When one’s sense of identity gets challenged, the whole foundation becomes loose. Even people who are ambitious and are making things happen in the world cannot predict when something is going to come along that is going to completely derail that direction. You have otherwise confident people who have been very successful in their lives suddenly questioning everything and going, “How did I end up here?” Zen Warrior Sam Morris talks about landing on your feet and knowing how to come back to building that foundation in a fresh way. Sam met an accident and became paraplegic due to a drunk driver. From that point on, he has been consistently working on reestablishing the foundation that he lost when his accident occurred. Sam says sometimes that building can come crashing down and you’re left having to find out how to build a new foundation. He now helps people to create that foundation and finding that inner strength that they didn’t even know they had before.
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Landing On Your Feet with Sam Morris
I have a guest that I’ve been fortunate enough to have on before, Sam Morris, the Zen Warrior. Sam was on my show before and I’ve had the privilege of working with him one-on-one. When he told me, he had some new insights to share with us, I couldn’t wait to have him back on the show. For those of you who haven’t heard Sam’s other episode, his story is in 1999, he was leading a bike trip for nine teenagers across the US when he was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, which has left him paralyzed from the waist down. He’s had to deal with surgeries and literally lying down for over three years. Two of those years were in the hospital, but Sam has an ability to not let anything stop him, including being paralyzed from the waist down. As he said to me when I first met him, “My legs might be paralyzed, but my brain and my mind is not.” Sam, welcome back to the show.
Thanks, John. It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Your topic that’s very close to your heart and it needed more than ever is how can high performers and entrepreneurs recreate themselves after they’ve experienced some disruption, whether it’s personal like you went through or professional like I went through after being laid off. What is it that made you think, “I have something to say about this topic?”
I have encountered this particular thing over and over again with people who are ambitious, who were making things happen in the world, but you cannot predict when something is going to come along that is going to completely derail that direction. You have otherwise confident people who have been very successful in their lives suddenly questioning everything and going, “How did I end up here? I was on this track here and now I’m in this situation here,” whether that is a being laid off or whether that is getting a divorce or going through something that challenges one’s sense of identity. When one’s sense of identity gets challenged, it’s like the whole foundation becomes loose and people need to know how to come back to building that foundation in a fresh way.Disruption is a natural process, don't take it personally. Click To Tweet
When my injury happened, my accident happened shortly after finishing my bike trip when a drunk driver caused my paraplegia. From that point in 1999 to this point in 2018, I have been consistently working on reestablishing the foundation that I lost when my accident occurred. I’ve put in so many countless hours, days, months and years into working on sensing the core essence of who I am and the value that I offer that is independent of any circumstance. I happened to have a lot of practice in this area where most people, unfortunately, don’t have as much practice. It’s quite good that they don’t have that practice. I’m trying to make it easier for high performers and entrepreneurs to make that pivot. When something happens in their lives to make that pivot because that foundational identity that we build up over the course of years or decades can get compromised very easily.
It tends to happen periodically throughout people’s lives in some major way. It’s so easy to get trapped in the mindset of linear success where if I am X degrees successful now, then I should be X plus one tomorrow and then I should be X plus two next week. There’s this expectation that people put on themselves to keep on building on what they have already done. Sometimes that building can come crashing down and you’re left having to find out how to build a new foundation. That new foundation is what I help people to create. What I discover is that when people create that new foundation, they actually find an inner strength that they didn’t even know they had before.
What I’m hearing you say is that our foundation and our identity get tied up together and when we lose the foundation, either through a job loss, a divorce or a health situation, we also somehow feel we’ve lost our identity. That’s part of the challenge when the foundation goes away. Even if you just lose your house in a fire, that’s equally traumatic and that’s literally your foundation. In your case, your legs are your foundation. “It’s who am I without that foundation,” is what I’m hearing is the big challenge for most of us.
It’s exactly that. The “Who am I?” makes it very challenging to build a new foundation when you’re constantly questioning who you are and what your role is in the world because the way that you learn to function before simply no longer works. These things are very common. In general, I would say people experience this at least once in their lives past the age of maturity where something occurs that totally makes them question everything.
You said about this expectation that everything is going to consistently be a linear, straight line up. The minute it becomes a roller coaster, it makes us mad and angry in addition to scared because having been in the corporate world at Conde Nast for over fifteen years where every year was a quota and that quota was consistently set higher than the year before and you were expected to meet it. The following year, it was just endless, “We need growth, growth, growth.” Startups have the same thing. Anybody who’s in any accelerator, it’s the whole thing is, “How fast are you growing? Are you growing faster than the other startup that’s in here? Whoever grows the fastest gets the funding.”
This fear of things never being fast enough. You better hurry up and get your funding before the economy tanks again or the bottom falls out of the XYZ stock market, home market, fill in the blank. What are some of your suggestions for everyone and the clients that work with you on, “I definitely either experienced losing my foundation and my identity along with it and I don’t know what to do because the things I’ve been doing aren’t going to work anymore?” How do we let go of expecting things to continue to be linear?
The first place to start is getting that the process is natural, that this is a human process. That it is not a personal thing so much as it is a human condition. A lot of people compare themselves to an idea of how other people are doing and think, “Their lives are so much easier. They are so much more successful, or they have so much more money or whatever than I do this and that,” but rarely do they get a chance to look under the hood and see what’s occurring in that person’s life. Even with the most successful people out there, there are massive disruptive circumstances that occur in their lives, which create the exact same challenge for one’s sense of identity and self-esteem and everything.
It doesn’t matter how successful you are. Those moments can happen. and they can throw you off for months or years, depending on how you process that situation. How you process your circumstances and how you move forward from there, a lot of people will stay in a state of paralysis for a long time. My physical paralysis has given me a lot of insights into the nature of paralysis because my physical paralysis for a number of years, created this emotional-psychological paralysis inside of myself that was actually a lot harder to deal with than the actual physical paralysis. I understand this very deeply from the inside out. Getting that this is just a natural process, that there’s nothing personal, it’s not saying anything about who you are, what you can do or not do or whatever it is, a time for reassessment.
It’s a time to get grounded and look at, “What can I do and what can’t I do?” Get clear about that and honor both what you can do and what you can’t do. A lot of people get caught in the trap of thinking they should be able to do more than they’re actually able to do. That’s a very unhealthy mindset if you get and it’s humbling. It’s very humbling to get clear on what you can do and what you can’t do. The vast majority of what there is to do, none of us can do. The vast majority of what there is that I could potentially do, I cannot do. I have to get clear on the very limited range of things that I can do and then commit my focus to those things without getting caught up in what I can’t do and think that I should be able to do.
The big takeaway for me on that is this process of being disrupted is natural and not something that you should sit around feeling sorry for yourself. “Why did this happen to me? Why am I in a wheelchair or why did I get laid off? Why did I get divorced? That must mean I’m a failure as a spouse. That must mean I’m a failure as an employee,” and this whole internal paralysis. You’re really big on paralysis or movement and using breathing, which is something everyone can do to not stay in the state of paralysis. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The breath is our most important tool that we have. I am constantly amazed by the power of the breath. The breath is a way of being able to access your whole system and get out of your head. When disruption occurs, the hardest thing is for people to get out of their heads. It’s the identity, identifying with what went wrong essentially. “What the hell went wrong? What does that say about me?” All that negativity comes in and it’s a very natural thing for people to have all of this self-judgment occur as a result of disruption. You can’t get away from that judgment at the level of just trying to think new thoughts. You have to actually have a tool to work through that self-judgment that actually puts you in touch with something deeper than those thoughts.Get out of your head by getting into your body. Click To Tweet
Those thoughts are just projections. They’re not real, the what ifs. People get way too caught up in their thoughts. The breath is the way that you can process thoughts and feelings in the moment and stay in contact with yourself, essentially maintaining a relationship with yourself that is more holistic than your thoughts that you have about yourself or any temporary feeling that you may be having. By connecting to your breath and connecting to your body, it helps to still the mind. It also helps to process feelings and process thoughts so that the feelings that one is having don’t turn into this back and forth between thoughts and feelings.
It’s a common thing for people to get caught, essentially tripping out on themselves where they’re having some feeling and then they’re having some thought about the feeling which is inaccurate. The feeling just gets worse because the feeling doesn’t feel like it’s been listened to, which then creates another inaccurate thought. It goes back and forth like a feedback loop between thoughts and feelings. In the meantime, we’re not present the whole time that’s happening. We’re getting caught in our feelings and then thinking about the past or worrying about the future and we lose track of our presence. The breath is here to bring us back into presence. There’s a reason why every Zen master and every Yogi all emphasize the importance of the breath. There is a very specific reason why. That is because it actually helps you to contact yourself in such a way that it transcends any thought-based identification with one’s feelings.
If we lose our identity, when we get disrupted, and then we start identifying with our thoughts as being real, then it sounds to me like that’s a total recipe for paralysis.
It’s an absolute recipe for paralysis. I cannot tell you how many people that I have met and worked with who have or are experiencing that exact recipe for paralysis.
If the thoughts aren’t real, you’re catastrophizing the future or for separating and reliving the past. “I can’t believe he said or she said this to me and did that or this,” and you just get angrier about it the more that you think about it. Meanwhile, you’re not in the moment at all. You don’t have any tools to release that. Then you’re missing what’s happening in the moment, which may be great, but you’re still stuck on what somebody said or did to you. Whether it’s a divorce or getting fired or being mad at the person who hit you who was drunk back in 1999. You were clearly not in the present, if that’s what you’re thinking about all the time.
Not only is it key for anyone who’s gone through some personal or professional disruption, this is also key as well for productivity. People frequently talk about how they wish they were more productive or they wish they had more time in the day. How much time do you have where you’re actually present? What percentage of most people’s time are they actually present and not thinking about the past or thinking about the future? If you looked at that where people are truly present, it would be a tiny fraction of any given day. As they are thinking about the past and as they are concerned about the future, they are actively wasting time. They’re not truly focused on what is occurring right here in the present moment. That bouncing back and forth between past and future, not being connected to yourself, not being connected to your breath, bouncing back and forth, creates mental exhaustion, which then creates the feeling of, “I have to go home and pass out or watch TV for three hours, tune out somehow.” What they’re trying to tune out from is their own thoughts and their own feelings. If you breathed and stay present, then you can sustain your energy. You can sustain your focus throughout the day without feeling the burden of your own mental data crunching.
Those are two big things there. The reason we’re so tired at the end of a workday is not because the work was particularly grueling or even mentally taking its toll on us because we had to think so hard, it’s because our thoughts drain the energy out of us because we weren’t in the moment.
When you’re not in the moment, that automatically means you’re not connected to your breath. If you’re caught in your head thinking about past and future, you can be guaranteed that you’re not going to be sensing your breath and your breath is how you stay connected to your fuel source in your body because your body is the fuel source for your energy. As you’re breathing, you’re constantly recycling that fuel source into your body.
You’re bringing more life into your body. When we’re just breathing in our normal habitual way and we’re not paying attention to it, we have enough breath to stay alive. We have breath for our organs to keep functioning, and for our minds to keep functioning somewhat throughout the day. When we consciously breathe, then we’re consciously connected to the fuel source, that is our body. That is creating the energy that we need to be able to move through any kind of situation and not get caught up in our head and losing touch with what’s actually occurring in the present moment.
That element of productivity is also very interesting because the more present you are, the less you’re trying to multitask. Do you want to speak to that a little bit?
We can’t multitask and anyone who tries to, I don’t think is doing it at any given moment. You can only focus on one thing at one time. That’s not to say that you can’t have multiple things occurring at any given time, but the quality of your focus can only be looking at one thing at one time. We tend to convince ourselves that we can multitask or that we need to multitask, and ultimately, we end up putting less quality focus into the things that we’re doing because we were trying to focus on too many things at once. Nothing ends up going as well as it could if we were to choose to stay connected to ourselves. Focus on the one thing that’s right in front of us. Know that there are other things happening simultaneously that are going to require our focus but choosing where you are placing your focus of attention. For most people, they’re not choosing where to put their focus of attention. They’re bouncing back and forth between things, but the focus of attention means everything in terms of the quality of work that you can do and the productivity that you can achieve.
It sounds like you’ve got this idea that you’re turning into a book about landing on your feet from someone who can’t even feel his is the working title.
That was a catchy title that I thought it would be good for the podcast. My working title right now for the book, and this may change, is Why Not Me? which is like the antidote to the “Why me?” mentality. That’s our biggest problem. The biggest challenge that people face is having this underlying sense of why me? Why do I have to go through this? Why is it me who has to go through divorce? Why is it me who has to go through a job loss? Why is it me who has to deal with this god damn spreadsheet? All of the things that we, “Why me?” about all day every day, it’s, “Why not me?” puts it in perspective. As many times as I asked the question, why me following my paralysis, the only answer I ever got was why not me? Why shouldn’t it be me who goes through paralysis?
There are different forms of deep suffering that are occurring around the world. There are seven billion forms of suffering going on. Why shouldn’t I go through this particular form? There’s no reason why. Buddha said, “Life is suffering,” but it didn’t end there. You said that life is suffering and it’s that suffering that can serve as the catalyst for freedom. You have to first embrace the suffering before experiencing the freedom. The freedom that we are seeking is on the other side of the suffering.Your thoughts are not real. Click To Tweet
Most people feel like if I can avoid the suffering, then I’ll feel free. You’re saying and so is Buddha, that you’ve personally had to embrace the suffering, figure out what you can and can’t do and make the best of that situation and that’s how you land on your feet.
People are constantly trying to avoid suffering and I’ll include myself. I’m oftentimes totally trying to avoid suffering. Then I realized, “I’m already suffering, but I might as well just embrace it.” There’s nothing to avoid. It’s just a matter of welcoming the experience because once you welcome the experience, once you truly do that, it neutralizes the energy of the situation. You’re no longer in a state of judgment where it’s wrong or right or good or bad that you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing. There is no longer an attachment to a label about the experience. It’s just the experience is what it is.
Do you have any last thoughts about how we can land on our feet, embrace disruption, whether it’s happened to us or hasn’t happened yet?
Trust your process, connect to your breath, connect to your body, connect to your energy source. Get out of your head not by thinking other thoughts or trying to think other thoughts but get out of your head by getting into your body, into your energy source because it is inside. They say the power is within. It truly is within. It’s not within our thoughts, it’s within our physical body and our energetic resources that we have available to us.
Get out of your head by getting into your body. So many of us think the answer’s in our head, “If I can just think about this enough, I’ll come up with an answer,” and that’s probably not where it is.
That’s trying to find an easy way out. When you’re trying to find this logical answer. It’s just like, “What’s the easy way out? How can I just get out of this situation?” You can’t get out of the situation. You have to go through the situation as opposed to get out of the situation. Otherwise, the situation will just keep repeating itself in new ways.
Sam, how can people follow you? Give us your twitter handle, your website, all that good stuff.
My Twitter handle is @ZWTraining. Instagram is @ZenWarriorTraining as is Facebook. I do have a few spots open for private clients who are very committed to working through their own disruptive experience in their lives and using the challenge as a catalyst for growth into their next level of potential. They can contact me and apply through ZenWarriorTraining.com.
I was fortunate enough to get accepted and it changed my life. I can’t recommend that enough. Thanks again, Sam.
It’s been a pleasure, John.
- Sam Morris
- Sam’s other episode – Sam Morris’ previous episode
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- @ZenWarriorTraining – Instagram
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