Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Gallagher.
Michael, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
It really all started with sadness. My pain came with a lot of energy that I didn’t want to waste. This led me to combining meditation and art for a feel-good experience that I wanted to share with others.
My mother was going through her cancer treatments during my time as a creative assistant within CAA’s marketing department. She lived alone back in Colorado, and it broke my heart to picture her suffering while I wasted hours assisting campaigns that might not ever make it out into the world. The turbulence across those months kept arriving: I stopped talking to my dad, I had a falling out with a best friend, and I then went through a very difficult breakup. Luckily, it all became an impetus for me to step back and think about what I wanted out of my one little lifetime. I also understood more deeply that everyone goes through their own gunk. So I thought, “How can I make people feel better? What would heal me? Maybe it would heal others too.” Cue meditation + art.
I have obsessed over and looked up to graphic artists and painters my entire life. In fact, I even tried to NOT like art. I thought if I was too into artsy things growing up, people would know I was gay. But somehow I’ve still always created, sketched, drawn, painted, took photos—no matter how long the gaps between. I similarly had this strong pull towards meditation. It started in high school (thanks to a mentor of mine) and grew deeper over time. Sleep hypnosis and meditation helped me through depression in college. And after graduating, I volunteered at a meditation studio, took yoga teacher training courses, and read a lot about Buddhism.
Fast-forward to this emotional blender of a time, when this idea landed in my head. All of the hours trying to force some new escape route, some new business idea, some new way to make people feel good, some new life, came together when I least expected (while collecting myself before going back into the office post first breakup attempt). I had my aha moment on that walk and was like, this NEEDS to be a thing–especially in LA!
I left my job a few weeks later and started wherever I could, which was backyard classes with a few friends. It honestly felt like coming out again. I raised money with a GoFundMe, signed up for Lyft and other odd jobs to help stay afloat, and just put as much money and energy that I had towards getting this vision out into the world. Then I shopped it around every place I could that would listen. Partnering and pop-up format allowed me to tap into existing audiences without the huge upfront capital that a physical space required. I also gathered credentials as I went along. Now, I am a certified hypnotherapist (I love the exploration of the subconscious mind) and a certified guided meditation practitioner. I was also recently asked to be a part-time college instructor, teaching my mindful art workshops to students at CSUN’s Oasis Wellness Center.
For me, art and meditation are these playgrounds where the metaphysical and physical worlds make contact. We are gifted this beautiful visual language and mode of expressing, bringing things from the inside out, without having to put anything into words. In the process, we become engrossed in the moment. I love sharing this experience with as many people as I can and now my mission is to do just that.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I think like any road, it’s been up and down. I get those fear-based thoughts and disempowering beliefs, but I try not to take them too seriously. This process has shown me how we can consciously choose to redirect a thought. We can stop sending energy to the inner-critic that arrives when we hold a paintbrush, and we can similarly stop sending energy to the same inner-critic that arrives when we hold a mirror. It’s the awareness that liberates us to make a choice of thought.
As far as the events themselves, I initially had to come to terms with EVERY session having an obstacle: whether having no one show up, my car dying in the loading zone, getting a ticket for taking a phone call (on speaker, but not “fully hands-free”) to find the studio’s parking, one guy laughing at me during the entire class, or an elderly person starting to eat the paint. Luckily, now things go much more smoothly, and I’ve learned to roll with the punches.
The nature of working with wellness studios can also just be a little finicky. You become disposable. That’s why as of late, I’ve tried to focus on private events and studios like Sanctum and Aunt Bessi’s Creative Healing Center that really respect and believe in the experience. But the real challenge is getting people out of their doors and into something completely foreign. But it excites me!
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the HeARTbreak Studios story. Tell us more about the business.
My business offers traveling mindfulness-based art experiences that aim to help people meditate, create, and feel great! We’re all about “giving your heart an art break!
When we make art into a meditation, we choose to let go of the inner-praise/ inner-critic thoughts and redirect the focus to come back to the breath or to the physical exploration of pushing paint around. This lets us enjoy unfettered expression. This roots us in the moment. It’s a double-down feel good opportunity to let go and flow. It can be cathartic or it can be just plain fun and soothing.
I’m proud of our corporate sessions, fun nursing home moments, some sold out classes and noteworthy people taking the workshop, but the stuff that really keeps me going is whenever someone has a real response to the experience. Inspiring a release, a feeling, a new connection between people–that’s when I feel proud. Igniting someone’s desire to create again also feels so rewarding. It’s amazing to hear stories and see people from different backgrounds just as humans wanting a moment of good. The whole thing kind of operates as an experiential art piece to me, getting people to interact through my warmup exercises and then create in a group.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I’m very lucky. Much of my luck lies in my relationships. I have a best friend that is so great about me sending in rent payments when I can, and I think if I didn’t have him as a resource to watch and learn from (as he has his own very successful business), this would’ve been harder to get off the ground. Not to mention that my friends/roommates put up with my art supplies everywhere. I am also so lucky to have friends and family that supported me, both by donating to my initial GoFundMe and by encouraging me through my doubts and worries. My best friend in Denver even just randomly would send me some money to help me make it through. And my grandpa has been my biggest role model as an entrepreneur and has helped me financially when I was desperate. If I didn’t have these support systems, it would have been a LOT more hours driving for Lyft than I would have wanted, but I know I would have found a way somehow. I used my luck to let me work towards bringing this into reality faster.
I’m also incredibly lucky to have found this passion and purpose of mine that aligns with my missions and interests. I didn’t always feel like this, and had no clue what I wanted to do–it was an anxious life to never have a home. I’m lucky to have this new home within myself and in my career that I can keep sharing with others.
This business is in some ways my love song to my own broken heart that reminded me how alive I am, pushed me to grow, and made me see how unified we all are in our ubiquitous emotions. The experience has been so gratifying to know that we can change our path, our identities can be fluid in response to our choices, and we can keep meeting really amazing people.
- Public Meditation Art Session – range from donation-based to $40/ person (event specific)
- Public Hypnosis Session – $20/ person
- Private Hypnotherapy and Coaching – $100 / session (with sliding – scale special exceptions)
- Website: www.heartbreakstudios.com
- Phone: 424-501-4792
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/heartbreakstudiosla
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/heartbreakstudiosla
Shannon Cantrell – Personal photo; Michael Gallagher – other photos