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Community Spotlight: Kaleigh Carter

Where do you live?

Austin, TX

How did you come to meditation?

I came to meditation because my body forced me to slow down.  During this period of my life I was doing yoga five or six times a week and I loved the way the movement of my body could create a clarity in my mind—without having to sit still! “Yoga is my meditation,” was almost a mantra for me, which wasn’t entirely untrue; however, I recognize now that my relationship to it at that time was more about trying to escape my mind rather than make friends with it.

After herniating two disks in my low back I was searching for ways to continue to experience that feeling I’d come to cherish. Since I couldn’t move the way I was accustomed to, eventually I was led to meditation, which by no means gave me the same feeling when I started out, but has had so many more myriad benefits in my life since establishing a consistent practice.

What inspires you to meditate?

I’m inspired to meditate by my firm conviction that meditation can lead to a happier and more peaceful life that will ripple out to in turn create a happier and more peaceful world. I have a deep yearning to help make the world a better place, and I used to believe that this would be something I would accomplish through a job or career or by some act of going out into the world and doing.

Now I realize that I can make a huge difference by going within and learning how to be in the world. This doesn’t mean lack of action in the world, it means that because of my time in meditation that I can act in different and more beneficial ways. This is oftentimes what motivates me to get on my cushion when I’m feeling resistance.

I recently found great inspiration in this quote, which I feel sums it all up:

“The principle of nowness is very important to any effort to establish an enlightened society. You may wonder what the best approach is to helping society and how you can know that what you are doing is authentic and good. The only answer is nowness. The way to relax, or rest the mind in nowness, is through the practice of meditation. In meditation you take an unbiased approach. You let things be as they are, without judgment, and in that way you yourself learn to be.” – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

What does your meditation practice look like?

Right now I’m in Dakini Meditative’s Meditation Teacher Training and we’re studying Culadasa’s instructions for shamatha meditation as elucidated in The Mind Illuminated text. So, every day my practice is 20-30 minutes of meditating with my breath as the object. My current focus within each session is on finding or conjuring a felt sense of joy in my body while I meditate so that it becomes something I automatically want to return to day after day.

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

I have a little altar with my Dakini meditation cushions set up in front of it (I use both a gomden and a zafu for extra height and support for my low back). My altar has pictures of people who inspire me to meditate, pretty artwork, and crystals on it. I try to always take a few minutes to move my spine before I sit, and I burn Palo Santo to cleanse the space. At the end of every practice I dedicate my time sitting in the hopes that all beings will one day be happy and free from pain.

How is your life different because of meditation?

I feel like I’m a completely different person since meditation has come into my life. Since it’s one of the most important things in my life now I take it into consideration during most other activities of my life. I don’t drink anymore (which was a big part of my life pre-meditation) mainly because I know the headache the day after will prevent me from meditating. I try to stay well-rested so that I can have a shot at having a good practice.

In addition to practicing better self-care because of my practice I also have healthier relationships with myself and others in my life. Meditation allows me to have clearer seeing of my habitual responses, and often (not always) helps me find the ability to pause so that instead of reacting in my instinctual way I can choose how to respond to a situation. I have much more patience because of my practice and I feel like I’ve become more generous and more compassionate to myself and others.

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

I’ve probably faced all of the challenges in the book: doubt, resistance, dullness, agitation, physical pain, finding consistency… One of the biggest challenges was when I was doing a practice that required elaborate visualizations. My brain isn’t that great at conjuring up images, so I constantly struggled to have the motivation to practice. Then I would hear about others who were doing the same practice and having amazing results and I would judge myself, leading to huge resistance to practicing. Another challenge I’ve faced is simply the ability to find the right time of day to practice. Even when I’m well-rested, it’s hard for me to wake up and feel alert enough to practice first thing in the morning, however if I wait until later in the day it’s easy to forget or end up just fitting it in right before bed.

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

There are three main things I would share with someone who is just beginning.

1) Don’t get discouraged when you begin meditating and it seems like you’re actually having way more thoughts now! It’s actually just that you’re becoming aware of all the thoughts that were already there. And, they’re not supposed to go away… Contrary to popular depictions, the point of meditating isn’t to stop your thoughts and only feel calm and peaceful. It is to welcome whatever is there, just as it is, with no judgment— even if that is a racing mind, angry thoughts, sadness, joy, boredom—whatever! It’s all okay.

2) There are many “flavors” of meditation. If you try one and it doesn’t work for you, don’t give up on meditation altogether! Keep trying different styles until you find the one that makes you want to keep doing it, while also keeping in mind that meditation doesn’t come naturally to us and that whatever type you land on will feel different to you every day according to your particular circumstances.

3) Find a meditation teacher. There’s only so much you can learn from reading about it on the internet. Finding a real, live meditation teacher will help you to overcome the resistance, the doubt, and other obstacles that will certainly arise in your practice.

What does your heart most long for?

My heart most longs for a peaceful, loving society that is based upon mutual respect and understanding of the fact that all beings (not just humans) want to be happy and free from suffering.

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