Mary Anne Flanagan is the founder of Toning the OM, an international healing arts company that is committed to nurturing heart connections through experiential workshops, retreats, healing, and coaching sessions. Mary Anne asked me questions that no one has yet to ask me so I was very mindful in my responses. I have her permission to re-post our interview.
Bernadette Slowey is in post-production for her film, Berni’s Journey in Wanderland. After leaving a toxic work environment from a successful 20-year career in the financial industry, she flew in the face of convention to reach for a dream she once thought impossible. She took a risk and went to India to film a documentary about a group of spiritual teachers from North America. However, the production doesn’t go as planned. In a pivotal moment, Berni discovers the real purpose of her journey as the film becomes her story of resolving her past as a child refugee, being vulnerable to live authentically today and to be courageous with the unknown of tomorrow. Below is a Q & A of how the transition of a career that resulted in a life-changing transformation. Slowey is raising funds to finish her film. To view the teaser trailer visit: http://bit.ly/WanderlandJourney
Q: What is the most important message you took from your transformation that you want to share with others?
A: There were several messages from my transformational experience filming in India that it is difficult to name just one. The universal message that I believe is most beneficial for everyone to know is that we are our own best guru. You don’t have to go to India, or anywhere for that matter, to learn that the best navigation system through life is our own intuition. Ever since I was a young girl, my parents, society, even my ego, dictated most of my actions. I was told that my feelings didn’t matter and my choices had an impact on how others would treat me or think of me. I think that is where my perfectionism formed. If I behaved perfectly and did everything right, I was worthy of love. As long as I met other’s expectations, it didn’t matter what my gut was telling me. I started to conform and relied on external validation. My ego has served me well in this capacity but it has also been a detriment. I think ego is worldly and intuition is other-worldly. My ego made me successful in my career, but I was very lost without the titles, the paycheck and the corporate achievements. My intuition is what guided me to follow my dream and know that the bumps along the way were part of the journey. Ego can be a friend and our worst enemy, but I believe it is better to fall in love with our intuition. It is the greatest honor we can give ourselves.
Q: What will the audience take away from the film and it’s message?
A: My hope is that the telling of my story through film serves as a mirror for people to reflect on their own life. We are all connected; as humans, as dreamers and as spiritual beings searching for our purpose. The film will have different meaning depending on where the viewer is in their life. Wherever that may be, my intention is that the movie will help shift the perspective from victim to co-creator, from scarcity to abundance, from fear to courage. I would love it if everyone felt empowered to tear down limiting beliefs and inspired to take steps toward their dream while watching the credits roll and long after they watched the film.
Q: How do you know you actually had a transformation?
A: The encounter with the cobra and facing my fear was the catharsis of my transformation. My emotional breakdown is caught on camera when I am asked if I was afraid of dying. I am raw and vulnerable when I respond that I’m more afraid of not fully living before I die. At the same time that I was gripped by my phobia, I felt that every cell in my body was alert. In that fateful moment, I was extremely present and consciously aware of the energy running up and down my spine. I hadn’t felt that present and alive in a long time. It was the pivotal moment when the focus of the documentary went from following the spiritual teachers on their tour of India to the spiritual teachers mentoring me through my journey of transformation. Later that evening as I was watching the footage, I have an emotional reaction but it was not one I expected. As the camera got close to the cobra, it got scared and tried to get away. It kept getting pulled back by the snake charmer and was placed back in the basket. My fear turned to compassion for the cobra. I found myself relating to it’s fear. The snake was trying to escape but it was being pulled back and caged. I had felt that same way during my corporate career. People ask me how I’ve changed. I prefer to say that the transformation allowed me to evolve into my truer self. The essence of me is the same, it is my perspective that has changed.
Q: How will your audience find clarity through this film?
A: My hope is that the film serves as a mirror for the audience to be reflective. There are several universal messages that are relevant for men and women and whatever challenges they may be facing that I call the Dreadful D’s: Death, Divorce, Debt, Disease, Disaster and aDdiction. We all experience at least one of these issues. Despite the hardship, it’s makes life interesting and hopefully we grow from the situation. The film brings up questions about how we judge or perceive adversity. Instead of being a victim, can we change our point of view? I believe it is a mindful choice to flip the perspective so we direct our life to Dream for health, a loving relationship, abundance, sobriety, etc. Whatever the message that strikes a chord with the individual is exactly what I hope begins a journey of clarity for all viewers.
Q: What was the initial documentary going to be about?
A: I can tell you that I had not planned for this to be about my story! I would have lost 10 pounds for the camera and probably rehearsed in front of the mirror every day before leaving for India. After I left my 20-year career, I spiraled into a serious identity crisis. My pursuit of the American Dream had turned into a nightmare and my self-worth was wrapped around titles and the size of my paycheck. I received a call from transformational coach Harrison Klein (whom I met at the time my work environment had become toxic and when I had the first of my three miscarriages) after taking a couple of his tele-seminar courses. Harrison initially invited me to join a group of people to tour sacred places in Italy. I declined and told him that I was looking for a documentary subject that combined science with spirituality. Harrison proceeded to tell he was hosting a group of North American spiritual teachers to speak at the World United Alliance’s 1st Parliament of Spiritual Science conference in Hyderabad, India. The speakers were then going on a tour throughout India. I would interview the speakers about their modality at the conference and then get their background story during the tour. Although I would only have five weeks to plan, unlike Brazil, there was so much synchronicity during pre-production and all the signs were clear that I was to go to India. I felt as though I had received a literal and figurative “call” and my intuition told me to answer it.
Q: Did your age make it more difficult to take on this challenge to find your inner self?
A: I believe age played a positive factor in wanting to find my true self. Perhaps because I reached a milestone that many of us face as we reach a certain point in our life and ask, “Is this it? Am I living my purpose?” What presented more of a challenge were the limiting beliefs about myself that I learned very young. I evacuated from Vietnam with my mother just days before Saigon fell in 1975. My mother and I experienced prejudice and bigotry when we moved to my father’s home state of Nebraska. My family then moved to Iran to make a fresh start, however we had to evacuate again with the anti-Shah revolution in 1979. Going back to Nebraska, people thought my mother and I were Persian and angry about the Iran hostage situation. It seemed I couldn’t win. I was made fun of, and often taunted by both students as well as adults. I just wanted to fit-in and be accepted. That was about the time when my perfectionism emerged and my ambition to achieve was driven by external validation. All through high-school, college and my career, it was about accomplishments and getting to the next rung on the corporate ladder. When I had achieved what I had always imagined, the successful career, two beautiful children with a wonderful husband and a lovely home, I had every reason to be happy. So why was I experiencing inner-turmoil? I didn’t know who I was because my actions and choice were motivated by the need of approval from others. Deciding to fly in the face of convention and leaving this safe, comfortable life was a scary risk. Maybe if I was a 20-something without attachments, it would have been easier to leave – easier to focus on myself. I think transitions are part of all stages of life, no matter what age. They are no less harder when you are younger or when you are older. There is an element of fear and doubt when you leave what you know – what you are comfortable with – to take a leap into the unknown.
Q: How will your message give others the courage to overcome the fear of the unknown to take a leap of faith?
A: I think it will be a mix of the messaging with the witnessing of someone experiencing a personal transition crisis who undergoes a life altering transformation. It’s the classic hero’s journey scenario in that the viewer sees parts of themselves by watching the film. The audience doesn’t have to go to India, or anywhere, to experience a transformation. By borrowing my story watching the movie, I hope the viewer can get in less than an hour what took me years to discover.
Q: What would you say to those who feel as if they don’t have the courage to take a leap of faith?
A: I would tell them that I also did not feel as if I had the courage to take a leap of faith initially. My intuition was pulling me toward this project and yet I felt doubt and I was afraid of failure. The ego can be a friend and foe. I’m really glad I followed my intuition. I wouldn’t have this journey to share with others. The film is meant to demonstrate to viewers that they are not alone in this fear – we all go through feelings of doubt, especially when it comes to change and the unknown. Just knowing that we aren’t alone and that we share common bonds provides a sense of unity. Deep down I believe we all want to reconnect with our spirit. We can only do that if we break through illusions that we are limited or that we hold ourselves back being concerned about what others think of us rather than how we feel. I now see that when we don’t honor ourselves and follow our heart, that is the ultimate betrayal to our spirit.
Q: If you had taken a different fork in the road, how different would your life be? Do you think you made the right choice?
A: Now, I honestly believe that if I chose a different path, then that was the one I was meant to follow. That is the beauty of free will and how we are truly the co-creators of our lives. I see day to day how our choices reflect our thoughts and our thoughts become our actions. I knew I needed to find something to pull me out of autopilot. This is when the journey began. I made the right choice because, subconsciously, I knew what I needed to finally be present in life – to awaken. For me, there wasn’t a different road – no other choice. My growth in India happened because I dreamt of it mentally and craved for it spiritually.
To learn more about the film and Berni’s story, go to: www.wonderofthewander.com
This post originally appeared on the “Toning the OM” site on September 4, 2013.