What We're Afraid to Lose

November 24, 2023
Joe and Brett discuss what happens when a blessing that legitimately supports us in our path — money, free time, security, or even love — becomes something we’re afraid to lose and a condition we place on our freedom.

01:43 More Resources, Same Anxiety 

07:46 Different Paths to Self Discovery

17:07 Our Internal Barriers 

29:45 The Best Path to My Freedom

Brett: I was with a group of founders recently, and it's a group that's really focused on their inner work. Many of them have achieved a lot of material success in their lives, often at the expense of their emotional and even physical well-being, and they're now investing their time and money into workshops, retreats and meditation and therapy. In our chat, many expressed a deep appreciation for having the resources to do this, and also a concern that if they didn't have those resources, they'd be left with no choice but to go back to their old ways of driving themselves with fear and anxiety. So this had me wondering, How often do we take something that can legitimately support us in our path, whether it's resources or security or love or community, and then turn it into something we're afraid to lose, placing yet another condition on our freedom and our joy? 

Today, on 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, and I'm here with Joe Hudson. How's it going today, Joe?

Joe: But that's a heck of a story you just told. I mean, what hits me as soon as I hear that story, first of all, it's like, going back to anxiety. They're still in it. Like if they're scared that if they need something to be happy, the anxiety  hasn't changed. I was anxious that I needed to get this money and now I'm anxious that it's going to go. I'm anxious that I'm incomplete without money. It hasn't changed, right? That anxiety is still there.

Brett: Yeah, it's changed forms, but it's the same anxiety.

01:43 Joe: Correct. Yeah. So now they just have potentially a little more time. So on the plus size, they have a little more time to dedicate to it. On the downside, they don't have the acute anxiety on a day-to-day level to work on, right?  If you look at the data on who is least likely to recover from alcoholism, it's independently wealthy people that don't need to work. Also, bullshit. I mean, everybody needs to work, but who don't have a need to work every day to drive a certain amount of income so that they can feed themselves. The truth is that those are the people that are least likely to recover from alcoholism. There's no flaming field, if you will. There's no immediacy that creates a drive to make their life better. There's nothing that can fall apart as easily as losing your job and not being able to feed your family so you can just keep on drinking. So I question the whole premise.

But what it does make me think about is how much the idea that we need something to become free like that, and and when you hit a place where you feel that deeply profound freedom, you realize all of that was complete bullshit. There's no need for money, or eating in a certain way, or exercising the right way, or having the perfect love, or whatever it is. None of that actually is required.

Brett: Yes. This reminds me of a personal story for myself as well. Like several years ago, I had, I'd made it, my business was successful. I had made successful investments without money and made a ton of money and was like, OK, great, now I can do the things that matter to me and not any of that other bullshit that would hinder me on my path. And what happened when I look back at that time in my life, it was actually in many ways very stagnant. There was a lot that I was learning. I was spending money and time and doing retreats and exploring all the different things that were out there. I definitely learned a lot and I definitely explored a lot in myself and I'm grateful for it. There are certain things that I just did not address during that time and ultimately those things, the avoidance of them brought things crashing down. And then I had to go through the struggle of it. I had to readjust my lifestyle. I had to lay people off that I cared about. I had to re engage in areas of my life that I thought were on autopilot and that I took for granted. That was actually what really initiated a really deep stage of a really productive stage of personal growth for myself,  and looking back on it I can see I'm like I don't know, was that better off for having had the money in the time or not. It's just a different path but it was not necessarily better or worse. Even the idea that like 1 needs to be better than another is also an anxiety of am I doing it right?

Joe: Yeah, I mean, it's an old question, right? It's like. If you can dedicate yourself to the monastery or are you going to be a householder? And if you're a householder, is it less likely for you to become awakened.. Like that was the old way of asking this question and there's definitely certain things that there's certain things that are supportive, like not having to worry about feeding yourself can be very supportive. If you look at Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, it's pretty clear that. When you're more likely to worry about things like being authentic and you finding your truth, if you have the rest of your world taken care of, your basic needs taken care of. At the same time, you know, I very seldom take on like extremely wealthy people who don't have a project because I find that often that's entertainment for them. Like it's just entertainment because if push comes to shove, they often don't have the reason to get uncomfortable, to embrace the intensity, which is the thing that actually pushes us along the path more effectively than anything else. Some do naturally, but many don't.

Brett: Yeah, yeah. Something else that this reminds me of is the parable from the Bible about how it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. And there's a bunch of different ways to read that, and even like historically, to read what was even meant. But one way that I really appreciate is that there's an idea. I don't know if it existed, but there's an idea that there was a particular gate in the wall of Jerusalem that was only the width of a camel and the height of a camel on its knees. People had to remove all of the load from the camel for the camel to get through. And this was for security reasons, presumably. And that's fascinating to me because it's like I know many people now who have had a similar experience to what I described, where they made it in some way. They got everything that they wanted and then they were just driven nuts with anxiety about losing it until they lost it. And then they finally found a deeper level of freedom. Apparently a lot of them describe, Like I had to go through the experience of, you know, building a $100 million company and having the whole thing fall apart to finally like now I actually can show up fully in a company in a way I couldn't before.

07:46 Joe: I've also seen entrepreneurs destroy certain revenue streams so that new revenue streams can grow. There's like there's this interesting pruning cycle that is required for some people. For me, it wasn't like that at all. I was dedicated to my self discovery over everything else. I just dropped everything. I never said I'm going to build something so I have enough money to be free, right? I  just went into debt. I just sat in a room and meditated for years and. And focused on my journey, not by doing other people's experiences, but by doing experiments and running my own experiences. So for me, it wasn't that that wasn't my path, but it definitely sure is a lot of people's paths, right? And some people's paths are going to the very bottom of their pain to get  to find their way out, like to, to really have an extremely painful life to find their way out. I can't tell you what makes which one happen. But what I can tell you is that in all the cases, the thing that's similar is there's an idea that for me to be free, I need to X. I need to have money. I need to not have money. I need to be a wealthy person.  I need to not be a wealthy person. I need to be somebody who's in shape, who really takes care of my body. I need to forgo my body. I need to like whatever it is. There's some set of ideas, and this is the most important thing about it, is that there's some set of ideas that people hold, everybody who's listening to this holds. If I want to get to freedom, I need to do X, Y and Z, meditate for seven years or have a lot of money or whatever it is and all of it is not true.

Brett: Have a perfect body? Yeah. Be healthy and not not have physical pain.

Joe: Not smoke, not sleep around.

Brett: Have skills that are marketable and relevant.

Joe: Exactly. Yeah. None of it's true. Your freedom, none of that is required. You don't have to look far to figure this out. Like if you look at Mandela's writings, if you look at how he came out of that prison, like he had the exact opposite of freedom. Right. He did not have a good diet and he did not have a good exercise routine. He did not have any power.  He did not have any privilege. He did not have any wealth. He did not have any right. All he had was time with himself and and and I've definitely met people who didn't even need the time with themselves right. I can almost hear somebody thinking now I'll just go live in a cave until I have that freedom. It would just be one way to get there. Don't get me wrong, if you're called to do it, go through it.

Brett: I'll meditate until I'm in debt.

Joe: Right, exactly. Exactly. But none of that's true. It's actually seen through that thought that is a more direct path to freedom, seeing through the thought that you need the money or you don't need the money.

Brett: So, we're talking about how people think they need X in order to have Y. And we've talked about it in terms of freedom and what exactly do we mean by that? What are we talking about here when we say that?

Joe: That's a really good question. I think there's a conflation between two ideas, typically when somebody's talking about freedom. So the one is the freedom to do what you want to do, and that usually seems to be a thought process of resources. Once I have a billion dollars, I'll be free because then I can do the things that I want to do. And then the other freedom is like this feeling of oh I can be who I am and nothing's dictating who I am and how I'm going to be, which is another idea of freedom. But then both of them have this emotional experience that we call freedom, and so the second is really where the spiritual like when the books talk about finding freedom like whether it's the mysticism of Christianity or Buddhism or whatnot. That freedom is, they're talking about that feeling of like, oh, I'm no longer burdened by any internal or external structure of what I'm supposed to be, and I can just be myself. The interesting thing is the first one, I have the resources to do what I want to do. It's like there's so much truth to that and there's so much BS to that. So just as an example, if you and I were living in 1820 and we became the most powerful humans on the planet and we were the wealthiest humans on the planet, we would not have the freedom that we have today, that poor people in America at least have.

We can have air conditioning, we can have heat, we can have, we can get on an airplane, we can get on a train. We can go into a store and buy a soda pop or whatever. They have 20 different choices of potato chips. We can get coffee made for us and 25 different varieties. Like we have more freedom now than we ever did. There's never enough in that world. I know plenty of billionaires who have what everybody else would call freedom, but they don't have the freedom to buy this company or sell this thing or get to the moon or  live on Mars or whatever. There's always something next that you can't do.

Brett: They don't allow themselves the freedom to date the person that they want to date for whatever reason.

Joe: Their money's going to be taken.

Brett: It's like the difference between the external freedom and what we could do in the world and how we interact with the world and then the freedom of how we actually are, as we are doing that, interacting and whatever is available to us.

Joe: Right. And so that it's that second freedom that in general I think anybody who's doing self discovery is looking for. I will say that they might have something with the other form of freedom. People who are into self discovery, that's what they're looking for. They're looking for this feeling of, oh, I can be joyful, happy, content in a world where I am being myself despite, where I feel free to be who I want to be. And I'm not constrained, whether it's by the voice in my head or by the thoughts of the people around me, or by some set of like shoulds that society thinks. I think that's why it's described as freedom. And that freedom doesn't require anything. That freedom is a birthright. Like right now, every single person can be themselves. Nothing is stopping you. There's consequences, potentially, to being yourself. You might not like them, and you might choose to not be yourself because you don't want those consequences. That's all true. That doesn't mean you can't be yourself.

Brett: I mean an argument can be made that what's stopping us is our awareness of it. And and there's a way that this kind of inverts the kind of the privilege spectrum where when I was in the situation where I was able to just pay for what I wanted to pay for and do what I wanted, there were a lot of things I just wasn't in contact with that became, rather than fears, like you said earlier, anxieties that were present with me every day in in my face. They were present with me every day in a way that I was able to effectively push away. So I was able to, like, neatly go out and have the kinds of growth and spiritual development experiences that I might have that served the identity that I wanted to have, even though I thought that I wasn't going for an identity. And then there were the ones that were actually going to give me the deepest growth.  And those were the ones that I wasn't as aware of, even though they were present in my consciousness everyday. And so there's like many stories of people who were not on a personal development or self discovery journey per se, they just went through some really rough shit. Byron Katie, I think, is a really good example of this if I recall her story correctly. She was just in a room one day and she wouldn't even let herself sleep on the bed. She had to sleep on the floor because she wasn't good enough for the bed in her mind because she was just in so much shame and struggle about her life and something just popped. And the way that it popped, in my opinion, is that she became so close to it that she had no separation from that anxiety anymore and she had to feel it. And so there's like an interesting thing like you were saying with addicts who have all the resources to continue to enable themselves that we can consider ourselves lucky when we have experiences that bring us into contact with those internal barriers to seeing ourselves.

17:07 Joe: Yeah, I mean the easiest way for me to think about this is like when I was in my 20s, I had no money. So to get around and travel, which I wanted to do, I hitchhiked. I hitchhiked up to Alaska and I hitchhiked around California. I got to meet people that I will never get to meet again in my entire life because of what happens by hitchhiking, by not having the money or sitting on the back of a Greyhound bus and meeting the person who had 13 kids.  I had an immense amount of freedom in the back of a Greyhound bus. I've met the folks who have seen through this veneer or through the fog of war, but the war is the internal war. Like they've seen through that fog of war, and I've seen them poor. I've seen them rich. I've seen them in shape. I've seen them fat and smoking. I've seen them in all different ways. Don't get me wrong, if you're overweight and you're smoking, it doesn't feel physically good. Your thoughts probably are different than if you are in shape and you are not smoking. But it doesn't mean that you can't find the freedom like that. Freedom is there no matter what, and it's just whether you can recognize it and one of the mechanisms to do it. Adi Ashanti talked about this somewhat differently right. If you look at Eckhart, Toll and Byron Katie, they went into this huge depression and then popped out, which I've seen happen with a couple folks. But Adi talks about his relationship with Zen and he describes it as like banging his head up against the wall until finally he just fought it until he couldn't fight it anymore. So it's the end of that fight, whether it's depression or whether it's through hardcore meditation or whether it's by grace or whether it's by just seeing like, oh this, there's nothing actually in my way, but it's the end of the fight and and with that fight ends an identity too, right? Because a lot of what keeps us in the fight is an identity.

Brett: Yeah, I'm thinking of a time when, like during this where I had more money than I ever had, but I was more anxious about money than I'd ever been. And there was a moment when I nostalgically went back to a moment in my 20s where I was completely broke in Cape Town, South Africa. I  wrote down my phone number and my email address on napkins and started passing them around to hostels in the area, seeing if anybody needed some web work. I nostalgically look back on that time from that moment as like, ah, that's when I was truly free. And it's interesting. There's a way that I was like, clawing back to an old identity at the same time as I was trying to get out of my current one. Also there was a deep recognition of the bullshit of the story that I was in that I was somehow not free.

Joe: The thing about money in particular is there's some other aspects of it as well. This can be with any of it. It can be with being in shape or having the perfect diet or whatever. There's often an identity in it that will suffer and will require it to dissolve, meaning if you were with money and this time and you were like, this is a burden, this money is a burden, and I deserve the burden, you'd probably still have the money, right? If you felt like this money is a blessing, and I deserve the blessing, and I feel great about this blessing, you would probably still have the money if you felt like, oh, this money is good but I'm avoidant because of it I'm privileged and I should have a certain amount of guilt around this money, then potentially that's going to be something that allows that money to leave quicker than it would otherwise. And this isn't a perfect algorithm. But without a doubt, I have noticed that people's relationship with the money that they have or they don't have has a big correlation with what happens to the money that they have or they don't have.

Brett: Yeah, yeah. For me it was I saw money as freedom, which was an implication that without it, I wasn't free. That was the fear.

Joe: Then the golden algorithm kicks in and you're inviting the feeling that you're running away from. But this happens with all of it. Once I meditate long enough, I will be free is a big trap. Once I have enough money, I'll be free is a big trap. Once I get it, once I listen to the guru long enough and I get it, then I'll be free.

Brett: I get their approval or I find the partner that loves me as I am, which then once you find a partner that loves you as you are, then all of a sudden you're afraid to lose them and you go through all the right all the golden algorithm stuff to to push them away.

Joe: Exactly. Or I have to stop caring whether people love me to be free. Like all of it's BS. The truth is you can recognize your freedom right now.  There's nothing stopping us from being who we are. There's nothing stopping us from being in touch with ourselves. There's nothing stopping us from. Another one is once I do enough courses, once I see enough therapists, once I blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Brett: Once I've healed myself, then I can have a relationship.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. So it's just how it works. Everybody that I know who's found that freedom, they might think this is a good path to get there, but they recognize that nothing's necessary for it. The description of it, everywhere that you look is a remembering or it's a birthright or it's what you are naturally. It's your nature. The only difference between the teacher and the student is that the teacher sees that it's true about them, whereas potentially the student doesn't see that it's true about them, but they're both free. Everywhere you look, in any tradition, it points to that. The tradition that teaches freedom points to the idea that nothing is necessary. They might say, hey, meditation is a great way to see this, so sit in a room and meditate. But the core of the teaching is that it's your nature that you're finding.

Brett: Right. So how can people who are listening to this right now find, explore and uncover on Earth some of these conditions that they place on their freedom?

Joe: They're going to be found in the things that you're working towards with anxiety, the things you beat yourself up for not having, the things that you think are going to make you happy, or the things you're scared to lose. Basically, that's your list. Just write them down.

Brett: So it could be if I'm trying my best to become the smartest, most intelligent, most eloquent podcast speaker person. That is the least eloquent I've been. That would be then. That could be one of them. Or when people are afraid of losing, losing, losing a capacity or a skill that they've had with aging or with an injury.

Joe: Yeah, yeah, once I become an NFL star, then I'll be happy, Oh my God, if I lose being an NFL star. So it's really the more core ones. The thing that's crossing my mind is like when the girls were first born, I was deeply scared of losing Tara. I was like, Oh my God, like the worst possible thing in the world would be losing Tara.  I'm wondering. Did I think that Tara was required for my freedom? I didn't. Did I think that my world would be deeply constrained if Tara left? I did.  If Tara, for whatever reason, left, died, whatever, got cancer, if that happened, would I have found a deeper level of freedom? I might have, interestingly. Right, what's interesting to me is, and I haven't really ever considered it until now, is that there's a group of people who, when I meet them, I say, oh, you've really dedicated your life to serving somebody, like taking care of somebody, like wiping someone's butt for years.  I can tell. And oftentimes they had a kid who was born with disabilities that they had to care for.  They lived with a parent for multiple years, taking care of them or some version of that. One person who's coming to mind right now, her husband got MS and couldn't move and she took care of him for a decade. I can see that in a person because they're so soft. There is just a gentleness to them. It's like there's something that has been worn down through that process. It's an interesting thing that the thing that we fear often can provide another level of freedom for us, even the things that don't seem appealing at all.

Brett: And it's an interesting kind of recognition that just because there's another potential freedom available doesn't mean you need to dive into it. I'm just going to go have a spinal cord injury now so that I can go through that experience and find the freedom. I know many people with spinal cord injuries and it's a harrowing experience and they often find a lot of freedom that they didn't expect. That's not something I was going to go do to find my freedom

Joe: Exactly and unnecessary. But the idea that once I change, once I get out of a situation once, blah blah, blah. It doesn't mean you can't leave a situation that's unhealthy for you. But the idea that you're going to be free once,  once you blah, blah, blah, it just doesn't. It doesn't ever pan out. All anybody has to do is look back in their life and there's something that you thought would give you the freedom that you got that didn't give you the freedom. Whether it was like the woman that you finally found or  the money or the acknowledgement from the parent or whatever it was, we can all see that freedom didn't last very long. I think the freedom is more about the fact that the desire for something to make you free went away. Oh my God, once I have money, and then you get the money and there's a short little period of time where you're like, I got it, and you don't have any other want that has spun up yet. No new demand for you to fulfill to get your freedom. And then you're like, oh great, and that's actually where the freedom is. Then five days later, it's like, oh shit, I have to, like, now really understand my emotional world to become free. Off you go on your next, on your next thing, right. Oftentimes there's moments in life when you've accomplished something that the joy in it isn't that you've accomplished it, it's that there's nothing left for you to accomplish for a little while. You can just revel in the moment of being alive.

Brett: Yeah, what that brings up for me is the path of following your wants rather than your shoulds. It's like when you follow your wants, you get to have those experiences. You get to have the experience of getting what you want and finding that it wasn't actually what you imagined. If you don't let yourself follow it, then you get to continue to have the illusion, the story that if I got this then I would be free.  It reminds me of my favorite Jim Carrey quote, which I'm going to paraphrase. I'll probably get it wrong, but I hope that everybody could find success and fame so that they can find out that that's not what it's all about.

29:46 Joe: Right? Exactly. To me the most interesting piece about this is that at some point when you're going down this road, you get to this question, which is the easiest way to put it. There's a thousand ways that people ask this question, but the way I'm going to ask the question is, if I am awake, if I'm free, then I should be happy to live on top of a disco, right? But then people who feel awake and free don't tend to live on top of a disco, right? Should I live on top of the disco? Was that the best path to my freedom? Should I not live on top of the disco? Is that my best freedom? Should I keep on being with this relationship that's somewhat abusive and, like, a little dysfunctional?  Is that my path to freedom? Or should I go and try to find a better relationship? Is that my path to freedom? Right. So that's this question of like, should I endure some sort of pain or should I avoid the pain and go find something else? And it's a lovely, lovely question. My answer for when people ask that is whatever you're doing is the right answer, right? If you're living on top of the disco, that's the right answer. If you've left the disco, that's the right answer. It's like that both of them are paths to freedom. What are you going to choose to do? Both of them have a problem. Like enduring abuse is like, if you look at Mandela, they opened the door and he  wasn't like, OK, I'm just going to stay in here. He's like, yeah, I'm out. I'm going to go run the country, right. It wasn't enduring. He wasn't choosing it. So that obviously enduring abuse is telling yourself  you're not worthy, but that's exactly how Byron Katie found it. Then avoidance, you know, is the alcoholic can't recover because they have all this wealth. There's no good answer to that question.

Brett: Yeah, it's like every path just leads to different epiphanies, and different people need different epiphanies. Each of us has a different history and a different set or shape of fears and anxieties and hopes, dreams, images.  If we follow the evolution that just comes up through us, we're bound to run into those perfect epiphanies for us for our particular anxieties and our particular.

Joe: Trusting yourself makes it a little bit quicker. I trust that I can listen to myself and know which way to go. It makes the whole journey a little bit quicker. I remember this story.  It was like a Ramana Maharishi story I think and somebody comes to him and is like, should I give up being a householder and go and join a monastery. He's like, no, and the guy's like, you don't know me, how the hell what? What makes you think you can say that? He got defensive. Of course he got defensive because he's taking away the guy's identity, which is I should or I should not totally identify that way. Ramana says nope. The guy gets angry and Romana's response was you should be sitting here asking me a question is what you should be doing right. That's somewhat unsatisfactory, and somewhat points to the freedom. What makes you leave the moment because it's right here right now? And so there's something in that but there's also something about hey what's what's making you not trust yourself in this moment. What's making you not say, oh this is exactly where I'm supposed to be? I'm supposed to be having a $100 million company worried about money. I'm supposed to be like this is the place and and I don't mean that like you're supposed to be in a magical thinking kind of way though there seems to be some sort of interesting thing that occurs around. We find ourselves where we're supposed to be. But I mean it more of like, if that's your mindset, If your mindset is this is where I'm supposed to be, this is where the opportunity is found to learn to about myself, to grow, to lean in, then that's the most productive idea on how to face a moment, no matter what the moment is. It's a lot more productive. Then I shouldn't fucking be here, you know?  I should be here and potentially be here so I can learn to leave. OK, that's fine. But like what? What are you here for?

Brett: And this person was supposed to bring their decision to Ramana Maharshi so that it could be reflected back to them like they were going to. They were going to continue using that pattern until eventually it ran into some sort of a wall, some sort of a mirror.  That was exactly the question that they needed to ask.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. And maybe they needed to get the answer 10 years later. But it's a much more productive thing to say, oh, right now is the lesson that I need to learn than it is to say where am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to be doing? What if I lose the money? What do I need to get there? I need X, Y and Z to get there. It is far more productive to just be like, oh, the thing that I need to get there is presenting itself to me right now, this moment, not the next moment. The other thing is this is like the setup of life too. It's once I graduate from school, then I'll get into the right college and once I graduate from college I'll get into the right job. And then once I get the right job, I'll have enough money and. I'll get the right girlfriend or boyfriend, and then I'll have kids. A lot of my clients have done all that stuff. It didn't pan out. It doesn't pan out. I've met people who've meditated for 20 years and then once I've meditated for 20 years, the thing that they're looking for is right there. It has always been there. It's always been right here.  You can't avoid it. If you stay in this moment, it's like it's unavoidable. Right now I can be who I want to be. I can say what I want to say. I can do what I want to do, and I can be in contact with myself and like that's where the freedom lies.

Brett: But I'm wearing a headset in front of a podcast mic and I have to pee. How could I possibly be free?

Joe: That's a good point. Nobody's free because everybody has to pee. Once I have to stop peeing, then I can be free. Once I finally control my body, then I won't be told what to do by my biology. God damn it.

Brett: Is there anything else you want to add?

Joe: No, that feels right.

Brett: Awesome. Thank you everybody for listening.

Joe: I like that we ended with pee. That's good.

Brett: Yeah, yeah, we can do that more often. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with somebody. We love that. That's how people find our work. That's how people find the podcast.

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