Deborah Fryer of Anatomy of Money On How To Develop Mindfulness During Stressful Or Uncertain Times
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Don’t allow other people’s agendas, dramas, traumas, commotions, and emotions to seed your day. Seize your day and own it by cultivating daily habits that create safety and security from the inside out for you. Be the lighthouse, not the storm.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Fryer.
Deborah Fryer PhD is a writer, speaker, spiritual business coach and creator of the Anatomy of Money system for holistic wealth and well-being, which helps people release subconscious mental, emotional and financial blocks so they can create sustainable, soul-aligned businesses with ease, speed and confidence (while having more fun, ease and joy in the creative process).
Deborah holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton, is an award-winning filmmaker, and has been practicing and teaching yoga, meditation and mindfulness for over 30 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
When I was a little girl, I was terribly afraid of flying. Every time I was on a plane, I threw up. Even the thought of flying made me sick. My parents were divorced and lived 800 miles apart, which meant I flew back and forth and used a lot of barf bags through my teenage years.
Fast forward to age 30, and I got a job as a documentary filmmaker that required me to travel all over the world. This was a dream job, and I knew I had to find a way to interrupt my conditioned response to flying. I started meditating morning and night with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Meditation Practice cassette tapes.
Meditation and mindfulness changed my life. It created freedom for me. Eventually, I started teaching it to others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Daily meditation and mindfulness practice has helped me cultivate nonreactivity, equanimity, and patience. These are wonderful everyday tools to have in your pocket. You never know when you’ll need them. One time in Turkey, we were shooting a documentary — on film — for NOVA. Each film reel has about 11 minutes and we want to get the whole take on one reel. On this particular day, it was my job to walk up the dirt road to the top of the hill and stop any traffic (because the sound of a car passing on a dirt road would ruin our scene).
I took my position at the top of the hill. Our fixer (a Turkish man who was helping us with the logistics of filming in Turkey) was at the bottom of the hill. Between the two of us, we would stop all traffic for 11 minutes. We called to the crew “All clear!” and we heard the clapper clack. The director shouted “Action!” and the camera started rolling.
About five minutes in, I heard a car.. I heard it before I saw it. It was coughing up a cloud of dust, and it was coming fast. I stood in the middle of the road, and waved my arms for the car to stop. The driver jammed on his brakes and skidded to a stop inches from where I was standing. A man got out of the car and started yelling — in Turkish. I didn’t understand Turkish. He didn’t understand English. He yelled more, getting louder and louder. I picked up the walky-talky, radioed our fixer at the bottom of the hill, and asked him to translate. The fixer explained to the man that we were filming and he needed to wait. The man went back to his car, got in the driver seat, and slammed the door. I was still standing in front of his car, so he couldn’t pass.
I thought everything was fine, but then the man got out of the car again. This time, he pointed a gun at me. I calmly picked up the walky-talky again and said to the fixer, “He has a gun. Can you come up here and talk to him?” I looked down the hill and saw that the cameraman had stopped rolling and was changing the film reel. 11 minutes had passed. I folded my hands in a namaste prayer position, bowed my head and waved the driver on.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
If you have a physical location where you work, create a physical meditation space where people can go throughout the day for a reset. Plants, fountains, and other calming art can also help to create a culture of calm. If you work remotely, encourage your team members to meditate. Build in meditation retreats as part of your work culture.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. This is a book about writing, but it’s also relevant to the stories we write in our minds. Our minds are story-making machines, and we can all easily become overwhelmed when the story-writing gets out of control. Anne describes a scene where her brother is supposed to write an essay about birds, and he’s overwhelmed because he hasn’t started writing yet. It’s due tomorrow and there are so many birds. Their father gives this brilliant advice, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
It’s so simple. One thing at a time. The power of now. This bird. And now this bird. And now this bird.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
To me, being mindful means being aware. Nonjudgmental. Nonreactive. Curious. Open. Available. Present. What thoughts are present? What feelings are present? What does this remind me of? I wonder what else is going on? What do I need right now? Can I hold loving awareness when I am triggered and be curious about the sensations arising inside me without identifying with them? Or making them be wrong or bad (or right or good)? Can I be present with discomfort without needing anything to be different?
Being mindful allows you to stay present and curious without being overwhelmed. I wonder why I think that? I wonder. It’s a practice. We forget so we can remember.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Being mindful allows you to feel a sensation without judgment, guilt, apology, defensiveness, or shame. You can feel the feeling and know that you are okay. What you resist persists. So the harder you push away feelings you don’t want to feel — because they’re uncomfortable, or unfamiliar, or you’re ashamed we feel that way — the more you feel the feeling, which just makes it worse. You end up being in battle with a part of yourself and wishing that part would go away. If you exclude any part of yourself — feelings included — you will never feel whole. You’ll always feel like something is missing — what’s missing is your willingness to feel the feeling. The feeling is just energy moving through you. Let it move through you the way a breeze moves through a screen door. Some breezes are soft and gentle, some are strong, gusty, and icy. Let them blow through you without blowing your house down.
When you feel the thing you’re afraid to feel, you realize that the feeling is not going to kill you. You realize that you are more than the feeling. You have the experience of the feeling, but you are not the feeling. The feeling is temporary. All feelings are temporary.
It’s a relief to know this. It’s a relief to know that feelings are normal and natural, and they are just energy. We all love to make up stories about our feelings and how people make us feel, but the reality is that your feelings are yours. No one but you can make you feel anything.
When you can be loving and present with whatever judgments (knee jerk reactions and feelings arise because of your conditioning) you are able to insert a pause between the thought and the reaction to the thought. This is where your power lies. This is where you will discover your freedom.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Limit the amount of news, social media and other external inputs you consume. Turn off all notifications. If you want to stay informed, definitely do not consume news first thing in the morning. Start your day instead with meditation, exercise, journaling, pranayama (breathwork) and gratitudes. Fill your tank with what inspires you, grounds you, supports you, and nourishes you first thing in the morning so you train your brain to seek and find more of that throughout the day.
- Don’t allow other people’s agendas, dramas, traumas, commotions, and emotions to seed your day. Seize your day and own it by cultivating daily habits that create safety and security from the inside out for you. Be the lighthouse, not the storm.
- Don’t buy into the fear narrative. Be deliberate about this. Don’t be a passive consumer of information that scares you. Much of the time, the worst case scenario hasn’t happened yet. Don’t buy into a future that has not happened yet. If it has not happened yet, you have agency. You can do something about it.
- Create the kind of future you want to live into. Mindfulness helps you become aware of how you feel moment to moment. If watching the news makes you feel a certain way, then the news is controlling you. The news is responsible — not you — for how you feel. You now feel out of control because you’re not in control of how you feel — and you probably don’t like being controlled, but you just let the news (or Facebook, or Insta, etc.) control you. Mindfulness helps interrupt this downward spiral of lack of control, loss of control, being controlled, and wasting time.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Focus on the breath. Bring all your attention to the breath. Notice the sound, the texture, the sensation, the rhythm. Inhale…count 1 on the inhale. Exhale… count 1 on the exhale. Inhale…count 2 on the inhale. Exhale…count 2 on the exhale.
- When the mind wanders, which it will because this is the nature of mind, recognize that you’re thinking. Your mind has wandered off the trail into the poison ivy of thinking. The mind loves to obsess, analyze, ruminate, judge, take things personally, be right, make others be wrong, compartmentalize, find fault, catastrophize, rationalize, and blame. The mind has 1001 creative ways to avoid feeling, so step 1 is to notice that you’re thinking (and likely overthinking). Simply label it Thinking.
- Return to the breath. Begin counting from 1 again. Inhale…count 1 on the inhale. Exhale…count 1 on the exhale. Inhale…count 2 on the inhale. Exhale…count 2 on the exhale.
- When the mind wanders again, become aware of WHAT you’re thinking. What’s the quality of the thoughts? Are they kind? Judgmental? Scary? Self-righteous? Are you caught in a victim loop where you’re powerless? Notice the pattern without needing to change it or make it wrong. Are you aware of any sensation that accompanies the thoughts? Thoughts create feelings and sensations in the body. Become aware of the felt sensation a thought creates in your body. Where is it? What does it feel like?
- Come back to the breath and begin counting from 1 again. When your mind wanders back to the thoughts and the feelings, ask: what do you need right now? Your thoughts and feelings want to be acknowledged. They’re messengers, wanting to get your attention, so pay attention to them. Have a conversation with them. Be unconditionally loving to every thought and sensation as it arises and see what’s underneath it. There’s always a deeper longing hiding beneath it, wanting your attention. The more you watch your thoughts, the more you realize that you are not your thoughts. You have thoughts, you entertain them like guests at a dinner party, but eventually, they all leave.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
There are many great apps that can help you create a daily habit of mindfulness: Calm App. FitMind , GrowthDay, MindValley and NeuroGym are my current faves. I meditate every day with one or more of these apps. I also love soundscapes, like rain, or the sound of a river. Listening to Nature sounds is a great way to train your mind to vibrate in the relaxed alpha frequency of Nature.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
You make your habits and then your habits make you. I don’t know who said this, but it’s true. Everything you do is a habit. Your thoughts are habitual, your reactions to your thoughts are habitual, your preferences, likes, dislikes, all habitual. Scientists say that about 80% of our thoughts are negative and repetitive, meaning we think the same thing today as we thought yesterday, and tomorrow we’ll be thinking 80% of the same thoughts we had today. If you want your tomorrow to look different from your today, start deliberately exploring your thoughts and choosing which ones you keep around.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to see meditation and mindfulness taught and practiced in schools, starting K-12. My wish is that every child grows up learning that it’s safe to feel their feelings.
I believe that living in internal duality from overthinking, compartmentalizing, comparing, labeling, etc. is creating more and more isolation and alienation from self and others on the planet. Our inner world creates our outer reality. If young children can learn that meditation is as valuable a life skill as reading, writing, and math, I believe we would live in a more peaceful, kind, and compassionate world. We’d experience less stress and anxiety, and more connection, compassion, and creativity.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Follow me on
- INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/deborahfryer
- FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/deborahfryercoaching
- LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborahfryer/
- YOUTUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg8fE_ukU2080ZvOQEeAhMQ/videos?pbjreload=102
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!