Zen Flowers, Zen Doorways

Hi Everyone,

This week’s newsletter looks at Zen meditation practice from two lenses, firstly there is the class this coming Wednesday 22nd February entitled “Zen and the Flower of Life” which looks at Zen practice from the perspective of the original teaching of the Buddha from which Zen meditation is said to derive.
Secondly, this week’s meditation article focuses on how we can develop a more complete experience of our own consciousness through a practice that I call “doorway mindfulness”. I hope you enjoy it!

Yours in the spirit of flowers and doorways,
   
Toby


Upcoming Meditation Classes and Events in February

Wednesday 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th February 10.30-11.30am – Qi Gong Meditation Classes at Basic Essence



Zen and the Flower of Life: Meditating on the Origins of Zen

With meditation teacher Toby Ouvry

Date and Time: Wednesday 22nd February, 7.30-9.00pm

Venue:  Gallery Helios, 38 Petain Road, Singapore 208103 (click HERE for map)

This 90minute meditation class will be taking as its subject the story told in the “Flower Sutra” which is said to be the teaching of the Buddha from which the path of Zen meditation originated. Toby will be teaching a simple but profound method of Zen meditation and contemplation based around the flower sutra teaching.

The class will consist of a 20-30minute walking meditation, followed by a short talk, and then a 30-40minute sitting meditation session.

Course fee:  Sing$35, all participants will be provided with a set of class notes and an MP3 recording of the class for their own personal use.

Click HERE to make payment for this class by credit card

To register or for further enquiries: Email info@tobyouvry.com or SMS 65-96750279

About the Teacher: Toby Ouvry is a meditation teacher and artist who has been practicing and teaching for over fifteen years, including five years as a Buddhist Monk. You can find more out about Toby and his work by going to www.tobyouvry.com


Article of the Week:

Doorway Mindfulness as Zen Practice 

Zen practice is based around the understanding that although the thought-based, linear or logical mind constitutes only a small part of our total consciousness, we have become completely identified with it up to the point that it dominates our life, feelings and experience almost completely.
Thus, one of the main objectives of Zen practice is to develop our Consciousness-Awareness, our awareness that our consciousness is much more than the particular thoughts arising in our mind at any given moment.
Within Buddhist teachings, ‘consciousness’ is often defined as ‘clarity and awareness’. ‘Clarity’ in this context means having no form (i.e.: physical, emotional or mental form or characteristics). Clarity might also be thought of as light, or a sense of inner space and spaciousness.
‘Awareness’ means having the power to perceive or understand. In order to get in touch with the level of our being that is pure conscious awareness, we need to be able to let go temporarily of our thinking mind, thus allowing the clarity and light of our natural or original consciousness to become manifest.To do this, we need to find ways of regularly bringing our mind back into the present moment, and letting go of our habitual over-attention to the contents of our consciousness. Whenever our mind is fully in the present moment, our thinking mind will necessarily be pacified, as thinking by definition always has a past or future topic as its object of contemplation.
In addition to practicing the formal sitting meditation exercises taught in Zen, it is very important to find ways of bringing our mind back into the present moment during the day. One way in which we can do this is, every time we pass through a door way, to take an easy deep breath, letting go of the mental activity in our consciousness and relaxing into the here and now for a few moments. By doing so, we shall momentarily allow the clarity and light of our consciousness to become manifest, and prevent ourselves from becoming completely pre-occupied with the subjects that our mind is concerned with processing. Using a physical doorway as a prompt for our mindfulness of the present moment is one way that it is useful to prompt our mindfulness, as each day we pass though many doorways!
There are many similar techniques that we can devise for ourselves that can help us to do this. The best method is the one that works most effectively for you!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Your Ego as Resistance to What is Present

Hi Everyone,

The theme of this week’s newsletter is the perennial spiritual theme of learning to live more fully into the present moment. This week’s article is on the subject of how and why our ego resists living in the present moment, and gives a specific technique for us to start tackling this resistance.

Yours in the spirit of presence and being present,

Toby



Article of the Week:

Your Ego as Resistance to What is Present

Ego is a word that means different things in different contexts, but from a meditative point of view, one of the most practical, useful definitions that I have found is that our ego is simply our resistance to what is present in our life right nowor, put another way, our tendency to wish that the reality in front of us was not there because it does not conform to the reality that we want or wish to be there.
Because our ego is constantly resisting what it present in our life we could say that the ego is actually the source of all our stress and suffering that we experience. To give a couple of examples:

Example 1:  If we have gotten the flu our ego may say things like “This is a lousy time to get the flu because I have this important project on”, or “Why do I always get sick!” Our ego may even try and deny the symptoms that we are sick and continue with our life without slowing down, thus making us even more sick in the long term.
Example 2: If we wish for our partner’s approval regarding something we have done, if s/he does not give us that approval our ego will fight that reality. Rather than accepting what has happened and thinking about what might be the best way to proceed we either try harder for the approval that they are clearly not giving, or we try and punish them for the perceived insult.

In both of the examples above our ego takes the challenge of the situation and turns it into a stressful, painful battle that makes the situation intolerable. We find our ego creating all sorts of mental strategies to avoid the present moment, resist what is present and instead disappear off into a mentally created world that is different from what is actually there.
The ego’s resistance to what is present in our life is one way of describing the dynamic of what the Buddha called “dhukka” or “suffering”; Whenever there is resistance to what is present in our life, there is imbalance and suffering. Correspondingly, whenever there is a letting go of that resistance and a corresponding full movement into the present moment, there we find liberation.

An Exercise to Begin Observing and Releasing the Resistance of the Ego.

A simple technique for releasing the ego’s resistance to the present moment whilst in the midst of your day to day activities is take time regularly in your day to take a few breaths in the following manner:
As you inhale quietly or mentally say to yourself “release”, then as you exhale say“resistance”.  As you breathe in this manner consciously let go of any resistance that you ego is having to whatever is going on in your life, and allow your mind to rest in a state of alert acceptance of what is.

Once you are familiar with this basic practice you can make it slightly more insightful by doing the following:
Before you start your series of “release/resistance” breaths, take a little time to note the nature of whatever your resistance may be to the present moment. For example

  •  Are you resisting the present moment due to a pleasant past memory that you wish was here with you now?
  •  Is your mind hankering after a sense of contentment that is apparently not attainable within the present circumstances?
  • Is it negative anger or another disruptive emotion regarding an unresolved situation that is making you resist what is in front of you?
  • Is sadness or a sense of loss preventing you engaging with what is there with you right now?

Take a little time to get in touch with the specific nature of your ego’s resistance before you try and release it. Then as you engage in your “release/resistance” breathing focus on specifically letting go of the ego resistance that you are feeling right now.

Doing this exercise for 1-3 minutes, three or so times a day over the next week will give you a good start in your journey of letting go of your ego’s resistance to the present moment.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Meditating on the Core of Your Body

Hi Everyone,

This weeks article details a meditation that I teach quite often in my Qi Gong meditation classes; meditating upon and breathing with the core of your body. It is a simple but profound way of learning how to positively connect and direct your subtle energies.

Toby


Article of the Week:

Meditating on Your Body’s Core

Awareness and meditation upon the core of the body is a practice that you find in Qi gong, Indian yoga and Tibetan yoga practices, all in slightly different forms. This article outlines a simple practice that I sometimes teach as an aspect of my Qi gong meditation classes.

What is your body’s core?  
The core of the body (in the context of this article) is its “dead centre” so to speak. In terms of the head, neck, chest, abdomen and hips you could say that the core of these parts of the body is a line of energy running from the top of the centre of the head down through the centre of the brain, neck, chest, abdomen and hips, terminating at the perineum, the point between the middle of the legs. In particular for the purposes of this article we shall be focusing on the core of the body that runs from the lower abdomen up to about the level of the collar bone.

Why should you be interested in developing awareness of the core of your body?

Three main reasons:
1. If you check the way in which your body feels whenever you feel out of balance, physically, mentally and emotionally one thing that you will note is a feeling of being out of touch energetically with the central areas of the body, the heart and the abdomen in particular. It feels as if there are energies in these areas of the body that are dictating your experience. The core body meditation offers a technique for being able to “take back” control of these areas of the body energetically speaking, and thus gain greater volitional control of how you think and feel when under stress.

2. In general meditating on the core of the body enables us to develop the skill of moving energy from the core of the body to the surface of the skin and then back again to the core in a gentle, flowing movement that enables us to rapidly re-balance the qi or prajna within our subtle body, and release any energy blockages that there might be there.

3. Speaking a little more esoterically, the spiritual energies of our being are said to run inside a ‘central energy channel’ along the core of the body, from the top of the crown to the perineum. By meditating upon the core of our body we develop the ability to move our awareness into this subtle energy channel, which in turn enables us to develop deep spiritual states of awareness more readily and easily, though of course it takes regular practice!

Meditating on the core of your body
The nice thing about this meditation and breathing form is that it can be done either as a very short 1-5 minute meditation, or extended out to 20-40 minutes, or whatever time you have available. You simply divide your meditation time between the three steps below

Stage 1: Finding the core of your body
Sit in meditation with your hips, abdomen, chest, neck and shoulders aligned in a comfortable straight line. Visualize a line of light and energy going from the crown of your head down through the dead centre of your torso, ending at the perineum, the point between the middle of the legs. The line of light can be visualized as being about 1-2cm in diameter.
Rock your body gently from right to left to get a sense of this line of light being exactly in the middle of the right and left halves of your body. Then rock your body gently forward and back to get a sense of the line of light being exactly in the middle between the front and back halves of your torso.
You can either focus on the core of the body all the way from crown to perineum, or you can shorten your point of focus so that it includes the core from the level of the lower abdomen up to the collar bone.

Stage 2: Core body breathing
As you breathe in, feel the subtle energy (qi) of your whole body flowing from the surface (ie: the skin) into the central core of the body. As you breathe out feel and visualize the qi flowing from the surface of your body into the core. Do this in a focused, gentle manner for a few minutes.
(If it feels more natural, you can reverse this breathing technique, meaning as you breathe in you visualize the energy flowing from the core of your body to the surface, and as you breathe out it goes from the surface to the core, this is a matter of personal preference).

Stage three, focusing your energy within the core of your body.
Now either at the level of your heart (middle dan tien),or your lower navel (lower dan tien) see a point of particularly bright light within that section of your body’s core. Allow your awareness to absorb and rest within this point of light within the core of your body, letting go of conceptuality and mental activity as much as possible. Remain in this state of letting go for as long as you wish.

Awareness of the core of your body in daily life.
Once you are familiar with the basic aspects of the core body meditation form, you can use the core of the body, and core body breathing as a way of centering yourself wherever you are at any time.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Meditating on the Music of the Mind

Hi Everyone,

This weeks newsletter article describes a meditation form that I am very fond of; meditating on the inner music of the mind. The basic technique is quite simple, but the practice itself has many different levels, so I hope you enjoy exploring it!

Yours in the spirit of the inner music of the mind,

Toby



Article of the Week:

Meditating on the Music of the Mind

Meditating on the music of the mind, or put another way the contents of the mind as music tone and vibration is a technique and perspective that I find very useful, insightful and relaxing. I find that it helps to open up my intuitive awareness, and give objectivity to thoughts, emotions and images within my mind that I would otherwise struggle to see in a new, fresh and wise way.
The method that I describe below is a simple way that you can begin to explore this type of meditation form for yourself.

Meditating on the contents of your mind as music

Step 1: Tuning into the general vibration of your mind
As you sit in meditation, or simply in a spare moment in between appointments, first ask yourself the question “What is the general mood and tone of my mind and awareness right now, if it were a musical note, how would it sound?”reflecting in this way try and experience your mind and its contents purely in terms of its overall “sound”, vibration and tone.

Step 2: Observing the tone of individual thoughts
After you have practiced step 1 for a short while, continue to observe your mind, and the coming and going of the thoughts, images and feelings within it. As each thought or image arises, rather than looking at it as a thought or image, relate to it as a tone or musical note. Tuning into your minds vibration in this way, note which thoughts/images/emotions have a healthy, positive, melodious note/vibration, and which seem to have a dissonant, off-key one. Watch your consciousness in this way for a while.
In order to do this you need to learn to ignore the content of the thought, and just focus on its vibration. So for example if you are thinking about a particular person, you do not focus on who it is or why it is appearing, rather you focus on theresonance and the pitch of the image as it appears. This takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have a little familiarity it is not so difficult. It is just training yourself to approach what appears to your mind in a slightly different way.

Step 3: Focusing on the more harmonious “notes”
As you continue to listen to the musical qualities of your mind and its contents, start tofocus your attention more upon the aspects of your consciousness that seem to be producing the most melodious, resonant and harmonious sounds and vibrations. Relax as much as you can into the positive ambience and vibration of these sounds as much as you can, allowing your whole body and being to flow with them.

Step 4: Awareness of the silence that surrounds and contains the music of the mind
The final stage of the meditation on the music of the mind is to spend a period of timebeing aware of the silence that surrounds and contains the vibrations and tones of mind. Let go of the “musical content” of your mind and relax as deeply as you can into the experience of still, silent awareness. Meditating on silence after this form of “musical meditation” is particularly pleasant as the tonal and vibrational quality of stages 1-3 leads the mind naturally into an expansive and open condition of awareness.

Step 5: Awakening to cosmic melodies
A final step or aspect of this meditation is that it may awaken us to more “cosmic” or spiritual dimensions of awareness that we can experience as actual music or melody of incredible beauty. This is an experience that many meditators have periodically, but most often than not it comes and goes without or really having too much conscious control over it. It arises spontaneously without any effort on our part, and it can go away just as easily. Sometimes it can happen, if so we can enjoy it, but stages 1-4 of this meditation is a complete meditation in itself, I just thought I would tag this fifth stage on as an event that sometimes happens!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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 Four Types of Present Moment Awareness

Hi Everyone,

Wishing you all the very best for the upcoming Chinese year of the water dragon, which I believe starts today! Please find below an article detailing not one but four types of present moment experience that we can cultivate, I hope you enjoy it!

Yours in the spirit of presence and being present,

Toby


 

Article of the Week:

The Four Types of Present Moment Awareness

Normally when we think or talk about meditating “in the present moment” the assumption is that there is only one type of present moment, and that it is this same one present moment that we are all talking about. Actually there are different types of present moment experience that we can tap into. Here are four, with each one I detail what it is, how it helps us, and how to do a simple meditation upon it.

The Primal Pre-Present
The pre-present is essentially the“present moment” before we had any idea of time. We could also think about it as being the “pre-conceptual present”Babies are always in the pre-present moment, because their minds have not developed the power of conceptuality, they have no idea of what the past or future is, and so their mind remains placed firmly in the here and now, before time existed! Likewise animals live in the pre-present because they have non-conceptual minds. Similarly trees and rocks can be thought of as abiding in the pre-present, the time before concepts and before the past and future came into existence!
Meditating on the pre-present enables us to relax, return to a state of innocent awareness, and tap into a state of deep regeneration and re-energization.
We ourselves can meditate on the pre-present simply by deeply observing a (peaceful) baby, or an animal, or sitting quietly in a landscape and just dropping our sense of time temporarily, becoming like a tree or a rock or a baby, with a mind that has forgotten all sense of time and abides in the peaceful space of the pre-present, the pre-time.

The Transient Present
This is the type of present moment that we most often think of as the present moment. That part of our experience that is in the here and now, accompanied by the feeling of there being a past from which we have come, and a future toward which we are going. This is the present moment that many mindfulness meditation practices help us to focus in. We cultivate this type of present moment experience by paying close attention to what is going on right now, on the immediate task that we are attending to. Cultivating this form of present moment awareness helps us to be more centered and grounded in our life, to manage stress more effectively, to savor our enjoyments and appreciate all that is good in our life.
We can cultivate this form of present moment awareness by spending specific periods of time in our daily routine where we try to do just one thing, and whilst we are doing it we train our mind to be fully present to the task at hand, not wondering anxiously about the future or re-living the past.

The Eternal Present
The eternal present is the space of awareness beyond time. Once we have become conceptually mature as adults, that is learned to operate within the space of past, present and future, the assumption can be that time is something “out there”. In reality time as we understand it conceptually is an invention of the human mind. To meditate on the eternal present is to recognize that the entire realms of past present and future are all contained within the context of the eternal, the timeless, and that this eternal timeless present is always present with us, right here, right now.
The eternal present in many ways resembles the primal pre-present, but to be able toreally appreciate and value the eternal present we have to have gone into conceptual time, understood and lived within it, and then see through its illusion. So you could say thatthe eternal present is the post-transient present!
Meditating on the eternal present gives us maturity of vision, depth of perception, a sense of everything possessing its own natural perfection, and opens us up to our first classical “enlightenment experiences”.
We can meditate on the eternal present by simply recognizing that every aspect of our experience right here right now is contained within the embrace of the eternal present, and learn to relax our awareness into that ever present, eternal space.

The Intuitive Present
The intuitive present is when we have gained substantial experience of the eternal present, and have developed the capacity to function in conventional time whilst at the same time remaining connected to the eternal present. As Ajahn Chah says it is the meditative experience of our mind being like “still water that moves, and moving water that it still”. From a present moment perspective it is as if time and eternity now fit together in our experience like a hand in a glove. Conventional time is like the glove, eternity is like the hand beneath that moves.
The intuitive present is not the same as our intuition in general, which can come in many forms such as our instinctive or emotional intuition.
Accessing the intuitive present signals the development of our capacity to engage fully in worldly life and spiritual life side by side, to live in the world whilst not being of the world so to speak. I don’t think there is ever a time when we move into a state where we no longer need to worry about our ego corrupting our spiritual perception, but our experience of the intuitive present certainly gives us a powerful tool to see everything that we experience within the context of our unfolding path to enlightenment.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Zen and the Liberating Power of Non-Duality

Hi Everyone!

The focus of this week’s newsletter is Zen meditation. Zen below you can find information on a workshop I will be doing this coming Wednesday evening 18th of January on “An Introduction to Meditation from the Perspective of Zen”. Beneath that I explore in an article the practice of non-duality as seen from the perspective of Zen meditation. I hope you enjoy it!

Last week’s meditation class entitled “How to Meditate on the Inner weather of the Mind” is now available as an MP3 recording, details can be found HERE.

Yours in the spirit of ever present enlightenment,

Toby



An Introduction to Meditation From the Perspective of Zen

The Zen School of Meditation arose from a combination of the teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of Taoism in China during the 6th century AD, where it became known as Chan meditation (‘Chan’ meaning ‘quietude’). Later it was adopted by the Japanese, and it is they that called it Zen.

Zen is a particularly appropriate form of meditation for today’s hyper busy and challenging world because:

  • Its approach is simple, direct and non-complex (the antithesis of our complex day to day habitual mind!)
  • The emphasis is on re-connecting to our ‘original mind’ or ‘beginners mind’, helping us to find relief from the information overload of our daily life, and the cynicism and world weariness that we can feel living in such challenging and world  changing times
  • It is metaphysics-light and can be practiced by people of all beliefs and backgrounds as the emphasis is upon experiential insight, method and process rather than belief
  • Rather than giving us a set of beliefs that we should ‘accept’ without question, Zen meditation offers us a set of practices that enable us to access and enhance our naturally occurring intelligence, wisdom and compassion!

In this two hour workshop we shall be examining the practical methods of meditation taught by Zen and how we can gain personal experience of inner peace and wellbeing by applying them.

Date and Time: Wednesday 18th January, 7.30-9.30pm

Venue:  Gallery Helios, 38 Petain Road, Singapore 208103 (click HERE for map)

Course fee:  Sing$50, all participants will be provided with a set of workshop notes and MP3 recording of the workshop for their own personal use.

To register or for further enquiries: Email info@tobyouvry.com or SMS 65-96750279


Article of the Week:

Zen Meditation and the Liberating Power of Non-Duality

What is the main aim of Zen meditation? You can word it in a few different ways, but one of the most fundamental is to say that Zen meditation aims to liberate us from the prison of “dualistic appearance” and enable us to live our life in a state of non-dual awareness.

Often when we think about non-dual awareness, or “one-ness awareness” the temptation can be to think of it as being a state of abstract meditation. We have our daily life on one side, and non-duality as a transcendent state of deep meditation on the other. It is true that non-duality transcends our usual day to day state of awareness, but it is a mistake to think that non-duality is something that can be found separate from our everyday, ordinary experience. What Zen seeks to point out is the presence of the non-dual in our everyday, ordinary experiences.

What are Duality and Non-Duality?
We can start to understand how non duality is a natural part of our everyday experience by first understanding what duality, or dualistic appearance is. Dualistic appearance is the appearance of an object to our mind together with our idea or conception of what that object is. Normally we assume that what we see with our eyes or hear is trustworthy, but in reality what happens is that immediately after we see an object our mind immediately projects an idea of that object upon it, based upon our memories and mental programming.
For example if a person we do not like comes into the room, we physically see that person, and then immediately our mind floods with memories of why we dislike that person, and we then mentally project upon them our own distorted image of who we think they are.
Likewise if we fall in love with someone and we then see them approaching us, their appearance triggers a whole series of ideas and emotions that we immediately then project upon them.
Zen meditation does not seek to destroy dualistic appearance, it simply seeks to help us to point it out and see though it, so that we are no longer fooled and confused by it. When we have dualistic appearance as our basic state of mind, our minds idea of reality continually fights with reality itself, which causes a lot of suffering, pain and discord.
When we are no longer fooled by dualistic appearance our mind no longer fights without reality, but moves in harmony with it, and the net result of this is that we suffer less and experience more natural joy, happiness and well being!

Non-Duality
Non-duality means the union of our mind (the subject of our awareness) with its object. When we abide in a state of non-duality, this simply means that we accept things as they are without trying to manipulate them or warp them in order to fit into our preconceived idea of the way things should be. We stop imposing our idea of reality on what we are experiencing. Attaining nondual awareness means being able to drop our idea of reality and start paying attention instead to what is actually there in front of us.  This is why in Zen literature we find expressions such as:

  • Paying attention to what is (as opposed to what we think it is)
  • Staying with your “beginners mind”, free from preconceptions
  • Living beings are “enlightened already” there is nothing that they need to “do” to attain enlightenment.

What we need to do to attain enlightenment from the perspective of Zen is to “drop” our dualistic appearance. In this sense it is learning to stop something we are currently doing unconsciously, rather than doing anything new per se.

Looking closely
So, Zen we could say is the art of “looking closely” at our reality, letting go of our habitual assumptions and projections of mind and really paying close attention to what is actually going on around us and within us in the here and now.
If you are interested in finding more about the actual practices of Zen meditation, you can read more in my article Fundamental Zen Meditation Forms and/or see you at the workshop this coming Wednesday!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Using Landscape to Connect to Our Primally Enlightened Nature

Hi Everyone,

This week’s article continues in the mystical vein of last week’s article, and looks specifically at how nature, landscape and weather can become our meditation teacher! These are also themes we will be touching on in the Wednesday evening class.

Yours in the spirit of awakening through landscape,

Toby


Article of the Week:

Using Landscape to Connect to Our Primally Enlightened Nature 

The great mystics have often used nature, landscape and weather as a way of helping people to reconnect to their primal enlightened nature. By primally enlightened nature here I mean that part of us that is already enlightened (and always has been), but that has been obscured and forgotten because we have become “lost” in the complexities of our conceptual mind and the world of ideas. To connect to ‘reality’ directly and move into a living symbiosis with our primally enlightened nature, we need to develop the capacity to drop our conceptual mind temporarily and simply accept and see things as we find them. Nature is a great teacher in this respect becausethe forces of nature exist and express themselves in a non-conceptual, direct manner.
As Lao Tzu says in his classic “Tao Te Ching” (This quote is from the Stephen Mitchell translation which is one of my favorites):

“Express yourself completely,
Then keep quiet,
Be like the forces of nature:
When the wind blows there is only wind;
When it rains, there is only rain;
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.”

We have all had the experience of being in a landscape or traveling to a place, and being so enraptured by the energy and ambience of the place that all our thoughts just fade away and we move into a state of deeply fulfilling communion and being-ness. What I am going to do is give some simple examples of how you can meditate with remembered aspects of landscape in order to regenerate the non-conceptual, meditative states of mind that accompany them. As the saying goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words”. By recalling our own direct interactions with nature and landscape we can perhaps learn more about meditation than from years of studying books and techniques (although I recommend that to!)
Please note these are just suggestions, once you have a feel for it you can connect to any aspects of the weather, landscape and nature that work for you!

Some Simple Landscape Meditations

On Mountains and the earth element
Recall a visit to a mountain or hill that deeply impressed you and affected you with its energy. Visualize it before you, connect to its stability, solidity and deep presence. Become the mountain, stable, unthinking and yet fully present, able to accept storms and sunshine, wind and rain with the same equanimity,  non-judgmentalness and (in the positive sense of the word) indifference.

On sea, rivers and the water element
Recall a visit to the sea or a trip down a river that really affected you. See yourself by the sea or next to the river, attune to the flowing nature of the water, to its depth and presence. Become the flow of the water, feel yourself in the calm depths of the river flowing across the rocks, or become the sea around you; with its turbulent surface but still calm depths.

On sky, clouds and the air element
Recall a skyscape that impressed or affected you, and the landscape that you experienced it in. Picture the sky in front of you, feel into its spacious nature. Become the sky, feel the strong winds, the clouds, the light. However turbulent the contents of the sky becomes,the open expansive spacious nature of the sky always remains the same.

On the sun and the fire element
Recall a time when you have been particularly affected by the atmosphere created by the suns light. See yourself in that landscape receiving the light, warmth and energy of the sun. Allow your mind to become brilliant, clear and energized by the energy of the sun. Become the sunlight, shining upon everything within its range; radiating, expanding, giving life.

Final comments
So, in the long term one of the main capacities we learn to develop when we meditate in this way is to realize that we are always in landscape and surrounded by nature. Even if we are in a city we can look out of our office window, appreciate the ambience of the sky, and allow our mind to relax into the open, spacious, non-conceptual nature of the sky for a few moments. It is about using the natural forces that are around us all the time to reconnect and remember our primal nature, or as Zen puts it “Our original face”.
You won’t fully understand this article by reading it, it is not something that you have to “work out” with your mind, you have to do it!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Five Stages in the Path of the Mystic (and Weekend Walking Meditation)

Dear Integral Meditators,

First of all wishing you the happiest of new years, and all the very best for 2012! Especially I hope it brings you all a renewed sense of creative participation in the mystery that we call life! This week’s article is on the five stages of the path of the mystic, a mystic being a seeker wishing to connect to life in the truest and deepest source of the word.

 


Article of the Week:

The Five Stages of the Path of the Mystic

In its broadest sense a mystic is someone who engages sincerely with the mystery of life. He or she is not satisfied to live in a habitual, unconscious and mainstream manner, but rather feels moved to celebrate the wonder of life by investigating it as deeply, consciously and profoundly as s/he can.
It is very easy to forget that our lives are fundamentally a mystery, and become habituated, jaded, cynical and thoughtless about the opportunity we have. I find that one of the best ways to keep in touch with an appreciation of my life is simply to remember that each moment is fundamentally a mystery, and to live each moment and engage in every action mindful of this.
To live the life of a mystic is also to court the path of the unconventional, the unpredictable. As I heard said a couple of weeks ago by a Christian minister; “Mainstream religions love mystics, but only dead ones!” A living mystic cannot be relied upon to tow the line of convention, or do what s/he is told to do by the authorities! One way or another if we are interested in and practicing meditation, we are invoking the path of the mystic into our life.
The paths of the great mystics tend to follow recognizable patterns and stages. These stages have been outlined by scholars such as Evelyn Underhill in her book “Mysticism”, and by mythologists like Joseph Campbell and his idea of the “path of the hero”. The five stages I outline below are basically my own, but they are influenced by these two.

So what are the stages that a person on a mystical path goes through? Here are the five basic stages:

1)  A catalytic event, such as a personal tragedy, illness or insight that sets the person off on his or her mystical search for meaning in life. For example the Buddha left the palace of his royal family after seeing a sick person, an old person and a dead person. The sufferings of life became apparent for him then and there and caused him to become immediately motivated to seek enlightenment to relieve the suffering of his people. Another example is Shamans in traditional tribes are often awakened to their path by a bout of physical or mental illness. A third example of such an event might be Saul on the road to Damascus who was blinded by a flash of light for three days. This lead to him turning to God and becoming the man we now know as St.Paul.

2) Initial experiences of illumination
As they embark upon their quest for enlightenment and engage in practices such as meditation, aspiring mystics start to have transcendent experiences that break apart their conventional sense of ego or self and give rise to visions and experiences of “oneness”, radiant lights, visions and so forth. For example I can remember going to two weddings of friends after having taken up meditation in my early twenties, and the entire wedding experience being a completely blissful, out of this world, visionary experience (I don’t think anyone else knew I was having the experience, I think I held it together relatively well!). During this stage we can have a wide variety of these illuminatory, ego transcending experiences. The important point to understand at this stage is that these experiences are a BEGINNING and not an end! If at this point we believe we have become an enlightened being, then in the long term or ego will appropriate these experiences and we will simply become rather deluded and dysfunctional. They are good signs and genuine experiences, but there is much work to be done yet!

3) The “dark night of the soul”
The experiences of stage two where we start to awaken to our real identity or ‘true nature’ then tends to  stimulate within us all that is deluded, dysfunctional, hurt, wounded, devious etc…to rise up and “fight back” so to speak. We can interpret this stage as being all that is dark within ourselves rising up to challenge us and our new identity, but I think there is also a sense in which the forces in the world at large that are against our awakening also rise up and try to stop us. This is a difficult and very challenging phase. We may find ourself seemingly isolated, alone, with all our inner demons rising up at the same time. In the story of Buddha’s enlightenment,  sitting under the Bodhi Tree the night before his enlightenment  he was confronted by the king of demons, the Devaputra Mara, who tried to distract him with visions of attacking monsters and seductive temptresses. Failing to distract him in this way Mara asked the Buddha “If you attain enlightenment, who is going to care anyway?” This is an example  more subtle form of discouragement that we can find ourself presented with in our own dark night, a voice in our head saying “No one cares about what you are trying to do anyway, why bother? Just go back to living the way you were!”

4) Stable enlightenment
The process of going through stages two and three repeatedly over a period of time leads finally to a stabilizing of our enlightenment. Enlightenment in this context means aligning our life, experience and intention with the whole, with the universe, with the benevolent mystery of life rather than just with our own ego and self-centered purpose. At this stage our ‘qualifications’ as a mystic are solidified, people could describe us as a mystic and, by and large they would be right!

5) A return to the marketplace
The final stage in the path of the mystic is a returning to ordinary everyday life in order to either teach what we have learned to others in order to awaken them directly, or to live as an awakened example to others of how it is possible to be “in the world but not of the world” so to speak. During this stage we learn how to integrate our ordinary, everyday personality with our enlightened self in an harmonious and thorough-going manner and express ourself in whatever way is most appropriate to benefit others. For one mystic this can take the appearance of a very conventional life, another may be called to lead a very unconventional, even rebellious or eccentric life.

Final comments
So, the above five stages give an outline of the development of the path of the mystic painted in very “broad brushstrokes”. In reality of course these stages unfold in a very organic manner, with stages crossing over each other, coming and going in cycles and so forth. But the basic point is that if you have a “map” of these five stages in your mind, then you can recognize these stages as they are arising and this can really help us see the patterns in the chaos or our own mystical and meditational path!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Can Meditation Help You Find Your Life’s Purpose? (and Qi gong classes for January)

Hi Everyone,

I hope you had a relaxing and fulfilling Christmas and Boxing day, I had a very pleasant time, just about the right balance of sociability, good food and quiet reflection!

With the new year approaching I my thoughts have been turning (like many people) to what I would most like to focus on during 2012. I write the article below on the question of “Can meditation help you find your life’s purpose?” with this somewhat in mind.

Next week sees the return of regular weekly classes in Singapore, in particular the weeklyQi gong meditation class restarting on the 4th January.

Wishing you all the best for your new year celebrations!

Yours in the spirit of new beginnings,

Toby


Upcoming classes in January 2012:

Wednesday Jan 4th&11th: Wednesday Morning Qi Gong Meditation Classes

Venue: Basic Essence, 501 Bukit Timah Rd, #04-04Cluny Court, Singapore 259760, To register or for further enquiries: Email info@tobyouvry.com or phone Basic Essence on 64684991. For full details click HERE

Sunday 8th Jan 8-9am: Sunday Morning Qi Gong Walking Meditation Classes at the Botanic Gardens

Wednesday Jan 11th 7.30-8.30pm: Meditation Class on How to Meditate on the Inner Weather of the Mind

Wednesday Jan 18th 7.30-9.30pm: An Introduction to Meditation from the Perspective of Zen

 


Article of the Week:

Can Meditation Help You Find Your Life’s Purpose?

One way or another, and for a variety of different motives, many people feel that finding their ‘life’s purpose’ is very important to them. What I want to do in this article is to outline three levels of purpose in life, and then give a few comments regarding how meditation may be able to help people to find their life’s purpose on these different levels.
These three levels of purpose move from ‘basic’ indicating the least evolved (but still perfectly valid), to the intermediate, to advanced, ‘advanced’ in this context meaning advanced from the perspective of meditation and the path to enlightenment.

The three levels of life’s purpose are:

1) The Basic Level – Survival and acceptance:
Here survival means accumulating enough material resources for a basically happy life, and developing enough social competence to build successful, lasting, mutually supporting friendships and family bonds (and thus acceptance into your ‘tribe’).  Here meaning in life is found in living it, and the experience of living successfully and happily within the context of one’s society. For a person on this level meditation can help calm their mind enough to facilitate greater awareness of the choices they have to make, and greater intelligence and control to make sure they are able to direct their behavior and appetites appropriately, so that they are not sabotaging their resource building and relationship efforts all the time. On this level meditation will also help them to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and appreciate the good things in their life as they are able to live more ‘in the present’.

2) The Intermediate Level – Personal achievement and working for the greater good:
On this level two principle things come online; firstly joy in personal achievement (combined with a certain level of ambition, some of this egotistic, some more altruistic), and secondly an expansion of our scope and motivation. We evolve from our life being mainly about ourselves and our family to wanting to make a real, genuine, positive and lasting contribution to society and the world. Our life begins to center around the question ‘What is it in particular that I can offer the world?’
On the first level of personal achievement, meditation helps us in a similar way to the basic level by helping us to optimize our awareness, intelligence and consistency, thus giving us the mental strength to accomplish our goals. On the second level of motivation and scope, regular meditation naturally makes our mind bigger and more open, opening it up to empathy and awareness of both others and the world around us and facilitating the natural development of genuine love and compassion.
Another major way in which meditation helps us at this stage is the opening of our intuition, guiding us toward work and activity that will be of most meaning and consequence.

3) The Advanced Level – Doing Nothing, Going Nowhere:
On this last and most advanced level, the search for a “meaning” in life is dropped as we realize the inherent perfection of each and every moment of our life as it is already, right now. On this level we are able to recognize that the idea of a ‘personal purpose’ and meaning to our life is ultimately both illusory and already fully manifest. Life is perfect as it is and has no meaning other than its own natural, moment to moment self fulfillment.Zen practices such as the practice of aimlessness and thoughtlessness are aimed at realization of this level of our life’s purpose, as is the Tibetan Dzogchen practice of ‘hopelessness’ (meaning if you are hoping for a life meaning to manifest in the future for you, then you will never be able to realize that it is here with you right now!!!).

In Conclusion
I have outlined three levels of life’s meaning here, one thing I would like to flag up is thatyou can’t move onto the advanced level of ‘doing nothing going nowhere’ without having developed high levels of competency at the first two levels, basic and intermediate. There are a lot of people whose life has no meaning at all, and who are doing nothing about it and thus going nowhere in the negative sense of the word and this is not at all desirable!  Thinking advanced meditation teachings and practices are an excuse to be a lazy so and so, and to avoid the basic day to day challenges in your life is a complete illusion! All of these three levels can and should be grown and developed together as we go through our life and develop our meditation practice.

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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Reconnecting to a Sense of Wonder (Our Goldilocks Planet)

Hi Everyone,

This week’s article focuses on generating a sense of wonder, which is a desirable internal condition for enjoying and appreciating the Christmas season!

Last week’s meditation class on “Going from no self to the expanded self” is now available as a recording, if anyone is interested in obtaining a copy you can go HERE.

Finally, you can see the schedule of classes for January below.

Wishing you all the very best for Christmas and the Winter Solstice!

Toby


Upcoming classes in January 2012:

Wednesday Jan 4th&11th: Wednesday Morning Qi Gong Meditation Classes

Sunday 8th Jan 8-9am: Sunday Morning Qi Gong Walking Meditation Classes at the Botanic Gardens

Wednesday Jan 11th 7.30-8.30pm: Meditation Class on How to Meditate on the Inner Weather of the Mind

Wednesday Jan 18th 7.30-9.30pm: An Introduction to Meditation from the Perspective of Zen

 



Article of the Week:

Reconnecting to a Sense of Wonder (Our Goldilocks Planet)

One of the things that I appreciate about Christmas looking back on my childhood was the sense of wonder that seemed to pervade the atmosphere during that time. Of course as we grow older the bubble bursts and the sense of wonder diminishes as we discover where the presents really come from, and who really drunk the brandy and ate the Christmas cake that was left out for Santa!
One of the main things that we seek to reclaim on our spiritual path (in whatever terms we may define it) is a sense of wonder. It is a bit like the wonder that we had as children at Christmas, but it is a post-rational wonder, a sense of wonder in being alive, in having the opportunity to live a human life even though we know Santa does not really visit over Christmas, or that the world is filled with contradictions and pain, and with full knowledge and  awareness of what science and rationality tells us about the way things are.

The fact remains that, despite all we know, life is a mystery, life is uncertain, sometimes beautiful, sometimes terrifying. One of the things I have been doing as Christmas approaches is to consciously cultivate a sense of wonder at this mystery, and try to allow that sense of wonder to pervade my everyday life as deeply as possible.
If you wish to do this yourself, one thing you can do is take ten minutes to simply recall and write down the things that cause a sense of the wonder of life to arise within you. Sometimes it is not so much that we CAN’T develop wonder and appreciation, it is just that we FORGET to! Once you have your list, then just take a few minutes each day to review your list and reconnect to the sense of wonder and appreciation that this list awakens within you.

Our Goldilocks Planet 

If you want something specific to help you develop a sense of wonder, here is one that I have been thinking about a lot. I learned a couple of weeks ago from one of my daughters school books that we live on a “Goldilocks Planet” which is to say that the conditions on our planet are extremely rare in this universe, and it is these conditions that give rise to the opportunity for biological life. I have been using this as a way of contemplating wonder, and just feeling thankful to have the opportunity to be alive on this fragile rock hurtling through the Universe! Here are the basic characteristics of a Goldilocks planet, if one of these were missing, none of us could exist!

1) Having just the right sized sun
If our sun was too big it would burn out too fast for life to evolve on a planet, if it was too small it be prone to give rise to surface storms that would destroy life on planets. We have a nice middle sized sun with a leisurely 10 billion year lifespan!

2) Just the right sized planet
If earth was too big (like say Jupiter) the gravity of the planet would crush all life. If it was too small (like Mars) our bodies would explode and dissipate due to lack of gravity. The Earth is just the right size, with enough gravity to hold an atmosphere that sustains life and protects us from the sun’s rays.

 3) Just the right distance from the sun
Earth inhabits the narrow band of orbit around the sun that means our water is liquid, not frozen or gaseous. Venus, one planet nearer the sun has an average surface temperature of +500 degrees Celsius, whilst Mars, one planet further away has an average temperature of -63degrees Celsius.

4) The existence of water
…and a solid surface upon which it can pool. Life as we know it depends upon water

5) A little help from Jupiter
Whose gravitational field attracts, blocks and absorbs many dangerous asteroids (due to its size and enhanced gravitational field). So we are in much less danger of mass destruction than we would otherwise be!

So, for me, contemplating our fragile life living on a Goldilocks planet has really helped fill my Christmas season with wonder and awe, I hope it helps you too!

© Toby Ouvry 2011, 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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