Leading with Purpose and Presence with Gabrielle Bernstein

Today my guest is Gabrielle Bernstein, the New York Times best-selling author of May Cause Miracles.

Gabrielle Bernstein appears regularly as an expert on NBC’s Today Show, has been featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday as a next-generation thought leader, and was named “a new role model” by the New York Times. She is also the author of the books Add More ~ing to Your LifeSpirit Junkie and the new book Miracles Now (published in April 2014). Gabby is also the founder HerFuture.com, a social networking site for women to inspire, empower and connect – AND, she is a featured presenter at the 2014 Emerging Women Live Conference in New York City.

In today’s episode, Gabrielle and I spoke about:

  • What she means by: “Everything happens for a reason”
  • Shining light on the darkness of fear with our sense of responsibility and purpose
  • Working with affirmations and always showing up with presence
  • Making forgiveness a practice
  • Surrendering and letting the universe take over


Tune in and listen to “Leading with Purpose and Presence” with the powerful and fierce: Gabrielle Bernstein.

Subscribe to the Emerging Women podcast on iTunes.


Hi, and welcome, Gabby!

Gabrielle Bernstein: Well, I’m happy to be here! It’s so wonderful.

CP: I’m so excited that we’re talking and that you’re part of the Emerging Women lineup this year.

GB: I cannot wait for that.

CP: It’s going to be great. You know, it’s funny, when I was looking at your stuff, I came across a video of yours. And I was like, “Who is this person?” I was just sort of getting to know you, virtually—stalking you—and I pulled up a video, and I don’t know if I shared this with you or not, but you were speaking into the video and you were kind of leaning in and you were talking about, “Everything happens for a reason.” And you were almost like—you were fierce. And I’m like, “Wow, this woman’s fierce,” and you were like, “A book falls off your library shelf, and it means something!” And I was like, “This girl has got to be part of Emerging Women.”

GB: [Laughs]

CP: But can you really explain that? Does that really mean something, if a book falls off your library shelf? What do you mean by that?

GB: We’re always being guided. We’re always receiving a tremendous amount of guidance. And the moment that we can say words like, “There has to be a better way,” or, “I’m not happy, I need help,” we sign an invisible contract with the universe, with God, with Spirit, whatever you believe in, and we say, “Show me what you’ve got. Show me a better way.”

And those moments when we sign that sacred contract and accept that invitation, we open an invisible door to receive all of this guidance. And a tremendous amount of guidance comes through in very unique ways. One of the ways is [that] the book falls off the shelf! Or we see numbers in sequence, or we hear exactly what we needed to hear from a friend who is just divinely placed to tell us that story we needed to receive. And so all of that guidance is coming to us and is always available to us. We just have to open up our awareness to receive it.

CP: And every single thing is meant to be in this way. Everything that happens is communication from the universe?

GB: Yes, we’re always in communication with the universe, at all times. I genuinely believe that if we’re in a low vibration with negative thoughts, negative actions, and poor eating behaviors and addictive patterns, then we’re just having the low-level conversation with the universe, and we’re attracted towards us what’s funky out there.

Whereas, it’s quite the same the opposite [way]: when we’re in a higher-level state, in a higher-level conversation and intention, we are in a conversation that’s very empowering with the universe. And that’s when we start to receive that guidance that we so need, and that’s when we start to receive the resources that we need, and that’s when we start to receive the support that we need and the doors that open for us, and a real flow of energy starts to come into our [lives].

CP: Is that the purpose of the book Miracles Now, to get to the point where we are—because we’re not always in that heightened state, right?

GB: Yes. Definitely one of the purposes of the book. So one of the main purposes of the book is to de-stress and create more flow. So the high purpose of this book is to give people very simple “do them now,” tangible tools that they can access at any time to reorganize their energy, shift their perceptions, move their beliefs around a bit, and bring them back to that higher-level presence. And as they start to elevate their presence on a moment-to-moment basis, they start to experience a completely different reaction and response from them world.

So that is our responsibility: our happiness, our experiences, our livelihood [are] our [responsibilities]. And we must take [them] very seriously, and we must take the necessary action steps to really support ourselves energetically so that we can have that flow in our [lives].

CP: Now, I want to get into the book. I have some favorites that I want to talk about—you have 108 techniques to increase the flow, to remove blocks, to release fear, and I want to go through some of those because I think it just really speaks to the work. And you have certain themes that are running through.

But before we do that, it is rare to find someone so early in their career so—I keep using the word “fierce” because that’s what I get from you. It’s so funny because when I look at your picture, it’s not what I see, but when I hear your material, your content comes through very passionately and like a laser. And I’m curious to see if you could just give us a little background. How did you come to this level of depth and focus and commitment so early in your life?

GB: I’ve been teaching these practices since 2005. So for almost a decade now, I have been a spiritual teacher. I’ve been a spiritual student my whole life. I was brought up in a home—I was brought up by a yogi metaphysician mother, who brought me in and out of ashrams and taught me to meditate as a child. So this dialogue and this conversation, this type of content, was always very present in my awareness and in my life.

And then I turned my back on it for a while, and then when I was 25 years old, I hit a big bottom. I had a quarter-life crisis, and I really had that turning point of looking at my life. I was stuck in drug addiction and love addiction and work addiction, and pretty screwed up at that time. But I had spiritual seeds that had been planted, so I knew that there was a better way. So at that point, I chose to shift gears. I got sober at that time, and then picked up my spiritual roots and my meditation practice, and have been cultivating a great inner awareness ever since.

So the fierceness that you are speaking of, I believe, is really just my commitment to God and my commitment to Spirit and my commitment to a world beyond our physical site. I am at a place in my own spiritual awareness that I genuinely believe—and this isn’t for everybody, so if a listener that’s hearing this is taken out by this, I apologize, but it’s my truth—that we chose our bodies and our experiences so that we can come back and learn great lessons so that we can teach them.

And so I’m going to do whatever I can with this physical presence that I’ve been given so that I can be an extension of the truth that I have learned. And that fierceness comes because I have such a strong conviction with what it is that I teach, and I know this is the time when we deeply need these tools and principles to balance out the energy of these time. So I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to be a messenger and to choose love.

CP: I love the loudness of your message. Please don’t hold back—not that you would, doesn’t sound like you’re going to—during this interview, because we really want to feel you. It’s interesting that you talk a lot about choosing love, and again, you just said we choose what our lessons are for this world and this lifetime. And that is kind of a hot topic, when people have very intense tragedies that happen to them and they’re trying to make sense of, “God, did I bring this on myself?” Can you talk a little bit about that since it is so hot, and see if you can help us really understand what you’re saying when you say that we choose that which shows up in our lives?

GB: I believe that some of us have been dealt more difficult decks of cards, right? Some of us may have been given very difficult circumstances. But we have our specific examples, such as Gandhi or Nelson Mandela or people who have overcome great, great, great trauma to only step out and become great leaders.

So I think that in those instances where you may individually feel like a victim or feel like you have really just been dealt this really crappy deck of cards, why don’t you turn to your predecessors who have been the voices and the leaders who have come before us and ignited that in you, and recognized that Mandela within you, and recognized that the other person is you, that you have the capacity to really step out in that greatness and, through your own healing and your own practice of perceiving love and your own practice of forgiveness and your own spiritual experience, you can be a guide, too.

So that, I think, is one of those clear ways to look at some of the difficult ways that we show up for life. But ultimately, so much of what happens—whether it be a traumatic experience that’s very, very, very scary or a traumatic experience that may be somewhat simple—we have an option in both situations. We can lean on the spiritual principles of forgiveness and we can lean on our desire to change our perceptions, and we can use prayer and meditation as a mechanism for healing. Or we can be angry. We can be resentful. We can carry that anger and victim mentality around with us for decades.

And those are the choices that we make. By no means am I saying that we should spiritually bypass our discomfort. I believe that a lot of the healing that we must go through comes through feeling our feelings and going to the depths of those feelings. I’m being trained to teach Emotional Freedom Technique, which is otherwise known as tapping, and [you learn to] just feel it, to just go there and feel it. And then as you feel it, you will heal, and in that healing you can come out the other side.

CP: Let’s talk a little bit about fear, because it just seems like that is such a paralyzing force. And in order to get the flow going and to actually feel like I’m open to the messages of the universe, sometimes I myself feel like I can get completely stuck in this fear zone. Why is it that you focus on fear? It seems to be that I’m not the only one. But what is it about that fear and love, opposites, that feels juicy for you in this book?

GB: You know, I think that fear is one of the main, main stories and main reasons that we block that presence of power, we block our greatness. And a huge message throughout the book that I think really combats fear in a big way is that the book is also set up like a teacher’s manual. It’s designed in such a way that, as the author, I’m empowering the reader to master the lessons in their own life so they can be an expression of those truths.

And so when we take on the responsibility of becoming a teacher, in whatever form that means for us—not necessarily meaning that we have to go get a [mega loan] or just go write a book, but being a teacher to our children, or being a teacher to our co-workers, or being a teacher to our loved ones. When we accept that call, what happens is that we have this really interesting relationship to fear where we have to look at our fear and say, “Well, I’ve got work to do, fear, and that’s my responsibility, that’s my purpose, that’s my intention, and I’m choosing not to let this energy stand in the way.” When we start to have a greater sense of responsibility and purpose, that can shine so much light on that darkness.

And I also believe that we have to be in the process of unlearning and remembering. So [what] I’m learning this year is that we chose to believe in our children and we chose to pick up and we chose to carry on, and remember the love and the light that we are. And that unlearning and remembering comes to us also in many different forms.

For some people, they needed to become a student and a follower of Emerging Women and they learned from the teachings that you provide. Or some people might start reading my book. Or some people might find a Buddhist path. Whatever spiritual path you are lead to, that is your opportunity to go through the process of unlearning and remembering. So when you find that guidance to that path, show up for it and use the tools that you are given.

CP: I think at some point in the book, or I’ve heard you say this in your material, that fear and love are opposites, and it’s not necessarily so obvious when one thinks about that. What’s the interplay between fear and love?

GB: I’m a student and a teacher of a metaphysical text called A Course in Miracles. And A Course in Miracles teaches that fear and love cannot coexist, that one is the opposite of the other. And where there is love, it will cast out all fear. And so the fear that we choose is the separation from love, the disconnect from love. When we start to bring that loving perspective back in, we remember that fear is no longer real.

So that’s a practice. It’s a practice, and it’s a commitment. It’s a reprogramming and it’s a mind training, which is really what A Course in Miracles is. It’s a mind training. And so these lessons comes to us as we open our minds to receive guidance.

CP: And when you say “love,” what kind of love? Are you thinking self-love or love for others? Love in general, for the universe?

GB: Love, in this case, being the presence of inspiration, the presence of intuition, the presence of an empowering voice within, the presence of God, if you understand what that means to you. And so we need to get to a place where we start to raise our relationship to that voice.

I wrote Miracles Now for the people—because, through my own 10 years now of [going] through this unlearning and remembering, I have been in a process of moving from one point [of] living in darkness and then having fleeting moments of light to now living in the light with fleeting moments of darkness. So my hope and my intention for my readers is to, through these tools and practices, live one moment at a time in more and more light, so that their experiences—that they too live in the light with those fleeting moments of darkness.

And so that, once again, comes with our commitment and our conviction. And A Course in Miracles says that these miracles arise out of conviction. So it’s our conviction that brings forth that truth and those miracles and that commitment to love. And that voice of love starts to be raised, the volume of that voice starts to be raised and amplified, and the volume of that fear-based voice starts to become weaker and smaller and softer.

CP: Do you feel that, as you continue to practice this, that—and it sounds like this has happened in your own life—fear actually takes on a different texture and a feeling? That it becomes more, I don’t know, subtle or harder to identify?

GB: Yes, I think that’s exactly right. People will say, “Well, do you still get fearful?” The answer is, “Of course I do,” but I don’t believe in that fear anymore. Is the fear there? Yes. But do I believe in it? No. And that’s a big, big, big deal. That’s a big deal.

CP: So it’s just there, and you experience it, but it’s not running your life or you’re not paralyzed and you’re moving through it?

GB: Yes, that’s exactly right. Yes.

CP: It just seems like a lot of things are fear. I guess this is what I’m trying to get at. It seems, when you think about it, anxiety is fear, stress is fear, self-doubt—it seems like that fear is such a big part of—

GB: Yes, so whenever we’re in a place of judgment or attack or separation or doubt or littleness, that’s fear, that’s all fear-based. You know the difference, everyone listening knows the difference, if you’ve ever been in a place of low-level anxiety and tension and fear versus a place of [a] committed path and love and faith. And so the antidote to fear is faith, and that comes with our commitment to that faith.

CP: OK, so here’s a couple of things that I just stuck out, and they’re different numbers, but #12 of your techniques illustrates the principle that all minds are joined. Please talk about that.

GB: Yes. This is from A Course in Miracles, which is really like, you might think that you’re sitting at your desk being so kind and appropriate, but your thoughts are, “I hate my boss, I hate my boss, I hate my boss.” The energy from that thought is exuding off of your physical presence, and that energy is being picked up. And that energy is enforcing what your experience is. So your experience is not necessarily based on your actions and what you say or what you do, but actually how you be, the energy that comes from you is what is the true expression of your experience.

And so the work that we must do as spiritual students is to clean up our thoughts to the best of our ability through practices like forgiveness and prayer and meditation so that we can then come out the other side cleared of the energy. Because the thoughts hold the energy, and as we clear the thoughts we clear the energy of our experiences.

So “all minds are joined” means that your thoughts are being felt miles and miles away. I was mad at somebody this past week for something that did that I thought was really uncool. And I’m not responding, necessarily, with words or emails or letting her know how I feel, but I’m telling you, she knows exactly how I feel just because of how strong my energy is. That can be very manipulative, too, so you have to be very careful with that.

CP: So here’s my question with that: you talk about forgiveness and other practices, but you never talk about affirmations. I’d love for you to speak about that, because usually when people want—

GB: I actually have a way of work with affirmations that is really helping emphasize the importance of the energy work, not just the verbal work. Because saying an affirmation or reading an affirmation carries a tremendous amount of power, because words have so much power, but we have to make sure that we’re not just throwing the words over the negative funky feelings. And that we use the words, in essence, to change the feeling. Because the feeling is what is attracting—the vibration of the way you feel is what is attracting your likeness.

So the best way to use an affirmation is to make sure you’re using affirmations that create a feeling within you, that really elevate you on a visceral level. And so I actually do use affirmations a lot. I have an affirmation alarm clock app called Spirit Junkie where you can set an affirmation to wake you up in the morning. Rather than waking up to your crazy emails or your text messages, you can wake up to this affirmation to set yourself up to win with those empowering words from the onset of the day.

I believe in the power of words. I believe in the power of intentions. And so whatever affirmations you’re using, make sure that you’re emotionally and spiritually connected to them so that they create a feeling within you that can carry you. And that feeling is what attracts what it is that you desire towards you or, at low levels, what you don’t want. So use words and affirmations that elevate you and bring you up so that you can start to really show the presence of greatness within your life.

CP: OK, and is it possible to just focus on the feeling and the state of consciousness and not so much on the words?

GB: Absolutely. I think the words are just symbols, right? The words are there to help that feeling, but it’s even better if we can get to the feeling without the words.

CP: That’s what I was thinking! I mean, sometimes when I’m in the affirmations, the words distract me from actually feeling the state of consciousness. So for me, I just sort of go right for the feeling and don’t even do the words, but I’m just curious to see if that’s still a technique that’s valid. Seems like it.

GB: Yes. I really genuinely believe that we must be in the presence of really owning our emotional state and owning the presence of our energy. That’s actually the second lesson—the main, main purpose of the book Miracles Now as well is to give people the greater understanding that their presence is their greatest source of power.

Yogi Bhajan said, “If your presence doesn’t work, neither will your words.” A huge part of this book, the intention for this book, is to help readers to start to really know the difference between their power presence and their low-level presence, and to start to show up with just their presence. You don’t actually have to always show up with your words or your perfect suits or your perfect look and your perfect hair. It’s much more [about], how do you protect yourself from an energetic standpoint? What’s the energy imprint that you’re leaving on the space that you enter into?

CP: OK, “Make forgiveness a practice.” Talk to us about that. Self-forgiveness? Forgiveness of others?

GB: Both, both! I think one of my greatest virtues is that I forgive myself every moment. It’s a constant dance of forgiveness that I am in with my own states of mind. Every moment offers me an opportunity to check out, to feel disconnected, to feel not good enough, to feel like I should have done something different or better, or I’m not like the person that I’m being out on Instagram, or whatever we do. And so though the process of forgiveness, we can unlearn those fears and dwell in that space of love and that energy of love and that voice of love starts to become very loud within us.

And so forgiveness can be a little overwhelming for people, but I like to teach forgiveness from the prospective that it’s not so much about what we do, it’s much more about really opening up to the desire to forgive. And with that willingness and desire to forgive, we are given all the resources that we need. That’s maybe when a person comes back into our life and we needed to confront them. Or a fearful situation takes over and we have to show up for it and learn the lesson that we needed to learn. Or a book comes into our life. I think the willingness to forgive is the greatest opportunity to create that change.

CP: OK, just [to] ask, [and] this is something that I feel that a lot of women in our audience are overcoming or they’re working on: feeling fearful about asking for what we want. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

GB: Yes. I think if we want to receive great support in life, we have to get in the habit of asking for it. And once again, asking with an energy of desperation creates a weird, bizarre response.

CP: [Laughs] Right.

GB: But asking with a clean energy that is filled with love and compassion and release—I think asking with a sense of release releases outcome and it releases tension [means] that ask will be well-received. And so rather than being afraid of asking, just learn to ask with an intention that is clean and then you can trust and know that if that intention is clean behind what you’re asking for, you can genuinely know that what you will receive back will be clean.

CP: Tell us what you mean by “surrender.” You have that throughout the book. It’s one thing to communicate with the universe and really understand what the signs are, and I think that somehow the surrender part is the toughest part. Once you get a sign, “OK, now I have to do this,” and you don’t want to do it and you really have to keep making that trusting step, how do you actually stop the will from directing your life and really surrendering and letting the universe do that for you?

GB: You know, surrender really comes through prayer. So we have to get ourselves into a constant contact with our inner guidance system. And as we start to cultivate that connection and that awareness that comes through prayer, the intention setting in a prayer, we can really let go and allow.

So for me, I don’t think surrender comes from dropping everything or some radical act. Surrender, for me, comes through a prayer of conviction. So I wake up every day and I surrender my day over to a power greater than me. I say, “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say?” And just tone—this is a prayer from A Course in Miracles. I just say, “Show me what you’ve got. Take it over.”

And that’s when we step aside. We get out of the way. We surrender our will and allow a power greater than ourselves to take over. And that is, by far, one of the simplest things to do, but we make it so hard.

CP: It is hard! Why is it so hard?

GB: Because we don’t believe in it. Because our ego believes that we have to control. Our ego believes that we have to make things happen. Our ego believes that we need to push and scream and force things to occur. And that belief system is what really, really keeps us stuck in the dark. So it’s our responsibility to really learn how to navigate that belief system in a different way.

CP: But don’t you think there is a sort of a grace-and-grit combo?

GB: I believe that prayer without action is kind of nothing, and action without prayer is nothing, right? So we have to combine our spiritually aligned action. And we have to take action from a place of intuition, not from a place of fear. So I take a lot—you know me well enough now to know that I am an action-oriented woman.

CP: Holy moly. Yes you are.

GB: But every action I take comes from a very intuitive place.

CP: Right.

GB: I check in with my spirit, I check in with my spirit guide, I check in with angels, “Would you have me do this?” When I send out an email newsletter, I put out my mantras as I press “send.” When I post a tweet, if it doesn’t feel connected, I delete it. Every action I take has to feel connected to my highest presence and my highest truth, and if it doesn’t, then I will do whatever it takes to release it or forgive it or take it back.

CP: OK, here’s a question. It’s personal. A lot of what’s in the book, and just in your work in general, is to really raise your vibration, raise that communication with the universe, get into that receiving state. And in order to do that, you don’t want to be, like you said, eating super low-vibration food or hanging around people [who] are not in your best interest or having habits that are bad. I mean, you seem to lead a very clean lifestyle.

GB: I do.

CP: Do you have any bad habits?

GB: Yes. I’ve been sober almost nine years, so I just keep clearing more and more. I just got rid of sugar. A bad habit is going off the reservation sometimes with the chaos. Little things can still make me frazzled. It’s the little stuff that just kicks me outward. The big stuff I’ve totally got under control. That’s a bad habit.

I think I definitely have a bad habit of being very, very focused in work and my career and building this movement that I’m creating and co-creating with everyone around me, and not focusing enough on how much fun I have. So there’s actually a lesson in Miracles Now called, “measure your success on how much fun you’re having.”

CP: I saw that! Yes.

GB: I made that my New Year’s resolution one year because my husband’s really, really fun. He teaches me a lot about how to create more fun, whether it be going to see live music or art or just getting really into a discussion. I just started to [think], “Thank God I married this person who just keeps me grounded in the world and reminds me that it’s not all about how many people come to my Wake Up. It’s about, how much fun can I have while I do it?”

CP: All right. Well, thanks so much for your time today. This has been—it’s like your book—very focused and 108 techniques and superpower-punched, so I appreciate it. And I’m looking forward to spending time with you in October.

GB: I can’t wait! I can’t wait. It’s going to be wonderful.

CP: Take care, Gabby. Thanks so much.

GB: Thank you!



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