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Clearing

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.

~ Martha Postlewaite

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Sitting Practice

Through the practice of sitting still and following your breath, you are connecting with your open heart. By simply letting yourself be as you are, you begin to develop loving kindness and gentleness for yourself.

~Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

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Community Spotlight: Cathy Negrel

Where do you live?

Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?

My first experience with meditation dates back to the late 1960’s when one of my high school classmates become a Hari Krishna devotee. I visited him at the temple where I was first exposed to the practice of meditation. In the late 70’s, my mother travelled to India where she practiced Vipassana Meditation for a month. This impressed me…that she could sit in silent meditation for such a long time. In further support of her practice, she would on occasion go on ten day silent meditation retreats in Kaufman, TX. I’ve meditated off and on over the years but with no consistency. In 2013, I became a more committed practitioner with the support of Kelly Lindsey. I started taking her Wednesday morning meditation class, and have been practicing with her every Wednesday since then. She has helped me learn the basics (and so much more) and she has supported me in integrating them into my daily life.

What inspires you to meditate?

Meditation is my invitation to sit quietly and peacefully with myself. Focusing on my breath affords me the opportunity to bring a sense of stillness to my mind, body and emotions and…a time to be with myself. My weekly classes with Kelly and our community inspires me and helps strengthen my commitment to my meditation practice. It is through meditation that I discovered that I am my own best friend. This was powerful. In day to day life, meditation helps me manage my propensity to feel anxious, and it also serves as an invitation to see the world from several different vantage points and perspectives. I believe it helps me experience life with a broader view depending on the day.

What does your meditation practice look like?

It varies. Lately, I’m aspiring to develop the healthy habit of meditating at the beginning of my day because I have discovered that if it doesn’t happen right off the bat in the morning…daily life gets in the way and I will find a litany of activities to keep me from getting to my cushion. Consistency is what is most important. I exercise every morning after I wake up and I see my mediation practice of equal importance to living a healthy life. If I skip my morning sit, it’s challenging for me to make the time to do it later in the day. I am hoping to add evening sits to my practice.

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

Yes. I enjoy lighting candles and incense and setting up my cushion…as an open invitation to come and sit.

How is your life different because of meditation?

This is a good question. It’s hard to pinpoint all of the ways that my life has changed. I would love to know what my husband, family and friends might say if I were to ask them this question. Meditation provides me with stability and the ability to respond to life and events rather than react. I notice that I have a propensity to be more thoughtful about responding to circumstances around me. It has helped me let go of the need to respond immediately to questions, phone calls, and situations that are not life threatening. Meditation in many ways helps my life feel more spacious and at the same time grounded.

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

My biggest challenge is to keep from sabotaging my best intentions to sustain my daily practice. Because I like to feel productive, I sometimes let my desire and need to accomplish tangible tasks (my to do lists) get the best of me.

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

Study the basics of mediation and study them again. Try to keep in mind that they are the steadfast infrastructure for a successful daily practice. It is through the continuity of practicing meditation daily that growth will flourish.

What does your heart most long for?

My heart longs for many things…a peaceful world where no one suffers, and on a more personal note to commit to going on a silent meditation retreat.

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True Practice of Peace

If we want there to be peace in the world, we have to be brave enough to soften what is rigid in our hearts, to find the soft spot and stay with it. We have to have that kind of courage and take that kind of responsibility. That’s the true practice of peace.

~ Pema Chödrön

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Community Spotlight: Vonnie Neufeld

Where do you live?

Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?

In college, I was curious and dabbled in learning the various types at that time. One experience was so powerful it frightened me and I took a break from it. Over time, I turned to meditation during difficult and anxious times but was concerned about doing it “right” so I spent time doing guided meditations. When I moved to Austin in 2014, it was Kelly and the Quiet Mind, Open Heart community that really inspired me to go inward again and stick with it.

What inspires you to meditate?

I am inspired to meditate by my desire to connect to my “safe place,” gratitude for the wonderful life and time I am afforded here in Austin, and without question, my regular weekly practice with Kelly. I am particularly inspired by a series we did that she framed as “Stillness, Silence and Spaciousness.” That comes to me often when I am meditating and helps me feel closer to myself and “to home.”

What does your meditation practice look like?

I’d like to say it’s perfect and daily for a specific amount of time, but it’s not. It varies. I regularly practice 4-5 times per week in some form or another. When practicing for longer times, as with Kelly, I lie on the floor. For shorter times, I can sit. I use the Insight Timer with nature sounds in the background. I also use meditation as an anxiety reducer when I am at the dentist, or getting a shot at the MD, or approaching a challenging situation. Meditation paired with prayer helps my nervous system calm and feel more centered.

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

My morning routine consists of waking to greet the day, writing my gratitudes, reading and responding in writing to the reading, and then meditation before a series of routine phone calls to support others on this journey of life. Gratitude, prayer and meditation go hand in hand for me. I meditate in other situations too, even standing in line or on an airplane…anywhere I feel the need to ground myself and connect inwardly.

How is your life different because of meditation?

Meditation is one of three things that has changed my life, the others being prayer and my daily gratitudes. I find choosing gratitude daily, even moment to moment, allows me to stay connected to myself and my world especially when life is upside down. Meditation helps remind me how my silence can be a place of love, peace and growth when that upside down world seems too much. Practicing these three behaviors together also helps me chose to “PAUSE” before responding to difficult situations. My focus is more on “acting on life rather than reacting to it.” Meditation also has changed my life by connecting me to the wonderful humans in my sangha who are on similar paths and who create a safe place for me to go inward to learn and grow.

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

Continuity and consistency and changes in routine are challenges for me, especially when traveling. I am always happy to be back in my home morning routine, though and am grateful for that. Knowing I have Kelly’s class and community reassures me my nourishing routine is never very far away.

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

Community – for me, that community support turned the tide toward a deeper practice. Also, letting go of the “perfectionism idea of doing it right.” Just do it. Just sit and BREATHE.

What does your heart most long for?

Continued living in gratitude and joy and accepting and knowing that I, along with all sentient beings, am worthy of love and belonging, warts and all. Oh, and yes, please …… a trip to Africa. 🙂

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A Joyful Heart

Every morning our youngest son Jack wakes up with joy in his heart. “Ready to get up, Mama!” he exclaims from his crib, “Every day good day, Dada!” How fortunate we are to wake up to this joyful reminder!

Every day is a good day to awaken the quality of joy in our hearts, and to share it with the world. In this month’s blog, we explore ways to connect with the innate quality of joy that we all have a vast capacity for experiencing.

In the Buddhist teachings, joy is the third of the Four Immeasurables, which are the four limitless qualities of an awakened heart. Mudita, in Sanskrit, it is often translated as sympathetic joy or appreciative joy because it’s the ability to feel joy in your own life and to feel other people’s joy as your own.

Life is hard, and many days I find myself wishing it were just a little easier. As I lay awake in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep after tending to my little one, I thought about how I wish I could tell you all that if you just follow certain steps on the path of joy, you’ll feel happy all the time, and life will always be easy. I wish I could assure you that if you meditate every day, or dance every day, or practice gratitude every day, that you would never wake up cranky, or get sick, or lose a loved one, or have your heart broken, or be overcome with worry, or feel depressed. 

But I can’t, because it’s not true. 

My teacher Flint Sparks likes to remind me, “Meditation doesn’t make life perfect, but it makes life possible.” 

Meditation won’t make life perfect or protect us from heart-wrenching feelings or circumstances, but meditation does provide us a way to meet life’s inevitable challenges, and the feelings that arise within us as we navigate them, in a way that embraces our experience, instead of discounting it. When we allow ourselves to feel our feelings and hold them in a kind and loving space, what often follows is an experience of relief, peace, acceptance, freedom, insight, or clarity. 

Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön says, “What we are doing in this practice is moving beyond the fear of feeling.”

When I allow myself to feel however I feel without judging it as good or bad or right or wrong, it opens me up to also feel joy. 

Brené Brown writes, “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories, to appear more or less acceptable, but our wholeness — even our wholeheartedness — actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.”

What difficulties are asking for your attention and wholehearted acceptance? When you hold them in a loving and nonjudgmental space, can you feel how that opens you up to experience more joy?

I hear again and again from students who feel that they are not “successful” in their meditation practice. They feel like they are not doing it often enough or long enough or well enough. Please trust me on this: whatever you are doing is enough. The only thing that matters is that you keep showing up, for yourself, for others, for the world. Whatever that looks like, and however it feels, is okay, even when it doesn’t feel okay. The only way to fail at meditation practice is to not do it at all. 

From that place of “enough,” we can grow and expand. Acceptance frees us up. Heavy-handed expectations shut us down. What happens when you allow your experience, your practice, your life, to be enough, just as it is? 

A Simple Joy Meditation 

Settle into a relaxed and comfortable way of being in your body. Close your eyes and visualize the word “joy” written in the space in front of you. You can envision it however you like. 

Now, bring your awareness to your heart space. Use your imagination and envision that your heart has doors that open to the front. Invite the word joy into your heart. Let the word dissolve and simply rest with the experience of joy in your heart. What does joy feel like?

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Wholeness

The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories, to appear more or less acceptable, but our wholeness — even our wholeheartedness — actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls.

~ Brené Brown

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Compassionate Action

Compassionate action starts with seeing yourself when you start to make yourself right and when you start to make yourself wrong. At that point you could just contemplate the fact that there is a larger alternative to either of those, a more tender, shaky kind of place where you could live.

~ Pema Chodron

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Open to All Your Emotions

If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that – that will take you as far as you can go. And then you will understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.

~ Pema Chodron

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Awakened Heart of Bodhicitta

Bodhichitta is our heart – our wounded, softened heart. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die. This love is bodhichitta. It is gentle and warm; it is clear and sharp; it is open and spacious. The awakened heart of bodhichitta is the basic goodness of all beings.

~ Pema Chodron

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Between the Lines

BETWEEN THE LINES

I want you to pay attention
to the
spaces, the silences, the pauses,
the gaps between the words,
the white of the page behind the black of the ink,
the calm that holds the chaos that spins through
this ever-turning world and I want to remind you of
the beauty of the unspoken,
the sweetness of the unresolved,
the invisible screen that holds the light and the shade
and the mystery that permeates everything,
the mystery that reads these words now,
and pays attention
to the
spaces, the gaps, the pauses,
the endings that begin
new conversations,
and the stillness
that envelops it all.

– Jeff Foster

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