Living long is good, but living well is better!
I’ve long aspired to live well. For me to accomplish this, getting better acquainted with myself was a perfect place to start. For as long as I can remember, I’ve pondered the question “Who am I?” This question led me down a long and thorny path of self-discovery and self-inquiry. Were there habits and practices I could employ that would lead me to greater levels of health, both mental and physical? Could I somehow postpone aging, at least long enough to find answers to my spiritual questions? Or perhaps even surprise myself by my sheer physical longevity? Whom should I see? Where should I go? Whom could I trust?
I suppose I began this quest as a child. I was certainly influenced by spending my youthful summers on my grandparents’ farm in upstate New York. It was there my love of nature and natural living blossomed. The joy of exploring woods and meadows, finding edible herbs and plants, observing wildlife, and searching for hidden springs of pure water cultivated a deep desire to live in harmony with nature.
I loved to gaze into the inky darkness to be dazzled breathless by a million stars; it filled my young heart with reverent awe. I believe it was such speechless wonder that fueled my early forays into religion and spirituality. But, after some research, I began to see that religion and spirituality were not always the same. I often found them to be quite separate. Yet, I yearned to be like those beautiful beings that shone brightly beyond the dusty texts and intellectual squabbles. I yearned to be a learned soul.
Thankfully, I was quite blessed with a very open-minded mother who appeared to be on a similar quest. While still at home, I was greatly blessed by our extensive library, which included poetry, philosophy, psychology, and the arts. My father had also been a fine artist, and our home was filled with his paintings until my parents’ divorce. That was when I was twelve years old.
At that young and impressionable age, I pondered deeply the nature of human relationships and why some met with success and others met with such pain. It was an answer I somehow sought to find in books.
I found escape and great satisfaction in reading. In fact, I still read about three books a week, but not for the same reasons I did as a youngster. In my youth I became a bookworm. The up side of that is that I gained much knowledge. The downside of being an adolescent bookworm was the unfortunate situation of being bullied.
Thankfully, one of my teachers opened a door for me. In 1955 she introduced me to martial arts, especially Jiu Jitsu. This was when I began exercising passionately, a practice that I still enjoy. As I grew and got stronger, I took up boxing and was trained by a former world middleweight contender, Jim Bull. I laugh as I think back to those days when I sought to pursue professional boxing as a career. But I remember, at that point, my aesthetic nature happened to grab me more greatly.
During my teens, my artistic interests flowered, leading to some flattering recognitions. I won a number of awards for art. My paintings and sculptures were put on display in prominent stores in New York City. The surprise sale of a few of my paintings led to being noticed by the internationally celebrated abstract expressionist Vincent Pepi. He offered me an opportunity to work for him at his penthouse studio in Manhattan. It was an honor to work for someone as talented and celebrated as he was.
However, being young and feeling an impulsive spiritual burning, I moved on and left NYC. My duffel bag was packed and tossed into the luggage compartment of the Trailways bus as it headed for Rhode Island. I volunteered to work with a small group of folks involved with a religious organization. To support myself, I bought a fishing boat and dug clams, while selling a few seascapes I painted. I lived frugally, sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a cold attic apartment in an old Victorian home overlooking the harbor. I owned no car and had no debts or relationships at that time.
Then came the early 1960s, President Kennedy had just been assassinated, the war in Vietnam was raging, and America was ablaze in protest. Lyndon Johnson had just taken the presidency and declared war on poverty. I headed to the coal fields of West Virginia to continue my religious journey. What a wake-up call! The rivers and streams had been poisoned, the mountaintops removed, the forests stripped, and the people impoverished. I ended up living there for two years. I vowed to help make a difference. However, the people I met made a far deeper difference to me.
It was then I met Mamie. She was in her 80s at the time she opened her home to me and provided me a rent-free room. One of the first things she did when I arrived was show me her apple tree, where she swung with her hands from one of its branches! The tree stood vigil over her mountainside organic garden. I soaked up her knowledge about natural health. On our occasional trips into Charleston, where there was a health food store, I listened intently as she debated nutritional experts on certain dietary issues. On many mornings and evenings, she and I would discuss articles in Prevention magazine about health. Those exchanges cemented my beliefs in a high-raw-organic, plant-based diet.
Those two years flew by and soon I was on the road again. The ensuing decades found me traveling all over the country, from Florida to Colorado and back again. I found many types of employment and odd jobs, but finally fell into the construction trade in Colorado. I became an ironworker, and for the next 16 years worked that craft. It’s hard now to recollect the many bridges and tall buildings I worked on; it seems like lifetimes ago. However, the dangerous work really suited me at the time and satisfied my appetite for adventure. It also gave me the option to save up enough money and take long periods of time off to simply work on myself.
During one such break, I purchased a hundred acres of wild, forested land, and with an axe and hand tools, using a winch and cables, I built a 56’ x 16’ log home. I also began collecting medicinal herbs and preparing formulations. I studied with several herbalists and health teachers, did a lot of fasting and organic gardening, and found I was quickly developing a reputation. I accepted local invitations to speak about healing and organic living. Soon the newspapers got wind of what I was doing, and I found myself more and more in the spotlight. At first it was just about building a log home by hand, and then about the healthy lifestyle I was promoting. During this time I also wrote my first book, How to Build Your Home in the Woods, and I also published some magazine articles.
It feels a bit strange thinking back to those days, since now I’ve written over 30 books on strength and fitness, natural living, diet, herbs, meditation, qigong, etc. It still amazes me what happened when I put pen to paper and how that decision changed my life. When 1982 rolled around, I was back in Florida, sitting at a beachfront condo in Fort Lauderdale. I began writing my first draft of what would become a 430-page book, How Long Do You Choose to Live? A Question of a Lifetime! The older retirees who wintered at the same Florida condo complex began musing that I was some type of sage or mystic, or maybe just a little strange. I must admit, I did have some very profound epiphanies, and soon gathered a small handful of students.
My first public seminars and talks were held at spiritual centers in Florida; however, I again felt it was time to move back to the forest. This time the destination was a mountaintop in Tennessee. With a caravan of friends, and Ann, who became my life partner for the next 28 years, I traveled on. Together, we built a wonderful structure on land bordering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We called our home Mystic Mountain. Ann and I hosted friends from around the world at the seminars I conducted. Many of the stories of those early adventures were captured in a book written by our friends, titled The Magic Man. I would remain sequestered and secluded there for the next 30 years.
During those 30 years on the mountain, my creative juices gushed forth. In addition to writing several novels and books on herbs, longevity, strength training, and other topics, I created a number of courses on health, qigong, prosperity, and the many aspects of physical/mental training. Additionally, martial artists and strength athletes from all over the country came to my mountaintop dojo to train with me.
Edward Armstrong wrote two books about his experiences on Mystic Mountain, The Wisdom of the Mystic Mountain Warrior and The Path to Mystic Mountain. Edward studied with me after reading The Magic Man.
In total, seven books have been written about me by a number of different authors. I feel a real debt of appreciation to all the writers who chose to include me in their books and magazine articles. I still recall when in the early 1990s Carol Lyons traveled to Tennessee from Rhode Island to interview me for Body, Mind, Spirit magazine. The subsequent publicity that resulted from her interview sparked invitations to be in publications such as Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, What Is Enlightenment, and countless other magazines and newspapers. Carol concluded her early interview and article by describing me as a “spiritual arsonist setting folks hearts ablaze.”
In 2010, after my dear Ann passed away, I had my own heart set ablaze again, by bestselling author Katrina Mayer. When writing about health and wellness, she had referenced me in an article, perhaps never expecting that many years later we would meet on Facebook. My heart became so touched by this exceptional and multi-talented woman that I asked her to be my wife in 2011 and she accepted. Katrina, who was formerly the first vice president of a $42 billion bank just outside of New York City, left her corporate position to share her life with me.
We now live on our secluded farm in central Kentucky, with our four dogs and four cats. We spend our time writing and finding ways to warm people’s hearts by sharing tips on simple living and finding healthful harmonies with the natural world around us.
Because we are both authors who share a love for writing, we decided to extend opportunities for people to meet with us through our occasional writing retreats. We also have a few other opportunities that we make available. Feel free to inquire.
Like I said, living long is good, but living well is better—and I would consider it my honor and privilege to share the tips and techniques I’ve picked up over the decades of my search.
Blessings and a Big Hug!
Disclaimer: This website was created as a tool for self-discovery. The information within is presented for informational purposes and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician and/or other medical or mental healthcare provider. The information I am sharing is not intended as medical advice. Moreover, the statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association or any other medical licensing authority unless otherwise stated. I am not a licensed nutritionist or dietician. I am a healthy, living advocate and coach for holistic wellness, health, food and fitness and I enjoy sharing my personal experiences and ideas. Please remember that what works for me may not work for you so go forward with caution and good judgment when incorporating any of the ideas in this program.