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Guest Blog Post by Kelley Oliver

This is a big question and one I have only very recently REALLY started to ask myself.

It seems so cliché doesn’t it? – being authentic gets lots of time in the spotlight and I have to say I would have answered yes to the question if anyone had asked me over the past 20 years – without a doubt I would have said that I was living my life truly authentically for me…… but it’s only been in the last short while I am beginning to question this automatic response.

“Society puts these binds on us”, again another statement which gets lots of time in the spotlight, but in actuality – I believe - it’s more that society creates these binds, and it is us that lets these binds stick… We chose not to shine bright or step too far outside of the lines - as we like being comfortable, we like and crave certainty, safety – in all its forms and we repel discomfort, the unknown and insecurity.

In early 2020 (pre covid NZ) I took 3 months off work due to realising that I was utterly burnt out.

I own a hair salon in Wellington and have done so for 22 years now.

I bought this passion project when I was 3 months pregnant with my first child, I had no staff – but I just knew I would make it work…. how I “knew” is anybody’s guess, but instinctively I just knew it would be ok – and it has, it’s been more than ok – it’s been incredible – what a ride.

I’ve had over 70 amazing people work for me over that time, and some of my current team have been with me for the entire duration, most of them upwards of 10 years, we have looked after local celebrities hair, opened a second salon, refurbished our current one many times, started an online store selling hair products, taken 20 of our team to Bali for a week to celebrate 20 years in business, made lifelong friendships – success really you could say.

In the time that I took my 3-month sabbatical, I did a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat – for anyone who has done Vipassana you will know how uncomfortable it can be – physically, emotionally as well as mentally – it’s the Ultramarathon of silent retreats.

When I decided in my “break from work” to do this ‘retreat’ it sounded fantastic – the word retreat conjures up something so beautiful and relaxing to me – total silence, no mobile phone, no Wi-Fi – what a holiday. What they gloss over in the un glossy brochure is the fact that there are NO distractions whatsoever – you surrender your mobile phone, you are not allowed to read or journal – for a prolific journaler – this would be tough, no exercise (aside from mindful walking at set times), no eating outside of the modest vegetarian food they provide at meal times – which they also failed to mention includes your final meal of the day being at 11 am – gasp….

There is not to be any communication between participants – no eye contact or gestures – full noble silence.

The removal of these distractions really enables one to get quiet – to go deep within the self to the self and to get curious – what do I think, how do I feel, and what do I want…… without any outside influence or reminder of the invisible binds.

Previously I know I had answered these questions from a place of ‘doing the right thing’….. the invisible binds that I had collected as I had grown up had shaped me to make so many of my decisions on doing the right thing – by what other people had said was right.

Many of my decisions were made after thorough consultation with people who I could trust to advise me – people who had also collected their own invisible binds, and make their decisions based on these too, yet other peoples opinions, advice and logic all meant so much to me, that often I failed to get really quiet and ask myself what I felt.

After days of complete noble silence, sitting in deep meditation for 11 hours a day, and with zero distractions - there were moments of complete discomfort, my back hurt, my monkey mind was working overtime and I was on an emotional roller coaster – wondering how my beloved family were, questioning why I was doing this – how I could get out of here and feeling REALLY feeling uncomfortable…. what soon became apparent was – I was in total control of this –

I could breathe and instead of grasping for something that was not this very moment, I could settle into the quiet, enjoy the incredible valley north of Auckland that I was engulfed in and try and just be ok with this discomfort…. What a revelation……

The discomforts began to pass – I could observe them come, rise up – accept they were there and choose to release them – this was transformational for me……

3 weeks later the world went into a global shutdown – the biggest worldwide event I had known …. What a chance to practice what I had learnt in my Vipassana – except I didn’t… I defaulted to what I had come to trust for so long - I collectively fretted, I made decisions based on what I saw other businesses doing, I rallied with other salon owners as we collectively groaned about our staff, client and financial challenges, I panicked about losing my house, my business – all of my ‘stuff’, stuff that I had come to place so much importance on – because I had believed that it was this ‘stuff’ that made me who I was, the successful businesswoman, the college dropout who had “made it” – labels that I had graciously accepted because I felt like they made me more important – not than anyone else, but – more important than what I would be without them…. What the heck????

As we headed into our 2nd Lockdown in Wellington in August 2021, I have had the fortitude to settle into the discomfort, to know that if I lose my business, my house, my labels - that it makes no difference – that the one thing that cannot be taken is the authentic me.

The tools I use for tapping into this authentic self are not flashy – there’s no special retreat location, no particular strictly set routine, no book or guru to guide me to my authentic self – it is simply the act of getting quiet and inquiring, asking myself what do I want in this moment and then listening, becoming aware of what is an invisible bind, a story that I have held onto, or that society has held up as a truth – as I release the binds that I have gathered and as I feel them slide off me in this lockdown, I feel liberated, I feel myself shine brighter than I have in a long time, I know that as I release more and more of them, as I become ok with less – that I gain so much more, I will always have me and just as I am that is enough.

I encourage you to quieten down for a while and ask yourself – am I living authentically for me?




Thank you, Kelley, I love this, and you.

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