Two Billion Heartbeats

by Brandon Nappi

I am convinced now more than ever of the necessity for human beings to wake up to a more peaceful and harmonious existence with one another and our earth. Our world is groaning under the weight of war, violence, poverty and disconnection. Just as these cycles of greed and destruction have been reinforced time and time again throughout history, many of us sense an invitation to practice new patterns and habits to transform our lives and our world.

Recent research reveals an elegantly simple truth. The length of a lifetime is roughly one billion heartbeats. This is true for amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles whose lifespan can be counted in the number of heartbeats, and that number seems to be approximately one billion. Animals such as whales whose hearts beat more slowly (sometimes as slowly at 10 beats per minute) can live up to 150 years. Other animals like mice whose hearts beat five-hundred times per minute live for only four years on average. No matter the length of the lifespan, most healthy living things seem to get about one billion heartbeats give or take a few million.

So how do we make the most out of our billion heartbeats so that we do not squander our lives? How can we be present for our lives and live deeply? This question of present moment consciousness is not just for pilgrims on a religious quest or seekers in the self-help section of online bookstores. We know what it’s like to do something in a half-hearted way — to go through the motions without really investing the fullness of our entire selves.

Perhaps more than ever, a noisy world of dizzying complexity and unremitting velocity compels thoughtful people to draw upon our capacity to awaken to a more peaceful, grounded and heartful way of living moment by moment. I believe we are all seeking to live with wholeness of heart. This is what our world needs — people committed to living out of this wholeness of heart.

In the spiritual life wholeness and holiness are one and the same. This means living authentically and honestly with compassion for self and other. Living wholeheartedly simply means learning to be yourself and radiating the unique brilliance that each of us were born to manifest. The world needs us to be authentically ourselves. When we are, the unique brilliance that is within us and is us is unleashed in a burst of healing energy offered to the world as a pure gift.

In my own life, I’ve become aware that I need a safe place to train to foster this kind of wholeheartedness. Athletes constantly train in their sport, actors hone their craft over years, and musicians practice for tens of thousands of hours in a lifetime. Similarly, the way I have learned to practice wholeheartedness, contentment, connection and joy is through the intentional practice of cultivating the energy of mindfulness and compassion.

In meditation, we practice being at home with who we are right now. It takes radical honesty to dwell in the moment with yourself. The practice of meditation is an act of looking at yourself in the mirror without analysis and accepting what you see. When you cultivate the presence to sit quietly and follow the breath amid the intensity of thought and emotion, you realize a freedom which is the energy of change. The paradox of profound spiritual growth is that the more you accept yourself in this moment, the more available you become to the kind of transformation you seek. Trust the stillness. Stay with the breath. If you’ve gone beyond your breath, you’ve gone too far.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 50 transformational programs annually to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. For a listing of all retreats led by Brandon, click here.

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