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Episode #98: The Hero’s Journey, with Neha Saxena

Grad Conn

March 16, 2021  •  15 min read

The hero’s journey is a classic story structure where a literary character overcomes conflict to reach stasis, and is transformed in the process. In part 2 of our interview with Neha Saxena, the Breath Yogi, we look at her real-life hero’s journey, and how it has impacted her life, her career, and her health.

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Grad
Well, we have really got to change this intro music for Neha. It does not make any sense at all. So I’m back today. I don’t know about you, I’m on the edge of my seat. Neha has taken us through an incredible story. It’s absolutely incredible. Neha, I’m really blessed and honored that you are telling us this story today. We’re going to get going and get right back into it. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and here we go.

I want to tie this together with our theories of how the world works. I think a lot of people over time, come to some conclusion that there’s something going on. Some people call it the matrix. Some people call it God, some people have… there’s all sorts of different explanations. But I think ultimately, it just seems like there’s something happening. Both my daughters, when they turned five, they could ask for anything they wanted. And was pretty cool. And what a five-year-old wants is usually… they never ask for Ferrari’s and stuff like that. So it’s a very manageable request. But they didn’t feel like there were any restrictions. And my oldest daughter when she turned five, she wanted to go to New York. She wanted to see Bernadette Peters on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun, which, ironically, about seven years later, my oldest daughter ended up being in that show in Massey Hall in Toronto with Louise Petri. And Billy Ray Cyrus, by the way. Some very funny stories. Miley Cyrus was there, all sorts of stuff.

Neha Saxena
Wow.

Grad
We’ll save that for another day.

Neha Saxena
I need to meet your daughter.

Grad
Oh, yeah. She’s so cool. She’s so much cooler than I am. It’s not even funny. Most people assume she’s been adopted… she’s not. So anyway, we’re in New York City. I totally accidentally — this is just my own stupidity — booked this trip the weekend of the New York Marathon. And it’s Sunday, which is the end of the New York Marathon. And we’re stuck in the middle of this insane million-plus crowd of people. And my daughter and I were trying to get back to Toronto. And we couldn’t find a taxi, and we couldn’t get out. And I was carrying her on my shoulders. It was pretty crazy. And we go into St. Patrick’s Cathedral. And I’m not super religious, as you probably know. But we went into St. Patty’s Cathedral. It’s a gorgeous piece of architecture. And I wanted to show it to her because I was showing her New York. She’d never been to New York before. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. We went to Broadway. And we’ve seen all these shows. It was an amazing experience and very life changing. And of course, she ended up being a music director on Broadway. It was a very prescient move too. And we’re in St. Patrick’s and in a very unusual move for me, I decided to pray for a taxi. Because I don’t know how we’re going to get to the airport, because you couldn’t get a taxi. No taxis available because there’s like a million people on this run. And she prayed for a taxi as well in St. Patrick’s. So, we go back to the Waldorf, we get to the Waldorf, and we’re staying in Waldorf towers. And lo and behold, a taxi shows up that’s available to take us to the airport.

Neha Saxena
Wow.

Grad
Hold on a second. Then another taxi shows up right behind it. Also available to go to the airport. And we had literally spent the entire day trying to find a taxi, hadn’t been able to find a taxi, right?

Neha SaxenaYou should have prayed earlier.

GradWell I turned to Myrna? And I said, Wow, that’s so weird. Two taxis. And she looked at me very like nonchalant, very much in a child’s view of the world. And she goes, Well, dad, we both prayed for taxis. So we each got one.

Neha Saxena
Wow. Yeah.

Grad
Of course. Right? And so, to your story, too, it’s like how do you interpret the forces at play that caused all that to happen? How do you think about the universe, the matrix, the… what’s your thinking? Is that coincidence and just random? Or do you feel like somehow the universe is providing and giving you things when you need them. I’d love to hear your philosophy on that because to me it’s a very interesting part of what people think.

Neha Saxena
My life, just because of all the experiences I’ve had, I’ve been forced to go from someone who completely believed to becoming a non-believer completely. Then it’s been this journey for me to have my faith restored in a way. Full faith in this universal consciousness, not in a person or a thing. But that force is very prevalent in my life. How do you account for, or all the people John Kaplan knows, he picks Ragy to send this audio to.

Grad
I know. It’s so crazy, right? It’s so crazy.

Neha Saxena
It’s crazy. And of all the places that Ragy would go to spend five days… someone who doesn’t have any time. He chooses to come to my workshop.

GradI’ve never known him to spend five minutes on anything. I don’t understand… five days, he really did a five-day retreat?

Neha SaxenaHe did a five-day retreat.

Grad
How did he sneak that in because I don’t even remember him being gone for five seconds. Is there a Ragy robot? Is there another Ragy? You can tell me. Is there a twin, there’s a twin right? There’s something going on there.

Neha Saxena
I guess so. Maybe it’s his doppelganger going to retreats and subbing in for him when he’s doing all of that stuff.

Grad
That’s amazing. So, in classic story structure, there’s a great book called Story, which is how stories are created. Basically, the way a story starts is that it starts with stasis. Have you ever seen the movie Gravity?

Neha Saxena
No, I haven’t. I should watch it.

Grad
Oh, my God. It’s such a good movie. It’s a classic version of this. Basically, the stasis is they’re a bunch of astronauts and they’re in the space shuttle and they’re repairing a satellite. And then there’s an inciting incident. The inciting incident is that a pile of space debris comes along and destroys the satellite and the space shuttle.

Neha Saxena
Okay.

Neha Saxena
And it’s quite a dramatic scene, because…

Neha Saxena
They all survive?

Grad
Well, no, they don’t all survive. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney survive.

Neha Saxena
I take that back. I have seen Gravity.

Grad
So Sandra Bullock and George Clooney survive. But basically, they go back to their space shuttle, it’s destroyed. Then they go to the Russian station. But it’s like… or they go the International Space Station, I can’t remember. I think it’s the International Space Station, but it’s disintegrating. And then they go to the Chinese space station, which doesn’t even really exist, but they go there. And then along the way, George Clooney like loses it too. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone, but the movie is 2013 so you’re just going to have to…

Neha Saxena
He saves her.

Grad
Sort of, yeah. But basically, it’s what’s called a hero’s journey. Right? And so Sandra Bullock is the hero of the story. And essentially, what we’re doing is that she has to overcome obstacles after the inciting incident to try to return to stasis. And then she successfully returns to earth and survives, and stasis is she’s back to normal, right? So, she could go back home and sleep in her bed, and blah, blah, blah. But it’s a new normal in that she’s not in space anymore. Gravity is one of the most perfectly constructed movies from a story standpoint.

As I think about your story, you had this life where you’re very, very spiritual. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Correct me if I’m saying it the wrong way. But you’re very spiritual. A lot of time on it. Right? Then you had an inciting incident, which was the spirituality wasn’t what you thought it was. It was a false spirituality. So, you lost faith. And then you had a hero’s journey of some kind, as you found your way back to spirituality, right? And then you’re at a new type of spirituality. It’s not the same as the one you had before, I suspect. But there’s something there. So, talk to me a little bit about your hero’s journey. What were the obstacles that you had to overcome? Somehow you got from India to… where do you live now?

Neha Saxena
Charlotte, North Carolina.

Grad
Okay, Charlotte, North Carolina is a long way from India. Somehow you made it from India to North Carolina. All that happened. What was your journey to make that happen and what were the obstacles you overcame as the hero on this journey to recover your spirituality?

Neha Saxena
What that incident did was, it was like a disrupter. Right? Completely shattered any…

Grad
Classic inciting incident? Yeah.

Neha Saxena
Yeah. Like any concept of spirituality, God, believe in people, everything, right? The kind of person I am, I do everything with intensity. So I went from one end of the spectrum to the other end of the spectrum. There were two or three things that really accentuated it, because I couldn’t tell anybody in my house. This would have been a big issue at that time. And the reason why I’m comfortable talking about it is because my mom’s no more so I’m not so connected to my family. But what it did, was the worst thing that happened to me through that was I lost faith in my own ability, that I can charge who to trust and who not.

Grad
Interesting. That’s tough.

Neha Saxena
That was, I think, the most fundamental thing. For the next seven years, it was the aftereffects of that. I never got any counseling, because I never told anybody. I came back. And it was a full pivot. I went from being like, four hours of spiritual practice to nothing, and went directly to college. As if nothing had happened. And I just brushed it under the carpet. And things kept building up. And I didn’t realize until I became a facilitator for meditation where I now actually do workshops for people who have a lot of trauma, I had complex PTSD. And that then showed up in every relationship that I had ever since. Until about, say, 2007. This thing happened in 2004. And until 2007 everything was downhill. And I got to a point where I was drinking half a bottle of vodka to sleep, because nothing else would get me to sleep.

Grad
These are great obstacles. Wow, this is a real hero’s journey.

Neha Saxena
I think it’s a little too intense. I was telling you it has a lot of twists and turns. But when I hit that rock bottom, I developed inflammation in my pancreas. And I would be getting excruciating pain in my pancreas. I would have to call the ambulance. I was in my job by that time. And then I remember this flight I was on. It was from Hong Kong back to India. And I was reading a book and I just had this moment. I was like, You know what, I can’t do this anymore. If this is life. I just can’t do this anymore. And it was not just that thing that had happened with the guru. But similar things that happened like two or three more times. And I was like, I can’t do this. This is rock bottom, like a bad breakup. And you don’t think that happens. And I remember coming home and I saw this banner in my apartment complex, which said breathing and meditation. It was happening on the floor below mine. So if it was going to happen in some distant location, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going. But it was in my building. And that’s when I walked into this workshop where they were teaching these tools. And I remember the first day walking in and I was like, You know what, I’m not bowing down in front of any guru. I’m not into that. Physics teachers teach you physics, and you don’t bow down to them. I’m so grateful for that teacher, who was so patient with me. She was like, just finish this. And I remember at the end of that four-day workshop was the first time in years I slept without drinking.

Grad
Wow, what a story.

Neha Saxena
Yeah, and I haven’t ever had that pancreas pain. That’s just gone. And so initially, it wasn’t like I believed in it right off the bat. I was like, Okay, great. It took me some years to be like, Okay, this is legit. There was a journey there too. But I started doing the breathwork as medication. I would stick to it as medication. And I remember my father came to visit me after like five, six months of that. And he’s like, Your face looks different. There’s something different about you. The first few months it impacted my health. A few more months and I was like, Okay, I’m in the same job, the same things still happen in my life. But now I’m not crying and getting hospitalized. Now I’m actually rejoicing. I’m switching the lights off and dancing to my favorite song. So this is amazing.

And then I started to look into more advanced breath work stuff and meditation stuff. And sure enough, the long term, after about two, three years, I had this moment where I realized that usually someone would say something… in India, you know, there’s a lot of gender disparity in terms of work. That was one of the reasons I wanted to move out. If somebody would say something at work, I would rush to the loo and be crying. And this thing happened, this guy made a very nasty comment, which would have gotten me to rush to the washroom. But now I was like, yeah, whatever. And I was like, holy cow, what just happened? I’m not crying, and this isn’t affecting me. So it made me more resilient. And I remember very clearly, that was the day I was like, I wish somebody had taught me this. Somebody had told me that just by breathing, you can be stronger inside. You can learn how to manage your emotions. And that’s when I decided to become a facilitator. And it’s been such a rewarding journey. The more I learn, the less I know.

That’s when my parents were like, you have to get married. You know, typical Indian. In complex PTSD, what happens Grad is that there are layers. There was a lot of healing. And I wasn’t getting triggered so much, but some deeper PTSD was still there. And I remember not being ready for marriage. And dad was like, What the hell is going on? You need to get married. That’s the Indian culture, right? My dad’s very forward thinking in the way that he never discriminated between his girl children and his boys, between the kind of education we got. But he was very clear that I don’t care what job you have and what career you have. You need to get married. That’s my responsibility. I remember not being ready for it. But then I decided, okay. What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll get a divorce. And so I got married in 2010. And I moved to the US after I got married, because I’d come here as an exchange student a few years earlier. And that was when I got a little bit more deeply ingrained in the facilitator track. I went to business school. And then it turns out that I got married to someone who had other preferences, so to speak.

Grad
Wow. It’s a country song. It’s like a country song. Oh, my God. Other preferences. Well played actually. Well played. A tip of the hat to that one. Holy smokes, that’s incredible. So, can I jump in for a second. I gotta give you a break for a second. This is super intense. I’ve got to towel off or something. This is just extraordinary. And Neha, thank you so much. This is just… the openness that you’re giving us here. That’s really helpful because it really helps other people that are on journeys, identify and connect.

That’s it for today. We’re going to come back with Neha tomorrow. We’ll conclude this three-part series and we’ll dig into brain science and a bunch of other things. But for the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I’ll see you… next time.

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Grad Conn

Chief Experience Officer, Sprinklr

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