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Community Spotlight: Leanna Gilliam

Leanna Gilliam
Where do you live?

Austin, Texas

How did you come to meditation?

Initially, meditation was a refuge and resource during a health issue that caused extreme pain and a lot of anxiety. Four and a half years ago I attended an MBSR program based on the teachings and research of Jon Kabat-Zinn. The practice was transformative and I stuck with it on my own, then through instruction with several meditation teachers using shamatha meditation practice.

What inspires you to meditate?

Meditation brought to light a deeper understanding of the sacred connection of mind and body. This was crucial to my healing. Now I’m open to all of life- pain, suffering, joy, and happiness- knowing everything is temporary. The transformation I’ve gone through physically, mentally and emotionally is the reason I still sit everyday. It helps me be more at ease in the world, in the circle of people I see day to day, in my family and in my own head. I’m a kinder, more present Mom, Wife, Daughter and Friend because I meditate.

What does your meditation practice look like?

I gave myself permission to not have a “set” time for my daily practice. With two teenagers and a third grader in my home, my practice may happen first thing in the morning, last thing in the evening or sometime in between. I go with the flow on the timing of my practice because everyday is different. Luckily, my meditation space is separate from my main home so it is private and clear of distractions of family life which for me is really helpful. I use a zafu meditation cushion. In addition to a daily solitary practice, I enjoy practicing in group classes as often as possible.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?

Yes! I am a routine kind of person! I have to admit that I like to do the dishes before I sit on the cushion. It’s become a ritual that actually is quite pleasant. I mindfully clear the kitchen of dishes and clutter, moving slowly, and somehow this practice has become a beautiful segue to sitting on my cushion. Also, I’m experimenting with journaling prior to sitting and am finding this to be beneficial. I always light incense when I practice.

How is your life different because of meditation?

I’m awake! I’m awake to the beauty all around me, to smiles from strangers, to knowing most everything is workable and that I am enough (this one can be hard though!). I think I live more wholeheartedly because I’m not distracted by unimportant things as much as I used to be. Meditation helps cultivate inner wisdom which guides my decisions more and more as I grow within my practice. I can’t say it’s 100% of the time, but a lot of the time I’m now able to respond to a difficulty or question versus react to it. I am able to distinguish between thoughts and emotions and can look with curiosity at what is happening instead of getting swept away in the story my mind creates.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?

Consistency. As I healed and felt better physically, I didn’t sit on the cushion as often. Although I still had a practice it was not as constant and I found the benefits of meditation floating into the background of life. I am now happily practicing daily and can’t imagine not doing so! I am so much more at ease. Also, I’ll say that travel tends to be a challenge. I give myself permission to sit for shorter periods of time so I can work it into a more active travel schedule. And I bring my cushion with me. Literally having the support of my cushion makes meditating on the road more doable for me. So proud to wear my Dakini Meditative backpack and cushion around the airport!

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?

Be kind to yourself. Self-judgement is sneaky- be aware when the inner critic shows up and know that this is called a practice not perfection. Consistency will go very far in bringing the benefits to the surface. Rejoice in the fact that you’ve started on the path. Beginning is courageous!

What does your heart most long for?

Peace. I want to be a light in this world.

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Being Present

Being fully present isn’t something that happens once and then you’ve achieved it. It is being awake to the ebb and flow and movement and creation of life, being alive to the process itself.

~ Pema Chodron

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Practice is Perfect

It is not that practice makes perfect but that practice is perfect, combining effort with an openness and grace.

~ David Richo

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The Perfection of Meditation

What is the perfection of meditation?

The fifth perfection is dhyana paramita — the perfection of meditation. What is perfect meditation? It is meeting each moment with a kind-hearted attention and embracing life as it is. 

The Sanskrit word dhyana translates as sustained attention in the present moment. Meditation practice helps us to cultivate the ability to touch the present moment, and stay with our experience without getting lost in thought.

Life is full of distractions. Our thoughts can take us very quickly very far away from the present, into remembrance of the past or into anticipation of the future. Thinking is not necessarily a problem. Perfect meditation is definitely not about clearing the mind from thought. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings about meditation. Meditation is about cultivating attention. In meditation practice we are taking attention and placing it in the present moment.

The breath is a great object for attention in meditation. There is no breath we could ever breathe that is not a present moment breath. Therefore, when we place attention on the breath, it brings us into the present moment and we become aware of everything else that we can experience through our senses in that moment.

Read more about starting a meditation practice here

Meditation and the Six Perfections

Meditation in the context of the six paramitas (or perfections) give us a practice for cultivating mindfulness of the present moment, as well as awareness of our thoughts, words, and actions, so we can use our mindfulness to be of benefit to others and the world around us. 

In the traditional Buddhist teachings, there are three aspects to the perfection of meditation. The first is to train the mind to peacefully abide in the present moment. This can be accomplished through the practice of Shamatha meditation. 

The second aspect of the perfection of meditation is to cultivate specific qualities like generosity, kindness, patience or joy, which are the first four paramitas. The practice of contemplative meditation helps us do this.

The third aspect of the perfection of meditation is using our mindfulness to benefit others. We practice this by taking the fruits of our meditation practice into our everyday lives and relationships. 

Through meditation we learn to meet each moment with kind-hearted attention and cultivate generosity, kindness, patience, and joy in our lives. 

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Joy Out of Nowhere

Joy can be made by practiced, hard-won achievement as much as by an unlooked for, passing act of grace arriving out of nowhere.

~ David Whyte

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Rejoice

Because our intention is to wake up so we can help others do the same, we rejoice as much in seeing where we’re stuck as we rejoice in our loving kindness. This is the only way for true compassion to emerge: this is our opportunity to understand what others are up against. Like us, they aspire to open up, only to see themselves close down; like us, they have the capacity for joy, and out of ignorance they block it. For their sake and ours, we can let the story lines go and stay present with an open heart—and rejoice that we’re even interested in such a fresh alternative.

~Pema Chodron

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Joy versus Happiness

Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as dependent on outer circumstances, joy is not.

~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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Community Spotlight: Josh Walpole

Where do you live?

Austin, Texas

How did you come to meditation?

I moved to Austin 4 years ago. A couple weeks after we moved into the neighborhood a new business opened and erected a huge sign above their storefront – “Meditation Bar.” I don’t think I even saw the part that said ‘meditation.’ I was so excited to have a bar in the neighborhood where I could go to and walk/stumble home from. Growing up this was the only way I knew how to deal with stress in my life – drugs and alcohol. I walked through the doors and was surprised to find no booze, no cocktail peanuts, no soggy coasters, but what I did find was a community of people. Not unlike the community of people in a traditional bar, these people were all searching for something only they were doing it in a healthier fashion. I stayed for the meditation that night and never left. I haven’t had a drink in over two years, and now I’m committed to sharing the gifts I received from the practice of meditation with others.

What inspires you to meditate?

My inspiration is my family. At first, my family only included my immediate family, but as I continue to practice my family has become not only my wife and kids, mom and dad, brothers and sisters but also my community, our society, and all beings everywhere.

What does your meditation practice look like?

I sit for at least 30 minutes every day. Sometimes less, sometimes more but I always try to make time for the practice. I don’t always take a traditional posture when meditating, but for me this is a form of self-compassion. Allowing the practice to be what it is without putting too much pressure on myself.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?

I like to do some asana practice before I sit, and I also enjoy using sound in my meditations. Crystal bowls, gongs, drums all guide me in my practice.

How is your life different because of meditation?

I have become less reactive, more open and inquisitive. I enjoy being in my own skin and in the moment instead of always trying to escape.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?

I recently went through a period of meditation burnout. I was being too hard on myself and the practice became a chore. It was suggested to me that I give myself permission to let expectations go. That one suggestion has made such a difference in the way I approach my practice.

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?

Find a teacher and community where you can ask questions and share your experience. A lot of things will eventually come up in meditation and it’s good to have people around you who are going through or have gone through similar experiences.

What does your heart most long for?

True Understanding

Josh Walpole is now the owner of Meditation Bar where he teaches several classes a week. 

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Joyful Effort

Joyful effort is the fourth of the six perfections. The other five are: generosity, kindness, patience, meditation, and wisdom. When you reflect on these qualities in your meditation, and then bring them into your life, you begin to notice your life changing. Your heart opens, your world expands. You contact the natural warmth, goodness, and joy that is available in each moment.

Virya paramita —  is the fourth perfection of joyful effort. The heart essence of this practice is taking joy in helping others.

Once, a student asked his teacher, Ramana Maharshi: “How are we to treat others?”

Ramana Maharshi replied, “There are no others.”

In considering what it means to take joy in helping others, it is important to remember that you are included in “others.” You are not separate from others. When you care for yourself, you are benefitting others. When you care for others, you are benefitting yourself. The perfection of joyful effort through the practice of taking care of others is not about ignoring your own needs to put others first, but a rather a recognition that caring for others increases your own happiness and enjoyment of life. It is why you are here.

Here are five suggestions for how you can feel more joyful effort:

1. Remember your intention. Reflect on your larger reasons for why you do what you do.

2. Recognize and honor all the ways in which you naturally care for others, and rejoice in that goodness!

3. Practice gratitude and express appreciation for your life and the opportunities to care for and be cared for.

4. Let go of joyless striving. Let go of all “shoulds” and “supposed to’s”. Let go of doing things that you can’t do with joy (or find a way to increase your joy in doing them).

5. Smile– while meditating, while sitting at your computer (go ahead, try it now ;-), while walking down the street. While helping others. Notice how this simple gesture brings a quality of joyfulness to your experience.

The poet David Whyte reminds us that “Joy can be made by practiced, hard-won achievement as much as by an unlooked for, passing act of grace arriving out of nowhere.”

Join Kelly Lindsey for a live, online, interactive class to dive deeper into the Six Perfections! This series begins on January 29th on Mind Oasis. Learn more here.

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Find Peace Through Patience

Patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. If you wait and don’t fuel the rage with your thoughts, you can be very honest about the that fact that you long for revenge; nevertheless you keep interrupting the torturous story line and stay with the underlying vulnerability. That frustration, that uneasiness and vulnerability, is nothing solid. And yet it is painful to experience. Still, just wait and be patient with your anguish and with the discomfort of it. This means relaxing with that restless, hot energy—knowing that it’s the only way to find peace for ourselves or the world.

~ Pema Chodron

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