Meet Emily Fletcher, meditation teacher and founder of the Ziva Technique. Even though so many of us feel like we SHOULD be meditating, we’re still not making time for it. With a simple shift in perspective, Emily and Jeff break down the barriers to entry for meditation.
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Learn more about The Ziva Technique at www.zivameditation.com
Emily: I'm Emily Fletcher, I'm a meditation teacher, I'm a Mama, I'm a founder of a company, I'm a wife.
Jeff: Good. And you're a tenor?
Emily: And a tenor. I've a very low singing voice.
Jeff: And this is a big part of your life?
Emily: I mean, I'm not actually a tenor, like I was just a low alto, but I used to joke that I would sing tenor, I could sing tenor.
Jeff: What I mean is you are performer, you were on Broadway for a long time.
Emily: Yeah, long time, 10 years.
Jeff: So how does a Florida girl grow up with the dream of being on Broadway?
Emily: My parents stupidly took me to a Broadway show when I was ten years old and it was game over. I was like, "Oh, this is where I'll live, this is what I'll do," and it was [inaudible], it was not a question, it was just out, this is what I'll do, period, the end I knew it. With every cell in my being, I don't know when or how, but I was like, "Oh, that's what I'll do."
I started going to this place called Young Actors Theater when I was in fourth grade so I was eight. And I remember I was sitting on the floor in my Mom's bathroom reading a newspaper, and there was an ad for a place called Young Actors Theater, which Tony Hale went to and Jimmy Bennett and all these amazing people, Cheryl Hines, and I looked at my Mom and I was like, "Oh, I'm going to need to go there, I'm going to be an actress", and she was like, "You're eight, you don't know what you're talking about", but she enrolled me and so I started going and then it wasn't until high school where we did this big musical, I mean like $30,000, $40,000 musicals at a public high school in Florida. We did Singing in the Rain, we made it rain on stage, and I knew then that I was serious, I was like, "Oh, this is definitely what I'm going to do with my life."
So I started auditioning for musical theater colleges, I went to Florida State that used to be a film musical theater, and then moved to New York right after I graduated and on my second day there, I got my first job and then I basically worked non-stop for ten years.
Jeff: Wow. So you had this dream when you're a young girl, you had this focus for achieving that dream. You've achieved the dream and then what happened?
Emily: And then I got so so sad.
Emily: Three weeks after my private debut I was 22 years old, I was doing 42nd Street on Broadway, and that was the saddest I've ever been. Because I realized that at that age I was more interested in the happiness of pursuit than I was the pursuit of happiness. And I think most of us have this goal in life that we think is going to make us happy. And I had the blessing of achieving it at a pretty young age so I realized that "Wait, my happiness was not on the other side of that achievement", so I started looking for it in other places.
But I didn't really know that at 22, so I just thought it was like the next boyfriend, the next job, the next zero in the bank account, the next agent. And when you're an actor, it's very easy to keep that pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow going. So anyway, cut to ten years later, I'm an understudy in three of the lead roles and a chorus line on Broadway and which means, you're shoved to the theater, no idea which character you're going to play, led to a lot of anxiety, led to insomnia, led me to me going gray at 26, led to me getting sick and injured. And then I found meditation and it cured my insomnia on the first day. I did not get sick for eight and a half years after that. I stopped getting injured and I started enjoying my job again.
Jeff: I think people, that will really resonate with people. You were more interested in the...
Emily: Happiness of pursuit than I was the pursuit of happiness. Cause I think everyone can relate to that, we are happiest as humans when we're working towards something bigger than ourselves. We feel fully engaged in creating something, growing something, being a part of a team. That's when we're happiest. It's never when you get the trophy, it's never when you sell the company, it's never when you, I mean, people's wedding days are nightmares. People are like, "Oh, I'll be happy when I get married", but it's like, then they get so stressed on their wedding day, they don't even remember it. I'll probably happy when I have a kid and you're so sleep deprived when you have a child. Like it's never about the attainment of the desire, it's always about the feeling that we assume that the desire will bring.
And so, I just feel very fortunate that I was able to check this big check mark off my list and realized that it was not going to make me happy so then I started looking for it in the only place that it resides which is inside of us. And that's what meditation gave me, it gave me the ability to access my own fulfillment internally.
Jeff: So then you had achieved a tremendous amount. There you were, up in lights, and you left all that to…go to India?
Emily: Kind of yeah.
Jeff: I met your Mom the other day, what did she think of that idea? She seems like a really gracious, patient woman. But what did Mom think of going to India when your daughter, you've put your daughter to all these schools, she made it rain on the stage, and now she's in, was it Rishikesh or something?
Emily: Yeah, I was in Rishikesh and bless my Mom's heart, she is from a small town in Florida. We were raised Southern Baptist and she's like, "What is going on, why are you going to India?" But at this point, I'd already done a show in Russia, I'd already done a show in China, a show in Japan, so she was used to my crazy exploits. Even me moving to New York, I've moved to New York six weeks before September 11th happened, I was in Moscow when that crazy terrorist attack happened there, and so, bless my Mom's heart, I kind of broken her in a hard way.
So by the time I went to India, she just knew that there was no point in worrying about me, or no point in trying to stop me and I think that she trust, she's always trusted me and to her credit, even when I was like 15 or 16 years old, she's built me a door which in hindsight, you know, I was 15 going on 30, and she gave me like my own door, my own entrance and exit to the house.
Jeff: Wow, she really did trust you.
Emily: Always trusted me and I think I don't take that lightly because she sees me through a certain lens I feel the responsibility to act with integrity and to really commit to my dreams. But that was part of this, I found this practice that helped me so much, that I felt inspired and really compelled to share it with others. It felt selfish of me to keep it to myself.
I was just like, "This thing has changed my life, it's rocked my world, I want to go to the source." I was also going to turn 30, and I was like, it felt like a great 30th birthday present to give to myself and I was in this sort of transition phase as an actress, I was like I'm either going to work really hard and start playing like leading roles and winning Tonys and things or I was interested in potentially coming to LA and starting and transitioning into doing more TV and film but I knew I didn't want to be in the ensemble anymore. I didn't want to be understudying the lead role anymore which I've been doing for a long time. And I was happy to do the work but I just wasn't really sure which direction yet so when I went to India, it was just to deepen my own practice but here's a fascinating story.
So I learned to meditate in the four days in between Courseline Broadway and Courseline Tour, and our second city in the Courseline tour was LA. And I knew there was a lot of meditation teachers here. And so, when I got here I started googling and I was looking for group meditations cause I just wanted to learn and enrich my practice and so I found a guy in Venice and he's like, "Yeah, we're having a group meditation on Wednesday, come on over." I show up and it's just him and his girlfriend. And I was like, "This is not the type of group meditation I was looking for." And so, he's like, "No, we just thought you seem nice so just come on over we'll meditate together." So I meditated with my purse on my lap, and one eye open, and after the meditation, I opened up my eyes and there's this beautiful photo or painting, I couldn't really tell, but it was a bridge of some sort with a light at the end of it. And I said, "What is that?", an he said "That's Reshikesh," and I was like, "What's a Reshikesh?", and he says, "That's this town in India, we did this retreat there", and he said, "Are you coming?", I said "No." Then I looked at him and I looked at the painting and I said "Yes, I'm going to go."
Jeff: Okay, what a great story. And at that juncture, you're like, "Okay, I'm ready to bring this teaching into the world." And what was that teaching specifically, was it grounded in a particular meditation tradition in which there are many?
Emily: To be honest, I thought that I knew I would be a teacher, but I though it would be later. I was like, "Oh, when I'm done dancing, when I'm done acting, this will be my next chapter." And then, I did move to LA, actually, with the intention fully of doing TV and film and hilariously my second day here, I ran into a teacher who I have met in India, and he was like, "I want you to train me as an actor," and I was like, "Oh, God." cause he was kind of a well known meditation teacher and he didn't know if he was any good and so he's like, "I don't want to take up a class, what if I'm terrible at it, will you be willing to do private lessons at me", so I started teaching him privately, and then I found out he was going to be starting a teacher training for meditation teachers, and I was like, "Wait."
So I talked to my boyfriend at that time, who's now my husband, I talked to my Mom and I ended up starting studying with him. Long story short, I thought that teaching meditation would be like a cute side gig. It would be like, "Oh, something I'll do when acting is slow", or something I could do if I was like at a different location, but then I graduated from teacher training and I moved back to New York to be with my now husband and I started teaching, I guess on the side, I was still acting, I was still teaching acting and then there was this one week, when I was on the final call back to play Velma on Chicago on Broadway, I had opened up the East Coast Division of the number one acting school in LA, and I was launching the world's first online meditation training. All in the same week, and I was like, "No one wins here, no one wins here." And I wasn't doing any of it well, and that was the week I called my agent and said, "I love you guys so much but I'm going to have to peace out."
Cause my heart, I have been voting with my time and attention. I wasn't so energized by the teaching of meditation that it felt very clear when nature wanted to use me.
Jeff: So you made the jump.
Emily: It was a slow jump though.
Jeff: Okay, you made the crawl, but you also had to really develop a method and how is that method informed? You know there's Kundalini, there's Mindfulness meditation, there's Metavedic, where are you drawing your inspiration and knowledge?
Emily: So I now teach the Ziva technique which is a trifactor of mindfulness, meditation and manifesting but in the first 5 or 6 years of me teaching I was just teaching meditation. And I was teaching the type of meditation which was called Vedic and it's more of like the self-induced transcendence style of meditation. What most people are calling meditation out there, I would actually call mindfulness. So most of the apps, most of the drop in studios, most of the YouTube videos are teaching what I would call mindfulness. Anytime someone is guiding you through, anytime you're focusing on your breath, anytime you're visualizing something, it's activating that prefrontal cortex, is keeping you more in that waking state left brain state of consciousness, and a smaller part of the brain lights up very, very bright.
Which is different than this type of meditation, which is all about surrendering. It's all about letting go. It's all about deep healing rest, which is very good at dealing with your stress from the past. So interesting distinction, I think that mindfulness is very good at a state change in the now, getting rid of your stress in the now. Whereas this type of meditation is all about getting rid of stress from the past, which is ultimately what is up leveling performance.
Jeff: Yeah. So this is I think a really great distinction and honestly, it's very confusing to a lot of people, including me sometimes. Because Ziva is based on the three M's and three principles, mindfulness, meditation and manifesting. Can you just go back and create a distinction or a differentiation between mindfulness, what does that actually mean and meditation? Because that would be really helpful. Because those terms get thrown around I think a little casually and they can be very confusing.
Emily: Yes, I think you're absolutely right and it will be my sincere pleasure. Because people are using meditation and mindfulness like synonyms, but they're not synonyms.
So I would define mindfulness as the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment. Beautiful, powerful. You could do that with a mindful breath. That's why people say, well, walking in the woods is my meditation or cooking is my meditation. What they're saying is, I get present when I cook, I get present when I walk in the woods. I am conscious when I'm riding my bike. Cool. Great. It ain't meditation.
Yes, it can be a meditative experience, a mindful experience. But if we call it meditation, it's like, no, cooking is called cooking, exercises called exercise, and meditation is called meditation. That's why they have their own words. So mindfulness is like most of the apps anytime someone's guiding you through. If you're focusing on your breath or visualizing something, I'm calling that mindfulness. Now, the type of meditation that I teach at Ziva is based on something called Nishkam Karma Yoga, which means a union attained by action hardly taken. Lazy man's meditation, which means you're not doing anything hard.
You don't have to have erect spine, you don't need fancy fingers, you don't have to concentrate or clear your mind or focus. It's really kind of like a nap sitting up. What's interesting about it is that in it, you're giving your body rest. It's five times deeper than sleep. That's not insignificant because when you give your body the rest that it needs, it knows how to heal itself. It's not only healing itself from the stress from the now like mindfulness, it's actually getting rid of your stress from the past. All that stuff that we have stored in our cellular, and now we know epigenetic memories, if you give your body this deep healing, de-excite the nervous system, the stressors to come up and out.
So I liken it to mindfulness is like an aspirin. Like you have a headache, you take an aspirin, you feel better, in the now, meditation is more like the vitamin. It's like you're doing it every day. It's not just crisis meditation. You do it every day. So you're fortifying, strengthening and increasing your state of consciousness.
Jeff: So how does mindfulness and meditation relate to manifestation?
Emily: So what I found from teaching a lot of folks is that the combination of meditation and manifesting is so much more powerful together than either one alone. And PS, I define manifesting as consciously creating a life you love. It's you getting intentional about what you want your life to look like. A lot of us think we're manifesting, but we're secretly complaining. We think we're praying but we're secretly just begging. We ask questions like, why can't I lose this weight? Why did she get a raise and I didn't? When am I going to get a boyfriend? That is worshiping the space between where you are and where you think you should be. That is the definition of stress. The space between where you are and where you think you should be. You do not want to water those weeds.
We want to instead water the flowers. So the real trick in the manifesting in what I teach in Ziva is that we imagine the dream as if it's happening now. That's not that complicated but I am fascinated by how infrequently people are asking themselves these questions. What do I want to do? And certainly taking the time to imagine the reality as if it's happening now. But as they play in with each other, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Because you can meditate all day but if you're not clear about what it is that you want, it's very hard for nature to give you the thing.
Conversely, you could line your wall with vision boards and watch The Secret on repeat. But if you are not meditating, chances are you don't believe that you deserve your desires. We don't get what we want in life, we get what we believe we deserve. If you get your buns to the chair every single day, twice a day and carve out that stress from your nervous system, you actually start to believe that you deserve your desires.
Jeff: I think people wonder what that relationship is between meditation and high performance or living the life that you love.
Jeff: I think what I'm hearing is that it's that relationship between meditation and manifestation that closes that gap between what you desire and what your reality is. Is that right?
Emily: Yes, absolutely.
Jeff: I think you probably hear a lot of the time, well, I can't do it. What does that actually mean when I say, well, I tried to meditate, but I'm just not good at it. What does that mean?
Emily: Yes, I hear it all day every day. I want to meditate. I get that it's good for us. I get there's thousands of peer reviewed scientific studies. At this point, unless you're living under a rock, you know you should be meditating. No one's actually meditating. This is the exact reason that I wrote this book to bridge the gap between everyone who has tried meditation and everyone who actually meditates. Because every time I give a talk at a company or at a conference or something, I say, how many people in the room have tried meditation? 100% of the hands go up. All right? How many of you guys have a daily practice? 95% of the hands go down.
So it's mind boggling to me how someone could like get the keys to the kingdom and then put them down. What I realized is one of two things is happening, either they haven't actually learned to meditate and they don't know what they're doing. So they're not seeing a return on time invested, which we can talk about in a minute. But the people who are like I've tried, and I just can't do it. I'm no good at it. What they're really saying is, I think I should be able to magically clear my mind and I can't, so I think that I'm failing.
Jeff: Right. Because I think there's a general conception that meditating is about clearing your thoughts.
Jeff: And then you have this experience of trying to meditate and of course, you're thinking all the time. There's thoughts popping in and out all the time. Is that failure?
Emily: No. It is not failure.
Jeff: So help clear this up.
Emily: Okay. So for anyone who's listening, who has tried meditation and felt like a failure, because you felt frustrated, because you were thinking about your ex-boyfriend or your taxes or work, you are not a meditation failure. The really good news here is that the mind thinks involuntarily, just like the heart beats involuntarily. So trying to give the brain a command to shut up is as impactful as trying to give the heart a command to stop beating. It does not work. And yet, this is the criteria by which most people are judging themselves on and it's why most people feel like meditation failures.
So the good news is that you can get all the scientifically proven benefits like deeper sleep and better sex and reversing your body age, increased immune function and more productivity even if you're having thoughts during the practice. I like to say, we meditate to get good at life, not to get good at meditation. You'll know the meditation is working if you get better at life.
Jeff: So I know that in your book, you suggest that you can start to avail yourself of the benefits of meditation by essentially meditating, working up to about 15 minutes, twice a day. Is there an even kind of on ramp to even that? Are there practices that people can employ in two minutes when they just have a break? Or is that just like fake, not real?
Emily: It's not fake. I think that there are lots of mindfulness practices. There are lots of breath work practices that are very good at resetting, you know, just a moment. I have a moment. I have two minutes. I have five minutes in my car. I'm about to walk on stage. I'm feeling nervous. There's lots of tools and techniques you can use in the moment to create a state change. But what I find fascinating is just how willing everyone is to negotiate their time investment on meditation, because they haven't yet found a thing that's giving them a significant ROI. Right.
So if you're not seeing a return on your time investment, because your time is your most valuable resource, then we're always going to try and scrimp. Can I just do it for one minute? Can I just meditate for five minutes? Can I just meditate for like two minutes as I'm falling asleep? It's like, okay, if that is the conversation you're having, then you have not found a practice yet that is a fit for you.
What I found is that...I've actually done the math on it and for what I teach in the book and then ziva ONLINE, it's 2% of your day. So the question becomes, are you willing to invest 2% of your day to make the other 98% more amazing? When you think about it like that, you're like, of course. But because most people are doing like a free app or a challenge but they've never taken the time to learn how to meditate, they don't really know what they're doing. They feel like they're failing, and then it is time wasted. And no one has time to waste. But I think I want to take meditation out of the like cute pedicure for your brain category, and instead, start to see it as the single most important piece of mental hygiene that we need to be practicing as a species because stress is making us stupid, sick and slow.
Jeff: Amen. Part of your technique is mantra-based, right?
Emily: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: So how does that work? What's a mantra and how does it work?
Emily: This word has gotten a little hijacked by the wellness industry, and a lot of people think of a mantra as an affirmation. Like, I'm a strong woman or I deserve abundance. Those are great. Like, I actually work out with affirmations and I love them. I think they're very powerful. But it's very different than the original intention for mantra, or at least the types of mantras that we use. So mantra is a Sanskrit word. Man means mind. Tra means vehicle. So a mantra is a mind vehicle custom designed take you from these active layers of left brain thinking and settle you down into more subtle layers of right brain being. It's that de-excitation process. Is the thing that's inducing that deep healing rest.
Interestingly, these mantras that we use in the book, and at ziva ONLINE and in-person, they're forgetting devices. They're designed to be forgotten. So it's like, you pick them up and then they kind of bury themselves into your right brain and they slip away. So it's not even about the mantra. But it's just like you have to have a key in order to drive a car, you have to have the right key for the right car. Well, similarly with meditation, it's like, once you have the mantra, it's like it turns on the key to the car. But you don't just sit there grinding the key the whole time. So it's not about focusing on the mantra, but it is important to have one sort of start that the de-excitation process.
Jeff: I think one thing that people really like about you and about Ziva is that it feels very actionable and very practical to this life that we are living every day and to performing better. Whatever your career maybe or your relationships may be. I want to ask you about the spiritual dimensions of meditation. I don't know what your spiritual practice is exactly, but how does meditation allow one to access God or the infinite soul or their divine nature? Whatever you want to call it. Is that part of it for you?
Emily: Yes. Thank you so much for asking that because I don't get to talk about this too much. Because I have very much taken this powerful medicine that is meditation and wrapped it in the candy coating of like, it's going to make you more money and have better sex and all that's true, like all those selfish reasons that we come to it. But to me, it is very much like the Trojan Horse to lead people to discovering themselves, to have direct access to God, to have direct access to the infinite. When most of us are running around stressed, and our left brain fight or flight, individuality, we don't have full access to that right brain totality.
My definition of God is the collective consciousness of all that is the collective consciousness of all that is. The collective consciousness of all that is. And if all we have access to is our left brain waking state, it's very hard to feel connected to everyone and everything. But our right brain is the piece of us that doesn't understand individuality. Out here, in here, you, me, there's only one thing and we're all it. That's where the right brain lives.
When you start taking that thing to the gym every day, twice a day, that sort of connectedness and everythingness starts to permeate your waking state and you start to hold that with you even with your eyes open. So you start to see more of yourself inside of others, more others inside of you, you start to see the divinity in everything and that's a bi product.
The chair every day, twice a day. Oprah likes to call meditation mainlining God. Which I love a heroin, God analogy. But I like it, because it's just a direct access.
Emily: And there's that whole, the quote which is so beautiful. That prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening.
Jeff: Yeah, I think what I'm hearing you say, is that meditation, aside from all of the practical benefits helps us shed what Tagore called our little self, or our ego. Which tells us all of these lies about ourself. That we are what we have, or what people think of us, or what we do. But more importantly that we are separate from others, and that we are separate from God. And that we can cultivate this practice, that we can live a more connected life, from this place of the soul, like right here on Earth.
What is infinite is very hard for humans to grasp, things that materialize, and take form, but eventually decay, and disintegrate. It's very hard for us to understand something, a concept that never starts, and never ends. That has no place in time, or space, or no location.
And meditation is this unbelievable tool to get beyond what I think of, as our five senses. And to get a glimpse into that which is infinite. And that is the place where our soul is. And where our ego doesn't.
And so how do we actually find that, live from the place of our infinite soul? Which we experience through love, and through compassion, and through eternal gentleness, and all these things. It's very, very hard to live from that place all the time.
Emily: And I think that's okay. I think it's okay to not be there all the time, because again it's the happiness of pursuit. And if you were there all the time, you'd probably be in such a high state of consciousness that you wouldn't have too much to learn, that this world wouldn't be the relevant to you anymore if you could just shed the body, and move on.
But I like to think about it, the way I think about it is this beautiful analogy of the waves, and the ocean. If there really is only one thing, and we are all it, and the one thing is consciousness. All we have access to is our left brain. It's like we're walking around in this little wave mentality. Well I'm a three foot wave, and you're a five foot wave, so I better get out of your way.
But when we start meditating, we start utilizing that mantra. It de excites the nervous system, and it reminds that wave that it is also the ocean. And so you go into this space of right brain being ness. And I'm not Emily Fletcher, a 39 year old red headed meditation teacher of Los Angeles. I just am.
And then when I come out of that meditation, when I come out of that oceanic consciousness, and I go back into being a wave. I'm fully aware that I'm a wave, but I also have reminded myself that I am simultaneously the ocean. And so to me it's always that simultaneity of wave, and ocean. The ocean is never not the wave, the wave is never not the ocean. Both things are real. It's not an illusion of being a wave. That wave is real, but it's the appearance of separateness that we're trying to transcend.
Jeff: Yeah. Living in the and, and embracing that paradoxical duality.
Emily: Yeah. 50% left brain, 50% right. I don't think nature makes mistakes.
Jeff: So here you are, and what are you, what is your, the legacy that you are creating for yourself? What is that manifestation? I mean you obviously have the tools to get very clear on what that is. What is that for you?
Emily: Well I'm in an interesting point right now, because I've been planting so many seeds.
So, I feel like I'm in this harvesting time right now. And I feel like I'm not super sure just yet what seeds I want to plant for the next chapter. And I'm okay with that. Like I'm really doing my best to just enjoy this harvesting phase. I want to be so, so present with my baby.
I'm really doing my best to enjoy this book tour, and every podcast, and every interview, because this is the part that's fun for me. Sitting at a computer, and writing a book is like torture for me. But this part is fun, the parties, and the sharing all that, and the teaching, and the speaking. Like I love this. And so I know there's bigger, and exciting next chapters. And I'm not totally sure what they are just yet. And that's okay.
But I will say that, like some inklings of some fun things that I would like to manifest, would be some massive partnership with a Starbucks, or is Bulletproof Coffee blows up. Where people come in, the use the real estate in the morning for their coffee, but in the afternoon that space is empty. So you come in, and meditate, and utilize that space that's already there. I would love to see big global corporations licensing Ziva online, because they have these built in infrastructures. And so you can reach a massive amount of people in a short amount of time.
Jeff: Yeah, so I think what I'm hearing, and everything that you're describing is essentially bringing this practice to the widest possible audience.
Emily: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Emily: Yeah. I mean people are stressed. Doctors are calling stress the black plague of our century. Harvard Medical School is suggesting that 90% of all doctor's visits are related to stress. And the thing is people don't even know it's costing them until it's gone. Like you don't even know how much that background of anxiety, and depression, reviewing the past, rehearsing the future is costing you, until you have a tool to get out of it.
Jeff: To learn more about Ziva, or explore the many courses Commune offers, click the links in the show notes, or go to www.onecommune.com.
Thanks for listening to The Commune Podcast! We’re back with new episodes every week, so hit subscribe, leave a review, and share us with a friend -- after you meditate, of course.
I’m Jeff Krasno, and I’ll see ya next time.