Tag Archives: 911

“The Only American Off the Planet”: Remembering 9/11

Today marks the tragic anniversary of the terrorist attacks that saw the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City, the damage of the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. and the loss of four planes filled with American civilians. Even 14 years later, we grieve the unnecessary loss of so many.

In memory, Nasa shared this image taken by a satellite over the city shortly after the event:

911

 

At the same time, American astronaut Frank Culbertson was watching from the International Space Station. A letter he penned that day said,

“It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming. I know that we are on the threshold (or beyond) of a terrible shift in the history of the world. Many things will never be the same again after September 11, 2001.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness

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The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.

 

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

A New Yorker’s Heart-wrenching Poem for September 11

Flower at September 11 MemorialOn 9/11/11, after news of the attacks surfaced, Mike Rosen didn’t know if his father would be coming home that day. In his child’s mind, all he knew was: he lived in New York; his dad worked in New York; thousands had been killed in a terrorist attack; his dad could be one of them.

Thankfully, he wasn’t. But thousands of other little boys and girls would not be as lucky. In this heart-wrenching slam poem, Rosen discusses his impressions of that day as a young boy, the collective pain that followed, and the remarkable character of New York City so highlighted in the aftermath of the attacks. This was not about “our god” or “their god,” he says, because in times like this we are all one, and the work to heal is collectively ours.

“That day no one in New York grabbed rifles, we grabbed bandanas and shovels and we started digging because our lives were underneath that rubble.”

Check it out:

Today is a solemn day for many. For those of us who are old enough to remember the events, we think back on where we were, what we were doing, how we felt when the news reached our awareness. But in addition to the pain, we may also feel a deep gratitude and compassion for the collective spirit that rose up, in New York and around the country, to affect the healing so desperately needed.

We bless the lives that were lost, those who survived, and all touched by September 11 and its aftereffects. We invite you to share your stories below.

Mos Def Undergoes Force Feeding in Protest of Guantanamo Prisoners’ Treatment

Some may criticize his actions as a publicity stunt, others may question his sanity. Still others may question the moral rightness of voluntarily undergoing what others experience as torture. Either way, actor and musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) certainly made a bold move by teaming up with human rights group Reprieve to protest the use of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

In a video released by the organization as part of a larger campaign for human rights at Guantanamo Bay, the musician is seen strapped to a chair and fed using the nose-to-stomach procedure employed at the detention center. Warning: This video is somewhat disturbing and may be difficult to watch.

Over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been engaged in a hunger strike for much of this year, protesting the lack of respect shown toward them and their Qurans. Despite their legitimate concerns – especially considering that 86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release – the Obama administration condones force feeding as a measure against the strike.

These are men who, for the most part, had zero involvement in Al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombings, have spent the last 11 years in a detention facility where they have been subjected to torture, at worst, and extreme alienation, at best, and even after being cleared for release see no end in sight to their misery.

Their situation may be extraordinary, but their engagement in hunger strike as a form of rebellion is not unprecedented. Most famous among hunger strikes in unquestionably Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the British rule of India. But a case that holds even greater relevance in regards to Guantanamo is that of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Protesting their lack of rights and voting privileges, many women were imprisoned, and many of these brave souls engaged in hunger strike to draw further attention and sympathy to their cause. The nose-to-stomach force feeding that ensued drew criticism across the board, and it seems we are witnessing a similar concern for human rights today.

The comparison may not be entirely fair or accurate, granted. But if public opinion responded negatively to a method of prisoner treatment back in the 1910s, then we in 2013 clearly haven’t learned our lesson. A hunger strike is a dramatic way for prisoners to protest conditions at Guantanamo Bay – and they wouldn’t take such bold action for nothing.

What are your thoughts on this controversial issue? Let us know in the comments section below!

Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 2)

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Click here to read part 1. 

By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

Psychological survival meant relying on the time-honored mechanism of the immigrant community. Ours was peculiarly select. It consisted of poor Indian doctors living in the largely black neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain in Boston, where rows of cheap apartments served as the temporary shtetl (the term “Indian diaspora” came into being, although this appropriation isn’t something to be proud of – Indian emigration is voluntary, not forced, and unlike the Jews, we’ve always had a homeland).

It took a decade or so for the shtetl to move to the suburbs. Jamaica Plain was all about curry, beat-up VW beetles, and lonely wives whose husbands slept at the hospital. With prosperity came backyard barbecues, Scotch whiskey, and husbands bragging about their first Cadillac. Willed amnesia became fun. We were fortunate. Our choice to assimilate wasn’t made under hostile scrutiny, unlike the fate of today’s poor Mexican-Americans or religiously conservative Muslims.

A combination of anxiety and ambition drove the founders of the major Hollywood studios. Five studios were founded by Polish Jews born within the Czar’s pale of settlement. These early moguls did everything they could to disguise their origins – sometimes their own children weren’t told – but familiar scenes in Hollywood movies were linked to ancestral memories: the bad guys riding into a Western town at night to burn it to the ground echoed mounted Cossacks burning down Jewish villages during a pogrom.

The darkest suspicion that can be aimed at immigrants is doubt over their desire to become “us,” because remaining “them” is always a threat. After 9/11, many observers were astonished that the band of terrorists who crashed the planes weren’t seduced by their stay in America. Embedded for months in Florida, Las Vegas, and elsewhere, the terrorists partook of American luxuries, but they hadn’t been seduced. Their hatred only deepened. Now there seems to be a pervasive feeling that other immigrants might follow the same path.

Sikhs wearing their traditional turbans look like Muslims to many Americans and suffered for it in the aftermath of 9/11. A harsher spotlight shines on immigrant Muslims who want to retain not just their clothing but their own private schools, the madrassas where strong emphasis is placed on the Koran. In essence their desire to retain a strong religious identity and aloofness from American culture is the same as that of ultra-orthodox Jewish groups and Hasids. The political difference, however, couldn’t be greater. (The Muslim connection to the two Chechen brothers behind the Boston Marathon bombings will probably add to the general suspicion, even if overt Islamophobia remains confined to the harsher corners of the blogosphere.) Historically a stigma was attached by turns to the Irish, Italians, and poor Russian Jews as their waves of settlement arrived. “Anarchists” and “Reds” were secretly infiltrating and subverting American society a hundred years ago when imaginations were as inflamed as they are against Muslims today.

Only now a tipping point has been reached, the so-called demographic time bomb.  The influx of illegal immigrants, combined with higher birth rates compared to the white population and a preponderance of young people, has skewed immigrants as never before. As of 2010, the Census Bureau reports that 12.9% of the population is foreign born. The last Presidential election exhibited how strongly this growing cohort has skewed toward the Democratic Party, creating anxiety and soul-searching among the Republicans. Young voters tend to become imprinted with the political party they first vote for. Among the so-called millennial generation, the skew to the Democrats is strong in general but overwhelming when it comes to Asian-Americans, for example.

The children of the foreign-born are succeeding in their aspirations. According to a 2013 Pew Research study that profiled the 20 million children of immigrants who have now reached adulthood, they are outpacing their parents in college degrees, household income, and home ownership. The generation of Indians that we represent quickly shed the anxiety of assimilation – at least we thought so – but this new generation’s anxiety is about being too successful at the game. Some universities are having to confront suspicions about an Asian quota (heatedly discussed in a recent Times discussion). Such a quota probably doesn’t exist. The most prestigious colleges have embraced an influx of Asian students. CalTech is typical, reporting that their freshman class in 2008 – last summer’s graduates – was 40% Asian, compared with a total U.S population that is only 4% Asian. The number has only increased, so that the brilliant home-schooled Asian kid has even become a stereotype.

Are “they” taking over, or will this new slice of “us” be the most useful immigrants ever, taking care of an aging population, doing the menial jobs that no one else wants, competing in technology with China, lowering the age of our workforce compared with Europe, Russia, and Japan, and in the end swinging national politics leftward in the direction of social justice? We can only surmise. But it was poignant to attend a recent charity event where young Indian-Americans were asked to help the poor in India. They gave lavishly, with tears in their eyes, and more than one said, “I never had any idea that things were like that over there.” Our amnesia has become theirs, except that they have nothing to forget.

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.

www.deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

Deepak Chopra: “Immigration Is Us,” an American Story (Part 1)

Lady Liberty By Deepak Chopra and Sanjiv Chopra

When you hear the word immigrant, what conjures up in your mind? Is it illegal vs. legal immigrants, contentious debates over immigration reform, or the Arizona lawman, Joe Arpaio, who styles himself as “America’s toughest Sheriff?” Chances are that most people are not aware of the fact that nearly one of every four Americans – 70 million – is an immigrant or the child of parents who came from abroad.

Immigrants come to America for a number of reasons: To escape persecution, to get post-graduate training, to enter the work force and have a better future for themselves and their children. Immigrants have made seminal contributions in academia, business, entrepreneurship, innovation, and in groundbreaking scientific discoveries. In 1906, 30% of all U.S. Nobel laureates were foreign born. The percentage has been as high as 39% in the 1950’s.

America is an immigrant country, but the American identity isn’t an immigrant identity. These two ideas contradict each other. Many of the thorny issues involved in immigration reform get stuck because of that. One kind of immigration (arriving long ago) makes you more American than the other kind of immigration (arriving recently). There is social pressure to forget your old identity and assimilate quickly, yet even if you succeed at this, forced amnesia has its price in loneliness and anxiety over belonging to no country at all.

As first generation immigrants, we have gone through the process of willed amnesia. We were lucky to arrive in the ’70s, when the Vietnam War caused a doctor shortage. We had medical degrees in hand, and there was a community of Indian doctors in Boston that we fit into while making the transition to “real” Americans. So it’s troubling that the country seems to be more hostile and suspicious toward immigrants of every sort, including those who earn university degrees here but are not allowed to get work without returning to their home countries first.

After 9/11, and with the dramatic rise in illegal workers from Mexico, the case for immigrants feels like guilty until proven innocent. One’s heart sank when the two Boston bombers turned out to fit the stereotype of angry Muslim males who hated the country that had given them asylum. One’s heart rose when the New York Times reports on a study showing that the health costs for illegal immigrants is less than the cost of caring for a native-born person. (Of course, giving medical care to undocumented immigrants is largely a subsidized venture and a burden on the whole healthcare system – no one can deny that.)

But, then, prejudices about the undocumented as freeloaders aren’t going to change simply by airing the facts. Guilty until proven innocent holds too much sway even if you arrived legally. To be really successful at turning into an amnesiac, the best tactic is to be born the child of immigrants. Your parents will have worked so hard to disguise their foreign roots that you have a good chance of not knowing they exist.

Assimilation is ambivalent, a happy/sad, win/lose affair. It could hardly be otherwise. At the present moment, during one of America’s periodic waves of hostility toward immigrants, we are suspect outsiders. The animus of toxic nativism is doubly ironic. Those casting suspicion must first forget that they themselves came from immigrant stock, while the accused must work as hard as possible to agree with their accusers that forgetting where you came from, as fast as possible, is your only defense.

Community hospitals were anxious about staffing, and so an active outreach began – foreign doctors were made to feel desirable. Not that India wanted us to go. Deepak had to travel to Sri Lanka and Sanjiv to Hong Kong to take the necessary qualifying test to come to the U.S. since India had banned it. We were allowed to take only a few hundred dollars in currency with us. When we arrived here, the jobs existed, as promised, but the welcome was more a push/pull. American-born doctors were suspicious of anyone with foreign training. Deepak’s first appearance in print was a letter to the Boston Globe protesting a prejudice against Indian physicians that became stronger in the ’80s once Vietnam was over and the doctor shortage a thing of the past.

Stay tuned for part 2!

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Borotherhood cover1Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times Bestsellers in both fiction and non-fiction. Chopra is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream

Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP is professor of medicine and faculty dean for Continuing Education at Harvard Medical School, and author of  seven books including, Leadership by Example: The Ten Key Principles of All Great Leaders.

www.deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

How to Talk With Your Kids About The Boston Bombings

The round-the-clock media coverage of the events in Boston is understandable. Our anxious minds find something soothing about information — even if the news is scary — because we want desperately to understand what’s happening. We want to know that everything will be okay. We want to know the bad guys have been caught.

At the same time, the media’s relentless analysis can give the impression, particularly to children, that the world is a terrible and frightening place, and we are all just one-step away from harm when we walk out our front door.

For that reason, it’s important for us to highlight the positive aspects of this story as well. Not in a Pollyannaish-way that suggests everything is fine, but in a real way. It’s necessary to talk about the people who have opened their homes to others, sent food to first responders and provided an outpouring of support and kindness to those in need.

A popular post on Facebook this week is a quote from the beloved children’s television host Mr. Rogers: 

When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

My daughter was 3-1/2 when two planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. It was a devastating experience that traumatized our country. As a former New Yorker, I was deeply affected by the horrible images I saw of my hometown.

I thought long and hard about how to explain this event to my preschool-age daughter in a way that her young mind could grasp. I worried that the way I described the events would influence her view of the world.

I finally told her, “A few people did a bad thing and hit the buildings with their planes. And now thousands of people are helping to make it better.”

I hoped that explanation would ease her into the realities of life. Yes, sometimes bad things happen. Really bad. But there’s also good in the world. A lot of good.

What to tell your children about these events will differ depending on their age:

  • Young children should be shielded from violent or graphic imagery on television and the Internet. They need to know that they are safe, secure and protected by the adults around them.
  • Older children might have questions about the event and why it happened. Answer their questions and explain the details without getting overly sensational or frightening.

And keep in mind that we adults can be easily overwhelmed by the constant barrage of news, too. For me, as I follow the media’s coverage, I am reminded that terrible things happen in life. I grieve for the families and the community affected. And then I think about the courage, bravery and kindness of the people who helped. I think about the good in this story because it’s always there.

Save Your Life: What To Do In A Medical Emergency

If you or one of your family members hasn’t had a medical emergency, you are one of the lucky ones. Everyone knows someone who has had one: a broken bone, a burn, choking, a bee sting, a stroke. The list goes on and on. But for most people, the hope is that it will never happen to them. That’s why so many people don’t give it a lot of thought and aren’t prepared for a medical emergency.

If that sounds like you, here are three important questions you should be asking:

  • Would I recognize a medical emergency?
  • Would I know when to call 9-1-1?
  • What should I do after I call 9-1-1

Not knowing the answers to these three important questions is one of the main reasons people die in a medical emergency even though their death could be preventable.  Unfortunately, 40% of Americans don’t know a single symptom of a stroke even though it’s the third most common cause of death in the United States.

That’s why I, together with Shelly Glazier, have written a new book called “Save Your Life: What To Do In A Medical Emergency.” It’s a simple to read and easy to understand guide that answers the three important questions above.

Here are four important examples taken from our “Save Your Life” book to help you when you are faced with a medical emergency.

If you think there could be a medical emergency:

Should you:

  • Call your doctor?

No!  Waiting for the doctor to call back wastes valuable time.

  • Rest to see if you feel better?


No!
Waiting to see if the symptoms pass also wastes time that could save a life because the sooner you get medical care: the more likely you are to live.

  • Drive yourself to the hospital?

No! If you drive yourself to the hospital, you might pass out or stop breathing on the way.

  • Call a family member or friend for a ride to the hospital?

No!  Do not ask family or friends to drive you to the hospital (unless emergency services are not available). If you lose consciousness, your driver likely won’t be able to help you.

Here is why you should call 9-1-1 immediately whenever you think it’s an emergency:

  • When you call 9-1-1, the responding Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) will monitor you. If you stop breathing or your heart stops beating, they will give you emergency treatment on the way to the hospital.
  • They also will notify the emergency room staffs of your condition, so when you arrive they will know you need immediate treatment.
  • Calling 9-1-1 is the safest and fastest way to get medical care. Remember, car accidents are more likely to happen when family or friends are trying to rush you to the hospital.

People Often Ask…           

I’ve had many symptoms at one time or another that I worried could be an emergency. How will I know when to call 9-1-1?

The Answer Is…

Everyone knows how his or her own body normally feels. When your body starts to feel very unusual or strange, don’t try to diagnose the symptoms on your own. Call 9-1-1 immediately. For example, if you experience a sudden onset of extreme fatigue, or any other symptoms that you’ve never felt before, don’t ignore it. Call 9-1-1. It could be a heart attack.

The Center for 9-1-1 Says:  Make the right call.  If it could be life threatening or you’re not sure, don’t guess…call 9-1-1!

Earlier in this article I mentioned that only 40% of Americans know even one symptom of a stroke. Just in case you are one of them, here is what you need to remember to save someone’s life from a stroke. Remember the first letters; they spell the word FAST:

Common Symptoms of Stroke

The National Stroke Association’s “ACT FAST©” list can help you identify the symptoms of a stroke:

FACE    Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS   Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH    Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Ask them to repeat a phrase. Are the words slurred or strange?

TIME    If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important because brain cells die every second.

 

If you’d like to learn more or purchase the book go to Amazon.com (http://amzn.to/oE56BZ).