Today, I interview Mitra Manesh, the youngest of three children who grew up in Iran. Mitra learned to fend for herself and figure out her own way. She was intelligent and well-behaved, never getting into trouble and becoming a source of comfort and stability in the room. These things earned her the nickname, “the wise child” from a very young age. But was this a good thing or not?
Mitra took this as part of her identity the more and more adults would say it to her. She became strong and serious and didn’t spend much time playing and being silly – very important things for children.
Mitra was in the U.S. for school in the seventies. Then she returned home, but because of the conflict, the borders were closed and she was unable to come back. Then she went to Turkey and France, and now lives in California. Through all of the unrest, Mitra had an epiphany. She had been looking for stability in the world, and as she so perfectly puts it, as her “inner world was forming, the outer world was in complete chaos.” She was just beginning to discover herself and come alive, and all of her surroundings were falling apart.
She experienced so much loss. The “anchor” she sought in family, friends, academia, and home could really only be found within herself. So she accepted what she calls an “invitation” to dig deep within herself to find clarity and meaning. She realized that she had to find and create her own voice, because if she was “given” her voice from someone, that could just be taken away. She learned to only rely on herself.
Her journey into Turkey was quite a turning point in her life. She left everyone and everything behind and crossed the border with little more than the clothes on her back. But without all the other voices in her ear, she slowly began to work forward, starting over and waiting for no one. She realized that only she could give herself the power she’d been looking for. These days, Mitra flows through life in a state of mindfulness. She accepts the reality of situations, does her best to be truly present, and enjoys the spontaneity of not taking anything for granted.
Mitra Manesh is the creator of the Mindful Attentionist Coaching (M.A.C.) program, an inside-out program for deep training of global mindful coaches. She is also the founder of “innermap”, an innovative new mindfulness App, and the host of “Lights on”, a podcast offering support for a mindful life. She is a mindfulness thought leader, storyteller, and educator with almost 4 decades of experience helping people of all ages and many different cultures to live, love, and lead more consciously at home and at work. Join her free 1 Hour Class to learn “What’s your most valuable asset in life & how can you benefit from it?”: https://www.mitramanesh.com/.
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Transcript of Interview
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Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #67 Mitra Manesh
“A Journey of Mindfulness & Vulnerability”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Hello, I’m Dr. Doreen Downing and I’m a psychologist and host of the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life. What I love to do in these episodes is to invite guests who have a story, a story about finding their voice, a story about perhaps not having had a voice. And today, I’m really excited because this is somebody I’ve met. You’ll see why I’ve invited her to be on the podcast because of her background. Hi, Mitra.
(01:08) Mitra Manesh
Hi, Doreen. So nice to be here with you.
(01:12) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh yes. You could already tell folks by her voice. It’s just so calming. But I want to read a little bit about you so that people will get to know you right away and see why I’m so attracted to you and what you offer. Mitra Manesh is the creator of the Mindful Attentionist Coaching and that’s M.A.C. program. An inside out program for deep training of global mindful coaches. She is also the founder of Inner Map, an innovative new mindfulness app, and the host of Lights On, a podcast offering support for a mindful life. She is a mindfulness thought leader, storyteller, and educator with almost four decades of experience helping people of all ages and many different cultures, to live, love, and lead more consciously, at home and at work. Big breath. Another welcome to you, Mitra.
(02:20) Mitra Manesh
Thank you, Doreen. Love the way you read it, I felt good about that.
(02:24) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, I’m so happy when I read it, because it’s so much more. Finding your voice and being able to express yourself more authentically in the world is so much more than just getting up on a stage and learning techniques. And I love your phrase, the inside out program for deep training.
(02:50) Mitra Manesh
Is there any other way to do it?
(02:52) Dr. Doreen Downing
Not in my life experience or my own journey. And that’s what I discovered is that all the kinds of things that I did at first to find my voice like Toastmasters and speaking trainings, gave me a good cover. But it didn’t really reach as deep as I wanted to, or felt like what was possible for me, more potential. And it’s an inside job, you are so right.
(03:21) Mitra Manesh
Thank you. It is. I think everything has an inside and outside. And it only goes home totally and in a sustainable way when you have paid attention to both. So I call it form and substance. In fact, that used to be the name of my business. So there is the inner and there’s the outer but the question is, where are we paying attention most to? We live in a physical world that pays a lot of attention to the form. And that’s great. But there’s also substance that if it’s not there, no form will really compensate for that lack.
(04:01) Dr. Doreen Downing
That is so profound, my dear. What I want to start with and what usually our listeners are interested in first is just to hear something about your childhood. I’m a psychologist, so I always like to give a little attention to where you grew up, how you grew up, what were those early influences around your voice.
(04:29) Mitra Manesh
I was born and raised in Iran, in Tehran, Iran. So I’m Persian. And it was very interesting. I was the youngest of three. And I think by the time I arrived, all the juices of the family especially my mother had been spent on to energy consuming, I think that’s the best way to put it, children before me. So I feel like I arrived and had a look around and decided that oops, there’s not much room here for anything. So I better take care of myself. And it was really fascinating as I was contemplating on your questions and the voice and how you arrive at your voice. And my story is fascinating, at least to me, that it wasn’t that I didn’t have a voice, it was that through a process that was interesting, my vulnerable voice was taken away.
So I remember that everybody called me the wise child. And I give you one scene, and I think as a psychologist that will really explain my childhood. So imagine it’s a weekend, there are like, I don’t know, 15 kids in the room, many of them are older than me, a couple of them younger than me. We’re making a lot of noises and an adult comes in and checks on us to make sure we’re okay. So he opened the door, and he looked in the room, and he said, oh, Mitra is here, so all is well, he closed the door and left. And I remember this scene because I immediately realized that I cannot be silly, like all the other kids, I cannot also jump and up and down and break things and do things that kids do.
And that I think continued in my life. And it was a very backdoor way of taking the vulnerable voice away. And it wasn’t only that relative and one person, it was the reputation if you like, that was developed for some reason, or given to me because I’m sure I didn’t hire a PR agency those days to do it for me. So somebody somewhere decided you need to be the wise child. And it sounds really good. It sounds like oh, that’s fantastic. But then the wise child came out at the price of the vulnerable child, and the vulnerable child could never speak.
(07:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
That is so clearly described. I would say that we have a similar history around my voice. And I think I’ve never really called it vulnerable voice. I’ve thought of it as my precious one. But I was always the serious one and responsible. I was actually the oldest. So in a way, I had to manage everything. And so somebody might come into a room, like, what happened to you and say, oh, Doreen’s here, everything’s going to be fine. But I’m so glad that you talked about this inner one that had to get in the back seat and not be in the front seat. Just society, and people around us identify us, and we still haven’t quite decided who we are at that age.
(08:19) Mitra Manesh
And also, it sounds good. If they said, “oh, you’re the stupid one,” everybody would object. Because even those days, everybody would say, “don’t talk to a child like that.” So that we never realized the opposite of it also has a weight that is not really a good way to put on a child. And I don’t think anybody did it intentionally. I think it just gradually got developed somehow. But I realized that because of my journey that started quite earlier on. I lost my best friend when I was 12. I lost my father when I was 14. I lost my country when I was in my early 20s. And the losses continue.
So the question was, where do I go to find that? That fun, playful child that I know existed in me and I know to this day, she does. I’m in my 60s and I am ready to play anytime. And it’s hard to really make her quiet anymore and I don’t have to, but even if I wanted to, I can’t, because she has so much life and she has so much energy that she’s not contained anymore, thank God. But it was a major obstacle and because it was chocolate-covered and it was a nice title, “the wise child,” who could go and object to this? It’s just like I’ve come to complain about my adult in life and they called me a wise child. Everybody says, “oh, that’s fantastic.” But it’s not, because then that limits you as a child, a child who doesn’t know these things and doesn’t have the whereabouts to, like, what do I do with this unbelievable title. And it was only years later when I started my deep work that I realized I really need to allow the vulnerable me to also have a voice, which really made me conclude that our vulnerable voice has just as much value as our powerful, strong voice.
(10:35) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, the vulnerable voice has just as much power as what we are calling the strong one. And I’ve had some people on my podcasts that have talked about being loud. And that was his way of covering up his vulnerability. And this is, I hope he’s listening at some point to this, because this really hits home for him about hiding his more vulnerable side. And the whole idea about being playful, I think how I did it through alcohol. That’s how I got my playful spirit out there. And irresponsible, and just not caring about anything and kind of shedding any kind of Doreen as the serious one, and Doreen can handle situations. She’s responsible.
But so that was early on in my journey was using alcohol and coming to terms with that at some point. But that’s another story. Coming back to you, though. The loss of parent and a lot of losses there. You said loss of your country. But you made it over here? What was that choice about? How did you arrive in this country? And how did you make a decision about where to plant yourself?
(12:01) Mitra Manesh
Well, I planted myself in many countries before coming here. US was the first country I came to before the war and revolution in Iran in the 70s, in 1977. I came as a student to US, I was in University of Houston, in Texas. And then I had to go back and I got stuck because the revolution happened and the doors were closed. So I literally walked out of my country into Turkey, which was a border of Iran and Turkey. I mean, walked out of my country. I know people use this as like, walked out, but I literally walked out.
(12:45) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes. One foot in front of the other foot.
(12:46) Mitra Manesh
That’s another story. But yes, I came out and then ended up living in Paris, in Europe for a while, and then moved to Australia, and then moved to Canada, and then eventually came back to US. And I’ve been here for 18 years or so. So it was a coming back home really, back to US. And making this my permanent home, whatever permanence means in my life. I moved so many times that I don’t think my permanent is as permanent as what other people refer to as permanent. But that’s how I came back to US and I’m living in Los Angeles right now.
(13:36) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, Southern California. Well, there was a sense that you had a wake up or some kind of shift. Just quickly, I’m curious about what you studied in Houston.
(13:50) Mitra Manesh
I was studying economics. Yes, it was very interesting. And the culture shock of the 70s. And I loved, I still am in love with anything from the 70s, the music, the movies, the colors, the everything there. But I was studying economics. And it was a very interesting time back in Iran. That was when the pre-evolution events were happening and Shah was being objected to. And for the first time I remember in ‘77, when Shah came to the kingdom of Iran, that’s what I’m referring to for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, came to visit Washington, there were a lot of demonstrations and objections. So I could tell something was about to happen. I didn’t know what.
We couldn’t even imagine what has happened since then in our wildest imagination, but it was a very interesting, challenging times for me, but are also very informative. As you said, as my inner world was forming, the outer world was in complete chaos for me. And that actually helped my journey, believe it or not, because I realized the outer world is not where I can actually have an anchor. There are no anchors. Whatever I thought was my anchor, my family, my studying, my country, my home, everything. All the things that they call our safety net, whatever it means to you, it was being revamped, and redesigned. So that was the invitation, the harsh invitation, but an invitation anyways, to go in and understand that the true anchor, the stability, the trusted source that I was looking for outside of me, was residing inside of me. And once I found that, then I was quite differently and more able to work with the outer events of my life.
(16:14) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, again, such a description of your own process. So that tapping into and discovering, say a little bit more about how, what that process was for you?
(16:32) Mitra Manesh
So it was either meditation or medication, but it’s just a joke, honestly, because it rhymes. I love rhyming. But it wasn’t that it was really what do I do? I mean, you refer to drinking. And I felt that anything that was outwardly was not an option for me. I have no idea why. I really don’t understand the process I went through, but I never, which is unbelievable, I was on my own alone in another country, I never touched drugs, I never touched alcohol. For some reason must be another journey that I’ve had maybe out of many other journeys. Sometimes you resolve some things, and you don’t need to revisit them in this lifetime. But they were not an option for me. And I really was determined to do something with my life.
I don’t know what that meant. I was so young. It’s not like I had this clear vision of where I want to be in life, but I knew that it couldn’t be just sit back and watch your life. Well, my life told me I can’t do that. But I was open to really seeing that. And I think I realized earlier on that voice is not given, voice is developed by yourself. Because if it was given, it could have been taken away. And it was taken away through the political process that I saw take event, take place in front of me. So I remember going on streets and objecting to say, for instance, what was happening to women in Iran after revolution. And I realized that I can’t give my voice because anytime that they’re threatened by that voice, either collectively or individually, that they can just say no more, like, do not speak about this.
So all of these little by little added to a more comprehensive way of understanding the value of a voice that is developed by me, for me, and through me. And then the true voice came. Of course, it would have been wonderful, and it was wonderful, when you as my friend, you as my teacher, you as anybody in my life, were giving me my voice, I would have loved that. And I did have those opportunities. But I also realized because I saw everything crumbling, and I thought, okay, so this can’t be. I can’t rely on anyone. The friends that I had are no longer there. I just left the country. The contacts that you develop, I pick up the phone and say, Doreen, can you help with this, with that? Like they were all gone.
The possessions, the home. I came out with a bag smaller than the bag that I take shopping today. The only thing I had in them was some photos and about approximately 800 US dollars. That’s all I had. No visa, no place to go. I remember when I arrived in Turkey, I was cold, and I didn’t have enough clothing. So because I didn’t know what’s going to happen, I couldn’t bring a luggage when I was walking out of the country. So I realized that I got to be it. I’m it and then other people will arrive, but I can’t count on them, and then ask them to make me arrive. So I arrived at my voice. And then other helpers, supporters, or objectors, there were a lot of objections to it too. There wasn’t all like, wonderful, I found my voice and there it was. I have it in front of me. It wasn’t. But it didn’t matter as much because I knew where the anchor was. I knew where the value was. I knew where the source was. And that really, really helped me.
(20:36) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, and now that there are two things I noticed. One is being able to locate it, identify it, meaning your anchor, your source, within, and being able to take yourself there. So there’s a knowing that it’s there but there’s also knowing how to access it. And to do that, pretty much, I think your work is about mindfulness, right? So it’s like being mindful of when you’re leaving that area of anchoring inside of yourself.
(21:10) Mitra Manesh
Yes, that’s a great way of saying it. Exactly. Seeing and being an observer of you leaving your voice. And I knew that whenever I got upset with others. I knew I was leaving my own true voice, because then I was expecting others to give me the power that I was looking for. And immediately, I would remember that, oh, what I haven’t given myself I’m now hoping, expecting, demanding others to give to me. So that became a very interesting practice for me, that the moment I got upset with somebody, I thought, okay, what am I not offering myself? What am I not understanding about myself that I’m getting upset with whoever, my friends, my lover, my child, my whoever that I’m with, my colleague, my client. And then it became a lot of inner work, which continues to this day, and I don’t think it will ever end.
(22:15) Dr. Doreen Downing
I know exactly what you mean. I feel like I started on the journey, the inner work journey. And it’s vast within us. And we’re just so full of potential. And I love discovery. One of the things that I’m getting from you too, is that by all of your experiences, you’ve done a lot of traveling, and I love to travel different countries. And that feels like somewhat similar of traveling within myself and discovering, “Aha!” That kind of just turning a corner in a strange city and going, ah, wow, look at what I’ve just seen. And that’s the external of course, but I feel I have that same experience when I discover more about myself, or some of the things that you just said around being angry. Well, let’s explore that. Let’s look at it. It’s like a new territory, you might say.
(23:15) Mitra Manesh
Yes, I love that inner and outer traveling. That is true. It is the same thing. Except the difference, I think for me, is that I don’t need to go anywhere. When I go in, I can just make some space, some pause, and there I am. There’s no ticket, no itinerary, no reservation. But even going physically to somewhere else, I mean, those days before COVID, when we could do that, I remember I would have a set itinerary. Of course, I would know where I’m going. And after I lost count, after 60 or 70 countries where I visited, then I would have some plans, but then I would always leave some room for the unknown to arrive. Because if everything was set, I might as well stay where I was, certain and had plans, and had all those things knowingly.
But when there was room for surprise for unknown to arrive, quite often I remember I was in Singapore and the taxi driver and I got into discussions and he was telling me how his daughter was like into these things. And I said, why don’t you introduce me to your daughter? So his daughter came to my hotel. We got to know each other. She took me to university. I ended up going out to dinner with him. It became such an amazing relationship that got me to know about the culture, the local culture, and this specific family’s culture. Had I organized everything to the last minute then there wouldn’t be that opportunity to get to know them and their family and get to really experience living like a local for few days with them.
(25:06) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh yes, I had a similar experience in Italy. And I would say it’s one of the best nights of my entire life. This totally arriving and opening up to meeting people. And they said, oh, you know how to speak Malay? Oh, we’re gonna meet the Minister of Education for Malaysia and I went, oh, and they said, you’ve got to come, you’ve got to come. Just going out all night. So I know that living in the unknown. I just feel like I don’t want to end with you. But it’s getting to be time. But I want to go specifically to mindfulness now, because that living in each moment is an unknown, really, if we’re living mindfully. So say a little bit more about voice and mindfulness, whatever comes to you about that?
(26:04) Mitra Manesh
Sure. Well, the beauty of practicing mindfulness, and it’s always practicing not mastering, is that you understand the nature, the paradoxical nature of life. So what was true a second ago, may not be true right now. So for me to experience and meet that experience, I need to be in the present moment. And there you go, the one of the most important principles of mindfulness is being in the present moment. And then it’s the awareness. So there are five aspects. And mindfulness has many, many different definitions, and the way I define it is that mindfulness is acceptance and awareness of our present moment experience, with a sense of curiosity and compassion.
So presence, acceptance, awareness. Three. And then curiosity and compassion, the how of it. So when I am aware of my voice, when I am in present time meeting my voice, or the voice of others, then there is a need, because sometimes I say, present is not pleasant. So I need to have that sense of acceptance, that which doesn’t mean agreement, but is just, oh, that’s interesting, exactly what we were talking about, I’m getting provoked, or my friend is getting provoked, and really accepting that. And then the two others come in, which is can I stay curious about this? And can I hold it with a sense of kindness and compassion.
And so those principles, you understand that human beings haven’t really changed that much. Because if this was true so many thousands of years ago, and we see that all the principles of the Eastern world or the so-called wisdom practices, are still true to this day, with all of our technology advancement. It is exactly true. They say, Rumi’s poetry, one of my teachers is Rumi’s philosophy not just poetry, he is the most read poet in the world. He lived 800 years ago. You would think it would go out of fashion. But the truth…Exactly. Never ever ages. So really going to those roots and allowing these principles, whatever you want to call them.
And I’m not attached to the name mindfulness, because some people have some sensitivity to them. Really understanding things from a deeper place, an inner place is very helpful to activate your voice, to hear your own voice, because that’s another thing. The other thing that I think is very important is that when I hear my inner voice, then I can express my outer voice far more clearly and communicate back with that. So that is a tool for me. Mindfulness practices are a tool for me to access my voice so that I can express it, hold it, but get curious about it. And also be compassionate about it when it’s really challenging and difficult, either for me, or for others to hear.
(29:27) Dr. Doreen Downing
Oh, it’s so beautiful. You have programs and I want to make sure that people can find you because it feels like you’ve opened up opportunities for people to get to know themselves much more deeply within. So how do people find you?
(29:47) Mitra Manesh
My name MitraManesh.com. Everything I do is there. And if anybody’s interested I have a lot of free offerings. You mentioned my podcast. I have on YouTube and social media, they can just Google my name, Mitra Manesh, and it’s all on MitraManesh.com anyways. I also offer a lot of classes. Through UCLA, I teach Mindful Living actually, at UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, so they can find me there, or just check the work that I’ve done. And it’s available online.
(30:24) Dr. Doreen Downing
Yes, just Google. Well, one of the things I’m leaving with is that it’s ironic that you were labeled a wise child and then that became some kind of a container that didn’t really help you express more vulnerability. However, your wisdom today, what you shared is why, in a way, it just strikes me that maybe those people saw the deeper nature in you, the wise you. However, it was just a little too early for you to come into the wise teacher you are now.
(31:07) Mitra Manesh
Yes, it could be but more importantly it’s not wisdom, it’s really knowing and exploration that I’ve done is not at the price of the playful fun me. I mean, those who work with me and take classes with me, they know we have a lot of laughter, and we have a lot of playfulness, and then we also have some wisdom that we share amongst ourselves, but it is not at the price of that. And yes, I appreciate what they probably had something to do with my journey, what they saw or how they labeled me. But I also was quite aware later on, that the tuition may have been too high, the way I had paid that tuition. And I had to really access the playful me and the fun me and the one who understands that this whole life cannot be taken that seriously, even though our inner worlds are quite deep and fascinating.
(32:10) Dr. Doreen Downing
Well, I just love swimming in this inner world with you, dancing in it, and playing with you in the inner world. So thank you very much for sharing yourself and sharing your voice today.
(32:24) Mitra Manesh
Thank you, Doreen, for inviting me. It was amazing how you reached out and contacted me. I’m very happy that we connected and happy that I could share something on your platform. Thank you.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: doreen7steps.com.