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Dillon Tisdel on Living A Personal Practice with Devotion (Part I)

Dillon Tisdel, mama to three, plant-based chef of Oh Holy Basil & Antara Retreat Center), and devotee to inner truth has an unassuming presence that can inspire a deeper connection to your truest nature. Her innate wisdom is a beautiful alchemy of practical modern life advice paired with the the magical essence that’s present when in communion with the natural flow of things.

I recently sat down with Dillon to talk about how personal practice and devotion play out in her busy household. She shares what it means to be in full embodiment and what it could look like to incorporate a sustainable personal practice into the modern lives of modern women (in a completely attainable way!) Please join me for part two, where Dillon and I talk about how devotion can be interwoven into the practices we help blossom within our children. Let’s dive in!


Q: Welcome Dillon! Personal practice (sādhana) appears to be sitting as the cornerstone to who you are as a woman and mother.  What does “practice” mean to you?

Sādhana is indeed the cornerstone of my journey here on earth. It is the context in which I hold all of the “stuff” of my life: motherhood, work, relationships, my joy and dissatisfaction. I see the small slice of my day that we call “practice” as both an anchor and a call.

It anchors me to the field of awareness that we call the Divine, making available a deeper state of consciousness that carries me through the tumult of the day. Sometimes the inner state cultivated in my practice holds me in a deep buoyancy, where a state of peace is foreground to the drama of life, allowing me to be in present communion with each task and interaction. Other times that deeper presence is a pitiful cry, trying to break through the noise of my reactivity, judgment and attachment to my ego’s storyline. On those days, my practice may give me just a hair’s breadth of space around my contracted inner experience, but sometimes that is enough and I am able to slip in through the gap and transform my relationship to my suffering. 

My sādhana is a call in the sense that it is a daily outreach towards the ineffable, in which I ask for the guidance and blessing of that Divine intelligence. I have found there to be incredible transformative power in cultivating such communication with Spirit.


Q: In 3 words, how would you describe the essence of your daily practice? 

Devotion, discipline, longing.


Q: What have been the biggest shifts in your practice since becoming a mother? How do you usher in fluidity and adaptability into your process?

Again, I see life itself as sādhana. The last nine years of motherhood have forced me to ground that intellectual concept into a lived experience.

My initiation into motherhood forced me to both find more structure in my practice, while also holding it with more lightness.

If I want my practice to “happen”, I need to build it into the early hours of the morning before anyone else wakes up. At the same time, I need to have the fluidity to let my practice go when life calls me in another direction. 

Adaptability comes when I cease to fight against the movement of life.

When I cling too tightly to the structure of my sādhana, moments inevitably arise in which I see my children as barriers to practice. This is a completely false construct. They are gifts given for the evolution of my soul and they present me daily with my spiritual work.

Motherhood is, as they say, “where the rubber meets the road” in my sādhana. 

We are conditioned to impose our agenda upon life. When plans go awry, we feel gypped and frustrated. When other people’s plans go awry, we give our condolences, saying, “Oh no! Too bad!”. Most of us find ourselves habitually gripping life and reinforcing this construct for each other. I have found much relief in divesting from this paradigm and surrendering to the flow of life, even when it brings challenges.


Q: I know we can’t always walk down the ideal path of practice, as life is busy and ever changing. What are your non-negotiables when it comes to personal practice? And, if you only had 5 minutes, which centering activity would you opt for?

Mantra is my best friend when it comes to working with my mind. It can be done while performing any task and therefore has been the most consistent practice throughout the changing phases of motherhood.

If I only had five minutes to find my center, I would sit and scan my body, feeling into anything that might be arising internally. I would place whatever sensations that arise into a deeper field of awareness, allowing them deeper space to work on me. For example, I might notice a contraction in my energetic heart. Without trying to change this sensation, I would hold a gentle space of attention around it, relax any bracing against it and allow a deeper meditative state to come in around it. In some cases, it might dissolve, morph or reveal some sort of content to me. Other times, I have simply changed my state or at least my relationship to my state, and noted a place internally that might be worth coming back to.


Q: You mentioned chanting to the Divine Mother and mantra being at the center of your morning practice… (read part 2 of this interview here) if someone was interested in exploring devotional chanting, where would you guide them? If someone was interested in exploring mantras with their children, any favorite resources?

Unless you feel a strong intuitive draw to a specific mantra practice, I would suggest starting with kirtan (call and response devotion singing). It is joyful, heart opening and accessible. Krishna Das’ music has opened the kirtan portal for many of us from the west. Breath of the Heart (available on all streaming platforms) is my recommended starting place.

Kirtan Kids, by Jai Uttal is a favorite in our house. It is part kirtan for kids, part storytelling. I have found the stories of the deities to be one of the best entrance points for kids. There are many sweet books for children as well, specifically on the stories of young Krishna.


Q: As women, it’s essential to have a connection to our internal guidance systems. How does your communion with Self allow you to tap into your inner wisdom? What does she usually reveal to you?

I have always had a strong intuition, but the deeper that I have gone into my own practice, the more I have seen the way in which my intuitive intelligence gets usurped by my mind. There are those precious moments where intuition is a clear bell that rings out, bringing clarity forward from the depths of my being, but often, it is a process of teasing out what is mind and what is intuition. The nature of mind is that it is conditioned and limited and the nature of truth (which I equate with Spirit) is unconditioned and unlimited. This means that most often true intuitive discernment deviates from the pathways of our conditioning. Therefore a healthy dose of skepticism is in order anytime my “intuitive” voice lines up with my filter.

Deep inner communion with Self leads to a deeper understanding of the way in which I am filtering reality, which in turn helps me to hear the call of my true intuitive voice. Using an external divination system has been invaluable for me in this process. With anything important, I cross-check my intuition using the I Ching (an ancient Chinese text that is used for divination, often translated as the book of changes). The I Ching has taught me so much about how slippery my ego is at either debasing or aggrandizing itself. 

In experimenting with intuition, I have found that it follows no rules and has no predictable pattern other than consistently bringing me closer to my truest Self.


Q: For those seeking a deeper sense of surrender or ease in their motherhood journey (but don’t know where to start), what would you tell them? What was most helpful for you in those beginning transformational years?

Go easy on yourself. You don’t have to be good at every aspect of mothering to be a good mother.  You and your child are perfect teachers for each other and the lessons given will often be uncomfortable. If you have a spiritual practice, expanding your process into the field of motherhood is incredibly helpful. This can be as simple as witnessing, without judgement, the waves of frustration, sweetness, self-criticism, numbness, etc. that arise throughout the day. 


Q: Any resources (books, podcasts, groups, articles) you think are must see/reads?

Read: Autobiography of a Yogi, by Parmahansa Yogananda

See: Becoming Nobody


Thank you so much for joining me, Dillon. Check out Part Two of this interview for more behind-the-scenes look at how we can embody our living practices with our children!


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Once a month, expect a curation of resources intended to inspire a deeper personal practice. There will be Q&A interviews to showcase how other women in this community navigate transformation, articles and podcasts that have made a lasting impression and practical mindfulness exercises to bring about sustainable change. If you’re a fan of mantra…there will be some of that too.

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