Karuna : Hi, I’m Karuna, I’m the founder and executive director for Mind Oasis, and with me today, I have two wonderful guests, Shari and Jann Simmons, a mother and daughter duo. Welcome, ladies. Thank you for having us. Thank you. So I always start out my podcast, which is called Meditation Happy Hour, Tea, Talk, and Truth with Karuna by asking what your day has looked like so far.
Shari: Do you want to start, mom? Well, interestingly enough, I did a little meditation this morning before I had breakfast, and I don’t always start my day that way. And when I do, the day is so much better for me. So I knew I was going to be meeting with you today. And I thought, OK, I’m going to do this. And it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Jann: I have to tell you, I ended mine yesterday, last night with one. I’m not real good at meditating. And so it’s a challenge for me, but it’s a challenge worth taking. Shari and I spoke on the phone last night and I said, I am not sleeping, I’m just not sleeping. There’s just too much going on. And I thought, OK, good time to do it and give it a try. And I slept very well. I woke up a couple of times, but I went back to sleep and that’s great.
Karuna : Wonderful. Jann And what’s your morning look like?
Jann: My morning is great. I got up this morning, had coffee, by my little water fountain and I thought, OK, today is going to be a good day. So it’s starting out that way.
Karuna : I love that attitude. I keep forgetting we have a teacher, Turi, who she brings iRest to Mind Oasis and iRest is very gentle. It’s a yoga nidra practice, and any one who experiences difficulty with meditation, like sitting and concentrating on your breath, it’s a wonderful alternative. So I’ll be sure to post a link in this podcast. But I’ll also send one to you, Jann, so that you have it at your fingertips.
Jann: Perfect. That would be great.
Karuna : Good. OK, ladies. Well, let’s dive in. So you are authors’. That’s one of the reasons you’re here. Another reason you’re here is because you’re going to be bringing a workshop to Mind Oasis. Plus, you’re both fascinating women who I happen to love. So let’s dive in first to your book. I believe the title is Which Way? And You Feel Free, whoever wants to talk first, just tell us a little bit about the book and why one would want to read it.
Shari: Well, is it OK if I start, mom. Well, I grew up with a mother who suffered from PTSD mightily and as a as a young daughter, I didn’t understand why she was dissociating. And just some of the behaviors that I was seeing, why she got scared when babies were crying or had panic attacks and mom ended up going into many, many years of therapy to sort of uncover the tragic past in childhood that she lived. And we’re going to talk about some of that in the workshop. But I started studying the brain and just how resilient that the brain is and how neuroplasticity. Right. Our brains can shift and mould and change even into our nineties. Became a therapist and started running mental health facilities for adolescents and families. And in the process of all of that, I started teaching crisis and trauma classes at several different universities. And I used to bring mom in as a guest. And it was the students who said, wow, what a story that you guys need to write a book. So I suggested it.Mom answered with no way, I am not going to write a book, but tell Mom, tell her how we started with the whole book.And I said, let’s let’s write down some chapters and meet up and just see.
Jann: Oh my gosh, I’ll never live this one down. OK, I said I am not going to write a book. She kept after me. I finally gave in and she said, all right. And I said, well, how do you want this process to go? And she said, OK. She said, just start writing down your story. And she said, then we’ll work on it for about a month. We’ll get together in a fund setting up in the mountains and exchange what we’ve got and see where we are. So when we got to our destination. She said, you know, she had a stack of papers and I had a page and a half typed out and she said, this is all you’ve got. And I said I wrote the whole thing this here’s my story. And she said, well, I won’t tell you exactly what she said, but she said, oh, my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me. But the reason for that is that’s actually how I always told my story. It was this happened. This happened. This happened. Done, you know, and of course, the book had to take on a whole different path in order to write it. So is that what you want me to rat myself out on?
Karuna : Yep. Yep. Awesome. And what was the process like being a mother daughter duo, tackling big stuff in your book?
Shari: It was tough, I mean, from a data perspective, I knew so much of mom’s story already, but to have to read and edit and reread all the details of horrific abuse that frankly, I’m shocked she even lived through was really hard.
Jann: It probably was excruciating for her because while she knew some of the top level stuff for a book, you’ve got to go back to the sights and the smells and delve down into it so that the readers understand what you’re talking about and where you’re going with this and to draw them into the story. And I actually had never done that myself. So the process of going back, there was something I had never done even in my years of therapy. I had never done that. And so it was a really difficult thing for me to do. But when Shari and I would get together and work on the chapters that we had written and because we wanted to make sure that they melded well together, we had to go back and forth in the book. Which is kind of good for the readers because they’ve go oh my gosh, I need a break from Jan’s story. And then they hear Sherry’s clinical overview and/or the daughter perspective and then they’re ready to go back to me again. But, you know, I would look at Shari because I would read her chapter and she would read mine so that we could find flaws and that kind of thing. And it was excruciating for her for sure. I’m sorry, darling.
Karuna : But having said that, Jann, I have to say you strike me as one of the more happy people. Joyful. You know, there’s a difference between positivity, happiness, and joy. And to me, I don’t know about the positivity. And that’s the kind of happy horseshit that, frankly, Karuna doesn’t care much about. But the joy I’m looking at your face. You exude joy. And I hear you talk about happiness. So can you just share a teensy bit about your outlook on life?
Jann: You know, I’m asked that question a lot, and I think it is with everything I’ve been through. I still give everyone a chance, you know, and I still believe the good. I don’t know exactly how I’m able to do that. I have a very strong spiritual world that I live in, and I gain a lot from that power. And I would like to say that it’s because I’m so grateful to be alive. I haven’t always felt that way, but I do now. Having walked through the process and having embraced the journey and embrace my childhood, all of it, it’s allowed me to be able to embrace the beauty that really is still out there if we look for it.
Karuna : Yeah, Jann, I’d love to. I just love to share a little something that I’ve noticed about the world today in the middle of the pandemic. People have a hard time giving one another break. And what I just heard, I heard a lot, but one of the things that I heard you share is the power of giving people a break for yourself. Right. So a lot of times I think we are walking in the world and are encouraged maybe by the way we were raised or the way that we have chosen to walk in the world to give one another a break, but I think the potency actually lies in what it does for you as an individual.Yeah, Shari anything you want to add to that?
Shari: I so agree with that. I mean, I’ve told clients in the past that forgiveness is not about letting someone else off the hook. It’s about letting yourself off the hook. And it’s the same way with Grace. I mean, it’s a gift both ways, right, for the other person and yourself, so that you’re free to live in a different way.
Karuna : I love that forgiveness and grace are two elements of the world that seem to be scarce along with critical thinking. I mean, it’s hard, but I do feel like critical thinking could come into play here, too. But forgiveness and grace and I really I’ve been exploring this in my own personal life about what it means to really to forgive myself, to forgive my very human experience with a whole heck of a lot of human flaws. And what does that feel like? Because when you do let yourself off the hook, it is more possible to let others off the hook.
Jann: Absolutely. I don’t want to be judged by anyone. And so therefore, I try not to judge, you know, just be free.
Karuna : It’s so interesting how really the basic tenets of any sort of spiritual or religious teachings from way back. I don’t necessarily mean like something that was invented five years ago, but I do find that even if you one doesn’t embrace the tradition of Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, that that the basic tenets really offer us the opportunity to live a big, bold, beautiful life that is deeply connected to others. Right. You know, the idea of do on to others. Right.
Jann: But you can’t do that if you’re living in the darkness of your soul. You’ve got to try to come out of that darkness, whether it be through meditation or, you know, are maybe a combination of a bunch of things. You’ve got to come out of that darkness to be able to see the beauty in people and other things.
Karuna : Yeah, I love that. Shari, do you want to tell us a little bit about I know that you in addition to being authors and going out and giving talks, you also offer workshops like what you’re going to do on Mind Oasis. But do you want to talk about sort of a global perspective of what you and your mom are up to in this world?
Shari: Absolutely, I think where we find our passion is being able to talk with folks about the difference in what it looks like when you’re living in your limbic brain versus when you’re living in your prefrontal brain. And we give a lot of examples and people who have been traumatized and frankly, we all have automatically go to our limbic brain so that we can survive. We’re hardwired as human beings that way. And in the talk we we discuss, you know, there was six reactions that live in the limbic brain fight, flight, freeze, faint, fornicate and feed. And it’s been interesting during these sort of divisive times that we’re living in right now, I’m hearing from friends and clients who are talking about one of those six reactions where they’re kind of stuck, they’re numbing out or they’re excessively working out or they’re eating too much or they’re whatever. So I want to be able to showcase that a little bit when we talk. But more importantly, how to get out of that reaction mode, how to get out of our survival mode and into the parts of our brain that allow us to critically think to try new things, to take some risks, to challenge our thinking. I mean, what a beautiful time to do that right now. So, yeah, that’s that’s something that we highlight. And I reference mom story in that a little bit.
Karuna : And I guess I’ll just make a little comment around meditation since you know, Mind Oasis we bring what I’m calling these days companion courses, which is what your workshop will be where beyond just a meditative practice of perhaps sitting or walking or touching the present moment again and again, there are other aspects of our life that need to be addressed in order for our meditation practice to be as rich and informative as it can be. And so I’m just wondering if you can talk a little bit about in the workshop, maybe a few specific things that you envision touching on. You know, that would be a complement to a meditation practice. So are there other methods or journaling or things like that that you expect to share with folks in your workshop?
Shari: We do we go over several tools and strategies to address where people are at in their own mental health. You know, right now there are so many areas of ourselves that we probably need to pay attention to. How are we doing physically? How are we doing mentally? How are we doing spiritually? How are we doing financially? I mean, all those different areas. And we’re really focusing on the mental health component and giving people some pretty simple tools and strategies that they can do outside of yoga, outside of meditation to to get themselves from a place of survival, like I said, to a place of abundance and looking at the world through a different lens when we’re in survival mode, we start to make up stories about our world and then we start to see the world from that, those lenses. And so then those very things sort of come back to us and attract and glom onto us. And so we’re really focusing on how do you shift the lens so that what you’re putting out to the world is it’s the same thing you’re attracting in your world. That makes sense.
Karuna : Absolutely. Jann, where you going to add something?
Jann: No, she’s the teacher and she’s amazing. I don’t know that I can add to to that. She’s got great tools and worksheets and it’s things that I had never seen in all of my years of therapy. And it gives you just it kind of stimulates your thinking and “Oh my word. I can’t believe I’m writing this. I didn’t even know this was an issue or whatever.”
Karuna : So what I really like about what you just said is that there’s two things I heard. One is that it’s simple tools. So I think that right now it seems to me in my experience with the people who come regularly to community meditation. Any time we offer something that feels easy, gentle, approachable. It doesn’t feel like our nervous systems at the moment can handle much more than that, even people who aren’t necessarily in touch with their nervous system. Right. So, I was in town yesterday and I could just really feel how physically amped up I was, how I don’t two decades ago, I wouldn’t have even noticed. But because I’m in real contact with my nervous system, I could feel just the energy running through my body. And it didn’t feel really good. It felt kind of up here hovering as opposed to, like, nice and grounded. Right. So I think any time that we can do some work, which we have to continue to do, like our personal work didn’t stop with the pandemic. And it’s not really, to me, a self-improvement project, but it’s more of like just, you know, connecting with this part of us that’s running the show, actually. So simple and easy sounded really good and approachable. And then what else is just under it? It’s like the iceberg picture. What else is just right underneath the surface that’s running the stories. That we’re not aware of, and I think we see this really playing out, particularly in social media, the stories that we all are telling ourselves that have perhaps a flavor of truth, but perhaps not the whole truth, and so that sounds like something that would be hugely beneficial.
Shari: I love how you said that, I mean, our subconscious minds to do run the show. And so there are some strategies for figuring out what tapes are playing back there and which ones no longer serve us. One of the things that we talk about in this discussion is about our central nervous system and how the strongest central nervous system always wins. That is for good or for bad. So, you know, if you are walking on to a crowded subway and somebody is nervous and jittery and, you know, defensive and hurling insults, that central nervous system can take over an entire bus. Just as somebody who walks on with a calm demeanor and is taking deep breaths and is smiling at people and nodding and gesturing in a gentle way, that is also the strongest central nervous system that can take over a room, you know what I mean? And so we get to decide which one we’re going to be.
Karuna : Wow. I love that perspective. I hadn’t thought about it before, but what a lovely invitation to not be the person who rains on everyone’s parade. All right. Tell us a little bit about your podcast before we wrap up.
Shari: You want to talk about it, Mom?
Jann: Well, what I can add about that is, first of all, they’re so much fun. We’ve had some great guests. You included have been one of our guests. And then sometimes Shari and I have a podcast. Listeners seem to enjoy Shari and I interacting, so we’ve done some of those and they’re just totally organic and we don’t rehearse first. Whatever is on our hearts. But so enlightening these podcasts that we’re doing in the experts in their field who come on, it’s a lot of fun. We were scared to death at first. We were so scared. And now it’s just making a pot of coffee.
Shari: It’s a ton of fun with our podcast is called Which Way podcast. And we’re on the Mental Health News Radio Network, Apple, Apple podcast, iTunes, Spurger.
Karuna : Very cool, and I always like to wrap up our session together by asking one question, so let me first see. I don’t have it. Does anyone have tea or coffee or water?
Shari: So, mom, is that wine or water? Let’s put it up. Come on now. That’s it. What time of the day it is.
Jann: It’s in an opaque glass so y’all can make it whatever you wish.
Karuna : There you go. Good answer. Spoken like a good yogi. Somebody took care of the tea. I can’t believe I have nothing. And we definitely got through the talk. So now the question is, what’s your truth? And, Shari, I’ll start with you.
Shari: Wow, what is my truth? I think that our stories matter, my story, your story. And in this world, sometimes those aren’t celebrated or acknowledged the way that they need to be. But our narratives and our stories are powerful. And they change us and they change other people and they deserve a voice. And that’s part of why I do what I do is to give my mom, my sweet mama, a voice, to give other people that we interview, a voice to give the clients I work with a voice. So that’s wonderful.
Karuna : And Jann, what’s your truth?
Jann: Hope. Coming from the past that I came from, there wasn’t a lot of hope and and now I know there is and I know that you can become more than the hopelessness that you experienced and you can go on to lead a very fulfilled life and contribute, you know, and I want to offer hope to people.
Karuna : Beautiful. You do. I can see it in your eyes. Where do people pick up Which Way? The book.
Shari: It can be found on Amazon. It can be found on our website, thetraumaspeaker.com. And we’d love your feedback if any of you read it, we’d like to hear what you think.
Karuna : Wonderful. So I’ll put the Amazon link in the comments below the podcast and videocast. We broadcast Meditation, Happy Hour on both YouTube and on any of the podcast stations that you enjoy. The name of your workshop is Help, I’ve Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole. It’s a two hour workshop on Saturday, October 10th, from 10:00 until noon Central. You can find more information about the workshop on mindoasis.org, there’s a tab that says learn and underneath it there’s workshops and series. And you’ll find a picture of Jann and Shari both along with information about the workshop and how to register. Help, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Should be a really great time. Ladies, thank you so much. Again, it’s on Saturday, October 10th, from 10:00 until noon. We’re just really excited to have you. We’re excited for people to connect with you via your book, by your podcast, and to hear Jan’s amazing story and how this wonderful daughter mother duo is bringing hope to this world. So, Shari and Jann, thank you so much. Thank you.
Shari: Thank you so much. We’re looking forward to it.
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