PRACTICING WHAT HE PREACHES: VENEZUELA CARJACKING, ABDUCTION PUT ZORBA'S STRESS, COPING STRATEGIES TO THE TEST
By Jennifer Garrett and Monika Petkus
When life hands him lemons, Zorba Paster doesn't just
make lemonade. The co- host of On Your Health also makes lemon bars,
lemon meringue pie, lemon vinaigrette and then still has a slice
left to squeeze over his salmon and another to plunk into his water.
In other words, Paster can find the sweet spot in life's sourest
But that outlook was clearly put to the test when
he was held up at gunpoint after delivering a keynote address at
a medical conference in Caracas, Venezuela.
The good doc was heading back to the airport when
his van was forced off the road by three armed bandits, who hijacked
the vehicle and drove Paster and his cabbie to the Caracas slums
where they were held up at gunpoint. With the barrel of a gun resting
against his temple, Paster decided to follow his own advice: he
resisted the natural urge to let his adrenalin surge and chose to
stay calm and totally compliant.
The strategy worked. The hijackers eventually released
him and the cab driver unharmed. The driver was so shaken that he
had to be taken to the hospital, but Paster, who as a Buddhist has
long practiced mindfulness and meditation, emerged from the incident
relatively unscathed. After all, he reasoned, the bandits made off
with his passport, wallet, briefcase, and cell phone, but they spared
"A friend told me, it's as if I won the lottery,"
he says, "And, you know, that's right. The robbers got my stuff,
but I still have my life. Now, I just have to figure out the best
way to spend my good fortune, to make the most of it."
While he had his share of nightmares after the incident,
Paster says he's adjusting better than even he expected. "I
hold no malice toward these people," he says, "and I do
realize that, objectively, that might be seen as odd. They have
my stuff. But they also have a miserable life, and I have a great
life ... Maybe that's part of the lesson."
Fans of On Your Health, the lifestyle/entertainment
show produced by Wisconsin Public Radio and distributed by PRI,
know that Paster advocates forgiveness, anger control, and a positive
attitude as keys to a long, sweet life. So series co-host Tom Clark
says it's really no surprise that Paster would turn a life-threatening
experience into a life-affirming one. "It's easy to see how
something like this could make someone bitter or fearful. But Zorba's
always been a glass-half-full kind of guy," Clark explains.
"So this actually has made him more of an optimist than ever.
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, he's celebrating his good
fortune at surviving the experience, and relishing every moment
of every day."
Paster also credits the advice of close friend and
nationally noted psychiatrist, Ken Robbins. "He said, 'Set
aside some time every day to tell your story to yourself every day,
in as much detail as you can, to make it your own,'" Paster
says. "That way, you own the thoughts; they don't own you."
Once you make the story your own, Paster explains,
you're no longer a victim. You control the event, and you can use
it any way you like. Paster hopes his story will help others realize
what a gift life is. "I know it sounds clichéd,"
he says, "but every day does count."
So just days after the carjacking, Paster was back
on the road to give a keynote speech at a longevity conference in
Australia and then on to China to begin researching his next book.
His first book, The Longevity Code: Your Personal Prescription for
a Longer, Sweeter Life, looked at what Paster calls the five spheres
of wellness; his next book will focus on the emotional and spiritual
sides of good health.
Still, like others who go through traumatic events,
Paster did find himself taking stock of his life. He remembered
that he's blessed with an abundance of riches: A loving family and
friends, meaningful medical work that takes him around the globe
and, of course, a great radio show that he loves. And it made him
more determined to maintain that healthy balance of work, play,
family, and spiritual life.
The past few months also have reinforced his belief
that the right attitude can see you through most any situation,
any challenge. So now, more than ever, Paster wants to reach out
to his patients and his public radio audience to help them think
positively and make good choices that will lead to longer, happier
lives. "It's really up to us," he says. "We have
far more power than we might think."
Then again, Zorba Paster would say that.