Dreamer: Kerry Docherty, Mindfulness Mentor

Dreamer Kerry Docherty, Mindfulness Mentor

Think about an orange-robed monk meditating quietly in a temple in the green hills of Thailand. Now, imagine the exact opposite person. You might think of someone in a dark suit barking into a cell phone and hustling through a big, crowded city. Someone like a lawyer in New York. These two would seem to live in different worlds, but Kerry Docherty is building a bridge between them.

The year before she started Pepperdine Law School she spent three months in Thailand, ending with a week in a Buddhist monastery. “I had nothing to do all day but sit with my thoughts and meditate,” she told me by email. “What a struggle!” But this introduction to the usually unnoticed workings of her own mind stuck with her, and during law school she started training at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

The practice of mindfulness helped Kerry handle the stress and competitiveness of law school, and she continued the practice when she moved to New York to clerk for a judge in Brooklyn. The judge’s daughter was applying for college at the time and Kerry taught her the basics of mindfulness to help handle the stress, which proved very helpful. “Most of our lives,” Kerry said, “we are told to ‘calm down,’ ‘pay attention’ and ‘chill out,’ but we never learn how to do these things.” Kerry wondered if there was a market for this kind of training, and a way to unite her two worlds into one pursuit. She started exploring mindfulness training as a business.

“Walking away from a financially stable and comfortable career was scary, exhausting, energizing, and empowering,” she said. “My biggest obstacle has always been myself, particularly self-doubt and people pleasing. But at some point I just accepted that I can still have self-doubt and move forward.” She said that the day she decided to put aside her law career and fully commit to her new pursuit was the day doors started to open. Now she works full time on her business, The Mindful Mentors, teaching the practice of mindfulness to everyone from busy professionals to a class of fifth graders.

When practicing mindfulness, says Kerry, “we’re learning about ourselves and about the fleetingness of emotions; we’re learning that there is beauty in the mundane moments of the day; and we’re learning that there is a place inside of us that is always okay, even when the world isn’t.” Kerry is injecting the world of the monk into the chaos of modern American life, uniting the two worlds she lives in. And, fittingly, one of her key client groups is New York City lawyers.

Connect with Kerry using the form below. Send her a question on mindfulness, an encouraging word, or order one of her guided meditation CDs—one for adults and one for mindful youngsters.
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Dreamer: Megan Krempels, A Creative Director’s Global Sabbatical

Connect with Megan and read more about her adventures on her blog.Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerIt’s a long way from South Korea to small-town colonial Pennsylvania, a trip Megan Krempels made at the tender age of two, when she was adopted from her native Korea by an American couple. Last month, after 28 years, she took the scenic route back. Megan put her successful career as a creative director on hold and sold most of what she owned for a four-month, around-the-world exploration of new cultures, her own identity, and the tensions between successful American life and the deeper values she has cultivated in herself.

Megan grew up in a small town near Pennsylvania Amish country—”the only Asian in a sea of white people,” she told me by email. Then for college she moved to Los Angeles, where she felt like a “small-town girl in a sea of city kids” and an “Asian who looks Asian but doesn’t act Asian.”

“You just feel out of place, everywhere,” Megan said.

She stayed in Los Angeles after school and built a career in design, eventually helping launch Little Black Bag, a fashion e-commerce site, as the company’s Creative Director. From there she got offers from a number of top companies and had startup ideas of her own. But something didn’t feel right this time.

“Here I was at the top of my career, being requested at incredible jobs most people would kill for and I felt completely jaded and empty,” Megan recalled. “Why do I keep hustling for this? To buy more? To move to a better place? I started getting healthy as a human but as a corporate cog I felt burnt out.”

She decided to leave Los Angeles, and started kindling an old dream of traveling the world, a dream she had postponed due to financial worries. “Fear of not having money kept me in the spin cycle,” she said. But now she thought about it differentlyShe had some savings, a retirement account she could cash out, a tax refund on its way, and plenty of stuff she could sell. She decided to go for it.

Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerShe listed most of her stuff for sale on Craigslist and in a few days was driving across the country with her dog, going back home to spend time with family and old friends, and to plan her adventure.

First she booked a flight to Peru, a country she’d itched to return to ever since a trip there in high school. When she learned she needed proof of a return flight to be allowed in the country, Megan happened upon a strange itinerary: Rio De Janeiro to London to Seoul, back to London and finally back to Philadelphia. And it was cheaper than direct flights home from Rio. She booked it, realizing as she did that it would be her first time to Korea since her adoption in 1984. This trip would truly take her full circle.

Megan’s goal in traveling, as close as I can get it, is simple enough to write. We all know the stuffiness that creeps into our lives, the accumulation of questionable habits, unquestioned assumptions, postponed and missed opportunities. These things hang around because they fit into our current lifestyle and relationships. Even seeing them clearly is tough. Changing them is near-miraculous.

Traveling internationally, not touristing but really traveling and experiencing cultures that are different from our own, is a wide open door that we walk through, out of our own stuffiness. From such a distance—the actual geographical distance giving rise to an emotional one—we can see our little worlds as the strange and arbitrary places they are and we can choose to live differently.

Part of the stuffiness Megan was trying to air out in her travels is the uniquely Western—and perhaps even more uniquely American—elevation of economic achievement as the primary value of a person. “Accomplishments, accolades, job titles, earning money and stuff: my personal self-worth was, um, 100% this for the majority of life,” she wrote on her website. And by unraveling this flag of identity and exploring other value systems, she seeks to get closer to her own core values, and ultimate value, as a human being. “The fullest versions of myself. Who is that?” Megan asks. “I honestly dunno. I’m learning it little by little but honoring each second.”

Finally, after four months in South America and a quick stop in London, she touched down in Seoul, South Korea and walked out into the country of her birth for the first time. “Physically, at first glance, yes I fit in,” she told me. “The clothes magically fit, the shoes slide on my short, wide feet perfectly, and they know how to cut my hair.” But when she asked locals if they could spot her as a foreigner, “there was a resounding response of, Yes, duh, absolutely.”

Megan Krempels, Ember DreamerMegan’s American upbringing and fast-lane career success set her apart from the average young Korean woman. “The country still values traditional gender roles in their most stereotypical sense,” she said. “Girls have found this interesting space of emulating the little girly-girl where they primp in public in front of huge floral-motif mirrors and take selfies in coffee shops. Meanwhile they run the show at home with their husbands and sons.” Megan was not as fashion-conscious as her Korean counterparts, and not as conservative, and acted a little more confident.

At first she was turned off by the formality of Korean culture. “Korea is a land of discipline and conformity,” she wrote, recalling a trip to a Korean salsa club. “You could only dance with a partner or you were forced into a corner to practice the steps in a group in front of a mirror. You weren’t allowed to just dance freely.” But soon she started noticing positive things: people’s considerateness of others in public spaces, thoughtful design incorporated into everyday life. And when she got out of Seoul a whole new appreciation blossomed. “Once I got out of the hustle of the city, people invited me into their lives and homes like family. I’ve never felt that way before. That feeling of being fully accepted and part of a culture immediately without trying.”

Now back home in Pennsylvania and planning her next venture, Megan says the trip helped her to appreciate her unique identity as a small-town-Korean-American-woman-startup-leader. “It’s become kinda fun to surprise people and remind them not to judge a book by its cover,” she told me, “to show them that someone young can have wisdom, a playful person can have depth, an artist can have a science brain, and being Asian isn’t easily defined.”

Through her travels Megan realized that she’s not alone in her mixed identity. “I’m not part of one single entity. But I don’t actually think any of us are now, so I feel a little less alone in that.” Our increasingly connected world gives us the opportunity to identify ourselves not only by our origin, but also by our destination, and perhaps most importantly by the journey we take to get there.

Connect with Megan and read more about her adventures on her blog.Megan Krempels, Ember Dreamer

 

Dreamer: Musician Karina Frost

By day Karina Frost manages our shipping department. By night she rocks San Diego’s soul.Karina Frost, Musician and Ember Dreamer

“My brother and I shoved toilet paper in our ears many nights to drown out the song my mom and dad just had to listen and dance to at full volume,” musician Karina Frost told me by email, a smile in her writing. “My parents’ love language is definitely music and dance.” It’s easy to imagine how contagious such a love would be to a child watching her parents enjoy themselves, their lives, each other.

As a young child Karina’s own particular love was books, or one book in particular: a children’s chapter book called Old Granny Fox. Raised in a Mexican household in Chula Vista, California, she spoke and read only Spanish. But so entranced was she by “aged, yellowed pages and the glorious musty smell” that she held the book close and imagined 100 different adventures for the old fox. Years later she joined an English speaking elementary school and found in books both a refuge from and a tool to tackle the challenge of learning a new language and a new culture. Books became, she told me, “as much a part of me as my blood and muscle.”

Both of Karina’s parents are from Ensenada, a small coastal city on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, about an hour’s drive from San Diego. Her parents drove her and her brother to Ensenada nearly every weekend, where they were surrounded by family.

One of the great privileges of being family to a younger generation is introducing them to the small wonders of the world, and sometimes watching them fall in love with one of them. Visiting her grandfather in Ensenada when she was only 12, Karina asked him to teach her how to play a song on his classical guitar. He taught her to play La Bamba. She took that guitar home for a week and wrote her first song.

fox n janeThe lyrics, she said, were embarrassing. But the collision of her love of music and her love of words was transformative. The next Christmas, Santa brought her a guitar of her own, and in writing and performing songs she found an opening through which her deepest thoughts and feelings could flow, and a place to connect on that level with others. “I have to admit,” Karina said, “the true reason I perform my music and not just write songs while alone in my little room is that I feel the most connected with mankind while exposing myself in the intimate way a performer does.”

It seems to me that her ability to dig down into herself, into the places where we all feel alike but alone, and to bring back something to share is foundational to Karina’s life. This, after all, is what she must love in the books she so treasures. This is what was unleashed in her when she wrote that first song. And this innate understanding of the value of her own thoughts and feelings and stories is probably why, though she still owns the book, she has never read the actual pages of Old Granny Fox. She doesn’t need to. All the fox’s stories are within her.

Follow Karina’s music on Facebook!

Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life Magazine

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineOn a clattering bus dodging potholes in the Kenyan countryside, Fay Johnson realized that she hadn’t had enough time for dancing lately. It was 2012 and Fay had just finished a consulting project for Nuru International—an organization that aims to end extreme poverty—helping them increase the use of latrines in rural Kenya. She worked eye-to-eye with Kenyan community health workers. She watched them assimilate new skills and improve their communities. It was change she could literally touch.

Making this sort of change has many rewards, but Fay found that time for the simple things that bring her joy—dancing, painting, storytelling, photography—is not often among them.

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineA South African raised mostly in California, Fay’s parents made a point of introducing her to the wider world. “It was not uncommon,” she told me by email, “to spend Thanksgiving dinner with guests including Communist People’s Party officials, Indian professors, French scholars, Nigerian princesses and the children of political refugees.” She visited 26 countries before graduating high school. This global foundation, said Fay, “solidified my deep, personal commitment to the betterment of all human life, regardless of national identity.”

After college she moved to Washington, DC and worked with Human Rights Watch, the US Congress, and Oxfam America, all before getting a Master’s degree focused on behavior change communication. She founded a consultancy called Red Balloon Ideas to put all her education and experience into practice. Which brought her to this bus ride, traversing the vast Kenyan countryside, thinking about dancing.

There are things we believe in, things we know to be good and worthy of our time, like improving health conditions in Kenya. And then there are things we love. For some its music, for others teaching; for some it might even be organizing files. We can’t say why we love these things, or make a good argument as to how they are better than other pursuits. We just know that they open springs of joy within us. Before her bus dropped her in Nairobi, Fay decided to move the things she loved closer to the center of her life.

Ember Dreamer: Fay Johnson, Founder of Deliberate Life MagazineThrough a good amount of research she decided to create a digital magazine to engage the world in the kinds of stories and ideas that molded her. She named it Deliberate Life. The goal, in the pattern of her upbringing, is to create a global community of people building a better tomorrow, with Deliberate Life as a venue to read about and share their common challenges, solutions, and stories. “I have set out to create something that I wish existed,” said Fay, “a manual, as it were, for what I should be doing if I want to make a difference.”

But nothing ambitious comes easy. Founding the magazine solo she has to constantly keep herself motivated and learn new skills like becoming a registered Apple iOS developer. And then there’s the emotional risk. “Whenever you put your heart into something, and it is out there with your name on it, it’s nerve wracking,” said Fay. So far the iPad-only magazine has been downloaded in 52 different countries. A community is growing. It’s small still, but with issue number three launching today for the iPad, you can bet that somewhere near San Francisco, Fay is dancing.

Support Fay: download the Deliberate Life iPad app and like Deliberate Life on Facebook.

Dreamer: Rebecca Snavely, Co-Founder
of Action Kivu

Follow Rebecca’s work with Action Kivu on Facebook.
Rebecca Snavely, Ember Dreamer, in Mumosho, Democratic Republic of Congo
On the television show Project Runway, aspiring fashion designers sew for a chance at sudden fame and success. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a small group of women sew in hopes of feeding and educating their children. These two realities, still so distant on our small planet, are connected by one woman: Rebecca Snavely.

Rebecca grew up a bookworm and followed her fascination with story into entertainment and journalism, and to countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. Her most recent job is casting for Project Runway, where she explores the fashion blogging world in search of the next potential star. “My favorite part of the job is interviewing people to find out the quirks of their personal stories,” Rebecca told me by email.

A few years ago she and her friend Cate Haight, a film editor in Los Angeles, read Half the Sky, Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s treatise on global injustice against women. When they reached the section about Congo, about rape being used as a weapon of war and the courage of women in the face of such violence, they decided together to do something. Through a friend, they connected with Amani Matabaro, a Congolese man who founded his own non-profit to serve women and children in eastern Congo. “I have never met anyone like Amani,” Rebecca told me. “Cate and I are inspired by his never-ending dedication to making a difference in his community, his persistence, his joy, his intelligence, his empathy and love for those he works and lives with.”

She and Cate founded Action Kivu to help Amani fund his work, and to support positive change in Congo through the “powerful, purposeful people of its local communities.” The work they support tackles practical challenges like education, income generation, and stopping domestic violence. And it’s all driven by the needs of the Congolese communities where it’s accomplished. In a land where women are often scorned and abused, Ernata, a woman who learned tailoring in Amani’s program, sums up the benefits: “I am very proud of myself today, and my husband is proud of me and he’s happy to have me as a wife, especially as I help make an income for the family.”

Rebecca Snavely with Amani Matabaro.Rebecca, Cate, and Amani plan to start a fair trade program to sell the products created in Congo in the American market, and to create a ‘Peace School’ to provide education for the vulnerable children of Amani’s home community, many of whom are orphaned by war and disease. Rebecca dreams of working full time on Action Kivu, connecting with funders and other partners to magnify their impact. The work of Action Kivu, she told me, “is what makes my heart break with anguish and joy, what wakes me up, what makes me come alive.”

In the meantime, she will keep splitting her life across two worlds. “It’s an odd and beautiful balance of realities: women who are trying to sew their way into the world of fashion, and women who trying to sew their way out of poverty and into empowerment.” She is helping bring those stories a little closer together, and as she put it so well, “as we all grow closer and share our stories, helping each other find our talents and our voices, as we create places of peace, peace that is crucial for hope to take hold, we can learn from watching each other begin live life to the fullest, without fear.” A worthy dream indeed.

Rebecca told me you can support her and her dreams by connecting with Action Kivu on Facebook and Twitter, and by sharing the stories of the women, men and children of eastern Congo. You are, of course, encouraged to donate on their site. And introductions to foundations that might invest in their work would be a tremendous help.

Dreamer: Poet Ciona Rouse, Founder of Do The Crazy Thing

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Poet Ciona Rouse, Founder of Do The Crazy Thing
At a writer’s workshop in Nashville, poet Ciona Rouse was prompted to write a postcard to herself from someone she had lost. She thought of her late friend and mentor, Teri. And when she saw a postcard with a picture of a busker balancing a sword on his chin, she knew it was the one. She flipped the card over and began to write, ‘Do the crazy thing…’

“This is exactly the way she lived and what she would say to me,” Ciona told me by email, “take risks, do the thing on your heart!” The resultant poem, Do The Crazy Thing, spoke to Ciona like an old friend at a time when she needed one. “I also remember it feeling so different from anything I usually write,” she said, “which made it feel even more like a special message from Teri just to me.”

Do The Crazy Thing Poster

The digital storyteller for lululemon athletica, the women’s athletic company where Ciona works, designed a poster to illustrate the poem and posted it on the company’s blog. The poster was pinned, tumbled and tweeted across the interwebs, and people started sharing stories of their ‘crazy things’ with Ciona, and telling her how her poem inspired them.

Now, two years later, Ciona just launched thecrazything.com, a place to inspire people to find and do the crazy things on their hearts. “I see that the world will be made more wonderful by people discovering their passions and living fully into their wild and crazy dreams,” said Ciona.

Ciona told me over Skype that Do The Crazy Thing feels like it belongs as much to her mentor as to herself. When Teri passed away, even people who had never met her sent cards, because everyone in the community knew someone she had touched. Ciona hopes that through thecrazything.com, people she has never met will be touched by the same simple, profound words that Teri inspired in her: “Do the crazy thing.”

Ember Dreamers are members of the Ember community who are chasing inspiring dreams. Know someone we should feature? Write us at dream@emberarts.com.