of Jesus or simply opting for your friendly neighborhood Google search engine, I encourage you to explore the interconnectedness between science and spirituality even further. If you do, I believe you will be well on your way to realizing your full potential.

Break free of the Matrix: The 1-year challenge to see the world in a different light

Matrix pills

We are in our very own kind of Matrix. We’ve been conditioned to want more, more, more of any number of material goods, and then when we don’t have as much as the next guy we’re told we should be angry. We should be jealous. We should be envious. You need the newest technology and the newest clothes. You need to eat out multiple times a week, and if you’re married with children then the both of you need to work because there are so many things that you need to purchase now, now, now.

Once you believe that you need to buy what they’re selling, you are being controlled. Once you believe that the redistribution of wealth by government bureaucrats is necessary, you are being controlled. The only thing that matters is your soul. All the material goods in the world mean nothing, because one day you will die and you won’t be able to take them with you. Given that, it stands to reason that during the course of your life the primary focus should be to figure out what will make you happy at the deepest of levels, and then finding a way to do it. If there is one legitimate gripe about “the system” it is that these days it is geared towards keeping you from attaining higher levels of consciousness. There is great power inside you — incredible power — but over the course of generations we have been surreptitiously led to believe it wasn’t there until the mechanisms that detect it atrophied. You have the muscle — you just need to use it.

The world’s elite would rather have you playing XBox and looking at pictures of animals on the Internet than looking into “God” or “Source” or “Enlightenment,” because when you do that everything melts away (perhaps literally, but that’s a discussion for another time). The sickest thing may be that the elite even enlisted many of your friends and family to do their dirty work for them. Is it possible to convince a prisoner to lust over his own chains? Yes.

Someone who looks within and then turns that eye back on the material world can see the charade, and so you’ve been trained to play with the anger and hate and resentment that resides on some level in all of us like a kitten with string.

There are many ways to break free from the mind-forged manacles we’ve willingly fastened in place. Without much effort, you can find many inspirational figures online who are willing to discuss this journey. I happen to believe that real change only comes from looking inward, so here now is my challenge to you:

For one year — every day — actively look for ways to give of yourself. If there’s a man on the street corner asking for change, give it to him. If you think he’s scamming people, give him some money or food anyway. If you have an opportunity to give someone a genuine compliment, do it. Call up (or text if you must) an old friend and remind them of something nice they once did for you years ago; tell them you still think about it and are thankful for what they did. Make someone feel good. Be the light in your office environment or at school or in your immediate family. There are any number of ways you can give of yourself or perform a kind gesture. The key is to make a conscious decision every day to take advantage of — or create — such opportunities.

As you do this on a daily basis, changes will begin to occur within you. Your new thought processes and actions will start to affect other areas of your life. You might even notice a change in your basic biology (e.g., more energy).  Material things you once cared about will matter less. Relationships that had withered from neglect or animosity will spring forth with new life. Your mood and your entire disposition will shift. All of this will occur because kindness is a stimulant, and unlike anger and vindictiveness there are no unwanted side effects.

During the course of the challenge, all I ask of you if you aren’t a religious person that you at least entertain the possibility that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Then, since all humans are capable of empathy, I want you to find a quiet room and put yourself into the body of someone who is infinitely loved. Try and feel it. Try and wrap your mind around what it would mean. My guess is that it will overwhelm you because the human mind can not contain something so powerful. Tears will well up in your eyes because you will realize just how flawed you are, and that no matter how much you give it could never match the love and mercy Christ has for you.

But those tears will not particularly be tears of sadness because that person is you and He does love you. Infinitely. God (or “Source”) wants you to be happy. He wants you to realize your true nature. He wants your life to be filled with joy and abundance, and the kindness and love you’ve shown over the course of “the challenge” will have put you on the path to attaining all of those things.

Once such a realization happens it will start a positive feedback loop, in which your desire to exude light feeds an appreciation for the life you’ve been given, and that new found appreciation for life in turn cultivates a better you. Your spirit will quite literally be vibrating at a higher frequency, and you will never want to return to what you once were.

The thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a nice car and a nice home and the amenities of modern life for you, your wife and kids. The problem comes in when people feel as though they need it. Why do certain celebrities fill airport hangers with cars? Why do famous athletes buy houses like they’re trading cards? Why do politicians have countless versions of the best suits and ties and shoes? They buy more and more “things” as some sort of status symbol — as something to give their lives meaning — and they can never have enough because what is really important is to fill up your insides with spiritual riches.

This challenge is not meant to convert you to Christianity. I wrote this because whether or not you believe in Christ by the end of it, I firmly believe you will see the world in a different light. You will have awakened something inside you that was always there, but calcified by hate, anger, envy and jealousy by pundits who constantly want you pitted against your fellow man. We are all individuals who were sent here for a reason, but we are all one. Once you realize that, you will no longer fall for political stagecraft or feel the “need” to buy your favorite product.

I wish you well on your journey, because I know you’ll come through it in flying colors.



The is no ‘spare’ time because there is only time

Yesterday I was eating lunch at Panera, and next to me were two men, one of which was trying to sell the other on some sort of pyramid scheme. The seller said at one point: “Don’t you want to make some extra cash in your spare time?” l generally had a depressing lunch because I thought of all the people like them who don’t realize that there is no such thing as “spare” time because there is only “time.”

Every moment of every day you are either moving closer or farther away from fully realizing who you were meant to be. How you spend your time when you aren’t working is just as integral to living up to your potential as what you do at your place of employment. Your friends and your associations matter. Do you exercise to relax, or do you drink? Do you make time to read a good book once in awhile, or do you play video games? Do you get adequate rest on Saturday and Sunday, or are you out all night trying to fit as much fun as possible into the weekend? All of these things matter. I am not passing judgement on one activity or another. I am merely stating that everything requires self examination.

You could die ten minutes after you read this blog of a heart attack. You could die a few days from now in a car accident. Or, you could die many years from now in your sleep simply due to old age. That is why every second counts.

What kind of person wants to spend their life chasing after spare change like they were Mario or Luigi from Super Mario Bros.? No one should ever have to do that unless, for whatever reason, that is what their spirit truly desires to experience during its time on earth.

The person who goes around thinking of “spare change” in their “spare time” will generally just lead a life where they’re only just getting by because all of their energy is focused on just getting by. On top of that, people who are always looking for spare cash usually tend to do so because they want to buy “things”; it’s a good indicator they are way to concerned with filling up their life with gizmos and gadgets and clothes, and when you lead a life chasing after earthly pleasures you will never be satisfied.

Look at some of the most successful Hollywood stars out there, sports figures and politicians who have enough money to buy anything they want. They have closets and mansions and garages filled with “stuff.” They don’t need “spare” change, and yet, if you follow that person in the news it’s not long before the writing is on the wall that many of these people are absolutely miserable.

But I digress. That’s another issue for another blog post.

The point is, one of the keys to finding happiness is asking the right question. Instead of saying “how can I make some spare cash” one might ask: “How can I be financially independent by age 50?” Or they could ask: “How can I make $100,000 a year and enjoy what I’m doing?” The brain is a supercomputer, and if you ask it the right questions it will come up with answers for you. However, if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out.

There is a reason why people say they need to “focus like a laser.” That’s because the human body is pure energy. Your thoughts and your feelings and everything that makes you “you” — when you dig deep enough down — is pure energy. So it stands to reason that if you focus your mind and your body and your spirit in one direction, that energy will begin to carve out the reality you desire.

You might think the Catholic guy is getting all New Age at this point, but he’s not. Regardless, I hope this post will do its little part to help get you focused on what you need to do to attain true happiness.