Quite a few months after her interview, Sarah connected me to Michelle. It took some time for us to schedule an interview and when we finally did meet Michelle was coming off a really difficult week at work. She is the founder and “Chief Culture Angel” at Humm Kombucha and had to make some really challenging decisions earlier in the week. In the end, I think it left her feeling more exposed than usual, which likely contributed to the depth of our heart-to-heart connection. Talking with Michelle in what was part storage room and part office came so easily and I left her feeling reenergized and a little lighter than I was feeling when I arrived. I’d venture a guess that she often leaves people with that gift.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
My name is Michelle Mitchell - that's what they call me. How would I describe myself? I don't know. This is gonna sound so cheesy, but it's what keeps coming to me - I describe myself as love and light. I've known this since I was a kid. I remember writing this paper in high school about what I wanted to... it was actually kind of a morbid paper. The question was, What do you want people to remember you by when you die? This was our junior year. And then the teacher sent it to us 10 years later. So, 10 years beyond that I went back and read it and I was like, Wow, that was still spot on! And I wrote, I just want to be love and light. I feel like my mission is to spread love and light through the world. How that happens, you know, the backdrops of the stories... it's just a story. I just want people's hearts to be really, really happy.
What matters to you or what motivates you?
That. Probably that. My kids really matter to me and it really motivates me to be a super good mom to them and to - and I would say this about actually all of the Humm-sters - create a space where they can be, like they can show up as they are. And they can screw it up and they can make mistakes and they can figure it out and they can... you know what I mean? When I think about the business, like, they can't keep making the same mistakes over and over - that's a problem. But that there's room. There's room for people to just be and not feel confined or trapped or like they have to show up a certain way for somebody else. And so, I think what motivates me is just holding space for people to breathe and to just be who they are and be human and figure it out.
What concerns you or what gives you a heavy heart?
What gives me a heavy heart is when humans are so blinded by their stories or their egos that they can't see the beauty in another and then they can't see that it's really just a reflection of themselves. You look at our world today.... I gotta be honest with you, I hardly ever watch the news. I figure if some newsworthy event happens to cross my plate, then I was supposed to hear about it and if not, then I wasn't. And I stopped like 15 years ago. Because it gave me a heavy heart. If I believe that my job in this lifetime is to spread love and light, then at that point - 15 years ago - to be reading all the news and how people are still killing each other and hating each other and all of this heavy, dark, bleh. It was too much and I felt like I couldn't breathe.
Person to person, what do we mean to each other?
I don't know if this is gonna make sense. I actually think that it's all the same. We're in different bodies. We have different stories. We have different experiences. Okay, the best way I can describe this is I'm gonna go back to traveling. We were in Korea at this point and we were with a Buddhist master. We were sitting there and Eric asked the question, What does it mean to me married? And he said, Okay, Michelle, go stand in front of this mirror and tell me what you see. And I said, I have blonde, curly hair and blue eyes and a green skirt and a blue sweater. And he said, Yeah, this mirror is a reflection of your physical body - your physical manifestation of you. A relationship - a marriage, but really any relationship and certainly your most intimate relationships - is a mirror of your soul because you can't possibly see in another human being what you don't know in your heart. It's impossible. You would be blind to it. You wouldn't even recognize it. So all of the beauty that you see in another person is yours - it's in you. And then all of the ugliness that you see in another person - it's in you. And every relationship is this mirror. I don't know if that answered the question (laughs).
So, in the grander scheme, what does it mean to you to be part of community?
For me, it's as simple as taking care of each other. Just taking care of all the beings that are in the community. Yeah, it can be as small as a family unit or Humm or Bend or it's the world. I don't think it has to be any harder than that.
There's loads of evidence of our not doing that. There's so many social injustices or violations of human rights or indecencies or breaking of moral and value systems and abuse in so many different forms. Do you have thoughts on that and then what your role might be in doing something about it?
I guess the perspective that I have on it is that it starts with the people closest to you and then, you know, the butterfly effect beyond that. I don't know, Joshua, it will be really interesting to see this next step for me and what happens after Humm. I imagine that at some point in the next decade or whatever I'll have space to do something maybe bigger or grander, but going back to the question of what really hurts my heart, it's seeing that. It's seeing these social injustices. And seeing people just blind. Blind, I guess, or asleep. I don't know any other way to describe it. There's a lot of pull in me to do something about human trafficking. I don't what that means exactly. I don't know what I'm gonna do. It's this pull to take care of women and children. It's not just women and children - there's men, too. But there's something there for me and I don't know what it is. I don't know exactly how that's gonna formulate. We were talking about ideas before and it's still far enough out that I can't quite... it's not tangible yet. For now I guess it's just doing what I'm doing and creating a work environment for a hundred people that they feel safe and honored and respected and valued so that they, hopefully, then take that and keep spreading it to the people that they are closest to.
You referred to blindness - when you encounter something terrible, is that your first instinct is to assume the person committing the act doesn't see it? Or are you more inclined to think that it's deliberate?
I ultimately believe in the goodness of heart of all humans. And I think when I say blind it doesn't necessarily mean that it's not deliberate; it doesn't mean that there hasn't been forethought; it doesn't mean that there isn't evil or anger and hate that is a part of the human experience. What I mean is those emotions - that that hate and that anger and that heaviness is blinding them from their true nature or the true nature of the human spirit.
Do you have a sense of purpose?
Mmmm. Yeah. To spread love and light (laughs). It really is.
What does the words 'a sense of purpose' mean to you?
For me it's very personal. I mean, you know, I got my own shit that I gotta work on, too. For sure. But every day I wake up and I have this altar - meditation table - and I spend 20 minutes every day. Throughout the course of my life this has ebbed and flowed. I've gone through times where I meditate a lot and I don't meditate and I practice yoga and I don't practice yoga, you know. But this stretch I'm at almost a year - it started last November - and it's different. It feels different now than it has before. Before I was like, People say that it's a really good idea to meditate, so I think I'll meditate. It was more externally motivated. And then this was just more internal. So, the way it drives me is I just want to be as clear as possible or as unblind as possible so that I can help clear this energy - this collective mask - that I think is happening in our time right now with humans on the planet right now. And I do a lot of work in energetic space - I don't actually share this at all except with my really, really close friends - but I feel a lot of energy and I believe that part of my purpose is to help clear this space for the collective. And hold space for the collective. And just... I don't really have words to describe it.
What do you want more of in your life?
I'm at a point in my life right now where while all of that purpose for me is clear, I still - at 42 - still feel not super-settled in my human experience. I got divorced three years ago; I have these two little beings that call me Mom; I have this business that I'm doing - those things are actually going really well, just different than what I thought that they would look like. And I don't necessarily feel fully settled in, I don't know, in this picture - in this lifetime. It keeps changing. It's changed so much in the last five years in a way that I couldn't have seen five years before that that I think I'm just now getting to this point where I'm like, Okay, we're all good (laughs). It is starting to feel that way, but I'm still just watching a lot.
Do you have anything that you'd like to ask me?
Well, what's your purpose?
That word has a lot of connotations for me. The first half of my life I grew up in a very conservative Evangelical Christian world and purpose was talked about a lot, but it was just this one thing - we were just meant to tell more people about God and that was that. We were in this exclusive community and we were super lucky and we were supposed to be able to pass out tickets to everyone else. It seemed like it was just meant to be like, “Stop asking questions. You’re special.” So, parting with that about 18 years ago, the word purpose has had a totally different feeling for me.
I'm an existentialist and I think philosophically and I like to deconstruct and just cause myself a bunch of heartache, basically. So I'm careful about how I answer it 'cause I don't really want to imply that I have any kind of answers. I will say that I have compulsions that I can't explain. And I'm generally not at ease - probably the softest way to put it - with the way things are. I have a lot of discomfort about how we treat each other and how I am capable of treating people and just the way it all functions. And this pursuit of greed and money and what wealth has come to mean and the access that gives you. I'm just uncomfortable and stressed out. But I'm so curious about everybody because I think there's got to be more and we all must have a notion about being dissatisfied with what we've adopted as the way that life is. But I don't see a lot of courage and bravery in trying to cut through all that bullshit. So, something in that is where it feels like my purpose lies - is exploring that; is trying to get to know people; it's doing this project for the sake of whoever stumbles across it, but also for my own - I need to be reminded that people aren't terrible or that many, many people have something so good.
So, I don't know. I had an inkling for photography and it turned out that I had an eye and then I learned the craft. And I've got a way with words. These are things that have kind of just come together and it seems to line up with this curiosity that I have. So, I feel like I'm living out my purpose. With that said, I don't find it peaceful.