As some of you know, I’ve been interested in the life of the spirit, or the inner life, for some time now, drawn there by my own need for a sense of identity and security, I suppose, but also because I want to experience personally- to a point of knowing – that reality we refer to as “God”. The progressive church I grew-up in has helped me along the way and the little church I’m a member of now continues to nourish me as I try to find my way into what I call “the practice of the presence.”
In my study of the contemplative life and the place of meditation and prayer, I’ve become aware of the attention that’s given to proper breathing as a technique for settling-down and becoming receptive at the beginning of a meditation. I think, for example of Doug Abrams’ wonderful book The Book of Joy which focuses on interviews with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. Both see meditation and prayer as essential to a joyful life and spend hours each morning working at it. At the end of the book there is a section devoted to spiritual practices, one of which (pages 312-314) has to do with breathing and its importance.
This and other writings have led me to begin every morning, sometimes when I’m still in bed, with rhythmic breathing, inhaling through my nose for a count of eight, holding my breath for a count of eight and then exhaling through my mouth for another count of eight. I find, after a few minutes, that my mind and body both slow down, making me more receptive, more ready to listen for whatever wisdom my be forthcoming. Lately, I’ve modified that breathing pattern to incorporate my concept of God which I see, not as a being, but as a power, the source of love. My breathing I now imagine as inhaling love, God’s unconditional love, deeply into my body, letting it weave through every part, infusing every organ. While inhaling each breath draws love into my body, every exhale moves that same love out into my world, starting with those closest to me. Each exhalation of love is directed to a particular friend and expands from there to others who are dear to me. And then, finally, every loving exhalation is directed to each individual listed in the church’s bulletin. Every person on the list, no matter their location, age or condition, is infused with this love stemming from my breath. Last of all, each member of the congregation I can remember becomes a target of my loving, God-derived exhale, reaching them, silently communicating our connection.
This method of intentional breathing, inhaling God’s love deeply within, and then, exhaling this love back out, deep into the bodies of others, has had, is having, a profound effect on me. Now, the church as the “body of Christ”, has suddenly taken on a new and intimate meaning. The “body” is no longer simply a gathering of a disparate group of individuals who meet to praise God in worship and song for an hour once a week, but a group deeply, quietly connected to one another, their heart’s linked by this strong but invisible thread, love’s breath finding its home in every worshipper. Can you imagine the impact if every member of the congregation practiced this prayerful breathing technique as part of their quiet time each day, focusing their love both inwardly and outwardly, toward their friends and fellow members?
The upshot for me socially is a new freedom. Having directed my loving breath, always God-derived, to each person, encountering them after worship or on the street becomes effortless, any social awkwardness overcome. You are already connected in a profound, though, invisible way, which, in turn, opens up all sorts of wonderful ways to relate and grow as the new humans we are meant to be.