In an interview with Carolyn Anne Budgell, we share the benefits of developing a practice of meditation and self-inquiry.
Honoring the practices and people who assist our spiritual transformation is more important than ever before, considering the pandemic’s lingering trauma. This week, we sat down with fellow yogi and meditation teacher, Carolyn Anne Budgell, to discuss the benefits of mantra, meditation, personal reflection, and slower-paced yoga classes.
Carolyn’s been teaching yoga and mindfulness practices for over a decade and has co-taught various workshops, retreats, and yoga teacher training with Clara in locations worldwide. Coming from diverse backgrounds and yet arriving at a similar goal, Carolyn and Clara share a passion for self-inquiry; they provide students with a well-rounded practice that asks tough questions to acknowledge the fear and lack of control over events in the world.
“A question I’m asking right now is, how can I divert my mind from focusing on fear? There’s way more fear and anxiety within us and around us right now, more so than ever before; the fight or flight system is heightened in all of us. I understand how my questions affect my brain and my body, which is why I get more excited about the questions that I’m deciding to focus on.” – Carolyn Anne Budgell.
In the podcast episode, Clara and Carolyn share the questions they’re currently sitting with, how self-reflection impacts the mind and nervous system, and what kind of questions they pose for students. They also expanded on the people and practices who inspire, and what they’re offering their communities in terms of online or retreat-style yoga and meditation classes.
Highlights from the discussion are below, or you can listen to the full episode.
Introducing, Caroyln Anne Budgell
What’s one of the lessons your daughter has taught you?
Carolyn—One of the most recent lessons is how to allow for joy and just allow myself to feel worthy of joy.
Name a few teachers who’ve inspired your meditation practice.
C—Tara Brach would be one because she has a really sweet way of weaving in research and education and speaking to all hearts.
Michelle St. Pierre used to live on Hornby Island and had a nice space that we would go to. She was one of the first people who inspired me to meditate and to inquire.
My family, all of the members of my family.
What's your process for self-inquiry?
C—My question right now is, who am I becoming? That’s one of them. Who am I becoming, and what else is possible?
Another question I’m asking is, how can I divert my mind from focusing on fear? There’s way more fear and anxiety within us and around us right now, more so than ever before. The flight or flight system is really strong right now, and it’s heightened in all of us. I understand how my questions affect my brain and my body, which is why I get more excited about the questions that I’m deciding to focus on.
I keep asking myself, what could I replace with fear? And what comes up a lot now is wishing others well. What happens for others affects me, so I feel like if others around me are well, or if at least I wish them well, this has a direct impact on me and how I feel. So I wish others well.
The questions I used to ask started very simple like, how can I love myself more? Now it’s evolved into, what am I becoming? More around the process of self-discovery. I think this is the beauty of almost reaching my forties. I’m really excited for this decade.
Clara—As a new mom, I’m discovering how what was working before is not working now. I’ve been stepping back and observing because all I was doing and asking before isn’t working anymore.
My process has been around the inquiry of, can I step back and just watch? Instead of following my first instinct of doing something, can I do nothing and wait and see if the answer arises?
There’s been a lot of grief and sadness around letting the old part of myself go; there is a part of me that’s dying right now. I’m just witnessing and honoring that. My practice has been stepping back and observing and being with the fear that’s arising within me lately, due to what’s going on in the world and the transition within my life, and doing nothing about it.
The questions I used to ask had to do a lot more around rage and anger. These very intense energies still move through me, but they don’t drive the bus anymore. My question has always been around managing intense emotions: how can I work with these two very strong energies in a productive versus destructive way?
Create and connect to inner quiet through mantra; join Clara for the simple practice of chanting to feel calm and grounded. This mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, is a Buddhist chant that translates from Sanskrit as, “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus.” It’s said that the entire teachings of Buddha are contained in this six-syllable mantra. Ideal for beginners, repeat this phrase to simmer in the sweetness of vibration, clear the mind, and release negative karmas.
How is your practice of self-inquiry reflected in what you offer students?
CRO—I haven’t been teaching publicly, but I have been shooting content for the Practice with Clara Site. The classes I’m creating are very slow, methodical, and simple. My meditation practice is super simple. I’m not making anything complicated right now.
C—Initially, when we were in quarantine, I was teaching live meditations every day. The response and the community that gathered every day was really sweet. I feel that people realize more than ever now that they need more slowness.
We need to do more reflection. This has been the ultimate test, the test of no control, like what you do when you don’t have control over the world you thought you had?
This is the process that we’re all working towards; those slow weeks at the beginning of the pandemic were challenging and awful and devastating, but also important. We need those slow times, which is what’s showing up for me. I’m teaching publicly in studios, and I’m also teaching on Bowen Island, like twice a month now, and host day-long retreats. And it’s interesting because the people who show up want to be in nature. They want to be still and inquire.
There’s a big shift, and I want to be able to access those who don’t meditate; I want to make meditation more available for everyone.
How would you describe your meditation practice?
C—I just recently really started reflecting upon some of the larger issues around appropriation and how it feels bringing Sanskrit into the practice. I’ve never studied Sanskrit, and it’s not a passion of mine. I’ve never been to India. And I don’t think that I have to go to a certain country to honor and respect the traditions and the language, but I know in my heart that it’s not something that gets me super excited.
What does get me excited is like talking about neuroses and emotions and conscious parenting. I’d rather focus on what gets me excited than be resentful or harp on the negative, so instead, I’m focusing on what does work for me. When I’m teaching, I want to make it grounding for me as well. So I ask, how can I also make this practice simple for myself, so that after a class, I feel like I’ve had a well-rounded teaching experience and also make it well-rounded for the group.
I want to make things as real and relevant as possible to people who might otherwise be really turned off of yoga because, to some people, yoga seems like only spiritual people can show up to practice. I’ve just been thinking for like two or three years, how can I make this accessible?
I’m not going to make assumptions; I just want to follow my heart. For me, the practice and the offering is meditation in a really simple language. All the things that I’ve practiced and studied over the years have profoundly impacted where I am now in the best way possible. I remember I used to chant at home alone with my Mala beads; at the time, it was such a healing practice for me to do that.
It’s like an interesting time because we want to get as many people to do yoga as possible. So part of me is like, well, whatever brings us to yoga, and whatever gets us excited about yoga is awesome. Whether it’s the physical or chanting, or because you think your teacher is cute.
I’ve even been wrapping my head around the word, Namaste, and questioning if I really understand the context of what Namaste means? There’s a working definition and in India, there’s a really simple way that people use the word Namaste, but then there’s also a more profound definition.
CRO—From my first yoga class onwards, there was always a mantra. And every class that I went to for like the first five years that I did yoga, we chanted for 20-minutes every single time. That was the standard. I used to sing in a choir, so I really enjoyed being a part of something sharing the voice with a group of seventy people with a harmonium. As Carolyn said, it really fed my soul, and I really needed it at that point.
When I started teaching, I dived really deep into it and got into a lot of the more complicated mantras. But I’ll say in the last year or two; it’s shifted again in terms of coming back to simplicity. And I generally only lead mantras that are a few syllables. Sometimes I bring it in longer mantras, but generally, it’s just one line, and it’s more about getting lost in the cadence of sound.
And that’s what I’ve been really exploring in my own practice. When I work with a mantra, I focus on the sound, not necessarily a meaning. And that’s what I’ve always loved about chanting, and Sanskrit is that I don’t have a very personal, intimate relationship with it, so the way that it was taught to me is to just enjoy actually the sounds themselves, the way that it kind of creates and reverberates in the body.
I find, especially if the mantra is only a couple of syllables, it has a tranquil quality to it. Through the sound, there’s an opening. I did the mantra on my own, and then I would sit in meditation because I found it really prepared me to sit.
Touching on the piece in terms of cultural preparation. It’s a conversation that I’ve been really excited about in the yoga community; instead of receiving something blindly and saying, yes, this is what we’re all going to do, you know, to ask the question of why are we doing it? What does it mean to us and how, what is my relationship with the culture, the practices, or the philosophy? How do I create or make it my own? I think it’s important to observe before you take something in and to ask the question, what is my relationship to this?
More About Carolyn
Carolyn fell into yoga in 1999, while living the ski bum dream in Whistler. It initially provided agility for her snowboarding, skateboarding, and trail running. Now, as a teacher in Vancouver, she continually learns how to connect with others and feel at home in one’s skin. The magic of yoga surprisingly grows quieter; towards a place where the physical, the internal, the spectacle, and the witness are all one.
Carolyn’s past career was outdoors, in environmental restoration for Environment Canada and BC Wildlife Federation. Since completing her first 200-hour YTT in 2008, she has an extensive CV: as a contributing writer for My Yoga Online and Halfmoon Yoga, filming videos with lululemon and Mala Collective, a presenter at Wanderlust Whistler Festivals, as an educator for international Teacher Training with Lila Vinyasa School of Yoga and Semperviva Yoga, managing yoga studios and guiding students through the mind-blowing practice of just being while in silent meditation intensives.
Carolyn’s vinyasa classes are chock-full of unique alignment cues, smart sequencing, helpful touch, and lighthearted jokes to which she pays gratitude to Schuyler Grant, Ana Forrest, and Clara Roberts-Oss. Her passion for silent meditation in forests is thanks to Adyashanti and Michelle St Pierre. The many years of ‘being on stage’ as a teacher have shown her the importance of stepping back in order to let life happen… to do the work, connect to breath, change the perspective by going upside down, honour the emotions, and then let life continue to happen… and to remember, it’s all okay, it’s all manageable.