CC 013: Facing Our Greatest Fears – A Hero’s Journey with Andrew Fraser
Humans encounter numerous occasions with fear, very few of us however face what Andrew Fraser had to endure one April day in 1999. A survivor of the Columbine school shooting, Andrew left school that day fleeing for his life and a relationship with fear forever changed. Now Andrew’s mission is to help others navigate their greatest fears through movement practices, extreme sports, and optimizing the human experience through community.
Follow Andrew @theandrewfraser
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Joe: [00:00] Alright, Andrew, dude. Stoked to have you on the platform. I’ve spoken a little bit to the platform about Uncivilized 6; now it’s the second person from the Uncivilized 6 to be here on this platform, which is really cool. It’s just going to take over the platform.
Andrew: [00:20] Right. Fascinating dudes!
Joe: [00:25] Traver, your thing’s working. I’ve now know you for a month and a half, and the first day I met you at your house when you had us over, and just listen to you talk and start to share your story and everything that’s going on in your life. Then, you led us through the hero’s journey yoga flow a couple of weeks ago at Movement, and I was like man – not only do I want to bring you on the podcast, but I want to just be able to live life alongside you and watch what you’re doing the rest of your life, because you light me up. I’m stoked to have you here on the platform and stoked to be doing some sort of life with you, and now we’re gonna share a little bit of your storytelling here, so thanks for joining me, man.
Andrew: [1:12] Thanks for giving me the opportunity. The stoke is mutual.
Joe: [01:15] It’s kind of unexplainable what’s going on in our lives right now and the people that are coming together, but let’s run with it. It’s an amazing thing. I want to start with kind of giving a little bit of background of your story. I think that this last week, as we discussed when you and I met last, is very… it’s a marker in your life. April the 20th. Let’s dive into that, and let’s dive in to that part of your life. Let’s first start with a little bit about just who you are what you’re doing now, and then let’s talk about that story because I think that that’s very powerful. It’s something that I want more and more people to just listen to because I think you pulled a lot from it.
Andrew: [02:04] Thanks very much. At present, I’m living in Denver and I’m the Managing Director of Movement Climbing and Fitness in RiNo, which is a new, big, innovative bouldering facility. It’s just an adult playground, so it’s super fun.
Joe: [02:19] Most of the listeners are actually in Denver, so that’ll be perfect.
Andrew: [02:23] Fantastic. I also teach yoga there, which is actually how I got my starts. Grew up in Colorado, have lived the kind of the all-American boy upbringing through Boy Scouts and church-going and rule-following to an extent, and then it all went off the deep end at some point in my early teens. But, had a very circuitous path wandering the world; have made my way all the way back home to Colorado, and really stoked to hang my hat here. At present, I feel like I’m at a pretty stable place in my life, whereas the previous decade was more or less punctuated with uncertainty and intentional chaos. Not upheaval, but allowing myself to be blown in the wind and see where I land, and it was really fun. It’s been a wild ride.
Joe: [03:19] You lived. And you only dove into a little bit with me, so I can only imagine; but what you have shared with me is like wow. Like when you were talking about, I lived with less than $1,000 in my bank account for a while. I think that’s something that some people dream of, like I wish I could just let go of everything and go live off of nothing. But how many people actually do that? I don’t think very many people do that.
Andrew: [03:48] I see that a lot in terms of fear keeping people rooted or grounded, because the uncertain, the unknown outside their door is too risky to pursue. It just so happens, as we’ll dive into a number of events in my life, that kind of pushed me closer and closer to the edge because I knew what was perceived as safe and certain was actually quite far from it.
Joe: [04:15] That capital ‘F’ fear that holds a lot of us back, it seems to be a recurring theme quite a bit for myself. Fear can manifest in a lot of ways, but the event that I was hinting at here towards the beginning of the podcast was – and I was just thinking, I was talking about April the 20th. I own a company that comes from cannabis – we’re not talking about 4/20, we’re talking about an event that happened on that date. Let’s dive into that and talk about what you were discussing through your Instagram today, and – doing air quotes – the day after and a realization, and a very crazy event that you went through in your life. It’s now 20 years removed?
Andrew: [05:02] That’s correct. As I mentioned, I grew up in Littleton, Colorado. Middle-class, white suburbia, pretty average, and healthy, supportive upbringing. When I was a junior, as a 17 year old at Columbine High School, on that day twenty years ago, April 20th, 1999, the whole world got upended when two kids came into the school, shot up the place, and left 12 students and a teacher dead before taking their own lives. I walked in that day reflecting on prom that had just happened the weekend before, high-fiving with buddies about making out with girls and planning the next party, and ran out fearing for my life and never really looking at it the same way again.
Joe: [05:55] I can’t even begin to imagine. We were talking about it downstairs before coming up here to record the podcast. What was the realization of what you just went through?
Andrew: [06:13] Like anything of that scale, it’s hard to process, at the time. I remember actually in high school having heard of a school shooting that happened maybe a month or two prior up in Oregon. In that situation, a teen had come into the school with either a rifle or a shotgun, fired off a couple of rounds, maybe injured some, and some of the school athletes ran in and tackled this kid and effectively saved the day. At the time, I remember thinking shit, that’s so heroic. I hope I would do the same thing in a situation such as that; but truth is, for all of our training or ideas of who we would be in a life or death situation, it’s not until the moment strikes, the first gun fires, or whatever the catalyst is, that we show our true colors. In that case, I was sitting in choir class with about 100 other kids. I would normally go downstairs to the commons, where a lot of this took place, just to, again, hang out with girls and cut class. I didn’t do it that day, but another student who did came back, interrupted us mid-song and said, “Mr. Andres, there’s kids downstairs with guns. They’re shooting people.” Being near the end of the school year, I thought maybe this is a senior prank. Don’t interrupt Mr. Andres because he’s all business. Shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of semi-automatic gunfire, pipe bombs exploding; it sounded like a war zone out there, and there’s no time to think. At that moment, there was no thought of heroism. It was save my ass, get out of this place. I ran a meandering path out of the school, encountering broken windows and gun smoke and confusion, and stampedes of kids, and ultimately found my way out of the building. Later went home, I think maybe hitched a ride with some random stranger and watched the rest of it unfold on television with news helicopters and seeing my own classmates that I’d just been sitting next to hours before walking out escorted by SWAT with hands over their heads and thinking, this is not real. This is the kind of thing that you see in Hollywood and that’s not my school on television. Day of, there’s so much overwhelm that it’s really hard to process any of it being in that lizard brain, fight or flight response. There’s not a lot of rational thought and assembly of ideas. But as I mentioned in that post that your heard today, it was Day 2 that it sank in. When shit hits the fan and life is really crazy, whether you go through a heartbreaking separation, if you lose someone close to you, if you get in trouble with the law… speaking personally, my default response is I just want to go to sleep, because at least I know for those 8 hours, I can escape. I can sleep through this, I don’t have to be with the pain of the handcuffs digging into my wrists; I don’t have to be with the loss of the woman who walked out the door; I don’t have to feel the pain of that person who was just ripped from my life.
Joe: [09:31] It’s the only way… well, I guess it’s not the only way to escape, but when you’re sleeping, you’re in a different state, right? You’re actually just shutting everything else off. I was going to say, it’s the only way but I know that some coping mechanisms in peoples’ lives, the way people numb, that’s how other people do it. But sleeping is the only answer to escape it then in your life, and then you wake up the next day and you’re… that actually happened.
Andrew: [10:04] Right. That’s when the reality really sinks in is… took place on a Tuesday, waking up on Wednesday morning realizing I’m not going to school today and this is the new reality I live in. In the weeks that followed, I attended somewhere between 4 and 5 funerals of classmates, of neighbors, of friends, and quickly reached a place where I was just running out of tears. It was so much to process for anyone, let alone a 17 year old, walking in feeling invincible as most teenagers do with this egocentric view of the world, and watching friend after classmate after neighbor be buried and to realize shit, nothing is as secure and safe as what I thought it was. This is Littleton, Colorado, white suburbia, a place that doesn’t have gang activity.
Joe: [11:05] White suburbia. We called it “Littlefun”. It’s like, the little bubble.
Andrew: [11:13] Yeah. I think that day for me, and the days, weeks, months, and years that followed was the catalyst for a personal paradigm shift about just how I viewed the world. Obviously, there’s a lot you can extract from that day when you’re talking about violence and mental health and gun control and a number of things, but for me personally what I really started to examine was my own mortality. I know we throw this kind of cliché around a lot anytime someone is taken from us, this precious value of life, but I really kind of took it on as a teenager having seen next door neighbors, 15 years old, going up to the library to study for a test during lunch, future valedictorian, shot in the head, and I’m going shit, he was on a path. He was doing all the right things, checking all the right boxes, and the rug got ripped out. Who’s to say that I’m going to make it to 20? Senior year was really tough, going back and living in that space trying to feign normalcy while walking down the hallway with a boarded up door that led to the crime scene of this library. They hadn’t done the renovation until a year or two after, so senior year was anything but normal. When I left school and went down to Durango, Colorado, I really set out on a mission to do things differently. Many students were following a pretty prescribed path of school, maybe grad school; safe, secure job; start the family, get the house; picket fence and all that; and I was very clear that nothing was secure anymore. Both during and after college, I then set out on this rampage around the world for the better part of a decade just sucking the marrow out of life and experiencing as much of it as I could because I really had it in my mind that I might not see 25, or 30, and so I better get busy living and touch and experience and taste as much of it as I could before that day came.
Joe: [13:26] Which is… there’s a couple ways to look at that because that realization and that view of the world that nothing is secure is – it’s a very important view to have. I think that we should all have that view and understand that, and understand that we can take our last breath at any time. But I don’t think a lot of people want to own that. I don’t think a lot of people want to recognize that as truth… because that’s scary. That’s where the fear we’re talking about in the beginning of this, that’s real fear; and living in fear can be paralyzing, but it can also be something different. It seems that’s kind of what you did. Well, shit, well you weren’t living in fear, you were recognizing something. You were recognizing an event in your life and what the lessons were from it, and then you were like okay, I’m going to use this and I’m going to go live.
Andrew: [14:33] It’s funny that you put it that way because when I think about it, I would agree that most people have this relationship with fear in that it’s something to avoid; it’s something to guard against; it’s something to build a life such that you’re inoculated from potential risk, harm, loss, etcetera. So a lot of people do build a white picket fence to keep it out and rest easy with the perception that they have security, predictability, comfort, and a future ahead of them. What really shifted for me was sure, things still scared me, but fear effectively became the North Star for me, and it was this bizarre experience in which I would consider something like dancing in public, but I was also really afraid. I was the guy that’d be like, nah, I’m just going to have one more drink and stand on the side of the dance floor until it’s too late. Knowing that that thing pulled at me, or that it frightened me, and that it also probably wouldn’t kill me, I started using that as a guidepost and thinking, I’m going to lean into that as opposed to run away from it; so I started to actually go in the direction of fear, whether it was something like emotional vulnerability, something like singing karaoke – that was terrifying, that prospect – I did it sober the first time just to make sure I was committed.
Joe: [16:00] Who does that?
Andrew: [16:03] I know, right? You know, pursuing bigger heights, more dangerous feats in the world of rock climbing, mountaineering, eventually skydiving and beyond. It really became… I had this association where, as an example, when I was younger I was very afraid of heights. Rollercoasters and everything associated, and there was a high dive at the swimming pool. This thing was maybe 15 to 20 feet tall, and I walked to the edge of this thing and I was puckered, man. It was so scary peering over the edge and thinking about it; and as probably anyone can relate, butterflies start churning in my belly and I’m thinking this is a death sentence; I’m walking the plank right now. Took a lot to muster up the courage; once I finally leaped, I emerged out of the water and I just felt this total elation of what I had just accomplished. But when I looked back on it, I didn’t really remember what the free-fall felt like. It was so short-lived and that part of the experience was just a page in this chapter of overcoming. What I realized then, the most exhilarating part was standing on the edge and feeling that churn. The butterflies became the way-finder for me. If any other experience in my life I would start to get that churn, of the sweaty palms, and shit like, talk to the girl, or make this presentation, or try that risky thing. If I felt the butterflies or that churn, I knew it mattered. If somebody said why don’t you try out for the basketball team or are you afraid of this, I go no, I’m not afraid; I just don’t care about it. It doesn’t interest me. The things that would actually cause me fear, that became an indication that, to some degree, it mattered to me. I started to use that as the sign to go in that direction.
Joe: [18:03] The default to that feeling is let’s run away.
Andrew: [18:06] Absolutely.
Joe: [18:07] Or go find comfort.
Andrew: [18:10] I recall, even before I got into this world of parachute sports, skydiving, and eventually base jumping, was that, while standing on a balcony or on the edge of a cliff, or a mountain ridge, or anything comparable, is that I would have this strange feeling… not that I was afraid I would slip and fall, but I could feel kind of the void, the gravity pulling me toward the edge, and I would always ask myself, what’s keeping me from jumping right now? People will have a fear of falling off of high places, and I actually had a fear that I would jump.
Joe: [18:45] Wow.
Andrew: [18:46] Really bizarre, and it was very real, very palpable, and I was thinking, what is stopping me right now because something actually compels me to back up, take 3 steps, and then go huck myself off this.
Joe: [18:57] I gotta talk to you about that further after this podcast. This is not about me, but that’s crazy. That’s really crazy. So, Columbine happens. You go down to Durango. You have this new view of the world, and you just start living your life, like alright, I’m going to live it to the fullest, lean into fear and I’m going to live my life like that for now. So, high school to now, there’s a gap. What was that part of your life like? I really want to dive into what you’re doing now because what you do now, and outside of Movement, you as a storyteller just lights me up. What was that other gap like?
Andrew: [19:40] Yeah, thank you. The two main conclusions that I came to as a result of living through the shooting was: shit, time is short and I better get busy living. There’s a lot that I want to see. There’s a lot that I want to experience. There’s a lot that I want to learn. I better get after it. Though it wasn’t around at the time, I had this attitude of “I don’t have time to Netflix and chill.” There’s a world to go embrace right now. The second conclusion was: love hard. I don’t have time for hate. I don’t have time for petty arguments or jealousy, resentment, or whatnot.
Joe: [20:21] You had a post on that on Instagram the other day. It was like, live and love. It was like, wow, we tend to make this life really complicated. But it shouldn’t be that complicated.
Andrew: [20:35] Yeah, I realized that I was not out to pursue the same path as most and I wasn’t driven by money or status or most of the trappings of American success. I just wanted to go out and live as much as I could. Post-college, where I did really get into mountaineering, outdoor sports, deeper into snowboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, peak bagging 14 years and such… post-college, I ended up finishing with a French degree and that led me to live overseas; so I spent some time in France and then later returned multiple times to Switzerland, where I worked as a ski school instructor, a camp counselor, guided youth leadership camps, bounced throughout Europe, did multiple trips around that continent. Came back, ski bummed for a season in Vail, just kind of lived that life, got the itch again, wandered down to South America – passed through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador – later found work doing the same, guiding college trips down there, and so my life for the better part of 8 years was just professional vagabonds. Living for no more than 5 months in one place at a time, saving up just enough money to hit the road again and see what was over the next mountain. I found these strategic ways – I’m going to date myself right now, but Google was kind of a newish thing when I was going out of college, and prior to that time, the previous generations didn’t know much about how to go and find work or opportunities overseas. That was like big, scary unknown over there, like there’d be dragons on the other side of the pond. I was certainly met with a lot of skepticism by my own parents and others who said, you’re going to do what? And I said, I don’t know; I’m going to go figure it out. At the time, I knew that I had this language skill. I wanted to go work overseas, and I had this vision of getting far from home and maybe setting up a new life out there. I got on Google and searched ‘jobs abroad’. The first hit was jobsabroad.com. I checked out a couple of countries that were of interest and then found a listing for camp counselor at an outdoor camp in France. I said “hell yes! Where do I sign?” Over the course of several years, I learned to work the system where I would not only travel to a different country, but I’d find an employer who would pay my way; so it might not be much, but I’d be provided room, board, and a stipend, and therefore have a really kick ass base camp from which, to not only do a fun a job, but then go jet set to these other countries in the proximity. Over that 7-8 years, I probably cruised through 20-30 countries and just got this whole extraordinary spectrum of experience from the cultural to the adventurous. That was one of my best – second to death as a mentor – that was perhaps my best learning experience was being a visitor in all of these different places and just learning what it was to live life that way.
Joe: [23:58] When did your yoga teaching and your yoga path start? How long have you been doing that for?
Andrew: [24:05] I’ve been teaching for 9 years; practicing for a little over a decade. That actually came when I returned home.
Joe: [24:14] Oh, I was going to ask if it came from travels.
Andrew: [24:17] Interestingly, it wasn’t until after about 7-8 years of this wandering lifestyle that I started to feel the pull back home to a little bit more stability, a little bit more proximity to family, and also just longing for connection with community. That eventually brought me back home for a longer period of time; and having been blown on the wind for so long, I was seeking something that would feel grounding; a way in which I could actually sink roots. I started with attending a small studio and then eventually doing a yoga teacher training there as another side hustle that later became a catalyst for a total transformation in my life; because before then, everything was just… I identified as a lone wolf, a world wanderer, and I kind of figured that one, I’m going to be single for the rest of my life; and two, I might show up to every fifth family reunion. It’s like, “oh, there’s Uncle Traveling Andrew who just came back from Egypt and still doesn’t have a girlfriend; still doesn’t have more than 500 bucks; but he’s got these big fish tales of what happened around the world.”
Joe: [25:33] That’s really interesting. I was thinking, you were talking about cultural experiences, but that makes complete sense. It’s a way to integrate back in; and something that really stood out to me when we were talking before the podcast was, you are an amazing yoga instructor, and I’ve experienced that; but you talked about the reason people would return to your classes. You were really saying that was your dharma talks and the storyteller that you are and the way that you have with words is something that’s absolutely incredible. We got to experience the hero’s journey spoken word yoga flow. Is that the best terminology?
Andrew: [26:15] Yeah, totally.
Joe: [26:17] There’s a lot there, but that was so amazing. I want to dive into the details of that and what sparked this space of time and just connection that you created and I got to experience, and the whole story, spoken word that you put together was absolutely incredible. I see that you’re a storyteller from your travels, but how about this next level of these dharma talks and the spoken word stuff that you’re doing? Where did that come from?
Andrew: [26:55] I think there’s a little bit to unpack there. If I rewind back to the Columbine incident as a catalyst, what started as a secure, predictable, supportive life was upended overnight and nothing was safe. As I mentioned, I set out on this path to go live the biggest life that I could in the shortest time possible. Only now reflecting on it, in addition to going and chasing life feverishly can I see that I was also running from it. Following Columbine, I experienced a string of hard losses that continued for the subsequent decade. The year after, on Valentine’s Day, two Columbine High School students were murdered at Subway three blocks down the road in cold blood. Just shot in a senseless murder. A couple other deaths took place: a star basketball player committed suicide; his parents found him hung in a closet. Several years after that, around my college years, a best friend of mine committed suicide, under the influence after a hard breakup. Six months after that, my uncle committed suicide, also under the influence, and so I was repeatedly exposed to these super hard losses of people that were closer and closer to me, and reached a space of saying, shit, I can’t take this anymore. My tear ducts have run dry, man. I got nothing left. That might be an emotional defense mechanism, but there comes a time where if you’re exposed to that much pain and loss, you don’t really know what to do about it anymore, and so you just turn off the switch and say I chose not to feel. The way I responded to that was one: going out and being very distant from this life I knew back home and far from any of the reminders of the void. I sought out these experiences that connected me to the richness of life but paradoxically also put me on the knife’s edge of sharp mountain ridges that brought me very close to dangerous adventurous pursuits. In this fierce pursuit of life, I was constantly walking this razor’s edge with death and these activities that could actually kill me. It was a really bizarre thing. Again, coming back to the North Star, the compass, I kept being pulled in the direction of this and feeling that brush of death, wind blowing in my hair. It wasn’t until I finally chose to come back home after about 8 years of this travel that I returned to some semblance of routine, of grounding; and through the process of yoga, the cracking opened. I realized in the repeated losses and lows, I just kept hardening to it and I couldn’t be with it, so I traveled farther and farther away from it. While the social media, or the Facebook life looked grand, and I was climbing these mountains and traveling to far off places, and adventuring in the Amazon, there was a lot of hurt on the inside. It wasn’t until I actually came back home, sat with it, and went through this yoga teacher training, that caused me to start cracking open and actually feeling all of the shit that I hadn’t processed in the years previous. As the hero’s journey goes, per Joseph Campbell, the unlikely protagonist has a call to adventure, has to go fight all these foes and challenges, and at the bottom of their journey, in the darkest parts of the underworld which they find themselves, they have to slay the proverbial dragon. That dragon is often times representative of the ego or our own shadow side, and it’s only after facing that and making peace with it that you come out the other side victorious, enlightened, and really ready to give back to the community. What I got was that in the wake of all this tragedy, this loss and whatnot, I set out on this long, complex mission to escape it all, and then only to come back home to be punched in the gut with it really hard, to sit in a very dark place. Via the vehicle of yoga – not just the asana and the postures – but the meditation, the self-awareness piece, the self-love and compassion, did I allow myself to start coming out the other side, to be okay with the grief, to see myself as whole in the wake of it all.[32:04] What was for the better part of a decade a very isolated life on the other side of the world came full circle back to wanting to actually connect with and serve community. It took a lot of personal work for me to get complete with my own shit, my baggage, my story, and only after having unpacked all of that and made peace with it could I then step into a greater level of service to others. One of the expressions of that was as a yoga instructor and in the form of storytelling, and the dharma talks that I would share in these classes because as many of us have, or many of us still do, chase the quick dopamine hit of a like, a comment, a follower on Instagram, it’s pretty fleeting. That didn’t fill my cup very much to do that over the years and to see people type and say what a rad life; how cool it is to be you; because it wasn’t much of a contribution to theirs other than the applause, and then the silence. What I started craving more was an ability to connect with and give back to all these people using the lessons I had learned from this journey around the world. That has become the new mission, really is to borrow from all these experiences, both the exuberant and the extraordinarily painful, and to share that with other people so that the pages from my story become a part of somebody else’s survival guide.
Joe: [33:46] That is so powerful. When you said that exact line in our flow, it was like, how many people run from that or don’t think that’s even possible. It’s my hurt; I’m embarrassed; I fucked up; nobody will love me if I tell this story. That is, I think, how most people respond to pain in their life, or something that they did wrong, is no, I’m not enough for the world; I can’t tell the world this. But who could you actually help? Whose life could you save? That’s extremely powerful. I think the way that you conveyed that through your spoken word and combining it with that yoga flow, and everything that we did in there – we stared each other in the eye and did something that’s extremely uncomfortable, like a stranger – I don’t know who that is! It’s hard for me to look at a person for more than 10 seconds, but the space that you created through that was so extremely powerful. There was a lot to unpack there and a lot that came into that, but it’s very clear that there was a lot behind all of that because of how powerful that event was, for me and for everybody else that was there.
Andrew: [35:07] Thank you.
Joe: [35:08] That was incredible.
Andrew: [35:09] I tell people that one of the greatest acknowledgements I can receive from anyone in my yoga class is to see them cry in that space. Not because my words were so profound or gave a rousing talk, but because a space was created that was safe enough for them to go through that. I remember when I was early on in my own yoga journey, I literally was there for the babes and the toning. That’s what a buddy told me. When I lived downtown, he said you gotta come try this, man. It’s a week free, there’s a ton of babes in there, and you’re going to get shredded. And I was like, check, check, when’s the next one? It took me a while to start to understand the heart opening aspects of it. When I began to dive deeper in the practice, I had some very influential instructors who not only moved my body in a certain way, but also spoke of their own experiences that was heart forward and vulnerable enough that in certain postures, I would find myself crying. I would find myself going back to Columbine. I would find myself processing these parts of my life, and I went shit, I haven’t allowed myself to feel this way in a long time. Whether it was in some challenging hip opener or just lying in Shavasana on my back, I got tears streaming down my face and I realized how important that release was for me and to be in a safe space where there was permission to feel all of it, to leave it in the space. One of the more profound things that my yoga mentor told me at the time when I began this journey, she said, “Andrew, you have this funny way about you,” and I’ll describe the gesture that I’m giving right now. She said, “you kind of do this, drawing people in with the ‘come hither’ hands, and then you do this, and you stop them with the palm about six inches from your hand.” So I was sending these mixed messages of life is great and let’s hang out and whatnot, but don’t get too close because this is really fragile. I think what I’ve really set out to do in my own yoga journey is to provide for others the opportunity to crack the ribcage open, to let people actually feel all of this, to lie in a puddle of their own tears in class and not just to learn how to touch their toes or do an Instagram yoga trick, but to recognize that this is one space of reflection for how they show up elsewhere in their lives and what they’re stuffing down deep and how they can physically begin to move it out of their body.
Joe: [37:44] That’s so important because yoga is becoming so corporatized. Well, it can be corporatized in certain areas. I think we’re missing so much by doing that. Even if you’re going for the babes and the toning, you’re missing the whole point, right?
Andrew: [38:00] Right.
Joe: [38:02] I wanted you to discuss leaning into this process and your storytelling because it’s inspirational. I think a lot of people need to do this in a lot of areas of their life. When you talk about the pages of your book and the darkness being pieces of somebody else’s survival guide – I can’t remember your exact words for that – but that is not easy to lean into, and I think there’s a lot of resistance from a lot of people.
Andrew: [38:31] It’s true. What I think is important as a storyteller, as an instructor or as a mentor of any kind is that, you first do some of the requisite work to unpack and process it such that you can share the story. Sometimes people make the well-intended mistake of oversharing when they haven’t fully processed something. You know, getting on Instagram stories and saying, tears streaming down their face, “hey guys, my wife just walked out on me last night. I’m in a really dark place,” and they haven’t actually done the work to really be of service to somebody else. A lot of what I share right now has taken a lot of time for me to first sit in the dark with to really process, and then the next day I’ll say I’m out the other side and I can now share what I’ve learned about it; which is not to say that everything’s complete and I’ve got a bow tied on it, but to share from the intention of wanting to serve other people and say I get it, I’ve been there too. Maybe you can relate, and there’s hope on the other side. There’s difference between a yoga instructor who gets up in front of the room and says I’m in a really dark place right now so we’re going to do this sad flow together. It’s actually not in service to the people there if they haven’t gone through their process; but if they conversely share a story about something they’ve gone through, and then how they’re applying these yoga principles, or how they’re practicing self-compassion and awareness and whatnot, such that they can be of service to other people who relate, then there’s empathy and there’s something produced.
Joe: [40:16] That makes complete sense. I think that it’s just an amazing thing that you’re doing, and I was thinking about it but I guess I’ll just bring it up here. Do you want to share the storytelling gatherings that you’re putting together if people are interested in being a part of that because it’s very powerful. I don’t know… how closed is your group? I want to talk about that stuff that you’re doing and what your vision is there.
Andrew: [40:48] Absolutely. It’s brand new. It’s unfolding and as you and Traver proudly say, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
Joe: [41:00] I don’t know how proudly we say that! We try to own it. Well, thank you. I’m glad you don’t know what you’re doing either!
Andrew: [41:08] I’m certainly stumbling my way through the discovery. What I know is that ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve been an avid reader. I’ve been the kid sitting in the front of the gym assembly when some guest speaker came to tell stories from afar, and I’m just wrapped with tension, hanging on every word, and so I learned from stories. Coming again, back to Joseph Campbell, and for all the listeners out there, if you don’t know this guy’s work, I highly recommend him. He’s one of the preeminent mythologists who has found this common thread out of the world’s stories – from folktale to fables to Native American folklore to religious texts – and he’s found this common thread about the hero and the journey that he or she goes on. What I’ve noticed for myself is that I learn very well through stories because I see myself in the protagonist, and this is probably true of most all of us, and this is why this template is so effective. When we watch a film, when we read a book, when we observe a play, we’re watching the way that the protagonist engages with life and we’re secretly cheering for him or her if we believe them to be a good person because we relate to their experience. We identify with their struggles, their stumbles; we empathize with their flaws, and we want so badly for them to win and come out the other side because if they do, it means there’s hope for us. Stories, I think, have long been this way for us, not only to pass down information through generations, long before we had any written text, but to see one another as human because we see ourselves in the stories of someone else. You and I can rap stats all day and talk statistics or describe business acumen, but it’s not the same as you sitting across from me and saying wow, you lost somebody in your life? I totally get that. The same thing happened to me and there’s a different connection that takes place. It’s no longer arguing one ideology against another or factual statements. It’s just saying let me tell you about something that happened when I was 12, maybe you can relate; and all of a sudden, people lean into that and they’re hanging on every word. I’ve really embraced this concept that in a time where we have become very disconnected from one another via the technology that we use, the social media platforms, the things that can be both a blessing and a curse, I’m really committed to bringing it back to the tribal of sitting around a campfire in the backyard, providing a platform for a number of speakers to hold the stage for 10 minutes and to share a story from their life. No other rules about it other than it’s gotta be true, it’s gotta be you, and you gotta be willing to crack open in front of all these people.[44:19] I think what’s available out of doing such is there’s something that takes place just by having people leave their phone outside of the space, where we’re no longer sharing Youtube videos, or around the coffee table, but we’re sitting gazing into the fire together and going back to this very primal connection in that both for the storyteller and the listeners that there’s a real, tangible human connection that’s created out of that experience because people are giving their full attention. That person is giving of themselves via their voice and being very vulnerable, which is a big act of courage. There’s this human connection that takes place that you can’t get through any technological medium. The storyteller can be freed from their own shame by saying this is a thing that happened that I never did want to talk about before and I’m now stepping into the fire and sharing it with all of you. Likewise, the listeners can experience that same liberation from their own shame when they thought they were the only person that was going through it, and now that person has courageously told their story and they go, shit, I’m not the only one. Lastly, I believe they can provide hope because if someone gets up and tells the story of their struggle, their journey down in the depths of the cave, and then subsequently, how they made it back out the other side, for the listeners, they celebrate that person’s journey because it also means there’s hope for them. I’m really excited about this idea of gathering small groups on a regular basis to simply tell stories. Not the polished version, not the fucking Instagram filtered, curated retelling of a life, so that people get how special we are and how rad our vacation was, but this is just me, raw and unplugged. Maybe you can relate. I believe there’s something in a simplicity that’s also kind of revolutionary because in this social media world, we also live in a lot of echo chambers too. It’s become very binary – Republican versus Democrat, the masculine versus the feminine, etcetera, etcetera – and people tend to do a lot of shouting, and then their ideas are reinforced via the memes they share and the ideas that just throw back and forth with others in their cohort and there’s not actually a lot of understanding that takes place. It’s easy to talk about immigration from a factual standpoint than to say I’m against this particular policy because people are pouring over the borders and to talk about people as numbers and statistics, it’s very easy to be positional in something like that. It’s very different to sit at the table with my neighbor Juanita and to hear the story about how she crossed rivers with a baby to try to bring her to the chances of a better life while fleeing gang violence in another country. It’s very different to sit face to face with another person and actually hear what it was like for them than to lump them into this categorical boxes and to talk about them as a thing. Brene Brown says it’s hard to hate somebody up close. I think by simply creating this small forum, as opposed to the big, blown out and sanitized, filtered version of communication that we have in the world, there’s something really special that’s available to people who actually look each other in the eye, who tell their story, and now I don’t care whether your political leanings are fundamentally contradicting mine; when you tell the story about your fears of losing a loved one, I get it, man. It’s not Republican versus Democrat, it’s not black versus white, it’s human and human, and I get it. I’m really out to help facilitate and create that connection with a lot of others because I think there’s something extraordinary that can be born out of it and understanding that can be facilitated such that people take new actions.
Joe: [48:46] Well, thank you for what you’re doing, and I’m super excited to watch it because you’re right… the social media world, there’s a scary path that I see. For future generations, there’s a service that we need to do for them to allow them to recognize that there is a filter on everything in that social media world. That’s really exciting to hear you talk. Every time you talk about it, I see you light up and I’m just excited to continue to watch that. For the listeners and those that are in Denver, or those that travel to Denver, how can they connect with you via social media if that’s the best way to connect with you? Catch-22 there. Or just in person at Movement, or follow up with what you’re doing, or be a part of anything that you’re doing. How’s the best way for people to connect with you?
Andrew: [49:43] A number of ways. On the social media platforms, you can just look for me at Andrew Fraser on Facebook. Last name F-R-A-S-E-R. Similarly, theandrewfraser on Instagram.
Joe: [49:58] I’ll put those in the show notes to make it easy for people to find you.
Andrew: [50:02] Excellent. I’m running the circus down at Movement Climbing and Fitness in RiNo neighborhood, so I’d be happy to see anybody come in and take a stab at indoor bouldering. It’s an extraordinary community and a really fun place to be whether you’re seasoned or uninitiated. I’m a skydiving instructor, so if anybody’s looking to go seize life and take the leap, I’d be happy to strap them in and huck ‘em out of a plane up at Mile High Skydiving in Longmont.
Joe: [50:33] Do you know… well, I’ll save it for after the podcast, sorry.
Andrew: [50:37] That’s great. My wife, Aubrey, and I also host weekly workouts at Red Rocks on Sunday mornings, so just a free workout group to get people together, to sweat, to laugh, to grow.
Joe: [50:51] One of the most beautiful places in the world.
Andrew: [50:53] That’s absolutely right. One of the most beautiful gems on Earth, and we go there and just sweat for free and feel better on the other side of it.
Joe: [51:02] Nice. Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing your story here, man. I know everybody’s going to be super stoked to hear it, and then watch what you’re going to do with your storytelling and life that you’re living.
Andrew: [51:12] Thanks, man. It’s been a pleasure.
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