A few months ago I read Pilgrimage of a Soul, a memoir by author, social activist and yoga teacher, Phileena Heuertz who is also known for co-founding the Gravity Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Pilgrimage of a Soul recounts Phileena’s spiritual awakening as she lets go of everything false that once defined her sense of self and moves into a space of raw being. The setting for Phileena’s deconstruction of self is the El Camino De Santiago, which provides a vivid physical backdrop for her story.

The first part of her journey is a feminist awakening, as she faces her own place in the history of the Christian tradition as a woman. She unravels her identity related to what it means to be of service in a patriarchal culture and church.  As her journey continues, Phileena comes to a place where she feels deeply called to shed all of the false constructs that have upheld her identity: her relationships, her work, her religious beliefs and her appearance.

For anyone who feels on the brink of a personal deconstruction, the wisdom shared in this memoir is universally helpful. Though her background is Christian, the language she uses is accessible to all.

I am SO thankful that Phileena agreed to have a conversation with me, to discuss how to awaken in our modern, excessively busy, world. Enjoy this transcript of our interview:

H+H: What advice do you have to support those who feel an awakening is happening- but who are too busy to be very contemplative? For example, those of us with young children and busy work lives — where finding time to meditate, let alone taking a contemplative retreat — isn’t really possible?

PH: Some of the most valuable opportunities in my own awakening have come through my relationships.

If we are in a time of life when we don’t have a lot of opportunity to practice solitude, it becomes really important to pay attention to the relationships in our lives, and how those are affecting us or triggering us. Pay attention to what comes up in those relationships, and make time to journey in whatever way we can.

That said, I do see a lot of busy people who say they have no time but in reality they could make time or ask for help to get what they need.

Another option is to incorporate your children and family into your journey. My friend Mindy Durias  started incorporating meditation into her daily routine with her kids and it’s been incredible. They learned at an early age to be quiet and to meditate.

Whatever way you can, begin a supportive spiritual practice. For me, I began to practice solitude, silence and stillness in various increments, which evolved from there.

H+H: There is a lot of pressure to BE somebody in today’s world. Keeping up appearances seems more important in our Western culture than ever before. What do you think compels most people to even want to wake up in today’s world?

PH: The desire begins when we recognize that life is unresolveable. There are so many paradoxes and contradictions and when we come to a place of not being able to make sense of it anymore, and we start to know our limitations of self, of our worldviews, this is often when the journey begins.

In many cases this initial insight comes through suffering. We can go through life experiencing pain, and finding some way to accommodate that pain that takes on a projection-blame-making-others-responsible approach, but when we come to a point of knowing we can no longer project our blame — that there is both good and bad in me and in others AND in life at large — this recognition is often what propels us to wake up from our illusions.

In my own life, I came to this place through my social outreach work, confronting the horrible human brutalities and suffering in war and poverty — in victim and oppressor. There really was no end to who was ultimately responsible. This led me on my own awakening to the pain in my own heart and life. However, this waking up can come in so many different ways – through losing someone, a failed marriage … so many ways.

H+ H: The way you beautifully describe letting go of false selves is echoed in the teachings of so many different teachers across many traditions. What advice do you have for those who feel they are on the brink of a waking up in this world?

PH:  In my experience, this path almost always begins when we wake up to the recognition that life is not going as we want it to go and we know in our hearts that the way we are interacting with life is not congruent with our deepest self. This is the start of an awakening.

My advice is to pay attention. Pay attention to this inner discomfort and inner knowing that you’re not aligned in some way. When you can come to acknowledge to yourself: “yes, things are not aligned, I’m not living life in the way I want to” then it’s crucial to find a spiritual practice and to find wisdom to support you.

H+H: How important is the guidance of a teacher in this process? For those not connected to a community, how would one find a teacher?

PH: Personally, I didn’t have a teacher myself but was really drawn to the mystic writings and found great companionship reading all of them, so I’m not sure a particular teacher is always necessary.  I’m pretty familiar with the guru style of teaching but I have mixed feelings about it, as people often have unrealistic expectations. Often, gurus disappoint their followers so if you go this route, it’s critical to be mindful of the humanity of any teacher and go into the search with your eyes wide open.

This whole search is such an intuitive one for each of us. It’s about learning to listen to our deepest self. When we are on a quest for truth, we will be guided. There will be signs, leadings, intuitions, serendipitous moments, so it’s most critical to pay attention to what we’ve seen, heard or watched that resonated with us, and listen and follow where we sense our heart being massaged and stimulated to move. There’s a quote: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Pay attention and you’ll see what kinds of guides come along.

_ _ _

You can meet Phileena Heuertz in person at her upcoming retreats (she’ll be in Seattle soon) or check out her newest book, Mindful Silence which will be available on November 13!