Just Breathe

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Sylvia Plath

From long standing family tensions to the financial strain to the present giving pressures, the Christmas season can be difficult to navigate with grace. This week’s meditation is a time to stop and breathe. Mindful breathing is an ancient meditation practices, easy to learn and a powerful tool to calm the mind. With renewed calmness, we are better able to deal with all this season may bring.

Breathing meditation directs your attention to the breath, not making yourself breathe, but noticing it. You may find your mind wanders quickly off. The practice is to keep returning to your breath, without guilt or struggle or shame, after each distraction. Slowly, the distractions become shorter and it is easier to return to the breath. With regular practice, your mind will settle and you may become calm, steady, and peaceful.

While beginners can best practice breathing meditation at home, for 5 to 15 minutes, you can also tune in to your breathing at your office desk or at the mall. Taking a few moments to pay attention to your breathing can help ground and center you.

If you like support, look for a meditation site that has a voice you find soothing.  You can try the app Calm (which requires signing up, but has some good free meditations) or Headspace which has a wide variety of meditations. Meditation Oasis is a good website for guided meditation.  This page explains breathing meditation and offers a nine minute meditation. The link directly to the audio clip is below.

Breath Awareness Meditation

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The Art of Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice, first noted in writing in the Hindu tradition around 1500 BC.  Judaism, Sufism, Taoism and Buddhism have also developed forms of meditation, with Buddhism heavily influencing contemporary North American meditation practices. Many Unitarian Universalist congregations offer meditation groups led by members involved with Buddhism.  As UUs, we understand meditation as a way to calm and centre in a busy world, a way to re-connect with one’s self and the larger whole. To meditate creates the space to step back from an endless forward momentum and take time to simply be.  It encourages us to be more aware of life, and in being so aware, offers hope in the beauty of living.  Given the stresses of the holiday season, December seems like a good month to explore some basic meditation practices, starting with mindful meditation.

Mindful meditation – focusing on breathing or the body – helps focus the mind and develop our ability to pay attention and be present in the moment.  By scanning the body, the intention is to nurture a curiosity about these sensations your body is experiencing, not to explain them away but to simply be aware of them.  Today we’ll use an body scan meditation to learn some basic meditation skills.  Don’t worry if your mind keeps wandering – that is normal! Meditation is a practice which takes time to learn.

This is a very simple introduction to meditation.  Many more detailed introductions, such as Tara Branch’s video introduction, are available for those interested in going further with this practice.

Wear comfortable clothes and find a quiet place to listen to this short audio piece from Calm.com.

Please note: there will only be 3 posted practices for the month of December.

The Magnificent Universe

Spiritual practices are an avenue to experiences of awe.  Awe is our emotional response to things perceived as so vast and overwhelming that the experience of them alters the way we understand the world.  Awe is one way to gain perspective, a sense of our own lives in relation to the greater whole.  Cultivating awe helps us feel more satisfied with our lives and have a more expansive sense of time.  As Unitarian Universalists we celebrate the mystery; experiences of the universe remind us of just how much true magnificence and mystery surrounds our planet.  Contemplating the wonders of the universe is a core practice for contemporary Unitarians as it brings together the results of scientific exploration and spiritual reverence.

The final Lectio Universum uses classical music and images from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field to pull us into the infinite universe.  Without words, this meditation video by youtuber Jakub Barabas provides a glimpse of the astonishing beauty of the universe, at a scale that is almost incomprehensible. Watch this video in a quiet place in a dimly lit room.

Everyone is Here

Lectio Universum is a spiritual practice of this century.

It has only been in the last fifty years that we have been able to look back at the earth from space and see far into the depths of the universe.  The universe is astounding, amazing, truly awesome in every sense of the world. Contemplating the vastness of this mystery which surrounds us helps us place our own lives in proportion.  There is something both humbling and inspiring in being reminded of our relation to one another and the planet.

This video begins with the image of the earth – a pale blue dot – taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it left our solar system in 1990.  Astronomer Carl Sagan asked that this image be taken, his reflections on the image narrate the video. Sagan’s words have inspired several videos, this is the simple one from his official site.

Take some time to sit in silence, breathing deeply, both before and after watching this video.

 

 

The Universe is in Us

The spiritual practice of lectio universum speaks to our first and fifth sources.  The first source is Wonder: direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder…. and the fifth is Reason: humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science….  This video by Max Schlickenmeyer captures the deep wonder that can be found in scientific knowledge.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist who speaks eloquently on science, the universe, and everything. His words frame this beautiful video meditation about our connection to the greater whole.

Please find a quiet place to watch and take some time to sit afterwards in contemplation.

 

Dwell on the Beauty

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Awe awakens us to the world. It heightens our sensitivity to the greater whole which encompasses all life. In November, our spiritual practice is lectio universum, or contemplating the universe. The universe we live in is an ever unfolding mystery, staggeringly beautiful and astonishingly large. To look at the night sky and understand that each tiny point of light is a blazing sun humbles and amazes me, I am struck by wonder every time.

This month, I will be posting videos and readings about the glory of the universe. This week’s offering is The Known Universe, from the American Museum of Natural History. Created from a four dimensional atlas of the observable universe, its perspective moves out from the Himalayas to the edge of the universe.

I suggest the following steps in watching will help shape this as a spiritual practice; please adapt to your own needs.

Watch the video in a quiet place with no distractions. Sit for a moment and breathe deeply before starting the video.

Sit and consider your response to the video. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, fold the laundry – do something with your body and let your mind sift through images and feelings.  You may also sit in silence, eyes closed, for a minute or two.

Journal your reflections, noting feelings as well as thoughts.  Or, if you watched with someone else, share your responses.

Open Your Whole Self

Our final lectio divina comes from the poet Joy Harjo. Drawing on her Native American heritage, Harjo’s poem brings to life our connection to the larger whole. One critic noted that “to read the poetry of Joy Harjo is to hear the voice of the earth…”

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.