EPISODE 36: MORTALITY + TRUE ALIVENESS
Guest: Ned Buskirk
Lauren: Thanks for being here.
Ned: Thanks for having me.
N: Always a pleasure. I love talking about this stuff that matters a lot to me. It's not like a hard thing to make time for.
L: Yeah, well I like that about you.
N: It can be kind of tricky to schedule, but um, but I was very down when you asked and I also was not going to force it. Like I'm glad that you reached out again and you know, was okay that it hadn't happened yet, you know.
N: But then was glad when I heard from you again.
L: It's funny, I remember asking you in person and saying maybe at some point you want to possibly potentially maybe do this thing and you were like, yeah, but also like let's actually do it because now that…
N: Did I say it that way?
L: You said it in this way that was like, “I'm ready.”
L: You're like, “I'm ready to do it now.”
L: You know, not right in that second.
N: Yeah, I totally understand.
L: Because I was doing this thing where I was like trailing off at one point.
N: Oh, right, right, right. Yeah.
L: Yeah. You didn't say it in a sassy way.
N: Okay good, it sounded sassy.
L: It sounded sassy in the way I tell the story.
N: But I will say that, you know, I don't have more than a couple of minutes to say about my body journey because I think it informs the bigger conversation for me of mortality obviously, which is why you have me here and I just want you to know that the health stuff….Well I can get into it but I'm glad that you're just kinda like, I don't know what your...what it is exactly.
N: And so it's, it's nice to be on here and to be able to connect that.
N: And to I guess to say out loud that I'm….While it's almost like I think I should have had like, hey, like I don't have this diagnosis or I want to be clear about that…
N: But you haven't. It's just perfect. Really, because it matches what I've gone through the last year and, and, and as far back as my mom's body story.
L: Mmhmm, yeah.
N: Which is as important, maybe even more so than mine.
L: Absolutely. Well all of that is welcome.
L: So help me understand your...what's your, like as you think about it and you say, “Okay, I know what I want to share.”
L: This is perfect. Like feel free to involve your mom.
N: I will.
L: Okay. So just as an Fyi, this is the podcast, we're doing it right now.
N: No, I felt like just when you were talking then, I felt like it was happening.
L: This is real.
N: Without you having to say so, but I'm glad you followed that up, that sort of way you were talking about…
L: Just to let you know.
N: By the way…we’ve gone in.
L: The whole world can hear us now.
N: We’re inside. That’s good.
L: So, but yeah, I like, I actually would love for you to share both or whatever feels right in your sharing.
N: Mmhmm. I will.
L: What is your...?
N: Sure. I feel like the knee thing is interesting that you bring that up because I feel like I was doing one of the shows and maybe I talked about…
L: You did.
N: Do you remember what I said? I sort of don't remember that part.
L: You mentioned that you had, I think you may have had surgery on your knee. Is that right?
N: Yeah, I had surgery on my knee when I was in high school.
L: Oh, wow.
N: And uh, that was a more of a funny story and a trippy body experience at such a young age and the short version of that story...And I'm smiling because it's not what I mainly want to share about on the show.
L: That’s okay.
N: It doesn't inform the work that I do as much.
N: I might find as I'm talking to you that it does inform it more than I thought.
L: Yeah, maybe.
N: But I'm smiling because it's sort of a funny story. And my mom, my mom is strongly connected to it.
N: And I can already feel the ways that it does represent something about how I grew up and how my mom and ultimately her kids... me and my sister, how we dealt with health and wellness. And, and so here's the, here's the story of my knee: which is that at some point when I was around like sophomore year of high school, I would be sitting in math class and I would be done with class and be time to get up and my knee would lock.
N: And so I would try to stand up and straighten my leg out and it wouldn't straighten out. Which I think I probably just in the context of being around other kids, I would just make humor out of it and not deal with maybe the terrifying fact that my leg wouldn't straighten out at that young age.
N: But it was funny to me and it was super weird and I would have to pop my knee to, to ultimately walk normal and then it would just be done until later on I would just be sitting in class again and it would happen again or somewhere else. And it would start happening with a lot of regularity. And I would tell my mom, “Listen, I have something going on with my knee. It keeps locking and I feel like I need to have it checked out.” I don't even know if I said that much, but I said what you would say to your mom and she would just do what my mom would do…
L: Right, okay.
N: Which I don't think mom's often did, but she did, which was just like, “Let's not...don't worry about it. You know, “It's fine.”
L: You’ll be okay, you’re in high school.
N: And maybe she stressed deeply about it at that point, but it was a little dismissive. I remember that until it happened regularly enough and started happening in a way that it wouldn't straighten out very easily that it would...And the, the feeling is like having a bent knee and having some kind of invisible force kind of like stuck in front of it or something, you know, like we're just like, didn't feel like you're just, I can't pop my knee, you know, it was very strange.
N: But one morning I was running up the stairs to my bedroom and I was home alone and at the top of the stairs my knee locked and I collapsed and made it to the top and it was fine. I didn't like roll down the stairs and further injure myself.
N: But after that time, then I couldn't straighten it anymore. And so finally, and it wasn't until then, my mom was like, “Alright, we need to go to the doctor.”
N: She really should have taken me, I think by then, and I don't know what that was. I think it was probably finance for her. She's a single mom.
N: It’s already stressful, there being something wrong already in a very stressful existence for her. I think integrating like doctor's appointments and doctor's payments was just a lot, you know..but that was very obviously the to go. And when I talked about that at the show, that's what I was referring to probably, and the knee issues since. I went into surgery, it was arthroscopy, super simple incisions into my knee and the bone had chipped off in my knee joint. So there's like bones, like putting a piece of wood in a door that you're trying to close, but you've put it in by the hinges and you can't close the door.
N: And so they removed that and I and I, uh, had to do some physical therapy and start swimming and all that. But that was it. And it's not done it since. I bet that I'll have some pretty early onset knee issues as I get older. But that was kind of the end of that. Do you have questions about that?
L: I mean, I'm going to have probably a lot of questions about everything. I'm like putting it in my memory bank because I know there's more to this health journey kind of overview. Right?
L: Because you were mentioning that there are a few different pieces.
N: Yes. By then my mom had already been diagnosed with breast cancer, so I'm only saying this out loud now for the first time and maybe you've never thought about it, but my knee issue would have probably been in the context of her very recently haven't been diagnosed with cancer, which is, which is kind of a wild connection to make just the doctor's visits, the anxiety. You know?
N: Being anxious about her own body and what she was going through and then suddenly having her son have something dramatic enough. Not Likely, not life threatening, but pretty dramatic, you know?
L: Right. Yeah.
N: Um, so that's sort of trippy to me, that connection. My mom was diagnosed with breast answer when I was 13 years old and for the next 13 years off and on chemo, radiation, surgeries, permissions, return...cancer returns, and until she finally died when I was 26, and so you know, that's the, that's the quick version of that body story. My mom and her like, ongoing dealing with that as a single mom and US getting raised in that conversation.
L: Yeah, yeah.
N: And then the last thing that I'll connect to sort of why the work that I think you do and why this podcast exists in your experience and it's important for me to say that this is my little version of it and in a way that I….I know plenty of people by now and in my life, but especially doing the shows and the “You're Going To Die” work that I've met that have things far beyond, I guess what I hope this is and what it seems to be. I think you've heard me talk about that I had this like chronic pain in my stomach and I've talked about it in shows a couple of times. Pain enough that it's chronic enough that it would okay an issue like daily and even bad enough that it would…. I had to go to the er a couple times that I've been to the doctor a bunch of times. I've done all the tests that at least the gastro doctor that I've made it to would do. Uhm, x rays, cat scans and things like that and and still don't really know what it is. In fact, that last doctor was like, “Well, you could go to this gastro neurologist” or something. I don't even know what that referral was and I haven't gone, but that's the kind of last connection I'll make to feeling like I have...not a place here with you, but a way to kind of bring in my work into your conversation, my little bridge.
N: The kind of fragility that we can be reminded by by something that's chronic.
N: So the reminder always of like you, you're not the person over there that just doesn't have that issue all the time and who doesn't think about it, doesn't think their voice about their body being heard or having to go take it somewhere.
N: Mostly they might have things in there and probably do other things throughout their life where they had to have moments like that. It's like I feel like this is the worst I've ever felt. I need to go to the doctor now or my appendix that Dah Dah, Dah, Dah. But I think the majority of human body experience is not one that's a constant reminder of your mortality.
N: You know, I wonder even having not a clear diagnosis at this point if I'm somehow like, this has come from me being like immersed in this work and this conversation. Like somehow it's a result even of like trauma and the conversation over and over again...grief, taking on other people's stuff and partly because I don't have a definitive diagnosis as to what it is.
N: I sort of have those parts floating around there.
L: Yeah, it can be so tricky. And a lot of people out there actually, there have been a lot of requests to do more episodes with people who don't have diagnoses.
N: Mmmm. People were asking for that.
L: Oh yeah.
N: Oh, the unknown.
L: There are a lot of folks who listen to this show who aren't diagnosed yet and I say yet because they really do hope that they find diagnoses and there are a lot of mysterious conditions out there and so there is something. Yeah, I just, I want to acknowledge that relationship between, you know, having a body that reminds us that it's not always going to do what we want to do and awareness of mortality because I've mentioned it before, that like my MS is not something that I think of is probably even impacting my life expectancy because for most people it doesn't. And yet somehow it, it has changed my perspective on how I live my life and my awareness that I am going to die and that I don't know when and that there's something really vulnerable about that. I think ultimately that's really what it is, that having a body makes us vulnerable.
N: Yeah. It makes us vulnerable, but it doesn't make us feel vulnerable always and I think that's the distinction from maybe what your experiences and what this has been for me. And certainly growing up with a mom who just was that, embodied that.
N: This like very present reminder that you are and that that is going to be a blessing and a curse. Of course. You know, the anxiety that I feel like I've gone through with this and I mean this...I feel like in the last say six months of this, maybe a little less, my relationship with it is not so stressed, you know. It's not one of like fear but there was a stretch when it first started happening where I would wake up in the night mostly at night, but definitely during the day sometimes, but mostly at night, just terrified of what this could be.
N: Is it cancer? Is that, you know, obviously old stuff coming up from, for me for that...and just having a big unknown, you know. Laying in the dark and just feeling like my wife nearby and my kids and just feeling, “Oh, you can't stop it.” You know whatever it will eventually be, you know, and that it's likely not this, but this could like represent that, you know?
L: When you say “It's not likely this.” I think you mean “It’s not likely this that's going to take me out.” Right?
L: Yeah, exactly. And in that moment that you're describing, even though you feel your kids and your wife in the house with you, I'm hearing almost like this...this like a quiet and aloneness, the, amidst the connectedness.
N: Mmhmm. Right.
L: Like no one else has this body.
L: It’s you.
N: Mmhmm. I think the inclusion of my wife and my kids too, especially in that description of that moment is the feeling helpless to protect even my own body and feeling the closest loved ones, you know.
N: And that it's not hard to even go further out, but that's sort of the moment of the night, you know, where this is most, is bound up in most anxiety and fear and old trauma and you know, um, and again, less now than ever. I feel like there's a relationship I have with it and I and I, I would love to hear how you would speak about this with your experience and other people that come on the show and people that have these chronic issues. Maybe more life threatening than mine too, but the, the idea that you're the practice of meditating on it can almost eventually just inevitably...inevitably require a to the kind of letting go into it. You know, where at least you have the option to and by being confronted with irregularly, maybe eventually have to take the option, but the option to kind of be confronted with it, just, just kind of go with, I don't know...and that, that almost like a little healing in itself.
L: Yeah. It's terrifying in healing and I also want to equate the letting go that can come from having a body and having an illness and having symptoms and I talk a lot about how I like the practice when I can of letting my symptoms lead me versus trying to fight them.
L: Which can feel really liberating. And then the other side of that is that can be terrifying because, you know, I mean ultimately at the end of all this is like, what if it makes me die? Right? Like, what if this thing that I let, what if it gets out of control and, you know, or I fall down the stairs or I slipped or whatever because I'm dizzy and I wanna connect that also with the way that we can give into our emotional processes because there's the physical stuff and then there's the emotional stuff and I can resist my emotions just as much as anything else with my body.
L: So that can be terrifying, too. And then as I think, you know, I think we've talked about this actually...in the having of the emotions there’s some transformation that happens...like the giving into, like letting it sort of like...letting it have its way with us, you know.
N: It’s that early relationship that I feel like I have with dying where there's a, there's a freedom in getting to that, letting go. Like I find the, the experience of somehow transporting myself to that moment and I mean like my final moments, you know, my dying moments that I get alleviation here now and that the body, my relationship with this chronic health issue has been a little bit of like, “Oh Gosh, there, there is some freedom in there. I can feel it. Even when I can't consciously describe it, we're telling you it in a way that you can have it too.” But that I can sense the freedom from just the fact that it's true, you know, that this or something will and, and letting go into it is like relief, you know. And not like I want to kill myself or anything that extreme, just the, the through line. And to be very clear, it's not accessible to me most of the time. That experience is not accessible to me most of the time.
L: Good point! Right? You're describing this awesome thing and you're saying you can’t do it all the time, yeah...but when it’s there, something happens for you.
N: I guess it is because I know it is there all the time. I can't be at peace or feel relief all the time, but I know it's there and I can return to it. Sometimes. You know.
L: The willingness to surrender.
L: This is so cool. I'm just, there's like 12 directions I could go.
N: I know. I feel all of them.
L: You do feel all of them.
N: I think uh, but I then I will just take one of the directions or go deeper into what I just described which is, which is where I think the chronic health conversation and, and the relationship with our bodies is and feelings like you said is the doorway, you know. It is that going into all of that is the way through. There is no other directions and it's a good...it's a good thing to say next after the 12 directions that we could take. There is only one direction I think. And I mean, people be like, well, you're just a total oversimplification, you know, but, but I do mean that the going through the, the truth of it, you know, the truth of my grief that comes up with, with my wife and kids. My pain that I'm feeling in my body that those sort of surrendering into the unknown of all that. But the fact of it at all, you know, like losing all of them, losing all of it, losing all of this, you know, that there's relief that I'm even feeling now, you know.
L: Can you tell me about that relief?
N: Well, I read this little excerpt from Frank Ostaseski, uh, his book is called The Five Invitations. And I read it just this morning and I'm paraphrasing and could get the book out of my bag maybe at some point and we can, I could read it, but it's something about, it's something that captures what I just tried to describe in a more succinct and beautiful way, which is the kind of the going into the, I don't know, like the letting go into the unknown and that in that it is sometimes like letting the grief be the powerful like experience that it is. Letting the tears like lubricate and free you, you know, I mean even says like literally like the tears is sort of the end of the sentence of the kind of...and I feel like this happened at the shows for me and others.
N: Others, maybe not everybody because I know some people don't like don't need that expression of, of, of going through. They don't need that lubrication.
N: But for me it's like it is a little more of an arrival, you know, and showing up authentically for myself and for the other people. And then what's there is like more connectedness, more like simplification, less resistance, which is only more suffering, you know, and I'm sounding like far more Buddhist than I feel I am or, or feel I think.
L: It’s okay either way.
N: Thank you.
L: Yes. But yeah, it's hard to put that much of this stuff into words, and I think that’s what I’m bumping up against and just sitting with you right now is I just want to like….be like, moving my arms and be like, “Yeah, this!”
N: That’s hard, it’s tricky.
L: Which is great. So cool.
L: It's one of the challenges of being a person, right? Trying to translate experiences to each other at the lubrication of...It's like, yeah, it's like there's loosening, there's this cleansing, there's this allowing to the release, you know, the release of all that's within. And I think of crying as very much like one of the only tangible ways that we can let what's inside out, right?
L: Like we use words a lot, like that's a big one.
L: But there's something cool about allowing that process to happen through us. Grieving, sadness, joy, tears of joy, all of it.
N: Yeah, and that all of it comes with the, at least in my experience, very often all of it comes with that release. You know, I do feel and you know, I think at the You're Going To Die shows is that, that's part of what happens is that we get in that catharsis, you know, and, and maybe specifically for a lot of people like it is the crying, but the catharsis and the arrival of that comes with, “Oh, well because I've let this much grief go and boy look how much joy can arrive at the same time.”
N: It almost needs to, to balance that…
N: In a show like that...or even a moment like ours, there's the opportunity to have like sadness emerge and then like a little gratitude and joy at our likeness and there were here, you know, that I like to feel love for being here with you and that we're just, this is precious, you know?
L: Yeah, absolutely.
N: And that's all that's been more profound or dramatic than that.
N: That's simple formula, that simple balancing of making space and kind of letting the emptiness unfold with all of that kind of truth. And I will say that I've noticed in the years that I've done this more in the last year or so, sort of strangely specifically, I don't know if it's strange, but specifically it's come up and I've said so. I don't always say so, but I've said so multiple times in this new, like, prison work that I've done, which is letting these men know and maybe feeling like I need them to understand tears in a different way because I've met guys in there that even cried with me that are 40 plus years old, and it’s the first time they'd ever cried with another man, you know. But it might be me needing to kind of reframe the idea of kind of emotion, you know, that kind of output emotionally. But that it, for me, it is this, it is this kind of closeness. The truth. You know, when I feel that level of emotion and I am crying, I know that I'm really close to the truth. And, and, and maybe if I was more Buddhist, it would be like closer to the truth of the moment, you know, closer to the, the preciousness, the wholeness of this, but, but the truth really is that kind of burying ourselves vulnerably to one another is like us arriving closer than ever to like something pure and true. You know?
L: Yeah, yeah I do know. I feel like all this stuff that you just said is wonderful. This is what I call a wonderful dilemma as I still have so much inside and I don't know how to put it into words.
L: It's wonderful. That's awesome. All of what you just said has touched me and I think what I want to say is that when I go to You're Going To Die events. Well, when I saw you last time actually, I was like, “Oh, this has been great. Church as usual.” It feels like it's been church as usual. It's like, right. Because I think of church is a time and a place to gather in community, but also be really in touch with my own awareness of spirit.
L: And I almost feel a certain type of privacy and solitude when I'm in the midst of a whole group of people who are there for the purpose of honoring life and honoring our, the preciousness and the impermanence of this life.
N: Mmhmm, yeah.
L: And yet I feel connected at the same time. And when I go it, it affects my days and weeks following, like it's as though I need to reactivate this asleep thing in me, which like we talked about earlier, I'm not reminded of my mortality all the time.
L: So to come into this room and to see people's stories and their willingness to be tender in public and their willingness to cry or hold hands or lean on each other. Sometimes people they've never met before. Um, that's really, it reminds me of what's important and there's not much else outside that room that like can remind me in the way that it does.
N: Mmm, me too.
L: Yeah. And thanks for doing that by the way.
N: It's funny and I thank you. Thank you for thanking me. You're welcome.
L: You're welcome.
N: And I'll practice saying that more, but it's, it's important for me to note to people and I feel like I do pretty regularly that really this thing only exists because I needed it.
L: Yes, yes.
N: I can’t say.... I can make the next leap to every so many other people need it, too. But it really, it came out of very naturally and sort of sneakily out of that deep necessity. You know.
N: I, I, I can't take credit for saying, okay, so I'm going to do an open mic because I need this, you know, the open mic in the beginning really was still was out of a need, but it was like mainly me just saying I need this. I need to be able to creatively express myself. I need to make space for other people to do that and I'm good at it.
N: And that's the beginning. But then then my mom's death, you know, in the wake of her death after years of that and then ultimately losing my mother in law to cancer also. Then it really, like that deep need came alive, like it became a force and a declaration, you know. On the website there's a video that someone happened to record that night at Viracocha after my mother in law’s death. The first show that I ever did and it's me declaring what the space is for and not knowing what that meant, which was perfect because I never know. I didn't know last Thursday.
N: You know, and then and then we all just decide that together and not like in a moment, but just slowly someone opens the door. Usually it's me, you know, emotionally at least. Vulnerably that first door and then someone else usually goes through and then we all kind of go through and someone else. Then they opened another door and then, and then we all go through that door and it's just the deepening of that, you know, is that decision over and over again as a group and you do a great job of further articulating something that I think happens at the shows. Often I hear the church description, the best parts of church, not that there are bad parts, I'm making no assumptions about that. But that that's how it's been described specifically, but I like how you described something that other people have talked around or to or try to, which is the lone experience of being there, that some people want to go to the shows without anyone so they can sit in the audience and just be by themselves and feel everything you described too, which is such a wildly wonderful way of connecting.
L: Yeah. It’s a different way of being helped than having the immediate person in your life who you are, or people that you really care about. It sort of giving you a little bit more room.
N: Can you tell me how you found out about the show and what the first experience was like?
L: When I had been following Scott Ferreter and his work for awhile and he had talked about it and then I started seeing it on facebook and I’m trying to remember my first show...
N: Yeah, because you’ve been a few times now.
L: Yeah. I think maybe my first one may have the event, the Reimagining End of Life.
N: Oh really, cool.
L: I don't know if it was or not, but I actually remember specifically going to that because I was going through something in my life. Whereas ending a chapter in my life and knew that I needed….I knew it was going to touch my heart in it pretty big way. I knew I was going to sob.
N: Mmhmm. Yeah.
L: Right, so I went like that. I'm not inviting a friend with me. I'm just going to go and wound up….of course there were, there's amazing storytelling there. Music and there was, that very special, uhm... Mount Eerie.
N: Oh, that was your first show?
L: I don't know if it was or not. I think it was…
N: That was a big one.
L: It was a big one.
N: There's a lot to go through too.
L: It was probably my most memorable one because I mean, and I kinda joked when I was describing it to someone afterwards, I was like, it was so intense that I saw lovers in the audience clinging to each other like life rafts, like she has crying with each other because this was a partner loss theme and it was so beautiful and painful in equal measure.
L: And it was so great for me. I'll be honest, I had an emotional hangover for a few days after that because I had let a lot into my heart and it was hard and part of what I needed to do to process. And um, I remember being like one of the last people sitting at the end, I just couldn’t get up.
L: I just was like, I don't have to get up, I can just stay here and just soak in whatever is happening. And there was a lot of crying. I needed it.
L: And I, I joke that crying is like a spa treatment for the soul because…
N: Mmhmm, it’s that lubrication.
L: Yeah. Because it's salt water, it's like if you've ever had a spa treatment, right, there's this type of deep relaxation that comes afterwards. And I needed that and I got it and I felt like I was really deeply in touch with myself.
L: So that's my most memorable first experience.
N: Cool. That’s great. That's a big show. That was a really, really special show for me for a lot of reasons, but also just because it's that kind of occurrence, that level of deepening and emotion and, and, and like I've always said that about any shows that I've ever been to the best shows are the shows that I laugh a lot at which you go to like a comedy show mainly for that. But still, that's a good measurement, right? You're just laughing a lot.
N: But for sure my best shows and the only shows I really want, and this is why I started creating my field is the shows that you can cry at.
N: And um, I know not everybody feels that way and that strongly. But I know again, to go back to why this thing exists is because I wanted to be able to regularly do that and need to, you know. I have the hangover, the emotional hangover after the shows.
N: As much as the sounds like you know, you people do.
L: And I want to say that after that emotional hangover is a huge bouncing back.
L: And when I say back, that's not the right term because there's this newness to it. It’s bouncing up.
N: Yeah, totally.
L: Because I can experience certain emotional heights that I never would be able to experience if I wasn't able to go into the deep, dark place. You know what I mean?
N: Yes. Totally.
L: Like it's just, I'm, I'm, my range has expanded. I guess that's the best way to say emotional range.
N: Great way to describe it. Is that kind of like flexing?
L: Yes. You're working out, you're working out your emotional muscles.
N: For sure. I found this quote that I was trying to paraphrase roughly.
N: This is a book called the five invitations and it's by Frank Ostaseski and I just finished it this morning. Really, really committed to finishing it this morning. Highly recommended to you and your listeners, discovering what death can teach us about living fully. It's such a weird thing to consider, like bringing this book into trying to think of contexts, you know, like I think about doing….So I do work at UCSF, um, a program called Art for Recovery. And I'll, I'll just touch on this and then I'll read this quote and then we can maybe dig into this a little bit more, but this notion of, you know, I do that work as a contract for the nonprofit, you know, You're Going To Die, it's nonprofit, YG2D. And so I go in there and I do creative writing with patients around healing and expressing themselves creatively. And with me coming into that space, I feel really strongly a lot of what we're talking about overtly. But when you go into a room where someone has cancer, even if it's stage four, they don't wanna, they don't wanna really hear about death and dying. They’re already maybe living it or they may maybe or in denial of it, you know, like, I don't know. But I, I mentioned that now to say it's it this morning. I was thinking when I started this writing workshop at the, in the new year with a group of cancer patients thinking about the work in this book and specifically there's a really wonderful quoting that he does have of these Japanese death poems. Have you heard of these poems?
N: They are poems that some people in Japanese culture, maybe Buddhist, but would do these poems in their dying days. They won't, they wouldn't be complete death poems unless you die the day you wrote it, so you could write one every day and it wouldn't count until you died and the idea is that the poem is supposed to hold something closer to truth and you know, purely in the purest of ways because you're that close to dying.
N: Which is every time I've heard Frank Ostaseski speak and he ends the book on that, on that particular sharing, that particular work and reality story. Actually, he, he showed up at one of my shows which was really, really cool. And he, he read one of these poems from one of the patients in his lifetime that, that really like stuck with him and he shares it all the time. But the idea would be to have people do that work, these cancer patients. And it's hard for me to know if it's okay to ask them to do that.
N: Because we have this body experience and there's a part of us that really just doesn't. We just want to get through what we're dealing with.
L: Exactly, yeah.
N: In fact, we don't want to be like, okay, I get it. It makes me feel vulnerable and mortal and, and I'm going to die and I’m fragile.
N: A lot of people don't want, you know, a lot of people and understandably and me sometimes I don't want to feel that way, you know?
N: Um, so it's interesting for me to get to talk to that, speak to that and bring this up, this book up because I feel a lot about it and I recommend it. But I also get, you know, someone's like wait, it's about what, like it's not about MS, there's not about chronic health issues that you don't have a diagnosis for. It's about death and I'm not ready or I don't want to, you know, go there, but I'm reading from it now. That's the recommendation. But the quote that I was speaking to earlier is he says, “Letting go is an entry into unknown territory. Grief is the toll that we pay. Tears are the fluids that ease the release.” That's the quote.
L: I love that. What I was thinking about when we're talking about like concept of flexing muscles and building muscles, uh, emotional muscles. I was thinking about if we look at it that way of, you know, being willing to experience the full range of emotion from deep sorrow and fear to full joy and aliveness. Now you're one of the buffest guys I know and I say that because you have somehow I won't say somehow I know you've been living your life. You have integrated in my eyes, the like all of that. So you'll get up on stage and you'll give of what I sort of like a Dharma talk. But I know again, you don't identify as Buddhist.
N: I don’t mind the connection.
L: Uh, it feels like, yeah, it feels like or you'll give. It feels like an opening sermon. It feels like just you getting current with us and being real with us and sharing what's in your heart and you will literally go from, and I know you know this, but I'm kind of saying it also for the people who haven't been to the show yet. Like you will go from sharing something really light and accessible and funny and bringing people into I think this trusting relationship and your humility comes out and then it's like you're totally willing to go maybe like 45 seconds later into “And here's a dark thing that I felt” or “Here's a, a sort of bittersweet moment that I felt today and here I'm sharing it with you because it's living itself through me.” You're, you allow it all.
L: And I sit there and it's a healing experience for me because I don't know a lot of people who can do that. And it means a lot. And I, I think that it, it feels a little bit like, um, like a transmission that happens being in the room with anybody who's who so willing to emote and express the way that you do. And it feels like it does feel like I go and I have a healing experience.
N: Mmmm. Thank you. I think that part of what happens in that moment, like you so well described and it was a real honor to like listen to you use your good words to describe your experience of me. But I think part of what happens is this, and part of something that I could say about me doing this, all of this, you're going to die... that stuff, all of the work is that I'm just trying to figure it out.
N: And that I don't know. Like I said Thursday meant a lot, and a lot I needed to say Thursday, that I'm still gonna show up. And I say to people, I often think about my funeral and hope that if people say anything, that they say that. That I showed up. Part of the transmission is this leveling of the playing field. Like we're all, you know, it's like, I don't know, you know, I mean like thank you for the acknowledgement and maybe you don't realize what you were acknowledging.
N: But what I can feel right now is saying that, you know, I feel a lot of anxiety today.
N: Like I'm, I've been very, like stressed and unsure and not happy, you know.
N: And um, and it's my constant personal practice, I think of just looking at what it means to open into that, you know, and seeing what's through it and that, and that a lot of it is just going into this big unknown and that that's actually part of the point and that there's not a concrete figuring out of it. There is just the stepping forward.
N: And that the power of death and I think death in these shows us all using as an access point to getting into the present moment is the stepping forth in the unknown is and it's that the magic and the sacredness and the spirit of being alive comes up more in that I think than most places, you know.
N: Because we're so good at having it figured out in life is really mainly asking us. And I mean more systems of life than, than like life itself. Humanity and society and the systems of all of us, uh, it's asking us culturally or whatever to figure it out. What are you going to do? What do you got? What you got done? What do you do? What's your job? How's that going? You know, what are you, what are you going to do? Where are you going to go shopping? What are you going to wear, you know, where are you putting your money? How's that working out? What's coming from that? You get more of it? How are you getting that, you know, a lot of going elsewhere and figuring out this thing that's really absurd and ridiculous. It makes no sense really. And it's scary to admit it like this big, big, big, big like holding of we don't know. No one knows what's going on, you know, and death offers that kind of like doorway.
L: I think you're talking about, which I think to most is a mystery and your willingness to not now, which means that you are alive in this mystery is the, is what creates that ability to express the way that you do because you're willing to not know. You’re willing to show up right now and say I'm feeling kind of unhappy and anxious, which is true for you in this day, which isn't something we say to each other in social gatherings usually, right? Like, hey, how you doing? I'm good. Here's where I went shopping today and, and how does it, how is it for you? Like when you just said that to me when you just said I am feeling anxiety today. Like what is it like for you when you even say it out loud?
N: Well it's like I'd already arrived through it by getting to be with you and talk like this. So saying it now is kind of pointing back to something that already already kind of like embodied it or embodied. How can I describe that? I knew when I got to, I knew I and I and I mean this. I knew when we got to sit and talk today that I would come through it and that part of it wouldn't just be that I'd be distracted by it is that I would get to arrive into it and it's included here and I can say so now, but it was included when I showed up, you know, and that you let it be.
L: Yes, yeah.
N: It's like I didn't need your permission, but I could tell pretty immediately that our comfort level and your, your way of being and talking and sharing and what you're creating and what you're working for and what you think matters in the world. Like you bring that here too, so because you are all that then I can have all my stuff and I don't always need to stay still and point to it, but it certainly felt fitting to mention it now, but by the time I said so, I feel far less of that than, than I did this morning.
L: Yeah, I hear you, and actually…
N: You know, the tears and all that to help kind of move all that.
L: Right? Isn't it amazing to like...the permission to feel the thing that you're feeling right when you're feeling it is healing in so many ways.
N: Yeah. I keep hearing that and it's like I'm not. It's mostly not... I'm, and I mean this and in what I said a little bit ago, I'm still practicing that, you know, and, and other people...you’ve seen me do it, right. You think, you do it real well. That's what you say, right? Maybe I'm going to paraphrase or putting words in your mouth. You're like, when you're at the show, you do that. I think you do it and you let people feel and you just make a container for that and it's safe and it's true. But when my kid is upset or my wife is angry, I first make it all about me and then I got to shut that mother down, you know what I mean?
N: Like I've just got to be like, how can we, can we just stop? Like, you know, so and, and, and it's just another way of me saying like, I'm still always figuring it out.
L: Oh, yes.
N: Like I don't know, but what you're saying I know is true and it's so wildly simple but so hard to practice, so hard to get to.
L: And that's why it is practice because it's like, it's the fact that it's hard that makes the, the allowing of it so powerful. The allowing of, Oh, I really messed up today or I'm really messing up in this moment.
N: Mmhmm. I agree.
L: That is humbling, death. Having a body is humbling. Um, and actually what you just said about, well, I felt the anxiety a brought it here. I, I almost think of it as like, I remember one time I was on my way to do something, but I was caught up in something from the past and I was kind of chiding myself because I was like, Lauren, you're supposed to be a president for the thing that you're going to right now. That's where you're supposed to be. Which is interesting because really what I was in in that moment was fear and anxiety from a thing in the past, but in that moment I was feeling it.
L: So I was actually abandoning that fear and anxiety because I was trying to tell myself to be in the future, which was not the present moment. I know I'm kind of getting out there.
N: No, I get it. I didn't want to come here.
N: This morning because I was feeling that what you just described, that's how I was like, I can't, you know, how am I even going to go do this?
L: Right, exactly. Right.
N: And then the almost like accepted. I don't know what the rest of the story is for you, but the acceptance of it is just being like, let's go. I don’t know.
L: Yeah. Well actually that's pretty much I went like this with my hand because I was like, I bet you're about to tell the end of the story.
N: It was.
L: That was it and I appreciate that you shared that because it's that moment when we can say no to life. We can say I'm out and we can head in another direction and we were always heading towards the podcast interview or whatever it was. I don't even remember what I was on my way to do in the story, but what I wound up, thank goodness. Then that moment, some voice in me or somewhere said, Lauren, you can bring your pain from the past with you into this future experience.
N: Oh wow, yeah.
L: Bring it with you because you're not going to be able to get rid of it. You can try and shame it out. But like that pretty much never works. And so I brought it with me. Even though there's all this internal stigma about my anxiety because it was about a big thing. It wasn't like a little experience. It was like I was bringing this big story with me and I, you know, the part of me that was like, Oh, you're supposed to be evolved enough to let go and and all of that, but it was like, no, this is what's here for me right now... and it, it allowed me to carry on with whatever it was that I was doing that day without the shame because it was like, yeah, you can, you can bring the anxiety, you can bring the chronic illness, you can bring the awareness of death, you can bring the grudge that you hold against someone with you because that's what's there with you for now. It's just allowing it keeps it from taking me off track, when I allow it to be my in my passenger seat or whatever. You know?
N: Yeah. That's a good way of adding the extra element of, well, this doesn't mean that I can just go to work later and just show up just crying and screaming that everybody, you know, because that's part of what I felt this morning. Right? Or come here and do that. It is making the kind of space that again, he, Frank talked a bit about this in his book and this is not an advertisement for him. He doesn't know that, that I read it or that I'm talking about here.
L: That’s okay! We’ll put it in the show notes.
N: I do recommend that. Yeah, but uh, he talks about just kind of making, becoming that sort of mother space or parental space for that child that feels all that stuff.
N: And so then the kid can come with all that, you know, um, but the kids not running it, you know.
N: Because someone I think could hear us talking about this and be like, sweet. You're just saying like, okay, you're pissed and anxious and afraid and angry and crying and just go to the party or the interview or the work and just act like that? And it's like, well no. And that's why it's the practice, right?
N: Because it's like I needed to make space all morning. I was needing to make space for feeling that way and I, and part of that is not letting it do what it wants and run the moment or run the rest of my day, which would have looked like me not coming here actually, you know.
L: Right. And by the way, that would've been okay too.
N: You know, I, I, I, uh, I understand that you would have been okay with that, but I would have known that I was, it would have been a disservice to what I was feeling and me to not get here today, you know.
N: And, and that's proof in what we've arrived at as proof with the release that I've had in talking through all this, you know.
L: It’s so cool.
L: Yeah. I’m just so glad that you did show up.
N: Yeah. Me Too.
L: Yeah. It’s so nice to have you here.
N: It feels really nice to be here and to talk and kind of be in all of this right now, especially for me.
L: Yeah. That’s so cool.
L: What does it mean to you to live a fulfilling life and has that definition changed because of your journey with your body?
N: Well, I'll answer the second part or also answer it all by starting with the second part and, and um, I feel inclined to say that, like living with a body is like living with my mom's body is the start of this and living with the unsaid things and the missing conversations around her body and her body was going through and how undeniable that body was, even though she couldn't talk about it or didn't think it was okay or that...and the relentlessness of the body, it shows up. It's going to, you know, and, and I mean that in that story is it starts with her being sick and us not talking, but she was losing her hair and she was losing weight and she was looking sick and sometimes like she was dying over all those years. And so the body showed up, you know, that way. And the body kept showing up like that. And it also showed up. Healthy showed up when she was in remission. The conversation, the conversations that were missing came through her….what her body, you know, what manifested in her body. You know. And so when I answered that question, I think about my mom, my mom's body and how she showed up and all the other ways and sometimes didn't and the, the ways that I really...ways that I really feel like have stuck with me from all of that and a lot of it has, you know, a lot of it in, in sometimes really like nightmarish, difficult ways and other times in fond memories, but really poignant moments are moments like when she finally asked me if she was going to die, the question that I would have asked her for years except we were at, at the end of her life by then and she had become the child and she asked it of me, you know, um, and that, that version of showing up is just forever with me. The vulnerability and the honesty and the, and the willingness to ask me and the willingness to bear that with her son. You know.
N: And so this long response to your two part question is that now with my own kind of chronic illness and getting older and having my own children and feeling vulnerability and it is the constant practice of like, living a life where I am showing up, I am vulnerable, I am an offering, you know, in the moment when I feel uncomfortable that letting go into the pain of my body or fear and anxiety around death and dying is the way to kind of like be more in life, you know. That's undeniable to me as, as little as maybe I sometimes am good at doing that. Um, so that's, that's my, my answer. My answer is that the experience with my mom and my own body is the further...the furthering of this practice and work of acceptance and trust in the unknown. Knowing that freedom for me lies through that, through that freedom in this life and like relief and peace and connectedness lies through that. Yeah.
L: I love that...you said, “I am an offering.” I love that.
N: Mmmm. Well, you know, it's interesting because I talk about my mom's body is as the body, I, it, it was her offering, you know.
N: Much of this work for me is built on having come from her and her body and, and so in that way she, she is and was an offering to me and I think I'm even more present to that now than ever and the power of it, the power of it. And I said this the other night, I don't know if you were there, but the power of her showing up now is something like, I don't remember, but the through line is there. You know, she's always been that big of an offering to me. It's only now that when I sit with you and I and I feel her come in the room or I go into the prison and I talked to these men and my, our access point is me getting enrolled about vulnerable, about her death. She shows up like magnificently, you know.
N: And so then now I'm practicing being an offering and then, so I'm doing it now I'm doing it through all this stuff to answer your questions, through all this stuff through my own experience with my body and this chronic issue, um, through my engagement with mortality and I mean it in a personal way that like from the beginning of this interview, when I talk about that I did this show because I needed it for myself. Much of this really is just me constantly in this personal relationship with all this stuff, you know.
N: And You're Going To Die kind of like emerging and the ways it does creatively around it and me and the people that have made it theirs, you know.
L: I love it. I am going to speak to one part of what you just said, and so much of it touched me. There's something about your...I don’t know your mom, right? But like I do. Because here we are.
L: And how rarely I hear people acknowledge who's in the room, who's helped create this. And it means so much to me that you would say that. And I also want to, it's just kind of an imagination question or maybe a channeling question, but if you could give voice to that essence right now, what would that essence say?
N: Um, I’ve had to be really thoughtful about my relationship with this phrase because I think it can be used in a way that is dismissive of things not being okay, but there's something in the heart of it that I think we can trust in ways that are mine and sometimes our body and our hearts and our feelings can't quite get to, but you would say it's okay and uh, you know.
L: Just the image just came into my mind of like wearing a cloak of “It’s Okay.” I'm like, that is a really wonderful one to have with you for all of this.
N: Yes. To put it on…. Wow. I've never thought of a Kleenex box having feelings about how much someone's crying. But the fact that all the tissues came out.
L: I love that interpretation.
N: Like here, have them all. Um, yeah, I like to wear it to, to be able to have it to, to try on and that it's not always comfortable and, and, and even like nearby to put on. But that, that it is there, you know, when you need it to be that, you know. A lot of this work, and reading these books, these many books that I've read, there's a lot, there's a lot of really wise talk around that, you know….being sick and ill and having chronic issues and dying like it's hard, you know. It's not okay.
L: Mmhmm. And to honor that is so important. Yeah, like I'm thinking of some of the hardest moments for me where I just felt so vulnerable, I was in like a hospital or whatever. And it was just the, the eight just feeling that powerlessness and knowing that I didn't feel like I was in my strength and there being something kind of really important about that to that.
L: Like it keeps me from getting full of myself. It keeps me from thinking that I have all the answers. I don't. Like literally in those moments I'm like, how do I even get through this and how do I even survive this? And that's not all of the time.
N: Yeah. It's not all the time. And then I guess there's something about the mother saying It's okay that I'm not, um, I really hadn't connected that term. There's another reason why that's such an important term phrase to me that I won't get into right now. But having my, having my mom say it. I'm used the first thing that came up for me and your wonderful question that I just didn't anticipate and it immediately came up for me and that was her saying it's okay and it's the mother energy or this like, you know, coming into a space like you even just described and still being allowed to say it's okay and that it comes from that. It, that's the value, you know, it's not that it is, you know, it's not that it, that it, that you're not totally suffering and going through the worst thing you've ever gone through, but that there, there is an energy of it….that can still hold you, you know? Right.
L: Yes. That’s it. That’s like the cloak, it’s like the holding. It is, it's a container for all that exists within it, or something.
N: Even that you could say, if I came to you and I said, it's okay. It's me saying it's okay that all of this is fucked.
L: Not okay.
N: I never checked to see if I could cuss.
L: Curse away.
N: I'm not going to probably curse again.
L: Just warning me, that’s good.
N: But it was a perfect use right then to say how it can get.
L: Yeah, yes. You know, it’s like saying “I give permission for life to be happening even though it's not going away.” I would have chosen it is going very differently from that and yet there is this allowing of this container.
N: And then the, the extra element of like it's okay, like I'm here, you know, like I'm not, I'm, I can also be in this with you, which I think is back to the whole theme. I think that I've shared like really kind of like I hope defines my life maybe, but the showing up, the willingness to be like, I can do it. I can be there with you. I can be there. It's okay.
N: There's a lot of good stuff for me. I've done a lot of interviews and they're all wonderful and I'm grateful, you know, but this has been particularly. I know we're not done, but I just wanted to say that.
L: I'm so glad it's been really special sitting with you. I've been really looking forward to it. It's like if you look at your anxiety graph, like my excitement is definitely up there.
N: Definitely measured.
L: It's a different thing for me to show up than for you in this interview.
N: That's cool. Thanks for listening. So yeah.
N: Yeah, real special.
L: I also want to note that I really appreciate that whenever I try to ask a question of my highest self or of the universe or of someone who has passed those messages are so freaking short, they’re always so short! They feel so concise and like I can give a speech about it, but then they're just like…..
N: Yeah, that's how we talk to each other. Right? It's like the amount of times you and I have to try to describe like, okay, so let me see if I can make this clear.
N: And when it comes from there, it's just like boom. It wouldn't be like, okay. So my mom would say, I mean do you have a pencil? A through F? And there's sub points.
L: That’s so great.
N: But, but the risk in that, and I think that's why it was nice to kind of get to say it and not relate it to my mom until you ask and by being able to do that with you, it clarified some parts that I think can be why saying just “It's okay” It can be dismissive, you know. It's like, let's think about the dynamics of it, that it's more complex actually than it is just simple, you know.
N: It held a bunch of stuff that I never even got to articulate, um, until we talked it through.
N: And so the room it has for so much it, it is so expansive, you know.
L: That makes a lot of sense. That actually explained to me why the messages or they're short because they're personal and they come with all these emotions and sensations and wisdom that I can connect with, right. They’re like personal little slogans from the universe that have so much more context than when we say words.
L: Okay. That helps. Thanks for helping me figure out stuff about life.
N: Thank you. Cool.
L: Um, do you have any funny stories from your journey with your body? Any moments that were light or hilarious or that maybe didn't go according to plan but that, that brought joy or humor in some way?
N: Mmmm. Yeah, I mean it's strange. I'm not sure. I might get to. One is I express this, but what's coming up for me is not. My answer is yes. And your question is not actually. I don't have to share one. You just said do I have any? So my answer is yes. Thank you for asking.
L: Alright, let’s move along.
N: Next question please. No, but, but it. But it can be better for me to answer as just a yes and then not say what, but why it’s a yes. And I think part of what it lets me bring back in as the You're Going To Die shows that I feel like when I've talked about it in front of everyone, there is like the show's hold this relationship to it that is equally dark and ruined some of my days and nights and has a lightness to it in me being able to declare it to the audience. And so I know what I'm remembering is that when I've talked about it in front of people in front of these audiences, there's humor throughout, you know. There's a way of describing what the visit to the hospital was like that has the hilarious moments that are just like, I think I talked about getting an exam and the guy just saying that I was just really, really very skinny and he was like touching my body, being like, wow, those are your ribs? You know, just having like a professional, medical professional engaging with my body in that way and, and leaving that room with this sort of bizarre kind of absurd experience of my bone structure being commented on, and, and then, and then in the context of this serious hospital visit.
N: I remember talking about that at one of the shows and that. Yes, for sure. That's part of the whole thing after all this time, there are like absurdly hilarious things that have happened and how, how ridiculous the body is, you know. I mean just sort of why we laugh so readily at fart jokes and things like that is because it is this bag of bones and flesh and it's got hilarity to it as much as it holds our essence of existence, you know, like holds us being alive, you know.
L: Right. Yeah.
N: So my answer is yes.
L: The answer is yes. And I think one of the things about this question is so many times it will trip people up and, and I sometimes get tripped up when I think of like, do I have any funny stories lately? Because they happen all the time, all the funny stories and I liked that this question reminds me to keep of that because it's so easy for me to forget those hilarious moments.
N: Intention. Mmhmm.
L: Um, but is part of what gets me through that really dark stuff. And you do bring so much humor into how you talk about your, your whole journey. I really appreciate it.
N: Thanks. Good.
L: What do you have now that you might not have had without your health journey?
N: That's a great question. Absolutely nothing. No. Um, it's a great question and it's one of the questions I ask of my cancer patients when we do these writing exercises. And the reason why I'm saying that is not to tell you that I think I'm as good as you, it’s because I want to tell you that what's surprising to me out of all the questions that I give to the patients and there's maybe like 10 or 15 and they're prompts to get people to answer, answer the prompts, create content for books and to do artwork and, and all that. But what I recently found when I gathered a bunch of these art pieces together is that mostly the question people respond to is that….a version of that question? What are you grateful for? What are the gifts, you know? Um, and that's why I think it's a great question.
N: Um, I can tell you right now, um, this is one of them, you know. And uh, and I mean that to say to use this as a, a version of the many gifts you know, that come from going through it and saying so. Going through the health stuff and saying so, working to confront your mortality and saying so, grieving and saying so….you know, it’s to be able to, and I think I talked about this a couple times already, but to arrive fully with others and feel connected and more alive. That's what I feel right now. And that's probably the element to all the ways I can answer that question. That would be a through line.
L: Alright. I don't have words. Once again I don’t have words. I love that. It really is so untouched. That's all I can say is that you know, you….something about how you put all those words together to represent what was going on inside really...this.
L: And when you say this, like this conversation, it sort of representing so much more. It's the, it's not even this conversation as much as it is this way of being, you're bringing or that you're allowing yourself to engage in.
N: Mmmm. I think it's another thing that we did with the phrase, it's okay, which was there's all that to it, right? It's like you and that we get to connect and me having a way of being. It's like doing You're Going To Die, doing all this work for me and the people that I get to meet and deepen my experience of life with, um, through that engagement, you know? Uh, so, so when I say this, it is a lot. It is all that, but I will say that this is kind of, I mean this here because this is the way to get to all those parts. You know, it's seeing all of it.
L: Yeah. Sweet.
L: So I'm going to give you a sentence, finish the sentence. This is not what I ordered...
N: This is not what I ordered, but to be really honest with you, I don't fucking remember what I ordered. And I guess I can just take this. It’s okay.
N: Is that it?
N: I think that’s it.
L: I want to celebrate the second curse word of the show.
N: I know, I didn't think I was going to and then I was not saying the whole sentence and I was like, does it need to be here?
L: It sure does.
N: And it fucking did.
N: That’s the third and last one.
L: That’s great. Oh, I like that.
N: Yeah, yeah. This is not what I ordered and I, I really don't remember or know what I ordered. And um, you know, I'll take this. It’s okay. I'll take this.
L: I like that there's a “It’s okay” in there too.
N: Mmhmm. Yeah. Thanks for asking.
L: Thanks for being here.
L: Yeah, and thanks for being.
N: Yeah, for sure. You too.
L: This has been a real treat.