My very best wishes for 2016 to all readers of this blog. May your year be blessed with peace and loving-kindness.
Like many people I find the change of calendar year a good moment for revising and re-framing what I do. This includes my personal contemplative inquiry. I remain strongly engaged with my Sophian Way and I am finding means of strengthening it.
At the beginning of contemplative practice I’m now saying: “I open myself to the divine breath: the movement of that breath and the stillness in that breath. I open my heart to the grace of Sophia”. The key words are breath, movement, stillness, heart, grace and Sophia.
‘Divine breath’ translates the Greek word pneuma which could mean either ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’. It was a favourite with the Gnostics of late antiquity. For me, the divine breath is ordinary breath transformed through practice, awareness and understanding. I feel and taste the knowledge that breath enables life, and that it does so through transcending the boundary between me and not-me. It allows me an individual life, embodied yet not sealed off. It also connects me to a larger system.
When I follow the movement of the breath, I am attentive to its inhalation and exhalation. I breathe the cosmos; the cosmos breathes me. The movement of the breath is inherently active, life-giving and relational. There are practices in both Gnosticism and Tantra involving breath exchange with another person which emphasise these aspects of breathing.
The stillness in the breath, in my experience, is held within the movement of the breath. They are not polarised. It is the still point at the heart of being, always present as the activity of breathing is going on. It’s like an inner silence inside a context of sound, or an inner calm inside a context of energetic or emotional arousal. Truly to become open to the divine breath involves a simultaneous awareness of both dimensions.
Opened up to the experience of divine breath (rather than breath awareness as an arbitrary attentional focus) I can open my heart, in the sense offered by Cynthia Bourgeault: “In the wisdom traditions of the Near East, the heart is not the seat of one’s personal emotional life, but an organ of spiritual perception … its purpose is to stay in alignment with the Image of one’s true nature.” (1) Here, the grace of Sophia is Her presence and energy in support of that alignment.
The words cue me in to the experience, though not as a formula, for true contemplative experience is not formulaic. They represent a sensibility of practice, or a culture of practice, rather than a road map. The value of these words, as I continue to use them, will be in what emerges as a result of using them in the coming weeks and months.
(1) Cynthia Bourgeault The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2010