Archives for category: Attentiveness Practice

In a recent post, we spoke of an Earth-Rooted Practice, and the need to nurture it in these times. Such nurturing can be explored and experienced each day, each arriving and departure of sunlight and darkness. Our Earth-Spiriting grows as we are more deeply and directly aware of our bodies, the energies within us, and their connection to the ground under us. Most primally, through our breath, our bones, and our feet!

All spiritual practice begins, ends, and is sustained with Breath. Attentiveness to breath; the flow of breath; the quality and depth of breath. As we breathe deeply and naturally, allowing the breath to fill our lungs and touch the diaphragm at the bottom of each lung, we also connect with the energy of Earth flowing into us. Breath is not simply Wind or Air; as we grow in our awareness of ourselves as Earth-lings, we taste our breath as the wind moving through trees and mountain passes; over rocks and oceans, sand and broad grass-filled plains. As the breath moves over the Earth, it courses into us, We Earthlings. Savoring our breath, we can grow more aware of where the Wind has been on its way to us, and what it brings to us from its journey over Our Earth. Breathing, Earth attentive, we become more rooted in the Earth, more sensitive to our path upon Her.

Continuing to breathe, always watching and noting the breath, we also become aware of our Bones. As our breath courses through our body, we can sense each set of bones, allowing our breath to caress the bones in our mind’s eye: feet, ankles, shins; knees, thighs, hips; ribs, arms, shoulders; neck, chin, head. Carefully noting our bones and their arrangement, we sense how our bones are a strong and solid foundation, the frame of our manifested being. Just as Earth is a strong and solid foundation, the spherical orb spinning through space on which we dwell. As live in our bodies, are alive from our in- and out-flowing breath, we also caress and celebrate our wondrous bones, their marvelous movements, occurring so regularly yet miraculously. Breath, bones: living on Earth, we breathe, and are blessed with greater attunement to our own Sacred Presence.

Our feet are special bones, special flesh. Nails on toes; heels and instep; shaped just so, to hold us when we stand, steady us when we sit, balance us when we lie down. We travel over the earth by the movement of our feet. Lines from songs and poems note this: “Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walkin’ out the door!;” “a journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.” “Every step you take, every move you make.” All of our travels, indoors and out, into and out of vehicles and buildings, workplaces and homes, kitchens and washing places and bedrooms; all of it is done by our feet. Our feet, our body’s roots, connect us to the Earth as we move over her. Our feet, our body’s roots, bless our body with balance in our actions and our stillnesses, our going forth and returning. Whenever we breathe, and are aware of our breath and our bones, we can be especially aware of our feet. Our two roots, bone and flesh: by which and upon which we make our Way over the Earth.

Our lives are lived upon Earth. We make our Way upon the Earth. Speaking or silent, active or quiet, we are always breathing, always kept strong by our bones, always traveling on our feet. May we continue to grow in awareness of our Deep Roots in the Earth, as we sense our breath, our bones, our feet.

Advertisements

Having just completed a season of teaching and learning at my current workplace, the process and experience of these mutually related enterprises are more sparkling and sacred than ever. In the context of Spiritual Exploration, especially! Also, a short piece has come to me, by Adrienne Huber, who has run a “democratic school” in Australia. She calls it “The Getting of An-Education.” In her piece, she writes that the school is based on the principle that “regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, background, people who are trusted with their own learning will learn what they need to learn when they need to learn it.”

This is what Spiritual Exploration entails! The learning of what we need to learn, when we need to learn it. But in our current cultural and political situation, real learning is rare, or often happens in a haphazard or even accidental way. The surrounding culture contributes to a scattered and unfocused cast of mind. We often jump from one external stimulus to the next, without intentionally claimed time and space for reflection, inner exploration, self-understanding, or growth.

To truly learn the Ways of the Spirit(s), in our time, does NOT mean ingesting and then repeating a set of information. Rather, we must learn how to watch, to be attentive to time and opportunity, to be ready both to move and be still. But always in a dance with what is within and without us. There is no prescription, no universal principle, no “right answer.” There are only experiences, discernments, deeds and their consequences. Learning the Spirit(s) Ways is to learn how to see, hear, respond, and be still, in an authentic rhythm. And, in a way that brings us Power.

Any school where students and teachers explore the Spirit would go in and out of form. People would gather, in groups small or larger, in pairs, or in solitary self-direction. Books can be read; stories can be told; practices can be learned and explored, honed and polished. Music would be heard and created, dances performed, songs and silence experienced. As the outer world we now know continues to change form, with even major economic enterprises undergoing constant transformation, appearing and disappearing rapidly, a School of Spiritual Exploration would be a “formless form,” with various people sharing skills, insights, experiences, opportunities, ideas.

The New World is Coming. In the hearts and dreams and desires and deeds of many of us, it is already taking shape. It is always and everywhere about SHARING. It is de-structured. But it is NOT about destruction! It is always creating, yet never holding onto a particular form. Responding, supple, attentive.

To live spiritually in and for the New World Coming, we need to engage in two things, it seems. First, all who wish to thrive will constantly gain skills of Spiritual Practice. Yes, there are certain ways to access and discover the Spirit(s). This takes time, care, focus. These things are learned, like the discipline of learning a musical instrument or the playing of a sport. We spend time with certain gestures, exercises, ways of breathing and moving and watching, activities of mind and body. We use our physical actions and the caressing pulse of our souls to shape the time and space where we find ourselves. As we continue in the path of practice, we carve out sacred temples in our lives: sources and locations of energy for making our own Way through the difficulties and uncertainties which are so often before us. A line from the Tao Te Ching puts this simply: “in meditation, go deep in the heart.” All the details of Spiritual Practice are this single admonition, lived out in various ways.

The second is the skill of Discernment. This entails learning how to see, to watch, to wait, to move wisely, to utilize energy rather than to be overwhelmed or troubled by what we encounter. Again, the Tao Te Ching speaks of this eloquently, yet only suggestively, when speaking of the knowledge and appearance of the ancient masters: “Watchful, like someone crossing a winter stream. Alert, like people aware of danger.” This also requires learning to see more than the surface. In both personal and social realities, what is apparent to the senses is only a portion of what is actually present. Discernment guides us to see by looking through the external, to the Inner, the Deep, the Real.

All this takes discipline. Not in the sense of the word’s verbal meaning, to “punish.” But in its original sense, of the ability to learn. Discipline means, for spiritual learners, to build rhythms, patterns, actions, stillness, into our lives, so our own spirit-power is nurtured, made conscious, and utilized, to bless and to heal, to protect and to build. A discipline is a field of learning; spiritual discipline means to plow the fields of the social world, the universe, and our own souls, and live from the deep connection between them. A disciple is a student; one who knows how to learn.

May we look for and listen to the Spirit(s). And find our way to greater learning, together, with the guidance of the Unseen. “Stand before it and there is no beginning. Follow it and there is no end. Stay with the ancient Tao. Move with the present.”

O Holy Solstice Night! The shortest day has now passed, its lovely light bringing brief but bountiful blessing. Now we savor the long and languorous evening, the deepening and deepest Dark. And here we find rest, comfort, the silent caress of your sacred embrace. A Most Sacred Time; bathing those who waken to it in wondrous deep quiet. Care for all, beyond description, emerging from the soundlessly singing stars, our undescribeable, unremembered, yet powerful dreams, still dwelling within. The bliss of unspoken union, when not-seeing brings awareness, objects and moments blend together, and we “see” their constant unity, beneath and within the distinctions and differences made “apparent” in the light. We feel in your Darktime, and see more deeply than physical eyes perceive. All these, and more, beyond our signs and sights, are your gifts to us, O Holy Solstice Night! Praise to you, Queen of all Evenings, Monarch of Fullest Darkness! Your often-hidden throne comes forth! Glory to the Sacred Darkness!

In this season of Earth’s turning, as the days have approached this Holy Day and Night, I have savored more than in any Sun-year I have yet known, the Beauty of Darkness. As the dark grew and the nights lengthened over these past months, as summer waned and autumn advanced, as the fruits from the trees changed in the markets and the energy flow and tasks of work and life shifted, I sensed, more and more, the Beauty of Darkness. As the outer world convulsed, and the Empire trembled, and manifested its dying groans, its vile injustices, its post-capitalist pathways birthing, the Dark peoples of the Planet, the struggling ones everywhere of every tribe and tongue, sang and cried and marched. And again, more and more and more, there arose the Beauty of Darkness. Natural rhythms, rising souls, new songs and old anthems, all converged in my own consciousness, and the Beauty of Darkness was more and more apparent. Its Beauty, but also its silent unquenchable Power.

Being attentive to Nature’s ways, the steady growth and shared dance of light and dark, night and day, rain and sun, rising and falling, is essential to all spiritual growth, empowerment, and ascending soul-progress. The path we tread, while in this physical form, is always on the Earth, in its turnings and flowings, its spinning around the Sun and through the Infinite Cosmos. As we walk with discernment, and delight in what is under our feet and over our heads, we can savor the steady shifts of cycles and circles of time on this Homeland we all share. The coming and going of Sunlight and Nighttime; tree leaves emerging, changing color, and then falling to the ground; our rising up and lying down, going out and coming in; life’s basic rhythms, in their simplicity and constancy; all becomes known for what it always is: a deep power, much stronger than the time-clocks and ill-perceived necessities of external forces, of dominating demands, of apparent humanly-constructed “greatness.” What appears so important in our schedules and our scurrying after externals fades before the wondrous discovery which comes in our movement with the dark and the light. We are in tune with the silent music of the Universe! And it moves, and comes to fruition, in us and around us, constantly, consistently, unfailing, every blessing, ever blessed.

Such are the further gifts of this Holy Solstice Night! Time, time, time! Not slipping away, not lost or gained. But rather a turning, a steady deepening, a lifting and releasing. As time turns, as the Earth turns, as the Sun and other Stars shine, and then fade, only to return and fade again, we see our cycling in time as a growing through time. As time circles from year to year, day to day, moon phase to moon phase, our souls expand and open – if we listen and observe.

This year, numbered as 2014 in the reckoning some use for counting, this Holy Solstice Night and the New Moon arrive together. Both holy lights which bathe our planet, one shining with fullest light during each Day, the other reflecting from its sacred stones during the darktime each Night, are at their darkest ebb.

Thus, Holy Darkness has blessed us with a double-caress. All journeying so far has brought us to tonight’s doubled darkness. Darkness cares for us twice! It reaches its peak, doubly, all at once. Not a loss or a lack. No! Darkness this Holy Night is silent assurance, readying us for richer sleep, sustenance unseen, Uncreated Deep, now known in Holy Time.

As Darkness flows and fills time and space to its height, after this Night, slowly, daily growing, noticeable yet never sudden, will come the Light. But for now, let us taste of the Beauty of Darkness, and know that as Light grows, Dark is ever-present, nurturing the seeds in the soil of the burgeoning beautiful yet-coming future.

O Holy Solstice Night! We are grateful that you, and the nights before you which have led to you, have taught us well: to walk wisely and watchfully on the Earth. And to trust and savor the Beauty of Darkness.

What does setting out on the spiritual path really entail?  When we practice Spiritual Exploration, we consider, taste, nurture, and probe more deeply certain basic elements of lived human experience.  When we travel the path of meditation and growth from the Source, I see the following aspects of Our Life as vital for myself and fellow Spiritual Explorers, we Seekers of the Spirit and its Power and Gifts:

Sound

Silence

Breath

Body

The Realms Within

Sound

After finding a time and place to sit quietly and comfortably, close our eyes, and settle into an attentive attitude of mind and heart, we become aware of the sounds around us.  For the purposes of spiritual exploration, however, we are blessed by the question of Zen Master Wumen: “Does the sound come to the ear, or does the ear go to the sound?”  In any time of spiritual exploration, rather than allowing ourselves to go towards the sounds with our minds, we can allow the sounds to come to us – to note, honor, and savor sound, rather than being swayed or consumed by it.  Especially if we live in an apartment building or other urban setting with nearby neighbors or passing vehicle traffic, there will always be sounds which we hear.  Yet, as we enter spiritual awareness and reality, we can simply let the sound arrive in our ears – and note the effect the sound has on us.

It is definitely true that the sounds which we allow or cultivate in our life-space affect our spiritual state. Having soothing sounds in our life space, such as flowing fountain water or the calls of nearby birds, is always a sweet gift.  Musicians and music lovers know that music is perhaps rightly known as the most spiritual of the creative arts; it creates realities which are unseen, yet which have powerful effects on our bodies, minds, and souls.  Music which is harsh, garish, or shocking will produce predictable results in our inner space: disturbance, tension, lack of ease, imbalance, even anger.  Sounds which are soothing, gentle, and warm will bless us inwardly with exactly the same qualities.  Our souls, truly, are marked and moved by the sounds which enter our physical ears.  The sound frequency of the music we hear shapes the energy-frequency of our inner spirit.  When beginning, then, we can deliberately create a mood, with music, which makes deeper exploration fruitful.  Finding music which is relaxing and calming, and playing that as we consciously enter spiritual terrain, can be a blessed part of our spiritual practice.

Singing or chanting a resonant tone can also be VERY fruitful as part of spiritual practice or meditation time.  Mantra, or spiritually powerful speech and sound, has long been known to have great benefits for the inward journey and the enrichment of the Soul.  Finding a tone which echoes the energy of one’s own inner space seems to work best.  The content may vary; various traditions use various words or phrases as sacred sounds.  Humming a content-less tone can be very fruitful – as long as it arises naturally and echoes the energy present in body, mind, and inner space.  The classic word/sound “OM” works well for many people when sung on a note harmonious with one’s mood and surroundings.  But each soul will find its own Way.  Experiment, and discover what the most “spiritually beautiful” sung sound comes forth from you.  It will surely bless you!

Music is the unseen unseeable powerful art.  Spirit is an unseen powerful reality.  Music echoes in our Spirits.  Sound is a primal element of Life, and of Spiritual Exploration.

Silence

Within the sounds, however, is Silence.  Sounds arise from Silence, and return to it.  After beginning, and allowing sounds to bring blessings to our ears and our inner energy, in order to enter deeper truer spiritual reality we must approach and acknowledge the Silence.  It is the Dark Mother – the Quiet within all outer comings and goings.  Little can be said about it – but it is always present.  As we hear or emit sacred sounds, and head further inward, we can turn our heart-minds to Silence, which is the Source.  Let the dark place within, the Silent Inwardness, be what we savor, become more familiar with, and cherish.  Silence brings comfort, blessing, peace.  If we do not reach it at first, allow the sounds to come and go, to rise and fall.  What always remains, what is always pulsing in us, patiently, is the Silence, the Dark, the Ever-Near.  If we do our spiritual exploring in the dark times of the night when the world is quiet(er), the Silence becomes more present, a well-known Dear Friend.  It is Our Within, shared with all things.  Silence, like solitude, is sweet.   Let us taste it – and each time we do, we will experience how Silence is the Inner Sacred.

Breath

One of our earlier posts deals with Breath and its spiritual primacy at some length.  Reading “Primal Constant Focus: The Breath” will give all of us new or renewed sense of the Breath’s relation to our spiritual balance, awareness, and growth.  Since Breath is Spirit, being attentive to the Breath is to be aware of our Spirit-Reality!

One way of breathing as a spiritual practice has been particularly fruitful for me recently, and for many people over the centuries.  A full description of this, known as “Sung Breathing,” is found in Damo Mitchell’s superb book, Daoist Nei Gong: The Philosophical Art of Change (which I would recommend to EVERYONE interested in deepening their understanding of Taoism as a spiritual path).  Mitchell devotes an entire chapter to breathing and its practices and benefits.  However, its basic components are:

#) Sit in a relaxed position with the spine upright.  I find that sitting cross-legged on the floor is best, since this naturally sets the spine at the most healthy and fruitful angle.  However, some people may need or wish to sit on a chair or couch.  Just make sure that, if you are sitting on a piece of furniture, your feet are flat on the floor, and your spine is perpendicular to the floor, not slumped or misaligned due to leaning against the furniture.

#) Begin to breathe by being aware of inhaling.  However, BE CERTAIN to consciously allow your lungs to fill up completely with air.  Most of the time we breathe very shallow breaths, using only a small top part of our lungs.  For spiritually powerfully breathing, allow the breath to expand into ALL of the lung.  Don’t try to force a deep breath; just allow the breath to fill the lungs fully and naturally.  The diaphragm, below the lungs, will drop downward as the lungs expand.

#) Continue by allowing the lungs to slowly and completely release the air you have drawn in.  The diaphragm will rise as the lungs release and contract.

#) With each breath, become more and more aware of when you are breathing in, and when you are breathing out.  Each breath will become longer and slower.  The diaphragm will also fall and rise more easily.  There is no need to force the breath to be longer or shorter; it will naturally become deep and strong the more time you sit quietly and allow the spirit to completely fill the lungs, and then depart.

#) If thoughts arise, just note them, and let them pass.

Concentrate on the breath is it enters and leaves your lungs.  This is the Spirit blessing you, and going forth as a blessing from you.  With each breath we are blessed, and we bless the Universe.  As we breathe, we receive, and are, a spirit-blessing!

Body

An earlier post also mentioned the body, but only briefly.  (Scroll down and read it if you like!).  For now, we can simply savor and sense more attentively the spiritual reality of our physical form.  After noting sounds and silence, and settling into a deeper state of mind by breathing naturally and fully, we can allow ourselves to sense the blessedness of our body.  Allow the breath to caress or flow through various parts of it.  Each part of our physicality is miraculous!  Bones, Blood, Flesh, Organs, Skin, Senses.  I often find it useful to allow my out-breath to touch various regions of the body as I sit on the floor: the base of the spine; the groin; the belly; the heart and lungs; the throat (along with the shoulders); eyes and forehead; the top of the head.

Continue to rest in the growing sense of your Spirit.  It flows into you and out of you with each breath; it pulses in every bone and blood vessel inside your body; it sparkles on every cell of your skin and hair; it shines through your eyes.  You can savor this as long as you like!

The Realms Within

After exploring sound, breath, and the sacred spirit-presence of our physical bodies, we can prepare to enter Inner Realities.  This is an important part of each person’s own soul-exploration and growing empowerment.  It can take many forms, with various energies, images, and powers arising.  Therefore, it seems best to devote another post to this.  Just rest in this: the True You, deep and vast, wonderful and powerful, awaits you – and is already emerging.  Journeying into the Inner Realms allows us to experience and activate this . . . it cannot be described.  It is You: the Dwelling Place of the Divine.

When Does “Reading” Becomes “Spiritual Reading”?

In a previous post, we described how the very act of reading itself opens the doors of the imagination, and the mind explores the realms of the unseen and the inwardly-created, all while seated on a chair or a couch, gazing at the words on a page and going where the signs and semantics lead (and often beyond!).

Thus, while all reading is “spiritual” (inward, imaginative, creative), there remain certain forms and types of reading that are conscious, active, focused “spiritual reading.”  What, then, is the difference?

In our experience, reading becomes “spiritual reading” when the conscious intention and purpose of the reading is to engage the inner life, to nurture and seek growth for the soul, to “boldly go within where our mind, heart, or soul have not yet gone before.”  Among Christians, the classic and still-valuable tradition of this practice is known as “lectio divina” (literally, “divine reading”).  This includes four steps: lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio.

The first, lectio, is the straight-forward hearing or reading of the words on the page.  Allowing oneself to know what is said, how the narrative flows, what the images are.  When reading spiritually, even at this initial stage, one is attentive, alert, open —  yet focused most of all on “simply listening.”  This is the root and foundation of all reading: to discern what the text says, and how it says it.

The second step in classic “lectio” is meditatio.  This could be rendered literally as “meditation,” but a more fruitful understanding of this is “rumination.”   Once the text is heard, read, and discerned, rather than galloping forward to the next scene or chapter, instead we ponder, consider, cherish, and spend time with the image or word which has appeared most prominently to us in the initial act of reading.

I like the word “rumination” because it calls to mind the “ruminant” animals, such as cows or deer, who chew the cud.  These mammals have two stomachs, and are the only creatures who can successfully ingest and receive nourishment from grass.  (If humans eat grass, it passes right through us, without providing us any nourishment, because the chemicals in our stomachs cannot break down the chemicals in grass for our body’s use).  Cows or deer eat grass, and it enters their first stomach.  Then it returns to their mouths, where they chew the grass a second time, after which it enters their second stomach for further processing.

In meditatio, this is how we “work with” words.  We chew them once (consider them the first time), and then allow them to settle within us.  But when truly engaging in meditatio, in careful rumination, we chew the words a second time.  And if we truly wish to be fed spiritually, we may “chew” or ponder the word(s) or image(s) at some length.  There is no time limit to meditatio.  We ponder as long as the fruit tastes sweet; as long as the sacred word provides new and fresh insights, care, blessed disturbance, comfort, growth, change.

After meditatio comes oratio.  After hearing and pondering, knowing we are in the Divine Presence, we respond.  This usually means “prayer” (and often, when reading Scripture, people of faith can be “driven to prayer” by the insights provided by the text before them).  But it can also be a conversation, a sharing, an offering of thoughts and feelings: the insights which result from the careful rumination on the words and images.

The final stage is contemplatio.  This is a resting, a deep silence.  After the movement and journey of thought and response, spoken or inward, contemplatio is a time of stillness.  Of breathing, of simply allowing the Divine to Be Divine.  And allowing ourselves to Be-In-Relation to that Silent Divine Presence.

For all who have used this method, whether in solitude or in groups, it retains its vitality and effectiveness after nearly two millennia of practice, because it WORKS.  People continue to read spiritually, because the act of reading, receiving gifts from the text, responding, and resting in God provides what the reader seeks: blessing, and a deepening of awareness, insight, and experience.

However, in our times, this four-step process, though useful, need not be followed mechanically or slavishly.  And in practice, attentiveness can bear fruit in varied ways, within a more improvisational, less fixed process.  Stopping and ruminating after only a sentence or phrase, before proceeding to the next piece of text and the next rumination, can lead to multiple experiences of depth and insight in a single session.  Thus, “classic lectio,” though powerful, profound, and a gift of long standing, is not the only form of authentic and effective spiritual reading.  There are other paths to the Worlds Within.

If we “unhook” ourselves from a singular understanding, and approach the text and the experience of spiritual exploration more freely, with few or no expectations, more vistas, views, and insights than ever become possible.  By “reading slowly,” and allowing the appearances of images and insights to be our guides, rather than a pre-conceived process, we can receive great gifts.

Let us call this a Meditative Text Encounter.  In this experience, our mind, soul, and inner eye(s) encounter the text, the text speaks, we respond (in silence or imaginative open-ness), and the process continues freely, in a kind of conversation or dance between what is before us and what is within.  To illustrate, here is an example.

The first poem of the Tao Te Ching, among the most widely-read sacred texts from humanity’s cultural heritage, begins with a wondrous line:

“The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”

Rather than moving to the second line immediately, if we treat the Text Meditatively, as a Presence which we Encounter, and which speaks Rich Truth to us, we halt the reading immediately, and LISTEN, deeply, sweetly, slowly, attentively, to each word before us.”

“Tao” – an untranslatable sign: Wayless Way, source of Being, sacred Power, beginning before temporal beginning, ever flowing ever-Presence.  This one word alone is worthy of oceans and mountains of focused meditative attention.

“spoken” – sounded, propounded, proclaimed.  Pondering speech and words is also worthy of extended attention.  And if we consider the Wayless Way spoken, made real in sound, actualized in the mouth and received in the ear – this, too, is wise, practical, abstract, vast, simple.  And yet already a profound contradiction: how can a Wayless Way, a beginning before time, be expressed in speech at all?  Sit, listen, be silent, learn, savor.

“is not the eternal Tao” – now we enter an even richer realm, in which a full sentence becomes a more complete realization: speech, especially when speaking of the Ultimate Source, of Tao, cannot render anything of the Eternal.  And thus already, in a single line, we encounter speech, eternity, a sacred way of living, source, Presence, and the limits of language — the inability of human signs to capture the Unsignable Truth and the Ultimate Reality.

All possible objects of meditation; all knowledge and seeking, all wisdom, learning, limits, and limitlessness, the sign and the empty void beyond all signs – all this, and more, opens before us.  And only the first line has been encountered – and only in this way, this time, doing this reading, and no other.

And before, during, and after all conscious considerations, there is always

Silence.

In our view, each line, of every possible text, can also render similar Rich and Full Fruitfulness, when tasted in such a tender, careful, attentive fashion.

This Way of Spiritual Exploration I call a Meditative Text Encounter.  Practice it!  Taste and See!

 

For those of us who have learned to read, and who do it every day, we take it as second nature.  An unexamined act, like drinking water, eating food, opening and closing doors, tying shoelaces, driving a car.  However, unlike all the physical rituals of daily experience, reading is of a different order.

It is a gateway to manifold dimensions and ethereal realms.

It all begins simply enough.  We pick up a book or magazine, a piece of mail, a flyer; in these Latter Days, we may gaze at a screen, large or small.  Characters, symbols, pictures, letters.  The images are set together before us in a particular way, random or carefully arranged.  To read a text, as commonly understood in this so-called “Western” culture, we see letters, placed in a certain order, with spaces between.  Letters become words, words grow into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, longer thoughts and arrangements of ideas.

But this activity is certainly miraculous!

In the act of reading, our conscious minds actually live in multiple worlds of perception.  One world is the literal, the physical signs on the space before our outward-looking eyes.  We see the signs themselves, arranged as they are.  And if we are a co-participant in the language-game that the signs represent (inside my current culture, if we “read and understand English”; in any of the myriad languages, if we “discern what the signs say”), the signs create meaning(s).  And then a door opens inside us, and we see more than the signs.  We enter the universe of the imagination.

Consider this carefully!  Once the story starts, and we accept the invitation to join its sign-dance, we are no longer simply “looking at letters.”  Once we enter into the meaning of the signs, our “other eye,” the Eye of Imagining and Dreams, Day Dreams and Night Dreams, wandering thoughts and deep silence, opens up and out.  And we actually do see the story before our eyes.

If we are reading a fictional work, we begin to live with the characters, the setting, the world which the text creates.  If we are reading a “news story,” we gain access to another person’s description or explanation of some recently-concluded event, not located where we are located – somewhere else on the face of the Earth.  If we look at a photograph or constructed visual image, we enter into the image.  Or, more accurately, the image enters us.  As we read words, the meaning of the words leads us to new realms.  We travel to worlds within: thoughts or feelings that the image or words evoke, the sensation which arises as we gaze.  Another Eye, NOT our physical eye (which is still seeing the letters or pictures), sees the New Universe of meaning.

The etymology of the word “text” can help us discern more fully how this process of “multiple seeings” occurs.  The word comes into English from Latin, and is rooted in the verb texere, “to weave, plait, fabricate, build.”  The noun derived from this verb is textum, “woven cloth,” “web.”  In English, a good synonym might be “tapestry.”  As the Chambers-Murray Latin-English Dictionary states, “textum” indicates “any fabric made in layers or plaited.”  Thus, every text, “fictional” or “factual,” is a tapestry, a woven web of signs that builds a new world.

Any text we read, then, fabricates (literally, “creates a fabric” – something deeply TRUE, not fake, as in a “fabrication”).  It weaves, through the signs, the words, a World.  And our Other Eye, the Eye of Imagination, of Inner Seeing, opens, stretches, awakens.  “In our minds,” we see and experience the New Creation to which the words allude, towards which they gesture.  The signs of the text, quite literally, build a fabric of meanings.  Our Inner Worlds expand, blossom, grow.  And our lives are altered.  Some books, we say, change the way we see the world.  In truth, all reading does.  It deeply and truly OPENS OUR MINDS.  The Eye Within, led by the word-signs, sees what the signs “sign toward,” and is more awake to the unfolding expanding creation of the signs than the sunlight coursing through the window onto the page before the reading physical eyes.

The creation of new worlds by the weaving of word-tapestries occurs in every act of reading.  The imagination is involved in every meaning-world we enter, every text we engage.   The eyes see the signs; the Inner Eye of Imagining sees the meanings.  This same Inner Eye, the eye of Imagination, is the doorway to thoughts, memories, hopes, considerations and constructions, ideas or images, whether meandering and wandering, or focused and alert.

Yet, we need not read to enter the realm of Imagination.  We need only close our eyes, or turn our thoughts beyond what lies before us – and imagine!  As the word “imagine” shows, we “image” within our minds, seeing with the Inner Eye.  The Imagination, great creative Power of the Universe!  Creator of Universes!

And the Inner Eye of the Imagination is the Eye of the Spirit.  In prayer, whether silent or spoken, our eye turns inward, we gaze in the darkness, and we speak to the One who Hears, listen for the One Who Speaks in the Quiet.  In meditation, we rest in the Silence, or focus on an image, sound, word, or part of our bodies.  Seeing with the Inner Eye of Imagination and Spirit.

All reading, then, goes through the same Doorway through which the Spirit moves.  To read is to imagine, to see both page and a New Creation.  To read spiritually is to be attentive to how the reading moves us, in mind and heart.  To listen, to look, to hear; more deeply, inwardly, attentively.  Attentive to what parts of the text touch us; attentive to how the sounds and sights engendered by the sign-weaving echo in our own lives.

Reading is always spiritual.  Spiritual Reading, however, is reading of a particular kind.  “Slow reading,” as one of the guides of Deep Spirit, Friedrich Nietzsche, once noted.  Spiritual Reading is an experience of heightened awareness, in which we are conscious of being readers.  Conscious of the deep effects of the words, watching the movement of our own Spirit as our Inner Eye opens to the world of the text-weaving, and the power of the One Spirit from which all things come.

The most intimate and powerful awareness we can have is attentiveness to our breath.  This wondrous subtle pulse is occurring constantly, without any need for our conscious choice or direction.  (We never have to “think about” or “plan on” breathing – it “just happens”).  However, once we become conscious of breathing, cultivate this conscious attention, and then deepen and strengthen our breathing, our physical health can improve, our emotional and psychic energies become more even and balanced, and our spiritual state of awareness becomes clearer and higher.

Thus, it is vital to be attentive to breathing – the entrance of Spirit into us, and out from us, into the world and the Universe.

Rather than the more percussive pulse of the heart (“pounding,” “beating”), our breath, in through the nose, into the lungs, out through the nose or mouth, is a more subtle rhythm, with a dual quality: expansion and contraction, in and out.  Plus, it is the movement of air, rather than of blood.  We might consider Breath as Spirit, as the energy that energizes and enlivens our entire bodies.  The Lungs, which receive the breath, are vulnerable and sensitive organs, appearing in our bodies in a pair, surrounding the heart.  The Lungs miraculously take inhaled breath, and turn it into usable energies, to be sent via the blood and other fluids, throughout the body.  When we stop breathing, we stop living.  Breath is Life.  Yet, it is momentary, insubstantial, ephemeral.  Ever moving; rising, falling; filling, emptying; expanding, contracting; in, out.  Paired experiences of One Spirit, One Life Energy.

The Breath, the vital life energy, goes in different directions throughout the body: upward, downward, balancing, settling, energizing.  We can be aware of the breath coming into us, then proceeding outward.  In breath, out breath.  But we can also be aware of how it enlivens the mind; sends energy throughout the body; releases toxins downward and out; creates sounds in the throat (speech, cries, laughter); processes foods and liquids and balances our strength and life force.

To be attentive to Breath is to lose fixation on passing troubling thoughts, and focus on who we are, as we are: a Living Breathing Being, pulsing and moving through a wondrous and wonderful world.  Less thinking, more awareness.  We watch our breath; in, out.  As our mind loses clutter and gains focus, it expands, by allowing the extraneous to drop away.  And still there is the Breath; in, out; rising, falling; the Lungs expand, are full; the Lungs contract, and are empty, awaiting the next entrance of Spirit-Breath.  “Empty, and be full.”  The more attentive we are to Breath, the more we release the heavy baggage of an often-insane outer world, the more full we are of Spirit, the more we are in tune with our True Music, our Deep True Nature: Conscious Life.

The deeper, fuller, and longer the breath, the more even and balanced the mind becomes.  The state of the breath is the state of the mind.  As we grow in attentiveness to Breath, we grow in clarity and open-ness of mind.  In the midst of any and all activities (physically active, mentally active, or in stillness and quiet), watching the Breath brings subtle strength, true wisdom, and balance and ease of living.  As our breath-watching grows, and the breaths are longer and deeper, our physical health improves.  We can even extend the length of our lives by extending the lengths of our breaths!

Each breath, Our Breath, is ephemeral, yet awesome.  Silent or sounding, it is the subtle ever-present movement of our lives: receiving Spirit from the vastness of Creation, sending forth our own energy, unseen, to bless the Universe.

Particular breathing exercises can bring even greater blessing.  Contact me at sleight_of_time@yahoo.com for further details, and on what can work best for you.

Be attentive to the Breath – and be fully alive, in Spirit and Awareness.