Get Grounded: Jacqui Lewis, Byron Bay
Text KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
Photography KATE PASCOE SQUIRES
Jacqui Lewis might just know a thing or two about The Slowdown… she lives and breathes the philosophy in her personal and professional lives, but it’s ongoing process. As it is with all of us. Teaching creativity, clarity and consciousness is no mean feat. The Broad Place, which Jac runs with her husband Arran Russell, is a business, a philosophy, a life.
Sharing a higher-grade life.
Breaking hearts wide open.
Curiosity. Vulnerability. Enthusiasm.
Bathing in the beauty and joy of it all.
The Slowdown. How does that resonate with you?
The phrase Slowdown for me, is being present to the moment right here and now. You can have a very full life, and yet be present to it all. Sometimes it might mean paring back, sometimes it’s simply savouring what is.
Our initial serious slow down phase began years back when we spent six weeks in Byron Bay, caring for our friend’s property River Hawk Ranch and their beautiful dog Chief while they travelled overseas. It was a time of long hot summer days, rarely wearing shoes, cooking outside on the fire and swimming constantly. Lots of time with family and friends, and very little time on technology. It started a shift for us as a family and business and resulted in a huge audit and edit of every area of our life. We began to more thoughtfully and proactively slow down where we were racing through some areas of life. It paved the way for many shifts and changes that we still refine today.
It’s ironic for me writing this piece for you though at the moment, as the last six months have been bordering on manic for me personally, with so many projects, travel and teaching, as well as a move to London from Sydney that we are in the thick of. It’s been incredibly full and my days have, at times, felt very pushed. I have found that with all the extra stress and pressure, being present and slowing it down where I can, is incredibly vital to my sanity. So even in the thick of this time, I have still taken the time for my meditation practice, my rituals, routines, being in nature and as present as I can.
How do you put your slow into practice?
My daily slow down begins with a long morning practice of rituals and routines. A Zen tea ceremony, Integrated Meditation, time in nature and with our dogs, reading and rest. I have found the more I invest in myself in the mornings, the better and the more productive and enjoyable my days are! I also ensure I eat meals sitting down, with no phones. We power down an hour on waking and an hour before bed, and no technology at all is engaged with, creating space for the mind to be curious and creative without being fed information. I meditate twice a day with Integrated Meditation sittings. I can’t imagine life now without my daily meditation practice after meditating now for two decades. I also currently limit my time on emails, dramatically, as I find emails make me feel like I am speeding up and losing time. I have a wonderful assistant who helps answer all my emails and only feeds me the urgent and essential through a system we have in place.
Do you have flexibility in your slow down practices or are there things you simply must carry out daily?
I have an incredible amount of flexibility! I am on the road a lot teaching and so I have to be very flexible and resilient in how I practice rituals and routines. I have shorter versions of everything and also don’t fret if I can’t fit various things in. If I am on a red eye flight at 6am, I am definitely not doing a tea ceremony before for example! I would be awake at 3am to fit it in! But I will take a thermos of hot tea with me for the long drive to the airport, and my meditation practice will take place on the plane. I find being creative with it all very important, to avoid becoming rigid and stagnant. There is a Buddhist concept of non-attachment, and I find flexibility a way in which to practice this, with non-attachment even to the things I love doing, so that I can be free and resilient.
Do you connect your slow down to any specific place, time or season – or can you tap into as you need?
I simply tap in as I need, and every day. I have found nature to be my guiding force and the thing that always allows me to connect back. At least once a year I do a trip involving study, just for myself. Last year it was karate in Okinawa, the year before study and panchakarma, deep Ayurvedic cleansing, in India. Taking myself away so that I can recharge and learn, is absolutely essential to me as a teacher.
You run The Broad Place, a global school for Creativity, Clarity and Consciousness, and were responsible for getting me started on my own slow down journey. For people caught up in the washing machine of life, what are a couple of things they can implement into their everyday lives to give them a taste of the slow?
I know I teach meditation, so of course I am going to bang on about it… but MEDITATE! I can’t shout it from the rooftops enough. Not all practices are made equal, so find one that works for you. We teach a foundation of Vedic meditation we call Integrated Meditation, as we have moved the needle on it a touch to embrace modern living, more philosophy and education. It’s profound in helping people slow down and understand themselves deeper.
I would also recommend a daily joyride; the practice of doing something small each day that brings you joy. Like walking the dogs being utterly present (not listening to a podcast), swimming if you love it or sitting down to enjoy your coffee instead of racing around with it in your hand. Joyriding increases present moment awareness and happy hormones which makes us happier of course! Joyriding should be a daily practice.
Creating gaps is also so important. So often we overestimate how long things will take to complete and feel rushed and pushed. If we want to stop being overwhelmed, we have to start being realistic and honest with ourselves and realign our expectations with reality!
I am also now far more conscious with my nutrition and body. Our bodies are the carrier for our consciousness, so when they are run down, tight and restricted, as is our flow of consciousness. I was always very good with nurturing my body, but I have taken it up a notch to ensure I am in optimal condition as much as is possible. When my body is falling apart, I know the washing machine of life feels at its worst.
What are your thoughts on people who say they just don’t have the time, space or money for any slow down practices?
This is just an excuse. If you don’t want to slow down, don’t. But don’t kid yourself that you can’t. I can say this so boldly, as I work with thousands of people a year around the world, from different spectrums, who when they get honest with themselves, admit there is always a self-limiting belief or self-destructive tendencies that are stopping them from caring for themselves.
Slowing down doesn’t have to mean getting an expensive massage, it can be drinking a beautiful tea in the sun. It doesn’t have to mean taking an entire day for something like ‘Self Care Sunday’. This a concept I don’t like due to its unrealistic nature – I mean, I don’t even have an entire day to dedicate to myself!! Additionally, self-care should be a daily practice, not 1/7 of the week. It should be simple moments in every day. It involves compassion and love and kindness to oneself. It doesn’t have to be fancy body oils and infrared saunas and day spas. We need to get clear on what it means to care for ourselves and stop placing unrealistic demands on this. If we set the bar too high we will never reach it, and the idea we don’t have time/money/space for slowing down comes from being too idealistic. Slowing down is putting our phone away when we are with our kids. Slowing down is saying no to things we think we ‘should’ do that don’t serve us. It’s not checking emails we won’t even answer before we go to bed. There are hundreds of things we can all do to better serve ourselves, that don’t cost a cent, and in fact create more space for us to be.
Do you ever suffer from anxiety and/or stress?
I used to suffer from crippling anxiety and panic attacks. And, at times, stress so all-encompassing, I thought I would break. There was a time where I was, with my husband, running a creative agency, a restaurant and a café – he also had a fashion brand and a vodka brand. I was studying 15-20 hours a week to become a meditation teacher and had a young child. The irony was not lost on me – I should mention I was studying to teach meditation completely strung out! It gave me, however, a true insight into the workings of the mind, our relationship to stress and tension and their impacts. It solidified for me the need for practices like meditation, as it was my saving grace and the foundation for everything good in my life. It also gave me an immense compassion for people when they are overwhelmed and spinning out of control. Anxiety can be a curse, but when understood fully, it can also be the point of entering the greatest path to self-knowledge.
Regarding triggers, my goodness I have so many! My little brother is disabled and I had an amazing and also very challenging upbringing. When I was young, I was exposed to a lot of illness, death and stress – we form 95% of our beliefs and responses to life before the age of seven, which was a tumultuous time for me. I have found meditation has been the primary tool to retire my brain and mind and body. With this has been a loosening of the grips of my anxiety, neurosis, and fears – and I can now witness them instead of buy into them. My deep and long study of Eastern philosophy and psychology has then layered a better understanding of what’s occurring within me that is simply part of being a human.
Was there a specific turning point in your life that brought about your slow down practices or is this something you have always incorporated in your day to day?
There have been so many huge points in my life that have made me take check and realign myself. My brother being disabled is a constant reminder to live my life fully with gratitude for my physical health, but especially when he has gotten really ill.
Having my daughter rather young and unexpectedly forced me to look at who I wanted to be as a mother and how I wanted to live my life. I got really serious at this point about my meditation practice and studies to ensure I was as calm, conscious and energised as I could be as a mother. I separated from her father when she was only a few years old and this was a total wrecking ball that went through every area of my life. Thankfully, I was deep into my practices and studies by then, and it kept me somewhat grounded through an insanely challenging time.
Meeting Arran, my husband, was also a time for both of us where we had a huge awakening into what our lives might look like together, as a family, and what our potential might be. It was this remarkable unfolding into what our lives looks like now. We both used to work insane hours and Arran had not had a holiday in the past decade when we met. I essentially forced a big slow down on him and as it seems to work between us. He then took it to another level, so I could then up-level with him.
Do you have a favourite time of day that evokes the slow down philosophy?
In Vedic philosophy, there is a time called Brahma Mahurt, that is the blue hour 3.30-5.30am of every day, where a gentle breeze wraps around the earth preceding the sun rising. It’s a magical time of the day, and one that I cherish. I try to wake at 4.30-5am each day to do my practices. In many lineages, it’s considered a very spiritual and heart opening time of the day to practice.
Do you stop at any point during your day or evening to “take stock”?
On waking, I practice gratitude, and on going to sleep. I think it’s important for the heart and mind to connect over gratitude first thing on waking and last thing before sleeping. I also pause constantly to take in nature.
Do you incorporate your daughter into your slow down practices?
My daughter is almost 13 now and is incredibly independent. She’s spiritual in her own way and I don’t force anything onto her – although I try to encourage her, most of it is rebuffed! She doesn’t meditate anymore, although she used to. She loves Zen tea ceremony and does this in her own time. She has little anchors like burning incense, sage, a few crystals and totems around her room. She’s a remarkably present person, very calm and doesn’t usually rush. We laugh about her even being my daughter, as she hasn’t experienced a day of anxiety in her life!
I would recommend to any parent to place their attention on themselves first. If we want to have grounded, resilient, compassionate and kind kids, we need to lead from ourselves in an authentic way. Kids are so perceptive and they are instantly dismissive of anything that doesn’t align. We can’t preach and not practice. I have found that Marley has instinctively taken my lead when she needs it, but I always try teach her to find her own path. We must expect our children to evolve beyond us, and eventually teach us. Our role is to show them as many ways to live creatively and consciously from their own hearts, and then let them choose what that looks like for them, even if it’s dramatically different to ours. If your child doesn’t want to meditate, or do anything you do, don’t force it. I see sadly too many parents forcing naturally present kids to ‘practice mindfulness’ because they need it. I feel if we let our kids know they are loved no matter what, that they are whole, incredible and amazing just as they are, with whatever they have going on for them, that this is the best foundation – much better than forcing philosophies and practices onto them.
On a day to day basis, how do you get away from the ‘doing’ and into the ‘moment’?
Coming to my five senses is very helpful, taking note of what I am seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing and tasting brings me back into the present moment. I also try to be very aware of how much time I spend on my phone. They’re so addictive and if I am not careful, I can lose too much real life to my screen. Also, when I am doing anything, I avoid what I call ‘mashing’. There’s a whole chapter on this in my book Mothers Mind Cleanse if you want more information, but essentially it’s not doing more than one thing at once. I want 100% of myself experiencing what I am doing, not 20 or 60%.
For those of us who are walking our own slow down path, do you have any ideas to share that might assist us on our journey?
Learn a meditation practice and then practice it every, single day. It’s called practice for a reason.
Don’t feel ashamed of saying no to things, I did for way too long. Take a reality check of what it is you want to do and what you think you should do.
If you’re exhausted, rest. Too often we are caught in the wheel of burnout and we literally fry our nervous systems. It’s very challenging to come back from this physically and emotionally, so let’s get preventative.
Have friendships with people that are interested in slowing down, spirituality or being present. It’s very challenging when you surround yourself with people burning the candle at both ends to not feel like a crazy person at times. Living a fulfilled life, instead of simply just a full life, takes courage – and you want some pioneers around you to show you the way.
I teach meditation constantly to people who have been diagnosed with something terminal or critical, or have had the rug pulled out from them in their lives and are on their arse. They ALL begin to prioritise their physical and mental health, they learn to meditate, they learn to say no, they slow down and spend time in nature and with the people they love. They all do this because it’s the recipe for a loving life in alignment with our souls. We don’t want to wait until life knocks us over to begin living an aligned life, we just want to begin. So my key piece of advice is, begin today.
If you do one thing for yourself today, follow Jacqui Lewis over @thebroadplace or visit www.thebroadplace.com.au and subscribe to Jacqui’s daily letters – it’s all so good.