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How can we cultivate, nurture and amplify the transformative power of human connection in the face of profound uncertainty and societal stigmas?
In this episode, we embark on a thought-provoking conversation with my friend and member of the Fearless Living Academy, Joshua Goldberg. His personal experiences with marginalized communities, and insights from navigating disability and agorafobia, offer a unique perspective on uncertainty and resilience.
Joshua's journey serves as an enlightening and inspiring reminder of the human potential for transformation, growth, and change.
- Understanding societal struggles
- Insights into social justice and marginalized communities
- Navigating the complexities of personal fears and societal stigmas
- The importance of empathy and human connection for social change
- The power of acceptance and compassion in personal growth
- Cultivating resilience amid life's uncertainties
- Confronting and accepting fears for personal development
- Embracing uncertainty as a catalyst for transformation
- The transformative potential of genuine connections and community
Welcome to the Zen Habits podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.
I'm here with someone I consider at this point a friend, but you've been someone in our community for a little while now, or a good while now, and someone who I've come to trust and respect as a leader within the community. Joshua Goldberg, welcome.
Thanks so much, Leo.
I invited you on without knowing exactly what we would talk about, but I have a sense that you've done a lot of work both with yourself and of course out in the community that will be enlightening in terms of what we're talking about with doing work with resistance and fear and uncertainty. And as I talked to you about before we started recording. I believe that a lot of us will come to that with a certain perspective and I think that we don't understand that there might be other challenges or other perspectives that we don't have.
And so I wanted to talk to people like yourself who have a little bit more of an understanding of that so that we could shine some light on that. I think it's fascinating. And I want to dive into that with you.
Thanks, Leo. I think the first time we met in this long-distance kind of meeting was some years ago. I wrote you critical about one of your Zen Habits blog posts about how it was reflecting a lot of privilege and how that wasn't the experience of everyone.
And I really admire that over the years of us getting to know each other, you've always been so open to learning and questioning what you're not thinking about or what you're not considering. So I'm really delighted that you've offered me this chance to talk with you about it.
Thank you for that acknowledgement. And what I'd like to acknowledge about you is that you've always come to this with such compassion, like a gentle way of reflecting 'Oh, you have some privilege here. There's stuff you're not seeing'. And I always felt like it's such a, the way that you approached it made it easier for me to be able to take a look at this and be open about it.
It's not like I'm the world's most marginalized person, I have white skin privilege and I have some class privilege. And I've learned a lot from people over the years about my own failings and where I can do better. And people have been so gentle and compassionate with me as well as firm, and like really helping me step up, believing I could do better instead of just writing me off as, you're just another person who's never going to do better. So, I come at it from both experiences.
Okay. Great. Let's actually talk about some of those perspectives because there might be a number here to talk about and I'd like to just at least touch on some of them. So one of the places that you've done a lot of work in is social justice. And as you mentioned before we started recording, there's like anti-poverty you've worked with... actually, I'll let you tell, you know what, tell me some of the social justice kind of work that you've done in the past.
I grew up in a politically conscious family and cultural community, which means that from the age of being a young kid, I was quite involved in political work and supported by my parents, my grandparents, and also the larger cultural community around me.
And then as a teenager and adult, I started becoming. more interested in homing in on who the most marginalized people were in society. And as I was coming to terms with being a transgender person, I did work on that for a while, but what really interested me was people who were moving between life in prison and life unhoused. So moving back and forth between the street community and prison.
And yeah, people living outside just, we're experiencing such a grind from day to day that I wanted to support as best I could, but also. That's who I found most resonance with for myself, specifically people who use drugs and we're living outside. That's where I felt most at home and felt most embraced for who I was instead of having to live up to a particular standard of who I should be. And so that's where I also found my heart connections with people.
Wow. That's brings up a million questions now. So, we'll see.
I think that's quite fascinating because I think for a lot of us, I include myself in people who've grown up with privilege. Actually really less, we feel less comfortable out, in those kinds of places with that community and the fact that you feel more at home and embraced there. I find that to be fascinating and really beautiful.
Yeah. It's not that it's always easy because I have a home and lots of, lots of wealth compared to most people who are unhoused. And navigating across those lines of power and privilege, and especially up here in Canada, where I live, poverty is so intensely racialized as well. It's often indigenous and black people who are the most marginalized, both in prison system and in terms of the street community.
Definitely not just in Canada.
So it's not that there's some like idyllic, we all hold hands and play the guitar or something. But I think that within the street community at the time that I started meeting people and getting to know and love people in it, there was a real sense of collectivity and looking after each other and a deep ethic of care.
That's changed. Just like it's changed in society in general, there's much more individualism now. And people hustling to survive at each other's expense now. But when I was really diving in, in my early twenties, yeah, just the generosity and care, I didn't see that in mainstream society and I didn't see acceptance of people like me either, like in normal society, in normie world, I was a bit of a freak because at that time being visibly transgender wasn't maybe as understood as it is now which obviously there's lots of backlash happening now, 27, 28 years ago, like I was the only person in the city who was going through that who was out and open about it.
And people in the street community just didn't care, like they really didn't care at all. They cared about how I acted rather than who I was, which for me was very liberating. I still think of people from that time and the gifts that they gave me around accepting who I was and not being afraid to be who I was.
I'm finding myself very moved by that. That's a really beautiful thing. What an incredible like lesson of self-acceptance to be able to get in a place that I think most of us would find surprising. And that's just because we're, we don't know much about it.
Okay. You've mentioned a number of perspectives that I'd love to like touch on. You've mentioned being a transgender person you've mentioned people are unhoused and dealing with poverty people in prison, I guess racial perspectives as well. So people who are Black and Indigenous. I feel like there's one more that I'm missing that you've mentioned, but...
It all intersects. So many of the people who are in that situation are also disabled. A huge percentage of people who are moving between persons and the street are, have disabilities, often multiple disabilities. So again, for me, there was that point of connection.
Did you ever, as someone moving into these spaces, I know that you've talked about feeling embraced. Did you ever have to deal with your own uncertainty and discomfort of stepping into these spaces?
Oh, sure. And I still do. It's not like. Once you experience uncertainty and then, you're done. It's not a linear process like that. Like we've recently moved to a new city. I don't know folks in the street community here.
And moving around downtown just going about doing my thing, I'll often stop and chat with people and I feel shy and awkward and nervous, even though I've been doing that kind of stuff for 30 plus years, and some of my deepest relationships have been with folks in the street community. But I still, it's meeting someone new for the first time. I still feel uncertain and awkward. Just like I did back at the start.
But that would be true of meeting anyone, anywhere, I'm going to a new rec center and I'm meeting people in my Zumba class there and I'm shy and awkward and nervous. It's not like I'm more nervous or more uncertain when I'm meeting folks who are unhoused. I actually find it easier, honestly, because my experience, not wanting to stereotype, there's great diversity, but most of the people who I end up chatting with are folks who are really gregarious and outgoing and actually want to have a conversation. And are funny, like to survive, you have to be, you have to be able to find the humor.
And it's often quite easy to have those conversations compared to like, when I try and interact with someone who wants to talk about their recent cruise ship trip or something that like, I. I can't relate to at all, and I think I probably look quite stiff and awkward, whereas when it's someone talking about stuff that I know about, it's easy to share a laugh over that.
That makes sense. Yeah. Is there anything that you've found to help to deal with that discomfort of, going up to people and starting a conversation?
I just don't take myself that seriously. And, I can tell who wants to talk and who doesn't want to talk. I'll often look people in the eye and smile. And if someone... That's often an experience people don't have. So sometimes they're taken aback, and I can see they're like, 'Why are you looking at me? What's going on here?' But then the smile happens and then they're like...
Often, we'll start talking and often will ask me for something do I have a smoke? Do I have bus tickets or whatever? And if I do, then I say yes. And if I don't, then I say no. And so, we just have a really straightforward initial interaction and often people will offer me a blessing. Say, 'I hope you have a really good day' or, just wish me something well. And that offers an opportunity to wish them something well, which then again facilitates some kind of connection.
It's just about reading, reading the situation, but from a very human perspective, not like analytic in your head, but like human to human, what's going on here. Is this someone who wants to chat or is this someone who's doing their thing and doesn't want to be interrupted? Just again, when I'm walking down the street in our neighborhood, there's people sitting on their porch and sometimes I'll stop and have a chat. And sometimes it's clear to me that they don't want to chat with me. So respecting that.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Is there, as someone who would like to start conversations more with people who are unhoused or facing these kinds of challenges. Is there anything that you would tell me like, is it something that, that we should, we could all be doing even if we don't have 30 years of experience?
Just to be a human. If you stop and say hi to someone at the grocery store, then you can stop and say hi to someone who is unhoused. We're all people. But I think so often there's this worry about doing it wrong and then the stigma comes up and 'What if they ask me for something and I don't want to give it to them'. That's all just nonsense to be honest you know it's exactly the same kind of exchange as you would have with any other stranger and you do that probably many times a day.
You know I'm someone who's actually really painfully shy and I don't have probably as many social interactions with people as many more outgoing folks do. But, for me walking a 15-minute stretch from here to the rec center I'll say hi to lots of people because there's so many friendly people in this neighborhood. And we might just stop and have a two second chat, how's your day going?
And being prepared to actually hear the answer to that, not just like keeping it at a very surface. 'Oh, it's fine. How about you?' But really, how are things going? And sometimes they're not going well and people are in a lot of distress. But that's okay. You don't have to rescue anyone. You don't have to fix anything. It's just being with a human being, just like we are, whether it's with our family or loved ones or any random stranger anywhere. It's no different than that.
That's so great. Thank you for sharing that. I feel a bit more enlightened, and I just love the, such a human approach. I think we forget how simple that can be. And we, like you said, we add a bunch of nonsense and that's such a great reminder, just for our whole lives. We add so much nonsense on top of stuff. And so I love that.
Is there, you've listened to my podcast episodes so far, where I've been talking about resistance and uncertainty and fear and purpose work and things like that. And Is there anything that you wish you could just scream at me like that? I don't understand about people who are facing extreme poverty or in prison or, dealing with addiction or anything like that. About any of these topics?
Well, I think my observation of the folks who have come forward in your community. I know a little bit about them is that a lot of people are dealing with the same kind of mix as I am, like some privilege on the one hand, and some experiences of suffering on the other hand, and suffering driven by external causes and conditions. I'm struck by how many people in your community are dealing with serious illness or that.
Actually one of the ways I first connected with your social media community was I was looking at your Facebook and I was griping to myself like, 'Oh, this is all people who are, wanting to make more money or do better'. And then there was someone with. very late-stage MS who was confined to a wheelchair and needed help with everything. And I reached out to her, and I was like, 'Oh, do you want to do some one on one work together? Because I felt like she could understand'. Where I was coming from at that time, I was really disabled myself.
And, I think that there's no one kind of person who comes into your community, but maybe the folks who are more front and center are the people who connect around like the exercise goals or the folks who already have quite a bit going on and just want a little bit extra. Or like some of the creative folks who are amazing in your community who are working on writing or launching a business or... I don't have as much sense of what those folks are going through personally in their lives that is challenging, but clearly, wanting to do meaningful work and purposeful work.
I guess my question is: is there a way to go a little bit deeper?... and not have it be about accumulating wealth or accumulating friends or that kind of grasping for like more and more, but like actually living in the world in a way that really felt meaningful, which might not be social justice for everyone. There's lots of folks who are doing work on climate change, which is of course tied to social justice. But maybe it's something as simple as like looking after a senior who lives down the block, who's really lonely and doesn't have anyone visiting, or there's lots of just kind, caring ways we can interconnect.
But so often some of the ways your work gets interpreted seems to be about the kind of like exercise, lose weight, improve my diet, those kinds of things and not like, how do we live in this world together in a really deep and meaningful and caring way? So I'm curious how to translate it. And that's been my experiment with your work for the last, I don't know, seven or eight years is like, how do I, cause what you offer is amazing, but how do I translate this into who I want to be in the world, which isn't necessarily that other stuff, even though self-care is important, of course.
Sure. If you're someone with, dealing with disability, whether you have MS or some other, like a physical disability, I'm wondering, what's different about that perspective? I imagine there's a lot of difference. But from someone who wants to like exercise and make some money and do a bunch of creative stuff... what is this person facing that might be a different perspective?
There's no, there's no one experience. There are people who have disabilities, who are super privileged in every other way. And, have all the tech and like lots of options. Sometimes I feel like the power of your work, but also the danger of your work is that it's a lot about shifting your own mindset. And that's so amazing. And that's most of the work I've done with people in prison is: you are in a terrible situation. There is no sugarcoating that, but how can you still find freedom in this terrible situation while not pretending it's not a terrible situation.
And I think that's an amazing thing to offer when it's tied into acknowledging the external things that are going on. But I think the danger of that is it can become like 'There are no external problems. It's all in my mind. And if I just changed my mindset, then there are no barriers', which ignores the day to day.
So when I was severely disabled last year had only use of one arm and not the other arm and not my legs, it wasn't a matter of 'Get out into nature and experience exercise'. I couldn't do that because of the way society is set up to limit the mobility of people who are in wheelchairs. So it's at times like that in my life where I have been more disabled or more impacted by, illness or by other factors that relate to how society constrains people in that situation that I've felt the most frustrated with not being able to figure out how to apply your work to my own situation.
What did you find is there, you said you've been working to translate this stuff. How did you translate it for yourself in that situation?
I don't think I did. I think where I've succeeded the most in your work is when I've been more well, I still haven't found a way to really translate what you're offering, other than just embracing uncertainty rather than trying to control it and limit it. That's the one piece. And so when you started doing the Uncertainty Challenges, that was a way for me back into your work again, because I'm like, 'Oh, uncertainty, I don't know what my body's going to do next'. So that was a way I could really lean in.
And then in that community too, I think maybe more than some of your other communities, there's folks who are really dealing with like the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis or the uncertainty of living with bipolar illness, or there's folks who are leaning into the uncertainty around those kinds of things as well. So again, an easier way for me to figure out how to apply it in my day-to-day life.
But yeah, when I was, when I had terrible agoraphobia for years and couldn't even leave my bedroom, I was trying to figure out how to move the bathroom into my bedroom. There just wasn't really a way I could figure out to translate your word because my struggles in my life were so shrunk down at that point. And I think that your work is most easy to figure out how to apply when life has a few more options.
So, I've never, I've I can't see a way into your work for the folks who I connect with in the street community. It's just not going to speak to their immediate reality. Uncertainty about where you're going to sleep that night is a really different thing than when you're trying to create something, and you feel a bit nervous about putting it out into the world. And that's not to minimize the terror of that. But they're just different experiences.
Absolutely. If we take my work out of it, the Leo, the Zen Habit stuff out of it, what would help with someone who's dealing with that kind of uncertainty of like, where are you going to sleep?
I think the ability to stay present with it. To not try and fix it or solve it. Folks are so resilient. There are people who have just become unhoused for the very first time in their lives. And that's a different situation. But mostly people have been dealing with that for a while already by the time we have a chat.
And they already know how to survive that and might be miserable on one particular day. Like it's really grinding them down one day where it's particularly hot, particularly cold, or really rainy. And it just, the frustration of the constant displacement and people being nasty to them. Like it does wear on people, and they are having a particularly bad day, but mostly people know how to survive in ways that I probably wouldn't, I'd be much more hapless if I was in that situation.
So sometimes it's just offering to witness that someone is raging or that someone is so frustrated and to reflect that, yeah, this does suck and it's unfair and it doesn't have to be this way. It's not your fault you're in this situation. It's a societal problem.
So yeah, I find that's what folks need is like the acknowledgement that they're human beings and it's really unfair that they're in this situation. People don't need me to call a shelter. They know all the services around town already and they don't need me to rush in and offer solutions or suggestions or that's not what it's about. But saying, 'Oh, just stay with the uncertainty, open the uncertainty'. I would never say that.
Is there a way for them to be able to embrace the uncertainty other than saying something like that? Do you see a way in?
People do embrace it with humor. And in the old school days, generosity. Some of what I learned was from women in the street community who really had a lot of uncertainty about their safety on a minute-by-minute basis especially sex workers. And the way they coped with that uncertainty was to look after each other and also to have extreme generosity. So people would often offer me smokes. And would often offer me the last thing that they had.
And when I started engaging with Buddhist community, I recognized that generosity was like the deep practice of survival and willingness to trust the universe would provide what was needed instead of holding and hoarding and trying to control it that way. So that was how I saw people over and over again, really fearlessly leaning into uncertainty. That willingness to give away their last whatever without any idea where they would get the next one.
And I see people share food in the street community with each other all the time. Like just the other day I was at a bus shelter and there was a woman who had just experienced some violence and was bleeding and she was really upset and the person next to me in the bus shelter, who was also visibly poor, visibly indigenous, said, 'Hey, do you need a sandwich?' And he offered his sandwich to her. And I see that all the time. It's like real ethic of care and willingness to give what you have to someone who's having a harder day than you are.
Yeah, that's amazing. I think this is stuff that I don't ever see and just being able to relate these stories to me. It brings a lot of humanity to something that I wanted to turn a blind eye to just because of my own discomfort.
Can I ask you some questions? Yes, ask. So, I'm just surprised to hear that you don't see it because I, I think it's everywhere. Do you live in a really small town where there aren't people who are visibly unhoused or?
There are people who are visibly unhoused all around. Yes. So no, it's not that they're not around. It's that. I don't know, I feel uncertainty about how to interact with them. And so I might smile and say hi if they seem open to it, but in general, I don't have conversations. I don't know much about their lives. I, I wonder about it, but I don't take the time to find out more.
Oh, I'm sad for you, honestly. Like that connection for me has been one of the best things in my life. I hope that you find a way to...
I would love to.
If you drive a simple way is to stop driving, take public transit and walk because yeah being in a car cuts you off so much from interacting with people. But I think you'll find it a really... you know, people are lovely. And not everyone just like house people, some people are jerks, but yeah. The best jokes, the best like... yeah.
Okay I'm inspired to open to that more. I think there are some people who I've passed who it feels like they might have mental illness issues with that. And I'm unsure how to interact with that.
You're interacting right now with someone with mental illness, and you're not scared of me. Maybe if we were in person, it'd be different than you would be. But you already know how to interact with people with mental illness.
There's just a level of a layer of stigma and fear that comes up when you see someone who looks like they haven't had a shower in a while and they look really poor and they're talking to themselves or... that... I've done all those things like I've been psychotic and been on antipsychotics and been hospitalized, but you find a way to interact with me.
So, it's not different. It's your own. 'What do I do?' Someone is like, raging and using a stick to whack something or whatever, then that's not the time to 'Hey, how's it going?' But someone who's just like muttering to themselves or not in any sign of distress.
Yeah, it's inspiring just because it's easy to just stay in my comfort zone. And that's not where I'm committed to being, but in this area, I'm just okay, it's just easier to walk past and not think about it.
Yeah. But I also know you, you're curious about where you're afraid of things. And I've seen you lean into something that you maybe don't know about. I know you have it in you.
Oh, yes, I do. And I appreciate you being able to see that and acknowledge it. Thank you.
Okay. Let's see. There are a couple places that you've mentioned that I want to come back to. Would that be okay?
Okay, so you mentioned agoraphobia, and you've shared that with me in the past, and it strikes me as a really like a much more intense version of what a lot of people are facing at a much lower level. Just it's not just being afraid to go out. Although I think COVID has really increased that for a lot of us. It's like not knowing how to socially interact with people and being a little bit more anxious about that.
But it's just like moving out of our comfort zone becomes harder and harder, especially as we reinforce our comfort. And that's how I'm seeing it, but I haven't ever had agoraphobia. I'm wondering if that feels true to you or maybe you can enlighten me.
I can't claim to speak for everyone who's had agoraphobia, but I do think that any kind of phobia, it's rationally, you know that this is not something real that's happening, but that doesn't stop the terror from overtaking your body and like the adrenaline surge and the intense panic.
And what I gradually came to understand is that. It wasn't fear of open spaces. I'm fine in open spaces. It was fear of engaging with people and that was related to past trauma. And for me, I would have panic come on very suddenly and very unpredictably when I was out in public. And it was very embarrassing to me. I would be. There was one incident that I remember just so vividly because it was so ridiculous.
I was in the grocery store, and I opened the freezer and reached for a bag of frozen peas and then lost it. No idea why. There was nothing about that situation that wasn't something I hadn't done a zillion times before, but I was suddenly flooded with adrenaline and a state of dire panic that I had to get out of there right away or something terrible would happen.
And for me, the panic was so intense that I would bolt. If it happened when I was in a car, I would open the door and bolt out of a moving vehicle. It was a very shaky experience for me of not feeling in control of my own body and not feeling in control of my actions. And there were many times when I just took off and then I was like, 'I have no idea where I am, and I have no idea how to get home'. This was before cell phones.
And yeah, it was a very unnerving experience for those years that I struggled that much. And so I began to shrink my world down quite intentionally because I was like, 'Oh, I'm safe when I'm in the house. If I'm panicking when I'm in the house. I might take off, but I know my neighborhood, and no one will see it. It won't be so embarrassing. And no one will call'. I was terrified that someone would call the police if they saw me freaking out, because I would be like perspiring really heavily, sobbing, unable to verbally communicate often for an hour or so at a time. And I was terrified that someone would, because they saw me in mental health distress, would call the police.
And because I've done lots of work against policing and have had a friend killed by the police. It was, that was also a very terrifying prospect for me. So, I just, I stopped leaving the house and it made sense to me at the time, that I was safe inside the house. And then, it started to happen inside the house. I was like, 'Oh, I'm not really safe in the living room. I should go into my room'.
And I eventually confined myself to this little eight by nine-foot room and kept the door shut and the curtains down all the time and my partner at that time, it was very distressing for them and very hard on them. And I have a lot of regret about that. But eventually I started to read about it. I hadn't seen a mental health professional because I hadn't been able to leave the house. And so, I didn't understand that was agoraphobia, but I started to look up experiences that were similar to mine to try and understand what was happening to me.
And gradually understood that to treat Agoraphobia, you have to be willing to move outside your comfort zone. And that began for me a long process of being fine that I have panic sometimes. And look weird and that it unnerves people, but it's just let's who part of my how I am and who I am. And it's not a big deal. And if I'm not embarrassed, then other people's reaction is their problem. Actually, I'm not a danger to anyone. I just look in ways that for them are unnerving and that's their problem, not mine.
So I worry less about taking the bus and doing things where I'm like, 'Man, I'm in this space with a lot of people. What if I like freak out', which has happened to me many times. I'd have freaked out on the bus, and it's been fine. It was like accepting that I wasn't in control of my actions and really accepting that I'm not in control of most of life and I'm fine. Both are true.
So, when I was kept trying to exert more control that led me in the wrong direction. It was opening up to not being in control and that I was okay. That was, for me, the way out of that experience.
Such a power there's so much powerful stuff there that I think applies to everyone's lives. We don't all have, such intensity and, necessarily panic attacks or anything like that. But there's some elements there that I want to highlight because they're important for all of us. And I actually think this is how it works, is that we're, our comfort zones shrink down smaller and smaller if we let it, which is the default. We will let it if we don't actively work to expand.
And that's a very vivid example of what can happen. And you can see this as we get older aging often will have this where people will have their lives, they'll travel less, they'll get out less, they'll have less friends, and they'll be more and more staying at home. It doesn't have to be older. Actually, it happens in our thirties and forties.
COVID did it for a lot of people who are housed. I was watching everyone else's experience, and I was like, 'Oh, people are going through what I went through'. And I saw that they weren't prepared for it, and I didn't know what to do with it. And I had some tools already. And so, it was able to extend out a little bit and offer people some tools.
I think collectively, and again, not everyone had the same experience of COVID. It happened to a lot of people and, reaching back out again and being willing to experience... what a wild situation to feel like 'If I get physically close to this person, they might kill me'. It reminds me of the eighties, oddly enough, it reminds me of the eighties and HIV and AIDS in the gay community and how people were like, 'Oh my God, if I, if I'm intimate with you, I might die'. Like just how do you overcome that kind of intense, realistic, but also can't live that way kind of fear of connection and intimacy.
Yeah. It's a reasonable fear to have, like we have good reason for it. And it's visceral. It's like hard to overcome that. And the fact that you were able to, what you shared was just like an acceptance of 'I'm going to, look weird sometimes. I'm just going to have this experience'. And I love that acceptance of yourself.
It actually reminds me of some of the acceptance of yourself that you mentioned earlier. Like how liberating that can be just like letting people have their reaction. I think that's an important one as well, is we don't trust ourselves with other people's reactions.
If someone is going to have this kind of reaction, then I don't trust myself to be able to like, be with that or to deal with it or to be okay with it. So, if someone else is freaking out about me freaking out, I don't trust myself around that. And you developed a lot of trust. It's okay if people have their reaction, like they're going to have a reaction and that's their reaction to have. And it's your job to focus on what you're going through first and have some acceptance there.
I think this ties back to the thread we were talking about around privilege. As a younger person, my ability to survive some of the situations I was in, relied on pacifying the other person or trying to get them to like me or so that kind of people pleasing as a way of survival, right?
And I was never very good at it, but I still looked to that as 'If only I figure out how to, then I won't experience so much crap', and even though it never worked, it still stuck with me as that like thing to always be reaching for that if only I figure it out then, I'll be liked and approved of and so...
I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Yeah, that desire to people please is so intense and not to say that we should go around being jerks but to understand that my survival was less conditional on other people than I maybe thought has been helpful.
Yeah. It's, people pleasing, we can dismiss it or judge it, I think is often what we do. But it's it's a real desire for safety, and control and safety are what our survival mechanisms are about. It's not bad to want some safety, right? And if you've been in some real danger in the past, it's a real, it's a visceral kind of 'I need some safety'. So it's not just we can't just dismiss people who like are in their comfort zones. They have some good reasons for it.
But that doesn't mean that we're confined to that. What you've found through the stories you've shared... there's a possibility of stepping outside of that and practicing some acceptance and letting go of some of that control. I thought that was really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that.
And that's where true safety comes from, actually, is the ability to be in a situation and to be responsive and tuned into it instead of trying to control something we can't actually control. Yeah, it was a big shift and I've learned so much from the folks who are in the Uncertainty Challenge that you run about that kind of letting go of trying to control something and instead to open to it and see what it has to show.
You've mentioned the Uncertainty Challenge a couple of times. I'd like to touch on that because you are someone who's gone through, I think almost every round of it, if not every single round.
No, I came in late.
Oh, did you? Okay. You've been through a bunch of rounds.
I just came in strong.
And now you're actually holding space for others or at least yeah, providing some support. And so just to give people a shorthand like what the Uncertainty Challenge is, it's a four-week challenge in our Fearless Living Academy. We started as a beta thing where it was just a small group of people doing it and we've expanded it to the whole community.
It's taking on something that you feel some uncertainty about, whether it's a habit or some kind of purpose work or whatever it is that you're feeling some uncertainty about, and then practicing with that uncertainty on a nearly daily basis and having some people around you for some support and some accountability and actually working with our ability to be with uncertainty. Am I missing anything from that description?
No, it's great.
Okay. Great. And so I'm learning a lot from, we're learning a lot from people who are going through this, but I've been seeing some really amazing, amazing things happen within the community. And I give you a lot of credit. There are others as well, so not just you, but you've been really amazing.
Some of the most incredible qualities have come out you've always had them and you've. I've done this in other places, but I've seen it there in the Uncertainty Challenge. I really acknowledge you for the generosity that you are, the love and compassion that you are, and just that incredible presence.
Thanks. When we talked about doing this podcast, it wasn't at all to plug the Uncertainty Challenge. So it's not 'Oh yeah, now I'm going to subtly work in the Uncertainty Challenge'.
No, I know. I did that, not you.
It's been so influential in my life. Really. I'm talking about it with lots of people because it's been so helpful at a time when I'm going through tremendous uncertainty that can't really be worked on in the challenge there. My dad is dying and someone who I was really close with and was a caregiver to for years died in January.
So, it's a time of just that uncertainty of how do I experience the world without the people who've been closest in my heart for a while. There's no 'I'm going to take half an hour a day and work on that'. But through working on other things where there is more of a container, I've just found it helpful to be able to practice being with uncertainty and learning to fall in love with it, really.
Yeah, which helps me a lot to deal with the impending loss of my dad and the grief still about my friend. It's been really, and the connections and the people who do it are just such depth of willingness to engage in hard things. It's sometimes hard in this society to find people who want to lean into hard things. People are like, 'How can I avoid hard things?' So, to find like-minded people who are curious and 'That feels hard. I want to do it.'
I actually think people are more like that than they even give themselves credit for. But yeah, just to, to have other people like yourself who are there saying yes to that, it creates permission for people to actually say yes to it. It's 'Oh, could I?', so again, I get, I acknowledge you for that. Could you give us an example of something that you have worked on in the Uncertainty Challenge that it was really beneficial to work with?
Sure. So, I mentioned recently we moved to another city and it's a city I've never lived in before and had only visited once, twice before. I don't know anyone here mostly. And there's a lot that's unfamiliar to me. It was a move across provinces. There's a lot that's just unfamiliar. And I was pretty miserable.
I expected that the move would be a little bit destabilizing to my mental and physical health, but I didn't really expect that it would be so destabilizing, and I was just really miserable the first month here and felt like I had stepped back month years, really, I was having a lot of panic again, and just really afraid to do everything, and I didn't feel okay in our house, and nothing felt okay.
And so I decided as for the four weeks of the most recent Uncertainty Challenge, to have a target of doing one hour a day to do something around embracing life here. With the vision that I would feel rooted and joyful in our new home. For an hour a day, I was like, what can I do today that will be really about celebrating here?
And it completely changed over the course of just four weeks from being totally miserable and feeling super overwhelmed to actually being really excited to be here and loving the house. Loving, yeah, just loving being here. So, I was really surprised at how it shifted so quickly. Once I put in the dedicated time to actually doing some of the things that needed to be done here.
So incredible to hear that I'm inspired and moved. By not just this, but everything that you've shared. I'd like to thank you for sharing all of that. It's just such an incredible thing. And what I want to say from this and a number of other examples that you've shared here, like your agoraphobia story, and really just like a lot of the things you've been sharing, is I really acknowledge you for just having this intention to work with some things that can be really uncomfortable, really hard.
You talked about terror, like that's not easy stuff. And yet, like you standing here before me today, it feels like you're a completely transformed person from that person. It's not that you don't have the same beautiful human heart that you always had, but I wouldn't have guessed that you've gone through that agoraphobic phase and, a lot of other things that you've had to go through in your life.
And it's just really incredible just showing the possibility of the kind of work that you've done, the self-acceptance and the loving way of moving yourself out of your comfort zone and the incredible intention that you've shown. I just wanted to acknowledge that kind of transformation that you've modeled for us.
It's not, I really can't, I don't know how to explain this. It's not like those things don't still happen. Like this has been part of... one of the frustrating things for me with dealing with, for example, being on disability benefits is I'm happy. I'm not miserable. I have worked really hard to be happy with my life.
And so periodically when they reassess me, they're like 'If you're not miserable, then we're going to kick you off benefits'. And I'm still disabled. Like I still don't sleep sometimes for long stretches of time. And I still have panic, it's not like those things. Went away. I, and it's really, I think the person who's most helped me is a Zen priest named Claude Anshin Thomas, who was in the Vietnam war as a young man and has still really severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
He showed me like the PTSD didn't go away. He just learned to develop a different relationship to it. And that's right. It's this funny thing of like assumption that, if you're happy, then you must be over it or put it behind you or, and it's not like that. It's just that it's become integrated into my life in a way where I'm not struggling with it in the same ways that I used to, but it still impacts my life on a day-to-day basis, if that makes sense.
100% makes sense. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that because the way that I put it, it might seem like it's all gone. You don't have to deal with that anymore. And I love that you share that, that's still there. You're still dealing with it. And yet your relationship to it's changed.
People love the transformation story. They love the, like from, this terrible situation to suddenly I see that all the time unhoused. Again, just looping back to what we were talking about earlier. People love that I was miserable and on the streets and using drugs, and then I like went into rehab...
Yeah. And it's, for some people, if that's their story, then wonderful. And they should get acknowledged for it. But I think for many of us it's more like. We continue to struggle.
And I'm glad you shared that. Yeah, I'm glad you shared that and that is... I haven't had to deal with any of those things, but in my own transformation, that's actually what I've seen as well. People see, maybe it's because it's my fault. Maybe I've only shared the good stuff, but they see the outer change. And they're like, 'Oh, Leo did all of these things. And he's doesn't have to deal with all of that stuff anymore'. And it's not true. I still struggle with a lot of this stuff, whether it's food or body image or like financial struggles or, self acceptance, all of that kind of stuff.
Still very much there, I'm not comparing myself to your situation, but just acknowledging that's. That's the truth. That it doesn't all go away, but I feel a lot more capable to deal with all of that stuff now, because like you said, my relationship to it has changed, but still all there still the same threads of Leo still very much present.
I just really encourage you to bring that to your work because I think I've seen a number of teachers or leaders really struggle with trying to present an image that is like 'I have succeeded, I have overcome', and actually the people who've helped me the most are the ones who are really vulnerable and really messed up and like really honest.
It's possible to be a good human being and still we flail, even with all the tools and that's, there's, you're not doing it wrong. If that's your experience, that's what it is to be a human being. And I've seen so many Buddhist teachers and other teachers really struggle with trying to portray an image to their students that their students expect of them often of really having it all figured out.
Well, I definitely don't.
But that's one of the beautiful things about you that makes you accessible to the rest of us mortals is you're like us. You haven't figured out either, you're just trying to flail your way through as we all are, and we can take care of each other as we flail together.
Yeah. I'd like to close here but I want to thank you just like for the humanness that you've brought, even just in this moment, just right before I started talking to the moment when you first started talking, like you've shared so much humanity throughout all of this. And I really think that's one of your gifts is that you get us back in touch to that, to the humanity that we are accepting it, loving it, seeing it in each other, connecting with it.
It's been a gift to me over the years. And then here on this call sharing with me, like these are just humans that you can just talk to and connect to on a human level. I needed to hear that message. And I thank you for that being that message in the world.
I love your work, Leo. And I'm so grateful for all that you continue to bring to community. So thank you. I'm sure we'll have many more conversations to come.
Oh, yes. I hope so. Okay. Thank you, Joshua.
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Connect with Leo
Editor: Justin Cruz
Post-production: Diana C. Guzmán Caro & Amanda Goddard