By Richard Buggs February 1, 2018
In 1993, Shefali Tsabary (PDT '96) traveled from Mumbai, India, to the CIIS campus, which was located in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury District at the time. Only 21 years old, she couldn't have imagined how her life was about to change.
"My true awakening occurred when I left India and arrived at CIIS to study in the Drama Therapy program, where I discovered the power of meditation and mindfulness," she says. "That journey of self-awareness and introspection really taught me we are not who we think we are. The conditions of childhood do not define us. I learned that breaking free from the past and entering the present moment to live fully in the here and now is the most important journey we can take."
This philosophy became the inspiration of Tsabary's work with clients as she applied the Drama Therapy skill of quickly improvising solutions to problems. She was greatly influenced by her classes with faculty members Renee Emunah and Eva Leveton, and she expresses deep gratitude to them.
After graduating from CIIS in 1996, Tsabary completed a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University. Today, she is a keynote speaker who has presented at TEDx, Kellogg Business School, the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, and other conferences and workshops around the world where she shares her approach of integrating Eastern mindfulness with Western psychology -- especially in the realm of parenting.
"We live in a time where there is the plague of doing, doing, doing that creates an internal disconnect within parents as they race against the clock," she says. Tsabary observes that "childhood has become this big competition for achievement. This gives the child the message that they always have to achieve or become something in order to be worthy... rather than to unfold into who they already are."
Tsabary has written three books, including the award-winning New York Times bestseller The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, endorsed by Oprah as one of the most profound books on parenting she has ever read. Tsabary was recently invited to Oprah's Lifeclass, where she met with parents, facilitated conversations parent-child conversations, and presented her insights to Oprah's audiences.
In her third book, The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting, Tsabary encourages parents to pause and examine their awareness for feelings of fear, worry, and scarcity. Instead of automatic behavior that may lead to taking a hierarchical stance focused on managing the "lesser than" child, she encourages parents to recognize the disconnect that stems from their own projections and unmet needs. She advises, "Take that time to go within because when we don't recognize that we're in a state of fear, the fear is in charge and then we're yelling at our kid." Where did that come from? It came from not paying attention in the moment."
She continues, "Parents are often so blinded by their own pain, fear, or anxiety that they're not even seeing the kid in front of them. The awakened parent is one who understands that they are bringing to their dynamic so much of their own stuff: their ego, their baggage, their unprocessed legacies of shame, blame, and unworthiness."
Tsabary coaches parents to commit to a regular self-love practice. She explains, "It's a practice of developing the understanding that this lack, this sense of incompleteness, comes from false beliefs we've inherited from childhood because of the unconsciousness of our parents. They put it on to us and we lived with it, and then we put it on to our children. Breaking this chain, reorganizing ourselves, and developing new belief systems -- I call it a revolution. The old way doesn't serve us. This lack of self-love doesn't serve us."
Tsabary's self-love practice includes Vipassana meditation techniques she learned at CIIS. She tries to incorporate formal meditation into her days and challenges herself to access a meditative state while doing ordinary tasks like washing her hands and brushing her teeth.
Tsabary enjoys participating in parents' transformations. She says, "I help parents understand that first they need to work on themselves. Parents who learn how to tap into their inner abundance and divinity can convey their sense of wholeness to their children."
She feels grateful to be part of guiding others to connect to simple, joyful, and liberated parenting methods. She concludes, "I believe in the power of story to get to the heart of the matter and to inspire people. If something I say or write rings true for someone and they become awakened, I feel grateful to have made a contribution."
Richard Buggs is Dean of Alumni and Travel.