Mindfully Tolerating the Unhappiness of Others

Today my daughter came home from from school quite unhappy about something that, from an adult perspective was clearly a “not important”. I could feel my irritation building, my answers to her were becoming shorter and more pointed. Something like “I’ve got enough hassle, why are you bothering me with this nonsense” was what I was saying to myself in my mind.

Then I stopped, there were now two unhappy, irritable people whereas previously there was only one. I took a deep breath and decided to make more space and kindness for her in my heart and mind. Maybe it was not important from an adult perspective, but surely her pain is worth the attention and care of her father?

Five minutes later the problem seems to have been resolved happily, where there were two unhapy people, there were now two happy ones. If we look closely tolerance and kindness can create win win situations in many areas of our life!

© 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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Computer Mindfulness

My home computer is very slow. Today things reached a bit of a head for me, I was working at home and getting very frustrated by my computers ever increasing slowness, the more I tried to do, the slower it got!

I found the answer after taking a break for 20 minutes. I adopted a strategy of opening no more than one, maximum two programs at a time on the computer, so that it has less to process at any given time. The result is that it worked a treat, the computer started working a lot faster, and I also found that consciously trying to do only one task at a time actually made my time at the keyboard a lot more mindful, spacious and enjoyable.

From now on I am going to adopt this practice with all computer work, not just when I am on a super slow one!

© 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

Enjoyed this post? Why not sign up for Toby’s free Creative Meditations E-Newsletter?

Check out Toby’s Meditation Classes


Stress Relief and the Stress of Meditation

Therapeutically meditation has gained a reputation for helping manage stress, and there is a lot of hard evidence to support this. There is no doubt that learning to relax the mind through meditation can help enormously in dealing with stress.

However, one thing that is not so well publicized is that meditation can actually be a cause of another type of stress, developmental stress. When you start to meditate you are increasing the creative power of your mind, and also unlocking many of the latent abilities that you carry within your consciousness. As your creative power and inner abilities begin to grow and develop this naturally gives rise to developmental stress, which basically means the healthy stress that comes from growing and changing.

So when you meditate there is always this balance to be found between the stress that you are relieving through your mediation, and the healthy developmental stress that you are invoking through your meditation. Finding that balance is an art that all practicing meditation need to understand.


Leveraging More on Your Inner Creativity – Meditating on the Four Stages of Creative Energy Cycles in Your Life

All of us are fundamentally creative, and contain within us the spark of spiritual “Eros” which impels us toward acts of creativity in our life. WHAT we create depends upon the cycles and patterns of creativity that we set up or built as habits. What I want to do in this article is outline the four basic stages of a creative cycle, and then reflect upon how we can go about using this understanding to become more positively creative in our life.

The four stages of a creative cycle

Stage 1 – The activation of latent Eros within ourselves– The first stage of a creative cycle is when the natural creative spiritual energy (Eros) within us becomes activated in some way. At this stage our creative energy has no form, it is pure potentiality that can become any number of things depending upon which way we direct it.

Stage 2 – The formation of images, thoughts and feelings within our creative imagination – The second stage of a creative cycle is when our imagination starts to build structures and images which our creative energy can then energize and animate. Whatever intentions, pictures, thoughts, beliefs perspectives and other mental structures that we habitually hold in our mind become energized by our natural inner creative energy.

Stage 3 – The formation of speech – Based upon the activity of our creative imagination, we then develop a sense of inhabiting a particular type of “reality”. In reality this “reality” is largely an imaginative construct that we project upon our outer world, but it appears to us to be quite real. Based upon this perception of a particular type of reality we then speak in such a way that affirms and confirms that reality. The statements “I can never find happiness” and “I am being challenged by my circumstances to create my own happiness” are both words that affirm a certain imagined reality, and re-enforce that “reality” to the person saying them. Here speech can refer to actual spoken words, or to the content of our daily “inner dialogue” that we have with ourselves in our mind each day.

Stage 4 – The creation of acts in the world– Based upon our imagination and  speech we then engage in actions. These actions are physical articulations of our creative imagination and the content of our speech. We act in accordance with what we imagine, think and say to ourselves and other people.

Positive and Negative Creative Cycles

So, based on our understanding of the above we can see that what we choose to imagine and what we choose to say really determines the direction that our natural creative energy or Eros takes in our life. Negative and paranoid imagination and speech will create a negative and paranoid world. Life-affirming and positively directed imagination and speech will create a positively experienced and life affirming experience.

Some Practical Points to Begin Integrating

From the above insights we can see that our habitual imagination and speech play a crucial role in the reality that we sculpt and create from the “raw” creative energy that we have been given by the universe. With this in mind spending a few minutes a day over the next week asking yourself the following questions may be helpful:

1.       What is my imagination building right now with the natural creative energy that it is being fed with from spirit?Is what it is building in my mind helping me or hindering me in my path to happiness and inner wellbeing?
2.      What has my speech (outer or inner) over the last hour or two been showing me about the way I am expressing and manifesting the creative energy in my life?Is what I am saying helping me to bring more energy into my life, or is it limiting me unnecessarily?
3.      How deeply am I aware of the power of my on creativity?In what ways can I begin to value and appreciate my innate creative power more?

© 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


Recording of “What is Meditation?” Talk

Hi Everyone,

Please find below a recording of a free talk that I did last week entitles “What is Meditation, and the Role That it Can Play in Transforming Our Life”, Enjoy!

I have placed a resume of the talk content beneath the recording.

Yours in the spirit of the journey,


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With meditation teacher Toby Ouvry

As modern life continues to make more and more demands upon us more and more people are turning to the ancient art of meditation as a way of coping with stress, reducing anxiety and re-orienting their mind around positive mental and emotional habits that give  rise to peace of mind. But what exactly is meditation? This talk, given by Toby who has 15 years of experience of teaching meditation, including five years as a Buddhist monk aims to provide answers to the following questions:

  • What is meditation?
  • What are the different purposes that it can be used for?
  • How can I begin practicing meditation today in a simple and effective way that will enhance my quality of life?

Click HERE for a list of Toby’s current and upcoming meditation classes.


How to Meditate on Gratitude

Why Should we Meditate on Gratitude? What are we Trying to Achieve?

The function  and purpose of meditating on gratitude is to train our attention in such a way that even when we are under pressure and feeling unhappy in some way we never lose sight of the things in our life that are there for us to appreciate, value and feel grateful for. Moreover, when we are not feeling unduly under pressure or unhappy, the practice of gratitude helps us to substantially enhance and stabilize our happiness and sense of wellbeing.
Meditating on gratitude is a way of leveraging more fully upon the existing good in your life. By consciously noting and appreciating that which is there to be thankful for, the amount of happiness that you get from that person, object of event increases exponentially. Whenever we take someone or something/someone for granted we minimize the amount of wellbeing that we can derive from our relationship to it or them.

Success in Meditating on Gratitude.
One of the main signs of success in our meditation on gratitude comes when we start to realize that there is something that we can be appreciating and feeling happy about in each and every moment of our life. There is in fact an abundance of things to feel positive about in everyone’s life, it is just a matter of training our attention through meditation to be aware of it!
Our biological brain is hardwired toward picking our faults, threats and dangers in our life. This was good for our survival when we were fighting of bears and tigers and other tribes, but in today’s modern world this tendency to pick out the negative serves most often to inhibit our quality of life and constrict the amount of potential happiness that we experience at any given moment. The meditation on gratitude is designed t remedy this issue.

How to Meditate on Gratitude.
The perception can be that meditation is an activity that you do sitting down in silence, and then once you get up you then start doing something else. In reality however good meditation involves training our attention through-out the day to focus on objects that make us calm, peaceful and happy.
Correspondingly this meditation in gratitude is something that you can in the midst of your daily activities in spare moments.

The Basic Practice:Finding short periods of time to come back to a mind of gratitude and appreciation.
Think about the way in which your day is structured and try and come up with 5-6 one minute slots where you can consciously come back to a mind of gratitude, and focus on it for just that very short period of time. By doing this over the period of the week you will start to create some strong practical habits in your mind that naturally incline toward valuing, appreciating and feeling grateful for the good in your life.

What Should I feel Grateful For?
There are almost innumerable things that we can choose to be grateful for, three main areas are:
– Gratitude appreciation for ourself and our own actions. Give yourself a regular pat on the back for the positive efforts you are making!
– Gratitude and appreciation for others in our life who help or assist us in some way.
– Gratitude and appreciation for the Earth, for nature and the opportunity to participate in life

Some Samples From my own journal
Of course there are many other different things that we can focus on as objects of gratitude and rejoicing. One thing that I find really powerful is actually writing down the thing that I am feeling grateful for, either actually at the time or later in the day. Writing down our object of gratitude makes it really stand out in the field of our awareness, and therefore has a powerful and accelerated effect upon our development of gratitude (and yes, writing can be very much a part of our meditation practice!).
Here are some examples from my own journal over a twenty four hour period:

9th September

3.15pm – I am waiting for my daughters’ bus to arrive, there is a pleasant breeze blowing through the bushes and flowers, the sky is cool and overcast. Next to me on the wall a little family of sparrows observes me closely whilst preening themselves. I take a moment to appreciate and soak in all of these gifts from the natural world, freely available to me as long as I care to notice.

6.15pm – Whilst waiting at the bus stop on the way to the shopping centre I took a minute to appreciate the trees around me, and the calming energy that they gave me at a time when I was feeling a little bit irritable. I also took the time to notice the sun setting behind the clouds and value how pleasant it can be to view the light of the sun when it is hidden behind light cloud.

9.30pm – Took time after my evening meditation to appreciate myself for making the time and effort to meditate. I also spent a short period of time enjoying and appreciating the evening moon and its cooling and calming light!

12.30am – Reflected on the enjoyment that both I and my daughter are getting from reading “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” together each evening.

10th September

8.30am – Took a few moments whilst watering the plants on our roof to appreciate and feel gratitude for the good energy that they give to us and the way in which they visually enhance our living space.

11.15am – Spent a few moments appreciating myself for having done the vacuuming and other cleaning tasks around the house, as well as feel grateful to the makers of the vacuum cleaner for saving me time by making such an effective machine! Finally felt grateful for our pleasant apartment.

2pm – Felt gratitude for the excellent Japanese vegetarian meal that I had just participated in, and for the efforts of the people who had created such an excellent alternative Japanese vegetarian restaurant!

4.15pm – After spending an hour taking research photos for my new project, I took a moment to feel grateful for the fact that I have such a relatively large amount of time to devote to my artistic practice in my life.

As you can see none of the above are hugely unusual or remarkable events. Enjoying the daily happiness that gratitude can give is simply a matter of training your attention to look in the right directions every day!

© 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


On the Three Types of Relational Love and How to Integrate Them Into Your Life

What does it mean to be expressing love fully in your relationships? There are many ways to answer this question, but one answer deriving from classical sources is that you should aim to have three types of love functioning fully in your day to day interactions with others and yourself. These types of love are eros, filia and agape.

Here is a brief explanation of what each of them are in the context of relationships

Eros – This put simply is the creative spark that arises between two people or between ourselves and  something that we love. This is most commonly thought of as the romantic love between lovers which over time may lead to the biologically creative result of a baby, but it can just as validly be understood as  other forms of creativity. For example an intellectual spark between two people in a platonic relationship that inspires both of them to become more creative, dynamic and inspired in their life and work.
Most commonly this type of love is felt between a man and a woman (in a sexual or non-sexual context), because the interaction of masculine and feminine energies is an important aspect of the arising of eros. However, between two people of the same sex who both have well developed masculine and feminine energies it is perfectly possible to have a very inspiring “erotic” relationship, although this has a quite different meaning and connotation from the common usage of erotic!
Essentially to have eros in your relationships means that they are regularly supplying you with a source of creative inspiration in your life. Conversely to give filialin your relationships means to provide others with creative inspiration.

Filia – Filial love is classically the love between siblings, but it is also a common way of bonding between friends. Here the two people find strong ways of non-sexual bonding with each other that provides a source of mutual support, enjoyment and potential growth for each other. The ideal with filial love is to have the both parties on an equal footing in the relationship and a sense of mutual respect.
So, with images love the ideas is to be seeking and finding respect, support, self esteem and enjoyment from your friendships, and likewise seek to give these things to the people whom you share your life with.

Agape – One of the archetypal images of agape is the mother and child (eg: Mary with the baby Jesus), but more broadly speaking agape is empathetic or compassionate love. Agape seeks to understand and sympathize with its object like a parent caring for a child, seeking as Saint Francis would say “To understand rather than to be understood”. To give agape in your relationships with others is a wonderful thing, and likewise learning to receive it is an important source of sustenance.

So, using these three type of love as our model, our relationships should contain healthy elements of giving and receiving the following:

Eros – Creative inspiration.
Filia – Support, enjoyment, bonding, esteem building.
Agape – Empathy, compassion and healthy sympathy.

Working with these three types of love

Here are some possible ways to start working practically with these three types of love in your relationships:

  • Firstly we can simply look at our current relationships and appreciate the people who are currently providing us with these types of love in our life right now.
  • Secondly we can look for ways that we can actively increase the amount of eros, agape and filia to those we love.
  • Thirdly if it feels as if there is something lacking in your relationship with someone close to you, reflect upon which of the three types of love is most lacking. Having had an insight on this, then try and increase that particular type of love in the relationship through your actions.
  • Finally, practice agape, filia and eros toward yourself each day. Support yourself, inspire yourself, understand and have compassion for yourself!

© 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


The Three Purposes of Meditation

Different people come to meditation for different reasons. In recent times meditation has come into public awareness as a method for dealing with many stresses and strains that contemporary life places us under.

Traditionally meditation has been used as a method for communing with the divine and seeking enlightenment.

A third use of meditation has been as a method for building the power of our mind and thereby helping us to fulfill our potential in whatever our chosen field of excellence is. For example athletes use meditation as a way to enhance their performance, and people studying for exams can use meditation as a method of enhancing their mental clarity and thereby their ability to retain the information they need to remember.

This article will look at the purposes and benefits of meditation under three headings:

1)      Meditation as therapy
2)      Meditation as an art
3)      Meditation as a spiritual path.

What is meditation?
Before we get into the three purposes of meditation, here are two definitions of meditation that people may find helpful:

Meditation is any method or technique that trains our awareness and attention to focus upon a positive object. This definition can be applied to meditation both as a formal, focused exercise, but also as a general practice whilst going about our daily life. A “positive object” here means any object that when we focus upon it with our awareness causes our mind to become cal and peaceful.
– Meditation is a mental practice that causes our mind and body to tend toward union or singularity. Normally in our daily life our mind tends toward distraction, movement and diversity. Meditation is  any exercise that helps us to consciously reduce the amount of distractions and mental busyness in our head, and helps us to become lucid, focused, clear minded and unified.

I could obviously talk quite a lot more about these definitions, but I wanted to include them in this article so that we can now talk about the three purposes of meditation in a less abstract manner below.

1) Meditation as Therapy – When we talk about meditation as a therapy, we are talking about the capacity of meditation to fix and/or help to heal the parts of our mind that are “broken” or otherwise dysfunctional. Meditation helps to ease chronic anxiety, unrelenting mental busyness, obsessive focusing on the negative and other afflictions that directly and indirectly sabotage the fundamental happy and easy daily functioning of our body and mind. In this sense meditation can be seen as a therapeutic activity.

2) Meditation as an Art – Once we have achieved a basic level of healing and functionality in our mind through meditation we can then start to use it as a creative method for developing our inner freedom and autonomy. Living a life of inner freedom means developing the following inner qualities through our meditation practice; awareness, spontaneity, and intimacy.

Awareness, to quote the psychologist Eric Berne is the “The capacity to see a coffeepot and hear the birds sing in one’s own way, and not the way one was taught”. This means developing the art of seeing our present moment experience directly without past memories getting in the way and interfering.

Spontaneity means to be able to respond to life’s experiences in a way that is creative and intelligently improvisatory, rather than mechanical and without feeling.

Intimacy means to feel life deeply and authentically without looking to continually place barriers and defense mechanisms between yourself and what is going on in front of you. To practice intimacy means to not be afraid of one’s own vulnerability and sensitivity, and learning when to expose it in appropriate, healthy places.

The meditative practices of awareness, spontaneity and intimacy are all art-forms that greatly increase the amount of freedom, joy, love and creativity that we have in our life.

3) Meditation as a Spiritual Path – Meditation as a spiritual path is the traditional use of meditation but it does not have to be experienced in an overtly religious context. What we mean here by a “spiritual path” is that the process of meditation helps us to answer two very important questions in our life, namely:

  • Who am I? 
  • What is of ultimate concern or importance in my life? 

With meditation as a spiritual path we are daily using our meditation practice to come back to what is most important to us, and getting in touch with out deepest sense of self, the person that we feel we truly are.

In conclusion
These three purposes of meditation are useful meditation objects in themselves. Careful contemplation of them will reveal directly useful and practical purposes of our own meditation practice in our daily life. The good news is that if we practice meditation in a skillful and balanced way, then we can practice all three purposes at once. We can reduce our stress and heal our inner wounds, we can develop our inner freedom and creativity, and we can remain in touch with that which is most important and fundamental to us in our life.

PS: You can see a previous article that I wrote on these three purposes of meditation HERE.

© 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


Seven Ways of Creating a Mind of Ease and Inner Wellbeing

One of my favorite personal growth “formulas” was coined by a guy called Timothy W Gallway (of “The Inner Game of Tennis” fame) who said that performance = potential minus interference. What this formula points out is that as often as not is we ourselves that get in our own way at least as much if not more than anything else in our outer environment.

So, the first stage of getting rid of our “inner interference” is learning to create a mind of ease and relaxation. Here are seven short meditative methods for creating a mind of ease and relaxation. They can be done on their own, either as super-short practices done for as little time as 15 seconds, or they can be done in combination with each other, taking a few moments to focus on each one, and then moving onto the next. Here they are:

  1. Create a time for safe space – For a specific period of time consciously recognize that you are at this moment not in any manifest physical danger. Make a decision also to abstain from inner criticism of yourself, and try to feel the Earth and your immediate environment as friendly rather than hostile. Allow your mind to rest in the safe physical and psychological space of these three recognitions for the time you have set aside.
  2. Extend a feeling of warmth and friendliness to yourself – Chose to be a friend to yourself. Focusing on your self-sense, gently extend a feeling of warmth and welcome to it. Relax as deeply as you can into this warm feeling of liking who you are, just for now!
  3. Find something positive to focus on – Mentally search through the last 24 hours. Find some positive achievement, experience of good fortune, recognition of a kindness that you have given someone or other such positive event. Having found such a positive thought focus on it, developing a sense of appreciation and enjoyment for what has transpired.
  4. Concentrate on a single object for a short while – Take a single object such as the breathing and focus on it exclusively for a short period of time. You can temporarily forget about the causes of your stress simply by learning to focus. your mind in this way.
  5. Utilize the exhalation – Following on from point 4, we can combine our focused concentration with a deeper release of stress by imagining inner tension leaving our body and mind on the exhalation. There is a natural releasing or letting go mechanism that happens in our body when we breathe out that we can leverage on consciously.
  6. Abstain from inner criticism – Expanding a little upon point 1, we can set aside a short period of time where we decide that no critical thoughts about ourself are allowed in our mind. Discover that it is possible to shut the door on self criticism for a while, and enjoy the inner space and ease that is created! Excluding critical thoughts of others can also be included in this section.
  7. Be aware of the space between your thoughts – Normally we focus on the content of our consciousness, the thoughts and feelings in our mind. In doing so we become completely oblivious ever present “inner space” that is constantly there in our mind. Setting aside time to focus exclusively upon the space between our thoughts helps us to find a source of wellbeing that is there all the time but that we often overlook!

Meditation is a mind that focuses on a positive object, an object that when we focus on it makes us peaceful and happy. All of the seven points above are simple objects of meditation that, through focusing on we can begin to build our own mind of ease.

A final point, you may find that when you try to use any of the above techniques and you find your mind resisting. For example you may  find that it is very difficult to develop a feeling of liking yourself when you try technique 2. If this happens then rather than struggling and trying to force yourself to get to that feeling simply be aware of your resistance to liking who you are, and take that resistance as your object of meditation. Accepting inner resistance that you encounter in meditation is one way of beginning to let go if the inner tension and blockages that are causing the resistance in the first place.


Reflecting on the Relationship Between Art and Meditation

Here are three areas and life lessons that meditating and making art both teach:

Close Observation

Most of us think we know what the world looks like, but if we examine this assumption we learn it is not as true as we thought. For example if you try and draw a tree you discover that your idea of what a tree looks like and the way in which it actually exists physically in space are very different, and that in order to get to the “real” tree and draw it accurately you have to let go of your idea of the tree and look closely and clearly with your eyes.
In a similar way we may think that we know ourselves well, we think we know who we are. However, when we start meditating, which is partly the discipline of witnessing and observing our mind and self, we discover that the person we think we are and the person that we actually behave like are actually very different. Meditation teaches us the bitter-sweet art of seeing who we REALLY are and trying to bring our self-image and behavior into an authentic and genuine communion.
Both making art and meditation have made me find simple objects and activities very interesting and fulfilling as there is always endless detail and nuance to observe and enjoy. Last Friday I took a bit of time off and went to sit down in East Coast Park and just look at the sea, listen to the wind in the trees and observe the play of the afternoon sunlight across the landscape. I can’t imagine a much more fulfilling time.

How to See Through Difficult Times

If you have ever tried to create a piece of art work you will know that often (though not always) there is a time when everything about the picture seems horrible, ugly and awful, and where the critical voice in your mind is telling you that you may as well give up and trash the whole thing, and that you also may as well give up art too. After a while as an artist you come to expect this ‘phase’ in your work to complete a piece, and you know that the main thing to do is “keep calm and carry on”, steadily working through this phase. You learn that it is part of a natural cycle, and when it happens it just indicates that you are at a certain stage of the creative process. You don’t panic, after a while it can even be enjoyable in a funny way.
Similarly as a meditator you learn that sometimes your mind just goes through dark phases. Sometimes you know the reason, sometimes not, but either way you come to understand through sitting with these dark phases in meditation that they come and go. They are just a part of the processes of life, like the weather; sometimes sunny, sometimes thunderclouds. Either way there is no need to panic, just be present with it and allow it to work itself through your system in a non-harmful way.

Understanding How Beauty is Both Spontaneously Ever Present, and at the Same Time has to be Worked at and Re-created all the Time

As an artist you learn through observing things from multiple angles and points of view that everything has its own type of beauty. As a result, wherever you look you can appreciate something about what you see. At the same time actually creating a  beautiful and authentic piece of art work is a very demanding endeavor requiring a lot of effort physically, mentally and spiritually of the artist. In this way beauty for the artist is something that s/he can always see in what s/he observes, but at the same time the creation of beauty is always effortful and challenging.
Really with meditation practice it works the same way, after meditating for some time you get to a stage where even if there is pain and confusion in your mind, there is also an ever present stillness and beauty that is available to you at all times, you just have to remember it. However, in another sense the daily process of thinking positive, acting out of integrity, creating harmonious relationships often seem to take just as much work and effort as they always did!
This seems to be the paradox of both outer and inner beauty; they are ever present and yet they demand constant effort to create and recreate. However, being in touch with the ever present aspect of inner and outer beauty (which are really states of being) helps us to keep even-minded amidst the struggles and strains of trying to effort-fully create a beautiful inner and outer life for ourselves and others.

© 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