Just Three Breaths – My Practice

“Like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre… [the] Divine Mother and Brahman are one.” (full passage)

When Andrew Harvey first quoted this bit of wisdom from the nineteenth century Indian saint Ramakrishna I had my first introduction to the intertwined nature of transcendence and immanence. I began to realize that the adoration of the Goddess did not preclude God and that, in fact, the two faces of the divine are inextricably bound to one another.

For whatever reason, these metaphors made sense to me almost immediately, as if they were elucidating something I had always known but never understood. Brahman is the supreme spirit in Hinduism, the unchanging heavenly power associated with the transcendent Father God. The Mother is the energy that dances through us and all of creation, the universal love of the heavens in action upon the earth. All that we know is the union of these two aspects of God.

At the conference at which I first heard these ideas everyone was high on potential spiritual power (both real and imagined), yet there was a palpable sense of worry because people did not know how these feelings would translate back at home in reality. I think this little practice that I cobbled together from the ideas I gathered that weekend is my response to the concern that I would forget the resonance of such words. It is informed both by Harvey’s description of the divine and Caroline Myss’s journey into the soul, Saint Teresa of Avila’s interior castle.

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After closing my eyes I search around to find my center for a little while until I remember yet again that only in stillness can one find that peaceful place of silence within. When I have stopped struggling with my own mind, I can just experience what it is to be for a few moments until a breath that seems to come from the earth itself begins to fill me. It is the power of the Mother, the earthy glory of the Goddess that I have identified with for so long, but here there are no rules or separations, just the wash of creation and growth itself. It is green, it is gold, it is the rich black of fertile soil. I pull this breath up and all the way through my body, filling with the Mother’s love and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

The second breath comes from above, the transcendent essence that arches over us all. It is the peace that lifts me out of my body to a place of complete freedom. There all human definitions of God might fade away so that the power that is the Absolute can wash the ego away. It is white and silver, it is cool and warm all at once. I pull this breath down through mind and heart, down and down to root the heavenly in my feet, and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

Finally there is the breath of synthesis that pulls every facet of creation into my own soul. It comes from every side, it is the very air around me. It is every color, texture, scent, taste. The beautiful mixes even with the horrible because to be truly present is to recognize all threads in the tapestry of this life. With this inhalation I realize my place in this incredible universe, this constant interplay of the divine with itself, of the sacred with the material. Rather than retreating from the world because I find solace in the spirit, I am driven to delight in all that is so that I can see the spiritual in everything.

Om Tat Sat

Honoring the Teachers

A japa mala is a string of prayer beads used in meditation that help count the number of times one has chanted her mantra. I was first introduced to this Hindu practice by my yoga teacher and I use it on occasion when my mind is too buzzy to find stillness on its own. There are 108 small beads and one larger one that I was told was not used for the mantra but to thank your teachers.mala

I never was initiated into a mantra by going to the local ashram as I intended initially; life got in the way and then it became less of a good idea to align myself with one tradition in such a manner. It seemed rather suspect that I could stop at the Tibetan store in town and essentially buy what looked like a necklace and then step fully into a new spiritual practice because I though Saraswati was neat. At this point my mantra is not even in Sanskrit and it has its own sort of ritual beginnings.

When I first learned about offering thanks to my teachers, I hesitated. Thanks to the guy on the cover of a book whose only chapter I had read was specifically on the mala? Thanks to Mrs. Clark from first grade? Thanks to my yoga teacher who was a friend of mine, a real world person? I knew just enough about the guru system to know that I had never encountered a teacher to whom I wished to offer that kind of fealty (though the professor who taught us that “Yeats was a genius” came close).

Beyond being concerned that the lack of alignment with any specific tradition separated me from a significant teacher/student relationship, I was deathly afraid of becoming an adherent, a groupie, a fan, someone who abdicated her own individuality in the face of another’s wisdom. Perhaps this was born of the fact that I had never found something I could embrace unquestioningly or that I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment. Maybe it was because I was afraid of endorsing another’s beliefs by becoming her student and then later finding out she was in fact human and flawed and just in it to make a buck or to revel in the power of it all.

I am coming to understand that a healthy resistance to placing my fate in another’s hands does not necessarily exclude me from acknowledging my teachers and offering them my gratitude. Certainly the authors that I have read over the past few months have shaped me in profound ways. The works of Andrew Harvey, Caroline Myss, Stephen Cope, and James Martin S.J. are incredible, and I can state that freely even if I have my reservations about aspects of their philosophies or business models. Naming those whose works have been filtered through publishers and editors is to recognize only the most obvious form of knowledge, of course.

The only answer to all of this worry about “who will guide me?” is to realize that I am guided by every experience in this life, both positive and less so. The luxurious stretch of a cat. The friendliness of the mailman. The closed bud of a rhododendron in the cold. The love of my family. My curiosity to understand it all. I can only hope that I can come to realize that my meditative state is not so fragile as to have to exclude all of these little daily examples, because what is meditation if it is not rooted completely in the pedestrian beauty of life?