The Interview

The Interview: Jennifer Idol talks Diving all Fifty States of America, The Muddy Middle and why you'll never use a straw again.

Frozen with horror at the sight of the Deep Horizon Oil spill left Jennifer Idol with guilt and regret at not reaching for her trusty camera to record the sight in time. Luckily rather than dwell in the past she chose an empowered response in the moment and set her heart on sharing the stories of our underwater world to people everywhere. 

Between 2011 - 2014 Jen combined her passions of design and scuba diving to become the first woman in the US to dive all 50 states. She recorded her extraordinary journey and is now a published author to boot. We talk The muddy middle, our culture of immediacy and why you'll never use a straw again!

The Interview: Reverend Angel talks Change, Compassion and How to Stay Centered in a Crazy World.

The Interview: Reverend Angel talks Change, Compassion and How to Stay Centered in a Crazy World.

How do we stay calm and in our center when it feels like the world around us is "going to hell in a frying pan?" That's the question this month's podcast guest answers beautifully in this timely episode of The Interview!

Reverend angel Kyomodo Williams is a spiritual maverick, author, and the second only black woman to be recognised as a sensei in the lineage of Zen Buddhism. We discuss change, compassion how our inner world creates our outer and how to keep our center when all around are losing theirs.

The Interview: 4 Questions that could change your life with Byron Katie

“Watch out - she move fast!” warns her assistant Tania in hushed tones, and boy she’s not exaggerating. Byron Katie  - spiritual teacher, Oprah favorite and author of the international bestseller “Loving What Is”  is blink and you miss her gone.

Join the Club... It's Free!

We respect your email privacy

In February 1986 Byron Kathleen Mitchell (Katie) - an All American mum of three children and on her second marriage was suffering from a crippling descent into rage, despair and clinical depression. Her suffering was so deep she checked herself into a halfway house for women with eating disorders (the only place her insurance would cover) and slept on the floor each night as she felt unworthy of a bed.

 

One morning she was pulled out of sleep by a cockroach crawling over her foot and (in an experience that mirrors descriptions of enlightenment on the spiritual path) realized that everything had changed. She had awoken to a mind empty of thoughts to discover that all of her suffering had disappeared and that a creature of absolute delight and joy was looking through her eyes and out at the world. 

It came with a life changing realization.

Listen to the Audio

"I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer... Freedom is as simple as that... I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment."

She developed her process of deconstructing her thoughts into a form of self enquiry called “The Work” which has eased the suffering, depression and pain of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. 

Byron Katie is radiantly beautiful in a way that I imagine only those who are no longer troubled by the workings of their mind can be; a puff of white hair frames her heart shaped face, brilliant blue eyes sparkle with love and delight, and yes…she moves like the wind. When she’s ready to leave a room she’s out of the door and down the hall whilst everyone else is still picking up their handbag.  I’m guessing it’s that one part sugar to two parts spice, kindly fairy god mother with a dash of iron that allows this elegantly trim 73 year old to stand and command a stage for the best part of 8 hours in a 200 people strong workshop in Mexico City. She’s also found time for me in her forty minute lunch break and is currently managing a hectic travelling schedule taking “ The Work”  to cities around the world. 

Ladies, meet the remarkable Byron Katie. 

WW: Katie thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, we’re at the workshop of The Work in Mexico City - I’m going to dive right in because I know that we don’t have a lot of time…so just understanding a little bit about your background, you were suffering for quite a long time?

BK: (Nodding) Deep depression, more than a decade and very very painful, I felt so estranged from my children and my life.


WW: And in that time were you seeking help for the depression? Or taking medication?
 

BK: No I was trying to self manage.  It became deeper and deeper until it became clinical depression and it escalated into agoraphobia.

There was a moment I was sleeping on the floor and a bug crawled over my foot and it woke me up. And all the depression was gone. It was just completely gone, it was another world and what I learned from that moment in time was that when I believed my thoughts I suffered and when I didn’t believe them I didn’t suffer. And I’ve come to believe that’s true for every human being. So when we come to question these judgements that run through our head, these judgements that are so painful and mean minded- we assume “he this, her that…”  when we question this we open to a world…there are terms for it like self realization, peace, love understanding and connectedness. It’s an amazing world when we’re present to it.


WW: And do you describe what you had as enlightenment, yourself as enlightened?

BK: No I don’t describe myself that way. The truth for me is I know the difference between what hurts and what doesn’t and I’m extremely grateful. So I am enlightened to what is true for me and what is not and enquiry ( “The Work”) is the way I stay clear. I question any judgements that I may hear someone say I don’t just immediately believe it. Inside of me I have this mechanism running because of the practice of using these questions that is automatic. If someone says“he doesn’t care about me” I don’t assume that to be true any longer and it makes me a better listener. I don’t have to say “oh no after all you’ve done for him,”’ I don’t have any of that. My life is about listening and staying connected and it’s a beautiful way to live.

WW: I have a question about depression because I suppose it’s something I’ve struggled with myself and still do sometimes, and the first is - I see these entrenched beliefs coming up that I’ve become aware of so its not just thoughts that are racing through my mind in the moment, its about entrenched beliefs about myself - but the enquiry seems to focus on judging other people first?

BK: Well no it really is about judging yourself, because if someone says: “My brother says he never wants to speak to me again” I don’t just assume it to be true but If I believe it look at how depressing that would be, and times that by hundreds and thousands of judgements we make in a day, and that’s depressing. So we notice our emotions andlook at what we are thinking and believing andnotice what we’re thinking and believing when we’re experiencing those emotions.
 

That’s depressing to notice the emotions and depression and heart ache, to notice those and to question them.


WW: So there’s an importance on feeling the emotions as well then? Because I think sometimes when I’m doing “The Work” it somehow becomes a bit of a mental exercise when I’m writing something out.

BK: No this is meditation, its contemplative, you look, ask and look at a situation in your life and look at your judgements on that situation and then question them one at a time, write the question down.  The first question is: Can I know it’s true?

For example taking the judgement/ statement: Her brother doesn’t care about her.

(First question) Can I know it's true? ….Yes she says so and yes she believes it.

(Second question) But can I absolutely know it's true? Can I believe this about her brother, that he doesn’t care about her  just on her say so?

(Third question) How do I react and feel, what happens, when I believe that thought? I haven’t even met her brother and I don’t like him... I have a resentment against someone I’ve never met and that’s crazy - but worse its depressing because it builds up and builds up throughout the day.

(Fourth question) Who would I be without the thought? When she tells me that? I’d be open I’d be listening I’d be connected to her and her pain and sorrow and there to help rather than to enforce upon her that there is something wrong with her brother. And that her pain is justified, but I can be there for her and put my arm around her and have tissue - and I don’t know anything more powerful than- connection and human kindness.


WW: I think the resistance that comes up me for me when I’m doing “The Work” is that there’s a part of me that wants to hold onto anger or grievance with someone almost as a form of protection.

BK: Well that’s fine, we’re just working with one judgement at the time, we’re not working with this whooooole thing and do them one at a time. Just start with one judgement - work it through, then go to the next one. It’s a practice you might take an hour a day working on one judgement for three days, but you’re talking about your life here, you’re talking about your happiness here, this is not a little thing.

If I can’t find a way out of that hell I was in, it just means I’m stuck forever. But what I discovered on that floor, what was shown to me- and that I’m passing on is that people are losing their depression all over the world as they sit in this practice of The Work.

WW: And does it work when I’m at my lowest?  I’m thinking about my depression when I’ve felt at my lowest it feels like a physical pain with no energy and I can’t get up?


BK: Well try it- can you get still with one judgement and just sit in it and meditate with one judgement and those questions and let me know!

WW: Ok (laughs)

BK: If you’re mind is open to it, it works.

WW: Well you say we need to have an open mind, but sometimes that’s the hardest thing right?

BK: Well an open mind isa state of grace, I think it’s a great gift, an open mind. But anyone can learn to meditate. And that’s difficult for people because it means getting still. The Work is getting still and meditating on a situation, a moment in time when we’re judging and that takes stillness. It really is just sitting with your eyes close, getting centered, holding that judgment in front of your face in your mind’s eye and questioning it.


WW: Mmmm, I think you say in your book “Loving what is” you say there is nothing that we can do that doesn’t help the planet, is that right?

BK: I think probably what I meant, and something you read was “If I’m married for example and in an abusive relationship and maybe he hits me” then he shows me who not to live with. So he has shown me a kindness of who not to live with, and if my mind is “Oh I love him and oh he’ll change” you know I may be right but I know one thing for sure, he hit me and maybe I’m someone who said “I would never live with someone that physically abuses me.” We can love someone without living with them, we don’t have to be resentful or hateful or dislike someone to leave them. We can love them with all of our hearts and leave them.

WW: So doing “The Work”  and accepting what is isn’t about condoning or accepting poor behavior towards us.

BK: It couldn’t be because that would be inviting the world into more craziness, “The Work”  is a call to peace.


WW: And do you believe that by doing "The Work" on ourselves internally,  collectively that can shift the amount of violence in the world?
 

BK: When you shift your whole word shifts - it become kinder. Everyone is responsible for the way that we see the world, I’m responsible for the way I see the world and if I don’t love the world then I question my judgements about the world and then I see a kinder world.


WW:  You talked earlier in the workshop today about a time when you were in hospital for surgery and had to decide if you wanted to be resuscitated should it be required and you couldn’t decide so in the end your husband had to step in…!

BK: Well I couldn’t decide - I just couldn’t honestly answer the question, who did they want to resuscitate?What identity were they going to resuscitate? So I couldn’t honestly answer the question!

 

Join the Club... It's Free!

We respect your email privacy

 


WW: Is that a fear for some people?

BK: It’s a horrible fear for some people unless they question their judgements about it. It’s not something I planned certainly. But my doctor wanted to me to live, she said “no one dies on my watch!” she’s a friend of ours and she’s so funny! So she certainly… if I wasn’t going to make a decision she was going to make one. And my husband was there and he said “I noticed she’s not answering the question so I’ll answer it for her so yes resuscitate her!”

So that was ok with me too. But you know I think I said it today, if I died how would I know? What am I saving? What identity am I saving?

When I looked back at all those years of depression I was so suicidal, because I didn’t know how to deal with my mind. Those images of past and future, and the moment we believe a thought and that’s depressing.


WW: Past regrets is something I’ve found debilitating...

BK: So another way of saying that is judgements on the past, so itemize those judgements as they rise and they’ll show you which ones to do “The Work” on;  so just have fun in your beautiful self.  It's important to me that your listeners and readers know that the work is available to download for free on the thework.com and you can find it in most libraries and on YouTube.


WW: Do you still practice “The Work”  yourself everyday?

BK: It’s ongoing I just call it noticing, noticing, noticing... the judgements that come through. In the example we used about the woman with her brother (“my brother doesn’t care about me”) It’s a silent “ is it true?” I don’t even know I’m thinking it, but I know when my connection is broken... the connection withmy heart - so in that I don’t know I’m connected with her, and I’m very open to her brother as a man that cares about his sister, or who doesn’t care about his sister.  I. Don’t. Know.


WW: So our connection to ourselves and each other comes from our hearts you believe?

BK: Well the heart is a term for me that represents our true nature, and our true nature is pure love, pure kindness, pure service - just pure. And anytime we go against our heart, a judgement goes against our heart, we feel it.

WW: Because it’sour natural instinct?

BK: Well a judgement is the opposite of what our true nature is. To question it is to bring us back into our hearts. And it’s lasting when you question something, it changes your whole world when you really sit in it.


WW: So for women who are completely new to The Work they can download it free from the website thework.com. And anyone can do it by themselves is that right, they don’t need to be with you in person?

BK: Yes that’s right they don’t need a teacher and we also have certified facilitators if they get a little stuck and need help - all these facilitators all over the world in all these languages are on thework.com  and there’s a free helpline too that is 24 hours a day.

WW: Katie thanks so much for your time.

BK: You are welcome thank you for finding ways of serving your listeners and helping them deal with their wonderful lives and minds.

END

IF YOU'D LIKE TO START A DAILY MEDITATION PRACTICE - JUST POP YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IN THE BOX BELOW AND I'LL SEND YOU MY FREE 7 DAY HEART MEDITATION COURSE TO GET YOU ON YOUR WAY!

Join the Club... It's Free!

We respect your email privacy

Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? Have you ever tried The Work, do please share your experience, thoughts and any other feedback or insight you've gained from The Interview in the comments below, I'd love to hear more from you :)

Footnote: 

The Work is a method of self inquiry that consists of deconstructing the mental thought patterns and stories that we tell ourselves with the use of four simple questions. We begin by writing out the judgement that we are holding about someone or ourselves (it is, however, recommended we begin by "judging our neighbour" rather than starting with ourselves.)

(For example) Her brother doesn't care about her.

Then we ask the four questions - getting still and asking the first question and listening for a truthful answer in our body.

  1. Do I know that this is true? If we can only answer yes to question 1 we move onto question 2.
  2. Can I absolutely know that it's true?
  3. How do I react and feel, what happens when I believe that thought? 
  4. Who would I be without the thought?

The Turn Around:  Then  turn around the statement and rewrite the statement as if it were written about ourselves, and then rewrite it again doing a 180 degree turn to the extreme opposite. In this way we examine whether other statements are true or truer for us than our original thought.

For example the statement/judgement  Katie uses in the interview

Her brother doesn’t care about her

becomes

She doesn’t care about her brother

and also

Her Brother does care about her.

For example:

(statement/judgement) My mother should have been more loving to me

becomes

I should have been more loving to my mother

and

My mother shouldn’t have been more loving to me.

As Katie mentions in our chat  "The Work” four questions, worksheets and exercises can be downloaded for free at thework.com. There is also a free 24 hour helpline and the contact details of trained facilitators worldwide on the website. Demonstrations of Katie doing The Work with participants can be found on YouTube. The book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie is available on Amazon, in all good book stores and in libraries. 

 

 

The Interview: Defying the naysayers and Overcoming Shyness through solo travel with Ambreen Ajaz.

WW:  Ambreen so great to talk again. You know when we met in Turkey  ...that was what gave me the idea of interviewing women that I meet on the road and sharing their stories. You were my inspiration!

Ambreen: Aaaah thank you!

WW: So why don't you start by telling me about you and your background. 

Ambreen: Ok I am 40 and a half years old, to be exact. I was born in Pakistan in a city called Lahore inJanuary 1975 and I had my schooling here and education and then I started working for a bank and I did that for five years, Then I moved to a telecoms company in Pakistan - so I worked there for 7 and a half years. Then in 2012 we moved all of us to United Arab Emirates.

From there I worked as a consultant for 6 months then joined a bank for 2 years. After one and a half years my family decided to move back to Pakistan. So  I was living there alone for 6 months and decided to take a vacation to Turkey. When I came home I decided to move back to my family in Pakistan. My former employees offered me the same contact with the same package back home, so I winded up everything in UAE and moved back to Pakistan.

WW:  So you moved with your mum and your sisters is that right?

AA: Yes but because of visa regulations we couldn't get a permanent visa for my mother so she had to move back, back and forth, so but because of her age she decided she wanted to get back to her roots in Pakistan. So my sisters decided they would also come back with her and they move

WW Why did you decide to go back and join them?

AA I'm a very family oriented person. And although I had a dream of living in my own apartment and living a very independent life when I started to living in the city by myself  I missed them a lot and they said they missed me. So for emotional reasons I decided I should come and be with my mum. 

WW: I remember you telling me about the first time you decided to travel by yourself. Could you tell me some more about that, was that Malaysia?

AA: No it was Thailand and I did that in 2010. Travel is my passion i have a lot of countries on my list to visit and I was totally confined in my work environment for three consecutive years. I never had a break and a tough budget and finally I decided to myself "I'm going!  if I have to go alone i'm going alone!" 

  So I decided to take some time off. And everybody said "No you won't be able to handle it, blah blah blah" and they discouraged it but I decided to ignore that and go head anyway. That was the first trip and now I'm very confident I can go anywhere. Then I went to sri lanka and dubai alone, and then turkey where i met you!

WW: Yeah! When you decided to go to Thailand why did you choose Thailand first? 

AA: It was more feedback from my work colleagesu, they said it was very cheap, has beautiful landscape and i would love the shopping. But i'm not a very much a  shopping freak so I chose it because it was cheap and beautiful, but then I did end up doing a lot of shopping also! 

WW:  Haha well why not!?  and tell me what kinds of things people said to try and discourage, you... was it your family or your friends?

AA: Both of them.  They were like: "no you will meet people and they will kidnap you and they will steal your passport and hold onto it."

They scared me so much that everytime I went out alone in Thailand i used to lock my passport in three locks and hold the key in my pocket. I thought "I can lose everything but I can't lose my passport!  But they told me all sorts of things: 

  • people aren't trustworthy
  • I don't know the language, how will I communicate?
  • I will not be able to bargain because I've never done this by myself before so i'll loose a lot of money 
  • I will bored
  • It's not a place to go alone

But I just said:

No I'm going.

WW: I think you told me that  your brothers were on the phone the night before discouraging you and that although when you were there you weren't you didn't always have a great time you always told them you had an amazing time... did I remember that right?

AA: Yes when I decided to go to Thailand, they said I shouldn't be moving ahead. The situation in Pakistan is that women should always be tagged along as someone's companion and not go out alone so they said  "we are saying it for your security you shouldn't do it, you don't know who you will be coordinating with and finding your hotels."  So we had an argument about it before I went to turkey also.

They weren't happy, they said "no we are not happy about this, but its your life" and I said " Yes I've taken a decision, I'm old enough to do what I want to do with my life so i'm doing it!"

WW: Good for you! But then what was the reality like when you were in Thailand travelling by yourself?

AA: Actually the first day I went to Phuket first instead of Bangkok and then when I landed  the customs stopped me and checked my luggage and it took them hours although it was just one suitcase. I was so scared I was praying that they wouldn't put me in jail.  Then finally they give me clearance and said sorry.

But when I met the tour I was going to join and the lady that picked me up I felt very relaxed. 

 I really enjoyed having the time to myself, the places to think and relax, no one to question me "why are you doing this, why are you going there?"

I could stay in the hotel or go out, it was totally my discretion so I thoroughly enjoyed that!  Because these things really don't happen like that over here (Ambreen lives in Pakistan.) You have to be compliant to a lot of other people's requests and wishes also. 

WW:  Tell me about that because I don't know so much what it is like to be a woman in Pakistan.

AA: The culture is you live in a joint family system and the way that women are being brought up is that you always have to be comply to some elder. Either the siblings, the husband, the mother, the brother, the father. Women are not considered competent independent creatures here. Also the security situation is such that there's too much dependence on especially the male side of the family or the elder part of the female family. There are too many restrictions, you can't stay late out after 10pm or go alone to certain places.  You have to be accompanied or someone has to come and drop you or pick you, you can't go to certain bazaars alone. So it's quite confined. You are always looking to someone for permission. Someone has to give an approval to "can I do that?" 

It's not totally free like it is in Thailand or Turkey. In Turkey one night I just decided I would stay in all day in the hotel and relax. It's not like that here you have to force yourself to do tasks that you don't want to do.

But it's improving, now I see a lot of girls doing this. In 2010 it was unimaginable that single women would be travelling to other countries abroad but now I see a lot of colleagues in my office planning and visiting trips to places like Europe and I am very impressed that things have changed so quickly in the last four or five years.

WW: And why is that is it to do with a change in government?

AA:  I think its a lot of things. I think its to do with the media and the awareness is there. And also a lot of people like it because its become a kind of status symbol they see someone else has visited a place and they want to go too. I'm sorry to say that, but that's the reality. Wanting to brag about it, "ooh i'm gong to UK, i'm going to Europe' so its like the age we are in. Social media and the cultural changes, people are studying abroad so the youth are getting independent.

WW: When you were in Thailand and Turkey by yourself, what did you do to feel safe? Apart from padlocking your passport three times! Was there anything you did to help you feel more safe? 

AA: I used to pray before I went out from my hotel. You know we pray five times a day (Ambreen is a Muslim) and the early morning prayer I used to pray in my hotel before I left for the day. In Turkey i wasn't very scared but the day before I was leaving my friend told me "you have to be careful about people in Istanbul because they are very scary and they attack single women," So i was wondering "How come I feel so confident if this is going on, and then I remembered reading some articles on the plane about women being raped and murdered whilst going hiking. So I got really scared, but then I thought to myself "come on you are not a coward!" so I used to pray in the morning and then  - normally i'm not very friendly just because i'm a very quiet person so i don't talk to people easily but i thought i would talk to people because i realized if i kept myself confined to a corner then there would be no one to come help me because no one would know I was in trouble, so I should get along and mingle with people and make friends. So I made a lot of friends in turkey. 

WW: I think that's a really great point, because one is more vulnerable if one's by oneself but if you have at least one other female friend you're safer.

AA: And also i got a local SIM and that I didn't do in Thailand and was always worried about how I would get in touch if i needed to. But in Turkey i had a local SIM and so i could be in regular contact with my friends and family back home. I thick its important if you are alone to be connected back home with somebody, so i could tell them "i'm going on this tour or staying at this hotel>"

WW: It's interesting isn't it because of course we have to be safe and to protect ourselves but if you read all of the bad things that happen we'd never leave our room! 

And i don't think its representative of the majority of experience as well. Sometimes terrible things happen but that's not the general experience in a place.

AA: Yes and when people want to scare you they only tell you the experiences that are scary rather than tell you about the positive experiences and I believe if you are feeling like that then you raise that kind of instinct in other people who then might try to attack you. if you are not confident enough people can tell you that. So its the aura that you exude also, the feeling that you have inside. In Thailand in the late evenings I wouldn't go out of the hotel in case someone would kidnap me, whereas in Turkey i did the opposite.

One day in Turkey I was really scared, but i appeared very confident and i was traveling on a public bus where no one knew English and I sat on this bus and knew that in 3 hours I would reach my destination but for some reason the bus took a different route and i didn't get there for 6 or 7 hours.  I messaged to my hotel and said tha this person was supposed to come and get me but its gone this time and i don't know where i'm going, they then called my phone and spoke to the bus conductor and found out where it was going and then they reassured me that we were safe and just going a different route. 

WW: So you ended up where you were going?

AA: Yes just 7 hours later

WW: You know I don't know if you remember this but i'm half Turkish, my father and his family are all turkish, and this sounds like a joke me and my mother would make - it just sounds like a very "Turkish" experience,e you think you're going one way and it turns out you're going another, you're told its going to be 3 hours but it ends up being 7 but it all works out fine in the end! (laughs) 

But great also that you could have that communication.

WW; Have you learnt anything about yourself? Having had the freedom to travel by yourself? 

AA: Yes. I used to think that I was not very brave. But it turned out i can handle a lot of tough situations on my own and previously I was not very confident, and in Pakistan I didn't go anywhere by myself. So i thought If i was in a situation that I would not been able to handle it, but there have been incidents in both places which if I hadn't been in them I wouldn't have realized that i do have the confidence to handle things. I am a brave person and I do have courage. Basically I was always a very shy person and I figure that If I am in a situation where it will benefit me i have the confidence to talk to people and introduce myself and to ask for help. I've also learnt how to communicate. Before I used to confine myself by saying "oh no i dont want to talk to people i don't know" I was very and i realized that if i talk to people they are very friendly.

WW: that was very my first impression of you that you were lovely, warm and friendly.

AA: And after you i met a girl from Argentina and she was very friendly also and we had lunch and shopped together and she said "oh you are so friendly!" `and i was patting myself on my back and saying "good job." So I  learnt that it's ok to talk to people and to trust people, i had a wrong impression that people are always going to bring you harm and that's not the case.

WW: Talk to me more about your faith and your spiritual faith. You are muslim and you mentioned it briefly, is travel accepted as part of your religion? 

AA: Generally its been laid down, we've been asked in our religion to go and explore the world because its been created by Allah and its so beautiful so if we have the means we should go and discover it. But for women its mentioned if possible they should travel with someone close. But its not mandatory or a compulsion that you cannot then go. So it's very much allowed and very much to  move ahead and see the beauty that Allah has created in the world. And i must say that every time I visited a new place in Turkey I couldn't help praising "Wow" Literally there is so much in the world that I get to see and it's really helped me settle my beliefs we have the world as a good thing, its not a bad thing and not that we are not supposed to enjoy the world It is there and it has been created so beautifully by Allah for us to appreciate. 

WW: what is the expression that you said? And what does it mean?

AA: Subhanallah - Alive and pulsate. 

WW: and you talked about praying as well,

AA: Basically as part of our religion we are not supposed to stop praying but there is some relaxation of the rules when we are traveling, we can shorten the prayers or we can combine some prayers. Like we pray 5 times a day, one is early mooring before the sun rises, one is afternoon and one is afternoon, and one is late evening when the sun sets and before midnight. So when we are traveling we can only pray three times by combining the early morning, then afternoon and then i used to combine the evening and midnight prayer. In Thailand I didn't pray as regularly but in Turkey I prayed on time and regularly every day. 

WW: Do you have any other places you want to visit?

AA: Yes I really want to go to Italy, London and South Africa. In shallah. 

WW: What advice would you give to other women wanting to travel for the first time by themselves?

AA: I think they should be more open to it and the most critical thing is opening to communication. A lot of time you don't realize what will come your way but if i hadn't been open to communicating with people then I wouldn't have received so many of the tips and info and help that people on my travels gave me.  So its very important that you free yourself from your worries and open to yourself to communication with outhrs.

WW: And what about for people still building up the courage? 

AA: I think they should just go ahead! And when they are planning don't look into the negative side of places because its a very small portion of an experience, and when you are trying to build up courage people will always try and discourage you so just believe in yourself and keep up the faith and I think that everyone will see that its the best thing that they could ever done. It frees you from so many worries and opens you up as a person.

WW: Thank you so much Ambreen - I agree! 

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Interview: Building Belief & Inner strength with South Pole trekking Sandra Floate.

I meet Sandra in the beautiful botanical gardens of Bella Tiamantini - a Botanical Gardens set in the humid heat and jungly backdrop of Santo Domingo, Northern Ecuador. The gardens are run by a delightful old couple Don Marcos and his wife Estrella who are committed to rescuing and nurturing over 1000 native plant species from deforested areas of the Amazon, in oder to protect plant diversity in Ecuador.

 

 I have turned up at the gardens by myself and am not sure what I'm letting myself in for. With relief I see there is another English speaker amongst us! 

Sandra is a softly spoken Aussie from Melbourne with a flush of blond curls around her face, twinkly blue eyes and rosy cheeks. She is sitting outside the concrete breeze block guest bedroom on a plastic stool helping Estrella shell corn.

Welcoming me with a warm smile she speaks with an endearing shy humility about herself and quiet enthusiasm for her time volunteering with this delightful family. I'm about to turn 40 and as the conversation drifts to this milestone of a birthday I ask Sandra (now in her mid fifties) how she felt about turning 40. Apparently she felt that she'd lost some of her physical shape and fitness due to being a full time mother. What did she decide to do to regain her fitness? Renew her membership at the local gym? Nope. Sign up for an extra Pilates class? Nope. No ladies, Sandra Floate decided to go to the South Pole....! 

As a sensitive introvert myself I'm fully aware of the magnificent adventures, physical feats and courageous acts us quiet ones are capable of.. .however I have to admit to still reacting with some surprise when this gently self effacing woman drops into the conversation that when she turned 40 she once led an all female expedition of mothers called The Ice Maidens, on a trek to the Antarctic. 

Excuse me, you did what???? 

Time for an interview! 

WW: OK would you like to start by giving me a little bit of background?  a brief life story! You were mainly based in Melbourne is that right? 

SF: Yes I was born and bred in Melbourne and went to school there. After leaving school I did a diploma in advertising and then travelled for 2 years to Asian and Europe and worked in Londo for a year as a nanny, and then to India, Nepal and then in Australia met and worked an Indian.

WW: How old were you when you were married?

SF: I was 25 and I had two children in my mid thirities and worked in our family business cabinet making business, my husband and I had been in business for 30 years.

And then when I was 40 I did an expedition to the Antarctic. Which is 3 years training for 2 weeks on the ice.

WW: And had you done any training, hiking or professional trekking before then?

SF:  No I was a mother! ...I'm a skier and a snow skier and I've done that all my life so I've always loved skiing i learned to do cross country for Antarctica. We went out and found women and they had to be mothers.

WW:  So you decided to do this trek and they had to be women and they had to be mothers!? 

SF: Yes, we found women and they had to be mothers because there are many constraints when you're a mother to be able to go out and train. You need a sympathetic partner, because men can go off and work and then train in the evening but women  can't do that when they've got children, they cant just walk out of the house and say "well i'm off to go train" five nights a week so you needed a certain sort of sympathetic partner as well to accommodate the expedition.

WW: But it was part of the expedition requirements that everyone was mothers? why was that? 

SF: Because the English group that did it (it was first done by an all female group in Britain)  some of them were mothers and some of them were single. We based our group on 5 english women that did it, and one of them was a mother, and there were different problems for mothers, we had to go away at weekends and leave our children or train at 5am or train while eveyone was asleep and that's hard.  If you have a family you've got to find time train. When you are working part time or full time its very difficult to find the training time. So because the three or four of us had kids we all had to realize the dififciulties in having an expedition as well as the constraints around doing it around family, and having the money. It started as 5 but there were 3 in the end because they drop off.

WW: I can imagine! (laughs)

SF: We all started of from zero fitness.

WW: It seeems like an extraordinary thing to suddenly decide to do...what prompted it?

SF: Just one of the women always wanted to do it an expedition to Antarctica and so she asked around and  I said yes and then a couple of others said yes, and then we just went along with the process without really understanding what that process was... 

WW: Did you know it would take 3 years?

SF: No we just knew it was a lot of training. Then we needed to find all the sponsors, doctors, physios, runners, gym membership...we had 40 - 50 sponsors in the end, plus Quantas (major Australian airline) who came on board.

WW: In order to raise the funds to do it? 

SF: To raise the funds to do it, to get us to South America, tro get us to SA to bring our canoes ( we didn't have sleds we had canoes) because they are round so they are very easy to use. Then we had to tap into...because it's  such a small population who had done expeditions we had to tap into that community. So for example we had conversations with Eric Phillips and Peter Hillary to give us guidance on the best way to do it and complete it. 

WW: And did you also do it for charity?

SF: Yes we raised money for the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. In the end the flights, our gear (sponsored by Mountain Design)  so we probably raised about $300,000. 

WW: That's incredible, what a fantastic achievement.

SF: But the flight costs from Chile to Antarctica is probably about $80,000.

WW: Oh wow, just to fly to Antarctica? 

SF: When you are in the base camp at Antarctica and you go out to the South Pole they've got planes there. If you have a problem they can come and pick you up.

WW: how long did the expedition take? 

SF: It was supposed to be 10 weeks but we didn't get to the south pole just to Antartica, we only lasted 2 weeks. 

SF: We always dreamed to get the South Pole but we didn't get there. We didn't dream it enough... you know you have the image in your brain? It was hard enough just to get to Antarctica, leave our children do all the hard work and the training, get all the money. 

WW: and what happened that meant you had to cut it short after 2 weeks.

SF: At the end of the training there were only 2 of us left out of the 5. We needed one more person and she only joined us 9 months previously. So we didn't have that bond that you needed and she turned inot a bit of a loose cannon. She hadn't as much experience in the snow as us and we had problems with her breathing and her hypothermia. So she was very physical but she hadn't had enough snow and ice training.

WW: Did you have to have another person?

SF: Yes it's best with three. Because if something happens like you fall down a crevasse or something and there's only two people  - you're only leaving one person to make a decision on what to do whether or not to leave you.  Whereas if you have three people you have two people to take that decision.

WW: Oh gosh I see, because of the probability of having to make a  life or death decisions. How do you prepare mentally for that?

SF: We had an Englishman, Roddie, who was a former SAS teacher who would do meditation with us...he was former SAS but turned Buddhist.

WW: Wow he sounds like a good person to talk to. So you would visualize scenarios that could happen?

SF: Yeah we had a lot of discussions around all of the scenarios that could happen, with other people that had done expeditions. Unfortunately also, Quantas airlines lost our gear.

WW: Oh no!

SF: Yeah! So we were 2 weeks in Chile instead of 3 days before we got going, so by that time we were very apprehensive. We had been raring to go so we were really uptight by the time we got going. You only have a certain window of time. Because if you start your expedition too late and you're not quite at the pole they have to come and get you to fly you back to Chile, so we were very stressed by the time we got to Antarctica to do this trip. 

WW: Was there anything at that point in your life that prompted it? Or was it just your friend saying "I'm going to Antarctica do you want to come along?" I'm trying to work out what the appeal was?!

SF: The appeal was, I was reaching 40 and didn't have any fitness because i'd spent all my time looking after children.

WW: How old were your children?

SF: They were 12 and 9. And feeling like I was running out of time and that I might not be able to get fit for something like this. 

WW: I'm turning 40 tomorrow...(laughs)

SF: The possibility of even considering it was way off the planet. But you just start with something and see where it leads to. To know that we actually got there and got onto the ice. We had two trips to New Zealand also in preparation on the Fox Glacier. 

WW: And you were called "The Ice Maidens" - brilliant.

And what lessons did you learn emotionally, how did you overcome challenges in preparation or on the trek? 

SF: Yeah it was very stressful. So it was about being safe because we had children.

And we were looked on differently because we had children. We got emails saying "you shouldn't be leaving your family! blah blah blah" 

Mentally to do these trips -  at 40 and beyond is best. You'll find most expeditions are with older people because you have to have that maturity as an adult to take it on. 

WW: That's interesting isn't it you wouldn't think that would be the case, that you would need to be young and physically fit foremost.

SF: Yeah look at Ralph Fiennes he's just done a night one - he's 65? and he thought he'd do Antarctica in the dark in winter. I mean, that's bizarre!  But there's no limit to your physical age, he's just thinking "I can do that." 

WW: And because he's thinking he can do that he can?

SF: Yeah and because he's older he can, a lot of them are older, late thirties, forties. It's better. 

WW: This is a very small example in comparison but it's made me think of the time that I did Kung Fu in China with a bunch of 18 years. And I did the Shaolin, and it was the same kind of thing, I was really trying to push my myself and I was pretty out of shape and I was crap at it (laughs) but I did it. But lots of people in the 18 - 25 category would come try it for a bit and then drop out because it was too hard and they couldn't be bothered. Just before I joined 7 people dropped out of the Shaolin Kung Fu class so as a then 37 year old woman everyone was expecting me to fold, but out of sheer mental determination (and some may say stubbornness!) I persisted. When you get to a certain point you're proving it to yourself and that mental discipline isn't necessarily always there when you're younger.

WW: Did you learn anything about yourself that you hadn't realized before?

SF: Yeah lots and lots. Mostly mental strength. I"ve had to keep applying that. When I got back my daughter got sick and was very ill for 6 or 7 years. So i had to apply mental strength to keep her well and sane for the years that she was ill.  

WW: And how did what you learnt on the trip help you do that?

SF: Finding that inner strength that I had, that we've all got. Always being tested emotional, physically and needing to push yourself that little bit more. 

SF I had that strength, emotional strength to get through because it was an awful time. If you're children die or get sick its awful.

WW: What did she have?

SF: She had chronic fatigue and then depression because her body shut down and wasn't working.

WW: How did it change you? 

SF: Yes it changed my life.

W: How?

SF: I wasn't ever a team player and never played in teams, so with an expedition you have to rely on your team members because they may have to save your life. And that you can do just about anything if you're physically able and believe it. Believe in wanting something badly enough that you can do it.

And making other people believe that you can do it. So that you're getting that people behind you. There was a group of people behind you another group of people helping you to get to the goal.

WW: And your husband was supportive.

SF: Yes very much. 

WW: Great. So now, we're meeting in Ecuador...so that was 10 years ago for you...I was 45 years when I did it. Did you do any travelling between then and now?

SF: I went skiing in Japan and a brief trip to Vietnam, but otherwise no...no. 

WW: So what prompted you to suddenly go to Ecuador in your mid fifties?

SF: Because I wanted to volunteer in Ecuador and by this time my children were old enough so that I could actually leave them.

WW: And why Ecuador?

SF: The first time was with a friend because it had the Andes, the Amazon and the Galapagos in one country and because it was small. It was supposed to be the 10th year anniversary of our expedition to the Antarctic and i was supposed to come here with Michelle from that trek. We were going to go to Siberia to see lots of volcanoes but we wouldn't have had the culture and in Ecuador we got the culture, the sea, the mountains and the jungle,

WW: And that was a 10 week trip?

SF: No that was a month or 5 weeks and 10 year anniversary celebration of Antarctica. And then  I decided to come back as a volunteer as I felt comfortable here the first time.

WW: And at that point, was that when you were splitting up with your husband ?

SF: No but i was thinking about it, so travel was a way of getting time out from family and friends and husband to think about things.

WW: What advice would you give to women wanting to travel in their forties and fifties who are a bit frightened of going to a country solo.

SF: Sometimes its good to do a quick trip, and then go back. If yo feel comfortable in a country do a quick overview first for a holiday and then go back and see it more in depth. That's what you did isn't it? 

WW: Yeah it wasn't deliberately planned like that, but that is what ended up happening. I started travelling five years ago when I took a month of extended leave off work to travel South America. So I started by doing group tours as well so I wasn't completely by myself. 

 

SF: Yeah i started travelling when I was 21 and did a couple of years by myself so I already had that inner strength and belief at that age that I could do it and knew at this age I could do it again.

WW: And now you're trying to combine your time between Ecuador and Australia?
SF: Yes by helping out here with volunteering.

WW: How do you support yourself when you're travelling?

SF: I work in Australia and save up to travel. I prioritize the money and go without certain things knowing that i'll need to save up for airfare. I met a lady a few years ago and what she said to me really stuck in my mind...I was just turning 50 and she was 65 and she said? 

You are in the best years of your life right now, after you've had children is the best time you've got left. Because you're still relatively fit, Its a time for yourself  again. You get your time back without commitments and family. 

WW: And you took the decision to split from your husband is that right?

SF: Yes I've made the decision to separate because my husband didn't want to back me in this volunteering.  I felt in a marriage when you get to an older age with a  partnership you should be able to take time to explore other things that you want. Life is for living it's not long and you don't have a lot of good years, they go quickly. Soon you won't be able to . 

WW:  You're volunteering for Bella Tiamantini, what has that brought you? Why were you drawn here?

SF: Because of the garden and the family and i thought i could offer western eyes to help with their project and enjoy a different lifestyle. 

WW: And how do you see the next 20 years for you?

SF: One of travel and splitting time between countries and learning new languages.

WW: Perfect! Thank you Sandra! 

 

 

END

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Interview: Living Legend Lynn Hill on How to tackle fear and achieve the impossible.

Today WanderWomen Club caught up with world legendary rock climber Lynn Hill to talk tackling fear, following your bliss  and how to achieve the impossible….all through the lens of her extraordinary and inspirational climbing career. 

Lynn Hill, Valley Uprising, Discovery Channel

Lynn Hill is a living legend and one of the worlds' best known rock climbers. One of the first women in the sport, by 1986 she had quickly moved into the top ranks.  She redefined what is possible by being the first person (male or female)  to free climb the ascent of the most famous big wall climb in the world  - The Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California.  A decade before anyone else.  A true wander women she has travelled the world competing and winning over 30 competitions including the “Wimbledon” of the climbing world (Arco Rock Master) five times.  In 1999 Lynn led a small team of women to the island of Madagascar to do a first ascent up a steep, two-thousand-foot wall of granite. She’s been a guest at the White House, appeared on the Letterman show and is four time winner of NBC Wide World of Sports Survival of the Fittest competition.  

Lynn’s remarkable achievements are featured in the Discovery Channel’s award winning premier of their Elevation weekend series this Saturday April 25th. Valley Uprising explores the evolution of the 50 year old sport from its beginnings in Yosemite Valley, California. 

Now 54, Lynn still combines her love of climbing with travelling the world and motherhood.

WW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today Lynn, its a huge privilege to get to speak with you.  I love this quote of yours: 

Throughout my life, one of the underlying qualities that has inspired me to pursue my vision of what is possible has to do with trusting in what I truly love and believe in.

That sounds similar to Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss.” I think its great that you believe our success in our chosen field is intrinsically linked to doing what lights us up. 

What advice would you give to women still struggling to try and discover what that is? 

Lynn Hill:  Well fortunately for me it wasn’t a thing that i struggled with, to find what I loved.  I naturally gravitated towards that. If someone hasn’t identified that, they need to reflect on what they enjoy because sometimes we have an interest in something and we don’t acknowledge it, a pastime and hobby, but if they have an interest then follow it , explore it and give it the chance to turn into something more. I know that its something younger people struggle with, perhaps because there is so much choice and also that things get obscured by all the other demands of life. But if you really simplify and reflect on what you WANT to do then that's where you can recognise and start developing your passion.

WW: How did you manage to combine focusing so fiercely on your passion and what you love with bringing a baby into the world and the sacrifice or balance that mother hood has required? 

Lynn Hill: I consider it a juggle because you can’t do everything all at once, if you have a child you have to prioritise, so once you’ve sent children of to school you can start doing things yourself.  There’s a real need to do what I call “me time” and that's something we do ideally for an hour or so on an almost daily basis. I still climb three to four times a week and that’s enough to feed my passion. 

WW: I’d like to talk with you about your relationship with fear and how you tackle it. Fear comes in many forms, when we’re trying something new and taking a step into the unknown - what advice would you give on how to manage that based on your experience climbing.  

Lynn Hill: I  think fear is a good guide to keep us alive, we don’t have it we might not take necessary precautions but its also important to not let fear take over and stop you performing how you want to perform. 

So I focus on the solution to the problem.  I do a mental shift and do not focus on the fear but doing what I need to do to resolve that situation. 

If i’m in a dangerous situation on the rock face, I can either move forward to the next hole or I can move back or down climb (which is precarious.) Those are really the only options. There is a visual process that accompanies this. I imagine my hand going to the next hole and grabbing it. If i see that in my mind very quickly then I know its time to go and that I need to act. If i don’t visualise the next move or if I continue to feel awkward and fearful then I know i need to stop, relax, re evaluate the solution and look for another situation.

WW: So you’ve become very in tune with your instincts, about the timing around when its right to pause and evaluate and when its time to act quickly also which I could definitely apply to decision making process in my own life!

You’ve described your rock climbing as a kind of moving meditation, to what extent has the sport become (or was it always) a type of spiritual practise for you?

Lynn Hill: It could be called a spiritual practise but its not a religious experience, there’s no traditional praying or doing it for a higher purpose. But I am tuning into a universal truth, that’s my idea of spirituality. 

 As a human being we have our interpretations and our perspective of a situation and that determines how we see it, and if you take your ego out of it and see the reality of the situation as it is then you’re better able to manage yourself in that situation. 

Climbing is a practise that makes me feel good and centred and I think that when you feel good and centred we’re better human beings; we feel better about our lives and relate to others better.  I think climbing reinforces that kind of honesty and willingness to look at the truth. There’s no hiding on the rock. Your direct action will determine whether you get to the top or not. 

WW: Let's talk about one of your amazing achievements; being the first person to free climb The Nose (El Capitan in Yosemite). In other interviews you’ve said that everyone in your peer group and the climbing community was telling you it was impossible. 

What was the motivating impulse that took you from hearing everyone saying it was impossible to thinking “right i’m going to do that!” and taking the first step.

Lynn Hill: I figured that my experience and my vision might be unique and that I had a chance of being able to do it if I kept an open mind and had a lot of persistence. I had lots of experience on that climb and different experience with other types of rocks and at a higher level from my climbing in Europe. 

 Valley Uprising, Yosemite, California.

Valley Uprising, Yosemite, California.

I felt like I had a unique combination of skills and vision that others did not have and that gave me the confidence to find a solution, and that's what I did. I think that’s a very important point. If you want to do something,  if you prepare yourself appropriately and believe in the possibility that you are going to find a solution then that approach in itself will give you the best chance possible of actually succeeding.

WW. Wonderful. Believing that your own unique mix of skills, talents and experience will create a possible solution where others have failed or haven’t gone, I think thats a perfect thought to align with when summoning the courage to venture out and do something new. 

WW: Did you have any female role models when you were starting out? 

Lynn Hill: I had a good friend that I climbed with that i’m still friends with, there weren’t that many role models when I started.  There was a woman named Beverly Johnson who passed away in a helicopter accident in 1994. She climbed El Capitan in 1978 by herself for 10 days. You have to take all the equipment you need, supplies, sleeping bag, drinking water, its hard to manage by yourself.  She was an amazing person, very happy go lucky, very approachable and a nice person; but she was about the only female rock climber that I knew.

 Yosemite Valley, California

Yosemite Valley, California

WW:  I know that gender equality issues have been important to you over the years in such a male dominated sport, how has that changed (at least i’m hoping its changed) over the last 40 years!

Lynn Hill: It has, there are a lot more women climbers now, young girls and its a sport for people of all ages. Two people climbing together don’t have to do the same climb you just need followers and rope, you don’t have to climb at the same level. I love that aspect, that everyone brings their own style and we all have different dimensions to our bodies, small, large - and we can create our own route.  

WW: You’ve spent such a large portion of your life in the outdoors, what is your relationship with nature and how has it heightened your sensitivity to environmental concerns and changes. 

Lynn Hill:   I respect nature and to me that has a spiritual side.  Its the truth, its the way the world works and you have to observe it. So obviously I want to protect nature and the large companies that are robbing the earth of all the oil and natural gases… I would like for those companies to be more conscientious about how they are getting the energy out of the earth and what we are doing to our earth, air and water or else we’ll be extinct in a few years time.There is already global climate change and i’m very concerned about future generations and would like to see more laws regulating large companies and their actions. 

WW: The documentary "Valley Uprising" airing on the Discovery Channel this weekend is an homage to rock climbing from its inception in the 1960s through to the present day, focusing on Yosemite. She’s the grand dame of the piece, how have you seen her change over the years with regards to the impact of humans on her environment. 

Lynn Hill:  I’ve seen the direct affects of global warming. California right now - I was there in January and there was hardly any snow, three years running they haven’t had enough water, and so i’ve seen climate change. Its getting warmer and we don’t have enough water, we need water to survive. Clean water! I’m also concerned about all of the things that get flushed into the sea that should be treated first. The effect of the birth control pill is changing our fish because of too much oestrogen entering the water. There are lots of problems. 

WW: How do you manage your own health these days, do those concerns follow through with your diet? 

Lynn Hill: I believe strongly in supporting the organic food industry even if it costs more, its the right thing to do for my body. If I buy meat its organic and eggs are free range. Its both healthy and I make ethical choices on how the animals are raised. 

WW: And to keep fit, you still rock climb and do you do any other kind of exercise?  

Lynn Hill: I like to ski, alpine ski, running, mountain biking, yoga to stretch -  I like to keep up my stretching as I  was a gymnast when i was younger. I also surfed once in the last year!  

WW: Your climbing has taken you all over the world do you still enjoy travelling? what do you get out of it now that you are no longer travelling to compete? 

Lynn: Yes i was in France on my last trip,  its great to see friends and I speak French and Italian.  I do enjoy speaking in another language, I feel like a different person. I enjoy meeting new people and seeing different places and cultures and that gives me a better perspective. Travel allows me to have a different perspective on my life as an American woman and to reflect on my own values.  

WW: Has what motivates you in climbing changed over the years? Is it all about the highest peak, beating other people or how important is the journey to the top?

Lynn Hill: At this point,  yes, its become more about the process.  Its my medicine, my moving meditation and my way of connecting with people. I climb with friends more and more and when I climb I feel like a child. Even though i’ve been climbing for 40 years it doesn’t ever get boring to me. 

Lynn thank you so much for your time its been wonderful talking to you. Lynn stars in Valley Uprising this weekend on the Discovery Channel, April 25th 8pm ET/PT - the award winning premier of channel's Elevation series. 

Watch a sneak preview here...

 

END 


The Interview: Kicking Fear to the Kerb with the Globe Trotting Granny - Connie Giffin

Connie Giffin

If you've ever been plagued with doubts that you were too old, too broke, too scared or just too damn late to discover your purpose in life and put everything you have behind living it... then this interview is for you. 

In 2008 Connie Giffin believed she'd found and was living her life purpose. A  successful, self employed, entrepreneur in her late sixties she was looking forward to handing over the reigns of her three successful businesses to her successor so that she could enjoy retirement and quality time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

All that was about to come crashing down when the financial crisis liquidated her clients, her companies and most of her assets and life savings -  over night. Left with nothing except her "financially shaking rocking chair." She decided she needed a new life purpose.  On the brink of her 70th birthday Connie became a student again and embarked on an 18 country tour of the world to research models of best practise in holistic education*. The aim?  She's driven by  a desire to redefine the educational system,  a legacy that won't just benefit the lives of her own family but children everywhere 

I meet Connie in the beautiful Andean hills  of Vilcabamba, in Southern Ecuador. A place nicknamed, appropriately enough, "the Valley of Longevity"  as some of its inhabitants have lived to a 129! Now 72 years young Connie holds a  BA in psychology from Prescott University, a Masters in experiential education from Prescott and is currently working towards a PHD in eco  - psychology, with Akumai. She's got smart, cropped grey hair, twinkling blue eyes and a Southern lilt to her voice that means when she talks about growing up in the forests and lakes of her grandfather's farm, I could listen all day. But make no mistake there is an assuredness and steel beneath the eyes and a voice that means business. Well it's not every great grandmother in their 70s  that loses everything only to reinvent themselves, travel the world and is now gearing up to publish their first book!  Ladies, meet Connie Giffin!

WW: Connie you've had a remarkable life, talk me through your career arc to how we come to be sitting here today. 


CG: From the age of 17 I worked in the corporate world climbing that good ol' corporate ladder. I was a central Office Manager for the Belle and Howe corporation and then in 1976 I  left all that behind me and opened my own first business which was an art gallery. 

After that I took up a traveling sales rep position in Arizona for a national photo company and five years later my former husband and I started another business creating steel and concrete cast stairs by which point I was in my forties. After that I went back to college to finish my Bachelor of Arts in Education, which I completed in 1998. 

WW: So you didn't go to university when you were 18? 

CG: Well I started studying for it when I was 18 but I didn't complete it until I was in my forties. I studied for it at night school which was the only thing I could afford on my income at the time,  but I was always determined to complete it.  And guess what...it happened.

That's one of two things I've carried from childhood. Education is the way to success and nature was my nurturer and counsellor. After I completed that qualification I moved to Colorado and opened my own mortgage business and did the design and build of monolithic homes. 

WW: And that's what you were doing when the financial crash happened?

CG: All I financed was eco - homes, earth friendly properties. That means anything sustainable that no one else would finance. Even though they were more sound, no one would touch it because they weren't conventional so that's what I financed for 9 years.

And I had my art company - a framing company; and an interior design business. I had all three companies going until the big financial crash when i lost all three.

WW: And you were content at that time with the businesses you were running? 

CG: I believed i'd found my life purpose and suddenly all of that was taken from me, if it hadn't of been I probably would have continued on. 

WW: Do you think we can have different life purposes at different stages of our lives then? 

CG: Well obviously it happens! 

At the time I provided a service that was very much needed and there was nothing like it in the US and people were desperately trying to make changes in their lives and build sustainable homes. So at least it was a beginning, i hoped it would be carried on but I hadn't planned to be the one to carry it on. I actually had a buyer for it and i was going to work with her for a couple of years and then sell the business to her, but then suddenly we had no business because we had no lenders. I lost my business, my income, my properties, everything.

WW: I can't imagine how scary that must have been. What happened next, did you start looking for other work? 

CG: So when it was all gone I stumbled around for a while. I applied for work but at my age I could not find a job, or any source of little income and had very little to live on.

WW: What did you do?

CG: I sort of wandered around lost and eventually had the good fortune to do  enough to do a programme with Barbara Marx Hubbard, called the Agents of Evolution. Through that programme, I discovered I didn't want to spend the rest of my life sitting in what I called my "financially shaky rocking chair" I wanted to get up and do something that benefited humanity and I wanted to do something for my grandchildren. 

The more I thought about it and the more I gave myself some time to let it all settle, I concluded that the way to help my grandchildren was through education. I knew we needed a new educational system but beyound that i didn't know what.

WW: Incredible. So take me through the steps from deciding you wanted to commit to a new purpose - one where you started to look for a new educational system and how you actually started down that path, a path that led you through 18 different countries!? 

CG: There was a college got in touch with me.  They thought that they'd developed a course that I was actually looking for back in 1999 when I completed my BA with them (Prescott University.)

WW: Wait, they contacted you 15 years later??  I'm not sure the administrative systems of many universities in Britain are that organized! (laughs)

CG:  It shocked me! But you know i'm a great believer that when you follow the path you're supposed to follow: the people, the path and the things you need are put before you.  I laughed and shared that I had just lost everything: money, business, properties...everything and I was desperate. He said that in those circumstances the student loan programme could probably grant me about $130,000 dollars. 

I'm very much against our young people having huge financial debts however for someone my age the repayment was really in my favor so I considered it seriously and then checked 44 other different colleges around the US hoping that from 1999 - 2011 they had also become more experiential.  To my dismay they had not, so i woke up the following morning and said "ok, then."

I called Prescott University and said here's the deal:

"I have a new purpose in life and it comes first. I need to hep the children and I need to do that by creating a new educational system.

If you can accept me back on those terms I really need a college as a background for my work and research and I know the college background will open up a lot of doors for what I want to do. 

WW: And so part of beginning to create this new educational system was to research best practise and see what's already out there?

CG: That's right. I put together a proposal for my school and was told it was far too extensive for just one student to take on! But I did all the research myself.  I had a very flexible schedule and my purpose was to locate the most innovative models of holisitic model of education in the world, so I could see what was going on that worked. For my thesis I chose 15 of the most innovative which was a drop in the bucket of all that i’ve been in contact with but those are the ones that i spent the most time, and really felt they had very outstanding models. 

WW: And you visited communities mainly? Sustainable communities? 

CG: I started in England and had a flight ticket out of Stockholm with one date in Budapest in between. The plan was to visit communities that were doing something different, communities, schools, colleges. So I had a big list that I left here with but I left it open, and also had a list of places that i wanted to visit for my book, places such as the Eden Proect in the UK and the Plantagon in Stockholm. In the end I visited 18 countries around Europe as well as America and Canada.

As my trip progressed I realized that although a lot of sustainable communities are into education they are mostly focused on educating the outside world on environmental issues rather than creating something spectacular for their own children. 

WW: Before we get on to chatting more about the actual travel, tell me some more about the places you visited, any stand out models for you?  

CG: I visited La Cite Ecologique in Canada  -  one of the most outstanding models of education I'd seen. 

Another great place and one of the greatest participants was a small community in Northern Denmark, called (in English)  The Essential Teachers Training college. This was a group of people that some years back built the tallest windmill in the world and were told it was impossible.  I had the privelege of going to the top of it while I was there, by someone that had taken part in building it. 

They decided to create a different kind of college and teach teachers how to teach. 

I also spent quite a bit of time in Nice, France while I was there. I sat at a big dining room table outside at the hostel Iwas staying in and there happened to be a family there from Australia.  The mother had homeschooled her son who had ADHD and she'd also spent most of her life promoting homeschooling and small family farming.

WW: So homeschooling and unschooling is another example of holistic education? I was gong to ask what your views are on that? 

CG: Its exactly what we need to be doing,  we need to undo everything that the children have been learning for generations in schools. 

WW: You don't think children need to be around their peers to learn social skills? 

CG: I don't think school is the only way to learn social skills. They can learn those skills in other communities, schools are only one possibility but there could be many others.

This first evening she and i got talking and people seemed to come from all around the world to join us at the table to talk about education so I didn't have to do anything, just sit there and have dinner. 

WW: What about stand out countries in terms of education? Are some countries doing it better than others?

On the whole the Scandinavian countries put a bigger empahisis on education than other countries.

Finland was my number one country. It made a change in its priorities thirty years ago.

They had very few natural resources, their economy was suffering so they chose to invest in their greatest asset, their people. Their purpose was "to give quality to every student." They weren't trying to create a handful of geniuses, they wanted their entire population educated to its fullest potential.

WW:  When put so simply it seems like such an obvious investment and so vital. Yet how many other countries have that as their guiding vision.... similar to how great organizations to work for are also often highly successful because they choose to invest in their staff.

Now lets talk about the travel. Did you have any fears before you set off -  about going on this huge adventure as a 70 year old women travelling by herself? 

CG: No but that's a personal choice I made a long time ago.  I made a decision not to live my journey in fear. So I don't. 

 

A lot of people said: You’re goin to do what?? You can’t do that! 

and I said: Well i’m going to do that!

WW: Any countries you put on the list just because you wanted to see the sights? (laughs) 

CG: I'd say it was combined if there was a country i was interested in i might look real hard so i had a legitimate reason for being there. (laughs)

WW How did you budget and plan your trip? Did you backpack or five star it? 

CG: Well lets say this, I had no money, i had a small student loan that I could use a part of for my research, I had a very small budget.  I spent 10 weeks in Europe and it cost me $5500 and 6 weeks in canada on $1250 and that included my flights to and from. 

I travelled clear across Canada, I had a Greyhound North American bus pass which was $350 for 60 days anywhere in North America and a small discount for being a senior citizen. 

In Europe I flew in to London and back from Stockholm and I got a special first class Global Euro Rail Pass.

That took care of most of my transportation.

I could not get a student airline ticket because i was over 26. I said:  what's that got to do with anything? I am as  full time a legitimate student as you'll have anywhere else?! But they didn't agree, so I changed the booking went back to the same airline and changed one of the flights and got a lower full price ticket! 

WW: And for accommodation? Did you stay in hotels,  private rooms, dorms?? 

CG: The greatest thing i did was stay in hostels all over Europe, they're not for kids anymore. I only encountered one hostel that had age restrictions,

But the hostels were a wealth of resources. Oh I stayed in dormitories, cheapest I could find. It was nothing to be in a room with 12 people and sometimes that was quieter than with two. Sometimes you'd get put next to a nightclub, but overall I stayed in some very nice ones and was very grateful to meet so many friendly people.

WW: When I meet American friends they often say to me, Oh i'd love to do what you're doing (traveling) but if I did I'd lose my healthcare...its a bit like a golden handcuffs in the States right? How do you deal with that, I'm guessing as someone who was self employed for so long you haven't had that for a while anyway? 

CG: I don't use healthcare and haven't used Western medicine since 1982 when I ruptured a disc in my back and used alternative means to get well. That's when the doctors and I parted ways.

WW: That sounds like a whole other story in itself!  

CG Yes since I don't spend one penny on that and I ignore it all  it doesn't bother me.  I got well from a lot of serious things through natural methods. I changed my health habits and I look at my health from a preventive standpoint, its one of the reasons i'm sitting opposite you right now in Vilcabamba,  Ecuador. We are in one of the healthiest place on earth and it has all kinds of health benefits. 

WW: Wonderful. So you managed to tour 18 different countries including America, Canada and then Europe. What happened when you got back? 

CG: When I got back and started to  put all of it together I  started to see a pattern forming of what's really underneath the holistic framework and 6 essences of building blocks. Holisitic education was pretty well defined by Ron Miller back in the 60s.  There were 24 groups over the years that really contributed to what we consider holistic education today, for eg Montessori, Friends Association, the homeschooling method, all kinds of different groups, and Ron Miller spent a decade putting together a definition that pooled the elements from all of that and that's what we mainly look at today.

What I discovered from my research which was new was that underneath this framework were these 6 essences that were consistently making up the base for it.

And then this year I learned from one of my participants Dr Michael Cohen that underneath all of that, one of these essences holds the solution to end all human created problems in the world

WW Is that all you dsicovered this year Connie?! (laughing) 

CG: Human created suffering, problems challenges, devastation everything...

WW: Are you going to tell me what that is, or save it for your book?

CG: Oh i'll tell you its not a secret, actually there have been quite a few other people that have proposed as a solution. But what's been missing all these years... 

We saw that reconnecting to nature is how we would get back onto a sustainable path and how war/famine would end because we'd have a complete redistribution of resources and in community people would share  - but no one had really looked underneath that to say: well how do we do that?

I tell you... go spend 15 minutes a day in nature and your life will change somewhat. However what Michael Cohen discovered was 54 sensory attractions. Ways to sense things and his programme and solution is to give us the procedure of reconnecting to nature through those 54 senses, and this as applicable to a tiny child as to someone my age, and its offered as a PHD degree.

WW: Wonderful. So if people want to learn more about this how can they? 

CG: Since publishing my initial thesis I've been busy writing my first book that distills my knowledge in a way that's easy for people to understand. When the book's ready to be published i'll be selling it on my website which will also be a platform for learning that connects young people around the world and educates parents, teachers, schools and colleges on what i've discovered.

And in another remarkable sign of synchronicity,  in the time that that Connie and I are together in Vilcabamba she is approached by a major German publishing house and has just signed a contract to publish her first book. 

I'm helping Connie create her first website and if you are interested in reading more about her work in holistic education, or purchasing a copy of the book when it becomes available then drop me a note with Connie in the subject header on the link below and i'll send you some more details :) 

Contact Connie (click here)

Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your views on holistic education, travel or any of the above, in the comments below. 

 

END