Over the last several years, I’ve been seeking.
I’ve been looking inside, outside, everywhere, on a journey of self-exploration trying with determination (and sometimes desperation) to find myself.
About two years ago in late 2016, I recognized that while on paper, I had “made it” achieving my dream in the material world, something was missing...
To quote the wise words of poet Mary Oliver, I was, “breathing just a little and calling it a life”.
I projected this feeling of dissatisfaction externally. Even though I was living in my dream city with a meaningful job, a loving partner, and freedom to travel, I still felt stuck. It seemed mad. I didn’t understand.
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What is my purpose in life?
How can I contribute to the world in a meaningful way?
Where will I go next?
This self-inquiry hit an existential tipping point and I decided I needed a change. Without a clear idea of where to start, I took a more traditional approach and began looking at higher education somehow thinking this strategy could solve all my problems. I began a lengthy research process and over the course of a few months, I looked into about 45 schools and graduate programs mostly in the U.S. and some abroad.
After all that research, I couldn't find a single program that fit my variety of interests and budget. The average cost was $60,000 USD for two years!! Which was all of my savings and I couldn’t justify that when I didn’t even feel the programs fit all my needs. I felt frustrated and deflated.
Finally I said, “Fuck it”.
I decided to design my own customized self-funded curriculum that combines traveling, working, and learning. My friend Ann also decided to pursue the path less traveled with an alternative education all her own.
We both yearned to go deeper and awaken our hearts to love in every form, so we made a master spreadsheet full of everything from yoga retreats, meditation, Ayurveda, Thai massage, divine feminine gatherings, social innovation institutes, design thinking workshops, global leadership programs etc. and we began calling this process, "Getting our Ph.D.'s = Pure Heart Degrees". (See her blog post on her journey.)
Almost two years later, I’m in the thick of my Pure Heart Degree (I wrote another post at the start here: "Pursuing my Ph.D. Pure Heart Degree" ). With all of this travel, learning, and growing many friends and family have asked, "How do you do it?" While that question involves far more than I can put into one post, I decided to document the journey and share my progress so far.
May this serve as an inspiration for anyone who is ready to take a leap of faith and is interested in designing their own life curriculum. If you’d like any support on envisioning the next step in your journey, I am happy to provide some visioning coaching and guidance for you. Reach out to me directly – firstname.lastname@example.org.
PROGRESS ON MY PH.D. (Pure Heart Degree)
START WITH WHY:
The first step when starting anything is to ask, why? what is your intention? For me it was:
To heal and purify the heart
To expand my capacity to lead, love, and create in the world
To return to my true nature
To become an instrument of generosity and love
Next, what do you value? What is important to you in your learning journey? Make a list of those important elements. For example, for me it was important this experience include:
Variety of Interests - psychology, spirituality, nature, culture, art, social innovation, conscious leadership, international development, dance, movement, creativity etc.
Experiential Learning Environment – on the ground in person learning as well as flexible online learning for digital nomads
Cost – for the costs to be manageable and allow me the freedom to work minimally and travel as much as I want
Process – to be playful, dynamic, and flexible, an ability to move with what’s present in the moment and not to be rigid or take oneself so seriously
Love - the most important ingredient for anything. Self-love and self-care seems to be my ongoing lesson and something I struggle with often. It was important that I design the right conditions to care for, nurture and love myself through the journey. Being able to take breaks and slow down when I needed to.
While many people separate work, education, and travel, I chose to integrate all three by funding my travels and education through my consulting work. What makes this more achievable is that 70% of my work is remote and 30% is in-person, on-site. Plus I worked for American based companies but lived in mostly Southeast Asian countries so my dollars stretched much farther and I could work far less than if I lived in America.
While this all makes perfect sense looking backwards, I will say it wasn’t as clear when I started. But something in me called me from every cell in my being, it was ever so soft and enormously loud all at once. I knew I had to do this, so in December 2016, I said farewell to my partner, friends and family, I put my stuff in storage and took off!
A wise friend said to me, “life is either a problem to solve or a mystery to be revealed” and slowly but surely the path has revealed itself.
WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO SO FAR:
1.) LEADERSHIP : Designing for Social Innovation & Leadership Course – The DSIL Global course is a 5 month executive leadership course certified by the UN University of Peace. The course is designed to expand one’s creative capacities and develop one’s skillset in design thinking, conscious leadership, entrepreneurial mindset, sustainable development, and social innovation (Bangkok, Thailand; Phnom Phen, Cambodia, and Virtual Classrooms). I loved it so much I did it twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018, I then joined their epic team of Creative Consultants and Design Thinkers (DSIL Global) that facilitate around the globe.
2.) TANTRA HEART YOGA:·
Tantra Heart Kriya Yoga is a profound and playful way for learning to live in bliss. What distinguishes Tantra Heart is the focus on realizing your true Self, attention to emotional flow, and the skillfully designed sets of yogic techniques for safely activating your kundalini (most powerful and creative) energy.
Tantra Heart’s Tantric Alchemy Retreat - 5 days exploring sexuality, sensuality, and spirituality through Shamanism and Daoist Tantra practices (Koh Phanghan, Thailand)
Tantra Heart’s Ecstatic Nature Retreat – 8 days in nature exploring one's own ecstatic inner nature through Shamanism and Daoist Tantra practices (Koh Phanghan, Thailand)
Shakti Embodiment Women's Retreat – 9 days in nature exploring divine femininity through Shamanism and Daoist Tantra practices (Bali)
Tantra Heart’s Ecstatic Love Retreat - 8 days in nature exploring ecstatic love through Shamanism and Daoist Tantra practices (Koh Phanghan, Thailand)
3.) HRIDAYA YOGA & MEDITATION:
Hridaya Yoga & Meditation School - Hridaya is a school dedicated to teaching students to live with an open heart and discover their life's potential. Through meditation sessions, Hatha Yoga classes, silent meditation retreats, and daily life awareness practices, Hridaya shares a path for the revelation of the Self and a way to live a life of joy, compassion, and gratitude. This is the path of the Spiritual Heart.
Hridaya Yoga Module 1 Intensive Retreat – 3 week holistic course (Oaxaca, Mexico)
Hridaya Yoga Module 2 Intensive Retreat – 3 week holistic course (Oaxaca, Mexico)
Hridaya Yoga 17 Day Silent Meditation Retreat – 17 days in silence (Oaxaca, Mexico)
Hridaya Art of Awareness Workshop – 3 days experiential workshop (Oaxaca, Mexico)
Hridaya Compassionate Communication Workshop – 3 days experiential workshop (Oaxaca, Mexico)
Hridaya Tantra is Bliss Workshop - 3 days experiential workshop (Oaxaca, Mexico)
4.) COACHING & CONSULTING WORK:
Delivering Happiness (DH) started as a book written by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, on his business philosophy and lessons learned in focusing and prioritizing company culture and employee happiness. Today, DH is a coachsultancy [hybrid coaching + consulting], working with individuals and organizations around the world to create successful companies and meaningful lives.
Organizational Development and Culture Transformation consulting projects for six companies ranging from 75 to 10,000 employees on behalf of DH (USA and Hanoi, Vietnam)
Internal culture development and special projects for DH - 6 months part-time (online, remote)
DSIL Global Consulting - DSIL is a Bangkok-based design company that is dedicated to building creative capacity in people so that they can build innovation, together. DSIL Consulting serves teams in progressive companies working to learn design thinking as a process for development and as a path for innovation.
Social Enterprise Fellowship Program & Changemaker Summit – facilitating experiential workshops for 14 Fellows and 30 Changemakers from 17 countries with Unbound (Sydney, Australia)
Branding & Marketing Strategy for 2 months full-time with DSIL Global (Lubao, Philippines)
Co-facilitated a Leadership Development Program for AAPTIP with 8 Program Directors for 1 week (Australia Asian Program to Combat Trafficking In Persons)
Co-facilitated a 2 day “Design for a Resilient Mind” POP OUT class with Stanford d.school and StreetCode Academy.
More consulting work on my own:
Creative consulting for six weeks for RGM Energy Art, a company dedicated to employing natural principles to transform earth-based energies into lustrous and exquisite art designs. (Taipei, Taiwan)
Led event logistics for BALLE Shift Capital Summit uplifting and connecting 250 visionary leaders across North America (Oakland, California).
Leading communication, marketing and logistics for Tantra Heart’s Ecstatic Love Tantra & Shamanic Retreat and Journey of Love Festival (Koh Phangan, Thailand).
NUTS & BOLTS: HOW
How much did 2 years cost?
$19, 800 Education
$24, 000 for travel, lodging and expenses to 9 countries and staying in approx ~80 places
$14,800 other misc expenses
How much did I work over 24 months?
60 hrs/week for 2 months
40 hrs/week for 8 months
15 hrs/week for 8 months
0 hrs/week for 6 months
How much did I make? ~$78,000 + used some savings to fund my travels
How much fun did I have? WOW – I can’t even begin to describe this. More than I could have ever imagined and worth every penny.
I don’t think I can compile these in bullet points. While so much of it has been practical, I can’t say it’s concrete. Who I am is what I’ve learned. I’m living, practicing, and breathing it day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath.
The learning journey continues. But somehow I’ve found a resting place in my heart. I’ve discovered that though life will take many forms, there is something unmovable and unchanging, a background of stillness, of peace in my heart. And a really simple but profound truth, that my essential nature is love. I don’t need to do anything to become this love, only to let go of everything preventing me from being what I naturally am.
My intention for this year is to SURRENDER.
To be as open and available as possible. To live in alignment with the divine, continue deepening my spiritual practice, to activate the artist of life within, and to engage in meaningful consulting projects along the way. That said, who knows what’s in store, many wise people have reminded me to listen to my heart, it knows the way.
"The only spiritual authority is the sacred heart."
With gratitude and grace,
Kelsey 'Lotus' Wong