Meet the Spirit Junkies

Gabrielle Bernstein wants to talk about your soul.

Maybe even to save it.

She wears five-inch heels, an electric-blue, strapless silk dress and one priceless accessory: a glow so radiant it is almost incandescent.

On a rainy Vancouver night, several hundred young women — and one man — have turned up to hear the New York Times bestselling author of Spirit Junkie speak about her journey from hot mess to cool guru.

A glitz-addicted, coke-snorting Manhattan club promoter in thousand-dollar shoes whose holy grail was access to the VIP room, Bernstein was physically, emotionally and spiritually gutted by the time she hit 25.

She quit partying, and was reborn on a meditation pillow.

“Now I’m the happiest person I know,” she announces to the sold-out audience. Then she flashes a wicked grin. “I kept the shoes.”

The audience cheers.

Two things are clear: Bernstein is no ordinary spiritual teacher, and this is no ordinary Vancouver crowd.

There are more boots, bangles, blow-dries and important-looking belts in the auditorium than make it to most fashion shows, and the buzz in the room is more cocktail party than dharma talk.

Bernstein is rebranding spirituality, making it sexy and sellable to a younger generation of women. And they’re buying.

The new spirit junkies are as comfortable exchanging insights on forgiveness, prayer and divine alignment as they are talking marketing.

They might anoint themselves with essential oils and talk unabashedly about “internal shifts” but they don’t look like your horny-toed Birkenstock-wearing, crystal-toting aunties.

“My audience is trendsetting former cynics in hot shoes,” says Bernstein.

Call it a divine shift in the industry of the spirit. Suddenly, it’s cool to be conscious.Bernstein’s event was produced by a Vancouver duo, the Conscious Divas. Julia King and Kate Muker are local entrepreneurs whose chick-focused, web-based networking group taps into the new wave, conscious-cool living.

Their Diva Date Nights are popular monthly events where business suits — and demeanours — are cast aside for soulful self-exploration and a hefty dose of sisterly bonding.

“We wanted to change the paradigm of what a group of spiritual woman would look like,” said King.

They also wanted to create a business that worked. They intend to grow their site, connecting women around the globe.

The Divas are part of a larger trend: websites like L.A.-based and Bernstein’s use social media to connect like-minded women who want to marry spiritual seeking with real-world achievement.

The ultimate goal is inner peace, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of less virtuous desires: You can get to the mountaintop in that fabulous pair of heels, and when you get there, you just might get handed a million-dollar contract instead of a set of commandments carved in stone.

“You can be your authentic self, be beautiful, dynamic, out there, in style and be really connected,” says Bernstein in an interview the morning before her Vancouver event.

Although the sky is grey and clotted with clouds and rain blisters the windows, Bernstein wears pink chandelier earrings, bare legs and a Helmet Lang bandeau minidress. She peppers her sentences with swear words. It’s beyond refreshing.

“Being a spiritual person is being an authentic person,” she says. “This is who I am. Many spiritual teachers don’t know how to carry the message … I’m unapologetic about my marketing skills because I have a really important message to carry.”

Named one of Forbes’s top-20 best-branded women, Bernstein blends a quirky personality (her first book, Add more ~ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, features a barefoot Bernstein wearing angel wings, standing on a skateboard) with a thoughtful prescription for a life where spiritual practice is the cornerstone for happiness and success.

Bernstein is a student of Marianne Williamson, author of A Return To Love, and a student of A Course in Miracles, a text that uses traditional Christian terminology.

Bernstein understands that the g-word (God) puts some people off, in the same way the idea of the barefoot, bearded guru that looks like he’s been rolled in tofu is off-putting to others.

Bernstein is giving spirituality a makeover, and a new lexicon.

Forgiveness is rebranded as the “f-word,” and inner guidance is your “~ing.”

A miracle, she explains, is just a shift in perception. You may not be able to control your circumstances, but a change in perception can transform the way you “experience your experiences.”What Bernstein is teaching has little to so with the wishful-thinking style of pop self-help like The Secret.

She’s the first to concede that changing your mindset, and your life, is damned hard.

“I work my ass off,” said Bernstein.

She doesn’t just mean marketing, writing books, public speaking, coaching in person and online, vlogging on and running

When she says: “I work it like a full-time job,” she also means applying the principals that keep her sane, and happy: praying — (“God, Show me what you got” is one of the ways she checks in), stilling her mind with daily meditation (“taking a fiver” means “stop, drop and meditate”), taking responsibility for her own thoughts and actions through exercises, affirmations and more prayer.

“It’s really when we change the internal condition that the outside experience follows, too,” Bernstein says.

Conscious Divas co-founder Julia King agrees: “For me, being spiritual is all about being in flow,” she says.

A corporate accountant in her “former life,” King’s “journey” began some 15 years ago when she was struggling with infertility. Traditional medicine had failed to resolve the problem, so her doctor referred her to a naturopath. The move would change her life in more ways than one: two children later, she became a student of Reiki energy healing and a life coach.

Muker grew up in East Vancouver, in what she describes as a “pretty hostile urban environment.” Unhappiness led her first to a psychologist, and then to meditation.

“Meditation really provided me with a space of quiet, to separate that I am not my mind, I am not all those thoughts that are continually spinning around like a Rolodex.”

When Muker and King met, they started talking about how they could share what had worked with them, monetize the experience, “and make the world a better place.”

The name, Conscious Divas, appeared to King in a dream.At a recent Diva Date night, hosted at Obasan in Kitsilano, the scent of oil of geranium floats in the air.

Some 50 women chatter and exchange business cards before melting on to organic mattresses and closing their eyes while King leads them in a meditation.

“Imagine a ball of golden light above your head,” she intones softly.

Susan Washington, a Vancouver success coach, the evening’s featured speaker, sits in half-lotus. That same morning she had been the featured facilitator of a more traditional group of business people at the Vancouver Club. Shortening the distance between what appear to be different worlds, and being fluent in different communication styles, is part of the goal.

Success, and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.

“You don’t have to be some weird, inaccessible guru on a hill to have a spiritual practice,” said Washington in an interview before the event.

“Applying the principles of a spiritual practice is about figuring out “what we are here for — and then taking action.”

Whether those principals come from Buddha, Bernstein or a book that fell off the shelf at your local bookstore, the process is the same, says Washington. “A commitment to inquiry, finding out what’s getting in your way internally, and making change.

“There is nothing flaky about taking charge of your own life and doing your best, so let’s get serious about bringing those gifts into the world and getting happy. That’s my religion. Let’s use our potential, not sit on the sidelines and stall.”Creating a life, and a work life, connected to values is a core spirit junkie principal, and it’s not just women getting in on the action.

Will Blunderfield, a Vancouver singer and yoga teacher, wears black eyeliner, nail polish and the same kind of exuberant glow as Bernstein.

His “Glee Yoga” draws jammed classrooms at Yyoga and West Coast Hot Yoga, and his new CD Hallelujah (Nettwerk/Nutone) just shot up to No. 1 on iTunes World Music.

Blunderfield has happily embraced his role as student, and teacher, in the new spirit brigade while pursuing a career in pop music — infused with and influenced by devotional Kirtan chant.

Blunderfield studied musical theatre in New York and tried the pop route, making top 75 on Canadian Idol, and found success when he found a purpose.

He is as fluent in the text of the Bhagavad Gita as he is pouring forth pop, rock, devotional Kirtan and his own compositions: “It’s cool to be conscious, it’s cool to tap into strong reasons for whatever you’re doing, whether you’re raising a business or raising kids or writing a book.”

Before Blunderfield takes off on a U.S. tour, he’ll be featured on Life and Style with Zara, a new Vancouver lifestyle show created by Zara Durrani that explores spiritual experience in contemporary life.

Durrani, 29, is a Vancouver model and actress from Pakistan. The devout Muslim is not going to hide her body, or her spirituality.

Durrani is a new brand of practising Muslim. She might be doing a bikini shoot one day, and studying religious text the next. She enjoys a glass of wine, and is just as likely to post heart-shaped stickers with inspirational affirmations on her mirror in the morning as she is to turn to the ancient wisdom of the Koran.

Durrani said the deeper she delves, the more universal the messages about faith, forgiveness and love become, whether they are from the Koran or from a personal growth text like The Four Agreements.

“Who is to say what is spiritual and what is not?” asks Durrani. “Spirituality, for me, is about finding grounding. I felt like there was a need in me to be a seeker, to connect with something larger.”Newly minted Vancouver spirit junkie April Teosico Bellia, creator of Granola Girl granola (available at Whole Foods), stumbled into a whole new life after a personal trainer introduced mini meditations into their sessions.

She soon ditched her successful wedding cake business to design a super-food granola, and started her own conscious networking group, the Serendipity Tea Parties.

“Being conscious means being aware of myself and my immediate surroundings and my community, so that everything I do is for a greater good,” said Teosico Bellia.

Connecting with something larger may be the yearning of a spiritual seeker, but the look has changed. Or, as Gabby Bernstein puts it, “the container is different.”

For the record, Bernstein isn’t really all about the Laboutins, but “it’s a fun part of the gig,” she says.

“It’s a very fun time to be a teacher. People are open … and they are eating this stuff up. They are changemakers, and their voices are heard throughout the blogosphere, the twittersphere, they are awakened to this entrepreneurial spirit, if you can awaken this person, and she has a voice, and is ready to teach and to carry the message then you can awaken the world.”

If she — and the rest of the spirit junkies — have their way, we’ll all soon be conscious: we’ll “choose love” more often than fear, we’ll make positive changes and reach others through our successful arts and business ventures and, of course, we’ll still have the shoes.

Now that’s a reason to meditate.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

One comment on “Meet the Spirit Junkies

  1. Dr.Saritha on

    It’s surprising that young ladies are turning into conscious divas nowadays! I love to add that I am also a follower of spiritual awareness through meditation. I will recommend a dose of meditation along with medication to all those suffering from lifestyle diseases.Wishing everyone a wonderful awareness moment!

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