Life is, generally speaking, a wonderful thing. Personally, I have very little to complain about. I live within shouting distance of my best friends, I have a fantastic fellow, and I'm blessed to work in a creative field at a rock-star company. I'm excited to wake up in the morning. But sometimes, not so much. Rough patches are just part of the package, and we all need a little help getting back on our feet.
I discovered Gabrielle Bernstein during one such period a few months ago. It was one of those grim nights where I found myself lying half-dressed across my bedroom floor, doing some truly pathetic Googling: "anxiety affirmations," "nervous stomach foods," "how to not be crazy like your mother." That kind of thing. I was looking for a book or essay or self-help guide, preferably based on the cookies-and-television philosophy of personal growth. Instead I found Gabrielle Bernstein, and I got up off the floor.
For almost 10 years now, Gabrielle has been teaching, speaking, and coaching people all over the world. What started as small group-workshops in her apartment, soon exploded into a veritable movement based on her personal philosophy — a powerful combo of teachings from A Course In Miracles, Kundalini yoga, and life lessons from her own experience. Her first three books, Add More ~Ing To Your Life, Spirit Junkie, and May Cause Miracles inspired women all over the world, many of whom had never explored a spiritual life. Her social-media platform, Her Future, gave them a place to gather and support each other. All this amounts to a powerful network of support and inspiration — a rope to grab on to and pull yourself up.
But Gabby is no far-off guru, ensconced in mysticism and constant prayer. She's an East Village-based New Yorker with a killer vintage collection and loud, goofy laugh. Her home and work space, which we were lucky enough to explore, reflects that energy of peace and exuberance. Gabby is the teacher you want to learn from and the friend you want to hang with. Her language is accessible, and her lessons are easy to apply to your own life — if you're willing to make the effort. Over the course of our afternoon chat, I pointed out that so many of us struggle to bring consciousness to our hectic lives. "It's really hard," I reminded her. She put down her tea and smirked at me, "Well, isn't it harder to feel like shit?"
You started your career in a completely different field. What compelled you to get into this kind of work?
"I was on my own hardcore path of trying to figure myself out as a young woman, like most 20-somethings. I started a PR business when I was 21, representing nightclubs here in New York. Eventually, I began to see that I was looking for all of my happiness and my self-worth outside of myself. I was looking for it in my credentials, in my relationships, in having inside access to New York nightlife — and all of that was really unfulfilling. It wasn't giving me what I wanted.
By the time I was 25, I was addicted to drugs, addicted to alcohol, addicted to the party scene, addicted to work and to food. I hit a big bottom. That was the best blessing and gift I was ever given, because at that point, I made a major commitment to shift gears. I got sober in 2005, and I've been sober since that time. In my sober recovery, I started to really revisit my spiritual roots, which had been planted as a child. As a result of turning back to that, I started to realize I was on the wrong path.
I transitioned out of my career, and very quickly started giving lectures and talks on what I had been experiencing as a sober woman, as a spiritual young woman. Because I was in the middle of it, I spoke from a very visceral level, rather than the heady place of traditional lecturing. My lectures went from 40 people to 100 people to 200 people to 500. The most exciting part is seeing so many young women who are really looking for guidance, and a more mindful approach to life. Maybe they aren't necessarily finding that in religion, but are seeking spirituality as a more promising perspective on life."
"Before I re-visited my meditation practice and my spiritual practice, the only place where I could find solace was through the gym, on the trampoline, running, or rollerblading. Somehow I was, through my body, finding that connection to the divine. Sometimes, that's the only way people can get that sense of serenity.
When you exercise, you release toxicity and negativity. You re-organize the nervous system, making yourself a more clear channel to receive the energy that is your source. In that way, I was sort of looking for God in my trampoline. When I started exploring my spirituality, I wasn't going to leave that behind. I realized, you really can find God on your trampoline. Try saying a mantra while bouncing on the trampoline, and you will find that experience of internal stillness. It's the same thing a runner experiences after a long run. Or, the person that leaves the yoga class, or gets off of the elliptical machine, and feels more connected to themselves than they have all day."
You're obviously very devoted to your spiritual life, but you're a successful businesswoman, too. How do you balance the business hustle with maintaining your personal peace?
"As much as I love teaching, I also love being an entrepreneur. It's such a huge part of who I am. I love marketing. I love negotiating. I love collaborating. I love coming up with new ideas. But there are a lot of spiritual teachers who don't know how to market themselves or are afraid to. Some of them feel that working in wellness means they shouldn't be successful or have abundance. But that's complete crap. I think if you have a message that is going to serve the masses, then you better make sure it's heard. I'm going to take responsibility for the fact I have made these major commitments in my own life — how dare I not share them?
I feel blessed to have that publicist side of me. I'm not going to apologize for getting these messages out into the world, because people need them. And, it's a pleasure as well. I never feel like I'm "selling" because I love what I'm doing so much. I actually created a course called God Is My Publicist, all about how to be a mindful marketer, and how to use the law of attraction to market your brand. That's what I do. My belief system is what makes me a soulful business person. I don't think I'd be nearly as good of a business person if I didn't love the business that I was building. I think that the work is greatly benefited by the fact that I'm able to get it out into the world."
Are you working on a new project right now?
"I am. My fourth book, Miracles Now, will be out in April of 2014. I've also recently become a Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher, as well. So, I've incorporated a lot of Kundalini meditations into this book. It's a collection of one-minute exercises meant to help you bust through the blocks and relieve stress. Everyone can use these. Everyone. These are the kind of meditations you can do anytime, anywhere. They're all meant for circumstantial situations, like waiting in line at the bank or if you're just having a bad day. I'm more excited about this book than I have been about any of my others."
Tell us a little about your group-coaching.
"I do frequent workshops, which are based in New York, but are simultaneously live-streamed all over the world. Those are now sort of like a Dharma talk, mixed with some Kundalini exercises, and a lot of Q&A. The workshops are great for people ready to do deep work. Even if there are 500 people in the workshop, it's a very intimate experience just being in the energy of the room. And if you do it online, you're closer to me than the person in the back of the room. So, there is still an intimacy no matter where you are. That's what my intention is."
Shifting gears a little bit, we love your eclectic mix of accessories, vintage, and designer pieces. How would you describe your personal style?
"I guess I lean toward boho-chic. I really love to wear bright caftans. I love to wear tight jeans. So, it's a combination of being in something flowy with something form-fitting. I was obsessed with Isabel Marant sneakers, until they became the biggest trend in the world — [laughing] that's about the most devastating thing that's ever happened to me.
I'm wearing a lot more white these days. In Kundalini, we're taught that, just like when you wear black and absorb a lot of heat, you soak up a lot of negative energy. If you're wearing brighter, lighter colors — white, in particular — it will reflect your light. I'm also wearing a lot of turbans lately, and I'm currently working on my own turban line. I think they make any outfit more chic, and if you're a meditator they're really important — the concept is holding in the energy."
As someone in the field of personal growth, what are your thoughts on fashion, in general?
"Putting on nice clothes makes you feel like you're being more self-loving. It's an expression of you internally and reflects your own self-respect. I really do have a lot of love and joy for fashion. You can be spiritual and still have fabulous shoes. It doesn't have to be one or the other."
On top of all that, you're about to get married — congratulations! In the past, you've talked a lot about your own relationship struggles, and those of your friends. What was the biggest personal shift you made in order to be in a healthy, long-term relationship?
"Well, I'm marrying the guy from Spirit Junkie. We were together for two years, broke up for a year, and then got back together four years ago. I had to find the inner power and strength to walk away and have the fearlessness to say, I'm willing to be on my own and I'm willing to let this go because it wasn't right at the time. That year, I spent alone was a radical act of self-love. I proved to myself that I can be self-reliant, that I can be fulfilled with or without a romantic partner. Your romantic partner should be the icing on the already-awesome cake, as my coach says.
If you're looking for a partner to complete you, then you need to really give yourself the journey of going deeper into your own self-connection and establish self-reliance. You need to be able to say, "I am complete, with or without a partner." And that doesn't mean that people shouldn't have partners — not at all. Everyone should be blessed to have romance in their life, but that will come and that will be sustainable only when you have a real, loving romance with yourself."
A lot of us are in that phase of life where we feel the pressure to progress. It seems like everyone is getting married, going to grad school, buying houses — but so many are still trying to find themselves. Any words of wisdom for those still trying to "figure it out"?
"Don't try to think about the it. What you're trying to figure out isn't something outside of yourself — it's an internal condition. You must work on a solid inner framework and a way to access inner peace, whether it's by picking up a meditation practice, actively using affirmations, or even following a blogger that inspires you. Whatever it is that helps you access inner peace. If you make your internal life a priority, then everything else you need on the outside will be given to you and it will be extremely clear what the next step is."
Photographed by by Atisha Paulson