…things are changing all the time. They always are changing. And they always were changing. The idea that something was fixed and now it’s not is an illusion, so how do we keep having those practices in life that remind us what really matters? That’s what grateful living is for me. ~ Kristi Nelson

In this conversation, Steve and Kristi talk about how to decouple your personal security from a sense of control and certainty. They discuss purpose, legacy, embracing and learning through fear, listening to your heart, and how living with a deep sense of gratefulness for every moment can transform your experience of life. (1:04) Full transcript below.

Steve writes: “Kristi has lived through an incredible amount of uncertainty [she battled stage 4 cancer in her early thirties and has done an incredible amount of soul searching her entire life] so I thought she’d be a perfect person to have a conversation in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Kristi Nelson is the executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. She welcomed the opportunity to have this intimate, honest, courageous conversation in service of what she feels is needed in these times. To learn more about Kristi, visit Our Team.

To learn more about Kristi’s forthcoming book, visit Wake Up Grateful.

 

Steve Rio is a futurist, passionate about maximizing human potential. He is CEO and Founder of Nature of Work, a Founder of Briteweb, an international social impact agency and serves as a member of the board of directors of A Network for Grateful Living. He lives with his wife in Bowen Island, BC in Canada.

To learn more about Steve Rio and NOW, visit Nature of Work.


Transcript

Steve Rio, Introduction:
Hey folks. This is an unprecedented time so I just wanted to say something quickly before I jump into this episode. First off, I recorded this episode especially for this time. This conversation is about dealing with uncertainty. It’s about finding a grounding and a baseline of gratitude and gratefulness for your life, that supersedes what’s going on around you and what’s going on externally and what’s beyond your control. I know for a lot of folks, we really look to have as much control as we can in order to find peace. When an event like this happens, all of that gets thrown up in the air and that can cause a lot of fear and anxiety. This episode is specifically about that.

If you find this helpful, share it with others. There is a lot of people feeling this way right now and I hope that this conversation can really help with that. Lastly, I’ll just say, as alone as you might feel right now with social distancing, with removing yourself from your day to day life, this is actually an unprecedented moment where there are billions of other people, all feeling the same thing and going through the same thing at the same time. It’s perhaps the first time we’re globally going through something together like this. I just hope this is a moment for us to recognize our interconnectedness, our togetherness and our need to support one another.

So, if you’re sitting there in your apartment or your home or wherever you are, remember that there are billions of other people doing the exact same thing right now and chances are, if you’re listening to this episode, you’re in a much better position than a huge majority of the people out there who are truly struggling. As much as you think about what you need to do for yourself, also think about what you can do for others. Remember that in the greater consciousness, we’re all connected. Enjoy the episode. Welcome to NOW with Steve Rio. On this podcast, I seek to define what it means to live a good life. How do we stay connected and aligned with our values and our purpose. How do we prioritize what’s most important to us and how do we optimize and make the most of the time we have in this life.

Steve Rio:
Today’s conversation is with Kristi Nelson. Kristi is the executive director of A Network For Grateful Living, where you can find them online at gratefulness.org. Kristi has been working in social justice and social impact her entire life. The life events in her 30’s led her to focus more on personal and individual transformation work, where she’s worked with an impressive list of people and organizations, like Lynne Twist, Soren Gordhamer, Brother David Steindl-Rast and the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. I wanted to sit down with Kristi to talk about the current situation with COVID-19 and how we can better manage the uncertainty and change, it’s brought about in our lives.

Kristi has become master of managing through the unknown and has so much wisdom to share in this area. Throughout the conversation, we reference her book, Wake Up Grateful, which is available for pre-order now on Amazon. You can find links to that and a number of other resources in the show notes at natureofwork.co/kristi. That’s K-R-I-S-T-I. I hope you enjoy the conversation and if you do, make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you’re listening and if you could take one extra minute and rate and review this podcast, that would be incredible.

You can follow me on Instagram, @steverio and if you’re interested in learning how to increase your performance, resilience and well-being, check out Nature of Work. It’s a personal operating system to help you live life to its fullest. You can find us online at natureofwork.co. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Welcome Kristi. Thanks for joining me today.

Kristi Nelson:
Thank you. It’s great to be here Steve Rio.

Steve Rio:
I reached out to you because I’ve been obviously watching everything that’s going on as we all are and we’re recording this right in the sort of, I feel like the … hopefully the apex of this coronavirus situation and beyond the physical situation that’s happening with the virus and people being sick in response to that, I think there’s a lot of … well, there’s just a tremendous amount of anxiety and uncertainty and I felt like you were the right person to have a conversation with in the midst of this and I was waiting to come out to New York to come see you in a few months but I don’t even know if I’m going to be out there, so I just wanted to get … just do this. Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:
Thank you. Carpe diem. Let’s seize the moment and we have no idea what’s going to happen now so I’m thrilled to be here and there’s no moment that would not be the right moment with you, for me to have these kinds of conversations, I think it’s just hugely important.

Steve Rio:
Yeah. Thank you, and this is also the first remote episode I’ve done, all of my episodes have been in person. Mostly because the nature of the conversation is intimate but you and I have a relationship where I feel like, we’re going to get there and we’ve already gotten there.

Kristi Nelson:
I wish I was in Bowen Island with you or that you were here with me but this … I love being able to connect deeply and in these days of physical distancing not to accept the limitations of being socially distant or emotionally distant from each other, that there’s really got to be ways that we can create these bridges meaningfully and sustainably and this feels a great exploration of that for me.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, I thought your partner just mentioned that you’re calling it physical distancing, not social distancing to remind people that to stay socially connected and that you don’t need to feel isolated even if you’re physically isolated.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, that’s a … that commitment in life anyway and I think how, even in our most solitary moments and in the circumstances of life that really take us away from one another physically, how do we feel connected in those worlds, in those moments, in those times? That’s a great contemplation and really worthy of our consideration now in the deepest ways. And experimentation, exploration, creativity, we have to figure out how to stay really deeply connected to ourselves in the times of fear and to each other, in these times… kind of absent a particular physical proximity, so that I can’t be physically close to you, how do I stay close and then also be connected to perspective and to larger forces at play, so that we never have to be cut off from any of those things, no matter what the conditions of our outside lives are.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, that’s beautiful. So, it’s early on a Sunday morning for me here but I opened my email to check if you had sent anything through but I saw the gratefulness Word for the Day, this morning and I just want to read it. I think it’s pretty perfect for this conversation. The quote is, “There are no guarantees. From the viewpoint of fear, none are strong enough. From the viewpoint of love, none are necessary.”

Kristi Nelson:
It is the best quote. I rejoiced when I saw that one. It’s kind of a … I think it’s a maxim to live by honestly, right?

Steve Rio:
That’s the Word for the Day which comes from gratefulness.org. You can sign up and get one of those kinds of quotes in your inbox everyday. It’s a great way to start your day. We’ll start with … there’s a lot I want to get into around grateful living and the concept of gratefulness and I’m sure we’ll get there pretty fast. We’ve already gotten there. I want to start though just with a little background on you. You worked with the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, you worked at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, you’ve worked with Lynne Twist, you’ve worked with Soren from Wisdom 2.0 and now, A Network For Grateful Living. All of those are really deeply purposeful vocations and roles. Has your work life always been in that area, in these areas? I know there’s different areas there.

Kristi Nelson:
Yes. Absolutely. I’m really lucky, I was raised in a family where social purpose and social action were central in our lives. My dad was very active against the Vietnam War. We grew up with civil disobedience in our lives and I had really strong social conscience and so, for me in my teenage years, I was arrested for civil disobedience. I mean, if you can call that a purposeful life. I was on trial for chaining myself to [the fence of] a nuclear power plant. I was very politically active. I marched a lot. I was in Washington and New York City for all the big rallies. My work was also really involved with that in the 80’s and I was involved with citizen lobbying around environmental issues. I worked at the Peace Development Fund which was organizing grassroots groups around the country, on behalf of peace issues and disarmament.

So, my first 20 years of work or so were really in that realm. Social change in a much more traditional definition. Then, I would say, it really changed in the 90’s for me to be involved with what I call “spiritual social change” which is kind of this new iteration of purposeful work for me so that has wrapped itself much more around the idea of individual transformation and community transformation being the cause around social transformation and global transformation. So, looking at the role of the individual in how we come to realize our vision of the world that we want to occupy.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, beautiful. I think that’s the path that I’m leaning into now and in the next iteration of my life as well which is going from social … I worked in a lot of eco justice stuff and climate change and all these big broad social justice and environmental issues and things like that but I find myself more and more drawn towards the inner transformation work.

Kristi Nelson:
Right. Yeah, and I would just … let me just say, so I love that about you that we’ve taken different trajectories because we’ve been on the planet in this incarnation, a different number of years. Being born in 1960, what that looked like was a particular path and I think one of the things that I was always really aware of is that it was very palpable to me at some point how anger … and I want just to use, because I think it’s a really important place for anger in life and I don’t know what this is yet but I just said that so it must be true and we can talk about it later. But there’s a place for standing up and taking a stand, that’s really important and that’s different than how I saw a lot of activism happening in my earlier life which seemed to me at the expense of our connectedness to one another and then our connectedness to ourselves and to some larger worlds.

There was a lot of harm being done in the name of making the world a better place. So, that just rises in my awareness right now, in this conversation as one of the reasons why it felt so important to me to figure out work that would tend the whole being and didn’t come at the expense of any one of those facets of the inner world and the outer world and where they met.

Steve Rio:
Right, I think we’re seeing that right now as people are facing the natural major issues that we have in the world right now and there’s always issues in the world that we’re trying to improve and fix and change but we’re seeing so much divisiveness between people. The internet has really created a lot of polarization. You see that in governments, in politics, you see that in identity politics and the way people are identifying with issues so strongly or with their tiny niche of identity so strongly that they can’t resonate with anyone else and we can’t really make progress on these issues.

So, it strikes me that starting with the self, starting with the inner transformation, learning to come from a place of love in the face of adversity or in the face of challenges or in the face of difference, difference of opinions and things like that, is a very key thing that the world needs right now.

Kristi Nelson:
Absolutely and I remember an interview I heard somewhat recently which was about the transformation of the grandson of the founder of the KKK. This young man who had gone to college and was ostracized when people discovered who he was and he was … I’m sure people can find out about it but it was a very profound interview because he was on there with this young man at college who befriended him, who was Jewish and invited him over for Seders and made space for love to rise and to heal and transform in this place of connection between the two of them. If they had stayed in that universe the nexus of politics never would have ever resolved.

There would have been no bridge and yet, it was about a human to human connection and so, not being caught in the politics of identity or partisan self-definition or here’s what I’m pushing against in the world and here’s what you’re pushing against and boy, we don’t agree so there’s no place for us to find each other. Those kinds of opportunities are so powerful but they only come when we ourselves can lean into one another and lean into conversations and make space to ourselves be changed as much as wanting … having the agenda for other people to come around to our opinions and it’s so rare that we hold the space of how can I shift internally, how can I make room to become a different person as a result of an open encounter, a conversation that I’m going to allow to change my life. That’s a radical way to go through life.

Steve Rio:
I talk to a lot of young people who are trying to find purpose in their work or find something to work on that feels is meaningful to them and they feel … it strikes me that they feel very disconnected from what’s important to them, might not really understand that or know that or know where to start to look for that but if someone is sitting on the sidelines of purpose perhaps in their work, how do they start?

Kristi Nelson:
The difference between how I used to think about the answer to this question and how I think about it now is located in the pondering of what makes you come alive? What makes you come to life most fully? What brings you alive? What engenders that sense of being activated and enlivened in your own life, in this way and that there is purpose, right? There is to be found, right in the centerpiece of those moments is what I think is really purposeful for any of us at any stage in our lives and also recognizing that that changes over time and that’s a beautiful thing. So, the only way to really know that is to have a practice and a way of being that keeps us attuned to what it is that’s making us feel most alive.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, so it’s a feeling and it’s actually a lot simpler than perhaps an intellectual pursuit of trying to pick apart what your purpose is or define it in words.

Kristi Nelson:
Exactly, I mean, I’ve certainly gone through all these exercises, they’re really valuable. What are your core values, what are your core beliefs, what are your principles? These are really important things but I think mostly we know those things much better than we know what makes us come alive. If someone were to say, write down your top five values, the top five things that you’re for and the top five things you’re against, and what you believe in and what you don’t. We know how to do that because it’s a heady proposition for the most and sometimes it comes from the heart but I think there’s something else which is what makes you come so alive into life that you just want to cry?

I mean, I think there’s a place inside each of us that’s pretty untapped and there are really deep seated answers to those questions about how we want to show up for life that are super-vulnerable and that may not be what we’ve been taught purpose is meant to emanate from. Yeah, it’s very watery, it’s very powerful. It can be kind of scary to live in that place because often we’re cracked open, it’s very heart-centered and in there lives a lot of what I’ll say is information but it’s not mental and it’s not cognitive and it doesn’t process through those filters. It processes much more through alignment, around aliveness I would say.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, it strikes me that you’re talking about a deep listening to yourself, that I think is very hard for young people and for everybody in today’s world because there’s a lot of distraction which takes you away from any chance to listen that deeply. Then it starts there.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, and to be agreed to be impacted. To allow ourselves to be permeable. To not just listen but to be porous and changed by the listening. That’s the state of being cracked open that I’m talking about and in that place I think comes a lot of really important knowing, inner knowing about what makes us come alive and therefore what’s purposeful for us but it’s that willingness to be very broken open that we have to commit to first and that’s also to be with silence. To be with our own silence, to be with silence with other people requires that courage.

Steve Rio:
Do you think about legacy at all? Is legacy something that is precedent in your mind and in your work, in your life?

Kristi Nelson:
It is. I think legacy is how I live my moments now. I love that idea of legacy is not what you leave behind, it’s what you do in the moment and so you only leave behind what you’re doing in the moments of your life as it is and it’s not this calculated equation of how do I want to be remembered as much as how do I live now every moment so that when I’m no longer here, which can happen in any moment, I could evaporate, and I know that really well, that no matter when I’ve left behind the legacy that I want to leave, by how I’m living every moment that I want to live. And the one thing that I know is love is the most assured thing. Having lost people who I really, really care about. Their legacy is so carried on in me, not by what they did but by how they loved me and I loved them. That’s my assurance, always, that if you’re loving well and letting yourself be loved well, you don’t need to concern yourself with your legacy. It’s already assured.

Steve Rio:
I agree, that’s lovely, it’s interesting, by being present in the moment and if you’re present in the moment, you don’t need to worry about the future or the past or anything else and the same thing with legacy. I talk a lot about that in the forum and in terms of helping people think about all these goals they’ve set for themselves and all these things they’re trying to achieve and measuring their life by some future outcome versus if you’re just focused in the moment on what you’re passionate about and doing your best then those things will be fine, those things will turn out.

Kristi Nelson:
That’s right.

Steve Rio:
You’re talking about legacy in very much the same way.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, I think it’s also challenging. To be really honest, you had a dream of doing this podcast and so, there’s things that we have to do in life that require us to invest toward a future moment even if it’s a near future moment. And how do you really enjoy the process, the whole process and then it’s not towards the product or something which we may never actually ever get to so you don’t compromise the moment in order to get to some place. There’s that balance place that’s really perplexing and I think it’s really important to acknowledge which is … I remember when Stephen Levine came out with all the books, If You Had A Year To Live, there was this whole movement around imagining a year to live and I think what a lot of people do if they don’t know that they’re going to live a long time is just, well, I’m just going to be here just for the moment and there’s a tension. I think there’s a paradox in that that’s important to name, that’s actually energizing which is, I don’t want to invest only in the things that have future orientations and I don’t want to just live in this kind of way that abandons an idea of the future. So, where does that rest? Where does that live for me? I think that’s a really awesome place to go in our consciousness on a regular basis, to really consider deeply. That’s exciting to me.

Steve Rio:
Yeah. I guess if you abandon any sense of future then you’re also abandoning depth and purpose in the moment.

Kristi Nelson:
I think it’s a cool tension, to just figure out how to hold that … I feel it for myself a lot. I think the most exciting things are ineffable so what I’m saying is to be with that ineffable quality of, “Wow, this moment is everything,” and yet abandoning an idea about the future is also really … it challenges my ability to be in this present moment in some way that has more gravitas to it or more depth and meaning or purpose as you might say. Just holding that, just where does that want to invite us? That’s a great question.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, I think that’s been a question for me over the last two to three years. It’s been a major part of my contemplation and my meditation and all those things is … I’ve always been a very ambitious, trying to do all the things person and really trying to balance that with what does that mean for my day today? What does that mean I’m going to have to commit to doing today and give up today for some future ambition and not being attached … to have things that you’re working towards but not being attached to the outcomes is a really … it’s a challenge, it’s a very interesting … it’s a dynamic, yeah, it’s a dance.

In your life besides all of the work and besides strapping yourself to a nuclear reactors, you’ve had some pretty intense moments with your health, moments with personal discovery and things. I’m interested, what stands out for you as the defining moments of your life?

Kristi Nelson:
There’s a lot in a lifetime obviously for any of us and the biggest before, during and after kind of moment in my life was being diagnosed with stage four cancer. When we talk about my work history and it taking a particular form and then there was a juncture and there was a transformation and what might have that about, I wouldn’t necessarily tie it directly to this experience but I think it’s pretty clearly tied to this experience of facing my mortality, dancing with death, whatever you want to say, looking at the possibility at 32 and 33 years old of that being the end of my life and really making a big space in myself for that possibility.

So, that was a turnaround that is pretty unparalleled in my life and has contributed to purpose, to where I am right now, or to what you would ask about a role or what seeks to be embodied in me is always the honoring of that experience, because it feels like it just begs to be honored and not forgotten. And it reminds me of a friend of mine going through cancer at the same time and I kept saying, this is changing me. This is changing me in ways that I will never be the same, and she said, “You just watch, you’ll be the same again. You’ll go back to being exactly how you were,” and I knew that I wouldn’t and I knew that I wanted to continue to harvest that experience for everything that there was for me to learn about life from that, and to allow it to be expressed through me for as long as I would live, not knowing if that was going to be days, weeks, months, or years. And it’s now been 26 and a half years which I’ve lived so many of those moments like they say angels dancing on the head of a pin. It’s like this ridiculous consideration, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I just thought, “My God, I’m just dancing on the head of this pin and I have no idea. I’m living acutely,” and that was my idea of, it’s not chronic. I don’t see life as a chronic condition. It’s an acute condition. Here I am and I’m breathing and who knows how long this is going to live. It’s really stunning to be able to say that I’ve lived that way now 26 and a half years. That is just wild.

Steve Rio:
Do you consider that experience a gift in your life?

Kristi Nelson:
I only consider it…If you would ask in the moment, that’s always a good question. In this moment, I think that we all have the right and the ability to look back on aspects of our own lives and determine that something that was really, really difficult and painful and resulted in a great deal of suffering that we choose to relate to that experience as a gift. It’s not something anybody else ever gets to tell us is a gift. I’ll take a stand for that. Nobody. And yet that also was prevalent in … it’s like, there was the assumption that you chose, that you chose suffering for a reason and that things … that everything had a reason and I don’t subscribe to that belief but I believe that when I look back on what I went through, my life has changed profoundly as a result of how I regard that now and I believe that experience has so much to teach me and I continually allow it to teach me and inform how I live my life and that is a gift.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, because if you look at any of the ancient wisdom traditions or you look at stoicism which has become very popular and they all instruct you or suggest to you to look very closely at your own death in order to recognize the gift of life, and you were, without choice, given that opportunity or that … you’re forced to do that.

Kristi Nelson:
It would never have been something I would have chosen, consciously, at that stage in my life and yet, the experience taught me so much that I think that there’s a place … this idea of the paradox of the more that we embrace the fact of our mortality, the more alive we become, that there is something really, really true about that I think a lot of people are registering in our culture. A lot of our western cultures are becoming so much more intimate with death and intimate with impermanence and embracing kind of death-friendly, where people are recognizing that that which we push away comes back to bite us and that we live lives running from things if we don’t turn to face them. So, now, with death cafes and all these death dinners and in our culture now, I think there’s a lot of space that there’s been there more in eastern traditions …

Steve Rio:
It’s starting to come back maybe.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, I think there’s a real interest … and in younger people, in looking that squarely, right in the face, right in the eye, looking death in the eye.

Steve Rio:
Right and your experience through those years, I didn’t know this about you until we chatted earlier but you quote, unquote “came out” after that whole experience like you said … I think you used the words “had the courage to fall in love with another woman” but in your 40’s, is that right?

Kristi Nelson:
In my 40’s, Yes.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, going through that experience, obviously, reoriented you around the power or the importance of living your truth in a way that you hadn’t yet recognized, is that true?

Kristi Nelson:
What’s interesting is when you brought this conversation up just now, on the heels of talking about death, all I can think about was I could only make this decision to love the woman I am in love with right now, if I let something die so that was what occurred to me when you began asking the question and I thought, “Oh, this is an unusual transition but no, maybe it’s exactly right, that there’s something about courageously facing and letting go what needed to be let go of.” What’s important is that it wasn’t about being truthful about who I was, Steve, because I think that’s really important. I had never identified as a lesbian. I have been married. I have been with men all of my life in terms of all of my intimate choices.

And then, I met someone who opened my heart in a way and it blew my whole life away and what was radical for me was in that moment … it actually took a while…in those many, many moments of being willing to let go of form to say, not “what form is this love being delivered and how is this love coming to me, what’s the body that’s bringing this love, what’s the gender that’s bringing this love?” It became about the quality of the love itself. And that required, for me, letting go of all of the trappings about who the other person was, who my partner is, who I was. That was what had to be let go of because I didn’t have some place where, “Oh, I’m now dipping into this deep truth about me that’s always been true and I’ve always had this kind of registering.” It was, what’s being presented to me in this moment, as an opportunity by life that I spent a bunch of time, saying no to, because if only you were a man, you’d be perfect.

Steve Rio:
Right.

Kristi Nelson:
My God, I said that? “If only you were a man, you’d be perfect for me.” And then, at some point, I cracked open to the larger possibility that I was being invited into, that required me to be willing to let go of all of my social constructs, all of my constructs about my self, all the social goodies that came from being heterosexual, all of what anybody else thought about me. Wow. It was just … it was, can you die unto all of that for the sake of love?

Steve Rio:
Yeah, ego death. Yeah.

Kristi Nelson:
Whatever you want to call it. Again, that was nothing I would have consciously chosen in a certain way but it was about are you willing? And if life is presenting you with this, are you ready? Can you say yes to something that’s so outside of all of your ideas about yourself and life and love and everything, and the images you’ve had about where … so that was a rebirth in a certain way, you could say, and in order to be reborn unto aspects of ourselves that are previously entirely unconceived, we have to die.

Steve Rio:
Yes. I didn’t expect you to go there, it’s such an amazing reflection on your experience. It’s interesting, separating from the identity that we have with our body and other people’s bodies and connecting with consciousness in a way and with the soul in a way, that strips away like you say, all those layers of conditioning that you’ve built up your entire life, that society has built up, that you’ve built up, that your family has built up, all of these things to see through all of that, to just see love purely.

Kristi Nelson:
Exactly. Exactly, and to leap into that invitation. It was like standing on the edge of a cliff and all those points of hesitation, I mean, there was so much fear and there were so much concern and there were so much trepidation and back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth and it reminds me of when I was young and I lived near this pond that had a huge rock outcropping, so it was … and it was like standing at the edge of that cliff and then going, “Okay, I’m going to jump. Okay, I’m not going to jump. Okay, I’m going to jump. Okay, I’m not going to …” and so going back and forth, back and forth, on the edge of this gigantic kind of cliff that was overhanging this thing. Then, once you step off, it just takes that moment, my gosh.

I have that literal sense of … there haven’t been many times in my life where it’s really taken that much courage but when you take flight, I just remember kind of both feet leaving that big … I don’t know, it felt like it was 100 feet above the water. It was probably about 20, 30 feet above the water. Both your feet take off and then you’re airborne and there’s no going back and it’s like, then you just go up and up and up, I jumped over and over and over the rest of my life but that first time was so hard to jump. That’s a great felt-sense to remember in the physical body.

Steve Rio:
What a release, what an opening.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, and I think that’s really available to us so much more than we think about in life. I think that there are ways to live life that say yes. Where we say yes, over and over and it doesn’t matter how many times we go back and forth, back and forth and have that trepidation and that’s part of the process. And to really honor also all of the ambivalence or whatever is there that wants to be fully honored and then to also to honor that the feet want to leave the ground and they want to be up there and so, I think there’s ways that saying yes to life is inviting us a lot more often than we’re paying attention to, and that excites me. That compels me a lot to think about what it would be like to really tune in to those offerings and those invitations much more fully and much more frequently.

Steve Rio:
It’s so true in all aspects of your life to recognize that there is an infinite number of choices and paths you can take and to really tune to what your path is and to follow it without fear because you see … you just see people … you see those people that just truly lean into life in a way that … and they were able to step away or step through the fear and just unlock unbelievable things in their life and unbelievable experience and depth. That’s otherwise, buried there somewhere.

Kristi Nelson:
I agree and what I’m also feeling drawn to say in this moment is that if we don’t honor all the place that fear wants to be tended, that we’re also never … I think the key thing is to also tuck fear in, like to really … to hold the place that fear also wants to live and teach us. And so many of us, I think we have an idea in mind about what a really purposeful or courageous life would look like. What a purpose driven life and it’s all this clarity and what we feel is confusion or we feel fear or we feel ambivalence or trepidation but I think, unless we bring those things really close and extend that radical hospitality to all the things that are present, that’s what will teach us courage, ultimately. How can we say, okay, I’m just going to jump right over fear and trepidation, ambivalence and not knowing and all this stuff because courage is on the other side of that? No, I think courage is about honoring everything that’s right there.

Steve Rio:
That’s so great. Yeah, you can’t just ignore it or jump through it. You have to work with it. You have to lean into that, into that fear and see what’s there in order to transform through it.

Kristi Nelson:
Yeah, there’s no bypassing.

Steve Rio:
Right. I think we’ve talked about so much of this already just in your personal experience but your work is also right now all focused around this idea of gratefulness and grateful living. You are the executive director of A Network For Grateful Living but also you’ve been working on a book for the last two years around grateful living and it’s going to be coming out in the fall but I think pre-sales are coming pretty soon so we’ll talk about that in a bit but I read through the … some of the content you sent me and there’s so much that’s very relevant I think to how people are feeling today, especially in the sense that … in the wake of the gratitude movement being very mainstream right now, this idea of always looking for things to be grateful for, so looking for external factors to be grateful for or things that you have to be grateful for.

When something like this happens in the world, we have this pandemic thing and everything suddenly feels very uncertain, it shakes up the foundation for people and how are they supposed to continue feeling okay? And one of the big sections, one of the things you talk about in the book that I love is, is this idea of uncertainty and do you mind if I just read a couple of sentences?

Kristi Nelson:
I would love it. Thank you.

Steve Rio:
You say three months … and so you were talking about…Before you’re actually diagnosed with cancer, there is a pretty long period of not … the doctors not being able to figure what was happening for you.

Kristi Nelson:
It was nine months.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, and so, this is inside of that period and you’re telling your story, you say: “Three months passed and I was no wiser about what was wrong with me. I had no answer from doctors or the medical system. I did know however what I was experiencing, feeling and coming to understand. I felt a strong desire to let go of pursuing a definitive answer. I felt a call to let go of an inherited internalized belief that everything could be known, would be known and should be known. Surrendering the quest for certainty was both terrifying and empowering. I learned to see hope as an unconditional orientation to life that called on me to bow to the one truth of which I had become certain: There is a mystery to life that is more vast and promising than what is knowable.”

I really love this because I do think that for a lot of young people and with the internet today, it feels like all of the information is there so we should know and be able to control and have certainty around all aspects of our life but, could you speak to that?

Kristi Nelson:
I think there’s a tyranny which is that we should be able to know and that we get to know everything that’s true. That there’s this kind of way that we’ve become arrogant I think in our culture about this idea that everything can be understood and if it can be broken down into the smallest molecules that we will understand everything and I love science and I think science is incredibly important and I’m just absolutely praying that we’re going to come up with solutions for so many of the things that are plaguing our world these days and that will come from a longing to know and understand. There’s no doubt about that and it’s not about putting that asunder.

It’s more about how do we live our lives, every single moment of our lives, in the face of how much is not knowable. It’s not about looking on the positive side of everything. It’s about what’s that right relationship to knowing and knowing when there is actually a time for a fast, like kind of a media fast. Not turning away from truth but turning inwards so that we can have greater capacity to greet the truth that is there. What do we each need? And really asking those questions so that we can honor ourselves and honor this situation best. It looks different on different people and I think going away from this idea that it’s all knowable and there’s one prescription is I think really helpful and important.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, it strikes me that what’s happened in the last two weeks, like you said two weeks ago, I mean, in China two weeks ago, it was a completely different story than it was here but now, suddenly, we’re experiencing some of the same situation and one of the things it’s done is unravel the illusion that we are in control or that we know everything there is to know or that we have complete certainty around our outcome like what tomorrow is going to look like or what next week is going to look like and that’s very challenging for a lot of people right now.

Kristi Nelson:
We never knew what next week is going to look like. And so we’re right face to face with that right now. Panic and fear can really disconnect us from love and that’s what concerns me most of all is I notice even in myself how easy it is to get impatient. How much more, in these kinds of times, when things are so uncertain, it’s easy to be more short tempered or tighter, to hold ourselves tighter, to hold other people tighter instead of really letting the heart kind of be bigger and lead us more here so there’s generosity and kindness and that we actually have a way to heal things in the midst of this by our own choices and our own behavior. To know what can’t be taken and what’s needed and what’s called for each of us I think is a real question of tuning deeply in and asking ourselves those questions over and over again because things are changing all the time.

They always are changing. And they always were changing. The idea that something was fixed and now it’s not is an illusion, so how do we keep having those practices in life that remind us what really matters? That’s what grateful living is for me, remembering those things is really important.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, that’s beautiful. It … talking about decoupling our security from our certainty and there’s a great relief and freedom when you can do that because if your well-being is all tied to your certainty or a fixed set of parameters existing or happening around you, I don’t know that there’s ever a way to truly feel secure.

Kristi Nelson:
Exactly, right. Exactly, right, and that’s where we are right now. That’s perfect, beautifully said. This idea of security and certainty being so tied into one another and how do we navigate and negotiate security inside ourselves and in the lives that we’re living, absent a sense of certainty? That’s the age old question. That takes us right back to the kind of real meaning of the matter.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, and staying close to the … one of the principles in the book. There’s five principles around grateful living and one of them is “life is a gift” and getting, very, very close to each day and each moment being important and beautiful and that there is wealth in those moments, even if things around you are … maybe your work is uncertain or someone…you’re worried about your health or someone else’s health or these things, that there is still beautiful gifts in the moment.

Kristi Nelson:
Life is an unexpected gift. It’s an uncertain gift, that is inherently … Everyday we wake up there’s the gift again but it’s not something that we get to know, that we get to count on. I’ve got this gift for exactly this long and this, and here’s the conditions of the gift. There’s a lot of uncertainty inside receiving that gift, being aware of that gift and I think returning to it over and over again is where life gets so much richer when we don’t take it for granted. When there is really that place of, “Oh, I’m still here, wow and what is there to do about that? What’s the opportunity that comes in that awareness, versus, what’s going to happen tomorrow and I don’t know and I never will know.”

Steve Rio:
It’s interesting Brother David was really awakened to this in his teen years, I think it was his teen years during the second world war, being in environments where there was literally bombs dropping around him constantly and then he made it through that period and recognized that staying close to that connection with life was so critical and that living gratefully was sort of the way he started talking about it and that was many, many years ago. And that we have these wake up calls that help us alert to this. You’ve had your wake up calls that we talked about in your personal health. A lot of young people and then, societally, we have these major wake up calls but the last … I think the last major one that I could think of in the western world, in North America was maybe 9/11 which is 2001.

So, a lot of young people, even if you’re 30 today, you were a 10 year old at that time, maybe you had some connection to that or I’m sure there is some resonance to that but you weren’t fully aware of that and so this could be for a lot of people the first time they’re experiencing something that is large, kind of worldwide happening to them without any sense of way to control it. And maybe the first time that there’s a lot of people having, for the first time that shakeup saying, actually as much control as you believe you have, there are larger forces that play here. We are part of a greater system here that we have to bow to in some way.

Kristi Nelson:
I think each of us finding our own way in relationship to that is really important and one of the questions that occurred to me as you were talking was, how does uncertainty bring us alive? It’s an interesting question because there is something very paradoxical in certainty and how it’s kind of deadening and how predictability, what does that do to the life, like when things feel rote and nothing feels new and we … there’s something that we also are often yearning for in our lives, which is this sense of promise and possibility. All of that rests in not knowing. All of that energy rests in not knowing and not knowing how we are meant to also inform the possibilities for the future so not knowing how we’re going to be called to act.

I think there’s something there that is really important to remember and affirm which is how does uncertainty in this moment offer me greater aliveness? Where can I respond to that? What’s the opportunity in this, that is yearning for me? And to enliven uncertainty as opposed to making it feel so threatening all the time. That’s very much in our hands, I think too because as I said, kind of any … and you said as well, any idea to the contrary is an illusion. We don’t know what’s going to happen and we never did but now we’re really face to face with it in a way that how are we going to be in relationship to that, not knowing? I think it’s really on us right now.

Steve Rio:
Yeah, and the book you talk about Aliveness on a scale which I think a lot of people perhaps have never considered that they just think, “Oh, I need either alive or I’m dead.”

Kristi Nelson:
Right.

Steve Rio:
As opposed to there being a scale of aliveness, of awakeness, of presence to the moment and that only comes from the highs and the lows. That if everything is just tagging along kind of status quo that it’s hard to feel that level of aliveness perhaps.

Kristi Nelson:
There’s something about what we accept as our baseline or our status quo that I think has to do with how awake are you, how aware are you, how alive are you? I think there’s something really beautiful and meaningful about saying, can I drop deeper. Just a little bit more present and what’s going to emerge from that? What arises in the face of my being more present? Can I be a little more attuned to this moment, to what’s being called for? What would that look like and feel like? I think aliveness can scare us sometimes and so we tamp it down. There’s something about really coming alive that is about cracking open and facing everything that we were talking about kind of life so wholeheartedly and with so much vulnerability. Aliveness is vulnerable. Just, am I willing to come more alive? Yes. Will I make mistakes in that? Yes. Will it be awkward? Yes. Will I fumble? Yes. Will I be afraid, yes. It’s yes to all of it honestly and that yes is aliveness to me.

Steve Rio:
In the book, you have so many great exercises and questions and ways for people to incorporate this practice of grateful living into their life and I’m just wondering if someone is listening to this and they are really struggling with the level of uncertainty that they feel or the sudden shakeup that they’re feeling with everything going on, is there a particular practice or question or something they can do that comes to mind for you right now, from the book, that they could draw from?

Kristi Nelson:
One of the things that helps me a lot is remembering the larger arc of history. I think we often forget, and feel really caught in the moment that we’re in and that we are part of a long historical arc and a huge global family. That human family rests in so much not knowing, alongside us, that we’re not alone in not knowing and that we’ve never been alone in not knowing. And that all throughout history, how much has been unknown, everything that’s worth anything has taken the willingness to turn ourselves over, to all of what is unpredictable and all of what remains unknown. And that we are part of the human family in this. We’re not separate.

I think one of the reasons why this social distancing is so hard right now is because it’s as if we’re all supposed to be in this little bubble and that sense of separation versus belonging, I think when we feel that sense of belonging, it helps to heal a lot of what is hard about uncertainty. For me, that really helps and then I put my hand on my heart a lot, just to connect with my heartbeat. To feel that. I think it’s really important even in physical distancing to connect with your own body, to connect with yourself, to connect with your heartbeat, to connect with your breath. To use those things as a form of stilling and calming and then connecting to ourselves and each other in all the ways that we possibly can. That’s an act of defiance in a time of fear that makes us want to stop loving in some way, and stop loving life. So whenever you can hold love, it really displaces fear. It’s like the weight of love is just so much greater than the weight of fear. So, to just continually insist on being that embodiment of love, being an expression of love, fiercely holding fast to love inside yourself, inside your cells. That feels to me like a grateful living practice.

Steve Rio:
You just mentioned these two things, this … we’re at this interesting paradox right now, where what we need to do to try and knock down this virus is to create physical distance from one another. And this virus I hope and I think is opening us up and reminding us of our interdependence, our interdependence as a human race globally And it’s interesting that we’re wrestling with this idea that like I think some people are coming alive to this idea that … of just how connected we are and how important our connection is. Maybe that is because we’re being forced to remove ourselves, and suddenly we realized how hard that is for us.

Kristi Nelson:
It’s making me feel very emotional just, I think the question of … there’s a question now which is not what do I need … it’s occurring to me…it’s just what do I need, it’s where am I needed? How am I needed? When things … when systems start slowing and stopping, it’s a really powerful reminder about how much we take for granted and rely on in our lives. To have heightened awareness and appreciation around that is a gift.

Steve Rio:
Well, so we’ve talked about so much today and the way that I end every episode is talking about and asking about what it means to live a good life and I feel like in many ways, this whole conversation has been about that and about being alive to that and about awake to that and my experience with grateful living has been that it is one of the best ways to really embrace a good life and to recognize the beauty of life. How would you answer that question? What does it mean to live a good life?

Kristi Nelson:
I think the idea of a good life is awakened for me when I am most awake to every single moment as an opportunity and every single day as a gift and learning from everything that unfolds, that nothing can take us away from the ability to learn and nothing can take us away from the ability to love, and nothing can take us away from loving our moments. A good life feels radical to me, to live it from my heart, as if everything really, really matters, because it does. A good life is connecting really deeply with what can’t be taken from you. I love the idea that nothing can take love away from any of us.

Steve Rio:
That’s it for today’s episode. If you enjoyed it, make sure you subscribe wherever you’re listening and you can follow along with my life on Instagram, @steverio. For show notes and other info about the podcast, check out natureofwork.co/podcast or find us on Instagram, @natureofwork.co. If you like to learn more about how to increase your performance, resilience and well-being, how to increase the quality of your work, while lowering the stress and anxiety you feel, definitely check out Nature of Work. It’s a personal operating system that has transformed my work and my life, not only the quality of my work but how I feel every day. With that, I’ll leave you. Enjoy the rest of your day. We’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening.