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Exercise 46: Back at the Apophatic

Background: Many people find apophatic meditation difficult but rewarding.

Once the basics are under control, it is worth coordinating the breath with this practice.  With the affirmation (‘God is Love’) we might inhale as a way to embrace this truth.  With the negation, we might exhale (‘God is not love’) as a form of rejecting the limitedness of the affirmation.

When we negate the negation (‘God is not not love)  we can try to coordinate this so it equally positioned with the inhale and the exhale of the next breath.  A goal (one not worth fussing much over) is to have the first ‘not’ concluded with the inhale.

The subject (God) and the objects (Love, etc.)  are here mostly as place holders.  If there is a subject or object that resonates more deeply with you, by all means, run with these.   It is highly reccomended that whatever objects you are using, you decide these in advance.

The Exercise

  1.  Create a position which is both comfortable and alert.
  2. Release your responsibilities and expectations.
  3. Breathe deeply.
  4. With your next inhale, think “God is Love.”
  5. With your next exhale, think “God is not Love.”
  6. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  7. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not love.”
  8. With your next inhale, think “God is in control.”
  9. With your next exhale, think “God is not in control.”
  10. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  11. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not in control.”
  12. With your next inhale, think “God is Jesus.”
  13. With your next exhale, think “God is not Jesus.”
  14. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  15. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not Jesus.”
  16. When you are ready, release this practice and sit in wordless union.

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Day 7 of the Lenten Exploration

We began with the first two steps of apophatic meditation in our last exercise.  These can be a little easier than the 3rd and final step.
As you might recall, the first step is an affirmation.  For example, “God is a warrior.”
The second step is a negation, “God is not a warrior.”

Today’s step– the hard part– is to negate the negation.  For example, “God is not-not a warrior.”

My experience is that like many paradoxes, trying to understand this from a bunch of different angles can be valuable:
One way to think about this is to consider the idea that we might say “I am doing well.”  We might then say, “I am not doing well.”  In many ways, this would be similar to saying, “I am unwell.”  Therefore, if we said, “I am not-not doing well.”  it would have some parallels to saying “I am not unwell.”
In logical systems, this sort of double negation is seen as the same thing as the original positive statement.  The two negatives cancel each other out.   However, it’s worth noticing that there is a subtle, hard to describe difference when we are talking.  Saying “I am not unwell.”  is a little different than saying “I am doing well.”
Finally, this exercise is one which faces us with the limits of all language.  Especially when relating to the divine.  If the words of the affirmation are never completely true, than the words of the negation are never completely true either.

Background: At the bottom of this page are a few reminders on ways to modify this practice.

The Practice:
1.  Sit comfortably.
2.  Inhale, deeply.  Feel your belly expand.
3.  Exhale, deeply.  Feel your belly pull in toward your spine.
4.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is father.”
5.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not father.”
6.  With your next inhale, Think or say, “God is not-not father.”
7.    With your next exhale, Think or say “God is mother”
8.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is not mother.”
9.  With your next exhale, Think or say, “God is not-not mother.”
10.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is love.”
11.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not love”
12.  With your next inhale, think or say “God is not-not love.”
13.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is a warrior”
14.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is not a warrior.”
15,  With your next exhale, think or say, “God is not-not a warrior.”
16.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is just..”
17.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not just.”
18.  With your next inhale, think or say, “God is not-not just.”
19.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is in me.”
20.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is not in me.”
21.  With your next exhale, think or say, “God is not-not in me.”
22.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is outside of me.”
23.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not outside of me”
24.  With your next inhale, think or say, “God is not-not outside of me.”
18.  You may wish to add your own.  Or repeat some, or all of these statements.  When you are ready, sit in worldess communion,

Remember that you can alter two different aspects of these sentences.  If the subject–  God– does not connect with you, you might substitute in some other word.  For example, “Spirit is a warrior.”  “Jesus is a warrior”  etc.  You can also alter the objects, for example, “God is omnipotent”  “God is not omnipotent”  “God is not not omnipotent.”

One of the surprises for me as I have explored these practices is the realization that there don’t seem to be any purely apophatic practices.  Some do not rely on words but skirt around the idea darkness.  Others (like today’s practice) rely heavily on words but use those words to bring us to the edges of these words’ meanings.  Our next practice is another one which uses words to transcend words.  After that, we will begin a journey back to the cataphatic.

Day 6 of the Lent Exploration

Below is the text from the 6th email in our 2019 Lenten exploration.  If you would like to see these in an email form, please use the contact form at the top of this page.

 

There are many reasons to explore the journey into darkness and wordlessness– the apophatic– at this time:
* Western spiritual traditions tend to be missing this aspect of spirituality, so it’s always a good area to revisit.
* It is the Winter.  In many ways this is the most apophatic of the seasons.  It is the time of cold and darkness.
* We are approaching the Friday when Jesus was crucified.  This is the most apophatic event in all of Christianity.
* Traditionally, Lent commemorates Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.   If we take a day-by-day approach to remembering this, if the beginning of lent marked Jesus’ first day in the desert, we would be nearing the middle of his fast.  There is not a record of the day by day events of this time, so anything we can say is speculative.  However, it would seem plausible that as Jesus got near the middle of this time, his mind set and experience grew increasingly cataphatic.  By engaging these practices, we experience the cataphatic with him.

Today’s practice is called Apophatic Meditation. Apaphatic Meditation is a challenging practice that some find challenging and others find deeply rewarding.  It is a three-step process.  Today we will try only the first two steps.  Our next email, which will go out Thursday or Friday will outline the final step.
This practice can be used in many different ways.  If statements like the ones I chose do not resonate with you, please check the section at the bottom of this email.  There, I have given some ways to modify it.  As always, I recommend you decide in advance how long you will commit to this practice and I encourage you to read through all of it before you begin.

Background: The first two steps (which are the only ones we are exploring today) are to make a statement about God and to then negate that statement.
For example, we might say “God is father.”  This is worth sayiing because In a certain way, it is true.  When we then say “God is not father.”  We are recognizing that there are also ways that this statement is not true.
I have stuck with the “name” God in this meditation.  And I have chosen some common phrases to apply to this word.  If either of these do not connect with you, I have offered a few words at the bottom of this page to help with modifying the language of this exercise.The Practice:
1.  Sit comfortably.
2.  Inhale, deeply.  Feel your belly expand.
3.  Exhale, deeply.  Feel your belly pull in toward your spine.
4.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is father.”
5.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not father.”
6.    With your next inhale, Think or say “God is mother”
7.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not mother.”
8.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is love.”
9.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not love”
10.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is a warrior”
11.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not a warrior.”
12.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is just..”
13.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not just.”
14.  With your next inhale, Think or say “God is in me.”
15.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not in me.”
16 With your next inhale, Think or say “God is outside of me.”
17.  With your next exhale, Think or say “God is not outside of me”
18.  You may wish to add your own.  Or repeat some, or all of these statements.  When you are ready, sit in worldess communion,
There are lots of reasons why the word “God” might not connect with you.  Some of these reasons are worth pushing through.  Others are not.  If you decide that you do not wish to use the word ‘God’ in this (or other) exercises, simply replace it.
Some times we reach a point where we do not have a word at all for what we mean.  There is a long history in several traditions around thinking of the truest name for God as a breath.  If this appeals to you, instead of thinking or saying ‘God’ you might breathe, knowing it is a name for God, and use words for the rest:  (breathe) is love/  (breathe) is not love, etc.

There are so many words which might come at the end of the phrases in this practice.  I chose ones that I often use.  These might not be good words for you to use.  If you choose different words to say that God is/ is not I would encourage you to think about them in advance, and to write them down.  It helps to use the same phrases a few times.  Especially as we move toward the final step of this exercise with the next email.  So it would be smart to put this list somewhere you can find when we do this exercise again.

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

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5th Lent Email

Here is the audio file for todays exercise:

Modern Contemplatives have made a lot out of the idea of the true self and the false self.  Roughly speaking, the false self is the personality, which is understood to be an accumulation of the identities we adopt.  Primarily, this identity is an attempt to defend ourselves from hurt.
The true self is deep within and utterly unchangeable.  A contemplative practice gives us increasing glimpses of this aspect of ourselves.  Many within the Christian tradition consider this to be the image of God, the divine breath, and Christ within.
In today’s exercise you are invited to imagine that a teacher arrives to come and sit with you by the river.  For me, this teacher is Jesus.  Perhaps he is for you too.  Perhaps you don’t have a name or even a concept of what this teacher might be like.  Any and all of these, are, of course, fine.

Today’s Exercise

  1.  Relax.  Find your breath.
  2. Imagine a riverside scene.  Perhaps it is a place you have been.  Begin by seeing it in your mind’s eye.  
  3. Furnish additional sensory information.  What sounds are you hearing?  What smells are you smelling?  What is the temperature like?  
  4. There is a comfortable seat here.  With enough room for two.  See it in your mind’s eye.  Is it a park bench?  A rock shaped just so?
  5. Behold the river.  See how the gentle current moves the water out of your vision.  Observe the clear water with the leaves floating by.  Place your hand in it, if you like.  Feel it’s crisp coolness.
  6. 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.  Feel it leave your body and place it on the river.
  7. When you reach a place of calm, a teacher walks calmly and quietly up to you.  He sits down next to you.  Sit next to this teacher.  Enjoy a companionable silence.
  8. When you are ready, consider a trivial portion of your identity.   Whatever that trivial aspect of your identity is, feel it coming out of your body.  The teacher is there to help you if you need it.  Together, you can 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.  Note the teacher is still with you.  His feelings for you have not changed.
  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.  Feel it rising up and out of you.  Note how this feels.  With the teacher’s help,  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.  The teacher continues to sit with you through this experience.
  13. Spend a breath experiencing yourself without this important role.
  14. Consider that there is something within you.  Explore who or what this is.  This is the self that the teacher knoiws is there; the part of you that the teacher has been speaking to.
  15. If it feels right, give additional aspects of your identity to the river.  Remember that the teacher is there to help.
  16. Give your name up to the river.  Feel it come unglued from you.  Hold it in your hands, with the teacher.  The two of you can put your name on one of the leaves together, and let the current carry it away.
  17. When you have given all the parts of yourself that you wish to, explore who you are, now.  Feel the teacher’s presence.  Perhaps he will say some things to you.  Maybe they are things that a teacher has said to you before.  Will you hear those word’s differently now?
  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.

If you enjoyed today’s practice presented on an audiofile, you might be interested to explore the other audiofiles available to everyone by clicking here.  If you would like access to our full library of audio files, become a patron.

Today’s exercise is the last of the Riverside Meditations.  With our next email (on Tuesday or Wednesday) we will continue our journey into apophatic practices.

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

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Exercise 42: Another Approach to Lectio

Background:   Lectio Divina is clearly more than just a single practice.  In some ways, it is more like a philosophy, a general approach that seeks to invite God into our reading.

The Practice:  

  1.  Select a short passage to be read.
  2. As you read, be aware of the words and phrase that stand out.
  3. Read a second time.  When you are through, reflect on the things that impact you.  Consider expressing these reflections out loud or in writing.
  4.  Read it a third time.  This time say a prayer when your are through.  Focus this prayer on what this experience was like for you, and what it is challenging you to do in your life.
  5. Read it a fourth time.
  6. Sit in silence.

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

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  • 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 39: Before you can be filled, you must be emptied.

Background:  This exercise was initially part of the December, 2018 Advent Campaign.

It is built on the idea that in order to fill ourselves up with the things we wish to have, we must first empty ourselves of the things we don’t want.

Visualizing God’s breath in us is an important prerequisite to this practice.  You can find an exercise more specifically focusing on this practice here.

 

 

The Exercise:

1.  Sit up, straight and comfortable.
2.  For the duration of your practice today, release yourself from your commitments.  Give yourself permission to engage this practice fully.  
3.  Take a deep, cleansing inhale.  Place your hand on your belly and do your best to feel it move; fill your lungs from the bottom, up.
4.  Exhale fully, from the bottom of the lungs through the top.
4.  With your next inhale, see that this in-breath is God breathing into you.  
5.  Exhale, fully.
6.  With your next inhale, remind yourself of God’s presence, breathing into you.
7.  Exhale, again.
8.  Inhale God’s breath into you.
9.  For these next few breaths, we will focus on the exhales.  With each breath we will be exhaling tension from our body.  Continue to breathe slowly and fully.
10.   remember that each inhale comes straight from God as we engage this.
11.  Inhale, God’s breath.
12.  Now, exhale.  But with your breath, exhale the tension from your feet and calves.  Blow it out through your mouth.
13.  As you inhale God’s breath, feel it filling your all the way down to your feet.
14.  As you exhale, breathe out the stress from your knees and thighs.
15.  Inhale a breath straight from God.   This breath is what makes you human.
16.  Exhale the tension from your lap and buttocks. 
17.  Inhale God’s breath into the space you have made.  Feel it travel downward from the lungs to the whole lower half of your body.
18.  Exhale the tension from your abdomen and lower back.
19.  Feel God breath out, and into you.
20.  Exhale the tension from your chest and upper back.
21.  Inhale a breath from God.  Feel the breath first fill your lungs.  Let that divine breath fill up the empty space you have made.
22.  Exhale the tension from your next and shoulders.
23.  Inhale and feel God’s breath fill you from toes to neck.
24.  Exhale the tension from your head.  Feel it leave your brow, jaw, and the base of your skull.  Exhale this stress with your breath.
25.  Now, as we begin to draw this exercise to a close, continue to draw God’s breath into the empty space you have created.  With this next inhale, feel that this oxygen that is spreading to every inch of you is carrying God’s love.
26.  Exhale stress and tension.
27.  Inhale, and see that God’s breath is filling up the empty space within you with the deepest Peace.
28.  Exhale your worries and concern.
29.  With this next inhale, bring God’s breath into the tips of your fingers and toes.  Draw it up to the top of your skull.  Feel it in all the places in between.  And know that this breath is peace.

Day 9 of the Solstice and Advent Campaign

Here is the audio track for today’s practice:

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

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