At the beginning of this year, a popular system of yoga called Anusara, was rocked by scandal, lies and betrayal by it’s founder; John Friend.  Most of the senior teachers handed in their resignation and the once thriving community lay fractured.  Bernadette Birney was a strong voice in the community, before the scandal, and when it all fell apart she felt compelled to take a stand for what was right and, through her blog and the social media, became somewhat of a ‘whistle-blower’ for everything that was going on behind closed doors.  Because of this she received both criticism and praise for her courage to stand so firm in revealing the truth.  

I was introduced to Bernie well before the scandal through her blog.  Mostly I was riveted by her writing and her whip-it smart wit and observations.  She is well-known throughout the yoga community as a fun, engaging and super-smart teacher who uses humor and  intelligence in her classes.  Besides her own popular blog, her writing as appeared in the Yoga Journal, Teachasana and the The Elephant Journal.

She is one of the wholehearted because she stepped forward as a champion of the uncomfortable truth and lost connection only to forge deeper ones.

Lyn Girdler: Bernie, thanks so much for being here, I am really excited about this conversation with you.

Bernadette Birney: I’m honored.

Lyn Girdler: For those reading this, who don’t know who you are or what you do can you describe a little bit of your life’s work?

Bernadette Birney: Sure.  I’ve been teaching yoga for over a decade.  I’m also a writer, and a life coach.  The coaching is a direct extension of my yoga philosophy.

Lyn Girdler: How did you come into Life Coaching?

Bernadette Birney: Just like most of the things that have been game changers for me–it was dumb luck.  I actually thought the entire profession was bogus and made up until I accidentally met someone who changed my mind about it by gifting me with some free sessions.

Lyn Girdler: And was there anything specific about that person, or those sessions that had you change your mind because, I had a similar feeling about life coaching until I had a session and so, I’m curious what came up for you to inspire you to pursue it – now as a profession.

Bernadette Birney: Yes, I had developed a real friendship and respect for the person who pressed it on me.  My regard for her was high enough that, since she was so gung-ho about it, it warranted at least checking out.  The other factor was that I had already been coaching students in a non-official capacity after class, and by email, for years.  So, this was an opportunity to explore what I was already doing in a more educated way.

Lyn Girdler: So, tell me about your start in yoga because I had read, in one of your blogs, that you were a bartender prior to that.  How, and why, did you make the move?

Bernadette Birney: Well, I was in my twenties.  I had been knocking around bartending for a while, feeling frantic about what the fuck I was going to do with my life, and getting more and more afraid that I would never figure it out.  There was this one guy who came into the bar every day.  He always ordered just one drink.  (Vodka Soda; I still remember.)  I always pressed a second on him because he was quiet, and polite, and not like some of the other jerks who came in.

So then, one day he didn’t come in.  It turned out he was in the hospital dying of Cirrhosis.  I went to visit him before he died, and it made a huge impact on me.  I was pretty clear that if I hadn’t been pouring the drinks for him, someone else would be.  Lots of other people HAD poured the drinks; he’d been drinking longer than I’d been alive.  But, I couldn’t get around the fact that some of those drinks had been poured by me.  I really wanted to figure out if I had anything more than slow suicide– one drink at a time–to offer to the world.  I wasn’t certain that I did.  In fact, I was pretty terrified that I didn’t.  But I knew I had to do something.  I enrolled in massage therapy school.  It turned out to not be the thing I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but it pointed me in the right direction.  I learned something huge from that experience:  the only way to truly screw it all up is to do nothing.

When you’re feeling stuck, doing something–even if it’s not the “right” thing–will provide information that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Lyn Girdler: I love that!  And have found that to be true time and time again – I just hadn’t heard it like that before.  So, you started practicing yoga and then, what was the inspiration to teach?  It’s a big leap (though mostly small steps in practice) to go from student to teacher (I think). So, I’m curious about your process and whether you were afraid etc.

Bernadette Birney: I didn’t have any big plans to become a teacher.  At the time, I didn’t have any big plans to do ANYTHING other than, “not this.”  I was besotted with the way yoga made me feel.  It was giving me glimpses of a self I’d abandoned.  Those first glimmers made me hungry for more.  I did teacher training because I wanted to deepen my practice–and because there was a pushy studio owner who kept selling it hard to me.  Score one for pushy marketing.

Lyn Girdler: And, you were mostly known as an Anusara teacher – did you start your teaching in that system, or did that come later?

Bernadette Birney: Yes, that was just dumb luck too.  I had no idea what Anusara was.  I’d never even heard of it.  I did the Anusara training without being educated enough to realize that I should probably do some research.  I always joke that I chose a teacher training because it was geographically desirable, and fit into my schedule.  I had no idea what I was doing.

Lyn Girdler: (that’s what I did – SYJ was across the road from my apartment – still is!)

Bernadette Birney: Proximity is a huge factor in most of our lives. (:

Lyn Girdler: Were you fearful of teaching yoga?

Bernadette Birney: No.  I really liked public speaking.  I liked getting up in front of a crowd with a specific objective.  Standing in front of a room was much easier than connecting one on one–which is far more intimate. Teaching, for some years, was an outfit I could slip into.  It made me feel more connected than I had been but, because there was a built in arm’s length, it was comfortable.

Lyn Girdler: (hmm pondering a question that feels a little ‘cheesy’…..hence the delay)

Bernadette Birney: cheesy’s okay with me.

Lyn Girdler: You mention connecting ‘one on one’ as being far more intimate – which, for some, it actually feels much safer than standing in front of a room of people – do you shy away from one on one connection?

Bernadette Birney: Not anymore, but for a long time I did.  I’m actually very, very introverted.  People often mention that I put myself out there.  Usually in exactly those words.  I totally understand why someone would think that but many of the things I love to do are solitary.  Social media is fun for me because I get to spend time alone with my thoughts, first and foremost.  Then people get invited to a conversation and that’s good too.

But yes–for a long time I kept a wide boundary with my students.  I don’t need such big boundary any more.  Over the years, I have gotten more comfortable connecting in a more one on one way with students.

Lyn Girdler: Did connecting in this way change, or influence, your relationship – in general – with teaching to a wider audience?  And your personal/social life?

Bernadette Birney: Well, it definitely has made me capable of letting more people into my life–with all the joy and all the challenge that entails!  And yes, I think it has changed my relationship with teaching in general.  There’s not as much “theater” in my class as there used to be.  “Yoga teacher” doesn’t feel like some role that I play.  I am far more comfortable just showing up as me.

I’m not sure what impact that has–if any–on teaching to a wider audience.  My hope would be that just being my plain, old authentic self gives the people in my classes permission to do the same.

Lyn Girdler: I think it absolutely influences others to explore that possibility – or to confirm their own convictions of themselves.

I want to dive into the Anusara breakdown for a moment, because you were a significant voice in that and instead of retreating in your opinions of what was happening – you became very vocal about how you were feeling and what was happening.  Can you quickly describe, for those outside of the yoga world, what happened with Anusara and then, what was your motivation to keep the conversation so vocal?

Bernadette Birney: Well, basically it came to light that there was some downright abusive stuff going on behind closed doors.  I think there has been a wide perception that what went down with Anusara was a straight up sex scandal, which is not the case.  It turned out that there was far more widespread abuse and dysfunction.

There was a lot of compartmentalizing and secret-keeping.  When I found out what was going on I felt–and still feel–a responsibility to the community.  I brought a lot of people into Anusara.  I very actively participated in its vision.  So when things were proven to not be what they seemed, I felt a responsibility to tell the truth about it.

Lyn Girdler: How did your community respond to that?  I mean, I know you received great support, but also a lot of criticism for that.  What was privately going for you during all of this?  What kept you motivated to push forward, despite the meanness…because often that’s what we focus on?

Bernadette Birney: The entire experience of the breakdown of Anusara has been personally, and professionally, difficult to the extreme.  I think that to varying degrees, that has been true for the community, too.  So, some people think that I’m the bee’s knees and others think I’m the devil incarnate.

The word “mean” has been tossed around a lot.  Even before the breakdown of Anusara, I had become very interested in a personal definition of kindness.  Sometimes the kind thing looks all warm, cuddly and squishy.  Sometimes the kindest choice doesn’t resemble we commonly think of as “kind”.

I felt–and still feel–that in order to not continue to perpetuate dysfunction, I had to take a hard, honest look at the facts.  I’m reared in a tantric tradition so I believe we have to start with radical affirmation.  In any kind of crisis, if we begin by bullshitting ourselves, there’s pretty much no hope.  Speaking up was, for me, an act of ferocious love.  It wasn’t fun.  It was scary.  But it was necessary.

One of the benefits I have reaped is that I’ve developed a thicker skin.  I don’t mind so much if everybody doesn’t like me.  Everyone should get to have the experience of realizing that it’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t like you.

Lyn Girdler: Love! Yes, by speaking up, you put yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position – to be attacked and, or applauded (you couldn’t know what reaction you were going to get).  How has it changed your relationships and connections now?  And, your own level of courage?

Bernadette Birney: Ain’t that the truth!  It has changed my relationships in a HUGE way.  Without honesty there is not intimacy.  I have realized that without being willing to be vulnerable enough to show someone who I really am–proverbial warts and all–it’s just not possible to have a depth of connection.

So, I’m more willing to tell the people I love when I’m upset, or when something doesn’t feel good.  As a result, I feel more connected than I ever have before–even having lost an entire community!  I have had to look at how often I have been more comfortable just swallowing down my feelings because I didn’t want to make a mess.

Of course, that never works.

Lyn Girdler: Yes, Benjamin Smythe, in his interview said that he lost some friends when he started to really just be himself and not do the things he didn’t want to do – but then gained new ones. He was just so positive about the beauty of people.  Some people will leave, other will stay as stronger connections and then others will come along and you will form new friendships.

Bernadette Birney: That has happened for me in an enormous way this year so I can attest to its truth.

One of the things that was true about Anusara–and I’m not in any way implying that this isn’t true for the other traditions of yoga; Anusara was just the container of my personal experience–is that so many talented, brilliant, creative people were drawn to it.  It was big enough that it wasn’t really possible to know everyone involved.

As the community fell apart, like-minded people naturally gravitated toward one another.  In these last nine months, I have made some of the deepest friendships of my life.  I am so, so anticipating what I believe will be a radical explosion of creativity as all these amazing people cross-pollinate ideas, and step into the freedom to push their own visions further.

It wasn’t that I felt so oppressed but now I feel so FREE.

Lyn Girdler: Good lead into my next question. In one of your blog posts titled “The Art of Melting Down‘ you beautifully describe the journey of the butterfly – as metaphor for our own personal experience with change.  I know you are referring to Martha Becks‘ description and you succinctly describe the stages.  Which stage are you in now?

Bernadette Birney: I love that particular way of thinking about processing experience.  Martha Beck is such a smarty-pants.  I’m definitely post melt-down.  I’m in between continuing doing the work of re-imagining myself and actually doing something about it.  So–somewhere in process between Stage 2 and Stage 3, I would say.

What I love about that particular model is that it allows for built in bumps in the road.  Whenever any of us have had an old way of life come to an end–we have to dissolve.  If we try to bypass the discomfort of dissolution, we never transform.  That said, even when we allow our old identity to fully dissolve, metamorphosing into who we will become is not going to be perfectly smooth.  If we know to expect things to go wrong along the way, we’ll realize it’s just a normal part of the process, and we won’t get discouraged and give up.

Lyn Girdler: Thank you for reminding us!

Bernadette Birney: I’m usually reminding myself, mostly. (:

Lyn Girdler: Let me ask, were you always someone who stood up and was vocal about what you believed?  I mean, was it a surprise to you (or others) that you would become the spearhead for the truth of the community? I suppose I am trying to understand if this is an inherent thing, or something you really had to muster up courage to do/be.

Bernadette Birney: No, traditionally I prefer to be a lot quieter.  As much as anyone else, I was initially waiting for someone to stand up and say something.  It was really only when the silence became deafening that I realized that that “someone” might have to be me.

That said, recognizing that I have a voice, and learning how to use it, has been an invaluable experience.

Lyn Girdler: Where, in your life now, do you feel most vulnerable?  And, where do you feel the most connected?

Bernadette Birney: Tough question–I feel vulnerable pretty often.  If I had to name the place where I currently feel most vulnerable, it’s probably professionally.  Being certified in a tradition meant that there was a system and all I had to do was master it.  Now, I have all this new freedom, right?  With the freedom comes the pressure to produce.  I

I’m having to redefine myself in a big way–and in public.  I’ve been teaching this whole year, as my ideas about what makes for good teaching have been coming apart at the seams.  I’ve been a very deliberate dismantling process.  Having to decide for myself what’s baby and what’s bathwater, under the microscope, has made me feel beyond vulnerable.

It’s tough to show up when the dissolution is full on but the creation hasn’t kicked in yet.

Lyn Girdler: Right, because more eyes are on you now, and in (probably) a more expectant way – I’m sure.

Bernadette Birney: I have trained a lot of the teachers in my local community.  I’m having to reexamine every single thing I impressed upon them.  Some of the things I taught them, I don’t believe to be true anymore.

So, not like what I teach or don’t teach is at the forefront of peoples’ lives, but there have been some days so raw I’ve felt like I showed up to teach without my skin.  At the community meeting we called after I resigned someone made the mistake of playing Whitney Houston’s, “I Will Always Love You,” and I literally lied down on my mat and sobbed, uncontrollably.  Mortifying but true.

Lyn Girdler: Are you a Whitney fan?

Bernadette Birney: No

Lyn Girdler: Was that the mortifying part?

Bernadette Birney: The grief was really raw.  Traditionally, grief has been something I far prefer to keep private. My first instinct when grieving is to retreat to the cave–or at least to a bedroom with cable TV.

Ironically, not hiding my grief away has created the deepest connections I’ve felt this year.  This is not pretty crying we are talking about.  It was noisy, leaky, snotty, breathless, loud, embarrassing grief.

Lyn Girdler: The stuff that we all do, but keep private.  I am sure it allowed so many to feel ok about their own grief, and then others to feel uncomfortable about it.

Bernadette Birney: That’s probably true.

Lyn Girdler: Would you say that this experience has changed your relationship with being vulnerable and what it means and how it has the power to forge connections deeper than you knew possible?  Or, has this been one of a few?

Bernadette Birney: This has been one of a couple of difficult experiences that have changed my relationship with vulnerability.  The other was my experience with infertility.  Grief, in general, if we allow it be will deepen connectivity.  It doesn’t have to, there are other choices.  We could choose bitterness instead but that would be the wrong choice.

Lyn Girdler: Some big stuff you’ve dealt with and been brave enough to be public about.  As much as it has been confronting, has it been freeing too?

Bernadette Birney: I truly believe that we can use everything–the good, the bad and the ugly–as fuel for evolution.

Lyn Girdler: yes, reminds me of a quote by Benjamin Franklin “Those things that hurt, instruct”

Bernadette Birney: Yes, the great blessing of transparency is that it releases us from shame.  Most of us think we are more fucked up than average.  The truth is just that usually we’re not talking about it.  The more willing we are to share the stuff that keeps us up at night, the less we are victimized by shame.

Invariably, when training teachers or working with clients, someone comes forward–trepidatiously–with something they think is so awful about themselves, so shameful.

Upon hearing the big secret, my response is usually, “That’s it?!  That’s all you’ve got?  That’s the thing that’s preventing you from doing the thing you really want to do?”  That’s ALL?”

It makes me want to laugh–not in a mean-spirited way but in a rueful way.  None of us are so original, you know?  I find that to be very comforting, and very human.

Lyn Girdler: Crazy isn’t it?  That’s why I think Brene Brown’s work is not just powerful, but really important for creating a world where people are ok enough with themselves, and their own humanness, that they don’t feel the need to attack or be mean when they see someone else being real, or vulnerable.  Because, ultimately when we see that in another – we are either reminded of our own strength or we feel ashamed and embarrassed…and when shame rears itself, I think that’s where people get ugly.  It challenges us/me to look and think “am I doing this all wrong” you know? And then I might have to step up, or get vulnerable myself – and that’s scary.

Bernadette Birney: Yeah, you just would not believe the things that I hear.  Not because any of it is so shocking–other than that perfectly brilliant, talented, valuable members of society find such brilliant ways to hold themselves back.  The more I have seen this inside myself, the more I have seen it outside myself.  AND, the more I have seen this outside myself, the more I have seen it inside myself.  The more we recognize that shame is the result of endeavoring to secret some part of our self away, the more we can penetrate into it, and free ourselves of it.

So, shame is actually really valuable if we use it as a signal.  Anytime we feel shame, we are unsuccessfully trying to compartmentalize some part of our self.  We can actually put that information to good use, but not if we create the diversion of trying to conceal the “shameful” aspect of our self.

In the same way that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” where there’s shame, there’s an opportunity to inhabit more of ourselves more comfortably.  Or not.  Up to us.

Lyn Girdler: Congratulations on the work that you have done Bernie.  I know that might not feel like that’s an appropriate response, but really – it’s quite brave.  I could talk like this for so long but I don’t want to take up any more of your morning.  Thank you So So much for your work and what you do in the world and for taking the time to talk about it in such an honest, intelligent way.

Bernadette Birney: That doesn’t sound inappropriate; it sounds loving, and real.  Doing the deep work is beneficial but I sure wouldn’t mind a nice, boring rut for a while!  Thanks so much for the conversation, Lyn.  I love this project of yours and could talk all day too.

Lyn Girdler: 🙂  Take Care

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Early this year I got wind of a really interesting project on Kickstarter.  A little film was being made that encouraged people to pull out their dreams from the back of the closet and start pursuing them.  It was a documentary featuring very successful people who had done precisely that.  It sounded like something that needed to be out in the world and so, for $25 I helped bring it to life.  It was a movie by Grant Peelle, a real estate professional who had decided to follow his dreams and make a movie.  I’m fine, thanks” is essentially the personal journey of Grant’s dream being fulfilled.

After the film premiered I received email updates about the progress of the digital download and the physical DVD (both of these I received in return for my investment – sweet deal!).  It was when I received the last email with a photo of Adam and Grant personally thanking me for my contribution that I felt compelled to reach out and ask for this interview.  

They received over $100,000 in backing – one of the largest projects ever backed on kickstarter) and so, I knew they were doing a LOT of these little photos.  I was impressed.  I was very grateful for this interview too, Grant has a lot of wisdom in the area of dream making.  Grant is one of the wholehearted because he followed his heart.

Lyn Girdler: So, Grant, thank you so much for taking the time to do this today.

Grant Peelle: Thanks Lyn so excited to be chatting with you today.

Lyn Girdler: Let’s start with what you do/who you are, for those who are not familiar with your work, or your journey.

Grant Peelle: Great, so until recently I have been in real estate, but the first of the year I drew a line in the sand and made a grand-stand against complacency and decided to pursue my lifelong dream of filmmaking.

Lyn Girdler: Congratulations!  I was one of your kickstarter backers and had the opportunity to see the film at your private screening in NYC and was so inspired and impressed by the mammoth task you took on.  How long had the idea been brewing to make a film, and was there one catalyst that had you finally say “enough, I’m doing this”?

Grant Peelle: I have had the desire to be a storyteller since early childhood.  I majored in theatre in college, but once I launched in to the ‘real world’ I allowed my fear and the idea that I should be responsible keep me from pursuing my dreams with any passion.

I had placed my dreams on hold for the last 15 years. …and in those 15 years I had built a great life; a beautiful wife, two vivacious young boys, a nice home, etc. etc. ..But it was my boys, Eli and Aiden that woke me to the need to model a passion-filled life. If I was going to successfully encourage them to live bold-audacious lives then I needed to lead by example.

I needed to make a movie.

Lyn Girdler: Fantastic.  I want to return for a moment to the word ‘responsible’.  The idea that responsibility is ensconced in the mundane – or social norms.  Has your definition of responsibility changed?  I mean, do you feel just as responsible now, following your dreams as you did when you weren’t?

Grant Peelle: Yeah… not to be semantic, but I have changed what I find to be the priority or definition of ‘responsibility’ – I feel a much stronger draw to be responsible to my dreams than I do any socially expected behavior.  I had been living in accordance to socially established responsibilities, and I now feel responsible to following my heart.

Lyn Girdler: When you made the decision to make the movie, did you quit your career first, and then start the movie, or had the concept of the film arrived and then you quit?

Grant Peelle: So… because I was in real estate, both as an investor and as an agent, I had a great deal of freedom in my workdays, however, the moment I decided to make the movie I put on blinders to any distractions beyond the obligations I had to my rental properties.

It was more of a paradigm shift within my self-image.  I decided to see myself as a filmmaker.  To declare myself as a filmmaker….and to live life as a filmmaker.

Lyn Girdler: The affirmation of being.  Beautiful.

Grant Peelle: exactly.

Lyn Girdler: What was your biggest fear?

Grant Peelle: hmm….

Lyn Girdler: Besides the obvious … perhaps … of it failing?  Whatever that means.

Grant Peelle: letting myself down – and by extension, disappointing my wife and boys

Lyn Girdler: Right, because you essentially had to leave your home for the month, get out on the road and then hopefully come back having achieved all that you said you would, which you did.  It’s a classic ‘heroes journey’ type story.  Talk about being vulnerable.

Grant Peelle: indeed.   My wife’s support was immeasurable.  And the movie became a love letter to my boys.

Lyn Girdler: Yeah, that was obvious.  I loved that the actual film is about the film being made – I mean, you’re featuring all these great people who made these big life changes, all the while you’re making your own life change as the film is happening – just by virtue of the film being made.  And then, you come home to your ecstatic boys….Has it changed your relationship with your wife and children?

Grant Peelle: It has.  Our marriage is at its strongest.  We have a clear vision for where we are headed as a family.  The boys aren’t old enough to process the movie and its message, but they moved out to Mountain View with me during the post-production of the film and we drove back across the country as a family once the movie had premiered in Portland.

Their lives are going to be so much richer as a result of the people we met and the opportunities that are presenting themselves as a direct result of making the movie.

The movie has stretched our vision for what is possible in life.

Lyn Girdler: That’s amazing, congratulations… much more is possible now.   Were there any moments, privately, that stood out as being a time where you really had to face being vulnerable?  And, how did you move through them?

Grant Peelle: Countless…Among the largest was the decision to use the making of the movie as part of the structure of the movie.  I had to be open to sharing my choices that had led to my personal complacency.

I didn’t want to admit that I had made choices that led to my unhappiness.  Not to myself, and as equally challenging, not to my friends and family.  I knew I would receive criticism.

I felt guilty admitting that my wonderful life was missing something.  I felt people would likely judge me selfish or narcissistic for being a central character within my own film.

Lyn Girdler: And did they?  Did you receive criticism?  Did people really think you were narcisstic for being the central character or did they see the integrity in the story?

Grant Peelle: The overwhelming response to the movie has been fantastic.  We have received countless responses from people who identify with the movie and have found inspiration and encouragement from it.

However, there have been some responses to the film that are cutting.  Some have expressed disappointment with the ‘making-of’ the film being such a strong part of the narrative….and at first these responses were painful.

I felt I had let down these select few audience members.  That I had failed….but recently, I have found a strong sense of peace.

I realize that our movie, while universal, is not entirely omniscient.  That we were responsible only to exploring the idea of complacency and that the strongest story structure required self-examination within the narrative itself.

That we made the right decision for the movie, even if that decision wasn’t right for everyone.

Lyn Girdler: I have found that once I accept people’s criticism and the feeling of ‘failing’ there is a kind of relief to then continue the work simply for the people it resonates with.  I feel more on edge if everyone likes what I do because then I feel responsible for too much – so when people express that they don’t enjoy what I do or that it doesn’t resonate for them, it frees me up to get on with it.  It’s like a tension – because there is nothing in the world that fits for everyone.  Is this the experience that you have now?

Grant Peelle: Precisely.  There is freedom in knowing that I need to remain focused on the intention of the work and not on trying to create something that pleases everyone.

Though, I should mention that this remains a process for me and I continue to struggle with these concepts.  I don’t have it all figured out, but I am embracing the journey.

Lyn Girdler: Yes.  Tell me, were there other moments in your life where you took risks?  (And I hate that word really, because it implies something dangerous – but I think you understand what I mean).  I guess I am trying to find out how bold this choice was as opposed to other moments in your life.  Perhaps the best way to ask is – were those close to you completely surprised by this decision?  Was this out of character?

Grant Peelle: This all depends on framing.  I have always been entrepreneurial.  So, for those nearest me, I have always challenged their levels of comfort when it comes to ‘risk’ however, I have always constrained these ‘bold’ choices to my home-town of 15,000 people.  Taking on this movie, as I see it, was clearly the most ‘risky’ thing I have ever done. Hands-down.

Lyn Girdler: Fantastic.  So, let’s talk about connection because you really had to go out there and make strong connections to make this movie.  I mean, you have some well-respected, recognizable people on this film.  How did these connections happen?  People like Danielle LaPorte and Eric Handler

Grant Peelle: Adam Baker.  Adam and I developed a friendship a couple years ago.  We were having very open conversations with one another about wanting to be a part of a large, bold project.

So we decided to create one… and out of these conversations we arrived at my need to reignite my dream of filmmaking and that the film should explore the impulse we were both feeling to live more passion filled lives.  Adam had become friends with a large number of amazing, inspiring people through his blog,

He reached out to this network of friends and shared our goal for the film and asked if anyone resonated with the piece to let him know – the response was overwhelming.

It became clear that each and every one of the well-respected, recognizable people in the film had each overcome their personal battle with complacency and wanted to offer encouragement to others to fight through it themselves.

Lyn Girdler: Yes, the film depicts that really well.  Brene brown talks about connection and at the heart of connection is vulnerability.  She says that those who have a strong sense of love of connection feel that vulnerability and know it’s part of the process and those that don’t feel shame when they experience that feeling.  Can you offer something, from your experience, which encourages those to who feel shame, in vulnerability, to keep going?  I mean, something beyond ‘Trust yourself’ or ‘just do it’?  This is a big request, perhaps but..we’ll see where it goes.

Grant Peelle: hmmm….so, crazy as it may seem… there is a scene in “The Never Ending Story” where the hero must face his largest enemy…and as it turns out – it is a mirror and he must defeat himself in order to save his world and I often use this scene as a reference for my self-talk in the moments I am really scared or fearful and, for me, I find strength in providing myself permission

Permission to be fearful, permission to fail, permission to pursue my heart, permission to release myself from outside expectation, permission to live, permission to live with my imperfection

Lyn Girdler: I love it!  So much.  Are you now a full-time storyteller, film maker?  What are some of the incredible opportunities that came out of this?

 Grant Peelle: I am a full-time storyteller.  I am pursuing original programming.  I have been a shooter on projects for Showtime/CBS and have a project that will be taking me to London and Florence in the next two weeks.

I couldn’t be happier with the doors that are opening as a result of this project.

Lyn Girdler: I am so so happy for you and this is really encouraging for so many.

Grant Peelle: Rock on

Lyn Girdler: Is there a personal or quiet experience that you have now with the relationships in your life (all kinds) that is different to what they were before making the movie?  You know, I mean, your personality probably hasn’t changed but has your own experience changed?

Grant Peelle: I have developed a quiet confidence.  I have given myself permission to dream bigger.

I am more deeply resolved to pursue projects that will improve the lives of others.  I am more deeply committed to creating a portfolio of work whose legacy will encourage others to see the potential in themselves and in life.

Lyn Girdler: Wow Grant, I am really inspired and happy to hear all of this.  You are such a sage in this area.  Thank you so much for your time.  All the best with your pursuits and more of your dreams, and your families’ dreams, coming to life.

Grant Peelle: Thank you so much.

For keep up to date with us, please follow up on facebook.

Wow.  It is literally the first word I thought of when I came across the following story.  While I am editing another ‘heart-fluttering’ interview I wanted to interrupt the stream a little and reveal this story.  It’s so magnifies the beauty of vulnerability and power it has to change lives.

I subscribe to the Human’s of New York facebook page because the work that Brandon puts out there is captivating.  He literally walks the streets of New York and takes candid pictures of real people, in New York City.  Most engaging for me, are the little stories that go along with the image; a snippet of conversation which completely captures the moment.

He just posted this Picture and story along with it:

Today I met an NYU student named Stella. I took a photo of her. Afterwards, she told me about a self-portrait she recently posted on Tumblr. So, instead of the photo I took, here is her self-portrait. Along with the words she wrote: 


WARNING: Picture might be considered obscene because subject is not thin. And we all know that only skinny people can  show their stomachs and celebrate themselves. Well I’m not going to stand for that. This is my body. Not yours. MINE. Meaning the choices I make about it, are none of your fucking business. Meaning my size, IS NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.

If my big belly and fat arms and stretch marks and thick thighs offend you, then that’s okay. I’m not going to hide my body and my being to benefit your delicate sensitivities.

This picture is for the strange man at my nanny’s church who told me my belly was too big when I was five.

This picture is for my horseback riding trainer telling me I was too fat when I was nine.

This picture is for the girl from summer camp who told me I’d be really pretty if I just lost a few pounds

This picture is for all the fucking stupid advertising agents who are selling us cream to get rid of our stretch marks, a perfectly normal thing most people have (I got mine during puberty)

This picture is for the boy at the party who told me I looked like a beached whale.

This picture is for Emily from middle school, who bullied me incessantly, made mocking videos about me, sent me nasty emails, and called me “lard”. She made me feel like I didn’t deserve to exist. Just because I happened to be bigger than her. I was 12. And she continued to bully me via social media into high school.

MOST OF ALL, this picture is for me. For the girl who hated her body so much she took extreme measures to try to change it. Who cried for hours over the fact she would never be thin. Who was teased and tormented and hurt just for being who she was.

I’m so over that.



You can see Stella’s blog here:

Then he posted the picture which he had taken along with the follow up story:

Given the unbelievable amount of attention the past post has gotten, Stella has (quite fairly) asked me to post my portrait of her, along with some context. Hope everyone takes a second to imagine what it’s like to have tens of thousands p

eople viewing / supporting / judging / commenting on you at one time. About Stella:

I struggled with body image my whole life. As a young teen, I was diagnosed with Polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS makes it incredibly hard to lose weight, and spikes up your insulin levels which can lead to diabetes and other complications. I felt like I was just getting bigger and bigger and could do nothing to stop it. I was so awkward and uncomfortable with what I looked like that I began to self-medicate in the way most teenagers do, except it was to a scary excess. Finally, my parents intervened and when I was 15 I got the help I needed. The past 2 and a half years have essentially been a struggle to come to terms with who I am and live life in a constructive, not destructive manner.
A couple weeks ago, I started a blog, just as a way to get out my thoughts and feelings. I found the body acceptance movement online, and it was like my eyes were open for the first time. I realized that my size or weight is not something to be ashamed of, it is a part of me. Health and weight are not synonymous, and I know that to be healthy means to manage my sobriety and PCOS the best that I can. I may not ever be thin, but that’s okay. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
So I posted a picture of myself in my underwear with a message to all the people who’d ever bullied me about what I looked like. Amazingly, in less than a week, it got over 50,000 likes and reblogs. It’s upwards of 80,000 now, and the response has been 90% positive, I would say.
Two friends of mine, Savanna and Lucy, are in the process of planning a documentary on sizeism and its effect on young girls. My dream is to go back to my middle school, where all my body image issues began, and work with young girls on the issues of self-esteem, body image, sizeism, and bullying. I want to give these girls something I never knew, which was that your body does not define who you are as a person. To people who judge people on their size, weight, pants size or health – shame on you. No one is the authority on beauty, and everyone has a different road to trudge to happy destiny. 


And then the most recent follow up to the story: 

Let’s be honest. Most interesting thing happening on HONY right now is Stella’s photo– which in 13 hours has been seen by 2.4 million people, and has been “liked” by 300,000.The events surrounding the post have only reinforced my high opinion of the 350,000 people who follow this blog. For the first 30 minutes, before the photo went viral, the comments were almost completely positive.
After  the photo went viral, HONY’s gates were stormed by the “outside internet” and things took a turn for the worse. This happens with every viral HONY photo. The farther a post travels beyond the HONY audience, the nastier the comment thread becomes. In a strange way, this contrast highlights the culture of HONY.
I think this is a great group of people. We don’t make fun of people here. So I think mean people generally get bored and move on. I gave Stella all the advice I could. I’ve had experience with people who don’t know me writing very detailed, critical assessments of my character. But I’ve never experienced the sort of concentrated, unrelenting judgment (both positive and negative), that Stella is getting right now. I told her to realize she is helping a lot of people, and to stop reading the comments. (30,000 and counting) I hope she was able to do so. Stella just wrote a long post on her experience. It’s worth reading:

My own reaction:

It got me pondering my own reaction to the story which was “Right on Sister – so bold and beautiful” and felt shocked to hear that people were negative about it.  But, that’s just me being naive to the realities of our cruel world.  The world in which a 14 year old girl lies in a UK hospital with a gun shot wound in her head because her fight for female education in Afganistan threatened to rock the foundation of a male dominated society who thrives on suppresing women.

And I questioned, are we doing the same thing to Stella?  Using, instead of bullets, cruel words to shoot down a young girl who is threatening to change a female image that is so out of alignment with the realities of nature.

Bullets like these:

Dwight Worker But it DOES affect me. Just like other people smoking affects my insurance premiums, obesity causes diabetes, and that affects me. So I am NOT letting this self-serving chubby off, who obviously cannot shut her mouth when it comes either to talking or eating.

Alex Etzio Bennett Treadmill ?

Namath Bishop It’s called a diet, your the reason America is so fat, stop going to mc Donald’s eat some tuna and go to the gym. It’s not rocket science.

Daniel Mullally Your horse riding trainer was probably worried about the horses back and you just took it to heart

Sam Parker You’re hurting MY eyes. and scarring MY brain.

Interesting that most of the hurtful comments were from men, some from women too.

But, you know, it’s not just these comments that are hurtful, it’s out own struggle and confusion with our body image which hurts those around us.  Mothers who have daughters have a responsibility to love their own bodies so that their daughters may.  Fathers must celebrate their daughters and their daughters mothers.  This all has a ripple effect.  It’s not just enough to berate the people who are nasty, to just feel shame or hurt for these comments – to make a real stand for Stella, it’s so important to love the skin YOU’RE in.

Stella was courageous enough to admit her fear surrounding this photo and, if you go through to her latest blog post, her admission of the feeling of vulnerability in doing this.  It was organic, it was fueled by instinct and her original pictures moved over 30,000 people to comment.  That’s how powerful vulnerability is!

What do you see in the mirror today?

Every once in a while, we come across someone who stops us in our tracks. Who challenges our belief systems or ideas about ourselves that we are compelled to listen. This is how it was when I came across Benjamin Smythe. Before I knew him as the guy with ‘the sign’ I started watching his videos.

Truth is, I was at once entertained, shocked, riveted and slightly put off. Put off because his manner is so raw and un-prescribed, he challenged my comfort of normal. Entertained and riveted because what he was saying resonated with me.

He is not on a mission to change the world, he simply wants to have a good time while he’s here. So, he stands on the street holding a sign that says “You’re Perfect” and then waits to see what happens. And everything happen; smiles, tears, gratitude, and even the middle finger. But this practice, this telling the world it is perfect has been the very thing to teach him of his own perfection.

This was a really inspiring and engaging interview for me (truth is, they all are actually), and I encourage you to sit with it a bit, savor his words. He might challenge your own way of being, but if you feel something – if there is a charge – then I encourage you to explore that.

Benjamin is one of the wholehearted because he is in with his whole heart.

Lyn Girdler: Ok, so Ben thanks for taking part in this project. I really think you have so much to say about being vulnerable and connecting

Benjamin Smythe: We’ll see. I don’t know the future.

Lyn Girdler: Thank goodness. Can you tell those who are reading this, who might not have seen any of your videos, or you standing on the street with your sign, what you do and who you are.

Benjamin Smythe: I play. That’s really the fundamental core of what I do. I play and I play in a way that has me out on the street with a sign that says, “You’re Perfect.” I don’t know who I am. I have no real way of answering that other than to say I am right here and I am amazed to be right here. I make videos about what I learn and about things I test in my life that “work”.

Those can be found on YouTube or my website for anyone who is interested.

Lyn Girdler: I love them, personally.

Benjamin Smythe: What do you love about them?

Lyn Girdler: Wait – is this interview turning already? Ha! Well, I love that you are authentic. You’re not trying to be anyone else, or regurgitate any spiritual books you’ve/we’ve all read. So, that already makes me feel safe in your wisdom. I also love the raw, no bullshit, in-your-face, get off your fucking self-deprecating donut cushion and love who you are in this life because it’s your only chance.

Benjamin Smythe: Cool. I never know what other people experience when they encounter my stuff. It’s fun to try to understand. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Lyn Girdler: Sure – well, also, it’s refreshing and I can relate too. So, let’s get to the beginning. I want to start with the sign. When did you first stand on the street with the sign and what compelled you?

Benjamin Smythe: (Okay so this is an autopilot response that I have said many times before.) (I was once in a rock climbing class and the instructor prefaced the days lesson with a statement like this to let us know he was about to go into “previously recorded informational arrangement” mode. I like that. Here is my previously recorded informational arrangement.)

I had a bad day, a depressing day, in 2005. I was living in San Francisco at the time and I had remembered meeting a man in Laguna Beach on the street who was saying “You’re Perfect” to people. I asked him why and he said,

“I am the only person I cannot see. When you hear the words and you light up, you show me what I look like.”

So, in whatever way the thought algorithm operates, this idea popped up in my head and I made a sign. I sat down on Lincoln Ave. in SF, on the median, and I propped the sign up against me.

In 10 minutes a woman pulled up, rolled down her window and through tears said, “Thank you. I really needed to see that.” I was like, “Oh, this is really something.” So I did it a couple more times there and then I moved to Idyllwild and kind of forgot about it until 2008.

I had one of those experiences where everything changes and after that, which is this, it was clear that everything really is simply the way it is. So I started holding the sign regularly then and have been pretty much the whole time.

I don’t have a schedule or anything. I don’t force myself to go out because I don’t actually have an agenda for anyone else. Being on the street is a way to enjoy the island I live on. People like the sign, they don’t like the sign, they say “Thank you,” they say, “Fuck you”…and all of that is simply the way it is.

Personally, I play this game called Fishing for Hearts where I pretend the sign is a fishing pole and I cast it into the person’s eyes. It’s fun. It’s just fun.

I don’t want to organize anything or start a movement or anything. I just like being out there meeting people and seeing what kind of things come up.

I think if I set out with the intention to actually be inspiring or something, it would be horrible. It would be dependent. People would have to like it or get it or some such nonsense. Doing it for me, doing it purely for the selfish reason to see someone go from frown to smile…it’s such a simple magic.

Everyone dies. It’s not going to save anyone. It’s just fun.

Lyn Girdler: It’s comforting.

Benjamin Smythe: Not for everyone. Some people hate it. Can you imagine wanting to change other people’s minds? Really? Like, how tiring that must be to actually long to change the world.

I don’t have such a desire. I just want to have a good time before I die. This, skateboarding, making videos, hanging out with Sandra, dancing, singing…it’s just a way to pass the time that feels interesting to me.

Why does anyone do what they do? ha! Who knows?

Lyn Girdler: I don’t know but I think most do things to make a living, make money, buy a big house, and live a prescribed ‘perfect’ life – things that, they feel, make them happy. I have been reading something you said in one of your videos. You said: “Cause every effort to improve yourself or fix yourself or make sure you have the perfect set-up on the lsland. It’s all possible, there is nothing right or wrong with that it’s just that all that effort can be part of the maddening, can be part of the frustration, can be part of the … lack of self-worth……’re worthy of the simplicity and rest that’s found in just being quiet” –

Benjamin Smythe: Totally. It’s like I can look for it, or I can BE it. Yeah, the madness is assuming I know what anyone else’s life is like. I can only ball park it. I can’t speak for anyone else. I can, however, listen with an open heart.

That’s pretty damn cool.

Lyn Girdler: I am sure, standing on the street, holding your sign being in this space that doesn’t require a ‘doing’ – you get to observe the movement of the world. Have you found a common theme amongst the general population?

Benjamin Smythe: Oh, man. That’s a huge question.

Lyn Girdler: Sorry 😉

Benjamin Smythe: Ha! No. I love it. It’s just there are so many things happening out there. I think the simplest thing I can say, and I am not being cheeky, is that everyone is moving. That’s amazing.

Lyn Girdler: yeah – that is amazing.

Benjamin Smythe: People are in motion. To take one step in any direction on this sphere made of living things is incredible. The other thing I can say is there are so many, many different kinds of lives being lived.

A major lesson from the sign for me is how ignorant I am to the reality of how much information is actually on this island. Like, I don’t know anything about anyone.

Lyn Girdler: It’s quite a relief to hear you say that actually. I think there are so many people spending their time trying to figure other people out, and measure other’s lives, just so that they can figure their own life out. You talk a lot about comparison – how it’s natural and tiring. Can you speak more to that?

Benjamin Smythe: Comparisons are normal in that when you go to the market, you pick up an apple and you pick up another apple and you say, “Okay, this one with the bruise is going back,” and you go on through the rest of your shopping making those little comparisons. Useful, functional, and natural.

When it comes to other people, a comparison is a strange thing because there is no actual judge anywhere. We judge each other or we don’t.

I find it tiring to think I am waiting to make sure that whatever I am is somehow up to standard. Like, as long as I am waiting for someone to say, “It’s okay to be you,” I am going to wait forever because no one actually has that authority.

So it’s like I set myself up to sit on the bus stop bench without ever getting anywhere. Waiting and waiting and waiting for someone, anyone, anywhere to show up and love me.

Ha! Misery!! I love me. That’s the end of the wait.

Lyn Girdler: Yes, ok, so have you always? Loved you?

Benjamin Smythe: No. I used to kick my ass all the time. And then, a little book came my way via the Tassajara Zen Monastery library one morning in 1999. The book was called “There is Nothing Wrong with You” by Cheri Huber. There is a very simple exercise in it where the invitation is to simply say, “I love you” and listen to the response. I heard “Fuck OFF!!” and saw, very clearly, that that voice wasn’t mine.

Oh, happy days! So I have pretty much spent the rest of my life since then loving that angry, scared child. Now we are great friends. Laughing together often. I feel very lucky to have come across that book. Like, The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. That book freed me from the idea I have to go to college to have a good life.

Lyn Girdler: good for you.

Benjamin Smythe: I don’t know if it’s good yet. That’s part of the fun. The worse moment of my life may not have happened yet. Amazing.

Lyn Girdler: Yes, I suppose! Did you find, once you moved into a space where you felt ‘whole’ (for want of a better term) and in love – did it change the quality of your relationships on the whole? Did you attract different people into your life?

Benjamin Smythe: I can’t tell. I think people are such mysteries. I don’t know what “attract” means. To me, the entire energy of the universe is on auto-pilot and the “collisions” are already set to happen.

This is immaculate inevitability as far as I can tell. This reading, writing, meeting with you.

So, is my life better? It’s the same life it’s just when I struggle there is a patience with myself rather than a frustration.

But I also get frustrated because I am an animal. I don’t aspire to some constant state of happiness. I think that pursuit has made me more miserable than anything I have ever tried to do.

Lyn Girdler: Oh Gosh, I love that. I love that you recognize struggle and then realize its patience we need.

Benjamin Smythe: I wouldn’t say “we need”. I think one of the heavy things I found in my experience was this idea that there is a “we”. I can’t find a “we”. But I hear the sentiment. I just don’t hope for others. It’s painful. I am not in control.

Lyn Girdler: You talk a lot about silence. Have you had an easy time finding it in your own life?

Benjamin Smythe: No and yes. It’s here. (Smiles) It’s under the question. You know, in some ways, it’s the very act of having a question that keeps us from the no-answer, or silence. Questions are great. Contextually. But when it comes to life there really is no question or answer.

Here we are. Sitting here on the island. Can’t get off it. I love that the body can’t die because it’s made of the thing it’s walking around on. That is just so damn cool.

It’s like the material is eternal and the “person” is a fiction. ha! So fun, Simple.

Lyn Girdler: Ok, so while I understand what you’re saying – about the questions – comparison etc. How does someone how is so committed to their life of ‘stuff’ and believing happiness lies outside of them. How do they relate to this? Where do they even start to recognize that may they aren’t happy after all? (This may be too big of a question – and not sure I have a grasp of it either…but, we’ll see where it goes)

Benjamin Smythe: I don’t have this kind of question. The answer I can offer is the “yes” and the “no” is happening automatically. Whoever is reading this is agreeing or disagreeing, and that is happening spontaneously. I guess to address the question is all I can do is speculate and I find this “binary code of yes and no” is already happening so I don’t have to. I can save myself the trouble of trying to guess the future.

People are going to do what they do. And there isn’t really a choice, but this gets tricky. Free will or not, this is it. Sitting here together, aging.

Lyn Girdler: Do you think you have a strong sense of self-worth now? Is it stable or is it a constant work in progress for you? And, if it is – what practices do you have that keep you loving yourself?

Benjamin Smythe: No. I don’t. But I can’t find something to measure the worth against.

It’s like, I am here with you. Are we worthy? Ha! Of course.

Lyn Girdler: yes, I believe we are.

Benjamin Smythe: We can’t even stop existing. It’s like everyone is universe approved.

Lyn Girdler: I LOVE that! Everyone is universe approved.

Benjamin Smythe: The sperm and egg process is so intense to exist at all is to have passed the test. Now it’s just having fun and minding the resources as best we can. But, again, the “we” is a mirage in some ways. I have one practice and that is doing what I love.

I freak out and have bad days like anyone else. The only difference now as opposed to other times in my life is I don’t expect not to.

Lyn Girdler: That’s comforting actually. I know that I used to struggle thinking that I shouldn’t have bad days. But, now I just try to find the quickest way to get to bed on a bad day and stop fighting it 😉 Or, at least, just stop ‘doing’.

Benjamin Smythe: But isn’t it funny how we’re talking about something that actually isn’t happening? It’s like all conversation is after the fact. I love that.

How can I talk about what I don’t remember? Ha! Impossible.

Lyn Girdler: In our conversation, just before we started this interview, you said something about Love being a power. You said “when I’m standing on the street with the sign I don’t feel vulnerable I feel love’s power”. Were there times when you felt vulnerable with the sign?

Benjamin Smythe: Yes. The sign has taught me how to die. In the beginning it was very scary. I projected all kinds of thoughts that I hadn’t yet made peace with out into the faces that passed.

I call it “Boomeranging” because I throw it out there, forget I did it, and then get hit by it. The sign has taught me to make peace with whatever I fear someone else could think. Because whether they think it or not, it can’t affect me if I don’t agree to it, whatever the thought is.

The coolest thing is how stereotypes continue to die. Like a big car of gangsters or a businessman or a little old lady…smiles, waves, curses, shouts, frowns…people dressed up as all kinds of things I would think have a “given” reaction and Wham! They react the opposite of my expectation.

So I learn how I have expectations and I learn what these expectations cost me emotionally. I think more than anything this comes from not having an agenda. From not needing anyone to respond in a particular way.

When the cop yesterday pulls over, rolls down the passenger side window and says, “You’re perfect too”…the part of me that grew up in the skateboard culture going “Fuck pigs” has nowhere to stand.

This dude just opened his world to me. It’s awesome. It’s an awesome way to learn how I don’t know anything. I can’t guess anyone’s reaction. So I stop trying and just sing.

Lyn Girdler: Yes! Where do you feel the most ‘connected’ and where/when do you feel the least?

Benjamin Smythe: When?

Lyn Girdler: Wait – I kind of feel like you may have already answered that question! But if you want to answer, go ahead.

Benjamin Smythe: I am always connected, but there is no always so CONNECTION is what this is. I can try to create standards so I feel like I have a hand in it but the truth is there are no standards. Everything is over and the future never actually comes. So here I am sitting with you. I don’t know what’s coming.

I don’t know when “not being connected” could ever happen? Here we are. Totally alive.

Lyn Girdler: Right. So, when did you start with the videos and how did they come about?

Benjamin Smythe: 2009. They came about because my pop bought me a computer after mine broke and it had a camera on it and I was like, “Well, I want to share what I am learning.” I also was inspired by the various talking heads on the “spiritual seeker” circuit and since I no longer had a question about what this is, I felt like I could speak about it.

It’s really obnoxious when it comes down to it. And it’s a lot of fun. So I aim for fun, even though I also aim for sincere. But, no one needs to see my videos in order to die. Or live. That’s cool.

Lyn Girdler: Yes, but I think that anyone who is expressing themselves in public feels that way. At once obnoxious and a sense of fun.

Benjamin Smythe: Totally. And it’s a great way to learn how to be open to the reality that not everyone is going to like me. That’s just the way it is. I don’t have to defend against that. In fact, I notice I celebrate it. I love it when someone says, “You don’t do it for me,” because that is an equal expression of “You’re Perfect” as “I learn a lot from what you do.”

Lyn Girdler: You seem to channel your information. Would this be a good way to explain what happens? Or is it all very conscious?

Benjamin Smythe: Oh shit. I have no idea where anything comes from. I can’t say channel because I don’t where this response is coming from. Do you know where you’re questions are coming from?

Lyn Girdler: No. Me? Instinct, if it’s such.

Benjamin Smythe: Right. It’s pretty amazing. I play. I let things happen. Whatever word would have to be added to the question because saying “I channel” doesn’t explain where “I channel” comes from.

I think of myself as a portal in that I get all kinds of visitors. But this is just a silly way to say my imagination works, like any 4 year old.

Lyn Girdler: what do your family and friends think of what you do?

Benjamin Smythe: I don’t actually know. I know that my family had a period where they stopped talking to me because they thought I was crazy. I rolled with it and they came back around. I lost some friends along the way because I stopped doing things I didn’t want to do.

And I made new ones. There are great people in this world. Really kind and good hearted people. I spend a lot of time alone and I like that. I am naturally a cat, with like 10% dog.

Lyn Girdler: And yet, here you are being so bold and visible to the world when you’re not alone.

Benjamin Smythe: Well, I don’t experience it to be boldness. Being who I am does not take courage. It takes great courage to hide because it is so damn painful. Everyone who is not doing what they want because they are afraid is using an incredible amount of courage to endure that pain.

Lyn Girdler: I just held my breath with that statement. It winded me. Amazing.

Benjamin Smythe: Right. Because you know the truth. You know you are right here and there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone does. It’s just waiting for permission to relax. Ha! And that never comes.

Unless I give it to myself.

Lyn Girdler: If I ran into one of your friends from when you were a teenager and told them what you were doing now. Would they be surprised? I mean, what I am trying to get at is – was this a 180 degree turn for you – this knowledge or were always a ‘seeker’ (and I don’t’ know another term yet that is more appropriate)?

Benjamin Smythe: I don’t think so. I think I have always been a little obnoxious and explorative. I don’t know though.

There was a 180 degree turn. It never feels right to talk about it because it is not something anyone can do anything about, and it is not something I did anything about. There was a sense of looking for something and then one night, this sense exploded and there was nothing left to look for.

But it was not personal and it was not the product of any effort on my part. The learning never stops. I don’t know about how I die or what possibly occurs after, if anything. That is really exciting to me, even though pain is painful and there may be some more before then.

Lyn Girdler: So, and I am about to cringe using this word – but would you say you had an ‘awakening’?

Benjamin Smythe: No because I wasn’t asleep. I was just in massive pain. I don’t know how to talk about it and I cringe at all the attempts. It’s really not personal. That is the one thing I can say. I had no choice. None.

Lyn Girdler: Yeah – ok, no worries. I get it. I think it’s the most respectful way to describe it.

Benjamin Smythe: Well, as you know, there is a lot of tit-for-tat and that just feels silly.

Lyn Girdler: Yup.

Benjamin Smythe: Yup. I like “yup”. That’s fun. The “u”… yUp Ha!

Lyn Girdler: So, I could chat like this for hours. But I must wrap up (I like Yup too!)….if someone is reading this right now. They want to reach out, they feel vulnerable and because of feeling vulnerable they feel ashamed. What do you want them to know?

Benjamin Smythe: Well, I don’t want them to know anything because that desire is painful for me. I have to actually assume someone is in pain to comment and that assumption means I create the “someone who is in pain” and I don’t know why I would do this unless I wanted to struggle and I don’t. I trust everyone to ask for what they need when they need it. If they don’t, I can’t make them.

I hear the sweetness in the invitation…and I can’t say anything without making it up.

Trust yourself? See, it’s fascinating to even assume someone else can inspire another person. I inspire myself using the world to do it. I assume this is how it works for everyone else, too…but I don’t know.

Lyn Girdler: Ah! So that’s a better question – what do you do when you feel vulnerable, or shame in vulnerability?

Benjamin Smythe: When?

Lyn Girdler: Sorry – if?

Benjamin Smythe: I am sorry. I am not trying to be difficult. I just have to make it up. I don’t feel vulnerable right now and I don’t have any formula for when I do. I guess that is the best way to answer that.

Lyn Girdler: No no – you’re not being difficult. I like this.

Benjamin Smythe: It’s like I am curious how I will respond, too. There is no other world where my life is happening. This is it. Sitting here with you.

Lyn Girdler: That is perfect!

Benjamin Smythe: Amazing.

Lyn Girdler: Yes. Thank you SO much Ben. It’s been really great chatting with you.

Benjamin Smythe: Thank you as well, for your work in our world.

Lyn Girdler: And yours.

Benjamin Smythe: may this day kiss you full on the lips.

Lyn Girdler: I hope so! Thanks

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I first met Autumn Bear on a dance floor in NYC nearly 8 years ago.  She was friends with a dear friend of mine, who is also a dancer, and he bought her along for a night out.  They are now in a loving relationship and I couldn’t be happier.

Since then, I have watched Autumn transition from a professional dancer, traveling through the country teaching partner dancing, starting her own west coast swing school online and then to become a well-sought after acupuncturist in NYC.  

Right at the time she was making her life transition she was taking her new dog, Dallas for a walk when she came across two young boys in the park – one of whom was on the brink of death.  Autumn was called to action and ended up saving this boys life.  Her story below.

Autumn is one of the Wholehearted because she stayed connected to her sense of purpose and service to the world.

Lyn Girdler: So, thanks for taking part in this.

Autumn Bear: It’s my pleasure to be part of this!

Lyn Girdler: I’m really excited about having your voice here because I know you have so much to offer in the art of connection.

Autumn Bear: I suppose I know a thing or two about connection.  It is definitely part of my life’s work.

Lyn Girdler: Describe a little bit of your life’s work.

Autumn Bear: I feel as though my life’s work is to be of service to people.  I chose the realm of health and particularly I have focused my energy on Acupuncture and Food as medicine.  My entire job and how well I do it relies entirely on how I connect with the people that seek my help because as a medical practitioner people have to be able to trust me and surrender to their own feelings of fear in order to receive the work that I must do.  As most of us know, surrendering and being vulnerable in the presence of another human being (especially with one who is going to put needles in your body) is really really difficult.  It is only through connection and this essence of trust that allows for this very healing relationship to be built.

Lyn Girdler: What drew you to acupuncture because, before that, you were a dancer!

Autumn Bear: I had actually gotten into Acupuncture before I was a dancer, believe it or not.  I had done a considerable amount of traveling in my early 20’s and unfortunately I had gotten quite ill on some of those travels.  A friend of the family told me to try acupuncture so I did and I fell in love instantly.  I actually applied to acupuncture school soon after that but the opportunity to dance professionally came up around the same time so I put acupuncture aside for nearly a decade to pursue my artistic career first.  It wasn’t until I was 30 that I was finally ready.

Lyn Girdler: Was there anything significant that inspired you to make the shift from dancing to acupuncture?  Read the rest of this entry »

Judy Clement Wall is a writer who writes about finding your north at Zebra Sounds and about loving fearlessly at A human thing.  It was her Love Essays which captured my attention earlier this year when I was at home in Australia.  I was curious about the year she spent loving fearlessly, and what that might look like.  Talk about getting vulnerable!  

Nestled in her Love Essays is a beautiful poem called ‘My Religion‘.  I read it to a packed yoga class and was taken aback at the response people had to it.  So many people wanted a copy of it.  So, I reached out to Judy to let her know this, via Twitter, and from there, we connected.  

Because Love is her topic of choice I knew she would have a bit to say about getting vulnerable and being open and…well….making connections.  And I was right.  I am very grateful she responded and said yes to this interview.  

She is one of the Wholehearted because of her willingness to be open and honest and for teaching the world about what it means to choose love.

Lyn:  Can you tell our readers who you are and what you do?

Judy Clement Wall: Sure! My name is Judy Clement Wall and I’m a writer. I’ve written for a lot of sites/publications, but you can always find me at my two sites: Zebra Sounds, where I write about living creatively and finding your North and A Human Thing where I write about the intersection of fearlessness and love.

Lyn: Have you always been a writer – as your career I mean?

Judy Clement Wall: No. I have a checkered past. 🙂 I worked at Intel Corporation for many, many years, until my second child was born and I realized that being gone 12 hours a day was no way to get to know my children. So I quit, eventually returning to school and getting my creative writing degree.

Lyn: Had you always had the desire to be a writer? Was it a dream waiting to be born?

Judy Clement Wall: Yes, I think so. I wrote as a child, all the way through high school. But then I got hell-bent on moving out of my parents’ house and starting life on my own. I loved what I was doing (Systems Analyst) at Intel and when I went back to school I thought I’d go into programming. Then I took my first college-level creative writing course, and I never looked back.

Lyn: Was the decision to quit your job and change course a long drawn out decision?  Were you scared of what was to come from it?  Or was the need to be with your children more powerful than the fear of the unknown?

Judy Clement Wall: It wasn’t long and drawn out but it was wrenching. I truly loved what I was doing, but felt that someone else was raising my boys. I originally thought I’d stay home with them until they were both in school, but I couldn’t do it. I was so torn between this need to reach for a bigger me and the need to be closer to my kids. School allowed me to more or less do both things.

Lyn: Yes, it seems the same struggles so many mothers go through.  Finding a connection to themselves AND their children.  Do you think you’ve created that now?  I mean, finding a bigger you and being closer to your children? Read the rest of this entry »

I’m in the process of editing some great interviews, and conducting a few more.  Let me tell you something, it doesn’t get old!

While we wait for them to be finished and ready to publish I wanted to share this interview I did a few months back.  it was for a love project I did on my other blog loveyourselfnaturally, for Valentines day.

I conducted this interview way before I had the idea for The Wholehearted, but so many people have commented on this video and have been inspired by love and relationships from Tracy & Mitchel.  It felt necessary to share it here too.  They are open and wholehearted and real about their relationship.  It’s refreshing and educating.

It’s inspired me to do a Wholehearted Relationships series too…so, if you know anyone let us know!

Enjoy and please comment below or join the conversation on Facebook

<p><a href=”″>Tracy & Mitchel Bleier on Love, romance & Luck</a> from <a href=”″>Iinterviewyou</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I met Aditi at my local yoga studio. Ironically, in an attempt to connect to her Indian roots she started a yoga practice here in Fairfield County, CT. There isn’t a person who has met Aditi who hasn’t been struck by her kindness and her ability to always smile at people. She is probably one of the kindest people I know – and a killer Indian cook. I was floored by her Indian cooking when I first tasted it – her sauces are other wordly. I have watched the transformation of her business start from a small one woman show selling sauces at the farmers market, to a popular catering business in the area and now a fully fledged product on the shelves at boutique food chains. It’s been very exciting to watch. Most inspiring is that she is a single mother of two boys.

I sat with Aditi, in her kitchen, over a dinner she cooked and we talked about her life in India, her ideas on parenting as a foreign mother, her fears and her greatest achievements.

She is one of the wholehearted because, while she lost a sense of self at some point, she worked hard to gain it back again because she knew she was worth it.

**Because we are both from Commonwealth countries, I have spelled Mum the way we speak it!



Aditi: Oh yeah



Aditi: Well I used to practice yoga with my mum when I was like 15/16. She wanted me to go with her and I didn’t really want to go.


Aditi: Well, there isn’t that whole buddy relationship with mum’s in India, at least not with my mum. It was more of a parent trying to guide me. Looking back I think that she was stressed, she was not very healthy and things were bothering her and she kind of felt that I would become that way if I didn’t take care of myself and she was giving me all the opportunities to do things that she didn’t do. But I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

The thing is, the way we grew up in India and the way India is now, so much has changed. If I look at the American life in the last 60/70/80 years I don’t see things that have changed much. That’s probably true of most of the western world.

Read the rest of this entry »

 I met Casey about 2 years ago, after hearing a lot about him from our mutual friends, friends that he had had since childhood who I had become close with more recently.  He has been living in Thailand, with his young son, practicing and teaching yoga for the past 10  years.  I met him on his return to the U.S. after 10 years, with his son Cha.  He was visiting, with the possibility of moving back to the U.S. having experienced some of the emotional and financial challenges of raising a son as a single father.  Alas, after a few months, Thailand called him home.  

From the moment I met Casey, I knew he was a wholehearted person – open minded, open hearted and completely embracing.  No one can be this way without being willing to be seen.  We sat, over Skype, last Saturday; 9:30am for me, 8:30pm for him (after having put his son Cha to bed) and conducted our interview over IM.  It was profound for me.  

Casey is one of the Wholehearted because he truly lives from his heart.

Lyn Girdler: How are you?

Casey: Chillin, Exhausted! Dad life 😉 You?

Lyn Girdler: I’m good – been laying low lately – mostly working though.  How was the move?

Casey: Exhausting but went well

Lyn Girdler: So, the interview will be pretty much a conversation but I work a little bit on instinct…kind of feeling what questions I want to ask based on our conversation….mostly I want to reveal how, I believe, you live wholeheartedly.

Casey: Totally cool with me I’m pretty sure everything you touch is golden so do your thing

Lyn Girdler: Why did you move? Or, more specifically, what was the impetus/inspiration/reason for the move from Pai to Chiang Mai?

Casey: The move?  I’ve been in Pai for ten years! After ten years in a place you decide: either I’m staying here for another ten or time to move on

Lyn Girdler: Yup.  Got that… that same feeling right now actually.

Casey:  You understand, I think you and I are very similar: we are both travelers for one, and expats for another.

Lyn Girdler: Yes – I hear you on the travel – it’s both a boon and a curse.  Home is not like it is for others.  What compelled you to move to Thailand in the first place?

Casey: A woman 😉

Lyn Girdler: Ha! Of course.  Where did you meet?

Casey: It was 1999 and we met in NYC.  Read the rest of this entry »

Vicky Cook is a yoga teacher, nutritional health coach, a business professional, mother and all round rock star of a person.  She always greets with a smile and has a kindness about her that is both firm and fierce.  She in incredibly nurturing.  

Life wasn’t always this way for her.  She found her love and kindness the hardest way.  While her first 25 years were mostly driven by anger, abuse and a constant feeling of shame and disconnect and believing she would always have to fight in the world, you wouldn’t have any idea of that if you knew her now.  From those early years she turned her fighting spirit and her fierceness into a deep kind of loving for the world, and not from walking down an easy path.

She has a strong sense of what spirituality means to her.  Most importantly, she has come out of the darkness with a stronger sense of self-worth and a knowing of her Grace, and greatness.  The people that surround her, and her students come out better for it.  

Vicky is one of the wholehearted because she discovered that her self-worth was the thing that healed the world and she didn’t give up on trying to find it.  

Sitting on her porch outside in her English garden, we launched into conversation after meditating for 20mins.

Vicky: I mean I was probably trying it at different times (meditation).  20 years ago I bought this book on meditation.

Me: What was it called?

Vicky: I don’t remember, I still have it somewhere.  It was a paperback and I picked it up and I remember reading it thinking meditation was that you had to sit down and your mind was going to be quiet.  But, I wasn’t there!  Still not there!  Don’t get me wrong I have moments where I go to a place that I didn’t even know I could go to, but it’s never felt like a totally quiet place.  It feels like I am more immersed in something.


Vicky: Oh Gosh!  You know, I had a really, um……traumatic experiences.  I was just trying to search for another way out.  I used alcohol and drugs very abusively and they bought me to a really dark place and then I started seeking other ways.


Vicky: Well, I don’t know how much you want to know (laughing)


Vicky: I mean I guess that’s really it.  You know it’s been kind of interesting, esp. in the yoga community. Not that I have a secret, or a separate life but um, you know I come from a place of … you know…I’ll tell you. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bernie Birney: It's About Yoga

"Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose & meaning to our lives. People who have a strong sense of love & belonging believe they are worthy of it." ~ Brene Brown They are the Wholehearted

Sand Dancing

"Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose & meaning to our lives. People who have a strong sense of love & belonging believe they are worthy of it." ~ Brene Brown They are the Wholehearted