Noelle and I started at our company within a few weeks of each other. I, along with another new teammate, had been seated on the opposite side of the office from the rest of our team due to space issues, and we anxiously awaited our new compatriot in what we termed “Siberia”. And I am so grateful that she walked into our lives, bringing a breath of fresh air.
I admire Noelle for so many reasons. Her focus on mindfulness is apparent from the moment you meet her—her presence is somewhat calming, because it seems everything will be okay when you’re with her. She is grounded and thoughtful and always seems secure and confident. She knows who she is and she is true to herself. She seeks out joy in her life and she finds it.
I wanted to interview Noelle out of curiosity about my friend but also out of a desire for understanding—Noelle inspires me to be more mindful but I still have so much to learn (where Noelle is cool and collected, I am frenetic and somewhat always on-edge). Even just interviewing her, tucked away in a quiet hidden conference room at our office, brought my heart rate down. I hope everyone can take away a little bit of peace from her interview, because I know I certainly did.
Interview 13: Noelle
“I think we’re all looking for that more profound, deeper meaning of what it is to be human.”
Me: I’d like to start off by having you go through your life story in terms of religion—how you were raised, how you got to where you are now—from a high level.
Noelle: I feel like my story is funny. Neither of my parents was deeply religious. My mother came from a Jewish family and my dad came from a Protestant family, so what was really instilled in me was mostly the importance of tradition and celebration—times for family to get together. I didn’t feel like we were practicing religion—and of course this is all in retrospect, I don’t think as a kid I even knew what “practicing religion” really meant—but we just celebrated major holidays and milestones. Of course, you have to be only practicing the “fun” parts of religion if you’re both Jewish and Christian, because Jesus was not half-resurrected. There’s a conflict of belief there. So my perspective of religion from a young age was more, “Oh, Christmas is great and fun! And bat mitzvahs are really fun, too!” and less about deeper meaning. And I wonder how much focusing on the “fun” parts of religion informed my evolving perspective as I got older. It’s funny, because in college I went through a phase where I thought, “If you are not atheist or agnostic,” to be honest, I thought, “you’re kind of stupid.”
Me: I’ve been there.
Noelle: Yeah, that was a perspective that I went through for a while. I think was what was happening there was that I was getting flooded with information. I was learning a lot. I had left my bubble of Tenafly, New Jersey and went to a liberal arts school that was all about global citizenship and celebrating differences and culture. I saw how divisive religion could be. And my coursework was laser-focused in science at that time. A discipline rooted in hard proof. I believe information overload really led me to think that way about religion. And I hate that I ever thought that, because I think that’s so silly now that I’ve found my own spiritual path. Because I think we’re all thinking about the same thing when we talk about religion or spirituality. We’re all thinking about this greater picture, and how we really do want our lives on this earth to be a little more profound than they seem from a perspective of “you’re born, you die, and that’s it.” I think we’re all looking for that more profound, deeper meaning of what it is to be human. We’re curious about what else is “out there” and how all of this craziness and chaos and inexplicable beauty even works. Who set all of this up? I think we’re all trying to answer the same questions and we’re all on that path, just in different ways. That said, I still don’t love when religion causes divisiveness – that’s a problem that I struggle with – but at the end of the day, I absolutely see why people turn to different religions to serve themselves on that path.
Me: So what brought you to that change, from being in college and thinking that way?
Noelle: I think a couple things brought me to that change. For one, I was very tied to my father’s beliefs throughout my childhood. He’s very intelligent, he’s very logical, he’s all about science, and he’s very assertive with his beliefs. Not really in the sense that everyone should believe what he believes, but more so in the sense that there’s really nothing more to this world than what science and logic can stand behind. We always look to our parents for guidance, and I think for a long time I thought, “what he says is probably right – he’s way smarter than I am!” So I do think being under his roof allowed me to hold on to that perspective for a while. But as I started to form my own curiosity about the world, I really started to depart from what my dad believes. And that’s fascinating to me, because I thought we were so similar for so long. We definitely have similarities, but in that regard we are totally on opposite ends of a spectrum. I think another thing that really helped me to evolve – kind of jumping off of that whole science/logic thing – is that I slowly started to open my eyes and realize that we as humans truly know nothing. We so definitively say what we believe we know to be true, but even from the perspective of science we have barely cracked the surface. Coming to that realization and coming into it with a lot of curiosity—I was spurred into re-evaluating many concepts that I once though were impossible or supernatural. I think my yoga practice also brought that on. Yoga is definitely religion-based, spirituality based—there’s a lot going on there. And I think one of the concepts of yoga that has really shaped my spiritual perspective is that, “What is divine if not what we are experiencing? If not us?” It’s truly inexplicable. It’s hard to wrap your head around it, when you start to think about what it means to be a human, and how complex we are. That concept is now really ingrained in me—that we’re not just “little, insignificant humans” and that there truly is divine essence within us. Bear with me, because this is going to sound really hippy-dippy, but I think a lot of my spirituality is rooted in the natural world. We as humans continually try to “beat” nature with technological advances. We place ourselves in these really dense cities where trees are few and far between and so much of what we eat isn’t really even food anymore. So much of that is in the name of efficiency and cost savings, which is pretty comical to be reflecting on considering that’s our job as Operations Innovation Analysts. But all jokes aside, I believe we have detached deeply from nature. And although we’ve created this artificial boundary between us as humans and nature, we were born out of this earth and we don’t give it enough credit. It’s what we breathe, it’s what we eat, it’s what sustains us, it is us! We are this magical manifestation of nature. So I think a lot of my spirituality has been coming into that and realizing that we are an integral part of this complex natural world. And that’s pretty significant if you ask me!
“Cultivating mindfulness has helped me to get closer to a few of the concepts I’ve mentioned today: being happy right here right now, being proud to be me, and letting my soul shine through a bit more each day. The lessons of mindfulness and yoga are so applicable in my daily life. Can I relax when I’m uncomfortable?”
Me: So, when was it, do you think, that you started feeling this way—was it when you moved to Denver or did you move to Denver already knowing you felt this way about the natural world?
Noelle: I do think a lot of that happened here in Colorado. Jake and I were just talking last night about how we do believe that proximity to overwhelming natural beauty helps us remember that connection. But at the same time, I think this feeling was brewing in me for my entire life. When I was a child, I was really obsessed with natural beauty—I always wanted to catch the sunset (and I still do). Connecting with nature really filled me up. So I think that innately I was always drawn to explore this concept, but a lot fell into place for me when I moved to Denver. And it wasn’t just moving to Denver, it was where I was in my life: graduating college and realizing, “Okay, now I’ve really got to figure myself out!” And that was when I really started diving into self-reflection and self-understanding.
Me: Do you believe that we have souls, and what would your definition of a soul be?
Noelle: That’s a great question—I absolutely believe that we have souls. I think our souls are a part of us that most of us are not tapped into. I think we can strive to tap into it forever and we may only scratch the surface—but I think it is the part of us that has everything that we want. Our souls contain everything that we want and we don’t even realize that we already have it. Self-confidence. Deep intelligence—beyond our comprehension. Kindness. All the qualities we want, all the things that we strive for day-to-day, I think it’s all already in there. But there are so many layers outside of the soul that prevent it from shining through: our experiences, our circumstances, our patterns, our frustrations, our crazy mind that we can’t stop running that tells us we’re wrong or tells us to doubt ourselves. But I think the soul is the deepest seed that we all have that exemplifies everything that we want to be. And I think it’s a lifelong journey to uncover that as much as possible and let it shine through.
Me: That’s really beautiful.
Me: I really like that!
Noelle: Thank you!
Me: Do you think that anything happens to our soul when we die?
Noelle: I think that souls are unchanged. I think this notion of the spirit that just exists…it lives within us, but I don’t think it is capable of dying. So my only guess would be that yes, it does exist after death. And I don’t know where it goes.
Me: That’s okay! You don’t have to know. That’s not the point!
Noelle: Yeah, I have no idea!
Me: So, while you’ve been going on this journey—which I know has been going on for a while—what has been your biggest takeaway? Because I feel like you’re so thoughtful about your life and what you’re doing, and I want to get your…
Me: Yes, exactly.
Noelle: I think that the biggest thing that I’ve taken away is to be happy right here right now. I’ve stopped waiting for some major life shift to bring true, unadulterated happiness my way. We’ve come into this place where the human condition is now to strive, strive, strive. Accomplish, become, do, succeed. Be the best. I think we all rely on external sources of validation, whether that’s a job title or how many friends we feel like we have—all sorts of different things. I think one of the biggest takeaways that I’m coming away with is this: at the end of it all, all of this life, those things—sure, they matter, but they dissolve. So unless what you are striving for is so aligned with the person that you are and your deepest dreams, then what’s the point? I think so many of us, myself included, are often caught up in what we think we should be doing. One of my mantras is to be happy where I am with what is currently showing up in my life. It is to be deeply proud of what I’ve accomplished and what I know I will accomplish. It is to be content with it all and to validate myself, rather than seeking validation elsewhere. It is to set my own major milestones rather than allowing society to set them for me. I think those milestones for me are to find greater peace in myself and to uncover a higher degree of self-confidence. And the beauty of striving to reach those milestones is that I can do so over and over again. I think the two biggest privileges we have on this earth are to be at peace and to be fully ourselves. I think that those are so much easier said than done, even though they sound so simple, but if I am striving to accomplish anything it is to be at peace and to be the truest version of myself.
Me: I know that yoga has been a big part of your life. Did you feel a big difference when you started going every day, and also what are you looking to get out of doing your teacher training, which I know is coming up?
Noelle: Yes—I would say that I felt a major difference when I started making it a daily priority. At the beginning of the week, I make my weekly yoga plan so that I can stick to it. Of course, that doesn’t always go as planned, but I strive for it because I do feel a major difference. It’s really wild to me how with yoga, if it’s something that speaks to you, you feel excited by what you just experienced the very first time you take a class. For me, the benefits showed up on day one and I think they’ll continue to show up until the day that I die. And I think they just compound so much quicker the more that I practice. That was what really rocked me to my core about yoga—the first day that I went, a switch flipped in my brain. I was like, “Holy crap! This is everything that I’ve been looking for from a physical health perspective, from a mental health perspective, and there’s some spirituality in here, too.” I’d spent the last few years kind of dabbling in spirituality and I was excited about the prospect of some structure, ancient knowledge, history, and philosophy to anchor to. So from day one, yoga totally uprooted me and I was like, “Wow. New life starts today.” With consistent practice, my brain has been rewired by the practice of yoga. Not only am I way more physically “fit” than I’ve ever been in my life, I have also witnessed my thought patterns being rewired. Cultivating mindfulness has helped me to get closer to a few of the concepts I’ve mentioned today: being happy right here right now, being proud to be me, and letting my soul shine through a bit more each day. The lessons of mindfulness and yoga are so applicable in my daily life. Can I relax when I’m uncomfortable? That’s really what I’m doing through my yoga practice each day. I’m asking myself, “Can I relax into this more? Can I find the balance of pushing myself and being at ease? Can I strive for strength while still being gentle with myself?” All of the little lessons from my yoga practice translate into how I live my life everyday. They’re such great metaphors for the journey that I’m on. So, yes, I do think that going every day just facilitates faster self-growth. And now I crave yoga. That hour, that hour and a half—even if it’s five minutes—just taking a moment for myself and to slow down has done wonders.
With regards to my yoga teacher training next spring, I am just so excited to sit with all of the people that I look at as my spiritual and physical gurus, and hear them talk for hours about these concepts that we’re both so passionate about. I get doses of that each day, but being able to dedicate a few months to dive into the philosophy and the physical practice together sounds unbelievable. They really are role models to me. Yoga brought a lot of role models into my life. All of my teachers are so inspirational—they’re all so different, but they’re also all so themselves—and that’s been really inspiring to me. I hope to teach yoga in the future—I don’t know how quickly after my training—but yoga has given me profound gifts and I think it’s selfish to keep them to myself. I want to share.