(Release Date: 1.30.24)

Title: Ray Nypaver, nature-based psychotherapist, on ego & identity, fear & love, death & connecting with our true selves

Overview: In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Ray Nypaver. Ray is a nature-based psychotherapist and running coach, essayist and poet whose newest book is “Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience.”

Ray studied at Naropa, a Buddhist-inspired university in Boulder, Colorado. She and Adam delve into matters of spirituality, and how to live as our highest, truest selves. They talk about fear and love, ego and death, magic and joy. Among other things.


The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.

Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org

Ray Nypaver
Website: wanderlustcounseling.com
Website: higherrunning.com
Instagram: @wanderlustcounseling
Book: “Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience” (Amazon)

We Are Chaffee
Website: wearechaffee.org
Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffeepod 
Facebook: facebook.com/wearechaffee
Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffee

Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom


Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.

[Intro music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams (00:00:13): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community, and well-being rooted in Chaffee County, Colorado. I’m Adam Williams. Today I’m talking with Ray Nypaver. 

Ray is a nature-based psychotherapist and a running coach. She’s an essayist and a poet. Ray and I get into a deep and hurtful conversation here. We talk about some of the biggest questions and topics about our existence as humans. 

Things like worthiness and fear, and ego, and identity. We talk about love, we talk about death. Ray’s older sister, Amanda, died three years ago at the age of 36. Of course, that’s a significant experience in Ray’s life, and it opened the way to deeper learnings for her. 

Ray Nypaver | Photographed by Adam Williams

We talk about that experience and Ray’s reflections on it since. Some of those are shared in her newest book, Light and Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience.

(00:01:11): She studied at Naropa, a Buddhist-inspired University in Boulder, Colorado. And given my own background in studies and spiritual practices, Ray and I joyfully delve into matters of spirituality and how to be our highest, truest selves. 

Like the importance of breaking down our beliefs, the things we think we think, and those things that we cling to as truth, and who we think we really are at heart, at soul. 

Asking ourselves those deep introspective questions is not only to understand ourselves better, but to better understand each other, humans in general. And then to connect, and have less fear, and more love.

(00:01:49): We talk about truth and why people fear the truth and turn toward the comfort of well, untruths, and darkness, and fear, and pain. We also talk about magic and joy. It’s all interwoven in the flow of this conversation as it is in life. The Looking Upstream Podcast is supported by Chaffee County Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority. 

Media Partners are KHEN 106.9 FM Community Radio in Salida, Colorado, which airs this show at 1:00 P.M. on Tuesdays, and the Chaffee County Times and the Mountain Mail. Two local newspapers where I publish a monthly column related to the We Are Chaffee Community Storytelling Initiative and this Looking Upstream podcast.

(00:02:33): Show notes, including links and a full transcript of the conversation, are available at WeAreChaffee.org. You can support the podcast by following WeAreChaffeePod on Instagram and the WeAreChaffee account on Instagram and Facebook. Enthusiastic ratings and reviews on Apple and Spotify are helpful and greatly appreciated too. Now here we go, with Ray Nypaver. 

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams: Hi, Ray. It’s great to be here with you.

Ray Nypaver (00:03:08): Likewise. Yeah, again, we just have your energy, it is just so great to be in the presence of.

Adam Williams (00:03:16): Well, thank you. I don’t know if I’m blushing, but well, that’s a heck of a place for us to start is how do we receive compliments? How do we receive positives in a world when maybe our experience is no, no, no, no, no, you keep that. I can’t beat that, right? Well, actually you can answer that question. That can just be where we start. How do we receive love, and light, and compliments in the world?

Ray Nypaver (00:03:44): Yeah, and I will slightly flip that and ask the question, well, how do you block love? And so, I noticed this, this was just two weeks ago. I was volunteering in a race, and it was the day after Thanksgiving. It was the Christmas Mountain Five Miler in Salida, and we volunteer in this one spot. 

When I say we, my sister and her partner volunteer in this one spot every year, and the runners will go by, especially this year because it was snowing and freezing. And they’re like, “Thank you for being out here.”

(00:04:18): And my initial response was just like, of course, happy to be out here, my pleasure. And then I’m like, oh, I just need to say you’re welcome here. And accept that they’re happy that I’m out here bringing a smile, pointing them in the right direction. And this has been a huge process for me, I’d say, even just this past year of allowing love in. 

And sometimes maybe it’s easier to think of when we think of all the ways we block love out. So even compliments, if we can just question ourselves, when somebody gives me a compliment, what’s my natural inclination? And if we want to go further, we can follow the why. Where did we learn to do that? Why do we do it now? But yeah, I’d say that’s a good place to start.

Adam Williams (00:05:11): I love the way you flipped that. I have been actively trying in the last few years, when somebody does something for me, offers something to me, I don’t know any other way than to just be open and direct with that, and let them know where I am in my process and practice, and to explicitly say, “Thank you for what you’re offering.” 

I have been trying, I’ve been practicing receiving better, because I have had a pattern and a history of denying that. And what I have learned is that when I deny somebody the opportunity to give, then I am actually taking from them. I’m taking away from their experience, their love, their interest and generosity. I’m denying that person something.

Ray Nypaver (00:05:59): Yeah, absolutely.

Adam Williams (00:06:02): But to flip that and say, how do I block love? That really hit when you said that. I would imagine that everyone listening in some sense knows that they have blocked love from themselves, within themselves I mean, from others. And why do we do that? That can sit as a rhetorical question, because I know we’re actually going to answer it throughout this conversation as we get into, well, all kinds of things that I know that we share in common as an interest. 

Speaking of things in common, we both are runners. You’re a running coach, you’re also a nature-based psychotherapist. And so, I think that package of how you show up in the world is an amazing offering here for this kind of conversation that I’m looking forward to having.

(00:06:52): And if we use running as a bit of a framework for this, and I’ll say to non-runners, where we’re going to head here is not actually into the weeds with running. You can listen, and this is going to apply to your life too. But you and I, as runners are both experiencing something in terms of injury long-term, recovery long-term. 

And that leads us into things that apply to everyone in the sense of ego and identity. Who am I if I’m not a runner? This emotional mental health situation I have found myself in, because I’m a year now without running, and I’m at a point where I’m just thinking, I don’t know if I’m ever going to run in a meaningful way again.

(00:07:34): My question, I guess comes back to something you and I were talking about before we hit record. I know you have thoughts on this and how it ties into the body and what the signals are, let alone the ego and identity. I mean, we could just run the entire conversation. I could just be quiet and let you go, I’m sure on some different paths, and I would love to listen to that. So take whatever you want from that, whatever’s coming to your mind right now.

Ray Nypaver (00:07:57): There’s so many things that you already said right there–

Adam Williams (00:08:00): I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Ray Nypaver (00:08:01): … to go deep on. No, and I trust you. You’re so good at tracking that. We’ll come back to the, well, I’ll get into more of the allowing and receiving, but in terms of tying this into the body. So you and I both have left-side body issues in both feet and ankle stuff, which already says so much right there. So left-side is really about receiving. Left-side’s both our wild and creative energy, and what we can receive. And feet are so much about the path forward and expressing our true natures.

(00:08:39): So with that, how I can tie this in is when we essentially deny love, we are not in touch. We’re blocking out who we truly are, which is tied back into love. And so, the belief here, the false belief that we’ve all been given is that we are not worthy, and we are not worthy of love. And I know I have acted off of that belief most of my life. So me now being able to receive compliments, thanks, gratitude is me also accepting who I am, as somebody who is enough and who is worthy. And I can say this right now in a few sentences, and I’m laughing, because that journey to get there was anything but easy.

Adam Williams (00:09:35): Right, yeah. I imagine all of us have that struggle, right? In fact, as we have used the word love so many times, and I don’t know that I have in any other conversation, and that is a very challenging word for me, concept for me. The only three people on the planet I can use it freely with are my wife and my two sons, not even my parents, siblings, let alone bigger concepts like loving neighbors, community, the world at large. 

And there’s a lot of pain in the world that I feel, a lot of things that could use love. I’m getting into a tangled place here, because I know those go together, that how we are feeling about, people use the word division and so on, in our society at this point. And it is very difficult in that context to say, “Oh, but I love you all.” And to create that connection through that.

Ray Nypaver (00:10:34): I just want to pause and let that soak in. I know it’s always awkward on a podcast to have a pause.

Adam Williams (00:10:40): No, no, do what feels right here.

Ray Nypaver (00:10:44): Because part of me gets that, and it comes back to that saying, love is a word that we don’t say enough and we say it too much. But I think it’s because we don’t really know what it means. And we get stuck into this pattern of conditional and unconditional love. I think most of us believe in unconditional love, but we actually don’t have a tangible experience of it, because we grew up with conditions. 

And so, I think I’ve come to a place where I’m almost opposite of what you just said, where I can love, do I want to say anybody? I’ll say anybody. But I think it’s because I’ve gotten to the root of why people do things that we want to say are bad or evil. And so really, this took me a while to understand too, is a lot of spiritual teachers will say that fear is the opposite of love.

(00:11:54): And it’s really taken me down to the depths to understand what that means. But the only reason people will ever do something harmful, act out of hate, is because they’re so scared at a fundamental level. And again, it comes back to that place of, “I’m not enough. I’m unworthy, so I’m going to develop this persona where I am all powerful and I don’t need love. I don’t need to let it in.” And then we flip power on its head and make it this outward expression to protect ourselves. But that’s not true power. That’s just what we made up.

Adam Williams (00:12:36): I have a spiritual teacher and friend who taught me that every act is either an act out of love, or an act out of a need and desire for love. And I’m thinking about the fear and love thing in the way that you just express that. And I’m thinking of your book, Light and Dark. 

I’ve got so many thoughts going right now, and that’s often the case, but especially as I’m racing to try to get words out, it’s a challenge. If fear is opposite of love, and while I understand that, while I was reading your book, I was also thinking of the perspective that rather than love and hate being opposites, or in this case fear and love, that indifference might also apply as an opposite of love and hate. Because love and hate are such strong emotions. It’s a thin line, and so on.

(00:13:27): Whereas indifference is just sort of a coldness, a lack of feeling, a lack of emotion and interest. But in that book, you also write about love as connection. And while you are talking, I’m thinking, okay, fear, if we look at society and some of the conflicts societally going on, so much happens out of fear, and then there’s a withdrawal from the bigger picture. There’s a disbelief maybe in love and in connection. And love, I think you have said it can be a synonym for connection. 

So I don’t know where that brings us to. There’s obviously not a question mark, but I’m sitting and thinking through this with you, and I hope that listeners do too, because I think that you and I could just do this for a whole conversation where we touch on these different deep, meaningful ideas. Ego also comes to mind because of its connection, I think with fear, with our self-protection in the world, and disconnection, separation, all the things. So again, I lay all of these words at your feet, and I sit here asking you to choose what is on your mind, and I will gratefully listen.

Ray Nypaver (00:14:40): Oh gosh, there’s so much. So yeah, fear, separation, we can say are also synonyms for each other, the belief that we’re all different, and then we create this hierarchy off of it too. And we can basically relate all of the world’s problems back to that issue or this, that piece of fear. 

What I appreciated you saying, because it’s taken me a while to understand indifference, and I always think of, there’s a Lumineers song that I love that is, and they say the opposite of love is indifference. And it took me a while to understand what that means, but you saying it to me, or reflecting that back is like, oh, it’s like that numbness. It’s again, shutting off love, because we don’t believe in it.

Adam Williams (00:15:38): I’m now thinking that might be where I got that thought.

Ray Nypaver: Really?

Adam Williams (00:15:42): Well, it might’ve been that the Lumineers song and those lyrics made the most impression on me of, I mean, I’m sure there are other sources for that concept. But now that you say it, and I’m hearing it in my head, I’m like, oh, that’s right. That’s right. So maybe that’s exactly what I was thinking of subconsciously. 

Let’s go back to the idea of, I brought up the fact that we’re runners and we both have, well, this might not be the way you’ll phrase it, and you’ll fix this up for me as we go forward. I feel a loss. I feel a loss of running as an activity in my life and the way that it helps for physical, mental, emotional wellbeing.

(00:16:17): I feel loss and grief over identity, ego. If I’m not this, I’m not able to do this thing that my family or whoever knows me to be interested in and do, who am I? What is the next thing I need to find? Okay, I tried to fill that with a bike. 

Now I’ve got injuries from riding the bike. What all is this signaling to me, and how do we deal with those identity things? This is such a common, I think, question for anybody who tries to take on any athletic endeavor and gets injured. But I think it also applies to anybody who is, I don’t know, I’ve been a lawyer for 30 years, now I’m retired, “Who am I?” kind of question.

Ray Nypaver (00:16:58): Yeah. Thank you for circling around, because I did want to get back to that. So we never long truly for an activity, another person, another place. We only long for ourselves. The soul only longs for itself, and to be known and to be seen. And so what I see, I’ll use runners for now, because that’s, I think easiest for both of us. What I see is people starting to identify as a runner, and that’s a lie. 

What we are not the actual physical being that runs, we are the creative life force behind running, but we start to identify with this thing. And I think what happens for people who become injured, and I’m going to say for somebody like you, it’s almost like your body is telling you, “You can’t use me to cope anymore. You can’t use me to numb out, to run away. You actually need to look inward.” Because this is another one of those sayings that sounds so cliche, but it’s so true.

(00:18:14): But all of the answers that we need, all of the healing that we need, it is always inside of ourselves. And so, I feel like if whether we get sick, whether we have an injury, et cetera, that’s our body telling us, “You actually have to look in. You have to stop looking outside.” Whether it’s running, whether it’s some other type of addiction, whether a society wants to label it as a healthy addiction or a unhealthy addiction. Those are funny semantics to me. 

But it’s always going back to look inward. What am I not seeing about myself that is true? And so we, again, become identified with these external labels. And here’s the crazy thing about running, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, that we’ll actually never be the best runner that we can be if we are identified as a runner, or if it’s one of our main identities, because the ego or identity runs off of fear, which means it always fears its own death.

(00:19:22): And so as runners, we’re either going to age or we’re going to get injured at some point. With that being said, so that’s not just like some out there example, because what happens when we are in a place of fear, we also have stress hormones and cortisol running through our body, which are okay temporarily. 

Like, if we’re trying to run away from, I hate using the example of an animal, because the cases of a mountain lion or bear attacking are so rare, and most bears or mountain lions don’t want to have anything to do with us.

(00:19:57): But anyway, that is the classic example. So if we’re running away from something dangerous, stress hormones are great. But when we cling to a fear that has to do with an ego or an identity, that cortisol and that stress actually ends up living inside of our bodies. 

Which means, in terms of running or an athletic pursuit, that we constantly have these stress hormones in our body that are actually blocking recovery and blocking performance. So the athlete that realizes like, “Hey, I really enjoy doing this activity,” and maybe we can see it as a reflection of who we are, a way that we express ourselves, but that athlete will actually perform better and be able to actually perform from a place of joy.

Adam Williams (00:20:50): I mentioned the nature-based psychotherapy, and I’m curious why you chose that path. Why did you want to become a psychotherapist and serve others in this way? I mean, having conversations that I imagine are very similar to what we are having when you are working with a client.

Ray Nypaver (00:21:07): Yeah. I’m debating where I want to start with that question. So I grew up in Ohio, and when I started to think about what I wanted to do and playing in the mental health realm, there was nothing in Ohio that felt that it fit anymore. Which for me is also a signal that I was finally in a different place in my life where I’m like, I don’t want to do just this Western approach anymore. 

And for me, I knew. So all the programs out there, they seem too cookie cutter. And then I finally found programs out here, and specifically I was reading an article, and that’s when I first heard about Naropa University in Boulder. And I’m like, oh, that actually sounds really interesting. It seems like more expansive, more encompassing than I could find anywhere else. And it was a series of events that led me to actually going to Naropa. 

But in my own journey as I had first started my healing journey, I would say in my early 20s, and really when I started running, nature was extremely therapeutic for me. It was just a place where I felt held and also as a place as somebody who, I guess I would consider myself as an empath, I felt a little more free outside, didn’t feel the constraints of both what I should or shouldn’t do, or of other people’s energies. Which is really what drew me to, I’d say, the nature-based piece of what I do.

Adam Williams (00:22:56): Okay. We have not gotten into this part of the conversation yet, but I am aware of some of that history of the things that you are healing from. Some of this stuff you share… Well, you share a lot so vulnerably, so openly and freely, and trustingly on social media, it’s in your writing. 

And I feel like it’s like someone who, if you were only textbook based in your psychotherapy, but didn’t have the work that you’ve done within yourself, didn’t have the experiences of maybe traumas, or whatever going on in your life to bring to that, and an openness and willingness to share who you are in that, then there might not, in my mind, be as much credibility.

(00:23:47): I don’t want somebody who just reads the Bible and preaches that at me. I want somebody who has understood addiction and sobriety, and they’ve walked that hard road and learned for themselves. So my question then on how and why psychotherapy, why be a therapist for other people kind of comes through that lens. 

What is it in your heart that led you to this, and what is it that you I guess get from it in a sense in terms of… I mean, that sounds like a selfish, greedy sort of perspective, and I hope you hear what I’m trying to ask, but maybe not doing so eloquently.

Ray Nypaver (00:24:29): Well, that’s just another myth that we either have to help ourselves or help others when it really all flows together, when we’re actually in harmony with… How do I want to say it? When we’re in harmony with our true selves, or that expansive form of, I’ll just say spirituality for now. And the cool thing is it was just last night where I was with a client and she was just super grateful after our session. 

And the healing part for me within that is what she was going through. I had been there before. I’m like, “I actually truly know how much pain you’re in.” And it was because I had allowed myself to go so deep within my own pain that I was able to be a light for her and guiding her through her own darkness. 

And so for me, psychotherapy and now getting to speak about things and write about things is it’s allowing me to use my gifts, which for me, and I just say, just even being on this podcast is so healing for me because what my ego would want to say is like, “You need to do all of these cool things in order for somebody to want to listen to you. 

You need to win a race or you need to hike across the country or whatever in order to be enough to actually be on a podcast. And here I am, just getting to be me and tell parts of my story and letting what I know to flow through.

(00:26:11): And so coming back to the psychotherapy part, I am a natural empath. I am a natural feeler and I’m super emotional. And growing up that was not okay in the Midwest. And I know we’re both from very different parts of the Midwest, but still a part where it’s like, my mom, and I love her so much and I hope if she listens to this, she doesn’t take it in the wrong way because I needed her to be how she was so I could go into my own deaths. She’s so tough love. If I was hurt or was in pain, it was more like, “Why are you crying? Tough up.” Which means I shut a huge part of myself down.

(00:26:55): Nobody taught me how to use my gifts as a kid. Nobody taught me how to use my emotions, how to use my ability to sense other people’s emotions. Nobody taught me that it was okay to think differently and think deeply. Schools are all so cookie cutter. They value the kids who can memorize things and don’t question. I am not like that.

Adam Williams (00:27:17): Yeah. 

Ray Nypaver (00:27:19): And so I was completely shut out. And so now what I get to do is help bring out the gifts in others. And I can sometimes tap in to the emotions of others or ask about their experience and see what wants to flow out of them. So see what’s been blocked within them, what layers of protection they’ve formed so they can come back to their true selves. And so it’s healing for them, but it’s such a gift for me to be able to do that as well.

Adam Williams (00:27:51): I’ve mentioned your book Light and Dark with a subtitle, Reflections on the Human Experience. So obviously, we are talking a lot and we jumped right in human experience. And that’s something that matters to both of us. And I think it’s something that drives me in doing this podcast. I’ve been interviewing people in one format or another for a good 20 years. 

Actually, no, it’s longer than that. I started off talking with my grandmothers and other family members. I’ve always been curious about people’s experiences and stories. What can I learn from that? How did it feel? Get a sense of people. I must’ve been looking for connection in that way forever.

(00:28:35): And with your book, you obviously are jumping in and going deeply into experiences, feelings, connections with nature through poems. You’ve written essays. There was a line in particular I want to read real quick here. There were many that of course have meaning and importance to you and to me, and I’m going to maybe touch on two or three if we hit them organically throughout the conversation. But this first one you wrote, “The more we heal our individual selves and our own internal battles, the more we heal the collective.”

(00:29:12): I feel like that’s something that is obvious to you and I in a way, or at least we’ve come to that place. And then that kind of brings the pain of, “But why isn’t it obvious to the rest of the world that we actually need to come together and have connection and heal together rather than create more of that separation?” As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” I don’t want to be somebody who’s out there hurting people in the world, yet I struggle with my own hurt on a daily, hourly, minutely basis. Right?

(00:29:50): Again, no question, but they just aren’t coming. And I think it’s because there’s so much depth in this subject matter that I spend my life pretty much dwelling in and working with and writing through, and you are doing the same. And then you have your form of trying to serve and contribute in humanity as a therapist and as a running coach and just being a human on the planet, and I’m doing it through the podcast.

(00:30:13): So I guess here’s a question that comes to me with this. We are all in different places in this process. Some people don’t recognize how hurt they are and that they are rippling hurt in the world. Some people are putting in great efforts to heal themselves and to be light for others in the world. 

Going back to that spiritual teacher and friend I referred to before, she teaches everyone is doing the best with where they are. Everyone is putting in the work. It doesn’t always look the same to all of us, but we need to trust that each other is trying.

Ray Nypaver (00:30:52): A few things with that. So our gift, like you saying that you can understand the concept that we need to heal ourselves, which will help heal the world because connected, you and I can inherently understand that. For me, it’s just a very known truth, but I can also break that down into a psychotherapy lens as well. But because we’re so sensitive to that, we can light a path for others, the people who don’t see that. And we can both do that from a place of compassion.

(00:31:35): I love what your teacher said as well, where everybody really is doing the best they can. And I think so you and I kind of have this… And I’m assuming we’ll have a mix of people listening, but I’m guessing that people gravitating to this conversation are going to be similar where we can see the big picture and we can see how good things can be and we also feel the pain of separation of like, “Hey man, if we just all did this and all came from a place of compassion and beauty and love, that the world could be so different and we see where we are too, and the separation of that.” So that causes a lot of pain. But we need these people that can hold this greater perspective to actually lead the way.

(00:32:26): With that, there’s a lot of people who, this is a big word that I want to bring, are very unconscious. They’re very unconscious to pain, and like you said, that the hurt they’re in and that the hurt they cause to others. And I know what it’s also like to be in that unconscious place too and to want to shut out pain, which is why I can come into a place of forgiveness, I’ll say forgiveness and compassion for people who I’m like, “That is not the best way to live.” That actually sounds judgmental as I say that, but to say like, “You’re actually hurting the earth when you do that.”

(00:33:11): But I think, yeah, because of the feeling and how I’ve allowed my feelings to guide my thinking is I can unravel why somebody might cause pain or to actually see that other line you brought up like hurt people hurt people. Yeah, I can see the root of that, which is really cool too because we can really only heal when we are willing to look at the root of our pain.

Adam Williams (00:33:44): I want to read another bit from your book, “The Darkness creates a sense of separation from others, the abandonment wound. This separation creates immense pain. In this state, some fear for their survival and create evil, projecting pain onto others in an attempt to hide their own suffering.” And then you also say, “Soon after, it’s the truth that can bring us to the light.”

(00:34:10): My question with this, well, let me say that I’ve kept encountering lately a quote from Plato, the Greek philosopher, that says, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” So my question then is, why do people fear the truth so much? This has been an ongoing question for me. 

Why is it so upsetting? Why is it so denied and rejected when you present truth? I think it ties in with what we were just saying. To me, it’s inherent and obvious. Let’s be honest with each other because then we can have a better connection, a better relationship. We can build something together that is healthier.

(00:34:47): I wonder if you have considered in light of something like this that you wrote and included in your book, why is it that people seem to prefer the comfort of the lies and the darkness and the separation and know I’m going to withdraw onto my property, put up no trespassing signs, make myself look as unfriendly as possible so that there’s this gap and the wound is just perpetual rather than light connection?

Ray Nypaver (00:35:18): I’m just smiling because of the depth of that question and it is something that I’ve thought about out. I think part of that is with the darkness, which here I’ll define as unconsciousness and fear together. It’s gotten really comfortable. And once we remove that blanket of comfort, we open up ourselves up to pain and to see the way that we have been living so out of alignment.

(00:35:51): And as somebody who has opened that door into my own pain and knowing how hard I had to fight to get through that, I can only have compassion for somebody who wants to keep that door closed because it is not easy to admit the pain that we’ve caused others, other beings and ourselves. 

There’s this story that I am remembering of a well being dug somewhere in a third world country, and it was the first time in this village that water had been brought here and most of the town was rejoicing excitingly. “We finally have clean water.” 

But there was an older woman who was so upset about it. She’s like, “What do you mean? There was water here the whole time.” And for her, she was denying herself joy right then because of the pain of what could have been and the suffering that she had gone through. But what she was doing in that present moment was also blocking herself out from joy. And so the path into truth or into the light is to navigate the pain along the way, and that’s not always easy.

Adam Williams (00:37:21): You’ve referred to, I think a couple of times here, having compassion for people because of knowing, well, they’re hurting the way then they are maybe lashing out or maybe however they’re interacting with the world, expressing themselves. I know that that is not their true selves. They’re hurting, and that’s the source of energy they’re acting out of right now.

(00:37:43): But I find, and I suppose this is ego, I can think intellectually or I suppose spiritually, yes, that’s what’s going on. Someone there has had a bad day, they’ve had a life they’ve struggled with, whatever the case is. And my ego can also say, ” But they’re still not right in how they just treated me or whoever, whatever just happened.” And that’s such a difficult practice to keep giving space.

(00:38:11): Well, and a question that comes to mind for me then is, how do we draw boundaries? How do we in great love and belief and faith that that person did not mean to hurt me? They are acting out of whatever traumas they’re carrying and have not learned how to resolve. That doesn’t mean though that they get to walk around trampling everybody out of ignorance of their higher selves. So how do we set boundaries and practice that compassion and deal with our ego saying, “No way, yell back at them. They deserve it”?

Ray Nypaver (00:38:44): Yeah. I am smiling now because we’re flowing. The word as you were speaking that came to my mind is boundaries. What I’ve learned to do is separate action from person. Or I can break that down even more, action, human, spirit. And so I can see somebody in the light of who they truly are. And then the action that’s coming from a wounded place. And what my teacher, who I call Obi-Wan, has taught me to do is not to track what people say, but to track the flow of energy. 

So to know if somebody is actually, when they’re speaking, if they’re coming from a place of love or if they’re coming from a place of fear. And even if somebody is coming from a place of fear and they’re projecting that out as yelling or anger or whatever, I can find compassion to… I’ll throw this back into therapy even more. I can find compassion for an inner child that is simply scared.

(00:39:54): And so yeah, that’s for me, what I’ve learned even to do in relationships is that I can again see somebody as a good person. I really believe that everybody is good at heart, but to also be like, “If somebody is going to treat me this way, I am going to draw a boundary.” 

And maybe I give some room for me to communicate of how I’m feeling, but if they don’t make steps to change, then I’m like, “No, I do actually have to put up a boundary here. We can’t go on this way.” And something about a relationship has to change or maybe even end.

Adam Williams (00:40:35): You mentioned that inner child, I’m thinking of how also you work with the shadow self. You refer to Carl Jung. Have you watched on Netflix the documentary Stutz?

Ray Nypaver (00:40:49): Yes.

Adam Williams (00:40:50): Okay. And I have his book, The Tools. I don’t know that I have spent enough time and focus with it to truly understand and be able to apply it for myself yet, but in those concepts, it’s looking back at that scared, maybe traumatized child that we are holding inside of us that maybe is surrounded by shame and all these reasons that we feel to stuff it away. 

And instead the idea is no, we need to embrace that scared little child that was maybe bullied in school or however we are seeing ourselves. When we’re looking at ourselves from an insecure place, that’s who I’m seeing, is myself in that little body, that little emotional state of being. Do I understand that correctly so far?

Ray Nypaver (00:41:43): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Adam Williams (00:41:44): And so if we go more down that path then, and if you wouldn’t mind sharing more about that inner child sort of perspective and the shadow self and how to work with that from your perspective.

Ray Nypaver (00:41:57): Yeah, let’s start at the beginning of that. So children firstborn are simply sensory beings, so innocent and so curious about the world. And this is actually an exercise that I would suggest for anyone to do, is when you wake up in the morning, just pretend that was like you were just plopped here. 

You’re like, “What is this world?” and be so curious about it. So either when you first wake up in the morning or if you’re out on a hike or something and just to be look around and be like, “Oh my gosh, look at that tree and look at how the leaves are formed or look at that pattern at the bark.” When you look at a two-year-old or a three-year-old, that’s really how they are.

(00:42:46): It’s so funny, adults get so annoyed by this, but the kids are looking at bugs and stuff or the rocks on the trail and really slowing things down. But that is such beautiful curiosity that most of us have lost along with our innocence. And we lose that innocence by conditioning, and this is how the ego is formed. And so it’s like both society, I think it’s harder for people grown up in various religions, most religions. 

I don’t want to say all, most religions have been created out of a fear in some way or in various conditions. Like my religion growing up, Catholic, taught me that I was a sinner from birth, which is absolutely crazy. That’s part of what gave me that belief that I was unworthy and that I had to suffer to gain worthiness. And I’ve carried that with me [inaudible 00:43:45] the years.

Adam Williams (00:43:46): It’s a seemingly impossible task too.

Ray Nypaver (00:43:48): Yeah, it’s so crazy. And now I can look it back and I can almost laugh at it. How crazy to have that ingrained and to believe that? But I was so young to like… But yeah, now I think of kids who are told, I don’t want to refer this just to baptism, but to be like, “You need to repent for your sins.” 

And I’m like, “I just got here. I just got to planet earth. How am I already a sinner?” And even looking at what sin means, is just sin simply means to miss the mark and really to look at the root. It means to miss the mark of true self. You’re out of alignment with true self, that’s all it means. There’s no other weight attached to that.

Adam Williams (00:44:34): Where does that come from? Because of course, the word sin we think of in terms of religious context. And the way you just defined it, that’s not any presentation of it in a religious context that I have experienced. So what is it that we’re looking back at, if we look at the roots of the definition of the word sin and the idea of sin?

Ray Nypaver (00:44:54): Yeah, so I can’t remember if it’s Greek or Latin, but it comes back from one of those roots. But I will say, and then I’ll circle back, this is the entirety of the English language. So many words are flipped backwards in the English language, which is why we really have to fight to communicate and to connect because our language flips everything and actually wants to keep us separate.

(00:45:23): And unfortunately, I would love to know another language. I don’t want to learn another language. I don’t want to sit through the hours of that. What I am really interested in is the etymology of words. So we can look at sin, we can look at the word weird actually means that the roots I think is old English is fate or destiny. So people who are weird are people who are following the paths of their destiny.

(00:45:51): Another word we can look at is compete. Compete, what I grew up thinking the word compete meant was essentially go to war. And if we don’t want to take it to that extreme, we can say just seeing who’s best, that better, best thing. But really if we look again at the roots, compete means to seek together. So this is so crazy that we’ve… So yeah, so really looking for the root of what we mean when we speak I think is really important.

Adam Williams (00:46:26): I love etymology and I have tried in the past to find a book. And I don’t know what I was expecting or what I was looking for exactly. I’m sure there’s one out there that would meet the needs of what I’m after, but I love that and I love that sort of knowledge. I’m curious for that. So if you know of a book or come across one, let me know. I think we all would do well if we had that kind of study as kids. People used to learn Latin. Obviously, that’s been many years ago, but I think that would’ve been a value in terms of giving us those root bases for so much of language.

(00:47:04): I want to ask you about ego because I think that that is something you have been diving into and exploring in, I don’t know, a deeper way, a different way. I’m sure it’s been there for a lot of years of, one, inner work, but also in the work you do professionally. Where are you right now with ego and how we look at that, how we deal with it?

Ray Nypaver (00:47:27): Yeah, so I’m going to circle this back around to the previous question I’m going to build off of there. So ego is formed when we’re kids by the ways our feelings, our inner knowing, our hearts have been invalidated. And so the ego is a concept of the mind, specifically the fear-based mind. So it’s usually what happens is that we have this felt sense of our needs aren’t being met in some way. 

So we can look at basic survival needs like food, shelter, those types of safety. But really what the ego looks at is connection. So if we don’t feel like we’re connected to our loved ones around us, usually what happens is there’s this sensation that happens in our body and we start to contract. What the mind does is pick up on that feeling and creates a story about that. So essentially, I think that’s as deep as a goal right now, but that’s how the ego is formed.

(00:48:24): And so most of us, most our lives, we are continuing to build off these stories. We’re strengthening these neural pathways in our brain that have relied on these stories. And then it’s either at death or maybe somewhere in midlife that we start looking at it and breaking down the ego. I think this is happening at younger and younger ages for people realizing that we are not this ego identity that we have formed.

(00:48:58): With that being said, I feel I didn’t mean this year to be as much ego work as it was, but that is very much what I feel like my soul was calling to you, like you really have to break free of all of these identities. And there’s been a number of years in my life where I separated myself from various other labels like runner, but I still want to identify as adventurer or somebody who’s tough or does hard things. 

And then I realized like, “Oh, none of that is me either.” And in fact, I wasn’t even being a true explorer because I was still following like, “Oh, this person did this. Let me go do this.” Or I planned out all of my adventures. But if you really want to go an adventure, that’s actually stepping into the unknown and really on your own path, which you can’t see, so you what requires you letting go of your-

(00:50:00): …which requires you letting go of your ego identity and believing that your mind has all of these answers. And I am someone who was very identified with my mind for most of my life. And again, it’s slowly been breaking down, but it’s like if I had a thought, I thought it had to be true. And now what I’m learning is most of what I think, unless it’s a chosen thought, is actually not true or it can be broken down.

(00:50:38): I’ll tie this a little bit into the work of, I’m going to say Mary Magdalene, so the books I’ve read on Mary Magdalene. Someone else on your podcast had mentioned this, or Mary Magdalene before. But really her work, and I guess in the Gnostic gospel of Mary, was all about the ego and true self. One of the lines that I’m going to paraphrase here is essentially being, “Be disobedient to the ego mind,” which means to see the falseness in your thoughts and choose another path, which for me has opened this other door wide open for me of what to explore and what I can be curious about.

Adam Williams (00:51:36): I completely can understand and relate to this sense of, well, I want to run, I want to run ultra distances, I want to go up and over big tall mountains and doing this, I want to have adventures. For so many years, you read things like Outside Magazine or read people’s memoirs or watch documentaries, and think, I want to be one of those people that accomplishes big things. 

I want to be tough. I want to be in that rare air of doing and being in this human life. But it’s interesting that you point out, how many of us really want adventure? Because I would have to say an awful lot of the time, it’s like, well, do I really want to be just cast out into the wilderness having no, I don’t have the skills. How am I going to survive if I don’t know anything about true adventure?

(00:52:27): Now, I’m going to tie that to where we are as a society and what I’ve been observing in recent years and how uncomfortable people are and how destabilized we all are with the current climate, whether that’s socially, politically, with our health, with the pandemic, economically. 

All of these things that I think that has incited more closing off, more of that fear, more of whatever the ego identity is with no, I need things to be rigid and predictable and completely steady because it’s a very rare person who truly is up for adventure and being able to face the unknown and the uncertain. We want everything to be dictated for us.

Ray Nypaver (00:53:10): Yeah, yeah. And this is funny because I’m somebody, and it sounds like you’re similar, where we’re like, okay, we’re not going to go off of this path that everybody’s been doing. For me personally, my brain has still tricked me because it’s still telling me that I need to achieve things to be worthy. 

And what happens with the reward system in my brain is that when I do achieve things that I will say are hard, my brain lights up and send dopamine through my body. So I’m also learning, too, I’ve been forced to learn how to rewire my brain and not seek comfort or a sense of enoughness out of achieving things.

(00:53:55): Actually, I feel like this past year, I’ve had to fail a million times and find my enoughness in that. With that, going off of what you were saying, and you might have to track me a little bit back on this one, but in terms of there are people out here who are totally fine following this basic path who are actually really happy and content working with a nine to five. 

It seems like more like an eight to five job, having a family, living how they’ve been taught, and they’re probably pretty content, which I think is actually fine. And for me, that’s never felt true to my soul, but I have like, okay, let me identify with being a rebel instead. But again, I’m following the path of other rebels or…

Adam Williams (00:54:50): The safe rebel prescribed path.

Ray Nypaver (00:54:52): Exactly, exactly. But for me to actually sit back and to go into the unknown is to be like, let me actually wait and see what happens. Let me actually learn how to listen to my body and tell me where joy is going to take me or let me follow what I call the breadcrumbs or the synchronicities in life and see where my path leads me. I will just bookmark, not bookmark, but just say with synchronicities is that they’ve actually been studied by physics lately, which I think is really cool. 

Synchronicities are a very real phenomenon that Carl Jung has actually talked about as well. But again, with that, it’s me leaning back and learning to come back into trust with myself that everything that I am meant to experience will actually come into my life. So it’s not my mind creating these stories or these certain paths anymore, but trusting that these experiences will come into my life and being able to follow that path.

(00:56:01): And also learning not to fear the unknown because now that we have broken down fear a little bit, fear is just a construct. And so for me also not giving in to that type of fear, and I will say there’s a difference between ego fear and survival fear that I’ve been playing on a little bit, but ego fear is that fear of the mind saying, I need to do this thing or to go this way or to do that, and for me to really separate. 

That’s the fear that I don’t want to give in to. Whereas fear of doing the hard thing, I’ve done that so many times where I feel unprepared to do this, or if I’m running this 100-mile race, that’s me actually giving into my ego. Because I’ve run a 100-mile race injured from the beginning. That was a hundred percent me giving into my ego with that.

Adam Williams (00:56:57): Yeah. Yep. Show up to the start line injured and just push through. I would like to talk about your sister Amanda, and there’s so much there to celebrate about her to talk about in terms of relationship with you and with death. She was 36, she had cancer. And the experience that you describe, at least some of for you, your sister Sandi, who you’ve already mentioned and your family as a whole coming around Amanda, I guess I’m wondering and wanting to learn about the relationship maybe before, maybe as kids, and then also when you encountered this experience with her.

Ray Nypaver (00:57:41): Mm-hmm. Yeah. Amanda and I were pretty close when we were really young and I could be goofy with her and make her smile. And it’s almost funny for me to think about that because sometimes, and I’ve healed a lot of shame around this, my sister Sandi, who I’m twins with, I think was sometimes separated from that. 

We’ve just come back and healed that part of separation. But in terms of with Amanda, first of all, interesting things. I’m going to be 36 next year, which feels really big to me now. And Amanda is also, I think her and my dad are the first ones who ever called me Ray. So my full name is Rachel, but I prefer to go by Ray and I think it’s because Amanda and my dad had seen that light on me early on.

(00:58:40): As we got older, I think Amanda and I became more separate, and there was times that I tried to connect with her and she just couldn’t always connect back with me as deeply as I think she wanted to because I think she had a lot of her own pain that she didn’t know how to express. I would just say the dying process brought us closer together. 

I think part of that’s a natural piece that happens in family that we care take and et cetera, et cetera, but what happened really was Amanda allowed us to see her true self. I got to see first of all, her ego fight of first fighting the death, and I got to see the angry and the mean parts, which weren’t really her.

(00:59:34): I knew when that was, especially now, that’s ego popping out. The ego just doesn’t want to die. And once she let go of that, I just saw this very, I don’t want to say raw, but true self. The part when she let me hold her hand, when she asked me, “Can you just hold my hand right now?” 

And allowed me to feel her spirit in that. And so when she finally passed away, one, it connected my family in a much deeper level that we could actually be witness to each other’s pain, that my parents actually cried. I think I’d only seen my dad cry when his brother died. I don’t know if maybe I’d seen my mom cry once, too, but when we can see each other in our pain, that we allow ourselves to be witness and to be seen, and there’s so much healing in that.

(01:00:31): And I will say now, now that Amanda’s been gone for a little over three years, she is almost a part of me. Her wisdom is constantly coming through. What she taught me is flowing through even right now. And there are times where I just know she’s around. Sometimes this song of one of her favorite bands comes on the radio at this perfect time, and it’s crazy to me. Or I get a sign of a butterfly or a rose. Her middle name was Rose, and I just know that my sister had something to do with that. So she still shows up in my life in so many ways now. And so that being said, now that her ego is gone, it allows for that deeper connection that we didn’t always have when we were teenagers because our egos were so strong.

Adam Williams (01:01:28): You wrote about the experience of, as it turns out, it was a week before she died and this orchestration between you and Sandi and Amanda to get her to the bathroom. And that this was, compared to those of us who were able to just stand up out of our chair and go, there was an effort here to be able to move her in the weakened state she was in physically. And a word and question that came to my mind in that, which ties in with what you’ve been expressing about ego, is dignity. As a grown adult, as a 36-year-old human, and you need your siblings to get you to the bathroom to remove your clothing so that you can handle that process.

(01:02:18): And then to wait, I think you said maybe as long as 20 minutes, 10 minutes, and then help her escort her back gently to where she needs to rest. And I’m thinking of the ego involved and the dignity and what that process might be for Amanda, but also what that might’ve shined light on for you, and I’ll say Sandi, but for you to speak for you, what was that like and what might you have experienced with Amanda and having to let go and say, okay, I need my sisters to help me with this, this very intimate, personal, private experience?

Ray Nypaver (01:02:57): You’re highlighting on something I hadn’t thought of in that death, and so many pathways or things are lighting off in my brain and connections, which is just really beautiful and cool for me. And one thing I’ve written about myself is to be open to who we are, we actually have to stand naked. And you’re right. Amanda was giving me this very literal example. 

And most of us, I will say, have some type of shame around our bodies. We don’t want to be seen. And for Amanda to let go of that and to be like, hey, I need help here. That was, as you said, letting go of this thing that we call dignity or something that we want to attach to and to just be able to let go of that. And I’m slowing down as I talk because I’m really starting to process this question that you have brought to me.

(01:04:06): But I think ultimately, what I can bring this back to is this question that if you are willing, whoever, I guess I’d say open. To whoever is listening, are you willing to ask yourself at the deepest level, who am I?? And I’ll just throw this out there in a different way. Who are you really? Because obviously, Amanda was still alive at that point. She was on a different level of consciousness, I will say, at that point, but she was still physically alive. 

So if she was able to let go of that, this thing that most of us want to cling on to, then she obviously wasn’t that. She wasn’t her dignity. She wasn’t her job at that point. Amanda was always really sharp and witty and some of that was going, so she wasn’t that. And she was also learning to disidentify with a healthy, young, functional body. Wasn’t that. So then who was she? Who is she now, I guess? So yeah, more to think about there.

Adam Williams (01:05:28): At some point in this experience, which I think was several years long with cancer for Amanda, your mother also had cancer. I don’t know where in the process that became known, but I’m thinking that seems like more than double the burden and weight emotionally, mentally for the whole family to realize we’re already going through this with one of them. And I don’t even know, I guess which one you knew that about first.

Ray Nypaver (01:06:01): Yeah. Amanda’s process with cancer had been going on for probably a year and a half to two years at that point. And then I remember getting the call from my mom, and this was just a really crazy period in my life, where I was also living in a motel because of an end of a relationship that ended with me just needing me and my dog to get out of that place as quickly as possible. 

So then my mom calls me and I remember instantly just falling to my knees. I can’t take this. This is too much. And so that was probably what I will call one crack to my ego. How can I actually experience all of this pain and all of this love, too, that I have for my sister and my mom?

(01:06:58): I will say the interesting thing with my mom coming in here is I think me and my sisters knew that my mom would ultimately be okay. Part of it’s just her tough persona and her ability to just get through things, which I’m hesitating as I say that because that’s not always, I don’t want to say it’s unhealthy, but it’s also not always healthy. But I do remember texting both of my sisters at that time, one, promising each other that we were never going to keep things from ourselves. 

My mom probably had that diagnosis weeks before she told us, until she had to. And I think I just want to circle around and say, that was one of the moments that I realized how much pain that I could handle. It was more than I thought I could. But to love these people so deeply and really have that hit my heart and to still be open, and to be so open and vulnerable, you actually have to allow pain in.

Adam Williams (01:08:13): You’ve described her death as having led you onto another path in your life and as having cracked you open and laid bare these things. Maybe that’s what you were just describing, but if there’s more in that sense of how that might’ve led you in a direction or understanding in your life, maybe an understanding about death, if you would share that, if there’s more than what you just said.

Ray Nypaver (01:08:40): Yeah. I just love the depth of your questions so much. I’ll say a little bit more. So I think I was already on a path that, well, I was. I went to again, Naropa University, which is a Buddhist-inspired school, so it ties in western practices with eastern practices. 

So I was already on a path that was dabbling in spirituality or the transpersonal, but Amanda’s death really made me dive into it and looking at things like near-death experiences and really these existential questions of what is the meaning? What is our purpose? What is death? Is death a final thing? Do we continue on beyond that? 

And for me, I’m somebody who’s like, I’m actually going to sit with it. I’m not going to just blow these away or let these float with answers from religion or just have these questions and not look into them deeply. I’m going to go into these deeply.

(01:09:45): And I think one thing that I want to point out, because I think this is going to be really important, is that when we have to go through losing a loved one, someone who’s very close to us, we get to choose how we want to perceive their death. And what I would never tell somebody who loses a loved one is like, oh, everything happens for a reason. I would want to throw something at that person. 

But what you can do is to put meaning on it. And for me, that was very intentional. I lost my sister. I’m not going to say she should have died. I’m not going to say that there was a reason that she died, that there was maybe an inherent reason, but I’m absolutely going to put meaning to that. And so I allowed her death to inform my path and how I continued on with my life and how I was going to live.

Adam Williams (01:10:43): I think that death, of course, is a subject that broadly, generally speaking, we as a society are very uncomfortable with. And I think that’s why it’s important that we be able to talk about this, and whatever you have learned within yourself in relation to Amanda, because it’s a very difficult question for me to bring up with just any given person, and some are more comfortable with it than others. 

You have a poem or some thoughts in your book called Many Deaths. Would you care to share more about that and how we all experience these deaths throughout our life? And maybe from the spiritual perspective, which in more recent years I have come to a bit and tried to work with the concept of death, not as the end of this one life, but as something else in the process of life.

Ray Nypaver (01:11:47): Yeah. What I’ve learned is you have to die. You have to be willing to die to remember who you are. So when I speak of Many Deaths, part of what I’m referring to is the many layers of my ego that I had to let go of, sometimes willingly, sometimes I really tried to cling on hard. And this is the other part I want to frame here is this is why the healing journey can last so long for some people is because we have so many layers of, I’ll call protection built around us. 

And so I feel like really Amanda’s death being part of the catalyst the past few years have me been breaking through each layer and really dying. But I feel now, I feel like I am at the cusp of the end of one journey and almost into the edge or into the next journey, which feels like really, I can almost touch expansiveness of that, of me living a life of who I truly am.

(01:13:10): So with the part of the Many Deaths, are you willing to, and you don’t always have to go head on to it, but just to start to question beliefs that you’ve had, values. What are yours? What has been given to you? And even just the beliefs that have played on over and over again in your own mind, and there’s this quote by Abraham Hicks where “a belief is just a thought that you keep thinking.” 

And so just being able to be curious about this, like even the ways that you seem to know how the world works, can you question that and be like, is that true or actually, is that a belief that has been given to me or that I’ve just learned? And is there something actually else that I want to believe to be true and allow that just to potentially open up new pathways?

Adam Williams (01:14:12): That reminds me of a question, if I go back again to that spiritual teacher and friend of mine, who when someone says something to you, and it might be something that you would feel defensive about, you would feel as criticizing something. 

And if you asked the question, how is it true? Meaning what within what they are saying might actually be something I really do need to examine? Maybe there is some truth. Maybe I can break down the ego that wants to resist and be defensive. But if I flip that with what you were just saying is if we take our beliefs and then maybe we re-examined by saying, well, how might this not be true? What is untrue within this belief that I so, perhaps rigidly, cling to? Also with the death idea, I’m remembering, I don’t know what this speaks to…

(01:15:00): Remembering I may be, I don’t know what this speaks to in terms of maybe anxiety or something. I feel like I’ve had this for a really long time, and at least goes back to when I was a teenager. I had this looming anxiety, someone close to me is going to die. Toward the end, it was the spring of my freshman year of college, I get a call from my mom, find out my parents are getting divorced. And immediately that weight is lifted. And what I realized was in this case, it was metaphorical.

(01:15:28): It was the death of the family as I had known it. Now, that would lead to all the subsequent decades of various things, but for better and worse, that experience of, “I feel this looming thing, this darkness, this death coming. Okay, now something actually arrived. Maybe it was a metaphor, but something has died.” And then all the years since and so I continue to have these sorts of anxious feelings. “Oh, what would happen if my wife dies? What about my sons then? Or what… “

(01:16:01): The most tragic thing I could think of would be to lose one of my sons in any way. And I guess I wonder what you might have learned in that sort of land. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that, if that’s ever been a looming thing. And then it was brought into reality through the experience, the potential fear and worries with your mother’s illness than with your sister who then you actually did have to say goodbye to.

(01:16:26): Has any of that experience shifted then maybe how you look at the concept of impending death or one that we, I don’t know if this is ego-based, that we tend to say, “Oh, that was too soon. She was too young.” Because we have concepts in our minds and think, “No, I’m owed 76.2 years because that’s the average,” or whatever it is now.

Ray Nypaver (01:16:50): Yeah. I would say that that’s such a great question. But I would say that’s us applying our human judgment onto a situation that’s happened. And there is a different way of looking at that, but that’s a really hard one, especially with people who die too young, to not be judgmental that they died too young. And I had said something in that context my whole life. Because I had an uncle who died at 29 who was just such an amazing loving life of the room person.

(01:17:24): So I had grown up believing that, oh, I can’t remember who sings it. There’s this line in this one song about yeah, the young always dying too soon. And I had wanted to believe that for a really long time. And here’s the other funny thing that humans want to do, is that we want to judge death as bad. And that’s real. This is a huge flip. I’m laughing because going to be, it’s a mind-blowing thing for a lot of people to actually like, ” What if death is good?”

(01:18:01): And that’s what I kind of was saying in that Many Deaths poem, that actually death opens us up to so much more. It’s harder to apply that to physical death. And I will say, if you recently lost somebody that you dearly loved, this is a conversation to come back to in a few years. I would allow yourself to have that healing space first. But back to what you were saying, and I love the example that you shared where as a kid, I was always scared that there’s going to be a kidnapper or some mass murderer who would break into my home and take my family away.

(01:18:44): That was always a fear of mine. And I think with that, I always had this dream, I’m laughing now, but it was like Ursula from the Little Mermaid coming in and stealing my family. And I think for me, that dream was just helping me process some of my fears. And I think why I hung on to that fear for so long is that I just simply didn’t have anyone to go to with my emotions or just ask these questions.

(01:19:17): But again, as loving as my parents were, they didn’t know how to, and again, they’re products of the baby boomer generation, they didn’t know how to deal with their own emotions, let alone mine, a super emotional, sensitive, highly attuned kid. And so I was left with that fear in my body.

(01:19:43): And because death was just so feared in society, I think a lot of… you’re making me realize things that I didn’t have these realizations to before. But I think I just kind of projected that on to death, the fear that was in me onto death because that was at least somewhat acceptable in society because everybody fears, that’s what we want to say, everybody for your death.

Adam Williams (01:20:10): And we end up with this concept of it’s positive to try to prolong, whether it’s a pet or grandpa, just live as long as possible, even if you’re suffering, right? Because we don’t want to grasp the possibility that there is positive in death, I think. And because there’s so much fear, and we spent a lifetime and culturally societally developing this concept of fear around death and that it’s a negative, which I find interesting.

(01:20:41): If we go back and pull at the thread of religion and what it teaches and the concepts for, I think a good number of, at least if not all of the major organized religions, there’s this concept of heaven or some version of it that I would think maybe that means death would be seen as a positive, but still it’s seen as fear.

Ray Nypaver (01:21:03): Yeah. And I think it ties back into, that’s such a good point, I think it goes back to that point where it’s like we have to be good enough to get into heaven, or we have to repent for all of our just simply human foibles.

Adam Williams (01:21:19): What if I don’t make the grade?

Ray Nypaver (01:21:20): Right. To get into that, back to that sense of worthiness. And maybe that is why we all fear death because most of us don’t feel like we’re worthy of heaven, I guess, to use that terminology. Which is cool that you’re saying that and reflecting that back to me, because now I can almost laugh at that, to see how that storyline has played out for so long and be like, “Oh, that’s actually kind of silly that I’ve just hung onto that belief for so long.”

Adam Williams (01:21:58): We’re getting in. There’s so much that’s interwoven here. I’m thinking now of attachment, right? It’s attachment to life. Well, just like attachment to ego. It’s all these things that we’ve been talking about. And I mean, we really could just keep pulling at these threads endlessly, but I’m going to head toward winding us down.

Ray Nypaver (01:22:16): Okay.

Adam Williams (01:22:17): Sort of. You have something else that you wrote. Again, I don’t know if this is what you would call a poem that is in your book or it’s a short paragraph of thoughts and you call it Magic. Now, I did not ask you this beforehand, so I will give you a choice here if you would like to read that.

(01:22:38): And then I would get to hear you as the writer read your own words. Or if you prefer that I read it since I’m surprising you with this moment or any other reason, if you would prefer to be able to listen back to those words before we move on to a question and sharing some thoughts around it. Do you have a preference?

Ray Nypaver (01:22:58): I think I want to step into what’s uncomfortable for me because I’ve never done it before. So I think I will, since you’ve granted me with this opportunity, I will read it and see how it resonates.

Adam Williams: Okay.

Ray Nypaver: Okay. Okay. Magic. “I had the realization that it’s not that I don’t want to be here anymore, but that I don’t want to live and participate in a dark, limited world created for me, not by me. Magic then is realizing that I have the power to choose differently, that I can create my own world from the light within me.”

Adam Williams: Thank you.

Ray Nypaver: Yeah.

Adam Williams (01:23:42): So there is a particular line in that that stands out and impresses something on me. And it’s, “I don’t want to live in a dark, limited world created for me, not by me.” Now, I think there are a couple of layers at least to this that I’m feeling. But as I think beyond myself at this idea of a world created for me, I mean, I’m as good as it gets when it comes to having benefit and privilege in this world as a white cisgender heterosexual male.

(01:24:10): Right? I mean, that’s who created the society that we live in. And it took me into this place of just thinking about how the world is created and put upon each of us. I feel that. As a person who is highly aware and sensitive and perceptive and all these things, I feel that, let alone any other reasons that someone of color, someone who is queer and so on, might feel extra confined by such a thing.

(01:24:41): And so I’m wondering what you, I mean, as a human, but also professionally as a therapist, how you encourage someone who might find it very difficult to believe that they can create their own world, they can have their own self-belief and self-love and think, “I can shine my light and I don’t have to just accept the way the world has been created and shaped and those rules I’ve been given and told the, ‘No, no, no, your emotions aren’t allowed here. Your creativity isn’t wanted here.'” How do you encourage someone who struggles to see that light within themselves and that possibility to believe?

Ray Nypaver (01:25:19): What’s first coming to mind is, the main piece is that I don’t act on fear anymore. So that’s just not saying that I don’t live by certain rules of society. It’s not saying that, this is just a general example, that I don’t pay taxes because I don’t believe in where they’re going to. For me, it’s like I’m going to pay my taxes, but I’m not going to do them from a place of fear or anger, and I’m still going to choose to create from a place of love and compassion and from the light within me.

(01:26:04): So I will say, if you’re not in touch with a light within you, you simply just have some unearthing to do. You’ve probably been buried in stories and fear. And that doesn’t mean the light isn’t there, it’s just like, we’ve just got some shoveling to do, which is why therapy or just simply asking yourself these questions are so important. So I’d say the biggest, cheapest tool that you can do or find is to simply buy a journal and start writing.

(01:26:39): I think you can still find a journal relatively cheap right now and start just to ask yourself these questions and just to kind of, I prefer free writing rather than sitting down and thinking and be like, “This is how my day went.” But just to let my pen flow. That’s been really healing for me. And I think the other point with what you just brought up is what I have found that freedom, it’s actually rarely in me being rebellious and just being like, “Well, if this is society and I don’t want to live in it, then I’m just going to go live in the woods or whatever.”

(01:27:17): I’m still very tempted to do that at times, but I also have realized that I’m meant to be in connection. And where magic and freedom truly comes in is freedom of my mind. And I think the classic work that we can come back to with this, that should be, of all of the required reading books that I had read in my how many years of schooling, the one that was not on there was Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning.

And if we want to look at any story of freedom, it is looking back to that book, how he could still find love, compassion, freedom while being in a concentration camp. And then from all that pain, him creating these beautiful works that we still talk about and so many people still quote him to this day, that’s magic.

Adam Williams (01:28:17): That’s beautiful. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s a good example. I obviously like to talk about these big, deep, meaningful to me topics of our existence and of life. To me, this is where we can get vulnerable and connect with each other. And actually probably anyone who’s listening this deep into the conversation, they might be okay with it too, right? And the weight of it. And I think you enjoy these kinds of conversations as well.

Ray Nypaver: Yeah.

Adam Williams: But all that said, let’s wrap up with maybe a lighter question that just has to do with what brings you joy?

Ray Nypaver (01:28:55): I love that one. I’ve been like, I am still pausing too because I’ve been unraveling that. Because for me this past year is I’ve been realizing I can’t go find joy. I have to allow it to come from within me. And to conceptualize that a little bit, I would say that how I frame this before is that happiness is an emotion, but joy is a state of being.

(01:29:24): And so for me to again, allow my mind or for me to be disobedient from my mind, so not to listen to it, to see some of my thoughts as an illusion and to come back to myself and find the joy within me, that being said, so yeah, realizing that that joy is my, if anything’s my inherent birthright, it’s joy.

(01:29:51): And so learning not to go seek thought from the outside. With that, what I can say helps me expand into joy is being with my dog, being with my sister, so and her partner. So being with Sandi and Sage because I just know that they’re going to accept me no matter what for exactly who I am. Being with family.

Adam Williams (01:30:17): It seems like you guys have a great relationship, by the way.

Ray Nypaver (01:30:20): Yeah.

Adam Williams (01:30:20): Just from afar online. You’re so close, you and Sandi in particular.

Ray Nypaver (01:30:24): Yeah. And I will say Amanda’s passing brought us closer. It’s allowed us to let go of some of our protections. And so it’s really, and I want to say still being out on the mountains, but I think that being in the mountains for me, I used to long for them. I’m like, “I just need to be out in the mountains and I’ll feel better.”

(01:30:45): And so I’ve learned that no, that’s me still longing for something outside of myself that’s actually within myself. But I will say being outside still allows me to kind of open up and be a very expansive version of me. So there’s maybe, I don’t want to say more joy out there, but I can feel it in a different way. But man, it really does come back to connection. And it can be with trees too, but connection with the ones that I love the most deeply.

Adam Williams (01:31:20): Connection again, being a synonym that can be used as love. And earlier when you used the word joy, way back toward the beginning, I think of the conversation and it had come to my mind, and I’m thinking this out loud, I need some time to process things generally, but joy as self-love, as a feeling of ourselves in that lightest, most easeful sort of way is what’s coming to my mind. Again, I’ve not gotten a chance to sit, process, journal with that and think, “Well, does that really align?” But I’m throwing it out there to see is that something that resonates? Does that make any sort of sense in your mind?

Ray Nypaver (01:32:00): Yes, it comes back. I wish I had this memorized a little bit better, but there’s a Rumi quote. It’s basically saying that you don’t have to find how… I’m going to butcher this. It’s basically saying that you have to see just what all your blocks to love are. And so what I know now, having gone so deep into my own work, is that anytime I’m telling myself a story that is based on fear or any other emotion, that that story is untrue, that it is an illusion, and that is fog.

(01:32:34): And the only times that I am really in touch with my true self, my true being, and the essence of others, if I am in a story of love and joy. Which means when those heavier emotions, those uncomfortable emotions come up, that I get to look at the story that I am telling myself and start to unravel that and just allow it for me to see how I am out of alignment. But for me, knowing now that yes, I am at my core joy, love, light, peace, and anything other than that is untrue.

Adam Williams (01:33:11): That’s as beautiful a way I think we can end this. So I want to give people a chance to know where they can find your book, and I believe it’s available through Amazon. Is that right?

Ray Nypaver (01:33:21): Yes.

Adam Williams (01:33:22): Okay. So that said, I’m brought to thank you for such an incredible conversation, going so deep with me and sharing so much of your insights and wisdom from not only professionally, but of course from your own deep years long inner work. Yeah, just thank you, Ray.

Ray Nypaver (01:33:40): Yeah. And I will say one, you’re welcome. I will receive that with an open heart. And again, thank you for again, I feel like my inner child is almost telling me, “See, I told you so. You can be your true self and people still want to hear from you and listen to you. You don’t have to do all these crazy other things. You just get to be you.” So thank you. And again, my inner child is celebrating right now. So sincerely, thank you for giving me this opportunity.

Adam Williams (01:34:10): I like circles. That just brought us back full circle to how we started this.

Ray Nypaver (01:34:13): Perfect.

Adam Williams (01:34:13): And also, you’ve highlighted again here and reminded me that the way you’ve said about looking at yourself and being worthy of being on a podcast and to be able to share who you are, that to me is really at the heart of what this podcast is about. And I want people to really understand that, that I enjoy getting to talk with. And I do believe, as cliche as it sometimes sounds, all of us have stories and we all have insights.

(01:34:40): We all have something worth sharing, and those stories are all welcome here with me to have this kind of conversation. So thank you for highlighting that as well. And the fact that an awful lot of people probably are afraid of the exact same thing. “I’m not worthy of sharing. I don’t have anything to share,” and it’s just not true. So thank you absolutely for coming in. I’ve enjoyed this very much.

Ray Nypaver: Yeah. Thank you.

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Adam Williams (01:35:12): Thanks for listening to the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast. If our conversation here today sparks curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode’s show notes at wearechaffee.org. 

If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at info@ wearechaffee.org. We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality.

(01:35:41): We also invite you to tell others about The Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation. Once again, I’m Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado. To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.

(01:36:11): The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it’s supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee. Lastly, until the next episode, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.

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