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No Barriers Podcast Episode 138: Frontiers of the Mind with Dr. Albert Lin



“I learned barriers are entirely in your mind. You choose to either accept these barriers or you can have the guts to dance, to tango with the unknown, to take that first step, and see what unfolds, I think that is what being an explorer is all about.” That’s a quote from today’s guest Dr. Albert Lin.

Dr. Lin is an award winning scientist, technologist, explorer, and storyteller (both on stage and the big screen). His work to reinvent how we explore has made headlines around the world, merging adventure with innovation.

Our conversation today traverses his early days living in his car while planning an expedition to find Genghis Khan’s tomb, to an accident that took his leg, leading down a rabbit hole of brain rewiring exploration to rid himself of phantom limb pain. That’s the science of neuroplasticity, which we get into, including his experiment with 10,000 students at a commencement speech. Along the way we learn we lesson or two as go behind the scenes on some of his adventures through Mongolia, Guatemala, India, and even the inside of wave barreling into shore somewhere on the Pacific.

 

Dr. Lin’s website: https://www.exploreralbert.com/

 

Social Media

https://www.instagram.com/exploreralbert/

https://twitter.com/exploreralbert

https://www.facebook.com/exploreralbert/

 

References

Welcome to Earth Interview – https://screenrant.com/welcome-earth-albert-lin-interview/

Nat Geo Explorer Profile Page – https://www.nationalgeographic.org/find-explorers/albert-yu-min-lin

Thurgood Marshall College Commencement 2018 – from UC San Diego Commencement Ceremonies  – https://youtu.be/GaFIqfJvMXM

What is Transhumanism? From Nat Geo 2019 Story Tellers Summit – https://youtu.be/ZB6IJgnKwpY

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Albert Lin:
I guess my relationship to those moments have been strange in that I've always found them sort of romantic. You don't get those moments without the pain, the truly transformative moments. So if you're paying the dues of suffering, then you're about to reach something that very few get to reach, which is an insight if you're open to it, that you're paying for, with the suffering. And, that insight might be one of the most important things that you'll have in your life.

Erik Weihenmayer:
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. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barrier's 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, in that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit, exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.

Didrik Johnck:
Our learned barriers are entirely in your mind, you choose to either accept these barriers, or you can have the guts to dance, to tango with the unknown to take that first step and see what unfolds. I think that is what being an explorer is all about. That's a quote from today's guest, Dr. Albert Lin. Dr. Lin is an award-winning scientist, technologist, explorer, and storyteller, both on stage and the big screen. His work to reinvent how we explore has made headlines around the world, merging adventure with innovation.

Didrik Johnck:
Our conversation today traverses his early days while living in his car, planning an expedition to find Genghis Khan tomb, to an accident that took his leg, leading down a rabbit hole of brain rewiring exploration to rid himself of that phantom limb pain. That's the science of neuroplasticity, which we too get into, including his experiment with 10,000 students at a commencement speech. Along the way we learn a lesson or two as we go behind the scenes on some of his adventures through Mongolia, Guatemala, India, and even the inside of a wave barreling into the shore somewhere on the Pacific.

Didrik Johnck:
This is the No Barriers podcast. I'm the producer, Diedrich Jonk and I do hope you enjoy this episode hosted by Erik Weihenmayer and Tom Lilling with guest, Dr. Albert Lin. Off we go.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Everyone. Welcome to No Barriers. My guest host Tom Lilling. Man, awesome to hear your voice, Tom. Take a little time out of your busy schedule, running Stone Ward, amazing marketing company to join us. You're on the board of No Barriers as well. So great to have you. This is a good opportunity to catch up with you too.

Tom Lilling:
Great to be here, Erik and so excited about our guest today.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Albert, man. So cool to meet you and hang with you. We met in California, was a couple months now?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. In some of the most intense conditions possible, which is to be in the center of a Hollywood debut.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. At the premier of Welcome to Earth, man. That was cool. That was rad, man. Albert, I'm kind of like a dirtbag, right, I grovel in the mud. And then, every now and again, I step into a Four Seasons and hang out with you and Will Smith. But, it's sort of a split personality sometimes to step into that world and go, whoa, this is pretty wild.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah, no, I feel the same way. Every once in a while I find myself, if you've linked an expedition with an event where you're promoting something, it's like you're packing your hiking boots and your Gators and your machete, and at the same time you're packing your tuxe. It's like, what world are we living in? But, it's super fun. It makes you feel kind of like a little James Bondy, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Yeah. For sure. It was wild. And then we took a ton of photos and hung out with all these folks. It was just, Hollywood's a scene. We'll save that for another episode. So, on Welcome to Earth, you did a really cool adventure with Will that we'll just start with, and that was in Namibia, right? I remember you telling this story and I think in it's the episode where you guys do this tyrolean traverse across this canyon and it's wild. That's so cool. I've done a bunch of tyrolean traverses, but never quite in the way you guys did it.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. Me neither. Using a drone to try to get a lead line around a big baobab tree and then pull out-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Which looks like a Dr. Seuss kind of tree, right, if I remember?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. Actually it's the tree from... what is that book way back in the day?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Was it the Little Prince? I can't remember. It was something-

Dr. Albert Lin:
The Little Prince. Yeah. The baobab. It's this wild ancient huge tree.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And, was it over at the crocodile river? Yeah, set it up for everyone just to kind of set up your badassness.

Dr. Albert Lin:
It's not badassness. I guess it is kind of crazy. You think about it, you're in Africa... well, we're in Namibia in the Namib desert. And then, all of a sudden we drive up to this area where there's this river, that's got basically the largest crocodile population in Africa. And, it's a place where there's, I think, an attack every week, basically, a week on local farmers or people that show up. Because, there's nobody really there.

Erik Weihenmayer:
We're not promoting tourism to the area right now.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Beautiful though. Yeah, no, if you're up for a little crocodile experience, it's beautiful. But then, we're trying to get this sense of how the river flows and carves the way to stone over time. And, the only really up close view of this one waterfall that carves away the stone in this beautiful pattern is at the center of this little inlet, this island at the heart of this river in the midst of this roaring rapids all around it. And so, to get there, you got to think outside the box. And, we saw that baobab tree. We're, well, let's fly a line around it and then try to pull this climbing rope across and get across.

Dr. Albert Lin:
I've never done anything with a drone to try to fly a lead line around. But, I did spend a lot of time climbing in my younger days. So, doing traverses and things like this has been not as intense as what you've done, Erik, but it's been a part of my life leading up to-

Erik Weihenmayer:
So just so people can visualize it, you're flying a drone with a rope. And, you fly the drone around the baobab tree, and then the drone flies back to you, and that's the way you connect the rope across this crazy canyon. And, because you are not on the other side, you hope that that tree is incredibly strong enough to be able to tension that rope. And then, hang your body weight as you slide across the canyon with crocodile's below you. Sounds fun, man. I wish I was there.

Dr. Albert Lin:
The tree's huge. The tree is massive. So, you get a sense where it's not going anywhere.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Okay.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Baobabs, I think, are some of the oldest flowering trees on planet earth in terms of how old they can grow and how big they can get. So, it's solid. And, I've definitely been in other situations where you, in a pinch, have to bail on a climb and you repel off of something far more sketchy, which you do, right? So, it felt pretty good. But, it was seeing Will's kind of anticipation in the moment that almost made me scared, because he was a little scared, but I think it was also all the build up of all this information about how many crocodiles were-

Erik Weihenmayer:
I'd be scared. Any human being would be scared.

Dr. Albert Lin:
I don't know. I think you're pretty fearless, Erik. I don't think you'd be scared. I think you'd be making some subtle joke.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, sure. Of course. That would be covering up my fear.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Well, it was awesome, but the whole journey through Africa with Will was about time. And, it was about how time is sort of taking place all around us and things are changing in scales of time that are beyond our perception. And, that actually the way that all the things exist is either happening very, very quickly or very, very slowly. And, we only get as little narrow window between all of that, that we perceive as how things are moving and changing. But actually, the dynamic world that we're in is happening at much different rates all around us.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So, the river was one scene, but we were also able to repel into the midst of this huge underground cave and look at these stalactites that had been submerged in this underground cavern that ended up being this massive underground lake because of the way in which the water table had changed over time. So it was literally a journey through time, but with the Fresh Prince.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's so cool. That's so cool. One of the things I did to research was to check out a ton of links and stuff. And man, you had a wild commencement talk in San Diego. Wait, I can't remember what college it was, but that was you playing the guitar, right, in the commencement?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That was so cool, dude. I was like, wow, is he playing the guitar? I had to run and ask a sighted friend, whether you were playing that guitar. You're really talented.

Dr. Albert Lin:
I wouldn't say I was... Yeah, I got lucky. That was a moment... Yeah, so a couple-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Everyone go check out Albert's commencement talk.

Dr. Albert Lin:
A couple of years ago, I was asked to give the commencement speech at UC San Diego. And, I have a link to it on my Instagram on Explore Albert. But, I didn't know what I was going to say. You know? What do you say that hasn't already been said? And then, right before that I was really thinking about it, what is it about the different moments and the different sort of ceremonies that we go through that change us? And, I think that, for me, this journey comes back to my own accident, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
So, I went through a moment of transformation where I lost my leg in a car accident and in the moments afterwards and the months and years afterwards, I thought a lot about how to sort of shift my mind. Because I was holding on to certain, both physical and mental traumas and it was taking place in the form of the most visceral thing, which was phantom limb pain. So, I was starting to feel this extreme, excruciating pain in the part of my body that didn't exist anymore.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So I got really into the science of neuroplasticity and how to sort of rewire your brain. And, I started traveling to all these different parts of the world where there was examples of that in culture. So for example, I went to Varanasi, India where the whole city is built on the Ganges River. And, it's built as a technology to sort of get people to grapple with the death of a loved one. So that's where the bodies are burnt and supposedly your body's burnt there within a week, then you skip your reincarnation, you go straight to Nirvana.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So people have built this entire ecosystem of ritual around the importance of basically transition, right? And, really, if you've spent a lot of time around death, the ceremonies are more about what the survivors take away from it, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
But Albert, let me interrupt because it's so fascinating just to pause for a moment here, because, first of all, you have a PhD or a doctorate. You've gone around the world studying cultures and looking at ancient cities and looking at rituals and ceremonies of indigenous cultures and how the world changes and evolves and how we move through the world in terms of quote, unquote progress. And then, this thing happens to you, which is, you're in a car accident, you lose your leg. So, looking back, it's sort of crazy. It almost like felt to me like maybe it's like your own personal chance of feeling these things you've been studying most of your career.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Oh, yeah. It couldn't have been more visceral than having to then employ all of your own... Okay. So there's a moment where I lost my leg and the first day I started to feel the Phantom limb pain, I'd sort of done some research in a month in the hospital about what to avoid, Phantom limb and all this other stuff, right? So my friends all happened to be the doctors that were attending to me because were all in the same university and I've had a pretty multidisciplinary career. So some of my friends were doing research on things like the front edge of depression research, which has looked at things like ketamine as a single moment to induce a neuroplastic state that would allow you to sort of rewrite your narrative and reset, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
So when they operated on my leg, my friends who were my pain docs, basically, I told them that I wanted to try this approach, they put me into a ketamine coma basically. So I went into the most psychedelic journey ever to have my leg amputated.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I had a friend who got hurt in Iraq. And, he said the same thing when he was just laying there in the hospital, completely burned the crap out of him and he was on ketamine. He said he was seeing some wild visions.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Oh, wow. Yeah. Really some of the most incredible things I've ever spiritually taken away in life have come from these altered states that were all kind of brought around these one moments. My journey started off in engineering. I got a PhD in engineering. Then, I applied engineering to try to understand more about human culture. So, there was a time I was starting off, I'd just gotten this degree in engineering and I sold everything I had, I moved into my car and I basically gave myself a year to raise money, to try to be an explorer. And, the first project was to try to find Genghis Khan's tomb in Mongolia. It sounded ridiculous, but eventually I got somehow into Nat Geo's sphere and got my first little bit of funding and started leading these teams into the remote mountains of Mongolia.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, along the way, just to get access to some of these places, I was encountering cultures that were about ceremony and tradition and ritual. And, some of these things like to be able to access this one mountain, I had to meet with the shaman who beat this drum until he went into this trance state. And then, right in front of me, his entire being sort of shifted in terms of his own mind. And, he was able to go into this completely altered state just from beating this drum into this rhythm. When I lost my leg and I started experimenting with different ways of trying to get to that same trance state to try to rewire my brain, it was because of the research that was being led on psychedelics and neuroplasticity in the fields of depression.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So right now at John's Hopkins, there is these trials that have been sort of pioneering the way with they've been looking at well, what happens to the brain under, let's say, a hero dose of psilocybin. But, what ends up happening is you have all of these increases of neuroplastic connections across regions of the brain that aren't really talking anymore. And, you get this suppression of the default mode, which is defined as basically every time you synapse fires or one of them fires, it's easier for it to fire again. So over time, from your childhood to your adulthood, what started out as kind of a blank canvas gets more and more embedded as these sort of trodden paths and that's your default mode. In a way that's why-

Erik Weihenmayer:
It's like your default consciousness, right? And, you kind of almost get lazy and bored or something, or just stuck in that one thing, that one way of seeing the world through that lens.

Dr. Albert Lin:
One way of seeing the world.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. Okay.

Dr. Albert Lin:
One way of seeing the world. So, when they showed that all of a sudden you could sort of suppress that and then rewrite a bunch of those pathways in the case of depression, I was facing something where I'm, okay, my brain isn't letting go of this pain, it's coming at me in a part of my body that I cannot treat with anything physical because there's nothing there. It's literally the air, right? It's like the air around me. What am I going to do?

Dr. Albert Lin:
So like everything else in my career, which has been multidisciplinary, I looked around at what the science was. And, I met this neuroscientist named V.S. Ramachandran. I don't know if you've heard of him before, but he's kind of like a leader in the field. He's like the Albert Einstein of neuroscience of our time.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Hmm.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, he happened to be in San Diego and he discovered this thing where you could put a mirror between two parts of your body and you could see the reflection of your remaining limb and you could trick your brain into letting go of the Phantom pain by creating almost this story for your brain to grapple with, to hold onto. Let's say, you're missing your hand and your hand's gone and the feeling is usually like a clenched fix or some kind of moment where you're just like holding onto the pain.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Dr. Albert Lin:
If you can see a reflection in a mirror of your other hand and then sort of release the pain with this visual trick, then maybe your brain will hold on to the new story that says there's no pain there.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Is it a reflection of the missing hand or a reflection of the hand that you have, or, in your case, the leg that you have?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. It's a reflection of the hand that you have to make it look like your missing hand has come back.

Erik Weihenmayer:
I see. To yourself.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Right. It's kind of like, I don't know, as a kid, I used to stand in a mirror like this and then stick one leg up and pretend like I was flying. I don't know if you ever did it. It's kind of like that. But, every time you would remove the mirror, the pain would come rushing back. So, what that told me was that, okay, I can see the story, but my brain won't hold onto it, right? So, it's like, my brain is, the minute that the story's gone is referring back to the default mode.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So then, I started looking at all the research that was around. It was like, okay, well, maybe I need to enter the state of neuroplasticity. So we started looking at things like Kundalini yoga or meditation, or breathing meditations. I started getting really into the sort of science of cultural pathways to a state of neuroplasticity. And, that's why I ended up in Varanasi, India, because-

Erik Weihenmayer:
All right, now we're back to Varanasi, India. This is awesome.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Because, you get to this place where you're you built an entire set of rituals and architectures and customs and traditions and a feel that has been designed to help people let go of something, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, it's a place where you're so overwhelmed by the sensation of being there that you literally are like, you're letting go of your own ego. And, that's the moment where you can sort of write new narratives, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Hmm.

Dr. Albert Lin:
It all happens for me from surfing, right? So, when I'm dropping in on a big wave, you can't even react. There's so much that is about instinct that you almost lose yourself. It's like an out of body experience. I'm sure you've felt that before in your journey, too.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. I was at the gym the other day, because I've been really fascinated, Albert, by this inner journey. You've done huge physical things, I've done some big physical things, but the last half of my life I've been really more fascinated by this inner stuff you're talking about. So, I've been thinking a lot and reflecting a lot and I was at the climbing gym the other day and I was like, God, this is like almost the most happy state I'm in when I'm just climbing up a wall, reaching for the next hold, feeling this, I don't know, kind of like a flow, a beauty, a simplicity of being fully here. And I was like, God, it'd be great to be able to feel that all the time. So anyway, I'm just connecting to what you're talking about.

Tom Lilling:
I really love, Albert, that you had this multidisciplinary career, you became this explorer and then it seemed like the accident sort of ignited this exploration into oneself and exploration into how ultimately do I want to live this life, this new life and find this joy in this life. And, you have this amazing quote that I heard on one of your videos. And, this is why I want to make a No Barriers poster with you on it and put it up. And, every member of our house, every member of our organization in their houses, you said, "I learned barriers are entirely in your mind. You choose to either accept these barriers or you can have the guts to dance, to tango with the unknown, to take that first step and see what unfolds. I think that's what being an explorer is all about." I'm wondering, were you able to get to that realization prior to the accident or was it only after the accident and your journey into self that sort of brought you to that point?

Dr. Albert Lin:
I'm very lucky that I had a couple of parents that were very passion-driven. And, when I left the house... For my family, everybody who turned 18, we didn't get fancy clothes or fancy cars, but we got a plane ticket to anywhere in the world when we turned 18.

Tom Lilling:
Wow. It's such a great idea.

Dr. Albert Lin:
That was, like, okay, go. As a father now, it must be terrifying to send your kid off into... where, just go. And so, from an early part of my life, it was always about the unknown. My father was an astrophysicist, my mother is a musician and actress. And so, they're always just thinking about this sort of like... My father was always surrounded by people, just literally thinking about the universe, right? So, everything was always about the frontier. And then, I think, when I really felt it first was when we started to doing this Genghis Khan project, it was just my friends and living on couches, literally with no associations to any major organization whatsoever just sort of piecing the thing together bit by bit.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, there was a moment when we had raised a little bit of funds and I brought the whole team out to Mongolia, we were supposed to go into the field. But before that, as I'm flying into Mongolia, all my contacts are sort of saying that like everything's falling apart, basically, in Mongolia. All the groundwork that I had done in the month leading up to build the collaborations that allow us to go to this place were all basically saying that we were amateurs, that we didn't have enough funding and we didn't know what we were doing. And, all this stuff. I was sort of true. I don't want to say that out loud, but it was sort of true.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, I remember getting there and being like, okay, what's going to happen now? We can either give up and go home, and that's it, I will never be an explorer, that's it, that was my one shot. Or, figure out how to judo move all these barriers, is what we basically came up with and just keep our eye on the goal. And so, we go into this meeting and this guy, the first meeting, literally, he throws his tea on the ground and says, "You have no business being here," and walks out. And, we reset in this little bar, my friends and I. They were all rock climbers, right? And, we had all been in the mountains together. Some of them I had climbed out cap with. We were all climbers. So it was all about problem solving.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, we decided that we were going to approach the next meeting where every time something was said that was going to stop us, where you can't do this because, you just sort of judo move around it. We wouldn't even answer it directly. We'd just say, oh, but da, da, da, and then talk about something really, really positive. And then, just keep on shifting it to a positive story. I can never forget that one moment where we're sitting in the bar, we make the decision to do that tactic. Then another couple of meetings go by and a couple of days later, we're loading up the trucks and going into a place that's been forbidden to go to for 800 years, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
We had literally just chosen to not confront this negative energy, but rather move around. Just judo move around it. And, that got us into the unknown. And for me, that was probably the start of it. When I lost my leg, as years later, I was super lucky to be also surrounded with really incredible friends. I think that no person's story is done in isolation, really it's about the love and support of the friends around you. And again, these friends helped me see that there was ways to judo move the challenges, right? The barriers, so to say, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, I remember one friend, I'm sitting there and facing doubt, what am I going to do? And, one friend finds this prosthetic clinic that looked like, I don't know, a CrossFit gym, right? It was like, man, that looks cool. It's not like what you think of in your head when you think of getting a prosthetic. It looked awesome. And so, I went there and I started seeing all these people around me doing incredible things and going to the Paralympics or choosing to live the life they want.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Another friend showed me this picture of this guy surfing this huge barrel wave, right? This guy's now my friend and I'm actually now in the process of a quest with him and with the community of friends I have around me now to try to do the same thing, to be inside that barrel wave. But, I feel like my experience has been that you can basically dream up anything and then it becomes real. And, it became very real for me when I was able to let go of the pain because the pain I was dreaming up wasn't in a part of my body that even was physically there anymore, but it was so real. And then, if I could get my mind to let go and truly believe that the pain was gone and really hold onto that belief, then I was able to create that new reality.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And so, it was like bending the spoon in the matrix. If you believe the spoon can bend, then it's going to bend. If you believe that there's a barrier there, the barrier's going to stop you. But if you believe that there isn't a barrier there, then you're going to get through it. And, that goes all the way back to that graduation speech that you brought up, right? So, I'm sitting there trying to figure out what I'm going to say. And, I'm like, well, instead of just saying it, let me try to put everybody into this neuroplastic state. I'm just going to do what I'm saying, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
So if that is a moment where there's a tradition and a ceremony and a thing to get people to chip their minds, then I got to put my money where my mouth is. If those ceremonies are to get you to those neuroplastic states, the same way that I try to get to my neuroplastic state to let go of the Phantom lymph pain and now these kids are graduating and they're being told, okay, now you've literally transformed into this moment and now you're supposed to go and seize your own life, then I need to put everybody into that ego death place, right? So I just picked up my guitar and I didn't even plan what I was going to say and I just tried to feel this epic vibe of 10,000 people in front of me.

Tom Lilling:
It was great. Yeah. I felt like the trance came over and the images of the kids smiling. You had-

Erik Weihenmayer:
You explained it so well, Tom, because that's right, I felt that, too. It was like words, but it was more about the experience about the ceremony of what you were launching people into.

Tom Lilling:
Absolutely.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, now you're re-wrapping the brain. You're trying to see that new future, dream that new future. You got to take us back to India because you never finished. We keep interrupting you and you never finished your journey on that path.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Well, that was wild. I've found that my leg has been an incredible asset. I'm holding it up right now. It's carbon fiber. I'm so lucky and got like this titanium wrap and it's got this little thing. I'm so grateful to have this. And, I know that there's privilege in this. I know that a lot of people don't have access to prosthetics. But, when I walk around now, I always kind of walk around with shorts even if it's frigid outside. Because, I feel like it's like a home field advantage, because it's so dismantling to anybody's preconceived notions of what... You walk up and you're like, oh, and then you immediately have the home field advantage.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, I was out in India and I was at this place where it's right at the heart of everything where... It's called the Burning Gut. But, basically, it all focuses down on this one small riverbank. You arrive into the city and it's just the noise and the sounds and the smells just start growing and growing, growing until... really, I've never been in a place with as many people, cows horses, moving parts, vehicles, all condensing these narrower and narrower streets all into this one heart.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, that heart in the very center of this city is on this river. And, right at that heart, there is just these eternal flames of burning bodies. And, there's this one flame, that's the flame of Sheva and it's just burning. They say it's been burning for 700 years, the same flame. And, it's just been going and going and going. And, this is the flame that they light all the pyros with. Stacks of wood all around you.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So I go to this place, I just want to know. And, when you stand there, you can feel the heat of the flames. And, you see the bodies burning. It's a totally different thing than I think I was expecting. I've seen dead bodies in my life before and I've held lots of skeletons on my journeys into tombs and things like this. But, it felt very different because nobody's crying. It's just this low sort of hum of release and punctuated by these drums all the time. These drums beating, like clockwork.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, these ceremonies and drums and drums and drums and drums. So I'm sitting there watching this thing and some guy comes up to... There's kids flying kites, there's cows taking a poop, everything's all around the same spot, right? It's not like the way you would think of a sort of solemn ceremony here. There's literally life happening all around at the same exact moment.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And then, a guy comes up and he's kind of messing with me a little bit, right? He is like, what are you doing? He's just trying to poke at me a little bit, see what I'm doing there. And then, all of a sudden, he sees my leg and he's like, oh, oh, okay, and he goes off. And then, a little bit later, he comes back and he's talking to me about my life and everything. I'm like, I want to know more about the ceremonies of release. They call him Baba Lulo. Baba is like the guru. And, Lulo means the thief. He's like the leader of this gang basically of this one small town, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. And his whole crew, they're all young guys. They're all kind of like, this street crew, right? We become friends and he starts taking me to all these different ceremonies where down in these temples underground, deep inside the heart of this city where nobody really even knows there's something going on, there's a guy beating a drum into this trance state and he's worshiping this Sheva, which is like sort of the God of death and creation. So the rebirth thing, right, over and over again.

Dr. Albert Lin:
He's taking me all through this place and the whole time, he's sort of telling me about the story of this city, which is a city built... they say it's the longest inhabited city in human history. I don't know exactly if that's true or not, but they say that. And, he's sort of telling me about this sort of role of death and rebirth and about karma and all these different things. And, I'm learning more and more from this guy who's essentially a sweetie, but he's taking me to all these different gurus to experience these different ceremonies.

Dr. Albert Lin:
He takes me down into this one ceremonial temple and there's a guy, super old ancient guru who's been doing this for his whole life. And, he's bouncing around on one leg, beating this drum the whole time, worshiping the God of death and rebirth and the sound of ohm. I go, and halfway through this, I'm like, why is that guy just standing on one leg, only on his left leg?

Dr. Albert Lin:
And I go and I ask him afterwards through Baba Lulu and he says, "That's his pathway to meditation. That's how he enters his state of neuroplasticity, by choosing to stand only on his left leg," which happens to be my only remaining biological leg.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Kind of wild.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, what I realized in that whole journey was that if you think about your life, you have many different chapters of your life. And, each chapter is like and entire life and then it dies. And, if you're able to let go of that chapter, you can accept the new chapter. You can truly transition into something new. So each one of those chapters makes up the whole of your life. But, actually you go through many death and rebirth cycles in a single lifetime. And this guy, Baba Lulu, t's like, he's one version of himself and maybe he'll be something else later and all these other things.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, my understanding from that experience was that in fact, it's not about being one way, it's about experiencing the breadth of the human journey, the breadth of the human condition, and going through all those death and rebirth cycles and allow you to sort of see the whole of what it means to be yourself. And, whether you're starting off as the guru or you're starting off as a thief or the order, it doesn't really matter, but it's about choosing to allow yourself to let go of something that allows you to be born into something to new.

Didrik Johnck:
Well, I love that. Yeah.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So you were able to get rid of the pain, the Phantom pain, but it sounds like you're talking about something way bigger just than letting go of pain.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Oh yeah. Well, look, I think that I'm talking about letting yourself go and not hold on to the expectations of permanence, right? Anybody who's gone through a major life change, you or me, or all of us, everybody's done that at some point, you find this moment where you're sort of mourning the loss of who you were before. And, that's okay. That's totally okay. But, you have to truly accept that and almost embrace and succumb to that loss and let go of holding onto the resistance of trying to keep who you were before, be able to accept the new.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, so much has to do with the ceremonies that I experienced in Varanasi because these people were like, okay, we're letting go of somebody. We're literally letting go of our loved one. And so, we're burning their bodies at the banks of the river to let them become something else and to let ourselves become something else. And so, what I guess I'm talking about is, it was maybe a year after I lost my leg when I went to Varanasi and I was truly grappling with, I think, trying to understand what transformation meant, what imminence really was and the different chapters of who we become through time.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, you're talking about what happened to you, to me, to all of us, right, in terms of not trying to move into a new person, but is it also about letting go of things like... You live long enough and we all have... I was such a jerk when I was a kid, I wasn't the best version of myself, I might have hurt people in my life, so that builds up a lot of shame and guilt and sort of, I don't know, trauma that kind of holds you from becoming at peace. Do you think it also applies to people who have had that kind of PTSD type experience?

Dr. Albert Lin:
I think it totally does. Forgiveness of others and forgiveness of the self is a big part of letting go ahead and transitioning into a new life, right, within your own life. And, I think that it's so important. I was just told by a friend, this very close friend of mine of a story where they went to this sort of ceremony in the jungles and they were there with a group of other friends and one was a mother and her daughter who had experienced a bunch of trauma together in their family, inflicted upon basically by an abusive father.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, in this moment, they were able to release themselves and not only forgive him, but forgive themselves to each other, of having held that space for that.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Sure.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Then, move through it in this way that was allowing them to become something new. But, they literally had to get to a place where they can lose themselves and literally go out of their own bodies to be able to let go of the rigidity of their narratives that we've created in our heads.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right. Which are so locked. They feel so much like reality.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Well, they are reality. But, you have many realities. So, they're one reality and there's an infinite filing cabinet of different realities. And, that's what I'm saying is that, I have very real, real, real, real pain. Pain that was totally debilitating. I couldn't live life with that amount of pain. And so, I had to find a way and I found a way, but I'm lucky that I found a way. But, it was about believing. And literally, just in the mind, believing that the pain wasn't there. And then, I was able to write this new story that is now also very real. Both stories were real. The only thing that shifted was a perspective, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Both stories were totally real, but I was able to see something that I didn't see before and then believe it. There's a form of meditation that's silent meditation that people do for seven days.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah. I've thought I might go crazy if I tried one of those.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. I haven't done it, but I have a couple of friends who have done this and they talk about like somewhere between day and... This is a meditation where you're completely silent. You're not making eye contact with anybody. You're not allowed to read anything. No information's coming in. You're completely inside yourself. There's no information coming in. And, they describe going into memories that they've long forgotten and going through the banks of these deeper memories that have sort of been hidden behind different levels of-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Then, they talk about this sort of shift somewhere in day three or four, where they go from extreme happiness to extreme sadness and extreme happiness to extreme sadness. Then, they go from total euphoria to complete depression. And then, they go back to euphoria. To me, that was like, hey, literally nothing has externally changed. There's not been any input from the outside. And yet, there are their feelings and their relationship to reality has been something that has gone through these radical shifts. And, I think we all kind of instinctually know that our state of being comes from within.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yes.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, it's just a matter of like, I guess, observing it like a scientist that allows us to try to actuate that with ourselves, right? If you can observe that and see it, and then sort of detach yourself in a way that allows you to say, hey, maybe I can try this, then you can pick a different filing cabinet, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Now, you went through that experience and then you go back into the real world and it's not like you go live the rest of your life in a cave, right? You go back into the real world, you're a personality, you're on TV. You have this successful show, National Geographic adventure speaking in front of groups all the time. So how did that change you in terms of moving back into the world? Because you got to bring it, you got to bring this big personality to the table, but if you felt your ego kind of die, how do you wrestle with that?

Dr. Albert Lin:
We all have ego and I think of ego in the term, not of like, oh, I'm egotistical, whatever.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right, exactly.

Dr. Albert Lin:
It's more like my default mode, how I see the world and how I perceive my role in the world is my ego, right? And, once one version of it is dead and I've let go of it, I'm entering into a new one. So, from my childhood into my early adulthood. When I was married and then I had a divorce, the different versions of me at these different places were very real different versions of myself, driven by my perception of myself to the world. And now, I've gone through this journey where I've experienced that in a very physical way. And, I think, right off bat, I was super lucky that I was surrounded by incredible friends. And also, I got to give a lot of credit to Nat Geo because they didn't bulk at the idea of me testing my limits on their dime.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, they said, okay, well... it was like six months after my accident and they said, I had already been building this project where we were trying to use a lot of technologies in the jungles of Guatemala to try to find these Mayan ruins that were hidden within the jungles. And so, my friend had just commissioned this huge collection of LIDAR data, which is laser mapping through the trees and you can digitally delete the trees. Actually, there was a moment when the first expeditions were about to be launched to try to ground the truth in what we thought were all these hidden law cities out in the jungles and Nat Geo was like, okay, well... they didn't even ask, they just said, in terms of how do you feel... they're just, do you want to go, right? And, of course I wanted to go.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Of course.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Well, I get helicoptered in to my friend's archeological site and we pull out some machetes. My new thing was like, I don't know if I'm going to be able to walk 20, 30 miles through the jungle with my prosthetic leg. I'd never done it before. So I brought little walking sticks.

Erik Weihenmayer:
And, by the way, FYI, I'm preaching to the choir because we work with a lot of amputees, and when it gets hot like that and the temperature changes, it it's all hot and steamy, your stump changes shape, and it shrinks or expands. And man, it is a freaking nightmare.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. There's a lot of problem solving, I would say.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
But, I'm an engineer, so it's about like the MacGyvering it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Right.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, it works. The other thing that I've also been able to figure out is that pain is not real. So, in my journey with my leg, my relationship with physical pain has become something much more fluid. You don't actually remember the feeling of pain. You remember the concept of it, but you don't remember the feeling. So now, when I feel pain, I'm like, ah. It doesn't even hurt anymore, right, because I don't really care.

Erik Weihenmayer:
So, you trek it into the jungle.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. So let's go. And, the next thing you know, I'm out there and the jungle looking for these pyramids and we ended up finding pyramids that had never been seen before since the time of the Maya.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Oh, that's amazing. Yeah.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And then, we started doing more and more of these expeditions as I had been doing before. And, I started to feel this responsibility a little bit to continue to, I guess, represent a different narrative because I'm on TV, there's 167 countries that get National Geographic. And, I remember initially the moments after I lost my leg, and coming home and looking in the mirror and not knowing how to feel about myself, right?

Erik Weihenmayer:
Hmm.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Like, what am I? I remember not knowing if I felt sexy or if I felt not. All these different things, right? Like, who am I, right? And so, now, that doubt that scary doubt in the beginning, I think, is largely informed by societal narratives that have been perpetuated. Specifically around disabilities as being something that holds you back from being able to be some version of a complete self.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yes.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Which is, as you know, Erik, so untrue, right? And so, now that I'm like running around the jungles and climbing mountains and scuba diving, I don't make my prosthetic the centerpiece of this, but maybe on act two, all of a sudden I'll start wearing shorts and everybody would be like, whoa. But, I wouldn't even really bring it up because it's sort of like, hey, it's a part of me, it doesn't define me, it's a great part of me. But, what really is inside me is just my curiosity, that's what defines me, my curiosity.

Dr. Albert Lin:
I think that the thing that's been very gratifying is hearing from other people that might be sitting in a hospital bed or might be facing a moment where they just become an amputee or something else even, and saying that it's been rewarding them to see another story, another way in which that they could embody themselves. And so, I'm so grateful that Nat Geo's given me that opportunity, because, honestly, the same thing happened for me when I was lying in that hospital bed and somebody showed me the picture of a guy surfing. It changed my life. And so I hope I can do that and pay that energy forward.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Do you ever find it really interesting, this wild connection between the external and the internal of your life? So, you're like finding hidden, sacred places and the jungle using technology to kind of cut through all the external stuff and get to the heart of these things. And then, you're kind of doing that internally or your life forced you to do that internally. It's a kind of a beautiful thing. That's like a thematic journey that seems where the two side it's sort of fit somehow.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. I never really thought about it. I've always felt like I'd lived this... Yeah, I did wonder sometimes, am I coherent or are these like completely different narratives that are taken over my life? Yeah, actually, to be honest with you, I think it's all been driven by a quest to just know more intimately what it means to be a human. And, now it's definitely gotten into this place where it's like, what is the mind and where do we come up with the realities that then become the things that we see around us, and that we see in ourselves.

Dr. Albert Lin:
So I've really been super lucky and I don't even know how to describe it, but to be able to go to all these places and see all these different versions of our own story in human history.

Erik Weihenmayer:
What does it mean to be a human then? Because, we're insanely destructive, we're insanely creative. There's so many facets to us as human beings.

Dr. Albert Lin:
That's so true. I think that this process in one part goes back to that first trip to Mongolia when those shaman showed up on the side of this mountain, the sacred mountain. And, I didn't know they were going to be there. It took us two days by horse and truck to get there. And then, all of a sudden these shaman are there and they beat this drum into the trance. And then, they started talking to me and they want to judge why we were there. And, the shaman says, basically after a whole two days of sitting with me, that the most important part... and I tried to tell him all about the technology we were using to be non-invasive and all these other things and nothing got through the translation. And, eventually what he said was, it's just about your intentions. What are your intentions?

Dr. Albert Lin:
The reason why I bring that up is that I think what I've learned is that we have one superpower and that superpower is our imagination. Our imagination creates reality. Everything that I look around at, both physical and nonphysical, was first imagined in the mind, and then turned into reality from a chair to your relationships. That's an incredible power. That's the power of being God. But, it's the intentions that determine our fate, right? So if you know, you have that power, you can realize that power within you, then the real question is, what are your intentions? And, I think that's very personal to anybody. That's different for everyone. But, that's what makes the world the way it is. It's not our imagination, it's our intentions.

Tom Lilling:
Wow, that's great.

Erik Weihenmayer:
That's awesome.

Tom Lilling:
When I think about that, I think about just the journey that you've had and this incredible journey, not just around on the world, but also inside the mind. And, I think about so many of our listeners and people in our No Barriers community that are right in the midst of their struggle. You have had all these life experiences and all this ability to sort of synthesize it together. But, for someone like right in the midst of their struggle, is there any word of guidance or guiding thought that you might offer up to that person who's really in that middle of their own hell on earth, trying to get to the next step out?

Erik Weihenmayer:
And, probably feel a bit powerless too, right?

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. Well, I guess my relationship to those moments have been strange in that I've always found them sort of romantic. We don't get those moments without the pain. The truly transformative moments. So if you're paying the dues of suffering, then you're about to reach something that very few get to reach, which is an insight if you're open to it, that you're paying for with the suffering. That insight might be one of the most important things that you'll have in your life.

Dr. Albert Lin:
I know it sounds ridiculous, but when I've been in, for example, love lost, it hurts. But, it's almost like slightly, I know something is changing within me. I'm sort of excited about what's happening in me. I want to write down what I'm feeling. So my advice would be to almost face it like an artist would face the moment of despair to create the creativity in you that allows you to realize something in you that you're paying for anyway so you might as well realize it, right? You're paying for it with a pain so you might as well see the fruit of that pain, which is-

Erik Weihenmayer:
Then, Albert, ride it like a barrel wave.

Dr. Albert Lin:
And, that's the second part. The last part of advice is Mike, who gave me the image of himself writing a barrel wave, I had a talk with him and he said that he was seeing himself inside this barrel wave. He was taking all these selfies with a stick while riding in a barrel, which is ridiculous already. And, he realized that his face was contorted in fear. He was (making frightened noises). Which if you've never taking a picture of yourself, it's pretty common to just be terrified in the moment that you've waved up.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Yeah, people describe my kayak face and it's like... I don't want to do this for the whole world, I'm just doing it for you two, it's an open mouth O.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Yeah. He said that he made a conscious effort smile for the photo. And he said, as cheesy as it sounds, the minute he started smiling for his own photos, in his mind, he literally forced himself to choose to smile. I don't know, I'm not trying to be toxically positive, but that choice of smiling, he said, allowed him define the flow state within the waves in a way that he didn't realize was there. So, my advice is basically, find the romance in the pain that allows you to realize the insight that, that might show you that that is a lot of times the most powerful thing that you will have in your life. And then, the second thing is that, is that, try to remind yourself to smile and maybe you'll find the flow.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Albert, thank you so much, man.

Tom Lilling:
Yeah. Thank you so much. Our slogan at No Barriers is, what's within you is stronger than what's in your way.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Hey, this is true.

Erik Weihenmayer:
There you go.

Tom Lilling:
I love it. I love it.

Dr. Albert Lin:
You guys nailed it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Thank you, Albert.

Tom Lilling:
So good.

Erik Weihenmayer:
Bye, man. All right. We got to go do some fun adventure together.

Dr. Albert Lin:
Let's do it.

Erik Weihenmayer:
All right. Thanks, man. Have a great day. No Barriers, everyone.

Didrik Johnck:
The production team behind this podcast includes producer, Didrik Johnck, that's me, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cotman, marketing and graphic support from Stone Ward and web support by Jamlo. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song, Guidance. 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 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. That's nobarrierspodcast.com. There's also a link to shoot me an email with any suggestions for this show or any ideas you've got at all. Thanks so much and have a great day.



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