Mari Orkenyi on Meditation and Building Your Practice

Mari Orkenyi is a contemplative educator, mindfulness and compassion teacher, and writer. Her work lives in the space where contemplative practices, Buddhist psychology, and Western psychotherapy intersect. As a native Brazilian immigrant with Hungarian roots, living in Los Angeles by way of Spain and Mexico, her multicultural perspectives and backgrounds are continuously informing her work, as are the complexities of everyday modern life as she is also a wife and a working mother. In honor of World Meditation Day, we spoke with Mari about her relationship to the practice and what drew her to contemplative psychotherapy.

Photo Credit: Claudia Lucia 

"I'm a firm believer there’s no wrong way to meditate. We should use the act of sitting in formal practice also as a permission to not have to measure ourselves. Let the meditation practice to be as it is, as this will allow space for it to evolve."

Tell us a little bit more about who you are and what drew you to the contemplative path 
I'm a contemplative educator, mindfulness teacher, and writer. My way into these teachings and path, like life itself, wasn’t linear. Though these practices have been part of my life since I was very little, it was a slow process. My family and my parents created moments of meditation, prayer, and silence in the house very early on. It definitely built a foundation in me, a dynamic where I found myself drawn to my interior life. Alongside that, my career was built around the contemplative aspect of arts. I have a Masters in Arts and I’ve worked very close to artists and their creative process. When I got pregnant, I felt a need to focus more on learning the foundations of these practices and the psychology behind them. I fell in love with Buddhist psychology and the connection with Western psychotherapy, and I got a certification in mindfulness and in contemplative psychotherapy which has been both a very integrative and transformative journey. I’m interested in creating a more in-depth and full conversation about mindfulness and contemplative practices, and as an educator help people find and explore the internal landscape within themselves.

Do you practice a particular type of meditation or practice within a specific community? 
I practice mindfulness meditation and visualization from the Tibet Buddhism lineage.

What is contemplative psychotherapy and how does that relate to the practice of meditation? 
Contemplative psychotherapy integrates mindfulness and compassion based on meditation practices and Buddhist psychology with contemporary psychotherapy and current neuropsychology. This creates space for an embodied practice both for the client and the practitioner/therapist, which is very enriching and informs the therapeutic process. Meditation as one pillar of mindfulness is an essential tool that enhances and enriches this relationship, as it serves as a field for awareness, exploration, inquiry and integration.

Meditation can offer profound inner stillness and clarity, but oftentimes it’s more about trying to balance the stream of mental chatter. What’s one thing you would suggest to practitioners who are looking to strengthen their practice? 
I’d suggest letting the meditation practice itself be spacious. Allow it to be what it is -- in other words, refrain from trying to customize or curate your experience. The more we allow space within the practice, the more we can start to experience the full capacity it can have within us. The teachings present a concept called the Middle Way, in which we try to not live in the extremes, overindulge or over punish/criticize ourselves, the invitation is for us to keep orienting ourselves to live in the middle. We keep returning to a quality of curiosity, gentleness, and inquiry in our practice and in our lives.

How can people know when they’re doing the practice ‘right?’ How has meditation impacted you? 
I'm a firm believer there’s no wrong way to meditate. We should use the act of sitting in formal practice also as a permission to not have to measure ourselves, we already do that so much throughout the day. “How am I doing at work?”, “Did I do enough today?” and so on… Once you have some basic instructions and guidance in place, I’d suggest for people to approach their practice radically opposite of how they approach their day-to-day in this capitalist world. Let the meditation practice be to be just as it is, this will allow space for it to evolve, change, and move. Meditation has impacted me in so many ways, but perhaps this exact point touches the most profound impact on me. With meditation comes an allowing. A release of the tight grip. The space to be with what it is now, the space I inhabit in between all the parts of me -  thoughts, emotions, mental states, and seeing that in this space I have possibilities, I have freedom.

How has your relationship with the practice evolved over time?
I was born and raised in Brazil, and my first practice was influenced by my parent’s spiritual practice. It was a more devotional practice with mantras and prayers. After that I made my way into Vedic philosophy, and then  eventually I found Tibet Buddhism, which turned into my foundational practice and the practice that informs my work.

How can one translate their meditation practice off the cushion and into daily life? What else grounds you? 
It’s Sharon Salzberg, the meditation teacher who I was so lucky to study under, that tells the story about a student who she ran into after some time. She asked him how his practice was going. He said “ My practice is okay, nothing much… but my life has completely changed." This is a gradual path, we are not here for quick solutions, fixes, or formulas. We are here to establish a relationship that will be part of your life, forever. To support you, to soothe and nurture you, to cultivate concentration and alertness. What we do in our formal practice is constantly bleeding into our lives, into our relationships, into our internal self talk, into our reactions. In sitting, we train and cultivate what we then practice in life. Other than formal meditation, walking is something that always shifts something inside of me.

What’s your favorite piece of advice/instruction that was shared by a teacher? 
Practice when it’s easy. In other words, practice steadily, practice when you feel you got it, practice when things are uncomplicated because when the seasons change, when things get messy and you find yourself in  a difficult situation you can rely on your practice, like a structure as a scaffolding for our emotions, busy minds, and discomfort.

Top three books on living a more conscious life? 
Books are my favorite thing…. I’ll start with these 3 in different areas, but if anyone wants more book recommendations, just write me directly @mari.orkenyi

When Things Fall Apart: It’s definitely a “bible” when it comes to all of this and a good beginning point for anyone interested in learning more about Tibet Buddhism and its application 

Nonviolent Communication: Words and language are very powerful, and it can be healing to learn how we use them, how to pause before them, and how to listen to them. In a way, this book is a continuous relationship to our formal practice. 

The Artist’s Way: Though this book is not directly related to mindfulness, it invites us to wake up and create a relationship with our contemplative qualities.

Favorite rituals? 
On good days: a morning walk, preparing a warm cup of tea, watercolor painting, ocean water + sun, sunset light + watching trees move, dancing without knowing me next move, listening to jazz while cooking, belly laughing with old friends, baking a cake in the afternoon with my daughter. On not so good days: flexibility, which can be just a hug or a warm bath and whatever is possible in that moment.

Follow along with Mari on Instagram @mari.orkenyi