Embodiment Artist & Doula for the Liminal Spaces: Meet Isabel Abbott
Hello! Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? How does your heart manifest in the world?
My name is Isabel. I am a writer and activist, embodiment artist and speaker. An open door to sanctuary and raw reality in birth and death, a lover of the living and unlocking. With a professional background as birth and death doula, a space holder for the mulitvocality of our public and private grief, a sex educator and an embodiment and movement workshop facilitator, I work with those crossing thresholds, questioning their gods, wrestling with their love, grieving and dying into life. I work with individuals offering sanctuary sessions and grief intensives. Sanctuary is a place of refuge. It’s making an altar of your heart. It is freedom for entering into the wholeness. Shadow work and celebration, honoring the places so momentous that everything changed and all you could do is build a memorial in remembrance, and listening for the presence of the numinous in the ordinary. It is also a dwelling place, where we might come together and explore what it means to more fully inhabit our own bodies and lives. In addition to practicing as a birth and death doula work, sanctuary and grief work, I also am the co-creator of In Her Skin: living questions, uncensored conversation, expressions of our embodied truth. Together with Stacy de La Rosa, I create and facilitate in her skin sessions that offer and hold space for a full range of exploration and expression on what it means to be embodied and live alive in our own skin. My heart manifests itself in the world through my writing, offering out secular psalms and prayers to the holy human, writing medical anthropology and essays on the intersections of the sacred and profane. It is this world that has my devotion, the solidness of living and loving after the fall, the holiness of hunger. My maps keep taking me to the open roads and the return to salt water and the study of evolution. My heart keeps beating toward the unknowable and the contradictions, movement and presence, and all the messy beautiful things.
Please fill in the blank: My work is important because____.
My work is important because it honors, deeply, the inherent human dignity of all peoples. An anti-oppression framework is the foundation, the bones, of all my work, and it lives itself out in the intimate intersections of my own part of the woven human web. I believe in this, with all of me, that we are all deserving of dignity in our most human selves and experiences. Including birth. Including death. Including the unknowns. Including are creations. This is the ethic I bring to all work in this world, as an activist, one who sits with those in the thresholds, as a keeper of the stories. The work matters to me because it invites a conversation about aspects of being human that we often are uncomfortable with culturally and socially. It creates space for conversations and creative expressions about dying and grief, oppression and privilege, the gods we long for and the ones we no longer believe in, the isms that distort and harm, the magnificence of bodies and loving hard. Daily, I serve those who have trusted me with their smashed wide open hearts and stories and art, their transitional moments and their last moments, their fears and their flailings and their choice to be here fully whole and fully human. I serve the art, and I serve the seeking, and I serve the depth of presence that happens in the hallowed hollow of all our unanswerable questions.
As an entrepreneur, who in business do you admire, and why?
I experience myself as an artist, and activist and scholar, who is also a successful business woman and entrepreneur, and so I love learning from those who have remained ruthlessly devoted to their own voice, their art, their vision, their need to see and seek change, and chosen to do so in a way that is sustainable for themselves and the earth. I’m a huge fan of Diane Von Furstenberg, Molly Crabapple, Lidia Yuknavitch, Laila El-Haddad, Ana Teresa Fernandez. I have deep admiration for Desiree Adaway, who helps leaders create real and lasting change in the world. She speaks truth, and plays big, and challenges normative structures that harm others, and she brings her voice to her work and the world in a way that makes me think hard and seek greater expansion and inclusion. I have the biggest professional crush on her.
What is the best piece of business advice you have received?
Love the work. You must love the work. More than the product, the performance, the glittering moments of stunning achievement and success. Those are all good, good things. But you must love the work itself, the ways you will be spending your hours and days, which is of course your life. If you do not love the doing of the work, if you are not deeply devoted to the work itself with skin in the game that you will show up for with all of you, then go find that which you can love.
What is the best business advice you would give?
Love the work. And also, be in honesty and integrity with what all is involved in actually having your own business. I hear a great many people who want to follow their passion and want the freedom of not working for someone else, and I get it, truly. That being said, know that being an entrepreneur and having your own business means more than showing up for the session with a client, or creating in the studio, or dreaming up your next venture. It means running your business in a way that is smart and knows how to do all the work leading up to those moments of the sweet spot, a business that allows you to be sustainable, to care for yourself, to work hard and know that you are feeding yourself, in every sense of the word.
What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? How do you work with or around it?
The biggest challenge for me is finding the movement between creating and working within my business to serve in the ways I want to, and giving myself over to my own learning and evolving. Right now, I run my own business and I love the work it allows me to do, on my own terms, and I am also studying and writing at Chicago Theological Seminary as a Presidential Merit Scholar. The two together are sublime chaos and a stunning messy exploration in exploring my own edges. It is a challenge, and one I am grateful for. To have created a thriving business that allows me to serve fully in the capacity that wakes me up again and again, and to be diving deep into learning and reaching out beyond limits I had placed upon myself all those years ago. I don’t know if I work around it, as much as embrace it. I do find that I do best in holding the larger rhythm and cadence of internal and external, work intensive weeks and weeks where I disappear into my office and weeks where I’m out on the streets marching and raising hell and the weeks where I leave all of it and go to Mexico. It does not look like daily balance, and I work around the challenge by allowing it to be intense and then quiet, regenerative. So no, not balanced days, but it is a complete life, and a rich one.
When you feel burned out or uninspired, what lights your fire again? Please share a personal mantra, motto, or ritual for when you feel drained. How do you stay nourished and inspired as a soulful creative?
Reading new voices. Right now for me that is Etel Adnan. Just reading a few pages of her words is like stepping into the creative wild fire. Going to Mexico. Ocean and jungle and the city streets where Frida lived, praying to her as I make my own unholy pilgrimage. Heat. The sauna. Salt. Rebellion. Saying their names. The names of those harmed and hurting. The names of those dead and dying and being born. The names of love, of my own heart, of all the selves I have been and how each one was fighting her way forward. The names of the ones whose know the hidden and the hunger. I say their names.
How do you start your work day?
It depends on the day. Some days it is having a sanctuary session with a client. Some days it is getting called to the hospital or someone’s home. Some days it is sitting with someone who needs interfaith spiritual counsel, which means that as a secular humanist, I sit there and listen to secrets and say that we can be together into the parts of being human that are too hard to hold alone. Some days it means sitting down to write for several hours. Some days it means taking care of the finances, and the strategy, and the course or workshop content creation. But almost always, it begins with a waking and having coffee and taking the world in, hard and quiet and a mystery, teeming with life.
If you could do something else as a vocation, what would it be?
A cartopgrapher. A Rockette. A pilot. Some combination of cat woman and Indiana Jones.
Do you have a first memory from childhood that connects you to what you have created today?
I don’t know that I have a first memory. But I do know that the work I do today, the vocation I have found and created, the service that is also how I sustain myself, is influenced by how I came into the world, and I can see all these threads wrapped around all these years, and how they bring me to the business and life I have formed and follow. I learned from a young age that people can do the most horrible things to other people, that sometimes against all odds we survive and that survival is not cheap. It costs something, sometimes everything. I learned that meaning is not found, it is made. And that what mattered to me was the wiliness to wrestle with beauty and step inside the unknowns with a willingness to be altered. I learned that choosing life matters, as does choosing to die wise. And that I would give my life to choosing life, again and again and again. This is, in so many ways, the work I do now. And it informs my creating, my service, my business, my offering, the presence I bring to all of these things.
Who supports you?
My son who I love like crazy. He sits and listens to me talk about my creative visions, and he doesn’t complain when we order take out for dinner again because I’m working, and he is just the very cool person to go through this life with. My partner, whom I met at a point in my life where my work was shifting, and I was making choices to move from a business that supported me part of the time to full time, while I also taking my own studies and writing in new directions. She fell in love with the me that was on the cusp of a new becoming, and she has held the vision of that curiosity and capacity, and she makes really amazing pie which is truly sometimes the most perfect thing possible. My partner in creating, Stacy de la Rosa. We have found our groove, each of us allowed to flourish in the ways we shimmer and shine, and she supports me by allowing for my own expression and bringing her wicked smart art and talent to what we are creating, where we discover that what we have founded and formed is the marriage of our own creative love. I know I have someone who has my back, who will listen to the hard and the questions, and who will speak the truth to me, and drops the bullshit and shows up true.
What is your business philosophy?
Love hard. Make art. Provoke and question and disrupt. Be safe landing. Think in ways you’ve never thought before. Honor the dignity and worth of all people and places. Feed and be Fully Fed.
If you could do or make something every day that you give away, what would it be?
Poetry written on walls and paper and buildings and bodies.
Please share any messages, wisdom, stories, or insights you have gathered through your entrepreneurial journey.
It is ok to make mistakes and to learn how you learn and to try things and to ask questions when you don’t know. It is ok to want what you want and to choose from your own ways of knowing. It is ok to be human. There is much beauty to be known in the clean clarity of agreements and sustaining finances, and in messy hair and beds and hearts. Boundaries are beautiful. So is allowing yourself be powerful and using your voice to liberate. So is having an idea and vision and burning belief, and turning it into a living breathing thing. So are these human bodies and the stories they house. So is the love of light. So is the deep of dark. Crashingly beautiful. Awakening.
I am a writer, artist and activist.
Fallen in love with solid ground, with belonging to the body and the holiness of hunger, I write and speak on the sacred and profane, on choosing wholeness.
With a professional background as a birth and death doula, a sex educator and an embodiment and movement workshop facilitator, I work with those crossing thresholds, questioning their gods, wrestling with their love, grieving and dying into life.