19th & 24th November – An Introduction to Meditation from the Perspective of Zen Levels 1&2 (full details next week)
October 27th, Dec 1st – Shadow Meditation Levels 1&2 (full details next week)
How Much Happiness Are You Prepared to Tolerate?
What if happiness was easy?
What if the obstacle to happiness was not the fact that it was not available to you each day, but rather the experience of being unconditionally happy was something that you had a very low tolerance level to?
What if being happy actually caused you anxiety on a subtle and unconscious level, life surely could not be this good?
What if you are actually avoiding being happy because a large part of you actually prefers being unhappy, struggling with life?
What if the idea of working towards happiness as a future goal seems attractive to you, but accepting happiness as it exists in the present moment is something that makes you genuinely uncomfortable to the extent of avoidance?
The word meditation and its applied practice really means to ‘ponder deeply upon’, or ‘to look deeply into’. This week your meditation practice is to ask yourself the above questions and the one question below, to ‘penetrate the question’ so to speak.
What if real genuine happiness was available to you right now and the only thing standing in the way of it was your acceptance of it?
I hope this message finds you well, I’m currently back in the UK and enjoying my time re-connecting to the summer landscape with all the woods plants and greenery that surrounds my family home!
Wishing you all the very best in your meditation practice,
No Name (Meditation Spaghetti Western Style)
The man or woman of no rank is a nice practice found within various meditation traditions. Essentially the idea is that, when in meditation you can temporarily drop all the labels that you normally attach to yourself and just be.
During our daily life we build our sense of who we are around labels;
I am an architect, manager, artist, teacher, saleswoman
I am this type of son, wife, father, daughter
My friends think of me as this type of person
When we set these labels aside we become free to be, to be “ourself” and to connect with our “ true” or essential self; the self that lies beyond the labels we stick upon ourselves.
As a longtime fan of the Spaghetti Western and the man with no name, I often do this meditation with a visualization that looks something like this:
I am sitting on a bench outside an empty bar/hotel in a western (as in wild western) town that has long since been deserted by its inhabitants
There is the creaking of an old signboard above me, a gusting breeze, a big sky. A few of those rolling bushes are going by in the street, the town is surrounded by desert scrub, no one is around.
In this space I simply imagine myself sitting thinking of nothing, dropping any memory of who I am.
Progressively I become just a man, then a human being (genderless), then just a being, I just be, allowing myself to merge with the vastness of the landscape around me. I relax deeply.
Returning to your identity
The idea of regularly dropping your identity is to gain freedom from our normal automatic over-identification with the labels that we allow to consciously and/or unconsciously dominate our identity. By doing this we develop the capacity to live a life that is psychologically free from these labels, but that enables us to use these labels wisely and appropriately when necessary.
For example I’m Clint Eastwood, the world famous western actor. Oh no sorry forgot, I’m Toby Ouvry the meditation teacher, or at least I was before I started this article, and I think he’s still there!
This weeks article looks at the cultivation of the witness self in meditation, and why we should be interested in it!
Yours in the spirit of “ok, always”,
The Way to Be Ok, Always – Liberation and the Witness Self
Cultivating the experience of the witness self means to cultivate your experience of self as a detached observer of your mind, body and life experiences, as opposed to having your sense of self totally caught up in them.
The witness or observer self has two main qualities:
It witnesses our life with detached awareness
It has no physical or mental form, it is merely formless awareness
The path to personal liberation from pain and suffering has an enormous amount to do with the cultivation of the witness self. To the extent that we are able to detach ourself from our pain we can control it. If we can detach ourself from our pleasure we can enjoy it without clinging to it and thus avoid the experience of pain that happens when we are separated from that pleasure.
In meditation we cultivate and strengthen the witness self, but it is important to understand that the witness self is present with and available to us right now, whatever stage of development we are at, as these two short stories demonstrate:
As a fifteen year old at school I had a friend the same age (let’s call him Tony) who went out with a seventeen year old girl. She left him for an older boy who was a mutual friend. Tony subsequently told me the story of how he had confronted the older boy and shouted and screamed at him in an emotional outburst. He then told me, looking slightly sheepish about how he had felt that there was a part of him watching the whole episode (including himself screaming and shouting) that was not upset at all, but felt detached and calm. That “watcher” that he had experienced amidst his emotional outburst was his witness self.
Later I had a female friend at collage who similarly discovered that her boyfriend had been having an affair with another woman whilst away at University. Again with a similar sense of sheepish confusion she described to me how she had shouted and screamed at her boyfriend whilst simultaneously feeling that a part of her was observing the situation with total calm and detachment. Like my friend Tony, my female friend had found herself aware of her witness self at the same time as she experienced emotional turmoil.
So, with meditation we cultivate awareness of this witness self, making it increasingly “front and center” of our daily experience, and consequently finding an increasing sense of ever present calm even when under multiple forms of stress. Consequently we find ourself basically “always ok”, nothing we can’t handle.
Reading this some people may think that cultivating the witness self may make us cold, uncaring, emotionally mono-syllabic and so on. The reality is however that when practised in an integrated and balanced way, centring our awareness in the witness self increases our capacity to enjoy deeper and more positively multiple forms of emotion, pleasure, happiness and wellbeing. You could say that it liberates us to a whole new level of the human experience.
A final point; being centred in the witness self also liberates us substantially from the fear of making mistakes, looking foolish, taking an appropriate chance. So, whilst finding an experience of liberation through the detachment of the witness self, we concurrently find a new way of engaging in our world and human experience more freely and dynamically.
I’ve created a diagram below that illustrates in a very simple way the essential transformation that comes from cultivating our identity as the witness self. I hope the image helps to give a feeling for what I have written about above!
I hope you’ve had a good week, this weeks article continues the theme of last weeks article on Paradox as Therapy , looking at ways in which we can hold apparently contradictory states of awareness together in order to develop and enhance our inner wisdom.
Using Your Misfortune to Enhance and Transcend Your Experience of Good Fortune
Normally we think of our good fortune and happiness as being in contrast or opposition to our misfortune and unhappiness. This article and the exercise outlined aims to help us to use our difficult experiences to:
Cultivate mindful acceptance of our challenges
Cultivate greater appreciation of our good fortune and wellbeing
Find a space of awareness that lies beyond and is transcendent of both that which makes us unhappy in life and that which makes us happy.
Here is what you do:
Stage 1: Select an experience of suffering, pain or misfortune in your life. Let’s say in this example that I am feeling unappreciated and uncared for by a close friend whom I expected more support from. So, the first thing that I do is to become mindfully aware of the feelings of hurt that I am experiencing in this circumstance. I sit with awareness of the feelings of being unloved/uncared for as they are. I don’t try to change them, I just accept them as they are, holding them with mindful awareness.
Stage 2: I now select an experience of good fortune/happiness that contrasts directly with the original negative experience. So, in the example here I would deliberately bring to mind people whom have demonstrated real care and appreciation of me. I focus on remembering all the times when they have demonstrated this care and appreciation, and allow this feeling of being cared for and appreciated to register fully in my mind.
Stage 3: I now become aware of a part of my mind and awareness that remains the same whether I am feeling uncared for (as in stage 1), or cared for (as in stage 2). I cultivate awareness of that part of myself that is beyond the ordinary changeability of my daily experiences, that remains a quiet witness or observer to all “different weather” of what happens in my daily life. This pure witnessing awareness is always tranquil and peaceful, even blissful in a way that transcends ordinary happiness and suffering.
Stage 4: Now I alternate between awareness of stages 1, 2 & 3 for a while, taking them all in without favoring one or another of the three. I feel the pain of being uncared for, I feel the pleasure of being appreciated and supported; I experience that part of my awareness that is beyond both ordinary pleasure and pain. Allow all three experiences to be in your mind; don’t favor one or the other. Make your mind big enough for all three.
To conclude, finish with a brief period of mental resting and equanimity.
The effect of this exercise when done regularly is to:
Develop equanimity and stability when experiencing discomfort, pain, misfortune, emotional unhappiness and so forth
To use our misfortune to deliberately stimulate our feeling of good fortune and appreciation of what we have
To gradually learn to go beyond ordinary happiness and suffering and locate our fundamental sense of self in a place of awareness that lies beyond the fickle events of our daily life.
The difference between a psychological crisis and a spiritual crisis is that:
With a psychological crisis the problem is that there is some part of the mind that is not working properly. If you think of your mind as a motor engine, and a crisis as being like one of the parts going wrong and needing to be fixed or replaced
A spiritual crisis is a crisis of meaning. This means that it is not that any one of the parts of your existing mind have gone wrong, rather that you have a new, deeper level of mind and self emerging within you, and that none of the existing ways of thinking and feeling that you have are adequate to cope with the new, deeper level of meaning that is emerging. The ‘solution’ to a spiritual crisis is to find, grow and articulate that new level of meaning in your life.
Spiritual and psychological crises are often quite similar, and often confused with each other, and yet they are fundamentally different. One of my tasks as an integral meditation coach is to distinguish between these two types of crisis for clients and provide advice and therapies that are appropriate for the type of inner problems and challenges that they have.
The paradox of a spiritual crisis
One of the challenges of a spiritual crisis is that, even when you have identified you are having one, it can feel like it is taking an awfully long time to develop clearly. For example I spent a good year before I decided to leave my life as a monk knowing that there was something changing within me, but not knowing clearly whether it would be the right thing for me to do or not to leave and enter lay life again.
One of the ways that I dealt with this waiting period was with a technique of awareness that I have cone to call “Paradox Therapy”. This involves becoming aware of the contradictions in your life, and learning to hold them together in the same act of awareness. This creates and experience of comfort and relaxation in the mind that is able to cope with the inner stress and contradictions of life with lightness, humour and patience.
For example in the year before left my life as a monk I would notice that:
I was in a state of inner conflict much of the time (“Things are bad”)
Simultaneously there was much in my life to feel fortunate for (“Things are good”)
There was always a part of my mind that was separate from and observing the positive and negatives (“Things are beyond good or bad” )
I hope you are enjoying the run up to the Easter weekend, I’m currently in the process of planning the classes and workshops for the last couple of weeks in April, which will be about developing an integral perspective on meditation as a practice for physical, mental and spiritual healing, I should have the details ready by next week…
In the meantime this weeks article focuses on a simple method for developing compassion by deriving it directly from our own experience of suffering, I hope you enjoy it!
Yours in the spirit of the compassionate heart,
Building Your Compassion and Reducing Your Own Suffering, Everyday
There is a saying that I think comes from the Christian contemplative tradition that goes something like “suffering is the first grace”. One of the things meant by this is that oftentimes it is our suffering that compels us to look deeper into our life for answers. Our pain encourages us to get onto some kind of spiritual, creative or developmental path. If we had not had that pain, we would never get off our developmental ass and would simply remain living a predominantly unconscious life of habit and conformity.
The other opportunity that our suffering gives us is to develop empathy and compassion for those around us who have similar sufferings. Our own specific sufferings can thus act as windows of compassion and care for others if we use them in an appropriate way.
The usual pattern of suffering and pain
Usually our suffering and pain causes us to focus on ourself and shut others out. For example if we are feeling tired and overwhelmed, the instinct can be to cut ourself off from people, and dwell upon our own misery. This is understandable, but very often the very act of shutting ourselves into our own small world further magnifies the pain and makes it even more difficult to deal with and get out of, thus locking us in a cycle or pattern of suffering; suffering leads to a small world intensely focused on ourself, which in turn leads to more suffering and so forth…
Reversing this pattern
Whenever we are suffering for whatever reason, we can take at least a little time in our day to reflect on how our pain actually gives us a lot of common ground with others experiencing the same pain, and deliberately extend a mind of care and compassion toward these people. This expands our mind, makes us less self focused, and as a result of this bigger mind and less intense focus on self we in turn experience our own suffering less intensely. So, we create a win-win pattern.
For example; rather than causing our own broken heart to cause us to descend into a microcosm of self-oriented misery, instead we use our relational pain to develop empathy with and compassion for others in difficult relationship circumstances, thus reducing our own pain as well as cultivating a kinder heart/bigger mind within ourself.
Compassionate intention helps
Even regularly introducing a compassionate intention to your mind like this for short periods of time will start changing what you do and how you experience the world. As well as reducing your pain, you may find that your compassionate intention actually starts to change your actions in a tangible way for the better.
One Minute Mindfulness
For those that wise to work with this practice over the week:
Take a period of 1-3 minutes
Bring to mind an experience of suffering or pain that you personally are going through
Reflect on all the other people in the world (both those you know and those you don’t personally know) who are experiencing similar suffering right now. Allow yourself to empathize with them, and gently develop the thought or wish that they find answers and relief from their pain. Focus on this compassionate intention for a short while.
Allow this compassionate intention to inform the rest of your daily activities.
This weeks article looks at biological fear, and how we can work to mindfully re-direct its functioning in our mind so that it is working for us rather than against us in our life. This re-directing of our biological fear and learning to relax into a mind of safety and ease is one of the topics that I will be covering in this coming Saturdays Mind of Ease workshop.
The topic of this coming Wednesday’s meditation class is the five types of unconscious mind. It is a subject that I have not taught before in a public class, and it it tickles your curiosity, do feel free to come along, even if you have not been able to make all the classes in this series. I think there will be a lot to stimulate you both in terms of you curiosity and your consciousness development!
Yours in the spirit of a mind of ease,
Re-Contextualizing Our Biological Fear
Our biological fear is that part of our body and brains’ programming that essentially works to ensure our survival. It is extremely ancient and the strategy that it has is based around paranoia. Its reasoning is that the more paranoid you are about potential threats to your wellbeing the more likely you are to survive. For most of human kinds history this has worked very well, as up until quite recently there have always been genuine threats to physical survival, such as wild animals and head-hunters who, if you were not alert really could end your life prematurely.
However, in our present time, where our immediate physical surroundings are relatively safe, as often as not our paranoid survival based programming often gets in the way of our happiness and ability to relax and enjoy our daily existence. It unconsciously prevents us from appreciating the good things that we have, exaggerates threats to our safety and wellbeing, focuses on all the negatives in our life, keeps us highly stressed, makes us feel like we are living in a dog eat dog world, and generally living in fear of what could go wrong in the future.
As a result we often feel like we are under some form of physical or psychological attack, even when right at that particular time we are under no immediate threat. I’ve represented this situation in the diagram below. The big circle is the ambient biological fear pervading our mind, and making us feel as if we are under attack all the time, thus unnecessarily adding to rather than subtracting from the real and present challenges that we actually do have in our life.
So what is the solution to this? It is basically a two-fold move that we need to make:
Recognize that we have this biological fear ticking away in the background of our mind, and make sure that we are not letting it run the way we approach to and experience of our life.
Regularly learn to recognize and rest our awareness in the relative physical and psychological safety of the present moment.
This recognition of safety in the present moment then provides a new basic context for our mind and life where the underlying feeling is one of relaxation and ease. Within this new context the other biological and psychological aspects of our experience (including our biological fear) can function appropriately and in their proper place. I’ve represented this in the diagram below, where you can see the recognition of safety in the present as a big circle of awareness that provides a context for the rest of our moment to moment experience. In this new arrangement our biological fear remains in our mind, able to perform its function of detecting threats to our wellbeing and safety, but doing so without inhibiting and blocking other mental and emotional factors in our mind that cause us happiness and wellbeing.
Dear Integral Meditators,
This weeks article looks at a basic skill for anyone wanting to develop a healthy and harmonious consciousness; the ability to avoid repressing emotion when trying to detach from it! As you can see below I have included a couple of basic diagrams to try and help with the explanation, hopefully you’ll find that they help to clarify your understanding by giving an image to work with…
Yours in the spirit of emotional clarity,
Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Integral Meditation Asia in For February and March 2013
March 13th – Class 3: Uncovering Treasure; Working with the bright side of your shadow
This class emphasizes the uncovering of the parts of our shadow that are actually GOOD qualities, strengths and gifts within our shadow self that, for one reason or another we have rejected or denied. It may sound strange, but we are often just as inclined to shy away from that within us which makes us powerful and happy as we are from that which we consider ugly and ‘bad’! This class helps us to see this and start to access the power of our “golden shadow”
Emotional Detachment, Emotional Repression – The Difference
One of the basic skills that both meditation and mindfulness practitioners are trying to develop is the ability to develop a healthy detachment from challenging or destructive emotions. However, it is all too easy to confuse health emotional detachment with simply the repression of the emotion. Emotional detachment helps us to deal more effectively with the emotion. Emotional repression however only makes the long term effects of the difficult emotion more severe.
What I am going to do in this article with the aid of a couple of (old school) diagrams to help is to clearly explain the difference between the two.
The Dynamic of Emotional Repression.
When emotion is repressed, the conscious mind or self represses, rejects and pushes away the challenging emotion into our unconscious mind, trying to ignore and deny it. The act of repressing the emotion is that firstly the emotion becomes energized and perpetuated, and secondly we loose the ability to see and feel it properly, as it becomes a part of our unconscious mind, not directly visible to our everyday conscious awareness.
You can see this represented in the first diagram:
The Dynamic of Emotional Detachment.
In the dynamic of healthy emotional detachment, the difficult emotion is carefully included within the field of conscious awareness, and not repressed into the unconscious self. As a result the conscious self can still see and feel the emotion clearly, whilst at the same time being detached or dis-identified from it. Because the conscious self is still fully aware of the emotion, it can extend care, attention and inclusivity to the emotion, thus helping it to heal, harmonize and de-toxifyunder the influence of the care of the detached, conscious self.
You can see this dynamic represented in the second diagram here:
Suggested Practicum for the Week
If you have a look at the two diagrams above , I think you can get a feel for the difference between emotional repression and healthy emotional detachment. Using the study of the diagrams as a rough guide you may like to take one challenging emotion of your own and specifically work with it. For example you could take the emotion of embarrassment or excessive self-consciousness as your object of training. Whenever you feel it coming up in your body-mind during social interaction, focus on trying to detach but include it in your awareness with care, rather than repressing, rejecting and exiling it to your unconscious mind.
This weeks article looks at one basic integral coaching model that I use both in my own coaching work and for my personal inner growth, it is simple by it has a lot of depth and nuance to explore.
The main meditation classes and course for March are the ongoing Shadow Meditation Classes, and the three hour “Mind of Ease” Workshop on the 23rd March, click on links below for the full details!
Yours in the spirit of deep conversation with our inner selves,
Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Integral Meditation Asia in For February and March 2013
When I am in a coaching session with someone, although on one level there is only one conversation going on, on another level there are four basic aspects or dimensions that I try and pay mindful attention to within the conversationthat all give me some information about where the client is coming from and what they might need in terms of advice, guidance and input. It is also a model that I use in terms of my own self care and when looking at what is happening within my own consciousness.
The Conscious Self – This is the daily functional self or “persona” of the client. The information that they give me on this levels is basically that which their conscious mind understands to be true with regard to the problem or challenge that they are facing. Generally this information will come through directly and explicitly in the conversation that is being had.
The Shadow Self – This is the aspect of the daily self or ego that is hidden to the client as it has been repressed into his/her unconscious mind, and thus is invisible to her. Sometimes I might do an exercise specifically designed to investigate their shadow, but as often as not I’ll get to know the persons shadow implicitly through the nuance of what is said, and the language that is used (or left out) in the conversation, their body language and their response to certain emotional triggers.
The Soul – You might think of the soul as the higher or deeper self of the client, and it is from this dimension of their being that they feel the impulse toward establishing deeper meaning and direction in their life, and toward the expression of the principles of goodness, beauty and truth. Quite often the coaching journey that I take with people is in an essential way the journey from a life of “functional meaning” directed by the ego to a life of deeper meaning and orientation based around the souls wish to creatively express goodness, beauty and truth.
The Spirit – On one level you might think of the spiritual dimension of the coaching conversation as being that which is concerned with helping the clientconnect to a sense of silence, presence and peace within themselves that helps them negotiate the challenges of their life with less negative stress and a greater sense of creativity and freedom. The spiritual level of the conversation involves the connection to a sense of the deepest levels of both peace and creativity within the client, and helping these to start playing a tangible part in both the conversation as we are having it, and also in their life as a whole.
Four mindful and integral self-coaching questions:
Based around the above model, here are four questions that you might like to ask yourself when presented with a challenge or opportunity in your life:
What is my conscious understanding of the problem or challenge as I understand it?
What hidden emotions, psychological discomfort and agendas do I sense within me that lie beneath my conscious perception of what is happening?
What is my soul demanding of me in this situation in terms of the expression of meaning, goodness, beauty and truth? What opportunities does my soul see here?
Viewed from the perspective of transcendent stillness and peace what is my freest and most creative response to what is happening?
The new year beckons, and this is the new year edition of the Integral Meditations newsletter!
The new year beckons, and this is the new year edition of the Integral Meditations newsletter!
2012 has certainly been a deeply transformative year for me, and looking forward to 2013 the promise does seem to be that this will continue. When thinking about the qualities that I would most like to have, and I would most wish for you the readers, I came up with engaged equanimity. Whatever the specifics of 2013, the likelihood remains that life will continue to throw its mixture of blessings and curve balls at us, and the ability to keep caring deeply, whilst remaining strong and stable are qualities that remain always valuable and useful.
Wishing you happiness, growth, insight and love for 2013!
To practice engaged equanimity is to attempt to combine the qualities of even-mindedness and inner stability with the qualities of deep caring and a commitment to engage in life fully and passionately without holding back.
A dualistic approach to life often sees equanimity and caring as mutually exclusive, or even opposed to each other. If we are practising equanimity and even-mindedness it seems to imply that we have to be detached and un-involved. If we are practising deep caring it seems to imply that we are committed to a roller coaster emotional ride where our peace of mind and equanimity are largely sacrificed.
A commitment to regular, balanced meditation practice should gradually and naturally give rise to the ability to practice engaged equanimity. As we progress in our practice we discover that it is possible to be fully committed to our life and experiencing intense emotion, whilst at the same time experiencing a part of our mind and awareness that remains relaxed, an observer and witness to what is occurring, abiding in a state of even mindedness and equanimity.
What I want to outline in the remainder of this article is four simple practices that can be put together in order to consistently develop the practice off engaged equanimity. The first three focus on the development of equanimity, the final one focuses on engaging care.
The instructions are deliberately minimal, allowing enough detail for you to experiment and explore them in your own personal experience.
1. Allowing pain and anxiety, happiness and joy to flow through you. Observe the feelings, emotions and experiences that you normally cling to, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant. Consciously relax your heart space/central chest area and allow your moment to moment experiences of pleasure and pain to flow through you, like a broad river flowing in and flowing out of your awareness. As you breathe in feel these feelings flowing into you, as you breathe out feel them flowing through you, let them go without holding onto them.
2. Make friends with impermanence Be aware that everything that you are experiencing right now will change and is changing. As with practice 1, be aware of this with both the good and bad in your life. Whatever you wish to remain in your life, and that which you wish was already gone is changing, even in this moment. As you practice awareness of change and impermanence, smile at it, make it a friend and not an enemy in your life.
3. Drop your self Spend periods of time where you deliberately forget who you are, what you do, what your life history is. Practice experiencing that which is in your outer and inner awareness without your “self” as the centre of the experience. Cultivate the recognition that life works in many ways perfectly well, and sometimes even better when an intense and central experience of “I” is taken out of the equation.
4. Commit to caring Based upon the above three practices for developing equanimity and even mindedness, the fourth practice is then simply to commit to caring in your life and making a difference in the world in whatever engaged way you feel guided and are capable. With equanimity and even-mindedness as your underlying basis, choose to participate and get your hands a little dirty, choose to be (appropriately) vulnerable and fully alive. Of course this involves risk, and maybe (probably) getting hurt and burned on occasions, but with equanimity as the underlying basis we discover, sometimes to our surprise, that we can take it, and that it is worth it.