• May 2013

You'll Open Your Heart With Tara Sheahan's Conscious Global Leadership

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Author
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World

The wildest thing happened to Tara Sheahan when she was 35.

Trained as an elite athlete in cross-country skiing, she found her dream job as a VP in sports marketing and television. She left the corporate world to become “Super Mom,” and raised two young boys with husband Casey, CEO and president of the outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia.

Then she contracted Lyme disease. Losing the ability to walk, think, or function without pain, she searched for that “magic pill” to cure herself, and discovered true healing through an understanding of the body/mind connection.

She spent the next 15 years becoming an expert in the “art of inner listening,” using meditation and mindfulness practices to understand how thoughts influence health, well-being, and success. Sheahan recovered from chronic illness to nearly qualify for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, at the age of 45.

Through immersions, workshops, private coaching, and mentoring, Sheahan has introduced and taught mindfulness at eBay, The Aspen Institute, the World Caring Conference, New York’s “Peaceweek,” and with corporate clients and impact leaders across the world.

Today, Sheahan is rocking the world—one soul at a time.

As the founder of Conscious Global Leadership, she has created an organization whose mission is to support leadership development through mindfulness training and emotional intelligence.

“CGL’s curriculum is results-oriented, and designed for personal and business growth,” says Sheahan, whom we met at the 2013 Conscious Capitalism Conference.

“It won’t take long before everyone is a little more conscious,” insists this dynamo, who is doing everything she can to ignite global social harmony by strengthening the character and consciousness of leaders across all fields. “We aim to share best ‘inner’ practices and how to mentor others for heart-centered living and leadership.”

“Leaders have an extraordinary ripple affect,” insists Sheahan. “We have the power to inspire greatness at home and in our workplace, by first inspiring it within ourselves. This can only occur through inner awareness of thoughts and beliefs that drive us every day. They can be fear-based or love-based.”

“Right now, for example—what thoughts are driving you?” she asks.


Be Inkandescent: First, tell us what brought you to the Conscious Capitalism Conference in April, where we had the good fortune to meet you.

Tara Sheahan: The conference is linked to the work we are doing at Conscious Global Leadership, and I am thrilled to be here because it’s inspiring to listen to so many conscious leaders who are presenting talks about how they became conscious leaders in their organizations. What is also inspiring me is that there are many women that are in leadership positions—we just don’t seem to see them much, or they don’t believe that they are leaders—but many are here.

I try to “full-body listen” when I come to something like this, because I’m not running an organization like a company—I run a leadership organization. And if I full-body listen to everybody who comes my way, it’s not just the people on the stage who are teaching and inspiring me—it’s mostly people in the audience and the questions that they’re asking. When I do this, I find ways to be a more conscious leader—and a happier person in general.

Be Inkandescent: Tell us about your life, your passion for being a mom, and what it’s like to be married to the president of Patagonia.

Tara Sheahan: For years, Casey told me, “I want to work for Patagonia.” So when he got the offer and it became official in 2006, it was a dream come true.

We were living in Colorado and our kids didn’t want to move to California, and so he actually began commuting because he honored family first.

Interestingly, my life didn’t change that much. But people kept thinking that it had to, and that I had to change. It’s funny when you suddenly say your husband’s the CEO of Patagonia, people for some reason think they have to act differently around me—like maybe I am wearing a crown or something. I’m still the same silly old person I always have been.

And Casey is such a humble, gentle, kind CEO and leader. So it has been an honor to learn from him, as well as the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, who has created a global organization that I truly believe is one of the most conscious companies on earth.

Be Inkandescent: That came across during Casey’s keynote speech on the first day of the Conscious Capitalism Conference when he talked about Patagonia’s supply chain, values, and dedication to human rights for all of the people the company touches—from factory workers overseas to customers. How has your relationship been impacted by him running this giant company?

Tara Sheahan: There’s a great story we love to share about Patagonia and my relationship with Casey that actually played out into how he runs the company every day. As we discussed, I became chronically ill in my mid 30s. I actually say it was a transformation, because illness can be a pathway to reaching our highest potential, especially if we look at why we got sick.

I realized that for me, my illness was a lot about self-image.

In my case, it started when I got bitten by a tick. And I think I got bitten so that I could understand that I wasn’t just my self-image as Tara über-athlete, Tara the great cook, Tara the super mom. When I lost the ability to really do much of those things that I thought were giving me love—I had to rethink everything.

Be Inkandescent: Talk more about what you mean.

Tara Sheahan: Well, so many of us have developed identities and behaviors around how we think we’re going to get love. We have an illusion that if we’re an über-athlete, to-die-for cook, the perfect mom, or the head of a giant company, people will love us more.

We all now know that love is an inside job—and that’s what my journey was, to discover that if I loved who I was, I didn’t need to be all those things. And my kids really didn’t care so much about me being perfect. They just wanted a playmate and somebody who was there with that feeling of love.

What affected Casey most, though, was when I went to India for three weeks. I learned a lot about mindfulness at an organization in India called Oneness University. Many of our teachers from the program are also at One World Academy, and these are two really powerful organizations that help you discover the nature of the mind and the condition. It’s not different than what Deepak Choprah and Oprah are now teaching us through their online meditations, in fact.

So when I began to see my mind in action, and how exhausting it was to uphold an image of myself, I was blown away. Amazingly, I became really happy, and laughed all the time at myself. When I got home, I began to share it with Casey; he was really jealous and kept saying, “What are you doing? Why are you so happy? And why do you keep laughing?”

I told him that I started committing myself to this mindful practice every day, and it helps me get more joy.

Be Inkandescent: Casey credits you, and the knowledge you shared, with helping Patagonia survive the Great Recession of 2008 with flying colors.

Tara Sheahan: It’s true. So it was December 2008, and Casey came home and he said he feared he had to lay off all these people. I asked him one simple question. It was based on what I had learned in India—in essence it boils down to the fact that most people are operating in the back of our brains where our fear centers are located. This is the oldest part of who we are, our reptilian selves. Granted, we have evolved and many of us can access the love centers of ourselves, which lies in our hearts.

So I asked him, “Are you operating in love or fear?” I knew that he could make a better decision if it from a place of love, but it was up to him.

Immediately, he knew the difference and realized his decision to let employees go—people he considered family—was a mistake.

He said, “This is coming from fear.” So I asked him what his decision would be if he came from a place of love, and before he could utter a word, I saw him transform his thinking. He said, “They are our family, and we need to treat them like as such. How could you ever get rid of part of your family?”

Suddenly, he had all these ideas on how he could make changes externally to save funds during that financially trying time. Three weeks after he made that decision, Patagonia’s sales went through the roof. Ever since they’ve been more profitable each year, they’re growing and growing and they’ve had the five most prosperous years they’ve ever had. I feel that it was Casey realizing that making decisions in love and connection, and seeing us as one human family, can change our world—in business, and in life. So that’s how I have been involved in a lot of the things we’re doing here at Conscious Capitalism.

Be Inkandescent: Casey just walked in, welcome. Tell us about this truly amazing woman. She clearly has inspired you in so many ways.

Casey Sheahan: She is one of the happiest individuals I know, and sometimes that’s a little annoying. I look at her and go, “She’s one step removed from being that crazy bag lady out in the street.” But beautiful Tara really helped me because I wanted some of what she was having, and so she encouraged me to begin my own process of personal awareness by taking a trip to India and Fiji and back to India to meet with some of the greatest teachers in the world.

The lessons, the values, some of the practices they gave us were really transformative and powerful. If I hadn’t done it, I’d probably still be in a life of cocktail parties and camping trips and hockey games with the boys—and it would have been fine. But life has become so much more fulfilling, and so much more dimensional now.

Within the work I do at Patagonia and in our lives together, it’s much richer than it was before, and I’ve got great gratitude for Tara for kicking my butt a little bit and saying you need to go do this work; if you don’t, we’re going to just have a kind of normal relationship, and there can be so much more. So that was pretty exciting, for us to see that and go through that together.

Be Inkandescent: How has the work you have both done strengthened your relationship?

Tara Sheahan: When you realize that you don’t see the best in yourself, you also realize that is how you are looking at the world. If you tell yourself, “I’m not good enough,” this lack of worth permeates all of your relationships. But when you begin to say, “I am enough, and I’m beautiful, and I embrace all of my habits that make me me, you realize you don’t need to be anybody else. And then you begin to see that in your partner, and others in your life, too. You also begin to see the best in humanity.

Casey Sheahan: I drive a pickup truck, and I like to go camping and fly fishing and backpacking, and I take my trash to the dump. That’s my meditation—and I also meditate quietly. And I realize that no matter what I do, there will always be some level of suffering because about a hundred thousand thoughts come into our brains every 8-12 hours. There’s nothing you can do about it, and so when people say, “Just empty your mind,” I think that if you empty your mind you’d be dead. You’d be a flat line on the meters. So the key is to take all the thoughts that you have and harness them—to be a better dad, a better mom and leader, a better head of an organization.

The key is to lose your suffering, because when you’re in suffering, your reactive brain gets going. You act from a place of defensiveness, and you’re not centered, you’re not balanced, you’re not calm. That’s when you do bad stuff. So why not take yourself to a place of awareness and calmness? If you do, you begin to make your decisions out of that kind of mindset, as opposed to just saying, “Oh, that’s annoying, that person is pissing me off, I don’t like what the competition is doing. Let’s attack.”

When you stop yourself from diving into the fight-or-flight response, and realize there is an easier and more enjoyable way to live life that doesn’t allow you to bring in the stories you are telling about your suffering, life is different. And honestly, when you boil them down, most of what we believe is true are just stories.

Be Inkandescent: And that has allowed you both to be really successful in the impact that you have on other people?

Casey Sheahan: Well, we’re comfortable with who we are, and when you’re comfortable within yourself, you’re comfortable around other people. You connect.

Tara Sheahan: And if you watch the mind in action, you see and observe it from a different point of view, and it becomes really funny because we’re so terrified of one another. We’re terrified of upholding a self-image. But it all changes if we sit there and say: “I am what I am, there are so many magical things that have been put into the me, I’m original, I don’t need to be somebody other than who I am and I’m so comfortable with myself.”

Then, you make every person that you meet that day feel okay with who they are. It’s so precious because you can change how they feel about themselves just by sitting next to them and feeling love.

And this is just the beginning!

  • Click here to listen to our podcast interview with Tara Sheahan.
  • Want to have Tara speak at your next event? Click here to find more details about her speaking topics on InkandescentSpeakers.com.
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