Laurie Benson, on ‘Leading from the Feminine,’ community, the power of perception, and accepting life with a neutral spirit
(Publication Date: 9.5.23)
In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with entrepreneur, author, speaker and coach Laurie Benson.
Laurie talks with Adam about her experiences working on climate issues around the world. They talk about her connection with indigenous women, and her work with mothers and children seeking safety and support at the U.S. border with Mexico.
They talk about accepting life with a neutral spirit, and the power of perception to shape how we see and move through the world. Laurie shares about her current work, Inward Bound, which brings together women and highlights tools for women to recognize what they have to offer and to stand stronger in their own purposes.
They also talk about Laurie’s recent book, “Leading from the Feminine,” and her forthcoming book. Among other things.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community and well-being based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams. Today, I'm talking with Laurie Benson.
I think Laurie can be thought of as a serial entrepreneur, but if we [00:00:30] stopped there, I think we'd be doing a disservice to Laurie and her work in our community. As you'll hear us refer to in this conversation, by community, we are not talking only locally here in Colorado, but globally as well. Community is a richly layered concept that we're going to dig into today.
Now, I recently referred to the Looking Upstream podcast as a local is universal kind of thing. I'm usually talking with guests who live locally here in Chaffee County, but they bring a wealth of stories, experiences [00:01:00] and perspectives that reach so far beyond our little rural geography here. I guess with Laurie, we can adapt that phrasing to be a local as global kind of thing as we're going to get into some of those storie. She and I talk about her experiences with working on climate issues around the world and her connection with indigenous women and her work with mothers and children seeking safety and support at the US border with Mexico.
We talk about accepting life with a neutral spirit and the power of perception [00:01:30] to shape how we see and move through the world. Laurie shares about her current work, Inward Bound, which brings together women and highlights tools for women to recognize what they have to offer and to stand stronger in their own purposes.
We talk about Laurie's book, Leading From the Feminine, and her new book, which is forthcoming among other things. Overall, I think there is a hefty dose of wisdom and ease of laughter and lightheartedness within this conversation that undoubtedly gets into some deep [00:02:00] and meaningful areas. It's a good one. Now, here it is, my conversation with Laurie Benson.
[Transition music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: Laurie, welcome to Looking Upstream. Thank you for being here.
Laurie Benson: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
Adam Williams: I know that you're in the process of building a house right now, and I'm thinking you've lived in this area for 15 plus years, is that right?
Laurie Benson: [00:02:30] Almost 20 years, yeah.
Adam Williams: Okay. Well, in my mind, that is a doubling down, a recommitment exercise or process of some sort to say, "We really love it here and this is how much more we're committing is to start something new that's going to be probably however many years leading into the future." What is it that holds you here, that you love so much that you're like, "Yes, let's recommit in a sense"?
Laurie Benson: Yeah. [00:03:00] We've always loved BV in this area and it's been a big part, I think, of forming who we are and how we move through community and how we see community. We did do a year away. We were in St. Louis for a year.
Adam Williams: Really?
Laurie Benson: About six years ago, yeah. My daughter went to a school out there for a year, and Joel was a visiting professor at a college, and so we thought, "Well, let's try [00:03:30] it." We picked up and left our place here in town that we had lived in for 13 years, sold the house. Since we've landed, we were only gone a year. Since we've landed back, we had a really great spot, but it just didn't still feel like ours. It didn't have a little bit of land with it, and that's a big important piece for us.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: Yeah. It's pretty exciting to be, like you said, recommitting or committing [00:04:00] in a new way that really feels like we're going to have a place here in town that's going to hold us the way we like to hold the community.
Adam Williams: It's interesting you mentioned St. Louis. That's where we moved to Colorado from several years ago.
Laurie Benson: Oh, funny.
Adam Williams: We had lived there for a dozen years. Our sons were born there, so there's plenty of history in our house tied to that city.
Laurie Benson: Oh, fun.
Adam Williams: I'm sure we could go down that lane, but we've got a lot of great things to talk about, so I won't bore people with that. [00:04:30] I'm thinking community is a big piece of things. From afar, that's what it looks like. For you and your husband, Joel, he's worn many hats in civic leadership here in town, you've owned a number of businesses here in town, and I wonder what the word community means to you and what that feels and looks like to you?
Laurie Benson: Community, I think, is layered for me. There's our local community and then there's our global community, and everything [00:05:00] that lives in between that space. I think what I love, I know what Joel also, what we both love about BV is that local community is so prevalent and beautiful and powerful and we've been able to be a part, I guess, of helping it come to life in a way over the past 20 years.
Adam Williams: There's [00:05:30] been a lot of change in that time, and you certainly have been a part of that when you've owned multiple businesses over the time on Main Street.
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: What kind of change have you seen in that time period? Just thinking of Maine maybe in particular, because owning a business there, it's very busy and tourists, whatever has happened here, travel bureaus, magazines, I don't know. Somebody has gotten the word out, "This is the spot."
Laurie Benson: When we first moved here, the highway was thriving and Main Street was dying. [00:06:00] There was no activity on Main Street. When we bought the roastery, Buena Vista Roastery, it was working out of the jailhouse, it's now the slammer. It's where it was operating out of. We bought it from Bill and Cheryl Mahaffey. It was just this little roastery with a two top table in it. At one point, we moved across the street to where Rock, Paper, Scissors is now and expanded a little bit more of a cafe [00:06:30] space. We had a booth and a couple tables, and everything that the cafe is right now was a parking lot. We decided to take out a loan and build what today is the cafe. We actually had people coming in while we were building and saying, "We're really worried about you guys. This town's dying. What are you doing? You're going to throw all your money at this and you're going to lose it all."
But it comes back to community. We knew that community [00:07:00] needed a place to gather and a place to come together. We also really believed in Main Street and that it could come back to life. There was some, CKS was there, they had just moved from Johnson Village not that long ago. Asian Palate was opening. Mothers used to be there. There were some core people, some core residents, business owners, community members who were really committed to making Main Street come to life. We all would meet on [00:07:30] a regular basis and say, "What do we do? How do we bring people to town?" I started a music festival to try and draw people here. It is hard to describe for people what it was like on Sundays. I think I shared with you before, on a Sunday if there was one car parked on Main Street, it was like, "Oh, who is that? What are they doing?" It's really different now.
Adam Williams: Very different. For several months of the year at least, that would be an impossibility, [00:08:00] but now.
Laurie Benson: Yes, yes.
Adam Williams: I wonder where the community involvement, that sense of things. I guess this is a separate line of question, but the willingness to take a risk and a leap in order to participate and build Main Street and invest in the community, where did that come from for you? Is there a family history of that?
Laurie Benson: No, maybe being naive.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: No, I don't think so. I'm just kidding. I just think it was a deep trust. Both Joel and I, we met here [00:08:30] in the 80s at AU, Adventure Unlimited. This area just holds such a special place in our hearts, and it was just a deep trust and a belief in all that this community really is.
Adam Williams: And in yourselves.
Laurie Benson: Yes.
Adam Williams: Right, because I see a pattern there, it would seem, and we're going to get into more of these things of your experience and the ways that you have put yourself out there, and I would say servant leadership in all kinds [00:09:00] of ways, that takes a lot of belief in yourself.
Laurie Benson: Yes, yes.
Adam Williams: How was that instilled? Where does that come from, that courage or confidence or self-belief?
Laurie Benson: Pretty much from the time I turned 16, I was off on my own. If I wanted to go to college, I had to pay for it. Whatever my path was, I was creating it financially and such. I learned to take leaps and I learned to trust that I could. [00:09:30] If it didn't work, it didn't work, and that was okay, there was going to be something else. I also think it's just a big part of my personality and who I am, and Joel and I together can be a little dangerous in that way. We both can leap together pretty far.
Adam Williams: That's great. It's a great partnership.
Laurie Benson: It is.
Adam Williams: You said that you met out here. You were teenagers at the time?
Laurie Benson: Yes, we were.
Adam Williams: How did that come together, that chance meeting, I guess, as teenagers?
Laurie Benson: We were both counselors at Adventure Unlimited [00:10:00] for a couple summers. We became friends and stayed friends and then reconnected and got married in our 30s. It was a long friendship, yeah.
Adam Williams: Okay. Did you stay in touch that whole time?
Laurie Benson: We went through phases of staying in touch and then losing contact with each other and reconnecting and yeah.
Adam Williams: Okay. Was that one of those things where the younger kids at camp see the two of you in a friendship and, of course, they start whispering and talking, "Oh, [00:10:30] woo, they're together."
Laurie Benson: I think that's always camp, isn't it? I think that's everyone's camp experience, yeah.
Adam Williams: But that's really interesting that then it was in your 30s, so it really was a long period whether off and on and whatnot, but of knowing each other, getting to know each other. How did you reconnect then? What brought you together geographically or in whatever ways, so that in your 30s it was something new and different together?
Laurie Benson: He was living in Ashland, Oregon, I was in Santa Fe, [00:11:00] and we both ended up in Denver at a friend's wedding.
Adam Williams: By chance?
Laurie Benson: Well, yeah. We both were invited to this wedding and we connected before, "Are you going to be there?" "Yeah, it'd be great to see you."
Adam Williams: Oh, okay. You knew it was going to happen then.
Laurie Benson: We knew we'll see each other, yeah.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: But I will tell you, there's a funny story to it. My family always said, "You're in love with Joel." I'm like, "No, I'm not. No, I've got all these other things going on. No, I'm good." My brother was living in Denver, and we went to go pick him up at the airport when he flew in from Oregon, and my [00:11:30] brother looked at me and he said, "What's that look on your face?" I said, "What look on my face?" He said, "Oh my God, you love Joel." I was like, "Oh my God, you can see that on my face?" By the end of the weekend, Joel was like, "What is going on?", and that was the beginning of it all.
Adam Williams: That's funny. He sweetly did not try to take that look and assume?
Laurie Benson: No, he wasn't. Quite as bored as my brother.
Adam Williams: Yeah. Well, I think that's a beautiful reconnection and [00:12:00] story there. Of course, now, you have, I don't know, 20 years or something together?
Laurie Benson: Today is our 21st anniversary.
Adam Williams: Oh, wow. Okay. Congratulations.
Laurie Benson: Yeah, thank you.
Adam Williams: There have been so many turns, pivots, moves, I don't know, the right word, exciting, opportunities and things that you guys have created together. You've traveled the world together.
Laurie Benson: We have, yeah.
Adam Williams: Tell me about some of that. I know you mentioned global earlier, this idea of okay, local and community. But there's also a global aspect, I think, to [00:12:30] who you two are, how you see and move and work with the world. Where does that come from for you?
Laurie Benson: For me, it's that knowing that all of life is interconnected. There's two sides of that, which I think are very beautiful. One, knowing that when we stay focused on our local community, we are having an impact on the global community [00:13:00] by shifting thought, shifting the way we move through the world, shifting the way we see each other, our interactions, our conversations, the thoughts we hold, what we hold in our hearts.
Then, when we move into that larger global community, it's bringing that with us and understanding the importance of witnessing others, other cultures, other communities to further understand who we are [00:13:30] and how we support everything that's happening in the world. I know I shared with you that was a big part of our decision when we moved back to BV. It was so much smaller that Grace, our daughter, was only six months old and we said, "We're going to do it," and a part of that that's important to us is that we're going to get her out to see the world. She's been to 14 countries with us, and now she's 20 and off exploring stuff on her own.
Adam Williams: That's wonderful. [00:14:00] As a parent, and my wife and I have traveled extensively, we have two boys, and we have that similar value and interest for our sons to travel and know that there is more than just whatever our local sphere would be. It happens to be here in Chaffee County in central Colorado, but wherever we would live, we want them to know there is more. I wonder, I would guess that you had that intention, you and Joel together for your daughter that as we're doing this, as she's a child and she's growing up with this as a normal [00:14:30] activity, a normal understanding, there's more. Now, she's out in the world, she's a young adult, what do you see? I don't want to put words on you, but I am thinking pride, success.
Laurie Benson: Yeah. I don't even know that I have words for how incredible it is to see how Grace has stepped into herself and how [00:15:00] she's moving through the world and the self-awareness that she is bringing with her, I guess, or how self-aware she is as she moves through the world. Her presence and her ability to step into other cultures, other experiences and sit and observe and witness an honor, that to me is, if that's the gift that we've given [00:15:30] her, I can't think of a greater gift.
Adam Williams: I'm going to go back to that phrase, local and global. We have a great example here in this town. I think what you've already experienced and provided for Grace and what me and my wife are trying to do for our sons is, in this small town, that almost feels like a throwback to how maybe you and I both grew up.
We could ride our bikes around, we could be independent, we could explore and grow as children rather than feel the need for safety [00:16:00] to be so contained or whatnot. This town, young kids walk and ride around independently without people saying, "Where are your parents? I need to call family services on you."
Laurie Benson: Yes, yeah.
Adam Williams: She has that experience and now, also the global one. That just really touches, really resonates for me, of course, because I'm describing that's how we're trying to also lead our children.
Laurie Benson: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so grateful [00:16:30] that she grew up with all that freedom, and I was a bit concerned that she wouldn't have the street smarts to travel on her own. Would that be a hard lesson for her someday? But she's got it. Yeah.
Adam Williams: Good.
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: You grew up in the Midwest, right?
Laurie Benson: I did, in Michigan.
Adam Williams: Okay. I wonder what place that, I don't know, seed or bug for travel in you as a young ... you said at 16 [00:17:00] on, you're feeling this independence and this need to plot your own course and take responsibility for that. I also grew up in the Midwest. I've talked about it many times on the podcast in northeast rural Missouri, small town. I was in flyover land.
There were no TV shows that were centered around where you and I, I think, grew up. It's New York, it's LA, Chicago, but there's a whole big world out there and I couldn't wait, I was curious, I wanted to see. What led you to [00:17:30] get out there and explore in these ways and to live in places like Santa Fe and now Colorado? I don't know how many countries you've been to, but I would guess it's many.
Laurie Benson: Yeah. Like I said, when I turned 16, we were in Michigan. My grandparents were in Florida, and I would get in the car on Friday after school and drive straight through to Florida to spend the weekend with my grandparents and then drive straight back in time for a class on Monday, it was insane.
Adam Williams: I'm sorry, at what [00:18:00] age?
Laurie Benson: Sixteen. I know. Now that we have kids, it seems so absolutely absurd and I can't believe my mom was okay with the things that I did.
Adam Williams: That didn't compute for a minute, that that was what you were saying at that age.
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: Yeah, that's incredible.
Laurie Benson: Yeah. I've always had that. I love road trips. I've always had that desire to see a lot and to travel a lot. But my dad was the one, he actually brought me to Colorado because he worked at Adventure Unlimited [00:18:30] when he was a teenager.
Adam Williams: Oh, okay. Oh, wow.
Laurie Benson: I know. The history here in the valley goes deep. I remember, the first time I came out here, because he wanted to show me the ranches, I felt like I was coming home and these mountains, it was so beautiful and humbling. I remember leaving here after one summer and going back home, flying into the airport, and all my girlfriends came to pick me up at the airport and they wanted to hear all about it, and what did I do and was it amazing? [00:19:00] I told them about getting up early in the morning and saddling horses and being up in the mountains and all quickly, their faces changed like, "That's fun? Oh my God, you did that all summer?" It was a big part of it. I know that my love of the mountains and the west really was a gift from my dad, yeah.
Adam Williams: Did you have inspirations before that? Had you been somebody who also had curiosity maybe [00:19:30] in, I don't know, novels that were set here or photography and you'd see mountains, or for me, things like watching the Olympics and Winter Olympics and you'd see downhill skiing, and obviously, I couldn't do that in flat, northern Missouri. Where is that happening? That's exciting. Were there influences like that as well?
Laurie Benson: Photography for sure, Ansel Adams. I remember his black and white photography always spoke to me growing up. National Geographic, [00:20:00] just wherever I could find places to disappear into other areas, other settings than a suburb outside of Detroit, which I'm grateful that I grew up there, but yeah, there was just always this draw to be outside in nature.
Adam Williams: Ansel Adams, he was the first photographer I knew by name. In fact, when I went to journalism school and I was there for photojournalism initially, and someone at the camera shop [00:20:30] when I first showed up asked me, "Oh, who are your favorite photographers?"
Knowing I was from the journalism school and thinking I'm going to rattle off some list of great photojournalist, and I said, "Ansel Adams." I realized immediately then I might not be in the right program. I was not thinking on the right line. I had no idea who photojournalist were. But Ansel Adams, and yeah, I love that work and it still has an impression on me for sure.
Laurie Benson: Me too, me too. Beautiful [00:21:00] stuff.
Adam Williams: I want to talk about some of the work that you've done and some of this, we've mentioned that there were businesses locally with this global idea. Some of the things you've done have been very directly related, connected to people globally, 1% for women. I'd like to hear about that. That was something you did for five years, something like that?
Laurie Benson: Yeah, it was about seven years, yeah.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: Which is interesting because lots of that seven year cycle, we say we have those [00:21:30] universal cycles and it seemed to play out in my life quite a bit. I was working for an organization called Savory Institute before that doing marketing and was in charge of marketing and PR. Every day, I was the one that was reading all the news of the climate and everything that was happening, everything that was impacting the planet.
Grace was young at the time. I was putting her to bed one night and she started to cry and I said, "What's [00:22:00] the matter?" She asked me if the planet was going to die before she did. I realized half of my team was in Zimbabwe and I was on Skype, it was evening when they were waking up in the morning, so at night at the house, I was always on Skype calls with this part of my team and she was always listening. She was always very present, sitting beside me asking questions. I realized I needed to do something [00:22:30] that had a positive impact in the moment. A lot of what I was doing felt important, but it was like, "Well, if we do this now, maybe we'll see a change in 20 years."
It was heavy, and I realized I was bringing that to myself, to my family, to my community, so I started 1% for women. The idea behind 1% for Women was to get local businesses to commit 1% of their net profit to women in agriculture around the world. That was a beautiful [00:23:00] thing. Asian Palate, Ediline, a lot of the local businesses stepped up and said absolutely. It was just through Kiva, they did microcredit loans. I remember walking into Ediline one night, and it was off season, it was the winter and it was quieter, and the staff were sitting talking about who they were going to give the loan to that month, and I thought, "This is really cool." If nothing else, that the conversation is happening in our town about what [00:23:30] woman they're going to invest in Ghana or wherever it was to support for that month through their work and through their business.
I loved that until I feel like as I learn more, you can see as you get older, I guess just how everything's been stepping stones and how everything comes together. The house that we lived in forever on Sunflower Lane, you walked in the door and we built [00:24:00] a greenhouse right off the main entry.
I remember walking in one day and thinking, "The plants are dying in there, and I just don't even have it in me to keep one more thing alive. I can't do it. I just can't do it." Then, I realized 1% for Women is beautiful and important, and if these women aren't whole and complete and taken care of themselves, the resources like here [00:24:30] are seeds. These things are important, but we're still not getting to the root of what really needs to be changed and what really needs to happen, so that was my next pivot after that.
Adam Williams: Which was what?
Laurie Benson: Inward Bound women, Inward Bound. That's the space that I'm holding now and I have been since then, and it's really somatic awareness, embodiment work, understanding where we hold our experiences and our traumas in our body, [00:25:00] so we can understand and recognize the filter that we see the world through and the filter that the world experiences us through, and how through that awareness can we heal ourselves.
Adam Williams: I want to come back to that. That is your current work, right?
Laurie Benson: It is, yeah.
Adam Williams: I want to come back to that after we've touched on some other things that are more back leading into that, okay?
Laurie Benson: Absolutely, yeah.
Adam Williams: How old was Grace when she, that night when you put her to bed, [00:25:30] she's crying, she's feeling this?
Laurie Benson: I think she was probably six.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: Right around six.
Adam Williams: There are, I'm guessing, some conversations, some real conversations that were happening in the household and she was aware. Besides listening, hearing your conversations with colleagues, it's such a weighty thing. Of course, again, I've mentioned we have kids, these are things that come up. It's like, "Where are we headed here with the planet and with what we [00:26:00] are leaving for you? How are we cultivating this and the path forward in a positive way?" Is she involved in these things now? Is that something that has persisted as an interest or concern for her?
Laurie Benson: Yeah, absolutely. I think, like any teenager, she's not a teenager anymore, but she was up until a couple of weeks ago.
Adam Williams: Okay.
Laurie Benson: Like any teenager, she wants to carve her own path in life. There's this tug and pull between [00:26:30] wanting to explore more of all the work that Joel and I have done for her whole life, and also how does she make that her own? What does that look like? For a long time, she felt like she wanted to go into law because of that. She was at London School of Economics and Political Science last year and thought that that was her way or a potential road to creating powerful change.
I think, since then, she's realizing the power [00:27:00] of her words. She is a beautiful writer and exploring how she makes a difference using the things that she loves and the talents that she loves. But I would say, at the core of everything she wants to do, it's how do I make a difference? How do I step into being a part of the change that needs to happen? Absolutely, it influenced her, and now she's in that exciting, amazing point in life where it's like, "How do I take [00:27:30] all that I know and all that my parents have shared and make it mine?"
Adam Williams: It sounds like there's a maturity, and no pun intended, a grace that she carries, that surely has been instilled in some way, whether she fully recognizes how or not from you and your husband. It sounds like she has a fantastic future that is unfolding. You obviously have laughed a lot here.
In my couple of interactions with you, there's plenty of smiles, there's a lightheartedness [00:28:00] in that and ease, and I wonder how you got from those places where things felt so heavy and challenging.
We're talking about climate change and we're talking about how do we provide for women around the world to support themselves and food is a big thing, food security for people all over the world and all these things that you've been involved in. How do you manage to, I guess, deal with that, the weight of it and the seriousness and the importance and what must touch your heart in a heavy way at times, and also then have this [00:28:30] laughter and these smiles and the lightheartedness?
Laurie Benson: I'm going to share a story in an answer to that question. I love that question. I have been fortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in indigenous communities and with elder grandmas, indigenous grandmas. Some of the work that I was doing, I had a non-profit for a couple of years called Madres y Hijos. It was working with migrant women and children at the border, so [00:29:00] I would drive every month to the border of Arizona and Mexico. Driving down one time, I'm listening to the radio and they're talking about the Colorado River Basin and it's running out of water, and Arizona especially is, there are swaths of it that are completely out of water and will be soon and blah, blah, blah, we all know the stories.
I was staying in this little town called Patagonia, Arizona, and I pulled in and was expecting to see [00:29:30] the drought and that lack of water and everything that I had heard on the news. I got in, checked into my place and went for a walk up this road, the dirt road. As I'm walking, the butterflies were migrating through and they were everywhere. This whole road was just filled with swarms of butterflies and the creek was running, even though it wasn't the time of year the creek should be running and everything was green and alive. I had this [00:30:00] awareness of the fact that that was my reality if I chose that to be my reality.
If I chose to see that, then that was what the world could be. If I chose to live in the story that I had heard on the way down, then I was walking a different path. Actually, when I got back to my place, I emailed a Hopi grandma who's a good friend, and I just told her about my experience [00:30:30] and she responded, it was a very sweet email, just that she was very proud of me because that was what the elders had been sharing forever, that how we choose to move through the world and see the world shapes the world.
If we live in the stories of the dread and when we look outside, if we see the dead trees instead of acknowledging the ones that are thriving and blooming, that's the world we move. That is the world we [00:31:00] perpetuate and we feed the energy that then creates that reality. I choose to see it all, to honor it all, to not discredit the experiences of others or anything that they've gone through, and at the same time try and hold everyone's inherent right to peace and joy and freedom.
Adam Williams: That is something that I have to continue to practice. This idea of gratitude, perception, [00:31:30] the ways that we can influence our energy and those then around us by choosing to see what is positive and moving us forward in the ways that we would like rather than to focus on all the gloom.
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: It's challenging.
Laurie Benson: It is.
Adam Williams: I feel like, well, this is going to be a negative statement in itself to suggest that I think many or most people really, really struggle with that or maybe aren't even familiar with the possibility and [00:32:00] for reasons that are understandable perhaps from whatever their life experiences are.
Laurie Benson: I was in the Amazon last June, I'm going back again in October. I was with these two different communities, the Sapara and the Achuar. The Sapara move through the world guided by the knowing of the neutral spirit. The neutral spirit is simply that in nature, there is no right, wrong, good or bad, all simply is. Since [00:32:30] that's been shared with me since gaining, I guess, that awareness and that teaching, I really try to hold that in my heart as I listen to the stories of things happening right now, as I stand in front of people with opposing views, as I interact with my family, with my community, that if there is no right, wrong, good or bad, if all simply is, it neutralizes.
[00:33:00] It takes the divisiveness, I guess, out of what we're experiencing and allows me at least to look through things from a different lens. A lens that allows me to say like, "Yeah, I totally honor whatever has put you in this place. I understand that you've had experiences in life that have you standing very strongly where you are today, and [00:33:30] I know that we all have that ability for peace and joy and happiness, and if I can hold that both at the same time without being Pollyanna, what does that do? What shift does that create?"
Adam Williams: A line that I often use, which comes from a story, I don't know if there's a fancier better word for that, but it's one of those stories that there's a moral to it, and the moral of this, which is the line I carry, is good, bad, I don't know. Something happens. We could assess [00:34:00] it as bad. Maybe it's not going to be, maybe that's the thing that saved you from something that feels much worse.
Laurie Benson: Right.
Adam Williams: Ultimately, it's that neutral position of "I don't know". Life will continue to unfold, we'll continue to see what comes, because it's going to be the mix of all so many things all along the way.
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: I was going to ask you about Madres y Hijos. I'm curious about that work. I also do want us to be able to talk about Inward Bound. I'll let you have your choice there, [00:34:30] which way we carry this forward. Where do you feel like you would rather share right now?
Laurie Benson: It all flows together. Madres y Hijos really came to life because I was down in Sedona doing a story sharing project, and a friend said, "If you're this close to the border, you have to come see what's going on." I went down and was amazed at what I saw. I had no idea what was happening just a couple of states away from us. Without going into great detail, [00:35:00] I knew I had to get involved, and so I started a non-profit. I was actually on the White House Immigration Task force for the state of Arizona. I got deeply embedded in all of it very quickly.
Adam Williams: I'm sorry, what was it that you saw? What led to these involvements?
Laurie Benson: I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I was in Ajo, Arizona, went into the National Monument. First thing I saw was the wall.
Adam Williams: The border?
Laurie Benson: Yup, on the border, how it was separating the Tohono [00:35:30] O'odham. This indigenous community was about to go through this sacred water lake pond that they had gone to for generations to hold ceremony. As I was driving out from this water, keto poquito, on this dirt road, I saw two teenage girls carrying babies get stopped by border patrol. They got put in the trucks crying, [00:36:00] and it ripped my heart out of my chest.
The next time I went down, I saw 15 people walking on the road and stopped, and they had walked. They were from El Salvador. No, they're from Ecuador. Every time I went back, I saw groups of people, and that group of 15, when I got out of the car, the look of terror, I met eyes with one of the other moms, one of the moms in the group, and the look of absolute terror [00:36:30] and fear in her eyes as she saw me almost dropped me to my knees.
I feel like I'm a pretty non-threatening person and seeing in her eyes and in the entire group the extreme measures that led them to bringing their family across horrific conditions to then stand on the dirt road in the middle of nowhere, waiting to be picked up and taken to a holding facility, [00:37:00] all of it really jarred me. I got involved and realized after a few years of doing it that it was pulling me out of the work that I was doing with Inward Bound. It was making it harder for me to take care of myself in all of it, and thereby, my ability to take care of others in this space I was trying to hold.
I went back into, [00:37:30] recommitted to the Inward Bound work. I guess, what I was saying with the neutral spirit, how do I do both? How do I support what's happening down at the border with the incredible organizations that I connected with and partnered with down there and do it in a way that honors everybody? Now, instead of going down and actively participating the way I was, now I'm going to be going down and holding retreats for the humanitarian aid workers [00:38:00] to give them the tools and help them find a path so that they can stay in this work and not deal with the secondhand trauma as heavily as they have.
Adam Williams: When you mentioned earlier about being Pollyanna, if we were to, I think what you were suggesting right, was if we were to just tell everybody it's all butterflies and rainbows, just smile. It doesn't matter what you've been through, just smile. Of course, you're saying, "That's not what I'm trying to do," and it occurs to me that [00:38:30] that's coming from a place of privilege. Privilege of our experiences to not have to be what those people are going through, if they're coming up by foot, by hopping trains, by all kinds of means, from Ecuador or wherever, and they're willing to risk their lives, their families, their babies, everything.
There's a reason for it. It's not something, in my mind, that we should so lightly dismiss as criminal to us, as harmful to us. There's [00:39:00] a reason, and there's a tremendous amount of experience in that and it's privilege that would allow us to be a Pollyanna sort of figure and just say, "Oh, it can't be that bad. Just smile."
Laurie Benson: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Adam Williams: They need more than that from us.
Laurie Benson: Yes, they do. It really only takes a day of standing in one of the facilities down there and interacting and seeing the families, seeing the individuals moving through [00:39:30] to understand that nobody wants to leave their home. Migration isn't a choice like, "I'm going to go to the States. It's going to be better there, and it's going to be amazing." Even if it was, that should be okay. I guess that's where it starts to play out. These conversations of it's not that bad, they should stay home, or I can tell you it is really bad and many of them can't stay home, it's not a choice.
But even if it was, [00:40:00] even if someone's living in another country said, "I'd like to see what it's like in the States," there should be a process for them to come and see what it's like in the states. It shouldn't be so difficult. We shouldn't be so protective of our make-believe borders and boundaries.
Adam Williams: Right. I have a really weird analogy coming to mind. It's because it's a totally unrelated conversation that I've had with my sons recently, and we were talking about 9/11. [00:40:30] More than 20 years ago, in this experience with the buildings, and as any of us who were at least adults at that time would remember all kinds of details, and one of those things that they brought up was people jumping out of the building from very high up.
Laurie Benson: Wow.
Adam Williams: Again, a very weird analogy for me to make here, except it's such an extreme condition that I think those people felt they had no choice but to exit however they could. I think there's a [00:41:00] connection in terms of when people are in a place that is so dangerous, is so fraught with risk to their survival and the survival and well-being of their family, that they're willing, again, to travel maybe thousands of miles and through very dangerous conditions and then cross the border at a country where there's so much contention politically around it and danger for them to be here and there is no dream life waiting for them.
It's just one where they hope they can [00:41:30] maintain some level of safety even while knowing that, to some extent, they're kind of hunted here by the government and the system and law enforcement and politics.
Laurie Benson: Yeah. Well, and it's interesting having this conversation because I know some of your listeners are going to feel like, "Ugh! There's going to be people on both sides of this," because it's a very hot topic. That is another reason, conversations like this, another reason that [00:42:00] I guess it kind of threw me back into the Inward Bound work, because I realized how many times I got into conversations with people who couldn't hear it, who didn't want to hear it.
The necessity for all of us to understand the filters that we hear things with and the filters that we experience the world through and how we bring those to every conversation, it's so important. If somebody's triggered by what we're talking about, I would invite them to figure out where [00:42:30] they are in their body right now, where they're feeling it, where they're feeling the tension, where they're feeling the anxiety from what we're talking about, and then, notice as they move through the day, how often they occupy that part of their body.
I think they'll probably find that that's where they hold a lot of their traumas. When we get triggered by things, especially experiences of other people, everyone, I keep saying this, but it's so true, everyone has an inherent right to peace and joy and freedom. [00:43:00] When we're triggered by someone else trying to find that and trying to hold that space, why? Why? What's it bringing up for us that we haven't processed, that we haven't dealt with? I think it's just all really important stuff.
Adam Williams: Awareness is so essential in that and the practice of all of that, which I think is key to your Inward Bound work. It's going inward. It is focusing on ourselves rather than whatever emotions we might aim at someone else. [00:43:30] You are also a certified yoga teacher.
Things like that, I would guess, that that plays a role in how you have made connection within yourself and how you look at, you're talking about embodiment and where these things are, where we're carrying these pains in our bodies as a source of understanding ourselves and doing that work, what is the current work right now, if you can even summarize that with Inward Bound in what you're doing?
Laurie Benson: I published [00:44:00] a book this past year called Leading from the Feminine, which is a guide that takes the reader through really what my work has been up like a shortened version of tools and skills and a lot of what I've been sharing today. I'm working on a second book that has more to do with water and women and the consciousness of the planet. [00:44:30]
My work right now is really focused on honoring the indigenous communities that I've been a part of, understanding the big role that they've played in not only my worldview, but my ability to understand the impact I have on the world simply by how I move through the world and the space that I hold.
I'm opening up leading journeys with other women into the [00:45:00] Ecuadorian Amazon. A lot of the focus of Inward Bound right now is continuing to share these tools and these practices through writing and then actually bringing people to the places that have had a huge impact in my life, for them to have their own experience and see what it opens up in them and help others stand stronger in their purpose, and knowing of what they bring to this moment.
Adam Williams: It's worth noting that that [00:45:30] book has received a number of honors. You don't have to go into detail there, but I want people to know that it's being read and appreciated and regarded for the contents not just of the book but really of your life, and what it is that you have to share through these journeys yourself and experiences and practices and everything you've brought to it.
Laurie Benson: Yeah, thank you.
Adam Williams: I think that travel is such a key way [00:46:00] in getting out into these places that you're talking about. It's such a key way to develop that compassion and that understanding and to let down some of the guard of what I thought I understood, what I think, I think, I think. "Oh, it's wrong." Connection and purpose seem to be strong threads through all of your work. That sounds right?
Laurie Benson: Yeah, it does.
Adam Williams: Fair?
Laurie Benson: Yeah.
Adam Williams: I wonder how you identified purpose. Well, actually what we've talked about, if we describe it as [00:46:30] say, a serial entrepreneurship or a serial creativity, and you've described windows of time. Okay, I had several years here with this, and then there was something that felt like, "Okay, this is a natural coming to a pivot point, and I'm going to go in this direction."
There have been a number of those things, and I wonder how you've identified those moments, what nugget to take up and what seed to cultivate, and when is it time to maybe let it go and move into another space? Have you figured [00:47:00] out clearly for yourself how you go about that process in determining those changes in your life, those paths?
Laurie Benson: That's such a good question. I know I definitely am aware of when things are nearing the end of their cycle, like 1% for Women, that was very obvious for me. Madres y Hijos was obvious for me in different ways. Often, [00:47:30] I think what I do in those times when I start to question the work, question what I'm doing, is I start to pay greater attention, like "Okay, if it's not this, then what is it and what's the next piece that's going to open up that's going to show me what's next?"
Now, Madres y Hijos was a little different because I started to get physically sick from that, holding all of that for those years, and it was taking a toll. [00:48:00] When I stepped out of that work, that was hard to leave, and there was a lot of guilt in that, because it felt like privilege. To be able to say, "I'm getting sick. This is really hard on my body and I'm going to stop." That's all privilege. That was a hard one.
Adam Williams: When so many people can't leave behind what that trauma or stress is and the distress is in their bodies.
Laurie Benson: Exactly. I had to, I guess a lot of it, maybe the best answer I have to your question [00:48:30] right now is, I do the work. I turn inward and I understand where I'm carrying these things, why they're hard for me. Without turning away from them and moving away from something, I start to understand, "Okay, I'm not holding the right space in this work.
Going down to the border every month wasn't the right space. I still want to be a part of that and support that. What's the space I am meant to hold?" I have to go inward to find that. [00:49:00] Where I've ended up with that is, I am taking the work that I do that I'm meant to do and I'm bringing it down there and I'm supporting those who are present every day, and it's a part of their trajectory and their purpose.
Adam Williams: With just a couple of minutes that we have left, I want to ask why the focus on women in a number of these areas? What is important to you about empowering women and shining light in these areas for them to go inward and to strengthen and [00:49:30] find their purpose and lead their lives?
Laurie Benson: For me, it's always been about the women. I think it's just a part of my deeper calling. How do I hold sisterhood is really important to me. How do I move through the world in a way that honors my sisters? A lot of the work that I've done taking deep dives into all these different stories, Mary Magdalene, all the different time periods in life, [00:50:00] I really feel like what we are experiencing right now is because we've lost the voice of the feminine and that we're at a critical moment in history, where the imbalance that's happening in the world is because of that lost feminine wisdom. I think that has been a part of my calling and my journey since I was little. How do I find that in myself, and then how do I help others discover that men and women discover that in themselves?
Adam Williams: I was just thinking with men too, because [00:50:30] as it said, there's feminine and masculine energy in all of this.
Laurie Benson: Yes.
Adam Williams: Men having cut themselves and cut each other off from that softer side of things and being that more full and whole human, that can be all the things we think of with masculine and positive ways and allow for that softer expression and experience of things as well, so yeah, feminine reaching across the [00:51:00] whole spectrum of humanity.
Laurie Benson: Absolutely. It's so important.
Adam Williams: I'm going to ask you one speed round question just for fun. We've talked about a lot of big and important and meaningful things here, but you mentioned having started the music festival many years ago, and I think living near Motown might've had some influence on, "Hey, music is a thing."
Laurie Benson: Yes.
Adam Williams: Let's say, what calls to you now for music today, [00:51:30] lately, whatever it is? Do you tend to go toward contemporary stars? Taylor Swift, I guess, would count as that, even though she's been around for some years. Or, say vintage classics, which I'm afraid for both of us, for me anyway, is a bit alarming what gets rated as classic now.
Laurie Benson: I know. I totally agree. It makes you feel really old really fast. I love singer/songwriter folk music anymore and bluegrass and stuff that settles me into my body instead [00:52:00] of pulls me out. Although I will say I've been waking up every morning and having my own little dance party, which has been great, and that's just kind of whatever comes on Spotify.
Adam Williams: Is that your way of starting the day with some joy and lightness and even just gets the heart rate up just a little bit?
Laurie Benson: It's so good. It's so good. Yeah, my dogs dance with me, it's pretty crazy.
Adam Williams: It's been great talking with you, Laurie. I appreciate so much of what you're doing, the work in the world and for talking and sharing with us here.
Laurie Benson: Thank you so much for having [00:52:30] me. It's been so much fun.
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Adam Williams: Okay, that was Laurie Benson. If our conversation here today sparked curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode show notes at wearechaffee.org. If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email [00:53:00] us at email@example.com.
We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or any platform that uses that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about The Looking Upstream podcast, help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.
Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Prey is engineer and producer. Thank you to kHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado. [00:53:30] To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook @ [00:54:00] WeAreChaffee. Lastly, thank you for listening, and remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.
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