091. John Beede: Mountaineering, values, and growth

Episode summary

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John Beede

Climbing Mt Everest and the 7 Summits is a huge accomplishment, for John Beede, it’s only the beginning of the story. He discusses his book The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys to Grow Up with Kindness, Courage and Grit , and his reasons for writing it. John shares his experiences from mountaineering and climbing Everest, and why climbing is important to him. He reflects on his journey overcoming PTSD, what he’s learned from climbing, and advice for others starting out.

John Beede is an adventurer, author, speaker, and one of few people to climb the tallest peak on every continent, including Mt Everest. He has traveled to 67 countries, survived avalanches and PTSD, and more recently has “settled down” to enjoy competitive kite surfing. John is also the author of 3 books, sharing what he’s learned through his adventuring and mountaineering. His newest book is called The Warrior Challenge: 8 Quests for Boys TO Grow Up with Kindness, Courage, and Grit.

Highlight [0:00]

John (00:00:04):
If I step on a stage or if I get on a podcast or have any conversation. And I think, “What does Craig think about me? How am I going to do here? Are the people listening, liking what I’m saying?” That’s a selfish approach and that’s draining because then I’m in my head. I’m not present. I’m not here. Instead if I think, how can I connect best with Craig? What are the people listening, going to get the most value out of? How do I give the stories that are going to create the best experience for listeners?

Intro [0:36]

The Warrior Challenge [2:37]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Climbing, speaking, writing all happened together - cyclical, fueled each other
  • Warrior Challenge is the first time collecting what he’s learned from his experience
  • Personal reckoning; living up to what he was trying to write
  • Earnest Shackleton books South and Endurance.
  • Creating starting places, jumping off points… getting young men interested in grit, values
  • Books vs visuals (movies, video games, etc) - video games less life changing
  • Giving role models for young men to live up to, something for parents to use
  • Structure of the book, boundaries, how to use what you’ve learned

Boundaries [12:54]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Learning boundaries later in life - you can give too much
  • Climbing in Indonesia, stuck between tribal war and gold mine, waiting it out
  • Wally’s story of immigration, knowing his own boundaries
  • Levels of boundaries, how to set them effectively: Feeling, acting, consequences

Mountain climbing [18:23]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Flow state, being present; Climbing forces it
  • Climbing as his church, sanctuary; Spiritual experience
  • Community: being with people who are digging deep

Craig (00:18:23):
And I promised myself, I’m not going to geek out about mountain climbing, but I want to go a little bit toward mountain climbing. What I want to say is what the heck is it about outdoor mountain climbing that is so transformative? And I have an idea and I think it’s that the… I fall a 5’8. Okay. That’s the kind of climber I am. I’m not a big wall climber. But for me it so necessarily mindful and so focusing, and that I think it’s a physiological need of our brains to get into the flow state. Everybody’s talking about flow state.

Craig (00:19:03):
If you haven’t heard about flow state, oh my God, what rock are you under? And I think that’s a physical need and I think rock climbing, and I think you can do it indoors, but I think there’s something about outdoors like, is that a centipede? Is that a snake? Am I going to get… There’s something about it that it makes you just go right into that flow state into that mindful practice. So my actual question is what do you think it is if anything, about mountain climbing that is so magical that takes you away, takes you right to the nut of figuring out who you are?

John (00:19:34):
There are maybe, well, we love the number three. So let me give you three of my favorite elements of climbing.

Continue reading…

Craig (00:19:40):

John (00:19:40):
And the first one you are absolutely right. Flow state. You have to be there present, your body is screaming at you. Your primal fear factor is screaming, saying this is life and death, pay it freaking tension right now. You have to be here and now, which is an element of flow that’s being present. So it forces you into being present. The next thing that I really love about climbing is that it is my church. I’ve never jived with going into religious institution buildings, but I’d still subscribed to many of the beliefs in those buildings. But I find that my church structure is the mountains. Those are my sanctuaries or my temples to go out into the wilderness and see creation.

John (00:20:30):
That’s a spiritual experience to be standing above the cloud, looking down at the curvature of the earth and it’s a phenomenal place to be. So there’s two. And then the third one that I really love is being in a group of people that together are digging deep. We’re all on this thing of, “Am I enough? Do I have what it takes? Can these other people help me get through this?” We’re all on the same goal, purpose mission. And we all have to bring out a better, bigger self in order to succeed. And that’s a really cool place to be.

Creating and sharing energy [22:49]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Thinking of the individual, rather than self
  • Choosing connection over selfish approaches, thinking about what you can share
  • Giving value and creating energy helps you find community and fulfill your own needs as well
  • Thinking about how to connect, leading that conversation, creating energy with focus on others

Speeches and discourses [25:58]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Speeches as a discourse, debate and conversation
  • Trying to bring that interaction back to speaking - putting people in their bodies
  • Customized conversation, adaptable to group

Climbing stories [28:29]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Drawn to climbing… stupid curiosity
  • Craig’s climbing story, getting started with Mike… just saying yes, then learning
  • Didn’t understand the level of engagement until after
  • Moments of interest… then following through
  • Loving the idiot phase, someone will always be better
  • Climbing at night, only seeing your head lamp… perspective
“ I love those moments at night when you just see the distance of your headlamp in front of you, and it's just, it's the story of life. You can only see as far as that headlamp goes. And once you get to where that headlamp goes, you see where the headlamp goes next and that's it. And who knows what's going to be around the next corner? And those are such spectacular moments that I just live for. ”

John Beede

John (00:32:30):
So those little moments of, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I think are so important to learn to listen to. You made the absolute right choice of like, “Oh, that’s interesting. And then I’m going to go try it.” Most people are like, “Oh, that’s interesting, but I could never, or I’m not a climber or my upper body strength isn’t enough. Or if it’s like playing guitar, but I don’t have a sense of rhythm or if it’s dancing, oh, but I don’t know how to keep rhythm.” Or if it’s whatever, there’s always this, “But I’m a beginner or I would look foolish.” Kind of voice. And there’s such beauty. I call it loving the idiot phase. When you know you’re going to be an idiot at something and you’re going to look like a fool. But that’s every moment in life, somebody’s phenomenally better than you.

Continue reading…

John (00:33:26):
Sure. I climbed Everest, but then while I’m going, there’s Lakpa Rita Sherpa who’s climbed it 22 times right there next to him. I’m like, “Well, I’m a total beginner newbie novice in relation to him.” And even Olympic gold medalists of sport that happens right after them. They’re a total newbie novice, right? So all of us are beginners. And if you can learn to love that joy, find joy in the moments of proverbially stepping on the toes of the dancer, that you’ve just started this thing with or knowing you’re going to be hanging on the side of a cliff for 30 minutes. And other people wrapping down monkeys, baboons flying down with little bananas and, “Hi, are you Craig?” If you can learn to laugh at those moments and say, “This is freaking awesome, I’m loving that I have no clue what I’m doing.” And you listen to those moments.

John (00:34:18):
That’s interesting. That’s where the joy of life starts coming from. Because you start to expand who you are as a human being and you learn what you’re actually made of versus what your brain says it thinks you’re made of. Because your brain is not you, you are not the thoughts going on in your mind. That is not who you are. You’re the person who can see those thoughts. You can watch those sites. You’re the watcher, the seer, the witness, there’s all these different names for this person. But if you can say, “Oh, there that is, there’s that little inner critic that John has, that Craig has.”

Craig (00:34:53):
The self-talk.

John (00:34:53):
The self-talk. And say, “I’m going for this thing because it just sounds really interesting or freaking awesome.” You’ll grow.

Craig (00:35:01):
Yes. Mic drop.

Everest and perspective [37:38]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Story of climbing Everest, leaking oxygen, color vision fading, losing energy
  • Witnessing a man dying while climbing Everest, unable to help or save him
  • Changed the meaning of his personal journey on Everest
  • Taught him vulnerability, how to process trauma, working through PTSD to heal
  • Post traumatic stress disorder leads to growth through healing - courage to push through

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [46:26]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Acronyms, jokes about it and seriousness of the disorder
  • Locked into your fight or flight state; high adrenaline state, short term defense mechanism
  • Not being able to control your body’s responses
  • Getting professional help, many resources in John’s book
  • 5-2-7 breathing: Mithu Storoni’s book, Stress Proof, interviewing her
  • Navy Seals’ use this: breathe in 5, hold 2, exhale 7, calming your body through breathing
  • Different types of breathing for different goals, powerful tools
  • Critical part of trauma processing

Craig (00:50:55):
But I was going to say one of the things that jumped out at me was I think it was a block about the 5-2-7 breathing. I’m a big fan of breathing, certain kinds of breathing patterns and meditations. And it jumped out at me because I know enough about the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. That doing those kinds of breathing is an immediate set of grab handles that you can get a hold of to affect your own nervous system reaction like that. So just for fun, can you unpack the 5-2-7 breathing exercises?

John (00:51:31):
Yeah. So I interviewed a woman named Mithu Storoni who has a PhD in neuro everything. She’s gotten multiple PhDs in all the neuros. And she wrote a book called Stress-Proof and a lovely, lovely human being, just the sweetest, gentlest demeanor, but she just brings the punch in the power. I’m like, that’s who I want to have as a resource for self-awareness. I call her up and she’s gracious enough to chat. And she tells me about this thing that Navy SEALs do when they go under water and they are facing the same sense of fight or flight. And I don’t know if you know this, but Navy SEALs can warm up their bodies by controlling their breath. If they’re sitting in icy water, kind of like Wim Hof Method, they can warm themselves. And that’s really the power of the breath.

Continue reading…

John (00:52:19):
So 5-2-7 breathing learned from Mithu Storoni because she tells me about what the Navy SEALs do in order to calm themselves when they go underwater. So here’s what it is. It’s breath in for five counts, hold your breath for two counts and then exhale for seven counts. It’s really important that at the bottom of your breath, after your longest exhale, that you don’t hold your breath there because that activates energy, that says I have to take a gasp. I have to start the fight or flight because I need to breathe.

John (00:52:55):
So it’s just simply in one, two, three, four, five. Hold one, two, exhale, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and then inhale five. And if you do that three to five times, especially, if you take note of, here’s what I felt like beforehand. Whoa, here’s what I feel like afterwards. There’s actually a massive calming, centering difference for a simple exercise and technique like that. It is so powerful.

Craig (00:53:32):
Powerful. Thank you. I love that because I’ve talked about in the past, square breathing, which some people learn in martial arts context and you basically go around in a count that’s symmetrical. So it’s in five, pause, five out, five, pause five, and that’s challenging. And it leads to a completely different result. And so they’re different tools. So I think it’s great to see. I don’t want to say it’s a simple tool because it’s really a powerful tool, but it’s great to see such a simple tool included in the book. And I blasted through that section. I’m like, oh yeah, five two, but [inaudible 00:54:07]. But I’m like, that’s a really interesting thing to include.

Craig (00:54:10):
So I really like that as a tool for people it’s in my opinion, better than things like when you get mad, count to 10, which to me is like, and guess what you’ll be doing while you’re counting to 10?

John (00:54:20):
Holding your breath.

Craig (00:54:23):
Right. And you’re making it worse.

John (00:54:24):
One, two three. Gosh. Didn’t work.

Craig (00:54:27):
Yeah. It’s just not, you spend 10 seconds thinking about how you were going to do the thing you shouldn’t do. So I’m a big fan of breathing exercise. I think that’s a good one that people can try.

John (00:54:35):
So this thread started from what tools can somebody use if they think they’ve been traumatized. And that was a critical part of the therapy process of learning this square breathing, which is a simplified version of that 5-2-7 breathing square. And she would have me hold my finger, lift it up for four breaths, draw an actual square one, two, three, four. I was like, “Why do I have to use my hand?” She’s like, “Just do it.”

Craig (00:55:01):
“Shut up and do it.”

John (00:55:02):
“Shut up and do it.” Basically. Yeah. But in a very kind way, it’s like, “Well, that puts you in your body and it gives you something to focus on.” Okay, great. So one, two, three, four, over one, two, three, four down one, two, three, four. And the bottom one again is what creates that sort of sense of stimulus, which she, in that case wanted. Because she wanted to kind of find what my triggers were in a controlled setting. So that was very wise of her to say, “We’re going to hold on that down breath to see how John reacts to these impulses of fight or flight.”

Something people get wrong [55:51]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • More like everyone than they tend to think
  • Thinking he is special, different because of his accomplishments
  • Still goes through the same struggles, work in progress
  • Wanting to always learn from others, beginner mindset
  • Different story, same end

Rest and recommendations [57:39]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Stuck on a mountain… same idea as quarantine. Time for rest
  • Rest is a key part of the journey
  • Essentialism, by Greg McKeown: how to cut down what you need, simplify. Infinite number of paths, but learning to remove blocks.
  • Breath, by James Nestor: book about breath work, how to do it, why it’s important, what it can do for you

Starting places for Mountaineering [1:01:58]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Start with a smaller mountain in the USA; You don’t know what you don’t know yet
  • Start small and work your way up, see if it’s calling to you, don’t start with huge risks

What drives this Podcast [1:04:02]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Personal enjoyment, really fantastic conversations
  • Capturing people’s thoughts, experiences, stories… work worth doing
  • The whole process, technological and interpersonal

3 words [1:06:22]

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Craig (01:06:22):
Well then, I will just say as I say many times, and of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

John (01:06:31):
Presence, courage, and grit.

Craig (01:06:36):
Thank you very much John. It was a pleasure to finally get a chance to talk to you. And I suspect we may be talking again in the future. So thanks for taking the time and have a terrific day.

John (01:06:47):
Thanks so much for having me on Craig.

Contact and further info

You can learn more on John’s work on his website johnbeede.com, or follow him on instagram @johnbeede.

You can buy his book, The Warrior Challenge, on Amazon or through your local book seller.

To hear more about John, you can listen to his interview on the Unmuted Generations podcast.