Why worry when you can pray: A five minute active meditation for overcoming worry and anxiety

How often do you spend time feeling worried and anxious about things in your life that you care about but cannot control? It can often be much more beneficial, rather than struggling with the worry to simply acknowledge it and then pass it over to a higher power through a simple, improvised, on the spot prayer. In the exercise below I address all the prayers to “God”, but when you are doing this yourself you can fill in whatever expression of a higher power feels comfortable to you:

 Sit comfortably; spend a short while centring yourself by focusing on the breathing or other appropriate method. Then just let your mind wander onto the things that it feels anxious about. Each time you are able to identify a cause of worry and anxiety, offer up a short prayer and then release the worry to a higher power.

For example:

1)  I notice that I am anxious about an argument with my partner or family member.

So I offer a prayer: “Dear God please help me resolve the conflict between myself and X, I am not sure what to do about it, but I pray for your grace and intervention”.

I then release the prayer and let go of the worry and relax for a few breaths.

 2) Then a worry comes up about a talk that I have to do tomorrow to a large group.

So I pray: “Dear God please help me to find appropriate material for tomorrows talk, and to be able to present it in a way that the audience will connect with.”

I then release the prayer and let go of the worry.

So, the entire five or so minutes is simply spent oscillating between these three activities; noting a worry, praying about it, and releasing it to a higher power. At the end of the meditation I recommend you spend a little while just resting in and enjoying the release/letting-go stage of the exercise.

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you must seek Toby’s permission first. Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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Tackling a-void-ance: Meditation for healing and transforming loneliness and emptiness

Unless we are careful, a lot of the things that we do in our life are simply activities that we engage in to avoid the underlying sense of loneliness, emptiness, incompleteness, feeling or separation, or quite simply the VOID that we sense inside. The motivation for getting in a relationship for example can primarily be driven by a feeling that we lack something within ourself, and we need someone else to make up for that lack. Thus much of what we do is simply a-void-ance, a way of dancing around the big hole that we sense in the centre of our life, and trying to do everything in our power to avoid acknowledging or confronting it. The following meditation/contemplation is designed to help us look honestly at the void in our life and see that there may be something in it that we did not suspect.

Meditation on a-void-ance

Sit down and spend a short while just relaxing and centring yourself.

Bring to mind times in your day when you feel a sense of loneliness, incompleteness, emptiness, a negative void. Instead of avoiding these feelings, move into them, accept them without comment and allow yourself to feel them deeply. Use the breathing to breathe with them if you like.

Now gently let go of the manifest feelings of loneliness/emptiness that you feel, and just focus instead on the sense of space that accompanies these feelings. Try to experience just the space, just the void in your being. Breathe, relax, allow yourself to sink into that inner space that so often you try and avoid. It is almost like when you have been fighting going to sleep, and then you just decide to give in, and allow yourself to fall asleep.

Now within that empty void sense a light, like the sun gradually dawning over the horizon. What was once a dark empty space now becomes a void filled with light and radiance. The space is still there, the void is still there but it is filled with life, brightness and luminosity, like a sun shining from within the depths of space. Remain with this experience for as long as you like.

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you must seek Toby’s permission first. Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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Is your meditation a type of therapy, an art-form or a spiritual practice?

Your meditation is a therapy if you are doing it to fix something inside you that is broken. Meditating to cope with stress, heal an emotional wound, to pacify/heal our addictions and demons is a form of therapy.

Your meditation is an art-form if you are using it to push the boundaries of your inner skill, power and capability. It is where you take risks, push the limits of what you thought possible, and experience new ways of seeing, feeling creating.

Your meditation is a spiritual practice when you rest in a state of no boundaries, where the barriers between yourself and the universe dissolve into light and there is just pure being-ness, one-ness, opulence and radiance.

The chances are that your meditation oscillates between these three types in an organic way, but it is extremely useful to be able to differentiate them in these three ways because:

–          There are times when you need to stop trying to fix that which is broken in you and start taking some risks

–          There are times when pushing your boundaries is doing more harm than good, and you need to create a healing space for yourself

–          There are times when you need to get off your butt and stop getting absorbed in the timeless wonder of it all

–          There are times when you need to take a holiday from the bounds of time and space and rest in the regenerative-radiance of your original being

–          There are times when you’re universal, original being explodes into action and demands that you start expressing your inner and outer art-forms. If so, you’d better act on this or watch out!

© Toby Ouvry 2010, please do not reproduce without permission. Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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Concentrating from the Heart – Both meditation and life are much easier when your head and your heart are in the same place!

One of the perennial questions that I get asked, and that meditators across the world struggle with on a daily basis is “How can I keep my mind focused in meditation? It seems so difficult!” Here is one technique that I practice and sometimes teach to people that I describe as ‘learning to concentrate from the heart’.

It is based around the observation that, if you are engaged with an object of meditation emotionally and from your heart, then your mind will tend to find it easy to keep its focus. However, if you are trying to focus your mind in meditation but your heart is somewhere else, then you it will be a constant struggle as your mind strives to be in one place, and the heart seeks to be in another. Below is a basic technique that is quite easy to understand, and once you have practised it a few times, you will be able to adjust it according to your point of balance and creatively make it your own. 

Learning to concentrate from the heart:

1.  Bring to mind something that moves your heart and body to a state of love and engaged emotionality. The potential object is very varied here; someone you love, the most significant kiss of your life, sitting by your favourite river, stamp collecting, a past heightened mystical experience, a project that excites you… The main thing is that it moves YOUR heart, engages YOUR emotions, awakens a certain sense of rapture within YOUR heart and body that you can feel tangibly and deeply.

2. Once the feeling is there, use the breathing to breathe the energy of the experience in and out of your heart space (center of your chest). As time goes by, keep the feeling, but allow its intensity to reduce slightly, and gradually increase your focus on the breathing so that the heartfelt emotion is being combined with a single-pointedness of concentration on the breathing.

Practice being able to combine the arousal and engagement of your heart with the single-pointedness of your concentration in this way.

3. When you are familiar with the basic process described in points 1&2, you can then practice shifting your point of focus away from the original object that engaged your heart to a new meditation object. For example you can shift the rapture of your remembrance of your first love (or your first stamp collection) onto a feeling of love for living beings as a whole, Or the feeling of compassion that you had as a nine year old for a kitten to a love for all the animal kingdom.

The main thing I want to flag up with this article is that meditative concentration without engaging the heart is hard work. Meditation with the heart engaged makes it relatively easy to keep focus, and induces the levels of bliss and rapture that we can experience through meditative concentration much more readily and rapidly! 

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you MUST seek Toby’s permission first. Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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Developing your inner vision: The darkness that you encounter in meditation may not be what you think!

If you meditate consistently over a period of time, at some point you are going to awaken one or other of your faculties of inner vision (see tomorrows class on “How do we awaken our spiritual vision and what will we see?”). This whole area is a big one, but I want to share just one short story now.

When I first started meditating, I had inadvertently, through some basic hatha yoga, activated my kundalini. As a result I started to have visions, and the visions that I saw were quite varied, but as often as not they were very dark, dense and apparently malevolent in nature. It seemed to happen in waves, for days at a time, then going away, only to come back at a later time. I seemed to encounter dark beings within the dark energy, with hooked noses, long hands and so forth, very Harry Potter.

I found this a bit disconcerting, and tried to force these evil visions away with prayers of protection, power mantras and all this type of thing, but the visions persisted causing a certain degree of fear and anxiety. I thought that I must be doing something wrong in my meditation, or I had some form of evil in me that must be magnetizing these funny beings to me.

I was able to clarify the situation as a result of starting to make my own compost. I noticed that when I lay down to bed at night, if I had been doing any work in the garden, and in particular doing composting work, then I would almost always see these same dark beings in my inner vision as I went to sleep. It was at this time also that I started to read a little bit on the idea of nature elementals, the spiritual beings who over-light the fundamental life and death processes of nature. Putting two and two together I realized that what I was seeing in my inner vision was not the forces of darkness in an evil sense, but rather the natural elemental forces of death, decay and breaking down as they exist in the natural world.

These natural forces of death and decay in the natural world are just as important as the life giving forces, and are in no way malevolent. However, for a human such as me encountering them for the first time, they often produce a reaction of confusion and aversion. Once I had clearly understood who and what they were, my fear for them dissolved and I learned to welcome them into my awareness in the same way that I welcomed light, blissful and radiant experiences.

When we start to develop our inner vision we may have some experiences that we do not understand, but it is important not to jump to conclusions too quickly, as what we see may not be what we think it is!

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you MUST seek Toby’s permission first! Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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What is it that is keeping me from relaxing in the present moment?

If meditation is understood as being able to keep our mind in the present moment (which is one major foundational understanding of it), then a useful question to ask ourselves each day is “What is it within my experience of the present moment right now that I am resisting entering into?” On one level it seems as if the present moment should be the simplest and most natural space to enter into, and yet we resist.

Rather than giving you the answer to this question in an abstract or philosophical manner, I’ll just outline my experience of this over the last weekend, and then offer some conclusions based around this.

Last weekend (it is now Monday) I noticed an uneasy feeling that was preventing me from feeling at comfortable with myself and with my circumstances. It seemed as if my mind was on a hair trigger, as soon as I sat down to try and relax, all sorts of reasons to  feel dissatisfied or uneasy would start forming in my mind. So, recognizing that I had something of a challenge on my hands, I asked myself the question “What is it that is causing me to feel uneasy in the present moment and unable to relax?” I just sat and breathed with this question for a while, looking into my body and mind for an answer. Rationally I discovered no real reason for the unease, life is going quite well, no big crisis, nothing REALLY to feel bad about. However, when I looked in my body, on the energy level I found that there was what I would describe as a nervous “tick” in the centre of my chest. This is to say that there was a very uncomfortable energy in the centre of my chest that was creating a natural feeling of discomfort and dis-ease within my mind and body.

It seemed like it was something that I could not shift straight away, and so I made a decision “If I cannot shift this uncomfortable feeling, then I am just going to have to ‘be’ with it, and make sure that I don’t allow it to affect my thinking, feeling and behaviour in any kind of negative way”.

So, having made this decision, my main task over the next 36 or so hours that it took for this heart energy to clear was simply to “be” with this uncomfortable energy and mindfully exercise my willpower in such a way that the energy was not able to manifest in any way beyond just being an uncomfortable feeling.

The act of choosing to be with the uncomfortable feeling, and use my willpower to not allow it to cause a problem is an example of when we need to make an extra effort to be present, even if there is a certain amount of willpower and effort involved.

Key points:

  • Asking yourself the question “What is it that is keeping me from entering into the present moment” is a very useful way of bringing yourself back to the present moment, even if you can feel resistance to it.
  • Asking the question regularly enables you to get to know the reasons you personally avoid being in the present moment much more intimately.
  • Sometimes being in the present moment means exerting your willpower and courage, and being compassionately honest with yourself.
  • Learning to be aware and take care of your mind and body when they are unhappy and uncomfortable is just as important, maybe more so than being present when things are going well.

 Read related article on Toby’s Mentalfitnessnow blog: “Why you need to commit to what is happening in your life now, whether it is what you want or not, and the trap of wishing you were somewhere else.”

©Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you must seek Toby’s permission first! Contact info@tobyouvry.com

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Grow your creativity by embracing uncertainty and ambiguity

When we face up to our mind in meditation (and indeed in life in general) one of the longings and graspings that we often find there is for certainty and stability, and on the surface of it we may think that this is natural and inevitable. But hold on, what would happen if everything was certain in your life and totally stable? The answer is that your life would become totally dead and lifeless. In a landscape of certainty, with no chance elements there would be no opportunity for you to express your creativity and uniqueness at all.

The more that you reflect upon this the more you realize how misguided and limiting this grasping and craving for certainty is, and the more we find ourself start embracing the constant uncertainty, ambiguity and change that pervades our life on so many different levels.

Every time you are faced with an open, unpredictable situation, therein lies and opportunity for you to explore and express your own creative talents and abilities.

I believe the embracing of uncertainty to be one of the main characteristics not only of people who have good psychological health, but also those who are treading a genuine, developmental path to enlightenment and liberation.

So, the next time you see a gap in your appointment schedule, wonder where the next pay cheque is coming from, worry about what is happening in your romantic relationship and so on, be sure to embrace and appreciate the creative space that the situation is opening up in your life, your mind and your soul. Before you rush to solve the problem, enter for a while the texture, wonder and creative potential of that uncertain space.   

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but please seek Toby’s permission first.

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The healing power of awareness

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The healing power of awareness; the topography of insight meditation

 

Next Tuesday 29th June I will be beginning a new series of classes entitled “Insight, awareness and the awakening of our spiritual vision” , so I wanted to spend a little time in this week’s blog post reflecting upon some of the subjects that we will be tackling in these classes.

I want to begin this article by paraphrasing Roger Walsh in a conversation that he had with Ken Wilber. Basically he said that one of the amazing things about our minds is that, if we let it, our mind has this incredible power to self-heal, self-actualize (that is start to move naturally toward an enlightened state), and self-transcend (that is to move naturally toward the deeper/subtler level of consciousness immediately beyond its present state of growth) itself, without our having to do anything too much other than allow it.

What Roger is basically saying here is that, if you regularly cultivate states of relaxed and lucid awareness in your day to day routine, then the innate power of this relaxed and lucid awareness will have a powerful healing effect upon your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. The problem for so many of us is that we perceive our relationship to our mind as a perpetual battle, where the main object that seems to be standing in the way of our inner growth is the mind itself!

One of the principle forms of meditation that we can use in order to start making friends with our mind, and begin to access and experience it’s amazing powers of self-healing is insight meditation. The main activity of the mind in insight meditation is simply to observe the different levels of our awareness without getting in the way. Because of this insight meditation is sometimes called “choice-less awareness” whatever comes up, we just watch, don’t interfere.

There are four basic levels of awareness that insight meditation helps us to cultivate awareness of; gross, subtle, very subtle and non-dual. We will be looking at these in depth in the classes, but what I want to do below is to outline them and then outline a simple meditation form that we can do on each of these four levels. This way even if you are not able to attend the classes (or listen to them as a recording), you can still get a basic practical flavour of what insight meditation involves.

A basic map or topography of insight meditation awareness:

Level 1: Gross awareness

This level is basically our awareness of our environment, senses and physical body.

Sample insight meditation exercise for this level:

Be aware of everything that you hear for a period of time. Note all the different layers of sound that your ear awareness is picking up. As I am sitting now I can hear some distant cars, the fan on the table next to me, the typing as my fingers work on the type-pad, I can hear the sound of my breathing in my inner ears. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the layers of sound flowing into your moment to moment awareness.

Level 2: Subtle awareness

This level basically observes the flow of thoughts, feeling and images that flow through our mind on a moment to moment basis. On this level there is a range of subtlety, from the everyday thoughts of our waking mind to the more subtle experiences of the dream state and of day dreaming. Basically this is the realm of inner form, or thought-form.

Sample insight meditation exercise for this level:   

Simply sit down and observe the flow of thoughts, feelings and images the flows through your awareness. Imagine that you are like a person sitting by the side of the river of your mind, observing the constant ebb and flow of mental images and feelings that passes by you.

Level 3: Very subtle awareness

This level observes the formless inner space of our very subtle consciousness that is causal to, and lies behind our mental consciousness and sensory consciousness. If you imagine your thoughts and feelings are like clouds, and your very subtle formless conscious is like the sky that contains those clouds.

Sample insight meditation exercise for this level:

Continuing to watch your mind, become aware of the spaces between your thoughts. Allow your awareness to sink deeper and deeper into these spaces, as if you were entering into a clear open sky-like space. Let the cloud-like forms of your thoughts and feelings gently dissolve away into the sky like space of pure, formless awareness.

Level 4: Non-dual awareness

This levels is where the sense of yourself as an observer of the formless space of your consciousness (as in level 3 above) dissolves away, and you are left with a unified (non-dual) experience of primal awareness, just one single experience in the mind with no conceptual ideas of duality at all.

The way to approach this level of practice is through the level 3 exercise. The more you practice this gradually you will feel yourself moving toward this non-dual state.

So, my basic point in this article is that if you allow your mind to consciously relax on a regular basis, then you are giving yourself a chance to activate its natural self healing awareness. If you want a particular in-depth method to develop your minds self-healing mechanism, then insight meditation offers one such tool.

© Toby Ouvry 2010, you are welcome to use this article, but you MUST seek Toby’s permission first.

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Single-pointedness and going with the flow

Article subtitle: The two fundamental types of meditation found within eastern teachings, and a practical method for exploring both.

To a person new to meditation, the potential choice of different meditation types and traditions, together with all the different terminology that is used can make for quite a bewildering experience. The fact that the world is rich in spiritual traditions is a cause for rejoicing, but when it comes to the question “which meditation form should I choose” the diversity can be a challenge!

What I propose to do in this article is to point out a basic two fold division within which can be placed almost all of the meditation practices that one may find in the eastern traditions of meditation. Many of the western traditions of meditation also fall into these two categories, but I specifically want to focus on eastern traditions here, as they fit into the two categories much more obviously and systematically. By Eastern Tradition, I mean principally Buddhist and Hindu as these are the two eastern traditions from which spring most of the applied meditation systems that you can find and practice today.
The two fold division I am going to call one pointedness meditation and insight meditation respectively. Here is a brief summary of the meanings of both terms:

One Pointedness Meditation – Focusing the mind on a single object without distraction:
So, one pointedness meditation is essentially a training in concentration. Using one object, such as the breathing, a mantra, a feeling (love, compassion, joy etc…) or a visualized object, the meditator trains him/herself and her mind to focus attention on the object without distraction. The training progresses in stages; First the meditator is only able to focus for a few seconds before getting distracted, but gradually she builds focus until she is able to hold it for a few minutes, then ten, half an hour, one hour and so on, until eventually she can enter into meditation and hold the object in his or her mind without distraction for as long as desired.
For someone engaging in one pointedness practice, meditation is an act of will, one exerts effort to keep one’s attention where it is supposed to be, and not get distracted by extraneous mental activity. It is through this concentration that the meditator makes progress in his path of inner growth and development.
In Tibetan Buddhism this form of meditation is called tranquil abiding meditation, in Theravada Buddhism it is called the jhana or samatha meditation, and in Hindu and yoga meditation practice it is called dharana.

Insight Meditation – Going with the flow:
In the second form of meditation, insight meditation, rather than try and control the mind, the essential point is to witness the mind as an observer. No attempt is made to stop the mind working, the meditator simply sits and takes in all the information that is available to him. He notes the experiences coming from his senses, notes his breathing, the thoughts and feelings flowing through his mind. He also notes the spaces in between the thoughts and feelings in his mind. The only thing that the meditator must NOT do in insight meditation is to get caught up and identified with what is arising in his mind, if he does this then he has lost the thread of his mediation. As soon as he becomes aware that this has happened, he should immediately return to his position as an observer and witness.
As his practice progresses, gradually the flow of thoughts and feelings within his mind recedes, and the true nature of his mind is revealed to him, which is why it is called insight meditation.
In Tibetan Buddhism this is called mahamudra meditation, and/or dzogchen. In Theravada Buddhism is called vipassana meditation, although some vipassana traditions seem to emphasize meditation on the breathing in a way that is more like one pointedness meditation.

For us today in contemporary society, I think both meditations have their merits as both of them teach us useful skills that we can apply practically to our daily lives. One pointedness teaches us focus, strength and stamina whilst insight meditation shows us how to let go, how to allow, go with the flow and to develop our reflective wisdom.
With this in mind I am going to outline below a simple practice that you can do where there is alternation between one pointedness and insight techniques. Practiced together in this way they form a complementary whole where we can develop both skill sets.

Combined one pointedness and insight meditation form:

Setting up the meditation:
Find a comfortable meditation posture on a chair or cross legged on a cushion, the main feature of the posture should be a naturally straight back, with the muscles relaxed, doing only enough work to hold your posture upright and no more.
Once comfortable, make a decision to relax and take your mind away from the business of your life for the period that you have allotted for meditation.
Use the natural process of your breathing to start to bring your mind into the present moment, and onto your body. Once your mind has settled somewhat, become aware of the expression on your face. Raise the corners of your mouth just a few millimeters, so that you are now wearing the expression of a gentle half-smile **(see note below), note that the physical expression of a half smile if held consciously gradually gives rise quite naturally to a naturally positive inner smiling energy.

The main meditation form
Stage 1:

Now, for five breaths, try and focus on the inhalation and out exhalation without distraction. As you breathe in focus your attention on your inner smile, and as you breathe out, feel the energy of the inner smile gently expanding through your body and mind. This is the one-pointedness aspect of the form.
Stage 2:
Once you have completed five breaths without distraction, relax your exclusive attention on the breathing, and just take it easy for a few breaths. Be aware of the whole of your moment to moment experience, the breathing, your senses, your body, the flow of thoughts and feelings though your mind. The only thing you CANNOT do in this phase of the meditation is allow yourself to get lost in thoughts and distractions. You are a witness and observer as you relax and let go! This is the insight meditation aspect of the form.

For the next part of the meditation, just alternate between stages 1 and 2, focusing on the breathing and smiling for five breaths, then relaxing and observing for a few breaths. Do this for as long as feels appropriate.

Optional stage 3:
This is a slightly more advanced stage, but you should find that it comes quite naturally once you have been practicing stages 1 and 2 regularly in your daily meditation. You should find that as you do stages 1 and 2 above, a sense of space and clarity starts to appear quite naturally within your mind, like a clear sky emerging from behind clouds. So, with stage 3, As you do the five breath single pointedness section, rather than focusing on your inner smile as you breathe, focus single pointedly on the sense of inner space as you breathe in and out. Then, as you relax for a few breaths as in stage 2, rather than focusing on the stream of thoughts and feelings flowing through your mind, instead focus on the spaces between the thoughts and feelings.
In this way you can use the one pointedness part of the meditation and the insight part in a complementary way to gradually journey deeper into the experience of inner space and clarity within your mind.

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Fundamental Zen sitting meditation forms

One of the most basic and fundamental meditation practises in the Zen tradition, especially for those in the Soto Zen school is called “shikantaza”, or “just sitting”, and it is this meditation form that I want to outline in this article.

So, the idea with shikantaza or just sitting meditation is that through just sitting you will start to develop and refine your awareness. When you sit down quietly and still your mind a little, you discover that there are basically five main aspects of your awareness. These are:

1)      Awareness of your environment and senses, meaning the surroundings around where you are sitting, and the external sights, sounds and sensations that you can perceive with your five senses.

2)     Awareness of your body and breathing, or your basic physical body awareness.

3)     Awareness of the stream of thoughts, images and feelings within your mind

4)     Awareness of the natural inner space and silence of your consciousness that surrounds and contextualizes the thoughts and feelings. To use an analogy, if you think of your thoughts and feelings as being like clouds, the space and silence in your mind is like the sky itself.

5)     Awareness of awareness itself, that is to say the ever present witnessing aspect of our awareness that is present and observes the objects present in levels 1-4. To continue the analogy, if your thoughts are like clouds, and the formless space of your consciousness is like sky, then your witnessing awareness is like the sun shining its light rays into the sky of your mind. This awareness is sometimes called our natural “Buddha nature” in Buddhism. Other traditions call it other things, eg: the Hindus refer to it as Atma the Eternal Self, or the causal self. Western spiritualities might refer to it as the light of the soul, or the inner light of God that lies within the heart of all.

So, when you just sit, you can choose to focus on any or all of the above and take them as your object of meditation and observation. Different people will find that different aspects of their awareness feel more natural to focus on than others. For example some people find focusing on the body and breathing to be most effective. For others focusing on the sky like nature of the mind feels most appropriate and enjoyable.

A basic Zen meditation form.

I personally recommend that when you are doing this initially, you spend a few minutes focusing on each different level of awareness in turn. For example if you are doing a 20 minute meditation, then you could first spend two minutes on each of the levels 1-5 above, from environmental awareness to awareness of awareness. That would take you about 10 minutes. Then you could spend the remaining 10 minutes of your meditation focusing on the aspects of awareness that you personally find most comfortable and helpful for meditation.

This meditation form enables you to gain basic familiarity with all five basic awareness’s, whilst also giving time for you to focus on your own personal preferences.

A more advanced form

Once you have some familiarity with the basic form above, you can then practice combining two or three different levels of awareness into a single awareness, for example:

– As you are aware of your body and your breathing (level 2), you can combine that awareness with a sense of the inner sky like space of your mind (level 4).

–  As you are aware of the cloud like thoughts and feelings in your mind (level 3), you can be aware of the witnessing self that is observing them (level 5).

This can be a fun stage, whilst at the same time it helps you to develop your skill and dexterity in terms of leaning to be mindful of all the different facets of your present moment awareness simultaneously.

Deep meditation

Once you are familiar with all the different levels of awareness through the above two practices, then you should gradually try and spend more and more time sitting with awareness of just levels 4 and 5, moving deeper and deeper into the experience of the emptiness or sky like nature of the mind, in combination with awareness of the witness or causal self. These two facets of awareness will feel as if they are merging together into a single experience; the sun like nature of your awareness and the sky like nature of the mind merging and mixing into a blissful single flow of awareness.

Non-duality

Combined practice of deep sitting meditation with mindfulness of the five basic levels of awareness in your day to day life will eventually start to give rise to a sixth level of awareness, that of non-duality. This sixth non-dual level of awareness is where we start to experience the lower five levels of awareness as a single unity, not separate or distinct from each other. The world and our moment to moment experience is seen to be arising from the non-duality of primal spirit, or primal awareness.

Non-dual or primal awareness is an awareness that is ever present within us, but which we usually fail to recognize, you could say that it is the final enlightened goal of any authentic spiritual path. You can read a very good article by Ken Wilber on non-dual spirit here, I recommend it, it is one of the best introductions to the subject that I have read.

Anyway, I hope the above article gives some simple and clear pointers for Zen “just sitting” meditation, it is very simple and enjoyable, and its simplicity enables it to be accessible for beginners and at the same time offering ever deepening insights as we continue to practice it.

© Toby Ouvry 2010, Please do not reproduce without permission.

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