Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World
“What I can do, you can do.” Those are powerful words coming from a world leader. Her story and a powerful SECRET are in this episode.
Dr. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey is the first Polynesian Explorer and female Fellow in the history of the National Geographic Society. A cultural anthropologist and award-winning filmmaker, she travels throughout the world as an advocate for social, environmental and cultural justice.
Her keen insights and first-hand accounts from the world’s most fragile regions are reshaping Western perspectives on global leadership and cultural evolution. Her international lectures at the world’s leading organizations are an inspiring call-to-action as she offers global audiences the rare invitation to experience unsung societies.
The former Miss Hawaiʻi has been the recipient of numerous honors. Among the awards she has received is the prestigious CINE Eagle, for the documentary film she wrote, directed and produced called “Then There Were None”. This film chronicles the near extinction of native Hawaiians and is considered a Hawaiian history classic.
She has served on international boards, including the Tibet Fund for His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. She has also worked with the United Nations on behalf of environmental refugees faced with the punishing realities of the climate crisis. Lindsey has also created scholarships for children in India and the Pacific.
LinkedIn: Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey
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Read Along as Karla and Dr. Lindsey discuss Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World
Karla Nelson: And welcome to the People Catalyst podcast, Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Karla, thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to join you.
Karla Nelson: Yes, it’s so exciting to have you on the show. I remember the first time I met you. My goodness, it’s like seven years ago now. And you were speaking at a huge conference with I think there were maybe 6,500 people in the crowd. And you just shared the most passionate, amazing, incredible talk. And I happened to be friends with one of your very good friends and we should have done this a long time ago. But there’s no time like the present, right?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Always, always perfect.
Karla Nelson: You know what? Isn’t that funny? Always perfect, right on time. It’s only our expectations or what we think should have happened that get in the way. So, you have to share with us, you have just an incredible story, Elizabeth. You’re a National Geographic explorer. You sit on the board with the Dalai Lama, but also extremely entrepreneurial. So, what brought you to this place? Can you share with us your background and just your journey?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Oh, I’d be so happy to. So, my parents were educators. My father was a professor and a genealogist, and my mother taught business administration. And while they were at university during the day, they left my sisters and me in the care of these three extraordinary and very old Hawaiian women. I didn’t understand it at the time. In retrospect, it’s all become much clearer. But if you could imagine three women who on the surface looked very poor, their dresses were threadbare and always clean, but they didn’t have a lot. And they were the kindest women I’d ever met. My mother was kind and loving, but these women had an earthiness about them, they were grounded in a way that… As a young girl, I had no other frame of reference in terms of the women in my life. And for them, they had such an intimate relationship to the natural world that everything to them was sacred. When they went to plant, they blessed the ground. They planted their sweet potato and taro facing very specific directional points. And then they blessed everything. They blessed the plants; they blessed their tools. And then I watched as they would harvest the most abundant plants then crops in our community.
And the same, we would go to the ocean and they would start to chant, and it was always at very specific times of the month of the lunar cycles. And they knew which schools of fish swam at these times. And I just assumed that’s the way the world was. But these women would chant, and fish would come toward shore. These women would go into the water about knee high and use the hems of their muumuu, their long dresses and gather only what we needed. And then we would thank the ocean and we would go home and prepare food. So, I grew up with the sense of absolute wonder that we were a part of everything that existed. And they would say, “Everything is sacred. Make your life holy and keep your life holy.” So, at the age of seven, they brought me into their circle, and they said, “Someday, the world will be in trouble.” And they were very specific in what they saw, that there would be disease and rumors of war and there will be great upheaval. And they said, “The world will be out of balance and we will not be alive to see that day. But you will go far away to keep the voices of the ancestors alive because their wisdom will return the world to balance.”
And children at young ages have such an innocence that we know the truth when we hear it. So, I never questioned what they told me, but they said, “You always have free agency. You have free will. So, if you choose to do this, you will travel to faraway places.” Now, bear in mind, I was raised in a very small town, so Honolulu was a big city to me, that the idea of traveling the world seemed almost as if someone was telling me I was going into space someday. But this is the part of their prediction that really spoke to my heart. And they said, “As you travel, it will sometimes be a lonely road, but you will look into the eyes of seeming strangers and you will find your Ohana, your family. And it will take all of you to return the world to balance.” So, I knew that I wasn’t alone, and I knew that I would meet people who would share the same desire to help return the world to balance. So, we fast-forward now many years and-
Karla Nelson: Couldn’t have written that one down more perfectly, where we’re at right now, right?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Exactly, it’s exactly. These are the days, and these are the times that they predicted. And as I traveled years later, I had a mentor who was a very famous celestial navigator and we can touch on that in a bit. But as I traveled into these very remote cultures and societies, what I found in terms of the way people lived was so extraordinary that I knew it was important to amplify their wisdom and their voices so that we could all remember, in the process, remember our own. There was a time when societies gathered around a fire in order to share their stories, to keep warm, to nourish one another with their insights and stories. And now technology can serve in that way, where we are meeting, you and I, and you are sharing this with other people, and this is a virtual fire around which we gather to share our stories, share our insights, and in the process, hear our own voices, that we can expand our horizons and grow. So, it’s an honor to be with you today.
Karla Nelson: Yes, that is just incredible. Oh, my goodness, you gave me goosebumps a couple of times there. Especially, sometimes I think technology, it’s such a great blessing that we can do that. And also, we might not look back at the brilliance that brought us to this point, those individuals that bless the ground, that bless the ocean. And I think sometimes we forget that we’re all connected yet technology is the thing that connects us. What an oxymoron. And I think also that a lot of people are trying to figure out where they need to navigate in these waters with this disease, with this polarized society that we’re kind of looking at. So can you go back and share with us a little bit about those brilliant individuals that navigated their way that didn’t have all the technology, that didn’t have what we have today, and how did they do that, how did they find their way? And what did they use?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Well, it’s a very good question. And it’s so relevant for these times. Because sometimes people, and certainly audiences that I’ve spoken to, think of these cultures as faraway places. And we do a few things. We can romanticize them, or we can see them as an exotic other, and see that there’s no relevance to the way they live to our lives, the application to our lives. And I see quite the opposite. I see that the application of this wisdom and knowledge actually catapults us. It’s like rocket fuel. If we understand how important it is and how it can be applied to these conditions that we’re currently experiencing with the pandemic, with these upheavals of all sorts.
So, what the navigators would do, which to me is one of the most brilliant strategies of all, the way that we gain our bearings on a canoe is we synthesize seemingly unrelated bits of data. For example, we will watch the rising and setting of the sun, moon, and stars, sequence and directional points of waves, we’ll even observe the underbellies, the slightest color of the underbellies of clouds. And we will synthesize all of this data that looks to be unrelated in order to find our direction. But what’s most brilliant about these wayfinders is that they take this data, these data sets, they synthesize it, and then, and this is the secret, they look at the intersection of the latitude of the mind and the longitude of the heart. So, there is a cross section of information using very left brain thinking in terms of analysis. And then you marry that to your intuition and your deep knowing.
Karla Nelson: That is so wonderful, latitude and longitude.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Center point. That it is that center point. And that is the brilliance. Because what happens is that we live in a society that prizes the mind and often marginalizes our intuition and our deeper knowing. But the way that these navigators worked is that they use the mind. They never discredited data or information, ever, or rational thinking. But they always married it to a deeper knowing. And they said in that still point, the intersection between the mind and the heart is a still point, which means that we come back to the stillness. And Heart Math and other organizations that are certainly proving that the information that comes through us, we think it goes straight to our minds. It actually comes through our heart first. And it goes so rapidly that we are able to access information that’s coming in. And we think that it starts in here. But it’s really what I have found to be as an anthropologist the most valuable, the most effective, and most optimal way of living to navigate our lives that way. So, in other words, how it applies to us.
We take in all sorts of information through the news and through all sorts of resources, gather it, synthesize it, keep what is relevant for the questions that we have, go into stillness and quietude. And this is why meditation is so important. And people will say, “I don’t have time to meditate. I don’t know how to meditate.” My feeling is it’s simply stopping and taking one breath. Anything that slows us down, sometimes I encourage people to go outside, to be in nature, to be beside a tree, just to walk away from all of the continual stimulation that comes in, but just to give yourself enough time to feel your heart again, to feel your heart. Because people will say, “Oh, he lives with you know… I had a feeling.” But even then, we tend to dismiss or marginalize it. And we look everywhere else for advice. We look to our friends, we look to… All of that is good. But ultimately there is a system of knowing within us that we rarely cultivate and strengthen. And it’s necessary and in fact imperative that we marry the two, we marry information and we also use our internal system of knowing, our inner compass as an equally important reference.
Karla Nelson: Absolutely. And so how can leaders… What can they do? Obviously, you hear all the time, “I don’t have time for that.” And I agree with you, even if it’s just a minute, just stop and find your center. How can leaders utilize that in today’s society to be more effective?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Well, here’s the interesting thing. It is the most optimal way to lead. That when people say they don’t have time, but they’re a leader, it’s almost an irresponsible… Stewardship can be so much more optimized when we are centered. How can we lead without being grounded and centered in ourselves?
Karla Nelson: But in most instances the leaders are the ones that understand who they are. And we hear this, the why. We’ve got all these organizations and Simon Sinek and Start with Why. That’s really what that entire movement has been about is what are you about? And then if you believe the same thing that I believe, then that means that we can lock arms and be effective together.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Yes. And I love Simon Sinek’s work. And it’s just a function. The other part of it, it’s not just about business. What happens is that what I see, because I speak a lot to organizations, at Google and at Oxford and at Harvard, and again and again, I watch people who are in positions of influence and yet are not deeply nourishing themselves or what is their own wellspring. They’re not tapping into that. So, it’s almost as though I see people metaphorically thread-barren and exhausted and their plates are full to overflowing. And there’s not the recharge and the re-nurturing that is necessary for them to continue to give. And my feeling is it starts with us coming to whatever it is, whomever we serve, full. We must come as full vessels or else we’re shortchanging ourselves and the other.
Karla Nelson: Well, and it’s so hard to be fully present at that point. And I’ve been there, and I’m definitely the stop for a second, meditate, thanks to one of our good friends in common. She’s actually helped me in that realm of saying, “Stop, take a moment and figure out your center and then start again.” And so, I’ve been that individual that has been tired or had to work exhaustive hours. But when you’re not fully present, there’s something that is just completely missed. Those are the meetings you don’t recall. Those are the ones you have less empathy and you’re less engaged. What are some of the things that leaders could do? Or anybody can benefit from understanding and then having some tools in their toolbox to be able to deal with those things. And these days, I could have eight Zoom calls, and sometimes I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so tired of sitting and staring at a computer.” What are the things you could do to go timeout; how do you find your… I love the latitude and longitude between the mind and the heart. That’s just brilliant right there. Because we’re so used to that being so only the mind, only the data, only the artificial intelligence, big data, right? All this-
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: But you think about the roots and the origins of certain technologies. GPS, there’s so much about what these celestial navigators did that in terms of dead reckoning, we’re looking at technology and innovation and we never stop to ask the origins of where and how it was created. So, I look to these cultures because I am fascinated by mastery. And we live in a society that really doesn’t talk about it all that much. But I really wanted to go into the world and I wanted to be with the greatest masters of our time, because I wanted to learn from them and say, “What is it that we can learn and how can I come back into our society and share that?”
And so, what I have found is without exception, all of them will find the wellspring for themselves. It may be what you were saying about taking a timeout, just walking away, give yourself a few minutes to step away from this technology, this beautiful technology that allows us to reach one another all around the world, but give yourself a chance to be outside or just removed from an environment so that you can just center yourself again. And for me, a simple few minute long just quiet re-centering is essential. And even if people don’t know how to meditate, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a function of making a commitment to oneself to just be quiet, just be quiet, turn off all of the stimulation that’s coming in long enough to just exhale.
Karla Nelson: Yeah. Yep, yep. That little piece too means so much. And when you were saying about the beautiful technology, and I 100% agree with you, that is one thing with the Zoom calls and these days, because everybody is… It’s almost like there’s a huge audience because everybody’s at home, that it goes one after the other. You’re actually racing to end one meeting to get on the next meeting. So, you don’t even have 30 seconds and hopefully the link works and all the other stuff that you have to try to get on of the call. So, one of the things I think that I’m going to take away from this is don’t schedule it hour to hour, schedule it for 55 minutes. Give yourself that little time in between to just take a deep breath. Because for me, I’m just guilty as charged, I’ll go the whole day and then try to remember the day, versus and then go, “Okay, what do I need to do in moving whatever it was I worked on forward?” But if you actually did the meeting and then gave yourself that couple minute break right afterward, I think you could probably re-engage to a much higher awareness, empathy, understanding where you’re going, understanding what you want to give in the meeting and understanding-
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Well, that’s an important point, because it comes back to navigation and wayfinding. Our clarity, the clarity with which we meet and the clarity with which you navigate a particular meeting or an exchange, you enter it clear about what it is that you envision. And it really does optimize the way you even conduct a meeting, the way you engage in a meeting, the reason you have this meeting. And many people are doing it, almost allowing the tail to wag the dog. They’re entering a meeting, but they haven’t established for themselves the clarity about why they’re doing this or what this means, so how they can maximize, truly maximize those 55 minutes, as opposed to just going through the meeting, having a good meeting and then going on to the next.
For example, on the canoe, when we are sailing to an island, and this is a perfect metaphor, but the application is precise, when we had scientists on the canoe, it appears to an untrained eye that we are sailing toward an island. What the navigator does, the celestial navigator, sits in a very particular seat on this double hulled canoe. And he has already seen the island so clearly in his mind, and he imbues himself with this clarity in what we call Mana or Prana, and he calls, he draws the island to himself. So what we’re doing, it’s counterintuitive, we are not striving and pushing and reaching and doing all of this busy-ness that becomes really ultimately a sideshow, what we’re doing is becoming so clear within ourselves and calling the island to us. And that is a profound teaching.
Karla Nelson: I love that. That’s very similar. I have worked with several clients, and with the method that we teach, it’s a process that you put the right people in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, hold people in their magnificence instead of their smallness. And one of the things I teach all the time is so often we are taught to press down and to work harder and press, press, press. When actually what’s the better way to go is remove the resistance. And that’s exactly what the navigator… Remove the resistance. Instead of just pressing so hard, how can you see something so clearly? And of course, they’ve got all the data and the information, but to bring the island to me versus me canoeing so hard.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: I hear a lot of people in very… For example, in speaking to certain organizations, they control a huge percentage of the world’s GDP. Sitting in a group of very accomplished leaders and hearing them spending so much of their time just in this mode of striving and pushing, but it’s not the most effective. And when we think about our stewardship to the world, how do we best serve the world, we best serve it when we are so clear that we can streamline our efforts and be more effective than when we’re pushing so hard ineffectively.
Karla Nelson: Yes. And I also think you draw more people to you. So, it’s not only are you clear about what you want, but you’re more clear about those that are going to go along for the ride.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Well, to your point about your business and it’s all about relationships, this is really an important point for us to touch on, because it’s what you live by, Karla, that as I go into the world and I study these cultures, particularly in Asia and South Asia, and you look deeply into the language that they speak and when they greet a person, what they’re saying is, “I see the God within you,” or, “I see the divine within you.” When you bear witness to the world that way, and so when I learned these things, I come back and want to make sure that I apply all of this to my life. When you are looking into the eyes of another and what you see is divine, it changes the way that you are doing business, it changes the way that you are engaged. Because when you are of service, you enter a place of mastery and of generosity. And when you treat every engagement that way, people are drawn to you because quantum physicists are now really validating what all of these ancient cultures understood. Everything is interconnected. So, the brighter one’s light becomes, the more people are drawn to that light.
And that’s the way, that’s what we are here to do. That is the reason that we… That’s my commitment of how I choose to be in the world and to serve, is by carrying these messages back so that people can remember who they truly are, that they can remember the magnitude of what they have within them, the possibilities that they have, that their voices matter. And when you see people start to light up, you know that the world is shifting because you know that it’s becoming brighter as we speak.
Karla Nelson: I love that. And I love that one of the things we find in the companies that we have the opportunity to serve is that often we focus on what somebody isn’t instead of what they are. And so, when you’re saying that, it just flips it on its head. For every core nature of work that we work with, there’s probably five negative words that we give that person and we focus on what they don’t do well instead of what they do well. And I think the more centered that you can become in understanding what that is, especially in the leadership aspects, because we approach work in the 21st century with a 19th century work style. It’s because it’s in the job description, it’s because I said so. So, I don’t care if you’re good at it, just go do it. And it’s why 70% of people, this is Gallup, over 30 years, within a couple ticks, 70% of people in the United States hate their job. If you go internationally, it’s 89% of people go to work every day trading their soul for a paycheck. And when we can change that, think about what we can change relationship-wise at home, financial, health. How many people are doing something that is just not their center? And they feel like they’re trading their soul for a paycheck.
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Completely. We’re talking about strategies that have stood the test of time, stood the test of time. And it’s so interesting to me that… Because I’m looking at very similar numbers and I’m thinking, “What can we do right now with the opportunities that we are being given?” The pandemic is giving us, is inviting us to rethink what was not sustainable, to reconsider how we have been operating, how we have been showing up in the world on a personal level and certainly on a professional level. And these are just some very, very simple applications, but they are so pronounced to me. They are so profound, because I’ve seen people apply some of these seemingly small strategies in their own lives, how they bring together data and intuition, and all of a sudden everything starts to change for them. They knew something wasn’t right. Can you imagine when we become more centered
So, what I learned from my mentor of 10 years, his name was Pius “Mau” Piailug, and he was considered among the greatest celestial navigators ever, and certainly of these times. But Mau would read people like weather conditions, because he studied weather conditions so carefully, but we don’t have to be a Mau and be a master in that way. But when people came into a room, he could read them like weather conditions. And all of the elders that I am with throughout the world, I can sit with them for days at a time, in fact a week, I never start asking them questions immediately. Because what they’re doing is, they’re reading my heart. And I’m glad that they’re doing this because it determines what information they’ll share. And I’m glad that they’re that discriminating.
But to the point about Mau, he could look at a room of a thousand people and read them. Can you imagine when we really become so centered that when we go into a meeting, we are deeply connected at a level, and quantum physicists talk about this, but we are connected in such a way that we can begin to intuit quite accurately where people are, how we anticipate their responses, we can see as they’re coming into the door. When I’m presenting, when I’m speaking, I’m constantly reading the audience. But it’s something that we develop consciously that we choose to really become more centered within ourselves that we can start to read a room. We can read a meeting quite accurately. We can anticipate some of the resistances and ways that we can then re-directionalize the conversation so that people start to feel more and more comfortable. These are skills that I have watched these navigators practice.
And they’re not reserved for navigators in a faraway place. And they would always say that “What we can do, you can do.” And by you, they meant everyone. Because we all have the same possibilities that we came into this world with. But to be able to increase our awareness is a gift that is within us. But it makes anyone in a position of leadership and anyone who’s in business far more effective. And it gives them the ability to work much more optimally than they have been if they’re not using gifts.
Karla Nelson: I love it. Oh, my goodness. You made me think of sitting on the canoe and navigating your way through and just watching this incredible individual do something that you’re just like, “Wow,” and then to have them turn around and say, “Well, what I can do, you can do.”
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Always.
Karla Nelson: Really cool. And I think the application could be like you were saying, in different ways. Everybody can utilize those same principles and then make it applicable to what their journey is and where they need to show up at it. They don’t have to be on a canoe trying to find an island. You could be trying to launch a business. You could be figuring out how you need to change your business in this crazy time. You could be figuring out how one business is actually going to fail during this certain time, and what are you going to do moving forward? There’re so many applicable points of finding your way. So, this has just been awesome. I love your stories. And I love the fact that you can apply these… These principles have been along and around long before we have been here, long before technology. Think about it. These things didn’t look like this how many years ago?
Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey: Right. Technology is moving so rapidly that it’s important that we balance it all out. But it’s more important that we understand the why in all of it. Why are we doing this? What are we here to do with our lives? And then when we get to the most fundamental questions and have answered that, everything else unfolds much more easily. What I have learned in these lessons from these cultures are game changing in its application to modernity. And it doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t cost a lot. It’s just a reorienting. So, we’re course correcting here just like we would on a canoe. You change one degree of your course and it becomes significant down the road. And these are one-degree shifts.
Karla Nelson: Oh my gosh, you’re fantastic. I really have enjoyed this. You give me more goose pimples than I’ve had in the last year in just the last 45 minutes. So, you’re fantastic. I sure appreciate you.