You may not recognize Tamara Levitt by name, but a lot more than 40 million people while using Calm meditation app are familiar with her voice. Since 2021 she’s been the content creator for the mindfulness company, along with the narrator for the award-winning app’s meditation sessions.

But Levitt didn’t attempted to guide legions of people to peace of mind — or generate profits for a $1 billion tech company. As a teen, the self-described angry punk rocker proudly wore black lipstick, combat boots, and a purple mohawk.

“My childhood wasn’t a simple one, so by my teenage life I was rebellious and full of angst. My personal heroes were Lou Reed, Sid Vicious, and Siouxsie Sioux,” she explains. “I was agnostic, nonconformist, and essentially anti-everything.”

Despite her defiant attitude, Levitt opened herself up to mindfulness meditation by participating in an eight-week course in an eating-disorders clinic when she was 18. “I had been tired of experiencing mood swings and depression,” she says. “I had been frustrated living at the mercy of my eating disorders, and I was desperate for a little bit of healing.”

After the instructor led her group via a brief practice, the Toronto native felt a flash of ease. “It wasn’t as though my life had changed; there was no huge epiphany or instant healing,” she remembers. “However i was able to taste a few moments of rare and elusive stillness. For me personally, that was enough to keep coming back.”

She’s been returning to meditation since, exploring Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist teachings, as well as Vipassana (insight), Shambhala, and Zen.

In addition to creating content for the Calm app, Levitt has produced films and authored two children’s books: Happiness Doesn’t Come From Headstands and The Secret to Clara’s Calm. “My goal is to make wisdom teachings accessible and relatable and also to inspire people of all ages to reside more gently, openly, courageously, and compassionately,” Levitt says.

Experience Life | How has meditation helped you in your lifetime?

Tamara Levitt | Growing up as a perfectionist with a very critical father, I didn’t possess a lot of self-compassion — and that’s a hard way to live in the world. Meditation and mindfulness have educated me in to be more gentle on myself yet others. They have taught me to step back from a situation, to create space around it, in order to find perspective.

In terms of helping with past afflictions, meditation helps me manage depression, anxiety attacks, eating disorders, chronic pain, and insomnia. Within my current day-to-day life, generally, I find I can handle my emotions better. I can let go of feelings and thoughts more easily. I have stronger relationships because of my meditation practice.

I’ve learned to step away and be less reactive to stress and anxiety — but that’s not saying all the time. I still get caught up like anyone else, but it happens less often and I’m able to catch myself faster.

EL | What made you decide to move into the tech industry, and just how did you get involved with Calm?

TL | I never imagined that I’d be working at a tech company. My background is really as a performing artist along with a writer, and most of my work ended solo. I had been feeling very isolated coupled with started searching for something bigger to become part of.

A friend of mine introduced me to Calm, and when I researched the company, I had been immediately drawn to its mission training people mindfulness.

I noticed there was one open role — not the function that I have now — so I applied for that job by sending a cold email. Alex Tew, one of the cofounders, emailed me back the next day and set up a Skype call; we started working together immediately. It has been a great fit using my experience like a performer with voiceover and acting skills, as an author and creator knowing how to build structure and a story, and my long-term meditation experience. All the pieces of my past have fit together within this role.

EL | Research shows that taking a look at our phones all the time can fracture our attention, while mindfulness helps us build our attention, so it seems a little counterintuitive to use a meditation app. How can mindfulness and technology work together?

TL | The problem isn’t our devices or our phones — it’s our relationship with this devices. Meditation apps are teaching people to be more mindful, which is the opposite of what social media does.

With the Calm app, for example, you’re learning how to calm the mind and deepen concentration. You’re learning how to observe and be present with whatever pops up in your experience. You’re finding out how to develop qualities like nonjudgment, compassion, and nonreactivity.

Meditation apps might help us gain awareness of how we use our devices and get the ability to catch ourselves when we get swept away. Therefore, a meditation app might help us develop a very different, healthier relationship with this devices.

In terms of maintaining integrity within the teachings, that’s one of my biggest priorities. Even though we’re teaching mindfulness in an app rather than in a meditation center, I make sure that all the teachings are in alignment with authentic mindfulness principles. We're careful not to claim that meditation is really a quick fix. It’s a practice and it takes time, and with patience and energy, you will see the difference in your life.

EL | One of your tips for being more present is using a mindfulness reminder. What is it?

TL | A lot of us rush through our days automatically. We get so caught up in this fast-paced life that we don’t often stop to sign in and pay attention to what’s happening within the moment. We don’t take notice of the fact that we might be exhausted and see that the best thing might be for all of us to stop working or turn off the TV and go to bed.

A mindfulness reminder is definitely an external cue — a sound just like a creaky door or car horn, or perhaps a visual aid like a Post-it by having an inspiring quote on it near the office — that’s going to alert you to stop and get present and notice what’s happening.

The idea is the fact that when you hear that sound or see that quote, you are reminded to stop what you’re doing, take a few breaths, and notice what’s happening and how you feel in that moment. It’s an opportunity to come back to yourself and awaken to the moment.

EL | In addition to working for Calm, you’re also an author and filmmaker. What inspired you to definitely make the short film Ode to Failure?

TL | The film was inspired by a decade-long pursuit of success that led to a massive failure. I lost a lot of time. I lost my money. I lost my self-esteem. The outcome of the failure left me in a deep depression and filled with shame. I thought that if the work was a failure, it meant that I was a failure.

It’s a common belief to equate achievement with self-worth. Lots of suffering that we feel develops because we've this really strong sense of self: I am a failure. I'm successful. We attach these labels to who we're.

The 10-minute film shares my story, explores that flawed belief and why it exists, and extends an invitation to understand alternative ways of viewing failure. Mindfulness teaches us how you can strip ourselves of all these labels and provides us space to see that failure teaches us lessons. Failure can provide opportunities to develop self-compassion and resilience, and eventually teach us that just because we have a failure, it doesn’t mean we're a failure. It just means that we’re brave enough to try.