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Mindfulness“Challenge yourself and believe!” Mindfulness
– The Roaring Souls Series –
Heather Albrecht – Mindfulness Teacher and Psychotherapist
You know when you are scrolling through social media some things get a nano-second of attention and others just make you stop! Pause. Read. Aha. Devote a minute to mindfulness. I read a post and it quoted Caroline Cardwell saying, “In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act!” Whoa – that got me – not just a free spirit but a free-spirited rebel! It made me smile and nod my head…. it also led me to read many more of @authenticwomancommunity Instagram posts. It led me to be curious about the women who have created this 65,000+ strong global community – particularly Heather Albrecht.
I talk about “challenge yourself and believe”, Heather notes that her “most powerful challenge in life was how to be consciously and authentically visible”. For her, “the vulnerability of being authentically visible is that she can be seen” and she notes: “when who I truly am can be seen, I can be touched. And when I can be touched, I can be hurt.”
Her honesty and truth to self inspired me to want to connect and to invite her to be a part of the Roaring Souls. Her story is her journey to follow quests for belonging and meaning – and choosing to listen to her soul’s whisper, it’s roar!
Her quests took her down two very different paths – one a successful corporate career in marketing and advertising, and the other into the world of humanistic psychology and the wisdom traditions. Today the quests and paths appear to have merged as she works as a registered Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapist, and Mindfulness Teacher.
I was keen to interview Heather because to me she is a soul beauty that has consciously and authentically listened to the calling of her heart, of her soul. She is not afraid to be honest and incredibly, refreshingly she notes that her belief is that: “vulnerability isn’t a weakness or something to do without; vulnerability is the underlying nature of her true self”.
Heather’s life story is threaded together by her dedicated search and deep interest in what makes a life meaningful. This woman who has often joked she was ‘too hippie for the corporate world and too corporate for the hippie world’ seems to have found her niche teaching and sharing all she has learnt, along with her partner Jo, through the Compassionate Self-Awareness Program To Know Yourself, Care for Yourself and Be Yourself. I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce Heather to you and let her share her story.
Heather – your capacity and dedication to inquiry and search for understanding and meaning has taken you all over the world. From ashrams in India to extended meditation retreats is Asia, you seem to have constantly challenged yourself to dig deeper. Can you share with us what drove you? Were you ever afraid of what you might have to face within? What gave you the courage to strip yourself (metaphorically) bare to seek to confront self?
To be really honest with you Christine, I’m not sure there was ever any choice in it; I’ve come to understand that my underlying soul’s nature is one of the Seeker of Truth. The Truth about who I truly am. Socrates implores us to ‘Know Thyself’ and this quest has driven much of my seeking.
Discovering the Truth about myself on the highest level, that we are all One, that dualism is an illusion wasn’t confronting at all for me, well I should clarify, it wasn’t confronting to my intellect. It wasn’t until I began to have true tastes of this oneness in meditation and in shamanistic supported shifts in consciousness that my ego I’ll call it, the part of me that believes it’s running the show, got really scared.
But I’d like to back up and tell you about one of the very first moments I had a taste of this sort of Truth, I was in my early twenties and I was walking alone at night on a country road, no people or cars or houses around, just enough starlight to see my way, the only sound the sound of my shoes on the road and the swish of my clothes as I walked, I felt the stillness inside of things come close. I stopped, standing still.
There were no sounds, except the almost-never-heard hush of things being. I sensed the stillness on all sides and an identical stillness inside me. It made me quite uneasy, as if I was about to be extinguished. I tried to think, to establish myself against the stillness, but the voice of my thoughts sounded thin, futile.
I felt an irrepressible need to be distracted, to change the stillness and its overwhelming of ‘me’. I rushed back to where I was staying, forcing myself to think about plans for the next day. But in the quiet of my room I realised what had happened: I had gotten scared. I had gotten scared of opening into the stillness, of allowing it to be, of opening into myself, a truer version of myself.
That experience told me I needed to take this search seriously and that I needed support. This began a decades-long phase of seeking out the knowledge of teachers from the eastern wisdom traditions and my serious and disciplined pursuit of yoga and meditation. My true search within began, or so I thought.
It’s important to add that all this ran parallel with a materially successful corporate career. Which in hindsight I realise added fuel to the fire of my seeking, as it’s material rewards of money, status and power disappointed me time and time again – and yet part of me just couldn’t break away.
It wasn’t until my searching took me into the worlds of humanistic and somatic psychotherapy and mindfulness that I really began to piece it all together. To understand what kept me so tied to my corporate world and identity. To understand why I still didn’t feel complete or secure or fully alive. You see while I was discovering the higher Truth about who I truly am I was also suppressing or bypassing my psycho–emotional work and development.
I’ve learnt since that this is quite a common experience and is called ‘spiritual bypassing’ which is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such.
Aspects of ‘spiritual bypassing’ include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.
I admit I had many of these characteristics and behaviours as I’d used my spiritual beliefs and practices as a form of avoidance. A way to turn away from my emotional pain, turn away from my very human vulnerability, to avoid my anger, to overemphasize the positive, and to feel superior. Somewhere along the way I had perverted spirituality into a defence mechanism — a mechanism that enabled me to disavow any negative quality or behaviour in myself – give me the illusion of control and safety from pain, shame and vulnerability.
It was a huge drain on my energy, my confidence, and my connection with my authentic self. And it had drained the meaning and joy from my life and relationships. It had me trapped in the corporate world where I’d also perverted money and status into the same illusion of control, security and even freedom.
This was the awakening that took real courage!
With the support of psychotherapy, mindfulness, mentoring and some newly found circles of conscious and compassionate women I turned my attention and seeking towards developing and growing my self-awareness, coming to understand the origins of my emotional pain, my wounding, my shame. This asked of me a level of vulnerability I thought at times would crack me open so wide I would never heal over. Yet as Leonard Cohen says so beautifully, it’s the cracks that let the light in.
Brené Brown explains it well: “I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work. We don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without the work of being vulnerable.”
Ultimately it was, and is to this day, the path of Compassionate Self-Awareness that has served me best in doing the ‘work’. By growing my self-awareness I was able to see all the different ways I wasn’t fully showing up, wasn’t being authentic in my life. All the ways I avoided emotional pain and conflict and the fear of not fitting in. All the times I said ‘yes’ when I really meant ‘no’. All the ways I didn’t take care for myself emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. And importantly I discovered the internal assumptions; conditioned beliefs, behaviour patterns and brain functioning that drove this. By cultivating my self-awareness I also became aware of my innate strengths and core values and what brings meaning and purpose to my life.
However the challenging part of self-awareness is that it’s confronting! I often found it much easier to avoid or deny the things I didn’t really want to see about myself. The things that I needed to do differently to create the life and relationships I wanted.
I also discovered that most of us are incredibly hard on ourselves when we see and admit some flaw or shortcoming or misguided behaviour. “I’m not good enough” “I’m worthless” I’m unlovable” It’s not surprising we hide the truth from ourselves when honesty can be met with such harsh self-criticism. What eased the path for me was discovering self-compassion, that I could treat myself with the same kindness, caring and compassion with which I treated a good friend.
Sadly, however, there’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as ourselves. Yes growing self-awareness is the crucial first step. Yet we can often miss the crucial companion to self-awareness, which is self-compassion.
I found this kind of tricky to see at first, that my own criticism and harsh self-judgment could unconsciously stop me from both clearly seeing the hard stuff AND making changes.
In contrast, the care for myself that comes with acceptance and self-compassion provides a powerful motivating force for growth and change. It creates the safety my brain needs. With self-compassion my motivation for change is because I care about myself, not because I think I am worthless or unacceptable as I am.
Living with compassionate self-awareness has helped me become more aware of the motivations behind my spiritual seeking and practices. Am I going through the motions, desperate to feel better? Am I resisting fully feeling? Does the seeking and practice feel authentic to the moment? Is the seeking and practice making me more compassionate towards others and myself? Does my life feel authentic, alive, meaningful?
I feel immense gratitude for finding my way through my spiritual searching as a defence against my very human vulnerability into a more inclusive practice of true authenticity. The real ‘work’ of being human. Being vulnerable. Being perfectly imperfect. Being rewarded with inner courage, compassion, connection and a deeply authentic and meaningful life.
You spent over 30 years in corporate leadership roles, can you share with us a little bit about the journey to put aside your corporate work and commit to your passion to share the path of compassionate self-awareness with others? Was there a major catalyst that motivated the change to commit fully to your mission of “Inspiring women to truly be ourselves”?
During the many years I was doing my psycho-emotional ‘work’ and exploring mindfulness I was also slowly weaning myself from the golden handcuffs of corporate life. I left the advertising agency where I was a founding partner and set myself up as freelance consultant. This move gave me the freedom to choose my clients, ones more aligned with my values, to a point. As well as the freedom to begin re-training and working in the fields of mindfulness and psychotherapy.
The transition from corporate work to my private psychotherapy and mindfulness practice didn’t happen overnight. I certainly had a plan for this transition to take place, yet I found over time it took on a rhythm of it’s own. I did notice a few years ago I found myself at a tipping point where emotionally I could no longer do the corporate work. This was one part liberating and two parts frightening, as I didn’t feel I had yet found my heart’s channel and focus for my work.
Then I met Jo (Jo Wagstaff, co-founder Authentic woman) at a Mindful Leadership conference. We courted each other for a few months both knowing there was a very precious friendship and partnership to be had as well as a community to be built as we quite quickly uncovered our shared vision: Inspiring women to truly be ourselves. I believe it’s rare to find a partnership that first and foremost honours each other’s process in living a more authentic life, honours what that means for each of us day-to-day, moment-to-moment. Our pledge to keep it real with each other, our shared vulnerability, heart-felt support for each other and our overlapping experience in finding the path of Compassion Self-Awareness has created a priceless alliance.
Out of this has grown a community of 65,000 women around the world and we’re about to launch our first online training program: Compassionate Self-Awareness To Know Yourself, Care for Yourself and Be Yourself.
You and your business partner Jo Wagstaff have a beautiful vision to ‘INSPIRE all women to feel confident, calm and connected’. Yet, I am wondering – How hard is it to get women to let down their guard, their barriers and reach out for help? I think that sometimes it is our guard and barriers that are all that is supporting us – ‘holding’ women as they face vulnerability must require you to have a lot of inner soul strength. Could you talk to us about how you developed it and how it aids Authentic Woman Community’s success and guides your mindfulness teaching?
Wow that’s such a big and important insight Christine and such a big question about developing compassionate self-awareness, soul strength.
It wasn’t until I was able to hold myself in vulnerability and also reach out to others in my vulnerability that I was able to do the same for others. Not till I was able to release busyness as a lifestyle and productivity as self-worth was I able to help others in a similar way. Not until I could take off my armouring, release my perfectionism and people-pleasing and only then could I support others to release the same.
It wasn’t until I learnt about and practiced self-care, that I could support others in caring for themselves as much as they do others. Not until I grew my self-awareness enough to see how I numb my painful emotions was I able to help others become aware of how they numb. Not until I learnt how to ‘be with’ my feelings, not move into problem-solving mode or numbing to avoid them, was I able to teach others how to ‘be with’ the uncomfortable in their lives and sooth themselves.
It wasn’t until I learnt that everyone experiences shame that I was able to speak out loud my shame stories about never being lovable enough, good enough, smart enough. And only then could I listen to another speak the same and hold it with a ‘me too’ and loving compassion. Not until I could turn to myself and acknowledge ‘this really hurts, this is hard’ and also recognise that ‘this is part of being human’ and offer myself some warmth and kindness; could I teach others how to practice self-compassion.
It’s a journey of course and ultimately an on-going process, a more aware, kinder and warmer way of relating with yourself and the world around you. It’s about waking up, growing up and showing up fully.
Jo and I created the Compassionate Self-Awareness online training program to be able to reach more women than our private practices could and importantly to acknowledge none of us are alone in this journey and that we’re not meant to do it on our own.
I believe women instinctively understand this, which is why the Authentic Woman Community is so important. We’ve spent the past year building one of the most inspiring, supportive and conscious communities of women I feel you’ll find anywhere. These women, over 65,000 of them, are committed to truly being themselves and living deeply authentic and meaningful lives. They give me soul strength and you’re proof of it Christine, it’s what brought us together, for which I feel very grateful.
Both Jo and I also share the details of our day-to-day journey with compassionate self-awareness in our social media and blog posts.
Heather, I promised you only seven questions – so I will make the last three short – could you in a few words share some of your soul learning and wisdom –
What has your soul learnt about courage?
I think my soul has always been in touch with the original meaning of courage, which is “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” It just took a while for the rest of me to align and have the self-awareness and compassion to be vulnerable and fully human.
How important is resilience and how have you grown it?
Resilience underpins our ability to continually grow and change, to push our comfort zones; and without this ability how can we be truly authentic? Ultimately I believe resilience is a tolerance for discomfort. It has been my mindfulness practice that has taught me how to ‘be with’ the uncomfortable and the painful in my life.
Being with the uncomfortable isn’t easy because, just like you, I’m wired for survival. Meaning my biological survival wiring is to avoid threat, avoid pain – when my survival wiring is activated vulnerability feels like weakness. The only thing I’ve found that helps me ease out of my defensive or numbing reaction is my practice of self-compassion.
To turn to myself first and acknowledge I’m having a hard time, turn towards myself with kindness and feel the pain, the uncomfortable feelings in my body. Feel the churning in my tummy when I’m anxious, feel the ache in my chest when I’m disappointed, feel the lump in my throat when I’m sad. Simply ‘be with’ these feelings as they’re showing up in my body in the moment and then soothe myself. Soothe my threat system with a warm touch of my hand on my chest or tummy, offer myself some kind words and reminding myself we all go through hard times like this.
For me it’s an on going process of cultivating this kind of resilience.
If I asked your soul “what is freedom?” what would it say to us?
Heather – thanks so much! I wish you safe travels on your journey ahead and I really look forward to following your blog on www.authenticwoman.co
You inspire me.
And you me.
Liberating Self – A Soul’s Journey, explores the path of liberating self to choose to live our dreams and the wonderment that can occur when the soul’s courage is embraced.
To be inspired, download the entire ebook from my website for just $15 NZD “Liberating Self – A Soul’s Journey”
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Thanks for being curious to connect and be inspired.
Ps. Check out my philosophy on www.christinespring.com
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