Spiritual Exercise #17: Changing the Focused-on Word

Background:  There is an illustration used for actors.  It begins with the rather dark sentence, “Do you still kick your dog?”  By emphasizing a different word in that sentence, an actor might end up creating 6 different implications.

For example, “Do you still kick your dog?” Suggests that we want to settle the matter right now, with a yes-or-no answer.  Meanwhile, “Do you still kick your dog?” implies that we know someone is kicking the dog; the question at issue is who is doing the kicking.  “Do you still kick your dog.”  is meaningful if it is publicly known that “you” used to kick the dog.  The important question is whether or not this is still going on.  “Do you still kick your dog.”  Leaves us the idea that we know “you” yell at it, we are just wondering about kicking.  “Do you still kick your dog?”  Tells a listener that somebody’s dog is definitely kicked; the only question is whose.  And finally, “Do you still kick your dog?”  Suggests that something is getting kicked, the only question is what.

Today’s practice takes advantage of this principal: That we subtly alter the meaning of a phrase by changing the emphasis.  There are 2 exercises explored below.  In the first, I have furnished the phrase.  The second is left more open, for the practitioner to choose their own.

Spiritual Exercise

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe.  Release your stresses and concerns.
  2. With the next inhale, read the following passage “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ”  With the exhale, consider the meaning of the phrase.
  3. With the next inhale, read or say the phrase again.  But this time, emphasize the first word:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  
  4. With the exhale, consider the nuances of meaning that arise from this emphasis.
  5. With the next inhale, stress the next word: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  
  6. With the next exhale, consider what meanings are implied by this.
  7. Continue this pattern, emphasizing a new word with each breath.
  8. When you have worked your way through all of the words, consider the overall meaning of this phrase.  Consider whether it has taken on a new meaning.
  9. Enjoy some time in wordless communion.

Exercise B:

  1. Select a small, favorite phrase.  It might be from scriptures or a favorite story.
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor.  Allow yourself to relax.
  3. With the next inhale, say the statement to yourself.
  4. With the next exhale, consider what it means.
  5. With the next inhale, emphasize the first word.  Say the whole phrase.
  6. With the next exhale, consider what this means with the added emphasis.
  7. With the next inhale, repeat the phrase, now emphasizing the second word.
  8. With the next exhale, consider the new meaning.
  9. Continue through the whole phrase in this manner.
  10. When you are done, reconsider what the whole phrase means.

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One thought on “Spiritual Exercise #17: Changing the Focused-on Word

  1. Pingback: You Are Welcome Here. | The Faith-ing Project

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