Felina Danalis, 46 and now a Palm Springs resident, was making a difference on a global scale.
After graduating magna cum laude in international relations from Georgetown University, she earned a graduate degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins’ Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, including a year studying in Italy and an internship with the Associated Press. She then walked straight into a job with the World Bank.
“I was in the department that helped countries get development money,” she says. “I wanted to help make the world a better place. After all, I had been schooled in free-market solutions to everything, and I wanted to know more about the world. I traveled to places like Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Macedonia. It was fascinating, and the best training I could ever have had as a first job—if you don’t count folding sweaters at Benetton while attending college.”
After her three-year stint at the World Bank, Danalis worked for the Greek foreign minister, who wanted an adviser to his cabinet who had international-development expertise.
“I couldn’t read or write Greek,” she says, “in spite of my parents both having come to America from Greece. I actually lost a lot of my hair the first six months, just from the stress.”
After two years advising the Greek cabinet, Danalis was recruited by the European Union to go to the Balkans as a program manager when the European Parliament allocated funds for the Serbian government.
“I was on track to being a true American success story,” she says, “but then I was in Belgrade when I witnessed a horrendous incident that would change my life.”
In 2002, Danalis and a friend were sitting in their car when a man walked past them and began to get into the car parked in front of them.
“He opened the door—and the car just exploded, and so did he,” Danalis says. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t be alone and couldn’t be with people. It was a very frightening place to be. Everyone around me was well-meaning and said the equivalent of, ‘Suck it up. If you’re going to do work like this in the world, then things like that will happen.’”
In 2003, Danalis left Belgrade and went to live on the Greek island of Kefalonia, where her father had been born.
“I told people I was going to write a book,” she recalls. “That’s what you say instead of, ‘I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ In my year there, I learned so much about myself.
“When I got my graduate degree, it was handed to me by (former U.S. Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright, who was the embodiment of a tough woman. I believed that my toughness was my greatest asset. What I learned that year in Kefalonia was that my emotions and compassion were my greatest assets. I felt that the system that was preparing me to make it in the capitalist world had lied to me.”
Danalis moved to Athens and was there for 10 years, working as a consultant to the sustainability and corporate responsibility industry, helping companies improve their bottom line by focusing on people and the planet as well as profits.
An only child—born in New York and arriving in Southern California in 1980—Danalis came to the desert in 2011 to take care of her mother, who had Stage 4 cancer.
“I stayed in Palm Springs because by the time my mom died, I had made a home here,” she says. “Besides, I met the love of my life!
“My parents met each other at a Greek restaurant in Greenwich Village. Mom had come to the U.S. when she was 9, my dad when he was already an adult. My mom had had a traumatic childhood, so although she was very artistic, she never had the self-confidence to stick with any idea. But she always told me, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to.’”
While taking care of her mother, Danalis studied Buddhism and taught at the Buddhist meditation centers in both Palm Desert and Palm Springs. Since 2011, she has been pursuing her mission as a “mindfulness coach.” Danalis (felinadanalis.com) is a regular presenter at the Golden Door spa in San Marcos, working with individuals and groups online, and presenting programs for Planned Parenthood, Cancer Partners in Palm Desert, and the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs.
“There’s too much homogenization in the world right now,” Danalis says. “We need to stay in touch with our individual cultural roots, combining the best of our traditions with modernity. We’re all so stuck to our phones; it’s all about transactions but not about relationships. We sometimes forget that we are human beings with a connection to our history underneath it all.
“I’m concerned about the implications of economic inequality that results in a lack of access to health care. Stress has an impact on illnesses, and I believe we can make a difference in our own well-being by not focusing so much on ‘self-help,’ but rather on the cultural and social impacts that influence our health.
“Mindfulness, to me, is helping particularly women master resilience in the face of stress, anxiety and the drama in their lives, so that they are able to have more impact in the world. It’s a kind of spiritual fitness—just as we exercise our physical muscles to be physically stronger, we need to exercise our spiritual fitness muscles in order to be able to be still. Only then are we able to have a social impact that can change the world.”
Sometimes, traumatic events do not stop us; they can make us stronger. Felina Danalis exudes a positive energy that is infectious. She is still making a difference on a global scale—just not in the way she originally thought she would.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.