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.

 

8th Email Exploration

The story goes that Saint Francis would pass through entire nights asking, “Who am I, God?”  and “Who are you, God?”
There is no record of precisely how he did this.  Today’s exercise is just one possible way to go about it, and the notes below the practice give a few suggestions of alterations that are worth considering.
Today’s practice is entirely word-based.  In that sense it is more on the cataphatic side of the spectrum.  Just as centering prayer sometimes employs words to release our thoughts, this practice uses words to help bring us face-to-face with how little we know.  In this sense, this practice is quite apophatic.  In some ways, this is the most apopathic of all the practices we will engage; the next email will be slightly more embracing of the light and trusting of our ability to speak and comprehend the divine.
1.  Sit in a posture which balances being comfortable and alert.
2.  Inhale.
3.  Exhale.
4.  With your next inhale, ask the question, “Who am I, God?”
5.  With your next exhale, ask the question, “Who are you, God?”
6.  Continue this pattern for the bulk of the time you had set aside for this practice today.
7.  When you are ready, release the questions.  Continue your deep breaths.
8.  If you wish, explore what new answers you might have to those two important questions.  Consider whether the questions mean something new.  Ask yourself in what ways you come to feel that those two questions’ answers might be related.

There are many ways to alter these exercises.  Some of these alterations can revolve around the breath.  For example, you might ask the question, “Who are you, God?” on the inhale.  You might ask the question, “Who am I, God?” on the exhale.  You could also hold the breath for a moment, and consider the first question after the inhale, and consider the second question after the exhale.
It also brings a different air to this practice to separate the questions.  Ask, “Who am I, God?” With each breath for the first half of your practice and “Who are you, God?” for the second half of your practice.

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.
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  • 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.

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:

  • 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.

4th Email Exploration for Lent

It’s kind of fascinating to me that Lent is meant to recall the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert.  Because the thing is, we know almost nothing about that the vast majority of that time.  Certainly, the face-off with Satan must have been a climax of that time.  But what about the rest of that time?
We are a week into Lent, more or less.  It leads me to wonder what it was like a week after Jesus stepped into the desert.  Like anybody, all I can do is guess.
One of my hopes is that these emails take us on a journey that has some paralells to Jesus.  Our first exercise was a bit of a microcosm of the whole cataphatic-apophatic spectrum.  And then we said, “Yes!”  and “Thank you.”  We begin in optimism and joy.  I suspect when he come out of his baptism, having heard God’s voice, Jesus began this way, too.
A few days fasting might have given him a clarity of purpose. In our most recent exercise,  when we placed the intrusive thoughts on that river in our imaginary, we might have experienced something distantly akin to Jesus’ single mindedness.
Today’s exercise has lots of similarities to that last exercise.  But takes us deeper into the apophatic.  It invites us to surrender more than just intrusive thoughts.   I believe that Jesus might also have been surrendering something deeper, about a week into his time in the desert.

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. 
  21. 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.

You can look forward to your next email Saturday morning.  I hope you will click here and share some about how this exploration is going for you.  I would like to really encourage you to commit yourself to some kind of contemplation every day.  It really does make a difference.  If a given day’s exercise is not working for you, you might go back to an early exercise.  You also can click here to go to the Faith-ing Project website and check out some other practices.

The Faith-ing Project is my labor of love.  It was born out of my realization that spiritual exercises can make life better… and in some ways, easier.  I am committed to creating an easily accessible resource that provides lots of options in one place for the spiritually hungry and curious.  It is a very important part of this vision that these practices are available to anyone who would like to access them, regardless of their financial situation.
However, making these practices available does carry some financial and time-related cost. I am excited to share that financially speaking, the project has almost paid for itself at this point.  I have a hope to go further, to improve the equipment used for audio recordings and access technical support to improve the reach, look, and feel of the website.
If you would like specific information about different ways that you can support the Faith-ing Project, please click here.