Awareness and insight Concentration Integral Awareness Meditation and Psychology Meditation techniques Mindfulness

Three Types of Attention: Neutral, Constructive and Catalytic

Dear Integral Meditators,

I hope this weeks newsletter finds you well, and that you have had a good week. The meditation and mindfulness article in this weeks edition of the integral meditations newsletter looks at the quality of our attention and the effect that it can have on our enjoyment of life or not. I’ve tried to keep it as simple and practical as possible.

Yours in the spirit of focused attention,


Three Types of Attention: Neutral, Constructive and Catalytic

Meditation and mindfulness can be thought about as types of attention training. If you can control what you focus upon, and the way in which you focus upon it, then to that extent you can control your experience of life. For example an annoying person is only “annoying” in so far as he or she is able to cause us to focus upon what he is doing in way that appears negative and annoying. A situation is only a “disaster” in so far as it causes us to pay attention to its destructive aspects to the exclusion of any positives.
So, if you can control your attention in any given situation then to that extent you can consciously control your experience of it how it makes you feel and what you do about it.

I sometimes think of attention as having three aspects; neutral, constructive and catalytic. Each has its own strengths and set of applications.

Neutral Attention
Neutral attention is when we choose (either in formal meditation or less formally during our day) to focus upon an object that does not cause us any intense feelings of pleasure or displeasure, but rather places us in a space of relaxed, peaceful attention. One of my favorites of this type of objects is “the sound of silence”. If you sit down in a quiet space and listen to the silence, after a while you will perceive a high pitched “ringing” in your ears. It does not seem to be coming from anywhere, it is constant and continuous. If you place your attention upon it you may find that it is very easy to relax into a focused, neutral space of concentrated awareness, with the sound of silence as your object of attention.
Other examples of neutral objects might be; the breathing, the blue of the sky, the sound of wind in trees, a white wall. There are any number of neutral objects.
Neutral objects help us to relax, empty the mind and slow down, and they become very pleasurable in a gentle way when practised over time. They also help us to gradually open to and gain experience of states of formless, timeless awareness that form the basis for the fundamental “enlightenment experience” taught in traditional wisdom schools (whether eastern or western).

Constructive Attention
Constructive attention happens when we make a conscious choice to focus on the positive side of any situation, thus developing the ability to use our attention to create positive feelings and experiences.

  • Lost your job? Maybe this is the opportunity to find one that you like better, great that it happened
  • Girl friend gone away for the week? Great, a chance to catch up on some reading and downtime

The basic principle with constructive attention  is that you are empowering yourself to create a more positive experience of whatever is arising by paying attention to the sides of the experience that cause you to feel optimistic, empowered, glad etc…

Catalytic Attention
Catalytic attention is where we focus our attention upon feelings or experiences that we find difficult or challenging and “stay with them” without repressing, running away from or being intimidated by them. The aim with catalytic attention is to strengthen and empower our mind and self to go beyond its current limitations, and learn to thrive amidst situations where we would otherwise get stressed out, fearful and intimidated.
For example:

  • If I consciously stay with the challenging feelings of loneliness and isolation that come up for me, over time I will develop the capacity to be comfortable and even enjoy being alone
  • If I know I am afraid of the disapproval of someone (eg: an authority figure in my life), I can consciously stay with these fears and at the same time consciously voice a difference of opinion to the person in question
  • If a situation you are in makes you feel like a bit of a looser, you can pay conscious attention to these feelings of inferiority and try and see where these feelings come from in terms of your fundamental beliefs about who you are and how you value yourself.

Catalytic attention is generally quite hard work, but you always appreciate having done it. As one writer said, “I don’t like writing, but I like having written”. It’s the same with catalytic attention; it makes you uncomfortable and takes effort, but having practised it over a period of time you always feel like you have achieved something worthwhile and effected some level of inner transformation afterwards!

Practice for the week:
This week simply

  • Practice using attention neutral objects to relax and clear your mind
  • Use constructive attention to improve the quality and enjoyment of your daily experience
  • Use catalytic attention to stay with and develop your capacity to transform  difficult emotions and experiences into positive ones

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Energy Meditation Integral Awareness Integral Meditation Meditation and Psychology Meditation techniques Mindfulness

Dealing With Energy Stress

Dear Integral Meditators,

Is there anyone who is not under some form of energy stress these days? It seems like there are so many things that can take up our time and energy these days that learning to make effective use of what energy we have has become an essential survival skill in today’s world. This weeks article looks at how we can begin to make better use of our energy in our daily life through a simple self-enquiry mindfulness technique.

Last week I gave a short talk entitled “Lessons from the Monastery to Contemporary Business” in which I reflected on my own time as a monk and how some of the skills that I learned may be applicable to a modern secular business environment. I have posted it on the Integral Meditation Asia Site, if you wish to have a listen just click on the link HERE!

Yours in the spirit of high functioning energy levels,


Dealing With Energy Stress:
Is it Worth Giving Your Energy To?

There are two ways in which we can create financial resources; firstly we can find a way of making more money, secondly we can find ways of spending less of the money that we already have coming in so that we save more.

Similarly there are two ways in which we can get more energy in our body-mind; the first is to find ways of generating more energy, the second is to prevent the loss of energy that we already have in our system.
It seems like one way or another we are all under quite a lot of energy-stress these days, this article looks at how we can begin to use a simple mindfulness and meditation technique to make us more energy efficient and less inclined to
lose or dissipate the energy we have un-necessarily.

Making a general enquiry into the ways in which you tend to lose energy:

Ask yourself the question “What are the situations and circumstances where I tend to lose energy, feel exhausted psychologically, dissipate my energy unnecessarily, or otherwise waste or lose physical or psychological energy that I could be  saving or otherwise using for better purposes?

Think about this and write down your answers. There are a wide variety of possible answers to this question, for example:

  1. When I meet with my colleague I can feel him/her making me angry, but I don’t/can’t express it, rather I just find myself feeling angry inside for hours after seeing him
  2. When I log onto my computer to work I surf the net for 20mins rather than getting the actual tasks I need to do out of the way
  3. I spend time complaining about the injustices that happen to me rather than simply looking for a solution to what has happened
  4. When I become tired I tend to become sloppy in my tasks, which as a result take even longer and even more energy to complete

The point about this exercise is to isolate real time situations in your life where you actively losing energy, are dissipating it, or could be using your energy more ergonomically. Having isolated these real-time situations where you are losing energy, you then arrive at specific conclusions designed to remedy this energy loss. For example for the person who has written the four points above, conclusions might be:

  1. When I meet my colleague I may not approve of his behavior or manner, but at the same time I will not waste my own emotional energy getting angry and resentful with him. It is not worth it.
  2. I should ensure that when I sit down at my computer to work I start work strait away, and create a separate time to surf the net if I wish to.
  3. I shall try and catch myself complaining about what happens to me, and refocus my energy on what can be done and/or moving into a space of acceptance about what is happening/has happened
  4. When I am tired I will make a special effort to focus on getting what needs to be done done, or  if  possible I will take a strategic break and return to my tasks refreshed.

With your conclusions in mind you then have several specific areas in your life that you can begin to work on being more energy-efficient with or put another way creating more energy by expending less. The mindfulness exercise from this point on is to bring your full awareness to the task of re-patterning your daily habits to this new, more energy efficient way of using your life force.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Awareness and insight Integral Awareness Integral Meditation Meditation techniques Zen Meditation

Zen Meditation – Seeing Without Naming

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article explains a Zen meditation technique that I teach in my Zen walking meditation workshops, the next of which is coming up next Sunday May 19th May, so if you like what you read, there is a chance to get out and practice it then if you like!

On the walking meditation theme, I have scheduled in a new walking meditation workshop Walking Meditations for Connecting to the Energy of Nature  in the 3rd week in June, which will be another opportunity to walk your way to peace of mind…

Yours in the spirit of clear seeing,


Upcoming Classes at Integral Meditation Asia:

Click on event titles for full details

Saturday 11th May, 9.30am-5pm: Uncovering the Hidden Power of Your Shadow Self – A One Day Workshop

Sunday 19th May, 8-1030am – Zen Walking Meditation 2.5 Hour Morning Workshop

Saturday 15th June, 9.30am -12.30pm – Living Life From Your Inner Center – Meditations for Going With the Flow of the Present Moment

Sunday June 23rd, 8.00-10.30am – Walking Meditations for Connecting to the Energy of Nature 

Zen Meditation – Seeing Without Naming 

You know that you have a busy mind, you’ve heard about meditation, but find that focusing on the breathing is (in the beginning at least) quite a tough and laborious technique for slowing down your mind; sometimes it works well, but other times you feel as if you are fighting against the tide of your mind as it motors along regardless of your efforts to calm it down!
The Zen meditation form “Seeing without naming” is a meditation form that I have come up with myself (thus it is “in the spirit of Zen”, rather than being one that I received from a Zen teacher or got from a book). With this technique you don’t try and stop the mind per-se, rather you approach the moment to moment experience of your mind using atechnique of observation that enables you to encounter your world in a different way, with a heightened sense of awareness.
It is designed to temporarily bamboozle the usual automatic conceptual processes in your mind, and by doing this you can temporarily achieve a calm and insightful space in your life.

Some of the possible results of this meditation are:

  1. The ability to reduce the amount of conceptual thought in your mind and achieve greater clarity
  2. An enhanced, renewed and sharpened relationship to your process of thinking and labeling what is going on in your life
  3. A greater appreciation of whatever you are experiencing right now in the present moment
  4. A renewed sense of wonder in your life
  5. The ability to be in the midst of a busy mind without getting stressed-out about it

Seeing without naming outer forms.
Seeing without naming means to encounter the various physical forms and sensual experiences that you see, hear or feel whilst you are sitting in meditation, or walking, or just going about your daily life without labeling what you see or experience conceptually.
For example if you are walking past a tree, you really try and observe and experience the tree ”as it is”, without placing a mental label on it.
The object is to try to get yourself into a space where you feel as if you are experiencing the outer world for the first time, and everything that you are encountering is new and fresh, as if you have never seen it before. You are seeking in this exercise the classic Zen “beginners mind”.
One of the reasons why life sometimes seems stale and lacking in vibrancy is that we become trapped in a conceptual world where our mind assumes that it knows what it is seeing, and stops really looking at it and encountering it. By engaging in a process of ”looking without naming” you try and take away these conceptual assumptions/filters and place yourself fully back in touch with your living world as you encounter it in each moment, moment by moment.

Seeing without naming inner forms:
This meditation form is similar to the first except, rather than focusing on your outer and sensual environment we focus on the inner world of thoughts and feelings. It is a little more subtle than the first exercise, and you may find that at first it is best to do as a contemplation whilst sitting down and focusing. With familiarity however you will find that you can do it anywhere.
As you sit focus your attention on the thoughts, feelings and images arising in your mind. As they arise  simply try to accept them as they are without naming or labeling them as good, bad, or otherwise placing value judgments upon them. Imagine that you are experiencing thoughts and feelings for the first time, and allow yourselves to develop a sense of wonder and appreciation that you are able to have the miraculous experience of being a living, thinking, feeling human being.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Awareness and insight Integral Awareness Integral Meditation Meditation and Psychology Meditation techniques Mindfulness Presence and being present

Your Attention as Your Object of Mindfulness

Dear Integral Meditators,

The theme of this week’s integral meditations article is quite simple, but at the same time often difficult to do. It is this; if you can control your attention then you can control the way in which you experience your life. We can’t always choose the way our life turns out, but we always have a choice with regard to what we are paying attention to in our life at any given moment. Exercising the power of that choice is the essential discipline of attention training.

Yours in the spirit of the empowering power of attention,


Your Attention as Your Object of Mindfulness

Any advertising executive will tell you that the most important thing you need to do in order to sell people your product is get their attention. If you can get their attention then there is a chance you can convince them to buy your product. If you cannot get their attention then you can’t sell anything to them.
Consequently, when you go out onto the street or go online, you are not going into a neutral environment, you are going into a ‘hostile’ environment where people are trying to get your attention all the time. By controlling your attention they control the way you think, the beliefs you have, the way you behave, how you act and what you consume.

The corollary of this is that whatever you yourself choose to place your inner or outer attention upon at any given time affects how you think, what you believe (about yourself and your world), how you feel and behave, and what you consume.

From this it is easy to see then why it is crucial if you are trying to lead any kind of considered, evolved and directed life that you learn to be aware of what you are placing your attention on, and be as sure as possible that it truly where you want it to be.

To give a simple example if your attention is entirely consumed by ideas from the mainstream media, then your ideas about what “happiness” is will not actually be your own, but rather simply a reflection of what the mainstream media sources tell you happiness is.
How are you ever going to be really happy if your idea of happiness is a product of what someone else wants you to think?
Another simple example is that we have a strong tendency to pay attention to what is wrong with ourselves, or with our life, without regularly placing our attention on appreciating and enjoying what is right with ourselves and our life. Training in attention in this example involves definitely focusing on what is going well and positively in our life.

Controlling your attention is one of the keys to living a self aware life where you are the one making the choices about how you think, feel and act rather than these things being an unconscious product of ideas that you have been fed by someone else.

Practising mindfulness and meditation are major ways of developing the capacity to consciously control your attention.

Beginning to consciously control your attention

You can start to become aware of, direct and control your attention by doing the following short exercise once or twice a day over the next week, and then subsequently whenever you feel the need.

  • Pick a quality that you wish to develop within yourself that is pertinent and helpful to your life right now. For the sake of an example I’m going to choose “the qualities of lightness and playfulness”.
  • Ask yourself “What has my attention been focused on for the last hour or two? How much of that time have I been consciously integrating the qualities of lightness and playfulness into my life, and into my attention training?”
  • Then ask yourself “Where is my attention placed right now? Where can I focus my attention in order to regain or enhance my experience and development of the qualities of lightness and playfulness?”
  • Finally ask “How can I focus my attention on for the next hour or two in order to continue integrating lightness and playfulness into my life?” Your answer to this final question gives you your “attention training” for the next hour or two of our day.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website