Category Archives: Visualizations

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.

Exercise 24: Meeting with Jesus

Background:  Often, when we visualize an event, there is a desire to place it in an either/or category.

Harry Potter captures this well.  Near the climax of the entire series, events occur in another world, away from the action.  The things that occur there do not seem possible.  The title character asks, “Was this real?  Or is it happening in my head?”

The sage-like Albus Dumbledore answers “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

This is a helpful way to enter into visualizations.  Perhaps they are the place where our minds intersect with something bigger than us.  But even if it is only us…   This too, is real.

The more the senses are engaged in visualizations, the more powerful they tend to be.  When they leave the setting open to your own history, it can be wonderful to return to a setting that you have fond memories of, perhaps a place that you can not easily go back to.

In today’s exercise, you will be invited to meet with Jesus.  Perhaps you will substitute this appearance with someone else.  Maybe you don’t have a name for Spirit as Spirit shows up.

Lots can be reaped out of this experience if we resist the temptation to turn this into a historical quest.  Getting caught up on the details we don’t know can sour this experience.

Spiritual Exercise

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe.
  2. Choose a setting you know well.  Preferably an outside environment.
  3. After you have recalled what this place looks like, furnish the sounds.  Feel the temperature of the air.  Consider the smells.
  4. See yourself walking along a path in this special place.
  5. Feel yourself approached by a figure.  This is Jesus.  Jesus will be walking with you, today.
  6. It might be a while before Jesus speaks.  Perhaps there won’t be any words at all.
  7. Continue the walk for as long as you would like.  Enjoy your time with him.

 

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Exercise #21: Listening to God Listen to Me

Background: Have you known — or even been –. So utterly in love that you would like to be on the phone with a person even if you had nothing to say?  There is something immature about that kind of giddiness, perhaps. But there is something wonderful, too. Consider it, just knowing that there is a line open between you and your love, even if you are not saying anything to them: sometimes this is enough.

I am not sure that Mother Theresa’s gravitas, saintliness, and devoted life often engenders comparisons to infatuated teenagers.  But I believe here, the comparison is valid.

Mother Theresa was once asked about her prayer life.  She explained that often, she listens to God. When asked what God is saying, she responded that God often said nothing: that she simply listens to God listening to her.

The Exercise

  1.  Speak to God for a while.  You might wish to use one of the prayer/spiritual journaling prompts.
  2. When you are done speaking, be still.  Listen for what God says in return.
  3. When God is done speaking (if God begins) be still.
  4. Experience yourself listening to God listen to you.  Allow yourself to grow closer.

Exercise 20: Tonglen

Background: We spend so much energy running away from negative emotions.

In some ways, they are like a tiny dog chasing an enormous truck.  Meditation is when we wonder, “Just what is that dog ever going to do if it catches that truck?” And we stop running from it.

Today’s exercise: Buddhist Tonglen goes a step beyond merely accepting the inevitability of unpleasantness.  In some sense we master it, as we seek it out in others.

This exercise is going to ask you to think about the suffering of someone else.  If nothing immediately comes to mind, here are a few things to consider:

A) Can you take on the suffering of someone who opposes you, or who you have difficulty liking?

B) Can you take on the suffering of all those who experience a similiar issue to one you struggle with?

The Exercise

1)  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe slowly through your nose and out through your mouth.  Fill you diaphragm with your in-breaths.  It can be helpful to place the hand on the abdomen as you do this, to feel its movement. 

2)  When you are ready to begin this practice in earnest, Breathe in feelings of heaviness, claustrophobia, pain, and hurt.  Do not assign this to any experience yet.

3)  Breathe out positivity, light, and joy.

4)  With your next in-breath, experience the unpleasantness as entering into you through all the pores of your body.  Feel it come along with your breath and travel within.

5)  When you exude positivity, feel this emenating from your pores, as well as you breath.  Envision this goodness going out into the world.

6) Continue this process for a while,.

7) When you are ready, apply your imagination to the experience you have chosen.  Take the pain and hurt from the person or group into yourself.  Take it through the breath and through the body.

8) Exhale whatever relief you feel is best:  Kindness, light and joy.

9) Continue to inhale their pain.  Exhale relief.

10) As your practice draws to a close, widen your compassion.  If you can, take on the pain in a more intense manner, or feel it coming into you from a wider circle.

11) Continue to exhale love to this widened, deepened circle.

12)  When you are ready to release your days practice, spend some time continuing to breathe.  Consider what the experience was like of feeling their pain.

 

Exercise 19: Riverside Meditation II

Background: It seems that there is some immutable center to us.  This has been called the True Self.  It can be the work of a lifetime to get past the things that seem like such an important part of who we are.  Roles, titles, jobs, even callings…  These are often good things.  But they are not the most basic measure of who we are.

Today’s Exercise

  1.  Relax.  Find your breath.
  2. Imagine a riverside scene.  Perhaps it is a place you have been.
  3. Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.  Then locate yourself there.
  4. Furnish additional sensory information.  What sounds are you hearing?  What smells are you smelling?  What is the temperature like?  Are you sitting?  What does your seat feel like?
  5. Behold the river.  See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.
  6. Calm your mind.  As thoughts enter into your awareness, place them on the river.  Allow the river to carry them out of your perceptions.
  7. 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.  Place them as you might put a leaf on the water, so gently to be sure it is floating in the cool water.
  8. When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity.  Perhaps you are a football fan, or a lover of science fiction.  Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, give it up to the river.  Place it on the water and let the current carry it out of sight.
  9. With your next breath, consider what it is like to be freed of this aspect of your identity.
  10. 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.  Give this part of yourself to the river, now.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
  14. Consider that there is something within you.  Explore who or what this is.
  15. If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.
  16. You might even give your name itself to the river.  
  17. When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now.  Consider your relationship with the divine.  Think about what is left of you.
  18. When you are ready, see yourself getting up from the riverside.
  19. 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.  
  20. 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.

Exercise 15: Riverside Meditations I

Background: The novel ‘Illusions: Adventures of the Reluctant Messiah’ has a pretty amazing scene.  The protagonist is told to use the power of his mind to eliminate a group of clouds on the horizon.  He spends the afternoon turning the whole of his will to the task.  And he is thoroughly unsuccessful.

The man’s mentor explains that the main character is entirely to emotionally wrapped up in the task to have ever been able to eliminate him.  He would have done far better to withdraw his energies from the clouds than to invest himself.

This is a useful story.  Sometimes, as we try to overcome our thoughts and feelings we develop such an intensity that we will never be free from them.  Imagining that we are at a riverside, and seeing them all float by is a useful way to release these, to overcome our attachment to these distractions.

Spiritual Exercise

1.  Breathe.  

2.  Imagine that you are sitting by the side of a river.  Picture the temperature and the sounds and the smells.  Smell the air.  Furnish a picture in your mind of what it looks like.

3.  As best you can, clear your mind.  Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

4.  Thoughts, feelings, and memories will arise.  When they do, place them gently on the river.  Allow them to be carried away.

5.  Return to your breath.