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In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you do have little ones around, grab your headphones now.

Marie Forleo: In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you have little ones around, grab your headphones now.

Dr. Shefali: Who you are is something and someone beyond your possessions, beyond your career, beyond your relationship. You are something grander and more essential than that, something of essence, not something of substance.

Marie Forleo: Hey, what’s up, everybody? It’s Marie Forleo, and welcome to another episode of MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast. You are in for a treat today, my friend, because my guest is a leader in the field of mindfulness and psychology.

Dr. Shefali received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University. Specializing in the integration of Western psychology and Eastern philosophy, she’s an expert in family dynamics and personal development. She’s written four books, three of which are New York Times Bestsellers, including her two landmark books, The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family.

Shefali, Thank you so much for coming back on the show. And I have to say congratulations on this gorgeous new book. So great to see you.

Dr. Shefali: Thank you for having me.

Marie Forleo: So let’s dive in. I want to hear about the inspiration behind this book. I know your life has changed radically recently, and I also know that can be really challenging for someone, anyone who has their work out there in a public way. Anytime you go through some kind of transition, it can be difficult. Can you tell us about how this book came to be and the inspiration behind it?

Dr. Shefali: Absolutely. You know, higher life’s work, in a way, has been to take parents, to take my clients, and myself to a more authentic place. All my work, especially in the field of conscious parenting, has been about teaching parents to take off their masks, to take off their egoic defenses, and to really connect to the essence that lies within them and their children. So this has been my mission. And in my own life, I have been on a deep quest to uncover and unlayer my own egoic disguises.

So as I was approaching my mid-forties and my daughter is now bursting forth into her own essence, I think something happens to us women, especially those who have identified in the role of mother, as I was. When our children kind of break free and no longer need us, you know, we kind of feel useless, our identity now has to find a new mission. And I went through a metamorphosis at that point and really began looking deep within myself asking, you know, “Am I living my most authentic self? Am I being transparent, or am I hiding behind my roles of wife and mother and career woman and constantly on a chase for something external?” And I went through huge epiphanic shocks, you know, paralysis of truths, which pointed to the lies I was living and that, no, I wasn’t living true. I was living in fear, I was people-pleasing, I was a slave to my roles.

And, you know, I dared myself to go through that tunnel, to divest myself of all the lies I had been telling myself. And for years, this had been my quest, but I couldn’t quite get to that place of courage. And then finally, I think watching my daughter burst free and fly a little bit more in her teenagehood gave me the courage and put me on this mission that, well, if I have been living a lie and I’ve been on this mission of truth-seeking, then certainly other women are caught up in their own fear. And how can I use my own radical awakening to help others?

So it was this book is partly inspired by my own journey through pain and its transformation to power and really to help other women to see that, look, if I went through this and I was ordinary, I was average, I was on my knees, then surely if, if you’re sitting out there on the couch, feeling dislocated, feeling lost, feeling disempowered, come on, I want to take you with me on this path because I know you can reclaim your power too.

Marie Forleo: So when did you start feeling those inklings or noticing that something wasn’t aligned for you anymore? You know, that perhaps what was true maybe years ago was just no longer fitting for who you felt you were becoming as a woman and as a human? Did it come like in what feels like [poof] a moment of clarity or did it start to reveal itself little piece by piece, by piece until it was getting louder and louder and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to listen.”

Dr. Shefali: Yeah, I think both. They come in shocks and then they come in little ripples. I think as we keep deconstructing the lies within which we live, you know, and this culture we live in keeps telling us lies, you know, especially as women, it keeps telling us to play small, or to play silent, or to play little, or to play at the back of the line, or to believe in things like eternal youth and endless beauty and flawlessness and perfection. So as you begin this process of really going within and asking, you know, “Does this match who I am?” And each time you realize that it doesn’t fit who you are but you’ve got to fit in, you chip away at the armor of this ego and you go deeper and deeper. So step by step, whisper by whisper, you know, your inner self nudges you to dare to be authentic.

And it’s scary because you see the entire mass of culture trying to fit in. So you don’t want to lose that, your place in the crowd. 

Marie Forleo: Right.

Dr. Shefali: You know, you think that the crowd is comfortable, but you don’t realize that the crowd is devouring your spirit and, you know, and you’ve got to break free from the crowd in order to find who it is you are. So I always tell my clients, and this is what I did in my own life, I had to break free of the matrix. You know? The matrix comes loaded with these seductions and these lies, and they tell us that we are unworthy and then they sell us stuff so that we can feel worthy and so we keep consuming stuff to feel worthy, but it’s all a lie.

So I think in my own life, as I began to listen to my lies and deconstruct and pierce through the cultural matrix to ask, “Is this true? Is the ideas of love that we’ve been taught true? Is our ideas of marriage true? Of divorce true?” And each time you realize, no, it’s not true. It’s culturally fabricated, it’s manmade, it’s artificial, and they don’t speak to the essence of who we are. Then you make a decision. Okay, so if I want to be in my essence, I have a choice. I have to either break free or I have to devour my essence, which one do I want to do? Do I want to break free and live my essence, or allow myself to be pillaged, marauded, and devoured by culture? And that’s a really hard choice to make.

Marie Forleo: Yeah, without a doubt. I’m wondering if you can speak into any of the concrete changes that you made in your own life as a result of your own radical awakening. How, whether it was your career or your family life or anything like that, that you can speak into so that people have a grounding of what that might look like, even what it looked like for you.

Dr. Shefali: Sure. So on the outside, I think the most palpable, the biggest concrete change I made was that I changed my marriage. I broke free from that institution and reconfigured who I was. So that was on the external. But as you and I know, that was just the symptom of a huge internal reverberation. So the internal changes I made were really more poignant and profound. And I think the biggest internal change I made was to stop subscribing on a daily prescription, daily subscription, to the mandate that I was unworthy. And I think the minute I stopped paying that subscription fee on a daily basis and paying homage to the prescription that I was lesser than, that I needed to be perfect, that I needed to be the best mother, the best wife, the minute I detached from that and re-scripted what that would mean for me, then everything on the outside, like a huge riptide, just took me under. And when I came out on the other end, I was transformed.

You know, it all has to do with our internal sense of worth, you know this better than I. So nothing on the outside can truly change on a deep level if we don’t recalibrate our sense of worth.

Marie Forleo: Absolutely. I want to talk a little bit about hitting rock bottom. It feels like for so many of us humans, all of us in our different stages of life, different seasons of life, sometimes we know things and we may suspect something, but it’s like [poof] it has to come crashing down in order for us to wake up. I love this question that you asked in the book, “Is your now palatable? If it’s not, don’t worry about the future. Accept that the present is unbearable. We must work to create health and wellbeing in the now. It makes no sense to worry about what tomorrow will bring when today is already toxic.”

Dr. Shefali: Yes.

Marie Forleo: Yeah. Let’s talk about the power of hitting rock bottom and why we don’t have to resist it.

Dr. Shefali: Well, you know, as a therapist, rock bottom is the state of the end of the road that we wait for, or at least I wait for, because what is really hitting rock bottom? What’s hitting rock bottom are all our dysfunctional facades, all the artifice, the guile, the egoic defenses, they don’t work anymore. You see, the thing with our egoic defenses is that we constructed them when we were very young. You know, I’ll be the comedian, or I’ll be the people pleaser, I’ll be the super-achiever accoutrements, I’ll be Ms. Perfect, I’ll be the savior. Whatever face of the ego we decided would give us love and worth, we adopted. And I outline all those faces in the book so people can identify, “Hey, that was me.”

So when we were young, these egoic faces got us the crumbs of love and worth from our parents, our teachers, our culture, but it wasn’t who we really were. We just faked it to get that love and worth. So it allowed us to survive on a very elemental level when we were young, but since they are fake ways of getting it, they will eventually wear thin and they will burn out, and they won’t work in any situation because they don’t come from deep inner truth. They come from superficial hunger, from just a craving, a desperation, a pathetic kind of like, “Please, I’ll do anything, just give me love and worth.”

So life is beautiful in that it’ll keep rubbing against that ego till we actually let it go and we end up in the void of who am I without my roles? Who am I without the future? Who am I without my things, my possessions, my labels, my identities? And that is the rock bottom, and everyone is terrified of that place because it feels like nothingness. But you know, I, as a therapist, know that what feels like nothing is just the letting go of the false self. And what awaits the person is the reclamation of their authentic self that they left behind in childhood. So they have to go through a process, a birthing canal, to get back to that authenticity.

But that’s why therapy is so powerful. It takes the person off the rock bottom into the tunnel of transformation to the other side. And this is what I kind of outline in this book, the entire book is laid out as this journey.

Marie Forleo: Yeah, it’s really powerful. And I think for me, in my own life, every time I look back at painful experiences or times when I was like, “What is happening? Why am I here?” While I would never want to repeat those experiences, they have all brought me to a deeper, more real, more true place. It’s hard to admit that or feel that or sense that when we’re in it… 

Dr. Shefali: Yes.

Marie Forleo: …but usually in retrospect that wisdom can come.

Now that we’ve realized, let’s say there’s folks listening and they’re experiencing perhaps a version of their own rock bottom or they’re sensing that they’re on their way there, if they sense that things can’t continue any longer how they’ve been going and we’re awake and there’s no going back, you say that in any situation we have three choices, to stay and accept things as they are, to change either ourselves or the other, which of course we know that’s the real difficult thing, or to leave. Can you speak into how can we decide which of those paths to pursue?

Dr. Shefali: Yeah. When people come to me in the rock bottom experience of their life, they have a tendency to kind of react and to just blame the other and dissolve, discard, disrupt, and kind of die to their old self. But as we know, if we’ve lived long enough, that our patterns don’t leave us. We can leave state, we can leave house, we can leave marriage, but our patterns are very much internalized and embossed within us. So the real work is to kind of sit in the pain, and people don’t like this. I have t-shirts that say “Sit With It.” You know, sit with it, sit with it, sit with it, because the real art, and it’s a technique, you know, because our entire culture is to avoid pain, to run away, to use substances to salve the pain, but the real spiritual wisdom comes in sitting with it, because if we’re not clear about our answer from a deep place of knowing, that pattern will repeat itself. So we don’t want to do that. So we’d rather endure the pain right now, but learn the lessons we have to learn.

What are the lessons we’re talking about? It’s really about filling in the holes, H-O-L-E-S, of our psyche to develop and integrate into wholeness, W-H-O-L-E-N-E-S-S. So because in our childhood we faked it, pretty much, to kind of get by and survive the unconsciousness of our parents and culture, we never really found out who it is we are in an integrated way. So we just kept attracting person after person or situation after situation that allowed us to repeat the false self. And the false self is to cover up the unworthiness, so we were just faking it to cover up unworthiness until we hit rock bottom and we realized, oh my goodness, I don’t know who I am anymore. And now, we have to step into worth.

So the experience is really one of untethering from all the lies we have told, all the belief systems that are really toxic and dysfunctional, and step-by-step re-piecing, reweaving, reconstructing in new sense of self, but it’s a very terrifying place for people. I tell them, if they are feeling the fear and panic and they just want to bolt, that’s the clearest indication that they should sit in it, that they should not run away. You know, don’t run away until you’ve understood, what are the holes? What are the missing pieces? What do I need to develop? Do I need to develop more masculine energy? Do I need to develop more feminine energy? Do I need to create more boundaries? Do it in the old relationship before leaving, you know, really work through the kinks and the flaws and exit the relationship only when you are in a place of wholeness.

Now, of course, if the relationship is toxic, then you need to leave, but if you’re just in a state of wavering, sit in it and then ask yourself, “Do I want to just stay and accept it because my kids are young or I don’t have enough financial stability, or this is not the right time?” And that’s okay. That’s not an act of cowardice, that’s an act of discernment. Or, “Can I try to change the other person?” That’s our default go-to, you know, let me change the other person. We realize very soon that that doesn’t work. “Okay, how can I change myself?” And then last resort, but if it’s dysfunctional in terms of abuse, we leave right away, but then, “Have I learned my lessons?” And then, “Can I release this relationship with a sense of completion?”

You know, divorce should really be called the completion. It shouldn’t be called divorce, divorce indicates a breakup. Even the word breakup shouldn’t be used. You know? We should use the word emergence out of completion, you know, the cycle should be complete. And, sadly enough, we don’t do that work because we are so reactive. We’re so hurt, we’re so betrayed, and we blame the other person, little realizing it has nothing to do with the other person and all to do with our own awakening into wholeness.

Marie Forleo: That’s some big medicine, Shefali, you know it is. And again, for all y’all, I know we’re talking about as much as we can. There’s a very big book where she goes into everything, so if this is resonating for you, you need to get your hands on it.

I love this concept that you share, that growth is a subtractive process. Growth is a subtractive process. This notion that when you grow, you lose things, and you have to let go of what was. And you have this great question, “Instead of asking yourself who am I going to be without, you need to ask who am I now going to emerge as?” Anything else you want to add to this topic?

Dr. Shefali: Yeah. You know, this entire book really is an attack on how we look at life typically, and a benevolent attack, a gentle, loving attack, so that we can break free from these toxic belief systems and emerge free. So one of the toxic belief systems we have, you know, grown to be addicted to is the idea of growth, that growth is when we prosper, when we succeed, when we add things to our lives, more cars, more degrees, more friends, more things, you know, that’s a sign of success. And that is the greatest entrapment really, because success can never come from things added, right? So I call the true growth process a subtractive process, because you get to realize who you are going to be without these external accoutrements and attachments.

You know, all our suffering comes because we attach to things on the outside. I mean, this is hands down, show me any moment in your life and I will show you how you’re suffering because you were attached to something on the outside, including your own body, including your youth, including your husband, your partner, your car, your child. These are attachments that cause us suffering. And when we learn to live in the moment, in the idea of impermanence, and release these things constantly, then we actually “attach” to something else. What that is is this ineffable, ever-present inner knowing.

So, it’s a trade-off. You know? You’re not going to know yourself through your things or your relationships. You’re only going to know yourself without that. You know? It’s the quest of the spiritual warrior, is to, is to strip yourself naked. That’s when you know who you are.

Marie Forleo: Yes. And to be clear, I just want to, because I can hear, I always have this new sense that I’ve developed since having a show of hearing people, “But is Shefali saying right now that I need to like, let go of my house and get rid of my business?” No, she’s not saying that. I don’t believe, I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

Dr. Shefali: What I’m saying, very clearly, is that who you are is something and someone beyond your possessions, beyond your career, beyond your relationship. And if you can free yourself of the idea that you are just your relationship or you’re just your career, you will actually rise to this transcendent state of liberation. So you’re limiting yourself by thinking you’re your house really, or your hair or your beauty. You’re limiting yourself. Who you are is something so limitless and you just haven’t touched upon that because you think you’re your hair, or you think you’re what your partner thinks of you or what your mother thinks of you or how many likes you have on Facebook. That is not who you are. You are something grander and more essential than that, something of essence, not something of substance, you know. It’s hard to explain, but as we go through this inner growth process, it becomes amply clear.

Marie Forleo: Yes, a hundred percent. And even in my own life, one of my own mantras that helps me keep sane that I relate to this, it’s not the perfect analogy, but simplify to amplify. For me, the more I keep things simple, the more I’ve kinda removed and strip away, I often feel this amplification of freedom and joy and connection and a deep sense of okayness with myself.

Dr. Shefali: Yes, yes.

Marie Forleo: And so, yeah, and it’s kind of fun to play with. And I think that this past year everyone has been through so much, but so much has changed underneath our feet, and so many things that perhaps many of us clung to before or thought were a sure thing or we were just in a pattern of expecting things to be as they were, it kind of woke us all up to be able to ask the questions.

Dr. Shefali: Yeah. I think we women, especially because we are the nurturers and the caretakers and the fixers and the solvers, and the mothers really, whether we’re biological mothers or not, we’re all mothers and we perform that mothering function in our relationships, we take on so much upon ourselves and we identify with the perfection that we think we need to have. And so if we’re anything less than perfect in our eyes, we think we’re lesser than. And we get so busy, caught up, you know, these mothers giving birth and trying to get the perfect body back, or, you know, now and during the pandemic, so many mothers trying to work at home and teach their kids, but putting impossible expectations. And I see women, generation after generation, burdened by impossible expectations. Why? Because they truly genuinely believe that this is the way to get worth. And this is not the way to get worth.

We’re down a rabbit hole, a labyrinth of madness. And this book, for me, is a gift to women, is a wake up call that, hey, this labyrinth is not going to take you to worth, so let it go now before you’ve wasted your whole life serving and pleasing the tune of others and never listening to yourself.

Marie Forleo: Yes, Shefali, I needed to let that land and then say a big yes. In fact, where I want to go next is this lifelong indoctrination of needing to be seen as good, needing to be seen as good. And my goodness, have I battled this one. And I think this is probably one of the gifts that come with experience and with age, is starting to shed that in a really big way. It’s like, what does that even mean?

Dr. Shefali: Oh my goodness, this is a mantle of oppression that our parents give us as little girls. Even if they don’t say it, it’s in the air we breathe, it’s in the milk we suckle at the breast. And of course, many of us rebel against this and pierce every, you know, skin surface we can, but we are doing it in reaction.

So, you know, what is goodness? Right? You know, if we’re all very honest, we will admit that goodness never has an end goal. It’s eternal perfection, to be obedient, to be kind, to be nice, to be sweet, to be people-pleasers, to, you know, be harmonizers. Part of it is in our DNA, our emotional kind of fabric, our biological fabric, but a lot of it is imposed by culture. And what culture does in this way, through its toxic patriarchal ways, is that it kind of tells us to shut up and, you know, immediately slurs us when we are loud. You know? I can’t tell you, I don’t know whether you’ve experienced this, Marie, but how many times I’ve gone on stage and left feeling embarrassed because I either cursed or my hair was out of place or I didn’t look a particular way. I don’t see the men who follow us on stage ever worrying about these things. They worry about other things I’m sure, but we are oppressed by this idea of goodness.

You know, so I trained myself during a period of my awakening, and I know this may be provocative for people, but I became, I trained myself to become okay with the word bitch because I was giving my power away every time I heard it. You know? And I thought that was powerful, I’m going to fight you if you call me a bitch, but I was fighting an invisible enemy till I realized, okay, why am I uncomfortable being called anything, purple, purple, you know, crocodile, orangutan, any name, but the minute we get enslaved by a name that culture gives us, we actually give our power away.

And when I began to realize that the only times I was being called bitch was when I was not conforming then I began celebrating, you know, that element of me and I took my power back. And I’m not saying that we should endorse any slur. I’m just saying that we women need to become comfortable allowing ourselves to be called anything culture wants to call us, because that’s culture’s way of putting us down and making us doubtful of who we are and we need to not allow that. We need to say, “Hey, call me anything you want. I’m going to still be authentic.” You know?

Because culture has its very, and using the word bitch is one of the ways, it keeps us small, or the word slut, or the word failure, or the word fat, or the word old. You know? Culture has its ways to keep us feeling bad about ourselves. So the radical awakening within us will come about when we uprise within ourselves, not against any man or woman out there, but against our own subjugation to unworthiness. You know, the ultimate battle to fight any unworthiness is never an external one, it’s our own internal uprising. You know, we are the greatest oppressors of ourselves. So now culture doesn’t even have to talk to us about our wrinkles, we are talking about our wrinkles on our own, we’re putting ourselves down for our own cellulite. There’s no man there with the torch, right, called with the patriarchy. It’s our own internalized, internalized oppression that is constantly shaming us. So we women need to become aware of how we’ve internalized culture’s criticism, our own self-shaming, our own self-loathing, and we need to protest against it within ourselves.

Marie Forleo: I love this, and I will tell you, I love this book. Thank you for pouring your heart and your soul into everything that you do, but also into this book, and being so fierce and so courageous and taking a stand for all of us. I appreciate you.

Dr. Shefali: Same with you, sister. Thank you for all you do.

Marie Forleo: Now, Dr. Shefali and I would love to hear from you. I’m so curious, what stood out to you from this conversation? Are there any ahas, any insights, any bing moments that you want to put into action in your life starting right now? If so, I want to hear about it. Come on over to the magical land of, because there we have some amazing conversations in the comments. And while you’re there, if you’re not yet subscribed to our email list, what you waiting for? You need to do it, you need to become an MF Insider. Every single Tuesday, we send these awesome emails. They are inspiring, they’re action-packed, they are full of education, and I don’t want you to miss out.

Until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your big dreams, because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for tuning in, and I’ll catch you next time.

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