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Jennifer Connelly believes in the power of integration. Originally quite skeptical, a couple of things have happened to transform her idea of what is possible, which she now shares in her women’s retreat. A life well-lived is a life that you are passionate about in every area: work included. When you are doing your soul’s work, pursuing your calling, and using your inherent, unique strengths to better yourself and the world around you, magic happens. Triple W was created from Jennifer’s desire to help women, including her own daughter, find this calling, to center their lives around what brings them joy and a sense of purpose.
We spoke with Jennifer recently about what integration means to her, how she’s seen it transform her students, and how the wisdom of nature and the sacred space of the Art of Living Retreat Center complete the experience of the Triple W retreat.
A Women’s Retreat for Work-Life Integration
Our curriculum for the women’s retreat is centered around work-life integration. It looks at integration from a variety of pillars. One of the pillars is nature – so when one of our facilitators found the Art of Living Retreat Center, it could not have been a more perfect backdrop for this program.
Nature is a powerful teacher itself, and can show us what it means to gracefully navigate cycles of transformation in your life.
Another one of the pillars of Triple W is wellness, so yoga is woven into the curriculum design. We do breath work, yoga postures, yoga nidra, meditation, and guided imagery, as well as journaling. The center provides a perfect backdrop for these aspects.
We also do assessment work through the Birkman Method – I work with each of the attendees in the women’s retreat, and they get a personalized Birkman quiestionnaire. The results from that test help us find what they’re naturally drawn to, what their interests are, what their strengths are, and how they can tap into that more often. What is really unique about the Birkman method is that it looks at the student’s underlying needs, and how they can fulfill those in order for them to be their most powerful self. During the weekend, we learn how to identify these needs, how to become more self aware, what drives us and motivates us as individuals.
We also explore the thing that none of us can avoid – stress. That forms another key pillar of Triple W’s teachings. We look at how to manage stress using the wisdom of nature, yoga, and science – not only the science that comes from the assessment work they do during the weekend, but also the science of the brain and nervous system, and what they have to teach us about living a more integrated, happy life.
Striving Towards the Flow State
Andrew: And what are the insights the brain has to teach us?
Jennifer: Oh, I could spend all day talking about the brain! I’m not a neurologist or neuroscientist, but a student of life. I’m always studying the brain. The brain itself, as an organ, craves and desires to be in the flow state of integration. Instead of looking at life as separate elements, they strive to see the linkage. They see the differences, but they also see how those differences link together. When the brain is in that state of integration, the brain is happy.
We see this when we look at the opposite of integration, disintegration. The things that take the brain out of the flow state of integration are chaos and rigidity. One of the resources I rely on heavily when I talk about the brain is Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work, and his studies on how these two forces affect us. We talk a lot about how to minimize chaos in our life, but how do we minimize rigidity? A flexible brain and an adaptable brain, one that trusts that flow state, is more open to learning. It decreases anxiety,stress, and tempers the mind, allowing you to be your most effective, productive self.
The flow state feels like a sense of ease. Something we talk about in yoga is getting to that place of ease, so that when you get there, you can contemplate the infinite. You can see so clearly the interconnection of all things. That’s what the flow state of integration feels like. It feels easy. It feels natural. It feels like you, as your original self. Instead of feeling anxious, rigid, in a hurry, angry. That’s a disintegrated brain.
Yoga is so integrative in its nature. I can’t help but bring yoga teaching into a weekend that’s focused on integration.
It’s All in the Eyes
Andrew: What inspires you to get up in the morning and bring this integrative approach to people, to contribute what you’re teaching and learning in a women’s retreat?
Jennifer: Sometimes it’s been hard. However, I know that what I do is a beautiful gift when I see the looks in the eyes of my students when they really connect the dots. So I try to remember that. The other thing is my daughter – when I started Triple W, she was in kindergarten, and I wanted this for her. I wanted to do something in the world that had continual relevance, so that one day, I could watch her walking through the door and attending herself. As I was preparing for this last women’s retreat, she came into my office, and was helping me put together some things in my folder, and she said “Mom, I can’t wait to get to go to Triple W someday.” That is my inspiration.
Andrew: You say women come out of this with a new look in their eyes – can you describe that? What do you recognize there?
Jennifer: The look! Well, it’s funny. The opposite is what caused me to start the Triple W Women’s Retreat. It’s a look of desperation, exhaustion, being overwhelmed. I saw that in many women’s eyes. A long time ago, I had a role in professional development, and I was responsible for helping marketers become more effective and learn the latest trends, and be on top of their game. These were very driven people.
But I could tell, some of the women I’d look at would have this look of being unwell. They tried so hard to be successful that they forgot themselves in the process. They sacrificed their own self-care. And I recognized myself in those eyes, and I said to myself, “I need to do something about that because I feel it too. I feel unwell. I feel like I’ve forgotten who I am.”
So that’s what started it. The students in my class might walk in the door looking a little desperate, a little overwhelmed, or just plain tired, because they’re trying so hard to be good in this world. And when they leave, the look in their eyes is one of rejuvenation. You can just see that little sparkle of something in their eyes that says “I feel like myself again. Not like something I’m trying to be, but the me that I knew was there all along. This weekend makes me feel good to be alive.”
Andrew: And that really fits in with this grander discussion happening in the world about work-life balance, especially for many women and mothers. Jennifer: Oh yes. When I first started Triple W, I was a person who would proudly declare, “Balance is not possible”. I feel that the term ‘work-life balance’ makes you feel like a failure. I had this negative attitude about the word balance, but I don’t anymore. I’ve realized that word couldn’t be more beautiful. A lot of people are just like I was. They’d hear “work-life balance” and think “that’s not possible.” But integration is a much better way of phrasing it. Life is work, and work is life. And you are you throughout all of that. So this idea of integration resonates with me far more than the term “work-life balance” ever did. Integration is the secret to understanding that it’s okay if you can’t do it all.
Life is work, and work is life. And you are you throughout all of that.
Why the Art of Living Retreat Center?
Andrew: What is the role of nature in your program?
Jennifer: I think many of the participants in my women’s retreat are coming from cities and towns, and feel a little separated from the great outdoors. We have this disconnect from nature, we think that we’re separate from it, but truly we are as connected to nature as any other living thing. In order for people to really connect to that, though, you have to be immersed in a natural environment. There’s something very restorative about being in nature during this retreat. There are even these things happening at a subtle energetic level that we can’t quite see by spending time in nature, by spending time amongst the trees, really talking about ancient rock formations and what they have to teach us. We use a lot of natural metaphors, and explore how the natural world can give us insight into our own experiences, how that ties into our own transformations. We talk about rivers. We talk about mountains, about how they’re messy and beautiful. Nature teaches us about transformation.
The center itself carries with it so many things. When I first realized that this is where Triple W was going to be, I was so moved. If I could build a place like this, I would. To be in partnership with folks who have the inspiration to create a place so sacred and special, and to add healthy, mindful eating as part of it, and an Ayurvedic spa… those are things that I would talk about in my sessions outside of the center! Ayurvedic massage is really powerful – it helps to stimulate the Vagus nerve and increase parasympathetic nervous system dominance. When I teach here, I can say “Go down the road, and schedule all your appointments during the day!” Because we have a lot of free time built into the experience, so students can experience the benefits of the center, too. It really completes the experience.