Healing Through Sound with Jeralyn Glass

Jeralyn Glass has dedicated her life to healing through sound and plays her crystal singing bowls in a wide range of venues, from concert halls to cancer centers. However, this is not remotely where Jeralyn’s career started. Today’s podcast is her story.

To learn more about Jeralyn's practice, you can check out her website here: https://crystalcadence.com/


Jeralyn: I grew up in Los Angeles and studied here. And I started studying singing when I was 11. I sang a solo in the sixth grade, and people said to my parents, "Well, what are you going to do? She's talented." And my mom took me to a neighbor who was the voice of Ava Gardner in Show Boat, Annette Warren, and she dubbed all of Lucille Ball's movies, and she is 97. And if you heard her sing today, you would never guess her age. It's incredible.

Jeralyn: And so, I started studying with her and she taught me a very natural, holistic technique of [inaudible 00:02:00]. And my dream was to be on Broadway. And so, I did that. I moved to New York and auditioned, and very quickly I had my first national tour, which was Show Boat. And then the 25th anniversary revival of My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison. And I was the youngest in the cast, and I got the play Rex's upstairs maid. And it was really a dream come true. We traveled around the United States, and it was a year and a half, and it was a glorious beginning of a career for a young person.

Jeff: And you went to Juilliard. Is that right?

Jeralyn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So then when that was over, I was working in New York, and one of my piano said to me, "Your voice is really going more and more classical and sound. And musicals are going more in the direction of pop and contemporary sound. Let's look at some material." And I had studied some Italian art songs and famous things like the Carmen Seguidilla when I was younger with my teacher Annette. But I really began to explore classical music and I applied for a program in Italy and I got accepted. And that was it. Then I applied to Juilliard and I decided to really change paths.

Jeralyn: And it all happened fairly quickly. I began, I went won a couple of contests, and then ended up being accepted in Missouri Opera Studio Program. So I left New York and went to Switzerland, and it was an apprentice program where you began by performing smaller roles in the big main stage productions, and then graduated to bigger things. So that's where my opera career pretty much started very quickly. And I ended up staying in Europe for quite a number of years.

Jeff: And then, you also then became very involved in a musical education, if I'm correct, particularly helping kids learn how to sing. I remember we talked a little bit about that when we spoke a few days ago, but can you describe that a little bit more?

Jeralyn: Yes, thank you. I grew up in a family where there were five kids, and my parents were very instrumental in instilling in us this sense of responsibility to, whatever your talents were, to give back, to be of some kind of service. And so, when I recognized that I was going to be living in Germany, I ended up marrying a German, and that I was going to be living there. I decided I got this really strong feeling of this word legacy, and I felt like I wanted to leave some kind of legacy that was based on our American values of service and joy in our work, and the support of everybody in a community. And so, I started a kids' foundation called Kids4Kids World Foundation. And the premise was that we would put together a team of about 20 kids every year, and we built an original production around their talent.

Jeralyn: Every child brought something different. One played the harp. One played the flute. One was a good singer. One was a tap dancer. And every year we'd hold these very creative auditions, where we'd ask them to improvise things. And then we create a team, and that team became a family. And we wrote a piece for them. One was called Faro city, a place without grownups, and I'm translating from the German.

Jeralyn: So, the whole idea was that music is the common language. Music is the vibration that holds us all together. And that, in spite of our differences, we could create something extraordinary together. And then, the money we would raise, which was about $30,000 every year went to fund our own music therapy program that we created where local kids could get music therapy without too much rigmarole, someone who had lost a parent or a sibling.

Jeff: Beautiful. You had a son of your own at this juncture already or no?

Jeralyn: Yes. He was seven at the time, and I have to say that he was attending an international school where there were 45 nations represented. And so, that was also part of the inspiration that, whether you spoke Swedish as your native language or Japanese, or Finnish or whatever it was, we could always come together through music. And a lot of the language that, obviously, we used was English, but a lot of it was German. And we would teach the kids the songs in the different languages. And so, he was a great motivator for the beginning of this kid's foundation. And he loved to participate in it, and he was quite an inspiration for starting it.

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Jeff: Right. And so, can you elaborate on the inflection point that then brought you more into your current incarnation with the singing bowls?

Jeralyn: Yes. So, I also was teaching at the Munich Conservatory at that time, and so, as a combination with that, and the Kids' Foundation. Sometimes I would use these singing bowls, which I had purchased about 14 years ago. And I had heard them with my mom when we were traveling in the Southwest. And they really were like, when I first heard the sound, it was so pristine and so pure. It was like they were singing something my soul knew. That's the only way I can really describe it. And I just said to my mom, "I've got the buy a set of these bowls." And so, I did. And I took them back to Germany and I began to use some with the students. And my son loved them. He'd say, "Mommy, bring me to bed with my sound blanket." So I'd take one of the bowls in my hands, and be next to his bed and play and lead him in a little prayer or meditation and he'd fall asleep.

Jeralyn: So the bowls began to be a part of my daily life in a way that was new to me. I had never done any sort of sound healing. And if a student had a blockage in their voice when I was training them, I'd asked them to choose one of the seven bowls. So there was C, D, E, F, G, A and B. And if we talk about that in terms of energy medicine, those are the notes of the Chakras. And so, a young person would choose, let's say a D, and there'd be a certain blockage in their system, and they'd start to play that bowl and tone with it, or hum with it, or sing part of their song with it, and the blockage would dissipate.

Jeralyn: I knew as an opera singer that sound was such a profound medium, and that, when I could use my own body to vibrate and then be the amplifier, that it was profound for me and could be for the listener. And so, to experience an instrument like the bowls also getting amplified and having profound effects, that was really cool. It was the entry into sound as a medicine, I guess. But every year the kids in the Kids' Foundation would enter a contest in Germany that was either for their instrument or for voice. And my son entered it when he was just turning 13, and he made it to the semifinals, and he had to do a little program that included, It Don't Mean a Thing by Duke Ellington and Rogers in HeartSong, and a couple of original songs that we wrote for him.

Jeralyn: And one week before semifinals, he walked in the room and he goes, "Mom, mom, mom, mom, my voice." And his voice had started to do a change. And at that point, I hadn't walked any young person through their voice change. And I spoke with a well-known tenor. And he said, "Oh, yeah, yeah, it's possible." And he gave me a few tips of what to do. And I did those things. And my son's name was Dylan. And so, I asked him to choose a bowl, and he loved this very little bowl that was the note of a G, which is the note of the Throat Chakra. And it was citrine, and citrine is yellow. It has to do with the solar plexus. It's helping your confidence and your strength, the will and your courage. And that's the bowl he loved to play.

Jeralyn: And so, we worked with that bowl for the week before his audition, and his voice stayed open and he stood up to do his performance and said, "Hello everyone. My name is Dylan. And since one week, I'm no longer soprano." Everybody started laughing. I was blown away how that young man could stand there and do a program with his voice in such a vulnerable state with great confidence. That was a very special connection that we both had with the bowls.

Jeralyn: And so, when I fast forward, and say to you that five years ago in 2015 and March, of 2015, when this whole world began to shift and I began to come into this world of really using sound as a healing modality, it came because I lost my boy. He passed away. And, as you can imagine, there's no words. There's no words for the grief and the shock and the disbelief, and all the things as a parent you go through it, because you say the normal thing is if you lose a parent, you will lose your past. And you lose a partner you lose your present. But if you lose a child, you lose your future.

Jeralyn: And needless to say, I mean, there were just no words. And yet, the night that he passed away, I walked down to the ocean here in South of the airport, and was with a dear friend who was actually on the board of the Kids' Foundation. He had lived in Germany with me, an actor. He came and stayed with me. And we both looked up at the sky at the same time and there was this huge shooting star that seemed to start over my parents' house, cross the LA base and then land in the mountains behind Hollywood. And I could hear the sound of just whoosh, and I could hear Dylan [inaudible 00:17:46] ... He was big. He was 6'3 and 230 pounds. He ended up playing football. And I could hear him, "Mom, mom, I made it. It's like we always talked about."

Jeralyn: Referring to our little meditations and his sound blanket. "I'm home. I'm with God." And I was like, "What?" Both Peter and I, it was as if Peter heard that too, the whoosh and the whole everything, because we just looked at each other. And for me that was the beginning of this journey of energy and sound vibration and a path that has absolutely changed my life. And yeah, he began to continue to communicate with me through sound, through light, through signs. And I noticed as time went on, when I was really sad and sitting in the grief, I couldn't find him. But when there was some way that I found to elevate myself, I could feel him.

Jeralyn: And so, about six weeks after, I knew that I couldn't go back to the university I was teaching here at Chapman. I had to change my life up. I could never pretend that it was going to be the same. I had to just change it up. And the first thing that I did in communicating also with him, it was like, "Mom, we're going to Machu Picchu." And that has been on our bucket list. We had traveled because he was also a ski racer. We had been to many high peaks in the world, and we had seen Mt. Everest. One of his best friends was from Naipaul.

Jeralyn: And so, we had talked about going to Machu Picchu, and he just said, "We're going." And I'm like, "Okay. Who are we going to go with?" And I'm imagining now this trip was a showman, and I opened the computer and I Googled spiritual journey to Machu Picchu. And Dr. Sue Morter came up. And I didn't know her at the time. And I thought, "Okay, great. This is a beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed doctor from Indiana."

Jeralyn: But I said to him, "Dylan, where's the showman?" And I could hear him say, "Mom, she is the showman. That's who we're going with." And that trip changed everything too. And what happened there was, I gave her a little picture of him, and she took it to the top of Huayna Picchu and did like a ritual and a celebration for him. And they took a little video and pictures. And when they came down the mountain, she said, "You've got to see this." And there was a picture with his little picture in her hand and there was a beam of light coming from his throat. So, of course, for me that was just like, "Oh my gosh. That's the citrine bowl that's at his throat." And there were so many synchronicities, Jeff, that was the beginning of this realization that my healing, I guess, what's going to happen through sound.

Jeralyn: I mean, I didn't really know it then, sound and light. And then about three months after that, I really fell on a pretty deep hole. And he said to me one day, "Mom call the bowl dudes. Call the bowl dudes." And it was insistent. And he had a great humor. We would laugh a lot. I mean, we laugh ourselves silly. But he was insistent, Jeff. "Mom, calls the bowl dudes." And I was like, "Right, I'm grieving you. Leave me alone." But it didn't stop. And so, I finally called the company Crystal Tones and spoke with one of the owners and told them, "I'm sitting here and my son is telling me to call you." That's how this journey began.

Jeff: Wow. That's an extraordinary story. Had you had, and I suppose for people hearing it for the first time, it's almost incredulous. I mean, had you had what I might call mystical or epiphanies or celestial experiences prior to this?

Jeralyn: Yeah. It's such a good question. I mean, I know when I was little, I'll never forget, we lived out in the San Fernando Valley, and I remember twirling around on our front porch, just twirling around this porch and singing. And I was, I think three or four. And remembering how good that felt, and just feeling this sense of, "Oh, that's what you're going to do with your life. You're going to do that." And so, I think there always was a connection for me to whatever you want to name it, universal intelligence, God, spirit, the divine, the cosmos.

Jeralyn: Yes, I was aware of when thoughts or intuition or things would suddenly be in my mind, that I would take it as a communication. So, it wasn't strange, but again, it was strange because, we're talking about death that's something you don't talk about, and then you don't talk about your child. And it's like, really?

Jeralyn: But I could hear his voice again. It was a really big, strong at a very beautiful sound. I can till today. I mean, I hear it in my head. And I get the name for that, it's clear audience. And through Dr. Sue's work, it took me a long time, Jeff. It wasn't immediate and the grief process was pretty excruciating as you can imagine. But I began to understand A, we're made of energy. And that energy gets compressed in human form, and it becomes sound vibration. And every cell in our body is vibrating, every organ has a vibration. And when we are feeling diseased, we're out of harmony. And so, if you can tune your body, we can come back to health and wholeness. And we come back into this connection with our true self.

Jeralyn: And so, I began to really understand more about that. And then when I spoke with the owner of crystal tones, I ordered 11 bowls. And because people were asking me all the time, "Well, how do I know what bowl is for me? There's so many beautiful alchemies. I didn't really put two and two together in terms of notes and, Oh I need to have something for my heart. I didn't think like that. I just thought, what are the alchemies that could possibly connect me to Dylan?

Jeralyn: So I chose the left side. I chose selenite, which is grounded white light. I chose Ruby, I chose Rose Quartz. And these were the bowls that came. I ordered 11 bowls. And when I started to work with them, everything changed. I was able to process my grief in a way that I hadn't been able to cry, and they just held this sacred space, this container to feel in a way that I had not been able to feel.

Jeralyn: And so, as I began my own sound healing journey with me being the one, I was able to translate that. Then I began to work with cancer patients and other people with grief. And it changed everything, changed everything for me to be in service to others. And it began to move my grief beyond what I could have conceived, because I was doing talk therapy like six hours a week, and it was bringing some kind of relief. But it wasn't embodying. It wasn't lasting. It wasn't making an impact that I felt different when I woke up in the morning.

Jeff: It wasn't sematic, perhaps. I mean, you said, when you lose a child you lose your future. Ironically, it seems like Dylan provided you with a future.

Jeralyn: I know you're right on. He'll say to me that. He'll go, "Mom, we have a future." Like, "Get it mom. We have a future. It's just different than we imagined." And I think what I learned with Dr. Sue was that, if we can look at everything in our life, everything that happens in our lives as really for our unfolding of our true self, for really helping us to open to our true purpose. If someone had said that to me one year in, I would have slapped them. It was like, "Don't you dare. How can you say that? it doesn't make sense." And I began to understand now, "Mom, it's a different relationship. I'm not gone and we get to do this hand-in-hand." So that when I play the bowls and make music with them, or simply lead a meditation, I feel immediately this connection to this high vibration of love.

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Jeff: Can you describe a little bit of what the experience is like to actually play the bowls, and how they're struck, and how they create vibrational resonance? And then also, what the experience is like to be the audience, to listen to them?

Jeralyn: Yeah. There's a number of different ways. There's the normal wand is made of rubber and suede. And so, you can tap, and you can make melodies with them. You can make beautiful chimes note, or you can do a swirling technique where you hear slightly the, it's almost like a bow on strings. You can hear slightly the bowing of the bowl. And then there is another technique that's actually called Bowing, where you bowl the side of the bowl, like a base, like a violin, like a cello.

Jeralyn: So, there's three different ways that you can play them. And when we work with using the wand in a clockwise manner, you can work with an intention of bringing certain energies in. And when you work with counterclockwise, then you are working with bringing energies, moving energy out of your body. And at the beginning I thought, "All this is ... " Come on. Here's this classical musician and this is out there.

Jeralyn: And I think I said that too. I would say to my mom, "Mom, here's this classical musician and professor, and I'm playing these Crystal Alchemy Singing Bowls and I'm communicating with my son. I mean, I must be pretty weird." And she was like, "No dear. You're helping people." And it just took off from there. And so, that's the technique for playing it, and then we have all the different alchemy.

Jeff: Can I ask you one more question about that?

Jeralyn: Yeah.

Jeff: ... because, I think I have some experience listening to singing bowls, and being enveloped in those cascading waves of sound. But I've never really associated it with melody per se. But you actually have a pretty sophisticated approach, just given your classical music background, where you're using the bowls as actually, in a way that's tuned. And my only silly metaphor for it would be, if you fill beer bottles up to different levels of beer or wine glass with different levels of wine or water, they take on an actual tune or an actual note. And you're actually treating the bowls in a very sophisticated musical way that I've never seen before. Can you just talk about that just for a minute?

Jeralyn: Yeah. You just made me smile, because I'm remembering I did a big show in the Munich Philharmonic, and there was a guy that part of the show, was a new year's Eve show that we ran three years. There was a young man from Russia that had wine glasses, and they were filled and he played his music with the wine glasses. So yes, you can liken it to that. But there's this, there's something beyond. So, often I'm working with these sacred ratio of the interval, the musical interval of the fifth. And that is what the Pythagoras calls, this sacred ratio. 

Jeralyn: There's so much we can do. I mean, yes, I can just swirl them, and I can give you just an incredible swirl of the sound. But something else happens in the structure of someone's body when I start, let's say, by playing a low seat, and then I'll play a G above that, then they add a C above that, and a G above that, and then a C above that. So, if I'm using three office of a C, it's going to do something to the system that so stabilizing, and people are able to really drop in. And, again, in that place where your mind is stilled, and you begin to experience in your soul, or a bliss connection, or just deep relaxation where your body begins to regenerate and renew pains that you had been holding, physical pain, so often people's physical pains just dissipate.

Jeralyn: They wake up from the sound bath and they're gone. Or from the concert of people have deep experiences. So, part of it, I think those have to do with the order that you play in, the structure of how you construct, what I'll say, my ball orchestra, what notes I'm playing. And then you add on top of it, the alchemy, which is, that's the magic. So if I'm playing a C, and it happens to be Rose courts, let's say. It's working on grounding you. It's working on your rooting. But at the same time, that Rose court is really working on opening the heart, maybe helping to sooth some of heartache or heartbreak.

Jeralyn: So you've got these subtle multi-level, multi-dimensional layers that are happening with these gemstones. And that's what makes the bowls very different, let's say from the Tibetan bowls, or the gong, because our bodies are crystal and structure and the cells. And so, they're able to absorb these vibrations really, really easily.

Jeralyn: So, and then it's nice, if you start with, let's say, for example, I like to sing amazing grace with the bowls. So you put this pad under it, and you get this sense of people really, again, dropping in. They come out of their thinking mind. I mean, that's what music can do in its highest form anyways. But with all these crystal and sounds and this amplification of different gemstones, and then you put something like traditional, like amazing grace on top of it, or Ave Maria, it's a sublime experience. It's very different, can be very different for people.

Jeff: So when you're working with people that are dealing with a lot of trauma, or potentially a physiological disease like cancer or other chronic disease, what is the impact on those people when you bring the crystal balls to them?

Jeralyn: Well, for example, there was one time that there was a lady that came to me after meditation, and I'm volunteering at the cancer support community. So, it's a national organization for anyone and their family members who have had cancer or have cancer. And everything is offered for free, and it's all alternative things. And that's where I got out of my bed and said, "Okay, I'm going to do something. I need to serve and do something in order to just get out of my own pain." One lady said to me, she said, "I've been meditating in the traditional meditation manner for 28 years." And she said, "I have never meditated with sound and I cannot even put into words what I experienced." But she said she had stage four cancer. She said, "I believe that I've heard the sounds of heaven." And she said, "All I can say to you is that I am no longer afraid of dying."

Jeralyn: Other people have said to me, "What's that bowl?" And I'll say to them what note it is. And they'll say, "Oh, my goodness." The note, let's say would be a D, and the D is in the lower abdomen area. That's just where my cancer is. And when you were playing that bowl, I could feel inside my body just tingling and twitching. So, it's not a one-size-fits-all, but people have to very profound. I had one woman who it's happened twice, where someone who had their breast removed just came to me after crying and said, "My breasts, I could feel where the energy was back. I could feel I was whole again. There was something that happened to me in the sound where I could feel myself whole and complete again."

Jeralyn: So with the cancer patients, it's pretty incredible. I would ask to say to you in the end that what's grown over the past four years has been a circle of love, and that they understand that they're going to be held in these vibrations that they feel safe for that moment. Their fears get to be alleviated in that moment. And they drop into a deep place of peace, and that's really where healing can happen. When we get out of that fear and anxiety, and all the things, the stories that the mind makes up, and how it all take things, and even distort them. They come into that place of illness and peace where healing really can happen.

Jeralyn: That's one thing with cancer patients. I had one experience where I was playing the pitta light bowl and it was a big 12-inch bowl, so it was a very deep, it was actually a deep G. And the G is really the deep rooting. So it's your legacy. It's your deep rooting while you're here. And the Pitta light is a natural form of lithium. So we use that often with when people have bipolar, or they have mental imbalances. And in this case, this woman, I was playing 20 bowls. She came up to me afterwards and she said, "What is that bowl?" And I said to her, "It's pitta light." And how are you feeling? And she said, "Also, I can't begin to tell you ... " She was crying. She said "My sister was murdered a year ago." And she said, "I have not been able to experience any sense of peace of mind." And she said, "That bowl just kept the resonance from that bowl as if it was just wrapping me in its arms, the sound and in arms of a loving presence. And I feel something happened."

Jeralyn: And that's that place when you ask them about the mystical, or, it's that place that when I was playing the Selenite Bowl, which has grounded white lights, selenite is a really powerful, beautiful stone. I could feel my son. I could feel his presence. I could feel a Misty white substance with me, and I could feel him guiding me how to open my body to really feel and express that grief. So that's the thing with the Alchemist, is so incredibly profound, and different for everybody.

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Jeff: The last thing that I'd want to ask you is, you have found meaning in your suffering and tremendous purpose to your life. How would you counsel others looking to manage traumatic events in their life and find a sense of meaning?

Jeralyn: Also great question. I think the most important thing, Jeff, is that we aren't afraid to feel. And I wanted to run from those feelings. It was like just, God, do anything, but just take them away. They're unbearable. You don't know what to do with yourself. The grief is so intense, and whatever it is that people are experiencing that, for all of us can be so intense that you want to bypass it. You don't want to have to go in there. And I think what sound did for me, these, what I named them sacred sound, is it really created a space for me to drop in in safety. And then I could work with my breath. I could feel that grief, I could growl it out, I could yell it out, I could weep it out. And it began to transform.

Jeralyn: And I think I had shared that with you that, I remember the first time getting up from working with the sound for about an hour, and really just feeling this complete freedom, and that would be an important thing to work with sound and feel, a freedom to feel and to express. When I went to wash my face, I couldn't believe that there was light in my eyes. I actually saw the physical transformation that I felt safe enough to go in and feel the unfeelable, and the sound actually transformed it. That was mind-blowing. And so, I guess I'd say to people, use that, which is part of the reason why I made these things on the YouTube channel, crystal Cadence called Tune up Tuesdays. And I took different sets every week, and we've been doing it for about a year and a half now.

Jeralyn: Just that people could have this whole library of all these different bowls and all these different notes, and we didn't talk about the tunings, am I playing bowls that are 432 Hertz, a 528 Hertz or the tuning of music today 440 Hertz. Am I playing binaural beats that people could have this library on the YouTube channel, that they could say, "Okay, tonight I'm going to go sleep with that." Or, "Tonight I'm going to put these 15 minutes of sound on it and I'm going to have a good cry." Or I'm going to just see if I hold the area in my body that say where the back pain is, where the cancer is feeling, where I'm feeling grief over my divorce, or my child is struggling. Whatever the things are in our lives, if I can bring my attention and my loving presence to that part of my body and breathe in there and let the sound hold me in there, and just feel and direct my breath in there, it melts.

Jeralyn: It begins to shift. And our thoughts about it, again, back to common science, our thoughts about it begin to change. It's like it's not as heavy as it was. Our consciousness begins to raise and in the process of living our lives, you notice this doesn't trigger you anymore. You notice that doesn't hurt you anymore. You notice you're not attached to that anymore. And it's not like it's necessarily from one moment to the next, but I would just begin to see, even with my mom, sometimes she'd say things that I'd just go, "Oh, really?" And I was like, "She could say whatever she wants to now, and it just doesn't trigger me ever." I can just look at her fully with love and it's like, "Oh wow, okay."

Jeralyn: And the other thing is I love to train the part of these crystal. I've made stumble trainings is exactly too. We have psychologists in there. We have a union therapist, we have nurses, yoga teachers, just people from all different emergency care people, people from all different walks of life and profession that are wanting to integrate this also in their job or with their clients. And it's so beautiful to guide them in a way that they feel anchored and rooted and strong and steady that they can use their personal Alchemy to play their bowls and give people a sense that we can take our health back in our own hands.

Jeralyn: We can transform things that really bother us, certain patterns of thinking behavior. Remembering one young lady now during the Covid, she has a set of four bowls and she's 23 and she works at a hospital in Stanford, Connecticut. And she wrote me and she was thrilled. She was like, "Jeralyn, grown men that I've been working with over a year, grown men, they love my sound bowls." And she said to me, "And they're asking me, "Can I play those every night after work?" And they felt a sense of peace and relief and calmness, and just noticed that their stress was reduced.

Jeralyn: And then just one funny thing is that one client in Canada wrote me yesterday during this time also, she's making recordings of her bowls and sending them, and this was a client in Europe. And she said, "My client wrote me and said she's been married many years, but her and her husband had the most intimate evening after hearing her sound bowl meditation they've ever had in their life." I was like, "Okay." And then the bowls also [crosstalk 00:51:53]

Jeff: Give me her number, if you don't mind after the broadcast.

Jeralyn: I'll make one for you.

Jeff: There you go.

Jeralyn: We were laughing so hard and you're saying, "Okay, then my bowls also improve your loving ability and your ability to enjoy your sexual partner." And it was like, Okay, right on. Okay."

Jeff: Yes, I hadn't heard about that one before, but now I'm even more interested. Well, Jeralyn, thank you so much for the work that you're doing, which is clearly more important than ever since people are largely hunkered down feeling a lot of loneliness, feeling a lot of fear and stress and anxiety. And I think what you said about the sound holding a safe place for people to stand in the pain, to stand in the loneliness. I think that resonates with me a lot, and I think that it resonate with a lot of other people. So, thank you, and thank you for what you did.

Jeralyn: It's really my great joy, and it just keeps generating more and more and more joy when you hear people's responses, and you hear how people's lives are transforming. I smile and say, "Thank you, Dylan. It was a big sacrifice that we're not together in this physical form, but he just says, "Mom, it's eternal. It's eternal. Our love is eternal, and here we are connected to sound."

Jeff: Yes, outside of the vacillations of space and time, but brought together by sound. It's beautiful.

The Breaking Point with Anasa Troutman

What's different this time? Today, African-American community leader Anasa Troutman discusses race relations in America, and how the pandemic, unemployment, and systemic police brutality led to a breaking point. What does leadership look like in this moment? And amidst the suffering, is there hope?

To hear more from Anasa, you can also listen to her TEDTalk here: http://www.anasatroutman.com/tedtalk


Jeff: What's the vibe in Memphis?

Anasa Troutman: There have been protests every day. There's a woman here who I support who is a young woman, she's like in her twenties. She runs a nonprofit and she is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. At the end of the protest on Saturday she was attacked by the police unprovoked, walking down the street leaving the protest and one of the police officers yelled out, "Get the girl," and they ran towards her, tackled her, and four police officers jumped on her in full riot gear. She's like one of our leaders here. She's, for me, the person who I'm like, "Everything I got is going behind that girl right there, because she's going to be the future of Memphis." It's just been interesting. And of course, all the right responses, the mayor wants to have an investigation, all the black-led cultural institutions have put out a statement so on and so forth.

Anasa Troutman: But it just speaks to where we are. Where we are that there's these really beautiful protests, peaceful protest, protest over, and then someone decides that somebody needs to be attacked unprovoked. And then we end up reeling from it as a consequence. She's now physically okay, but what does it do to you to decide to stand up for your people and then you get attacked by the police for no reason. And what does it mean for her work? What does it mean for all of us who love her? What does it mean for the work that she's doing, the people that she's supporting to have this interruption. So, on one hand things are ... you know, protests and so on and so forth, but on the other hand, it's like we are, as an arts community specifically, dealing with the trauma of the impact of what's happening right now.

Jeff: Yeah. Also, you would think with the raised level of scrutiny, that there might be more awareness.

Anasa Troutman: Oh, you would think.

Jeff: Yeah, you would think. But I suppose that's what it's about is that there is no thought.

Anasa Troutman: No, there isn't, and I have been thinking this all week, I've been like, "If I were a police officer, I would do my best to make sure that there was no brutality and unjust use of force just so that this kind of interruption wouldn't happen." Because I can't imagine that police officers are like, "Yay, we get to put on our riot gear and deal with this." Even for their own self protection and identity in the world, why does the culture of abuse and excessive force and murder, why is that allowed to live in the police force? Why? Who was co-signing that? Who was like, "This is a great idea, yes, we should be people who do this." I don't get it. I don't know. I guess since I don't get it, I don't get it. I don't want to get it.

Jeff: And you said something that strikes me, and I think it's very reflective of who you are. Because you said, "If I were a police officer," and when I think of Anasa Troutman, I think of empathy.

Anasa Troutman: Oh, that's nice. Thank you.

Jeff: Sure. And so I wondered if you would just take a few minutes to tell the listeners who you are, where you grew up, where you came from, and what ...

Anasa Troutman: Tell the story.

Jeff: The story. What were all the ingredients that go into you now?

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. This version of the story, there are parts of it, I'm going to tell it to you in chronological order, not in order of what I know. Like, "Oh, this is what I just found out." So my great, great, great grandparents were named Georgiana and Armstead Branford, and they were both born slaves in Virginia. Armstead's father was also his slave master, so my story and the recorded and repeatable part of my story and my family's history is really the epitome of the story of African Americans, where I have this legacy of enslaved Africans parented by white masters who had violent and inappropriate relationships with female enslaved people. These children born who then have to figure out their identity, and their life, and their family, and their place in America ... and Armstead and Georgiana, the land that they worked as slaves, by the time they died, they owned part of it.

Anasa Troutman: I don't know that whole story, but that also speaks to the other part of this story of America, which is about land ownership and wealth building, self-determination, the amassing of land and fortunate and this thing called the American dream that is most often not available to anyone who was ... certainly not who was a slave. So there's like that part of my history, some of which I know and some of which I don't, but that really intrigues me because then the descendants of that couple give rise eventually to my father who was born in the South Bronx, super, super, super dirt poor. The stories he tells me are terrible about how it was for him growing up, listen to stories from my grandmother about how life was.

Anasa Troutman: And then on the other side of that is my mother, who was born in rural South Carolina, who grew up picking cotton as a child, who their family's work was they would go out to the road in front of the house, they would wait for the truck, the truck would take him to the cotton field and they would pick cotton for a living when it was cotton season. Eventually her and my grandmother moving to New York, and her meeting my dad and me growing up in a family where when a lot of people were asking the question of, "Is the answer to black liberation, black power?" Or, "Is the answer to black liberation, civil rights and nonviolence?"

Anasa Troutman: Their answer was like, "Yes, and we actually are going to take this path of culture. And we're going to say to our children and to our community, 'We know there's a lot happening, but we want you to know that you are special, you're important, you're beautiful, and you are contribution because of your blackness and because you're a girl. And because of everything about you makes you special and makes you valuable, makes you important. And don't let anybody ever take that away from you.'"

Anasa Troutman: When they were in college, they were with these friends and all of their friends created this cultural context for all of their children. So all the people who are in my extended family, that's why my name was Anasa and my sister's name is [Nandi 00:08:31] and then there's [Timba 00:08:32] and [Taewo 00:08:32] and all the African names, because our parents wanted us to be connected to our African heritage. And they wanted us to be proud of our African heritage, even in not actually being able to trace back to a specific tribe or country or name or family. They wanted us to know that we had a home somewhere, and they wanted us to know that we had a legacy and that our history started before the first slave ship ever came to steal and enslave Africans on the continent.

Anasa Troutman: And so I grew up in a house where culture and artistry and spirituality and politics and community and all those things were really one conversation. There was no separating one from the other. It was as important for me to listen to black music and read black books and draw things and all that. It was as important for me to do that as it was for me to vote, or to be kind, or to pray, or to do anything. So when I became adultish and I was in that time in college when you look up and you realize that the world outside of your parents' house is different than what you grew up with. Me, I was like, "Wow, the world out here is not really great, like, this kind of sucks out here. What am I going to do?"

Anasa Troutman: And it's funny because there was never a question of whether I was going to do anything. It wasn't like, "Should I do something?" It was like, "What am I going to do?" And my decision was to build culture because that's what we did in our house. And so when I was just getting out of college I was 22 ... maybe 22 or 23 ... I worked in a record store and I met a whole bunch of artists and I decided that these artists were going to change the world and I started the record label. One of the artists happened to be India.Arie, who I think y'all have talked to recently, and that work and working with her and understanding that the power of culture, the power of song, the power of creativity outside of my little world ... going out into the whole wide world and seeing what her music did for people, proved to me that what I was thinking about was right.

Anasa Troutman: That sent me down a trajectory of the rest of my life to really continue to experiment with art, culture, and creativity as a tool for social impact. I did the music industry, I've been in politics, and now I'm really thinking about real estate development and resource development and community wealth building and all of that stuff, all in the cultural storytelling and all in the context of creativity, because what I know is that anytime you have a political or economic shift, that a narrative and cultural shift has to precede it.

Anasa Troutman: I have spent really my entire career, from being in my twenties, thinking and perfecting how to tell stories that open people's hearts, how to be able to have people see a new vision for the world if they are stuck in their old vision. And then, once you're inspired, then let's move and let's see what we can do. I have a company here in Memphis called Culture Shift Creative and it has a podcast and a media platform that we're developing called The BIG We. We're just doing our best to tell the stories that are going to get people to wake up and then give them something to do so that they don't wake up and then fall back asleep.

Jeff: Yeah. You know, it's funny you talk about waking up and ... first of all, thanks for sharing that story.

Anasa Troutman: Oh sure.

Jeff: I think I saw you speak, maybe it was a video, where you mentioned that you were quite shy growing up. And it's funny because I know you as exuberant and gregarious and articulate, and I don't know if extroverted is fair, but I know you that way. And I wonder if there was an inflection point in your life because shyness, belies your current character.

Anasa Troutman: You know what, I'm so happy you asked me that because I have had a humongous revelation about that very thing in the last couple of weeks, which has been really life changing. I think it's important because ... let me tell you a story first and then I'll tell you why it's important. I got a therapist. Therapy has been really funny to me because literally the lady just sits there and listens to me and I just jump through all these portals, like, "Oh my God, I never realized." And I just am talking myself through this thing, I'm paying this woman just to listen to me, which I guess is the point, right?

Anasa Troutman: But the other day I realized ... because I do, I tell that story a lot about how shy and scared I used to be growing up, because I really was. I understand why you don't recognize it because it's hardly there at all, but I used to be so shy that I would take my books, pull the couch out, and go sit behind the couch and read behind the couch. Or if we were out, I would just be literally hiding behind my parents and peeking around their leg or never saying anything and having things that I wanted to say. Being in a conversation or being in class or wanting to create something and just being like gripped with the fear of death and not open my mouth.

Anasa Troutman: I remember not being able to tell my parents I loved them. I remember talking to my mother one day and being maybe 11 or 12 and wanting to tell her I loved her so badly and just being so afraid just to say words. When I was in the therapy session the other day, I had clear and distinct remembrances of three or four instances in my life before the age of nine when I was all those things, gregarious, and loud, and vivacious, and creative.

Anasa Troutman: And I was like, "Wait a minute, I am not shy. I was afraid and wounded and scared and had to go through this process of combing through the incidences that got me from being a very expressive, very outgoing, very extroverted child to deciding that the world wasn't safe." And a lot of it is just because I was ... being an empathetic person makes you spiritually and emotionally very sensitive. So part of growing up in our country, is parents are not prepared to raise children who are emotionally sensitive. So the world at some point just got to be too much for me. Part of that was being on the beach as a seven or eight year old and being called the n-word by some guys in a truck.

Anasa Troutman: And going from feeling like, "Oh, everything is wonderful. I'm out on the beach. Life is amazing," because I wasn't with my parents, I was just with a couple of friends walking down the beach because I felt safe enough to do that. And then realizing that for me as an eight year old black girl, that the world actually wasn't safe. That was the beginning of me shutting down to the point where I just wouldn't say anything to anybody. What I'm learning is the work I have done over the past 10 years because I was like, "I'm tired of being quiet. I would like to be trained, and then speak up," and be all the things that you know me as [inaudible 00:17:02].

Anasa Troutman: It wasn't that I was creating a new personality, it was that I was uncovering all of the muck that I had put on top of my real personality to be able to rediscover who I actually am. The thing that's been so interesting about that is at the same time I'm in all these conversations about race and class and I'm discovering that ... what I know about every human being that I've ever met is that they have issues.

Anasa Troutman: Every single one of us have some kind of childhood issue. Some of us have worked through our stuff and some of us have not, some of us are halfway through. What I'm learning is that on top of all of this systemic historic narrative around race, class, gender, sexuality, all of that stuff, is also a layer of who people are, what their capacity for introspection, change, accountability, and so on and so forth.

Anasa Troutman: It just makes these conversations about global transformation all the more difficult because if we were just talking about social issues it will be one thing, but I have to talk to you about social issues through your lens of your own personal hurt. It makes it a thousand times more difficult, especially because most people, when they're in those conversations, don't recognize or acknowledge the person's humanity and the issues that they're dealing with that make them not be able to hear, or listen, or look at themselves, or change or any of that kind of stuff.

Jeff: Yeah, and I suppose that is hyperbolized right now.

Anasa Troutman: Oh yeah.

Jeff: That might be an understatement. What I witness in you is the approach to conversations with love and honesty, and an optimism really. I'm sure that there's plenty of dark nights of the soul going on as well, but I wonder if ... and I know we've talked about this before, but one thing I'm very grateful for is that you do step into the role, whether you see yourself as stepping into this role or not, as a bridge between people.

Jeff: And I really mean all people, but in this particular context, between black and white communities. And I'm grateful for that because it lets me be vulnerable and step in a pocket of shit, and with forgiveness. But I wonder how you see yourself and your role navigating this wickedness.

Anasa Troutman: In all honesty, I'm still working through that. It's a tight rope. I think the first time that I realized that I could, or even might, play the role of like ... I don't even know what you call them, like being an ally to white as they try to be allies to black people. That's what it feels like. I was at a retreat, maybe ... gosh, probably 10 years ago now, and it was a room full of people from all races. It was black folks and white folks and Southeast Asian folks and Latino folks. Everybody was in the room. And we were shown a movie called the Traces of the Trade.

Anasa Troutman: The movie was a documentary film about this woman, I can't remember her name, but this woman's grandmother wrote a book about their family history. It was like a 100 page book that had their whole entire family history. They were like an old New England family, and her grandmother had written this whole, whole, whole, whole narrative about their family history for their Christmas present one year, I think it was.

Anasa Troutman: So this woman, I want to call her Katrina, I think that's her name but don't quote me. But anyway, this woman read the book and there was one line that said, "And we were involved in the slave trade." And then that was literally the only line in the whole book. And she was like, "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. We are a good New England family. How is it possible that we were involved in the slave trade?" And she started asking questions. She called her grandmother first and her grandmother was like, "You're worried about the wrong things. We're not talking about this. That's all that you need to know. Move on with your life. Don't focus on the negative."

Anasa Troutman: And she started asking questions in the family and people were getting angry with her. They were telling her, "You're making us look bad, you're kicking up dust, you need to stop this." And she ended up writing a letter to her entire family, it was like 300 people, and said, "This is something I'm curious about. I need to know what our relationship with race is and our history with race and slavery and I am inviting you all to go on a journey with me to figure out what this looks like." And she was getting hate mail from her family and eventually six other of her family members agreed to do this with her, and they hired a film crew and they traced their family's relationship with slavery all the way back to what their actual role in the slave trade was, and they had a major role.

Anasa Troutman: I won't spoil it for you because you should watch it. It's an amazing film. Their actual role in the slave trade as a good liberal North New England family who was part of the founding of Brown University. They're deep in the history of New England and saw themselves as like raging, Democrat, progressive. And they have a deep history with the slave trade. And then they went back to West Africa, they went to the Caribbean, and they literally retraced their family's route in the transatlantic slave trade, in the triangular trade.

Anasa Troutman: And the conversations that they had during the process were gut-wrenching. They were like, "Oh my God." It never occurred to me to think about what it must be like for a white person whose family has a legacy around slave trading and slave ownership, what that feels like. And in the room, when the movie was over, we were having a conversation, the amount of shame and anguish and pain, and embarrassment that was sitting with the white people in the room was incredible. It was like ... I never, wow ...

Anasa Troutman: It was a whole revelation to me. What I realized is that part of the reason why we haven't had really healthy conversations about race in America is because there's no place for white people's grief around it. Often what happens is there's either no place or it's centered, and neither one of those is really helpful. You don't get to come to a conversation about race and say, "Well, it wasn't me. I wasn't even there," right? Because that's one scenario, and the other scenario is you don't get to have feelings at all, which is not human.

Anasa Troutman: It's not human. How are you supposed to show up? How can I ask you to show up fully in a conversation and then ask you not to show up fully in a conversation. But the balance around trying to express the grief and shame without centering grief and shame is something that I find that white folks find hard to do. And on top of that, it is not my responsibility or obligation to help white people hold their shame and grief, but it's something I choose to do. But it's not for the faint of heart. It's very heavy. It's very hard. It's very painful. It's very violent to have to hold that kind of grief when you're holding so much of your own and so much injustice of your own, especially when it's still happening every day.

Anasa Troutman: It's not like, "We need to deal with this thing that ended 20 years ago so we can have some reconciliation." It's like this thing that happened 500 years ago, and 400 years ago, and 300 years ago, and three days ago, and three hours ago, and three minutes ago. So I'm actively having to process my own grief, my own fear, my own everything, and still hold you in a place where you can do the same thing so we can have a real conversation and you can activate.

Anasa Troutman: Because the other thing is some people are never going to activate. Some white folks are just going to be like, "That's not my thing and I'm so sorry for you and whatever," but for me, I need folks to activate. I do it because I'm optimistic and I'm like, "Well, surely you're not doing it because you don't really understand what's happening." So maybe if I make the contribution of creating space for you to actually experience your own feelings and relationship with what happened and then learn some more truth based on my perspective, then I'm sure-

Anasa Troutman: And they learn some more truth based on my perspective, then I'm sure surely you will do something because this is... Especially folks who are in the wellness community, just because I feel like we are a community of people who has a different kind of relationship with themselves, and with a different relationship with the world in theory. So we're generally people who pray, we're generally with people who understand how to be still, we're generally people who have some kind of embodiment practice, which gives you more access to hard conversations. And my hope is that folks are just sitting in their privilege and not really clear, or they're scared, or they don't have an entry point. And I feel like it's important for me, especially in this moment to do my best, to say, "Hey everybody, here's what's happening. Who's interested? And if you're not interested, God bless you," Because you'll benefit from the transformation anyway, but if you are interested and you do want to be active, and you do want to learn, and you do want to learn how to see other people in their full humanity, then I'm strong enough emotionally and spiritually to hold that weight.

Anasa Troutman: And I have my own community that I can go to when I get forward. And I know how to say no when I need a break. And I know how to say, "Actually I can't hold that today. You need to go call somebody else," And I also have white friends who say, "When white people call you, or if you can't handle it, tell them to call me and I got it," because that's what happens when you're in community, you have people who step up when you're not able to.

Anasa Troutman: And I struggle with the notion of doing other people's emotional labor because that's something I don't ever want to do whether they're in personal relationships or other. I don't want to do anybody else's work because I can't. But I do wonder, and I do continue to push myself and I do continue to experiment with what it looks like for me to be a clearing for other people's work when they're willing to do it. If you're going to show up, I will show up for you and help you until you don't need anymore. I don't know why. I don't know where that came from. I think going back, I keep seeing the flashes sitting in that circle after that movie is like humans... It looked like human suffering. It was like, you know what it looks like when people are in anguish, when they're in emotional anguish and they don't know what to do with it? And it had never occurred to me that there were white folks who were just like, didn't know what to do with the emotion of it, because it's a lot. It's a lot.

Jeff: Yeah. It's also interesting just hearing about your upbringing and how intertwined spirituality and culture and politics were in your upbringing. And as I studied a bit of American history, certainly like in the 1960s, when kind of liberal white, progressives in American started becoming interested in Eastern religions, and Buddhism, and meditation, and yoga, that was very closely Lloyd to political action. I mean, I remember interviewing Marianne Williamson one day and she was like, "I used to be eating in the morning and then, anti-Vietnam protest in the afternoon," and there was a much tighter unity between one's concept of their own spirituality and the wellbeing of society. And then somewhere, it feels like we lost our way and wellness and spiritual practices became very personal and obviously highly commodified and more associated with Lycra than civil rights, if you will. And I think we went through multiple generations of this idea of get your Solly, dirty politics out of my sacred personal space. This is where I go to escape that.

Jeff: Obviously I think since 2016, I think people have started to wake up, but what they... And make that connection a little bit more directly that the notion that I can't be well, if my society is not well, and drawing that straighter line between their own personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of society. But I think what we need in that regard are messengers to help shepherd that idea. And we need them in every community, but particularly in the white community that I think has looked to wellness as a... In a very commodified almost capitalistic way. So, I mean, just kind of bringing the conversation into kind of what's happening right now. And just for context for our listeners, this is Tuesday, June 2nd, that we're recording this. So we're eight days out from the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. And over that period, boy, the world has changed. We've been witnessing obviously protests, largely peaceful, but not always, in virtually every American city. And now this has become an international phenomenon as there's demonstrations all over the world.

Jeff: And I guess my question for you is what's the difference this time? Because for 10 years it's been Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner and, Freddie gray, Michael Brown, and Brianna Taylor-

Anasa Troutman: I know, Amado Diallo.

Jeff: Right. Yeah, I was in New York then.

Anasa Troutman: Natalie Alice in Jersey. I remember it very clearly.

Jeff: Yeah. And what's the difference this time? Why did it boil over?

Anasa Troutman: I have been thinking about this for months, so I have the actual answer, but I want to go back to something that you said a few seconds ago that I want to just point out that it's very natural for Americans to take the sacred and make it a commodity, because our culture is really rooted in capitalism, and patriarchy, and white supremacy. So anything that doesn't do that, anything that doesn't... We don't figure out how to sell and make about us individually and be myopic about in all that, and turn our backs on the rest of the world is actually kind of cultural. And that's why we do it so easily, and we slip into it so easily, and we never even realized that until we look up and we're like, "Oh, wellness is no longer a practice of [inaudible 00:07:43].

Anasa Troutman: I think it's important that we understand that and we own that as a truth because the only way that we're going to have... We're going to be able to build a new culture for ourselves collectively is if we can acknowledge the culture that we've been seeped in this whole time.

Anasa Troutman: And that if we think about the fact that 500 years ago, this country started by some folks who decided that the people who lived here were not worthy of their life or their land, and they stole land committed genocide and stole a whole bunch of other people and enslaved them, is the same exact set of value that allows us to kill the planet, and to kill animals, and to use too much plastic. It's all the same disregard for life, for the sake of profit. And it's the same set of values that allowed us to go from a community of people who were practicing Eastern practices and forget about that and the most important thing is like, who's logo was on your booty, on your yoga mat.

Anasa Troutman: It's this literally the same culture and the same set of principles. And I think it's important that we start to make those connections so that we can see how pervasive it is, and how if we just make one shift, then the whole world of liberation for all people, all beings, all planet, all animals, all over the layer like this all shifts. If we just change the way that we interact with life in general, right? Because that's important-

Jeff: I think that's an incredible point. And you'd say it beautifully that the nature of our human relationships has become completely transactional. So if you're an economic unit that reflects value to someone, then you will be valued. But if you live under an overpass in Hollywood, you're basically not worth anything.

Anasa Troutman: That's right. And that's an extension of the last year, the 1619 podcasts came out, they had the second episode was about the economy. And they basically made an argument that our 21st century economy is derivative of a slave economy, which is why there's this thing around, what financial value do you bring? If you bring no financial values, then you're useless to us as a society. And also the way that we work in terms of all of us, no matter what color, what religion, what background we work too much. Our culture is about working too much and getting the most, last little drop of life we can get out of everybody. And if you can take a break, God bless you. What you probably not. I'm not even going to take a break when you have a break because we're so trained.

Anasa Troutman: The most important thing, our identity is connected to our work. And so we're all suffering from the idea that you can turn a human being into a commodity and have them spend their life force, making money for you. That's what corporate life is about. That's why so many people are like, "I quit my corporate job and starting to be a pastry chef because I felt like I was dying," Because corporate jobs are built to squeeze the life out of you. It's just the way our culture is built. So now I'm going to answer your question.

Anasa Troutman: Your question was what is different now, and I think a couple of things are different. I think that the thing that struck me first when I was thinking about this was that we have all been sitting at home for two and a half months, some of us were longer than that. And we all know in this community, what stillness does for you. And when you're sitting at home and you're not on a plane every week, or you're not going out every night, you're not self-medicating with shopping or drinking or whatever thing you do, friends, whatever you do. And many of us have been not just sheltering at home, but sheltering at home alone. And so our relationship with ourselves, whether you want it or not is deepening, our relationship with silence and stillness is deepening whether you want it or not.

Anasa Troutman: And the awareness and the listening that you have for life deepens when you have a stillness practice. So I think that that's part of it that we'd been sitting at home for almost three months. I think the second part of it is that people... There are some people who are leaning into the stillness and there are some people who are losing it, who are like, "I can't say in this house for one more minute," which is a whole nother thing to you, right? To you about being ready to jump into action and being ready to show up, being ready to say the thing, being ready to do the thing. And so I think that there's that. I think the third element of it is the narrative that we've all been listening to around the pandemic that is listing up these issues of race and class that has been here all along.

Anasa Troutman: So thinking about the number of people who are unemployed, thinking about the health disparities in black and Brown communities, the fact that black folks are dying faster, more often from COVID, the fact that folks in black communities in Latin X communities lost their jobs sooner, and in more volume, the number of folks who need frontline support, all of that stuff we were already for two months, we've talking about how hard it is for black Brown in poor communities. We were talking about that for two months, and talking about it in such a way that people weren't shocked, right? So it's like when the world is changing this fast and everybody is suffering and you like, "Whoa, I'm suffering because I just lost my job, but look at what you're dealing with," because it's on the news every day. And that is not something that people talk about on the news. Health disparities, income, inequality, the digital divide, that's not something you get that you hear, the narrative that you hear drummed into you everyday, everyday, everyday, everyday on the news.

Anasa Troutman: And so the combination of the hyperawareness of the issues that these communities are already dealing with on topics I'm even sitting at home and you're either activated to do something or you're listening very deeply, I think is how we ended up in a space where the world is activated around the response to the murder of George Floyd. And for me, when the pandemic first started and we first had to stay at home, I felt guilty because one, I enjoyed it because I liked being at home by myself. But two because I was excited because I was like, "This is a time where people are going to be suffering and I'm sorry for this suffering. And I also think that this is a window for people to actually see the truth of who we have been being and give us an opportunity to make some shifts." When you go through a global pandemic, there is no normal anymore. That thing that people keep being like, "I can't wait for us to get back to normal." Like normal is over with, it's over. Life is going to be different in one way or another from now on, because of what we've been through, just from the global pandemic.

Anasa Troutman: If you go back a week and it's like, "Life was never going to be the same already. And the decision was like, are we going to be a community of people in this country who support people in need, who have a culture of care and make sure that we all are living just equitable, abundant, joyful, beautiful lives, or are we going to get worse?" And are the inequities, and the divides are going to get worse and worse and worse.

Anasa Troutman: And now that we're also seeing this, the evidence of so many years of violence in terms of who we are as a militarized country, which is part of the conversation that was missing. So if you think about Martin Luther King, you think about his speech on April 4th, 1967, it was called Beyond Vietnam. You can listen to it on the internet. He gave a speech and he said like, "This war is unjust. I can't sit back anymore, I have to say something," and he turned that into a speech about the expansion of his theory of change from just talking about race, to talking about race, talking about class and talking about militarism. And he said that these are the three legs on the stool of injustice, and unless we can deal with these three things, then we are never going to have a free country.

Anasa Troutman: And what we saw during the first two months of a pandemic was a lot of conversation about race and a lot of conversation about class and what the emergence of this latest police monitor has given us is entry point into the conversation about militarism and what it means to be in an over police, over militarized, unjust practice around that part of our society. So what's happening right now is that we are squarely at the nexus of race class and militarism in our society. And everyone's like, "Holy crap. What?" And a lot of folks are waking up for the first time. There are those of us who live in black communities or Brown communities or in poor communities who are like, "Where have, y'all been?" Mad that people are just now like, "I can't believe that this is happening." Because for us as a day to day thing. I was called in work for the first time, at eight years old on the beat.

Anasa Troutman: So I'm not surprised when a black man is killed by the police, and the people who are shocked, we're like, "Man, okay, give me a few minutes because I needed to be mad for a second that you're just now figuring this out," and now that you're figuring it out like, what are we going to do? What are you willing to do? What do you see? What do you feel? And folks are like... People who are conscious don't want to live in a place like that. People don't want to live in a place that is unjust or unfair, but folks have been able to close to it. That's the power of white privilege. You get to not see it. You get to pretend like it's not there. You get to talk it away. You get to excuse it. But it's so on the surface because of those reasons that... You were to the point where you can't unsee it, you know what I mean?

Anasa Troutman: And again, as painful and as horrible as that is for me, it's an exciting moment because it's not like this has not been happening, but now, I mean, for God's sake, Disney did a seven minutes and 46 seconds off the air yesterday in the acknowledgement of a police murder. And I get that it's brands and the brands don't, are not whatever, but even that I would not have ever imagined that Disney, the Disney channel would have gone... Oh no, it wasn't Disney, it was Nickelodeon. That's even worse, right? Who would have ever imagined that Nickelodeon would have gone off the air for almost nine minutes in the honor of a black man murdered by the police. That to me says that the conversation is shifting and their openness for something new to happen that could not have happened a month ago.

Jeff: Let me digest all that for a minute.

Anasa Troutman: Yeah, please.

Jeff: Because I haven't thought about that trifecta. That's sort of, I guess, in this case, imperfect storm. And I'm going to go watch that video. I think that's one year to the day before he was assassinated.

Anasa Troutman: It was literally the year to the day before he was assassinated, literally. And it's a very, very powerful, very powerful speech. It's like shaped a lot of who I am. I listened to it intentionally for the first time a couple of years ago because of my work in Memphis. And it's like that speech plus the film called King In The Wilderness, if you watch those two things together, then you will... Your understanding of what we're dealing with politically and economically, and culturally will expand exponentially.

Jeff: I wonder if one of the reasons that we're seeing greater sense of outcry and involvement and statements from corporate America has anything to do with the lack of leadership that we generally count on from our public institutions. And I think we've been seeing that over the last couple of years where companies and the private sector seems to be more emboldened or feel a greater sense of responsibility for shepherding culture and society forward in the absence of leadership. So yesterday I'm sure you watched president Trump, and I don't, just to be clear, I don't bash the president on this show lightly. I don't do it flippantly, is I guess the word, but I do think it's important to talk about it because these are the times that we look to leadership.

Jeff: So I'm sure you saw this, the president was photographed outside of the St. John's Episcopal church across from the white house, holding a Bible and it was evidently protestors were scattered with tear gas, so he could make it there. I wonder how that made you feel, and what would be the appropriate kind of leadership that you would be looking for from a president right now?

Anasa Troutman: I wish you could see, I was literally holding my face. How do I even see? So it's so funny as you were asking your question, I'm like, "Oh right, I forgot to add the big condition that we're dealing with that has brought this moment on, and that is our presidential leadership." Because in one way or another, a lot of people have been suffering since the day he took office in a different way, and folks have been afraid and impacted in a way that has never happened in their lifetime. And I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. And it's been interesting for me to watch corporate leadership in how folks are like, "No, we're not allowing you to do that." And, oh my God. Yeah. So yesterday I definitely watched the press conference, which is rare for me, because I don't. I have not been watching the news that much, but of course with all of the uprisings in all the communities, I'm watching the news more the last three days, because it's important for me to stay connected to that as I do work that I'm doing here to try to deploy resources and information.

Anasa Troutman: I'm trying to do my best to stay in touch with what's happening on the ground. And I happen to be watching when those peaceful protesters were shot with rubber bullets and tear gas to try to move them out of the way. So this man could walk across the street and hold a Bible up in front of the building. And there's so many things that were so painful for me to watch. One was him go in the Rose garden and give that speech where he acknowledged George Floyd for literally two seconds and then spent the rest of his time embodying the very thing that got George murdered in the first place, which is over militaristic, patriarchal language around control and law and order.

Anasa Troutman: And all the things that we're doing wrong, he was basically doubling down on to the point where he's like, "I am on top of all of that. I'm about to invoke the insurrection act," And it's like, that is an act that was put in place to deploy American military against American citizens when they're in a rebellion, trying to take over the government, and it's like, you equate... Are you telling me that you're equating Americans saying, "This is not okay, and you're hurting us," to a straight up like a coup of the government, because that's what you're saying, right?

Anasa Troutman: And the equating of the damage of human property... I mean, of people's property over the damage to human lives is just astounding to me, astounding to me, that somebody who is in charge of our wellbeing as a nation is taking that stance. And then to walk across the street standing in front of that church and hold up that Bible as a symbol of what? What is it that you're doing? And of course, it's wondering, I'm like, "Oh, he wasn't doing anything. He was sending a message to his evangelical base to make them excited and to let them know, let them know that he was still in control." But that's not what leadership looks like to me. I mean, and not that he's ever been anything that looked like leadership for me.

Anasa Troutman: And again, I'm not saying that to be flipped or anything. Honestly I'm saying when I think about what it means to be a leader that's not someone who embodies compassion, vision, strength, knowledge, communicate, like all the things that you want from people who are leading, he literally has not one of them. And by God, I wish he did. I really do. I wish that he was a better person and I wish that he had more compassion and more integrity, but he doesn't. And that's not... That he just doesn't. And to use imagery associated with Jesus who was actually one of the most powerful and intense to be field organizers and supporters of the poor and the downtrodden men, for him to use that imagery for political, financial, and military gain-

Anasa Troutman: For political, financial, and military gain is disgusting to me. It's disgusting. It's tone deaf to us, right? To his base, they're like, "Yeah." I was watching the news earlier and they're like, a lot of evangelical leaders were so excited about that and they were like, "Finally, yes. That's how you take control of the situation. Okay." But that's just old thinking, old patriarchal thinking. All that stuff, releasing its grip on society. And I feel like what we need to do... I have a terrible secret. I have a terrible secret to tell you. I can't believe I'm about to tell you this. This is awful. This is awful. I'm going to say it because we're having the whole conversation.

Anasa Troutman: So, the night that Trump was elected, I was at my dad's house in Florida. And I was sitting on their couch. Everybody had gone to bed because I was like, "I'm not going to bed until they settle this." And I was sitting on the couch and they announced him as the president and I burst into hysterical laughter. And I was like, "Well, here we go. This is the truth of who we are. And now we're about to have to deal with ourselves. Amazing. Fantastic. Let's go." And I knew that a lot of people were going to suffer and I knew there would be pain and I knew it was going to be hard. But I also knew that if you think about... And I also don't want to paint Barack Obama as the savior of all progressive politics because he wasn't. He did some things right, but he did a lot of stuff wrong, right?

Anasa Troutman: I do think that he was probably the most compassionate and spiritually mature president that we've ever had. Obviously he was the first black president and that means something to me too. But I don't want to paint him as if he is this bashing progressivity and he did all the right things, that he freed all the people, and freed the land. Because that's not what he did. But if we think about just those two people in the contract that they represent, they are both who we are as a country. And it was important that Donald Trump take this position so that we would have to face the other side of who we actually are as a nation. Because what he represents is very deep in the DNA and the cultural DNA of our nation. And we have been acting like it's not true for a long time. So, when politicians go on and we have inspirational speeches, people are like... Joe Biden did it today. Joe Biden did a speech today really kicking off his campaign.

Anasa Troutman: And he was like, "America is about freedom. America is about this. And America is about that." And while that may be true, America is also about choosing profit over people, commodities over communities. That is also very much who we are. Donald Trump is literally the concentrated manifestation of all those things about us that we don't want to look at and having Donald Trump as the president forces us every day to look on that TV, look on the news, listen to his complete and utter shenanigans and figure out how to reconcile the fact that he is a representation of who we are.

Anasa Troutman: Some of us are doing it. Some of us are laughing at him, ridiculing him, dismissing him and pretending that he's not a part of us, but we would do well to say to ourselves, "Let me look at this man and think about how I'm embodying what he's representing to me. And how I am impacting who we are as Americans and how we are facilitating and enabling the murder of somebody like George Floyd." Because we all are participating in patriarch, in hyper capitalism, in white supremacy. We all participate because it's the narrative that is pervasive in our education system, in our banking system, in our whatever system you can think of. Those DNA of this country is those things too.

Anasa Troutman: And unless and until we're willing, again, to face that, and what that does for us, in terms of the shame that we might feel, the embarrassment that we may feel, the denial that we may feel. Until and unless we're able to face our own darkness, individually and collectively as a nation, then we're going to continue to pretend like it's all good and we're going to be surprised when another black man gets murdered on the news.

Anasa Troutman: And so our opportunity right now is to be like, "Okay, this is part of who we are." Donald Trump was not an enigma. He was not because of this culture that we're in right now. He was a result and an expression of part of the culture that we have been embodying for 500 years. And this is a fantastic time for us to say, "Okay." Because the thing is, number one, every system boils down to people, right? So, I'm also... I also full disclosure am a person who believes in the spiritual evolution of humanity. So, we did nothing, in 100 years it would just be better because our souls will evolve, our understanding will evolve, our connection to God will be deeper and more intense if we will just be better. So, there's that, right?

Anasa Troutman: But I also think there is an opportunity for us to take a moment and once the veil has been lifted on the reality of race, the reality of class and the reality of who we are as the militarized government. And ask ourselves is that who we want to be? Or do we want to be the beloved community that King talks about in that speech? Are we interested in making the leap from being a society that is full of extraction and exclusion and violence, or do we want to be a fully interdependent, beloved community? Understanding that love is not always juicy and fluffy and easy and rainbows and sunshine. But sometimes love is accountability. Love is difficult. Love is hard conversations. Love is looking at yourself. Understanding all of that, this is probably the first time in my lifetime, certainly. And maybe ever, that the window is open wide enough for all of us to jump through it together. But we have to jump through it together.

Anasa Troutman: And I am looking for the people who are like, "This is going to be hard. And I don't really know how to do it. And I'm going to make mistakes. But I want to jump too." And that's why I spend my time in conversations like this saying like, "Let me create a portal for you to walk through because this is not just about..." This is not... My parents raised me to be very committed to black liberation and to black people. And I love black people. But if only black people get free, then we didn't do the thing.

Anasa Troutman: This is about, I'm a person you should never say all lives matter to. However, we have to make... Everybody has to get there. Everybody has to get there. We all have to get there. We got to get there. As a human race, we've got to get there. Now, am I going to be more committed and more active and more to black issues? Absolutely because that's my duty as a black woman, and it's also what we need to help bring equity. We got to do that work, and I think from a spiritual perspective there has to be an accounting for the fact that for some folks this work is going to be harder than for others. And I don't want people not to jump in because they're scared.

Anasa Troutman: I'm like, "Yes, it's going to be scary. Yes, it's going to be hard. But you know this was the right thing to do. Why don't you just come on? Just come on. Just come on and we'll figure it out."

Jeff: Yeah, I want to ask you, on that note, I want to ask you about religion. And...

Anasa Troutman: Okay. I love talking about religion. Yes.

Jeff: Because if everyone's going to jump through that window, it's going to be a lot of folks that believe in God, that are Christians in this country. And certainly, evangelical. So, I woke up this morning and a friend of mine had texted me a quote from Matthew. I'll just read it. It's pretty quick, Chapter Six, verse five. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Then your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Jeff: So, he sent it without any context, just sent me the quote.

Anasa Troutman: No context needed.

Jeff: Yeah, no context needed. And the president doesn't strike me as someone that can recite a lot of scripture on his own. But he certainly has a tremendous support of the evangelical community. I think 81% of the evangelicals voted for the president last time around. And when I look at some of the absolutely necessary structural organizations that can provide girding to a movement, I think back to the 60s and this Southern Christian Leadership Conference and snake, and what a big part the black church played within the movement. And I wonder where that is now, because for the last, I don't know, 20, 30, 40 years it feels like the right has a monopoly on religious morality. Even if the policies of that, of the right, are incomplete misalignment with the teachings of Christ.

Anasa Troutman: Yep.

Jeff: So, I just wonder, where is the black church right now within the movement? And do you see that as an integral part of the movement today?

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. I have so much to say about this. This is a whole nother podcast. Oh my-

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. So, jeez, where do I start? So, the first thing I will say and I think it's an important thing to be reminded of is that one of the most powerful tools that was used in slavery to keep folks enslaved was the Bible. And that there were so many scriptures that were pulled out, repeated over and over again. Slaves obey your masters, like that's in the Bible. And that was used to be able to keep folks enslaved and quiet. It's also been used against women, like this is the role of the woman, this is the place of the woman.

Anasa Troutman: You can use scripture to justify horrible things, right? So, first, let's separate the Christian doctrine and the Bible from the embodiment of righteousness, wisdom and joy and love. Because it's easy to do that.

Jeff: Yeah, fair enough.

Anasa Troutman: And I also love to remind people that Christ wasn't Christian. Jesus was a Jewish man who came into the world at a time when there was great corruption in the church, great corruption in the government. And he was like, "We're not doing this anymore, guys. These rules don't matter. What matters is that you love God with all your heart and that you love your neighbor as you love yourself." He didn't say start illusion in my name. He did not say build a bunch of buildings. He did not say oppress people with the Bible that you wrote down from remembrance of what I did and said. He didn't say any of that. He said, "Love God, love your neighbor as you love yourself. Those are the rules that you need to follow."

Anasa Troutman: And so I think that the foundation of this conversation is that, and the understanding that sometimes Christians act outside of the will of Christ. That's really important to know. And I think it's also important to know that there is actually a political strategy that created this idea of this Southern religious, white, evangelical, republican, right wing political context that was really about the fact that during reconstruction, a lot of white southerners who used to be Democrats during reconstruction, they were pissed because they were like, "Why are y'all spending all this money on building black communities? Why this? Why that? And why? We want slavery back. We're Confederates. We let the Dixie flag fly." People were pissed and the republican party made a strategic decision to lean into the discomfort and the disenchantment of Southern white people and said like, "We're going to build a party where we can magnify and lean into the fact that white people in the South are mad because black people are getting what they need to thrive."

Anasa Troutman: And the modern wave of white evangelical Christians comes from that. And because of that, the right has always done a fantastic job of talking about values and vision and like, this is our land. This is our country. We need to protect these values. And that is why they've been able to rise and to use SERP and take control of the moral stance in politics, because they don't talk about policies. They don't talk about like, "We're going to pass this law, that law." They talk about community. They talk about family values. They talk about God. They talk about all the things that resonate with us as human beings. Yes, their application of those things are nefarious from some people's points of view, but the way that they... Their marketing campaign is all about family, about values, about vision, about all that.

Anasa Troutman: And the left does a horrible job at that. We always want to talk about the details. We always want to talk about the policies. We always want to make people read 500 pages, white papers and this and that and the other. But we do a horrible job of inspiring people by sharing with them what our vision of the world is, and what our core values are. That is the thing that we need to really think about. How do we shift the narrative before we try to shift the policy? Because that's always the way this works.

Anasa Troutman: The second part of this conversation specifically about the black church is that if you listen to the... So, at Historic Clayborn Temple in Memphis, which is the real estate development that I'm working on, it's a historic black church that was the site of King's last campaign. So, when King was murdered in Memphis, he was working at Historic Clayborn Temple. And the man who was the chief strategist for that, for the sanitation workers' strike, that campaign, his name is Reverend James Lawson, who was the original architect of King being nonviolence because he met King when he was in his 20s and he had already traveled to India, traveled to Africa and had been studying nonviolence. And introduced King to Gandhi and nonviolence.

Anasa Troutman: Came to Clayborn last year. He's like in his 80s. He's the smartest man I ever met in my life. He's adorable and I love him so much, but we were talking and he said like, "When you think about the narrative of the black church and the civil rights movement, it's not accurate because most churches and most preachers stayed at home and did not show up for the movement." But because the ones that did were so prominent, it looks like it was a movement of the black church.

Anasa Troutman: The other thing that I think is important to know is when you're talking about the 60s, the idea and the context of respectability is important because at this point, you think it's bad for black people now? In the 50s and the 60s and the 40s, people were being literally lynched from trees all the time, right? That was happening a lot back then. So, what was important for the narrative, for the people who seemed respectable in society, who would be able to get the listening of folks, who would be able to not be able to be disparaged in the press, to be able to stand out front. So, if you think about Rosa Parks, Rosa Parks was like the fourth or fifth or sixth black woman that got arrested, that sat on the bus and got arrested.

Anasa Troutman: But the NAACP and other organizations made the decision to not put those other stories forth because one was an unwed mother, or one wasn't in Florida, one was too young, or one was this, or one was that. And Rosa Parks happened to be not just the person who sat down on the bus and got arrested, but she was also the person who was the perfect age, the perfect look. She had this secretary job, she was a churchgoer. She had all of that. There was no way that anybody could disparage her in the press. They couldn't disparage her character. They couldn't disparage her practices and defeat her. Her character was bullet proof from a modern, public point of view, right? In addition to that, Rosa Parks had been trained at a place called the Highlander Center in Tennessee on how to do civil disobedience, how to run organizations and all that stuff.

Anasa Troutman: So, when we look at the story that we think about, this was just a bunch of black people who went to church who decided... That's not what it was. It was a highly organized, highly effective, highly thought out movement. Right? And then, all the people fell in because at that point, every black person is going to church, every white person is going. Church is what you did back then, right? They was not... You think about society in the 50s and 60s and societies in 2020, the number of people who are involved in traditional Christian Church is totally different. Right? So, if you wanted to organize black people, you had to go through the church because it was where people felt safe, it was where they built community. Churches were not just where you went on Sunday. It was where you went on Wednesday night for Bible study. It was where you went on Saturday night for the social. It was where you went on Tuesday for the fish fry. It was where your kids went for kids' church and for youth group. It was like what you... It was the center of your community. It was not... People were not driving 30 minutes to go to church. They were neighborhood churches that provided food for your soul, for your body, for your mind and for your family.

Anasa Troutman: And so, it was a central organizing entity in every neighborhood so that when politics were activated, it just became the same thing too. Now, in the 21st century, I think that there are absolutely still religious leaders who are doing the work of social justice. If you look at Reverend Barbara, look at Reverend Saint Kooser in Memphis. You look at the whole institutions like Union Seminary in New York. There are religious institutions who are committed 100% to social justice.

Anasa Troutman: But I think people's relationship with church is different now. And I also think that there's a lot of people who are questioning traditional religious doctrine and who are like, "Wait a minute. I don't see myself in this. So, I don't see myself when I go to church and there's a white Jesus on the wall. Or I don't see myself when I go to church and you're telling me I have a demon in me because I'm LGBTQ, or I will see myself because I'm a woman. And you said that women can't lead in a religious space. So, I actually don't know if I can be my whole self here. If I can show up in my soul, if I can feel honored and loved in this space. And so, no I'm not going to give you those parts of me that are most tinder or most whatever. And I'm not going to trust you to lead me in terms of political organizing."

Anasa Troutman: And so, I think that there's a shift in the traditional manipulated religion that is traditional Western Christianity that people don't trust like they did back then. And people are building religion and they're building spiritual community in a different way, whether inside or outside of the Christian context, you know what I'm saying? And so, I guess the answer to your question is part of it is that the story that you think that you know about the role of the church is not exactly that. But also, so much has changed and people want to be free. And a lot of people, unfortunately, don't feel free in that context.

Anasa Troutman: And I hope that leaders who are followers of Christ and who understand the need to and the compulsion to rebuild the church, that that is more in alignment with who he was and what his vision for humanity was. Including the fact that he wasn't a white guy. We need to deal with that. Jesus was not a white dude, right? He was not born and lived in Europe. He did not have straight blonde hair and blue eyes. That is not who he was, and I think that that is like, when you're talking about society, if you tell the lie that in a Christian country, like understanding that we're a very diverse, and lots of people do lots of spiritual approaches. But for America, espousing itself as a Christian country, when you put the head of the church as a re-imagined white man with long hair, that's blonde and blue eyes. And you say, "This is the reason why white people are the best is because God is white."

Anasa Troutman: There's nowhere to go from there. There's nowhere to go from there. And when you have people on the news saying, not only is Jesus white, but so is Santa Claus and deal with it. That's not... That doesn't ever lead you anywhere good. It doesn't ever lead you anywhere good. And I also want to acknowledge a lot of folks who are listening, this a conversation around their dinner table with their family and their extended family. A lot of folks, a lot of white folks who have embraced Eastern religious practices or wellness practices or meditative and contemplative practices are in families that still believe in the old ideas about who white people are to the world.

Anasa Troutman: And we have to be courageous in having those conversations and find ways to discern who's interested in coming along and who's not. And then, stop fighting. Don't fight. Don't fight. Spend your energy working towards building a new reality and the new world, as opposed to trying to convince your uncle that Jesus is not white or whatever. Don't do it.

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, no, I think it's interesting with what I would say is a cross racial disaffiliation with institutional religion that's happened over the last 20 years. I think one of the kind of perilous parts of that is the absence of community space and community place and organization, what fills that gap? And that's, if anything actually does, and that's a whole, I think, extended conversation.

Jeff: I want to bring in the dimension of COVID because it's a whole nother layer. Of course, two weeks ago, or even nine days ago from this recording. There was COVID all the time. And obviously-

Anasa Troutman: All day [inaudible 01:18:51].

Jeff: That's obviously the narrative has changed. And obviously we have lightly touched on the fact that African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. The numbers are striking. I did just pull a few statistics. In Louisiana, African Americans make up 32% of the population, but account for 70% of the deaths. And you can pretty much map that similar math, almost everywhere. And there's a lot of ground conditions or underlying conditions for that, that COVID has shown a microscope on.

Jeff: Nine days ago it was stay at home. Now, of course, since the death of George Floyd and everything that we've talked about that has now bubbled to the surface. We've seen protests all across the country. And I wonder what the message is out there because certainly, there is a public health risk that the community that wants to galvanize is putting itself at risk. But then, at the same time, I mean, what is the message? Is the message like go out and pray with your feet and hit the ground? Or is it stay home and focus on your own health and public health? It's very confusing.

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. That is the conundrum. And what I would say is that... Well, there's a couple things. So, the first thing I would say is two weeks ago, I mean, three weeks ago, the message was kind of stay at home. But there was also a whole bunch of people at a whole bunch of state houses with signs that say, "I need a haircut."

Jeff: Right.

Anasa Troutman: People at a whole bunch of state houses with signs that say, I need a haircut. So, this is not the first instance of civil disobedience and people out in the street protesting. That was actually conservatives who were mad because they couldn't go to the movies. So there's that.

Anasa Troutman: The other thing I'm going to say is that three weeks before that, most of these folks who are in the street were at work because they're essential workers, because they work at the grocery store, because they work as delivery people, because they're nurses, because they work at the liquor store because they work at... you know, all the ridiculous things that we've decided were essential outside of the things that are actually essential. It's black people, Latinx people, poor people, indigenous people who are doing these jobs. And so for a lot of people, it would be like, people were getting mad because people were like going to the park. It's like, "You are making me go to work on Monday, but then telling me I can't go out to the park on Sunday. What are you talking about?" Like, the dissonance was already there.

Anasa Troutman: And so a lot of these folks have been going out every day already, and risking their lives every day already. And so to ask them to stay home and not risk their lives for their lives, doesn't make any sense. You know what I mean? And if none of that were true, if none of that were true and all them people were at home because they have jobs that they get to go on Zoom and they have a... if all that was true, even still, imagine how horrible this must be for us, if we decide that even in the midst of a global pandemic, I'm going out on the street because I can't not say no out loud in public, on camera, on whatever. Because that's what it's like for us.

Anasa Troutman: This is like, imagine, for us, George Floyd is a representation of generations and generations and generations of violence, of disrespect, of being told we're not human. Literally in the law, we were three fifths of a human, right? And yes, a lot has changed. Yes, slavery is over, thank God. Yes, we have made a lot of progress. But when you look at our practices, collectively, at who gets loans, at who gets jobs, at who gets respect, who gets rights... I as a docile, shy, pretend shy or not, African American girl, was followed around stores because people would suspect that I was going to steal something because I walked in with my brown skin. And that's real.

Anasa Troutman: And I know that a lot of folks don't see that. I know white folks don't see that, but that is real. It is real. And I am drenched in privilege. I have a physician as a father, an attorney as a mother. I went to college. I have a lot of class and education privilege, in spite of my lack of privilege when it comes to my gender or my race. And so even those of us who have privilege... Like, you saw Skip Gates arrested in front of his house. There's so many stories, right? There's so many stories. It doesn't matter how educated you are, it doesn't matter how smart you are, doesn't matter how articulate you are. If you are walking around in a black body, you are not safe in America. That's just the truth of what it is.

Anasa Troutman: And in order for us to... it's impossible to reconcile. There is no message, right? There is no message on whether you stay home or you go out to protest, because we've already been experiencing the conflicting message for this whole time about who has to go outside or who gets to stay inside and look out the window and go on Zoom. Right? When you order groceries, and they get dropped off, and you look at who's the person who's delivered your groceries, it's probably a black person or brown person or an indigenous person. That's just what it is.

Anasa Troutman: Because the way that structural racism is set up is that white folks have more access to jobs and to wealth and to resources, and have jobs that don't require them to leave their house during a pandemic. But that's not true of other folks. It's not true of black folks and brown folks and indigenous folks. We got to go out and work. We got to deliver your packages. And we got to make... you know, all the things that you're not doing for yourself, somebody who is one of those races is probably doing it for you. And so they've been outside this whole time. So, why can't they go outside and fight for their freedom and protect their families and rage against the machine that tells them they're not human?

Jeff: Yeah, that is a poignant observation, that, yeah, they have been outside the whole time. Okay, help me unpack something else.

Anasa Troutman: Okay.

Jeff: And we spoke about this briefly. And then... because I know it's getting late, and you're here on central time. So I respect your dinner schedule.

Anasa Troutman: No, it's all good.

Jeff: So today actually there is a campaign on social media to mute in solidarity. And in some cases I think that there is an encouragement to share African American voices on your own social media. And then there is another message, competing message, which is, silence is complicity. And certainly, Dr. King has his famous quote on silence that we see now as a meme.

Jeff: So, help unpack that for me in terms of, in your opinion, what is appropriate? Should white people be muting and listening and being humble? Of course they should, but is that the appropriate response, or does one use their platforms to speak out?

Anasa Troutman: I have such a profound answer for you. Are you ready?

Jeff: Yeah.

Anasa Troutman: I don't know.

Jeff: I don't know either.

Anasa Troutman: Because I think one of the things that I've been sitting with for the past year or so is the truth that, if we're talking about, how do we build a just and joyful world, how do we do that, and the answer is that nobody knows... And that we're all just... we're doing the things that we think will work. Like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X or Harriet Tubman, they didn't know if this... When Harriet Tubman decided to run the first time, she didn't know she was going to make it. She was just like, "I know this is what I'm about to do. I feel compelled. I have this spiritual grounding and it's telling me I got to go and I'm going to go. And life is uncertain, so nobody knows the answers."

Anasa Troutman: Like, this is so funny to me, people being like, "In these uncertain times." Life has always been uncertain since the first person was born. Nobody knew what's going to happen. We could all get swallowed by a tsunami today. Like, the people at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius, they had an uncertain life and so do we, right? No matter what plans they had made, they got eaten by a volcano that day.

Anasa Troutman: So there's this idea that people are supposed to know the answers. That just is not true. And what we can do is be in community with people who are more experienced or smarter than us, and decide to follow them, or to take our own experience when it's appropriate and lead when we need to. And I think that what happened today around the muting and the blackout, it's like, somebody had an idea. Somebody was like, "I feel strongly. I have this idea. And I want to do this."

Anasa Troutman: The question is, did they look around and say, who is leading in this moment? Who is holding the organizing? And should I check in them to see if this is something that's going to hurt the larger movement? It did not happen, because even in the social justice world, there's, like, folks who have been working all day to counter the impact of that black square on your Instagram, because folks were tagging black lives matter, the movement for black lives, and drowning out the fact that that movement for black lives was posting directives and resources and help for people that they weren't able to get to because they had a sea of black squares on their Instagram that were tagged, hashtag black lives matter.

Anasa Troutman: And so that's why organizing is so important, so that when we're doing these big sweeping requests of people, that they're actually coordinating in such a way that they're going to lead to something and not squash something else. And that's... We don't have a deep organizing practice. Like you said, back in the day, communities, both black church communities, Eastern practice relig- those folks were organized. And they knew where to look, who to look to, to get the instructions. There was a way for the information to get out. That's just not... it's not as widespread today.

Anasa Troutman: There is definitely organizing infrastructure. There are definitely people who are leading. And we're in this new reality, 21st century, age of Aquarius. And there's a shift from... I was just talking about this book last night, this book Leadership and the New Science, and the shift from traditional structures that were serious about your role, to new more open structures, where your relationship to people is more important, right? So we also have this shift in humanity that they don't talk about in political circles, they don't talk about on the news. But folks who are studying astrology or studying spirituality, and studying all that, we know of the last 20 years, there's been a shift in humanity. So new things are possible. But that also means that new things are emerging that we don't know how to manage yet.

Anasa Troutman: And I think what's important... Like, no, you shouldn't be... I mean, I don't think anybody should be silent in this moment. The people who are silent, I'm looking at you cross eyed. I'm looking at the other side of my eye, like, why aren't you saying something? I'm looking at you crazy if you're not saying anything. Does that mean that you need to feel like you have the answers and that you know what to say and that you know what to do? It does not mean that. It might mean that you need to be in relationship with other white folks who have been in this work around justice and equity and joy for all communities and get some instruction and some tutelage from them. It might mean that if you are in deep relationship with black folks already, or indigenous folks already, that you offer your support to them, and you say, "I want to be a part of this. Is there space for me in what you're doing?" And make that request.

Anasa Troutman: Please do not go and meet some new black friends and tell them you want to learn how to be a freedom fighter and to teach you. That's not their job. That's not their responsibility. And it's too much of a heavy lift for us. So do not do that. If you are from the beginning, from scratch, you can give to organizations who are doing this work. You can talk to... find white folks who are prepared to bring you into the fold and teach you how to be a part of this movement. And you can educate yourself, and you can read and listen to podcasts, and you can watch films and all that stuff, to get yourself to the point where you know more.

Anasa Troutman: But please don't feel like you have the answers, because we don't have answers. We have things that we're trying. We're building on old information, we're creating new information, and everybody is doing their best. And mistakes are going to be made. And that's okay, too, right? That's okay too, because as we're building a new world and we're learning that there's new space for our voices and there's new things to be done, we're going to make mistakes. And part of living in this new world of compassion and love and grounding the divine feminine is that we have grace and we have space so that when we make mistakes, we forgive ourselves, we forgive each other, and we say, "Well, what did we learn? And let's do something new. Let's do something advanced. Let's do something that builds on this thing that we just learned."

Anasa Troutman: And I think that that is really important, because this is not about being right. It's about being embodied in the values of a culture of care. That's what this is about. And if we want to live in a world where care is at the center, that means we have to be caring now. So when you see a man murdered on TV, it's not like... you don't need to know what to do, except for like, what would you do if you care? What would you do? What would you say? Where would you go? Who would you talk to? Who would you give money to? What would you read? Like, that's the answer. To me, that's the answer.

Anasa Troutman: I mean, everybody's doing their best, you know what I mean? We're all doing our best. And that doesn't mean be wanton to be reckless and just do stuff, but it does mean that you're going to make mistakes. And I would rather someone make a mistake in earnest, than do nothing because they were scared.

Jeff: Yeah. And in terms of organizations that you feel are, I suppose, well organized and have good institutional leadership, who do you look to right now? That can be leading that on the ground?

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. I think that there's a few people. I think if we're talking specifically about where we are today, I think that there... I mean, obviously the work that Movement for Black Lives has been doing this whole time is phenomenal, important, needs to be paid attention to, it needs to be supported. There is an organization called the Minnesota Freedom Fund, that's been working specifically in this place, in this new nexus, of work that's been happening. There's another place that's amazing called the Black Visions Collective that is doing amazing, phenomenal, incredible work.

Anasa Troutman: And there's a lot of local people doing amazing work, and they've been doing this work for a long time. Right? So wherever you live, there is a way for you to find out who the justice oriented organizations are that are doing amazing work. I don't know who they are in wherever you live, but I guarantee you, they're not difficult to find.

Anasa Troutman: And I think that there are also resources specifically for white people. If you go on and you're like... do a Google search for how to be anti-racist or do a Google search for your town and the folks who are doing work in your town, and you can find ways to plug in and to support and to be a part of what's happening, even if you've never done it before today. Don't feel like you have to take some course or read five books or know all the vernacular and all that. You don't. You've just got to get off your butt and get activated.

Jeff: Yeah. Are you hopeful?

Anasa Troutman: Always. Always.

Jeff: I know you are.

Anasa Troutman: Always. Always. In some ways I'm more hopeful today than I ever have been, just because eight months ago when I was in Memphis, suffering, dealing with my own version of patriarchy and white supremacy, and not knowing if anybody in the outside world was ever going to care or change or do anything, or even if the people who wanted to do something were ever going to have the space for it to actually work, I was not as hopeful as I am today with everything that's going on. Because the thing that makes me hopeful is that the more people we have that are aware, and the more people we have that say no, make the possibility of a new future more and more and more and more and more and more and more and more real.

Anasa Troutman: And, I think it's important to note that being hopeful and making progress, doesn't mean ease, and it doesn't mean no pain. If we are midwives to witness and support the birth of a new reality and a new humanity, birth hurts like hell. If you've ever had a baby, if you've ever watched somebody have a baby, it is, like, the most pain anybody that I've ever seen has been in. And there are moments that it's dangerous. There are moments when you cry your eyes out. There are moments when you want to punch people. There are moments where you're confused, where you feel like you can't do it. And then on the other side, you get the greatest gift of life.

Anasa Troutman: And so I am hopeful, and I know that this is not going to be easy, and I know that people are going to make mistakes, and I know that all kinds of violence and terrible things are going to happen in the midst. And, if we're going to have a hard time, we might as well have a hard time in the quest for joy. In the quest for justice, and the quest for abundance. Yeah. That's how I feel.

Anasa Troutman: It's worth it. It's worth it. There's this quote that India and I have been wrestling with this, like, "Is the life we're living, is the work that we've been doing all these years, is it making a difference?" And this quote that she's found, it says, "He who plants a seed knowing that he will never enjoy the shade is beginning to understand the meaning of life." And we had a conference online with Wellness of We this week, and she came on and did a thing and she was like, "Plant the seed, not because you want to see the shade, but because you want to plant the seed."

Anasa Troutman: If you're just sitting in your house and you're suffering because you're like, "This is not how humanity should be, this is not how I want to be, this is not how we should live," and you want to plant a seed, plant a seed because it's the right thing for you to do in this moment. Not because you have all the hope that in your lifetime, you're going to see the fruit of your labor, because that's not what this is. That's not what this is.

Anasa Troutman: My grandparents who were born slaves did not do the work that they did to be able to own their own land, because they knew that they were going to live in 2020 and be able to have whatever, the things that I have. They did it because it was the right thing for them to do in the moment, because they refused to sit and live in a context that kept them enslaved. That's not what they were going to do. And so, do it because it's the right thing for you to do now.

Jeff: Yeah. Anasa Troutman, thank you for being, first of all, such a good friend-

Anasa Troutman: Oh, thank you.

Jeff: ... but also, and such an articulate, outspoken leader who's really just helping to shepherd a lot of people through this time, both black and white. And I'm very grateful. And it's hard to imagine that you were ever shy.

Anasa Troutman: [inaudible 01:41:59]. I do not lie.

Jeff: But I'll meditate in that. And yeah, I'm here humbly as your ally in any conquest, whether it's large or small. So, thank you so much.

Anasa Troutman: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Jeff: Yeah. Ah, that was awesome. Thanks so much. You're just... I mean, really, just so great. Yeah.

Anasa Troutman: Thank you.

Jeff: Yeah.

Anasa Troutman: Yeah, that was better than I thought it was going to be. That first stuff, I was like, "What, you just said that that was good?"

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, no, there's, like, a book of pull quotes in there, and we'll go through them and harvest them because, I think this is what people want. And it's sort of like, there's a reality, but also it doesn't have to be just doom and gloom. And I think people... Man, this on top of COVID, people are so numb and freaked out, you know? Like you and I, we have some tools to manage our fear and anxiety and distress and all this stuff, because we've been through it. But I think the human condition for a lot of people is just absolutely devastating. People don't even know what to do.

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. I think that's true.

Jeff: But there's so much packed in there too. Man, it's like, also, I'd love just to go and... all the stuff that... your commentary on religion and sort of the repackaging of the civil rights movement from a religious perspective is so fascinating. Really fascinating.

Anasa Troutman: It's deep. It's deep. There's so much, there's so much, there's so much unsaid and unknown. It's like really deep. This is so deep.

Jeff: Great. Well, I'm going to get this out, because we're going to try to turn it quick, and I think it's going to be probably two, so we'll probably cut it in half and do then back to back, like maybe Thursday, Saturday, or... I don't know. I've got to talk to my production guy. But yeah, obviously the time is prescient for this.

Anasa Troutman:Thank you for letting me do that. Thank you for letting me-

Jeff: Yeah. And on bigger scale, I'm here. I'm here for you, and... the way you've been there for me. And, you know, I have this platform and I want to use it in the right and appropriate ways and whatever that looks like, I offer that up, humbly, just for summits videos, what... I don't know. Any way that we can be useful.

Anasa Troutman: Yeah. I want to talk more about that, because I think that that's right, but I don't know what it looks like.

Jeff: Yeah.

Sacred Space with India.Arie

India.Arie is a prolific singer-songwriter and the winner of 4 Grammy awards, but today on the show we talk about a different dimension of her life that has always been quietly present — her spirituality. What turns a simple object into a meangingful heirloom? How can we tap into the power of ritual to create transcendent art? Check out India.Arie's new music video, shot right here at Commune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWsfL2eI5ns


India: I have a album that I've put out last February called, Worthy and the first single from that album was called, That Magic. There was That Magic, Steady Love, Crazy and Sacred Space. We had the idea of just telling the story of a relationship arc. In That Magic, they meet and that's when everything's all sparkly and fresh and sparks and everything. Then Steady Love, they move in together and you see them fight and makeup and work on their relationship and get engaged and stuff. It's not exactly linear because I had different leading men and stuff, but the arc. Then we had Crazy, which if you listen to the lyrics of the song, it's really about how it really feels to be in a relationship like the every day, every day.

India: Then Sacred Space, I added this song to the Crazy video because it's my favorite one on the album. It's all of my friends who are musicians and spiritual people is their favorite one. It was like a special moment in every concert so I had to find a way to get what I felt my music deserves. I worked with a wonderful company called BMG and so they gave me a budget and a half if I could add Sacred Space. I was a little bit nervous about that because we were trying to find a way to put visuals to something that's really ethereal. For me, Sacred Space, the song is very ethereal. But I think what I have learned about images is that, sometimes it's not about what you see on the screen but how you see it on the screen. Crazy is very colorful and bright with a lot of light beams and you see the couple inside of spaces and being together and laying in the hammock and nature.

India: Sacred Space looks like you're in a dream. It has like a sheen over it, light beams coming off of the skin and fog and dreaminess and glowing white clothes and all this stuff. It looks like a dream. For me, Crazy and Sacred Spaces is the continuation of that story where it's like, even though you found some place where you want to be, what else is there? Sometimes questions come up. Also, for me, in my own journey, I think I'm talking about like, I think this is very common. In fact, I think this is the point of relationships actually. There are things that you never know about yourself until you discover them in a relationship of course. That's kind of what Sacred Space represents as well and there's a lot of symbolism and people are telling me things that they see because it's a little bit open, which I love.

India: Also, we have Reverend Michael Beckwith. In the beginning we were making two music videos but I saw how they could be combined into a short film and Reverend Michael, we went back to him, he was on set of course, we went back to him to ask him to just speak. I have the pleasure of editing his words in my Pro Tools. I chose a segment where he says at the end, "Welcome home and from here you shall not move." That's why I named the short film, Welcome Home and (Crazy/Sacred Space). I had a heavy hand in editing the visuals. I did Reverend Michael's spoken word, I did all of his.

India: In the end the outcome is a vision a little bit different than what we had when we were on set and a little bit different than the director had, which is why I had to stick my hand in because I was like, this is not what I envisioned and you didn't ask me this, but I'm wondering if this could possibly be my last videos or something. I don't know but I'm not in that conventional music business album cycle thing anymore. I don't know and so I put everything I had into these because I wanted them to, for once truly capture my energy. We did real yoga Asana on camera and real meditation on camera. I picked men who looked like the kind of men I would look at twice on the street, not models.

Jeff: I looked at them twice too. Just, if that means everything. They were beautiful men.

India: They were some handsome men. They are. I asked, "Let your gray... let your silver hair show," and they were like, "Okay."

Jeff: Yeah. No, I mean, it shows the heart and the soul shines through and I can see why you might consider not doing another video. I mean, I hope you do and I know that your fans hope you do.

India: Thank you.

Jeff: But I can also understand why this might represent some form of like alluring or a culmination of a lot of different parts of your life. Obviously the musician, the poet, the writer, the creative, the editor, I guess in this particular case or co-editor, but also very much the spiritual side of you that I know because we've gotten to know each other a bit and that you've always projected that. But I think now it's coming to like full culmination or full manifestation. I feel it. I mean you're... it's not oblique. I mean, the first shot of the video, you're sitting in front of a Buddha meditating so you're right out there now.

India: Yeah, I think that I... over these last years, I would consider the music to be the sugar that makes the medicine go down because I would hide a lot of my spirituality in the music and literally just hide it.

India: The more I mature, the less tolerance I have for hiding anything. Many are things that are private, but that's different from hiding. With this video, I just wanted to continue the process of coming out even further about who I am and how I live and what I believe. I went through that process with my songwriting starting in 2009 where I just was like, not... I trained myself to stop being afraid to say certain things on my song writing. Now I'm training myself to not be afraid of certain things in my public persona and how I am in the world. I just want to be all of it.

Jeff: Yeah. Can I share with you my first spiritual connection with your music?

India: Yes.

Jeff: Because I've always been a fan and-

India: Thank you.

Jeff: ... driving with the windows down, pumping the tunes and that level of a fan. But, I think it was in 2016, I was going through some really significant personal change in my life. We were in LA and it was live. I think it was at Oprah hosts the Super Soul sessions and you gave a solo live performance on the campus at UCLA. I was cowering in the back. I was not in like a great place to be honest with you and you sang, I Am Light, just you with your guitar. Those lyrics, I'm trying to remember like, "I'm not the things my family did." I have some of them written, "I'm not the voices in my head."

India: Yeah. "I'm not the pieces of the brokenness inside. I am light."

Jeff: Yeah. I was going through this moment where I was just changing courses in life, but I was so highly identified through my job, the approval of others, what other people thought of me. I just had a moment there connecting with your music that I was able to separate the divine part of me, my divine nature from my ego and say, no, no, I'm not all these other things. On some level I intellectually knew that, but I felt it for the first time there in that theater.

Jeff: When you wrote that song, because in a lot of ways I feel like that song has become incredibly emblematic of your music and I think people's relationship with that song is so deep. Even just, I was reading the YouTube comments on the video and it's like, it's heavy, there's some real emotional stuff. Did you have any sense for the impact that that song would have on people when you wrote it?

India: No. I'm even surprised to hear your story. For me, songwriting is a spiritual work, an actual spiritual work. I pray for my songs, I meditate over them, I pray intentions into them, like literally out loud. The day that I wrote I Am Light it was 12/21/12, which everybody was waiting for. I just thought, I should write something today and I prayed a really big prayer over it that was... almost seemed like ridiculous to ask for. I was just like, "I want this to touch anybody." I don't remember exactly, but it was... I remember feeling like, should I say this? "I want it to touch anybody who has felt any kind of pain that they thought they couldn't make it through or anything that felt so heavy, they didn't know what to do with their..." Things I've always often felt.

India: I don't ever know that those things are answered because I also say, "May God's perfect will be done." I might be asking for something that's not needed or necessary or whatever. Also, when I wrote the song, I thought the words I Am Light were kind of corny. I Am Light, it sounds like a stereotype of a spiritual person in a movie. But, when I get myself into that place where I am allowing the music to emerge and I'm not trying to force it out, I trust what I hear. That's why I get myself, like I pray and meditate first and get myself into a place where I'm not judging anything.

India: I trust what I hear and so I'm like, this is what I hear. I wrote a song around it and when it was done... so often, songs are not done the same day often, but this one took a few hours and when it was done, I just thought it was really beautiful and special and I thought that it captured in a simple way the heaviness of what it feels like to be human, because it's easy to write a song with a lot of words and a lot of verses, it's hard to write a song that's a simple truth. For me, I felt I had captured that because I have a lot of... you heard my... because what I call it is my SongVersation, that's what I did at UCLA that day, where I speak and sing. In that, I talked about the domestic violence in my family life and my history of abuse but I don't say that in I Am light, but I do say I'm not the things my family did to be able to crystallize it.

India: In the simple way, that is what song writing is. I felt when it was done that I had achieved that, like a good song and it also told my perfect truth. But, I also had this training from being in the music industry that was like, if it's not a single, it's not valuable. Because I knew this song was never going to get played on the radio, it's not that kind of song. But what I always forget and what I Am Light has taught me, is that there are so many other places that music lives other than the radio, which is people's hearts. I Am Light surprised me because I accidentally made an album that was too long. Well, the album was called SongVersation, it had too many songs because somebody at the label told me we needed extra songs for target and dah, dah, dah. But they didn't tell me I had to put them all on every album so I couldn't get them off. It made me mad because I worked on the album so hard and then it's not what I meant.

India: It was accidentally too long, but even inside of that, I Am Light still rose to the top and people kept sending messages about that song and it was the last song on the album so they listened. It all surprised me. I did not think it was going to be this way. I thought it was corny in the beginning, but it is the only song of mine that I listen to often. I don't ever listen to my music, it'll be so long. I think, look how my voice was, I was so young and I don't listen to myself, but I listen to I Am Light, all the time. I listened to it today.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, there's obviously kind of a meditative component, just even how the song starts, that your shoulders just drop and your breathing just becomes easy. It's interesting that you say that your first impression of your own work was, maybe a little bit corny but I think it's the distillation of all of these complicated conceptual and intellectual thoughts into something so simple that can be delivered by a messenger like you. That's the rare piece because I would say like Eckhart Tolle, I think he was actually there the same day at UCLA.

India: Yes, he was. I forgot about that.

Jeff: He just sat down in... his stage set up is very Spartan. He just has a chair in the middle and he'll walk on stage and sit in the middle of the chair and say nothing for a good 10 minutes. Just saying nothing is a resting enough until everybody quiets down. He will also just say, "I am." But when he says it, it lands. I suppose that is the hallmark of a transcendent messenger is that you can distill these ideas into something so simple and have them resonate so deeply. I think that's what you did.

India: Thank you. Thank you.

BREAK

Jeff: I think that there is a general way of living in modernity, if you will, that feels very separate from the sacred. It feels very separate from the divine. I think that has its roots in Abrahamic religions and the agricultural revolution and all these other kinds of things. But essentially, God moved up into the sky and here we live in the material physical plain, really separate from all that stuff. Because we don't have great regard for the objects in our life, we treat them as if they're disposable and dispensable, plastic bottles, BIC lighters, and it's no wonder that there's global warming and climate catastrophe because we don't value anything here because it's not sacred.

Jeff: I think that this is why it is so important to have these sacred spaces. You mentioned the photos of your grandmother and your great grandmother, that those aren't just disposable physical items that are devoid of the divine. In fact, that is the divine. We're so used to standardized products. You walk into a Marshalls and there's a dress that looks like just like 900 other dresses or whatever, but it's finding... not that I spend a ton of time in Marshalls to be honest, but I do a three daughters, but to find the parts of life that are unique and interrelated and connected and I think that can connect us more to a life of divinity.

Jeff: Even if we have to go out and toil in what my dad calls [inaudible 00:25:23] or the world of the 10,000 things or whatever, just the sidewalk, the gum infested sidewalks. But it's interesting. Did you minimalize and simplify on purpose in this... where you're living now? Was that a purposeful choice of like, oh, I can just not have too much externality in my life and live more like a monk?

India: You said so many things I want to say [crosstalk 00:26:00].

Jeff: Sorry.

India: I love talking with you. No, I was not thinking about simplifying. I don't know that I even have. Part of that is because I have... you and I were texting about this and we were trying to figure out like this is such a big thing to text about.

Jeff: Yeah, I know.

India: But I have a relationship with a lot of the objects in my life and they are sacred to me. This picture of my grandmother, my great grandmother, my great, great grandmother, my great, great aunt, this photograph, I could photocopy it and it already is a photocopy because my great aunt sent it to me, but like you said, it's not just a thing, it's what the energy it carries for you. I have a lot of things that carry special energy for me, things, actual objects.

India: A big portion of my apartment is a lot of crystals and jewelry and things I've collected, books, first printing of a Maya Angelou book and handmade dolls and just things, objects that are special to me. I don't know that I... maybe some point I will downsize those things, but I'm not living simply, I just downsized. I also wanted to say, because you texted me and asked if I was comfortable sharing the story and I finally just decided if it comes up, I'll tell it. If it doesn't come, I won't tell it.

India: But it's coming up now because we're talking about the sacredness of things. One of the things that... I mean, I guess there's no point in mincing words, one of the things that really bothers me about our contemporary culture is that, it feels like more people than not live a life where there's nothing that they hold sacred. There's nothing that they have reverence for or they're irreverent at the wrong times. It just feels... and it bothers me because I come from a music industry lens so there's a lot of that in the music industry as you know.

India: What you asked me about on the text was something that happened when I held Maya Angelou's, one of her canes. I love Seattle, I lived there for several years but when I was honored to go to Maya's funeral, I met her best friend at the funeral. Her and her best friend were same age, born exactly one month apart. Maya was April 4, Dr. Maxine Mimms is March 4. There was the big funeral, then there was like a small after thing and at the small after thing she got on stage and said, we were best friends and told us all about their birthdays.

India: Dr. Maxine Mimms is this very dynamic woman. She's the Founder of Evergreen State College. She's 92 now, so Maya would have been 92 as well. She's stylish and fun to talk to very wise and beautiful hair, like she's fly. I love her. When she was walking from the stage after she spoke, I put myself in her way and I was like, "I live in Seattle." She said, "Who lives in Seattle?" I was like, "Me." We kept in touch and I finally got to go out to her house. She lives outside of Seattle, like an hour drive. I finally got to go out there and was it 2018? 2017, 2017. It's my first time getting to go out there and she is 92 and has had a really dynamic life so she has all these sacred objects all over her house and she lives right on the water.

India: She has a really old, old tree that her deck is built around like it's sacred space. She has all these stuff and she said going back there and see Maya's canes. She had them all in a two or three cane holder, like the umbrella holder type things. She was like, "Go ahead and check them out, touch them, whatever you want to do." I was looking at all of them, touching all of them, holding them, everything, everything and there was one that I loved that was metal, it had like polished gemstones all over it, like the tumbled kind that you see at the health food store or whatever and just all over this metal, super intricate silver metal cane. That ended up being my favorite one.

India: I took it to the mirror that she had in her living room and I stood there and actually I had on this dress and I had a white wrap. The wrap was tied different, which is the way that I never tied my wrap, I don't know why I tied it that way that day, I guess things, how they go, life. I've been wrapping my hair since I was 15, so to inadvertently just randomly wrap my hair a whole new way is a thing for me. I take the cane, I stand in the mirror and I jumped and I went, "Whoa." Dr. Mimms said, "What do you see?" I said, "I see... I feel like I'm one of you all. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see that I'm one of you all."

India: To me you all is like the women who, as they get into their elder status, become the wisdom keepers but in their younger years, they're the artist and the thinkers and the ones who travel around the world and collect stories and create things and teach people, our artists. Then they take all of that learning into their wisdom years and they become our wisdom keepers and our teachers and our Maya's and our Dr. Mimms. I looked in the mirror and I yelled out, "Whoa," then, "What do you see?" I said, "I see that I'm one of you all." But what I couldn't explain to her was I looked like I was 80. I looked in the mirror... I have a photograph of it, I'm going to send it to you when you get off the phone.

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:32:02]. You showed it to me once.

India: I did show it to you.

Jeff: It is so startling. Your whole face is-

India: I look-

Jeff: ... blind and wizard and you're just thicker and you're old-

India: Holding the cane.

Jeff: Yeah. You're just... yeah, you look like-

India: I forgot I showed you the picture.

Jeff: Yeah, and it is so startling because when you first told me the story, it's such a compelling story, just as you told it again. But there's like a little woo, woo detector in me going off and I'm like, really? Then you showed me the photo and I'm like, oh my, Jeff, never doubt there's a God because that is... yeah, it was startling to see that photo.

India: It was an Important moment for me too because my songwriting partner passed away that night. I was in Seattle to do the show at the Langston Hughes Community Center for Dr. Mimms. There's some people when they ask you to do stuff, you say yes and you go. She asked me to do the show and my songwriting partner also was my guitar player for a long time on the road. Not my whole career but much of it, but we were songwriting partners.

India: He wasn't with me because he was already having health issues. Then I got a call that night that he passed away. I haven't really assessed all of that and what it all meant all put together, but there's something important about that day and what I saw in myself and that he left that day too. There's just something about it.

Jeff: That story from-

India: The idea of the sacred object, I fully believe that if I did not have that cane in my hand, that I don't know that I would have seen into that portal in that moment like the sacredness. Also, I just wanted to say too that Dr. Mimms said she had all the canes because it was a joke between her and Maya, because Dr. Mimms still wears high heels and Maya told her, "You better stop wearing them high heels, you're going to mess up your knees and your feet," you know because they were [inaudible 00:34:13] they were in their 80s when Maya passed and so she said as a joke or as a final playful nod, she left her all the walking sticks.

Jeff: Well don't take umbrage if I send you a cane for Christmas or something.

India: I will not. It will be special to me.

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Jeff: I hope that this doesn't put you on the spot and you can just tell me to screw off if it does. But, I mean, there you are holding Maya Angelou's cane, seeing yourself as a wizard old wisdom keeper, doing something at the Langston Hughes Center, which I didn't even know. To me, that sort of conjures this question, is that, do you feel that it is sort of incumbent upon you in some way to step into the role of the wisdom keeper?

Jeff: I mean, what Ralph Ellison, James [inaudible 00:35:34], Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, I mean, I can go on, especially in the African American tradition where it's been, oh God, so palpable and so precious and important that work. I mean, you've won Grammy's and put out records and you've had a life of incredible achievement. Then, where are you along that road, that legacy road in your mind right now?

India: When you use the word incumbent, does that mean that you are the natural next person to walk into the-

Jeff: Yeah.

India: Incumbent means just naturally inherited?

Jeff: Yeah. It's almost your... I don't want to say it's your responsibility, but do you feel that that is the natural in that really original meaning of the word natural, next step for your life?

India: That's why I wanted to specify the words because we use words but sometimes we mean different things when we use them because I don't see it as a responsibility necessarily, although we can use incumbent that way. But I do see it as a natural next step. I'm trying to explain. For me, I feel that if I continue to be honest with myself about what my next steps are, that that is naturally where I will be and become. These last two years is the first time I've seen people see me anything like that way. Because I feel like when I'm speaking, that I'm talking about regular things but then there are people who are much younger than me or younger than me on a spiritual path and they're like drinking it up.

India: But so much of that are things that I didn't know when I was in my 20s, I was learning that stuff in my 20s and 30s. Now, things that are normal to me are wisdom for other people. It's just now becoming that and I feel like as long as I continue to be honest and continue to learn, continue to go where my heart and soul tell me to go, that I think it is just natural for me. But I also think there's a part of me that feels that even if I didn't want that, that it would be hard to stop it because of the lineage I come from, which is why I keep that picture on my desk all the time because the more I learn about myself, the more I realize I naturally do things that are of my lineage.

India: I come from some very strong wise, interesting women and female lineage, male too but I'm especially connected to my female lineage. I feel like if I just keep being me, that I'm going to be like my aunts and then eventually I'm going to be like my grandmother and then eventually I'll be like my great grandmother. But as we know, freewill can always mess things up, but I've always been a person who... That's really how I started my spiritual path because I wanted to know from a higher power what I was supposed to be doing with my life as a whole. When I was 19 and 20, I started really asking like, what do I do and how do I make the most out of this life?

India: At that time, what I discovered, which I think was the right thing at that time, was that music is also a generational thing in our family, but it wasn't just about making music, it was about what I was going to make music for and what the intention was and what stories I was going to tell and how I was going to add to the world and to myself. I think that that's, I know that that is why I write the kind of music I write and the subject matter and the stories I tell because that's why it is a spiritual work for me because back then it was something that I felt was presented to me as an option that I said yes to.

India: Now, where I am now, I'm looking at my options and what I have the opportunity to say yes to, but it's a little bit harder to see because I have this whole developed life. Is this supposed to be big? Am I supposed to write a bestseller or am I supposed to just write? Am I supposed to go all around the world and talk to everyone or do I just talk to the kids at the school on the corner? I'm trying to understand who I am in this time, but what I do know is that it still comes from that place of listening and wanting to learn and give. I haven't thought about it that way. Thank you for asking that question.

Jeff: Yeah. It's funny, I'm having like, right now just in the world, the where it is with COVID and people are in a great place of need and have a lot of fear and anxiety and man, it's heavy and we're all trying to serve every way we can. Every week I write an email that goes out to a lot of people, like a million people. I pour my soul into it and I put my email, my personal email at the bottom of it, which is probably crazy. Then I spend two or three days answering every single one of those emails that I get in, personally.

Jeff: I don't know really how long I can do that for because right now maybe it's like 500 emails or something but they're not like, hey, how are you doing? That was great. They're like, here's my life. By Tuesday, I'm sort of spontaneously bursting into tears, like a lot of time. Thank God it's Friday that we're doing this because otherwise I'd be a total wreck. I didn't-

India: I've been spontaneously bursting into tears today. [crosstalk 00:41:46].

Jeff: Well if it happens, we're in good company. Misery loves company, as they say. I didn't really understand what I was going through physiologically and then I got on a call with a friend of mine, Marie Forleo, you might know her and she-

India: I met Marie at Super Soul.

Jeff: Oh, yeah. All right. She's like, "Jeff, you have compassion fatigue." She's like, "This is what first responders have and other folks." I'm like, "Huh?" I'm like, "Oh, right." She's like, "You've got to just... you have to take care of yourself first. This is why first responders burn out in a couple of years because it's coming in, they're taking so much in." Believe me, I realize my place of privilege in this equation. I'm hardly on the front line. I'm just doing what I can where I am right now.

Jeff: But I guess that was leading me to a question or an observation because I think as you said, whether you actively step into that role of teacher of like, I'm going to write the great next American novel or personal development book or whatever, people already see... they're already projecting their own spiritual journey onto you. That's already happening. I wonder what your experience is like with that. Does that feed you or drain you or some form of combination of both? Just holding that much space for people.

India: I am shaking my head as you're speaking because I don't get to have this conversation a lot with people, because I don't think unless you are a person who has like that, for lack of better words, invisible interaction with millions of people, unless you have it, you don't know anything, you don't even know it exists. You don't even know that there's an energy that exists. When I became the public eye, I didn't know what I was getting into, I didn't know that that was a thing, that the invisible exchange. I also didn't know that it was going to be this big or that there would be millions of people who listen to my music and had emotional responses and projections. I didn't know at all.

India: For like, I feel like the first 10 years, there was this... the way that it affected me physiologically that I just never knew what to attribute it to because I would think, why am I always so tired? Everybody else gets up and goes to breakfast and they talk and they're dressed at breakfast time and to me it was just confounding how people could have that type of energy. I mean, I also learned that I'm also just a very sensitive person and so not only was I having that invisible relationship, but I'm also very sensitive to everything anyway. I didn't know either of these things about myself.

India: This last 10 years from around 2009 was a really pivotal moment in my life. From 2009 till today, a big part of my spiritual practice has become how to continue to nourish myself given everything that I take on and everything that I give.

Jeff: Yeah. It's funny, my girls... 

India: They just came in?

Jeff: They just came in. I'll tell you about... this is actually a great little funny segue and they're looking at me, a stance for like, dad, when are you going to be finished up?

Jeff: My girls aren't in school and they're bouncing off the walls a little bit. My middle child, Lolly, is a devoted dancer. She loves to dance. My little pipsqueak, Micah, has become her student and every day in this room, Lolly, becomes the task master and for two hours without fail, they never miss a day, she teaches my little one how to dance and they just are religiously devoted to it. It has just been the most precious thing to watch.

India: Love it. So they are like, get out of our studio?

Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, they're looking at me like, dad, come on, hurry it up here. Yeah, I guess the last thing I would say is, I was sick for a chunk of this quarantine, which was uncomfortable just from an anxiety perspective, if nothing else. I started getting into this dude, Moogi. I don't know if you know this guy, M-O-O-G-I.

India: I do. I do. Yeah.

Jeff: He's just become my go to thing. When I was really very sick, I was doing maybe like two hours a day with Moogi, just on YouTube but it like blew me to a whole another place. Sometimes, there are these times in life that seem really uncomfortable but that turn out to be these inflection points of tremendous growth. I've heard you talk about that too and it's just always a reminder that when we're there, when we're at rock bottom, there is a brighter day ahead.

India: I think that's also a wonderful way to regard this stillness because a lot of people have issue being still because when you get still, you start to feel your stuff, but it's like as soon as you do, the fear of the stuff you've been hiding from doesn't last long. For me, I can say. Some of the hardest things I've been through and I had to just stop and look at my shadow, my dark stuff and it lasts a week, literally. Then I'm like, okay, what am I doing next? Who do I call? Okay, so I need to call this person to talk to... it's never as scary as you think and once you have that first experience of facing that darkness inside of yourself, then you realize you can do it again in other areas of your life.

India: I don't fear stillness. My prayer is that there are people in this world who had to go through this time of forced monasticism, like you call it, but that they come out realizing that their shadow is nowhere near as scary as they thought it was. Because people like that, are more potent in the world because you are able to say no to things and yes to things and try things and love bigger because you're not afraid of the darkness, as afraid. I just, I-

Jeff: That's beautiful.

India: That's been the favorite thing about my life and I hope more people can get that too.

Jeff: That's beautiful. It's so funny. Anytime I ever sense any reluctance from you to become that wisdom holder, I just realize you are already there.

India: Thank you.

Jeff: I was listening to a message that you sent me. I think I told you when I was walking through the hills here in Topanga and it was the resonance of your voice as much as anything you said. I disappeared, it was only the world and of course that's the goal of any spiritual practice is to find that sense of self-transcendence, what you found on mountain tops in Hawaii. Sometimes we just get a glimpse of it and that's all we get but it's beautiful. I'm very grateful for my burgeoning relationship with you and you've inspired me and given me a lot to live for so thank you.

India: Thank you.

Urban Coliving with Robert O'Neill

When you fly over a city and see all those backyard swimming pools and barbecues, do you ever wonder: What if we shared more resources? What if we had passionate conversations with people next door rather than someone on social media a thousand miles away? In this episode, Robert O'Neill, founder of Haven Coliving, shares his vision for small urban communities and a return to real human interaction.


Robert O'Neill:  The real vision behind Haven was to create a place for people that want to dedicate their lives to the health and wellness industry to gather together and learn and grow. So one of the things that we've noticed over the years is that the typical path that a lot of people take is maybe you go to high school, you go to college, and then you get out of college and you don't really know what you want to do. Well, health and wellness is one of those industries that people are just passionate about from the very beginning. But there's really no good track to meet peers, learn. There's a lot of stuff online, there's a lot of great podcasts like yours, but in-person interactions are hard to come by.

Robert O'Neill: We built out a house in Venice about a year ago. We wanted to create a place that not only created community but also was a place that was close to work. A lot of gyms, and yoga studios, and meditation centers are on the west side of LA, and it can be pretty unaffordable. So in addition to creating a great community, it's centrally located for people to get to work, meet new people, build their own businesses, build relationships, and grow from there. So we think we've successfully done that. We're opening our second location now in Venice and working on a few more throughout LA.

Jeff Krasno: Interesting. The real world needs a yoga studio in some ways, and I'm dating myself with that reference. And yeah, no, I find that fascinating. I mean, I have a company called Commune, which is obviously inspired in some ways around the notion of cohabitation around like-minded people, with shared resources, shared responsibility. So I'm curious like, how does the actual co-living play out? Where do people live? What are the facilities like? Where do people eat? Paint a little verbal picture of the experience of living in Haven.

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. We took over four houses, single-family homes right next to each other. And we were trying to figure out what the best layout for building a community would be. For the last couple of hundred years, Americans have been prosperous. We've been able to afford our house in the suburbs with lawns, and fences and everything, and it's been great. You can't argue with how beneficial life has become over the last hundred years, but you have to also realize that we've lost some things along the way. That's why we've had a lot of depression and a lot of different kind of things that have popped up in society that maybe weren't present in the world of our ancestors. So how do we build community back in? And really, it's sharing space, having to interact with people, having to have good confrontation, bad confrontations.

Robert O'Neill: When people are on the phone or they're on Twitter or Instagram or one of those things, a lot of this stuff you're walled off a little bit from actually having to make decisions based on, “Well, I have to live with this person for the next year or six months.” So it really challenges you. And so, that's the fun part about it is we created a place that you have to share all of your space. So the kitchens, instead of like looking at another apartment where there's maybe 15 kitchens, we have one kitchen that 10 people, 12 people share at a time.

Robert O'Neill: And so, you have to navigate how you're going to cook, how you're going to clean, how you're going to be together. You share your bedroom with other people. You share the living room with other people. And so, all the space is shared within the house, but there's a lot of space too. There's a co-working space. There's a yoga space studio. There's a gym. There's a theater room. And a lot of people use the theater room for recording things like this and other kind of projects they're working on. So there's a lot of space to utilize throughout the property, but you also have to know that you're sharing it with the community because everybody needs access to all the resources of the community.

Jeff Krasno: Got it. So do people, and not to get too in the weeds exactly on the experience, but I'm wondering, do people have a very, I suppose, small, modest contained private space. Essentially, is one's bedroom one's own, or is it really just everything is shared and accessible by anybody?

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. So within the bedrooms you do share bedrooms with people, but you have much of… you've seen in East Asia Japanese-style sleeping pods, so you have like a three-walled side area that you can close off from everybody, but we're really encouraging you to be out within the community. So the sleeping pods are really for sleeping, and then everything else is to be out and growing.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. I remember one of my initial inspirations for starting Commune, and we are a digital media platform but we also have a physical location up in Topanga, where a whole variety of people live, and we make honey, and soap, and media product, and we hold immersive retreats here. But I was flying over Southern California, I think from New York, and coming in to LAX, and I was looking down at this endless checkerboard of swimming pools. And this was four or five years ago. So we were really in a proper drought at that juncture.

Jeff Krasno: And I was thinking about the use of the swimming pool, and obviously, incredibly wasteful from a water perspective given the context of that time with the drought. But more than that, from a utilitarian perspective of like, how often is a swimming pool even used by a family? Once every few days maybe? And just an average-sized swimming pool, like how many people could that pool actually satisfy? And I was trying to do some rough math in my head, allocating square footage for people or something. And yeah, like 25, 30 people could easily be in that pool having a great time. And then that's when I landed on it. It was like it's not only less wasteful, it's not only more utilitarian, it's also way more fun and much less work to have shared resources: a shared gym, a shared theater, a shared yoga facility. So it seems to check so many different boxes.

Jeff Krasno: I don't know if you've seen heat maps of mega mansions that show where people spend their time, and they spend their time in their bedrooms, obviously sleeping, but then most of the other time is spent clustered in and around the kitchen and the eating area. And in fact, most of the rooms are not utilized at all. They're not utilized. There's almost like a reinforcing vicious cycle there. 

Jeff Krasno:  No, I was just curious as you were visioning this project, this experiment, I mean what were your primary inspirations? Was it environmental, social, solving for like, I don't know, what I would say the excesses of materialism or individual materialism of mega mansions with picket fences around them separating yourself from other people? I'm just curious where the germination of the idea came from.

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. You're totally right about the swimming pool thing, and that's something that we've thought a lot about when we started up. Even something as small as the blender in your house, it gets used 20 minutes in a day, and then it goes up into your cupboard and it doesn't see the light of day again until the next morning, where you're probably going to use it for 20 minutes.

Robert O'Neill: From us, when we first started thinking about like, “What are we providing? What kind of different things do we need to buy for the house?” like buying three or four great Vitamix blenders, those things get used 10, 15 times a day. And it's like usually, one person will buy a Vitamix, it'll sit there and it'll be used less an hour a week.

Robert O'Neill: Right now we have 96 members. People are in, people are out. When people come to the house at first, people are like, “Oh, wow. That seems like a lot of people,” but when you walk in you're like, “Oh. Not everybody is using the space at the same time.” So it always feels calm, and it always feels just a place of serenity.

Robert O'Neill: When you're in the backyard and you're reading a book, you can have interactions with people or you can't, which is pretty interesting when you think about just how much space and stuff we actually do have. But the idea for it actually just came from a feeling of our own in our own lives that we had lost community, we had lost a little bit of just social interactions.

Robert O'Neill: My last company before this one was a tech company, and one of my co-founders came from a tech company. We both had offices that we work, but it was a lot of people we were working with were remote, but we never had interactions with people that weren't over the phone, or online somehow or through email. And we just felt like we were missing something in our own lives, and we were like, “How can we create something that we can get the things that we loved in our life, which was experiences from travel, experiences from college, experiences that really mandates that you have people around you that spontaneous interactions can actually happen. So that was the germination for it. 

Robert O'Neill: I had gone through this phase of I was in front of a computer all day, I wasn't being healthy within my own life, and community and health were two things that I felt like I was missing. And I could see it in a lot of my friends. Even though they may not be in the place to live in community, it was something that I felt like was desperately missing within society. And that was something that we were like, “Hey. Can we create this? Can we create a community of people?”

Robert O'Neill: Not some place that you're going to live the rest of your life, but you're moving to LA, you're in a period of time that you need a healthy, mindful community around you to get you to the next place from where you're at now. That was the idea, and said, “Hey. Can we do it?” Can we do something in a world where most people generally don't like their property manager or don't even know who they are? It's kind a world that you're just like, “Oh. I have a place to live,” maybe it's a great location, but we were thinking, “Well, can you create a community and actually love the place that you are and love the people that you're with?” So far, I think we've done a pretty good job of that.

BREAK

Jeff Krasno: I hadn't thought about it as much as this kind of a transitionary place, where potentially for young people that haven't accumulated a lot of stuff, which is a whole other topic that I want to talk to you about around the accumulation of stuff. But for young people maybe just out of college or in their early professional life, as you say maybe trying to make it as a yoga teacher or within the realm of health and wellness, that this is an affordable place to lend but that provides tremendous resources, both from like you say Vitamixes but also community resources.

Jeff Krasno: So do you find that the majority of your community or your tenants, I don't know if you call them tenants, but are in their 20s, kind of younger, I guess, Gen Z to millennial?

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. A lot of our members, we call them members because we're all members of a community, and so we find that a lot of our members are people either that are new to LA, they want to break into the health and wellness. Maybe they're here because there's somebody they follow they're really inspired by that they want to go train with or learn from, and they're really starting out in the industry. They're figuring out how they can find their own voice and also learn as much as they can.

Robert O'Neill: And I think that's one of the cool things just being in Venice, it's like the center of a lot of new ideas in the health and wellness industry. So they get surrounded by that. And there's people who live and work in the industry already. So in terms of just finding jobs, meeting people, it's an easy transition into lifestyle in California, especially if you've never been here before.

Robert O'Neill: One of the things we do is we try to encourage our members to teach classes to other members. And we've had a number of members that have just finished yoga teacher training somewhere and they taught their first class at Haven because they're comfortable with people around them. It can be scary the first few times that you teach to a class. So we want them to share their gifts with everybody else. And a number of people have just come from the place they got certified and are teaching and Haven now.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. It's interesting because there's been, I suppose this elixir between spirituality or spiritual wellbeing and co-living that goes back generations. You look back to the ‘60s and ‘70s when there was a fringe group of people that started exploring Eastern religions, meditation, yoga. And the purpose of those practices is essentially self-transcendence, a feeling of unity consciousness, or Christ consciousness, a lot of different terms to describe it, but that central metaphor of being a wave in a bigger ocean.

Jeff Krasno: And from that kind of spiritual or psychological place, a lot of these experiments in shared living or communes were established in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And that was a pretty fragile revolution. Not a lot of those experiments actually worked out in the end, for a whole variety of reasons.

Jeff Krasno: So I wonder, if you looked at any models for this and tried to learn from any of the failings, and I suppose it all goes back to human interaction and will people be accountable, will people take on their fair share of the responsibilities? And I guess you could even take that down farther of like, who always clean the kitchen and who leaves it dirty or whatever. But I wonder what the reality is that you're finding. Do you feel that people live up to their responsibilities, I suppose?

Robert O'Neill: One of the things I found super interesting is the power of the community. If you do have somebody who's a bad actor in a small way, the community self-defends itself of like, “These are our standards that we've developed.” And if somebody's being messy or not doing something that they should be doing, the communities for 90% of the time will stand up for itself and say, “This isn't the way,” and maybe some kind of way of some language that somebody uses, just something that is maybe off of what the community wants, there is a ground swell. That people will be like, “We know what our values are. We know what we stand for as a community and with the kind of place we want to live.” And the people that maybe it's not right for, generally self-exit because it's not the place for them, which is fine.

Robert O'Neill: And that's what we really encourage when people come in. As I said, we've lived this way for thousands of years before the last hundred years. So this isn't new for the human race but it's new for millennials because they haven't grown up that way at all.

Robert O'Neill: And so when you come into a community like this, we were like, “Listen, try it out. Stay for a month. Don't make any commitments to it. If it's right for you, stay as long as you want. Stay as long as you feel like you're getting value out of the community and you feel like you can give back to the community.” However long that is. That could be three months, six months, nine months, a year. However long you think it takes for you to feel like you've given everything you can. And that point is going to come someday. You're going to feel like, “I have nothing else to give here, and I feel like I've received as much as I can from the community.” And then we try to support people on their next steps of wherever that is. And so we really try to give people an opportunity to come in with an open mind, and say like, “It's okay if this isn't right for you,” because it's not right for everybody.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. It's interesting. And it's also interesting the way you say about essentially that the community self-regulates. And because it's a certain size, I think you said 96, that there is an accountability. I was reading Russo, not that I do that a tremendous amount, I don't want to sound like too fit to the audience here, but I was reading a little bit of Russo. And he essentially makes claim that democracy, really where it's most effective is in small groups. And that can essentially instill a certain kind of accountability, where you start to get societies of hundreds of millions of people, people don't really feel accountable to each other. So I thought that was an interesting point that you make.

Robert O'Neill: The scarcity now is finding a best friend, getting out of maybe some lonely state that you may have been in. And I'm sure you've seen the studies amongst millennials that it's the loneliest generation that we've ever had. They're the most connected generation that we've ever had, but there's a sense of loneliness amongst everybody.

Robert O'Neill: I don't know what the ultimate cure for that is, how people end up wanting to do that. And I think this whole COVID crisis, it's one of these places that you want to be together, you want to help people out, you want to help your neighbor, but you're told to be six feet apart from each other. So we've never been in this place in society either. It's a lot to navigate, and I think it's a lot to think about where it all goes, and I personally don't know.

BREAK

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Well, I think you're potentially inadvertently solving the issue. Because for me, what seems to be the emergent story here is one of localization, that we need to upturn systems and structures that have been highly globalized and that have given birth to what you call the loneliest generation, where if you're a millennial, you're more likely engaged in a passionate exchange over email, or text, or TikTok, or Instagram with someone halfway around the globe than you even know your neighbor's name. And it sounds like Haven sort of solves for that, because you can't help on some level to know your neighbor's name. You're having real interactions instead of what I think of as private interactions happening in public.

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. One of the things I thought was interesting was that, I was like, “Do people 21, 22, 23, somebody maybe right out of college, are people self-aware that they're on their phones all the time and they don't want that? Or is it they're just gravitating because they think living in community is fun?” And it's funny, a lot of people when they come in, they're like, “I like the fact that nobody has their phones on them right now.” Nobody's staring at their phones. Everybody's playing music, or they're having a conversation, or they're writing or reading.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. I was going to ask you about that. Are there some self or some hierarchical guidelines that you either impose or suggest? Like for example, if you're eating at the community table, that's a no-phone zone, or is again that just self-regulated amongst the community?

Robert O'Neill: We haven't put any guidelines in regarding how much time you have to socialize or you don't have to socialize, and I think everybody gets into it on their own pace. 

Robert O'Neill: The only interesting thing that was kind of a community action that I wasn't really expecting was that we definitely have a no-drug policy on the property or anywhere near the property, but we allowed alcohol because we felt like everybody's an adult, everybody can make their own choices of what they feel is fine. And early on in the community, they said, “We're a health and wellness community.” There are some people who like to drink, and that's totally fine. You can go anywhere in Venice. You can go anywhere to have a drink and do what you want. But when you're here, it's a place of being around people and it's a place to have thoughtful experiences.

Robert O'Neill: They came to us and said, “Hey. Can you make this a rule of just no alcohol on the property?” The community voted, and we put that in. And it's not that it's going to always be there, but that's something I thought was pretty interesting that they came to me and said, “Hey, listen. Let's just make this a rule for the community.”

Jeff Krasno: That is fascinating to me. And certainly, younger generations are less, I think, inclined to drink, and there's probably possibly some more options for relaxation. And of course, marijuana is legal now. When I was a kid, it was always like sneaking behind the dumpster kind of mentality. So I suppose there's other options. But I think that that is a fascinating, and there's this whole sober movement, even people that aren't in recovery. It's not about actually a problem with addiction, it's actually a proactive choice that the younger people seem to be less inclined to socialize around alcohol or use alcohol as a social lubricant, I suppose.

Jeff Krasno: I'm curious what you see from a gender breakdown perspective, if men or women seem to be more likely to take a chance on this kind of co-living.

Robert O'Neill: Right now our community, in terms of space, is 50/50 in terms of available space. But our demand is about, I would say 65% women, which we didn't really know before we came in, but largely the demand of the people that want to move into Haven and women actually tend to stay longer at the house. So our second house that we're opening is going to be a little bit more female heavy in terms of space.

Jeff Krasno: Got it.

Robert O'Neill: Yeah.

Jeff Krasno: And is there a little bit of a love island component to Haven? I mean, do you see romantic relationships forming?

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. We've been open just over a year. We've already had our first marriage. The number one reason for people to move out is they found a partner and they're moving in together. I found it to be pretty cool that we've generated so many really close relationships amongst people that they've fallen in love. So that's been great. It was one of the cool things about it. And not just intimate relationships, but also people have started businesses together. They've started playing music together. So there's a bunch of if it's colder and there's just different sparks of things coming out of it.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about the plans that you have, because I think that you're opening another house in Venice. And I believe there's another one planned maybe in West Hollywood or Culver City. So give me like a little bit of the lay of the land on the vision, and do you expect to expand outside of Los Angeles?

Robert O'Neill: Yeah. I think our original idea was that we would have a community that you can go anywhere and like, “Hey, I'm in New York now,” and you can just move into Haven. I think what we've found is that there's a lot of need in Los Angeles, just for housing in general and flexibility. If you've just moved from Europe or you've moved from anywhere across the US, then if you want to move to LA, it's harder in a lot of different ways. One is obviously finding a place.

Robert O'Neill: The Airbnb can be pretty price prohibitive after a certain amount of time. For a few nights or a week, it works, and then it breaks down. And then the only other decision after that is a year lease. Maybe you can get a six-month lease. But there's nothing in between that of like, “Hey, I want to dip my toes in the water. I want to find a place to live for a month or a couple of months. And if LA works out, I find great relationships, I find that a great experience there, and I want to stay here, I can continue to do that.”

Robert O'Neill: We have added a lot more demand than we've had space, and so we've kind of like are really just looking to build out a presence in LA as much as possible, just because we already have a great community here. I think the community builds additional great communities, because we already have the seedling of people who understand the values and mission. In our new place, we're encouraging anybody who wants to move from our original location here to set the baseline of new people who are moving in and what to expect. So we hope to have five or six locations in LA open by the end of the year, which would be the west side of LA, as well as West Hollywood and Silver Lake, and we're negotiating a few properties now.

Jeff Krasno: Yeah. No, you're absolutely right. There's obviously massive housing shortages in Los Angeles. And I don't think Los Angeles is alone in that regard, but certainly there's a lot of need to address right here. And of course, for health and wellness, it's pretty much the capital of the world.

Jeff Krasno: How has it been during COVID? I mean, obviously shelter in place is quite different in a co-living experiment versus in your own home. So I'm curious around what that experience has looked like.

Robert O'Neill: Well, I think it's been pretty hard on a lot of our members, because all of our members are focused on fitness and wellness industry. That's been hit pretty hard from the beginning. 

Robert O'Neill:  And we early on when it first happened, we said, “Hey, listen. Anybody who wants to move out or just uncomfortable living in community, we get it. We'd love to have you back when you feel comfortable.” But we ended up just saying, “Hey. If you want to move on out, we'll refund your money for whenever you want to leave, and then just come back when you're ready.”

Jeff Krasno: Yeah, no, absolutely. My wife owns three yoga studios, all of which are closed. Obviously Wanderlust Hollywood, the facility I built over in Hollywood has closed. And all of those facilities have 20, 30, 40 teachers associated with them. Our facility up here in Topanga where we host retreats, we were booked every weekend for three or four months. Of course, all of those are canceled.

Jeff Krasno: So yeah, the impact on teachers in the wellness space has been real. And obviously, you've seen an efflorescence of online activity. But that's tricky because there's just so much competition. And I think what you've pointed out, I think early on, is that the wellness space is a very attractive and exciting space, but it is very fractured in a lot of ways. And I think that's why what you're providing is so important for community and alliances to naturally build. As a sole-proprietor teacher trying to make their way, stay close to the work, but also make a living it's very difficult, very demanding, particularly in this time. So hopefully, the community that you're providing provides some solve for people right now, and I'm sure it does.

The Fourth Way with Biet Simkin

Raised by a shaman in New York City and signed to Sony Records at 19, Biet's life has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, clarity and addiction. Now dubbed the “Lady Gaga of Meditation,” her approach to spirituality is pragmatic and practical: You will find enlightenment within your life's circumstances, and nowhere else. It's not about changing the facts of your life, but working with and within them.


Biet Simkin: My family emigrated from a communist Russia in '79. I was born a month later. They had literally emigrated a month before. My dad had cured himself of tuberculosis in the woods of Russia with a secret shaman. He was this newfound Torah reading Jew and mystic and newly God-believing. He had always been an angry chain-smoking atheist. This was this huge transformation.

Biet Simkin: He had actually decided to have circumcision because, in communist Russia, that wasn't something that was being done at the age of 40 with no anesthetic to prove his Judaism to God or whatever. And so, he had just had unanesthetized circumcision, and my mom went into labor with me. She gives birth to me in this hospital which is Elmhurst Hospital which is basically the seat of the coronavirus right now which is so…

Biet Simkin: Gives birth to me in a couple of hours. My mom was more like a baby machine. She just popped babies out pretty easily. She calls him up after the two-hour labor or whatever and was like, "I just had your daughter. So, please come to the freaking hospital." My dad's like, "I can't walk." He had this unanesthetized surgery. She's like, "Yeah. You're going to come here now." He hobbled over to the hospital to meet me.

Biet Simkin: Anyway, that's how it all started. Then, soon after that, she passed away of pancreatic cancer out of nowhere. Anyone who's ever dealt with pancreatic cancer knows that it's not a thing where for years you get to write letters and have feelings. You literally get the diagnosis. Then, right after that, you die. She died. Then, everyone else died. My whole family came here with two sets of grandparents. You talked about music. My grandfather was the first chair violinist for the Leningrad Philharmonic which again because of communism also isn't a great way of making a lot of money which is ironic because it couldn't be a more prestigious position.

Biet Simkin: But they came here, all of them. Within a couple of years after my mom's death, everyone was dead except for my brother and my father. My brother became this angry metal head as a result of what happened. My father was this awakened shaman guy. A lot of people when they lose a parent, they end up with a parent. I ended up with an awakened shaman. It would be like if your whole family dies and then you end up with this person who's like, "You know, there is no meaning to anything, and everything is made of oneness."

Biet Simkin: But he wasn't just fucking around. He wasn't some guy who was a hypocrite. He genuinely was in that state 24 hours a day. I studied with him my whole life, but I don't think I was able to deal with how much pain I was in from having lost my whole family and the poverty and the heaviness of being an immigrant and all the feelings that I had.

Biet Simkin: When I was in high school, all that stuff I started making music to deal in poetry, to deal with all that pain and reading philosophy and all that. I got signed to Sony when I was 19 years old for singing, singer/songwriter. That led me into a 10-year bout of debauch New York City nightlife, high society DJ, in the fashion world, art scene, all that stuff, but hardcore drugs were a big part of all of that. I was still pursuing spirituality.

Biet Simkin: I think if you talk to anyone who want to hung out with me during that time, some of which those people liked me and others didn't, but they would have said that I was this weird person who spoke about the meaning of life at 7:00 in the morning on cocaine, that kind of person.

Biet Simkin: That happened. Then, inside of that, I had a near-death experience. I also had a daughter who died of sudden infant death syndrome when I was 26 years old. Then, my house burnt down. Then, my best friend hung himself. My father died out of nowhere of a heart attack.

Biet Simkin: All of those things happened very quickly over a period of about two years, but I was just so self-absorbed and addicted. To me, it felt like good reason to continue doing heroin and to do more heroin. I lost the baby. I was like, "Heroin." I lost my friend, and I was like, "Heroin."

Biet Simkin: It was just everything felt like a reason to do more heroin. Then, one day, I don't know how, but about 11 years ago, I just had this. I was doing Gurdjieff work, the work that my work is based on today, the Fourth Way. I was just doing divided attention and divided attention and divided attention. One day, I just had this white light moment where I floated up and saw myself from above.

Biet Simkin: For the first time, I could see that I was this depraved drug addict that my life was going nowhere and that within 10 years, I could see... I was 29 at the time, and I was like, "Huh. At 40, I'm not going to be where I want to be." I wanted to have a rich successful life and a husband and children, and Lord knows what else.

Biet Simkin: I just did the math really quickly. I was like, "Oh, wait." I think that if I just keep doing heroin every day for the next 10 years, at 40, I'm definitely not going to be in that position. I'm going to be in a very different position. That realization dragged me into sobriety. I got sober 11 years ago. That was the beginning.

Jeff: Yeah. I've read that, I think, literally, that you were meditating in diapers very much because of your father's influence. It wasn't as if you were unaware of other forms, I suppose, of tools that could give you the same connection that you probably were using drugs to try to actually find and achieve, but during that whole period while you were chasing fame and fortune and as you called that debauch decade, were you practicing meditation and other forms of, I guess, wellness modalities?

Biet Simkin: Oh yeah. I was leaving Bikram classes to go snort cocaine. One of my best friends, she's an heiress to one of the largest art fortunes in the world. Of course, you would think that person would want to spend time with me in the projects which is where I had one of my estates then was in the Chinatown projects. She would come down there with me. There was one event I remember specifically. She was dating some guy, whatever, some, I don't know, some irrelevant dude.

Biet Simkin: He was on crack, and she was on crack. They were smoking crack in my living room. I was doing a bunch of heroin. I did this heroin. Then, I walked away. I sauntered out of the living room. I was like, "I'm going to go meditate." I walked off to the bedroom to go meditate on heroin. I thought to myself, "What is wrong with them doing crack? They're so beneath me and blah, blah."

Biet Simkin: Then, I woke up after meditating and then sleeping for whatever amount of time that heroin has you sleep nine hours, and I walked back into the living room. They had just run out of crack and having a major fight about how they were going to acquire more crack cocaine at that time. Now, it's 2:00 PM the next day basically.

Biet Simkin: My point of telling this story is to say that, yes, I was doing those things, but I was too lazy and self-absorbed to do it in a way that required payment. For anyone who is listening to this podcast, I think we can all relate to really not wanting to delve into the discomfort of real work. No one wants to do an hour and a half of strength training Pilates and yoga. No one wants to do hot and cold showers every day. No one wants to wake up early and meditate for 45 minutes and then do breath pranayama.

Biet Simkin: No one wants that, but then they want the riches of the life that affords them for free. The truth is I did get that. When you snort heroin, when you do LSD, when you take mushrooms, you get all those perks. The price you pay is the complete destruction of your life, your body, your mind and a distance from your soul that you never ever want.

Jeff: I know because you talked about you delineate between different kinds of suffering in your book. It sounds like, at some point, you made the bargain and you traded drugs and alcohol and that lifestyle for some degree of what you call conscious suffering. Is that a fair understanding?

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I think it was baby steps. Whatever I thought conscious suffering was 11 years ago when I got sober, I think I knew that if time went on, my practice would become more and more enlarged. I don't know if you could relate, but I feel like as I become greater and greater at life, the price that I paid for that on the conscious suffering end is higher and higher.

Biet Simkin: It's not the 15 minutes of meditation that I did 11 years ago is going to cut it now.

Jeff: Yeah. It does seem though that, and I'm not sure I would attribute or ascribe this to drugs, but that you had certain kinds of mystical experiences throughout your life that were very important inflection points. I wonder, for example, I think I read in your book where you were hearing a voice every night for a certain series of nights that essentially instructed you not to eat. Maybe, you could tell that story. You'll tell it better than me, but that it was because of this mystical experience that you had that actually led to an incredibly important health discovery in your life.

Jeff: I wonder were you always having those sort of celestial or mystical kinds of experiences or do you think drugs played a part in helping you understand and see the world outside of the limitations of your five senses?

Jeff: I mean I'm not here to necessarily recommend drugs, but I wonder if you make a connection there of like, "Oh yeah, I was opened up to another way of receiving messages of the universe because I was able to expand my mind outside of my limited instruments to perceive reality."

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I would say that's true, but I wouldn't say it was because of drugs. If anything, drugs were like evidence that what I had known to be true my whole life was true. It's like I remember having white light experiences and feeling very connected to the celestial plane growing up. Then, when I did mushrooms in LSD in high school age, I was like, "I was right. It's true." It wasn't like I was seeing something for the first time. I was just being vindicated. Is that the word? It was proven.

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I did have had white light experience as quite a few. I don't know if anyone can relate to this or if you can relate to this, but in between those white light experiences, I had life. That was the thing that I couldn't bear. I could bear white light experiences. I could bear celestial states. It was life that really tripped me up like rent, work, money, hot bods, getting what you want, going for it, ambition, like, showing up sunlight that was really creepy to me at some point in my life like daytime just freaked me out. It just seemed like too much pressure.

BREAK

Jeff: Then, you had a moment of, I guess, 11 years ago. You just went clean because that's I would say rare to just have the ability to go cold turkey from a place of rock-bottom, but is that how it worked for you?

Biet Simkin: Yeah. It literally went cold turkey. I implemented several tools that I know that I wouldn't have gotten sober without, like, community and meditation. I did things non-negotiably during that time. I went through spiritual practices. I had a spiritual teacher, but yeah. it was over. I had some bouts where I was trying to figure it out. I started trying to get sober in November of 2008. I really got sober in January 2009.

Biet Simkin: There was about a two-month period where I was like, "Maybe, I could do ecstasy." But I had been sober long enough. I had 21 days. I was counting the days. I had 21 days of sobriety when I did ecstasy. I was standing in my bedroom naked with the guy that I had been dating on and off for nine years or whatever.

Biet Simkin: I'm standing there naked on ecstasy in complete shock and looking at him and being like, "Oh my god." This is not as good as sobriety. This guy is not an addict at all. He was like, "What are you talking about?" He just didn't care at all. I was like, "This is it." That day was the last day I ever did anything. The next day was January 31st, 2009. I have just never picked up a drink or a drug after that.

Jeff: Wow. The Fourth Way, to be honest, I wasn't particularly familiar with it until I started reading your book. I wonder if you could describe a little bit of its origin, what it actually means and how you're thinking about it.

Biet Simkin: Yeah. It's a philosophical system. It was brought to the Western world by a man named Gurdjieff who was this really intense crazy cult leader type of guy. He was the teacher of other crazy cult leaders such as Osho and my teacher. He was my father's teacher. I studied his work and the work of Fourth Way with my father growing up.

Biet Simkin: Fourth Way is basically just a philosophical system which my book is basically a dial down easy-to-understand version of, but the idea that we're living underneath these laws, and these laws are created by being a human on this particular planet. These laws don't exist elsewhere. They exist here as a result of the solar system that we live in and as a result of the glandular system that we have within our bodies.

Biet Simkin: There's a map inside of Fourth Way we're king of attuning those two things, the glandular system with the solar system and how those two things are matched. Well, some of the things that really drew me to Fourth Way work is that it's based on verifications and not based on [woo-woo 00:18:41] in the sense that like astrology, for instance.

Biet Simkin: If I'm an astrology person, then I say to you, "Oh, you were born October 6th, 1975. Okay. Well, then that must mean that you're really organized and you're Moody or whatever." But with Fourth Way, it really has just a system of inquiry. It's a system of, "Okay. We believe you're underneath this law." Let's say you're underneath the law of lying or you're underneath the law of whatever, the law of seven which is the law of success.

Biet Simkin: Here, we're going to teach you the system. Then, go out into your life and just see whether you're underneath this law or not. I love to the practice of Fourth Way because it was applicable to my life, and they always said inside the teachings if this doesn't ring true for you or if you can't verify this in your own life, uh, then throw it away. Don’t worry about it. Just focus on the things that you can verify.

Jeff: That's interesting. I suppose it alloys the spiritual and the empirical on some level where it's not just like, "Well, I'm going to read some dusty old tech with the blind faith that a man with a beard in a Merlin's cap might eventually open the doors into heaven," which seems far-fetched but full of beautiful mythology that has been useful and wonderful truths, but this feels more like a scientific or empirical roadmap to success. Here's the principle. You do this. You'll get this which feels reliable.

Biet Simkin: It's strong. It's also very Western. Obviously, like any spiritual person and anyone on a spiritual pursuit began my journey with Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism. I read all of those texts. I read the Bhagavad Gita. I was like, "This is me." I still feel very at home when I go to Amma, the hugging gurus ceremonies and stuff. I love chanting and the shaking of the bells and all the Hare Krishna stuff. I love that stuff.

Biet Simkin: But I could tell on some level that there was a bullshit level, bullshit factor for a Western person who was of a Jewish descent to be pursuing those things without any... You know what I mean? There was just this hipster with a trucker hat irony going on there. It's like you're not from a place where trucker hats even exist. You're some privileged fucking Brooklynite.

Biet Simkin: I felt like that. I felt like, wouldn't it be more radical to pursue a study that's based in Western art and in Western teachings and in the [Medicis 00:21:44] and in the Bible because it felt also... I think sometimes when we're on a spiritual pursuit if you do something that's exotic, that may feel like the cool thing to do, but I think, sometimes, the weird, icky like, "Oh, now, I'm studying the Torah," there's nothing glamorous about it. Then, that's where I found the most juice is actually looking at things that I aren't very glamorous.

Jeff: Yeah. Then, you, I suppose, leveraged some of your work and your study of the Fourth Way. I guess the before we move on, the other thing that I think that's interesting about the Fourth Way is that it is very engaged in the active modern life versus a platonic contemplative life of a recluse in a cabin in the Santa Monica Mountains. That's me right now, but that it sees this one spiritual path is very engaged within society, not removed from society. Is that correct?

Biet Simkin: Yes. Fourth Way is the way of the householder. What I loved about COVID when COVID began is turning to my Fourth Way wisdom and Fourth Way bedrock was like Fourth Way doesn't guarantee circumstances. It says your life is the circumstances under which you will either find enlightenment or not find enlightenment.

Biet Simkin: If you can't find it during COVID, then you're not a Fourth Way student. You're actually just a bullshit artist because the idea also is like as a Fourth Way student, you're saying, "I'm not giving up my life. I'm not giving up my income. I'm not giving up my real estate purchases. I'm not giving up my shopping at Barneys unless of course they go bankrupt." I am in it to win it. I'm in it for Grammys, Oscars, you name it.

Biet Simkin: That's actually part of the whole Fourth Way mentality is that it's a secret spirituality that's happening in the faces of our leaders of the people who are actually up to shit in the three-dimensional world. That really drew me to it. I felt like, "Okay. I could get with that because at least, then, I don't have to throw out the scariest thing I have going for me which is my ambition.

Jeff: Yeah.

Jeff:  It seems that one of the very central tenets that you established early in the book, but that weaves its way through so many of the different laws in your practice is this notion of divided attention. Can you take a few minutes and talk about what that is?

Biet Simkin: Yeah. Why don't we just do divided attention for a moment together? Basically, notice your body where it's seated. You feel your shoulders. Then, just if you're looking at the screen like I am take one attention to be gazing at me, I'll take one attention to gaze at you. Then another attention, take to any sounds that may be around.

Biet Simkin: Then, with yet another attention, notice your breathing. Now, try to do all of those at the same time gazing, listening, feeling your body, breathing. With a final attention, and this is the one that really is the tool that puts it all into gear. Float above yourself with your imagination and try and see yourself from above. Imagine that you and I are in a movie like some Czech movie from the 70s. We could see ourselves from above. See the curve of our face the way that we gaze , the way our body is seated.

Biet Simkin: Then, try to do all of those things at the same time. For anyone who's listening to us right now, if you've tried this with us, it does change your state pretty instantly. This is the kind of code of the secret mystical work. I have done that exact practice in front of audiences of thousands of people.

Biet Simkin: I have done that exact practice when I was in the face of something that I thought was way more exciting than I could handle with my personality self. I've done it while cooking eggs. I've done it while having sex. I've done it while shopping. I've also done it in more uncomfortable situations such as looking at spreadsheets or doing workouts in the morning that I don't necessarily want to be doing.

Biet Simkin: Something about that allows us to say, "Okay. I'm going to have a spiritual practice." What happens inside of my life is not going to... I don't need to stop everything I'm doing. Go sit in lotus. Light some incense. Read some scripture. I do all of those things because I feel like it, but I don't have to do them. Enlightenment is available to me as long as I use these tools of divided attention inside of all circumstances.

Jeff: Yeah. Would you describe it on some level as cultivating the observer's mind and essentially being able to put some space between you and your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts and being able to be the experiencer of those things, but not to be those things, essentially to be the witness, the subject object kind of relationship that is sometimes referred to in Buddhism? Is it a similar phenomena?

Biet Simkin: It can be, I think the thing about divided attention is that it's just a tool. It's like meditation in it of itself in that it doesn't garner the exact same results each time. It does garner the effect of the effort. Will never be forgotten the efforts that we made, but then in another chapter of the book called Self-Remembering which is really remembering who you truly are like you're describing, seeing that you are the observer, that is a phenomenon that I would put under the grace category.

Biet Simkin: It's sort of like when a third force enters and you feel like with every sense in your body, you can truly remember who you are. Divided attention doesn't necessarily produce that effect 100% of the time, but it's like a practice. You just do it all the time. Then, sometimes, white light.

Jeff: Can you talk a little bit about the law of identification because I think this one is just massively prevalent in humans in the 21st century and what that means and then how you go about verifying it?

Biet Simkin: Sure. Identification is a really good one because it bites you in the butt. We get identified with all kinds of things, but I'm so curious if you could ask me or tell me more about because you read about it. What about it struck home for you?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean despite all of my work on myself and practices that I undertake on a regular basis, I still have a healthy ego that rears its head that bases my own identity in the approval of others which is often attached to some form of status or that I may or may not have a job title or something that I have some form of my resume or credential essentially something that doesn't really define the experience of what it is to be me, but it's still that I cling to as a form of identification.

Jeff: Jeff started Wanderlust, whatever. Okay. Great, and that I have a certain identification with that, that gives me some sense of boss pride or self-value. But at the end of the day, that can easily come and go. It has. For me, that's where I resonate with that idea of I'm identifying as particular things that the world then approves or doesn't approve. I base my identity in those things instead of really just being at home with my true authentic self.

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I really relate to that. I think that is exactly what this law is about. Well, it's really... I don't think that it can completely go away. I feel like the law... But again, these are laws that don't go away. If you read my book for the rest of your life every day infinitum, you'll never be like, "Oh, good. I got that one down." They just returned on new levels and new ways, but I feel like identification is like riding a wave.

Biet Simkin: It's constantly bringing you up and then crashing you down and then bringing you up and then crashing you down. I think it can be very painful as ego-driven people like we are, and I am, to let go of that... It's the sympathetic nervous system parasympathetic nervous system addiction. I feel like what I've come into contact with the law of identification most recently is that I have an addiction to the sympathetic nervous system.

Biet Simkin: I'm willing to go there. I'm willing to do things that bring me there. It's been really a release of saying like, "I don't want to be identified with things that are going to draw me away from my parasympathetic nervous system."

Jeff: Yeah. Right, that you may feel a certain kind of resentment, for example, for someone that has wronged you and that, that resentment becomes almost this twisted place of comfort where all night long, you can brood over that which as you say puts you right in your sympathetic fight-or-flight cortisol-fueled reality which is its own form of addiction.

Jeff: We become extremely comfortable in that discomfort and until, I think, we can develop some of these practices. When I go back and I think of that notion of divided attention, I try to then isolate the fact. When I am brooding over some form of resentment, I'm like, "Jeff, don't be that resentment." I mean someone else might have wronged you, but you're the one that's getting burned right now.

Jeff: What you need to do is witness it, separate yourself from it, and realize that it's going to come and go. You might feel this resentment now, but it's just a cloud. Be the sky. I think when you can develop patterns that can bring you out of those places of negative comfort, you can live a much more fulfilling and happy life.

Biet Simkin: I completely agree. Yeah. But it's a trade off, and it's a sacrifice. That's what, I think, a lot of people don't understand about spirituality is that it when people ask me what I've sacrificed, I remember having a talk with a family member of mine where they were like, "Well, they think of sacrifice as giving up like ice cream." I think of sacrifice is giving up things that are terrible like passive and self-absorption and overindulgence and snacks and laziness and fucking like social climbing.

Biet Simkin: I mean the list just goes on and on of things that I have totally engaged with in my life, but those are the sacrifices, to sacrifice the qualities that make me feel safe and secure but are destructive, self-destructive and all based in fear. That's a sacrifice. I think people just think spirituality is all about becoming a better person. It's actually less about becoming a better person. It's just about not being such a dick all the time.

Jeff: Yeah. It feels that one of the things that I've been playing around in my head recently goes to the nature of consciousness. Is the innate nature of consciousness neutral or is it good, love, empathy, compassion, et cetera? When I read your book, my sense is that we are cultivating a place of neutrality in our lives that we can access these more easily and that from that place of neutrality because we don't need anything from the world, then, it is easier then to focus our consciousness on love and compassion.

Jeff: But, really, we return to this place that is very neutral. Can you help me unpack that a little better? Talk about that a little?

Biet Simkin: I think it's like neutrality, but also with a taste of love and bliss. It's not so because I think neutrality can be seen as literally nothing, but I do feel like there's also a tinge of beauty and lust, not lust like in the dangerous evil sense, but lust for life and deliciousness. I feel like that's the soul. Our soul is this beautiful little... In the work that I teach, we talk about it like a little white horse that's been locked up in a barn with no sunlight its entire life.

Biet Simkin: When you pull the soul out, it's like very feeble and it hasn't seen the light of day a lot. If you think about your life and you look back and you think, "When was my soul really present for whatever thing I was up to," whether it was a dinner or a festival or a lovemaking experience or whatever you were doing, when was your soul actually there?

Biet Simkin: If you're really honest with yourself, you're going to notice that it's not everything. It's not like your soul was like in it to win it with everything you've ever done. It's about cultivating comfort so that your soul can feel safe being not just a member of your life, but running your life like actually coming in and being like this is where we want to go.

Jeff: Yeah. I'm glad that you describe it that way because, sometimes, the pursuit of consciousness of sort of a neutrality-oriented consciousness is sort of a value neutral consciousness feels like a very cool pursuit. There's not a lot of passion and as you say lust, but in the lust for life kind of way. I'm not sure that the life that we're looking for is one of complete and utter detachment.

Biet Simkin: I don't think that's possible because we're human. I just think it's a bunch of bullshit honestly. I feel like humans are, like you said, you created Wanderlust. There's no world in which that didn't happen. Do you know what I mean? That happened in my world about you. That happened in your world about you. There's all those pieces and I just feel like we're lying to ourselves when we don't admit that those things are interesting to us or delicious to us.

Biet Simkin: On some level, every person listening to this and everyone that they've decided to have in their lives has something about them in the 3D world that makes them appealing to them.

Jeff: Yeah, and define, I suppose, who they are. This is another concept that I've been grappling with a bit which is that are we the sum of our experiences or not, or are all the stories that we've lived through, are those just sort of the contents of consciousness, but that's not who we actually really are? All we really are is sort of the experience of transitory phenomenon happening moment to moment.

Jeff: I'm trying to understand who the fuck I am basically. I'm just experimenting to and fro. That has started to play central stage in my life of whether or not the stories that I tell myself about my past even really exist or not.

Biet Simkin: Right.

BREAK

Jeff: All right. Death, we're going to try to tackle death.

Jeff: It's been on my mind a tremendous amount. I actually did some research on the black death which was the plague that happened in the 14th century mostly in Europe, but that killed somewhere between 150, 200 million people, and significant. Humans viewed death much differently than they do now.

Jeff: There was sort of a helpless resignation to death because death was the Providence of God and that God essentially decided when it was time to go and that the black death in and of itself was created by God not as a virus that started in a Wuhan market or something like that, but that it was created by God and the believers lived and the non-believers perished.

Jeff: We have obviously since kind of the advent of science and enlightenment-based principles like reason and rationality and medicine and all that kind of stuff, we tend to think about death very differently in modernity where we don't really ascribe it to God. We think about it in terms of medical and physiological terms of it's generally like someone's fucking fault if you die. It's like I overate or I made the wrong lifestyle choices or the doctor screwed up or whatever that is essentially very much in the realm of human instead of the realm of God.

Jeff: That has really changed the way that we think about meaning in life because when death was sort of the Providence of God meaning happened in the afterlife, in heaven or hell or in reincarnation, but now that we feel such a strong control over our own death, our own mortality that it seems like we ascribe more meaning now to this life that we have this lifespan of 80 to 100 years.

Jeff: That makes us do things. I think that makes us live in a lot of fear because we're so worried about death. You're younger than I am, but, certainly, when I grew up, there wasn't as many seatbelts and helmets. There was tons of diving boards. We were just in the back of the fucking pickup truck jumping or going crazy.

Jeff: There's been this kind of ever well-intentioned, but constant layering of safety and safety and safety. Now, in COVID-

Biet Simkin: [crosstalk 00:50:13] worse now.

Jeff: Now, it's like the whole next level of masks and elbow bumps and social distancing and where are we willing to go with this, are we essentially willing to succumb to total surveillance in the name of denying death? Anyways, I'll stop there and wonder if that elicits any thoughts from you around how you have thought about death.

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I love what you're saying. I too have often pondered these like the seatbelt helmet phenomenon, and what everyone's predicting is coming, oh my god, or like even post-9/11 what we have to endure to get on a fucking plane. I mean it's insanity.

Biet Simkin: Everyone died in my life. I don't take my life for granted. I think a lot of people maybe do because they just haven't endured the amount of death that I have. They just think I'll probably live tomorrow. I've never thought that. Every day when I go to sleep, I'm just like not really certain there's another day coming.

Biet Simkin: Every day when I wake up, I'm pretty shocked. Sometimes, I wake up and the first thing I do is I'm like, "Oh, my god. I can't believe I'm going to die one day." That's the first thought that I have which maybe because I'm Jewish, but [crosstalk 00:51:34] of my grandparents being shot and thrown into ditches and my great grandfather was shot in the head by Stalin's regime in front of my grandmother's eyes. I have so much death in my life.

Biet Simkin: What that has helped me with is that when COVID started, I was just like, "I just don't understand how this is different from before." It feels exactly the same to me. I woke up. I could die, and I'm still here. Then, I'm going to die one day. That's all that I really know.

Biet Simkin: With that said, I just feel like it's not about, yeah, I don't think life is worth preserving on that level. I do believe in God. Again, I'm not a religious person, but I do believe that we have an expiration date. I don't think that expiration date changes given how many things we endure. For instance, even if I got COVID and even if I got really, really sick, if I wasn't meant to die at this age, if I wasn't meant to die of COVID, I won't die. That's just how it's going to go.

Biet Simkin: I had a baby a year and a half ago, Baby Kash, who you've met. After she was born, I went through a near-death experience after she was born. For a week, I was literally on death's door. I don't know what happened something with my uterus. Took me to the ER several times. No one knew what was going on.

Biet Simkin: After a week, it just stopped, but it was the sickest I've ever been in my whole life, ever. I prayed to die that's how sick I was. I literally was like, "If this is really how it's going to go, God, just take me." I didn't die. All this is to say it doesn't fucking matter. It doesn't matter how sick you get. I've had near-death experiences. I've taken too much heroin. I've mixed heroin with cocaine. I've speedballed. I've been in fast moving cars. I've been arrested. I've been in jail. I've been almost raped. I've been mugged at gunpoint. I've had all this shit happen to me, and I'm still here.

Biet Simkin: I'm like, "Look. I'm going to fucking die when it's time, and there's nothing I can do about it," because I remember after my daughter died, my first daughter, Ula, I ran through that fucking memory over and over and over thinking what if I just hadn't given her to the baby daddy. What if I had just stayed with her? What if I ran through it thinking what could have I done differently to keep her alive?

Biet Simkin: What I finally concluded after years of insane ruminating was there's nothing I could have done. It doesn't matter if I stood on my head, read a tarot deck, did a witching well, got sober in AA, it doesn't fucking matter. She would have died because that's what happens when people are meant to die.

Biet Simkin: I think taking on that celestial level, taking aside, you can put on a seatbelt. In Jewish tradition, they say this thing which I love which always really supports me. They say, "If you're meant to die, you will die, but that doesn't mean we don't put a railing around the balcony." We just put it there, but we just help. We help the process as much as we can. If I'm going to drink kale juice and do Pilates for an hour every day and meditate for half an hour every day and live a life that's esteemable and filled with achievements and in pursuit of greatness, that's great, but I don't take it for granted that it could be taken from me at any minute.

Jeff: Yeah. Does your life now surprise you? I mean you have a wonderful partner, Kristoff, right?

Biet Simkin: Yeah.

Jeff: And a beautiful little baby. I guess, from the outside, it's a bit more tame. Is that a surprise to you? How do you deal with it given just the speed at which your life has traveled at times?

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I think I made a switch. I feel like what's surprising to me most again is that communion between myself and the divine. I don't know if you have this experience, but sometimes, when the universe is speaking through me, I'll literally be surprised by what's coming out of my mouth. That's a moment when I know that synergy is happening.

Biet Simkin: I also feel that when certain meetings occur, like, when I meet the right people at the right time and magical things come out of those meetings or when I win an award or when Simon & Schuster's like we want to give you a book deal, that kind of stuff is the now version of what used to be destruction.

Biet Simkin: I do believe that we have a choice. We can live a life where... I had to switch it out my heroes. I was just talking to someone about this the other day. I always thought that I was going to be Basquiat. It just didn't work for me and also didn't work for him. He's dead, but I really thought that was something to live for.

Biet Simkin: One day, it came to me that I actually want to be like Mr. Rogers. That was so gross when I had to admit that because as I was like, "Mr. Rogers. You couldn't even get through an episode of that guy when you were a kid. Now, you want to be like him?"

Jeff: Well, he's a hero now. There was actually quite emotional film on him. It's not a badge of shame. Yeah. Do you think that consciousness are essentially awareness of yourself as the experiencer of phenomena in life? Did that just spring forth from a certain lucky combination of atoms or is there a form of divine intelligence?

Jeff: I know that you believe in God. We talked about how you experience God, but I guess what I'm trying to get at is when my corporeal, when this meat wagon ceases to exist, right now, it houses my consciousness in a way that it takes at different places. It'll take it across the room. It will take it to the bathroom. It will take it on a walk. It'll take me right here. When this corporeal form is no longer able to transport my awareness, what the fuck happens to it?

Biet Simkin: I have to say I don't know because that's the correct answer, but I think that if we all close our eyes in our own time and just feel into our body, into our core, into our heart and in meditation, if you ask yourself that question, I do believe in each human being the answer to that question lies within us, the answer to the feeling of what happens to us, the bliss of what happens to this what you're calling consciousness.

Biet Simkin: I think it's hard to imagine because the mind is such a jail cell, and it will prevent you from experiencing. The breath work that I teach that I was speaking about before I find brings me into a state very close to death. In fact, I warn my attendees when I'm guiding people to brace themselves because, sometimes, you can be afraid, "Oh, shit. I think I went too far, and I might I know." No one's ever died at my events.

Biet Simkin: What I'm saying is I try to go into this breath work every day because I want to get closer to death. I want to get closer to the sense of complete lack of brain prison and body prison so that I can be completely with bliss and that sweetness. As one of my teachers said to me the feeling that I have during breath work is one iota, one billion of the bliss that we feel when we die.

Biet Simkin: It was once I really felt that correlation between the breath work that I do and death and that bliss that I was like, "That sounds great." I'm still a little bit weary of the moment of death like Woody Allen says, "I'm fine with death. I just don't want to be there when it happens." [inaudible 01:00:37] a lot, but I do think it sounds really delicious after the moment it happens like working out.

Biet Simkin: When you're working out and you're like doing the 17th tummy tuck or whatever and it burns like fuck and you go, "Ah." But after you're done with an hour of it, how does one feel? You feel amazing. I do think that death probably sucks the moment it happens, but right the moment, right after the moment that it happens, my feeling is that it is just pure ecstasy, deliciousness, freedom, bliss.

Jeff: Yeah. I think the literal translation of Savasana is corpse pose. This is where we're going back to. We're going home. No. I think that is hopeful. I look at the resources and the endless amounts of anxiety that we put ourselves to essentially keep people in terminal condition on life support.

Jeff: As you can tell, I've been preoccupied with notions of dying lately. Not only is that not a fulfilling and very dreary experience, but it also has changed how we actually view our elders who used to be sort of these holders of ancient wisdom. Now, they're essentially a burden and a bother.

Jeff: It's really what's really disturbing. I'm hoping that in this time when people have a little bit more time to contemplate at these issues that there is this notion of dying well instead of just living forever.

Biet Simkin: Yeah. I'm with you, but also, I'm really with the Marcus Aurelius way of perceiving which is a man who dies at 80 and a boy who dies at eight have only ever lost the same exact thing which is the present moment. You can't lose a life. You don't have more life or less life. You only have this moment. If you die like my first daughter died at four months old, she lost the present moment. Then, if you die at 108 in a ventilator somewhere with COVID, that's all you have.

Jeff: Right. Yeah.

Jeff: Well, I can't wait till this crazy wicked mess is over because, now, what I really want more than anything is to find out what laws 45 through 48 are and host an immersive retreat with you leading them here in Topanga. Well, thank you so much for spending time with me this afternoon.

Biet Simkin: Thank you.

Jeff: Yeah. I'm wishing you and your family well and safety.

Biet Simkin: Thank you.

Jeff: I hope to see you soon.

Biet Simkin: Yes, I can't wait. I believe neither of us will die from this, but I do believe we will die one day.

You Are a Coral Reef with Ara Katz

Like a reef or rainforest, what we call a human is actually a multispecies superorganism — technically a "holobiont." We evolved to exist with our microbes and the microbiomes of others. Breast milk co-evolved to feed the growing garden in an infant's gut. We exchange microbes when we hug and kiss or have a pet in the house. Today, Ara Katz, co-founder of Seed, talks about the importance of microbes and how they can impact the health of our bodies, our children, and our planet.

To learn more from Ara and Seed, check out their Instagram channel at instagram.com/seed or visit seed.com.


Jeff: Ara Katz. How's your gut today?

Ara Katz: Resilient.

Jeff: Good. That's how I make all my friends. Just ask them how their gut is.

Ara Katz: Would they probably answer differently than the nerdy scientist in my office?

Jeff: Fair enough. I also like to say, I'm not myself today, because I'm actually not myself. And maybe that's a decent place to start. Why am I not myself from a microbiota perspective?

Ara Katz: Sure. Well, tell me if it's helpful to first start off by aligning on our semantics.

Jeff: Yes, please.

Ara Katz: So, the microbiome is technically the collection of microbes and microorganisms that live on and within our bodies, that includes your skin, and really any surface that touches the exterior world. We learned recently there's an optical microbiome. But the reason that people usually refer to the microbiome and gut health kind of interchangeably is just because the majority of actually the 38 trillion microbes that live in and on you, a big majority of them do live in your GI tract in your gut, specifically like lower GI tract.

Ara Katz: And microbes make up about 50% of you by cell count. There was a long time ago or even still today, some people use the 90-10 rule or stat, which has been kind of disproven in science and actually was kind of a piece of misinformation that just kind of kept getting repeated. But the most recent count that we work from is the Weitzman Institute paper that puts it at about 38 trillion, which does put it out about half yourself cell count about equal to half your cell count. And that is why you're not yourself.

Ara Katz:Because you are other as microbes kind of teach us in three to five pounds of your body in exchange for some food and nutrients and a really warm place to live, takes care of you, and is involved in a lot of functions in your body.

Ara Katz: And existentially, it's really interesting and in the way you phrase the question because the microbiome actually kind of does redefine our sense of selves, particularly as we define ourselves as so different from other and that can be kind of anything, either groups of people or just anybody else. Because we really are kind of these teaming ecosystems.

Ara Katz: We like to tell people that there are coral reef or a rainforest, which is a beautiful way of thinking about it. That we are actually referred to there's kind of a technical term called Holobionts, which means multispecies organisms or superorganism, which is another term for it. And superorganism or Holobionts just means that you are a multispecies organism, much like a coral reef is.

Ara Katz: And so, it's an interesting way of thinking about ourselves and certainly opens up a lot of ways of thinking about how we're much more connected to one another and to the earth than I think we'd like to think sometimes.

Jeff: Yeah, you've taken it-

Ara Katz: Although probably not your audience.

Jeff: Well, no, you've taken it actually quickly, to the place where I eventually wanted to go, which is a little bit of the spiritual or metaphysical dimension of essentially not truly being ourselves or being in sort of a cotenancy relationship with bacteria and fungi. And I started thinking about it earlier today of essentially all spiritual, well, not all spiritual, but many spiritual traditions lead us towards this notion of self-transcendence. That in every spiritual tradition, there's been kind of epiphanies around the illusory self, around finding unity, collective unconscious, Christ Consciousness, Brahman, Advaita, Moksha, on and on.

Jeff: But our day-to-day life, our quotidian life, especially in western culture, is to think of ourselves very much as separate beings. And yet, this individuation that we have starts with the belief that we are our bodies that's very kind of union. It's like myself, my identity ends with my epidermis. That's it. And you're a separate, distinct individual living in an external universe separate from me, separate from "God", separate from nature.

Jeff: But that really starts to break down around if you start to ask and examine and contemplate the question, am I my body? Well, you can start to talk. Well, I'm on my four-year-old body, you have a four-year-old. I have three teenagers. Am I my 15-year-old body that was quite spelt? Am I my COVID body that's five pounds little extra.

Jeff: That kind of starts to break down as many of our cells have died and regenerated. But this notion that we are mostly or 50% bugs, it really does beg that spiritual question of like, am I really myself in a classic definition. And if you're asking that, then am I really separate from nature and from other people? And that is a very different kind of conversation around the typical conversation in microbiomes. So, I wonder if you have any other thoughts about that.

Ara Katz: Yeah. I mean, it's so interesting because I've been a yogi for a really long time, and I'm actually the daughter of an existential psychologist, but also two atheists, which is interesting and the notion of like, and at the same time, I have been a longtime aspire to the ideas of nonattachment and certainly what that can mean and how freeing I think that can be.

Ara Katz: And I sometimes get hesitant around the ascription and patterns that these people who want to ascribe spiritual meaning to these things start to take liberties in even though in my, of course, they feel very nurturing and warm and beautiful in their ideas. And I think that there's a lot of them like I'll give you a good example as you're speaking, you said some people think their body ends with their skin or that you and with your skin.

Ara Katz: But when you start to understand something called the exposome, which is literally this microbial cloud. In the spiritual world, they would probably refer to it as an aura. There's literally a cloud that surrounds like your microbes are not just on you. There is literally a cloud around you that is defined by many, many things, particularly environmental factors.

Ara Katz: And so, sometimes it's not dissimilar to kind of some of the liberties that are taken in the leap from astronomy to astrology. And so, one of the things that I do like to pressure test a bit when I get into some more spiritual and existential questions about this, which by the way, in a very human sense, I want to be true.

Ara Katz: So, just start from that place that I would love all of those things to be able to just be copy and pasted into that framework. But one of the things that I do always challenge back about, and I can speak to some of the ways that I think it can inform the way we make choices and the way we live and the think about our connectivity to one another. And I think sometimes those patterns and narratives will serve us.

Ara Katz: But sometimes the science thinker in me or I should say the thinker that wants to avoid confirmation bias and not be attached to a framework, and therefore go look into biology to support ideas and spiritual frameworks because that's the way that I want to already see the world and therefore make that pattern fit, what I want it to say is something that I do caution people about.

Ara Katz: And I only say that not because those ideas are not beautiful and that they could serve us. Obviously, everybody who's making policy around the oil and gas industry thought like that. I think we'd have a very different Earth right now. So, I do think that the ideas and attendants are very valuable.

Ara Katz: What I sometimes get worried, no, I shouldn't say worried about, but just where it doesn't resonate as much. And particularly, I'm just not somebody that delivers my agency to the universe. So, the language of the universe called in or this is what was called in, not because I'm not an incredibly spiritual person, but I sometimes think the way that we start to see patterns or start to take ideas in science or biology or some of these other disciplines, and then infer these patterns and then make frameworks around them as a way to make sense of our world is incredibly human, by the way. Obviously, Man's Search for Meaning, great book.

Ara Katz: And I understand the love of astrology despite the fact that maybe many of those planets cannot actually be in retrograde astronomically and I appreciate where it all comes from. But I sometimes wonder if we're so interested in science, why don't we spend the same amount of time learning it and understanding it as we do some of these other disciplines instead of just trying to cherry pick ideas out of it that fits spiritual framework.

Ara Katz: So, I say all that to say, absolutely, biology shows us how deeply interconnected everything is. When you start to understand like the exposome or even the exchange of microbes in a hug, in a kiss, in a handshake, in understanding how walking and being in nature increases the diversity of your own microbiome, how having a dog increases the diversity of your own microbiome, the way that plants interact with the microbes in our gut, the way that breast milk and microbes that come from the vaginal microbiome coevolved to literally feed the growing garden in an infant's gut is extraordinary. But sometimes I say let it be extraordinary without layering on what you also wanted to be.

Jeff: Yes. I think that's a very insightful comment. And I'll just close the sort of the loop between kind of the alloying of science and metaphysics with, and I'm certainly not a proponent of like, well, two crows flew past the harvest moon and I have a crystal on my doorstep and like whatever. I'm not going there. But what I am interested in often is 2500 years ago, a man wandered through Nepal because he was interested in trying to solve the mystery of the mind and came to the conclusion that our suffering is completely interrelated with endless craving and desire and subsequently created Buddhism and meditation around that, with no scientific basis whatsoever.

Ara Katz: Yes, yeah.

Jeff: Yet that intuitive approach is now being supported through evidence-based study. So, sometimes I do think that there is an alloying of these two things.

Ara Katz: Absolutely, yes.

Jeff: But I think back to the empirical world of today and COVID, one thing that you brought up, which I think is very prescient to the moment is now of course, we're kind of in this coerced monasticism through social distancing, and having to deal with health and immune system-

Ara Katz: What I like to call self-proximity.

Jeff: Right. Yeah. And what you say about the transfer that our interconnectivity in some ways has been brought into stark relief like never before, right now in this particular situation. But obviously the best thing that we can do for one another is actually not be with one another, which is ironic, I suppose. But the transfer of microbiome of healthy bacteria through physical contact is a really just compelling idea right now because I think there is this great worry that that's going away. And we're going to sort of limp back into a world of hand sanitizers and elbow bumps.

Ara Katz: Yes.

Jeff: Does that worry you?

Ara Katz: We get asked this a lot. I think it's interesting. Some people, I was thinking about this the other day that in some ways, like this is kind of the definition of a form of terrorism, right? Like it is truly what it means like when a terrorist isn't the most successful is when it really questions and totally changes the way anything you felt previously felt safe.

Ara Katz: I worry about it because of the way that these things are being communicated to the public. I think some of the things that I think are the greatest factors contributing to, for example, what we refer to as the climate change of our insights, which is really like this kind of despeciation or the just literally the decrease of diversity of bacteria that are in our guts that are actually being lost in one two generations and can't be brought back just due to lack of fiber, overuse of antibiotics and other factors.

Ara Katz: I think in some ways, there's a way to look at it that says, oh, we'll start so we won't hug anymore. And I think it's not dissimilar to the stages of grief, right? There will be stages to this that have very and depending on where you are and who you are and what your orientation is, and certainly what your experience was of this specific inception of this, and you can look at HIV. You can look at, I mean Ebola a little less so just because it didn't end up really affecting the developing world in the same way.

Ara Katz: But you can look at the history of these things over time and really anything like 9/11, I mean, other things that have caused major disruptions and our sense of safety and our place in the world. And I think that there will be, yes, I think, I don't know if hand sanitizer is going away. I think it will like in the western world, especially we're very acute reactors. So, like, we are just incredibly reactive and then like not dissimilar the way like Instagram feeds work, although this would be slower.

Ara Katz: And then you just stop caring about it. It's kind of the reason that if you run a brand right now, a campaign lives for a second. And I think this will absolutely impact the way we think about and take this thing seriously. But I think they'll also be some really important humility that comes from it. I think the earth is benefiting at the moment.

Ara Katz: And I think that there's a sense of arrogance that we had previously that may and I'm not as worried about hand sanitizer as much as forgetting some of the factors that went into this. If you look, as you know obviously, the Holocaust that pushed people to use the term like never forget, but there's a reason that that exists.

Ara Katz: And that is because history repeats itself. And I think that, I actually hope things don't go back to the way they were in certain regards because I'm not sure that was serving our Earth as I think we are finding out right now. But I'm not as worried about the more acute, like I think hand sanitizer will kind of taper off as the acute concerns happen with obviously transmission.

Ara Katz: I'm not as worried about ending in a world of just elbow bumps. But I think that for sure for a period of time, as you know, the reintegration will definitely have a lot of murkiness and muddiness to it, that we will have to find our way through, that I think people aren't anticipating as much as it's easier to kind of just have a black or white situation right now, which is like only do this. And I think in the gray, like anything else in the nuance, we will find ourselves for a period of time, like a bit more lost.

BREAK 

Jeff: We're sort of often in the old paradigm. We're sort of born to think, well, my parents passed me along this DNA and that DNA sort of dooms me to a particular physiological or medical fate. I'm more likely to contact cancer, I contract cancer, I'm more likely to have heart disease, et cetera. And you can speak more intelligently to this than I can.

Jeff: But it seems like understanding more and more about our microbiome is saying, no, no, no, that's actually not true. Yeah, there is some proclivity that you inherit. But largely, you have a tremendous amount of agency that is determined by lifestyle, behavior, environment, diet, et cetera.

Ara Katz: I always tell men that if you truly understand the microbiome, it might be the closest you'll ever feel to being pregnant. Because when you're pregnant, you feel this incredible accountability and the lens through which what goes in is so attuned to what is good for this child, at least for people who are going through pregnancy a bit more consciously.

Ara Katz: And so, I always say to guys, if you could just think of your microbiome, it's three to five pounds. So, it's about the same weight for most of up until maybe the third trimester or mid third trimester. And I'm like, it's kind of the same idea.

Ara Katz: And so, yes, I think you're absolutely right. The actionability in the agency is extraordinary. And that's just the gut we're talking about. When you start to understand your skin microbiome and the things that can be incredibly disruptive there, when you start to understand the vaginal microbiome for women, for particularly for anyone in your audience who has recurrent urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis preterm birth, I mean, BB and UTI affects over 50% of women in the entire world, developing and developed worlds for which there's currently actually no recognized primary standard of care.

Ara Katz: And so, these are huge ... that all come from this ecosystem in our vaginas that are directly correlated with things like fertility and that long-term health of that ecosystem. And so, anyway, so yes. I think science also reveals more and more about these specific ecosystems. I mean, the oral microbiome, I think is going to be incredibly interesting as we start to understand neurodegenerative disease, for example. That's been really interesting new area of understanding the blood brain barrier breakdown and certain neurodegenerative diseases and its relationship with the mouth and the microbes in our mouth.

Ara Katz: So, yeah, I think over time, your question will become even more true. I just, again, always urge the sensationalism that sometimes come from extracting or evangelizing maybe a bit further than where the evidence is today.

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. No, I can feel that. I mean, I follow Dr. Steven Gundry to some degree and some of the statistics that are posited around ... And I don't know if this is true, so maybe you could answer this question, but that your genetic makeup, just because of the prevalence of bacteria in your gut, in your mouth, on your skin, and the DNA that it holds versus the amount of genes that a human has, which I think is from the Human Genome Project-

Ara Katz: It's about 99 to 1.

Jeff: Yeah. So that your DNA might look a lot more like your roommates than your dad.

Ara Katz: Yeah, it's totally conflated science.

Jeff: Okay.

Ara Katz: It's a nice idea and it is a stat that gets thrown around a lot. And this stat itself is correct. Your bacteria express about 99 times, something crazy like that, more DNA than your human cells.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ara Katz: You have to then ask the next question is, but for what? Right. DNA, it's not all created equal. Meaning, yes, it's all created equal, it's the same code. But what it's coding for is different. And so, it's a very reductive, sensational stat that tends to get people's ears to perk up. But you need to ask the next following questions, which is like my cofounder, Raja always says, "I'll take some of my human DNA over microbial DNA all day."

Ara Katz: So, you really need to know what it's coding for and you need to be specific when you quote things that, because it can feel quite sensational. And the idea that your entire human genome is going to look more your like roommates just because bacteria happened to express more genes is it's a nice idea and as a marketer and someone who has to tell get them out to as many people as possible about the microbiome, there's no one that wishes that that was more true.

Jeff: Right. Yeah, I was going to say, you are incredibly honest and perhaps reluctant marketer for your own product. But I think it speaks to your authenticity. You want to get the science right.

Ara Katz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it speaks to our integrity. I mean, one of the things that we care so, so deeply about and aforementioned people of influence in health and wellness amongst many others, I think often use some of these ideas to sell things in a way, that's not exactly how they work. And I think it takes advantage of people's misunderstanding. But more than anything actually propagates a lot of misinformation that when it comes to moments like COVID, you can't have it both ways.

Ara Katz: And so, I think we just care so deeply because we know that if you can understand ... It's teach a human to fish. You can tell someone how great the fish is all day and make up all kinds of cool things about the fish. But at the end of the day, if they know how to dissect an article on any name, any of the wellness sites or anything or just the way information is coming into them through an influencer on Instagram and can at least be equipped with asking the right questions, the agencies, talk about agency, the agency that comes from being able to ask questions is incredibly extraordinary.

Ara Katz: And so, what we try and say is not that I mean, look, I believe deeply in our product. We're about to announce huge trial at Harvard. We just got authorized for IND from the FDA, which means that it's a product that holds up as a drug if we wanted it to be just from a safety efficacy perspective. But we played a long game. And the long game with human health is how could you empower people to make really good decisions, not just you tell people what to do all day, you're as good as the next article, the clickbait that they receive in the next influencer that post something.

Jeff: Yeah. I want to come back at some point to ask you a question about pregnancy and bacteria. But we're on this kind of other jag right now. So, we'll stay with it, which is essentially I think the problem, the marketing problem that science has, and boy, is that in stark relief right now, given the fact that we have no dependable source of truth on cable news or from our government and we need to look towards the CDC and the World Health Organization and platforms that aren't known for their marketing savvy per se.

Jeff: And I'm wondering, and you've addressed it a bit already, but how do you solve the marketing problem that science has without being somewhat sensationalist? And maybe you tie that to Seed because Seed is very interesting. I mean, I sort of at first don't even really know what it does outside. It just sort of like it's this womb I want to return to. I know it has a product. I know that there's research, but I'm like a podcast guy-

Ara Katz: You wouldn't know we have product. We don't talk about it.

Jeff: Yeah, which I think is really compelling and interesting. But maybe you could poke at that for a moment.

Ara Katz: Yes. Yeah. Of course. Yeah. I mean, I was laughing. I was going to say, I don't know what Seed [inaudible 00:33:16]. But no, I mean, our through line is the microbial world. And all we wake up every day to do is kind of pioneer ways that we can apply microbes to solve issues in human and environmental health. So, that's it for us. And because we think of those two things is the same. Obviously, it's a dichotomy we recognize but not one that we embrace.

Ara Katz: Our approach, and I think one of the things we've been recognized for actually we just got a couple of wars for it is one, outside of pursuing kind of rigorous science, both for consumer innovations and probiotics, but also in the therapeutics front and microbes that will go through kind of phase trials to become drugs that are UTI drug is one that we've spoken about publicly as an example, is that the same rigor and integrity that we apply to our products is kind of our approach with the way that science has translated and communicated.

Ara Katz: Marshall McLuhan in the '70s and it's one of the most resonating quotes I think for me in looking at this new world of where we are with COVID couldn't be more true is that the medium is the message. 

Ara Katz: But we think a lot about what are the mediums and the doors that we could create, that somebody would want to walk through first. So, that's saying, okay, how can you make science cool and accessible and feel culturally relevant? So, that's one of the first things we think about, which is how could you do that? How do you use platforms like Instagram, where the most egregious behaviors around misinformation actually happen? Or Facebook? And how could you take that medium and change the message?

Ara Katz: And that's a big part of my background in storytelling, especially with technology and interfaces, what are the gestures that you have to pull from people's existing behavior that you could say but you could still learn science here, while you're scrolling at night before you go to bed, while you want to click through stories, learn something.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ara Katz: And so, I think you have to figure out how can you meet people where they are?

Jeff: Yeah, yeah. I made this little social media piece myself called Where is Walter? I think it's called Where the Hell is Walter Cronkite?

Ara Katz: Yeah.

Jeff: Because whether you're on the right or the left, when he said it, it was just fact whether you like it or not, that there was a reliable source of what was truth and factual that create a degree of social cohesion that allowed us to tackle problems communally. And yeah, I mean, when we can't even really agree on the numbers, where there's the CDC saying one thing and at the same time that there's a press conference about reopening America. I mean, literally, in the same moment.

Jeff: It's just very, very confusing. Then well, so, if some of our public institutions, if there's erosion of trust there, well, then whose responsibility is it? Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Ara Katz: Yeah. 

Jeff: You have to meet people where they are.

Jeff: I look also at COVID is that the meme actually has a higher reproduction rate than the virus. And so, when people you look at how information spreads exponentially versus droplets on a surface, that represents a tremendous amount of power and it needs to be dealt with, with integrity. Or you get essentially the wild west where any conspiracy theory can get a certain amount of traction to the point where otherwise, rational people become vectors for theories that have no proven basis. And it's a very, very difficult landscapers. I sometimes think of it as the end of truth.

Ara Katz: I mean, it is truly beyond dangerous and the inability for anybody to evolve their opinions will be the end of us. And truly, that's one of the reasons I always say science is such a Buddhist discipline, the scientific method, which is the idea that you pose a question, you have a hypothesis, you construct a set of conditions under which you would like to test whether or not there's truth and facts and even your own idea. And then there's a period of observation and then analysis, and then a new question, without any attachment. I mean, of course, I am speaking as a purist, obviously, you can get into many areas where, of course there's-

Jeff: Yes, I'm not sure that's the same hammer that Johnson and Johnson uses, but yes. I'm following you.

Ara Katz: Sure, but from an academic perspective or from just a philosophical perspective, since you did talk about other spiritual and philosophical disciplines, the underlying idea of it is how do you ask questions without the attachment to outcome and then chart a true, a path to finding out whether or not something is true.

BREAK

Jeff: I suppose there is kind of through cultural hegemony, media, whatever, that we are very good at sort of transferring what is culture to what is nature, which is essentially taking ideas that are positive about the human condition that are purely cultural and historical, and making them universally true. America is the land of opportunity or whatever. Any slogan that you could possibly think of is, I suppose an example of that transference from culture to nature.

Ara Katz: Yeah. I mean, I don't really see the constitution or the Bible much more differently.

Jeff: True. Yeah.

Ara Katz: Any kind of codified-

Jeff: Yes, codified set of concepts that create an imagined order that are supposed to create sort of stability.

Ara Katz: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that thought, that's not how it works. I mean, just to go back to the microbiome, there's great examples of there's insects that don't have microbes, right? It's easy to be like, all living things require microbes and then you find all the outliers and you think about and then you realize that there's a lot to learn from the species and the animals that actually don't have any microbes.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ara Katz: And so, I think that's what's so hard is in a liberal democracy, I think that is a beautiful idea if there was a toleration of nuance. And if the yuckiness of how we've decided to enforce and how technologies have changed the way that those systems work, it's so much of the ideas in so many cases is not bad, but it's the execution.

Jeff: Right. I mean, let's just go. I'll try to create a mildly graceful bridge. Where, for example, the innovation, medical innovation around, for example, childbirth, C-section technology, if you will, is created for what one might argue under positive, beneficial auspices, the health of the mother, the health of the child. But of course now, what we're experiencing is through, I mean over usage of antibiotics, C-section, everything essentially that happened in the hospital during childbirth, the children are losing healthy bacteria.

Ara Katz: Vaginal and C-section is something that I always caution being too sensational about just because absolutely, vaginal birth is more desirable for sure. And there are places in the world like Brazil, where the rates are just over 70% because women don't want a disrupted vagina. And there's many other cultural things that are happening.

Ara Katz: However, there's a lot of research that does show and it's still up for debate that in the absence of antibiotics and the presence of breastfeeding, a vaginal versus C-section babies microbiome will start to converge. They will start to look the same after about a year to 24 months, depending on how long they're breastfed and as long as there is not any administration directly to the infant of antibiotics.

Ara Katz: So, I only say that because sometimes I get very hesitant because so many women who have had no choice really get shamed a lot and get a lot of messages that feel like they've kind of done such a huge disservice to their child if they had to have one. And so, I just try and be incredibly sensitive to say that yes, it's not the first most desirable way. But it doesn't mean that you're fucked forever. If some of these other things, other conditions are met.

Ara Katz: And so, I think that's just one thing to just kind of mention. But absolutely, and then breastfeeding being another incredibly important part of it because actually about a third of the carbohydrates in breast milk, which are called HMOs. They're called human milk oligosaccharides, are actually not digestible by the human baby. And they are only food for the infant's microbiome.

Jeff: Really?

Ara Katz: Which just shows you from an evolutionary perspective how extraordinary that is. And on top of that, there is bacteria on a mother's nipple that helps digest lactose, which you can just see from again, from an evolutionary perspective, how extraordinary this kind of dance and how we coevolved with these microbes to kind of create this perfect situation to cultivate the best garden possible.

Jeff: That is fascinating.

Ara Katz: Yeah.

Jeff: I did not know that. That is fascinating. Yeah, and I suppose just sort of the, just the cotenancies arrangement from the get go. And I don't know if this is true, but maybe you can help me understand it is that as the Earth evolved and became more aerobic, essentially more oxygenated that anaerobic organisms needed a place to go. And one of those places to go was our gut.

Jeff: And that we have this kind of, sort of beautiful romance there where it's like ... I used to kind of think of it as a sort of a landlord-tenant kind of situation. We take care of the plumbing and then they'll pay their rent or whatever. Have fun with that. But it's really more of a ...

Ara Katz: A commune?

Jeff: Yeah. I love you. Yeah. Yeah, it feels like it, right?

Ara Katz: Yes. Yes, it does. I mean, as I said, it's always like ... Yes. I mean, it definitely does feel that way. I think they get what they need. I think what you have to remember about single-celled organisms and really most, I mean, many species and the way biology, biologists, I think is ... And this is how humans are wired, although this is where it gets incredibly perverted, which is, we just want to persist. Our biology is to persist, it's to continue life.

Ara Katz: And if you look at COVID and that's ultimately one of the most interesting constructs and certainly why bacteria got a bad rap by some scientists, who of course attributed it as being almost entirely all pathogenic is really how we got here. So to your point about the importance of communicating science or other or a very, very small percentage of microbes are pathogenic or bad. Most of them are kind of what they would call commensal or some of them are many are neutral and not many are symbiotic or beneficial. And more are beneficial and are commensal.

Ara Katz: And so, it's interesting because the way we got here was basically the belief and certainly, there's other context to this that were very different. Sewage systems then, I mean, there's a lot of reasons why disease, our communicable diseases, particularly bacterial-based ones spread so quickly.

Ara Katz: There's context obviously to that because we live more in the built environment now, which has different protections because of the way we dispose of sewage and our exposure to the things that made some of these things so pathogenic in different parts of history. But the built environment is actually the perfect place for a microbe to replicate and find new hosts, i.e., what we're experiencing right now with COVID.

Ara Katz: And so, when I look at how bacteria, the perception of bacteria has evolved over time, it's fascinating that we just ... I mean, yeah, we just tried to kill it for a really long time. And I think that framework is actually partially what got us here. And the question will be how, to your question earlier, how do we get out of this without trying to continue to kill it all?

Jeff: Well, it speaks to an incredibly anthropocentric version of the world. It's sort of a pre-Galileo concept around biology or something and you could put yourself into another perspective. I mean, there is, what is the bacteria's eye of the universe. What does the universe look through their eye, which is potentially not that different than us from a Darwinistic perspective. It's like we could be seen as sort of meat wagons for our genes through the gene diversion of the universe. It's like all they want to do is replicate, randomly select and then push forward.

Jeff: And I suppose that's what this particular novel coronavirus wants to do as well. I suppose from a bacterial perspective, that's what bacteria wants to do too. And that there is a, I guess, a sort of a broader picture of looking at life, not through just the human eye.

Ara Katz: Yes, of course, very much so. Absolutely. One look at the Venice, Italy canals right now and ...

Jeff: I think that what you guys are doing at Seed is really, really fascinating and interesting. How you're approaching this subject is so innovative, and also just feels beautiful. I don't know who does all your look and feel and design but it's gorgeous.

Ara Katz: Thank you.

Jeff: And I have a lot of respect for that from a business perspective.

Ara Katz: No, thank you. Yeah, we do. Well, I mean, but that is a big part of communicating science, which is I think a lot of it is the aesthetic of science.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ara Katz: Never feels quite humanistic or beautiful. Again, it's not usually a door to walk through.

Jeff: Yeah.

Ara Katz: It's usually just feels incredibly cold and clinical and just kind of too complicated or has that biotech kind of graphic that you've seen of the human body. And look, there's a reason that I think people wellness and the aesthetic of wellness is so appealing because he doesn't want avocado toast that looks like that when you put it on a beautiful plate and you take a picture, you put your phone above it and it's like who doesn't want. There's a warmth and a nurturing quality and an aesthetic to kind of the way wellness has come up that I think is incredibly appealing and aspirational. And I think science has never really figured out how to meet people where they are like that.

Ara Katz: It's one of the things we try and be kind of careful about just because I think in the same way that it is, of course, a world that we speak to, I have also found it to be quite exclusive and not very accessible to many.

Ara Katz: And so, we try and be a bit careful actually about the avocado toast effect. Because I think I sometimes say wellness is the new Photoshop, which is it has created an aesthetic that for many is actually not possible or that they don't see themselves reflected. And then I think we try and be careful there too.

Jeff: Yeah. No, you're absolutely correct. And I think that's why you see a lot of kind of polarization across political, social, where sort of this coastal approach to being seen as sort of feat and unconnected and et cetera.

Ara Katz: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting, yes, a lot of people sometimes think probiotics are this kind of coastal wellness thing. But actually, they're not. It's very much driven by kind of two very main factors in the US, specifically, I can speak to other countries, but probiotics are regulated quite differently in other places, but for the most part, it's kind of to two distinct use cases. One is GI health, digestive health, which we know, I think our last stat that we cited was 64 plus percent of Americans have GI issues, which is a huge and a really big problem.

Ara Katz: And so, really probiotic sales are driven by pretty dispersed because of just how disrupted digestion is in the US and GI health in general. You can look at just even conditions like IBS, which affects something like 12% of the population, which is crazy.

Ara Katz: And then and then really as a complement, or alongside antibiotics, of which about 70 million prescriptions are written in the US every year, over half of which are for things of nonbacterial origin, which means that it's not something you should take an antibiotic for. But what's happened is that pharmacists and doctors have started saying just make sure you take a probiotic either alongside or after this. And those are really the two cases despite the fact that those two reasons are not really what everyone's chats about on Instagram, or what you see influencers always post about.

Ara Katz: That's kind of what's driven the probiotics business and then not to mention, the fact that the term itself is not regulated in the US. So, people can say probiotic anything in the US. You can't do that in other parts of the world. But that is part of why it's grown so quickly. And most of those things that used to term are not probiotic at all.

Jeff: Yeah. And I suppose that there's all sorts of varying degrees of probiotic versus live probiotics versus probiotics that are essentially probably just an expensive pee.

Ara Katz: There's no difference. So, the scientific definition of probiotics was written for the WHO and the UN in 2000. I believe the first iteration was in 2001. And it's been revised since. And it says that it's live microorganisms that when administered in adequate dosages confers a health benefit to the human host or confers the benefits to the human host, very specific scientific definition.

Ara Katz: If you unpack it, it means that it is an organism that is live. A dosage that has been adequately studied to whatever the end marker or the benefit or the clinical outcome that you're looking for, and has a benefit to the human host means it's been studied clinically and measured to have some sort of very specific outcome or marker. And there's an incredibly specific scientific definition. We wrote a paper about this last year called Probiotics: Reiterating What They Are and What They Are Not for both industry but also for the scientific community because there's still a lot of misunderstanding and confusion and misuse of the term.

Ara Katz: And it's not that confusing in science. What gets confusing is the lack of regulation around the term itself, which is why you can have probiotic tortilla chips, chocolate pillows, and every kombucha on the shelf claims to be that.

Jeff: Right. God, that's so fascinating. Thank you so much for your time. I know that you're running a business with a four-year-old in the ground. And I'd love to do it again, because I think that there's this topic is so rich and boundless. And I really appreciate you taking out the time today.

To My Fellow Mothers in Quarantine with Schuyler Grant

None of us imagined motherhood under these conditions. Some of us are essential workers navigating front-line jobs, but most of us are now stay-at-home moms, our careers vying with our kids for breathing room. Schuyler Grant hosts today's Mother's Day episode where she, along with other mothers, reflect on what it means to be a mom in this moment.


Schuyler: Welcome to the Commune podcast, a global wellness community and online course platform featuring some of the world's greatest teachers, usually hosted by the intrepid Jeff Krasno. But occasionally I push him out of the studio and offer up something a little different. This is Schuyler Grant, and today's podcast goes out to my fellow mothers in quarantine. We who so badly need not cold coffee and scrambled eggs in bed, not flowers delivered by a masked stranger, but an uninterrupted week of reveling with our dearest friends. No children, no partners, no kitchens, no newsfeed, no Clorox wipes.

Schuyler: But ladies, here we are settling once again for disembodied connection. All in this together, but so fucking far apart. Perhaps you like me, vacillate between gratitude and misery for these days, weeks, months of unrelenting motherhood. Our tiny ones with their crushing needs, so sweet but so boring. Our teenage children reverting to mewling infants, squalling about the tragedy of a spring time with nowhere to prance in a crop top. Our babies returned home from college so wonderful at first, but then didn't they learn to clean their own kitchens out there in the world? And we are their mothers, so we will always be responsible for life's vicissitudes, each of us the chef of that bat soup.

Schuyler: But though they're making us pay in ways big and small, would we really ask for a refund, this strange time stolen from their friends and teachers? I wouldn't. This attenuated moment of quarantine reminds me a bit of the bleary and blissful days of early post-partum. Cloistered indoors, the alchemy of a new self being born along with the creature we just grew. The mind numbing sameness, the sweet newness. The anxiety, the fragility, the closeness, the frustration, the love. Days and days that stretched on forever. But then where did they go? Then too, we had to reimagine our relationships with our best friends as well as our partners and ourselves. So who are we now? The same, but forever changed.

Schuyler: Some of us are on the front lines, navigating jobs at hospitals or grocery stores and then returning to an unrecognizable home life. But most of us are now stay-at-home moms, our careers vying with our kids and partners for breathing room. We're zooming half clad sandpaper ride from screen time, a little grateful for the short commute from bed to sofa. We're scrambling to save a business or chasing the potential to reimagine an old business online, or mourning the death of a business crushed by quarantine. We're pretending to homeschool, or maybe a few of you are living saints and you're actually slogging through elementary school worksheets or learning to teach higher math. I myself have had to own up to my total hypocrisy forever touting the wonders of homeschooling. Our legs, so hairy. Our houses are like white collar prisons, so messy. Or so very, very, very neatly organized. Our kids, so smothered, but so neglected. My God, none of us chose motherhood under these conditions. It takes a village. Remember?

Schuyler: To be honest, I'm not particularly fond of Mother's Day, but this year I'm feeling uncharacteristically sentimental, desperate to connect with my friends who feel so far, far away. And those of you I don't know who feel strangely closer in quarantine. I think all of us, despite the text thread and the memes, and the zooming, and the recipe chains are thirsting for our chosen sisterhood, craving some skin on skin bonding to nurse on shared experience. So I reached out to my fellow breeders and I asked them to send me a short reflection on motherhood. Most complied, with a little arm twisting. Please forgive in advance the sound quality of these missives from around the country. They were surely recorded in compromised circumstances. But I hope they speak to your heart as well as mine.

Natalie: My name is Natalie Galazka. I'm a producer and a new mama. I took my first surfing lesson a few years ago, and I'm by no means a professional surfer, but I love it. There's an obvious exhilarating thrill of being forcefully carried towards the shore while standing on top of a surfboard, which I enjoy immensely.

Natalie: The other aspect I love is a little less obvious, and that is the waiting. After you've paddled out, you wait for your wave to come. You watch far out into the distance. You look for patterns and for nuances. Sometimes there are lulls where nothing happens at all and you just wait and watch and listen. And as time passes, you begin to understand even just a little the language of the ocean. You give the ocean all of your attention. And if you're lucky, she gives you back a wave, a present for your presence.

Natalie: Our son turned seven months old last week. I've learned so much from him in this short time. He teaches me about presence in the same way that the ocean does while waiting for a wave to come. The more present we are with him, the more we come to know his vocabulary. The more we learn what he needs, what he's trying to tell us, and what his world looks like. Our attention offers answers to the myriad of questions that arise like how will we know if he's hungry or tired, or ready to try something new? Witnessing what brings him joy, what makes him frustrated or impatient, or what it is for him to achieve something on his own and to discover the world around him is so special to watch. His shrieks of excitement as he moves from his hands and knees to plank pose or inches down the hallway for the first time. The sound of his breath in my ear, the curls emerging on the back of his head. The conversations we have while I'm getting him dressed for the day. And the way his smile erupts at the various first hint of the song I sing for him each morning. It means slowing down, letting go of distractions and assumptions, and giving him our full attention. And what he gives us back is truly precious, a present for our presence.

Laura: We were quarantined at home on my son's 11th birthday, and I happened upon a rather spotty baby book. Things like, it began with his first words and steps. And I read it out loud to him. Here's an excerpt. "Harlan my love, tomorrow is Mother's Day and you've just turned four yesterday. You asked me why people wanted to go to outer space. You also informed me that you would prefer to stay in our bed forever and probably as an adult and on weekends. Your favorite color is red, and you never forget that mine is blue. You are probably the nicest child I've ever met. Very thoughtful, and considerate, and concerned. It baffles me that you come from such a she-beast as I, but there you are, and you are mine, and I love you deeply and endlessly."

Alex: Hi, it's Alex [Odair 00:08:21] recording from Philadelphia. Mother's Day. It's complicated. It's even complicated finding a quiet room to record this. And I have a difficult relationship with my mother and I find that mothering a young woman who's entering her later teen years reveals the truly bittersweet nature of being a parent. And sweet is putting it gently. As the teenager reveals her narrative of her childhood, it's wildly different from mine. And I'm sure her early years, which she has no memory of live in her body somatically, or at least I pray they do. All those years and years and years for me of nursing, I hope live somewhere in there. But the narrative of her life is not my narrative and I find that I have to contend with that, and one must contend with that in order to cut the final umbilical cord, that's the psychological umbilical cord. And we send our children out into the world as new entities different from us, and the attachment we have to them, what we desire them to be has to be dissolved. And it's a hard process. I hope, a fruitful process, but I'm not sure. Happy Mother's Day. 

Brooke: Hi, my name is Brooke. I live in Brooklyn with my husband and two sons that are eight and 10. I went into labor at 28 weeks with my first son, landed in the hospital and luckily managed to keep him inside for another two and a half weeks. He was born at 31 weeks. And a couple of days before I gave birth, the doctors and nurses came in to warn me that he could be born with a whole host of issues. Blindness, developmental disabilities, organ issues and failures. He was born on July 4th, and I got to hold him maybe a few hours later. They put him on my chest. And this tiny little baby that was three pounds 15 ounces was so tired. He could look up at me and we had this gaze that in that instant, I knew this boy is strong. He's intelligent. He's not going to get sick. He's going to be totally fine. And that's ended up being the case. 

Brooke: So we were in the hospital for nine weeks. Or he was, I visited him every day. And he's a healthy, normal child. I tell this story because I got to experience the power and the wisdom of the masses instinct literally the moment I became a mom. Which was this powerful force that just put me at ease in the most incredibly stressful environment. I knew I just had to do my time. My son had to do his time in the hospital in the NICU, but we would get out and everything would be fine. So I think that's what I would say on this Mother's Day, listen to the maternal instinct. Use it to your advantage, and be grateful for that gift that comes with motherhood.

Leda: Hey everybody. My name's Laida. Happy Mother's Day. I wanted to share a little bit about what it's been like being stuck at home with just me and my son these past few months. It's been really hard, but it's also been transformative. In an attempt to not pass on my core wounds, I've been making it a practice to really listen and mirror back. I want him to know that he matters, that he's enough. I want them to feel seen, feel heard, feel understood and valued. I want him to know that his ideas, his thoughts and feelings are important. And in an attempt to counteract the toxic power over society that we all live in, I'm trying to establish a power with dynamic by giving him plenty of opportunity to weigh in on decisions. I see my purpose as a mom as no different than my purpose in general, which I'm only now recently starting to express.

Leda: So I'm teaching him to honor and give space for of and take care of all of the parts of himself, even the parts he doesn't like, that he's scared of. The parts he doesn't even want to admit exist. I want to raise him to be a man who can regulate his emotions and choose to act from a place of love and kindness. I want him to be self-actualized and to find his purpose early and to fulfill it. Unlike me who's only now slowly starting to emerge into who I always was but never shared. I want to raise him to be a man who can do all the things that women can do, like find things, and cook, and clean, and nurture. I want him to inherently understand that power causes brain damage, and to see his own power and privilege. And to use it to uplift people who have less than him. I want him to be someone who makes the world a better place.

Leda: I have no idea if I'm succeeding at any of this or if my expectations of him and myself are just too high. I mean, we fight all day about screen time and chores. We've gotten to the point that he's totally annoyed by the way I chew my food. I struggle to have enough patience to watch his magic tricks and play yet another board game. I'm not sure if I'm modeling the behavior of self love I want to teach. As I struggle to stay true to myself through my healing work, I go in and out of anxiety feeling like I'm not enough. Like I'm a failure, like I don't matter. So I don't know if I'm doing a good job. If we'll continue to have a loving relationship through the teenage years and beyond. I don't know how close we'll be. I can only take this job of parenting moment by moment, and try to focus on the ones that feel like a joyful connection has been shared. So those are my musings on being stuck at home, just the two of us. I hope you're all going easy on yourself.

Megan D.: Happy Mother's Day. This is [Megan 00:15:17]. [Bells 00:15:17] grew up in London. And when she was a toddler, our park was Battersea Park. Just a quick walk from home. When you have tiny people to take care of, you take them to the park in all sorts of weather because it helps to just break up your day. So midwinter we bundled up and walked down the path to the long pond where they raced many little sailboats in the summertime. And I noticed our neighbors were there too, this German couple with their two small kids. And Bells was near the edge of the pond. And then suddenly she wasn't. She had fallen right in. Three layers of clothes, freezing water, neighbors aghast. I scooped her out as quick as I could. This look of absolute shock on her face. And for some reason, I just started to laugh, and was horrified at my own reaction. And I tried to stop. I mean the dripping clothes and the shivering kid in my arms, and I just couldn't. Not when I looked at the German family, not as I ran with my soaking baby all the way home. I laughed my ass off. 

Megan D.: And I know it wasn't the appropriate reaction, and I'm sure my neighbors thought I was a total nut job. Now when I think about it, maybe the instant shock of the moment pulled me out for just a second of the monotony of motherhood. The kind which is so acute when your kids are small. Whatever it was, the lesson is forgive yourself. There is absolutely no way you are going to get it all perfect. Give it your best shot, and then let the rest go. Love them like crazy. You will ache one day for their little tiny selves. 

Rachel: Hi, my name is Rachel. I'm an artist. When I was thinking about having children, people would tell me that women artists can't have children because they can't have it. All their art is their children. And once you have a real child, you lose the ability to be a great artist. I decided not to listen to them, because I always thought I could have it all.

Rachel: I had three children and I have three children. And they're now teenagers. And even becoming close to leaving the house. And I was giving a lecture last year and someone in the audience said that Marina Abramović told to everyone last year when she was giving the same lecture that you can't have children and be an artist. And how are my thoughts and what are my thoughts about this now? And I said, "Now, I've realized you can't have it all at the same time." You could be a good artist maybe possibly, hopefully a great artist. But it comes at the detriment of your children when you are making great art. And you could possibly hopefully be a great mother. And it comes to the detriment of making your art. But you can do at one time for a couple months or a year, or possibly a couple years, while the other one waits, and vice versa. And that's hopefully how I can have both, but not at the same time.

Anastasia: I have been thinking about all of this extra time I have had with my teenagers lately. So many movies, so many cups of Earl Grey tea. So many conversations about life, and future, and presence. And all of this feels stolen, like time I was not supposed to have, but that was just gifted to me. I know that during these teenage years, friends are often preferred over parents and balancing part-time jobs and activities and school often leave us with just logistical conversations while dropping them off or picking them up. And I feel almost coy in the fact that it is me that they are passing their ideas and thoughts through. Partly because there is no one else, and I am just so grateful.

Anastasia: And then I had this thought the other morning that it's not just me stealing time with them, but them stealing time with me. And I caught my breath. This idea that they would get more of my wisdom, more of my love, more of my grace. It made me get really intentional about how I wanted to show up. As mothers we need to stand in that acknowledgement. Spending time with us, it's their gift. It's not just ours. And how would this thinking change us? And how would this thinking change them? I love that motherhood is always shifting and pivoting as your children grow, and I love that life continues to give us these moments even when they're difficult and messy and imperfect, where we kind of just get to figure it all out a little bit more. This is Anastasia on motherhood.

BREAK

Lauren: Hi, I'm Lauren and I'm an actress here in LA. I'm also 21 weeks pregnant with my first baby. Although being in quarantine and in the midst of a worldwide pandemic is obviously not an ideal situation, I've been really doing my best to look on the bright side of this. As an actress, I always worried about when I would find the time to start a family. And I worried about being pregnant and missing out on auditions or not being right for a role because I was pregnant at the time. Or when I would be able to take time off of work. And now, I find myself with nothing but time. And I've actually been enjoying it.

Lauren: I get to spend a lot of time with my partner and the father of my baby, and we're really kind of getting to experience this together, which has been really wonderful. I'm well into my second trimester. And every single milestone, every up and down we've been able to go through together. And I don't know that if things were normal, for lack of a better word, we would have been able to experience the pregnancy in this way. Now on the flip side, although I am enjoying all this downtime, it is scary to think about bringing a child into a world where we don't know what's going to happen or what the future holds. But for now, I'm just trying to really stay present and enjoy this time that I've been given.

Megan F.: Hello, this is Megan from Brooklyn, and I'm a school teacher. Becoming a mother is probably the most selfish thing you can do, but mothering the most selfless. So motherhood becomes a dance between the two, the selfish and the selfless. It's a contradiction that goes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Just like becoming a mother makes you feel whole, it really splits you in two or more. As little sense as this makes, we were actually designed for this and that's why it feels natural. So I suppose becoming a mother unleashes your superpowers as you dance your way through the good, the bad, and that which I don't wish to mention here. Happy Mother's Day.

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: Hey, this is Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, and I just wanted to wish you a happy Mother's Day. One of the biggest challenges that I went through as a mom to be and then as a young mom, and even as an OB over the last 20 years. And especially in the last seven weeks with all this pandemic stuff, is just the fear and anxiety associated with uncertainty. But I'm doing the same thing now and I'm suggesting that you all do the same thing that I've done in all of those moments. And that is to have patience with myself and others. Surrender and try to be still in the present moment. It's really the only thing that ever works. So I just want to wish you all a happy, beautiful Mother's Day. To those of you who are mothers, to those of you who are becoming mothers, to those of you who have acted like mothers. We deserve that surrender, patience and some peace. Happy Mother's Day. 

Monica: Hey mamas, my name is Monica. And I find myself asking two questions multiple times throughout the day as a mother. And the first question is what is the teachable moment here? And this question applies to when my child is behaving or acting in a way that I might not want him to. And it requires me to step up as a leader and as a teacher, and as somebody who has more guidance and knowledge than him, to steer his behavior and his actions in a way that I think will be more productive, and that he will learn from, and that he will benefit from.

Monica: And the second question I find myself asking is, is this worth losing my Zen over? There's many moments throughout the day where you can pick and choose your battles. And oftentimes, there are moments where you might not agree with how your child's acting. But it might just be a battle of egos, and it might not just be worth losing your Zen or your cool over.

Monica: And I think with these two questions, one is requiring you to step up as a teacher and as a leader. And the second one is asking you to be taught and asking how your child can be a teacher to you.

Elizabeth: Hello, my name is Elizabeth Bachner. I am a licensed midwife in Los Angeles, California, where I own a birth center, and I'm also an author and teacher at graceful.com. So today I want to encourage you to take a moment to show others how much you love yourself and respect others by sharing a personal boundary with kindness. 

Elizabeth: So what I have observed is that when one grows up identifying as female, we tend to be socialized into thinking that showing love to another is done through sacrificing of one's needs. And I don't believe that's actually true. I think that healthy boundaries are not conditional, nor will they cause someone to leave you or love you less. So boundaries are a way of communicating to yourself and others how much you love yourself. So my prayer for you today and every day is may you know the value of your worth and see that reflected back to you in another who can respect your boundaries. Enjoy. 

Christina: My name is Christina Aires, and I'm the mom of a recently turned one year old boy. My wish for every mother right now is that you put on your proverbial face mask. First. Mothers are the eternal caretaker, and the ones to whom we turn when life is its most challenging. But the caretaker needs to be taken care of too. This week, do the thing that gives you the most pleasure. Call the person who fills your bucket. Spend an extra 10 minutes in the shower or the bath. Enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sun go down from your window. Read a great book. Whether you're the mother of a 30 year old who call you on Mother's Day to thank you or to a newborn who wake you up that morning at 6:00 AM, give yourself the grace to carve a little time out for yourself. Happy Mother's Day.

Mimi: Hi I'm Mimi Brainard. My mother-in-law gave me a notebook with recipes written down a long time ago. She pasted a poem she wrote on the inside cover. I have two daughters. They went away to boarding school and then to college, and I missed them during their adult years. We were all together now for the quarantine, and this is truly a gift to me. Every day we figure out what to have for dinner, and at night we were all in the kitchen together, cooking and preparing the meal. Sometimes it's a recipe from my mother-in-law's little notebook, but always it boils down to the last line of her poem. 

Mimi: A La Carte by Suzanne Miller Levine. How can I make a poem for you when all I can think about are recipes? I crush a cup of slivered almonds, heat the olive oil and add two silver cloves, chopped elliptical cloves that bring you to your knees with their urgency. Heading out from the rush of gourmandize, I add the almonds, bread crumbs, curls of parsley stirred with a wooden spoon. Blending the sweet meats. You hold the mushroom cap on the swelling of your palm and gently stuff the filling into the crevices, crown into the floodings, and press until full. We sprinkle the Parmesan and spritz them with a pale wine, then bake until bronzed. It helps to have a concentration of the right ingredients. Take for instance a nice Jewish boy and a half Jewish girl with a mother-in-law who swears that food is love. Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

Kira: Hi, my name is Kira. I'm a writer. Motherhood is sheer bliss, is like being on the best drug in the universe. And nursing, and kissing, and hugging, and even changing diapers and fitting clothes on tiny little feet. And it's discovering that your kid loves your favorite movie. And it is being completely and epically crushed when your kid doesn't love you for a minute, or hates you, or blames you, or needs to be apart from you. And it's in that space where you just learn true humility, I guess. You learn to just let it be, and to savor and cherish the love. To look for the openings in the hardest years for those moments, and to hold space around anger and around fear. And to try not to take it personally, and to be there when they want to come and sit on your lap again. As big, long teenagers and put their arms around you. And then be okay when they have to jump up and go again. That's motherhood. 

Carly Jo: Hi, I'm Carly Jo Carson from Topanga Canyon. Happy Mother's Day. I'm a mother of four. I have a blended family with four kids here. And motherhood and being a stepmom has been the most beautiful and deepest journey of my life thus far, and also the most challenging. And I think the tool that I am working with most these days is finding forgiveness for myself. There's so many times where I'm trying to do everything perfect and be this endless source of wisdom, and fun, and love, and just feel like I'm messing up so many times throughout the day. And if I get stuck in that feeling of I'm messing up, it just gets worse and snowballs. So I'm trying to just forgive myself and remove myself a little and just laugh, just laugh a little like, "You're doing that again." But it's easier said than done.

Carly Jo: But I teach breath work and shamanic practices involving healing, family of origin, and karmic trauma. And I came to that work because of my own relationship with my mother and how that was very complicated. And I'm still peeling, peeling the layers. But in this moment, I am of forgiveness for myself. I realize that it doesn't work unless you can truly forgive your own mother for the ways that they might not have been perfect, and just love them for who they are. And I'm finding so much love for my mom through being a mother. And with the work that I do and just for my own personal practice, I always end up trying to find a song and make harmony around whatever the feeling is that I want to embody, and sing harmonies with it. So here's one that I'm working on this week. And it's simple, and sing along if you feel like it.

Carly Jo: (singing)

Carly Jo: Sing that for your mother if you feel called, and sing it to yourself. Say happy Mother's Day.

Schuyler: It's been incredibly sweet for me to hear from the mothers in my extended tribe. I hope you too find some comfort and strength in their humble wisdom during this strange moment, this protracted inflection point of quarantine. All of our relationships with our kids, our partners, our parents, our country, and ourselves are going to be forever altered by this time we've spent together apart. What's on the other side of this of course, remains to be revealed to us. But it's my fervent hope that it's us women who will have the creativity and the urgency to come together, and to rise like a fleet of Phoenixes, ashes trailing behind us. And for this Sunday, don't just call your mother. Call 10 mothers, and remind them that all of our tiny tributaries come together to make up a river of women, fed by our mothers and our grandmothers flowing downstream to our children. Happy Mother's Day. 

Christina: Mommy. Mommy, mummy, mum, mumsy, mother, my mother, my mom, mom, my mama, mama mia, mami, mammita, mamasita, mama, [Spanish 00:35:21] [foreign language 00:35:30].

What Drug Companies Don't Disclose with Allison Behringer

Capitalism bombards us with the message, “You’re not enough, but to compensate we're going to sell you a product.” This gets particularly dangerous when the products are pills and medical devices, and in particular, hormonal birth control. Today, Allison Behringer, creator of the Bodies podcast, shares her personal story with "the pill" and discusses how the -isms (sexism, racism, and capitalism) cause problems in modern medicine.


Allison Behringer: Basically, I was in my mid twenties and I fell deeply in love for the first time.

Allison Behringer: It was with this guy and things were going great. I thought I was going to marry him. And then all of a sudden, sex started to become painful. I had never had any issues with that before. At the time, I was like, "I don't know. Maybe it'll go away, whatever." It was going away and it was just getting worse and worse.

Allison Behringer: I remember I went to my geochronologist and she was just like, "Oh, lots of women have painless sex. Use more lube." I'm 25 at the time. This should not be happened. But she was pretty dismissive. I was like, "What's wrong with me?" Was really embarrassed about talking about it. My boyfriend did know but I don't think that I maybe communicated the full extent of it. I don't think that he maybe responded in the best way or was as supportive.

Allison Behringer: So I was like, "Okay, I guess I'm just going to live with this." And then eventually, through a friend, I ended up figuring out that she had had an issue with the birth control pill herself, and that she had also had painful sex, and figured out that the cause was the birth control pill.

Allison Behringer: So when she said this to, I'm like, "Oh my gosh. Could this be my problem?" It was crazy to me at the time because I didn't even think twice about the pill. Half the time, on intake forms, I wouldn't even include it. It was just like, "Oh, the pill. Everyone's on it. What could it do? It's harmless." But once that friend told me about that, I started researching more and more.

Allison Behringer: What I found is that are a lot of side effects of hormonal birth control. One of the under-studied, under-researched ones is low libido, pain with sex, or just general pain in the genital area. So I ended up seeing a specialist and he diagnosed me with vulvodynia from hormonal birth control.

Allison Behringer: I went off the pill. I did some pelvic floor physical therapy because basically, there had been a secondary symptom, where because I was tightening and bracing against the pain, that caused a muscular problem. Basically, just to back up, how the pill works is that it make my skin in the vulva area really thin. So that was really causing a lot of irritation and pain.

Allison Behringer: So I went through this whole thing and I ended up breaking up with this boyfriend. I think I realized, "This is not working out," and I put it behind me. I was like, "I'm over with this part of my life. I'm so embarrassed by it. I'm finished with this relationship. Done with painful sex." And just went about my life, and in the meantime, was getting into podcasting and worked on another podcast show.

Allison Behringer: And then about a year later, I was thinking, "You know what? I really want to write about this story and make an episode about my own personal story," because what was happening is I kept talking to friends who didn't know anything about the side effects of the pill or were having painful sex.

Allison Behringer: It was just so fascinating because every time I told my story, inevitably someone would be like, "Oh my gosh. I was on the pill and I got really depressed. I was suicidal," or, "I went on the pill and I had this side effect," or, "I also had painful sex and it was because of this other thing." So I was like, "Okay, this needs to go out there.

Allison Behringer: But then the more I started talking about this idea of, "Oh, I think I want to tell this story," the more I started having conversations with friends, or random people I would meet at parties, about their own personal stories. I mean, it was just all the same things.

Allison Behringer: Maybe it was fibroids or another condition, but there were so many problems of, this person wasn't believed. Once they figured out what was going on, they realized the reason they didn't know this information was because of sex medicine or misogyny in the medical field or women's issues, if you look across history, have just been completely under-researched, under-funded.

Allison Behringer: So that's the long story of how I came up with the concept of Bodies. So the first episode is my own person story. And then each subsequent episode is a different person's story. The point is to really investigate the way that going through a medical mystery or medical problem impacts your relationships with yourself, with your family. How does it change you? What are the ways that you learn about yourself?

Allison Behringer: You said the show feels personal and that's why, is because all the people that we speak to are really willing to open up, and we like to say, go there, are willing to go there and talk about those hard things.

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, you're incredibly vulnerable and honest in the show. I think just sharing your own story allows people to see their own story in yours. It just sounds like, from the anecdotal descriptions that you're giving me now, just breaking the dam around subjects that our society might consider as taboo, just opens up this kind of an epiphany for people to be able to share, because they don't have that outlet.

Jeff: I mean, you even said, even with your own geochronologist, there was sort of a somewhat passive dismissal of the problem. And it is amazing how many people do want to share. Even just when I was playing your first episode, that, as you said, is autobiographical.

Jeff: In my own household, I have three daughters. My eldest is 15. She really wants to go on the pill. This is a subject of a lot of internal family debate. And as I'm sure you've discovered in your research, the pill is often actually not necessarily used primary as contraception, in some cases, it's used as symptom management.

Jeff: She's started to become sexually active. God, she's going to kill me. But really, for her, it's like, "I don't want to have a heavy period. I have brain fog. I have anxiety. I have acne. I have all of the symptoms that will all be addressed through this pharmaceutical, essentially synthetic estrogen."

Jeff: So we're having this debate internally, and we really wouldn't've had it, I don't think, if we hadn't listened to that episode, because we could've easily just swept it under the rug. I mean, we have a pretty open family and relationship. So I'm not saying that we wouldn't've had it at all. But I think the fact that you are out there and are breaking taboo subjects really helps families and women discuss these topics.

Jeff: One of the things I found really informative and fascinating about Episode 1, was not only your compelling journey, but a lot of the interesting history around the pill itself. I wonder if you could talk about that because there's a bunch of things that I had never heard of.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. Yeah. There's maybe a five-minute section in the episode where we go into the history. I mean, I could've done a whole episode, but I mean, some of the things that really stuck out to me. The pill did not really go through adequate testing before it came to market. It was tested on a group of women in Puerto Rico, without their consent, actually.

Allison Behringer: The doctor that was doing the on-sight testing told the researchers back in the States, "Hey, we're having a lot of side-effects. They're having mood issues, anxiety," listing through all these side effects of the pill. The main researchers were like, "Well, did anyone get pregnant?" And they were like, "Well, I mean, it worked in that respect. No one got pregnant." Basically, they were like, "All right. We got it. We figured it out."

Allison Behringer: So it goes to market, this first original pill, and then maybe 10 years later, there ended up being this big hearing in Washington, DC, about all the side effects of the pill. There were women dying from pulmonary embolisms, blood clots, stroke, all these really horrible side effects were happening because in the original pill, the hormone dosages, I think, was 15 times what a pill is today.

Allison Behringer: I think one of the big issues with the pill is ... that was happening in, I think, the '70s or '80s, and the pill really hasn't changed that much since then. There has not been a lot of innovation around the pill.

Allison Behringer: Just to speak to what you said before about the pill being used to manage just symptoms of puberty, just changes of puberty, I could go off for a while about that, but it's really problematic because a lot times, what we see as well is teenage girls might have a little bit of weight gain or bloating or anxiety, and then they get put on the pill.

Allison Behringer: It's not solving any problem. It's not regulating anything. It's just masking problems. So oftentimes, what the pill ends up covering up is PTOS, endometriosis, other hormonal issues that don't actually end up appearing until later, when say, the person is trying to get pregnant. So that's a whole nother thing.

Allison Behringer: So yeah, the history is really, really interesting, and we can just see that the health of ... I guess the other thing I'll say is, sexual pleasure was not part of the equation. It was about preventing pregnancy, which is a valid thing.

Allison Behringer: A huge part of woman's liberation was the pill, but if you're needed to go on a pill that's going to make sex painful or reduce your libido, what kind of liberation is that?

Jeff: Exactly. That was actually intuited the question that's be circulating in my brain, which is there's sort of a double-edged sword to the pill, because as you point out, and Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood, this has been long held sort of archetypes of feminism and women's liberation.

Jeff: Certainly, the pill, as it pertains to sexual liberation, or obviously women in the workplace, that played an incredibly important role culturally in that time, and still does. At the same time, I think what you have astutely pointed out is that there are tremendous negative implications and side effects associated with that.

Jeff: Essentially, it begs the question of are there other ways to address contraception that don't fall necessarily solely on the female? 

BREAK

Jeff: One of the themes that I have gleaned from your podcast, and I'm curious if you feel this way, is that a lot of discomfort, pain and disease for women seems to come from using external agents, or invasive surgeries, that are marketed to them under the banner of improving their lives. I wonder, is that theme and was that sort of something that you expected going into it?

Allison Behringer: Yeah. It's interesting because as you were saying, Johnson & Johnson probably won't sponsor this podcast. Going into the second season of the podcast, we've done two episodes on products that Johnson & Johnson sell that has proven to be really dangerous.

Allison Behringer:  One, vaginal mesh, which is often used for pelvic floor prolapse or urinary incontinence, and also Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, which is found to have trace amounts of asbestos. There's a lot of allegations about it causing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Allison Behringer: It was interesting because when I was doing the research for the second season, I was like, "Oh my gosh, I wonder, what was the company that made my birth control pill," because it had been a while since I'd done the reporting on that episode and I hadn't listened for a long time. I went back. I was like, "It's Johnson & Johnson," who made the pill that I was on.

Allison Behringer: There's two questions that come up in a lot of Bodies episodes. The first question is what's wrong with the person who's sharing their story, "What's wrong with me?" Once they get to their answer, the second question is, "Why didn't I know?" "Why does this product exist?" Or, "Why hasn't anyone done anymore research on it?" "Why didn't we know more," basically.

Allison Behringer: I think in a lot of Bodies episodes, it boils down to trifecta of isms. Why is this the way it is? It's because of sexism. It's because of capitalism. It's because of racism. I mean, I think there's a lot of other isms and layers in there, but I mean, I think capitalism is one of the big ones.

Allison Behringer: I think that we see, in this country, the way that the health of the individual is not really prioritized. It's about making money. So why are they advertising to teenage girls that is going to make their pimples go away and all these other things? It's because they want to sell their product. They want to make money. It is about making money.

Allison Behringer: I think that comes up in every episode. We see the way that capitalism and money and multinational cooperations are calling the shots when it comes to our health. I think, in pretty much every episode, we see the disastrous consequences that that has, especially for women's health.

Jeff: Yeah. Let's talk and unpack a little bit that elixir between capitalism and racism, as it specifically pertains to the episode, The Cost of Silky Soft and the story of Krystal, I suppose, who's the main protagonist. In that. Do you mind talking a little bit about that episode?

Allison Behringer: Yeah. I came across this story about in, I guess, 2018. At the end of 2018, Reuters published this big piece exposing how Johnson & Johnson knew, since the 1970s, that there was trace amounts of asbestos in their baby powder, which causes a very deadly cancer called mesothelioma.

Allison Behringer: Initially Johnson & Johnson covered it up. They didn't inform the FDA. They didn't inform consumers. Even as recent as this past fall, there was a recall on 30,000 bottles of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder first ever. That's one part of it.

Allison Behringer: Then later, we found out in the reporting, is that Johnson & Johnson was specifically targeting African American women. When we looked into that further, we found that there was this whole history of companies targeting African American women with deodorant, feminine deodorant sprays.

Allison Behringer: There's this great researcher named Michelle [Fumante 00:19:34]. She did this side-by-side comparison of black lifestyle magazines in the '70s and '80s, like Ebony, Jet Magazine, and compared it to white lifestyle magazines, like Life Magazine, for example. She compared the advertisements in the two.

Allison Behringer: What she found is that in these black lifestyle magazines, every addition had advertisements for douching products, feminine deodorant sprays, and they did not exist in Life Magazine. So basically, her argument, which I think is really compelling, is basically, companies were playing on these racist, sexist notions, and tailoring their advertisements to a group of people.

Allison Behringer: The only way that companies sell a product is by telling their consumers, "You have a problem," right? We're not going to go out and buy razors and shave our legs unless we've been told that having hair legs is a problem. The saying can pretty much go for any kind of beauty of self-care item.

Allison Behringer: There's also internal documents that show that, in the early 2000s when baby powder sales were going down, Johnson & Johnson was like, "Oh, where should we turn to? Oh, the African American community. We know they use this. Let's double down on our marketing." You can see, in these internal documents, the calculated way that they were thinking about this.

Allison Behringer: Of course, that's marketing to a specific demographic. That's not a crime, but what is, is having a potentially dangerous product and then doubling down on your marketing.

Jeff: Yes. Well, certainly the dangerous product is a crime, but I think there's something potentially more insidious going on, which is that essentially, capitalism, by its definition, exists around notions of projecting messages and images of unattainable success. And then goes about its marketing, as you say, to establish a problem.

Jeff: That's generally by saying, "You're not enough. You don't meet those standards. But to compensate for this perceived deficiency, we are going to market and sell you this particular product." In this particular case, which seems to be sort of a distillation of the grotesque, is that they're praying upon people that are most vulnerable, in the sense of how they feel not enough, and that is African American women.

Jeff: So what's implicit here, or what I got from the episode, is that there's some sort of implicit message that says, "African American women are dirty and don't smell good. So we're going to market this product to olé those qualities." That's pretty disgusting.

Jeff: What kind of reaction do you get from some of the pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that you're calling to account, if any?

Allison Behringer: Yeah. I mean, in both the Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder episode and in the episode we did about transvaginal mesh, I mean, we reached out to Johnson & Johnson and they give pretty boilerplate responses of, "Oh, we tested the product. It's safe." And I mean, it's also Johnson & Johnson is just one of the many cosmetic companies that use talcum powder, which is the mineral that they're using that contains asbestos.

Allison Behringer: Johnson & Johnson is just one of many pharmaceutical companies that is making this transvaginal mesh. I mean, the response is typically the same. They don't really engage more than to say, "Our product is safe," and refute our findings in our reporting.

BREAK

Jeff: Yeah. The topic of the day is obviously COVID-19. I wonder what your thoughts are around COVID-19 and its relation specifically to women, both psychologically and physiologically.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. As this is happening, myself and the Bodies team, we're trying make sense of this. What does this mean for us? What does this mean for the world? What does this mean for our work? Something that just immediately came to mind and something that we were seeing was how this was affecting pregnant people and new parents, people who were giving birth.

Allison Behringer: Something that I've been very interested in us covering is postpartum mental health. So a lot people are aware of postpartum depression, but there's actually a category called postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. So that encapsulates postpartum psychosis, postpartum anxiety.

Allison Behringer: In talking to doulas and doctors and people, a lot are reporting show that one of the first lines of defense against these postpartum mood and anxiety disorders is ensuring that you have a good solid community network. Having a postpartum doula come to your house and help you with nursing. Having a lactation specialist come if you're having breastfeeding issues. Really having a community around you, that's helping you. All of those things.

Allison Behringer: I mean, my first thought was, "Okay, all of this first line of defense is being stripped away," right? People can't have their parents come into town. In New York City, for example, you're limited to one support person in the room. Most people will probably choose their partner. There's not space for a doula.

Allison Behringer: So that's what we've been doing a lot of thinking about. Actually, our upcoming episode is about navigating first in the postpartum period during this time of coronavirus. We also spokes to a bunch doulas. The other thing came up, and I think we're seeing this across the board with effects of coronavirus, but the people who are most vulnerable, in our society, already.

Allison Behringer: So people who are low-income, black and brown communities, who are already negatively effected by the way that the healthcare system does not value their lives as much. We see this in the data. Those people are even more disproportionately affected.

Allison Behringer: I'm sure you've also been seeing the news about how it's low-income areas, it's black and brown communities that have higher death rates from caronavirus. So similarly, in the birth space, we especially need doulas support people to help people navigate the healthcare system when they're giving birth. So to strip away those safeguards, the support ...

Allison Behringer: I mean, it's really important to talk about new parents, birthing people, new moms, in this conversation because unlike a lot of other life events, elective surgery, birthday parties, graduation, these things can go online or they can be postponed, but birth is a landmark life event. It's coming. There's nothing you can do about it.

Jeff: Yeah. 

Allison Behringer: The other thing I'll say is that, it's been shown that having a traumatic birth increases your risk for postpartum mood and anxiety disorder. So I mean, a lot of people are having traumatic births right now. They're not being allowed to have their ... There was a couple weeks in New York City, or maybe a week in New York City, where no one could be with a person in the birthing room.

Allison Behringer: The chaos of a hospital, I think is going to have downstream effects on postpartum mental health. But I think that's just as a society, as people who know other people who have had babies recently, we should be aware of.

Jeff: Yeah. No, even my brother went with my sister-law-yesterday, to get an ultrasound. They made his stay outside. He's kind of like, "Oh, okay." But it's not about him. It's about her because this is her first kid and she has the first ultrasound. And she's like, "Wait, not only do I want to share that experience with my partner, I have a certain understandable anxiety that I need that support and I want to share-"

Allison Behringer: Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. The erosion of that community network is a really interesting point. I'm friends with a functional medicine doctor, named Mark Hyman, who actually conducts trials in treating chronic disease at the Cleveland Clinic. He will treat groups together, that have some form of chronic illness, often diabetes, and then treat patients one on one.

Jeff: By a factor of 3 or 4 x, the people that are getting treated in community are recovering quicker, because A, there's a sense of accountability, but they have that sense of mutual support and that mind-body connection, which is obviously becoming real science now, with anxiety and stress, and its relationship to the immune system, to the body in general, which is another big topic.

Jeff: That's real. So yeah, it's a crazy time. And your other point around how ... There's a lot of memes out there around COVID-19. It doesn't discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation or gender, whatever it is. It gets us all. The virus itself might not discriminate, but what it is putting a microscope on is the fact that society does.

Jeff: I also seen that some of the same statistics, that I'm sure you're reading in New York Times, that I read yesterday, which one was in Louisiana for example, 33% of the population is African American, but 70% of the deaths, of the fatalities from COVID-19, are African American.

Jeff: What that points to is the ground conditions, essentially, the underlying conditions, in which people are living, so already with chronic disease, obesity, compromised immune systems. So while the virus itself might not be discriminating, it certainly is putting a microscope on a society that has a lot of inherent problems.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

Jeff: What are you most excited about in your upcoming work? Just from a sausage-making perceive on the podcast, how does that happen? How do you guys think about it and vet ideas and actually make them happen?

Allison Behringer: Yeah. Yeah. I started this second season with a Google DOC about 20 different conditions that we were hoping to cover. And a lot of us, at this point, sourced from our community. So we have this really amazing Facebook group that's related to the podcast.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. So a lot of our ideas for this season were informed by people emailing us and writing on the Facebook group. So once we had that list, we narrowed it down and then set out and started reporting.

Allison Behringer: For example, the episode that I was talking about with transvaginal mesh. That started as a bigger-picture idea of medical devices. There's this great film about medical devices. We were interested in a birth control device called Essure, which has injured and killed a bunch of women who were interested in breast implants and also transvaginal mesh.

Allison Behringer: So we set out, talking to as many people as we could, joining Facebook groups, doing Twitter call outs, talking with activists. So we probably talked to 5 or 10 people across those different things. And then we realized, "Okay, mesh is pretty under reported. There's a lot of interesting stuff about the FDA in here. Let's narrow in here."

Allison Behringer: And then between myself and another reporter on my team, we, what we call pre-interview. So we got on the phone with probably at least 10 different women and spent between 30 and 45 minutes hearing their story and taking a bunch of notes.

Allison Behringer: And then what we do, we bring all those pre-interviews and conversations to an edit meeting. Sometimes we have a conversation. I mean, all of these conversations are really valuable because they us understand what is the common experience, what is the broader landscape.

Allison Behringer: And then we come into these edit meetings. The thing that we're looking for with the Bodies story is not just a medical mystery. We're looking for a person who's changed and grown and there's a parallel of growth along with their medical mystery.

Allison Behringer: I don't want to give away too much of this episode if people listen, but basically, we ended up connecting with this woman named [Melinda 00:36:10], who, alongside of her journey with mesh, had this really incredible story about growing up in the Mormon Church.

Allison Behringer: She was basically pressured into giving her daughter up for adoption when she was 16 and a single mom. So the through line of that story is about consent and how she thought she consented to this mesh surgery, but she really didn't consent because she didn't know all the information.

Allison Behringer: So there are these kind of parallel narratives of consent and what it means to give true informed consent, that we see with mesh, but also this personal journey. And there's evolution and there's change and she basically has this really incredible epiphany through the end of the story.

BREAK 

Jeff: In Episode 1, there's this really emotional, sweet exchange that you have with your mother. If I remember correctly, she was raised as a fairly strict Catholic.

Allison Behringer: Yeah, that's right.

Jeff: You're talking about issues that are very, very personal, related to sexuality, and clearly she loves you deeply, but those just weren't things that were talked about. Is that changing?

Allison Behringer: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a great question. I think they are. I had a lot of people, after that episode aired, both friends and strangers, reach out and just say, similar to you, "Oh my gosh. That part made me cry," or, "Oh my gosh. I called my mom up and we had a really similar conversation," or, "That inspired me to have this conversation with my mom," or, "To have this conversation with my daughter."

Allison Behringer: So I think that yeah. I do think that the younger generation is really open about this stuff. Some may say too open, but I don't know. I don't really think you can be too open about this stuff. But yeah, I mean, basically, one of the main things that my mom said to me, which, you can hear at the end of the episode, is basically, "I tried but I didn't know how to talk about sex. No one really explained it to me. I didn't know how to have that conversation with you."

Allison Behringer: I think that, with a lot of things, especially navigating sexuality or talking about it, you might want to talk about it, but it's so much easier said than done. It's really hard to find the words if you've never had that kind of conversation modeled for you or if your mom didn't tell you these things, it's hard to conjure the words out of thin air.

Allison Behringer: It's hard to conjure up these skills for talking about complex, nuanced things. But I do think it's changing. I think that we see that with the way people are interacting with the show. The other thing I'll say is that I think that, in a lot of our stories, one of the greatest triumphs of the person who's sharing their story, is the fact of telling their story.

Allison Behringer: The first episode in this season about a woman who has a sexual disorder. I was the fifth person that she told this story to. So I think that there's still a lot of fear about telling things. I think that's been, from the feedback that we've gotten, one of the most powerful things, just hearing people again and again sharing these really tough things. I think that it's inspired people to share their own stories with their friends, with each other.

Jeff: Totally. Totally. I agree. With my last question is about men. I noticed that the Goldsteins, both your two doctors are Goldsteins, were both fairly evolved. I wonder, now that you've done so many episodes, but also even, it sounds like 8, 10 x times more interviews, I wonder what your takeaway is, in terms of the role for men in this discussion, and what men can do to help.

Allison Behringer: This might be an oversimplification, but I really think it's about listening. Just listening. Not talking, just listening. It's been pretty interesting because there's been, I would say maybe 5%, 6% of the people that are Bodies Facebook group are men.

Allison Behringer: Because I approve everyone individually. A lot of them are like, "My wife sent this to me. I just want to learn and listen." So I think just it's a podcast. You can listen. You can just listen, both to the podcast, to anything to read.

Allison Behringer: That's a great question. I'm not sure I have action points, necessarily, but yeah, I think that's just general empathy and understanding maybe. Yeah. I'm just going to go with that. I'm just going to go with listening.

Jeff: I'm not saying anything because I'm listening. Well, I think that listening is really good advice. I'm kind of in it right now because my girls particularly, they don't want to hear anything I have to say anyways. They just want to be heard.

Jeff: As much as I want to tell, especially my oldest daughter, "Listen, I accrued tools over multiple generations of reading books and practicing mediation and reading dusty old scrolls. I have the answers. If you apply these techniques of self-transcendence, you won't worry about the material world. You'll be happy. God is right where you are."

Jeff: I'm so tempted to go into my litany of aphorisms about how the world is. I think, really, I just need to shut up and just let people be heard. This is a little off topic, but I had this New Year's Eve party, up at this ranch, up in Topanga. A lot of people just brought other people so I didn't know who was there, but it was about 50 people or so.

Jeff: I got up. We were all sitting around these big outdoor tables and this lovely dinner. I got up and I said something. I was like, "Does anyone have any hopes and dreams that they want to share around the decade that's coming?" On person raised their hand and got up and spoke beautifully and eloquently.

Jeff: And then the person right to their left was compelled to do so. Then it all of a sudden took on a life of its own, and was very, very clear that everyone was going to nestle in for about an hour and a half, while every single person went around this distorted circle and said something.

Jeff: We were halfway through or maybe two thirds of the way through and there was a woman, who I didn't know. She got up. She's like, "I've never said anything before in public. Never. I'm petrified. To be honest, I hate New Year's Eve because I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I'm five years sober. I just don't have anywhere to go or anyone to be with on New Year's Eve, so I called my friends and they said, 'Come with.'"

Jeff: She was actually from out of town. She was from Minneapolis, I think. She flew from Minneapolis to LA, ended up at my place, and she's like, "I feel so held here. I feel so heard." There were a lot people that got up, that weren't necessarily professional public speakers, but certainly, were very comfortable in that space, that gave eloquent speeches with little punchlines and all this kind of thing.

Jeff: And they were great, and it was comedic and enjoyable. But I will always remember this woman more than anything that anyone else said, because really, she just had never been heard. That stuck with me as maybe that is the greatest gift that we can give, is just to let people be heard.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. Yeah.

Jeff: Allison, thank you for your incredibly honest and vulnerable work and for telling really brave stories, and enabling other people to tell really brave stories. Like I said, I know, even from personal experience, that other people see their own stories in the ones that you're bringing to the fore. So thank you.

Allison Behringer: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you, Jeff. I really appreciate the space to talk about it. I'll say one thing about this conversation with your daughter is, I feel like oftentimes, the fight against a daughter going on the pill feels like trying to control her sexuality. I'm thinking of myself as a 16 year old, that a parent saying, "You can't go on the pill," is a means of they're trying to control you.

Allison Behringer: But it sounds like you're the kind of family that would have more open conversations about it. That's not really what it's about. I think that it's not this dichotomy. I guess, to me, I think that the pill is not a simple equation of pill equals liberation. It's more complicated than that.

Allison Behringer: I think actually knowing your body, understanding it, that's the way to get there. But I feel like you and your daughter will get there. Also, the pill, it is necessary. There's a time and a place for it. I would never go on it, personally, ever again. I think, sorry, one more thing, is just I think the most important thing is to know what the side effects are.

Allison Behringer: Actually know the risks, this idea of conformed consent. Yes, maybe there's a time or place, but know that, oh, actually, sex could get painful. Or you might get even more anxious. Or you might get depressed. And that if you know that information, then if those things happen, you can be like, "Okay, I'll get off the pill. I'll find something else."

Tapping to Let Go with Nick Ortner

Is your personal narrative true? Or do you manipulate and aggregate past phenomena to support your current story? Today, Nick Ortner, CEO of The Tapping Solution, talks about how the simple technique of tapping can powerfully address fear and anxiety and aid the process of healing. Plus, experience a short tapping session!


Jeff: Nick Ortner, CEO of The Tapping Solution. Thank you for coming on the Commune podcast.

Nick Ortner: Jeff, it's always a pleasure to chat. You know I do a lot of podcasts, some with people I don't know, and others like this one with friends. So it's always interesting when I talk to a friend in this live public fashion to see what we can uncover. I enjoy it more because maybe we can go deeper and uncover some things about tapping and the world and what's happening and how we can help people heal.

Jeff: Absolutely. We have a lot of common interests, and common friends common, even political beliefs and allies, which would maybe be another episode someday. But we've always... I think really enjoyed each other's company. So just to begin, I would love just a primmer EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique, one-on-one. For me and for our listeners, just to get generally acquainted with the modality.

Nick Ortner: Of course. So EFT, as you said, Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping is what we call it as a general term, sort of like meditation is a general term. And then we have all these different kinds of meditation, but we call it tapping because we are literally physically tapping on these endpoints of meridians of our body. It's a combination of ancient Chinese acupressure. That's the tapping component. And then modern psychology.

Nick Ortner: And what the latest research has shown is that when we tap on these endpoints of meridians, while focusing on the stress, the anxiety, the pain in our bodies, whatever's going on, we're sending a calming signal to the amygdala in the brain. And your very wise listeners will know that the amygdala is that fight, flight or freeze response center in our brain when we're stressed when we're anxious when we're worried about a world pandemic, that is a part of us that is firing, and this happening sends a calming, counteracting signal to tell the body it's safe, to tell the body that it can relax.

Jeff: Yeah. The reptilian part of our brain, this kind of fight or flight, cortisol component of us can be very helpful and in certain situations certainly when we were roaming the Serengeti as foragers. But rarely in modern life are we in sort of physical danger, but it seems like that this part of our brain has now I suppose now reacts more towards sort of psychological threat. And I wonder, kind of, you have seen through kind of many experiences the usefulness of tapping to relieve kind of fear and anxiety sort of fight or flight in the most kind of emotional or psychological way. I wonder if you can talk about of the relationship between this technique and fear and anxiety.

Nick Ortner: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned one of our big stress hormones, cortisol that is flowing through our bodies at all times, and it's a useful hormone in a lot of ways. I just ran across a research study just came out a couple of weeks ago on tapping, and it was actually a replication study. So replication studies are great and important because in science, as you know, we tended to do a lot of studies and someone tries to replicate it, and that doesn't happen. It doesn't work again. So it's important to say, "Hey, this is a different group of researchers replicating the study."

Nick Ortner: And what they did in this study is they had three groups. One did an hour of tapping, of group tapping. The second group did an hour of psychoeducation. So learning about stress, and learning about the body and its stress response. And the third group got to sit in a waiting room for an hour and read magazines. So they were the control group.

Nick Ortner: The tapping group saw a 43% decrease in cortisol in an hour. So this is salivary cortisol before and after a huge drop. And I really loved the physical measurements because it's like, okay, we know and we're going to talk about fear and anxiety in a moment. But it's like, "What is the physical response it's happening in your body." I think it's important to acknowledge that, especially in this time when we're looking to boost our immune systems and stay healthy, lowering that cortisol, lowering all those other stress hormones, is so critical. So 43% decrease in tapping group, a 19% decrease in the psychoeducation group, which to me showed, "Hey, the things that you're learning and when you're reading books and exploring this information, it's helping you to relax your body and moving you into that state."

Nick Ortner: And by the way, when you add the tapping component, now you added, you went up to 43%, and then maybe the funniest part of this study was the control group who read magazines. Their cortisol went up 2%.

Jeff: Oh no.

Nick Ortner: So just sitting there, who knows what magazines they were reading. I've been joking that I would like to see the next replication study, the third control group being on Facebook for an hour, on their newsfeed, seeing what their friends are posting, seeing because I am convinced the cortisol will go up 20%, 30%, 40% from that.

Nick Ortner: But that, to me, shows the relationship between this fight or flight response and the cortisol in our body and then these emotions. So with the tapping, we are focusing on the anxiety, the stress, the overwhelm, the fear that is gripping our lives. I think we're in an unprecedented time, not only because we're in the middle of the global pandemic, which is as stressful as it gets.

Nick Ortner: There's two components of any stressful situation, and those two are uncertainty and lack of control. Someone will think about a global pandemic. It is full of uncertainty. We don't know what's going to happen next, and lack of control. We can't do anything about it for most of us, right? We can't take an action and say, "I'm going to do this to change the situation in my life." So this is uber stressful. Cortisol's rising, fear and anxiety is rising, and with the tapping, we acknowledge these feelings, we send that comic signal to the amygdala and now, what we're doing too.

Nick Ortner: To me, the big breakthrough in tapping and these other somatic therapies, somatic meaning body-oriented therapies, is that we move beyond all this head stuff, right? Where we just talked for 30 years about mom and how she drove us crazy for dad and how he wasn't kind, or the things that we experienced growing up or the abuse or the trauma. All important things to look to heal, the tapping and physical therapies. Sematic therapy says, our bodies are part of this equation. It can't just be about our minds. It's going to be difficult to talk our way out of these things. We've got to have that deeper experience and begin to tell our bodies that it's safe.

Nick Ortner: With that calming signal, the body begins to relax and feel safe. And that's why people have such profound breakthroughs where they say, "Some people yawn like crazy, they cry immediately. They feel a sense of relief because their bodies, for the first time in a long time, had begun to calm down."

Jeff: Yeah, it's interesting. And there's an author named Peter Levine who you're probably familiar with.

Nick Ortner: Yeah, of course.

Jeff: I was reading some of his writing that addresses kind of how animals shake that there's a physical expulsion of stress and anxiety that we don't do. We're often in this kind of freeze mode. And then because we're not moving because there is no kind of physical detoxifying of the trauma or the stress, we bury it in a... and I guess what Michael singer might refer to as sort of a negative, some scar or but that didn't, then these patterns emerge over and over again in our lives in a whole variety of different ways.

Jeff: And it's interesting how you described anxiety. I talked to a guy named Peter Crone maybe about a month ago, and he brought this up as well. Where anxiety and the two principal components of anxiety, this kind of a deadly elixir between uncertainty and powerlessness. And my friend, Chip Conley, wrote a book I know quite a few years ago called Emotional Equations, which was largely for adults like me who need some sort of mathematic equation in order to understand one zone's emotions.

Jeff: But he essentially said that "Anxiety equals powerlessness times uncertainty" And that they're both equal factors in determining kind of our anxiety levels. And I think there're various ways at that to address the problem. We can try to address certain elements of the uncertainty and reduce that to the degree that we can, or we can apply different forms of tools. Now, there could be sort of a meditative approach to uncertainty which is sort of to surrender and let go of the ego like minds need to know everything to actually have certainty in one's life and to actually become more, I suppose, unattached to outcome and more equanimus and I guess, and let go of that need to control.

Jeff: And then, of course, there are sematic modalities. I think like EFT and other ones that really directly address it. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about kind of the acupressure, I guess the ancient Chinese component of it, the meridians, and then how that merges with modern psychology and what elements of modern psychology that you are pulling into the practice.

Nick Ortner: Yeah, absolutely. Before I do that, since you mentioned Chip's name, I have to read you his testimonial about tapping.

Jeff: Okay.

Nick Ortner: I don't know if you've heard this.

Jeff: I didn't. I'd love to hear.

Nick Ortner: So he wrote, "In my darkest hour, I discovered tapping and miraculously this unorthodox approach to making sense in my life. Move me out of the fog and into the sunshine." I love his emotional equations, but we met a couple of years back through TLC, and he had actually done tapping before we met, and he's a big fan of it as a technique. So I thought that was kind of serendipitous.

Jeff: I love it.

Nick Ortner: When you mentioned his name, I was like, "well, I got a testimonial."

Jeff: He's a beautiful guy.

Nick Ortner: He is beautiful man, beautiful man. So these ancient Chinese acupressure components. So these meridians, we often think of our bodies, especially in this Western world, as being very biological. So we think about the food that we eat, the supplements we take, the pills that we take. If we go to a Western medical doctor, most of their resources and techniques will be biological. They're like, "Take this thing, and it will have this chemical reaction." But the reality is that our bodies are very electrical and that's something that Western science understands and agrees. They just don't work with those principles.

Nick Ortner: So we know that our brain is full of electrical signals that date. It's not just a biological component that we have nerves that send electrical signals throughout our body. And what these endpoints of meridians are, are points of greater conductivity. So when we tap, when we create that pressure, that drumming, we're sending that signal through these points of less resistance to the body and the brain.

Nick Ortner: And then the modern psychology component. I mean, this is where there's so much flexibility, so much ability to do tapping the way that feels good to you. So much ability for therapists and psychiatrists and psychologists who are many of them are bringing tapping into their practice to take their principles. So I've seen yang-yin psychologists who say, "My practice has changed when I brought tapping in with my yang-yin principles.

Nick Ortner: So really whatever your approach is, whether it's cognitive behavioral therapy or anything that you use as a baseline for communicating with people, for helping people explore themselves, their bodies, their histories, their past, the healing to happen. When you bring in this physical component, the results are amplified tremendously because you can help people actually relax.

Nick Ortner: And I've heard time and again where people say, "Well, I was in talk therapy for 20 years, and then six months of tapping and my life changed completely because we're unlocking this safety component. You mentioned the word buried before. When it comes to our feelings and emotions, it's such a big part of this process. When we start tapping, we start on how we feel. So we say, "Okay, how anxious are you on a scale of zero to 10? Feel it in your body now notice that anxiety be present to it." And that part of it can be really difficult, especially for people who are into positive thinking, which I am. I'm all about positive thinking and optimism. Someone's watched The Secret maybe a few too many times. They really struggle with the thought of being negative in any way.

Nick Ortner: But I remember sitting down with my dear friend Louise Hay, who's since she left us, a founder of Hay House and a legend in this space in this field of self-help and personal development. And she is all about affirmations and positive thinking. And I said, "Louise, we're doing this tapping together. We had done some private sessions, and you love this process, but we start with the negative. Why are we doing this?" And she looked at me, and I hadn't prepped her for the question. It was just amazing her simple answer. She said, "Honey if you want to clean a house, you have to see the dirt." And it just became so obvious to me in that moment that so many of us bury things and we put the dirt under the rug, and we think we're being positive. We think that we are forgiving someone because we're just ignoring it, but this is saying, "Hey, let's actually process these emotions."

Nick Ortner: And it also allows us to do some really deep work. I was doing a Facebook live in our private group earlier this week about anger and forgiveness and taking people through a process where if they had someone that they were angry about something that needed to be said, that they could tap through it, tap through that process, speak their truth. So almost imagine it's happening in that moment, and then process it to the point where they can then get clarity of saying, "Well, this is something that I actually need to say to this person, or no, I can move beyond this."

Nick Ortner: As an example, if someone has an 80-year-old mother who abused them growing up and they're just realizing they're 50 years old and they're doing this work, and they're realizing, "My gosh, she was horrible to me, and she abused me physically and verbally and it was an awful experience. I'm looking to heal from it."

Nick Ortner: The question in a situation like that is, how does that healing happen? Do you have to or do you want to say to that 80-year-old mother, I can't believe all the things that you did to me. I can't believe how much you hurt me? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe there's a way to process these emotions first to have that healing happen and then have the clarity to say, I either need to say something or I've done my healing. It's in the past, and I'm letting it go because that's what best serves everyone involved.

Jeff: Yeah, now, that's interesting. I mean, I suppose it's yang-yin in a way to do that shadow work that you can't truly be free, be present, be in awareness without really doing some of that hard work on the shadow components of your life. The resentment, the anger, the jealousy, the envy, the low self-esteem, the story basically that a lot of people are constantly carrying with them. And we all have those. I have them. And I'm committed to that work, and I think it's really important. And then there's kind of the other side of it too, which is that we tend to identify ourselves through sort of the continuity of our own psychology of like "I am the product of these memories and experiences that have influenced me to be me to defined what the experience is like to be Jeff or to be Nick."

Jeff: And I've been thinking about this a lot recently of whether or not a lot of those, that story, a lot of those experiences and memories are actually true or not. Or are they just essentially manipulations of phenomena that happened in the past that I have essentially aggregated to support this current story that I'm having right now in this very present moment. And when I meditate or use other modalities and I do tap not religiously, but I do tap, and I find it really helpful.

Jeff: When I do those things, I actually, what I can kind of peek into is that all I am is the experiencer of sort of transitory phenomenon from moment to moment. Like, "There is no story," like the truth has no story, but, of course, like "I'm not living in that space all the time. I'm not fucking tall or anything." I can just sort of like pop-up in there and then back into the muck of being like an animal.

Jeff: So it's an interesting, it's strange as being human, especially right now where we're living in kind of like this strange forced monasticism, I mean, I suppose monks like go off to ashram and caves to sort of strip away external stimuli to essentially get at the core of what is contentment? What is pain? And there is sort of a strange coerced monasticism in a way that's happening, not to everyone, not to frontline workers, not to people who are sick, not to biologist or supply chain folks, but to a lot of people who are sequestered at home. Just living with less and living with themselves. And I think this is where that tech we're tapping can be so incredibly useful because we're not often trained to deal alone with ourselves.

Nick Ortner: Yeah. 100%. It's one of the things that I love about the technique, and again, therapists and psychologists love it because they can teach their clients something to use themselves, right?

Jeff: Right.

Nick Ortner: So it's not just about that hourly session or that monthly session. It is, "I can take control of my body, my life, my anxiety. It's not something that has to control me." And a lot of times for those situations, for anxiety or depression or overwhelming fear, it's almost like the fear of the experience itself is just as bad. Like, "What if I get a panic attack when I go out? What if I get this feeling." So the fear of the feeling sort of keeps it running into that circle. I got a text. I mean speaking about taking that power back and being at home and the front line workers.

Nick Ortner: I got a text a couple of weeks ago from a friend of mine was actually a nurse at Yale-New Haven. And to me, this highlights the power of this technique to transform lives one by one. And she writes me, and she says, "Hey, I have to thank you. I had a panic attack last night at 2:00 AM, I've never had one before like that. It was pretty bad. I felt like I couldn't breathe and was shaking. My teeth were chattering," and this is like probably the calmest person you'll ever meet. She's just down to earth, calm. So anyway, "A lot of my friends keep reaching out, and complete debilitating anxiety, and I think I'm an empath and just take it all on, and the million daily scary emails from work don't help. Anyway, I listened to your, stop a panic attack, attack meditation on the app, and it immediately calmed me down like immediately. Then my husband talked to me for a while after I did it twice and I was better. Seriously, thank you so much for what you do. I don't know what else I would have done without your work."

Nick Ortner: That 2:00 AM moment to me that is the power of this technique, whether it's using the app or just learning the technique on your own because if someone's had a real panic attack, they know that if you have a panic attack at 2:00 AM and it's a full-blown panic attack, most people end up in a hospital, right? You need help. You need medication to bring things back in perspective and calm you down. A lot of people go to hospitals with panic attacks thinking they're having a heart attack.

Nick Ortner: So this is real and obviously, disclaimer, go to the hospital if you think you're having a heart attack. So just check with your medical doctor. But this is a tool where people can take that power back and say, "I have a resource within, or I can calm my body down, or I can bring things back in balance very quickly."

Jeff: It's a beautiful email or text to get, and I feel that in this time, that kind of expression that's becoming more normal, that gratitude that reaching out to people and giving support. I'm feeling it too. It's lovely. 

BREAK

Jeff: I think by, and large people have a different association with Newtown, Connecticut, as it was the home or the community for the tragic shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. So your work came really to your doorstep. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that experience and what you learned as almost kind of a first responder in your own way and then how you've applied that forward to other situations.

Nick Ortner: Yeah, thank you. It's a good, deep, and broad question. So we'll see what we can pull out of this. So, as you said, I live in Newtown. The shooting took place 10 minutes from my house as I drive right now, about three or four minutes from my brother's house, who also lives in Newtown. So when that day happened, I remember that Friday so well when the news started coming out and at first it was like, "Well, one person was shot" And you think, "Okay, well that was horrible and tragic, but it's not a big deal." Not that it isn't obviously, but that's how you react, right? We go with the scale of these things, which is ridiculous, but there it is.

Nick Ortner: And as the news began to unfold over the weekend and got the real story, the shock was just, I mean, it's one thing. I think the whole world, I know the whole world was shocked and stunned, and then when it's 10 minutes from your house in the town that you live in and you own a house and it's something else. I knew we had been doing a lot of work. So that was December 14th, 2012, we started the tapping solution. In 2007, then my movie came out in 2008. So, we'd already been out there doing a lot of humanitarian work and worked with genocide survivors in Rwanda supporting work they're doing tapping with them, and kids with cancer in a hospital in Mexico. So it was already part of our mission, and then it just got taken to the next level because we knew we had to do something to help.

Nick Ortner: I flew in Dr. Lori Leyden, who, whose work we had supported in Rwanda because she had that direct experience of these unspeakable tragedies and together with my brother and sister and the rest of my family. And then a whole lot of volunteers who came forward. We spent the next couple of years helping people heal and wherever we were given the opportunity. We had some incredible stories like my friend Scarlett Lewis who wrote a book called Nurturing Healing Love. I remember going to her house the Tuesday after the tragedy.

Nick Ortner: So, five days earlier, her son Jesse had been murdered. And walking into her house and seeing all the paintings of Jesse in his room and his toys and it was as real as it gets. And we were there to provide comfort for Scarlett. She actually knew about tapping. She was a fan of Wayne Dyer and Hay House and was familiar with my work. So she was open to it, and we did some tapping together in that moment, we also tapped with her son, J.T her Jesse's brother, who hadn't gone back to school and was having a really hard time obviously. Scarlett and J.T, I had worked with Scarlett for a year afterward, still in touch with her. She's gone on to do incredible things with the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, where she does social, emotional learning in schools, and part of her curriculum includes tapping.

Nick Ortner: So she wrote a book with Hay House, so we've gone on to do other things. But in those early moments, it was just about finding some peace. Tapping isn't a cure for anything, it's never going to fix a tragedy that is so unspeakable. But what it allowed Scarlett to do and what it allowed J.T to do and other people we work with is to release some of the heaviest trauma, the shock that the bodies were and the stress, the anxiety, and be able to breathe and find some peace. And also to grieve.

Nick Ortner: I've worked with people who have had such tragic losses, oftentimes the anger about what happened obviously, so many reasons, anger at God, anger at the shooter, anger at the responders, anger at politicians, whomever it is that might feel anger towards the shock of the event, all the things that come with a worldwide event like that and make it, so people struggle to actually grieve, to go through the process of sadness.

Nick Ortner: And I think if we played any role, and that was to help people reduce all those overwhelming emotions, so they had the ability to grieve and to feel that sadness. The lessons I learned during that time when continuing to support the community and in any way we can, one of the things that I learned, especially in the years afterwards where other shootings would happen, and people would look to us for help and resources is two things.

Nick Ortner: A, just how difficult and expensive it is to do anything. So when Parkland happened, we raised $50,000, and we donated extra money to send Dr. Leyden down to work there. But budgets get strained really quickly when you have to fly people when people have to leave their homes when they have to be available to help. And then also what we saw in Newtown and other places is that sometimes people are open for this kind of help and other times they're not.

Nick Ortner: It's part of the reason why I developed the tapping solution app. Within the app, we have a foundation category which is free all the time. And we have a teacher self-care collection that's free, military and veteran support that is free. And then we have crisis support, like a sort of a crisis support first aid kit that's free. And there's stuff in there like, feeling safe and secure, releasing shock. As things happen, we roll things out, so we have a tapping for Australia, and therefore when the fires happen a few months back, we have the coronavirus anxiety and other stuff there. Part of the thing for me for the app was the ability to reach people quickly on something that happens.

Nick Ortner: And I also recognize in Newtown, I'm still seeing it every day, that there's a lot of people who need help who just won't ask for it. So, we could offer a free session all day long to the whole community, but only so many people will say, "Oh, I need help, or I'm willing to sit down for an hour with somebody and talk about this." And the app and other resources we've made available for us are sort of that transition piece for the person who is at home who is struggling, who needs help and maybe isn't ready to do that deeper dive.

Jeff: Yeah, I know it's such an important tool. I've seen exactly what you were saying. I've seen sort of a corollary for yoga where there's a lot of folks that feel intimidated or that there's some kind of like cultural shame or something going to a yoga studio or maybe they have body image issues, or there's a whole variety of reasons why you might not want to go to a yoga studio and lay your mat down next to someone that's like sort of indiscriminately popping up into a handstand every three seconds or so. So I've seen-

Nick Ortner: I don't like those people either.

Jeff: No. To my damn wife. And so being able to offer that where people can meet people where they are, which is right now and often just in their homes where they can feel safe unjudged and just have a portal, have a door away in, it's a great gift. And it's so important. 

Jeff: You talked a little before beautifully about kind of the stages of grief and that kind of oftentimes the first stage is to start second-guessing yourself or assigning responsibility or kind of playing with this kind of "If only we hadn't gone to school that day," or kind of a lot of the... it's not exactly denial, but its sort of trying to assign the responsibility before kind of the acceptance and being able to kind of sit, or I would say more stand in the pain.

Jeff: And then getting to the other side of that, which you are able to facilitate with J.T of, as Viktor Frankl would say, "Finding meaning in the suffering." And that's, I mean, there's just God in that. And I think that's sort of the highest expression of being human is to find that kind of meaning in that suffering. The fact that J.T could come to the other side of that journey and find meaning in something bigger than his own pain. It's beautiful.

Nick Ortner: 100%. It's sort of, you bring that up leads me to think about our current situation because I don't know how much we're doing that there's a lot of information coming at us. I mean, maybe we'll do it when it's past us a bit, and we're still in the thick of it. I worry, I mean, one of the things that I worry about with the current situation is the amount of different informations and opinions and views and conspiracy theories and this and the other not saying some of them aren't half-true or a quarter true or 100% true not judging those, but there's so much to decipher and decide, and again, so much uncertainty and lack of control that I wonder when we're able to have that conversation about the meaning behind what we're going through.

Jeff: Yeah. I feel this just made a little piece called Where the Hell is Walter Cronkite, which speaks to that there is no reliable, dependable source of fact or truth right now, of course, this is when you look to leadership for kind of steady informative fact and in the absence of that and sort of this kind of hope, bleak credence to conspiracy culture, we just don't know what to believe. So then not only is there sort of less social cohesion but then it's harder to have these conversations because they're not based on any sort of agreement.

Jeff: So, for many people, I think that there's great pause has been somewhat of an epiphany. I think, for others, there's plenty of folks that deny that it even exists. So how do you have a conversation about meaning? Speaking of meaning, one thing that I've always really thought was sweet and wonderful, especially in kind of today's kind of global culture is the kind of human scale of your business, which the impact belies kind of the size of the organization because you're making huge impact. The statistics are crazy. But that you work so closely with your family. And I wonder if you'd just talk a little bit about that because I think it's a very unique story in a culture where the sort of family business has eroded a bit.

Nick Ortner: Yeah. So, I started... I mentioned making a documentary film in 2007. I had this crazy harebrained idea to make a film about tapping. And I enlisted my younger sister Jessica, who's seven years younger than me. And so she was around 21 at the time or so, I was also at 28, 29. She had just dropped out of college, and college wasn't for her. She wanted to do something different. And I said, "Hey, I'm making this movie. Do you want to join me?" And I don't know. She thought it was a good idea or had nothing else to do. It could go either way. But she joined me, and one of my dear friends from high school, Nick Polizzi, joined me as well. Nick's going to make The Sacred Science film, and a bunch of really cool docuseries and the three of us set out to make this film.

Nick Ortner: We put it out a year later, sold DVDs for 1995 on the internet, and made back all the money that I had spent and started becoming profitable. And then my brother Alex joined us. He started working with us running operations and marketing. It wasn't long after that that my dad joined in. We'd been in some businesses together before, and he came in to help with the tapping solution. And then a few years after that, when my mom retired, she was a school psychologist for 30 years, and when she retired from school of psychology, she came on board to help with the foundation and to work there. I actually just got a text from my sister because we are recording, Tapping Meditations in Spanish for the app.

Nick Ortner: And I was born in Argentina, so I speak Spanish fluently, but I moved here when I was eight, so maybe my accent could struggle here or there or I don't know all the stuff I was going to do it. And then I said, "You know what, let's have mom and dad and record them." And my sister texted me, "Well, this is an adventure," Helping mom record in Spanish. I feel like a producer. It'll be great. But there's a learning curve for sure. LOL and there's a video, so I haven't played the video. I'm sure the video is something about my mom, clicking through and trying to make things work.

Nick Ortner: So this is a family business through and through. You see it in action here, and it's been fabulous. I mean the good, oftentimes when you think about a family business, you usually have one person who knows what they're doing, and the rest are being pulled along. And it's like, "Well, cousin Joey has to work for us because it's the family business." That's not the case here. My sister wrote a book, The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence. That was also in New York Times Best Seller, like my first book.

Nick Ortner: My brother Alex wrote a kid's book, and he's been recording Tapping Meditations for kids in the app. We actually have the first ones that we launched for kids who are on coronavirus anxiety, and those are free in the app. And just today, he was working on some for sleep and focus for kids. So we've obviously had our ups and downs throughout the years. But they've been few and far between. And I think we're also mission-driven. 

Jeff: Yeah. That's beautiful. I love it. And yeah, obviously, I work very close with my wife. In fact, I feel like this is all just in her honor on some level. And she's just too humble to be out there screaming at people taking that role. But yeah, it adds a whole nother layer of gratification when you can make a difference in positive change with the people that you love.

Jeff: Just a little primmer. And so people can get a tiny bit of a taste and then get over to the app.

Nick Ortner: I love it. Absolutely be happy to. So whenever we start tapping, we start by deciding what we want to do. So what do we want to focus on? Are you anxious? Are you stressed? Are you feeling fearful? Do you have pain in your body? And tapping is extraordinarily effective for pain relief. I wrote my second book on rain relief. I hear stories every day about people having 10 years of neck pain that went away with a tapping session. So if you're in pain, you might want to focus on that.

Nick Ortner: Pick something that you want to let go of. The easiest for a lot of people in this day and age is just anxiety, just anxious about what's going on, but pick what you want to focus on or release. And as you tune into it, give it a number, an intensity on the scale of zero to 10. So you might feel anxiety in your chest and say, "Well, it's an eight or nine," Or you might be stressed in your shoulders about that's happening in the world, or an upcoming deadline or something someone said to you and just give it a number.

Nick Ortner: Well, let's go ahead and take one gentle breath in and let it go. And as you take that breath, just notice if there's any tightness in your chest. I've heard a lot and seen a lot of breathing and chest construction the last month, even if we're not dealing with something. I think just collectively. We're all holding our breath. We're all tight in that area, so just notice that that way we can see if something shifts as we do the tapping.

Nick Ortner: We'll start by tapping on the side of the hand. It's called the Karate Chop point, and you want to take four fingers of one hand, or the other hand and tap below the pinky on the outside of the hand, and you're just tapping gently, repeatedly, and then repeat after me, either in your mind or out loud. And Jeff, will you be my echo for this process?

Jeff: I'd be happy to. I'm doing it right now.

Nick Ortner: All right, so tapping on the side of the hand even though I feel so much stress in my body.

Jeff: Even though I feel so much stress in my body.

Nick Ortner: I choose to relax and feel safe now.

Jeff: I choose to relax and feel safe now.

Nick Ortner: We're going to stay on the Karate Chop point for two more times, just tapping gently, even though it feels a little hard to breathe.

Jeff: Even though it feels a little hard to breathe.

Nick Ortner: With everything that's going on.

Jeff: With everything that's going on.

Nick Ortner: So much uncertainty.

Jeff: So much uncertainty.

Nick Ortner: And with all these feelings.

Jeff: And with all these feelings.

Nick Ortner: I choose to feel safe now.

Jeff: I choose to feel safe now.

Nick Ortner: And one more time still on the side of the hand even though I'm holding on tight.

Jeff: Even though I'm holding on tight.

Nick Ortner: Moving too fast.

Jeff: Moving too fast.

Nick Ortner: Just a little overwhelmed.

Jeff: Just a little overwhelmed.

Nick Ortner: Or a lot overwhelmed.

Jeff: Or a lot overwhelmed.

Nick Ortner: And with all these feelings.

Jeff: And with all these feelings.

Nick Ortner: And all these new and strange experiences.

Jeff: And all these new and strange experiences.

Nick Ortner: I choose to feel safe now.

Jeff: I choose to feel safe now.

Nick Ortner: I'm going to tap through the points. The first point is the eyebrow point. It's on the inside of the eyebrow where the hair ends, and it meets the nose. You can take two fingers of one hand or the other hand or both hands. The meridians run down both sides of the body. And I want you to just tap gently and tune into your body. Where are you holding on to this anxiety?

Nick Ortner: Now we'll move to the side of the eye. It's not at the temple. It's right next to the eye on the bone. Again, one side, or both sides. And as you tap, take a gentle breath in. Now moving under the eye. Be present to these slots. As we said earlier, we are looking at the dirt in order to clean the house. So what are you most anxious about? Are you worried about your finances or your kids or your future? Bring these fears forward. Allow them to surface. Give them a voice. Under the nose, and if your mind is wandering or bringing up all sorts of things, that's okay.

Nick Ortner: In this moment, you're sending that calming signal to the amygdala. You are telling your body maybe for the first time in weeks or months or years, that it's safe to relax. Underneath the mouth. It's above the chin, below the lip, now little crease there. Tapping gently, feeling the feelings, noticing how they begin to lose their grip. They begin to let go. Collarbone feel for the two little bones of the collarbone. You can go right below it. Tap with all 10 fingers, both hands.

Nick Ortner: Tapping gently, recognizing that anxiety and stress. This is a tough time for everyone. It makes sense that you're stressed. It makes sense that you're anxious. It's okay that you're afraid, and it's also okay to let these feelings go. Underneath the arm, three inches underneath the armpit, either side of the body, right on the brown line for women, tapping gently, letting go. The last point is at the top of the head. Tapping gently and breathing gently.

Nick Ortner: We'll do one more quick round, and I forgot to do my disclaimer these days, which is make sure to wash your hands before you touch your face. But I think most of us are well practicing that and our home and had been washing our hands. So let's move back to the eyebrow and repeat after me. Either in your mind or out loud. It's safe to relax.

Jeff: It's safe to relax.

Nick Ortner: Side of the eye. It's safe to let go.

Jeff: It's safe to let go.

Nick Ortner: Under the eye. I can be calm and peaceful.

Jeff: I can be calm and peaceful.

Nick Ortner: Under the nose, even as the world goes crazy.

Jeff: Even as the world goes crazy.

Nick Ortner: Under the mouth, I choose peace.

Jeff: I choose peace.

Nick Ortner: Collarbone. I choose to let go.

Jeff: I choose to let go.

Nick Ortner: Under the arm. To feel safe in my body.

Jeff: To feel safe in my body.

Nick Ortner: Top of the head. Right now.

Jeff: Right now.

Nick Ortner: And you can gently stop tapping and take a breath in, and let it go. So that was two quick rounds of tapping, and now we tune in. We gave something a number when we started the anxiety, the stress, the overwhelm. So check back in, and you might say, "Well, the anxiety was an eight, but now it's a six or five or a four." Notice that breath. Has your breath changed at all? You can just take a gentle breath in. Has it gotten deeper and more open? Has your body shifted at all? Is there some pain that is now a little less? Have your shoulders relaxed? And the tapping process is just continuing on. What's next? What else do I want to uncover? What do I need to do to get to a place of peace?

Jeff: Thank you, Nick. You have a great gift and a beautiful voice.

Nick Ortner: Oh, I appreciate you. Thank you.

Jeff: I appreciate you. I appreciate your time. I appreciate the Tapping Solution and your entire team and your family, and I'm holding you tight even from 3000 miles away or six feet away.

Nick Ortner: Yeah, we're six feet away. Thank you. Before I forget, we were making the premium version of the app free for six months for healthcare workers and first responders. So nurses, doctors, firemen. I had a male FBI agent apply the other day, which was the coolest thing. He said he was dealing with anxiety, and the tapping was helping him. So if you know someone on the front lines, share that resource with them. If you just go to thetappingsolutionapp.com, you'll see a little link there.

Nick Ortner: And as mentioned earlier, for the rest of the world, we have a lot of free resources in the apps, specifically around coronavirus anxiety. For pregnant women, to kids, to healthcare workers. Just doing everything we can to give people those specific resources.

Jeff: That's beautiful and incredibly generous.

Nick Ortner: Thank you, Jeff.