Felina Danalis is a mindfulness coach who works with men and women around the world who want to live, work and love more intentionally. Felina runs a global coaching practice, serving individuals from Hong Kong to Greece and Australia to Turkey, who want lives that are simpler, deeper, more sustainable and more authentic. She also helps companies to improve mindfulness and emotional intelligence in the workplace, as a way of serving the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
Felina has been a student, practitioner and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism for over a decade, bringing a deep well of richness to her coaching, classes and workshops. She also spent years working in the international development and sustainability consulting industries, working with organizations and institutions such as the World Bank and the European Union, and consulting private companies on how to do well by doing good. For years, she evaluated and consulted hundreds of FORTUNE global 100 companies, on their sustainability performance, stakeholder engagement, internationally recognised labour, human rights and environmental standards such as the UN Global Compact's Ten Principles. She also co-authored a book on Socially Responsible Investing, helping people see the thru lines between their deepest values and their financial investments.
In addition to her passion for sharing mindfulness practices with the world, Felina is a dual national (U.S.- Greek) polyglot who currently lives in Palm Springs, California. She loves hiking and the national parks, bubble baths, visiting friends and family in Europe, Greek food, baroque music, living sustainably, Thomas Merton and Pema Chodrun.
Raw, Uncut and Unabridged: The Backstory
I was born onto the stage of a play already going on in my family, one in which scarcity, shame, and pain were the order of the day.
My parents were hard-working and deeply traumatized immigrants who came to this country for a better life, but who were completely unprepared for the challenges it presented. They made choices to survive in ways that were painful and heart-breaking at times.
More often than not in my early life, we were terribly poor, financially, materially and spiritually - even though at other times we appeared to keep up with the Joneses. I learned to hide the deep shame I felt by becoming an overachiever.
No one knew that, even as I spoke to hundreds of people at my high school graduation in a wealthy community in Southern California, for example, I was homeless, living in a shoddy motel with my mother.
As the pain in my family grew ever bigger, so, too, did my compulsive need to prove my own worth.
I ended up not only as the first member in my family to attend college, but went to the prestigious Georgetown University which was, in many ways, the perfect place for me to study international relations. I excelled academically, graduating magna cum laude, and was finally free to explore a world away from the suffering with which I had been raised. I knew I was deeply interested in the world, wanted to make a contribution to it and change it. I felt safest in intellectual and cerebral topics that were far removed from anything that might betray roots of deep shame.
But the spiritual background of that Jesuit school, with its deep emphasis on service and social justice, seeped in somewhere between the Bellinis and the partying I was indulging in. I was to continue to try to fit into the cognoscenti crowd, subsequently pursuing a graduate degree in international economics and European politics at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies where I lived in Italy for a year, before returning to Washington, DC.
Armed with a graduate degree, I was determined to muscle my way into the ranks of the global intellectual elite and forget the wounds of my childhood. Even with a nagging eating disorder that plagued me mercilessly with thoughts of low self-worth, body and food obsession, I began a prominent career at the World Bank. I worked to help developing countries attract more and better foreign direct investment that they might grow their way out of poverty. At the time, it was part of the conventional Bretton Woods institutions wisdom that these strategies would work. Without thinking too much about it, I travelled to Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s and genuinely thought I had arrived. I was helping to make the world a better place.
Within just a few years, though, I was getting squirrelly for a change and wanted to go back to the land of my family, Greece. Given that there had been so much pain during my formative years, I wanted to understand a bit more where it all came from. Still, I needed to keep a safe distance emotionally from anything that might rock the boat, and was thrilled when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Greece invited me to join the Minister’s Cabinet. I was asked to serve as part of a team that would help foster international development cooperation and private sector development initiatives with the neighboring Balkans and Turkey. Even though I could barely read and write Greek at the time, and was losing my hair from the gruelling pressures of this highly visible post, I was deeply honored and proud to be able to return to the land of my ancestors.
As luck would have it, geopolitical developments in the region of Southeastern Europe led to the fall of the much-maligned regime of Slobodan Milosevic, and a massive shift in my life. I was recruited to join a small group of people on behalf of the European Union which would help to reconstruct post-conflict Serbia and get it on track to democracy once again. Ever eager to take on even bigger challenges for the sake of a prominent career, I packed my bags and headed to Belgrade, where I didn’t speak the language or know a soul.
I was smart, seemed tough, ambitious and, much like former Secretary of State Madeline Albright who had taught at Georgetown while I was there, was well on my way to being a hardened veteran of the war-torn Balkans.
And that’s when my breaking open moment occurred.
On a cool, autumn night in Belgrade, a car bomb exploded just feet away from me, killing a man in front of my eyes. Up until then, I thought I could handle life. But that bomb changed everything for me.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was terrified. The only solution offered to me was to medicate myself to the gills so I could continue to function in a role that was starting to feel much too tight for me.
I could not go on living the way I had been.
I quit the job, and prestigious career and did what no one thought I would ever do: stop working and go live on an island in Greece. There I slowly - very, very slowly - began to explore why I had had this breaking open moment. I began the deep work of uncovering the false self I had created that could accomplish things, impress people, and quote The Economist at dinner parties when diplomatic staff came to my homes.
I tried many healing modalities, self-help books, and paths of self-discovery that offered any relief from the emotional, spiritual and physical pain I was in. I explored practices from homeopathy to recovery, yoga to coaching, juicing to volunteerism and, above all, spirituality.
And then in 2005 I went to a Buddhist meditation class when I was living in Athens. And that changed everything.
Studying Buddhism helped me see my lifetime of attachment and aversion, clinging and grasping, achievement and disillusionment not as something unique and special to me, but universal to everyone. I remember the night I heard the teaching that “attachment is the root of all suffering” and knew I had found a spiritual home.
With this knowledge and understanding I tentatively dipped my toes back into the work world while still living in Europe. I needed to get a job and earn a living but wanted to do it in a way that was much more aligned with the Buddhist notions of right livelihood. I began evaluating and consulting hundreds of European companies in the areas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability using the leading global standard for environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, the AA1000 Accountability Rating.
While it was a great step forward, my spirit hungered for more.
That hunger was met when I got the call that my mother, living on the other side of the world in Joshua Tree, California, was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. And the clock began ticking.
After more than a decade in Europe, I returned to the U.S. to take care of my mother, to be of service to her in her final years and to heal our once extremely painful relationship.
It was by far one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks of my lifetime. My relationship with my mother, thanks to Buddhism and other spiritual practices, was transformed and healed. When she transitioned peacefully in 2016, I knew the wheel of dharma had turned in my life and it was time for yet another new beginning.
As a result of this healing with my mother, it became clear to me that this work of living mindfully was something I was being increasingly called to do. No longer content to simply teach meditation at the local Buddhist center and to help people discover nascent spirituality at the world-renowned Betty Ford Center, I wanted more. I went to the leading Coaches Training Institute (CTI) to become a coach wanting to bring all of my professional and personal experiences to serve individuals and companies from widely diverse backgrounds.
I launched my own private mindfulness coaching practice, began to share my passion for mindful living and to help men and women around the world transform their lives. I have dedicated my life to helping busy, stressed professionals live more mindfully and people who are out of balance with food to find peace with it.
Today I live in Palm Springs, California and still occasionally fall into what psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach calls the “trance of unworthiness”.
But now I know that it is a lie and simply come back to the breath with reminds me to live, love and accept what is. Right here.
And that’s what I’d love to help you with, too.