Heart over ideas: ideas may generate interest, but core values connect us to something higher. I noticed that when I share ideas on Vedanta people listen and feel stimulated. But when I share my heart they connect to me and the better version of themselves. I recall a lecture in a multinational tech company. It was full of interesting information, facts and statistics. They were listening but the room was lacking excitement, energy, and ease. The moment I shared a personal, heartfelt story, the room suddenly was full of life. The same is true in writing — facts are interesting, but the moment we share out heart — with a personal story, metaphor or and analogy — all the senses and the person become fully engaged. This creates memories and lasting results.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajshree Patel, an international self-awareness coach, teacher, and speaker. She has taught hundreds of thousands of people in more than 35 countries the power of meditation, mindfulness, breath work, and other ancient tools for accessing the innate source of energy, creativity, and fulfillment within. As one of the pioneer teachers of the Art of Living, Patel has helped expand a little-known organization into a global nonprofit offering self-development programs and humanitarian aid in more than 156 countries around the world. Through her unique blend of intuition, humor, and ancient techniques, Patel has guided individuals from all walks of life in understanding how the mind works, how to let go of stress, and how to be more resilient and fulfilled in their personal and professional lives. She has spoken and taught at organizations including NBCUniversal, IBM, LinkedIn, Gap, The World Bank, Shell Oil, Morgan Stanley, Harvard, IIT, the United Nations, UNESCO, and more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share the “backstory” about how you grew up?
Born in Uganda and raised between rural India and New York City, I was a first-generation American immigrant. Indian parents tend to have a lot of expectations from their children and I fought against my parents’ expectations for years. My parents wanted me to get married before I went to university or did anything else with my life. Instead, I went to law school, without their approval, and took out student loans to pay my way through. In my early twenties, at their behest, I actually went to India to consider an arranged marriage, and I gave up after six days of asking myself what the hell I was doing there! Those six days set the direction of my life. I decided to go against their wishes, fight the cultural battles. I stayed single, completed grad school, and ultimately moved across the country to work as a federal prosecutor in California and later as a prosecutor with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
Usually we turn within only in moments of crisis or hardship, or because of a stroke of luck. In my case it was both. My stroke of luck came on a spring evening in Los Angeles in 1989, when I was in my mid-twenties. I was on my way to what I thought was a music concert. You can imagine my surprise when I arrived at the “concert” to discover not the Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar but instead the spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. At that point in my life, I had no interest in gurus or spirituality, but by the time I caught on to my mistake, it was too late to leave without making a scene. So I sat there rolling my eyes and making silent judgments about what the master was saying for most of the talk. In spite of my “better judgment” I decided to join a workshop that Sri Sri was leading the following weekend.
On the second day, something happened that I suppose you could describe as a metaphysical experience — something that I still to this day don’t have language for. I had an experience of who I am beyond every possible identification, boundary, and limitation. But my lawyerly brain still wasn’t interested in anything metaphysical. But what was interesting to me was what happened at work the next day and over the course of the next few weeks. From that Monday onward, my efficiency was through the roof. The mental chatter, the noise in my mind that was so normal to me, all but disappeared. I was so in the zone that I would put together case files without even knowing what I was doing.
Even so, begrudgingly, I took another step and signed up for another course. After the course, when Sri Sri invited me to join him in India, I made plans to spend six weeks there as a kind of “break” before I entered my thirties and got saddled with all the responsibilities of adult life. Well, six weeks turned into five years studying and teaching meditation, breathwork, and Vedic philosophy in India and then the last 30 years traveling around the world building the Art of Living Foundation from a small non-profit to a global organization.
What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?
I hadn’t really thought about an impact until I finished the book. I was simply sharing what I knew had helped millions of people all over the world. Once the book was completed, I realized that the ancient wisdom of Vedanta can help us deal with so many of the challenges we face in the world today. Everything from stress to violence to human rights violations.
What is vital force? How does it influence our lives?
Vital Force is our innate loving, vibrational Force. It’s the energy by which everything moves and operates. The level of that energy force within us directly impacts and influences the state of our mind and therefore the quality of our life.
The higher the energy force the higher our positivity. We up level not only our physical well-being, but we up level our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That means we are mentally more clear, focused, agile, resilient. Cooperative, emotionally more calm, optimistic, happy, spiritually more connected to ourselves and the people and world around us.
What moment let you know that your book had started a movement? Please share a story.
After the manuscript was written I shared it with a variety of people from very different walks of life. The “spiritual”, the go-getters, the creatives, the purely bottom-line oriented executives and organizations, from a baby boomer to 16 year old, a Fortune 500 CEO to high school students. I wanted to see what target audience would best engage with the content and message of the book. I expected the spiritual reader interested in yoga would appreciate the book and the rest would most likely not completely read it or pass it on as some woo woo, feel good, impractical message. To my surprise every single person “devoured” the book in a few days. Each person. noticed that the process of reading the book was internally transforming and awakening them to a deeper essence of then self.
The common experience was of “OMG! I can’t tell you how stirred or touched I am. How I am moved to do self examination about who I am and how I am living my life”. A woman who happened to read the manuscript to me out loud (I was having eye trouble during the creation of the book) was on the verge of a total break down when she started reading it. At the end of it she shared that “each day she read was bringing more life into her and how by the end of five days she found a reason to live. She said that, “I feel like it saved my life. I haven’t slept or woken up like this in so long”
Is traditional mindfulness meditation for everyone? Is there a Western gap in the art of relaxing?
Mindfulness as an adjective for awareness, alertness and being present to life is certainly a requirement for everyone. It makes everything we do more successful and happier in life. However, mindfulness as a noun the way we know it in the West these last 40 years or so is not easy for most people to practice. It is hard for most and takes years of practice because it requires a certain level of calm and awareness to begin with. Unfortunately most people don’t have it in this frantic, plugged in world of sensory overload.
Vedanta offers a faster, easier, simpler way to cultivate and live more present and aware… be more mindful.
What kinds of things did you hear right away from readers? What are the most frequent things you hear from readers about your book now? Are they the same? Different?
The immediate response is “this is so deep, so immediately life transforming,” “shakes me up to take inventory of my life in a way that immediately shifts my outlook.” After using the tools in the book, people notice they sleep better. They connect more with friends and family, feel more alive. The self-judgment slows down and self-acceptance naturally increases. They live more from the heart.
While they are reading the book, there is an awakening of something greater in life. There’s more awareness of how they are operating and what they are unnecessarily holding on to. Once they finish the book, people notice an internal shift towards self-change and self-responsibility. And as they continue to practice the tools and techniques from the book, they realize concrete, measurable shift on all levels — at home and at the office.
How can others dial down the chatter of a racing mind and resolve energy crises?
The simplest answer, as trite and it sounds, is to BREATHE. Begin by breathing consciously, longer than usual in and out breaths. Do it daily. First thing in the morning as soon as you wake up. Again, before lunch and before dinner and finally last thing before you sleep. Ten breaths each time. No one knows you are doing it. It takes zero to little time. Anyway you have to breathe; so just do it — except make the breath longer and conscious.
What biohacking techniques can others use to reduce stress and maximize joy?
During stressful moments, elongate your in-breath and throw out your exhale quickly, either through the mouth or the nose. The trick is to breathe in a bit longer, past the capacity of your usual inhalation, and then quickly exhale. This will shut off the sympathetic — fear, flight, freeze — response in three to five breaths. Do it and see for yourself.
Another tip is to ground yourself by drawing your attention to your feet. For example, by wiggling your toes in your shoes. Or remove your shoes if you can slip them off and press your feet into the floor where you are sitting or standing. Move or run the feet on the ground by sliding the feet back and forth on the floor. No one needs to know you are doing it. Just connect back to your feet. You can also flex and point your toes, with your shoes on. This will create a shift in the movement of the energy from the head down to your feet, bringing some calm to your mind, emotions and thoughts. Add to this 3–5 long breaths in and out, and you will be in charge of the racing chattering mind once again.
What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?
After 30 years of knowing and doing this work, it still amazes me how incredible the power of Vital Force is. During the writing process I had so many personal challenges. … Pipe bursts in my home, relocation from my home, a year of home remodeling, lead poisoning, eye sight challenges from an insect bite in Brazil, friends and family conflict, financial troubles in my husband’s business, extensive travel for work, mom’s health… And to add to all that, I discovered I had signed a contract to submit the manuscript in less than the “usual” one year. Add to this a myriad of so many other daily challenges. No one around me could believe what I was going through and how I was managing it all while keeping my sense of humor.
I’m certain it’s the tools and techniques that kept my inner energy levels high, I thought about pushing back on my contract but chose to honor it “as is.” To my surprise, I completed the manuscript before the eight month deadline. For someone who doesn’t like writing, (that’s putting it mildly) it’s a miracle! In addition, anyone who came in contact with me to support the writing was completely surprised to see how the simplest of tools, tips or understanding would up level their energy and make their life easy and effortless.
Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?
Our mind operates on conditioned response and/or beliefs. A simple idea or a notion of something, wakes up in us the experience of that idea. If I say “spider”, it immediately creates a physical, mental and emotional response. Similarly, “books”, naturally create in our inner psyche, emotions towards a sense of expansion. Books bring with them the idea of growth, evolution, connection, history, and a sense of being part of something larger. Though we each live our separate lives in different corners of the globe, as we hold a book in our hands, we connect and come together knowingly or unknowingly.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
I walk the talk. I have a habit of connecting to at least one new person every day. It could be someone in line at a grocery store or in an elevator. I share a loving, positive observation about them in the moment. It may be be about their smile, a positive feeling they exude, a kind look they have, how energetic they might be… For me the point is to reach out or share something so that each interaction puts a smile on their face, before I leave. This wakes up the life force not only in me but also in them.
At the end of each day as I go to sleep, after completing my ten long breaths, I say to myself “the person who woke up this morning will be gone when I wake up tomorrow. This day and life is over”. The next morning, as soon as I wake up, I again do my ten long breaths and tell myself “a new day and a life has begun, anything is possible”.
What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?
My biggest lesson is, life is not just about likes or dislikes, but it’s about something bigger — commitment. It’s about keeping my word with myself. The world can quit on me, but I will not quit on myself no matter what happens.
Many aspiring authors would love to make an impact similar to what you have done. What are the 5 things writers needs to know if they want to spark a movement with a book? (please include a story or example for each)
1. Don’t over think, act: the lawyer in me wants to plan everything, figure it out first but the spirit in me wants to “get going”.
My book proposal took more time to write than the actual book. In the end the proposal and the book had very little to do with each other, except for the title. Whenever I honor my inner voice, it moves everything into a state of flow.
2. Write for yourself: initially I was caught up in HOW does the world want to hear what I have to share. What language to use, what tone to use, what piece of the larger message to share… And then one day I noticed, that when I speak during a lecture, I simply share my ideas, my observations, and my lessons along with the ancient, time tested system of India. In those moments, there is no trying and over about any of the other things.
So why not write the same way — as if I am sharing with someone dear! Just like the people in front of me when I am speaking, my readers are very near and dear, though I may never see or meet them. I know that the reader (in this moment you) and I have traveled in the journey of life together. In some moments more intimate than the closest people in our lives.
3. Heart over ideas: ideas may generate interest, but core values connect us to something higher. I noticed that when I share ideas on Vedanta people listen and feel stimulated. But when I share my heart they connect to me and the better version of themselves. I recall a lecture in a multinational tech company. It was full of interesting information, facts and statistics. They were listening but the room was lacking excitement, energy, and ease. The moment I shared a personal, heartfelt story, the room suddenly was full of life. The same is true in writing — facts are interesting, but the moment we share out heart — with a personal story, metaphor or and analogy — all the senses and the person become fully engaged. This creates memories and lasting results.
The world, of course, needs progress in many areas. What movement do you hope someone (or you!) starts next? Can you explain why that is so important?
Our current educational system teaches, for 12 years or more, on how to succeed in the world. At home and in schools, our mind is trained to divide, analyze, dissect and to see the differences, and the individuality within us. This is necessary. It’s required in order to succeed. To that end, reading, writing and arithmetic teach us the laws of material sciences. How to make one and one into more than two.
Similarly, we need a movement that educates us to see and recognize our similarities, our commonalities and core essence of our humanity. This education is one in which we identify ourselves first, as human beings and then as separate race, religion, gender, nationality, profession, wealth and status. It’s the education of the heart, in which we learn universal laws of belongingness. With this education for the heart, along with the traditional education required for the intellect, we can solve the conflicts we see around the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/YouTube — @ByRajshree or go to my website and register www.RajshreePatel.com
Thank you so much for these insights. It was a true pleasure to do this with you.