Nervous System Mastery with Jonny Miller

This is Grief and Pizza, a podcast exploring the highs and lows at the intersection of business and emotional well-being. This week we're talking to Johnny Miller, creator of the Nervous System, Mastery Program, and The Curious Humans Podcast.

Johnny, welcome to Grief and Pizza, Johnny Miller from Nervous System Mastery Fame, and the Curious Humans Podcast. I guess at this point you're kind of what I think of as the nervous system guy in the same way that Marie is the, the Notion Gal. and I took the Nervous System Mastery course in early 2023 and, I really enjoyed in the program how you had the people do an explain like, I'm five, so whenever we would consume the material, we would go to our group and then explain what we thought we understood to a five-year-old. And so I'd love to start off by you just maybe doing an explain like I'm five on what the nervous system is and why it's so important, in your work, in what I think of as like creating an operating manual for your nervous system.


Beautiful. Thank you. Well, it, it's great to be here. Um, you've probably opened with the toughest question of all, so, uh, thank you for that. yeah, the, the, the game is called the Feynman Technique and it's, it's like a way of, attempting to explain stuff without using long words. So I'll try and do that myself.

so Nervous System Mastery is learning how to be less reactive and. More alive in your life. And at the same time, listening to your body and being in tune in the same way that you might have a, an instrument or a guitar that goes out of tune every once in a while. You have to kind of tune yourself up in order to, to play good music.

And our bodies are like these instruments. So I consider nervous system mastery as the, the practice, the skill of. Tuning up the instruments of our body. Yeah, I like that. That's pretty good. That's awesome.

Yeah. I think actually one of the things That struck me about the program almost immediately in the very first lesson, and I, I went back and was watching it again today, was you start out, by introducing this concept that you had been living your life sort of numb from the neck down.

So without this somatic experience of your body being totally disconnected and being up in your head all the time, and When I was taking the course, it just resonated with me so strongly where I was just like, oh my goodness. like we often end up so in our heads about things and not really you know, letting it settle into the body and things like that.

and that very first lesson was this incredible TED talk that you gave at, Ubud. Ted X about, losing your ex-fiance and your experience with grief. and I've always wondered was that kind of like the impetus for this work where you started really diving deeply into that body feel and exploring that grief?

Or was there something prior to that? what set you on the journey to developing this, this sort of guidebook for other practitioners?

[00:02:46] The Impact of Grief

Oh, thank you for the beautiful question. Um, yeah, so I, I would say that I've always been curious about the question of, of like how to live a good life. Like I, I studied philosophy at, at university and I've always been interested in that, but I'd say up until, up until that kind of journey through grief, it was a very intellectual pursuit and I was kind of, you know, figuring out like what are the right principles to live by and what are my values?

And, you know, like reading Plato and Aristotle and, and that, that type of stuff. Um. I would say I had like a, an initial wake-up call of sorts when I left my first startup and I went through burnout and that was, it was a very humbling experience and learning how to, not learning how to, like more unlearning, detaching my identity from my work and the, the startup that I was doing.

And that was definitely a kind of like one catalyst. But yeah, honestly, it was The journey of, grief, which I, I'd never, you know, I'd managed to live twenty-seven years without experiencing, I'd say any real emotional hardship. I mean, besides losing my grandma when I was like 11, I, I'd never really been through anything like emotionally tough or challenging before.

And losing my, my former fiance in such a unexpected and kind of sudden way was, it just kind of. Obliterated me in, in a really kind of beautiful way. and, and, and, and I realized very early on that, or at least I, I didn't realize, but I had the sense that, I'd seen adults who had lost someone close to them, usually much older, and they, it seemed like they hadn't really grieved the loss.

And something about them to me felt like they were. Almost like hollow kind of husks of beings. There was this like lack of aliveness or, like lethargy that really scared me. And, and I, I kind of saw myself, like if I went down the trajectory that I was on, which was this, you know, relatively, I wasn't totally emotionally disconnected, but I was pretty, I was not at all in touch with my body or feelings.

and so in some ways I kind of. I was like, okay, I'm gonna turn towards this and I'm going to do my best to create the conditions to, to feel this, this grief and this, this heartbreak that was, terrifying to, to feel like it, it, it, it really, um, if I kind of think back to like the, the weeks afterwards, I would say were just almost pure shock.

Like, I wouldn't say denial, but it was just too overwhelming to comprehend. What had happened fully, and I was kind of in the, like going through the, I, I, I called it like death men, like the logistics of like organizing the memorial and seeing people and consoling the, the family and things like that. And it wasn't really until I had spaciousness three or four months later that I really allowed myself to like be hit by the tsunamis of, of grief and signed up for Vipassana, which was at the time a terrifying.

Um, proposition to kind of spend 10 days in total silence without anyone else and just, just sitting with that and nothing else. Um, but yeah, it, it really was the journey through grief that kind of opened up the, the Pandora's box, so to speak, to, not only that, that experience, but many other things from.

My life, which I hadn't given myself, I didn't even know that I was holding. And, and I think the, it's the phrase of like, numb from the neck down is interesting. 'cause I only realize it now that I have something to contrast it with. But if I'd heard that phrase in my early twenties, I wouldn't have, it wouldn't have really made sense because I wouldn't have had, had anything to compare it to.

Mm. I'm like, oh no, I can feel my, look. I can pinch myself. I can feel that like I have a body. And so, um. Yeah, it's, it's something that only I guess, makes sense in hindsight.

[00:06:26] Resources for Approaching Grief

I'm curious what some of the resources you had at that time, 'cause I can imagine it would be really easy to kind of go inward or, uh, maybe disconnect from people and, uh, it would be such a sort of lonely, isolating experience.

But how did you even get exposed to the idea of doing a Vipassana or, you know, who, who were your support systems during that time, or even your influences that were maybe opening your eyes to a different way of approaching grief.

Mm, beautiful. I, um, I was very fortunate that I had, some really just beautiful close friends at the time that really showed up for me in a beautiful way.

I, I remember one guy, uh, his name's Stu. He took a two hour train down to Brighton where I was living, and brought like a home-baked casserole, gave it to me, gave me a hug, and had a cup of tea, and then went back home. And it was just like, like moments like that where people just. It really showed up for me in such a beautiful way that, um, I feel like was so essential, particularly in the, the immediate aftermath.

And one of the gifts of the grieving process, I think, is that I felt so much closer to many of these people during and after that process. Like it really did forge friendships in a really beautiful way. and I'd say like, I'd been interested in meditation. Before this. and I think I'd been kind of loosely considering it, like vipassana it a year before, and so, and I might've even, maybe I, I think I'd even signed up for it before this had happened.

So it was more just the decision of like, am I gonna go through with this now that the context seems very different. so I, I, I mean, I, I'd say the kind of. The curiosity that I had that was mostly directed to the outer worlds, like travel startups, learning that was starting to go inwards, I guess. So there was like an initial curiosity there.

but I didn't really have many other resources just besides, you know, very caring, loving friends.

Amazing. I

[00:08:15] On Burnout

I wanna ask too about the burnout. You mentioned even before this, so you were in the startup world, and what were some of those initial signs of burnout? 'cause I think a lot of folks maybe don't even notice when they're in that.

So if you were very in your head, how did that start to show up for you that you were maybe beginning to notice that there's something you're not listening to or that you were on the path to burnout?

Yeah, so I'd say that my burnout was, um, it means different things to different people. For me it was.

Waking up in the morning with a sense of like, not dread, but just like zero desire to continue doing the work that I was doing. I remember reading, there was a phrase by Annie Dillard. She says, how we spend our days is in the end how we spend our lives. And that phrase at the time hit me like a ton of bricks because I believed in the, the vision and the mission for what we were doing with MapTier, but.

I realized that on a daily basis I was basically being like an email monkey and I just was not enjoying the, the work itself that I was doing. I wasn't exercising my creativity. I didn't really see a path forward that could bring that alive. And so, um, it was more of a realization of like, I'm not coming alive in the work that I'm doing.

And, uh, the kind of low-level depression that kind of came with that. And, um. Just being like brutally honest with myself of like where I was at and that this thing that I'd poured half a decade into might not be the thing that I was meant to do for the rest of my life.

I've had a lot of conversations recently with founders who have left behind some sort of business and, I'm getting the sense that there's actually, like the way that you describe somebody kind of walking around as a husk, that I think that.

These failed businesses often leave behind this husk of an intention that people have for their lives, and then that a lot of people aren't sufficiently actually grieving. The loss of a business because there's like a death of an identity that gets, you know, people get very attached.

And I think there's even like some theories that our entrepreneurial, like Ideations are similar to a child type Attachment and attachment theory. Mm-Hmm mm-Hmm. And that when we have that sense of loss that like, it leaves us feeling completely Despondent and a little bit flaily and we're not actually taking the time to, to actually grieve that process.

So one of the things I did for. When we shut down our software as a service was actually kind of like creating almost like a ceremonial like shut down type thing where I planned a project to end it and write about it and kind of, you know, so have some actual kind of grieving process for leaving behind these ideas.

Um. did you ever have any sort of sense of that, as you left that behind or you know, some un Unfelt emotions as, as you were, you know, going through that process of, 'cause that sounded like around the time that you were talking about feeling that numbness from the neck down and, you know, what, what, what, what did you go through as a process of that 10 years of oh, you know what I mean?

The, yeah.

The sense of loss there. I completely agree with you. And, and I think that. In my experience, the grief comes from these identities or these parts of ourselves that, that die. And I remember at the time I had a friend, his name's Tom Nixon, that actually encouraged me to create a kind of ritual around it and a kind of like a ritual letting go.

And, um, he works with founders to kind of design ritual experiences, to kind to kind of like, whether it's like beginnings or ends or, or closings and, I actually didn't do anything. I wish that I'd taken his advice, but I did not have any kind of ritual. And, and I remember kind of this sense of, it was almost like I'd like lost my life raft and I was just kind of adrift.

And the life raft had been my identity as a founder, which had given me, in my view, some like validation. It was like, oh, he's like doing the startup thing. This, there was some kind of social status there. And I remember without that, there was this sense of like, like, like, who am I? Like, are my friends still gonna want to hang out with me?

Just, you know, stupid things like that. But they were very alive at the time. And I do think that e even in my case of losing Sophie, my partner, the, the grief was connected to grieving both current and future identities that I had for myself. So, mm-Hmm. The initial grief was. Was grieving, like not having her there present.

And then there was the grieving of not being a husband and a father with her and, and grieving the kind of future identity of the life that we'd projected out and planned for the next, you know, five plus years. And, and also grieving. I remember there were like, I went to different places that represented different parts of our relationship and different parts of.

My identity. And in each of those places it was almost like there were like Horcruxes and I, I remember like going to a train station that had been meaningful for us and just like breaking down and sobbing in the middle of this like public train station. 'cause I was hit with this memory. and, and so part of my journey was deliberately going back to some of the places that were most meaningful and creating mini rituals there to kind of surface those.

Kind of pieces of grief that had been, uh, left behind. Beautiful. That's really


That grief process,

[00:13:18] Integration of Grief and Nervous System Work

it's not a one-time thing. Right? It's like the waves kind of keep hitting you in different ways over time. How did this process of kind of working through the grief end up informing this nervous system work that you're doing today, like, you know, how did that happen?

Um, how did it shape it? It feels like this grief had a big influence on the work that you're doing today, obviously. So, you know, how did that get integrated? Hmm,

hmm. I actually feel emotion, like hearing, hearing that question. Um, yeah. It, I, I mean it informed all of it in a way. Um, my, the, the kind of, the way that, that the three or four years unfolded for me was initially.

The Vipassana meditation retreat. And then I returned to Bali because for me, that felt like a, a very, like nurturing and nourishing place. And when I was in Bali, I did a freediving training with, uh, this, this, this great guy and he.

Guided me through a, a breathwork journey, which I hadn't come across before. And during that journey, it was like 90 minutes. I had a just incredibly emotional, powerful kind of release, just like streaming tears. And towards the end of it, I felt this, like, this, like bliss and this level of joy that I hadn't, you know, ever really experienced before.

Certainly not in the context of grief. And so. After that I was like, like, holy crap. Like there's, there's something, there's something here. Both. I want to do this more selfishly because I feel like there's so much more for me to explore and feel, but also this is really interesting. And so I ended up doing a bunch of different breathwork trainings, as it turned out, holotropic and, and some other ones.

But I, I eventually met this guy Ed in Bali, who, ran a nine-month training. Called facilitated breath repatterning. And it was really during those nine months and learning about polyvagal theory, learning about the nervous system, and, and not only learning it intellectually, but seeing how the theory was then, um, coming to life in these breathwork journeys as I was guiding myself and other people through it and just becoming fascinated by it.

And, and, and then as the training was coming towards an end. Realizing that the nervous system was kind of the common thread between a lot of these things that I was interested in and also a lot of the challenges that people were facing, in the nervous system dysregulation, which is quite a broad term, but it's, it's basically a, the underlying cause of things like anxiety, burnouts, reactive behavior, certain health challenges, and so just becoming really fascinated by that and.

learning reading books. There's books by, by Kathy Kane, Nurturing Resilience was fantastic. Learning about the breath and how the way that we breathe impacts the way that we feel and the types of thoughts that we have. And so that was really like the rabbit hole that I was just like, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna do a deep dive here.

There's, there's something fascinating here and I wanna learn it for myself, and maybe one day I'll, I'll share it and teach it to other people.

I was gonna ask was

[00:16:15] Transition to Teaching Nervous System Mastery

there a, a moment when you felt there's something here, I've got some traction in terms of like, maybe I'll, maybe I'll teach this eventually.

Or did you kind of always have an idea that you've always been a teacher and that you were moving towards that? Or how did it turn from just a exploration to, hey, this is something I could actually have a meaningful, you know, business income around.

When, when did that kind of transition happened for you?

Yeah, I, I can actually pinpoint the exact moment. I was in Japan. I'd spontaneously gone to a, a retreat run by this guy called Young Chip Chase and in Craig Mod and, I remember that the day after the retreat, I stayed a day extra and I was rehearsing the TEDx talk that you mentioned earlier about grief.

Mm-Hmm. With, with one of the other participants. And Jan, who was organizing, kind of overheard me practicing the, the speech basically. And this began a conversation around burnout, around resilience. He works in kind of extreme environments in the kind of like a research capacity and. Over the course of a few conversations, he was like, do you want to co-host a, masterclass on emotional resilience and maybe do some research to learn more about this?

'cause this feels interesting. And so off the back of that, he, he mentored me in, in a way, and I kind of learned a lot from him in terms of building frameworks and being analytical and, and, um, having a really kind of solid approach to researching this question. And then a series of.

Emotional resilience masterclasses came out of that, which I ran alongside him for a couple of years. And in those masterclasses, the key piece that seemed to really resonate was the piece around the nervous system, around energy management, around using the breath to up and down regulate conversations around emotions interception.

So I think this was at some, it was during covid. Um. Mid-twenty-twenty. I was like, I feel like there's like a body of work here that wants to be created. And so doing the, the classic creative thing, I like posted a tweet being like, I'm thinking about doing this course called Nervous System Mastery with anybody interest a screenshot of like a super basic out-curriculum outline.

Like, does anyone want to, does anyone wanna join? And um, two people said like, where can I sign up? Like, like, I'll pay right now. And so I, I made a Stripe link on the side. I was like, here you go. Here's a payment link. And, with those two deposits, I was like, right, okay. I guess, I guess this is happening.

I guess this is happening. Yeah. And, and, and the, it was amazing. I entered this deep set of flow where there was this sense of like, this thing kind of poured out of me, and I really enjoyed the creative process of like crafting that curriculum and structuring and sequencing the practices in a way that they could.

Could make sense and also be relatable to people that, you know, hadn't done breathwork trainings and were kind of maybe coming in at multiple different entry points.

[00:19:03] Framing the Work

One question I have for you is around the positioning and framing of it. Obviously whatever you put forward on Twitter attracted the right people, but I know some people are not necessarily.

Maybe familiar with even the concept of what does it mean to master your nervous system? So I'm curious if you had any struggles there around how to frame the problem and how to talk about it.

I mean, honestly I think that is like the number one challenge that I face and I'm just constantly like, like you say, using Twitter to just as like a, like a tuning fork and just saying things that come to my mind and seeing what, what does resonate with other people and maybe where's the push back and trying to find that way to articulate because.

it's a very challenging thing to communicate if it's something that people haven't experienced before. I liked the phrase like, there's something about, I mean, you guys have notion mastery. There was something that was almost like a, kind of like, it breaks your brain a little bit, combining nervous system with mastery.

Like there was something about the framing that even if people had no idea what it meant. There's, there's like a curiosity there that's like, wait, how do I master my nervous system? Like, it just happens. It's a kind of automatic thing. I didn't realize that there was agency that I have here. And so I think that's part of what I, want to convey is that there are these skills that we can build and these things that we can learn to, to cultivate more agency over how our nervous system operates.

and, and kind of borrowing from. Language from the tech world, you know, like the, the operating manual for your nervous system, for example. Again, it's kind of combining like, uh, this machine-like kind of techniques and protocols and bringing in science to something that also works with feelings and emotions.

Um, so I, I guess I've been con constructing various like Trojan horses that. I feel like might have resonated with my former self when I was working in the startup world. Um, yeah, to varying degrees of success. I, I would say like e even people that I'm close with, like, like I mutual friend Khe. When we were at the mastermind together, he, he was like, I don't really know what you do.

Like, like what? What the hell? Like what the hell is this? It's like, you know, even people that, you know, we have, we're close with and we have conversations with, they don't sure necessarily get it. So it's um.

It's for sure. Explain like, I'm a founder, right? Instead of explain like I'm five, explain like I'm

a founder even.

That's awesome.


[00:21:27] Cultivating Interoception

Um, maybe a bit of a segue, but You talk a lot in your work about this concept of interoception and that was actually one of the things that I had never heard of. And so like when I heard that initially, I'm like, interoception, like, do you mean introspection? Like in a, that like, um, that difference between introspection being kind of like the, noticing our thoughts maybe, and, and I, I would maybe describe Interoception as noticing our feelings and our body.

Is that, do you think that that's like kind of an. An adequate comparison for understanding that. And, um, like, you know, you talk about the importance of cultivating interoception. Can you say more about that? Mm-Hmm.

Yeah. I, um, I like when I came across this word, it, it like, I. It connected so many dots for me specifically around like being numb from the neck down and the, the analogy that I like to use is, if you think of like the 15th century maps before we kind of discovered where all the continents were, there were these like big hereby dragons like splodgers on these uncharted territories and.

For me, it felt like my body was this like 15th century map where I had like, maybe rough outlines of continents, but there was no definition and there were these big, like blind spots of hear be dragons. And so I viewed it a lot of what I was doing as like, I, I, I, I love, I love Zelda, I love like fantasy stories.

So there was this kind of mm-hmm. Like, let's go on the inner adventure and kind of fill out these blind spots of these maps. And there's also kind of a lot more emerging literature as well, particularly over the last, I'd say like five to 10 years. Interception is becoming more and more of interest to the research community.

And you know, findings. Like people that have ADHD for example, tend to have low levels of interception. How. Uh, low levels of interception correlated with PTSD, with, um, various challenges in life. So there's an increasing interest and like body of literature to kind of back this up as well. Mm-Hmm. And it's something that can be cultivated, you know, pretty easily through things like the APE practice that I share in the training or through yoga nidra, NSDR, or just even just like being curious, honestly.

Just like, like it's, it's like a, a skill. And, and, and I remember for myself it was actually during the. Vipassana training, the meditation retreat that I did a while back where for 10 days you're basically doing a body scan over and over and over again. And I remember on like days eight, nine, and 10, I was like, whoa.

I'm like experiencing sensations in parts of my body that I'd like, I had no idea was even possible. It felt like a superpower. It was like I have this like magical ability to bring my attention to different parts of my body and uh. Yeah, I just, I was like, this is so cool and I feel like it's important.

[00:24:14] Measuring Interoception

I'm curious if interoception can be measured, like you mentioned around, uh, folks with ADHD having low interoception or low levels. You know, it's sort of how do you measure that? My introduction to Interoception probably came from TikTok and seeing people who have ADHD talk about interoception and I started to think about the ways that, um, for example, I think hunger cues are not always, uh, I'm not maybe always tuned into those, so sometimes I will accidentally eat.

Two lunches or two dinners because I actually don't, maybe I don't feel that like satiation, right. And I sort of forget. Um, so there's things like that where I have to set up reminders for myself to do those check-ins. And, um, so I'm just curious, can it be measured? And of course it's something we can cultivate.

So like what are some ways that we can, um, notice where we're at with our awareness of our interoception?

I love that. I love, it's just the thought of you eating two lunches. Like I, I sometimes eat two lunches myself. I'm like,

okay, so I'm not doing it wrong.

Yeah, it's, it's a great question. Um, there is a, I'd say that the, the best assessment out there is something called the MAIA M-A-I-A. There's actually, if like MAIA version two is a, um, I think there's thirty-seven questions, which you can kind of rank yourself. On those different areas, and at the end you get a score. the way that it's measured typically in, in clinical trials and studies is using how well is someone able to accurately assess the speed of their own heartbeat, which is, um, it's, it's a, it's like a vector of interoception, but to my mind, it actually doesn't capture so much more of the subtlety and nuance that is there.

Mm-Hmm. Like I know people that can kind of sense their, their heartbeat, but they have low interceptive capacity in other areas. So the, the MAIA is probably the best out there. It's, it's unfortunately not a very, um, it's like a kind of crusty PDF that's not very well designed, but I, I mean, I'm thinking about redesigning it and just, you know, making that more accessible to people.

Mm-Hmm. Yeah. Um, but those are the, those that, that's the main way that it's done at the moment, and I would like to see. You know, innovations in the way that it is measured more accurately.


[00:26:29] Exploring Psychadelics and the Nervous System

I'm curious if you're, if you're open to chatting about it, um. You do an amazing job of sharing some of your own personal experiments in your quarterly reports or quarterly reviews, right?

You've, you've shared those with your inner community and you say, here are the things I'm asking myself. Here's the experiments that I'm running, and you've mentioned, uh, psychedelic work, ayahuasca, things like that as something that you're interested in experimenting with. I'm kind of curious how you see potentially psychedelics being a tool for.

Improving our own relationship with our nervous system. Is that, are those two things related? Are you seeing, you know, more conversations in the space about that? I'm curious about your, your thoughts around that and your relationship with psychedelics.

Well, I, I can start by sharing my own kind of experience and story with, with psychedelics. so I, I was invited to sit in an, an ayahuasca ceremony, um, a few months after the, after losing Sophie, so kind of fairly early on in my grieving journey and.

It was, it was three nights. And I, I would say that that experience, um, it like shattered my existing rational materialist world view in a way that, I don't know if it would've, I, I dunno how else that would've happened if it not without the aid of, of psychedelics, um, at that point. And it really just kind of.

Um, opened me up to, to being a student again and, and, and being a beginner and realising that actually, like, I don't have a lot of this stuff figured out. And so I, I think what psychedelics, um, and, and when I say psychedelics, I'm referring to LSD, high dose psilocybin, um, ayahuasca as well. Um, they reliably produce a very altered state of consciousness, which, even if there's no kind of tangible benefits on the other side, there will almost certainly be a sense of like, huh, like there is so much about my own way of being in the world that I, that I don't understand. Um, and so for me it really ignited this curiosity of like, can I access these states through meditation or through breath work?

and what are the connections, um, in terms of how it overlaps with the nervous system? I'll use MDMA as an example. 'cause it, which is an empathogen, which isn't strictly a psychedelic, but, I recently interviewed Marcella, who was the lead psychotherapist on the MDMA MAPS trials here in Boulder.

And, um, they had a, I think it was a seventy-something, maybe seventy-two percent reduction in, in untreatable depression and PTSD symptoms in their trials and. Basically the, the way that I understand how they work is MDMA combined with an appropriate setting, setting and, you know, a trained psychotherapist who's there to create safety and hold space.

It is effective at surfacing the incomplete reflexes or the unfelt emotions, to use the phrase from earlier, from earlier in life and giving. Them a space to be felt and, and for those mobilization reflexes essentially to be completed. And that completion process is something that I refer to as like paying off our emotional debt.

and so I think that absolutely is a role for psychedelics in. A context of a very well-held set. Set and setting set meaning mindset, kind of like in a mindset setting, meaning like a safe environment, with someone who is trained to hold space for people through big experiences. I think there is absolutely a role for that.

I do believe that this can be done effectively without psychedelics. and for many people it is some, something of a, um. I, I guess like a fast track in, in, in some ways, um, in, in terms of psilocybin and, and ayahuasca, I think, it's a bigger conversation than, uh, just nervous system healing as well.

Mm-Hmm. I, I, I think that the, the thing that I would like to say is that there's also a pitfall and a danger of people going to something like an ayahuasca ceremony, having this enormous kind of Blast-off experience completely disassociating from their body and then coming back down with like, nothing actually changing, but maybe just their ego is being reinforced by having this like big experience that they then, you know, tell everyone about which, and dunno how to integrate.

Yeah. And don't and exactly. And dunno how to integrate. Yeah. Integration is a huge challenge for a lot of people as well.

yeah. Great reflection on that. I really appreciate it. one of the things that's making me curious about is with, with your work, you're dealing with nervous system, you're dealing with a lot of anxiety held emotions with your students, and I'm curious if it ever feels like there's that danger of people maybe.

Treating you like their therapist or trauma dumping or things that are coming up for people. Like, do you ever have to deal with that as a, as a teacher in a space that is kind of asking people to maybe confront their emotions in a difficult way? Is that something that even comes up?

It's, it's for sure something that I am aware of.

I would say it, it, it previously used to come up more in a one-on-one context when I was guiding people through breathwork journeys. In the context of the, of the Nervous System Mastery course, I created it in a way where I, from the very beginning, I kind of want to empower people to experiment for themselves and not project any kind of, or authority or even like the idea of me being an expert, because that is then disempowering them from running these experiments for themselves.

And so, if. You know, if large emotions come up in the live sessions, which sometimes they do, then of course like I'll kind of hold space and guide people through to a place of like feeling accepting those, and that's, that's beautiful. I think that's, that's part of it. but if, if some, if, if you know, someone messages me, privately and share something, I, I will generally try and connect them with an in-person, somatic therapist if I can, because that, that in my perspective is.

The most, the, the fast track to healing, whatever's going on. And if they can't find someone in person, then some people do somatic experiencing through Zoom and things like that. And that's kind of the, the backup option. Yeah.

And there's something about your program, you have this, One of the most beautiful things that was really, freeing for me was you talk about the gap in between stimulus and response and freedom being in there.

and you also, you reference this quote a lot from Leonard, Cohen that something along the lines of that there's a crack in everything and that's how the light gets in. And this idea of, um, I know. Barrett, our last, one of our last episode, guests was talking about how the, the cost of joy is grief. and I found that through like the somatic experience, doing that work, yes the psychedelics can have that impact of widening that gap really well.

But it kind of like, after the, the sessions, it can kind of snap back. But it's like now that gap is kind of there and so now you can go into the somatic work and really look at that gap. So to me it's almost like. It provides an initial awareness of those cracks where maybe you thought everything was solid and nothing is allowed in.

Mm-Hmm. Now you're aware of the cracks after experiencing that. And I think like maybe for some people, like it's really difficult to get them to notice those cracks without some kind of Getting them up to the starting line. And then once they're there, they can take a step back from, the assisted stuff and start going internal as well.

Mm-Hmm. Um, so now I, I, I think of everything now 'cause I, I've always said I used to take, um. Like effects are and all this different stuff for managing my anxiety and what I felt like those, those Pharmaceuticals gave me was like a little bit of a pause from when that thought becomes a feeling and then kind of settles into your body so you're able to like, I.

Make some moves or think about how is this gonna land in my body? and I've felt now, you know, my awareness has expanded from the neck down, that I have much more control over noticing those gaps and widening those gaps over time. And it's just like the more that you notice those gaps, the more wide they become and it just, it's very freeing in that feeling.

no question. I guess I'm just wondering if. Like

how that resonates for you. I'm like, can I hire you to, to, to help me talk about nervous system? I, I mean I, um, I think I shared the, the Leonard Cohen quote about there was a crack a crack and everything that, that's how the light gets in. That was, that was kind of the most, um.

The biggest epiphany for me during the grief journey in that I remember when I was, I was by her memorial bench and just kind of tears streaming down my face. But the feeling like when I kind of let go of the story of like, oh, I've lost my fiance. The feeling was just like, it was like joy and connection and like rawness and aliveness, and there was so much beauty there, and I was like.

Like it almost didn't make sense. I was like, but wait, grief is meant to be bad and hard and sucks, which it can be. But when I, when there wasn't any resistance in my system to, to that kind of like tsunami of, of feeling and energy moving through, it was so beautiful and, and I think that's part of what I've.

Um, and that, that in itself was such a reframe because since then it, you know, it took me a while, but like now my, my kind of story of these challenging emotions is, huh? Like, there's something here for me to feel into and I'll feel so much. Expansion and joy and connection on the other side of this. So, so I'm gonna actually like, go into this and get curious about this.

Mm-Hmm. And, you know, Joe Hudson's work has been fantastic for that as well. I know he's been on the podcast too, but it really was that reframe of like, like, wow, like grief can be beautiful. And like, and, and it's funny, there was a, there was a period of time where I was, I was grieving not being in the depths of grief.

For a while because there was such a sense of like connection and rawness and aliveness that I felt, which when I kind of went back to like mundane Johnny existence, I it like, it, it's like I lost, I lost both ends of the spectrum and I, and I was like, ha, like I, I miss that in a weird way. And then that brought up confusion of like, wait, that's weird.


I'm supposed to feel like

this, I'm supposed Yeah, exactly. It was like questioning all the stories of like how you're supposed to feel in different, in different contexts.

There's always a real tension there. I, I love one of my favorite memes. I don't, I don't remember his last name, but Visa on Twitter.

I'm sure you're aware of him. And he has the a laugh my Ass off meme where he's got, you know, the ship sailing between, um, it's like from the Odyssey. Cherubdis and Scylla, and on one side is says, life is incredibly meaningless. And on the other side is life is incredibly meaningful. And like the ship is just sailing through those two dangers and just being like, hey, like, you know, whatever.

Like we're figure this out. And you know, that tension in, in wanting to feel I should be feeling grief, I should be feeling joy. But being in between that tension and just kind of. Soldiering on is, is such a, uh, you know, I think for me it's become a really meaningful, meaningful meme almost that I try to live by.

It's funny you mentioned the meaning piece in that kind of questioning, like what is the meaning of life was like one of the things I was wrestling with before this and something about, both the plant medicine experiences and grief, I.

There was a sense of like, oh, like that's a stupid question. Like there is a certain state of being where to even ask that question feels ridiculous. It's like the meaning is inherent in certain states of being, and sometimes you forget that, and then it's like, okay, how do I find my way back into that?

That state where everything feels like inherently like drenched in meaning.

Yeah. Uh, I had another thing written from one of your, your statements where you were talking about clean emotional expression and that clarity lies on the other side of feeling, and that's, that's a sense of having that clean emotional expression.

And so like that, it sounds like for you at least, that grief became that thing that you, on the other side of the grief, became this beautiful, expressive joy that you know has. Seems to have led to this amazing course and community and all this work that you've done. So having that clarity on that grief is, and you know, I like, like Barrett said, the cost of the cost of joy is grief.

So, mm-hmm. Getting to that point is really beautiful. I'm really happy for you. It's like such a, I like, I just see the work that you're doing and, and it makes me, makes me super happy to see somebody that seems to just be Really at the edge of comfort and creating something really meaningful.

it's always really inspiring. So I, I definitely appreciate the work you're doing. Mm, yeah.

Thank you so much. Yeah. It, it always, it's so beautiful hearing other people's reflections of their experience as well and just how, um. I, I mean, I, I, I, I shared this with Joe the other day of like, I feel like teaching this course is almost a forcing function for me to be a perpetual student in a way of like, oh yeah, mm-hmm.

Learning about how other people view this, and then seeing how that reflects in my own experience. And yeah, I mean. Fingers crossed it continues that way. Like if, if either of you kind of see me preaching myself as like an expert on Twitter, feel free to just like, like call me out and like, like funny, like, what are you doing?


um, no, I feel like curiosity is in your, your DNA, the way you show up on Twitter, the way you're asking questions. Like, I really do feel like that's a part of how you show up in the world and it's really, uh. Oh, it's cool to see because your curious nature, I think, will spark other people to be a little more curious and to ask more and better questions.

Thank you. I, I certainly hope so. That'd be fun if that's the case. Yeah.

Awesome. Yeah.

[00:40:00] Behind the Scenes

I'm curious to learn a little bit more about even what your work looks like behind the scenes. I know that your work kind of started to take more shape during Covid, and I think I kind of went through the same thing where suddenly there was this weird gap in time.

Travel is closed, suddenly we have a lot more time on our hands and things kind of shifted and I, I felt like that was a time for me to go really, really deep and get into that creative flow. It sounds like you kind of did the same thing too. Um, so did, do you think like, in a weird way, COVID was this bubble that was kind of a forcing function that enabled this work to maybe, get out sooner than it would've otherwise or.

Yeah, I, I'm kind of curious your relationship with that weird bubble in time that, you know, for me was, was kind of like a big catalyst.

Yeah, it, it definitely was. I mean, it took my, my wife and I to Bali for Covid. and even, you know, there being in a, in a different time zone and just kind of somewhat disconnected from everything else, um, I don't think that I would've.

You know, gone online first for the course because originally the workshops were in person, they were meant to continue being in person. and I had my doubts about like, you know, how much could actually be taught in a virtual environment. Um, I still don't do things like, like I don't do breath work online.

there's certain kind of practices which I think are only suited for an in-person kind of setting. Um, so the, what that was kind of a challenge for me of like, like, I wonder, like. To what degree can true transformation be possible through an online only setting? Mm-Hmm. And I think where I've settled is that the, the course as it's, as it stands, feels like a, a powerful OnRamp to, really like sparking people's curiosity about like, you know, maybe I am gonna look for a somatic practitioner on the other side of this.

Or, and giving people enough. Tools that will, you know, hopefully serve them no matter what path they go down from cultivating interception to breathing practices, to self-regulate, and then even just learning the theory and having like a couple of guided recordings of like, okay, I'm feeling a challenging emotion right now.

Here's how I can, if I choose to kind of lean into it and, and see what might be on the other side.

Amazing. So the in-person stuff is, uh, it's still very alive for you. I know you mentioned, um, I think you posted on Twitter about potentially looking to do a men's retreat, right. So that's, you know, sounds like something you're, you're looking to pursue more and hopefully Ben will get to attend one of these in the future when the timing definitely


Yeah. Yeah. I, I mean, I'm hoping to do a men's retreat in six weeks time. Um, it'll be the, the second one that I've done. And for me that's more, there's a certain nourishment that comes from like. doing these things in person that is, is hard. It's, it's rewarding in a different way. Doing it online, I think.

Um, and yeah, I, I want to, particularly now it feels like the foundations are kind of in place. I want to think about how to create probably small, intimate in-person experiences for those who want to, to go deeper.

[00:42:50] Current Challenges

What are some of the things you're still wrestling with, if anything? In terms of the online version of the course?

Uh, I know you mentioned the positioning of it, finding the right language to communicate the value of it. What are some of the things, the challenges maybe, that you're encountering in running an online course? Whether it's the launching piece, whether it's updating the content over time, or, or collecting feedback or, you know, filling the seats.

What are some of the challenges that you're, you're currently facing? Yeah,

great question. So I think one thing that I, I've been aware of recently, well, two, two main things. One is that I have. You know, 15 kind of different projects that I'd love to try. And right now it's just me and our community manager.

So I'm like really trying to like ruthlessly prioritise. Okay. Like I have like, you know, two big punts that I can make and, and I have to, I have to just choose those two and not try and over commit and do everything at once. Um, I guess that's a problem for, for everyone really. I think another piece is, yeah, investing in.

Assets that appreciate over time, so. Currently a lot of people hear about the course through Twitter, through sponsoring newsletters, through, um, my podcast and referrals. And I'm realizing that it means that there has to be kind of a, a large amount of energy output in the run-up to each cohort. And what I'd love to do, I.

You know, learning from, from you guys is like, like start a YouTube channel and, and, and write more long, long form blog posts and things, which will hopefully appreciate in terms of the number of people that find out about them over time and kind of building, building a more sustainable way of promoting the course, um, is certainly something that's, that's alive.

and yeah, and, and I think also wanting to do this and continue to grow. also hoping to kind of continue growing this course in a way that I still get to ha like experience joy and the fun of doing it. 'cause I, I know that if I was to treat it purely as, you know, a business, there are certain things which I could do to, you know, optimize conversions and sales funnels and things, which I come from a marketing background, so I have that capacity, but it's not my, it's not my zone of joy.

So I'm like. focusing my time on the things which both I think will be impactful, but also feel fun like, like sharing memes on Twitter is a great example of like, it kind of bridges both like least applications. I have fun. It's like, yeah, win-win.

Do you have thoughts around. How small or big your team will grow?

Like how, how do you feel, like you said it's you and a community manager, do you have any plans to hire more team members or even working with your partner? Is that something that you're considering doing? What might that look like for

you? Yeah, I'm interested in, I think, like

aligned projects with freelancers or contractors. So I'm, I'm quite resistant to bringing on full-time employees. Although that would certainly be the most effective way to, I think, scale. I think I'm still wanting to kind of run these experiments basically and work with super smart people on specific projects.

Um, at least for now, like that, that might change. And you know, maybe there's a part of me that's resisting, uh, you know, being a leader of a team in this way. but. For me at least, it's a whole different skill set. Yeah. I, I feel like I, I, I keep, there's more kind of capacity for me to change my mind, to move fast, to just to try new things.

Yeah. so whilst I could grow in one direction with a team, I don't feel, and I also don't feel like it would be ready for that as well. I think it would be premature to hire a bunch of people and scale. Mm-Hmm.

Well, we're excited to see where you take the course and however we can support you, we just

adore you, and adore your work. So however we can support, please don't ever hesitate to ask. Oh,

that's really kind. And I'm excited we get to spend more time in person this year as well. Absolutely. Yeah. And honestly, I mean, I don't know if even the name Nervous System Mastery would've come into my consciousness had I not been aware of you guys as well.

No way. It was probably, that's pretty cool of like. Shameless stealing from on my, oh

hey. And honestly, I think I probably stole it from a con convert. Mastering ConvertKit or ConvertKit Mastery. So beautiful. It's all, it's all out there to be remixed. Right? I


like, I really like what these guys are doing.

Like I wonder if Place notion with nervous system and uh, it seems it works to be working. Yeah. Awesome. Amazing.

Yeah. Cool.

[00:47:19] Finding Jonny

Yeah. Love it. John, where's the best place for, for people to find you? We know about your, you know, curious Humans podcast. We'll include the link below. Um, N Mastery. N System Mastery, and is the site and nervous system.

Must be course. And, um, yeah, the applications are open right now for the spring cohort and yeah. And then, and then Twitter, if anyone listening is on Twitter, I love spending time there and having Yeah. Conversations there. and also it's, there's some, there's a podcast episode with Joe Hudson and other, I, I think for people that might, you know, be curious about like, digging deeper into some of these topics, there's some more kind of specific conversations on The Curious Humans Podcast that go into psychedelics, go into breathwork, things like that.

So that would be a, a, a good kind of jumping off point for people that want to learn more.

Amazing. Thank you so much for your, your generosity and just being with us here today. It's always awesome.

Creators and Guests

Benjamin Borowski
Benjamin Borowski
Notion warlock at, Systems at, volunteer firefighter, hacker, DJ
Marie Poulin
Marie Poulin
Taming work/life chaos with Notion • Leading • Online Courses • ADHD • Permaculture
Nervous System Mastery with Jonny Miller
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