Danielle Mercurio, 39, in the entryway of her office building

I met Danielle at an Opportunity Knocks event that Aly Waibel asked me to photograph. As the event was closing down, Aly began introducing me to some folks and Danielle was one of them. I recently interviewed her partner, Eric, too. We tossed around the idea of doing a joint interview, but separating them proved to be easier to schedule. I am not a relationship expert, but these two seem to have a really great thing going on. They are both full of genuine love and it shows on their faces and it comes out through their thoughtful words. I left both of them with a strong feeling of connection and the excitement that comes when you've made new friends. 

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

My name is Danielle and, by profession, I am a holistic life coach. And I am really passionate about empowering people to really connect with our highest self and really manifest the life that they want to be living. I went through this life-coaching process seven or eight years ago. It was a self-discovery process where you really connect with yourself and we had to name our authentic self. And I named myself Love. So that's really how I would describe myself is love. I try to spread love to other people, and to myself, and really just help people... I guess it's loving themself. And really spreading the love throughout humanity. I really believe we are spiritual beings having a human experience. So, we're these beings of light. The best way to describe it would be a light being of love that I'm radiating out to the world. That's my goal at least; I don't know if I achieve it every day, but that's what my goal is. 

What brought you down that path?

I was raised Catholic and I remember in high school feeling that it wasn't - something just felt really off for me. It didn't feel like a good fit. And so I felt like I was just looking for something. I started traveling a lot after high school. I moved to Europe - moved to Belgium and lived there for a few years - and I realized not everybody was really religious. I was living in the Bible Belt in Texas and thought everybody went to church every Sunday and had to go to church on Wednesdays and did this and that. Traveling the world opened my mind and made me realize, Oh, you don't have to do all this. And organized religion just didn't feel like it was a good fit for me. So I was seeking something inside of me that felt - there just felt like there was a void. And I was trying to fill that void. So I started meditating in my early 20s and I started doing yoga and that really opened up the whole world for me of the spiritual growth. And then in my late 20s, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had opened up this world to this new spiritual path: meditating and stillness and trying to find the happiness within and realizing how much more I needed to love myself - the importance of that. So I started this coaching process because I wanted to find clarity in what I wanted to do with my life - what my purpose was. So, I found the clarity after a year of coaching. I realized that I wanted to empower others to find that within themselves. Because there are so many distractions in this world. And there are so many people looking for things and we fill it with either substances or TV or social media or anything outside of us. And we're looking for this happiness or this peace that we want and it's all inside of us. Even though I don't feel that every day, I know it's in there. And I know it's something we have to feel inside of ourselves and connect to that part of us and that higher part of ourself. So, to me, love is all of that. That's really what it's all about is loving yourself, loving other people. Because we're all connected, we're all one; we're one with the Earth, we're one with each other. To me, that's what this whole journey's about - learning and feeling connected. 

What motivates you?

I think I can relate with both of those. When I see people who are really grieving and who are in pain and who are suffering - because we all do at some point in our life - I want to reach out and help those people. And that motivates me to get out of bed because I know that those people need other people. But those people that are out there and are living the life - they're connected to their authentic self and they're really the life that they want to be living and they're truly happy and feel really good about where they are and feel connected - that's really where I can draw my inspiration from because those people who have that energy, they're in the vortex. Their energy is really high and they're living that life - to me, that's motivating 'cause I know that I can do that and I want to be more like that. I know that they affect me and so when my energy's really high and I'm in that place, I know that I can affect those people who are suffering as well. 

I do see the importance of being sad or grieving and having the chaos because if we don't have that, we can't have the opposite. Right? We can't be grateful for that situation to get us to where we are. It is important to have that. But I think it's sad to see when people stay in that - stay in that struggling, that grievance - for too long. There is a time and a place for that and it's important to honor that place when you're there and to be there - to feel it - but I don't think we understand, especially in the western culture, how to release it. And the problem is we hold onto it and it comes out in forms of cancer or physical problems or it comes out and it just gets so much worse than it really has to be. It is good to have, but I think people need to learn how to deal with it when they're there so they can rise above. It's gonna be like this throughout our lives. That's part of it. It's part of life, it's a part of the journey. 

What does community mean to you?

That's an interesting question. I feel like the past few years since I moved here, I have been seeking more community. For me, it means support. It's love. You have people around you who are supporting you through the good and the bad and they're there to help you, encourage you, be there for you when you're down, but also celebrate with you when you're high to help you. I saw a documentary called Happy. They talk about who the happiest people in the world are and they're people in Denmark. And it's because they live in a small community and they have so much support. People helping each other raise their children and helping each other cook and they have this community. And people are happiest when they're in this community. So, to me, it's the support that you need. Like I said, I've been looking for it more the past few years since I moved here because I didn't know anyone when I moved here. But when I was in Texas, I have a huge community of people that - it's my family. I'm really close with my family and I feel like I've had that community for a while in the friends that I have. To moving here - not having that same support or just being further away from my support - community is really important, I think, to our happiness. 

Have you found community here?

I have. I'm still building it, but I feel like I have started to build it. My partner, Eric, and I are trying to build more and more of a community together. I feel like we have started it, but I feel like it's the beginning of the growth. 

What's one role in the fight against social injustice.

That's a good question. I think everyone needs to step up and figure out what it is that they believe in and step up and do something. Everyone's gonna have a different role. It depends on that person. I can't speak for someone else. For me, my role - I do a lot of meditation and I think it's important in my meditation to not only go within and be inside myself but to spread my energy and any thoughts, anything that's going on inside of me, out. So it may not be as active as someone else who's gonna go maybe protest or go do something else, but to me, it's sending that energy out as much as I can and trying to change any injustices. That's one way to describe it. I'm sure if I saw something first hand, I would take action right then. But, in a daily practice, I think just sending out energy to the world, trying to make that change is one little, small step I can do every day. 

Do you think we have a sense of responsibility to one another?

I think it's important for people to - that first step is to be self aware. And that personal growth is important so you're improving yourself, but the reason why you're doing that is so you can help other people and serve. You know, you go through your own transformation so you can help the other person, so you can be there for someone else. Because if you're in a really bad place, it's hard to serve other people. I think people have taken it to an extreme and they forget to move on to service and they just stay in this box of, Okay, I'm just gonna move up and this is all about me. And that's where we've gone wrong. It is important to improve yourself. But then, that's good, now we have to focus on other people, as well. We're all in this together. We are all one. I think it is unfortunate that people are selfish. Like I said, especially in this culture - in the western culture - and they want immediate gratification for themselves. We have these mirror neurons that, you know, whatever's happening in me is gonna affect you. If people would realize that, that we're so connected and it's not just about yourself... I don't know how to change it. I wish I did. I really wish I did. 

What do you wish for the future?

What do I wish for the future? (Sighs) Good question. I wish for people to learn how to grieve so they can release it fully and then they come - they're on the other side - and they're able to help somebody else who's going through it. So, it's gonna be a cycle of people that are suffering and then people who are not. I wish people would feel more connected to their higher self and to their source - whatever that looks like for them - to the Earth, to everything around us, so we can be there for each other more. So people aren't as selfish. It's really connection. And consciousness. I want to help raise consciousness in people so they can feel more connected. I feel like that's how people can feel more connected to each other. 

You have anything else you want to put out there?

I think it all begins with ourselves and in order to make any change in the world we need to be connected. I've talked a lot about connection and your higher self and I think one of the most important ways to get there is through meditation and sitting in silence and just being with yourself and feeling that connection with your higher self, with your source, with creator. And taking that time to spend with yourself. And don't forget to serve because that's a big part of it. Once you're connected, reach out to others and serve and give. So just take time to do that for yourself.