Having a journal and taking time to write at least three entire “morning pages” has been an ongoing part of my process. It ebbs and flows depending where I am in my life, but I always come back to it. Writing Coach Julia Cameron advocates doing this and it helps me to process my feelings and get me back into my body when I am feeling overwhelmed. When I write about what I see or hear that is in front of me or get things off my chest, I usually feel a whole lot better or at the very least good about myself. I do as she instructs and don’t stop to censor myself. Although my morning pages look more like afternoon or evening pages, I’m glad that I have this practice in my toolbox.
Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lily Dulan, an MFT Psychotherapist with Masters in Clinical Psychology, Creative Writing, and Teaching and is the author of GIVING GRIEF MEANING: A Method for Transforming Deep Suffering into Healing and Positive Change (Mango Publishing; December 1, 2020). She is a certified Heart of Yoga Teacher and completed coursework at Agape International Spiritual Center under the tutelage of Michael Bernard Beckwith. She started a foundation in loving memory of her daughter Kara Meyer Dulan and partnered with both local and international organizations such as Unatti Foundation and Venice Arts. She teaches workshops at her home in Los Angeles, leads retreats, speaks throughout the community, and hosts a variety of educational and charitable events. She lives with her husband David and their two daughters.
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 wasn’t a happy child, and never felt like I fit in. I thought of myself as “chubby” and undesirable. I felt picked on a lot as a kid and began escaping through alcohol and drugs early on. By middle school I started becoming friends with the other kids who also felt lost and alone. We still had “smoking lounges” in public schools back then, and I loved the way escaping through marijuana and later alcohol made me feel. Upon graduation, I couldn’t wait to go to school away from home and experience another region which my parents wholeheartedly supported. And so, I took my budding addiction with me to college in Connecticut. Although much of college was lost in a blackout, it was here that I truly fell in love with learning and became passionate about the social sciences.
What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.
I majored in sociology in college, and the study of and ultimate realization of systemic inequalities made me certain that I wanted to make a difference. My graduate studies in Psychology beckoned me to once again ask the question “How Can I help?” I earned a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology while also spending time studying at Agape International Spiritual Center with Reverend Michael Beckwith. I would later find Ram Dass and friends through my professor Sara Winter who was with Ram Dass at the famous Millbrook Estate. While earning my clinical hours in addiction and studying at Antioch University I finally became committed to sobriety and starting a family. I planned on writing a memoir and “how to” book about moving through fear and committing to sobriety after I had finally gotten it together. I had arrived! Or so I thought. We brought our sweet infant Kara home and celebrated our family life alongside community. And then everything came to a screeching halt. Kara died in the middle of the night at two months old. She was sleeping in her crib next to us and never woke up. Losing our daughter at home to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS in 2009 was the most cataclysmic event in my life. It nearly wasted me. Thankfully I had a loving community around me who wouldn’t let that happen. I listened to Michael Beckwith and chose to grow rather than shrink from such sudden and horrific loss. As it turned out, Kara’s beloved memory made me want to make the light that was her life shine through me with acts of good. It was her death that showed me what I needed to do to in this life. Honoring her memory and truly committing to helping others, would become my mission. Through her light I connected with the Unnati Group Home in Nepal and Venice Arts in Los Angeles to help living children in Kara’s name. This eventually led me to start The Kara Love Project, the 501c3 we founded in her beloved memory.
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?
I was given wings by a collective of people. The Los Angeles Yoga Community, Agape International Spiritual center, and 12 Step Communities are a big part of my journey. There was and is a lot of cross pollination in what I’d call the LA Wellness Community and people lift one another up. Many of the people in my immediate circle were inspired by the late Ram Dass, the famed Harvard Professor, who taught millions to cultivate stillness and be in the moment with his bestselling book Be Here Now. What inspired me and helped me the most after losing Kara is that Ram Dass moved through his own suffering, and continued to teach for twenty years after suffering a massive stroke. The stroke left him with aphasia which limited his ability to speak. Yet Ram Dass didn’t let his condition or his suffering stop him from loving and touching the hearts of another generation. Although I only had a few precious personal moments with Ram Dass, he introduced me to an entire spiritual community or Satsang who continue to uplift, change the world for the better, and inspire. This loving community of people that I found myself in, would not let me give up after losing Kara and encouraged me to continue to be of service. It was through the love of more people than I can possibly mention, within these intersecting spiritual and wellness communities that I was led to start The Kara Love Project. In community I had the strength to continue my work. 100% of the proceeds from my book GIVING GRIEF MEANING supports the work that we do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
A few years ago, one of our fundraiser things was going south. There was a traffic jam of cars around the block and people could not get into our event. Even worse, a neighbor called the police about cars blocking the street and they arrived at our door, making their way through our fundraiser and frightening guests. My heart pounded with anxiety. I ran outside onto the street, hemming and hawing, sweat running down my temples, in near tears. In retrospect, it wasn’t wise for me to be out there wobbling around in heels that I don’t like wearing in the first place! Trying to conduct traffic in a flashy outfit I hated was like a scene from Legally Blonde, except Elle Woods would be 10 or 15 pounds overweight and approaching 50. From this experience, I learned to make sure to ask for help when it’s needed. Hosting a fundraiser for 300 is not the same as an open house Holiday party or community kirtan chant for forty. A host should roll up her sleeves but not be trying to valet park cars at her organization’s fundraising event. It takes a village. When you grow as an organization, you can’t do it all. Delegating is key. There will be mishaps and sometimes you just need to let that stuff go! Even worse, my worrying over what I could not control made the problem bigger. I almost forgot to connect with people, celebrate the positive change we were making and be in the moment. The next year I wore a comfortable, yet festive dress and sensible boots, (because being comfortable being my quirky offbeat self and letting mishaps be mishaps is okay). I learned that most events don’t run perfectly. The next year I was sure to remind people to uber and to remind myself be in the moment and be myself no matter what happens.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote. “The wound is the place where the light enters you” by Rumi is one of my favorites. I believe that we become better people when we let our scars shape us for the better. My foundation, The Kara Love Project and book GIVING GRIEF MEANING are my ways of showing how we can create blessings out of our own darkness and despair.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My most interesting and exciting projects are teaching The Name Work, which is the modality in my memoir GIVING GRIEF MEANING. The Name Work involves helping people create positive change through working with their chosen name or the name of someone they love. Our names can be used as tools to move through suffering. To do this we find inspired qualities in each of the letters of our names. I used my daughter Kara’s name and it helped me to connect with her and heal. Here’s how it looks. KARA
K- K is for Kindness- Lets be kind to ourselves, others and the environment.
A is for Alignment- Lets look towards the light even when we think life sucks. Let’s move towards what is good and right even when we can’t see it for ourselves.
R- R is for Regeneration- Lets commit to wellness practices that help us to feel more grounded, spacious, and connected.
A is for Action- Let’s bring our good out into action and connect with the changemakers in the world.
Through Kara’s name I learned how to teach others to use their chosen name for healing and inspired vision. During the global pandemic, we were able to connect with Foster Care Counts/Guardian Scholars program and Meal Nation by sponsoring meals for former foster youth who are now college students. We also taught The Name Work workshop series for Foster Care Counts/ Guardian Scholars on the power of connecting with our Names through using our own heartbeats and breath and learning to create a vision for inspired change. Through tapping into ourselves first somatically we are able to learn how to create affirmations from an authentic place rather, than pretending life looks rosy when it isn’t. The Name Work Card Deck, a companion to my book has affirmations from A-Z written on a deck of beautiful cards. The students were able to see their chosen names spelled out. And out of that grounded and inspired space — we were able to find qualities and create positive and informed self-statements that truly resonate with each individual for positive change. It is a privilege to be connecting with these engaged students who are committed to growth. We have also held GIVING GRIEF MEANING book launch fundraisers for Project Angel Food and Insight LA which are both positive organizations helping people in need. The birth of my book also means expanding our online presence and changing the very definition of grief. Grief is not just about losing a loved one, it can also be about losing a job, a home or even the loss of possibilities. Our collective grief over systemic racism, violence and fear during the pandemic has expanded what it means to grieve as a society. The Name Work can help us turn towards light and hope and connect with each other.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
Three good habits that contribute to my mental well-being are
1. Making sure that I get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. The Maharishi, Mahesh Yogi recommends an ayurvedic schedule of in bed by 10PM and up at 6AM but I am too much of a night owl for that. In bed at Midnight and up at 8am works much better for me. This year I am aiming to get to bed by 11pm and up by 7am. I will let you know how that goes. Some people do okay on 6 hours of sleep, but that has never worked for me. It may take some time to figure out what you need, by checking in with yourself and seeing how you feel.
2. Having some sort of steadfast and ongoing support system. I saw the same therapist for nearly a decade who helped me stick with sobriety and changed my life for the better. I have also been in the same 12 Step women’s group for over 15 years. Checking in with these powerful women has become a part of my overall wellness and sobriety. Other people have Meditation Groups, Women’s Circles, Men’s Circles, Yoga, or Prayer groups. I often join workshops that include many of these things. That said, I believe in the power of choosing an ongoing group and having a long-term relationship with it. This means sticking around even when you feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean staying if something feels abusive. Trust your intuition. If something feels off it usually is. It does mean being committed to ride through awkward, uncomfortable or challenging moments. Staying with what is often called “a home group” taught me the beauty of accepting the complicated nature of people and helped me sustain healthy relationships outside of the group. If addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, emotions like anger, or people is a part of your story I highly recommend looking into a 12 Step Group. They are free. I had many reservations at first but found that I was able to be myself and ‘take what I like and leave the rest.’
3. Writing it down. Having a journal and taking time to write at least three entire “morning pages” has been an ongoing part of my process. It ebbs and flows depending where I am in my life, but I always come back to it. Writing Coach Julia Cameron advocates doing this and it helps me to process my feelings and get me back into my body when I am feeling overwhelmed. When I write about what I see or hear that is in front of me or get things off my chest, I usually feel a whole lot better or at the very least good about myself. I do as she instructs and don’t stop to censor myself. Although my morning pages look more like afternoon or evening pages, I’m glad that I have this practice in my toolbox.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
My Name Work is my meditation. I invite you to do a mini–Name Work exercise with me. Okay, if you are willing rub your hands vigorously together for ten seconds then stop and see what you feel. This helps us to tune into our own heartbeat. Can you feel your heartbeat in your fingertips? Rub your hands together again, feel your heart beat at your fingertips, and take ten deep breaths in through the nose and out through the nose (ujjayi breaths). Do this to your own beat to your own drum. After the 10 ujjayi breaths, breathe normally for a few minutes. Gently bring your mind back to the breath if it wanders. When you are finished feel your feet on the ground. Now if you have time, rest with your feet up in a chair for a few minutes. Notice how you feel. It is out of this space that you can begin to feel that place inside that is okay no matter what feelings are passing through. Out of total acceptance of what is we can begin to affirm for our lives without trying to fix or change anything. Let’s take the K in Kindness and affirm something that works for most everyone. “I treat myself with kindness by embracing wellness practices and plant seeds of HOPE in my consciousness.” Or “I am learning to trust my very own heartbeat and breath.” When we treat ourselves with kindness becoming intimate with our own life force we begin to co-create with life through being with our own natural rhythms. It is out of this space of kindness to myself that I am willing and able to be kind to others and the environment. As they say on the airplane, we need to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first!
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
- When I’m feeling nervous energy getting my heart pumping through a short powerful “burst of activity” as my friend Judith Orloff likes to say has been very helpful to me. The form changes. Sometimes it’s taking a brisk walk and other times its riding a stationary bike. These bursts help to center me and burn off anxiety. This helps when I don’t have the time to slowly create heat through a longer yoga practice. If I have a lot of nervous or excess frenetic energy, I know it’s time for a burst of activity.
- When I am feeling depleted taking a hot bath or shower and practicing restorative yoga helps restore me. The hot bath or shower loosens up stiff joints. As the water washes over me, I remind myself that my skin is an organ that needs to be treated with love. After I dry and dress, I get into child’s pose on a yoga mat and take a few deep breaths. Then I inhale up and out of child’s pose into a tabletop position and exhale back down into childs pose using ujjayi breath, in through the nose and out through the nose. I do this for between four and eight breaths and then lie on my back resting with my knees to my chest for four breaths. I then inhale feet up to the sky and hands over head and then exhale with my knees to my chest hugging the knees. I do this using ujjayi breath in through the nose and out through the nose. I then rest lying on my back in Shivasana or corpse pose for a few minutes.
- Getting outside in nature, being quiet and observing what I see in the daytime or taking a little time to look up at the moon and stars at night helps me to reconnect. The Ojai Foundation teaches visitors the power of taking off our shoes and feeling our feet on the earth. It is also good to put our bellies to the earth if we can — to listen to nature’s pulse in order to become more in tune with our own. I went to a women’s retreat at the Ojai Foundation in Ojai, California and stayed in a yurt which is like a tee pee. It was here that I understood how disconnected I was from nature when I awoke in the middle of the night feeling like I wanted to turn the volume down on the nature tape! I sat up in bed to look for the remote control and then realized that I was actually in mother nature! I then understood that it was time for me to reconnect to nature’s rhythm.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?
Limit or cut out soda and alcohol. Lots of fruits and vegetables, avocado, nuts, sunflower seed butter, beans, squash, and whole grain rice. And have you tried Beyond Meat? It’s pretty good! Also, Kombucha for something sweet and for a healthy gut. I love sprouted grain bread which has less starch and coconut oil instead of butter. I do my best to stay away from sugary things like bread and cake. And I use almond or oat milk instead of dairy. Many of us have learned that we are more connected to the earth than we want to recognize. COVID has shown us that unhealthy eating practices can contribute to a pandemic. Our time to eat thoughtlessly as human beings is up. We can’t deny that eating factory farmed meat is the cause of so much disease. Just google e coli outbreaks/ factory farms and you will find articles in mainstream newspapers. That said, as a species we need to move towards a plant-based diet. It’s better for our earth. And ethically, I think it is just wrong that pigs are in gestation crates on factory farms unable to turn around for their entire lives. Unfortunately, that is just one example of the horrors that factory farmed animals face. Still to be truthful I am passionate but far from perfect. I eat salmon, chicken, cheese, and turkey sometimes. Clearly, I am not meat free. Still, I am taking steps to eat more consciously. I do take some pride in saying that I haven’t had red meat in over twenty years. It is my way of standing for animals and reducing my carbon footprint. I look up to friends and mentors who are fully committed to living a vegan life. I will affirm loudly that I am an aspiring vegan and one day will commit fully to this path. If you are interested in starting a healthier and more conscious diet, start by giving up soda and processed food like chips and pre-packaged cakes and meat. Eat more fruits and vegetables. When hungry, reach for an apple or a banana. If I am in the mood for crunch, I air pop popcorn without added butter or salt or crunch on lightly salted rice cakes.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
Three Good habits that can lead to emotional well-being — -
- Focus on others. Studies show that reaching out to those in need and being of service improves our own mental wellbeing. This could look like going through the closet and donating old clothes and blankets to the local homeless shelter. Volunteering to call homebound elderly during the pandemic, walking dogs at the local animal rescue, or giving blood. Volunteers at our Kara Love Project joined LA Works and called homebound seniors during the pandemic. Many of us are busy moms and this helped us be grateful that we are not isolated even when the kids are climbing up the walls! The prayer of Saint Francis often reminds me to take the focus off of myself. My favorite line is “grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.”
- Have a gratitude buddy. I have been doing a gratitude list with a friend during the pandemic and find that it helps lift my spirits more often than not. We list three things even if it is, the sun is out, my sweats are comfortable, and my cat is feeling better.
- Go on a socially distanced walk with a friend or take a zoom class. We are social beings, and we need each other, especially in the pandemic. I’ve really enjoyed connecting with my favorite now online Yoga studio Bhakti Yoga Shala which helps fill my need for community. I also attend my weekly 12 step women’s group.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.
I believe the song “when you are smiling the whole world smiles with you.” Actually, research shows that when we smile it releases endorphins which fill us with positivity. This means smiling and tapping into the heartbeat and breath and creating what Michael Beckwith calls a feeling tone. We can do this by first feeling whatever discomfort that may come up in the body mind as we breathe. We don’t want to push away the seemingly negative emotions. We need to feel what comes up in our bodies and minds in order to trust our own lives and selves. It is out of this connected space that we can begin picturing a moment of happiness. Then we can try breathing and smiling into that! This way we are smiling authentically. If this doesn’t work, you may try affirming, “I have faith and hope that an authentic smile will come when I least expect it.” Pay attention to how you feel and what you see when you smile and do more of that!
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.
Optimum Spiritual wellbeing happens for me when:
- I take time to pause and regenerate each day in my own unique way. It can look like simply taking a walk or through doing a restorative yoga practice. I also love the family practice of lighting sabbath candles on Friday Night to pause and be together.
- I have dedicated space to restore. In my space I have created an altar where I have images of my family and photos of teachers that make me feel good about life. I light a candle, sing, pray, meditate, and chant in this space.
- I stay connected to a spiritual community that feeds my soul.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?
Personally, I feel the need to find ways to connect with nature each day. We spend so much time on our devices that it is more important now more than ever to stay connected to the rhythm of the earth. Many of us know when the earth becomes polluted, so do we. Just think of the warnings that pregnant women get about staying away from fish. This is because our oceans have become toxic. There are many more examples, but this is just another reminder that when the earth and its creatures become sick — so do we.
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.
If I could inspire a movement, I would have everyone practicing the Name Work and assigning enlightened and transformational qualities to their own names or a name of choice. This would ignite authentic conversations around what I believe we all truly want, and that is love and connection.
As human beings we all want to feel connected and understood. The Name Work gives us a method to re-learn what it means to be open to our neighbors and to listen to each other’s highest vision without judging. We would begin to ask each other, what quality are you working with today? And we would “hold space” by really seeing the good for one another. We can begin embracing the power of names again by naming what we want to see in the world. This would happen through asking each other questions like “what are you naming and making positive change with today?” These questions wouldn’t come from a place of judgement but rather a place of inquiry. When we lost Kara, I feared that we would never have a child again, but our community held that vision until we could see it for ourselves again. And through that vision we ended up adopting two girls. It is easy to picture a person’s dreams come true for them and more difficult to do it for ourselves. We judge our own dreams and aspirations more harshly than we do anyone else’s. That is why we need to support one another until we become fully able to nurture our own unique visions. When we support the highest good for our neighbor, we become stronger as a collective. We need to move towards each other even if it is over zoom and in a pandemic. Especially in a pandemic. As they say, physically distanced not socially distanced. The Name Work can help us get past politics and creed and back to nuts and bolts of brotherly and sisterly love.
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 🙂
If I could share this with one person, it would be Oprah Winfrey. That’s because Oprah has a Super Soul! I know this sounds cliché, but I can’t worry. She was, is, and always has been one of the first people that comes to mind. Plus, every self-help author wants to meet Oprah. And yes, I’d like to be a bestseller so that my work gets out there and my foundation does well, but it’s not just about that. Really it isn’t. Oprah taught me the power of kindness when I was an angry and addicted kid. I clung to her words. She gave me hope through sharing vulnerably before strength through vulnerability even became a thing. Oprah creates synergy with people and institutions and makes greater possibilities a reality for them just through paying it forward and shining her light. She is a living example of my favorite Rumi quote about the wound being the place where the light enters you. After a horrific childhood, Oprah took her broken places, let in the light and transformed into the healer and changemaker that she is today. She continues to inspire me to do the same with that which is broken in me. So yes, lets tag her! In the meantime, it is an honor for me to do my Name Work for Oprah as a way to pay homage to her and thank her for what her name has done for me and millions of others. Let us all embody our inner Oprah as we make the following affirmations in her honor. Before we begin, I invite you to stop with me and take three deep breaths.
O — O is for Open -I am open to my greatest good. I embrace beauty, kindness, and new discoveries in this moment of pause and connection.
P- P is for Presence- I am a positive presence for myself, others, and the world as I reach out to our global community.
R- R is for Regenerate-I take time each day to pause and regenerate so that I can be the best version of me.
A- A is for Action- I move into action out of a centered place and connect with changemakers on the path.
H- H is for Heal- My life and the lives of others heal through my holistic and healthy vision of living with love and vision on this planet. I continue to shine my light in the world.
Thank you, Oprah. It would be a lifetime dream to share my vision with you. You are an inspiration.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
To find out more about me and me and my work, please go to www.lilydulan.com.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.