Lyena strelkoff, how to meet chalenges head on , dina cataldo

#4: How to Meet Challenges Head On with Lyena Strelkoff

The Los Angeles Times said about Lyena Strelkoff, “She has enlightened and ennobled us all.” I think you'll know why after listening to today's podcast. Lyena Strelkoff is a coach, storyteller and speaker. She's also the creator of “The Shero's Way,” a coaching program that uses adversity as a catalyst for personal and global transformation.

Lyena says, “Every Challenge that we face is the opportunity to become more than we've been before.” In this episode we talk about our four natural instincts to challenges, and why they don't work. She explains the biggest shifts in thinking we can make when faced with a challenge. Plus, we talk the key to bliss, lawyering, and the trouble with faux positivity.


Sending so much love and gratitude to Lyena for chatting with me this week! ~ Dina

how to be a morning person

Read the Transcript

Dina Cataldo: You're listening to Soul Roadmap, episode number four.

Welcome to Soul Roadmap podcast. Each week, you'll hear strategies and inspiration to take action and live life better. Hi, I'm Dina Cataldo, lawyer, coach and entrepreneur. This podcast is your roadmap to creating more success in your life, business and relationships. Let's get started. Today you're going to hear from an inspiring actress, storyteller, transformational coach and the subject of an award-winning short documentary. Before I tell you more about our guest, I want to tell you about something that transformed my life and makes every single day better, and I'm giving you my secret for free.

That secret something I'm talking about is a morning ritual. I created a morning ritual roadmap that will walk you step-by-step to create your very own morning routine. I didn't always used to be a morning person. I used to wake up, hit snooze about 15 times, roll out of bed, take a shower and run out the door. Let me tell you, that is not a way to start your day right. When I discovered that that was what was hurting me, what was making my day difficult, I changed my routine up. When I did, I discovered that there was an entirely different way to live. So, I created something that will help you create the routine that will make your life better. It includes a morning tracker that lasts two weeks, so you can start to make improvements and track your changes.

Dina Cataldo: You can get it at

All right, now on to our guest. Lyena Strelkoff is a transformational coach, a storyteller and a speaker dedicated to advancing how we respond to challenges. A lifelong dancer paralyzed in a hulking accident, she recognized that she transformed her life through this challenge. She's been featured in the LA Times and NPR, and has acted alongside Jane Fonda, Marissa Tomei and Rosario Dawson among others. We talk about four natural instincts to challenges, and why they simply don't work. She explains the biggest shifts in thinking we can make when we're faced with a challenge, to create an opportunity to grow. We talk lawyering, faux positivity, the key to bliss, Field of Dreams and more. There's truly something for everyone in this episode.

Dina Cataldo: If you've ever had anxiety, felt like a control freak, had trouble trusting, or maybe you felt like you were facing an insurmountable challenge, you're going to want to listen in. Let's get started. Well, hello. How are you doing today?

Lyena Strelkoff: I'm doing so well, thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Dina Cataldo: I am glad that you are here with me. I really wanted to talk to you when I learned about your story, but not just about your story. It's about a transformation that I could resonate with from just having that moment in time that just happened to trigger this huge transformation.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, it's like falling through a portal.

Dina Cataldo: It's like falling through a portal. So, I want to just start off giving listeners an idea of, before we started talking, I talked about our experiences, like yours with paralysis, mine with breast cancer. It's kind of like a footnote, and really what I see in the big scheme of things is this transformation that really happens when we're given this gift of awareness, whether or not you get it in one way or another. Can you introduce yourself through that brief moment in time?

Lyena Strelkoff: That moment of the portal, or the journey that led up to the portal?

Dina Cataldo: Why don't you start with the portal, and then we're going to back up and explain exactly what was going on.

Lyena Strelkoff: Okay. On October 4th, 2002, I was on a date. My friend Dean and I were hiking in the Malibu hills, in Charmlee Park in Southern California, and I had done this a million times in my life. Not the dating part, but the hiking part. I was raised in the outdoors, my father was a really avid mountain man, kind of 1970s guy. I went back country backpacking for the first time when I was five. I didn't sleep in a tent for the first time until I was in my 20s. It was hardcore wilderness adventure rang, and I never really left that behind. So when I got into my adulthood, I was the kind of person who hiked every weekend, and was very, very active physically.

Lyena Strelkoff: So I was on this date, and it was really hot in October, and we wandered into one of these oak groves, looking for some shade. There in the corner of this grove was this spectacular tree. I had been climbing trees my whole life, and I knew instantly that this tree was perfect for that purpose. If I had to design a tree and put every branch into exactly the place I would need it to be, this tree was it. As it so happens, I was feeling very, very anxious that morning, and I kept trying to find ways to calm myself down. Trying to find ways to feel better, and when I saw this tree I thought, “Well surely I'm going to feel better in the arms of this tree.” So I started climbing, and because it was so perfect and so easy, within seconds I was 25 feet up.

Lyena Strelkoff: Dean, my date, he started climbing, and then I found myself on this perch that was very spacious. I was standing almost perfectly vertical. My feet were balanced on two very thick branches, and my left hand was resting lightly on a small branch behind my body, just draped on this branch. Dean started telling this really long joke, and I was waiting for the punchline. I heard a loud crack, and that crack was like a door opening. I knew instantly what was happening. The branch I had been resting my hand on broke. I reached in front of me to see if there was anything I could grab. As soon as I realized there wasn't, I knew I was going to hit the ground, and there was nothing I could do. I had no influence on this situation, and so I let myself fall out of the tree. Right through that portal that we were just talking about.

Dina Cataldo: How did it feel as you were falling?

Lyena Strelkoff: Heavenly. Absolutely heavenly. To just touch a little bit on who I had been before that, I was a very anxious person. I had some trauma as a really young child, my family had a very painful divorce that we all went through, and from the time I was eight on, I was desperately trying to make sure that bad things wouldn't happen to me. I spent my life in my head, trying to predict the future, trying to control the future. To make decisions and take actions that were going to go how I wanted them to go, and turn out the way I wanted them to turn out. If I couldn't tell how it was going to turn out, then I didn't go in that direction. I was actually very paralyzed in my able-bodied life, and you could see that all over my life.

Lyena Strelkoff: I had relationships that, I was actually great at getting into a relationship, but I couldn't stay in relationships. Two to four years, and that was it for me. Either I would leave or they would leave. My career, I was a professional actor, but I was making $300 a year as an actor.

Dina Cataldo: Not living off of that.

Lyena Strelkoff: No, not even close. I was well respected, and I was a co-founder of a well-respected theater company in LA, but I couldn't even really get a career off the ground. I had a lot of depression my whole life, in and out of these chronic depressions. I just was struggling in so many ways, and I was really hungry for surrender. And so when I realized, when I heard the crack and I realized there was nothing I could do. It was like an invitation, like this is what you've been asking for. This is this moment, and it's so easy to surrender when you know you don't have any influence over a situation. When it's hard is when you're not sure, if I worked this extra bit harder, will I have a better outcome? That's when it's hard to surrender, and we want to push those edges. We want to try to make it go our way, or make it be as good as possible, but I knew there was nothing I could do. I was going to hit the ground.

Lyena Strelkoff: Once I surrendered, it was immediate bliss. I dropped into the slow-motion. I felt peace like I had never felt in my life. I had time to notice everything. I had time to notice the shape of my body in space. I had time to notice that I was in slow motion, that film and television had gotten it right. I had time to notice the branches on the leaves that I was near. I had time to notice how peaceful I felt. I really knew right from the start, this is a different place. This is somewhere you've never been before. You are going somewhere new. That was heaven. It was pure heaven.

Dina Cataldo: There's so many obvious questions that I can ask, and you've spent quite a few years now working within a coaching area, also working as an actress, speaking tours in which you really describe your journey. Part of what really interested me was how you found the space after the fall to create a new life.

Lyena Strelkoff: That's an interesting question, how I found the space. I'm hanging in the air, and I have no sense that I'm getting any closer to the ground because I'm falling backward and I can't see it. It feels literally like I'm suspended, and I'm in this blissed out state. I'm 100% present. I'm certain that's the key to that bliss, perfect presence brings about that bliss sensation. It's very difficult in the real world to be perfectly present, so that was a great lesson to me. Then they ground shot up and hit me, and I never lost consciousness. It didn't even knock the wind out of me, which still to this day blows my mind, but I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk because I couldn't get enough air in. I was in tremendous pain when I tried to breathe, and I couldn't tell where my legs were.

Lyena Strelkoff: I had the body sensation of them being in a particular place, but I could see with my eyes that they weren't there, and I had no idea where they were. I could not see them. And so, even when it started to get really gnarly, like here I am on the ground, and I can't breathe because I've collapsed a lung, and we're calling 911, and Dean has to leave me by myself in the dirt because he's got to meet the paramedics at the trail head. We aren't on the trail, so he has to bring them to us. They need to be let in. I'm by myself, and I start to hear a voice in my head, and it's my own voice. It starts telling me things that I need to know. The first thing that it tells me is, “Everything you need to know is happening right now.” I immediately understand that okay, I'm going to get through this.

Lyena Strelkoff: The information is right here. It's in the present moment, so of course I start scanning immediately, “What's happening right now?” I realize okay, surrender is clearly happening. Presence is clearly happening, and faith. The voice says to me, “That's the way home.”

Dina Cataldo: What was that faith in?

Lyena Strelkoff: Well, there is definitely a sense of, this was a profoundly spiritual experience. The fall itself, the time in the air, so there is, it's my faith in spirit, in something bigger than me. I've had a very deep relationship with spirit for probably 20 years predating the fall. It's faith in that relationship, but it's also faith in the journey. It's so clear to me that I have embarked on some kind of, this is not Kansas anymore. We have landed in Oz, and we are now starting this journey. My own wisdom is saying to me, you have to have faith in this journey. You are here now, and it means something that you are here, so pay attention because it's going to be teaching you. It's going to be showing you.

Dina Cataldo: That's pretty profound, to have that realization in such a compact moment.

Lyena Strelkoff: And immediately. It's not something I came to after three months of suffering in pain, and sadness about it. It was the first thing. It was the first thing I got.

Dina Cataldo: I have to say, that was not the answer I was expecting, simply because I am colored by my own experiences with that kind of thing. It took a lot longer for me to get some things, but to have it just so clear in that moment, that is pretty freaking amazing.

Lyena Strelkoff: It was amazing for me, while it was happening, because believe me, I never would have guessed that anything. I wasn't having an experience that was like, “Oh yeah, of course this is how it would go.” I was having an experience that was so radically different from anything else I had ever experienced. Did you ever see the movie Field of Dreams?

Dina Cataldo: Oh yeah, I love that movie.

Lyena Strelkoff: So you know at the end, after he has built the field, and everybody has come to see it, and the ball players all come out of the corn and they play their game. At the end, they want to take somebody back with them, and of course Kevin Costner's character is like, “Me, me, me, take me.”

Dina Cataldo: Right.

Lyena Strelkoff: And the players say, “No, we're taking the writer. We're taking James Earl Jones.” Because when he gets back, he's going to be able to tell you what he saw. I felt like that's what happened to me. I got handed this experience because I had this set of skills and experiences, and talents and education. I had these tools already in place, and I was going to be able to tell people about this journey. I was going to be able to tell them what happened, I was going to be able to give them something. So I got handed this right from the beginning.

Dina Cataldo: I want to ask you what was going on in your life prior to this realization, because I've listened to some of your other interviews, and I know that prior to the fall, there was a car collision. Can you describe that collision, and what was going on in your life at that time?

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah. My life was really such a mess. In the summer of that year, I went through a breakup. I had been in a long-term relationship with someone I had loved very, very deeply, that I had actually been in and out of a relationship with for 15, 16, 17 years, something like that. We had lived together three times over. We kept trying, and we finally, he left. I had to leave the home that we shared, and it was huge. I knew that this was it, we weren't doing this again. It was really, truly over. It felt like my whole world was about to dissolve. I really hated that feeling. I didn't want to have that experience. I knew that I couldn't save this relationship, but I was not going to allow my life to be destroyed or dissolved by this.

Lyena Strelkoff: And so, I sort of jumped into, if you think about a caterpillar. A caterpillar goes into the cocoon, right, and what does it do? It dissolves. That's what it has to do. It has to cellularly rearrange before it can form wings. I used to think that wings just grew on the body of the caterpillar, that is so not what happens. There's this very messy, probably terrifying thing that happens inside the cocoon. For me, after that breakup I was like, “I'm so not going down that path. We're just jumping right to butterfly.” I'm going to be fine, I'm going to be badass. We're just skipping all that ugly, painful stuff. Because I have control over all things in my life.

Dina Cataldo: Of course.

Lyena Strelkoff: So I started dating Dean. I had already known him for a couple of years, he was another co-founder of the theater company, so we were good friends. I started dating him, and one night our theater company had a fundraiser, had a party in West Hollywood. And so at the end of the night, very late, it was like 2:30 in the morning, we were packing up the club where we had had this party. I had some stuff that I was going to take home, and I went out to the front, to the street in front of the club. I went out into the street to put something on the driver's side of my car, and as I was standing there next to my car, I felt something brush by my hip. It took me a few seconds to figure out what it was, but it finally dawned on me that it was the side mirror of the car that had just passed me.

Lyena Strelkoff: I had this really unnerving, “Oh my God, I was just inches away from being hit by a car as a pedestrian.” I, sort of in a shocky kind of state, put the stuff in the car, and stumbled back up to the sidewalk and Dean came out of the club, and he saw my face and he said, “My God, what happened?” I told him, and I just was like, “Oh, this is bad.” I had this feeling like the universe was sort of tapping my shoulder like, “Hey, we need to talk.” I hated that feeling, and so I just said, “Nope, we're not having that conversation,” and I brushed off my hip like nothing had happened, and I got in my car, and I started driving home.

Lyena Strelkoff: About 10 minutes later I was at the intersection of Pico and Crescent Heights in Los Angeles, and I was driving through the intersection, and a woman made a left turn and she slammed into the front of my car and totaled my car. The two together, those two experiences not 10 minutes apart, left me feeling so destabilized and shaky. For the next 24 hours, I tried to convince myself that they were not meaningful. That coincidences happen, weird things happen, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. I really wanted to believe that. It's counter to my belief system, but I really wanted to believe it. About 24 hours later, I just could not shake the feeling that God, or Goddess as I typically refer to it was trying to talk to me, was talking right at me.

Lyena Strelkoff: So I remember I went to bed the next night, and I lay in bed and I said, “Okay, I hear you, but I don't know what you mean. Maybe you can send me another signal, and I'll try again to figure out what you're trying to say.” Five days later, I fell out of a tree. I knew this was my opportunity. Dina, I was so tired. I was 33 years old when I heard the crack, and I had spent virtually all of those years trying with my own bare hands to manage every outcome of my life. I was exhausted, I was bitterly alone. I had a million people around me. I've always been popular, I've always had a lot of friends, I've always been admired and well-respected, but I felt like I had the whole world on my shoulders, and then I didn't know how to learn any other way. I was so tired.

Dina Cataldo: Despite having that huge support, I'm curious to know, were you the kind of person who felt you had to go it alone, that you had to be completely self-sufficient?

Lyena Strelkoff: I think not in the typical way. Like I have sisters, I have older sisters who went through my family's demise along with me. I had one sister who I think did come out with that like, “Hey, I can't count on anybody else, so I'm going to count on me.” I think it served her pretty well. For me, it was more than I was so young. I didn't know how to let anybody in. I mean, I can remember so clearly in, say junior high, feeling so lonely. I had a million friends around me, but the feeling of loneliness was like this, I can bring it up right now, that pit in my stomach, because I didn't know how. I didn't have the skills. I had to teach myself that in my 20s. It wasn't so much that I felt like I had to do it alone, it was that I couldn't figure out any other way.

Dina Cataldo: You mentioned that you had this feeling of being anxious. Like up until this point, this feeling of anxiety. It sounded as if it was connected with this feeling that you did have to have your hand in everything, that you did have to attempt to control everything.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yes.

Dina Cataldo: Have you ever figured out where that came from, why you felt that?

Lyena Strelkoff: Oh yeah, because when I was three, my father left us, completely out of the blue. He just said he was leaving, and he pulled three crying girls off his body, and he walked out the door, got in the car and drove away. I didn't see him or talk to him for a month. He just disappeared from my life, and then he came back. He didn't come back to the family, but he didn't want to leave us, the girls. He was in my life after that, but he was such a mess, and there were several other incidents after that where he just made these extraordinarily bad decisions, and our situation kept going from bad to worse, and I didn't trust life. I didn't trust life to deliver good things. I didn't trust good things to stay. I didn't trust that I was enough.

Lyena Strelkoff: I felt deeply, deeply flawed that I was somehow born that way, and that if people knew, they would for sure not love me anymore. I would for sure be abandoned. I was always trying to hide what felt to me like this creeping stain inside my body. I just had no faith in life.

Dina Cataldo: And that faith that you're describing, that lack of faith, did you regain it during your fall, or was that something that you had slowly been regaining over time?

Lyena Strelkoff: It was definitely something I had been working on over time, but I struggled with it a lot. I would have moments of it where I felt like, “Okay, life is my friend,” but I could not live there for sure. It wasn't until after I fell that I started really, truly to live there. I mean, that certainly got challenged. There's nothing that makes you feel insecure like being paralyzed now, you know? Your whole world changes. It's so complicated, you have no idea. Paralysis is so complicated.

Dina Cataldo: Well, we should mention, because we have not talked about this, is especially you were a dancer.

Lyena Strelkoff: My whole life.

Dina Cataldo: That is something you closely identify with. If you closely identify with anything, and that's a source of joy for you, can you tell us a little bit about how you found joy in other ways, even though this was a big love of your life, dancing?

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, that was definitely a really difficult one. I had been a lifelong dancer, and I like to say that it was so much more than joy, because for me it was church, it was therapy, it was the most quintessential self-expression. To dance was to be perfectly myself, and so when I didn't have that, I remember laying on the ground under the tree and saying to Dean, “How am I going to live if I can't move?” I couldn't compute that those two things could go together. But right from the beginning, one of the things about the approach that I've developed, and that I now teach is that the truth is a really big place.

Lyena Strelkoff: That's one of the precepts of what I call the Shero's way. The truth is a really big place, and if we can learn to hold a very big and contradictory truth, we open a door to joy, and beauty, and grace, even when things are really hard. We don't have to get through the hard part in order to get to joy, or beauty, or grace. They actually coexist. And so for me, that, there was joy while I was laying on the ground under the tree, waiting for the paramedics. There was already joy. It wasn't with me every second, it's not like I wasn't terrified, is not like I didn't grieve horribly, but even in that grief there was this connection with spirit, with source that felt incredible.

Lyena Strelkoff: There was all this vision and wisdom that was coming so fast I could barely keep up with it. That was a source of joy. I think that my capacity for joy expanded. The type of things that brought me joy expanded, and I never gave up dancing. I continued to dance from my chair. It's a really different experience, I miss dancing with my whole body for sure. Still 16 years later, I still really miss it, but I have had some of the best dances in my life from my chair, for sure.

Dina Cataldo: One of the things that I've heard you say is that every challenge that you face is the opportunity to become more than we've been before, no matter what that challenge is. How do you deal with an obstacle that seems so difficult to overcome? How do you coach them?

Lyena Strelkoff: The first thing is that we shift the focus. It's no longer about overcoming it. The first thing that had to happen for me in order to make this extraordinary transformation available to me was I had to enter into a relationship with paralysis. I had to stop fighting it, I had to stop trying to beat it. I had to get curious about it. It was no longer an adversarial relationship, it was a dance. I didn't have to like it. I didn't have to somehow manufacture some kind of gratitude for it, especially false gratitude, which I am hugely opposed to, but I did have to get curious like, “Okay, you're here now. Who are you, and what do you have for me?” Which is very different than giving up. It's very different than just laying down and saying, “Okay, you're here now, that's it. Nothing I can do about that.”

Lyena Strelkoff: I still was here, I had my own opinions, I had my own desires. Paralysis was here, too. So when I coach people, the first thing, one of the first things that has to happen is a reframing of the situation. Now that doesn't mean, for instance, that you have cancer it means you can't beat your cancer. But we have to shift away from this adversarial stance in order to open that door, open the door of possibility that we can become more. Because the situation that we're in is actually the teacher.

Dina Cataldo: One of the things that really helped me when I was trying to move through my diagnosis, it's been years, but it took a lot of being quiet with myself. For me personally, I love music, and so listening to music and just sitting with it, that was something that helped me. Writing really helped me, and for me personally, yoga helped me. I know a lot of people who are listening are people who, they can't get into their minds unless they get into their bodies.

Lyena Strelkoff: Oh, I'm so like that. Yeah, I totally get that, sure.

Dina Cataldo: Are there any other tools that you would offer someone who is trying to navigate this obstacle? Something that's going on in their life like that, that would help them.

Lyena Strelkoff: Okay, yes. There's many, actually. Some starting places are, first of all this core premise that every challenge we face is an opportunity to become more than we were. You don't have to actually believe that, you don't have to buy in. You only have to be open to the possibility that that's true. So, whatever situation you're facing, if you can be open to the possibility that that situation is an opportunity to become more than you've been, you can get curious about that like, “Hmm, how could that be? What might be here for me?” Then beyond that, for me I did a tremendous amount of writing. I remember when I was in the hospital especially, because my previous best tool for processing anything was movement.

Lyena Strelkoff: Here I was in a situation where I couldn't move two-thirds of my body, so I had to write. Creative expression in general. In the beginning it was journaling, it was hearing this voice and having conversations with it on the page, but later it was about storytelling. It was about creating, in a sense something beautiful. Creating beauty out of this experience, even though I was also telling the truth. I wasn't sugar coating anything, but I needed to create something. I would write poems, I ended up writing a full-length, one-woman show that I toured that show. I did five national tours of that show. So, creative expression, whether that is painting the moments of your experience, whether that is planting a garden that represents your experience, cooking meals.

Lyena Strelkoff: Giving it some form of expression outside of your own head is a super important tool. The other one is a mindfulness practice. In some of your past episodes, talking about meditation, the role of meditation, in my experience, part of what I teach is that we need to be able to simultaneously be having an experience and observing that experience so that we can get just a little bit of distance, so we're not snowed under with every emotion that we have, or every event that takes place, or every conversation we had with the doctor, every conversation we have with the spouse we're divorcing from. We don't want to get snowed under by that.

Dina Cataldo: Okay, I've got a question for you, because I love hearing different people's takes on teaching simple meditations for people, because I think one way that one teacher teaches someone is going to resonate with them more than another. Anyone who is not currently meditating, I would love to hear your way you would approach guiding them into a small meditation practice. Can you tell us how you do that?

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, I start with pure mindfulness. Just notice. Notice how you feel in a moment. Notice what's going on. That's the practice. Meditation, meditation practices build that muscle, that mindfulness muscle. All I care about is that you build this muscle where you're noticing how you feel. You're noticing what's happening. That's what happened for me while I was laying on the ground. That voice said, “Pay attention.” If I say to you, we need to build the mindfulness muscle. Everything in your body goes, “Oh, for God's sake, meditation, how boring.” I just want you to notice that. We don't need to judge that, we don't need to do anything. We don't need to change your reaction. I don't have a problem with your reaction.

Lyena Strelkoff: I don't want you to have a problem with your reaction, I just want you to notice, that's what happened when I said the word mindfulness, or I said the word meditation. That's all I want from you. I just want you to notice, because that's the one important piece.

Dina Cataldo: I freaking love that. I think I'm going to ask that every time I have someone on the show who does anything with meditation, because you know what? If it doesn't click with you one way, maybe someone else is going to say something that's going to make it click. I am all about getting more people meditating.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, I have noticed that. As I have been listening to the episodes, I've been like, “Oh yeah, she's definitely on board here.” Welcome aboard.

Dina Cataldo: I mean, I have to say, so much of your story resonates with me because I had a very much that feeling of anxiety. For different reasons, but I could definitely see it in my nature. The more you work, the more you work. That created a lot of anxiety, and the job I have is one where you have to be in control all the time. That kind of seeps into your pores, and if you're not aware of it, and you're not taking the time to have a mindfulness practice of some sort, it could just take over your life. And so yeah, recently I felt really strong about my practice, and I've noticed a huge difference. I'm all about that.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah. Wait, before you go on, I want to say one thing about that, because I am imagining this. I am invoking my inner attorney, and I'm trying to imagine what that world was like. I fell for a long time I was going to go to law school, and when I did my undergrad, my graduate degree is in human development, but when I went to undergrad, I have a degree in theater and performance, but my minor is pre-law. I thought for a long time I was going to go down that road, so if I invoke that part of me, and I look around inside my body for that, I can totally feel like yeah, absolutely, you have to be what you said is in control. Here's what I say to that. I have learned that there is a huge difference between being in control and being in command.

Dina Cataldo: Oh yeah, I like that.

Lyena Strelkoff: And my life, I strive to always be in command. I am virtually never in control.

Dina Cataldo: I like that.

Lyena Strelkoff: I hope you do, because think about, take any day. Take today, take yesterday. There are a million things that are out of your control. Essentially every single person you deal with, whether they work for you or they're on the opposite side of the aisle, whatever. We don't have any control over anybody else. We just don't. I don't have any control over the way the traffic lights are scheduled. There's a million things I cannot control, but I get to be in command of me in every single one of those situations.

Dina Cataldo: I love that reframe. That was beautiful. I'm totally using that.

Lyena Strelkoff: This mindfulness practice allows for that, because if you don't have that, then you're just reactive. If you can't, if you don't have any distance between you and what's going on, then we just react, and we are no longer in command. Now our situation has the power, our situation is in command of us, or the people that are around us are in command of us. That mindfulness piece is so important, just to get a little bit of space so we have time to say, how do I want to respond to this? Who do I want to be in this moment? Juicy, right?

Dina Cataldo: Love that. I wanted to hit on something that you mentioned, and I am totally on board with this. In fact, thinking about this makes me a little anxious. It's the overly positive, let's be faux positive all the time.

Lyena Strelkoff: Blegh.

Dina Cataldo: I mean, I'm about positivity. I'm a positive person. I go in the office, “Hey guys, how's it going? I'm happy.” And none of that's fake, but if I don't feel good, and I walk in, that's not going to happen. I'm not going to have that overtly positive vibe because that's just not how I'm feeling. So, can you touch on that and some of the reaction or feelings that you might have about that overtly positive, faux positive world?

Lyena Strelkoff: Oh yeah, I've got lots of feelings about this. In fact, I have a gift for your listeners. I know you're going to put the link in the notes. It's a story that I recorded called Death by Positivity that's all about this.

Dina Cataldo: Oh, sweet.

Lyena Strelkoff: So yeah, I am a firm believer that forced gratitude and forced positivity is absolutely making things worse for us. That you have to begin where you are. It's like me trying to jump past that caterpillar phase when my relationship broke up. The only place you can begin from, begin anything is right where you're standing. It's not possible to begin from somewhere else. And so when we force ourselves into gratitude, or we force ourselves into positivity, what we've done is we've removed ourselves from the actual place that we inhabit and tried to project ourselves into some other spot. It is simply impossible, it does not work.

Lyena Strelkoff: So, what I have found is that, there's a whole host of other problems that come with it. It's not just that it doesn't work, it actually gets in the way. It makes the hard stuff last longer. It cuts us off from support that we might really desperately need in that moment. It's so bad for us, so what I teach is that you have to tell the truth first. You have to be truthful with yourself. You have to say, “This is what's really happening.” That doesn't mean you have to collapse into it, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your whole day to it. It doesn't mean you have to not meet your commitments. You always act in honor of your commitments, not in honor of your emotion, but you have to tell yourself the truth, and you start from there.

Lyena Strelkoff: Then you can make choices. You can decide, “All right, I've been with this and I need to move on. I need to get some other things done, and I'm going to go do those things.” Without cutting a piece of you off. It's like leaving your arm in the other room. How do you expect to feel if you've done that? Well, how you're going to feel is that you're missing an arm, and that arm, first of all part of your attention is always like, “Geez, I don't have a left arm. This feels really weird. I don't have a left arm, where's my left arm? Oh right, I left it back in the other room. No, no, no, I'm not going to look over there. I'm just going to try to function over here without my left arm.” It's like it calls to you, so now we're super distracted.

Lyena Strelkoff: We're totally inauthentic. I mean, the doors are just closing. We're just getting smaller, smaller, smaller. We're just contracting. You've got to start with what's true, and then make choices about what you're going to do with that, how you're going to respond in that moment.

Dina Cataldo: I love that, too. There's something about also finding that thing that helps you be in the moment, that helps you. For me, podcasting is part of that because me having a conversation with you, I'm here. I mean, I'll notice my thoughts every so often, maybe they'll wander, but it's immediate come back. It's not like that with every activity I do, where your brain just kind of has a mind of its own. It goes down little paths and all of that, but there is something very immediate for this. There's something very immediate to one-on-one coaching. There's certain things, trial work. You have to be in the moment.

Lyena Strelkoff: I'll bet.

Dina Cataldo: I mean, there's certain activities that bring that, and to find those activities, whatever they might be. Maybe it's painting for someone else, or writing for someone else, or singing for someone else. Finding those things that help you practice that presence, I believe helps over time, overall in your whole life.

Lyena Strelkoff: I think for me, as you were talking I was like, “I wonder what those are for me, because I'm sure I have them.” I know that being with an audience of any kind, telling these stories, answering these kinds of questions, that is definitely a, what's the word I want? It's like fine tuning. It brings me into the proper resonance. If my frequency is kind of fuzzy on the edges, or all over the dial, as soon as I start to talk about this, even if the audience is you. It's you and me, you know? We're just imagining in this moment all the other people that might be listening at some future date. But in this moment, it's me and you. That's totally enough. I don't need more than that. That definitely brings me into proper alignment, and that's how I interpret when you say presence. It brings you into the present moment. For me, that's about alignment.

Dina Cataldo: Yeah.

Lyena Strelkoff: If I'm on my own, I noticed just breathing. Because I'm one of those people you mentioned earlier who, I need my body to be involved. I'm dangerous if it's just me up inside my head, you know? That's a bad news place. All kinds of crazy things go on up there, and I'm smart, and that's kind of a problem sometimes. I'm certain you know about this.

Dina Cataldo: Yeah, it's really tough being smart like us.

Lyena Strelkoff: It can be.

Dina Cataldo: I mean, I don't want to say anything to the listeners. We don't want anyone else to hear this, but it's tough. It's hard work.

Lyena Strelkoff: You know, that's the thing. You have a big brain that likes to make all sorts of connections, and wants to say, “Oh no, this is the way it is. Let me tell you how it is.” My brain is just wrong, a lot. A lot of the time, my brain is wrong.

Dina Cataldo: To kind of go off, we're going to go off just a smidge. With that voice that's coming into our head, it's that ego, right? It's telling us something that, “Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute, that's not necessarily true what you're telling me.” It's having that presence, having that ability to have space to recognize that voice is lying to us.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, and unfortunately that voice usually has evidence that it can point to. It can say, “Oh, but remember this time when blah blah blah happened?” Which doesn't make it any more true, it just makes it sound more true.

Dina Cataldo: Right, it may not even really be related, but it just has enough of a grain of truth, yeah.

Lyena Strelkoff: That's right. That's right, exactly. There was something that you wanted to talk about, you can decide if you want to include this or not. The instinctual responses, is that still of interest to you?

Dina Cataldo: The what responses?

Lyena Strelkoff: The instinctual responses to change, challenge and adversity.

Dina Cataldo: Oh my gosh, yeah, let's talk about that. Let's talk about that.

Lyena Strelkoff: So we've already touched a little bit on the antidote to what we naturally do. We haven't talked much about what naturally happens.

Dina Cataldo: Yes.

Lyena Strelkoff: When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, and it absolutely does not matter the type of difficult situation. It can be relationship based, it can be work, it can be money, it can be health. It can be mental health, it can be just feeling lost. I felt like that for, I don't know, 20 years or something. I felt like I just couldn't find my way, or I didn't know what I was doing. I was chronically dissatisfied. Any of these situations, it can be acute, it can be chronic, it can be low-level or intense. We have four natural instincts that we humans play out. We don't do just one of these. We can have a given situation and do more than one of them. One of those natural instincts is to deny what's happening.

Lyena Strelkoff: “This is not a problem. I know it feels like a problem and it looks like a problem, but it's not a problem.” We all know that doesn't work real well. I don't have to tell anybody that, that's not news. Another really instinctual response is to avoid the problem. So, I'm having this problem with a friend, I feel really awkward every time I talk to her, so I'm just not going to call her anymore. We're just, whatever.

Dina Cataldo: Oh, we've all done that.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah totally, haven't we? Right? Totally. You know you're having a problem with a coworker, you just try to avoid them, or whatever it is. Or you do some combination of avoid and deny. You have to be there, you deny that there is a problem, but then you just try not to be there the rest of the time. Oh, we're so brilliant at these things. I think I probably don't have to tell people why avoiding doesn't work.

Dina Cataldo: Yeah.

Lyena Strelkoff: Situations just get worse, they just fester. It's not a functional way to approach a challenge. Here are the two that are really tricky. One is to fight. Another instinctual response is to fight. Beat it, or get beaten by it, that's a common, especially for Americans, I think.

Dina Cataldo: Do you really think it's different between Americans and other?

Lyena Strelkoff: I don't think, I think that this exists in many, many other cultures, but we Americans, boy, we really dig our independent frontiersman out there, taming the Wild West kind of thing.

Dina Cataldo: I mean, I love John Wayne movies, so I see nothing wrong with that.

Lyena Strelkoff: Here's the issue there. Sometimes fight really works. Really works. Gets us what we want, gets us through a situation. Here's what happens. Sometimes, first of all, it's not going to work, but let's deal with when it does. It's very tiring. Not everybody has the personality for that, you know? We Type As are pretty good at that. Not everybody has the constitution to put on the boxing gloves and get in the ring with their challenge. What happens if we win? We get hit by another challenge. How much reserve do we have to take on the next one, or the next one? What if the fight we're in is chronic? What if it's not beatable? It's something that is like paralysis.

Lyena Strelkoff: It's going to be with me. Who knows where technology and science is going to go? But there is a damn good chance this is going to be with me for the rest of my life. How do I maintain that fight for the next 40 years? That's the problem with the fight. The fourth instinctual response is to just put your head down and bear it until it's over, and it has the same problems as the fight. Sometimes it works, because sometimes time delivers us from our challenges even when we've done nothing. If you just wait it out long enough and shift, we get delivered from that cocoon.

Dina Cataldo: How would that be different from avoidance?

Lyena Strelkoff: Well, I think avoidance is more like, I'm just not going to deal with this. I'm going to walk the other way. It's like that coworker, you know? I'm just going to try to avoid having to work on projects with that coworker, as opposed to, I'm in this project with this coworker and I'm just going to suck it up, and be there, and be miserable until the project is over. But the same issue, so the project will end eventually, and hopefully you won't have to work with that person again, but what happens if you do have to work with that person again? What happens when the next person comes, and that one is a challenge? Well, you got through that one at work, and now you go home and your teenager is doing crazy things.

Lyena Strelkoff: We're so tired. These ways of handling things are extremely hard to sustain, and the fact is, challenge is pretty common in life. It's not a pessimistic like, “Oh, life is terrible, and horrible things are going to come all the time.” It's just, we share life with a lot of people, and a lot of different circumstances that are out of our control. That means we're going to get challenged. Change is inevitable. Change is challenging.

Dina Cataldo: Well, we've talked about how that can be transformed into an acceptance of sorts.

Lyena Strelkoff: Into a relationship. So here I am, in the presence of this difficult situation. I don't like it, it feels crappy. What does it have for me? Get curious. That's the biggest shift. Get curious.

Dina Cataldo: Who is it, somebody said something to the effect of, I think it's Tony Robbins. He says the quality of our life is measured by the quality of our questions.

Lyena Strelkoff: Oh, I absolutely 100% agree with that. 100%. Something that I often say to people is that it is not the quality of your challenge that dictates whether or not you will benefit. What dictates whether or not you benefit is the relationship you're having with the challenge that exists. That's what says how much and if you're going to benefit from this situation, and that, you have command over.

Dina Cataldo: I would love it if you would tell listeners how they can learn more about you, and where they can contact you. I'm going to link to any links that you mention in the show notes, so nobody has to rush to write this down. It'll all be there. So yeah, tell us where they can contact you.

Lyena Strelkoff: Absolutely. You can certainly find me on my website, We will for sure give you a link because I don't want to torture anyone trying to figure out how to spell my name. Lots of information there. You can find me on Facebook, you can find me on Instagram, and if you do hop over to the website, actually no, we're going to give you a separate link for that gift. You don't need to visit the website for that. Then I think we are going to also link to some videos. There's a bunch on YouTube too that you can check out.

Dina Cataldo: Yeah, there's some fabulous things that I stumbled upon, and Lyena has done like a SUE Talk. There was a talk that gets super honest, and super real about what it's like living with paralysis. There are questions that would be super rude to ask anybody if you're walking down the street, so don't do it. She's answered all those questions for you, and you can find them at that link.

Lyena Strelkoff: Absolutely. Maybe we'll even link to, because we were talking about dancing there, I ended up marrying Dean.

Dina Cataldo: Thank you. I wanted to circle around back to that.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, Dean and I stayed together. Let's see, we got married about four years after I fell, and I think three years, three or four years after I got married, I gave birth to our son. So we're now all three of us, our son is seven now, he's fabulous. On YouTube, there is actually mine and Dean's wedding dance.

Dina Cataldo: Oh yeah, we're going to link to that, too.

Lyena Strelkoff: That was a big deal for me. That was one of the, that was a hard loss, because you hear these stories about girls who dreamt of their wedding dress their whole life. I heard one story about a girl who was always dreaming about her cake, the kind of cake she was going to have, which I think is adorable. For me it was the wedding dance. I have been choreographing that dance, I mean for years. Years and years, choreographing and re-choreographing, because it was such a big deal. And so, when I was approaching my own wedding, that was really, really important to me. Dean and I ended up working with the choreographer just to get a basic movement vocabulary in terms of how we could react to each other, and respond to each other.

Dina Cataldo: What's movement vocabulary?

Lyena Strelkoff: Movement vocabulary, in the dance world, choreography is built on phrases of movements, a movement that flows into the next. Each piece of that phrase is like a word. A movement vocabulary would be moves, things that you do with your body that you can mix and match in different sequences to create a dance.

Dina Cataldo: So if you moved in one way, it would be telling the other person to move in another way?

Lyena Strelkoff: Not necessarily, but we had to explore. First of all, Dean is really tall. He's 6'5″.

Dina Cataldo: Oh wow.

Lyena Strelkoff: So you have this very tall, able-bodied, on his feet person, and then not only do you have wheels, but I'm much lower than him because I'm sitting down. These are small complications in the movement world, and so we worked on, how could he move around me and not get tripped up on the chair? Or how could I spin, and manage my hands, and not lose contact with him? Things like that, the sort of logistics of moving together.

Dina Cataldo: Wow.

Lyena Strelkoff: Yeah, it was super fun. We ended up improvising the dance for the most part, and it's fairly long. I knew right from the beginning the music that I wanted to use, and it's fairly long. There's a point where it gets very silly, it's very playful. It's a fantastic representation of our relationship. It's everything that we are as a couple.

Dina Cataldo: Yeah. You know, you're a joy.

Lyena Strelkoff: Oh, thank you.

Dina Cataldo: I am so thankful that we had an opportunity to talk, because this was wonderful.

Lyena Strelkoff: Dina, that's lovely. Thank you so much for sharing that. I've had a great time, it's been really fun to talk to you. Really fun.

Dina Cataldo: I had so much fun talking to Lyena. Wasn't she a sweetie pie? I'm going to put everything that we talked about, all those links at You can get everything there. I'm also going to put a link there for the morning routine roadmap, and so you won't even have to look for it. It's going to be right there. See you next Thursday.

Dina Cataldo: Thanks for listening to Soul Roadmap. If you have a moment, I'd appreciate it if you subscribe, rate and left an honest review on iTunes. I read every single review, so let me know what you want to hear more or less of, and I'll talk to you next week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *