Interview with Dori Langevin, practitioner and teacher of Vipassana Buddhism. Dori works with groups and individuals using experiential mind-body-spirit approaches for healing and creating ceremonies for life passages including mindfulness, loving-kindness and compassion practices; guided imagery; artwork; ritual; psychodrama; emotional release work; and Holotropic Breathwork™. One special interest is the interface between mindfulness practice, addiction recovery and emotional healing. Dori has been in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction since August 1980. She serves as an Advisory Council Member for Buddhist Recovery Network.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
What brought you to a meditation practice?
Dori is a recovering alcoholic, so spiritual practice started with the 12 steps as her baseline for practice. It was a very “in vivo” (practice in the marketplace in daily life instead of “in vitro” (in the lab, in the formal practice, the inward focus). There are endless ways in which life creates opportunities for practice.
In 1985 she attended a month long retreat at Esalen called “The Mystical Path – Attachment and Addiction with Stan and Christina Grof and many other teachers including Jack Kornfield. Jack’s description of the Four Noble Truths (in Buddhism) completely resonated with her personal and professional experience with addiction and recovery from addiction. It made sense: addiction and recovery; suffering and freedom from suffering. It was an embodied frame of reference for her. Jack taught Vipassana and Loving-kindness or Metta meditations.
Although the 12 step recovery program included guidance in prayer there was little specific instruction for meditation. She started to practice without a teacher or community, so she was winging it and it took many years for her to find a formal community in which to study and practice Buddhadharma. In 1997, As “luck” would have it, she found that Tara Brach was teaching in near her in Maryland. She immediately resonated with Tara and her style of teaching the dharma and became very involved in the budding development of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington along with her husband, Ted. It is quite fortunate to have a partner that also practices.
What do folks do who don’t have a local meditation community?
Dori talks about how for some people there is no physical practice community available. The virtual reality of webinars and other on-line teaching and meditation are now viable options for support and to ask questions. But she still prefers the “embodied presence” of sitting together physically with a teacher and a sangha.
Was this a practice for life?
She can’t imagine this not being part of her life. Dori thinks of it as a tapestry. Those practices that weave in and feel alive for her stay—feeling enlivened by them and the sense of being at home. Practice is a guiding presence, a shepherding, so that when those moments of difficulty arise, she will be able to stay present and learn from life.
So in a way you’re priming yourself for those moments, so that when a difficult moment comes up, you have this practice that automatically kicks into gear.
Do you have an example of something like that?
Yes. Dori was riding with her husband on their Harley Davidson motorcycle on a long cross-country trip in the summer of 2013. Just west of Albuquerque the back end of the bike started fish-tailing and the only thought that arose in her mind was “We’re going down, because there is no other way out of this.” No panic, just a sense of “this is how it is right now.” They thought they were on their way to Canyon de Chelly to hike that morning, but the plan changed!
She was very grateful that in those few seconds she had the grace of clarity of mind and an absence of fear as she “went down” (thrown off the bike on to I-40). In the months of recovery, the practices helped her stay connected to her body, to notice pain (unpleasant physical sensation) and know that mental anguish was optional. First and second noble truths, pain is going to happen, but suffering is optional. Although she couldn’t do sitting practice because of broken bones, she practiced as she walked (very slowly!) and while laying down, and relied heavily on metta and gratitude practice. She was very aware of all the support and love they received from the people at the roadside scene, the EMT’s and medical staff, friends in Albuquerque, but also through social media. When back home friends brought food and goodwill everyday, and cleaned the house, drove them to medical appointments, etc.
So you still had the pain, but not all the mental baggage, the mental weather?
Yes, the whole ‘adding on,’ “Why did this happen? This shouldn’t have happened,” etc., all the ways you can fight with reality. That would just add extra mental anguish. Cultivating the attitude, “It’s like this now.” Her overarching questions are, What is happening? and What is needed now? Rather than this is not how is it supposed to be; that is Dukkha. By cultivating the mental capacity to see clearly one can choose freedom. As soon as I notice I’m on that dukkha train, I can get off.
So there is an element of accepting that everything is uncertain, and not being attached to outcomes, do you have an example?
The practice of setting intention. Dori can set her intention to contemplate what she may need, what the day will need from here, and then to realize there is a letting go into what is actually going to happen. And activate the inner qualities needed to be with reality. You don’t know what the next thing is that will break. Getting comfortable with uncertainty.
It’s coming back again and again to, “How do I recognize when I’m not in alignment with that truth?” Because then I just get frustrated.The attunement with the 3 characteristics, or three marks of existence.
1. Impermanence (anicca)
2. Dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoryness, dissatisfaction, because everything changes If I’m trying to hold on,bI can remember to let go in any moment. I may not like it, but that is just a preference
3. Non-self (anatta – not creating an “I” or “mine” story)
Have you noticed that your relationship with the world changed from when you were an addict to now?
In a broad way, everyone has the desire to be of service, to be happy, to be able to give, and yet so many things get in the way. She admits she still has the capacity to “otherize.” And other people have this too.
How can I serve, and also savor this world? She looks at other people to link herself, looking at how they enjoy the world, and how they suffer.
She’s trying to link herself to the whole human condition, knowing that we all have our measure of sorrow, our measure of suffering, and we all have gifts to bring to the world.
You are now a teacher right?
In 2001 she finished her doctoral degree in clinical psychology and Tara Brach asked if she had any interest in teaching? At the time she had no inclination to teach, but about a year later she did accept Tara’s invitation and began teaching with Tara and other IMCW teachers. In 2006 she was accepted into the Spirit Rock/ Insight Meditation Society4-year teacher training with Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein and other teachers.
What struggles do you see with your students in their meditation practice?
She teaches locally in Spokane, as well as at IMS, Spirit Rock, Cloud Mountain, and iBme Teen Retreats. In Spokane she works with Experienced Practitioner Groups –these students she sees regularly, so there is deepening of practice, dharma and sangha. And some she sees remotely for shorter periods of time on retreat.
Many people are struggling to one degree or another is with “what is practice? or what is their relationship with practice. She encourages students to practice, and see for themselves if their efforts lead to well-being and harmlessness or to discontent and harm. And if it leads to harm, don’t do it! “Come see for yourself.”
Dori asks them, What you really want? What is your north star? What is your motivation?” She can then suggest various forms of practice to activate that
within themselves. And to discover the obstacles. She asks challenging questions of her students as well as offering support and encouragement.
Does it help the students to stick to their practice to be in touch with their why?
Reflecting on “What is true happiness for you?” Maybe the student is not resonating with the word “happiness,” maybe contentment is the word for them. So then she asks the student how these practices support the wholesome mind-states they want to cultivate.
So it’s about what’s happening today, and what is needed now? Start again now. Initially, keep it simple.
In time, you will be able to select the right skillful practice appropriate to the moment. It is letting the students articulate their own questions and what they are seeking through their own words.
If she’s worried about something that is going to happen that day, she may use a particular practice that works well for that particular mindstate. Like turning a “demon” into an ally. Lama Tsultrim’s Demon Feeding Practice frees up the unwholesome energy by understanding and meeting its needs.
Do you have tips for meditation practitioners to bring their mindfulness into their day?
Yes, this is what she calls “in-vivo” practice. Inviting people to select a particular activity of daily living as a focus for mindfulness practice. For example, driving their car. One could start the practice with mindfully walking to the car, entering, and starting, and then attention to the physicality of driving (without the radio or other distractions). Notice when you leave mentally, when you’re already at work, and then use the physical sensations of driving to call you back to the present experience of driving.
This is practice is about strengthening the muscle of presence.
Keep in mind that you’re driving as you are driving. Bring the ardency and alertness that is necessary, the wakefulness and stick-to-it-ness required for mindful presence.
Driving is great, because we habitually get so lost in thoughts. But It could be anything, just pick something—doing the dishes, brushing your teeth as a way of knowing what you’re doing “right now.” And then notice the transitions between activities, thoughts. How do I feel in my body now? As well as when something big erupts internally.
She also encourages On the Spot Tonglen practice (Pema Chodron). So that you can let the vicissitudes of the day be something that connects you to the web of life as opposed to shutting you down. Or needing to hoard what is pleasant, or to push away, or personalizing some arising of unpleasantness.
Embodied presence does not come easy for some folks. Coming into the body does not come easy for everyone. Do it in steps. Being aware of the body and the breath wherever you are. What is my body feeling now, checking back in. For others, notice your moods.
For example if you’re trying to work with the loss of someone. Notice what sorrow feels like. Notice when it arises, and then can you offer what is needed, perhaps hand on yourheart. Can you realize what is happening, pause and see if you can sit with that.
What is happening, and what is needed right now?
How can we be in this life, with open-heartedness, compassion, wisdom within our circumstances.? Even when someone has done something to hurt us.
Using the practices under all kinds of circumstances. Dori then talks about her various retreats and web sites and other ways she works with.
Dori talks about coming out of a patriarchal age, female equality in Buddhist monastic life is being addressed, but is an ongoing challenge. She talks about the Sacred Feminine that honors a variance of vision, inclusivity, and reverence fo rall life. The Sila (wholehearted commitment to non-harming) is paramount, and although we may not be as brilliant as we can be, we can cultivate a wholesome energy with which we bring ourselves to relationships. There is no barrier to who can be enlightened, which was radical then, 2500 years ago, and still is today!
She hopes we are all willing to be radically responsive to what is needed.
Dori Langevin Resources
- Mainstream Mindfulness web site
- Advisory Council Member for Buddhist Recovery Network www.buddhistrecovery.com
- Insight Meditation Society (IMS)
- Spirit Rock Meditation Center
- Dharma talks given by Dori Langevin
- Dharmaseed.org (her teacher’s Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield have dharma talks on this site)