CHARLOTTE DUFOUR is a veteran in the fields of international cooperation and sustainable food systems. Here she is interviewed by KALPANA SAI of the Heartfulness Institute about the role of Yoga and spirituality in mental health and wellness. She shares some solutions for a world that seems more anxious and disconnected than ever.
Q: Welcome Charlotte. How would you define mental health and spirituality?
CD: Mental health is very much about feeling a sense of joy and lightness of alignment between the way we lead our lives and the aspirations of our heart. When we feel purposeful and mentally well, we feel happy and grateful.
Spirituality is about connecting and nourishing the connection to the Higher Self or soul, and about learning to disentangle ourselves from the fears and attachments of the ego. I like to think of it as an expansive source of love that animates the whole world. We can call it the Divine. And the journey of spirituality is about nourishing that connection.
Q: How has spirituality shown up in your life?
CD: Spirituality has always been present in my life in some shape or form. I grew up in a Christian family with a very devoted grandmother, and with no pressure to conform to practices. So, it was always there, but I really discovered what it meant when I was struggling with physical and mental challenges – there were some very difficult events. I was regularly close to burnout, and sometimes flirting a bit with depression. Then there was a turnaround, when I found a Yoga and meditation retreat in a community in Italy. And that was just a whole mind- and heart-opener.
The practice of meditation changed my life. A beautiful teaching that helped me is the notion that our soul has eight qualities of peace, calm, wisdom, power, love, joy, light and sound. And when you think of mental well-being, these are all things we aspire to. Our deep self and the spiritual journey are about reconnecting with those.
Through meditation, I started experiencing that peace and well-being – not only mental, but everything. The term “Heartfulness” speaks deeply to me because when I am in deep meditation it’s mental wellness, but it’s also heart-based wellness in every sense of the term.
I feel we need that more than ever. Our world is very shaken up and everything’s speeding up. Many of us feel that we’re in times of deep transition, which lead to deep insecurities. We have massive inequities within societies and around the world. I mean, Climate Change, Covid, they’re revealing all these tensions. So, I think we’re shaken in our core and it’s frightening. The anxiety that’s growing, including among the youth, is very concerning. Now, more than ever, we are being given opportunities to find a deeper level of peace and harmony. And as many masters have been telling us, it’s within us.
Mental health is very much about
feeling a sense of joy and lightness of
alignment between the way we lead our lives
and the aspirations of our heart.
Q: What kind of impact do you think meditation and Yoga can have on mental health?
CD: Meditation brings so much. It’s an everlasting journey of deepening.
One thing is in helping to find that inner peace when you’re going through very turbulent times. I think that many mental health problems are connected to a wound, a soul wound. I remember reading a book that mentions soul wounds such as humiliation, abandonment, injustice, and betrayal, and the author describes how each soul chooses to be challenged in a particular incarnation. And when these wounds go deeper, all of them have a commonality. They’re about a breakage in love, a feeling of not being loved. And when you go deep in meditation with devotion, you find this mother with infinite love, and I think that’s the space we’re invited to touch through meditation.
At the very practical level, meditation also helps you to be discerning, to make decisions, to find the right path. What is the right choice today? When you’re faced with a sea of confusion and everything seems so hard to decide, you get lost. But through meditation, you cultivate your intuition and the choices you make are guided from a deeper space.
Through meditation, you cultivate your intuition
and the choices you make are guided
from a deeper space.
Very recently, I was really knocked out of my equilibrium, and I wasn’t meditating as much and going deep. I was feeling very stressed. As soon as I was able to nourish my meditation routine, the days became so much easier. Things just started to flow. The people I needed to meet just showed up in my Inbox or called. The meetings that were crowding out my schedule: “Oh, sorry. Can we postpone this?” It was as if I had this magic, aid coming my way. And I think that comes when you’re aligned with the universe and with what wants to happen through you.
The notion of Karma Yoga has also helped me lot. It’s not us doing. We are channels, and at the service of something greater than ourselves. Meditation enables us to put ourselves in that position where we can be channels, we can receive guidance, we can be carried, etc. Things that are supposed to happen become effortless, because they’re exactly what wants to happen through and with us.
To be continued.
Interview by KALPANA SAI
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Charlotte has worked for over 20 years in the field of international cooperation. Today, she is an independent consultant, works with the 4DS group, and bridges Yoga with sustainable development through her social enterprises Narayan, Listening Inspires, and the Listening to the Earth campaign.