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The foundational pillars or ‘goal-posts’ of meditative presence

Dear Integral Meditators, 

It can be good to really get clear about the basics of what you are trying to do in meditation, in a way that invites many deeper levels of understanding of those basics. The article below aims to offer some pointers for this….
In the spirit of presence, 

Toby

The foundational pillars or ‘goal-posts’ of meditative presence


In my previous article on basic mediative presence, I defined meditation as:
 “Meditation is the state of being awake, not lost in thought and not falling asleep. It is a state of being present in the moment, and aware of the present

This gives us a nice broad, ballpark within which we can start to practice. Here are two images to work with in meditation to help get comfortable in this space.

Sitting between the goal posts
In this first image, imagine yourself sitting in the middle of a football goal mouth. Either side of you are the goal posts.

  • Going to the far side of the left goal posts means getting completely lost in thought
  • Going to the far side of the right goal post means falling asleep

All you are trying to do is keep your attention oriented around the body and breathing, stay in the centre of the goal mouth, and avoid ‘traveling’ to the far side of either post.

  • Notice that you can have thoughts arising, but not be lost in those thoughts. Just because there are thoughts does not mean that you have lost your meditative presence
  • Notice also that you can feel a bit sleepy, without falling asleep. You just need to notice the sleepiness and avoid totally dropping off!

It should feel like you are sitting in quite a forgiving, comfortable space that you can relax in. Even if you do get lost in thought, or fall asleep a little, is not a problem. As soon as you become aware of it, bring your attention back between the goal-posts, and re-establish your basic meditative presence.

Two trees or pillars
An alternative to the goal-posts image is to imagine yourself between two pillars or trees. If you imagine yourself between two pillars, you could imagine yourself in your own ‘meditation temple’. Perhaps you are looking out into a beautiful landscape from the steps of the temple, between the two pillars.
Or you can see and feel yourself between two trees, sitting in a harmonious landscape within nature.
Both the pillar and tree option are equally good, you just choose the one that appeals the most to you, and that you feel most comfortable with. Like the goal posts image:

  • Going beyond the tree/pillar on the left represents getting lost in thought
  • Going beyond the tree/pillar on the right represents falling asleep

Your goal is simply to remain in the middle, avoiding either extreme, and cultivate your basic meditation state.
If you are a visual person, you can build the image of the goalposts, pillars, or trees quite strongly, and use the image as an orientation point in addition to your body and breathing. Imagining yourself in a place that is beautiful or harmonious can really help to access a state of meditation more quickly for some people.
If you are not a visual person, then you are mainly using the image as a metaphor or set of practice principles to guide you as you meditate. You would mainly simply stay with the body and breath, not worrying about building a picture so strongly.
Try sitting between the goalposts or pillars for 5-10minutes initially, and then for 15-20minutes using it to help you build your basic meditation state more tangibly and stably.

Related articleWhat is the point of being more present?
Meditation, not missing your life

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 www.tobyouvry.com


In case you missed it: The simple, positive, creative & aware training page

I’ve posted an integral meditation training page for my Simple, positive, creative & aware practice. Click on the link or scroll down below to

  • Watch the video
  • Listen to the studio quality guided meditations. There is a 20minute & an 8 minute version
  • Read the related article

Listen to the meditations & access the related article 



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Resting under the tree of non-doing & unbeing

“Trees are not trying to be anyone or anything else. They rest within their own natural dignity, their sense of inner sufficiency and completeness. What if you could be like that too?

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article looks at the practice of non-doing as a way of moving into being, & then deeper into non-being. It’s a key to effortless effort in meditation & in life! If you enjoy it, then it will form a central part of this week’s Tuesday & Weds meditation class. So do feel free to pop in, either live or online!

A couple of new events up for February: Saturday 17th, 9am-12pm – Integral love & compassion meditation workshop, &  24th, 9-11.30am – Integral meditation deep dive mini-retreat.

Last but not least, I’ve posted an integral meditation training page for my Simple, positive, creative & aware practice. Click on the link to watch the video, listen to the guided meditations & read the related article! 
In the spirit of non-doing,
 
Toby


Resting under the tree of non-doing & unbeing
 
This is a simple meditation form to take you from doing, to non-doing/being, to unbeing. The image it uses is that of a tree. Beneath the guided meditation are three stories/quotes from which the meditation is partly inspired. Dropping into a space of non-doing and unbeing is a particular type of silence practice. If you practice it regularly you will find it an invaluable resource to relax, regenerate and come back to your life with new eyes and new inner strength.
 
Meditation: Resting under the tree of non-doing
 
1. Imagine yourself sitting under a tree. It’s a useless tree in the sense that its wood is so knotted it cannot be made into anything by a carpenter. The only thing it is ‘good for’ is sitting under and doing no-thing. When you sit underneath it, it provides shade, calm and peace. It is a wonderful place to be and non-do.
 
2. You can also sense that the tree is entirely happy to be itself. It is not trying to be anyone or anything else. It rests within it’s own natural dignity, it’s sense of inner sufficiency and completeness. As you sit under it, you can feel yourself getting in touch with your inner wholeness and natural dignity. You are just fine as you are. You are a complete being.
 
3. Resting whole and complete like the useless tree, when a thought arises, ask yourself the question ‘Who is it that is thinking the thought?’ Turn your attention inward toward the consciousness that produced the thought. Let your attention return to simply being aware rather than thinking, like a person returning to the shade of a tree after being in the hot sun. Go deeper into being, non-doing and non-thinking.
 
4. From being, now reach into the deeper stillness of Un-being, the Void out of which all Being comes.
 
Return to your outer awareness and close the meditation.
 
Reference 1: The Useless Tree by Chuang Tzu
 
Hui Tzu said to Chuang: I have a big tree, The kind they call a “stinktree.”
The trunk is so distorted, so full of knots,
No one can get a straight plank out of it. The branches are so crooked
You cannot cut them up in any way that makes sense.
There it stands beside the road. No carpenter will even look at it.
Such is your teaching– big and useless.
 
Chuang Tzu repliedSo, for your big tree. No use? Then plant it in the wasteland
In emptiness. Walk idly around, rest under the shadow; No axe or bill prepares its end.
No one will ever cut it down. Useless? You should worry!
(Here is the full Thomas Merton version)
 
The Cedar Tree by Thich Nhat Hanh

“A cedar tree doesn’t have any desire to be a pine or a cypress or even a bird. It’s a wonderful manifestation of the Cosmos just as it is. You are a manifestation of the Cosmos. You are wonderful just like that.”
 
Resting under the tree of non-thinking – Quote from Ramana Maharshi ‘Who Am I?’

“The mind moves without rest, alternately going out of the Self and returning to it. Under the tree the shade is pleasant; out in the open the heat is scorching. A person who has been out in the sun feels cool when he reaches the shade. Someone who keeps on going from the shade into the sun and then back into the shade is a fool. Similarly, the mind of one who knows the truth does not leave Brahman (Self-as-consciousness)
 
Related articleWhat Does it Mean to Meditate on Non-Doing? (And why We should be interested in doing It)

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


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Effortless adaptation – Solving all your problems & none (II)

‘Witnessing is a practice that solves your problems without changing them. They are still problems, but they are not problems in the way they were. It solves all your problems and none at the same time.’

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article looks at meditative effortlessness from the perspective of witnessing practice. It’s a playful variation on a past article on ‘That which solves all your problems & none‘ from back in 2014. If you enjoy it, then it will form a central part of this week’s Tuesday & Weds meditation class. So do feel free to pop in, either live or online!

It’s a slightly longer article, so you might find it worthwhile reading it in two or three parts, coming back to it at different times… 
 
In the spirit of the effortless,
 
Toby


Effortless adaptation – Solving all your problems & none (II)

You can’t master what you are over identified with

This article is about how to adapt and flow with challenges in our life in as ‘effortless’ or ergonomic manner as possible. We can divide our challenges into ‘problems’ and ‘situations’.  In a previous article entitled ‘Wanting what you like, or liking what happens?’ I made the distinction between the two as follows:
“A lot of the things that we have labelled ‘problems’ in our life are more like ‘situations’. A problem is something that by definition has a solution. A situation is more a set of circumstances that we find ourself in. There may be no apparent solution to the situation, or the solution would cost more than it would be worth to ‘solve’ the problem. In this case we have to simply accept and work with what is. If we can harmonize our relationship to what ‘is’ today, meaning our situations, then chances are we will find ways to enjoy it and derive some value from it.”
If we want to solve and adapt effortlessly, a primary principle is you can’t master what you are over identified with. Here we are going to explore how to become more objective in our challenges, therefore struggling less as we adapt and solve.
 
The ultimate subject of consciousness

Initially in meditation (and then in daily awareness), if we look within, we can divide our consciousness into two:

  1. The objects within consciousness, or the content that we can observe
  2. The subject of consciousness, or that which is observing, AKA ‘the witness self’

During the day, quite often (almost always in fact), we confuse the subjects of consciousness with the objects of consciousness. We identify with our physical body and sensations, emotions, and moods. We identify with our story, our idea of who we are, as well as our beliefs and worldviews. All of these can be observed, watched, made into objects. The ‘self’ is, to use a Zen expression, ‘the ultimate subject of consciousness’. It is that within us that observes, which we can experience and be, but that we cannot watch as an object. You can rest in the witness self, but you can’t ‘see’ it. This is because it is simply consciousness itself, with no characteristics of form or time. It just ‘IS’!
 
Witnessing to adapt & solve

One of the beauties of sitting as the witness self is that it helps us to gradually dis-identify with the things in our consciousness that we are currently identified with. By doing this we make our challenges as well as the thoughts, feelings and beliefs associated with them objects rather than subjects. This means that its much easier to work with them and master them, because they are not ‘me’ or ‘mine’. I can be more objective, calm, strategic and (holistically) compassionate because I am not over identifying with what is going on. If you apply witnessing to any challenge, you are going thru, it will help substantially. Here are two examples from the last week:
 

  1. In a conversation with a friend, I was told a story of someone who had been aggressive and racist to him. Later in the day I felt strong anger and protectiveness about this. I noticed I was strongly identified with this ‘protector/guardian/’ aspect of myself. I modulated it simply by witnessing it; making it an object of awareness rather than ‘me. This helped me to integrate the good parts of this part of my personality, without wasting energy getting caught up and attached to the energy it generated in me.
  2. I had a discussion which verged on an argument. I noticed that there was a part of me that I identified with that was very concerned about being ‘right’. Noticing and witnessing this part of self helped me to transform it from subject to object, and accept the situation without wasting mental, emotional or verbal energy. Relatively effortlessly it helped me to keep focused on what I considered important in the day, without getting ‘trapped’ by my identification with rightness.

Through witnessing around your challenges, you can change your experience of them without much of a struggle, using the technology of witnessing. I can’t recommend highly enough building your competency around this domain of mindfulness. Life gets a lot easier, free-er and more creative, even in the face of intractable and long-term circumstances.
A final somewhat Zen sentence for you: ‘Witnessing is a practice that solves your problems without changing them. They are still problems, but they are not problems in the way they were. It solves all your problems and none at the same time.’

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


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Meditation – Not missing your life

Ordinarily we are often primarily lost in thought, secondarily conscious of the present moment. A meditator aims to become primarily present in life, and secondarily thinking’

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article explores a foundational definition of meditation & how to start working with it on a practical level. Experience of it gives you a solid base for your practice that you can easily create enjoyable variations around.

Heads up for this Saturday morning’s workshop:  Qi Gong for Improving your Health and Energy Levels and for Self-Healing. From the workshop write up: “Qi-gong is the science of working with the body’s energy field. Literally translated into English it means ‘energy work’, or ‘energy skill’.  In this workshop Toby will be teaching the art of moving subtle energy and life force into and around our body using a series of simple and easy to apply techniques.”
 
In the spirit of presence,
 
Toby


Meditation – Not missing your life (Your basic meditation state or space)
 
Awakening in meditation

In some ways awakening to the state of meditation could not be simpler. Here is a working definition:
Meditation is the state of being awake, not lost in thought and not falling asleep. It is a state of being present in the moment, and aware of the present
If you bring your attention to your breath for the next three breaths, avoiding distraction, or falling asleep, and holding the recognition of the breathing in the present, then you are in meditation.
 
We are often close to being in meditation already

Through-out the day we spend periods of time when we are focused in the present moment, on a particular task, not lost in thought, and not asleep. Particularly when we are enjoying something or feeling relaxed, we can do it without too much trouble. Think of an activity you take pleasure in, and recall how it helps you land in the present more, temporarily liberating you from being ‘somewhere else’ in your head.  Children spend long periods of time completely absorbed in and present to activities they enjoy.
The difference between these times that we all experience and a state of meditation becomes clear in the second part of the above definition: “A state of being in the present in the moment, and aware of the present moment.” Most non-meditators, when they arrive in the present moment do so by accident, as a side effect of an activity. They are present, but they are unconsciously present, rather than consciously present. To be in meditation we need:

  • To be aware that we are in the present, and
  • Conscious of what we are trying to focus on in the present

The state of meditation is therefore very similar to a state that you are already quite familiar with. It is just a matter of making it conscious, and then it becomes basic meditative presence
 
Your basic meditation state as your ‘inner studio space’
Your basic meditation state, once you can identify it and hold it consistently, then becomes like an ‘inner studio space’ where you can place and cultivate a range of different states of body, mind, and heart. For example, you can use it to:

  • Build focus and relaxation
  • Cultivate stillness
  • Build greater love and compassion for yourself and others
  • Work on healing inner wounds
  • Develop your self-knowledge

There is a whole range of creative things you can cultivate within your meditation space, but there is one over-riding reason for meditating, and that is so that you don’t miss your life!
 
Meditation – Not missing your life

For many of us, much of the day is spent in a state of non-presence, or the opposite of meditation.

  • We are often lost in thought and distraction
  • When we are not lost in distraction, it is often due to mental fatigue or exhaustion so we find ourselves sleepy, unconscious and in a state of dullness

The result of this is that we miss our life. Our life itself is always happening now, in the present moment, but we forget to turn up, we are somewhere else. To put it simply:
 
Ordinarily we are often primarily lost in thought, secondarily conscious of the present moment. A meditator aims to become primarily present in life, and secondarily thinking’
 
As a meditator, thinking and reflecting consciously becomes a complementary activity to our primary activity of being aware and anchored in the present, thus turning up to our life rather than missing it.
 
The breath of life
As a practical way of exploring your basic meditation state, here are some simple pointers. Breathing comfortably and naturally:

  • Notice how awareness of the breathing brings you naturally into your basic meditation state
  • Notice what it feels like to be primarily present to your life, not lost in thought or on auto-pilot
  • Notice what it is like to be ‘awake’ to your life, here and now
  • See how deeply you can drop into your basic meditation state, and notice what happens when you do
  • Practice taking the basic meditation state into your everyday activities as the orientation point in the moment. Notice how it changes your experience.

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


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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,
 
Toby


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 info@tobyouvry.com 


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What your body posture communicates to you

“The way in which we feel about our life and ourself shows up in the way we carry and hold our body. A healthier overall body posture & tension level will help you feel not just better in your mind and heart, but younger in your body!

Dear Integral Meditators, 

Wishing you all the very best for 2024! This week’s article is a reflection on mindfulness and body-posture, lots of things that we can have fun exploring in this area…

Tuesday & Wednesday classes start again this week with the2024 New year ‘Beginners mind’ meditation.
And if you enjoy the article, then do check out the9/10th January start of Effortless effort – The art of doing by non-doing, a ten-week meditation course!
 
In the spirit of embodiment,
 
Toby


What your body posture communicates to you (& new year beginners mind meditation)
 
The way in which we feel about our life and self shows up in the way we carry and hold our body. If you sit on the street and watch people walking past you, you’ll start to notice all sorts of ways in which this shows up in their way of moving. If you then start to observe your body posture as you walk, or sit or move, you’ll start to see how your doing it to.
One of the important insights about this is that it also works the other way around: You can get your body posture to communicate messages to your mind. Here is a simple example. I was walking along the street this morning to the bakery. I was feeling a little agitated and short tempered. Behind these feelings was a sense of life being a little hard, and that I needed to ‘armour’ against it. Becoming aware of this, I then looked at my manner of walking, my body tension, posture, and facial expression. All of them in one way or another were expressing subtly how I was feeling. I also had the sense that my body being in this posture was re-enforcing my mindset; because my body was this way I ‘felt’ that the world was like this, and that my mindset should stay on guard and edgy. Taking all of this in and observing it, I then did the following: Acknowledged how I felt and why. Then I consciously relaxed my body and explored what a body posture and walking gait would look like if I felt that:

  • Happiness and wellbeing were a natural, appropriate state for me to be in
  • That I felt confident, capable, and relaxed in the face of my life challenges
  • That everything in my life was ‘workable’ with, and that there was no need to feel overly threatened by it

For the duration of the rest of my walk home, I explored walking and moving my body in a way that expressed and embodied this. Needless to say, by the time I reached home I felt quite different emotionally and mentally, as well as physically.
You can explore this yourself when you walk, and sit. You can also take it as an object of meditation in your sitting practice. The three characteristics that I outline above are good for what I would call as sense of effortless effort, but you could explore what it would be like to walk compassionately, or freely, or harmoniously or any other quality you want to cultivate. Another powerful thing about working this way is that, because it is about embodiment, there is no danger that it remains just an intellectual exercise, it naturally works its way down into our physical and felt experience in daily life.
Another final proposition to consider; if you can develop a healthier overall body posture and tension level through this practice, then it will affect your physical health and the way in which your body ages. You will feel not just better in your mind and heart, but younger in your body!


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


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Meditation sessions for Jan ’24 & a Seasonal meditation koan

Dear Toby, 

I hope you have enjoyed the Christmas break & run up to the new year!
Here are the primary events for January 2024, starting with the new years meditation:

Tues 2nd, Weds 3rd January – 2024 New year ‘Beginners mind’ meditation
Tuesday/Wednesday evening 9/10th January – Effortless effort – The art of doing by non-doing, a ten-week meditation course
Saturday 13th January, 9.30am-12.30pm – An Introduction to Integral Mindfulness & Meditation Practice 3 hour workshop
Saturday 20th January, 9am-12.30pm – Qi Gong for Improving your Health and Energy Levels and for Self-Healing

I’ve placed below a short meditation story & reflection from my holiday, I hope you enjoy it!

In the spirit of awakening,

Toby


What will be with you unto the end of the world?

I spent a very windy Christmas with my family on the Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England. Near the house in the village where we were staying was a small war memorial church. Across the stained-glass window at the front of the church was a quote from the Bible, New Testament, Matthew 28.20:
‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’

I spent twenty minutes or so quietly meditating in the church with this quote. By convention it looks like a person expressing their faith in an eternal (outer) God. However, from a meditation point of view, I found that it fitted very well as a kind of ‘Zen koan’. If you turn the quote into a question, you get something like this:
‘What is it that is with you always, even unto the end of the world?’

In the world of outer form, and in the world of inner form (mind) of course everything is changing. Things and thoughts come and go, we live and die, stable things become unstable. None of these things are ‘with us always’, certainly not until the end of the world.
However, in each moment the experience of consciousness itself, without outer or inner form remains a constant and stable feature of our expereince. If we can sit and be aware of that which is conscious within us, we discover experientially a source of formless, timeless presence that is with us, unchanging literally ‘until the end of the world’. It was also present with us at all stages in our past, and was ‘our original face before we were born’, as they say in Zen.
So, if you like you can use this question as an entry point to the formless, timeless present in your meditation and contemplations. When you lose it, just re-ask the question, and re-centre yourself in the experience of consciousness itself.

Related article:  Dynamic calm – working with Zen koans

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2023. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact info@tobyouvry.com


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Evolutionary or devolutionary mindfulness?

Dear Integral Meditators, 

This week’s article looks at the context in which we learn mindfulness & meditation as something to be examined mindfully, as not all learning contexts are equal!

This week’s Tues & Wednesday class are on the subject of ‘Mindfully healing anxiety, insecurity & fear’, all welcome, live or online. 

In the spirit of evolving, 
 
Toby


Evolutionary or devolutionary mindfulness?
 
Mindfulness as a learning journey
For me the lynch pin of mindfulness practice is the existential level of it. This level is the sense of myself as a rational, independent human being, seeking to make my life a journey of meaning and fulfilment by using my mind to the best of my abilities. For me this level also has a simple but profound ethical level: Objectively I recognise that as an individual I am insignificant compared to the whole (number of humans, Planetary community etc…), and so the practice is geared toward me becoming an effective contributor the this larger whole, my efforts and aspirations flow in that direction.
Existentially then, mindfulness means using your attention, intention and awareness to meet and learn from your everyday experiences, to work wisely with them to make yourself better, and contribute to the whole more effectively. It also involves being dedicated to enjoying that journey, and making it vibrant. If we can do this then:

  • We evolve and grow over our lifetime, a little every day
  • We will contribute to the evolution of the world as we grow as individuals

 
The context of many mindfulness & meditation methodologies
Interestingly, many mindfulness and meditation methodologies are based upon a pre-modern religious (implicit or explicit) context. This means that the techniques are couched in a language and cultural context that is often rigid, conformist and based upon pre-modern belief systems. So, unless you are careful, you can find (and I’ve seen this happen over and over again) people who are essentially at the rational, individual level of development (see ‘existential’ above), who then take up mindfulness, and end up becoming narrower, less inquisitive and less evolutionary as a result. This is not to say that they don’t become good meditators, but what it does mean is that they only become competent within the narrow confines of the belief system that their practice is couched in.
 
Pre-modern mindfulness
When I left my life as a monk back in 2001/2, the essential reason was that I had not been able to find all the answers to my mindful questions in the pre-modern context of the Tibetan Buddhism that I had been practising for a decade. I wanted to explore and develop my mindful parameters by integrating new paradigms, methodologies and being creative. I was deeply surprised (although not in retrospect) how few of my colleagues from the group understood this, and how emphatically they withdrew their support once they learned I had decided to seek a practice that was not exclusively based around their ideas. This is what I mean by the rigidity and conformity aspect of a meditation community.
So, this is just something to consider: Mindfulness is by its nature evolutionary and growth oriented, but the context in which it is couched or learned can mean that it has a rigid, conformist, and devolutionary effect on who you are and what you do.
 
Liberation into evolutionary process
During my time post-monk hood there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of ‘getting lost’ and encountering the new. Thru-out that time my guiding light was the basic principles of the existential mindfulness I described above:
“The sense of myself as a rational, independent human being, seeking to make my life a journey of evolution, growth and fulfilment by using my intention, attention & intention to the best of my abilities”
My confidence as I travelled came not from knowing all the answers, or being in control, but from my trust in my mind, and my ability to work with my circumstances in a benevolent, flexible, and intelligent manner. Wherever I found myself, I knew that I had a reasonably competent, warm, and friendly traveling companion, me!
 
Related articleThe dynamic of personal evolution
Effortless effort – Making everything workable

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2023. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact info@tobyouvry.com 


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Wanting what you like, or liking what happens?

“Confidence comes not from being ‘in control’ of everything, but from knowing that, whatever way things work out today, I can come up with a way of liking it, using it, & deriving some form of fulfilment from it”

Dear Toby, 

This week’s article continues the theme of ‘making things workable’ from last weeks article on Effortless effort. Meditation, regardless of the type is always primarily about inner transformation which, if done well effects a transformation of our outer experience.

This week’s Tuesday & Wednesday meditation continues our journey into Therapeutic mindfulness, and last call for this weekend’s Shamanic meditation workshop retreat on Saturday & Sunday morning.

In the spirit of 
 
Toby


Wanting what you like, or liking what happens?
 
A couple of quotes to start this article and get the ball rolling:
 
“It is essential to understand that daily meditation will not ‘solve’ our problems. Anyone claiming to teach or sell methods that solve our problems is either misled or willfully deceptive. What happens is always and only our own inner transformation. After such transformation many problems will fade or seem irrelevant. However, deeply intractable problems and complex situations often require long-term work. One of the most curious and paradoxical effects of dedicated spiritual discipline is that some situations, previously insolvable, will evaporate.” – RJ Stewart, from the Sphere of Art Vol III
 
“The day you decide not to ask for things you like but rather to like things that happen, that day you become mature.” – Osho
 
Liberation is not freedom from problems
Meditation and mindfulness can free you from your own inner turmoil, but that doesn’t mean that your external life will get better in the sense of getting what you want all the time, or being free from inconvenience. What is does mean is that our inner self is transformed and changed, so that we experience our outer challenges and difficulties differently. They become more acceptable and workable with. We don’t need to fight with what ‘is’ so much.
 
Problems or situations?
A lot of the things that we have labelled ‘problems’ in our life are more like ‘situations’. A problem is something that by definition has a solution. A situation is more a set of circumstances that we find ourself in. There may be no apparent solution to the situation, or the solution would cost more than it would be worth to ‘solve’ the problem. In this case it is more like we have to simply accept and work with what is. If we can harmonize our relationship to what ‘is’ today, meaning our situations, then chances are we will find ways to enjoy it and derive some value from it.
 
Confidence from liking what is
If we can get good at liking what we find and working with it, then we start to become confident in life. This confidence comes not from being ‘in control’ of everything. Rather it comes from knowing that, whatever way things work out today, I can come up with a way of using it, of deriving some form of fulfilment from it.
 
Preferences not attachments
None of this means that you don’t have goals and preferences in your life, or that you aren’t working actively and intelligently towards them. But what it does mean is that, as you are experiencing the twists and turns of your journey, you are liberated to enter fully into this moment and live it with freedom. Even if what is it is not what you ‘want’, you can make it something that you feel alive and vivid in the presence of.
 
Different meditation techniques from the great traditions, from the Shamanic journeying methods that I’ll be leading a retreat around this weekend, to the more ‘Zen’ methods of effortless effort are all methods of inner transformation. If we go into them thinking that it is going to be a ‘wish fulfilment’ exercise, we are likely to be disappointed, certainly in the medium to long term. But if we enter them with the intention to really work on our inner transformation, then we find that our world really can change radically for the better.
 
Related articlesEffortless effort – Making everything workable
Solve no problem (& leave no problem unsolved)

Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2023. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact info@tobyouvry.com 


In case you missed last weeks article: Effortless effort – Making everything workable

When Chogyam Trungpa, the famous Tibetan Buddhist Master was asked “What is Dharma?” (Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha), he replied “Dharma means that everything is workable.”
The other day I was texting a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He asked “How is everything?” to which I replied “With acceptance, everything is workable.” This made me recall the Trungpa quote, then leading to a few thoughts about the principle of ‘Effortless effort’.
You might think about Effortless effort as a way of accepting and working with the reality that you are presented with. It is a ‘state’ of being that then leads into…read full article 


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Effortless effort – Making everything workable

“The art of Effortless-effort makes difficult things feel manageable, & effort over a long period of time sustainable, even quietly joyful”

Dear Integral Meditators, 

Just starting to get my thoughts together regarding the  Effortless effort – The art of doing by non-doing, a ten-week meditation course coming up in January. The article below explores a few working definitions and practices

In the spirit of skillful sustainability,
 
Toby


Effortless effort – Making everything workable

When Chogyam Trungpa, the famous Tibetan Buddhist Master was asked “What is Dharma?” (Dharma means the teachings of the Buddha), he replied “Dharma means that everything is workable.”
The other day I was texting a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. He asked “How is everything?” to which I replied “With acceptance, everything is workable.” This made me recall the Trungpa quote, then leading to a few thoughts about the principle of ‘Effortless effort’.
You might think about Effortless effort as a way of accepting and working with the reality that you are presented with. It is a ‘state’ of being that then leads into a way of doing that works with whatever we are facing.
‘Effortless effort’ could also be described as ‘Doing though non-doing’, also known as ‘Wei wu wei’ in Chinese (translating into ‘effortless action’). It is a philosophy of life & way of meditating found explicitly in the Zen, Chan & Taoist schools of meditation. Implicitly it is found in most of the great wisdom traditions of the world. It indicates skilful and ergonomic ways of working with life that facilitate balance, resilience, creativity & wisdom.
 
The feeling of Effortless effort (E-E) in the body
One of the things that I really enjoy and appreciate about E-E is the sense of flow and energy efficiency that it brings. It makes difficult things feel manageable, and effort over a long period of time sustainable, even quietly joyful.
The state of E-E can be described as a way of holding your body, as well as a state of mind. As a bodily state, here are some pointers:

  • The muscles are soft, with only enough tension in them to perform the presenting task. For example, if you are standing or sitting upright, the crown may be high and the body upright, but the centre of gravity is low in the belly, so that the chest and shoulders are not carrying their own weight. Hands and arms are loose, and the belly is not holding onto emotional stress.
  • The feeling of the inner self is one of comfort in the body, or ‘comfort in your own skin’. There is an absence of rush or panic, even, and particularly in the face of persistent stressors
  • The body feels at home in its environment. There is a sense that the world is a friendly place, where you are things are workable. As a sensation in the body, there is a feeling of trust in process, a sense of quiet alertness and relaxed attention

An everyday reflection
This morning I had a coaching appointment cancelled at short notice. So, I thought it would be nice to take my daughter to pre-school. I took her, but forgot to bring her nap-time bedding. I had planned to work on this article before going to work, but now I had no time, because I had to go back to the school. Pausing, relaxing, and  working on the principle that ‘everything is workable’, I transferred the article from my computer to my phone, and use the extra time on public transport to continue to edit my article. Through-out the process, I simply focused on staying calm, feeling flexible and accepting. Having come up with a simple battle-plan, I relaxed into it’s execution. I consciously worked on being smooth and ergonomic, working with the situation rather than fighting it.
This is a very simple example, but hopefully it gives you a feeling for how to start working with E-E in everyday situations. If you can practice daily actions with E-E, then you will burn up a lot less energy, and arrive at the evening feeling less fatigued, with your mood more positively disposed. A final point, if you get good at E-E during the day, when you sit down to meditate, you will find that you are already near a state of meditation, and that moving into formal meditation feels more like slipping into a warm bath; a natural, easy transition from doing to being!
 
Related readingWorking Samadhi – The way of the mindful warrior
Mindful ergonomics – Making the most of your energy
 
Article content © Toby Ouvry & Integral Meditation Asia 2023. you are welcome to share, but please cite the source, thanks! Contact info@tobyouvry.com 


In case you missed this week’s other article: Shamanic meditation – Psychopomping & other non-ordinary adventures
 
Shamanic meditation, often described as ‘Shamanic journeying’ occurs mainly in the dream state, which is to say the psychic and subtle levels of mind. You might think of shamanic meditation as a type of ‘conscious dreaming’ done whilst meditating…read full article


Integral Meditation Asia

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

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