Unleashing Our Inner Potential: A Promised Journey of Growth, Connection, and Inspiration

Written by: Maggie Augustyn, DDS, FAAIP, FICOI
mindful moments, dentistry, expansion


My husband has been witness to this more times than he’d like to have rolled his eyes for: a return from my travels announcing, “Wow! That changed my life; I am no longer the person I was when you last saw me.” The first time I uttered those words was several months past dental school graduation when I returned home from a mission trip, having served in a heavily guarded Mexican prison near La Paz, Mexico. It was over pancakes, strawberries, and whipped cream, a breakfast we stopped for on the way to the airport, that I had told my husband the assignment was to a prison and not a remote village, like I had led him to believe.

mindful moments, dentistry, expansion

IMAGE CREDIT: Vanessa Emerson

Yet still, leaving home, I was completely unaware of what I was about to witness. I was unprepared for the guards holding automatic weapons, for the poverty to be seen, for the practice of dentistry in lawn chairs, and for the utter gratitude those patients (the prisoners and guards alike) would show. I had returned to the States inspired to be a different person: I had returned more aware of the gifts I’d been holding, often taken for granted. With this being the first of the many times I’d professed to my husband for having been transformed, I had meant it. I’d meant it fully and deeply. Every. Single. Time. But this, in turn, had raised the bar for future transformations. I have been lucky as there haven’t been a shortage of those in my past few years. Yet despite the growth attained after courses and conferences, after resulting communications and collaborations, I still hadn’t felt fulfilled. I needed more. I still needed more definition on how I wanted my evolution to reduce hardships and troubles, and I wanted more clarity on what I wanted to see in my future. I yearned for more growth.

That search and seeking, that endless addiction to self-improvement, had put me into a self-imposed exhaustion and encased me in a very dark place this past Christmas morning. Right before my host of 25 family members, I sprawled across my yoga mat. I prayed, I cried, I bargained, and I begged for a break. A much-needed respite, in the form of excruciating headaches and vomiting, did come later that week. Drained, weak, and worn, 13 days following a positive COVID test, I traveled to Phoenix for my first retreat of the year. Once I’d arrived, I lay in bed wondering how I’d even gotten to the hotel, with the body aches still lingering despite a maximal dose of Advil and Dayquil. I even wondered if I had made the right decision traveling. The morning of the conference, I was fully prepared to have to excuse myself several times during the day, running upstairs to my room for rest. But… that isn’t what happened. I smile now thinking back to that moment in bed. My hardship-ridden week prior, my hardship-ridden travel may have been a part of the plan, but it was not the plan. The weekend I wasn’t sure I was going to withstand turned into the most beautiful awakening of all the senses, and not just for me, but for everyone present in the room.

Kelly Burns, an expert in somatic experiences, taught us this weekend about sliding door experiences. It is an experience after which one becomes transformed, as if a threshold had been crossed, and cannot be uncrossed. A kind of change is experienced that cannot be undone. A sliding door experience is what I’d had after I’d served in Mexico. A sliding door experience is what I am returning from this weekend. In my writing, I don’t often have an opportunity to refer to a higher power or God because my writing, though inspirational, is meant to be for everyone; and it’s found to be more acceptable for me to write in secular terms. But I will release myself from the obligation in which I have to include the skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. Because I must tell you that the prayer, which I deeply begged the God looking over my being, was answered just a few weeks after its inception.

I didn’t necessarily need a break, though Dr. Laura Brenner would have been proud of me for taking one to alleviate the symptoms of the burnout I undeniably felt. This weekend was the answer to my Christmas prayer. It was a new commitment to searching and seeking. It was a continuation in my road of self-improvement with eliminated exhaustion. Following this weekend, I didn’t just come back transformed; I am coming back expanded. Expanded to the possibility of what lays at my feet, expanded to what new experiences will bring, expanded to who it is that I am, who I want to be, who I am meant to be. I am returning expanded into my awareness, into my consciousness. I am expanded to love, more than ever, because of the vulnerable and awe-inspiring message Shawn Zajas delivered.

It is hard to put into human words the things we’d seen as a group and the places we’d discovered at Expansion 2024. The short exercises of meditation and guidance almost seemed like a cruel tease, as I found my mind magnetized into the most beautiful stillness, a love I’d been missing recently in my reflections. People who hadn’t meditated before felt moved to try it upon their return home. Those of us who had felt a renewed magnificence. We developed an understanding with the help of Jonathan Bender that there lies opportunity for transformation in every moment. We craved flow again as abundance, and benevolence, and of generosity at Katherine Eitel Belt’s profession. Dr. Tarryn McCarthy taught us that there is magic in the unknown. And in the pursuit of that magic, Chuck Blakeman vulnerably committed to our memories how to be relentless and open and fascinated at its attainment. Samantha Jones dropped in virtually (we missed you Sam) to teach us about the power of imagination and hope.

Dr. Witt Wilkerson reminded us about the mouth’s connection to our entire body, our overall health, and our responsibility as physicians of the masticatory system in spreading that word to our patients. Our awakening was supplemented with the understanding that fitness is not ‘a look’ by Dr. Jennifer Murphy; it was supplemented with great poise and humor reminding us that eating can be of delight by Brandi Hooker Evans. Dr. Liz Lyster offered advice that it is in remembering to stop that we can gain our stamina. Allison Lacoursiere asked permission of us and led us on one of the most eye-opening communal sliding door experiences of the meeting, maybe even of my lifetime. Asking us to be vulnerable, she made us feel safe enough to disclose our greatest challenges and then sharing our deepest and darkest insecurities. We put those down on a piece of paper and we walked around the room displaying the heavy burdens, the gremlins, that hold us down, that crush us. I wept at its conclusion, overwhelmed. I was in disbelief of how it was possible for the strong, and the powerful, for the successful and the seemingly self-assured individuals to have such self-defeating, and most importantly, such inaccurate views of themselves.

expansion, dentistry, mindful moments

Vanessa Emerson/Expansion 2024

For the woman I saw holding the sign stating she needed to be thin, how could she not see how beautiful she was? For a best-selling author, who felt himself invisible, how could he believe that? I had read his book, highlighting passage by passage; I saw him before I’d even met him. Why his disdain when I was in awe of his brilliance and gift to this world? That ballroom which guarded my sliding door was filled with people who’d been fraught to travel difficult journeys. Kirstie Boltz, a cancer survivor, deemed that when challenges face us they don’t happen ‘to us’ they happen ‘for us’. And with that mind shift, Nithya Karia also taught us what when we feel good about ourselves, when we have access to our best parts, that’s when we have the energy to serve and to give. That’s when we give to our inner circle, the people we love, and Dr. Larry Stanleigh taught us how to designate those. At conclusion, Sarah Cottingham brought us back to mindfulness.

My husband asked me on the way to the airport, the prior Thursday, what conference it was that I would be attending (must have been primed due to my lack of forthcoming nature many years prior); he asked if I’d be speaking. I consider myself to be a master of crafting words, especially when I have a body willing to listen, but I still remember my disappointment in my answer. “I don’t really know,” is what I said, “all I know is that it will probably help me become a better speaker.” The beauty, and power, and magic did lie in the unknown, didn’t it, Dr. Tarryn? Kris Heap talked to us about prominent messengers, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr filling the gap that exists between us, between what there is, what there exists and what is needed. Vanessa Emerson challenged us to remain in the gap. Though the gap she was describing, was also a gap between thoughts. A sorcery or alchemy exists in that gap, in that pause. It’s a place the past and the future are of no consequence. In that gap we are not broken. In that gap we are not our thoughts, we are the thinkers of our thoughts. In that gap there is time to receive. In that gap there is truth. Not any truth, not a truth; it is the truth. It is where the deepest connection to our soul exists. And to get to that gap, to get past the grit and the mud and the pain, all we have to do is let go of the desire to be in the gap. In our traditional world, it is completely counterintuitive to let go of the thing that you want the most. Yet, that is the only way it shall be delivered.

I wasn’t the only one who felt empowered and present. I wasn’t the only one stating “I am here, world, not for me to take of you, I am here for your very taking.” In the expansion we felt present, in that room, we felt purpose, at these times, we had no doubt and no fear and no self-loathing. It has made us wonder what other transformative powers we hold within our own world, within the lives of the people we love, as we wake up in excitement for tomorrow. Creating Expansion appears to have been Vanessa Emerson’s dream. It’s been her opportunity to be brave and open to her creative powers. Her vision was to bring individuals thirsty for growth united with connectedness, and just as important, inspiration. I’m writing this article not just in homage to this past weekend, but also as a display of what else is out there, waiting for us. If you are reading this, if you have found your way to this page in this very moment, it is my belief that you need to be reading this. And if that is such, why don’t you join us next year, January 2-4, 2025. My ticket is already bought.


Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a practicing general dentist, the owner of Happy Tooth, a faculty member at Productive Dentist Academy, an author, and an inspirational speaker. She obtained her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Augustyn is passionate about reading, researching, writing, and speaking on topics that encompass the human experience, including our struggles, pain, and moments of vitality.

mindful moments, dentistry

Maggie Augustyn, DDS, FAAIP, FICOI

Her personal mission is to inspire individuals to embark on a journey toward a more authentic self-actualization. She has a notable presence in the media and is a frequent contributor to Dental Entrepreneur Woman. Dr. Augustyn takes great pride in her role as a contributing author to Dentistry Today, where she publishes a column titled “Mindful Moments.”

She has also been featured on various podcasts and is a sought-after national speaker, emphasizing the significance of authenticity and self-discovery.