FOUNDER OF BENSHEN & KUNDALINI YOGA TEACHER, NEW YORK CITY
"Where are you getting energy and where are you draining energy? Take a look - practice."
TALKS GRIEF, TRAUMA & THE BODY & PARTICIPATING IN YOUR LIFE'S VISION
Desiree is the founder of BENSHEN and the amazing BENSHEN course in which so many of my friends have had their lives transformed having been students of her transformative work. I can't say what a pleasure it is for me to finally share this interview as I feel like that would be an understatement as to how I feel. In going over the words from our conversation together and compiling them for you here, I smiled as I wished that I could have had this to read when I was going through some of the darker points in my life.
In sharing them with you now, whether you're going through one or not - I hope Desiree's radiant guidance can somehow guide you to a more enlightened place. She is the REAL deal and not often do I get to interview such a teacher in this thing we call life.
I FIND MORNING RITUALS AND HOW PEOPLE START THEIR DAY SO INTERESTING. CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR MORNINGS?
We start every morning with a meditation for BENSHEN at around 7am so I’ll get up at 6:45 and make tea. We’ll sit down to meditate and then I’ll go grab a coffee and I usually sit on the roof in the sun. I know it’s not the best thing to do but I’ll start answering emails and text messages right away with the team. However, I recently lost a friend who was very special and I had to make more space for flexibility, especially mornings, to see what I really needed that day. I have found some days, just going for a walk and listening to music while drinking coffee has been the perfect way to start.
WOULD YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE SHARING MORE ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY WITH GRIEF?
Yeah. I think it’s really important to talk about. I think it’s really essential and it’s really interesting having studied everything I’ve studied in the last 11 years, nobody prepares you for grief. There is nothing that prepares you for losing someone, especially when there is no goodbye or even any preparation for it. It’s a very intense event to the mind, body and spirit. I think that the biggest thing was that from everything I had studied - from yoga to meditation, Chinese medicine, Kundalini - I knew that I couldn’t suppress these feelings on any level.
I knew I would have to just feel everything and I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. It was like no matter what happens, I have to acknowledge this is happening and for me, that literally meant just giving myself space to be upset or giving myself space to be a mess and be really really sad.
I think the biggest thing with any type of grief is that it’s such a force and you’ve got to let it come down and through. I mean you can do whatever you want, you can suppress it, you can numb it, you can do this or that but if you really want to heal, you have to be present with it and present with the reality. On the other side of such big loss there is also so much love if you just let it in.
It sounds like such a cliche but if you allow yourself to be surrounded by people and allow yourself to be transparent about any pain you’re going through in a way that you just show up - even when you’re upset or you’re sad - just trying to say yes to things. The universe is trying to support you in so many ways and literally send you love and send you people and send you ways to be taken care of but I think that we become afraid of being vulnerable and become afraid of being seen that we say no and shut down even more. The reality is, saying yes to so many things has been the most healing part for me.
HOW WERE YOU EVEN ABLE TO HEAR THOSE INNER PROMPTS OF WHAT YOU NEEDED IN YOUR GRIEF AMIDST SO MUCH OTHER EMOTIONAL NOISE?
As much as I’d studied and as much as I’d practiced, I never really understood the true value of presence til this experience. As a culture, we’re so distracted. We’re distracted from our feelings, we’re distracted from what we need, we’re distracted from all of this and when you grieve, you’re not just grieving the person but also what that person represented to you. Acknowledging all of that so when you feel sad, you can just be sad and cry and let it out and it’s so scary because it’s so easy to just wipe that off and go not now, not now.
WOULD YOU SAY IT WAS INNER CHILD WORK?
I think everything is inner child work because everything is balancing the inner child and the adult in all of us so it’s not inner child work per say but it’s just allowing a part of you that’s really sad and hurt - for whatever reason - to have a voice. For the first time in a long time I was open to help. I got myself into therapy and also saw my mentor once a week. I also had my girlfriends stay with me for two weeks and that alone was really hard to ask for. I’m so used to taking care of everyone and one day they literally just showed up with two suitcases and bags of food and were like we’re not leaving for two weeks. To just allow that support in was really challenging.
WHERE DO YOU THINK THOSE STORIES COME FROM AND HOW HAVE YOU PERSONALLY WORKED THROUGH THEM?
Well this is where the inner child stuff comes in because somewhere between the ages of 0 - 7 years old, (sometimes older) we usually have some sort of experience that shape us. So for these patterns and experiences from our childhood that created our stories, therapy and meditating and doing kundalini - it’s all been so important to me. I’m a firm believer in that everyone should try therapy if they have the means to do so and to find a therapist that works for you. I mean it took me a long time to find someone but my therapist really works for me and is someone I can relate too. She doesn’t let me get away with shit it’s really funny.
THIS IS MY STORY BUT ASKING PEOPLE FOR HELP EQUATES TO FEELINGS OF DEATH FOR ME AT TIMES.
Well I think it’s because it’s perceived as a weakness right? Like if you need support you’re weak. I think it’s interesting because as humans we require support but the irony is that we’re all trying to be really “strong” but our definition of what is strong right now is so skewed. We’re so into this patriarchal definition in what it means to be “strong” and because we’re trying to keep up with a patriarchal world - we push things under the rug, we toughen up. Especially women, we sometimes equate strong with suppressing. Even though we’re working with the same word - strong, strength - we’re always working with two different definitions of the same thing, two different expressions. You can be strong and in touch with your feelings, needs and desires.
ANODEA JUDITH MENTIONED IN ONE OF HER BOOKS THAT IN MUCH OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN TODAY, WE HAVE ABANDONED THE FEMININE ARCHETYPE IN SOCIETY - THE NURTURING, LOVING, SOFT AND VULNERABLE MOTHER. THERE IS MOST DEFINITELY A TIME AND PLACE FOR THE MASCULINE BUT THAT AS A SOCIETY WE OPERATE MORE OUT OF THE OFTEN WITHDRAWN AND OVERACHIEVING ARCHETYPAL ENERGIES OF THE MASCULINE AND WE HAVE LOST BALANCE IN BOTH.
It scares me when people say we live in the masculine vs the feminine because we’re always representing the both - constantly oscillating between one and the other. We have to create a relationship where we don’t deem the masculine as negative and I think there’s definitely a lot to be healed from the patriarchy but there is also incredible male energy and the difference is there is the toxic in the masculine but there is also toxic in the feminine. What we want to do is create is a balance in the masculine and a balance in the feminine.
There are four entities right there - toxic masculine, healthy masculine, toxic feminine, healthy feminine. It’s not that the masculine is bad and that we deny it - it’s that we’ve embraced the toxic masculine which is the overbearing father figure - but there is also the beautiful father archetype that adores the family and is a strong provider and protector and the best dad ever. Then there’s the toxic feminine, who’s catty and competitive and this and that so we have to identify which masculine and which feminine we’re operating from and which one we have to let go of. I think that the irony is we’re taught the toxic feminine and we’re taught the toxic masculine and it’s really unlearning those patterns and embracing the balance of the healthier versions of both.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO IS TRYING TO UNLEARN THE TOXIC ARCHETYPES WITHIN THEMSELVES AND IN THEIR OWN LIVES?
I think that’s a good question. Step 1, identify what you don’t like. It doesn’t have to be so complex. Like I don’t like gossip, I don’t like cattiness or when women talk about me behind my back etc. Then the toxic masculine could be like, I don’t like when men don’t listen to me, I don’t like when I’m not heard, or valued or seen, I don’t like when I’m told I’m too much or too emotional. So it’s just about seeing what you like and what you don’t like and reflecting inside of you and seeing where you may do that to others. That’s a really good way to start to look at where the balance and imbalances lie and where you can start to shift that within yourself. You can participate and start to unwind by saying, I’m going to start to do different things.
BEFORE WE WERE TALKING ABOUT OUR DARKNESS AND HOW THAT MANIFESTS IN THE BODY - WHETHER IT BE IN THE WAY OF DEPRESSION, ANXIETY OR OTHER AVENUES SUCH AS DISORDERED EATING ETC. I WOULD LOVE TO KEEP ELABORATING?
There’s so much to talk about there. I mean I think all of it begins with trauma - all of it begins with your little T’s or your big T’s and with addictions for example, addictions are trauma’s that haven’t been resolved. So you try and avoid that feeling but it’s hard to blankly define these things.
When we’re at the ages of 0 -7, our emotional intelligence isn’t built enough to understand and comprehend that perhaps our father was not around because he was working or mom wasn’t able to give affection not because she doesn’t love you but because she was never taught how too, we just don’t really understand. These little things however start to build and build and build unless we get the proper help we need on all the levels - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual - be it therapy or acupuncture, anything to bring the body back into balance.
When we don’t get any support, these little things continue to build up until suddenly you’re chronically depressed or dealing with some sort of physical or emotional challenges. It’s about understanding they all go together and when physical illness or physical disease manifests in the body, I find there’s usually something emotional there that starts first, something energetic.
I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT BENSHEN AND YOUR WORK WITH MANIFESTING BECAUSE YOU HAVE HELPED SO MANY OF MY FRIENDS THROUGH YOUR WORK. I THINK MANIFESTING HAS BECOME SUCH A BIG TRENDING NEW AGE IDEA, I WANTED TO ASK YOU, WHAT DO YOU UNDERSTAND MANIFESTING TO BE?
I don’t think we’re really manifesting in this course even though that’s what happens. What I think is important to note is that it’s all a participatory experience with the universe.
What we do in the course is we create a vision then you create action steps to get there. You take one step closer to what you want and the universe will take one step closer to you. I don’t think it’s sitting on the couch and winning the lottery - you have to go out and buy the lottery ticket if you want to win and then you also have to scratch it off and then do the next step and the next step. So I think the misconception that people have about manifesting or whatever you want to call it is that people try and manifest by just trying to think it into happening and then say, oh this just doesn’t work for me.
I think the missing link is that you have to create momentum towards that which you want. For example, somebody wants to launch a business, someone wants to be a creative director and so how are you going to creatively direct when you’re just sitting on your couch? You work a vision and it could be like okay, I am a creative director and I have 3 clients a month. So then maybe you have to make a website or put your work together.
It’s a very participatory thing - you have to create the construct and the box and the home for things to come through and exist. It’s a lot of negotiating and then renegotiating with yourself - is that what I really want and if that’s not what I really want - how and what do I change? That’s why I really love the teacher Abraham Hicks because she always says you always know what you want because you know what you don’t want. You might want to write a novel but the book isn’t going to write and publish itself. And there’s going to be resistance in every journey but we have to think, it may not feel as good if we didn’t have to go through the full journey in the first place. But it should also be fun and feel good! It’s not about no pain no gain. It should be exciting and pleasurable.
AND HOW WOULD YOU WORK WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS A VISION BUT ALSO A WHOLE SET OF LIMITING BELIEFS?
The easiest way is that in terms of the course we have a no complaining rule. This is not to say that limiting beliefs aren’t real or resistance isn’t real or that you didn’t get rejected a thousand times before - I’m not saying that none of that exists.
I am speaking from personal experience when I talk about this because I used to be chronically depressed and all I would say is I’m depressed, I’m depressed, I’m depressed and one day I was like, I think I need to do something differently for one month. I gave it an experiment where I was not going to tell anyone I was depressed and what I did was I saved that for my support groups like my mentors or my therapist. I would explain to them exactly what I was feeling and tell them “I am sad about this” or “I don’t feel good about this” and when other people would ask me how I was, I would literally look for something else to talk about besides the fact that I was depressed.
It would force me to look for something that was going well in my life instead of looking for what was not working like I was so used too. And so much shifted in that month. I don’t want this to be misconstrued into looking like I was suppressing my depression - I just took it to the places that were there to help me heal like therapy, mentorships, an acupuncturist etc. The places that did not have the space and energy to support me and my depression, I did not take it there and instead I would practice new things like, oh I’m really excited about this new course I’m launching. Oh I just met this cute guy. Well I just got a raise at work. And you just start to reach for what’s going good in your life rather than consistently reaching for what’s not working. Try that for one month while getting the support you need and your life would really change.
I LOVE THAT AND I'VE NEVER HEARD IT FRAMED THAT WAY BEFORE BECAUSE IT IS SO TRUE, I ALWAYS LIKE TO THINK YOUR ENERGY GOES WHERE YOUR ATTENTION GOES.
I think we need to compartmentalize our lives a little bit. I think it’s not that we’re being inauthentic or we’re hiding things - it can be something that becomes beneficial for you. For example, I have one friend who I know that if I talk to her about dating, she’s pretty opinionated and every time I would leave a conversation with her about dating, I never felt good about myself. I asked, why do I keep telling this person things about this topic when I know I’m going to leave here feeling not so great after? So I was like, I’m going to do an experiment - I’m not going to talk about relationships anymore, I’m going to talk to her about work. And that really shifted our friendship and actually saved it. When she asks me about relationships I only tell her things I feel 100% in my power about.
I have people who I don’t talk to at all about my spiritual practice and it’s so interesting when people think that if you’re a spiritual person, you only need to have spiritual friends. Life is so boring if you only interact with one kind of person. And what I find are the most spiritual and open minded people are actually the ones not in our industry at all.
MAYBE AT THE ROOT OF SPIRITUALITY, CALLING YOURSELF A YOGI, A BUDDHIST, HARE KRISHNA - THE NAME ISN'T OF ANY MATTER. I HAVE ENCOUNTERED MANY PEOPLE WHO TAKE PART IN THE WELLNESS INDUSTRY AND IN SPIRITUALITY WHO HAVE DISPLAYED MORE GREED, ANGER, ENVY AND HATE THAN SOME PEOPLE I KNOW WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD OF OR CARED FOR MEDITATING, YOGA OR WHATEVER ELSE. SOMETIMES I FEEL THE MOST GENUINE ARE THOSE WHO WALK THE PATH SILENTLY.
Totally it’s like my friend that just passed away was one of the most incredible humans I’d ever met. What I loved so much about him is that he knew everyone because he was so open and present and he loved everyone. So much. He wasn’t a yogi by any means but he was the most spiritual person I knew.
It really taught me, especially in 2020 with all of the systems of power coming apart - none of it matters. The only thing that matters is if your spiritual practice is making you a better person. It doesn’t matter if you can meditate for 2 and half hours or if you can sing Hare Krishna for four days from now - none of it matters unless you are becoming a better person or a more present person and a less judgmental person to yourself and others. If that’s not what’s happening, then your spiritual practice is not working. It’s another ego power trip and another label and another thing to identify and associate with. If your spiritual practice allows you to not be friends with people outside your sphere or acknowledge people outside your world then your practice isn’t working.
WE'RE ALWAYS CONSTANTLY DOWNLOADING LIKE YOU SAID - THE CHOICES WE MAKE, THE PEOPLE WE HANG OUT WITH, THE THINGS WE READ, THE PEOPLE WE DATE AND SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE WE FORGET TO BE MINDFUL OF THE IMPORTANCE OF IT ALL. IN YOUR LIFE, HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT BEING AWARE OF YOUR DOWNLOAD?
The way that I look at it is you’re always gaining energy or leaking energy. That’s a huge concept in the course and you can relate that to anything that you have to digest literally and figuratively. So then you can see, this is working for me or this is not working for me and then the question becomes - if there is something you know is not working for you - why do you go back?
There’s usually always some sort of subconscious neurosis that you’re feeding with that so it goes back to what we talked about before when we spoke about compartmentalizing. Maybe you want to talk to that person that never leaves you feeling good but you just can't help it? Then there’s something there, you are reenacting, you’re feeding some sort of subconscious neurosis. Like continuing to touch fire when you know you’re going to burn.
I think this is why I practice the Kundalini and the pranayama because you build up a particular pranic reserve where you strengthen the nervous system enough to not go there. To be able to say no. We need strength to do that - to say no, to walk away, to not download that information or to not watch that thing, or not talk to that person or send that text - whatever that thing is. And I think it’s also giving yourself permission to do it again and learn again and taking the guilt and shame out of all of it.
Do the practice, then practice not doing anything. Where are you getting energy and where are you draining energy? Take a look - practice.