A book, by a meditation expert and an epistemologist, tells about life as a project: to be faced in the name of respect for oneself, others and nature

Can life be planned? That is, a better way to experience it, every day? And, if so, how is it best to do it?

Meditation and ways of approaching change do not seem, at first glance, to be issues related to the world of design. Yet they are, explains La Lezione della Farfalla (The Lesson of the Butterfly) by Daniele Lumera (teacher, writer, trainer and creator of the My Life Design method) and Immaculata De Vivo (professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health) , book published by Mondadori.

According to the authors, the key to succeeding in the – primordial but for this very reason so fundamental – intent of planning one's own existence lies in the acceptance of change and in the ability to learn to inhabit ourselves and our emotions first. yet to know how to live in places and situations. Quite obvious principles but difficult to manage for most.

“There are two ways to approach change”, tells Daniel Lumera. “The first is to try to manage it, to determine it through attitude, determination and will. The other is to abandon oneself and realize that it is in the nature of life. Attaching ourselves to situations, relationships and objects, sooner or later, will create suffering for us. The most useful thing we can do in our project is to try to harmoniously regulate our inner environment, made up of emotions, thoughts, situations, impressions and our external environment, which is what we live. We must make sure that one is a coherent reflection of the other”.

For Lumera, awareness restructures our sense of identity, that is, the experience we have of ourselves. Adapting to change means living in everything that life offers us. “The problem is not anger, but how you live it”, she tells, “our future, therefore, depends on the intimacy of what we feel, on listening to ourselves, the new design must start from there”, Lumera continues, “to do this we must be flexible and open to change, but we also need the opposite: determination and consistency, which means feeling your own tides and having the courage to follow them. We need to stop believing that we know who we are, and meditation can help us create a necessary silence”.

Awareness, listening and silence are the basis of the life project and belong to “knowing how to be”, as Lumera calls it, which today has been cleared by science. But it is true that society has always favored other learning such as knowing how to do, knowing how to have and knowing how to appear. “Those who meditate understand that there is nothing taken for granted around us: a breath, a step, a noise. He lives as if there were no tomorrow, in the state of constant amazement of a child playing”, he says, “he doesn't think he'll be tired, he gives himself completely”. 

The real revolution of living in the world, however, lies in the passage from I to Us. Pandemic and climate emergency have already made it very clear to us the concept that we must take care of the well-being of others: that of us human beings, but of the environment and of all living beings that inhabit it. But behind us we have a patriarchal society, which pumps individuality and has made violence, imposition on the other, economic and relational strength, the engine of transformation.

“The most powerful pollutant on the planet is the human mind. They are not plastic and oil, but the ideas that generate them in a perspective of exploitation and search for profit. We have built a society on the idea of being separate individuals, the ego sapiens, but it is a folly that does not exist on a biological level. Taking care of the good of others is an investment in the quality of our life, the survival of the species is at stake. Our nervous system was created to take care of the other”, tells Lumera, “therefore all pro-social behaviors, such as kindness and forgiveness, are natural medicines and essential planning tools. We have lost the ability to hear the other because we are strangers to ourselves. At school it would take the hour of forgiveness, the hour of happiness and that of awareness”.

From the pandemic we have learned that we are all interconnected, and in addition to getting involved on an individual level, it has made us re-read the issue of health in a collective dimension. From the design of the individual and relationships, now it is urgent to move to a global project. “For us scientists it is time to bring out the best from the broader perspective that Covid has shown us”, says the book's co-author, Immaculata De Vivo.

“If the first thing we noticed is that some people who have caught the virus have come out better than others, what has become evident everywhere is that the marginalized, poor and vulnerable have always had the worst. So at Harvard we looked at ways to tackle inequality. You cannot have a healthy and sustainable society if you cut entire populations out of your design, it will fall ruinously”.

Discrimination is a public health problem, not just a social problem. And it should be a global design project, accessible to all. “My scientific contribution to redesign health is based on the study of telomeres (small portions of DNA found at the end of each chromosome, ndr) which are the biological clock of our organism and show how marginalized people have a more weak, mental illness, depression, anxiety, and how they lack motivation and hope. We need to equip them better, with a better health system, healthier lifestyles and more integration into society”, De Vivo tells, “much of the work I have done over the years with my collaborators is to demonstrate how discrimination and racism have an impact on DNA”.

“We are all born with a certain number of telomeres and we lose some of them every year”, she continues, “but the point is that some lifestyles and some diseases cause loss faster than expected. The norm is 25 per year, but those who eat poorly, are stressed or sick can lose 100. In the registry office a woman can be 40 years old, but if the life she has lived has been hard, if she has suffered violence or he smoked, biologically he could be 80. So we work to protect people from the rapid shortening of telomeres. Which can be contrasted with physical activity, good sleep, healthy food and meditation. Those who protect themselves, by implementing virtuous practices, also help the community”.

Forgiveness is one of the skills to be redesigned, even as a society. To survive as a species we must be kind, we must forgive, another public health issue. “Much of our research shows that forgiveness is good for health. Those who are unable to do so have a high level of stress and anxiety”, tells De Vivo, “it is not that we should not be responsible for our actions, but we must emancipate ourselves from resentment. DNA is the book of our life, if I look at it under a microscope I can know how much joy you have lived”.


The shots in this article are part of Aphasìa, a photographic project by Francesco Sambati that explores the theme of incommunicability. A crowdfunding campaign is underway via the SelfSelf platform for the creation of the dedicated book; you can contribute and buy the book at this link.