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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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Community Spotlight: Shannon Bronson

Name
Shannon Bronson

Where you live?
San Francisco

How did you come to meditation?
I was introduced to Tara Brach via her book Radical Acceptance. I listened to many of her audio recordings as I healed myself through her instructions on self compassion. I was introduced to formal sitting meditation through Jessica and Stephane Dreyfus as I studied Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It was through that class that meditation became a discipline in my life.

What inspires you to meditate?
Meditation wakes me up to clarity in my life. It gives space for me to come back into the sanctuary of my breath to be able to see my thoughts as not part of me, to take care of difficult emotions. Meditation allows me to zoom out and create more expansive ways to help myself and others because I’m not focusing on myself. Meditation allows me to make peace with my life as is.

What does your meditation practice look like?
Right now my practice is interwoven throughout my day because I have a nine month old son. Because I had a strong sitting practice for years before he came I feel like I am able to take the focus I developed during that time and apply it to moment to moment mindfulness. This waking life awareness came after an internal struggle with what I thought meditation had to be: sitting on my cushion for an hour watching my breath, contemplating emptiness or practicing compassion. When I was pregnant I was so physically ill I simply couldn’t do any of this anymore, and I suffered thinking I wasn’t doing what needed to be done on the mat. In hindsight that time was there for me to deconstruct my attachment to what practice needed to look and what it meant to be a good meditator. Once I let that go and met myself with compassion my ability to watch my mind became sharper and bigger-I can watch my mind all day long. I still practice formally before bed when I am not too exhausted. This time I fill with pranayama (breath techniques), emptiness analysis and Tonglen.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
I have a beautiful meditation space that is a joy to come to and helps me want to be there. I love using essential oils and smudging to make the time and space feel more sacred. Since I’ve created the time at the end of the day to meditate, it helps me look forward to practice as a way to review my day, set intentions for tomorrow, and come back into my body after being so many places. I also start by giving myself some reiki so it feels inviting to practice.

How is your life different because of meditation?
My life has gone from being trapped in a cycle of destructive patterned responses into a conscious, intentional and creative gift. I’ve completely changed my marriage, my career, and my interpersonal relationships to center around my practice and the wish for all beings to be happy and free. All of those things I relate to have been lifted up, even though I’ve had to let go of what I thought my life should look like. Now I feel like I can relate to my life as it is, and realize that although it’s not perfect, it’s enough.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
Time. Physical and emotional pain. Being too busy. Feeling like I don’t know what to meditate about or feeling adrift.

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
Try it for five minutes a day and do it everyday. It will start to change things. Eventually find a good teacher who you can relate to and share your experiences with and who you would like to be like.

What does your heart most long for?
My heart longs to use my unique talents create the conditions for myself and others to heal and realize the beauty and preciousness of life so that there can be peace.

 

Shannon teaches yoga and meditation in San Francisco, CA and online at TheMindOasis.org and is the creator of Cosmic Rainbow Hearts.

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Waking Up Your Compassion

 

Awakening Compassion

With access to so much news and information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the pain in the world. It’s tempting to numb out or choose to stop keeping up with what’s happening near and far. I am a strong advocate for taking time off from media to restore ourselves. But eventually our practice means we are called to return to the world and its pain with tender-hearted compassion.

One way you can cultivate compassion is through a traditional seven-step method for awakening bodhichitta, the “soft spot” everyone has within which we sometimes close ourselves off from.

7 Steps to Awakening Compassion

At the beginning of any meditation practice, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes moving the body gently, feeling your way into your body. Then you may settle into stillness and the natural rising and falling of the breath.

It’s called the 7-step method, but there are really eight steps, because we begin the practice by resting in equanimity, which is considered an important preliminary to the practice.

Preliminary: Rest in equanimity.  We all want to be happy and free from pain. We all share this same underlying aspiration and intention for our lives. Equanimity is not not caring, it is caring for everyone equally, because we recognize our sameness. Equanimity is wanting happiness and freedom for everyone, not just family and friends and people we like.

1. Awaken a sense of connectedness with all beings. Start with your friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances and people who have contributed to your life. Then radiate outward, opening to include as many people as possible, gaining a sense of the profound interconnectedness of all people across the world. Our lives are dependent on countless others, who endure considerable hardship to help us and bring us the things we need.

2. Recall the kindness of others. Feel all the love and kindness that you have received in your life, starting with your mother, father, family, teachers, friends, lovers. Feel their care, attention and love which has helped you to become who you are. Contemplate all the ways that you have received gestures of kindness and compassion from others.

3. Feel gratitude.  Allow your gratitude to grow into the wish to repay the gestures of kindness you’ve received. Begin to cultivate an attitude of care and concern toward all of those who have contributed to your life and well-being in all ways, big and small.

4. Cultivate love and the capacity to care. Invite the wish for others to be happy and to have all they need to live a good life.

5. Develop compassion. Even as you wish well for others, stay open to the pain and hardship that others are enduring in their lives.  Feel your deep wish to alleviate suffering in any way you can.

6. Take personal responsibility. Considering your life, work, relationships, and the choices you make every day. Consciously make the intention to use your life to cultivate happiness and alleviate suffering in any and every way you can. You may wish to use this passage to help connect with this intention:
In order to benefit all these beings
who live with so much suffering and
through whose kindness I live,
I offer myself immediately in Service to all.

7. Rest in bodhichitta. Allow the thoughts, images and stories to fall away. Rest in this open-hearted state, staying open to all the feelings that arise within you.

At the end of your practice, offer a dedication. You might say something like: By the virtue of these meditations, may I feel inspired to deepen my own practice and expand my heart’s capacity for loving and caring for others. May I come to recognize the infinite kindnesses that have been bestowed on me by limitless beings, that I may work to repay their kindness by offering love and compassion, that I may take personal responsibility through my heartfelt intention to increase my capacity for helping others cultivate happiness and alleviate suffering.

Everyday Compassion Practice

Every time you sit down to enjoy a meal, take a moment to think about how many people contributed to bringing that meal to your table. From the animals, to the farmers, to the transporters, to the grocers, to the cooks, etc. Allow a sense of connection with all these beings, near and far, feeling gratitude, and just offering the simple wish that all these beings who contributed to your enjoying this meal experience happiness and freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love is a Way of Life

Love isn’t just a feeling. It is an overarching attitude and spirit. It’s a way of life. It’s a daily activity.

~ Norman Fischer

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Feel How You Feel

To actually feel how you feel is a brave thing to do. “I am here. I feel the way I do.” From this posture of bravery, gentleness, and strength, you can be kind to yourself.

~ Mo Hardin

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Dakini Community Spotlight: Brooke Binstock

 

Name
Brooke Binstock

Where you live?
Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?
I have always been fascinated by the mind. I have struggled with varying levels of anxiety throughout my life, and became curious about how to alleviate my symptoms. In college, when my anxiety was at its peak, I took a class called ‘Intro to Meditation,’ but I couldn’t quite get into it, which felt discouraging. When I moved to Austin, I tried out multiple Sanghas (communities), following various traditions, but nothing ever really fit. It wasn’t until I met Kelly and began meditating with her that I really began to grasp the benefits of the practice. It was more human, accessible and allowing than any other experience I had previously and finally I feel committed.

What inspires you to meditate?
The busy quality of life, uncertainty, impermanence, and ultimately the undeniable suffering that accompanies being human. Meditation gives me more space to deal with the external world, as messy and chaotic as it can sometimes feel.

What does your meditation practice look like?
It is not daily, and often times it is not done in a formal seated position. However, when I do sit, I usually do so for 20 minutes. I usually focus on some facet of self-compassion. I find that I am meditating all the time. In traffic, when I am on the phone with my sister, when I’m practicing yoga with my eyes closed and when I am practicing presence in all things that I engage in.

Do you have any rituals or routines that support your practice?
Movement first, then meditation. I find that moving my body before coming into stillness is key to dropping in. I also clean the floor and my space before sitting so that I can eliminate distraction, and lastly, if I meditate with others, it holds me accountable to practice.

How is your life different because of meditation?
I am far less impulsive. I feel like I have more space to decide things as opposed to just reacting to my first instinct. Generally, my life feels more grounded and less chaotic than it did before this practice came into my life…and it has also facilitated other healthy changes to support my body. I eat better, sleep more and give myself permission to just be me far more easily than in the past.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in your practice?
Prioritizing sitting. I am naturally a doer and can get distracted easily. I am challenged to find a rhythm with my meditation practice that allows it to feel spacious enough to invite me in, as opposed to a rigid appointment time which I have a tendency to rebel against. So mostly, it is distraction and forgetting to prioritize.

What advice would you share with someone who is just starting a meditation practice?
Get a good cushion! Support your feet with a blanket. For the first several years of practice, my back hurt terribly simply because I was sitting in an incorrect, non-supported posture. Now that I know how to sit, it is far easier to maintain stillness.

What does your heart most long for?
Pure, present, focused acceptance. To step into a place of self-love that is non-judgmental, non-conditional and rooted in the now.

 

Brooke is the founder of Open Circle Healing, where she offers sessions that include guided meditation, restorative yoga, and therapeutic massage.

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