Celeste Young, Mindfulness Meditation and Dharma Teacher
If you're in LA and you've ever hesitated about beginning a mindfulness practice or – perhaps more daunting – a formal meditation practice look no further than Celeste Young [@celestebyoung]. I first met Celeste when she led a group meditation at WRKSPC Oasis and her guidance left me feeling totally blissed out. Beyond that, though, she made me feel capable and serene in a practice I've long associated with perfectionism and frustration. What really stuck out for me was her insistence that thinking is part of the practice and thus we shouldn't condemn ourselves from slipping out of perfect stillness every now and then. Her inclusive attitude and downright awe-inspiring warmth and kindness made her the perfect choice for Gooey Girl Crush in the Mindfulness Month and her answers below only affirm that choice!
"I'm a mindfulness meditation and Dharma teacher living in Los Angeles, CA. I offer group classes for people who are wanting to learn how to meditate or deepen their practice and learn how the timeless teachings of the Dharma are relevant to modern life. In addition to being a core teacher at InsightLA for the past 6 years, I offer corporate mindfulness and wellness programs, individual private sessions, pop-up mindfulness events, retreats, and women's meditation circles. I also curate a drop in weekly sitting group for folks in their 20's + 30's to connect with other young meditators. My life is centered around my practice, and my work is too, which I'm deeply grateful for. It's wonderful to have those two aspects of my life integrated.
[To me], mindfulness is about paying attention to our present moment experience, and also attending wisely, kindly. In it's full context, there is an element of wise intention and also remembering. We are not only remembering to be present for our experience (because we forget to be so much of the time), but we are also remembering what happens when we're present for our experience with mindfulness – the wisdom, insight and clear seeing that comes out of being mindful of our moment to moment experience. In that way, we learn to truly live more mindfully, there's a momentum that builds.
I remember one of the most profound moments I had was sitting in traffic one evening in LA and realizing I didn't feel isolated or alone in that moment, although I was by myself. Looking around and seeing all of the cars, a profound sense of connection arose for me, realizing that there were all these beings in those cars, with lives, sharing this same vulnerable human journey. It was during a time when I was practicing loving-kindness meditation a lot, and it was a kind of a shift out of this delusion of separation, which is what happens when we practice mindfulness and loving-kindness. We come out of being self referenced and our hearts are touched by this vulnerable human condition. Our hearts open to ourselves and then, naturally, to others.
There are endless opportunities for practicing mindfulness in daily life. When in traffic, to deliberately practice lovingkindness, wishing others well, or when I'm at the store, I try to use that as an opportunity to look the cashiers in the eyes and make contact in that moment. We have to be present to do that of course, so that's where our mindfulness practice comes in. We begin with the intention to be present and mindful when we're doing a simple activity, and then we notice when we forget and get lost again and come back. Eventually, it becomes a habit, just how you are when you grocery shop. It's a way of being that acknowledges and stays present for our humanity. I think it's so important that we don't get precious about these practices – we will forget, we will lose it, be unskillful or absentminded at times, and how we are with ourselves in those moments is also an expression of our mindfulness and our wisdom and compassion.
I find it really helpful to pause, and come back to my body when I feel overstimulated, overwhelmed, or agitated. To notice my immediate physical sensations helps me to stay present and not get lost in the mind or the wave of feeling that might be arising. It also helps to go for a walk, or to be in nature.
My formal meditation practice changes along with the conditions in my life, but it is a constant. I usually practice meditation several times a day. The length of time varies but I really prefer to sit for longer when I can – an hour is really wonderful. One of the things I find most important is the daily part. I'm often practicing meditation with others because that is a strong support for my practice at home, and I also get to practice when I teach as well, and really enjoy that. I love sitting at home and my teacher once said to us, "Just leave your cushion out. Then it will call to you when you walk by." So, I have a space in my bedroom for my meditation cushion, it's a fixture there along with my meditation bell. It's a sacred space I return to over and over again. That really did help me commit to sitting on my own at home, along with practicing with others. The silent support of other practitioners is priceless. It's the number one suggestion I offer to people in terms of what will help establish a daily meditation practice at home – meditating with others. And leave your cushion out!
My self care changes along with my practice and they really go hand in hand. Mindfulness helps me to attune more to myself and respond to the moment with greater clarity, to know what's needed. One of my favorite things to do is open my front door and let the breeze in, put on Caetano Veloso or Nara Leão and make a cup of tea. Anyone who's been to my house can attest to this as a religious self care practice of mine! Being creative is also important to me-- I love to dance and I find music deeply healing, both listening to music and playing it. I'm fortunate that many of my good friends are wonderful healers and teachers and I can always reach out to them if I need some support. I've really come to recognize how important it is that as teachers and healers we have our own support and nourishment from others. In the last year or so I recognized I was overcommitted and out of balance in terms of the amount of time I was spending working, even though I love what I do so deeply. Learning to be vulnerable and ask for help has been a really big learning experience for me that has brought so many phenomenal people into my life and has also birthed new collaborations. Community is an invaluable self care practice. Having people you can cry with, or ask the real questions with and trust they will give you honest answers is so meaningful. I think we are all searching for intimacy with ourselves and with each other, and ultimately with life itself. Practically, Chi gung with Arthur Levitan at California Tao or seeing my friends at Elysia Life Care for an acupuncture tune up, Family constellation transformative work with Andrea Davis, who is phenomenal, Reiki with my friend Ali Ballensweig, yoga, nature, baths, and lots of golden milk! I could go on and on...
[As far as happy places go,] I really appreciate the spaciousness of Joshua Tree. There is something about the desert that I find really healing. If I'm not able to get out that far, going for a hike anywhere in LA or spending time in the ocean is cleansing and helps me to re-set my nervous system. My most favorite place to be though is on retreat. That has been a practice for me every year for the past ten years. It has changed my life.
I try to be careful around the endless self improvement mind state – for the reason that it’s endless! The mind can always find something to improve upon, so I think I’m really interested in the enoughness that is all around me. Learning to give myself permission to experience contentment and joy in tending to my daily life has been life changing. So I guess there is an attitude of gratitude in that. I’m actually teaching a whole weekend retreat on this topic in November.
[My mindfulness advice is:] Trust yourself and just begin. When you forget your intention or you get lost, remember, come back, and begin again, with kindness."
– as told to Gooey Girl