…If we accept that every aspect of life is, at its foundation, our teacher, then we can take accountability for learning what we are here to learn. Consider that all the people and events of your life are there because you have drawn them there in some way. Pay attention to the people and occurrences life has placed before you. They contain the lessons you must learn. What you choose to do with them is up to you. It is futile to blame circumstances for what you are. As long as you are blaming anyone else for your state of being, you are denying your power. Think of a difficult situation in your life. Consider where you might be assigning blame rather than taking responsibility. Even if something has been done to you, you hold the key to freedom through how you choose to respond to the circumstance. Take a giant step into radical accountability for all of your choices and reactions. Let any dissatisfaction you feel be motivation to change. Then get up and create yourself as you want to be.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennie Lee.
Jennie Lee is a multi-award winning author of 3 books: SPARK CHANGE: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution; TRUE YOGA: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment; and BREATHING LOVE: Meditation in Action. She is a spiritual coach and certified yoga therapist who has worked with a diverse clientele, from CEOS and celebrities to military officers and housewives, teaching tangible practices to shift people’s awareness and experience of unity consciousness. Jennie also facilitates international wellness retreats and is a regular contributor to numerous national magazines and other yoga related books. For more, visit www.JennieLeeYogaTherapy.com
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Pasadena, California in a middle class, hard-working family. I was an only child and my parent’s relationship was explosive so I felt a lot of fear and isolation. From a very early age, I became interested in how to ‘keep the peace’ and have spent the majority of my life studying human psychology and helping people to develop practices that foster inner and outer harmony.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Since high school, I have studied world religions, philosophy, and spirituality, seeking answers to the big questions in life about who we are and why we are here. The tradition that really satisfied my search is classical yoga philosophy. In texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, I found wisdom and practices that gave me strength to weather life’s challenges, such as loss, grief, depression, and financial hardship. My personal application of yogic wisdom began when I lost my second child at birth, was facing divorce, and living in an unfamiliar region of the country without friends or a source of income. The practices helped me heal and then I began my career as a spiritual coach/ yoga therapist to help others overcome their suffering too.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am excited to have a virtual book club launching in April through the Hiitide platform for my latest book, Spark Change: 108 Provocative Questions for Spiritual Evolution. I call this book ‘a year of coaching in your own hands’ because it gives people the tools to self-reflect and make positive inner changes. I am also working on my fourth nonfiction book which focuses on helping people connect to their soul wisdom and define their true purpose. It is based on my 40,000+ teaching/counseling hours working with clients to overcome inner obstacles and find joy.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Over the past 8 years of writing my books, my husband has been my greatest supporter, cheerleader and muse. His unfailing belief in my work has made it possible to continue when I have felt frustrated and burnt out. And he has an amazing ability to make me laugh, even in the middle of the night! I think we woke my son more than once after midnight giggling over the absurdities of being human!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
With my first book, True Yoga, I encountered rejection for seven years before we sold the proposal to a publisher! Although not a ‘mistake’ per se, this definitely taught me how to cultivate resilience and how to hold tightly to what is most important to me. Life isn’t easy and if we don’t have solid convictions and values that sustain us during the dark days we will just get swept away in the tides of negativity. Serving the evolution of consciousness on the planet is what keeps me going no matter what.
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?
The spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda was a pivotal book for me. It sat on my shelf for 14 years and then I finally got rid of it because I thought I would never read it. Within a month of doing so, I signed up for a yoga philosophy course and the Autobiography of a Yogi was required reading, so I had to buy it again! When I actually started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. It changed my understanding of what yoga is really all about and it clarified the spiritual path and practice of meditation that has become essential to me. That yoga philosophy course also brought me to Hawai’i, which is where I now gratefully call home.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
This quote sums up what I believe we must do in life: “Make your love greater than your pain.” Yogananda wrote this and it truly encapsulates what I teach and strive to live every day. I have lived through many losses, two divorces, and numerous deaths of loved ones including my grandparents, parents, friends, a lover and a child. The pain can be so great, but it has been through developing an ever-deepening practice of conscious loving that I can honestly now say that I have made my love greater than my pain.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
We can only ever lead through example because actions speak so much louder than words. I know this well from parenting! People, but especially kids, easily see through contradictions between our words and deeds. My son, who has grown up hearing the yogic wisdom I teach, is the first to remind me if I am ‘off my mat’ in some way in how I am responding to a situation. I appreciate the accountability though because the best way any one of us can contribute to society and lead others, is by becoming the most truthful, loving, and peaceful person we can become. I strive for this daily. I also believe that true leaders empower others to become their very best, drawing forth their unique gifts and attributes.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Human thinking is generally ego based- focused on self versus other — so when our agenda or needs are threatened, we often become vicious in defending ourselves or attacking the perceived threat. This is just the nature of the ego-mind and why much of the teaching I do is to show people how to switch from the level of ego consciousness to the level of soul consciousness. In soul consciousness, we remember our inherent unity and the whole dynamic shifts..
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
I have witnessed family members who hold differing political views become so rigid in their hate of the other party, that they project that hate onto their own children. A few are no longer speaking to one another and that is sure to leave regret when the end of life comes.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
The only way to overcome these sad perspectives is to remember there is a reality greater than the human dimension of existence. At the level of energy or consciousness, we are all connected and differences of expression of that energy are part of the cosmic plan. They do not need to tear our relationships apart. When the desire for love and harmony becomes our greatest value, then compromise, understanding, or at minimum, mutual acceptance can be reached.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
The other night, a colleague confessed she wasn’t sure why I was her friend, because outwardly we have little in common. I am her friend because I believe in our unity and I want to connect, soul to soul. To do this, I have had to learn how to suspend judgment and look at the person across from me with acceptance and unconditional love. Both personally and professionally, I have sat with people who held vastly different values from me, in politics, ethics, and religion. By choosing to relate to them from the soul level, I have chosen harmony above all else. When I do this, rapport builds quickly, and they feel seen, heard, and validated. I am able to build bridges of commonality rather than argue about our differences. As a result, some surprising and trusted relationships have formed.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self identify. But of course there are many other ways to self identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
Most people self-identify through the external roles they play or with the affiliations they hold to this religious group or that political party. The focus is often on tearing down that which is different, or maintaining ignorance around it, and so conflict is perpetuated. By shifting self-identification to an awareness of our shared spiritual heritage, we will find ways to work together toward solutions that accommodate differences rather than creating more division.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Social media reflects the consciousness of the people engaging with it. It can be used for good or for harm, and will shift only if more individuals choose to practice compassion, understanding and a respectful interchange of ideas. With every post or comment, we each have a choice to engage conflict or take the higher road of kindness. If someone is spewing hateful messaging then we can just move on, and not engage at all. When energy is withdrawn, the hate loses traction.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
I think we can recognize that all media is somewhat partisan at this point and take the time to see what the ‘other side’ has to say as well as the side that aligns with our beliefs and values. That way we start to create some balance of understanding and can at least have a basis for conversation with people who hold differing viewpoints. If we don’t do this, then we just continue feeding our bias and never take in any new perspectives.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
As long as self-interest is being served at the expense of any other, we will not come to resolution on this. Fundamentally, we need to value life, all life, each other’s lives, as greatly as our own. We need to remember that it is through unification that we will thrive. In division, we will just experience more of the same destruction and hardship we are currently experiencing.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Focus on similarities rather than differences between you and those around you.
Notice your tendency to look for, or concentrate on, similarities or differences between yourself and those you meet. Instead of defending your paradigms and self-protecting by avoiding those who are different, practice compassionate acceptance and seek the connective tissue between you. Strive to learn new ways of seeing or doing things from those who have alternate customs, cultures, or beliefs. Drop any judgmental comparisons and look for connections that you can forge with people today, especially with those who seem the most different. The same life force energy flows within us all. Regardless of skin color, political orientation, religion, or socioeconomic status, all humans share common experiences and emotions. By appreciating each person’s uniqueness, you create connection instead of conflict.
2. Use the power of questions to engage curiosity instead of judgement.
We all fall into habitual patterns of judgment, but we can start to replace these with curiosity instead. Practicing ‘beginner’s mind’, we can call upon a childlike sense of wonder to build new bridges of understanding. Curiosity invigorates relationships by opening the door to possibility. Upon contact with another person, whether family, stranger or colleague, see them through wondering eyes. Ask yourself, “I wonder how they feel right now? What has their day been like today? What stress is on their plate?” Feel how this diffuses judgment and allows for more open communication.
3. Develop an attitude of service.
Selfless service benefits both the giver and the receiver, because what we offer to another, in essence we are offering to ourselves. Look for ways to make a meaningful contribution by uniting what you love to do with the needs you perceive around you. Ask people how you can help, what support from you would look like to them. Ask them to tell you what they need and then watch for any unwillingness in your ego that tries to hold you back from this service. Throughout your day, offer empathy and understanding to those around you, especially if disagreements arise. There are innumerable ways to serve, but as simple as it sounds, kindness is one of the greatest acts of service we can undertake. Much progress can be made by just being kind, and what a sweeter world it becomes when we serve one another with kindness. If we all gave, then we would all receive. It’s just that simple.
4. Quit the blame game and accept accountability for your life experience.
If we accept that every aspect of life is, at its foundation, our teacher, then we can take accountability for learning what we are here to learn. Consider that all the people and events of your life are there because you have drawn them there in some way. Pay attention to the people and occurrences life has placed before you. They contain the lessons you must learn. What you choose to do with them is up to you. It is futile to blame circumstances for what you are. As long as you are blaming anyone else for your state of being, you are denying your power. Think of a difficult situation in your life. Consider where you might be assigning blame rather than taking responsibility. Even if something has been done to you, you hold the key to freedom through how you choose to respond to the circumstance. Take a giant step into radical accountability for all of your choices and reactions. Let any dissatisfaction you feel be motivation to change. Then get up and create yourself as you want to be.
5. Actively choose a peaceful response to every situation.
To approach every relationship and situation in life with the intention of peace and compassion is revolutionary. Of course, it’s easy to be nice when people are nice to us, but to love when it is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or imbalanced, is when we really start making progress. Sound impossible? It’s actually not. It is simply a paradigm shift. We begin to chart a totally new experience of life when we stop looking at it from the viewpoint of what we seek to get, and start looking at it as an opportunity to serve the highest good through what we can give in terms of peace. When we choose peace as our guiding life philosophy, we stop defending our positions. We seek harmony over being right, or getting validation. In the moments when we feel most needy of understanding, we stop and connect to the peace that lives deep in our core being. At the beginning and end of each day, affirm: ‘I am a peaceful person. I live peace through all of my choices, actions and words.’ Then strive to meet every daily challenge with a peaceful heart. The beauty of this practice is that it benefits us immediately, rewarding our efforts with a greater sense of inner wellbeing and ease.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
“Love your neighbor AS your SELF.” It is a profound yet simple instruction Jesus, and all great masters have given. As we commit to the practice of loving without condition or recompense, the benefits are felt throughout every aspect of our lives. Rather than walking through our days dodging conflict and seeking to get our desires met, we flow easefully through our activities and conversations, with a genuine smile in our hearts. We no longer waste energy in defensive posturing for attention or for acceptance, and any feelings of rejection become less intense if someone does not return our nice gestures.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Yes! It really just takes a small shift from each individual, like picking up your own trash. Just handle your own psychic garbage — prejudice, selfishness, judgment — do your inner work. If everyone did this and practiced more compassion and kindness, we would see a new world in no time.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
Never underestimate the power of one kind word or action. Your small contributions have a ripple effect that you may never know the full effect of. There have been so many times, when I felt discouraged, like what I was doing was having no effect, and then out of the blue I get an email from someone telling me how much a certain post or teaching meant to them. I am sure there are more who just haven’t expressed it. We have to give and give and give some more because like Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have been a long-time fan of Brene Brown and find her work on vulnerability to be deeply needed in today’s world. There are so many people operating from the level of shame consciousness, which contributes to the widespread narcissism and defensiveness that is dividing us. This is a root issue that needs to be healed and I would love the opportunity to sit with her to discuss how to do this collectively to facilitate a more vulnerable and compassionate exchange among us.
How can our readers follow you online?
Website — https://www.jennieleeyogatherapy.com
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/jennielee_author/
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!