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Day 4: Building a Spiritual Practice Through Transitions

We begin this exploration by considering the three words that characterize our focus.  Our first email focused on transition.  Our second was about deconstruction.  Today’s topic is liminal space.
Liminal space is perhaps the most obscure of those three terms.  One source defines the term: “A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.”
Rites of passage are traditional ceremonies which mark a person’s entry into a new phase such as adulthood.  In a rite of passage, the participant is identified as being in a liminal space during the ritual itself.  While the rite goes on, the person is no longer a child but not yet an adult.
It’s such a shame that modern western cultures don’t name and identify their rites of passage much.  It is such a powerful thing to notice that a key part of transitioning is the failure to now who we are and how we fit into the world.
One of the gifts of transitions, though, is that they teach us that our identity runs deeper than our context.  Who we are is more fundamental than the things we do.  Sometimes, the only way we can truly experience this is to lose or change the things we do.
Today’s practice is a threshold practice, just as liminal space is a threshold space.  Here, we begin to turn a corner.  We began with practices which importantly identified the dififcult reality we find ourselves in.  With today’s practice, we go deeper than the difficulty.  We look for what the deeper ‘something’ is.
Background:  Before this time of transition, you may have felt like you had much more in the way of answers.   One of the reasons that transitions are necessary is because with out them we accumulate so much of what is simply not necessary.  Just as moving homes requires a difficult process of weeding through our belongings and getting rid of those physical things which we do not need, more spiritual transitions require us to release the things which we do not spiritually need.
We learn, at these times, what is essential.  Sometimes, all we have is the knowledge that we are right here, and that God is right here, and that we are together.
(It is, of course, entirely possible that a person might not even be ready to say that much.  If your transition leaves you in a place where you do not even feel that you can speak of God, this is common and understandable.  It might be necessary to drop those two phrases from this practice, and simply repeat with the inbreath, “Here I am.”)

The Practice:
1.  Take three deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
2.  With the next in breath, say or think, “Here I am, God.”
3.  Exhale.
4.  With the next in breath, say or think, “Here you are God.”
5.  Exhale.
6.  With the next in breath, say or think, “Here we are together.”
7.  Inhale.
8.  Exhale.
9.  Repeat steps 2-8 for most of the time you were planning on devoting to this practice.
10.  When you are ready, release these words.  Sit in a time of wordless union.

Building a Spiritual Practice Through a Time of Transition Email 3

Today, we look at the 2nd descriptor of this email exploration: Deconstruction.
‘Deconstruction’ was originally coined by post-modern philosophy.  Given where it comes from, it’s not surprising that this is a complicated term, especially out of context.
Roughly speaking, ‘deconstruction’ means getting at the real essence of a thing.  Part of the process is to get past what we told ourselves ‘X’ meant, and what needs we thought it was fulfilling.   Therefore, a chef might ‘deconstruct’ a dish by considering what is non-negotiable about it.  She might then ditch all the other traditional parts of this dish which are not part of that essence.  They can then serve up something which is simultaneously new and familiar.
This term is attractive to many who are in a spiritual transition.  It implies an interesting in finding the true essence of the faith, and uncovering what hidden needs and wants were being satisfied by practicing the faith in a certain way.  In my own life, for example, I once believed that the hard work I did for a certain church was for God’s glory.  As I have deconstructed these beliefs, I become increasingly clear on the idea that much of this hard work was really for the attention and acclaim of other people.
Transitions in general and deconstruction in particular leave us in a space of wondering who we are and who God is.  Today’s practice owns these questions head-on.
Background: It is said that St. Francis past an entire night asking 2 simple questions: “Who am I, God?”  and “Who are you, God?”  It is not known what his method was; the correlation of the two questions to the two parts of breath is purely speculation on my part.

The Exercise

  1. Sit up as straight as you comfortably can.  Release your worries and obligations for the duration of your spiritual exercises today.
  2. As you inhale, ask the question, “Who are you God?”
  3. With your next inhale, ask the question, “Who am I God?”
  4. Continue this pattern.  When other thoughts or concerns arise, release them by returning to these questions and your breath.
  5. When your time is nearing completion, dismiss the questions.  Enjoy a time of wordless communion.
  6. When you are ready, explore your feelings about the questions and consider whether or not you have anything that looks like answers to these two important questions.
Today’s practice can be considered a breath prayer.  A breath prayer, as I am using the term, is a spiritual practice which puts a special focus on the breath, particular with the intent of connecting specific phrases or words with the inhale, the exhale, or both.  If you are interested in more breath prayers at The Faith-ing Project Website, click here. 
There are several small guides available from The Faith-ing Proejct focused on various aspects of spiritual practice.  One of them is a book devoted to breath prayers like this one.  It is available as an e-book or paperback. For more information, click here.
The Faith-ing Project Main Page
The Faith-ing Project Main Page

Building a Spiritual Practice Through Transitions Email #2

This email exploration is focused on three interconnected ideas: Transitions, Deconstruction, and Liminal Space.  These three ideas grow increasingly specific and increasingly complex.  Over these next three emails we will consider each of them.
Transitions happen every day, of course.  Compared to deconstruction or liminal space, they are fairly straight foreward.  Nonetheless, they are not easy.  The transitions that we are hoping for in life are not the ones we notice much.  Generally speaking, the transitions which cause us stress bring with them a host of unwanted emotions.
This is why we are beginning with 2 different forms of The Welcoming Prayer.   There are many forces which conspire to “teach” us to live in denial of the feelings we carry.  We hope that ignoring these feelings makes them go away.  The reality is that the opposite is true: Naming and owning them can go a long way toward evaporating many of our most intense and unwanted feelings.

  • Create a safe, quiet environment for yourself.  Turn down your phone and consider lighting a candle.
  • Breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Take a mental inventory of where you are, right now.  List the feelings you are experiencing.  Do your best to engage this with a nonjudgemental attitude.  Your feelings are neither good nor bad.  They simply are.  
  • Choose the feeling which seems to be the most impactful.  Think, or say “Welcome ___________”  (E.G. ‘Welcome, Fear.  Welcome, sadness.  Welcome, anxiety.  Etc.)
  • Breathe once.
  • Say, or think “I let go of my desire for security and survival.’
  • Breathe again.
  • Say, or think, ‘I let go of my desire for esteem and affection.’
  • Breathe again.
  • Say, or think ‘I let go of my desire for power and control.’
  • Breathe.
  • Say, or think, ‘I let go of my desire to change the situation.’
  • If you wish, you can repeat this process for a second, troubling emotion.
We have recently made our entire audio file library available to everyone.  There are numerous exercises on this page, including an audio file of the welcoming prayer we have been practicing these last couple days.  You can find The Welcoming Prayer and other audio files here.
One of the figures who has been pivotal on my spiritual journey is father Richard Rohr. He has written many amazing books.   The organization he began is The Center for Action and Contemplation.  They feature a powerful daily email, classes, podcasts, and more.  Check out the CAC here.

Building a Spiritual Practice Through Transition, Email #1

Thanks for joining The Faith-ing Project’s September Email Exploration.  You probably know that this time around, the focus is on building a spiritual practice through times of transition, deconstruction and liminal spaces.  These emails will launch every other day at 5 PM US Eastern Standard Time.
They will consist of 3 parts.  This introductory section will introduce ideas relevant to building a spiritual practice of related to the topics of transition, deconstruction and liminal space.
The middle section will consist of the day’s suggested spiritual practice.
The bottom section will feature announcement and updates about other exciting events, generally those related to The Faith-ing Project.
Many of the positive outcomes connected to a spiritual practice will come up when they are practiced at least once a day.  On the “off days” when no email arrives, it is highly recommended that you give a second try to the most recent spiritual practice.
It’s exciting to have you on this journey!  Thanks for taking it with us.  There are lots of ways to connect with me and I love hearing from participants.  If you would like to share observations, please reply to this email, click the links at the bottom of this page, or send a message to otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com

Background: This prayer become popular in the centering prayer movement.  It was originally written by Mary Mrozowski.  It is a method of recognizing, then releasing difficult emotions.

This is an important place to begin during times of transition.  It is inevitable that lots of feelings, many difficult to manage, pop up in the midst of change.  For this reason, our next exercise will be a similiar practice, designed to identify and welcome the feelings that pop up for us.

It is always advisable to read through the practice before beginning them.  Notice that on step 5 today you will have a choice to make about the specific words that you use.  Choosing which one you are going to use in advance will be helpful.

36 A

The Exercise:

  1.  Create a safe, quiet environment for yourself.  Turn down your phone and consider lighting a candle.
  2. Breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  3. Take a mental inventory of where you are, right now.  List the feelings you are experiencing.  Do your best to engage this with a nonjudgemental attitude.  Your feelings are neither good nor bad.  They simply are.  
  4. Choose the feeling which seems to be the most impactful.  Think, or say “Welcome ___________”  (E.G. ‘Welcome, Fear.  Welcome, sadness.  Welcome, anxiety.  Etc.)
  5. Say, or think, ‘I let go of my desire to change this feeling.’  or ‘I let go of my ___________’  or ‘God, I give you my _____________’
  6. Progress on to the next emotion, repeating steps 4 and 5.
  7. When you have worked through these emotions, spend a moment doing a mental inventory, assessing whether you feel differently.

The exercise to be introduced Wednesday is an alternative Welcoming Prayer.  It is exercise 36-B.    If you would like to try it in advance of that email you can find it here.  

Did you know that the Faith-ing Project is more than just a web page describing spiritual practices?  In addition to four books, a facebook page, and regular email explorations, on the webstie, you can find tips for building your spiritual practiceaudio files of many spiritual practices, links to influential and thought provoking sites, and more!

Exercise 53: You, who are closer than our breath, speak to us from the silence

Background:  My wonderful spiritual community is praying through the psalms, one a day.  The Pastor recommended ‘Psalms for Praying’ by Nan C. Merrill.  I had planned on ignoring her.  I felt like I could navigate through the difficult language that pops up in many of the psalms as they are traditionally translated.  Then she gave me the book, and it felt ungrateful not to read them there.  And I was glad I did.

As we read psalm 45, I approached it in a lectio-kind of mind set, looking for some words that spoke to me.  A few stanzas in, I came to this: “You, who are closer than our breath/  speak to us from the silence.”  As you can see below, I took a few minor liberties with the phrasing.

It felt right to build in increasing empty spaces in this exercise.  A precise count is not particularly important.  Therefore, one approach to “five deep breaths” Is to simply accept that 4 or 6 will also do.  The alternative is to use the thumb and finger tips to help keep track: On the first breath, touch thumb of both hands to pointer finger of both hands.  On the second breath, thumb to middle finger.  On the third thumb to ring finger.  On the fourth thumb to pinky.

The Exercise

  1.  Release your worries and expectations with a deep exhale.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Take two more deep, cleansing breaths.
  4. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  5. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  6. Inhale.  Exhale.
  7. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  8. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  9. Take two deep breath.
  10. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  11. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  12. Take three deep breaths.
  13. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  14. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  15. Take four deep breaths.
  16. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  17. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  18. Spend a time in wordless communion.  Try to release all of the words.
  19. When you feel that you have begun to drift off, or are ready to resume the practice,  With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  20. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  21. Take four deep breaths.
  22. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  23. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  24. Take three deep breaths.
  25. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  26. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  27. Take two deep breaths.
  28. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  29. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.”
  30. Take one deep breath.
  31. With the next inhale, think or say “You are closer than our breath.”
  32. With the next exhale, think or say “Speak to us from your silence.

Know that you can return to these phrases through out your day.

 

 

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 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.