We have talked about this before, but with elections coming and misinformation flying like bees on spilled soda, I would like to remind you to stay vigilant. There are those who have a vested interest in making you angry, outraged, or afraid so that they can bypass your rational mind and have you behave in ways that would benefit them. Remember -- if you feel your emotions getting aroused when you see things on TV, hear them on the radio, or see them posted in social media, take a moment. Step back. Breathe. Ask yourself -- Is this true? Have you checked it with Snopes.com? And then take one more second. Ask yourself -- Who benefits from spreading this (mis)information? And what actions do they want me to take? Why?
Last week I was describing the unusual book by Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God. May I share one of my favorite poems from the book? It's from St. Catherine of Siena (freely rendered by Mr. Ladinsky):
LIVE WITHOUT THOUGHT OF DYING
We work so hard to fly
and no matter what heights we reach
our wings get folded near a candle,
at the end,
for nothing can enter God but Himself.
Our souls are some glorious substance of the divine
that no sentry wants to stop.
Live without thought of dying,
for dying is not a truth.
We have swayed on the sky's limb together,
many years there the same leaves grow.
But then they get that look in their eyes
and bid farewell to what they disdained or cherished.
This life He gave the shell, the daily struggles we know,
Before the pandemic, when I could go out to shop just for fun, I found a lovely store filled with books of all kinds along with artwork from local artists. Just my kind of place. I spent a long time there, head tilted sideways as I was looking at all the books being offered, when I picked up one that practically yelled at me to get. And being the obliging sort, of course I bought it. I mean, what's one more book?
I've spent the last several months since savoring the poems in this most unusual book of poetry. Written and/or compiled by Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God features poetry that he created out the writings of twelve mystic writers from various traditions. Which mystic writers? you ask. Let me tell you: Rabia, St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hafiz, St. Catherine of Siena, Kabir, Mira, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and Tukaram. Both Eastern and Western traditions are featured, although it's interesting to see, when comparing the poems, how the poets often come to similar conclusions or dwell on similar themes.
Daniel Ladinsky is the first to admit that he had fun taking liberties in his translations/adaptations. Some of the poems are earthy, some are cheeky, some are downright naughty. But they all point to the mystic's efforts to describe the sense of unity with the divine within. This is a wonderful book to read and savor as long as you don't read some of the poems in church. Recommended.
While I was reading Richard Wolf's book In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness, I was noticing that the majority of his exercises described breaths which are controlled and regulated by the mind. I know there are schools of thought in which controlling the breath can produce certain mental states and that can be very useful for many people.
For someone like me, however, I find that I need to let go of controlled, "yang" breathing techniques at times because I have control-freak tendencies to begin with and these techniques just reinforce that, I believe. I need to balance that with times when I just allow my body to breathe at its own pace and watch that breath. It's a challenge for someone like me to be "yin" and just allow the body to breathe without my interference! Once I start observing my breath, I find that I have to be very careful not to start controlling when the next breath comes. It's a good challenge, though.
In this one, you need to divide your breaths into four beats. One thing that Wolf stresses over and over again is that as you become more relaxed, your breaths will naturally be longer and slower, so your beats will slow down. That is OK. It's better to have the beats match your breath than to force your breath to match your beats.
In this technique, you assign one internally-heard pitch each of the four beats. Wolf recommends using Pythagorean intervals, so I will describe that here. One such set of intervals is 1-4-5-1, or do-fa-sol-do. If you play an instrument, you could play it as C-F-G-C.
Here's how the technique goes. Breathe in and hear internally (don't sing this out loud) C-C-C-C in four even beats. Hold the breath and count four silent beats. Breathe out and hear internally F-F-F-F in four even beats. Hold the breath and count four silent beats. Breathe in and hear internally G-G-G-G in four even beats. Hold the breath and count four silent beats. Breathe out and hear internally C-C-C-C in four even beats. Hold the breath and count four silent beats. Repeat.
I don't know why, but I find this just complex enough to keep my mind engaged while producing a deep calm at the same time. Perhaps it will help you as well.