Cell To Soul – From Molecular Scientist To Psychologist & Leadership Coach

Mar 22, 2022

You never know when the life-changing moment is approaching. 

From an outsider’s point of view, I was at the top of the world in 1994. After graduating from one of the best universities in China, Beijing University, with a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry and working in the university as a teacher for two years, I was admitted to Harvard University’s School of Public Health with a major in Molecular and Cellular Toxicology. Harvard waived my tuition (which was enormous) and even gave me a stipend for 5.5 years to focus on my study for a Ph.D. I had survived the extreme “ordeal” from heavy-duty study, lots of lab experiments and papers, etc., and settled down in school. I thought I would go on with my dream to be a scientist, discovering the secrets of human cells and making changes in human history like my childhood role model Madame Curie. I was working with ovarian cancer genes and trying to find new solutions.

Suddenly a new light dawned on me 

I used to be very interested in Zen back in China, and at the beginning of 1994, I was thinking of doing some Zen meditation to clear my mind and have more self-reflection and insights. So, I found in the Boston Yellow Pages an organisation teaching meditation for free: Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center. In the first class, they told me: “You are a soul, eternal, and originally perfect.” It hit home suddenly. 

For every drastic change, there is a foreshadowing 

I remembered the first time I encountered death in the family. I was still a teenager when my grandmother passed away. I remember going to the crematorium for the first time, watching the smoke coming out of the chimney from the incinerator. The young me had this big puzzle in my mind: “All humans will die one day! I cannot believe it. I am so young and happy and enjoying life now, but also one day, I will totally disappear from this world!” I didn’t tell anybody about the thoughts in my mind at that time, but I knew that experience created a lot of impact on me. I remember I used to study very well at school, and one teacher invited me to share with her students why I studied so well and was always top of the class. I said to her students: “You know why? Because one day, I will die! I have to study well before that!” 

Another thing is that whenever people used to ask me about the aim of my life, I would always answer: “Perfection, Eternity, and Harmony.” Some people would say: “How can it be possible?!” I don’t even explain to such people, but just say in my heart: “I don’t care about you, I know it’s possible.” 

The “Aha” Moment 

In a small room at the BK meditation center on Beacon Street in Brookline, Mass., I heard, “You are an eternal soul, and originally you are perfect!” It echoed in my heart, and every wish suddenly became clear! “Yes, I am an eternal soul, the body dies, but the soul is eternal and will never die, it will just change costumes as an actor changes costumes or a driver changes a car.” Then, those teenage thoughts about me disappearing from the world suddenly cleared out. And, originally, it was perfect! That’s why I was feeling it, wanting it before, and I will definitely reach it someday! At that moment, I felt all my yearnings and pursuits made sense, and even the future became clear! I was so thirsty for a spiritual study that except for scientific studies at Harvard, I spent all my time in more spiritual exploration and practice. 

Back to the source 

I remember my father, who teaches at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and who was one of the first people to study missiles in China. He used to tell me about how missiles would be accurately launched into space at extremely accurate times, down to microseconds: Human beings mastered the vastness of space at such a macro-level! 

I was studying genetic engineering in the 1990s and was trying to find the specific genes for ovarian cancer, working to create an antibody for it. The plan was to attach medicine to the gene and target and kill specific cancer cells: Human beings also have mastered the human body at such a micro-level! 

I said to myself, “Ultimately, the only thing that human beings cannot master would be themselves! Science, technology, arts, etc., are all created by human beings. Ultimately, we will come back to ourselves, the creator! So, I should definitely work on human souls instead of human cells!” 

By the time I reached my third year at Harvard, I was totally mesmerised by the beauty of the soul, and I was doing meditation to experiment with the different aspects of the soul as if a scientist doing scientific research. Gradually, I found I didn’t hold any interest and passion in studying cells and genes in the lab anymore. 

The drastic change 

By 1996, I couldn’t bear myself reading scientific papers and doing experiments in labs anymore. I made a decision that I would quit Harvard and change my area to study human beings! My spiritual teacher, Dadi Janki (who turned 103 years old in 2019), advised me that if not a Ph.D., at least I should get a master’s degree instead of totally quitting like I wanted. (It turned out that an MS degree from Harvard is extremely useful and helpful for my later career.) So I got my master’s degree, left Harvard and worked at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and a genetic engineering company afterward. In May 1999, I decide to go back to China. 

From “Somebody” to “Nobody” 

Yes! I was back in Beijing for my dream! Yet it is one thing to be heated and make a decision, yet totally another thing to carry on and make it a reality! The cost of that decision is that I had to start all over again around 30 years old. All my past prides for going to Harvard, study top science, etc., were then totally useless. I had to start a totally new area. It was really an experience of “from somebody to nobody!” I just know I wanted to work on human souls, but my spiritual study and practice took time, and all its services to the community are free of charge. I didn’t even know how I could earn a living. 

I finally settled on my new profession, but it took 10 years! In between, I was working as assistant general manager and in e-commerce in a friend’s company. (Not really e-commerce like now, the internet just emerged then; I was there just because my English was good.) I have worked in Women Manners School; been a human resources manager in a media company; and a trainer and consultant for a U.S. company and foreign enterprise, etc. I tried to get every possible opportunity to live. What’s even harder is that none of my parents, friends, relatives and former classmates understood me and supported me for the big change. They all thought I was crazy, to quit the Harvard Ph.D. program and drop the Green Card application that was already in the Immigration Bureau and start to do something with the intangible “soul”! I still remember how my father, who had so much hope in me and saved money for me to get the flight ticket to the USA in 1992, tried every way to persuade me not to leave the U.S. When he knew he couldn’t, he even hit his own head with his fist because he was so worried; he loved me so much. That was a nightmare, and the hardest thing that I had to endure during this change, because on one side, I love them, and on the other side, I felt my mission calling me. 

I remember one day after I went back to China, I was feeling really frustrated, not knowing where to go and what to do next. After staying at home for a long time, I decided to go out for a walk. And I saw some big yulan (Magnolia) flowers coming out of the dry branches. I almost had tears. I told myself: “In winter, they only have dry branches, and there is no sign of blossom at all. But it knows it’s yulan, and it will blossom one day. I myself am the same. It might seem that I have nothing right now, but I know what I am and what I have, and one day, I will also blossom!” 

The long journey up to today 

To cut a long story short, for the next ten years, I was trying to find a new way out. I received training in Transformational Leadership – Advanced Executive Coaching from the Satir Institute of the Pacific & The Satir Learning & Development Center of China, certified as an NLP practitioner by Hong Kong Professional Effective Management Institute, and certified for 4D-system trainer and coach for executive and team development. I also went everywhere I could: UK, Canada, Italy, Spain, Russia, Belgium, India, Germany, France, Holland, etc., for learning self-managing leadership, leadership journey, psychology, relationship counseling, family constellation, organisational constellation, body- mind healing, energy work, touch therapy, spiritual practice, and other skills. 

Gradually, I found myself well settled in developing leaders and organisations through psychology/leadership training and coaching. I have worked with many top-level international companies and amazing Chinese companies, including Ericsson China, Akzo Nobel, Infiniti, Embraco, Bank of China, Sino Steel, China Unicom, China Film Group, MSC, TUV, Schneider, Servier, Novo Nordisk, Lufthansa, L’Oreal, Fiskars, cTrip, Baidu, Sina, Haier, Levono, Alibaba, JD, Innovation Works, etc. 

I also do workshops in personal growth, family therapy, relationships, healing, energy adjustment, and meditation. With all the background and training, I hope to support leaders to be whole and complete, so that they don’t just have success in work but are also healthy in body and happy in relationships. Over 20 years of continuous learning, practicing and experiencing have given me special depth and width to work with different people at different levels of needs and introducing deep transformation. 

Happy ever after 

Many friends have asked me: “Have you ever regretted that you quit Harvard, changed your area of study and started working with human beings?” 

  • Never ever. I felt proud of my courage and persistence. And nothing rewards me more than doing the things I love and believe in, every single day of my life. 

Some friends also asked: “Then whatever you studied at Beijing University and Harvard University was all wasted.”

  • Not at all. The science training I received has given me a strong mind in logic, reasoning, and systematic thinking. But meditation practice and deep understanding of human emotions, relationship lineages, and energy helped me to understand “emotional logic” and the more intangible part of me. And I feel complete with both sides, and I feel so free to be able to switch to either world. 

I am back in China for exactly 20 years. Yesterday, I happened to pass by my first apartment after I returned to China in 1999, and all the past memories and feelings came back. I remembered the yulan tree that inspired me. I can see my flower blossoming now. 

I will end my story with a poem that I wrote when I first began the spiritual study in 1994, which expressed the ecstasy that I was experiencing at that time. I am glad that I decided to work with the most amazing creator of the world: human beings. All energies spent on the source will never get wasted. 

The Beautiful Source of Life (美丽的生命之源) 美丽的生命之源 



我歌唱,我欢笑 所有的快乐在这里 所有的欣喜在这里 

The beautiful source of life The beautiful fountain of life I create, I dance 

I sing, I laugh 

Here is all the happiness And all the bliss 

Heartfelt appreciation and gratitude 

I dedicate this story to my dearest parents, who raised me with such love and trust, who tolerated my unbelievable “craziness”. About 10 years after I changed my profession, they started to see how happy and joyful I was to do the work I love and how many were benefiting because of me. Now I work internationally, and I hope my passed-away father and old mother settled with happiness that their daughter made the right decision, and this will benefit both her and many others in the world. 

I also feel deeply grateful to all my teachers, friends, close ones and amazing colleagues at Oxford Leadership who supported me loved me, cared about me and nurtured me along this journey, plus all of my clients and working companions who gave me the chance to progress and contribute, who opened their hearts to allow me to enter and leave a tiny impact in a deeper space. 

Finally, I thank myself. I couldn’t believe that I made such a huge decision in such a clear and determined way, never wavered, but just cultivated my dream till it blossomed. I feel so blessed for being able to merge in that passion and bliss every moment of my life.

Shuntian Yao

Leadership Companion, China

Co-Founder & Chief Trainer at Beijing Soulight Cultural Communication Ltd. Co. Shuntian provides training and coaching to empower leaders/teams to reach a high level of awareness, energy, alignment, and excellence. She also provides services in personal growth, family therapy, relationship workshops, body-mind healing workshops, energy adjustment, and meditation as a holistic approach for different people with different levels of needs and enables deep transformation and integration. Besides working with famous Chinese enterprises, she has also trained and coached high-level executives/teams from many APAC and European countries. Seeing everyone connecting to their core and shine to the best extent possible, this gives her great joy and satisfaction. Ms. Yao is bilingual (English and native mandarin).

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