Growth Loops, Fertile Uncertainty & Ayahuasca Revelations with Anne-Laure Le Cunff

Hello there. It's an absolute pleasure to have you back here.

Anne Laure [00:00:05]:

Thanks so much for having me.

Jonny Miller [00:00:07]:

Journey, how are you feeling right now? In three words.

Anne Laure [00:00:14]:

Tired, excited.

Jonny Miller [00:00:19]:

Creative, beautiful. So since this is our second conversation, and I already know that you were super curious about dinosaurs as a kid, the question that I'd like to begin with is, what are you currently curious about that maybe wasn't so much on your radar when we had our first conversation three years ago?

Anne Laure [00:00:43]:

I'm currently very curious about creativity and neurodiversity. I study neurodiversity as part of my PhD research, and I specifically look at learning. So not necessarily creativity, but in a lot of conversations that I'm having with people in the NestLabs community or people in our little corner of Twitter or Friends, I realized that a lot of neurodivergent people seem to have some sort of superpower when it comes to creativity. Maybe it's due to the way they see the world differently, or maybe it's because they had to become more creative because of the way our society is designed. So to be able to achieve the same goals as neurotypical people, they had to find creative solutions. But this is something that I find fascinating, and there's very little research around it at the moment. So most of what I've been learning has been coming from hearing from the experiences of people, sharing what they've been through and how they feel about it.

Jonny Miller [00:01:48]:

Fascinating. I actually randomly posted on Twitter. I'm kind of researching neurodiversity myself for nervous system mastery and the post where it blew up, I mean, there were, I think, over 100 comments of people sharing their experience research they've learned. I'm curious, what are some of the things that you've found which might have implications for people? So some of the things I've heard are neurodivergent people sometimes have, like, lower degrees of interception. Maybe their nervous systems are more sensitive. What are some of the themes or the threads that you're discovering that are interesting?

Anne Laure [00:02:27]:

Some of the things that I find interesting is how their reward system seems to be working a little bit differently. And you see that both in ADHD and in autism, where they seem to be getting a kick out of experiments and trying new things and finding new patterns, connecting ideas in a way that is a lot more powerful than you would see in neurotypical people. So you would see that with some people with ADHD, for example, we're falling into a Wikipedia rabbit hole and connecting ideas and trying to see how all of these things work together is going to give them deep intellectual pleasure. They're going to really enjoy that in a way that is similar to maybe more like a neurotypical person would enjoy reading a novel, for example. So two completely different experiences and an equal amount of pleasure. And we don't really understand why that's the case at the moment, but I find it fascinating.

Jonny Miller [00:03:38]:

I have a number of friends who have ADHD and I know that they're easily distracted with things that they don't really care about, but when they find something that's like just really lights them up, they'll be in that flow state for like 5 hours straight to this insane amount of focus. And I guess that's related to dopamine pathways and things like that, but yeah. Do you have any thoughts on that or why that is? Or is that something you've seen as well?

Anne Laure [00:04:05]:

Yes, so that's actually called hyper focus and this is definitely something that you observe with people who have ADHD and this is why exactly as you described, they can disappear for hours on end just being on their computer. And it's so interesting how they can be sometimes very distracted, but when they're in that hyper focus state, you can almost be next to them and tell them, hey, do you want something? Do you want a cup of coffee? Do you want to go for a walk? And they won't even hear you. They'll be so focused on what they're doing that they won't hear you. So again, that's probably linked to their dopamine pathways and their reward system and they basically kind of treat. This is also why a lot of them tend to enjoy video games, having this reward of solving a challenge or finding an answer to a question which is very often enabled in a very efficient way by digital devices and computers and your phone. So it's kind of two sides of the same coin. The positive, obviously, is that they're going to be able to focus for a very long time and very intensely on something that they're interested in. But the other side of the coin is that they may also develop addictive behaviors when it comes to digital devices because the mechanisms are very similar.

Jonny Miller [00:05:38]:

Yeah, interesting. I actually have a really good friend who has ADHD and she says that for her, having social accountability and support and structure in place makes such a difference in her life. Like being able to do things with other people seems to be or having external accountability seems to be really key for her.

Anne Laure [00:05:59]:

Yeah, absolutely. And even when it comes to coming out of that physic, you could spend days on end just being on your computer and reading things online and having fun in your digital playground, having people around you who just remind you that, hey, there's a world outside as well.

Jonny Miller [00:06:23]:

Yeah, definitely.

Anne Laure [00:06:25]:

That's also very helpful.

Jonny Miller [00:06:27]:

It's helpful. I mean, for us too. I definitely fall into that trap sometimes as well on Twitter. Amazing. So you're currently studying for a PhD, which is new and I think I read that you're either about to teach or you have taught your first class or your first lecture on neuroscience in physiology. What was that on? What are you teaching on?

Anne Laure [00:06:54]:

So I'm going to teach that class very soon. And it's actually very relevant to what we were just talking about. It's about neuroscience in the digital world. And so the good, the bad, the ugly. I talk about lots of different aspects. I mostly talk about how digital designers, whether they are creating landing pages or mobile applications or even designing social media platforms, how they use neuroscience to design those experiences and how that can be used for good in the sense that so an example that I give is the Oak app for meditation and breathwork, for example. Just your realm. But they basically use a lot of the triggers that you see used for streaks, et cetera, but to help you build healthy habits. And on the other end, you have other applications like Instagram and Tinder that use also neuroscience based triggers like infinite scrolling or infinite swiping to keep you using the app and to increase engagement and who are trying actually to develop to make you develop addictive behaviors when it comes to these apps. So it's the same research based principles that are used for design but with very different objectives from the developers.

Jonny Miller [00:08:32]:

Yeah, it reminds me of I had a conversation with a guy called Max Dossel on the podcast and he worked for the Time Well spent movement and they say similar things. And something that I believe is just how important our attention and the quality of our awareness is as like a scarce resource. And it seems like these digital tricks, in a way, they can be used for good or for ill. And it's almost like our subjective interpretation is like, is this meditating or breath work? Most of us would say, well, yeah, that is time well spent, that's a good use of our time versus endlessly scrolling and collapsing our awareness and numbing out as well. And a question that comes to mind for me is just as you were saying that is like, what's the quality of our awareness? Are we aware of our body while we're doing these things? Or is it a way that we can just check out of our human experience and be in some digital place?

Anne Laure [00:09:31]:

I would take it even further than just body awareness. The reason why these experiences of scrolling for hours are so addictive, it's not only because we forget about our body, but we forget about the rest of the contents in our mind as well. So it's a form of escapism. It's a way to turn off our thoughts for a little while. And unfortunately, we know it's not a healthy way to do it because the pendant of that is that very often and very, very common. We've all experienced it. But the feelings we have after an infinite scrolling session that lasted for an hour is guilt. We don't feel better. And so when you think about it, it's very similar to other ways we have to numb our feelings, whether they're physical or psychological. Alcohol, for example, where you will have a few drinks which will help you forget about any kind of psychological or sometimes physical pain that you may be experiencing. But the morning after, what do you feel? Again? It's the same thing. You feel guilt.

Jonny Miller [00:10:49]:

Yeah. In the work that I've studied, they're known as defensive accommodation strategies. And it's basically ways in which we kind of down regulate ourselves using external substances or scrolling and things because of our lack of capacity to downshift for ourselves. So it sounds like your lecture is going to be like a Defense Against the Dark Arts. Like, are you kind of teaching people how to guard themselves against these demonic strategies?

Anne Laure [00:11:18]:

I love that this is going to be part of an applied neuroscience course, and so it's targeted at neuroscientists that are maybe going to be working with industry practitioners in the future. So you're right that it is a little bit of it's not Defense Against the Dark Arts. It's really don't become voldemort yourself.

Jonny Miller [00:11:45]:

I feel like they're linked. That would make a great title. Awesome. Well, I'm curious, what drew you to studying the brain and studying neuroscience in the first place? Like, what led you to want to do a PhD? Like, that's a significant undertaking.

Anne Laure [00:12:06]:

I started my path in a very spoiled millard, would say, on the default path. I studied business. I worked at Google. I had very successful career there. Everything was going well, and at some point I realized that I knew exactly what steps I needed to take next if I wanted to achieve the common definition of success that everyone had in my industry. And it suddenly felt very boring. It's a metaphor I often used to describe the selling I had at the time is that of being spoiled about a movie. Like, you see the spoilers and you just don't want to watch the movie anymore. So that's how I felt at the time. And so I thought that I had to try and do something different, something that had a little bit more uncertainty. And so I left Google and I worked on a few startups. What I didn't realize at the time is that I was just kind of like switching to a different ladder, still in the default path, because I was still following the playbook of Silicon Valley and still doing what you're kind of supposed to do next in that kind of career path in tech. When I realized that that wasn't for me, then I was completely lost because for the the very first time in my life, I didn't have a map anymore. I didn't know what was the next step. I didn't know what was the logical thing to do. And so I went back to the drawing board and asked myself, what is something that I am interested in, I've always been interested in and would love to keep on learning about, even if money and status were out of the equation. And in my case, that was the brain, the mind. Why do we feel what we feel? Why do we think the way we think? Why do we connect with others? And the way we connect with others? That's why I decided to go back to school and to study neuroscience at the time, to do a master's degree, which I've completed. And once I finished that, I had so much fun. I feel like when I was younger, when I did my very first master's degree in my early twenty s, I was not appreciative enough of that opportunity to spend my entire days just learning, asking questions.

Jonny Miller [00:14:49]:


Anne Laure [00:14:52]:

In fact, I was pretty annoyed at it. I was like, why do I have to go to school? Why do I hang out with my friends? That's what I want to do. And going back to school at an older age made me a lot more appreciative of that opportunity and that privilege that it is to have access to all of these resources, whether it's books or classes, but also all. Of those very smart minds, those teachers that you can ask questions to, those other students you can kind of think about big questions together with. And so I felt like I couldn't stop there and that I wanted to keep on going. And so that's why I applied for a PhD.

Jonny Miller [00:15:36]:

Wow, I love that. And when you were saying that almost the fear of seeing the path ahead, I've been asked a number of times, where do you see yourself in five years? Or where do you see yourself in ten years? And it's like, I want to live in a way that in five or ten years time, I'm doing a thing that I would have no conception of today. That to me, is like an exciting life. It's like the spirit of adventure. It's like you don't know what is coming, but you're following these intuitions, these kind of impulses, this aliveness, basically, which I think is antithetical to just like a linear default safe yes. Which is great, but it's just ultimately boring, I think.

Anne Laure [00:16:22]:

Yeah. There's this saying that I can't remember where I saw it, but something along the lines of you want to grow so much that you don't recognize yourself anymore. And I think that's similar to what you just said in the sense that I love that today I can look back five years ago, and the anlore from five years ago would have no idea that it's even possible to do what I'm doing today. And I agree with you. I want to feel the same way in five years when I look back.

Jonny Miller [00:17:02]:

Yeah, I love that. Let's dive into that question. And something that I really wanted to talk to you about is the subject of plant medicine and how it relates to mental health. And I pulled a quote from your annual review, which is beautiful, by the way. I'd really recommend listeners check it out. It was very articulate. And the line that I pulled was the same way every year, every week, every day of my life had started, as far as I could remember, with a sense of emptiness, as if my mind was a disassociated observer watching the movie of my life from outside. I had become used to the familiar claws of depression. It was like a shadow following me everywhere. And so could you maybe share for listeners, what else do you recall from that period and what were some of the things that you struggled with during those years?

Anne Laure [00:18:02]:

I have struggled with depression for most of my life, and that's something that I haven't talked about a lot at the time, partly because I felt very privileged, in a sense, that I was a very functional, depressive person.

Jonny Miller [00:18:23]:

Which is common, right? It's really common, I think.

Anne Laure [00:18:26]:

Yes. No, absolutely. And now that I've started opening up a lot more about it, I've actually found so many people telling me, oh, me too, and feeling this sense of shame that we're still doing quite well from the outside. So we don't necessarily want to complain about how it feels in the inside, or rather, how it doesn't feel like anything in the inside sometimes. Right, yeah. So it's always this kind of unhealthy comparison of pain with others where we minimize our own experience because we feel like some people have it worse than me, so I'm not going to make a big deal of what I'm going through. And that was very much how I was feeling at the time. So, yes, very functional. I generally was waking up every morning feeling completely empty. I was using alcohol as a crutch at the time, to the point of what we just talked about earlier in this conversation, to numb my feelings, to numb my thoughts, and yeah, rinse with alcohol and repeat the day after that was basically my pattern. And again, it never really got in the way of me doing the things that I wanted to do, even though that now that I've quit drinking, I realize how much more I could have done at the time. And by more, I don't even talk about achievements or things like that. I just mean experiencing life and connecting with people. And I realize now that I don't have this layer of numbness over everything that I could have done much more at the time. But it's okay. It was probably necessary for me to go through that experience and to grow from it and to become the person that I am today. So I don't have any regrets or remorses about it. But yeah, that was my experience at the time, and I really, really thought that it would just keep on going like this forever. I had just accepted it as what life was like.

Jonny Miller [00:20:38]:

Wow. Yeah. And I feel like those experiences also really give us compassion for a lot of others who are experiencing that. And like you say, I speak to founders who maybe they've just sold their company for millions of dollars and they feel empty and numb and depressed on the other side, but they don't feel like they can open up because no one's going to be like, oh, you just made all this money, like, poor you. But actually, someone's internal experience can be brutal or devastating or completely just numb and disassociated, like you said. You also wrote after drinking Ayahuasca in July last year, you said that you're not depressed anymore, you quit drinking. And I love this line, for the first time ever, I'm truly happy to be alive. Like, holy shit.

Anne Laure [00:21:29]:

Yeah. I'm not exaggerating. This was my most life changing experience so far, and I'm so grateful that I could experience it. I don't think that in my case, and I don't think that's the case for everyone. It's not necessarily for everyone. And I want to clarify that. I'm talking about it from a personal experience standpoint, not from a researcher standpoint, because I don't have much scientific knowledge of ioscal. So I don't know if it is for everyone, but in my case, I am 100% convinced that if it wasn't for Ayahuasca, I wouldn't have found a path out of what I was experiencing, because it had been my whole life, basically, at this point, and there was no sign that it was going to change. So I'm incredibly grateful that I met this person who told me about this retreat center in the Netherlands and that I trusted her and that I booked myself in and that I went because it changed my life.

Jonny Miller [00:22:47]:

Wow. And it sounds like I mean, I imagine you tried other more traditional approaches before that, and they clearly didn't have the same effect.

Anne Laure [00:22:56]:

Yeah, I've tried therapy, I've tried when I was younger, journaling, which I started doing again in preparation for my ioscast ceremonies, and I haven't stopped doing since then. So I've been writing every day. Yeah, it's amazing. And I had tried over the years to get back into Journaling, but the most I could do, which is kind of ironic, is the most popular tool that I have on my website is this quick weekly review that I have, and that every week I receive emails telling me I've never managed to write every week and to review my week. And thanks to your tool, I can do it. I've been doing it for one year, two years, et cetera. And that tool I created that's extremely simple, was born from the fact that I didn't manage to stick to free flow journaling. And since my iOS guest ceremonies, I've been journaling every morning. Free flow journaling. Pages and pages. Not always. Sometimes it's just a few paragraphs, but I'm writing every morning and I get actual pleasure from it. It's actually something I look forward to, which I never managed to create before.

Jonny Miller [00:24:06]:

That's amazing. Is that like a morning page practice where you're just kind of like letting it rip. Like free flow consciousness.

Anne Laure [00:24:12]:

Yeah, it's just uncensored. Exactly. I don't try necessary like the morning pages to get to a certain number of pages. So sometimes really it's just one paragraph. If I have nothing else that I want to write about that day, but it's become a ritual. I make a cup of coffee and I sit down and I open my journal and then I see whatever is on my mind and I put it on paper.

Jonny Miller [00:24:34]:

Beautiful. So I'm curious to dig into the ceremony a little bit more and I imagine probably the majority of listeners haven't taken part in an ayahuasca ceremony. What were some of your fears and hesitations as you were going into it and what was the actual ceremony like for you? What was your experience?

Anne Laure [00:25:04]:

My fear was, which I think is pretty common, I had heard that everyone was getting terribly sick one day and so yeah, no one likes that in general, but I personally particularly hate vomiting and so it's something that I really hate more than people. It's not unpleasant, it's something I actually fear. So that was my main fear, which is not necessarily the big psychological or philosophical one that you would expect, but for me that was that. And also before my ceremonies, we were told old. So as I said, I started journaling again because we were told for the data to spend a few weeks with ourselves as much as possible and to try to incorporate some sort of mindfulness practice into our days. So I've never really managed to stick with meditation. It's something I do a few times a month and I never managed to stick to. But I remember that I really enjoyed journaling when I was younger, so I picked that. And you're supposed to kind of think about your intention for the ceremonies. And so I dutifully wrote every day, several times a days. I was taking my notebook with me everywhere I was on the train, I was writing for a few weeks trying to figure out what is my intention. And I could not figure out what my intention was. The closest I managed to get was just I just want to show better in my mind and in my body and that's it. But I didn't have anything more precise than that. So when I showed up at the retreat center, we all had individual conversations with the Corondero, which is the person leading the ceremonies to discuss our intentions. And I almost felt like the bad student who showed up was there. My dog ate my homework. I'm sorry, I didn't so I told him, I'm sorry. I told him I wrote every day, I did what you said and I don't know. And I told him I think my only intention is to feel better. And he was like, that's a great intention, that's perfect. You don't have to have anything more precise than this. And Aya, as they call her, will take care of the rest. So don't worry. What's important is that you did do the work before coming and that's it. If that's the conclusion, that's it. And I also told him that I stopped drinking for those few weeks before the ceremony. So it was amazing for me, it was already seeing beneficial effects even before going into the ceremonies, I was already sleeping better, my mind was clearer, my stress levels were down, I was excited, scared of being sick, but excited, bit nervous. And what was really interesting so for listeners who have never done an Ayahuasca ceremony, I'm just going to share what he told us before the ceremony is because I thought that was fascinating. So he told us that anyone who takes Ayahuasca will experience five different effects. And you can either experience just one of them at the time, you can experience them in combination. You can experience only two or three of them, but not all of them. So out of those five effects, he said, so four of them, it's a gamble, you have no idea. And even for the same person across different ceremonies, that may vary. And then there's the one last effect that everyone is going to have. So the first four were visual. So you can have visual effects, hallucinations, that can happen either with your eyes opened or your eyes closed, or both, or no visual effects. They can be cognitive in the sense that you're going to think in ways that you've never thought before, making connections between ideas and experiences and your past and your future in a way that your mind has never managed to do before. And so that those are cognitive effects or mental effects. The third one is physical. So it's very common, for example, to fill maybe some old wounds that start kind of almost flaring up again, that you can feel, even though you're completely healed, as if you experience physically the memory of the wound. Again, you can have some discomfort in some places in your body and joints, in your stomach and your loin. Or sometimes you can also feel very relaxed, completely relaxed, like your marshmallow, you can't move, et cetera. And then the fourth one is emotional. That's crying, for example. Very common to cry a lot. That can be laughing, which happened during my ceremony. Someone was really laughing a lot, they were having a great time. And that can be feelings of anger as well, that come back, et cetera. So those are the first four ones that you can again experience either in isolation or in combination. And then the fourth one that everyone experiences is purging, which can take different forms. And so that can be vomiting. The one I was very scared of, that can be diarrhea, but that can also be tears, not the same ones as the ones from the emotional effect because you can have just tears, just not feeling anything but tears rolling on your face. And yawning is also a different one. And sometimes laughing can also be considered a purging, a way of purging. Even if you don't necessarily feel like anything is funny, you'll just start laughing. So anyway, that was the explanation that we got before the ceremony, which I think was very helpful for me and hopefully is helpful for people considering going to a ceremony. And that was it. Then we went into our first ceremonies. I was told that Aya always gives you what you need, not necessarily what you want. So I try to go in there with an open mind, with my intention of just feeling better and without going into every single little detail. I just remember that at the beginning it took a little bit of time to take effect. And because I have experimented in the past with Psytocybin and LSD, I had the very naive thought at the time that Ayahuasca would not work on me, that I had too much experience with psychedelics, which makes me laugh now. That was very naive. And so I was just waiting and waiting and I took a second cup and then it started happening. I just felt this gentle push on my shoulder as if someone was telling me to lay down and relax, which I did. And I then started seeing lots of code in front of me, like the metrics basically, but in all different directions, all sorts of different colors. And I tried to decipher what it was saying, I tried to understand, to read the characters, but it was going too fast. And I started panicking. And in my head I remember saying stop, you're going too fast. I can't read it, I can't read it. And just almost like starting hyperventilating a little bit. And I remembered what my friend who had recommended Retreat center told me, a mantra that was very helpful. She said, Let go or get dragged, which is so powerful. So I decided to let go. And then all of those lines of code opened like a curtain wow. And let me pass through. And I found myself in a sort of dark place. It's very hard to describe, but it was really full of nothing. It was just dark, it was quiet, but it felt like it had everything in it. It was like the whole universe in one place. And I felt incredibly relaxed and I was like, this is great. If that's what it's like, I'm very happy. This is perfect. That lasted for I don't know how long it lasted, you lose sense of time. But that probably lasted for a few seconds. And then I started feeling sick. So I grabbed my bucket and I really thought I was going to get sick. So they give you a bucket and they give you tissues and everything so you're comfortable if that happens. But. Except of vomiting like I thought I would. I had this silent scream coming out of my mouth, like something that had been deeply buried inside me for a very, very long time. And I was finally coming out. And after that and I'm skipping a few of the less interesting ones, but after that, I started feeling an incredible pain in my stomach. And I sat up and I was crouching and I started crying, probably like I've never cried before in my entire life. And I had those waves of pain going from my stomach, then through my torso, through my throat, and coming out through my mouth as I was crying. All of those waves of pain just coming out of me. And as that was happening, I felt like it was the pain of my mother and the pain of my grandmother and the pain of my great grandmother and the pain of all of the women that had come before me that was passing through me and leaving my body. And as each wave of pain was going through me, it became less and less intense until I stopped crying and it was over. And I felt the most calm, the most sense of sense of ease, of calm, of feeling good inside of my body and inside of my mind that I had ever felt before in my life. So those were the highlights of my ceremony. I had other beautiful moments, other moments where I cried, I stretched a lot, I touched my body, rediscovered some muscles that I didn't even know existed. There were lots of different phases. The ceremony lasts for hours, so there's lots of different episodes. And once it's over, it's really hard to imagine that all of that could happen in such a short amount of time. It's very long and very short at the same time. But those were the highlights.

Jonny Miller [00:36:55]:

Wow. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah, there's so much that I want to unpack here. I think the first thing I want to underscore is just the importance of the preparation and the dieta and what you went through with the journaling and really getting clear about the intention not drinking alcohol. From what I understand, the set and setting is the most powerful, and the set being like, your mental set, your mindset, and the setting being the environment and really doing that prep work ahead of time. It is part of the ceremony in a way. And I think people think they can just turn up for a weekend and have these big revelations. But my sense is that part of the reason you had such a profound shift was all of that kind of deep, intentional work that you did, even though you didn't get it right, you still put in the time, which I think is like an underemphasized piece of this work. And then I suppose the other question I have is, given your pretty deep understanding of neuroscience, of the nervous system, of how the brain works. What the fuck is going on? What do you think actually happened during that that then allowed you to feel this sense of peace? Has this lasted? Because you can certainly take substances where you'll feel great for like 24 hours, but it seems like this has been an enduring shift in your mental well being.

Anne Laure [00:38:27]:

Yeah. So from the neuroscience perspective, as I said, I am really not an expert on that topic. Neuroscience is very vast, and I'm studying a very specific brain electrical current.

Jonny Miller [00:38:41]:


Anne Laure [00:38:45]:

So it's not something that I'm an expert on. But that being said, I have seen some papers and some emerging evidence that some psychedelics increase neuroplasticity. And that may be a factor if you are, as you said, the set and the setting, if you're prepared, if you're safe, if you're guided in that experience, it may be an opportunity to rewire some of the deeply. Ingrained thought patterns and emotional patterns that you may have acquired either in childhood or even later in adulthood, whether it's trauma or whether it's self beliefs that you have. So that is obviously, unfortunately, because of the war on drugs in the US. We've stopped all research for decades on this, and it's only now that we're starting looking at these questions again. But there's very interesting evidence suggesting that the induced neuroplasticity, when you take some psychedelics, may play a big role in terms of inducing this kind of really big change. That very big, profound, personal change that I have experienced. And what's absolutely fascinating, I think, is that it is lasting change. A lot of people who do those ceremonies report seeing some of the effects, like having that change being still visible months after their experience with Ayahuasca, years after their experience with Ayahuasca. And that is certainly my case, and I'm not the only one. I have quite a few friends who also worked with Ayahuasca. And again, it's a lasting change. It doesn't necessarily feel like something like many, unfortunately, pharmaceutical approaches where you're supposed to take the drug every day in order to manage your mood. In this case, a single so called intervention, if you wanted to use the language that they use in clinical studies, has an impact that can last for a very long time. That's absolutely fascinating, and that's something that also suggests that there is actual rewiring going on in your brain.

Jonny Miller [00:41:05]:

Yeah, I love the phrase that your very wise friend gave you of let go or be dragged. And my sense is that this is just my interpretation of the experience. Ayahuasca will increase and amplify the sensations, the traumas that are already there to such a degree that we can either continue resisting them, which is really what we're doing, I think, the whole time to it to an extent, or because they're amplified to such a degree, they're so intense that we can actually let go and surrender into them. And if we have the courage and I think a degree of mindfulness as well, we can really go into the pain and into the hurt, into the heartbreak, into the grief. And I mean, that's certainly been my experience as well, in that the most profound sense of connection and joy and bliss has been on the other side of allowing myself to actually feel the pain that I didn't even know was there. And it sounds like that's kind of what happened to you as well. And it's almost like the Ayahuasca is just a very efficient mechanism for surfacing these incomplete reflexes, these stored emotions that are there, but just bringing them up to the surface to be looked at and felt and let go of.

Anne Laure [00:42:28]:

Yeah. And yeah. Thank you for making that connection with my friend's mantra. Because to build on what you just said, I think something that's really interesting too, is that at least in my case, I've also noticed that I tend to let go of negative thoughts a lot quicker now than I used to. So it's almost as if not only it has helped me deal with past trauma and experiences, but it is also making me more resilient in the sense to what I'm experiencing now and what I will experience in the future. It also has that effect as well.

Jonny Miller [00:43:16]:

That's interesting. So I'm curious, what are some other maybe more subtle shifts that you've noticed in the past, I guess, like nine months or so? And it sounds like there's a theme emerging of I'm almost imagining, like a clenched fist that you had and now you're slowly learning how to let go and be with more ambiguity, less controlling all these things be in the liminality, I guess. Is that true, do you think? Journaling every morning. What are some of the other ripple effects that you've noticed?

Anne Laure [00:43:49]:

Yeah, absolutely. Letting go and living in the liminal and being okay with ambiguity and not knowing and not being in control has definitely been one of the more subtle changes that I've been experiencing. But that's been really profound in terms of impacts on my day to day life and even work. I feel very comfortable now. Just to give you an example, we were supposed to record that episode last week, and I messaged you and I say, I'm not feeling well, let's postpone. And I actually almost didn't work at all last week. Like, almost didn't open my laptop. That would have never happened before. I would have just powered through my illness and even if it felt miserable, deadlines and responsibilities, people waiting for work from me. And last week I was sick and so I messaged everyone that needed to know and I took the week off. It's interesting because this is advice that I've always given to my friends.

Jonny Miller [00:45:00]:

I always told them.

Anne Laure [00:45:05]:

You know, I, you know, always thought, like, my friends who work at at startups, you know, you have sometimes lead big teams where like just reminding them of telling them you're not a neurosurgeon with someone on the operating table, you can take a few days off and nobody's going to die. And that's something that as often we do that. We're very good at giving advice to our friends but not very good at applying it to ourselves. And now I do apply that advice to myself and it's not even something I have to talk myself through or to rationalize. It just feels like the right thing to do. I feel in sync with my body and it feels completely okay. And so not only am able to take the break when I need it, but compared to before, it's not to say that I don't have a little bit of guilt. Sometimes it's not perfect and I don't want to paint a picture that's an exaggeration of reality. But compared to before, I have way less guilt. I'm way more able to actually enjoy the break, focus on recovery until I'm back, I'm ready to be back at work fully instead of trying to kind of make the process faster. So that's a subtle change in mindset, but that has had profound repercussions in the way I manage my time and I live my life in general.

Jonny Miller [00:46:36]:

That's a huge change. And it sounds like you're listening to your body a lot more as well and almost like trusting that as opposed to before, there's a sense of override. And I think it comes back to the numbing piece we were talking about earlier where when we are habitually numbing ourselves, we're just less in tune with the data and feedback that's coming. And so if we are sick, we're like, oh, it's fine, and just keep on cranking through.

Anne Laure [00:47:00]:

And you see that. I was talking with someone a couple of weeks ago and it was very interesting because I recognized myself in them when they were talking about their current situation where they do recovery. But they do recovery. They do it, it's a thing they do. So because it's recovery. They're going to read a book and they're going to drink, like, a specific kind of herbal tea, and they're going to go for a walk, and they're going to do all of these things. And it's this checklist of things that you're supposed to do when you want to take care of your health and take care of your body. But the way they were talking about it, I could hear a disconnect between their mind and their body. They were applying instructions from a cookbook, basically. And and that's what, you know, it, it is, it is funny, but this is what I did for most of my life and I did take breaks. I've been writing about mindful productivity for three years now. So I did do take the breaks, but I was keeping them quite short and focused and I even wrote articles about how to make the most of your breaks. And I look back on these and I'm like, oh, I can now see what was wrong with them. But at the time I didn't. I just thought that that was a great way to take care of my mind and my body. And so now I'm completely okay taking a break and eating some pizza with lots of oil on it, if that's what my body wants. And not going for that walk if that's not what I want necessarily at that moment, because my body will tell me when it's time. And I actually do want to get some fresh air. So, yeah, it's completely different approach now.

Jonny Miller [00:48:57]:

Yeah, I love that. For me, it kind of comes back to and I've talked about this on the podcast a lot, but like, trusting the wisdom of the body, trusting the wisdom of the nervous system and actually listening. And more often than not, the body kind of knows what we need and what we want, and the mind can help. Sometimes it's like, yeah, recruit the mind to help this happen. But it's definitely a lot of deconditioning that needs to happen. So I'd love to segue this into you. Gave a talk in New York recently, I believe, on goals and ambition. And our mutual friend Visa tweeted a quote from you and he said, ambition is about traversing the liminal space from where you are to where you want to be. So I'm super curious to hear more about this and maybe specifically how has your relationship to ambition shifted after this ceremony?

Anne Laure [00:49:56]:

So the reason why I shared that definition in my talk is that I don't think that at its core, ambition necessarily needs to change. We have all of these conversations about what is ambition exactly, and I don't think it has to change. It has unfortunately been associated with seeking money and status and power and all of those kind of like traditional markers of success, but it is just an association that has been created with the way it's been used. But if you go back to its most basic definition, as I said in my talk, it's really just that liminal space between where you are and where you want to be. And then what we can change though, is how do we react to finding ourselves in that liminal space. And this is where what I used to do and what a lot of us still do is that because being in a liminal space, which is uncertain, where you're not quite sure how to cross the chasm, how to get on the other side, what's going to be there, liminal spaces are intrinsically scary. So our instinct is to get out of them as quickly as possible. Let's cross to the other side. And so this is why it's very tempting to climb onto the ladder of linear goals with those step by step recipes that we've discussed a little bit earlier, you and I, because it gives you this illusion of certainty, this illusion of control, of visibility over what's going to come next. It's less scary. The problem with those kinds of linear goals, with those ladders that you climb, is that you'll probably get where you're trying to go, but that's only where you're going to go. You already know the destination, basically. Whereas if you embrace the limital space, if you see it as a playground rather than a very scary environment that you need to get out of as quickly as possible, you can then realize that it's an amazing opportunity. For growth, for learning, for self discovery, even for connection with fellow liminal minds that are navigating that space with you and all trying to figure it out together. And instead of having this linear approach, you can have a more cyclical approach where you can run little experiments. You decide that for the next few months, this is what you want to learn. So you're going to run that little experiment and you disconnect your actions from any sense of success and failure. Because the only goal, the only success is to learn something, whether it's about the world or about yourself. If you learn something through that experiment, just like a scientist who performs an experiment and is not saying like, oh, I succeeded or I failed, they just say, here's the result of the experiment. Here's what we learned. Applying that to your life is such a freeing way to relate to ambition, because then your ambition is to grow, to explore, to play, to connect. It's not to climb a ladder anymore. So those are some of the ideas that I shared in that talk in New York.

Jonny Miller [00:53:31]:

Yeah, I love this, and I can't wait until it's live as well. A couple of things come to mind. One, your definition of ambition being that liminal space between where we are today and where we want to be. I guess the interesting assumption is like, how do you know where you want to be? And I think that many of us are actually disconnected from our deeper longings, our deeper desires, and that the wants that we have are actually just kind of inherited or copied from our parents or from culture. And so maybe what I'm curious about is how is that maybe the orientation or how have your desires and your wants shifted at all? Maybe they're the same. Maybe they're just to keep learning, keep growing, and have this keep living an interesting life.

Anne Laure [00:54:19]:

Yes, and you're right that a lot of those more linear goals that we have when we climb the ladder, they are shaped by fear. Basically, if you go back to all of these, they're all shaped by fear. Fear of not belonging, fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear it's all fear. And so all of these are driven by what society is expecting from us, what we think society is expecting from us. And so being shifting to your mindset. So you embrace that liminal space is really about letting go of those fears. So you actually make room for figuring out what it is exactly that you want and also accepting the fact that you don't necessarily have that one big passion, this one big end goal that you're going to pursue for the rest of your life. What is it you want right now? Where is your curiosity calling you? What is the current path if every moment is a crossroads? Do you want to turn right or to turn left? Those are the only questions you need to ask yourself on a daily basis. And you can do experiments, as I said, for a few months. And then once you feel like you've learned enough, you can go on to the next one and keep on growing this way. And when you look back, actually, you'll realize in the same way that we were saying, looking back five years later and say, wow, so that's all I accomplished. So you do end up accomplishing a lot actually, when you do this. But the difference is that you're not following this perfectly drawn map in front of you that tells you exactly what is the next step that you need to take.

Jonny Miller [00:56:19]:

Yeah, I love that. I love that so much. The other thing that came to mind is I remember watching a YouTube video on I think it was like Stories of Old, which is a fantastic YouTube channel. And he talked about the difference between liminal spaces versus limonoid spaces. And I think his definition of liminal was something around. I might be bringing my interpretation here, but the fertile void, it's like this fertile uncertainty that leads to something unknown. And the classic example is like the caterpillar that then creates a cocoon and a chrysalis and literally dissolves into mush. Like it literally just goes gooey and then somehow through imaginal cells creates a butterfly. And I think that's kind of similar to what you're maybe a more intense version of what you're describing here. And whereas liminoid is there's a sense of resistance to that space. It's not held, it's not sacred, it's like resisted. And the liminoid can be it's not generative in the way that the liminal is generative. And it feels like that relates to this process as well. Coming back to the metaphor of the caterpillar and butterfly, I think that's kind of what's happening. Like we are on micro and maybe macro scales. We're kind of the caterpillar constantly turning into goo and then coming out as a butterfly. On the other side, a big example might be your ayahuasca journey and there's maybe daily or weekly examples as well. But I think it's more beautiful way to live in a way that's the kind of the world that at least I want to live in.

Anne Laure [00:58:00]:

Yes. And when you think about it, life itself is a liminal space. Between your birth and your death.

Jonny Miller [00:58:10]:


Anne Laure [00:58:13]:

And this is something you can't change. It's just the way it is, and so you may as well embrace it instead of resisting it.

Jonny Miller [00:58:22]:

Yeah, right.

Anne Laure [00:58:28]:

I went quite philosophical here.

Jonny Miller [00:58:30]:

No, that's great. I mean, you could say that maybe death as well is a liminal space, even less even less aware of. So maybe to kind of help bring this down to earth for listeners. Something that you wrote about as well is instead of progressing on this linear scale that I think is very common in our culture, up and to the right, like hockey stick graphs. You talked about cyclical goals, and I think growth loops. Was the process that you spoke to. So what is a growth loop and what is an example of a growth loop that you've designed in your life?

Anne Laure [00:59:08]:

Yeah, so a growth loop is very simple. You just need to commit to an action and then monitor your progress and then reflect on the results. And you'll probably recognize that it is inspired by the scientific method. But really, this is the way nature works in general, going through the cycles of experimentation that are not as polished, obviously, as this. But what nature does is running little experiments, seeing what works, what doesn't, and then discarding what doesn't, and keeping what works. And so it's very similar to if you like cooking, you already do that in one part of your life. When you're making a dish, you add some ingredients, some spices, you taste it, and then, depending on how that tastes, you decide in future recipes to keep that change or not keep it, basically, if that was better or not. And so that's basically a growth loop. And it's like how at every iteration, you add a layer of learning because you tweaked something in the previous iteration and you decide whether you're going to keep that or not. And I've gone through several of these writing. For me, for example, I've gone through several of these loops. My very first loop with NestLabs, my very first experiment, was writing 100 articles in 100 days, more exactly weekdays, because I wanted to have my weekends off. So that was one experiment. And I learned so much that was absolutely amazing. This provided me with the foundation of everything that I do today because this is how I started connecting with people online and kind of finding my tribe. But it was obviously not sustainable. So I kept the writing part, but I tweaked the frequency after that. Then I wrote three articles every week and then again became unsustainable. And then I did two articles every week. And now in my current cycle of experimentation, I only write one article every week. And I have hired another writer who writes the second one under their own name. So it's very clear for readers who wrote which article in the newsletter. So that's the current cycle. And this writer just told me that she's going to move on. And because she was hired for a very big contract by another company, she's amazing. I'm super excited for her. So now I have to decide, what is the next cycle going to look like? Do I just replace this person with someone else, or and this is what I'm going to do, do I use this opportunity, finding myself in this unplanned moment of uncertainty to reimagine what my newsletter looks like, what my writing schedule looks like, what the reading experience looks like for people who receive the Nest Labs newsletter. So using that uncertainty as a catalyst for creativity, for thinking in a different way about the things that I've been doing for years now. So that's an example of cycle that I have. Another one is with academic research. So, as I told you, I went through that first cycle where I was like, I'm going to do a master's degree, going back to school. And that was great. I loved it. So I decided to add another layer to that cycle. Exactly.

Jonny Miller [01:02:51]:

That's a big race.

Anne Laure [01:02:53]:

Exactly. But I could have stopped also and say, that was a great growth loop, and I'm done with this one. So I decided to go do another loop around it with the PhD. And then once I'm done with the PhD, there are several options. What's the next layer? Or do I stop? And what I'm starting to gather from my experience is that I love doing research and I love asking those questions and exploring those ideas, but I don't think I want to stay in academia after my PhD. And so again, I'm starting to think about what is that next loop going to look like? How can I do the things I love without having to actually stay and work in an environment that I don't think is the right environment for me? And so I'm asking myself lots of different questions. What does it look like to set up an independent lab where maybe we can all study neuroscience with my friends who are interested in this topic, or what does that look like? So every time that I go through another loop, what I really like is that I just take the basis of the previous loop. I don't feel like I'm starting from scratch. And I just ask myself, what do I tweak? What are the parts that I want to keep and what are the parts that I want to discard?

Jonny Miller [01:04:12]:

I absolutely love that. Also, count me in for coming in and being an intern in your lab at some point. Yeah, I also live a similar way. I think that's how I've designed my projects and experiments in life as well. I think that the question that came to mind. You mentioned the metaphor of a chef who tastes a recipe halfway through, and they're like, that tastes good, or that tastes delicious or that doesn't, and that's like, how they orient. And I'm curious, and I'm curious in myself for this as well. But what's your compass, what's your orientation for making those tweaks? For me, it's often like a sense of aliveness, expansiveness, like fun, honestly, sometimes because I think that's where the rubber meets the road. What is driving those tweaks in you? Which part of you is deciding which experiments to keep going with or get bigger and which ones to discard?

Anne Laure [01:05:16]:

That question is exactly why? Metacognition, self reflection and whatever tool that you use to stay in touch with your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions is so important to incorporate when you work with growth groups because you really need to understand how that experiment is affecting you and you really need to do that in a proactive manner. Just to give you another example of a loop that didn't work out at all for me, I started a YouTube channel and I did that for a few months and I managed every week to publish my weekly video. But every week I was dreading it. I was dreading having to sit in front of that camera and having to figure out how I was going to present how editing it and making sure it looked good. And I kept looking at other videos of other YouTubers that always looked so much better than mine and I had this comparison anxiety going on. It was really not fun. And so that's what was interesting, is that if you just look at the results in terms of have you achieved the outcome that you wanted to have? So yes, I did publish all of my videos every week. The channel was growing. So if you just look at those metrics, technically that experiment was successful. But growth groups are not about just that, they're also about how it feels to do the experiment. For me, it didn't feel good, so I stopped. And so I haven't published any YouTube videos in a very long time because that was not something that was bringing me joy. And now I'm thinking again about and I started very recently actually asking myself the question because at the time it was just like I don't know why I had such resistance, but I just noticed the resistance and I stopped. And now I felt ready again to try and consider why did I feel this resistance? And so I'm trying to think, what would another version of this loop look like? What were the things that were getting in the way? And so for example, I'm considering taking public speaking coaching for example, because I feel like Wordly, I'm very comfortable on podcasts where I feel like I'm having a conversation with someone, but you just put me in front of a camera with nobody else in the room and just looking at this device and I'm deeply uncomfortable. So I'm like, okay, are there people who can teach me how to become more comfortable with this. And is it about my setup? Does it need to be more comfortable instead of every time having to set up everything, and that in itself was a source of anxiety, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it's also completely okay to, when you go through that metacognitive practice, to know that sometimes the answer is keep going, that things are going great. Sometimes it's tweaking things for the next iteration, but also sometimes stopping either indefinitely or even sometimes just for a very long time, stopping the experiment because it doesn't feel right right now is also completely okay.

Jonny Miller [01:08:43]:

Yeah, I love that. And incidentally, I share the exact same thing. I'll sometimes imagine there's, like, a group of strangers behind the camera lens. I'm talking to these imaginary people. Yeah, I really resonate with that. And I think it's a really good point that sometimes, even though we might know there's, like, a specific piece that we have resistance to, it's also okay to just completely switch if that's what feels right. And then maybe, as it sounds like you're doing down the line, you get more analytical or reflective of, like, what was the specific component that you had resistance to? Like, for me, I'd imagine it would be like the editing process or all of the admin faf around it that would just suck the joy out of me. And so I'd be like, well, maybe I could commit to a YouTube channel if all of that was taken care of. And it's like, okay, well, maybe that's doable. Yes, I love that. All right, well, I'd love to ask you I have five rapid fire questions, and then I think we'll begin to wrap up. How does that sound?

Anne Laure [01:09:40]:

Yes. Let's do it.

Jonny Miller [01:09:41]:

Awesome. Okay, question number one. What is something that you suspect is true but have no proof for.

Anne Laure [01:09:55]:

That? I don't know if there's your proof of this, but I feel like plants and trees have personalities.

Jonny Miller [01:10:09]:

The Secret Life of Trees.

Anne Laure [01:10:10]:

I know it's a weird one.

Jonny Miller [01:10:11]:


Anne Laure [01:10:12]:

But no, I read it.

Jonny Miller [01:10:14]:


Anne Laure [01:10:15]:

I read it, but I don't think it talks about personality. It talks about a lot of other things. Communication, et cetera, not personality. But I do feel I have some favorite trees and I do feel like they have a personality.

Jonny Miller [01:10:27]:

That's amazing. That's brilliant. Okay, what is one question or practice for self exploration that you might share with our listeners?

Anne Laure [01:10:43]:

Oh, it's something I discovered on TikTok recently, actually. So there's this filter that has been very popular and that changes your face to what you supposedly looked like as a teenager. And obviously it doesn't look like exactly what you looked like, but so it's just imagine what a younger version of yourself was. And there were lots of videos of people crying because seeing this younger version of themselves gave them an opportunity to tell them everything that they wish they could have told them at the time, telling them that it's going to be all right. Telling them that they're beautiful and telling them all of these things, it's not something I've tried because I've just discovered that literally a few days ago. But I just feel like that could be a really interesting practice, a really interesting exercise of maybe just writing to your younger self or recording if you're not into writing, recording a little video to your younger self and telling them everything that you wish someone had told you at the time.

Jonny Miller [01:11:54]:

That's beautiful. I just got it's got chills listening to that. And also, what a beautiful use of what is typically like, demonized as, like, the worst of the addictive social media platforms. That's a really beautiful use of TikTok. Wow. Okay, question number three. What is your favorite mental model in this moment?

Anne Laure [01:12:22]:

I think it's is it Hannah's razor or O'ken's razor? I think it's Hannah's razor. I always confuse them. The one that is do not attribute to malice what could be attributed to stupidity.

Jonny Miller [01:12:38]:

Yeah, I think that's the former.

Anne Laure [01:12:41]:

One of the Razors, and I always confuse them. So, yeah, that's the one. It really helps me not get angry at people sometimes.

Jonny Miller [01:12:53]:

Nice. Yeah, I think of that as like, make generous assumptions to the extent possible. That's beautiful. What is one interesting neuroscience fact that not many people know about that you think is interesting?

Anne Laure [01:13:11]:

I discovered recently that there's a part of the brain called the telomus that is activated when you're in high situations of uncertainty, and so when you don't know what decisions you should take, when it feels a little bit risky to make a mistake, et cetera. And what I find really interesting is that when I studied the telemas in my master's degree, the teacher described it as the crossroad of the brain because it's a part of the brain that integrates lots of information from different parts. And so I really loved discovering that the crossroad of the brain is also the part that one of the parts obviously it's a bit more complex than that, but one of the parts that deals with uncertainty.

Jonny Miller [01:13:59]:

What is your greatest Aspiration for Nest Labs in the coming months or years?

Anne Laure [01:14:08]:

In the coming month, it's training my team to be fully independent, and I definitely think that we'll get there. It's not even going to be that hard because they're super smart and I'm so lucky. But I had a few newcomers new joiners, and so they have to learn everything, but they're learning super fast. And that's my biggest Aspiration to have. It's a very small team, but mighty team that can manage most of the operations, so I can focus on the writing.

Jonny Miller [01:14:51]:

Amazing. Well, this has been so much fun. Thank you so much for this. Where can listeners learn more about you, about NestLabs? Read your essays. What are some links that people can follow?

Anne Laure [01:15:06]:

The easiest is to go to just, and if you go to newsletter, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter, where I send an essay every week about some of the topics that we've just discussed today.

Jonny Miller [01:15:25]:

The one last week was on the Science of Curiosity, which I freaking loved. It was great.

Anne Laure [01:15:31]:

Oh, thank you. I really like writing that one. Yeah. And I'm not sharing my Twitter account because I created that handle when I was a teenager, and it's impossible to spell. So I assume you can put the link in the show notes and you all can click on it.

Jonny Miller [01:15:50]:

Yeah, the link will definitely be in the show notes. Thank you. Okay, well, I'd like to close with this line from Brilque, and this is actually very appropriate. He said, Try to love the questions themselves and live them. Now perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer. With that in mind, what is the question that is most alive in your consciousness right now, and what question might you leave our listeners with.

Anne Laure [01:16:27]:

Right now? It would be, how can I be the best friend and family member for the people that I love?

Jonny Miller [01:16:43]:

Beautiful. Well, we will wrap the show with that. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Anne Laure [01:16:48]:

Thank you so much, Joni. It was great.

Jonny Miller [01:16:51]:

All right, take care.

Creators and Guests

Jabriel Alsuhaimi
Jabriel Alsuhaimi
Musician, podcaster and digital creative on a journey to better myself, and the people around me through creativity and constant learning.
Growth Loops, Fertile Uncertainty & Ayahuasca Revelations with Anne-Laure Le Cunff
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