Here is the audio file for todays exercise:
Modern Contemplatives have made a lot out of the idea of the true self and the false self. Roughly speaking, the false self is the personality, which is understood to be an accumulation of the identities we adopt. Primarily, this identity is an attempt to defend ourselves from hurt.
The true self is deep within and utterly unchangeable. A contemplative practice gives us increasing glimpses of this aspect of ourselves. Many within the Christian tradition consider this to be the image of God, the divine breath, and Christ within.
In today’s exercise you are invited to imagine that a teacher arrives to come and sit with you by the river. For me, this teacher is Jesus. Perhaps he is for you too. Perhaps you don’t have a name or even a concept of what this teacher might be like. Any and all of these, are, of course, fine.
- Relax. Find your breath.
- Imagine a riverside scene. Perhaps it is a place you have been. Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.
- Furnish additional sensory information. What sounds are you hearing? What smells are you smelling? What is the temperature like?
- There is a comfortable seat here. With enough room for two. See it in your mind’s eye. Is it a park bench? A rock shaped just so?
- Behold the river. See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision. Observe the clear water with the leaves floating by. Place your hand in it, if you like. Feel it’s crisp coolness.
- Continue to breathe deeply and slowly. As anything: feelings, memories, perception rise up to distract you from your breath, give them, gently to the river. Feel it leave your body and place it on the river.
- When you reach a place of calm, a teacher walks calmly and quietly up to you. He sits down next to you. Sit next to this teacher. Enjoy a companionable silence.
- When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity. Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, feel it coming out of your body. The teacher is there to help you if you need it. Together, you can give it up to the river. Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
- With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity. Note the teacher is still with you. His feelings for you have not changed.
- Now, consider another aspect of your identity. Perhaps it is a certain distant familial relationship like uncle or cousin. Maybe it is a hobby you are very passionate about. Feel it rising up and out of you. Note how this feels. With the teacher’s help, give this part of yourself to the river, now.
- Experience life with out this fact about yourself. Consider the ways you are changed. As distracting thoughts and feelings arise, remember to give these to the river, too.
- Now, find something very important to you. Perhaps it is a job, a title, or a degree. Maybe it is your role within the family you live in (mother/father/ sister/daughter, etc…) Give this role to the river as well. The teacher continues to sit with you through this experience.
- Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
- Consider that there is something within you. Explore who or what this is. This is the self that the teacher knoiws is there; the part of you that the teacher has been speaking to.
- If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river. Remember that the teacher is there to help.
- Give your name up to the river. Feel it come unglued from you. Hold it in your hands, with the teacher. The two of you can put your name on one of the leaves together, and let the current carry it away.
- When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now. Feel the teacher’s presence. Perhaps he will say some things to you. Maybe they are things that a teacher has said to you before. Will you hear those word’s differently now?
- When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
- Walk downriver. Continue to not only see, but also hear and feel this world in your imagination. Perhaps fifty feet down the river, you will find that a number of rocks and branches lie across the river, obstructing the flow.
- As you walk among these, you will find that many of the parts of yourself that you gave to the river sit here, prevented from going to far away. Consider each aspect of yourself. The ones you wish for, you can have back. Take them within you again. As for the ones you don’t want? Untether them from the rocks and branches. Let them be washed free.
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Today’s exercise is the last of the Riverside Meditations. With our next email (on Tuesday or Wednesday) we will continue our journey into apophatic practices.
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