A natural creative whose life has led her to the practice of mindfulness and meditation; Nouf Hakeem is a Saudi woman empowered by the knowledge that true power lies within.
If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Nouf, the first thing you’ll notice is the calm energy washing over you. As soon as we entered The Lighthouse, where Nouf does much of her meditation sessions, we immediately felt relaxed, and conversation flowed as if between friends. The result? A beautiful and inspiring interview we hope you’ll love.
How did you first discover mindfulness and meditation?
It was around four years ago, when I was first going through difficulties in my personal life, that a friend of mine recommended meditation. Initially, I’d just listen to five-minute clips by Gabrielle Bernstein, the ‘spiritual junkie’, until slowly I started introducing different kinds of meditation. I still didn’t know anything about spirituality at this point – I just meditated to relax.
What took it to the next level for you?
Well, I was introduced to a teacher in Dubai called Cyntha Gonzales, who led me through a session of holotropic breath work. It’s the process of flooding the brain with oxygen, which results in you having your own spiritual experience – a natural ‘trip’, I guess you could call it. I enjoyed this journey with Cyntha, and ended up training in meditation and spontaneous art with a spiritual twist. It quickly became my life and my passion.
Where did the idea for The Lighthouse Concept come from?
At the beginning of my journey I had no plans of doing The Lighthouse, whatsoever. When I went to Dubai and worked with Gonzales, I fell in love with the community there and meditating in a group was just out of this world for me, and I just wished we had something like this back home. When I was back in Jeddah, I dreamed of bringing the experience to life here – and life ended up making this dream a reality. The space came to me through a friend, and the word started to spread. However, it will soon be an online platform serving a wide range of people in the region and maybe in the world. With wellness workshops, guided meditations, and creative recovery.
How did this transition from a physical space that is the Lighthouse Concept, to the digital realm come to be?
I have been approached on social media by ppl who don’t live in Jeddah saying that they’re interested in taking part in the activities of the Lighthouse and wanting to virtually attend sessions. I wasn’t sure that it was the right time but after much contemplation, the decision came to me one morning and it felt like the inspired action that needs to be taken. This new platform will be run by my husband Noor Azzony and myself. We both are passionate teachers and learners. We both were doing occasional Instagram live sessions discussing different topics and that’s when we knew that the interest in much bigger. The platform will include guided meditations, podcast, blog, video material with both free and paid content and we will organize a retreat or two per year where we take a small group of ppl to a foreign land and hold their hands through a small journey inwards.
With the widespread global interest in Wellness, in general, it makes sense to create a digital platform. How do you imagine the industry and personal wellness will evolve with a platform like this one in the future?
I feel like the engagement will be higher and the interest will reach the Arabic market more and will help raise awareness about topics that are usually unaddressed in mainstream media.
You cite personal difficulties as leading you to seek out this practice in the beginning. How has it changed you?
Dramatically, and very positively. First of all, it gave me a safe haven to go to that existed inwards. Before, I used to call a friend or my family when in difficulty, but now I know I can achieve that inner peace myself. It’s made me so strong and self-reliant – It’s a daily practice I can trust to keep me aligned and strong.
Why do you think it’s a useful practice for Saudi women in particular?
Speaking from personal experience, it’s awoken my personal power. I used to give that power to the doctor or the friend or the healer, but when I started doing meditation, I realized that power resided within me and me alone.
As a woman, you become less reliant on male family members or progressive partners or doctors. In short – you no longer wait for someone to save you. It’s an incredibly empowering feeling.
Have you seen women come in and be transformed?
I think a lot of people that come to the Lighthouse fall into two categories. Someone that’s going through something difficult, and someone who’s looking for something and feeling lost.
Do you feel this is a hopeful time for women in Saudi Arabia?
Most definitely. And I like that the younger generation are beginning to hold important positions and they’re making important decisions. Power is starting to move out of the hands of the old-fashioned and the patriarchal and into the hands of the forward-thinkers.
Tell us a bit about what you did before this
I worked in the fashion industry – I started two brands called Sotra and co-founded Haal Inc. with the latter producing modern and progressive abayas. Initially, I kept them running alongside the mindfulness and meditation, but I sold them at the end to my business partner at the time. I’ve since opened Once Upon a Chair, however, which is a vintage furniture concept. You could say I’m a serial entrepreneur…
What do you think drives this serial entrepreneurism?
Creation. Just being creative and doing new things. If I ever think things are dull, I find myself coming up with new concepts. I don’t think this will be the end for me either, there’s more to come.
Would you say your family encouraged this side to you?
They didn’t hold me back, but it was very much me going out to do it on my own. It’s up to us, in the end.
How does what you’re doing now compare to what you were doing before?
This is more inwards, and that was more outward. They’re both very creative in different ways, but I feel more fulfilled right now.
Most people use meditation to switch off, now it’s your job, do you still see it as a relaxing practice?
In all honesty, now I do it professionally, it’s taken away from my own personal practice. I often lose myself in the process of serving and giving, and suddenly I’ll realize I have to retreat back into myself and fill my well so I can give to others effectively.
Do you still love and rely on it as much?
I do. I feel inspired. I have a Bachelors in Education so I have this passion to teach, and when I teach I feel inspired. This inspiration fuels me to go forward, and if stress does kick in, then I come back to meditation as a coping mechanism.
What’s the reaction to the Lighthouse Concept been like?
Some people were so inspired and excited, and some were a bit suspicious. To some people, meditation and mindfulness still falls under the category of spirituality – and they become protective of their own beliefs. I feel it’s a fear of the unknown.
How do you feel religion and spirituality sit side by side?
I think spirituality is the thing that unites human beings – religious and non-religious. It’s an umbrella for the souls of human beings, regardless of their individual beliefs.
Do you practice meditation with your children?
I do, especially before bedtime, when I’ll sometimes read them meditations. There’s a very good book called ‘Sitting Still Like a Frog’ that has these stories about meditation for children. I love it, and so do my children.
How would you describe yourself as a mother?
I would say I’m a mindful mother. I’m aware of what’s happening and I work on my relationship with my children continuously. The biggest influence that I’m giving them is what they see me doing, so I am very aware of that fact.
I’ve been going to a parenting specialist recently, and she told me one thing to go back to: What was the parent that you craved as a child? Put yourself in their shoes. And from that place everything changes, from that place I give with love and I’m more present and in the moment.
Finally, do you feel nutrition and physical health is as important as meditation for mental wellbeing?
Oh yes, definitely. I’m actually experimenting with veganism at the moment – and it’s been this amazing, creative journey for me. I never used to cook – I’d eat out almost every night, but now I’m cooking and creating, and I feel so much better about myself, both physically and spiritually. I’d highly recommend trying it out even for a short period of time.
How will you retain the feeling of personal connection with this new direction you’re taking?
It’s an area of concern for me to be honest. I will still be doing one intuitive guidance session so that’s one way and to keep the live conversations on social media going to hear people’s feedback, speaking in Arabic keeps it close to the heart, and to also be open to new ways of connecting back with the people.
"I think spirituality is the thing that unites human beings – religious and non-religious. It’s an umbrella for the souls of human beings, regardless of their individual beliefs. "