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E9: The Making of The Aware Mind Podcast: Our Backstory

Sarah Vallely

This episode is not one of our typical shows. We usually address topics such as anxiety, depression, and insight in relation to mindfulness. However, this episode was recorded in front of a live audience. Jacob and I told our story of how we met and how The Aware Mind came to be. If you like “the making of” shows or backstories, then this episode is for you. If not, you might want to skip this particular episode and listen to one of our previous shows.


Jacob Derossett

Sarah, how did you get into the profession, the profession of the mind?


Sarah Vallely

I started my meditation training when I was 26 years old. So a long time ago, I was also a practicing Hypnotherapist. I began actually by teaching meditation to children. I was living in LA and started teaching at a community center. I didn't have children.. I was pretty young, putting out flyers and saying, “Hey, I'm teaching classes for children how to learn how to meditate.” That became such a phenomenon. People came to those classes who didn't even have children when they heard what I was doing because nobody was doing this. This is 20 years ago before this was a thing. I realized that there was such a need for it. I wrote a book. I created a course I was training parents, teachers, and therapists on teaching meditation to children. I did that specifically for about 15 years. About five years ago, I shifted gears and focused on working with adults, training adults how to teach other adults how to meditate. And last year, I started doing mindfulness coaching to help people on a personal level with stress.


What was it about mindfulness that initially attracted you to the practice?



Jacob Derossett

I had heard some people talk about the meditation app Headspace on a couple of podcasts. They said things like “I feel more relaxed easing into sleep.” I was feeling a lot more at ease throughout the day. And when I would get uncomfortable or generally uneasy, I could have a mantra or practice to go-to calm that. And that was very attractive to me. As I got more stressed out and more uneasy I meditated more, and it helped more. And here we are.


You mentioned that you were a Hypnotherapist. Can you still practice that?


Sarah Vallely

My registration certification, all that has lapsed.


Jacob Derossett

The main the reason I wanted to know is I wanted to see if you could hypnotize me on the podcast sometime. That would be cool!


What led you to start practicing mindfulness?


Sarah Vallely

So this is an intriguing story because I did not set out to learn how to practice mindfulness. I'm one of these people who doesn’t like doing what the norm is doing--what's popular. I want to go completely other direction. Mindfulness is pretty popular. So that wouldn't be something I would typically get into. But I was practicing meditation, but a different type of meditation. It had a lot to do with visualization. I worked with a shaman in LA for four years and was steeped in that type of practice. And then I moved here to Asheville 18 years ago, and I needed a group to sit with and do my meditation with because that was something that I did a lot in LA--we meditated together. A group I found was a Vipassana group--an insight meditation group, which is a mindfulness type meditation. And so I started sitting with them, and I just told myself, “I'm not going to do their thing, I'm just going to do mine.” And, and it didn't take long for their philosophies and ideas to seep in. And within about six months, I was switching over and doing the type of meditation they were doing, which is based on technique. It was kind of an accident.


What are some of the benefits that mindfulness brings to your life, Jacob?


Jacob Derossett

It started as stress reduction. Waking up in the morning and sitting with your eyes closed is a pretty easy thing to ask yourself to do. So that helped me develop a lot of other routines. And as I've gone on with it, it's just completely changed the way my brain is structured. How I see everything in life is now totally different and better in every way. And this has a lot to do with the philosophy that's attached to it--how I view myself in the world and how I view others in the world. The practice in and of itself, just having a way of checking out of some of the more intense negative emotions one may be experiencing and into a more peaceful one. If you ask a couple of people on this call, they might say I'm a little bit more pleasant to be around. Hopefully, I could only hope that.


Sarah Vallely,

You're a delight to be around. I don't know what you used to be like. Ha!


Jacob Derossett

What is the most significant benefit mindfulness brought to your life?


Sarah Vallely

I have dealt with some severe ADHD symptoms in my life and an excessive amount of creativity. I used to be one of these people who were so creative that it was hard to function. I'm sure you know, some people like that. Mindfulness practice helped me shift that around. I made a dedication to practice mindfulness for 60 minutes a day, for nine months. I write about this in my memoir, it completely shifted my ADHD symptoms. It felt like I was submerged under all this water for my whole life. And then I came up out of the water. And I could finally hear things that were happening and see things that were happening without all this blur, and constant motion. That's very metaphorical but it is a way to explain how that felt. Mindfulness practice has alleviated my stress, bringing me into more trust. It's helped me on a spiritual level. Gaining insights has been an important part of my practice. Those insights have helped me live in this world and helped me understand myself and all of the weirdness and craziness that happens around me. Additionally, mindfulness practices helped me move into vulnerability, just being able to be okay with my emotions, and then be okay with talking about my feelings with other people. And not acting like I have it all figured out, not putting on this air that I can handle anything. Admitting that some things are just really hard. And it was my mindfulness practice that helped me get there.


Jacob Derossett

That really shows you the difference between 20 years meditating, and my 7 years. You have a much more articulate understanding of how the fabric of yourself has changed.


Sarah Vallely

Thanks, Jacob. I see some people have some questions about podcasting. So let's get into that. What was the biggest thing you've learned through this podcasting experience?


Jacob Derossett

When we took the pressure off of videoing, it makes the conversation a lot more relaxing for me. When we first started, we were contemplating doing video, and then we decided not to do video. But in the beginning I was just staring at my face, paying way too much attention to that. That was very stressful. So it felt like as soon as we stopped that, it got very natural very quickly. And also the fact that you do edit the podcast, I think I have a lot more freedom to go off on tangents about things and ramble a bit, hoping that there may be one or two little good things in what I say that we can put out there.


Sarah Vallely

That's interesting because that's why we aren't doing video because there's so much editing. It's so choppy. My mom watched it. She's like,” Oh, my God. Take that down!” It’s on YouTube, but it's just a picture of us. There’s not any video. This has been such a journey moving into podcasting, something I've wanted to do for so long. There's been a lot of surprising things for me. For example, I have to pick a subject that I'm passionate about that week. I wish it could be what I'm passionate about that day, but it takes a few days to prepare. We did record a few episodes at the beginning that were planned out. I was thinking this is what we should podcast about. And they went flat. We ended up not even publishing those podcasts. If I'm not excited, Jacob doesn't get excited. So it doesn't work.


So that was a substantial learning for me. And so if anyone out there is interested in podcasting, I would suggest that. I do remember hearing from other podcasters saying similar things like, don't podcast about what you think your listeners want to hear-you have to talk about what you want to talk about--what's meaningful to you. Because it does, it comes through. As far as advice, the most significant piece of advice I can get give you is to find a fantastic podcast co-host. Jacob is excellent. I'm so grateful for Jacob. He makes the whole show. He puts me at ease. He makes me laugh. Jacob you have just such a breadth of knowledge. You've done so much reading and have understandings that I don't even have. I don't have as much education in Buddhism as Jacob does. He brings that piece and makes the show.


Jacob Derossett

I had this realization one day. We had made the shift to talking about things you're passionate about. I was like, I have access to a mindfulness teacher that's been doing this for two decades. And once I had that realization, I decided to open up and ask questions and learn about things. Sarah, when you get excited about something, it's usually isomething I haven't heard of yet. It's just been an embarrassment of riches as far as your depth of your knowledge--especially the way you research things. You develop a clear understanding of the research and the data behind it, which I'm not passionate about doing. So you do it for me. And it's great.


Sarah Vallely

I don't read as many books as I read studies. I just love reading the research. So we're a good pair that way. Jacob, I love how relatable you are. Because when I just am casually talking to people about the podcast, that's a word that comes up repeatedly. It's so “relatable. I really appreciate that. How about you, Jacob? We hadn't even met in person, and we had started the podcast before we even met in person. We met at an online meetup book club online. I hadn't even met him in person. I call him up and asked, “Hey, do you want to co-host this podcast with me?” What went through your mind?


Jacob Derossett

In one of our meetups, there wasn't a ton of attendance in the early stages of our meetup. So it was just a couple of people. And then Sarah was having issues with reading at the time, and I was one of the only people there. She said, “I don't know if I'm going to be able to host next month because my vision and this book aren't available on audio.” And to be honest, I didn't think the podcast would be as much of a big deal as it is now. Now we've gotten momentum. We're doing something. This is pretty cool. I may have been more nervous and apprehensive if I knew the number of downloads we were going to get. But now, the ball is rolling. I'm just here for the ride. It's great.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah, it's been a great experience out of the gate. We are getting good downloads already. We've only been doing this for a month.


Jacob what do you think is the best way to get started practicing?


Jacob Derossett

I'm a trainer by trade. I always tell people, you can buy a book, you can download an app, you can buy a peloton, you can get on YouTube, or you can go and pay a coach. There are benefits and downsides of each of those things. You're going to get the best quality product if you're standing in front of a person every day--an experienced coach that's hopefully an expert in their field. They can give you a lot of positive feedback and help you along the journey. If the barrier for entry is high, then take 20 minutes in the morning and sit down and start to see what your mind does. If you're curious about the nature of your mind, sit down and observe it 20 minutes a day. If you struggle with accountability, the app is good, and then if you want to get the goods--getting a teacher is going is the best way to do it. Depends on your temperament, your financial situation, your time commitment, and accountability.


Sarah Vallely

the way I looked at mindfulness is it's on three levels. The first level is mindfulness of your physical world, your physical surroundings. So being mindful of the sounds, mindful of your sensations in your body, and mindful of your breath, which is a combination of sounds and physical sensations in your body. If you have your eyes open, some people meditate like this looking at a plant. If you want to do five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, choose to look at a plant, choose to listen to sounds, decide to notice your breath or choose body sensations.


And then, as you develop your practice, the next step back is to become mindful of your thoughts and emotions. And then the third step, is to be aware of your attention. What type of attention are you bringing to the moment? Are you in judgmental attention? Are you in a nonjudgmental intention? Are you in equanimous attention--emotionally calm? Are you in emotional attention? Are you bringing emotion to the experience? Not that one is better than the other, it's just being mindful if you are a little bit angry before you sit down to meditate--you're bringing that anger into the practice, just being mindful that I'm looking at my plant with a little bit of anger. That's mindfulness. If that's what your 10 minutes are, it's just noticing that that's what's going on--that's awesome. You're doing exactly what you need to do.


Jacob was so good about asking, “What is your vision for the podcast?” I did have a vision. I have some unique ways of teaching mindfulness and strategies that I've found helpful with my students and clients. So I'd like to share those with other people because you're not going to hear those on other podcasts. And I have this strong belief that our brains are not designed for our environment. And what I mean by that our society has progressed more quickly than our brains have been able to evolve. It causes anxiety. It causes depression. And so mindfulness is such a good antidote. We can use mindfulness to function in everything that's going on. That's also a big part of the vision is to get some of those ideas across. And the other thing is, I'd like to talk about current events through the lens of mindfulness, and we've been doing that a little bit. Going forward, I'd like to talk about racism through the lens of mindfulness. I'd like to talk about the political divide through the lens of mindfulness. So that's another vision for the podcast.


I’m so appreciative that you all are here. I feel so loved and supported. Jacob, any more words that you'd like to share before we move on to the prizes.


Jacob Derossett

I'm grateful to you for allowing me to be a part of something like this. This is amazing. I had always bored my poor wife with conversations about mindfulness. She's not as interested in me, so now I have an outlet--somebody to talk to about it and an expert to speak to about it. So I'm just very grateful, and I'm very thankful for everybody that came. It’s amazing for you all to spend some time on a Monday night hanging out. I mean, you do get prizes, but still, you did it. I'm proud of you, and I'm proud of us and on to the prizes…

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