My name is Shannon Thompson. I’m the birth mama wildcard vision keeper at an organization called Shakti Rising.
I am a woman, wife, leader, student, herbalist, healer, midwife of death in New World orders. I’ve been doing work in the field of transformative experiences, consciousness or conscious social change, feminine and feminist spirituality, for 35 years-ish.
I live in the mountains of Southern Appalachia, in North Carolina, deep soulful, Cherokee, territory, land of mountains, and waterfalls, and resilience and wild nooks and crannies, where mystery and all kinds of crazy stuff still grows.
My mental health story
I don’t think I have a mental health story. I have a story. I have an unfolding life and am a multifaceted being. And as part of that life, in my early years, I dealt with addiction and some traumas and experiences and intensity, growing up in what I would say is a functionally dysfunctional family. It has its share of untended issues, and maybe lineage wounding.
Perhaps more substantially, I grew up really awake, but in a community where that was not the norm, and, therefore felt very isolated and unusual. I grew up close to the sacred and longing for that in my life. But I had no language for it.
Unlike some of the stories today about how people grew up knowing fairies and talking to herbs, and were raised, being connected to it, I really had to scrap and find it. It was on the margins of my life, something I was really aware of, that I knew that mattered the most. But I, like I said, didn’t have language or entry points.
My life was populated by teachers and random places, unusual spots. I got into recovery at 18, in traditional approaches and models of that. That had a huge influence on changing the trajectory of my life.
Doing my social change work, I came to understand that a lot of the folks that we deem as troubled or in need of services, or in some cases, people that are just being thrown away, were actually protesting in their own ways about systems that were flawed and faulty, about models and approaches and philosophies of life that that they weren’t bought into.
I came to understand that we were collectively in denial about mental health, addiction, body image issues, cycles of trauma. I understood that these things were not just fringe. They affecting more and more and more people. The fact that we were in denial about this was perpetuating the lack of meaningful healing models and services.
Holistic wellness is essential to everything we do.
In that way, I came to understand that holistic–meaning body, mind, heart, soul, spirit, psychology, physiology–wellness is essential to everything we do.
I became pretty tuned in early on to the fact that it was actually a huge deficit in business and leadership, and that the lack of understanding of those issues and the impacts systemically and individually were part of what perpetuated what I think is a really sick system of business as usual and the way we function and a lot of our communities.
That’s not to say that all business is bad, but I saw right away as a teenager that there was this idea that you went to work and suddenly your professional identity was totally removed from whatever was happening with you personally. And that just wasn’t true.
I went to work when I was 14 years old. I saw people acting out all of their stuff and their issues and their insanities. Over and over and over again, I saw it impede successful projects and businesses and teams. [Through that, I saw that] in every way possible, people were seeking healing.
I don’t mean that everyone I saw coming into the construction office was going, “I’m here working out my dysfunction from my family dynamics, I’m seeking healing.” That’s not what I’m saying. But I think at its core, our systems move toward wholeness and repair. And so therefore, everything we interact with in our lives is an opportunity to work out, to grow, to heal, to evolve, to learn, right.
Every aspect of our health, including mental and community health, is integral in business.
In all of this, you’re hearing encapsulated my philosophy, my commitment and my passion about why mental health, as well as every aspect of our health, including community health, is really integral, especially in business. [You’re hearing why] those of us who want to engage in that way need to be really clear that we are still ourselves, and that we are going to work with people who are still themselves and bringing in all kinds of things that are happening in their lives.
What does mental health mean to me?
I think about it as resilience about the adaptive capacity to learn, to heal.
I think about it as growth mindset. I think about it as a combination of nervous system health and physical, hormonal health and your cognitive capacity as well as your emotional literacy and fluency.
[For me, it’s incorrect] to think that mental health is not connected to the whole of us.
What are the systemic and social factors that influence my mental health as an entrepreneur?
I think that we all need to get honest about the broken systems that we work within. [These broken systems] prioritize profits over everything. [These broken systems] say, “If you can sell it and make money off of it, then it doesn’t matter how you do it.” [These systems] have judged that’s the only measure of success. [Broken systems] where we have really traded off our relationships, our quality of life, our understanding of growing family, our connection to the environment, our redress of injustice… All of that impacts me.
My work has been to challenge typical business frameworks and economics of extraction and exploitation.
The work I’ve done as a leader trying to have conscious business models has led to me having mental health issues that I never had before. At one point, I thought, “Wow, I think I’m having some trauma response specifically from being a leader, not actually, because of my inside out personal issues.”
It was a very weird moment to just appreciate that, like, whoa, taking a stand, telling the truth, challenging the norms, trying really hard to create different ways, not always knowing where to get the help, how to talk about it, dealing with the pressures to conform… [all of that affected my mental health], especially because I run and lead a nonprofit organization.
Also, having a staff, having other stakeholders working really hard to help people grasp and understand where we’re coming from, [understand that we weren’t coming from] some poverty martyr consciousness. We didn’t want to repeat disempowering and exploitative models of success [all of that affected my mental health].
It’s just now that I understand that the work could even impact me like that, that I would have things to attend to, from being willing to risk and stand up and lead.
How I care for my mental health and wellness
I make sure that I feed the good in my life and the joy in my heart. I make sure that I take time for myself.
I have baked into my life days that are unscheduled, times that are untethered. I spend a lot of time in nature. I surround myself with people that are deeply beloved, and who are on the same path about our core sense of value and contributions to the world and who are able to really show up and handle difficulty.
I move my body, I cook, I sing. I have a very strong spiritual practice and a really strong recovery practice. It’s pretty rich and deep.
I really make contact with my body. I spend time in the garden and nature and use a lot of somatic tools and source the wisdom and the intuition that is within.
My greatest mental health tool is to lead my life from my soul. If I am in tune and integrity with myself, then I feel like I can access the other resources that I need.
Movement, herbs, water… I’m an herbalist. There are a lot of phenomenal herbs that can help balance hormones and brain chemicals and experiences, as well as flower essences, energy medicine, and acupuncture.
All of us can find the things that make us feel tuned in and turned on in our lives, and that that can really fortify us.
The one thing I would share: don’t wait to attend to your mental wellness or your whole person well being until you have a crisis or until you have time or until you think it matters.
[Don’t wait] to be invested in ourselves and our teams in this way. Treat it as yet another component of our entire business, of the culture of our organizations. [This] is the way to do business differently. [This] is how business becomes a healing, transformative force.
If we don’t do this, then we’re perpetuating what is right now.
Take time and space when you get caught up in all the rules outside.
Ask yourself regularly, “Who does this story benefit? There’s a lot of stuff out there about how you have to do business and how you have to take care of yourself in the business model on the money model on digital. But you know what? It’s all made up. It’s really all made up.
Because it’s all made up, you get to experiment.
[Because it’s all made up,] you get to experiment. You can actually have a quality life, have very high integrity, really take care of yourself and your family and the people you love, and take care of your business and your creative project and recognize there will be cycles and times where one takes more energy than the other.
Learn your cycles and harness those. Learn your seasons. Find regular rhythms. Learn the life of your business itself. Come into an intimate relationship with that, too.
Know that you matter.
We have a saying inside of Shakti that the strongest nervous system in the room wins. That’s not exactly accurate, but if you want to make a real change in the world, then [you need] to be supple and alive and fluent. That doesn’t mean some weird image of perfection or health, it just means being with where you’re at in any given moment and being able to attend it. That’s a great gift that we bring forward.
The last thing I’m going to say is forget balance. There’s no such thing. [Instead], find integration [and] flow. That’s where this goes back to seasons and rhythms find your way to be in your life, however it’s unfolding, and to trust it.