Drop Ins: Jackie Cantwell

We believe in the power of routines and finding meaning in the ways we sew comfort into our everyday surroundings. Drop Ins is a series that explores just that, taking a dressed-down look at the lives of people who inspire us.

Safe to say that whatever notions of how wellness feels, looks, and sounds have changed drastically this past year. The adjustments we’ve all had to make over the course of an unprecedented global pandemic—some gradual, some overnight, some subtle, some drastic—have been incredibly challenging. And perhaps few people have as much insight into the importance of those adjustments in one’s wellness practice as Jackie Cantwell.

As the director of Medi Club, a community of self-described “modern meditators”; a sound musician who helps lead sessions for The Big Quiet; and founder of Camp Remember, an arts and wellness-centered kids camp, Jackie has dedicated herself to a career in helping people form deeper connections both with themselves and with their communities. 

But up until the last year, her work was largely rooted in in-person experiences and growing communities that come together in both a spiritual and physical sense. Not long before lockdowns began, Jackie was on tour for two months with Oprah, playing sound bowls and helping lead meditation sessions for The Big Quiet. “To be in an arena that's usually used for basketball games or rock and roll shows, with 15,000 people and it’s dead quiet—that’s something I'll never forget,” she says.

Of course, any event with tens of thousands of people sounds like something out of a dusty history book at the present. But with a return to normalcy kinda-sorta on the horizon, Jackie is focused on what’s next. We caught up with Jackie recently while she was working in Los Angeles to discuss the nuance and opportunity of online community-building, as well as the importance of adaptability in the face of uncertainty.

What has surprised you the most about the way you’ve adapted to the changes over the last year?

I grew up as someone who really stuck to a routine and schedule, and also really liked a sense of control in my life. If there's something that I learned this year, it's that there's no certainty. And right, now that's heightened in a pretty major way. So, [I’m working on] letting go of how I think my day or my week or month or even the next year is gonna go through practices like meditation.

Image - Jackie Cantwell Interview - Portrait 01
What does a “typical”—and I use that word loosely—day look like for you right now?

It looks a lot different than it used to because all the work that I do is traditionally designed to be done in person. I'm sure this is the case for many people, if not all of us, but I’ve had to learn how to connect with people and bring them together over the internet. It has been challenging, but also beautiful.

That being said, having some type of loose structure, especially around my mornings and evenings, has kept me sane. An average day during quarantine in New York looked like waking up, having my morning practice around meditation, and taking some time to reflect on how I was feeling or what I wanted my day to look like through writing. And I love to cook, so I would cook and make sure I was taking pauses to take a walk in my neighborhood in Bushwick before jumping on another Zoom. And CBD became a big part of my practice because my anxiety was so heightened during that time.

"[I’m working on] letting go of how I think my day or my week or month or even the next year is gonna go through practices like meditation."
Any special rituals around taking it?

I use the 2400 MG, and my favorite and most consistent practice is to take 120 MG before bedtime. After dinner, I'll make a tea that's nice for digestion, like a ginger or dandelion root tea. l put a few drops of the CBD in there and really try to take notice of any sensations that come up. It really helps me relax.

Can you talk more about the transition from in-person to digital events?

For [pre-pandemic] Big Quiet events, we really worked hard to make them accessible financially for people. But there’s still a ticket price. So [during quarantine], we started doing IG lives for free, and we went from being a relatively US-based community to all of a sudden having friends tuning in from all over the world.

Image - Jackie Cantwell Interview - Feals Bottle

We were able to lead meditation and use sound to engage with them. And there was this feeling that everybody was kind of in the same boat. Those Instagram Lives became a really special way to have group conversations, to engage about what we're going through and what we're feeling, and to sit in meditation together. And for a lot of those people, they're meditating for the first time, engaging with Big Quiet in a way that maybe they never would have before.

"CBD became a big part of my practice because my anxiety was so heightened."
As someone who has had a consistent meditation practice, how has your relationship to your practice and to wellness overall changed?

I definitely deepened my practice over quarantine. [Prior to], I would practice 20 minutes of meditation in the morning and in the evening. But eventually, I was hitting a third meditation in the middle of the day, when I really needed it.

As far as sound meditation goes, I’ve had to learn to trust myself and the sounds that I'm creating in a new way because they’re being broadcast online. It’s been a really wild experience because I went from playing sound bowls in a room where I knew what people were hearing to having no idea how the sound is coming through. So I’ve had to develop a new level of trust in myself, and that feels pretty profound.

"I’ve had to develop a new level of trust in myself, and that feels pretty profound."
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Any tips for anyone who is looking to deepen their meditation practice right now, or perhaps begin practicing sound meditation for the first time?

You don't need to have access to expensive sound meditation experiences to engage with sound. We can create sound ourselves. Try sitting in a quiet space in your house and hum; just see how it feels. It doesn't have to be a song. We don't have to sound beautiful. But it activates the vagus nerve in our system, and this has an incredible ability to help us relax. So that's a really great way to engage with sound on your own without needing anything else.

Secondly, there are so many amazing free tracks on Spotify. I have a five-minute track on there; sit in a quiet spot and close your eyes, and just listen to the sounds. You don't have to do anything special. You can focus on your breath and listen to the sounds and just see how you feel afterward. If you're curious to go a little bit deeper, I offer a free guided meditation every week on Chopra [on Tuesdays at 3 PM EST]. So that's another great, super-accessible way to start engaging with meditation.

Image - Jackie Cantwell Interview - Portrait 02

Jackie Cantwell was photographed on January 24, 2021, in Venice by Isabella Behravan. For more of Jackie's work follow her over on Instagram.

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