Category Archives: Strategies

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.

 

Big Picture Consideration: the Apophatic & the Cataphatic

A somewhat trite folk song and an amazing section of the bible say it well:

There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Maybe this points to a really important distinction, one that sometimes feels as though it were a hidden, a thing that modern Christianity sometimes seems to want to treat like a dirty little secret.

On the one hand are the things we can speak of.  This side of the spectrum is characterized by understanding and light.  It is built on the assumption that the world is knowable.  It is associated with happiness and explanations.  This has been called the Cataphatic.

On the other hand, there is the truth that words only get us so far.  This side of the specrum is characterized by the not-knowing and darkness.  It is built on the understanding that there are some (many?) things that we can not comprehend.  It is associated with a lack of joy and a reluctance to explain.  This has been called the Apophatic.

To whatever extent these things are true about reality in general, they are doubly true about The Ground of All Being/God/Spirit/ Jesus/Truth/Allah….

The Cataphatic is easier for most people today.  I don’t know if it is a sign of modernity.  Or the evangelical church.  Or one of the inheritances of the age of “Enlightenment.”  Or simple and universal human nature…  Probably a bit of each.

Much of what we do in modern faith context is built around words (sermons, singing words, small group discussions) and happiness (upbeat melodies to worship music, cherry picking the happy parts of psalms)   There are lots of powerful spiritual exercises to explore this side of the spectrum.  But it seems to me they are a little less necessary than apophatic spiritual exercises.

Because we don’t spend much time in the apophatic.   We don’t have too many options open to us.  We have lost the art of lamenting.  We are so tempted to view agnosticism as a sign of weakness and ambiguity as a sign of the weak.  I think these are all the signs of a mature spirituality.  Perhaps we could enter into them earlier if we had more avenues for it.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it requires some life experience, some humiliation, some dying in order to be able to recognize that this all can not be out prayed, out sang, and out worshipped.

Regardless, this is where it is.  Give a try to an apophatic meditation today.

 

Strategy #4- Touch

There are several traditions which use some sort of tactile stimulation to help practioners be in the moment.  Most notably, Buddhists have their prayer beads, and Catholics have their rosaries.  As simple as these are, we can get some of the benefits of them with nothing more than hands.

There is research verifying the idea that tracking our progress by touching our thumbs to each of our finger tips is beneficial.  For example, we might start with the left hand.  The first time we complete a breath prayer, touch left thumb to left pointer finger.  With the second completion, touch left thumb to middle finger.  Then touch left thumb to ring finger, and then, with the fourth completion of the breath prayer, touch the thumb to the pinky.  We can then, obviously, switch over to the right hand.

It’s such a little thing.  But I notice a difference.  I suppose it is partially the sensory stimulation making the thoughts more meaningful.  I think it also prevents my mind from wandering and helps to track progress through the spiritual exercise.

Why don’t you give it a try today?

 

Big Picture Consideration #5

I have spent some time wrestling with how best to share the stuff I am writing about today.

In true contemplative fashion, I am doing my best to hold two equally important (and in some ways contradictory) realities.

The first reality is that The Faith-ing Project is a labor of love for me.  I am passionate about sharing these practices with anybody and everybody, regardless of their ability to financially support this endeavor.

The second reality is that there are a handful of direct expenses involved with this.  They include the expenses of keeping this website ad-free and able to host things like audio files.  I also have a hope of upgrading some of the equipment being used here.  And the time I am investing is no small thing.  It would be nice to be free of the temptation of taking up a side hustle or second job.  Having to do that would not be good for the development of materials here.

Since The Faith-ing Project began, I have utilized Patreon to give people an opportunity to make a small monthly contribution.  In exchange for $3.00 a month, patrons receive access to a growing library of audio files which present the spiritual exercises.

If you would rather make a 1-time contribution through paypal, I can be reached at otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com

If you are in a position to support this important work with a small monthly gift or a 1-time payment, I am deeply thankful to you.  If The Faith-ing Project’s resources and email campaigns have been helpful to you, or if you share my conviction that these practices are desperately needed by the world, this financial assistance is one way to express your solidarity with me.

If you are not equipped financially to support what we are doing at this time, I would not want you to hold on to any kind of guilt about this.  I (generally) believe in the power of prayer and would ask for your prayers regardless of your financial situation.  Offering feedback and concrete suggestions on what you see here is another way to support this project.  (I feel particularly out of my element in the visual and technological side of all this)

Regardless of whether you can support The Faith-ing Project in any specific way, I am thankful for your presence here and wish you peace on the journey.

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 continue to deliver this conetent to a world in need: become a Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

 

Big Picture Consideration #5: Inclusion, not Appropriation

A phrase that has landed on lots of our radars over the past couple years is “Cultural Appropriation.”

My understanding of why this is a bad thing is evolving.  It took me a while to see how it is a problem at all.  As time has gone by, I still need somebody to go slow and help me with some of the details.

The problem of cultural appropriation plays out in a few specific ways for me here, at the Faith-ing Project.  The most obvious one is my use of practices from traditions that I do not consider my own.  It is inevitable that I am going to oversimplify, misrepresent, and gloss over important aspects of all the practices that I present here, especially the ones that don’t come from the tradition I identify as my own.

I have considered whether I should be sharing them at all.  After lengthy consideration, I have decided that it is worth it, despite the risk.  There are a few reasons for deciding I should include Buddhist, Jewish, and (soon) Islamic practices here.

#1) Part of the mystic’s journey is to recognize the thing that all the major world religion’s have in common.  This is not saying they are all identical, or that they all take us to the same “place.”  But it is important to recognize their commonality.  And for me, that begins with the spiritual practices.

#2) My hope is that your time here is the launch pad for your spiritual practice, not the end-game for it.  As you dive deeper into a practice or belief system, I am hopeful that any errors you picked up here will get corrected.

#3) The real power of the internet is the possibility for interactions.  I truly, deeply, and sincerely hope that if I have misrepresented something that you will help me out.   There is a fine line here, of course.  There are certain things which are simple disagreements and can’t be authoritatively decided in this lifetime.  I don’t mind you sharing these sorts of things if you would like.  But what I am more passionate about is the places where I am demonstrably, objectively wrong about what a certain group practices or believes.    Please hear this invitation: if I got something wrong, please feel free to use the comment section of the posts, the contact button up top, or to email me at otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com

 

Big Picture Consideration #4: Beyond Words

One of the most important people in my life regularly undergoes a procedure that has the unfortunate side effect of really messing up certain parts of her brain chemistry.    One of the main areas impacted is the language part of the brain.

For a good week or two, she is very limited both in understanding and speaking.  Loving and supporting her has been a learning experience for me.  (To be clear: I have the easy part of the deal.)

I am a very word-oriented person.  It is one of my main ways of relating and of spending time with someone.  Recently, I was thinking about this learning process.  And realizing it mirrors the changes in my relationship with God.

A bunch of years ago, my main connection with God was through talking.  And sometimes listening.  So many of my practices now wordless.  I have developed this whole new list of ways to spend time with God.  It’s not different than the re-learning I have had to do with this special person: finding new ways to be together.

One of the best things I am learning is that words only get us so far.  In some ways, the spiritual activities were a little more chosen.  But the reality is that the new things I am learning to do, those not reliant on words, are some of my favorite things to do.

Contemplation and Pseudo-Contemplation

There are so many things competing for our attention.

The makers of our devices are engaged in a kind-of arms race.  Instead of creating weapons of destruction, instead of having a goal of militaristic conquest, they are creating weapons of distraction.  The goal is not conquest, it is mindlessness.  But it is still an arms race.

They are very good at what they do.  And the goods and services they provide are not bad things in moderation.

But make no mistake: endlessly scrolling through a facebook feed only feels like meditation.

(And please, feel no judgement or shame here!  I am writing as much to myself as I am to you, dear reader!  These struggles are real!)

Further, meditating but being willing to be distracted…  Engaging in a spiritual exercise while having my facebook page open, so that I can take a little break if I get that endorphin-producing ‘ping’….  that is not really meditation.  That is wasting time while I am hoping that something interesting is going to happen on my social media feeds.

Part of the growth promised by these spiritual exercises is in facing down boredom.  More than just filling my time, the important thing is that I stop running from my fears about myself and the world.  This is why it is so valuable to commit to a length of time each day.  So much good will result when I don’t offer myself easy retreats out of this sometimes difficult work.

Let’s make a deal with each other, and with outselves.  Let’s agree that we might choose to engage in distractions: music to fill up the air, games as candy for our eyes, social media as a venue for our monkey mind to do a little dance.  But let’s be honest about it.  If we are going to do it, let’s make the conscious decision to do these things.  They are o.k. in moderation.  But let’s not pretend that we are meditating while really we are just looking for an excuse to engage those activities.

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.