young woman sitting on a mountain topTwo Contemplative Practices: Breath & Silence

In this time of planetary turmoil, it is vital to maintain a daily contemplative practice.

Contemplative Practice offers a wide array of benefits, including:

  •     Increases pulmonary function
  •     Lowers blood pressure
  •     Has positive applications for anxiety and depression
  •     Improves heart rate function
  •     Tones the vagus nerve function (trauma informed therapy)
  •     Increases resiliency
  •     Increases the ability to handle stress
  •     Leads towards emotional balance

Most importantly, daily contemplative practice leads to personal communion with the Creator, Sustainer, and Destiny of Reality, to personal spiritual experience and the realization of the certain experience of knowing God.  Out of that communion comes the motivation to serve others in need.  Out of that communion and service comes transformation!

Deep Breathing (Daily)

This practice is very simple and easy to do, with measurable and palpable progress experienced after just a few times practicing. The benefits of deepening and slowing the breath have been documented by the scientific, medical, meditative, and spiritual communities. You’ll probably be able to feel yourself make progress right away as you begin to train your lungs to fully expand (and thus increase their capacity and better oxygenate your blood) and then more fully contract to more completely expel the residual carbon dioxide.  Try to breathe in twice as fast as you breathe out.

You may try spending 5-10 minutes a day practicing breath prayer, a simple practice found in a number of religious and spiritual traditions. In this practice, you silently repeat words or phrases as you inhale and as you exhale.  Here are some examples: 

From Thich Nhat Hanh:

(On the inhale) Breathing in.

(On the exhale) Breathing out.

Repeat for several cycles of the breath, then you may want to shorten it to

(On the inhale) In …

(On the exhale) Out …

Again, repeat for several cycles of the breath

(On the inhale) Breathing in, I calm my body

(On the exhale) Breathing out, I smile

After practicing this for a few minutes, you may want to shorten it to

(On the inhale) Calm

(On the exhale) Smile

 Again, repeat for several cycles of the breath

(On the inhale) Breathing in, I breath in LOVE

(On the exhale) Breathing out, I breath out PEACE

After practicing this for a few minutes, you may want to shorten it to

(On the inhale) LOVE

(On the exhale) PEACE

Contemplative Silence (2X Daily)

This is a form of silent, still meditation. Recognizing that our brain never stops thinking, this practice allows us to cultivate the ability to let go of our attachment to and over-identification with our thoughts. The aspirational idea of this practice is emptying ourselves: “Taking a short vacation from our small self”, “popping the ego into neutral”, or “temporarily silencing the inner critic”, as the co-creator of the Centering Prayer method Trappist monk Thomas Keating would say with his signature twinkle in his eye.

However you envision it, this practice is about being receptive to inner transformation. And that doesn’t happen overnight for most of us. As our minds wander to the most mundane, ridiculous, tragic, or terrible things a hundred times over the course of the practice, we recognize a hundred opportunities to return to our intention and recommit to the transformative nature of silence.

Four Basic Guidelines

  1. Choose a simple word as the symbol of your intention of receptivity. (You can use your breath if you prefer.)
  2. Sitting comfortably with eyes closed, settle briefly and then silently introduce the word (or breath) as the symbol of your receptivity.
  3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the word or breath. (Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, memories, and reflections.)
  4. After 20 minutes (you may want to set a gentle timer), remain in silence for a couple of minutes before opening your eyes.

The word you choose is not important. But it should be simple (one to three syllables) and not overly-charged with emotion, memories, or goals. Some people choose words like “peace”, “yes”, “breathe”, “thanks”, or a word or phrase associated with their faith like “amen” or “om shanti.” The word itself doesn’t establish interior silence, it simply reaffirms your intention to be open to transformation.

As you engage with the Contemplative Silence regularly, you may find you are able to experience an even deeper silence. Transformation is not something you can force. This practice simply reduces the obstacles to change by providing an interior environment primarily based in the “heart” or feeling center rather than the “head” or thinking center. Many people have found that this practice helps facilitate a more peaceful and accepting demeanor, outlook, and life.

My friend, Wayne Teasdale, writes this about contemplative practice: “Spiritual practice, the work of our transformation, is the means of inner growth and change toward human maturity glimpsed in the best of religious experience.  It is critically important in authentic spirituality, and thus in a multifaith approach to spirituality or interspirituality.  Through this disciplined habit of relating to the divine, the living transformative power of inner reality takes hold.  Without a spiritual practice of some kind, spirituality is a hollow affair; it has no substance and is reduced to the formalism of external religiosity.

Friends, in this time of planetary confusion and turmoil, one of the greatest steps you can take to promote world peace is to engage in your own contemplative practice with diligence.

I wish you well in your practice!