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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Soft Forms of Psychic Self Defence

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article looks at some somewhat counter-intuitive forms of inner psychic defence, which I hope you will enjoy and be able to relate to.

Yours in the spirit of strength in softness,
Toby

 


Soft forms of Psychic Self-Defence 

Normally when we think of psychic self-defence, both in the sense of defence from the negativity of others, from an energetically negative environment, or from our own negativity (depression, anger, jealousy etc…) we tend to think in terms of positive thinking, visualizing defences around us (a golden bubble of light that deflects the negativity etc…), fighting the negative, blocking it out, not letting it in, never giving up. These are what might be called the “hard” forms of psychic self defence, rather like karate and judo are called “hard” martial arts in the sense that they fight force with force, in a pattern of blocking, throwing and punching.
Of course there are the “soft” forms of martial art, which involve taking the force of your opponent and using it against them. This soft technique involves yielding to your opponents attack, and then re-directing the energy. The principle of the soft forms of psychic self defence that I am about to try and explain work on this same principle of non-resistance to negative forces. You let them flow in and around you using the principle of non-resistance, but the act of non-resistance itself acts as the dissipator of the negative force, rendering it non harmful. The soft forms of psychic self defence are in some ways a little more “advanced” than the hard forms, but they are well worth the effort because once you get the hang of them dealing with negativity becomes far less effort-full, and far more ergonomically efficient. Negativity is understood as simply an energy that can be flowed with and re-directed, rather than something to fear.

To explain these soft forms of psychic self defence I am going to use two images, because they speak very well to the “feeling” of the technique.

1) Sinking to the bottom of the swimming pool. 
Lets say I am fighting a regularly occurring depression. That  depression is like a swimming pool. Normally my way of dealing with it is to fight it, trying desperately to keep my head above water, but often finding myself struggling desperately at mid-depth, feeling surrounded by the movement of the emotion. The soft form of defence is this; rather than trying to stay afloat, deliberately I completely relax the mind and allow myself to self to sink down to the bottom of my “swimming pool of  depression”. At the bottom I simply rest and relax, surrounded by the water, deeply intimate with the emotional centre of the depression. I stay there quietly for a while, resting at the bottom of the pool (which is at the “centre” of the emotional vortex of the depression. When I am ready, having regained my strength, I push off from the bottom of the pool toward the surface. Because I have found the bottom of the pool, it is easy to push powerfully and easily back to the surface.

2) Removing sticks from the river bank
I’m talking to another person, who is downloading a lot of negative emotion and bile at me, and I am not feeling strong, in fact I am feeling overwhelmed by their negativity.  In this analogy the other persons “river of consciousness and energy”  is flowing into my river of consciousness. All of my own negative issues are like branches sticking out from the side of the river bank into the water. Any negative energy coming from the other person that is similar to any of my negative issues gets “caught” on the one of the branches, thus getting stuck and building up in my mind and energy system, making me feel overwhelmed.
The technique here is to mentally take out all of the branches from the river of my consciousness. As I feel the persons energy flowing over and through me, I note that some of my issues get triggered by their negativity. However, rather than tensing up, I consciously keep my body and mind relaxed, so that any negative energy flowing onto my river of consciousness from the other person does not get “stuck” but rather flows straight through me and out of my energy system, meeting nothing to get “caught” on.

So, two images there. The soft forms of psychic self defence are subtle and kind of counter intuitive, which is why using images and analogies works best to try and explain them. However, if you use the images I have given above I think it should not be too difficult to get a practical feeling for them, and begin to experiment with the soft form of psychic self defense in your own 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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The Pattern of Meditation

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article on the pattern of meditation is really a summary of one of the big themes that has come out of the last two meditation workshops that I have done in January. I think if we understand this basic principle then it really helps to gain clarity on the what and the why of meditation.

Yours in the spirit of healthy patterns of consciousness,

Toby
     

The Pattern of Meditation

Each of us has three different facets of our fundamental, moment to moment experience:
1.       Our experience of physical or sensory awareness, and the objects within it.
2.      Our experience of mental awareness, and the thoughts, images, feelings and emotions within it.
3.      Our experience of awareness itself and the experience of inner spaciousness that it gives rise to.

If you think about your mental and sensory worlds as being like clouds, and the experience of spacious awareness itself being like the open sky, then this gives you a good image to work with.
If you think about your spacious awareness as being the water in a huge ocean, and the physical and mental appearances as being like the waves on the surface of that ocean, then that gives you another good image. One of the interesting things about this second image is that the waves are made of the same substance as the ocean. In terms of our analogy this hints that the mental and physical appearances to our mind arise from the ocean of conscious awareness itself, rather than being something separate.

For a non-meditating person, their consciousness tends to move to and fro between the first two types of awareness. It goes from attention to body to mind, from physical awareness to mental awareness, from thinking to doing. The only time that such a person really rests deeply in their experience of spacious awareness is when they are asleep, which they can’t remember, and so it is not much use to them!*(see note at bottom) As a result of this basic pattern of consciousness, most people remain totally identified with their body and mind as their ‘self’, and are unable to enjoy, rest in and leverage upon the third type of consciousness; spacious awareness.

The fundamental task of someone who meditates is to change the pattern of their consciousness so that it no longer goes only from body to mind, body to mind, body to mind, but rather alternates evenly from body to mind, to spacious awareness in equal amounts. The integration of spacious awareness into the consciousness pattern of a meditator enables them (amongst other things) to:

  • Relax regularly and deeply even when in the midst of busyness and stress
  • Overcome neurotic over-identification with their body and mind (or thinking and doing)
  • Become responsive to life rather than reactive
  • Become much more spontaneous and creative in their life, and think outside of the societal programming that they have been brought up with

Beginning to Integrate Inner Space into Your Life
To begin integrating spacious awareness into your life all you need to start doing is to notice that in each moment of your awareness there are three things available to you; what appears to your physical senses, what appears in your mental awareness, and the spacious awareness that surrounds and contains the first two. Just for short, regular periods of your day pay attention to this and, rather than focusing upon your body and thoughts, just rest in the experience of spacious awareness, focus on the sky itself, rather than the clouds.

*Long term meditation practice does include developing conscious awareness during sleep, and thus leveraging on the natural deep spacious awareness of the sleep state.

© 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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On Real Men, Daffodils and Chihuahuas

Dear All,

This weeks article looks at ways in which we can encourage ourselves to get out of the ‘ordinary appearances’ that so often prevent us from living a full and vibrant life.

Quick reminder of this coming Wednesday’s  “Introduction to Meditation From the Perspective of Zen” . There are maybe three or four places left, so if you do want to come I do need to know, thanks! If you can’t make the Zen class physically, but are interested in the MP3 recordings of it, then it is available in this format.

Wishing you a week of non-ordinariness,

Toby

Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Integral Meditation Asia in January 2013

Wednesday 16th January, 7.30-9.30pm: “An Introduction to Meditation From the Perspective of Zen”

Sunday 26th January – 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

To register or for further enquiries: Email info@integralmeditationasia.com, or call 65-68714117


On Real Men, Daffodils and Chihuahuas

Ordinary appearances
From the perspective of Tibetan Buddhist Tantric practice, one of the main obstacles to us breaking free of our patterns of suffering and pain, and living in a truly creative and liberated state is ‘ordinary appearances’. Put very briefly this means that we see what arises in our daily life as the ‘same old same old’, rather than the reality (from a tantric perspective), which is that each moment of our life is a living encounter and dialog with the divine who/which is in each moment encouraging us to recognize our own inner creative nature, and encouraging us to dance and sing our way through life, rather than remaining stuck in the banal, the unthinking mainstream, the unexceptional and often actually being afraid to connect to and be “who we really are”.

Things that take you out of the spell of ordinary appearance
Some afternoons I jog down the canal to an exercise station to do a little bit of fitness work. Often at about that time there is another guy there, maybe in his 50’s. He has a kind of David Beckham mid-90’s hair cut, with red highlights, and he jogs down with his dog, a Chihuahua that last week was carrying a daffodil in its mouth as it trotted along beside him. I think he must be some kind of night club owner or something, but the thing that strikes me about him is that he is clearly entirely comfortable with his lack of conventionality. We normally have a friendly chat about man-stuff (actually mostly sound approximations, his english isn’t that good, and my mandarin is similarly limited, but with man-talk it is mainly about making the right primal sounds to let each other know that it is one ‘real man’ talking to another, right guys?) before we go off and sweat away in our own corner of the playground.
For me, seeing this slightly eccentric but entirely ‘comfortable in his own skin’ guy, within his flower carrying dog reminds me that life is not ordinary. Seeing him each week makes me smile and laugh a bit, and encourages me to keep on pursuing my own ‘out of the ordinary’ path with humour, enthusiasm, care and creativity despite the obstacles that come up.

Breaking the consensus of ordinary appearance in the world
Like me I am sure that you to have some slightly out of the ordinary people, sights and happenings that occur in your life each week, or if you think you don’t, then have a look out this week and see what you can find. You can use these encounters if you want just to consciously jolt you out of your ordinary, mundane perception of your life, and see your life as an opportunity to dance a little (inwardly or outwardly) to the tune of the divine, and to connect creatively, fully and with care to who you are, who you meet and what you are doing.

© 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 Inner Sharks of the Mind

This weeks article takes an example from nature as a way of gaining insight on how to deal with the disturbances in our mind that we might normally try and run away from. Sometimes an image really does speak a thousand words, and I find this particular image very helpful in both dealing with my own issues and also trying to communicate to others how to work with inner challenges in a more meditative and watchful manner.

If you find the article useful, then this Wednesday’s class on the Essential Meditation of the Buddha will be looking at how to take a more watchful and enlightened approach to the fundamental disturbances that we experience in our mind, you won’t regret coming if you can make it!

Yours in the spirit of staying on the tail of the shark,
Toby

Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Integral Meditation Asia in January 2013

Wednesday 9th January, 7.30-9.30pm:  ”The Essential Meditation of the Buddha: A Two Hour Mini Workshop”

Wednesday 16th January, 7.30-9.30pm: “An Introduction to Meditation From the Perspective of Zen”

Sunday 26th January – 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

To register or for further enquiries: Email info@integralmeditationasia.com, or call 65-68714117


The Inner Sharks of the Mind

There is quite a famous nature documentary sequence where a seal is being attacked by a white shark. Having escaped from the shark’s jaws one time, rather than making a run (or swim) for it, the seal instead stays behind the sharks tail, following it very closely, until it gets close enough to the land to quickly leap on shore. Rather than running away or confronting the shark the seal dealt with the threat by staying close to the shark, watching and following it very closely.
I find this image an extremely useful one when thinking about how to deal with imbalances, fears, attachments and other negative or volatile forces in our mind. The temptation can be when we sense a threat to our inner well being is either to run away from it (or go into denial), or to get into a confrontation or battle with it. Both of these techniques take a lot of energy and sometimes the act of confronting or running actually creates even more damage.
A more meditative and energy effective method is to act like the seal. When we sense the imbalance or negativity, try to get as close as you can to the experience. Rather than pushing it away, observe its movements closely with as little judgment as you can. Follow the negative emotion, energy or feeling like the seal staying on the tail of the shark; don’t confront or run away from it, just be behind it and watch its movements very closely.
The interesting thing about this technique of watching and following is that quite often the act of watching and following the disturbance will actually act to dissolve away the tension that has been created. By following the thoughts and fears that you are afraid of they actually seem to dissolve away.

Practical Technique

Step 1: Pick a difficult mind that you regularly run away from or get inwardly “beaten up” in a confrontation with. Name it and decide that you are going to try this new technique on it. For example you might think “I am now going to follow the shark of my insecurity, staying on its tail”.

Step 2: Watch your (continuing the example) insecurity, don’t run away from it or confront it, just be with it, relaxing and going with its movements.

Step 3: After a while you may notice that the power of the hold that your insecurity has over you has decreased. When you are ready, simply let go of the insecure mind and let it dissolve away. Then spend a short while resting in a state of non-conceptual awareness and enjoy the feeling of relaxation that arises from temporarily having liberated yourself from one of your persistent fears.

© 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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Are You a Product of the Times or the Subject of Your Own Inner Time?

Hi All,

This weeks article looks at the difference between being a product of outer time, the a subject of your own sense of inner time. Another way of putting this is how can we deal effectively with the outer forces impinging upon our life, whilst at the same time honoring that which is arising from our own sense of individuality?

Yours in the spirit of the harmonization of inner and outer time,

Toby


Article of the Week:

Are You a Product of the Times or the Subject of Your Own Inner Time?

To be a product of the times is simply to be a product of the prevailing cultural, social, biological, economic and other environmental forces that happen to be dominant during the era when you are alive. It basically implies that you as an individual are less powerful than the forces that surround you, and hence it is the surrounding forces that mold you as a person, and not your sense of own inner direction.

To be the subject of your own inner time means to have a sense of your own “inner compass” so to speak, or inner direction, and to be prepared to make your life a product of that inner direction and compass, rather than a product of what you are being told to be from the outside.

Another way of putting it might be that, when you are the subject of your own inner time you become self determining. You can go against the flow within the society within which you live, even if it means a degree of isolation, hardship or unpopularity.

So, to be a product of the times means to be created or formed by forces outside yourself.To be the subject of your own inner time means who you are is more a conscious articulation of that which is inside you.

As meditators, or as people who aspire to conscious and creative living (one definition of a meditator?) two of our main jobs are:

  1.  To be aware that inevitably you are, to a greater or lesser degree a product of your times, and to think carefully about this. What aspects and energies of your times are positive and worthwhile participating in, and which are best not identifying with and working to not participate in? To give an example of this one prevailing energy of our time is that of inter-communication and inter-connectivity. There are lots of positive ways in which we can participate in this, by using the Internet to become well informed and to establish relationships with worthwhile people who can help us grow. However, we would be well advised not to participate in neurotic over-communication and email/sms addiction that so many people seem to have become thoughtlessly caught up in these days.
  2.  To be aware of our sense of inner or subjective time, and regularly ask ourselves “What is it within me that is creatively emerging and wishes to express itself in the outer world?” 

The challenge about that which is emerging from within your own sense of subjective time is that it takes acts of creativity, energy and courage to bring it into the outer world and express, there are no guarantees that people will like it or approve of it, maybe they will even completely ignore it! I often think of Vincent Van Gough as an example of this. During his lifetime he sold only one painting (and his brother owned an art gallery, so he really was totally ignored and under appreciated by the public) and it was only after his death that people gained an appreciation and understanding of what beauty he had created.
So, when you start following your own inner compass and bringing forth that which is within you then hopefully you won’t be completely ignored like Van Gough was, and indeed many people become very appreciated when they start acting appropriately and creatively on their inner urges.  But it may well be that, at least in the beginning you are.
The interesting thing is that if you really are the subject of your own inner time, then even if no one else cares, you’ll do it anyway, and you will enjoy it!

© 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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Engaged Equanimity

Dear Integral Meditators,

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!
Toby

Engaged Equanimity

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.

© Toby Ouvry 2012/2013, 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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Meditation at Christmas – Mindful Eating

Dear Integral Meditators,

Sincerest best wishes to you and your family for the Christmas season  from myself and Integral Meditation Asia. Enjoy this weeks article!

Yours in the spirit of the journey,

Toby


Mindful Eating As Your Object of Meditation

The Christmas season is upon us, which, amongst other things involves gathering together to enjoy food in (hopefully) good company. With this in mind I got thinking about the different methods I have come across for transforming the act of eating into an act of meditative awareness. In general we eat every day, and so having a method of transforming eating into a mindfulness practice is invaluable for any meditator, as it means that the act of eating itself strengthens ones meditation practice and the practice of states of mind that lead directly or indirectly to the experience of happiness and/or insight.
In particular at Christmas which can have many spiritually and culturally connotations, mindful eating gives us a chance to enjoy the interface between our meditation practice and the enjoyment of delicious food.  I have outlined five techniques below from you can take your pick, or alternate between. With this in mind, here we go:

1. Eating with detachment – Delicious as the food may be, the great wisdom traditions of the world have always advised that food is in fact not a true source of lasting happiness, and have thus recommended that we temper our attachment to what we eat, and enjoy it without getting completely consumed by mindless gluttony. For those that have learned to practice detachment in a balanced way, the insight is that a certain level of detachment actually enhances the pleasure from any given activity, and this is also the case with food. By mindfully eating with a certain level of detachment the amount of enjoyment from the sensual experience of eating actually increases.

2. Eating with an altruistic intention – You can enjoy your food whilst at the same time motivating yourself to use the energy that you get from the food to bring benefit to the world. This is the kind of classic “Bodhisattva training practice” that one finds for example in Mahayana Buddhism. Before one eats one might think something like “My main wish is to be of benefit to others, in order to do this I am now going to sustain my body by eating this food”. With this in mind you can then enjoy your food in the same way that you normally do, but behind it lies a compassionate and loving motivation.

3. Regarding what is eaten as a manifestation of primal bliss and emptiness – This method is primarily a tantric method (for me one I learned within the Tibetan tradition),and consists of regarding the food that is eaten as primarily a manifestation of the causal, formless bliss that underlies that whole of the manifest world. Thus one eats with the recognition that behind the world of ordinary appearances (such as the food one is eating) lies the ever present bliss and spaciousness of spirit. This practice requires a certain level of experience in meditation, but it can be a fun one to play with even on a more elementary level of practice.

4. Eating with appreciation – Before one eats time is taken to appreciate the cooks, the circumstances in one’s life that make such nutritious/delicious food to be possible, the trees, plants and animals that provided the ingredients.  Eating with gratitude and appreciation provides a wonderful inner context for the enjoyment of good food.

5. Eating whilst putting down your baggage and having fun – In meditation classes I often tell people at the beginning of the session to put down their mental baggage before we begin to meditation. Similarly we can take the beginning of a meal as an opportunity to put down our mental baggage and engage in the simple act of eating in the present moment with enjoyment, like a mini eating meditation. If your mind is pre-occupied with its usual nonsense, there is always the danger that we waste the fun and enjoyment of food simply because we are mentally elsewhere!

Enjoy your food!
© Toby Ouvry 2012, 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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