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Pond & river. What is it that moves, what is it that is still?

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article looks at moving stillness as our object of meditation. It’s a capability that, when you start to get a practical handle on it can have a deeply transformative influence on your life!

If you enjoy it, then do check out the  Effortless effort – The art of doing by non-doing, a ten-week meditation course! that I’ll be starting this  week, both live & online on Tuesday & Wednesday evenings. 

You can also view my course  video on Effortless effort – Moving water that is still, still water that is moving

Final reminder, this Saturday 13th January, 9.30am-12.30pm I’ll be facilitating An Introduction to Integral Mindfulness & Meditation Practice 3 hour workshop. Great way to kick start your meditational year!
In the spirit of moving stillness,

Pond & river. What is it that moves, what is it that is still?
An important dimension of the practice of effortless effort is to bring stillness and movement together into a harmonic with you. This facilitates the ability to relax into our life and daily tasks ergonomically and effectively. It also enables us to combine two things:

  • Functional productivity, meaning getting our ‘to do list’ done in an effective manner
  • Creative productivity, meaning we are flexible and spontaneous, as well as capable of envisioning and articulating possibilities that have not yet come about

Ajahn Chah, the late well known Thai meditation teacher described the meditative state as ‘still water that moves, and moving water that is still’. When we are beginners at meditation, it seems like movement & stillness are the opposite of each other. Either we are still and relaxed, or we are thinking and active. To bring these two parts together into a state of effortless effort, we need to identify what part of our body-mind is always still, and what part of our body-mind moves.
If you look at your experience moment to moment, it seems relatively clear that your mind, body, and emotions move when they are activated. When they become still temporarily, we start to notice the space of consciousness itself, which, because it has no form is always still. The mind, body and emotions move within the stillness of consciousness. So then, in order to practice ‘moving stillness’ we need to be able to access the stillness of consciousness, and then let our movements of body, mind and emotions move without losing our connection to that stillness. As you can imagine, this takes practice and with this in mind, here is an exercise that you can try out in order to develop your capacity.
Pond & river
Imagine yourself sitting in a landscape with a still pond on once side, and a relatively rapidly moving river on the other side.

  • Focusing on the pond, let your mind become still and quiescent like the pond, relax into the stillness for a while. Notice that when you do this you will start to contact the actual, ever-present stillness of your inner consciousness. The image connects you with the presence of your always-still consciousness-itself
  • Then focus on the river, letting your mind feel into the activity and dynamism of the water. Try and ‘flow’ with the movement as you breathe
  • Now bring them together, centre in the stillness of the pond, then brining the sense of movement into the stillness. Initially this might feel a little unnatural, or even jarring, and you might lose your focus a few times. But with a bit of practice you will be able to combine the ‘noise’ of the river with the stillness of the pond.
  • As a final section to the meditation, spend a short while envisioning yourself going about your daily activities. As you do so feel yourself connected to the stillness of your consciousness, whilst at the same time physically,, mentally and emotionally interacting with your world. Imagine yourself to be like ‘moving water that is still & still water that moves’

This meditation will then give you the basis to start practicing effortless effort, bringing together stillness and dynamism as you meet the challenges of the day!

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2024. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact 

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The River of Concentration

Dear Integral Meditators,

Ever sit down to meditate but just get completely overwhelmed by your distractions? The article below explores an image that I use myself to gradually move from busyness to stillness in meditation, not trying to get there too fast.

If you are in Singapore, do check out the Integral Meditation Class on Developing Focus and Concentration that I will be leading this Friday at 7.30pm, and the Integral Meditation Workshop on Saturday the 11th.

In the spirit of the river of concentration,


The River of Concentration

One of the challenges that we face in meditation is that when we sit down to try and calm our mind we become discouraged when we cannot move it from a busy state to a state of stillness. One of the reasons for this is that we try and do it all at once, like going from running to standing with no ‘slowing down’ period in between. In this article we use the stages of a river as an image that we can use to gradually and incrementallyslow our mind down in meditation, moving from activity to stillness in four stages. In this analogy we take as our object of meditation the body and breathing in combination with the stages of a river.

The highland stream
When we first sit down to meditate at the beginning of our session, our mind is often busy and fast moving like a highland stream coming down from a mountain. The gradient creates a natural momentum that means the water moves fast. At this stage in our meditation we expect the mind to move quickly away from our point of focus, and for us to have to bring our attention back to our body and breathing again and again. This is natural, normal.

The lowland stream
As we get a few minutes into our meditation, we can consciously start to relax and slow down our mind so that it becomes like a lowland stream or river; we can still feel the flow, momentum and activity, but it is not as fast as previously. Our efforts to keep our attention on the breathing and the body are easier and we achieve more consistency.

The valley river
In this third stage we consciously slow our mind down another small increment so that it becomes like a valley river; the movement is slower, more consistent, more predictable. Even though the movement is there, we can hold our attention on the body and the breathing relatively easily and consistently, and when we get distracted we can bring our attention and focus back comparatively easily.

The estuary river
Deeper into out session we now slow down our mind another increment, it becomes like an estuary river; a river flowing at its slowest and deepest. Here we sense our concentration deepening and moving toward stillness. The distracting currents are less and less, and the efforts to keep our mind focused on our body and breathing are easier. The main distractions we face here are relatively subtle ‘daydream’ type movements of the mind that come from the sense of mental comfort and subtlety that we are experiencing. We can feel our mind moving towards a ‘merged’ state; in the same way that the estuary river merges with the great openness of the ocean, we can feel our mind and concentration moving us toward a unitive state of inner openness and spacious awareness.

Outside of meditation
Outside of meditation you can bear the above analogy in mind; when your mind feels like a highland stream, gently slow it down so that it becomes like a lowland stream in order to reduce your stress. Whatever the ‘speed’ of the river of your mind, at regular intervals during the day just mindfully slow it down to the next stage when you need to be a little more reflective and mindful.

Related Articles: The Inner Weather of the Mind
Shifting Down the Gears – On Meditation and Power Napping
How Much Energy Should You Focus on Focus on Being Focused?

© Toby Ouvry 2015, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Integral Meditation Asia

Online Courses 1:1 Coaching * Live Workshops * Corporate Mindfulness Training *
Life-Coaching *  Meditation Technology