David Shapiro del Sole


Jessica Raschke


Bowral, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-Mé


November 3, 2014

David Shapiro del Sole: Building empathy through stories

David Shapiro del Sole was born in New York and came of age during the Vietnam War. His story (so far) is a testament to finding your own way amid social and political tumult. David now lives in Bowral in New South Wales, Australia, where he has set up Highlands Counselling. It’s a place to go if you’re hoping to really be seen and heard. And most of us do yearn for this. David generously shared his story with me with honesty and humour. Here it is – enjoy!

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like and what led to the here and now?

David: I was born in the United States in New York in an area called Brooklyn. That’s where my father was born and grew up; my grandparents on both sides were Jewish. My paternal grandparents came from Russia and my maternal grandparents came from Hungary. I don’t remember my first years in New York. At about the age of two my parents moved because of my father’s work down south in the US. The reason why that was significant for my parents and for me was that Dad came of age during the Depression. He got involved in radical politics so he lost his job in New York because he got blackballed; it was one of the reasons why we shifted. So we went down to the deep south of the US to a small town with a population of 200 people. 190 of the 200 were black and the 10 who ran the town were white. We spent four years there. That was my learning of language so I can remember having a really strong southern accent.

And then we moved around a lot. We moved to the mid-west for a couple of years. That made a strong impression on me because my Dad had little businesses but my Mum – to make extra money – cooked dinner for the foreign students at the local university. On the one hand, because I was an only child, dinnertime was quite active and to me very exciting. There were students from France and South America and Israel and it introduced me to the larger world. We moved back to New York when I was about eight years old. For a number of years we lived with relatives because we didn’t have our own place.

Growing up in New York was a bit of an education in cultural diversity. That became a strong stream in my education and how I see life.

Jess: So what brought you back to New York?

David: My Dad was constantly trying to avoid 9-to-5 jobs and working for people, so he started a series of his own businesses, all of which lasted anywhere from six months to a couple of years and then went belly up. My Dad (this says something about me, too) was at the dreamer end of the spectrum rather than the practical end. So we lived with relatives in New York where my Dad again started another business. We lived behind a shop where my parents made some artistic things. It was an old Jewish neighbourhood and there was some sense that the greater part of the world is Jewish because that was my experience growing up. When I got older I realised the Jewish community was a minority rather than being the world’s population. Growing up in New York was a bit of an education in cultural diversity. That became a strong stream in my education and how I see life.

Then I did the usual kind of thing; I went to high school and university, which you were expected to do. The Vietnam War came along and I was of age. I had finished university and I was called up. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. In the end I left the country and became a draft dodger and went to Canada.

Jess: You mentioned that you went to university, what did you study?

David: I should say that I went to a few universities [laughs].


Jess: It took a while!

David: It took a while. Yes, it took twice as long as others. I started off as a science major. As you can probably tell in how I speak about my Dad, he was a strong influence in my early life. He had two sides: on the one side he was a very rational man, his conscious view of the world was, “If you think things through rationally you will arrive at the best answer”. Then, on the other side, which he didn’t particularly acknowledge but was by far the most important side of him for me as a kid: he was a very deeply feeling man, very kind, very gentle. As a teenager I picked up the rational scientific side and I had plans to go into biology. I spent about a year and a half thinking that, but I wasn’t connecting with it. Then I changed to history, and then I dropped out of school. I was close to my final year when I dropped out. That’s when I first got called up to go into the army. I don’t know if what was happening in Vietnam was quite a war yet, but it was really hotting up. And because there was the draft, ever since World War II, there was compulsory military service. When my turn came I quickly ran back to university and started doing literature.

I started to see myself as a potential writer and there was a school in New York called the New School for Social Research, which had some really cutting edge creative writing courses. So I went there for my final year and did some creative writing courses and got a degree in literature. When I finished I got called up again and it became a choice between the army and graduate school. I tried to avoid both and went up to Canada.

Jess: So what did you do when you were in Canada?

David: Before I answer that I should mention something that was significant. It was the mid-1960s at the time and I had a year abroad in Europe. I came back from Europe and everybody and their little brother was trying drugs of various sorts, me included, doing the usual dope smoking and Timothy Leary thing. I took some acid trips and had a couple of very, very traumatising experiences. At the same time I was being invited to join the US Army. All this stuff was happening at the social level in the country, it was real upheaval. Families were being broken up; there was conflict between one generation and the next. I was going through a personal crisis within myself, feeling completely lost. So when I went up to Canada I tried to get some legal advice about what my position would be there. No one really knew; the Canadian government was trying to sidestep the entire issue. At that time you could go to Canada without ID or a passport, so I just hopped on a bus and went over. I made some contact with some existing draft resister organisations in Canada and the US. They put me on to a place where I could get a job in Montréal. It was a local university library and the head librarian was sympathetic to draft resisters so I got a job working in the stacks. So that kept me alive.

It was the late 1960s and early 1970s. On top of everyone taking drugs, my friends were going off to India. They were studying Zen Buddhism, so I started getting interested…

At the time I was working under a false name because it wasn’t clear where the Canadian government was sitting. Technically they were saying they had no legal rights to send people back. It turned out later that they were in fact stopping people at the border and turning them back. So for about a year lived under a false name, but when the newspapers broke the story that the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) was doing stuff that wasn’t really legal it became safe and I became a Canadian citizen. At the time I was holding down two jobs; one at the library and the other door-to-door marketing, asking people what kind of beer they drank. I was still interested in writing so in my spare time I was trying to write.

It was the late 1960s and early 1970s. On top of everyone taking drugs, my friends were going off to India. They were studying Zen Buddhism, so I started getting interested in that kind of stuff. I went to yoga camps and attended Sufi meetings. Eventually I was trying a bit here and there of the various spiritual offerings. I went to a lecture on Steiner education and when I came away from the meeting I remarked that no one came up to me and said how glad they were to have me and would I be coming back. I felt no one made the effort to have me join up, which was such an enormous relief to me. And I thought, “Okay, I can come back”.

Jess: That’s a bit of an unexpected response, isn’t it?

David: Absolutely! Maybe it says something about the people from that particular movement. But to me that was a really important thing and, interestingly enough, Steiner started off as a philosopher of science. His basic foundation book is called Philosophy of Freedom. There is something going on there, I’m not quite sure what, but it spoke to me.

I spent another five or six years in Canada holding down odd jobs. I was also doing some writing. I tried to go back to university to do a Masters in Creative Writing at one of the universities on the West Coast. But I also found out there was this weird and wonderful course called Creative Speech, which came out of Steiner’s work. He had worked with his wife, an actress, and they created what they call Creative Speech together. There seemed to be an overlap between writing and putting that written mode into spoken form so, a year later, I was on a plane to Australia on a student visa to do this speech and drama course, which went for four years.

Jess: So where was that in Australia?

David: When I first arrived it was in a small studio in Cremorne [NSW] that had anywhere from 15 to 20 students in it. Then it moved over to Manly [NSW] and that’s where it was from the time that I was there. By the time I finished the course I met a woman who was one of my teachers. A few months after I finished the course we had a son so I applied for immigration because I only had a student visa and I wanted to stay. I needed to find a job. I got a very small educational grant from a high school in Mt Druitt. They wanted someone to come in and tell stories to their students once a week. And I thought, “Someone will actually pay me money to come and tell stories to kids?” So I started promoting myself and eventually got some community arts grants and spent the next seven years telling stories around Australia.

Jess: And now you earn your crust by listening to other people’s stories!

David: Yes, now I listen to stories. When I meet up with people I knew 25 years ago and they ask if I tell stories anymore, I say, “No, but I listen to stories now”. It’s the same activity, sitting on the other side of the room.

Jess: In being able to tell so many stories in the first place you would have been listening, they need to have come from somewhere.

David: Absolutely. Since I’ve become involved in doing therapeutic work it’s become much clearer to me that listening is equally active as the actual telling. What is happening for the teller is equally dependent on the listener and vice versa. It’s a totally collaborative activity.

Jess: So how is it that you shifted from being the teller to the listener?

David: There is a gap in between. Eventually after about seven years the grants and the work dried up for me. It was the Howard era and most grants were disappearing. I was competing against the Bell Shakespeare Company to get bookings in schools. During this time I became a single parent. Because the work started to dry up I just thought, “Stuff it for now,” and I stayed home for about eight years being a parent. When my son moved on I went back to school again and got a degree in teaching English as a second language. I did that for about 10 years, and by this time I was ageing. I was always ageing but I was getting close to retirement age. I had friends who were working in the mental health field and a close friend of mine had just come back from Europe where she had studied with someone who began their own therapeutic model, strongly influenced by Jung’s work, and called Process Orientated Psychology. Some years later, I thought, “I’m going to try something different,” so I went and did a counselling course in Sydney and then when I finished I hung up my shingle. For the first two or three years I had one utterly devoted client. If it weren’t for her I would have given up long ago! I am eternally grateful to her for keeping the flame going.


Jess: So how long has Highlands Counselling been in existence?

David: Since I finished my course, so that’s five years now.

Jess: There seem to be some key philosophies that really inspired you, mainly Steiner philosophies and the Jungian approaches to psychology.

David: My first introduction to psychology was Process Orientated Psychology. Its founder, Arnold Mindell, had originally been a Jungian therapist and he took it to what he described as the next step of the Jungian approach. He did a lot of bodywork and what he discovered in observing our physical body was that you could read the physical body in the same way you could read dreams. He would sit there and watch you. He would look at how your hand is holding a glass and start having a conversation about that physical gesture. And because of my background in Steiner I was certainly open to the whole Jungian approach and to process work.

When I started doing the course somebody came in and gave a lecture on Carl Rogers. They showed us a video of Rogers and Fritz Perls, the founder of gestalt, and another fellow whose name I can’t remember. Carl Rogers sat there and there was something about him that was so intent in his listening. It was like he was listening to this person’s presence. I didn’t know what it was but I kept watching the video again and again.

Then I was married a second time and my second wife had died and I discovered some books she had. She had at least one of Rogers’ main books and I started reading it. He wrote as you would expect someone to speak – in such simple, conversational language. In all of my studies I hadn’t come across that at all. This guy was speaking to world conferences in language an eight-year-old could understand. I didn’t know if it was good or bad, but it really grabbed something in me. It was something that I trusted. So over the last five years he and those who have been his disciples and came out of his work have been inspiring me.

Jess: So would you describe yourself as a Carl Rogers disciple?

David: I’m too scattered to be anyone’s disciple. It’s like that experience of going onto the internet and being led from one place to the other. I tend to go back to that very basic experience of just listening to what the other person is saying, forget everything else, just being present to what they’re saying. I do come back to that, always.

Jess: I know you’ll have confidentially issues to think about, but in a broad sense what happens in your counselling sessions?

David: Even if I didn’t have confidentiality issues I would have difficulty in describing it! I at least try. I often come away feeling I haven’t done so well in just listening rather than bringing in my own history, my own story. While I know that it’s inevitable that I bring me to the meeting, I want to be as conscious as possible that my story doesn’t interfere with the story that you’re struggling to tell. So what do I do? I say, “Hi”.

I take it as my task to know who this person is because I think that is the foundation of what we call therapy or healing, this thing about knowing who I am, and knowing who you are.

Jess: That’s a good start! [Laughs.]

David: [Laughs.] If I get past that, I’m relieved. Will they respond? And as soon as that starts a huge part of it is unknown to me. I take it as my task to know who this person is because I think that is the foundation of what we call therapy or healing, this thing about knowing who I am, and knowing who you are. So if the other person can at least feel that my commitment is to get to know them, then the relationship starts to become something that is prized, is valued. It’s about seeing yourself and your environment as being of enormous value, which can be totally different to the message given to you by your family or community. If I can help with that, then I have a sense I’ve done okay.

Jess: In a roundabout kind of way what you’re saying is that what you bring to counselling sessions is that deep sense of empathy of looking deep, feeling deep, so that the person feels that they’re being seen and can recognise that they matter. How do you facilitate that process? Isn’t that a bit taxing on you?

David: I’ll go back to Rogers. He said, for him, there were three conditions for healing to happen. One was empathy, stepping into another person’s position, another one was what he called congruence and that is, in a more everyday way, called being upfront, being honest, this is who I am. I don’t sit in the therapist’s chair trying to give you an impression that is not me. So I have to be as free as possible of trying to be someone I am not. To the extent that I can do that, I can be present for the other and I can also step into what they’re telling me, I don’t have agendas. I think that carrying the least amount of my own personal baggage allows me to be empathic.

Jess: That’s interesting. “Baggage” can be a loaded term. But you grew up among all kinds of cultures and it sounds like you were exposed to diversity. You are also young in the 60s and you were aware of what was going on in politics and the Vietnam War. You mentioned that you lost your second wife, which must have been a traumatic grief. So you’ve got this breadth of experience that must be brought to the process. It’ll give you the empathy and a capacity to connect. All of that is going to come with you. Your experience would make you feel more ‘real’, more ‘human’, to your clients.

David: If I understand what you’re saying, it’s that baggage can also be a positive. Yeah, there’s baggage and there’s baggage.


Jess: Well, there’s baggage that hasn’t worked, and then there’s baggage that helps you.

David: That’s a really good point. Baggage has always had a negative connotation for me, and you’ve completely turned that around, so from now on I’m going to come into the room with heaps of baggage [Laughs.] I think you’ve helped me. How much do I owe you?

Jess: [Laughs.] Now, I wanted to ask about your Empathy Circle in particular. I’m curious to know what happens during an Empathy Circle session?

David: The Empathy Circle started about a year and a half ago; it came out of a program I was running for depression. And when it came to an end I asked if anyone wanted to continue not as a program but just as a group that meets every once in a while. About half a dozen people were interested in doing that. There was something about having the capacity to listen that seemed more and more important to me, which is why I called it the Empathy Circle. And what do we do? It really is very open. I play the role of facilitator but what’s talked about is up to the people who come. We go for a couple of hours and it just rolls along. I do other groups as well, but I’ve never come away from an Empathy Circle feeling that nothing has happened. I have had that in other groups but not in the Empathy Circle.

Jess: Is it mostly the same people on a weekly basis?

David: There is now a core group of about five or six and they connect outside of the group, as well now. They’ve gotten to know each other and have formed bonds. Something came up recently in the group; it was quite unexpected, in which someone was very distressed. At that moment, it could be said that I was not quick enough to act, not present enough, and so created something of an empty space. A number of the participants immediately jumped in to fill that space and took care of it. I certainly didn’t do that intentionally, one could say I stuffed up there, but looking down from above and seeing a larger picture, I could say, “David, you were fantastic!” [Laughs.] Quite unconsciously and unintentionally, of course. Some of those participants now have the experience of: “I come here as a person not just with difficulties, but I also have the capacity to help other people.” In terms of a therapeutic effect, that is crucial. Groups can offer that.

Jess: Each group has their own dynamics. One-on-one counselling can still be an atomised experience; you can still feel quite isolated with whatever issues you’re dealing with. In a group setting you have the opportunity to share your stories and be in the trenches together. Can you tell me a little bit more about the two men’s groups that you run?

David: They’re quite different. One’s been going for five years and that’s held at under the auspices of Wingecarribee Family Support. So I co-facilitated an eight-week program for grief but it was for men only. Some of the participants really started to bond with each other. They had never been to any kind of men’s group before and they asked if they could have an ongoing thing, so we started to have weekly meetings. Five years later it’s still going.

The other men’s group meets once a fortnight. The fellow who started the Harmony Centre in Mittagong started that. He had an interest in getting a men’s group and asked me whether I would be interested in facilitating and I said, “Sure”. It’s a somewhat different demographic. The men who come to that group don’t come because they have had mental health issues; they’ve come because their partner tells them they don’t know how to talk about their feelings. It’s somewhat different and so the conversation has a different flavour. I haven’t thought about this before, but is there a common theme between the two groups? I suppose the common theme is that – in this very fluid world where gender roles have been turned upside down in such a relatively brief space of time – where am I and what am I supposed to be doing?


Jess: It’s interesting because among women there is a tradition of swapping stories about pesky parenting issues. Men don’t usually have that kind of space marked out for them at that everyday level. They do when it comes to writing books, men are the public storytellers in patriarchal cultures. So we listen to men’s stories more often at that meta-level, but not at that everyday level. Do the men in your groups find it cathartic? Do those who keep coming back find it refreshing and relieving?

David: I think telling your story, whatever the gender of the person telling it, is therapeutic for the person telling it. When the Empathy Circle started it was a mixed group for the first six months, at the moment it’s all women. I think it’s fair to say – I might get some difficult feedback from the men who were in the group – that the men really had difficulty in keeping up with this facility that some of the women had to not only speak about their emotional life, but to have awareness of their emotions. On a certain level some of them really appreciated and respected it, but if they were thinking competitively, “Am I up to scratch?” then it is was going to be a very humbling experience for them. That was my take on why some of the men dropped away. I find as a facilitator in a men’s group, I often try to bring the conversation around to a more intimate, personal tone, whereas with women, I have to do that much less.

Jess: I often feel that men are trapped in a way, socially. It happens on both sides, there is an entrapment of some sort on both sides. For most men it’s emotions, and for most women it’s about feeling empowered in the public sphere.

So The Soul Spectrum looks at spirituality and soulfulness in it very broad terms. There is a strong undercurrent of spirit and soul going on in your life, but do you have spiritual practice?

David: Well, I run it by you and you can tell me if it ticks the boxes! [Laughs.] For years I would make attempts at meditation, it was one of those things. It wasn’t a requirement but it was certainly on offer in the Steiner circles. I would do it for a few weeks and think, “I’m not getting anywhere,” and give up. Then when I met my second wife she was very deeply involved in Vipassana and she was constantly going off to retreats. She was inviting me and sometimes it was even stronger than an invitation to do some meditation. I suppose it just gets back to this thing of feeling so comfortable in the group that made no effort to invite me to join. There’s something about groups that I find I’m very cautious around. So I didn’t begin to meditate in any regular sort of way until my wife died. It was a way to get in touch with something in myself but it was also about staying connected to her. I needed to because she died suddenly in the car next to me. As painful as the experience was, I knew that it touched on something that I didn’t want to lose; it had awakened something in me. I think you used the word depth or deep and it was that, it was the depth of experience. I thought, “This is bloody painful but I feel so alive”. So each morning, before I had breakfast, I would get up and do some Tai Chi, then I would sit and it was my 20 to 30 minutes, it was my time, and I’ve been doing that for years.

I read a book by a man who is a physicist who also wrote a book on the Dalai Lama. It was about contemplation and it had parallels with other things I was coming across in psychology around phenomenology that relates to listening and taking in as purely as possible the actual phenomenon. What’s going on there? Letting it speak to you.

Jess: It all sounds suspiciously like mindfulness to me!

As I grew up superficiality was worse than first-degree murder and depth is what makes life worthwhile.

David: When I think about soul my mind goes to soul music. I grew up in the US and it was the 1960s. I was never a big rock ‘n’ roll fan but I really liked soul music and I still listen to it. I was thinking what is it that grabs me and it has something to do with that term “depth”. I conveniently forgot to tell you I had mother issues. If you asked me what would truly drive me nuts and why I found it so difficult to be empathetic towards my mother, I would say it was her superficiality, in my eyes. As I grew up superficiality was worse than first-degree murder and depth is what makes life worthwhile.

So soul. Soulfulness to me is depth. There’s a Spanish poet, who won the Noble Prize in the 1950s: Juan Ramon Jimenez. I came across some of his poetry and I was blown away. I went to Spain and visited the place where he was born, a pilgrimage of sorts that I was drawn to do. I later came across a collection of his poems that I didn’t know called Animal of Depth. In one of his poems there is a line, “I am an animal of depth of air”. It struck me that putting side by side a word like depth that describes vertical measurement in space and air that is immeasurable and intangible.They seemed contradictory terms. For me it is the kind of depth we experience when we choose or are forced to deeply enter, to go down into our own experience – our own immeasurable, intangible being – that’s what I think of when I say the word soul.

Jess: Wonderful, thanks David!

* For more information about David Shapiro del Sole, please visit

* For more information about Hamish Ta-mé, please visit


Lyra L'Estrange


Jessica Raschke


Robertson, New South Wales


Hamish Ta-Mé


October 2, 2014

Lyra L’Estrange: Living the connected life

Lyra L’Estrange is a gentle and wise woman who embraced a spiritual understanding of life at a young age. Compelled to educate and support adults through some of life’s challenges, she has recently become a Parenting by Connection instructor. It’s all about really listening to your children and your self, and fostering deep connection and understanding, which amounts to a life of unconditional love. I spoke with Lyra in her beautiful home in Robertson in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Jess: Can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up? What were the forces and influences that you feel shaped you as a young person?

Lyra: I was born in Coonabarabran, which is a small town in country New South Wales. I’m the eldest of four; I’ve got three younger brothers. We grew up on a farm, not a working farm, though; it was more of a hobby farm with lots of bush, 400 acres. So we were free as children to just roam around. We would spend most of summer without any clothes on, just hanging around in the bush and in the dam, building cubbies and climbing trees.

Mum and Dad were around a lot. Mum worked in town for a couple of days a week as a physiotherapist, and Dad was self-employed so he would pick and choose his work. We were never put in care; our parents spent a lot of time with us, which was a big influence on how I wanted to bring up my children.

We went to the local state school, which wasn’t anything fancy. I went there until I was 13 and then we moved to Hobart. My Dad wanted to find work down there; he was an engineer by trade and wanted to do some more work in the Antarctic. That didn’t end up happening, but we still moved down to Tassie. Mum grew up in Hobart. I think Mum and Dad thought that we had a really good life in Coonabarabran, but it was very sheltered. They thought moving to the “big city” – even Hobart – would give us some perspective on how other people live. So we packed up and moved and were there for two years. I went to a state school down there, which was an eye-opener in terms of how other kids are raised and what’s going on during those formative teenage years.

Jess: So did it have the effect that your parents were hoping for?

Lyra: Yes, it definitely opened our horizons. We got to experience a different culture, the city culture. There was exposure to drugs and parties and that kind of thing, which we hadn’t been exposed to before. My cousin came with me. She was a year older and we were really close, and we did a lot together down there. But to Mum and Dad’s credit they provided such a strong, solid base at home. They took us out on weekends to go exploring in the bush, and to see the sights of Tassie. So we didn’t stray too far into the party scene. There was no need to!

People often ask me, “Did you rebel as a teenager?” I didn’t because I didn’t have much to rebel against.

My Dad was an avid bushwalker. His mother, my grandmother, is Dorothy Butler who’s quite well known in bushwalking circles. She’s passed on now, but she’d written a book called The Barefoot Bush Walker, and was one of the founding members of the Sydney Bushwalking Club in the Blue Mountains. So my Dad definitely followed in her footsteps and thought he would like us to do the same. But he went for a walk on his own at the end of those two years in Tassie and didn’t come back. We searched for months and had to return to Coonabarabran without him. I was 15, almost 16, at the time and it was a huge. It was a time where I grew up very quickly. People often ask me, “Did you rebel as a teenager?” I didn’t because I didn’t have much to rebel against, and I knew that Mum needed me close. She was trying so hard to raise us all. My youngest brother was only five at the time.

Jess: And you were the eldest…

Lyra: Yeah, so I helped her run the household and come back into the community that we had left. We still have very good friends there who helped us through that difficult time.

Jess: So your Dad just disappeared without a trace, there’s no indication of what happened to him?

Lyra: Nothing, not even footprints that could be linked to him. So it’s a mystery and obviously harder to deal with because of the lack of closure. But he was a very spiritual person and very much a searcher. Back in the early days, when I started school, he and Mum would run a spiritual meeting at our place once a month. We thought it was great because lots of kids came and we played all day! But those spiritual values infiltrated how they brought us up. It was very much about Eastern philosophy, such as Sai Baba and Buddhism. There were photos of gurus in the house and Dad would go upstairs to meditate. He would put on his meditation music and we knew what he was doing. So we were exposed to that, it was in the house all of the time.

His disappearance really tested our strength and our beliefs in terms of what happens after death or the reason behind these events. What do we learn from them? How does it form us? It was very much an accelerated growth period for me, but also quite a reflective time. It probably took me the next 10 years to process it all, and to come to some kind of understanding and peace around it. Although I still can’t answer why it happened.

Jess: So you didn’t rebel in your teen years, but did you ever rebel in your later years?

Lyra: No, as I said before I don’t think I had much to rebel against. And what I’ve learned through the parenting work that I do now is that when a child isn’t listened to, or their feelings are suppressed throughout their early years, then that’s when they’re more likely to rebel. Mum and Dad were very much there for us, they listened to us so there wasn’t much to come out in a rebellious way. My uni days were probably pretty typical; there was partying, late nights, alcohol and that kind of thing.

Jess: But it wasn’t too outrageous.

Lyra: It was never overboard.

Jess: Is the same true for your brothers? Did any of them rebel?

Lyra: I think it was a similar situation for my brothers, I’m sure they did the usual party things, rode their motorbikes hard, and took risks, but there was never any trouble.

Jess: What did you study at university?

Lyra: I moved back to Hobart after I finished Grade 12 in Coonabarabran and had a year off before starting uni. I studied massage and shiatsu and worked in a supermarket to get by. I really loved the study, the whole natural therapies field really resonated with me, but I was only 18 or 19 and still unsure of whether I wanted to commit to that course and make a career of it, so I thought I would go to uni and get a degree behind me instead. My grandparents on my Mum’s side were academics, but there was never any pressure to do well at school or uni. I got good marks in the HSC, and could have applied for medicine or something, but instead I chose subjects that I really enjoyed, which was a lot of anatomy and physiology. I did a degree in human movement and sports science. I moved to Launceston to do that and it took four years, including an honours year. After that I went into community-based work. I didn’t want to work with athletes; it was more about getting out there and promoting exercise among the elderly or to people who were disadvantaged.

So that’s what led me into the next phase of my life, which was to move back to Coonabarabran for a while so I could work in Dubbo (the nearest big town) in health promotion. Then a few months later, at the same time as meeting Guy, my husband, I got a more permanent job in Wollongong. Guy was living in Burrawang, so I just moved in with him after a month of knowing him and have been with him ever since!

I spent almost four years working in Wollongong with the area health service. In the position I managed a cardiac rehabilitation program, and wrote it up into a PhD thesis. I made a lot of friends in the Southern Highlands through Guy’s work in outdoor education. There were a lot of us girls who were left behind while our partners went out and did their programs in the bush. We really bonded and there’s still that same core group that I have as friends now, and we’ve had children at similar times over the last few years.


Jess: You’ve gone through many milestones together.

Lyra: Yes, which has been really nice.

Jess: Do you have an inkling of where your interest in health promotion and bringing knowledge to disadvantaged or excluded groups stems from?

Lyra: I think my Mum was a big influence. She worked with the community in her physiotherapy role and with children with physical disabilities. But I think generally I’ve always felt like I wanted to be in a career where I’m helping people. So the community focus really appealed to me because of wanting to make a difference in the lives of people who don’t have a lot of money or are disadvantaged in terms of support. Doing the PhD in public health led me to those areas of disadvantage in the Shoalhaven and in Wollongong, people who were suffering from cardiac events who couldn’t necessarily access extra help, and I loved my role there. The project got great results by the way, which I think – in part – was because of my attention and support for these people, not purely the exercise program!

Jess: And you’ve gone on a different tangent since then?

Lyra: Yes, I have.

Jess: You’ve got a young family, so you’re still in the midst of all of the newness, the craziness, the making sense of it all, and trying to find your way through it. I’ve got a young family as well and it can really derail any plans that you might have had for yourself before having children. Can you describe a bit of that process for you? It might not have felt that way for you! How has having children led to where you are now?

Lyra: Well, the advantage for me is that I’m not very career driven! So I haven’t felt my career derail since having children. When I finished my PhD we [Lyra and Guy] went overseas and travelled for a year together. I’d done a lot of yoga as I travelled, which had been a part of my life since uni, but while we were travelling I had more time to practice and I’d just bring out my mat beside a lake or forest, or whatever was there. I was also studying A Course in Miracles as well and it gave me a lot of structure in the way that I wanted to practice my spirituality.

So, at the end of that year, and in thinking about coming back to the Southern Highlands, I thought about training to be a yoga teacher. I remember the moment where I decided that that was the pathway for me. I was standing near a lake beach in British Columbia and I was doing my morning yoga routine. Then the realisation just came to me, “I can teach this!” It was like all of my previous experiences came together. I was quite familiar with the yogic philosophy as well as the Sanskrit language because of the Eastern philosophy that I’d grown up with. I also knew some traditional devotional Indian songs. So I was familiar with yogic language, the language used for all of the poses. And I had a background in meditation. It all tied in together, including my professional experience in health promotion teaching adults in groups. So it just fell into place. My grandmother, who I mentioned before, passed away earlier that year and – just as I decided to do the yoga training – I received news that she had left a sum of money which was exactly the amount that I needed for my teacher training course. It was meant to be!

After Finn was born I stopped doing any work other than being at home with him for almost a year. I saw that as my purpose.

So as soon as we got back to Australia I enrolled into that and did a year-long course with Byron Yoga. That’s also when I fell pregnant with Finn, my eldest. I was halfway through the yoga training. At first I thought, “How am I going to finish my yoga training?” But I talked to the teachers and they said, “Look, it’s fine. If you’re fine with that, then we’re fine with that.” And it put me in a good position to be able to teach mums and bubs yoga or prenatal yoga.

After Finn was born in February 2010 I stopped doing any work other than being at home with him for almost a year. I saw that as my purpose. I always wanted to have children, and I always thought that I would be a mum by the time I was 30. Finn was born a month before my 30th birthday!

It took almost all of that year to really feel comfortable in the role of being a mother. It was a huge adjustment. I remember about a month after he was born just realising the constancy of it. I was thinking, “My gosh, I’m going to be waking up in the middle of the night for ages and he is going to be with me for so many years. And it doesn’t stop!” It was a huge adjustment for me to make, which I’m sure you can relate to.

Jess: Yes, absolutely!

Lyra: But then I fell pregnant with Summer when Finn was 11 months old. It wasn’t planned that way, but it has worked out well. I don’t have any regrets about that. I did a few months of health promotion work and taught a few months of yoga classes, after the children were born, but I knew then that I was entrenched in my parenting role and that’s where I needed to be. I really felt called to be the homemaker, so I fell into that traditional role and I loved it. Apart from it being constant hard work, it really did give me a purpose. So I didn’t worry much about the career side of things falling away. The yoga thing or another thing will come at the right time.

I was very grateful that we were able to do it this way financially, that Guy could go out and do the income earning and I could stay at home and focus on being a mum. I think that ties back to my earlier experience of being with my brothers at home and that’s what I wanted to give to my two rather than putting them into care and going back to work. That’s what I hope to give to them until they start school.

Jess: I’m just thinking about that connection between your upbringing and how you parent your children now. To what extent do you think you’re really bringing yourself into the equation?

Parents in this generation have so much more access to information than our parents did. And the information we have access to can be quite overwhelming.

Lyra: I think that parenting is a lot more involved today than it was when I was little, even though my Mum and Dad were there, very involved, and they gave us such a wonderful experience in childhood. When I was pregnant with Finn I read a book called The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter and that had a huge influence on how I wanted to bring up my children. She is the founder of Aware Parenting. Her approach is all about listening to your child and allowing them to have their feelings right from birth, whatever they might be. It’s about looking at crying as a healing process rather than something that needs to be suppressed. I don’t have specific memories of Mum or Dad suppressing my tantrums and my crying but I’m sure there was some of that, only because this information wasn’t available to them then. They did the best that they could with the information and support that they had. Parents in this generation have so much more access to information than our parents did. And the information we have access to can be quite overwhelming.

Jess: Absolutely, you can get quite dizzy with it all. You go into a bookshop and face this enormous wall of parenting books.

Lyra: Yes, it’s crazy. I went through a few books and a few parenting approaches looking for answers about “the right way” to do things when I was a new mum. I had so many doubts and felt pretty bad when my baby didn’t follow the routines described in the books. I was so focused on looking for the answers outside of myself rather than listening to my intuition. However, I kept coming back to the Aware Parenting approach. Then a few months after Finn was born I found Hand in Hand Parenting and the Parenting by Connection approach. I realised that, after putting into practice some of the ideas, I felt empowered and more confident that I could be a good mum. I was really lucky that I found something that really resonated with me and I started ignoring everything else and just stuck with that. The framework provided by Parenting by Connection has been, continues to be, a bit of a roadmap for my parenting journey. There’s a lot of room in the approach to bring in your own self and own ways of being within your own family. It’s not a list of shoulds.

Jess: I’m curious because you’ve loved it so much that you’ve trained in Hand in Hand parenting and teaching. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

20141204_046Lyra with her daughter, Summer.

Lyra: When Summer was about six months old, and Finn was 2½, I got quite overwhelmed. Finn was going through what I call the “Tremendous Twos” – I don’t like to call it the “Terrible Twos”! I just felt so out of my depth. I had these ideas about being with my children that really resonated, and I was really trying to practice them, but I felt like I needed to go a little bit deeper. So I signed up for a six-week course with Hand in Hand parenting online called “Building Emotional Understanding”. It consolidated everything for me and crystallised in my mind the tools that were taught, including how I could understand my children, and myself, a lot better. So after the course finished I heard about the certification program to become a Parenting by Connection instructor. And it was one of those moments like when I had decided to teach yoga, all my previous experiences consolidated and I said to myself, “That’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Jess: You had that clarity.

Lyra: Yes. I had the background in teaching adults, I was a mother, and the spiritual ideas I had all meshed really nicely with the Parenting by Connection approach. So it took me another year to finish that training. And now I’m teaching it!

Jess: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience of teaching it?

Connection with your child is fundamental. They need it just as much as they need to sleep and to eat.

Lyra: A lot of parents who come to this way of parenting are really introspective and they think very deeply about how they want to bring up their children and how they want to be as parents. They’re very aware of themselves and their psychology. There’s that group of parents, which is the majority of who I teach at the moment, but there’s also that portion that have tried everything else and it doesn’t work and they need a solution. They’ve realised that the mainstream rewards and punishment framework doesn’t really work in the long term, so they’re looking for something else.

So I feel the main thing that people come away with is the ability to tune into their child in a way that is productive for the child and the parent. I teach that connection with your child is fundamental. They need it just as much as they need to sleep and to eat. They need that strong connection with their parents so their brains can develop optimally. There’s quite a bit of brain science in the approach – it is fascinating to learn, because it applies to us, as well as our children. For instance, the limbic system in our brain is searching for that sense of connection all the time, like a radar. If a child can sense that safety, the connection, then all is well, they can think – the thinking, rational part of their brain, the prefrontal cortex, is online. However, as soon as there is a sense of disconnection, the limbic system is flooded with feelings that are often overwhelming (the brain literally senses the loss of connection as an emotional emergency), and the child can’t think in that moment, their prefrontal cortex goes offline. This disconnection is the cause of the challenging behaviours we see so often – the aggression, the whining, getting upset about how the sandwich has been cut, etc. Then society generally groups this challenging behaviour as “bad” and something to be punished, which of course disconnects the child further from you. The child might seem to respond well to threats, punishment or rewards in that moment because they’re scared or because they don’t have any other choice, but it doesn’t lead to happier children or more cooperative behaviour in the long run.

So what people come away with from the parenting classes I teach is how to look at their child’s challenging behaviours differently. It’s not something to be punished, it’s a call for connection, and it’s a call for love. Even though it might seem incredibly challenging to us, that’s what is. And there’s nothing that really needs to be punished. Of course there is a need teach your child the right, or acceptable way of doing things, but if we try to do this in the heat of an emotional moment, when the child can’t think, it doesn’t work. It’s much more productive to talk about it when the child feels connected to you, and the thinking part of their brain is actually working.


What I think sets this approach apart from a lot of other parenting programs out there is the support that it offers to us as parents. Seeing your child hit another child or taking a toy from another child all the time really takes its toll on us. It’s not very easy to sit and watch your child be aggressive to another child and not punish them if you don’t have that awareness of where it’s coming from. It triggers things in us as parents. So I think supporting parents to recognise when they’re being re-stimulated from a previous experience, whatever it might be, and being able to offload that tension in a safe place with another adult prevents them from offloading those intense feelings onto the child. The whole process can transform a generation. You don’t repeat the cycle of abuse or even just the little things that disconnect you from your child that your parents might have done to you, which is where our default parenting style comes from.

Jess: It’s amazing how powerful that process can. Without even knowing it, you emerge as your own parents.

Lyra: Especially in moments of stress.

Jess: I think lots of people tend to have that reaction, don’t they? “I didn’t want to be like my Mum or Dad and now I’m exactly like my Mum and Dad.” You probably hear that all the time.

Lyra: Yes! It’s important to have the time and space to stop and reflect on how we’re parenting, or how we want to parent. It’s very valuable, rather than just blindly going through each day and trying to make it up as you go along. We’re not trained to parent!

Jess: And again we were “trained” by our parents who weren’t “trained” either. So in talking about the kind of support that is provided to parents, I know that Hand in Hand parenting has a tool called Listening Time. Can you tell me a little about it?

Lyra: So what we teach is all about listening. We teach one-on-one Listening Time between parents, but also group Listening Time. They’re valuable tools that feel quite different but basically the idea behind it is to shine your attention and warmth on the person who is talking. You don’t interrupt or offer advice, you just support them to think and talk through their thoughts about the issues that are coming up for them as parents. And to hold that space for them, that you know that they are good, that they are doing the best that they can, and that they can figure this out. They don’t need your advice or for you to fix it. You just need to hold that space for them to work through it as you listen. And I think your attention on that person is the most valuable thing because we don’t get that undivided attention paid to us very often. Even when we’re talking to our close friends or spouses, it’s very much conversational listening. You’re jumping in, you’re offering your stories, your thoughts, your opinions, your advice, even your judgement, so we don’t often get the space to just be held and allowed to work through it. It can be quite a confronting process if you haven’t done anything like that before, so I really try to keep it light-hearted and not go into the heavy emotional stuff right away. A lot of parents don’t feel comfortable doing that.

Jess: I imagine that there can be a lot of tears?

Lyra: Yes, it’s interesting. With some groups that safety builds up very quickly and there are a lot of tears. With other groups, there are no tears, there’s lots of laughter. And laughter is another way to release that tension. And basically the way that we listen to each other as parents is the way that we want to listen to our children. We’re putting in place the listening tools that we use with our children.

Jess: What kind of feedback do you get from people you’ve been working with?

Lyra: It’s all been positive so far, I guess people don’t tell you the bad things! It’s very similar to my experience where people feel they have found a roadmap for responding to their child in challenging moments, to make them a lot more self-aware about when their buttons are being pushed, that it’s their buttons, not the child’s behaviour. It also breaks down that sense of isolation that a lot of parents can feel – that they must be the only one yelling at their child, or they’re only one who has a child who is biting everyone, whatever it may be. But when you come together with group of parents and share those insights and stories, you realise you’re not on your own.

Jess: Yes, it can be a very disconnected parenting experience these days. In years gone by, as they say, you had the village raising a child.

Lyra: There’s definitely a lack of support generally as a culture and even neglect. Being a stay at home mum is challenging. You need the emotional support but you also need the financial support. And we feel judged, whatever we do. Whether we do one thing or don’t do it, judgement comes in all the time.

Jess: You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

It’s never too late to start listening to your children.

Lyra: Yes. With these groups that I run it’s really important to just offer that support, encouragement and appreciation to each parent for all that they’re doing for their child. In that way I think it’s a very empowering approach. It’s never too late to start listening to your children. And it’s also about trying to get away from the guilt that we all feel as parents. That I’ve done it all wrong. And that I’m never doing enough.

Jess: Well, you’re human, so what happens to you? There must be a few lapses for you, here and there, despite your training in Hand in Hand parenting. What happens in those moments or days or weeks?

Lyra: It can be like that, for sure! There are times when I lose it and sometimes that makes me feel even worse for a while because I know what I should be doing and I’m not doing it. But the work has also made me be a lot more self-aware and to realise that – when things go downhill – I need some Listening Time or I need some time out by myself to go for a run, do some yoga, and just think through what is happening. I’m still working on asking for help and asking for time and space! I’ve seen myself grow so much in terms of being more aware of when I’m about to slip into a downward spiral and yell at the kids. So I’ve got a few strategies that I use to try and bring myself out of it. One is to call one of the people with whom I have set up a listening partnership. I get to cry, yell, laugh or talk with them, even just for a few minutes, which is SO helpful. And sometimes I just give myself a timeout, not the kids, and go in the bathroom or sit outside and just say to my children, “I need to have a little break so I don’t yell at you or hurt you.”

Jess: Do they give you a break? I can’t imagine my kids doing that!

Lyra: Sometimes they’re banging on the door but they’re getting used to it. They know.

Jess: Yes, the other day I yelled at my children, “Why do you need me so much?!” And my little girl turned around and said, “I don’t need you Mummy, I’m going to play by myself now!” I felt pretty bad about that but I just needed a moment…

Lyra: There are times in our lives as parents and even beyond that when we didn’t have the support or it was all too much, and these feelings of overwhelm can come rushing back very quickly when our buttons are pushed. But one thing that’s really helped ground me – given I don’t have the time to meditate for half an hour or even do my yoga practice regularly – is the realisation that my spiritual practice is my parenting. Every time there is a conflict and every time a challenge comes up, my children are calling me to be a better version of myself, they’re calling me to be more present. It’s just moment by moment where you can choose your reaction to whatever is going on. So I feel like I’m living that as a spiritual practice rather than anything I used to do.

I’ve also done a bit of work with an Aware Parenting instructor who is also trained in field therapy. It’s very much about alignment, and very much tied in with my experience with A Course in Miracles. It’s about looking at everything that’s outside as a mirror of what’s going on inside, and that’s been a really beautiful experience for me to have this awareness. For example, once Finn just wasn’t listening to me. It was like he had no ears. And I kept finding myself yelling at him, “Finn, you’re not listening, you’re not listening!” And then I realised that I wasn’t listening to myself. I needed to stop; I needed to do something differently. I wasn’t listening to my inner voice that was telling me to stop and it was projected out onto him. That little person is a mirror bringing all your stuff up to be examined and let go of. It’s a constant process.

Jess: So it’s quite tiring, I imagine, being in that self-aware state. It takes up energy in and of itself.

Lyra: I guess it does take discipline. But the other way of being, for me, where you’re stuck in conflict and your own stuff, which still happens to me at times, is even more draining. So I know that when I’m feeling like that I need to reconnect with myself and do whatever I need to do to return to being present. When you’re being present and you’re in that feeling of being in the flow of life, you’re just an instrument and presence comes through you. It’s effortless when you have that energy attached to it. When I can feel that flow it doesn’t feel like it takes a lot of energy to keep it up.

Jess: That’s a nice place to be! I’m just thinking that mindfulness or any spiritual practice takes a lot of vigilance, there’s an effort to be in a state of sustained presence. But I guess after a while it becomes second nature – maybe even first nature!

Lyra: I guess with anything you make it a habit. I know that I’ve experienced that with my yoga practice. I feel worse without it so it’s something that I’ve got to do. It does become a part of life.

Jess: I can see you’ve got A Course in Miracles over there and you’ve mentioned it a few times. I know the name but I haven’t read it. Can you tell me about it?

Lyra: I was thinking, “What is the main thing I’ve taken from my study of this text?” It’s recognising that it’s all about me. Every conflict, every opportunity for growth, every relationship, every lesson that life presents is all about my perspective on it. I guess it’s taught me a lot about projecting, not blaming, and not judging so much. It’s quite a challenging text, it’s quite intellectual and it can get bogged down in the theory, but at the same time there are a lot of amazing parts. It was written, or channelled, by Jesus Christ and uses a lot of the biblical terms like crucifixion and resurrection and Holy Spirit, but it’s definitely not framed in the traditional sense of Christianity. The Holy Spirit is your higher self and the resurrection isn’t a physical resurrection of a man that died 2000 years ago, it’s more about coming into your own higher self and awareness, or alignment. It’s all about you and all of the lessons that life presents. It also talks about how interconnected we are and that it’s all about oneness. We need to bring that knowledge into ourselves, grow from ourselves, and everyone else grows with us.

Jess: Are there any other texts that have been influential for you?

Lyra: In my teenage years I read a lot of Sai Baba’s teachings and I went to his ashram in my twenties. His teachings encompass the Eastern philosophical outlook, so things like the ego and the spirit, that we are all spirit, that God is love, and we all have that divine spark within us. I think I’ve taken a lot of these teachings as a foundation. I remember one very early experience where my brother went through a hitting phase. I asked Dad, “Do people hit each other in heaven?” And Dad said, “In heaven there’s not even the urge to want to hit anyone.” I must have been 10 when we had that conversation and I still remember it so clearly, and can now have an understanding that it’s true. When you’re enlightened the urge to hurt just doesn’t come up, it doesn’t exist.

Jess: The Soul Spectrum focuses on soul and spirituality. You’ve touched on these things broadly but have you ever thought about what is soul is to you?

Lyra: Yes, I have a lot, right from an early age. I’ve thought about it, talked to my Dad about it as he was very much searching for that. And then, when he passed away, thinking about where he’s gone. I have always believed, for as long as I can remember, that the divine spark that all of us have is our soul and that it’s eternal and it returns back to the oneness that we all come from. I think when you die it’s ongoing. But it’s also that part of us that really connects with another person at that soul level, beyond the physical, beyond the superficial; I think we all have the ability to connect on that level if we can lose some of the layers that prevent that. I really love the translation of Namaste, “The divine in me recognises the divine in you. We are one.”

Jess: A lot of us can get caught up in distractions and busyness. It helps to live close to nature.

Lyra: Definitely. Nature has been a big part of my upbringing, my whole life, and I feel like we’re instilling it into our children. It’s something that we [Lyra and Guy] connected about right from the start. We spend a lot of time outside in nature and I feel like that’s very grounding for us. It’s very nurturing, and I think the children feel that as well. When things do feel a bit disconnected I say to the kids, “Let’s go outside and sit on the grass,” just to have that feeling of the Earth beneath us.

Jess: Can you tell me about a day in the life of Lyra?

Lyra: I don’t think I do anything too differently to other stay at home parents! I’m up early, which I enjoy most of the time. I usually go for a run, then make a cup of tea and sit with the kids down in our beautiful window seat. Lately we’ve been sitting in the front room because the sun is streaming in. We just have a bit of time together before we start with the busyness of the day. And then we move into having breakfast together and then I might take the kids out somewhere. We might go on play dates, to the park or the local waterhole, and we’re often catching up with friends. As I mentioned before, our group of friends here all have children of similar ages so we have that core group of support, which really tops me up. It’s great to connect with another adult while the kids are doing their thing. I usually spend some time each day in the garden; we have a big veggie patch that the children love helping me with, so it can be a lot of fun. I love seeing them eating straight from the plants! I really love cooking too, and I love the tradition of sitting down together to eat a meal. I make that a priority. Everyone sits at the table for dinner and it’s a really nice way to end the day, to come together as a family, particularly if we’ve been apart during the day. After dinner we might go for a bike ride or walk as a family, or play inside together. The bedtime routine is actually really easy with our kids; it’s never been a battle, they’re pretty much always happy to go to sleep! Then I can have a bit of time either with Guy, or to myself to do my work on the computer, or some yoga practice, or I just chill out and read a book or watch TV with Guy. Nothing out of the ordinary!

Jess: But you are doing a little bit of work?

Lyra: Yes, so on a day that I teach, usually it’s an evening class so Guy looks after the kids and I can go and do that. A lot of the work I do is over the phone and internet, so I can do that once the kids have gone to bed, or when they are with Guy, or they go to preschool one day a week, so I get some work done then.

Jess: You must have so much energy!

Lyra: I’ve definitely been through periods of tiredness. But the kids sleep really well and also I’ve had a real shift in looking at sleep since being a parent. That first couple of years of sleep deprivation just meant focusing on how tired I was. Guy was really instrumental in helping me come out of that. He said, “You can choose to focus on that but why not something else?” So with practice and over time I’ve realised that I actually feel okay. And just changing my focus and realising that I am going to get woken up early every day for the next few years is okay. Actually, the last few months has seen an even bigger shift in this, as I’ve been getting up before the kids to go for a run, and have loved it! It gives me time to myself, and more energy for the day. It also helps that I’ve found work that I really enjoy doing, so it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve got that groundswell of energy behind me where I feel like I’m just being the instrument, I’m being guided and spoken through and that’s not tiring to me.

Jess: It’s interesting to hear talk about parenting is a spiritual practice because it can be difficult to get your head around it if you haven’t been introduced to the idea before. There’s a book called Buddhism for Mothers that looks at parenting as a spiritual practice. It’s all about being mindful and present.

Lyra: It brings to mind a quote from my Mum; I think it came from Sai Baba, “Your work is your worship”. I remember when Finn was born, Mum was there with me and she said, “You will understand that quote once you have children,” and it’s been so true. It’s constant work, but it’s also worship, if you want to use that word. It’s also spiritual practice, service throughout each day constantly! [Laughs.]

Jess: Do you have any sense of where you want to go to from here?

Lyra: I get the feeling that I’m on the brink of an exciting and involved career. I think I’m just touching the surface. There is so much more to learn about this way of parenting and my children will be my best teachers as they grow older. But I’d like to continue teaching this approach in the community; I really like that grassroots, one-on-one teaching with parents. Then they can head off with some skills to make them a leader in their family and in their community as well. I’m just passing it on. I’m not an expert, but my vision is to teach parents this way of being and have it ripple out into the community. I can already sense that with the parents who I know very well who I’ve taught. They have expanded it to their families and beyond so understanding is being built through parenting our children this way. I’ve been talking to others in this field and we feel there’s a groundswell rising that will change the whole philosophy behind parenting. The mainstream approach is becoming outdated and there is this new way of being with our selves and our children. It feels really exciting to be on that leading edge, but it can be challenging because you’re coming up against the mainstream traditional ways of doing things all of the time. This is a whole new paradigm and it’s quite challenging to a lot of people, but I’m happy to be part of that movement towards critical mass and shifting mainstream consciousness. It’s very exciting!

Jess: Great, thanks so much, Lyra!

* For more information about Lyra L’Estrange and Parenting by Connection, please visit

* For more information about Hamish Ta-mé, please visit


‘herz’ by Jim Pettigrew

Finding the peace and the love within…

Where have The Soul Spectrum interviews been, you ask? Well, there are several awaiting transcription, editing and posting, but the many pleasant familial obligations that come with the festive season are proving too distracting for me to tend to The Soul Spectrum right now. Sorry! But I’m very much looking forward to dropping into your email inboxes some time in early 2015 with some really super special interviews with Lyra L’Estrange, David del Sole and Petrea King. They’re all going to inspire your post-Christmas stockings off! Yep, I just love this self-appointed role of mine.

But onto broader spiritual matters. I recently enjoyed the luxury of going on a two-night meditation retreat at the Brahma Kumaris centre in Wilton, New South Wales. I have to say, when I arrived I was feeling so desperately exhausted that I was almost in tears over the peacefulness of the place. Bush, birds, thundering and atmospheric skies, and the centre itself was dotted with beautiful souls bearing gentle, nourished natures. So, not even 48 hours later, after enjoying the company of nine other wonderful, fun-loving and peaceful souls, I left on an absolute happiness high. While I was uncertain about putting myself into the folds of the Brahma Kumaris – because I really didn’t know very much about them – I’m pleased that I was willing to explore some unknown territory. Because when you explore something you don’t know, you emerge with new knowledge, insight and – quite possibly – extra dollops of wisdom.

What did I learn? Well, I learned that there is a community of people out there who are yearning for a truly peaceful existence. And not one to covet for themselves, but one to nourish, generate and share with others so that a peaceful way of being becomes an increasingly desirable and accessible possibility for each person who comes their way. I learned that there is no shame in genuinely, actually, really and truly loving yourself amid all of your imperfections. Because the energy of love permeates all of the arbitrary boundaries we place around each other and ourselves – whether it be by gender, sexuality, suburb, country, cultural identity, religious inclinations – and it becomes contagious.

So it’s been wonderful to glean an insight into the Brahma Kumaris philosophies. Like any belief system, you take what makes most sense to you, and respect the bits that don’t. But the experience was a welcome addition to The Soul Spectrum’s investigations into how people choose to live their lives along spiritual, soulful lines. Thank you to all of those I met on that retreat.

In the meantime, dear readers, I wish you internal love and peace during the festive season (and beyond!). Because if you’ve got love and peace on the inside, you’ll invariably find a lot of it on the outside.

Jess x

PS A huge loving thanks to Jim Pettigrew for sharing his image herz with me. It so beautifully encapsulates the spirit of this post xox