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Calm abiding, beautiful breathing (Inner air conditioning)

Dear Integral Meditators,

What would happen if you were able to focus your mind in a state of calm abiding at will, or at least more often? This weeks article explores this theme and how you can start developing this skill today!

In the spirit of the strength of calm,


Calm abiding, beautiful breathing (Inner air conditioning)

Overriding your brains need for over stimulation
One of the main things we are trying to achieve with mindfulness meditation is the ability to focus our mind calmly and continuously on one object for an extended period of time; we train our attention to become happy to be in one place, abiding peacefully. The problem we face is that our brain tends to reward and crave stimulation and new information; impulsively moving from one object to another, happy to remain distracted and busy. So to develop the long term benefits of ‘calm abiding’ we need to repeatedly override our brains craving for stimulation, bringing it back to an object of calming concentration.

The vicious cycle of fatigue and distraction
When we are tired and anxious during our day, often the last thing that we want to do is to bring our mind to a state of calm focus, because it requires effort. But remaining distracted also requires effort and dissipates our energy, making us feel even more tired. With mindfulness meditation we are trying to replace the vicious cycle of fatigue and distraction with the positive cycle of energy and focus.

The beautiful breathing
One of the medium-long term effects of practising calm abiding using awareness of our breathing is the experience of the ‘beautiful breathing’ (so called within the Forest monk tradition of Thai Buddhism) where

  • Our breathing starts to appear more clearly to our mind, with less effort needed to focus
  • Our breathing starts to feel increasingly peaceful, harmonious and ‘beautiful’ as we focus upon it.
  • There is a corresponding feeling of comfort, harmony and bliss within our physical body.

Cultivating the beautiful breathing
One way in which we can cultivate the beautiful breathing right away is to deliberately make our breathing more beautiful and harmonious right now. Here is an exercise for doing this:

  • Set aside a period of time, short or longer. For three-five breaths, deliberately place your attention on the breathing. Make your inhalation and exhalation as smooth, even, harmonious and ‘beautiful’ as you can. You can either make the inhale and exhale even in length, or the exhalation slightly longer according to your preference. Also, make the changeover at the top and bottom of your breath (from inhale to exhale and vice-versa) as smooth and flowing as you can.
  • At the end of your three-five breaths, relax the body as deeply and blissfully as you can; try and feel your body and bring as much ease and comfort as you can to that feeling.
  • Spend the duration of your session cultivating a sense of smooth, beautiful breathing with deep relaxation of the body.

By doing this exercise regularly for a short period of time (daily if you can), you will quite naturally increase your connection to the beautiful breathing, and accelerate the ‘speed’ at which you are able to start to experience it stably and naturally.

Your inner air conditioning
Today I was walking back to my place of work after lunch, focusing gently on my own experience of the beautiful breathing. It was hot, crowded and I was sweating, but because my mind was in a state of calm abiding, just enjoying the smooth flow of my breathing, I felt ‘cool’ inside. The heat and the sweat did not bother me nearly as much. It was almost like I had some ‘inner air conditioning’ with me. It’s a small observation, but it gives an example of what it feels like to have a stable experience of calm abiding, and how it can alter our basic experience of daily life.

© 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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What’s the Difference Between Your Higher Self and ‘Big Mind’? (The Doorway)

Dear Integral Meditators,

After last week’s article on Connecting to Your Big Mind I was asked ‘What is the difference between your Higher Self and your Big Mind’. Since it is a good question, I thought I may as well address it in an article, which you will find below!

In the spirit of the doorway,


What’s the Difference Between Your Higher Self and ‘Big Mind’? (The Doorway)

The term ‘Higher Self’ is used in various western and Indian (generally Theistic) spiritualities to denote our soul, or the deeper part of our individual nature. This Higher Self  or ‘Soul Self’ is conceived to be engaged in a process of learning and evolution that spans not just one life but multiple lifetimes, each lifetime hopefully building upon the experience of the last in order to lead to a gradual maturation of the individual. Unless the individual person is quite evolved, generally he or she will not be experientially aware that he or she has a soul or Higher Self that is ‘looking after’ her. However as s/he matures spiritually will generally become aware of this deeper or higher aspect of her own being that is guiding and directing them. Over a period of time a sense of connection and communication will be established between this person and their Higher Self that eventually leads to the person effectively merging with and functioning as the Higher Self on Earth. The Higher Self is still an individual self, with a history and particular individual characteristics, generally located on the higher mental planes; it is not an abstract, formless timeless spirit.
‘Big Mind’ on the other hand is a term used in some Zen traditions to describe the experience of primal, formless timeless awareness. This formless timeless lies at the heart of our experience of each moment, but it is completely open and limitless, beyond any kind of individual self, beyond time, beyond space; it is pure limitless awareness or spirit. So Big Mind really refers to a unified experience of ‘spiritual’ consciousness that lies beyond our individual ego, but also beyond the limitations of our Higher Self or Soul. The Big Mind is all pervasive, ever present, something that you can learn to recognize and relax into at any time through meditation and mindfulness training.

The Doorway
The doorway is an image I find very helpful as an image that helps to connect the above idea to an actual experience. Imagine your Soul or Higher Self as a doorway. If you look in one direction you see yourself in time and space, going about your daily life in the world. If you look in the other direction you find yourself staring into the experience of a formless, timeless infinity, and expanse of open awareness without limitation; the Big Mind. You are the Soul, the Higher Self that links the world of your individuality and daily life with the formless, timeless experience of Big Mind. In meditation you simply turn and face in the direction of Big mind, allowing yourself to be absorbed into it, when you come out of meditation you simply turn around, face your daily life and walk back into it. Your doorway is the gateway you can come back to at any point in your day to reconnect to your Higher Self and to Big Mind.

© 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

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