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Integrating reality & symbolic reality

“Much of what we take for our reality are just mental symbols about reality. Reality itself is something different, something that must be experienced directly”

Dear Integral Meditators, 

There are two ways in which you can use the article below. The first is by reading it and using the example as a way of exploring it in meditation. The second is, having understood the basic idea simply ask yourself the question:

“What do I notice about the inter-relationship between my symbolic reality & reality itself?”

Then just watch your experience mindfully for a period of time & see what you start to notice.
Between this message and the article is the events list for June, starting with this weekend’s stress transformation workshop.
In the spirit of integration,



Meditation sessions & workshops with Toby in June: 

Ongoing – Weekly Tuesday, Wednesday Online class schedule

Saturday 8th June, 9.30am-12.30pm – Meditations for Transforming Negativity and Stress into Energy, Positivity and Enlightenment Workshop

Tues 18th/Weds 19th June – Summer solstice balancing & renewing meditation

Mindfulness for emotional intelligence masterclass – Saturday 22nd June, 10am-12noon

s Tues /Weds 25th & 26th June, 7.30-8.30pm – The Wisdom of Awakening Series:  Meditations for cultivating your inner guidance & guru

Article: Integrating reality & symbolic reality

Thinking – the manipulation of symbols
What is thinking really? There are several ways of answering this, I’d like to focus here on thinking as essentially a way of creating and manipulating symbols about our reality. Thinking is not reality itself, but arrangements of symbols representing reality. That’s worth reflecting upon, because when we do, we immediately start to realize that a lot of what we take for our reality is actually just thoughts, or symbols about reality. Reality itself is something different, something that must be experienced directly. This is a main point of meditation, to move beyond our mental symbols, encountering our reality directly, as it is. As the Zen saying goes, “Reality is not what you think!”
Integrating symbols & reality

Using symbols to think about reality can either be helpful for us to expand our sense reality, or it can narrow it. One way in which I like to work with mental models or symbols is to take 2-4 mental models of reality, and then cross-reference them. Each model reveals something different and complementary from the other models. When we put them together, you get a richer, more whole and integrated sense of what is be there.
A practice involving three models of reality

What I am going to do now is take three models of reality itself from a western religious, Hindu spiritual and Taoist philosophical perspective. Then I will describe how to put them together in a process of mindful enquiry into our experience of reality itself.
Model 1: Reality as hierarchical, God at the top, wo/man at the bottom – from a western Christian, (or Hebrew or Islamic) perspective, reality is a hierarchy with God/ Spirit at the top, and humans/earth at the bottom. Our relation to God is that of a servant to a King, and western/middle-eastern religion organizes and expresses itself accordingly. If you think about the Sistine chapel, God is on the roof, man is below (With only hell beneath!). This model can see archaic, but if you look at the way reality organizes itself, it is substantially hierarchical.
Model 2: Reality as a drama – in the Hindu & Buddhist model, the world is more like a drama. At the core of every living being is the One Self, or our Buddha Nature. Our outer appearances are like masks in a drama, each personality and aspect playing a role in a drama. Reality is seen as a play of the illusion created by spirit, for the entertainment of spirit.
Model 3: Reality as an organism – The Taoist model (the Tao is often described as “the way of nature’) is reality as more organismic in nature; no particular hierarchies, no one thing in charge of creating the rest. Reality is conceived as a network of interrelated parts, moving into and out of balance according to the principle of the Tao (the way) and of yin & yang.
So, if you consider each of these three models in turn, you’ll get a sense of the aspects of reality it is trying to describe. Crucially, none of these models are reality itself. Nor are any other approaches, scientific, artistic, sociological, economic etc…Reality I always itself, always a direct experience that we encounter each day.
If you sit quietly with each of these three symbolic representations of reality, cross referencing them with each other, and then with your actual experience of reality, you start to get a rich sense of the wholeness and integration between them, and the relationship between those symbols and reality itself.  If you take a ‘both/and’ rather than an ‘either/or’ approach, the reward is access to an overall sense of wholeness and integration in your life, one that helps us counter the often-pronounced sense of fragmentation and disconnect that characterizes our experience.
Related articleMindfully enhancing your psychological development

Article & content © Toby Ouvry 2024, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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