Today, I interview Dr. Tressa Berman who was a child performer — singer and songwriter from an early age. She put away her creative life for something that felt “safer,” and became an academic professor until somewhere in the middle of that career, she had a breakdown/breakthrough.
This breakdown brought her to her spiritual path and back to her creative life. She eventually left academia to embrace the unknown and all the perceived risks. So her “breakdown” led to her “breakthrough” … which is what she teaches people to realize with the tools that grew from owning her creative voice.
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Dr. Tressa Berman is an experienced coach, teacher, and author in the creative field. As an anthropologist and former college professor, she has mentored thousands of artists, designers, makers, and dreamers to realize their potential and share their talents with the world. As a transformational guide, she first learned how to heal herself through meditation and contemplation in more than 30 years of practice with Buddhist teachers and Indigenous healers. Her vision is to co-create a more conscious and responsive world through creativity, and her passion is to help others to unleash their fully-expressed creative potential.
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Transcript of Interview
Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast
Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing
Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com
Episode #26 Dr. Tressa Berman
“Finding Her Voice Through Spiritual Awakening”
(00:35) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing, host and psychologist here on the Find Your Voice, Change Your Life podcast. What I do is to invite guests who have had some kind of struggle with speaking up in public. It’s usually because they don’t have a voice for some reason. And I’m very curious about what happened. Where did they? Were they born that way? Did something happen early on in life? Was it growing up in a particular family where there were challenges? Was it school? Was it bullying? There are so many reasons that help, well, that help people like us coaches out there that help people find their voice. But there are also so many reasons that people either don’t find their voice, lose it. But what happens on this podcast is that it seems that the people who join me get to tell their story not only of their struggle, but what was the journey to find their voice. And that’s what I find so inspirational for my leaders is that it is possible. If you’re listening and you feel like you don’t have a voice, you’ll find all sorts of hints, techniques, paths from my guests, and today I get to interview Tressa Berman, let me call her Dr. Tressa Berman, who’s an experienced coach, teacher, and author in the creative field. And as an anthropologist and former college professor, she has mentored 1000s of artists, designers, makers, and dreamers to realize their potential and share their talents with the world. Sounds so, so refreshing, I can’t wait to get our conversation going, Tressa. You’re also a transformational guide. And you learned how to heal yourself through meditation and contemplation in more than 30 years of practice with Buddhist teachers and indigenous healers,. Well, we could have a whole conversation just on that, can’t we? Oh, my goodness, I can’t wait. Her vision is to co-create a more conscious and responsive world through creativity. And her passion is to help others to unleash their fully-expressed creative potential. Welcome.
(03:07) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Hi, yes, thanks so much Doreen. It’s just so exciting to be sitting here with you in the Zoomosphere. But it’s also a very intimate space, and so much that we could share. So, I’m excited to let you take the lead and see where we go with it.
(03:24) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I like what you just said, take the lead and see where we go. Because the questions and people who listen to the podcast, know that it’s all pretty organic. Yes, there’s a pattern: tell us about the struggle, and then tell us about what you discovered, and tell us what you do nowadays. But something I just read was very– oh, it touched me deeply about your passion, passion, and it’s to help others unleash their fully expressed creative potential. And I know that’s where we’re going to be going today. So, listeners, hold on because you’re going to learn so much from Dr. Tressa today. But let’s start way back when I know you’ve sent me some information– you were a child performer of all things. So, let’s hear some about the early beginnings about you and your voice.
(04:24) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes, well, first of all, thank you, thank you. And welcome, welcome to all the listeners and would-be listeners and we’ll be listening. I want to just say, the tagline that I offered earlier about “fully expressed creative potential” I realize now just as you said organically and being in this space, that really it’s about your fully expressed creative voice. So, we could just put that right at the forefront as the driver for the conversation because that’s really what my work truly is about and how I find my seat here in the room with you. So, you wanted me to speak to some early beginnings, is that how we go?
(05:12) Dr. Doreen Downing:
(05:14) Dr. Tressa Berman:
So this whole question of voice is so fascinating to me, something I have been grappling with my entire life, truly, because as a– when I say child performer, what I mean by that is that I was a singer, and songwriter and performer and I had the great privilege of going as a scholarship student to a music school in New York where I grew up and, and had the wonderful opportunity to meet with so many other creatives. I was very young, you know, starting at 11 years old, and I really wasn’t quite sure of the milieu in which I found myself, you know, I just knew that it felt like home to be in a circle of so many creatives, most of whom were much older than myself. So, I was learning. At the same time, I was not discerning, because I was really too young to have acquired those skills, or at least let’s just say, my, my incarnation at 11 years old was still a youthful soul trying to find its way. There may be 11 year olds out there that are much more aware than I was at that age. So, finding one’s voice. What I love about this is that I’ve been thinking about it, of course, in anticipation of our talk today, and I’ve been thinking about the different voices that we have, at different stages of our lives, also in different roles. So, while I may have been honing and practicing and developing a performing voice, it was really a persona now that I think about it. And as a persona, it has the effect of what Trungpa Rinpoche, the late, great Buddhist teacher, calls a spiritual bypass, it had the effect of having a spiritual bypass by developing a particular performance persona, almost at the expense, I want to say, of a deeper development of self. And I have found, as someone who works a lot with creative artists, that my whole life and performing artists, that this is not uncommon. You know, it’s like where you put your attention is what grows. So, if we put our attention on developing our outer layers of relationality, then the attention and the intention is not necessarily going into our inner development. So, it took me a very long time to awaken to that in some respects, even though I always thought that I was extremely precocious, because that’s what all my teachers and mentors told me.
(08:23) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yeah, they were a mirror to you in what you were developing, growing. If there’s some kind of, I would say applause or some kind of acceptance, encouragement for that outer shell that you are showing in that image, it seems like, especially young youngsters, ooh, yeah, I want more, let me do more so I could get that kind of, you know, a pause from these grownups.
(08:52) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes, and also because again, we come from many different contexts. And hence, that’s where I come to the thinking out loud with you about the different voices and forms of expression that come from different contexts. As a young person, we’re probably most influenced by our home environment, our families of origin, or even if we are not in our families of origin, then the households in which we find ourselves placed, because you know, a lot of children grow up in homes that are not their biological families of origin. So, I want to honor that reality and their reality, because so much about finding one’s voice, if I may kind of slide into another metaphor about voice, is also about being seen. So, finding our voice is as much about being heard, and being heard and seen. So, that’s why I think, as you as you so acutely point out– and I so appreciate your psychological insights into this, because yes, it’s true as yet young people, we often tend to go to the approval ratings, you know, five stars, you know, the like button, and…
(10:21) Dr. Doreen Downing:
We still do. That’s what you’re saying, don’t we, even as adults? It’s like, how many people like my posts today? Or thumbs up? Yeah, it’s something that motivates us is the acceptance of others who go “Yes!” To us.
(10:39) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes, yes. And so, so part of this idea of multiplicity of voices, you know, that we have may have many voices over a lifetime, or we may have different voices for different circumstances, is also about identity. And, and claiming who we are with our voice. And I think for me part of the process of maturing and my own spiritual development that came alongside but then more systematically, later, because I always had that calling. I just didn’t know what it was that I was hearing. So, I had to fine tune my listening in order to respond to the calling. In fact, I think, having said that, that I would share with you my arising thought, which is that I think that finding your voice is about responding to your calling.
(11:43) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I would like to hear a little bit more about that. But first, as long as you’ve got that word, I’d like to put a plug in for a wonderful book called Callings: Finding and Living Your Authentic Life. And the author is Greg Levoy. And I think that when we– I love the idea of callings and the little signs that are there every single day. And so, I’d like to hear more about what you say about callings.
(12:16) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yeah, so I think I started there with my music and performance background in early life, because my journey was not direct from there, or so it seems, you know, oftentimes a retrospective view, things make more sense. But as we’re going through it, we often do the somersaults of confusion and lack of clarity, which is a form of confusion and facing our obstacles and saboteurs, which is what I work with my clients on in our creative work, which I call transformational creative coaching. So I just want to come back to that maybe a little bit later. But I think the point that I want to jump cut to, for your listeners in with respect for your question about my journey is that I didn’t follow that musical calling, I did not follow it directly. I was influenced very much, I think, by family of origin, where there was a lot of chaos. Okay, I’m a child of divorce, there was a lot of brokenness. And attempts to repair within new family structures and things that work that didn’t work in absences and, and being a young person coming to terms with that not knowing quite how. So, I responded, like many humans do to stressful situations from the limbic brain, which is fight or flight, and I left. So, I left home at a very young age, I just turned 16, I left from New York, moved to San Francisco, where I had spent two summers prior. So, in a way I already had started leaving home when I was 14, and then 15. And then finally, you know, harkening back to that, so-called precociousness that some of my teachers had seen, I didn’t know how to work the system, let me say that. So, I work the system so that I could actually double up, graduate early, and get the hell out of there– there being my hometown in New York– to start my life at 16 years old. A default emancipated minor, right. So, there I was, and I started college at 16. So, the reason I mentioned all that is not to you know, bore people to tears with my diaries, which I has a writer, of course I have, you know, a whole room full of journals that someday will make a great bonfire or book, we’ll see.
(15:15) Dr. Doreen Downing:
That’s a title in itself of a book. Is it a bonfire, or is it a book? That’s your title.
(15:22) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Thank you. I know, I work with that, as a writer and author, you know, whenever I can see the title, I know the book is already written. That’s how I work, you know, in this out, so how I work with my clients from inspired vision to reverse engineer to inhabit it and actually become live it and be it. So, you know, just keep coming back up to the present, because this is where we are in the present moment. But just to kind of fast forward to say that because I started on that academic track so young, really, that that was where I found security, that was where I got self-esteem, that was where I found believing mirrors, you know, people who kept saying, Yeah, you know, you really got this, because they were responding to the outer result to the product, you know, not and still inside, I was incomplete, I was incomplete because I was choosing, I was making bad choices in relationships. So, I would say bad boys or bad choices. Same difference.
(16:30) Dr. Doreen Downing:
And I– can I just tell you that I feel like I am listening to myself. You are you are telling my story. I am enjoying this so much hearing it come out of you, in terms of the struggle to have that kind of identity, and I was a PhD student all the way, what, for 26 years I was in school. And that’s where I got my identity, but the inner—and that’s partly what this whole program is about is finding your voice. And it sounds like your journey is similar, like what’s inside, you know that you were not connected to the healthiest parts of you yet.
(17:11) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Thank you, and thanks. And the yet is you know, where the rubber hits the road. You know, that’s where the soul connection lies. And so, I just want to say for those who may be listening and can’t see, you know, that you and I are both smiling, you know, we’re both beaming, we’re both acknowledging, we’re both seeing each other, which is what I was referencing before, you know, the power of being seen and heard is how we recognize our voice. So, it’s not just finding our voice, but I think that there are patterns of voice recognition. And it’s not only computational, it’s also affective and emotional, and responsive. So, my hope is that our story, Doreen, you know, where we resonate, also, is the story of whoever is listening, because we all as humans, I think at some point or another share in story of how do we come to our breakthroughs from points of relative to major to epic breakdowns? So, you know, one of the workshops I teach, for example, is called from breakdown to breakthrough. So, I know of what I speak, because I have had both, you know, just run of the mill, you know, daily break downs, like, Oh, I’m too tired to even do this today. You know, that feeling and how to redirect energy and also to harness energy, to Epic breakdowns, which is what I’m leading up to on my academic track. So I won’t take you all the way through from beginning to end because we’ve already ascertained Yes, she finally went on and got her PhD and then what, because that then that security of, of having the handrail of academia, if you will, you know, next step, next step, next step, you know, there was never any question, yes, I’m going to keep going. Yes, I’m going to keep going. And then the academic job search, you know, it’s all it’s very predictable in a way, even though the vagaries of it make it not necessarily achievable for many or most because of how things have shifted from how they were years ago when it was almost a guarantee that if you had a PhD, you would get a job, which is no longer the case, of course. And so there I went, you know, and I got an academic job, I’m happy to say, and something happened, Doreen. Something happened that I believe now was cumulative in all those steps from my creative beginnings through my academic achievements and going on and on and through a series of unhealthy relationships and trying to piece myself through it all. I had a breakdown.
(20:25) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yeah, you said it was gonna be epic. So here it is. Wow.
(20:29) Dr. Tressa Berman:
So there was one right so, so what happened, you know, so there I was an assistant professor. And, and I was turned on to this Zen Master. His name was Suzuki Roshi, He brought Rinzai Zen to the United States back in the early 60s. And I was studying with him when he was already very well established and had centers internationally. He was in his 80s at the time, and he lived to be 107. So, he had a Practice Center in the city where I was teaching. So, I started practicing there. And that in itself, as you said, there’s so many stories within stories, but I just want to wrap it up to say that I blame Zen for me leaving academia.
(21:24) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Alright, I think Zen can handle that.
(21:27) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Which is, you know, funny in and of itself, because, you know, no blame, no shame. But really what happened there, Doreen, and for whoever is listening, that something cracked open, that needed to crack open. So, what felt like a breakdown, and believe me, it wasn’t pleasant, nonetheless, drove me to my healing, drove me to seek those inner workings that weren’t working at all. I only thought that they were working because they got me through the assembly line of accolades. And something was deeply missing. So, in my spiritual practices, I mean, now I have actually two lay ordinations in two Buddhist traditions. And I teach meditation at a temple here, where I live. And my years of working as an anthropologist in indigenous communities around the world and the learnings that were imparted to me through those teachers have all infused my understandings, as well as now of course, 25 years of teaching art and creative studies that I bring to what I call transformational creative coaching.
(22:53) Dr. Doreen Downing:
As soon as you said healing– and those people who are listening could hear the tone– your tone changed. As soon as you stepped into saying, “healing”. Yeah, it was, I feel it in my body. It’s a vibration of sound that is very powerful. And so, you are a healer. You are a healer, aren’t you? And so yeah, so tell us more about what you do do now that it feels like you left a situation that seemed like it was your calling, but it wasn’t several times. But then you’ve found that I would say in from your voice where you went was a deeper calling.
(23:42) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Thank you. Yes, thank you for acknowledging that. I love wordplay you know, as a writer, so I often have said to myself, maybe it’s the first time I’ll say it out loud. Hearing is healing. So, are you hearing me and feeling me? So, it’s hearing and feeling is healing?
(24:08) Dr. Doreen Downing:
(24:09) Dr. Tressa Berman:
And you know, with that in mind, too, one thing I learned in facing myself in the Zendo, which is the meditation hall in Zen centers, some practices actually face the wall, is the power of silence. So, I think it’s very interesting as I was thinking about this as a creative conversation about finding your voice, that sometimes the appropriate response can be silence and that to listen to both the inner voice– so another aspect of voice is the inner voice– and also to listen to the voice that’s greater than ourselves. In Buddhist practice, some might call it “buddha mind.” Some might call it our true nature. I sometimes even just say source, or great spirit creator, that when we can quiet the mind and listen to that voice, then we connect our inner voice. And from that connection, we’re able to speak our truth.
(25:44) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Yes, and the truth comes from source, it doesn’t come from trying to please, it doesn’t come from impressing or making ourselves something bigger than we are. It’s so it’s– I feel in listening to you, it’s like a surrender, surrender to truth, what’s true inside of us, and then our voice comes from there.
(26:08) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes, I love what you said about surrender. Because what came up for me when you said the word is letting go. And letting go, in my experience, is probably the fundamental practice of all spiritual practice. Because ultimately, that is what we are ultimately called to do. Right? Let go. So, we talk a lot, a lot of coaches talk about, you know, letting go of what no longer serves you, but you know, come a time where our life cycle is complete, however that may occur is very individual and mostly unknown, then we get to let go of the body that no longer serves us. So, you know, it’s a very delicate walk, you know, we’re very fragile, strong, courageous human beings. And I think that that is the voice from which I speak, as a human being, that has done a lot of work, you know, in this realm, to be able to sit in this in the seat as a guide to encourage, support, and catalyze the work of others.
(27:49) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Wow, not only just encouraged, but the word you use right now catalyze, because that’s an energy. And I think that I know I do this, but I feel you do, too, is that in this listening, that you’re talking about, people get to hear themselves more.
(28:08) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes, it’s always about what is what is your calling. I can only be accountable to my calling, you can only be accountable to your calling. You know, where we get derailed, often, is when, when we and you mentioned in terms of people pleasing. And I consider that a saboteur of the things that can come up in the process of being true to our calling, where we get derailed is when we try to live for the benefit of– I don’t want to say benefit, but– live for the approval of others. Because, you know, in Buddhist practice, we actually vow to practice for the benefit of all beings. But we can only practice for the benefit of all beings if we are practicing our own practice. We can’t practice somebody else’s practice for the benefit of all beings.
(29:11) Dr. Doreen Downing:
I like what you’re saying around deeper connection and the knowing of who you are, what you are, where the source is inside of yourself, tapping into that, and I know you use several words for it that seemed on the verge of sacred. And I would say that that’s true for me, too. I call it essence. And that’s why I call my business essential speaking because it’s– once you tap into the essence of who you are, which is what you’re talking about, the source the spirit, then the speaking comes from that truth, that essence. And we’re nearing the end of our time together. So, I want to give you an opportunity to describe a little bit more about how you work with people, which I think would be great, because you’ve already shown people that you are a holder of possibility.
(30:13) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Thank you. That’s beautiful. I’ll take the hashtag. Well, okay, thanks for the opportunity, you know, as far as transformational creative coaching work, as we’ve been talking about, and I think, you know, demonstrating through our conversation that the way in which we articulate our voice is an aspect of communion. So that communion is what you refer to as the sacred because it’s a synergy that requires one and another, even if that other is, is a calling to our higher source. So, we are connected, and we are inextricably interconnected. And from that standpoint, the transformational part of the work that I do is really the large part of the work that I do as a creative coach, guide, and teacher. That really is the why. So, it’s a discovery process. It’s a mutual discovery process as to what is your why. And we go from there to identify the obstacles and identify the saboteurs and find ways to work with work around work through or redirect to come to the creative, okay, which is yours, whatever, as we’ve been talking about each person’s creative expression is their own unique form. And then the coaching part is, is how I facilitate is how I help guide with the tools and methods that I’ve developed in 30 years of teaching Doreen, so I bring those together with my spiritual practices and learnings to something I call the creative curriculum. So, I teach something I call the creative curriculum as a six to eight week training. And I want to offer right here now on your show today, a small taste of what that could be, because I just decided last week, to roll out a mini session, I’m calling it a solstice session that we’re just gonna do in three short weeks is super, super, super affordable, if like you can afford a latte, you can afford this mini session.
(32:35) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Tell us, tell us.
(32:37) Dr. Tressa Berman:
So, it’s just gonna be three weeks in December, you know, where we’re gonna have up, you get me live, just like I’m talking to you live right now. You bring your mettier your creativity, whatever that may be. And I want to say this is for all kinds of creatives, you know, yes, I work with artists and writers, creative healers, and also, you know, mothers and lawyers. And you know, the creative process knows no bounds. Okay? So, whatever it is bring it to the table. So, we’re going to do a very quick but deep dive into one aspect of that, and give you something to work on, then we’re going to come back to it before the solstice and then we’re going to have a solstice celebration around it. So, I really hope to see some of you there and yourself more than welcome, anyone, everyone listening, all levels, everyone welcome. So, you can find out more about it. Simply by emailing me. Just email me, you can also book a laser exploration call with me so that we can, you know, get a little bit of background about what it is you want to work on. And that’s all I’ll say for now. You know, I would just hope to make this offering available for whoever feels inspired or called to take me up on it. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I do what I do you know to be of service.
(34:01) Dr. Doreen Downing:
And what is the email they can use?
(34:05) Dr. Tressa Berman:
So my email is TRESSA@TRANSFORMATIONAL-CREATIVE-COACHING.COM. And same for the website, you can just go to the website transformational creative, coaching calm and you can find me and my email and more about my work there.
(34:36) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Great. I think one of the last lines that I’m taking with me is just what you said, “creative process has no bounds.” That to me feels like we are potential is limitless.
(34:53) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Yes Doreen, and harkening back to what you said about possibilities. So when we clear the mind of what we think, what we think we need to do or “should”, that forbidden word, you know what opens up is, is a sacred space of possibility. And that’s where we work from, what I call the creative unconscious. So that’s what the work is about, tapping into that, and bringing it forward into form, whatever your form is.
(35:25) Dr. Doreen Downing:
Great, and my form is giving you a platform like we did today. And this has been a creative process, a joint kind of, both of us dancing in the moment to see what comes through us as teachers, as guides, as coaches, as possibility makers.
(35:49) Dr. Tressa Berman:
I love it. Yes, dancing in the moment of possibility, that’s another title for another book.
(35:58) Dr. Doreen Downing:
We’ll co-write it. Thank you. Thank you, Tressa.
(36:02) Dr. Tressa Berman:
Thank you so much. Blessings to everyone.
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Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: https://www.doreen7steps.com.
Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speaking: https://www.doreen7steps.com.