Mark Connolly just needed a little push to find his authentic self.
As a former veteran fashion and travel editor and a graduate from St. Martin’s School of Art in London, Connolly traveled the world, producing shoots, attending fashion shows and hosting TV segments for the likes of PBS, E! and VH1. From the outside, his life appeared glamorous, but, inside, he felt unsatisfied.
Ultimately, when he was pushed from his position as Style Director at a major magazine in New York, he was forced to confront the true, fragmented state of his emotional world. He decided to embark on what he calls his “spiritual sabbatical”—not an escape from his life, but rather a deep delving into its truths via Reiki, meditation, energy work, self-help and much more.
Here, Connolly explains why happiness is constantly evolving:
Live The Process: What led you to take a “big time out”? And how did you know that you needed to dedicate yourself to self-exploration and wellness?
Mark Connolly: I had been the Style Director at a major magazine for 20 years when a new, much-needed Editor-in-Chief was brought in to shake things up. As a result, by the end of 2013, most of the staff was let go, including me. Prior to that, I had been the founding Fashion Director at British GQ and, before that, the Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan UK. All I had known since art school was fashion and magazines, so it was quite a shock to be pushed out of the industry I loved!
In between bouts of lying on the sofa, drinking wine, smoking and watching cheesy movies (essentially grieving), I was also trying to set up my luxury fashion and travel consultancy business, attending the shows in Europe and New York, which was difficult as my status had seriously shifted.
After returning from London and Paris in March, I realized that nothing was materializing and I was unenthusiastic about my whole plan—or lack thereof. It just wasn’t jelling. I had a serious talk with myself about what to do next: I fessed up to the fact that I had been really unhappy during my last five years in my job. Ever since the US economy went south in 2008 and my salary was cut along with my budgets, I felt under-appreciated and my talents were underused, but couldn’t find the strength to make a move or to do more freelance work. The magazine became almost unbearable because of politics and personalities; the situation brought out all of my insecurities, yet that became my comfort zone. I stagnated along with the magazine.
Being fired was the kick in the ass I needed to radically change my life. It was a big message from the Universe to do something different, to rediscover myself outside of the limited confines of fashion and publishing. After prolonged immersion in both industries, one’s sense of self gets seriously distorted and the judgment of self and others is damaging. I needed a spiritual reboot. I needed to address issues that had been lingering since childhood, which I had skillfully avoided dealing with whilst living my glamorous fashion life.
LTP: What comprised that “spiritual sabbatical”? Would you suggest that others do something similar, even if only on a smaller scale?
MC: I had tried many times to do yoga and take up other spiritual pursuits, but nothing ever stuck; I wasn’t ready. What I needed was the chance for total immersion, and it had been handed to me like a gift. So, in spring of 2014, I decided to undertake what I called my “spiritual sabbatical.”
I decided to use my 401k to fund it and even registered a trademark for my eventual book: I Used My Life Savings To Save My Life. And that’s what I did. I didn’t run off to an Indian ashram or travel the Far East to find myself. I wanted to do it here in New York, where I had never truly felt at home because of my traveling—another way of avoiding dealing with myself.
I had no plan, no set agenda. I just trusted my instincts about what to do, which was scary at times: I started taking classes at Naam Yoga, which is the yoga of self-healing and rejuvenation, as well as Reiki levels 1 and 2. At the same time, I was working with a shamanic guidance counselor. I attended psychic courses in New Jersey and chakra-clearing sessions upstate at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. I did some past life clearing (amazing), as well as regular meditations, journaling and endless self-help and law of attraction webinars.
One major component, which proved to be of great value, was my shamanic ceremonies involving ayahuasca, said to be like 20 years of therapy in a night! True, but harsh.
I thought my sabbatical was going to be a year, but it turned into eighteen months, as I decided to become a Naam Yoga teacher. The rejuvenating properties were working for me and I wanted more!
Many people from the fashion industry are now coming to me for Reiki and counseling because they are finding themselves in a similar position, realizing that they need to change their lives or they’re being aged out of the business. It seems like once you hit 50, you have to reinvent yourself. I would suggest not waiting until you are forced out to make a change. Start slowly: Look online at the many sites dedicated to wellness and consciousness and find a subject that resonates with you. Read up on different spiritual practices and choose one to start you on your journey. Meditation is key and is easy to try at home alone to get you used to being in a spiritual place. I would then move onto yoga classes, and then perhaps see a spiritual counselor or energy worker for Reiki, past life work, chakra clearing or body work. At home, I work with animal medicine cards and crystal therapy cards. These are simple enough to use and very helpful. Fit your sabbatical into your life.
LTP: What role do aesthetics play in your now more enlightened existence?
MC: I am happy to say that aesthetics are still very important to me. I still love seeing beautiful people in gorgeous places around the world, wearing amazing things, but I am now more detached from it. It’s my business, not my life. I am moving more into the philanthropic side of fashion and beauty and am working on a very special, unique media project (soon to be announced) that combines all of these things for good. It feels like this is my gift for all of the work I have been doing, something I didn’t know I was working towards!
LTP: These days, what are the wellness practices and rituals that keep you feeling happy and balanced on a regular basis?
MC: As a Reiki practitioner, I do self-Reiki every day for one hour, as well as daily meditation. I also discovered the Oprah/Deepak meditation courses, which are amazing and free! I am a big consumer of fresh ginger and turmeric tea and also cook most of my very healthy meals at home. This has made a huge difference in my overall health and well-being. My big discovery was biking along the Hudson River, which is the best meditation ever.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
MC: For me, happiness is ever-changing. The more I carry on with my process, the more I discover about myself. I am taking ownership of my authentic self, which makes me very happy to say. I know “authentic” is overused these days, but it thrills me to use it and mean it. Happiness is also in helping others via Reiki and counseling or my future philanthropic work.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
MC: To me, living the process has been about discovering that self-care equals self-love. We can all start slowly. Just take on one aspect of self-care, something that you do purely for yourself, be it cooking a delicious meal as often as you can or developing a spiritual practice or even making a point of being kinder to people. Smile more, start to get to know yourself again, one step at a time. And write it all down!