“When you shift your state, your whole perspective and world shifts. Problems dissolve, villains become victims and compassion kicks in.”
I hesitated before putting any titles next to Cindy Teevens’ name; it’s hard to assign a title to someone who knows she is both nothing and everything all at once.
In the end, I did assign titles for the sake of consistency and to provide a window into what she is. But really, more than an author or speaker or anything else, Cindy comes across as a force of energy that’s at once light and powerful.
If after reading this article, you have any inclination to agree with or challenge what she says, I recommend taking a closer look. At best, you’ll be enlightened and live in a state of peaceful joy. At worst, I can’t imagine you won’t at least learn a thing or two about releasing negative thoughts and feelings, and having greater empathy and compassion.
It began with the questions
Coming into the interview with Cindy, my plan was to first cover the basics (background, education, etc.) so we could spend the rest of our time delving into deeper matters—existence; the universe; how her book Alchemy: How to Feel Good No Matter What can release people from the burdens of thought and assumption, and lead them to a life of love and joy. But we kept straying from the minutia of her résumé, which fits quite nicely because Cindy, like the rest of us, isn’t defined by her bio. She just is.
Here’s what I managed to cull, in and around the rest of our talk:
Cindy was born in Germany (her biological father, who worked for the Royal Canadian Air Force, had been posted there) but moved to Ottawa, Ontario at age one and has lived there most of her life. She has three sisters and two brothers, and was raised by her mother and stepfather.
She says she was “a fairly happy kid” who always had questions that nobody in her life could (or would) answer. They were existential questions about life, how we got here and what happens after we leave, and they were always discouraged. “I got a very clear message just to go on with my life and do what everybody else does.”
So she did. She graduated from Cairine Wilson Secondary School in 1983, and from New Liskeard College of Agricultural Technology in 1986 with a diploma in Equine Technology (and several communications courses to boot). She launched a horse magazine—first called The Horse Source, then Nuzzle—and served as publisher and editor-in-chief.
But the questions hadn’t gone away. When Cindy closed the magazine business after 11 years, she experienced a loss of identity, having tied herself for so long to titles such as “publisher” and “writer.” She realized that the labels most of use to identify ourselves are not what really matter, and started looking more deeply into why we feel the need to define ourselves at all.
By late 2002, the questions got so powerful that Cindy began actively searching for answers. She investigated and considered a wide variety of religions and teachings, but none satisfied, and her craving for truth without “the social trappings of religions” only grew stronger. In the end, she settled on studying Zen. But only a few months into the practice, something happened that intensified her quest and ultimately led her to understand that, rather than needing to find the answers, there is no need for the questions at all.
Look inside—and nowhere else
In March 2003, Cindy’s stepfather—known to her as “Dad”—attempted suicide. He shot himself in the head and chest, and she discovered his unconscious body. The doctors determined that there was too much brain damage for her father to regain consciousness, so the family removed life support and he passed away one week after the shooting, with Cindy by his side.
That experience resulted in three months of intense grief for Cindy, but it also prompted her to vow, as she left the hospital after her father’s death, “that it would not be for nothing.” She committed herself to exploring the answers to her questions and finding a way to “control her state no matter what” (or so she described it at the time).
In 2006 and 2007, she enrolled at NLP Partners to study Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which examines the relationship between subjective experience and behaviour patterns in order to positively change mental and emotional behaviour. (That one’s hard to break down into a tasty bite-size piece; try the NLP Canada Training website for a more comprehensive explanation.)
Cindy, a Master NLP Practitioner, found her studies into the practice to be helpful in many ways. But at the end of her training, she was still left with questions. “When I was in NLP, we were taught that we could control our state no matter what,” she says. “We had these tools and techniques to do it, but under certain circumstances, I knew I couldn’t control it and I wanted to.”
Ultimately, she realized she was searching for the wrong thing. She didn’t really want to be able to control her state no matter what; she wanted to be free from letting the outside world affect her state, no matter what. That is, to be happy and at peace regardless of what others did or didn’t do.
Her search continued. Then one day, six years after her father’s death, and after several intense weeks of suffering due to personal events unrelated to her father, a fundamental shift occurred. Instead of focusing outward on the things she desperately wished would change, she turned her focus inward. And the suffering stopped. As she writes in her book:
“Realizing and clearly seeing that suffering does not change anything, for a brief moment—not knowing what else to do—I just stopped. In this fleeting moment of stillness, I knew, or remembered, or heard, ‘You can give yourself whatever you want.’ … If you can give yourself what you want, then it does not come from the outside; so I pulled my attention from the outside. Then it happened… I went inside and looked for (all the things) I did want—and they were there!”
That realization—which she readily acknowledges has been explored by “all great spiritual teachers past and present,” including Rumi, J. Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle—led to a series of revelations. Ecstatic, Cindy wrote many of them up in the book that went on to become Alchemy: How to Feel Good No Matter What. Joy and peace became the norm for her, and when other feelings threatened to replace her contentment, she learned to shift her focus away from the thought that caused the “negative” feeling and toward what she truly wanted.
“When you shift your state, your whole perspective and world shifts,” she says. “Problems dissolve, villains become victims and compassion kicks in.” She dropped everything else and devoted her time to sharing her realization with others.
Then, in 2010, about nine months after discovering joy, she had an even more powerful revelation. While walking in the woods, she was struck by the sudden knowledge that she and the universe were one; that there was no separation between her and anything else. As she writes on her website:
“Uncontrollable laughter belted out from the belly of my being, tickling every cell in my body as it laid on the snow, laughing and crying at the simplicity and unbounded joy of it all.”
It was then that Cindy stopped asking questions. She had finally discovered that “the answer is in the question and in the dissolution of the question. When there’s no more question and no more questioner, you don’t need an answer.”
Live the questions
I love that line of thought (although Cindy calls it knowing, rather than thinking). A quote by poet Rainer Maria Rilke, which follows a similar vein, has been important to me in recent years:
“… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.”
But part of the reason that quote is important to me is because I still need to be reminded of it; I tend toward questioning and analysis, even though I know it’s often best to just “be.” So I came to my interview with Cindy prepared with a slew of challenges and queries into her book and philosophies. I wasn’t trying to be difficult; I simply wanted to understand her practice better and be able to articulate it clearly in this article.
She and I chatted long past the allotted time we’d booked for our interview, and only got off the phone because I had to get to a meeting. Throughout our talk, there was plenty of back and forth about her teachings. It was fascinating, and too lengthy to detail here, but I will say that although I still have queries, what’s at the heart of her book rings utterly true:
“We don’t want things, people or events. We want the feeling we mistake them for.”
“If you get that,” says Cindy, “if you truly get that, then you are free, because you know that nothing outside you contains or controls your feeling, and, as I discovered, you can give yourself the feeling you want any time. Imagine a state where there is nothing you want. It’s not that you have everything outside you in the perfect configuration; you just stop wanting. You just love what is. All of a sudden, you have so much energy. What’s your interest in now? What matters now, when you don’t need anything?”
In Cindy’s case, her attention went toward the Divine (or God, or the Source, or whatever name you choose to ascribe). Prior to her walk in the woods, she’d been asking the question, “If the Divine is everywhere, why isn’t it obvious?” In fact, it was the question itself that had prevented her from seeing. When she was finally struck by the realization that the Divine truly is everywhere, and even as her, it suddenly became obvious; it always had been.
“People go around as if everything here is normal—life and living,” she says. “But this is the freakiest thing ever. It doesn’t make sense on many levels, but people go around like this is normal, so they don’t see the miracle anymore, so they don’t love what is. And what is, is; is Love, is Divine. If you just follow that, you will be filled with so much bliss, joy, ecstasy for no reason other than ‘it is.’”
We are not disconnected
The beauty of Cindy’s practice—in addition to the fact that it can set you free of feelings such as jealousy, resentment, fear, anger—is that it focuses on our potential to mend the hurt around us, as well as within us. Because if you know, as Cindy came to realize in the woods, that there is no separation between people and things, you and the universe, and if you truly listen to your inner voice (i.e. if you aren’t clouded by false feelings that could lead you to exploit or damage others), you will only do good in this world.
“When you know you’re not separate, and everything is you, you take care of it,” she says. “You take care of it as yourself. All the negative things that people do are because of unhappiness and not knowing who they are. Every hurt that someone inflicts on someone else just wouldn’t happen if they knew.”
(For those of you who have the same thoughts I did, when I asked her to explain the paradox that we aren’t separate, yet we must look inside ourselves to know who we truly are, she said, “There’s no inward and outward; the difference is, I don’t need the outside to change in order for me to be okay.”)
This reminds me of another favourite quote of mine, also by Rilke (not to overload you on philosophy, or pretend to be an expert, but my sister turned me on to Rilke a few years ago and I feel his words are worth sharing):
“Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something helpless that wants help from us.”
The Alchemy of Love and Joy™
There’s much more I could write about my talk with Cindy, and the instances she cited in modern scientific developments (for example, entanglement theory) that illustrate both what she knows to be true (that there is no separation) and that we’ve been conditioned to disbelieve it (scientists assume that two things have become entangled; whereas, in her words, “they’re not entangled; they’re not separate.”). But for those of you who are fascinated by her teachings, there are many ways in which you can explore them further (outlined below).
So I’ll sum up by returning to some of the facts about Cindy. She came to my attention when she sent a very sweet email congratulating me on this website and encouraging me to continue. I chose her as a Kickass Canadian not only because of the work she’s committed to, but also because, when Alchemy: How to Feel Good No Matter What was chosen out of 3,000 books and won her the 2010 Next Top Spiritual Author Contest, she turned down the publishing deal and instead began distributing her book for free online.
“What matters to me is that my book draws the right people and it helps the right people,” she says.
Her book is still available for free in PDF via Cindy’s Facebook page, and you can also purchase the hardcopy by emailing [email protected]. The book officially launches in hardcopy in 2012, when you can find it through all the usual channels, including bookstores and Amazon.
Cindy also offers talks, workshops and individual consultations on her practice The Alchemy of Love and Joy™, all of which are outlined on her website and aim to help people realize that they can shift their state to control their feeling. On top of Alchemy, she runs the publishing company Go Beyond and is working on a new work of creative non-fiction.
With the facts out of the way, I return briefly to the questions—those little things both Cindy and I started out with. “I think everybody has those questions buried inside,” she says. “A lot of people can really ignore them for a good part of their life, especially when things are going well. But when things start not going so well, that’s when the questions might start to stir again.”
The questions may not be the ultimate goal, but they are what led her to her current practice of Alchemy. And they represent awareness, even if only at a subconscious level, that we are not wholly at peace with who we are and how we see the universe.
“We’re looking at the world from a separated point of view,” she says. “Once you start to become aware of that, you see how much it’s happening. Everybody wants to go out and save the world, save the bears, save the children. You will never do it as long as you’re operating under the belief that you act alone. Because then it’s you, this little ego, against the whole universe. But once you realize that’s not who you are, the whole universe unfolds. Lao Tzu said it best: ‘To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.’ Trying to save the world from the outside is like trying to fix the fruit on the tree; we need to go to the root.”
With that, Cindy and I hung up the phone. Except it didn’t feel like an ending; it felt like the conversation was only just beginning.
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For more on Cindy, email [email protected], visit alchemylovejoy.com, ‘Like’ her Facebook page or follow @CindyTeevens on Twitter.