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Dakini Community Spotlight: Nancy Levack

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Name
Nancy Levack

Where you live?
Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?
During high school and college, I was a member of Sodality, a group dedicated to Mary in the Catholic Church. Meditation was a regular part of our practice.

What inspires you to meditate?
I have always been drawn to that “still small voice within”.

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Precision, Gentleness, and Letting Go

There are three very useful qualities that we can cultivate in our meditation practice, and in life: Precision, gentleness, and letting go.

Precision involves taking a good posture and bringing attention repeatedly back to the present moment. When our minds wander, we simply notice the thoughts or emotions that are there, and bring attention back to the experience of the breath, which is what brings us back to the present moment.

Gentleness involves a sense of settling and relaxing with our experience, acknowledging the movement of mind and process of thinking that can so easily take us out of the present moment. We can practice gentleness by not judging our experience.

Letting go means embracing what is, and releasing the need for things to be any different than they are right now. We are letting go of expectation, judgment, and commentary, and allowing our experience to experience what is arising in any and every moment.

“Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, and the people who are in our lives. It’s about seeing how we react to all these things. It’s seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat. It’s not about trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.”

~Pema Chodron

Meeting Ourselves with Kindness

The practice of meditation is simple, straightforward, and ordinary. What is more ordinary than sitting down and being yourself? That is the essence of meditation practice. It is simply sitting down, being still, and being aware of your experience. And yet, as we practice, we find that it is not always an easy thing to do!

When we sit down to meditate, we are not stepping out of our lives, but stepping fully into our lives and learning to make friends with ourselves and our experience, as it is. Meditation practice is about relating directly with our present moment experience and learning to peacefully abide with whatever is arising. We do this through mindfulness and awareness, united with gentleness and kindness.

In meditation, we are learning to cultivate and sustain attention in the present moment by placing it purposefully on the experience of the breath in the body. This helps our minds to settle and to become more stable and clear. The ability to pay attention in this way awakens us to our inherent kindness. Meditation connects us with an ever-present and all-accommodating sense of space –there is room for everything. Feeling this space, we can be kind to ourselves.

As we meditate, we become aware of how seductive our thoughts are and how quickly we are drawn out of the present moment, into the past or future, or some other time or place other than now. The practice is to return again and again to the present moment, which allows us to meet ourselves and our experience with kindness.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of being present. We practice being present through the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. We cultivate mindfulness and awareness though conscious and sustained placement of attention on an object of meditation. In the practice of Shamatha meditation, we use the breath. The breath is an ideal meditation object because there is no breath outside of the present moment. Every breath is a present moment breath.

Mindfulness is the aspect of mind that places attention on the breath. Awareness is the aspect of mind that notices where we are and what we are doing. Together, mindfulness and awareness keep us in the present. Awareness notices when we get lost in thought. Mindfulness brings our attention back to the present. The point of awareness, and the point of meditation, is to be present for what is happening, without getting continually swept away by our thoughts or what is happening around us.

Meditation teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says that “the breath represents being alive in the immediacy of the present moment.” We cultivate mindfulness by placing our attention repeatedly on the breath and we illuminate awareness by noticing what is happening in our experience, moment to moment. Mindfulness is about paying attention, very purposefully, in the present moment, without judgment. As we attend to the breath in meditation, we will be aware of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and sounds. That is perfectly okay! We are not trying to stop the mind from thinking or check out from our reality. We are simply cultivating a different relationship with our experience by allowing our experience to be what it is in the moment, without needing to do anything to change it or fix it. When we witness and allow, we begin to cultivate a presence that doesn’t get swept away by the movement of mind or the movement of life. We can be right here, right now.

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