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Community Spotlight: Cathy Negrel

  • January 9, 2020
  • Blog
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.

Community Spotlight: Vonnie Neufeld

  • December 13, 2019
  • Blog
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. 🙂

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?

Awakening the Noble Heart of Compassion

The noble heart of compassion is the wish to alleviate suffering for ourselves and for others. Loving kindness and compassion are distinguished from one another in the Buddhist tradition in this way: loving kindness is the wish for ourselves and others to be happy, and compassion is the wish for ourselves and others to be free of suffering. 

In our effort to awaken compassion in ourselves, our ability to feel is essential. Our emotions are not an obstacle to love and compassion — they are the gateway to awakening more love and compassion for ourselves and for the world. Sometimes emotions come in gentle waves and sometimes they come in powerful waves that take you down and tumble you to the ground. Have you ever played on the shore of the ocean and experienced how sometimes the waves come just lapping up at your toes and other times they just pummel you? Emotions can be just like that.

Our first task as meditation practitioners attempting to live with open hearts and to generate love and compassion is to allow ourselves to feel how we feel. All of the ways that we disconnect ourselves from feeling are all the ways that we disconnect from ourselves and from each other. But we need support in doing that — in feeling– because it’s hard. Sometimes it feels overwhelming or even terrifying to open fully to our emotional landscape. Allowing ourselves to feel and meeting our inner world with compassion is the antidote to feeling overwhelmed.

It’s helpful to have a community of practitioners where you can engage practices to help you open your heart. Community can also help you find a feeling of hopefulness in the face of the world’s suffering, which can feel overwhelming at times. As we open fully to our experience and relate to it with care rather than resistance, we awaken the noble heart of compassion. Just as with loving kindness, acceptance is an essential first step in the practice of compassion

Compassion practice also brings a feeling resourcefulness. It reminds us that there is something we can do to attend to our own hearts, to offer kindness and compassion to ourselves, to hold our own feelings with equanimity and kindness and care. When you become aware of the suffering of others, compassion practice offers a way to open your heart and offer care. To be met with somebody else’s caring, even if all they do is say, “I’m sorry that you’re hurting,” can help alleviate the suffering. Think about it: when you are suffering and you know that people care about you, even if they can’t take the pain away, it can be a huge relief.

A few years ago, after one of the bombings in Paris, a news story featured a young French boy and his father who were standing at one of the sites that had been attacked. They were being interviewed by the television reporter and the little boy was being asked about his experience. He was talking about how there are bad people who have done bad things and because of this they had to leave their home to go to someplace safe. The little boy was crying and clearly terrified. Then they looked over and noticed that there were flowers and candles. The little boy looked at them and asked, “Those flowers are here to protect us?” and his dad said, “Yes, they’re here to protect us.” And you could see the little boy visibly soften into some sense of safety that there were these things here to give him hope, to remind him that people care, to show them that they’re not alone. 

Sometimes when we’re suffering or we are with someone who is suffering, the suffering can feel like it eclipses everything else. Compassion practice can remind us that that’s not all that’s happening right now. Even in the midst of pain there is the possibility of joy. Even in the midst of sadness there is the possibility of happiness. When we feel like suffering is the only thing that exists, we have “dukha samadhi”, which is single-pointed focus on suffering. That’s all we can see. Compassion practice gives us a little bit of perspective and lets us see that while there is suffering here there are also lots of other things.

As we feel suffering and relate to it with care rather than resistance, we awaken the noble heart of compassion.

Tonglen Meditation: The Practice of Compassion

Tonglen is a Buddhist meditation practice that awakens compassion. Tonglen is a Tibetan word – tong means to take, len means to give, so it is often called the practice of giving and taking (or sending and taking). In Buddhism, we talk about Samsara, which is the cycle of pain and suffering that we are all caught in. This cycle is perpetuated by a misunderstanding. That misunderstanding is thinking that to be happy we must reject what is painful and seek what is pleasurable. On the Buddhist path, we are invited to step out of the cycle of suffering by confronting the misunderstanding the fuels it. Tonglen is one practice that helps us do that. We are invited to invite in what is painful and to offer out what is pleasurable. This can be a very challenging thing to do and it takes courage to open our hearts in this way. 

Pema Chödrön is an inspirational teacher for this practice. Her book: Tonglen, the Path of Transformation, is an incredible resource. She writes: 

“All sentient beings without exception have bodhichitta, which is the inherent tenderness of the heart, its natural tendency to love and care of others. But over time, in order to shield ourselves from feeling pain and discomfort, we have erected solid barriers that cover up our tenderness and vulnerability. As a result, we often experience alienation, anger, aggression, and a loss of meaning in our lives – both individually and on a global scale. Somehow, in the pursuit of happiness, we have unwittingly created greater suffering in our lives. Tonglen, or the practice of sending and taking, reverses this process of hardening and shutting down by cultivating love and compassion. In Tonglen practice, instead of running away from pain and discomfort, we acknowledge them and own them fully. Instead of dwelling on our own problems, we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and appreciate our shared humanity. Then the barriers start to dissolve, our hearts and minds begin to open.” 

We all have exquisite vulnerability and tenderness. This practice reveals that. We spend a lot of time covering that up and so this practice takes courage. While doing this practice, it is common to find that it is very challenging to do, and it brings us into immediate contact with all the ways that we usually turn away from or close ourselves off from feeling pain or discomfort (our own or another’s). Seeing this, we have an opportunity to begin to open. This is an extraordinary gift. 

Tonglen is a practice that opens you up to see and connect with the pain in the world around you. It can feel overwhelming at first, but then it becomes an incredible resource. Seeing the suffering of the world, we can begin to turn towards it, instead of away from it, and feel compassion for our shared human experience. And we can awaken the wish for everyone, including ourselves, to be happy and free from pain. Noticing a moment of suffering in another being, you can pause, open your heart, breathe it in, and breathe out anything that you imagine might offer comfort. 

Formal Tonglen practice has four parts:

1. Open your heart. Flash on a sense of openness, inside you and all around you. Recognize that this space is always available to you, and you can come back at anytime and reconnect with it.

2. Work with the textures of suffering and it’s absence and begin to synchronize these with the breath. Breathing in, open to the qualities of suffering – dark, heavy, hot, uncomfortable, agitated (whatever they might be for you). Breathing in, extend outward the qualities of freedom – light, fluid, cool, relief, sweetness. 

3. Consider a specific life experience of pain and open to it completely. Breathing in, be completely willing to acknowledge the pain of it and to feel it. Breathing out, offer whatever you might imagine the antidote to be. Spend enough time considering the circumstances so that you evoke genuine feeling, but don’t get lost in the details of the story. Begin to let go of the specifics and let the qualitative experience ride the breath in and out. Continually moving with the breath, and still aware of the sense of openness, so that you are like an open window. 

4. Expand the practice out to include as many beings as you can imagine. Opening to the pain of the world as you breathe in, sending out love, light, healing, joy, peace….whatever it feels to you that the world needs at that moment.

Always begin and end your Tonglen practice with at least a few minutes of Shamatha meditation, simply being with your breath. And at the end of your practice, offer a dedication of merit, offering your efforts with the wish that all beings everywhere (including yourself) find happiness and freedom. 

Loving Kindness: Expanding our Circle of Self

  • September 20, 2019
  • Blog

loving kindness

“By learning to attend closely to another sentient being, with a quiet mind and an open heart, we break down the barriers between our suffering and others’ suffering.” ~ B. Alan Wallace

Loving kindness is a way of expanding our circle of self. It starts with really connecting with our own longing for happiness and a fundamental belief that we are worthy of being happy. We could work with cultivating loving kindness for ourselves for the rest of our lives, and this would be a very worthwhile journey. The foundation of loving kindness is an unconditional acceptance of ourselves and our experience in the moment. Our circle widens gradually from there to include all living beings. 

The Opposite of Loving Kindness

If loving kindness has an opposite, it is judgment. Judgment and loving kindness cannot co-exist, but it is possible to hold even our judgments in the embrace of loving kindness. We are human after all, and judgment will inevitably arise. We often spend so much time judging ourselves and others, and we are often hardest on ourselves because we feel unworthy of love. It’s exhausting to keep fueling our stories of unworthiness, and yet somehow we do. They’ve been fed (often unknowingly) by our parents, our teachers, our peers, our communities, and our society. The path of loving kindness starts with being where we are, and who we are, and feeling what we feel, all while dropping the story line, which is so often permeated with judgment. 

Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray writes:

“As practitioners on the path, we need to open ourselves to our selves. We need to provide a warm, open, welcoming embrace for ourselves. And ‘our selves’ means whatever shows up in our experience….The number one principle of maitri is: we mustn’t judge. Don’t judge. Simply be with experience without judging. This is really difficult….Now some of us come to really positive conclusions about ourselves—that’s judging. But equally, if we have an emotion or we say something to somebody that upsets them or we miss something or our meditation (according to us) isn’t going well, then we judge ourselves negatively. Maitri is ‘not judging.’ ”

My Happiness is Your Happiness

The ultimate expression of loving kindness is when we realize the profound and inextricable interconnectedness of all sentient beings. There is ultimately no self and other. When I realize that your happiness and my happiness are not two separate things; when I work for your happiness, that is the cause of my own happiness. When I work for my own happiness, that is also of benefit to you. There is no ultimate division or separation between me and you.

Guided Practice: Loving Kindness Meditation

There are five different stages of loving kindness practice. Each stage widens our circle of care. The practice of loving kindness begins with extending the hand of friendship to ourselves first, and then opening ourselves and extending this warmth and care to others.  We move from ourselves to offering loving kindness to a loved one, then to a neutral person or a stranger (somebody that you don’t have strong feelings about one way or the other), then to a difficult or challenging person, then to all beings. 

Begin by spending a few minutes of settling into your seat and connecting with your body and your breath. Establishing a stable ground from which to practice loving kindness.

Feel your body. Sense the alignment of your body from the inside out and sit with a long spine and an open heart.

Connect with your heart. Rest attention in your heart space for a few moments and notice what you are present to.

Bring attention to your breath, without needing to breath in any particular way, just allow attention to rest on the sensations of your body breathing. Rest with the sweet simplicity of the breath flowing in and out.

The practice of loving kindness begins with befriending yourself as you are. Simply sitting and being and breathing allows you to begin to know yourself and love yourself, as you are.

As you enter the practice of loving kindness, begin with a gesture of loving kindness towards yourself, perhaps by placing one or both of your hands over your heart space. Extend the warmth of friendship to yourself, from yourself.

Now, having connected with yourself in this way, extend loving kindness to yourself using these traditional phrases:

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be peaceful.
May I live with ease.

See if there is anything else that you want to offer to yourself. Offer what you feel that you most need to receive. Allow yourself to feel fulfilled and freed in the deepest possible way.

Now, turn your attention now towards someone that you love and care about. Make a heart connection with this person.

Take a moment to really see them, not just with your eyes, but with your whole being. See them and receive them. From you heart to theirs, offer them loving kindness:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.

See if there is anything else that you would like to offer this person, knowing that there is no limit to what you can give. See your loved one fulfilled by the deepest source of happiness and freed from every source of suffering.

Now, turn your attention to an acquaintance – someone you don’t know very well but know well enough to call them to mind and connect with them. Without knowing much about this person, you can trust that this person, just like you, would like to be happy and free from suffering. With this understanding, extend loving kindness to them:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.

See if there is anything else that you would like to offer to this person. Trust whatever comes. Imagine them happy and free.

Now, turn your attention towards someone that you consider a difficult or challenging person. This person too, just like you, desires happiness and freedom. Open your heart to this person as best you can and extend loving kindness to them:

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.
May you live with ease.

Extend any other offerings of loving kindness that you’d like to give to this person. See them filled with happiness and freed from pain.

Now, open your heart in all directions. Imagine threads of connection extending from your heart to all of the people in your life. Let the feeling sense of opening your heart continue and imagine threads of connection to living beings across time and space, as many as you can imagine. Imagine that your heart really is this big — there is no limit to the love that you have to give. Radiating out, like sunlight, to the whole world, these wishes:

May all beings everywhere be happy.
May all beings everywhere be healthy.
May all beings everywhere be peaceful.
May all beings everywhere live with ease.

Offer any other wishes of loving kindness that you’d like to offer the world.

Allow yourself to rest with whatever feelings of open-heartedness and well-being are here for you to feel. Connecting with your body, your heart, your breath. Feel what you feel. This practice begins with befriending yourself and ends in the same way. Welcome your hands to your heart again, or any other gesture of self acceptance and love. Let yourself really receive this love.

Bring the palms of your hands together now in a gesture of prayer in front of your heart. Offer a dedication of your practice:

Mall all beings be well.
May all beings be happy.
Peace. Peace. Peace.

Community Spotlight: Eugene Stuckless

  • September 7, 2019
  • Blog
Where do you live?

Tokyo, Japan

How did you come to meditation?

Wanted to stop hiding from my problems 🙂

What inspires you to meditate?

How well it works! The peace of mind I can bring into the world helps me to be a better human to myself and those around me.

What does your meditation practice look like?

Daily morning journaling for 3 pages, at least 12 minutes of Shamatha meditation, and Yoga Nidra nearly every other day.

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

Doing my meditation as soon as I wake up in the morning so I can start my day on the right foot.

How is your life different because of meditation?

I am able to rest in the peace that is my mind when difficulties arise. I have a strategy to get back to the “original state” when I find myself out on a limb.

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

I think the biggest challenge has been learning to have patience! Allowing my life to unfold instead of trying to control every little aspect is a hard practice, and a lifelong one. The mantra “sometimes, it’s like this” tends to come in handy for me in that regard.

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

Meditation works. If you develop a small daily practice you will notice your world change, guaranteed.

What does your heart most long for?

That all the suffering in the world would cease.

Community Spotlight: Sumina Bhatti

  • August 10, 2019
  • Blog
Where do you live?

Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?

I started meditation in 2015 through Kelly Lindsey’s weekly offering, and loved her very approachable, and gentle style of teaching.

What inspires you to meditate?

Peace of mind, overall wellness, and ability to be more empathetic with people in my life.

What does your meditation practice look like?

I try (try being the operative word!) to have a daily practice of 20-30 minutes, however, for the first 3 years, I really only had a practice once a week or so, sitting with the class. Even with once-a-week attendance, I found there to be enough benefit to continue going to classes.

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

I have a meditation area in one of my rooms, and a small shelf with some candles and incense with my meditation cushion. I feel having a dedicated area helps to give me a ‘space’ to sit and practice that feels special.

How is your life different because of meditation?

So many ways! I find that I am calmer overall, a better driver, eat more mindfully (and have lost some weight…. nice side effect!), am able to connect with people on a deeper level as well.

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

Keeping consistency. Life gets in the way a lot and my practice becomes inconsistent. Also, having a busy and active mind. Often, when I am sitting on the cushion, my mind feels wild and untamed. However, I stay with it as well as I am able to.

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

Just start! Focus on a few minutes a day. There are wonderful apps and online opportunities, so there’s no excuse!

What does your heart most long for?

For each of us to be connected to our truth.

Community Spotlight: Lauren Hubele

  • July 13, 2019
  • Blog

 

Where do you live?

San Marcos, Texas

How did you come to meditation?

I came to meditation when it was prescribed to me by my primary care doctor. I had a recurrence of melanoma cancer which is the disease that took my mother’s life when she was only 25. Facing it a second time was a huge shock after I thought I had taken important preventative steps and made significant life changes. Apparently, there was still room for me to grow and change. While it took several years for me to cultivate a committed practice that first suggestion by a very evolved practitioner changed my life.

What inspires you to meditate?

The answer to that question changes over time. Right now what motivates me is what seems to be occurring off the cushion. The self-awareness I have gained is both remarkable and humbling. I now can catch myself repeating a behavior I thought I moved beyond- but the fact that I catch myself and can stop it is amazing. I also find that I am much more able to show up, connect, and reap the benefits of experiences I never could take in before. This is not only a gift to myself but to my children and my husband.

What does your meditation practice look like?

Two years ago I committed to practicing first thing each morning and I’ve kept to that schedule wherever I am. At home in San Marcos, we have a screened in porch off the kitchen and I love to sit just before dawn as the birds begin their day. I set up my mat and Dakini Meditative meditation cushion each night before bed so there is nothing to break the flow. I have a dream of a walking meditation path in my back garden- perhaps I can create one this fall.

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

Same time, same place, unless I am traveling. I am a creature of habit.

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

This year I had some close encounters with my shadow self. I found it extremely uncomfortable to sit with the parts of myself that I wasn’t particularly proud of. On days it was just too much to bear I would read. Thich Nhat Hahn’s book on Fear brought me great comfort.

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

Having a community, a Sangha, to practice with weekly, is always helpful but even more so when you are just beginning. If you can not locate a community near you I would suggest joining one online like Karuna’s Mind Oasis or Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. Both offer rich and rewarding classes as well as opportunities to sit together.

What does your heart most long for?

Building a community here in San Marcos, my new hometown. While I love the versatility of meeting online I do spend most of my day on the computer and would love to connect with individuals where I live.

Community Spotlight: Henry Morris

  • June 16, 2019
  • Blog

Henry Morris

 

Where do you live?

Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?

That’s quite the story! The short version is in my early twenties I became severely ill which turned into a chronic condition. At the time I was unsure if I would survive it. I became interested in meditation because I felt that it was paramount that I learned how to cultivate peace in my mind in order to offer forgiveness to others, if it was indeed the end of my time on earth. The ironic thing is meditation did bring that peace for me, and the forgiveness, and I firmly believe that is what saved me and set me on my journey to wholeness and health.

What inspires you to meditate?

The therapeutic benefits that now are infused into every facet of my life are my number one motivation. Also it just makes me a better person and a lot easier to be around. I believe that it all starts with healing our own hearts. If the world had the opportunity and resources to heal the wounds they carry around, the whole world would know peace. I’m inspired to continue my meditation practice to display a different way of living, and inspire others to search themselves and find that healing that is available to us all.

What does your meditation practice look like?

My meditation practice is pretty informal these days. I try to practice meditation and prayer daily but often it happens on the go. I feel like at this point (almost 10 years into my practice), my practice is such a big part of everything in my life, it has become naturally integrated into all I do. So even if I don’t make the time to sit and be still, it does provide space in my mind while I go about my daily tasks. My meditation practice also includes a lot of singing and dancing, my two favorite forms of expression.

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

Yes! I like to read inspiring spiritual texts, everything from Buddhist Sutras to the Bible. And singing is always a part of my practice as well. It helps to remind me that my voice is powerful and needed in the world.

How is your life different because of meditation?

My life post meditation practice is like night and day to who I was previously. Being mindful of my inner and outer life has healed me in ways I can’t quite explain. I’ve found a new way to relate to my thoughts and my life. It has given me purpose and shown me that I am worthy. As someone who has struggled with mental health issues my entire life, I really feel that I wouldn’t still be here had I not been introduced to meditation and the loving and supportive community that came along with that. I am so grateful to Kelly and her compassionate wisdom that has helped me let go of so much trauma. She showed me how to really love others, but most importantly, how to love me for me.

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

I think the biggest challenge has been learning to have patience! Allowing my life to unfold instead of trying to control every little aspect is a hard practice, and a lifelong one. The mantra “sometimes, it’s like this” tends to come in handy for me in that regard.

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

Keep going! Reach out for support and encouragement when you need it. Find a community of like-minded people to practice with and support you. Find a teacher who speaks to your heart. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. It’s not a race to the finish line. The healing journey is not linear, and can often feel discouraging. But having the intention to open your heart makes mountains move. You’re doing a great job having gotten started in the first place. You are so needed here!

What does your heart most long for?

My heart most longs for all beating hearts to find peace. I long for a day where hunger and loneliness disappear for all people, regardless of who they are. Especially all people from all walks of life who are marginalized or treated as unworthy. I want all people the world over to know they are needed here, they have purpose, and they are loved more than they could ever imagine.

Sacred Simplicity

Guest Blog Contributed by Brooke Binstock //

When I sit down to contemplate simplicity, I am struck by how deeply spiritual and sacred the practice of boiling things down to their essence feels. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated and even obsessed with getting down to the bottom of things.  I always questioned motivation and maintained a healthy level of skepticism when witnessing other human beings appear so certain in their convictions. I feel committed to knowing what exists beyond the labels and the masks that we are so prone to wear. Especially now, in an age where distraction is at our fingertips at every given moment, I find particular importance in finding out what is really here for us, under the surface.

Every other week, I have the privilege to teach yin yoga and meditation to men at a conscious sober living house in Austin, Texas called Tribe. Having gone through aspects of recovery myself, I understand how deeply raw and vulnerable it is to feel so exposed during those early stages.  It is a truly humbling journey that really begs us to take a deeper look within. At the beginning of each class, I do a check-in with the guys.  In our last meeting, one of the men sitting in the front row, was wearing a shirt that pictured a camping style coffee mug with the words, “keep it simple’ underneath it.

During his check-in, he pointed to his shirt and reflected that it has been an important part of his recovery to simplify his life. As he spoke, I could tell that the other men seemed to be in agreement with him. He shared that when things feel overly complicated, that is when overwhelm and anxiety can creep back in along with all the old behavior patterns. Simplicity is a sweet spot and a portal to silently connect with something greater than ourselves. We had a beautiful conversation about minimalism and then began our yoga practice together, quietly.

We have a tendency as human beings to make things more complicated than they are. A quote often attributed to Confucius comes to mind: “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  Likely as a defense mechanism, we make up stories in our heads about what we think is happening—we mind-read, future-think, obsess over what-ifs, and go into catastrophic thought patterns.  We take refuge in trying to figure things out instead of floating in the grey area because it feels safer.

However, what if we actually challenged ourselves to lean into simplicity more? What might we find underneath all the story?  We may begin to slough off the unnecessary layers and expose what is truly important and live with greater levels of authenticity. I love this inquiry by Buddhist psychologist Flint Sparks, who asks “How simple are you willing to let this be?”  I challenge myself to consider this often and it leaves me feeling relieved and spacious.

In a practical sense, we can rely on meditation to bring us closer to our deepest essence. I recall from my earlier days as a practitioner, being introduced to a technique where you visualize peeling back layers of an onion as if they are aspects of your identity.  This really touched me. It helped me see that beyond all the labels I choose for myself, or that have been chosen for me, at the very core we are but pure emptiness. The practice of simplifying things for ourselves is in itself deeply sacred. Who am I if not this label? At the core, underneath all our behaviors and markers of self, we are vast and more connected than we think.

We can also use the breath to illustrate this concept of emptiness. The other morning, during a weekly group meditation that I attend, we discussed the natural pause that occurs at the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale—Kumbhaka; how, without even trying, we experience breath naturally on its own. We don’t need to force our will on the breath for it to happen—it just does. What if, in each moment, we could consider simplicity as a form of trust? Just as an exhale inevitably follows an inhale, we can surrender a thought that isn’t serving us and lean into a deeper truth. We may discover what is really happening for us in the moment and connect to the vastness of sacred simplicity.

This summer at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, Kelly Lindsey and I will be exploring sacred simplicity during our retreat August 5-9. We would be honored to hold space for you there. Learn more here.

You can find out more about Brooke and her heart-centered offerings at her website: https://www.opencirclehealingaustin.com/

 

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