For the launch of her new book High Grade Living, we had the great opportunity to sit with Jacqui Lewis, meditation teacher and co-founder of The Broad Place, a global school for Creativity, Clarity & Consciousness. Applying ancient knowledge to modern living, High Grade Living published by Thames & Hudson is a handbook for shifting from stressed, anxious and overwhelmed to creative, grounded and happy in all areas of your life. Jacqui Lewis demonstrates how a strong foundation of meditation can benefit all areas of your life, from the home to relationships, creativity and happiness. The perfect read if you are looking to change gears this year.
What is your background and how did you come to find yourselves on the path of wellness and mindfulness?
My background has always been in creative industries. I trained as an interior architect and graphic designer, and then worked in these industries, adding photography and furniture design to the mix. I launched into exhibition curation and design and fell into public relations and marketing alongside designing for clients, including restaurants and bars, fashion and furniture clients, offering a wholistic approach to creating and communicating for them. I co-owned in this time a restaurant and cafe, and a creative communications agency. After a solid decade doing this, not only was I rather burnt out, but everyone I was working for was also. The difference in our coping mechanisms and resilience was that I had been steadily meditating since I was 18, and was being constantly asked how I was managing all that was on my plate. We launched The Broad Place as an answer to that, a place to come and learn how to not just cope in the world but thrive. A school without any dogma or too strange spiritual stuff in which to learn to meditate, learn philosophy and tools in which to live better in our highly engaged modern world.
You’re the co-founder with your partner Arran Russell of The Broad Place, a global school focused on bringing clarity, consciousness and creativity into people's lives. Can you talk us through this?
We are a global school sharing ancient knowledge and modern neuroscience, tools and experiences for higher grade living. Our teachings are based on time-honoured truths and practical experience. We are outcome-based and focussed on improving the quality of life for our students, teachers, and community. There is so much opportunity to become better at doing in life, we focus instead on the elements of being, as who we are as a human being informs all the action. We create education for people to understanding and empower themselves in their daily life, and to live with more clarity, creativity, and consciousness. We teach Integrated Meditation as part of our key offering, a mantra based 20 minute twice daily transcending meditation technique. We host immersive Retreats, corporate Workplace Programs, Mentoring Programs and publish books, online programs and create products for higher grade living.
Can anyone join your program and be part of the global community you’ve built?
Absolutely they can. We teach people from all walks of life, different demographics and ages from all over the world, thanks to the internet! We work with high profile CEO’s struggling with the stress of being at the top, through to stay at home parents who want to be calmer and happier every day, teenagers grappling with exams and social pressures, all the way up to retired empty nesters who have lost a little of their sense of purpose. The teachings we offer are comprehensive, enriching and helpful to all.
What led you to embark on this venture and how have you seen your teachings enrich the lives of others?
With the right tools, self-understanding and support network, I believe everyone can access a better version of themselves and enrich their lives. The Broad Place was a platform to prove just that. Very gratefully, we have seen it countless times, people shifting themselves and their lives through these teachings for the better. Especially through our online programs, with people joining from all over the world and providing the most incredible feedback.
You just released your third book - a guide to finding your higher self. How did the idea of High Grade Living come about and what does the term mean to you?
High Grade means the best possible. High Grade paper for example is the most refined, the most beautiful of all the papers, that’s been considered, edited and produced with care. High Grade Living is about aligning to our higher selves and leading a life of meaning and purpose. A lot of the time this means letting go of that which isn’t working, so we have the space to invite in more of what is! Like a high grade paper, the process is as important as the end result. A lot of the time in modern society we are all flying at great speed in order to tick a box. High Grade Living is about slowing down, appreciating everything and enjoying our lives.
The power of meditation is the key theme of the book and your teachings. What people can expect to learn from the book?
I hope that people understand meditation after reading the book on a much deeper level, about what it might offer them, and what they might be looking for. It can certainly be confusing, and I wrote that chapter so that people would have more knowledge and a guide on how to choose what’s right for them.
There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques. Your practice and teaching are grounded in Vedic Meditation – how does this differ from other types of meditation? And how have you adapted this into your own approach?
Yes that’s right, Integrated Meditation is from the same lineage as Vedic and Transcendental Meditation, but with a more modern approach. We believe that meditation can be practiced just as a technique to enhance your life, and you don’t need a guru or need to be vegetarian etc to practice. Ultimately, Integrated Meditation will help you find your inner path and connect to your intuition so you can make wise, educated decisions on how to live your life, without having to prescribe to a particular doctrine. It’s also very different from most meditation we see in the West as it was always created for people who live in the world and not in monasteries or caves. With IM you can sit anywhere, you don’t need a quiet space, you have back support and are very comfortable and don’t need to be as still as stone! The mantra helps the mind dive inwards and the body release stress tension and fatigue so you feel very refreshed afterwards, clearer and happier.
How would you encourage a complete newbie to try meditation?
Integrated Meditation is a course, that teaches a life long practice, and it’s for people who seriously want to incorporate meditation into their lives. It’s not really for people who want to dabble, we find most of our students have tried lots of different types and this is the one that sticks. So if you’re committed, this is the perfect technique. If you’re just wanting to dip your toe in though, I would recommend trying a guided meditation, which is VERY different to transcendence, but a nice place to start. You can find so many online and through apps such as Headspace and Calm. They’re not necessarily a long term practice, but a lovely place to start.
For those who are already following the self care path and practice yoga and/or meditation daily, do you have any recommendations to share to assist them on their journey?
I have been practicing for 22 years, and discipline is the most important part of any yoga or meditation practice. Actually doing your practice especially when you don’t feel it! Even after 22 years there are days I have to literally drag my sorry self onto the mat or into the chair to meditate! The discipline of a regular practice is where true transformation happens, it has an accumulative impact on your life. Waiting until trauma strikes or life falls apart is reactive. Getting your practices steady so you can weather any storm life throws at you is key!
The last 12 months have been tough for all, if you could give just one tool to help people ground and refocus for their life ahead what would it be?
Life has been nuts hasn’t it! Personally we have moved countries mid pandemic, lost our two dogs, had some health crisis and more, and the one tool above and beyond every single other I would say is this - limit your screen time. Doomscrolling, constantly being on social media and checking emails and the news - is an enormous drain on our psyche. It reiterates fear, panic and resentment. So if you can do one single thing (aside from meditate of course), it’s reduce dramatically all tech, and have at least one tech free day a week. I know how hard this is in lockdown, trust me, we have been in lockdown a few times and also did the two week hotel quarantine where we didn’t leave four walls without fresh air for 14 days! The tech and news overload can really crush your soul, so be disciplined.
Tell us more about yourself. What can we find you doing on a daily basis?
I really value my morning practices, so each morning I stretch, sit for a Zen tea ceremony, meditate, and then read. I try avoid all tech in this time. It creates a vacuum for my thoughts, and soul to connect, and for me to present in the day fully, it’s the ultimate foundation. Then my days are full with writing, teaching students all over the world, mentoring, workshops and also taking care of my daughter and husband and our rescue dog. I am lucky enough to usually swim in the ocean at least once a day, spend a lot of time in nature and I also most days go to a yoga class or kung fu practice. I am in love with cooking, so the growers markets and preparing beautiful food at home are always a focus. I also wake very early, usually 5.30am, so am usually in bed very early too!
Do you consciously have to make yourself slow down or is it part of your everyday ethos?
I have to consciously make myself slow down. I am by nature very hyperactive and I have ADHD, and I am incredibly enthusiastic and in love with what I do, so going like a bull at a gate is my normal speed! I stay connected to my breathing to pace myself better and keep present, as well as the mindfulness practice of being very present to each task as I do it. In Zen there’s the saying, when chopping wood chop wood, when boiling the water, boil the water - meaning whatever you are doing, do that thing wholly. So I place my attention as best I can on one thing at a time, which is enormously helpful and enriching.
With so many different projects spanning many time zones how do you carve/reserve time for yourselves and your loved ones?
I have to be incredibly vigilant to be honest! I let that slip a lot in 2020, so many of our students were struggling so much from all corners of the world and I became overly available, and therefore overwhelmed. I stick to a pretty strict schedule with my work, and once I am with my family, I am completely with them. My morning routine helps with carving out time to myself also, and helps with being present, more compassionate and creative throughout the day.
You connect with people day in and day out, how do you make sure that you remain centred and keep your students energies from taking over yours?
I meditate religiously! I barely ever skip a meditation these days, as the demands of my work are so great. There are now so many mechanisms, apps, mediums to be connected with people, and I can find it overwhelming at times. I also have an utterly brilliant assistant who helps me with a lot of our student correspondence. This has made a truly enormous difference and I am refreshed and present when I connect with students as she helps with all the day to day happenings. I also invest a lot of time into my self care, being in nature, and having my own practices and rituals. I work with a brilliant therapist too, to keep myself in check, which I think it vital for any teacher/mentor.
Any final parting words of wisdom you can share to our yogic community?
Your highest grade life lies within you, it’s not outside of you. You don’t need to acquire it, you just need to let go of all the stuff blocking you and holding you back from it. You are a unique representation of the universe expressing itself, and your authentic high grade self is needed in the world right now. So be brave and align yourself with that, and your life will flow even more gracefully.
Head over to @MandukaEurope for a chance for you and your friend to win a copy of High Grade Living and a PRO mat of your choice.
Photo Credits: ©Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell from The Broad Place