Spend time on what makes you feel good. Let yourself be fully immersed in feeling good as often as possible. Cultivating a sense of purpose helps your body and mind calm down. The contrary of that is to spend less time with things that don’t bring you joy. When either your body or mind is less stressed, the other one will follow suit.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlene M. Brown, Ph.D.
As a transformative transpersonal trainer and consultant focusing on the well-being of the whole person, Dr. Brown specializes in integrating psycho-socio-emotional tools into every day and teaching others how to leverage this for their highest impact. An experienced educator, Dr. Brown has taught transpersonally-integrated courses, workshops, and training for ten years. Some current efforts include Practical Tools For Everyday Wellness, an online course; Transpersonal IS, a LinkedIn article series; Charli Chats, a twice-weekly video series focusing on one transpersonal topic; and in light of the current global situation, a daily video series called Mindful Moments With Dr. Charli, as a practical way to deal with our everyday lives as we re-learn how to navigate them. Connect further at www.DrCharliBrown.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ihave always had a variety of interests and have long worked to synthesize them into something that works. In fact, while I was in college, the director of the honors program in the business school thought I was too “artsy” for a business degree. Arriving as a transpersonal strategist and consultant has been an active and diverging path. After my practical undergraduate degree in management, I completely shifted when I entered graduate school. My master’s degree was a deep exploration in women’s spiritual and religious traditions throughout history, throughout the world, and finding my place along that continuum — essentially a master’s degree in my own (w)holistic emotional awareness. That helped me come to know myself in deep and sacred ways. Then, I understood my doctorate — in integral and transpersonal psychology — as taking this whole-person perspective out into the world. The combination of the three offers me a unique perspective on how the whole of a person or organization informs and integrates with the ways they show up in their various interpersonal roles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One story that I tell often is how expectations and longevity can enhance interpersonal dynamics. I was once teaching leadership to a group of ninth-graders, during what was supposed to be their elective time. Instead of getting to choose an enjoyable class, they had been pulled out for extra Math and English help in the morning and got to me in the afternoons, angry and restless.
I was clear by the end of the first day that my cute little curriculum about theoretical leadership was not going to work with them, and by the end of the second day, the administrators were on board for me to try something different. I came in on the third day — after brainstorming the night before — with a series of tasks that I wanted the whole class to complete. Based on their track record thus far, I expected that they would get frustrated in the middle and stop trying, and then we could talk about what had happened and see if we could come up with better solutions together.
Instead, two of my students, toward the beginning of the frustration, asked, “Ms. Brown, do we have to get these done?” I understood they were, in fact, engaged, and wanted to finish the tasks but didn’t know-how. “Yes,” I responded, setting a new expectation, “what are your best ideas about how to do it?” After much more frustration, those two students collected everyone’s slip of paper with their individual tasks, went through them one-by-one, and led the class in doing each task.
At the end of that day, we had a much different conversation than I had anticipated — this time, about the students’ leadership in action. We discussed how, with their own expectations (and mine) shifted to a place of having to figure it out, the two leaders got very powerful and practical leadership training that gave them a new understanding of themselves and their capabilities.
As the class continued, each night I would go home and figure out what we were going to do the next day. We ended up creating an iterative proposal structure where the students got to present something they wanted to change to the administration. When I had an intern from that school a few years later, I found out that the school still used that proposal process to give the students voice. I came away with a deeper understanding of the power of having expectations, and how, by sticking with those expectations even as they need to be adopted, people would rise to them.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Work culture is about setting expectations; understanding of those expectations being communicated and understood clearly; and then modeling them in as many aspects of an organization as possible. In short, how can you, the leader, BE the type of person you want your organization to reflect? This includes modeling taking breaks and time away from the desk and the office, as well as utilizing vacation time. Modeling also includes smaller aspects that make a big difference, such as not sending Sunday night emails. The unspoken expectation there is that an employee is expected to prioritize that email right then, i.e. on Sunday night before their new work week has officially begun, simply because it was the boss who sent it. If, as the boss, Sunday evenings are a time where your ideas normally flourish, consider using an email scheduler, or do whatever is the equivalent practice to allow off-time to be off. In addition to honoring people’s work-life boundaries, ask for input, listen actively, and implement as much as makes sense. The people you are leading know themselves best, and usually have excellent ideas. Create a work culture where this is celebrated, cultivated, and implemented, while also creating and honoring boundaries so you and your people can all be at your most effective.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As an avid reader, I offer two books. The first is You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay. Up to that point in my early twenties, I had been dabbling a bit in what are now considered spiritual topics — energy, chakras, the law of attraction, and the like. Heal Your Life solidified for me that all of this was a real, measurable thing: that the energy of our bodies and thoughts had ramifications in the real world as we lived it. The other book that fully changed my world was Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. Never before had I encountered a smart, layered Black female lead unconcerned with being anything other than her full self. Anyanwu, the protagonist, had so much robust depth, and she helped me understand that I could be a smart-Black-girl-with-depth and could exist out in the real world. While as a teenager, I consumed books, Anyanwu was the first time I saw myself fully in a character in a book, and I was affirmed in ways I had no idea even existed. A bonus book is Becoming, by Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama symbolizes the realness of continuing to be an evolving person, while also standing fully in her smart, competent Black woman-ness; she exemplifies that a woman can maintain her own identity and ambition, while being fully honored and deeply respected inside of a high-profile partnership — a combination not often illuminated for Black women.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Being mindful is the act of being fully present in and to this very moment; it means that just for this moment, you are right here, mind, body, and spirit. The worries you may have or the thoughts about anything other than this very moment are suspended and not a part of your reality. You are aware of the NOW, perhaps gently focused on whatever you may be doing, but not overly attached to it.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
Becoming mindful, first of all, makes you calmer in the way you move in your everyday life. You may be less likely to react or overreact, and more likely to flow with and respond to external circumstances as they occur. Mindfulness brings your stress levels down and your awareness levels up. It encourages empathy and thus may be a bridge to greater understanding of someone else, especially in tense or tumultuous moments. Physically, you may find that when your mind is more flexible, so is your body; you may better be able to be fully present for both yourself and your surroundings. When you are present in a mindful way, more possible outcomes may be available in your consciousness than if you were in fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Turn off the 24-hr. News Cycle. Setting boundaries on fear-mongering media consumption is an important part of each of our well-being. Personally, I have not owned a television since 2006. A few weeks ago, when I realized that the stuff had hit the fan in our current global situation, I was clear that I needed to be off social media as much as possible as well, to not feed into the sense of panic and crisis. There is a balance to teeter over about staying informed, but if you are feeling overwhelmed, try turning off the news and the media.
- Spend time on what makes you feel good. Let yourself be fully immersed in feeling good as often as possible. Cultivating a sense of purpose helps your body and mind calm down. The contrary of that is to spend less time with things that don’t bring you joy. When either your body or mind is less stressed, the other one will follow suit. See if you can make a regular practice of finding and being joy. As above, any external situation (including television) that is causing you overwhelm, turn it off, or remove yourself from the situation as often as possible.
- Learn about utilizing the body’s energy systems, and cultivate a daily practice. I use Energy Medicine, combining the tenets of Donna Eden’s work of the same name, and that of Dr. Sue Morter’s Energy Codes, both of which fall under the broad category of what is considered Energy Medicine. In brief, Energy Medicine uses the energy systems of the body and works to put them back in balance. My routine consists of doing Donna Eden’s Daily Energy Routine and tracing my meridians (energy pathways) the way she suggests. Afterward, I do any number of Dr. Sue’s breathing and movement techniques, including Central Core Breathing while squeezing a location at the bottom of the pelvic bowl, called mula bandha (“root lock”), and her Bio-Energetic Synchronization Technique (B.E.S.T.), which includes a coordinated posturing of the limbs, head, eyes, and breath. Their work has been transformational for me, and my daily practice has evolved as my needs have changed. My encouragement is to find something or a few things that work for you and let those help you set up your day — and your energy — for success. A routine or ritual also helps to anchor you into the day in a similar way your bedtime routine signals your body toward rest.
- Breathe. On Purpose. I worked as a private tutor for a long time, and would start each session with both me and my student taking three deep, intentional breaths together. This not only calmed us immediately, but it also brought us present with each other, so that we were more focused on the subject at hand — usually math. Once, while I was in graduate school, still tutoring, I got to my own finals — which, of course, often coincided with my students’ finals — and wondered why I was so “un-stressed.” I thought back over the previous year to what I had done differently, and the only thing I could come up with was that three times a week my students and I started our tutoring sessions with these three deep breaths. If, just once a day, you were to breathe intentionally, mindfully, and on purpose, you will notice a difference in short order.
- Words are a form of energy and can act as multipliers. Words are energy, and the words we use give energy and attention toward bringing those things into fruition. In fact, everything is energy, and what we pay the most emotional attention (energy) to is what tends to grow in our lives. This is another way of saying focus on what you want, as if you already have it. Energy operates at the frequency level, so the frequency you put out through the words you use is what will get returned to you. When I went traveling after college, I spent almost six months in Ghana, West Africa. At some point, I was frustrated and kept yelling about my frustration. Giving that frequency all of my attention, I kept getting back more things to be frustrated about. Finally, in a moment of clarity, I understood that I was inviting more frustration by continuing to talk about all of my frustrations. At that point, I shifted to saying I was accepting, which moved the accompanying frequency that I was broadcasting to a place of more acceptance about what was happening in the moment.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Check in and Listen. Without judgment. People who are feeling anxious are not always looking for solutions. Sometimes they simply need to express their anxieties to someone other than themselves. If you can provide a non-judgmental listening ear, this is often appreciated. There are plenty of people trying to “fix” them, they probably don’t need another. Just listen. Without needing to provide anything other than listening and understanding. This may also mean using active listening skills, such as parroting, where you, the listener, repeat back to the talker your understanding of what they’ve said. This makes the talker feel seen and heard. Reassurance may also be part of listening without judgment: A friend of mine, A, let me know that she needs reassurance in some of her darker moments. She calls a trusted person, gets everything out, and then needs reassurance, even if the thing doesn’t make any sense. It helps her feel a bit more calmed when the trusted person reassures her. I will also add that it is an important step for the trusted person to get some clarity around what the reassurance could look like, perhaps during calmer moments when the anxious person may be better able to articulate what kind of reassurance they may need in critical moments.
- Use modern technology to check in face-to-face, even faraway. Video calls are a great way to feel as if you are right there with your loved one. I must admit, I was very skeptical at first, thinking that a video call was going to feel too overrun by technology to feel authentic and meaningful. But I was plain wrong. A video call, where all parties are able to see each other in real time, including facial expressions and body language, is actually the closest thing to being in-person that I have experienced. And while technology still only allows for virtual hugs, being able to see someone’s face goes a long way in feeling and being connected. Video calls replicate in-person conversations well.
- While seemingly paradoxical, Using UN-modern technology to communicate with people. There is still a certain thrill to receiving a letter in the mail, addressed specifically to you, and coming from a loved one. The same goes for picking up the telephone to actually call someone to let them know you are thinking and caring about them. When we’re encouraged to gather again, can you meet with your folks in person for a coffee or tea date if you are pressed for time or a languid lunch or dinner date if you are not? In-person time, and thoughtful letters or notes sent through snail mail, are a great way to connect. For a loved one feeling anxious or overwhelmed, being together in-person may also have the added benefit of providing all of the other supports on this list. A key ingredient here is to know the person and their preferences too, and use your best judgment is any given situation. Sometimes in a challenging moment, being present with other people is the last thing the person dealing with the challenge wants, and a supportive text message or other lower-engagement tool is best.
- Let the person have their moment and use open-ended check-in questions. Sometimes the person feeling anxiety needs to do whatever their body is doing, whether that is crying, shouting, catching their breath, or any manner of other possibilities. That is the way they are expressing their feelings and emotions in the moment. Let them have that and honor it as valid. The exception to this is if the person is harming themselves or others. Understand what you can handle and utilize appropriate backup resources as necessary. Otherwise, though, let them have their moment. Nieisha Deed, Founder of PureSpark, a mental health advocacy organization, told me this was the most helpful to her in any given moment of high anxiety, and that she appreciates when the person offering support acknowledges not having an answer or solution in the moment. This is a great opportunity to use open-ended check in questions, such as How’s today?, or How’s it going?, to allow for the full spectrum of possible responses
- Being present. Similar to listening, sometimes it is just helpful to be in someone else’s companionable presence. This one may be challenging for extroverts, but introverts will likely excel here. When spending time with someone, talking does not have to be the basis of the connection. Being there and perhaps reading separate books or doing separate activities, may be enough. Or this may also look like going to a movie together, where your main activity is not related to either of you specifically. People whose primary or secondary love language is spending quality time may particularly appreciate this suggestion.
- BONUS: Vitally important is Adaptability. More than one tool or option at the same time may be what works for the person. And sometimes, the person just may need “me time” to get through their moment. Anxiety is an individual experience for each person experiencing it. Often, it has some staple signs in any given individual, but the tools to help assuage it in the moment may need to be shapeshifters. A good friend, B, an elementary teacher, highlighted this recently as he explained to me that different combinations of things work for him (or don’t), when his anxiety is elevated.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
A few things come to mind here. First, learn to be comfortable in the silence. This may be spending time by and with yourself, and turning off all of the distractions. It may mean going for a walk or a run without your technology. There are an abundance of apps and programs that offer direction on becoming mindful, find one or more that speak to your current needs. As mentioned above, I am very interested in the field of Energy Medicine, and it has helped me tremendously in becoming more present, mindful, and serene in my everyday life. There are also an abundance of in-person mindfulness classes, and now may be an excellent time to sign up for one, and have that to look forward to when people can come back to gathering again. And finally, Tai Chi. One of my teachers described Tai Chi as a way to go slow in order to go very fast. Taking a class gave me a better understanding of the very subtle energies that govern our bodies and our energy fields and flows. When we are aware of subtler energy bodies of our own selves, we are much more likely to be aware of these similar energies in others, whether people or spaces.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“When a person shows you who they are, believe them.” This quote from Dr. Maya Angelou has served me well throughout many aspects of my life. I first heard it when I was in college, and it came up again as I was in therapy during graduate school. In grad school, my therapist asked me, “Based on this person’s track record in your life, are your expectations reasonable?” [Side note, whenever your therapist is asking you this question, the answer is probably NO!] Learning one uncomfortable moment at a time, I now have a deeper understanding of my own personal power and not giving that away to someone else. Additionally, this idea helps to release my unsubstantiated expectations of others. People show up as they are, as their whole selves, regardless of how I may feel about that. Understanding that I can’t change another person is useful in my day-to-day and encourages me to be mindful and purposeful in my engagements. Either way, believe the person in front of you, exactly as they are showing themselves to you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love for people to utilize what I call transpersonal tools, which are a combination of Energy Medicine, presencing, and self-awareness techniques that attune people to both the subtlety of their own energies, as well as the impact of intermingling energies, both their own and others’. Transpersonal tools centralize our own bubble in the context of interpersonal relationships to bring us to greater understanding.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
In addition to my website above, you can find me on
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!