Background: Advent is a time of quiet anticipation in the darkness. Traditionally, the weeks leading up to Christmas have been assigned a theme, signified by the lighting of a candle. As you try these practices you might join in this tradition by lighting a single candle the first week, a pair the next week, three candles the third week, and four candles on the fourth week.
One expression of these advent themes is hope, peace, joy, and love.
These are four powerful words. They can be used in a few different ways contemplatively. In the examples below, the word “peace” is used. If you wish to follow the traditional themes, of course, you should substitute this word for whichever is appropriate to the week.
One way to use these words is as a method of dismissing disruptive thoughts. We set the intention to sit with calm, untroubled minds. The word (hope, peace, etc.) is brought to mind whenever disruptive thoughts or emotions arise. This is a method used in some Buddhist practices and by the Centering Prayer movement.
One important difference between Centering Prayer and Buddhists who use a word to release our preoccupation with distractions is that Centering Prayer invites us to think of the use of this word as a symbol of our consent for the Holy Spirit’s intervention into our quiet time. One important thing they have in common is that both groups emphasize the goal of being gentle with the use of the word, and avoiding the hamster wheel of becoming emotionally charged as intrusive thoughts threaten to distract us. Wise teachers have advocated that we aim for a sense of gratitude each time we use our sacred word and avoid the idea that we are “doing it wrong” each time we return to our practice.
55A: The Practice
- Place your feet flat on the floor. Take 3 cleansing breaths.
- Release your worries and concerns for this time. Do your best to clear your mind.
- As intrusive thoughts arise, dismiss them by thinking the word “Peace.” Sink into this word.
- Continue this practice for as long as you wish.
Background: These words can also be used as a mantra. A mantra is a word that is used with out stopping. It is repeated nonstop. In some ways this is more preventative than the prior strategy. The hope is that in occupying the mind, we prevent any intrusive thoughts from arising. I find mantra meditation particular powerful when done out loud. The word can be chanted or even sung. I find that after a time, I occupy a strange space of knowing what the word means but somehow also feeling that the word is nonsensical. This can be a bridge, a case study in the limits of all our concepts and words.
For some, the goal of mantra meditation is to hear the word already being said somewhere deep within.
55B: The Practice
- Create a quite and safe space for yourself. Light some candles if you wish.
- Begin saying (or thinking) your sacred word. You might begin with a slow and steady rhythm. Be open to the possibility of chanting or singing.
- If thoughts, feelings, or other mental intrustions arise, sink more deeply into the experience of this particular word.
- When your time nears an end, release the word. Sit in a time of wordless union.
Background: As the name implies, breath prayers are words to God that can be offered up within the span of a single breath. Usually these are repeated several times. Often times, the inhalation and exhalation are used differently. For example, a certain phrase might be connected with the inhale and a different phrase connected to the exhale.
Please recall that you might coordinate this with each of the advent weeks. Though the example below uses the word “peace” you could also use the word “hope” or “love.”
Practice 55C: A first breath prayer.
- Take 3 deep, cleansing breaths.
- With the next inhale, think “Peace”
- Exhale the feelings in your heart and body which stand in the way of peace.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the time you have devoted to this practice.