Exploring Recklessness vs. Courage on the Pathless Path | Guest Issue by Jonny Miller
PLUS: The Operating Manual for Your Nervous System & The Myth of ‘Facts Over Feelings’
Hey Boundless readers! I’m off on paternity leave for March and am handing over the reins to some trusted friends. Today’s guest issue is hosted by Jonny Miller, who is someone I’ve lived with in multiple countries and the person that handed me the book that inspired The Pathless Path. We had a conversation about our respective journeys on his podcast early last year.
I also want to shout out his course, Nervous System Mastery, which I think is going to take off this year. I got to see Jonny delight in diving deep into things like interoception, breathwork, mindfulness, and the nervous system over these past four years, and as a personal skeptic of anything too “woo woo,” he’s the person I trust to help me improve my health (which I have been able to!). Soooo, definitely check out his upcoming course…
🏔️ Greetings from Boulder, Colorado — I’m typing these words with a visceral sense of ‘Oh wow, Paul must really trust his friends giving us access to his Substack’ 😲 and, as usual, in awe of his relentless spirit of generosity…
👶 Boundless update: Paul + Angie had their baby Michelle on Friday! She weighs just over 7 lbs, and everyone is safe & healthy! I hope you’ll join me in wishing them both the best of luck as their pathless path of parenthood unfolds 👣
#1 // Exploring Recklessness vs. Courage on the Pathless Path
I vividly remember when I first met Paul at an event in Portland five years back; we were two slightly awkward nerds talking excitedly about nomad life and podcasts. Back then, the idea of recording and publishing my first podcast episode felt frankly terrifying.
It took multiple nudges from Paul and others over 6+ months to muster up the courage to record and publish that single episode. Contrast this with today (45 or so episodes later), and it’s interesting how that crippling fear has been replaced by sheer excitement and joy.
Often, especially for those just beginning to forge their own Pathless Path™, there is a necessary re-calibration or a widening of our ‘window of tolerance’ that requires both time and courage to take place.
My wife, Kelly, recently shared her personal experience of what happened when she over-enthusiastically ventured too far outside of her window of tolerance…
I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of making a big commitment, only to find yourself in overwhelm shortly afterward. I certainly can.
Boundless poet-laureate David Whyte wrote:
“Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.”
So often, when we’re forging our own way in the world, we tend to want to jump to that second step, or even the third.
I think of friends who impulsively quit their jobs with very little runway to go full-time on a side-project (which can ocassionally work) — but more often than not, it’s too great a shift, too far outside of their capacity to hold financial & existential uncertainty.
However, starting with that first step (the one we’re afraid to take) may be as simple as just being with those highly uncomfortable sensations of witnessing old stories or identities crumble.
As Paul wrote in his book (which I trust you have read by now):
“In the first year of leaving my job, everything I thought I knew about the world crumbled as though it had always been an obvious illusion. This was hard to deal with, but I had a lot of support from my friends…”
This, I believe, points towards an essential distinction between courage vs. recklessness — courage requires deep vulnerability, or a ‘heartfelt participation with life’ as David Whyte poetically puts it.
Internally, the experience is often one of confusion or existential uncertainty, whilst bravely listening to the still, small voice inside—trusting an underground current of aliveness.
Living right at this exposed edge of life, honoring precisely where we are at, and designing our work and lives based on this felt sense of our nervous system’s capacity in each moment, becomes a lifelong practice.
And yes, often, we learn valuable lessons by hazarding ourselves well outside of this window—but the long-term growth comes from finding our way back and re-committing to live as close to this courageous edge as possible.
#2 // The Operating Manual for Your Nervous System
Below is an extract from a recent essay — in which I make the case for embracing ‘state over story’ and harnessing breathwork practices to overcome anxiety.
Techniques for tactical mindfulness—using mind-based or “top-down” tools to influence our thoughts and feelings—have exploded in popularity.
But when our nervous systems are hijacked and adrenaline is coursing through our veins, unless we have thousands of hours of mindfulness training, it can be hard to avoid panic mode, let alone drop into meditation.
Fortunately, it is possible (and, as I will argue, far more efficient) to leverage your physiology—known as “bottom-up” practices—by using breathwork to self-regulate and positively impact your internal state in real-time.
The cultivation of calm
The human nervous system is one of the most technologically advanced operating systems in the known universe. It is not only responsible for our energy levels (aka productivity) and capacity for relaxation, but it is also the filter through which we experience the world and people around us.
You would think this remarkable network of neurological hardware would have a complex instruction manual. Fortunately, it is more simple to learn than you might think.
Many of us find it challenging to think clearly when our nervous system has been hijacked by a trigger or an intense situation. Perhaps you experienced nervous energy, even anxiety, before an important conversation or presentation, which hindered your capacity to give it your best or be fully present. Or maybe you felt lethargy creep in when you sat down for a deep workflow session.
Making matters worse is that unproductive thought loops and feelings exacerbate the issue. These reactive states are the underlying cause of ineffectiveness, reactivity, conflict, and regrettable decision-making.
Luckily, there is a zero-cost solution to this quandary—an always-accessible operating manual for your nervous system that is more effective than any prescription drug, with no unwanted side effects. In fact, it has been under your nose since you were born: your breath.
I’m going to explain the science of how breathwork functions, and then I’ll give you some actionable exercises so that you can do it yourself. Drawing from recent discoveries in neurobiology, there are two concepts that will empower you to be more effective in aligning the state of your nervous system with your desired state of grounded calm or clear focus.
The nervous system remote: using the bottom-up method of our breath to impact blood chemistry, which shifts the thoughts and feelings that arise
If [this] then [breathe]: two protocols you can use to effectively leverage your biology to up- or down-regulate your state, accessing either focus or calm as required
The nervous system operating manual
How is your breath right now? Take a moment to tune in. There’s a reasonable chance (especially if you are reading this on your phone) that your breath is shallow, in the upper chest and possibly through the mouth.
Our breath is perhaps the only activity in our body that happens on its own that can also be consciously controlled. Yet it is rare for most of us to inquire how our breath is or consciously control it. Why does this matter?
Because how we breathe impacts how we feel, how we show up in the world, and even the types of thoughts that arise. (Tip: As you read the following paragraphs, explore deliberately breathing faster than usual through your mouth and into your upper chest.)
Deep inside your brain lies a piece of biological hardware known as your insula cortex. It interprets signals from your breathing rhythms, serving as a central hub for somatic (bodily) and interoceptive—or internal—signals.
#3 // The Myth of ‘Facts Over Feelings’
This tweet got me a little riled up the other day… it reflects a fairly widespread myth that being purely rational > being emotional.
Life might be simpler if this were the case — however, unbeknownst to most, without our so-called ‘irrational’ emotions, we'd be totally unable to make even basic decisions.
Skeptical? You might be interested to read about the story of Elliot — a successful businessman whose life completely fell apart after losing the capacity to feel emotions—despite maintaining his previously high IQ.
"Elliot was still pleasant, charming, and well-aware of the day’s news... he also still had a fantastic memory for his life story. But at the same time, his life had fallen apart."
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrated that, ironically, he was totally unable to make even basic decisions about his day, hence why his career and marriage imploded.
A more accurate view is that every single decision that we make is 100% emotionally driven — and that when we are willing to truly feel any emotion all the way through, decisions both become obvious and less tainted by unconscious fears of feeling a certain way.
If you’re intrigued, but not quite sold on this idea yet — I would highly recommend listening to this episode on the ‘Art of Accomplishment ‘podcast.
#4 // Ten Book Recommendations to Improve Your Nervous System Literacy
I feel passionately about spreading ‘Nervous System Literacy’ — or ideas and practices that enable us to self-regulate our state and therefore show up for our lives with greater intentionality. Here are ten books that contributed to shaping my own perspective on the human nervous system.
1 // ‘Anchored’ by Deb Dana – one of the most accessible and well-written books on the science of Polyvagal Theory & how to apply it to your everyday life with field-tested techniques.
2 // 'The Breathing Cure' by Patrick McKeown — an in-depth collection of breathing protocols backed by 20+ years of field research. You’ll never mouth breathe again after reading this…
3 // 'Widen the Window' by Elizabeth Stanley – a superb introduction to the science of trauma, what it means to increase resilience & research-backed tools for increasing your capacity in life.
4 // ‘Nurturing Resilience’ by Kathy Kain – a superb read, although more of a book for clinical practitioners or those who are looking for a deep dive into the world of somatic therapy & working through developmental trauma.
5 // ‘The Practice of Embodying Emotions’ by Raja Selvam, PhD ~ this is a book containing a treasure trove of research + practices for building greater embodied capacity to be with intense emotions. Highly recommended for those wishing to dive deeper.
6 // ‘The Myth of Normal’ by Gabor Maté - Fresh off the press (I’m still making my way through the 500+ pages myself) is Gabor’s attempt to distill over four decades of his clinical experience, making the case that the common definition of 'normal' is false & painting a compelling picture of what a saner society might look like.
7 // ‘The Illuminated Breath’ by Dylan Werner ~ one of the most underrated books on the breath that explores the rich histories of breathing techniques and also provides a practical guide on how to incorporate many of these practices into daily life.
8 // ‘The Neurobiology of We’ by Dan Siegal ~ a highly engaging and accessible audiobook that maps out how our mind actually emerges out of the interaction between our brain and it’s relationships.
9 // ‘Non-Violent Communication’ by Marshall B. Rosenberg ~ something of a classic that radically changed how I think about engaging in productive conflict, in which
10 // ‘Breath’ by James Nestor ~ this absurdly compelling book is likely responsible for a sky-rocket in the popularity of wearing mouth-tape. If you’re just dipping your toes into the world of ‘breathwork’ this is a superb starting point.
#5 // Et Cetera
🎙️ Wrestle With Your Principles — a superb podcast episode on how to 'wrestle with your principles' — I appreciated how experimenting with your principles becomes an essential tool for making great decisions and living well. Learn.
👨🎨 Unpacking ‘Creative Dysregulation’ — a thought-provoking conversation with somatic expert Conni Biesalski on her journey to befriending emotions and reclaiming a healthy relationship to her creativity. Listen.
🌬️ How to Breathe — A masterclass from Andrew Huberman on how breathing impacts our state, testing for CO2 tolerance, and using cyclic 'sighs’ to access states of calm. Listen.
🤖 AI Side-kick — AiBert is a WhatsApp bot that combines chatGTP wisdom with Stable Diffusion image generation. It's awesome. Learn more.
🙅♂️ Self 1 vs. Self 2 — an insightful essay from Michael Ashcroft with practical thoughts on how to tap into the power of ‘nonjudgmental noticing’. Read.
⚔️ Walking Zelda — a nostalgia-inducing essay from Craig Mod, who persuaded me to buy a Nintendo Switch today and relive my favorite childhood video game. Read.
👋 Alright, I hope you enjoyed this nervous-system-edition of Boundless! If you’re interested in diving deeper & learning the protocols for cultivating calm & resilience — I’d love to have you join us for the upcoming cohort of Nervous System Mastery (the code ‘PATHLESS’ will give a $150 discount) → Learn more.