A Mind of Ease Awareness and insight Integral Awareness Meditation and Psychology

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.

Awareness and insight Inner vision Meditation and Art Meditation and Psychology

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

A Mind of Ease Awareness and insight Meditation and Psychology Meditation techniques

Going Beyond the “Do This” and “Do That” Mentality

My daughter has just turned six, and one of the things that I have noticed about our relationship recently is that it has been possible for me to start changing my relationship to her from a lot of “do this” and “do that” instructions to a much more process based “Why don’t you try this?” or “What will happen if you think about it this way?”. Her gradual increase in age and maturity, combined with my own gradual maturing as a parent has allowed our relationship to evolve from being somewhat dictatorial to much more co-creative.

How we often use the “do this / do that” mentality with regard to the way we treat ourselves
One of the things that has struck me when thinking about the changes in my relationship to my daughter is how often we get caught up in a “do this” and “do that” relationship to ourself. “Instead of  approaching situations and challenges in our life with an open, flexible and enquiring mind, often we will simply react in a pre-programmed way, based around our past experience. Internally we order ourselves around with no real sensitivity to what is actually happening and this kills our ability to respond authentically and creatively.
For example I may find myself mentally punishing myself for not having made more effective use of my time during the day. The conversation goes something like:
“You should not have got sidetracked by this, you should not have wasted time doing that, you don’t deserve to relax this evening because you have not achieved what you wanted…” the instructions and judgments go on and on…

What we can replace the Do this/do that mentality with
One of the things that we are trying to create through a meditation practice is enough self-awareness  to be able to respond to our immediate circumstances as they are, without projecting judgments or old values onto them. What we are trying to do is replace the automatic “do this” and “do that” voice of our judgments and past mental programs with questions like:
“What is this situation showing me or offering to me?”
“What are the real emotions behind what is being said here?”
“What is the most creative thing I can do in this situation?”
“What is my most authentic response to what is happening here?
By bringing questions such as these to the forefront of our mind in our daily life we can start to over ride the automatic “do this” and “do that” orders coming from our subconscious mind and start to live a life that involves more freedom, more authenticity and more happiness.

Awareness exercise:
The art of going beyond our “do this” and “do that” mentality lies in replacing these inner orders with a question that stimulates our enquiring mind and creativity. The next time you can hear and feel your old judgments barking orders at you as you try and cope with a life challenge, consciously place this question in the centre of your awareness:
“What is this situation helping me to see and learn?”
Try and stay with this question for a few minutes and observe the creative ideas that start to emerge from the inner space that the question allows.

PS: Heads up on the new series of meditation classes starting at the beginning of September 2011 “Meditations for Creating a Mind of Ease, Appreciation and Positive Intention”. Follow link for details!
© 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

Awareness and insight Integral Awareness Tree of Yoga

Meditating On The Tree Of Yoga – Coming Back to the Body

Later this year I will be beginning a series of classes with meditations upon the “Tree of Yoga” as a focus point, so in my articles over the next few weeks I will be focusing upon themes relating to this. In this article I explain some basic working definitions of yoga from a meditative perspective, and how we can begin working with these ideas in a practical fashion.

Three Levels of the Meaning of Yoga That can be Distinguished
One of the main meanings of the Sanskrit word ‘Yoga’ is ‘Union’. From this we can see that the many different practices of yoga aim fundamentally at achieving a state of union.We can distinguish three types or stages of union in the path of yoga:

  1. Accomplishing the union of the mind and body
  2. Accomplishing the union of the body-mind with the environment
  3. Accomplishing the union of the self with the Cosmos

So, here we can see the three basic stages; the first stage focuses on unifying or synchronizing the body and mind into a singular, harmonized unit. The second stage focuses on expanding our self sense beyond the body mind so that our self-sense includes greater aspects of our internal and external environment. The third stage involves releasing all boundaries between our personal sense of self and the Cosmos, thus achieving the ultimate union of self and cosmos into the primal or Universal Self. This final stage, the recognition, embodiment and articulation of the Universal or True Self is really the endgame of all yoga’s whether you are talking about hatha yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga or any of the other forms of yoga. For the remainder of the article we will be focusing on the first level of union in the path of yoga.

A Closer Look at Stage 1: The Two Stages of Unifying the Body-Mind

Oftentimes the start of many peoples IDEA of the spiritual path involves an attempt to “go beyond the limitations of and attachments to the body and its appetites”. The body is seen as the obstacle to inner growth, continually getting in the way of our spiritual aspirations, and “detachment” from the body is where a lot of people place their efforts.
However, in reality, and this is a really key understanding, most people are already detached from the body in the sense of being mentally disconnected to it! So, the first goal for almost 100% of us is to reconnect our mind to our body as they exist in the present moment, here and now.

How did we disconnect from the body in the first place?

Our body-mind disconnection takes place in two stages:

  1. The separation of the ego from the body.

As we grow up our self-sense develops in stages. As young children we identify with our body, as teenagers we identify with our emotions. By the time we get to young adulthood almost all of us identify ‘self’ as being our mind, and the relationship to our ‘self’ to the body is like a rider to a horse; the mind or ego is like the rider, and the body is like the horse. Thus our mind and body have now become experientially separate; ‘I’, or my ego possesses my body which is a separate object. This is the first separation or disconnect of mind from body

  1. Stage 2: The Mind/Ego Divides Against Itself – The Separation of Persona from Shadow

So, our ego is now separated from our body, unfortunately it gets worse. Having now identified our ‘self’ as our ego, our ego then splits into what in psychological terms is called the ‘persona’ and the ‘shadow’.

What are the Persona and Shadow?
The Persona– The persona is that part of the contents of our mind and ego that is acceptable to our self-image. The persona is the conscious perception of who we think we are, that part of the contents of our consciousness that we allow ourself to see.
The Shadow – The shadow is the parts of our mind and ego that is not acceptable to our self image. The shadow is all the parts of our mind and ego that we refuse to consciously acknowledge and so as a result gets repressed or ‘pushed down’ into our unconscious mind. You can find more on the shadow self in my previous article on the shadow: Six Tips for Releasing the shadow Self. Another word for the shadow would be the repressed unconscious.

Bringing this all together
So, from this we can see that in order to re-unify our body-mind into a synchronized whole we need to go through two stages:

  • Unify our mind by healing the divide between our persona and shadow, thus creating a healthy functional ego.
  • Unify our body and ego by bringing our awareness and attention back into the body and the present moment.

There are a lot of practices that are specifically designed to help facilitate these two stages. For example traditional psychotherapy (eg: Freudian and Transactional Analysis) aim at creating a healthy ego through unifying the shadow and persona. Hatha yoga, Qi gong and Tai-Qi are all helpful methods for the second stage of unifying the mind-body. There are also psychological therapies that aim at unifying the body-mind such as gestalt therapy and aspects of the humanistic psychology approach of Carl Rogers.

The Centaur
The Centaur is a mythic beast that is half human and half horse. Centaur or centauric is sometimes used as a name for the state of consciousness where the body-mind are unified. The centaur is not a human riding a horse, the centaur is both the human and the horse as a single entity, no division.
The centauric state of consciousness is a state of being where our body intelligence and mental intelligence are always working in harmony. When we accomplish this union our body-mind union becomes more than the sum of its parts, we start to be capable of achieving things that ordinary people would consider ‘impossible’ or ‘beyond them’. Much of the Human Potential Movement is aimed at accomplishing the centauric state, the unity of the body-mind.
The centauric state of a unified body-mind acts as the stable basis upon which we can then go onto explore higher and more expanded levels of consciousness and being. If we try and ‘expand’ our consciousness too extensively and quickly before stabilizing our centaur we will quite rapidly find ourself struggling with the unhealed elements of our ego, persona and shadow.

Awareness Practices to Start Unifying the Body-Mind: Meditating on the Body as a “Consciousness Sponge”.

So, I’ve covered quite a lot of ground above, and what I want to do is finish with a really simple two stage practice to help you begin integrating your body-mind. It can be done as a short 1-5minute practice, but just as appropriately and easily it can be done as a 15-30 minute form.

Stage 1: Noticing Resistance.
Simply sit quietly and notice the resistance that your mind has to entering fully into the present moment and into your body. Notice how it is always jumping away from present moment awareness of the body, diving into the past and forward to the future. Take your observation of this resistance as your object of awareness for the first part of the meditation. Don’t try and overcome it, just notice it.

Stage 2: Your body as a Sponge
In the second stage imagine that your physical body is like a dry sponge and your mind and consciousness is like water. Feel all the thoughts and feelings in your mind being gradually absorbed into your body as it sits in the present moment, just like water being absorbed by a dry sponge. Feel your mind fully inside the skin of your body, fully present in the here and now, in communion with your body. For the remainder of the meditation explore this feeling of a unified body-mind as deeply and fully as you can, rest your awareness on it and in it as fully as possible.

© 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

Awareness and insight Inner vision Primal Spirituality

Meditating on the Four Seasons and Four Stages of Our Life

I’ve been back in the UK now for a few days, enjoying the particular ambience of the English summer time, all the birds in the garden are looking extremely plump and well fed, the flowers are all in bloom and the dragon flies are flying around the pond, showing off their beautiful green and red colourings.

One of the major “diagrams” or maps of the spiritual path as explained in the western tradition is the Wheel of Life, which essentially consists of a circle with four points on it. These four points correspond to the following basic energies and directions:

North: Winter, night time and the earth element
East: Spring, morning and the air element
South: Summer, noonday and the fire element
West: Autumn, evening and the water element.

In addition the four seasons on the wheel spring, summer, autumn and winter also correspond to the four stages of a human (or any other creature’s) life, namely childhood, youth (young adult), mature adult (parental) and old age.  From this we can start to see that our own life moves in a natural cycle that is very much like the four seasons of the year, and also the four stages of a twenty four hour cycle; morning (childhood), noon (young adult), afternoon (maturity) and night (old age).
In the picture that I have posted with this article you can see these correspondences depicted in an artwork that I have created:

  • A pathway in the north (top of picture) leads to a winter landscape
  • To the right hand side is a pathway opening to a spring landscape
  • At the bottom is a gateway opening to a summer landscape
  • On the left hand side there is a pathway leading to an autumn landscape.

Meditation on breathing with the four seasons and stages of life
From the above we can see that our life, like the nature of which we are a part moves in cycles. We can begin to develop a subjective feel for this by meditating in the following manner:

  • As you begin to inhale feel the awakening of new life in your body-mind, like the energy of spring and childhood within you.
  • As you progress through the second half of the inhalation, feel the awakening of the energy of summer and the prime of your youthful-self awakening within you.
  • As you pause briefly at the top of your breath feel your body-mind  to be full of vital energy and life-force, like a landscape in mid-summer.
  • As you begin exhaling feel yourself connecting to the energy of autumn and maturity.
  • As you move into the second half of your exhalation, feel yourself connecting to the season of winter, and to the wisdom of old age.
  • As your breath ceases at the bottom of your exhalation, meditate briefly on death, and the end of the brief life cycle of your last breath. Note how it is from this ‘death’ that a cycle of new life emerges with the beginning of the next new breath.
  • Continue this cycle of breathing for as many breaths as feels comfortable, and end with a period of silence, stillness and deep calm.

This is a nice meditation to do outdoors in direct contact with nature and the seasons themselves. Also, contemplation of the ‘Four Seasons’ artwork that I have done can also be a helpful tool for getting a feel for how the four seasons and stages of our life flow together in a circle, one after the other, and how we can create this cycle of energy within ourselves with each in-breath and out-breath.

© 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