Friday, July 8, 2011

Episode 18: "Looking for Balance" — Courtney's Story

Right click here to download the mp3.

Art by Gina Rose Halper
Part of the aim of this podcast is to give voice to our stories as Daughters of Mormonism. This episode is an interview with Courtney, one of our panelists.

She shares her path in finding great health and connection with the Earth and the Divine through yoga and Buddhism.

Courtney will be watching the comments to answer questions or discuss issues raised in her interview.

Resources Courtney Recommends:


    1. Courtney, you did a great job in this interview. What an interesting blend of philosophies and beliefs! I've always felt a real pull towards Buddism and the little parts I've learned about it fill my mind with peace. I often feel very jumbled with the LDS worldview.

      I wish I could go to your yoga class. I'd be the very un-graceful one in the back!

      Sybil, I love the artwork used here. Thanks for providing a link to the artist!

    2. Thank you Lotus, I've been so nervous that my thoughts were all over the place. I'm glad it came across well. And the physical skill level in my yoga class is still very beginner, which is great for me too. :)

      I want to add a book to my list above. I've finally had a chance to sit down and read a book that was recommended to me about yoga called The Wisdom of Yoga (A guide to extraordinary living) by Stephen Cope. It's a fascinating blend of personal stories alongside commentary on the Yoga Sutra (which it includes the full text of) and it also has a great appendix that explores the intersections and places where yoga and buddhism diverge. It's been an engaging read as well as a wonderful resource for understand the ways in which yoga can help on the path to true inner peace and living unfettered. I highly recommend it.

    3. i really like what you said about how life is bigger than doing the church thing (i know i'm summarizing ... hope that's okay). i really think you're right. the church thing is good at taking up all your time, but then when do you live? i mean really live? sometimes i feel like the church culture is actually against us connecting with other cultures (unless it's missionary work) and against us connecting with the earth, not to mention the divine feminine.

      i wish i could come take your yoga class with you. it sounds really good. do you have any tips for finding a good class? what kinds of things should i look for? how do i tell if there's a good teacher who will teach me stuff the way yours does?

    4. I got lucky with my teacher I think. The only things that I would have known about her without working with her are that she practices Hatha and Iyengar, which are both more about the physical manifestations and poses and styles than the spiritual beliefs of the teacher. You could certainly ask around and see what different teachers feel about chakras and Buddhism and whether they include principles and teachings from the Yoga Sutra in their classes. A studio that looks less like a gym might be a good clue, but it may make no difference.

    5. Anonymous, I've been thinking about what you said about the church taking up all our time, and I do feel that it's not exactly what Zion means to me. How can anything that adds stress to an already stressful family life when time is so precious be an inherent good? I've really struggled with this, especially when I want to do other things with my family in exchange for that time that I think would benefit us more as spiritual or just human beings.

    6. thanks for the yoga tips. i'll be on the lookout.

      you know, the church really does add a lot of stress in addition to taking up so much time. it's like the men are so busy with meetings that they can't possibly be husbands or fathers except for maybe a couple of hours a week. and the women are given such a huge to-be-a-good-mormon-woman list in addition to callings and often children, that they/we fall into a space of pretending and surviving.

      i think that's why your talking about how yoga has helped you really resonated with me. because it sounds like it takes you fully out of that survival space and puts you in living-right-now space.

    7. Great episode. I want to hear more about the Buddhist aspect of how you relate to the world, Courtney. Like some of the details-of-life type examples. I really like this idea and I'm looking for ways to apply it. Are there questions you ask yourself or daily rituals you do?

      Also, you mentioned how you really respond to ritual and ceremony. I would LOVE to hear more about this. Like a lot more. What kinds of rituals do you do? How do you ceremonialize things? (I don't think ceremonialize is a word, but it works.)

      I guess what I'm hoping for are ways to physically incorporate what you're talking about here, but I don't have any idea where to start.

      Thanks again for your interview. It has sparked something in me.

      (And I'm with Lotus: awesome art, Sybil.)

    8. Thanks for loving the art, Lotus and Tara.

    9. Courtney, do you have a plan of action for getting your family to be sustainable?

    10. Tara, I'm still figuring a lot of that out myself. :) As far as a Buddhist worldview, I feel like the layers are being pulled back for me one by one lately. I'm beginning to see reality for what it is and I can feel the manifestations of delusion and aversion and attachment being stripped away. Part of this is from learning to meditate more effectively and studying the Yoga Sutra, which contains most of what the Buddha eventually came to understand. I'm also seeing the outward symptoms of these afflictions in others, which has helped me to be easier on them as well as myself, something that I've always struggled with as a Christian - even though I could accept Christ's admonition to not judge and have charity for others, it was hard to not see myself at odds with people around me and to not take how they acted or thought personally. This new view has given me more freedom to let go of those negative thoughts and inner criticisms, and meditating helps keep me focused on these reminders.

      As far as rituals and practical application, defining my yoga and meditation practice as something other than exercise and making it a consistency has helped me to feel grounded and given me space to reverence the time as a ceremony for myself, my mind, my body and my well being. It makes the whole "care for yourself so you can care for others" a reality. I've also used mala beads in my mantra practice, which really does help focus any positive intention you want to incorporate.

      I also find power in small actions that I've appropriated from other traditions. Lighting shabbat candles, eating certain foods on certain occasions, wearing special underwear ;) are all ways that I feel tied to Judaism, something that has long held intrigue for me because of their rituals and strong traditions. But I also have in recent years explored other Christian denominations around the holidays with my children to give them a sense of inclusive ritual rather than exclusive and to feel more connected to others in communities. That's not as related to where I'm at right now, but it's something practical I've done to physically connect myself to certain aspects of my faith along my journey.

      Right now I can't think of anything else I do regularly as ritualistic, but I'm also trying to slowly incorporate some of the pagan traditions that connect me to Goddess and Earth (thanks in part to Jenni) and I have merged some of that with my yoga practice. In fact, on a recent trip to the beach, I had some amazing moments connecting to the waves and the moon while meditating or practicing poses on the sand in the early morning. It was very powerful to bring those aspects together.

    11. Our plan for sustainability? To move. :)

      We're actually currently looking quite hard for a place to settle down and build the life we imagine best suits our beliefs. We've just initiated a consumer fast (which feels surprisingly refreshing) and it has prompted us to want to downgrade and de-clutter and finally make the leap to a place that has the type of land and natural surroundings that we want. We want to play a role in preserving some of the wild places that still exist, or at the very least, do our part with some small space that we can connect to. We're looking for enough land for a cow, horse, sheep, chickens, a large garden and some small crops like quinoa and other items that we don't want to import but love to eat. We may not find something that fits it all, but we're looking.

      We're also planning, after selling our house, to be nomadic for a while. I'm actually really excited about this. We're going to put the major stuff in storage and test out some areas before settling, but we're going to live without furniture and go very minimalist for at least 6 months. I don't know why, but it sounds very appealing to just have floor mats for beds, a handful of practical clothes and minimal technology for a while. We think it would be great for our kids too to learn to live without the things that they already believe are necessities, and to have a clearer picture of how much of the world lives. We're hoping this will jump start some of the other changes long term that have been harder to implement as well to lessen our personal impact on the Earth and our ties to corporations. We'll see if we can really do it. :)

    12. What a beautiful interview, Courtney! I love your continued path of searching... I think that is why I have always been drawn to the 13th article of faith "indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things... If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." This means to me that we believe in all thing... and we seek for good in all things, not just limiting ourselves to Mormonism. I have read some philosophers discuss how Christ likely could have traveled through Asia as a young adult, learning, teaching and growing. Although there is no biblical evidence of this, I like the idea because it shares the truth in other faiths, but does not deny the divinity of Christ or the atonement.

      Like you, I find the corporate church to be an animal wherein I do not feel the spirit. It is funny, after years of living in Australia, I went to Utah to visit a friend and attended church. I imagined that there would be a great spirit and I would really relax and enjoy myself. I didn't. I didn't feel the spirit. At all. One of the speakers bore his testimony of insurance fraud. Gospel Doctrine was shocking and racist. Relief Society was just a waste of time. Suffice to say, like you, I am more and more convinced that the gospel of Christ is not actually at home in the corporate church.

      You have such a beautiful soul-- I feel warm today thinking of this podcast. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. I feel peaceful as a result of what you have shared.

    13. This is going to sound weird, but I thought it was so interesting how positive your experience was when you were "coming back" to the church. Do you think that going inactive and then returning could possibly be a way to have a better experience? Like the members and leadership would be more open and responsive?

    14. Spunky, it's interesting that you mention Christ traveling though Asia, because I've recently given some thought to how I believe that the Buddha, like Patanjali (the supposed author of the Yoga Sutra) were inspired to be precursor's to Christ's teachings. I see their own teachings as being about how we should treat ourselves and find true inner peace and happiness, and that Christ built on that by focusing more on how we should turn that outward and treat others.

      What frustrates me in the church is that we don't even have language or tools within the culture to acknowledge this missing aspect. We gloss over the features of what we should be doing with ourselves, which gets lost in the attitude that it's better to do for others above all else, and if anyone disagrees, they seem selfish. I think this notion is false, and that it doesn't have to be one or the other as we assume. I think one leads to the other, and that it doesn't make positive and loving treatment of our fellow travelers any less vital.

      In fact, I find it ironic that one of the Church's biggest selling points is the Plan of Happiness, and that I have a hard time seeing that many members exhibit or possess the type of true happiness and peace that I've been looking for. And yet, if I were to get up on Sunday and start talking about delusion and greed and aversion and overcoming afflictions to let go of suffering, I'm not sure I would be understood. Yes, I could find different ways of talking about it, but in the end, it's hard to acknowledge that much of what is at the root of my issues with the Church have to do with seeing these afflictions widespread within the culture. I hope that one day these types of conversations will be more common within the church community and that more of us will come to an awareness of that Pure part of ourselves.

    15. KM, I'm sure that in general it's a better experience to have people pay extra positive attention to you and bend over backwards to help you feel included because they're afraid you'll stop coming to church and they still want you there because they feel responsible. It's altogether different when people start acting like they could care less if you stop coming because it's clear how different your beliefs are. :) But neither is a reality I want.

    16. Courtney,
      so so much of your story resonates with me, and yet again I'm so grateful I have found you in cyberspace, but am a little sad that you live so far away. We could totally be yoga buddies :) and I feel the same about not having discovered it for myself up until recently.
      It really struck me when you were talking about everyone having their own journey. I think that if people aren't ready to learn they won't listen to me anyway, and if they are, they're not gonna need me to tell them anything either. It made me realize that I'm really just in charge of my own progress, and everyone else gets to do their own thing too. It's quite liberating to not be in charge of anyone, not have to fix anyone, not have to figure things out for others.
      Anyway, too many things that I could go on and on about forever, so I'll just say that you are a most intriguing woman, and I can't wait to get to know you better :)

      Hey, do you know about the "Chicken tender" blog?? Sounds right up your alley...

    17. Courtney,

      I'll join the chorus in telling you how fascinating you are. :-) I really enjoyed getting to learn more about you and hope we'll get to meet up next time you are in Utah. I've been really interested in meditation ever since listening to Phil McLemore's mormon stories podcast. I struggle with having meaningful prayer time and I think meditation would really help with that for me. Now I just need to figure out a time when I could do it with little kids around.

      I'd love to talk to you more about your food choices also. We try to be mostly vegan/vegetarian and eat whole foods as much as possible. I'd love to hear more about how and why you decided to incorporate animal products more in your diet. Don't feel like you need to go into all that here in the comments (unless you want to of course). We can save it for another time.

    18. Thanks Juliane. I wish we lived closer too. :) And I love what you've also shared about your yoga experiences. We should talk sometime about it. (I'm starting to wish everyone practiced yoga so that it could serve as a backdrop to conversations much the way Mormonism does)

      It really is liberating to know that we're only responsible for our own journeys. I've even recently come to that conclusion with my children. Not in a way of absolving myself of being responsible for teaching them, but I've never felt comfortable with the church rhetoric that I hear where people express that they have to do x, y and z (as prescribed by the Church) in their homes so that they can know that they did everything they could and if their children stray, it's not their fault. So many things wrong with that in my mind. I want to create an environment where my children know what I think and believe and why I do the things I do, but I want to acknowledge that their "right" path may look nothing like what I envision or expect. I want to accept that now, and not just when they veer from my silly expectations of "should". They are fully formed beings in many ways, and entitled to their own path just as I am, and I don't actually believe I'm responsible because I do or don't do things.

      And I comment at Chicken Tender as CC. I actually just met Chandelle on our recent road trip up the coast. She really does live in a beautiful untamed wilderness and she continues to inspire me and many of my perceptions about what I can do better and what I need to let go of.

    19. Thank you Katrina. Meditation is a hard practice to incorporate because it can't usually be done without the right frame and circumstance. I'm struggling to find the time myself. But I recently read that in countries that are primarily Buddhist, children are prepared and taught the principles of meditation, but aren't really expected to meditate until it is right for them. I feel the same way. I'm studying in the time I have with the kids to understand the power and methods behind true meditation so that when I have the time on a regular basis, I will be able to put it to better use. It's something that the Wisdom of Yoga teaches as well.

      As for food choices, I was vegetarian for 6 years before consciously and intentionally adding in certain meat and protein sources, but it was ultimately for selfish reasons. I needed animal protein for my struggling health, and there really is no whole food substitute for certain things that you can get from animal fat and protein (well, unless you want to eat kelp, which I tried and failed at). But we are trying to be very moderate in our consumption and use only what we truly need and from the most humane and local sources possible. I'm also experimenting with living seasonally by only eating grass fed red meat in the winter which I consider a superior source of vitamins if I'm not going to buy fresh produce out of season, and I plan to start canning and storing from the summer harvests simply for variety and flavor in the winter. I see this as the natural order of the environment that I live in (meaning, if I lived in the tropics I probably wouldn't eat meat, but then again, I'm finding it hard to give up coconut oil just because it doesn't grow here ;)

      But on the whole, we try to eat a lot of raw and vegan still. I don't do well with dairy except for butter which I make myself from the milk of local pastured cows. But much of our diet consists of soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds, and lots of fresh veggies this summer. And we find local backyard chicken eggs whenever we can until we have some ofour own. I just need a lot of protein and good fat right now, especially as my hormones and body composition are still recovering from the stress of two pregnancies close together, so I'm being easy on myself until I can handle sticking to my ideals a bit more. Oh, and I'm gluten intolerant and don't do well with a lot of grains where I would otherwise get protein, so that affects my decision to include more animal sources for now (although buckwheat is an excellent non-grain source of a complete amino acid profile in addition to quinoa). And Nourishing Traditions covers a lot of what I adhere to in practice these days and gives an interesting look at how we have evolved alongside many of our natural food sources and how we should optimally process them ourselves to benefit from them.

      But in the end, I don't want to be disconnected from the sources of my food and I intend to confront the reality of death that occurs for me to eat. I'm not at that point yet, and I have doubts about whether I can handle facing a slaughter, no matter how humane, but it's a sort of goal that I have if I'm going to continue eating meat.

    20. You're going to be nomadic?! How cool is that? Do tell me more about this. How on earth are you going to do this, and with kids? Also, what is a consumer fast?

    21. We're still working out details on the nomadic minimalist living, but the consumer fast, which is more of a cleanse is something I learned about in talking to Sybil actually. We're only buying essentials (food mostly) and then evaluating what we need at the end of the month in terms of other items. It feels different to me to call it a cleanse, which I'm generally better at. I've found that in eliminating sugar from my daily intake, I formed a new addiction and became a compulsive and IMpulsive shopper. And it's been very hard for me to budget to keep it under control. The cleanse mindset has helped me to stop and think more clearly though, and I'm hopeful that it will help me to move away from the use of consuming as a comfort measure.

    22. I know someone who cut sugar from her diet, and she turned to other things, too. I think compulsive consuming is a good way to put it. She had to always be out buying something. Really interesting. I wonder what the connection is.

      I really find your lifestyle intriguing. It feels so Zen. Like you saying that you have a goal to face a slaughter if you're going to eat meat. That's really brave. I don't think I could do that.

    23. Oh, and by the way, thanks for taking the time to give such complete answers. I've learned so much from all your comments. And from the questions everyone has been asking. :-)

    24. In yoga and other traditions, money, food and sex are all part of the same subject; what we are craving and using to fill the holes. Many of us falsely believe that love and the necessities of life are limited and that we need to get our hands on them. This is a big part of all the suffering that Buddhism talks about. But I also see them as a manifestation of my own inability to be happy and at peace with the present moment. I am constantly craving the next moment or thinking of how to create a future reality (even now), so I'm trying to learn to be more mindful of everything I do with food and money (and yes, sex) in an attempt to let go of that craving and to learn to be happy where I am. (But I still want to move :)

      Thanks for all the questions everyone, it's been wonderful to explore some of my thoughts and evolving beliefs with you that I rarely discuss elsewhere.

    25. This is just a thought, Courtney. Do you think you could do a podcast focused on this concept of being mindfully in the moment and not trying to "fill the holes" and create the future instead of be in the present? If you did, I'll bet I'd listen to it every morning.

    26. I think our eating ideals are pretty similar. (Although I don't have a gluten intolerance and do eat a lot of grains.) A big part of the reason why I try to limit animal products is because of the vast disconnect so many of us have from our food and thus the very inhumane ways of raising animals for consumption. All this makes the end product much less healthy for us too. I do eat meat occasionally. If I felt the need to eat it more regularly I would totally go the grass fed beef route. We don't buy cow's milk regularly either but when I do, I love grass fed raw milk. SO SO SO good. And we only buy "happy" eggs. We weren't doing eggs at all for awhile but my 2 year old really likes them and he is picky so we started getting them again for him. What is amazing is that when you buy the "good" stuff that is raised humanely and organically, it also TASTES SO much better! I wish more people would realize that.

    27. Courtney, you have had such a rich journey so far! I love hearing about your "callings" and the reasons why you stay. They are so inspiring, individual and non-judgmental. Thank you for sharing this!

    28. Anon - I'm hardly an expert. :) I just started on this path myself, but I would love to listen to something like that as well! It would be a great way to start the day, but I think I could use more of a meditation group at the moment to keep me focused and bounce ideas off of. Plus I'm currently at my max for projects, and I could never organize and edit as well as Sybil :)

      Katrina - Good food really is "good" :)

      Alisa - thank you for listening!

    29. Courtney...
      Boise! Me too!
      Just a shout out to a fellow sister in the boise area....
      Loved the podcast. Thank you for pouring your soul out. It is always refreshing...

    30. I know this is an old podcast, but am intrigued how similar you and I are... and yet I've never felt alienated by the Church. I just ignore what I don't like because scripture and usually conference addresses bear me out. I sometimes wonder why I don't hear more about Christ at church too. So I get up and bear my testimony of Christ and I center all my YW lessons on Christ (just like the Teaching No Greater Call manual says to do).

      I am gluten intolerant, semi-vegan, avoid sugar, have read Nourishing Traditions, am studying to be a Yoga instructor, have felt resonance with some Buddhist teachings too. I have always been able to see a connection with my more mystical thoughts with certain scriptures of ideas taught in the church. So I haven't ever left.

      I have also thought about how the time church takes up can keep us from living more fully so I just try to be where I am.

      I am going to look for more of your podcasts that are one here.


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