Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is now streaming on Disney+ and ahead of its launch, we were able to sit down with a number of experts to talk about their incredible work with the one-and-only God of Thunder and how he pushed himself further than ever before.
In episode six, titled "Acceptance," Chris Hemsworth simulates the end of his life, spending three days in a retirement village while wearing an aging suit that turns the simplest activity into a Herculean task. He's been tasked with testing the theory that the best way to combat aging and fear of mortality might not be to fight it but accept it.
During his stay, he spends time with Alua Arthur, a death doula and founder of Going with Grace, who helps Hemsworth open up about his own death and how to find acceptance.
Check out the full video interview below and please remember to SUBSCRIBE to my channel!
ROHAN: When you're asking Chris about the first time he thought about death, he recalls first thinking about it as a kid by himself and sort of just swallowing it without really understanding it, which sort of creates this fear. I think I experience something similar myself - why is it that so many young people first encounter the concept of death alone and often feel like they can't talk about it?
ALUA: Absolutely, and I think that's part of the challenge that we have in society is, because since people's relationships with death, and dying, with grief, with all the rationale, is all quite normalized, there's still a big stigma around even being curious about how we die or my own death, etc. And so people tend to shut it away and not really discuss it. I think that my work really gives people permission to talk about that, in the way that I think most are wanting to do, but feel like they can't do for whatever reason.
ROHAN: Chris, by all accounts, seems like a very nice guy and a very open-minded person when it comes to challenging himself, but we do see a few moments where he gets a bit uncomfortable talking about his own death - is that a reaction you often experience when first broaching the subject with your clients?
ALUA: Yeah, well, I mean, here's my truth, is that I can understand why people would be scared, and it's not necessarily my job to help people get over it, but rather to be with people where they are in their conversations around it. It's really natural to have a fear of death. It's built into the way that we function, you know, it's the fear of death that tells you to stop before you walk over the edge of a cliff, or even tells you to drink water, because you'll dehydrate otherwise, keep yourself healthy, stay alive, stay alive, stay alive - and so, the fear of death, it's a really natural part of being alive. So, I think my job is mostly to normalize these conversations, normalize the fears, and give people some perspective, if they're interested in seeking them. So, I just really reflect back. I listen, and I reflect back to folks mostly.
ROHAN: Your episode throws a lot at Chris in a very short amount of time and you can kind of see him thinking about everything he's just gone through, but then comes the dance where he momentarily gets to reunite with his wife Elsa and you just see all his worries and concerns wash away. It's a really beautiful scene - when you're working with people, does love basically conquer all?
ALUA: Yeah, I think, overall, love is one of those core values that underwrite a lot of the things that we do while we're living. So naturally, it comes up very strongly at the end. When we're dying, we're thinking about three major questions as it relates to our relationships and who we've been, who we loved, how we loved and where we loved, because I think that people often feel a bit more common peace, knowing that people love them and that they loved well, and that they lived well. So, people often are seeking to reconcile that in some capacity as they're reaching the end of their lives.
ROHAN: Have you noticed any sort of pattern between how people come to terms with their own death? Do older people tend to find acceptance faster or more frequently or is the opposite true with younger people possibly accepting their fate sooner? Or does it just vary person to person?
ALUA: All over the place. I think each individual’s journey, it’s their own dance with life that dictates their dance with their death. I think it's probably easier for us to think that old people have made some peace and are ready to go, but I find that young people also feel ready. I've been honored enough to serve at the bedside of a few twenty-somethings, who have come to terms with their end, even though it seems extra sad for us, because they have their whole lives ahead of them, or so we think, and so it's interesting to think that no matter who you are, how you approach the end is entirely unique.
ROHAN: During the sequence where you're out selecting coffins with Chris, you have an interesting conversation with him where he reveals he'd probably rather be cremated - also adding that he might just want his body tossed out to sea so the sharks can have at him. I'm Hindu, so I imagine I'll also be cremated one day - when it comes to different cultures, does your approach ever differ?
ALUA: Yeah, I think it all also comes down to what the individual wants, what their values are while they're living, because some people are interested in a more eco-friendly way to dispose of their body after their death, and so there's options available. Green burial is a really great one. So, my job is really about educating people, when they have questions, or are curious, a lot of people think that, you know, one way is better for the Earth than another way or one way’s gonna be better for their family than another way, and so just giving them enough of an option so that they can make informed decisions that's at the root of it. Since you know, it's hard for me to know what most cultures want or what people from those cultures want, it's also important for me to also remember that each individual journey within that culture is also different, and so, some people are just like down for a burial at sea, toss their body over the side. Yeah, it really depends on the individual, but there's so many fun and different ways to do it.
ROHAN: There is obviously a lot of grief involved when someone dies, especially when someone passes unexpectedly. Do you also work with families to process sudden deaths?
ALUA: Sure, it's certainly a part of the work to help family members after the death has occurred. I want to remind you and folks and myself often that not everybody dies, after a long disease process, and some people have a sudden death, there are traumatic deaths or violent deaths, and so, sometimes we can't come into support before the death occurs, and in that case, we can help them consider what kind of funeral arrangements they want, help them figure out how to craft a legacy project, helps them wrap up the bureaucratic and logistical affairs of their loved ones lives, like closing out accounts and closing out social media and closing bank accounts and getting them ready for the probate process. So, our work, while it deals with death and dying, but it deals with people that have terminal illnesses and are dying after a death when the deaths occurred, but also when people are still healthy. Death doulas can help people make comprehensive end-of-life plans to think about what the end of their lives might be like.
ROHAN: My father is a physician and he's told me plenty of stories about when a patient is nearing death, they can say things to people that might not be there or remember something from decades ago - what is your sort of relationship with the afterlife?
ALUA: They're so rich, they're so juicy, because people have all types of fantastical ideas about what might happen, and similarly, my job is to just reflect back what I'm hearing in them. I find that even the most religious people have some question about what happens after we die. We all do. It’s the greatest mystery any of us will encounter in our lives, and so because of that, if I can hear elements of what might be in somebody's belief system that is bringing them some comfort, I want to bring that forward as much as possible. Since none of us know what happens after we die, it's really easy to relate to the great unknown, like this big scary dark thing, you know, we just fill it with like dread and terrible stuff, where it could be anything. Like, it could be the best feeling that we've had while we’re living that we get to do for all eternity, if there is an eternity at all, and so I just try to be there with people as they dig into what those beliefs could be for themselves, and I've also certainly seen people who are getting close to death, that are talking to people that I can't see, you know, people that are in the room, but I'm not privy to be engaged with.
ROHAN: Episode six isn't an easy journey, Chris goes through quite a lot - what did you learn about him after spending a few days with him and after having these very intimate conversations about death?
ALUA: Yeah, I learned that he's very brave. He was willing to take on these deep existential questions and exercises to see what value you could create for his own life. You know, we probably think he's already brave because of the work that he does, and the stunts that he does and putting his life out there, but to me, this really sweet, real bravery is looking at my life through the lens of my death to see what could also be there for me, and he did so with such grace. He was so earnest, he was so thoughtful, and he was highly courageous.
ROHAN: Chris has started, but what are some things you would say could help people like myself or people reading/watching this interview that could maybe also help us create the right mindset about death?
ALUA: That's a great question. I think one of the easiest, most accessible things will just be to even start talking about mortality, start talking about our mortality, it makes us feel really vulnerable to be in conversation around what our fears are, what we might want, but it's a great place to start, because when we start, we can keep that ball rolling, we can create a lot more value in our life right now before we get to death, and also can empower our friends and family members to take adequate care of us when our time comes. So, I suggest that as much as possible, people talk about death with one another, we talk about our own deaths, we talk about our ideas around death, we can talk about, you know, Chris Hemsworth’s death, that if that makes it easier to have a conversation.
ROHAN: The episode ends with a simulation where Chris experiences what his final moments could be like - in your work, is that a relatively accurate representation of someone's last minutes?
ALUA: It’s somewhat similar. I mean, it's not as stylized, and beautiful, you know, we’re often on somebody's couch, but it's the same, a similar type of text that we use in a death meditation to support people just start thinking about their mortality in a real way. So, he did what a lot of people have done with me through client consultation and through exercises and workshops.
ROHAN: I don't want to put it lightly, but it feels like you have a very tough job, I mean, it's a heavy job with a lot of emotions - how do you cope with what you experience with your clients?
ALUA: You know, it seems like a really tough job, a nd yes, I won't deny that there's a lot of sadness and there's a lot of tears, and there's a lot of big emotions, but none of them are bad or wrong, necessarily. They, more than anything, I get to witness people at their best also when they're dying and at their worst, and so it's a really warm squishy job. I think it's pretty great actually. One thing that we often do in order to encourage people is by having conversations or thoughts about their mortality. It really invites you back into your own life. So, when I think about the fact that one day I'm going to die, it reminds me that right now I'm still here. So I can use the time in a way that serves me, if that time is to sit on the porch and enjoy a long cup of coffee, or call that guy from six years ago, and finally apologize to him for getting a total brat, or start to think about where I want my final resting place to be. It invites a lot of life in.
ROHAN: How does the process of one reaching out to a death doula typically begin?
ALUA: Anything, you know, I suggest that people reach out to a death doula when they even start thinking about their mortality. So, even this conversation we've had is probably got you starting to think about the end of your life in some way. Am I correct?
ROHAN: Yeah, absolutely.
ALUA: And so, since it has would probably be a good time to start to think about what kind of plans you want to make, or to talk about any fears that you may be having and see if you can ease some anxiety, and then leading all the way up through and after death even is a great time to enlist the services of a death doula. Some people call when there is a serious illness that they've been diagnosed with, that they believe is going to end their lives, because we can be helpful in a variety of different contexts, and some people also just wait until it's getting really close to him to see what they can do. That's not ideal, but I'd rather offer some support than none at all. So, whenever anybody starts thinking about mortality is a good time to start talking about it.
ROHAN: This conversation has been extremely refreshing and it feels good to talk about these things very openly, but it feels like, due to societal taboos, many typically don't explore death to this degree. Why would you say death is still such a taboo topic when it really shouldn't be?
ALUA: I mean, it's stunning to me, it's very profound. I remember when this work first came across my consciousness, not in this capacity, but I was sitting on a bus in Cuba with a fellow traveler, and she was talking about her uterine cancer diagnosis, and I asked her a bunch of inappropriate questions, well inappropriate because of societal taboos. At first, somebody that I didn't really know, and she shared with me very openly, and honestly, what she'd been struggling with and said that it was the first time that she'd been able to talk about her death, because she was sick, and so whenever she'd mentioned fears around death, or thoughts around it, people would say, don't worry, you're gonna get better or you're going to heal, don't even, don't think about that. Don't talk about that. And I’m like, ‘My God, that's really messed up.’ You know, it's like, everybody is going to die. It's a huge societal secret that we keep. But it's a secret to none, and in fact, it's the only the only certain of our existence, none of us are guaranteed to do anything but to die. We're of the nature to die, and to me, it seems to be pretty basic, but I'm also kind of biased, because, you know.
ROHAN: Does it help some to possibly know about their impending death?
ALUA: Hey, so if you could know when you were gonna die, would you want to?
ROHAN: I mean, I imagine I'd be a lot less productive.
ALUA: Yeah, you make a good point that death serves as a really powerful motivator for us as well. A really powerful motivator, you know, we do a lot of things because of assured death, because we're gonna die, and then you're the one giving the interview and I just asked you a question, but the question you asked me was what again, I got excited.
ROHAN: Chris is on an accelerated schedule, but it feels like he gets some idea of what acceptance is or how to potentially reach it before the end of his life - do most ever reach acceptance, or is something typically reserved for the very end?
ALUA: Yeah, well, for starters, acceptance is a really high bar, like a ridiculously high bar for people about their mortality. You know, like, as you were imagining, it's really hard to think that one day, I just won't be present here to do all the things that I've been doing, like what's happening to all these fabulous errands, you know, what's going to happen with everything that I've worked for in my life. So, it really invites us into what's happening right now, like what I've got right now what I'm doing right now, how can I enjoy right now? Similarly, it's not necessarily my job to help anybody get someplace that they need to go, I just get to sit with them in the conversation and in their own explorations and reflect back to them when I hear. It's hard enough to get anybody to do anything else. I mean, have you ever tried to get like a friend to break up with a partner that was bad for them, you know, let alone get them to accept the fact that they're gonna die, it's virtually impossible. So,my job is really just to support people where they are being in the conversation with them. Now, it helps a lot when people have some awareness that death is coming. So, I think I probably say that deaf awareness is a more accessible place to land. Death embrace being like a pretty juicy place to be and death acceptance being a really, really high bar.
ROHAN: I imagine there are a lot of emotions at play when someone is given a death sentence or knows the end is coming, how often do you experience anger?
ALUA: Totally, I think anger is a very natural and normal part of the grieving process. Also, you know, I still sometimes experience anger about the people that I love are no longer living. Because I do this work doesn't mean that I'm just like, oh, Kumbaya death all the time. Like, I still have some strong feelings about it, too. I think I've probably just become far more comfortable being with the strong feelings that I have around mortality, over everybody’s mortality overall, but yeah, it's a very, very high bar. Acceptance is difficult.
ROHAN: After watching your episode, what would you hope is the biggest takeaway for viewers?
ALUA: I think that would be it, that we're all human. We're all absolutely human and human means being able to access a variety of emotions. It means being able to enjoy like the really cool juicy things about living, but it also means being with the fact that one day we're gonna die, and that it's not a bad thing to talk about. It can be scary, but it doesn't mean that it's that.
What if you could combat aging and discover the full potential of the human body? Global movie star Chris Hemsworth explores this revolutionary idea in the new National Geographic original series, “Limitless with Chris Hemsworth,” created by Darren Aronofsky and hailing from his production company Protozoa Pictures and Jane Root’s Nutopia. Entertaining, immersive and life-changing, “Limitless” rewrites the rulebook on living better for longer. Coming to Disney+ November 16.