Category Archives: Visualizations

Exercise 56: An Advent Visualization

Background:  This advent, I have been filled with wonder at such a simple image: A pregnant woman, far from home.  She is traveling with her new husband because they have to.  There is no room in the human habitations.  She gives birth in the manger.  The child is something magnificent.

Because one of the sources of this image for me this year is an entire book, it is difficult to tie it into this practice.  Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this practice, I would like to quite heartily encourage you to check out the wonderful book of my good friend Jenn by clicking here.

This post contains the ingredients for many spiritual practices.  The description below is broken into three sections.  The first is an invitation to reading a number of different depictions of the entry into Bethlehem.  The second is a visualization walking the reader through the events.  The third is a series of reflections, meditations, and questions on these events.

I would recommend choosing only one element from each section for a session.  If this feels productive, you might return to this exercise and choose a second reading and series of meditations for your next session.  Less is more with spiritual practices.

There is a value in wondering about the historical details.  But not for this practice, today.  If it is easier, it would be just as helpful to imagine this scene occurring in a city today.  Perhaps, instead of a donkey, Mary rides in a sidecar of an old, broken down motorcycle.  Or her feet have swollen with the pregnancy and she is pushed by Joseph in a wheelchair.

The Practice.

Part A: Some Readings to Choose From

  1.  Release your expectations and stress with three deep inhales and exhales.
  2. Consider one (or perhaps two) of the following passages.  You may wish to read it more than once:   

Click here to read Luke 2: 1-20

Or, read this poem about the event:

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,

as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing …

–St. John of the Cross, “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.

Or read this poem

Sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired
hungry
annoyed
overwhelmed
loving

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

-Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

If you purchased the book suggested above, you might read the passage depicting Jesus’ birth in that book.  Jesus birth happens in chapter 11 of The Favored One.

Part B.  The Visualization

1.  Inhale and exhale 3 times.  

2.  Bring to mind the reading from above.  Sit with the images, thoughts, and feelings that might have come up from you.  When you are ready, imagine the following.  Try and do it from the perspective of one of the characters in the narrative: Pregnant Mary, Concerned Joseph, even The Donkey or a Jesus who has yet to be born.  Experience this scene with your senses.  

They have been traveling all day.  Are they tired and weary?  Is this faitgue tempered with fear or excitement?  What is the temparature, as they enter into a town that is bursting at the seams?  Imagine them coming into the town.  Are there numerous places that are full?  Are the Roman Solidiers standing by, ready to take a census?     Does the concern on Mary and Joseph’s face grow?  Hear the “clop” of the donkeys heels on the hard ground.  Feel the sweat on the scratchy fabric of the shirt.  

There comes a moment when it is clear that there will be no beds for this night, no roof that was made for people.  What are the feelings you experience at this moment?  Enter into the manger.  Imagine the smells that come to you.  What animals are present?  Are they eating or making their animal noises?  Are their flies?  Are their attendants of the animals?  How do they look at you, as you begin to move around the hay to make your shelter for the night?

Take the time you need to imagine the moments it becomes clear that the baby will be born here.  In this place, at this time.  Does the angelic visitation, and the promises made about this child feel close now?  The water breaks.  How do you feel?  How does your partner feel?  Does a midwife come into the picture?  Is their pain?  Medicine?  Joy?  Blood?

Imagine the first time Mary holds the baby.  How did Joseph look when he first held the baby?  When do they cut the cord?  What happens next?

3.  Continue this scene for as long as you would like.  Return to the readings listed in section A.   if you wish.  I would encourage you to return to a passage you read earlier and try out a new reading the next time you engage this spiritual practice.

4.  Sit with this scene and experience.  Let it penetrate you until it is time to release it.  When you have let it go, consider whether you will sit in a time of wordless union or if you will progress to section C.  Here there are some questions and meditations to consider.

Section C: Some Questions and Meditations

  1.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the readings in section A.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the visualization in section B.  
  3. Inhale.  Exhale.
  4. Sit with any one of the following.  Your may wish to save a second or third question or meditation for the future.

I.  Return to that image of Jesus and Mary entering into the town.  Sit with it for a moment.  Now, make the town of Bethlehem your mind and heart.  See Joseph and Mary entering into this space.  What thoughts, feelings, or experiences are you having trouble welcoming?  What difficult realities are you struggling to accept?  See that their is a manger within you.  This is a small, forgotten aspect of your own inner self.  But it is all that you need.  Invite this formerly unwelcome aspect of your own self here.  Soon, Jesus will come into the world from this very space.

II.  See Mary’s belly swollen with life about to enter the world.  Christ is being born in you even now at this very moment.  Sit with this experience of Christ being born in you.   Feel it coming from elsewhere and entering into your world.  Don’t rush this birth.  Sit with what it could mean and how it might change you.

III.  Dwell in the stark, perhaps uncomfortable reality of Jesus birth.  It is no less paradoxical and extreme than any other birth.  Filled with pain and possibility, hope and agony.  It is bloody and scary, intimate and clinical.  Take your time to put together what you have known and experienced of human birth and realize that all this applied to Jesus, too.  After you have sat with this, consider what it might mean.  What does it mean about God?  What does it mean about Jesus?  What does it mean about you?  How does it alter your past?  Your present?  Your future?

 

 

 

  

Exercise 52: Metta (Loving-Kindness Meditation)

Background

This is not the first description of a Loving-Kindness meditation here at The Faith-ing Project.  It was observed that the previous description though omitted a traditional and important element of the practice.

An important aspect of the traditional loving-kindness meditation is challenge to love people who we might have difficulties with.  The description below includes this element.

The English translations of the precise sentences to be used vary somewhat.  There is also some variance on the precise order and groups that those key sentences are applied to.  In particular, different practices will focus on the act of receiving love in different ways and at different times.  One aspect of this is where to wish ourselves those several statements.

It seems that one important element of this timing is precisely how we feel about ourselves.  Since the practice begins with the easy and works up toward the difficult, loving the self ought to be the very first thing some people do, and the final step for others.

Before you begin this practice, it is wise to have given a little bit of thought to who you will bring to mind for each of the following categories:

  • Someone whom you love very much.  They might be alive or dead.  It could be someone you see frequently or see rarely.  Mentors, parents, children, best friends, and significant others fall into this category.
  • Someone whom you feel ambivalent or neutral to.  This could be a casual aquaintance, a coworker, a distant relative, or someone whom you are growing apart from.
  • Someone who actively annoys you, or who you have to work at liking.  As your familiarity with this practice gradually increases, you might gradually attempt people who you more intensely dislike.

After you attempt this practice as written you might wish to change the order, or even research other ways to try this practice.

The Practice

  1.  Sit comfortably.
  2. Take 3 deep breaths: inhalations and exhalations.
  3.  Now bring to mind the person who you love to most.  See them in your mind’s eye wearing an outfit they would be likely to be in.  Hear their voice.  Bring to mind any scents or other sensations you might associate with them.
  4. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  5. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  6. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  7. Inhale.  Exhale.
  8. Bring to mind the person you feel neutral or ambivalent about.  See them as with as many senses as possible.
  9. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  10. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  11. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  12. Inhale.  Exhale.
  13. Now, bring to mind that person you struggle with.  Try and experience them vividly in your mind.  Be an interested observer to any feelings this brings up in you.
  14. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be healthy.”  Exhale.
  15. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be happy.”  Exhale.
  16. With your next inhale, think or say, “May you be free.”  Exhale.
  17. Inhale.  Exhale.
  18.  Now, it is time for you.  See yourself in your mind’s eye.  It might be helpful to try and see yourself through the eyes of the person you first focused on.  Or make an attempt at seeing yourself through God’s eyes.
  19. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be healthy.”  Exhale.
  20. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be happy.”  Exhale.
  21. With your next inhale, think or say, “May I be free.”  Exhale.
  22. Inhale.  Exhale.

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.
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Exercise 45: The Eye through which I see God…

Background: Mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one love.”  This sentence is, to me, nearly as amazing as it is confusing.  This exercise is an attempt to grapple with this strange, wonderful idea.

The Exercise

  1.  Breathe deeply.
  2. Turn your inner eye to God.  See God watching you.
  3. Think about who God is, see God as best you can through your mind’s eye.
  4. When you are ready, consider the idea that God is watching all things.  God is watching you watch God.
  5. As best you can, consider the idea that God sees you fully.  God sees you with infared and ultraviolet vision; God sees all the things you have ever done.  God sees you down to the smallest subatomic particle.  God sees all the things you have ever been.  God sees your body, mind, and soul.  God sees the original divine spark which made human kind.
  6. Know that As God sees you, in every possible way, God sees your potential.  God knows the depths of your passion and love.  God sees and pronounces you as so good.
  7. Sit with God’s loving view on you for a bit.  
  8. Take three deep breaths.
  9. Combine the views, as best you can.  God looking down on you is you looking up at God.  Your eyes are God’s eyes.  God’s eyes are yours.  You are God.  God is you.

Exercise 40: Mirroring

Background: God knows everything about you.  And God loves you, thoroughly, utterly and irrevocably.  For the duration of today’s practice, please release your feelings and fears about God being angry about who you are or what you have done.  While those feelings may be rooted in reality they will not serve you in this practice, because whatever else God feels toward you, God’s love is not deniable or negotiable.

Today’s practice is inspired by the work of Richard Rohr and others who would have us contemplate God’s loving gaze on every part of us.

In this practice, we will begin by experiencing God’s gaze on our physical body.  We will then experience God’s gaze on our minds, and then in our heart.

After a time of experiencing God gazing down on us, and experiencing ourselves, mirroring this gaze back up on God, we will close by breathing out this accumulated Love on the world around us.

The Practice

1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe deeply, filling and emptying the lungs as completely as possible.

2.  Inhale. With your breath, inhale the reality that God is love.

3.  With your next exhale, exhale the things you fear about what God might think or believe about you.

4.  For as many breaths as you need, feel God’s loving gaze falling on your body.  Perhaps it begins at your feet and works its way up.  Let God’s gaze stop in places you feel sore, tight, or hurt.

5.  For 3 more breaths, feel God’s loving gaze on the whole of your physical body.

6.  Now, experience God’s gaze on your mind.  Let it begin on your thoughts and beliefs.  Perhaps you will feel this as God’s view resting deeply within your head.

7.  God’s gaze also lands on your memories.  It is a loving and healing gaze.  As you continue to breathe deeply, feel God’s watching fix some of the brokenness of your past.

8.  God’s gaze will come down to your feelings.  Perhaps you will experience God’s gaze on your physical heart as God lovingly beholds the contents of your feelings.

9.  Continuing to breathe deeply, for 3 breaths, let God take in the whole of your brain and your heart.  Feel loved and healed.

10.  As you continue these deep inhales, see that God beholds you.  All of you.  In every moment.  As he is watching you, the whole of, watch God.  You have become a sort-of mirror, reflecting that loving gaze back up to God.

11.  Luxuriate in this.  Take as long as you would like.  Continue to be present to deep breaths.

12.  Just as a mirror turns back all of the light that is casting on it, you are turning back God’s gaze fully.  Yet, the mirror grows warm.  It keeps some of the heat where it is.  Let yourself grow warm with God’s love.

13.  As this heat increases, consider those you love the most.  And breathe out your love on them.

14.  Continuing to breathe deeply, widen the circle of those you are breathing out love on.  Include casual friends.

15.  Inhaling, and exhaling, reciving God’s love, you can know breathe your love on the whole of the human race.

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 35 Loving-Kindness

Background:  There is a Buddhist tradition of a loving-kindness meditation.  The exercises below are two versions recently practiced in The Faith-ing Project’s Thanksgiving Campaign.  The first more closely aligns with the Buddhist tradition.  The second reworks some of the Buddhist Concepts with a Christian, Gallic framework.

Exercise 35A: Buddhist Loving-Kindness Meditation
1.  Create a calm, and quiet space; turn off your phone and do your best to assure yourself of uninterupted time.
2. For the duration of this exercise, give yourself permission to be free of the duties and obligations that you normally submit yourself to.
3.  For a minute or two, simply breathe: in through the nose, and out through the mouth,
4.  Think of a person you feel gratitude for.  (Choose, more or less randomly, a single person to focus on.  Don’t worry, you will have an opportunity to focus on others shortly.)
5. Inhale and  bring their appearance to your mind.  Try and hear their voice, and even smell their unique smell.  Feel, as best you can, their presence.  Exhale.
6.  For the duration of a breath, allow yourself to experience whatever feelings this person stirs within you at this moment.
7. With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May you be free from suffering.’
8. Exhale.
9.  With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May you be healthy.’
10. Exhale.
11.  With your next inhale, think ‘May you be happy.’
12.  Exhale.
13.  With your next inhale, think ‘May you find peace and joy.’
14. Exhale.
15.  For the next breath, rejoice in the thought that your friend would be experiencing all these.
16.  If there is more time you had set aside for your spiritual practice, you might move on to another person you feel grateful for.  If you are having trouble choosing, consider these questions:
Who are you grateful for in your home?  Who are you grateful for in your school or workplace?  Who are you thankful for in your social circles?  Who are you thankful for from your past?  Who are you thankful for in your present?  Are there people who took on a role of parent, sibling, boss, coworker, lover, friend, coach, leader, follower that you are thankful for?  People who shaped you personally, professionally, or spiritually?
Whoever you choose, the phrases to focus on are these:
May you be free from suffering.
May you be healthy.
May you be happy.
May you find peace and joy.
17.  When you are ready to conclude today’s practice, take a single, cleansing breath.
18.  Now, with your inhale, think this for yourself: May I be free from suffering.
19.  Exhale.
20.  With your inhale: May I be healthy.
21.  Exhale.
22.  With your inhale: May I be happy.
23.  Exhale.
24.  Inhale, think: May I find peace and joy.

Exercise 35B: A Gallic-Christian Practice.
1.  Create a calm, and quiet space; turn off your phone and do your best to assure yourself of uninterupted time.
2. For the duration of this exercise, give yourself permission to be free of the duties and obligations that you normally submit yourself to.
3.  For a minute or two, simply breathe: in through the nose, and out through the mouth,
4.  Think of a person you feel gratitude for.  (Choose, more or less randomly, a single person to focus on.  Don’t worry, you will have an opportunity to focus on others shortly.)
5. Inhale and  bring their appearance to your mind.  Try and hear their voice, and even smell their unique smell.  Feel, as best you can, their presence.  Exhale.
6.  For the duration of a breath, allow yourself to experience whatever feelings this person stirs within you at this moment.
7. With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May the road rise up to meat you.’
8. Exhale.
9.  With your next inhale, think to this person ‘May the wind be always at your back.’
10. Exhale.
11.  With your next inhale, think ‘May the sun shine warm on your face.’
12.  Exhale.
13.  With your next inhale, think ‘May the rains fall softly on your fields’
14. Exhale.
15.  With the next inhale, think ‘May God hold you in the palm of his hand.’
15.  For the next breath, rejoice in the thought that your friend would be experiencing all these.
16.  If there is more time you had set aside for your spiritual practice, you might move on to another person you feel grateful for.  If you are having trouble choosing, consider these questions:
Who are you grateful for in your home?  Who are you grateful for in your school or workplace?  Who are you thankful for in your social circles?  Who are you thankful for from your past?  Who are you thankful for in your present?  Are there people who took on a role of parent, sibling, boss, coworker, lover, friend, coach, leader, follower that you are thankful for?  People who shaped you personally, professionally, or spiritually?
Whoever you choose, the phrases to focus on are these:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

17.  When you are ready to conclude today’s practice, take a single, cleansing breath.
18.  Now, with your inhale, think this for yourself: May the roads rise up to meet me..
19.  Exhale.
20.  With your inhale: May the winds always be at my back.
21.  Exhale.
22.  With your inhale: May the sun shine warm upon my face.
23.  Exhale.
24.  Inhale, think: May the rains fall soft upon my fields.
25.  Exhale.
26 Inhale, think, ‘May God hold me in the palm of his hand.’

Exercise 34: The Examen with multiple questions

Background:  St Ignatius pioneered The Examen in the 1500’s.  This is a method of reflecting on the day, and considering where we find our consolations (places it easy to see God’s work) and desolations (places where it is more difficult to see God at work.)

One of my favorite things about this practice is the ways that it helps me to put my life in perspective.  Sometimes, I am feeling quite stressed out.  My sense is that there are many things that are weighing me down.  What I discover is that I have many more consolations than desolations; I have much more to be thankful about than I do to worry about.  Sometimes, this process even helps me to recognize that the things I initially thought were desolations are actually consolations:  When my initial instinct is to think God isn’t there at all, I actually find God waiting there for me to catch up and find he was waiting there all along!

Today’s Exercise:
1. Take a dew deep breaths: in through the nose, out through the mouth.  Try and fill the lungs thoroughly on the inhale.  Try and empty them completely on the exhale.
2.  When you have released your ordinary concerns, turn your mind back toward the last 24 hours.  Think first about what came most recently.  Relive these experiences.  Try and engage your sense memory, and think about the sights and sounds and tastes and smells.  Bring your memory further back.  Don’t rush through considering all the details, until you find yourself wherever you were at this time, 24 hours ago.
3.  Consider your desolations by exploring these questions about this time period you just brought back to your mind.  Take your time as you explore each of them:

  • When were you least able to give and receive love?
  • Ask yourself what was said and done in that moment that made it so difficult.
  • Relive the feelings without trying to change or fix it in any way.
  • Take deep breaths and let God’s love fill you just as you are.

4.  Now, consider your consolations by considering these questions:

  • If you could relive one moment, which one would it be?
  • When were you most able to give and receive love today?
  • Ask yourself what was said and done in that moment that made it so good.
  • Breathe in the gratitude you felt and receive life again from that moment.

5.  At the bare minimum, try and hold your gratitude for the consolation.  Consider, if you can, the desolation.  Is there any way that made the positive part better?  Is there any sort of gratitude you can find for even the difficult events…  perhaps for the growth they make possible in you?  Perhaps that you had the resources to withstand this difficult time?  If this feeling is not there, don’t force it or shame yourself; as a human being, this is simply where we are sometimes.