How a Former Marine Overcame Addiction to Complete Historic Antarctic Expedition

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Inner peace proved elusive to Akshay Nanavati after his return from war. While he survived seven months of dangerous duty as a US Marine in Iraq, he knew that many brave men and women have not survived their time at war. Once back in the states, Akshay struggled with survivor’s guilt as a result of losing his best friend during a deployment of which Akshay was not a part. 

Locked in a battle with depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts, Akshay armed himself with some new weapons. He turned to the study of neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality to find relief. The result was the discovery of a new path to health and happiness that he describes as “Fearvana” and which he explores in detail in his book Fearvana.

In Akshay’s words, Fearvana is the “revolutionary science of how to turn fear into health, wealth, and happiness.” Thanks to this new philosophy, Akshay has not only finally found inner peace, but discovered the motivation to accomplish things that few humans in history have dared attempt.

Rejecting PTSD

Akshay’s core philosophy is that the path to inner peace is the pursuit of a worthy struggle. As with any of us, he did not need to look for a struggle; it found him and it nearly killed him.

The struggle that came to Akshay was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Life as a Marine meant facing death daily. One of his jobs as a Marine was walking in front of military vehicles and scanning the ground for signs of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Reports issued during the war showed that IEDs were responsible for two-thirds of the injuries and casualties suffered by soldiers. Akshay’s job was to make sure IEDs were discovered before they could cause harm.

Miraculously, Akshay survived his mission, even once rolling over an IED that for an unknown reason did not detonate. Some of his friends, however, were not as fortunate. Returning home after the war, Akshay dealt with survivor’s guilt, a symptom of PTSD that haunts those who survive a dangerous situation that claimed the lives of others. While PTSD is common for veterans, Akshay decided he would not let it define him. He sought out a more worthy struggle.

Pursuing a worthy struggle

“We all have a worthy struggle waiting for us,” Akshay explains. “It could be running a marathon, building a business, writing a book, raising a child, playing chess, anything! The path itself doesn’t matter; all that matters is that you give all of yourself to find it, live it, and love it.”

Akshay was not willing to accept the label of PTSD and the struggles that it brought. He knew there was a higher calling for his life than barely surviving. He chose to dive into what he dubbed Fearvana. Defined as “the bliss that results from engaging our fears to pursue our own worthy struggle,” Fearvana became for Akshay the secret that allowed him to evolve from simply existing to fully living.

Pushing to the edge of endurance

Once Akshay discovered the power present in the pursuit of a worthy struggle, he never looked back. He has made it his habit to shatter self-imposed limitations and to achieve extraordinary goals.

Ultramarathons, which push runners beyond the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles, are just one of the struggles in which Akshay has engaged. He discovered in Iraq that running allowed him to distance himself from stress. After the war, he threw himself into ultramarathons, finding that the challenge helped him to connect with a strength that he did not know he had.

Despite physical limitations that include a blood disorder that leaves him with low levels of oxygen in his blood, Akshay has tapped into Fearvana to become a sponsored athlete and an ultrarunner.

“For me, running ultramarathons is a vehicle to explore the depths of my soul,” Akshay says. “When every part of my body cries out in pain, when my mind begs me to stop, my spirit reaches forth and gives me the strength to rise. Running ultramarathons connects me to the divine. It reveals the limitlessness of the human spirit that lives within us all.”

Completing a historic expedition

The most recent worthy struggle Akshay has chosen to undertake has the potential to land him in the history books. In mid-November 2021, Akshay joined an expedition that, when completed, will make him one of less than 50 people to climb the treacherous Axel Heiberg glacier to reach the South Pole. 

The trip, which will take Akshay and three other explorers along the route taken by Roald Amundsen on his historic quest to the South Pole, takes 30 to 40 days to complete and requires superhuman endurance. Antarctica, where the Pole is located, offers visitors the coldest, driest, and windiest weather on the planet. From April to September of 2021, the average temperature at the South Pole was -78 degrees Fahrenheit.

While reaching the South Pole remains in front of Akshay, he has already made plans for another worthy struggle in Antarctica. He is working on a plan to complete an expedition the likes of which no human being has ever accomplished. It will stretch the very boundaries of human potential. He is viewing his present trip as a warm up for what is to come.

“I call it a worthy struggle, because the road will be hard,” says Akshay. “It will involve challenge, struggle, and sometimes intense suffering. But that is not a bad thing. Adversity is one of our greatest gifts and a necessary access point to reach the next stage of our personal evolution.”

For anyone facing a struggle that they believe is insurmountable, Akshay’s story proves that fear can be a great ally. When harnessed, fear can provide the power to accomplish any goal and achieve Fearvana.

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