In this conversation, we speak with engineer, entrepreneur, teacher and my good friend, Dr. Jamie Miller, about shifting our consciousness and the way we see and interact with the world using nature as our guide. Jamie is the founder of an award-winning company, Biomimicry Frontiers which is leading the world in transforming how we think, behave and create from a paradigm that is inspired by nature.
This is a raw and honest conversation about what connects us, about our grief and our vulnerabilities. It’s a conversation about what is offered when we can slow down and listen deeply. Ultimately, this is a conversation about what makes us human.
In this episode we talk about:
Spirituality - exploring and redefining it so it fits our own values.
Nature - what we can learn from it about cooperation, living in community, and our capitalistic culture.
Slowing down - the gift that comes from deep reflection and going inward.
Vulnerability - the role it plays in helping us to actualize our calling and what we care deeply about.
Fear - choosing it, using it as our guide and as an indicator when we’re getting close to our edge and leading with our purpose.
Disruptions and rebellions - going against the status quo. Proving that we don’t have to follow the highway to be successful.
Death - how the premature death of a parent has been a major driver to be in service to a vision bigger than ourselves.
Grief - It never leaves us. It morphs, changes and evolves.
Get Into Action Around What's Important To You:
If you’re someone who is creative and driven and is longing to bring a vision into the world but is being stopped by
Its time to get into action to fully play in life, to bring your vision to fruition, and to gain the clarity you crave and begin to transition into living a more inspired and fulfilled life. Check it out here.
Become A Guest:
Do you have a suggestion for a Disruptor your know (it may be you!) who would be a great guest on the Disruptions With Purpose podcast? Submit a suggestion.
The adaptive cycle and why we avoid change (and how nature could teach us to change)
Exploring the connection of death and environmental degradation
A toolkit for exploring nature's genius www.asknature.org
Biomimicry Frontiers www.biomimicryfrontiers.com
By his nature, Jamie Miller is fundamentally looking to explore while he's on this planet. Whether it be philosophies, ideas, death or in nature, he appreciates finding boundaries and seeing if we can push just a little bit further into that unknown. It's no surprise that he named his company Biomimicry Frontiers, a company dedicated to pushing the perception of design, using nature as a model and measure to reharmonize the built and natural environments. Jamie lives in Guelph with his wife and child (and one on the way).
Ami: Hi, Jamie, thank you so much for joining me today.
Jamie: It's a pleasure to be here.
Ami: So, I'm just going to launch into it. You have a really awesome quote on your website by Albert Einstein that says, "Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better". Can you tell me what that means to you?
Jamie: Yeah, I mean, I like Einstein. I've used him a couple of times but this quote, in particular, 'nature', we all know that nature gives us our basic physical needs so air, food, water. But what I don't think we really comprehend as a society is how much it gives us in other ways. So, we're learning for example through Biophilia, that our innate connection to nature when we're connected to nature in that way, it increases our health and wellbeing. Sorry, I'm really distracted.
Ami: Okay, I can't, again. Hi, Jamie. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Jamie: Thanks so much for having me.
Ami: You have a really awesome quote on your website by Albert Einstein that I found so fascinating. And it says, "Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better". Can you tell me a little bit about what that means to you? How does that, why is that on your website?
Jamie: I mean, I think that's the underlying principle of biomimicry. So if you've never heard of the word biomimicry, it's an innovation that's inspired by nature. But at its core, what it's teaching us is that if we can shift our lens of the natural world, we'll start to see that it holds the secrets for how to thrive on this planet, whether they be design secrets or organizational behavior processes, how to build systems. I think it's a very powerful way of looking at nature and Einstein nailed it. If we just start to look more deeply at it, we'll get these secrets for how to thrive on this planet sustainably. The core of biomimicry is that nature's been around for billions of years, so it knows how to survive and thrive on this dynamic planet we're on.
Ami: And for you, why do you have a company that is built on the premise of biomimicry? I would love to understand a little bit more about why it inspires you so much.
Jamie: I think you'd have to go back to, there was a moment, a paradigm shift, that happened. I was in my third year of engineering at Queens University and I took an elective course called Math and Poetry. Up until that course, I was struggling with this idea of what engineering was. I signed up for engineering, really not knowing what it was. And then when I was being taught it, there is always this underlying feeling that there had to be a different way of doing things. In this course, this math and poetry course, the professor walked us through these math theorems, and one of them was the Fibonacci sequence, which is a sequence of numbers that when you play with it geometrically, you'll actually see it in the spiralling of pinecones, in the vortex in your bathtub. It's in sunflower seed packaging. It's in the way the universe is expanding. It's in so many ways, it is like it's ubiquitous in nature. And that shifted my paradigm, to give me this realization that nature does design really, really well and could teach us about math, it could teach us about how to engineer, and that was the paradigm shift that sent me on this journey. So I learned from biomimicry from there, I learned about biomimicry from there, met Janine Benyus, the woman who coined the term biomimicry and worked with her for a few years, and got ultimately obsessed with this idea that we could harness nature's genius so that we could tap into the genius of nature to come up with better solutions. And so the only reason I built a company on this, is because it's an obsession that I can't shake. So after doing my graduate work in it, it kind of was just a next step that flowed. I met people who suggested I do this and supported me in doing this. It's been a continual journey to shift the mindset through the application of biomimicry, in order to create harmony with nature. So that's kind of why this company exists.
Ami: What I hear in it is that there's like a commitment to connecting us deeper to the patterns in nature, to connect our thinking, and to start looking at the world through a different lens, through a different way of seeing the world. The interesting thing to me about nature and my experience, when I go into nature, is that it's almost like there's a spiritual element to it. I go there because it's almost like a church. I have this reverence there for me. And I'm curious for you, is that a part of the draw or the obsession for you, it kind of like you're saying it's your thesis. Your company is your actual thesis, your hypothesis. Does that play into it, the spiritual piece of it?
Jamie: Yeah, totally. I was also a fairly religious youth and it's interesting that parallels for me because religion to me is just about understanding or exploring the unknown, the things that we can't yet describe like death or faith, and nature have a very similar characteristic for me. It's totally unknown. It's complex, I don't understand it. It's so grand, so powerful, and yet so forgiving at the same time. It provides us with everything that we need. And there is a general peace that I feel when I'm exploring it, especially with the community. Like, you know, you and I have gone on adventures, our families have gone on adventures in the outdoors, and there's something beautiful about being in community in the natural world. So absolutely, it's a big element of my spirituality.
Ami: So is that the inner biomimicry work that you speak of? I've noticed there's been a lot of stuff that you've been talking about around the inner biomimicry. Is that a part of it? The inner work, like we are? I'm making an assumption right now, that we are nature, we are part of it, and the inner work is what gets us connected to nature more. I'm curious about the inner biomimicry piece.
Jamie: Yeah, it comes from this idea that how we think informs how we behave and create. So the inner biomimicry is really about that consciousness, that shift in our paradigm, in the way that we see the world. Because a lot of my research was on the psychology of design. Why are humans so different from the rest of the natural world? Even though we are nature, we're going to go back to nature when we die and turn back into carbon molecules. It's about playing with the mindset shift. Something that I don't talk too much about, but I'm really fascinated about, is just this idea that our environments are a reflection of our thoughts. And so when we're in an engineered environment, it provides a sense of stability and predictability because we've engineered it that way. I don't fully grasp this in my head yet, but when we're in nature, we're in a complex environment that we can't quite understand, and it's reflecting back to us, this complexity, this unknown. You could call it this god, where it's also like tapping into a part of our genius. If you really tap into biomimicry and really explore an organism for a long period of time, you're going to create a communion with it, or this collaboration where it'll teach you really incredible design ideas. I kind of see that as a reflection of your own genius, it's like it's showing you what's possible. And so, that's a deeper sense of the inner biomimicry, which is that nature is a reflection of our own god or genius. I can't remember which cultures use this in the past, with demons, they would talk about when they would have a flow state moment where some cultures would talk about demons, I think they recall, would come in and almost helped them create something.
Ami: Like something outside of themselves.
Jamie: Exactly, yeah. And that's what I think biomimicry represents to me, it's like you're in connection with this genius and it can flow through you if you use this lens or really see it through a biomimetic lens.
Ami: And I also hear it's like if you're willing to listen.
Ami: Like if there's a willingness to actually listen because, I've been so connected to the environmental movement for so much of my youth and my adult life, and there's been this disconnection from our listening. We have it that we are separate from it and that we aren't a part of it, but we are so it. I love that inner biomimicry piece.
Jamie: Well, I think what you're saying too is like going back to, we've built ourselves out of it, when we're in an engineering environment, there's a sense of security because we don't worry about where our food's coming from or where water is going to come from. You know, for the most part. I know I'm very privileged in that regard, but we build ourselves outside of that complexity because it provides simplicity, and nature is complex. I think by that separation, we've just forgotten how to listen, we've forgotten how to tap into the natural world. Again, I'm speaking for myself, but if we can really shift that and create a conversation with nature that's ongoing, there's something really powerful to be had and to be explored there. That's what I think Einstein saying.
Ami: Yeah. There are just so many places I can go with this conversation right now. I remember this one time you were talking about this concept of a mother tree, and I was wondering if you could just share with me a little bit about what that was.
Jamie: I mean, I'll preface this by saying I'm not an ecologist, in fact, I dropped out of grade 10 biology.
Ami: Even better, it gives you more permission to talk about it.
Jamie: But I mean, since this paradigm shift in 2004, I've been obsessed with biology and ecology. One neat story that I've heard recently is the idea and concept of a mother tree, which describes the way that the biggest, usually the biggest and the most successful in attaining its needs, that tree will donate resources and information to the rest of the forest, almost like it's a connector and sustenance for all. The reason they know that is because they've been able to test a lot of research, ABC, they can test the connections to the Mycelium Network. So, the underground fungal network that connects routes between different species, shows that information and resources transfer even to competing species. So this old idea of the survival of the fittest is not necessarily true in forest ecology because there's a lot of sharing and cooperation going on. There is competition, but it's in a different way than maybe what we were raised to believe.
Ami: It's like in direct opposite of how we kind of live our lives. Our capitalistic culture really has us competing against each other. If we really were to look to nature, no, nobody is competing against each other. Even the competitors are working with each other. We have so much to learn.
Jamie: I mean, on that point, Ami, a friend of mine said, "you don't see one tree that's six hundred feet above the rest", which is indicative of the capitalistic model, you've got to grow and be the big dog and making the most money. Of course, it's inherently known that it's stronger if the canopy is intact than if one is sticking way above the rest, and the rest, that one's vulnerable to failure and to environmental pressures. But the canopy, when it's all intact, creates almost like a barrier to environmental pressures and storm surges. It's a big dissipated structure so it actually protects the undergrowth in a really beautiful way.
Ami: So how can you bring the concepts of biomimicry into our own neighbourhoods, as you mentioned neighbours at the beginning of our conversation? How can biomimicry then be a learning tool or use the tools from biomimicry to start? Because I see that as a neighbourhood, we all could be that canopy together, that's like we all have resilience. If we were to connect with one another and know that all of our needs are being met within our own boundaries of our community.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah. There are a few principles that I pull from. One is this idea of patch dynamics and that just describes the way you can look at a complex system in a bunch of patches, so it's like a mosaic of all these different unique little centers. They're all deeply connected, but they're unique. We've used this in a project here in Guelph as a part of this Circular Food Economy Project, to look at the whole city of Guelph as a city of villages or city of patches. What's important about that is each patch is given its distinct kind of image or it's like we recognize the value of that one thing, that one village, because there's going to be unique people, unique skill sets, unique resources, unique flows. And when you look at it at a more local level, you can actually start to exploit and use those in more creative ways. So the project that we're working on together, the Junction Food Network, really highlights that we were helping people connect through food. But in doing so, we're finding we've got people like yourself who have chickens with people who like yourself, who have bees.
Ami: Or people that have an excess bounty of vegetables in their backyard.
Jamie: Totally. If you grow too many cherry tomatoes, why just throw them in the compost if you could share them with the neighbour who doesn't have any cherry tomatoes? What if you could create this little micro-ecosystem that supports each other more effectively? That's more resilient because it's like added redundancy. It's like we don't need to fully rely on food from outside sources. We've got a little community here that really leverages the diversity and creativity of this local village and learns to use it more effectively, so that's one example.
Ami: Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. The thing that I really love about what you're speaking about is that, you're not forgetting the people piece and I feel so much of the environmental movement is really about fixing the environment. We are so connected to that environment. If our own needs aren't being met as humans that have emotions and feelings and thoughts that also have a need that needs to be met, it's futile to work. Robyn Wall Kimmerer, who wrote the book Braiding Sweetgrass, has this amazing quote that says, "Philosophers call this state of isolation and disconnection, “species loneliness”, a deep, unnamed sadness stemming from estrangement from the rest of Creation, from the loss of relationship. As our human dominance of the world has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbours. It’s no wonder that naming was the first job the Creator gave Nanabozho.” And I just love how there is this that's happening, there is the state of isolation, disconnection happening and there is a deep loneliness. How can we start listening, listening deeply to what nature is telling us, and remembering that we are nature? To bring in tools and things so that we can start reshaping the way we're thinking to connect deeper with our own neighbours, to create more compassion and empathy and resilience and connections and all of those little nuance things that make us actually feel alive and happy in the world.
Jamie: Yeah, what I love about what you're saying too is when you said, "if we learn to listen", I just had this image of a forest that just sits there and just provides and gives and gives and gives. I mean, I think of the giving tree book, but it just sits there. It's just sitting there like an elder, very patiently waiting for us to listen. And we're so busy in our own creation that we forget to actually step outside for a second and listen. I know that doesn't necessarily have to do with community, but there is also something about if we bring nature into our communities, learn how to build with nature instead of trying to engineer it or dominate it and put our houses and communities in it. Yeah, there's something really powerful about just thinking about nature. I just think of a tree as just standing there and giving, and what do we give back to it?
Ami: Yeah, totally. And listening, I love that piece about listening. Everything in nature is so much slower, so much slower. We live in such a fast-paced environment that it really is going to take something for us to slow down and listen. I think that for me, that's been the big gift of the COVID pandemic, it has really forced me to slow down and listen, and to be in stillness. It's been such a beautiful gift for me because I've really forgotten how fast and how action-oriented I've been for so long and that in this slowness, I've gotten access to parts of myself that I've never actually listened to before. It's been a really beautiful gift.
Jamie: That's amazing. Has anything, stood out in terms of the gifts or the things that you've learned?
Ami: Well, I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is that I'm actually way more of an introvert than I ever thought it was.
Ami: I actually, I know most people say because if you really knew me, you'd know that I'm constantly busy. I actually have loved having the time to just be with my thoughts and through that process, I've really, really gotten things that light me up, and that I can feel really excited about that I was unwilling to listen to before. You know, I always tell people that I'd have parties and gatherings and I wouldn't listen to myself so much that by the end of the gathering, I would just leave and go to bed. My friends would still be gathering and I am out, I am so done, and I just never knew what that was before. So for me, it's just been this real gift to slow down and actually listen to myself. Yeah, it's been really fabulous. What about you?
Jamie: It's funny. When COVID first hit, we were supposed to go to Ferney to visit family and we canceled our tickets. So I just spent that two weeks instead, just reflecting. The very first thing I did was a pretty intense reflection, so I think you're right. It did teach me to slow down and learn to listen to myself but the other thing that I've really loved is, it's grounded me. Literally, we're all grounded when we're not. But, for the most part, we're grounded in our place. Like I love the definition of indigenous, which is to be connected to a place. What that means for me is connection to community and connection to, I own property, and so my connection to the land. You know, I've always dreamt of going and owning land somewhere. But it's like, I've got a little plot underneath me right now, what about the relationship with it? So, the important things in life have truly come to light for me during COVID. Community, health, and place are top, top things for me.
Ami: I define a disrupter as someone who displaces their current way of thinking to live a life worth living, and I'm curious for you, what is the role of vulnerability for you? If you do define or associate yourself as being a disruptor, what is the role of vulnerability being played into that, for you? How has vulnerability helped you become what you are right now? Doing the work that you're doing?
Jamie: It's funny. I think of it in two ways, vulnerability to other people and vulnerability to a cause. Because when I think of vulnerability to other people, it's almost like ego-based stuff, like I'm afraid of what people are going to think and I'm afraid of their projection, whether it's going to be a good product, and there's a lot of fear around that. But vulnerability to a cause is a little different for me because it's like all of that other stuff I don't really care about. I really don't care what you think, it's if I can fully be vulnerable to what I feel called to do. It's taken me a long time to realize that but once I did, I can stand in that. Vulnerability is like refreshing in freedom. It's like I don't have to think, it's like I'm being pulled towards something and I just got to keep walking. The only thing that stops me from walking is my vulnerability to other people.
Ami: Like what people are thinking.
Ami: All of the ego-driven stuff.
Ami: I love what you said about being drawn, what I hear is being drawn by the 'why'. Like leading with the reason why you're doing what you're doing. Leading with your ego of needing to look really good completely shifts. For me, my ability to step off the edge of the cliff. I'm willing to lead with my purpose, then it doesn't even matter. I feel like Joan of Arc, the troops, you know, and I have no issue at all around that so that's a really helpful way of distinguishing the two things.
Jamie: To even add to that, the other part is recognizing that people are the ones who will pay for a business. So when I'm running a business, I have to be aware of what people want. It's a really interesting dance because to run a business, you have to make money and to make money helps you with your cause. So I have to be listening to what people want, but at the same time vulnerable to the cause. You know, at times I've heard some business people and I've seen some business people just not care at all what people think and just follow the cause, and people kind of inevitably follow them towards the cause.
Ami: So, I'm thinking like JC, I mean YC.
Jamie: And I applaud those people because they've got guts that I don't think I have yet.
Ami: Yeah, yeah, totally. I mean, it's like that's the question. What do we have to give up to be living a life like Yvon Chouinard? He's such a mentor to me because he is doing all of that. He literally is leading with the cause and that is something that takes a lot of guts. So, switching gears again, I'm curious, what have you rebelled against in the past? And what are you rebelling against now?
Jamie: I have to say, it's a great question. I think I've always felt like a rebel to the status quo, not always, probably in high school and got really, really loud. I remember wanting to look as grubby as possible and have the highest grades just to prove that you didn't have to be a certain image to be a good student. It was so conscious and so funny to think back on. And then in university, there's a rebellion against engineering. It's like I was in engineering, but I just thought it was dumb, the way that is being taught. So that's what led me to grad work. I had no intention of doing grad work, but my professor, who is also a great rebel and mentor, asked me. Here's the story, after undergrad, I was like, "Hey, I'd love to travel, do you have any projects that you need help on?", and he's like, "Where do you want to go?", and I said, "Nepal", and he's like, "I can't do Nepal, but do you want to go to Indonesia in a couple of weeks?", and I was like, "Yes", he's like, "If you think of a master's program while you're there, let's do it. If not, no worries.", and so we're working on tsunami relief stuff, I was really kind of floored at how people lived and reacted and responded and then how we were rebuilding.
Jamie: So that's what led me to my masters in humanitarian engineering, which was like a rebellion against the way that engineering was taught to me, that it seemed to ignore the social and environmental aspects of applied technology. So could we create a new program? And then biomimicry, I think, is a rebellion against the status quo. From my mind, it's like I don't know what everyone's thinking, but I think the way that we design things so disconnected from the natural world, this is my rebellion against that. It's like a reconnection to nature and the reintegration of nature into our design so that we can live. But this time it's coming from a knowing that we cannot survive without nature and that the greatest contribution we all have to mitigating climate change is to allow nature to be itself, it sequesters carbon, it dissipates storm energy, it takes the energy from the sun and uses it up instead of bouncing off and having to be dissipated in other ways. You know, it does all the ecological services that we need. So, my kind of disruption or being an antagonist in that way is like for a specific cause.
Ami: Wow. So what is the role fear play in all that for you? Like, how does fear show up and how do you use that as an ally? Or do you?
Jamie: That's a great question. Fear's present all the time, louder at some points. Yeah, like I'm afraid of failing, I'm afraid of looking dumb, I'm afraid of not making enough, afraid now that I have employees, afraid of not leading them properly, or you know, they have families and it's like I fear the responsibility of making sure everyone's got enough money coming in. Fear is a huge factor, but I don't know if it's a motivator, no, it is a motivator, and one way that I like exploring fear is even through our workshops, the one that you and I ran, which was so interesting and so fun. The first activity we did was to have people go rappelling into a cave and they didn't know they're going to do that, and the reason we wanted to do that was that we wanted for people to be present. I find that fear helps you become present. So if you can engage in it, you can see what it is you're doing, what you're afraid of and what you're committed to, so I'd say that's a big part of the motivating factor. I think it's hilarious, like in those situations, if I can step outside of myself, I laugh pretty hard. I laugh when other people are in situations where they're afraid of something that is ultimately stupid. It's just in their head. So I find it entertaining as well.
Ami: Totally, yeah. That's interesting about fears, it's actually very rarely real, like very rare is the fear that we experience to be something that is going to take our life, it is very fabricated. I find for myself, when fear is present, it's usually an indicator that what I'm doing is the correct thing, that I'm on my edge. There's really something for me there, that at the other end of it is my life, like on the other end of the fear is where I feel most alive. You know, I've just done something that, all my survival mechanisms are like, "you are going to die", and then I survive it. And I'm like, most alive right now, like repelling down a cave. There are many examples, okay well, I mean, I'll guess I'll give an example. I just think so much about Whitewater paddling, me and my husband are big whitewater paddlers way more before we had children. I think that that has been the place where fear has been so present because I am about to paddle down water that literally can take my life.
Ami: And yet there is something that I'm so drawn to, the adrenaline, I'm so drawn to the connection I have in the boat with somebody else as I'm dancing down a rapid, and where we almost have our own language with ourselves like we don't even need to talk, but there's a dance that is happening through the communication of our paddle strokes and that when we are able to nail our line, which is just like we have a vision of where we want to go and we actually hit it and we don't actually die. It's such in a sense of accomplishment on the other side of it where I feel like I have just triumphed, like I have overcomed and I feel on the end of it, just like this euphoria, euphoric feeling, I don't even know how to explain it. It's such a deep feeling. That's something that really lights me up and gets me very excited.
Jamie: I mean what I'm hearing is the closer you get to death, the more you feel life.
Ami: Yeah, it's very interesting. I was recently having a conversation on the podcast with the Death Doula and we spoke a lot about death and the role that death plays and how far we hold our death away from ourselves, that we don't hold our deaths close to us. There are so many cultures that really hold them close and Steven Jenkinson talks a lot about if we started to hold our deaths closer, how much more we would get out of our lives if we did that? Because we would realize that we're actually going to die because we forget that we're actually going to die. We live our life like it's going to keep going forever and we're not, we're going to die. So, yeah, it is true. It's like it puts me in a position of feeling like death is present. So I do feel alive because my death is close in those situations. I feel alive on the other end of it.
Jamie: Yeah. My friend, my good friend Brendan, when I started this business we talked about an old monk meditation where they used to meditate as if a sword was hanging over their head, and they have no control of when it's going to drop but it's going to drop. So we really use that metaphor, it's like if you were going to die, if that sword was hanging over your head, what would you do with your life right now? I really still use it. In fact, I bought a sword at a pawn shop and we put it in our office. But there's something really powerful about that, that idea of death, and I think I'll just finish with this as the business side. I remember hearing that you get the same chemicals through your body when you do something socially uncomfortable as if you are going to do some extreme sport. So the extreme sport athletes get the same thing as somebody who does something embarrassing on purpose. I kind of find that that's what business is for me, it's like you're going to go do something that makes you stand out, you're not following the status quo. There's like there's an element of feeling alive when you say something and you do something that is pretty intimidating, just the same way as when you paddle some whitewater.
Ami: Well, I mean, to put it myself, I feel like especially, as a purpose-driven business myself, and I would say that you're a similar purpose-driven business, I feel that when I put myself out there, the fear is like I feel I'm sitting out there naked, like I'm like, here I am, this is who I am, just so everybody knows. I'm not being driven by money or profit or anything, I'm driven by something I care so deeply about and I'm putting on the stage for the whole world to see. So the fear for me is like, what if they don't like my purpose? What if they see me fully and they are like, "that doesn't look so great", but that's the motivator. I know that because I'm willing to think about my death and I'm lying on my death but at the end of my life, and I'm unwilling. I'm unwilling to look back and be like, why didn't I just do that thing that totally matters.
Ami: So, I'm wondering if you have an experience in your life that has led you to really doing the deeper work that you're doing now? You talk a lot about around, your work being a disruption and being a rebellion to especially around engineering and reseeing how our role in engineering is and how we can redefine it. I'm curious, have you have an experience that led you to that specifically?
Jamie: I wouldn't say it led me to it, but it definitely expedited it, and it was my mom dying when I was twenty-five and I think up until that point, I had been disruptive in engineering, trying to build new programs, trying to see things differently. I think a part of my nature and culture was to disrupt. When my mom died, I think what happened in itself was one of the biggest disruptions, if not, the biggest disruption of my life, and it kind of put things into perspective. Honestly, I think, a lot of what I do deals with death and cycles and disruption and I actually think that was the impetus of a lot of it. I think my mom dying set me into a bit of a philosophical kind of conundrum. I didn't understand what just happened. I didn't understand where she went and I couldn't comprehend that a family of five turned into a family of four. It was hard for me to fathom and wrap my head around and so there's a fundamental disruption in my thinking, in my paradigm, that I couldn't comprehend. And if I look back, a lot of the work that we do in biomimicry has to do with understanding, uncertainty, and cycles. There are so many themes that are interwoven into our work that can go back to that moment, actually go back to death, and can be rooted in the idea of death.
Ami: So, I don't know, the word just came to me, the word 'grief', and it's like holding grief as a tool to be an ally in the work that we do. We've had conversations around death and what does death looks like? Our interest was in exploring the concept of death more, I'm wondering how grief plays into this for you?
Jamie: I mean, something that is coming up for me is when my mom was dying, I mean, she had cancer, she died of ovarian cancer and she had it for five years and it wasn't until the very end that it seemed like it wasn't good. I always had hope. But there's a time in the hospital on Christmas where we kind of got the terminal news that there's nothing left to do up until that point, I think. My mom and I and my siblings, fully believed that there was something that could be done, that there was something that was going to happen, to continue the hope. But when we found out the news that there is nothing left to be done, I can still remember the moment, we were all sitting on the bed and she just started to cry. It's the first time I've seen my mom fully vulnerable, which was pretty hard to take, and then what she said to me was, "there's so much I wanted to do", and even like saying that gets a lump in my throat. I think it's at that moment that the grief really hits. Not only that, it was terminal, but you're seeing somebody's life cut short in their eyes. In terms of how that kind of plays, I'll never forget those words and I remember saying even at the moment, I couldn't accept it and I said, "you're going to be able to do it", which is just me trying to blanket and snuff out the significance of the moment. It was really my inability to handle what I just heard.
Ami: Like accepting the reality.
Jamie: I couldn't accept that this is all of our past. So to grieve, it's like that is what I grieve is, this idea that somebody had more to give in both of our lives and yet couldn't give it anymore. I think that's always with me and always a part of my mentality of, almost in a way, owing to it to my mom to live out disruption with purpose, to use your language, to do things that other people can't recognize in my own privilege but also to recognize my own mortality, that at some time I'm not going to be able to do what it is I want to do. Until that moment, I think about death often, if not daily. I meditate on death a lot because it is a major driver for me to continue to do the things that I'm trying to do and to serve the things, the people, that I'm trying to serve. So, in many ways, I wonder if that is just continual grief. It was one of the most profound things I think anyone's ever said to me at such an interesting time.
Ami: I just want to thank you so much for sharing that story with me.
Ami: And the vulnerability that it takes to go there. My question, I wonder, those last words she said to you, is that what is leading you to live such a bold life right now? Is that the driver? The driving force for you?
Jamie: Yeah, I'd say absolutely. I think. I remember when I was deciding to create biomimicry frontiers or to get a regular engineering job, I remember biking home and picturing myself on my deathbed, and that was it. I was wondering if that person would be okay if I didn't do it. It was clearly no, it was clear that you have to at least try. And whether it's my own death or my mom, I think a lot of it comes, too, from the sacrifice of that woman, she sacrificed a lot of her dreams, to raise a family. And that's hard to accept, the sacrifices of all my ancestors and what they've all gone through to give me this really privileged life, whether it's good ways or bad ways, here I am with an opportunity to do something and that sacrifice is a major driver.
Ami: But what I also really hear is like you're unwilling to let your life just be something that is small, I guess there's like a deep unwillingness just to let it just pass you by. To use that as your momentum, that experience that you had, to really push you and get you to where you are today, like running this really amazing, awesome business that is changing people's lives, that you're unwilling to not have so much left to do in your life.
Jamie: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Ami: I just wish we told our stories more, you know, I just feel like we stuff that stuff away so much. I feel like those are the stories that we really need to start telling people more about. I know it's hard because that's the death of your mother, you don't go out and talk with it all the time. But, those are the things that get us to go to the edge of shit, you know, it was going to get us to go to the edge, like not live these small fucking lives because we're afraid of what people think of us.
Jamie: Yeah, I don't know if I've told you about my purpose this year is to live fully self-expressed so that I honor my ancestors. I think it comes from a place of being a father myself and thinking about Oscar not living fully self-expressed.
Ami: Yeah, because he loves to use the example of that.
Jamie: Yeah. It fucking breaks my heart to think that that kid would be sheltered or clouded by other people's judgment. It's like you have no idea of how powerful you are and how beautiful you are. I think, yeah, it was the thought of my mom looking down from an angelic body and seeing us, and if she ever saw me holding back because of what other people thought, I think as a mother, I would be heartbroken that your kids are not sharing themselves because of judgment. I also get we're all going through our own things, you know, we all have our own battles that we're going through, but that really stabs me in the heart.
Ami: Sorry, go ahead.
Jamie: I was just going to say that, yeah, we hide because of what other people think.
Ami: Yeah. I get this magazine called The Sun, and I really love it a lot. It's like really amazing writing. I remember reading this article when my son was really little, he was like a few months old. I can't remember what it was exactly but the essence that I took from it was, you can't stop your life because you're a parent now. Your job is to live your life so fulfilled and so expressed and not use your kids as an excuse as to why you can't do it. By doing that, you are giving your kids the biggest gift, the whole entire world, to see a parent fully living their lives. That alone, you don't need to send them to school. Do that and they will get the schooling.
Jamie: I think that's really great.
Ami: For me, I think of it a lot when I go into the victim mode of being like, oh I just can't do it, I don't have enough time, my kids are so young, I got to stay home with them. I'm like, how can I do it and raise the kids at the same time? Like in this exact moment, how can I show them what self-expression looks like? I mean just that conversation around the dinner table when I talk about my day with them like, "I recorded a podcast today", and they're like, "What's a podcast?", we talk like that. And they ask what I like about it, I say I get to talk with people and you know, that's the cool stuff about it all.
Jamie: Do you feel like they get it?
Ami: I think they get it in energetically. That's the thing I think about kids, especially the age that they're at right now, it's like I don't know if they're fully here yet. Words to them are not what words are to us. I think energetically, they see that I'm really happy and lit up and that's what they get from that. They know that mom's okay, they get that energetically. Mom is doing okay so I can be okay.
Jamie: Yeah, absolutely. If you think of it energetically, there's security in that too. I think it's like that with your parents. Because you can sense if your parents are okay or not okay and like whether they're in line with what they're doing or whether you know, I just think. When I picture you and your kids and it's like you're living your life, there's a calmness to it, there's like a sense of groundedness.
Ami: Yeah, well, thank you so much, Jamie.
Jamie: Thank you.