Tag Archives: Visualization

Sample #1 from ‘God Breathed.’

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Chapter 6

I was given a small, almost silly gift.  It was a small magenta and orange porcelain possum with an opening in his back for a tiny plant.  Though I love nature I had never been responsible for a plant before.

For those first couple days the plant felt like any other little trinket that might clutter my desk.  But then I  noticed that its little leaves were a little browner, a little more brittle than they had been when I received the plant.  For a moment, my ambivalence turned to annoyance.  I would have to water it.  I didn’t have to water my stapler, or the mug which held my pencils.  This wasn’t just any little dust collector; this was going to take some work.  

Then I got worried.  I  found myself wondering just how much water I was supposed to give it.  And how often.  And what would happen if I got it wrong.  I am usually a pretty relaxed human being.  Suddenly I was tense.  People who were supposed to know about these things were frustratingly vague.  I followed their vague instructions as precisely as I could.  Have you ever tried to be precise about vagueness?  It doesn’t really work.

But it seemed like things went ok.  I don’t think I was imagining it when it seemed so much greener the next day.  That was around the time I name my plant.  Frank, it turns out, is the plant’s name.  Yes, I know that is silly.  No, I am not kidding though.  My plant’s name is Frank.

People talk a lot about the idea that you should never name something you’d like to be rid of.  That’s worth noting here.  It’s part of the testament of the power of a name.  If God’s name is the inhale and the exhale then in the act of identifying this is so, we grow closer to God.  Just like you don’t want to name that stray if you wish to not be heart broken if he leaves, so too we grow bonded to God as we realize that we have been saying God’s name all along.  So too, did I grow bonded to Frank once I realized that was the plant’s name.

Previously, we explored the idea that God identified Godself to Noah with some words that are sometimes rendered as ‘I am.’   The strangeness of the answer implies an almost-rebuke; God, it seems, is not the sort of being who has a normal name.  Later in the bible one of the interesting dynamics to follow, as Jesus faces off with demons is the importance of names.  Jesus often asks demons their names.  They sometimes seem to think the fact that Jesus doesn’t know those names means he has no power over them.  They sometimes mock and taunt Jesus with the fact that they know Jesus’ name.  

Names are important things.  Perhaps there is something about particularity in all this.  A related Buddhist concept is sometimes translated as thisness and thusness.  If I think of it as ‘plant.’  It is just the same as thousands of other plants sitting in a tacky little planter.  When I give it the specific name ‘Frank.’ now I notice the ways that Frank is different from all those other plants; he has four leaves clumped together here; she has a tendril circling around a portion of the ceramic there.  There is a yellow-ish spot at that place.

It might seem like this doesn’t quite apply to God.  After all, most of us don’t believe that there is a whole bunch of Gods to choose from.  It doesn’t seem like giving God the name ‘Yahweh’ separates God from a bunch of others.

However, it’s a little more complicated than that.  

I have lots of ideas of Gods in my head.  I’m not like an ancient Greek, really.  It’s not the case that I think a bunch of Gods exist, and this one is in charge of this thing, and that God is in charge of that thing.  But…. there is still a pantheon in my mind.

There is the idea of an angry bearded fellow in my brain.  He has been smiting folks left and right.  There is the idea of a primal force at the start of the universe who watches impassively.  He is wearing a white robe.  There is nebulous shadow figure, beyond all my words and descriptions, transcendent of everything.

The one I name YWVH has some things in common with each of those.  But not everything.  This God is as close as my breath; moreover, this God’s name is my breath itself.  The very nature of the action tells me some things about this God; this God is necessary for my life.  This God is mysterious but intimate with me.  This God’s name is unsayable, and yet it is always said.

Have you ever breathed with somebody?  Really breathed with them?

Sometimes, when I am having trouble sleeping, I tune into the rhythm of my wife’s breath.  I will try and time it just so, matching her inhales and her exhales.  When I do this, sometimes I can drift right off to sleep.  

Have you ever had someone talk you through a meditation?  When someone says ‘inhale…. Exhale’ it is hard for  to resist.  And so frustrating when their guidance isn’t at a pace that we find natural.  There is something so soothing about coordinating the timing of our breaths with others.

This next practice invites the practitioner to first breathe with those around us.  We then find ourselves breathing in relation to plants.  Gradually, the practitioner widens the scope of their mind’s eye, picturing the self in a larger and larger web of interactions.

I find that something happens to me as I picture scenes like this.  There’s a sort of parallel with watching a certain type of shot in the film.  It’s almost a visual cliche; usually the last shot in the movie.  It might start as a close-up shot, but then it pulls back, further and further, and with distance  we lose the details on the things that were just a moment ago so clear.  We lose the specifics of the individuals and see the whole neighborhood, pull up through the clouds, see the outlines of the  continent, and eventually even pan back and away from the planet itself.  

Because we are finite and limited, as we see the full outlines of the big picture, we lose the particular details we were able to entertain.  When we see the curves of planet Earth, we no longer witness the particular details of the tableau where we began.  We can’t see the specific people or scene where the shot began.  

We can take a wider view of nearly anything.  It doesn’t even have to be visual.  I can start by focusing on the work day of a particular person.  While I’m focused on this, I might want to  know about this person’s schedule, job description, and performance.  But I could take a wider look.  I could focus on how this person’s job interfaces with the organization he works for.  I could wonder about how the organization fits into the wider community where it is head quartered.  I could wonder about how the community functions within the wider society, and how the various societies interact with each other.

It’s easy to see the individual as the most relevant level of organization.  I can understand why most of the shots in a movie or designed to follow along specific people.    I suspect that this is because where we naturally identify with our consciousness, and therefore our sense of control.  I am composed of cells, and the cells make up tissues, and the tissues make up organs, and the organs make up organ systems.  The organ systems make up my individual self.  And my self is a part of a family.  And my family is part of a community.  And my community is part of a nation.  And the nation is part of a planet, and the planet is part of a solar system.

This description could continue onward, in either direction.  But I suppose you are taking my point.  The individual is just one level of description.  Because my consciousness is more or less in control of my own individual self it’s easy to see this as the natural level of importance.

A camera, or a visualization which lands somewhere else is an important reminder that there are elements which make up the individual that I identify with.  They are important reminders that this individual is a constituent of wider systems.  This is an important thing to focus on, a reminder.  In our practice below, we reinforce our experience of our connections with all the living things.

In the description below, I have tried to take on particular scenario of where a person might be, in relation to others.  It so happens that I live on the second floor of a 3-floor apartment building.  If you live in a substantially different area, it might make sense to alter the ways in which you are widening your awareness.  The main thing is that we begin by picturing ourselves and gradually widen our perspective to include an increasing number of people.  

Before the prior practice, we explored the idea that even if the visualization is not literally specifically true, there is still value to it.  As we explored our interconnections with the plant, we overlooked the fact that plant’s don’t literally exhale constantly.

For today’s practice we’ll engage in a similar act of symbolic visualization.  Of course, at any given time a person might be inhaling or exhaling.  At this exact moment, probably half the people you know are doing one.  Perhaps half the people you know are doing the other.  As stated previously, sometimes a person might coordinate the timing of their breaths with someone they are with. 

In the practice today, we’ll imagine that we are exhaling and inhaling with other people.  Literally, of course, this is probably not true.  But on a symbolic level, it helps us to remember.

Practice 6) Breathing With Other People
  1.  Release your concerns and worries for this time.  
  2. Take three deep breaths.
  3. Take a moment to consider where the nearest person to you is.
  4. Imagine that single person, breathing.
  5. With your next inhale, imagine that the two of you are inhaling together.
  6. With your next exhale, imagine that the two of you are exhaling together.  
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for as long as you would like.  Try to experience this breath that you are breathing together; don’t settle for the abstraction of breathing together in general.  Dwell inside this breath, right now, with them.  It is a unique thing.  
  8. In your mind’s eye, widen your perspective.  Come to picture the entire floor that you are occupying  Consider first all the other people animals present.  Breathe at least three full breaths with them.
  9. Now, think about the plant life within this area.  Imagine the ways that the plants breathe opposite the animals, each supplying the other with what they need.  Breathe at least three full breaths.
  10. Widen the picture in your mind, again.  Perhaps now, you will consider the living things within the building you occupy.  Breathe three breaths with all the animals and plants.
  11. Imagine the block you are living on: All the people and animals and plants in the buildings, all the people and animals and plants in between the buildings.
  12. Widen the range of your imagination this one last time.  Take in as a wide a vantage as you can, holding in your mind all the living things in this part of your town or city.  Love this interconnected web of beings as best as you can.
  13. Now, quickly!  Bring your mind back to just your own self, your body sitting in meditation.  See yourself.  But still connected.  Still part of that web.

To read a second passage from this book, click here.

Practice 72: Oneness on a Winter Night

Background: Today’s practice is a visualization which builds on some on oneness practices. For examples of more oneness practices, click here and here.

It will be helpful, before practicing to bring to have choosen a small group of people whom you feel very safe and comfortable around.

The Practice:

  1. Find a relaxing pose. If you can comfortably manage it, feet flat on the floot and spine upright are ideal.
  2. Release your worries, stresses and concerns with your next exhales.
  3. Inhale all the way down into your hips.
  4. Exhale feeling your belly draw closer to your spine.
  5. Close your eyes.
  6. See yourself– and your friends– in a clearing on a cold winter’s night. Your breath comes out in clouds and a light dusting of snow covers the ground. You are dressed warmly, comfortably. There is a single towering pine tree in the center of the clearing. The outskirts of the clearing is defined by smaller trees and shrubbery. It is a ways beyond you. The moon is so bright! It illuminates the clouds which a gentle wind keeps slowly creeping across the sky.
  7. Form a circle around that central tree. Take your friends hands. Someone squeezes, and that squeeze comes around the circuit like a pulse. See yourselves and your friends. Their are smiles here.
  8. As you breathe, breathe with your friends. Feel the way you are inhaling together. Feel the cold, invigorating you in the quiet. Feel the way you are exhaling together. This is a connection.
  9. Connect for a while, just this. Feeling the closeness on the winter night. Seeing your breath.
  10. Now, connect to the great tree in the middle. Your exhales are the trees inhales. Perhaps the cloud from someone’s breath even lands on a pine needle. there is a symmetry here. Breathing with your friends.
  11. Give most of the time you have remaining to this connection. When you are ready, gently squeeze the hands on your left and your right.

Discovering the Essence: How to Build a Spiritual Practice is coming in November. Click the link for a free preview and more information.

Palm Sunday Email for the Apophatic-Cataphatic Exploration

This is from the Palm Sunday Email on the Lenten  email exploration of the Cataphatic-Apophatic.  If you would like to receive the last couple emails in this series, email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com

Palm Sunday is celebrated one week before Easter.  It is a commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
Today’s spiritual exercise combines elements of Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading) and visualization.  This is a very cataphatic practice, dependent, as it is, on the words.
This practice begins with a reading of the entry in each of the four gospels.  It is rather lengthy and cumulative in nature.  I invite you to go as far and deep as you desire.  Particularly if you are going to return to this practice daily (the next email will arrive Wednesday) you might wish to stop at some point along the way each day, and go a bit further each day you return to it.

The Exercise:

  1. Find a comfortable space.  Inhale.  Exhale.
    2.   Read Mathew 21: 1-11.  The NIV translation is below.  If you prefer a different translation, by all means use that one.  As you read this first account, simply read for an over-arching understanding.

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]

“Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

  1. Take another deep breath.  Read the second account: Mark 11: 1-11.  This time, try and furnish the details of what it might have looked like.  Take a moment to create this image in your mind and really see the colors and surroundings. 

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna![a]”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts.

4.  As you read the following passage from Luke, 19: 28-44  do your best to hear the sounds.  Imagine the tone, volume, and timbre of the voices as they say these things.  Place other sounds in the scene.  Try and add this to the picture you formed from the last reading.   It is not important that your imagining is historically accurate.

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[b]

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

  1. Take a deep breath in and out.    As you read the following account (which comes from John 12:12-19) place yourself somewhere within the scene.   Furnish sensations of smell, touch and taste:  Imagine the temperature, the texture of your clothes on your skin.  Consider the scents that might be in the air or the residue of flavors left on your tongue in such a scene.
    The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna![d]”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[e]

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15

“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;

   see, your king is coming,

   seated on a donkey’s colt.”[f]

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign,went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

  1. Breathe again, deeply.
    7.  Ask God if there is anything you should be noticing from these accounts.
    8.  Re-read one or more of them.  Spend some time with God on what you might be meant to learn, here.
    9.  Take another breath.
    10.  Now, see a second layer to this whole passage.  View the donkey as a symbol of the disciplines and practices you use to get closer to God.  (Disciplines and practices can be formal, like this exercise.  Or informal, like the act of loving the people around you.)  See the city of Jerusalem as a symbol of your heart: this is also a place Jesus makes a triumphant entry into.  All those laying down their cloaks and palm fronds, and cheering are the people who have had a role in shaping who you are and where you are today.  Re-envision this, either in your imagaination or by re-reading this account.  But replace the faces of the crowd with the people who have loved and supported you; see that donkey as all the things you do to get closer to God; see the city of Jerusalem as a stand-in for you.  Replay this scene in your imagination, with the senses fully engaged.  Or re-read one of the accounts.
    11.  After Jesus’ entry into the city, spend some time in quiet communion.
     

     

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