Healer Q&A: Navigating inner transformation and new identity with Bala.

July 21, 2023
Healer Q&A

The following interview is a transcript excerpt from The Heallist Podcast episode. Listen to the full audio version below and subscribe to get notified of new episodes.

In this inspiring episode, host Yuli delves into Bala's remarkable journey from the world of digital technology to a profound inner transformation through nature. They explore pivotal moments, including Bala's spontaneous spiritual awakening, the process of building a new identity, the discovery of forest therapy and his work as the founder of  Just Love Forest, a nature preserve focused on sustainability and well-being. Bala shares the story behind his spiritual name given by Ram Dass and discusses the complexities of reintroducing oneself to peers after significant inner changes. The conversation also touches on surrender versus manifestation, embracing the unknown as a path of choice, and the transformative power of nature.

Introduction to Bala

Yuli Ziv: I've known Bala for a couple of decades, and he recently went through a complete life transformation. I cannot wait for our conversation to catch up. Bala was mostly an ordinary guy, working in digital technology and leading startup ventures until he had an extraordinary experience the week before Christmas 2017 during a spontaneous meditation in the closet of his family's home. Everything he thought he knew vaporized in that moment, and suddenly he had an expansion beyond words.

Since then, he has become a meditation teacher, forest therapy facilitator, and founder of the "Just Love Forest," a 700-acre nature preserve near Poetry, GA, facilitating sustainability, education, and well-being experiences like forest bathing, meditation, and conscious retreats. I cannot wait for this conversation.

The spiritual awakening

Bala: I feel like most of us are very connected to multiple layers of intuition and sensory perception, abilities that remain latent due to societal structures and upbringing. I was one of those kids who felt very connected to the universe, but it became dampened as I grew older. I spent 13 years working with a startup called 360i before starting my own company, Cloud Tags, which raised significant funds for retail technology. We achieved some success but faced challenges in scaling the business with venture capitalists involved, causing immense stress, and eventually leading to physical issues.

Looking back, that moment marked the beginning of my spiritual awakening. Three months later, I had a light bulb moment during meditation, experiencing a massive expansion of energy. I realized that everything I had identified with was confined within my physical body, with the name, “James Brian Yancey.” From that point forward, my preferences were erased, including my diet, where I became vegetarian and vegan. It started a journey of relearning everything, from how I functioned in business to my joys and passions.

This transformation led me to embrace listening more and reducing mental chatter. It was an immediate and ongoing experience of unconditional love.

The process of building a new identity

Bala: It's terrifying. I would describe the first 18 months, but especially the first six months, as being incredibly terrifying but filled with joy simultaneously. This is simply because, at the age of approximately 38, you really don't know who you are. It's not just a midlife crisis, like wanting to go buy a new car. Instead, you have to rediscover who you actually are experientially, piece by piece, through somatic intelligence of pain and pleasure.

When I realized that this experience was as cataclysmic as it was and that it wasn't going to be a short-term thing that happened, I just retreated within myself. There have been times where I wish I could pretend that I didn't have this experience or that I hadn't gone through the things I have. When I understood that everything was going to be at some level of significance and that this was not a short-term situation, I had to take an entire year off. At that time, I was closing down my startup, which operated in India, Europe, and the US. We still had one client paying a monthly fee to use our technology, so technically it wasn't a year off, but generally speaking, I wasn't doing any of the song and dance I had done before.

The story behind the spiritual name

Bala: My spiritual name came from a spiritual teacher named Ram Dass. Some of you may have heard of Ram Dass. He was a Harvard professor in the 60s, originally named Richard Alpert, who had a transformative experience after finding his guru, an Indian sage and saint back in the late 60s named Neem Karoli Baba.

Taking a year off was necessary for me to relearn things outside of the confines of my existing environment because being in that environment would only reinforce the previous identity I had built up, which was full of nonsense. Choosing a spiritual name is an important step in spiritual growth because it signifies shedding and letting go, rather than acquiring something new and building up spiritual materialism.

In my case, the name Bala Rama was given to me by Ram Dass, and it translates to "Strength of God." When someone calls me Bala, it serves as a constant reminder of my higher purpose and the work I'm meant to do. Transitioning into the person I am now, Bala, was like coming out all over again. Just like when I came out as gay in high school, revealing a part of you that others couldn't see shatters false stories they held about you.

Sharing my spiritual name is a similar process, teaching people how to best relate to me in the most helpful way for themselves and for me. It's a choice of embodying the truth, not building up a spiritual ego, but rather being helpful to others in this new way of existing. Over the last year, I've started sharing my spiritual name more openly with a broader audience, as I believe it aligns with my heart's desire to be of greater help to the world in expressing my true existence.

Yuli Ziv: I saw your post on LinkedIn. I don't go there as often as I used to. But I will say when I see posts like yours, I do hope more and more of my peers, my professional community, discover this new world that we live in. When I saw your posts, it just made me so happy. I immediately reached out, and I thought that you did a very beautiful job of reintroducing yourself, in a matter-of-fact but also compassionate way. It also made me want to reconnect with you right away. I found it to be brave, because not many of us are willing to step out and do it the way you did, on such a professional network where everyone is really obsessed with their status, their identity, the brand they project. You came out with this new, genuine identity, saying, "This is who I am." I thought it was just very profound.

Re-introducing himself to peers

Bala: I don't think I strategized the way it works. My spiritual experience is all about unification, about a singular existence. Before these experiences, I had different personas for different aspects of my life: my social face, my work face, and my personal intimate persona. However, after this spiritual awakening, I realized it's just one unified self everywhere, all the time. The benefit of this realization is that it frees up so much energy that used to be spent on fabricating nuances in each persona. I never realized how much energy was being consumed by this fabrication.

Starting on social networks like Facebook and Instagram was easier because it's less formal. But when it came to LinkedIn, I saved it for last because it was harder, and I was nervous about it. Surrendering to this new identity requires courage and trusting in the universe and my path. To fully commit, I had to let go of any backup plans or previous identities I could revert to if this spiritual journey didn't work out. LinkedIn, for me, symbolizes the final letting go of any remaining false stories.

Not everyone is comfortable sharing such personal experiences publicly, and that's perfectly fine. However, it did enable me to build deeper and more honest relationships with people that were previously only functional in nature.


Surrender vs. Manifestation

Bala: What I can say is that everything I would have done previously was what I had been taught I needed to do. With this, it has very much been tapping into what some would refer to as your dharma, which would particularly mean your highest life's work in this lifetime. It's like a gradient; we can get closer or further away from what is the highest potential of how we can use our time in a single lifetime to benefit ourselves and the world.

For me, “Now I need to create something," that stopped. The trust came in the stopping, and the trust came in the period of time it would take to listen and receive. What I tell people now is the way I experience my life is I do my practice. I do my practice, and that's what I do. Then outside of that, because I'm doing that and I'm connecting in a certain way, everything else from that point forward is receiving. Every person, every situation, every moment, every opportunity I'm not scheming. I'm not prioritizing my list of 10,000 things and blindly throwing out emails, hoping someone's going to respond to something or someone will have lunch with me, which is how I used to work.

My job is to do my practice, to get as deep into my heart as I can, to surrender to the fact that there is something much greater than me doing it. Then I allow things to come to me. It's different from manifestation. I am doing my practice to become as open and receptive, clear, and clean, as I can be to allow things to come through me. “I'm going to do these things, and after I do these things, I'm going to create this other thing.” It's more about not chanting that. It's about allowing life to unfold through me and trusting that whatever comes my way is meant to be, and I am simply a channel of energy in this incarnation, in this body. Through me, things can happen as long as I do my practice, remain clean, and stay clear.

Yuli Ziv: It is so profound, and I need to sit on it for a moment because it's the complete opposite of everything we've ever been taught in our business world. Marketing, creation, and startups. For me, because I'm going through a startup launch process right now, it's like this constant internal dialogue between the old me and the new me. Do I receive, or do I strategize, plan, and map out, and put my brain to work? This really takes practice, it takes surrender, and it's the hardest thing that I've found on this journey.


Embracing the unknown as a path of choice

Bala: I encourage people to try doing nothing because when you can truly do nothing, a lot of profound things start happening. It's about getting to the essence of what doing nothing actually means and embodying it. When you can reach that state of doing nothing, it becomes a clear and clean channel for receiving, and that's the real doing. The importance of doing nothing is one of the most sacred things you could ever imagine—it's a state of true receiving.

As you can attest from my experience, it takes time to reach this point. Year after year, I've had to let go of the noise and distractions. It's not that other things are necessarily bad. They are part of different people's incarnations and the lessons they need to learn at different times. It's not about classifying the old way as bad and the new way as good. Even the notion of better or worse is something we can let go. There's the culture of “We know," where people claim certainty and indulge in long-range forecasts, repeatedly discussing what they believe they know.

On the other hand, there's the experience of surrender, where we acknowledge that we don't know. As part of our practice, we must see both perspectives and have enough trust in the process. I often tell people they don't need to believe anything I say. Believing is just another aspect of the culture of “We know." Instead, the transition should be towards direct experience.

Your practice becomes what you do, leading to a series of tests and hypotheses. Your job is to live and experience life in a certain way. If you choose to explore this new way without belief, and things still go wrong or poorly, those hypotheses will guide you to what is not true for you in your experience. There's no need to believe or be told that this is the right or better way, as I honestly don't know. My liberty, freedom, and serenity come from the acknowledgment that "I don't know." The beauty lies in the fact that there's nothing to believe; you have the option to try a different way in this lifetime or not, and it's not a judgment of good or bad, simply a matter of optionality.

Yuli Ziv: That's how I feel like most of my life has been: experimenting with different forms of creation, whether it was conscious or unconscious. I'd like to think that now I am at a point where I am creating my company consciously. However, it doesn't mean that the unconscious results were invalid. They still provided me with so many valuable lessons that I couldn't have learned any other way. Yet, it's also exciting to discover this conscious way of building things and how different it is. I don't mean to compare the two, but I also notice the ease and flow that come with conscious creation, which is so refreshing.

In the past, the world seemed all about struggle and hustle, this idea that you have to put in endless hours and effort, be the best, compete, and outbid everyone. It became a cycle of expending energy, draining me. However, conscious creation from the soul connection is the complete opposite. When I work more mindfully and intentionally, suddenly startup life doesn't need to be hard; it can flow with relative ease.


Discovering the forest therapy

Bala: As I was doing my practices, I eventually met several different types of spiritual communities. In the beginning, as I delved into spirituality and sought my spiritual home, I discovered that it didn't matter whether I worked with entheogenic plants, engaged in deep meditation, or explored the breath's depths. All of these practices served as gateways to the same experience of oneness. Throughout my journey with different channels and teachers, the recurring message was clear: "Get a forest for healing."

However, at that time, I had been involved in Boy Scouts and was an Eagle Scout, but I had become disconnected from nature and the outdoors after that phase of my life. When starting a venture, you typically want to tie it to something you can relate to or have experience with. But in this case, the call to the forest was beyond anything I had imagined. I questioned, "What is a forest? How could I afford to get one?" However, I've learned that my path unfolds step by step, and the forest presented itself to me. I found a 716-acre piece of land comprising contiguous forests, a rarity on the East Coast. I knew it was clear that I had to sell my assets to acquire this land, having never even been to this part of the state before.

Once I obtained the forest, I discovered miraculous blessings and stories about the land, such as the history of Poetry, Georgia, and Serpent Foot, which were unknown to me before the purchase. With the forest, I embarked on tasks I had never imagined, such as owning a chainsaw or a pickup truck, managing land, building structures, and engaging in land management. Throughout this three-and-a-half-year journey, I've never had to ask for help; amazing beings have shown up, providing the skills and support needed for the project. It has been an unfathomable unfolding of people and opportunities, all coming together serendipitously.

As I embarked on the healing aspect of this project, I wasn't sure what it would entail until I heard about forest therapy somatically. My body's wisdom and intelligence immediately recognized its alignment with the forest. Everything that has emerged, from the programs and retreats we offer to the construction of buildings, has occurred organically and serendipitously. This process has allowed me to continue my spiritual practice and path, deepening my understanding and connection.

An important lesson I've learned is the significance of creating spaciousness and staying in my heart and playfulness of "I don't know." Without this commitment, the work I do could easily become a burden, no different from sitting in an office working on mundane tasks. I encourage others to align their work with purpose and sacredness, but it's essential to make personal practice a priority and create that spaciousness in life to fully experience and live with purpose.

Join our FREE network now and get your very own business page.

Try our practice management tools FREE for 30 days.
Your page stays free forever.

Join Now