Tag Archives: meditation

Book of Grief, Gratitude and Love

Introduction

The world does not need another book which is quietly assured that you need to be more loving, grateful, or aware of your grief.  Prescriptions of this type have likely caused more problems than they have solved.

Most of us are quite ready to hear our faults when someone approaches us in the right way.  When we are approached and told that we ought to do this, or that, we are sometimes eager to do whatever it is we “should” have been doing all along.  

So we adopt whatever it is that is being pitched.  Praying more.  Morning affirmations.  Taking action in the world.  Giving longer hugs.  Eating more vegetables.

Certainly all of the above are good ideas for some of us.  Maybe most of us.  But if we begin them because someone told us to, we are likely to end them soon.  We are likely to feel betrayed when they don’t deliver an end to our hurts, disappointment, and loneliness.  We are likely to demonstrate a comparatively shallow level of commitments.  I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you something about the way my mind operates.  There is a thought, deep down:  If there is a problem for everybody, and this book offers a solution for everybody, even if I go only half way, I am better off than most everybody else.

Somehow, you ended up reading these words.  There was probably something in the title that connected with you.  But I would like to begin from a place of honesty.  It seems like that is the best indication that maybe this is something in these pages for you. It seems to me that most of the people I know have some struggles with grief, gratitude.  And these two are doorways into love. 

It is not easy to walk into grief.  To engage in practices that invite this experience in?  That feels like driving toward the foreboding clouds that threaten to unleash their fury at any second.  There is something primal within us that is whispering that this is a really bad idea.

My experience is that this opens up an experience of fullness.  It is good.  A life lived in this manner is not easier.  This introduction is not a condemnation of who you are and how you have lived.  You will not become morally superior to the people not engaging these practices no matter how thoroughly you master them.

 

This book did not come together in quite the same way as the other Faith-ing Project Guides.  It began with a sense that gratitude is an important thing and this area had not been covered in those other books.

Gratitude is incredibly important.  But it didn’t feel like a book of practices only focused on gratitude was the right way to go.  It needed a little something more than that.  And it was in a discussion with someone close to me that it was observed that there is a powerful relationship between grief and gratitude.  They seem, in a sense, like proverbial opposite sides of the same coin.

This felt mostly right.  It seemed like it was close to  perfect.  I spent a few days sitting with this possibility, the idea of creating a book of practices built around both of these experiences.  What I began to reflect on was that the thing that joined them together, the coin itself, is Love.

Grief, Gratitude and love.    Yes.  That seemed entirely right.  To begin with, love can only be experienced in the context of gratitude.  How could we love someone we are not thankful for?  At the same time, being thankful for a person (or a thing, or an experience) seems likely to lead to an experience of love.  Gratitude and love seem quite likely to lead to each other and quite difficult to imagine apart from each other

.  Yet, true love also inevitably leads to grief. All of us will die.  Everything will change.  A mature, reflective view of love is about making the choice that it is worth it, it will be worth it, and it will have been worth it.  If we live a contemplative life we enter into loving truly aware of the cost.

It seems that grief without gratitude is bitter.  Meanwhile, gratitude without grief is shallow.  They seem to need each other to make love a viable experience.  

I hesitate to call “grief” “gratitude” or “love”  emotions.  Each of them is more than that.  Each of these three characteristics is one of the defining qualities of humanity.  Each… even grief…. Are the things that makes this life worth living.

This book has been built with a section for each of these three important characteristics.  .  Each section will begin with a few opening remarks and then progress to two different types of spiritual exercises.  The first spiritual exercise is rather specific to the topic of the chapter.  

These exercises will come primarily out of the world’s great spiritual traditions.  I was not surprised, when I wrote this book, that so many of these reflect my Christian orientation.  It’s not that  I feel that Christianity is any better than the other great religions.  I expected to end up with lots of Christian practices because these are the practices I am closest to, the practices I am most qualified to share.

 I was a little surprised to discover how many come out of the Buddhist tradition.  In my head I knew that the Buddhists have a profound psychology and many excellent tools for being fully human.  As I wrote this book, I was reminded of this and experienced it first hand.

The second type of exercise within each chapter will be a bit more general.  Many of these exercises come out of the growing discipline known as mindfulness.  Mindfulness emphasizes an awareness of our present circumstances.  It often does this by stressing the importance of listening to the wisdom of the body. One major obstacle to gratitude, grief, and love is finding ourselves lost in the past or worried about the future. 

When we are out of the moment, stuck in the past or the future, it might look  like grief, gratitude, or love.  But it is not.    Grief, gratitude and love are experienced in the present.  This is why mindfulness, with its brilliant emphasis on our senses, is so critical here.  When we find ourselves looking, listening, feeling, smelling and tasting, we are in the present moment.  Our senses do not have memories.  Nor do they have hopes, dreams, or fears about the future.  They can only report what is happening now. This is key to the work we are doing.

  I am sure that all of us will have an area we are more comfortable with than the others.  Many of us might feel comfortable expressing our love but have not worked through our grief.  Some of us might feel that gratitude comes naturally but love does not.  Though this is to be expected, I am certain that  an over emphasis on any one of them, at the expense of the others, is an unwise, unbalanced way to live.   The area that seems to be the least attractive to you is likely the one you need the most.   My hope for you, reader, as you read this book is that you will carry each with a full awareness.

This full awareness is an important thing. 

Before we dive into the sections presenting the practices around gratitude, grief and love, it is worth wondering, just how should this book be used?  Dozens of practices are presented here.  It is clearly not feasible to regularly maintain a practice comprised of all these exercises…  Yet, the whole point of what we are doing here is precisely that: to assist you in building your spiritual practice.

Consider this book a catalog of options that are open to you.  Just as you would not buy all the shirts in the clothes  section of a department store, just as nobody would buy every single shape of pasta available at their local grocery store, you will probably not build a spiritual practice out of every single practice in this book.

You would probably take a look at most of the shirts in the section of the department store.  Similarly, it is wise to examine all the practices contained in this book.  You might pile up a number of shirts and bring them with you into a dressing room.  Accordingly, I hope you will try most of the practices in this book.  After this process you might buy several shirts.  Some you will keep forever.  Others you might try out but ultimately  return.

I hope that you try out many practices from this book.  You might “return” some.  You might keep others, incorporating them into your long-term practice.

My sense is that when a person is ready to settle into a spiritual practice, it is important to commit to which specific practices will be used.   Ideally, the practice would incorporate no more than three.    It does not seem to be helpful to switch quickly and easily between practices within the same session.  Rather, you might dedicate Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to one practice.  Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays might be reserved for a different practice.  Sundays might be left for both practices.  Or neither.

One of the great things about spiritual practices is how flexible they are.  Lots is gained by doing them solo.  There are other benefits by doing them in community.  They can be done almost anywhere by anyone.  Of course, all of these practices “work” by simply reading them and then “doing” them.  However, sometimes, it is preferable to have someone directing you through them.  Many of the meditations here are available as audio files at https://faithingproject.com/audio-files-associated-with-publications-of-the-faith-ing-project/

 

Let us begin.  There is nothing more important than love.  And love is built through gratitude and grief.  

 

Gratitude

Gratitude is often described as a spiritual practice.   There is a way in which this is strange.  It is not often that we hear other mental states like happiness, sadness, frustration, or joy pitched as spiritual practices.

However, it is not always natural to think about the things that we have to be grateful for.    The things that make us angry are easy to notice, and if we are excited about the things that make us happy are probably near the top of our minds.  It seems that when someone suggests gratitude as a spiritual practice, what they are really suggesting is that we maintain an awareness of the things that we have to be thankful for.  This isn’t always easy, of course.  If we were rational creatures, the things that we have enjoyed for the longest would be the things we are most thankful for.  We are not rational, though.    These things that stay with us across the years are so easy to overlook.  We come to forget that we are not owed these things that we have had for so long.  And they can be the most difficult to release when it is time to let them go.  

The person who experiences physical health for many years may not know how to be sick.  The person who is wealthy for much of their life is the most surprised when this wealth goes away.  The person given a deep and passionate love is the most lost without this person.

When we experience health, wealth, or love for long periods of time, we increasingly lose touch with what it is like to be without these things.  Perhaps we even begin to feel entitled to them.

Furthermore, sometimes the negative makes such a huge impact.  It can blot out the positive utterly.  Making a concerted effort to remember the good things that happened is not easy.  I had an interesting lesson in this.  During the 9-5 work day, I am a Special Educator.  I work with emotionally challenged kids.  Sometimes, there is just one very hurt child who can make my life very, very difficult.

 One of the aspects of the kind-of programs I work with is that students often have a sheet where we monitor and rate their behavior.  A thing I have learned over the years is that there are many days where I am sure every single student has been at their absolute worse.  When I take a look at the kids’ point sheets, I am often shocked.  I will generally note that one, perhaps two students had a very difficult day.  The vast majority of the kids might have actually had a great day.  It is difficult to remember this, though, in the moment.  In the middle of a rough day,  the excellent behavior of nearly everybody is overshadowed by the difficult behavior of a small number of kids.

This is something most of us intuit.  I saw it quantified.  In many cases, I scored the point sheets of the kids who had a pretty good day.  Yet, at the end of the day I was still surprised that most of my students did pretty well.  

  Sometimes we need a reality check.  Sometimes we think that everything is going badly.  Practices which help us focus on the reality we are living– in other words, practices that build our gratitude– can be critical because they give us that reality check.  

This does not minimize the challenging parts.  I have worked with kids who want to do very, very bad things to me and to others.  There is no need to sugarcoat this.  But it is helpful to realize that my whole class is not the problem; similarly, we can have very difficult aspects of our lives.  It is helpful to be reminded that very difficulty aspects do not mean that everything is falling apart.

It seems worthy to aim to feel gratitude nearly all of the time.  However, it is not a worthy goal to aim for a sense of gratitude about all aspects of everything.  Their is a cheap, easy, destructive mockery of gratitude that can lurk within us.  This pretender wants to invalidate righteous anger.  It  wants to gloss over the hurts done to us.  In the end, it can leave us with a diminished sense of our own value. We can be left with a thought that goes something like this: “It’s ok that they hurt me.  It was only me.”

Authentic gratitude does not operate this way.  It leaves us free to feel angry, or not.  It leaves us free to defend ourselves and the ones we love.  It deepens our sense of the value of many things, including ourselves.

  The practices in this chapter are ones that help us notice the things that we have.  They remind us that we are not entitled to them.  They encourage us to live in the knowledge of how wonderful they are. 

Background to the Examen

The Examen was introduced by St. Ignatius.   Overall, the idea is to look back over a certain period– such as a day– and to consider where our consolations and desolations were.  Consolations are the places we can see God working.  Desolations are the place where God does not seem to be present.

One of the things that I love about The Examen is that it always challenges me.  My first temptation is to think God is moving in the things that were easy and enjoyable.  God is not present in the things that are difficult and hard.  But when I look at it carefully and honestly, the easy stuff is often rather fluffy.  It has no lasting value or meaning.  Conversely, the difficult stuff is often the things that leads to growth.

The three different forms of the examen presented here have some things in common.  These are practices which ask us to look back.  There are a wide variety of ways to look back at a period.  One is to begin in the moment and work backward from it.  Another is to begin 24 hours ago and work toward this moment.

Sometimes I find it helpful to break up the preceding day into three 8-hour intervals.  This method can easily be incorporated into the section of each of the following practices that asks us to reflect back on our lives.

As I share this practice with people, one of the things that has amused me to learn is that there seems to be two types of people in the world.  One type of person has difficulty breaking yesterday up into 3 8-segments.  The other person simply can not understand why breaking up yesterday into segments is all that difficult.

If you are in that former group, this section is for you.  Let’s practice breaking yesterday up into 3 8-segments before you begin the practice so that it won’t be distracting when it is time to actually do the practice.

Take a look at the time right now.  The furthest you will go back is to this time yesterday.  This time yesterday is where you will begin.  I am writing these words at 7:30 PM on a Saturday.  If I were to do an Examen right now, I would begin with 7:30 PM on Friday.

Next, add 8 hours to the time it is now.  This will outline the length of your first period to consider.  Eight hours after 7:30 means that I will end that first stretch at 3:30 in the morning.  (7:30-12:30 is 5 hours; 12:30-3:30 is 3 hours.  5 + 3 =8)  Much of that first period will be time when I was asleep.  That is ok.  I can think about my sleep last night.

The middle section begins where the first section ends; eight hours after this time yesterday.  In my case, that middle segment will begin at 3:30.  I will find the end of this segment by adding 8 hours to this time.  3:30 + 8 hours = 11:30.

The final section begins where the middle section ends.  My final section begins at 11:30.  Eight hours after that time brings me to 7:30, the time I started my Examen.

There are a couple things worth considering about either form of examen before we move on to them.  The first is that the more sensory the recollection is, the more vivid this time will be.  If I try to remember the feel of the air on my skin, and the texture of my clothes, and the pressure of a seat beneath me, and the sounds I heard and the smells in the air and the taste of food and drink, I will be more effectively returned to the events of yesterday.

The second consideration is that there is nothing magical about a 24 hour period.  You might do an Examen on a period of a couple hours or a couple years or anything in between.  Whatever time you choose, do your best to relive it chronologically, beginning with the longest-ago and concluding with the most recent.

Examen I

  1. Begin to find your center and place your feet flat on the floor.  
  2. Breathe and relax, as best you can.
  3. When you are ready, bring the last 24 hours to your mind.  Continue to breathe slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Begin by reliving where you were 24 hours ago.  Gradually, bring yourself through the last day of your life.  Do your best to deeply engage your senses as you relive this day; feel the events on your skin, hear them, taste them, even recall the smells.
  4. Consider your desolations:
    1. What are you least thankful for?
    2. Where can’t you see God?
    3. What seems to be moving you away from God?
  5. Release your desolations by breathing slowly and calmly.
  6. Consider your consolations.
    1. What are you most thankful for?
    2. Where can you see God?
    3. What seems to be moving you toward God?
  7. Release your consolations by breathing slowly and carefully.
  8. As you consider the last 24 hours in their fullness, are there any things you would like to consider: was God, perhaps moving in things you initially labelled ‘desolations?’  Is it possible that God was not present in things you initially labelled ‘Consolations’?
  9. Release the word-based part of the practice.  Enjoy a moment with God.

Exercise 48: More Breathing Toward Oneness

Background: You might find this to be most effective after exercise 47.  In some ways, it is a follow-up to that exercise.

Our every day assumption is that our consciousness (ego, mind) is in control of things like our breathing.  The main evidence for this assumption is rooted in the idea that when I think “I am going to breathe slowly now.”  I do, in fact, start to breathe slowly.

However, it is worth noticing a few things about this assumption.  The first is that (thankfully) when we stop thinking about our breathing, we continue to breathe.  The second is that if we asked for an account of how we do things like change our breath or move an arm, we couldn’t give much more of an explanation than “well, I think about it, then it happens.”

There are some aspects of neuroscience that are beginning to endorse the idea that our consciousness tells a story about what is going on and our body, rather than causing those changes to take place.  In other words, there are good reasons to suppose that when we begin to breathe slowly, we think “I am going to breathe slowly now.” and assume our thought caused the action, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The Exercise

  1.  Find a relaxed position.  Generally speaking, this will be a seated position with feet flat on the floor and spine as straight as is comfortable.
  2. Notice your breath.  Allow yourself to be aware of it with out seeking to change it.
  3. Feel the inhale: notice where the breath comes in on the nostrils or mouth.  Observe the flow of air down the throat and into the belly.
  4. Feel the exhale.  Notice the difference in the temperature and moisture of the air as it leaves the body.
  5. Continue this for at least three more breaths.  Continue longer if that feels right.
  6. As you continue to observe this process, recall that a story goes that God reached down and breathed into a handfull of Earth.  After that breath, there was Adam.
  7. Observe the exhale.
  8. Continue this for two more breaths: God-in-the-universe is breathing you.
  9. Open your heart and mind to the awareness that other people and animals in your area (perhaps your family in other bedrooms, or the other occupants of the building you are in) are breathing, too; God-in-the-universe is breathing them.
  10. As you complete a second and third breathe with this awareness, continue to observe this breath being breathed in you.
  11. Open your mind and heart to the plants and even microscopic organisms all around you.  Some living things inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  Others do the reverse.  See the world breathing in all these creatures.
  12. Sit in this flow and connection for as long as you would like.  
  13. Can you widen this network of connections?  Can you make it geographically larger?  Can you expand the nature of the interconnections.
  14. When you are ready, return to your every day world.  Hold on to the connections between the rest of the world that were deepened here.

 

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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Solstice & Advent, Day 4

Below is the audio track you can use for today’s exercise:

In the comment section below, I hope you will leave some thoughts and observations about these first four days of this campaign.

 

Contemplation and Pseudo-Contemplation

There are so many things competing for our attention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

 

 

Day 11: A Visualization

Visualizations often work best as as an audio file.  My reccomendation is that you listen to the following:

If you prefer to read, you can view the transcript of the audio below.  One way to approach this is to read a paragraph at a time, and then envision what is described.

The aim of today’s visualization is to explore all the gifts that have been given to you.  We will build a sense of gratitude by exploring the many amazing things we have recieved and given to and  from others.

 

Imagine you are sitting in a warm room.  There is a window behind you. It is frosted with cold and snow is falling gently onto a white landscape.  You have nowhere to go. On an end table next to you is a mug of something warm and sweet. Imagine your favorite drink in there.  Pick it up. Take a sip. It warms, on the way down.

Now, turn your attention to your surroundings.  On your lap is a stereotypical Christmas stocking.  It is filled with small, wrapped boxes. There is a stack of gifts on thje floor next to you.  These are also nicely wrapped in bright colors. they are decked out with ribbons and gift tags, too.     

Begin, as you should, with the stocking.   Notice how garishly your name is written down it’s length. The stocking is filled with some of your favorite things.  The mere fact that these favorites exist, is of course, a gift. Opening these little packages will be the first step in becoming aware of how much we have to be thankful for.

The first little box you pull out of the stocking is about the size of a lip balm container.  When you tear through the paper and open the box, this scent gently wafts out of it. This gift is your favorite smell.  It fills the room, just strong enough to bolster you up. Take a slow and deep breath, and breathe in your favorite smell.

Take the next small box out.    Unwrap the bright paper. See that inside is a bite of your favorite food.  Impossibly, it is just the temperature it should be, even though it has been sitting there in the stocking.  Take a bite, now. Relish how the thing tastes. Feel the texture between your tongue and teeth. Put this box aside: it is magical.  If you would like, you could return to it in a few minutes. You will find that the box has replenished itself. Another bite will be here, waiting for you.

The next small box brings you about half way into the stocking.  It is a disk-shaped box. When you open it, your favorite sound comes out of it.  Perhaps it is a song you forgot you loved. Maybe it is a type of music or a just a few perfect notes, platyed softly.  Perhaps it is the laughter of someone you love very much. Whenever you close the box, the sound goes away. Put the box off to the side.  Put the cover on, if you wish. You can fill the room with this sound, at just the right volume, whenever you wanting it.

In the toe of the stocking is an envelope.  Pull it out. See that it has been sealed with wax.  You can break that seal, if you want. This is a letter inside from someone you love very much.  Perhaps you have not seen them in some time. Maybe it has some words that you would really like to hear from them.  In a moment, it will be time to dig into the larger gifts. But now, you can spend a moment with the things you pulled out of the stocking.  Will you read the letter? Unleash the sound again? Perhaps take another bite of your favorite food? Spend a few minutes now with these wonderful gifts.

If you want some more time with those gifts, pause this recording.

There is a stirring in the house now.  And there are some chairs, in front of you:   There might be 3. I am not really sure. In a few minutes you will have some company.  But for now, it is time to take a look at the first gift.

This rectangle is wrapped in a forest green.  As you peel away the paper you see it is the kind of  box sized for a folded shirt. When you take the top off the box you see that this gift is the gift of the friends and coworkers who have stood beside you.   Let the memories wash over you, of the people in your life now, and from years past. Consider the ways that they have helped you grow, the things they have taught you, the good times you have had.  As you recieve this gift you might bring to mind a friend from the past, and a colleauge from the present.

The next box is bright red.  It is a cube. Wrapped in tissue paper.  Untie the giant bow, and rip into the paper.  Open the top of the box, and know that inside are your gifts and talents.  The things you are good at are in here. The natural talent you were born with.  The discipline you harnessed to leverage this into something bigger. As you recieve this gift, name a thing that you are good at.

There is laughter coming with footsteps down the stairs.  There are people who are coming for presents in a few minutes.  But right now is still your time.

The next gift is wrapped in Newspaper.  It is, I think, the comic strips from a Sunday paper, filled with bright colors.  Rip away the newspaper and get into the box beneath. This is the gifts of those that have looked up to you.  Children, nephews, nieces, students of every sort. People who looked up to you. People who learned from you.  There are people who knew you for years, and there are people who watched you for just a few minutes. Being their  inspiration brought you gifts. As you recieve this gift, think about someone who has learned from you.

Your visitors are just outside the door.  It sounds like about 3 people. You are starting to develop a feeling about who it is.

 

The last of the gifts on the left of your chair is wrapped in irridiscent paper.  The shine dances on the present.. It seems a shame to rip this paper; you open it gently along the seems where it was taped.

The rectangle box might have once held shoes.  Ease the lid off the box. And find, inside, the gift of those who you learned from.  Parent-figures and literal parents, models of who to be and how to be;grandparents, uncles, aunts, mentors,  people who taught you to think, and to feel, people who taught you practical things, people who taught you theoretical things.  This box bears the gift of the people who poured their lives into you. Spend a moment, now, and drink this in.

 

The dear friends smile as they walk into the room.  It is perhaps 3 people. Their is a comofrtable seat for each of them.  These are the most important people in your life.

Perhaps they were there all along.  Maybe they just appeared. Whatever it is, their is now a stack of gifts to the right of your chair.  These are not gifts for you.

Bring the first gift to your first friend.  See them in your mind’s eye. Hand them the gift.  Enjoy them enjoying this present, which is all the things this friend has recieved from you.  

When you are ready, turn your attention to your next friend.  See the clothes they would be wearing on a day like this. Grab the next present from the stack.  Hug them, if you would like. As they open up this present, appreciate all the things you have been able to share with them.

Though the recording is going to stop here, you can continue this for as long as you wish.  Deliver these gifts to all of the people who arrived. Then Feel free to extend this visualization, enjoying the night with these friends.

Exercise 18: Who am I? Who are you?

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.

This is a great oppurtunity to experiment with breath prayer.  Will you assign each question to a different part of the breath?  Do both with the inhalation?  Both with the exhalation?  Give a try to leaving some space.  Perhaps by asking each question with the inhale.  If you are leaving that empty space, try to explore being present with the breath and without thought during the emptiness, then try to allow yourself to contend with the questions in that space.

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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Bare with the video; the audio gets much better around 1:17, which is before the practice begins.

Exercise 12: Constant Repetition

Background: Any word, repeated enough, begins to sound like nonsense.

It seems to me that when we use a word only once or twice, we have an easy time mistaking the letter-sounds for the thing those letters stand for.  But as we repeat the word, we come face-to-face with the fact that the sounds are arbitrary.  For example, when we say the word ‘cat’ once, we get a picture in our mind.  But when we say the word repeatedly, we are reminded there is nothing inherent to those letters that actually connects them to the animal.  It is merely an agreement that more-or-less randomly assigned these particularly sounds.

Saying a word over and over, creates a sort-of white noise, for me.  It begins with the meaning of the word.  But slowly even this fades into the background, leaving me in a state beyond words.

Exercise

  1. Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Choose your sacred word.
  3. Say the word.  Out loud, if possible.  Say it with out ceasing.  Say it a calm, measured rate; say it as many times as you can with each exhale.  Think it, or mouth it as many times as you can with each inhale.
  4. If you find yourself distracted by thoughts or feelings, return your attention to the saying of that single word.

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Exercise 6A and 6B: 3 Part Phrases

Background: A certain phrase paired with an exhale has a slightly different feel than that same phrase paired with an inhale.  When we have a 3 phrase cycle, one approach is to simply rotate through all 3 sentences.  The result of this is that each phrase gets connected to both inhales and exhales.  We can experience, therefore, what those phrases are like.

In the exercises that follow, I have chosen two of my favorite 3-sentence cycles.  They are rather Christo-centric.  You can, of course, replace them with something more to your liking.

Exercise 6A:

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  
  2. Breathe a cleansing breath.
  3. With your next inhale, say “Christ was born”
  4. With your next exhale, “Christ has died.”
  5. With your next inhale, “Christ will come again.”
  6. Continue this pattern, working your way through the entire cycle: Christ was born/ Christ has died/ Christ will come again.
  7.   When you are ready, release the phrases.  
  8. Wordlessly, enjoy some time with God.

Spend some time, when your practice is done, considering the omnipresence of God.  God is here and not here; present and not-yet.

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Background: Breath does not have to be a 2-part process.  We can create a 3-count in our breath by pausing for a moment; holding the breath as we consider a phrase.

Holding the breath is an interesting thing.  It creates, in me, a distant and  deeply submerged sort-of terror.  Simultaneously, it is also like a micro-fast.  Breathing, like eating, is a requirement.  To abstain for a time from either one is to confront our physical limitations and our animal nature.

I suspect that some of this emotional intensity rubs itself off on to the feelings associated with the phrases.

Exercise:

  1. Find a bit of calm.  Place your feet flat on the floor.  Breathe slowly.
  2. With your next inhale, think “Here I am, God.”
  3. As you exhale, think, “Here you are God.”
  4. Holding your breath, think, “Here we are, together.”
  5.  Repeat the process: With the inhale, “Here I am God.”  With the exhale: “Here you are God.”  Holding the Breath, “Here we are, together.”
  6. Give most of the time in your practice today to these 3 steps.
  7.   When you are ready, release these words.  Resume a normal 2-part breathing pattern with out holding the breath.

Through out your day, know that you are here, and God is here, and you are here, together.

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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, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project continue to deliver this conetent to a world in need: become a Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

 

Exercises #4A, 4B, and 4C: A Time of Silence, A Time for Words

Here is an audio file presentation of this meditation:

Exercise 4A

Background: One of the most powerful statements about the strange and unpredictable nature of the world can be found in The Hebrew Scriptures.  This collection of the extremes that life can throw at us is thousands of years old.  I find it reassuring that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here is a thing worth exploring: How much of the empty space should you spend continuing to reflect on your sacred words, and for how much of it should you simply inhabit the silence?

This is particularly true when the sacred words are comprised of a list that you are cycling through.  As the sacred words change, they invite a different sort of reflection than repetetion.

The list I am suggesting today comes from Ecclesiastes 3.  Unfortunately for most of is, it can be challening to meditate on these truths with out bringing to mind the old song.

1.  Find your center: place your feet on the floor and relax.

2.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to be born.”  

3.  Exhale.

4.  Inhale.  Say to yourself  “There is a time to die.”

5.  Exhale.

6.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to plant.”

7.  Exhale.

8.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to kill.”

9.  Exhale.

10.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to heal.”

11.  Exhale.

12.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to tear down.”

13.  Exhale. 

14.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to build.”  

15.  Exhale.

16.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to weep.”

17.  Exhale.

18.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to laugh.”

19.  Exhale.  

20.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to mourn.”

21.  Exhale.

22.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to dance.”

23.  Exhale.

24.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to scatter stones.”

25.  Exhale. 

26.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to gather stones.”

27.  Exhale.

28.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to embrace.”

29.  Exhale.

30.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to refrain from embracing.”  

31.  Exhale.

32.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to search.”

33.  Exhale.  

34.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to give up.”

35.  Exhale.

36.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to keep.”

37.  Exhale. 

38.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to throw away.”

39.  Exhale.

40.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to tear.”

41.  Exhale.  

42.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to mend.”

43.  Exhale.

44.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time to be silent.”

45.  Exhale.

46.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to speak.”

47.  Exhale.

48.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to love.”

49.  Exhale.

50.  Inhale.  Say to yourself, “There is a time to hate.”

51.  Exhale.

52.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time for war.”

53.  Exhale.  

54.  Inhale.  Say to yourself “There is a time for peace.”

55.  As you release the individual words, look back on how you felt about each of these.  Are there any that you struggle with?  Any that come easy?

You might, as you go about your day, assign the various joys and challenges of your life a part from this poem.  When entering into a conflict, you could think, for example “This is a time for war.”  When tempted to say something unwise, you might tell yourself, “This is a time for silence.”

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Exerercise 4B

1.  Find an upright, comfortable position.  Place your feet flat on the floor,  As best you can, release your worries for the duration of this practice.

2.  Find your breath.  You may wish to consciously slow it.  Perhaps, today, you will simply observe it where it is.

3.  With your next inhalation, experience the breath as cleansing.  It is creating an open space within.

4.  With the next exhale, say to yourself– out loud if you can– “God is Love.”

5.  Let your next inhale create an empty space.  Sit in the aftermath of that thought: “God is Love.”

6.  With your next exhale, think again, “God is Love.”

7.  With your next exhale, enjoy the silence and emptiness.

8.  Continue this pattern, for most of the time you have remaining: ‘God is Love’ with the inhale; empty openness with the exhale.

9.  As your time nears it’s completion, let go of the mantra.  Widen your time of emptiness to both parts of the breath.

Through out your day today, experience the reality of ‘God is Love.’  And then, try to live in the space of quiet which transcends even those words.

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Background to exercise 4C:  In the exercise that follows, explore the difference between the in-breath and the out-breath.  Some authors describe these breath parts as “Breathing up” and “Breathing Down.”  or “Breathing in” and “Breathing out.”  Try each of these on for size.

If you tried exercise 4A, I recomend sticking with whatever mantra you used, so that you can isolate and therefore experience a single difference: Repeating your sacred words on the inhale, rather than the exhale.

Exercise 4C

1.  Sit as straight as you comfortably can.  Breathe for a few minutes and give yourself permission to relax.

2.  With your next inhalation, think, “God is Love.”

3.  Breathe out your thoughts, words and emotions.  Use your out-breath to cleanse yourself of everything but the silence.

4.  With your next inhalation, again, think “God is Love.”

5.  As you breathe out, release even your reflections on those 3 words.  Exhale your thoughts about this sacred phrase.

6.  Continue this pattern for the majority of the time you have given to your spiritual practice today.

7.  As you approach the end of the time, release your sacred phrase.  Use this time to enjoy wordless communion.  Or discuss with God what you learned today.  Or simply have a conversation with God about where you are and how things are going.

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Exercise #3: A Split Breath Prayer

Here is an audio track of this exercise.  If you would prefer to read, a transcript follows.

If you would like to access other audio files click here.

You can find more practices like this one in  The Faith-ing Project’s Book of Grief, Grattitude and Love.  Click the link for more details.

Background:  There are many words which we might want to fully embrace.  Repeating these can be a powerful thing.  One of the most powerful ways to do this is to split the phrase in half, and assign each half to a part of the breath.

There might be a phrase you wish to substitute with the one in the exercise below.  Please feel free to do this.

Exercise

  1. Place your feet flat on the floor. 
  2.   Breathe a few breaths.  Relax.
  3. With your in-breath, place your hand on your abdomen.  Bring your attention to really filling your lungs all the way, starting at the bottom and feeling the movement of your belly.
  4. Exhale.  Say to yourself, “Yes.  Yes.  Yes.”
  5. Inhale.  Say to yourself  “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”
  6. Continue this pattern for most of your practice today.
  7.   Release these words.  Continue your calm and slow breaths.  Enjoy a time of union.

When you can, today,  return to this breath practice.  “Yes.  Yes. Yes.”  “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

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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, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project continue to deliver this conetent to a world in need: become a Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.