In the Chill Air of November

The leaves have fallen and the snow has arrived, heralding the onset of winter.  It is the chill air that I notice most, as I pull down my hat and pull up the scarf to protect my face.  And yet, when I stop and stand and pause, I love the bracing coolness of the air.

This week, take some inspiration from Unitarian Universalist Brian Nelson’s meditation on air.  Stop one day on the sidewalk and breathe and simply experience the air all around you and within you.

As the autumn air grows chill, take this opportunity to become mindful:
be aware of the air itself.
“The air is the most pervasive presence I can name,
enveloping, embracing, and caressing me
inside and out.”*

We swim in the air even more deeply then we swim in the water;
it bathes us as it slips into our lungs and fills our hearts.
Every breath refreshes us, calms us,
and yet sometimes the breath startles us.
Remember this:  the word spirit comes from the latin for breath.

As we bundle up against the oncoming chill,
face the wind and feel the prickles of cold air against the skin,
an icy reminder of the invisible realm of life.

* (David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous)

Adapted from Earth Bound, daily meditations by Brian Nelson

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The Air Aware

We live immersed in air. We can’t live without this most essential element of life. Air is an invisible power, we can only see it through its effect on the planet: trees bending in the wind, ripples in a pond, a plastic bag tumbling in a parking lot. This month we turn our attention to the atmosphere.

As Unitarian Universalists we honour air as a vital life force that infuses the interdependent web. Breath is part of our weekly practice of meditation within a service, it represents the greater whole to which we all belong. Even an empty chalice is filled with air. Air is both within and without, oxygenating our blood, filling our lungs, surrounding us. We are not separate from the air which we breathe, through it we are connected to all other beings.

This March, as spring begins to emerge on earth, we will explore the element of air through various meditations and physical activities.

Video Meditation

This week’s practice is visual meditation. You may watch one or both of these short two minute videos. Consider watching the videos twice through. Find a quiet place and turn the sound up on your computer. Put the video to full screen. Let your eyes go soft as you watch the images. It`s okay if your mind wanders; the point is not to empty your mind, but to not get caught up in your thoughts, to let them flow in and out of you like breath.

Take a minute to steady your breath before you begin a video.

Breathe in, breathe out.

This first video explores the power and beauty of the atmosphere and uses instrumental music.

If you are interested in a neo-pagan understanding of the element of air, the video below provides details of its associations.  The sound track is a recording of the wind and is especially evocative if you listen without looking.

 

Loving the Light

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”  Anne Frank

I can sit for hours by the flickering flames of a campfire. In the winter, I substitute candles in the living room, and try to get my family to dine by candlelight.  I was drawn to Unitarian Universalism in part because our essential symbol is the flaming chalice, the living light of energy.  This week’s spiritual practice is similar to last week’s fire ceremony, but here all we do is focus on a candle flame.  Not only is the flame beautiful to watch, this is a good practice for building concentration.  Your mind will wander, distracting thoughts will arise, just keep bringing your attention to the flame.  Try this for five minutes at first, then build up to a longer sitting period. I prefer beeswax or soy candles to the more common tealights. Beeswax has an especially lovely smell.

If you wish to do this as a family, have a candle for each person.

Candle Meditation

Find a quiet place and dim the lights.  Candle meditations work best with some darkness. Set the chalice or candle so that it is close to eye level, you don’t want to strain your neck looking too far down.  Make sure it is about 50 cm away, so it isn’t too bright. Get into a comfortable seating position, whether that is on cross legged on the floor or in a comfortable chair, one that you can hold for 5 to 15 minutes.

Breathe deeply.  Light the candle in silence or with words such as “I honour the light”.

Look into the flame.  Breathe quietly.

If you find your mind wandering, study the flame, consider its colour shadings, explore its heat carefully with your hand. If you have a particular worry that is persistent, try to hold it lightly in your mind without focusing on it,  you may find some insight as you watch the flame.

Watch the flame for at least five minutes, breathing steadily, deeply, softly.  Then blow out the candle in silence or with words such as “I honour the light”.

Sit for a minute more.

If you can’t access an actual candle, this meditation video offers 10 minutes of a burning candle.

Try a Little Loving Kindness

Our final December Meditation practice is arriving in January, fortunately it is all about loving kindness.  The January Fire practice will begin next week.

There are many variations of this classic Buddhist meditation known as the metta bhavana meditation from the Theravada Buddhist tradition. This version comes from meditation teacher Sharon Salzburg.   An ancient meditation, it was first heard over 2,500 years ago.  It is intended to cultivate compassion and empathy not just for others but for yourself as well.  As Unitarian Universalists, this meditation can be seen as an expression of our first principle, a way to honour the inherent worth of all beings, as well as our seventh, our connection to the interdependent web.

Loving Kindness Meditation

Find a quiet place where you will undisturbed for 15 minutes.  Sit in a chair or on a cushion.  Please get comfortable, closing your eyes. Settle your feet on the floor and get your back straight without tension.

Take a few deep breaths, relax your body. Feel your energy settle into your body.  Feel your energy settle into this moment.

The phrase to repeat: “May I live in safety.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”

Gently repeat these phrases as you hold yourself and then others in your heart.  If you find your attention has wandered, don’t worry.  Just begin again. You may say them out loud or quietly to yourself.

Hold yourself in your mind and heart.  Hold an image of yourself, say your name.  Feel yourself be present in this moment. Repeat:
May I live in safety.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy. May I live with ease.

Call to mind somebody that you care about–a good friend, or someone who’s helped you, someone who inspires you. Visualize them, say their name. Get a feeling for their presence, and then direct the phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you  live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Call to mind someone you know who you find difficult: to appreciate, to accept, to love.  Someone you have trouble with. If somebody like that comes to mind, bring them here. Imagine them sitting in front of you. Say their name. Get a feeling for their presence and offer the phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

Think of someone who plays some minor role in your life, that you don’t have a particular feeling for, or against. Maybe the checkout person at the supermarket or the tim hortons staff. If someone like that comes to mind, imagine them sitting in front of you, and offer these same phrases of lovingkindness to them.
May you live in safety.  May you be happy.  May you be healthy. May you live with ease.

When we connect into these phrases, aiming the heart in this way, we’re opening ourselves to the possibility of including, rather than excluding, of connecting, rather than overlooking, of caring, rather than being indifferent. And ultimately, we open in this way to all beings everywhere, people, animals, all creatures, without distinction, without separation.
May all beings live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease.

Take a final deep breath, and when you feel ready, open your eyes.  May this energy carry through into your daily round.

To listen to an audio version of a loving kindness practice, go to this Mindful page.

 

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

Winter’s Harsh Beauty

For the UU Spiritual Practices blog I curate for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, where I am the Consulting Minister, I spend some time each week reading and watching and listening to meditations. A few weeks ago, I found this magnificent video of an unusually cold winter in Holland filmed by Paul Klaver at a nature reserve. Death and life are present in the snowy landscape. In the midst of this brutal cold snap, this ode to winter’s strength makes me appreciate my warm house, but also reminds me that the bare bones of winter are strangely beautiful.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/81372566″>Winter</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pklaver”>Paul Klaver</a> on.</p>

 

Winter solitude…

Waterloo, like much of southern Ontario, is grey, icy, and quiet after the big storm and power outages of the weekend. Here are some beautiful winter images for this moment after the storm.

Winter solitude–
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
Basho

Caspar-David-Friedrich_Winter-Landscape

Winter Landscape by Casper David Friedrich

Midnight-Mass-Edward-Timothy-Hurley

Midnight Mass by Edward T. Hurley

Winter-bernie-fuchs-wolves

Winter wolves by Bernie Fuchs

Paintings found via Tor.com Picturing Winter