“Joy is in the being, not in the thinking.”
Tracy Phillips on happiness, staying curious, and releasing past trauma.
For the past hour, Tracy Phillips has cradled Billie Holiday, her adopted Dachshund, in her arms. It has been barely six weeks since the 42-year-old director of experiential marketing agency Ppurpose rescued this three-year-old canine from its former fate as a breeding dog, but the two are already thick as thieves.
Her reason for adopting Billie is simple. She wants to give Billie a home. Not just a physical abode but also one where she can feel emotionally and psychologically safe. “There is no greater feeling than being home and family to a being that needs one,” says Tracy.
And she would know. These words are not just the adopt-don’t-shop litany of a pawrent, but words from someone who has experienced the turbulence of growing up in different homes while navigating taxing familial relations.
For someone who has tackled life with plenty of moxie, there is a certain lightness to her being that comes through. There is a curiosity that drives her to learn about the world and an openness in embracing friends and strangers – even if human nature can be fickle and fallible. While she talks about darker episodes in the past tense, she also acknowledges that healing is a process that calls for the dedication of a constant gardener.
Below, she tells us more about dealing with life’s curveballs, releasing past trauma, cultivating joy, and her yoga journey.
My notion of joy has shifted over the years. I’m a curious person by nature and in the past, joy had a lot to do with discovering new experiences. Now, I could be at home and experience just as much joy. It’s a kind of joy where I’m content and focused on what I’m doing.
I believe that joy can be accessed with practice. The lockdown during the circuit breaker period was a time of practice for me. During this period, I was brainstorming with my team at work to figure out what we could do for others and we came up with a series of group programming that could give people a sense of community and do activities that could help them connect more deeply with themselves and others. So over 30 days, we had people doing yoga, meditation, and exploring the notion of play. Each activity took 10 minutes per day and the entire series of activities built upon each module to get everyone into a state of flow. At the end it all, we hope that we helped others to realise that joy is in the being, not in the thinking.
Yuka is one of the most joyful people I know. She came into my life recently. Yuka is a Japanese yoga teacher trainer who doesn’t require anything and yet possesses a sense of inner joy. As a proponent of Karma Yoga, everything she does is performed as an act of service. Nothing makes her happier than looking at a tree. One of her practices is standing meditation where she’ll stand in front of a tree and meditate. One night, I saw the police standing outside our door as Yuka rushed into the house to retrieve her passport. As it turns out, a neighbour who thought it weird for a woman to stand and stare at a tree had called the cops on her. It made me realise just how disconnected we are, as a society, to nature.
I was five years old when I knew I had to step up and take care of my mum. My parents were divorced and she suffered from bipolar disorder, so in some ways, I became the mother and she became the daughter. At that point in time, it just felt very normal to me. I didn’t feel like anything was wrong.
Growing up, I didn’t have it easy. But I’m still immensely grateful for life and what I have. When I lived with my father and stepmother between the ages of 12 and 19, my stepmother was verbally and physically abusive. At the end of the day, though, I was still very close to my dad. While it was a dysfunctional family, it was my family. It was challenging to live with them and I eventually left home at 19, but this meant that I had to find work and fend for myself. I dropped out of school to start working. When I was 24, my father lost everything so I had to financially support the family. So for the longest time, I didn’t have much savings.
My father eventually passed on when I was 30. Five years later, my mum died. I am the only child from my parents and losing them did set me off on an existential crisis. I asked myself: Why am I here? What does this all mean? At that point, I found myself alone in the world.
Inner-child work is so meaningful. I think everyone should be open to trying it. Even the best parents will never be able to give a child all that he or she wants and needs. The problem with childhood programming and conditioning is that so much of it happens when we are so young. So as adults, we are not aware that so much of our behaviour now had already been seeded back when we were little.
It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve felt much more comfortable exploring my shadow side. All my life, I was focused on positivity. So if unfortunate things happened, I would try to fix it and move on. I wasn’t very comfortable with just sitting and coming to terms with my feelings – even though I knew there was more to be felt. I would convince myself that I was okay. However, I’ve realised that this form of positivity can also be a form of suppression.
I’ve meditated on and off since my 20s. I also explored Vipassana meditation in 2006, which leads you to become more aware of your own life experiences. You begin to see things as they really are. That was a real awakening for me. It was a wake-up call in terms of the stories that we tell ourselves. I was able to be aware of all the internal dialogue surrounding what I thought was my story.
I’ve come to realise that the body stores emotions. I used to pride myself on the fact that I could contain my emotions well, but I now know that it’s not healthy. Containing emotions just means that you’re suppressing it and it’ll eventually emerge somewhere in your body.
When I first went to Linda Bedessian, a chiropractor specialising in network spinal analysis, she put her hands on my shoulders and said: “Your body feels like you’ve been driving around with the handbrake up.” She told me that my body was in fight-or-flight mode and that definitely resonated with me. She recognised that my body was always in survival mode. Even though it’s not quite the case anymore, that programming stayed with me physically.
Yoga has helped me to feel more connected to my body. My yoga practice has helped me to be more aware of my body, and being more aware of my body has helped me to be more present. When I’m more present, other aspects begin to open up a bit more. For example, I feel like I was always a calm person, but now I’m experiencing a different level of calm.
Buying and moving into my own home in 2018 brought a certain level of comfort. It has to do with the intention and act of creating a space that was solely and purely for me. I’ve stayed in rental apartments previously, but they were usually shared with my ex-partners. All my life, I’ve always been programmed to think about other people first and make decisions based on that. However, renovating my home was probably the first time I did something so big just for myself. During the renovation process, the constant act of making choice after choice – from selecting tiles to choosing a colour for the walls – was a really good exercise in honouring my needs.
Being in nature gives me energy. Having a view of trees can be very life-affirming. Likewise, being around friends and having the ability to share perspectives also gives me energy.
I recently adopted a dog and named her Billie Holiday. She’s three years old and used to be a breeding dog. I realised very quickly that she feeds off my energy. So if I’m agitated, she will pick up on that. With dogs, you have to be very present with them. While you’re training a dog, it’s about learning how to work with positive reinforcement, not fear.
When I feel overwhelmed or unfocused, I like to go for a walk, cycle, or play my singing bowls. If I have been sitting in front of the computer for too long, I’ll get up and spend some time with my singing bowls, too. I really like the resonance and vibrations that come from them. I feel more centered and present after.
Life so far has definitely been quite a journey. It hasn’t been easy at times but I’m very grateful for the life I had. The events in my life have always made me want to find out more about the nature of ourselves and our consciousness. I think I was 15 or 16 when I really wanted to understand why things were the way they were. If it hadn’t been challenging, I don’t think I would have had that kind of hunger or curiosity.