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Zen Flowers

“Put most simply, Zen is a calm, peaceful state of being that you can use to rest and observe in. You can also use it to create a state of ‘dynamic calm’ within which you do your daily activities; weathering your storms with it and enhancing your joys and victories”

Zen Flowers

Put most simply, Zen is a calm, peaceful state of being that you can use to rest and observe in. You can also use it to create a state of ‘dynamic calm’ within which you do your daily activities; weathering your storms with it and enhancing your joys and victories.
This article contains three simple ways you can cultivate an inner ‘Zen’ space in your own meditation. They are imaginative and experiential. You won’t find then in any Zen manuals (that I know of), they are my own techniques, but they are consistent with the spirit of Zen practice. Practiced together they are designed to give us a kind of ‘initiation’ into the experience of Zen. They will give you something new, even though you may know nothing about Zen, or are already a seasoned practioner.

Building an inner Zen retreat space
Spend a little bit of time sitting quietly and using your intuitive imagination to build your own ‘Zen Retreat’. This is simply an imaginal or imagined place that helps you to connect more strongly with the spirit of Zen. The way in which you perceive it is very much up to you. It could be like a mountain monastery type scene, or simply a special place in nature that we feel somehow embodies the spirit on Zen. Trust your intuition here, and be confident that whatever you see/feel/hear around you was perfect for you, and your understanding of what Zen is.

Meeting a Zen Guide
Set your intention within your retreat to meet your own ‘Zen guide’ or teacher. Imagine s/he comes to meet you. It may be someone that you have never met before, or it may be a figure that you know, either from your literal past, or a figure from a story or myth that you love. Your Zen guide is someone that you build within our imagination. Trust your intuition to give us an appropriate visual for the energy of your Zen guide. S/he could be a lay person or ordained, young or old.

Journeying to the origins of Zen
After connecting with your guide for a while, let them guide you guided us on a journey back in time to the origins of Zen, which was a teaching that Buddha gave, called the Flower Sermon.

The Flower Sermon:
Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.
But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water.
The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching.
When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.
“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor (in the Zen lineage) from that day forward.
Spend some time contemplating your own initial impressions of this story, before returning to awareness of being with our Zen guide in your retreat. Your Zen guide then gives you a personal gift to welcome you into the spirit of Zen. The gift is known only to you. You may understand immediately what the object or gesture means, or it may be something for you to take away with you and contemplate. Then finish the meditation after saying goodbye to your guide.
Your Zen retreat then becomes a place that you can go to further deepen your experience if meditation in the spirit of Zen, and to meet and meditate with your guide and the gift that s/he gave to you.

Related articleFour Zen meditations

Article & content © Toby Ouvry 2021, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website   

Starts 6th&7th July – Integral Meditation from the Perspective of Zen – A 10 week series

In a sentence: De-clutter your mind, develop concentration and create focused calm in your life by learning Zen meditation

Overview: The Zen School of Meditation arose from a combination of the teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of Taoism in China during the 6th century AD, where it became known as Chan meditation (‘Chan’ meaning ‘quietude’, or ‘meditation’). Later it was adopted by the Japanese, and it is they that called it Zen.

Zen is a particularly appropriate form of meditation for today’s hyper busy and challenging world because…Read full course details

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Overview: This is a weekend, three-session dynamic mindfulness program designed for:

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  • Trainers, coaches and therapists looking to integrate mindfulness into their own professional practice with clients
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The essential content of the course is ten separate but interlinked mindfulness meditation practices…
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Starts 6th&7th July – Integral Meditation from the Perspective of Zen – A 10 week series

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The Discipline of Emptying (Emptying to Fill)

Dear Integral Meditators,

I’ve had a few conversations recently with clients who really feel as if they have been mentally drained by the sheer volume of information that they have to deal with on a day to day basis. I could certainly sympathize with their story, and I think it is a challenge that a lot of us face. This weeks article focuses on using mindfulness as a way of emptying out our mind on a regular basis in order to prevent information overload and make it more resilient when we have a lot of things coming at us.

In the spirit of emptying,


The Discipline of Emptying (Emptying to Fill)

One aspect of mindfulness meditation is the practice of what I would describe as ‘the discipline of emptying’. This means taking time each day to reduce the amount of information that your mind is processing, and allow it to become more empty.
The function of emptying from a practical point of view is:

  • To make your mind a more relaxed, enjoyable place to be, a place where you like to hang out, rather than a place that you find yourself trying to escape from, but (of course) stuck in!
  • To allow the things that are unimportant – the ambient noise in your head to get de-cluttered and released
  • To allow the important things to start coming to the surface of your awareness so you can prioritize them
  • To have enough space to really appreciate what is happening in your life and enjoy it in the moment
  • To bring attention to the problems that you really need to pay attention to, but that you are avoiding by just ‘keeping yourself busy’

At the present time in my life I practice a ‘big emptying’ of my mind once or twice a day in meditation for 20-30mins at a time, but I have also gotten in the habit of pausing for a minute or three once every 20mins if I am working by myself. So for example if I am doing a three hour shift in the afternoon in my office, then I will be pausing once every 20mins, relaxing, emptying, getting my energy back, re-focusing on my goals. I presently find this way of micro managing my time to be both relaxing and productive.

The Emptying Sink
One simple image that you can use for the discipline of emptying is that of a sink filled with water. Your mind is the sink, the contents of your mind is the water. Pull the plug in the sink and see the water draining away. As you do so, feel all the contents of your mind emptying away, so that by the time the sink gets empty, you feel like your mind is totally relaxed and empty too. Sit and relax in this ‘empty sink’ space for a while. When you are ready, let your mind start filling up again, but focus on filling it up with things that:

  • You are appreciating and enjoying at the present time
  • The things that are most important and that you need to focus on
  • Challenges that you may be avoiding but need to address

Regularly empty your full mind, in order to fill it again with better quality, more enjoyable content!

© Toby Ouvry 2016, 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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February 2016

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Finding inner space within your mind by focusing on outer spaces

An ongoing motivation for both beginners starting meditation and those who are more experienced practitioners is simply the need to create and preserve a sense of space within our mind which we can relax into and use to keep the rest of our busy lives in perspective. One technique I use regularly that I find creates a sense of inner space very quickly is to focus on an awareness of the outer spaces that exist in our physical environment. The mind basically becomes like what it focuses upon, so when you focus on an outer physical space, this in turn quite naturally starts to give rise to a sense of an inner space within our mind. Here is one example of a way in which you can do this:

Making your mind BIG
We have been using this technique recently in the class I facilitate. Once you have sat down in a comfortable posture, become aware of the sky and stars up above you and the earth beneath you, allow your awareness to become big and open like the sky above you, and vast solid and stable like the Earth beneath you.
After you have done this, extend your mind horizontally around you, out to the horizon of the land, to the north, east, south and west. Extend your awareness as far out as you can to feel the curve of the Earth’s surface all about you. Now you have a sense of your mind as being BIG, and spacious, taking in the vast physical spaces all around you.
Stay with this feeling for as long as you like, let yourself relax as much as possible into your sense of the big space all around you; above, below, and extending out into the for directions of the horizontal/horizonal plane.
If you do this for a while, you will find quite quickly that a sense of inner space and calm arises within your mind. By focusing on the big space outside, you start to feel the big space inside!

A final point here is that I have found that this meditation helps ANY problem that I may be facing and that I am concerned about. When your mind feels big, then problems seem much more manageable. In a small mind consumed by itself and its own challenges, even small issues can take on a distorted life of their own!

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