Akshay is a United States Marine veteran, speaker, entrepreneur, ultra runner and author. He served in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. His book Fearvana was endorsed by the Dalai Lama and Jack Canfield.
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Akshay Nanavati is fearless. That’s what it takes to ask the Dalai Lama to write the foreword to your book — and agree.
Speaking to Steve Sims on the Art of Making Things Happen podcast, Nanavati explains how he got to a point of fearlessness. Born in India, Nanavati moves to the United States at 13. “Soon after moving here, I got very heavily into drugs, into alcohol. I used to do a lot of dangerous things and sometimes I wonder how I made it out,” explains Nanavati. It was the film Black Hawk Down that “planted the seed that changed [his] life.” Says Nanavati, “I watched that movie and almost overnight, stopped doing drugs and decided to join the military.”
“What changed me about watching that movie,” says Nanavati, “was watching men sacrifice their lives and give up their lives for another human being… Just watching that was unbelievable. I mean, what kind of human beings would do that?”
Being post-9/11, it was nearly inevitable Nanavati would be sent to war. And he was. “In 2007, I was deployed to Iraq as an infantry noncommissioned officer. And I was sent to Iraq for seven months… One of my jobs was to walk in front of vehicle convoys looking for bombs before they could be used to kill me and my fellow Marine.” It was a dangerous and profound experience that taught Nanavati to find “inner peace even in the face of external war.”
Nanavati found it hard to re-adjust to life back in America, experiencing post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt. Says Nanavati, “I was drinking myself stupid. I used to drink a liter of vodka a day, just drink until I wake up, pass out, keep drinking… And one morning I was on the brink of suicide.” That moment was a trigger for change. “I started down this road of research to figure out what was going on and how to heal myself.”
Nanavati discovered that what he was experiencing was a natural response to war, not a disorder. “One of the most important things I learned was we are not our thoughts, our feelings, and our experiences… So letting go of the judgment, letting go of the label, letting go of the self identity to these things and realizing that who we are is something beyond that and we can choose who we want to be outside of those things was a game changer.”
Nanavati realized he needed to share these realizations with others. “I am by no means the only person that’s suffered,” says Nanavati. “I’ve come to learn that the single greatest problem, the greatest problem in the human condition is our negative relationship to suffering.” Nanavati created the concept of fearvana, a combination of fear and Nirvana, “to combat this demonization of fear.” And then he wrote a book on it. Explains Nanavati, “Fearvana is the idea of smiling in the face of suffering so you can live a happier and more meaningful life.”
Even more impressively, Nanavati chose to donate 100% of the book’s proceeds to charity. Explains Nanavati, “The idea is that the book helps those who have that luxury to pursue their own path and find their meaning… And then the profits go to help those who don’t even have the luxury to choose their own worthy struggle, but are forced into essentially conditions of slavery.”
Nanavati’s final words of wisdom? “In order to get more out of life, in order to have more, to be more… you’re going to have to do things you’ve never done before. And that means taking a risk and with risk comes fear. So don’t expect life to be easy. Don’t fall into this trap of feeling like you should be fearless, that your life shouldn’t be stressful… So embrace the suck. It will be hard, but that’s the most beautiful thing you can possibly imagine… If you seek out hard, your life will be easier as a result.”
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