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Community Spotlight: Chuck Roper

 

Where you live?
Austin, Texas

How did you come to meditation?
I came to meditation accidentally (if there’s such a thing as accidents). I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2016. I had been looking for a spiritual path I could relate to before then, but after the diagnosis, I felt an urgent need to find something I could get my head around. Coincidentally(?) at about the same time, I met Kelly Lindsey, an Austin-based meditation teacher. She agreed to teach me meditation skills, and I took her up on it. That’s how I came to meditation, as well as to a spiritual path that I embraced with gratitude.

What inspires you to meditate?
I don’t need much inspiration to meditate. It has become a regular and essential part of my daily life. I get up early, feed and visit with my three dogs, drink two glasses of water and a cup of bone broth, and lovingly set my butt down on my meditation cushion. I give the cushion a minimum of 20 minutes, followed by a half-hour or so of journaling and planning my day. What inspires me is the way that meditation enriches my life and nudges me forward on my spiritual path.

What does your meditation practice look like?
I practice daily, typically between 7:00-8:00 am. I like to begin my practice with a brief ritual that re-establishes my vows to be an ethical person who leads an ethical life. I sit in meditation for twenty minutes, or more if I feel inspired. I sit cross-legged, facing my altar, with lights dimmed and doors closed.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
I do. Before I get out of bed in the morning, I say a prayer that was inspired by a description of the Dalai Lama’s morning rituals. I meditate facing my altar, which holds statues and other items that mean enough to me to give them a holy spot alongside the Buddha. I remind myself of my Buddhist vows every morning with three prostrations. I created physical space that supports my spiritual activities and path.

How is your life different because of meditation?
Thanks to meditation, my life is so different in so many ways, but the one that stands out for me is the novel experience of opening my heart, allowing me for (I believe) the first time as an adult, to give and receive heart-centered love with no strings attached. I was always known as a nice guy, a good guy, but my niceness was connected to wanting to be loved, and the “nice” and “good” came from my head and not my heart. Meditation was the essential ingredient that opened my mind and then my heart.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
Easily–my biggest challenge is true consistency–that is, living pretty much according to the goals that I set for myself. I personally live with mood swings that can influence my motivation to take care of myself generally, including my motivation to sit. That said, I don’t remember a single time when I didn’t feel better after 20 minutes on the cushion.

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
I’m a believer in getting started with the help of someone who knows at least more or less what he’s/she’s doing. This doesn’t mean hiring a high-dollar private instructor. There are many affordable group classes every day that are led by experienced teachers who are oftentimes happy to share their expertise. And if that’s a problem, then there are scores of good books that describe and illustrate meditation. My favorite is Pema Chodron’s “How to Meditate.” The main thing: Give it a try.

What does your heart most long for?
Easy question… My heart longs for a sense of belonging, where others genuinely want me to be a part of their inner world, and I feel worthy of accepting their invitation. I realize that heartfelt desire in my sangha–that is, my community. We are spiritually like-minded women and men who meet and meditate together at least twice a week and retreat together twice a year. I feel accepted and not judged. I belong. For me, it started with meditation and continues with meditation.

Chuck teaches meditation through Mind Oasis, a non-profit, online meditation community. You can find him teaching their Meditate on the 8s membership classes weekly at 8:08am CT Monday mornings!

 

[Photo by Lacey Melguizo]
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Connecting with Solitude

“We need to acknowledge that solitude is an invitation to the soul to come alive.

Solitude is utterly luminous if we lose our fears and enter it more deeply.”

~John O’Donohue

“Solitude is an invitation,” O’Donohue writes, speaking to the openness and gentleness with which we might enter an experience of solitude, whether it be a long solitary retreat or simply our daily practice of sitting meditation. We have a choice: we can either approach the experience of solitude with a motivation of achievement or to change who we are, or we can approach our practice with an open heart that wants truly to know who we are and embraces what we discover with loving-kindness and acceptance. The results of these two approaches are very different, even if the practices we do are exactly the same.

He continues: “for our souls to come alive,” suggesting that solitude is essential to connecting with the deepest parts of our being and awakening to the truth of who we are. This is in part because solitude asks us to surrender all of our ideas about who we think we are and the identities that we usually use to define ourselves. We may be women, men, lovers, partners, friends, teachers, students, writers, artists, healers, but ultimately those labels do not define the deepest truths of who we are. Our true nature is open, available, spontaneous, free. It is pure potential.

“Solitude is utterly luminous.” Solitude provides the space for us to discover who we really are and to learn to rest in that true nature. That true nature (our soul, spirit, Being, Awareness, Buddha Nature, basic goodness – whatever label you want to put on it) is often described by Wise beings as having a quality of light – luminous and radiant. That light reveals itself through practice, sometimes in little glimmers and sometimes in full bursts of sunlight within. This awareness illuminates and helps us to see clearly what is. Solitude also helps us to discover for ourselves what is most meaningful and significant in our lives and to find out what really moves us and motivates us to live our lives. In solitude we find ourselves and discover each other.

And finally “if we lose our fears and enter it more deeply.” The truth is: the spiritual journey is hard. When we decide to commit to waking up, we will come face to face with our darkness – all the ways in which we are stuck in a perpetual cycle of busy-ness, of doing, striving, achieving, constantly trying to find happiness somewhere out there. When life brings us to our knees because we’ve seen that happiness does not lie just around the corner, in the next job, next home, next relationship, next new anything…we’re actually in a good place, painful as that realization may be. Happiness is here, inside of us, and when we finally stop and try to get quiet and listen, we come into contact with what scares us, and we see our fear directly. Staying still and silent and solitary takes courage, a willingness to face our fears and to move deeply towards an understanding that everything we need is right here.

Bringing Solitude Into Your Life

Here are a few suggestions for connecting with solitude in your own life:

  • Take a long walk by yourself, either on a trail where you’re not likely to see someone, or on a busy street – either way, stay anchored in your own experience as a way of honoring solitude.
  • Enjoy a meal by yourself, either at home, or in a busy restaurant. When you are alone, notice what draws your attention.

What it is like to be by yourself, either truly alone, or simply having a solitary experience amidst others?

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Just Relax

In sitting practice, there is no way that you can go wrong. Wherever you find yourself, just relax. Relax your shoulders, relax your stomach, relax your heart, relax your mind. Bring as much gentleness as you can. The technique is already quite precise. It has structure. It has form. So within that form, move with warmth and gentleness.

– Pema Chodron

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Make the Time

You should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time. Then you should meditate for an hour.

– Zen Saying

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Community Spotlight: Karuna (Kelly Schwartz)

Name
Karuna (Kelly Schwartz)

Where you live?
#everywhere

How did you come to meditation?
One of my first yoga teachers, Keith Kachtick of Dharma Yoga opened the window to meditation and reached his hand through for me.  Shortly thereafter, I started studying with the luminosity we know as Kelly Lindsey.

What inspires you to meditate?
What inspires me to meditate is how dramatically and radically meditation has changed my life.  I feel a lot of joy and inspiration and connectedness in my life.  I am fundamentally happier and nicer to be around.  I feel the caliber of my friends has raised to a level I never imagined possible and I believe it is all because of my meditation practice.  My husband and I have a phenomenal relationship.  It isn’t perfect – nothing is – but we have a deep conscious authenticity that helps us get through the rough patches.  I’m a better mother and friend.  I am everything because of my meditation practice.  My life work is bringing the timeless benefits of meditation to practitioners worldwide through my online nonprofit – Mind Oasis.  Meditation is the crème de la crème.

What does your meditation practice look like?
My teacher, the ineffable Denise Deniger, has given me very specific Buddhist meditation practices to sit with daily.  In addition, you’ll find me either teaching or meditating on Mind Oasis most days. I love to gaze at the sky, engage in walking meditation, and practice the embodiment of these teachings in every moment.  I often fail! But the aspiration is literally there every moment of my life.  Dancing my ass off in ecstatic dance is probably the most fun and inspiring meditation in which I engage.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
My Dakini Meditative cushions go with me wherever I am practicing!  In addition, I love to light a stick of incense and perhaps a candle. My altar – whether fixed at home or on the road – usually has found objects of feathers, rocks, crystals, and other lovely items that inspire me to remember my interconnectedness with everything on earth.

How is your life different because of meditation?
How is my life not different because of meditation?  There is nothing in my life that hasn’t been touched by my practice.  Every moment of each day is another instant with which to practice making friends with my mind!

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my meditation practice is that it has enabled me to feel everything so deeply.  From a blade of fresh green grass to the animals en route to slaughter to the energy of the people around me, I have become very sensitive and I find myself crying – a lot.  Giving up my bootstraps and embracing all the feelings without numbing out means I have to take more time to sleep and hydrate, be by myself, and to engage in radical self-care.  Making friends with your mind can be messy business *and* it is so worth it!

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
My advice for anyone traveling down the Path of meditation is to find an exceptional teacher, guide, and friend!  I happen to know many great teachers on Mind Oasis ;).  There is a reason that the third jewel we take refuge in as a Buddhist, is the Sangha or community jewel.  Making friends with our mind can be messy and we can avoid a bunch of potholes and misery when we have a teacher and community on which to rely.

What does your heart most long for?
My heart most longs for the cessation of suffering for all sentient-beings.  My life work – Mind Oasis – is born of this deep desire for all beings everywhere to feel freedom and happiness ~ even those for whom it is difficult to feel that way.  May this be so.

 

Karuna is the founder of TheMindOasis.org an online meditation community which offers live, interactive, online meditation instruction.

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Make a Commitment

You need to make a commitment to training yourself in meditation. Otherwise, there will be a lot of gaps and missing the point, and you will experience unnecessary confusion. So it’s important to stick with the practice and follow the instructions that you receive.

– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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Teachers, Teachings, Community

“To benefit from meditation, you need more than just a glimpse. It might be best to look at meditation as a way of life. If you stick with the practice and go along with exertion and patience, you will have a chance to realize yourself, to understand yourself.” – Chogyam Trungpa

Everyone who has ever tried to develop a personal meditation practice knows that it is easy to get started and hard to stick with it over time. There are three elements that are critical for sustaining a practice over time: teachers, teachings, and community. If any of these elements is missing, we will often find that it is a struggle to stay inspired and committed to our meditation practice. Is this true for you?

In the Buddhist tradition, these three elements of inspiration are referred to as the Three Jewels – the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Each of the three jewels has an inner and outer aspect.

Buddha means the awakened one. The Buddha Jewel is most often thought of as the Buddha himself — who is an example of a human being who walked the path of meditation and reached Enlightenment. The Buddha Jewel also includes our personal teachers who teach us how to practice and guide us on our path. The inner meaning of the Buddha is to recognize our own awakened nature….our inherent wakefulness and our capacity for becoming a Buddha too.

Dharma means truth. The Dharma Jewel includes the spiritual teachings and meditative practices that help us to live with mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom. The inner expression of the Dharma Jewel is our own understanding of the teachings and the wisdom that wakes up in us when we practice.

Sangha means community. The Sangha Jewel is the community of practitioners who share the same aspirations and motivations for living a wholehearted and mindful life. They are our friends and companions on the path who remind us of what is most important and support our journey towards happiness.

Together, the three jewels help us to stay connected to ourselves, our practice, and each other, and inspire us to remain steadfast and committed on our meditative journey.

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Acceptance and Openness

The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes into oneself.
– Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche

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Leaving Behind Our Habitual Patterns

No matter how easy meditation practice might sound, once we have tried it, we see that it’s a challenging thing to do. There is an element of bravery every time we take our seat. Letting go and applying ourselves with mindfulness takes courage. It means that we are leaving behind our habitual patterns and moving into new territory.

– Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

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