Lessons from my late mentor

On September 14th, I was washing dishes after dinner on a lovely vacation in upstate New York with wonderful friends old and new, when one of my mentor Seana’s many wise sayings popped into my head as I gazed out the window. The saying is, “what we know of life is where we have decided to rest with our questioning.” Often a linear thinker, this helped remind me to broaden my lens to the many questions that can be asked to foster increased curiosity and exploration in life. 
    I traveled back from New York to San Francisco on that Saturday the 16th. As I was unpacking, I thought about how travel can change us from exposure to new perspectives and landscapes. And again Seana came into my mind. She was the Director of a two-year community leadership program I joined in 2002 during my undergraduate study at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The program is called INVST (the International and National Voluntary service training) and trains rising community leaders to be engaged in social and environmental action. We spent our summers traveling with one trip going throughout the Southwest- working with a youth corps that Seana co-founded in New Mexico, staying in a Denver homeless shelter for a week and spending two weeks on a Navajo reservation with a family resisting the relocation act of 2000. 
    Back in the classroom, Seana asked each of us to share a story from what we had bared witness to while traveling. One of the students opted to pass, as she did not feel like sharing at that time. Seana pressed and the student dug in further. Seana insisted given what we had seen and experienced that now we had a responsibility to share the stories and voices of those who are oppressed. Sometimes she made a big deal in order to teach us a lesson and have it stick. I thought of this as I unpacked and the new stories I had to share with others. On Sunday, after teaching, I was resting when I received a message from a friend from INVST, that read, “please call me right away, it’s about Seana Steffen.” My heart began to race as I quickly dialed the number and took a deep breath. It was then I learned Seana was gone. She had passed away on Saturday in a car accident outside Longmont, CO. I asked is there any hope, chance that she could pull through, no was the answer, she is gone…
    I don’t know if my thoughts of her had me experiencing a premonition to this tragic news, but I do think it connected me further to her spirit- the spirit of a powerful woman who was my teacher, mentor and dear friend. Seana had just celebrated her 50th birthday with family and friends. One of her last Facebook posts read, "Infinite blessings to name and celebrate...I am so grateful for the gift of my life every moment of every day and wish the deep contentment of a fulfilled heart to all. Onward." As she has now traveled onward many lessons stay behind and I’d like to share a few more with you…

  • Margins- Seana was a master of balancing time and reducing personal stress by working with “margins”- i.e. planning in the time it takes you to get somewhere 
  • Integrity- Word = Action, an important note: this includes the ability to communicate and renegotiate when needed. With so much flakiness in the world, she instilled in me to be in integrity and own up to when you make mistakes. 
  • Accountability- being “count-on-able”. This built upon being in integrity, to live in a way that others know they can count on you.  
  • Be the energy you wish to see- a take on Gandhi's words, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. How you show up and presence yourself makes a big difference. 
  • Unstoppability- She asked questions like: How can you be “unstoppable”- what support do you need? What limiting beliefs do you need to face and work to counteract? 
  • Stand up for your well-being- Seana was a committed yoga practitioner and took impeccable care of herself. This included monthly pedicures and indulging in sweet treats in addition to taking adaptogenic herbs and being an early riser.  
  • Breakdowns lead to breakthroughs!- There will always be breakdown and there is great opportunity in how we recover and stay present to the lessons learned so that there is space for shifts to occur. 

Seana was a fierce advocate for me when in my sophomore year; I drove drunk and was charged with a DUI offense. Thankfully no one was hurt. I felt isolated and ashamed of my behavior and my patterns of alcohol abuse were worsening. I faced the possibility of being kicked out of university. With fierce compassion, she said that she would go to bat for me if it came to that. It did not and when I reflect on what she meant to me, I am grateful for her support and always seeing the best in me. From dark times come light and we have to show up for each other and ourselves in order to not succumb to shame and defeat.  

It’s no surprise to those that knew her that she was intentional about how she wanted her life celebrated and requested “an event that creates the space for my community to pause, to commune, to reconnect with each other and what matters most in life: to celebrate love and life." This will happen next month in Colorado and the following month in California and beyond. We honor her as a lover of life, a seeker, a true friend, a fierce activist, a wise sage, a playful and lighthearted woman with deep passion in her heart and fire in her belly to leave who left this world better than when she found it.  To my teacher, my friend and to all the lessons learned that will continue to unfold, I offer my deep bow of gratitude. 
    I realize I am the same age now as Seana was when we met sixteen years ago. As I reflect on my own legacy, I am compelled to stand up more, speak out louder and offer myself in greater service. How does reflecting on death make you think and feel about your own legacy? What do you need to be “unstoppable” in working towards your visions? If inspired, please share here or in the yoga room. 

Read more about Seana's legacy and myriad of accomplishments via her organization’s website here