I actually do know how you’re going to die. I can also predict with a high degree of statistical probability how much suffering your actual end-of-life trajectory is going to offer up. How can I do that? By simply looking at how much suffering your middle-of-life trajectory offers now. Unless ONE thing changes in your life going forward, not much will change for you at the end of life. Why should it?
I have a saying that I just this week made up: “No matter what business you’re in, first and foremost you’re in the change of heart business. And if you want to change your heart, change your brain.” Feel free to quote me on that. So the good change in the middle of life – the one that will lead to less suffering during the end-of-life ending – is a simple neuro-physiological one: an expansion of HRV, Heart Rate Variability. That’s it.
What in the World Is HRV?
Now, if you’re like me, you might actually wonder: what exactly is HRV? To that I would answer – take a breath in. Whether you noticed it or not, with that breath in, your heart beats faster. Now breathe that breath out. Again, whether you notice it or not, your heart beats slower. The number of times your heart beats per minute is your heart rate. Heart rate and Heart Rate Variability are not the same. For one thing, researchers and physicians measure Heart Rate in beats per minute. They measure HRV in milliseconds. The difference between how many beats your heart beats when it beats fast and how many beats it beats when it beats slow, measured in beats per minute – that’s NOT Heart Rate Variability. Got it? Good, because it’s taken me months to begin to understand (I’m a slow learner when I have compromised HRV!).
Lubba Dub Dub
If you listen to your heart – on all levels, ideally – but for our purposes, literally – you’ll hear something that sounds like this: Lub-dub, Lub-dub. When that single Lub-dub happens fast, like when you’re excited or scared – ideally the average time between one Lub and the next Lub is roughly around 70 milliseconds (ms), and around 115 milliseconds when beating slow. That range in milliseconds, averaged over many beats – is your Heart Rate Variability.
Stressful things that happen in our lives – good or bad, chronic or acute – can negatively affect HRV. They can end up compressing the upper and lower limits, reducing our range from 70-115 ms, to say 80-105 ms. We literally lose heart, become disheartened, can’t really put our heart into life, because we gotta have dear heart to give and don’t.
Although, I haven’t seen empirical evidence specifically linking them, I would bet that any or all nine Adverse Childhood Experiences (identified and studied in the extensive ACEs research conducted on 17000 patients by the Center for Disease Control and the Kaiser Permanente HMO) results in compressed Heart Rate Variability. Which means that I myself, have a compressed HRV (I’m actually thinking of going and getting it checked one of these days. Maybe tomorrow).
Compressed heart rate variability is directly and indirectly associated with a ton of less-than-optimal health conditions. Here are just a few:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Mitral Valve Prolapse
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
So, how do you expand HRV? I would argue that there’s one way and one way only: increase the energy and information that flows through your body and brain. Now there are any multitude of ways to do that. Treatment in a somatic psychology modality is one, and I provided a list of such modalities that generally report good (nonempirical) results several years ago.
Additionally, artistic pursuits, when engaged in with “healing intention,” I would bet can end up expanding HRV. I’m in the process of researching that now for a book I want to write, and that’s exactly the argument I’ll be making. Why? Because it very much matches my experience.
How You’ll Die
Okay, so expanding HRV and increasing the flow of energy and information in our bodies and brains is one path to reduce suffering. Now before I end – how are you going to die? You’re going to die the same way that all three-middle-ear-boned mammals ultimately die, by oxygen deprivation to the brain. That’s what eventually kills every single living mammal. What I can’t predict however, is what path or conditions are going to lead up to you taking your last breath. Whatever they are – and they should be yours and yours alone – my singular wish is that they all be heart-expanding ones.