Category Archives: Spiritual Exercises

Exercise 65: Hand Washing as a Spiritual Practice

Background:  The most important thing is that you wash your hands correctly.  See this link for more details.

Once those details are committed to, we can move into an attitude to have about hand washing.  (It was this amazing podcast that helped me to see this, by the way.)

There is something to be said about having a regular return to the here and now through out the day.  Christian Monks had a Liturgy of the hours which called them to their prayers periodically.  Zen Buddhist teachers are known to periodically strike novices to bring them into the present while meditating.  Some people like periodic chimes to help bring them to the present.  Mindfulness and Celtic Traditions both would have us identify common occurences like walking through a threshold as an invitation into the present.

In this time, when suddenly we are washing are hands as frequently as we should have been all along, we have a rather convenient and regularly occurring event that we might use as our gateway into being here, now.  Each time we wash our hands, we could pass those twenty seconds singing “happy birthday” or whatever.  Or we could use it as a time to fully in those moments.

What is even better is that this is an act of self care, an act of affirming our body, an act that carries sensory experiences with it.  Just as we might focus on the feeling of the air right below our nostril as we inhale, we might locate our full attention on the soft, sudsy warmth flowing over our hands.  Our senses– including touch– do not have the ability to regret the past or worry over the future.  This is why tuning into to sensory input is such a centering practice.

Whatever you do, please just make sure you passed the full 20 seconds!

The Practice:

Each time you wash your hands, simply be present to that wonderful moment.  Tune into the temperature and percussion of the water.  Feel the soapy slickness as the lather works up.  Try and find something new about this experience.  Catalog each little detail.  

Exercise 64: St John of the Cross and God’s Breath

Two of the most important aspects of my mystic’s journey have been the words of St. John of the Cross and the idea of God’s breath.

St. John of the Cross said, “The soul that is united and transformed  in God breathes God in God with the same divine breathing, with which God, while in her, breathes her in himself.”  I am not really sure how it works.  But I think it’s something like this:

1.  Take three deep and cleansing breaths.

2.  Begin with the knowledge that your soul is breathing the very substance of God.

3.  Inhale the very material that forms God.

4.  Exhale the very stuff that forms God.

5.  Repeat these breaths two more times.

6.  As you hold this knowledge that the soul is breathing God into you, know that you are surrounded by God.

7.  Inhale, knowing that you are in God just as a fish is in the sea.

8.  Exhale, knowing that you are in God just as a fish is in the sea.

9.  Repeat steps seven and eight two more times.

10.  For three breaths, hold both sides of that equation: You are in God.  God is in you.

11.  Now, know that God breathes.  The God outside of you breathes.

12.  Inhale, knowing that God breathes just like that.

13.  Exhale, knowing that God breathes just like that.

14.  Repeat steps 12 and 13, two more times.

15.  With your next inhalation, visualize, again, how you breathe in God.

16.  With your next exhalation, visualize, again, how you breathe out the very stuff of God.

17.  Now, know that just as you breathe in God, God-outside-of-you is breathing in the very stuff of you.

18.  Exhale God, knowing that God-outside-of-you-exhales you.

19.  Repeat steps 17 and 18 two more times.

20.  Recall that God is within you, breathing as you inhale.

21.  Recall that God is within you, breathing, as you exhale.

22.  Now, impossibly, paradoxically, and perfectly: God-within-you…  breathes in the very stuff you are made of.  Inhale with this truth.

23.  Impossibly, paradoxically, perfectly:  God-within-you…. breathes out the very stuff you are made of.  Exhale this truth.

24.  Repeat any portion of this progression.  Or release the words entirely.

 

 

Enneagram Type 3

Background:  It has been said that 3’s make a conscious and controlled decision to put their feelings away.  This has been compared to a folder, where feelings to access later are filed away. Sometimes, they might even get around to feeling those feelings.  In many cases, being in the moment probably would have been better for the 3. This is a visualization that encourages 3’s to go back to their feelings and experience them.

 

The Practice:  Take three deep breaths.  Find yourself here, and now.

Close your eyes.  In your mind’s eye, see a file cabinet.  Give the cabinet a color. Look closely to see whether it is new.  How many drawers does this file cabinet have. Reach out to it, Feel the cabinet.  

This cabinet is the home of the folder for feelings to be accessed later.  Find yourself with a key in your hand. Of course, you are the only one with the keys to this particular cabinet.  The hanging folders are dark green and hanging. The folder with the memories to access later is right in front. If you would like, you can spend a moment flipping through the other folders.  It might be interesting to know what is there. It might be worthwhile to come back here later and explore the other folders. I suspect they have names like, “Feelings I will not allow myself to feel at all.”  and “Feelings I have worked my way through.”

Today, take out the folder for feelings to be accessed later.  Hold it carefully. Walk across the room. Find yourself in a comfortable chair, or a hammock even.  Respectfullty, carefully, open up the folder. The feelings you have been saving for later will wash over you.

Perhaps they will come on quickly.  Perhaps it will be a slow transition.  It might be an intense, even overwhelming mix of feelings.  If they become too much, you can close that folder. I do not think you will need to close that folder.

Have an attitude of curioisty about these feelings.  Explore them. You can feel them as deeply as you wish to.  Consider whether you know where and when these feelings are coming from.  Sit them for as long as you need.  

When you are ready, return the folder to the file cabinet.  It is quite likely you over use this folder. You can make a decision today, if you wish, to rely on this folder a little bit less in the future.  You can try and be mindful of those times when you put these feelings away and decide, even as you are tempted to file your feelings away, that you wish to experience them instead.

As you close the file cabinet, I hope that you feel a sense of peace.  These feelings which were waiting for you are no longer locked away, but they have been experienced by you.

 

 

 

Enneagram Type 2: Sample Practice

For more spiritual practices coordinated to specific Enneagram types, see Contemplating The Enneagram.  available May, 2020.

Background:  An interesting game to play is “What if there were only type ___ in the world?”    Twos love to help others. They have a great deal of trouble accepting help0 from others.  If there were only twos in the world, I imagine them running around trying to help and support each other.  And none of them getting to do it. Because all of them would refuse the help of others.

Like nearly any comment you can make about personality types, this is of course a generalization and an over simplification.  But it gets at a fundamental reality for two’s: it is easier to give help than recieve it.

As the above thought-experiment demonstrates, giving and recieiving help are both vitally important.  We couldn’t have one with out the other. This first practice equates this interdependence to the parts of the breath.  Just as we could not have an inhale without an exhale, so too we could not have helpers with out those they are helping.

Somewhere, deep down, we might have this tendency to think, “Well, I can help other people… because they have an easy time recieiving help.  I don’t need to be the person who takes help, there’s plenty of other people out there.”

This is an adventure in missing the point.  Much of the spiritual work that needs to be done by twos is allowing themselves to be helped.

 

The Exercise.

 

  •  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Inhale.
  • Exhale.
  • With the next inhale, think “I can recieve help.”
  • With the next exhale, think, “I can give help.”
  • For most of the time that you have devoted to this practice, repeat steps 5 and 6.  
  • When you are ready, release these words.  Sit in a time of wordlessness.

 

 

Enneagram Type 1: Sample Practice

Exercise C: A Discussion with the Inner Critic

Type one’s often face an inner critic.  A personality-within-a-personality that offers a never ending diatribe about all the things that they are doing wrong.  Sometimes, it is helpful to meet this creation head on.  

There are many ways and approaches to disarming the inner critic.  One is to name it something ridiculous and personify it in a manner that is outragous.  A second is to be more humane with it. On this account, we recognize that it once did us good.  

 

The Exercise

 

  •  Find an empty chair.  Bring it near you.
  • Close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
  • Consider your inner critic and consider the power it has over your life.  Ask yourself which approach would work best for taming it.
  • Now, personify your inner critic.  See her or him sitting in the chair.  Imagine the color of the critic’s hair.  The timbre of their voice. See the clothes your critic is wearing.  
  • Sit in silence with the critic for a time.
  • Tell the critic that it is no longer doing what it set out to do.  Explain that it has worn out its welcome.  
  • Dismiss the critic.  Let it disapear.
  • Spend some quiet time alone.

 

For more practices curated especially for Enneagram type 1, see Contemplating The Enneagram, available in May 2020.

Exercise 63: And now!

Background:  I suspect that the contents of this practice were inspired by James Finley’s understanding of Thomas Merton’s words, as expressed here.

This practice will ask you to relive a stressful experience.  It is wise to begin to think about that now.  Please practice discretion and self care as you select an event.  There is no need to choose something to distressing.

The Practice:

  1.  And now, bring to mind the feeling in your body at times of stress and busyness.
  2. And now, in your imagination, place yourself in a general sort of situation that might cause this feeling.  A meeting at work.  A difficult class.  An unwanted confrontation.  A procedure you would prefer to avoid.  Furnish your imagination with sights, sounds, and smells.
  3. And now! make it real.  Place yourself in an actual event like this that you recently experienced it.  Continue to use your senses.  Linger on this experience if you can.
  4. And now!  see a toddler.  The child is at play.  But the child is serious about, it too.  There are toys before the toddler.  This child is holding them carefully, turning them over, feeling them, listening to the sounds they make.  The child’s parents are sitting in a love seat.  The smile of the child’s father is only in his eyes.  His mother smiles with her lips though.  The parents are adoring the child.  Watch this scene for as long as you want.
  5. And now!  The toddler is you.  And you are the toddler.  All the things that felt so serious and important are the explorations the child was making into the world around themself.
  6. The mother-father on the love seat is God.  You can climb up there and sit between them, if you wish.  They will help you climb up.

 

Exercise 62: Being held by Silence

Background: This is a modified version of a practice which appears in Richard Rohr’s Just This.  

Their is much of value in the first several steps of this practice.  It might be that you are ready to work through to steps 9-11.  However, don’t rush into it.  It might take weeks, months, or even years.   The first 8 steps are quite a powerful practice on their own.

The Practice:

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.
  3.  Rest in the Silence.
  4. When you are ready, feel embraced by her.  Let the Silence flow over you.
  5. As sounds or distracting thoughts threaten to disrupt your practice, realize that the silence still exists, beneath the distractions.  Look for the silence beneath these things which rise up.  All that happens comes out of silence and will sink back into it.
  6. Inhale Silence.
  7. Exhale Silence.
  8. Continue to be embraced by it.
  9. At some point, you may just be ready to shift your vantage point.  This step is the optional one:  Shift the seat from which you see the world.  It began in the head, with thinking.  Feel this vantage point move down the physicality of your body.  Let yourself reside in the heart, now.  See the world from this place.
  10. Continue to dwell in the silence and bring it in.
  11. You will know that you are authentically occupying the heart space when you experience a clear vastness.
  12. When you are ready, release this practice.  Sit in a time of wordless wonder.

Exercise 61: All Shall Be Well

Background:  Julian of Norwich is responsible for one of the most famous phrases in all of mysticism, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  In her vision this is said by Jesus.  He is responding to her distress.  She states that if God had just stopped sin from happening, then “all should have been well.”

Jesus response is that sin is necessary.  But it doesn’t matter.  And that’s when he gave Julian the phrase which she then gave the world: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

It seems that the phrase has lots of resonance with those who do not know the wider context.  It certainly appealed to me before I researched it.  I like knowing the full story though, because it helps me to understand part of the appeal.

The Jesus of Julian’s vision uses her very own language.  It is almost as if she says “Things were supposed to be good.”  And that response is so very affirmative and over the top, that it puts it to shame.  It is a little bit like the contrast between saying “he is risen.” and “he is risen indeed.”  The second statement goes further than the first.

It seems like the appeal of this statement is in the promise that in the widest possible view, the outcome of everything will be so much better than we could have possibly hoped.

The Exercise.

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Sit straight and comfortably.
  3. Inhale.
  4. Exhale.
  5. With the next inhale, think “All shall be well.”
  6. With the next exhale, think “And all shall be well.”
  7. With the next inhale, think “And all manner of things shall be well.”
  8. exhale.
  9. Repeat steps 5-8 for most of the time you have to devote to your practice today.
  10. When you are ready, release these words and sit in a time of wordless union,

Exercise 60: To Begin a Journey

This practice originally appeared in the book Contemplating Lent.

An Audio version of this practice is available below:

Background: Visualizations are journeys that begin with the words written by someone else.  Often, these words are not much more than a setting.  The most successful experiences I have had with visualizations are the times I accessed some child-like imagination and playfulness and allowed myself to go beyond where those written words would have taken me if I had just stuck with the script.  Like most spiritual practices, it is wise to begin a visualization by reading through the entire description to get a big picture about what, specifically, is going to happen.  After that first read through, I will then engage the practice.

After reading through the whole thing, I recommend rereading a few sentences, then picturing what they describe.  Taking the suggestions about sensory input is a very important part of the process.  Do not rush through experiencing the temperatures, textures, tastes, and sounds of these words.   If your imagination takes you some where new, continue to ask yourself what it feels, smells, and sounds like where you are.

This visualization is written in a narrative format.

Today’s visualization is rooted in the fact that Jesus’ baptism occurred just before his time in the desert.  Great journeys are often begun in a ritual such as this one.  I hope that today’s visualization commemorates the beginning of your Lenten journey.

 

The Exercise:

Find yourself sitting at a table on the shore of a beautiful lake.  It is almost uncomfortably warm.  But a gentle breeze comes in carrying dampness and cooling it to a nearly perfect temperature.  The sky is so very blue.  If you would like, loved ones are nearby.  They do not have to be.

            You get up and look to the stone staircase.  This lead down and into the lake.  Over and around these steps is an elaborate gate, a sort of trellis.  Vines and flowers are woven into it.  The grass is soft under your bare feet.  You walk to the gate and open it. 

            The first several steps are above the water line.  The stones are smooth, but much firmer than the grass.  At the third step you find yourself ankle deep.  The water is only a bit of a shock.

            On the fourth step you look up to meet the gaze of a kind teacher.  It might be someone you know.  It could be Jesus.  The person might not be alive now.  And yet, they are here with you.  The teacher smiles.  You smile.  You are knee deep, now, in the refreshing water.

            When you are chest deep, you are next to the teacher.  The teacher’s arms are firm.  You trust them as you lean back and are, lowered all the way into the water.  There is some fear.  It is unnatural to be underwater, trusting in another.  The teacher, of course, lifts you back up. 

            “This is my wonderful child.  I am well pleased in them.”  Where are those words coming from?  You cannot be sure.

            This strange lake does not get deeper than this.  You are not meant to go back out the gate you came in, today.  Walk across the lake.  The teacher will come with you while you are in the water.  He might speak to you.  You might hear the words the teacher says. 

            This is the beginning of an adventure.  You will return to this shore you set out from.  But not today.  Eventually you reach that far end of the lake.  What waits for you there?  Will the teacher come with you?  Continue this visualization if you wish.

Contemplating Lent (1)

 

Exercise 59: Breathing This Breath With God

This practice originally appeared in our recent Email Exploration, “God Breathed.”  It brings together the concepts in exercise 58 and in exercise 49

Background: There are two important realities to hold on to with today’s practice.  Both of these have been explored in past emails.
The first is that God breathes in us, just as portrayed in the book of Genesis.  This act of breathe-in-us is in fact what makes us human; perhaps it is how we get the image of God in us in the first place.
The second is that each and every breath is wholly unique.  It never was, and never will be.
One of the implications of these two facts considered together is that it is not only each of our own breaths which can be said to be unique.  Each breath from God is a wholly unique experience.

The Practice: 
1.  Release your worries and concerns.  Note your breath.  
2.  Become present to this very breath with your inhale.
3.  Become present to this very breath with your exhale.
4.  Note the feeling of the breath as it comes in.  
5.  Note the feeling of the breath as it goes out.
6.  With the next inhale, note that this experience, this particular breath is different than all the breaths that ever came before.
7.  With the next exhale, note that this experience, this particular breath, is different than all the breaths that will ever come after.
8.  Continue this pattern.  Be present to this breath, here and now.  Note that the specific sensations are different than the last breath or the next one.
9.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular  breath is in some tiny way different than the ‘you’ who breathed that last breath.
10.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular breath is different than the you who will breathe that next breath.  
11.  When you are ready, bring to mind the reality that God is breathing this breath into you. 
12.  Bring to mind the reality that you are breathing this breath into God.   
13.  With your next inhale, receive a breath from God that is different than all the breaths God has ever breathed into anyone.
14.  With your next exhale, breathe a breath into God that is different than all the breaths anyone will ever breathe into God.
15.  With your next inhale, as you receive a breath from God, note that the wholly unique character of this very inhalation is a direct result of the interplay between God’s breath and yours.
16.  With your next exhale, as you breathe out a breath to God, be aware that the wholly unique character of the interplay between you and God.
17.  Continue this pattern until it is time to release it.  Then, spend some time in wordless union.