Ned Buskirk
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Accepting You’re Going To Die with Ned Buskirk

Our guest this week is a dear friend of mine. Ned Buskirk is the founder of You’re Going to Die, which started as an open mic that offered a communal space to share stories about death, loss, and grieving. It progressed, as most things do, eventually becoming a nonprofit that brings music to the bedside of hospice patience, operates grief groups, delivers resources to help people in the prison system process their own grief and loss, and even a podcast of the same name, You’re Going To Die

I truly believe in Ned’s work and purpose, which is why I’ve repeatedly used these resources myself, as well as, referred my clients to them over the years. Together we discussed how You’re Going to Die has evolved, reorienting to aliveness and life after tragedy, what he has learned over the years, what his own coping strategies around loss are, remaining humble, being a community resource, and the positive as well as the weighty impact of this work on all aspects Ned’s life. We even spend a good amount of time talking about, Alive Inside, a non-profit and runoff of You’re Going To Die, where Ned brings his work and experiences to the incarcerated. 

Dying, death, grief, and tragedy are all a part of this journey we call life and Ned brings a lot of necessary community and awareness to these topics. Join us this week in demystifying death by accepting it during our life.

Show Notes Welcome back to lead up in podcast. This is your host Charna caselle. I've launched a Patreon for my podcast if you feel you receive value from these episodes, you can also get additional bonus exclusive content, such as meditations in depth exercises, and behind the scenes info about the interviews and my personal life. All of that and more is T ar e o n dot c om backslash la IDOPNPO de cas T. By supporting us on Patreon, you're not only contributing to the creation of this podcast, you will also provide the support needed for me to work on my book workshops, online courses and additional free content. Today's guest is Ned Buskirk. Net is the founder, podcast host facilitator and Executive Director for you're going to die a nonprofit bringing diverse communities into the conversation of death and dying. And this particular episode is coming on the week of Hanukkah and Christmas. And it's time that is not always easy for people. Sometimes it's the first time we're spending a holiday alone without a beloved parent or partner because of death or because of divorce. And I just want to recognize that this could be a time of grieving and loss for some it's not just time for celebration. So this feels like a relevant topic. It's not just about grief and loss and death and dying but also how to live a more vibrant life on the other side in life is about to start extension is the honor to size calm. Welcome, Ned, Hi. Thanks for having me. Absolutely. Always. You're always Yeah, yeah, you too. I want to give the listeners a little context for how I know you and I want it to Yeah, you will bring it out and it's been I feel like it's been a decade at this point. I don't know how long ago it's been but the last church is a beautiful sweet little space in San Francisco where Ned even mean you didn't have your coach on you did in your living room. But hosted this is all pre pandemic but I think you're back there did an open mic talking about death and dying. And it became my go to spot when someone in my life would pass. And And then most recently, my one of my best friends died last year. And Ned came and sweetly held space for circle of us to grieve and talk about Jada and and just I've really come to love you and appreciate the work that you're doing in the world and just really think it's an incredible offering that is read it. Yeah. And worth noting when I came and did that I was with Chelsey Coleman, who has been on the show before. Most everything I do usually involves her in some way. Yes, if you'd like to check out the episode with Chelsea Coleman from season to look for finding a path to freedom. So the last church was the first first one you went to the last Yeah, I knew about you from Viracocha from Jonathan. And but the last church was the first time that I saw it. And I think it was my grandmother had passed. And then I had a I had a client who had passed and then I had a mentor who passed and it just I felt such a sweet freedom to speak freely. And I just like I don't know anyone who would have anything other than this to say about you, but there's a warmth. As if you're an old friend even when you don't when you're a stranger. Yeah, I'm sure there's some people that would have other things to say to that like I want let's share those stories. Get it than that, yeah, well, we all have different sides. But yeah, you're right, I think you're probably I want to know this, I feel like you're probably the kind of mental health professional who tells your your clients to go to you're going to die. Oh, 100%, I've had clients that have have gone and received benefit. And yeah, that feels. So you, you've done that to just in direct communication with me about community you're connected to and people you wonder if I can be with or help or you're going to die can offer some space for and that feels really significant to me, because so much of your going to die really is built out of the community being a support source of support for others. And knowing not being a mental health professional not doing the work you've done to be in your life and the ways you are purposely to kind of like knowing that wasn't a path that I felt compelled towards. And so then finding myself with an organization that maybe offers some teaching around the value of being with others, not as mental health professionals, but as community and the resource of that, you know, regularly consistently. And so when someone like you, who does such important work that you do for for community, refers you're going to die. It's just like such a special acknowledgement for the space. It means a lot. Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot that I could say. But the thing that I'm really curious about, you know, you said, it's like, if this path found you, you found yourself on this path and purpose and, and how, you know, I was thinking when I think about you, I'm thinking of like how loss can be, or how it was perhaps an awakening towards your purpose. And I would love for you to share some about that process for people and how you found yourself here. Yeah, I'm, I'm happy to I want to be I want to do this freshly, I want to be careful not to just fall into the lake rut. And I don't mean like a negative thing about this space or even the question, but that way that you you find yourself saying things exact exactly the same way, I wonder if there's a way I can share it from now more than from that past not have a canned answer, right, really? Well. And maybe it's maybe it's a different question. Maybe it's more like, at this at this point, having, you know, sat at the bedside of hospice, patients brought this work into prisons brought music and space for people to tell their stories, like all these different ways that you've approached this. I'm curious what your what you're getting out of it, because you're there's a big offering, but like, what are you learning? At this point? Okay, great. That's perfect, that this is what I want to say, to answer all those questions, including kind of the little bit of getting into the origin story, but not much, it's not necessary. I was talking with a friend just a half hour ago, who is exploring work in death and dying and these stages of our life, she's a woman and talking a bit about like the stage of menopause and getting into that part of the lived experience. And wondering about making more space for others to be in these things that so often in our culture get kind of kicked to the side very naturally, you know, no one, you know, no one's really feeling like when my mom died, as an example, and a way to share a little bit of the origin story. When my mom died, no one was around to really show me how to do it. And she wasn't able to tell me either. And I mean, she barely shared her, her health journey, her cancer, and her feelings about dying, even if I don't know for sure if she was very present to them. But when she died, it was just very sudden, it had happened after 13 years of cancer treatment. So there, I think there was a way that my sister and I kind of expected her to be okay, just like every other time. So that really, I don't think we knew she was dying until she was in the hospital. And she was only in the hospital for a few hours before she did. And when I'm talking to my friend about this, I'm realizing personally encouraging them to make the space like I believe in them as a person who is in this part of life enough to hold space with other community who also are in it. And this idea, I think, that we don't know for sure if we can do that until we've been through the whole thing. You know, it's like, well, when you're 80 years old, you can finally say, well, here's what it like going through menopause. Here's how I dealt with all those years, I actually think like it was with my mom's death, and then my mother in law's death, that there was a way, of course that I started doing, you're going to die to fill a need out of those losses. But part of you're going to die is almost more about what it means to learn with community for all these years, that it has anything to do with me being the one who knows it because my mom died. And the way I could articulate that best was telling my friend my version of this, if someone comes to me and says, My mom died, I don't know anything about that. Mm hmm. Like, just because my mom died does not give me their mom's death. Yeah. And so this understanding early on, or maybe more, as the years have passed, deepening into different versions of this conversation at the edge, I like to say like the threshold with cancer patients, in prison, in grief, with the dying with our losses, that it's been about listening and learning. And I know, we're at a stage maybe in life after a pandemic, globally. And a stage for our organization, for you're going to die or nonprofit and personally, that maybe more than ever, I'm at a place where I want to say the things, I want to tell people what I know, I want to encourage us to take responsibility for these losses in a way that has us excavating all of it for meaning and joy, and more aliveness, if possible, but that I'm at a place where I could say so more and demand more, but that it's taken more listening and learning than anything else over the 10 plus years that I've been doing, you're going to die. Yeah. Yeah, thank you, you know, there's, it's so important to be humble, and to always be learning. And I think for people to remember how little they know. And, and, you know, it's like that process of holding space on one on one hand, as someone who's worked in the field of trauma for 20 years, like, I'm never surprised by things that have happened, and yet, and, and there's so much resource, and hope that it can provide someone like to exist as someone who lives on the other side of loss, sure, or trauma or the death of a parent or whatever, just simply your existence and your your vibrance and your presence is a symbol of hope for them. You know, I think sometimes that's true. Yeah, there's a gracious way that you that you create space versus fill the space. And and I think it is, it's like, okay, so there's wisdom there for you to share. But then how much do you just keep holding the space and see what occurs and what unfolds? I really love this thing you said about the edge, you know, because I think that even the conversation about menopause, it's like, what are the conversations we're not having? And I this podcast for me is very much like some, some people might think it's about sex, or it's about trauma, or whatever, but it's really about living a vibrant existence, and it's about having the conversations that don't occur, that restrict our, our Vibrance. Yeah, you know, and, and, and there's so many cultural stories that we can either buy into or not buy into about what it means to go through menopause, what it means to be an aging woman. Yes, you know, what it means to be sitting with someone who's dying, or, like what people need, when they've, when they've just lost someone, you know? Right? We we make so many assumptions. Yeah. And I think inspired by this conversation with my friend, something that connects to what you're, what you're articulating, I think is the place to have the conversations, the place to have the conversations together with other people in community and the place to see all the possibilities, not take all of them, necessarily, but be able to witness them, see them and others hear about them. And in in a network of like wisdom, maybe like that's the wisdom, right? It's like a shared knowing it's not any one person's thing that just they get. And I think that might be the balance for talking about the open mic you came to at the last church that yeah, you're right, we're doing those in person again. And I'm thinking a lot about why and what it is now if it is something different than it was before the pandemic. And and we are thinking a lot about that as an organization. And the answer, I think, is a version of that. It's like what is our collective wisdom, we can call here, you know, together and maybe it always was kind of that but there feels like some kind of urgency more about it being more of a intention a little more at the forefront that you mean the collective focus, yeah, immunity focus, right. How do we come to Gather, because we're such an individualistic society, right? And we're so there's so much shame, especially for men, you know, around around grieving and feeling and, and so the and the isolation that's really highlighted by the pandemic, you know, how do you come together after a collective experience like that, and support one another? Yeah. And also, just to kind of add on that is sort of another intention or idea that we're really maybe wrestling with a little bit, but it does connect to this like excavation of the dark parts, right? The darker experience, how do we urgently get something now, on the other side of having been through more darkness and heartbreak than ever collectively, and in a way that's different from the open mic? That happened a month before the pandemic started? It's like, we don't want to just be in the dark more. We actually really purposely want to be in the light together more in relationship to the dark. Yeah, right. I, you know, I even in the process of, I started writing a book in 2018, focused around healing from sexual trauma. And, you know, trauma is my wheelhouse, and it's like, you get branded as a particular thing, and then you're stuck focused solely on that. And it's and then the reality is that the other side of it, right is vibrance and aliveness. Right, this other side of death, the other side of trauma, and how do you rather than keep amplifying? Just like I feel like empathy alone isn't enough. Right? How do you rather than just amplifying the loss? How do you also invite in the aliveness? And that's what I hear you also saying is, is you're kind of expanding the offering? Yeah, it's, it's it's personal, you know? As much as it is organizational or communal for me right now. I want to know that making room for what hurts? Making room to face that is worthwhile for more than just making room. Yeah. Is there a particular situation that is occurring in your life right now? That's that's bringing? Yeah, I mean, it's it's it's kind of everything you know, now with you're going to die. It's it's one workshop, one prison visit one grief session, one open mic, you know, they're just back to back to back through a week. And so, it just begs the question, you know, after being in those spaces, that often it almost feels confronting, and it's, it's demanding me to answer this question of us. You know, just as a recent example, not as recent as a lot of the examples I could give but our first in person workshop, we did here in San Francisco at the center. In in SF just to give that space a shout out, it's a real special space for like, these kinds of conversations and workshops and yoga, good hub. But um, it was our first ever in person workshop, we started doing workshops during the pandemic, just to give a little history of that particular space, Grief and Healing workshops online, almost every month for a good stretch of the pandemic. And we're still doing those we just did one in October. But that came out of my work with cancer patients, I started a workshop before the pandemic months before the pandemic, a writing workshop with a few cancer patients at UCSF, which is where I do a lot of my work with cancer patients here in San Francisco. And so when the pandemic started moving all of those cancer patient workshops online, felt really needed and in fact proved something that that we should have been doing these workshops online for years before the pandemic for that community for a lot of good reasons. But it it was so successful having that space like the amount of people who could join immunocompromised cancer patients who couldn't really be in person because of that, that state of being with their health and then also like asking people to come back to the hospital again, when they've already had to come in for so many other things. The online workshop really gave us that space and we're still doing those so much of my work is with with patients in that context. But it got us as an organization wondering about like the grief space, we were doing the online open mic pretty immediately once the pandemic started. You're going to die poetry, prose and everything goes is the in person open mic space for people to share grief and whatever they want to bring joy, whatever it is, but that kind of opening for witnessing one another. And then we started doing these online open Mikes called you're going to die presents all the fields. So we thought well, what about a grief Workshop and we did a workshop that is kind of like what we've returned to the first version of the workshop was a creatively conscious mortality workshop, like just creatively engaging with our mortality in community. But the grief session the grief prompt in that workshop, it was just one prompt, one session of four, it took up so much space, it was so obvious, like we all know now how much grief there was coming up for people during the pandemic. And also, I think, connected to old grief, you know, just needing a lot of room for that. So we started doing these Grief and Healing workshops. And what we've realized, again, to bring it back to this, this idea that, well, it's so dark, and we need room for all that but how can we make room also for aliveness and joy and excavating the dark for for all that stuff? And so these workshops, meaning out of mortality is what we started doing in person. And so our first one was a couple months ago at the center. And what happened there really was a continuation of trying to answer that question, because the the grief is so easy to make room for now, for me even like, personally, you know, even talking with you, it's like, I'm already crying. And it's all coming in, right. But we left that workshop thinking something else is is needed now. Like the ease with which we could bring all that in was overwhelming, really. And it just had us asking, Well, okay, we can keep doing these workshops, but how can they really be more about making space making meaning out of that darkness that we've all lived through some version of over the last three years. And so that's really where we're at now with the workshops, and it feels good and important. It really is something like I said, personally, that I need, I need that shift in my relationship to this work. So that's the most recent that's not the most recent example. But that's an example of like, that cry that crying that that grief, you hear in my voice that cracking of my voice and my heart. It is this regularly going to be in these spaces, whether it's the cancer patients are the PRISM program are these workshops, where that darkness is so readily accessible. Yeah, almost like, okay, like we made enough room, and maybe even quicker than we could ever have made room. And now what can we do together to like, maybe even climb a little bit out of it? You know? Yeah, knowing always there sensitivity around that you don't want to force people to quickly, you know, when they're hurting? Well, it's a, it's a, that's a tricky one, right? You know, as large as your capacity is for grief, it's settlers for joy. And so you, you have excavated this huge Well, this, you know, this space to be able to grieve and it's very fluid for you. Yeah, and literally, right, well, I mean, I get it, I'm a, I'm a, it's like the feeling, you know, it's like you can move in and you move out. And not everyone can do that. And it's scary. For some people, you're fluid, you don't want to leave in there to like, if you're liking your work, you know, you don't want you hope. You don't bring a patient or a client in and leave them in that like thing that got cracked open. I mean, you must deal with that. Imagine a session. I mean, I want to hear your version of it. How does that go? You have someone who comes in you sit with them, you're doing an hour, hour of time with them, and it gets that intense, like they're crying, it's that emotional, it's that dark? What do you do by the end? You don't want to send them out into the world. Right? Just like hurting? You know, I want to I kind of want to answer it's a little bit of a different question. But I will remind me and I will get to that. But it's it's this piece, because I'm picturing you, you know, it's very different when you're working one on one. Sure, you can cater to exactly your right what that person needs in that moment. And so you get to work at the pace of that individual. Yeah, that that makes sense. And when you're in a group, everyone isn't it like people are usually in very different places and they need very different things and I'm actually challenged by I'm creating curriculum right now. And because I love how I love our differences, I love that how complex each person's experiences, I find it very hard to dumb things down and and give just like this is a general thing about dissociation. This is a genuine thing about you know, whenever and I I want to speak and meet each person's need rather than just do a one size fits all yoga class, you know what I mean? And so I think that what you do you know because of that that's that's just it's like it's a tricky it's trickier when you're you're you're working mostly with groups so but in terms of your specific question, like how do you when you open something up like there are times when one person they need to be with have me present holding space, while they grieve? Create total permission for the grief to exist and And I asked them, you know what, what kind of support they can give themselves as they leave the space and to encourage them to keep grieving to not shut it down, not pack it back up someone else they are so like, in stuck in the mud of their grief. And that's just the well worn like thread that they just keep, they just keep threading it, they keep spinning in it, that it's teaching them the way out, right. So it's just, it's really different depending on the person. And you also have the advantage of being like you said, like, you're there, you're available. I'm even between sessions. I know, you probably say like that, you know, there's some boundaries around this, but this, like, let me know if things have gotten this dark, or you need a little more support or, you know, whatever you're there. And with people in these open mics, we were doing more of that than ever. Yeah, limitation of like, there's a mental health professional here. In the space, if you need to talk to someone right away, and we're here, like, reach out, if you leave, something comes up, something feels incomplete. Something really triggered you and not in a great way. Like, bring it here. Like we want to be with you in that but but a little more readily available. Right? So you're right, the one on one, you've got this ongoing relationship, you know, you're gonna see him again at the next session, you can connect in between so yeah, that makes sense. And it's it's offering particular resources. I mean, breathwork is that working with the breath is one of the most immediate ways to change our state, like whatever different things are going to work for different people, but really getting clear on what are the things that resource people, and then encouraging them to do more of that. And so one of the things that you could bring, is starting to not just talk about the grief, but it's like, what, what are the ways that we care for ourselves? And what are the things that you know, the concept of titration, which is moving in and out of a state, and so moving from a state of grief to a state that feels more resourced, and more and, and open? And so teaching maybe a little bit of that, as an offering or maybe as even as a collective practice to do an embodiment practice around? How do we how do we reopen even, like, let the grief be there but also open around it? Yeah, yeah, we had a, a tour in Ohio, with our prison program where we did mainly the point of the trip was to do this retreat for exonerees, these people that had been in prison who, who shouldn't have been in prison, because they were innocent, or they shouldn't have been serving time for, for whatever reasons. And so we did this sort of nurturing retreat out in the middle of nowhere in Ohio. But during that trip, too, we got to work with other organizations kind of on each end of that retreat, going into a couple of prisons and doing our events in there. And then the last thing we did with was with a few organizations in Columbus, Ohio, before we flew back to San Francisco, like almost immediately, but in that space, the amount of emotion that came up, you know, in these, these prison system impacted community conversations, death penalty, and innocence in the prison industrial complex, you know, so much grief, so much trauma. And I was so grateful that at the end of that, someone who we've been connected to, through a while you're going to die for a while has been connected to this person in community and through our work, she took it upon herself to get up, she's a yoga instructor, and she just did what you just described in a way that I'm not capable of, but it was that like, okay, you know, integrate, transition, using breath, you know, taking your shoes off, and your socks off feeling the ground, you know, underneath, really, really needed after the amount of stuff that came up in that particular conversation. And so I think, always personally and in these in these workshops and events, it's it's been more and more clear, what you just described, some version of that is needed my way of doing it, because I don't come from a lot of education, other than my own experience, doing like self care and bodywork in yoga, is just the slowing down, you know, like giving us a chance to literally catch our breath, like take the bigger inhale and exhale than we have maybe all day that there's there's silence between us in these spaces, which I also think is like a way to kind of let the nervous system settle down, but definitely clearer than ever, that there there needs to be more of that than than I ever did, really, before the pandemic really wasn't doing anything like that. Right, in our events and in those spaces. Well, you know, the thing that I want to know is thinking about you and the work that you've been doing and how long you've been doing it. I had a question arise around compassion, fatigue, and vicarious trauma. You know, like you're sitting in, you're marinating in this experience with so many People and and then what is the impact on you, it's you know, it's it's there, this empathy, this capacity I have for feeling others emotional experiences, it comes from my childhood. And growing up in this context that had a lot of depression and anger and like kids do making myself the center of it. So then responsible for it. And those survivor survival skills we use during that time of our life, that certainly help us but don't serve us anymore. Later, maybe in later stages of life. So there's, there's this really acknowledging all that and knowing I'm always needing to do more work around self care and the nervous system, you know, this idea of like, keeping that regulated, because the same way I'm able to hold space for other people's emotional states of being the sensitivity I have inclined towards that. It it needs some real, intentional care in between and after. And I think the the, the issue, for me personally, is that I also am inclined towards other ways of, of kind of relaxing and being in the world I'll use like drinking as the best example of it. And you know, like, I'm at the end of a week right now talking with you, I've just done workshops, through all every and I don't drink during the week really, like I just unless there's some kind of like Halloween was Monday, I had some drinks that night, but the weekend is probably mainly the time where that's going to occur, and I'm not doing a workshop and I have a few days where I'm not going to hold space. But I do that, let's say to relax one night with some friends. And the few days after that, it's it's like a long haul of kind of getting regulated again, getting back into exercise, you know, getting my diet straightened out. And I'm I think I've always been that way. But it certainly was easier when I was younger, probably to hold space in an open mic and shake it off quick. But now I'm just it's the same thing. You know, I'm getting asked repeatedly, like, what do I need to do to kind of keep myself clear and balanced? And what do I need to cut out more of an include more of you know, the exercise, if I if I don't exercise every day, during the week, I can be a mess. No, it's so simple. But it's for me, it's just true, making time for that stuff. And so, I know compassion fatigue is is real. And I know there's a risk for me in in that getting that impact from what I do. But also I know how to take care of myself. And I know how much it matters in simplest of ways, and and how readily available these things are. For me, I don't need even to get therapy even though I know how useful that is and will be at times in my life. But the amount of things I can do just to kind of take care of myself so that I don't feel the fatigue from doing this work. It's significant. Like I know, right now, the way I'm feeling after this week is I've cared enough for myself over the last three or four days that I'm I'm good you know, I'm like I'm not like feeling the hard stuff that came up in so many of the spaces that I was in but the early part of the week, I was kind of that way but I also didn't take care of myself all weekend, I kind of let loose a little bit and how simple but effective for me, you know, so it doesn't all just build up and get stuck in me that phrase is an important one right? Like it literally does the the the energetic off gassing of people stuff like some of us are more sensitive than others, I really can feel the subtle shifts of emotion and other people's systems inside my own. And so then those people are going to have to do more rigorous self care and protection and recharging and discerning who and how you spend your time and you're right that's a good one. Yeah, you know, this my kids how easily they you know, not like making them heal me or anything like it's just hard to wake up in the morning and feel the things I might feel and I do mornings or that little stretch before waking up is very anxious and can be really hard for me. But then you go out into the kitchen and your eight year old and your 11 year olds just live in life in the present like making ridiculous noises they're just so inclined towards not that they don't have their hard moments but really in the morning like they're part of what brings me out of some of that you know and having time with them and with my partner you know to feel some joy. Yeah, yeah be in the be in the light a bit. Like gosh, I need that. I love that. I like picturing you getting to shake it off with them. And remember, like to help regain perspective. does, like life is absurd? You know, farting noises at your back or whatever. Thank you. Yeah, it's good reference actually, because the recently, more and more, especially with the podcast for years, I wasn't really like very forward facing unless it was in an event as like an identity or a character, a lot of our social media and the website, there's some stuff with me, but I, you know, just kind of using it to promote events and share memes that I've I create, but like, it's not me. And with the podcast over the last year that we started during the pandemic, or really dug into during the pandemic, and being kind of at the forefront of it, that's probably part of this two of this exploration of how to be lighter and funny and joyful. And the farting thing is great. Like, I just did a real on Instagram, I'm just doing more of the like, well, I can make a joke, it's really part of what you're going to die started from, is being the kind of person who wants to get up on stage and entertain people and not just be the guy crying, which is so important. And I think moving in such a great invitation for spaces where people want to come and emote and get catharsis and share their grief and be seen, like that works. But for so long, it was coupled with joking, and me being funny. And so dealing at this stage to like, I want to be that, and certainly my kids give me that. And I just kind of even yesterday, I came out of a couple of days, it was particularly hard for me, like really almost debilitating thoughts and just leveled me really deflated. And just really in a bad way. And somehow, you know, this commitment to being silly and making the jokes like I got to it yesterday. And you know, it's so trite, it's like a little outlet. But also, I need it, you know, I want to like keep being that person and strengthen those parts of who I am, you know, not like diminish them. No, and oh, my gosh, even calling it trite, I would call it necessary. I mean, yeah, you know, like, you're right. At the beginning of the pandemic, I and I'm also I'm not I commit, I'm telling all of my listeners, I will make reels, I have such an aversion. But the thing about the try using that word is that's part of what I needed to get through what you're describing the version of this idea that, like, we're gonna post some, you know, whatever. Like, just letting that go, like, what makes me happy? Yeah, I mean, funny is definitely one of those things. So just being just being clear on that. And knowing one of the ways I could do that is through this reel. And social media, we know, it carries so much of that stuff, you know, but I just needed to kind of get over it and be like, Hey, someone out here needs this laugh. My honesty, and sometimes I'll post pretty emotional stuff, too, like me being emotional, and just trusting like, don't let ourselves get swept away by social media and this idea of likes and how successful it could be, or even, like, it's only worthwhile if you have this many people watching, viewing whatever the idea that you're going to die started from. And this reminder for us, and maybe a listener out there who wants to get this and needs this right now, the idea that like there is an audience for us, for all of us, if we're being authentic and sharing of ourselves. And even if we're not really like the billions and billions of people on this planet, like someone out there needs, the version of human being that we are. And I think that was part of it for me too, is just like letting go. So I'm going to hold you to your Yes. Well, so what I was gonna say is that I was I have a pretty dark sense of humor. And I can say I like the people that I love the most. We can just say we can say this stuff to one another and we laugh and we know how sensitive and tender each other's hearts are. You know, they're usually the deepest people are the people that also laugh the hardest with and, and, and I was like, I want to make funny trauma videos. Like that's what I that's the only thing I want to make. I don't want to fuck it. Like the stuff that's like, like, it just it made kind of makes me cringe, you know, that, that like the trumpet. I wanted to be educational, but I want it to be funny because it's also honoring my ancestry, which is like defensive humor. Yeah, we got that, you know, most of my being funny comes from that same time alive. You know, when I was a kid, when I started learning to be empathic, I was also learning how to be like, super dark and humorous about these things in in life. So yeah, I totally relate to that. Well, so this leads me to my other question, how has this path How has this you know this mission changed you and how you are in the world and then how you show up as a parent or as a partner? Yeah, it's a good question. It's pretty complicated. You know, there's just no question. There's good and bad about it, you know? I'll be sitting in this space running grief workshop, so patient, with the community, so open and receiving. And then I walk, you know, I'm at home, and then I walked through those doors in there, my kids and my wife, and the slightest upset, I just, you know, and I know people can relate to this, I'm sure you can, you know, with our more intimate relationships, it's so much harder when we do healing work in the world to like, be that thing for all of them to and really just acknowledging that fact, I guess, at least for me, in this stage of life, that there's a way that I need to come home and fall apart a little bit. But understanding that, that that can be really unfortunate for the kids and for for my wife, like, that's not fair, always. So keeping the commitment to learn how to make those transitions better to not come from these spaces and dump on them, you know, the, the, like, fallout from what I do. So that that's one version of it, there's a way that I do so much of this, that I just have to more than ever be conscious about how I come home, you know, yes, yes. Transitions. I mean, I think that's, that's something that I commonly give people practices, when they have to shift out of a certain identity that they, that they had, they were at work, it's like really intentionally taking that time in your car before you walk through the door to ritual, physically somatically shift into a different state whenever you have to do and, you know, we can talk about that. But yeah, and I do, you know, doing more of that, you know, like I do a lot like I've got a candle burning right now, I'm burning sage in between everything I say listening to you, and rose petals, I'm, I've got a stone that I hold, made from the ashes of a friend, who I met during, you're going to die who who died from cancer during the pandemic. And when I'm done, I ceremonially, like, put all these things to rest in their places. And I am getting better at standing up out of this chair and doing some physical activity briefly, but that kind of helps me shake it off. And they said, so. So yeah, just kind of dealing with that the answer to your question, there's a way now more than ever, that there, it's just risky, what I do, and the impact it has on my family. And then also, there are times maybe even equally, the equal amount of times where I'll leave a grief workshop or come home from an open mic and just feel so alive and in loves, and so open, that I'm more present than I've ever been with my kids and with my partner, you know. And so there's a way that I know, and believe, kind of strangely, after 10 years plus of doing you're going to die, that I'm both like better at that sometimes than I ever have been because of this work. clear about what matters more than ever. And so then, like the translation of that into my personal life, really feeling that the potency of it, leaving a cancer patient with like a stage four diagnosis, who has kids in one of my workshops and coming into the home space and being like, wow. Like I Yeah, you know, we'll look what I have. Right? How do you feel that and, and also, the silliness and the fun that it is, it's hard for me sometimes to really get that and give that but, but this work, sometimes, it's, it's really, it's easy to so it's kind of both right? It's like, after all these years, I'm both really good at that, more than ever, and also I'm needing to work harder than ever to, to transition and take care of myself and not dump like the fallout into their lives and into my home space. So it's real, it's constant all week, you know, because we're talking about a time when you met me, I was mainly just doing the open mic. Like there was other stuff for sure that we were up to, we were taking the shows to other cities, and do you know, doing the prison programs slowly but surely more and more, but I am doing more than ever of all of this stuff. And so it's both, you know, it's changed my life and good and in hard ways, too. Yeah. Well, I'm curious I didn't know until recently that you were working in prisons and I interviewed a woman do you know dance to be free to know that organization? No. Wow, there's a I'll send you a little video I posted something on Facebook and social media. I interviewed this the woman Lucy who founded it, and they she brings dance into prisons into women's prisons to heal from trauma. And she teaches the inmates how to teach the classes All right. So it's not just like her running the right path. Yeah, right, I'll ring them. And then it's just spread. And I think they're like, like 20 prisons at this point. And I was telling her about about your work. And it's, you know, it's just that it's close to my heart. My dad was in my in prison for a good portion of my life. I didn't know that. Yeah. Yeah. So it's deeply emotional. It's deeply emotional for me thinking about horses, and how necessary they are for people in prison. Yeah, and, you know, like, the simplest way to describe it is like, what you have come to get repeatedly at, you're going to die, poetry, prose, and everything goes specifically, is really the programming for our prison, you know, alive inside, it's bringing those kinds of spaces, those kinds of events with music, you know, don't ever go in without a musician holding that particular kind of musical medicinal space, but an opening to like be with community. And I love this idea from from this person you interviewed around the dancing programming, the idea that we're being with people in a way that they can keep being with others in a way. And so much of what I do in prison, what we do in prison is a version of that, I think it's like, showing it so that people can see what's possible in showing up for each other when we're not in there. Because you just both never know if you'll be able to go back in again, because that's just kind of how the prison system works. But also, that's how life is right? You just like this is your one chance. But the short story of that is that someone came to the event at the loss church back in 2018, or end of 2017. And they invited me to come in to talk to an organization called the brothers keepers, which are in prison suicide prevention, peer support. So again, that version of like community that's learning how to take care of each other, and really in great part due to the fact that when you are feeling suicidal in prison and have suicide ideation, and you tell anybody in charge, the things that can happen, maybe in a way are more devastating and unhealthy than that you're feeling that way in the first place. So getting community to be able to show up for each other and hold each other privately. And so I got invited to go in and talk to that community. And to reference back to the beginning our conversation, I knew really immediately that I didn't have anything to say to any of them. I needed to like, listen, and so we did an event. And it was the open mic. It was the first thing I did in San Quentin was a version of the open mic that you know. And that's really where our programming grew from. And so since then, having gone into San Quentin repeatedly with that alive inside programming by 2020, we had the shows scheduled to do those open mics through 2026 shows every other month, and then the pandemic happened. So only just in September, did we get to go back in for their mental wellness week and do the open mic on the beginning of the week, Monday night, and have 100 plus guys, they're sharing about grief and loss and a bunch of musicians with me playing music peppered throughout the night. And then we did a concert in the yard to celebrate that community. At the end of the week, with a Golden State Warriors playing nearby at a basketball court, it was so wild and bizarre, but so good to get back in there. And now, additionally, I go in and do facilitation, in collaboration with the mental health in there with that suicide prevention program. And so I do that every week now. And the hope is to keep showing up as long as they let me doing that. And to get a regular schedule. Again, with our live inside open mics happening as much as possible, really. And yeah, there's nothing like that program. For me. There's nothing like listening to those stories, knowing where those people have come from, what they live through the responsibility we have, for all that. Living in a country where for sure me a white male has reaped benefits from a system that has destroyed a lot of lives a lot of their lives. You know, that's what the word responsibility is, is the word that's just so readily available for me with that. I just can't imagine not being able to go in there. It breaks my heart already knowing that I won't be able to eventually. Yeah, for whatever reason, you know, oh, that's anticipatory grief. Yeah. Kind of like the prison system. Right away, like gives you that anticipatory grief experience. It's such a wild card. We'll just live through every day. You know, I mean, dealing with the bureaucracy alone, I mean, San Quentin of any place, I was encouraging Lucy, the dance to be free founder. I was like, God, it would be so incredible to offer this to men as well. Like they really need this and you know, she's, she's mostly gone into women's spaces and, you know, hats hats off. To the two of you dealing with the bureaucracy of that, that alone. Yeah, I really I won't go into details, there are things that have been really hard, but I would say miraculously, for the most part, I just cannot say enough how grateful I am to ever have been able to go in and to still be going in, you know, and you're right. It's it's tricky and complicated. And also worth mentioning, we've been to Ohio several times now, and have plans to go back and have gone to be a part of the innocence Network Conference, which again, is like more of the exonerees conversation during our events in those spaces. So it feels like precious important way of showing up. For sure. Yeah. Thanks for letting me talk about it a little bit. Oh, no, I mean, it's one of the I was really excited to actually hear about it. And I think about freedom a lot and what freedom means and and how to access that and how to invite more of that in my clients and in myself and in the world. And a lot of the time I asked my guests what sexual freedom is, but here I just I just would love to hear you talk about what does freedom mean to you? And if you want to talk about sexuality, you can but to me, it's about aliveness. Right? Even sexuality is about aliveness. Yeah, it's it almost feels easy to go into the what is freedom mean, to me in terms of making space for the parts of who we are the things we've lived through in life, the stuff we carry in our heart, that define our experience more than pretty much everything in our life, but we don't talk about enough we don't get to talk about enough, especially with community. So that's just like an easy access is that's what freedom means. To me. That's what I hope in the spaces we facilitate. And I hope people feel that with me, as a place to like freely say, the thing and have it really met. But I do want to talk about sexual freedom because I because I really thinking about what it means to like, let go into life to like, have the freedom to give ourselves aliveness, wholly and fully. It's scary. And I think one thing that kind of touches on that and connects to something that you asked me earlier about, like the impact this work has had on me, I think there is like, a real clarity I have around how much I withhold from my aliveness, you know, and from from withhold from others, you know, and I think that sexuality connects there, because it is such a like, both place to be generous, potentially, with our body and our energy and like our heart. And also it's like, risky, right? It's such a risk to be that to be that vulnerable. And without going into like details about like sex and sexuality in my life, there is a way that that folds into like, being in love with life and being a lover of life. And realizing that there are ways that I still need to learn what it means to be more generous freely, with, with my heart. And so then yeah, my body and my, my mind, and my spirit. And really, I think part of what this you're gonna die work has done for me is, it's clarified how much more work I have to do or could do to give of myself before I'm gone, you know, and almost like we could never maybe give enough. But I like to think on my deathbed. When I look back at my life and think about sex and love and, and community in my most intimate relationships, my kids, my wife that I reach a point that on my deathbed, I really feel that I got to a place where I could give myself as much as possible. And I hope that the doing this being in these conversations more and more and on and on consistently, regularly, is helping me learn how to do that. I at least regret to say a little bit that that more than anything, I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but at least I'm like clear on that. You know, I know that's part of what I need personally from this work is is is more learning, you know, more learning about that, and a lot of other stuff but about that, personally for sure. Yeah, there's a humbleness to that to always be willing to be a learner. Yeah. And I hope I don't lose that ever. I do want to know when it's when the time to say something is obvious that I say what's needed in a way that really meets having listened deeply for long enough. And also, I hope as I get older, I'm better and better at being a student of life and of community. You know, I really do. I mean, I really I really do. I really hope that because it's such a wild, like, balance beam to be like, I want to learn, I want to learn, it just implies, like you're gonna get to a place where you know enough. And yeah, we did the degree or whatever. Yeah, but but really, it's like, there's no limit. And as we get older to just sort of are reaching that stage as an elder holding that, and also being the kind of elder during a time where our elders probably would have more room in the world powerfully if some of us or the inclination culturally is that we were open to learning from our youth to simultaneously. Boy, I'm just did not expect to get into all this. But I just want to say to cinch it up, I hope that I do keep learning and get better and better at it. Yeah. Cheers to that. Is there is there anything else that you want the listeners to know about death and dying and vibrance and loss, I think what I want them to know, with as much as I still have to learn and maybe because of that, and with as many questions as I still have in as many hard times as I still have. I want them to know that it's worth bringing it to the feet of others that it's worth being together with others, in and out of it, even if part of that maybe even most of that, like I've been saying is is just bringing your loss and your grief and your heartbreak and what hurts bringing it to others from a place of listening, not necessarily having to like vulnerably be the one who says it too. But also like knowing by now the value of that you know how much it matters to like, take that risk, and say the thing out loud to someone that you Intuit deserves your trust, you know, because I also believe there's a lot of places you can take these things that don't deserve. And I don't use that word lightly. But don't deserve your heartbreak and grief. But that there are places and people who do and that they need you. I really believe that yeah thanks for asking. Yeah. I, you know, there's this beautiful tenderness that you have, that I just so appreciate. And that, you know, just a willingness and a permission that you give yourself, but you also give, but in particular the men who see you, you know, permission to feel and and then there's this whole conversation we've been in around like, What's life affirming and, and how to help people move from the grief, more into joy. And, and so I'm curious if there are any practices in particular that you are in that support you in doing that, or if there's an exercise that you'd like to share with our listeners that they can do if they're finding themselves in it, whether it's a family dynamic, whether it's a breakup, whether it's the death of someone they love, whether it's a systemic, you know, systemic oppression and chronic loss that they have to face on a daily basis. It's like how to navigate grief and still feel your resilience. Yeah. You know, I mean, in a way, I've kind of been answering that question. Throughout this conversation here and there, you know, like what it means to me. It's something I'm careful about, right? This idea that there's so much we can do for ourselves seems simple and boring, even because it's like, Well, you shouldn't drink as much, you know, but like, that's my message, right? This idea that the way I can better hold and navigate the hard parts of my living experience, they're readily available, so many of them are readily available. And so I think a lot of is is around self care, which include a regular exercise regimen, you know, like having The yoga practice or the pool to swim in, and that those are mine, you know? And if I don't get four or five of those sessions a week, like I am not as good, I am don't do as well. And again, yeah, it's okay. I'm the kind of person who loves indulging in pleasures of life. And that includes a lot of sugar, and a lot of like, you know, violent action movies, and drinking, you know, but also, I can be honest, that if I do less of that, I'm better off, you know, like, I'm more regulated. And I think there's that piece, right? Because I would the issue with a question like this, in fairness, to a diverse community, I am someone who is happens to be in a place in my life, where paying for therapy regularly, it's not easy, you know, like, I can't, you know, it's hard to afford that regularity of support. And so what it has me confronted with is, well, what else? And how much else can I be doing that's just within arm's reach, like or is in my body? And so, it's, it's not about, like, we'll, I'll send you the step by step exercise, it's like really, being honest with yourself. And owning that responsibility, what is the thing you can shift, and also not like guilting, or shaming yourself, if you don't, you know, like, I'm not down for that, I don't want to add that into the mix of my hawkstone, emotional, dark experienced sometimes, but also, like, more and more seeing and making, like the action taking the action to, to make these choices that helped me really, like survive more effectively, and the simplicity of it. And there is an exercise that my cousin a physical therapists sent me and I don't really want to go into the details of it here. But it is that version of asking someone in your life, who you know, does the work and encourages people regularly, like you Charna. Like, what is that little thing? You know, and I am reaching out and asking and getting an email that shows exactly how to do it every night, and I have this email that she sent me. And I, I snooze it once a day to the next day in my Gmail, so it comes up at 6pm Every night, and it's there. And it says, Hey, did you do this, and I have that option to like, take that minute 1015 minutes of doing that little exercise with my body. Like when I leave a grief workshop, you know, let's reset, give yourself a reset. So that's, that's, that's part of it. I want to just say like, what is the practice it is those little things we can do that don't cost money. And that that are we're all capable of like we all equally have the opportunity for to do and almost like better to better to throw those options out than anything else. Because this because all these other resources as good as they are. They're just not all available, you know, for everybody. Yeah, well, and that's, that's where when I think about someone in prison, your breath is available to you, right? Like breath practices, you know, moving your physical body even within a small space. Yeah. is available to you. And, and so, figuring out what are those particular ways to move? And what what are those breath patterns? And what are you know, like that, because a pool is not an option for them to be like certain things like yoga glasses, I mean, some prisons do. Yeah, that's a great, that's great. Bringing it back to the prison context, like what's what can you do in your cell? What we all do, if that's all we had, and that's where it's a fascinating evolution, right? It's like it's come to it's, it's pretty common knowledge among certain groups of people that breath is the most immediate indirect way to change your state and to regulate our nervous system. And, and also, how you are with yourself, you know, like the part whatever part is being triggered and activated in you and is particularly resonant with the grief of the person you just left. Getting really curious what that part is, and holding it, you know, putting you're putting your own hands on the part of the body that you feel that usually it's a constriction and attention, it could be the throat, it could be the chest, it could be the belly and actually talking to yourself and this doesn't have to be out loud. So if you're in a cell and you're by yourself, or you know, or if you're by yourself, you can speak out loud if you feel okay that way. But it can happen laying in bed at night next to your partner. If you can't sleep and you're in you're full of anxiety and it's like what's that anxiety about? And, and listening LIS like talking to that part as if it was another person in a room with you or a person, the open mic and waiting and not thinking you have all the answers not knowing the answer in advance. And, and seeing what gets said and then offering and asking what's needed? And what what can you provide that part of yourself and the more that we don't shut, tell that part to shut up. Or that there's not space for it, or this is a bad time, the more that we make time and space for those parts of ourselves. There's more integration and more internal peace, and it can be hard we, I understand the desire to eat a cookie instead of sometimes be with something, you know, or or work it out. Even exercise. I understand that. Yeah, yeah, I would throw into writing is such a big part, especially with the cancer patient. Yeah, it is such a big part of what, what I offer in those spaces and with that community, but there's some version of like, even getting ourselves like, outside of ourselves, like the writing is this way of putting something down and almost giving ourselves the chance to step back away from that thing, because we wrote it out in front of us. And I think about the speaking yourself as a version of that there's something about like the activity of perspective, even if you're talking yourself as both the wise, thoughtful, caring, heartfelt voice, and the hurting being, but that there's somehow like a, take one step back, and then you can see the thing, you know, and already something's transformed you and I so appreciate that in transition, to go back to the are talking about that, finding the time. And it really doesn't need to be more than two minutes, often, that you somehow feel those two minutes with things like what we're describing, and knowing that I've done a little bit more of that, and I can always do more and learn more. But then when I get back from San Quentin, if I sit in the car for a few minutes in quiet, even just that alone, helps me shift into, okay, I'm gonna go inside the house now. And I can engage with them and not overlap everything I just went through emotionally onto like, all of them, and it matters, like really dramatically, even so appreciating the like, articulation of all those options from you. Yeah. What I'd add also to that is I've been, you know, I shared with you before we started recording that I've just went through a breakup. And that's its own loss. And it often lives in the body the same way someone dying does, like there's this heaviness and fatigue. And I've actually been feeling quite good. And doing a daily meditation where I go into a portal, and I talk to my twin self in a different timeline, you know, and that was the part that gave me enough perspective to and it told me let go, you know, this is before the breakup, and just having that it's like, it's another way, how do we get perspective? How do we get a little distance or come back into a regulated space, versus be stuck in it and spinning in it, you know, so there's just so many also free meditations available to people on that's the other thing. Yeah, doing 10 minutes of meditation. Not every day, but I've just been making a little time for that. And just making it like, manageable, you know, like, everybody's for, I'm sure everyone listening sort of version of this, but just that, like, you don't have to do 30 minutes, you know, like five minutes, 10 minutes, like one minute, right? It just, it helps in finding your version of it to, like, if it's walking in the neighborhood for five minutes. That's your meditation, like, get it, you know, and I'm talking to myself. That's why dogs are so helpful. They get you out. Yeah, yeah. Similar to the kiddies. You know, it's that like, it's just that simple. Just take a walk. Good to have a reason to get outside. Beautiful. Yeah. So good to see you. Now. You too. Thanks for this time. Yeah, I felt really good to talk about all this stuff. Yeah. After this very complicated, hard week. Really nice to get your thank you. Yeah, yeah. You're always welcome. Any way that I can support you and the work that you're doing in the world, you know, thank you. Right back atcha

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© 2022 By Charna Cassell, LMFT. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. MFC 51238.

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