“Having awareness of who you truly are.” With Beau Henderson & Valerie Gangas

Having awareness of who you truly are. Being tapped into why you do what you do. Having a feeling of peace running through your veins and a natural sense of control over your emotions. It’s having empathy for yourself and for others. Ultimately, it’s knowing you are a child of God. As a part of […]

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Having awareness of who you truly are. Being tapped into why you do what you do. Having a feeling of peace running through your veins and a natural sense of control over your emotions. It’s having empathy for yourself and for others. Ultimately, it’s knowing you are a child of God.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Gangas.

Valerie Gangas is a transformational speaker, life coach and author of Enlightenment Is Sexy: Every Woman’s Guide to a Magical Life. She specializes in helping people make radical shifts in their self-perception to gain a deeper understanding of who they are, so they can genuinely thrive and unleash their magic more fully into the world. Valerie received her bachelor’s degree in theology and women’s studies from DePaul University, and earned her master’s degree in transpersonal psychology and certification in leadership and life coaching at Sofia University in Palo Alto.

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?

Well, I kind of fell into it. I had been in the restaurant and bar business for 15 years, before I started speaking and writing. Fast forward to 2011: my mom, who I was super-close to, passed away in January, I became suicidal, learned to meditate (Transcendental Meditation) in mid-May, and by June I was standing in front of Oprah and telling her my story. My whole life changed in one day and I never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that’s happened to you since you started your career?

Well, during that month of May I just referred to, after I experienced a radical transformation in my first meditation, I was hired by the David Lynch Foundation to work at Harpo Studios while the entire staff learned how to meditate. They wanted me to talk about meditation and the benefits of developing consciousness. At first, I turned down the job, since the only background I’d had was in hospitality. Through a series of unexpected events, though, like landing on stage with the Foo Fighters at Lollapalooza and meeting Wynona Judd (one of my mom’s favorite singers), I ended up saying yes the job. On my first day of work, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I was told to go into the screening room at Harpo Studios and just tell my story to whoever was there. When I walked into the room, Oprah and Sheri Salata (at the time, President of Harpo Productions) were the only two people in the seats. I spoke to them as though I had been a professional speaker for 10 lifetimes. Miraculously, the words just flowed from my lips and when I was done, Oprah turned to Sheri and said, “I want what that girl has.” From that moment forward, my entire life changed.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I learned a lot from working at Harpo Studios for the next two years. I think Oprah bringing in Transcendental Meditation to support her staff was a game-changer. I mean, the company policy was you could take two 25-minute breaks to meditate during your work shift. Think about it! If you’re giving your staff a chance to calm their nervous system and recharge their minds, you’re setting the stage for a wonderful work environment. Happy workers, happy company.

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?

Ram Dass’s Paths To God. To me, Ram Dass is such a relatable spiritual teacher. In this book, he tackles some heavy-duty subjects, but approaches them with a magical touch. He gives the reader a chance to see the world through a different lens, through the eyes of a mystic living in modern society. His energy is in the pages of that book, and just reading it leaves one’s wheels turning down the path of awakening.

Okay, 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?

Having awareness of who you truly are. Being tapped into why you do what you do. Having a feeling of peace running through your veins and a natural sense of control over your emotions. It’s having empathy for yourself and for others. Ultimately, it’s knowing you are a child of God.

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?

Physical: When you’re mindful, you are in tune with your body. You’re able to feel the signals when something is off, and then in turn, you’re naturally moved to take the appropriate action. In being mindful, your body will begin speaking to you and you find you have the ability to not only hear the call, but to be silent enough to listen for whatever adjustments need to be made.

Mental: Your ability to retain information and stay focused rises when you’re mindful. You become more resilient. Your mind begins to feel clear as a bell, and the feeling you can know anything begins to ring true. Previously untapped gifts can rise up like being able to paint, write or create music. When the mind is settled, amazing information just seems to appear.

Emotional: When you’re mindful, you feel more disconnected, but not in a bad way. Being centered within, you’re not overwhelmed and you naturally hold your own in the emotions department. You’re not attached to outcomes or people’s opinions. You don’t feel out of control, and instead you feel a sense of calm. There is inner strength in mindfulness, in feeling whole and emotionally stable. You are liberated from fear and confusion.

Okay. 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 each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Turn off the news and turn on some calm music. I’ve found nothing good comes out of watching the news 24/7. When the coronavirus first came on the scene in the U.S., I initially felt overwhelmed, confused and pretty frightened. I felt compelled to watch the news to stay up to date with the goings-on in the world. Very quickly, I realized the media and all of their stories of doom and gloom were feeding the fear I’d allowed to take up space in my mind. As soon as I made the firm decision to cut out the headlines, I noticed my anxiety basically became nonexistent. Now, if I feel I want to tune in to the latest news reports, I tune into PBS for more balanced, less hyped-up programming.
  2. Stop drinking caffeine. We have all turned into a mob of caffeine junkies. If you have anxiety, the last thing you should be doing is starting your day with a bucket full of coffee. As soon as the coronavirus started taking hold in our country, I could feel my nervous system lighting up. I immediately thought to myself, Nope, this isn’t how I’m going to ride this wave. I gave up caffeine on the spot and switched to decaf. Sure, the first couple days were brutal, but there was no sense adding fuel to the fire. Looking back, giving up my caffeinated cup of Joe feels like a smart move on my part.
  3. SLOW DOWN. It seems clear to me we’re being forced to ease up our pace. Let’s listen to Mother Nature and take this as a major sign to do just that. It took me a couple of weeks to get the memo; but as time went on, I began to see clearly we were all being given an opportunity to learn how to take it easy. Stay home, get some extra rest, heal. Not only are we healing ourselves, but we’re also healing the Earth. Slow living is calm living. And being calm, I’ve discovered, is actually a superpower.
  4. Take your time cooking your meals. Turning mealtime into a moving meditation is a wonderful way to stay mindful. I’ve found planning each meal with mindful awareness, focusing on what my body and taste buds are asking for, then turning on some great music while I’m prepping and cooking, taking my time through the whole process, is a wonderful way to not only infuse my food with positive energy, but it’s a solid plan to take my mind off of everything that’s currently happening in our seemingly crazy world.
  5. Meditate. Don’t skip your meditation. Now is the time to go inward. I make sure I’m taking care of myself in every way I can. For years, I’ve found that starting my day off with some deep inner silence and peace is a perfect way to set the stage for the rest of the day.

From your experience or research, what are five steps each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Pick up the phone. When someone you know is having a hard time, just by reaching out you can bring some comfort into their lives. Better yet, use Facetime. Looking into a person’s eyes and telling them, sincerely, “I’m here for you” can be all it takes to turn things around in another person’s life.
  2. Have empathy. As a woman who has had her share of panic attacks and seasons of anxiety, I have empathy for others when they’re going through their own set of challenges. And people know when you get it, when you’re being real with them. Just saying, “I understand, I can appreciate what you’re going through… I see you,” can make a huge difference.
  3. Write a letter or send a card. It’s easy to send a text or an email, but sending a handwritten card is so special. Your energy is in the paper you chose to write on. It’s in the ink that came out of the pen you used. It’s personal, it’s meaningful and in this day and age, it’s out of the ordinary. I love getting a handwritten note in the mail. I keep all my cards… and when I’m feeling blue, I look at them and immediately feel better. I feel that person’s care and love for me.
  4. Make some homemade treats for someone. Anyone would feel loved upon receiving a batch of homemade cookies. Throw on your apron and whip up a batch of your favorite treats for a friend who you know could really use some extra TLC. Pack them up in a beautiful “care package” and hand-deliver them with a note. I guarantee that box-o’-treats will put a smile on their face, as well as in their hearts.
  5. Flowers. Sending a bouquet of beautiful blossoms to someone who needs a pick-me-up is a sure-fire way to lift their spirits. It’s unexpected, you’re bringing color and sunshine into their lives, and they can admire them for days to come. By bringing a little Mother Nature into someone’s home, you’re sending them a reminder you’re thinking about them. Flowers are a beautiful way to say, “I love you and I care about you.”

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Pick up a meditation practice and stick with it. Incorporate it into your everyday reality and invite silence into your life on a regular basis. By doing so, they will magically see their whole reality beginning to transform, just from closing their eyes and going inward, integrating that with their “outer” lives.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Growing up, I recall our family, like most families, had a lot of challenges. When things would get heavy and I would start to “lose it,” my mom always told me the same thing. She would sit me down and say, “Val, the bad never stays bad forever. This too shall pass.” And you know what? She was spot on. I took that simple truth and have carried it with me my entire adult life. When life gets hairy, I always repeat my mom’s words in my head. It gives me perspective and allows me to ride the wave with greater mindfulness and presence.

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 to start a slow living movement. We have all been programmed to work like crazy, continuously strive for the next thing (car, house, shoes, etc.) and accumulate “stuff,” most of which, I’ve found, we absolutely don’t need. All of these things, in my opinion, keep us away from living our best lives. We can actually “do less and get more accomplished,” once we get our bodies and minds into a calm state, a mindful state, a state of being fully present. Why not let the Universe do the work for you, while you take care of yourself? Slow down. Give yourself a break. Spend more time in nature, in meditation, cooking homemade meals, reading, and giving your soul some added rest, which it’s very likely looking for. The closer we live by the laws of nature, the better off we will be. Slow living is the way to roll… and it’s a movement I would surely love to lead.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

I’m on Instagram at @valeriegangas and my website is www.valeriegangas.com

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