To quote Carl Jung, and I often quote this, "Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life, and you'll call it fate." So it's really getting this long-view picture of how much is going on in our unconscious mind, to really take control of our lives.
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-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. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit, exist a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call no barriers.
Victor Mifsud is a citizen scientist, biohacker, natural vision educator, psychedelic advocate and filmmaker. He recently completed a very personal feature-length documentary called My Neuroplastic Adventure. His journeys take him from the cutting-edge of neuroscience to the most ancient forms of tribal healing. He's interviewed doctors and scientists who are using technology and wisdom in equal measure. And he also happens to be blind.
So, Victor, welcome to the No Barriers podcast. We're really excited to have you. You've been very busy in this incredible journey of yours. And you are The Blind Biohacker, which is super cool. What a nice alliteration. Now, tell us what a biohacker is, because I'm hip and trendy. I know what biohacking is. I listen to all the health podcasts. But I don't know if Jeff knows what that means.
Well, I can tell you. A biohacker is a person who is essentially taking their biology into their own hands by using tricks or labs or supplements or gadgets to reclaim their health, really. That's the short ... It got popularized by Dave Asprey, the Bulletproof guy. He got everyone putting butter in their coffee, for this type of wellness. But that's where it all started about 10, 15 years ago, with him. So I was inspired by that, because I was going through a lot of unresolved health issues. I had a lot of things going on with myself that no doctors could really explain what was going on with me. And I decided to take my health into my own hands, really, and trying to figure out what was going on with me, because I had chronic fatigue. I just always felt crappy. My brain didn't work, allergies, poor sleep, and not to mention my vision issue. I'm legally blind. I'm blind. I have retinitis pigmentosa. I was diagnosed with that first at nine, then it got much worse at 21.
Right. That's when you lost your license, I heard, right?
Yeah, I was able to drive. At 16, I got my license. And then a couple of years later at 21, I lost my license.
Thank God for Lyft and Uber.
Yeah, for sure.
Hey, let me ask you, then. It sounds like through the frustration of Western medicine and the fact that it was quite clear that you had a compounding syndrome of issues and challenges, that no one was really giving you a precise answer. Did you just feel utterly helpless at some point? Did it get to a point where you just were completely fed up and just took it into your own hands?
Short answer, yes. But the longer answer was at about around 30, I was also struggling with major mental health issues like depression and anxiety. And I was on, you name it; anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications. And they were not helping. So, that was this other thing that I wanted to try and hack, because I didn't want to be on meds for the rest of my life because I felt they were just making me numb and fat, because the medications bloat you out a little bit. And I thought, "Something's not right. This isn't working." And it was really through not having much hope left or just lying on the floor and say, "This sucks." And I was just fed up, and I thought, "There's no way that this could be the rest of my life."
And I came across a couple of interesting books that really helped inspire me to want to change, or to think it was actually even possible to change. One of them was Dr. Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself, which was a big game-changer for me. It's all about neuroplasticity, and amazing stories of inspiration from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. Then there was Dr. Gabor Maté, as well. He's a Canadian physician who writes a lot about how trauma can manifest into autoimmune issues or other health issues.
He's in your documentary, right?
Yes, yes. He's been a mentor of mine since meeting him about 10 years ago.
I read somewhere that you really believe this idea of this mind-brain-body-self connection. So do you think that depression and your retinitis pigmentosa and some of these other things, do you think they're related to one theme or one idea, or are they just totally a bunch of things that happened simultaneously?
It's the best question you've asked in a long time, Erik. That's brilliant.
In the past, I probably would have said no to that, but the more I've been doing this work, the more I see that everything's been connected. I also had severe learning dysfunctions or disabilities, whatever people choose to call them. And yeah, the more I've learned, the more I think that they are all connected. So yeah, I would say they are, indeed.
Okay, so a little bit deeper on that, then. Do you feel like that can be attributed to a congenital misfire or a wiring issue that could have happened in embryo, or is this sort of a conditional thing that happened throughout your youth? Because I wonder about that as well. I also agree. I think there's this crazy network, interconnected nature of things. And I wonder when things ... I'm not talking about a genetic sequence that's off with an A instead of a C. I'm talking about something that may have happened early on in that neurotransmitting network to be able to be like, "[inaudible 00:07:51]." And now all of a sudden, you've got an autoimmune disease which leads to this, which leads to this. And suddenly, you've got this syndrome. What's your take on that? Do you feel like it was something that could have happened early on, like in adolescence, or prior to that?
Great question. I think it's both. So, there's the field of epigenetics. I don't know if you guys are familiar with that. It's basically that the environment controls genes. This is from the work of Dr. Bruce Lipton, who pioneered this field. We used to think that you were born with the genes that we had, and we couldn't do anything about it. But a lot of studies that he did early on, he found out that the environment actually controls the genes.
So, it's a combination of potentially in-utero and then early childhood. And I would even say that it's ancestral, because our DNA is handed down by our ancestors. So there's the work of, what's his name, Mark Wolynn, who wrote this amazing book called It Didn't Start with You, where there's a lot of science showing that ... It's basically about the field of inherited family trauma. So if your ancestors were traumatized any which way, hard to say specifically what it was, that gets embedded in the genes. And then for some reason, it can get expressed in you. So, retinitis pigmentosa is shown to be an inherited retinal disease. But now, through some of the things that I've been reading, through the psychedelic medicines that I've done for trauma, it's really taught me that it got handed down to me ancestrally, so this trauma.
He actually had a pretty big visual impairment at 30, and he found out through going through his family lineage and alleviating his family trauma, he actually got his vision back through doing this work. So, that's pretty interesting.
That's hard for me to believe. And I'm not doubting it. I'm just saying, that's a crazy thing to believe, that you could sort of un-weight that family history of trauma, and you could see again. I mean, that's so ... Obviously, through your research, you know how powerful, dramatic that sounds, right?
Oh, yeah. And again, it took me a long time to really believe these things because when you first hear something, I'm like, "Ah, that sounds really woo-woo. That sounds just pretty crazy." But the more research I've done and connecting all these seemingly unrelated things, it starts to make sense. And you really, really get to see the bigger picture and how it actually plays in. Even the nature of how we see and why we see, really fits into our internal state, as well. A lot of vision issues are actually related to unconscious trauma as well, whether it's the trauma in our life and, again, in our ancestors' life.
I like the fact that this is getting oxygen.
With certain things like meditation, psychedelic medicines, there's a lot going on in the psychedelic space now showing how much it can radically reduce treatment-resistant depression and anxiety. Again, and to quote Carl Jung, and I often quote this, "Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life, and you'll call it fate." So, it's really getting this long-view picture of how much is going on in our unconscious mind, to really take control of our lives. And most people don't have that awareness to it. And Western society didn't teach us these tools. And as you can see right now, most people in the West have major health problems, sleep issues, depression and anxiety. I mean, there's an epidemic of even vision issues, as well. So, it's all tied in. I mean, the body can be miraculously healed.
Victor, is that the premise behind psychotherapy, essentially, right? Like you bring unconscious thoughts and things that control you into your conscious, and you know the source, and somehow then you're able to handle it, right? I mean, so that's the basis of psychology, right?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Carl Jung and, what's the other guy's name?
Old Freud, that's it.
All right. I don't want to make this about me, but so I know that part of the documentary, you talk about guilt and shame and things like that, which are more psychological things. So, I had some dysfunction when I was a kid. We all did, right? My mom died when I was young in a car accident, so I have some guilt and some challenges around that stuff. And I know the source, but it still doesn't totally solve anything for me. Even though I know the source, I know why I have those feelings, isn't there a next step where now you have to act on these things and sort of have to really do some ... That's A, and there's a B to it, I'm saying, right?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's probably more complicated than that, because it's a similar thing. I've had struggles with an abusive parent that was going on for a while, and I'm aware that certain things could have stemmed from that. But there's still this part of my body and this implicit response that keeps happening which hasn't really been alleviated, so to speak. So whether you're conscious about it, it hasn't been unconsciously resolved. Does that make sense?
You want to consciously resolve it, you're saying, right?
I mean, consciously, if you're aware of, to use your example, what happened with the accident as a child, I mean, you know that probably affected you in some way, shape, or form. But I still think there's stuff going on unconsciously that still needs to be brought to the surface. That's what I'm saying.
Got it. Yeah, so the root hasn't been totally exposed yet.
Yes, because there's a form of therapy called CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy. So it's just a talk therapy, but you're conscious while the therapy's going on. And it's just like, "Oh, how was your childhood?"
"Oh, my childhood sucked because this happened and that happened. Oh, wow, this is related to my relationship with my parents, or this or that."
It's like you can be conscious about it, you can be talking about your problems til you're blue in the face, consciously, but it doesn't necessarily resolve it. That's a good step, for some people to be aware of that. But I think there's therapeutic modalities called somatic therapy. There's a type of hypnotherapy. And again, the psychedelic therapy, as well, can bring down that wall between your unconscious and conscious to allow you to integrate your unconscious issues consciously, so they actually have a chance to get resolved. It's quite deep work.
That's really great, the way you're explaining that, because I never quite understood that, with my question, obviously, to you. So, it's not just awareness, it's integrating the different parts of yourself so that there's a kind of flow, I guess, in your consciousness.
Yeah. And those early traumas have different manifestations: mood disorders, autoimmune issues, cancer, you name it. And people don't want to consciously get cancer. And I'm not saying all cancers stem from trauma. But it's really environment. And once you learn what environment means, you can't get well in the same environment you got sick in. So a lot of these things of environment, you can't see. Inner environment, you can't see your emotions, but you know they're still there. And outer environment is another thing, too, which I talk about, too. But I'm saying, a lot of these things are just so unconscious.
Victor, thank you. I'm bottled up right now. I've got so much to say, because what you're saying is absolutely brilliant in so many different ways. I want to do one thing though. I want to make sure that anybody who's listening that perhaps hasn't taken a dive into the realm of the conscious versus the subconscious, it can sound a little nebulous, right? It can be a little bit sort of unattainable. And I don't want people to get scared away, because this is one of the most important conversations that we can have as a modern-day human being. Because I feel like we've become so dissociated from the ability to be able to integrate that in together. Erik, I'm very, very keenly aware of your past and your history with how you lost your mom at the same time as you really went blind. And those traumas that Victor and you spoke of, the only way to access trauma is through a stop in the record. And that's the way some of these therapies are. I mean, I think psychedelic therapy; you take four or five grams of mushrooms with a sitter next to you, you're stripping away the ego and you are taking a dive into a place that you can't access otherwise. And that's where it needs to be.
Let's hear about your experience with psychedelics, Victor. Was that something you biohacked?
Yeah. Well, I first really took my deep dive into them 10 years ago. I first learned about them, about ayahuasca, through Dr. Gabor Maté. He produced a film called The Jungle Prescription where he was talking about this Amazonian medicine alleviating depression and anxiety. And I was like, "Man," because I was in such a mess of a situation. Like I said before, I was trying antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and nothing was really working. It was just a Band-Aid solution that just numbed all my feelings. So by chance, I ended up meeting him because he came to Toronto and I had his book. And he just did a talk, and he invited me to go to a retreat that he was having. And that was my first dip into psychedelics.
And it's like nothing out there. It's so different and so life-altering, and it's not easy. It's not fun a lot of the times, because it brings up a lot of unconscious material, whether it's your shadow self, whether it's traumas that you've repressed for your whole life. There's different ways to possibly ease into the space. Mushrooms and ayahuasca are pretty big, and they can really shaken you to awaken you. And they can be scary. And it can feel like you're going crazy or losing your mind. Again, so that's why it's so important to do them in the right place and space.
To sort of talk about Michael Pollan, he went to these therapists to sit with him, which is probably the better thing to do. And now, legalization of things is changing, depending on where you are. And clinics are popping up with ketamine and MDMA, which is technically not a psychedelic. It's a good entranceway, because it's very light and not technically a psychedelic [inaudible 00:20:44], so it provides more of this gentleness in approaching trauma, as opposed to mushrooms or ayahuasca; it can be a little bit more faster, bigger, scarier, trippier. So, there's different ... I've been lucky to sit with a few people and guides, and I've done a lot of this internal work. I've tried quite a bit of them: ketamine, MDMA, therapy, psilocybin, ayahuasca. I've been to Peru as well, sat with a shaman there, too.
I had a friend who did the ketamine thing. She explained that. That's really interesting, because they must be doing it in Denver. I think she did it right here.
Yeah, Denver's going to be a big hub for psychedelic treatments. I know that. So ketamine is actually legal. It's actually the only legal psychedelic allowed to take part right now, because of its status. So again, it's done in a proper setting with a doctor and a therapist who administer it. I've been getting an intramuscular injection in the shoulder. And it's a very interesting experience. It's almost like a self-induced, deep dream. So it's really powerful; really, really, really powerful.
That's back to that idea of integrating your conscious and subconscious mind.
Integration is key with any psychedelic. So basically, again, to continue the process of the psychedelic therapy, when I go home that night, I'm to write a couple things down of what came up for me. And the next day, again, I'm trying to really remember some symbols and messages that my higher self was communicating with me during that time. And I listen to the music again. And then on day three, I jump on a call with my doctor and therapist, because there's two of them in the room, and we talk about what came up for me and some of the symbolism of things that I saw. And like your dreams, it communicates with you through symbols, too. And it's very intelligent in the way that the medicines work. It's like, you don't know what you're going to trip out and see. In the same way that when you go to bed, you have no idea what you're going to dream about. But there's a certain intelligence that your unconscious is doing there. And sometimes, we're like, "What the heck is that? It doesn't make any sense?" But if somebody's there to help guide you and understand things, you can really do some pretty deep work.
What's important, and this is something that can't be lost on anybody, and I think Pollan really underscores it, is that gone are the ... I mean, not gone are the days. But let's just make a strong differentiation between the psychedelics or the culture that permeated our society that scared the government to the point where everything became a Schedule 1 drug, the party component, and then the guided, structured therapy that comes from these hacks that we're talking about that you've done. And it really relies on having somebody there that's a professional that can really allow you to process the information that comes. Because I think you'd be able to address this, Victor, but I mean, there's probably so much that on your own, you would not be able to really handle it, nor interpret it appropriately.
So, if you are going to do this, I just recommend, again, just to state it clearly, do it right with a practitioner in a safe, structured environment.
And I can't believe I'm doing this, but I want to sort of pivot from the psychedelic therapy and those sorts of things, and get more into other forms of biohacking. And I want to tee you up, because I just read a really great book that I'm pretty sure you probably read called Breath by James Nestor. It's brilliant, and it talks about the fundamentals of breath, and really, how breathing has a lot to do with everything you've talked about today, Victor, but also just at its core, altering the ability to breathe and how it ultimately can be one of the main biohacks out there.
Sure. Well, I will say this, to sort of close that last thought. Anything that is seen as woo-woo or metaphysical, there's a physics yet to this stuff that we just don't understand yet. So, that's what I'll say about all this, where people think, "Oh, that's woo-woo. That's crazy. I don't know what you're talking about." But in terms of breath, you can ... What's the stats? How long can you survive without food? How long can you survive without water? And how long can you survive without oxygen? Oxygen is the most important thing. So if most of us aren't breathing properly, because we weren't really taught how to breathe, or if people are stressed, if they don't necessarily breathe properly, there's a lot of science showing about the nasal breathing and to oxygenate the blood properly and all of that stuff gets carried everywhere, to the brain, to the eyes.
So, it's really, really important. There's the Wim Hof breathing: if you breathe properly, you can jump in cold water for five, 10 minutes. So it's just really important to learn how to breathe. And I think that book is great, showing us and educating us about the most important thing that we do all the time, unconsciously and consciously. Because if you think about it, breathing is one of the only things that we do consciously and unconsciously, like ... That's me consciously taking a breath in. But then, I've been breathing this whole time, that I wasn't really aware of, because I would have passed out half an hour ago if I wasn't. So again, it's really interesting. And that's a great book. And again, when you do these substances, too, you change your breathing, you realize ... There's people that have done MDMA and who have had asthma, and they're on MDMA, all of a sudden, it's like, "Man, I can breathe properly. What's going on?" So again, they're consciously not breathing properly. The MDMA allows them to remember how to properly breathe, which is just almost like a letting go. So, anyway, it's all connected.
Let me play the role of the curious but yet maybe uncertain spectator. What do I do, Victor, to be able to sort of start this journey of learning how to tap into a better version or, I think, a more well-accessed version of myself? Where do I begin? What do I do?
That's a good question. Ultimately, it stems from a disconnection to nature. And what I mean by that is getting outside. The body needs light and sun and even walking barefoot grounded has tremendous health benefits. Start by drinking good, filtered water. I mean, these are all the basics. And there's a lot of resources, podcasts that are out there that are great in learning about all this stuff. And there's books, as well, like the one you mentioned, about breath. And there's a bunch of podcasts, like Luke Storey, about health, and Bulletproof podcast. It's picking up. A lot of people are talking about. A lot of people aren't really feeling as well as they want to. So people are exploring. Those are pretty good starts.
A couple questions to end with, as well. And I want to know more about light therapy, because I know that was something you experimented with. I have this near infrared sauna that has ... I think it's red light. I'm blind, so you have to forgive me. I think it's red, but I don't know if it actually is red light or not, but-
It is red, yeah.
It is red, yeah. So, it's supposed to penetrate down into your skin and build the ATP within your cells and so forth. And did you experiment with some light therapy?
That's one of my favorite hacks. Basically, since we evolved with the sun, red light and infrared light are so incredibly healing. We were used to seeing sunrises in the morning, and it really helped set your circadian rhythm and prepare your body. Since we live this indoor life existence, we are light deficient, so we're lacking a lot of these spectrums of light, usually in the red range and in the purple range. So purple is the UVA and UVB, which UVB creates vitamin D, and UVA tans your skin. But the body needs full-spectrum light. I mean, we were born naked, and now we live inside all the time and we're always covered up, so we're missing these frequencies. But the most healing frequencies are in the red and infrared realm. So yeah, highly recommend red light therapy devices.
And then lastly, I know obviously, being part of the title of the documentary, neuroplasticity, it's something I've just touched on a little bit with some work I've done. You'd mentioned a book called The Brain That Changes Itself. And I got to meet Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita years ago, who was one of the sort of forefathers of neuroplasticity in terms of he built this device that I use called the Brainport. It's a camera. It takes a video, digital image, translates through a piece of software in a little remote control.
And then that translates to a touch image on my tongue that I wear on sort of this retainer. And when I touch my tongue to it, the tactile image is presenting shapes and images which the video camera is seeing. And so, the idea being the eyes stop working, well, you find a new portal into the brain. Well, it's the brain that sees, not the eyes. So, this idea that the brain is so nimble, it can take on new pathways. And the idea being there that it's the brain using the visual cortex to process tactile images rather than visual images, right? So it's like the brain can do all kinds of things that it wasn't necessarily even meant to do, right?
Yeah, and the brain ends up remapping and learning to do something another way. So, I do know what you're talking about. I did see that documentary that you were talking about. That's really, really interesting. And in terms of where we are with potentially curing blindness, there's some really, really interesting things going on. Dr. Andrew Huberman is doing some really interesting things. He's out of California. He went to Stanford. And they're using certain injections in the eye, they're polypeptides, with VR to completely realign what's going on in the eye. They say they're about two years away from curing most forms of blindness.
And I've been working on a vision optimization summit. I've spoken to eight different doctors and vision therapists who help people not use glasses or people who have cross eyes or glaucoma. And they're using, again, either trauma reduction techniques and even eye relaxation techniques to gain a lot of vision back. So again, there's this bigger picture of what's going on to help us learn to see again. And I think it's possible. I mean, I still have my limited visual fields. I'm still blind. But I'm in the process of learning new things and to try and help myself to see better as well, and just to really have a deeper understanding on why things happen. And what you said earlier, it's interesting. You brought up that story of when that accident happened a long time ago is when you sort of lost a lot of your vision.
So, there's something to it. There's a great book called Take Off Your Glasses and See. But it really talks about how certain people who are traumatized, if a certain trauma happened, the body just didn't want to see it, and then the eyes just shut down. And I think that's what happened with me as well, whether the trauma was in my lineage or in my ancestor's. But there's so many different stories, there's very similar stories to you, where a big trauma happened in their life and the unconscious body didn't want to see it, so it just shut it down. But I think the body's very intelligent, if it's put in the proper environment. And if you change the environment, so to speak, the body can heal.
So you've been on this incredible journey. And do you feel different? Do you feel better? Do you feel healthier than when you started it?
Of course, yeah. I mean, I don't know where I would ... if I didn't go on this journey, I mean, from a mental health perspective, I may have even been dead, because I was not doing very well, from a mental health perspective. So I did have suicidal thoughts, and I just thought that everything was hopeless and that I'm not going to change and I'm going to be who I am for the rest of my life, which I wasn't really happy with. But hearing and learning about all these other people's stories were so interesting and so inspiring and empowering that I could take my health into my own hands.
Everything you've talked about, Victor, has taken direction and has taken intention, like none of this stuff would have happened on its own. All these different paths that you've followed have all required you to put that bandwidth into it and go through some pretty tough and challenging experiences to be able to come out better on the other hand. And I hear frequently about people saying, "Well, this is this, and this is that. And I've got this problem." Those things are true. They are valid. They are real. But the only way to address these issues is to actually be assertive and find a method or perhaps throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks to what really resonates with you. And I think you've done that. You've done that in such a powerful way, and I think you're a wonderful lesson for people who have had issues but just sort of accept them, and instead, standing up and being a direction-minded individual and finding methods, even if they're not traditional, right? And everything you're talking about is really what we call non-traditional, right? So, I applaud you for doing that. You're a great-
We're very excited [crosstalk 00:37:25] people try light therapy and sound therapy and ayahuasca. I mean, that's all great. Go out on this great journey and discover this stuff. But don't you think a lot of people, honestly, it's just pick the low-hanging fruit in your life. Lose 20 pounds. Put some green vegetables in your diet. Get out in the sunshine and walk a mile a day. You don't have to run. Just walk. You know what I mean? There's just low-hanging fruit in front of most people, right?
Yeah, and that's what I said before. Ultimately, just connect to nature. Get outside. And to sort of say what you said earlier, I've accepted my vision loss. And I was told at a young age that I couldn't do anything about it, which I don't know is the best thing for somebody to say. And I was like, "Oh, shit. Okay, I've accepted it." I mean, it took me a while. But then at the same time, okay, I've accepted it one way, but I want to try and change it, too. I want to do both. So it's forced me to really learn and research and uncover some amazing stuff. And to tap into the body's innate intelligence to really heal.
Thank you for all your insight, Victor, man. You're a beacon of how to get things done, instead of allowing these things to control you. So, thanks for sharing your stories and your intention with everybody. And man, I hope people that are listening can really get a good sense of what it looks like when you take the reins of your carriage and start moving forward.
Thank you so much. It's a pleasure talking with you guys, and you guys are a big inspiration to me as well, and I feel blessed to be on here talking with you guys. So thank you for setting us up. And thanks, Pauline.
Thanks, Pauline. Yeah, I know this discussion will help people and inspire people to go on and out and have initiative to take their own health journey and be proactive about it. Don't do anything crazy, but just own it. You got to own it, right? If you're not courageous enough to own it, then you're going to sit with these plaguing problems probably your whole life.
Okay. Thank you, [inaudible 00:39:40].
Victor, thank you. Jeff, thank you.
No barriers to everyone.
Thank you, guys. Hope you have a great night, okay? We'll be in touch.
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