Christy Turlington Burns brings moving meditation to The Nantucket Project’s Threshold debut.
When most people hear the name Christy Turlington, they picture her strutting down a runway as one of the world’s most revered supermodels. Indeed, during the late eighties and nineties, Christy graced over five hundred magazine covers, was the face of top fashion labels and was considered by some to be the “greatest model of all time.” But today, at the age of forty-seven, Turlington says she doesn’t “relate to that term at all.” Instead, her life now is defined by her humanitarian work. Six years ago, Turlington founded Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit organization on a mission to make pregnancy safe for women around the world. As a way to champion her efforts and spread awareness, Turlington began running marathons. Along with yoga, she discovered running to be a transformative meditative experience that she wants to share with others. Thus at this year’s Nantucket Project, Turlington will discuss her inspiring mission and her belief in the power of moving meditation.
N MAGAZINE: In what unexpected ways did your career as a model influence the social entrepreneurship you’re doing today?
TURLINGTON BURNS: I had very little expectation of this career, but it afforded me the gift of travel and independence. I was fortunate to build strong relationships and learn about other cultures and myself. I don’t see my first career as anything but positive in terms of how everything since has been so positive.
N MAGAZINE: You will be discussing the connection between meditation and running at The Nantucket Project this year. Can you tell us a little bit more about this practice?
TURLINGTON BURNS: Actually, I see running as meditation. I intend to share my life practice, which includes running and yoga, advocating for maternal health and filmmaking. These are not only passions; they are spiritual practices.
N MAGAZINE: Most people find meditation incredibly challenging. What was the turning point for you as far as making it a consistent practice in your daily life?
TURLINGTON BURNS: I think my turning point was the moment I realized that meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a mountain top or in a cave with complete silence, reaching Nirvana every time. A meditation practice is very personal for most and it isn’t always fixed, though like many things we hope to achieve, it requires a commitment and practice. I try to find meditation in the in-between moments of my day as well as in the moments themselves. Transitions are essential in life, and if we think of utilizing those periods rather than filling them with distractions from our selves, we can build from there and find peace of mind. I think most of us are craving this but are intimidated or fearful of what may come up when we slow down and become quiet and listen to our breath and what else is inside of us.
N MAGAZINE: How did that meditative practice come into play when you ran the Boston Marathon this April?
TURLINGTON BURNS: The Boston Marathon was my fifth marathon running for Every Mother Counts, the nonprofit I founded in 2010. I started running marathons in 2011 to raise public awareness about distance as a critical barrier for millions of women seeking essential maternity care around the world, and raising funds to improve access to care that can ensure safer birth outcomes for mothers and their babies. I qualified for Boston in the London Marathon in 2015, which I never expected. I am training for my sixth in Chicago now, which is October 9th. As with every race I have trained for, I meditate when I run, and just like with a sitting meditation practice, I usually start with clearing my head and thoughts. After a while they become clearer and I observe them from a different place. I use my breath to guide me back if a thought takes over. During races, this can sometimes include managing pain and discomfort. Not unlike childbirth and labor, there are mountains and valleys of emotions that arise and fall away. This year, Boston was very warm and the course is quite hilly, so there was a lot of meditating about that and moving through it, breathing, relaxing my mind and body.
N MAGAZINE: How have you seen Every Mother Counts move the needle as far as protecting women around the world?
TURLINGTON BURNS: Every Mother Counts has educated thousands of people through our running program and millions through our other campaign activations. We have impacted nearly 500,000 lives so far through investments made to small grassroots organizations in eight countries since 2012, when we became a 501(c)(3) and started to build our grant portfolio. We have educated dozens of skilled birth attendants and midwives and provided hundreds of rides to pregnant women so that they could receive prenatal and postnatal care. We have used documentary films to tell these stories so that more people can understand and personalize an issue that is universal and quite solvable in our lifetimes.
N MAGAZINE: Many people in this country might take the relative safety of childbirth for granted, but as you captured in your compelling 2010 documentary “No Woman No Cry,” for many women around the world “pregnancy is a death sentence.”
TURLINGTON BURNS: I experienced a childbirth complication when I became a mother in 2003 that is one of the leading pregnancy related causes of death for girls and women around the world. “No Woman, No Cry” examines the challenges and solutions around maternal health in four countries: Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and the United States. When I made the film in 2010, the global estimate for women dying in childbirth was over half a million. Yet most audiences had no idea that this was still such an issue, and many wanted more information about how they could get involved and help when they learned that 98 percent of the deaths are preventable. For the film’s fifth anniversary, we invested in each of the countries featured in the film. We also launched a short film series called Giving Birth In America that begins to break down those same barriers and provide solutions in New York, Florida and Montana. There are at least forty-seven more maternal health stories to tell in the US. We will be starting production on the next film in Louisiana this fall and hope to secure funding for others this year. Most audiences of these films are most shocked by the US statistics—we are one of thirteen countries with a rising maternal mortality rate, yet we spend more per capita on healthcare than any developed country. This is unacceptable, and we hope to inspire American audiences to demand change.
N MAGAZINE: You recently made a film in collaboration with The Nantucket Project that will be shown at this year’s event. Can you tell us a little bit about the film?
TURLINGTON BURNS: I collaborated with another filmmaker and runner, Sanjay Rawal, to make a short film that links running, maternal health and spirituality together that we will be screening this year. The film is really about two women who connected spiritually through running and womanhood on film.
N MAGAZINE: You have so many distinctions to your credit — supermodel, marathoner, yogi, filmmaker, one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. One hundred years from now, what do you hope people will remember you most for?
TURLINGTON BURNS: I loved Maya Angelou and her quote about how she wanted to be remembered. She said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I want to be remembered like that.