Natalie Murphy recommended Sharon to participate here and she readily accepted the invitation. This was the absolute perfect interview for this particular day. I went into it feeling defeated but within minutes of chatting with Sharon I was completely turned around. We had a lively conversation and I enjoyed watching Sharon come alive as she spoke about what matters to her. I am so thankful that we were able to meet in the middle, as it were. Sharon didn’t overpower my feelings of frustration with over-the-top optimism or disingenuous and trite positivity, but she did articulate her truth with passion and her energy, as it turns out, was contagious. Isn’t it interesting how it can go either way? Sometimes we can let somebody bring us down and other times we just can’t help but be lifted up. This conversation meant a lot to me and if you only have time to read or listen to one of these interviews, I'd highly recommend starting with this one.
ACT: Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
SB: My name is Sharon Balsamo. And how I would describe myself - umm, I am a woman living in Bend. I work as a therapist and as a coach. I am a wife - I'm married to Jospeh Balsamo - and we have a son, little JoJo. I would describe myself as, I don't know, a magical person (laughs). That's sort of my jam. I love to be in those spaces of mystery and play and self-exploration. That's really what lights my fire - in a nutshell (laughs).
ACT: This is a multi-part, so give me a minute to get it all out. What concerns you about life today? What breaks your heart? What makes you sad? What affects you personally? This is one of those questions - it's easy to say some bigger social cause is what breaks your heart, but I have a hard time believing it. So what is it that really gets under your skin and frustrates you and then what motivates you to do something about it?
SB: Okay, that's a great question. It is a very big question. Well, I think what has been most impacting me right now is the concepts of leadership and power. So, I work in the spiritual growth industry. And I work as a spiritual coach. I love what I do. I have spent a lot of time in my life trying to find teachers and trying to learn as much as I can about this path and about myself. I'm trying to think of how to sum this up without diving into the whole, big, deep thing. So, I've been working with a teacher who I really admired and looked up to and I've learned a lot from her. And she has recently fallen off of her pedestal and shown herself as a flawed human being, as we all are. And so what I have been thinking a lot about is how I look at authority figures and how I kind of attach myself to authority figures, seeking validation, and seeking legitimacy - that's a big one for me because I'm a Virgo and so I like to feel like what I'm doing is grounded in practicality and reality and I'm also this very magical person, right? So, I love to do magic. I love synchronicity. I love working with herbs and with goddesses, Tarot cards - all of that. And so, it's been this sort of constant conflict for me between these two sides of myself and feeling like I can't give myself permission to be magical because it's not grounded in what's real. And so, I seek these authority figures to give me permission to do what I really want to do. And so many times that I've done that, it has wounded me. Because I have been giving my power away to somebody else.
And so, I'm passionate about that for myself right now 'cause I am so deep in it right now. My whole structures of belief about power and integrity and leadership and everything is just sort of currently being dismantled. I'm trying to piece it back together because the other piece of that is that's what I do - I help empower people. That really matters to me in my work. But also, I see that tendency that we have to put people on a pedestal. And I've had clients tell me, You're the only person who's ever helped me. And that is totally an ego stroke. We want to believe, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah - that's me. I did all this work and now I'm helping you. And I'm so amazing in that. And so, ego in this industry is the shadow side of the spiritual growth industry - I guess is what I want to say about that. Ego is a part of who we are - we can't eliminate it - but it really can come into play and then we use all this spiritual jargon like high vibration, love and light, and all that stuff to sort of push under the rug these darker parts of ourselves that we're seeking approval; we're seeking power; we're seeking validation; we're seeking permission; we're seeking somebody to tell us it's okay to be ourselves.
And I work with mostly girls and women and so I see that as just so foundational to who we are. We do not believe we can do anything that we want to do unless somebody bestows us permission first. And that is so disempowering. And so, what I really think about - this is sort of the next level of that, okay - I've been thinking a lot about how I work with mostly people of privilege - white women of privilege. I work with a lot of them. And I love them. And there's been this sort of pull - this internal struggle - around that of like, I provide my services to women who can pay for my services. The other side of that coin is I want to empower people who really are disempowered. Like people who are oppressed because of the color of their skin or their sexuality or, you know, all of those pieces. And I do work with some people who fall into those categories. But what I think about with upper-class white women is that they believe that they are disempowered. They've been programmed to believe that and so they spend a lot of their attention on what our culture has taught them is empowering, like beauty and material objects and status - those kinds of things. And so, they find that when they attain those things they're not fulfilled by them. They feel empty and hollow inside and then they feel really guilty about that. They're like, Oh, I have everything I could ever want. What's wrong with me? I have no right to be depressed. I have no right to feel anxious. And so, what some of them are coming to understand is that those are the things that keep us busy so we're not actually paying attention to what is really happening.
So, what I see in the white woman's story of disempowerment is when we have that story - Oh, I can't really change things or Nobody's gonna listen to me or I don't have permission or That's too big... Who do I think I am? This is a big story - who do you think you are to think that you could be powerful or be a leader or that you could speak up? That you could hold somebody accountable for injustice? That's not your place. And so, that story that we have keeps us complicit in a system that oppresses other people. So, we are - through our disempowerment - we are contributing to that system, actually. So, the work that I do with women and with girls around this is when we become empowered, when we realize that we have a right to speak our truth, we have to pursue what we feel passionate about. We have a right to not be apologetic for our existence. These are the deep-rooted beliefs that we have built inside of us because of the culture that we grew up in, that we have have created and are creating every day. We are all contributing to this. When we are in that place - when we are living our truth and being in our power - we start to see the veil becomes lifted. And we start to see, Okay, this feels really good to me. Here's this person that can't even feed her children. There's no way she can attain this because of the system that we are creating. And we are agreeing to it. We are benefitting from it.
And so, I do feel really passionate about our work. Even the work that you're doing, right - you're interviewing people; you're hearing people; you're holding space for people - that is a radical act. We think we have to do all these big, crazy things to change the system. No, we don't. We don't. We all just need to do our piece. And if we're all doing our piece, the system will change. And so, I'm doing my piece by doing my work. And that's what I feel really passionate about. I have to do my work. I have to look at my shadow stuff. I have to look at where I was drawn to this teacher because she was so beautiful and she created all this beautiful stuff and she was so powerful and she had such influence and I wanted a piece of that. And so I was complicit in her business model that was unethical and harming people because I was gaining from it. That's been hard - hard to look at again. Because I've gone through this several times - many layers of this process - of like, Oh yeah, there it is again. There's my tendency to do that. And to see how we all can have that tendency to give our power away, to be drawn in by pretty things, to be drawn in by power, and to let go of the values that we need to start really embodying and building into the foundations of our systems which we do not have right now. Does that make sense?
ACT: Sure. It's powerful. It's a great answer - in a word.
SB: Thank you.
ACT: What do we mean to each other, individual to individual?
SB: Everything. In the science of neurobiology and attachment studies the research that's coming out right now is this understanding that it is all about attachment. It is all about our relationships to each other. The moment that we come into the world - how we are welcomed into the world; how our mothers are cared for so that they can care for us - that's the foundation of our neural networks. Our neural pathways are starting to form right away. And so the experiences that we have human to human - that is the first biological need that we have. Because without connection we would die as infants. We would die! As babies and as humans all the way up until the day that we die, we register emotional pain - our brains and our bodies register it - the same as physical pain. And so the pain of abandonment and neglect - even if it's just a small, like, I'm crying and you didn't respond to it - that's like a break in connection and it affects our neural pathways.
So, I think about the trauma work that I've done as a child and when I think about the times that I felt abandoned or neglected or unloveable, those were the most damaging to me. And those were the most healing I had to do. And so, the work that I do now is everything is about connection. And I think for me having a child, it's just took it to the whole next level. I get so much out of being a mother. I mean, it's the jam. It's like the thing that matters the most to me. And it's the thing that I get the most out of. So, I think that human connection is what is gonna bring us out of this mess. Because if we don't start understanding how much we do actually matter to each other, we're just gonna take everything down. But I don't believe that we're going to. I'm optimistic. Yeah. I have to be (smiles).
ACT: What does community mean to you? And take the geography out of this - that is not my interest. What does it mean to you to be part of community with so many differences? To refer to what you just said, what does it mean to you to be part of community when it seems to me like so many people don't have this appreciation for each other? And you can argue that if that's not your experience.
SB: Oh gosh. That's tough. What does it mean to be part of community when other people don't have that perception about community?
ACT: Yeah. Just with all of the differences. The differences of opinion and agenda and the differences of how we do value each other or do not value each other. The difference of valuing each other if it helps you. There's a long list of negative behaviors that we exhibit in line at the grocery store, in traffic, in the grander human scale of 'I'm better than you because of my color, because of my height, because of eye color, my skin tone, my cultural upbringing, my ethnicity, my geography, 'cause my nose is different than yours' - to the point of genocide and nuclear war.
SB: Okay. I guess the way that I try to see it is that humans - we're in an evolution. I try to look at it as like we're in our process. We're all in our process. And so, some people are maybe farther along in the process of understanding relationship and community than others. And those are the people that I seek out. Because I do believe that my community needs to nourish me. And I have that expectation. And so, if it is more draining, then that is a person or a community that I will not necessarily invest my energy into. I think we are responsible to be mindful of who we're surrounding ourselves with and what we are accepting, I guess, if that makes sense.
So, I think a piece of it, to speak to what you were talking to, I was raised Catholic and Baha'i - do you know anything about the Baha'i faith? It's kind of a newer religion. It's still a patriarchal religion in the tradition of Judaism and Christianity and Islam. It's sort of like the next iteration of that. They have this concept of unity through diversity. And so when I was growing up - in Virginia... it originated in the Middle East. In Iran there's a lot of people who became Baha'i because their prophet was Persian and now it's outlawed - because they outlawed that religion - and so a lot of Baha'is who were from Iran came to America. And so, we knew a lot of Iranians and people of color. There are Baha'i communities all over the world - it's a very diverse religion. And it's something that they really value. They value other religions. I mean, I'm not a scholar in the Baha'i faith, so there are things that I might be wrong about - I just want to give that as caveat - but my understanding is the idea is that God is like the hub of the wheel and each religion or tradition is like a spoke. There's a place for every tradition because the teachings are so aligned. And so, that was a concept that was taught to me as a very young child. My parents really value diversity. I grew up in a place with - there were like six military bases and my dad was in the military - and so there were people just from all over the country - all types of ethnicities, all types of races - and that was something that was really important to our family - that we were kind of in the mix of all of that. And it is an interesting contrast being here in Bend - that's different.
But, for me, I see so much value in difference. That's what makes us strong. Some people are really, really great at math and we need those people. I am not one of those people. I'm great at relationship. And I can help people understand how relationship works and how to be functioning in relationship. And we all sort of serve this purpose. And I think that old way of saying that we have to be against each other - I think that way is dying. I think it's just old and tired. And I see the younger people coming up now. They have much lower tolerance for this mentality of we have to other you to make ourselves safe. I think that's just not been their experience. And I'm speaking super generally right now because I know that that isn't the case for everywhere all over the country. I think it's growing pain. And it's time for us to grow out of it.
ACT: There's a few groups of words in this question. I've crafted it on purpose. I don't often go through this explanation regarding it, but I'm gonna do that for you 'cause I really like the way you're answering things. Pick one or pick all three - just let me know which one resonates with you and give me that answer. So, do you feel a sense of purpose? A compulsion to live with intention? Or a responsibility to affect positive change?
SB: Well, obviously yes to all of those questions! Yeah, I mean, I guess I'm going through a little bit of a shift around the answers to those questions right now. Because obviously the answer is yes for me. I wouldn't be where I am or do what I do if the answer wasn't yes for all of those things. However, I think what's shifted for me... my past experience has been I need to do something. I need to make the world a better place. What is my purpose? What is this about? What's my work? And a lot of that has come from the trauma of my past around feeling solely responsible for the functioning of my family when my family was in chaos around me. Okay? I was like the mediator. I was the peacemaker. As I grew into an adult that's what that sort of translated into of like, The world is a shit show. It's time to fix it! Here I come! I just need to figure out the best way to fix this place! (Note: Sharon says this in a funny nerdy/superhero voice and laughs.) So, what has shifted for me, especially in this process with my teacher and watching the spiritual community around this teacher - how we're all trying to make sense of everything - what we are really understanding is we're all doing the work. We've all been doing the work. She hasn't been doing the work for us. She's been creating space for us to show up and do that work. And that's been really transformative for me. And also in doing this, I'm making a shift - I'm writing a book - so I'm focusing on my story, writing my story. And this creative process that I'm being called to for my own sake - not because I'm like, This is gonna save the world! - 'cause initially that's what my book was gonna do; it was gonna save people. No, this is for me. I'm doing this for me.
In my spiritual work of really connecting with the Divine Feminine and Mother Earth as an embodiment of the Divine Feminine and then myself as an extension of Mother Earth - I see Mother Earth as the organism, if that makes sense, and myself as a part of her. And so, my work is important - it does have a purpose - but it's not anything special. It just is what it is. And I just gotta do what I gotta do. And when I do that, the way that our brains work - so, do you know about mirror neurons? Oh! Game changer! Oh my gosh! This is a game changer! What they are finding is that our neurons mirror each other. So now that we're in the same room together, interacting with each other, our neurons are firing similarly. We're having a similar emotional experience right now - that's what creates connection. And so, when you're walking down the street, your neurons impact every single person you pass. It's so profound! When you look at research of the science of attachment and neurobiology, so much of what I have learned in this role as a therapist is the most important thing that I can do - like what we were talking about earlier - is presence. It's just being fully present. Because then our neural pathways light up together. And that's really where healing and growth happens.
And so, when I am in that space, when I am in my presence, and when I am grounded, and when I am peaceful, and when I am joyful, and when I am living in my truth, and when I am expanding and contracting and all of those things, that creates another template for other people to see, Oh, okay, this is one way of doing it. And that's more important than me going out and saying, Okay, I'm gonna change your life. I'm gonna tell you how to live and what to do. And then you're gonna have it figured out. And you're welcome. And now I'm gonna go on to the next person. I think we need to... I want to get away from that of the guru model. No, we're all gurus. We're all teachers. We all just need to wake up and do our own work and seek our joy. I think ultimately that is our purpose. Our purpose is to be present and seek our joy and just live on the Earth. It's so beautiful here! You know?
And we have the power to create beautiful systems, too. Why wouldn't we do that? Why aren't we doing that? So, that’s sort of how I'm looking at it. I can create my home in a way that feels beautiful and healing and that has an impact. You know? I can love my son unconditionally and give him space for his feelings and his process and that has an impact. And so, I see it as we're all just doing our piece. And we don't have to work as hard at it as we think we do because it's just happening naturally. We move towards growth and healing naturally. We just need the right conditions for it. So, all we need to do is facilitate the proper conditions for humanity to grow up. I feel like I'm giving really long answers to your questions.
ACT: It's good stuff. It's definitely changing the course of my day... which I guess I'll just go ahead and say something about. So, last night I spent some time with a couple of dear friends who are part of my life directly or only because of this project. I'm in a slump. I'm just not feeling it these days. I'm tired and A Community Thread just gets on my nerves. And so, coming in here today, I still kind of had that on. I was hopeful that it was gonna be a great interview - and it has been. Whenever I feel like this, I get one of those interviews that kind of gives me a little bit of energy. And I'm like, 'Well, obviously I should still be doing this.'
So I came in here feeling a little 'meh'. And as you were just talking about the mirror neurons, I was wondering how is it so that sometimes we can have a shift like I've just experienced here today - where you've really encouraged me; you've lifted me up; I don't think that I've weighted you down... we did do that thing where I do feel like we're having a very similar experience here today. But other times the power of one's neurons can severely and negatively outpower someone else's. Do you have a sense as to why that is? In these little instances - a random engagement as you're walking through downtown - and on the greater scale - I know it's an extreme example - of genocide. What is it that allows something like this to happen versus something like that to happen?
SB: I think it's in intention. Before you came in here or even on the way driving here, I was thinking about this interview and I was like, What am I gonna say? You know, the whole thing. And I was like, No, okay, get back to what you know? What do you know? I need to root myself in the Earth and I need to be clear about the kind of energy that I want to have today. I don't know what I'm gonna say. I don't know what our conversation's gonna look like. I can't plan to say the brilliant thing that's gonna... you know... but what I can do is I can be in my authentic space with it. Right? Because I've done a lot of intention and cultivation around my energy; this room has been created for growth (laughs). Period. So, I have incredible boundaries. And they're still a work in progress - they're not perfect. I think boundaries are huge. Boundaries are so huge because we often feel like we don't have control over our thoughts and our neural pathways when we really do. In the case of genocide, that is a very extreme case, but it's sort of like this gradual pushing of a boundary - of what's acceptable and what's acceptable and what's acceptable - and we're like, Okay, I guess I'll tolerate that. I guess I'll tolerate that. I guess I'll tolerate that. And then all of a sudden, we're living in accordance to somebody else's value system.
And so, for me, it's a lot about getting really clear on what my value system is and what I will and will not allow in my energy field. I know that sounds super woo-woo, but that's what works for me. If somebody comes in here... first of all, I'm super clear about who I work with - that I work with people who are motivated to change and believe that they can because that energetically makes it possible for change to happen. So, I choose not to surround myself with people who are like, Well this is just the way that it is; I'm never gonna change; it's just always gonna be this way. Because I don't want that in my field. And I have compassion for people who are in that place. I'm not like, Oh, screw you. But I have to be discerning about what I allow in my brain.
And so it's the same as cultivating your Facebook feed. My husband will look at his and he will just get so riled up about... I mean, he's a pretty chill guy, so riled up is like, Oh man, this is bringing me down. I'm like, Dude, stop reading it! So, I think part of us feeds into the negativity because - well, I mean, this is gonna get a little esoteric - it's what's comfortable for us. We know trauma. We know disconnection. We know violence. We know anger. We know fear. And it's places that we're actually really comfortable being in because it's familiar. Even though it scares us and it hurts us, at least it's known. Because it really is the unknown that our brains fear the most because that could kill us 'cause we just don't know. Right? And our brains are designed to keep us alive. It doesn't care if we're happy or not; it doesn't care if we feel good; it really doesn't care. It just wants to keep us alive. And so, when we understand how our brains actually work and that our brain is always looking for threats, so of course we're gonna glom onto somebody who's saying, You're being threatened. There's danger here. We're gonna be like, Oh, good. Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Now I'm gonna be on the lookout. Oh, they're the dangerous ones? Great! Thanks for letting me know. Now I'm gonna be on the lookout. It's just human wiring. And so, until we start getting mindful and intentional about like, Okay, I'm not using that wiring anymore because it's not effective and it's actually making everything worse. But I think it's harder for people to be in joy and connection and vulnerability and power because it feels so scary and unfamiliar; we just don't know what that feels like. Does that make sense?
ACT: I started doing this thing many months ago - I started opening up for the person I'm interviewing to ask me a question. And I really wrestled with the idea just because I'm not really sure who's interested in hearing what I might have to say, but this whole thing is a way to show the world an example of how people should maybe communicate, so it's two ways. So, do you want to ask me anything? And I guess the idea for this is for whoever might read or listen to also learn something through this.
SB: Yeah. I guess what I would be interested to hear - and this is kind of a big question - is what is your philosophy as to why we're here and what this is all about?
ACT: (Sighs) I don't know. I'm a bit of a strange bird in this regard. I was raised from birth until college in the extreme evangelical Christian church and so I was told a lot of whackadoo stuff. I went to school in that environment; I went to church in that environment; my home was supposedly that environment, but it was just full of violence and hypocrisy. And so I had all of these reasons that were just prescribed to me for what life was and what we were here for and how special each of us was and how we were made in the likeness of God and, you know, all this stuff - the dinosaurs weren't real and neither was evolution... lots of stuff that's pretty weird. I even went to a religious college - I hadn't sorted it all out yet. And then in college I left that and I chose to be someone else. So, I'm the person that I've chosen to be now. Not the person that I was raised to be in this one regard.
So, I am definitely drawn/attracted to existentialism, existential thinking, philosophy. The philosophical problem of evil really frustrates me. I have a hard time understanding that - getting past it, I guess. So, what about it? What can we do about it? How can we beat it? I'm very much a values-based person and I also believe there's lots of grey in that - I had enough black and white for a lifetime. Relationships really matter to me. I'm very sensitive. I'm very vulnerable. And I think that's super cool about me and about other people. And I'm also just constantly disappointed 'cause I see this other thing - this older thing that you were talking about - still being worshipped and praised and valued. And I'm bored of it. But it's not so bored that it doesn't still really impact me. So, as far as what we're here for, what is the purpose of humanity, I don't really know that we have one that's any greater than what is the purpose of another animal. I'm open to the idea that there's something that comes next. You can't know it. Nobody knows it. So, I'm open to the idea. But it's not what gets me up or puts me to sleep.
My purpose seems to be to become the best that I could possibly be. And I mean that relationally. I would like to be slower to anger. I would like to be more empathetic. I would like to do what you were just saying - choose where to put my energy. I don't always think that I'm doing that. That doesn't always seem like something that I'm active in. And I heard what you said and that will stick with me and hopefully this is one those conversations that alters my course. I don't believe that we're meant to be selfish or greedy. There's not other examples of it in the world - especially in the animal or natural world. It's all about sharing. It's all about need. It's all about survival without destruction. So, I don't know why we've chosen something different. And it frustrates me and it makes me very, very, very sad. And I think it frustrates a lot of people, but we've been put into a position where we're trapped. And so we have to - real or contrived - we have to survive at all costs. And I think unfortunately, for many, it's survive at the cost of your own values. And I'm ready for the next chapter. I'm super ready for it. Does that answer the question?
SB: Yeah. Oh my gosh, so much. Thank you. Yeah. It does. Can I just say one thing to that?
ACT: Yeah, let's have it.
SB: I think that one of the hardest things for me is that I think we are in the shift - I think the shift is happening - but we're still living in these two worlds. One is the world we desire - that doesn't exist yet, but that we're starting to build. And the other is this old world of, yeah, of like having to compromise your values to survive and everything that goes along with that. And it's so disheartening. And I think what's hard for me is understanding that I am just such a tiny blip in this cycle. That this process is gonna take generations. And I'm not gonna be alive to see it. So, letting go of that, you know, being just in like, Alright, we're in the hurricane right now. It's hard to keep the hope and the faith alive. Like, Yeah, yeah, we're gonna figure this out. We're gonna figure this out. So, I can really relate to that. And I think that, for me, has just been, again, that piece of, Oh, I just have to do my part and I may never, ever understand what the results of it… I may never see that the world is getting better. And I still have to just do it. You just have to do it.
ACT: Do you have anything else to say in closing?
SB: Well, I feel like I said a lot (laughs). But I do think that work like this is what gives me life. And seeing other people do this work is really inspiring to me. And so I do want to encourage you and appreciate you and just reflect to you that you are seen and the work that you're doing matters. And I think that my hope is that settles into your bones a little more deeply. To just trust in that and wherever it leads, it leads. I want more of this. One day these kinds of things will be the things that bring us abundance (laughs). We just have to create the structures for it first. I have a lot more that I could say about that, but I'm not gonna ramble on and on and on. But, anyway, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and hear me get all fired up about all this stuff.
ACT: It's really cool. It was a pleasure. Thank you.