In an age of overstimulation, focusing on the essential can be elusive. I explore the intersection of conscious leadership, mindfulness + spirituality to enable overall health and wellbeing.
I spent 17 days on an island in the middle of nowhere (seriously!), by myself, and it was a truly blissful experience I'll never forget.
Being alone for the first few days was a dream - I woke up when I wanted, ate when I was hungry and had the luxury of longer yoga and meditation practices to do on my own. After about a week that freedom started to feel like a burden, as there really isn't much to DO in Graciosa (um, that's why I went there!). And then after two weeks it started to feel a bit isolating.
What is so interesting about dedicating time to be alone is that you get to meet yourself where you are, ALL OF YOU. It felt like diving to the depths of the ocean floor, to the places inside me where the light didn't reach, to the places I knew I had to go to be with all of me.
We all have dark patches, parts of us we have exiled or dismissed.
Here's an excerpt from the Heart Chakra chapter of the draft ROOTsilience book on this: "Over time the open and expansive space of our heart becomes a maze of walls (parts of us we want to hide or exile) or a minefield (deep seated resentment and anger). While it may seem at first like they are protecting us, these barriers are blocking us from feeling the expansiveness of this powerful energy center....
The path to liberation then, is taking down the walls and clearing the mine-fields; it’s opening the doors to the parts of ourselves we’ve locked away or exiled, and in a safe and grounded way, bringing ourselves back to our whole selves.
And so I remembered. And it wasn't easy at times. However, some deep and powerful writing came up from the depths of these shadows.
Dancing with your Dark
Standing in the corner She fidgets, uncomfortably staring at Her feet. She is your Loneliness. Your Not Enoughness.
She is your Exiled Inner Child, your Drowned Adolescent, your Unmet Expectations and your Crossed Boundaries.
You see Her. And She sees you.
Tears stream down Her face and you quickly avert your gaze.
You are easily swept away by the handsome Pressure to Perform, who bedazzles the crowd leading you in grand gestures across the room.
You steal a gaze at Her, in the corner still. You can feel Her pain like outstretched arms, reaching and grasping for you.
So you turn to the punch bowl. Savor your accomplishments with the taste of (spiked) cherry tang and then back to the dance floor.
Gettin’ jiggy with the cool crew of Image, Falsity and Fame.
It’s nearly the end of the night, and you can't help but glance over to that dark corner.
She is slumped over in despair on the floor.
GO! Be with Her! How bad does it have to be until you ask Her to dance?
As you lift Her up you feel the ropy embrace of Her solitude.
The weight of Her prisoner’s chains. You want to let go.
Hold Her in your embrace.
See Her. Feel Her. Be with Her.
Maybe it’s a Lullaby of Longing.
Maybe a Rap of Rage and Regret.
Let Her lead you, guide you, into the shadows.
Let Her in.
*Photo by I.am_na
The Reality: the (Rat) Race
I soon realized with this insatiable desire for MORE, the reach for the top was always in sight but always just out of reach.
Constantly reaching for an exponential and unattainable goal kept me from being at peace with myself. I was constantly chasing the “dangling carrots” of more praise, more accomplishment, more recognition and more money. I was filling myself up on these false substitutes for happiness, and never getting full.
Maybe you can relate?
More importantly this “race to the top” and myopic focus on financial gain alone led to company decisions that were based on selfish personal gain and often led to unethical behavior.
Company parties and booze-infused networking events often resulted in extra-marital shenanigans; we promised “the world” to the clients at the pitch meeting to win the deal, but the delivery didn’t always add up.
It was easy to get swept up in all this. I mean everyone else was doing it so...
After the boat docked the party continued. We landed with happy hour and hours later we closed the bar. We then continued at a colleague’s home nearby and needless to say the sun- and booze-filled day left me dehydrated. At some ungodly hour I was vomiting over my colleague’s kitchen sink with another colleague holding my hair. Was this “the top”?
The “highs” of winning big deals and getting promotions, even these reckless nights out on the company dime meant nothing compared to the “lows” of a deep inner knowing that something was really wrong. I had come to truly care for my colleagues and clients. I could see this pressure to reach the top and the “short cuts” they’d been taking to get there was taking a toll on them. I could tell because it took a toll on me. I wasn’t sleeping well. I spent weekends drinking and doing recreational drugs, and filling my time with never-ending plans and to dos. I worked hard to numb that inner knowing because I wasn’t ready to accept that my whole life I had been in a race to “the top”, a top that in fact didn’t exist.
I did, fortunately, have my regular yoga practice, one I started in high school and had luckily kept up over the years. Yoga grounded me in self-inquiry. It was during my yoga practice I had a glimpse into something more than this race to the top. In these moments of being with the present and being with myself, I could hear and feel this inner knowing.
I started to listen.
Elevating Consciousness: Living Truth
Meanwhile, my partner João and I got engaged and in considering a location for our destination wedding we took an exploratory trip to João’s native Azores Islands. Even though I had traveled to nearly 40 countries, I had never seen a place so rich in natural beauty, culture and delectable fresh cuisine.
After that trip I came home from a tough day at work and felt the harsh reality of the world (prison) I had created. I felt so defeated. I had worked hard to build something I now didn’t believe in nor want to be a part of. I didn’t need the country club membership or the house on the Cape. And I certainly didn’t need the miserable life (broken marriages and substance abuse) that went along with it all. There had to be another way.
After hearing me complain for the umpteenth time about all this João asked me, “So what makes you feel complete? What gives meaning to every day?”
The conversations that followed in those 18 months leading up to the wedding turned our wedding planning trip into a life planning trip and is where the story of MINUVIDA begins…
Questions to you dear reader:
I marked my 40th birthday with five days of silence on a self-designed personal retreat. I healed decades of not giving myself what I truly needed and want to share this powerful experience with you.
And so it was, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 the afternoon of the powerful full moon lunar eclipse, I arrived and settled into my home for the days ahead: a gorgeous stone cottage with a wood burning stove heater, a kitchen, and a beautiful bathtub. The bathtub was a very pleasant surprise <3
Day One Adventures
As soon as I bid adieu to the owner, who left me with the keys, I realized the house had no toilet paper. Luckily I had brought a roll with me (but just one!). While the village has staff they had left for the day and the following day was a holiday. Almost immediately, panic crept in and every time I had to pee there was an inordinate amount of anxiety around how much toilet paper I could use; Would I have enough to last me two days? Should I measure the whole thing and ration off squares?
It’s amazing how the mind works (broods, goes a bit crazy…?).
Meanwhile I was distracted from the toilet paper fiasco by the realization that I was all alone and the main door to the house shut in such a way that if I ever left the house without my keys I would be completely locked out. My imagination ran wild for a bit, seeing myself locked out in the middle of the night, wandering around in slippers huddled under a tree.
There goes that mind again...
I had to trust. I was going to be okay.
I decided it was time to smudge the house.
I lit my cedar bundle along with some dried lavender and called out for protection and support from my wiser self and “spirit team”, and while waving the smoke my intention was to clear any old, stagnant, or negative energies. Amazing what a little energy cleansing can do.
That afternoon I walked around the village of Sanguinho, wandered the meandering paths among fruit trees and at each turn noticed something new and different, and strikingly beautiful.
The fluffy moss beckoned me, I followed the path to a partially completed mud hut sauna, feeling that I was inside the womb of Mother Earth. Another path to bright pink camellia flowers, and following the sounds of a running brook nearby I noticed just how many different plants, mosses and ferns make up the grass we normally just pass by. My afternoon meander was cut short by a sudden downpour and luckily I was just steps from home.
Returning to the house (yes I had my keys!), it was time to light the wood stove. Starting the fire was yet another Day 1 Adventure. João lights all our fires at home and the last time I started a fire, I um, set a small part of our house on fire… so I wanted to be extra careful.
My fire adventure must have lasted over an hour, fiddling with the chute and the amount of air coming in. At one point the entire house was filled with smoke and I was grateful for the wind gusts that cleared the air. Finally I had a beautiful crackling fire, enjoyed a calming yin yoga practice and turned my attention to dinner.
Ah, eating in silence, I had a simple dinner and luckily no major adventures during this part of the day ;-). After dinner I spent some time listening to music and sipping herbal tea and I read a few of the Yoga Sutras before I drifted off to sleep.
In the days that followed
I would wake up and avoid looking at any time-telling devices, have a glass of water and head straight to the terrace for morning yoga. While I have had a daily personal practice for a few years now I am almost always aware of the time and the days’ to-dos ahead. During this retreat, however, I took my time and practiced what and how I wanted, for as long as I liked. Who knew what time it was, who cared?!
After practice I took my time making breakfast. Apparently a bit too much time the first morning as the bread I put into the toaster oven was burnt to a crisp!
The December low-pressure weather system of sun, then rain, then wind, then more rain meant I spent some mornings writing, reflecting and just gazing out the window. Usually by mid-morning the weather cleared and I would go for a hike. The village sits in one of the most stunning trail systems on the island and I enjoyed walks in the village and the various trails.
Hiking in silence enabled me to really soak up all the beauty around. I noticed so many little details and heard my every step. I was fully present in each moment and stopped every so often to pick a fallen flower or leaf on the ground. Amazing what treasures nature always has for us if we’re willing to be present enough to receive them.
Post hike I often enjoyed some yin yoga and writing and made time for evening cooking. I’ve always believed in the practice of “food as medicine” and without any rushing I was able to start cooking dinners with intention, lighting a candle and playing some mantras, and cooking while fully present. I must say the meals were absolutely delectable.
After dinner I would sit in the lounge chair, sipping herbal tea, sometimes listening to music, sometimes in stillness, allowing myself to simply be. What a true luxury.
Before bed I drew a hot bath, often with the petals of flowers or leaves I had found during my hikes earlier in the day. After the bath I spent time doing self-massage and gave myself Reiki. I had started my menstruation and this was by far the most nourishing period I had ever had. Interestingly and maybe not surprisingly, I had almost no cramps or discomfort that usually comes with my monthly cycle. I wished that every woman could have this deep self care time and set an intention for that.
One evening, warmed from my bath and self-care practices, I stepped onto the terrace to gaze up at the clear winter sky. Flanked on all sides by mountain ranges I felt like I was peering into a magical star-studded bowl. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of a shooting star. It felt like an eternity in that moment; the rustle of the trees, the infinite expansiveness of the stars, my breath, and being in it and part of it all.
Sanguinho is truly magical.
BEING and not DOING
I definitely had to be mindful not to get into “doing” mode, i.e. feeling I need to do X amount of yoga each day or spend a certain amount of time writing. It helped that I was on my cycle and a bit more physically tired so it was easier to follow the call to just rest, sit and observe.
I was able to BE by listening, feeling and allowing my body and intuition to guide me. After the first day in silence this became much easier as we need time to make the shift from constantly being “on” to allow ourselves to go within, and with our own flow.
Ceremony + Celebration
The day before my birthday I walked to the famous Salto do Prego waterfall. I have had a belly button ring since I was 16 years old, and I only ever changed it once so the little piece of metal on my tummy was holding around 20 years of accumulated experience and energy. I thought about all the incredible experiences that have made me who I am today, the joyful moments as well as the challenging ones, the lessons learned. I took some time to remember all that I was grateful for while holding this ring in my hands, filling it with this gratitude. I then stood from the top where the water cascades down the cliff and released the ring to the waterfall, asking her to accept my love and carry away and release anything that no longer served me.
Upon releasing the ring to the waterfall, to say I was overwhelmed with emotion would be an understatement. I truly felt the waterfall respond and I felt lighter, filled with tears of release, joy and all the feels.
Later that evening I entered the mud hut and took some time to honor all that I experienced and intentionally share it with all of humanity. I know that when each of us heals and releases, we do it for all of consciousness.
A note on ceremony: Ceremony (and even ritual) has long been part of our culture and lives; think about your morning “rituals” (coffee, exercise, etc.) or the “ceremony” of the holidays or family gatherings. Ceremonies don’t need to be anything heavy or weird, or instill fear or discomfort. Rather, they are opportunities to connect, honor and be present with the sacredness that is. In the future I’ll write more about how I enter into ceremony, but anyone can do it and it’s a very special practice.
The Big Day
It was day five of my silent retreat and I was giddy with excitement to wake up on my 40th birthday on December 4!
The night before I had made a birthday card for my younger self and put out a few “gifts”. (Before the trip I had gone shopping for my “younger self”, the me that felt so let down when my birthday was forgotten or I didn’t get any gifts). There’s just nothing like tearing open the wrapping paper on your big day (even if you know what’s inside!).
Needless to say I started my birthday and the decade of being in my 40s feeling 100% content and fulfilled in my own skin. Yes it would be great to hear from folks and maybe even receive a few surprises but there’s no way I would feel disappointed or let down. Ever again.
I have everything I need. I can give myself what I need. I can openly receive without expectation.
As I opened up my phone for the first time in five days (besides texting João once per day as promised), I was so excited to connect with my family and friends. The hours that followed flew by on calls with loved ones. My throat became sore as I hadn’t spoken in days.
Ironically I came out of silence to find out we were in (yet another!) lock-down… but I made it home safely and enjoyed a lovely evening with no expectation, now a 40-year-old woman, starting this next chapter and decade knowing that everything I need is right here with me. Taking the time to slow down, be with myself -- all of me
My dance with silence began in 2009. I spent 10 days in silence on a Vipassana retreat in Sweden, one of the hardest and most powerful things I’d ever done in my then 28 years of life, and an experience that paved the way for a life-long practice.
I started meditating regularly and while it would take years until I discovered the bliss of a daily practice, I had been to the well and I knew how to fetch my own fulfillment; it has been inside me all along.
Taking small or longer periods of silence is known as the sacred practice of mouna. In today’s “Age of Overstimulation” taking silence can seem daunting, so think of it as taking time for yourself. It’s not just about being quiet but about reducing and or removing external stimuli to be with yourself and tune in.
Let me know if you practice silence, how you do it and tips and / or ideas you gained from this essay!
And THANK YOU;-)
Books referenced and for further reading:
Here are some book resources on Energy Medicine and Subconscious Repatterning to deepen your knowledge:
Here are two resources I mention in the video and that are my "GO TO" references for the chakras.
“Good Morning”, I said as I sped past my colleagues huddled around the water cooler. It was my first morning as manager, and at 26, I was a good 10 years younger than my colleagues and from what I could gather from their grim responses and hushed conversations they weren’t exactly thrilled that I was now their “leader”.
The angry email from a colleague felt like a knife in my gut. We had disagreed on the best way to handle a difficult client situation and all I could focus on was every word of his scathing email and all the ways I would respond (and not the client problem).
As leaders we face challenges like everyone else, but how we handle them and conduct ourselves has a ripple effect on our team and business. It’s critical to stay centered but sometimes the rock that lands in our pond is so big the ripples throw us way off. Here are three ways to come back to your center, to lead mindfully.