Author Archives: Jeff

About Jeff

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

Exercise 49: Observing the Breath

Background

If you wanted to divide up all the spiritual exercises, all the contemplations, all the ways of approaching of mindfulness that have ever been, you could find one convenient dividing line around what they do with the breath.  

Many practices begin by asking us to take charge of the breath. Generally speaking, these practices encourage us to slow down our breathing.  There are lots of reasons that this is a good idea.

As discussed above, it may not be the most accurate picture of the way things work though.

The other category of practices asks us to simply observe the breath.  

The act of simply tuning into the breath can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  It is easy to overthink the direction, “Tune into your breath without changing it.” Generally speaking, holding this instruction to tightly will lead to struggles.  In trying to be too literal we tend to unleash a series of questions and doubts.

As with so many things, entering these exercises in a light-hearted manner is wise.  If we accept that we will not be perfect at it, we will be able to observe our breath much more effectively.

Exercise 17: Observing the breath

 

  1. Create a safe, quiet space.
  2. Sit in a comfortable, upright manner if you are able.
  3. Tune in to your breath.  Do your best to accept it without changing it.
  4. Note whether you are using the mouth, nose, or both.
  5. Become aware of specifically where you feel the breath entering the nose or mouth.  How does it feel there? What is the temperature?
  6. Note the temperature as it comes in.  
  7. Extend this awareness of the feeling and temperature as the breath leaves you.
  8. Where does the breath end in your body?  Does your abdomen move? Your chest?
  9. When you are ready, increasingly bring yourself into this particular breath.  The one you feel right now. This breath, now is the only breath you can ever change.  It is wholly unique among all the breaths you will ever feel. Greet each breath. Find its uniqueness. 
  10.  Welcome the special breaths that follow in the same way.  Sit in this awareness for most of the time you have devoted to your practice today.  
  11. When you are ready, return to your everyday life.  But know that you can welcome each breath throughout your day.

 

 

Exercise 48: More Breathing Toward Oneness

Background: You might find this to be most effective after exercise 47.  In some ways, it is a follow-up to that exercise.

Our every day assumption is that our consciousness (ego, mind) is in control of things like our breathing.  The main evidence for this assumption is rooted in the idea that when I think “I am going to breathe slowly now.”  I do, in fact, start to breathe slowly.

However, it is worth noticing a few things about this assumption.  The first is that (thankfully) when we stop thinking about our breathing, we continue to breathe.  The second is that if we asked for an account of how we do things like change our breath or move an arm, we couldn’t give much more of an explanation than “well, I think about it, then it happens.”

There are some aspects of neuroscience that are beginning to endorse the idea that our consciousness tells a story about what is going on and our body, rather than causing those changes to take place.  In other words, there are good reasons to suppose that when we begin to breathe slowly, we think “I am going to breathe slowly now.” and assume our thought caused the action, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The Exercise

  1.  Find a relaxed position.  Generally speaking, this will be a seated position with feet flat on the floor and spine as straight as is comfortable.
  2. Notice your breath.  Allow yourself to be aware of it with out seeking to change it.
  3. Feel the inhale: notice where the breath comes in on the nostrils or mouth.  Observe the flow of air down the throat and into the belly.
  4. Feel the exhale.  Notice the difference in the temperature and moisture of the air as it leaves the body.
  5. Continue this for at least three more breaths.  Continue longer if that feels right.
  6. As you continue to observe this process, recall that a story goes that God reached down and breathed into a handfull of Earth.  After that breath, there was Adam.
  7. Observe the exhale.
  8. Continue this for two more breaths: God-in-the-universe is breathing you.
  9. Open your heart and mind to the awareness that other people and animals in your area (perhaps your family in other bedrooms, or the other occupants of the building you are in) are breathing, too; God-in-the-universe is breathing them.
  10. As you complete a second and third breathe with this awareness, continue to observe this breath being breathed in you.
  11. Open your mind and heart to the plants and even microscopic organisms all around you.  Some living things inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  Others do the reverse.  See the world breathing in all these creatures.
  12. Sit in this flow and connection for as long as you would like.  
  13. Can you widen this network of connections?  Can you make it geographically larger?  Can you expand the nature of the interconnections.
  14. When you are ready, return to your every day world.  Hold on to the connections between the rest of the world that were deepened here.

 

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Exercise 47: Oneness Within a Web of Living Beings

Background:  Thinkers such as Ken Wilber have observed that it is somewhat arbitrary, the ways that we put importance on a single individual.  We are made of millions of cells.  The cells are arranged in tissues, the tissues are are arranged in organs.  The organs are arranged in organ systems.  The organ systems are arranged in organisms.  The organisms are arranged in communities.  The communities are arranged in ecosystems.  All the ecosystems, when taken together, form the biosphere.

We have consciousness of ourselves as individuals, of course.  But this seems like a small reason to put so much of our attention to one middle-level of this arrangement.  There is something to be said for the idea that the consciousness we think is running the show is in fact just giving us a report of the things that are already happening.

If you can do the following practice in the presence of a a plant, or better yet a tree, that is a definite plus.

The Practice

1.  Find a comfortable position.  Release your worries and expectations.  Place your phone on silent mode.

2.  Breathe in, through the nose if you can.

3.  Breathe out, through the mouth.

4.  Try to breathe in more deeply.  Place your hand on your abdomen and feel it move.

5.  Exhale again.  

6.  Take one last inhale, before we move in to the next step.  Can you make it your deepest?

7.  Fully exhale.

8.  Spend a moment considering a plant or tree.  Behold and love it.  Consider the individuality of this one specific plant.  See it’s leaves and branches.  Imagine the roots of the thing.  Allow your thoughts or eyes to really linger on this friend.

9.  With your next inhale, breathe in.  Recognize that some of the very air you breathed might have been made from that plant.

10.  With your next exhale, breathe the air out knowing this is what the plant will need.  It will inhale the carbon dioxide of your breath.

11.  Take two more deep breaths, connecting with the plant in this relationship of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

12.  When you are ready, try to erase the boundaries between yourself and the plant.  Can you imagine a level upon which you and the plant are not two seperate individuals but one common entity?  Experience a sense of oneness with the tree or plant.  It is giving you what you need.  You are giving it what it needs.

13.  Linger on this experience for as long as you need or want to.

14.  Widen this circle in your mind.  See yourself and this tree as a part of all plant-animals and animals within your area.  (perhaps this area is about the size of a city block.)  First, sit with the idea that they are in a perfect, reciprocal cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

15.  The gasses, in a way, are just a metaphor for so much more.  Sit in your place in this system.   Make it larger, in your mind, if you wish.  First, broaden the meaning of relationship, knowing (but don’t bother listing) that we get more than just oxygen.  Then, broaden the size of the network.

16.  When you have made this network as broad, and deep as your mind will allow, sit with it.  In some important sense, all the living creatures in your mind, all the plants and the animals, they are one.

16.  If you would like, consider whether God is present within the animals or plants in this relationship.  Is God above them?  Or the movement of the matter and energy between them?  Both?  Neither?

17.  Hold this web of connection: you, other animals, plants, trees, God in your mind.  Take as long as you would like to sit as one part of this network of relationships.

18.  When you are ready, return in your mind to just you and the plant you begin with.  Consider the differences between yourself and the plant.  Try and hold to the idea that you are still one.  But the plant has specialties.  So do you.  The organism that is formed between the two of you is greater than the sum of your parts.  Think about the ways that you and the plant are such a good pair.

19.  When you are ready to dismiss this practice, thank the plant and move into your day, knowing that you can bring your mind back to your place in this tremendous network of beings.

 

 

 

Palm Sunday Email for the Apophatic-Cataphatic Exploration

This is from the Palm Sunday Email on the Lenten  email exploration of the Cataphatic-Apophatic.  If you would like to receive the last couple emails in this series, email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com

Palm Sunday is celebrated one week before Easter.  It is a commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Today’s spiritual exercise combines elements of Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) and visualization.  This is a very cataphatic practice, dependent, as it is, on the words.
This practice begins with a reading of the entry in each of the four gospels.  It is rather lengthy and cumulative in nature.  I invite you to go as far and deep as you desire.  Particularly if you are going to return to this practice daily (the next email will arrive Wednesday) you might wish to stop at some point along the way each day, and go a bit further each day you return to it.

The Exercise:

  1. Find a comfortable space.  Inhale.  Exhale.
    2.   Read Mathew 21: 1-11.  The NIV translation is below.  If you prefer a different translation, by all means use that one.  As you read this first account, simply read for an over-arching understanding.

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]

“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

  1. Take another deep breath.  Read the second account: Mark 11: 1-11.  This time, try and furnish the details of what it might have looked like.  Take a moment to create this image in your mind and really see the colors and surroundings. 

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a]”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts.

4.  As you read the following passage from Luke, 19: 28-44  do your best to hear the sounds.  Imagine the tone, volume, and timbre of the voices as they say these things.  Place other sounds in the scene.  Try and add this to the picture you formed from the last reading.   It is not important that your imagining is historically accurate.

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

  1. Take a deep breath in and out.    As you read the following account (which comes from John 12:12-19) place yourself somewhere within the scene.   Furnish sensations of smell, touch and taste:  Imagine the temperature, the texture of your clothes on your skin.  Consider the scents that might be in the air or the residue of flavors left on your tongue in such a scene.
    The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna![d]”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;

   see, your king is coming,

   seated on a donkey’s colt.”[f]

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign,went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

  1. Breathe again, deeply.
    7.  Ask God if there is anything you should be noticing from these accounts.
    8.  Re-read one or more of them.  Spend some time with God on what you might be meant to learn, here.
    9.  Take another breath.
    10.  Now, see a second layer to this whole passage.  View the donkey as a symbol of the disciplines and practices you use to get closer to God.  (Disciplines and practices can be formal, like this exercise.  Or informal, like the act of loving the people around you.)  See the city of Jerusalem as a symbol of your heart: this is also a place Jesus makes a triumphant entry into.  All those laying down their cloaks and palm fronds, and cheering are the people who have had a role in shaping who you are and where you are today.  Re-envision this, either in your imagaination or by re-reading this account.  But replace the faces of the crowd with the people who have loved and supported you; see that donkey as all the things you do to get closer to God; see the city of Jerusalem as a stand-in for you.  Replay this scene in your imagination, with the senses fully engaged.  Or re-read one of the accounts.
    11.  After Jesus’ entry into the city, spend some time in quiet communion.
     

     

    ______________________________________________________________________________________You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

    • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
    • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
    • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
    • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Strategy #5: More on the Breath

There is lots to be said about the two most obvious parts of the breath: The inhale, and the exhale.

The first is an act of bringing something that is outside of us, inside of us.  It is like eating, being nurtured, or educated.  In each case, the alchemy is one pointing toward the self: it begins beyond our boundaries, and it ends inside of our boundaries.

The second is an act of sending ourselves out in to the world.  It is like using our knowledge to make a meal or teach a lesson, tending to the wounds of someone, or expressing our love in words.  Here, the alchemy is a transformation of energy that begins as something unfelt and untouchable by the world, and yet we manage to make it an experience to those within the world.

This is why it can feel like such a transformation to change from an inhale to an exhale as we think or say words.  The inhale is an act of bringing this truth in to my inner world.  Saying a part of a breath-prayer with the inhale is an act of changing myself.  The exhale is an act of sending the truth out into the world.  Maybe sending the thought out there changes the world.  At the bare minimum, exhaling with a statement is a sort-of promise to follow these words I am sending out with actions.

There is actually more than just the inhale and the exhale, when we want there to be.  We have the ability to pause,  to hold the breath for a moment.

You won’t be the first person to ever tell me I am overthinking things, but I believe this to be true:

There is a strange sort of subtle fear involved with holding the breath.  Our bodies, of course, need a constant source of oxygen.  Our cells cry out when we cut off our supply to them, even if it is only for a moment.

I think this is why considering a thought or phrase while holding the breath feels so intense.  It is a bit like turning a spotlight on, or cueing up soundtrack music to intensify the feelings.  There is this background sense of ‘Alert!  The body is not getting its oxygen.’

Holding the breath, for even a moment, is a bit like a fast in microcosm.  It is a way to temporarily assert that we are bigger than our physical nature.  Paradoxically, both a fast and a holding of breath must come to an end if we are to live.  In a different way, therefore, each of these reinforces the idea that we are not bigger than our physical nature: Holding the tension between these two ideas…  Owning the idea that we both are and are not bigger than our physical nature?  This is a nondualistic reality that contemplative activities alone can usher us into.

 

8th Email Exploration

The story goes that Saint Francis would pass through entire nights asking, “Who am I, God?”  and “Who are you, God?”
There is no record of precisely how he did this.  Today’s exercise is just one possible way to go about it, and the notes below the practice give a few suggestions of alterations that are worth considering.
Today’s practice is entirely word-based.  In that sense it is more on the cataphatic side of the spectrum.  Just as centering prayer sometimes employs words to release our thoughts, this practice uses words to help bring us face-to-face with how little we know.  In this sense, this practice is quite apophatic.  In some ways, this is the most apopathic of all the practices we will engage; the next email will be slightly more embracing of the light and trusting of our ability to speak and comprehend the divine.
1.  Sit in a posture which balances being comfortable and alert.
2.  Inhale.
3.  Exhale.
4.  With your next inhale, ask the question, “Who am I, God?”
5.  With your next exhale, ask the question, “Who are you, God?”
6.  Continue this pattern for the bulk of the time you had set aside for this practice today.
7.  When you are ready, release the questions.  Continue your deep breaths.
8.  If you wish, explore what new answers you might have to those two important questions.  Consider whether the questions mean something new.  Ask yourself in what ways you come to feel that those two questions’ answers might be related.

There are many ways to alter these exercises.  Some of these alterations can revolve around the breath.  For example, you might ask the question, “Who are you, God?” on the inhale.  You might ask the question, “Who am I, God?” on the exhale.  You could also hold the breath for a moment, and consider the first question after the inhale, and consider the second question after the exhale.
It also brings a different air to this practice to separate the questions.  Ask, “Who am I, God?” With each breath for the first half of your practice and “Who are you, God?” for the second half of your practice.

Exercise 46: Back at the Apophatic

Background: Many people find apophatic meditation difficult but rewarding.

Once the basics are under control, it is worth coordinating the breath with this practice.  With the affirmation (‘God is Love’) we might inhale as a way to embrace this truth.  With the negation, we might exhale (‘God is not love’) as a form of rejecting the limitedness of the affirmation.

When we negate the negation (‘God is not not love)  we can try to coordinate this so it equally positioned with the inhale and the exhale of the next breath.  A goal (one not worth fussing much over) is to have the first ‘not’ concluded with the inhale.

The subject (God) and the objects (Love, etc.)  are here mostly as place holders.  If there is a subject or object that resonates more deeply with you, by all means, run with these.   It is highly reccomended that whatever objects you are using, you decide these in advance.

The Exercise

  1.  Create a position which is both comfortable and alert.
  2. Release your responsibilities and expectations.
  3. Breathe deeply.
  4. With your next inhale, think “God is Love.”
  5. With your next exhale, think “God is not Love.”
  6. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  7. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not love.”
  8. With your next inhale, think “God is in control.”
  9. With your next exhale, think “God is not in control.”
  10. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  11. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not in control.”
  12. With your next inhale, think “God is Jesus.”
  13. With your next exhale, think “God is not Jesus.”
  14. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  15. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not Jesus.”
  16. When you are ready, release this practice and sit in wordless union.

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.