Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Towards The Still Point 2


Sky, Phoenix Park, June, 2006
In my last post I mentioned the most important fact that we are as it were, to use a metaphor, pilgrims "in via" or "on the way."  I also alluded to the fact that central to all religious and spiritual traditions is the notion or metaphor of journey.   The notion of pilgrimage to a holy place has long been a traditional practice is practically all major religious traditions.  The Christian likes to travel to Rome, Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem or even more spiritually enriching travelling by foot to say a holy place like Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain. The city's Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.   I know many people who have done this particular pilgrimage either in whole or in part.  It is a deeply healthy and whole thing to do, even if one is not a Christian as we physically enact the spiritual journey that is life.

Towards the Still Point: Mindful Breathing or Mindful Rhythmic Breathing

However, we can also journey metaphorically in our minds without even lifting or moving a foot.  I have already stated that learning to practise "mindfulness" or "awareness" or "wakefulness" is one step on our metaphoric journey to the STILL POINT of self/universe. Now I will introduce a second practise which will also help us on our pilgrim way.  This practice is called "Mindful breathing" or "Mindful Rhythmic Breathing."  This is quite simple really as it involves becoming aware literally of our breathing.  I have also added in here the notion of rhythm.  Anthropologists and other experts stress that the notion of rhythm is one of the most primordial of qualities that are natural to us humans.  It is not only modern humankind which likes to dance.  All dance began in ancient tribal dance which are based on the natural rhythms within the nature of the human being.  The most basic rhythm we have is that of the heart beat, and anthropologists, if my memory serves right, maintain that the origins of all rhythms lie in the rhythm of our heart.  Needless to say, the rhythms of our heart are linked with the rhythms of our breath.  One of the things I like to do when I am meditating is (i) become aware of my breath as I breathe in and out slowly, (ii) slowly feel the movement of my breath as it rises and falls by placing my hand gently on my diaphragm and (iii) after some time become aware finally of my heartbeat, which surprisingly one may find anywhere in the body depending on the way you am sitting or whatever.


Beginners and improvers at meditation always mention the fact that their minds become distracted that a myriad of things and preoccupations, even silly and stupid things keep arises in their mind.  This is quite natural as we have what has been rather accurately and metaphorically described as "a grass hopper mind" which literally is prone to hop all over the place.  The beauty of mindful breathing is that one keeps bring one's focus back to the breath, that is we use the breath as a focal point or anchor, to use yet another image, to keep our minds tethered or focussed on the breath.  The whole point is never to deny that you are distracted.  The point is to acknowledge the distraction and simply let it go and return to the focal point or anchor point of the breath.  Another way of doing this is simply to say to yourself:  "notice and return, notice and return... notice and return..." and say these words with the rhythm of your breath.

Some people like to use a lighted candle or a flower or a statue or a small altar as a focal.  While I have personally used all these things I prefer simply to close my eyes.  Some meditators prefer leaving their eyes half closed.  Others still us a mantra or a short phrase, be it religious or other secular but meaningful phrase again used in a rhythmic way in concordance with the breath.

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