by Kirk Souder
This week’s guest post originally appeared on Medium on December 31, 2022. The author, Kirk Souder, wrote it less than three weeks after above-knee amputation of his left leg. When he offered it share his writing with Amplitude, we enthusiastically accepted the offer. To find the original post and to read more of Kirk’s musings on leadership, spirituality, and the human experience, visit his website at kirksouder.co.
On Monday, December 12, at approximately 8:45 a.m., I sat with two masterful surgeons and convinced them it was time to amputate my left leg. On Thursday, December 15, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., they performed the task with the utmost care and diligence.
At this point, when hearing the “a-word”, it is reflexive, given our conditioning, to instantly go into the negative realm and mental constructs like “tragedy”, “horrible loss,” and “I’d-rather-die.” But for me, the truth of it is that this choice, as was my intention, has given me my greatest victory, freedom, and a profound invigoration of my calling.
Years ago, I could have never imagined actually arguing for the amputation of a limb. But that was before years of inner work and a major mindset shift enabled me to not fall into the trap that so many do—that dooms them to an endless Groundhog Day in a default purgatory of experience.
I will explain in a moment. But first, a very important context and understanding.
Cutting Away the Ballast
It’s my calling to help leaders move into their higher gear of creation. Given the much bigger scale, impact, and possibility that frequently defines the new summit they seek, there is a necessary shift from an old mode of creation to an entirely new one. Third gear was a trustworthy means to make progress for many years, but where we now go creates an elegant forcing function to reach into the unknown toward a fourth gear of exponentially greater possibility. It is frequently a move from force to flow, from coercion to collaboration, from “I-have-to-figure-this-out” to Co-creation, from deliberation to allowing, from exclusion to radical inclusion, from trusting sacrifice to trusting joy.
Here is the key: Counterintuitively, this shift is defined and catalyzed as much by the cutting away of the ballast of old conditioning and limiting personal beliefs, as the often preferred adoption of new modes of creation and understandings of reality.
The challenging part being that these self-imposed barriers have stealthily moved from being the thoughts and beliefs they are, to now perceived as law, as truth, as “this-is-truly-how-it-is” (what they actually aren’t). We frequently have no idea how deep this rabbit hole goes. For instance, we have no idea that the upper limit we’ve chosen to buy into of how much joy, impact, finances, ease, etc., we are to have in this life is one of our own construct (it is often so deep and old we don’t even realize we have this upper limit). We have no idea the “rule” around having to choose between purpose and money is one we fabricated or unconsciously adopted to serve our ego’s misguided ideas of what is true to “survive”. We are clueless that another misinterpretation we’ve defaulted to– the kind of success, entrepreneurship, and impact we dream of is one meant for other people– is an absolutely fictitious and vaporous construct. Our innate self is as capable as our mentors, bosses, idols and gurus, yet our egos stubbornly cling to these false limitations. To the ego it’s better to stay in a familiar, small space, than step into an unfamiliar and infinitely huge one.
When these leaders summon the courage to risk a fall for the promise of limitless possibility at the summit, they discover there is actually no falling. There is only a vertigo-inducing lift up to a new aperture of possibility and creation. What helps them make this choice and know what to cut away is the writing of a document, a blueprint (what we call a “living vision”) of the kind of new experience they’d like to create if anything was possible (it is). This becomes a powerfully clarifying new criteria that relentlessly shines a light on all the self-imposed limitations they had made “real”, and initiates the process of one-by-one dismantling them to serve their leap into this bright new world.
My own living vision is the source of the criteria I used to request the amputation of my leg.
Working these process:
- I have seen a global product design lead release beliefs that had created a polarity between a Fortune 500 agenda and positive social impact, and armed with that elevation, evolved products into powerful diversity and inclusion catalysts impacting millions of children.
- I have seen a highly successful real estate entrepreneur bravely let go of capitalism’s 20th century extractive paradigm, and pioneer a 21st century generative paradigm of DAO ownership and governance enabling communities to empower local business and civic agendas and retain wealth.
- I have seen a serial entrepreneur transform their life by cutting away the outdated beliefs of how a “captain of industry” grows businesses, and instead courageously embrace their more authentic artist-mindset and apply this new OS to their businesses with great creative success, and now, with joy.
So, that core postulate having been presented, let’s return back to the choice to part with my lower left limb.
As it frequently does, the universe had been creating a profound forcing function for me to integrate even more deeply the principles that are core to my work with others. More deeply walking the talk.
Prior to that fateful Monday, I had spent what felt like eons in a hell on earth. A suddenly septic artificial knee joint had plunged me into a sterile purgatory of drastic measures, scalpel generated Hail-Marys, and toxic molecules in constant IV drip into my body for two months. For weeks upon weeks I was bed-ridden either at home or in the hospital enduring six major surgeries in as many weeks as the world’s very best tried the very latest, again and again, to save my leg at all costs. On over ten occasions I felt I had passed the very worst only to be met with the next daunting failure and setback. I felt like a big-wave surfer who had wiped out and kept being tossed around in the “washing machine”– to spy some light above, desperately swim up, take a big breath, only to see the next mountain of white water right there and diving down to be tossed around again.
Many of the principles I use with leaders have their foundation in the field of spiritual psychology. Spiritual psychology teaches a process of personal inquiry to transcend ego, connect to our authentic self, our true calling, release the beliefs that hold us back, and thereby create the experience and impact we seek both internally and externally. There are no “negative” experiences in this paradigm. What the world may label “negative” are only experiences that point to an underlying self-limiting belief or judgment of reality that is coming between us and our awakening, joy, and creation. When in the darkest depths of my experience, I embraced this and saw I had been making my experience “wrong” because it was simply not my preference. This was causing my suffering as opposed to the circumstances themselves. I saw that I could fully accept and love what is, that this would not grow the challenges (source of ego’s resistance), but would heal them and give me the peace and elevation to see the way beyond and how to evolve out of out of suffering.
This worked in a huge way: I elevated to a place where I could see that to keep choosing into the direction of trying to save my leg at all costs, of going along with the direction doctors were assuming for me, I was separating more and more from being able to do my calling and what ultimately brings we wonderfully alive. I was instead perpetually sick and constantly reactive to the next wave of health crisis.
I was in pre-op, minutes from surgery #5, discussing strategy with my surgeon, as he outlined the various things he would do depending on what he saw. One scenario would have me bed-ridden for months with my leg in a kind of traction with no knee or femur. From the elevation of accepting and loving it all, and thereby letting go of all attachment, I got very clear:
“Doctor, I respect the hell out of all the brilliant things you’ve done to save my leg and life. But I want you to really hear where I am now: The directive here is no longer saving my leg at all costs, it’s about how to get me back to my life and my calling as quickly as possible. And so I feel we need to put amputation on the table as another vector we can choose to fully serve that.”
He was a little dumbfounded at first, as it is usually he that needs to bring that option forward at some point (his personal calling is called “limb-salvage”, and that is what he is understandably all about). To which I said,
“This is not about limb-salvage– this is about quality-of-life salvage. Anything else does not serve me or my experience.”
With that, he understood.
The Aperture of Possibility
When it comes to creating our next wondrous and amazing human experience, there really is not a big difference between a failing leg and an old vestige behavior, belief system, personal OS, mode of creation, etc. If it is no longer aligned, if outdated, if obsolete, if no longer serving the creation of the new world we seek, it is now an anchor being dragged and stealing energy from the wind blowing into the sail that points to our new world.
Having spent 2.5 months able only to do essentially nothing but lay down with leg elevated attached to an IV, after the amputation freedom blossomed: When it came time to leave the hospital, I actually drove the 1hr ride home. I bolted with crutches anywhere I pleased. I was doing sessions with executives in just a few days and had big, new understandings to aid their ascents. I was having a sudden flow of exciting new ways to bring the transformation of leaders to new levels now that my consciousness was no longer focussed on maintainance of disease. I was experiencing joy and aliveness for the first time in months. Apparently, one does not need a left leg to experience these qualities! Revelation! One of my clients said after a session,
“The session felt to me like the decrease in your bodily volume has made your energy even more concentrated in what remains–it is even more potent.”
One of the post-surgery phenomena I have experienced is a common one in “phantom limb sensation”. The sensation that my leg is still very much there. As I write this, it is hanging over the chair I am on. It is so real that I often still move as if it is there to use. What appears to be happening is that nerve endings in what remains of my left leg are blasting signals and my brain, in an attempt to make sense of them, applies them to the old model of a leg being there. Imagine having a cramp in a calf that isn’t there, or a shoe tightening on a foot that isn’t, etc. Pertinent to the message on this writing is how stubborn our minds actually are, and how inadvertently deceiving they can be in terms of maintaining a belief that no longer serves us. We hang on to so many old systems and beliefs that once seemed to really work for us, or a behavior that came in handy given a threat of environment we had to endure once, but those have long been gone and the behavior now dysfunctional when we really look at it objectively.
I so understand how our brothers and sisters in other species, when stuck in one of our species’ inhuman traps, will chew off their appendage rather than stay stuck. They know that while the future is an unknown without that part of their body, staying attached to it will certainly condemn them to more pain and eventually death.
How blessed am I that I had anesthesia and a whole team of professionals to perform that for me.
I encourage the reader to give their current life direction a good and objective look. I encourage you to embrace that you can actually create anything (I have never seen it fail when embraced and acted on fully!). I encourage you to fill in this sentence: “I would much rather be experiencing/creating/doing xyz right now, but I can’t because _________.” In the blank is the breadcrumbs unveiling old ballast you were convinced was a real barrier, but when given honest interrogation and inquiry, is revealed to be not actually real, but an outdated belief system that can be shed to truly serve the new experience you are here to create.
If it still seems real and intractable, and so not applicable to you, you can ask yourself this question:
“What would I dare let go of first to live my dreams — this seeming barrier to the new experience I want to create and live, or one of my legs?”
If the answer is not one of your legs, congratulations, you have identified an errant piece of code that is not real at all. And you can now cut it away and see your aperture of possibility expand even beyond your dreams.
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“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
— Joseph Campbell