Food as medicine: Eating regularly and working with food as medicine. We are what we eat. Most outbursts happen when we are hangry. My life became so much easier when I got better at feeding myself at regular intervals and eating the right amount of protein for my activity level.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Hilborn.
An SF native and speaker on wellness, trauma reduction, spiritual ecology, global issues, debt relief & decolonization, Stephanie Hilborn is a former diplomat, educator and transformational life coach. She has extensively mentored with elders from the Colombian Andes for over twelve years. With her company, Catalyzing Inspiration, she guides clients in reconnection to nature and their birthplace so that they can soothe their inner monologue and act with purpose. She is creating a course for adults to learn inspiring stories about global challenges and mentors them to create social change.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
It’s definitely unique! Thanks for asking! I was working as a diplomat in Panama when my life suddenly took an unexpected twist. Accidents are rarely accidents. My world shifted from focusing on diplomacy to indigenous wisdom when a rogue surfing accident left me with a purple eye for a humbling 6 weeks. The injury actually made me more receptive to the healing message I needed to change my life. Four months later, on the exact same beach, I met a healer studying with my now mentor. After a few healing sessions, serendipitously, a few days later I was on a plane to meet these wise Elders from Colombia. My life has been profoundly different since this new beginning.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My biggest lesson is sometimes we do not know what we do not know. This is why a variety of experiences and perspectives are so important. I thought highly of my development projects in Colombia. When you are immersed in your world, you may be lacking the perspective you need to see what is true. I was so intent on “helping” that I was not able to question if helping was actually helping. A perfect example of this is the time I met the founder of the boutique coffee line, Blue Bottle. I managed to convince him to buy coffee from indigenous wise custodians from the Sierra Nevada of Colombia. I was so excited to share this opportunity with the tribe. When I spoke with their political representative, he listened very patiently until suddenly I was interrupted with a question I never had considered.
My heart stopped. He asked me, “Do you think we incarnated in this lifetime to grow coffee for white people?”
My ego was stunned. On paper, this was a classic “economic growth” activity. It was how you get people out of “poverty”. But it is us in the Global North, the “developed” world, who are poor because we lost connection with our spirits and original power. We are speaking about a pristine lineage of indigenous wise elders who exist purely to maintain balance in the world. That is their purpose. To consider them “poor” only shows how colonized the education and socio-economic systems are. They exist in a different paradigm and universe than the colonized world pursuing money. Wealth is defined differently. Success is defined differently. In a matter of a few moments, everything I knew to be “true” about the world was stripped away. They explained gently and the sweetest love that the government projects for running water, houses, electricity, all of that was designed to pull them away from connection with the living breathing life support system. In one fell swoop, I had the ability to see precisely how colonized my mind had become with the paradigm of the western world and values.
My takeaways are that everyone need a reflection of their own hubris. My mentors taught me that even a Mama, or a wise elder navigating time and space to bring balance, is NOT able to see the top of his own head. I am so grateful that after stepping into the world of diplomacy and prestige, any attachment or pursuit of it was removed. Sometimes we need to be put in place by someone who can see pure truth — it is a frequency. All we can do is ready ourselves to hear this challenging message. Since then, I work with clients helping them to break down limitations and preconceived notions about life, people and how the world actually works.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are very few people who can say they have worked at the global stage on policies and making news, as well as mentoring with indigenous elders whose chief work is to maintain balance of the planet, 24 hours a day. I offer insights from ancestral wisdom carriers with unique perspectives to help my coaching clients and students I teach. These teachings are passed down orally and are transmissions to activate awareness inside of you. I specialize in helping people to de-stress and repattern tendencies that keep them stuck in a negative sound loop. Whether it is learning how to write poignantly, understand greater depth about the world and global challenges, or digging into what keeps you up at night and unable to turn off so easily, my work as a bridge helps clients to transform in ways they would otherwise say is impossible.
I named my company Catalyzing Inspiration because everything is possible — learning, healing, growing, writing — when inspiration is there. We cultivate inspiration when we are able to hold ourselves in a place of love. From there, we can be in communion with others. But it all begins with tremendous self-awareness and kindness. The work I do is to hold clients’ visions, the one they are not even aware of themselves sometimes, to work with them to create the present and future they never thought possible. That is the importance of inspiration — by me understanding the client, they feel capable to take on these previous challenges. Working from a place of love, you are able to grow. And sooner than you expect, there is a garden of flowers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would not be who I am today if I had not had the pristine diligent mentorship of my mentor, an extraordinarily wise Andean master and healer. Through love and patience, he helped me stand with dignity, truth and the purest expression of my heart. I have worked through traumas and toxic patterns that I would otherwise still be looping in if it wasn’t for this precise work that is fully guided and is the exact healing I needed to be where I am today.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is a buzz word in many different currents of today’s society. As a former diplomat working in post-conflict zones, it would mean one thing, whereas to a mental health worker or therapist, it might mean another. I like to bring words back to an integral meaning which we know deep in our hearts, outside of the noise of the bustling world.
The main areas which truly bring forward resilience are not easily divided in boxes, just like in nature there is a lot of cross-pollination. Here’s my short-list of what drives resilience.
Purpose + Growth Mindset (forward direction) — inner drive to keep going:
In my article, The Truth About Healing and How to Get Started, I spoke on how challenging it is to profoundly shift the ways you repeat in unhealthy patterns. Without an interwoven purpose, it is hard to keep going. Your purpose is not necessarily your career or what you do for work because it is something intrinsic to your being. It is this inner knowing that you are here to master certain conditions, scenarios and challenges helps keep you focused when it seems like everything else is stuck. What to do in those scenarios? Finding mechanisms to recalibrate safety and recognizing what state you are in: fight, flight, freeze or fawn, which brings us to the second pillar:
About a year or so ago, an osteopath friend shared a video on the nervous system and safety. As someone who studied conflict and wars, I understood abject threats, but I had allowed myself to blow off the subtle stuff which really explains why most, if not all, of the world is stressed out or covering up a mosaic of micro or massive level traumas.
One of the most important concepts to grasp here is from Polyvagal Theory founder, Dr. Stephen Porges. It looks at moment-to-moment awareness on your sense of safety often at the subconscious level (what he calls neuroception). The nervous system is constantly rebalancing. We are profound beings and sometimes we read more what is happening in the world that the rational mind is not processing. The best way to regulate this is the awareness of the shifts in your body and knowing how to refind safety once you are activated in the triggered physiological state. There is a great video in my last article on finding this sense of physiological safety so that you can hold the growth mindset. So why is all of this important? The nervous system cannot both heal/transform and survive at the same time.
When we have Polyvagal awareness, we can regulate and from there natural expression and exchange with others is sweet and loving. My favorite practice is to lightly tap on my collarbones or put my hand on the heart to find this ability to drop the energetic armor we construct around ourselves due to what is unprocessed or unlooked at inside of us. Being heard and understood is crucial for this sense of safety in groups, but it all begins first with our sense of safety.
Gratitude (grounding in the present moment):
This is often overlooked when it comes to resilience, but the reality is that there are depths to gratitude that are needed to be truly resilient. Gratitude has also become a bit of a buzzword. What if we looked at it for what it truly is — this deeper connection with the sacred systems of life. This can look like sacred reciprocity with nature, to the sun, the water, the complex interwebbing of life which functions in the seamlessly fluid and precious way.
A daily gratitude practice honoring a piece of land can be much more impactful than you might ever realize. Imagine for a moment, the sun no longer rose, or the water was no longer there. When we act in this deep humility and vulnerability that we are not in control nor are we supposed to be in control of nature, gratitude can emerge. We live in a sacred eco-system, but it is not something we can own, possess or control. Walking from this place of humility is priceless for resilience.
Perspective (practices to flow and stop trying to control it all):
For highly sensitive people and empaths, burnout can be something that happens multiple times a day or a few times a week. It’s not a one-off thing. Processing deep complex wounds can end up being retriggered again and again in common daily occurrences. Without this sense of gratitude and purpose, it is easy to be poisoned by past hurts and challenges.
This is where growth mindset, purpose and gratitude come into synergy with perspective. Having an understanding of your reason for being in this life — what you came here to master, gives a context and perspective that allows for a sense of peace that you might not otherwise find.
My favorite ways to regain perspective is fully detaching from technology. We accelerate with the frequency of technology and the energies running around us in society. When we start to witness that acceleration, we can recalibrate by tuning to nature and things which run more in balance. When the waves run too fast or the river flows rapidly, things might overturn or we might fall down. Nature is not constantly accelerated, nor is it good for our ability to hold empathy and self-kindness. I wrote an article on this as well.
How to recalibrate? It doesn’t mean you need to go camping or even too far away from your own house, watching the birds, playing with a garden, putting your feet on the sand or even swimming in a pool can shift the energy. The intensity we often feel needs an acceleration to balance out. Balance can come from: swimming fast in a pool, running, walking, yoga breathing, some form of movement to dissipate the stuck energy that needs to be matched for us to find balance.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage is this moral strength to persevere and endure which is quite similar to resilience. For me, resilience is deeper and implies recovery. Courage is linked to risk but often is misinterpreted as needing to take uncalculated risks. Resilience is linked to deep intelligence and wisdom. One thing is initiating the action, the next is enduring it and the final stage is recovery and recalibration. Without the recovery and recalibration, you are burning the candle at both ends and on track to burnout.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My first thoughts to your question are multigenerational: Hellen Keller; Jetsun Milarepa and the inspiring activists of the world.
Hellen Keller stands out to me because she had so much going against her — how do you learn to communicate when you are blind, deaf and mute? That is a pure act of resilience for me.
Jetsun Milarepa could be described as the original gangsta to inspirational speaker only he is from the 10th to 12th century and a foundational figure in Tibetan Buddhism. I wrote this article on lessons from him . He had all sorts of injustices and got a bit agitated so learned sorcery to wreck havoc on everyone who did wrong to his family. Living in a cave for many years secluded, his mentor Marpa guided him with severe training and correction. Milarepa repented and started to walk the straight path. He had been instructed to hand carry massive rocks to build and then demolish towers multiple times. All of this was trials for him to correct an extraordinarily negative karma he had been creating through unleashing plagues and famines in Tibet. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.
Finally, Lyla June — all the activists of the world fighting injustice such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, the community members fighting the South African chemical company in Mossville, Louisiana; the Winnemem Wintu tribe working to remove a dam blocking the sacred waterways of their homelands and protecting their lands from well-intentioned tourists not understanding how to engage in respectful ways to these eco-systems of the Buliyum Puyuk, the sacred Mount Shasta area.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I seemed to erase all memories of people trying to tell me what can or cannot be done. In my work as a diplomat, I was constantly told what could and could not happen. I have learned to listen but not be influenced as most people speak from the veil of their perception. Everything is a matter of focus and what is meant to be. You could say perhaps it is impossible that an opinionated former activist gets hired as a diplomat to represent the US Government. And then even more impossible, that they see the hypocrisies, quit and then work as a holistic healer. Sometimes people try to tell me healing is “woo”. I didn’t even know what the word meant. After looking it up, I then reminded them that there’s nothing woo-woo about the US Government.
Best advice for “impossibilities” is to go after what you know is right to do, do not announce it to the crowd of people judging around. When you just do it rather than talk about it, there is less talk of impossibility and greater levity all around.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Hmmm….Calling the government out on the hypocrisy of defending policies that violate human rights and then quitting for moral reasons after suing them for misconduct.
I also got divorced, moved from former Yugoslavia, all at the same time. I think just one of those events would register as catastrophic on the stress index. In a divine act of realignment of my life, somehow I took on a few challenges at a time. I stopped talking to people for a while to fully internalize and hold power. People love to give advice even when you do not ask and it can grate on these decisions to restart our lives. It takes a lot of power to follow what you know is right.
Healing and blossoming into who you were born to be is not for the faint of heart. It involves tremendous tenacity and commitment to your inner truth to walk this path. That has been something I have never struggled with. Challenges such as seeking approval from others and self-doubt has come in for periods of time. It is something that can even be ancestral, so it’s not like it’s something from this lifetime with a specific event that can keep you looping.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I have always pushed myself — moving to countries where I did not know people, or did not speak the language. I grew up sailing, learning how to read the wind, the water and what is fluctuating around me. You can’t have a set path when you sail because things are always changing. If you get too arrogant or set in your ways, nature puts you in your place, maybe the boat capsizing or the wind changing direction unexpectedly.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Affirmations: Daily self-kindness affirmations to build up positive things in yourself. You can sign up for the .pdf with a free downloadable template here. Tuning to gratitude and beauty. The Diné nation has a sweet word for this Hozho — it is sweetly and simply remembering ***our own beauty*** and that your essence is unique and pure. It is easy to beat yourself up. Celebrating with humility and grace what you are learning to do better, is something we all could use practice in. This practice completely changed my life.
- Qigong: Qigong organ purging to clear negative emotions. The beauty of this practice is so simple because it creates space for vulnerability and empathy. We cannot flow if we are holding everything in. And if we express all the toxic emotions it will just make a mess. The act of clearing the toxic side of these emotions allows us to literally feel more space in our body. These emotions can be magnified in us based on technology usage, planetary frequencies and unprocessed trauma. The reality is that we get overwhelmed and burnt out because our glass is simply too full. Daily practice of this will change your life.
- Food as medicine: Eating regularly and working with food as medicine. We are what we eat. Most outbursts happen when we are hangry. My life became so much easier when I got better at feeding myself at regular intervals and eating the right amount of protein for my activity level.
- Regular movement practice: swimming, running/walking — intensity we hold needs an outlet. Exercise allows for perspective and regained creativity.
- Digital Detox: Once a week I’m fully offline and creating space away from technology daily. I focus on processing my energy and recapitulating what is in conflict inside of me on these days. It gives me the strength I need to do it all again and be able to take in more experiences the next week. If our glass is full, we will overflow and spill our marbles.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Getting people to feel safe enough to tell their story, to feel safe enough to not care what other people think of them. I feel compelled to help everyone to admit to themselves that it is ok to not be ok and it is ok to be honest with what is happening to you. It is not giving details or even any details of what is going on that bothers you as that can possibly create toxic situations.
It begins with admitting to yourself that you are uncomfortable, understanding what that discomfort is linked to and beginning to tell summary style pieces when asked — how is it going?
Some examples “I’m managing”; “Wow, it’s sorta intense”; “It’s a bit of a crazy rollercoaster”. Instead of the death march of “I’m ok” and meanwhile dying a bit on the inside. For someone who basically didn’t talk about myself for a year as I was going through a divorce and quitting a toxic career path, I believe firmly in holding pieces to yourself so that there is not interference. At the same time, it’s super important to not suffocate your voice. There is a rather non-precise art-form to doing this well and we are blessed enough to have the opportunity to try to do it better each day. By doing, 1% better and doing one thing that makes you alone proud, will create dramatic and powerful changes in your life.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to chat and be interviewed by Russell Brand — after being so carefully groomed by the government, it has been bizarre for me in recent years that people can just speak the truth in such a candid way. When you are microjudged, you lose your voice — bit by bit — until you conform to what they want you to say. Thankfully, I took back my voice before I just turned into a government mouthpiece. I love Russel’s candor to just say things as they are.
Dr. Gabor Maté has been so helpful for me to understand why I am the way I am and that most people have trauma. His books and teachings on trauma has really been grounding for me to feel a sense of peace in a world where everyone would just tell me I am fine.
It would be an honor to connect with people who are looking to shift the way the world looks at wellness and want to create a world where we can truly stop creating harm to one another. Many people are looking for quick fixes or psychedelics to heal but the reality is that is just creates more harm at the energetic level. Healing is a process not a destination. It’s about having the courage for everyone to speak out and not be afraid to be themselves instead of who everyone else wants them to be. Even now as I speak with you, I still measure many of my words, wondering who will mishear or judge what I am saying. The reality is that people hear through the veils that cloud them. We cannot change that. What we can change is softening our compression when we self-censor or expect rejection and when we allow that fear to restrict our abundant and natural joy and sweetness.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website is www.catalyzinginspiration.com and you can follow me on medium at: https://medium.com/subscribe/@catalyzinginspiration
Follow @catalyzinginspiration on Instagram and Facebook @catalyzinginspiration. I am on LinkedIn at @stephaniehilborn
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!