Tag Archives: anxiety

… breath – elements – purification – relaxation …

We’re first forced to catch our breath when the umbilical cord is cut. In that instant the lungs must exchange liquid for air. Some wise midwives promote, when appropriate, not to cut the cord immediately, but allow time to soften the transition for the infant and enable a gentle new bonding with mother.

Once separated, we’re alone, but if welcome and made to feel safe we hardly pay attention to our breath unless its rhythm is upset, usually through physical strain, excess tension, anxiety, or unresolved anger and resentment.

I wrote shortly about breath before, in the context of bio-rhythms. If this interests, here’s the link.

With this post I’ll share a practice I’m presently in need of myself,  a conscious breathing ritual with a focus on the elements of earth, water, fire, air – and the subtle element of ether. The easy-to-learn sequence, aided by concentration and imagination, bestows relaxation and renewed energy. Parallels to this practice can be found in ancient spiritual traditions. The Sufi version below is thought to derive from Greek mystery schools. Unlike some forced breathing techniques, it is safe to use alone.

A purifying practice of breathing through the elements. Repeat the breath for each element five times  and  allow the colour to suffuse your cells …

EARTH … imagine the colour yellow (like desert dunes, or wheat fields)

Breathe in through the nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count six – imagine a horizontal spreading movement.

WATER … imagine a blue-green colour (like a lagoon or a river)

Breathe in through the nose –count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a downward flowing movement

FIRE … imagine a golden red colour (like a sunset, or a flame)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count ten – imagine an upwards rising movement

AIR … imagine a transparent blue colour (like a pale sky)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a dispersing movement

ETHER (optional)

Image a transparent mauve colour

Breathe in through nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count twelve

To ground your energy, return once more to the earth-breath. You may want to ignore the counting for the out-breaths, to begin with. The basic idea is to allow more time for breathing out, until the body naturally draws in a new breath.

*    *    *   To expand the imagination, here some more notes in relation to the elements:

The Earth Element
The early Christian hermits, living alone in the desert, used to concentrate on the earth’s magnetism as a way of restoring their vitality during long vigils. Native American elders have said that the loss of a sense of relationship and communion with the earth is the main cause of psychological and physical imbalances. Standing or sitting, feel like a tree with roots extending firmly and deeply into the earth. Feel the strength and magnetism of the earth. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose, not forcing the breath.

Imagine drawing healing power through the soles of your feet (if standing) or the bottom of your spine (if sitting). You may have felt the healing power of the earth in your feet while walking barefoot outdoors or in your hands when working in a garden. Try to sense a subtle reality, a crystalline lattice-like structure, behind the denser aspects of the physical plane. The earth is not a singular organism, but is part of its solar system and part of a galaxy …

As you exhale, release your tiredness, disharmony and agitation. Now concentrate on the magnetic field of your body, similar to that of a magnet. Feel as though you are aligning your own field to the magnetic field of the earth, the way that iron filings align around a magnet. When magnetic power is weak, the iron filings are in disarray. When the power is strong, the filings align in symmetric, harmonic patterns.

The Water Element
The breath of the water element brings a sense of flow, of vitality and purity, and helps unleash creativity. It is also useful in breaking free from habitual thinking patterns, and flowing around obstacles rather than hitting them head on. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. You might imagine yourself immersed in a mountain stream. Feel the drops of water penetrating your cells, dripping off of your fingertips. Feel water reaching your chest and heart, helping to loosen any tightness and obstruction there. Feel energized and renewed, again focussing on those parts of the body that are in need of healing, and those that lack life energy and vibrancy. Concentrate on the purity of a crystal clear lake or stream, high up in the mountains. Let yourself become the water, and let the qualities of purity, life energy and power flow into your immediate environment.

The Fire Element                                                                                                                                               The breath of the fire element is a quickening. It sparks inspiration and is useful when you feel drowsy and dull. Breath in through the mouth, hold the breath for a moment and then breathe out through the nose. On the inhalation, imagine fanning a fire in your solar plexus. Purse your lips and draw in a thin stream of air. As you draw in, visualize the embers of the fire glowing. Then hold the breath momentarily and bring your attention to a few inches above the solar plexus. Exhale through the heart, imagining that you are radiating golden sunlight.

On the inhalation, evoke your aspirations; your desire to be authentic; to make your life meaningful and worthwhile; to stand up for what you believe in. On the exhalation, radiate light as if from a miniature sun in your heart. Subject your self-doubt, cynicism, addictive patterns or resentments to the fire. Avoid making pledges you won’t keep. Simply clarify your intention and allow the purification process, instead of using will power to change things.

The Air Element
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. The breath of the air element relates to freedom, ecstasy and transcendence. Imagine yourself like an eagle perched high on a mountain. Feel the wind ruffling your feathers, blowing through all your pores. Feel the coolness and freshness of the air. Soar upwards on the currents of air. On the inhalation, feel yourself buoyant and free, like a zephyr crossing a lake and lifting upwards. On the exhalation, allow yourself to reach out beyond the boundaries of the body. Let your being disperse with the wind, and let your consciousness reach out into the cosmos. Enjoy a sense of vastness and, if it helps, visualize vast landscapes, such as a mountain, canyon, or the starry night sky.

*    *    *   After you completed the purification breaths, reflect upon the effect of the elements taken together. Separately each of the breaths emphasizes different forces and qualities in our being, together they bring about a sense of wholeness. According to your own affinities, you may feel the need to place more emphasis on one or another element in order to attain greater balance.

For me this is the WATER breath.

Also – I admit I frequently fall asleep to this … consciousness is wherever consciousness is placed, and what travels on our breath travels either mindlessly or with intention.

 ‘Thoughts are beings that generate … One thought of kindness gathers a thousand beings of love and kindness around one.’  – Hazrat Inayat Khan

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… re-framing the seven deadly sins …

                 Pogo. Walt Kelly 1971

The timeless insight of mystics was frequently censured by prevailing orthodoxies and only available to a few scholars. But even though mystical writings have been made available over the last two centuries, readers form a minority. Meister Eckhart’s quote – “The Eye with which I see God is the same Eye with which God sees me,” – implies that we envision inherent archetypal ideals to then realise and embody them within.

In the projected mirror we may see love, kindness, compassion and forgiveness reflected, or, depending on our state of mind, or, we may equally see indifference, rejection and severe judgement. What if our goodness is not rewarded? What if love betrays and we turn anger inwards? What if we battle with resentment, find fault with everything and despise sanctimonious people? The same process applies; we absorb what is mirrored via our inherent imaginative power.

To direct the moral education of citizen, spiritual offences were formulated in Greek monastic circles and coined as The Seven Deadly Sins: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia (not to care), vainglory, and pride. Over time theologians made various changes – the sin of sadness became sloth, and then Pope Gregory reduced the list in descending order to: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. To counteract sins, virtues were advised as humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality and diligence, qualities not easy to live up to from day to day, while The deadly sins instilled fear and guilt … and left deep cultural marks, self-blame being the most destructive.

Self-blame makes for turbulent minds. Only scapegoats will ease the burden. Among all regulars a perfect scapegoat served Christianity well – Eve. The collective psyche contains not only unknown riches, but also stuff we disregard (much like the plastic that accumulates in oceans,) thoughts and deeds behind our facades we won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for, and instead conveniently place on the shoulders of suitable others.

 “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”  Carl Jung

Balancing Freud’s focus on pathology, Abraham Maslow studied self-actualising people and outlined a hierarchy of basic human needs. His map suggests when an early need is not adequately fulfilled; narcissistic or psychosomatic symptoms may result, blocking growth. Little is up to us. Families rarely support this process, as they can be burdened by complexes and dysfunctional behaviour patterns from one generation to the next.

‘The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he’s born.’  – William. R. Inge

No wonder many of us resort to blaming circumstances, parents, state, strangers, or appease all by adopting self-blame. Then again, some people rise from grim circumstances and become inspiring people. What’s their secret? It’s my guess that a strong desire for gratification, bestowed by a no personal archetypal calling, can empower us to transcend seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The idea of deadly sins put the fear of hell in people. Sinner you were not deemed worthy to enter paradise. But if we consider that human behaviours communicates intrinsic needs that seek fulfillment in the expanding spiral of evolution towards wholeness, the very idea of using sin as a threat is naïve, and more, counterproductive. Here a short look at the deadly sins …

PRIDE – an excessive belief in one’s abilities and ignorance of the grace of God. 

This relates to an evolutionary trend of our time, individuation – becoming who we can be – best attempted with the mediation of a healthy ego. This process happens mainly in the West and is frowned upon by fundamentalists whose ideals are fixed on heaven. Where tradition equates with identity, displeasing the expectations of family and state carries a risk of alienation. The challenge of freeing oneself emotionally, intellectually and spiritually then becomes heroic. It means sticking to one’s inner truth against all objections and raised eyebrows. It means regard for the potential that is emerging in oneself and others. I grok these words by my Sufi friend, from a lecture during the 1980’s …

‘The experience you have within yourself of your own separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’ (Fazal I. Khan)

Those who break free from parental commands when their inner truth is compromised do not seek union in the womb, but aim to experience conscious union through embodying their ideals. Life brings along companions who recognise the authenticity and backbone it takes to walk this path, even if it seems foolish and brings no answers. Yes, pride may sneak in, but equally gratitude, humility, and acknowledgement of the interdependence of all life.

ENVY – desire for the status and abilities we see in others and want for ourselves. The need is to emulate, to find aspirations that resonate within. From early on we are looking for role models to reflect our potential. If such recognition is withheld or distorted, the need can take possession of us, with all the consequences of being rejected, belittled, abused, and feeling ill done by, until we realise our own resources. Ralph Waldo Emerson evokes in his essay on self-reliance a more helpful notion of envy:

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is, which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

GLUTTONY – a craving to consume more than is required. In simple terms it is a hunger that knows not what is seeks. And yes, it is bound to become an indulgence – a chasing after stimulation, information, speculation. Until the hunger knows what it seeks it will not be satisfied. The search is intense. In spiritual terms this hunger can develop into devotion.

LUST – a craving for touch, warmth, pleasure of the body and sex. The need underlying lust is a longing for intimacy and ecstasy. It often fails to satisfy, but behind the shadow of excess is the ideal, to be consumed, like the moth by the flame.

ANGER – results from frustration and is all too human. Sadly, when our existence is denied, or we experience and witness injustice, yet lack opportunities to express anger creatively, this powerful energy will make us ill or explode in rage. That said, even conscious resistance is a creative act. We are endowed with natural aggression to even make it here. Each one of us results from the fastest sperm, the one that made it. Oppression and cold rationality feed anger. If repressed, anger takes us over.

GREED is also based on the desire for recognition. If the experience of being seen, heard and appreciated is missing, we must find opportunities to succeed in something.

SLOTH used to be called sadness – brought on by a sense of meaninglessness. Change wants to happen but one is helpless to act. These days depression is a collective phenomenon. On a personal level not acting could be seen as fear of failure, though often it is the necessary dark phase for a kind of alchemy in the psyche that leads to new wings.

What if we have satisfied our basic needs? The horizon is never reached. Beyond every horizon is another. This includes the horizons of our mind, beyond which we hope to find purpose. We go on journeys, outer, inner, to find out why we are here. But the search never ends. We take drugs to kill this yearning, this question of ‘why’, because we can’t face that maybe the only purpose is the search.

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

And yet, the search liberates. The attachments we have to right and wrong, to good and evil, to our own importance, blocks our search for new meaning, prevents us from living with intensity. Our most precious and vital scripture is nature, life itself.

These thoughts were drafted eleven years ago. I would have liked to come up with a fuller gestalt to make my point, but presently I enjoy a holiday in psychic wilderness.

And today’s Haiku …

Devils besiege us

As do angelic spirits

Both hold their best truth

While we are mediators

In the psychic wilderness

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