Transcript Interview Episode with Katherine Jansen-Byrkit

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[00:00:00] Katherine: My teachings are also about helping people work with their scared part that you can intellectually know this is good and important and the right thing to do, but there's a part of us that is in new territory. And to your point of being shy and working with anxieties. Testing the waters of being your authentic self and seeing do those friendships remain is there a fallout?

And, and if there is, how do we navigate it?

[00:00:32] Laurin: Hello, friends and welcome to Curiously Wise. I'm your host, Laurin Wittig. And today I have Katherine Janssen-Byrkit with us. She's really queued in on this wakefulness idea.

And so we're gonna talk about that today. I'm gonna let her pretty much introduce herself but she has written a book which we'll talk about towards the end and Katherine, welcome.

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[00:00:51] Katherine: Thank you, Laurin. Thank you so much. Happy to be here.

[00:00:55] Laurin: So let's just start. And I don't do a formal bio all the time because often it just, it unfolds in the conversation. So I like, I like to bring it that way. So anything personal that you wanna throw in, that's great.

[00:01:07] Katherine: Okay.

[00:01:07] Laurin: Okay. So what do you mean by the term wakefulness? Cuz you use that in your book title and I know you use it in your work as well.

And I guess I should say you're a psychotherapist. And you use it in that work.

[00:01:19] Katherine: Yeah. Well, I can give you a backstory if, if our conversation goes there, but the idea it is not political. Though that word woke has become kind of an interesting political thing right now, but it is really this idea of waking up to our true self. That in a way we can live unbeknownst to ourselves in trance states. We have a self.

We grow up. We have a childhood. We have a name. We have a history. We have thoughts and dreams and a way of being, and that is all good. And some of those ways of being over time begin to kind of keep us from living as our true self. They're really sourced by whether it's trauma, modeling, even cultural pieces.

So to me, being awake is every day waking up in a literal way too. With the intention to live is my most conscious and loving self. Free from conditioning forces that keep me from those two things, my most conscious and loving self.

[00:02:20] Laurin: Mm. I very much have a similar intention for every day, but some days it's harder than others. You know, some days the world gets in the way or the to-do list is too long and must be done. So, how do you personally keep yourself on track with being your best self or not letting the worldly things get to you?

[00:02:40] Katherine: Yeah. That's, really the pertinent question. My book really is a walk of the journey I took initially in my life coming from trauma and a suicide attempt at 16 years old kind of healing from the inside out.

So. Those things have served me well over the years. And I am finding a return to some of those same kinds of basic practices critically necessary for me to be able to remain buoyant and hopeful and not overly anxious or needing to distract myself from the anxieties that my body carries.

There are powerful and difficult things happening in the world. There are incredible things always happening in the world of course. So my work as a psychotherapist is to help people not disassociate from their inner whatever's happening going on inside or the outer world, but that means we have to kind of keep our head above water.

So it is very much about personal practice and I do a mindfulness piece every morning. I exercise regularly. I'm really strong self-care on my days off. I'm passionate about my work, but I try to keep it very much a balance. So yeah.

[00:03:52] Laurin: Yeah, that I know is, I don't know, it seems like it's getting harder and harder to sort of be here in myself and not let the chaos that's going on push me off balance.

[00:04:06] Katherine: Yes.

[00:04:07] Laurin: And like you said, it's not that I'm ignoring what's going on, but I can't let it influence my mood or the balance of my energy.

[00:04:15] Katherine: For me, the idea of wakefulness is spiritual, but not religious and that I don't. It is about finding that spark, that consciousness, that some people would call it just love whatever that little light within us. It is abiding, but it is not unaffected by what we expose ourselves to.

So again, it's, I love your words, Laurin. It's not about denial. But it is about the secretness of that and the preciousness of that and not taking that for granted. And so we have that brain that can kind of look for problems, have that negativity bias. We need to be very much kind of the master of our inner existence, not just our outer existence.

And one little tool in the toolkit is called internal boundaries, and a lot of people think of boundaries as outer boundaries. You don't get to say that to me or I need to have a boundary that I can't always help you move. Or, you know, those kinds of relational ones.

Well, internal boundary is where I don't carry anybody else's pain. I feel it like there's empathy. That's actually very important, but I fashion it almost like a cylinder inside of me. And it's how I've been able to do my 20 years of clinical practice with some pretty intense suffering and pain of my clients and my kids and my own is that it is not mine, so I care, but I don't carry it.

So I think those internal boundaries have become very, very important these days.

[00:05:42] Laurin: Yeah. I love that. That you care, but you don't carry it. That's a lovely way to phrase it. So, yeah,

[00:05:50] Katherine: Yeah. Cause I think people think they have to stop caring and actually detached and be numb in order to carry on. And that's actually not true, but it's an active practice.

[00:06:01] Laurin: Yeah, I find it's like a muscle. The more I practice it, the easier it gets to be. There are times where I go, oh, I forgot to do my practice for the last three weeks, you know. And I'm feeling the battering of the outside and okay. So let's go back and meditate. I love to meditate first thing in the morning.

I don't get to do it every day, but that for me, that's my set place cuz I can just really make sure I'm okay before I move into the rest of the world.

[00:06:28] Katherine: Yeah. Yeah. Well a couple of things, one on the idea that I think it's important for people we make sense of the world. That's how the human system works. And it's a tough world right now to like, wow. And then there's this and why, and, and all those existential kinds of questions.

And I say this with, you know, a broken heart at times. There is for some of us both personally, and you know, this is a sad analogy, but it took animals being abused for there to be laws. You couldn't abuse animals. It took child abuse for there to be laws that you. So how we as a species get to where we need to get to as painful and messy and imperfect.

And there is that movement toward consciousness and the suffering is not for nothing. And again, that's just an important frame sometimes not to understand why am I having this hard day? Why is this tragedy happening to me, but to have a kind of trust in it as you're working with it at the same time.

But to your point, you just made also the beginning of my book and really my work is to help people with their relationship to themselves. Not to help them become narcissistic, but actually the idea that their relationship to themselves is part of what is problematic in their lives. But they might not know that they're just depressed and anxious, but they don't know that they don't actually have intrinsic worth.

And that's because they had some kind of trauma or message or something happened along the way that I had them feeling unlovable or not good enough. So I really promote that idea of restoring the sense of self, the human even sense of self, challenging old belief systems, so that we, those do not encumber us from again, being our most conscious and loving kind of true self.

[00:08:13] Laurin: Yeah. Yeah. And so often I know I've been on a long journey of healing. Grew up in a family of alcoholic and narcissist, one each in my parents. But I found, I had beliefs about myself based on fears and based on experiences when I was kids, but I was still carrying them into my adulthood when they no longer served any function for me.

And I didn't know it. I didn't know that those were just beliefs I had formed at a time when they helped to protect me, perhaps.

[00:08:44] Katherine: Yes. And that's good that you use the word protected because another more clinical word is defenses that got kind of a bad rap. It's like, we're not supposed to be defensive. It's like, well, for some of us, if we didn't nail those little protectors, you and I would not be having this conversation today.

And so it is a really sophisticated human system that actually does disassociate when it needs to. That just tragic thing is whatever your traumas were, mine were the father that left at 14. I did take it personally, cuz that's what kids do. My brain and your brain, brains organize around circumstances.

And then there's this thing you may be aware of it called confirmation bias. So if I have a belief, I frighteningly do not see evidence to the contrary. And actually create evidence even if it means my suffering to reinforce a belief. So I do not see where I'm lovable. I see where I'm unlovable or not enough, or don't belong, or some of those key key beliefs that really are the backbone, really the foundation of a healthy sense of self.

So it's so important to connect that dot that, oh, this is my eight year old brain. Oh, this is the trauma brain having this story about myself or this other person or what's happening right now. And then have some practices in order to have that internal healing.

[00:10:06] Laurin: Yeah. Yeah. And that's where meditation for me has really been a big tool.

[00:10:10] Katherine: Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful.

[00:10:12] Laurin: Got me through some hard times. That and good friends.

[00:10:16] Katherine: There you go. There you go.

[00:10:20] Laurin: So you have and maybe we were already talking about this, but the term embody wakefulness is that kind of what we've just been talking about where you talk about embodying your wakefulness? So bringing it into yourself as opposed to relationships or just…

[00:10:35] Katherine: Well, it's actually an embodied wakefulness, and then it goes in all directions. Here's a little pet peeve, and I probably was guilty of this too in a certain kind of way. There's this idea of spiritual bypass. So people have a lot of ideas of consciousness and then, what happens on a Sunday morning?

Well, who are we on the Monday getting to work and maybe tailgating somebody, right? It's like the way that I personally, and then that's what I offer. I have to live this and so if I'm gonna coach couples and I do a lot of couples work, I have to be that person to my partner.

Like, that's just my kind of again, standard. And so it's really helping people have these ideas that are lovely. But apply them, internalize them and be a reflection. So embodied wakefulness to me is a reflection and a wakefulness, that my choices, my relationships, my own physical body reflects my most conscious and loving self.

So it's not about perfectionism, but it is about not being a hypocrite in a certain way and not just kind of hanging back and learning about these ideas, but not having accountability almost in terms of practicing them and living them. So to me, relationships are a huge part of that, because again, we can be in certain ways really loving, but then if we're gossiping about somebody and we're not having a direct conversation, and practicing judgment.

That's a problem. That's a problem. What I did in my work, I tried to give people like, let's have an idea, but let's think about how to put this into practice because ultimately it's about neural development. Ultimately, if we wanna be different, we have to grow partially a new brain, thankfully there's neuroplasticity.

So we know that that's possible. When I started my practice even 20 years ago, they did not know that. Just kind of like, you might feel better, but your brain is a static kind of thing. So it's very hopeful and very exciting, but it still takes time and a dedication to, again, embodying kind of where do I want to be wakeful, but the really big question is where am I asleep?

Where am I not? where am I caught in a different version of myself? A smaller version of myself or an injured version myself. Yeah.

[00:12:55] Laurin: That's great. I love that. I know for me on my journey of wakefulness, that's been an issue. I kind of wanted to hide, so I didn't rock the boat kind of thing. And I've gotten much more comfortable about rocking the boat just by going, this is me.

[00:13:10] Katherine: Yeah, there you go.

[00:13:11] Laurin: And it's a lot easier just to live who you really are, you know?

[00:13:16] Katherine: Right. Well, that's the powerful thing. I mean, I don't prescribe those not my license though I have people that come into psychotherapy all the time on meds or thinking about getting on meds or going off of medication and, I'm just a let's go to the source. How would you not be depressed if you believe you are unlovable or you're believable or you're not enough?

How can you not be anxious as every day we have to please? We have to be performative. We have to prove our worth. So people look at me and kind of are stunned. And it's like, of course you're depressed. Of course you're anxious. We do something so much about that. And authenticity is again one of those brown words like vulnerability, it sounds really good, but it is hard.

It is scary for people. And so my mindfulness practice in my teachings are also about helping people work with their scared part that you can intellectually know this is good and important and the right thing to do, but there's a part of us that is in new territory. And to your point of being shy and working with anxieties testing the waters of being your authentic self and seeing do those friendships remain is there a fallout?

And, and if there is, how do we navigate it? Often that's protective, but sometimes our authentic self is not something that somebody can actually meet. Those are more rare realities, but we can even handle that. It's kind of like holding people capable, including ourselves, at handling all of the outcomes, having that resilience.

[00:14:50] Laurin: Yeah. Yeah. Resilience is a word I love cuz it's something that I aspire to. Much better than I used to be. But that's where I think getting more authentic has made me more resilient because I'm not trying to keep all those facades in place.

[00:15:07] Katherine: . Exactly. Debbie Ford is an author that has a piece on masks. And so when I do even couples retreats, but personal retreats I'll have her mask and then I say, make up your own, and it could be the loner or the martyr or the pleaser or the comic, and how much of that was protective in the day.

So, I came from an alcoholic family too. And so hero child or all the things children do around the pain body that's not healing and the trouble that's happening. But then again, then all of a sudden that's my personality. I don't know how to be in a room if I'm not funny. Would you really like me if I just quiet or not a high achiever?

[00:15:47] Laurin: Yeah. And for me, it's the pleaser.

[00:15:50] Katherine: Mm-hmm

[00:15:51] Laurin: I was always the pleaser. It's like avoid the conflict.

[00:15:55] Katherine: Right, Right.

[00:15:56] Laurin: I'm, having to learn to be okay if conflict ensues.

[00:16:00] Katherine: Well, and I love that you say that word cuz what I will tell people, cuz part of my background was the opposite. So my trauma went more to, I would have a temper and I will say to people, yeah, let's all be conflict avoidance. But not what you think. Let's not be conflictual. That's unhelpful, just like being avoidant, but there's a middle path and a middle path is not about engaging in conflict.

It is about assertiveness. It is about voice. It's also about collaboration and attunement to the others' experience. And so teaching people that there is this other way that is safe for everyone, and that they can remain like not wanting to put their boxing gloves on is a way to kind of have a sense of self.

[00:16:46] Laurin: It's been a really interesting journey. I have to say.

[00:16:49] Katherine: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

[00:16:52] Laurin: So can you tell us a little bit more about your book and maybe why did you write this book? That's a good place to start.

[00:16:58] Katherine: It was kind of like my first career, which came to me at a retreat I was in, in California and I had no idea. Because I quit high school. So the journey to get a first masters. And I had food addiction issues as again, a response to first being anorexic. And then it was almost 200 pounds and that all happened within like three months at like 16 years old.

It was just a really intense time. So when I went back to school, left my small town in Oregon. Roseburg went to San Francisco, which was very healing for me at 17 years old. Got a G E D. I knew I'd go on to college, but I thought I'd be an attorney at that point. But once I got back into the school system and realized that you could get a bachelor's in anything and become an attorney, it became about health because.

I was beginning to come back in terms of my body and not being bulimic anymore, not overeating anymore, beginning to heal the physical part of me that had really been compromised. And so then it just took me over. It was like, I loved health. I worked in community health. I wasn't a teacher, but then in public health worked for health department, a couple of them.

So I was on this retreat and they said, okay, we're in a small group, it was a large retreat, but a small group. And they said, so just close your eyes and just see if a dream is trying to happen. And it popped in, you're gonna be a therapist. My dad was a therapist. I was like, what? Yeah. I knew that would be like going back to school.

I have six children, two of them were elementary school living with us. How was I going to do that? And so, in this retreat, which was really intense. The small group was supposed to you'd think they would be a group. Okay. Once somebody names a dream, tell them yes, you can do it. Believe in yourself.

Laurin, they did the opposite. Their directive was to tell me how I didn't deserve it. It was ridiculous, but what it did in me, I mean, it was a very intense retreat. It created this conviction of like, yes, I can. I dunno how I'm gonna afford it. People can get to master's degrees. When I came home from California to kind of announce to my husband of like guess what. Anything he would say was nothing compared to what I kind of faced they were my inner demons and I faced and transcended that and got to the other side. So went to school and decided to do private practice because I never been in business for myself. And I thought that would be cool.

Didn't know if I would like it just trusted the calling. And then about 10 years in about 12 years ago, same thing with the book. I just have done a lot of personal work and seen a lot of spiritual teachers. And I felt like for people that can't afford therapy that are scared of therapy for my children who I can't be their therapist before I die, I just wanted to do a piece that just offered kind of a handbook.

The first part of the book is kind of the inner world. So it's relationship to self, cherishing the body, mindfulness, embracing death and dying freedom from the mind that big peace around working with beliefs and confirmation bias. And then the outer world is the second half of the book where it's living in a troubled world.

It is about relationships. It's about nature. It's about forging one's own spiritual path. And that's just it kind of reflects what ended up being my human journey of embodied wakefulness of I had to deal with every single one of those pieces and still do because I'm human and it's all part of the journey.

[00:20:34] Laurin: Yeah. We are always a work in progress.

[00:20:38] Katherine: Absolutely. And it's so freeing to not have to arrive that idea of mastery, which is a very Western culture, you know.

[00:20:44] Laurin: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:20:45] Katherine: Cross a finish line. Mm-hmm

[00:20:46] Laurin: I took up my latest career at like 58.

[00:20:51] Katherine: There you go. Love it. Love it.

[00:20:54] Laurin: Yeah, life's an adventure. And if you can get yourself centered and, clear enough…

[00:21:01] Katherine: Yes

[00:21:01] Laurin: to see those dreams.

[00:21:04] Katherine: to see those dreams.

[00:21:05] Laurin: And sometimes just seeing them is enough to get you to do the rest of the work that you need to do

[00:21:10] Katherine: Exactly. And I just actually wrote for a wakefulness community that I had that I started three years ago when I published the book. A writing book called Glass Ceilings. I just was moved by the work of a woman who wrote the five regrets of the dying. The number one regret is not being one's authentic self. And over half of the people, she was a nurse, in palliative care. Many of the people had not even done half of their dreams. And so it's about, and especially coming out of the pandemic and especially with life on the planet right now, it's been a lot more about survival than thriving.

Understandably. So, with the humility of sometimes white privilege or the fact that we live in a country that's not at war. In certain ways, at least to be able to manifest those dreams and get back on track with fighting any fear and fear is often a thought, that's an illusion.

Sometimes it's about safety and it's very helpful to have that emotion, but so often it's an illusion just trying to inspire people to get through those glass ceilings and see what's actually trying to manifest. Living in Costa Rica, which is my next adventure. I don't know if that's gonna be something that I stay with long term or do we have even more of a presence there, but it's more like my career or the book it's just saying yes to those inner stirs.

And I think that’s part of wakefulness and if we're just lost in our trans states or just surviving or disassociated we're numb. And we can't get these years back this day back.

[00:22:44] Laurin: Especially after, well, not after the pandemic, cuz apparently we're not done with it yet. But these last few years has been really, I think bringing it home to a lot of us that if you wanna do something, you need to do it when the opportunity is right there, presented in front of you and not put it off anymore.

And I definitely I'm embracing that.

[00:23:06] Katherine: Exactly.

[00:23:07] Laurin: It's just, don't put it off and if you've got a dream, allow yourself to dream it. Even if you don't know how it can come into being, I'll just share one story of mine, that's similar to yours. I've written novels. And when I was trying to learn to be a writer, I was playing very small.

I was gonna write a little short book about something that I knew and a novel, based it on my own life and all this stuff, but it wasn't what I read. It wasn't what I enjoyed reading as a reader. What I really loved to read was historical romance. And the sheer thought of having to do the research was overwhelming to me cuz I'm not a particularly academic person anymore.

I used to be, but not anymore, but there's a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. And one of the exercises in it was to write about something you wanted to do as if you had whatever money you needed, you had whatever education you needed, you had whatever resources you needed.

Whatever you might use as an excuse for why you couldn't just pretend like you have all of that and write about your dream.

And about 30 minutes later, I had the outline of my first historical romance novel, which went on to be an award-winning book. you know.

[00:24:18] Katherine: I love it.

[00:24:20] Laurin: So that same kind of exercise.

[00:24:21] Katherine: Right. That's right. And my book was really that same thing because I wasn't willing to do research. That was not really the focus. I ended up getting an endorsement by Tara Brock, which meant the world to me who wrote radical acceptance.

It's not a memoir, but I do tell a bit of my story. I have a lot of other people's stories but it was this like embodied wakefulness. Like if you are gonna do this, Katherine, this isn't about whether you sell books. This isn't about pleasing some, this is about this coming through you.

Just get out of the way. And that's what I said in this email to people of. Don't sweat the details. That's when our mind gets really bogged down and or some other pieces we might not be aware of. And I love your story, how it just clicked. And so quickly it downloaded.

[00:25:07] Laurin: Oh yeah! It was crazy.

[00:25:08] Katherine: The creative energy is such a force.

[00:25:12] Laurin: Yeah. Yeah. It's one of those that I remind myself of regularly as new things present themselves that I'm interested in, like a podcast

[00:25:20] Katherine: Yes.