"Mike LaBrie embodies many of the reasons why we started HANAH. Mike, to put it lightly, has had some adversity in his life that has not only led to over 80 surgeries, but also shined a light on how important health is to him. The way we handle the tough times is what forges our character, and we are proud to be able to work with Mike LaBrie. I’d highly recommend this story."
— Joel Einhorn, HANAH Founder & CEO
Clay and Stone: A Defining Guide to What Defines Us
Written by Mike LaBrie
There’s an old Zen proverb about a fisherman in a canoe on a very foggy morning. While looking out to where he had cast his line, the fisherman sees a dark shape in the distance heading towards him. As the shape gets closer, the details begin to define themselves, and the fisherman sees that the tip of another canoe is edging through the fog. “Hey - look out!” the fisherman screams. But the other boat continues to make its way directly toward the fisherman.
Clenching his fists and waving his arms, the fisherman screams again, “Turn away you fool, if you hit me, we’ll both tip!”
Finally, the canoe cuts through the fog and crashes directly into the side of the fisherman’s own canoe, knocking him off balance and to his knees. Steadying himself, the fisherman slowly stands up, ready to confront who had hit him.
It is then that the fisherman sees the other canoe is empty.
Life’s a lot like that, isn’t it? We try to mind our own business and stay in our own canoes. We keep to ourselves and what we know, living our own lives as far away from pain and damage as possible. There’s a special peace alone in that fog. We’re safe there. Like a secret club. Nobody in or out unless we share the password.
But then life decides to send something in our direction that we weren’t planning for and we sure as hell don’t want. And in that moment, our special peace and tranquility is threatened by fear and anxiety. By the unknown. By how it’ll affect us. Affect our lives. Affect the lives of those we love.
So we shout into the fog. We clench our fists so tight that whatever’s stuck inside them doesn’t stand a chance.
Inside these specifically stressful moments - we are clay on a wheel. And whether we’re aware of it or not - consciously or unconsciously - we are deciding if this is going to be something we will look back on. Something that we will deem important enough, essential enough, to affect who we are, why we are that way, and how we got there. Because in these moments - like every single other moment in life - we have some decisions to make. We have to decide if we should approach it with clenched fists or open hands. Clenched fists have the ability to keep things away, but open hands have the ability to shape that clay into what we want it to be. To shape these moments into who we want to be. Or, on the other end, we also have to decide if this moment is something we want to forget about. Maybe instead of shaping it, we ignore it. We let that clay on the wheel harden into a stone and bury that stone somewhere deep below the surface. Like a pebble tossed into a river. That stone will sink deep below the fog and add to the pile of remnants already on the river floor. Forgotten, maybe - but there, nonetheless.
You see, every single moment in life - especially like the one we are in right now - will affect us one way or another. Sure, some moments will affect us in larger, more dynamic ways than others will. There will be certain moments that we will look back on differently than others. There will be times we would have done things differently. There will be other times where we have difficulty remembering all the details, so we’ll create our own versions in our minds as puffed up stories to tell - and eventually we may even believe those stories as if they were truer than the way they actually happened. And of course, there will be moments that we will investigate and examine over and over and over - distinctly remembering who and how we were before they happened, and how we were entirely different after. We will think of these as the moments that defined us. Shaped us. Changed us. Built us between our bones. And they must be, because we can see the change occur in that memory both before and after it happened. But the trouble comes when you ask yourself about what makes a moment that defines us any different than a moment that we categorize as one that does not define us. Because without one the other means nothing, no? Which is why one of the most vigorous, intriguing, and exhausting parts of the human condition is deciphering - whether consciously or unconsciously - which moments are the ones that will be defining moments for who we are as individuals, and which moments will end up as stones on the river floor. The answer is quite simple. That being: It depends.
Let me explain.
You see, I’m a 31-year-old guy. And when I was 3 years old, I was in a garage when a faulty water heater exploded right beside me. In that split second, I suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on over 95% of my body. I spent the next 6-months in an ICU trying to survive. From there, a large part of my childhood and teenage years were spent in and out of hospitals. Since that time, I’ve had over 75 surgical procedures. Had millions of stitches and staples sewn in and cut out. And because of those things, I have had to learn how to do almost everything - down to the simplest daily tasks - in a completely different way than anybody else usually does it.
For me, this is one of those moments I mentioned before. One that’s distinctly altered the people involved. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. One that is pretty easy to see how things were before and how they are after.
But that moment doesn’t define me. It may define me in the eyes of other people. It may even put me in a category or give other people something to label me as to further explain the definition they have created for me. But how other people define us, has no correlation to how we define ourselves. And simply because certain moments change us, has nothing to do with how certain moments define us. Life demands and forces change upon us every day. Nothing in nature stays the same throughout its life and we are a part of nature - therefore we must play our part whether we are aware of it or not. It is in our blood and bones to change. But change does not define us either.
What defines us is what we allow to define us.
What we choose to feel the effect of.
And what truly defines us is how we choose to react to that effect. Who we choose to be and how we decide to get there. The belief systems we build. The routines we develop to orchestrate the change in the direction we want to go.
And I am no different. My belief system is rooted in who I’ve been and how I’ve gotten to who I am. That defines me. Adaptation defines me because I believe in it as a vehicle. Naturalism defines me because I believe we are a part of nature. I believe in devotion and commitment to practice. In existentialism. The creation of your own present and future. That defines me because I choose to let it affect my actions and my mindset. I believe in doing my best to live as fully and actively and aware as possible. To live inside and amongst that image I have created for myself. And to do that, I avoid the scalpel and the surgical table at all costs. I alter and improve my physical mobility with strict routines that define me to myself.
I believe in yoga first thing in the morning. In meditation. In as much golf as possible. And above all else, I believe in nutrition. In wholesome, real food from nature to encourage the regrowth of skin cells and prevent chronic wounds from reopening. In hydration. In specific and absolute supplementation to connect everything together and provide the body with what it needs to heal itself when it rips or tears or bleeds from when I ask it to bend in the direction of change. That defines me.
Fighting off infection defines me. It tests the routines I have built in the direction I am trying to go. My never-ending battle with inflammation defines me. Stiffness and tightness of my skin that can easily lead to stretching and tearing and chronic wounds. That defines me because of how I choose to react to it. It defines me because I am asking my body to change and adapt and thrive by building a routine to coordinate that change. With anti-inflammatory foods from nature. With a constant supply of water in order to keep the skin hydrated and filled with oxygen. And to connect it all, HANAH ONE, Ashwagandha and Turmeric. Keeping the body and skin constantly supplied with anti-inflammatory nutrients. With ghee and sesame oil to keep the skin hydrated. With botanicals and adaptogenic herbs to promote the growth of new skin cells. To replace the damaged cells. To ward off pathogens and toxins. To prevent infections. To increase the mobility of the tighter areas of my body. To aid in recovery when chronic wounds occur. And to naturally fight off ever prevalent skin infections.
All these things define me to myself because of who I want to be and how I want to live and how I want to get there.
You see, we will always be like the fisherman in the canoe - safe in our own fog. We will never have control when life sends things in our direction. And that doesn’t matter, because what defines us is not the situation itself. Something we have absolutely no control over cannot define us. What we do have absolute control over, however, is how we decide to react to the situation. Whether we approach it with clenched fists or open hands. Whether we decide to shape the clay, or let it turn to stone and throw it to the bottom of the river. Nothing has meaning, until you make it mean something.