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No Barriers Podcast Episode 89: Recap 2020

To wrap up this wild year we are sharing some of our top highlights from select guests we spoke to in 2020. Our hosts each chose a few clips that resonated with them and reflected aspects of this “No Barriers Life.” Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year!

“What a message of gratitude, of thankfulness of saying like life is a gift. Life is a privilege. So in Jim words, make it the best ride we possibly can.”



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Episode Transcript

Erik : It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind.

Erik : It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life. To define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way, and that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Dave : Welcome everyone to our final podcast of 2020. For our final episode, what we did is we sat down as a team, Jeff and Erik and I, and we thought about what were the common themes that came out of all of our conversations this year? What were some of the highlight moments?

Dave : If you haven't had the opportunity to listen to all of the episodes this year, this one episode is going to give you the highlight reel and in so doing, it's going to illuminate some of the very basic principles that we are trying to discover in our discussions here about how we break through adversity in our lives.

Erik : And I love this. This is going to be a fun one for me, Dave and Jeff, because we've interviewed dozens and dozens of different people from every walk of life, every part of our community. From neurologists and scientists and inventors, to people who have had post-traumatic stress and all kinds of trauma and injury.

Erik : And we're here to illuminate what this no barriers map and life looks like. And without these people, that path can look like a cliche, can look like a motivational poster. But with these people expressing these little nuggets, these little insights, these discoveries, what they've learned along the way, it goes from a cliche and it just pops and becomes life and learning and real, real knowledge that I've taken with me for the last couple of years.

Jeff : And a lot of 2020 was obviously a bit of a junk show for so many of us. And I think some of our guests really were able to capture the spirit of it, the challenge of it and the resiliency of it. So it's going to be fun to revisit some of those episodes.

Dave : Yeah. So let's dive right in. I'll get us started here guys. And we didn't all listen to each other clips yet. So this is going to be an opportunity for us to hear what each of us, kind of what rose to the top for each of us.

Dave : So I started with an episode, episode number 56 that we recorded right in the midst of the COVID crisis, as it was hitting. We interviewed Dr. Rana Awdish, who wrote a book called In Shock. She was at the front lines as a doctor in a COVID ward. She had survived her own traumatic health situation a few years back.

Dave : And I think this is a really good clip to start with because what I loved about our conversation with Dr. Awdish was the focus on when people are in the midst of their deepest, darkest struggles, how the thing we need to do the most is sit and listen and have empathy and witness what the story is. And so much of our podcast is about witnessing the story. So we're going to play the clip. Dr. Rana Awdish: I think, especially for physicians, we're so used to being of use. We've told ourselves a story that says that unless we're treating someone, we're not useful. And the paradigm shift that we all had to make was one that says your presence is healing. Dr. Rana Awdish: And we all know that intrinsically, right. When we have a bad day and we talk to a friend, it's unlikely that our friend does something to fix the situation that we're sad about, but just by witnessing it and saying, you know, gosh, I can imagine that was such a hard day. You know, I care about you and I want to continue talking and I don't have the answers, but I want you to know that I'm here as much as you need to talk about this, I'll listen. That's healing.

Jeff : Well, yeah. You know, that clip is very profound because I think we can all try our best to relate to what it's been like to be as a frontline worker right now dealing with the pain, the individual pain and challenges that go with providing medicine right now.

Jeff : But the thing that she really expressed was the most important thing she does is listen, and I feel like that's something that just gets lost. In all the mechanics of this kind of thing. It's a fundamental thing. Let's just...

Dave : Waking up, what did you say? I'm just kidding.

Jeff : That's a strong application there that you're doing.

Jeff : But that actually segways into a clip and a guest that really resonated with me. Jill Wheatley in episode 78. She's a remarkable woman who went through a pretty traumatic event and just kind of a freak accident, which left her mostly blind, visually impaired significantly.

Jeff : And we talked about the idea of dealing with the physical pain and the rehabilitation that comes with the physical injury, but how oftentimes the emotional rehabilitation gets forgotten or neglected.

Jeff : And we've heard that within the no barriers community quite a bit over the years, especially within the warriors program, but Jill very succinctly laid it out after I had inquired about that process for her. So I'd like to play the clip from the interview with Jill, which really underscores that idea of learning to love yourself again. Jill Wheatley: At one point when in the neurotrauma hospital, each day filled with seven different therapies, but none of them addressing like what you said, the self-love, but dealing with the grief. It wasn't only until when I was in Denver, that those conversations started to happen. Jill Wheatley: But really I feel that it hasn't been, it's only been in the last, since I've been out and the mountains have become my therapy, I call them my recovery playground. And I've opened up to meditate. Meditation has been huge for me since I've been out, and that really helps with the acceptance and the self-love is tough.

Erik : Yeah, Jeff. That's a good one. I think that's really powerful because I think what Jill's talking about is this idea that something happens to you. Life is full of change, right? And maybe you can't do the things that you used to be able to do in the same way. And because of that, you start comparing yourself, your new self to the old self. The old self was so much better. I could do this and I could do that. Now I can't. And it's an easy path to start hating yourself and your new life.

Erik : And it's quite a process, quite a healing process to say, I'm going to love the new me. I'm not going to be stuck in this suspended animation between these two people that as I change and as I grow into this new person, I'm going to love that person. I'm going to accept that person, even though I'm flawed, even though I'm imperfect.

Erik : I have a clip that dovetails onto Dave's clip about listening and about COVID because right in the beginning of the pandemic, we interviewed a really incredible neuroscientist, Dr. Beau Lotto. And he was describing this uncertainty, this adversity, this challenge, this isolation, this depression, this weight that we're all experiencing right now in COVID.

Erik : And I thought his description of what we're going through from a neurological perspective, like chemically, hormonally in terms of our health, I think it was just so clear and so right on, it really stuck with me. And also when you listen to the clip, notice that he uses this really cool phrase that I'd never heard before "a disempowered mind." And I think that's something we all have to be careful of as we feel more uncertain. So let's listen to that clip. Dr. Beau Lotto: When your brain is more adaptable, you have the increased probability of thriving, but it's also the nature of the way of being that's adaptable, that also facilitates your wellness. So for instance, if you feel you're more adaptable, your fear of uncertainty will decrease because you feel like you will be able to be agile to something that you haven't experienced before. Dr. Beau Lotto: So your cortisol levels will go down, for instance. Now, cortisol is a hormone that gets increased when we are stressed. A lot of people right now are experiencing high levels of cortisol, which is also affecting their dreams by the way. People now are experiencing very strong dreams, and it's because your brains are now in a sort of a constant level of low level panic. Cortisol levels are elevated. Respiratory rates are high, etc. Dr. Beau Lotto: So when that stays high for a long period of time, cortisol in particular, then what happens is your immune system actually starts deteriorating. You become more susceptible to illness, and if you get an illness, the response will be stronger. That's the last thing we want right now. Dr. Beau Lotto: Your brain cells can actually start withering and dying. Your creativity goes down. You become a more extreme version of yourself. If you're liberal, you become liberal. If you're conservative, you become conservative. Why? Because you're going to a place of familiarity. You're trying to get certainty. Dr. Beau Lotto: You also become more gullible, which is why we see one consequence of a disempowered brain is you start seeing patterns where no pattern exists. The illusions that I make on my website, they actually get stronger. That's why we're experiencing more conspiracy theories. Why? Because people are trying to find patterns because they're trying to find certainty. When you have a disempowered brain, you need certainty so much that you'll start grasping and you'll start finding relationships that don't actually exist. Dr. Beau Lotto: So if you become adaptable, that way of being of being adoptable increases the possibility of thriving.

Erik : That was amazing.

Dave : Isn't that cool? The idea that adaptability and thriving.

Erik : And kind of creating your own reality landscape based on whatever is resonating with you at that moment, and the extreme version of that. That was so succinctly put and so relevant right now.

Dave : And I love Erik that you chose a scientist because one of the things that I think has been fascinating over this course of this year is the diversity of kinds of guests that we've had. We have the scientific approach to the neurology behind our experience of adversity.

Dave : And the next clip I have is actually from a pastor. We've talked to the spiritual side of adversity as well. And I think one of the beautiful things when you listen to our episodes is when you combine all these diverse stories together, you get a better grander understanding of how to approach the challenges in your life from all different perspectives.

Dave : And so I chose someone who I know we all enjoy conversations with, which is a pastor, Nadia Bolz Weber, and Nadia talks to us about many things in the conversation we have. But the clip that I thought was really relevant was about how many of us feel shame and have to have compassion for ourselves, despite the things that have happened to us in our lives that maybe we've caused, and how we get through that shame and how we have to accept that we are all sinners and saints. So let's roll the clip. Nadia Bolz Weber: The most true thing is that we have capacity for kindness, for beauty, for selflessness, for love, for passion. You know, I mean, I just see human beings as being very complex. Like on my wrist, I have tattooed in Latin, "simul et sancti peccator" which means simultaneously sinner and saint. Like we're both things at the same time. Nadia Bolz Weber: I read a gorgeous passage from Glennon Doyle's book Untamed that just came out a couple of weeks ago, and I read it yesterday where she just has this beautiful description in that book about we're both, we're both and people. Nadia Bolz Weber: And if we think that we're all good and we have nothing we struggle with or no lessons to learn, we're telling ourselves the wrong story. And if we think we're all bad and we're not worth anything and not worthy to be loved or to be listened to, we're also telling ourselves the wrong story. So I think a lot of it is like, just how do we be right-sized?

Erik : Well, first of all Dave, good job actually narrowing it down to dig something out from the podcast with her. Because she was a trove of amazing, amazing axioms and testaments to live by. And that one was a great one. Amazing really?

Dave : Oh my gosh. I mean that whole episode with Nadia Bolz Weber, number 53, is just full of incredible wisdom. So I encourage you to listen to the entire episode.

Jeff : Another podcast that really resonated with me this year. The message was powerful, but the guest was one of the most extraordinary human beings that I've had the pleasure of talking with. It was episode 64 and it was with Cyrus Habib. And Cyrus is an extraordinary man that's probably had an even more extraordinary journey that's continuing and splitting.

Jeff : He is the current Lieutenant Governor of the State of Washington, who is relinquishing his post and following a spiritual quest to commit himself to the life of a Jesuit priest. And that's why I thought it really segwayed nicely with Nadia's clip, Dave, because she talks about how we all have this good and bad.

Jeff : And Cyrus has taken the clip that I chose really sort of emphasizes the same thing. It's this tribalism that's rooted out from our sociopolitical realm that we all operate in these days and how that split is so defined and definite, and it's caused such a rift in our culture that I think if we were to listen to Nadia's episode and then sort of allow Cyrus to come in and fill in the gaps, I think we'd all be better off culturally. So if we can play that clip, you'll see what I'm saying. Cyrus Habib: I do really strongly feel that this is what I'm meant to do. The challenge our country faces right now is upstream from politics. Politics are the downstream. The politics we have are the downstream consequence of a spiritual and cultural and social dysfunction that exists right now. A real lack of compassion, a deficit of understanding, and a growth of tribalism that has mapped onto political identities. Cyrus Habib: And so even just laying aside the personal kind of desire I have to serve in this way, I also think that for the kinds of public service that I got into politics to do, in order for that to work, I've now realized we actually need people of goodwill to work upstream from all that. To guide the society hopefully in a direction that is conducive to increase social justice, economic and racial justice, environmental stewardship, and taking care of one another. Cyrus Habib: What we need either at the individualized level or at the cultural level is, the Greek word is metanoia. We need a conversion of the heart. We need that kind of spiritual and emotional change in individuals and then enlarge our culture.

Dave : Jeff, I think that's amazing. I mean, what Cyrus and Nadia are both talking about this idea of compassion. I love the way he's talking about it from a downstream or an upstream perspective. That don't rely on politicians to change the world because they're just a downstream effect of this tribalism, of this dysfunction that we're all experiencing right now.

Dave : If we want true change, we have to have metanoia. We have to have a conversion of the heart. It all comes from this focus of this inner life, and faith is a very powerful way to make that change. So that's a great connection between those two.

Jeff : And they're really a challenge to each of us, which I think many of our guests have done to find that calling that is beyond ourselves. I think that's a really powerful message that we hear over and over in the midst of adversity, find your calling.

Dave : Well, it's funny. These clips are all illuminating our personalities, I guess, because my next clip is actually another scientist. Paul Stoltz who I wrote my second book with. All right, cut that out. That's a plug, sorry.

Jeff : Was it a bestseller? Wait a sec. Where can we buy it?

Erik : What's your rank on Amazon?

Dave : 22,000. All right, whatever. Forget the self-promotion. But I do love Paul and I think he's brilliant, Dr. Paul Stoltz. He has studied diversity and resiliency his whole career, and he's really game-changing. He's really brought some incredible tools and mechanisms to the world about how we respond to adversity. So we interviewed Paul as our very first COVID interview, and he talked about this idea of what is your COVID story going to be?

Dave : And I related to this so strongly because, you know, I know when I'm in the mountains, I do not just want to survive. I do not just want to squeak by, by the skin of my teeth and say, oh, lived through that one. That is not satisfying. What we're all I think trying to do is to flourish, not just in the mountains, of course, but in our lives and really figure out what the tapestry, what the meaning of life is. And so I think Paul really gets at it here. Paul Stoltz: There's a great sort of Latin term called memento mori, which means the vibrant ever present realization you're going to die. And so when you come to terms with the reality that there's an end game, and if you really take that head on, kind of enter the storm on that truth, what would you be doing differently? Paul Stoltz: And it's sort of like what I say to a lot of people about this pandemic, about COVID-19 is, you do realize that like it is through adversity, adversity serves as the ink with which you're writing your narrative, the human narrative. So what do you want your pandemic story to be? Paul Stoltz: Do you want to look back on these days and tell this flatliners story of how you just kind of got by? How you survived it? How you just sort of hunkered down and weathered it? Or do you want to say something more? Do you want to be more? Paul Stoltz: And so I think that's the aspiration we can all have honestly, is to kind of say not how do you survive this, but how do you use it, and hopefully how to use it towards something worthy? And if everybody did that, then this could be a really meaningful chapter for humankind. And I don't know, I'm trying to do my tiny little part of that, but I hope more and more of us will as well.

Jeff : So he perfectly summarizes the Confucius quote that I've mentioned to you that one time, which was, we're all provided two lives, and the second one begins when we realize and acknowledge that the first one ends. And that was it. That's exactly what Paul was just saying right there. It's very positive.

Dave : A lot of people like Confucius, I'm sure.

Jeff : Everybody does because that's where it all came from in the first place. We're all cover bands.

Dave : The ink on which your story is printed on. That's a good visual image for me.

Jeff : I wrote that down. That was really powerful.

Erik : Yeah, I think this idea that even in the midst of what seems to be our greatest traumas that we've heard in almost every podcast we've done. Gratitude for what people have learned and grown as a result of the trauma that they've faced. I think Paul speaks to that and challenges us all to tap into that.

Dave : You know, Jeff, as we know, our awesome producer, Pauline asked us to choose two clips that were our favorites. And as we've learned from our good friend and co-host Erik, when you tell him a specific number, he often triples or quadruples it. So Erik actually chose eight clips.

Erik : He's an overachiever that guy there. I want them all. He's either an overachiever or he just straight up doesn't listen. [crosstalk 00:22:50].

Dave : But Erik, all joking aside. We thought we'd conclude with one of the segments that you chose that we haven't listened to yet. So tell us about it.

Erik : Well, what Paul's talking about is what our COVID story's going to be or what our life is going to be? What's the meaning of our life? How do we create that meaning? What does a good life mean for us? And it's so personal, it's so deep.

Erik : And he talked about the idea of the fact that we're mortal, that we're going to die, is such an important part of that story because it clarifies what's important in our lives. And so this last clip was an interview we did with my friend, Jim Kwok, who had stage four cancer and fought it like crazy. And we were talking to Jim about what a good life looks like and what positivity looks like. Jim Kwok: Life is just such an amazing gift, and I hope everyone who's listening to this just appreciates that life is such a gift for all of us and it's a privilege. And we just owe it to ourselves to give it the best ride that we can. Jim Kwok: There's an energy that derives from that, right? I want to be better. I want to be better. I want to be a better father. I want to be a better husband. I want to be a better human. And there's an energy that pulsates through that when you have a sense of urgency around that. Jim Kwok: The other part of where my energy comes from is a sense of peace. I can't believe how lucky a life I've had. I've been surrounded by an amazing family, friends. I've seen some of the best parts of humanity in the last three years, and they give me a really strong sense of peace and that peace, I think makes me feel really powerful and not fearful about what lays ahead.

Erik : You know, as we go into the holiday season, like what a message for us. I should tell everybody that Jim passed away a couple months ago, so I don't want to tear up, but he did live an extraordinary life. I got to go up to Vail for a family reunion and be part of his family reunion with all his brothers and sisters and friends and nephews and kids. And he's got a beautiful family that he left behind and he wrote his own funeral message to his family and said, "Hey guys, I love living. I wish I could have been there for this."

Erik : But what a message of gratitude, of thankfulness of saying like life is a gift. Life is a privilege. So in Jim words, make it the best ride we possibly can.

Jeff : Keep on living, L-I-V-I-N. I felt very blessed to have encountered Jim too. So Erik, thank you for introducing me and giving me the opportunity. He came to my house several weeks before he passed with his family.

Jeff : And he very viscerally impacted my wife and my son and myself with his one hour short visit at our home. And I'm grateful that my kid who takes life for granted got to encounter Jim and hear him and see him and feel him and then know that he passed a few weeks later. So thank you for making that introduction. It shows you how much we have to be grateful for.

Erik : And God bless you, Jim.

Dave : What a powerful way to close out our year, Erik. Thank you for sharing that clip and kind of that reminder. I think if you've listened to the podcasts as a whole, it's a reminder to each of us that even in the midst of our darkest time, it's a challenge to live and that there is a pathway forward.

Dave : And that hopefully through these episodes and the work that we do at no barriers, the courses you can take with us, the events you can attend virtually or in person, you can learn some of that roadmap for getting through your own challenges and finding a way forward to not just get through it, but to thrive and grow and flourish.

Erik : And finding that hope and positivity that Jim had right until the end.

Jeff : Well, everybody. Happy new year to y'all. This has been a wonderful ride, thrilled to be on it with you. We encourage you to reach out to us. We're always thinking about what to cover next year in our podcasts. And so if you have ideas about what you'd like, guests you'd like to hear, things you'd like us to cover, please visit our nobarrierspodcast.com and reach out to us and make some suggestions.

Jeff : If you enjoyed this conversation or any of the other episodes that we referenced, please share them with a friend. It's one of the best things you can do to help our nonprofit organization is to spread the word. So thank you so much for listening and sharing and we'll see you in the new year.

Erik : Everyone have a peaceful holiday and a no barriers new year.

Dave : Later, 2020. See ya. Good riddance.

Jeff : Put this thing behind us.

Erik : On to the next thing.

Dave : 2021.

Erik : All right, everyone.

Jeff : All right, you boys. Have a great holiday. Y'all be good.

Dave: The production team behind this podcast include senior producer, Pauline Shaffer, sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman, and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie DiNardo, and Erica Howey.

Dave: Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance.

Dave: And thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time, and we appreciate you spending it here with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.

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