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Recognizing the Lessons with Donnalynn Civello

A spiritual teacher's personal journey to self-love

by Genevieve Kim

April 23, 2018


Talking to Donnalynn Civello is like a drop of dye in a cup of water; each word is potent, like a swirl of expanding insight. When we first sit down, she is so eloquent, so clear in speech and precise in thought that it crosses my mind that perhaps she is speaking on auto-pilot, performing a rehearsed version of her life’s story as an internationally known blogger, speaker, author and spiritual teacher who has been teaching wisdom traditions, workshops and yoga for over a decade. But all confidence aside, it didn’t take long for the drops of dye to settle.

As we began our tête-à-tête, Civello shared with me her path of self-exploration, starting from her ‘former’ life with a ‘perfect’ job, a luxury home in the Hamptons and a gorgeous fiancée. But her future all vanished within a matter of six earth-shattering weeks — unexpected incidents one after the other. First she lost her job, a career she had dedicated years of her life to. A few weeks later, her fiancée left her for another woman three months before their wedding date. After moving out of his apartment, she found herself with no home, address or sense of self. To add to the feelings of shame associated with this newfound joblessness and homelessness, she had no money of her own. Just a closet full of retail assets.

Brokenhearted, waking up seemed pointless. But even in her time of darkness, she continued to teach her three yoga classes. “Those classes saved me. It was the only reason I had to get out of bed. If I could get myself up and to that class, I would be great. So my purpose was just to teach those classes. I would sit in front of my students and give a dharma talk. Just five minutes of something uplifting,” she recounted.

The dharma talks became expressions of Civello’s own processing of the trauma she had experienced. “My talks would be about relationships and uncovering my own emotions as they came up: ‘This is what I learned about heartache, and this is what I learned about letting go.’ Every week it was a new topic. Those talks were really profound, and they helped me heal.”

As her mental and emotional well-being progressed in front of students, they began to ask for her teachings as written transcriptions. Initially she said that the words only lived in her head, but dozens of requests inspired her to start writing. So began her blogging journey.

Already with an MBA in International Business and graduate degree in Interior Design and Interior Architecture, she became a certified life coach, but did not yet have the confidence to teach. Her spiritual mentor encouraged her to step up into a role as teacher: “I brought in teachings of all my mentors and blended them in order to help people. And I also use a very special methodology which is rooted in mathematics, a very specific niche of numerology” — of which she has given workshops at The Assemblage.

All photos by Genevieve Kim
When asked about her a-ha moment — a defining moment of realization — she reflects back on those six weeks. “The Universe took everything away so I had no distraction. I needed to deep dive into the learnings of my relationship, and I broke it down for the first time. I realized this was a boundary issue [again]: I give and give and get taken for granted. It was the same lesson, just in a much prettier package. And I didn’t expect that. So the a-ha moment was breaking everything down and realizing it was the same lesson, and that it shows up differently every time.”

The reason we don’t notice patterns or learn lessons of our own tribulations is because “we get so bogged down with the ego here [on earth] that we can’t see clearly. We’re trying to live our mundane life without really living in the subtle body. If something is happening to you anew, it’s the Universe’s way of giving another opportunity to work through the same thing differently. But we don’t do that. We just keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. We’re not living in the ethereal. We live day-to-day just to get through school, get a career, and buy that first home. Most of us are sleepwalking our way through our lives.”

We often find ourselves repeating the unhealthy patterns of our lives, as Civello alludes to, and it begs us to consider that everything is a lesson that the universe is trying to teach us. But what is the lesson a mother needs to learn when her child is suddenly killed in a car accident? Or when a natural disaster disrupts an entire community of people? Is the universe really trying to teach a lesson here or is it just an indifferent Universe?

After putting all of these questions on the table, she asks whether this is a matter of fate or free will. Both, I say. It’s a dance.

“Fate is what will come to you. You planned it for yourself. And free will is what you do with it.” Civello explains that fate is a pre-planning birth in which we select every outcome that could ever happen to us at every turn. “You planned every outcome that could possibly happen to you but the free will is that you are the one who finds yourself on the tree [of life]. You can be the highest version of you or the worst version of you. You choose.”

Today, Civello is living her fate as a spiritual teacher and life coach. She walked me through one of her coaching sessions: “ I invite my clients to share five issues or concerns that they have about their life, and then I meditate on it and write what comes up — what I feel if they say their partners’ name or tell me about an issue with their boss. I get a sense of what’s going on there, and then I run a few equations on their birth date so I know what life lessons they’re running [numerologically]. What I usually find is this issue is a lesson that has so many different layers and they’re going to show up differently in different areas of their life. The longer it takes for you to get these lessons, the harder they get. They get harder to see because you would swear it’s not the same lesson this time. It goes from a K-Mart shopping bag to a Tiffany blue box.”

For instance, everyone usually asks about soulmates, and most people know a soulmate is going to come, whether or not you go out and seek it. But Civello advises climbing to the top of the tree. “It’s okay to recognize you’re on the lower branches. It’s never okay to stay there. You have to start climbing. You don’t get a better relationship because you want one. You get it because you climb the tree to get it.”

It is the basis of attraction: you get back the energy you put out in the world, or in the case of a soulmate, like attracts like so work on yourself first and you will bring in a person of equal self-respect and self-love.

After our conversation ended, I wondered: What if she hadn’t showed up to those yoga classes, or started the dharma talks? What if she hadn’t listened to her teacher, or herself? Would I have had the chance to experience insight and healing myself? Likely Civello would say, “Like attracts like.”