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Witnessing like the Sun

Dear Integral Meditators,

Taking a position as an observer or witness is a fundamental position that we practice when being mindful, but can it make us too cold and detached? The article below explores this theme, and how to build an integrated and balanced witnessing practice.

For those in Singapore, this evening’s  Wednesday class will be on ‘Meditation & spiritual alchemy‘, all welcome!

In the spirit of inner light,


Witnessing like the Sun

Taking a position as an observer or witness is a fundamental position that we practice when being mindful:

  • We learn to watch our thoughts without interfering, repressing, denying or encouraging.
  • We observe our reactions & responses to what people say to us, noting without judging.
  • We try and hold a third person perspective when we are engaging in daily activities, noting our behaviours and the behaviours of others as consciously as possible.
  • We learn to experience emotions without being completely consumed and over-identified with them. There is a part of us that remains at the center of the experience, balanced amidst the imbalance of our feelings.

There can be an extreme of this witnessing position, whereby we become too detached, too cold, too robotic in our mindful witnessing practice. If we go to this extreme then we can find our mindfulness practice detracting from the quality of our life, as it impairs our ability to engage in experiences with passion, engagement, emotion and humanity. With integral mindfulness, we are trying to set up a complementary, supportive relationship between our emotional engagement in life, and our ability to witness, observe and detach. These two qualities should be working with each other, not against each other!

Witnessing like the Sun
One way in which we can avoid the extreme end of mindful detachment is by practising witnessing like the Sun. From one point of view the sun shines on us with total objectivity. It is so huge, and we are so insignificant and tiny (relative to it), it has no involvement or investment in our life at all. It shines upon us as if by chance, with monolithic objectivity. But, at the same time the Sun is also warm, life-giving, bright and joyful. When we see the Sun we feel enlivened, encouraged and optimistic. So, when we practice mindful witnessing, either in formal practice or informally during the day, we can practice as if we are the Sun, combining objective detachment with warmth, benevolence and joy as we watch!

When my phone content was wiped
Yesterday I traded in my old phone for a newer version. In the process of doing so the shop assistant accidentally wiped out a bunch or photos and Whatsapp messages that had a lot of sentimental value for me. After realizing what had happened, I was feeling pretty angry and upset, and a bit emotionally traumatized at the loss. Realizing I was upset I switched on my ‘mindful witness mode’, but made sure that I combined it with engagement and passion, so that I was able to experience the emotions without repressing them, say what I wanted to say to the shop assistant about the f*#ck up (possibly more polite than he deserved, but I think I got the message across), and went about seeing if I could recover the images and information from other sources. In short I tried to practice witnessing like the Sun, shining the light of my objective awareness on the experience with warmth as I experienced the emotional roller-coaster. Two hours later, with most of my emotions processed, and almost all the important info recovered, I could relax and enjoy my new phone, calmly!

© Toby Ouvry 2017, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Upcoming Courses at Integral Meditation Asia

Ongoing on Wednesday’s, 7.30-8.30pm – Wednesday Meditation Classes at Basic Essence with Toby

Ongoing on Tuesday evenings, 7.30-8.30pm – Tuesday Meditation Classes at One Heart with Toby (East coast)

Tuesday & Wednesday evenings – Practical meditations for spiritual awakening & enlightenment – A six week course

Saturday August 19th, 10am-5pm, & Monday August 21st,  10am-5pm –  Shamanic mandala meditation & art workshop

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Two types of choice-less awareness

Dear Integral meditators,

This weeks article focuses on two different ways of being mindful of your choice-making process.

In the spirit of choice-less awareness,


Two types of choice-less awareness

What is your current relationship to making choices in your life?

In traditional Buddhist mindfulness practice practicing ‘choice-less awareness’ means to witness whatever comes up in your field of awareness as a detached observer, without commenting, judging or getting involved in what arises. You are aware of what is arising without making any choices or trying to affect it; whatever is there is there; simply watch, observe and relax.
The fundamental benefit of this practice is that it gives you the peace of mind arising from being able to separate your ‘I’ from the contents of your consciousness. You are the owner of your thoughts, feelings and impulses, but you are not the thoughts, feelings and impulses.

Type two: Deliberate non-choosing
A second type of choice-less awareness involves simply deciding to abstain temporarily from making decisions and choices. The goal here is to deliberately set aside time where we make no choice or decision at all, simply resting in the circumstances that we find ourself in, and relaxing*.

The anxiety of being ‘caught between’ choices.
The reason for cultivating this second type of choice-less awareness is that much of our mental anxiety is created around our relationship to the decision-making process:

  • What is the right or best thing to do in this situation?
  • What if I make the wrong decision?
  • I don’t know what to do here
  • What if I am blamed for this?

If we are not careful we can spend a lot of our time in a state of low-grade anxiety, worrying about the dilemmas and choices in our life. For many of us this has become a habit to the extent that, even when we do make a choice that solves a problem, rather than deriving satisfaction from that, our attention simply seeks out another dilemma to worry about!

Stop your inner debate!
The idea with the mindful ‘non-choosing’ is to stop worrying by deliberately suspending our choice making capacity. This enables our mind to relax, regenerate its energy and return to sanity. To practice this as a sitting meditation, for the designated time you have set aside create a boundary; ‘For the next X minutes I will make no choices about my life, nor will I debate or weigh up issues. I will enjoy the simple pleasure of unburdening myself of my choice making responsibilities and being more present’.

Conscious choosing
The idea with conscious non-choosing is not that we don’t make choices at all, ever. Rather it is that that we develop the skill of temporarily putting down our choices in order to enjoy a more relaxed mind, better quality of life and reduce our anxiety.
The flip side of dropping our choices is to then spend the time when we are making choices in a more focused, mindful manner. We deliberately identify the important choices that we need to make today, this morning or in the next hour, and bring our full intelligence to that choice-making processes.
A good question to ask yourself to facilitate conscious choice-making is ‘what are the two most important choices that I need to make today?’ Identify the two choices that must get made today, and focus your intelligence on making them as well informed as possible!

Note from para 3* If we are doing this while engaged in some form of activity, for example walking, then we will obviously have to make small choices (to go left or right for example). The point here is to avoid our mind debating between two or more options in an abstract way. The immanent, small choices that we have to make in the moment (go left, go right) we can just make as required.

© 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

Upcoming Courses at Integral Meditation Asia

Ongoing on Wednesday’s, 7.30-8.30pm – Wednesday Meditation Classes at Basic Essence with Toby

Saturday 22nd October, 9.30am-12.30pm – Going From Over-whelmed to Over-well: Meditation for Quietening the Mind – a three hour workshop

Saturday 22nd October 2-5pm – Mindfulness & Movement session at the LifeChiro Center

Saturday November 12th, 10am-5pm – Meditations for connecting to the Tree of Life, and growing your own personal Life Tree

19th November – One Heart Celebration Day (Joint event)

Saturday 26th November 10am-5pm – Engaged Mindfulness day workshop/retreat

Integral Meditation Asia

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