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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.

 

 

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.

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.

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:

  • 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.