A conversation between JJ Van Zon and Vanessa Wallace on authenticity
Posted on 25th July 2022
JJ is our yoga and meditation teacher who joins us at our Arundel retreat twice a year. He and I got together to discuss and share our thoughts, maybe some pearls of wisdom and ideas on the subject of authenticity. What does it mean to be authentic? Most importantly though, what does it mean to YOU to be authentic? This could be different for everyone, but we are here to help you discover what it means for you.
JJ: What does it mean to you, being authentic?
Vanessa: Great question! For me, it means being in alignment with who I am. A kind of ‘knowing’ inside me, knowing what my purpose is here, why am I here? Being authentic has been a journey for me, I knew it was there and was possible. I just had to find it, reach out and grab it. There were many things I needed to do to get to my authentic self.
I think there was a lot of resistance from me on this road, but I have no judgment on myself for that, I almost feel I needed to go through that resistance to discover where I am or where I needed to be. My resistance came up in things like busyness; achievement, thinking “oh this is what I need to achieve, these qualifications…”; drug use, completely avoiding it by burying myself under a pile of drugs and alcohol. All kinds of distractions really, because the calling can be quite scary, there can be a lot of fear. But, like you always say “we need to move from fear to love.”
I felt a lot of shame about my purpose at times too, fear of judgment from others. I had to work on taking all those layers away.
JJ: Authenticity is quite an establishment, and even if you want to be authentic, what does it mean? I think it means something different for everyone. I remember when I was at rock bottom and I had my wake up call, I really wanted to find that “inner peace.” I really wanted all that struggle, conflict and heaviness behind me. I discovered that on my quest to inner peace was turning authentic.
For me, being authentic has four pillars. First of all you need to recognize the fear, as you said Vanessa you need to deal with the resistance, the shame, the guilt and your blame. As you know if you open this jar it can be massive but you have to go through with that. The second pillar is inviting love in because that loving voice is also part of you, actually is you. I believe that is your spirit's voice. I think that because we are not taught to have this loving voice as equal to all the fear we have in our lives it is in the background waiting to be invited in. When we have that loving voice in balance with the fearful voice, that's when you, as the manager, can choose authentically. That’s when we can find the confidence and courage to really shine and stick with our choices.
What happens when I make a choice? Yesterday, I did it, I made a choice. And then five minutes later, my mind voice is trying to doubt it and put insecurity in it. And all of a sudden, I'm in this conflict. “Oh, did I make the right choice or whatever?” Or “where's, where's this leading to?” And I'm in that spiral. The moment when I'm like, “NO,” this is my heart, I made a choice. And, even if it's not the right choice, I will learn from it so that the next time I won't do it. Then I'm in an authentic space, that gives me the power. That to me is authentic.
So, the four pillars are - pillar one is, finding the fear. Pillar two is inviting love in. Number three is to make authentic choices. And pillar number four is to stick with your choice and shine your light.
Vanessa: Could you tell us a bit more about your ‘rock bottom’ JJ, just briefly for those who don't know?
JJ: Well, I was a professional dancer. And that was my childhood dream. And even though back in the day, it took a lot of guts for me to stick with my talent and to really say to everyone who believed that boys shouldn't dance. I was like, “hell no, I'm gonna be a dancer” and I became a dancer.
So, there was a lot of energy and good feelings with that, a lot of confidence. Then when I was 35, everything in the industry changed. There was a new generation, there were new dance styles. Also the internet that came up and ‘So You Think You Can Dance' all those programs and it just cut my salary in half. It just didn't feel right anymore. So, I chose to quit my full time dance career, then I kind of was lost. I felt like I needed something, something more I wanted to have deeper conversations etc. All of a sudden, I was in a total identity crisis and not dealing with the grief of this, not dealing with the feelings. I turned to drugs. For five years, I turned into this bitter, boohoo victim person. After five years, I hit rock bottom, that was when I was having suicidal thoughts. I was so desperate to get out. Spirituality came to me because I was brought up religious, so I just started to pray. I was so desperate I was like, “send me something, send me a sign.” A couple of months later, I got a sign. It wasn't Jesus coming out of the air. No, but I knew it was a sign. It told me to meditate, which I’d never done in my life. So, I started to meditate, which was hell on earth at first. But, because I was so desperate, and that voice was so clear, and I had prayed for it for so long, I did it every day, I had two minutes for me, which I call my me time moment. After a couple of months I started to create distance between me and my thoughts. That was when I was like “why am I so brutal to myself? Why am I thinking all these negative things?” That space to me became like a new passion, because I started to experiment. That is when I found that demon voice on one shoulder, and that angel voice on the other shoulder, and I was like, “Hey, okay, if I'm in balance, I feel more confident, I feel more peaceful.” So I turned my own experiment into my passion, went to India, started to become a yoga teacher, meditation teacher and coaching people. And now we're here!
Vanessa: The biggest thing I hear from that is that on the back of a huge loss that was your wake up call came and you were in that for a little while before you came out. Also, the other thing I heard is how difficult it was to meditate for you. I hear that so often with, and I see that so often with people.
That's my experience as well around the loss because and it's only been during moments of loss, that I've been able to get in touch with myself, and to have that time. It's like the busyness goes away. And I had a big car accident in 1998. And I was laid up for months. But during that time, my authentic self started to jump up and down, “you know, you need to change things, you need to do something different.” There were three times that it happened; the second time I was very ill with swine flu. I had weeks off work. During that time, I did some exploration of who I was. Then when I lost my job in 2017. Again, and this is why I'm here now today, but I think people can relate to this at the moment, because there's a time of loss right now for a lot of people, loss of jobs, loss of status, loss of human contact. So, there is a space, there is an opportunity at the moment. It can be quite painful as well. I mean, I'm running a mindfulness course at the moment. I'm aware in the background, how difficult it is for anyone, even myself to just sit in the moment to be in the moment. Like you say that space between the critic and the compassionate self can start to divide when we can start to see it. That's amazing. That is the point of “Oh, my goodness, what am I doing to myself?” Move into love, it's that compassionate voice we need to hear. But, it's so deep down sometimes it's really in the depths, we have to have a space to allow it.
JJ: For me, it was I needed that, if I didn't feel so desperate to change, I probably would have thrown in the towel. It's hard when you have no idea what the result will be to continue to be consistent. You have to have faith, you need that connection, you need trust. It's a vicious cycle, if you're in that fearful cycle, you need something, maybe a major wake up call or an insight or knowledge to get you out of that cycle and you're gonna go into a different cycle. But it's not easy.
Let's use the pandemic as an example, we are now forced to stay in our house, so basically, we are retreating. Now, if you are in your house and you're an extrovert, for example, you are not used to staying in your house. So you can fight this, or you can use it as an experiment, and finally have that moment of retreat. So that means that you need to address your feelings. That means that you need to address your thoughts. Meditation is getting clear what your thoughts are. That might not always be nice, positive, peachy, unicorn thoughts, right? What most people do when it's getting too much, “oh, no, no, no, it's not for me, I don't want to feel it.” But then you're still in that stagnated area, you need to be in the flow. So these feelings, or these thoughts, the awareness, that needs to be processed. Does that ring a bell?
Vanessa: Totally! The thing that sticks out for me is we need support with that as well. I know that you went to see a therapist yourself. I myself went through a year of treatment in a rehab. You mentioned faith, we need to believe that other people believe in us initially. That's a lot of the stuff that we do on the retreats, we believe in people, we believe in our clients when they come on the retreat, and we give them that support, you know, through an ongoing as well from the journey afterwards.
JJ: Everyone is equal. I was so in low self esteem, I was like, why am I here on this planet? I'm not worthy of this, you know, look at me, just, give my spirit to something else or whatever. But it's not true. You have a beating heart. So you have a birthright, you deserve to be here, and you deserve to feel good as well. So we're all equal here. I think that is why I'm in this business. Because you mentioned before I went to a therapist, but it took me a while to get over that shame, to really get the confidence to ask for help. Yeah, and that is I think that we really do, awaken that faith, trust and confidence. And you of course are the therapist so you can really swoop in there. It's just a really nice combination that we have.
We took some time here to have a mediation. We have spoken about how important it is to take this time to get in touch with ourselves and believe it is a vital ingredient in becoming our authentic selves. I would encourage you to watch the video attached to this and try the mediation for yourself.
Vanessa: Brilliant. I loved that. You know I just love that idea of the space just being in a space. What came to mind for me is now with permission, I talk about permission slips quite a lot, you know, when you're at school, and you get a permission slip to be off PE. So we need to give ourselves permission to allow that time, that space, that authenticity, to remove the shame, the guilt, the negative criticism, and just allow it, allow it in. I think that's why meditation is such an important space because it takes you into that. Okay, “I'm gonna let this in now, just for a few seconds, then a few moments, a couple of minutes, I'm gonna let this in.”
JJ: Yeah, and I think meditation is a nice vehicle to create awareness of your behaviour, of why you are not feeling happy, of why you are not satisfied. You know, there are so many people who don't know what the purpose is, don't know what is, why is this going on? They want answers, but they are unable to sit down and accept this moment. I think that's also because we are talking about authenticity. I think authentic people really are in the moment. They accept and appreciate and love the moment.That's why we love those authentic people so much. We love authentic movie stories, right? That's what we love to see. And on the other hand, we can create our own movie story. So yeah, I think that that is what meditation can do to you, you’re important enough to be your own movie.
The journey to our authentic self can be a scary one, a long one and a challenging one. But, what myself and JJ have discovered is a sense of peace and fulfillment that we want you to experience. What we both learned is that we had to face our fears, seek help, take time to be in the moment, allow the process to happen and stand in our light.
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