INTRODUCTION ~ Chap. 2 ~ Unlocking Our Superpowers
“ You’ve had the power all along, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself ”
~ Glinda, The Good Witch (Wizard of Oz)
Growing up, I always loved to run. From age 7 onwards, my parents let me roam the neighborhood with the group of friends who lived near my house. In our family-filled urban neighborhood called “Squirrel Hill,” we would create games and use a full square mile area as our stomping grounds.
Whether it was Capture the Flag or Cops and Robbers, I thoroughly enjoyed sprinting as fast as I could to outrun whoever was chasing me. I usually had a big grin on my face as I dodged getting tagged during these epic scenarios.In Elementary School, I put my speed to the test, and joined the Track Team. In 4th grade I trained tirelessly for the 1/2 mile race (the longest distance available.) I had a “Bowl Cut” hairstyle at the time, which bounced up and down as I moved, so my friends jokingly called me “Floppy”.
I managed to transcend the teasing, and won 1st place in the City Championship with a time of 2:51. My love for running continued all throughout middle school, where my cross-country coach nicknamed me “Lickety Split” because I regularly left the competition in the dust.
In high school, I used my running skills mostly on the soccer field, which I chose to play instead of cross-country or track. Although I didn’t get much varsity playing time, I enjoyed hanging with all my neighborhood homies, who were also on the soccer team. We’d crack jokes on the sidelines as we’d chow down on nachos from the snack bar.
In my junior year of high school, I began to have pains in my knees following the Fall soccer season. They didn’t seem to have a link to any incident, so I thought they were probably growing pains. I shrugged them off for a month, though as they worsened my parents became concerned.
We decided to visit an orthopedist. He recommended physical therapy and gave me a knee brace to address a condition called “Osgood Schlatters”, which is basically a fancy term for growing pains.
It was challenging for me physically, emotionally, and socially. By losing my capacity to run, my sense of pride went down, since it was tied up with my speed. A few months after getting the knee brace, I began to play Raquetball, which was more focused on the upper body.
My health took another turn when my wrists started to ache every time I would swing the racket. “What the hell is happening to me?” I often thought. I tried to strengthen my forearms and upper body through weight lifting to no avail. Around March of 2008, my knees and wrists became so persistently painful that I had to surrender all physical activity.
This is when I started to enter a state of depression. My friends developed new nicknames for me like “Cripple,” and some joked that I was suffering from “OMD” (Old Man’s Disease). I felt pretty much worthless. I saw several doctors about my wrists, and they couldn’t find any physical damage. They said it was probably some form of Tendonitis, and gave me a wrist brace for each arm.
In April, I can vividly remember sitting in Biology class, wearing two wrist braces and one knee brace. I was debating whether I should take them all off before walking down the hallway so I wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed in front of all the other kids at school. It looked a bit like I was suited up for Rollerblading!
My wrist pain continued to get more intense. It felt like a deep, numbing ache was coming from my joints. Speaking of joints, smoking marijuana with my friends after school was one of the only ways I could feel relaxed. I became a regular pot smoker, and took on a cynical and jaded view on life. I would get drunk almost every weekend to experience a brief hiatus from the pain. I got some semblance of pride from winning at drinking games like “beer pong.”
A big part of me was “pissed off at the world”. I felt like all my physical superpowers had disappeared, and I was left to wither away. I would often poke fun at myself and my predicament as a weird way of making peace with my “crippled” situation.
By May, the pain had gotten so intense that I became concerned that something was seriously wrong with my body. I could not write with a pencil anymore, so I simply sat in class, without doing any assignments. I slept through a large portion of my classes, because I discovered that sleep was one easy way to escape the pain.
Finally, my mom and I saw another doctor, who diagnosed me with “RND” (Reflex Neurovascular Dystrophy). This condition implies that there is no physical damage, though the nerves are still sending “pain signals” to the brain. It is commonly called a Mind-Body Disorder.
The doctor prescribed me to three weeks of intense Physical Therapy. Luckily one of the only RND Healing Programs in the nation was located a mere five minute drive from my house! In mid-May I entered the Inpatient Unit and Intensive Healing program at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh. I had a room all to myself, though I shared a unit with a variety of other young people recovering from mild to serious injuries / conditions.
There were a few other RND patients in my unit, though I connected most with two patients who’d recently had surgeries. First I met Jody, who I quickly became enamored with. She had been in a devastating car accident, and was learning how to walk after shattering her pelvis and some leg bones. She was very friendly and we would hang out in the common area.
I was doing six hours of intense physical therapy every day. The philosophy of the program was to “re-teach the damaged nerves how to interpret pain”. I was doing countless sets of jumping jacks, leg raises, and every stretch imaginable for most of the day. Luckily the food was delicious, and we ended every day with swimming, which allowed my muscles to cool down. Also, sometimes Jody was doing her pool therapy at the same time, which meant we got to see each other in swimsuits :)
The atmosphere of this hospital-like environment was very upbeat and encouraging, though I was still in a lot of pain, and felt cynical about all the “positive thinking” they told us to do. “What am I supposed to do, pretend like the pain doesn’t exist?!”
A few days into this new regimen, my body was exhausted, and my pain felt more excruciating than ever. I woke up with sharp pains in my knees. I told my physical therapist that I didn’t think I could do any training. A big part of me wanted to just go home and give up, accepting myself as a “cripple.” The physical therapists encouraged me to keep persevering and surprisingly, by lunchtime, my pain had decreased dramatically. This showed me that a big part of overcoming pain was in a positive attitude.
As a few days passed, I noticed a young African-American teenager who was always playing video games. He never seemed very social, though one evening we started chatting. His name was Hassan, and he quizzed me on what type of music I listened to. We quickly realized that we both loved many of the same Rap Artists, particularly Lil’ Wayne, who was my favorite rapper at the time.
We began to hang out in the common room, and see who knew more lyrics to all the popular rap songs. This seemed to help us both lighten up amidst our uncomfortable physical conditions.
I was hesitant to ask Hassan what had happened to him, though after we grew closer together, he shared his story. He was the punt returner for his local football team. One day, his team faced a Suburban squad, who all appeared to be on steroids. These giants punted the ball high in the sky. Hassan caught it, and began running towards the oncoming stampede. He sidestepped a few opponents, and then out of nowhere “SMACK!” He was brutally tackled by someone twice his size.
He hit the ground hard, and his teammates soon realized he was not getting up. He was taken in an ambulance to a local hospital, and later received the life-altering news that he had been paralyzed from the waist down!
In the blink of an eye, an active young man was given a life sentence to a wheelchair. I felt chills go down my spine as I gulped and shed tears on the inside for my new friend. I thought to myself, “How can I complain about my pain, when Hassan is handicapped for life?”
This put things in perspective for me, and I began to see my situation as less severe than before. With lots of encouragement from the nurses and all my physical therapists, I began to take on a more positive attitude. My body was extremely sore from all the weird stretches, endurance training, and swimming, but I was grateful to be making progress. I was also having fun chilling with my new friends Jody and Hassan.
By the end of 2 weeks I felt like a new human being. My body felt more agile, and I was overjoyed to reclaim my ability to run. I had one more week to go in the 3-week program. In addition to the physical therapy, I was also seeing a Psychologist and doing “Biofeedback” and meditation exercises. I was led through my first “Guided Meditation” and was literally flabbergasted by how relaxed I felt afterwards. My whole body felt like silly putty. This sparked a newfound interest in the body-mind connection.
Just before entering the Children’s Institute, I received an early birthday gift - my first ever laptop! This opened a portal to a vast array of new areas of interest. I started researching meditation techniques and altered states of consciousness. Youtube was just starting to take off at this point, and I avidly explored its smorgasbord of documentaries.
My 3 weeks was quickly coming to a close at the Institute. I had grown to be close with Jody and Hassan, and it was hard to believe we would be parting ways so soon. We’d all had so much fun listening to music and sharing food together in the common room. Although we were all going through our own challenges, we helped to brighten each other’s days.
On my last day of the 3 weeks, I felt like I’d been reborn. My pain level had gone from an 8 out 10, to a 2 or 3 on the scale of severity. I had a new reverence for my health, and all the friends, family, and therapists who helped me find a sense of peace once again.
I remember leaving the Institute on a Friday, and felt like I had just gotten my life back. I barely knew what to do with myself without the chronic pain. My sense of identity had previously been tied up with my depressed state, so now I had to reinvent myself. I looked up at the deep blue sky with big puffy clouds, and I felt a sense of childlike wonder at the mystery of life. For the previous 4 or 5 months, I often felt like my life was cursed, and in this moment, I felt as if my life was a magnificent gift.
I had a deep yearning to learn everything I could about alternative healing techniques. In the following weeks, I began devouring documentaries and Wikipedia articles, soaking up all the knowledge I could. Although I was passionate about health and wellness, I resumed my old habits of pot smoking and partying, and because it was summer, pretty much every day was a weekend.
A few months after leaving the Institute I was playing my favorite game of Beer Pong at a party. I had a soccer game the following morning, but that didn’t have much effect on my desire to get drunk and high with my friends. I got back home around 4 am, and my game began around 10am, so I decided to pull an all-nighter.
On the soccer field I felt hungover, and my teammates were poking fun at me for my lack of motor skills. After the game, I struck up a conversation about some of the cool documentaries I’d been watching on my new laptop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to articulate these new ideas. It was as if there was too much fog in my brain to translate my thoughts into actual words.
My teammates rarely smoked pot, and they proposed that perhaps marijuana was causing me to trip over my words, and lose track of my thoughts mid-sentence. I defended my love for smoking, and didn’t appreciate them making fun of my communication skills (though in the back of mind I knew they were right).
Later that day I found myself back at the same house from the previous night, partying once again. Because I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, I felt even more tipsy with only a few beers.
When I got home from the party, I did my usual nightly routine of surfing Youtube for mind-expanding videos. I started watching some video blogs from a guy named “Vagabond Steve.” He was a really cool guy, who spoke about searching for meaning in life, questioning everything, and how to escape the “Rat Race”.
In one of his videos, he asked the question “How are you going to feel when you are 80 years old, sitting in a rocking chair, and you reflect on your life? Are you going to wish you spent more time at the office or watching TV? Or are you going to wish you spent more time doing things like watching the sunrise, connecting with close friends, and making a positive difference in the world?”
These questions struck a deep chord within me. As I sat in front of my glowing computer screen at 4am amidst my pitch-black bedroom, I felt like someone hit the “Pause” button on reality. I thought “What am I doing with my life?” As I scratched my head, I had the shocking realization in my 17 years on this planet, I’d never watched the sun rise over the horizon!
My heart started to race. I looked out of my bedroom window. The birds were just starting to chirp. I threw on a hoody and went downstairs and laced up my running shoes. As I jogged through the deserted streets in my neighborhood, I felt like I was coming back to life. I was determined to reclaim my sacred birthright and witness a sunrise! What sort of weird illusion full of distractions and laziness had I been living in, where I never prioritized this most basic human activity?
I arrived at Frick Park just as the sky started to lighten up. I meandered around, marveling at the grass covered in a frosty layer of dew. I had now been awake for almost 48 hours straight. A crew of dog walkers started to stroll down the main path. I went over to them and asked “Do you all do this every day?” They casually replied “Yeah, pretty much.” I could hardly believe that I had been missing out on the magic of the early morning hours for my entire life!
As the clouds began to turn light purple and pink, I sat down in the wet grass on top of a hill. I was full of gratitude for the friendly dog walkers, and all of the natural beauty surrounding me. I anxiously awaited to see the sun peek over the horizon.
There were some scattered clouds in the sky. As the sun slowly rose, it was hiding behind these puffballs. Then, a burst of golden light blazed through, and it felt like it pierced right into me. WOW! The entire golden orb emerged, and I stared straight into it. It was glowing orange, and to my great surprise, I was able to maintain eye contact with no discomfort.
I remembered always growing up, my parents told me “Never stare into the sun, you’ll go blind.” I pondered how many other lies I had bought into, which prevented me from living fully. (Of course my parents were trying to protect me, though perhaps this had partially prevented me from pursuing a sunrise). As the community of life all began to wake up, I felt like I was awakening from a dream. I was reclaiming my ability to think for myself and steer the direction of my life. I was distancing myself from the cultural norms and arbitrary societal behaviors of America. I thought to myself “There’s gotta be another way to live!”
I declared to myself that I would take a 2 week break from smoking pot, as a way to sharpen my brain.
Sitting atop this hill, staring into the sun, I began to reflect on my time at the Children’s Institute. I thought of Hassan, who was still cooped up inside, unable to even walk on his own. I wanted to enjoy the sunrise on his behalf. Even though it was about 7am, I gave him a call on my cell phone. I got his voicemail, which was a song called “Mr. Carter” by Lil’ Wayne, which we often sang together. I started to tear up, hearing this song, and reminiscing on our good times hanging out.
He called me back a few minutes later. When I heard his voice, I felt lost for words. I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine, still at the Institute, preparing for another back surgery. In that moment, I wished I could teleport him to the hill where I was sitting so he could experience this beautiful sunrise with me. I was feeling a whirlwind of emotion including gratitude and love for life, plus immense sadness for Hassan’s inability to walk, as well as the state of modern society being so disconnected from the cycles of nature.
I tried to cheer up Hassan by cracking some jokes. It felt good to share a laugh or two together. I told him I would come visit him soon, and then we said our goodbyes. I hung up the phone, and shed some more tears. Because I still had the blessing of an able body, I felt it was my duty to be of service to others, in any way I could.
I promised myself that I was going to help make the world a better place. I didn’t really know what that would look like or how I would do it, but I knew that I had to try. I wanted to reconnect to the Natural World, and stop spending so much time indoors, playing video games or watching Television. I felt deeply motivated to set aside my distractions and focus on improving myself and the world. It was time to run towards my goals with the same joy and passion that pulsed through me as a youngster.
The story I tell above was a big turning point for me. From the summer of 2008 onwards, I began actively pursuing the dormant Superpowers of Humanity, and finding ways to implement them in my personal life. The following chapters give a glimpse into many of my discoveries, and the trials and tribulations along the way.
To get your own personal copy of "Unlocking Our Superpowers," here is the link to Amazon : https://tinyurl.com/y8oj7zov