In this article, I share with you an interview by Jan Bowen who speaks with me about my life’s journey and how I came to be the person I am today. I share about my childhood influences, the curves my life has taken over the decades, and the influences which have shaped me to be who I am today.
You’ll learn that many of the topics which I write about have their origins in my life’s experiences. I don’t write from theory, I write from my own struggles and self-learning.
Finding inner peace is possible because I have found my inner peace. Read along and you’ll understand the evolution of my thought and insights. You too can find your inner peace, and I feel honored guiding you to that peace.
Jan Bowen: Well, as you may or may not know, on this show I talk about how people found their purpose, and how they live the life that they do. With you, it’s so intriguing to me because the name of your website is exactly what I want to talk about. The website that Chris has is lifesjourneyblog.com. Chris, what was your life journey to the point that you are now in your career? What brought you here?
Chris Shea: That’s a long, winding journey. In hindsight, all good. But the somewhat short of it, I spent most of my career up in the Baltimore area, and I was involved in doing counseling work plus administration work. I was honored to run in-patient medical treatment facilities. We specialized in drug and alcohol treatment, but we were in-patient medical. I really enjoyed being an administrator because the way I looked at that is I was able to help a lot of people. Even though I didn’t always have a caseload, it was still very rewarding for me. These were always nonprofits, so that was something that was important to me, giving back to the community. But, I’m a type “A” person. I love to always be busy. I’m still very busy. But back then, the busyness began to take over my life. In the busyness, everything else seemed to go off to the wayside.
Chris Shea: Work and career, titles, prestige, all of that became more important. As my career took off, I got into speaking at national conferences and started writing and getting published in journals, and I found myself pretty high up in my field as far as being known in what I was doing. As rewarding as that is, it brings a lot of stress and anxiety if you’re not keeping up a balanced life and taking care of yourself, neither of which I was doing. For me, the big change came when I started to realize I needed to slow things up a bit. An opportunity came here down in Leonardtown (where Chris currently lives), and I thought, “Maybe this is a good time in my life to start different, to get away from the city, get away from all that and just do something totally different.” That’s when I picked up the campus ministry job, which was awesome, and I loved every minute of that.
Chris Shea: The issue for me came in when the academic year ended, and I now have three months off. For me, the thought of that was, “Hey, this is awesome. I got three months paid vacation basically. Way to go.” I’ve never had three months off before, except for the times that I was laid off. Then I was off, but that was different. After getting close to about week two of being off, that’s when it hit me, and things started going downhill for me at that point because the type “A” in me, the person who has been going from corporate world and all the stressors that had, and all the pressures that were on me … that was gone. There was nothing. I kinda hit that brick wall of this nothingness, of what do I do? I kind of was almost in a depression type stage. It wasn’t fun. I needed something to do. I spent a good number of weeks through this struggle in eventually finding mindfulness and finding meditation again, and beginning to consciously slow myself into looking more at who I am.
Chris Shea: As I did that, I decided to do some journaling. But instead of doing journaling in some diary or folder, I decided to do a blog. Why not? I’m on a computer all the time. That’s really where Lifesjourney came about, was a blog more so as a public diary, more as a journal. Really, it was just for me to have some outlet. And from there, that was probably what, six-ish or so years ago? From there, we now have what I’m doing. Now it’s a private practice, I’ve authored some books, doing speakings, I now have a podcast. It’s grown into what it is today, and it keeps me extremely busy. But the difference is, I’m busy intentionally. What I mean by that is, I’m only doing what it is that I feel I’m able to do, and I’m trying to do it in a way that’s still healthy for me. I’m still trying to practice those daily routines of the meditation and taking care of self, and looking at self. Very different than what I was doing before. Long and short of it, here I am.
Jan Bowen: Thank you very much for sharing all of that. There are lots of pieces in there I’d love to explore a little more. One, I think it’s really important that people hear that the path isn’t always smooth, it’s not straight, and it does have pitfalls.
Chris Shea: Yes, it does. Yeah, definitely if somebody thinks that, “I can go from point A to point B in a straight line,” you are gonna end up with having stress and anxiety when you find out that that straight line is gonna become very curved. But that’s okay. In hindsight, those curves are really what got me to here. Had this been more of a straight line for me, we probably wouldn’t be talking, I probably wouldn’t be in this town. I’m glad for the curves.
Jan Bowen: Yeah, and from your perspective as both someone who experienced it and as a professional, as a therapist, you have both sides of it, so you really speak from a powerful position which I think has tremendous impact and value in sharing as well. There’s so many things I’m now trying to remember. From the outside, as you were talking, I was thinking, “To some people, it might not look that different. You were speaking before, you were at the top of your career before when you were in Baltimore.” So if somebody missed all those middle years and saw you online, and saw you had maybe a different name to a website instead of working for a firm, or “Oh, Chris started a podcast,” they might think nothing was really different, you’ve just grown.
Jan Bowen: All those middle pieces are really instructional, yeah. It’s interesting that so much happens from within.
Chris Shea: Exactly. Yeah, form the exterior, if I listed what my day is like, it’s going to seem to somebody, “Well you’re overwhelming yourself and isn’t that what you were doing?” But yet, it is what works on the inside. It is that intentionality, and to me, the part of that mindfulness. Before, it was just do, do, do, regardless of what the impact is for me. Now it’s, “Yes, I’m gonna be doing a lot, but I’m still trying to be aware of what is the impact to me and family when I’m doing all of this.” It’s not the haphazard, “Let me just do everything.” I would say right now in this field, I’m just one of the fish. I’m not a topnotch person in the field. There are bigger names you would think of if you think mindfulness than my name, so that keeps me humble.
Jan Bowen: Did moving from a city like Baltimore to a small town affect your lifestyle and your path at all?
Chris Shea: It helped to slow me down. The pace is very different. The pace is much calmer. I think overall that helped in that, but it wasn’t a huge shift. Most of my college life was living in rural towns, so it wasn’t a complete unknown for me. But yes, I think overall it did have a part to play in where I am now.
Jan Bowen: The rituals, I’m not sure if you’ve called them rituals, but the routines that you follow of mindfulness and meditation and such are also what you talk about on your podcast, “On Finding Peace”. Was that the intention behind the podcast?
Chris Shea: Yes. The podcast has morphed over time as well. Originally, the podcast was to broaden the audience, my reach. What I was doing in the early days of the podcast, which still exists if people listen to them, they really consisted of taking my blog posts and putting them to audio, is really the simplest way to put it. I figured this way if you don’t have to read it, well maybe you have time to listen to it. But as I thought about it, to me I thought what would be more important, because it was important to my life story, what have other people done in their lives that we can learn from?
Chris Shea: What I focused the podcast mostly on is interviewing people who have found ways of either getting toward peace or obtaining peace, and I ask them to share with us what are some very practical ways that we can do that. It’s not a theoretical type podcast, but very practically, you went from this to this, so if I’m listening to a podcast, what can I do to go from that to that? I figure that’s how I learned, maybe others can learn as well.
Jan Bowen: I’m curious what you were like as a little boy.
Chris Shea: Oh, wonderful days that they were. I think I’m at that age now where I can look back and say, “Those were the simpler times.” But actually, it probably would be quite surprising because growing up, I was the shy kid. I was the one who stayed in the corner. I had a small group of friends, a tight group of friends, but small. Really when it comes to being outgoing, when it comes to doing a lot after school or things like that, that wasn’t me. I would go home, do my homework, grab some of my friends, and off we would go. But I was extremely shy. If you were to tell my younger self that one day you’re going to be speaking on national stages and doing podcasts and things like this, yeah that would’ve been foreign to me. That would’ve been, “There is no way that’s gonna happen, I’m not speaking in front of people.” Yes, younger me was very different from me.
Jan Bowen: What was the changing point, the turning point?
Chris Shea: Self-confidence, that was the change for me. The shyness had a lot to do with self-esteem. As I aged through my 20s and started actually being in a career, then a lot of that changed and I slowly … and I emphasize slowly … began to have more of self-confidence not only in me as a person but the self-confidence in me as a professional. When that shifted, I became more outgoing. This was probably always in me, I just wasn’t aware it was in me.
Jan Bowen: Yeah. It’s interesting, from what you’re saying, I’m observing the external, the job in your 20s was bringing out the internal. As you were describing your coming to peacefulness in later life, you once again went internally to find that peace. It juxtaposed, but nonetheless, I find the contrast interesting between the exterior and the interior. Yeah.
Chris Shea: I appreciate that reflection. I hadn’t really looked at it in those terms before, but yeah it really makes a lot of sense as I move into another phase in my life, age wise. It’s very interesting. Appreciate that.
Jan Bowen: How do you define mindfulness? I’m going into these specific questions, but let’s back up a minute. How do you define it?
Chris Shea: There are a lot of definitions out there. Really for me, mindfulness is living in the present moment, non judgmentally. Jon Kabat-Zinn, he emphasizes the non judgmentally. That’s where I’m pulling that piece from. But it is all about living in the moment. What I mean with the non judgmentally is just to accept what your reality is. Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t work on changing my reality if that’s something that I feel is necessary. But before I can look at a possible change in my reality, I just need to come to terms with and accept what that reality is. Instead of trying to lie to ourselves, trick ourselves, fool ourselves as to what we would like our reality to be and then live accordingly, that’s gonna bring on a lot of stress and anxiety.
Chris Shea: If we can sit back and just accept where we are, the good, the bad and the otherwise, then look at, “What do I need to do differently to improve my life.” We need to start on that basis of reality. Let’s just start with reality, even if you don’t like that reality or like to admit that reality. No, it is what it is, accept it, now what?
Jan Bowen: Thank you for the definition. That’s really helpful and important. The curved parts of your path, you mentioned one was not going through with the priesthood. Do you feel like all the curves contributed in some way and informed where you are now?
Chris Shea: When I look in hindsight, I wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences. For me, it’s very important, and I try to help my clients with this as well, but very important to understand that we are who we are because of our past. Again, good, bad or otherwise. You could talk about a very bad childhood, or a bad past or whatever. Again, that’s the acceptance piece. That is what it is, but that’s also what has made you. If at this point in your life, you have a great deal of resilience … then yes I feel sympathy for you that you had to go through what you did, but you have built a resilience which is wonderful to have at this point. Particularly my time in the seminary really gave me a lot of the tools to be able to be where I am today. I think minus that, I probably wouldn’t have found the mindfulness piece. I wouldn’t have found that spiritual peace. I think I would’ve been strictly academic psychology with it, versus what I see as more human if that kinda makes sense.
Jan Bowen: I understand what you’re saying in that sense. Something is occurring to me. It’s not an exact analogy, but I can’t help but put these two thoughts together. The writer and thinker, Jack Kornfield, who writes a lot on Buddhism, I heard him speak once about some concept in Buddhism, and he was saying, “People always expect me to be really calm, and really laid back and really peaceful.” He said, “If you didn’t know who I was and you saw me on the street, you would think I was the most hyper guy. I’m a really high energy person.” I really enjoyed that because what I observe in general about some of these concepts like mindfulness, and meditation and such is I believe there is a bias in terms of the vision, that they’re all peaceful and calm. And yet to me, there’s a joy and there’s a lightness to them. There’s an energy around them, a silliness at times even.
Chris Shea: I completely agree because as I mentioned earlier, I’m all about trying to stay within reality, and I don’t care how much you’re going to practice Buddhism, Zen, any type of Christian meditations, I don’t care what it is that you do. Unless you have removed yourself and have become a monk, other than that, you’re living in this world, and this world is not going to stop because you are meditating or because you know some of these concepts. If you try to be in this world but live like that monk, people are gonna look at you as crazy, and you’re probably not gonna get anybody. Most of us recognize a monk, but not a monk in society. All that needs to be tempered with, be real and be true to who you are. All of these principles, whether it’s eastern or western, it makes no difference, they’re leading us down a path of finding peace. But as far as I define that peacefulness, we can be feeling many different emotions while still having that in our peace.
Chris Shea: Yes, I can act silly at times, and I can show my happiness and all of that with this sense of an inner peace, yet at the same time, I can go through periods of mild depressions, of stress, of anger. But that doesn’t take away an inner peace. That just means I’m human, and I’m reacting and responding to what’s going on in my life. I think the difference is how you do that. Am I intentionally responding? Am I aware of my response? Do I need to make changes? I think that peacefulness is that peace that allows me to reflect on what I’m feeling. I’m not just going off in anger, or off in depressions. I can consciously go into those feelings, act that way, and then begin to say to myself, “Is this healthy right now? Is this appropriate right now?” And then make changes if necessary. There is that intentionality, I think. Yes, I love that approach. I just think we need to be real. People will respond when they see you’re real.
Chris Shea: ‘Cause, if you go up on stage or go on a podcast like this, and you talk about these high ideals or seem to be having those high ideals, many people are gonna say, “I can’t do that.”
Chris Shea: But when they see that you’re real, I don’t think that takes away your ability to say, “Hey, I’m an expert in this,” or “I’ve got information to share.” I think actually people can come to you because, “Wait a minute, you’re real. You talked about all this, but I heard you get a little stressed over there,” or “Wasn’t that comment a little off in what you talk about?” And then you can say, “Well yeah, I’m human. Yeah. It is.”
Jan Bowen: Yeah.
Chris Shea: “But now, here’s what I’m gonna do about it.”
Jan Bowen: What do you do for fun?
Chris Shea: I love being out in the water, love being out in nature, love to read. Meteorology is a hobby of mine.
Chris Shea: Yeah, so there are outlets, and I encourage people to have outlets. But yeah for me, those are the things I’ve picked up over time, and that’s how I get out and have fun. There are some days or some evenings that I’ll say, “You know what? Forget the computer, forget my business stuff. I’m taking a hike, I’m going out on the water, I’m gonna read a nonsense book,” whatever it is. But I think that’s important to have those outlets so that there’s some diversity in your life, and you can relax.
Jan Bowen: In your words, what would you name as your top three values?
Chris Shea: The top three right off the top of my head would look at as being the most important would be honesty, and trust, and family. Those are all up there. Maybe not in that order, but those are the top three. But also looking at that, I would say … I don’t know if it’s necessarily a value, but it’s, “Can you be true to self?” And whatever that means for self. Again, you may not like who you are, or maybe you aren’t the best person at the moment, but can you at least be true to who you are, and be able to go from there? That’s something that I would value in another person, really respect in another person.
Jan Bowen: That’s wonderful. Is there anything that you’d like to say that I haven’t asked you?
Chris Shea: Know that it really is possible to find inner peace. Whether you believe that or not, it is possible. I’ve seen that in a lot of people, but I’ve seen it in myself, so I’m speaking from the experience. This isn’t just, “Hey, the theory says …” But no, I did it. People can do it. Just go with it, begin to believe in it, and yes, it’s possible.