Donna Lancaster is a Group Facilitator, Consultant, Coach, and a trained social worker, specializing in child protection and worked extensively within this and related fields for ten years. She is one of the co-founders and facilitators of The Bridge Retreat an immersive six-day residential programme for anyone struggling with stress, anxiety, burnout, depression or issues with self-worth, connection and belonging. Lancaster is passionate about the subject of grief and the grieving process which she believes offers the missing link for many in their search for wholeness.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in various places in the South East of England starting in Deptford, London. We moved a lot. My childhood was a place of drama, lack of safety, and fear. Mainly related to my violent alcoholic father and his behaviours and choices that impacted us all. Also as a mixed-race child, I never felt like I really fitted in anywhere. Not white or black enough. I was bullied at school for this. All of my childhood experiences shaped who I am today. The pain and hurt ultimately become the alchemical recipe for my life transformation. The magic ingredient needed to transform them was healing.
One significant example that shaped my adult life was being told to ‘grow up’ by my parents from as young as 4 years old. This created a deep wound and related beliefs about vulnerability and innocence. I very quickly created an armour defense and became what I call a ‘warrior woman’. A large part of my inner work has been about supporting that Warrior to soften and trust…to lay down her arms. Reclaiming my innocence and tender heart. This has made me good at my job because I know what it’s like to lose yourself beneath armour and then finally find yourself again within your own broken heart.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That I am an introvert. (I pretended to be an extrovert for a long time and it cost me dearly)
That my body is a beautiful miracle.
That I have always been deserving of love and respect.
That I am allowed deep rest and it is essential for effective productivity.
That kindness is a superpower.
That living in the moment can also include saving for the future!
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
That time is a great healer. It’s is not. It’s a good distancer. But that’s not healing.
The continual focus on positivity, denying the darker emotions and what’s possible when we face them. Spiritual bypass.
That grief is the price you pay for love. It isn’t. Grief IS love.
There’s also a toxic culture within the therapeutic and healing fields, whereby it’s seen as a negative to want to make money doing work that supports people to heal and become happier. That somehow it’s more virtuous to struggle financially and give your time and energy away for very little. I don’t buy this! People make millions with products and services that harm people every day, so I don’t have a problem doing good work in the world and making money from that. I know my value.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I was about 30 I had what would be known as ‘a a breakdown’. I basically could no longer function in the lie that was my life…and so the healing began. That very painful, freefall phase of my life was really like facing a death, death of the false self. Life as I knew it up to that point, was over. I could no longer pretend another single moment to be anyone other than myself.
This dark period of turning to face my inner demons taught me so much including the power of the body’s wisdom to heal. It taught me that true self-love is the most radical act of activism one can ever take. I learned to become softer, kinder, more boundaried, more open, and that I was never broken, just wounded. All of these lessons ultimately shaped who I am today and the work that I do in the world.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Showing up as myself. My whole self. Flawed, fabulous, and very human.
This authenticity is like shining a bright light of awareness on the ‘perfection illusion’ and helps others feel courageous enough to let that shit go and be themselves too. We are drawn to authentic people because we are all ultimately seekers of truth.
What is your morning routine?
I usually wake up between 6-7 am naturally. I avoid alarms. Mornings are my favourite time of day. I used to use them to be productive for work but now I save them just for me. So I will pray, drink coffee, read poetry or write and walk in the woods by my house, finishing off with a late breakfast/brunch. This sets me up for the rest of the day to be most productive and in service.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Like many people I used to believe prayer was only for ‘religious people’, those who believed in God. But as I have grown, and been guided by some amazing teachers, I have come to see how prayer is an essential part of an awakened life. I pray every morning and evening and this practice has fundamentally changed my life. I find that I deepen into Love every day and trust in Life more and more because of my prayer practice. I am not religious but I do have Faith. I believe that so many people suffer from ‘Soul sickness’ because they do not have a Spiritual foundation underpinning their life.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Taking the mornings for myself. All the other usual strategies like getting enough sleep, exercise, eating well, etc. My main strategy (if you can call it that) is regular periods in solitude, without gadgets, connecting with nature. This is how and when my creativity flows and after returning from a long walk, I am on fire with possibilities!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Falling Upwards by Richard Rohr – because it reinforced all that I instinctively knew to be true. It offered me a roadmap to the ‘phase 2’ of my life and deepened my understanding of ‘necessary suffering’ and how it is an essential part of the human journey.
Loyalty to your Soul by Mary & Ron Hulnick – This book was a powerful resource and supported me to trust in Life again.
The Book of Joy by HRH Dalai Lama & Archbishop Desmond Tutu – a simple reminder of the healing capacity of kindness and joy.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
Oh, how I LOVE a quote! I have so many in my repertoire!
My current favourite is the definition of healing by Mary and Ron Hulnick:
‘Healing is the application of love to the places that hurt.’
I have the following quote by David Richo that I read every day:
‘May I show all the love I have in anyway I can, here now and all the time, to every being on Earth, including myself, because love is what we are and why now nothing matters to me more. ‘
I also love ‘Stop it!’ from an old therapy comedy sketch by Bob Newhart. Sometimes that’s all we need to hear…