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Beautiful People: Carly Jo Morgan, Artist and Breathwork Practitioner

“Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” reads the Carl Jung quote Carly Jo Morgan has chosen to greet visitors to her website which houses information about all of her professional endeavors. Each—design, art, and healing achieved through breathwork—draw from this idea of unearthing truth from the shadow of the unconscious and bringing it forward to the light, to better see oneself wholly, and to live intentionally. Additionally, “I do feel that so much healing comes from connecting and understanding how we can be in service to other people, or help mirror the things they need to see, or just feel safe and supported,” says Morgan, “Community is a big part of that.” These sentiments resonate broadly; past design and art clients of hers include social and professional community The Wing, fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, and a megastar who needs no introduction, Rihanna. As Morgan shifts her focus more toward the practice of breathwork, which she guides from her Topanga Canyon home, more and more are invited to become part of this heart-led and mindful community.

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Alyssa Shapiro: Do you have any mantras or rituals that you repeat daily?

Carly Jo Morgan: Two funny, quick, potent phrases that come to me are, “Gotta get through it to get to it,” I love that one… and “Leap and the net will appear.” That’s my own personal mantra.

Alyssa: When did you feel like you started to walk on your own right path in life?

Carly: Throughout my life there have been many moments where I realized that I was on the path, and I’m grateful to those moments to keep me pushing forward toward the light and toward wholeness. I can remember back to childhood when there were people that showed up in my life as almost parental figures and spiritual guides that steered me in the right direction when I was very depressed and could have gone very dark. I think that I was connected to the source and my own inner healer in some way, even though I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, but there were people and experiences that catapulted me toward healing.

I went pretty deep with that in my early 20s. I traveled a lot and lived in Peru and studied with different indigenous cultures that taught me about reconnecting with the source, and the power of prayer, and things that I’d never learned in my life. Those were some major moments that really changed the trajectory of my life.

I have those moments every time I work with anyone now, whether it’s a private breathwork session or leading a group meditation, or with my children. I feel like I understand what it means to be in one’s dharma finally.

Alyssa: What makes life beautiful to you?

Carly: Connection. It might be because I’m a Gemini and an extrovert in many ways, but I do feel that so much healing comes from connecting and understanding how we can be in service to other people, or help mirror the things that they need to see, or just feel safe and supported. Community is a big part of that. Music as well is something that keeps things very bright and beautiful in my life.

Alyssa: Can you speak a little bit to the community that you’ve built here in Topanga? Through your practices and work.

Carly: I wouldn’t say that I’ve built this Topanga community in any way, but there are so many circles, and the Venn diagrams have overlaps, and I’ve always loved to connect people.

I started a festival when my daughter was about six months old called Mercado Sagrado. That was an attempt to bring people together around healing arts and a healthy lifestyle without any alcohol or drugs. A family-friendly experience around crafts that are handmade, nothing mass produced, organic foods, things like that.

I used to have an art gallery as well called The Sacred Door, it was all about having group shows to connect people. The part that I love the most about the breathwork and the other meditations that I guide is that people come together for a purpose: to heal. Sometimes they don’t know why they’re there or what they’re coming for, and then they have breakthroughs, and then everybody’s in a space of open-heartedness and everyone can connect. What I’ve heard from so many people is that they’re so grateful for the community and the people they’ve met in that session, because you go through a lot together when you’re vulnerable, and that’s when people really connect in a real way.

Alyssa: You’ve built a kind of specific life, but when you work with clients like the Wing or Rihanna, projects which might seem energetically different from what you’ve created here, do they meet you where you are, or do you have to pull different energy from another place?

Carly: When I work in design and I collaborate with clients like The Wing or people like Rihanna, they find me because they’ve seen my artwork and they generally want me to do what I do. But when you work with clients, it sort of shifts while you’re in the process, and they want you to change, and I’ve never been good at that. I can just close my eyes and see something and it’s usually the first. I’m not good at many edits… that is a challenge for me. I prefer for them to meet me where I am, I think like all artists. But yeah it’s a challenge and I try to figure it out. But I do less and less of that work.

Alyssa: When you do that kind of work, how do you get people to come to where you are?

Carly: I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision to try to steer them, it’s whatever I propose first and then they want several changes, and we ultimately almost always go back to the original, because I think it’s strongest when it comes from the immediate hit of some sort of channel—none of the art that anyone makes, I don’t believe it’s ours, you know, I believe it’s channeled from the collective and I think that when you get heady about things, that’s when things get harder, and a little more boring.

Alyssa: In your own work, is that an awareness of heart over head, not letting your mind get in the way?

Carly: Yes, absolutely. In my own work with everything, whether it’s design or the breathwork, the whole point of the breathwork is to take the authority from your mind and bring it into your heart, and so my practice in everything is just to be in the heart space.

Alyssa: You’ve explored the idea of transmutation in your art—why is this important to you and worth exploring?

Carly: Transmutation is definitely a theme in most of my work and the snake to me is the symbol of transmutation. It’s really about shedding the skins of the past, and rebirthing actually, and transmuting the poisons into the gifts, or the trauma into our gift in the world…empathy, compassion, all the flip sides of the shadow. That’s why you see a lot of snakes in the artwork that I do. And also in breathwork, the breath really is like the alchemical flame that helps you transmute whatever it is that’s coming up, whatever it is that’s buried in the psyche, and bring it into the light.

Alyssa: For those who aren’t familiar with or haven’t experienced breathwork, can you explain a bit?

Carly: There are so many different types of breathwork. The style that’s most inspiring to me has been holotropic breathwork, invented by Stan Grof. I’m most inspired by him because the idea is that through this breathwork you connect with your inner healer that we all have. It’s about empowering people to find healing within themselves and they can do it for free with just their breath. I’m not certified as a holotropic breathwork practitioner, and I bring in many different things from my path and different indigenous shamanic ways, and create a specific, very evocative soundtrack that takes you on a journey through the shadow and through the darkness and brings you into the light. Within a few moments you can have a fully out of body experience and that can be very psychedelic where you connect with symbols, or past life regressions where you really connect with something you need in order to find closure. It’s a very intentional track that’s hard to explain until you experience it.

Alyssa: Another symbol that you work with in your art is the hand…

Carly: I’ve always collected hands, they represent giving and receiving and holding and making and doing. People always thought I had such man hands growing up, but the older I get, I love them because I feel like they’re worn and I am a maker. I love looking at people’s hands, I feel like I can see a lot of their history in them. I’ve also always really loved the artwork of Pedro Friedeberg who was the original maker of the hand chair that everyone has knocked off. He was deeply spiritual and cosmic and psychedelic. His work beyond that chair is so inspiring.

Alyssa: Are there different thought processes when it comes to art you live with, like furniture and other useful objects, than with art for art’s sake?

Carly: In the past I’ve been a jewelry designer, a furniture designer, and I have the same intentions when I’m making anything. It’s really to inspire beauty and sometimes humor in people. I’ve always wanted to create mythical landscapes with what I do. And it really depends on the client, but some allow me to be a little more creative than others. But the intention is to make people think and to live with objects that are functional but also inspiring, sacred objects.

Photography by Alex Kenealy