Giving and Receiving. In your daily life, begin a practice of acknowledging someone regularly in your life or who you’re merely crossing paths with (like a store clerk or repairman). As you become more aware and present in your environment, the kindness and generosity of others will start becoming more apparent because you’re paying attention.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Becca Williams.
Becca Williams is an emotions therapist and educator who blends Western medicine with Eastern traditions in her master class series, Emotional Liberation®. Her practice integrates ancient healing modalities that utilize expressive movement, meditation and breathwork techniques with the use of psilocybin microdosing and cannabis. Previously working for NPR and Marijuana Straight Talk, Becca uses her broadcast experience to combine science and soul. A board member of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, Becca is also one of just a handful of certified Emotional Liberation® facilitators in the world.
Becca is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and holds certificates from healer.com in Cannabis Core Curriculum, Dosage Protocols & Methodologies, CBD Essentials and Clinical Application. She has worked as a group facilitator, speaker, and mentor for personal and collective transformation for more than two decades. Becca is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and NORMAL.
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?
Well, let me say that I was long embarrassed over my painful and difficult upbringing. There was nothing healthy or exceptional about my childhood. My parents divorced when I was very young — about 3. They hated each other and by extension, my father was none too fond of me and moved far away and started a new family. Seldom did I hear from him. My mother and stepfather were alcoholics and I believe my mother self-medicated to numb the mental illness that plagued her. Of course, as a little girl, none of this was evident; I just understood back then that I had to stay low and tread lightly because the situation was volatile and often unsafe especially if I became the object of my mother’s frequent explosive and violent temper. In other words, my childhood was pretty much a war zone.
Although undefined back then, we’ve come a long way in identifying the effects of this kind of childhood emotional turmoil. Today it’s called developmental or chronic trauma and my story of dysfunction is unfortunately not unusual or unique in our culture. Quite the opposite, trauma — and the difficult emotions, like anxiety, shame, depression and anger tethered to it — are of epidemic proportions. But back then, in my little kid brain, all I could see was that there was something terribly wrong with me, given how I was treated.
As a young adult, I tasked myself with being a super achiever and perfectionist to prove to others that I wasn’t as pathetic as I saw myself. This pattern calcified into full-on adulthood as I desperately grasped for high-profile accomplishments that would assure my acceptance by others. As a university journalism major, I discovered I loved to write and create and went on to have a career as a news reporter and executive producer in TV and radio and eventually owning and publishing a magazine. I enjoyed this work and was good at it — but knowing what I know now, the high visibility of being a TV news anchor and reporter fed my insatiable need to “be seen” and admired.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Ha! Can I say that I have cannabis to thank for my desultory journey toward well-being and the inspiration for doing what I do today? The one source of temporary relief I had found from my unruly emotions was when I was introduced to cannabis as a freshman in college. Smoking it mitigated the emotional pain. Throughout college and beyond I self-medicated with cannabis (or what we used to call marijuana). It kept me sane — literally, although only under certain conditions. It was dicey if I got high with other people because my anxiety and self-doubt would go off the charts. Or if my anxiety was already piqued it was best not to take any cannabis to avoid amplifying the anxiety.
My best approach for finding relief with cannabis was medicating with it when I was by myself and not triggered, which was limited given my frequency of being in anxiety mode. The other complicating factor was that when I was no longer under the influence, the difficult emotions would surge back. So I found using cannabis in this role only a palliative and transitory balm. But it was my go-to for decades. Of course, as a professional, I couldn’t be high and navigate the detailed intricacies of my newsroom work, so I suffered through and continued to desperately look for solutions to feeling better. Back then, the frenzied push for psychotropics — mood-altering prescription drugs — wasn’t yet a part of the cultural landscape it is today. So I was spared grappling with the often crippling side effects of these drugs.
When talk therapy didn’t work, I turned to meditation but sitting silently on a cushion trying to go inward just made my ruminating and dissociative thoughts pound louder. Countless other retreats, psychedelic “journeys” and New Age modalities proved ineffective as well.
I do have many skilled mentors to thank for helping me move the ball incrementally over the years and decades. But there were never any big “shout it from the rooftop” breakthroughs until I encountered Emotional Liberation®️ and the man who created and developed this bleeding-edge method. GM Khalsa, a 40-year yoga therapist, introduced the concept a year before I stumbled into it; I started studying the theory and practicing the crazy wild movements and breathwork that are adapted from the Kundalini yoga tradition. Stunningly, I found that the tyranny of my difficult emotions was easing. I say I was stunned because as much as I longed for inner calm and peace my confidence that it would happen was compromised by a lifetime of trying things that didn’t work. I was in my mid-50s when this happened and it certainly was a “shout it from the rooftop” event.
Emotional Liberation is GM Khalsa’s revolutionary discovery that difficult emotions serve as our inner guidance system. And by learning “the language of emotions” we can understand and then embrace their healing potential by connecting with them through expressive and active meditation practices.
While this was a remarkable turn of events for me, I credit not only this astonishing approach but, importantly, the judicious addition of cannabis plant medicine, which serves to significantly amplify and accelerate the healing effects. One of my students frames it well, “Cannabis is not the engine,” he says, “but is the lubrication for the engine.” My clients and students find that the process works optimally with this cannabis “lubrication” making the inner exploration or “shadow work,” particularly effective and efficient. Using cannabis intentionally is completely different than getting high and escaping your problems.
After four years of studying with GM, who is Sikh, he credentialed me as his first Emotional Liberation facilitator. He’s quite aware of how I have augmented his original work, and while not being a fan of my approach with cannabis, he acknowledges its place in my protocols (we are also beginning to experiment with psilocybin microdosing where public policy allows it). So with the combination of Emotional Liberation and plant medicines, it is my life’s work to support people in learning how to release ongoing patterns of troubling emotions.
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?
As I say I have prospered from the support and guidance of numerous mentors and coaches whose modalities and nurturing served to put me in the “right place at the right time” aligning me with the Emotional Liberation work I now teach. Upon experiencing it, I met its creator, GM Khalsa, a practicing Sikh who wears white, dons a turban and sports a long white beard. At another time, that would have given me pause, but I didn’t care and in fact by this time I realized the weirdness was a signpost that things weren’t the “same old same old”.
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?
How about an interesting mistake! Early when I was beginning to teach this work, I’d hold “Cannabis Elevation Ceremonies” in my home when I lived in Denver (Colorado is a bastion of legalized cannabis). I had to share about 30 minutes of theory and then we’d begin about an hour of practice, which consisted of very active and expressive movements.
Early on, I always did the movements and breathwork right along with my group and would close my eyes as well. This time though we’re in the middle of this very active practice and I open my eyes to see that one of my participants has fled! I glance over at the bathroom, the door is open, he’s not there. He’s gone.
While everybody continued with the movements (and eyes closed), I rushed out to find him. Nothing. I’m floored; I grab my phone, look up his number and text him. Immediately, he texts back, “I freaked,” he said, “too much was coming up and I had to leave the scene.” Well, at least I knew then that he was ok. He could think, talk and respond.
But I immediately felt like I had failed him. What a rookie move! Had I been watching (instead of “being in the energetic field” with my participants) I would have spotted his discomfort and would have immediately taken action to calm and settle him. I reached out several times after that with apologies and invitations for 1-to-1 sessions, but he never responded.
It was a profound lesson for me in how powerful this work is and underscored the care in which I needed to explain what to do if emotions come up too fast.
Oh and I always keep my eyes open now!
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?
In owning and running businesses, my most successful hiring technique — as in getting skilled people with integrity who stay — is about creating a company culture where mutual respect and kindness form the foundation of the team environment. When hiring, what takes priority in my candidate interviewing process is asking evocative questions that reflect the level of the person’s emotional maturity.
We even emphasize it in the first line of our job postings: “Emotional resiliency is the foremost skill we require because good interpersonal relationship skills transcend the best technical skill set in the world. We choose our new team members carefully so you can bring your best self and awesome chops to this exciting project.”
Having said that, for someone looking to be of their highest and best service — in whatever career arena they choose — but especially in doing emotional and trauma recovery work with others — it’s imperative that they do the deep inner work on themselves to learn how to mindfully process their strong emotions so they can move through the ups and downs of life with wisdom and grace and help others do the same.
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?
It has to be the film “Groundhog Day” with the incomparable Bill Murray as an arrogant and insufferable weatherman who lives the same day over and over again. It’s a 1993 cult comedy but goes much deeper than that. The director Harold Ramis calls it an allegory of the teachings of the Buddha. In fact, I understand that many religious scholars consider it an “underground Buddhist classic” for its depiction of the cycle of death and rebirth. Bill Murray’s character only broke out of the cycle of “rebirth” after he learned compassion and abandoned “self” (the self-imposed prison of the ego). It took many lives for him to change but a poignant reminder for me that anyone can transcend their emotional turmoil with the right tools and commitment — when they’re ready.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Your greatest creation is your own conscious evolution.”
It reminds me that when it comes to learning to like and accept yourself, which is necessary to move toward becoming emotionally mature, you can’t depend on anybody to “fix” you, except you.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’ve become a big fan of facilitating emotional release processing in consistent therapeutic group settings. I’ve had an ongoing base of clients who I meet with, in 1-to-1 sessions but I’m finding that the group dynamic — an intimate online setting with people who have a common passion for their own betterment, accelerates the emotional healing work for individuals. The groups offer mutual support and caring, which is a true refuge in the wake of the social splintering and disconnection in our culture (intensified no doubt by the ongoing COVID event).
So I’ve been building out the group program in 8-week masterclass courses. It meets a lot of needs — especially because group work is more affordable than 1-to-1’s and in groups, people learn mindfulness skills that they can practice within the group before taking it “out there” and applying it in their day-to-day living situations. In a mutually respectful environment like this, I witness unparalleled opportunities for growth, illumination and fun to emerge.
In fact, speaking of fun, I’ve introduced a popular feature for those who believe they don’t like groups, and that is the ability for all participants to stay anonymous. We do this by having everybody choose their favorite mythological or fantasy creature, which is what they’re known by, and an image that represents it. So we have a great time with this. For instance, we’ve had participants with the names of Inanna, Warrior Lion, Garuda, Armid, Unicorn, Phoenix and so on. I’m the only one as the facilitator whose face is shown. As an aside, I find this is particularly helpful with shy people who may experience social anxiety; it’s often a relief for them to not have to show themselves.
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?
To fully grasp this term Emotional Intelligence, we need to understand the roots of the word “emotion.” The Latin derivative for the word emotion is ‘emotere’ and literally means energy in motion.
When we haven’t “harnessed” our emotions, this wild energy moves chaotically; in effect, without skills, we are simply slaves to our emotions. When we can mold difficult emotions into our allies and are no longer slaves to them, we can navigate in calm, centered clarity in the most challenging of environments.
As an expert in emotions, my work is about giving people a “map” on how to navigate their emotional states to, essentially, arrive at a state of Emotional Intelligence.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
In my world, emotional intelligence is emotional fluidity where, as I tell my students and clients, the assignment of your life — if you choose to accept it — is learning to surf the waves of uncertainty with grace and perseverance. But it is an individual choice to proactively say yes to making the commitment to accept this assignment …and go about doing it, which is not always easy if we’re wrestling with heavy emotions. So the work we do in Emotional Liberation is about taking back control of the emotions and situations that control you. It is a self-initiated, hands-on approach to mental and emotional wellness. And when you are able to raise the quality of your mental and emotional health, you are able to navigate life by solving problems, recovering quickly from potentially triggering situations and spending more time being happy. This is what then looks and feels like Emotional Intelligence.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
We know that the “intelligence” part of our brain — the cognitive or thinking part — is controlled by the brain’s “executive functioning” or the prefrontal cortex, which is the rational compartment of the brain. So intelligence is rational thinking.
But it can be very challenging to think rationally when we become emotionally aroused. Imagine someone doing or saying something that insults and angers you. You may react with an outraged behavior that might be regrettable later. In this example, the “emotional” part took over and hijacked your rational thinking.
This is because the “emotional” part of Emotional Intelligence comes from a very different part of the brain, the oldest and most primitive part. It’s governed by the limbic system that triggers emotional responses. It’s served us well — remember the classic example of a caveman being surprised and chased by a lion? The limbic system fuels caveman’s get-up-and-go or commonly referred to as the fight or flight response … getting caveman the heck out of danger’s way!
Let’s bring it home: say you’re trying to make an important decision and you’re still roiling from that insulting conversation you had a little earlier. Your thinking may well be (emotionally) clouded and get in the way of your rational thinking; your intelligence. In this instance, your Emotional Intelligence is not firing on all cylinders, probably far from it.
When we have high Emotional Intelligence and can skillfully “surf” our emotions, we’re able to balance and jockey the rational executive function with the primitive limbic system. This is Emotional Intelligence, the skills of which are always available to learn. In fact, it’s what I do in teaching Emotional Liberation.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
In short, it’s everything! How we skillfully navigate our feelings sets the stage for making healthy choices in our relationships and our environment.
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.
Neuroscientists are now clear that adults are capable of raising their IQ as well as their Emotional Intelligence IQ. I see this in myself. I believe my personal lesson is having lived the stark difference between not having a high Emotional Intelligence IQ for many years and then doing the deep inner emotions work necessary to arrive at a place where I would describe myself as kind of an Emotional Intelligence genius.
In working the Emotional Liberation tools to cultivate for myself, self-respect, self-trust, self-compassion and self-love — letting go of the shame and self-doubt I harbored, I was able to see others through a lens of respect, kindness and love. When this happens, most people pick up on that and respond with their best intentions as well. This attitude and posture have made my life an enduring joy.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Emotional Intelligence is the creamy caramel center of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
See above. No, really, any relationship nurtured in mutual respect and trust will likely be a deep and enduring one. But each of us is responsible for developing our own integrity to meet this end. We’re social mammals; we like to rub elbows, so clear and respectful interpersonal communications are essential. We want to do stuff like draw good boundaries (i.e. stuff like being ok with saying no to somebody), fulfill promises we make, don’t commit unless we think we can, and for sure hang out with other people of integrity.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Being emotionally liberated is to live fully with your feelings, working intelligently to let them serve you, to enjoy the highs and gracefully move through the low points in life. When emotionally liberated, you keep your cool when others are losing theirs. When emotionally agile, you can adequately feel strong emotions without being stuck in them as they help you deal with the situations that provoke them. When emotionally skillful, you understand what others are feeling and can help them rather than react. With these “mental agility” abilities, optimal well-being is ours.
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.
1. Create strong clear boundaries in your communications.
In our Emotional Liberation work, we call this the art of training people how to treat you. If you’re upset with a person who is making you uncomfortable you need to acquire the skills to address that person in order to make requests. So often we are clumsy and unskilled in matters that are meaningful and dear to our hearts.
2. Daily neuro workout/practice/meditation
Our emotional fluency will increase as we learn to go inward to connect with our intuition. The type of meditation that a person practice is a very individual choice. And there’s no one-size-fits-all style. Yet it’s such an important choice because it’s the portal through which we listen to our intuition … our deeper inner knowing, our Soul.
I’ve found that many people who work with me are better suited to a more active and expressive practice style. In fact, I call it the un-meditation meditation — and students have also referred to it as a neuro-workout (as we are toning our nervous system) and doesn’t make a person sit in silence when their busy mind is bouncing off the walls.
3. Abundance Juice
Cultivate gratitude. I call it abundance juice. Give thanks to something or someone every day. When you’re in an uplifted mood, you can’t be in a dark mood. It’s biologically impossible — as each mood uses a different part of the nervous system and only one of the two can be switched on at a time.
Cultivating gratitude can be as simple as “I’m glad the sun came up today!”
4. Get To Know Your Triggers
Be aware of what sets you off! You were going along just fine and then somebody said or did something and it set you off. What was the thing that set you off? What was the emotion that came up? What did you do as a result of feeling like that? See #2 for a solution.
When we can spill our guts on paper, we make more room for awareness. Awareness opens our eyes to patterns and behaviors that are undermining our life. When we see and begin to connect the dots on why a certain pattern keeps showing up (i.e., “I can’t stay in a relationship,” “I’m always mad over the least little thing”) then we’re on track to looking at changing it.
5. Giving and Receiving
In your daily life, begin a practice of acknowledging someone regularly in your life or who you’re merely crossing paths with (like a store clerk or repairman). As you become more aware and present in your environment, the kindness and generosity of others will start becoming more apparent because you’re paying attention.
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?
The bedrock of Emotional Intelligence is learning, as I am fond of saying: “to surf the waves of uncertainty with grace and perseverance.” In order to do this, we must be able to efficiently process the triggering emotions that arise when someone does or says something — or an errant thought arises that upsets us. How can we quickly get back to a grounded, centered place in order to respond both rationally (i.e., from the thinking mind) and intuitively (i.e., from the gut)?
I believe the most effective way to imbue this skill of returning to calm-centered clarity is through teaching meditation beginning early in grade school and making it a through-line in our education curricula. A cascade of research on the benefits of meditation reveals its ability to direct your mind to gain control of your inner being. When we can do this, our personal calm vibrates out into the world at large allowing us to meet each other in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect. As spiritual author Deepak Chopra notes, “Unless there’s personal transformation, there can be no social transformation.”
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.
I’d call it the Emotional Liberation project as an outreach campaign bringing communities of people together to show them that their difficult emotions serve as our inner guidance system so that when they feel anxious or angry or depressed or whatever is throwing them off our game, they have the ability to pause, go inward, be open and receive the emotion instead of pushing it away. They want to receive it so they can release it. This can be challenging, in the beginning, working with your emotions in this way, but it gets progressively easier as you practice interpersonal communications with intention and awareness.
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 🙂
I’m in awe of MacKenzie Scott and her unbridled spirit of generosity. And I love that she’s investing in people. Such heart. I’m enjoying watching her emerge onto the world stage as a thought leader of how we take care of each other. Hmmm.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The easiest and quickest way to reach me is to simply go to my website BeccaWilliams.org and you will find everything you need to know about my work.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.