from stressed-out Microsoft executive to whole-hearted human…
I had a 15 year international career in the IT industry. At 40, I realised I’d sold my soul to a corporate machine.
I spent the next four years bringing myself back to life.
Here’s a short version of my backstory…
My mother was in a serious car accident while pregnant with me. Although I didn’t remember afterwards, I felt her emotions – all the terror and the shock. It was so fast and unexpected, my developing awareness decided the world wasn’t safe. So I lived in my head, out of touch with my body and disconnected from my soul. For almost 40 years, I didn’t even know what I was missing.
When I was 16, my sister died after a long illness. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I pushed the grief into my body. I pretended everything was ok.
Being good at living in my head and ignoring my feelings meant I was extremely well prepared for a corporate career. I worked for a huge multinational that valued data-driven analysis and encouraged fierce competition. Going to work often felt like entering a war-room. Most days, I wore a suit of armour and was prepared to fight to survive.
At 40, I left my corporate career… and then discovered the armour wouldn’t come off. I couldn’t stop and I didn’t know how to rest. So I decided my only job for the next few years would be to:
- find ways to stop the war within myself and with the world
- befriend a shitload of suppressed grief and shame
- learn how to inhabit my body
- get up close and personal with my soul
I did a whole lot of inner work. Sometimes I took it way too seriously. But if I hadn’t learned how to feel the stuff I didn’t want to feel, I’d probably be dead by now.
I get stronger every time I face a fear and come out alive.
I’ve had to learn to be kinder to myself by allowing emotions to flow, instead of choking them down. I’ve given myself permission to do what I love instead of what my ego thinks I should achieve. And I have a whole new life surrounded by trees and birds, which works better for my nervous system than London or Singapore or Sydney.
Some of the time, I’m working with a very cool group of people to create a new social enterprise. Other days, I show people how to use self-compassion to end their suffering. Because to help heal the heart of our planet, we have to start with ourselves.
Most days, I love my life. Some days, I just want to curl up on my red couch and binge-watch Battlestar Galactica… and sometimes I do.
If you want to read more of my story, keep scrolling. If you prefer to watch, you might enjoy this interview recorded in 2015 where I talk a bit about my life.
My Longer Story
When my mother was 11 weeks pregnant with me, my parents were in a serious car accident. It was 1970, just before seatbelts became compulsory. Their car didn’t have the new belts fitted. My mother shattered the windscreen with her face.
We both survived, but I felt all the terror and shock that moved through my mother’s body… and my brand new consciousness decided this world simply wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe to live in my body. Strong emotion and energy was overwhelming. It wasn’t safe to feel good, because everything good could disappear in an instant. It wasn’t safe to relax – I always had to be on guard. It wasn’t safe to just be held by my own Soul, because that made me vulnerable to the sudden, unexpected horror I believed was inevitably coming. All this conditioning was buried deep in my cells and nervous system, far below my conscious awareness, until I was 40 years old.
So I spent 40 years in a state of permanent watchfulness, on the run from terror, before I remembered it hadn’t always been that way. Which started the journey of Soul rediscovery I’m on now.
When I was nine, my younger sister was diagnosed with leukaemia. After moving into and through remission three times, she died when I was 16. Although we all did our best, no-one in our family knew how to deal with loss. For 25 years, a part of me secretly believed I should have died – that she deserved to live more than I did. I’m writing a tiny book about my journey through her illness and death and the process of befriending half a lifetime of suppressed grief and shame.
When you’re trying to avoid feeling deep shame, you can make some shitty choices. For a long time, I walked away from things – like singing and reading and nature – that gave me most pleasure. I consistently chose things – like recreational drugs, lots of caffeine and binge drinking – that were toxic for my physical, mental and emotional health. Worse, I kept choosing things – cities and jobs and relationships – that I secretly hated. I equated spirituality with religion and despised both. I was an angry atheist. It was a subtle but consistent form of self-punishment for being alive.
At 30, I started working for a large multinational corporation with a very masculine, hyper-competitive culture. People weren’t always kind to each other and some people were viciously cutthroat. I often felt like I was preparing for war when I went to work each day – I would put on my armour and prepare to fight. I was competent when not crippled by self-doubt, which was about half the time. I worked with some incredibly bright and decent human beings… and I encountered a few corporate psychopaths. For 10 years, the environment I chose to work in often confirmed my deepest fears about the world.
When I was 34 years old, I left an unhappy marriage. Although I couldn’t see it then, now it’s clear that I danced along the fine line between sanity and disintegration for almost a year. My mind, used to having total control, fought hard against the changes my Soul was trying to engineer. I became quite neurotic (though relatively high-functioning), barely managing to hold down my corporate job while in almost-complete meltdown. My first therapist – a woman called Annie who I saw every week for 18 months – can probably take some credit for the fact I’m still here. In our first session, she told me I’d been holding my breath for a long time.
After I’d been seeing Annie for about a year, I went to a holistic health retreat for a week. I spent time in the rainforest and danced and laughed and cried and felt the swirl of life force energy in my body for the first time in forever. And after the retreat, some of the changes stuck – I began to drink less and stopped taking drugs and started meditating a little bit. That was pretty much the moment I started giving myself permission to move away from pain and towards things that gave me pleasure. It was also the moment I started to spend a little less time in my head and a little more time in my body.
Six months later, I moved to Singapore to work with a couple of smart, funny men who I genuinely like and respect. I was still working for a company I didn’t feel proud of, in an emotional and energetic office environment that often didn’t feel safe, but the change of location gave me the opportunity to reset some life boundaries. I gradually stopped binge drinking and started doing yoga. I detoxed. I started meditating regularly. I explored Traditional Chinese Medicine, which finally gave me some relief from acute endometriosis – which I couldn’t get from the western medical system. I had a lot of deep tissue bodywork. My intimate relationships were still a string of barely-controlled disasters, but the men gradually became more kind. I began to make peace with a god-force that might exist independently of organized religion. And yet I still hadn’t touched the grief and shame because it was tucked safely away, deep in my body.
At 37, I had my first emotional clearing process using a modality called The Journey, which helps release cellular memories from the body. I relived a forgotten childhood memory – the day I first learned it was possible my sister was seriously ill – and I felt deep sorrow. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, that was the point of no return. I finally had a sense I’d been living in black and white – numbed out to pain, but also numbed out to joy – and that a technicoloured life was available, if I was prepared to choose it. The following year, I bought a little house in a health retreat in Thailand, as an ‘insurance policy’ in case I needed to quit my job. It was the first admission I might not last much longer in the corporate world.
At 39, I moved to London for work. I sat in a photo booth on a platform at Paddington Station on a cold September afternoon, winter looming over me, wondering what I’d done and why I’d come. This photo was taken that day. It’s a pretty accurate representation of my mood and energetic state in that moment.
I look like a ghost.
A month after I arrived in London, I went to my first weekend healing retreat to learn The Journey. I connected with a lot more grief and came away convinced that I needed to immerse myself in this work. So I dived in, joining and finishing the practitioner program in a year. At a week-long retreat, I re-experienced my parent’s car accident from my perspective as the unborn child. It helped me begin to realize how profoundly I was held hostage by my own fear and what a constant presence anxiety was in my life. After another week-long retreat, I found and released the guilt around my sister’s death. It had been stored in my neck as a kind of slow-release death vow. The Journey community became like my family and for a little while, I felt like I belonged somewhere.
It was a big year.
When I’d done just enough Journey work to clear some of my survival fears, I began to find my corporate office unbearable. I felt sick every time I walked into the building. So I quit my job and walked out the sliding glass doors a month after my 40th birthday. I planned to take about six months to travel before returning to London and finding a different, more rewarding job.
Four months later (while staying in my little house in Thailand) some test results indicated my nervous system was fried and my body was close to collapse. I decided not to return to London. I also decided I was prepared to spend all my savings and as much time as necessary on my own healing – because I couldn’t be truly useful (to myself or anyone else) as long as the old fear-driven patterns were still in place.
I spent the next four years trying to find and face the fear of stopping, which I knew was behind the urge to keep running. What I didn’t anticipate was the suppressed, unacknowledged grief I would need to acknowledge and encounter about what the distorted masculine had done to me and to our planet. The realization of what I had done to myself – what I’d tolerated and how I’d colluded in order to survive – was even more devastating.
At the end of 2011, I went to India on a sacred pilgrimage with a group of Journey practitioners. I dunked in the Ganga’s ice-blue water near Rishikesh, kissed the feet of a departed laughing guru in Lucknow, inhaled death in Varanasi and sat on the ground where the Buddha preached his first sermon after becoming enlightened. I fell in love with a long-dead Indian saint and spent a couple of months visiting the caves where he spent most of his life, melting into Source. I learned to do nothing but drink chai. I got very quiet, for a while.
The quiet didn’t last. I fell in love with a complicated guy – a charismatic, gifted healer and ex-special forces soldier who was full of grand stories and outrageous contradictions. He had a tricky relationship with the truth… and he seemed to have a death wish. I spent the next year alternately trying to pull him close and push him away, fearful he would kill himself or both of us in a motorbike accident.
After the first week, I never completely trusted him. It took me a year to leave him.
On the last night of 2012, he fell off a balcony at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. At midnight, I sat in the emergency room of a Thai hospital and realized I had a choice about how much drama I invited into my life. I ended our relationship a few days afterwards.
Four weeks later, I went back to India to see the saint and invite Shiva to dance on my ego some more. The complicated guy came to the same retreat. After 10 days of spiritual fireworks I finally realised I was terrified of him… and that I had to leave Thailand, because I needed to put several thousand kilometers between us.
So I rented out the little Thai house and came back to Australia. My mother let me stay with her, which turned into a year of me living in her spare room. Our relationship is strong today, largely due to that time we spent together.
With help from a team of practitioners, I gradually recognised that my body was addicted to fear – hooked on cortisol and adrenaline and all the other drugs that get released when fear is present. That addiction had fuelled both the attraction to the complicated guy and my ten-year love-hate relationship with my corporate career.
When I read Sera Beak’s book Red Hot and Holy in 2013, I sobbed all the way through the chapters on spiritual bypassing. (Actually – I cried through most of the second half of the book.) I saw that I’d been using my favourite talking and visualization therapies to bypass the day-to-day reality of what was going on in my body. I recognized all the symptoms of Soul loss and I finally had a name for the “something is missing” sense that had stalked me forever – even after I’d spent a lot of time getting intimate with the infinite. And I got clear that I couldn’t heal my fear addiction using the tools I’d learned to abuse. It was time to get real.
So I entered a 12-week intensive program with a woman in Australia who specialises in real. For three months, I was in process 24/7. I did 20 minutes of rebirthing (conscious connected breathing) every morning and night. I uncovered aspects of my shadow that were more frightening than anything I’d seen before… and then I painted pictures of them. I had wild dreams of death by fire. By the time the program finished, my shadow was a shadow of its former self – certainly not gone, but no longer in control all the time.
Shortly before the program ended, I fell in love. Handsome, smart and empathic, Cam gave me nowhere to hide because he could feel what I was thinking. It was the first time I allowed myself to be vulnerable with a man. We helped each other heal some old wounds.
In 2014, we went on an adventure. I sold my little house in Thailand and we moved to San Francisco. He pursued his dream of creating a technology platform to help people change the world. I picked up three or four different business ideas in the space of a couple of months and dropped them all – nothing would stick. We drove through the California redwood forests to Portland for the World Domination Summit. The tinybrave blog was born.
And two weeks later I went to Montana for the Soul Fire retreat with Sera Beak. I got hitched, shit myself a little bit, found my voice and fell into a completely different kind of love affair – with my soul. Ever since, I’ve had to drop – again and again – any illusion that I was ever in control of my life.
It’s a painful and exquisitely beautiful path of surrender.
In August 2014, Cam and I decided to make a quick trip back to Australia to tie up a few loose ends and refresh our US visas… but my soul had other plans for me. The US Embassy refused our initial visa applications. Two months later, I said goodbye to Cam as he went back to San Francisco alone. My soul had asked me to make space for Her, so I spent a big chunk of the last of my savings to rent a house of wood and glass, perched on top of a large rock, for six months. It was to be our chrysalis.
After I came out of the rock house, I spent a year dancing with true and false light. I’ve had to acknowledge an addiction to doing inner work, powered by perfectionism and vicious self-judgement. Beneath the inner critic, I’ve encountered deeper and deeper layers of shame.
I’ve also realized that spiritual perfectionism is a grand distraction from being human. I’d been using “I’m not finished/awake enough/enlightened yet” as an excuse to hide from the world. While I’m clear there will always be a new invitation to go deeper, I’m also clear that the whole point of life is to be human and messy and imperfect and integrate all of it.
And so we arrive at today.
My daily practice now is about taking brave, imperfect action. I’ve come back into the world, ready to share what I’ve learned and experienced. I’m clear that my ego is not my enemy: I don’t need to eradicate parts of myself. What I most need is to stop the war, on every level – to practice and embody radical self-compassion.
So I’ve built the kind of life that works for me. I live in the country surrounded by trees and birds, near the beach. I write for myself here and I’m writing a tinybrave book. I offer 1:1 sessions privately to people who want to explore radical self-compassion and considering what group programs might look like.
My life allows space to deepen into my still-fresh relationship with my soul.
I’m building a new body. I’m developing a different relationship with my own karmic patterns, allowing my soul to reveal the stickiest imprints according to a schedule she sets. As they fall away, Her light shines through me more brightly.
I’m using and refining our voice.
I’m finally singing our song.