This post appeared October 5, 2015 on the San Francisco Book Review site.
By Sheila Trask
A self-described, “recovering management consultant” Kathryn Kemp Guylay moved her family from the bustling city of Chicago to Sun Valley, Idaho in 2011 in search of a simpler, more balanced life. That didn’t mean the life lessons stopped there. In fact, Kemp Guylay found she learned more from the mountain peaks outside her new home than she ever did from a corporate boardroom. San Francisco Book Review recently asked the author about these experiences and more described in her new memoir, Mountain Mantras. In this interview, Kemp Guylay details how her family adjusted to the big lifestyle change, gives insight about the value of self-care habits like good nutrition, and shares advice on the importance of choosing attitude over ambition.
Mountain Mantras offers six attitude-changing mantras to guide daily decisions, which comes easiest to you?
I wouldn’t say that any of the mantras come easily, but I think that the practice of mantras to gain ease in life is part of the important message of the book. Mantras are phrases that are repeated in order to gain power and an acceptance by the subconscious mind as they are repeated. For me, a mantra can be a survival tool when the going gets tough. The mantras that I find to offer me the most transformation are Change Your Lens On Life (“stay positive”) and Throw Yourself Down the Mountain (“commit 100% percent”). Staying positive, especially in the face of adversity, can go a long way in getting out of a rut in life and getting back to a positive state. We all have a role in manifesting our own lives, and our attitudes (either positive or negative) attract people and situations. Committing fully to what you are doing (Throw Yourself Down the Mountain) is a much-needed reminder that we need to face fears and break through them in order to get the most out of life.
The mantra that I have to remind myself to practice most often is Zoom Out for the Best View (create vision in your life). Especially in this digital world, we are all so focused on what is right in front of us at every moment. Today, our focus can get stuck on things like a phone, our computer/email, or other digital devices. We have so much coming in to flood our brains, and we can get so easily caught up in the everyday to-do lists. For me, it is always a challenge to Zoom Out and see what’s really important in any given day, week, month or lifetime.
After the move to Sun Valley from Chicago has life slowed down at all, do you feel more balanced?
… I have to say that many people have laughed at the thought of me slowing down. Things in our small mountain town can often get very busy! The question makes me think of a dear friend of mine and executive director of The Hunger Coalition, Jeanne Liston, who recently left our little town for time in India to find more balance. I think that balance isn’t something that you actually ever find. The minute you get into it, you fall out again. Just like balance poses in yoga, balance in life is a practice, not a destination.
How did your kids adjust to the big move? What do they think of the small-town lifestyle now?
Our kids are definitely having a lot of fun. There is no doubt that they have more opportunities to connect with nature in Sun Valley. For example, as I write this, my 14-year-old daughter is on a sic-day school trip on the Salmon River. It is part of their curriculum. Part of their outdoor program at the community school [is] that students have an opportunity to journey into the back country four times each school year. However, that is not to say that we couldn’t find this same sense of connection to nature back in Chicago. We used to visit Lake Michigan and walk in the parks there and take it all in. While our environment has an impact on how we think and feel, to quote Jon Kabat-Zihn, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” We can always find peace and quiet from within.
Nutrition seems to be the foundation that accompanies all of the advice in the book, where did your interest in nutrition develop?
When I was a child, my dad would take us to work at the Chicago Medical School. My sister and I would roam the halls and pester scientists and medical students. My Dad actually taught nutrition to medical students, and we heard a lot about nutrition and macro- and micro-nutrients at mealtimes. My dad wanted me to grow up to be a Medical Doctor, but I chose the business route instead. I have always retained a fascinated with nutrition, but I didn’t study it formally until my kids were born and I was all-of-the sudden responsible for feeding those growing bodies and brains.
Yes! The Conclusion tells the tale of how I applied the six mantras to the writing of the book. I am currently applying them to the book launch process, trying to stay positive, set my foundation, create a vision, set goals, learn from mistakes and simply commit to getting it done!
What’s on your reading list these days?
At this moment, I have stacks of books on my nightstand that I rotate depending on my mood. I am honored to be a mentor of Marci Shimoff, so I am re-reading Love for No Reason, a fantastic practical yet dense book. I am still catching up on reading that stemmed from the 2015 the Sun Valley Wellness Festival, including Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On Warrior, and Dr. George Pratt’sInstant Emotional Healing. I also have a few books that I am reading as part of my radio show hosting on KDPI 89.1FM Ketchum. Finishing up Paul Shoemaker’s Can’t Not Do and getting ready to start Annie Mahon’s Things I Did When I Was Hungry. There are some really wonderful books out there!
Mountain Mantras offers practical advice, but also explores more esoteric ideas like the manifestation of desires. How do you balance the two?
I am the genetic combination of an artist and a scientist, a trait I proudly share with Jon Kabat Zihn, the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are. So, I have a very practical side to me. When I want to connect to people like my Dad, I stick to the logical and step-by-step action plans. But as you mention, the esoteric-or even “woo-woo” is a very important part of my life. I like to credit my mom, who is a creative artist with a Masters degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, for giving me the gift to think way outside of the box. I very much believe in the idea of manifesting one’s life and vibrating on a “frequency” that allows us to connect with others. For me, the balance is in constant flux, just like the seasons are always changing. The flow between the two—the esoteric and the practical—is the balance I’d like to achieve.
As a self-described “recovering management consultant,” have you recovered? What skills from those days did you bring to this project?
I’m recovering from a life of billing by the hours and viewing time as a limited/scarce resource. Charging by the hour and needing to hit billable hour targets on a weekly basis made me miserly with my time. When I had kids, this whole concept of time management was thrown out of the window. I learned to enjoy watching the wind blow through the blades of grass or watching a trail of ants carry crumbs around the yard for an entire afternoon. But yes, we still have to get things done. My project management skills—getting things down on a timeline—were extremely helpful to this book project. But as I recommend in the book, it has to be a balance of proactivity and receptivity; we can’t rush the universe to get things done on a timeline that isn’t natural.
What’s next on your itinerary?
Speaking engagements—and lots of them! I’m excited to travel around and share my stories with people in person. What is fun is that I’ve already found various audiences that really mix things up—from college students to businesses and corporations, and parent groups to non-profit organizations. The mantras can be adapted to all walks of life, and everyone is ready for a fresh metaphor that can be supported by storytelling and humor. Off we go!