Meet Sukey Novogratz

Sukey Novogratz learned meditation as a form of practice at a young age from her father. It has become a large part of her daily life and even more so in her career with her book, Just Sit, which she co-authored with Elizabeth Novogratz. Traditions from her Puerto Rican heritage are a source of power and nostalgia as she leads a life of philanthropy and creativity.
Robe,    Martine's Dream
Stella Jean raffia skirt


I wake up most mornings at 6:30 AM. I am not a blackout shade girl. When the time of year permits, I prefer to have natural light wake me up. Meditation is not the first thing I do in the morning, but it used to be in my early days of practicing. I used to have a misplaced urgency and tension around meditation. My mantra was meditate first, then start my day. Looking back now, I realize that I was going through a tailspin in my life and using meditation just to hang on. For me, it was certainly a better choice than Xanax.

Now, meditation fits in my life much more organically and in consistency with everything else I do, like exercising, eating, laughing, and sleeping. I sit twice a day to meditate, but now that cushion time isn’t separate from my daily life. My time-outs slow me down so I can remember how I want to be and act in the world. It is just so easy to forget. I usually meditate after my son goes to school in the morning. After washing my face and brushing my teeth I have a three step ritual. I take my supplements: Seed Probiotics, Vitamin D3, CoQ10, Percepta. I apply essential oils from Young Living: Frankincense to the chest, three drops of Transformation in the mouth, Valor on the shoulders, Bergamot on the solar plexus, and Palo Santo on the shoulders. I say a two-minute prayer for family, friends, and friends I haven’t met yet. I drink some beautiful water. I touch sacred flower water to my forehead to close. Then I make breakfast for my one kid left at home.

on her childhood and studying anthropology

I was born in Philadelphia in 1967, and my parents are from Puerto Rico. They came stateside to study, and I was born while they were completing their PhD. I was “la gringa” in the family. My parents wanted me to have a spiritual life but didn’t want to choose it for me, so they gave a smorgasbord of options. I went to church, Sunday school, and I studied Catholicism. I went to a Quaker school and went to worship regularly. My dad shared teachings from Buddhism, a philosophy he studied. It’s not surprising that he was intent on sharing his spiritual curiosity with me. Before he went to college, he was a Jesuit monk.

At Princeton, anthropology found me. I wanted to study epistemology but didn’t know which department would have me. I was walking by a classroom where Professor Boon was giving a lecture on translation (my freshman year roommate was taking the class), and he was quoting Benjamin. I stayed for the remainder of the class. I signed up for the class and changed majors immediately. That single split decision changed my life in the best way possible. I am forever grateful for that fortuitous encounter.

Trench, Yang Li Men ; T-Shirt, Vintage ; Choker, Vintage YSL ; Pants, Sonia Rykiel
My favorite thing about the culture is the food, colorful language, and the fact that Puerto Ricans love to dance. That may be a gross generalization, but from salsa or merengue, plenas or bombas, or a more traditional paso doble or bolero, the culture identifies with movement, rhythm, and music. The percussive heartbeat of the music drives you to dance. As a kid, I would love when a Bomba would start. The musician plays a certain intro and then everyone says “Bomba!” in unison. In New York, it is easy to hear Spanish spoken. When I hear a Puerto Rican accent, I can’t help but smile. Puerto Rican food is the primary holder of my childhood memories. When I am missing my parents and home, I feast on arroz con habichuelas rojas with tostones and ketchup, and all is good. If I can’t find that kind of food handy, then I open a jar of olives and eat them in one sitting.
— on keeping her puerto rican traditions alive

on her upbringing and learning how to meditate

My father taught me how to meditate in second grade. I attended a very small Quaker school, and I was being bullied. It sounds crazy. How could I be bullied at such a school? Being the only Hispanic girl may have had something to do with it, and the fact that a Puerto Rican community was encroaching on their small town. Kickball was the game of choice at recess, but I would choose to sit and read on the stoop. At some point, there was a kid who would always throw the ball at me causing my book to fall or the ball to slam in my face. Everyone would laugh at me every recess.

I told my dad and he suggested I try something different the next time I was on the stoop. He told me to imagine a yellow ball at my tummy and breathe in deeply into the yellow ball. When I exhaled, he said to imagine a yellow shield protecting my front body, take a second breath, and exhale a protective shield for my back body. Since I believed everything my father said at the time, I was ready to try it the next day. I was on my stoop and activated my yellow ball to put up force fields. That day, for whatever reason, when the boy went to throw the ball at me, it hit the side of the stoop. All the kids laughed at him. He never threw a ball at me again. I thought I had a superpower.

My mom is the eldest of nine and comes from a family of magical thinkers. They were intellectuals, but they discussed spirits like a casual weekend guest. In her early years, young Dora was an introvert, a poet, and had training in the healing art of curanderas. She became a psychologist, social worker, and teacher, blessing everyone with the grace of her hugs and loving attention. She currently lives in New York with Alzheimer’s. I am going to Chile in November to explore what was intuitive and native to her, in order to find my song line and chorus for healing.

on starting The Well Daily and pivoting to meditation

Way back in the 90’s, I had done so much research and exploration in all things wellness that I was my friend group’s go-to person for chiropractors, acupuncturists, raw facialists, integrative doctors, supplements, etc. I decided to share the information via The Well Daily so more people could benefit. As The Well Daily started to take off, we began including more wellness aspects that diluted my interest in the field. Like consistently finding the wrong balance of coconut water to kale in your morning smoothie, Beth Novogratz and I decided we needed a new recipe. We asked ourselves why we were going down this road in the first place. We regrouped and decided to take the deep dive into meditation. We travelled, researched, and asked all the questions people were afraid to ask. We weren’t looking to drop out of life to sit under the Bodhi tree, but we were interested in the possibility for transformation and change for everyday busy people with families and ordinary hardships just like us.

Sweater: Elder Statesmen, Skirt: Alice and Olivia

Sweater: Elder Statesmen, Skirt: Alice and Olivia

Sukey Novogratz for Passerbuys73.jpg
My advice for first time meditators is to not overthink it. Sit wherever you are, close your eyes, and follow your breath. Adding stillness to your life is the first step. We are in constant motion. When we stop, we notice our mind is in constant motion. Still the body, then observe how there is movement active within you. Then, notice the emotions, thoughts, sensations, sounds, and anything else that might show up to your stillness party. Resist the urge to explain, understand, or make it right or wrong. Just notice how it is alive in you. Get comfortable. The chatter is the mind doing what the mind does. Don’t fall for it. They’re just thoughts putting up a good show. Imagine, as a parent, if you caved in to every one of your kid’s desires. You’d be exhausted and broke.
— advice for meditating for the first time
Cape: Valentino, Leotard: Tom Ford

Cape: Valentino, Leotard: Tom Ford

how meditation made her more conscious of her choices

It’s not like I can get an a scale and say, Wow I lost 10 lbs. of anxiety with meditation and my bliss pressure is stable! I can say that my quality of life has a different color and tone. It’s like I know that the Wizard of Oz is a hallucination and not because Dorothy pulled the curtain. I am experiencing myself as an observer of my behavior and not the unwitting puppet of my cultural conditioning and belief systems. I don’t do this perfectly. I am constantly forgetting that I have choice and freedom in my every action and thought. I default to “the way of doing things” because I don’t have to think about it. I have to remind myself to be a tourist of my own mind and body, and bring that quality of being to my everyday life.

For instance, when you are in a foreign place, you notice the nuances of how people interact with you since you may not speak the language. You have a heightened sense of awareness while on the subway because you can’t go on autopilot like at home. This light attention allows me to quietly observe my mind, so that without any great ceremony, I can begin to notice all the ways I am conditioned to respond to things in my life without realizing it. With mediation, I can now have round table discussions with myself so I can be more conscious of what I choose. Even when I am acting out of habit, I am still choosing.

on the process of writing a book with her sister-in-law

Finding a shared voice with your sister-in-law has to be up there with all things crazy. I think that was one of our biggest accomplishments. You have to let go of ego, which is one of the biggest takeaways from meditation. Luckily, we were working on a tool that gave us the skills to accomplish that while writing. Another great skill that you develop as a meditator is letting go of expectations. Maybe no one will like our book. Maybe no agent will pick us up. Maybe publishers will think there are too many meditation books already. Why take a risk on two unknowns? Why do you have so many colors in your book? That’s too expensive! We had to be comfortable not knowing. The process of completing the book was the reward. Letting go of outcomes helped when we had bad days because when writing a book, there will be bad days. Fortunately, we could move through them quickly as a result of meditating. We believe in the practice. We couldn’t have written this book without it, despite the subject matter!

Sukey Novogratz for Passerbuys35.jpg
Self-care is about maintaining vibrancy externally and internally. I like to check five boxes. First is nutrition. I follow a Mediterranean diet. Second is exercise. A mix of cardio, weight training, core strengthening, and yoga is essential. Third is meditation. I like to do twenty minutes twice a day. Fourth is deep listening which automatically slows me down. My kids will tell you I am still working on all of the above. Fifth is getting seven hours of sleep at night.
— on her self-care routines
Top & Skirt: Stella Jean

Top & Skirt: Stella Jean

on her style and shopping habits

I love to explore whenever I travel or even when it’s my own backyard, like Soho and the East Village. I don’t have favorites, but I just came back from Marrakech and fell in love with Max and Jan, Topolina, and Norya Ayron at Le Jardin. I would say my style is casual fancy with a heavy dose of accessories. Inspiration is everywhere but what gets me going is emotion. Colors, textures, fabrics, and cuts all draw out different aspects of myself. It’s not surprising that dressing up in my mother’s closet and making potions in her bathroom sink were my favorite games. They still are.

on her beauty routine

I don’t have a 15-step beauty routine, but my husband would say it takes just as long. I triple wash my face with Bioderma Sensibio H2O to take my makeup off, a cream cleanser, and then a toner. There are three serums: eye, face, and neck cream (Dr. Barbara Sturm Face Cream). Products over the years have changed but some remain the same, like my favorite French pharmacy finds: Biafine and Clarins One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser. I also recommend Thieves Foaming Hand Soap, La Roche Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Soothing Multi Purpose Cream, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, Sulwhasoo Timetreasure Renovating Eye Cream, This Works Skin Deep Dry Leg Oil, Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, and Caudalie Beauty Elixir.

My beauty advice isn’t very original: never go to sleep with makeup on, wear sunscreen every day, drink plenty of water, eat vegetables and real food, get seven hours of sleep, laugh, dance, and meditate.

sukey’s favorite books

Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies Is Changing the World by Don Tapscott & Alex Tapscott, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don't by Sukey Novogratz & Elizabeth Novogratz

sukey’s favorite movies

My favorite movie of all time is Love Actually. We watch it every year as a family during Christmas. I also love all the Star Wars movies.

Dress: Proenza Schouler

Dress: Proenza Schouler