Make the most of the experience when those pesky emotions do rise, which they will. Look for patterns and learn as much as you can. Do certain people or situations trigger certain emotions? Again, the goal is to have them, not be had by them. It’s about making the unconscious conscious.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian de la Huerta.
With 30 years of experience, Christian de la Huerta is a sought-after spiritual teacher, personal transformation coach and leading voice in the breathwork community. He has traveled the world offering inspiring and transformational retreats combining psychological and spiritual teachings with lasting and life-changing effects. An award-winning, critically acclaimed author, he has spoken at numerous universities and conferences and on the TedX stage. His new book, Awakening the Soul of Power, was described by multiple Grammy Award–winner Gloria Estefan as “a balm for the soul of anyone searching for truth and answers to life’s difficult questions.” More information about his work may be found at www.SoulfulPower.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Cuba and lived there for ten years until my family came to the US. I am an unlikely candidate to be writing a book about power, heroism, and leadership. I am predominantly an introvert and was painfully shy as a teenager. My adolescence was one long depression as I struggled with existential questions, identity, purpose, and reconciling my sexuality and spirituality. I know self-doubt…and self-hatred. Yet, these days, no matter the circumstances of my life — a relationship works out or it doesn’t; a project succeeds or fails — I never question my self-worth. I am now an internationally recognized teacher and award-winning author who has spoken to thousands all over the world. That I overcame such insecurity and self-doubt is hopeful for anyone who has also faced such challenges. That’s why I know that these teachings I write about work. If I was able to find self-love and step into my own power, anyone can!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve always had sense of mission, even though it showed up differently at different points in my life. As a teenager I thought I wanted to be a priest, for example. What helps me frame that sense of mission these days is a quote from Einstein, which I am paraphrasing: “You can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness in which it was created.” I think the only way we dig ourselves out of this collective hole we have dug ourselves into requires thinking outside the box. As I see it, it’s going to take a spiritual revolution, a revolution in consciousness — in terms of how we see ourselves and our relationship to this planet, to the cosmos.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
From my mother, Raquel, I learned to love deeply, unconditionally, holding nothing back. The courage and countless sacrifices she and my father Rene made so that their nine children could have a chance at freedom are nothing less than humbling, and nothing short of heroic. Another important influence was Maia Dhyan, my former spiritual teacher, who gave me the gift of breathwork, an understanding of the ego and an initial framework for the emotions — teachings and practices I have passed on now to countless others.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I wrote my first book, Coming Out Spiritually, I missed the first deadline from the publisher. Every time I thought that I had to write a book, I froze. All sorts of scary and disempowering thoughts would rise: “Who am I to write a book? What do I have to say for 300 pages? I don’t want my thinking and writing to be judged and criticized; in fact, I don’t even want to be in the public eye!” Yet, I also had that sense of mission, and knew I had to do it. After the missed deadline, I thought, OK, I’ve spent half the advance and now really have to do this. And then I had a breakthrough. I thought to myself: What if I think of each chapter as a term paper, and just focus on that. I’ve written many term papers and done them well. I can do that! So I learned the power of reframing a big task or project into smaller pieces. One step at a time. One breath at a time. One paragraph at a time. The most important thing is to persevere, no matter what.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
First of all, go within. Learn to listen to your intuition and innate guidance mechanism. Understand what the ego mind is and how it works, how it keeps us in self-made prisons of fear, doubt and limitation. Understand your behavior patterns, what makes you do the things you do. Learn about your emotions. That is all key to freedom. Also, learn to use your breath, which is at the core of all meditation and healing practices and is key to healing and to managing stress. Persist. Never give up. Do whatever you have to do to achieve deep levels of self-love and self-acceptance, as soon as possible.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have a bit of a book addiction, so that’s a really tough question. One of my favorites is The Universe is a Green Dragon, by Brian Swimme, a physicist and cosmologist. The book is short and sweet and easy to read. In it he applies some of the principles that govern the cosmos to the human experience, because, much to the surprise of some humans, we are part of the cosmos and are therefore ruled by the same principles that govern the stars. For example, he talks about the “cosmic generosity” of a supernova. In giving up its form — its life — that ultimate act of generosity gives birth to countless suns and planets. Life happens. Swimme reminds us that more than 99% of the atoms in our bodies are the same atoms found in the stars. We are literally made of star-stuff. We are star beings. Which means that we too have that same cosmic generosity hard-wired into us, that desire to give ourselves away. How beautiful is that?
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Hmm. Another tough question. Can I share two? One of my favorite quotes is by American-Cuban-French writer Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It points to the fact that our discomfort with our own stuckness or status quo has to be greater than the fear of leaving our comfort zone, if growth, transformation, or even professional development are to take place. Growth lies beyond our comfort zone. The other one is by Persian Sufi master Hafiz and requires no explanation: “You are a divine elephant with amnesia / Trying to live in an ant hole. / Sweetheart, O sweetheart / You are God in Drag!”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Without minimizing its tragic and traumatic aspects and realizing that I speak from a place of privilege, one of the benefits of this mandatory global timeout for me was that I was able to finish this book I’ve been brewing for years. Another is that it forced me to pivot and create virtual programming, something I’ve known I needed to do because it allows me to reach many more people who might not be able to travel to a live event. COVID forced my hand. I am particularly excited about a virtual group coaching program I am launching: Adventures in Transformation: A Year of Discovery, Embodiment and Nurturing Your Soulful Power! The magic of this program is that by stretching out the teachings over a year, they can be delivered in a piecemeal manner with elements of interactivity, gamification, support and accountability. This will make it possible for us to apply and integrate them into our lives more efficiently. The intent is for the program to be heroic step in awakening, embodying and living into the potential you know already know lives inside of you! Who would you be if you could break limiting beliefs and patterns that hold you back? What would your life look like if in every situation you showed up authentically with confidence? What would be possible if you no longer put off that pesky and persistent calling of your soul’s purpose? That’s what Adventures in Transformation is all about. By the end of 2021, your life is going to look and feel completely different — in profound and positive ways. Guaranteed.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I wouldn’t say that I am an authority in the same way that a research psychologist is. But I have been working intentionally with the emotions for 30 years, both in terms of deepening my own self-awareness and with countless coaching clients and retreat participants all over the world. My dad was a psychiatrist and yet was clueless when it came to his own emotions. My degree is in psychology and I learned little practical information about them in college, even taking a class titled just that, “The Emotions.” Learning about my own emotions was more of a post-grad, personal, psychospiritual journey.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Simply, emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage our emotions. The more we increase our ability to do that, the better we also learn to navigate the emotions of others, which results in clearer and more effective communication and relationships that have an increased chance of succeeding. Mastering our emotions includes awareness, courage, discipline and gracefulness. Awareness, because we have to learn the language of the emotions and become present to what we are feeling. Facing ourselves and unraveling our emotions takes courage; it’s a lot easier to numb out in the many ways we employ to not feel. It also takes courage to communicate how we are feeling. Discipline is about taking responsibility for our emotions and how and when we communicate them. Which leads us to gracefulness — learning to communicate them in a way they can be received. In other words, not pointing the finger and blaming others for our emotional experience.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Unlike IQ, which tends to be a fairly constant construct, EI is something we can increase and get much better at. Whether we are aware of them or not, our emotions impact our thinking and behavior, which means they affect all of our relationships and therefore the quality of our lives. Being unaware of them just means that they are affecting us unconsciously — as they wreak havoc in our lives. So, we might as well invest some time and energy improving our EI! Though it takes courage to face ourselves and can be awkward and uncomfortable initially, the process is not rocket science and will be well worth the effort.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotional Intelligence is key to successful relationships, whether personal or professional. In fact, it is key to having a full, successful and fulfilling life. Tragically, society has conditioned us to believe that the emotions are weakness, and judges them as inferior to the intellect. In some cultures, they are relegated to the realm of the feminine — “Little boys don’t cry” — creating a twisted and false equation between weakness and the feminine. We have been conditioned to suppress and run away from our pesky emotions, in order to avoid conflict, confrontation or rejection. We have learned to stifle ourselves and our true feelings, desires and dreams. That is both a serious problem and an ineffective strategy. What used to be spiritual teaching — that everything is energy — is now confirmed by quantum physics: Everything is indeed energy, including the body and the emotion. Energy cannot be destroyed; it can only change form. When we suppress or deny our emotions, they don’t go magically away; those energies get stuck in our bodies until they build up and can no longer be contained. We then either react inappropriately and bring harm to our relationships, or that energy starts expressing itself unhealthily and causing harm to the body, in the form of cancer, heart attacks, ulcers. It is imperative that we deepen our understanding of the emotions and learn to express them responsibly, courageously and compassionately. The goal is to have our emotions rather than being had by them.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
You would not believe how clueless I was about my own emotions. I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling because I had no idea. I was brilliant at suppressing them. Though he never said it in so many words, I learned from my father’s example that logic, rationality and self-control ruled and were superior to the emotions. Control over them was an expression of moral rectitude and personal power. To become emotional was a sign of weakness; it meant a loss of control. I think there was also an implicit element of sexism in that attitude. My mother was much more emotional and I think my father was both drawn to her passion and aliveness while, at the same time, judging it as less evolved. Here’s how I learned to educate myself about my emotions. Every day for a few weeks, I used to print out a grid of emotions organized by their type of energies: anger, sadness and wellbeing. I’d carry around a timer (this was before smartphones!) and on the hour I’d pause and look at my grid and ask myself: What am I feeling? Am I feeling that? And then put a check by it so I could begin to notice patterns as time went by. Becoming more emotionally self-aware made all the difference in my relationships. I became much more adept at life, including professionally. I also became more human, less aloof, more relatable.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
With increased EI we become better able to read bosses, clients, colleagues and team members to assess what’s really going on beneath the surface. It’s like learning another language, a whole other level of understanding and communicating with others, mostly nonverbally. EI helps us understand unconscious drivers and motivators of behavior, which makes for better leaders. It helps to avoid conflict and to better manage it when it happens. My friend Chip Conley, a New York Times bestselling author and successful entrepreneur, wrote a book titled Emotional Equations. He says that “all leaders are CEO’s, Chief Emotions Officers, as leaders are the emotional thermostats for the groups they lead.”
Of course, work environments present their own challenge in terms of how, when and how much to share our emotions. How vulnerable do we want to be in potentially competitive settings? At the same time, we don’t want to suppress our authentic selves or our emotions. If our boss says something to us the wrong way, do we have the kind of relationship with them where we would feel safe communicating our feelings? Might that get in the way or potentially impact our job security? The important thing to remember is that we are always at choice and can always learn to better communicate our truth. One good strategy is to always own our emotions and not point fingers. This formula is helpful: When you did X, I felt Y.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
As we discussed earlier, emotions are energy and don’t just disappear. Thinking of them as energy is helpful; that way we don’t be need to be afraid of them. They’re not good or bad or weakness or strength. They’re just energy. And as we were saying, energy can’t be destroyed. After years, decades, a lifetime of suppressing emotions, we walk around with layers upon layers of suppressed emotions, which begin to interfere with our relationships. Here we are trying to have a relationship in the present, and it’s all getting filtered through that lifetime of suppressed emotions — all of our past unhealed traumas, hurts, betrayals, guilt. All of which we then project unto each other. Yikes! It doesn’t surprise me that more than half of marriages in this country end up in divorce. What does surprise me is that 100% don’t. We haven’t been taught how to approach our relationships and hold them consciously. And we certainly haven’t been taught how to clear our stuffed and unresolved emotions!
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Think about a little kid having a tantrum, a total meltdown. Two minutes later they’re playing as if nothing happened. That’s because they have their emotions fully. Adults get into trouble with our emotions because we stuff them and run away from them. The thing is that suppressed sadness eventually congeals into depression. Stuffed anger turns into rage. That’s one sense in which becoming like children is sage advice. Of course, we are not going to go around throwing tantrums. But it is crucial that we learn to identify and express our emotions responsibly, owning them as ours. Nobody can make us feel anything, unless we allow it, unless we were primed for or susceptible to that. That’s what I mean that we need to have our emotions fully so that we are not had by them. Otherwise they drive our behavior and impact our relationships unconsciously. Carl Jung said something to the effect that enlightenment is making the unconscious conscious. Improving our EI means better mental and physical health, more peace of mind, less stress. We learn to feel expressed, complete and resolved, instead of disgruntled, stuck and frustrated, hashing and rehashing in our minds unexpressed communications. Suppressing emotional energies will damage our physical health and eventually lead to disease.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
- Find a system that names and classifies emotions. Learn about them.
- Try the emotional check-in grid I was taking about. Here’s what I’ll do for your readers. If they will contact me by email at [email protected], I will put one together for them. Then set a timer on your phone, on the hour: What am I feeling?
- Accepting emotions as energies is important, as is reframing how we think about them: They’re not good or bad, just energies coursing through us right now.
- Make the most of the experience when those pesky emotions do rise, which they will. Look for patterns and learn as much as you can. Do certain people or situations trigger certain emotions? Again, the goal is to have them, not be had by them. It’s about making the unconscious conscious.
- Learn to communicate your emotions responsibly, courageously and gracefully, rather than pointing the finger and blaming. Owning our emotions is crucial.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
Yes! Are you kidding? It’s absurd that my father got through med school and a specialty in Psychiatry while remaining clueless about his own emotions, or that I got a degree in Psychology and was ignorant of mine. Imagine if our schools prepared kids and young humans for life, not just to pass a test so they can get into college! Imagine if we shared with them something like a manual for life, so they would understand more about the journey of embodiment from an integrated, whole, body/mind/spirit perspective, including the emotions!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This new book is part of a series titled Calling All Heroes, and addresses the question: What does it mean to live heroically in the 21st century? My intention is to create the conditions for appropriate expression of personal power and for people to own their own inner hero, and to support them to make a difference in this world of ours at this most critical time. I am launching a movement toward that end, starting with a Facebook group as well as other programming. Besides the book, I offer a year-long virtual transformational group coaching program to help people reclaim their power and find ways of expressing that are a match for who they are. It kicks butt — in the best of ways! I am calling out all those ready to take a deeper dive into who they are, ready to take a liberating journey of empowerment and to step into their purpose — or to rev things up a bit if they’re already on their path.
The thing is many of us have an ambivalent relationship to power. We want it but are afraid of it. And because we have also been conditioned to numb out our emotions, this combination of unfortunate and preventable situations lead to our giving away our power. We end up saying yes when inside we feel no, or playing small and selling out on our authentic truths, dreams and desires in order to avoid conflict or from fear of abandonment. We get stuck in power struggles and sabotage our relationships.
The book’s teachings about authentic self-expression and personal empowerment will resonate with your readers who may have struggled with issues around relationships, self-doubt, a sense of purpose — as well as issues around communication and leadership. The book explores how we step into power in a different way that’s not about hierarchy, control, fear, force and domination. On a personal level, it will help them transform their relationship to power so that they can stop selling out on their personal power and free themselves from self-sabotaging behaviors. It will help them heal toxic relationship patterns and negotiate power struggles more effectively. On a larger scale, issues of power and the abuse of power have been integral to this election cycle. Power is up for all of us to look at — and choose: What kind of leadership do we want?
So, yes, calling all heroes!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
That would have to be Oprah, because if I had to identify one person who has most impacted and supported our collective awakening consciousness — in terms of numbers — it would be her. Then Michelle Obama, because she just rocks being human and naturally embodies soulful power. And of course, Arianna Huffington, another powerhouse who gets the deeper spiritual aspects of being human. I think Melinda Gates, whose foundation committed a billion dollars toward for women’s empowerment, would also be interested in my work. All four would have the ability to help me get my message out more broadly. As I see it, it’s all hands on deck time, so any assistance to help me spread this call to heroism and empowerment would be deeply welcome!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Website Book Page: https://soulfulpower.com/Awakening-The-Soul-Of-Power-Book/
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/290440885360555/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.