Your Meditation Practice May Not be What You Think (Old Men Who Spit and Throw Stones)

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article features a reflection on a period of my own meditation practice in the year immediately following my ordination as a Buddhist Monk. Our life challenges come in a variety of different ways, sometimes they come in ways we can anticipate and other times not so much!

This coming week has two events, the first is the Integral Depth Meditation Classeson Wednesday 10th, and the Introduction to Walking Meditation on Sunday 14th. You can click on the links below for full details.

Yours in the spirit of the journey,

Toby

 


Your Meditation Practice May Not be What You Think (Old Men Who Spit and Throw Stones)

In the mid-nineties I returned from a Buddhist festival the Newcastle, England having been newly ordained as a young Buddhist Monk. One main reason I thought I had gotten ordained was to make sure that I had plenty of decent open space in my life for meditation practice, and I was looking forward to getting onto my meditation cushion and making some serious progress that year.
The place where I was staying at the time was not actually a meditation center  it was the spare room of a friend’s flat in an inner city council estate with a lot of poverty, and a lot of substance abuse all around. Our little meditation group had recently moved out of our previous residential space, and were looking for somewhere to buy. So, in the meantime I was holed up in this small room with a bed on one side, a meditation cushion in the middle, and all the furniture and other materials from the meditation center piled up to the ceiling all around me.
The circumstances weren’t ideal for meditation, but nevertheless I was anxious to sit down and get started. However, as soon as I sat down a pattern of occurrences happened that lasted for a whole year. Basically it would be like this:

  • I would sit down to meditate, close my eyes, start setting my motivation and begin my pre-practice prayers
  • Simultaneously in my mind’s eye (not physical eye please note) I would see a bunch of wrinkly, sour faced old men assemble in a circle above my head. Some of them were dressed in old police and military uniforms, some had big sticks in their hands, others stones.
  • As I would start my prayers they would start shouting, spitting on me, chucking rocks down and “hitting” my head aggressively with their sticks (again please note this is in the subtle realm, not the physical one!). Then basically they would stick around for the duration of my meditation, making life as difficult as possible, and then just as I was about to finish they would go away cracking smiles and patting each other on the back!
  • I would then emerge from my meditation session rather disturbed, disoriented and confused, and with something of a headache!

After a couple of weeks of this as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty sick of this, and it really was not much fun. Nevertheless I kind of hoped that it would last a month or so and then they would leave me alone. Unfortunately not, this basic pattern repeated itself for the year that I was living in that small room. Every time I sat down to meditate I had to endure a shower of psychic abuse from these weird old men. I tried to pray them away, do protection circles, to call on the Buddha’s for help, all to no avail. It seemed like it was just up to me to face off with this every day (and often it persisted during the night and when I was out walking etc…) and take what it was teaching me. What did it teach me? Well, that open to debate really, but here are a few things that occur:

  • To endure and to be very resilient. Sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it did make me mentally tougher to sit myself down for hours at a time knowing that basically I was going to get a lot of abuse and very (very) little bliss
  • To direct compassion and care toward myself. I was alone for long periods of time in this rather hostile location, and if I was not going to direct care and compassion toward myself to deal with the trauma, it was not going to come from outside
  • To appreciate the friends I had. I was not able to talk about what I was going through with anyone, it just felt a bit bizarre, but I did learn to deeply value the basic human warmth and care that I received periodically from people I learned from, taught and who otherwise shared my life.
  • The equanimity of a big mind. I could not control what was appearing to my mind (which was all pretty horrible) but I could be aware that all that was happening was happening in the context of an infinitely large experience of spacious awareness that was always the same, always tolerant, always reliable.
  • A deeper sense of trust: I struggled with the feeling that, despite my belief and experience of benevolent higher powers, they basically seemed to have left me literally and completely to the dogs. Over time I came to see that the skills and insights that I was developing in such a hostile environment were actually ones that could not be developed in other ways. So I (not without a certain amount of chagrin) accepted and trusted what was happening as part of a bigger process.

I just want to say that if you take up meditation it is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY THAT ANY OF THE ABOVE WILL HAPPEN TO YOU! And if you come to one of my meditation classes the environment is conditioned to be conducive to developing states of inner peace and wellbeing.
However, I thought it might be interesting for me to share a bit every now and again about my own (somewhat eccentric and off the main road) personal path and process.
…and finally to point out the title theme of this article, that your own personal meditation practice, which is to say your own path to genuine inner liberation and enlightenment (in whatever way you understand it) may not be quite what you think it is going to be.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Four Levels of Integrated Compassion and How to Practise Them

Dear Integral Meditators,

As it is the Easter weekend I thought it might be nice to continue the theme of compassion from last week’s article, but this time look at four types and levels of compassion that, if we understand them can help us to develop our compassion in an integrated and holistic way.

In the spirit of compassion!

Toby

 

 


Four Levels of Integrated Compassion and How to Practise Them.

These four levels of compassion are quite easy to understand, and once understood quite easy to integrate as a part of your daily practice. Practising all four together however means that your compassion has the opportunity to grow and develop each day on multiple levels, rather than just one or two.
The way it is used in this article, compassion essentially refers to a feeling of care and support and understanding that we can use as motivation to relieve the suffering of ourself and others)

Here are the four:

Compassion in the first person
This first type of compassion essentially means practising empathy and extending compassion to ourself each day. We are all going through our various different challenges and sufferings, and just spending a few moments each day recognizing what we are going through and extending the feeling of compassion toward ourself can be deeply helpful and life-giving for our process. Feeding ourself compassion also ensures that we always have (at least a little) compassion to give out to others. Without appropriate self-compassion we can find that the well of compassion for others runs dry pretty quickly.

Compassion in the second person 
This is the practice of compassion for those in our “we-space”, our family, friends, colleagues, people we  include within our circle of concern because they share our life. In a certain sense it is natural for us to extend our compassion to these people, but from another point of view, they are also often the people with whom we get most annoyed, upset and pissed off with. So, mindfully, deliberately extending compassion and empathy to those close to us is a really good way of improving the quality of our daily relationships in the midst of all the natural friction that arises.

Compassion in the third and fourth person
Compassion in third person is for those whom you don’t know, and whom you can observe “objectively”. To have compassion for other humans and animals that we don’t know there has to be that basic connection or empathy arising simply because they are another living creature like us. We don’t have to know someone directly to have compassion for them, and each time we purposefully direct our compassion to others outside of our circle of concern we expand our heart of compassion, and increase our potential both to be happy and to be of greater service to the world in some way…

To practice compassion in the fourth person means to take someone/group of living beings you don’t know and really try and enter into the challenges and pain they experience as if you were themYou are identifying deeply with them and their experience, and on this basis developing compassion and empathy for them. There is and power and urgency in fourth person compassion that is absent in third person compassion.

Compassion from first-to-fourth person basically takes us from individual self-compassion (healthy) and expands our circle of concern, to our family, to the world and to all living creatures progressively. Each level is important and each has its place.

One minute mindfulness
Take 1-5 minutes each day (2/3 times a day if you like) to generate empathy and compassion for yourself and then move progressively to those you are close to, to humanity and the world (in third person), and to all living beings as yourself (fourth person), holding each level of compassion for a short while.
Compassion, besides being a pleasant state of mind to hold also has a powerful healing and motivating power. Practising like this for a few minutes each day can have a powerful positive effect on both the way we are in our life and what we choose to do.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Building Your Compassion and Reducing Your Own Suffering, Everyday

Dear Integral Meditators,

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,

Toby

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.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Re-Contextualizing Our Biological Fear

Dear Toby,

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,
Toby

 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Recommended one-minute mindfulness for the week:
Spend 1 minute, three times a day sitting quietly, following your breathing and recognizing that, right at this moment you are not under any immediate threats to your physical or psychological safety. Rest at ease in this experience and try and take it as much as possible into the rest of your day.
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Emotional Detachment, Emotional Repression – The Difference

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,
Toby

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”

Saturday  23rd March – 9.30am-12.30pm – Three Hour Workshop: 
Meditation for Creating a Mind of Ease, Relaxed Concentration and Positive Intention – An Introduction to Contemporary Meditation Practice


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.

Understanding the difference between repressing and detaching from emotion is a huge area of consciousness training, and getting it right can really make a HUGE difference to your quality of life!
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Four Types of Mindful Coaching Conversation

Dear Integral Meditators,

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,
Toby

Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Integral Meditation Asia in For February and March 2013

Wednesday March 6th – Shadow Meditation Class – Healing Wounds: Working with the dark side of the shadow.
In this class we will be working with specifically the dark side of our shadow self; the parts of ourself that we most deeply reject and fear as well as the parts of us that are most deeply wounded. Many people may find this idea intimidating, but it cannot be emphasized enough how liberating this type of work can be once you get some experience of it!

Saturday  23rd March – 9.30am-12.30pm – Three Hour Workshop: 
Meditation for Creating a Mind of Ease, Relaxed Concentration and Positive Intention – An Introduction to Contemporary Meditation Practice


Four Types of Mindful Coaching Conversation

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:

  1. What is my conscious understanding of the problem or challenge as I understand it?
  2. What hidden emotions, psychological discomfort and agendas do I sense within me that lie beneath my conscious perception of what is happening?
  3. 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?
  4. Viewed from the perspective of transcendent stillness and peace what is my freest and most creative response to what is happening?

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Three Types of Creativity Arising From Mindfulness and Meditation

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article focuses on mindfulness and meditation in relation to our creative capacity, and how we can enhance three types of creative power within ourself through regular mindfulness practice. Enjoy!

Yours integrally,
Toby


Three Types of Creativity Arising From Mindfulness and Meditation

One of the simplest ways to start understanding how mindfulness increases our powers of creativity is to understand that daily mindfulness practice helps us to consciously shift our brainwave patterns from beta waves, which is our normal, wide awake functional state of mind to alpha and theta waves, which are states of mind associated with deep levels of relaxation, reduced levels of conceptual thought and (if used in the right way) greater levels of creativity/improvisational ability.
Learning to consciously enter into the lightly altered states of relaxation and creativity characterized by alpha and theta waves has three types of way in which it contributes to our creative power, which I have termed macro-creativity, micro-creativity and qualitative creativity.

Macro-creativity is the sort of creativity that helps us to think of new ideas, new directions in life and new ways of doing things. It is an overtly creative state of mind and being. We need macro-creativity if our work is inherently demanding of greater degrees of creativity; for example if we are an entrepreneur, designer, artist or such, or simply when life is demanding of us that we think of  really new approaches to long term problems and challenges.

Micro-creativity is a more low-key but in my opinion equally important level of creativity. It is about the small choices that you make each day, for example:

  •  Choosing to adopt the positive perspective on the feedback that we received from a colleague about our work, rather than reacting negatively and defensively
  • Choosing to accept the limitations that family life places upon our freedom with appreciation, rather than unconsciously resenting it.
  • Taking an opportunity to relax, unwind and enjoy a five minute coffee break, rather than spending the entire time we are drinking neurotically worrying about the day’s activities.

So micro-creativity is all about exercising your creative freedom in the small choices you make each day in order to maximise your enjoyment, happiness and appreciation of whatever it is that you are experiencing. It is a kind of “bread and butter” type of creativity that anyone can get in the habit of using and that mindfulness helps to develop.

Qualitative creativity is more like a feeling of creativity and playfulness, rather than an act of creativity per-se. It is simply a feeling of lightness and playfulness that we can take into our life, use to enhance its quality, and counter the excessive seriousness and or rigid states of thinking and acting that are keeping us trapped in a cycle of negativity.

One Minute Mindfulness: Exercise Your Micro-creativity
This exercise involves simply being aware that you always have more than one choice in your approach to whatever is happening to you during the day, and regularly asking yourself the question “Have I been making the right creative choices to my challenges so far today?” If not, exercise your mindful creative ability to choose an approach or adopt a perspective to what is happening that will serve you better.
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Shadow Analogies – The Stone in Your Shoe, the Grain of Sand in the Oyster Shell

Dear Integral Meditators,

The remainder of February for me is all about facilitating meditations on the shadow self, so this weeks article looks at two ways of understanding how working with the shadow self is really of tremendous value, and even become a lot of fun once we develop a taste for it!

Toby

The Stone in Your Shoe, the Grain of Sand in the Oyster Shell – Two Analogies for Meditating on the Shadow Self

Our psychological ego has two parts:

  • The Persona, which is our conscious self image, all of the parts of ourself that we accept and consider to be “me”. The persona is the self that we present to the world in our daily life.
  • The Shadow, which are the parts of psychological self that we reject, are afraid of and/or consider “bad” and have repressed in our mind to the extent that we are no longer conscious that they exist as a part of our self. Our shadow self continues to exist in our mind as unconscious drivers of our behavior, and we quite often “project” it onto other people and our world. For example if part of our shadow is a drive toward over-possessiveness we may find ourselves in a state of irrational fear that our friends and possessions may be taken away from us by someone, but not understand why we have these feelings all the time.

For many people the idea of working to confront and constructively integrate the shadow self into our conscious self in a healthy way feels uncomfortable, but here are two analogies that I hope will demonstrate the value of engaging the shadow.

The Stone in Your Shoe
Let’s say you are running a 10 kilometer race. You have a small stone in one shoe. Initially you can only just feel it but it does not cause much discomfort, so you ignore it and carry on. As the race goes by however, gradually the small stone wears on the sole of your foot, eventually causing a painful cut or blister, and directly inhibiting your ability to enjoy the race and run at your best potential speed. In this analogy the race is your life, and the stone in your shoe is the shadow self. Stopping, taking off your shoe and removing the stone relieves you of this painful inhibition, and in this analogy that would be like confronting, working with and successfully integrating your shadow, thus freeing you to live your life more freely and creatively.

The Oyster Shell
As you may know a pearl starts out as a grain of sand that gets stuck in an oyster shell. It causes the oyster discomfort, and it is this discomfort that causes the oyster to create the layers of smooth material around the sand grain that becomes the pearl. In this analogy becoming familiar and working with your shadow is like the work of the oyster to create the pearl; the initial discomfort stimulates the creation of qualities of beauty and strength that previously would have been seemingly unimaginable or impossible in your mind and being. Doing shadow work actively creates this inner beauty and strength within ourselves as well as getting rid of the discomfort.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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The Inevitability of the Present Moment

Dear Integral Meditators,

I’d like to wish you a very happy new lunar new year of the snake, whatever winding and twisting roads that it may take us on!

This weeks article reflects on the fact that one of the main goal of mindfulness and meditation; that of living in the present is in fact somewhere that we already are, but simply don’t recognize. A somewhat curious contradiction!

Yours in the spirit of recognizing where we are,
Toby

 


The Inevitability of the Present Moment

One of the best ways in which to connect to a deeper awareness of the present moment is simply to recognize that there is no way that you can actually avoid it.

  • Whenever you become preoccupied with thoughts about the past and things that have happened, you are doing so only within the present moment. The idea that you are somehow in the past by thinking of the past is an illusion; in reality you are thinking of the past whilst actually being IN the present moment.
  • Whenever you neglect mindfulness of the present due to being pre-occupied with a future goal, the experience of being lost in the future is an illusion. In reality you are actually IN the present moment, thinking of the future.

Continuing this train of thought, the very idea that you can be anywhere but the present moment is an illusion, the reality is that you cannot be anywhere else, no matter how hard you try.

One minute mindlessness: Try and escape from the present moment.
In this exercise, for one minute try as hard as you can to escape from the present moment.

  • If you are thinking fast, try and think faster
  • Try and re-create the past so hard that you totally lose awareness of the present moment
  • Give yourself a free rein to obsess about the future so much that your awareness of the present is as absent as possible.

At the end of the one minute, simply reflect on the fact that however hard you have tried to escape, for every single moment of that past minute you have been inevitably living and existing in the present moment, you can’t escape from it, it is inevitable. Rest in this recognition for a while.

Rather than trying harder to be more present in our life, sometimes it can be more beneficial to recognize that there is nowhere else that we can possibly be.
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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Why Meditation and Mindfulness Won’t Reduce your Stress (and why this is a good thing)

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article takes a bit of a closer look at exactly what it is that meditation is supposed to do for us. I look at the idea of mindfulness as stress reduction, and offer a new, what I think is in many ways a more constructive and beneficial perspective within which to view the goals of meditation and mindfulness.

Yours in the spirit of increased tolerance to stress,

Toby

 


Why Meditation and Mindfulness Won’t Reduce your Stress (and why this is a good thing)

It is of course a popular idea these days that meditation and mindfulness are key tools that you can use in order to reduce your stress, and many people come to these disciplines hoping to do exactly that; reduce the amount of stress in their lives. However I like to think of meditation and mindfulness doing something different, namely increasing your tolerance to stress and developing the capacity to remain steady and calm amidst situations that are inherently stressful.

Redefining the purpose and function of meditation in the above way is important I think, because it is all too easy to experience a bit of inner peace through meditation and mindfulness, and this experience then take us in the direction of becoming less tolerant to stress, and seeking out meditation as a way of escaping that which we can’t cope with effectively.

Let’s use a simple analogy. Let’s say your present capacity to deal with stress is the equivalent of doing ten push ups in a row before reaching exhaustion. In the analogy lets then say that your life circumstances present you with circumstances that are the equivalent of doing sixteen push ups in a row. This is presently beyond your capacity or stress threshold. What a meditation or mindfulness practice would aim to do then is train your mind to become progressively more efficient at dealing with stress such that, after a while the “sixteen push up” stress level is something that you can live and cope with without getting flustered.

So, simply put the aim of mindfulness and meditation is to increase your stress threshold in a balanced way, such that you can deal with more without getting exhausted. Mindfulness and meditation when done well teach us to work with and re-direct the stress of our life in creative and dynamic ways that enable us to thrive at levels of stress that would normally be way beyond our capacity to deal with constructively.

I think this is an important point to make because:

  • Living a meaningful, creative and thoughtful life that is outside of the very narrow concerns of societies present level of consciousness involves confronting ever new forms of stress and tension
  • Meditation and mindfulness by their very nature increase the creative power and energy in our mind, which creates “growth stresses” within our being itself. Unless we are prepared for this, and look forward to the new stress tolerance levels that this process will take us to, then there is a good chance that we will give up our practice thinking that it isn’t working!

One Minute Mindfulness; Notice the Space
Even when your mind is busy, and when your physical world is filled with logistical activity, notice that all this activity and busyness exists within the context of space:

  • Your busy mind is like a big, spacious sky filled with clouds; without trying so get rid of the clouds (busy thoughts), you can still notice and open to the spaciousness of the inner sky of your mind
  • Your physical world and activities always take place in the context of an open land or cityscape. Take the time to notice the space of the sky above you, and objects in the middle and far distance of your world, not just what is right in front of you.

Regularly opening to inner and outer space in your day, gives you a bigger context within which you can contain and consciously direct the stress and tension in your life, without feeling so easily overwhelmed.
© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com

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