Inspiring Great Healing
Featured Guest: Noah ben Shea
On today’s episode, I talk with Noah benShea, international best-selling author and public speaker who currently serves as the poet philosopher for Foundations Recovery Network, where he works to inspire and empower people in recovery all over the world through words of encouragement.
David Condos: Welcome to another episode of Recovery Unscripted. A podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m your host David Condos and today’s guest is Noah benShea. Noah is an international bestselling author, a renowned public speaker, and currently serves as the poet-philosopher for Foundations Recovery Network, where he works to encourage and empower people in recovery all over the world. His inspirational quotes have been featured by everyone from Starbucks and Costco to Lucky Jeans and PBS television. He’s here today to tell us his story of why he feels called to be a source of strength to others and share just a little bit of that wisdom with us. All right, here’s Noah.
Welcome, we’re here with Noah benShea. Thanks for being with us today, Noah.
Noah: Thank you. It’s nice to be here too.
David: So I thought we’d start by just having you tell us a little bit about your personal story and your journey to becoming a poet-philosopher.
Noah: I’m from a blue collar family in Toronto. I moved from Toronto to the inner city of Los Angeles and back and forth a couple of times as a kid my dad was trying to make a living. I was really blessed to be in a very loving family. And for me excelling academically was my rocket ship out of my circumstance. I was the first person in my family that graduated from high school, let alone from university. I was a dean at UCLA when I was 22 and a fellow in a long-range think tank when I was 30. And been involved in some of the things that are a pretty interesting level early on.
I was raised however and reminded repeatedly that God had not blessed me with these gifts in order for me to get my head deeper down into the trough. And I had a responsibility to do something with these talents. That was for more than the search of vanity and fame and financial success. I felt profoundly blessed in this life because in many ways I found those things. But first I found that my work seems to make a difference to the lives of others.
Every year between Christmas and New Year’s my wife and I like to be in San Francisco. I was listening in a hotel room with the window open and the horns honking down below on a rainy night in San Francisco if you can imagine that. And they were playing the best of the PBS shows from the year before and they were asking Peter Drucker who was a consultant to the chairman of GM and the chairman of General Electric. He said, “What was the first question you always asked them?” He said, “All that was very simple.” So I won’t try to sound like too much Henry Kissinger but Peter Drucker was from Germany, he was an immigrant.
He said, my first question was always, “Do you know what business you’re in?” And for me, it was as if a Zen monk had whacked me with a bamboo stave. And I said to myself, “Noah, do you know what business you’re in?” I’ve been an author, I’ve been bestselling, I’ve been on PBS, a lot of honors. I said, “At the end of the day I’m here to be a source of strength to others.” That’s the business I’m in. Just it warms my heart that I have been blessed to have this work in my lifetime.
David: Absolutely, yes. Then I know you’ve been working with Foundations Recovery Network for a while now.
Noah: Yes. I’ve been involved with Foundations for lack of a better word, the national philosopher for better part of 10 years.
David: Why did you get started working with them? And how do you feel like your personal mission aligns with their mission of creating lifetime relationships for long term recovery?
Noah: Fair question. I’m not in recovery, but everybody who’s dealing with addiction has to at some point be self-witnessing. Because all personal transformation requires self-witnessing. Addiction is emblematic of something else being wrong in your life. In my lifetime work has been trying to work on why we think the way we do, where we get caught, how we get caught, how to get uncaught. As I said I’m not in recovery, but all of us are in recovery because all of us are recovering from who we are, to who we might yet be. We are a–somebody once asked me if I believed in reincarnation? I said, “Yes but I don’t think you have to die to be reincarnated.”
I have witnessed that everybody who is dealing with addiction has at some point because of the shame that is usually attached with it. Has had to lie, be dishonest, to cover from the police, to cover from your wife, to cover from your kids. Consequently, people who are suffering from addiction are very, very good liars. And what they can read is if you are full of beans. If you are not somebody who is being really truly honest with them, they will read through you because they have witnessed this in very close quarters. Working with Foundations Recovery Network and working with the therapists and working with clients providing in any way some thought requires of me, to bring that honesty to my own work.
And I like that calling.
David: In that role with Foundations Recovery Network, you’ve done a variety of things, everything from providing inspiration for the vision of a new treatment center to providing your literal voice and your words to some video. What are some of the favorite things that you remember from your involvement with foundations?
Noah: They always say that what happens to a million people is a statistic and what happens to one person is a heart-wrenching story. The most moving moments for me have been when one person has come up to me. When one person has said something. I heard a girl about 17, 18 years old who stood up and said to me. “I’m afraid, I’ve so disappointed my parents.” She was crying, “I’ve so disappointed my parents.” And I remember saying to her I said, ”You’re not here to meet your parent’s expectations you’re here to meet your expectations.” And she suddenly looked at me and was like it was all a whole new realm of permission.
To me, it’s the one on one and it isn’t just– It’s on the other side, it’s the staff that I’ve met so many great people who have talked to me because inevitably. There is a high proportion of people who are in recovery, who work in the field of addiction. You meet someone who you see is this incredibly wonderful person. And she said to me, Noah, “I’m really glad we had this conversation tonight. 10 years ago this night I was in jail.” And I looked at her. It was impossible for me to fathom that this person 10 years ago would have been in jail.
That is really the amazement of recovery. That the recovery can be so complete that it’s hard for anyone to understand that you could have ever been in that place. I don’t think we get over things. I think we integrate those things in our life. You don’t put them behind you, they’re part of you. They’re integrated into–
David: You build upon them, yes.
Noah: Yes. Or they’re part of your structure, it’s a part of your dialectic in life. You move from this to this and this, each part nurturing the part before. Somebody once said recently if you wanted to make an apple pie from scratch you’d have to recreate the world. Very little begins in the beginning, it begins where it begins, and you’re in that process. For me meeting great people who are on the team, who are trying to direct those who want to talk to me in another way because they feel that– I think people feel when they talk with me they’re in a safe spot from judgment. And not in a safe spot from honesty and love. I think to bring those two in concert is what I’d like to bring to the work I do here.
David: You’ve also interacted with lots of different parts of the FRN family from people who are hands-on in the facilities, to marketing team, to admissions center. Why would you say it’s important to make sure that they’re all motivated and keep them on the same page when it comes to that big picture of helping people?
Noah: The famous mathematician Archimedes, the Greek mathematician Archimedes said, “Give me a lever large enough, and I can move the world.” But he couldn’t figure out where to stand. So I think we all live in a whole system concept. I’m far enough down the road to know that each moment in life is sacred and each encounter in life is sacred, and every person that you connect in that is going to have some impact on somebody else in that world that they play in and a world beyond. Somebody had heard me say earlier that the smallest stone dropped in the widest sea will send radiating circles under shores we will never know.
So there’s all– you cannot judge that if I do this for this person, that’s where it ends. It doesn’t end that way. Years ago Starbucks came to me and took a quote of mine and put it on 30 million Starbucks coffee cups and the quote was, “Do not kiss your children so they will kiss you back but so that they will kiss their children and their children’s children.” When you kiss your child you are kissing your child and your child and your child. Any place you take a step into this family you’re making terms. If I talk to somebody in the call center at Foundations Recovery Network I remind them there are lifeguards. Somebody is calling is drowning.
If that person who is drowning gets somebody on the phone who says, “I can save your life. I can help you save your life.” And they’ve been inspired by me in some way. I’m honored by– It’s important to remember in the book of Genesis in the first God blows into the red earth and creates the first person. The word red in Hebrew is Saddam that’s why the first man was named Adam after the word. So the first person was inspired means to be literally filled with breath. Right? But since you can’t take a breath without releasing a breath then the very first breath that was ever breathed into someone has been released and rebreathed by somebody else and released again.
So we are all inspired by the first breath that was there and we are all conspiring which means breathing together. Conspiring which means when people using the word when people are conspiracy, plotting something but it literally means they were close enough to breathe together. So I’d like to feel that I’m inspirational but I witnessed that I have been inspired and my responsibility is to be conspiring to breathe with others.
David: Yes and passing it on. Like-
David: -you’re saying as the ripple spread it goes into this network to this network and you never know where it’s going to go.
Noah: Yes. They used to ask the masters how they could ride their horse without holding on. And they say, “Ride it in the direction it’s going.” Right? So you ride, if you do something with caring and with love, just put it out there. Just put it out there. You’re not in charge of where it’s supposed to go and don’t presume where it’s going to end. All rivers run to the sea. I do remember there was a great, great teacher and a grandson of the, we call him The Baal Shem Tov, who said, “This world is a very narrow bridge but you shall not be afraid.”
I have no memory of where I was before I got here. I may have assumptions about where I’m going afterwards, but in this moment I shall not be afraid. I’m going to be in this moment as fully, as honestly and as loving as I can be in this brief life. Life is brief. “Troppo breve,” too brief. I can’t give any more dignity to my life than to be alive honestly and loving in this moment and I can’t give any more importance to anybody else’s moment than to deal with them with the same honesty and loving. Because honesty without love is brutality. Love without honesty is a sham.
That’s what I wondered when I wake up in the morning and say, “What are my marching orders?” These are my marching orders and some of you ask me what I do, my wife laughs. She says “Well, if Noah’s asked to come and talk to the senior executives of Gap or Old Navy or Starbucks, he gets very, very well-compensated to do it.” She said, “But if you’ll meet him on the airplane he’ll tell you the same thing for free.”
Noah: Because that’s just who I am. I have no meter on it–
David: That’s just who you are.
Noah: If I have a nine to five and five to nine they’re a different life, I believe to be in different lives. I would be a successful schizophrenic. All private deceit becomes public deceit. Any lie you tell yourself will eventually become a public lie. And you owe respect is for self-respect.
David: I also did want to touch on the books that you just came out with Great Recovery Quotes and Stories. A couple quotes here David Sheff says, “It’s just what the doctor ordered for this new disorienting year.” And ARISE Intervention founder Judith Landau called them “A rare combination of wisdom and delight.” Could you tell us more about these books and why you were motivated to put them together?
Noah: We have in this very, very fast moving world, we have a diminished attention span and I’m somebody who was born in some ways with that. So from early on, I have always remembered quotes. I can’t sometimes find where my car is but I remember quotes and I’ve always written that way. And my parents, even with limited education experience always– I remember my mother saying, “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.” When I was young and feeding that.
I thought that if I could try and capture ideas about hope and faith and patience and perseverance and give people that in a one line bite that they could take. One line that they could, “I’ll take this” or “I’ll take this,” it’s like something blocking. Then post to each of the quotes with the story and some way if somebody who was struggling to heal or was struggling in the role as a healer. If I could put that together in a way that people could open the book at any page at any moment and find something that might flip on the light in some way then the world would be a little bit less in the dark.
And the response the people who are leaders in this field have been very kind and their remarks and for me, it’s deeply, deeply honoring. These were the 24th and 25th books that I have written. The feedback from people has been great. Years ago I was talking in someplace and somebody said, “Noah, I’ll always remember what you said.”
I said, “20 years from now you’ll tell some kid, 20 years ago I met this guy, I can’t remember whether his name was Noah or Moses but,” I said, “It doesn’t matter what my name is, what matters is if you remember the thought. Remember the idea.” I think there’s some good thoughts were thinking, “I’ve spent a lifetime trying to, trying to do that.”
David: Well, I want to close with this last question. You spent a lot of years motivating and inspiring people from all walks of life all over the world. What is special to you about doing that in this space of addiction recovery, mental health both among those in recovery and those in the helping profession?
Noah: The poet E.E. Cummings said, “The good in life is always done in once.” When I was attending a conference at the Del Coronado that a Foundation Recovery Network has in the spring, I was going up to the room and there was a guy pushing a cart with my luggage in it. He saw some books of mine on the cart they were taking. They want me to sign for that and he looked and he’s pushing the cart and he said, “18 years.” I said, “18 years?” “18 years sober, thanks for what you’re doing.” That’s why I’m doing it. The smallest stone dropped in the widest sea was sent radiating circles onto shores we will never know.
There are some companies who have taken thoughts of mine and put them on some different things. There’s a guy who was sitting some place, a truck driver maybe, at eleven o’clock at night. Maybe battling alcoholism, maybe in a divorce, feeling very despairing. Who shaking down a sugar packet that’s got happens to have a quote of mine on it. And he’s shaking down a sugar packet and it says, “No one has ever found their way who has not felt lost.”
For one more moment, this guy felt a little less alone, a little less isolated and he didn’t know me and he didn’t send me a thank you note. I just know that somewhere there’s a vibration out there that there were maybe in some way we’ve made this world a little bit better. If you can pass this way in your lifetime particularly if your life has been blessed as mine has in so many ways. For which I am deeply grateful and I’d like to think in some small way the world might be a little better place for my having a walk down this road.
David: Well, excellent. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today and share all that.
Noah: Thank you too. Thank you very much for what you’re doing helping to share this voice.
David: All right. Thank you, Noah.
David: Thanks again to Noah for being with us today. Now I’m happy to welcome Will Hart back to the show. As you may remember, Will joined us last month to introduce the Life Challenge program which is the aftercare support network for those who have attended Foundations Recovery Network treatment centers and anyone else who wants to accept the challenge of living a life in recovery. Last month’s challenge was to go out of your way to brighten someone’s day and Will’s back today to unveil the new LC challenge for this month. All right, welcome Will.
Will Hart: Hey. How are you doing?
David: I’m doing all right. How are you?
Will: I’m good.
David: So what challenge do you have for us today?
Will: Well, this month we felt that Stay Inspired would be the perfect challenge to go right along with the rest of the podcast.
David: Yes. I know Noah benShea was very inspirational as a big part of what he does. So sounds that fits right in.
Will: Yes. Everyone draws inspiration from somewhere. Whether you see someone jogging down the street and you get inspired to go get in shape yourself. Or even go on to a meeting and somebody’s getting a three-year chip, a five-year chip or one-year chip. Whatever that may be to better yourself and just keep moving forward.
David: Yes. Keep you going.
Will: We’d love to hear on what inspires you so if you feel up to it and want to submit a bragging right. Show us what inspires you or just give us a call. All our numbers are on the website at lcaccepted.com and we’d love to hear from you.
David: And so those bragging rights is kind of a photo or some kind of representation of how someone is choosing to live out this challenge?
Will: Yes, we have everything on there. We have a guy skydiving.
We have a person get in their cake for hitting their one year. I mean, just a little bit of everything. They’re all there to inspire all our other members out there to continue their success in recovering.
David: Now, that’s what I was going to say. I imagine the bragging rights are a whole part of that inspirational cycle of seeing what other people are out there doing.
Will: Yes, absolutely.
David: All right. Well, thanks for being with us and we’ll see you again next month.
Will: Sounds good. Thanks for having me.
David: This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. Today, we heard from poet-philosopher Noah benShea. For more about Noah’s work, visit noahbenshea.com. If you’d like to talk with someone from Foundations Recovery Network about finding help for yourself or a loved one, please call 615-490-9376. Thanks for listening. See you next time.