Whether or not it plays an active role in our day-to-day lives, most of us recognize the tremendous benefits of meditation. Its proven ability to reduce stress, increase self-awareness and improve overall wellbeing make it well worth our attention. Some of us have personally experienced positive life changes as a result of regular practice while others are searching for the motivation and discipline to be more consistent — or simply to begin. As with some of you I imagine, meditation is something I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve felt a bit blocked in my follow through — at least until recently, when I had the pleasure of connecting with women’s meditation expert and innovator Danielle Kayembe.
The event was held at a trendy venue in the Lower East Side and was sponsored by Dreamers // Doers, an inspiring community of high-impact female innovators and entrepreneurs, so as you can imagine — the room was buzzing with energy and intensity. After a brief introduction by D//D founder Gesche Haas, Danielle Kayembe began the evening by leading us through a 10-minute transportive meditation that lifted the energy to an even higher and more powerful level. The experience resonated with many of us in the audience, and inspired me to connect with Danielle in hopes of sharing her story with you.
During our subsequent interview, Danielle Kayembe expressed her dedication to empowering women through meditation, social impact, business and private coaching – as well as what her upbringing was like, moving from the Democratic Republic of Congo to St. Louis, Missouri as a young child. Her career path has been anything but a straight line – as is the case with many game changers out there – and her tenacity, authenticity and courage are admirable. Beyond her resume full of extraordinary accomplishments, what resonates most about Danielle in person is her clear sense of purpose, her beautiful confidence and her natural ability to connect. Below are some highlights from our inspiring conversation.
After graduating from Stanford University, Danielle initially followed the path of many of her classmates and moved to New York to pursue a high-powered career in business (being an entrepreneur was not yet trendy). But after 3 intense years as a management consultant and nearly 5 as an overworked investment banker, Danielle reached her limit. “I got to a point in my career where I would come home and sleep not even on the couch, but on an easy-chair, because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up in time for work.”
Major Career Wake-up Call. “All of my life I’ve been a very big reader. We moved a lot when I was growing up and books were my friends — they formed the fabric of who I am. Years later, a friend of mine sent me an invitation to join Friendster (a popular internet site at the time, similar to what Facebook is now). When I went online to register, I was requested to list my favorite books and realized in that moment that my favorite books were from college — and that I had really stopped reading. This was a profound moment for me that made me question what I was allowing. I’ve never been someone who seeks recognition or status or money; I always thought I would be a bohemian writer type or a creative, and so I was surprised I was working in business. I knew then that I needed to leave.”
Discovering Her Passion. After leaving her job in banking, Danielle took a year off, during which she discovered meditation one afternoon through a radio program. She recalls the commentator having a simple description of how to meditate and, for some reason, being inspired to try it. “And it was elemental – there was almost a shift in my DNA from the first time I did it. I was not the same person after that very first meditation. My first session was 20 to 30 minutes, and over the course of the next few weeks it became incredibly powerful for me. It more or less took over my life.”
Reaching the Next Level. After meditating on her own for awhile, Danielle began looking for guidance from books and was frustrated to discover that nothing she found was resonating with her personal experiences. She realized she might need outside help. “Once I put it out there, through serendipity I was led to a meditation class in New York that was led by a Tibetan monk. I explained what was happening after class to him and he knew exactly what was I was experiencing. I began working with him once a week.” Gradually, she increased her studies and began spending weekends at monasteries in the New York tri-state area and eventually connected with an abott in Woodstock, New York four years ago.
Life-changing Breakthrough: Women and Meditation. After years of advancing in her meditation practice, Danielle recalls a major realization that provoked her to design meditations specifically for women. “I realized that energetically when I was doing meditation something didn’t feeling right. It was like a musical instrument where the tuning was just hitting me wrong. It suddenly struck me that the meditation practices I had spent years studying actually come from women and have been adapted for men’s bodies. I had never really explored this while studying, but once I realized it everything ‘clicked’. Women generate wisdom. In Tibetan Buddhist teachings, women are wisdom and men represent compassion. But because men built and controlled the temples and monasteries, they were able to study with women and adapt these meditations to the male body. These adaptations are what is most widely taught today.”
When Danielle shared her newfound frustrations with her first meditation teacher years later, he agreed. “Heart-centered or crown-centered meditation is what is generally taught and this is in fact the opposite of what women should be doing.”
Meditation Practices for Women. As a passionate innovator, expert and leader in the new field of meditation for women, Danielle Kayembe has developed several unique and effective practices expressly for women; she currently shares these during her live meditation sessions and will soon share them online as well. For more information on upcoming events or to connect with Danielle, please visit her website at www.daniellekayembe.com. We look forward to the continuation of this important dialogue.
* Song For This Moment: “Run The World” by Beyoncé.