Army of Darkness | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #14

This last week I spent three days at Pelican Bay State Prison. As some may know, I have spent some time in prisons and correctional facilities for the last several years. This started with running an Art of Breath Program at San Quentin State Prison for six months until everything was stopped when COVID hit. Pelican Bay is in the absolute middle of nowhere and is one of, if not the most, secure prisons in the country. It houses the SHU (security housing unit) an isolation-based housing unit designed to keep the individual segregated from everyone else. Google images and videos if you care to see them. Pelican Bay is a Level 4 prison where at one time the worst of the worst went. It was the end of the road (you were never leaving). 

In my week-long adventure I experienced some of the deeper, darker aspects of human beings which did not come from the prisoners or the Correctional Officers/Staff at the prison. The prisoners and staff were a different experience of possibility and growth. Crazy to state this about prison like this! What I experienced that was darker was the large number of human beings who have decided to care or not to care about this population or the prison system. 

Let me articulate this in a way that helps anyone who cares to read this to understand where I am coming from. 

Many of us have made decisions about how we feel about most issues or many of the ‘systems’ in place through gathering information from media, the internet, and even social media. So, we end up planting a flag in an issue because so and so (a person I trust) feels a specific way and has gathered said information about a subject that I trust. They align with our feelings, and this is a very natural phenomenon that is rooted in our survival instincts. It’s why we didn’t eat poisonous shit or fight a bear. Someone learned a lesson for us, and we survived. 

Society has made leaps and bounds towards making us safer and life incredibly convenient for everyone, from disease to food, to transportation, and on and on. With that security we have been allowed to care more about a lot of other stuff. So we spend our time gathering information from others while learning who we like more and like less. One side does this. Well, I do that. We all get it. Critical thinking has little to do with this process, as we assume that the information we are fed is the truth on almost every occasion.

The truth is interesting because it is rarely seen but often felt. To understand the truth for ourselves, we have to learn to work on ourselves. When we work on ourselves, we see many of the insecurities and issues we’ve avoided or protected ourselves from. It is a process that involves deep reflection and an ability to understand why we react instead of respond. The search for the truth is rooted in the foundation of science, and I will paraphrase William Briggs on this. The truth implies there is an uncertainty to something as we can not be uncertain of nothing. Therefore, we are uncertain of something, and if there is some thing, there must be truth. I know it is a mouthful; however, this is where truth exists, in our conscious understanding that there must be more to this.  

Our consciousness is the ability to seek out this truth and our ability to be aware of more. The last decade or so of work has made one thing very clear about our polarized world. On one side or the other, the common theme is that the other side isn’t thinking clearly, and how could they come to these conclusions? It is my awareness that is better than your awareness ‘thing.’ Never realizing the algorithms in front of me are not the same in front of you, feeding our misunderstood feelings. It is entertaining to watch most of the time, albeit a sad show. 

So here is how this fits with prisons or any issue if you feel like inserting it. On the right, we’ve got people who think that prison reform is asinine and that many people should be locked up and we should throw away the key (this is the end); on the left, we have people who want to shut down all prisons and let as many people out as possible (this is the extreme other end). There are a lot of opinions and information that swirl on either end of this as to the why, but by and large, I’ve come to understand that the lack of understanding has created the most noise in these halls of dissonance. Big money fuels feelings. The siding up on issues – like prison reform in this case – shows who cares and who does not but is equally vocal. It is without fail where uncontrolled emotion (reaction) to an issue show’s how deeply someone has taken the time to understand their insecurities. Why do ‘the work’ when my feelings can be validated through my choice of information portal (insert media, internet, social media)? It’s the equivalent of having a drink every night to calm down, except this is literally ‘killing you by you’ without any chemical or toxin necessary. It is clear as day for those who seek the truth. 

Some of the most polarizing issues we have today have a token representative for the cause that usually self-identify with either having something ‘wrong’ with them or with humanity and that they have the answer. I’ve sat on this soap box of cynicism and self-defeating behavior. There was never anything wrong with me, nor is there anything wrong with you. I was only being fed that through whichever stream validated my opinion, which stems from my feelings. We are all afraid when we cannot understand. Understanding requires us to go through something, not gather information, for the sake of knowledge. 

I am not writing this to convince you of prison reform, which I have mixed feelings on. I am not interested in your opinion of the issues you care about, nor do I want you to care about my opinion of any problem I care about. I, however, do care about how you care about yourself. When we begin to care about ourselves, we look at others in the same light. Until then, we can never know how dark we are, thinking we only stand for what’s right. 

SH//FT Health is built on this and your exploration of the truth. We begin February 18, and we hope to see you there!

brian mackenzie

Brian Mackenzie is an innovator in human performance on stress adaptation and a pioneer in the development and application of custom protocols to optimize human health and performance. His clients and work have included: Ari Emanuel, William Morris Endeavor, Sheppard Mullin, Deloitte, Google, Tim Ferriss, U.S. Military (Navy, Army, Marines), Canadian Military (CANSOF), San Quentin State Prison, The UFC Performance Institute, Altis, Jon “Bones” Jones, Laird Hamilton, Tia Clair Toomey (3X CrossFit Games Champion), Rich Froning Jr. (4X CrossFit Games Champion) and many others.

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