Tag Archives: ritual

… 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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… unseen stuff – micro-organisms …

More contagious than micro-organisms are fear and hopelessness.

Long before our time, the existence of micro-organisms was presupposed, notably in Jainism, whose followers vow non-violence in thought and practice (Ahimsa) towards all living beings. The tradition is said to be older than Buddhism.  In the teachings of Mahavira (599 – 527 BEC),  micro-organisms are described as unseen creatures living in earth, water, air and fire, and existing as clusters pervading every plant and tissue, not just on earth but throughout the whole universe. Jain libraries are the oldest in India.

While home-bound with a young child in rural Somerset, I did an OU course on world religions, wanting to learn about the formative ideas underlying our variety of cultures. Reading on Jainism, I was struck by its beautiful philosophy, genuine tolerance of other faiths, and the surprisingly modern belief – that the universe is self-regulated by the laws of nature. Worth exploring: see wiki-link below.

With a different mind-set, the idea of unseen creatures informed a nasty biological war fare during the Middle Ages, when diseased corpses were catapulted into enemy strongholds.

Along came artificial eyes, the telescope and the microscope, evidencing these unseen worlds. The Jesuit priest, Athanasius Kircher, and Anton van Leeuwenhoek, were among the first to spot micro-organisms through lenses in the 17th century.  The journey took off, until Ferdinand Cohn founded the discipline of bacteriology in the 19th century, and Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch developed the study of microbiology, focussing on food preservation and vaccines. The gained knowledge helped to protect us from organisms known to spread disease, and improved the hygiene of our environment. During the late 19th century the study was expanded through the work of Martinus  Beijerinck and Sergei Winogradsky into the field of general microbiology.

Today the study of micro-organisms has developed to such extend that  hundreds of specialised branches of study exist serving a huge variety of applications. I’m fascinated by biology, and I greatly respect scientists who devote their days and nights to deepen our understanding of life.

What I question, as do many of my friends, which include scientists, is the unrestricted power of multinational companies. It is totally unethical that multinationals can push decisions as to how scientific evidence is used. To start with, they must be made accountable for damages caused, and next, it should be obligatory, like a tax, that a fraction of the profits these companies reap be used for interdisciplinary research, so that  evidence can be established for the many undeniably wholesome methods of balancing and strengthening self-organising systems.

The over-reliance on suppressive drugs (and in the case of agriculture pesticides) in the fight against every imbalance has devastating side effects. Apart from training super-bugs,  the relentless war undermines the ecosystem of our planet, and our birth right, the ingenious self-regulatory system that acquires immunity through exposure. Nature has taught us everything, nature is not the enemy. Excess use of medication could even undo the good work of vaccines, meant to help us acquire immunities. A weakened immune system may eventually fail to deal with any kind of exposure. So why do we sanction this paranoid warfare ?

What is known about micro-organisms includes the process of endosymbiosis – where symbiosis occurs between different organisms that benefit from living together. Lynn Margulis opposed the neo-Darwinian concept of competition, and proposed that evolution thrived through cooperation: ‘Symbiogenesis recognizes that every visible life-form is a combination or community of bacteria.’  (See link below) In other words, the fittest is what adapts and harmonises.

There is always more than one way to look at something. When it comes to the prevention of dis-ease, and the healing of body and mind, the soothing of stress, we have enough knowledge and wisdom to appreciate the effectiveness of: relaxation, telling one’s story and being listened to, a clear positive intention, the benefits of meditation, a calm mind, the balancing of subtle energies, the vibrations of harmonious sound, architecture, colours, symbolic  understanding, the use of active creative imagination, a gentle touch, a heartfelt smile, for example.

The authenticity of a friend, a doctor, a healer or therapist, can inspire a troubled person who is seeking support to take self-responsibility. Trust, or faith in one’s healing, is a phenomenon that also throws light on the powerful physiological effects of the placebo, which is a proposed ritual that promises nothing, but puts the patient in charge. Wow!

From another tradition that respects all faiths, here is a perspective on microbes expressed by Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan, who brought his wisdom to the west in the early 20th century:

Every day a new invention brings a new microbe. And if a new microbe is discovered every day till the end of the world there will be numberless diseases; in the end it will be difficult to find one man healthy, for there must always be some microbe; if it is not of an old disease, then of a newly discovered one …  

The people of old thought that microbes were spirits, living beings, in the absence of science which today distinguishes these spirits in the form of microbes; and yet it seems that the ancient healers had a greater grip upon the illness, for the reason that they considered the microbe in its spirit. In destroying the microbe they did not only destroy the outer microbe, but the inner microbe in the form of the spirit, of the germ; and the most interesting thing is that in order to drive away that spirit which they thought had possessed the patient, they burned or they placed before him certain chemicals which are used even now, having been proved to be destructive to the germs of diseases.

With every measure that physicians may take to prevent the germs of diseases from coming, in spite of all the success that they will have there will be a greater failure; for even if the actual germ is destroyed, it exists, its family exists, somewhere. Besides, the body which has once become the abode of that particular germ has become a receptacle of the same germ. If the physician destroys the germ of disease from the body of an individual that does not mean that he destroys it from the universe. This problem, therefore, must be looked at from another point of view: that everything that exists in the objective world has its living and more important part existing in the subjective world; and that part which is in the subjective is held by the belief of the patient. As long as the patient believes that he is ill he is giving sustenance to that part of the disease which is in the subjective world. Even if the germs of the disease were destroyed, not once but a thousand times in his body, they would be created there again; because the source from which the germs spring is in his belief, not in his body, as the source of the whole creation is within, not without. 

Hazrat Inayat Khan

The outer treatment of many such diseases is just like cutting the plant from its stem while the root remains in the ground. Since the root of the illness is in the subjective part of one’s being, in order to drive away that illness one must dig out the root by taking away the belief of illness even before the outer germ is destroyed. The germ of illness cannot exist without the force, the breath, which it receives from the subjective part of one’s being; and if the source of its sustenance is once destroyed, then the cure is certain.

Very few people can hold a thought, but many are held by a thought. If such a simple thing as holding a thought were mastered, the whole life would be mastered. When once a person gets into his head, ‘I am ill’, and when this is confirmed by a physician, then his belief becomes watered like a plant, then his continual reflection of it, falling upon his illness like the sun, makes the plant of illness grow; and therefore it would not be an exaggeration to say that, consciously or unconsciously, the patient is the gardener of his own illness … The root of illness is in the mind, and if that root is continuously watered by thought and feeling, illness is realized in the end.

*      *      *

More contagious than micro-organisms are fear and hopelessness.  (my conclusion)

*      *      *

We are the mirror and the face in it.

We are tasting the taste this minute

of eternity. We are pain

and what cures pain. We are

the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours.

Rumi – transl. by John Moyne and Coleman Barks

*     *     *

Jainism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism

Lynn Margulis

http://discovermagazine.com/2011/apr/16-interview-lynn-margulis-not-controversial-right

Hazrat Inayat Khan – Volume 4 – Healing and the Mind World.

http://www.sufimessage.com/healing/index.html

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