In this fireside chat with Elena Brower we touch on many topics to date, adding richness to previous conversations and integrating them with one another.
This episode is a little different than most, we’re not exploring a single topic. Instead we discuss Elena’s expansive work as it relates to our inquiry. This conversation ties to so many episodes to date: Change from Within with Bobby Klein, Nonviolent Communication, Beyond the Enlightenment, Liberatory Technology, and Parenting, just to name a few. Elena helps us weave them together under the banner of our personal practices.
We discuss her upcoming book, Softening Time, how nonviolent communication has helped her learn self compassion, her recent devotion to Zen Buddhism, her decision to become sober ten years ago, lessons from parenting, her course on living intentionally, and the importance of community.
"EB: We're all connected. The realization you have at any moment creates a ripple of consciousness that emanates throughout space and time. And that night I sat very still and felt the door opening in my heart. We're not separate from anything, anyone, anywhere. When I sit, you benefit. When you sit, I benefit. Practice provides a structure that nourishes your experience of intimacy within yourself, which adds to the peace in the world that we share."
[00:00:34] JS: That's Elena Brower, yoga teacher, writer, mentor, mother and so much more. And this is the Denizen Podcast. I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti.
Many of you are probably familiar with Elena through her acclaimed multi-decade career as a celebrity yoga teacher. But she's evolved to do so many other things over the years in addition to that. She's a mother, which has profoundly influenced her work, a painter, a writer. She has online courses on meditation, non-violent communication, parenting, and just in general, how to live your life with intention.
She has a podcast called Practice You that's about improving our collective well-being, something we explored last week in our episode on liberatory technology. Elena's published three books. Her fourth, Softening Time, is a collection of poems and prose that she's written throughout her life in addition to writings that have influenced her. It comes out next month. She's also recently launched a Substack called Softening Time that shares her wisdom on life and meditation and so much more.
This episode's a little different than most. We're not exploring a single topic. Instead it's a fireside chat where we discuss Elena's work as it relates to our inquiry. It ties to so many conversations we've had to date; Change From Within with Bobby Klein, non-violent communication, beyond the enlightenment, liberatory technology and parenting. This fireside chat helps us weave them together under the banner of our personal practices.
You can also find show notes and additional resources for this episode on our website, www.becomingdenizen.com. There you can sign up for our newsletter. We send our weekly content alongside announcements from our community and partners.
I'm so honored to be Elena's first conversation discussing her upcoming book. I'm so excited to have it sit on my nightstand to pick up for nuggets of wisdom. I hope you take as much away from this one as I did.
[00:02:19] JS: Our foundational challenge as humans in these times is to connect slowly, savor restful intervals and find ways back to the words that give our daily activities deep meaning. What we need more than anything is profound attention to the instructive silences that dance between the words. To the glimpse of happiness that catch us off guard. To the depths of sadness that keep us connecting and listening. I'd love for you to reflect on that.
[00:02:49] EB: The instructive silences are where my mind gets very anchored. It's taken me a long time to get here. I'm like 52-years-old already and it just began to dawn on me that this is where I want to rest and inhabit space is in those instructive silences. I think that, for all of us, it's not elevated enough the importance of that. And it's hard to navigate because we do – if you're a listener right now as somebody who makes things happen, and as somebody who makes things happen, it's hard to rest in those silences and be with those silences. But that's precisely where, as I'm sure your listener also knows, all the juices, whether it's between people or within ourselves. That's kind of where I'm hanging out.
[00:03:49] JS: This has come up a lot in our conversation in different ways actually. Conversation with Ziere on trust. One of the pieces of it. And this is also so central to your work. So I'm excited to weave that together in this conversation. He talks about self-trust and the importance of listening to yourself, right?
And the beyond the enlightenment conversation with Robert Gilman, and this is just an ongoing theme in general, is just how much as a society we're in our heads. And we're disembodied. We're disconnected from all the wisdom within. And it's an important part of this inquiry, just how do we build practices to reconnect to that wisdom and integrate that wisdom?
And so, that feels just so, so central to the instructive silences that you're referring to. And then actually just two days ago, you're going to love this one, I recorded a conversation with Donnie Maclurcan, who's just brilliant. And we have an episode out with him on post-growth economics. He's a really brilliant thinker on the post-capitalist economy.
[00:04:59] EB: Donnie Maclurcan?
[00:05:00] JS: Mm-hmm. He's the Executive Director and founder of The Post Growth Institute. And he was sharing with us some of his really progressive organizational practices. And he has meetings where up to half of the time is spent in silence.
[00:05:18] EB: Yeah, that's where it's at.
[00:05:20] JS: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:21] EB: I keep finding that out. I was watching a Dharma talk the other night at my school where I study. And I was online. The Dharma talk was happening in-person. The person who was talking giving the Dharma talk was actually coming in virtually. And for some reason the time got messed up.
And so, instead of listening to a Dharma talk, we sat for 15 minutes. Then we were waiting for him. And then we ended up sitting for another like – I don't know. 20 or 30 minutes. I had so many beautiful effervescing ideas during that time. Not that that's the point. But in the silence where I was expecting to be fed with some information and like get some insight, I actually had some insights of my own. And it was really very interesting.
[00:06:10] JS: Hmm. It's a nice bridge to the next thing I wanted to talk to you about, which was practice. Because I know obviously this is something you've been leading people through for decades now. And you talk about this on your recently launched blog. Even just getting started with the practice and the resistance to the practice. I'd love to first just talk about your personal practices and then just your general perspective on practice and the importance of it.
[00:06:43] EB: Cool. Let's start with how it all started. I would say late 90s when I first started practicing yoga in earnest and studying to teach. My first exposure was Tibetan Buddhism. And it really resonated with me but I couldn't sit still. That was not my time. I was 27-years-old. I was just like, "No. Sitting still is not my thing. I'm going to teach yoga. I'm going to sit still for three, four minutes at the end of class after shavasana. But that's about all I can manage." And I wished for it. Oh, my goodness. Never happened.
Took 20 more years traveling through several different traditions, mostly tantric. Based in Shri Vidya, which is a sort of a feminine lineage, and to encapsulate it. And found Zen in 2020 in earnest.
[00:07:42] JS: So recent.
[00:07:44] EB: I have met Roshi Joan – so recent. I had met Roshi Joan Halifax back during that time when I was training just before 2000. I think it had to have been 1999 or 2000. And she struck me. I took one look at her eyes and I was like, "Whoa. Whoa. Who's that?" I was smitten right away.
And when I got here to Santa Fe in 2000, and we drove past Upaya, which I didn't know was here, all these little clicks happened in my body, and my heart and my mind. And I knew I would study with her finally. Only to find out that, within a few days of that realization, Upaya shut down because of Covid.
I started taking pretty much every program online that they were offering. And they're still offering everything online because the global sangha got so strong and so potent that they offer everything. Pretty much every program online. Some hybrid version. Now I've been studying Zen for the last three years very, very closely and diligently let's say.
[00:08:56] JS: It is a good moment to ask you about the month-long practice period that you just did a couple of months ago. Tell us about that.
[00:09:01] EB: Yes. Yes. That was pretty incredible. I was, at first, really nervous and that I wasn't cut out for it. First two days, there's a lot of chaos some trauma bubbled up into my consciousness. I got a lot of compassion for some previous experiences with students who had been suffering from trauma. I really got some insight in those first few days.
[00:09:29] JS: I'm so curious. Why did you feel like you weren't cut out for it? Or why were you anxious about it?
[00:09:35] EB: You know, I was so – there was a lot of trauma that was coming up for me. That's what happened. And I thought, "Oh, I don't know if this is possible even for me." Because how am I going to do this for another three and a half weeks?
And in realizing, I started to – each day, as the trauma would bubble up and I would be very uncomfortable in the seat. But I would stay still because I really wanted to just do it right. I just wanted to do it right. I realized that a lot of times –
[00:10:10] JS: Well, that's interesting.
[00:10:12] EB: Yeah.
[00:10:13] JS: That's an interesting sentiment to hear coming from you.
[00:10:17] EB: Oh, that's like the – it's my whole life.
[00:10:19] JS: Hmm.
[00:10:20] EB: Most Zen students I think can claim that. Like, yeah, I just want to get it right. We find it because there's a great deal of order, and presence and simplicity in it. And, yeah, it's nice to get things right. In my body, that's kind of how I've always operated and how I've always kind of made sense of the world.
Needless to say, in my effort to get it right, I would sit still and I would just sort of work through the trauma. And I started to do some research in the evenings on trauma and meditation. And what I found out is that you can't force it. Mindfulness alone is not going to help us work through trauma or heal trauma. There are other tools such as breathing, such as tuning into sounds. There are many different tools to build resilience and to build enough sort of presence, I would say, to get myself back to this zone of safety where I felt, "Okay, I can just go back to breathing and I can just be still here without feeling anxious."
I learned a lot in those first few days. I also learned that I could have done a lot better job early on my teaching career with folks who had traumatic past experiences. Things I didn't know about at the time.
So as the time went on during that month, I found so much peace in my body. It wasn't always easy. It wasn't always readily available. But with practice, it became more and more accessible. And so, now I really crave the practice in the morning. I crave the practice in the evening by the end of the day. And lots of efforts been made. I can't wait to sit down and just be still. But it took a long time.
[00:12:11] JS: So now you sit twice a day. That's your practice first thing when you wake up, right?
[00:12:13] EB: Yeah. 7 AM and 5:30 PM.
[00:12:19] JS: Hmm. There's a time. There's a specific time that you do it.
[00:12:21] EB: Yeah, it's when the zendo is sitting over at Upaya. And sometimes I tune in on YouTube. And sometimes I just sit with them.
[00:12:32] JS: So you set your alarm. Or if you wake up earlier, you do something else and then you sit at that time?
[00:12:37] EB: I don't actually have an alarm. I pretty much always wake up around six o'clock.
[00:12:41] JS: It's interesting for me. I wake up and I sit. I've got my mala, my Denizen mala, at our retreats. I gave everyone malas.
[00:12:53] EB: Oh, beautiful.
[00:12:54] JS: And it was this reminder to get out of our heads and into our bodies and sit. And I love using a mala because I don't touch my phone starting my day. For me, wake up, sit, immediately grab my mala when possible. Some days it's not possible because I need to jump into helping my kids get out the door. I don't quite wake up early enough. But that's my practice.
And then actually, more recently, I integrated journaling and drawing.
[00:13:27] EB: Wonderful.
[00:13:27] JS: This was a practice a friend inspired me to do. And I started doing it shortly after my father passed away, the end of 2021. And that was actually really helpful for me in working through just the trauma of that experience. And so, it's like morning pages. But I just do one page in a moleskin instead of the full three that that practice is. But it's just one page, free-flowing thoughts. And then I draw something, which has actually been really amazing and liberating because I've never drawn. I'm not particularly good at drawing. And it's this moment of pure creative expression exercising a different part of my brain for no reason than doing it in the moment. And then it's just – I may as well burn it after I do it.
[00:14:10] EB: Wonderful. Wow. Beautiful.
[00:14:12] JS: I'm wondering how you – because I know you paint.
[00:14:14] EB: I do.
[00:14:15] JS: I'm wondering how you consider painting. Or whether you consider painting part of your practice?
[00:14:21] EB: I do. It happens in certain intervals of the year. Right now as a writing time. I'm finishing up my next book. There's no painting happening. But the paintings for this book happened last year at this time, which sort of a longer arc for a project. This is going to come out probably 2025, I would imagine.
But when painting is happening, it takes over my office space, which is also our living room. And paint is everywhere, and tarps, and paper, and easel, and canvases. Yeah, it's happening all the time when it's happening.
[00:15:03] JS: And so, has writing been a consistent – I mean, I know this book has writing since you were 13. Has that been something that's been consistent throughout your life? Or has that been something that's ebbed and flowed? Obviously, there's a more intense moment as you've written your books. This is your fourth book.
[00:15:18] EB: Sure. Yeah. This is definitely something that I'm always doing. There's always a notebook going. There're always several notebooks going actually. If you were to see what I'm staring at right now, you would laugh.
[00:15:30] JS: How do you talk about practice with your students?
[00:15:33] EB: I try not to. Yeah, I don't really talk about it so much. I just sort of do my own practice. And what's really weird and funny is that since COVID happened with regards to yoga practice, that practice really is my own. I am only filming at home. We do two classes a week with glow on Mondays and Saturdays. They're wonderful. And I have to practice because that's the visual for the student. It's no more me going around the room adjusting people in a room full of people. It's just me, and the microphone and the camera.
And so, there's something really magical about it. I feel like I got a great gift to get my practice back and to consistently be in a space where I'm creating sequencing and thinking about what would be most efficient for this particular theme or idea. I don't need to talk about the yoga practice so much because I'm just doing the practice and they're following along, you know? And that seems to work really well.
When it comes to the other things that I teach, I mentor people privately and also in a program that is ongoing. And I basically just share what I do. And I encourage them – many of them are also teaching. I encourage them to do the same.
[00:17:02] JS: I love how much Asana is the kind of the back door of, the Trojan Horse, into these deeper spiritual practices. That's where I started at this point. I sit every day. I don't do Asana nearly as often anymore. I want to read one of your poems actually.
[00:17:21] EB: Nice. Thank you. That's fun.
[00:17:23] JS: This one is called Faith. And I like it too because it ties to Denizen's first value, which is curiosity.
"The strongest force is not gravity. It's curiosity. A holy map to that which you're healing within yourself. Every incident has its own intelligence. You can change the world but only through this versioning, unfamiliar intimacy with yourself. What if you're just here to develop faith in yourself?"
Is that a recent poem?
[00:17:59] EB: Yeah. That one, I think came through last year. Yeah, the more recent ones always come through when I'm studying, listening to lectures. No reading.
[00:18:13] JS: Well, I love that so much because our thesis here is really about – yeah, we can talk about these big systems change conversations. But it has to start. Our tagline is change from within.
[00:18:23] EB: Yeah. It's one of those things that you can't really know it intellectually. You can't force it. An embodiment. It has to land with you. And then you can attempt feebly and humbly to put it into practice over and over and over again.
[00:18:46] JS: I love that.
[00:18:48] EB: And that practice I think is such an important word because it connotes just sort of – it's actually something I almost got tattooed on my arm. Maybe I will someday. But it's abhyasa.
[00:19:03] EB: Yeah, totally.
[00:19:05] JS: Focused, diligent practice. It connotes. That's why I was so curious when you said doing it right. Because it sort of connotes just doing it diligently and and sort of following that path.
[00:19:24] EB: Yeah. It's a pretty vulnerable point for me because that's just – I've always wanted to get it right so that it's the whole good girl mentality. It's a really American problem. It has led to all sorts of dramas from an eating disorder early on in my teenage years. All the way to choices that I made in partnerships. Yeah, it's something that we have to let go of time and time again. At least I have to let go of time and time again, this need to be right. But it's a vulnerable confession, that.
And I do find that it's true with a lot of Zen students. They also were in that same boat just wanting to get it right. And so, you come into a practice like this where there are many rules, ceremonious revelations, bowing. Ways to do things. I found the school that definitely works for me, the center that works for me. And so far as I get it wrong, it's okay. I'm still learning. And the getting it right has less and less sway over me at this point.
[00:20:38] JS: I think it's so essential as leaders to be human, right?
[00:20:44] EB: Yeah, that's right.
[00:20:47] JS: To model something that's not impossible. That doesn't set a student up to fail. Then just be real.
[00:20:55] EB: That's right.
[00:20:55] JS: I mean, that makes me think of – I was going to get to this later. But it wants to come out now. There's a structured phrase that you have a practice of saying to yourself that ends with "how human of me".
[00:21:14] EB: Yes, it's from my teacher.
[00:21:15] JS: Let's talk about that.
[00:21:18] EB: So you've now coincided on NVC. Judith Hanson Lasater, who is my teacher, she studied with Marshall a long time very intensively. And she teaches – in a similar way to many teachers teach emergency empathy, she uses the phrase how human of me when offering one's self-empathy.
If you're offering yourself empathy, you know. And we you see it all. You know that there are four steps. At first it feels very weird and sort of laboratory-esque. And then slowly becomes a way that you speak. You make an observation. You state the feeling what's arising for you, that's alive in you. You state the need that isn't being met. And then you state the request that you have to meet that need.
And for her, when you're giving yourself empathy – oh, my gosh. When I noticed that – I don't know. The best example I can think of, my son ignores me on his way out. He closes the door when I'm saying something. He's already gone. Can't really say ignores because that's a judgment. Technically, that's not proper NVC.
But when the door closes and I'm in the middle of my sentence, I feel sad and exasperated also. My need for respect is not being met. And I request that you just wait here. That's what I would say to him. But if I'm just speaking to myself, I would say, "Wow. And I noticed that the door closed when he was walking out. I felt sad and exasperated. And my need for order, my need for respect, those needs are not being met. How human of me to feel this way?" And invariably, a hand goes onto my body, somewhere in my belly, my heart, "How human of me to feel this way when that happens?" And just in the recognition of oneself, everything gets softer. Everything gets easier. There's something just falls away. The charge falls away. And I feel better.
[00:23:31] JS: You'd also mention not just saying it once, but repeating it. And how your response to it evolves as you say it multiple times.
[00:23:40] EB: Well, what she teaches – and I think very – it's so helpful for all of us. We're so outwardly focused. She teaches to say it, and feel it and offer oneself empathy until you feel full. And sometimes I have to say that many, many times in order to feel full of my own empathy. It's wild.
[00:24:05] JS: Yeah, I found that realization one of the many very significant takeaways I took from NVC. Just this notion that every behavior stems from a human need.
[00:24:15] EB: M-hmm. Exactly.
[00:24:18] JS: But also, yeah, the self-compassion was so incredibly potent. And I think, again, if you tie this to the good girl story, right? And the inner critic and how hard we are on ourselves when we don't behave "perfectly", there's tremendous value there. Do you have any other reflections on non-violent communication and how that's affected you?
[00:24:43] EB: There are no more arguments in this house. Not for a couple of years. I am sober emotionally. Angry outbursts for over a year. I'm really proud of that. That was like the last bastion after I got sober from marijuana and alcohol, tobacco. That was the last bastion was the anger.
It's really just a matter of using our words to create clarity first within ourselves to soften the space within ourselves and then to allow us and invite us into the possibility that we could actually feel empathy and true compassion for the other person even if we don't agree. Judas defines empathy as understanding independent of agreement. It's just so good.
[00:25:39] JS: Yeah. Because that – we've read so many books about marriage in the last couple years. But just being right. The need to be right is such a detriment to harmony in relationship.
[00:25:53] EB: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
[00:25:54] JS: Well, I'd love to hear you reflect a little bit more on your transition to sobriety.
[00:26:00] EB: Sure. It was probably right around 2014, 2013, 2014 when I started to realize that this was not working for me anymore. This waking up first thing in the morning, dropping the kid off at school, and then getting stoned and kind of hanging out for three four hours. And then going to teach a class, or teach a private, or whatever. But those three, four hours were lost for years.
And people asking, "Oh, have you built so many businesses? And how are you doing all the work that you're doing? You're writing books. You're making art." I'm just like, "Those three, four hours a day are incredible to have." I didn't have them for so long.
I would get stoned. I would sit up there for like an hour. Maybe I would read a book and think I was getting something done. And then I would go downstairs and reorganize the silverware. Whatever I would do. And I realized I was just really ashamed.
[00:27:07] JS: Of that habit.
[00:27:09] EB: Ashamed of so many things that were stemming from that habit. The lies I would tell because I didn't want people to know that I was a stoner. The ways I would conduct myself in relationships. When you take in that much toxicity to your body, your liver gets very constricted and stagnant. I wasn't doing any cardio also. That was really hard. And that liver stagnancy becomes rage.
[00:27:43] JS: Interesting.
[00:27:45] EB: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:27:49] JS: So, it was those outbursts that started to make you realize something was wrong or off?
[00:27:57] EB: That and so many other things. And I was in a relationship that wasn't optimal. There were just a lot of problems. And I started to see them. And I started to see the connection between this habit that I had. This wasted window of time every day. And the feeling in my body.
I just began to consider what life would be like without it. And I didn't tell anybody. I didn't make a big deal about it. I was just like, "Okay, I think this is coming." And one day I went into the little closet where I hid the little pouch with the little bag, and the little lighter and the things. And I held the bag in front of my face and I was like, "Okay, I'm doing this. This is my problem. This is my solution." And I emptied the bag out into the garbage. I put the garbage down the chute. I was in New York. I put the garbage down the chute and I was like, "Okay, this is over. It's over today."
I texted one friend of mine, Gabby Bernstein, really dear friend, and I was like, "This is what I'm doing. And I'm not going to tell anybody. I'm not going to do anything else. I'm just telling you." And she was so happy. She had brought this up to me many times, "Do you think you can be close to God when you're getting high?" She would ask me these terribly disturbing leading questions as a friend should and could.
And finally, that was the day. And I did it. And during that three, four-hour window, I started making little vignettes. Instagram had just started, you know, ish. And I was like, "I'm going to make beautiful little Instagram posts." Because Instagram for me has always been for myself. I didn't do it for anybody else. I do it for me. It's my little vision board. I love it. I really enjoy it. I just started making little watercolors and little things to post on Instagram.
I was going through Gabby's book at the time. And each day, I do another –
[00:30:04] JS: What's her book?
[00:30:05] EB: The book that is called – I think it was May Cause Miracles. Yeah, May Cause Miracles. And I just went through her book. And as I would go through the book, I would make a little piece of art.
And by the way, I don't even talk like that may cause miracles. Somehow, I think or speak. But Gabby, her heart is so deep in service that I just took it and went with it. And what I created was a 40-day journey of art on Instagram. And by the end of the 40 days, I was ready to be official, done, sober, clean. And I started writing a spoken word about it. And that spoken word still exists on the interwebs. It's called Ritual of Recovery. And that was almost 10 – let's see. 2014. That'll be nine years ago this year.
[00:31:03] JS: And the decision was all substances. Tobacco, alcohol, everything.
[00:31:07] EB: Yeah, everything.
[00:31:11] JS: 100%.
[00:31:11] EB: And all the way up until – 100%. And then this past year, I was working through the last vestiges of that anger, as I mentioned previously here. And a friend of mine was like, "You know, have you ever tried microdosing psilocybin?" And I was like, "No. I'm sober." He was like, "Well –"
[00:31:31] JS: This is Eric?
[00:31:32] EB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:31:33] JS: That's funny.
[00:31:34] EB: There's a lot of back and forth on this and something to think about. I started thinking about it. I did some research. I read all the books from sacred knowledge, to Terence McKenna, all the books. And I started to realize that maybe a course of microdosing psilocybin a finite period of time might be good. I was deathly afraid. But I realized that it might be good.
And so, I did a three-month course of microdosing psilocybin. The end of the three months, it was like a week before the three-month was going to be over, and I forgot for an entire week. The four days, I completely forgot to take my little microdose in the morning and do my whole thing, which told me that it was over. And I have not touched it since. And it feels so good. There's a different chemistry in my body.
[00:32:26] JS: So you found it valuable.
[00:32:30] EB: Beyond valuable. Something really shifted beyond. No question
[00:32:36] JS: Yeah. I think it speaks to intentional and ceremonial use of substances to support our evolution and inner awareness. Versus a non-intentional escapist use of substances, which, if you have habits, in the latter it can be a slippery slope to start to engage. Yeah.
[00:33:06] EB: Right. That's right.
[00:33:07] JS: That's really interesting. Your transition to sobriety actually is a nice segue into something that I was interested to talk to you a little bit more about, which is just not so much your simplify course specifically. But just the thinking and the ethos behind it. What is the need that the simplified course is addressing? In particular, how that is I think reflective of how we tend to live our lives versus how that course is supporting living our Lives differently.
[00:33:39] EB: Simplify though, you know, I needed it. Again, I'm just making what I want. And I really needed it. I needed to figure out systems and ways to kind of get clear on what needed to exit my life and what needed to be prioritized. And that's how this course was born. It took me like two, three years to write it. I had some great mentors throughout it. And it came together because I desperately needed it.
It starts six modules. The first module is called Structure. And the reason for that is we don't know how to do this. We're not taught this in school. Go through high school, you learn about physics and you learn about all these very important things, other languages. But nobody teaches you how to organize your day. And nobody teaches you how to trust your priorities. Nobody teaches you how to look at what matters to you and put that first instead of what matters to other people.
And so, we look really in a very granular way at your schedule. You get to see what's on there that isn't intentional. You get to really ascertain what's on there that you're doing it for somebody else or for accolades that are inappropriate or whatever.
And then we think, "Oh, God." You wake up and you look at the schedule and it's like, "Oh, I have to do that today." And if you have that feeling, it's probably a really good time to just sit down with the schedule and really look as though you were looking from a satellite at someone else's life and figure out exactly what needs to go.
And it doesn't happen right away. It doesn't happen in a short time. It takes a long time to get rid of the things that don't belong there. Because we think we need to keep them there. We have obligations. And we are mistaken.
[00:35:50] JS: Well, there's so much to reflect on there. One is just something that comes with NVC. It comes in a lot of other work I've done. Just really sitting in the seat of you have agency in your life. There is no I have to. You're always choosing to.
[00:36:08] EB: Yeah, that's right.
[00:36:09] JS: This is also making me think of a book that was really impactful to me when I did my teacher training with Stephanie Snyder, which I don't know –
[00:36:18] EB: The best of the best.
[00:36:20] JS: I love her. Yeah. Also, she's a parent.
[00:36:22] EB: Old, old friend.
[00:36:23] JS: Yeah. And of the books that she had us read was called The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope.
[00:36:29] EB: Right.
[00:36:30] JS: And one of the things he talks about is how – if we're doing things for the accolade, there's something that's not pure in our actions because we're not doing it for – you know, if I'm going to go back to right, the right reasons. And it makes me think of something that I just saw someone post on Instagram yesterday, which is a quote. And it says, "You're a force of nature." This also relates to things that Ziere has been talking about. You are worthy by virtue of your being. And how hard it is to release the sense of worthiness around these external things. And that's what makes self-awareness, self-truth so hard. Because when I sit in that and it's like, "Hey, I want to actually be home with my kids more." People kind of look down on that. And so you have to be able to sit in that and say, "No, this is my truth."
But the quote was, "You're a force of nature. You've been blessed with a divine combination of gifts, passions and experiences that no one else can claim. By virtue of your existence, you are unique. The world needs you specifically. Answer your calling by stepping fully into who you are."
[00:37:42] EB: Hmm. It's so beautiful. It's just such a long process of figuring out who that is.
[00:37:48] EB: Right. Well, yeah. I mean, in my experience too, it's like is this my truth? Or is it just the narrative that's been ingrained in me my entire life about what I should be?
[00:38:00] EB: Right.
[00:38:01] JS: Because those stories lead to somatic responses. And so, I feel like it's, again, back to practice.
[00:38:09] EB: Back to practice. It's exactly right. And you can't – there isn't a timeline. Everyone's on a different timeline to figure out kind of who I am. It's taking all this time. I'm still unpacking it a little bit. I'm still getting to know myself. I'm still getting comfortable in here.
Who knew it was going to take this long? I'm fine with it. But like, "Wow, that's a while." It takes a while. I'm fascinated by the process. I don't think it's ever going to be over. And I don't think I'll ever kind of be finished with it.
[00:38:52] JS: Yeah. No. Again – but I think that's so central. It's an evolution. It's a practice. It's constant.
[00:39:01] EB: Yeah.
[00:39:02] JS: Life is such an amazing teacher.
[00:39:06] EB: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
[00:39:08] JS: I want to talk quickly on a couple of things before we wrap. Because there's so much of your work that touches on things that we've talked about specifically in the conversation. You have a parenting course also.
[00:39:22] EB: Yeah.
[00:39:23] JS: We've talked about how important parenting is. It's really central to Riane Eisler's work around just what we learn about dominance through the way that we parent and what we observe in the household in these most formative years. And parenting is just this leverage point around these big systemic changes that we talk about. I just love to hear just your take and on your experience and with the course around where you think there are opportunity for significant corrections or evolution around how we parent and how's that folded into the course.
[00:39:56] EB: Hmm. That is the course, evolving how we parent. And as Judith teaches, each one of these kids are autonomous beings. We forget that because of the way we were parented. We were parented in ways – many of us anyway. I'm not speaking for all of us. But our generation was raised by parents who were raised by people who had survived the depression and the Second World War.
[00:40:24] JS: This is such an important point. This is such an important point that I don't hear often enough.
[00:40:31] EB: Well, it's really weirdly simple, you know? Our parents were raised by people who made them eat everything on their plate. And, "Oh, my God, don't waste anything." And so, that our parents.
And they have us. And they're stuck between that, the way in which they were raised and the reality in which they were living, 60s, 70s, 80s, which was like, "Boom!" everything was available. Everything in abundance. We were fucking with the Earth so badly during this time. And nobody was copping to it. Nobody was doing anything about it. And so, our parents are stuck between lack of 1929, this dire moment in our history, and this stupid excess of the 70s and 80s going into the 90s.
What I want to say is that when it comes to parenting in general, to remember that these kids are autonomous beings. They don't know less. They've just been around for less time. We have to respect them as autonomous beings. And once we start to do that, even though it flies in the face of how we were raised, we start to see people who feel – people, meaning the kids. Who feel respected, seen, heard and valued? And those are the people that grow up – remind me his name with the D who is talking on the liberatory technology episode.
[00:42:13] JS: Davian Ziere.
[00:42:14] EB: Thank you. They grow up like that. Somebody who's seen, valued, heard. They grow up with a free mind. Able to come up with ideas that change the way we see as a society that help not hinder us.
[00:42:32] JS: Well, let's talk about your book. It's just become number one in new releases for inspirational poetry. Congratulations.
[00:42:40] EB: Inspirational poetry and religious poetry. Funny.
[00:42:44] JS: Well, I love it. I love it. When does it come out?
[00:42:49] EB: May 16th, of 2023.
[00:42:51] JS: Oh, so exciting. So soon. That's so exciting.
[00:42:54] EB: Yeah. Thank you.
[00:42:54] JS: And so, it's poems and prose that you've written since you were 13. And also, it's interspersed with writings that have influenced you over the course of your life. Can you speak more about the impetus to write this particular book?
[00:43:13] EB: You know, I've just been avoiding it for so long. It's been sitting here in a pile. Like about six inches high pages printed. A few years back, I had an assistant for a moment. She was the best. The only assistant I've ever had and the best. She took all of my journals, boxes of journals. I really trust her brain and her heart. And she pulled all of the pieces that she thought should be in some book. It took her like six months. And then I had this pile last year around –
[00:43:47] JS: Oh, wow. That's amazing.
[00:43:48] EB: I know. And last year around this time, I was like, "Okay. Okay. I think I'm ready to start to tackle this." And I sat down and spent about five hours one weekend day and just like barreled through it. I narrowed it down to about 1/8th of what it was. And those poems, some of which have stuck around, some of which morphed into other pieces, some of which got left behind. But it became – it slowly started to take shape into this book called Softening Time.
Many things happened in that year. I started to really figure things out in terms of my own practice and how I want to go forward into chaplaincy training. And how I'm going to serve as I get older. And that's how this book came about. The cover is a painting that I made during that time.
And Softening Time, it was right there. I don't even know how I came upon that title. But there it was for me. And I realized that's what that time, this time, is. It's just softening time.
And the title poem is for the friend of mine who got sick and then she got better. She got cancer. And the moment of her letting me know, it was just in such high relief. And that was the poem that ended up being the title, a poem called Softening Time. And I think a lot of us, enough of us, have been through that to know that that moment merits some pretty detailed exploration and observation. So much humanity and beauty in that moment where you realize your time might be limited. What are you going to do about it? And yeah, I figured out that softening is the way that I'm going to approach the rest of it.
[00:45:45] JS: Because one of the things I know you talk about too is grief is a theme in the book. I'd love to just hear a little bit more from you about that thread and how you see that affecting life and how we live. I thought of that because of the comment that you just made, which I think is so important. Death just really confronts you with how you live.
[00:46:09] EB: Yeah, there are several poems that were written when my mom passed or are between the time when she was very, very sick and then she ended up passing. I think those pieces to me are the ones that really touch my heart the most. The grief at her passing is not just grief sadness. It's grief revelation. It's grief revolution. It's grief appreciation.
Grief takes so many forms. Some of the poems in there, there's one that I wrote to my ex-husband, my son's dad, that's called The Lamp We've Lit, in which it's kind of it's – that grief has now taken the form of a friendship, like a real friendship. And it was very much great for a long time. Like sadness. Now we have a friendship.
There's another one called – oh, I forget what the poem is called. But it's about my girlfriend who got involved with a guy who was so damaging and so destructive he literally just removed all of her friends out of her world. And I wrote a piece about missing her where she came to me in a dream. And she was like, "Oh." She was back. And then she was gone again. And she has since extricated herself from that. But that also was a grief poem.
There's one called And You that is reflective of another friend of mine who also narrowly escaped a really narcissistic, maniacal relationship, partnership. And there's some sort of celebration of that grief and that transformation in that poem as well. Yeah.
[00:48:03] JS: I love like the grief also – that lens on grief is not confined to death. But grief being –
[00:48:09] EB: No. There're so many things.
[00:48:10] JS: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:48:10] EB: So many things.
[00:48:12] JS: Yeah.
[00:48:13] EB: Yeah. There's another one called You Are All Women. It's worth it to read. Listener, if you're somebody who's lost a child or somebody who died young, this beautiful friend of mine gave birth to a stillborn full-term. And it was one of the hardest times in any of our lives really. And that there's that too.
No. But I think overall, this whole collection is about becoming friends with all of these moments and really appreciating the very subtle nuances of what makes up a life, a day, an experience. Really appreciating the subtleties of it so that we can – instead of getting stuck in what we assume we should feel in the face of this thing, we can start to move into what the details feel like and the textures. And kind of alleviate – not that alleviating is a destination necessarily. But sort of smooth out, soften the experience. Become more appreciative of the finer points when things get really heavy.
[00:49:35] JS: 180 pages. There's so much here. I'm excited too.
[00:49:38] EB: Yeah, there's a lot.
[00:49:39] JS: I'm excited to have it by my bedside. The nice thing about poetry is you can just pick it up, and open the page and read it.
[00:49:45] EB: I know. It's my favorite. My favorite.
[00:49:48] JS: This has been so amazing, by the way. The expansiveness of your work and just how much of it is just integrates with the things that we have talked about today. It's really amazing to just hear your reflections and hear you just add more color and richness to so many of the topics that we've been touching on. This has been amazing. I'm so grateful.
I wanted to talk to you about – I feel like it would be remiss to not include in this conversation because it's such a central part of what Denizon is and does, is the importance of community.
[00:50:24] EB: Yeah, you do that very well. I've watched you from the seed of an idea to what you have created now. It's very, very comforting and helpful and important.
[00:50:37] JS: Well, what's interesting is actually it wasn't an idea. It was emergent. It was –
[00:50:48] EB: The best.
[00:50:49] JS: It was sensing. Because I've done these – we actually did an IRL event a couple nights ago in San Francisco. 40 people. Dinner conversation. This is where it started. Doing that at my house with my friends. Wanting to live a more intellectually-rich life. Missing being in grad school and reading white papers. That's where it started. I did that periodically for 10 years. I started doing a virtual salon during the pandemic. And then Clubhouse was just starting and somebody said, "You should really have these conversations here." I'm talking about these topics. It's really important. I started doing a parallel series there. And that's when –
[00:51:30] EB: Which is how we met, I believe. Right?
[00:51:33] JS: Yeah, you showed up in one of my rooms. It's so amazing. But it became – I mean, the conversation became a magnet for the community that has come together.
Some of my original group of friends are still around. But mostly it's people who came to it through the conversation. And it has evolved to what it is now. Just sensing and being responsive to the needs. And in fact, that's why my title is Steward. I'm just sensing, and evolving and serving. That's how I think of it.
Obviously, there is just like you with your work and your courses. There's I need, which is in some ways the genesis of it, which is I want to be thinking harder about these really important topics. And so, this is a commitment device for me to learn about it, right?
But the need being so pervasive came just organically from Clubhouse. And people would just say, "Oh, can you record it for me?" And then I had all these recordings. And the podcast was just the easy format for vast majority of people who are interested to consume the content.
[00:52:38] EB: Yeah. It's quite something to see it.
[00:52:41] JS: It's still organic and still evolving. And I'm still just responding to what people need.
[00:52:50] EB: It's a beautiful position to be in. I was very lucky. Indeed.
[00:52:54] JS: I feel quite honored. So, community.
[00:52:59] EB: I think that pandemic, that ridiculousness, taught us a lot about what is important to us in terms of who's near with whom. Are we surrounding ourselves? How are we cultivating those relationships? And I really like left a lot behind. And I really have prioritized a handful of real-life relationships that mean the world to me, where I make the effort to make the phone call and make the effort to see. I make the effort to listen, to meet, to sit. We have lots of silent T around these parts together. This is vital to me. That's one layer.
Then the layer of my work where I think it's so vital for folks to be part of a community of learners. I think it's what you cultivate too. You're cultivating the community of people who are curious, who are really interested, who are really interested in bettering themselves, who are interested in learning the things that they weren't taught. So many things that we were not taught as kids in America. So embarrassing. And also, so easy to learn them now because of the communities that have been created.
[00:54:24] JS: It's interesting, because I did a little design sprint at our retreat this year. And I asked people, "What brings you here? What keeps you here?" And interestingly, the two distinct things that came out were one was a community that kind of has similar life mission and is doing the same work in the world around this systemic change, which feels like such a daunting thing to consider even affecting.
I'm inspired by and I feel more hopeful in the possibility of doing it in community with these people that are holding different pieces of this extraordinarily complex puzzle. That was one bucket, right?
[00:54:58] EB: Yeah. And I think you're doing a tremendous job of that also. Because it's not that daunting when you come at it the way that you're coming at it, which is like let's have one conversation at a time. Let's listen well. Let's learn from the people who are really thinking about this and doing their best to spend their own time and resources to make sure that the people who need to understand are starting to understand. Let's give them air time and voices. You're doing that really well, I think.
[00:55:28] JS: Thank you. Well, I also love that it's a co-learning community. Even people who are less engaged in the community, it's all a network. You know? Everyone's always just me away from everyone else. And I'm always connecting people and supporting everyone's work in whatever way I can.
And so, the fact that I'm just plucking one of countless incredible people in this community, in this network and giving us all an opportunity to learn from them, right? I think that co-learning nature of it I think was one thing that makes us special and unique.
But the other need that came out of the design sprint was I'm showing up not as someone performing in my role in the world like as a reflection of what's on my resume. But I'm showing up as my whole vulnerable multifaceted self. And I meant emotionally and spiritually, as well as intellectually. And I'm here to do the work. And it's going to be messy. And I'm going to stumble. And doing that in community is something that people value significantly.
[00:56:38] EB: That's right.
[00:56:37] JS: And you see this so much in your work because what you're offering is that space for the work on the individual. But it's happening in a communal space.
[00:56:50] EB: Which I think has to happen. It has to happen like that. There's no other way for it to happen. I can't change my state in a vacuum. Even when it comes to meditation where there's not a word spoken. Nobody's even moving a muscle. Nobody's even moving a muscle. And I am having an entire experience of the community around me.
[00:57:15] JS: Well, that brings us beautifully to a great point to close on, which is – am I pronouncing this right? Bodhichitta?
[00:57:23] EB: Bodhichitta. So elusive for me at first. It's really the concept that we're not here for ourselves. We're here for somebody else. It's what you just said. We're here for the world. We're here sitting meditation so that we can add to the peace in the world. The real reason for any of the work that we're doing is really to serve. And that's something that was very elusive to me for a long time. It was more in the realm of fixing and helping and not serving.
And after several times taking the very same training for – I've taken it four times now, the grace training with Roshi Joan and her fellow teachers, [inaudible 00:58:09], Wendy Lau, Anthony – I'm forgetting his last name at the moment. Dr. Anthony. It's a sequence of events that happens as somebody in service, let's say in a hospice, let's say in a shelter for unsheltered folks. When serving the incarcerated even. I'm not there for myself. I'm there for them. I'm there for the world. I'm there to bring awareness. There's nothing selfish about it.
And in fact, as a result of that, I benefit. Everyone else benefits. And each practice that you, our listener, does is a benefit to so many other people. To spend time just recalling the intent to practice bodhichitta is helping and serving.
[00:59:05] JS: Yeah. But it's also so fascinating in the face of the dominant cultural narrative, which is particularly in parenting and particularly in motherhood around self-sacrifice is somehow – I'm somehow being selfish. I'm prioritizing myself. Versus this very different orientation of I do that in order to serve.
[00:59:27] EB: Right. Right. Yeah, it's an interesting one.
[00:59:32] JS: And you've got this great quote. Maybe it'd be a good one to close with. And I'll let you say it in one of your blog posts from Roshi Joan Halifax about –
[00:59:42] EB: Awakening is irreducibly social.
[00:59:44] JS: Yep, that one.
[00:59:46] EB: Funny. I knew you were going to pick up on that. Really funny.
[00:59:50] JS: It was the second half of it. Yeah.
[00:59:51] EB: Yeah. Actually, I just put it into the book that I'm working on now because I think it's so important. Awakening is irreducibly social. It can never be mine or yours. It's only realized as ours. And I went on to say, "Well, I couldn't know the full thrust of that statement at the time that I'd noted it." That night on my little twin bed at Upaya, after two full days of sitting, I felt it with that sentence. Roshi Joan reminds us that we're all connected. The realization you have in any moment creates a ripple of consciousness that emanates throughout space and time.
And that night, I sat very still and felt the door opening in my heart. We're not separate from anything, anyone, anywhere. When I sit, you benefit. When you sit, I benefit. Practice provides a structure that nourishes your experience of intimacy within yourself, which adds to the peace in the world that we share.
[01:00:51] JS: Oh, that's a beautiful place to close. Thank you so much.
[01:00:56] EB: Thank you so much, Jenny. What a pleasure.
[01:00:58] JS: This has been amazing. I love how much of your work and your brilliance. Just thank you for being you.
[01:01:08] EB: Thank you for being you too. I really like who you are. And I appreciate our friendship very much.
[01:01:14] JS: No. I just appreciate your authenticity, and your vulnerability and the path that your life has taken. And I'm just extraordinarily grateful for how much – all of the rest of us are able to benefit and learn from it. It's very inspiring.
[01:01:31] EB: Deeply bowing to you, dear one. Thank you. Thank you so much.
[01:01:36] JS: Thank you so much for listening. And thanks to Scott Hansen, also known as Tycho, for our musical signature. In addition to this podcast, you can find resources for each episode on our website, www.becomingdenizen.com, including transcripts and background materials.
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