All posts by Shirley

An Evening In Conversation With Light Watkins

An Evening in Conversation with Light Watkins

Lately life has been hard and the feelings of anxiety and sadness we're currently experiencing are entirely normal reactions to difficult circumstances.

Yet we need help to ease those feelings of anxiety and sadness. Best-selling author and accomplished meditation teacher Light Watkins — the man who taught Meghan Markle to meditate, is coming to New York to help us.

Light Watkins, a man with loads of light, will share inspirational insights from his recent book on the tools and methods we can use to find peace and ease in a world of uncertainty and hardship.

He’s been profiled inTime, Vogue, Forbes, People, the New York Times, and mindbodygreen.



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Teachable Moments

Teachable Moments

Conversation Dinner Detail

What is a teachable moment? A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises where we have the chance to gain insight. A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized.

We’ve experienced numerous teachable moments in the last 6 years:

  • Trump’s election
  • The pandemic
  • George Floyd’s murder
  • and of course; Will Smith’s slap

Let’s meet over dinner and talk about the insights we have gained from these events and the major "shift" in consciousness that's happening in the world.


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RE:MEMBER - where grief and beauty co-exist

Getting an email from filmmaker Katie Teague’s about her new film RE:MEMBER, I knew then, that I had take the Academi of Life programs off pause and do an event on GRIEF. You see, my family and I recently lost a member of our tribe. It left us crippled, devastated, traumatized yet grateful.

Katie Teague, the filmmaker, also recently suffered a terrible loss, her 18-year-old nephew Stephen was killed in a car accident, 20 seconds from home and one day away from leaving for his first year of college.

The film RE:MEMBER shares the story of the tragic loss suffered by Victoria Markham’s when she lost her 3 ½ year old son, Koa Markham to a car accident. This bereaved mother is on an impassioned mission to un-silence grief in our modern culture that has buried and forgotten the essential art of grieving.

She is determined to help us remember and create healthy ways of dancing with grief in ourselves and with each other, ways that take us beyond merely surviving to discovering post-traumatic growth, ways that allow grief to “ripen us into mature human beings’ as Francis Weller states in the film.

Grief is crippling, yet transformational, there is beauty, grace and joy in it. The film reminds us that grief and beauty co-exist. We will celebrate the memories of all those we’ve lost by screening the film RE:MEMBER on November 21, 2019.  Please join us to discover a healthier, more vital relationship with death and grief.

Filmmaker Katie Teague will be in attendance. Following the screening, she will moderate a panel of individuals who have experienced loss. Running time 79 minutes. Check out the trailer here.

 "To fully inhabit this life, I first had to grieve all that I had lost. If we cannot cross that threshold of grief, we live separate from our most vital self." - Francis Weller

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How To Be Happy – For Teens And Tweens

How To Be Happy - For Teens & Tweens Only

SELF AWARENESS 101: The Path To Fulfillment & Ease

What constitutes a worthwhile, joyful and fulfilling life?

For each person the answer will be different, since there is no standard path to a calm, peaceful, and joyous life; everyone's path is different. Yet, a peaceful, calm,  joyful and fulfilled life is what we all seek and yearn for.

Joy is not something that can be pursued and it's also not a permanent state of chirpiness. It ebbs and flows with periods of great pain and suffering. This acceptance of the impermanence of joy is one of the keys to a life of fulfillment and ease.

Plus, there is an advantage to being joyful.  Studies have shown that when people are joyful and at peace they are more effective in life and also relate better to their classmates, friends and families.

This workshop is designed for TWEENS & TEENS -- students who believe there is value in investing in themselves - that they are worth it - and for those who yearn to be more joyful, more fulfilled and more peaceful in their lives at school and at home. Join us as we share insights for the path to joy, personal mastery and self-respect through happiness exercises, practices and tools.

You will learn about:

  • Self Awareness & Self Acceptance
  • What Really Matters in Life
What Actually Makes Us Happy
  • How Should We Treat Each Other
  • How To Be Happier At School
  • How To Overcome Those Difficult Moments - Resilience

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power." -Lao Tzu

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Wellness In The Mind Leads To Wellness In The Body


An interesting fact: Did you know that we can change our biochemistry by changing our state of being? Literally, we can equally make ourselves ill or heal ourselves depending on our mood, disposition, outlook, and frame of mind.

This might sound “New Agey”, but take a moment to think and you will find it is nothing of the sort. Notice that when you are happy and excited about life in general, your aches and pains seem distant and less bothersome. When you are engaged in a meaningful task, like happily looking after a baby, your aches seem to recede to the background. Your headache, which sometimes transforms into a debilitating migraine will be bearable. That is, if it does not fade away all together.

If you feel put out, stressed and bothered when someone comes to your door, the simple act of being grumpy and agitated, gives your migraine a place to manifest and fester. Your aches and pains will show themselves with a vengeance. If you believe that being angry all the time does not affect your health you are deluding yourself.

We are in, actual fact, more in control of what we allow to take root in our bodies than we, or the medical establishment gives us credit for. I am not saying that there are external and mitigating factors such as trauma, environmental toxins, or actual microbes which can gravely affect the body. I am saying that the extent to which these things can disrupt our natural homeostasis is in direct correlation to our ability to stay in a state of calm, and allow our body to do what it does best: heal.

Part of accepting the fact that you can heal yourself, is accepting the fact that, you are the direct cause of much of your suffering. Of course there is natural law that states that we only have a certain number of years on the planet, and people do fall ill. However, let us think about who is actually suffering when a child, or sickly person of advanced age, succumbs to illness. Or, who is it that that signs paperwork that allows a dying child or elderly person to be resuscitated over and over. We batter failing bodies, destining them to a lifetime of suffering or months more on a machine in pain. It is us who cannot let go, we are trying to avoid our own pain not prevent suffering in those who have already let go.

We are so scared of death and pain in any form, that the fear of these things permeates our daily life. We see what we fear around every corner. What we don’t realize is that avoidance or total focus on our fears, call those exact situations into being. This is so that we can face the fear and overcome or give in to it. Most drug and alcohol addicts are so scared of the pain and discomfort of sobering up that they run around in more suffering from anxiety of getting the next fix than they actually go through in the process of getting clean.

The truth is we are so scared of the truth of who we are as human beings that we will do almost anything to shine a light elsewhere. Whether it is sickness, addiction, blame, pain, our children, lack of time, we will go to almost any length to hide the truth from ourselves and others. By doing this we remain in a place where all we can cultivate for ourselves is suffering. In this state we create chaos, which breeds illness in body and mind.

I used to live in constant pain because of actual physical injuries. I was sure that the only ‘Band-Aid’ was medication for my injuries, mental and physical. I was also convinced that there was no way, absolutely no way, that my broken leg, wrist, pelvis, and ribs would improve at my age. I was 34 at the time and I thought that the road was only downhill. Three years after I leapt out of a third story window, having had a devastating experience with post-partum depression, I knew that life was not going to get better. Of course every year I got worse and required increasing levels of medication. It was only when I came to peace with the fact that I was going to have some pain for the rest of my life, did things turn around.

My pain today, is less than it usually was before I injured myself 6 years ago. I am taking less medication than I have in the past 20 years. All of this came about because of a shift in my attitude about pain and suffering, mental and physical. It surely is not easy to come to this place. I had to accept and take responsibility for the fact that I was, in fact creating my reality, and only I had the power to change it. Whether the pain is actually less or I just don’t notice it as much because I am not focused on it, there is no definitive way to tell. I simply know that my life does not revolve around pain. My life is fabulous and it is my responsibility to keep it that way. I know that I do not wake up fearing the day and what it is to bring. I no longer lie awake at night in a state of perpetual anxiety. Whatever there is in store for me it can hardly be worse than what I have already been through in my life. If it is, then there is some lesson urgent enough to really take a major upheaval I still have to learn therefore I welcome the opportunity to grow.

This change in my outlook, and view of self, has improved my physical and mental health to a place I thought was outside of my reach. Being able to recognize what comes my way as a gift and not punishment, has reduced my suffering to a point where what I do is, notice any pain. I am able to observe it, and try to work out what that pain is telling me. I look at it from the position of the observer rather from the position of someone suffering because of or due to something. I do not indulge the pain. Then I take action or not depending on the situation. Illness and pain are simply signals to shed light on an issue. The more one realizes this fact, the less any pain or illness can take a hold of your consciousness and take permanent root in your body.  “Amor Fati” “love your fate”.

Artwork titled “Tentacles of our Mind” painted by blog author Nonaine Levy





A transformative, groundbreaking Youth Well-Being Summit that will gather teens, young adults, parents, educators, the curious, and anyone interested in helping our young people thrive and flourish. We will share well-being tools, practices and ideas that can be applied to their lives, to make them happier, more meaningful and fulfilling.

The summit features 10+ speakers -- some of the worlds leading thinkers, educators, physicians and researchers from Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Riverdale School, and The Jed Foundation.


The way our teens are living isn’t working. Anxiety is on the rise, teen suicide is on the rise and depression is on the rise. In this volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous world, increasing numbers of our young people are feeling isolated, exhausted, overwhelmed and disengaged.

We need new mindsets, new tools, new ideas, and new skills for coping and living in this era.

This groundbreaking Youth Well-Being Summit signals a new transformative journey for parents, educators and students. You will discover new models and tools for well-being and character education. You will make long-lasting connections, and discover new ideas and practices that will awaken the best in your teens and young adults.

Join us and learn what visionary changemakers are doing to help teens and young adults seek and give help, navigate mental health challenges, and prepare them emotionally to enter adulthood and fulfill their potential. Don’t miss your chance to be a part of this important movement to help our kids survive, thrive and flourish.


12:00pm – 12:30pm                          Registration

12:30pm - 12:45pm                           Opening Remarks +

12:45pm – 1:10pm                             Dr. Oneeka Williams, Urologic Surgeon + Children’s Author

Not Even The Sky Is The Limit

1:10pm– 1:40pm                                 Dominic Randolph, Head of School, Riverdale

Helping Students Thrive & Flourish

1:40pm – 2:30pm                                PARENT + YOUNG ADULT BREAKOUT EXERCISE

2:30pm – 3:00pm                                SNACK BREAK, BOOKSTORE

3:00pm - 3:35pm                                 Teen Panel: Let’s Hear From the Young Adults –Teens Talk
Moderated by John MacPhee, Executive Director/CEO Jed Foundation

3:35pm – 4:05pm                                Parent Panel: Let’s Hear From the Adults – Parents Talk
Moderated by, Dr. Anna Yusim, Psychiatrist and Author

4:05pm – 4:50pm                                Laurie Santos, Ph.D. Professor Psychology, Head of Silliman College, Yale University

What Makes Humans Happy – The Science & Practice of Well-Being

4:50pm – 5:00pm                                Closing Remarks + Announcement


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Untold Stories

Blog Repost from November 26, 2013

I have lost so many close friends and family members in the past 22 months…including my mother, my best friend of 37 years and my college roommate.

It made me realize that people die with so many stories untold.

I wanted to know more about my mother’s life and reasons for her not wanting to disclose the stories of her life. I forgot to ask my Mum what it was like living in England for three years without her babies! How did she manage sexual abstinence for 3 years at the young age of 27…or did she do, as others in her nursing school did, seek intimacy with other women.

I forget to ask my Dad why he enlisted in the RAF to support WWII and what the experience was like. Things I wanted to know were not shared or I did not ask.

I was discussing this issue with a friend who had recently lost her partner and she shared the poem below penned by her son.

“I was young and now I am old,

Here I sit a story untold.

Some days good and some days bad,

They passed so fast, more I wish I had.

Who will know and who will remember,

My story untold as my life nears December.

The young they dance, they sing and play,

I did that myself what seems like yesterday.

As life ends what is to come,

Is there more or is it done.

Remember me young or forget me old,

Yet here I sit a story untold.”

I was so moved by the poem, I asked my friend‘s son permission to include it in a blog post. He agreed and went on to share the reason for writing the poem.

“I wrote that poem after playing outside with my 5 yr old daughter. It made me remember being 5 years old myself (I am 37). It made me reflect on how little I really knew about my grandparents and great grandparents…. about their character and their lives before I was born. Often all we have is a handful of memories or stories that other people share about such individuals. Can you imagine your entire life being summed up for someone else in a few short stories? It made me contemplate writing “my story”…just in case my kids, grandchildren and great grandchildren (if I ever have any) would know a little more about me… not for my benefit, but for theirs or just to satisfy their curiosity.

Also, while playing with my daughter, I reflected on how it is too easy to view elderly people as nothing more than just that…. an old individual, somewhat one dimensional or seemingly disconnected from the current happenings in the world….in spite of the lives they have led, for better or worse and all that occurred for them over the years (their life “story”). It also made me reflect on how I will be just “one of those old people” someday in someone else’s eyes. When such people see me as an elderly individual sitting quietly alone, will they realize I was once a 37 year old man playing on a grassy hill with my daughter, a 23 year old marrying a woman he loves, a 19 year old living life hard and fast to the fullest, a 13 year old kissing his girlfriend for the first time or a 5 year old playing on grassy hill himself fully engaged in the moment? I doubt it. All they will see is an old man…a story untold.

When I wrote that poem I wrote it outside of myself in a sense. I thought of an elderly man setting in a chair alone, in his living room or perhaps in his 10 x 15 room within a “retirement community”. I thought of how many people just pass him by, not even considering all that he has been through…the ways in which he has seen the world change, the wars he may have fought, the people he loved, the children he may have loved or lost, his failure, his vices, his sin, love, sacrifice and regret. How easy it is to forget that such an individual has a “life story”…a story that for the most part, for most of us will probably go untold and be known by few people at best. I don’t so much think this is tragic, but just the way life is. However, I think it is good not only for individuals to share their life story, but also for individuals to hear it.

Beyond that, I’m not sure why I wrote that poem. The poem literally took less than a few minutes to write. It just kinda came out that way given all the things I was thinking. I sent it to my Mom since she recently lost her partner”

As we prepare to spend time with our loved ones this holiday season, remember to ask about those untold stories before it’s too late, and while you are at it…write your own story. Have a joyful and peaceful holiday season.

Anxiety and Discontent

Anxiety and Discontent

Conversation Dinner Detail

Have you ever counted the number of people you speak to in a day? How many of those conversations, were brief, going-through-the-motions exchanges of words? How many were open, honest, real conversations?

We have lost the art of conversation and at The ACADEMi of Life we are bringing it back. Having meaningful face to face conversations is essential to improving our well-being and essential to making the world a better place. In an intimate, one-table setting, over a 3-course meal and wine, we create an atmosphere of unobstructed dialogue and self-discovery through the simple act of getting to know all the guests at the table.

We can host only 12 persons per dinner so register early. Bring a friend. We look forward to you dining with us.

Conversation Dinners can also be arranged exclusively for groups, corporations and non-profit organizations. Please e-mail us at to discuss.


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Getting To Happy

I believe that people should be happy, and have the right to be happy. Happiness is an essential ingredient to our well-being and success.

A recent Harvard study concluded that happiness is the single greatest competitive advantage in the 21st century. They suggest that if you are happy first, success will follow. In other words, success does not make you happy but happiness makes you successful.

But do we really know what makes us happy?

Many of us spend most of our lives developing and valuing our first class education, our high powered career and our ability to collect material things. As a society this has become how we measure and define success. But do these achievements really make us happy? Everyone knows people who are brilliant yet unhappy or financially successful and unhappy. I know from my own life that a first class education, owning a business and acquiring loads of material things did not bring me the fulfillment and joy I thought they would.

The same Harvard study estimated that having a good education and great technical skills contribute only 25% of our success at work and in life. To be successful in work and life, there are other character traits that we must possess. So what are these traits? They include optimism, emotional resilience, empathy, the ability to make social connections and viewing stress as a challenge instead of as a threat. The study calls these traits the “silent 75%.” The “silent 75%.” are generally viewed as ‘soft skills’ and their long term importance to our happiness is routinely undervalued.

The study, however, concludes that long-term success at work and in life “is based upon our ability to positively adapt to the world”; to be happy, joyful and optimistic, since we are more likely to achieve our full potential when we are feeling positive. As a culture we need to focus on these ‘soft skills’- the silent 75% – and all of us should seek to build and strengthen these traits within us in order to be more joyful human beings. To be truly happy and therefore successful requires the right balance between our rational and emotional skills.

Despite achieving in my education and career I had a realization that I simply wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be. My joy was limited despite the material abundance around me and my successes didn’t fulfill me the way I had expected. I began to make a very conscious effort to focus on doing things that fed my spirit. I decided to focus on the things that brought me more happiness and joy – like making sure I had dinner with a friend at least once a week, connecting daily with family members by phone or in person and doing work that was meaningful and engaging.

I believe that happiness is found deep within, that it comes from our soul and not from external things. So take a peek inside and find your joy. The journey of self-discovery can be very personal and private and each person has to determine what truly makes them happy. But take comfort in knowing that this is important and essential work to ‘get to happy.’

Below are eleven happiness boosters outlined by Shawn Achor, the author of  “The Happiness Advantage.”  Try them out and see how you feel:

1. Smile
2. Open doors
3. Offer a seat at your table in a busy cafe
4. Make eye contact
5. Start a conversation with someone who looks lonely
6. Listen
7. Have deep meaningful conversations
8. Give money to people in need without conditions attached
9. Try and put a positive spin on a bad situation
10. Meditate so you are calmer for your family, friends and at work
11. Volunteer for someone who really needs it

I know many of these have worked for me! Which of these work best for you?

Original post written for Joy Campaign August 2011.