Dear Radiant One: An Interview with Phoebe Leona
When I initially heard about the work of this multi-talented writer, speaker, dancer, yoga teacher, resilient thriver, and trauma survivor, I knew I had to dive into her book called Dear Radiant One. I read it in a few marathon sittings because it called to me, as a therapist who has worked for decades with people who share elements of her story. Trauma, abuse, addiction, divorce, fractured and reclaimed relationships, death and PTSD are part of her family history, and she has moved through them as gracefully as possible. Phoebe Leona’s TEDx talk called Life Is A Divine Dance is like nothing I have ever seen since it opens with the sweet sounds of chanting and a shruti box ushering her onto the stage as she dances with a partner and then speaks.
“What if life has always been a Divine dance?” She invites the audience to muse about what it would be like to enter into a life that “you never imagined possible.”
I marvel at how far she has come on the stage of life.
How did you come to choose the name for the narrative, Dear Radiant One?
There were a couple of titles that were being evaluated by my publisher, but nothing fully landed in my body. When she nudged me to simplify and get to the essence of the book, I realized that all the letters I wrote to the emotions as a way into the storytelling, were actually love letters to the reader. When I asked myself, “Well, who is the reader?” I went back to the very last line of the last letter in the book that closes with, “Shine on, Radiant One.” and there it was, all the letters were to my Dear Radiant One. After we landed on it and released the title, I found out that my name in Greek, Phoebe, actually means “radiant, shining one” which seems like a divine gift.
After reading your book, I am overwhelmed with emotion. Your vulnerability and authenticity are stunning and make the story real for the reader. What was it like for you to share the roller coaster ride of your life with the world?
Thank you so much for acknowledging that. I knew I had to be vulnerable and authentic in order for the power of my story to be fully received. I also knew it could not be raw or unprocessed so that I could effectively communicate my message to be of service to the readers and not just for my own healing. It took me years to get to that place and I am really grateful I was patient with myself and the process. I think if it came out any time before it did, I would not have been grounded enough or emotionally ready to handle it. The day it was shared with others, a huge weight of my past was lifted off my heart. There were no more secrets or playing roles I no longer wanted to play for others. Very quickly, I began to receive messages from friends, family, and students who read Dear Radiant One and thanked me for sharing in the way that I did which confirmed it was well worth the roller coaster ride of my life. I still get some pangs of uncomfortable feelings at times but with a little grace, I flow through it and remember that what I shared is bigger than me and my little ego gets out of the way.
Have you received feedback from your family?
YES! I will say I was a bit nervous about how it would be received by my family since many of them didn’t know my whole story. I made many choices in my childhood to protect many of them from it. It was important for my mom to read it first and for her to feel comfortable with sharing parts of her story and our complicated relationship. She was gracious enough to support me to keep everything in there for it to be real and authentic. I was also a bit nervous about my gramma, my maternal grandmother, reading it for various reasons but she received it with such love and support which was also a deep healing. The rest of the family I am in contact with who read it also gave loving feedback. My hope is there was some healing in there for them too.
As a therapist who has worked for years with trauma survivors, I am clear that healing doesn’t happen in a straight line and is not a one and done event. How would you describe that journey for those who have not yet read your book?
I completely agree! Healing is not a straight line and there are many ways to go about it. Sometimes it feels like you are tenderly peeling away the layers of the trauma to get to the depths of your soul’s beautiful gems within. However, if you are not prepared for it, it could leave you feeling raw and too exposed, and you may want to add the layers back on until it feels safe again to continue the journey. Other times, it could feel like you are just sitting in a dark well all alone, seeing all the other people above living their joyful lives and waiting for someone to throw down a rope to join them. In those moments, for me, it was about soothing myself, talking to my inner child, tending to my own needs that ended up being my rope. Then there can be times that healing feels like a mess of spirals and squiggling lines, and you think you will never get out of it because you somehow keep finding your way back to the same place. But then, you realize that circumstances on the outside might look the same, but you are very different. You have changed. You have healed and continue to heal each time you return to those circumstances that no longer give you that old traumatic charge because you have been gently peeling those layers away. And maybe then, you begin to also realize in the depth of the dark well that you found your own light which illuminates a whole new world you actually want to be in, and you no longer strive to be in that old one.
I’ve heard the story of two brothers whose father was an alcoholic. One grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps and the other never picked up a drink. What factors had you in the first position?
I am not sure I fully understand this question, but I will do my best to answer. I was very cognizant of my father’s addictions and as a child and young adult I feared I would become him so for the most part I stayed away from alcohol. There were a few times I did though that led down scary paths which I share in the book. Later in life, I was able to have an emotionally healthy relationship with alcohol when I saw other people model healthy relationships with it.
How long have you been in recovery?
I never was in any kind of recovery program since my addictions were not around substances. I speak more about my own emotional recovery in Dear Radiant One which is more about my addiction to the past emotional patterns that were instilled in me from my childhood. That emotional recovery journey probably began unconsciously when I started to study yoga in 2002 but more formally in 2013 when I started to see a therapist again after my dad died and I went through my divorce.
What does it take for you to focus on your needs and not fall into rescuing and ‘savior behavior’?
Wow! I am still figuring this out! Right now, for me it is really important to be clear on what I want and my WHY so I can move with intention from there. My WHY is that I want to help and support people in their own discovery of feeling more embodied and empowered in their lives. If I find myself doing things that are not aligned with this, or rather that I am “doing it for them” or it doesn’t fill my own cup up in some other way then I need to renegotiate my contract with that person or situation.
I also have found that having a daily ritual of some kind, like my morning rituals of meditating, writing, and movement really helps to ground down and make more centered choices in how I want to move through my day and life.
I have found that setting clear boundaries around what you are capable of and what you are willing to do/not do while holding yourself accountable in honoring them (because no one else will!) is also really vital. But then, have grace when you find yourself falling into your old patterns because every moment is an opportunity to change.
How do our bodies reflect the emotional states we find ourselves in?
Our bodies are our mirrors into our emotional states of being that are unconscious. If we are not paying attention to something that is necessary for our survival and/or growth, our bodies give us little nudges to listen. An example of this could be a twisted ankle to tell us to get off our feet and slow down. But if we keep ignoring the body and our emotional states of being, then these messages get louder with more acute injuries, pain, illnesses, and disease.
Oftentimes if my body is exhibiting a sensation or an experience that does not feel balanced, I will often ask my body, “What do you want me to see?” I do this with my clients too. The answer usually comes in the way of how we describe the pain or the undesired sensation. It reveals the relationship that isn’t being looked at in life. An example of this is what I am presently experiencing in my body as I write this which is a heavy ache in my back body, a tension that wants to be released. As I move my body around, a little bit of the tension lessens, and I start to feel more relaxed. In life, I am currently going through some growing pains of releasing yet another layer of my past (my back body representing what is behind me) and I am figuring out the best way to move through it to release it without hurting myself or others in my life so that I can grow, expand, and be more aligned with my path.
How can we navigate loss, such as those you experienced, of the death of a parent and dear friend, and a divorce?
Grief is very much a healing process that we spoke about earlier. It is not a straight line, there aren’t really any kind of linear steps we can take, and it can vary from person to person and situation to situation. We grieve in many different ways and there is no wrong way to grieve. I think grief is really about listening deeply to what is present and honoring that for yourself. When we listen in the space of loss, we come to trust that there is a birth within it. It might be revealed in that moment of loss, years later, or anywhere in between. But whatever comes, trust the loss is there for you to guide you to a new place within your being to get you back to your essence.
You describe what I have heard called ‘liminal time,’ that gap between what is no longer and what will be. How did you bridge the space in between?
I love this question. I found ways to give the space in between expression for myself and found joy in creating spaces for others to feel it and give it expression in their lives too. For me personally, I use dance, yoga, writing, and other healing arts practices to bridge the spaces between the feelings I needed to process; of leaving the old world behind me and finding clarity in the choices of what wants to be created in the new world ahead of me. For me to help others to bridge their liminal spaces, I blend my skills of teaching yoga, self-transformation, and entrepreneurship to create offerings like retreats, a podcast, my book, and programs for people to have their own experience, acknowledgement, and expression of what was and what will be.
What was it like to live in the dichotomy of loving your father and fearing him?
It was confusing and perhaps maybe the hardest type of trauma to process because there wasn’t a clear-cut distinction between who was safe to trust and who wasn’t. My father was very loving and protective of me like no other person in my life but yet with his PTSD and drug use, his moods could change on a dime with seemingly no warning. I had to learn how to tune into my intuition very early on to keep myself safe when he went into his flashbacks and his bouts of rage. Because of that though, my intuition blueprint was quite off for years as to trusting what type of person was safe for me to be around and be attracted to. As I share in Dear Radiant One, my romantic relationships mirrored this conflicting pattern because that was all I knew about love until I started my own recovery.
What is Mvt109™?
Mvt109™ (pronounced movement 109) is my somatic/movement practice. It was originally the name of a dance project that I put together in 2010 when I was retiring from the dance world and moving out of New York City. The number, 109 is an acknowledgement of the guru bead on the meditation mala beads that is there to pause in reverence to our teachers. I wanted it to signify this movement out of the city and into a new life in the Hudson Valley as a significant transition of my life.
In 2018, I started to move my body around in a different way to take a more organic, and receptive approach since I was burned out on teaching the structures and forms of yoga asana with my back-to-back teacher training for years. I started to see how I was moving and unwinding some held patterns in my body energetically. I started to codify it a bit and took it to a healer who mentored me through the process, and she said I needed a name for this movement practice. After sitting in the space of stillness, Mvt109™ returned to me this time as a play between movement and stillness to shift the vibrations in the body to act as a ripple effect to shift the consciousness of our world. It has been a beautiful process to share with others and it has shapeshifted in its own offerings including a level 3 Mvt109™ facilitator training and most recently, I have started to integrate it into my book reading experiences for Dear Radiant One as a way for people to move through their own healing stories.
Please describe nOMad and how it has helped people heal deeply held wounds.
nOMad is the business I began after my year of great loss in 2013. In Dear Radiant One, I share more details of this story, but it was the year my dad died, and my marriage of 15 years ended. I felt like I lost everything that year but at the deepest darkest night of my soul, I saw hope for myself and an opportunity to help others. I asked myself what brought me joy. Teaching yoga and traveling were two things that came to mind, so I decided to start a yoga retreat company. Coincidentally, people who were making huge life changes (or at least thinking about it) really resonated with my story of loss while creating something out of it and they came to work with me. People who lost their jobs, partners, family members, or were deciding to take the leap to leave their partners, jobs, or homes for a new life. I discovered I was no longer just teaching yoga as a practice but a real way of healing and being in the world.
My offerings expanded beyond retreats as I listened to my community of students. They expanded to local community events, online programs, teacher trainings, a non-profit organization, TRIBE, to teach yoga to the military, a podcast, Mvt109™ experiences, and most recently, Dear Radiant One’s online program and live experiences. I have found when I lean into what people need and where they need healing, that nOMad usually leads me right where I need to be for them to receive these tools.
I watched your TEDx talk and have not seen another like it. Please describe it and share how you developed it.
Oh, thank you for watching! I was invited to speak at TEDx in Newburgh, NY in 2018. I was really honored and yet, terrified that I would have to speak on a big stage like that. Even though as a dancer and teacher I had been on even bigger stages with bigger groups of people, something about this seemed more important. So, to calm my nerves I decided to dance the talk to keep my body and mind busy to a certain extent.
I knew I wanted to share my story, it actually ended up being a synopsis of my book (before there was even a book!) The idea I passed on through my TEDx talk is that life is a divine dance and the only role you need to play is your own role, no one else’s and when you do, life will align for you and with you.
When the idea of dance came into my mind, I immediately reached out to my dear friend and dance partner, Dante Puleio who is now the artistic director of Limon Dance Company. I asked him to choreograph it and dance with me. He was in Florida at the time, so we had a couple of FaceTime calls to walk through our ideas. I would rehearse the talk and some basic movement shapes on my own until he arrived the day or two before the talk. Once he arrived, we brought the choreography together and rehearsed a few times with the two musicians who were my friends/colleagues of nOMad. We had the structure and form and then the day of, we allowed the magic to unfold on stage.
After the high of that TEDx talk was over, I felt called to share more of my story and hold spaces for others to share theirs. That is when I began the podcast, “nOMad’s The Space in Between” and also found my way to developing Mvt109™ that same season.
If the book met your wildest dreams, what would it do?
Oh, I have such big dreams for this book. First, I want to continue to develop my Dear Radiant One live experiences that interweave the book reading, dance performance, and Mvt109™as a way for people to have a multidimensional experience of my story but really as a way to enter into our story as a collective healing. I have been collaborating with other artists the last few months to experiment in a few ways in how we can present it. In September, I will be collaborating with a poet, musician, and painter to bring it to the next level. I am now looking for a producer and booking agent to take this experience on a national and international tour.
After that (and hey, if it happens before or during, I will take it too!) I would love to see Dear Radiant One on the big screen, I can see it being done to reach people in a more widespread way and really make an impact in our rapidly changing world that needs this healing story now more than ever.
October 20, 2022
March 17, 2022