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How My Brain Injury Taught Me Gratitude and To Be in the Moment

by Linda W. Arms – Oct. 13, 2017

After my brain injury, I found myself living in the present moment with a sense of peace.     It is a feeling that I remember even after nearly 12 years of recovery and the pace of my life being much busier.    Because I know the sensation, I find I can go back there when I choose to.     These days, we often read about being in the moment.   Before my brain injury, I read several self-improvement books to help me find peace within myself.    I bought “The Power of Now”, by Eckhart Tolle, but even after reading this and other books like it, I couldn’t find that elusive skill of being in the moment.

The brain injury caused me to lose many things including my career and, for many years, simple skills of reading, speaking, math and other things we take for granted were greatly diminished.     But – I lived in the moment.    I didn’t have a choice.    It was all my brain was capable of doing.   There were many times there were no thoughts in my head.    I just sat and looked at something or, at other times, I would have my eyes closed.

My brain did not have the energy to think about most things.   I worried very little compared to my pre-injury self.    I couldn’t think about the past or future – it was too much work.   I didn’t even try.   My career was a huge part of my life.   Prior to the accident, when there were times I was sick or on vacation, I was always on the job even if it was just in my head.    I tried very hard to quit thinking about work and other things that caused me worry.   I just couldn’t stop those thoughts.

After the accident, the door to the world of my career slammed shut.   I didn’t think about it, didn’t care – it was just gone.     I was always a planner, thinking about upcoming work projects, things to do at home, trips, events and other things I enjoyed putting together.    After the accident, I, the family planner, was gone.    I couldn’t think about the future.   It was all I could do to get through one day let alone think about what needed to be done tomorrow.    I wrote many things down so I wouldn’t forget.

It’s been difficult in recent times to be in the moment because there have been so many demands on me that have been out of my control.   I am extremely more capable of doing things compared to 11 ½ years ago.     Even though life has been very crazy in the last few years, I am very grateful!    I am very grateful because I frequently recognize that I am doing things today that I never dreamed I could do again after my brain injury.   I feel this gratitude so often and acknowledge all the progress I have made in my continuing journey of healing from the brain injury.    Although “having a brain injury never ends”, I believe that the healing never ends.

So after all those self help books that I read prior to my accident, it was the brain injury that taught me about being in the moment and learning true gratitude for things in my life.   This morning, one of the first things I read was a beautiful article by Marc Chernoff, one of the co-writers of the Marc and Angel Life Hacks blog.   It was about allowing the moment to be enough without needing to do anything else with it.   It helped remind me that you can just be – just be in the moment, looking or experiencing something without taking a picture of it, or sharing it with someone else but just savoring it all for yourself.   It reminded me of the earlier years after my brain injury.   Please enjoy his article “One Reality to Accept Before You Can Enjoy Your Best Life.”

 

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Seeking the Gift  – (Bliss after a Brain Injury?)

by Linda W. Arms, dated November 4, 2014

For several years after my brain injury I felt a certain sense of peace and contentment.   Did any of you experience a similar thing?   I know brain injuries are all so different and I know it seems odd, but I feel there was a gift that came with the injury.   My brain could not handle much more than getting me through the day while in my home doing less than 5% of the things I used to do in my life.    Even though I was in a fog and knew I was just a small piece of my former self, I enjoyed a sense of bliss.

Prior to the accident I had a career, I had a social life, I had many interests.    My life was full of activity and I could never have enough to do.   I was very driven and always wanted perfection in what I did and the people around me.    It was difficult for me to relax.   I was doing yoga for several years up until the accident and it helped me find some calmness.   I read all sorts of self-help books to learn how to be more mindful and content but nothing worked.   Until I got hit on the head, that is.

I was turned “off” when the trauma occurred.    A door shut on what my life was.   My world shrank to a tiny portion of what it was.   My mind could only deal with things in the moment and only simple things.   I struggled to get through each day and often slept up to 14 hours a day.

I could only focus on a very small piece of what was before me.   Since my brain was no longer cluttered with a million other thoughts, I saw the world very simply.   My mind was often empty with no thoughts.   I learned to connect to the quietness and nurturing of nature.   I could let the beauty of what I was seeing or feeling into my relatively empty brain and really experience it.  I was living in the moment.   I did not worry.   I did not get angry (or display many other emotions).    I was at peace (sort of).

I watched butterflies, stared at flowers, felt the breeze, smelled the soil in my garden.   I enjoyed very simple things.   I saw and experienced many things most people around us are not capable of in our busy world.   I watched the blur of activity of other people racing around in their lives and I thought “they are not really living”.    They do not see our world.   I could not see or feel our world before my accident.   Although, in rare times, I stopped for a split second and saw the glimpse of a beautiful flower,  it was a fleeting, shallow experience.   As a result of the brain injury, I can sit and enjoy the sky, the birds or flowers or just feel myself exist and feel connected to the world around me.

It’s been almost 9 years since my brain injury and I am so much better.   My mind is now very active and I’m getting back to the many interests I had.   My peace and contentment have faded.   The bliss is usually not there.   But now, since the brain injury, I know what that peace and contentment feels like.   If I concentrate I can feel it for moments but it takes work.   I have to look for that gift of bliss.   I have to work on it.   I certainly know I  don’t want to lose it.   So now I’m back reading those self-help books and using other resources to help me keep the gift going.

I know my brain injury was a terrible thing for me and my family but I also found a silver lining that I will hold on to for the future and am grateful for.   Have any of you discovered a gift as a result of your injury?    Or maybe a new talent?

With peace….

 

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Having a Brain Injury (it never ends…)

by Linda W. Arms, June 22, 2014

What is a brain injury like?   It’s not like a broken leg.   It’s not like most other medical conditions or diseases.   It’s not getting old and experiencing “senior moments”.    It is very different although many people look at it as “oh, you’ll get over it” or “I have that too, it’s what happens when you age.”

A brain injury, whether from trauma, stroke, aneurysm, lack of oxygen or other cause, happens quite suddenly – out of the blue.   You are fine; everything works; your mind is active and full of ideas and dreams and thoughts; you walk about without a problem.   You can speak and comprehend what someone is saying while you cook or do something else.   You read, watch TV, drive, cook, solve problems, make decisions…..   Most likely you don’t think about your brain at all but it is what is making those things all possible. 

After a brain injury, you suddenly are unable to move about or think like you did before. Brain injuries vary in their effect on a person depending on the severity and which parts of the brain were damaged.    In many cases after a significant brain injury, your mind is blank without any thoughts unless you force them to be there.   You have to concentrate on thinking through a simple thing in your head because you lose your focus very easily.   You are in a fog.   When you try to think through a simple thing you feel like your head is full of thick mud or dense cotton that muffles and gets in the way of thinking clearly.   Sometimes it’s impossible to think even about the simplest thing, the blankness just returns.

There is a sense of other worldliness around you.   Your senses are muffled.   Your sense of presence is gone.    You feel you are not really part of what is happening around you.   You can’t experience everything going on around you.   Your view into the world around you is very small like looking through a little tube.   Your awareness is missing.   You often just stare off into space with emptiness in your head and in your eyes.

You have problems understanding what people are saying to you.   You have problems talking and explaining something you want to say.   You can’t find the words, the words don’t come out right, and sentences are hard to form.   You have few emotions, there is no joy, there is no happiness, there is no anger, there is no sentimentality, there is little except maybe some sadness and nothingness.

You have to hide in a safe, quiet place because the world is too chaotic for you.   You can’t go to stores, you can’t hear sounds, you can’t have too much movement around you before you feel so overwhelmed, you can’t see straight or walk right.   You have to move slowly because you don’t have the strength or energy, you have to be careful walking through doorways or passing by things because things aren’t really where you see them to be.   You have odd sensations in your head, you have odd tingling in parts of your body, you may not feel pain the way you used to.

You’re cold all the time, it’s hard to get up out of a chair or out of bed because you are so weak.   You are tired, always tired. You sleep and sleep for sometimes 14 – 16 hours a day.     You get up in the mornings and it takes hours to feel alert enough to function.   You sit there waiting for the disturbing sensations in your head to settle down while your brain is adjusting to being awake.    Sometimes you can’t get there… you have to go back to bed and sleep after getting up just an hour or two earlier.

You have a sense of great loss.   You are not the same.   For so many reasons, the essence of who you are is gone.    You don’t do what you used to do like work or drive or be with friends.   You almost don’t care sometimes because it’s all you can do to think about getting through the day with the chaos that is now part of your world. 

You feel fragile, broken.   You feel damaged.    How do you pick up all the pieces and make progress.

You think “what has happened?”, “did this really happen to me?”,  “is this all my life is going to be like?”  “am I ever going to get better?”, “it’s been 6 months and I’m still not better”, “this is terrible but I have to be grateful it’s not worse and that I’m alive”.

It goes on and on and on for months, for years but gradually you get better.    You make progress but it is very slow.   It takes years.    Sometimes you encounter relapses.   Sometimes you have symptoms you thought were gone but they are back because you are stressed or tired or over-stimulated or sick.

Someone very close to me recently asked me about my brain injury recovery and said, “When did it all end?”    I said, “It didn’t end”.    It never ends.   It’s always there sometimes better, sometimes worse.    There are more days now where I don’t think about it because I do quite well.    I am grateful for the progress I’ve made and most people who didn’t know me before wouldn’t know the difference.    But I know.   I remember how I used to be.   I haven’t gotten it all back but I’m still working on it.   Like so many of you with brain injuries, I realize how strong I have been to have gotten through all this and I am grateful I am doing as well as I am.   I am proud of myself and the hard work I’ve put into my recovery.   I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

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Don’t Talk About “Killing Time”; Don’t Give Up on Life

by Linda W. Arms

Since my brain injury I have become rather sensitive to healthy people complaining about being bored, not knowing what to do and are just “killing time”.      I’ve also become a bit impatient with those who have reached “senior citizen” status or are close to it and have decided to step down from living a full, active life.    Many of these people are very healthy and able-bodied and could do so much if they only chose to.    On the other hand, there are so many of us who have had an illness or injury where our options of doing anything are severely limited.   We struggle to get better.   We struggle to do the things we did before.   We struggle to do things like other people.     We are happy when we can do a simple thing without too many problems, even stirring a bowl of instant mashed potatoes!

There are people living with SEVERE handicaps and illnesses who appreciate the moments they are given and find joy in little things.    Killing time cannot be in your vocabulary whether you are healthy or struggling with an illness or injury.   Stopping activities or not living a fuller life because the age we have reached is giving up on living.    These are things no one should be doing, whatever your situation.    Those of us who have challenges and obstacles due to injury or disease need to keep looking for moments to enjoy life and participate in as many activities we can that bring us good feelings.   There are so many things out there to do or be involved in, even if its from a chair.

I recently read an article, “The 9 Essential Habits of Mentally Strong People” by Carolyn Gregoire, that appeared in The Huffington Post.    It describes habits and practices that help you get through challenges or hardships, and says that the obstacles we face is life itself.    The article tells about Jane Lotter who wrote her own obituary and left some advice to her family that said, “May you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, the ARE the path.”

I am fortunate that my brain injury was not as devastating as those of some other people I have met.   It has also been 8 years since my accident during which I worked hard to get better.  I tried doing things I did before and continued to do many of them even though it was very difficult.   Today I am much better but I keep looking for new goals to increase my level of improvement.    I want to live life.   I want colorful, rich experiences.   In my journey back from the despairing first years after my injury, I feel I have reached the mainland of living where I can participate more fully.

I don’t want to sit back and stop doing new things, learning new things because I am in my later 50’s like some of my acquaintances.    I don’t want to have spent 8 years working hard to get better after my brain injury just to sit down and watch the world go by.    I don’t want to kill time and I absolutely hate it when I hear other people who say that.   How sad!   Just think of the poor victims of the recent bombing in Boston or the shooting at the Aurora movie theater.   They lost their lives.   Their time is “killed”.    I’m sure they would like to have had the opportunity to trade places with some of the living that are “just killing time”.

A couple of summers ago I participated in a week-long camp for people with brain injuries.   I was a volunteer acting as a buddy to a camper who had a much worse brain injury than I did.   My buddy was injured decades ago at around the age of 19.   He was in a serious car accident that occurred because something in the car malfunctioned.   He was in a coma for several months.   Today he lives with a caretaker but he participates in life by going to camps and has other activities he enjoys.   He has terrible memory problems and many other cognitive problems.   BUT HE LIVES LIFE with a smile.    He is not bored.   He has a great sense of humor and outlook on life.  He does everything he can do with the cognitive capacity that he has.

Another camper I met who was truly an inspiration was a young man close to 40 who received his brain injury when he was a toddler.   He was in a coma for 2 years.   Nearly 40 years later, he is still in a wheel chair, he cannot speak, his motor skills are very, very poor.   He has to be fed or have food cut up for him.  He is always dependent on someone for everything.   When I first heard about him coming to the camp and then actually met him, I thought, oh my God!   How do you interact with someone who is so severely handicapped.   I felt so bad for him.   But do you know what; he had so much joy in his beautiful eyes and in his face when he participated in all the camp activities.   He loved music.    He loved interacting with everyone.    He often interacted using a computer that spoke for him.   His joy in these activities lit up his face.    He often had a smile on his face and laughter in his eyes.    He and I connected in the last couple days of the camp and I thought he was truly an inspiration to living a full life with whatever obstacles life has given you.

So my point is – no matter where you are at with your brain injury – keep going.   Live life, enjoy life, try new things and don’t just sit around “killing time”.   Don’t give up on life.   Be happy you’re alive.   Be happy you have options in living a fulfilling life and finding joy even if you have limitations.

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Happy “New Year”

by Linda W. Arms, dated Jan. 15, 2014

Today is the 8 year anniversary of my brain injury.    I know many of you have the date of your event noted as a “special day”.    I understand that many military veterans injured in our recent wars, refer to it as “Alive Day”.    From some of you, I’ve heard it referred to as your re-birthday, or new birthday.   Some of you mourn and wear black.   Recently, Gabriella Giffords, shot in the head a few years ago and who lives with brain injury, went sky diving on the anniversary of her injury to celebrate life.   Her Facebook message on that day sounds familiar to so many of us with a brain injury, whatever its cause.    She wrote:  “I’ve overcome a lot.   Progress has come from working hard.   Today, I grieve, I remember, and I take another step.”

And that is where I am at today.   Ironically and without having planned this, I am staying a few days with my husband in the small Colorado ski town I was visiting at the time of my accident.    I have avoided this area for the last 8 years and have slowly made peace with returning.   We decided yesterday, at the spur of the moment to come up here, forgetting about my anniversary.   I was a little spooked once I remembered I would be up here in this same place on my “special” day but I decided I had to face it.    In fact, this morning, I returned to the mountain and just looked up the hill where “The Accident” occurred.    The morning was very much the same.    There was that fresh layer of snow that had that special, beautiful sparkle caused by the morning sun reflecting off the individual snowflakes.    I remembered that often after the accident and now I saw it again on the same day, around the same time.   I wanted to cry, I felt sad and still do but I will not dwell on this.    I have chosen to move forward and make the best of things as I’ve done for the last 8 years.    It is the best thing to do.    It is what it is and cannot be undone…  

“A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.”  –Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing the monkey bars.   You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”  –C.S. Lewis

“We acquire the strengths of that which we have overcome.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

I particularly like something that Lt. Brad Snyder had to say in an NBC news article a couple of years ago.   He said, “Choice – that word means a lot here.   Choice puts everything on a level playing field.   Each of us faces a plethora of daily choices – when to get up, what to eat for breakfast, what to say to your family before leaving for work.   You can choose to be positive.   Or you can choose to be a victim.   You can choose to move forward with grace.   Or you can choose to succumb to negativity.”

So as you begin your new year of 2014 and whenever the anniversary of your brain injury event arrives, remember that we have to move onward and be the best we can be.   It is often difficult.    We will have setbacks.   But as we all look back to where we came from since our injury, most of us can see that we are better.    The journey we’ve had has made us stronger in many ways.   I know when I look back and all I’ve been through, I realize how strong I’ve been.   I don’t want to forget that.    I want to remind myself about how far I’ve come.    Recognizing this strength helps me as I face new challenges in life.  

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.   These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.   Beautiful people do no just happen.”  — Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross

Happy “New Year” and now I will go out to enjoy the beautiful Colorado mountains by walking (or maybe snowshoeing) through the woods, enjoying life and continuing my journey to get even better.

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Don’t Talk About “Killing Time”

by Linda W. Arms

Since my brain injury I have become rather sensitive to healthy people complaining about being bored, not knowing what to do and are just “killing time”.      There are so many of us who have had an illness or injury where our options of doing anything are severely limited.   We struggle to get better.   We struggle to do the things we did before.   We struggle to do things like other people.     We are happy when we can do a simple thing without too many problems, even stirring a bowl of instant mashed potatoes!        There are people living with SEVERE handicaps and illnesses who appreciate the moments they are given and find joy in little things.    Killing time cannot be in your vocabulary whether you are healthy or struggling with an illness or injury.

I am fortunate in that my brain injury was not as devastating as those of some other people I have met.   It has also been over 7 years since my accident during which I worked hard to get better.  I tried doing things I did before and continued to do many of them even though it was very difficult.   I keep looking for new goals to increase my level of improvement.    I want to live life.   I want colorful, rich experiences.   In my journey back from the despairing first years after my injury, I feel I have reached the mainland of living where I can participate more fully.   I don’t want to kill time and I absolutely hate it when I hear other people who say that.   How sad!   Just think of the poor victims of the recent bombing in Boston or the shooting at the Aurora movie theater.   They lost their lives.   Their time is “killed”.    I’m sure they would like to have had the opportunity to trade places with some of the living that are “just killing time”.

A couple of summers ago I participated in a week-long camp for people with brain injuries.   I was a volunteer acting as a buddy to a camper who had a much worse brain injury than I did.   My buddy was injured decades ago at around the age of 19.   He was in a serious car accident that occurred because something in the car malfunctioned.   He was in a coma for several months.   Today he lives with a caretaker but he participates in life by going to camps and has other activities to stimulate him.   He has terrible memory problems and many other cognitive problems.   BUT HE LIVES LIFE with a smile.    He is not bored.   He does everything he can do with the cognitive capacity that he has.

Another camper I met who was truly an inspiration was another young man who received his brain injury when he was a toddler.   He was in a coma for 2 years.   Thirty-some years later, he is in a wheel chair, he cannot speak, his motor skills are very, very poor.   He has to be fed or food cut up for him.  He is always dependent on someone for everything.   When I first heard about him coming to the camp and then actually met him, I thought, oh my God!   How do you interact with someone who is so severely handicapped.   I felt so bad for him.   But you know what; he had so much joy in his beautiful eyes and in his face when he participated in all the camp activities.   He and I connected in the last couple days of the camp and I thought he was truly an inspiration to living a full life given whatever limitation life has given you.

So my point is – no matter where you are at with your brain injury – keep going.   Live life, enjoy life, try new things and don’t just sit around “killing time”.   Be happy you’re alive.   Be happy you have options in living a fulfilling life and finding joy even if you have limitations.

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It’s Your Choice

January 6, 2013

I just read an inspiring article I want to share with you.   First, I’d like to highlight this quote in the article.   It is from Brad Snyder, who was blinded in Afghanistan. “Choice — that word means a lot here,” said Snyder, 28, a former Navy bomb-disposal expert. “‘Choice’ puts everything on a level playing field. Each of us faces a plethora of daily choices — when to get up, what to eat for breakfast, what to say to your family before leaving for work. You can choose to be positive. Or you can choose to be a victim. “You can choose to move forward with grace. Or you can choose to succumb to negativity.” Please read the rest of the article, it is really good:   Alive Day – MSNBC.com

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New Beginnings

by Linda W. Arms

As we begin the new year, many of us think about our lives, the year ahead and make resolutions to improve.   I think many of us with TBI have another “new beginning” each year that causes us to contemplate our lives. That time of year is different for each of us, and it is the date of our accidents that caused our TBI. It’s probably a date that brings us sadness and a little more grieving for the person we used to be, but it’s also a date to consider the progress we have made in getting better and other things in our lives that are positive.

The door on who I was closed seven years ago on January 15. Although a lot of “me” came back, I’m also very different. That difference has brought several positive traits that I am grateful for. I’m more patient and not driven to perfection. I’m much more grateful for my family and friends who stayed in touch even when I couldn’t. I’m much more forgiving of imperfections in people around me. I have much more compassion for others.   I appreciate the simple things in life, I’ve learned to stop and smell the flowers because my brain doesn’t want to be filled with all those details it was capable of handling before. I’m happy……. and sometimes frustrated.  Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t do things like I used to but those times are becoming less each year.

I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made in the last seven years and know that I’ll see more improvement this year, even if they are small things.  I’d like to share this posting from Facebook with you as you start the new year.   I received this by accident from someone I don’t know but I related to it because of my seasons of life associated with TBI. I do not know who the creator of this is so I can not give credit but thank you to whoever you are.   Click here to view Seasons of Life – THEN CLICK ON THE ARROW IN THE LOWER LEFT OF THE PICTURE TO START THE VIDEO.  Note that there are multiple pictures in the video, it moves through the pictures slowly so some of us with brain injuries can read it.

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The Gift

A while back,  I received an inspiring message from a friend.   It was a YouTube video by Louie Schwartzberg, an award-winning cinematographer and innovator in the world of time-lapse, nature, aerial and “slice-of-life” photography.   After watching the video it reminded me of “the gift” I was given as a result of my TBI.   I’ve shared a link to this video later in this post.

Nearly 7 years ago I suffered a traumatic brain injury.   Like most of you, I’ve had many problems as a result of the injury.   The accident took away things I can never get back.  On a personal basis many things are gone.  Professionally I lost everything in terms of income and my capabilities. The accident took away things I can never get back.   I keep improving, even now, but I don’t want to lose “the gift”.

Prior to the accident I could never have enough to do.    I was very driven and always wanted perfection in what I did and the people around me.    On January 15, 2006 my world changed but I was also given a gift that I am grateful for.    With much despair after the accident I worked hard to get better and I learned many things that are important.

For the first few years my thinking capabilities were very difficult.   I could describe it as cotton balls muffling everything in my brain, muffling my thinking; or as muddiness where the thick murkiness slowed everything in my head.    My view of the world became very telescopic.   I could only focus on a very small piece of what was before me.   Since my brain was now not cluttered with a million other thoughts, I saw the world very simply and was able to connect to the quietness and beauty of nature.   I could let the beauty of what I was seeing or feeling into my relatively empty brain and really experience it.

I learned to see and feel the quiet and healing of nature.   I watched butterflies, stared at flowers, felt the breeze, smelled the soil in my garden.   I enjoyed very simple things.   I saw and experienced many things most people around us are not capable of in our busy world.   I watched the blur of activity of other people racing around in their lives and I thought “they are not really living”.    They do not see our world.   I could not see or feel our world before my accident.   Although, in rare times, I stopped for a split second and saw the glimpse of a beautiful flower it was a fleeting, shallow experience.

As a result of TBI, I can truly feel and appreciate the beauty and comfort of nature.   I love viewing the nature around me, inhaling it, feeling it throughout me.   I love the silence of nature and am comforted by it.    I can sit and enjoy the sky, the birds or flowers or just feel myself exist and feel connected to the world around me.

It is a wonderful experience that I can now have as a result of my TBI.    I hope all of you can find a gift that you were given as a result of TBI and be grateful for it.

Let me share with you the video that inspired me to write post.   Once you are redirected to YouTube you will need to click on the video to start it.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxSF-Louie-Schwartzberg-Grati