When you bring neuroscience, change theory, mindful practice and a relentless desire to change the world together, you’ve pretty much arrived at Megan Lipsett. Talking to her feels like the culmination of years of thinking, studying, practicing and refining what she is now preaching in her B-Corporation COPIA Health.
A graduate of the Integrative Health Studies Department at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Megan is an Integrative Health and Wellness Coach, yoga teacher, and social change entrepreneur. She has just returned from Off the Mat, Into the World’s Global Action Summit, where she facilitated a break out group on Empowered Women Leaders and Collective Action with former UN peace advocate, Marianne Elliott.
Recently, we talked about what led Megan to set up COPIA, the current movement towards well-being in the Bay Area, and her own take on what helps, and hinders, people and communities, to flourish:
Let’s start with your own background. How did you become interested in the field of optimal health and vitality?
I came from a family that did not have access to resources or the tools to consistently meet our needs. I had personal health challenges at a young age that introduced me to the biomedical system. I experienced huge levels of anxiety about interacting with a healthcare system that did not create healing and an educational system that did not have the capacity to support and nourish my capacities. After years of depleting therapies and feeling a lack of personal value, I began to empower myself to explore self-care and integrative forms of healing.
Through world travel, I began to see new ways of being in the world and in community. I began to see that true health and vitality was not separate from my community, my environment, my internal state and sense of self. I realized that the social systems labeled “healthcare” in the US were not creating long-term and sustained healing for the people visiting them, and in many cases, were deepening the cycle of imbalance and disconnection at every level. I began to see the potential for both individual and social healing that comes from empowered lifestyle practices that are based in gratitude, human connection, and taking care of our earth.
What is COPIA? Could you describe the philosophy that informs the organization?
At COPIA Health, we recognize that individual, social and environmental health are interwoven. We believe that human flourishing, social vitality, and environmental renewal come from integrative, mindful, and sustainable life practices. We offer trainings, events, workshops, and courses that teach integrative, mindful, and sustainable practices.
COPIA champions projects in order to directly address the origins of dis-ease, through encouraging accountability in resource use, practices of self-inquiry that align individuals with their life’s purpose, and engagement in lifestyle practices that are empowered, mindful, and sustainable. We advocate for lifestyle practices that create positive change in those systems directly impacting the health and wellness of our society - including food, education, environment, health care, and economy.
COPIA takes on the idea that how a person operates also impacts their immediate social, natural and cultural environment. What are the interrelationships that you see between people, communities and the environment, and how does this span fields such as health care, education, food and organizational systems?
We re-define health to mean a balanced use of resources, infusing social and ecological thinking into matters of personal health care and enhancing our understanding of living systems. This perspective recognizes that personal, social, and ecological systems are interrelated. In order to begin to act with awareness about the relationship between individual, community, and environmental health, we implore aspects of systems theory in our approach. Systems theory, championed by such visionaries as Fritjof Capra and Wendall Berry, considers that elements and relationships make up a system.
The physical body is an example of a living system. Our experience is defined by the flow of energy, matter, and information through our body system. The balance of this system impacts, and is impacted by the proper balance of all systems as a whole – such as food systems, social systems, and governmental systems. We teach people to raise awareness about the connection between our individual experience and our larger social systems. For instance, our thoughts impact our emotions, our emotions impact the state of our physical body, the state of our physical body determines the actions and behaviors we engage in, and those actions and behaviors determine the larger social systems that arise, and all of these processes impact the environment. Thus, mindfulness is a key element to bringing harmony to this web of living systems.
You've mentioned this idea of resources a few times. What does this mean to you? And why is it necessary to bring this into balance on a personal and community level?
A resource can refer to anything that can be used for support or help, a supply of something that fulfills a need, or a means to be used to effectively overcome a challenge.
Internal resources include mental, emotional, and spiritual resources. Internal health practices focus on cultivating one’s inner resources.
Relational resources include social resources. Relational health practices include developing optimal relationships with the people and practices that make up one’s life.
External Resources include physical, ecological, and modified resources. External health practices focus on sustainability and connection to the life cycle of these resources.
Is there a specific application of this in both mental health and mental illness contexts?
The modern epidemics of chronic stress, anxiety, mood disturbances, addictive behavior, and attention disorders, troubled relationships, dissatisfaction, and discontent – are all related to imbalance of our inner resources.
We believe that the spectrum of mental imbalances is related to the basic disconnection that is occurring in our global community. The rise in isolation and lack of social support fostered by our social and economic structures may result in mental and physical imbalances. There are many studies out there right now demonstrating the importance of strong social networks in supporting those with mental imbalance. Social support is known experimentally and experientially to mitigate the damaging impact of stressful situations. We crave social connectedness, meaningful exchange, and social support when we experience life challenges. When our social resources are depleted, such as is the case in many settings in the modern techno-centric world, we may fail to thrive individually and globally.
Who specifically are the audiences for COPIA given how wide the application of this approach could be?
We work with a wide variety of people, because we are dealing with a global epidemic of disconnection, anxiety, stress, and dis-ease. We offer public programs, as well as private trainings and consultations. We have offered trainings to social workers through the Fred Finch Youth Center, women transitioning out of prostitution and addiction through SafeHouseSF, and integrative health practitioners hoping to teach integrative health and mindfulness practices to their clients.
COPIA Health’s primary public program is The ResourceFULL Training, co-created by Allie Stark and myself. This course aims to inspire citizens to investigate the life cycle, health impact, and environmental impact of the products, services, and activities they interact with. We expand the understanding of health and wellness to mean a balanced use of resources that promote human flourishing, social vitality, and environmental renewal. We are hosting an introductory workshop to The ResourceFULL Training at the JCCSF on Saturday, August 17th.
The bay area, to me, seems to be at an interesting point of developing a wellness movement, as maybe previously it has sustained debates around food and civil rights. What’s your take on this?
The Bay Area is a unique and active hub for mindfulness, sustainability, and social change. We face many of the challenges that come with urban living, such as lack of access to local fresh resources, over-stimulation, pollution, income inequality, and social disconnection. At the same time, there is a huge constituency of people who are committed to mindfulness practices, conscious consumption, and creating vibrant communities. The disparity in resource distribution that we see happening globally can also be seen between the extensive spectrum of socio-economic statuses and living conditions in the bay area.
However, every individual person desires health, happiness, connection, and well-being. There are a vast number of opportunities in the area to connect to one another, to the land, and to our highest sense of purpose in the world. There are a huge network of small and large organizations and groups committed to bringing balance and vitality to our bay area community. We can each offer something and find ways to be of service in the world, starting with our own communities.
Those with depletion of internal resources may find balance in offering external resources to those in poverty. Those who have cultivated internal balance may provide insight to those who have disconnected from their sense of self. In this way, we can rely on the collective wisdom and ability of every community member.
And finally, we ask everyone that we talk to for their well list: the films, books, people, websites, blogs, etc., that they look at, find useful and which have resonated with them in some way. What are yours?
Fritjof Capra’s books, The Center for Ecoliteracy, Elliott Dacher’s Aware, Awake, Alive, www.Goodguide.com, www.offthematintotheworld.org, books by Joanna Macy, Congressman Tim Ryan’s A Mindful Nation, Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, and Brene Brown’s books.