Journey to Why

Melissa Sutor, MS, MA

Mindfulness Meditation Teacher, Retreat Leader, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant

Favorite Quote
“This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.“
­Maya Angeloumelissa sutor

Fearless and Free

Attaining the “American Dream” through a high paying corporate job with health benefits was a grand prize for a young African­-American woman who had grown up poor in rural Alabama. Or so I thought…. Silicon Valley was a different world than what I had known. Being there to work was an engineer was a perfect fit, though I was more
drawn to that part of the West Coast for the beautiful diversity of the people and nature.
However the work routine in a gray cubicle for so many hours was putting more of a
strain on my body and soul than I could have ever imagined. My analytical brain as well
as my loving heart revealed that I needed more people time and less computer time.
When promoted to project team lead, I made every opportunity to have face­-to­-face
human interactions.

Since I was still seeking more heartfelt connections, I thought that going to a smaller
corporation that had a community vibe would be the right match for me. I was hired as
a project manager at a mid-­sized company and led an amazing team to great results
and successes. Yet, I was still not fulfilled. There was a deep calling within me to break
free of the cubicle maze and discover my true self. I created a life dream project plan
and with immense excitement along with fear creeping in, I left stability behind and set
out on an around the world backpacking trip. Limits and horizons expanded as I
immersed myself in heart-­to-­heart connections with diverse peoples, cultures, and
experiences. Over 50 countries and two years delivered me to a place where I came to
deeply know myself for the first time.
There was the clear awareness of my core value to be of service for the greatest good
of all people. I had always been a volunteer for beautiful causes for most of my life
though carried in my subconscious a belief that it was not spiritual to get paid for this
kind of work which I chose to give freely. So, with my savings running low and emails
arriving from my mother saying, “girl, you better come back home!’’, I left Brazil and my
ideas of helping to clean up the favelas (ghettos) behind me. Integrating back into
American society was excruciating at times, and I succumbed to the “shoulds” and
“have to’s”. The pressure to use my computer science and engineering degree, to
make my race and women proud, as well as making money were quite intense. I
started working as a project manager at a tech startup in Silicon Valley. I was put in
that place to see clearly that my place was somewhere else.
I was in a very challenging position of needing to make sure the company’s flagship
product was delivered on time and on budget while wanting to keep my team healthy at
the same time. Demands from the CEO to work 6­ to 7 days per week at 10­ to 12 hours perday, overrode my schedule of life balance and self­-care. My team was crumbling
physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually while I was rendered helpless in
effecting positive change. I was labeled as being a “weak woman” for caring about the
well­being of the team. The stress surged through my being and manifested as
repetitive stress syndrome, body pains, and insomnia. One of the engineers ended up
in the hospital with severe high blood pressure. I went to the hospital to check on him
and pleaded with him to take time off work and put his health first. He was kept at the
hospital overnight for monitoring. He called me the next day to say that he was on his
way to work because he got a call from the CEO threatening to fire him if he did not
come back to work immediately and keep the project on schedule. I was appalled!

My heart went out to this engineer who saw his job as what defined him. I reached out
to friends and recruiters to help him find another job, though he had no time to even go
for interviews. My soul was crushed in the work culture and being witness to profits
over people. I gave my resignation and asked the engineer to take a leap of faith as
well, however he was too afraid. I received a call a short time after with the news that
he had died of a massive heart attack, alone in his apartment. Grief washed over me.
It was my time to hurt and to heal.
After a couple of years feeling lost, my path became clear, step by step. I was accepted
into graduate school to study Counseling Psychology and connected with my passion
for mindfulness practices. Diving in and soaking up the learnings, my commitment to
meditation practices revealed that I was meant to help others on their meditation
journeys. With mentorship from Shauna Shapiro at Santa Clara University, I was
guided to complete MBSR (Mindfulness­Based Stress Reduction) courses, including
teacher certification with Bob Stahl and professional training with Jon Kabat­-Zinn. After
several years of being steeped in mindfulness, I am still on fire for teaching it as well as
continuing to learn through my own direct experiences and from teachers of the
Dharma. I have come home to my true self and find refuge in the worldwide network of
mindfulness communities. My life has been inspired by the beautiful transformations I
see people make through MBSR and other mindfulness programs. The pleasure of
speaking and giving presentations to a variety of groups and collaborating with leading
mindfulness organizations such as Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Wisdom 2.0, Mindful
Schools, Mindfulcloud and projects for Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village
Community fill me with joy. Teaching mindfulness to children, parents, and teachers at
preschools in the underprivileged community of East Palo Alto has been one of my most
rewarding endeavors. Empowerment and self­-care retreats that I create for women
have now been running for six years strong with life changing results. The retreat
projects have expanded to leadership, mindfulness trainings for educators, and even
computer programming, with all having a core value of diversity and inclusion. I believe
that mindfulness has the capacity to bring us all home to our true nature of goodness
and from that place within help to create peace in the world.
Compassion for myself and others in dealing with unhealthy and unfulfilling work
environments led me to my meaning and purpose in life. From heartbreak came deep
heartfulness and lovingkindness. May all beings be happy, healthy, free, and at peace.

 

Reflections/Practices

Each moment is precious. None are exactly the same, and when the moment is gone it
becomes a part of the past and lives in memory. The present moment is the only
moment that we truly live. However, many times we let it pass unknown and never
really live at all.
A powerful and simple practice to ground in the present moment is deep belly breathing.
Place the palms of your hands over your belly and connect with your breath passing
through your nostrils, into your chest, and down into your belly. Feel your stomach
move out as it becomes full of air. Then connect with your breath as it travels out of
your body on the exhale and feel your belly move inward. Repeat for one minute or
several and notice the transformation. Practice gratitude for each breath.

 

About Melissa
Melissa was the first African­American to receive an advanced degree in the Computer
Science and Engineering Department at the University of Notre Dame. Her pioneering
research was in human­computer interaction to make higher education accessible to
physically challenged students and was highlighted in Scientific American magazine.
Her work in diversity and inclusion has spanned over 20 years. Melissa is the Diversity
Outreach Coordinator for Wisdom 2.0 and consults several mindfulness and conscious
individuals and organizations in creating and sustaining communities that welcome,
celebrate, and support all people. She is the Founder and Director of Happiness at
Dragonfly Healing Center, leading mindfulness retreats and classes that inspire healing
and transformation. Melissa lives in Maui, Hawaii with her sweet husband and lots of
laughter. http://www.dragonflycenter.org

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