So often in healthcare, in industry, and in our lives, we talk about mental health as something “else.” While many healthcare companies attempt to normalize mental health, they continue to present it as a problem to be solved. I am not an expert in these terms, and as a spine surgeon my role in patient care tends to focus on spinal issues and treatment.
The gap between mental health and wellness is a gray area for me, but my thinking on it changed when I met Lauren Monroe at the Forbes Healthcare Summit. The four chairs that had been set up for a series of corporate fireside chats were suddenly replaced by a battery pack and a stand-alone microphone. Monroe began to sing.
Monroe’s performance, to me, felt like a guitar-fueled lullaby amid a sea of business suits. I noticed the juxtaposition while frantically bouncing between meetings, but it only really manifested itself when I took a moment to reflect after the event, and even more so when I had the opportunity to interview .
Most of the people I interact with are in a fast-paced startup culture or driving corporate strategies. Monroe is changing health care in a different way. With her husband Rick Allen, drummer for Def Leppard, she founded the Raven Drum Foundation, an organization that organizes drum circles to facilitate healing for veterans, first responders and trauma survivors. One of the things I appreciated most about Monroe’s work is that her approach applies to everyone and all aspects of life, not just those who have been affected by extreme trauma. As the wife of a trauma survivor and mother of a preteen, Monroe doesn’t just talk. She uses the tools in her transformational healing toolbox herself daily.
How do you use mindfulness and presence to advance your career?
I think mindfulness and being present is rudimentary. It comes out of me. This is how healing takes place, how self-discovery takes place. Developing a practice is a portal to that – physical pain, emotional pain, difficult transition.
My career grew from my own childhood dreams and being a voice for suffering. I have been linked to the service of others. I was also very spiritual. I took a path where these two met. I created different paths – music, dance teaching and psychology, then studied the body to become a massage therapist and then an advanced therapist. My spiritual life always comes back to the body. I observed that energy medicine is this bridge between the mind and the body, and I was able to bring them together. The message is always the same, focusing on the essence of presence, the inner voice. When we are aware of this, we release some of the inner chatter. For example, if we are on the phone typing while we are in line at the grocery store, we disconnect. We miss the moment.
How have you applied mindfulness to being a mother?
I think that in all of my inner work and research into the body and mind, there is one important element running through it all: the intuitive process. I was very interested in the neurobiology of intuition when I had a child. Sometimes you don’t need language, you are connected in a very different way. I ask myself when I make decisions: How does the body feel about it? And I teach that to my child. What is the right thing to do? What does your inner voice say? I have learned through my experiences that when I don’t focus on this, there is more pain and unhappiness.
What made things like mindfulness and presence become important to you? Are there certain life events that have helped you see their value? You are very mission-motivated and service-oriented.
When I was younger, I was a prophetic dreamer and I was a medium. I felt the presence of uncles and aunts who came to me after their death. They led me to have a relationship with the invisible world and I was not afraid. And when I shared this with others, they had traumatic reactions, and so I had to stop it. And it pushed me to learn how to describe what’s happening to me, so as not to be seen as “woo woo” or “hippie.”
I had this ability to feel things. As a specific example, many years ago we were all supposed to go out and meet friends, and I felt a sense of dread come over me. I asked my boyfriend at the time, “Can you just check the brakes on the car.” And I said, “I don’t want to go out tonight, can you just take me home.” And he dropped me off. I had a deep, unsettling feeling that something bad was going to happen. There was a terrible accident that night, my boyfriend was seriously injured and our friend was killed. I have seen the effects of post-traumatic stress, felt it as a partner and as a friend.
This experience and others taught me that I needed to look at my body. I learned about breath work and how to ground myself in the earth and in my body. These were anchor points in my learning about trauma.
I also learned that the mind can be tricky and devious. Being able to focus on what you want to manifest, to focus on your health and happiness, all of this requires mastery of the mind. Once you have this skill, you can achieve coherence of heart and mind. There are exciting new studies on the relationship between EEGs and ECGs and what happens chemically in the body when these two systems are in balance.
Your husband also experienced trauma. How has this affected you in the past and/or on a daily basis?
As the spouse of someone who has experienced trauma, you must rely on your senses to understand their mood and know how to create a calming, non-overwhelming environment. Sometimes it’s about giving them space, sometimes it’s about nurturing your own space, giving everyone a quiet place to land. It’s important to learn your and your partner’s patterns. I also learned to communicate this with my daughter. She teaches herself how to calm down and manage stress. There are so many therapies and tools to support mental wellness today that didn’t exist 15 years ago.
And how did the trauma affect your daughter?
My daughter was 10 during the pandemic and mental health issues are rampant everywhere. She was starting to notice things about the outside world that she would ask questions about. I had to communicate with her about how to observe someone when they are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, and how to not be afraid and understand what is happening, communicating to them that they are acts as a temporary state. We don’t need to be afraid of change in times of stress, we just need tools.
Do you have any advice on motherhood/parenting?
Create a home where there are constant reminders of how to be grounded and mindful. Place anchor points around the house you frequent, such as the kitchen sink, or where you enter the house. For example, I place a flower in a vase to remind me to breathe. I put lavender in the car. They are reminders to cherish the present moment, to be in the moment. We no longer find these moments. When we don’t take a break to be where we are, the days go by and we fall into a cycle of non-presence. Being in the present moment allows us to be more connected to our children. When children are small, you have to be careful because they demand it. But as they get older, you may miss a lot of things. These are small things, but solid anchors.
What inspired you and Rick to co-found the Raven Drum Foundation? Why was this important to you? What personal challenges led you to become passionate about creating Raven Drum?
I met him through a friend as an integrative healing practitioner. We quickly realized that together we had a gift to give to others. We had the ability to be together, create healing spaces together and travel through music to feel good. We worked with refugees from Afghanistan, mainly children who were missing limbs and had suffered trauma. And that was our first drum circle. We drummed and I taught them how to breathe and guided them in learning how to calm their minds to find a safe place in their bodies. We drew with them and saw how profoundly the whole experience changed them. We felt it and decided to lay the groundwork, focusing on the language of music associated with mindfulness. We organize drum circles with groups of people of all ages, from different neighborhoods, professions and backgrounds. Each with a story, challenge or struggle. We all have things we carry around. In a drum circle, cultural differences, political differences don’t exist, it’s a unified group of people who are human and lift each other up.