Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Mario Martinez, for part two of our conversation on his new book, The MindBody Code. Mario Martinez is a clinical neuropsychologist who lectures worldwide on how cultural beliefs affect health and longevity. He’s the founder of biocognitive science, a new paradigm that identifies complex discoveries of how our cultural beliefs affect our immune, nervous, and endocrine systems.
With Sounds True, Mario Martinez has written the new book The MindBody Code: How to Change the Beliefs That Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success—in which he challenges the reader to embrace a radically new paradigm for health and well-being, and reveals the way our cultural beliefs our immune system.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Mario and I spoke about healthy centenarians—people who live to be 100—and the four essential beliefs that healthy centenarians share. We also talked about how different cultures hold different views of the aging process, and how these views impact our health. Finally, we talked about forgiveness—not only as an act that liberates love in our lives, but how forgiveness also impacts the state of our health.
Here’s part two of my conversation with the author of The MindBody Code, Mario Martinez:
I’m here with Mario Martinez for part two of our conversation on The MindBody Code. Mario, I want to talk about your work with healthy centenarians—people who have lived to be 100 or longer. You even talk about lessons you’ve learned from “super-centenarians”—people who have lived to be 110 or older. I’d be curious to know—right from the beginning—why you started talking to centenarians. Tell us a little bit about the background of your work.
Mario Martinez: Yes. All of these wonderful things [happen] in science that are serendipitous or by mistake. When I was a kid, I saw a few centenarians, and they always attracted people to them. It defied the concept of getting feeble-minded and weak. These people were strong. They kept working. They made you want to grow old, rather than what we have with some people that we look at. “God, this is growing old?”
Then I saw that there were some centenarians that were not in very good shape. They were living in almost a vegetable state. I thought, “No—what I want to find out is what makes people healthy? And why is it that science studies the normal curve and the average age so much in a culture?” And on this side, you have people who die younger [and] people who die much older. They call those two edges “nuisance variables.” They’re not included in the science of analysis of variance.
So, [where] I wanted to go was [to] the outliers on the right side. What are these people doing? My training was very biologically based, so I thought, “It’s got to be genetics.” They even have some studies that say, “Well, it’s the genes that they have. [They call one of them] the ’Methuselah gene’ popularly.
So, I went with that mindset—that this is genetic. As I started looking into their history, family, and so forth, I find out that after over 400 [case studies]—plus the literature; support of the good literature—20, 25 percent is genetic. The rest is what I call “biocultural”—how they live, how they break away from the cultural portals that we’ve talked about, how they don’t consider middle age. You ask them, “What’s middle age?” and they say, “That’s dumb. You’ll find out when you die. I don’t know what middle age is.” So, they don’t buy into the cultural portals that [society] puts you in and age you.
Ellen Langer has done a lot of work at Harvard in looking at context and why [it is] that some people look significantly younger than their age and other people look significantly older than their age. The thinking was, “Well, it’s genetics.” What they found was that one factor determined the difference—where you identify yourself in middle age. The ones who look younger thought that middle age started years later.
So, you’re creating markers for your bioinformational field to say, “Well, this is the way down.” And the culture will tell you, “OK, not only are you middle-aged now, but you need to be thinking about things that young people don’t think about. You need be attributing . . .”—attribution is really important in biocognition. [That] is the cost that we give to things.
So, for example, you are in a portal of middle age—or let’s say a little older than middle age. You can’t have a sports car anymore, because what’s this old guy or this old woman doing with that car?
So, the portal is already setting you up for failure. The first time your back hurts or the first time you have some problems: “Ah, I’m too old for this.” You give up the joy. You buy a bigger car and you enter the tunnel of helplessness of, “[Now,] I need anti-inflammatories.” That’s how you age.
The context will age you. Centenarians—what I found is that they don’t buy into those contexts. They live in the present. They’re very present-centered. But they have a bright future. One-hundred-and-two: “I love your garden.” “Oh yes, it’s great. But wait until you see it in five years!” [Laughs.] At 102.
Some of them are learning languages when they hit 100. What does the culture tell you? “We don’t want to learn a language from you. You’re not going to be around—”
TS: Now, let me ask you a very direct question, Mario: As I’ve been aging, I’ve been hearing from more and more people—people in their 60s, 70s—”Oh my God, I never thought I’d slow down so much. I never thought my body would start going through all these changes. I don’t have the energy I used to have, Tami. I don’t want to fly as much. I don’t want to go places.”
I’ve noticed [that] the more I hear reports from people in their 60s and 70s about their experience of aging, the more I’ve started to come up with this picture of what it’s going to be like.
TS: And, you know, I’d better go do that exciting, outdoor adventure trip soon, because by the time I’m 70—which isn’t that far away—I’m not going to have the energy to do it.
Are you telling me that by hearing these reports—[which] I’ve been hearing from people that I know, people who seem pretty health-minded and active—that they’re experiencing this diminishment of strength and power. I’m hearing these reports and I’m putting together a picture in my mind. Am I selling myself short by doing that?
MM: Yes, and it’s coming from bad science. There’s good science that defies that.
The attribution, again, is very important. They don’t realize that they’re buying the attribution. Ellen Langer, again, has done a lot of work—and other people have done a lot of work—in that area, and they find that it’s culture.
For example, memory. As you grow older, you have memory deficit. Not true. What happens, though, is that you begin to identify yourself with the “older mindset.” You say, “I went to the kitchen. What am I doing? I don’t remember. Oh! Alzheimer’s!” Go back the way you came from, and you’ll remember. If you’re 20, you say, “Ah, I forgot.”
That’s number one. And number two is that the tests that are set up to measure the deterioration of aging are biased against the elder. There was some research—[which] Langer did also—where she looked at the tests that were biased against the elder. When they did the tests, the younger people did better with memory. But then they changed that around, and they looked at context and interest. They gave a test where people had to read something, and it was something like Frank Sinatra [and] what kind of music [he liked], the stock market. When they tested, the elder did better with memory than the younger.
What happens [is] as you grow older, you become more selective. You don’t pay attention to the things that don’t matter to you. So, if they ask you about it, you forgot it. Your context and your selectivity increases. You go from simple to complex, rather than from order to disorder. Biology borrowed a model from Newtonian physics, which works really well with carburetors, tables, and planets. It doesn’t work well with living beings.
In Newtonian physics, [there is] entropy. Any system goes from order to disorder. We buy that. In my model—and the model of good science—you go from simple to complex. The brain becomes more complex, more selective, more parsimonious.
This is why you can’t do well in the Army when you join at 50. You join at 19, you can take anything. [At 50, you think,] “I got to get up in the middle of the night and take a cold shower. I’m not going to do that.” Why? Because you’re more selective. You know yourself better and you protect yourself better.
So, the thing about this—getting back to it—is that it’s very important that you begin to look at attribution. Any time that you get an “old” attribution—”I’m getting old.” Let me give an example. When I was 20, I had to take a phys. ed. test and I had to swim two laps. I vomited. I couldn’t do it. Now, I swim a mile. I don’t tell my age, but it doesn’t matter. I’m a lot older than 20. Does it mean that I’m deteriorating or that I’m becoming more complex? It’s what you do.
People will buy that. Let’s say your friends will by that. “I don’t have as much energy.” OK—what are you going to do about it? Osteoporosis and things like that can be changed with burst training. For women, the interpretation of menopause will give you inflammation or not. The women in some South American countries—especially Peru and Bolivia—consider the hot flashes [to be] bochorno, which means “shame.” And we know that the immune system responds with inflammatory molecules and it causes inflammation.
In Japan and in China, they call it “the second spring,” when the woman comes into her power, her knowledge, and they’re respected. No inflammation in the Asian countries. High inflammation in the Latin American countries.
Why? Because there’s a bioinformational field and bioinformational response of the immune system.
So, if you buy that, then yes—you fall into what I call “the tunnel of helplessness,” where they give you the onset of an illness. They give you a process. They give you a prognosis. You’ve bought into it. And once you buy into it, you’re in.
TS: OK. So, I’m going to ask my question yet again—just because I really want to hammer this home and make sure I’m understanding you. So, I’ve heard people say things like, “Yes, the aging process—we’re kind of like a car. As time goes on, the car just kind of breaks down. You have to just be real about that, Tami. The car’s going to break down. It’s mechanical. The pieces are going to start to fall off and not work as well.”
Do you believe that that is simply a cultural belief—an attribution?
MM: Yes. But also, supported by a biological model borrowed from Newtonian physics—from things. Things break and oxidize. We have a new liver after a few weeks. Our taste buds are completely different after 21 days.
That’s one thing that I do, for example, when working with people who are obese. Your taste buds—21 days. They’re used to sugar and fat. If you change the things that we need to change in 21 days, it’ll be new taste buds. It won’t go to the nucleus accumbens and get you hooked like you were before, because it’s a different set.
So, cars can’t do that. There’s no question that there is some diminishing of function. I would say 10 percent. The rest is biocultural.
TS: Wow. Are you familiar with cultures that have a different view of the aging process and what it looks like, then, for people in those cultures? Can you give me some examples?
MM: Yes. Okinawa in Japan. Vilcabamba in Ecuador. In [much] of the Caucasus.
Consistently, they see growing older as an opportunity to do more. They’re not caretakers. That’s another thing that’s really important. They’re not caretakers. Caretakers don’t do well health-wise, because they don’t know how to set benign limits for themselves. They take care of everybody. My aunt died of colon cancer. As I was taking her to the hospital—as she was dying—she called me to the bed and she said, “I don’t know if the ambulance driver had any dinner tonight. Could you ask him?”
TS: Is that a real story?
MM: No, that’s a real story.
TS: Oh my God.
MM: “My God!” You know. What happens when you’re that way? You create an immunological [that is] weak and pre-cancer cells grow.
Now, is cancer caused by cancer cells? No. It’s caused by the co-authoring of cancer cells and a weak immune system. So, it’s a co-authoring always. We always mix cause and effect.
TS: So, back to the aging process. If I don’t want to get caught in our culture’s myths about aging, do you recommend that I not even worry about 50, 60, 70 as birthdays? Right now, those are big events. “I crossed to the threshold into 50 or 60!” And that, then, brings with it a whole worldview of what that means. What do you recommend I do on the fiftieth, sixtieth, seventieth birthdays?
MM: Don’t fight it. Let it come in. And when it comes in, “Oh, cultural portal. What am I feeling now? I’m feeling weaker.” Do something about it. “My brain is not working as fast.” Do something about it. Exercises to learn. Burst training to increase—for women, especially—the bone mass.
TS: What is that?
MM: Burst training?
MM: You notice when you look at marathon runners, they look very thin? And some of them even drop dead when they’re running? You look at sprinters and they’re strong.
What we know now is that when you—let’s say—run very fast—as fast as you can for two minutes, and you stop. You take 30 seconds, and then you do it again. In those 30 seconds, your body begins to secrete human growth hormones, which are the hormones that actually repair tissue and help with the proteins for the building of muscles. That’s one of the things that I use for fibromyalgia.
So, again, going back to the aging: what you do is you challenge the cultural belief that you were taught. Then, you begin to look for the things that you’re questioning and look for evidence. Am I working out? No. All right. If I’m not working out, of course I’m going to be weak at 70 or at 50 or at 20. There are kids who have terrible cardiovascular systems at 20 because they eat bad food and they have a very sedentary life. There’s nothing to do with it.
That’s very hard to solve, because people say, “Look at the evidence.” And I’ll say, “Look at my evidence with the centenarians that I work with. Look at the evidence of the things that Ellen Langer is doing. Look at the evidence that other people like Richard Davison [are] doing with functional MRIs.”
An example: It was thought—because of the model of deterioration—that as time passes, you deteriorate. So, when you look at a young brain, it’s very lateralized. The left side—for right-handed people—is usually language and the other less visual/spatial. But as you grow older, when you do an MRI, you see less lateralization. So, gerontology, which studies the pathology of aging, says, “See? This is evidence that this brain is getting older.”
Richard Davison works with Tibetan lamas who have had more than 10,000 hours of meditation. When they go into deep meditation, the brain goes into that non-lateral processing. So, does that mean that they aged? It means that there was complexity. And when they come out of it—whether they’re 80 or 50—they [have] all [gone] into that non-lateralization. When they come out of it, it lateralizes again. You can learn to lateralize the brain again if you want to.
So, that’s the good science. The bad science is—what does gerontology study? The pathology of aging. What did I study in neuropsychology? The pathology of the brain. We knew that the brain couldn’t do something when it broke in that area. But when you look at a healthy brain, not only does it work in that area, it works a lot more [with] many other things that you can’t see with the pathology model.
What I suggest is that you break from that. You create the subcultures that—but you can’t just say (and here’s where wishful thinking doesn’t work), “Oh, I’m ageless. I’m fine.” And you don’t do anything about it? No. It’s not going to work.
You have to have subcultures that—for example, let’s say that you don’t like to work out. You walk. Whatever it is you want to do, you do more each time. Either more quantity or more quality. So, when I swim—I swim about three or four times a week—I either increase my laps or increase the speed of my laps. Or I pay more attention to what I’m thinking when I’m doing my laps. It’s infinite. The benign middle is infinite.
That’s another way to work with obesity, addictions, and compulsions.
TS: Now, in the book, The MindBody Code, you talk about four essential beliefs that you discovered healthy centenarians have. I thought it would be useful to go over these four essential beliefs. The first one you write is that, “Growing older is the passing of time. Aging is what we do with time based on cultural beliefs.” So, talk about that difference in how healthy centenarians relate to time.
MM: I’m glad you brought that up, because that’s how you train yourself into centenarian consciousness. Those four centenarians consciousnesses and premises.
That is: you need time to grow older. That’s it. Time? You grow older. Twenty, twenty-five. What you do with that time based on your cultural beliefs is the actual aging, 90 percent. What you do with those cultural beliefs.
Where does that evidence come from? From other cultures that believe—and support with their way of dealing with the world—that it’s not like that [and] doesn’t work that way. But there are cultures in Europe, for example, [where] Social Security will give you a cane automatically when you turn 55.
MM: Because eventually you’re going to need it. Quite an attribution. Cultural editors [are] saying to you, “You’re going to need this. You will need it.”
Look at people who walk with canes, and you’ll see some that don’t really need it. They’re walking fine and they’re using the cane without any function because they were told that they need the cane.
What do you do if you have to use a cane? Don’t use it until you need it. Hold it, walk, and if you need it, you use it. What happens? You begin to change the attributions and you begin to change—the biology will follow the attributions of the culture.
TS: One thing that I’m reflecting on as you’re talking is I’m thinking of my own elderly mom. I’m thinking about her comments about the aging process. She’s thoroughly convinced that her suffering is part of the aging process. I’m just curious: how do you think one could talk to someone else? We’re talking about how I’m going to become—or whoever’s listening is going to become—a healthy centenarian if they question these beliefs. But how do you talk to somebody who’s deeply attached to believing in the aging process?
MM: Great question. The challenging questions are really good.
First: by you modeling that behavior to let her know that it’s not that way. And second, experientially, get her to talk. Stories are really powerful in changing beliefs. Ask her, “Who was the healthiest person in your family?” She’ll say, “Uncle Whatever.” “And who lived the longest? And who was the healthiest? What were they like?”
What you’re doing is you’re giving her information—
TS: OK, what if there are no good examples?
MM: You keep going. There are some. There’s always somebody.
TS: Someone you knew . . .
MM: Yes. Somebody you knew. That’s the key. You don’t stop there. [In psychology,] we call it “testing the limits.” You go beyond.
I’ll give you an example. A patient who had been sexually abused by her father for years—I mean, she couldn’t find anything. While little girls were going home to see what they’re going to do and play, she was wondering how she could avoid her dad because he was going to abuse her. Couldn’t find anything.
So, as we keep working on it—not intellectually, under relaxation. One day, it was snowing and her next-door neighbor—a little elderly lady—said, “Come here.” And she gave her some chocolate and cookies. That’s all she needed to break away from that conceptual view of the world—that nothing good can happen to you. After she did that, a few weeks later she left home at 15 and went out on her own.
So, we need somebody to validate what we want to believe. Then, we need to give evidence to what we want to believe. Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking. It doesn’t work.
TS: Yes. So, we can—in our own lives, too—find models of this type of growing older—if you will—without buying into the aging process. And then really pay attention to those models.
MM: Yes, pay attention. Because if I said to, “Well just think on it. It’s good for you,” it doesn’t work. That would be deceiving. There’s a lot of evidence out there that you can live and see—and that’s what I’ve done with centenarians. “How does this person do it?”
And then, as you start talking to them, you see how they do it. Another thing they say is, “Hanging out with older people is not good. All they talk about is getting sick and getting old. I hang out with young people only.” They have another interesting way of saying, “Look at that old guy walking.” That old guy could be 30 years younger. [Laughs]
So, there are perceptions that they are not old. But they live it. They don’t just say, “I’m not old.” They live not being old, which I think is the key.
TS: So, we’re talking about this first principle for healthy centenarians, and it has to do with their relationship to time and the aging process. One of the quotes from the book is, “We can shift our mindset from passing time to engaging space.”
TS: I thought that was very intriguing. Tell us what you mean by that.
MM: That does reverse the process, I think. The passing of time has a continuum of accumulation. If you think that the accumulation is bad, you’ll accumulate the bad.
But actually being in the space—living the space—doesn’t have a time component in it. You’re in a space—in kind of an ageless space. Your conceptual brain will say, “I’m not passing time. I am occupying space.” You take away the attribution that, “OK. Twenty years now.” Another 20 years have gone by. I’ve been in a space for—time-space, you take time off and you leave space.
That may seem very subtle. That may seem that it really doesn’t have a lot of substance. But it does in the way that you conceptualize things.
So, I’m occupying space. I’m not accumulating time. What happens qualitatively as you’re occupying space and you don’t worry about the accumulating time? You do things in the occupation of the space independent of the age, and then you indirectly break away from the portal of middle age and, “I’m getting older,” and, “I can’t go to college and finish my degree.” Those kinds of things. Because of space. It’s not on time.
TS: Now, one of the things that I’ve noticed that people seem to kind of get tripped up on is this idea of average lifespan. You know—using a lifespan calculator and saying, “According to the average lifespan of a woman or a man in the United States, I have this many days left,” or something. Do you just recommend avoiding that way of thinking altogether? Do I create 100 as my new projected lifespan? Or [am I] just not even thinking that way?
MM: No, I think that’s predatory, bad science—because it’s an average. Those actuarial—never look at that, because it’s bad science. It’s based on the average. There’s no such thing as an average person. That person comes from an average—a statistical model of average.
So, if you buy that, you’re being told if you live for this, you’re going to live this. That’s an average. And yet, they’re giving it to you as if it’s the fundamental essence of who you are.
What I would do is: if you’re in that space rather than time, you don’t worry about whether you’re 100 or 20. That’s what the space does. It takes you out of the accumulation of time. Then you’re free. “How long are you going to live?” “I don’t know.” “What’s middle age?” “You let me know when I die.” You don’t get into that at all.
That’s what I learned from them: they live a space. They don’t live a time.
TS: OK. The second principle that you talk about for “centenarian mindfulness”—healthy centenarian mindfulness—is that, “The present moment is never too late to make commitments.” Tell me what you mean by that.
MM: Again, if you go back to the space and you’re 90—and I talked to a 90-year-old. He wanted to learn German. The present is never too late to make a commitment.
The culture will say, “Ninety? Your brain doesn’t work that well anymore. Why don’t you just think about relaxing and don’t worry about it?” Actually, what the language acquisition will do is it will speed up the health of the brain.
So, the present is never too late to make commitments. If you live in time and space, there’s going to be a time when the present is too late. But if you live in space—I know you’re living in time and space, but if you live in space consciousness, then it doesn’t matter.
In fact, it’s great if you want to—and there’s some evidence that shows that if you go back to college at 70, you’ll do better than somebody in their 20s. [This is] because you go back to college by choice, not because Daddy and Mommy want you to go. You don’t know what you want, and you want to play. At 70, you’re there and you want to come up with some really good grades, and you study.
What does that say about the science of deterioration? Totally flip-flops.
TS: So, I could be 80, 90 and I could plan a trip around the world in a couple years—or something like that? No problem.
MM: Yes, exactly. You got to be careful, because you only have 60 years to live—so make good plans. [Laughs.]
TS: OK. So, the third essential belief for healthy centenarian consciousness is that, “Illnesses are learned. The causes of health are inherited.”
OK—this is a little hard for me to understand. So, help me understand it. “Illnesses are learned. The causes of health are inherited.”
MM: OK. About three percent of illnesses are genetic mistakes. That’s it. That’s how it happens. The rest is learned in the sense that you don’t create the illness by consciously saying you’re going to get sick. What you do with your world, how you live your world, and the environment that you live—the food that you live—that’s how you teach an illness.
Now, why is it the causes of health? Because we, as modern homo sapiens, [have] been around for a hundred thousand years. A hundred thousand years of evidence and experience in maintaining our health.
In fact, there is some work that looks at if you’re 90 [and] healthy and you’re 60 [but] not so healthy, your probability of staying healthy at 90 is higher than 60—because you have more experience with being healthy. Your body has more experience with being healthy.
So, how do you learn an illness? Let’s say—and I’m going to oversimplify, so I don’t want to—
TS: That’s good. That’ll work for me.
MM: I don’t want to say that it’s so easy, because some physicians will say, “Oh, this is charlatanism.” No, this is science. This is good science.
You are in a family that has a history of cancer. You already have that predisposition in your head and genetically. That history of cancer has a personality that goes along with it. Caretakers; afraid of risking and upsetting other people; living in a world of fear; not really trusting their abilities that they have to come out of the pale. All of that.
What does that do? That teaches the immune system to be in a helpless mode. You do that for many years [and] you teach your immune system that pre-cancer cells [are] free-range. So, your probability of developing that cancer is much higher than somebody who doesn’t buy into that and begins to look at, “Uncle Joe didn’t die of cancer. He was 90 and he died in his sleep. What did he do? How did he live?” You begin to look at the variables that have to do with either triggering the propensity or not triggering the propensity.
So, you’re learning things—or you’re teaching your body things—that may not be in your body’s best interests. I can give you more examples, but basically—and you never blame yourself when you have an illness. It happened. But what you can do—with the help of professionals who do good science—let me give you an example.
When somebody is told that they have this illness, they say, “Well, based on the prognosis, you have two years left to live. So, get your things in order.” That’s a sentencing. What is the good science behind that? That’s a normal curve. That normal curve is saying that, in that illness, you have two years on the average. On [one] side of the curve, you have six weeks. But on the other side of the curve, you have 10 years.
So, what does a responsible professional do? “This is the average. But what we’re going to do is we’re going to look at the other side of the curve [where] people with your illness have lived 10 years. Let’s find out, and let’s learn from these people. I’m going to help you, and I’m going to teach you ways to live like the outliers.” Responsible science, but it’s not a sentencing. It’s giving hope. When you kill the hope, you kill the person.
TS: OK. So, illnesses are learned. I think that you’ve explained that some. But, “The causes of health are inherited.” Help me understand that part.
MM: Well, because the immune system is constantly learning—like, for example, you have a particular bacteria or virus. Not only does it fight it, but it learns to fight it better next time. You pass that on in an epigenetic way.
In fact, we have some immunological cells that our ancestors didn’t have. The natural killer cells that are more primitive were there, but the T-cells were not there. So, what’s happening is that we’re developing a more complex system of protecting ourselves and living out the causes of health. Rather than the immune system being a protector of the immune system—as I see it, it confirms the reality and the consciousness that you live. So, as homo sapiens in the twenty-first century, we have better immunology than people in 2000 BC.
TS: So, help me understand how to translate this third belief that you found centenarians have in common into how someone who wants to be a healthy centenarian would view their potential illness that they might have inherited from their family. How would they view their health? How would they view having a health challenge in their 70s or 80s?
MM: Well, the same model of evidence—it has to be evidence-based. Who in my family didn’t have this illness, and how were they different? Number one.
Number two: What are the causes of health? OK. We have causes of health. What are the causes of health that I learned from centenarians? Knowing how to forgive. Knowing how to set benign limits. Knowing to value yourself—that “healthy narcissism” that George Solomon coined. Learning that, as you grow older, you can be more excited about yourself and other people. Accepting that your brain becomes more complex rather than deteriorating [more].
All of those things set you up into an evidence-based model that says to you, “OK, I’m going to look for evidence on that. I’m going to look into the outliers in your illness that have outlived the average that your sentence was.”
Those are practical tools. But you need culture editors that support that. If you have a doctor that says to you, “No, no. That’s nonsense. That’s how it is. You’re going to die,” find somebody else. Find another doctor that’s going to say, “Hey, I’m a scientist.”
A doctor that says that—or any profession that says that—is not a scientist. [They’re] a technician. Technicians believe what they can measure. Scientists are open to questions. “If you can prove to me that this works, great! Let’s do it.” That’s the kind of physician that you want—the kind of healthcare person that you want—because they’ll support your innovations and your studies, rather than killing it and giving you a nocebo effect. “I pronounce you ’[No] hope.’ You have no hope.” It kills you.
TS: Yes. Now, in the first part of our conversation on The MindBody Code, you talked about how—for some people—they’d rather die than learn to set limits. You brought this up again here in the context of our conversation about healthy centenarians.
I’m reflecting on that idea. “Wow! Setting limits.” This is an actual, huge human challenge—and one that I’m going to have to get good at in order to be strong and healthy. So, talk to me about why this is so hard for people and how you can help us set limits.
MM: Well, part of it now—now that you know the idea and the theory—the collectivism doesn’t allow you to set personal limits very well because you’re working for the collective good. Second, when we teach assertiveness, we only teach the first part of assertiveness—which is, “set limits.” The second part is, “I am going to set limits and I am going to give you permission to not like it.”
TS: Ah ha!
MM: Because if you don’t do that, you acquiesce and you go back. “I don’t like it.” “OK, I’ll give you permission to not like it.” That’s real important. And then you work—each one of them has their own dynamics.
TS: So, I have to tolerate the discomfort of you not liking me setting these limits.
MM: Yes. And where does it come? And is there a wound? Is there an archetypal wound?
If I say, “No Tami, I really can’t do this,” and you get upset, and I tell you, “OK, you know, you can get upset.” I have to look at what it is that I’m afraid of that I have to deal with so that I don’t make you somebody that doesn’t like me. You want people to respect you rather than like you. “Respect you” not in a fear way, but in an honorable way.
So, I’d rather be respected than liked, because to be liked is to have to buy into the manipulation that comes with the liking. You’re a little slave of being liked.
TS: Yes, OK. Now, the fourth commitment for healthy centenarian consciousness—and you briefly touched on this—[is] forgiveness. You write, “Forgiveness is a liberating act of self-love.” You have a whole chapter, actually, in the book. The chapter is called “Forgiveness as Liberation from Self-Entrapment.”
MM: You see how it’s an owning. You have to own it.
Yes, you’re right. I’ve dedicated a whole chapter because it’s such a complex and misunderstood concept, forgiveness. If you think of it—let’s say our psychological space or bioinformational space—we bring the predator in there. We’re the director of the play, and we give them a place in that play. So, the change doesn’t occur out there. The change has to occur with the director of the play. You have to re-contextualize.
And what have we done? We have given that person permission to disempower us. They disempowered us. What do you work on? Not on forgiving the person, but on re-empowering yourself in that psychological space with that other person. What would happen if that person is dead? How can you forgive somebody who’s dead? How can you work it through? How can you confront somebody who raped you and you say, “I forgive you,” and he says, “Well, next time I see you, I’m going to rape you again.”
In fact, I was doing a workshop once. This participant was saying, “Oh, I can forgive anyone.” “OK, let’s do this. Somebody raped you, and you can forgive that person. You say, ’Well, I’m Christ-like or Buddha-like. I’m going to let you go.’ Let’s play it out.” And I play the rapist. I said, “You know what? I’m glad you forgave me. Doesn’t matter. But next time I see you, I’m going to rape you again worse than the first time I raped you. What do you feel?” And this person said, “I feel a lot of anger.”
So, you see how you can’t forgive that way. You have to forgive within your space—but not the predator. The predator has nothing to do with it. The predator is non-essential.
Your re-empowerment—that’s what I talk about in the chapter on the “alpha event” and the “omega event” that you go through. You first have to identify what wound that person created. How do you heal that wound?
And then—and this is really important, because there [are] some therapies that tell you, “You can thank the predator, because they’ve taught you to be tough.” That’s nonsense. The predator continues to be a predator.
What you do is you learn to value what you learned from what you did. For example, if the predator hurt you in a way that was shameful, what honor did you learn—not from that, but in general? Like, what kind of honor did you learn that you can [actually] apply to the wound? You don’t even have to go to the wound [and] honor the wound. It’s a bioinformational consciousness of honor that you own up. It automatically empowers you, and the predator is secondary.
TS: OK. So, I want to unpack this a little bit.
MM: It’s complex.
TS: Yes. So, you talked about there being an “alpha” and “omega event” as part of how you teach the forgiveness process. So, tell me about the alpha and omega [events.]
MM: When you go through the process of the liberation, the alpha is the recognition that you have lived your healing field—the recognition. You recognize that although you were shamed, you have lived honorable moments in your life. So, all of you wasn’t disempowered. You were only disempowered in a certain part.
So, as you do that—because biocognition is all indirect. The MindBody Code is all indirect. Like a scent cone—”What’s the color of the wind?” You know—that kind of thing.
So, as you realize that you are still empowered—even though you were disempowered in a particular area—you recognize that. That’s the first step of liberation.
TS: OK—so, let’s take a concrete example. If you would—if you’d be willing to take something from your own life, I think that would be interesting.
TS: And then tell me what the alpha—and then we’ll go into the omega event—[was] in the forgiveness process in your own experience.
MM: OK. Let’s say—we talked about earlier about the abandonment. I felt abandonment from my dad.
I was disempowered, because the disempowerment is that you’re not worthy of being committed to. So, the alpha event was the realization—the mind-body realization—that I had made commitments in my life. I did this and I did that. I went to college. What it does is it re-contextualizes your concept that you can’t commit, because you’re not worthy of being committed. That’s the alpha event—the recognition that you are still empowered, although you gave up your power in a certain area.
That’s the first step. Alpha. It sets you up for the empowerment.
The second, the omega event, is when you feel gratitude—personal gratitude—for what you’ve done in that empowerment. And gratitude is an emotion that is very exalted, very evolved. Gratitude allows you to receive whatever you’re doing. Learning, whatever. If you want to learn something well, give yourself 30 seconds of gratitude and you’ll see that the brain opens up. It’s The MindBody Code for openness and for assimilation.
So, the omega event liberates you because, one, it empowers you. And the other one says, “Not only am I empowered, but I’m worthy of being empowered.”
TS: So, just to underscore, you’re not grateful that this thing happened.
TS: You’re grateful for your strength, nobility, [and] capacity for healing. That’s what you’re grateful for.
MM: Yes. Your recognition of what you did—gratitude to you. And you notice that I didn’t mention the predator or I didn’t mention the person who hurt [me.] It has nothing to do with my dad.
Then your father—or whoever it is—becomes what the Buddhists call “benign indifference.” Like watching a wall. Neither positive nor negative.
Now, the anticipated question is—because forgiving requires reconciliation or not. You don’t want to reconcile with a rapist, but you might want to reconcile with your mother, for example. Because you say, “I can deal with my mother. Now that I’ve liberated myself, I can deal with her.” If you reconcile, you have to reconcile with new limits. You don’t allow yourself to be toxified.
So, what you do is you ask yourself—if, let’s say it was abandonment—”How can I commit myself with benign boundaries?” Which means that if I used to see her seven days a week, I see her once a week for two hours. And in those two hours, it’s quality time.
But what happens with toxic people is that they can’t handle love for a long period of time. After two hours, she’ll say, “Tami, you don’t look so good.” That’s the time when they’re saying, “I can’t handle any more joy. Stop.” You don’t stop. You keep going. You start getting angry, and you buy into what they want. They want you to get angry so that you’ll leave them alone. At that time, “Yes, I feel pretty good, but Mom, got to go. I love you; I got to get going.” If you don’t, you buy into the toxicity. You enter toxicity.
TS: Now, Mario, it’s interesting. You used this example of a rapist, which is a pretty intense example for us to be talking about in terms of the biocognitive forgiveness process. What I notice when I imagine that kind of thing [is that] I have incredible anger.
So, I would be able to follow your process, I think, and acknowledge my own strength and capacity for healing—and feel grateful for that. But I still am wildly angry.
MM: Well, that’s also a very good question. What happens, though, is you’re angry for the act. That person continues to be worthless. But part of the anger is augmented by your disempowerment. So, as you empower yourself—as you’re liberated—that person loses the power that they had over you and it’s easier for you to let go of the anger.
You can continue to be angry, but it won’t hurt you anymore because it’s not an overwhelming anger connected with disempowerment. What you’ll find—and the experience that I’ve had with many, many people that I’ve worked with who [have been] raped—is that they’re no longer that important anymore.
I’ll give you a concrete example. It wasn’t a rape, but it was this centenarian had been in a concentration camp—in Auschwitz. I asked him, “Have you forgiven those people?” He said, “Well, let me tell you what I did. What I remember most is that there was a kid who was in the army—the Nazi army. He would come in and he would sneak up some food for me. He was my age. He was 18, like me. That’s what I remember the most. This kid saved my life. I made a friend in the concentration camp.”
I asked him, “What about the people that were hurting you?” “Those people were SOBs. They continue to be that. But do you think I’m going to waste my time with putting energy into those people?”
So, basically what he was doing indirectly was that he re-empowered himself with an act of kindness. [Then] he saw gratitude, and the gratitude allowed him to then take the intensity away from those people. They’re not worthy of you wasting time with those people. [But it] is worthy to think of that person that actually helped you.
Then, when I talked to him about the process, he said, “Ah, that’s too scientific for me. I just did it.” But he had done it. He had done the process in a very subjective way.
What you find is that as you do that, the intensity of the anger is manageable. Gradually, you’ll come to the understanding that you don’t need it anymore. The anger comes because you’re still holding onto the disempowerment that that person created for you. Once you’re empowered—it’s like after you eat, you’re not that hungry anymore. Or if you have ice cream every day, you’re not going to want to have ice cream if you have too much. That kind of mindset.
TS: It seems to me that one of the themes that actually runs through all of your work—and through this conversation that we’ve been having here—is empowerment. If I had to sum it all up. And I’m curious what you think about that.
MM: On target. Empowerment.
Let’s say the immune system works bipolarly. Empowered or disempowered. You can teach a rat disempowerment. You can teach physiological helplessness. You can put them in a paradigm where—it’s called a “non-escape paradigm.” You can put them in a paradigm where they get shocked and shocked and shocked. They have no escape. You inject them with cancer cells [and] they grow. You empower them—[and] “empowerment” means, very clearly, access to the resources to overcome a challenge. That’s empowerment.
You teach a rat to press a lever or press a button, [and] they’re no longer helpless. You inject them with cancer cells [and] nothing happens, because the immune system goes back to empowerment and it takes care of the pre-cancer cells.
So yes, empowerment is really the key. If I were to summarize, I would say [that] for longevity, empowerment, healthy limit-setting, and forgiveness. But forgiveness in the way that I talk about it, not intellectually.
TS: Now, when you first started talking about forgiveness, you described our role in the forgiveness process is realizing that we’re the “director of the play.” I just wanted to explore that for a moment. We didn’t write the play. The writer is different than the director.
MM: Yes. But we’re the writer and the director.
TS: We’re both.
MM: Yes. We’re both. And I’ll give you an example: Twins who have been abused. One would see it as betrayal, and the other one is abandonment. So, it’s very subjective—what you put into that play. Not only are you the writer, but you’re also the director.
What happens is that we forget that we’re the writer. Certainly, we forget that we’re the director. We felt that the play was written for us and we disown that we wrote it—
TS: It’s hard for me to get into the biocognitive experience of forgiveness, because I keep thinking, “I wrote that? Really?”
MM: What you wrote is the interpretation of what happened.
MM: You wrote the interpretation, because that’s the best that you could do. Somebody hurt you, and you don’t know all these processes. You are disempowered, and when you’re disempowered, you think that person took something away from you. They didn’t take anything away from you; you contextualized it that way. When you contextualize it that way, the good news is that you can re-contextualize—but not intellectually.
So, you’re the writer—with the help of the other person, of course. Let’s say you’re the co-author of the play and the director of the play—would be an even better way to put it.
I’m glad you brought that up, because that helps me understand it better.
TS: Well, it sounds like—and correct me if I’m wrong—you don’t ever think that somebody needs to stay in any type of interpretation that keeps them a victim of anything.
MM: Well, you do. I’m glad you said that. You have to feel sorry for yourself sometimes. You have to feel like a victim sometimes.
But once you get out of that—if you don’t get out of that, then you go into victimhood. Victimhood is not good for your health.
You’re a victim. You were abused. Someone took advantage of you. You’re a victim. You were victimized. But if you go into victimhood, and you use that to manipulate the world and get what you want out of your weakness, then that’s not good.
TS: So, how do you define “victimhood” versus just recognizing that I was a victim of this situation?
MM: You mourn when it happens. But if it’s 10 years later, it’s too late. It’s gone. You can mourn it—say, “I never mourned what happened to me. I’m going to feel really sorry for myself. I’m going to feel very weak. I’m going to feel used. I’m going to feel all that pity. Good. I’m going to feel that.”
All right. After I feel that—and I promise you, if you do it for 10 minutes, it’s more than enough. Once you pay attention to it, it’s like somebody knocking at the door and you let them in, and they don’t knock anymore. Once you do that, it’s OK. “Now, I was victimized. But I’m not going to use that victimization or creating a victim to manipulate the world. How have I manipulated the world all this time? How have I done that?”
I remember that—for a while—I played with the ethnicity. And by the way, “Hispanic” is not a race. It’s an ethnicity. But I would say, “Oh, because I’m Spanish, I didn’t get that.” When I caught myself with that, I went, “What’s this? What is this ethnicity thing?” The moment that I realized that, not only was I able to get things, but people no longer saw me as an “ethnic,” because you create that co-authoring with other people.
It’s like people who say, “Hi, my name is Such-and-Such, and I was raped when I was six.” You’re saying, “Hey, don’t bother me because I was abused.”
Or, “I’m Hispanic, so give me a break.” No good. In fact, I go even further than that and I say to people who are given senior discounts not to take them. The money they save will [have to be spent] with people like me. Just don’t take it.
And if you need it, you need it. But don’t buy into [the notion that] because time has passed—getting back to time and space—”I deserve something.” Because you’re paying the price. It’s not without an agenda. You’re paying the price because they’re saying, “You’re too weak.” Or, “You’re not able to earn your own money, so we’re going to give you a handout.” That’s not good. That’s not healthy.
Centenarians never take those advantages. When they say, “We have a senior citizens’ . . .” [they reply,] “No. Give it to the senior citizens.”
TS: What if I just want to save the money?
MM: You can, but be aware and be careful that there’s an agenda. There’s a bioinformational field. And if you want it—for example—take it and give it to somebody else. But don’t buy it, because you buy the portal. You see, when you buy the portal, it’s too powerful. The culture is more powerful than we are because people that change your diapers have a lot more power than anybody else.
So, you have to learn strength before you can do those things, I think.
TS: Mario, our program is called Insights at the Edge. What I would be curious to know—in terms of your learning edge or growth edge, if you will—is in terms of the subtitle of your book—How to Change the Beliefs That Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success—would you say that there’s a belief that you’re still currently working on that you could see perhaps has been limiting your health, longevity, and success? Like, “This is my edge. This is my belief that I’m still fully liberating myself from.”
MM: Well, as I work with this, I’m constantly challenging myself. Somebody will say, “Well, this isn’t going to work,” or, “You’re too old,” or whatever. I have to always embody it.
So, what I’m saying is that you’re never perfect. You don’t want to be perfect. You want to approximate perfection. “Perfect” is very boring.
So, I never know everything. I’m constantly approximating. It’s just that it hurts me less and less each time. It allows me to be more and more productive each time.
It’s not like I’m not hurt when somebody says, “You can’t do this.” It bothers me. But I have the tools now to get out of it quickly. I spent a lot of time [on this].
It’s a challenge because the brain was made to be incomplete—to constantly be challenged. You don’t want to get to perfection. It doesn’t exist. The brain will stop functioning if you do that.
In here, for example, the challenge is: how could I be crystal clear with Tami? How could I learn to explain it even more clearly? And how could I make it practical for people? Each time I do it, it’s a challenge.
So, your questions make it easier for me to learn.
TS: All right. I want to ask you one more question before we close, Mario, because I realize in the conversation about forgiveness [that] one of the pieces that I’m not clear about is how a lack of forgiveness actually affects my health. I’ve heard this a lot. I’ve heard that you can even see people who have had incredible healings when forgiveness has taken place. So, how does a lack of forgiveness affect my health?
MM: That’s a great question. What happens when you are in a non-forgiving mode? Not only are you carrying some anger with you—and it’s in the background.
TS: I noticed that, yes, as we were talking.
MM: But you’re also vigilant to not get hurt that way again. So, two things are happening: as you’re in what I call the “hyper alarm” [or] “hyper-vigilant” [state], you need biology to keep you hyper-vigilant. You need a little bit more cortisol. You need a little bit more adrenaline. And what does that do to the body?
Cortisol’s great. Adrenaline’s great—but to process it and let it go. What if you keep it at a chronic level? That’s when people can be hurt health-wise.
When you let go of that, the energy that went into creating the hyper-vigilance, all the cortisol, all the norepinephrine, and all the things you’re secreting [are] no longer needed. It’ll be contextual. You’ll only need it when you get righteously angry. Righteous anger is good for you. Righteous anger is [for the] protection of innocence—your own and somebody else’s. Good for the immune system. When it’s chronic or out of context, not good for the immune system.
TS: In the beginning of our conversation—the very first question I asked you, Mario, was how we’re expanding the conversation with your work in biocognition to not just be about mind-body, but to be about mind-body-culture. We have to understand this cultural element. In your work, I was exposed to words I’d never heard of before. “Cultural neuroscience” and “cultural psychoneuroimmunology.” These are new fields.
My question is: how is it that, for so long, the culture wasn’t part of conversations about mind-body health? How can we have been exploring these issues? Maybe it’s my own ignorance, but how is it that the culture was left out of these conversations?
MM: No, no—you’re right. It was. When I began to look into it, I asked myself, “How is this possible? Let me look up ‘biocultural.’ Oh, let me Google . . .” Martinez, Martinez, Martinez. There was nothing.
What was going on was that disciplines weren’t talking to each other. Psychoimmunology was not talking to anthropology. Neuroscience was not talking to cultural psychology.
So, what I tried to do was to create a meta-paradigm that says, “OK. If psychoimmunology tells you that the mind and body are connected because of the processes that we know, then how does culture affect that? How does a culture conceptualize illness, aesthetics, and those kinds of things? How does the brain learn in a culture?” Well, cultural neuroscience.
My proposal for psychoneuroimmunology is cultural psychoneuroimmunology. My mentor was George Solomon, who was one of the pioneers in psychoneuroimmunology. He called it psychoimmunology at first, and of course they almost laughed him out of UCLA. Ten years later, Bob Ader came on and he said, “Not only is it psychology and the immune system, but the nervous system.” So, they called it psychoneuroimmunology. It went on from there. I think that the next step is that it needs to become culture psychoneuroimmunology.
But it really is because disciplines weren’t talking to each other. The information was all there, and what you do is you put it all together.
TS: Well, I’m deeply appreciative of your work. As I said in the beginning, I think you’re a wildly original thinker. You’re bringing the whole field of exploration of mind-body health a big step forward into mind-body-culture understanding.
MM: Thank you for the opportunity and for the vehicle that you have created for people like myself who are trying to convey something.
TS: Mario Martinez, the author of a new book, The MindBody Code: How to Change the Beliefs That Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success. Thanks, Mario. Great to be with you.
MM: Thank you. A pleasure.