A Workshop for Welcoming Fear

February 2, 2024
Joe interviews Brett about his experience crafting and facilitating a high-flying retreat in the Utah desert and his lifelong journey of learning to embrace fear. For more info about the retreat, visit

03:55 Enjoying Being with the Fear

14:04 How Fear Shows Up 

26:57 Faciliating & Personal Development

34:47 Brett´s Biggest Gratitude 

Episode intro: By the time we got to the edge of a cliff, everyone is feeling some level of fear, and it's completely understandable. Here it is fear of annihilation.


Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment, where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I'm Brett Kistler here today with my co-host, Joe Hudson.


Joe: Hey, Brett. Hey, good to see you.


Brett: You too.


Joe: I've been dying to ask you about the retreat that you put on and before I begin talking about that, what I want to talk about is how important it is for me that this happened. Because it's the first time that AOA has had a retreat that is not my brainchild or and Tara´s and my brainchild. Actually, the community is growing and now we have for the first time someone else putting out a retreat. I know it went well because I've heard a lot of stuff, but I want to have a conversation with you and talk to you about it and see how it was for you. But before I even ask my first question, give everybody context. What the hell just happened?


Brett: I put on a retreat called Welcoming Fear. The idea for this retreat was that it would take the kind of work that we've done in AOA, but of bringing it out into nature, into the wilderness and into very present, physically embodied experiences with fear. The idea is that it's an invitation for people to really sensuously sit with and enjoy and just notice and learn about the way that their body and their emotional system and their mind process fear. it wasn't as much of a goal-oriented thing as like you're going to come and jump off of a cliff, some kind of bungee sort of operation. It was something that was far slower and more deliberate. it wasn't just jumping off a cliff. There was individual work, partner work, and group work all while camping under the stars in the desert near Moab, Utah. There were two rigged activities led by some world class guides that have been very close friends of mine for many years. one of them was a highline. If you're aware of slacklining, it's similar to this, but it's walking on a 1-inch-wide piece of nylon webbing that's strung between two cliffs hundreds of feet in the air. normally this requires a lot of experience to be able to do except we had it rigged such that you have another line above you so that a beginner was able to do the walk.


This was a slow way of being able to approach your fear and work with it as you're taking step after step across a line and feeling the way that your body responds and feeling where your attention goes. Then we had the faster way of working with fear, which was connecting to a rope and jumping off of a cliff and free falling for several seconds before the rope catches you and swings you away from the cliff. that offered people an opportunity to feel through a certain level of fear, then commit and also notice what happens in their system, and what strategies they use to make that kind of a move in this kind of physical environment or in their life. That was, that was the retreat.


Joe: That was the retreat. you had all these people you were serving. What was your hope in the outcome for the people you were serving in the retreat?


03:55 Brett: Yeah, my hope for the outcome for people was not for them to come through the retreat having learned an ability to conquer their fear. I can talk about this in a moment, but what I really wanted was for people to have developed an enjoyment of the process of being with their fear and not needing to do anything with it.


Joe: Not having something that needs to happen, not pushing through it, not running from it, but just noticing what happens when they approach their fears in a very subtle step by step way. I heard at the beginning, there was this idea of, and I think you mentioned it at the beginning, you said like a sensual experience of fear. here you're talking about enjoying the fear. What makes that such an important thing is that people learn how to welcome, have a sensual experience, enjoyment of fear? What makes it important that that was the main outcome?


Brett: Yeah, for that I need to scroll back to some of my history. When I got into adventure sports, the timeline could be when I was 18 or 19, but I was also rock climbing much earlier than that and doing various outdoor things. We'll just say that early on in my journey, I had adopted the narrative, which is a common societal narrative, a way that people approach fear, that it was some kind of an oppressor for me, that it was something that I needed to overcome or to conquer. I ran with that, and I was like, okay, great. to become a more seasoned person, to grow as a person, to really fully experience life, then what I need to do is learn to conquer my fears. I went on that path, and what I've noticed over decades of doing that now is that over a long enough timeline, it was the people who stayed in that mode that I was in initially, who were conquering their fears, pushing them away, skipping over them, that ended up having the most accidents, injuries, deaths, and also grew at the slowest rate. Until of course, often something would happen to them that would wake them up and they'd be forced to feel what they've been avoiding, which is something we've talked about a lot on this podcast in many different realms. 

I also noticed another thing was the people who had been in the sport the longest, with the cleanest safety records, and were really kind of the mentors were the ones who really developed a relationship with their fear where they just wore it on their sleeve. They would show up to an exit point, which in BASE jumping is what we call the edge of a cliff where you're about to jump. They would show up to an exit point and just name all the things they were scared of and be visibly feeling it, but not in a dysregulated way. It would just be like here it is, here's the things I'm concerned about. I've got the fear poops because I'm scared, just kind of playing with it. then there'd be the guy, sometimes this was me earlier on, especially showing up and being like, OK, I got this, this is the thing I got to do. I'm going to do the thing, and I got it. just over the course of a lot of time, I noticed that there was a very big difference in both the enjoyment and also the safety record of people who were really developing a loving, sensuous relationship with their fear and using it as a grounding in their system while they're jumping and as a guide for their judgment.


That's really what I wanted people to get, to play with and experience and to transition from a relationship with fear that pushes it away to a relationship that really welcomes it in a grounded and regulated way.


Joe: This opens up multiple questions for me. the first question and the most pointed question, how much of creating this retreat for you is a way to save people's lives? How much of this is your response to a community that you love? If I can teach this to young people in this sport, I will not have to deal with as many deaths or there will not be as many. How much of that is what's happening here?


Brett: Yeah, a few years ago, I would have said a lot of what I'm doing here is about saving lives. Interestingly, I feel like that's kind of fallen away. I don't believe that anyone needs me to save them. what I do enjoy is being with people in this exploration and because of that history of having lost a lot of friends, a lot of it around variations of the way people relate to their fear, whether it is the fear of jumping off a cliff or the social fear, which is something we got into on the retreat as well. Whether that's the case, it's just that I really deeply enjoy and find it deeply meaningful to be with people on that journey wherever it's going to take them. I don't need somebody to be like, oh cool, I did the welcoming fear trip and now I want to go jump off of cliffs and I'm like, great, I saved you. You're going to be safer. It's really just like I love being in that exploration. That's what I've loved about jumping from the very beginning and I love being with people in it.


Joe: I get it and I think I know the answer to this question, but I was thinking about more in the reverse, if you had the opportunity to take every young cliff jumper, every young squirrel suit, every highliner, whatever those high-risk sports are and put them through this. it's not about convincing them to go and jump off a cliff. How exciting would that be for you?


Brett: I would love that. Yeah, I would love that so much. One of my favorite kinds of moment to have throughout my years is when I've been on the exit point. I've stood on the edge of a cliff with many people, hundreds of people at least. It was those moments where all the cracks start to come through and whatever identity one has, whatever kind of patterns, they both burst to the surface ratcheted to 10 and also crack open in that environment. When I look back on all of my jumps, one of the things that I just enjoyed the most was being at an exit point, not jumping, but being at an exit point with people and just noticing, this person's fear turns to anger. This person's fear turns to determination, rigidity. This person's anger turns, or this person's fear just moves cleanly. This is what happens when a group is here, feeling this together. This is what happens when there's one person in the group who is really willing to say the thing that they're socially afraid to say because they're in tune with their physical fear. This is what it looks like when an entire group avoids it. There's so much juice there. absolutely I'd love to be able to do this work. I would love to do this work with people who are on a journey of exploring a sport that does carry inherent physical risk. I enjoy it for anyone in their life because everyone's life includes inherent fear on their paths wherever they go.


Joe: Noticing and then I want to move to the other question about this but one noticing for me is there's this saying that I've run across or said or heard, I can't remember. But basically, like in spiritual development, there comes a time where you realize that every moment is a death, every moment what you were is no longer. there's only the you that's here right now. There's death in every moment. it's a way to describe when the identity falls apart when the story falls apart. It's just very interesting to me that every one of those is an exit point. I just noticed internally what's happening for me is what happens when you are and oftentimes the first 567 times you hit that exit point, there's a lot of fear that arises. what is it to enjoy your fear in those moments of going, what if my whole identity is an illusion or a hallucination?


Brett: Yeah. there's the piece of welcoming and enjoying the fear. There's also the aspect of just noticing what other fears there are. Because often what is going on is that we're focused on the one fear that's the most present, and we over index on that and we're actually missing that there are other fears present. it's not even just about grabbing onto that one fear and holding tightly and being like, I'm going to just go into this one. It's also about there's a very big fear here that's present. What are the other fears that are subconsciously driving me right now that I'm not yet aware of the whole network of the fears of underlying our identity, underlying our physical safety, underlying our safety in a group, underlying our hopes, dreams, and ambitions. There’re so many different flavors of that fear, and it's only in welcoming a very broad spectrum of them that we feel really grounded in the moment and prepared to take the action that's appropriate rather than the action that some small aspect of that fear thinks is appropriate.


14:04 Joe: You've said a couple times, I'm just happy to be there with anyone, which makes me very happy. I love the idea that you're teaching for your own pleasure. I think that's so critical. Not to be there to save the world, not to be there because the world needs you, not to be there to save a single person. It feels to me like the most honest teachings are the ones where the teacher is like I'm here because I love it. It's really clear that this is not something that you have created just for people in adventure sports where there's high risk. This is something that you clearly see many people would benefit from. What I want to know is, let's say you have a CEO of a company and they're coming to this retreat. What is it that you would hope would change about their being a CEO or what would they see that would influence being a CEO? What is it that they'll get out of it that would benefit all their employees, or benefit their bottom line, or benefit their enjoyment of running a company?


Brett: Kind of scrolling back a little bit to when I was talking about how all of our different patterns show up on the exit. One thing that people got from this retreat was just noticing what those patterns are. So, there's somebody who showed up and they really learned that when they're scared, they tend to go into anger at what they're scared at. That's just an initial response and they needed to move through that, feel and love the whole thing to be able to step off of the cliff. I find that would be really valuable for a CEO. There was another person who was very buttoned up throughout the entire process before, during and after, except for the moment of free fall. During that moment they wanted to be absolutely anywhere else but here. they were like, well, I can't unsee that. That is my response to helplessness when I'm in it, not just preparing for it or having just experienced it. We had others with sort of a grim determination. Once I put the gear on, I'm going and then they went and then had a big process after. So, for that type of person, I might learn that there's a lot of post processing that they do and something in the moment just they execute and then later on maybe they need to take space to process it. 

There were a number of other patterns. There's one person who didn't even jump and they got perhaps one of the biggest growth experiences out of it. the way they learned from the way that they related to themselves having walked away and the initial pattern of going into shame, beating themselves up, being able to work with the thoughts that were coming online in real time, see through them and feel what was underneath it. Ultimately, they found a really deep freedom of the biggest freedom for me in my life is to be found in walking through the social fear of being the person that didn't jump. they just had this massive epiphany, this giggle fit for half an hour about the recognition that they just did not need to take so seriously what people thought of them. If there's one thing that I would love to just hand as an epiphany gift to a new CEO or an experienced CEO, it would be that. Or to myself as a CEO.


Joe: Let's just track one of these down. Let's track the first one down. The CEO comes in and they have the anger. they react to their fear with anger. let's say that they've been doing this inside of their company. How do you see that that would play out in a company and how do you see that once they had this realization it would play out differently?


Brett: Prior to the epiphany of transformation, the kind of pattern you might see would be that there's always something wrong. There's always somebody doing something wrong from the CEO's perspective, and the CEO feels alone in it, and they start attacking people. There's a lot of fear because the CEO isn't feeling their fear. Now the whole team is feeling fear. Of course, that's not going to be a terribly productive team. That's not going to be a team that feels highly creative and innovative and takes risks with the company or socially in the team speaking their truth. It's going to be a lot of trying to make that person happy, and it's going to depend on how scared that person is. that fear isn't going to be present in the room to be addressed. After the epiphany, after the transformation, an example of the way that this might play out would be that the leader and perhaps the team, because the retreat, happened in a group context. so, there were a lot of beautiful ways that I can speak to soon that the group held each other and we're able to ask each other what they wanted and how they wanted to be held. So, there might be a leader who's like, I noticed that when I'm scared, often I get angry. If you find me being angry, know that it might not be about you. It might just be that I'm scared. I'd love an invitation to check in with myself. I'll of course be tracking that in myself as well. If that's happening, I see what's going on. I'm actually just scared we're not going to hit the numbers, or I'm scared we're going to lose this client, or I'm scared we're going to lose an employee that feels key to me, and I don't know what I would do without them. I make myself responsible. I'm afraid of that. then you can bring to the surface what's actually going on, rather than a bunch of people running around trying to get it right around an angry boss.


Joe: Yeah, it's an interesting thing that one of the little nuggets that was in what you just said was that because the fear isn't being felt directly. You're putting it on other people. It's like a fear hot potato. I don't want to feel this and so you throw it to someone else and then they're like, I don't want to feel this and then they're the ones that feel it. It's like this fear hot potato, which is a big way of people not wanting to feel fear. Oftentimes I see this in families where somebody holds the anxiety for the family and everybody else is trying to manage the anxiety. I don't want to feel that fucking anxiety. it's going to be fine, honey. We're going to get through this and blah, blah, blah, blah. You have this group of people all facing fear. How did you set up a system where the fear hot potato didn't go? I would assume that would be a shit show if you're in that retreat and everyone's just passing the fear around. Tell me what happened there and how you thought about it or how you arranged that.


Brett: For one, we spent a day before we did any of the activities, just doing introspective work. Individually we had people crawl up to the edge of a cliff and peer their head over, then just kind of meditate and ponder on a series of invitations and let that start to dredge up some of their fears, some of their identity fears. a lot of them came up as fears of death. There were really two main categories of fear that showed up for people, which was the fear of death, which includes their identity. Then others were social fears, which I'd say that's also identity related, but they were specifically about what happens to my partner or what happens to my business if I go. we brought all that to the surface to begin with. Then by the time we got to the edge of a cliff to either walk the highline or to jump, the thing that was kind of unique about this is that everyone is feeling some level of fear. It's completely understandable. it's not like people were just showing up. It took some work to figure out that there's actually a visceral fear of annihilation here underneath the relational work we're doing. It is fear of annihilation. your identity might not feel it, but of course your body does. My body does. I've done it thousands of times and it's still there. so that's one of the things that was just unquestionable that what was going on and what we were all working with was fear on the base level.


Because of the group context, everybody could see the different ways that that was moving through people and the different emotions that were evoked. one person might assume that everybody's going to have the same response to the edge of a cliff as they do. maybe they might not assume that, but they might not really know the nuances of all the different ways that that shows up. In this context, people got to see that, and they got to see the way that it consolidated into individuals in a group. there was the person that held the role of here's my anger. There was the person that held the hot potato of I'm the one that's going to be the helper and the supporter. I'm the one that's going to be kind of silent hanging out in the back watching everyone else.


Joe: One of the things I noticed, and it's actually really interesting because it's so explicit. We're all here dealing with fear. Assuming that there's some gentle pointing of like notice one person's way of handling fear is getting angry. One person's way of fear is helping everybody. It's an interesting thing because it allows any one of you to walk into the world and see fear where it actually is, which has helped me have a tremendous amount of compassion in life. Somebody gets angry and I'm like, oh, they're scared. create so much ease and compassion to be with their anger. somebody is really helpful in a way that I'm like, hey, stop. It's taking away my empowerment. But I really want to be helpful. No, I can take care of myself. There is so much compassion because they're afraid and we can all be afraid. It's interesting that there's a way in which your retreat allowed people who were in their fear to witness the different ways of doing it. That allows for deeper compassion. I want to ask how much I just made that up and how much it was an explicit part of the retreat.


Brett: That was a very explicit part of the retreat. We also added a few more elements. There was a lot of experimentation. people were invited, especially for the highline where you're spending up to like 20 minutes or so walking this line. There were experiments. I'm going to do this one by just looking at the end of the rope. I'm going to do this one, and I'm going to like to look down and look where I don't want to look while I'm walking. I'm going to let my legs wiggle as much as they want. I'm going to try to manage myself as much as I can. We also had the opportunity for people to ask what support they wanted from the group and for others to suggest prompts. One of the people who was jumping suggested that you approach the edge of the cliff. You don't have to jump. In fact, you can intend not to jump, but just have the experience of walking up and saying no. Then the group says we love your no. This person went up to do that experiment and they found themselves jumping. Just having that no honored by the group, brought fully to the surface and loved in themselves was enough to remove the block. That piece was honored. then the part of them that wanted to jump and have the experience of jumping, not just the experience of the no but both, that was for them something that they wanted at that moment.


26:57 Joe: That's cool. That's great. I could keep on digging into all this stuff. I could geek out on this forever. I want to be conscious of time. I want to transition to a slightly different topic, which is if you look back and you think subconsciously or less than consciously, what was your reason? What were you trying to learn by putting on this retreat? What were you wrestling with that, if anything? To be clear, I'm talking about your personal development here. I'm not talking about how to put on a retreat. Were you trying to teach yourself in the retreat by putting on a retreat?


Brett: For me, I really wanted to experience facilitating this work in a context that I'm really deeply steeped in and that there was such a sense of place to where we were. The canyon that we were camped at the top of is a place that I've frequented for over a decade, probably a decade and a half. I've done dozens, maybe hundreds of jumps there. I've been with people for rescues. I've been with people for first jumps, 100th jumps, and had lots of just rich learning from this place. It was really beautiful to be facilitating something in a place where every time we would turn a corner driving down one of the roads, there'd just be something else that would pop into my mind, a new teaching, a new reflection, and an invitation for the group. It was really beautiful for me. That was one of my intentions was like what would I create from my experience that also fully inhabits the work that we've been doing together, that I've been learning through. Another aspect of it was facilitating, being the sole facilitator in a group in a place with no cell service where there are real risks was something that just re-enlivened something.


Joe: That was your highline.


Brett: Yeah, that was my highline.


Joe: You were like, here's my way to fully confront facilitating.


Brett: It's like right in the deep end. if we run out of water, we're a couple hours away from a town and if we run out of whatever, it's going to be a logistical kerfuffle just to deal with anything that was a curveball. there was kind of that aspect of like how much I can trust myself to be building this retreat with all these moving parts, different vendors, guides, logistics and holding the thing myself without the capacity to make a phone call to be like, hey Joe, what would you do in this situation. None of that was there. That was really cool, just like letting the buck stop with me throughout the process. I found that that was really important for my process because I've really found a different level of capacity to hold the group and hold the container when there was no part of me that could think that there was any out. If I needed it or wanted it, it was just I'm here and this is it. That was really important for me.


Joe: So, the thing that I see in what you just said is that you were on your own highline doing the fear thing. You're actually being with the dance, enjoying welcoming your own fear in the facilitation, which I find really deeply helps facilitation. I noticed that a lot of times when people are facilitating something, particularly for the first time, they are wrestling with it themselves in their own way as they're teaching it because it makes it very alive in their system. the reason I put that whole setup is that what I've noticed is when I do a retreat for the first time, there's a way in which it's like the people are guinea pigs and they're getting the first version of it, which is not going to be in some ways as good as the future versions of it. But in some ways, it's going to be better than any version because there's something that can happen on the first one that can't happen anywhere else. This is a challenging question I would assume, but what is it that the first group got that probably is never going to be replicable or it'd be lucky if anybody else got that. then what is it that you're going to do differently so that the second and third groups get something, or the 10th group gets something that's a little more refined and doesn't get what the first group got?


Brett: Yeah, good question. So, one thing the first group got was just the reality that I was sitting in my own highline process, however much they felt it like that was something. Another piece was the group size that we had this time was eight people, including myself. So, there was a small intimacy to that group, and I don't think I'm going to run one that size again. But one thing that was really nice about it is that we could all fit in one suburban. As I drove around, I got to share with the whole group and reflect with the whole group and everybody got to be in that space together during the transit times, which was really cohesive for the group.


Another piece was and I don't know to what extent this affected the group, but this is almost a continuation of your previous question, which was that for myself, I had also brought my base-jumping rig with me and I had an intention to approach the edge of the cliff after the retreat and maybe jump, maybe not jump. so, the entire time during the retreat I was with my process of approaching, I haven't base jumped in about three or four years. It's been a little bit of time, and Alexa and I are planning on having a kid soon. This was potentially the last chance to do that before having a kid. then the calculus changes a lot more. I feel like energetically I was really there in the retreat, and it is not that that can't be true in the future, but there was something about that. It was like everybody knew that this was my first time running the retreat. In the future, they'll know that I've done it before. There's a different thing going on there. to speak to what'll be different in the future iterations, one thing I'd love to do is add another day of integration and deep work between the two days of highlining and jumping that we did. future iterations will be a little bit longer. for that there might be some more depth, and there might be some kind of more spaciousness. I think that a lot of people will appreciate that, especially if people are newer to this work. There's just a lot. You're basically doing a couple of big emotional releases back-to-back. I want to spread that out a little bit more, and there's also just a number of ideas that I now have for various exercises and ways to work some reflections and kind of meditative questions into some of the processes while people are doing the activity. That's awesome, of course, balancing that with being overly structured and letting people have their experience.


34:47 Joe: I just have one last question for you. What's your biggest gratitude walking out of this? there's this deep privilege that you got to be with a group of people that trusted you in this experience and that you got to teach something that's very meaningful for you. there's this amazing privilege of what you ought to do and I'm wondering just what's the deepest gratitude you have for having chosen to do this, taking the risk of doing this and giving folks this experience, which I've heard from so many people that it was amazing. What's the biggest gratitude walking out of this?


Brett: My biggest gratitude is for the journey that brought me here and for the people who have influenced me along the way. that includes people who are still around. That includes a lot of people who aren't. Many of those, in the manner of their transition, taught me more than anything else I've ever learned. There's just a deep gratitude that I am here and capable of doing this work. I have a lot of deep gratitude for the training that I've done with you and with Tara. A lot of deep gratitude for the coaching cohort that we have and the sangha that I practice with. There was a moment on the final night when basically the entire thing had completed, and we were going to sleep when I took a 20-minute walk to a rock that I used to camp under like a decade ago. I just climbed on top of that like 40-foot rock or something and then sat, just sat in the silence, just felt myself, and felt the place in my history with that location, with that group. There were tears coming down my face for what I had just witnessed in this group. it blew away my concept of what was probable, not necessarily what was possible, but what my conceptions of what I thought this first iteration were going to be relative to what it was. I was just like, oh, it went all the way there. There's nothing else that needed to be done. this was it. This was the retreat. I can iterate, but this was the Ikigai. This was the mix of everything that I've spent so much of my life doing in a place that I deeply love with people that I deeply love doing the kind of inner exploration that I've always been drawn to in many different ways and many different iterations. just to feel that richness of life and that love, and it just was a deep welcoming in that moment. It was just everything. I can just welcome everything right now. There's no difference between that feeling and gratitude.


Joe: Yeah, I want to end there because that feels like the perfect way to end. But I also want to say I'm really proud of you.


Brett: Thank you. That feels really good.


Joe: I'm really grateful that I got to be a part of in any way having that happen in the world and I have a lot of pride and I am very proud of you. Thank you.


Brett: I want to add one more gratitude, which is that the day before the night before I went down there, I talked to you and you said, if everything goes to shit and you're feeling yourself, it's way better than if everything goes according to plan and you're not. that one nugget was really, really powerful for me. And so, thank you.


Joe: You're welcome. Before we keep on gratituding all over the place, if anybody is interested in this, when are you doing it again and how can they find out about it?


Brett: Yeah. So, I'm planning on doing another one in very early May 2024, followed by another one in October roughly. So, if you're interested, go to or just hit us up through any of the normal Art of Accomplishment channels,, Twitter/X, or the like.


Joe: Great. Awesome. Thanks, Brett. Talk to you soon.


Brett: Thank you. Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe and rate us on your podcast app. We'd love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions or comments. You can reach out to us, join our newsletter, or check out our courses at


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