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Jochen Frey, 55: In An Instant My Life Changed

He had been meditating as usual, when suddenly all his perceptions shifted. He had no idea what happened, but from that moment on, nothing was the same. The software engineer, husband, and athlete made a shift in the work he was doing and is now working to help others bring amazing things to fruition.

For most of us, changing life direction happens slowly as we we learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Rarely is it a lightning strike of enlightenment. But that is exactly what happened to this very rational software engineer while he was doing his normal daily meditation. Boom, and his whole world view expanded.

jochen frey

How old are you?
I am 55.

Where are you from?
I was born in the southwest of Germany in a small town.

Where are you living?
I currently live in San Francisco after having spent 2 years in Boston and 2 years in Los Angeles.

Describe the time you were meditating and you experienced a perception change.
It must have been in 2017 or 2018. I had fairly recently established a meditation practice to deal with the stress in my startup. It was about 40 minutes into a mindfulness meditation, focusing on my breath, when all of a sudden everything in my perception shifted. Where for the previous 45 years there had only been the familiar sensation of breathing, my body, and my thoughts, there all of a sudden was a vast, clear, beautiful black space in which my feelings and emotions visually appeared as beautiful colors floating in that vast space. Everything else had disappeared. After a few minutes, I came back to the real world, sitting on my chair as I opened my eyes. 

How did that affect your life, your relationships, your ambitions?
Well, my world had changed yet the world was still the same. In the beginning, I was wondering if it was a fluke even though it was so clear when it happened the first time. But it turned out that I was able to repeat the process and have similar experiences, so I started digging in. I tried talking to people about it, initially meditation teachers from the meditation app I was using at the time (10% Happier), but didn’t get answers. It took me a while longer to find sources that gave me ideas, including books about buddhism but also descriptions of experiences with psychedelics.

jochen frey

“I would say that the biggest change was that I started valuing my internal experience more and more”

So, I went really deep in my research and learned as much as I could about states of consciousness and how to achieve them without venturing much deeper into different practices. In hindsight, I would say that the biggest change was that I started valuing my internal experience more and more. That was a big change for me since, as an engineer, I had been trained to value the shared external experience we all have in daily life almost exclusively. Now I began to understand that my internal experience of emotions, feelings, and intuitions is as rich, if not richer, than the shared experience of the world around us that we communicate about. And as a result, I started trusting my own experience and my own feelings more and more. This is a process which, now 5 years later, is still progressing, but that was the beginning. And ever since, my life has been changing since I’m making different choices as to who to spend time with, how to spend my time and, of course, what I choose to work on.

jochen frey

How long had you been meditating prior to this and what style were you practicing?
I believe I had been actively meditating for about a year, but probably less. I had gone through a couple of meditation apps, namely Headspace and then 10% Happier, which were the early options at the time. There’s a whole list of them now and my current favorite would be Waking Up from Sam Harris. That said, the style I was practicing in during my first experience was basic mindfulness meditation as taught by Joseph Goldstein from the Insight Meditation Society and plenty of others. I had also spent time with Metta (Sharon Salzberg), and HeadSpace which, at the time, was mostly a body-scan type of meditation.

When did you meet your wife and how did that impact your life?
I met my wife Tina — she’s also been featured on AGEIST — in 2002 in San Francisco. We met what they call “the old fashioned way,” which is to say, in a local bar. Meeting her has, bit by bit, completely changed the trajectory of my life. I met her at exactly the time when I had given up on the idea of finding a life-partner. And there she was. We moved in together a few months later and the rest is history. In the intervening 22 or so years, we’ve of course had our ups and massive downs, but somehow we’ve managed to make amazing use of the downs, and I am happier and more in love than I could have ever imagined. It may sound cheesy, but today I feel that Tina coming into my life has taught me how to be open to love, feeling it, receiving it, giving it in a way that I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams. Meeting her, and living with her through the amazing adventure of life together, and somehow making it through a fair number of very dark nights of doubt and fear, has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, and I’m a better man for it.

“I am happier and more in love than I could have ever imagined”

You are a software engineer. What projects have you been involved in or started?
I am a software engineer by training, that’s true, and I also hold a minor in medicine. Though, I think it’d be a huge insult to software engineers if I still called myself that — I haven’t practiced my craft in too many years. However, studying and practicing software engineering during the time when I did, which is starting in the late 1980s, has helped me to do things I’ve been wanting to do. The short version is that, at the time, and possibly still now, being a software engineer made it possible to build stuff from scratch. That way, I was able to build software during University that has powered labs in large hospitals for the subsequent 20 years, made it possible for me to enter the US and work at startups, and eventually co-found startups in Silicon Valley. Having that training allowed me to have an amazing ride — it allowed me choices like coming to the US, starting companies, building products, that would have been much harder with other professions that require way more infrastructure to be of value.

jochen frey

What is your relationship to athletics?
Athletics have shaped “the other” part of my life, which is to say not school, university, or work. And of course it’s also shaped my work since nothing exists in a vacuum. Initially, I thought I’d have loved to become a professional volleyball player and I was able to go pretty far down that route. Though eventually, I had to accept that either physics or my lack of talent wouldn’t allow me to do that. By physics I mean the fact that I am only 6’2″ tall. I made it to the 2nd Bundesliga in Germany, at which point I was universally the shortest player on the court with the possible exception of the setter, and there’s a reason for that. On the other hand, there are very notable players who made it to the international level who’re not much taller than me.

As soon as I arrived in California, surfing in all its forms took over from my obsession with volleyball, and I’ve since ridden large and small waves on regular surfboards and foil-boards whether powered by waves, kites, or wings. Most recently, I’ve added paragliding, which I see as a way to ride the currents of the air.

“[Athletics] continues to be a way for me to access different states of consciousness”

So what is my relationship to athletics? Until a few years ago, Tina would have said that it’s an addiction, and I would have said it’s an integral part of who I am and what I need to be happy and healthy. Today I’d say that all of the above is true, maybe with the exception of the addiction, and that it has been, and continues to be a way for me to access different states of consciousness. It also helps me feel sane, happy, and my body clearly enjoys my continued explorations.

What is your current meditation practice?
Currently, I meditate most every day, right after I get out of bed, for about 30 minutes to an hour. My practice is mostly informed by a teacher I’ve been working with for the last 5 years, and is founded on the awareness and movement of energy in the body. It’s the most direct path to altered states of consciousness that I’m aware of. It has similarity with meditations like the amazing Joe Dispenza teaches them; they also have elements of Qigong except for the fact that there’s no physical movement involved, and it’s rooted in a tradition that came down from the Himalayas to China a few thousand years back. To me, it feels like it’s an amalgamation of a few foundational practices that work and have subsequently spread down through different lineages.

Do you travel to places just for the purpose of meditation or mind expansion?
Yes! I am just back from my second Sundance in Mexico, a tradition that also exists in North America where the Lakota tribe is most well-known for keeping the tradition alive. The general name for it is the Red Road, and I’ve been on it for 3 years now and it’s been amazing. Tina and I have also traveled for retreats with Joe Dispenza to different locations. More to come on this front.

jochen frey

What have been some of your favorite experiences?
I’m laughing as I’m answering this because there have been too many to count. I feel I’ve been pretty blessed in my life up to the point where I had the meditation experience I talked about earlier, but since then things have gone pretty crazy in a good way. So just to start off: Sundance, Burning Man, getting married to Tina in Tavarua and surfing Cloudbreak, some very special experiences with plant medicine, flying in paragliding competitions and floating in a thermal with 100+ other paragliders, foil-surfing Crissy Field in San Francisco with my friend Evan and laughing together in amazement that we get to do this, seeing my dad on magic mushrooms, meditations with my teacher taking me beyond what I conceived as possible, taking the next breath, and so many more.

“The way I see it, my work as a coach is about creating a much larger degree of personal freedom”

What is it that you do now?
My main work is as an executive coach where I help leaders, executives, and high agency individuals with their own journey. Like I’ve experienced for myself, most of us are limited by their fears, their trauma, their identity, and the beliefs we hold which I tend to call “stories we tell ourselves.” Part of what I do is help individuals solve specific problems, whether tactical or strategic, but the bigger part is helping them unwind fears, beliefs, and stories that are limiting themselves and don’t serve them any longer.

As an example, we all tell ourselves stories that we “should” be or act a certain way. I should be working hard, I should always prioritize others over myself, I should strive to make more money, have a career, be a fearless leader … And while those stories can be helpful for a time, eventually they invariably become limiting if they’re not truly driven by internal desire. The way I see it, my work as a coach is about creating a much larger degree of personal freedom that, in turn, enables them to create the most amazing things for themselves, their community, their company, or the world around them. It’s just the most amazing thing to partner with such individuals and see what becomes possible to them, what they create, and how they affect people around them. I love what I do.

What is your ambition for the next 10 years?
To be as excited, energetic, and full of love as I am right now, or even more so. It’s kind of wild, but I feel younger mentally and physically than I did 5 years ago. My ambition is to stay on this trajectory until I take my last breath. And along the way, I’d like to meet masters in the art of living an amazing life who will hopefully share some of the skills and wisdom they’ve learned along the way. And having seen and experienced some of what is possible when working with consciousness-related practices, I really hope I’ll be able to help many others to discover and embrace their own excitement, energy, love, and personal freedom to create the life they love for themselves and those around them. To that end, I have been developing workshops that are currently still in stealth mode but hopefully for not much longer.

“It’s kind of wild, but I feel younger mentally and physically than I did 5 years ago”

Do you have any animals?
We currently have one red standard poodle named Bel. She’s four years old and the third poodle Tina and I have had together. She is near and dear to my heart. Every pet lover has their own preferences but for me it’s poodles. The depth of the relationship Bel has been building with me still blows my mind on a regular basis. It’s not just clear communication about her needs, when she’s excited, anxious, or anything else, it’s a closeness and intimacy that, at times, to me, feels almost human. As I said earlier, Tina taught me about love, and Bel is clearly one of the beneficiaries of that. 

Do you have other wellness/health practices that you do?
Do things I do NOT do count? I stopped drinking alcohol about two years ago. It was totally easy and natural; I simply started liking my state of mind when sober way more than what it feels like after a glass of wine or beer. Total game changer! I also tend to not have late meals any more since I just love a good night of sleep and eating big meals late clearly interferes with that. I also stopped spending time with people I don’t like or that drain my energy, whether in my personal or professional life.

In addition, there are a lot of smaller things that I do. I am really trying to weave these through my life so that they don’t feel like separate practices. I’m talking about things like snuggling up to Tina in the morning before getting up — it surely does wonders for my nervous system. I am typically drinking a glass of water before ingesting anything else in the morning and then I’m going outside and preferably have some sun on my skin. I typically have at least one physical activity every day — we have lots of steep hills where we live so even walks do the trick. We are also creating much of what we eat from scratch from organic ingredients. It’s really a bunch of seemingly little and simple things that add up to something pretty amazing when done consistently. At this point, it doesn’t feel like rocket science, and the details often change since I like to try new things. When I find something I like and it makes my life better, then I try to incorporate it; and when things stop working, I drop them.

“When I find something I like and it makes my life better, then I try to incorporate it”

What is the new house you are building and is it informed by any of your wellness practices?
I tend to not talk too much about projects that haven’t materialized yet, and this is one of them. Tina and I are working on building a house on a plot of land that’s completely enclosed by nature. One of the big insights for both of us has been that being in nature is critically important, way more than I’d given it credit for in the past, whether for wellness or many other reasons. And while I’m not sure I’d call meditation a wellness practice, I feel that’s underselling meditation, there will be a dedicated meditation space in a part of the house that looks straight into the surrounding nature, and I’m excited about that. There will also be a sauna and a cold plunge — I LOVE saunas and use them whenever I’m in a hotel that has one; it just feels so amazing to sit in one and sweat. I can’t wait to have one as part of our house. There are a few more things we have in mind, but I can’t talk about them just yet, so please check back with me when we’re a bit further along. 

What music do you listen to?
It’s a wild mix, although recently I found that listening to no music, which is to say, silence, has become more and more the norm for me. But when I listen, it’s recently been a lot of EDM. Burning Man really opened my ears to what DJs do — in that category I’d say Monolink, or Mira, or any number of DJs spinning on the now-defunct Mayan Warrior are amazing, and once you find a DJ you like, let SoundCloud pick the next tracks and see what you like. 

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
That’s been a hard question for me. Initially I thought “good sleep, movement, and great food” would be the answer. But while they’re super important, I’m happily trading all these multiple times per year for an amazing experience like a Vision Quest where there’s little sleep, no food, and almost no movement for four days. So the better answer is: Love, Curiosity, and Integrity — it’s work in progress, but I feel I’m getting better at making those ever-present in my life.

Connect with Jochen:
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See medical disclaimer below. ↓

2 COMMENTS

  1. So happy to read this! I went through a very similar experience in 2020. (I was also doing Dr Joe Dispenza meditations…!)

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.

AUTHOR

David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

 

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